Archives for category: Romance

Genre: Historical Fiction

Notes: Book 24/50 North Korea is..interesting.

Review: I prepared myself for the book to disappoint me.  It has been hyped over the last year and every book club in America has probably read it.  (Mine is too)  But I am happy to say that Johnson did not disappoint!  I’ve never read a book set in North Korea, probably because the entire country cloaks itself in secrecy and mystery. We hear stories about work camps, starvation, and (when Kim Jong Il died recently) the adoration for their Dear Leader and his distinct pompadour.

While writing and researching this novel, Johnson actually received the opportunity to travel to Pyonyang and see North Korea for himself, which lends an air of authenticity to the narrative.  I’m sure he only heard the approved version of North Korean history and saw only approved sites but nevertheless, he stepped foot in North Korea.

This novel follows an orhpan who isn’t really an orphan named Pak Jun Do. He never knew his mother and grew up in an orphanage as his father was the orhpan master.  Consequently, he is mistaken for an orphan for the rest of his life and gets assigned to terrible duties like tunnel digging in the DMZ and kidnapping unsuspecting Japanese and South Koreans at night.  Pak’s life is ridiculous.  I mean, the trajectory his life takes from a simple misunderstanding of mistaken identity by American diplomats creates what is essentially a suspense thriller.  This novel isn’t just about North Korea and how insane and unpredictable of a place it can be, but how people can cope under extreme circumstances. It helps break the sort of cookie-cutter mold of poor people winning their circumstances and breaking free by offering a less than perfect protagonist.  Pak Jun Do kills people.  He sometimes operates under questionable morals and could probably be best categorized as opportunistic rather than an all around good guy.

Probably the best part of the book is how the communist government broadcasts Pak’s story in one chapter while in the next, we get Pak’s version.  The difference between the two is striking and helps readers understand how difficult truth is to come by in this regime. Plus, again, it offers that air of authenticity from Johnson’s painstaking research and visits to North Korea.  It feels real.

Bottom Line: The book is totally worth the hype! There are slightly graphic torture scenes which might turn some people off, but it’s the offhand way some truly awful things are mentioned that reall stuck with me after reading this book. Also, after reading this novel, I’m glad Kim Jong Il is dead.

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Genre: YA Dystopian Literature

Notes: 22/50 (no way I’m gonna make 50 books by the end of the year..blurgh.  The challenge continues another year)

Review: Okay, so I liked this book better than the first one of the series. Maybe because I’ve grown accustomed to the spelling and understand the political situation on New World a little more.  Plus I’ve gotten used to the NOISE.

To me, this novel (and the series) grapples with the question of “What is it to be a man?”  And it’s a question we see today.  A disturbing amount of teenage boys (and girls) think being violent and not allowing any “disrespect” is what makes a man.  In this society, men are only men if they have killed another man.  The refrain “We are the choices we make” echoes throughout the book and forces people to consider what kind of people they want to be.

Our protagonists Todd and Viola are separated for most of this book and each has to make his/her own choices.  What does it mean to be a man/woman?  What side of this war am I on?

As much as this story is about Viola and Todd and their choices, the villains in this story aren’t really villains, which makes their choices that much harder.  In the first book, it is easy to see Mayor Prentiss (now President) as a stock villain. However, book 2 explains his motives and his absolute conviction that his antics will bring peace to New World/New Prentisstown/Haven. He reminds me of the Mayor in the Walking Dead series in the way that he probably doesn’t see himself as a bad man – but he has to do bad things to keep the peace and get things done. He sees himself as a hero and as a man who has to do the dirty work no one else has the balls to do.

Mistress Coyle, the woman who is trying to overthrow him, is even more confusing.  She means well, I’m sure of it and I’m positive I would be on her side.  But she does…regrettable…things to strike back at the president’s men.  She reminded me a lot of Coin in The Hunger Games series.  A strong woman who did necessary evils, but unfortunately has all of the trappings of a dictator herself.  Even if she believes what she is doing is right, her means are no more justified than the tyrant she attempts to overthrow.

My one critique of the story lies in Todd and Viola.  I found them a bit irritating.  I can’t explain why exactly, but their love for each other and obsession with each other didn’t feel real to me. They’re 14.  It is one of the primary reasons I despise the premise of Romeo and Juliet.  They’re no overt sexual tension, but their feelings are so damn intense (maybe I’ve forgotten what it means to be a teenager already?  I’m sure my 14 year old self would defend that plenty of 14 year olds have intense feelings.  Isn’t that one of the hallmarks of adolescence?) but my jaded 24 year old self could not accept these characters were 14.  However, I will acquiesce and say that they have gone through more than most people do in a lifetime and that has aged them prematurely (they’ve killed for godsakes) and their shared experiences forged a bond stronger than most people see in their lifetimes.   And Todd just giving up because Viola “abandoned” him made me want to throw down the book in disgust.

Also, minor quibble: the font change between Todd and Viola’s chapters was annoying.  They weren’t different enough to announce THIS IS A DIFFERENT CHAPTER in capital letters.  And why do we need to differentiate them still further?  Each chapter had either TODD or VIOLA printed neatly at the top so we would know who narrated the section.  I am competent enough to follow those cues without the text changing, thanks.

Bottom Line: On the whole, good book.  Very emotional.  Very intense. It’s a little contrived and has been done before (YA dystopia, can’t get enough), but I can’t wait until I can get my hands on book 3 because this one left us with a cliffhanger!

Genre: Non-fiction, Fantasy, Romance

Notes: 19/50.  Started off with promise, but sort of fell apart into this weird vampire romance novel that reminded me too much of Twilight.  Also, I listened to this in audiobook form.

Review: I decided to “read” this book on my way back from Maryland to Charleston.  I had complained to my boyfriend that I was tired of searching for radio stations or listening to Christian country rock stations through large swaths of rural Virginia and he suggested that I buy an audiobook instead.  Genius!

And really, it worked out great.  I had constant noise (but I didn’t have good headphones so I had my phone like weirdly perched on my shoulder held in place by the seat belt), I didn’t have to scan for radio stations roughly every 20 minutes, and I adore reading in the car.  I like  road trips when I’m not driving because all I want to do is sleep and read.

However, the actual book got annoying fast.  It turns out this book is a gigantic tome and would take 24 hours to listen to.  I’ve gotten through about 8 hours and have given up hope of finishing.  Part of it is the narrator.  She gets kind of annoying and reads in this breathy tone like she’s reading poetry.  All of her lines go up at the end and she read in a kind of monotone.  But he vocal range and the different voices of the characters are great.  I just didn’t like Diana’s (the main character) voice which unfortunately is most of the book.

It started off with a lot of elements I like: Magic, universities, academia, and literature.  I mean, it has an enchanted book for god sakes!  But, alas, it totally fell apart into this Twilight-esque romance novel.  Diana started the book as a self-sufficient witch with a HUGE chip on her shoulder.  She refuses to do magic at all because she believed magic has something to do with the death of her parents.  I found that annoying.  You’re a witch.  Act like it. Not using magic doesn’t make you less of a witch.  It just makes you a stupid witch.  Diana takes care of herself and makes herself be independent to an almost irritating degree because she will not accept any help from anyone ever.

That is, until a beautiful vampire named Matthew Clairmont ensnare her heart.  They aren’t supposed to mix .  Vampires and witches do not start romances.  It’s just not done.  But there is something about him that she feels herself drawn to.  And he finds himself drawn to her as well.  He admits he craves her blood (hello Twilight) and begins to fall for her as well.  He even snuck into her apartment and watched her sleep.  GAG.  That’s pretty much where I stopped reading. She became too into him for my taste. Maybe I just don’t like romance novels in general, but this novel felt like it followed every stereotypical romance trope without changing anything.

Bottom Line: Yawn.

Genre: YA Dystopia

Notes: 18/50 books. So much teenage angst.

Review: Sigh. Divergent, like you can tell from my review, started off so strong. I liked the characters, I liked Tris, and I liked her relationship with Four/Tobias.  She seemed strong, independent, and didn’t seem like a silly teenage girl for the most part.

Oh, how wrong I was.  Tris is a silly teenage girl with angst oozing out of her pores.  Before I rail on Tris and the problems I had with the book, let’s start with what I liked.

First of all, I really liked this book.  It’s not the best book ever written and it’s not fair to compare it to the Hunger Games, but I like it and will definitely be reading the third.  (I’m going to guess it’s going to be named Emergent – just going with the “-urgent” theme.  Roth, I expect royalties on the title. Thanks).  We get a much better look at the factionless.  We see what motivates them, how they organize themselves, and a better idea of what life is like for the people who don’t make initiation into their faction or were kicked out due to old age (Cough Dauntless Cough.  Heartless bastards).  Plus, Roth gives us a decent look at every faction in turn – she shows their idiosyncrasies and their strengths.  However, herein lies my biggest problem with the book:

HOW AND WHY DO PEOPLE ONLY HAVE ONE ATTRIBUTE THEY FOLLOW ABOVE ALL OTHERS? Like, does not being in Erudite make you a moron?  Some of the stuff that Tris points out to the Dauntless about their plans is ridiculous.  Is she the only one who can think logically because she’s Divergent?  Like, really?  Dauntless is just a bunch of brave, screaming idiots who will rush into danger without a plan?  And the Erudite can’t not think logically?  People don’t fit into boxes and asking me to accept that in this world, people do (mostly) fit neatly into boxes is beyond absurd.  Every person should have all five of the faction traits in them – that’s the only way to be a complete human being.

In this book, Tris seems to dissolve into a teen drama queen.  She has this massive guilt trip about shooting Will (which is fair, I would too) and she’s beyond convinced that Four will leave her because she’s just that unlovable.  Barf, please.  Having some insecurities is human, but harping on them all of the time and actually driving people away is pathetic.  She battles with depression, tells herself she doesn’t want to live, but when faced with death, actually finds she loves her life.  Please.  It was like she took every annoying characteristic Katniss had when she moped around about Peeta and magnified them.  Get a grip, girl.  Don’t you see there are more important things going on?!

Bottom Line: The series is addicting, but has annoying plot holes and mediocre world building. I would still recommend it because Dystopian Literature is fantastic, but I’m still saying Hunger Games  and Katniss > Divergent and Tris.

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Notes: Book 13/50. Beautifully, stunningly written.  Swooned over the writing from page one.

Review: Sigh.  This book is lovely. I’ve never been to the Ukraine. I have no family members who were a part of World War II (at least none that I know) My grandfather was too young to be drafted, but I imagine his father may have been called to service.  I don’t really know.  Genealogy isn’t really my thing and my family is pretty bad at passing our history down.  But I felt connected to the story and its characters in a way I didn’t think possible.

**UPDATE** My mother emailed me to correct the misconception my family doesn’t share our history.  Ahem: My great Uncle as well as my great-grandfather were World War II veterans. My grandfather is a Korean War veteran, her cousin is a Vietnam War veteran,  my father and my uncle served during peacetime, and my cousin just returned from his second tour in Afghanistan. I knew about the more recent ones (cousin, father, grandfather, uncle, etc) but hadn’t a clue about the World War II vets.  Yay for history!

I mean, take the opening:

“There is a Ukrainian legend that once each year, on the night of Ivana Kupala, a magical flower blooms in the heart of the forest.  Anyone who finds it will be granted their heart’s desire: the ability to hear the trees whisper and watch them dance, the power to make anyone fall in love with them, the magic to make barren lands bear fruit and barren women fruitful.  It is a single red flower with several names: tsvit paporot, liubava, chervona ruta.  The legendary bloom can grant wishes, open the doorway to the past, and awaken spirits to visit with loved ones.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

I stumbled across this book on the Kindle Owners Lending Library tab on Amazon because I was trying to find a book under $1.99. Lupescu was a semifinalist in the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novelist Award for this novel, and I thought I would give it a shot.  $1.99 wasn’t too much to lose if it ended up being a shitty book. As soon as I started reading, I couldn’t stop.  I turned down an invite to go out  Saturday night because I was more interested in sitting in my pajamas reading.  (This isn’t unusual – sorry I’m boring, friends)

The story follows Nadya, a sixteen year old Ukrainian girl who lives in a rural village with her family as World War II begins to make Ukraine a really awful place.  Everyone around her dies.  She sees some of the worst things humanity can do to each other (multiple rapes, soldiers burning the skin off of a young Jewish girl’s hands, and soldiers brutally beating her boyfriend while taking him away – probably to his death) but somehow survives and builds a moderately happy life for herself in Chicago.  But the only way she can survive is by burying her past.

The Silence of Trees has a magical quality – almost like a fairy tale.  The magical quality is constantly in stark contrast with the war and hopeless concentration camps, but it reminds the reader there is still beauty in the world.  Nadya explains how spirits, spirits who live in the woods, the water,  the house, and even her own dead, speak with her and guide her in her life.  They push her to keep her traditions alive and not remain silent any longer.

In some ways, this story is typical. War torn survivor, crippled by survivors guilt, leaves her country to start a new life.  Gets tired of holding everything in, feels the need to tell her story before she dies, finds a happy ending (eventually). However, what sets Lupescu’s novel apart is the emotion, power, and folkore of the Ukrainian narrator. I felt her will to survive.  I felt her loss, the wondering about the life she could have had, the yearning for a relationship between her husband that wasn’t based on comfort, but on passion.

Nadya looked for the magical flower on a midsummer’s night – never found it, but wished all of the same. She didn’t wish for love.  Or to be spared from death.  Or for protection of her loved ones.  She simply wished for a happy ending. And you know what? I think her wish came true.

Bottom Line: Yes, the story has been told but the sheer beauty of the writing make it feel new again. Recommend for people who like Historical Fiction!

Genre: Fantasy

Notes: Book 12/50.  This book is enormous. It tops out at 1,016 pages. Getting through the  Song of Ice and Fire is an undertaking to say the least. Curse you, Martin!

Review: Finally, we get the other half of the story that Martin begins in A Feast for Crows.  Arya, Tyrion, and Jon add their voices to this incredibly complex web of stories.  And, since they’re my favorite characters, I highly anticipated reading this book.

Lesson #1 I have learned while reading Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.  No. One. Is. Safe. Also, Martin is a dick.

A Dance with Dragons does not disappoint in the intrigue realm.  I love the power struggles, the constantly shifting alliances, and Cersei finally getting something of what was coming for her.  But, honestly, it feels like nothing happened in this book.  Oh, sure, all of the characters are strewn across the globe and Dany gets stronger and more and more queenlike every day, but on the whole, nothing happened.  I don’t even know what thread I’m supposed to follow.  What is the key narrative of this behemoth? Methinks I should follow Dany, but I’m not even sure of that anymore.  So many loose ends!  How will Martin tie them up?  I hate infinite waiting periods.  Plus, Martin looks like this and may not last long enough to write another 1,000 plus page book.  He began the series in 1991 and his wikipedia page says the series will run at least 7 volumes.  Hang in there, George!

As a reader and aspiring writer, Martin constantly surprises and impresses me with the depth of his characters.  I even had moments where I felt bad for Cersei, and she’s probably the biggest douche in the series.  But, Roose Bolton can die a slow, painful death by flaying.  He is probably the most despicable, hated, and atrocious characters to ever grace this series.  I mean, he captures women for sport and sets them lose so he can hunt them.  If they give him good sport, he slits their throats before he flays them.  If not, he doesn’t.  And the really good ones get a dog named after her.  Awesome.  I would have killed Bolton by now if I were Theon Greyjoy.  Or killed myself.  One of the two.  And poor Jeyne Poole!

But, again, it felt like nothing happened.  I feel no closer to a resolution and I feel no advancement of the plot.  Brienne is still out searching for Sansa, Arya is still in Braavos as a temple servant, Tyrion became briefly enslaved as a part of a dwarf comedy troupe (which isn’t as interesting as it sounds), and Jon is still trying to hold the wall.  Westeros is still divided among like a bajillion kings all vying for the throne.  The novel is sprawling and incoherent at times, with only brief moments of beautiful clarity.  I am curious how Martin is going to wrap up the series (because I can honestly say I have no idea where he’s going) but I wish I hadn’t spent 1,016 pages stuck in what seems like it fits squarely into the middle of a gigantic story.  Nothing moves forward, but somehow, somewhere, these events will be important.

Bottom Line: If you’re a fan of the series and hopelessly invested like me, you don’t really have a choice.  You have to read this book.  But you might not love it.  It lacks the punch of A Storm of Swords.

Genre: Fantasy, epic, Lord of the Rings-ness

Notes: Book 11/50.  I’m behind.  Stop judging me.

Review: Fuck you, sir, for only giving me half of a book

When I finishedStorm of Swordslike months ago, I was trolling Amazon on my kindle to buy the fourth book.  But all the reviews were like “This book sucks” and “Be prepared to be bored.”  One reviewer broke the book down and said Cersei had over 1/5 of the book – which was why it was so gouge your eyes out boring.  So, needless to say, I put off reading this monster book. Which was stupid, BECAUSE THIS BOOK WAS GREAT.

Is it wrong I love Jaime Lannister? Amputee, incestuous, Jaime Lannister? Good, because I love Jaime Lannister. It’s kind of sweet how devoted he is to his sister – he remains completely faithful to her while she basically whores around and is generally a terrible person.  (I’m not saying people who have a lot of sex are bad – I’m saying it’s bad when you do it manipulate people into doing things you want)  Jaime is actually a gallant knight!  I even suspect there may be some feelings brewing beneath the surface between him and Brienne, even though the book constantly harps on how ugly she is.  And, with her mishap in A Feast for Crows, she will now be completely disfigured.  Slash she might have **SPOILER ALERT** died. But then again, I thought Arya died in the last book and she clearly didn’t.  So I’m going to wait until A Dance with Dragons to be sure.

For those of you who liked the other books, George R.R. Martin does not disappoint.  He’s like the American Tolkein with a story that could possibly go on forever.  There are so many plot lines, so many stories interwoven into the fabric of this novel, that the series could theoretically never end.  Kind of like Star Wars and the immense amount of fan fiction that only an original movie trilogy has spawned.

However, as the book wound down (all 980 pages of it), I thought to myself “Where’s Jon Snow?  Where’s Tyrion?  Where’s Dany and her dragons?” And, finally, on the last page, I saw Martin’s note.  He decided to write the whole story for half of the characters rather than half of the story for all of the characters.  So Jon, Tyrion, and Dany all have their voices in A Dance with Dragons. And like, I’m fine with “To Be Continued,” I really am, but I wished I had gotten some prior warning.  Don’t let me get 900 pages in and be like, “Yeah, I know.  I had to cut the book into two.” I can’t judge the whole book because it feels like the book is coupled with A Dance with Dragons. I only have half of the pieces and pawns in this story and don’t have the whole picture.

Bottom Line: Read it!  It takes awhile, but I am beyond sucked into the world of Westeros and Braavos.  Sansa Stark is still an idiot, but she’s learning.  Even though methinks she’s going to have to hold Peter Baelish off of her or run away sometime soon.  Her pretend “father” is getting a little too close for comfort.