Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue...

"Insurgent" by Veronica Roth

I finished listening to "Insurgent" last week.  For a few days, for a few hours at a time, you could find me hunkered down on my couch with ear buds in my head while working on a crocheting project, occasionally interrupted by children and housework.  It was a very happy time, though, when I could live in this semi-hypnotic state, engulfed by fabulous story-telling and "double crochet, double crochet, double crochet, chain chain, repeat."  Bliss, indeed.

The saga continues for Tris and Four, along with Marcus, Peter, and Caleb, as they arrive in the peaceful headquarters of the Amity faction following the Dauntless attack on Abnegation, courtesy of an Erudite simulation.  But you know a couple of Dauntless won't last long in the peaceful banjo-strummin', hand-holding atmosphere of the Amity farm life.  Especially after Tris learns Marcus knows the secret behind the Erudite attack on Abnegation.  She'll risk almost anything, even her relationship with Four, to find out the truth behind her parents' deaths, .

Throughout "Insurgent," Tris is tortured by memories of some of her actions during the Erudite attack on Abnegation.  She can't forgive herself for the act of self-defense, and she's ashamed to confess to those closest to her, especially Four.  When he does find out, he is injured by the fact she wouldn't trust him enough to tell him herself.  In fact, the majority of this story is Tris being reckless and bristly because of the conflicting emotions she's bottling up inside.  She feels her life is only worth something if she sacrifices herself for the greater good, like those who sacrificed their lives for her survival. 

I loved this follow-up to "Divergent," but I hated how Tris treated Four throughout the book.  But that's a Dauntless romance for you, I guess.  I kept wishing they'd just kiss and make-up and she'd stop picking fights.  By the end she got all her ducks in a row.

(I listened to this one on audio book, and I have to say, the narrator did a FANTASTIC job when Tris is given the Amity peace serum.  It was probably funny in print, but it was over-the-top hilarious hearing the narrator's ditzy voice inflections when Tris is under the influence.  The. Best.)

The set-up for "Allegiant" has left me WAY too excited for its release.  I know I should have waited to start this series, but what can you do?!  Oh, re-read the books, I guess!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Divergent" by Veronica Roth

I've lost count of how many friends have recommended this book to me.  For a while I had a long to-read list and I didn't seem to have room for it, plus when I learned the third book of the series wouldn't come out till October 2013, I decided I'd wait till all the books were out before starting the series.  Then, last Tuesday night happened.

I was hot, tired, in a bad mood, and had a raging headache.  My husband could sense my bad vibes from across the room.  He wisely suggested my two favorite things:  "read" and "bath."  But I got grumpier because I didn't have a book to read!  

(That's a blatant lie.  I have several books that I've never cracked open.  It is like standing in my closet and saying I have nothing to wear.  I have plenty of clothes, but none that I want to wear, just like I had plenty of book but none that I wanted to read.)

Then a rush of instant-gratification washed over me and I decided to download the book onto the Kindle app on my phone.  I don't do ebooks very often, but it was only $3.99, so with that special one-touch purchasing option (thanks, Amazon!), I was reading in no time.  

All my friends were right, I loved it!  It paralleled "Hunger Games" and "Matched" in the fact that it's a future version of our culture after a societal collapse, and they've restructured in a way they believe will induce peace among themselves.  This story unfolds in Chicago.  As "Hunger Games" had the reaping, and "Matched" had a matching banquet, "Divergent" has a choosing ceremony.  There are five factions that the people have divided into, each focusing their way of life around a virtue to balance and serve one another:  Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent), and Dauntless (the brave).  The year the youth turn 16, they are expected to choose to remain in the faction they were raised in, or leave their families and way of life forever and align with another faction.  This story follows Beatrice, who was raised in Abnegation.  Before the choosing ceremony, the youth go through an aptitude test to determine their strengths to help them decide which faction they'd succeed best in.  Her results were "inconclusive," which is a rare (and as she discovers, a dangerous) result.  She was advised to tell no one she is Divergent, leaving her to determine her fate at the choosing ceremony on her own.  

That's how it starts, in a nutshell!  I loved this YA book.  I can't wait to get my hands on the next in the series, "Insurgent."  Roth's break-through novel left me anxious for more.

"Wings of Nestor" by Devri Walls

Have you ever had a humongous chocolate craving, and as soon as you get your hands of a bag of M&Ms (or any chocolate indulgence of your choice) you eat them and eat them and you devour the whole bag and then it's gone, and you sit back and realize you never really tasted the chocolate?  You were so absorbed in the consumption of your treat that you didn't take the time to pace yourself and enjoy it?  That was so me with this book!  I'm embarrassed to admit it.  But I was so eager to continue the story, I dove right in and almost didn't come up for air.  I enjoyed it, don't get me wrong.  But I read it so fast, the memories of what I read are a blur in my brain.

I wanted to read this one in the ebook version, to see if it had the same formatting errors the first two books had.  The answer to that was, yes, it did, and no, it didn't.  It didn't have the weird paragraphs in the middle of a sentence, but it lacked the italics that helped the reader understand when the characters communicated telepathically.  So, there you go.  Looks like the system still has a few bugs in it.

The 4th book in The Solus series is "Wings of Lomay," to be released sometime later this year (I think).

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"Wings of Tavea" by Devri Walls

(sorry, this was the best image I could find!)

I told you this was coming!  Back in February I wrote about Walls' first novel, "Wings of Arian." Last night I finished the second book in the Solus series, "Wings of Tavea."  "Tavea" picks up right where "Arian" left off, with Kiora (the Solus), Emane (the Protector), and Drustan (a shape-shifter) leaving Meros after an enchantment was dropped, which had kept the kingdom safe from evil for a thousand years.  They are not only looking for Dralazar, but are also in search of something else they need to defeat evil:  the Lights.  They meet new magical creatures and discover new enemies.  And a love triangle develops (I feel like I'm 14 again when I read about a good love triangle!).

Walls' scope of imagination blows me away.  I've read my fair share of fantasy books, but she brings new elements to the genre with one-of-a-kind beings, powers, and places.  I feel her story line and characters are positively unique.  I remember reading Mortal Instruments the first time and I thought it was like Harry Potter had a love child with Twilight.  Almost none of that in the Solus series.  And I'm greatly impressed with the development of Walls' writing skills between her first and second book.

Downsides to "Tavea:" the first negative aspect in the book was also found in "Arian."  I don't know if it's in the editing or transferring the ebook into paperback, but there are weird mistakes like paragraphs starting in the middle of a sentence, misplaced quotation marks, etc.  These errors were really distracting at times.  You know in "The Princess Bride" when Vizinni keeps shouting, "Inconceivable!" and Inigo finally says, "I do not think it means what you think it means."  Punctuation and grammar have rules and consistency for a purpose, and when those rules aren't followed for one reason or another, it really takes away from the essence of the story.  At least that's how I felt.  So I hope in future editions of the book those mistakes are taken care of.  Because Devri deserves better than that!  Second downside: I read "Arian" back in February, so remember the basics of the story, but some details escaped me.  I felt "Tavea" didn't have enough story overlap to help the reader remember certain details from the first book.  There's a fine line between under-explaining and over-explaining, and I felt "Tavea" was a little lacking and didn't quite cover all the bases to help the reader know what was going on all the time.

I highly recommend that you all explore Walls' story, and I'm more than anxious to get started on the third book, "Wings of Nestor."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

"The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho

Apparently, I'm one of the last people on the planet to hear about this guy or read this book.  Since I've had it from book club, I've told several people what I've been reading and most of them stopped me mid-sentence to gush, "Oh!  I LOVED that book!"  It played part in that strange phenomena, the one where you never hear a particular word/trend/place, but the moment you learn about it you see it EVERYWHERE. That was my experience with this book.  And happily so.

read at your own risk -- consider yourself warned

This book was an answer to prayer.  I believe I am a spiritual person; I have a tendency to see/feel God's love in small ways and "insignificant" things.  I am always deeply touched when I'm blessed with the recognition of God's tender mercies (I like to call them "love notes") in the little ordinary things in life.  I said this book was an answer to prayer, though not a prayer I put into words using my own cognition; it was a prayer that bled from my heart.  There was an unexpected turn of events in the life of my family recently. Not earth-shattering, although heart-breaking.  At the beginning I cried and prayed for days that, selfishly, the event would reverse and things could go back to the way I wanted them.  Then I prayed for understanding, patience, comfort, the ability to have God's grace in my heart so I could exercise forgiveness.  My heart ebbed and flowed with peace and pain, gradual healing mingled with reminders of the sorrow. So when I read the pages of this book, it was not like finding a fill-in-the-blank answer that I'd been hunting for. Rather, it was a calming whisper from my Father in Heaven that He understood my pain, but that He knew I could endure it with His endless love.  I don't understand many things about this universe, but He understands all, and I'm in His watchful care.  I don't know if everyone who reads this book will experience anything similar to what the book did to me.  I would call it a lengthy parable instead of a novel.  But I cannot deny that the very day when I found myself at the lowest low I had experienced in a long time just happened to be the day I cracked open this book, without having an inkling of what it contained inside.  It was a miracle.  And I was filled with love to buoy me through my storm.

I'm not going to tell you what the book is about--I'll let you discover that for yourself.  But I want to share some quotes and passages that were significant to me.

p 47 - It was if the world had fallen silent because the boy's soul had.  He sat there, staring blankly through the door of the cafe, wishing that he had died, and that everything would end forever at that moment.

p 64 - He was actually two hours closer to his treasure...the fact that the two hours had stretched into an entire year didn't matter.

p 69 - "I guess you don't believe a king would talk to someone like me, a shepherd," he said, wanting to end the conversation.

"Not at all.  It was shepherds who were the first to recognize a king that the rest of the world refused to acknowledge.  So, it's not surprising that kings would talk to shepherds."

p 75 - But all this happened for one basic reason:  no matter how many detours and adjustments it made, the caravan moved to the same compass point.  Once obstacles were overcome, it returned to its course, sighting on a start that indicated the location of the oasis.

p 76 - "But that disaster taught me to understand the world of Allah:  people need not fear the unknown if they are capable of achieving what they need and want.

"We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it's our life, or our possessions or property.  But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand."

p 77 - "Once you go into the desert, there's no going back," said the camel driver.  "And when you can't go back, you have to worry about the best way of moving forward.  The rest is up to Allah, including the danger."

p 85 - "Because I don't live either in my past or my future.  I'm interested only in the present.  If you can concentrate always on the present, you'll be a happy man.  You'll see there is life in the desert, that there are stars in the heavens, and that tribesmen fight because they are are part of the human race.  Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we are living right now."

p 87 - Maybe God created the desert so that man could appreciate the date trees.

p 89 - Meanwhile, the boy thought about his treasure.  The closer he got to the realization of his dream, the more difficult things became.  It seemed as if what the old king had called "beginner's luck" was no longer functioning.  In his pursuit of the dream, he was being constantly subjected to tests of his persistence and courage.  So he could not be hasty, nor impatient.  If he pushed forward impulsively, he would fail to see the signs and omens left by God along his path.

God placed them along my path.  He had surprised himself with the thought.  Until then, he had considered the omens to be things of this world.  Like eating or sleeping, or like seeking love  or finding a job.  He had never thought of them in terms of a language used by God to indicate what he should do.

p 98-99 - "Now, I'm beginning what I could have started ten years ago.  But I'm happy at least I didn't wait twenty years."

p 103 - "The secret is here in the present.  If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it.  And, if you improve upon the present, what comes later will also be better.  Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children.  Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity."

p 115 - "It's not what enters men's mouths that's evil," said the alchemist.  "It's what comes out of their mouths that is."

p 120 - "You must understand that love never keeps a man from pursuing his Personal Legend.  If he abandons that pursuit, it's because it wasn't true love...the love that speaks the Language of the World."

p 122 - "Don't say anything," Fatima interrupted.  "One is loved because one is loved.  No reason is needed for loving."

p 125 - "Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey."

p 125 - "And what went wrong when other alchemists tried to make gold and were unable to do so?"

"They were only looking for gold," his companion answered.  "They were seeking the treasure of their Personal Legend, without wanting actually to live out the Personal Legend."

p 127 - "The wise men understood that this natural world is only an image and a copy of paradise.  The existence of this world is simply a guarantee that there exists a  world that is perfect.  God created the world so that, through its visible objects, men could understand his spiritual teachings and the marvels of his wisdom.  That's what I mean by action."

p 130 - "Tell your heart that fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.  And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity."

p 132 - "Every search begins with beginner's luck.  And every search ends with the victor's being severely tested."

p 141 - "There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve:  the fear of failure."

p 156 - "'Everything that happens once can never happen again.  But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.'"