Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Insurgent (Divergent 2) by Veronica Roth


Tris has survived a brutal attack on her former home and family. But she has paid a terrible price. Wracked by grief and guilt, she becomes ever more reckless as she struggles to accept her new future.

Yet if Tris wants to uncover the truth about her world, she must be stronger than ever... because more shocking choices and sacrifices lie ahead. From GoodReads

**WARNING: This will contain spoilers for Insurgent as well as for Allegiant**

“Do remember, though, that sometimes the people you oppress become mightier than you would like.”

On finishing Divergent which I thought was good but not great, I had a deal of reluctance about reading Insurgent. I was not wowed enough by the first to want to immediately dive in to the second and I have heard very conflicting comments about the sequel. When I did start this book I made sure I was well and truly ready for it and I got off to a good start. I didn’t have even a fraction of the questions about the premise (which drove me mental in Divergent) and the pace was moving along quite nicely.

After stopping the deadly simulation, Tris, Four and the rest of the small party need a chance to regroup and make a new plan. Their hopes are often dashed as no matter where they try to go, they are followed, ambushed and hunted down. Eventually they touch base with the Factionless which sets them on a new path with renewed vision. Unlikely alliances are made and broken, and we discover that the Abnegation were slaughtered to protect the secret about The Big Outside.

As I said, I’d started off really enjoying Insurgent and telling people how much better it was and how much I liked it. And while for the first week of reading I powered through, the further I went the more annoyed I became to the point where I was deliberately avoiding reading it because I wasn’t enjoying it.

We are in a factionless storehouse, and the factionless, who are supposed to be scattered, isolated, and without community…are together inside it. Are together, like a faction.

While I was impressed with the progression of the plot – we visit the Amity faction grounds, we spend time under Erudite control, and we find out that my suspicions about the powerlessness of the Factionless was confirmed. I really enjoyed the time spent with the Factionless, despite their abominably unsanitary eating practices, because it perfectly answered my question about how a group of outcasts, some with very specific training and skill sets, were able to band together and used being overlooked and underestimated to their advantage – and for this reason the ending had me laughing at the stupidity and blindness of the other factions. All of this seemed really promising and I was pleased that Roth was managing to overcome Middle Book Syndrome.

“Don’t pretend this is only my problem,” I say. “If I don’t trust you, you don’t trust me either.”

And then Tris and Four made the decision to stop talking to each other because of reasons or something. Tris and I will never be friends. While I admire her strong willed, determined fighting spirit, I find her a hypocrite and it always manages to come between us. But I would not once have thought I would describe her as stupid, yet that’s what she became. Granted, when I was sixteen both my parents weren’t shot in front of me, I didn’t shoot my best friend and no one tried to overthrow my government. Tris has had a nasty case of PTSD to work through in Insurgent and I think Roth did a good job of expressing Tris’s experience. However I could not understand the reason why Tris and Four suddenly stopped trusting each other with their thoughts and feelings and why they both simultaneously decided to stop communicating altogether.

These two have both walked through each other’s Fear Landscapes multiple times – they know each other’s values, big events, motivations and thought processes. Not to mention that being put into someone else’s fear scenarios is the best kind of ‘What are your hopes and dreams?’ discussion you could possibly have. Yet these two both seemed to forget each how well they knew the other time and time again in ways that didn’t make an ounce of sense. I can only fathom that this was done to add Drama and Feels to their relationship to keep the plot going, but all it achieved was a giant wedge between the two of them and a gaping chasm in any ability I had to relate to them. I was so completely frustrated by these two that I was actually hoping Tris would die a book sooner.

“You are not your parents. You are a sixteen year old girl who doesn’t understand that the value of a sacrifice lies in its necessity, not in throwing your life away! And if you do that again, you and I are done.”

In that vein, I enjoyed the subtle remarks in the this book about what would happen if Tris died, because Roth was clearly planting the suggestion of what was to come. It is making me curious to find out exactly how it happens in Allegiant though because Tris has made a transformation in to Bella 2.0, making pointlessly self sacrificing decisions that hurt other people when they try to rescue her. As I said, I understand that Tris has a lot of PTSD and with that goes a degree of Depression which is affecting all her decision making skills – or lack thereof. Both these diseases have the power to be totally debilitating and Tris IS lacking from a sense of self-worth because of this, but anytime someone ‘had to die’, Tris put both hands up and danced on the edge of her seat harder than Hermione trying to answer a question. This rarely ever served any purpose and was completely at odds with her drive to avenge her parents and uncover the truth they died they to tell.

In terms of defeating Jeanine and Erudite, it makes even less sense and Tris is the one true bargaining chip they had to negotiate with and because part of what makes her ‘special’ is that she has traits for Erudite and was the best chance of understanding and defeating the enemy, however underutilised she was.

I still have a lot of questions about the whole concept of being Divergent. Jeanine takes Tris hostage to experiment on her and during the simulations that have been adjusted more specifically, Tris still manages to defeat them. But we are still no closer to understanding why. Tris notices that Four’s eyes are off and fights the simulation – so is it that Tris is simply more observant than others, even those that created the simulation, that makes her special? Or is it her decision to stab herself with a knife that bends what makes her Divergent in a ‘There is no spoon’ metaphor? OR, does her subconscious somehow notice that something is wrong and plant things for Tris to notice so that she ‘wakes up’? And, like with their belief that people can only show aptitude for ONE thing, do they honestly believe that there are only two reactions to a simulation; Normal or Divergent?

As much as I’m curious to see how Roth will pull off explaining the Divergent concept and how it fits in with this new narrative of The Outside that she’s set up, I’m still finding it very difficult to find the drive to continue reading the series. I want to see what kind of government the Factionless will set up, I want to know why Outside created the Factions for everyone in the first place and why they created this little bubble of a world and kept themselves away to hope that what grew was better. Do these things make me look forward to reading the book, though?

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Quote of the Week (83) Making A List

He must have stood there for a long time, making a list of all the terrible things he had done – almost killing me was one of those things – and another list of the good, heroic, brave things he had not done, and then decided that he was tired. Tired, not just of living, but of existing. Tired of being Al. 

Veronica Roth

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare; narrated by Natalie Moore

My Rating:1 Star2 Starhalf Star

To save her mothers life, Clary must travel to the City of Glass, the ancestral home of the Shadowhunters, never mind that entering the city without permission is against the Law, and breaking the Law could mean death. To make things worse, she learns that Jace does not want her there, and Simon has been thrown in prison by the Shadowhunters, who are deeply suspicious of a vampire who can withstand sunlight.

As Clary uncovers more about her familys past, she finds an ally in mysterious Shadowhunter Sebastian. With Valentine mustering the full force of his power to destroy all Shadowhunters forever, their only chance to defeat him is to fight alongside their eternal enemies. But can Downworlders and Shadowhunters put aside their hatred to work together? While Jace realizes exactly how much he's willing to risk for Clary, can she harness her newfound powers to help save the Glass City whatever the cost?

Love is a mortal sin and the secrets of the past prove deadly as Clary and Jace face down Valentine in the third installment of the bestselling Mortal Instruments series.From GoodReads

I’m not entirely sure what my thoughts on City of Glass are but my initial instinct is LONG. This was a long, long, long audiobook. Granted, I did have a few interruptions to the reading process which meant that it was carrying on for almost a month, but there is a lot in this book that I’m not sure needed to be there. When your Epilogue is 45 minutes of driving, it’s time to edit.

I have enjoyed listening to the audiobooks a lot more than I did reading the book and overall they’ve been a good experience. Even with City of Glass, I found no overwhelming faults with it apart from the duration and I do think there were sections of this that could have been cut without any great loss. I understand that this series was originally only a trilogy, and in that sense I guess Clare had a lot of things to wrap up.

At the end of City of Ashes, Clary has performed her Random Act of Magic and saved the day, and a Shadow Hunter tells her that there is a spell to revive her mother, but that she must travel to Idris to find it. Jace, wanting to keep the Random Act of Magic on the down low, does everything he can to make it impossible for Clary to venture forth, and when she uses even more magic to force her way in, he makes her feel as unwelcome as possible.

What follows is then several hours of Feels between the two of them because they want to snog and can’t. I felt this scenario was handled very well in the second book, but by the time I got to the third I just wanted this shit resolved already, yet it’s not until the very end that it is, and even then we must wade through more Feels and Angst.

I enjoyed exploring the illustrious Idris and its many wonders, though I’m still confused about the various mentions of catching a plane to the country next door and walking across to Idris, yet it is a world that has never been visited by humans. Who is flying these planes? Where the hell is Idris located on the planet? What is this neighbouring country that you can travel to Idris from? In my mind I was picturing a cross between Rivendell and Elizabethan England which was not a bad combination and it was interesting to get a glimpse into their politics.

I’m a little disappointed to see this series continue on for another three books but I am glad that they won’t include Valentine: there’s only so many times one can have the “All the dirty Down-Worlders must DIE!!!” “No, they’re tops!” conversation and I’d reached my limit in those several hundred pages ago. I’m not sure whether or not I want to keep going with the next three but I have this advice for you next time you’re battling with your arch nemesis: Don’t just stab once and revel in your victory, stab that mofo forty times, then cut off his head, separate all the parts of his body in secret hiding places around the world, bury some in acid, set fire to others, set up rigged explosives should someone try to free him and maybe shoot a few toes and some fingers directly into the sun. Stabbing once and declaring fait accompli is a rookie move and you hate to see such an embarrassing fail in this day and age.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Quote of the Week (82) Good or Bad

“People aren't born good or bad. Maybe they're born with tendencies either way, but its the way you live your life that matters.” 
Cassandra Clare
City of Glass

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

My Rating:1 Star2 Star

Written in 1948, 1984 was George Orwell's chilling prophecy about the future. While 1984 has come & gone, Orwell's narrative is more timely that ever. 1984 presents a "negative utopia," that is at once a startling & haunting vision of the world—-so powerful that it's completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the power of this novel, its hold on the imaginations of entire generations of readers, or the resiliency of its admonitions—a legacy that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time. From GoodReads

Big Brother is infallible and all-powerful. Every success, every achievement, every victory, every scientific discovery, all knowledge, all wisdom, all happiness, all virtue, are held to issue directly from his leadership and inspiration.

It’s always daunting to go in to a book with a massive following. Will you love it? Hate it? Will you be seen to ‘get it’, as is the case with a lot of these classics where if you haven’t read it – or god forbid didn’t like it – your street cred will never recover. Is it paranoia that I think people will be able to look at me and know that I didn’t care at all for a book that has been banned, burnt, turned into a TV show that must haunt Orwell from beyond the grave, quoted and misquoted and become something akin to a Bible of what NOT to do for so many people? Have I now missed out on joining the ‘I Read Literature Club’? Jess and Rory certainly wouldn’t let me sit at their table.

I went in to Nineteen Eighty-Four fully expecting to love it. I’d read Animal Farm for school and been completely blown away by how much I was blown away. The mental image of that horse giving everything he had (even his life) for the cause, only to be turned into glue??? That was the day I died inside. I’d just read The Circle by Dave Eggers when it was decided that the challenge for my book club this month was to read a classic we’d always wanted to read but never got round to. I was not at all impressed with The Circle but I wanted to see where it all began and finally understand all those casual references - Big Brother, the Thought Police - that I’d grown up with.

One of these days, thought Winston with sudden deep conviction. Syme will be vaporised. He is too intelligent. He sees to clearly and speaks too plainly.

It’s pretty clear from the first few pages that there are some pretty major flaws in Winston Smiths world. Chief among them is not his horrible, festering leg ulcer, but the constant TV monitoring even in the privacy of his own home and that a person can be executed for things they might mumble in their sleep. Said execution is all done very tidily of course; a member of the Thought Police will as good as read your mind on the walk to work, whilst completing the mundane tasks assigned to you, or your dreams and you will simply disappear and cease to exist, or be publicly executed before all traces of you are completely erased. You will of course be dragged away in the middle of the night and chances are you’ve been turned in by your colleague, neighbour or even by your own righteous child. This should all sound horrifyingly and unfortunately familiar to far too many people, especially those who lived through the 1930’s and 1940’s, as Orwell did.

Syme had vanished. A morning came, and he was missing from work: a few thoughtless people commented on his absence. On the next day nobody mentioned him.

Winston Smith is a very quiet rebel. By day, he erases and edits newspaper articles and historical documents to represent whatever version of truth Big Brother and the Inner Party now wants you to know. By night, he writes in a diary – not forbidden but certain to lead to death – and has a secret relationship with a Julia who works the machines that churn out books following formulaic plots that the Big Guy approves of. There was always an inevitability about their relationship; they were going to get caught, the question was when and how many acts of quiet rebellion they could commit before then.

It’s hard to identify or empathise with either Winston or Julia. Both have been so disconnected from their selves and the world around them and they both seem to have an empty void inside of them. Their relationship felt like a sham to begin with when Julia, a young, attractive girl in her 20’s declares love for an ageing, slightly decrepit Winston that she has only ever so subtly dared to make glancing eye contact with when passing each other in group events. It’s all made even more ludicrous when you take into account that the day before Winston had imagined bashing Julia’s head in because he hated her and everything she supposedly stood for. Had their relationship been about a desire to have sex – almost forbidden by Big Brother – instead of a supposed mutual love, I might have found them more believable and been able to (pardon the expression) root for them.

Eventually the trap is sprung and both Winston and Julia are arrested and tortured for an indeterminable period until they are mere shadows of their former selves and Winston believes everything that happened was just a hallucination.

Orwell depicts a pretty bleak future – all concept of individualism and sense of self is completely destroyed. Anyone with intelligence is used and then made to disappear and the concepts of Truth and Freedom of Information are the complete opposite of what their names suggest. The world has been at war for decades, yet there is a small minority, including Julia and Winston that doubt whether there has ever been any real fighting that has not been concocted and perpetrated by their own government. To want basic privacy in your own home, or quiet time to yourself, is a sign of your ThoughtCrime and crimes against Big Brother. This future is meant to be a warning to all of us about where we are and where we could be going, but it failed to really move me at all. Perhaps because I have heard so much about this novel already, or because I’ve heard its message so many times, or simply because I’m going to be one of the Proles watching it all happen and do nothing, I failed to be shocked or scared into fearing his message.

Perhaps, had it been much shorter like Animal Farm, its message might have been more powerful. The novel had failed to grab my attention and the further I read the more I was channelling Prince Humperdinck and chanting “SKIP to the end!” which only got worse when Winston starting reading Goldsteins manifesto which narrated the entire plot of the novel again.

While I am pleased to have finally read it, I found the reading itself disappointing. It definitely wasn’t as powerful as I had expected and been led to believe and I think it has suffered from my knowing the concept so well before encountering the book.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Quote of the Week (81) Grave

He had the sensation of stepping into the dampness of a grave, and it was not much better because he had always known that the grave was there and waiting for him. 
George Orwell
Nineteen Eighty-Four

Friday, 5 September 2014

A Perusal of Picture Books

So in my job I read a lot of picture books, some because they're just plain super and others because I do storytime sessions at work. 

I really enjoy reading picture books - there's so much fun to be had with words, so much potential for adventures and explorations of imagination and it's a joy to share them with other people, so here I am forcing the joy on to you. 

Oliver Jeffers does great things with picture books and The Day the Crayons Quit is no exception. It's such a fantastic concept: red crayon never gets a day off - even Christmas, grey crayon has to colour in all the big things - whales, elephants, big rocks, pink crayon only gets played with by his little sister and blue crayon is too short after colouring in all those beautiful skies, rivers, oceans and blue things. The phrasing of words is so brilliant - 'an excellent career in colouring things green' - and the drawing at the end was beautiful. SO GO READ IT. 

The Three Bears - Sort Of - is also a lot of fun. I have really enjoyed reading retellings of classic fairy tales because there's a lot of fun to be had with them. Goldilocks and The Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems is another classic. This time there's a kid who keeps interrupting and applying logic to the story; how could three bowls of porridge poured at the same time be three different temperatures, why do bears even eat porridge instead of fish and why did a little girl want to sleep in a bed that must have smelt so strongly of bear? 

The Children Who Loved Books has become a real favourite of mine. The colours in the illustrations are beautifully vivid and the illustrations themselves are great. However it's the story that really, really sold me on this book. Two little kids who don't have much; no TV, no car, and living in a caravan. But the entire family has books and they connect to each other and love each other through books. But when there's no more room in the caravan, the books have to go. But then the family is isolated and they lose that power to connect and interact with each other, something that is only fixed when they go to the library and start reading books again. 

Not only do I love them using the library because it keeps me in a job, but we try to impress on people the importance of reading to children and using that as a special time to bond and connect with children as well as to educate. And this book, with some spare but well chosen words and some beautiful illustrations shows all the wonder and happiness than can be experienced together or alone through reading and I think that's really special. 

I think that there are many picture books that can be just as appreciated by adults as by children. Not just for nostalgia for favourite books we had as kids, but because I think it's so easy to us to get the wonder and excitement of the world around us and the power of imagination. We get stuck into our drudgery of day to day 9-5 and traffic and deadlines and bills and responsibility, but a well chosen picture book can remind us all of the potential for discovery and adventure, of the simple joy of words and the fun they can be and a reminder to switch on and experience rather than watch the day pass us by without appreciating it.  
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