Tag Archives: Thriller

Measuring Up to Other Dystopian Worlds: Divergent Review

Review by Nōn Wels: Check out his writing/political/philosophy blog, A Thousand Screaming Rabbits.

In reading Veronica Roth’s Divergent, two other book series came to mind. One, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. And the other, the massively popular Hunger Games trilogy from Suzanne Collins. While I don’t think Divergent packs the same amount of punch like that of Uglies or Hunger Games, I do believe it has just enough exciting elements for an enjoyable read.

Akin to the different houses at Rowling’s “Hogwarts,” Roth’s world is separated into factions. Five factions, in this case. Each of which dedicate their lives to a particular culture and ideal. Candor values honesty. Abnegation values selflessness. Dauntless values bravery. Amity values peacefulness. Erudite values intelligence.

And like all the other kids turning 16, Beatrice (or “Tris,” as she calls herself) has to decide which faction is for her. She does, but the result is something she wasn’t at all prepared for.  What follows is an enjoyable and often exciting dystopian tale that has the right idea about how we live. Ms. Roth, it seems, understands that things are not always so black and white; that the narrow-minded can, in fact, be quite dangerous; that it’s important to recognize individuality as it pertains to the cultures or “factions” we live within; and that each culture holds inherent value we as individuals need to recognize—for ourselves and our factions.

Unfortunately, even with the above mentioned, I was mildly disappointed in the story’s originality. It just seemed, as I was reading, that I had read it before—in Uglies and Hunger Games, for instance. I wanted something more. Something that I didn’t see coming. Something that was going to surprise me.

All in all, it was fairly enjoyable. And, being the dystopian junkie that I am, I will continue reading the series. But with some trepidation.

Age Group: 12 and up
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction
Themes: Science Fiction, dystopian, identity, discrimination
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books, imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books

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I Am Number Four

Review by Nōn Wels: Check out his writing/political/philosophy blog, A Thousand Screaming Rabbits

Typically, I like to read the book before I see the movie. And I am not entirely certain why that is the case. Perhaps, as I often hear, it’s a matter of preserving the vision you have created after reading the book. This way, the characters, the imagery, they are your own, not to be muddled by the perceptions of the filmmakers. Or, rather, maybe it’s to do with the fact that the book almost always precedes the film, and there is some sort of unnamed hierarchy or chronological importance tied to it.

Frankly, I have no idea. The order, in some respects, is irrelevant. But I’ll let you make that decision.

As I intimated, this wasn’t one of my typical moments. After seeing the movie, I was inspired to pick up a copy of the book I Am Number Four, written by Pittacus Lore.

The story is a fine mix of high school adolescence, coming-of-age and science fiction. John, the protagonist, is an alien from the planet Lorien. One of nine warriors (or “Garde”) in total, John is Number Four (hence the title). This is significant because the Mogadorians, the other non-Earth entities, are out to kill John and all of the rest of the Garde. The caveat, however, is that they need to kill in order, from One through Nine.

After finding out that Number Three had been killed, John and his guardian, or “Cepan,” Henri move, once again (they are always on the move), to the little town of Paradise, Ohio. It is in this town they are both faced with their toughest challenge yet.

With the Mogadorians close on their trail, John and Henri must make a choice. Do they stay in Paradise, alongside John’s new girlfriend Sarah, his friend Sam, the geeky conspiracy theorist, Bernie Kosar, the mysterious yet loveable beagle, and the first place they ever felt at home?

With John’s developing “Legacies,” or powers, do they stay and fight to protect their new home?

You’ll have to pick up a copy to find out for yourself!

Just know that you’re in for an enjoyable ride.

Oh, and a ride that contains telekinesis, shape-shifting creatures, and, you know, things like fighting daggers that consume the energies of living plants and trees for their source of power. Little things like that.

Check out the movie’s official website.

Age Group: 12 and up (Contains bad language and teenage/adult content)
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction / Fantasy
Themes: Science Fiction, Aliens, Teenagers, Superhero
Publisher: HarperCollins

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Reincarnating Love in The Eternal Ones

Love stories.  I say blech to them in general.  People will recommend certain books that focus around a love story, and while I do love “love” it seems that lately I have been more interested in Sci-Fi stories and those dominated by a post-apocalyptic or a dystopian theme (even a little political).  I had planned on reading The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller, but it was definitely further down on my list.  It was not until I received the book in audio format that I pushed it to the top of my reading/listening schedule (I love audiobooks, especially when they are read by the right person).

Here begins my review on Eternal Ones:

Haven Moore has uncontrollable visions about a previous life.  This is not just any typical, run of the mill previous life either.  Haven’s visions are filled with passion — red, hot passion — making her life in Snopes City, Tennessee very difficult.  Her grandmother strongly believes that Haven is possessed by the devil, ironically making Haven’s life a living hell.  Haven’s main ally and confidant in Snopes is her good friend Beau, but he can only give her moral support.  She needs to figure out what Constance (her previous life) is trying to tell her.  Haven’s visions transport her to the 1920s in New York city and she finds herself madly in love with a boy named Ethan.  In the present day, Haven feels an urgency to travel to New York City, find the reincarnated Ethan (Iain), and figure out what her old self is trying to warn her about.  The only problem is that her visions are so scattered and she doesn’t know who to trust, even Iain.  Will she solve the mystery of her past life?

Listening to the audiobook, I found myself completely sucked into the world Miller creates.  Emma Galvin, the reader, does a fantastic job with character voices and the Tennessee accent.  With each chapter I became more and more enthralled by the life and past life of Haven/Constance and Ethan/Iain.  The only times I felt frustrated with the story were during Miller’s longer passages about love.  There were a couple passages at the end that became a little sappy and a little preachy, but aside from that I couldn’t stop listening.

Note:  There were some steamy moments in the novel that gave just enough to count the book as a romance and not a tease.  Haven is seventeen and makes some very adult decisions, however, she’s also remembering a past life from the 1920s so that kind of makes her close to her nineties!  She is an old soul.

Age Group: 13 and up
Genre: Young Adult
Themes: Romance, Supernatural, Reincarnation
Publisher: Razorbill, imprint of Penguin Group

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Is a Utopian Prison Possible?

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Catherine Fisher explores the idea of a utopian prison in her book, Incarceron.  Utopian prison!?  What!  Is that possible?

Basically, in a nut shell, the novel contains two constructed utopias, the Outside and Incarceron.  The Outside is ruled by Protocol, which was decreed by King Endor “as a world free from the anxiety of change.”  The rulers have chosen an Era from the past and require that all who live within the realm follow the strict protocol of that particular era.  Imagine an amusement park where all of the employees are forbidden to break character (See “Super Fun Time” South Park episode which makes fun of these parks).  The people living in the Outside must adhere to the rules of  a Victorian-like Era, however, there are instances when highly advanced technology (or even just washing machines) are referenced but such technology is forbidden.  The big caveat to the law/Protocol forbidding the use of advanced technology is that the government can spy on you using highly sophisticated listening and visual devices.  Basically, technology is used, but only when it is to enforce control over the people.

Incarceron has been created to hold prisoners.  At the start of each chapter there are brief illuminations on why and how the world is the way it is.  At the beginning of Chapter 6 the Court Archives describe Incarceron as a Utopian experiment:

“All criminals , undesirables, political extremists, degenerates, lunatics would be transported [to Incarceron].  The Gate would be sealed and the Experiment commence.  It was vital that nothing should disturb the delicate balance of Incarceron’s programming, which would provide everything needed—education, balanced diet, exercise, spiritual welfare, and purposeful work—to create a paradise.”

Early on in the novel, like in the first twenty pages, the reader realizes that Incarceron is much closer to a dystopia* rather than a utopia.  In fact, both worlds, the Outside and Incarceron, appear to be struggling under government control.  This sets up the worlds Fisher creates but not the characters.  Claudia, daughter of the warden, finds herself rebelling against the Protocol within the Kingdom, while seventeen-year-old Finn attempts to break free from the clutches of the prison, which by the way is alive (Please imagine Gene Wilder playing Dr. Frankenstein and crying “It’s alive!”).  Incarceron is so sophisticated that it is actually alive and considers all of the prisoners it’s children.  The book focuses on Claudia and Finn as they attempt to upset the “utopian” balance of their worlds and in the end must help each other to break free.

The creation of these worlds highlights the improbability of ever having a utopian society.  While the world of Incarceron is much more dramatic in emphasizing the troubles with government control and the ridiculous idea of utopian societies, the Outside kingdom’s idea of Protocol, of essentially banning progress and change from ever occurring, creates just as much of a dystopia as Incarceron.  Can a government find a policy to make everyone happy, to create a utopia without restricting the rights of others?  An excellent short story that further explores the idea of utopias is “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin.  If you haven’t read it, then you should!  Along with Incarceron.  Fisher does an amazing job at creating the worlds in this book.  I found myself fighting against my body’s need for sleep, especially towards the end!  I wanted more than anything to find out what happens at the end and I was not disappointed.

Expect the sequel, Sapphique, in December 2010!

*Dystopia: –noun– a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding. Dictionary .com

Age Group: 13 and up
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Themes: Fantasy, Utopia, Friendship, Adventure, Prison
Publisher: Dial Books, imprint of Penguin

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Can’t Wait For Mockingjay

I am getting very excited about Suzanne Collins final Katniss installment, Mockingjay!

Scheduled to be released on August 24th.

Check out the Bookstore People Review of Catching Fire

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Little Brother is Watching

A Guest Review by Nōn Talbot Wels – Check out his blog about writing and other book-related tidbits, A Thousand Screaming Rabbits

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is a tech and geek heavy aggrandizement of the right to free speech, thought and personal freedom, set in a world that seems almost dystopian.

But it’s not, tragically.

This world is one of Patriot Act, post-9/11, nanny-statism. It’s a world of George W. yee-haw interventionism. It’s a world in which the young, the technologically savvy, the progressive fight back against the oppressive, collectivist, bureaucrats.

One such young “techno-geek” is Marcus Yallow. A mere high school kid, Marcus, and a few of his friends, get caught up in the midst of a terrorist attack where they, by circumstance, are called in for questioning. Days later, he is let go. To them, to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to the police state and their guns, Marcus is part of the problem.

What the DHS doesn’t know, however, is that Marcus- and the hundreds of thousands of kids, students, individuals, Americans like him- is no push-over. Impassioned and eager to get to the truth, Marcus fights back.

*      *      *     *     *

Little Brother excels at defining what it means to be an individual, ever questioning, ever seeking, ever yearning, in a world that consistently encumbers those innate freedoms. It is wonderfully empowering, exciting and exemplary.

Age Group: 13+
Genre: Young Adult Book, Teen
Themes: Civil Rights, Counterculture, Terrorism, Computer Hackers
Publisher: Tor Books
Reading Level: 5.9

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Addictive Reads: The Hunger Games & The Maze Runner

These are the first books of two series you should read, if you haven’t already.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Maze Runner by James Dashner reignited my unconditional love for young adult books.  I became extraordinarily excited about recommending these books to any 12+.  There is always the occasional teen that seems utterly unmoved by my enthusiasm and instead just shrugs the book away.  But then there are others who place their faith in my love and excitement for these books, or any books.  I love to have that person return to the bookstore and say, “I couldn’t put it down.”

The Hunger Games
Sixteen-year-old Katniss takes care of her mother and sister by hunting for food just outside the city wall.  If the Capital ever found out about these hunting excursions she would be punished, severely, but this becomes the least of her problems.  In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins creates a terrifying world in which one boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts must be sent to the Hunger Games – a fight to the death.  Katniss is determined to return home, back to her family, but can she survive the games.  The sequel, Catching Fire, was equally amazing!

Age Group: 12+
Genre: Young Adult Book, Teen
Themes: Science Fiction, Televised Contests, Interpersonal Relationships, Survival
Publisher: Scholastic
Reading Level: 5.3

The Maze Runner--

In James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, Thomas awakes in an elevator shaft in a place called the Glade unable to remember a thing, only his name.  He soon discovers that he and the other boys living in the Glade must stay there until they figure out the ever-changing maze, but it’s not that easy.  If you stay out in the maze after dark then the walls, enclosing the Glade, close and the Grievers come out.  Many of the boys don’t want to leave the Glade and have a sneaking suspicion that life outside is far worse.

Age Group: 12+
Genre: Young Adult Book, Teen
Themes: Science Fiction, Social Issues, Survival, Labrynths
Publisher: Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
Reading Level: 5.3

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