Divergent (YA)

Divergent. Veronica Roth. 2011. May 2011. HarperCollins. 496 pages.

There is one mirror in my house. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs.

Beatrice Prior, our sixteen-year-old narrator, is about to make the most important decision of her life. For two big days are coming: the day of the aptitude test and the Choosing Ceremony. Soon Beatrice will have to decide which faction she'll belong to for the rest of her life. If she chooses outside her parents' faction, she may never see them again. For ties to one's faction must come first. The five factions are as follows: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent). Beatrice has been raised Abnegation, but it's always felt like a wrong fit. Selflessness does not come easy for her. She has spent the first sixteen years of her life practically invisible--blending into the background. But Beatrice has secretly been watching her Dauntless classmates. Dare she admit it aloud? She's thinking of choosing the most rebel faction of all!

But not all initiates make it into the Dauntless faction. Only the bravest. Only the strongest. Only the best. Readers follow Tris (Beatrice) on her new journey. We meet fellow initiates--those born Dauntless, and those transferring from other factions. We follow their training through three stages. They will be challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally. We become familiar with their two trainers--Eric and Four. We see the faction's strengths and weaknesses. As does Tris. On the one hand, Tris realizes she is fierce. She can be strong, determined, brave. She is learning to face her fears, learning to face life. But she's also realizing that compassion and love are part of courage. That selflessness has prepared her for her new life. On the other hand, she sees how heartless, how cruel some are. Yes, the Dauntless have their flaws.

Divergent is an action-packed dystopia. It's exciting. It's compelling. It's impossible to put down. The futuristic Chicago setting has been well-crafted. While only two factions are explored in this first novel in the trilogy, the glimpses we get of this world are fascinating. I loved the setting, the world-building. I loved the characters. Tris is such a great heroine. And Four. Well, I don't want to spoil it. But he's definitely a large part of why I loved this one! I would definitely recommend this one. I think I loved it even more than The Hunger Games trilogy.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Delirium (YA)

Delirium. Lauren Oliver. 2011. February 2011. HarperCollins.  441 pages.
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It's the only thing that there's just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone. ~ Hal David, What The World Needs Now, 1964
First sentence: It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure. Everyone else in my family has had the procedure already. My older sister, Rachel, has been disease free for nine years now. She's been safe from love for so long, she says she can't remember its symptoms. I'm scheduled to have my procedure in exactly ninety-five days, on September 3. My birthday. 

Lauren Oliver has created a world without love in her newest YA novel, Delirium. It stars a teen girl, Lena, who falls in love with a guy, Alex, in the last weeks of her freedom, for when Lena turns eighteen, she will receive "the cure" like everyone else. No longer will she be diseased by this thing called love, this destructive force that robs men and women of their reason and logic. When the novel opens, Lena, though susceptible, has not fallen prey to love. (It helps that contact between uncured guys and girls are extremely limited.) But on her Evaluation Day, something happens. Two things really. One, a herd of cows charges through the labs--the building--where the exams are being conducted. Two, someone--a cute boy--winks at her. Can you guess which one has the biggest impact?

Lena is afraid of love, no doubt about it. Her family's history has led her to fear the worst. When she was just six, Lena's mom committed suicide just days before her fourth attempt to be cured. For one reason, or another, the cure just didn't work on her mom. And her mom almost seemed happy about this. Though she had lost her husband, she cherished her memories of him. And above all else, she loved her two kids. She loved singing to them, playing with them, tickling them, laughing with them, hugging and kissing them. In everything she said and did, she showed she cared. But since love was a disease, since love was illegal, Lena is almost ashamed that her childhood had so many happy moments. All her happiest moments should not have happened. For if her mom was normal, chances are she'd still be alive. And Lena's cousin, Gracie, has also suffered from love. For her mom and dad were suspected of being sympathizers and arrested. Gracie will never know her mother. And since her home has been torn apart, Gracie hasn't said one single word. So, yes, Lena has her reasons for her fear.

Will Lena's seventeenth summer be her summer of love? Will she fall in love with the boy who winked at her? Will she fall in love with the boy who encouraged her to listen to music and dance? Will this summer be her happiest yet? Can she be happy knowing that it can never last? That no matter how much she protests, she'll be cured in September? That she'll be expected to live her life according to someone else's plan?

While Delirium is very much a teen romance, it is an interesting premise for a dystopian novel. Because this "cure" does more than prevent broken hearts and passion. For it treats not just romantic love, but all forms of love and desire. It impacts marriages, yes, but it also impact all family relationships. It removes the loving bond between parents and children, between siblings--at least after one of them has received the cure. These "new" families will have no loving parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles. There will be no one to "model" love or affection to these children growing up in this strange, new world. (Unless a parent is "invalid" and can't be cured.) Friendships among adults are also impacted. As are hobbies, habits, and tastes. Imagine not being able to love anything. Of course, what you'd feel the most is the loss of love in human relationships. But I can't imagine not being able to love reading, listening to music, or the pleasure of savoring dark chocolate. Without love, there can be no joy in any aspect of your life.

The more you "love" Romeo and Juliet, the more you'll appreciate Delirium. I didn't love Delirium because it was a romance novel. It's not particularly better or worse than others I've read in the genre. (Some make me more giddy than others. Alex was no Marcus Flutie.)  But I did enjoy it as a dystopian novel. I enjoyed it because it was thought-provoking.

Favorite lines:

That's the real reason she doesn't speak. All the rest of her words are crowded out by that single, looming one, a word still echoing in the dark corners of her memory. Mommy. I know. I remember. (41)

I'm momentarily distracted by the way he says my name. In his mouth it sounds musical, not clunky and angular, the way my teachers have always made it sound. His eyes are a warm amber color, and as I look at him I have a sudden, flashing memory of my mother pouring syrup over a stack of pancakes. (61)

Snapshots, moments, mere seconds: as fragile and beautiful and hopeless as a single butterfly, flapping on against a gathering wind. (263)

Love: a single word, a wispy thing, a word no bigger or longer than an edge. That's what it is: an edge; a razor. It draws up through the center of your life, cutting everything in two. Before and after. The rest of the world falls away on either side. Before and after--and during, a moment no bigger or longer than an edge. (301)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Library Loot: Second Trip in February

New Loot:

The Hollow by Agatha Christie
Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie
The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh
Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie by Kathy Lynn Emerson
The Thistle and the Rose by Jean Plaidy
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh
The Nursing Home Murders by Ngaio Marsh
The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King

Leftover Loot:

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hidden Flame by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke
Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories bx Agatha Christie
Curtain by Agatha Christie
The Mirror Crack'd by Agatha Christie
A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie
Murder with Mirrors by Agatha Christie

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries    

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sad Cypress

Sad Cypress. Agatha Christie. 1939/2007. Black Dog & Leventhal. 256 pages.

"Elinor Katharine Carlisle. You stand charged upon this indictment with the murder of Mary Gerrard upon the 27th of July last. Are you guilty or not guilty?"

Harriet Vane had Lord Peter Wimsey, and Elinor Katharine Carlisle has Peter Lord. Though her hero is not an amateur detective, but a country doctor. Still, Peter Lord, who fell in love with Elinor at first sight, has the wisdom to seek the best of the best to clear her name: Hercule Poirot. He wants Poirot to find evidence that will acquit her of murder. Is love blinding him? Is the woman he loves guilty of murder? It seems that she had opportunity to kill her aunt (supposedly out of greed) and Mary (supposedly out of jealousy). But Lord and Poirot doubt the supposed motives. They see other possibilities. 

I loved this one. I just LOVED it. I loved the characterization! I loved the story! While Peter Lord is no Lord Peter, I did enjoy him very much! I was quite surprised by how pleased I was that Elinor had someone on her side. Not that Elinor was completely lovable. She was flawed--very flawed. But still. By the end, I was seeing her through Peter Lord's eyes, I was seeing her with love.

"One does not practice detection with a textbook! One uses one's natural intelligence." (196)
"One must understand with the cells of one's brain before one uses one's eyes."(196)
"One always likes to know exactly what lies have been told one."
"Did Welman tell you a lie?"
"Who else has lied to you?"
"Everybody. I think: Nurse O'Brien romantically; Nurse Hopkins stubbornly; Mrs. Bishop venomously; You yourself--"
"Good God!" Peter Lord interrupted him unceremoniously. "You don't think I've lied to you, do you?"
"Not yet," Poirot admitted.
Dr. Lord sank back in his chair. He said, "You're a disbelieving sort of fellow, Poirot." (198)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Cat Among the Pigeons

Cat Among the Pigeons. Agatha Christie. 1959/2007. Black Dog & Leventhal. 272 pages.

It was the opening day of the summer term at Meadowbank school.

Set at a girls' boarding school, this Hercule Poirot mystery was oh-so-fascinating. I enjoyed it so much! It's a mystery novel with plenty of narrators--from teachers and secretaries to students. This school term is unlike previous terms--for one of the new students brings mystery and danger to the prestigious school. And this "danger" will cost a few teachers their lives. A quick-thinking student, Julia Upjohn, decides to seek out Hercule Poirot believing that this detective is the man for the job. If anyone can stop this murderer and solve the mystery, he can.

I loved this one. I loved how this mystery unfolds. How Hercule Poirot does not enter into the book too early. How other characters are given the opportunity to shine. So when he does appear, I almost felt like cheering. (I wasn't expecting that!) I am still loving Agatha Christie. I'm still finding her novels clever and wonderful and oh-so-compelling. There is just something so delightful, so satisfying about reading her books!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

At Bertram's Hotel

At Bertram's Hotel. Agatha Christie. 1965/2007. Black Dog & Leventhal. 272 pages.

In the heart of the West End, there are many quiet pockets, unknown to almost all but taxi drivers who traverse them with expert knowledge, and arrive triumphantly thereby at Park Lane, Berkeley Square, or South Audley Street.

Is Bertram's Hotel too good to be true? Miss Marple senses something is not as it should be. She senses that there is something unreal about this place. It's in the little things, really, and it's hard to put into words almost. But the hotel seems more like an act, a show, a theatrical production, than a proper hotel. Miss Marple is on vacation in London. And she's as observant as ever--which proves useful as a mystery begins to unfold concerning the hotel and its guests. (One guest ends up missing! One clerk ends up dead!) The novel focuses on a broken relationship between mother and daughter and the race car driver that may just come between them in the end.

Though it stars Miss Marple--a character I've come to love and adore--I did not love and adore At Bertram's Hotel. I found it confusing. The shifts in narration. The introduction of new characters, new stories, new mysteries. It felt so chaotic, so unconnected. I knew if I kept reading, it would make sense in the end. I knew that all these elements would come together nicely. That Miss Marple would be Miss Marple and all would be right with the world. And I was right. I did find it compelling by the end. Still. I was a little disappointed that it wasn't love through and through.

Miss Marple seldom gave anyone the benefit of the doubt; she invariably thought the worst, and nine times out of ten, so she insisted, she was right in so doing. (119)

"I learned (what I suppose I really knew already) that one can never go back, that one should not ever try to go back--that the essence of life is going forward. Life is really a one way street, isn't it?" (194)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Appointment With Death

Appointment with Death. Agatha Christie. 1937/2007. Black Dog & Leventhal. 256 pages.

"You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?" The question floated out into the still night air, seemed to hang there a moment and then drift away down into the darkness towards the Dead Sea. Herbule Poirot paused a minute with his hand on the window catch.

Hercule Poirot is vacationing in Jerusalem when he overhears a private conversation. A man and woman discussing murder quite matter-of-factly. Who are they wanting to murder? Their stepmother. Is their stepmother really wicked? Well, many fellow vacationers seem to think so! She's a mean bully. A cruel tyrant. A woman almost impossible to love, to pity. She "manages" her adult children through fear and manipulation. Though alive, they appear lifeless. This 'strange' American family catches the interest of several fellow travelers including Miss Sarah King and Dr. Theodore Gerard. The family inspires pity--for the most part--and discussion. In just a few short days, this family becomes THE topic of discussion wherever they go--first in Jerusalem, and later in Petra. But when this matriarch, Mrs. Boynton, dies Poirot recalls this conversation. And that, along with a puncture wound on the wrist, becomes enough to interrogate this family and investigate this death. Can he come to the truth in just 24 hours? Even if he discovers the truth, will there be enough evidence to bring to convict should it ever go to trial?

I didn't love this one. It was more like than love. I found it compelling enough to finish. I thought it got off to a nice start--with its reference to Anthony Trollope, it had me hooked actually. But it doesn't do that well when compared to the other Christie mysteries I've read so far. Still, I'm glad I've read it.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To

The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To. DC Pierson. 2010. Random House. 240 pages.

From the prologue: All the newspapers and TV pundits are calling this fall's freshman college class the "Symnitol Generation," but if the activity up and down my dorm hallway is any indication, this fall's freshman college class is the "Stand Around Each Other's Laptops and Play the First Thirty Seconds Of Every Song on the Hard Drive Generation." The noise makes it hard to sit and write this but not impossible.

From chapter one: I've got a system to keep people from seeing what I'm drawing.

I can't say I loved The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep And Never Had To. But I can say it was an interesting read: a coming-of-age novel with a science fiction twist. Our narrator, Darren Bennett, was a loner, a young guy trying to keep his life private. Not wanting anyone to know just how seriously he took his drawing, his stories. But then he meets Eric Lederer, a guy with an even bigger secret to keep, and it just happens that he shares his vision. The two begin working on the project together--creating stories and characters, outlining movies and books, etc. And the two become best friends. Even though Eric doesn't love everything about Darren--his bullying brothers, for example, and his friend's obsession with "his thing." And Darren doesn't love everything about Eric--his friend's reluctance to explore "his thing," and his way of disappearing for a day or two each month. What is Eric's "thing"? Well, it's what the call Eric's big secret: the fact that Eric doesn't ever sleep. He doesn't have to sleep. He has never slept in his entire life. Darren isn't the first person Eric's ever told. But he is the first person who has believed him. And he's the first person to become obsessed with it, to view it as a "super-power." But what Darren fails to realize is just how heavy a burden this "power" is for his friend.

As I said, it's a coming of age novel, so expect angst and rivalry. For what could separate these two friends? Could it be a girl? a drama queen?!

The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep And Never Had To has its moments. I enjoyed quite a few scenes in this one. But--for me--it wasn't quite love. The book had its light moments, its funny moments, it's social commentary. But. I had a hard time believing in the science fiction elements of this one. In Eric's power and ability. And the last third of the novel had me a bit confused--what was real? what was imagined? is Darren reliable as a narrator? are we supposed to like Darren? I do think other readers might like it more than I did.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews