Tag Archive | speculative fiction

Review : The Selection

The Selection by Kiera Cass
Pages : 327
Genre : YA, Speculative Fiction
Series : The Selection, book 1
My Rating :

What it’s about :

The whole country of Illéa is on their toes : the Prince is ready to get married. In order for him to find the perfect wife, the Selection is organized : 35 girls from different castes of society will compete for his love (and the crown), until one steals his heart.

It’s almost by accident that America Singer is selected : now she must leave behind her family and, most importantly, her secret boyfriend. Unlike the other girls, she doesn’t want a life in the palace. Then she meets Prince Maxon, and as she get to know him, America starts doubting what it is she really wants…

My Thoughts :

I knew going it that there was a big chance this wasn’t a book for me; The Selection has been mentioned as a “The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games” kind of book. Not being a fan of the first, and being too much of a fan of the second, I really expected the worst. I think it’s why, despite not enjoying the book, I went through it quite fast and actually finished it without feeling disappointed.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the book’s genre. Is it dystopia? Sci-fi? Fantasy? Honestly, hard to say. Though the Hunger Games comparison leads you to believe this will be full on dystopia with pretty dresses, it isn’t exactly the case. The book is so dystopia-light it is almost dystopia-free. There was a mention of Illéa being once upon a time the United-States, the attacks by rebels and then the castes systems (castes numbered 1 to 8, 1 being the royal family and 8 being the poorest of all). That is not sufficient to call a novel dystopian!

It’s possible the author plans on expending on her worldbuilding in the following books; if that’s the case, it really won’t hurt. Until more details were given, I found it extremely difficult to figure out which kind of society America lived in. Taking place 300 years in the future, there were very few mentions of technology or modern items : tv, portable phones, cinema, jeans… Other than that, I couldn’t figure if they lived in an advanced technological world, or if the wars had almost destroyed everything and stopped most progress.

And then there was America. She is pretty, you see; gorgeous in fact. Except that she doesn’t know it (she will tell you many times, that she doesn’t understand why people call her pretty all the time!) She’s also kind, talented at music, witty enough to get the Prince’s attention, simple, humble… gee, no wonder the Prince falls for her! She is so obviously better than every other girl around her! Her only clear fault was her lying – but it’s not her fault, you see, she is so obviously torn between those two guys!

As for the romance… huh. It was so predictable. So, so, so predictable at every turn. The way America and Maxon’s relationship develops, the conversations they have, the misunderstandings, all of this had little originality to it. The fact that I didn’t connect to America, to the Prince or to Aspen (America’s boyfriend back home) really didn’t help. To be honest, I had more interest for the girls America was competing against; I wanted to hear more about their personal stories, the gossiping, vicious plans to destroy each other, etc. There was little of that though, which made the novel uneventful for me.

I really wish I could add some great positive thought here, to balance this rather negative review. Sometimes a book isn’t for me; it is clearly the case with The Selection. But sometimes, too, I feel that it isn’t only about whether a book was for me or not. For instance, all this could have been saved by great writing. Beautiful prose, compelling descriptions, and I would have overlooked a lot of the least appealing aspects of the book. Sadly, the writing wasn’t anything spectacular, and the characters were so flat that I didn’t care what happened to them (except for America’s maids, three girls I really liked and who had more depth than most of the main characters).

I did have some fun while reading it. I kept reading because the writing, though not fantastic, made it easy to do so, and I kept expecting something big to happen. It didn’t but some scenes were fun enough. Also, I had a huge toothache, so the fact that this book was light and predictable felt good at the time. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll be getting in line for book 2 when it comes out, but I am sure plenty of readers will appreciate this “Cinderella” story for its romance, the gorgeous dresses and a worldbuilding that is easy to get into.

Series Reading Order :

  1. The Selection
  2. ?
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Review : The Way we Fall

The Way we Fall by Megan Crewe
Pages : 309
Genre : YA, Speculative fiction
Series : Fallen World, Book 1
My Rating :

What it’s about :

It starts like an unpleasant cold, but it quickly grows into something more: a deadly virus quickly spreading through Kaelyn’s small community, forcing the government to quarantine the island. Kaelyn wants only one thing : keep herself and her family safe and healthy, a task that gets harder and harder when food gets rare and there are more dead than alive…

My Thoughts :

The Way we Fall certainly doesn’t follow the current YA trend of futuristic, dystopian novels. Instead, it offers a terrifying and realistic novel of speculative fiction, in the same vein as  The Things that Keep us Here or In a Perfect WorldThe threat of a deadly virus outbreak is something that is easy to imagine in the present, and if you remember the panic that surrounded the H1N1 situation a few years ago, you’ll understand how scary this possibility is.

The first thing I thought of when I started reading The Way we Fall was the movie Contagiona movie I did appreciate. But while the two do share similar themes, The Way we Fall is a much quieter story, following a regular teen girl with her own worries and insecurities rather than a complete cast of characters. And since the narration is done through Kaelyn’s letters in a journal destined to her former best friend, the view we get is intimate, narrow, and sometimes limited in terms of context or scientific information.

I thought it was refreshing to have a novel that wasn’t a constant train of action and twists and turns. If you prefer novels with punch and movement, then you might feel this one is a bit slow and uneventful – though things do happen, it isn’t in a “cliffhanger at the end of each chapter” kind of way. I can appreciate both, but I enjoyed that this had a more normal, day to day pace. It made it easy to relate to Kaelyn and her fears.

Not surprisingly, there’s a romance, but I thought it was nicely done. It doesn’t overshadow the dangerous situation or Kaelyn’s worrying for her family, and offers to Kaelyn a little more perspective on things outside her house. There are few characters, but you get a sense of constant danger for them – and indeed, the author isn’t afraid to end some of them’s life along the way. Kaelyn herself was an interesting character, a regular girl with a lot of strength but also some flaws. While she was a bit forgettable, she was a character I appreciated both in her strong and weak moments.

I was at first a bit confused by the ending, mainly because I had no idea it was the first in a series and not a stand alone novel. Reaching the last page, there is a lot we still don’t know, mainly on the situation outside the island. Since it’s been quarantined all along, we have very little knowledge on whether the virus has traveled outside the island into Canada or the United States, and in what measure. This being said, The Way we Fall was a quick quiet read that gave me a lot to think about, and I look forward to reading the next novel.

Series Reading Order :

  1. The Way we Fall
  2. The Lives we Lost (coming January 2013)

Review : The Things That Keep Us Here

The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley
Pages : 404
Genre : Speculative Fiction
Series : Stand Alone
My Rating :

What it’s about :

When a virulent pandemic comes to America from across the sea, Ann and Peter Brooks are ready to do anything to protect their children. Even though they recently split up, they decide to move back together, with the addition of Peter’s beautiful assistant. Thus begins a life in constant fear, the sickness taking the lives of 50% of those who contract it. Soon there is no electricity, food is scarce and the cold winter weather is more menacing than ever before.

My Thoughts :

About two years ago (how time flies by!), I was a bit disappointed when I read In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke. Both the plot and the characters felt a bit like empty shells, and while I was intrigued enough to go through the book, I felt I had more bad than good to say about it.

Fortunately, where In a Perfect World failed me, The Things That Keep Us Here gave me a lot more answers. It would be impossible not to compare the two with such similar premises, but without a doubt, I found Buckley’s novel to be a much more realistic experience.

A great strength in Buckley’s novel is how human her story is. I find that family dynamics are always interesting to explore, and mixing this imperfect family with such a terrifying setting really brought something more to this kind of story. Buckley really focused on the characters and what they lived through, and I found them to be really well fleshed out. Ann, the main protagonist, has a story of her own that starts way before the pandemic and gives a lot of sense to her actions. Even though I’ve never been in her situation, past or present, I could relate to her feelings and sympathize with her – even though, on one specific aspect, I found her to be particularly naive, especially when a simple question would have made everything clear… As for the kids, they were acting like I would imagine kids in such a difficult time.

There’s also enough science in the book to explain what is going on, without it being too heavy on the non-scientific readers like me. I don’t know how much truth there is to the way Buckley developed it, but to this reader, it made enough sense to be believable. The fact that Peter himself was a scientist was also a great touch, since he knew better than anyone what to expect. This made things sometimes easier, sometimes more difficult for his family.

In the end, The Things That Keep Us Here was a good read that also gave a lot to think about. And I love that the cover is not only beautiful, but also very representative of the story.

Review : Lies

Lies by Michael Grant
Pages : 447
Genre : YA, Speculative fiction
Series : Gone, Book 3
My Rating :

From the Back of the Book :

It happens in one night: a girl who died now walks among the living, Zil and the Human Crew set fire to Perdido Beach, and amid the flames and smoke, Sam sees the figure of the boy he fears the most – Drake. But Sam and Caine defeated him along with the Darkness – or so they thought.

As Perdido Beach burns, battles rage: Astrid against the Town Council; the Human Crew versus the mutants; and Sam against Drake. And the prophetess Orsay and her companion, Nerezza, are preaching that death will set them all free. As life in the FAYZ becomes more desperate, no one knows who they can trust.

I have one word : Wow! Grant definitely knows how to captivate an audience!

I had been looking forward to reading Lies, and I’m glad to report it was a worthy successor of the first two books. It wears its name well, too, as the kids learn that the line between truth and lie is a dangerous one.

I loved the pace in this novel; it was a bit shorter than the two previous books, which kept everything tight with no slow moments. The action – and the horror – just never stopped! And that without putting aside the characters, which for me is extremely important when reading an action-packed novel. If you want me to feel the terror, you need to make me care about the characters, and Grant certainly did that.

His huge cast of characters allows him to explore the numerous ways people could react in such a situation, in ways that felt very realistic. I am also happy to report that Sam and Astrid take different directions from the previous books. In Hunger, I was becoming more and more annoyed with those two main characters, especially with Astrid. In Lies, she finally faces some difficulties of her own that force her to accept that, genius or not, she doesn’t have all the answers.

I also loved the role Orsay played in this book, and how the “prophecies” came into play. I don’t want to spoil too much though!

I can only recommend this series to fans of dystopian, horror, ya novels. Grant’s third tome of the Gone series was hard to put down and completely terrifying. The wait will be insanely long until book four!

Series Reading Order :

  1. Gone
  2. Hunger
  3. Lies
  4. Plague (coming 2011)

Review : Hunger

Hunger by Michael Grant
Pages : 590
Genre : YA, Speculative Fiction
Series : Gone, Book 2
My Rating :

From the Back of the Book :

It’s been three months since everyone under the age of fourteen became trapped in the bubble known as the FAYZ. Things have only gotten worse. Food is running out, and each day more kids are developing supernatural abilities. Soon tension rises between those with powers and those without, and when an unspeakable tragedy occurs, chaos erupts. It’s the normals against the mutants, and the battle promises to turn bloody.

But something more dangerous lurks. A sinister creature known as the Darkness has begun to call to the survivors in the FAYZ. It needs their powers to sustain its own. When the Darkness calls, someone will answer — with deadly results.

I was amazed and completely fascinated by Grant’s previous book, Gone, and as soon as I turned the last page of it I grabbed Hunger and started reading it. While this second novel doesn’t have as much impact as the first one, it was still a captivating read.

So problems abound in this one, and Sam Temple is in over his head. I felt for the guy, even though he annoyed me at times. He has so much responsibilities in this new world – as they all do, in fact, except that he’s the one in charge – kind of – and we all know the one in charge is always the one to take the blame. At this point in time, not everyone agrees that he’s the one who should rule on the FAYZ, and Sam and his little group now have a lot more to deal with than they did in the first book.

I felt Hunger wasn’t as much of an action novel as Gone was. In a way, it felt like a transition between Gone and whatever is coming next with Lies. There was some follow-up from Gone‘s stoylines, and a lot of the time was spent trying to fix the FAYZ’s main problem, which also gave its title to the book : hunger. Different kids have different solutions to the problem, and along with Sam’s problematic leadership, this makes Hunger a much more political/social novel than an action one.

This is even more true considering the opposition that grows stronger between the “special” kids and the “powerless” ones. Gladly, Grant never gets preachy about tolerance and accepting difference : the idea is there, but it’s the reader’s role to understand what’s going on. I appreciate an author who can be subtle.

The cast in this novel is huge. So many kids, with so many powers, that it does get a little confusing at times. I think Grant managed to make each of them very unique though, not only by gifting them with special abilities (some of them, anyway), but also by giving them such different personalities. The narration changes point of views, too, and all of it was done to a pace that kept the story moving, interesting.

In conclusion, I found Hunger to be a great follow-up to Gone, and I can’t wait to read the next book in May!

Series Reading Order :

  1. Gone
  2. Hunger
  3. Lies (coming May 2010)

Review : Gone

Gone by Michael Grant
Pages : 558
Genre : YA, Speculative Fiction
Series : Gone, Book 1
My Rating :

From the Back of the Book :

In the blink of an eye, everyone disappears.

Gone.

Everyone except for the young. Teens. Middle schoolers. Toddlers. But not a single adult. No teachers, no cops, no doctors, no parents. Gone, too, are the phones, internet, and television. There is no way to get help. Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day.

It’s a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen and war is imminent…

I saw Gone on a table at the bookstore when it first came out and was immediately intrigued by it, although at the time I wasn’t yet into YA reading. I finally decided to read it at the end of December, while studying, and it was such a great diversion! At 558 pages, the book isn’t small, but I wasn’t bored one second of it.

One of the things that made this book great was the cast of characters : numerous, yes, but also very varied – varied in ages, races, sexual orientations, attitudes, abilities, etc. Written from a third person point of view, the book follows different kids in turns, but mainly Sam and his closest friends, Astrid and Quinn. They all have very distinct personalities, and I enjoyed that Grant wrote a narration both from the “good” side and the “bad” side. Their reactions to the events are believable, and I liked how the author described the horror without going too far with the details.

The way each of the characters developed was complex, and although there is a traditional “good versus evil” plot, it wasn’t too simple a story. Grant definitely has a talent to build an intricate setting and create a mystery. The blurb on the cover says that “If Stephen King had written Lord of the Flies, it might have been a little like this”; I haven’t read Lord of the Flies (I know, I know…) but the trapped community was definitely reminiscent of Stephen King’s work!

There is so much we don’t know as we start the story (and the action begins right from the start), and the pace really makes it a page-turner. I wanted to know where and how did the adults disappeared? Why the mutations? All the answers aren’t given all in this first novel though, so if you read it and enjoy it, be prepared to grab the next book, Hunger, as soon as possible!

Series Reading Order :

  1. Gone
  2. Hunger
  3. Lies (May 2010)