Category Archives: Books

Divergent

Divergent hc c(2)Divergent is a novel written by Veronica Roth and published in 2011. Set in a futuristic Chicago, it tells the tale of Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior, who – like all other 16 years old kids – has to choose one of five factions which she’ll devote her life to: Abnegation (The Selfless), Amity (The Peaceful), Candor (The Honest), Dauntless (The Brave) and Erudite (The Intelligent). Similar in themes with The Hunger Games, it presents an interesting idea, one that – unfortunately – I feel could have been handled a lot better. From this point on, there will be spoilers!

Upon taking a test meant to reveal the faction she’s most inclined towards, Beatrice learns she’s Divergent, which means she shows equal aptitudes for several factions. Originally from Abnegation, she decides to leave that life behind and joins the Dauntless faction and takes a different name – Tris. In order to be accepted in the faction, Tris and all the other initiates must pass an initiation process, which is divided into three categories: the physical, the emotional, and the mental. While dealing with that, she also falls in love with one of her instructors (nicknamed Four), tries to make friends and learns about the plans of the people from Erudite to start a war against Abnegation. It’s a pretty basic plot, although not anything particularly memorable.

 

The factions

My big problem with this book is the way the whole ‘five factions’ concept was handled. When first introduced, they are presented in an obvious, stereotypical fashion: the Brave are more reckless than brave, The Peaceful are portrayed as zen hippies, while The Intelligent are snobs who look down on the people from Abnegation. Those in Candor are thought to be ‘the good guys’, because of their honesty. So, one can’t be both honest and evil? Second of all, when we get to explore two factions- Abnegation and Dauntless – in more depth, we are served the idea that not only is selflessness/bravery the main personality trait of every single person in the faction, but it’s the only one. Part of Tris’ internal conflict is whether or not she should act on selfless impulses she gets at times. Several of the initiates are shown feeling bad about acting in a manner consistent with what they’ve been thought their entire lives – one even apologizes for it. Just because you cultivate one virtue, that doesn’t mean your entire personality is reduced to one trait. A side effect of this is that it’s way too easy to figure out Four’s the other Divergent character even before any hints are given, since he’s the only one allowed to show both bravery and intelligence without feeling bad about it.

Furthermore, the extent to which this one virtue dictates people’s lives is ridiculous – down to why people take the stairs.  While in Abnegation, Tris and her brother are not allowed to talk during dinners. We learn they are opposed to prosperity, self-defense and even exercise – none of which make any sense to me. In Dauntless, everyone around has the need to show their courage during every waking moment, which doesn’t strike me as normal human behavior.

I also don’t buy the way these factions function as a society. We’re told the government is entirely made up of people from Abnegation, as they’re viewed as incorruptible. They’re not; just promise them homes for those without a faction (as a side note: everyone without a faction is not allowed to have any qualities; they’re ’empty’ on the inside). If  one of the factions was incorruptible, I think Candor would be it. We’re explicitly told they make great leaders, but for some reason that excludes them from politics? Also, the only artists this society has come from Amity, which doesn’t make any sense. Isn’t art a way to convey truths about life? Doesn’t it take courage to dig deep within yourself to uncover them? Don’t you need some sort of intelligence and knowledge about a craft in order to produce something decent?  We’re also told if you choose another faction than the one you were born in, you can never see your parents again, without any explanation.

Finally, the way the initiation works in the Dauntless faction strikes me as unnatural. From the 20 initiates, they will only select 10 to join their ranks; the other half will be kicked out. They doesn’t exclude people who are not good, they exclude people who are not good enough. In other words, people who are perfectly capable of getting jobs are thrown to the side for no reason at all. What society marginalizes perfectly good citizens on purpose? It doesn’t make sense to not try to have as few homeless people as possible.

 

The characters

Apart from the world-building problems I had, I started disliking the main character more and more as the book progressed. Her actions paint her as selfish, self-centered and vengeful. When a fellow shy, obviously broken initiate tries to reveal his feelings, she leaves the room to giggle about how “it’s nice to have someone like you”. When the same person ranks last after the second stage , she has no problem forgetting about him and going out to celebrate with her other friends. She takes pleasure in revenge time and time again – whether she’s the one enforcing it or not.  Despite having aptitudes for Erudite, she doesn’t appear very bright most of the time: her views on bravery are twisted at parts and it takes 3/4 of the book to realize that Four has a crush on her. That’s not to say she doesn’t have any good qualities, though. She has moments where she displays compassion towards others, she stands up for people, she has noble ideals… but those don’t make up for her faults.

Apart from Tris, no other character really stands out; I found most to be one-dimensional. The one character with an interesting back story, – Tris’ mother – only appears in a handful of scenes and is killed off at the end of the novel for the sole purpose of giving Tris a reason to angst about in the sequel. Quite frankly, I am tired of this trope of killing interesting characters just to show that  ‘nobody’s safe’. The series would have benefited from Tris’ mother much more than from the angsty Tris. To top it all, the scenes in which her parents die (because her father is also killed for no reason) both feel rather clumsy and out of place.

 

The good parts

Despite all this, the book has some redeeming qualities. It’s engaging, well-paced and easy enough to read that I finished it in only two days. The plot is executed and carried out decently enough; at the one point where it stagnates, Tris’ mom comes to the rescue. Towards the end, the pace is fastened to make for a gripping last few chapters. The battle scenes – and there are quite a few of them – are very well done and evocative, and there were a couple of other great moments: the boy who misses the train in the beginning and therefore becomes without a faction, Al’s breakdowns, the bonding between Tris and the initiates born Dauntless.

At the end of the day, it’s perfectly possible that as long as you go along with the logic of the book you end up enjoying it. For me, though, it didn’t quite work; it was a decent read, but I’m unsure whether I’ll pick up the sequel or not.

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RaT Challenge: A Music Bath

Edit: Challenge now over. Winner is Supa Novacaine. Thanks to everyone who participated! 🙂

Hello, ‘thoners! Still hanging on in there? Eight hours of continuous reading is impressive, so do allow yourself a few moments to celebrate.

The fact that you’re still standing -and that you signed up for this in the first place-, suggests you’re quite appreciative of literature. I bet there are some among you that also enjoy other forms of art – painting, composing music or writing (NaNoWriMo anyone? I’ve only a vague idea what I’m going to write this year. Me begins to panic). What I am most certain of, however, is that all of you like music to some extent.

If you’re like me though, you would listen to music every minute of the day. On most days, you may just be able to do that. But not today, because today we read; and reading requires concentration – even the Goosebumps books, or whatever your pick of ‘light reading’ is. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said:

Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons. You will find it is to the soul what a water bath is to the body.

That, awesome readers, is my challenge for you: take a short (short!) break from the novel you’re currently savouring and think of these questions:

  1. What song does the book I’m reading right now remind me of?
  2. What song does my favorite book remind me of?
  3. Can I find a connection between one of my favorite songs and a story I like?

When have at least one song in mind, go and listen to it once or twice. After that, come back here and leave me a comment saying what song(s) you listened to, what book does it remind you of and why. I’m always on the lookout for new great music, so if you want to leave a link as well, even better!

One lucky person will be randomly selected to receive a prize from the Read-a-Thon prize list. You have three hours – plenty of time.

You shy? Don’t be, I’ll go first.

  1. I’m not reading anything at the moment. As I write this, it’s the 11th of October.
  2. I love the Harry Potter books, and Luna Lovegood is quite possibly my favorite character in the entire series. A few years ago I was introduced to this song through the TV show F.B.Eye. Ever since then, I can’t help but think of Luna & her quirkiness whenever I listen to it.
  3. This is a bit harder. But I adore ABBA, so pretty much all their songs are favorites of mine. The Mastership Game, which I had read in January and enjoyed tremendously, is about five people who try to legally obtain $2 mil. in one year. So… Money, money, money? I think so. 🙂

Your turn. Also, good luck with the remaining of the Read-a-Thon! Here’s hoping one way or another, we all cross that finish line! 😀

That time of the year…

It’s October, which is great for a number of reasons:

1. My birthday’s coming up. October the 18th. Cake. Yay!

2. NaNoWriMo is just around the corner. It’s now that participants all over the world start searching for ideas, developing characters and stocking up on various edible supplies, from coffee to biscuits and semi-prepared meals: November will be, after all, a month of isolation.

3. People who are fortunate enough to have been born in the right parts of the world celebrate Halloween. Sadly, I’m not one of them, but I still enjoy wishing I were, watching Halloween related movies and eating candy.

4. Last but certainly not least… Dewey’s 24 hours Read-a-Thon is back!:D The challenge is the same: read as much as you possibly can in 24 hours. I took part for the first time in April and had a blast, so I look forward to doing it again. Also, I’ll be hosting a mini-challenge this year, which should be extra fun. If you want to participate, here’s where you can sign up and find out more about the event. The date is October the 22nd.

That’s all I had to say right now. This post is more of a place holder, I will update it during the actual read-a-thon.

Update #1: Okay, I’m about 100 pages into the first book – Grimus, by Salman Rushdie. It’s the first time I read him and his style is incredibly awkward and weird. But I love it.

Update #2: After another 100 pages or so, I switched from the Rushdie book to something easier. I’m liking Villa Amalia by Pascal Quignard. 😀

Update #3: I just completed my first mini – challenge. Also, I’ll be choosing a winner for the mini challenge I hosted pretty soon. And I’m really liking the book I’m reading + its writing (for the most part). So far, everything is going great.

Update #4: Well, I’ve reached the halfway mark and I still haven’t finished one book – I still have 20 pages to go. Oh, and those moments when you suddenly stop reading and realize you have no idea what’s been happening for the past few pages? Yeah, I’m starting to have a few of them every now and then.

Update #5: I finished my first book. I’d write a ‘woo-hoo’ or something, but the book was too good and depressing for me to feel comfortable with that. :\

Update #6: I’m still awake. Somehow. Just finished the second book and am less than 100 pages short of finishing the Salman Rushdie one. I’m taking a break and going for a walk though, to avoid passing out. The end is in sight… Fortunately. Sadly.

Update #7: Finally. With two hours to go, I finished the Rushdie (and the third) book. I think I’ll stop here, seven is a great number of updates and it seems natural to stop reading (fiction, I’ll probably move on to my chemistry notes soon) now. I’ll still hang around until the Read-a-Thon ends so I can say I’ve seen The End. I’ll write a post summarizing the experience in the following hours/days. Cheers!

Dragons & Ghosts

I’ve set a goal for myself to read 100 books in 2011. Despite a promising January and a 24 hours Readathon in April, I’m behind schedule. Like, behind behind. Thirty nine pages into the sixteenth book behind. It’s depressing. Why this happened is still unclear to me, since I enjoyed most of what I’ve read so far.

Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus, right?

For example, I finished His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik a few weeks ago and loved it. Obviously enough, it’s with and about dragons – not my favorite mythological creatures, but cool enough. They are used in so many stories that it’s impossible for any lover of fantasy literature not to have come across them a few times. There only are so many things you can write about them so despite the reassuring blurb on the back cover, I was a bit hesitant about picking the book up.

I’m glad I did though, because the blurb was right: it was an interesting read, with a new take on the winged creatures. First in a series of six novels (as of yet), the book is set during an alternate history version of the Napoleonic Wars in which dragons are used in aerial combat. You are taken through the journey of Will Laurence, an extremely well mannered former captain on a British warship. After coming into possession of a dragon egg which hatches, he is forced to become its handler.

What I found really odd about this book was the dragons being more likable than the humans. Sure enough, after a while you start to care for Laurence to the point his way of speaking actually becomes appealing. But you go ‘awww’ as soon as Temeraire (Laurence’s dragon) speaks for the first time. It is so adorable you can’t help but wish you had a pet dragon. And he’s not the only one.

In fact, I liked those creatures so much that I actually cringed even when the enemy’s dragons got injured in a fight. However, I will say that the ending felt a bit abrupt. For the most part, you are being introduced to the different species of dragons, the training techniques and relationships between dragons and humans. Still, the right amount of plot twists and interesting information transmitted to the reader ensure it’s not a boring read.

Casper time…sort of.

The other book I recently read and enjoyed, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman didn’t wow me because of its plot either. It consists of several episodes set a few years apart from each other and is written in the same format as The Jungle Book.

The premise of a boy growing up among ghosts in a closed down cemetery was much more appealing to me than that of a one growing up in a jungle. Even so, the plot was a bit predictable at parts. I mean, come on – who couldn’t figure out Mr. Frost’s character? Who couldn’t anticipate what would happen with Scarlet? It wasn’t all bad, though. There were plenty of funny scenes as well as an emotional ending which almost made me cry. Considering Gaiman’s characters are not the most well developed I’ve ever come across, I’d say that’s a pretty big accomplishment.

So, the plot wasn’t previously unheard of, yet enjoyable. The characters were sort of two-dimensional, yet likable. But I loved this book mainly because of the names and atmosphere they induced. The main character is named Nobody (Bod) Owens – that is just awesome. His neither alive nor dead guardian is called Silas, which I think is a great name to describe his character: slithery, spooky, intimidating. Or take the character or Miss Lupescu, who is a werewolf. I’m sorry, I mean a Hound of God. That is such a powerful, original name and it evokes a wonderful mental image of a wolf on a cliff, with the full moon in the background. Aaa-wooo!

Now I’m reading Black, by Ted Dekker. This is a book quite a few people I know have liked and recommended. But the writing already drives me nuts, despite reading only short of forty pages. More on that book when I finish it.

Post Read-a-Thon thoughts

The 24 Read-a-Thon is officially over and although I am saddened by how quickly it flew by, I could definitely use some rest. This was a great experience and I probably had the most fun I had this year so far. I can’t wait to do it again, in October.

Let’s see some stats, shall we?

Pages read: 950

Books finished: 3 and 1/3 of the fourth one

Total time spent reading: I’d say it was 17 hours. Although I did stay up 18 hours, I most likely spent one updating the blog, doing mini challenges and so on.

Mini Challenges completed: 9

  • Introduction meme: It involved answering five questions about yourself
  • Where in the world are you reading: It involved going to Google Maps, finding your location and placing a placemark with your name or name blog or whatever. Although now that I took another look, I realized I managed to place mine in the middle of some sea.
  • Book recommendation: Recommending a book that would spark interesting discussions at a Book Club meeting (+bonus: naming foods that would go with it)
  • Book Trailer: Sharing a book trailer
  • Survey: Fill out a survey about your experience
  • Referral link: Sharing who told you about this, basically
  • Oldies, but goldies: Naming one of your favorite classic books
  • Funny: Sharing something funny
  • Collaborative fiction: Someone would start a story and you had to write one line to continue it.

While I did have fun for the most part, one unfortunate thing that happened was that I had no Internet for some 12 hours, because of a storm. This resulted in me having no one to talk to, no challenges to complete, no connection with everyone else involved. And because of all this, I fell asleep. I slept for about 6 hours and I woke up feeling terribly disappointed and sad. I know I would have been able to stay up and read the entire time, had it not been for the Internet incident.

But you know what? It was still tons of fun, I don’t regret doing it at all. Those organizing it, those hosting mini challenges, ‘the cheerleaders’, all did a great job. The Read-a-Thon was a great way to get away from it all for a little while. And I DID manage to read almost 1000 pages in 17 hours. That’s pretty cool, if you ask me.

Read as if your life depends on it!

You may remember another post I wrote, in which I was briefly talking about my New Year’s Resolutions. One of those is to read 100 books in 2011. Well, after a great first month, I’ve basically stopped reading altogether. I think I finished two more books since then, so I need to do something to get back on track.

I am happy to announce I’ve found the perfect solution: Dewey’s Read-a-Thon. What is this?

For 24 hours, we read books, post to our blogs about our reading, and visit other readers’ blogs. We also participate in mini-challenges throughout the day. It happens twice a year, in April and in October.

 

Is it crazy? Maybe, but it involves completely eliminating sleep from my schedule, reading and writing (i.e., updating this blog on my progress) for 24 hours. That sounds good to me. As I’ve already said, it will also help me get back on track with my readings; the pile of ‘to-be-read’ books is getting dangerously high.

The Read-a-Thon starts on the ninth of April, at 12 PM GMT, which means less than 20 hours from now. I know I postponed writing this for almost a week, but if you want to join in, you can still do it: sign up and get more details from the site. Cancel your weekend plans, run to your local library and grab a bunch of Goosebumps books and start reading.

Alternatively, cheer me on and take on the challenge in October. 😀

January Books

I love to read. I always loved to read. I remember when I was about 12 years old, I spent a good part of my summer reading, among other things, Winnetou. I remember wanting to catch up with my friend, who was one book ahead of me. Oh, childhood… The first book I ever read is, I think, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Or The Goblet of Fire. Or it could have been even Winnetou. It’s sad that I can’t remember. 😦

Anyway, back to the topic of this post, which is: books that I read this last month. If we count the one I finished yesterday (and we DO count it), then the grand total is: seven. Now, I have no idea if that is brag-worthy or not, but if you know let me know in the comments section.

The first book I read this year was Witches Abroad, by Terry Pratchett (now one of my favorite authors). This was  also the first book signed Terry Pratchett I read and it was part of his Discworld series. I loved its relaxed atmosphere, likable characters and funny, witty dialog. As I already said, this was part of the Discworld series (the 12th book, I believe), yet it was like reading a stand alone fantasy novel. I’m really looking forward to reading more novels in this series.

Also by Terry Pratchett, this month I read the complete Nomes Trilogy. The three books told the story of  the nomes, four inches tall creatures lost in the human’s world. Yeah, they were all children books. So what? They were still funny and enjoyable. If there will ever be a fourth book, I will buy it as soon as it comes out.

Perhaps my favorite book that I read this month was Scott McBrain’s The Mastership Game. I loved everything about this book; the premise (five ‘players’ compete for the most powerful job in the world, that of The College’s Master. The College being a prestigious, selective institute with access to all the information you would want. The leaders of the world constantly come and speak to The Master, seeking advice.); the characters, the ending, his style of writing… The book was published in 2002, yet nobody seems to know about it. It’s a shame that everybody reads Dan Brown instead. If you can get your hands on it, I definitely recommend it. It’s really worth it.

At the pole opposite sits The Theory of The Clouds, by Stephane Audeguy. It took me almost a week to get through this book. It really is a weird specimen; this chapter is interesting and the next one is boring as hell. And it doesn’t have one single line of dialog. *sigh*. If you ever want to learn anything about clouds, this book may be perfect for you (mind you, it’s still fiction!!). I think the only reason I kept on reading was one character, who I thought had an interesting past. And that I don’t like leaving a book half finished.

Shape of Water by Andrea Camilieri is, I believe, the last book I have to talk about. I thought it was an OK read, but I also thought I would enjoy it more, since it was labeled as ‘mystery’.  I felt the book’s ending didn’t give closure to the characters. The mystery was solved, though, so I guess it gets points for that?

That was January in terms of books, for me. Now I’m reading Water for Elephants, and then I will probably take on a Stephen King novel. I have about 7 that I need to read. But meanwhile, what was the last you read? Did you like it? Or not that much? Leave the answer in the comments below. 🙂

(And as promised, no Survivor or TAR in this post.)

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