Category Archives: Book Reviews

Divergent Trilogy (2011-2013) – Veronica Roth

divergent-trilogy

 

 

Note: This is going to be a completely spoiler-free review. 

As most of you probably know by now, Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy is the hottest series off the Young Adult press to be adapted into a film, with the first installment set for release in just a couple of weeks. Watching the initial film trailer did absolutely nothing for me. What is this film about? Why am I supposed to care? Am I supposed to be excited? Whether the trailer made me feel it or not (it didn’t), I felt like I should be excited for this movie, so I decided to read the books to see if that built my anticipation more. And it did. Quite a bit, actually.

I initially planned to give a brief sum-up of my opinion on each book, but the fact of the matter is that I loved all three. Beatrice “Tris” Prior is a fantastic character who grows in so many ways over the course of the trilogy, and Four has fascinating complexities that keep him interesting as well. There are definitely similarities to Suzanne Collins The Hunger Gamges trilogy especially, but none of these bother me; one work of art inspires another, and I think I actually enjoyed the Divergent trilogy more anyway. (I also particularly enjoyed her reference to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game with Peter, who is obviously inspired by Ender’s violent older brother with the same name.) Questions that I had in the first book – Where is the rest of the world? Who started the faction system and why? What is outside the walls of the city that needs guarding? – were all answered in time, even if it took Roth until the third book to do it.

I only have a couple of small complaints. In the first book more so than in the other two, it often seems like Tris is turning toward the metaphorical camera and saying something dramatic directly to the audience at the end of a chapter. For example, the following two sentences are the last of chapter 14 of Divergent:

I wish I could say I felt guilty for what I did.

[dramatic turn to camera] I don’t.

Obviously, the bracketed part is my addition, but you get the idea. It’s not a huge issue, but I did get the feeling that it happened a lot, like Tris needs to say something dramatic to say something about her character, but I don’t think it is necessary; Tris’ actions very clearly define her character, especially the further we advance in the books, so these dramatic moments just feel overdone. My other minor complaint is that I have no real sense of how much time has passed from the beginning to the end of the trilogy. Roth uses both “weeks ago” and “months ago” at multiple points in the series in random orders, so it is difficult for me to tell how much time is spent at each moment or location in the book. I mean, it obviously has to be long enough for certain characters to heal from injuries sustained in action, but the passage of time is not clear enough for me to follow. Again, though, this is minor – the story and character development means more than the passage of time, and, in any case, we can agree that time passes, which is all that you really need to know.

But complaints don’t really matter when everything else is top-notch. Roth absorbed me into her world from page one, so much so that I read the entire trilogy in less than a week…with the second two being read within a 48-hour time period. I suppose I should say something in regard to the huge spoiler in Allegiant that I’m sure you’ve all heard about, whether you know what it is or not; it doesn’t bother me. Maybe because I was (unfortunately) exposed to the spoiler by someone who was careless online, or maybe because I knew that many people didn’t like the ending because of this giant spoiler, I don’t know, but I thought that this particular spoiler brought something full-circle in a bold way. Like I said, no spoilers here, but if you’ve read the books and are curious to read the author’s reasoning, check out this super-spoilery blog post on her website (you’ve been warned).

Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy continues to prove that the world of Young Adult fiction has quite a bit to offer – and that it isn’t strictly for young adults to read. These are young characters, yes, but they go through very adult situations, and the way they react to these situations and how they grow from them can teach us a lot about ourselves no matter our age. I haven’t read something entertaining and engaging in this way in quite a while; I’m looking forward both to reading it again in the future and to seeing the movie soon.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

-Chad

“I believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.”

 

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A Princess of Mars (1917) – Edgar Rice Burroughs

Note: This review is a short version of a more detailed look conducted in a post on my companion site, ChadTalksMovies, titled “My Adventures on Barsoom.” Check it out!
Princess of Mars

I was unfamiliar with Edgar Rice Burroughs or his character John Carter until the property came to my attention when Disney adapted the character for the big screen in the 2012 film John Carter. From the looks of the trailers, I was pretty darn excited for the film, but I never went and saw it, possibly due to the less-than-stellar reputation it was accruing at the box office, becoming Disney’s biggest flop ever. I gradually lost interest, but when Amazon offered the book John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood, by Michael D. Sellers, for free on my Kindle, I read through it feverishly, fascinated by the history of the film and its source material. Halfway through that book, I decided that I had to give John Carter and the people of Barsoom a chance…and, good gosh, am I glad I did!

A Princess of Mars is the first in an 11-book series about Civil War veteran John Carter, who is suddenly and inexplicably spirited to the planet of Mars, called “Barsoom” by its inhabitants. Carter soon realizes that the lesser gravity on Barsoom allows him to leap great distances and greatly multiplies his strength. However, he is soon captured by Tharks, Martians who have green skin, four arms, stand fifteen feet tall, and are known for being fierce warriors. His strength allows him to climb ranks among the Tharks and befriend Tars Tarkas, one of the Thark chiefs. Soon, an attack on the flying ships of Helium, a city-state populated by Red Martians who look identical to humans except for their red skin, introduces Carter to Dejah Thoris, princess of Helium and the most beautiful woman he has ever laid eyes on. Carter plans an escape with Dejah Thoris in order to return her to her people, but many obstacles stand in their way. Accompanied by Dejah Thoris and an ugly but faithful companion named Woola, John Carter faces friends, foes, and everything in between in his first adventure on Barsoom.

The first thing I noticed about this book while reading is the way Burroughs writes. His sentence structure, choice of words, and descriptive prowess all join together beautifully to form sentences that are almost romantic in their presentation; that is to say, not “lovey-dovey” romantic but expressive and artistic. All of these wonderfully composed sentences build into a story that carries with it the largeness of the world and the larger-than-life qualities of the characters within it. The story is more episodic than plot-based, with each chapter bringing Carter to a new place or introducing him to a new task or character, which makes sense since the story was originally published in monthly serials before being compiled into a book. These vignettes from Carter’s time on Barsoom aren’t disjointed, however, with everything flowing and connecting rather nicely.

There is a lot of appeal in this book, from the desire to be a hero like John Carter to the swashbuckling swordplay to the fantastical descriptions of Barsoom/Mars to the romance between Carter and Dejah Thoris. It’s a novel that transcends genres, with elements of science fantasy, romance, and Westerns all coming into play. A Princess of Mars gave me what is possibly the most fun experience I’ve had while reading in quite a long time, increasing my interest in the following ten sequels, the film (my review), and in Burroughs in general. If you want to have a great time reading, go read this. Now!

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

-Chad


John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood (2012) – Michael D. Sellers

Note: This review is a short version of a more detailed look conducted in a post on my companion site, ChadTalksMovies, titled “My Adventures on Barsoom.” Check it out!

John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood

This book was offered as a free Kindle download several months ago on Amazon.com. When a friend of mine shared the link with me, I thought it sounded interesting, so I downloaded it and let it sit on my Kindle for quite a while before I finally picked it up a couple of weeks ago…and found it incredibly interesting.

John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood goes into the details of the history and struggle of Disney’s John Carter film (my review), based on the 1912 Edgar Rice Burroughs classic, A Princess of Mars (my review), and why it failed the way it did at the box office. We learn about how the author initially came to create John Carter and how the first story became an 11-book series that inspired the likes of Ray Bradbury, Joe Shuster/Jerry Siegel, George Lucas, and James Cameron, among others. The author also tells us of Burroughs’ early efforts to get the books adapted for film which all failed.

I wasn’t terribly interested until Sellers got to the main topic, the Disney film, where he reveals all of the issues faced by the film in terms of creative control, marketing, and company interests, and other problems that all came together in a perfect storm, resulting in the bomb it ended up being for Disney. I wasn’t able to put the book down, reading several chapters every time I sat down with it. The amount of research done by Sellers, his obvious passion for the original Edgar Rice Burroughs stories, and his involvement with the film’s marketing and desire for it to do well is obvious, drawing me into the book even more.

I had just a couple of issues with Sellers’ writing, the first being the number of mistakes present in the Kindle edition of the book. These mistakes range from extra commas to improper formatting to word omissions to spelling errors and are actually quite numerous, but I am not sure if they are present in the paperback edition of the book as well. The other issue is with the overuse of rhetorical questions and leading questions. Oftentimes, these questions were questions that I was already thinking or otherwise did not need to be asked, so they were occasionally pretty obnoxious.

However, these problems were quickly forgotten the deeper I got into the book and the world of John Carter. Before I was even halfway through this book, I was looking forward to reading Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars and subsequently watching the film. Sellers’ research is thorough, and, in addition to telling the story of the film, he provides an interesting behind-the-scenes look into the world of film-making that is also fascinating. If you are at all interested in John Carter or even just in filmmaking, this book should interest you.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

-Chad


The Casual Vacancy (2012) – J. K. Rowling

Like most, I was introduced to J. K. Rowling through her highly successful Harry Potter series, which I first started reading as a 7-year-old second grader. Her writing is incredibly engrossing; for the last three books of the series, I sat and read them beginning to end in a day, stopping only to eat. Harry Potter framed my childhood, so, now that that series has ended and I’m an adult, I was quite excited to get my hands on a copy of JKR’s newest book. I purchased it on the day that it came out and read 150 pages fairly quickly. Though the content was very different, the way it was written was very familiar and readable. However, I was still unsure of where the story was going halfway through the book, and, now that I’ve finished, I’m at a loss for words…what exactly is my opinion?

For starters, The Casual Vacancy is NOT for children. With drug references, foul language, and several instances of sexual situations (for the most part, non-graphic), this book is definitely for adults. Though I said that the content is different, and it is, Jo’s study of her characters remains as consistent as it was in Harry Potter; even when I didn’t know where the story was going, I knew I wanted to keep reading because I wanted to learn more about these characters, of which there are several…off the top of my head, I can think of at least 13-15 characters with whom Jo spends plenty of time developing and fleshing out. Not all of them are lovable – in fact, most of them aren’t – but that’s what kept me reading most of the time. I wanted to know what was going to happen with Krystal Weedon and with her younger brother Robbie, I wanted to know who was going to fill Barry Fairbrother’s seat on the council, I wanted to know whether Andrew Price would ever score with Gaia Bawden…and so I kept reading, even when it wasn’t the story that left me thirsting for more.

In fact, the story isn’t the reason why you read this book. Unlike in the Harry Potter series, there isn’t a main character fighting an evil villain with a mission at hand; we’re reading about the ordinary lives of the people in Pagford and how they react to the death of one of the council members, and that’s pretty much it. So, like I said, it’s the characters more than anything that keeps you thirsting for more to read. Even when I only had twenty pages left of the book, I had no idea where it was going or how it would end. Personally, I found that fascinating, and I thought it was incredibly impressive of JKR to be able to hold my attention for that long without revealing anything, but I can see why someone would brand the whole book as “boring” after the first 50 pages and toss it aside.

The Casual Vacancy isn’t for everyone. I wish I could say that you’ll love it if you loved Harry Potter, but, since the two are so different, I can’t make that promise to you. If you’re okay with reading something that is more about characters than about story and with an ending that doesn’t really “end,” you should definitely give it a try. In fact, everyone should at least pick it up and try to read it; if you don’t like it, set it aside. The real treat here is to see JKR’s storytelling abilities in a world outside that of Harry’s, which I think that she does a splendid job with. With themes of poverty, rape, drugs, domestic/child abuse, self-harm, suicide, and politics all being discussed in the book, The Casual Vacancy isn’t a happy book, but it’s certainly compelling and poignant.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

-Chad


The Hobbit (1937) – J. R. R. Tolkien

Like many, I sought to read J. R. R. Tolkien’s original book The Hobbit before the release of the films based on it. I had previously read his Lord of the Rings trilogy, so I was already familiar with the world. However, though the world and a few of the characters are the same, The Hobbit manages to be just as unique and charming on its own terms. After all, it was this book that first introduced us to the characters of Bilbo and Gandalf.

While I struggled with reading The Lord of the Rings due to the incredible details presented and the length overall, I had no difficulties reading The Hobbit. Tolkien’s prose is light and enjoyable; I loved the fact that it was told from the point of view of an almost passive narrator, which allowed jokes to be made about what was going on with our characters and allowed smooth transitions between the stories of one party to the next (i.e. explaining the whereabouts of Gandalf, etc.). The scope of the story and the consequences of failure are of course no comparison to Frodo’s later adventures, but the prospect of facing a terrible dragon and trolls and goblins (orcs) and the like is exciting nonetheless.

Though there are too many dwarves (Tolkien’s spelling of the plural of “dwarf”) to keep track of, the author manages to do a fantastic job of separating one from the other by attributing specific qualities to help you remember who is who; for example, Bombur is the fat one, Gloin is Gimli’s father, Thorin is (of course) the leader, and Balin is most fond of Bilbo. I could go on, but the point is that Tolkien makes each dwarf to be his own person with his own endearing qualities, which is no easy task (and something that I hope transfers to the big screen well). Of course, Bilbo Baggins is delightful…one of my favorite characters from either this book or from the following trilogy. He is smart, he is funny, and he is faithful, all qualities that make him entirely lovable. Gandalf the Grey, while playing a smaller role in this book than in that of The Lord of the Rings, is still filled with all the nobility and wisdom that we’ve come to expect from the great wizard.

The adventure is grand, the characters are memorable, and the world that Tolkien has created is fantastic. Though not quite the epic tale presented in The Lord of the Rings, it is still a lot of fun and, truthfully, is much easier to read. The Hobbit is a swell introduction to the world of Middle-earth, setting up the story of the Frodo Baggins and the One Ring wonderfully.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

-Chad


The Supernaturalist (2004) – Eoin Colfer

Written by the author of the acclaimed Artemis Fowl series, The Supernaturalist takes place a thousand years from now in a place called Satellite City, where much of the city is controlled by a satellite that rests high in the atmosphere, above the thick layer of smog and the thinning ozone layer…so yes, Eoin Colfer’s usual themes of environmentalism are just as present here as in Artemis Fowl. The main character is an orphan named Cosmo Hill, and he lives at the Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys, where he and the other boys are used as lab rats for testing dangerous hygiene products and various chemicals. Eventually, he is introduced to a team of people that calls themselves The Supernaturalists. They spend their time hunting and destroying creatures called Parasites that feed on the life force of dying people.

The Supernaturalist features the same wit, humor, and creativity found in Eoin Colfer’s other books, and, like Artemis Fowl, the technology is advanced; we see windows that automatically tint to match the outside light, mechanical bridges that are used to travel across rooftops with ease, and rods that shoot projectiles containing electricity, goo, or cellophane. Colfer expertly sets up this world where everything is controlled by a corporation, where lawyers act as the law enforcers, and where these Parasite creatures are growing in number, making The Supernaturalists’ jobs even more difficult. These characters have dark, emotional pasts that we see develop throughout the book; Cosmo, who has never known his parents, wishes for a family that eventually comes to him by way of The Supernaturalists. Stefan, the group’s leader, lost his mother to the Parasites, making his fight against the Parasites a personal one, though he discovers that what he thinks to be truth is all a lie.

While the plot is fantastic and filled with twists and turns that will always keep you guessing, I took issue with the amount of information Colfer was expecting us to take in. Unlike in the Artemis Fowl series, where there are often moments for things to slow down and be better explained, The Supernaturalist comes across something new, gives a brief, hardly adequate explanation and then speeds on to the next moment. I often had difficulty in picturing objects or events in my head because I felt like I didn’t have a detailed enough explanation. Now, I’m not saying that I would have liked Colfer to go all Tolkien on us and spend five pages describing a tree (exaggeration; note: I really like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings), but slowing down just enough to properly introduce new objects, ideas, or situations would have been helpful.

Aside from this small issue, The Supernaturalist is a thrill ride that manages to entertain and to teach on high levels. Satellite City almost parallels the world’s current state: concern for environmental welfare, a growing nuclear threat, and the implications of an ever-evolving technological society are all issues addressed at some point in the book. These lessons – or warnings, as they very well may be (they do feel rather Bradbury-esque at times) – don’t overshadow the story, though, which is begging for a sequel…a sequel that Colfer has reportedly already outlined. If you enjoy Colfer’s other works, The Supernaturalist will certainly be a treat for you; if this is your first Colfer book, then prepare for quite an enjoyable read.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of the graphic novel adaptation of this book here!


Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception (2005) – Eoin Colfer

For the most part, The Opal Deception is just as captivating a book as the first three of the series, but it does have its problems this time around. Everything seems to work out just a little too perfectly for Artemis: Holly arrives just in time to save his life above the surface, and later, when he’s about to be killed yet again, it’s not his brains that saves him, but another timely appearance by his trusted companion Butler. It’s all just a bit too coincidental for my taste, and, really, we don’t see much of Artemis in his element – that is to say, thinking of genius plans to accomplish some task – in this book. I suppose it could be considered a nice change for Holly, Mulch, and Butler to stand in the limelight for a bit, but it is Artemis’ mental capabilities that first drew us in to the story. In fact, Holly could honestly be considered the main character of this book; she debates over whether or not to accept a promotion, she mourns the loss of a friend and father figure, and she takes charge of a situation that could have claimed both hers and Artemis’ lives.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Eoin Colfer book without a lesson to communicate to the readers; this time, Colfer stands out against animal cruelty. He does this by making references to the villain’s personal luxury transport shuttle, which is decked out with seats made from real animal fur. This choice of decoration sickens all of our protagonists, including the lukewarm criminal Mulch Diggums, who declares the fur to be “repulsive”. I think that the author has made his stance on killing animals for their fur pretty clear.

The fourth book in Eoin Colfer’s acclaimed Artemis Fowl series, The Opal Deception, while it doesn’t match the level of excellence seen in the first three books, is an enjoyable read that will please fans of the characters. While we may not see so much of the wit and genius of the title character that made us all fall in love with the series, it’s a bit of a treat to see the formerly supporting characters stand out and shine a bit.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

-Chad