Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What I’ve (been) Reading: November 13, 2013

Lately, I’ve been more apt to binge watch television shows than read. This doesn’t mean that I don’t still love to read, I do, it just means that I have been lazy, and also a little obsessive compulsive when it comes to American Horror Story and, surprisingly Modern Family (can’t get enough of either right now). That being said, on October 22nd I did take the time to dive right into Allegiant, Veronica Roth’s conclusion to the Divergent trilogy, and I was able to finish and start a couple of other novels as well. So here goes nothing.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Where to start with this one? I’ve let my thoughts on this gestate for the last few weeks. All the reviews on this one are out, so my thoughts as any type of reviewer are irrelevant, therefore I’m writing this purely as a fan. Back in 2011 I wrote a piece entitled “Dystopic Tellings” in which I took a moment to put the spotlight on a debut book called Divergent. This was one of those books I read long before it was released to the public, and loved immediately and whole-heartedly. I called it a glittering debut with a whopper of an ending. It was love at first read. One year later I wrote about its sequel Insurgent; calling it a brilliant sequel, a must read, guaranteed to keep you glued to the page. Suffice it to say I was very eager (even more so with the movie coming out in 2014) to voyage back into this world and learn the fates of the characters I had so grown to love. I also just wanted to know how this journey, started in Divergent, would end and so began my wrestling match with Allegiant.

There is no other way to say this, so I’ll just put it out there; I was very disappointed. I refuse to spoil the ending, it’s not fair for people who have yet to read it and develop their own opinions, but this book was a mess, particularly the conclusion. Characters die off in unworthy ways, after having survived ludicrous odds—we are talking surviving something guaranteed to kill—only to be put out Jesse James style; or making it through the war only to die by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, I understand that this is what happens in “real life”, but to do it so callously with characters your audience cares about doesn’t make a statement, it just frustrates your readers. There is no grief when your reader truly doesn’t believe the words on the page. I certainly didn’t believe what I read. Even after finishing the book, I went back to make sure I read it right and then just sat on my couch mystified by the slap hazard treatment. I’m not one to balk at characters being killed off, it can actually make for a stronger piece of work (Breaking Bad, great finale), but when the events are scattered, and the plot line becomes irrelevant and maudlin, the work isn’t stronger; it’s just trying too hard to be something it is not. A lot of people hate Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games finale Mockingjay, I happen to love it; because it feels real, deaths matter, they aren’t just devices. In Allegiant, it’s just maddening—not in a good and thought-provoking way, but in a “why did I spend three years on this series” and “do I really want to see the movie now” sort of way. It’s just not respectable. How I long for a series that is capable of beginning and ending a truly captivating story—unfortunately he Divergent trilogy is not it. If you haven’t yet read it, stay away for this trilogy, it is just not worth the poorly crafted finale. And as a fan, that statement just depresses me.

The Quick by Lauren Owen (releases June 17, 2014)
This debut starts out very well; with a pair of siblings living on an out of the way country estate in 19th century England. Their mother is dead, and their father, a man of mystery who has not been present in their lives is dying of something horrible. Add in a priest’s hole, secretive servants, a vividly gothic background, and good writing and you have all the makings of an excellent novel. Unfortunately, for the reader, the novel jumps ahead to the 1890’s, following the weaker of the two sibling characters, younger brother James (by far the least interesting of the two—he’s actually insipidly annoying) as he slogs through London, as a wannabe writer, and I mean slogs! The next hundred or so pages are boring, unexpectedly outrageous, and might I say a bit generic? I actually put the book down at this point in the text for a couple of months because I was so disappointed, and so irritated that a book with such a promising start could jump so far off track. I did pick it up again after being promised by a rep for the publisher that the book does pick-up—adding a supernatural track and veering in favor of the much more interesting Charlotte, older sister to James. Yes, the book did pick-up. Yes, the supernatural flavor added a spark of interest. No, it didn’t make the book better. Instead it made its flaws—edits that should have been made, underdeveloped characters, a rapidly thinning plotline—all the more noticeable. If the author, who is clearly a good writer, could have followed the first part of her book more closely, but as an alternative, fleshed out Charlotte more, and focused a little bit on their family background, and then blended that into the plot involving the supernatural, this would have been a really good book. Instead, it meanders, slogs, and bounces far too much to be more than a mediocre attempt at another **SPOILER**vampire story.

Citadel by Kate Mosse (releases March 18, 2014)
So as not to end on a negative note, I want to mention one more book that has captured my attention, and that is Kate Mosse’s Citadel. I really enjoyed her book Labyrinth, a book that combined epic storytelling with a touch of fantasy, without it becoming an actual fantasy genre novel. Now, with Citadel, Mosse takes the very real occupation of France, and the atrocities suffered at the hands of the Nazi’s and Vichy during World War II, and adds a touch of religious mysticism to create a thoroughly engrossing novel that follows the efforts of a group of men and women in the French resistance. This is a really great book. It’s one of those novels that make you shudder at the very real crimes against humanity that took place during this time, but also has adventure, spying, politics, and scenes that would have fit right in with the Indiana Jones flick Raiders of the Lost Ark. I am really appreciating this one, and think it will have legs across a few different genres including women’s fiction, historical fiction, WWII, and fantasy. It’s a good blend of Ken Follett, Dan Brown, Katherine Neville, and Diana Gabaldon—a wonderful blend for a variety of readers.

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