ARC Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley


title:  Lies We Tell Ourselves

author:  Robin Talley

pages: 304

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-0373211333

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and sharp historical fiction. 

My Ratings Explained

In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.

the basics
You won't get much real critique from me in this review.  This is a thought-provoking, soul-wrenching, beautifully-written book.  It definitely made me confront my own biases in a way I hadn't expected.  Reading Linda's part of the narrative was really difficult for me.  I hated her.  I thought she was completely idiotic.  I wanted to race through her narrative to get back to Sarah's.  It struck me that I wasn't giving her a chance any more than she was giving Sarah a chance.  It's a striking feeling, when a book can wrench that much emotion from you.  It wasn't the only reason.  Talley doesn't pull a punch.  This is historical horror, plain and simple.  It's a first-hand look at what is so hard to wrap your head around in history class.  Sarah's perspective is sweet, a mix of frustrated innocence and tentative maturity, with a very authentic teenage-ness.  I also grew to care about Linda, who experiences so much growth through the novel.  The weird chunked narrative structure is a little jarring, but I'm not sure what would have been better; the dual narrative seems so crucial to the point the author is making about communication and empathy.  It's not an easy book to read.  The plot is full of tragedy, violence, and the worst bits of humanity.  But also some of the best bits.  The end leaves you with a sense of hope that doesn't erase the pain of the previous pages, but gives some closure to Sarah's and Linda's stories.  I'd not hesitate to assign this to every high schooler in America.    

plot . 5/5
There's no time to let out a breath.  You're tense from the very first page, when Sarah and her classmates are shuffling up to their first day at the white high school.  The high school surrounded by white kids and parents screaming obscenities, spitting, throwing bottles.  And it only gets worse.  Sarah and her friends come up against every form of cruelty, from teachers outright ignoring their bullying to physical violence to threats, insults, and sexual assault.  And the way Sarah describes it, part horrified, part completely unsurprised, draws it all into the sharpest relief.  Within all this violence, Sarah is a normal girl trying to grow up.  Her parents push her.  She wants to join the choir.  She's experiencing her first dates and crushes.  Then halfway through, we get Linda's side of the story.  Her father's abuse.  Her own ambivalence.  Her own secrets.  

Watching Sarah and Linda's evolving relationship was the best part of this book.  They're thrown together for a school project with Linda's friend Judy as a nervous mediator, and their relationship becomes closer and more tumultuous in keeping with the general climate around them.  They're a microcosm in this horrific world, and their beliefs and perspectives change drastically over time, through each new incident.  We get the stories of Sarah's friends too, but she's our center, our connection to these other stories.  Talley writes a tight, fast-paced narrative that begins tense and escalates to a moment of do-or-die.  The ending leaves you bittersweet, knowing that the horror isn't over yet, but at least Sarah and Linda have found themselves in the midst of crisis.  

concept . 5/5
If you're a middle class white kid like the chick typing this, you won't have experienced much of what goes on here.  But you might have seen it.  Perhaps not the extremes--this was, after all, decades ago.  But the subtler, more emotional torture forced on the black students by their white peers is far from extinct, and that's perhaps the most jarring part of this book.  Its not unfamiliar.  It's also incredibly powerful.  It's a first-person narrative for both Sarah's and Linda's sections.  It brings you into their world in a way that a more distant voice couldn't, forcing you to think their thoughts, see this strange and familiar world through their eyes.  Talley's expertise on the time period is clear through her use of real events, slang, and just the general atmosphere of her work.  She gives us this Romeo & Juliet friendship story without being preachy or heavy handed--not an easy thing to do with an "issue" book--and manages to make it as much about growing up and finding yourself as it is about the broader societal issues at hand.  

characters . 5/5
It's easier to get exaggerated when you're trying to make a point.  Talley doesn't make it that easy.  We don't get good and evil here.  There's more good, more evil, but no one is perfect and even the heroes are broken.  Sarah was my clear favorite.  The distinction we see between her own narrative and Linda's vision of her is remarkable.  Both see her as clever and strong, but whereas Sarah's inner monologue reveals her vulnerability and fear, we see a more fierce, tired version of her in Linda's eyes.  A reluctant martyr with a quick tongue and a reckless compassion.  Linda was a hard sell for me because she's everything I've hated and feared becoming.  She's a blind follower of her father's segregationist talk.  She's a product of an environment suffused with outrageous racist propaganda.  But she's also ambivalent.  She's quietly brave.  She resists change, but she finds herself changing without realizing it.  And when the chips are down, she's willing to stand up, even if it hurts her.  

I wish we got more of the side characters.  We get their stories too, but Sarah and Linda take up most of the space.  One of the best-developed is Judy.  Linda's best friend, she's nervously nice to Sarah from the start, but she's also afraid to separate from the crowd.  And later on, it becomes clear that she has her own hard-held prejudices too.  Sarah's sister Ruth definitely needed more screen time.  We get a sense of her determination and her inner vulnerability, but through a narrow lens, especially considering how much Sarah talks about her.  Ennis and Chuck were two of the most cheated characters.  We get such intriguing glimpses into their lives, but only in slivers.  What I really liked was the parents.  Both sets are on very different, strongly held sides of the civil rights battle, but both are viewed as demanding by their children.  It's a good reminder of what Sarah keeps thinking to herself: she just wants to live.  

style . 5/5
Talley is a talented writer with a gift for accent, slang, and unique voices.  She captures the sixties Southern twang without sounding like a caricature, but also making it very noticeably different from Sarah's Chicago lingo.  She also makes her teenagers really sound like teenagers, and like their own people.  Sarah's and Linda's narratives are so distinct, with their own metaphors and turns of phrase.  But they both share a true maturity of style and careful use of form.  I had no trouble imagining myself into these places with Talley's descriptions.  

mechanics . 4/5
Like I said, it's a weird narrative to get into.  You're with Sarah for almost half the book, then Linda takes over for almost a full half, then we get a final chunk that switches between them.  It's a little clumsy and it annoyed me to be ripped out of what I'd become familiar with, but it's also important to this story to get both girls' voices.  So I'm really torn on what'd I'd prefer.  The use of lies and truths for chapter titles is clever and adds to the message of the story subtly.  

take home message
Lies is a brutally honest portrayal of one of America's darkest periods, as the backdrop for two girls' touching story of friendship, love, and self-acceptance.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


Anthology Review: Grim, edited by Christine Johnson


title:  Grim

editor:  Christine Johnson

pages: 480

format: Kindle ARC

isbn/asin: B00FBZL2P6

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 6/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Cruel Beauty by Rosamunde Hodge, and good old fairy tales. 

My Ratings Explained

Inspired by classic fairy tales, but with a dark and sinister twist, Grim contains short stories from some of the best voices in young adult literature today.

the basics
This collection drew me in partly because of its stellar cast of authors, but mostly because I've been obsessed with Grimm's fairy tales.  They were my favorites as a child.  I still have my old, warn-out compilation that my mother would read to me at night--that eventually, I would read for myself, over and over.  As a tribute, Grim was about half successful.  The "dark and sinister twist" is only applicable to some of the stories; I wouldn't even really sell it like that.  You could tell that they chose authors and asked them to write, rather than choosing stories, because some of the authors seemed to get the point and others very much did not.  On the whole, I enjoyed it.  However, I would have liked to see a little more of the fairy tale spirit, especially in a couple of the science-fiction stories.  Marissa Meyer clearly made it work; these just go too heavy on the sci without the hints of fairy and whimsy.  

the key . rachel hawkins
This was a clever story.  I enjoyed the characterization and the writing.  It was interesting, a teenage girl with a psychic for a mother.  Hawkins did a great job of showing Lana's ambivalence--her love for her mother, her embarrassment.  The plot was an interesting mystery with a twist ending, but it was really lacking in fairy tale charm.  It read a lot more like a typical paranormal story.  

figment . jeri smith-ready
This story was really cute.  It's about a sort of magical creature, a luck-giver who helps the prospering of those it's given to, so long as they believe.  The relationship between the creature, Fig, and Eli is sweet.  You really come to know and love Fig in a short time.  The twist is heartbreaking, but it all comes around in the end.  It's a clever take on the wish-givers in Grim that takes a new angle: the importance of achievement and self-determination. 

the twelfth girl . malinda lo
This is my first introduction to Lo, and it won't be my last.  Her story is the perfect mix of myth and fairy tale in the modern world, combining elements of Hades and the Celtic fay in a series of secret dance clubs accessible only to a few lucky girls.  It's well-paced, Liv is an easy character to slip into, and the chilling mix of magical extravagance and deadening decadence is perfect.  It was one of my favorites in the anthology.  

the raven princess . jon skovron
This is a perfect retelling of the original "Raven Princess" in Grimm's.  It follows the story line closely and sticks to the traditional trappings of a fairy tale, but with additional characterization, modern additions, and a twist ending that turns the original tale on its head.  There's always the danger of sticking too close to the original and doing no more than adding a few words, but Skovron makes this one his own.  

thinner than water . saundra mitchell
This is a fabulous revamp of one of my absolute favorite Grimm tales.  It brings a darker, more sinister element to parts of the original tale that were left unsaid--an unflinching story of sexual abuse and ultimately, empowerment.  It skips the second half of the original; even though I love that part, the ending here is more appropriate to the story Mitchell is getting across.  Instead of love and Prince Charmings, it puts the focus on Merula and her quest for freedom.  And it does so with careful honesty and snappy writing.  

before the rose bloomed . ellen hopkins
This is a very different Hopkins from Crank.  Here we have a classic tale of demons, magic mirrors, and beautiful cold queens locked away in cold towers.  Then of course a pair of lovers, one stolen away, one brave girl gone on an adventure through snow and witches' spells to reclaim her love.  It's a sweet story, very magical and whimsical, although I don't really get why it's divided into Acts.  The ending is a little lackluster, though.  It's almost too classic for my taste.    

beast/beast . tessa gratton
You can throw a stone and hit a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but this one has a special place in my heart.  Beast is a strange mash of animal, human, and plant; he's gentle, quiet, sullen.  Beauty is a petulant girl seeking escape, and also raging for Beast to show some emotion and fight with her.  It's the original with some edge, a slow-burning bonding that creates a lot of "Awws", and a sweet, open ending that leaves a smile.  The writing is punchy and Beauty is an easy sell.  

the brothers piggett . julie kagawa
Don't expect smiles from this one.  But it's a great sell for Kagawa's imagination.  We have some brothers, a witch, and a beautiful girl whom the stuttering youngest brother is smitten with.  It's a deeper look into character than you get in most fairy tales, and the twist ending actually threw me for a loop.  Kagawa also writes with a combination of wit and edge that I really enjoyed.  

untethered . sonia gensler
This one didn't really do it for me.  It was fine as what it was: a ghost story that turns your head around.  I enjoyed it as that.  But there was just nothing about it that screamed "fairy tale."  It was a ghost story, nothing more, and pretty generically so.  

better . shaun david hutchinson
Again, not really fairy tale material.  It's a cool science-fiction tale.  It's a little Cinder-like, which an android heroine in love with a human boy.  A disease unable to be cured.  Humans desperate for an answer.  It was cool.  The ending shocked me.  But there's nothing that really separates it from your typical sci-fi and gives it a link to "Grim." 

light it up . kimberly derting
It didn't take me long to catch the Hansel and Gretel reference.  This one is modernized, two siblings abandoned in the woods after a family camping trip.  Derting cleverly inserts the old themes--the candy house, the witch--into new skins.  It's not remarkable, just good writing.  

sharper than a serpent's tongue . christina johnson
This one was cute.  It's a modern-day witch granting dubious gifts and curses: one daughter blessed with jewels falling from her mouth, one cursed with serpents.  It combines that fairy element with the modern-day problems of a manipulative, alcoholic mother, a skeavy neighbor boy, and two girls caught in the crossfire.  It's bittersweet and brings some reality into fairyland.  

real boy . claudia gray
Besides that this was really straight science-fiction and way off the theme, it was just a blah kind of story.  The whole central conflict was completely moot.  It read like The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke, only with a quarter of the depth.  

skin trade . myra mcentire
I didn't love this one, but after re-reading some actual fairy tales and finding its source material, I did really appreciate what McEntire did to modernize this story.  Cannibal thieves are turned into a rock band.  The damsel isn't so distressed.  It didn't really find a place with me, but it's definitely solidly written. 

beauty and the chad . sarah rees brennan
This was a bit on the silly side.  Basically you have a modern-day frat boy transported back into a fairy kingdom by a vindictive witch, punishing him as a Beast for his spoiledness.  Beauty is an overly honorable girl who signs on as carriage boy.  Throw in some gender-swapping, accidental homosexuality, and cross-cultural slang and it's a pretty funny story.  

the pink . amanda hocking
I was never on the Hocking bandwagon.  I find her stories to have potential but lacking polish.  But she won me over with this one.  It's another of my favorite stories, retold here by breathing life into the original characters and giving depth to the plot.  The writing is tight, the characters are admirable (though a little too fairy tale unflawed), and it cleverly manages to outwit the instalove problem.  

sell out . jackson pearce
I absolutely loved the story.  Imagine a young man with the power to cure death--with a kiss.  A whole agency of them.  It's like Sleeping Beauty for the highest paying customer.  When kissing boy gets paid not to raise his latest customer (I crack myself up), it brings him to a terrible choice: take the money for a new start, or raise the girl who once tormented him?  It's a beautiful story of redemption that I would love to see go further.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


Book Blurb Breakdown: She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgewick

book blurb breakdown

Book Blurb Breakdown is a Sarcasm & Lemons feature where your anal English degree-holding author rips apart (gently) jacket blurbs to pin down what makes her want to pick up the book instantly--and what makes her want to throw it at the wall.  See the original post for more detail.  

today's blurb
Status:  Unread

the blurb: as is 
from Goodreads

Laureth Peak's father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers--a skill at which she's remarkably talented. Her secret: She is blind. But when her father goes missing, Laureth and her 7-year-old brother Benjamin are thrust into a mystery that takes them to New York City where surviving will take all her skill at spotting the amazing, shocking, and sometimes dangerous connections in a world full of darkness. She Is Not Invisible is an intricate puzzle of a novel that sheds a light on the delicate ties that bind people to each other.

the blurb:  shredded 

Laureth Peak's father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers--a skill at which she's remarkably talented.  (Okay, this is cool.  Brings up some questions: Why has her father taught her this?  Why is she so good?) Her secret: (She has a secret?) She is blind.  (Why is this a secret?  But very cool.  Now I'm wondering how a girl who can't see is so adept at recognizing these subtle, often visual cues.  It promises a pretty cool investigation of how disability doesn't define you.) But when her father goes missing, Laureth and her 7-year-old brother Benjamin are thrust into a mystery that takes them to New York City where surviving will take all her (Pronoun is referring back to two people. Gr.) skill at spotting the amazing, shocking, and sometimes dangerous connections in a world full of darkness (Whoa, okay.  A lot is going on there.  A world full of darkness?  Heavy-handed, much?  She's going to NYC with her little brother?  Is NYC far from them, or is this just a short jaunt?  I honestly would like to know more about what's going on here, because I don't have enough sense of the mystery to be truly intrigued). She Is Not Invisible is an intricate puzzle of a novel that sheds a light on the delicate ties that bind people to each other.  (If I never heard the phrase "the delicate ties that bind people to each other" again, it would be too soon.)

the verdict 
3/5 stars

A promising start that fizzles out quickly.  There's just not enough meat and too many meaningless aphorisms to pack a real punch.  We start out with a cool scenario: blind girl who's an expert at detecting patterns.  A sort of teenage Sherlock who has overcome her disability to become truly great.  Then...um, I dunno.  Dad goes missing.  They travel an unspecified distance to New York City.  Something bad is going on.  The world is dark and bleak and dangerous.  Yeah, that's all I've got.  What does this have to do with these "ties that bind"?  Um.  Well.  I wish I knew, because it might make me more apt to actually read the novel.  I'm not surprised from the lackluster blurb that reviews have been incredibly mixed.  I may give this one a chance, but I think I'll stick with Sedgewick's other, better-loved novels before I jump into this vague black hole.  No matter how much I love the cover.

EDIT:  Let's be honest, I'll probably still read it.  I've heard some good things from credible sources.  

your thoughts

Does this blurb grab you?  
Do you agree with my thoughts?  If not, how so?  
Do you have any recommendations for blurbs I should shred?  

previous breakdowns 

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Dangerous by Shannon Hale


Review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer


title:  Scarlet

author:  Marissa Meyer

pages: 454

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-0312642969

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Cinder (duh), Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Cruel Beauty by Rosamunde Hodge, and/or genre-bending science-fiction.  

My Ratings Explained

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She's trying to break out of prison--even though if she succeeds, she'll be the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

the basics
I was psyched to read the sequel after the awesomeness of Cinder.  Scarlet didn't quite match its predecessor, but it's still a worthy addition to a great series.  I liked Scarlet herself.  She's reckless and foolish in a very endearing way, with enough cleverness and tenacity so you don't want to strangle her constantly.  Wolf was more of a sticking point for me.  I like his puppydog fierceness, but given he's the obvious love interest, he and Scarlet share more instalove than I'd prefer.  Which is very unlike the slowburning affection between Cinder and Kai.  That said, the secrets revealed here and the twisty plot alternating between Scarlet/Wolf and Cinder/Thorne is breakneck and breathtaking.  Thorne is welcome comic relief (and super smooch-worthy), while Cinder grows even more capable.  The stakes are higher, and the ending is jarring--in a good way.  I didn't feel the same giddiness after Scarlet as I had after Cinder, but I'm still clamoring for Cress.   

plot . 4/5
This a'int your grandma's Red Riding Hood.  In fact, grandma has some pretty crazy secrets, secrets she's kidnapped for.  That leaves granddaughter Scarlet hot on the trail of a terrorist group with a semi-trustworthy, gruff street fighter at her side.  Plus spaceships.  Plus alcoholic fathers.  Plus jumping on trains, plague outbreaks, and a lot of sneaky Lunar trickery.  If you don't pay attention to the evil anger-making instalove, it's an exciting, tight plot.  And that's just one half.  On the other half, we have Cinder making her escape from jail with the feckless Captain Thorne, criminal failure and master of oblivious snark.  I giggled at the way he and Cinder play off each other.  And of course, their crazy escape also creates problems for Kai, under pressure from the Lunars to restore the fugitive.  There's really no moment to breathe here, because every second is danger and chaos.  And twists that are cringingly expected, in an "I'm cringing because I'm afraid this will happen and then it does and I'm excessively invested" kind of way.  When the two threads finally come together, it's hysterical and exciting, and sets up Cress perfectly.  

concept . 5/5
I raved about this a lot in my Cinder review, so I'll be brief: science-fiction fairy tales are awesome!  It's easy to turn a fairy tale into a sci-fi that's basically just a sci-fi (just wait for my Grim review...), but Meyer doesn't forget the whimsical elements that make fairy tales more than just stories.  There are princesses, ball gowns, magical loves, quests and heroes.  Scarlet has a little less of this element than Cinder, but I still did appreciate the witty parallels between this plot and the original.  It also manages to tie together with foreshadowing from book one in unexpected and delightful ways.  Just when you think you know the game...  

characters . 5/5
So, Scarlet's pretty cool.  I don't like her as much as Cinder, but that's more a comment on Cinder's awesomeness than anything bad about Scarlet.  Scarlet is a little rougher than Cinder, more distrustful, less whimsical.  She's beautiful and cold and distrustful, but with a sneaking compassion.  She's also pretty capable, even when she's sticking her nose where it definitely does not belong.  It makes her pairing with Wolf less annoying, because though she lack his fighting prowess and expertise, she's certainly no damsel in distress.  You see a similar relationship with Cinder and Thorne.  Thorne is actually kind of bumbling for someone who managed once to steal a military spaceship.  He has some expertise, but he's also arrogant, brash, vain, and self-serving.  He annoys the hell out of Cinder, which is a lovely excuse for witty banter and a sibling rivalry kind of friendship.  And Cinder--well, she's just as kickass as she always was, and maybe more.  Kai is still adorable.  Levana is still hellspawn.  I could see Disney making an amazing movie out of this.  

style . 5/5
I. Love. Meyer's. Writing.  She's obviously done enough research to sound very comfortable with technological terms, giving her book an air of authenticity that makes it that much better than your average science-fiction for young adults.  She's also witty, poignant, and whimsical when she needs to be.  Her voice is a modern fairy-teller, a Grimm with some edge.  She also has a good sense of her characters, because they all sound appropriately different and unique.  I can't say enough how solid her style is.  

mechanics . 5/5
My only complaint is that switching between points of view makes me antsy to get past cliffhangers, but as I'm learning in The Lies We Tell Ourselves, I don't really like chunks either.  So I guess this is more of an impatient thing than an actual criticism.   

take home message
Scarlet stays true to the whimsical spirit and techie edge of its predecessor, with a character all its own.  

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


Giveaway: Mental Health Giveaway Hop

welcome to the mental health giveaway!

Mental health is important to me.  I'm a psychology Ph.D. student.  I live and breathe it.  I've experienced it.  It's also incredibly underserved in many countries, including my native States.  People who need services most don't get them.  There's a stigma against "crazies."  People don't understand depression in the same way they understand cancer or Hodgkin's disease.  

But we're getting there, in part because of amazing authors who give a voice to the voiceless and educate their readers about the realities of struggling with a lifelong disease.  So enter the giveaway, hop around to read facts and find new books about mental illness, and give a second thought to this hidden problem. 

Today's facts: 
10 things I wish everyone knew about therapy 

About 20% of adults will experience a depressive episode in their lifetime.  

About 26% of adults in the United States have a mental illness.  

Suicide accounts for more than double the deaths caused by homicide in the States. It's the 10th leading cause of death for adults. 

Only 3-5% of violent acts can be attributed to people with a mental illness.  In fact, people with mental illness are 10 times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than people without. 

Psychotherapy has been shown to be just as effective as medication for treating almost all mental illness.  It's also cheaper in the long run and has longer lasting effects.  

Learn more. 

An essay on mental illness. 

Need ideas?  Here are some favorites.  
Click on the covers to learn more.  

And while you're here, please consider checking out some of the other reviews and features on Sarcasm & Lemons.  Cheers! 

This giveaway will run until March 27th. 

This giveaway is open to anyone whom Book Depository ships to.  

The winner of the giveaway must respond to my winner e-mail within 48 hours to claim the prize. 

Thanks for stopping by!  

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Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth


title:  Divergent

author:  Tess Sharpe

pages: 487

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-0062024039

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the TV show Dark Angel, and kickass heroes.  Violence included.  

My Ratings Explained

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

the basics
Yes, I finally did it.  Just in time for the movie!  So, did it live up to the hype?  Mostly.  Divergent is a fun, thrilling adventure that's as much about personal empowerment and success as it is dystopia, freedom, and politics.  The romance is cute and believable and doesn't overshadow the story, the characters are well fleshed out, and the plot manages to race despite the nearly 500 pages of material.  Tris was an acquired taste for me.  I liked her, then hated her, then liked-hated her, then grew to respect and care about her.  She's flawed in real ways that most authors shy from; I applaud Roth's bravery.  Same goes for all her characters, really.  There are no cookie cutter heroes and villains here.  What I took issue with most was the world-building.  I liked the idea of these little Communistic homogeneous factions, but the whole idea of Divergence struck me as vague and illogical--which made some of the plot difficult to buy, for me.  I don't know if it's at insta-re-read level for me.  But I will read the sequels and, I'm sure, enjoy them immensely.   

plot . 4/5
The plot throughout is pretty solid, with a few notable exceptions.  You're thrust right into Tris' judgment day, aka will she stay with her family's faction or follow her heart.  Dun dun dun.  Then the mystery of Divergence is revealed.  We know little about it, only that it's dangerous and feared.  Then Divergence becomes a background issue--a mistake, I think.  We don't find out until well into the book that anyone is even particularly concerned about rooting out Divergents.  So my head was going, "Why do I care?"  What I did care about was Tris' initiation.  Her faction is ruthless and demanding, requiring her to push her limits and toe the lie between strength and cruelty.  Despite her small size, Tris surprises everyone, including me.  I was a little confused about the timeline here; is Tris really that toned and gun-savvy after what seems to be a week of training?  Maybe I'm missing something.  

Suspend disbelief, and you have a cool series of challenges that's partly about watching Tris be clever and partly about watching her navigate terror, guilt, and increasingly complicated social interactions.  Her friends become an important part of her life, although I wish Four didn't overshadow them so much later on.  I also wish there'd been a little more foreshadowing for what was a pretty epic final showdown.  Don't forget a stunning amount of violence.  Roth doesn't shy away from depicting her world in all its bloody horror.  We leave Tris after the battle, at a natural transition point that managed to feel both satisfying and intriguing.  While Roth could have done a better job of integrating the Divergence problem into her otherwise awesome plot, it was awesome.  And not just a Hunger Games clone--ya hear that, tabloids? 

concept . 3/5
Good: Dystopian world with creepy little Communistic factions that demand sameness from their members and coexist in a tenuous alliance poised to explode.  Bad: What the hell is Divergence?  They're not unrelated.  Roth's Chicago is a colony of clones devoted to five different life paths.  Choose a faction and you're choosing to accept its ideals and mold yourself to its principles, down to what you wear and every word you speak.  That's a pretty cool concept.  But Divergence?  It's basically explained as not being categorizable.  Not being easily controlled.  ...  So.  Divergence means you're human?  I mean, I really don't get it.  What comes across clearly to me in Tris' interactions with her friends is that no one fits any of the boxes perfectly.  They must choose one and forsake the others, but that doesn't stop them from being complex individuals.  So I don't really buy this Divergence stuff.  Also, logistically, is Chicago the only place left in the States?  How many people live there?  Tris' initiate class has about 20.  That's 20 brand-new sixteen-year-olds, times five factions.  So we're talking about a population of four million decimated to thousands.  What happened!? 

characters . 5/5
I actually hated Tris for a while.  She can be cold, pitiless, and arrogant.  It was really her statement that she could never be attracted to Al because he's "weak" and "fragile" that threw me.  As I got to know her more, I came to care more about her.  She is cold and even cruel, but she's also just as often compassionate and self-sacrificing.  Her cleverness and bravery is not only admirable, but gives her strength and lets her move the plot on her own, make her own choices, and save herself.  She's flawed and human.  Although I was really annoyed with her for forsaking her friends.  Then there's Four, adorable four, who's just as cold and pitiless but also softer, and wickedly snarky in a clueless kind of way.  Their relationship just fits.  (Although, can we stop throwing the 'L' word around on day 3, people?)  For the side characters, my favorite was Christina.  I wish she hadn't exited stage left when Tris became Four-crazy.  She's spunky, badass, and has a little bit of vulnerability.  I would have liked to see more of a girlpower duo with her and Tris.  Love Will, love Uriah, love Caleb.  They're witty, lighthearted foils to the grittier girls.  Let's hope we see more of them in Insurgent! 

style . 5/5
I can complain a bunch about the worldbuilding, but there's no complaining about Roth's writing.  For writing this before she finished college (yes, I'm insanely jealous), she's polished in a way that I don't see from many older, more seasoned writers.  She's got Tris' voice down to a science.  It flows easily, feels natural, has a teenaged insecurity and a more mature edge.  What I hated?  Stop repeating the word "Divergent" every five seconds and let us come to our own conclusions instead of giving the answer.  There were numerous places where this happened and I just wanted to say, "Duh."  But overall, Roth is a master of spinning a scene, heightening tension, and smacking you in the face with a well-played metaphor.  

mechanics . 5/5
It's difficult to capture a reader for 487 pages.  Roth's sense of pacing is spot on.  I never felt bored and there were times I actually had to cover up the next page so I wouldn't eagerly read ahead (rankings time, much?).  The combination of pacing, character, and writing was enough to endear this book to me despite all my complaints about it.  There's no doubting this woman has talent.  This series won't be her last. 

take home message
Divergent makes up for some shaky worldbuilding with strong characters, a thrilling plot, and a polished voice of its own.  

Also, Chicago.  

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


Musing: C.J. gets a little bit older!


It' s my birthday!  Whaaaaaat.  It's also St. Patrick's Day, best holiday ever, so y'all better be wearing green!  That's the Chicago River wearing green too.  

I want to thank Nikki Ooi who totally out of the blue popped up and sent me Envy by Gregg Olson and Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, from my wishlist.  She's so sweet and I love the blogosphere so much because of the kind, generous people I've met. 

Anyway, I hope you all have an amazing St. Patty's Day.  I leave you with some of my favorite green books: 



ARC Review: Far From You by Tess Sharpe


title:  Far From You

author:  Tess Sharpe

pages: 352

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-1423184621

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Looking for Alaska by John Green, The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher, and Sarah Dessen.  Some sexual content.  

My Ratings Explained

Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice.

The first time, she's fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that'll take years to kick.

The second time, she's seventeen, and it's no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina's murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery.

After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina's brother won't speak to her, her parents fear she'll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina's murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared

the basics
This book was a pleasant surprise.  I was fearful of a cheesy, overwrought murder mystery plot.  Instead, I got a murder mystery wrapped up in friendship, struggle, love, and poignantly-expressed emotion.  Sophie could easily be the self-obsessed unforgiving addict, but she's much more than that.  She's a girl who's seen the other side.  She's accepted her disease and come to understand what she once saw as betrayals from people who put her into rehab.  She's also complex in ways I can't fully describe without spoiling.  Moreover, her story is truly about friendship.  She relies on Trev, Rachel, and Kyle to help her solve Mina's death.  Each of them feels fully realized and fleshed out.  And they trust her, instead of forcing her into the isolated martyr hero role.  The writing is starkly beautiful at times and very fluid.  What results is a beautiful exposition of growing up and first love.  The mystery is exciting, but it's as much about knowing Mina as it is about the killer.  This was not an easy book to put down.  

plot . 4/5
The plot reminded me very much of Dead Girls Don't Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf.  We have a murdered best friend, a mystery the cops don't understand, a friend desperate to find the truth--about the murderer, about their friend.  Only in this one, Sophie receives no posthumous missive from Mina.  She only knows that something Mina was working on connected her to that place and that awful night.  The plot is part mystery, part self-discovery.  With both present and past segments, I could watch the development of Sophie from innocent kid to addict to survivor, and the maturity and strength that came with it.  There are many glimpses into her friendship with Mina, and she acknowledges both the good and the bad; a nice change in a world of fairytale romances where people seem to wear blinders.  

I also loved how much time revolved around her repairing relationships with friends and family.  It made the book feel more realistic, less like a cheap mystery.  And the mystery was certainly not cheap.  Sharpe sprinkles clues from the very beginning and knows just when to reveal twists and turns.  She also keeps it appropriate to what a gang of high school kids could possibly achieve.  The final revelation was shocking but well set-up.  My main complaint is the end--or ends.  There are about 30 more pages than there needed to be.  Yes, closure is nice, but instead it felt draggy.  Like she wanted to wrap up everything.  It ended up feeling like the neverending third Lord of the Rings endings.  

concept . 5/5
Sharpe manages to mix a thrilling mystery with a sweet self-discovery plot, and both feel well attended to.  On one hand, you have the murdered best friend and the people who survive her, desperate for answers.  It feels natural that Sophie would look into Mina's death--especially since everyone, including the cops, think it was a drug deal gone wrong.  It's also a clever vehicle to show Sophie's connection with Mina and how she comes to know her more deeply through Mina's final project, a journalism piece that got her killed.  Very prominent through the book is the blurry line between friendship and love.  The nature of love.  The danger of secrets.  Sharpe tackles tough territory without being maudlin or exploitative.  

characters . 4/5
Sophie was instantly likable to me.  She's a little quiet and reserved but she packs a punch when she needs to.  She stands up for herself.  Her greatest enemy is her own pain.  She (and the others) also just feel generally like teens.  Getting older, growing in maturity, but still stepping one foot in childhood.  Mina herself is one of the most well-developed characters.  Through her secrets and the flashbacks, we see all her charms and flaws.  Sophie is a biased narrator but not a delusional one.  She doesn't hold back from blaming Mina where it's due; but she also has a deep love and admiration for her best friend's whimsy and tenacity.  Then there's Trev, my favorite, who has some of his sister's fire--but it burns more quietly in him, and turns to compassion where his sister had selfishness.  Kyle and Rachel are nice additions but don't feel as real as the others, particularly Rachel.  I think it's just difficult to understand Rachel's motivations.  I also wish that Sophie's family was a little more present.  She does manage to sneak out a lot without anyone batting an eyelash, considering she's grounded.  

style . 5/5
Sharpe is a talented writer.  She has a great grasp on the teenage voice, giving her characters a feeling of authenticity.  It makes Sophie's narrative sound real, like it could actually be a seventeen-year-old girl reflecting.  She also gives Sophie's voice a touch of maturity that stays believable and gives Sharpe some leeway to play around with words and spin some truly beautiful phrases.  I wish I'd quoted some before I sent this book along, because there were some passages that just captured something so perfectly.  

mechanics . 3/5
The chapters switch between the present and various points in the past, from the car crash that introduced Sophie to Oxycontin to touching moments with Mina that illuminate both of their characters.  I found them jarring at first.  I didn't like being pulled out of the present.  I never quite loved them, but I did grow to appreciate them more.  I could see how Sharpe carefully juxtaposed certain passages to make a point.  It just got annoying when I was nailbiting through a tense scene and then had to wait a chapter to figure out the conclusion, like constant cliffhangers.  I don't know what I would have preferred, but it's just a style that doesn't work as well for me.   

Also, the cover design is not only evocative but really clever.  You'll have to read it to find out why.  

take home message
A mystery that's as much about the narrator finding herself as it is about her finding the killer.  Reminiscent of John Green, this book is deeply beautiful and human.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.