My Top 10 Books I Have Read So Far This Year

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by The Broke and The Bookish) is the Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far In 2013. Well, I’m an extremely lightweight book blogger, so I have read exactly 10 books so far this year (if you don’t count a couple of really short companion e-books). Though this isn’t much for some, this is actually pretty big for me as it means I am on par with my goal of reading at least 20 books this year (though I would love to pick up the pace and read a few more!), which will put me at reading more books this year than I have in a single year since… before high school. So there you have it.

Since I have read only 10 books this year, I thought I would rank each book from least favorite (which thankfully I still didn’t hate) to most favorite, and why I ranked them accordingly.

TTT

10. Reached by Allie Condie (2 Stars)

This book, as the end of a series, was fairly disappointing. The beginning of the book showed potential, with a plague outbreak caused by the Rising, who we had believed were supposed to be the good guys, but then it went downhill. For starters, since this was the first book of this trilogy I had read since reading The Giver, I suddenly realized that the Society in this series was a little too similar to that of The Giver. Also, I thought most of the characters felt out of place. I don’t want to re-review the book; you can see my thoughts on it by clicking on the the book title.

9. Across the Universe by Beth Revis (3 Stars)

I loved the concept of this one… a girl who is cryogenically frozen wakes too early on a spaceship still years from its destination. The execution of it… was just OK for me. It featured a really creepy mating season among humans on the ship, a lackluster romance, but some interesting twists. I plan to finish the series one day as I’ve heard it gets better, but let’s just say I wasn’t rushing to buy the second book after finishing this one.

8. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis (3 Stars)

The Last Battle turned out to be neither my favorite nor least favorite in The Chronicles of Narnia, with a story that was part boring, part interesting, but wrapped up with a beautiful ending.

7. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (? Stars) 

I still haven’t figured out how to rate Till We Have Faces, because it left me with more questions than answers. Maybe it’s not a bad thing, as I know C.S. Lewis was much smarter than I am, but it left me feeling a little unsatisfied. Still, there was a certain captivating quality to it. Watch for my review to come soon.

7-10

6. Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (4 Stars)

This follow-up for Cinder did not do as much for me as the first book of The Lunar Chronicles, but I still found it enjoyable overall. I do love the characters and world Meyer has created, and I am looking forward to Cress!

5. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (4 Stars)

Reading this book was me dipping my toe into science fiction waters. It’s an interesting story about a bright boy who is sent to train for a war when he is far too young, and the secrets kept from him. I enjoyed it overall, but there were parts that were slow and that did not enjoy as much. By the recommendation of a friend, I do plan to read at least one of the follow-up books, Ender’s Shadow. I’m also looking forward to the movie later this year!

4. Cinder by Marissa Meyer (4 Stars)

I absolutely adored this first book of The Lunar Chronicles, especially the friendship/blooming relationship between Cinder and Kai. Truly the most swoon-worthy romance (even though it was really a pre-romance) I’ve read this year! The only real reason I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5 was because it was just way too predictable. Still, this was a great debut by Meyer!

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3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (5 Stars)

A heartbreaking book filled with beautiful words. I’m not sure what else to say without writing another review.

2. Start by Jon Acuff (5 Stars)

If you’ve been on this blog long enough or read my About Me, you know I have been influenced by author and speaker Jon Acuff, who has this idea that anyone can work towards their dream, but it may not always happen the way you expect it. I can’t really do his words justice, though. But if you’ve had a dream banging around the back of your mind, if you’ve ever wondered what your next step in life should be, if you wake up every morning wishing you could quit your day job, read Quitter and Start. They are five star books for me because if you follow his advice, it’s life-changing. I’m still in the middle of the process of working on my dream, and starting this blog has played a role in that. 

1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (5 Stars)

Unbroken, the true account of a WWII fighter pilot’s life before, during, and after his incarceration at multiple Japanese POW camps is simply a stunning tale. I don’t read much non-fiction, especially long historical books like this one, but it always kept my interest, and Louie’s story never ceased to amaze me. If you only read one book on this list, it should be this one. I would recommend it to EVERYONE.

3-1

What have been your favorite reads this year so far? 

My Top 10 Books Featuring Travel

For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and Bookish), I wanted to break my Top 10 into two Top 5 lists: the top 5 books featuring travel that I have read, and the top 5 books featuring travel that are on my TBR list. There is travel in virtually every book if you want to get technical, but I wanted to feature books where the traveling is essential to the plot (or for the books on my TBR list, they appear to be essential), so this is what I kept in mind as I created my lists. The lists are in no particular order.

Top 5 Books Featuring Travel that I Have Read

1. The Hobbit

thehobbitBilbo Baggins was happy living out a quiet life in his hobbit home when Gandalf retrieves him for an adventure. Nearly the whole book features travel as Biblo journeys his way through Middle Earth.

2. Scarlet

scarlet

There is a decent amount of travel in Scarlet, Meyer’s follow-up to Cinder, and as a bonus, a lot of it is futuristic methods of travel! It is through travel that Cinder escapes, Scarlet gets to know Wolf, Scarlet finds her grandmother, and Scarlet and Cinder meet. Basically, there is a lot of moving forward in the novel and it’s all important.

3. Ender’s Game

enderEven though this book is set in space, there isn’t as much traveling as you would think. Still, Ender has to leave his home on Earth to attend Battle School to try to save the world, and then later in the book he takes another journey that will have a profound impact on him (but I won’t spoil that). When Ender’s does travel, it’s always important.

4. Rebecca

rebecca-by-daphne-du-maurierIt is while traveling on vacation that the heroine of this story meets the man she marries, then travels home with him where she will be haunted by his past and her life will be changed. This is a great, suspenseful story that I will be talking about again very soon, so stay turned!

5. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

lionwitchwardrobeI could really put all of The Chronicles of Narnia here, but I wanted to focus on the book that began it all. The method of travel is simple: a wardrobe. And somehow, some way, this wardrobe transports four children to a whole new world for a great adventure that will define their lives (actually, you can know how the wardrobe is able to do this if you read The Magician’s Nephew). When I was a child, I wished so badly I could transport to Narnia through a wardrobe as well, but sadly, I was never able to find the right portal.

Top 5 Books Featuring Travel on My TBR List

1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

hitchhikerArthur Dent isn’t looking for adventure when his friend, who turns out to be an alien, rescues him by taking him from Earth (which is promptly blown up after they leave), and they end up traversing through space. I’ve seen the movie several times but have not read the book yet, but as fun as the movie is, I can only imagine what a ride the book must be! Arthur learns a lot about himself and the universe on this journey, and even the meaning of life. Well, maybe. (And yes, Martin Freeman plays both Arthur AND Bilbo!)

2. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

statisticalprobabilityThough I don’t normally gravitate towards contemporary romance, I am interested in reading this one (plus I just received it this weekend after winning a giveaway so I guess I’ll be reading it sometime!). I mean, how can you resist the cover? Travel seems important in this one since the couple meets in an airport as they are going about their separate ways. I find it an interesting concept since I think the airport is the single most fascinating place to people watch.

3. A Million Suns and Shades of Earth

acrosstheuniverseI have already read Across the Universe, and while I only liked it just fine, I still want to read the continuation of the spaceship Godspeed in its sequel books. The whole mission of the Godspeed was to travel from Earth to a new world for a new home, but there lies and secrets that mar the journey along the way.

4. The Scorpio Races

scorpioFrom my understanding, the premise of this book is somewhat like that of the movie Hidalgo, except the horses are much more vicious and are raced in the sea. These horses have played a tragic role in the lives of the two main characters, and yet they both still find themselves compelled to race. I am definitely intrigued by this idea and am curious to see more about how the races impact their lives.

5. The Lord of the Rings

LOTRThe Lord of the Rings, much like The Hobbit, focuses on a journey through Middle Earth. And Frodo’s mission is imperative: to destroy The One Ring. I am so intimidated by the length of these books, but I would love to get an in-depth look at Frodo and Sam’s friendship as they travel through Middle Earth and face so many trials.

What books featuring travel are your favorite? Or what books featuring travel are on your TBR list? 

My Top 10 Elements in Dystopia

In my not-forgotten-but-slightly-neglected quest to figure out what works for dystopias for me and what doesn’t, I thought an excellent topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday freebie would be the top ten elements I like to see in dystopia stories I have read. This can be the nature of the characters, the plot, the society structure, etc., and it can be from specific stories or in general. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Sameness of the society

Though I think several dystopias have adapted this idea, but I like the way it is illustrated in The Giver the best. Not only does everyone follow the same progression through life up until they are selected for their job and start to train for those, but they do not exhibit much independent thought because of this environment. The ability has not been taken away or suppressed by drugs, but they have been encouraged through positive reinforcement all their lives to live a certain way, to not question it, and to not want any more. When Jonas learns of the past and colors and things no one else in his town knows about, it challenges his thoughts on the status quo. It’s easy for everyone to be the same, but is it really a life worth living?

2. Separation within the society

capitol-citizens

I think The Hunger Games in particular does an excellent job in showcasing a clear divide between the two main groups of people within the society: The elaborate Capitol and the struggling Districts. Not only do they force the Districts to give up children each year for the annual Hunger Games, which serve as a source of entertainment and gambling for the Capitols, but they subject the winners to their ways for the rest for their lives, so even the winners don’t really win. Some, like Finnick Odair, are even forced into prostitution because of their good looks and charming nature. Whatever the Capitol wants, the Capitol gets, and subjects the Districts to.

The Selection also shows a divide with a caste system and monarchy set in place, though I do not find Cass’ world building quite as detailed or effective as Collins’, but it does have a lot of potential.

3. The “stand-out” among the society

tris-divergent

I think there are several dytopias who have their main character a stand-out. Tris (and others) are Divergents in their society, and cannot be categorized by one faction of their society, which some see as a threat. In The Giver, Jonas stands out because he is the Receiver, he has the ability to receive past memories and see things differently than the rest of his society. In Across the Universe, those who think differently from the norm, like Elder and Harley are considered crazy, when really they are just creative and the others have had their creativity suppressed. It’s an obvious element not just for dystopia, but for any story, but it is an effective one. I believe most all of us have a desire to stand out somewhat, even if it scares us.

4. The “good guys” aren’t as good as they seem

For all the things that drove me crazy about Reached, the conclusion of the Matched trilogy, the strongest element of the story, I thought, was how it was clear that the Resistance, the “good guys” in the story, aren’t as good as they had been romanticized by Cassia and Xander to be. They are willing to sacrifice people and create chaos in the name of their cause; they turn to panic rather than logic or strategy to overthrow the government. Cassia’s world grew more gray in Reached, which I think was a necessity for that series.

It’s also interesting to see in Divergent and Insurgent how among these five factions, one cannot really be labeled “the good guys.” Yes, there are the honest ones, the peaceful ones, the humble ones… But just the same, the factions are not particularly good or particularly bad. It is the individual who is good or bad.

5. A secret rules the society/main character

In either movies or books, I am always fascinated by the notion that everything the main character has believed about their life has been a lie or at least a facade veiling secrets. It happens in Across the Universe, Insurgent, The Giver, Ender’s Game, Cinder, The Maze Runner series, and of course in other stories as well.  It’s funny when you’re on the outside looking in, not understanding why the main character can’t accept that their reality is not actual reality when it seems so obvious to you. Or sometimes, it takes the reader by surprise too. But either way, if I think about it, it would be hard for me to accept too. It’s a “what if” question that certainly makes for a fascinating string of possibilities.

6. Humans as test subjects

The-Maze-Runner-Concept-Art-Copy

The Maze Runner series was not my favorite, but one thing I did find fascinating was what these teens were being put through. First they are forced to live in an environment with a seemingly unsolvable maze (as well as potentially dangerous), and then when they finally escape it, they only face more trials that they forced to go through in the name of science and discovery. Unfortunately, I found the end of the series to be unsatisfying for an explanation as to why all these weird techniques were supposed to help, as well as an unsatisfactory resolution to the characters and their journeys, but the overall concept of using humans as test subjects is certainly fascinating.

7. Revolution

salute

This is also a common theme in dystopia, but I think the way it was built up and ultimately played out in The Hunger Games trilogy is especially fascinating. Katniss plays the rules of the game to a point, but she slowly, and not completely purposefully, starts the destruction of the system from the inside out. She also has a lot of help along the way because even a teenage girl as strong as Katniss can’t take down a whole government herself.

8. Genetic mutation/manipulation

Unfortunately I have not seen too much yet of this yet in the dystopias I have read, and in the ones I have found it in, they have been used in somewhat underwhelming and disappointing ways, but as I have mentioned before, genetic engineering fascinates me. I want to see more!

9. Strong and diverse characters

hg-characters

This, in a nutshell, is what really makes The Hunger Games stand out from other dystopias in my mind. I have never, in any other dystopia series I have read, fallen so in love with so many characters as I have in The Hunger Games. They are so well-rounded, each with such unique personalities, that they just feel so real. Sometimes I think authors get so caught up in their epic story line that they forget to give special treatment for the characters. But plot alone cannot carry a story; we need more epic characters! (Though I will say that The Lunar Chronicles are producing some pretty great characters as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing them develop more and meeting new ones in the last two books!)

10. Post-War

Any story that starts off in the ruins of a previous society marred by war, or even years after war but with lingering aftermath, (Hunger Games, Divergent, Ender’s Game, The Selection, Cinder, etc.) piques my interest. What caused the war often determines how the society is rebuilt afterwards. There is often this notion that society will be better this way than it was before, but many times, as we see, that is not necessarily true.

Books mentioned in this post:

dystopiasWhat about you? What elements interest you in dystopias?

SciFi Review Double Feature: Across the Universe and Oblivion

Though the book Across the Universe by Beth Revis and the new blockbuster and Tom Cruise flick Oblivion have several differences, they also have several similarities. They are both science fiction. I greatly anticipated reading Across the Universe just as I greatly anticipated seeing Oblivion. They both involve characters who have been lied to about their way of life. They were both somewhat disappointing in some ways, but overall not bad.

acrosstheuniverse (1)The book ATU is told from dual POVs, alternating between Amy and Elder. Amy is a normal girl who is cryogenically frozen on a ship with her parents to travel 300 years through space to a new planet (for reasons that are never fully explained by the way… I hope to find out why in later books). Elder, hundreds of years later, is learning under the ship’s leader Eldest as to how he will take on the role one day. Their worlds collide Amy’s pod is unplugged and she is unfrozen before schedule, and she must adjust to life on the ship that feels like a foreign country to her.

The good: The overall premise. The intrigue of the secrets that are hidden and the lies that are told. Minor character Harley. Revis does a good job of painting the contrasts between Amy’s world and the world of the ship. Of course some of it is obvious because Amy undoubtedly does not live very far off in the future from us, but the way she even describes the different dialect in which the ship people speak is a nice detail I appreciated.

The OK: Amy and Elder. Sometimes I liked them, sometimes they bugged me a little. Elder had the potential to be great, but he could be weak at times and was a little too obsessed with Amy. I understand that he has been lied to his whole life, so of course his viewpoint is going to be hard to change, but it seems like he’s been questioning things for… a little while? It’s unclear how long Elder has been obsessed with wanting to know what real stars look like and has been tired of Eldest not teaching him things. I did think Amy’s emotional journey was well displayed, and I think most of the time she displayed a strength that I appreciated, but she had some moments were I was not in love with her either.

The bad: An actual science fiction feel to the story is lacking, which some people might like. I don’t even have a super duper great love for the genre (yes, I am a Trekkie, but I like the stories and characters more than the actual science fiction), but I felt like it had the potential to tell the type of story that only science fiction can tell. The technology was good, and the ship was fine, but this could have been an epic story about humanity. Well, I guess this was somewhat a story about humanity, but it fell a little flat and did not feel epic. Also, I will never understand why Amy agreed to be frozen when her Dad gave her the chance to walk away. (Mild spoiler) Was it because of what she learned about Jason and she didn’t want to face him again? (Mild spoiler over) Or is it that she really loved her Dad more than her life (or she loved him more than she has common sense)?  Maybe I have seen too many Star Trek episodes, but when you get frozen for a journey through space, things never go well. I would have running like heck in the other direction.

The ugly: THE SEASON. OMG. GROSS.GROSS.GROSS. I know that was kind of the point but YIKES, I don’t think we needed it to be so emphasized.

And then there is the end. A little bit of a spoiler here: They decide it’s OK to majorly impact/kill people because they’ve been mean to them. I don’t know, I just feel like the last few chapters should have gone through a major revision. The plot builds up to this big reveal of uncovered secrets and who has been unplugging people, and then it’s resolved in a way that is going to majorly impact things  and they sort of just shrug it off. Yes, those people were bad and needed to be dealt with but again… I don’t know. I just would have liked for it to have wrapped up a bit differently.

I plan to get around to the sequels eventually, but I’m willing to go through other books in my TBR pile first.

oblivion_tom_cruise_poster

Jack Harper’s job is to remain on post-nuke-war-with-aliens Earth for a time to maintain droids. The job of the droids to seek out the alien Scavs and eliminate them. Prior to this job, however, Jack says he was required to go through a memory wipe. Yet he has dreams that feel like memories, and finds himself wondering about and reveling in old, pre-war Earth. His partner (both romantically and professionally), Victoria, is not as interested. She is ready to finish their work and to head to Titan (Saturn’s largest moon, in case you need the reminder) where most of Earth’s inhabitants have gone.

Or so they’ve been told.

Like Elder in Across the Universe, Jack has been told things about his life, but he slowly discovers that things may not be as they seem. As things unravel, they get interesting, especially when we meet Julia, who Jack has seen in his dreams, and a man named Beech who wants to show Jack the truth. However, I felt confused and at the end of the movie I had more questions than answers. Thankfully, a conversation with my husband resolved most of them, but there were still many things left unclear, particular motives. And there are some plot holes that will just always leave some things feeling unfinished. I also did not appreciate how the villain in this movie is basically nameless, faceless, and the motive is completely unknown. It just makes the whole story not seem worthwhile. But the struggle and the backdrop are interesting, and I wanted to explore it all more. I feel it’s hard to say much more about the movie without giving too much away, and I think it’s a good movie to see “blind,” so I’ll leave it at that.

Both stories had a lot of potential and some interesting twists, but overall felt a little flat. But since the rides were mostly enjoyable, I give both the book ATU and the movie Oblivion 3 out of 5 stars.

By the way, there are reveals in both of these stories that are the same as well, but it would be a huge spoiler for both to reveal it, so I’ll just leave it at that.

So if you’ve read ATU or seen Oblivion, let me know what you thought!

Weekend Book Find

I have to say, in the short, not-even-two months I have started this blog, I have already connected with several blogs/bloggers who enjoy books similar to my tastes and they have already made a major impact on my TBR list. Two months ago, I had never heard of Beth Revis’ Across the Universe, and now, it’s like I have to read it. So imagine my excitement when this weekend I spotted a copy of it at a book outlet for a great deal:

atubookphotoSo since it is now in my possession, it will probably be my next read after Ender’s Game unless the library e-book version of Through The Never Sky (which I also did not know anything about two months ago) that I put a reservation in for becomes available before then, but that seems a little unlikely. And then if I like this first book, I’ll worry about getting the next two books later. But I was excited because I love a good deal! Anybody else score a good book deal lately, or just finally got a book you’ve been wanting?