Review: Cress

Warning: Lots of fangirling and some spoilers ahead!

RapunzelI want to apologize to Alice in Readerland, because I decided to write a review with Tangled and Star Wars GIFs before remembering she did this as well. But it’s hard to avoid! Hope you don’t mind the similarities, Alice! Now on to the review…

cress

I really enjoyed Cinder and Scarlet, but they were both 4 star books for me ultimately. I preferred Cinder to Scarlet because I connected with the characters and romance more, but knocked off a star for how crazy predictable it was. Well, Marissa Meyer has proven herself to be growing as a writer as she managed to surprise me multiple times throughout Cress. I do most of my reading at work during lunch and sometimes breaks, and I rarely react out loud to my reading, but at lunch one day while reading I actually said, “Oh no…!” out loud in complete shock that Dr. Erland is Cress’ father! What?! Did not see that coming! And that was just one of several surprising twists!

I wanted to focus largely on the characters, because really and truly, this is Meyer’s greatest strength. How in the world can all these characters be so perfectly unique from each other and well-rounded and likable?! OK, maybe it’s not too terribly unbelievable because I have seen it done before, but very rarely to this scale of a cast of characters or this well. Though I was one of the few who didn’t care for Wolf much in Scarlet (because I never fully trusted him), he really redeemed himself for me in Cress.

Scarlet doesn’t get a lot of  “screen time” in this book, which I can see would be frustrating for big fans of her, but I feel her part of the story was important and don’t feel any moments with her were wasted. Cinder continues to grow as she comes to accept more responsibilities, and I was always happy to see what Kai thought of his impending marriage and the whole situation. We are also introduced to Jacin, who is a little prickly but has some potential, and Winter, who seems a little whacked-out, but the fact that it’s because she’s not using her powers is very interesting to me.

Now let’s talk about Cress and Thorne.

So I loved Cress as a character. She’s a lot like Rapunzel in Tangled, which of course makes sense, and I loved seeing how her range of emotions was very similar to Rapunzel’s as she discovered the excitement and dangers of life on Earth.

tangled-bestdayever

tangled-hidingI thought it was so cute how she was quirky and had fantasies about how she and Thorne would fall in love at first sight and go on epic adventures together. She was also quirky enough for someone who had been cooped up in a satellite for so long but not so much that she was completely unrelatable.

And then the interactions with Cress and Thorne. SO CUTE. He really seized the opportunity to be just oh-so-Thorne around her, but he was also very mindful of how naive Cress was. Really, the two really needed each other in the desert and through everything they went through, because they could help each other in different ways. And of course they had some great exchanges.

“Captain?”
“Yeah?”
“Do you think it was destiny that brought us together?”
He squinted and, after a thoughtful moment, shook his head. “No. I’m pretty sure it was Cinder.”

tangled-fatedestinyhorseNow THORNE. I already loved Thorne from Scarlet, and I was thrilled by just how much of him we got in Cress! And of all the hardships I’ve seen characters go through, something about Meyer making Thorne go blind just really hit me. I just kept thinking, This is essential for his character growth. It’s perfect that he’s dealing with blindness. I think it teaches him to rely on others, as well as his instincts and other strengths. But I’m also really looking forward to his sight (hopefully) being restored so he can look Cress in the eyes again, with a whole new meaning. 🙂 All in all, Thorne is as charming as ever, but he also grows a lot.

hansolo-winkSide note: My husband and I just re-watched Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, and I literally laughed out loud while we were watching the catina scene, and explained to my husband it was because Han Solo was SO MUCH LIKE THORNE. Really, Thorne is…

tangled-flynnhi+

hansolo-smileI am definitely a member of the Thorne fan club.

cress-quoteBut let us not forget our other couples! Wolf proved to me in this book that he really does love Scarlet, as I alluded to before. And Cinder and Kai, finally! I really only have two complaints about this book, and one of them is why didn’t Cinder tell Kai who she was as soon as she entered his room?! She kept saying, “Trust me, trust me!” and then on the ship he had to drag it out of her. JUST TELL HIM YOU’RE PRINCESS SELENE! He didn’t seem to have a problem believing her, once he decided to believe that she was not using her powers on him, so she should have saved him from being tranquilized! And she really lucked out that Torin was as trusting and accommodating as he was.

My other minor complaint may have been a result of how I read it, though it happened more than once so I’m not sure, but I had a problem following the action sequences at times. I would be confused about what exactly was happening and where everyone was placed. But I do seem to struggle with this, so it might have been entirely my lack of comprehension. I was just reading so fast because I wanted to know what happened next!

Lastly, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Iko, who literally made me laugh out loud, once again in public, more than once. She is fabulous. And Dr. Erland! My heart hurt for him so much!

Meyer managed to craft a third book in a series that flowed seamlessly, never grew boring, and with an amazing cast of characters that I adore so much! I wish I could read Winter now! There’s nothing I could give this book other than…

5stars2Content Advisory: Some violence. Otherwise, squeaky clean! 

What was your favorite thing about Cress? Who’s your favorite character of the series so far?

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 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?

Review: Cinder

Cinder

When I first heard about Cinder, it sounded interesting, but did not really appeal to me initially. Then I kept I hearing nothing but love for it, so I finally checked it out.

graphic-synopsisCinder is a cyborg mechanic who lives in New Beijing with her awful stepmother and two stepsisters (one also awful, one nice). Cinder does not remember life from before she was 11, when she was told she had reconstructive surgery after an accident, and with no real rights of her own, her future looks grim.

graphic-thoughtsCinder was one of those books that hooked me right from the beginning, and I am not even sure why. I don’t know anything about this world that Cinder lives in, I don’t know what it’s like to be a cyborg or a mechanic, and I don’t know what it’s like to have an android as a best friend and for your guardian to hate you, but I found Cinder so relatable and likable from the start. I believe that the way Meyer crafted the story was just so good that it made me understand Cinder right away and root for her.

It’s fun to see the parallels of this story and the Cinderella story we all know, but it’s even more fun to explore this completely different world that Cinder lives in. I love her interactions with her android Iko, her sister Peony, and of course with Prince Kai, who is instantly charming but not in a completely unrealistic way. We even occasionally get his POV, which I like, but it’s never too much, just enough to sympathize with him and what he is going through. I love watching how their friendship blossoms, how it starts off innocent and somewhat flirty instead of it being rushed into something serious or being “insta-love.”

The plot is good too, but a story can thrive or die because of its characters, and Cinder has strong characters. Even the characters you hate serve their purpose and serve it well, and you hate them because you’re supposed to, not because the author made them unintentionally stupid or annoying. The pacing of the story is also great; things move quickly enough for the action to flow, but not too fast.

My rating for this book would be 4.5 stars, and it loses half a star for two reasons:
1.) The “big reveals” are extremely predictable.
2.) There is no real resolution at the end, but that’s because it’s the first of a series. I don’t really fault it for this, but it’s hard to give a book 5 stars if you don’t know how the story actually ends.

Though I pointed out all the happy, fairy tale-esque moments of the book, but there are some heavy undertones with a threat of war and vicious plague killing thousands, and the end of the book leaves our protagonist in a darker place than where she started. But there is hope, and more books, so I look forward to seeing how the journey unfolds! I found Cinder to be a fast, enjoyable read.

graphic-quotable

“Imagine there was a cure, but finding it would cost you everything. It would completely ruin your life. What would you do?” – Prince Kai to Cinder

If you’ve read Cinder, what were your thoughts on it?

Weekend Book Find (2)

I was going to wait to post this, rather than post twice in one day, but then I thought maybe someone else would appreciate the head’s-up. Barnes and Noble is doing a this-weekend-only sale on their Top 1000 Nook Books. Also, according to The Broke and The Bookish, Amazon is price matching for their Kindle books. So if you have a Nook or Kindle, check out the deal and see if there’s anything missing from your library. There were a few books that caught my eye, but I ultimately decided to go with Cinder and Scarlet, both priced at $4.99 (plus tax) a piece. You only have the rest of the day, so be sure to check it out! Though I’m not digging into Cinder right away, I am excited to have it now that I have read an excerpt from it.

CINDERscarlet