Book View: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

My first audio book ever!  Sarah Drew’s narration of Delirium by Lauren Oliver was a great place to start.  Her voice could be slightly whiny at times, but I just chalked this up to proper character treatment as Lena was often whiny.

Delirium is a young adult dystopia set in a world where love has become a deadly disease.  The government has put the US in lockdown mode and requires all citizens to receive the ‘cure’ once they turn 18.  So instead of a world driven by love, hate, and passion, Lena (our heroine) now lives in a world filled with fear and indifference.  She’s perfectly content until she meets Alex, a boy from the outside wilds, who helps her uncover the truth the government has so desperately hidden beyond the city’s electrified fence.  Insert cliffhanger and anxious waiting for second book in series here.

A world without love definitely qualifies as an interesting premise and Oliver does a masterful job at creating a backlist of literature, government propaganda, and medical pamphlets to convince readers that there is something to fear in loving freely.  As a reader, you can almost become convinced that a world without passion, without hate born from passion might be better – until the incident with the dog (no spoilers beyond that!).  Then you realize indifference doesn’t solve our world’s problems, only creates new issues.  Issues with no hope of resolution because no one cares enough to change anything anymore.

Delirium began quite slowly – which can be understandable when you’re building a new world.  A lot of exposition takes place, but I kept waiting for the pacing to pick up – for the action to overtake the languid plotting and that just never happened – until the final few pages.  And by then I was so frustrated that the cliffhanger wasn’t even that exciting and was completely predictable.  I was also frustrated with character development – Lena’s character changes and grows a bit (somewhat reluctantly), but Alex is rather flat and Hannah, in my opinion, regresses.  For this reason, the love story between Lena and Alex didn’t ring true.

What did work for me was the thoroughness of the world.  Oliver’s strength definitely lies in her imagery and description.  The evil government and their incredible lies juxtaposed against a Portland, Maine backdrop of endless sea and the freedom of flying seagulls.  Seeing the citizens completely under the charm and control of representation they’ve put their blind faith in is so scary.  Not only is the US separate from the world now, but each individual city is locked down from each other.  You never leave your little fishbowl – you never know what exists outside that fence.  Terrifying.  The Wilds was also done so well (the world outside the fence where the uncureds and sympathizers live).  The broken streets, abandoned houses, and bombing remnants are visceral and haunting.  I could picture my own street in the aftermath of a civil war.  These were the images that made Delirium soar.

I’ll get around to reading the second in the series, Pandemonium, once it’s released.  I hope the pacing picks up and that Oliver convinces me these characters are worth following for a third book.  If not, I’ve enjoyed the world she’s built and believe she’ll only grow as a writer over time.  Can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next!

I hope everyone has a Happy New Year!  I’m excited for 2012 and many books ahead.

Book View: Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell is fantastic.  I cannot imagine a world where someone would read this chunky novel and hate it – so please do not shatter my illusions.  Besides, Henry James loved it and he knows all.

On with the story!  Molly Gibson is a young girl of 17, raised by her father after her mother dies, who must navigate the English countryside during the 1830s.  Her father remarries and the new Mrs. Gibson is certainly a less-than-perfect stepmother for Molly, but Molly does gain a beloved stepsister (but really a romantic rival).  How will Molly survive her new family structure and will dear Cynthia steal away all the eligible bachelors?

In short, I would love to teach this novel if I ever manage to become a teacher of such things.  Gaskell, while appearing to write a rather light-hearted romantic sort of story, has actually crafted an intelligent and decisive work of social commentary.  She goes beyond writing about manners and class structure (though these themes are present) and journeys into deep questions of marriage’s necessity, nature vs. nurture, and what makes family family.  At the end of the novel, even Molly’s often clueless stepmother stops to wonder that “people talk a good deal about natural affinities” and what concepts beyond mere blood or familial title make us bound to each other.

For these reasons, I think Wives and Daughters was way ahead of its time.  You have women shunning marriage and enjoying being in middle age with no husband or prospects.  You have fathers that can’t get on with sons and mothers who are clueless about their daughters.  Then you have the charming relationship between Molly and her father that puts all other parent/child bonds to shame.  There are social scandals in the name of good and people crossing class lines with a nonchalant shrug of their shoulders.  With this novel, you get a front row seat to a cultural evolution of sorts and it’s a tremendous ride.

I loved Molly dearly as a vehicle of honesty – she’ll show you the truth behind every other character’s motives.  Cynthia is such a complex female and sister to Molly – a perfect FOIL really.  You’ll root for Molly while booing Cynthia only to end loving them both.  Don’t be dismayed when you learn Gaskell died before finishing the novel.  At 650 pages, the story is fairly complete in its final written chapter.  There are no doubts left as to who marries whom and besides – the BBC miniseries will give you a proper ending.  And do watch the mini-series because it is amazing and so loyal to the book.

So make plans to include Wives and Daughters in your 2012 reading.  You won’t be disappointed!  I cannot wait to read something else by her as this was my first Gaskell.  The writing is so clean and easy to read, yet sucks you in and keeps you turning the pages.  She doesn’t go in for major cliffhangers, but there’s always some secret you’re waiting to be divulged that keeps you intrigued.  This novel was emotionally cathartic over Christmastime as I was dealing with my own family dilemmas and estrangement from my father.  Perhaps not as bitingly witty as Austen, but a pleasure all the same.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting on Delirium by Lauren Oliver so stay tuned!

Cheap Books!

Just wanted to let everyone know about the good sale going on over at barnesandnoble.com!  Bargain hardcover and paperback books going for $1.99-3.99 (most are $2.99).  The selection is pretty great – just got 5 myself, but had around 15 in my basket at one point.  Also, buy four the fifth is free – plus, you can google for an additional coupon discount.  Unless you are a member or spend a certain amount of money, you still must pay shipping – but even with shipping the deal is pretty fantastic!

Top Ten Tuesday: 2011 Favs

 

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

So, it’s time to wrap up 2011 and reflect back on which books meant the most to me this year.  Most of these novels were written before 2011, but they were new to me and timeless!

1.  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – A novel of place and beautifully written.

2.  The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton – I love Wharton so very much.

3.  All 7 Harry Potter books – I reread this year for first time and loved them even more than first reading!

4.  The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson – So perfect for history buffs and lovers of atmosphere.

5.  The Reader by Bernhard Schlink – Quite possibly my favorite of 2011.  What a powerful little story.

6.  Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – This book shocked me.  I hated it the first time I read it so dreaded reading for book club, but the second time through was an amazing experience.

7.  The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald – My book club hated it and I loved it.  Favorite Fitzgerald so far – the grey house still haunts me.

8.  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley – Upon finishing the novel, I thought I had enjoyed the first Flavia story, but since then I haven’t been able to get her out of my mind!  Will catch up on series in 2012!

9.  Saturday by Ian McEwan – His ability to turn a phrase is phenomenal.  I would read his prose about ANYTHING.

10.  The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud – Initially I hated this book, but upon rumination I realized I was deeply affected by it.  Some books sneak up on you like that!

The Books Ahead

As 2011 draws to a close, I’ve been thinking about my reading goals for 2012.  Normally, I set a number of books I hope to read (this year’s number was 50) and dedicate at least 25% of my reading selections to classic literature.  I blew by 50 books in 2011 and now predict a grand total of 68.  The highest number since I started keeping track in 2008.  It really helped that I was unemployed for half the year.  Next year’s goal will remain the same as I hope to find a job again soon.

2011 also brought success of the TBR shelf variety.  I had probably 40 books or so that had sat on my shelf for years – many since before I graduated college.  Of those roughly 40 selections, I probably only have around 10 left to be read.  SCORE!  Unfortunately (or fortunately), I still have 100 books physically on my bookshelves that I’ve bought over the past 12 months that remain unread…then there are kindle books…and a new subscription to Audible, oh dear.

With all this in mind, I sat down recently to create a reading schedule.  I mapped out my selection road plan for each month which looked something like this:

4 books a month:

Litwits book club selection

A book from TIME’s 100 Best list

A childhood favorite

A random selection from my shelves/kindle

The very next day I ruined said schedule by reading The Night Circus for January’s Litwits meetup a month in advance.  I couldn’t help it – the need was too strong.  And then I realized that there was no way to stick to such a strict plan and tossed the sucker out entirely.

Now I’m left all willy-nilly to read whatever my little heart desires.  Of course, I’ll still have 11 more selections to read for the Litwits and still hope to read 12 or so titles from TIME’s list, but other than that everything is up in the air.  I thought about joining some reading challenges, but quickly became overwhelmed by the massive amount of blog challenges and dropped the notion.  I find I’m quite at peace with reading whatever strikes my fancy and look forward to what roads the new year will lead me down.

I do know that my first book will be The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht as I intend to follow along with the Huffington Post’s book club online.  And February will find my nose deeply entrenched within The Art of Fielding’s pages for the Litwits!  I also know that I’ll be rereading Emma, The Great Gatsby, Jane EyreThe Hunger Games, and The Hobbit at some point.  So despite the lack of well thought out plan, I still have much to look forward to in 2012 and hope y’all will join me on some of my adventures!

Let me know what you plan to read in the new year in the comments!  I’m going to wish everyone Happy Holidays now as I doubt I’ll be posting again before next Tuesday.  Next week I’ll be back with my views on Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell and Delirium by Lauren Oliver.

Top Ten Tuesday: Dear Santa…

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

What I’d love for dear old Santa to drop down my chimney this Sunday:

1.  Harry Potter Page to Screen by Bob McCabe – an obvious gift for the Potter lover and also the only book on this list I might actually end up getting from Santa Hubs.

2.  The original U.K. hardcover editions of all 7 HP books – For my permanent home library and because my paperback copies are nearing the end of their life.

3.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Read in high school but need to reread for upcoming movie release.  Also want in hardcover to add to the shelves.

4.  The Hobbit by Tolkien – Same as #3.  So many book-to-screen adaptations releasing this year!

5.  The entire Roald Dahl collection – Want to reread all his novels in the coming year.

6.  The Professor by Charlotte Bronte – The last Charlotte Bronte novel I haven’t read.  I love when I read all of one particular author’s novels.  Makes me feel well read.

7.  In the Garden of Beasts:  Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson – I loved Larson’s Devil in the White City and can’t wait to read this!

8.  Bossypants by Tina Fey – Want this on audiobook!  Love Tina Fey so very much.

9.  Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – Have never really read any Russian literature and need to remedy this immediately.  Always been far too intimidated.

10.  Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – Want to know what all the fuss is about!

Book View: Austenland by Shannon Hale

Title: Austenland
Author: Shannon Hale
Pages: 208 (paperback edition)
Genre: Chick Lit/Austen spin-off
Original Publication Date:  May 29, 2007
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Source: Kindle

You might have noticed the slight change in post title – I’ve decided to rename my ‘reviews’ to ‘views’.  A sort of blogging nickname, if you will.  Why?  One of my main goals of 2012 is to stop taking things so seriously (including myself) and just try to have more fun.  So why not start here?  So long uptight Reviews and hello whimsical Views!  Feel free to mock me in the comments.  Basically, just hoping to keep things conversational in the 2012 because reading is meant to be fun – at least outside of school!

Ok…enough already and on with the view!  Austenland is one of those Pride and Prejudice spin-offs (or professional fanfiction) that I so dutifully avoid.  You see, I’m an Austen purist.  Elizabeth Bennet is so close to my idea of a perfect character that I cringe when anyone tries to rework her.  FOR SHAME!  Earlier this year I gave Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a little read (I mean, who doesn’t like zombies right?) and came away seething in anger.  So what convinced me to give Ms. Hale a shot?  Very simple:  Kindle Daily Deal for which I’m a complete sucker.  Also, I’ve dedicated December to reading whatever floats my boats since I’m way past my reading goals for the year.

Austenland follows Jane (shocker!), a thirty-something New Yorker, on a trip to England bequeathed to her by a dearly departed insanely rich Aunt.  She’s been booked as a guest at an English resort of sorts that caters to women obsessed with all things Austen – think of it as a huge role playing game for the Darcy obsessed upper class.  And for a woman who has sworn off men because no one could ever possibly live up to the incredibly sexy Fitzwilliam Darcy (as portrayed by Colin Firth in the 1993 BBC miniseries), Jane is the perfect nut…er…vacationer.

Essentially, Hale has written chick lit for Austen fans.  As with all chick lit, the entertainment lies in the journey, not the ending (since they all tend to end the same way).  And Austenland’s journey begins on rocky footing.  I had a hard time relating to Jane on any plane existent on planet Earth.  Who is ashamed to love Pride and Prejudice – so much so that they hide their dvds in a potted plant?  Also, who can’t have a normal relationship because of a fictional turn-of- the-19th-century man?  Crazy people who should be committed come to mind.  So Jane and I did not get off to a good start, but rather surprisingly, we finally hit it off once she reaches Pembroke Park and recognizes the cray-cray that lives inside, coming to her senses and learning to enjoy her life as it exists in actuality.

I do applaud Ms. Hale for remembering that fans of Austen are often intelligent women who can enjoy the entertainment value of good chick lit without wholly abandoning their literary tastes.  She writes a really brilliant moment in Austenland where Jane discovers her behaviors often mimic those of Darcy more than Elizabeth Bennet’s.  A great gender switch and blending of gender identity – highly ironic in a genre so tooled towards women.  If only there had been more of these brilliant little revelations.

All in all, there’s nothing award winning or knock your socks off about Austenland.  Jane suffers as a relatable protagonist and often comes off as a caricature of Austen fans. But if you love the BBC’s P&P, you’ll probably find something to enjoy here – if not, go ahead and skip it.  The story is filled with cliches down to the quintessential airport chase scene at the end.  You’d be much better off finding a few hours to settle down with the P&P dvds, as long as you promise not to hide them in any household greenery!

I would like to add that many people seem to enjoy Hale’s middle grade and young adult fiction.  So perhaps those of you interested in her writing should begin there!

Up next:  I’ve just begun Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell.  A huge chunkster novel that I have no hope of finishing before the new year.  However, I’ve also just begun my first audiobook from audible.com – Delirium by Lauren Oliver that I’m quite enjoying thus far.  For the January book club discussion, I finished reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern last night and can’t wait to discuss it with everyone (a little hint…I adored it!).

Happy Monday!