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Trilogy Review: The Chemical Garden by Lauren DeStefano

The Chemical Garden Trilogy
by Lauren DeStefano
4.5/5 stars

The Overview: [I’m only including the overview for the first book to help avoid spoilers for those who haven’t yet started it] By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children. When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape.

The Review:

I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the lines I became addicted to the type of story that I’m affectionately referring to as “girls in pretty dresses in a slightly dystopic era” genre (I should really come up with a better catchphrase). It seems like a weirdly specific subgenre to like (I blame the Selection by Kiera Cass), but I have absolutely LOVED almost every single book I’ve read so far within it (see my “Other books you might like” list below). I can’t even tell you why I love it – maybe I get a vicarious kick out of being pampered and doted on through these characters, but the real substance comes with the realization that even in the glamorous life, things are never as perfect as they seem…

This trilogy was remarkable and unique in a couple of different ways. For example, the vast majority of YA novels include a love triangle as one of the primary conflicts of the story. While there were two men involved in this series, and some people might consider it to be a triangle (I don’t), the story was always ever about Rhine and her struggle to find her brother… her male counterparts were ultimately incidental to that struggle. It was wonderful because it showed female lead who’s whole world didn’t revolve around a boy, and who proved capable and resourceful enough on her own. Because of this, I’m calling the love story in this trilogy atypical, and in fact found myself more emotionally invested in Rhine’s relationships with the other captive women than I did the main love interest. It’s worth mentioning that I genuinely liked the male interests in the story, I just appreciated that they weren’t the ultimate focus of the book.

So, now that we’ve established how much I loved story and the character, let’s talk about the main reason why I’m still gushing about this trilogy in particular – the writing. Oh my gosh, the WRITING! It’s breathtaking, beautiful, lyrical, and poetic without being pompous and convoluted. This trilogy is more than a dystopian, it’s a work of art. I don’t usually reread passages simply because I think they’re beautiful, but I found myself doing just that several times throughout. The fact that she was often writing about tragic events with such beautiful language only makes it more poignant. The aspiring writer in me wants to be Lauren DeStefano when I grow up. Because of her beautiful writing voice, I am 100% committed to reading anything she publishes in the future, I don’t care what the subject matter is. I’ve already ordered a copy of Perfect Ruin – I can’t wait!

Overall, The Chemical Garden Trilogy is now among my all-time YA favorites and I can definitely see myself rereading it one day. My overall rating for the series is 4.5/5 stars, but for the individual books is as follows:

Wither – 5/5 stars!
Fever – 4/5 stars
Sever – 4.5/5 stars

Other books you might like:

While I enjoyed Matched, it is not one of my all-time favorites… more books like this need to be written!

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: The Heir by Kiera Cass

the heirTitle: The Heir

Author: Kiera Cass

Series: The Selection #4

Genre: Teen Dystopian (sort of) / Romance

Release Date: May 15, 2015

The Overview: 20 years ago, America Singer entered the Selection and won Prince Maxon’s heart. Now the time has come for Princess Eadlyn to hold a Selection of her own. Eadlyn doesn’t expect her Selection to be anything like her parents’ fairy-tale love story. But as the competition begins, she may discover that finding her own happily ever after isn’t as impossible as she always thought.

Hosted by Breaking the Spine

The Selection is easily one of my all-time favorite books. I remember the experience of reading it for the first time and how completely engaged I was throughout the entire thing. It was delightful. Even though the second and third books weren’t quite on the same level for me, I am hoping The Heir will bring back some of the more lighthearted elements that made The Selection so much fun. I would like to admit that even though I am a huge fan of the Bachelor  (and competition shows in general), I actually love the Bachelorette even more. Come on – twenty-five men vying for the affections of one women – what’s not to love? Anyway, my point is, I am looking forward to this book perhaps even more so than The One. I absolutely love that Cass continued on with this angle and can’t wait to see the flip side of the selection process! Is it May yet? 

What book are you waiting on?

by Niki Hawkes

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September 2014: Review Recap!

Review Recap

 As usual, I read a lot more books this month than I actually posted about… This made me think that maybe I should include a separate category for “read” books to go alongside my “reviewed” books. I’ve seen a lot of other bloggers do this, and I actually kind of like it, but have been hesitating to do it myself because of an irrational fear that no one will want to read the reviews if they already know what’s coming. The key word is “irrational” because I’m so far behind in reviewing the books that it really doesn’t matter. Although, there are a few books that I reviewed immediately, so then there’s the problem of “double dipping.”

 I think I’m putting far too much thought into this.

 Anyway, here’s a look at this fantastic month of reading and reviewing:

 Books Read:

 While I didn’t get a lot of reviewing done, I certainly got a lot of reading done. The two week vacation certainly didn’t hurt me on that front. I LOVED all of these books, so it’s really difficult to pick a favorite, but I think I’d have to go with Silver Shadows. Interestingly enough, my least favorite read this month was Heir of Fire (Gasp! Blasphemy!). It just goes to show the caliber of books I’ve been picking up lately.

 Books Reviewed:

Dualed by Elsie Chapman – 2.5/5 stars

Feast of Fools by Rachel Caine – 4/5 stars

Defy by Sara B. Larson – 4/5 stars

Spirit’s End by Rachel Aaron – 4/5 stars

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey – 4.5/5 stars

Sadly, I didn’t review nearly as many books as I plan to, but with the release of the first issue of our magazine (The Creative), the amazing cruise to Alaska, and my commitment to my new office job, I’m cutting myself a little slack. As much as I love Rachel Aaron, my favorite book reviewed this month was Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey.

 Waiting on Wednesday Features:

 This is a no-brainer – I’m most excited for the conclusion to the Bloodline series! Although, Glenda Larke is easily a close second!

 Top Ten Tuesday Features:

Top Ten Underrated Fantasy Authors!

Top Ten Books I’m Taking on My Cruise!

Top Ten Fantastic Authors I Need to Read More From!

Top Ten Books on My Fall 2014 TBR!

Escape Reality Book Club:

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

 My Review

 Adventures Beyond the Book Blog:

 I went to Alaska, and it was amazing! I’m going to do a full post for this as soon as I can get through my 4000+ pictures, but here are a few teasers:

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Looks amazing, eh?

 Did you have a good month in reading? Did you like seeing the books I’ve read alongside with the ones I reviewed?

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Dualed by Elsie Chapman

dualedTitle: Dualed

Author: Elsie Chapman

Series: Dualed #1

Genre: Teen Dystopian

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Two of you exist. Only one will survive. The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.

Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.

dualed 2

The Review:

I’d been eyeballing Dualed for about a year before I actually picked it up. I almost snagged a copy right when it came out but held off because of some negative reviews. Then Divided (book 2) popped up on my radar a year later and I decided to take a risk and give Dualed a try despite poor initial feedback. I liked it for the most part, but there’s something to be said for the overall opinion of the masses. I’m not saying the majority is always right, but with an obscure title like this, they are accurate more often than not. Maybe I should’ve listened, but on occasion I find a book I love despite public opinion so I decided to read it anyway. It was entertaining, but I have some disclaimers:

You see, it was kind of a depressing. I understand and even expect bad things to happen in dystopian societies, but I also expect some small glimmer of hope to help pull me through all the grit. As the entire plot of Dualed centered around two “twins” endlessly striving to destroy one another, that ray of hope was awfully hard to come by. Either the main character has to kill someone or be killed herself. Not exactly a cheerful concept. But not that it needed to be, although I did find myself craving a bit more balance. 

To that end, I think the author should have considered lightening the mood during the slow bits with some subtle humor – it would’ve gone a long way towards making her characters more likable, thereby making the highs and lows of the story more intense. Instead, it was one-note, and that note was depressing. I ended up looking to the competition element to pull me through the story. It was a decent battle, but I would’ve loved to see an infusion of even more intelligence, strategy, and skill into the main character – kind of like what we saw with June in the Legend series. 

I think it would be accurate to say that every aspect of the book left me wanting, some a bit more than others. It wasn’t a bad book by any means, I was just able to identify several specific ways I thought it could be better. I liked it enough to pick up the second book, but ended up setting it aside because it took an even darker turn than the first one and I wasn’t in the mood for that type of story.

In the whole scheme of dystopian books, this one wasn’t one of my favorites, but it definitely wasn’t one of the worst. I’d say if you’re interested in the premise and kind of know what to expect going in, I think you’ll probably enjoy it. I may go back and finish the second book someday, but at the moment it’s not a priority.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book/TV Show Review: The 100 by Kass Morgan

100Title: The 100

Author: Kass Morgan

Series: The Hundred #1

Genre: Teen Sci-fi/Dystopian

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: In the future, humans live in city-like spaceships orbiting far above Earth’s toxic atmosphere. No one knows when, or even if, the long-abandoned planet will be habitable again. But faced with dwindling resources and a growing populace, government leaders know they must reclaim their homeland… before it’s too late.

Now, one hundred juvenile delinquents are being sent on a high-stakes mission to recolonize Earth. After a brutal crash landing, the teens arrive on a savagely beautiful planet they’ve only seen from space. Confronting the dangers of this rugged new world, they struggle to form a tentative community. But they’re haunted by their past and uncertain about the future. To survive, they must learn to trust – and even love – again.

the hundred 2

The Review:

I’ve been wanting to read The Hundred since long before I discovered they were making it into a TV show. But because I never quite got around to it, I actually ended up watching the show (at least the first 7 or 8 episodes) first. I normally don’t pick up the book after I’ve seen the cinematic version of things (preferring to read them beforehand), but I made an exception in this case (the reasons for which I will dive into a little later in the review). Anyway, because I’ve had the chance to experience both book and TV, it allows me to turn this review into a full-out comparison of both formats.

Writing/Plot

I have to say, the book was written a lot better than I thought it would be. It’s easy to see why the producers originally decided it would make a good TV show – Morgan provided an excellent base of ideas, plot points, and characters to work with. What’s great about the writers of the show is that they took all of those superb elements and, in my opinion, elevated them.

For example, the major conflict of the story (the fact that this ship is dying), was the overall story arc in both formats. However, while Morgan introduced it much later in the story (almost at the end), the show writers conveyed it to the audience within the first episode – immediately raising the stakes and increasing the intensity of the story. This was actually my favorite difference between the book and the show – by introducing the overall arc of the story right from the get-go, they were able to use it as a major plot-driver through all of the episodes, making the audience more engaged right from the beginning. It was exciting because this is the way I prefer to receive conflicts for stories in general – I love having as much information up front as possible. So being able to see the contrasts of the two different strategies side-by-side was fascinating (especially since it helped reaffirm my own opinion… I love it when that happens).

Of course, as with any format change, some things are added and some things are lost in translation. There were situations that matched up perfectly, and others that were changed entirely. Neither were bad or good, it’s just a different way of telling the story. The show even left out one of the four POVs in the book (at least so far), and that brings me to my next category:

Character:

I admit it was a lot easier to get a feel for the characters in the book since I saw them as, you know, actual people first. I think the show did a great job casting, but again here’s where the writers show their strengths by giving us behaviors and dialogs that were really true to how Morgan presented them. I had no trouble going from one format to the other in this case. What’s interesting is, you would think the book would allow you to dig a little deeper into character and get to know them more, but the show did such a great job showcasing their personalities (even if it was sometimes a little over the top) and utilizing several flashbacks to help us get to know them (also in the book) that I didn’t really learn anything more about them from the novel.

The TV show also included quite a few more prominent characters than the book. I think they kind of needed to, as the book was pretty self-contained to the main POVs. In a book, if the main characters are focused on something, no one really cares what anybody else is doing if it doesn’t affect them directly (other than for general atmosphere). But when you are filming the same scene, everybody in the background has to actually be doing something. The show would have been pretty boring if none of the other characters got involved in the plot, to one degree or another.

When you have so many extra characters, the plot can often be influenced by their actions and decisions. The show writers didn’t pull any punches when imagining how 100 juvenile delinquents would behave unsupervised in an unexplored world. It had tons of bullying, violence, sexuality, partying and debauchery in general that was present but not nearly as prominent in the book. This really surprised me because, when I initially picked up the book, I was expecting something along the lines of Lord of the Flies, but in really it rarely highlighted any character other than the immediate POVs.

I mentioned above that I had my reasons for reading the book even though I’d already started watching the show. You see, the show was so much more intense, violent, and dark than I thought it would be, so I decided to kind of prepare myself for those moments… It’s always easier for me to read about all of those grimace-worthy moments than it is to watch them. The problem is, all of the events I’d already seen that had me feeling a little squeamish weren’t in the book at all (there goes that plan…). So even though I don’t regret reading the book, it never actually served the purpose I hoped it would. In fact, I feel a little less prepared than I had before. Considering I haven’t yet finished the first season of the show, it makes me wonder if all of those extras were added for shock value or if the chronology of the seasons don’t quite line up with the books. Maybe those scenes do show up in the second and third installments, but I’m not sure yet.

In addition to the delinquents on the ground, the show added quite a few characters to the scenes that take place on the ship and I really like how those extra characters and scenes added to the story. It reminded me strongly of Hunger Games – how the video would cut back and forth between the arena and what was going on in the Capitol. These scenes weren’t actually in Collins’ book, but they were definitely implied, so seeing it in the movie really helped give the viewer a complete picture of everybody involved in the conflict. The same principle happens in The Hundred. For example, the perspective that took place on the ship in the book was from Glass’s POV (a teenage girl who escaped from the pod heading to earth at the last minute and, incidentally, was one of the characters not present in the show (so far as I’ve seen!?)). While Glass allowed us to see what was happening on the ship, all of her information was secondhand and incidental. In the show’s version, the ship’s POVs were all people high up in the hierarchy and therefore infinitely more involved in the action and drama. Again, this is an instance where I liked the book, but I thought the writers of the show made some really smart moves.

World-Building

As you would imagine, the TV show provided so many rich and vibrant visuals that the book didn’t even stand a chance (there was nothing wrong with the descriptions, it just couldn’t compete with the evoking sounds and imagery of the show). It’s kind of along the same lines of why I can read books with blood, guts, and gore, but have a difficult time watching shows like CSI – seeing it creates a reaction somewhat stronger than merely reading it. I like that while I was reading the book I had such strong memories of the show to draw from. The base Morgan gave was fantastic, so seeing it all brought to life was and experience to say the least. This is definitely one of the most visually evoking shows I’ve seen in a while which was a pleasant surprise. 

Overall

Even though I didn’t get the answers I was seeking in the book, I’m glad I broke my normal rule and decided to read it anyway. I thoroughly enjoyed the bits that weren’t in the show (specifically Glass’ perspective) and loved seeing how great writing was translated into great filmmaking. Reading the book first won’t take away any of the surprises in the show (weird, huh?) and watching the show first will provide you with great visuals (and actors) to picture when diving into the book. I was impressed, and will be continuing on with both the book and the show (if I can handle the intensity, haha).

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Niki’s Top Twelve Must-Read Books!

top ten tuesday

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

 This weeks Post was supposed to be along the lines of must-read titles that other people have told me about. Because I haven’t yet read many of the titles that made that list (and therefore can’t personally vouch for their awesomeness) I decided to take a spin on the topic and present my own list of must-reads. I realize this must look similar to many of my other lists, but I just can’t can’t seem to stop raving about my all-time favorite titles. Now, of course, this list is only helpful if you’re a speculative fiction fanatic like me. ;)

Niki’s Top Twelve Must-Read Books:

Fantasy:

 Science Fiction (specifically Space Opera):

Young Adult:

 Urban Fantasy:

These titles have all earned their spots in my favorites list and are usually the first books I recommend to new readers of their given genre.

What books would make your list?

by Niki Hawkes