Tag Archives: read in 2011

Book Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

The Story: Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love — the deliria — blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy. 

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love. [Goodreads]

My Response: Delirium is the second of Lauren Oliver’s books that I’ve picked up with cautious optimism. Now that I’m done, I think it’s time to admit that she’s one of those special writers who can take a risky, possibly tired conceit and remake it delightful and fresh, and that as such, she deserves more trust than she does caution.

In her 2010 debut, Before I Fall, Oliver managed to make the same day described six times in a row emotional and engrossing (yes, I cried at the end), and in Delirium, she adds to the already crowded market for YA dystopian fiction. On the surface, her contribution isn’t particularly unique: a normal-yet-special heroine falls in love with a boy, realizes that she lives under the thumb of an oppressive government, and ends up a rebel on the run. [See Also: Incarceron, Divergent, and Matched, just to name those that I’ve read this year.]

However, Delirium stands out, and for much the same reason that Before I Fall succeeded: Oliver’s prose is rich and textured, heavy with metaphors and similes that are poetic without pretension. She takes her time, world building slowly and methodically in defiance of the break-neck pace popularized by The Hunger Games. Just as importantly, she goes out of her way to capture and develop the voice of her teen protagonist and to let her be, you know, a teenager. I particularly love Lena’s interactions with her best friend, Hana, because they are so similar to my own memories of high school friendships.

I also appreciate that Lena has reasons other than pure ignorance to embrace the status quo. When Lena is 8-years-old, her mother, who could not (or would not) be cured of her love for Lena’s father, commits suicide. Not only does this event permanently mark Lena as different within her community, it also makes her fear of amor deliria nervosa that much more personal. She, like so many teenage girls, is afraid that she’ll grow up to be just like her mother.

Of course, Lena’s fear begins to dissipate once she’s met Alex, a predictably beautiful boy who, for whatever reason, has chosen her to be the one whose eyes he opens. Whatever. The romance between the two of them is sweet, but it exists more to jumpstart the story forward than to be the story itself—and even then, it’s Hana who originally challenges Lena to step outside her comfort zone. In this way, Delirium is again a welcome change from standard YA dystopian fare, in that Lena has a close female friend from the start, rather than only after her world has been turned inside out.

My Recommendation: Of the new dystopian series that I’ve read so far, Delirium begins one of the most promising, and fans of the genre would do well to pick up a copy sooner rather than later. There are some genuinely horrifying scenes that may be overly violent for younger readers, but I don’t think any were gratuitous. Perhaps this is because there are also genuinely happy scenes to give the story balance.

Book two of the series, Pandemonium, is scheduled to be released on March 6, 2012. Based on what I’ve read about it so far, Lauren Oliver could take her story in a number of unexpected directions. Personally, I’m hoping for more background on the government and its discovery and implementation of the cure, and [spoiler alert—highlight the following to read] exploration of the fact that love doesn’t just happen once, that a person can fall in love again after suffering a great loss. [/spoiler alert]

My Rating: ✶ ✶ ✶
(out of a possible 4)

Delirium (Delirium #1) / Lauren Oliver. HarperTeen, 2011. US $17.99 (hardcover).

 

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Book Review: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

Mastiff by Tamora PierceThe Story: The Legend of Beka Cooper gives Tamora Pierce’s fans exactly what they want—a smart and savvy heroine making a name for herself on the mean streets of Tortall’s Lower City—while offering plenty of appeal for new readers as well.

Beka and her friends will face their greatest and most important challenge ever when the young heir to the kingdom vanishes. They will be sent out of Corus on a trail that appears and disappears, following a twisting road throughout Tortall. It will be her greatest Hunt—if she can survive the very powerful people who do not want her to succeed in her goal. [Goodreads]

My Response: Though I enjoyed reading Terrier and Bloodhound well enough, I realize now that neither book truly connected me to Beka. I liked her, and I enjoyed reading about her, but I didn’t care deeply about her, not to the extent that I always have Alanna and Daine and Kel and Aly.

Now I care.

Mastiff opens in medias res, three years after the events of Bloodhound, with the burial of Beka’s betrothed, a Dog named Holburn. Yes, you read that correctly, no, I wasn’t prepared, and yes, I was immediately hooked. Pierce’s first person narrative finally comes into its own and shines as she captures the disorientation that accompanies any major loss, all without depicting Beka as weak.

This opening sets the tone for the rest of the book, and that tone is dark and tense. Beka, Tunstall, Lady Sabine, and newcomer Farmer Cape, a Kennel mage, track the kidnapped heir at a relentless pace, never sure of who they can trust other than each other. The rich detail of the Hunt is engrossing to the point of distraction, so that even as I realized I was approaching the Big Reveal, I couldn’t pin down just what it would be.

Of course, there are more than enough side plots to go around: Beka’s gradual recovery from Holburn’s death; Farmer Cape’s humorous antics; Tunstall’s relationship with Lady Sabine; an explanation for how slavery came to be illegal in the realm of Tortall; a romance that I legitimately enjoyed.

And then there’s the cult of the Gentle Mother, which in Beka’s time is only just beginning to gain popularity. Beka is baffled that anyone would take seriously the group’s talk of the delicacy of women and the corresponding need to keep them safe from the coarseness of the world, but we as readers know that this is the group that will ultimately put an end to Lady Knights like Sabine. Heartbreaking.

Honestly, I have only two (small) bones to pick with Ms. Pierce about this book:

One, I never stopped waiting for some true exposition about Beka’s relationship with Holburn. I realize that in the context of both the story and the style, the lack of exposition makes sense. Nevertheless, I continue to be frustrated by how few details are given about a relationship that was so clearly formative for Beka.

Two, the epilogue. It isn’t so bad as to make me reject Pierce’s Epilogue Writing Privileges (See: J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins), and I admit that my not-so-inner Tamora Pierce fangirl flailed a little bit while reading George Cooper’s journal entries, but at the same time, my more objective self couldn’t help but cringe in reaction to the severely high cheese factor. Mostly, I’m disappointed that something so clunky was stuck to the end of an otherwise tremendous book.

My Recommendation: Mastiff is everything that a prequel ought to be, and in case you couldn’t tell, I loved it. LOVED IT. And I may have cried straight through the last twenty or so pages, but never you mind about that. For longtime Tamora Pierce fans, this is a no-brainer. Read this book.

For those newer to Tamora Pierce, things get a bit more complicated. Mastiff is rich enough to stand on its own, but the big reveal will be less meaningful for those who haven’t followed Beka from the beginning. For this reason, I must insist you read both Terrier and Bloodhound before you sink your teeth into Mastiff. They may not dazzle quite so much, but I promise they’ll be worth your time in the end—when you read this book.

My Rating: ✶  ✶  ✶  ✶
(out of a possible 4)

Mastiff (Beka Cooper #3) / Tamora Pierce. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2011. US $10.99 (Kindle).

Book Review: Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce

In early June, my parents sent me a link to The Atlantic’s interview with Tamora Pierce, and, if I remember correctly, my joyous response to Pierce’s comments about family, birth control, and the need for female heroes in YA literature was something along the lines of, “Excuse me – I need to (re)read everything this woman has ever written. Immediately.”

Five months later, I’ve finished (re)reading all 17 titles set in the Tortall universe, and because Bloodhound is the first of these to be entirely new to me, it seems fitting that its review be the starting point for this blog.


Bloodhound by Tamora PierceThe Story: Beka Cooper is finally a Dog—a full-fledged member of the Provost’s Guard, dedicated to keeping peace in Corus’s streets. But there’s unrest in Tortall’s capital. Counterfeit coins are turning up in shops all over the city, and merchants are raising prices to cover their losses. The Dogs discover that gamblers are bringing the counterfeit money from Port Caynn. In Port Caynn, Beka delves deep into the gambling world, where she meets a charming banking clerk named Dale Rowan. Beka thinks she may be falling for Rowan, but she won’t let anything—or anyone—jeopardize her mission. As she heads north to an abandoned silver mine, it won’t be enough for Beka to be her usual “terrier” self. She’ll have to learn from Achoo to sniff out the criminals—to be a Bloodhound…. [Goodreads]

My Response: It’s not easy to find the excitement in counterfeiting, but Pierce puts forth an admirable effort that pays off in the long run. The gradual yet uncontrollable effect that the coles (counterfeit coins) have on the Tortallan economy, beginning in the poorest neighborhoods and spreading outward, is truly horrifying, and Pierce does a good job of making the stakes understandable. Her cast of supporting characters is lively, and her descriptions of the Port Caynn docks, gambling dens, and eating houses are alternately gritty and fun.

Oh, and the punishment for colemongering? Death by boiled oil? No, thank you!

That said, there’s less narrative tension here than in earlier Tortall books, mostly because the main antagonist is revealed early and obviously. Add to this the absence of Tunstall and Pounce, whose wit and snark are needed to balance Beka’s serious approach to nearly everything she does, and it’s not surprising how noticeable Bloodhound’s significant length (560pp.) is throughout. More than once, I checked my progress only to think, Whoa. I have that much left?

Beka’s partnership with the scent-hound Achoo is cute, as well as typical—most of Pierce’s heroines bond at least as easily with animals as they do with humans—and the dog clearly has her part to play in the resolution of the story. However, even for a dog, she’s underdeveloped, and I couldn’t help but think she’d been brought in to haplessly tug our heartstrings first, move the story along second.

Though it doesn’t rank among my all-time favorite Tamora Pierce books, Bloodhound is a definite improvement over Terrier, which left little to no impression on me when I first read it in 2006. The first-person narrative feels less contrived, and Beka’s voice more fully realized, which I assume is due to Pierce herself growing more comfortable with the style. As a result, Beka’s growth and maturation from Puppy to Dog is that much more believable.

From what I’ve read on Goodreads, there’s been some negative response to Beka’s sexual activity, to which I say, Get over it. Teenagers have sex, and not always as responsibly as 17-year-old Beka—to be honest, one of my favorite moments of the entire story is her shy visit to the Healer’s to purchase a pregnancy charm, because let’s be honest: we’ve all been there, in one way or another. I might not rush to give this book to, say, a 10-year-old with limited understanding of life and relationships, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to readers in their mid-teens who almost assuredly know what sex is.

As for Okha Soyan/Amber Orchid: transgendered people exist, and the more honestly we portray the world and its people in books for young adults, the better for us all, so again, Get over it. Frankly, I’m surprised and a little disappointed that it took Pierce as long as it did to explicitly write queer characters into the Tortall universe.

My Recommendation: Long-time fans of Tamora Pierce are unlikely to be significantly disappointed, especially with so many nods to names and places that have appeared in the past (future). I myself flailed with happiness upon learning the origin of The Dancing Dove’s name.

However, for readers new to Tortall, Beka’s story could be hit or miss. Those looking for a more typical fantasy heroine would be best served by starting with Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness #1), or possibly First Test (Protector of the Small #1) (though I hate to recommend books out of order).

On the other hand, those who love detective stories (Veronica Mars, Law & Order, etc.) will likely enjoy reading a YA novel that features a quieter, more cerebral heroine, one who cares less for glory and more for simply getting the job done, one day and one clue at a time.

My Rating: ✶  ✶  ✶
(out of a possible 4)

Bloodhound (Beka Cooper #2) / Tamora Pierce. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2009. US $9.99 (Kindle).