Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Hey, readers. Cheri here with the penultimate installment in my Divergent trilogy series (make sure to check out Chebk’s review of Divergent, and my reviews of Divergent, Insurgent, and the first two Divegent movies) — which, yes, there will be one last post even though this is the review for the final book, Allegiant. It seems Veronica Roth has got a deeper hold on me than I would like.

As much as I thought finishing the series would be a relief, it was actually more of a trial than the first two books combined. I was blissfully ignorant of the shitstorm that occurred when Allegiant was first released and fans everywhere notoriously disagreed with the series’ end (and you can read Roth’s response to them; big spoiler alert), but now it seems I have become legion because this last book disappointed in every way possible. Please note that this is the calm version of my many emotions. The rest comes later in bullet form, rest assured.

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT STARTING WITH THE NEXT SENTENCE.

The final book in the Divergent series, Allegiant, and its creator Veronica Roth, gleefully smiling at her destruction and mayhem.
The final book in the Divergent series, Allegiant, and its creator Veronica Roth, gleefully smiling at her destruction and mayhem.


Insurgent
left off with the big reveal: The city of Chicago and its five-faction structure is actually a large-scale social science experiment being conducted by the US government. You may now find yourselves asking, “But why?” And that would be an excellent question…for which Roth has concocted an answer so poor SO AS TO SET MY ENTIRE SOUL AFLAME WITH FURY.

In their time of “great peace,” the government decided, “What the hell. Everything’s going so well we should fix what made things wrong in the first place when we weren’t peaceful.” (We later find out that there was never a great peace, but it doesn’t matter. The damage has been done when pretty much an entire national scientific community accepts this as truth.) The solution is to genetically modify humans to select for specific personality traits that will help perpetuate peace. Obviously this goes wrong. But let me tell you why: Because they conduct this experiment on an entire population from the goddamn get-go.

Veronica Roth, if you are reading this, please know that there is a world of scientific research with standardized processes ready for your perusal. All legal research starts with a small sample. Not half the nation’s population.

Please note the wall filled with THE NUMBER FOUR behind Channing Tatum.
Please note the wall filled with THE NUMBER FOUR behind Channing Tatum.

In any case, this leaves a lot of people “genetically damaged” and they wage a war against the still-remaining “genetically pure.” Death and destruction happen, evidently across the entire country because this is how Roth measures everything, and the remaining government decides, “Nah, not gonna help our actual citizens any more. Gonna set up these new experiments to return everyone to genetically pure status.” Which, okay, sometimes even I think this is how our government works, but come on. Essentially everywhere outside these experimental cities becomes tent cities and dog-eat-dog hobos.

Outside the city walls, Tris, Tobias, and a few others are taken in by the Bureau of Genetic Welfare who monitors the city experiments. It turns out that Tris, as a Divergent, is one of the “genetically healed,” and made to reintegrate genetic purity into the greater population. Oh, good. Also, meanwhile, Tobias’s mother and father (leaders of the factionless and Allegiant, or those who want to return the city to the five factions, respectively) are planning to wage war in their small experimental city.

The good, the bad, and the silly behind the cut.

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Sad Bookstore Post (Annnnd ANIMORPHS)

Chebk has been fairly adamant on converting me to this thing called organization, which so far has mainly consisted of sitting me down at the end of each month to plan out our blogging schedule ahead of time. This has been working pretty well, except for the times when I write down a topic that Chebk tries to get me to elaborate on, and I just blow her off with, “Whatever, whatever, I know what I’m gonna write for that.” And then I get to that day and have no idea what I had meant to write one month ago.

Today, dear readers, is one of those days. My initial note to myself for March 27, 2015 read: Sad Bookstore Post.

Dear self,
What the fuck did that mean?
Stop doing this to yourself.
P.S. Chebk told you so.

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Actual picture of Chebk. Art by yunibozu.

In all seriousness, I recently quit my job as a grant writer and had girded my loins to spiral into the ennui of unemployment when, a mere week later, I was hired at a local bookstore. Here in Hawaii we have basically two official bookstores left (one on Oahu and one on Maui), and the rest are either niche stores (e.g. local or Hawaiiana books) or used book stores. Obviously my sad bookstore post mostly stemmed from the frustration and despair over how hard it is to get new titles here.

For quite a while, a lot of people in the Islands have been concerned that we would lose our last remaining chain bookstore and have to rely entirely on online shopping for new books, movies, and music. That wouldn’t be a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Most people use the internet to buy one thing or another these days. But that works mainly when you know specifically what you are shopping for: that one book by Kazuo Ishiguro, a green beanie, Star Wars memorabilia, etc.

A large part of the bookstore experience is being able to come upon new titles by chance, picking up books here and there that catch your eye. Amazon and other websites try to replicate the experience by offering you an algorithm-ready slew of suggestions for every title, but mostly these consist of other titles by the same author or genre-related material. You can find much of the same, but surprises? Not so much.

St. Mark’s Bookshop in NYC is filled with innovative bookcases to stimulate visual experience while shopping.
St. Mark’s Bookshop in NYC is filled with innovative bookcases to stimulate visual experience while shopping.

I’m not gonna lie. I tried to use an e-reader for a while, tried to convert with the times or whatever. The only titles I could successfully get through on my tablet was K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series out of extreme nostalgia that was in NO WAY misguided except for my shattered soul (we can discuss Animorphs later, although, seriously, if anyone is up for it, let’s start by talking about fucking DAVID.) I am too aware of how differently I read text on paper and text on screen: one is faster and less focused than the other. I need the physical copy to absorb and enjoy the information. This worked fine for a young reader series like Animorphs (I am loathe to call it that; there were children as animals holding their slashed entrails in their furry arms on a regular basis) but longer books, even the classics, gave me trouble.

The good news is that book sales are back on the rise while e-book sales seem to have plateaued. I see the merit in both types of books, even if I do prefer one over the other (you can smell one).  Now that I’ve given sufficient attention to the Sad Bookstore Post, let’s just talk about Animorphs for the rest of today:

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Book Review: Throne of Glass

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas is a YA fantasy book with an interesting cover.

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The story follows the tale of Celaena Sardothien, the world’s most renown assassin as she gets out of her life-sentence of digging in salt mines (why is it always salt mines?) The Crown Prince has pardoned her under the stipulation that she enter the competition for the King’s Champion under his patronage. The King and the Prince don’t get along because the King is corrupt and the Prince is beautiful and royal. Celaena is trained by the Prince’s best friend, the Captain of the Guards who is also handsome and she eventually becomes the King’s Champion amidst magical intrigue and regular political intrigue.

There were a few things I didn’t like and very few things that I did like, but first, here is a picture of the author, just to compare it to the main character shown on the cover.

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So onto the spoilers:


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Review: Divergent & Insurgent Movies

As much as I have resisted reading Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, I want everyone to keep in mind that I went into this endeavor solely due to the fact that the second movie, Insurgent, released nationwide this month. Our blog is still new and we need to be relevant! — or so I argued to Chebk when she made many sad faces and heavy sighs about having to read the series. (Important note: She was not alone but it turns out that I am probably masochistic.) A YA phenomenon this popular deserves to be looked at by more than its target audience because it is important to analyze what messages and representation are being consumed most voraciously.

…Still, if you have been following my and Chebk’s reviews of Divergent (1, 2) and Insurgent, you will know that we are not exactly impressed with quite a few things in the series, diversity foremost among these attributes. Which is why it is with much wonder and some shame that I must say:

I was thoroughly entertained by both movie versions of the first two books.

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Now, before I can be completely discredited, I still stand by the opinion that the basic world-building premise of the series is just ridiculous. However, the movies streamline the books to its advantage, cutting unnecessary subplots and a lot of the side characters that served only to confuse and clutter the written narrative. This is most notable in Insurgent, as opposed to Divergent, which follows the book version pretty closely.

The film version of Divergent had a few things going for it from the beginning. For one, we are not in Tris Prior’s headspace, save for the beginning and ending monologues (which I noticed they thankfully cut for the second film). Much like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series (to which Divergent is inevitably always going to be compared), the film version works precisely because we get a larger view of the world and story than just the protagonist’s frantic inner torment.

Speaking of visuals, some things I enjoyed seeing included: the varied fashion choices within each faction’s chosen color-coding (kudos Costume Design team), the broken down city of Chicago in all its bombed-out glory, the attempt at background diversity (more on this later), and Theo James’ glorious self. (Keep in mind that I am a lesbian and this speaks volumes to Theo James.)

Whatever, whatever, don’t judge.

While Divergent kept pretty close to the book (with some updates and omissions, both which I applaud, e.g. replacing the paintball guns with weapons that simulate real gun-shot wounds), Insurgent was a wild ride of radical changes that helped in some places and decimated in others. It was as if someone read the original novel and just said to the entire movie team, “Nah.”

Spoilers behind the cut.

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How to fill a blank document (Results may vary)

There’s something about a blank document that is inherently intimidating. You have a desire to write something, but staring at the overwhelming white make the ideas stop. No, not writer’s block, but something worse.

When I was little, I would always start writing in a new notebook in the middle, or on the second page, or even in the back, just because it was easier to fill than the first page. And don’t get me started on unlined notebooks. Those were somehow untouchable. It was as if I didn’t want to sully the pages with something unworthy.

Well, that kind of thinking had to stop. Now, it is much easier to stick my foot in my mouth and keep on going, no matter what kind of drivel pops out. Sometimes I’ll look back and find a nugget of wisdom in the value meal that is my stream of thought.

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As Cheri, numerous other writers, and I have said, you can only improve by practicing and keep on keeping on. In all cases, this starts with a blank page.

So what do you do when faced with the overwhelmingly bright blankness that is a new word document or a fresh notebook?

Well, I’ve found that prompts and writing contests are were the way to go for me.

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Review: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

We are participating in Caffeinated Book Reviewer’s Take Control of Your TBR Pile Challenge. This review is for a To-Be-Read book, published before March 2015.

There aren’t a whole lot of extinct species that continue to enjoy posthumous remembrance and fame; most are lost the annals of time, footnotes in dusty textbooks. Dinosaurs have always been the exception with their size, and strength, and, you know, that whole ruling the Earth for 165 million years thing. The new Jurassic World movie comes out this June and, in preparation, I’ve been rewatching the original Jurassic Park movies when I realized that I’d never thought to read the books on which they were based.

Published in 1990, Jurassic Park became Michael Crichton’s signature novel (despite his prolific body of work of thrillers, medical and science fiction such as Sphere, The Andromeda Strain, and Congo). Crichton has a background in computer modeling and biological anthropology and received his MD from Harvard Medical School, all of which serve him well in fleshing out his writing with legitimate scientific and mathematical theories that serve to bring his stories to life.

Michael Crichton reignited an interest in paleontology that led to a dinosaur being named in his honor.
Michael Crichton reignited an interest in paleontology that led to a dinosaur being named in his honor.

For those who don’t know, Jurassic Park is the cautionary tale of men (in this case, the scientific world) playing God with genetic engineering. Much in the vein of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Crichton showcases how much can wrong with the right amount of hubris and madness. Billionaire John Hammond and his team of scientists have discovered how to create dinosaurs from preserved prehistoric DNA. The reasonable thing to do, of course, is to make an amusement park out of it all. Unsurprisingly the park hits multiple snags in its start-up and experts are brought in to assess the safety of the little island off of Costa Rica that is to become a dinosaur haven. WHAT COULD GO WRONG?

I think we all know the answer to that. The rest of the book is a study in chaos theory, where the park owners and workers think they can predict the outcome of their work (a successful park, obedient and sustainable organisms, etc.), when in reality the future conditions are entirely unpredictable. Also, pretty much everything bad that can happen does happen.

Highlights include: All-female, barren dinosaurs finding a way to breed in the wild; baby velociraptors secretly escaping on boats; corporate dinosaur espionage; a startling amount of dinosaur poop that comes with its very own mystery; and the adventures of the stalker T-Rex!

More on Crichton’s writing style and diversity representation behind the cut!

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Book Fair Book Haul

This month, as we tackle our tbr piles (link for that post here), we decided to add to them by going to two book fairs in our areas. We have documented them for your viewing pleasure.

The first was the Manoa Book Fair, hosted by the Friends of Manoa Public Library.IMG_0891This was a glorious book fair with tons of books and no organization of which to speak. There were boxes upon boxes of books all for a dollar, but you needed epic browsing skills, of which I have none.

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Still, we made our way through the rows of books, and in some cases braved the hoards and cavernous depths of under the tables.

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