Saturday, March 31, 2012

RANT: Thanks, But I'll Read What I Like

I'm usually a pretty classy blogger. Or at least, I try to be. I don't read books for the sake of ripping them apart. I stay out of the majority of the drama I hear about in the blogging world -- heck, half the time I don't hear about it until months after the shots have been fired and the dust has settled. But every now and then something comes up that I simply cannot ignore. Something is said that demands my attention. That is how I feel about this article by Joel Stein.

I am a firm believer that the experience between book and reader is a deeply personal one. That is why I often say, even when I don't like a book, that someone reading my review should not simply take my word about the text I am discussing. I cannot tell you how you will feel about a book; I can only share how I felt about it and why. After that, the rest is totally up to you. (And thank goodness, I have enough trouble making choices for me.)

I am going to post parts of Mr. Stein's article and I am going to respond to them. In many ways, I must say that my short review of the article would be to call it "a joke" because it contains many flaws, primarily that Mr. Stein admits to not having read within the genre he is bashing. However, the potential dangers and implications of an article of this nature are no laughing matter. There are many people, from authors, to agents, to editors, to book sellers and bloggers and librarians who make the world of literature go 'round. The number of people insulted before we even get to the average book lover in a general sense is staggering.

We cannot afford to let pot shots of this nature go. All literature deserves to be respected, because someone took the time to sit down, to write it, to make sure it got out there and to give it the chance to touch peoples' hearts. The amount of gall it requires to mock creativity of this magnitude is not something that our community should just silently accept. We all put way too much effort into this, regardless of what part we play, for that to be an acceptable response.

The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading “The Hunger Games.” Or a Twilight book. Or Harry Potter. The only time I’m O.K. with an adult holding a children’s book is if he’s moving his mouth as he reads.

Considering the fact that you are about to publish a novel entitled Man Made: A Stupid Quest For Masculinity I must immediately question, based on the way you have chosen to open your article, if you subconsciously aren't aware that your book is done being drafted. Frankly, I can't think of much, in the realm of entertainment, that could conceivably be more offensive then seeing some sicko watching porn in a public place. 

Does the idea of a man reading a book written by a woman offend you? Lets face it, folks: a large majority of the books written under the YA banner are, and it wouldn't be the first time the genre has come under attack for this. Further, and more important, the three (Really, dude? Three? Weak sauce.) examples specifically chosen are. 

Last, how the heck do you expect anyone to take you seriously if you actually have time to waste seeing what everyone else is reading on a plane, anyway? With the array of devices available to us nowdays -- Vita, iPad, Kindle, 3DS, even smart phones -- this just seems like an epicly counter productive waste of time. That would have been far better used reading The Hunger Games then silently mocking the gentlemen in the next seat for choosing to do so. 

I’m sure all those books are well written. So is “Horton Hatches the Egg.” But Horton doesn’t have the depth of language and character as literature written for people who have stopped physically growing.

So tell me, darling, where does the entry bar for "depth of language and character" begin and end? With your book? *snort* Don't even attempt to lie to me here. No one writes a book about something, especially not a memoir, unless they felt that they had something valuable to say. In the interest of honesty and fairness, your book actually looks legitimately interesting. But there is something that your argument about Horton misses entirely, and that is that the value of literature goes beyond "language and character", transcending into what those things make a reader feel. 

Unfortunately for your article, this is an individual response. What one person may feel from reading, say, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, another reading might be able to just as likely glean from reading Ryder by Greta Maloney. (Trust me, I've read both and noted this in my review of Greta's debut.) Are they written the same way, or in the same style? No. But they do share the theme that would be required. That's what matters. Here's the thing: to really grasp that internal core of a book, to truly get it on a soul deep level, you have to have enjoyed it. So if these two readers were to swap books they could both come away with a deeper and richer appreciation of the theme, or they could both walk away completely empty. And it would have absolutely nothing to do with the author, but instead, everything to do with the needs of the reader. 

I've never read the particular book you listed, but (as an example) every Christmas I still read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve. Is it a deep philosophical text with some deep underlying message that I need in order to open a secret door? No. But it allows me to recall doing the same thing with my grandfather, which is something that none of the literary greats that have been produced during the past 3,000 years has the power to conjure. Dare to challenge that?

I appreciate that adults occasionally watch Pixar movies or play video games. That’s fine. Those media don’t require much of your brains. Books are one of our few chances to learn. There’s a reason my teachers didn’t assign me to go home and play three hours of Donkey Kong.

Last I checked, one of the joys of choosing one's own reading materials is that we do not necessarily need to have a specific purpose in mind when we do so. Are you honestly trying to tell me, Mr. Stein, that you actually stand before your bookshelf going, "Today I want to select a book that will teach me the value of showing restraint economically, despite the fact that I live in a capitalist society?", or are you suggesting that the only time you touch a book is when, say, you need to understand the fine workings of your iPod? 

If you choose to read something, already thinking you know what it can teach you, it is highly likely that you will come away empty, or (far more dangerous) hear what you already had set in your mind. The real power and beauty of the knowledge that comes from fiction can only really come when we do not actually expect it. That high school senior stuck talking about the various themes of betrayal in MacBeth, or the parallel of parent-child relationships found in King Lear isn't actually learning shit aside from how to use the three point formula and quote a play properly, unless she or he was already interested in reading the damn thing. 

The actual value of the play, the real 'point', is going to slip into the recesses of their memory to be forgotten the way that the unneeded parts of the burger they had for lunch will later slip into the toilet. If you actually think that we really 'assign' books and they will effect someone where it counts because we 'assigned' them, you are both niave and a fool. We can 'hope' they will, because there are some fantastic books that have been written that should be shared, but there is no guarantee. 

It is vital that we teach people to read, and that we encourage the habit of reading (generally) regardless of what the individual is choosing, be it a comic book, a YA novel, manga, a picture book, or Mark Twain. Because if the love of reading itself is instilled in an individual, there is hope that they will find the books that they, specifically, need. And who knows, some of those may just be the 'fine' pieces of literature you'd hope they are. But if we ridicule people for the choices that they make for themselves as readers, if we make reading seem and feel like there is actually a way not only to do it wrong (misreading words or context) but also to respond incorrectly, people can, will, and do shut out out, do not learn to do it, and then any hope regarding the written word is lost completely.

And that's a damn shame, because it becomes increasingly difficult to learn to read, to develop it as a habit and have it feel natural. And much like a language, the *joy* of reading is something that can be lost.

I have no idea what “The Hunger Games” is like. Maybe there are complicated shades of good and evil in each character. Maybe there are Pynchonesque turns of phrase. Maybe it delves into issues of identity, self-justification and anomie that would make David Foster Wallace proud. I don’t know because it’s a book for kids. I’ll read “The Hunger Games” when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.

You go right ahead and do that, Mr. Stein. Considering the fact that you have been referencing and insulting a novel you have never read -- and that you admit you have never read at that -- I sincerely must question whether you would be able to comprehend the novel, even if you were able to read the words on the page, if you tried. The Hunger Games, after all, does touch on the dangers of ignorance as a theme -- consider the fact that many people die because of a lack of knowing how to survive in the arena rather then from other tributes killing them. Your article is a clear indication that ignorance is a topic that you are intimately familiar with in all the wrong ways, so it's a shame you feel uncomfortable reading a book that could potentially address it well. I suppose you could always opt for the movie. (No insult to the film, guys. I did five star that.) 

Let’s have the decency to let tween girls have their own little world of vampires and child wizards and games you play when hungry. Let’s not pump Justin Bieber in our Saabs and get engaged at Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland. Because it’s embarrassing. You can’t take an adult seriously when he’s debating you over why Twilight vampires are O.K. with sunlight. If my parents had read “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” at the same time as I did, I would have looked into boarding school.

Now you are advocating deliberately avoiding reading things our children might read? I'm not a mom, and I'm definitely on the more 'let them read it' and of the book blogging scale, but I'd bet someone's gonna ride you hard about that one. I'll let them have it -- that's not my war. However, I will say two things:

(1) Many of the kids that I have worked with (I do a lot of tutoring kids with reading issues, I've worked at camps for kids with disabilities, etc.) appreciate it when someone older has read, or seen, or heard something that they have. Entertainment was always something with a very open door in my parents' home (see above with The Night Before Christmas) which actually added an additional level of value to many books, movies, games, etc. I loved growing up.

(2) You can be embarrassed for me if you wish. I'll be busy having fun reading what I want, listening to what I want (although I prefer Ke$ha to Beiber, thanks) and if I were to want to get engaged at Cinderella's Palace, there's not a damn thing you can do to stop me. 

I'm going to Build-a-Bear next weekend to celebrate my 30th birthday, I'm the one who bought that last darn C.A. Cupid monster high doll at WalMart, and after I make my Star Wars version of Kyden (one of the characters from my book, for anyone who's popping a question mark) I'll probably go and spend far to much at the YA section of the Oshawa Centre's Chapters. 

The nightmare's on me, doll. Enjoy it. ;)

In all seriousness, though, do you really have time to care about this? Really? I can think of a million more interesting things to do. (Admittedly, responding wasn't much better. Perhaps the issue actually irritates you just as much as your irritation at it irritates me.) But, in the end, you get to stay mad and I get to go and read Fever by Lauren DeStefano, Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare, The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa or any of the other fifty or so YA books I have sitting here and waiting. I think I'll bow out while the odds are in my favor. Good day.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: Matched by Ally Condie

I love dystopian fiction. Anyone who has followed me here at I Write, I Read, I Review likely knows this came as a surprise to me last summer when I reluctantly picked up The Hunger Games and ended up completely blown away. Anyone new to my blog can see my passion for the genre in my book selections and the reviews that tend to follow them.

Matched was one of the first books that caught my interest when I started selecting books to read and review on my blog, but it took me ages to get to it. It did not make the first batch of books I ordered because I had over-budgeted a little. And even when I did pick it up on a shopping trip with my mom in September it remained on my shelf, forgotten in favor of other things that jumped out at me.

Perhaps, somewhere deep down, some part of me knew that there was going to be a lack of connection. It is always an unfortunate thing to me when I can't click with a book; especially one that I was really eager to sit down and read. Let me tell you what I thought of Matched, but as always, remember that my reaction will not necessarily be yours.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate... until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

The idea of the society and the matching ceremony really appealed to me, and I did enjoy reading about the actual ceremony in the book. Ally Condie has a very lovely style of writing which allows things to be very vividly described. I could almost feel the gown, almost taste the food. And with the fact that these things were temporary, or special, within Cassia's life that form of description become all the more valuable, carried all the more weight. 

But I felt that much of what happened as the story continued really bogged it down. The Society's rigid structure seemed to paint corners in how things could be plotted and presented, at least in my opinion. While Ally did take advantage of this sometimes, at the same time I feel that it sometimes took advantage of her story and characters in ways she might not have expected or intended. 

I never felt a real enough sense of true danger or fear as I read this book. For a while I was curious about what the pills did, but as the story moved along that got pushed aside and this really became one of those 'oatmeal books' I sometimes talk about, where I knew I wanted to finish the thing but I started feeling more like I was battling the pages rather then living inside of them. 

I don't quite know what Ally could have done to give this book the shot in the arm I felt it needed, but I know that for me, personally, the pacing was off and that dampened my enjoyment. I expect to be hooked when I am reading a dystopian. To not be able to put it down, whether the intrigue comes from immediate danger (like The Hunger Games) or from a situation that is vividly detailed and completely soul crushing in its "that's not right!" response (like Wither). 

The Characters:

I liked Cassia, but I didn't *love* Cassia. I didn't want to *be* Cassia. And in many ways, I do not feel that I understood Cassia. She goes to her Matching banquet, she ends up paired with her best friend, and all is good until she sees another person she knows (Ky) in the box she receives when she goes to look at it. From this, and what she learns about Ky from a member of the Society, she becomes torn over who she should be with. I could not get on board here. I could not buy into it. If she was from our world she would likely already know who she wanted to be with and would be fighting for her choice tooth and nail. If she had shown me she was against the ways of her world, rather then being totally thrilled to be at her banquet, etc. maybe I would have bought into her moral dilemma more easily. But as it stood, her 'conflict' to face in Matched did not line up with her character for me.

It also did not help that neither of the guys really grabbed my attention. Xander seems like a good solid person who has his life together and who is comfortable living in the world that he inhabits. It seems he is handsome and smart, and he and Cassia have been friends for a very long time. So in a world where others pick who you marry, you'd think this would be an ideal setup. And I saw nothing of not in Xander's character which would lead me to question that. 

As for Ky, perhaps I would have bought into him more if we had met him before being told things about him. Since it was done in reverse, the information I was given about him might have meant something to Cassia, but it meant nothing to me. And the fact that we see him shortly after did nothing to change that. Instead of presenting an interesting alternative to Xander, I ultimately felt that Ky's image being shown only caused confusion for Cassia and damaged what should have been happy and good, based on what was presented.

I have often said that being unable to form a connection to the characters in a work is the kiss of death for me, and that was definitely the case here. This had absolutely nothing to do with Ally's skill as a writer or whether her story was "good" and everything to do with me as a reader and the type of story which I had come to hear. Sometimes we get something different then we bargained for and it ends up being an alternate but equally interesting tale, or perhaps even a better one. But sometimes, the lines just don't connect and we never really hook into what we are reading. Unfortunately, for me Matched fell into the latter category.

The Romance: 

I had a very hard time buying into the romance here. I think a big part of the reason came from Cassia telling us that now (after the banquet) she could feel a certain way about Xander. That is not how love works in our society, so this felt very strange and foreign to me. At the same time, any feelings she had for Ky, which were her own, I had to question whether she would believably be capable of having from living in the environment and culture that she lived in. (Oh, and I thought she and Xander matched well so perhaps I was a bit biased?) 

I think that this is one of those areas where the society painted a corner, as I was talking about in the plot section. I could not buy into this. I could not suspend my disbelief enough to think a girl could or would let others tell her when she could feel about someone, and at the same time be capable of feeling of her own choosing. And not question it prior to the realization. Cassia seemed completely content with everything that happened right up until she saw that image and that just did not sit right with me.

In General:

Like most things in life, you win a few you lose a few. Matched was simply not my book. I know I am in trouble when I am fighting to get through something, rather then wandering around inside of it. But I kept going, hoping something would draw me in and grab my interest. As always, don't just take my word for it. If Matched sounds like something you might like to try, give it a shot. It did not work for me, but that doesn't not necessarily meant it won't work for you. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

[Movie Review] The Hunger Games

For my review of The Hunger Games [novel] click here.

The Hunger Games is the first book I reviewed here at I Write, I Read, I Review. Heck, back then my blog didn't actually have a name. It's title was just My name. To say that the book has a special place in my heart was an understatement. I was really excited when I heard that the book was going to be turned into a movie. While movies tend to have different goals then books, and therefore an adaptation does not always meet a reader's expectations, I felt hopeful that The Hunger Games would make a successful transition from page to screen.

Please be aware that the following review will likely contain spoilers if you have not read the book. Another thing to note is that I am not a huge 'movie person'. You aren't going to hear actor names here or anything like that. Between writing, reading and gaming, film often gets the short end of the stick with me unless something really grabs my attention. But I think I've delayed it long enough. Let's get to the heart of the matter.

The Plot:

"Where's the plot description?"

The answer to that is simple: if you need me to tell you what the story is about, your on the wrong page. Please see my review of the novel. For those of you who *are* familiar with The Hunger Games lets get this started.

Considering the amount of time that a movie spans, and the amount of detail that a book generally contains, I think that the people who made the movie did a fantastic job. The very subdued coloration of the setting and clothing in district twelve -- the way that Katniss' blue dress stood out and looked very plain at the same time -- and the way that the lushness of the woods popped in contrast, all set things off at a good start. I think that the use of visual contrasts throughout the movie, especially as we moved from district 12, to the Capital, to the arena, is one of the greatest strengths of the book to film treatment overall.

I like the fact that everything was timed so well. What do I mean? We did not get to dally in places, such as district 12 or throutgh every detail of the Capital (my brother was mad the part with the Avox wasn't there), but at the same time I felt that the majority of the core elements of the book were covered and accounted for. The desperation of the people of district twelve. The resolve of the peacekeepers. The otherworldliness of the Capital with it's crazy fashion and (to Katniss and Peeta especially) foreign technologies.

One of my biggest fears was that the pre-arena aspect of the book would suffer in an attempt to masculinize the experience to increase box office sales, but this was not the case. The interactions between Katniss and Cinna were great, as were her and Peeta's moments with Haymitch and Effie. The chariot scene, the scene where Katniss shoots the apple and the interview scene were all really cool too. (Although Shawn felt that the interview scene was lacking some bite or tension for some reason. I'd need to re-read that section of the book to really comment.)

And that long, tension filled sequence leading up to the start of the games themselves ... I was afraid I was going to start trying to dig my toes into my shoes. I was sitting there on the edge of my theatre seat just *waiting* for things to get underway. That was exceptionally well done.

The movie was rated PG and I think that with this in mind that the direction taken for the content of the games was both appropriate to the movie and to the vision of the book. One thing that I think is important to mention, and I will do it here, is that unlike the book where we are purely in first person, in the movie they were not afraid to switch POV when it would strengthen the plot and make what is happening make more sense. I thought the solution chosen -- showing not only the games but the gamemakers effecting the outcome of them -- was very smart. It fixed what would have otherwise been some very strange plot holes and it also showed how cruel and malicious the world these characters live in is. There is a particular scene between Seneca Crane and Haymitch that had me nodding my head and going, "Yes, I could see it happening that way." Which one? You'll need to watch the movie for that.

I have heard some people feeling disappointed that Katniss did not clarify to Peeta that she was 'pretending' to be interested in him by the end of the games the way she did in the novel. I think this was actually a good choice for the movie. Movie-goers want different things then book purists and when this does raise its head when / if we get the next movie (which I hope we do) it will be interesting to see how people react.

The Characters:

The first thing that I will say here is that while I am not a movie buff who is going to name off a roll call of actors so I can critique them one by one, I was very pleased with the performances of those who took part in the film. I felt like I was, in many ways, getting to see the film play out for real in front of my eyes the way it did in my head when I read the novel. I never felt a moment of "No, no, no! You have that all wrong!"

I believe the actress playing Katniss was Jennifer Lawrence? (Please let me know if I have her name wrong.) She did an absolutely stunning job of portraying the character. Katniss, in my opinion, would not be the easiest character to act out because she is often dealing with what she is "showing" and what she is actually "feeling". It isn't too hard to express this in a book, especially not if we are inside the character's head, but to show all of this on a screen seems like it would be harder. I was very convinced by her performance.

I thought that the actors playing Peeta and Gale did a great job, too. Peeta is (in my opinion) such a warm character, where Gale is more 'fiery'. I like the fact that each had chances to show (or at least hint) at these things. While Peeta does get more screen time then Gale here, I think they did a good job at showing the fact that Katniss has known Gale a long time (for instance, the fact that he takes Prim when she volunteers) whereas we are seeing Peeta and Katniss get to know each other. (Peeta's confession of love and when the two are talking in the cave.)

Effie was a perfect contrast between crazy clothes and yet a very controlled, prim (ignore the obvious pun here) and mannered attitude that contrasted to her outfits. Haymitch started out drunk and indifferent, but I think the movie really carried across how he grew more concerned about Peeta and Katniss as the story continued, which is *really* important.

Cinna. Great in the book. Great in the movie. When I heard Lenny Kravitz was playing him I was a bit worried (I really don't buy into people getting into more then one art, personally.) He did a fantastic job, though. Cinna, while not a *huge* character, was one of my favorites from the books and I was happy to see I had been worried for nothing.

I cried during Rue's death scene. A lot.

Last, I want to say that I was thrilled at the humanity we get to see in Cato at his death scene. This was so important, so well done, so heartbreaking and so spot on. We get to see someone who was, essentially, a 'working' cog in the Capital's machine not only realize but actually verbally admit to his own broken-ness, reminding us that every one of these competitors, no matter how deranged they became in the arena, initially was a human being at the core.

The Romance:

It's very hard to talk about the romantic aspect of The Hunger Games because there are multiple things going on at the same time. Gale's very subtle feelings regarding Katniss and the fact that in the book we get to hear her think about him / her feelings toward him. How do you translate that into a film where the guy isn't really in the thing 80% of the time? I think that showing his reaction every time she and Peeta were kissing or cuddling, since they were on TV, was a good call. I also think the actor did a fantastic job with his expression as he came up to them at the end with Prim on his shoulders. As in "I am here for you, I kept my promise to you, but you have some explaining to do."

Then there is Peeta, who has secretly been in love with Katniss forever. I think that this was well done, and it went well with the overall "goodness" of his character. His silent acceptance of being chosen. His cheerful smile as he waved to people as the train pulled into the station. The fact that he seemed to accept Katniss anger after his public confession, the worry in his eyes as the career group surrounded the tree she was camping in. The part where he tells her he should have *brought* her the bread, not simply thrown it to her. I was already hugely in love with Peeta from the book, and the movie has only made that grow.

Last, of course, we have Katniss herself. From word go we know she is adverse to getting mixed up in these kind of things, because she tells Gale she intends to never have children. But the mind and the heart are two different things. I wish that it had been a little more clear that she had some interest in Gale, even if it was secret / quietly. I didn't get that from the movie, which is a bit of a shame because while the scenes with him seeing her and Peeta showed *his* reaction well, I did not feel that they expressed hers clearly enough.

I *did* feel a distancing from her when she was with Peeta. This had to be challenging for the actors, because they had to have this and yet still show that there could *be* chemistry between the two, otherwise one of the core aspects of the book would be lost. That even love can be manipulated, corrupted and used as a battleground. Overall I thought this was "good enough" but that it was a little bit hazy and that the underlying elements might be missed by someone unfamiliar with the book, which is a shame.

In General: 

As a member of the book blogging community, I feel that The Hunger Games delivered above and beyond expectations. This is one of, if not the absolute best, book to movie adaptations that I have ever seen. I was thoroughly impressed. While I feel that those who have not read the book will be missing certain things here, this was going to be the case regardless, and the movie will still provide a well told story with interesting characters regardless, which is what ultimately matters.

I look forward to seeing what they will do with Catching Fire. If they can continue to show this level of dedication to providing a quality representation of the books, I feel that The Hunger Games trology could raise the bar for book to movie adaptions as a whole. I look forward to (hopefully) seeing this in theatres again, and will likely be buying a copy on DVD the day it releases.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: BZRK by Michael Grant

*A huge thank you to the lovely people at Random House for sending me this book as part of Blog It Forward!

Sometimes as readers we need to read one of those special books that remind us why we read. Why we spend countless hours taking words on a page and allowing our mind to weave them into worlds filled with sights and sounds, textures and tastes. Why this crazy habit makes us feel more alive, even as we often slip into worlds that our day to day round would do everything in it's power to tell us are not real.

Likewise, for those of us who write, we sometimes need a reminder of why we allow ourselves to succumb to the madness. The random snippets of conversation that pop into our heads, the waking up at 3 a.m. to jot down a description for a 60 foot tower made of key lime pie. You get the idea, the point, I hope. It can be weird!

What happens to you when you love a book? Do you carry it with you when you go for a ride in the car? Do you bring it to the dinner table while you are waiting for the food to finish cooking? Do you start finding people who you want to loan your copy to when you are only 3/4 of the way through? I did all of that here.

For me, BZRK was a gigantic reminder of why I love both reading and writing. It does so many things that hooked me, fascinated me, terrified me and really made me think. It is written in a very interesting fashion with characters who are all true shades of gray. But I am getting ahead of myself here. Let me break this down and I'll tell you why you absolutely must read this book.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
Time is running out for the good guys. But what happens when you don’t know who the good guys really are?

Noah and Sadie: newly initiated into an underground cell so covert they don’t even know each other’s real names. Trained for combat on the nano level, they are thrust into a war they can barely grasp.

Vincent: feels nothing and cares for no one. Fighting a personal battle with Bug Man, the greatest nano warrior alive.

The Armstrong Twins: wealthy, privileged, fanatical. Are they the saviors of humanity or authors of the darkest conspiracy in history?

On one side: Charles and Benjamin Armstrong’s Nexus Humanus. On the other: a group of teen hackers who call themselves BZRK.

Twenty-first-century warfare that takes place on the macro and nano level for the highest stakes: humanity’s free will.

It’s time to choose sides.

Yesterday I posted about not being able to get hooked on anything I've started reading. When the UPS guy came with BZRK I decided that I would flip it open and at least get a feel for the writing. Read the first chapter or two if they caught my interest. Well, I finished BZRK at 10:30 last night. After carrying it with me in the car and reading at the dinner table while I waited for dinner to finish cooking. So I think "interested" might be a bit of an understatement.

Basically, the big question in BZRK is: "What is more important, freedom or happiness?" The interesting thing is that it's not as straight forward as it sounds. Because the moment you have to make a choice between these two things, due to a need to fight for them, the question changes to "What will you do for freedom?" or "What will you do for happiness?" and when this happens, things can get very, very ugly.

I love the fact that the book drops us off at a mental institution on page one, showing us what happens when a member of BZRK is defeated. We immediately see the stakes of taking part in this war, up close and personal, before we even really know (from the inside of the book, at least) that a war is going on. We are then thrown into the final minutes of Sadie's (Plath's) brother and father's lives. What makes this whole introduction so awesome, is that we actually suffer with the characters through the things that make them able to become who and what they do by the end of the book. It grabbed me immediately, threw me into their corner, and had me moving through the book full steam forward wanting answers and seeking something -- justice? closure? I don't really know -- for these story people.

The book makes excellent use of third person multiple POV. We get into the action quicker then our 'main' hero and heroine do. (Although I think I'd personally say this is more of a cast book.) I think Michael did a great job of using this style of writing to its maximum effect. I also think, for the major changes at least, that he did a great job of making it clear who's head we were in. There were a few times that he did jump back and forth, or when he switched quickly because a character was no longer conscious, but it did not bother me. However, the most confusing thing, and I think this was partially on purpose, was getting use to someone describing the "macro" or "real world" happenings and then jumping to the "nano" or "inside someone's body" view. As I read further into the book this became less jarring but at first it definitely spun me for a loop.

The Characters:

The first thing I want to say here is that each member of BZRK chooses a new name when they join, and these tend to be names of famous people who had various issues throughout history. I'm telling you this so that when I talk about characters you won't be left scratching your head.

The next thing I want to say, was that these are some of the most interesting characters that I have encounted in a long time. The "good guys" aren't necessarily good, and the "bad guys" motives and desires are not always instantly evil. I love this in a story. It's possibly my favorite thing and I am always delighted to find a tale where an author is not afraid to explore it.

Noah (Keats) and Sadie (Plath) both essentially want revenge. Noah's brother was a member of BZRK and was taken out, and therefore went crazy. Sadie's brother and father are killed by someone from Armstrong Fancy Goods Corp. (AFGC) I thought that it was clever how these two were paired up, and how they immediately caught onto this fact. I liked the fact that we got to see both of them at their "low" at the start of the book, and then basically watched them take a hero's journey as they learnt what was going on and became part of it as the story continues. Further, I liked the fact that they did not go from being innocent to doing a full 180 and going "Let's kick butt!". Instead, they actually faced fear, doubt, sadness and frustration.

Vincent really intrigued me. Unable to feel pleasure because of a medical condition, yet he still has no qualms in getting involved with Dr. Anya Violet, and despite the fact that I never fully got the feeling there was anything between them (that was real -- and I will get to that.) he did want to protect her. Vincent was also largely responsible for Noah and Sadie's training and is generally considered the leader unless orders come from Lear (the actual leader of BZRK, whose identity is still a total mystery!).

My favorite character, though, is Caligula. He's the BZRK enforcer, the guy you don't want to have drop by for a cup of tea if you've done anything that might be considered a breach of trust or a flat out betrayal. Why did I love him so much? Because Michael Grant built him up to be a major bad ass, and on that account he delivered in every way. That alone wouldn't do it for me, though -- Caligula seemed to have a sense of humor and a very tongue in cheek sense of style -- who doesn't love a guy in a purple velvet top hat? He also doesn't seem to be one of the people actually fighting at the nano level, so it leaves me very curious how he got involved with BZRK and what his deal actually is.

Lastly, my gushing about characters would not be complete if I didn't talk to you about the Bug Man. The Armstrong Twins might be the one with the vision, but Bug Man is the guy a lot of the key characters have an actual ax to grind with. Thing is, he's a sixteen year old guy who happens to be a bit too good at games and who got scooped up to be part of Nexus Humanus. Does he buy into the "in the name of happiness" stuff? No way. Does he want to be The Man and have fame, influence, a hot girlfriend, etc.? Hell yeah. Bug Man was not always a likable character, but he was one with motives I could understand. They came from roots that were, of themselves, not evil. Rather, it is how he took action to achieve his dreams that has him in hot water. That makes for a terrific antagonist.

The Romance: 

While I do not feel that this book is a "love" story that I would anxiously recommend to readers who like the kinds of books I normally review, I feel that the take that Michael Grant spins in the romance department is interesting and worth a few words. Is there chemistry and interest between Sadie and Noah? Yes. Does it seem instant and caused by immediate stress and circumstances beyond their control? Yep. But are they aware of this and do they address it? Absolutely. Which is something that I do not feel is common in your typical YA book.

But wait, it gets better. One of my favorite things about BZRK was the parallel between Bug Man and Jessica v.s. Vincent and Anya. Bug Man thinks Jessica is gorgeous, but he's kinda 'eh' looking with a not so fabulous personality. In short, he figures there is no way that he could ever get with her through normal means. So what does he do? He uses his abilities with nano tech to wire her to think that everything good leads to him. He essentially makes her his slave.

Vincent, on the other hand, needs research and facilities that Dr. Anya Violet can get him access to. He is not certain that she will help him willingly, though, so he uses his abilities to begin wiring her brain. Remember: Vincent is suppose to be fighting to preserve people's ability to have free will. And unlike Jessica, where the deed is fully done, with Anya we see a woman who is going through the process of having this done, and who is smart enough and knowledgeable enough to realize that Vincent is doing it, yet who has no power to stop him.

Bug Man wishes Jessica would choose him, but he ultimately made her choice for her. Vincent is using his abilities to strip someone of free will, all the while fighting to preserve humanity's right to have free will rather then being turned into a hive mind by Nexus Humanus.

Take a moment. Breathe. Now, try to wrap your head around all of the implications of that. I am impressed and eager to see how these things continue.

In General: 

This is what I love most about being part of Blog It Forward. BZRK is not a book I would likely have picked up on my own, and I would have missed out on something totally awesome. I need to point out that there is a fair amount of actual science in what is being discussed in this book, but it is not bogged down in terminology and never takes away from the story. I also want to praise the fact that Michael Grant did such a great job at describing things at the Nano level. He did so in such a way that it would be relatable and able to be 'seen' by a reader, and at the same time had it make perfect sense why gamers would be drawn to it.

BZRK isn't just a great book, it is a totally mind blowing experience that will leave you lying awake and thinking long after you turn the last page. If you haven't read it yet, I'd highly recommend checking it out!

Monday, March 12, 2012

I Can't Seem To Get Hooked...

Reading slumps. Ever had one?

My schedule has been insane the last while. I've blogged about that before, so I'll spare you the details. That's not the problem, or at least I am guessing it isn't, at this point. I seem to be going through a massive reading slump of epic proportions. What are the symptoms?

Nothing I read sticks: I start a book and read for a bit, but I am not really retaining it, clicking with the characters, etc. I'm not being drawn in and 'leaving my chair' the way that normally happens. I do not actually feel that this is the fault of the books I am reading because I have tried several.

Lack of attention span and motivation: I have hundreds of books here, a great many of which are ones that I bought because I am dying to read them... Some are sequels like Tiger's Quest, The Iron Daughter, Lenobia's Vow (which is a spin off novella, but still...), and some are new books I've been dying to read like Shatter Me, Across the Universe or The Summer I Turned Pretty. Yet I feel almost asleep in a way.

Pressure build up: If I am not reading, I am not really blogging. That annoys me. I like blogging. While I do have things to talk about, like my thoughts on the TERA beta, my rage at the ending for Mass Effect 3 and my progress for Moon Dance, I Write, I Read, I Review is suppose to be a book blog, which means that at least 50% of it's content is suppose to be book focused. (And generally I try to keep that average a lot higher).

I suppose that the best way to find a solution for this is to figure out what is causing it. If it is simply pressure build up, then I need to realize the world will not end if I don't have a review scheduled every Tuesday and Thursday. (In my perfect blogging world, that would always happen.) I also need to access whether I am reading for pleasure or reading for my blog, because if I have stepped into doing the latter that could be a real problem. I suppose, also, the truth might simply be that I've been too busy, or that since I am in the middle of huge revisions for Moon Dance that is eating up my 'book time' and focus. (One thing I am noticing when I try to read something is that in the back of my head I am going "You are stalling! You could be getting editing done!")

Here are some ideas I have come up with as possible solutions:

(1) Let it sort itself out naturally. I love books, so it's not like I am never going to read again.

(2) Sort out my library and go through all the books I have as if I am in a book store, waiting until one of them jumps out at me with the "read me now!" factor that undoubtedly got me to buy it in the first place.

(3) Don't push myself to read and place my focus on this round of Moon Dance revision so that is a weight off my shoulders, and then (I am hoping!) get back to enjoying reading once I have that out with betas.

(4) Push through the pain. Everything I was doing -- TERA, the singing contest, revisions, ME3, etc. really messed up my reading schedule. If there is anything I know about me and reading / writing it's that it's like exercise. If you suddenly stop doing it every day and have to reform the habit, it can be a real pain.

(5) Go back and read an old favorite, purely for enjoyment, and see if that breaks the cycle. For me, the characters in books that I love are truly alive and while I don't go back as much as I use to (way too busy with the blog!) I do enjoy reading through something I love more then once every now and then.

So, I am wondering if something like this has ever happened to any of you. What did you do about it? 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kat Sings Poker Face

As some of you know, tonight I was a finalist in a singing contest at the Portsmouth Tavern in Kingston. I don't normally use my blog to promote my music, but I promised a few of you I'd try to get some video footage and that I'd tell you all how it went. Well... I have some good news, some bad news and some more good news.

The first piece of good news is that we got me on video singing Poker Face by Lady GaGa. Want to hear it? Here you go: 

The bad news is that we did not get footage for I Will Always Love You. (Another competitor had already claimed Unchained Melody by the time that my family arrived.) 

My last piece of good news is that I won first place, winning the $500 grand prize. I am still extremely shocked (and very excited!) about this. :) 

Anyway, thanks so much for checking this post out. :) Have a great evening! 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hello? Kat? You there?

Yeah, I think that pic pretty much sums up how things are going right now. It's not that they are bad. Actually, they are fantastic. But I've been insanely busy, which has lead to less reading, which has lead to a lack of blogging. But let me fill you in on a few things so that you get the full picture.

I am currently reading The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder. While I am nowhere near ready to give you a full review on this yet, I can tell you that I am 125 pages in and I am really enjoying it. This book was a gamble for me to choose, since I know the subject matter is super heavy and I don't always click well with books of that nature. But the premise grabbed me and I've been reading a fair bit of fantasy, paranormal and dystopian so I felt it was time for a change of pace. Please be aware: my prodding speed in reading this is to do with everything else. Not the quality of this book.

Moon Dance edits are progressing decently well. I am not going as fast as I would like, but at least I am moving forward. These are eating a huge amount of my time and energy. I hope the lack of focus over here at I Write, I Read, I Review isn't disappointing people too much, but I *have* to get these revisions done if I want to meet the schedule I have set for my book. Moon Dance is incredibly important to me, so I must ask for your patience here. Thank you.

The finals for the singing contest that I am in are this Friday at the Portsmouth Tavern in Kingston. I am going to be singing Poker Face by Lady GaGa and Unchained Melody by LeAnn Rimes. This is another place where a lot of my time has been going. I practice at least two hours a day. Fortunately, the results of all that work will be revealed on Friday evening, so that will be one less thing I'll need to be focusing on. If you live in the area and would like to cheer me on, you can find directions here. The contest starts at 9:30 p.m.

Last, of course, is the fact that TERA Online is having their third Closed Beta Test this weekend and Jay and I are both taking part. This is going to be my first weekend playing TERA so I have been researching everything about it and trying to decide what class and race I am interested in being. What do you think, guys? Elin (left) or Castanic (right)?

Demon-like beings with horns
Cute little sprites with animal ears and tails

Okay, now that I have that out of the way...

Q: What's happening with Leap Into Indie?

A: I need to go and get a new prepaid card. I will announce a winner once I have that.

Q: Any other plans for this week?

A: I have received something pretty awesome in the mail so I should be doing an IMM this weekend. I may also put up videos from the singing contest and art from the TERA Beta. I realize some of this isn't book related, but I figure it's better to update with the interesting things going on in my life rather then hiding under my bed because I'm behind on reading. :D

But now if you'll excuse me, I have Kess tapping me on the shoulder and reminding me that I have a scene to write where he rescues Sara from a fire. ;) My characters can be quite persistent, I'm afraid. (Kess: You know you love us.) Yeah, right. *wink* I hope this week is treating you all well. :) Bye!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Are You Writing Now?


*This is not the final cover.
So I'd say that by this point, it's safe for me to assume that most of you know I am writing a novel. Well, the rough draft has been done for some time now, and I am finally done setting up my notes for my first round of revisions. I am about to start looking at those and figuring out what needs to happen to make this story click.

The trouble, of course, is that I've been done writing the rough draft of Moon Dance since the middle of last July. Clearly I am stalling. Admittedly, I have made some progress in the last couple weeks, but I still think that getting involved in something like Are You Writing Now? might help me finish this. (Read: quit procrastinating for fear that it won't be perfect. There's no such thing as perfect -- the best I can hope for is to capture the truth of my characters' story the best that I can...)

My Goals Right Now

The things I am aiming for in this round of revision are:

1. Making sure that any major changes I want to make to my plot are written, decided and finalized. I know, for instance, that I want to tighten up the way that the climax works. My opening needs a re-write. A couple key characters have had major motivation changes that will alter the way I originally wrote some middle scenes. The major villain of the series needs to be made more active in this book so that her importance in those that follow will be more expected.

2. Making sure that my characters' motivations, reactions and interactions are consistent with who they are, and believable. This can be hard sometimes. One of my character likes to lie a lot. Another has varying personality quirks depending on who is around. Most of my story people have imperfections, quirks and issues -- they're certainly not a straight forward lot. But if I cannot convince the reader to connect with them, none of that will matter.

3. Making sure that the world building needed to make my story make sense is present. I have a *ton* of compiled information on the societies, cultures, religions, etc. that effect my non-human characters. I also know that it's not smart to just dump all of that in. But making sure that the parts that are important to the story get sprinkled in where (and when) they are needed is vital. Otherwise, people will be confused.

4. Ultimately, ending up with a draft that is solid in regards to all of the basics of good story telling. Fine tuning such as strengthening dialogue, checking spelling and grammar, etc. is for the next round. Why? Because there is no point in fine tuning what is here until I know it is staying, isn't shifting or doesn't need to be re-written. I feel that getting the story right *first* is vital. The technical stuff can be dealt with after.

Are you a writer looking for some encouragement to place butt in chair and actually do something? Click here to find out more about Are You Writing Now? and add yourself to the linky.

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