Sunday, February 19, 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

***Spoiler alert*** You've been warned.

I was never forced to read this in school. I should have been, for so many reasons. I finally got around to reading it and I was incredibly surprised by how much I liked it. As with all my recreational reading lately, I've only been at liberty to read bits and pieces at odd moments. But I found myself constantly thinking about this book. I'm not an emotional reader, but when a certain recluse saved a certain pair of children, I wanted cry and I wanted to jump up and down at the same time. Scout's fantasy coming true was absolutely perfect. And I think the image of Boo Radley watching "his children" grow up from a chink in the blinds will stay with me for a long time. I'm not sure how long it's been since I was THIS moved a book.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Reading with work and a busy family is difficult. But the occasional audio book comes to the rescue.
I enjoyed the symbolic references and overarching acceptance of all flavors of diety by Elizabeth. I agree with her Bali Guru that we shouldn't argue over religion, but list to the other person and pray as we believe we should.
I winced a few times during some of the sharper words and scenes. All in all, I enjoyed the energy of the book and the vibrance of change in her life.
We can each come closer to our higher power by our own choice, but everyone wishes we would do it in their church.
If not for the sharpness of some words I would have given 4 starts.
Best wishes Liz.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First off, I enjoyed the narration by Paul Michael. In an audiobook, the narrator can make or break a good book for oneself.

I enjoyed DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons. I had never given much thought to conspiracies and alternative plots to world organizations until reading these books. These two books happened across the pond away from where I lived.

Upon reading The Lost Symbol I had to start thinking domestically about what I had heard about the founding fathers and what I believed to be true.

I won't bore you with scriptural citations or readings. But what I will tell you is that I agree with Robert Langdon. With all the differences in our country and the moral decay that has progressed since the founding of this great Nation. I too have Hope. Hope that the human conscience will once again prevail after a period of darkness. That the hearts of a great nation will join together in "Laus Deo".

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has been on my 'to read' list for almost twenty years. All my Honors English friends had read it while I was reading...I don't even remember what. Though I did like this book over all, it moved a bit slowly in the beginning. I spent a lot of time wondering "OK, when does the plot start?" Once the action started, I was more engaged and didn't want to stop reading.

Throughout the book, I struggled with the sense of apathy the characters seemed to have, especially about their knowledge of Tom's affair. How could everyone just sit back and not call him out on it? How could Nick just sit there during the impromptu party at the mistress's flat? When Tom slapped Myrtle, everyone pretty much threw their hands up in a fake yawn, looked at their watches and said "Oh my, look at the time." I know, I know. It was another era.

The development of the characters was quite intriguing, though there were few of them that I would want to invite to tea. I had a hard time liking Nick as he seemed so ...soft. He had no voice. He was just there observing and going along with it all. I guess that is just what he was, the narrator. He was a neutral vehicle to watch the story unfold. Oddly enough, the character that seemed to irritate me the most was Jordan Baker. She seemed as flat and lacking in the same moral courage as Nick. I guess they were a perfect match and that similarity is what precluded a relationship between them. Their own characters were too morally...bland, I guess, to get over any hurdles and build a relationship. In the end, Nick found that the East Coast was not his speed and went home. Ya. Probably a good idea. I ended up doing the same thing. Maybe our modern day society is alright, after all.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dracula by Bram Stoker

DraculaDracula by Bram Stoker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I had read this just to read it, I'm not sure how I would have felt about it. As study material, it was very interesting. Going into the book with such things in mind as the Victorian era, Romanticism, Gothic revival, Industrialism and Feminism, it was a much more significant read than it would have been otherwise. I won't take the time to analyze those elements here, except to say that I think it's worth learning just a bit about those elements before beginning the book.

I've never watched any of the Dracula films adaptations, but this story has become so entrenched in our pop culture that I couldn't help going into it with some preconceived notions. Many of which were not consistent with the book. Dracula's appearance in the movies is always smooth; hairless for the most part. In the book he is hairy all over. And though he's definitely a creepy guy, the creepiness is more subtle. He's a gentleman, well educated, and better spoken than most of the English characters in the book. His relationship to wolves is also different than I expected. His plays the master over wolves, as well as most other beasts. Though Dracula is nocturnal, the whole getting-killed-by-the-sun thing didn't get added to the legend until later. Big D appears in sunlight several times throughout the book. And the famous creepy "Good Evening" is actually "Good morning."

Van Helsing was also a bit of a surprise to me. I had no idea this character came from this book. The only previous exposure I'd had to him was the Hugh Jackman movie. Stoker's Van Helsing could not be more different from this Hollywood version. Even ignoring my preconceived notions about him, I can't help feeling a bit dissatisfied with this character. All throughout the book, I wanted some of his background to be revealed. Where did this scientific, learned man get his information and experience with vampire hunting? The book never says. In my mind, this is one of the deficiencies that keeps Dracula from being a book worthy of multiple readings.

Over all, I'd say this is definitely worth reading over, even if you don't have to do it for school. Do so with caution though. One of the things that prevented me from reading it before is that I thought it was going to be very scary. I did not find it so. At least it was not explicitly violent or sexual. However, there were several people, both in my class and in my book club, who had a hard time with it. The superstitious elements were strong and the people who were sensitive to superstitions got pretty freaked out. Others were sensitive to the implied violence, especially towards children. The sexual undertones were very subtle. I wouldn't have noticed most of them if the footnotes hadn't commented on them. I didn't think it was offensive in that respect. So read at your own risk.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cute and Creepy Critters for Halloween

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A friend of mine, who knows I love to crochet, found this at the library and brought it over to show me. Creepy Cute Crochet by Christian Haden has got some of the most adorable creepy critters to make for Halloween. All of the creatures have the same basic pattern to follow for the head and body, and then there are lots of embellishments and accessories to make or add to your creation. My three favorite creatures are the skeleton bride and groom, and the corporate zombie. So, if you have a knack and/or passion for crochet, this is a great little book to add to your pattern collection.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You know what? I really liked this book. It wasn't all phony and such. Even with all the crumby swearing, I got through it all right.

OK, enough Holden-speak.

This book was a fascinating read for me. When I first began it, I was feeling all rebellious to be reading a book with this much swearing. I usually have a very timid ear and can't handle hearing 'g-d'. I then realized it was just a kid trying to sound tough. At first I was irritated at Holden. I dismissed him as 'that guy I hated in high-school'. I was the good girl that Holden would have seen as 'phony'. I could never relate with those that didn't care what the higher-ups thought. As I continued to read, I found I understood him more and more. He was just a kid. He was extremely intelligent, but had some stuff to work out. I love how he freaked out about being a madman and couldn't understand how he could get caught up in a moment and say something crazy. He marveled that he would truly mean it at the time he said it. Ha. Been there.

All in all, I found this book much less scandalous than I feared it would be. I read a few synopses to make sure I could handle it. Sure, I'm not running to put in on my 13 yr-old's reading list, but what is so atypical or unstable about it? I understand the language was over-the-top and, of course, reading the thoughts of a 16 yr-old boy would always be disturbing, but I don't see Holden's experience as that different from my own. (With some glaring exceptions, of course!) I guess that is what surprised me in this book. Angst is angst. We all just work it out in our own way.

If you disagree with are probably a phony. ;)

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Friday, July 29, 2011

The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy

The White BoneThe White Bone by Barbara Gowdy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I ended up not really enjoying this one. There were things I liked about it- the perspective was kind of fun. Seeing things from the elephants' points of view was an interesting change. Their mythology, their creation story, their after-life were all enjoyable. It was also fascinating to learn a bit about their family units and the hierarchy that goes along with them. What ruined the book for me though was the constant obsession with poop and sex. Granted, it's animal sex, so it's different- less offensive- than if we were talking about humans, but it was still a major and unnecessary distraction from the story. And while it's true that animals are obsessed with dung and urine and anything else that marks a strong scent, as a human, I don't care to hear about animals eating each others' poo. Maybe that's just me, though. Also, I didn't care for the ending, but I won't spoil it by going into detail.

But I have to give Gowdy props for doing something completely different.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart

Beyond the Deepwoods (Edge Chronicles, Book 1) The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, let's see if I can get this right. The Edge Chronicles is a 10 book series. This juvenile fantasy gem caught me completely by surprise. I jumped in somewhat grudgingly because it wasn't the greatest time in my life to be starting a long series. But I have been richly rewarded for my sacrifice. Here, you'll find a world where the laws of physics as we know them do not apply. There are creatures you've never imagined, but the illustrations of Chris Riddell help bring them to life.

I'd like to say a little something about the genre here- yes it's unquestionably fantasy, but it is also my first introduction to steam-punk, which I had heard of before and knew roughly what it was but didn't feel too interested in. By the end of the first book, I felt that this is a fabulous introduction to the steam-punk genre. It has turned out to be thrillingly imaginative. Stewart writes in such an easy way, it feels only natural that I should love this special niche of fantasy.

I read all 10 books in numerical order, and that was fine way to do it. But now that I've done it, I can tell others that they have options. If 10 books seems a bit much all at once, then you might be interested to know that the series is really three trilogies and an extra book to tie it all up. Reading them numerically, you'll find that there is a lot of jumping around in this world's timeline. But if you want to read them chronologically, here's the order for you:

Quint's Trilogy:
The Curse of the Gloamglozer (book 4)
The Winter Knights (book 8)
Clash of the Sky Galleons (book 9)

Twig's Trilogy:
Beyond the Deepwoods (book 1, pictured above)
Stormchaser (book 2)
Midnight Over Sanctaphrax (book 3)

Rook's Trilogy:
The Last of the Sky Pirates (book 5)
Vox (book 6)
Freeglader (book7)

Nate's story and the end of our epic tale:
The Immortals

Reading them this way would allow you to take a natural break from the series (if you wanted one) before committing to reading more. Just a thought.

I really enjoyed every book in this series and highly recommend them. Bare in mind this is juvenile fiction, but it also has some pretty adult themes, such as war and political intrigue. There is a lot of fighting, and yes, killing. Personally, I would still let my child read it because it isn't terribly graphic. So add it to your to-read list. Now.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Tender Mercy of Roses by Anna Michaels

The Tender Mercy of RosesThe Tender Mercy of Roses by Anna Michaels

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I could have read this book in one sitting if my time hadn't been so limited this week. I found myself thinking about the characters and the mystery, even when I wasn't reading. Anna Michaels writes beautifully, as well. I got caught up in her use of words, which lent a southern flavoring and poetry to the story.

Although this story involves a murder mystery, I felt that it wasn't morbid at all. The rodeo setting didn't overwhelm the rest of the story. The ethereal Native American element gave it a beautiful spirituality that felt natural.

Be advised: There was some strong language, but only a little of it. It seemed like Michael used it only to help develop a clearer picture of Pony Jones' character; her masculine upbringing, her wild personality, her lack of education. That's how it struck me, anyway.

I really enjoyed it. If you don't have a problem with mild profanity, I'd definitely recommend it.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Keesha's House by Helen Frost

Imagine living in a safe place where you would have a chance to dream and then have the freedom to act in order to acheive these dreams. Many of us take this kind of place for granted. Keesha's House opened my eyes to the real hardships that many teens face in their lives. For many, it is a game of survival. A fight for the impact of doing the right thing and confusion on what that is.
Helen Frost did an amazing job in writing this book completely in sestina and sonnet poetic form. Her characters came through vividly as well as details surrounding Keesha's house where she stayed & many who knew this house as hers. Yet it was Joe's house, he, who had bought it to survive himself and then had a golden heart to help teens that were as misfortunate as he had once been. Doing what he thought best by giving them an address and a way out of their unfortunate circumstances. It's hard to believe how something as simple as an address and a comfortable place to stay can mean the whole world opening up to one misunderstood teen. This book doesn't glorify teen misbehavior but realistically shows, through unforgettable poetry, how life isn't fair for all teens and how many times judgement comes out of reactions instead of communication and interactions with teens to understand their needs.
I had picked up this book because I am interested in writing like this. I read through the poems many times in order to remember and feel how Frost had depicted everything. She is definitely a master in her craft. I would enjoy reading another selection from her in the future. She is definitely an author to watch for. I appreciated her down to earth yet classic style in writing. As well as the fact that this book, the stories of these teens and their parents, have stayed with my thoughts which means it has found a place within my heart.

My Rating: 4 stars
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR); 1st edition (April 2, 2003)
*Michael L. Printz Honor Book (Awards)

Other insightful reviews:

Lisa the Nerd

Poetry for Children (has a video clip of Frost sharing one of her poetic works)

The Infinite Booklist

Helen Frost web page (take a look at the book trailers)

In essence this book reminded me of this famous quote:

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Read more:
Brainy Quotes

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What Would Google Do?

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listen to Jeff regularly on the TWiG (This Week in Google) podcast with Leo Laporte. That is what lead me to read the book.

WWGD? Offered new insights to how Google sees the Internet at large. I was swept up in the ideas of customers and friends and business partners using social media. Businesses today have to embrace and change all prior thinking to evolve and live in this new Internet based economy.

Openness, transparency, full-disclosure. Don't hold back. Start an Internet conversation with someone, a friend, or a business.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The SherlockianThe Sherlockian by Graham Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In middle school, I fell in love with Sherlock Holmes stories. In high school, I tried to convert my fellow English class students to Sherlock Holmes by planning several class lessons around the stories. So when I saw this book on the "New Books" shelf at the library, I just had to check it out!
The book is actually two stories in one. The main story is about Harold, a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast, or "Sherlockian" who finds himself suddenly involved in the mystery surrounding the death of a fellow Sherlockian, Alex Cale, and a missing diary of Arthur Conan Doyle. Harold attempts to sleuth his way through the mystery as Sherlock Holmes would have.
The second story is about Conan Doyle himself, taking place during the time frame of the missing diary. Arthur also finds himself suddenly wrapped up in a murder mystery involving a possible serial killer in London. He and his best friend Bram Stoker (yes, THE Bram Stoker! I didn't know they were friends?!) set out to solve this mystery, also using the deductive methods Arthur employed in all of his Sherlock Holmes stories, which he personally detests.
If you've ever been a fan of Sherlock Holmes, this book is a very yummy yarn for you.
One favorite moment of the story for me is when Harold has come to an unsatisfying end to his sleuthing, and thinks there is nothing more to find. "Harold found himself pining not for solutions, but for questions. For more. He realized that even after all the stories he'd read, he'd been left completely unprepared for this moment – for the quiet days after the climax when the world ticked onward...What he had not read, he now realized were the moments after the endings." For some reason this part brought to mind the days after some great event. Weddings and funerals are two good examples. After all the emotion, and all the tears, and all the family and friends coming and going, the adrenaline, the memories...You get in your car and drive home and notice the traffic that is still coming and going on the highway, that never stopped even while your world stopped. And there's that hollow disconnect in your heart, and the attempts to reconnect in your brain. Your life seemed to stop with this event, so how did the world not stop with you? Moments after the endings – they're quite confounding.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

The Canterville Ghost, by Oscar WIlde

The Canterville GhostThe Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book. I was giggling the whole time...well most of the time. (I am a chicken, and should never read anything with the word 'ghost' in the title at midnight, alone in my living room.) I loved how the Ghost chose his characters and costumes with such care. I think my favorite line of the whole book was "He selected Friday, the 17th of August, for his appearance, and spent most of that day in looking over his wardrobe, ultimately deciding in favour of a large slouched hat with a red feather, a winding-sheet frilled at the wrists and neck, and a rusty dagger." It sounded like a Mary Higgins-Clark heroine deciding what to wear before she pulls her hair into a chignon, dons a caftan, and begins to make her omelet. Delicious fun. My favorite characters of the book were the horrid little Otis Twins. Oh, they were naughty! Having little naughty boys of my own, their antics seemed quite plausible and hilarious. Oh, the Facebook statuses Mrs. Otis could post about those two! Of course, I was frustrated that the story drops off before giving you the really scary bits, but oh well. It was just so much fun. I am sure there is some piece of fan-fiction, somewhere, that speculates on Virginia's scary ordeal. :)

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Hourglass Door (Hourglass Door Trilogy, #1)The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think this book has an amazing premise. When my mom told me about the plot, I was excited. Time travel? Sweet. Unfortunately, I struggled a bit with how long it took to get to the answers. By the time the answers came, I had lost interest. In all honesty,I was off in my reading at the time, and I just might have been worried about other things. I hope the second book speaks to me a bit more. I've had it sitting on my shelf for about a year. Not in love enough to have read it yet, but also not ready to give up on this cool idea.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Matched (Matched, #1)Matched by Ally Condie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this book. It was engaging, yet light. I was happy to let my 13 yr old read when I have maybe steered her away from some other dystopian books. Cassia seemed believable to me and I found myself watching over her back trying to see what the boogie-man was up to. As my daughter read, she would say to me "Well, I think it would be awesome to have all your food prepared for you. How cool is that!" Keep reading, honey. (Which of course would later lead to the ""Agh! Ok, Mom. I see what you mean!" floating down the hall from her room.) This book is the perfect entry-level dystopia. It was compelling enough to keep me going and thinking, but didn't haunt my dreams like a few others. I must say, I never look at that color of green without thinking of that little swatch of silk. I can't imagine a world were that is as far as ones luxuries extend. IN teh romance department, it was fun to have the two love interests and to keep switching sides of who I wanted to win. I must say I am a bit Team Xander and can't wait to find out more of the secret knowledge he has to share. Can't wait to read the next one!

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Hush, Hush

Hush, Hush (Hush, Hush, #1)Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I gotta say, this book took me a while to get into. Starting out I was struck with the similarities to a few other novels. Uh, oh. We're in a biology lab again. I had read The Golden Spiral by Lisa Magnum recently, and I just couldn't stop seeing the similarities. (Never mind, Twilight!) First, the edgy bio partner with a with a penchant for unpacking every bit of the heroine's emotional baggage, like some pervy TSA attendant. Second, there is the oversexed, annoying friend who is easily manipulated to become the bait in the climax of the story. But it was intriguing. Sure, I rolled my eyes a few times. The plot seemed a bit predictable, and I generally don't like fallen angel stories. But eventually, I just decided to let go of the stuff that bothered me and sit back and enjoy the book for what it was. An ode to a 'bad boy'. I have no problem admitting that a couple of those near kisses convinced me to stick with the book. I ended up not being able to put it down. It was fun summer reading. It spoke to my inner teenage rebel and I'm alright with that. Hmmm. I wonder if Dale and I should take a continuing ed biology class. ;)

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tatiana and AlexanderTatiana and Alexander by Paullina Simons

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Since this book is a sequel (and I haven't read the first one) it was difficult to begin reading. The action immediately starts where the first book leaves off, in the Soviet Union during WWII. Alexander is a young officer recovering in a military hospital from some pretty bad battle wounds. For some reason he's also waiting to be arrested by the Soviet government. Tatiana is trying to make her way out of Europe and escape the war. Simons does her best to get new readers up to speed on the story, with lots of flashback moments and conversations from the first book. After reading the first third of the book I felt I was sufficiently caught up with the action.

The reason it took me a third of the book to catch up is because this book moves back and forth through time, telling three stories at once. The first is Alexander's story of how he was brought to the Soviet Union by his parents in the 1930's and how he became an officer in the Red Army. The second story is Alexander's current scenario, being arrested and charged with treason, then being assigned to lead a penal battalion in battle. The third is Tatiana's story, who hides on a cargo ship bound for New York City and gives birth to her son within days of arriving at Ellis Island.

This technique of moving back and forth through the stories almost forces the reader to become engrossed in the book. You HAVE to pay attention so you don't get lost with the narratives. It would have been a whole lot easier to follow the stories if they were told in sequence, but then it's interesting to watch all the story pieces eventually fall into place.

On the front cover is a book review quote that says, "This has everything a romance glutton could wish for.." When I first saw that, I hoped I wasn't opening a harlequin romance. This book does have probably as much sex in it as an HR, but most of these scenarios are between a newly married husband and wife, and Simons uses lots of implied references instead of explicit, graphic detail. Since much of the book follows soldiers in battle, there's also LOTS of f-bombs.

The thing I liked best about the book was how Simons explores the emotions and thoughts of Tatiana struggling with being a war widow. Simon's writing really helped me understand what it would be like to be in Tatiana's position, and I started wondering, "How would I handle this situation? How would I feel? What would I do?"

I enjoyed reading this book, but could do without the language and too-many-honeymoon scenes. Since the book recaps its prequel so well, and ends on a good note, I don't feel I need to read the rest of the books in this series.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

The Robbers and Wallenstein by Friedrich von Schiller

The Robbers and Wallenstein (Penguin Classics)The Robbers and Wallenstein by Friedrich von Schiller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book contains two plays- The Robbers, and the trilogy Wallenstein.

I enjoyed The Robbers more than I thought I would. I give that one 4 stars. I think I'd describe it as the love child of the Robin Hood story and a Shakespearean tragedy. But it was very fast paced, well written (and well translated) and enjoyable to read.

Wallenstein is considered Schiller's masterpiece, but I did not enjoy it all that much. I give it two stars. This is actually three plays- Wallenstein's Camp, The Piccolomini, and Wallenstein's Death. I can sum up the three works in three words: history, politics, war. The last installment was the most enjoyable to me, probably because it was the only one with any action to it. The rest was a lot of standing around, talking about exciting things that already happened off stage.

If you have an interest in European political and military history, this might appeal to you a lot more than it did to me.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Matched (Matched, #1)Matched by Ally Condie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first thing this book did was scream YA to me because the writing, meaning technique and style, is fairly light and simplistic. And it was a fast read. BUT, the story it tells and the questions it raises in your mind are fascinating and utterly captivating. Yes, dystopian fiction has been done, and done agan, and yet again. And yet I like this book because it takes all of those questions and ideas that our society needs to always remember, and poses them towards a younger audience, in a language and setting they can relate to. So brilliant! I feel this book is a much needed bridge, or maybe a hand of fellowship, towards younger generations to introduce them into this perspective of humanity. And I look forward to reading the sequels in this series.

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