Book Review: Veronica Roth’s “Allegiant”

I haven’t been this excited for a series in a long time. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was the last one that did this to me. But I had to do catch up for that. There were already three Harry Potter books when I got sucked in.

I was always sort of late in starting book series. I started reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy when Catching Fire came out. I rushed through Ally Condie’s first two Matched books a few weeks before the last book’s release. That was a bad idea because I had to re-read all three books again since rushing made me miss a lot of the trilogy’s plot points. And, hey,I just started Lauren Oliver’s Delirium trilogy a year after the last book came out.

But it’s different for the Divergent trilogy.  I’ve been on the Divergent train from the very start. Someone gave me an ebook copy, and I immediately got hooked. I fell in love with the whole story; with Veronica Roth’s dystopian Chicago the moment Tris accepted her divergence.

It’s been two years since I’ve first read it and the Divergent fanbase has definitely grown. I have more people to talk about it now. I’ve converted some of my friends, convincing them to read the books and even giving away a few copies. That’s how much I’ve loved this series. Suffice to say, saying good-bye to it is hard. Bittersweet.

After reading Allegiant, though, things are mostly bitter than it is sweet.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Allegiant, the last book in Roth’s Divergent trilogy, picks up from where Insurgent ended with the factions collapsed,  the factionless – under Evelyn’s leadership – taking over the city, and the discovery that they were all put inside the fenced-in Chicago by a group of people who may need their help. Buoyed to discover the truth about their city and their existence, the trilogy’s protagonist Tris goes outside the fence with Tobias, Cara, Christina, Uriah, Caleb and Peter. What they discover completely obliterates everything they know and believe in.

Again, I fell in love with the first two books. I still am, actually, and I wanted to love Allegiant as much as Divergent and Insurgent but I just can’t. It’s not even because of the ending, although that made me sad, too.

Allegiant is an ambitous book, and it should be after the success of its predecessors but there’s a fine line between being ambitous enough and outright being bombastically, overly ambitous you lose touch of any realism. Allegiant crossed that line.

My biggest issue with Allegiant was Veronica Roth’s plotting. Instead of tying loose ends from Divergent and Insurgent, she pulled even more strings into the mix. The result? A convoluted mess of a story that’s confusing at best. I feel that the conclusion was rushed and does not offer neither explanation or resolution.

The switching between Tris’ and Tobias’ point of views also didn’t help. I know she said that she needed two characters to narrate her story, to give the readers a multi-faceted view of the world she created but it did not work. Personally, I didn’t get any new information from reading Tobias’ POV. It actually confused me even more to the extent that I have to check every chapter whose POV I’m reading. He started sounding like Tris, and it led me to feel like I didn’t know his character at all. Allegiant’s Tobias is a million miles away from the one I knew from the first two books. Divergent’s and Insurgent’s Tobias is tough, confident, strong and brave. The one in Allegiant is a pale and weak version of him.

Continuing my discourse on character development or lack thereof in Allegiant, let me go to Tris. Tris, stubborn and reckless; Tris, my favorite character in the trilogy. I expected Roth to stabilize her beliefs, make her go forward. That does not happen, though, instead she goes on retrograde – travelling backwards to her demise. It wasn’t so much her death that affected me, it was the way it played out. It was senseless.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with writers deciding to kill off their main characters but it has to make sense and it has to push the narrative forward. Roth did not do Tris, who’s such a great character, justice. Also, the author could have taken that chance to give Caleb the redemption he so deserves.

Allegiant is so full of interesting characters which Roth could’ve explored more. I’ve mentioned Caleb, now add Marcus and Peter into that list. Then there’s also the dynamics between Marcus and Evelyn, the Allegiant and the factionless and, of course, Tris and Tobias but you wouldn’t want me to start on that last one because this review would need 10 more pages.

I know Veronica Roth can write better than this. She’d shown an incredible talent in being able to get her readers’ attention, draw them into the world she created and make themselves immersed in it. She also has the knack for creating really amazing and varied characters. She’d shown that in both Divergent and Insurgent. I gave those books a 4 and a 5 respectively, that’s how good they were.

Allegiant could have been a better book if the author was able to plot more carefully. I’m more sorry for all the lost potential than the unnecessary ending. I will still recommend Divergent and Insurgent to people who haven’t read it yet. Allegiant, however, is a read-at-your-own risk kind of book. There were things I liked about Allegiant – Tris and Tobias finally talking things out like adults 75% into the book, how Tobias’ grief was potrayed and the role of his and Tris’ friends in his handling it – but there were just more things I can’t let pass.

This review doesn’t mean that I hate Veronica Roth. I am still a fan, she, after all created this wonderful, intriguing world and all its amazing, interesting characters. I wouldn’t be this affected if her writing wasn’t effective to begin with. She made me care about this fictional world and all these characters, and that says a lot about her. Allegiant just did not work out for me but that does not invalidate the rest of the trilogy. I will definitely still read Roth’s works in the future. Come to think of it, there are stil three Four short stories.

Please know that giving Allegiant this rating hurts.

Also, I will still watch the Divergent movie and I would still love for the other two books to get the same treatment (ATTENTION: Summit Entertainment). Seeing these books become movies, translated into a different medium, is both exciting and intriguing at the same time.

Rating: 2/5


Review: Lissa Price’s “Starters”

Lissa Price - Starters

Callie Woodland‘s futuristic Los Angeles is filled with terrible chaos. The Spore Wars killed everyone between the ages of twenty and sixty leaving  the very young, the Starters and the very old, the Enders. Orphaned, Callie must fend and provide for herself and her sickly brother Tyler, and she does just that with some help from former neighbor and fellow orphan Michael. But times become more dire as Tyler’s illness progress for worse. Callie must make hard decisions which eventually led her to Prime Destinations also known as the body bank.

If you’re a moneyed Ender, you go to Prime Destinations to relive being young but if you’re an unclaimed Starter, you go there to temporarily sign off your body for someone else to use and claim in exchange for money.

Desperate, Callie goes to Prime Destinations and becomes one of their body donors. She’s scrubbed and remade, and fitted with a neurochip in her head to enable the renter to control her body. Her first two rentals went well but just when she thought things are going to go smoothly her third and final one goes awry. A week into her supposedly month-long rental, Callie wakes up inside a bar which she knows is entirely wrong. Then she starts hearing a voice inside her head, the voice of the Ender renting her body, warning her not to go back to the body bank. Fearing that Prime may not pay her if they learn about the glitch in her chip, she abides but soon she realizes that her renter has plans of her own and that everything and everyone else around her isn’t what they seem to be. Callie knows she must do something.

Starters is the first book in Lissa Price‘s two-part installment, and for a debut novel it is a good one. It is a fast-paced thriller of a book. Things just keep on happening one after the other. Callie, the protagonist, is likeable and the world she lives is something you wouldn’t want to live in.

Although labeled as a dystopian novel, Starters lean more towards science fiction. I found the whole body renting process interesting. Imagine being fitted with a neurochip in your brain. Imagine your body being controlled by some other person. It’s a fascinating and scary feat both at the same time. Something that can totally happen especially given our advancement in science. (I’ve recently read something about an experiment where one person was able to control another just by thinking what he wants the other person to do.)

The world of Starters is also another thing I like. It’s genuinely scary and very possible. It’s loop-sided in a very sick way. Teens, the Starters become second class citizens stripped off of their rights while the Enders enjoy limitless resources. It’s a vivid illustration of the powerful preying on the helpless with the Starters as the bullied, weaker side and the Enders playing bully. Because of their unfair circumstances, you just can’t help but to root for the Starters.

The novel is at its best when Callie’s stumbling through the truth behind her renter, her motives, Prime Destinations and the government. She’s a smart girl who can piece together the facts she gathers and ultimately does the right thing at the end of the story, which is to shoot down the establishment.

Another thing I like about this novel is its antihero. The Old Man is a formidable opponent – mysterious, powerful, omnipresent. He’s creepy with a capital C. You can keep on guessing what he’ll do next all you want but really he’s unpredictable which makes him dangerous and exciting.

However, Starters it is not without flaws. The love triangle being drawn between Callie, Michael and Blake feels half-hearted and half-baked. Every time the narrative focuses on their relationship, it slows down which ruins the pace of the story.  I just can’t seem to connect with it. Also, there were plot holes that are really noticeable like Callie’s renter, Helena’s will. There’s also that sub-plot which involves Helena’s missing granddaughter but I guess that’s for us to find out in the next book.

Overall, Starters is an enjoyable fast read. It’s a book you’ll keep on reading not minding the time you spend on it. I will definitely get the next book Enders come January 2014.

Rating: 3/5

If you want to know more about the last book in the series, Enders, watch the clip below. Author Lissa Price (@lissa_price) talks about it.

Review: Jennifer E. Smith’s “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight”

Here’s the thing, I don’t believe in love at first sight. I’m more from the get-to-know-each-other-first-before-anything-else school. I mean, how do you know – how can you say – you love a person when you barely even know him, or her? It all sounds juvenile.

I don’t believe in love at first sight, yes, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy a story about it, and Jennifer E. Smith’s The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is that book.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight - Jennifer E. Smith

The story follows Hadley, who’s on her way to London for her father’s wedding. She meets a cute British boy, Oliver, in the airport and after finding out that they were on the same flight, the two stuck it out together.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is a quick read. The events in the story happened in a 24-hour period. It is sweet, it is simple, and it is something you’ll see in most rom-coms. Even if the novel’s title has the phrase “love at first sight” it was really about that, well, not so much. The connection Hadley and Oliver had wasn’t even labeled as “love” per se. It was more like two young people who enjoyed talking to each other and discovering about the other person. It’s something akin to how most relationships start, which was, for me, realistic enough.

There was also some family drama involved, after all, Hadley’s reason for flying across the Atlantic was his father’s wedding. Feeling abandoned, she is still bitter and angry with his dad. But at the end of the book, all turns out well. This is the part that I didn’t like. I felt like it was too instant the way Hadley forgave her dad and accepted her stepmother. After spending 85% reading about how much she hates her dad getting married to another woman, I think that feeling was warranted. It just wasn’t how things like that go. Forgiveness is almost never given that fast.

Overall, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is an enjoyable read. It will make you swoon and smile. It’s cute and sweet. If you’re craving for a light read, I recommend this.

Rated: 3.5/5

Review: Veronica Roth’s “The Transfer: A Divergent Story”

I have a huge, almost to the point of embarrassment, literary crush on Tobias Eaton or Four, whichever name you prefer, Veronica Roth‘s Divergent series. He’s easily my next favorite character next to the protagonist, Tris. So, needless to say, I became excited when I heard that there will be four short stories about Four.

The said stories are mostly set before the events in Divergent and the first of the e-shorts, The Transfer, tells about Four’s move from Abnegation to Dauntless. It runs parallel to the first few chapters of Divergent with Tris also transferring to the same faction.

The Transfer - Veronica Roth

The Transfer is a strong opening for the mini-series, which serves as a prequel of some sorts for the Chicago-based dystopian. Readers may already know Four’s backstory, yes, but hearing it told from his more detailed point of view was interesting.

The e-short also offers answers to some questions readers may have had from the first book like his aptitude test result. Of course, we all know that Tobias got Abnegation but it wasn’t explained how exactly he got that. He just plainly told Tris that he got Abnegation, and if I’m being totally honest, I thought it was a lie; I thought that he got an inconclusive result, too.

What probably struck me most in this short story was the details of Tobias’ relationship with his father, Marcus. It explains much about the depth of his fear of his father. Reading that part of Four’s story will make readers understand why he felt so betrayed when Tris worked alongside Marcus in Insurgent.

The Transfer may sound redundant to some.  It may also have offered fewer than expected insights on Tobias’ character and the few that were explained in this story weren’t necessarily secrets readers didn’t already know. It was an expanded and more detailed explanation about Tobias’ beginnings. It was a setting-the-scene story. But, overall, The Transfer was an enjoyable and interesting read. It reminded me of why I loved Four’s character in the first place that I didn’t really mind if some events seemed rehashed. Besides, there are three other Four short stories and I think as they progress, we’ll get to know more about this deep and secretive character.

Rated: 4/5

Book Review: M.L. Stedman’s “The Light Between Oceans”

The Light Between Oceans

If you were caught in between two choices both with very heavy consequences, what would you do? Which would you choose? Would you sacrifice the feelings of the people you care for and love to be morally correct, or would you rather continue living your life as it is with a complete family knowing that while you’re happy someone else is suffering because of your decisions? Will you be able to live with that kind of guilt? Will you ever be able to forgive yourself?

Some tough questions, right? Well, that is what M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans is about – the intricate interconnection of lives, choices and decisions, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

 “After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.”

The Light in Between Oceans is a beautiful novel that’s both compelling as it is heart-breaking. It’s a tale about loss, about choices and consequences, about a mother’s love for her child. It is filled with potent characters that all have to make tough, often misguided, decisions. They are people who only want what’s best for the ones they love, people who are flawed, who also hurt; people who are very much like us.

M.L. Stedman created believable characters that readers will surely be able to empathize, maybe even sympathize, with. Many times I’ve found myself understanding why Tom and Isabel did the things they did, though it’s not something I would condone. They both have different and conflicting ways of dealing with their situation. A quote from another character in the story, Ralph Addicott, Tom’s friend,  puts it best. “God knows what got into the pair of you out there. There’s been lie upon lie, all with the best intentions. But it’s gone far enough. Everything you’ve done to help Lucy has hurt someone else.” It’s hard to judge them, Tom and Isabel. Everything they’ve done was to protect Lucy, but everything has its consequences. Tom and Isabel’s characters are both strong and very much affecting. They will make you think about yourself, what you would do if you were in the same situation. Indeed, if I were put in their shoes, I think I will also make a handful of irritional decisions, maybe I could even do worse.

Writing is another strength of this story. The author writes in almost poetic fashion, descriptive and meaningful. She let’s her prose unfold slowly, bit by bit, letting readers absorb and really immerse themselves into Tom and Isabel’s life.

Emotional, deeply affecting and thought-provoking, this is an excellent debut by the author M.L. Stedman. It actually took me months before I finished this novel. I started it last March and only got myself to finish mid-August. It also took some time to let the story really sink in, thus the late review. Usually those are signs I didn’t enjoy the book, but for this one it’s the exact opposite. I enjoyed reading The Light Between Oceans, it was just painful to read about all the characters’s misgivings that I had to stop very often that’s how much I was affected by this story. If you want heart-rending tales, this one is a must-read.

Rated: 3.5/5

Book Review: Libba Bray’s “The Diviners”

The Diviners - Libba Bray

Confession time. For someone trained to see blood and gore, I am one big yellow chicken. And so it goes, I try to avoid watching and/or reading about anything scary and creepy as much as I can. I’m still sane enough to want to sleep, thank you very much.

But a book about the occult written by Libba Bray just sounds too good to pass up. I had to give in.

The Diviners, the first book in a planned series, revolves around a series of mysterious murders to put it simply. It’s set in a bright and bustling 1926 New York City with all its speakeasies, theaters and movie palaces. Evie O’Neill is our main protagonist. After a party stunt that went awry, she gets booted out from her Ohio hometown and shipped to NYC to live with her bachelor uncle Will who’s obsessed with the occult. Evie quickly settles into her new life; everything’s  fun and exciting, and she’s enjoying it, that is before the body of a girl is found with a strange symbol branded upon her and Will is called to help with the investigation. As grisly murder follow one after the other, Evie realizes that her gift can help catch the serial killer but what she discovers when she throws herself deep into the investigation is so much more darker and powerful.

In true twenties fashion, I ab-so-tute-ly enjoyed reading this book. It is rich and vivid. Libba Bray’s engaging writing is the strongest asset of this new novel. She just has this way with words, she draws you in and puts you right there with her characters. This is a long book and with its almost 600 pages. It could look daunting but with the way the author wrote her prose, you nearly won’t realize you’re almost through with the story.

Another thing to love about The Diviners is its diverse set of characters. There’s many of them, and what a variety – immigrants, people of color, LGBT characters –  but Bray managed to give readers a chance to get to know each character by dishing out interesting backstories, and expertly going in and out of their lives throughout the story.

I love Evie. I love her audacity and boldness. She is flawed – self-centered, irrational, tackless, a mess-up – but deep inside she means well and truly cares for her family and friends. There’s so much room for her to grow in the next books.

Every so often, in every book there’s one or two side characters that simply draw you in. For this book, its Theta and Henry. They both present cool facades but their backstories are tragic. Also, I’m not quite sure what Henry’s special gift is, so that’s something I would love to find out in the next installment.

As for the creepy factor, it’s well up there. Not Stephen King scary but frightening enough to make you not want to read it at night for fear of dreaming about it especially if you are the highly-imaginative kind.

Perhaps the only thing I don’t like about The Diviners is its excessive historical background. Don’t get me wrong. I completely understand that Libba Bray‘s setting the mood for the whole series and I appreciate that she took time to thoroughly research about the twenties – she nailed it from the dresses to the language to the sights and scenes of the time period – but I think she could have shortened it to a few pages then got on with her narrative. The characters’ use of twenties slang was also excessive to the point of irritation. But it’s not really that big of a deal. The Diviners is a great read enough for people to get over the minor flaws. I will definitely grab the next book as soon as it’s out.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Maria Semple’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”

Where’d You Go, Bernadette had been on my to-read list for months now since the day I found out that it was short-listed for the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction, an award that celebrates women’s writing the world over. I’ve read and immensely enjoyed Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl sometime late last year, and that novel was part of the same award’s long list so I thought Bernadette would give me the same experience. Besides, I also needed a funny read to cleanse my palate for the next batch of YA novels I am about to read.

Lo and behold, Bernadette went beyond my expectations.

Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette

It’s hard to summarize Bernadette without trivializing the whole storyline. It’s not because it’s a complicated book, which it was not, but more because summarizing it would be compounding the whole novel into just one plot, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette is so much more than “just one simple plot.” I don’t want to betray the story so I’ll borrow the back cover blurb.

“When fifteen-year-old Bee claims a family trip to Antartica as a reward for perfect grades, her fiercely intelligent but agoraphobic mother, Bernadette, throws herself into preparations for the trip. Worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Bernadette is on the brink of a meltdown. As disaster follows disaster, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces.”

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a layered narrative but when you zoom into its core, it is a story about a mother and daughter’s love for each other.

Bernadette Fox is an enigma. No one seems to know her fully. For Elgin Branch, Bernadette is his erratic, creative, genius but troubled wife. For the other mothers of Galer Street School, she’s the reclusive, unhelpful and self-righteous queen of Straight Gate. To the design world, she’s a pioneer, a revolutionary architect. But to Bee Branch, she’s simply “Mom” and it seems like the most accurate depiction of Bernadette.

 Maria Semple successfully showed us just how strong and all-encompassing Bernadette’s and Bee’s love for each other was without being dramatic. I’ve read other novels about family relationships and most of them are heavily laden with drama, so this, Bernadette, was a breath of fresh air. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is actually hilarious mainly because of Bee’s and Bernadette’s snarkiness. Semple also managed to poke fun at Seattle, self-help culture and America’s private school system.

Other readers may find the book’s format a bit weird but it’s actually one of the things I like best about this novel. It is unconventional, yes, but it also allowed the characters to fully unfold. Readers got to know Soo-Lin, Audrey, Elgin, Bee and, most especially, Bernadette from all directions through memos, letters, emails and other documents, and that, being able to know the characters, builds this strong connection with readers. At least, that’s true in my case.I love Bernadette and Bee immediately and hated Soo-Lin throughout the book. Elgin and Audrey surprised me at the latter parts of the novel.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is definitely a must read whatever genre you love. It’s funny and heart-warming. I definitely recommend it.

Rating: 5/5