Jen’s Book Club

Okay, so I’m going to level with you all: it’s been awhile since I’ve finished a book. I’ve picked some up and had every intention of plowing through them only to get distracted and stop. I used to be so focused on reading and I lost that drive somewhere in the last couple years. I think reading makes me a better writer, and I’m trying hard to get back into it.

Last week I had the pleasure of going to a really rad Caribbean cruise with some of my favorite bands, and that trip required a plane ride that allowed me to start and finish Veronica Roth’s Divergent. I know I jumped on this bandwagon late, but now I can’t get off of it and I don’t want to.

From Goodreads:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

The issue of choice is key in the makeup of this novel, and I think a lot of courage is born from choice. Tris is bold in her own right, and chooses to cross line after line after line until she becomes someone her previous life wouldn’t recognize. I enjoyed the growth of character in this novel and the joy that Tris found in becoming a part of her new faction.

But Divergent is not a one note read. It’s also a rough and gritty look at what happens when power struggles and how choice and superiority breed conflict. When the factions clash Tris is at the heart of the fight, and her choices become ones that effect every faction. It’s a book about overcoming fear, trusting oneself, learning people, and is one you won’t want to put down.

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Divergent is the first of a three part series, and will soon be in movie theaters everywhere.

 

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Julie’s Book Club: The Ward

The Ward

I first heard about The Ward while the book was still being edited. Its author, Jordana Frankel, gave a talk at her alma mater about plotting a YA novel. She read from the first chapter and laid out a timeline. I knew I wanted to get my hands on the finished book.

Ward cover

The Ward is a dystopian novel, set in a waterlogged future New York City plagued by an infectious, cancer-like disease called the Blight. Its protagonist, Ren, is a 16-year-old who’s grown up fast. Orphaned like many children in the Ward, she has relied on resourcefulness and quick-thinking to stay alive and care for her younger sister, Aven, who is dying slowly from the Blight. Ren races a mobile and works secretly for the government in order to pay for medicine. While searching for fresh water, she makes a surprising discovery with effects that could change the future for everyone in the Ward.

This book is fast-paced, and the setting is full of perils. It also offers a backdrop for exciting underwater chase scenes, or claustrophobic explorations of the city beneath the water. I didn’t always love Ren, but I appreciated her intense affection for Aven and the way she spoke her mind, including the way her open sexual interest in certain male characters was narrated. There is a lot packed into this 465-page book, apparently the first in a two-part series. It delivers action, romance, and suspense (there’s even some gore, and a few scenes that feel right out of a horror story).

At times, the events of the novel were moving so quickly (or the actions in a scene), that I had difficulty picturing them as I read. I was a little disappointed that with such an evocative setting, Frankel didn’t play around more, either with the mobile racing or the creepy, abandoned sectors of the Ward. Occasionally, I felt that unimportant events got too much stage time while other scenes could have lasted longer. Nevertheless, I think Frankel’s unique setting and premise set this YA novel apart from other dystopian futures. And Ren takes control of her fate while piloting a mobile at breakneck speed, being intimidated by police and government figures, and navigating the plague-ridden wings of the hospital and the Ward. Although there are moments where her emotional immaturity shines through (she is, after all, a teenaged girl), she makes some pretty tough decisions and makes them with aplomb.

Jordana Frankel will read from her work on March 11 in Towson, MD. The event is free and open to the public. For details, go here.

“Future” by Paramore Inspires Audrey

The Heap

It was the boy with dark hair.

Helena stopped and dropped to the ground. Her hand slid into something slimy and she had to bite her tongue to keep from screaming. She could hear his feet kicking cans out of the way as he headed toward the rusted blue truck. She held her breath as he passed close, but he didn’t notice her; she was just another piece of trash, all dirty and discarded. Helena stayed where she was until she heard the squeaky hinges of the truck door before jumping up and bolting to the far side of the Heap.

She skidded to a halt in front of her box and looked over her shoulder, but there was no movement behind her. She ducked behind the faded denim flap that served as her door and squatted in the semi-darkness. Helena examined the key. It was metal, warm from being held in her sweaty palm as she ran. There didn’t seem to be anything special about it. She felt around the floor of the box until she found some fishing line and pulled it through a hole on the key. She tied the line around her neck and let the key fall under her shirt. Derrick had probably seen her at the truck. If she lost her prize now, he would kill her for sure.

Peter slammed the truck door shut and listened to the tinkle of rusted pieces falling off. It sounded almost like rain, or what he remembered rain sounding like. He leaned back over the worn leather of the front seat to glance in the back of the cab. He added a half full bottle of water to the pile. It was all he had found today. His rat stopped digging in its newspaper bedding to watch the bottle teeter for a moment before falling to the floor and rolling under the front seat. Peter sighed and slipped to the floor to retrieve the bottle. His hair fell into his eyes and he had to push it back a couple of times before he spotted the bottle. He reached for it and was just able to get it rolling toward the front of the cab with the tips of his fingers. He grasped the bottle in one hand and ran his other hand under the seat searching for the key.

It was gone.

continue reading…

Audrey’s Cimmerian Tales Book Club

For my first Cimmerian Tales Book Club recommendation, I wanted to pick a spectacular book (Seriously, I put waaaay too much thought into this.) and I think I settled upon the perfect first book: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

If you love dystopian fiction like I do, this book is a must read.  Published in 1985, this brilliant novel was encouraging readers to analyze our possible future long before The Hunger Games or Matched. In a teeny, tiny nutshell The Handmaid’s Tale is Offred’s first-person account of her life under the new Republic of Gilead, a life where she has lost pretty much everything. Every time I read this book (as a teenager, in college, and now as a wife and mother), I have discovered new levels of horror. While not a young adult novel, I think Offred’s loss of control of her own life resonates with readers of all ages.

What I love most about this book is the importance of words. Offred struggles to survive her life as a handmaiden and a woman under the new regime; this means her life is so literally repressed, words take on an almost magical quality. She savors words like stolen sweets, something which really appeals to me as a writer.

My favorite quote from the book?

“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edge of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”

I like to ponder this quote when I’m thinking of characters for my stories…

So read the book and please let me know what you think. I love comments.

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Stay tuned for Jen’s Cimmerian Tales Book Club next week. Follow us on Twitter to get updates and news.