Book Review: The Selection Series (#1 – 4) by Kiera Cass

This is the first time I’ve ever reviewed an entire series at once, so bear with me! It is really hard to keep a review like this spoiler-free, since I feel like the titles of the books themselves completely give everything away, so if you are nervous about accidentally finding out anything that happens in later books I would suggest skipping over this review, though I will do my absolute best to be careful.

selection-series

91cUR43vA0LEver since I noticed these books around Goodreads and the book blogosphere I was totally intrigued by how beautiful the covers are. Seriously, I would really like it if my whole closet was filled with dresses like that. I don’t know how my co-workers or people that I run into in the grocery store would would feel, but it would sure make me happy.

When I read YA books in series it really makes the most sense for me to have every available book in the series accessible to me because I read very quickly and even more so when it is YA. This is how I read the entire Beautiful Creatures series too – just had all 4 and plowed through them in a row. I was lucky enough that my library finally had The Selection, The Elite, The One, and The Heir in all at once so I grabbed them all and started my journey. Here we go!

Basic Series Plot

The first three books (The Selection, The Elite, and The One) focus on America Singer, a beautiful and talented musician growing up in a somewhat dystopian, caste-based society (side note: when the castes were established America’s ancestors received word that their surname had changed to Singer. It was Cohen before that, which is my maiden name – thought that was interesting). Castes in Illea (North America) go from One to Eight with One being the highest social status that a person can attain, and Eight the absolute lowest – mostly all Eights are homeless. America and her family are Fives along with other musicians, artists and performers. They aren’t well-off by any means being in the bottom half of the caste system and sometimes they struggle. Then an opportunity for the Singer family comes in the form of the Selection which allows girls between 16-20 to apply for a “lottery” to be chosen as one of 35 girls to move into the royal palace in Angeles and compete to win the heart of Prince Maxon Schreave and therefore the crown.

America really struggles with her adjustment to becoming one of the Selected girls and having to leave Aspen, her secret Six boyfriend, behind. At the palace, the girls are in a Bachelor-type situation, minus the roses, plus rebel attacks on the palace that the Selected have to cope with. The last few girls that remain in the contest become the Elite, and the one he eventually chooses is the One. The fourth book (which will not be the last in the series – at least one more is planned), The Heir, focuses on Princess Eadlyn who is the first female heir to the throne and has a Selection of her own in order to distract the nation with happy news and shift the people’s focus away from uprising and discrimination.

Thoughts

During my reading this past weekend I posted a picture of The Selection on Instagram and explained how fast I was tearing through these books. My best friend Marissa lovingly described them as “book crack.” She couldn’t be more right. I’m pretty sure that I’ve never read as quickly as I did with these books. In spite of myself I was completely drawn into America’s story, and even though I absolutely knew pretty much exactly what would happen and how it would all play out, I had to read it anyway. If you are looking for a series that you can finish quickly with a story line that keeps the momentum going, it is here.

I thought that some of the strongest points in Cass’s writing came when she discussed families. America and Maxon both have quite different relationships with their parents, and some of these differences are influenced by caste and wealth – I thought that this was captured quite well throughout the books. America’s sibling relationships and the female friendships she developed were also very realistic to me. In terms of the actual romance factor, I’m not really into love triangles so that aspect got old for me pretty quickly.

Some characters were more unique and special to me, but some including some of the main ones were unfortunately a bit hollow and predictable. Without giving more away, I do have to say that in The Heir I absolutely loathed Eadlyn – I don’t think that this girl could have been any more of a spoiled brat if she tried, and sometimes she WAS trying to be. I’m honestly not looking forward to the last book which is going to tell more of her story but I hope that she grows up a bit.

I love a good dystopian society, and thought that the setup of the caste system here was effective and had great potential, but I thought a lot more could have been done to explain the divisions in the castes in even greater detail, and discuss the implications of these harsh divisions on society. Most of the focus is on the contest itself. There are also some really troubling, oppressive indications within the actual competition. This actually comes out even more in Eadlyn’s story.

All in all, this wasn’t the best YA series that I’ve read, but it was far from the worst. Even with a predictable plot line, the writing was very fast-paced and I honestly never wanted to stop reading until all of my predictions were confirmed. Some characters were better-developed and more relatable than others. Ultimately I’m happy I gave into my desire to read the books behind the dresses 🙂

Ratings & Publishing Information

The Selection: 3/5, HarperTeen 2012, 336 pages

The Elite: 3/5, HarperTeen 2013, 336 pages

The One: 3.5/5, HarperTeen 2014, 336 pages (I swear I didn’t make it up that all 3 of these have the same exact page count)

The Heir: 2/5, HarperTeen 2015, 368 pages

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Book Review: “I Am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes

“I have heard people say love is weak but they’re wrong — love is strong. In nearly everyone it trumps all other things — patriotism and ambition, religion and upbringing. And of every kind of love — the epic and the small, the noble and the base — the one that a parent has for their child is the greatest of them all…”

I AM PILGRIM

Atria/Emily Bestler, 2014, 624 pages.

I Am Pilgrim is a spy thriller which finds a former top U.S. secret agent coming out of retirement to try and foil a terrorist’s plan to commit mass American genocide. The idea that the terrorist (called The Saracen) develops is terrifyingly genius but our guy, who on this new mission decides to give himself the code name Pilgrim, is quite an expert and does everything he can to attempt to catch The Saracen before it’s too late. Along the way Pilgrim also tries to figure out who has committed some very gruesome murders in New York City and Bodrum, Turkey, because they used tips and tricks lifted from his own criminology book.

This book surprised me! The first few chapters were really intriguing, but the middle of the book had a lot of backstory and what I felt to be filler. A lot of this ended up being important and I had to go back to review it, but it was in the middle (at around 350 pages of the 600) that I put this book down for about two months. Finally last night I decided I was just going to get it done. I thought that the buildup to the end was a lot better than the middle and enjoyed the ending a lot. It makes complete sense to me that Terry Hayes was formerly a screenwriter before turning to writing this novel – parts of it, especially the end for me, sort of flew by like I was watching a spy movie.

Some critical reviews of I Am Pilgrim have focused on the fact that this book is quite pro-American, anti-Muslim, somewhat xenophobic and generally very right-wing. I cannot say that I disagree with the reviewers who have noticed this and can absolutely see all of these themes present in this book. There was a lot of emphasis placed on things like the benefits of government surveillance and government-sanctioned torture and imprisonment and I think what is really scary about this and the tone that pervades the book as a whole is that a lot of it is probably a lot closer to reality than we even know.

I felt like there was a particular target audience to this book, and I am not exactly sure if I was a part of it but now that I am FINALLY done I am still glad that I read it. Even with the presence of these attitudes which some might find questionable I thought that the book was obviously exceptionally well-researched and entertaining once I did push through that more boring middle section. I thought the character development was strong as to the main characters like Pilgrim and The Saracen but could have been better for some of the supporting characters. I am giving I Am Pilgrim 3.5 stars and will probably see the eventual movie. I feel like I say that a lot and must read a lot of books with movie adaptations :p

Book Review: “Fool” by Christopher Moore

“The dull always seek to be clever at the fool’s expense, to somehow repay him for his cutting wit, but never are they clever, and often they are cruel.”

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Hardcover edition; William Morrow, 2009. 311 pages.

When I finally decided to read this and thus begin exploring Christopher Moore’s work, my husband, a devoted Moore fan, was skeptical. He kept saying “these are silly books… you only like more serious books.” I will admit that he was partially right, in that this was definitely sillier than my usual reads, but I had fun with it and definitely enjoyed it enough to read The Serpent of Venice which reprises some of the characters in this one. I think that Moore can be a good summer author for readers looking for something a bit lighter.

Fool is an adaptation of King Lear with many liberties taken. It is told from the perspective of Lear’s fool, Pocket, who is quite a schemer and ends up really driving the entire plot. I wished that I was a bit more familiar with the source material before reading this but I don’t think it matters that much if you haven’t studied it. The ending is different but many of the events that take place in the original do show up here in some form. However, what does matter is that if you are at all uncomfortable with graphic descriptions of sex, extreme uses of profanity, and the like, you will not like this book. After all of my years on the internet, I am not really offended by much that I come across in books these days, so I had no problem with it, though at times I felt like it could have been toned down just to get on with the story.

I’ve rated Fool 3.5 stars. In between all of the jokes, Moore can write well, and he told a story that honestly had a lot of depth and truth. I did feel like some of the humor became repetitive and unnecessary throughout, but I have also heard that this isn’t his funniest book and I am looking forward to reading some more of them.