Book Review: “The Color Master” by Aimee Bender

“I will never die, thought the cake to itself, in even simpler terms, as cakes did not have sophisticated use of language.”

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Doubleday 2013 – 222 pages

I have been exploring short story collections more frequently in recent weeks. I used to think that I didn’t like them, but when I am in the right mood it is nice to have those quick bursts of creativity and emotion that can cover the realm of an entire novel in just a few pages. I think a short story is good when it makes me care about the characters by the end even though I’ve barely gotten to know them.

I wanted to read some of Aimee Bender’s stories after a recommendation from a friend, and this was the only one of her collections available at the library the last time I was there. This is actually her most recent book of short stories and the first that I’ve ever read. My first impression as I got through many of the stories was that they were… weird. But that’s not necessarily bad. Some of them I did think were awful. But some for me really struck that wonderful balance I always want to find in good magical realism. A lot of the stories were reminiscent of Gaiman to me in many ways but I think that Bender’s were a bit more real than magic and kind of a bit more depressing to me. Many stories here were also very sexual, but I thought that everything of that nature was well-written, except the first story Appleless. I didn’t see the point to that one at all.

Most of my favorites within the book were mentioned in the cover description: “A woman plays out a prostitution fantasy with her husband and then finds she cannot go back to her old sex life” (The Red Ribbon); “Two sisters travel deep into Malaysia, where one learns the art of mending tigers who have been ripped to shreds” (Tiger Mending); “A company of tailors endeavors to capture the colors of the sun, moon, and sky” (The Color Master). In those latter two I felt that Bender’s true writing skills really came out. I mean: “That’s the thing with handmade items. They still have the person’s mark on them, and when you hold them, you feel a little less alone. This is why everyone who eats a Whopper leaves a little more depressed than they were when they came in” – just beautiful – this is from Tiger Mending where the narrator manages a Burger King and her sister is a seamstress. I also really liked the story Americca, which describes a family that becomes a victim of “reverse robbery” – finding weird/random things in their house that no one in the family has purchased.

I am rating The Color Master 3 stars. Although there were for sure some standout stories in this collection, many of them also left me feeling a little unsatisfied and… violated? I think that the description that I see floating around in other Bender reviews as “fairy tales for adults” is really accurate because there are not many happy endings to be found here. I’m not sure that I will read Bender’s other works but I’m not completely ruling them out either.

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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

Book Review: “A God in Ruins” by Kate Atkinson

“One’s own life seemed puny against the background of so much history.”

Hardcover edition; Little, Brown, and Company, 2015. 480 pages.

Hardcover edition; Little, Brown, and Company, 2015.
480 pages.

My TBR list is so, so long, but after seeing that my local library had this in, I had to get it ASAP while all the details of Life After Life were still fresh in my mind. This is marketed as a “companion book” to the former. While Life After Life focuses on the very special Ursula, A God in Ruins tracks the life of her younger brother, Teddy Todd, as well as his wife (Nancy), daughter (Viola), and grandchildren (nicknamed “Sunny” and “Bertie”). While Ursula and the rest of the Todds do reappear occasionally I understand why it is a companion rather than a direct sequel since Teddy really is the focus here. Much of the book deals with Teddy’s time spent as a fighter pilot during WWII and how his wartime experiences affect his view of life and his relationships upon his return. In particular his daughter Viola is very difficult and struggles with both the daughter and mother role. It was interesting to examine her personality as contrasted with Teddy’s and how her own children compare and contrast to them both.

All in all, this book did not shine for me the way that Life After Life did. I am giving A God in Ruins 3 stars. My issues are only with the actual story and plot and not the writing. Atkinson’s descriptions of the war are always, as they were in Life After Life, extremely poignant and detailed. However, the magic that I felt she captured through Ursula’s uniqueness in the former book just wasn’t present for me here and a lot of the time I felt like I was reading just any other wartime historical fiction or, in the parts of the story describing Teddy’s family and occurring in the present day, just contemporary fiction with all the usual family drama. It doesn’t change the fact that Atkinson is a great, intelligent writer who is really gifted at crafting these stories, but I wanted more. The “twist” ending disappointed me as well and I felt like even if that was her one little attempt at the same device used previously, it was not necessary in this book.

Book Review: “Heartburn” by Nora Ephron

“Every so often I would look at my women friends who were happily married and didn’t cook, and I would always find myself wondering how they did it. Would anyone love me if I couldn’t cook?”

Knopf, 1983 (first edition). 179 pages.

Knopf, 1983 (first edition).
179 pages.

I’m sorry that I haven’t posted in a few days!! Just had a busy week and weekend with lots of plans with family and my college roommate’s bridal shower yesterday! The wedding is in October and we cannot wait. It was wonderful to catch up with some of my other college friends too.

I went to the library early last week to take out my next group of audiobooks, and picked this up just because in big letters on the cover of the CD case it said “Narrated by Meryl Streep.” How could I say no to Meryl? This was a super-short book that kept me nice company during 4 hours of bumper to bumper traffic driving to and from New Jersey yesterday.

The basic premise is that Rachel Samstat, a cookbook author who has a toddler and is 7 months pregnant with her second child, finds out that her husband, Mark, a journalist in Washington D.C., is having an affair. The rest of the book goes on to explore the consequences of her discovery on her relationship with Mark and her friends. Interspersed within the story are various recipes. I really enjoyed that particular format and I need to look up the recipes since I listened to it and some of them sounded awesome.

I already knew that Nora Ephron can tell a great story, being the writer of many of my all-time favorite chick flicks. There were a lot of laughable moments here, and Meryl Streep as a reader was simply fantastic. However, in general, this book really did not move me at all. I didn’t feel sympathetic towards the main character despite what she was going through which makes me feel sad because I am told that the story parallels an experience in Ephron’s own life. I just did not feel that even as a married woman AND even more so as a married woman who adores cooking for her husband, I would have had the same responses and reactions that she did to the situation. Apparently there was a movie WITH MERYL AS RACHEL so I will get on watching that ASAP. I am giving Heartburn 3 stars because the audiobook reading itself was fantastic so I had a great reading experience, and Ephron is a of course good writer. I just wasn’t that into this particular story.

Now, if this was a book edition of "You've Got Mail," that would have been 5 stars for sure. Don't you think so, Mom??

Now, if this was a book edition of “You’ve Got Mail,” that would have been 5 stars for sure. Don’t you think so, Mom??