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: “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman

“You’re alive, Bod, that means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change.”

Hardcover edition; HarperCollins, 2008. 320 pages.

Hardcover edition; HarperCollins, 2008.
320 pages.

I think that by now even new visitors to my blog can quickly see that I am a big Neil Gaiman fan and I mention him a lot. In between the rest of my book choices, I am trying to finish reading everything that he has written. I got this book from the library last month as my next step towards achieving complete Neil Gaiman mastery.

The Graveyard Book is marketed as a children’s book, though I really do think that readers of all ages would enjoy this story. Gaiman drew inspiration from The Jungle Book, but instead of being raised by wild animals, the main character in The Graveyard Book, Nobody “Bod” Owens, is raised by ghosts and is forbidden from leaving his graveyard “home” for his own safety. Each chapter represents a glimpse into Bod’s unique childhood and coming-of-age. Bod has special challenges in the graveyard, being alive while all of his friends and family are deceased, and has even more challenges as he decides to take on some more human experiences like attending a regular school. I really enjoyed the original story and approach. In my opinion, this is the literary equivalent of The Haunted Mansion ride at Walt Disney World – you want to hang out with the ghosts (except the bride room, that’s the only actually creepy part of that ride, but I digress).

I am giving The Graveyard Book 4.5 stars. Bod was an endearing, intelligent main character and I loved watching him grow up. The supporting characters also rounded out the story, especially Bod’s adoptive parents, Mr. & Mrs. Owens, who did everything they could to raise a human child in the best way possible given the parental values in play at the time they died. My reading experience itself was also enhanced by the illustrations, which were sparsely scattered throughout the book, but really lent a lot to the story every time they appeared. What keeps The Graveyard Book from being a perfect read for me was that I felt that the resolution and ending were a bit rushed, and that certain things could have been explained better, because I still had some unanswered questions at the end of the book. When I read children’s or even YA books these days I really like finding books that I want my future kids to read someday. This is definitely one of them.

Book Review: “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart

It’s very hard for me to write a book review when I really, really didn’t enjoy a book that basically the entire rest of the reading world seems to LOVE. It’s also very hard to write the first ever book review on my new book blog without really having any idea of what I’m doing. With this review I’ll attempt to conquer both of these challenges and share my experience with We Were Liars without giving away much of anything. If you do plan to read this book, it would be much better for you to go into it without knowing too many details.

We Were Liars

I think in my reviews I might discuss a little bit about my reading experience: where I got the book, how long it took me to read it, etc. Here goes with this one: on Fridays, I usually only work a half day and then spend the rest of my day running errands, taking care of things at places that are only open during the week and I wouldn’t otherwise get to, and almost always spending at least a little bit of time with my mom, who doesn’t work on Fridays at all. This past Friday, we went to the library and I picked this up along with 11/22/63 by the Fantastic Mr. King, though I haven’t had a chance to even open that one up. Because this book was so short I figured I could knock it out in a few hours on Friday night before my very busy weekend, which is exactly what I did. Even though I had to reread many sentences and passages for comprehension, which I’ll discuss in a minute, I was completely engrossed by this book during my reading and knew that I would not be able to put it down until I reached the last page. However, just because I was engrossed doesn’t mean that I enjoyed. I simply had to know what happened to be able to close the book and be done with it.

I was motivated to read this book after seeing some highly laudatory reviews, including one from John Green right on the cover. After getting a few pages in, I figured it would just be another typical YA summer read – spoiled rich teenager is upset by her parents’ divorce, goes to see other spoiled rich teenagers (in this case, her cousins), and they all do their spoiled rich teenagery things in their family’s complex near Martha’s Vineyard. I was very wrong. I honestly don’t want to give anything else away because there is a twist even more twisty than anything in a Gillian Flynn novel. Some people will LOVE this. I was completely blown away, not in a good way, but simply because of just how absolutely unrealistic the ending to this book was. Suffice it to say that the way the other characters continued to treat the main character after the twist was revealed would just never, ever happen in real life, and this was NOT a fantasy book, so I didn’t enjoy my reading experience.

Besides the plot (contrived) and the characters (basically all of them, except maybe one, the main character’s love interest, were truly horrible people), I could not get into the writing style, for two main reasons:

(1) Passages like this. This is on page 5 so it’s not a spoiler:

“Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound…”

So it turns out that in this part of the book, the main character/narrator’s father did NOT actually shoot her. At all. Not even a bit. I had to read this, and similar passages, so many times because sometimes she was really hurt, sometimes she wasn’t hurt at all, and all of the time I had no idea whether the heck she was or not. The author’s use of “metaphor” was just completely overboard and melodramatic in this way. Yes, if my father had left us when I was 14, I too would be so upset that it would feel LIKE he had shot me in the chest. But the way that the author attempted to go about describing these feelings just wasn’t clear enough and made me angry and confused instead of sympathetic for the narrator who really does go through a lot.

(2) Writing like this. I am cool with books that are all prose. I am cool with books that are all poetry. I am even cool with books that switch off writing styles between chapters or some other device like that.

What I am not cool with is when a book is mostly written in completely normal prose and then out of

nowhere

it decides

that it is going to be a poem

and have

just a couple of

words on each line

and annoy the frick out of me

like so.

I honestly feel BAD that I didn’t find this book as moving, as poetic, as beautiful, as perfect as many of the reviewers on Goodreads and Tumblr did, most of whom I trust and respect a great deal. As I mentioned above, basically none of the characters are likable at all, so I didn’t really care what happened to them or why; the overuse of literary devices bothered me; and most of all the “amazing! so surprising! so OMG!!!” ending left me feeling completely hollow and unsatisfied. One thing I DID really, really enjoy was the use of the fairy tale device at the beginning of some of the chapters, set off with italics and continuously transformed to fit the characters’ current situation. I would have loved to see that explored a bit more instead of the bad metaphors/fake poetry/repetition/everything else that drove me bonkers about this book.

This book has the honor of being my first 1-star reviewed book on Goodreads, and so shall it be on this blog. Before you decide whether or not to take the plunge, definitely take a look at some of the more positive reviews. There are some like mine, but many others who adored this, some even for the same reasons that made me hate it so much.