07 February 2013

Critical Mass

Hello, everybody in Blogger world. I know it's been awhile since I have regularly updated this blog, but if there's anything I've learned in the past few years, it's that being an English major means I have much less time for fun reading because of all of my assigned reading. Fortunately, I got enough of a break to read some fun stuff. So I am quite pleased to present my review for the third novel in Cyrus Keith's NADIA trilogy:Critical Mass.

The last time we checked in with Nadia and her team of determined protectors, a major disagreement on what to do with the latest survivor of the Pinnacle's do-gooder sentiment gone horribly wrong--a young girl named Sofi--forced Nadia to make a difficult decision and strike out on her own. Critical Mass opens three years later, as she struggles with hiding from her adversaries and parenting a headstrong preteen. Despite her best efforts to remain discrete, circumstances force her to return to her friends in Virginia. By now, though, all roads lead to the group's complex in Virginia, as wildcard former Pinnacle operative Jenna reappears, with her previous employers hot on her trial. When all parties' paths finally cross in the book's (and the series's) gripping finale, what will become of Nadia and company?

I am very pleased to review the final book of this trilogy. (A big thank you to Cyrus for sending me an ARC!) I usually have a somewhat dim view of series. It's not that I don't love a good series--I really do. The problem is I rarely find a series where the quality remains even. Usually, the first book is okay, but the author only truly gets into their groove with the second or third book. Or the first book is amazing and then the rest sharply decline in quality. Or each book just descends into merely rehashing the plot of the original. Not so with Keith's NADIA series. All three books are excellent science fiction thrillers in their own right, each is integral to the series's overall story arc, and each features its own distinctive plot. It's refreshing to read a series that displays such quality craftsmanship.

As always with Keith's books, Critical Mass maintains a frenetic pace and expertly juggles multiple character points-of-view. The result is an immensely book that is really hard to put down. (I kept sneaking off to read it when I should have been doing my homework. I had to know how it ended!) The one aspect about this book that I really noticed, though, was the superb characterization. Each of the preceding books also featured great, complex characters, but I was especially impressed with them in this installation of the series. I think one of the reasons the characters jumped out at me even more so than usual is the believable character changes all have undergone. Sometimes character changes in a series, or really even the course of a book, are distracting because it feels forced, but that is not at all the case with these characters. Each major character--especially Nadia, Jon, and Jenna--has undergone some harrowing experiences in the course of the series, and as a result, each has also undergone some resulting personality adjustments. The development of these personality changes flows naturally from the characters themselves, as well as their recent experiences, ensuring that this action-packed tale also rewards readers with deft characterization, as well.

I was also especially impressed with the ending. I am picky about endings, so I appreciated the way Keith wrapped up the action in this book. He did not shy away from the unfortunate consequences of some of the characters' actions to provide readers with forced sentimentality, but he also does not gratuitously torture you with forced action and destruction, either. As a result, without giving anything away, the ending is bittersweet, but it is also realistic and powerful.

If you have read the previous two novels in Keith's series, you simply must read the final chapter in the NADIA saga. Critical Mass offers more of the same high-quality science fiction that Keith always provides, including a gripping plot, rich characterization, and a satisfying conclusion to the series. You will have to wait a couple of days to purchase it, but it will be released this Friday, February 8th.

P.S. If you're reading through this review, thinking, "But I haven't read the other books, so I wouldn't understand what's going on," get thee to the first two books in the series! You don't know what you're missing. As with this novel, they're wonderful reads. They're also, as I mentioned earlier, fast-paced thrillers that you will work through very quickly. As soon as you finish them, you will be desperate to know what happens next. And you won't have to wait to find out. :)

To purchase Critical Mass, follow this link to the publisher's website. If you're looking for the first two books, you can also find them--Becoming NADIA and Unalive--on the website, as well. Also, Becoming Nadia is now available as a print book. And, as to quote the late, great Billy Mays, "But, wait, there's more!" In June, the companion book, Lies and Paine, which focuses on the series's crafty and wonderful Jenna is scheduled to be released. So, stay tuned. The NADIA trilogy proper may be finished, but there's still more to come. ~~~~~~~

I'm not sure when I'll be able to post my next review, but it likely will not be until May. But by then I will have graduated--finally!--and I should have at least a couple of months to decompress before I move on to my next time-consuming adventure. Thus, I should be able to post some book review. Miss you guys!

25 June 2012

Two for One: Malcolm X

Hey, there, fellow readers and book lovers. I am so sorry for my absence. I haven't posted on here for nearly a year because I've been busy with school and what not. But here I am, for the time being. :)

Last semester, I took a history class on the American Civil Rights Movement. One of the texts for the class was Malcolm X's The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I've always liked Malcolm X, though I don't agree with him on many things, and this book just sealed my fascination with this enigmatic man. How can I not adore someone who destroyed their eyesight via reading, the same as I did? ;)

For those of you who don't know, Malcolm X had a chaotic childhood and ultimately ended up as a teen-aged hustler and robber before being sent off to prison. While there, he converted to the controversial Nation of Islam, eventually rising to a position of national prominence in the organization after his release. However, he eventually broke with the NOI and formed his own organization, shortly before his assassination in 1965 at the age of 39. He's often painted as the direct opposite of Martin Luther King--opposed to nonviolence in the civil rights movement, though the truth is quite a bit more complex. (As my professor pointed out, he advocated self-defense, not unprovoked violence, and was never once responsible for inciting race violence.) Regardless, X still remains a divisive subject almost fifty years after his death.

I think one reason I enjoyed this autobiography so much is its distinctive style. It was dictated to Alex Haley and, thus, X's inimitable oratory skills seem to leap off of the page.(Having come off of watching his speeches on YouTube, I could hear his voice in my head as I read.)

I also enjoyed the structure. This book was composed during shortly before and after X's break from the NOI. It could have turned into a polemic against the organization--and X does have a tendency to get a little preachy in spots--but the structure of the book prevents that. When Malcolm is committing petty crime in Boston and New York, you're along for the fun. He saves the moralizing for after he's realized the errors of ways. Therefore, when he comes to his senses in prison and decides to reform, the change is all the more palpable because he didn't spend the entire first section ranting about his mistakes. Likewise, X's break with the NOI is all the more powerful because the section where he talks about his time with the organization does not come with condemnations of it--he saves those for later.

Chances are, some parts of this book may offend you. Some of his statements on women and Jews left this Jewish girl scratching her head, but, overall, I highly recommend this insightful read. (First rule of history: taking historical subjects as they are, not as you want them to be.) This book is widely considered one of the most influential American autobiographies ever written and, in my opinion, it is well worth your time.

After finishing the book, I next tried Manning Marabel's biography X, in which he sheds more light on Malcolm X. This book is also controversial, for Marabel argues that X exaggerated and omitted facts in his landmark autobiography, a fact disputed by some of Malcolm X's family and supporters. Personally, I can see why they would argue with Manning, but I found his book compelling, and it didn't affect my admiration for X. Overall, I found the Marabel autobiography well-written and well-argued, though I did think the final few chapters seemed a bit more likely to generalize without corroborating evidence. This book is a mammoth--I polished it off on a class trip for my Civil Rights class--but, if you find yourself intrigued with Malcolm X, I think it's a great followup read to The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

~~~~~~~~~What's Next: I'm not sure. Right now, I am busy studying for the GRE, so I may not get a chance to read much in the next few weeks. I will try to post more reviews as soon as I can. ~~~~~~~~~~

On a different note, I have missed you guys! Let me know what you're up to. :)

07 August 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children

For the time being, life sucks for teenager Jacob Portman. Oh, sure, he comes from a wealthy Florida family and wants for nothing, but he's recently been depressed lately. And who wouldn't be? He found his eccentric grandfather viciously mauled to death by dogs. Problem is, Jacob knows his grandfather didn't die that way. His grandfather was actually killed by monsters, a reflection of the strange childhood the former used to tell Jacob about when he was younger, a childhood that involves a strange school on a secluded Welsh island that housed children who were invisible or capable of levitating. Of course, try telling the true story to anyone, and you get shipped off rather promptly to a shrink, which is exactly what happens to Jacob. Fortunately for his own peace of mind, he is able to connive a visit to the island his grandfather talked about to prove to himself whether or not the older man's stories had any basis in fact. There, he discovers that his grandfather's seemingly fictional tales are very real. . . .

I came across this unique young adult book while working at the library. One of my coworkers was reading about it on Amazon. We both were attracted to the creepy cover, so she ended up reading it. She told me the book wasn't spectacular but was undeniably weird. Naturally, I couldn't resist giving it a try. Ransom Riggs's Miss Peregrine's School For Peculiar Children is an uneven book with its share of flaws, but it is certainly unique and has enough good points that I recommend it.

After discussing this book with two other people who have read it, all three of us concurred that the best adjective for it is, ahem, "peculiar." It's not scary--Don't fear! This book will not give you nightmares--but it is certainly eerie. This haunting gothic atmopshere is exactly why I recommend it. The creepy gothic pictures that accompany the text play a substantial role in creating this atmosphere. In fact, even if this book isn't your cup of tea, I recommend checking it out just to look at the pictures, which range from levitating girls to creepy clown children. They are that good! Apparently, Riggs used actual old photos that he found in various collectors' stashes and then worked the images into the story. Overall, I thought he did a fairly good job of working random pictures into a a fairly cohesive plot. Occasionally, the plot did seem a little contrived--as if there were certain pictures that Riggs wanted to include just because they were so cool; thus, he added a related element in the story. Nevertheless, the effect more than makes up for this problem.

Personally, I had a bit of a hard time liking Jacob. Oh, he's not awful, not by any stretch of the imagination. He's just like every other somewhat sarcastic troubled YA hero I've met lately. I would have liked someone with a little more depth and individuality. The person he reminds me most of is Percy Jackson--more on that in a minute--but I found Percy a little more accessible. Jacob's first person narration is still pretty funny, though, and I don't necessarily have to like the protagonist to enjoy a book.

My only real complaint with the book is that about midway through, the story transitions from a good dark gothic horror/mystery story to a run-of-the-mill fantasy adventure, a la Percy Jackson. I like a good fantasy adventure, such as the aforementioned Percy Jackson series, but I was enjoying the gothic aspects of the story, so I felt a little cheated when the tone switched. To the book's credit, it's action-packed fantasy adventure with its own unique spin on the genre.

The ending leads me to believe that a sequel in the works, but I can't find anything to confirm that on the internet. I'm not sure the story is quite strong enough to generate a YA series, but I'll withhold judgment until I read any sequels. Riggs is certainly a creative writer with an eye for the eccentric, so I don't doubt that any follow-up would be equally as whimsical and strange . . . and feature just as many amazing photos! ^^

If you like gothic horror or are hankering for another fantasy adventure read now that Percy Jackson's series is at an end, I recommend Miss Peregrine's School For Peculiar Children. It's certainly not a book for everyone, but it has its charms, one being that it's a quirky fast-paced read, perfect for summer! At the very least, pick it up and skim the pictures. I kid you not--they are delightfully creepy.
Next Time: I have no idea.
This Week In Literary History: 5 August 1850: French writer Guy de Maupassant is born. Truth is, I've only read one of his stories--"The Necklace"--but it's such a good short story! You should definitely read it if you never have.