Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Report: Matched by Ally Condie

Matched by Ally Condie
Well, the writing is nice, characters have some depth and are more or less believable, the concept a little tired and the plot is maybe a bit thin.
This is Lewis Lowery meets Scott Westerfield in a H.G. Wells sort of way.

In general, it is not a problem for me when concepts in one work are similar in nature, or influenced by, or even out-right borrowed from other works.  All the better when a new twist or different spin on the same scenario give life and excitement to an old interpretation. Sometimes though, I just feel like there is a lack of originality. All-in-all though, for having thrown all these into a blender, what came out was nicely done here, Ms Condie. Nicely done.

So lets take a look-see at what we have here.
Cassia Reyes
Xander Carrow
Ky Markham
Well, those are the /main/ ones, I suppose.

The Society.  Ha! Go figure.

So, in this world, ambiguously far in the future, the society (aka government) is in charge of everything.  Where we live, what we eat, what we do, who we marry, etc.  There are only few approved songs they are aloud to hear, only a few approved poems, paintings, etc - everything else was destroyed.  Matched starts out with Cassia readying herself for her matching ceremony.  Well, apparently, the norm is for people to be matched with someone from elsewhere in the ... from another place.  The rare is to be paired up with a local person, but shocking to be match with your childhood best friend.  What are the odds, right?  So, then there is a... glitch that implies to Cassia that she may have been alternatively matched to someone else from her childhood.  Coincidence? I put no stock in coincidence.

I am not giving away much there actually - you get almost that much from the jacket.  Well, except for the my-opinion part.

The thing about how well written this is, is that Condie provides a tremendous amount of insight into their world, culture etc. in the very beginning while also letting us know a lot about Cassia without boring us to tears. (You listening to this Ms Meyer?)

Ever read The Giver?  Or Uglies? ... or The Time Machine?  The idea is that in this society, everyone is calm and relaxed because the governing collective is always looking out for everyone and never does anything wrong.  Everyone agrees that it is good, or risk being wished away into a cornfield.  That was a subtle Twilight Zone reference, hopefully setting the mood.  As we the reader ride along with Cassia, we collectively start to realize that more and more people are apparently looking out for themselves for fear of the society, not trust in it.  They are careful what they say and do because they do not want to stand out.  Everyone is careful of offending anyone because their culture dictates that it is not nice to offend anyone, true, but doing so has repercussions greater than simply hurting someone's feeling.
She sees that there is one commonality that makes people rebel.  One thing fires individuals up to fight the system they fear, and that is when injustice occurs against someone they love.

There are three pills that everyone is supposed to have.
1) Nutrition supplement. This is to help them out if they ever are lost/stranded or whatever where they are in a position where they could suffer if not for adequate nutrition. I spent a lot of time thinking about what, within the scope of their perfect little society, would ever put them in need of such things.  I mean, to the point that the Eloi - er, sorry, the members of the society - are required to always have one with them at all times.  I pondered the psychological impact of such a thing and here is what I came up with: If They provide my food, three times a day, and I can get food no other way, nutrition is so important that if I ever fail to come to the feeding trough when called, I need an emergency supplement, then I my life is completely dependent on Them. And, they care enough about me that they give me the means to survive if I would ever to make such a mistake.  We do take a bit of a trip into the nutrition processing center and I half expected Morlocks running the place.

2) Sedative. Like somewhere between a super Alprazolam and a short-term chemical lobotomy. Again, something that /should/ not be needed in a utopia.

3) The enigmatic RED PILL.  They are always supposed to have them, but only supposed to take them when told to do so.  Some fear it is a suicide pill, some have no imagination, others... who knows.  Well, I know, but I am withholding /some/ spoilers so I am not going to tell you is like like the MIB Flashie-thing.  Oh, wait.
I am at a point now where I feel if I continue, I will:
- give away too much
- convey an inaccurate picture of my assessment of the book
- drive away potential readers, or something like that.

I have a number of issues - technical ones - that are too big to ignore, but not big enough to ruin the book.  Here is an example: They have /lost/ the ability to write.  They can type, but not write.  And not just in the sense "gee, this would be so much easier to type and my handwriting will be hard to read" but in the "I know the words to a lost, forbidden poem. I cannot type them, because then the Morlocks will see it! If only there was a way I could put these words onto something!" sort of way. Now, I understand that this was a plot device to get some things done.  And for one thing, it is a real sense of rebellion to break such a serious rule as to learn something the the Society did not teach.  But seriously, they know how to draw, they /could/ just draw the characters.  It is little things like that that do not sit well with me - and not just in a not-how-I-would-have-done-it sort of way.

One thing that was not conveyed - or I missed it, or whatever - was a sense of scale.  Sometimes it feels like they talk in the scope of cities and boroughs, other times, it seems like towns and divisions, or states and countries.  It bugged me, but I am over it now.

All in all, a good book that I am happy to have read - and eagerly await the next part.  Now that the base is set, I am hoping book two will be more... substantial.  I think this book could easily become more popular most.  That does not sound right... I hypothetically score it 10 of 15, but would understand that the populous gives it more of a 12 to 13 of 15.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book Report: Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore
It has been a little while since I did a book report, and it looks like the last one may have been a ghost story as well. But these are nothing alike. AND, I suppose, because the book is NEW, this will be more of a review than other book reports I have done in the past.

So, What is it like?
There are a number of reviews out there on Texas Gothic, and a number of them... maybe /all/ talk about the hunky/hot/gorgeous cowboy, Ben, and the romantic tension between him and Amy.  Well, although I have a few "romantic" books like, and moreover, I like, in general, when a little romance is tangled in the overall story, but unlike what is implied in those reviews, the romance is so far sidelined, that it is tucked neatly away and does not intrude more than is should.  But more about that later - this is a ghost story.
The players:
Amaryllis Goodnight (Amy) - the "reluctant" hero
Delphinium Goodnight (Phin) - my personal fave, amusing sidekick, required techie nerd, and... well, you'll see.
Daisy Goodnight - 
Aunt Hyacinth Goodnight - albeit obliquely... by reputation... and phoned in from a cruise.
Uncle Burt, in his special way.
Ben McCulloch - the "hottie"
Old Man McCulloch
Deputy Kelly
Dr Douglas
And, of course,
Well, I do not want to give too much away, so I will stop there - but not without mentioning Taco and Gordita for good measure.

A bit about the mood of the book.  It was funny.  Not Terry Pratchett or Douglass Adams funny, but defiantly Janet Evanovich funny.  Actually, I see a number of similarities between Stephanie Plum and Amy Goodnight, but they may not be meaningful to discuss.  So, there is humor, and the previously mentioned romantic tension, supernatural mystery.

In contemporary Texas, the Goodnight womenfolk are witches - kitchen witches, that is.  These are not your flames-shooting-from-the-wand - turn-you-into-a-newt sort of witches mind you.  The Goodnights use Earth/Nature magic, generally speaking. If their aroma therapy body wash works like magic, it is because it /is/ magic. That and talking to the dead is common among them. They are not all farmers and ranchers as such, but the vacationing Aunt Hyacinth is leaving the Goodnight Herb Farm, smack dab in the middle of Texas ranchland and good and gone from civilization and cellphone coverage, in the hands of Amaryllis & Delphinium ... and adventure ensues.

While the Goodnights are witches, Amy fancies herself more compatible with "normal" society, struggling to find sanity on both sides while buffering each from the other.  Her older sister Phin is about as opposite as could be possible, which is why they need each other so much. Technical to the core, the paranormal is more normal to her than the mundane and she is the supernatural equivalent of the proverbial absentminded professor. (On a personal note, Phin reminds me of the way my dad is with wildlife, but pay that no mind.) 

Enter Ben, the antagonistic hero. Bringer of tension and frustration... and one of the tools used by our heroin to out-wit the evildoers. So, no, he is not an antagonist from a plot perspective, just a character trait because Amy and the Goodnights are just one of those things standing between him and a normal life, or so he thinks. (My way of saying that he is a little bit of a jerk, even though he is a good guy.)

When Amy gets abruptly and reluctantly sucked into a quest, of sorts, everyone surrounding her is involved, like it or not, in their own way and see it (the obstacle, plot-wise speaking) coloured with their own objectives, frame of mind and way of thinking. Phin sees a scientific opportunity, Dr Douglas sees a roadblock between her team and a great archaeological discovery, Mark sees a mystery brewing, Ben is faced with a near insurmountable obstacle keeping him from efficiently managing a ranch and Lila is looking for some affection in return for a job well done. Amy and Ben, primarily, just want to have their lives turned back up-side-right so they can go on living in a normal, reasonable fashion. See? That is why they get along so well - they have the same goals. Hehehe.

The hot cowboys... it is summer, in Texas, on a ranch. Everyone is hot, no matter what they look like, right? So, here is the deal with the "romance" between Amy and Ben. They each find the other in the way. Each are struggling with what promises to be a pleasing distraction from conflict at hand, but they are each chin deep in their own path that they cannot see that they are indeed working for the same solution.

I compared Amy to Stephanie Plum, and there are other strong, leading characters that fall under this similarity as well. When I look at each of the character's traits individually, it seems that there is no way that anything is going to get solved. Collectively, however, when the character is forced to step back and reassess things from a different angle and leverage their full, collective talent base in ways that make them grow overall - defeat the greater odds - this is what makes them greater than the sum of their skills. The Hero Gestalt. Moreover with Amy and Stephanie, they manage to leverage other people as well to fill in the talent gaps. They see the good and value in the people around them and do not try an tackle it all on their own, but not in a whiny-come-rescue-me sort of way.  Well, not all the time anyway.

I do not think that I am giving too much away when I say that the way the plot unfolds, I kept wondering up until the dramatic end, what role the supernatural was playing in this quest; which hands were being dealt by magic, ghosts, or ill-willed muggles.

Clement-Moore's writing style is amazing. I read my fair share of YA books as well as adult fiction and this is a pleasing bridge between - subjects, voice and characters I can relate to and connect with; told in a beautify, meaningful way where the text does not get in the way, but rather envelopes me and carries me through the journey as though I am a part of it, not just a passenger.

Texas Gothic is a must read of the decade.

Take Care