Wither by Lauren DeStefano – Mini Book Review

Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

This is the first book in the Chemical Garden trilogy.

Okay, so, here’s the deal. I read Wither months and months ago and the review got put off and put off, because I had some major issues with the book, and the negative reviews are never fun to write. The writing was perfectly good, but the main character was annoying and the world that DeStefano created didn’t make a heck of a lot of sense to me.

Before I go any further, here’s the publisher’s synopsis from Indiebound:

By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children.

When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement. Her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next, and Rhine is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape–before her time runs out?

Together with one of Linden’s servants, Gabriel, Rhine attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?

It had the potential to be a really interesting story, especially as it was repeatedly compared to The Handmaid’s Tale. This world was much more one created by circumstances, however, as opposed to malevolent forces within the government. We’ve got science-created shortened lifespans and most of the rest of the world allegedly destroyed by melting ice caps, but Rhine is kidnapped and taken to Florida, which is evidently not underwater (yup, you read that right).

My biggest issue was with the technology. I could have accepted a lack of many of the technologies that we know now had society fully collapsed after the geneticists screwed things up, but there was some pretty elaborate technology and yet nobody even mentioned a computer.

I’m also not completely convinced that there were need to be Gatherers to kidnap girls and take them to these polygamous marriages. Rhine and so many other girls were living in constant fear of being murdered for the little food they had, or alternatively starving to death. In contrast, her life for Linden is pampered and easy, if somewhat constrained. It seems that there would be hungry girls vying for these spaces, if only to get by.

Wither got a lot of love when it came out, but I am relieved to find that I am not the only one to have had serious issues with it (and everyone seems confused about the Florida thing). There is a very interesting review on Goodreads that goes into even more detail, and points a few things out that I missed.

I think I’d be interested if DeStefano tried her hand at something contemporary, but I’m less than impressed with her world creating, and I don’t think I’ll be reading the rest of the Chemical Garden trilogy.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Publisher, via GalleyGrab.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Matched by Ally Condie – Audiobook Review

Matched by Ally Condie, narrated by Kate Simses
Published in audio by Penguin Audio, published in print by Dutton Juvenile, both imprints of Penguin

If you posted an audiobook review today, Tuesday June 7th, please leave your link in the Mr. Linky before midnight Central time (US) and you will be eligible to win a prize.

Synopsis:

Cassia has been looking forward to her Match banquet for a long, long time. The Sorters of Society have this sort of thing down by now, and Cassia is dying to see who her perfect Match is. Amazingly, when Cassia’s Match flashes on the screen at the banquet, it is her best friend, Xander. Almost nobody is Matched with anyone they know, let alone a best friend. Everything gets all the more improbable when she reviews her files later at home and sees the face of another acquaintance, Ky. She is told by the Society that it is all a mistake, that Ky should not have even been in the Matching pool. Initially, Cassia accepts this, but her feelings begin to grow complicated, and she begins questioning even the most basic aspect of the Society.

Thoughts on the story:

SUCH a good dystopian (or negative utopian) novel! Early on, the descriptions of the Society in which Cassia lives reminded me a lot of one of my favorite books, The Giver by Lois Lowry. I was worried that it would be derivative. Certainly there are a number of similarities in the basic setup of the society, both seem idyllic from the outside, or to more naive members of society, but there are very real problems that became obvious as one looks closer. There are moments when Cassia’s confused feelings grow slightly obnoxious (“Xander! Ky! Xander! Ky!”), but it was not overwhelming, and it fit very well with her character.

Actually, I quite appreciated that Matched avoided the ubiquitous YA love triangle even as it puts Cassia between who boys who both might be perfect for her. Yes, she was unsure who to choose, but to Cassia her choice between Xander and Ky is greater than just between the two boys, the choice instead represented remaining a loyal and productive member of Society, or questioning the decisions made by those in power around her. The plotting and characterizations were incredibly well done, and I was left craving the next installment in the series.

Thoughts on the audio production:

I’m certain I could track down an advance copy of Crossed, the next book in this series, if I really so desired. At this point I am purposely not doing so, in order to wait and see if Kate Simses narrates the second book as well. If she does, there is no question in my mind as to whether I will attempt this in print or audio. The pacing of young adult literature works really well in audio, but frequently narrator choice is an issue for me. So many narrators of YA either sound too old, or sound like they are trying too hard to sound young. It can be really awkward. Kate Simses, on the other hand, has both the bearing of a professional narrator and a youthful enough voice that I absolutely believed her as the teenaged Cassia. I would say that she is the absolute best narrator of a young adult book I have yet heard.

One interesting thing about Matched in audio is that Penguin audio used sound effects at certain times. I know for many listeners this can be a huge turnoff, but I thought it was done very well in this case. Occasionally it was used as an announcement over a loudspeaker, or similar things that set the scene of the Society. For more discussion about the issue of sound effects in audiobooks, see today’s Audiobook Week discussion post.

Overall

Matched is a fabulous specimen of YA dystopia/negative utopia, and Kate Simses narration turns the great book into a fabulous audiobook, I don’t think you could go wrong with print or audio.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: Audio/Print*

This review was done with a book received from the library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins – Thoughts (Spoilers)

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Published by Scholastic Press

This isn’t really going to be a review, just thoughts about “Mockingjay.” After reading “The Hunger Games” three times and “Catching Fire” twice, and anticipating “Mockingjay” for a year, I think I’m too subjective to do an actual review. For my opinions about the previous books in this series, please see my thoughts on the audios and my reviews of both “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire.”

To be completely honest, I was sort of bored at the beginning of “Mockingjay.” Maybe not bored, exactly, but not nearly as excited as I thought I would be. In fact, I sort of wondered why I was up in the middle of the night reading. The fact that Peeta wasn’t around for a long, long time might have been part of it, but I think more it was that Katniss was just sort of moping around, unsure of what she really wanted to do. Plus, she kept ending up drugged in the hospital, which always felt like a slightly cheating way for Collins to get her through situations.

Things started to turn around for me when Katniss went into the first disputed district. I loved how she stood up to Gale, determined to not just kill people who might be innocent. Finally, that felt like Katniss to me. It made me really dislike Gale, though, although he almost won my heart a bit with how he treated Katniss most of the time they were together in District 13.

The most horrifying moment of the whole book – perhaps the whole series – for me was Finnick’s revelation that President Snow had been pimping out the Victors. These are people that have had miserable lives in their districts, been pitted against other teenagers in a kill or be killed contest and manage to live, and now they are sexually abused? I almost threw up. “Mockingjay” got me really attached to Finnick, actually, and I was sort of devastated when he died.

A less devastating death for me was Prim’s. I know a lot of people didn’t like that scene, didn’t realize I was Prim, but I thought that was perhaps the most masterfully written scene in the entire book. I felt that I was truly experiencing the situation with Katniss, and she didn’t initially realize she was watching her sister die either. It seemed fitting to me that Prim died at the end of the series, since the entire thing started with Katniss trying to save her sister. It gave a sense of how much bigger than just Katniss and her family the entire thing had become, but was also a reminder of all that the people of Panem lost under the old regime and during the rebellion, a warning against complacency in the future. Plus, at least if Prim was going to die, she was dying doing something she loved and she felt was important, instead of being forced into the Games.

As to the romantic angle: I am SO GLAD that Collins did not kill off either of the boys. Regardless of who Katniss ended up with, if she had ended up with him only because the other boy was killed off, I would have been very annoyed. I was glad she ended up with Peeta, and glad that she realized that he is the one she needed, even if she hadn’t needed to get away from Gale after his weapon being used against Prim because, again, if she had seemed to end up with Peeta just because of Gale’s weapon I would have been really disappointed.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a personal copy.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – Thoughts on the Audio

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, narrated by Carolyn McCormick
Published in print by Scholastic Press
Published in audio by Scholastic Audio

This is just going to be a commentary on the audio editions. I have previously reviewed the print versions of both “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire.” The following thoughts are completely spoiler-free.

When I first started listening to audio versions of “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire,” I was very disconcerted. There is pretty much no way at all that Carolyn McCormick’s voice could pass for that of a teenage girl. Don’t get me wrong, she has a gorgeous voice and I would love to listen to her read literary fiction, but it seemed very odd in the first person narrative of a teenager (incidentally, this is the second Scholastic Audio casting in a row in which I thought at least one narrator sounded far too old for their character – perhaps there is a dearth of narrators who can pass for teens?).

Although I had a hard time with such a mature voice narrating Katniss’s inner-most thoughts and giving voice to her words, McCormick did a fabulous job with the voices of other characters. Between “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire,” McCormick appears to have been given direction to actually do a voice for Katniss, instead of narrating in her own voice. Although it was still odd to hear Katniss’s thoughts in McCormick’s voice, it did help me believe her words as those of the teenager a bit better.

McCormick did a fabulous job with most of the voices, and imbued “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire” audios with the danger and drama of the books, so over all I would say these are highly recommended, even if her Katniss really had to grow on me. I can’t wait to get the audio of “Mockingjay” for a reread.

I borrowed both of these audiobooks from the library.

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Feed by Mira Grant – Audiobook Review

Feed by Mira Grant, narrated by Paula Christensen and Jesse Bernstein

Synopsis:

Please don’t stop reading this review when I tell you there are zombies.

Georgia and Shaun Mason live in the same world we do, just about 30 years in the future. Twenty-five years after science goes amuck, curing the common cold, but inadvertantly infecting every human being on the planet with a virus that turns them into zombies when they die. At least nobody gets colds anymore. Brother and sister, Georgia and Shaun are licensed bloggers, looking to jump to their own site. Georgia is a newsie, and Shaun is an irwin – the term for the highly adventerous who like to poke zombies with sticks (I can only assume it is a reference to the late Steve Irwin). When Georgia and Shaun learn that they have landed the gig of official bloggers for the presidential campaign of Senator Ryman – a smart, affable man – they figure they have arrived, everything seems to be going right by any standards. Until everything on the campaign starts going wrong, starting with a zombie attack on the Senator’s compound that can only be sabatogue.

Thoughts on the story:

I know, the whole cure colds and create zombies thing sounds a little bizarre when I type it here, but Grant made it seem ever-so-reasonable. Really, A+ for world building. In a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel (I think this definitely leans more towards post-apocalyptic), I have this intense need to understand how exactly the world got the way it has become, I think it has to do with having been a history major. Grant totally came through for me on that. Georgia imparted to me everything I needed or wanted to know about the zombie-filled United States of 30 years from now, but it was done in a way that avoided simply being an information dump. Everything told was relevant to something happening in the story, or would have legitimately been written on her blog.

I completely loved Georgia. She was a really strong female protagonist who managed to seemlessly meld a no-nonsense business attitude with a deep love for her brother and friends and a deep passion for the truth. She also kept the story interesting with her dry humor and her quick (but not too quick) ability to work out what was going on.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Paula Christensen was the perfect choice to narrate Georgia, she absolutely became the character for me. “Feed” was well-suited for audio to begin with, since the entire story is told in first person, but Christensen totally nailed it. I did initially think it odd to have Jesse Bernstein around for what seemed like only narrating his blog posts at the beginning of chapters, but I understand now why that was done and am okay with it, even if it was slightly disconcerting while I was listening.

Overall:

Honestly, “Feed” was everything I had hoped that “The Passage” would be but it wasn’t.

I seriously loved both this story and the audio production. There was just so much energy to it, and the story was so interesting. The zombies were really more of a device to fuel the story about politics and new v. old media and, perhaps partially because I’m already very interested in those things, it totally worked for me. Loved it, can’t wait fo the second book in the trilogy, recommend it highly.

Buy this book from:
Audible: Audio download
Powells: Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: Print*
Amazon: Print*

This review was done with a audio download sent to me for review.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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