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Read All The Things! Reviews

A mini-me version of Read All The Things!

Stuck In Neutral

Stuck in Neutral - Terry Trueman

I didn’t know that this book was so controversial until I Googled it. People actually believe that this novel is proof that the author wants to murder his disabled son. I’m sorry, but that seems idiotic. If authors were as twisted as their characters, Stephen King would have been in prison 30 years ago. Books can’t be written in a vacuum. All authors are inspired by real life. Just because there are similarities between this book and the author’s life doesn’t mean that somebody’s going to get murdered. Be reasonable, people.

 

Okay. Stuck in Neutral is the story of fourteen-year-old Shawn, a boy with cerebral palsy. Shawn has no control over his body. He can’t move or speak. Since he has no way to communicate, he’s trapped inside his own head. Shawn’s father worries that Shawn’s condition is causing him pain that he’s unable to express. As Shawn’s father becomes more obsessed with his son’s possible pain, Shawn starts to wonder if his father is planning on killing him.

 

The summary makes this book sound intense—and it is—but it’s also surprisingly hilarious. The novel is written in first-person, so the reader gets to hear all of the thoughts that Shawn is unable to say. He’s very blunt about his situation:

 

“There is one final bad-news punch line to my life. This bad news is complicated, difficult to explain. In a nutshell, it’s that I am pretty sure that my dad is planning to kill me. The good news is that he’d be doing this out of his love for me. The bad news is that whatever the wonderfulness of his motives, I’ll be dead.” – Stuck in Neutral

 

Shawn’s life is not completely miserable. He acknowledges that his medical problem has some benefits. For example, he gets to see his sister’s friends change clothes at a sleepover because they don’t think he can understand what’s going on. Additionally, his seizures cause a dreamlike, floating feeling that makes him calm and happy. He’s taught himself to enjoy the little things in life.

 

“Think about it: Why should we care whether what makes us happy is just an electrical impulse in our brain or something funny that we see some fool do on TV? Does it matter what makes you smile? Wouldn't you rather be happy for no reason than unhappy for good reasons?” - Stuck in Neutral

 

Shawn’s sense of humor and positive attitude help tone down the intensity of the book. I actually had a lot of fun reading it.

 

My only big criticism is that this novel is very short. My copy is only about 115 pages. I think it could have benefitted from being longer. Shawn doesn’t have an action-packed existence, but I wondered about the other people in his life. Shawn’s mother is his full-time caregiver, but we barely see her. He has a brother and sister who we don’t learn much about.

 

I also had mixed feelings about Shawn’s acceptance of his father’s (possible) murder plan. Realistically, Shawn has no choice but to accept it. He can’t communicate, and he can’t fight. If his father decides to murder him, he’s going to die, but I think that Shawn’s suspicion of the murder plot should have caused more angst.

 

Stuck in Neutral was first published in 2001 and was a major influence in the teen “problem novel” genre. It won awards and got a lot of people talking. It’s a brave and thought-provoking book. It confronts taboo subjects that make some readers uncomfortable, such as euthanasia and the rights of severely disabled children and their parents. Even though these topics are unpleasant to discuss, they’re important.

 

This book made me think about how able-bodied people project their feelings onto the severely disabled. I don’t know any severely disabled people in real life, so I’ve never thought about this before. Shawn’s father sees Shawn’s seizures and assumes that they’re painful. He assumes that Shawn’s cerebral palsy prevents him from enjoying life. In reality, Shawn isn’t bothered by his seizures, and he has developed a unique way of connecting to the world. This book shows that you can’t make assumptions about a person. Just because someone is disabled doesn’t mean that he/she is suffering.

 

This is a quick and powerful read with an exceptional protagonist. I need to find more books like this one.

Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary's Baby - Ira Levin

I’m going to avoid huge spoilers, but this review might be a tiny bit spoilery. Rosemary’s Baby was first published in 1967 and is one of the most influential horror novels in the genre. I’m assuming that a lot of people already know the general story. I knew the entire plot of the book before I read it.

 

I wanted to read this novel because I heard that the author had mixed feelings about it. Ira Levin was a huge skeptic of religion and anything supernatural. He’d hoped that Rosemary’s Baby would encourage others to think critically about supernatural claims. Unfortunately, the book had the opposite effect. Levin said that Rosemary’s Baby and its thousands of knock-offs had “helped boost the universal stupidity quotient.” I couldn’t resist a book that supposedly causes mass stupidity.

 

Rosemary’s Baby is about an actor, Guy Woodhouse, and his wife, Rosemary. They move into a nice apartment in New York City, despite warnings that strange events have happened in the apartment building. Guy quickly becomes friends with the neighbors, but Rosemary is unsettled by how interested the neighbors are in her pregnancy. Soon, Guy’s secretive friendship with the neighbors puts strain on his and Rosemary’s marriage. When Rosemary starts experiencing bizarre pregnancy symptoms, she begins to suspect that something supernatural is interfering with her body. Guy and the neighbors could be behind whatever is happening to her baby.

 

“Like so many unhappinesses, this one had begun with silence in the place of honest open talk.” - Rosemary’s Baby

 

First, we have to discuss Guy because he’s the most interesting character. The dude is an asshat, and it’s perfect. He’s so charismatic that he’s easy to like at first, but over the course of the book, you get to see his jerk side. I like the suspense that his character creates because I was never sure how he’d act or what, exactly, was motivating his behavior. He’s a likeable, complicated, horrible, ass.

 

Guy’s unpredictable character adds some brilliant suspense, but the tension in the novel still builds a little too unevenly for my tastes. The book starts off with a lot of tension, then it slows down in the middle, then it takes off suddenly at the end. I got bored in the middle, and the sudden rise in tension near the end pulled me out of the story.

 

Basically, near the end of the novel, Rosemary suspects that something strange is going on in her neighbors’ apartment. Her friend gives her a book about witchcraft, and she’s suddenly 100% convinced that the neighbors are witches. Then things get crazy. I had a hard time buying Rosemary’s spontaneous belief in witchcraft. Maybe I was supposed to question Rosemary’s sanity, but I didn’t because she hadn’t shown any signs of being insane earlier in the book. Her sudden certainty of witchcraft feels forced to me.

 

I also spent a lot of the book questioning Rosemary’s choices. I know that horror protagonists aren’t famous for their impeccable decision-making skills, but I did get frustrated with Rosemary. She lets people push her around. She lets the neighbors pick a doctor for her, even though she already has a doctor she likes. She keeps eating the food the neighbors give her, even though it makes her sick. The woman has no sense of self-preservation.

 

That being said, I can forgive Rosemary’s bad decisions because they tie in to the most impressive element of this novel. The best part of Rosemary’s Baby is that the “horror” part of the story doesn’t come from the supernatural. The witchcraft isn’t all that scary. Honestly, I found the “witches” kind of ridiculous. The terrifying part of this book is the lack of control that Rosemary has over her own life. She tries to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect upper-class New York society woman. She pretends to be something she’s not.

 

“‘I’d like to have a spice garden some day,’ Rosemary said. ‘Out of the city, of course. If Guy ever gets a movie offer we’re going to grab it and go live in Los Angeles. I’m a country girl at heart.’ - Rosemary’s Baby

 

She lets her husband and the neighbors cut her off from her friends. She ignores her instincts so that she doesn’t upset anybody. When she finally reaches her breaking point, the people she runs to for help use her for their own gains.

 

This is far scarier than magical witchcraft because it feels real. Rosemary spends the entire book being controlled and manipulated, but she doesn’t notice until it’s too late.

 

“Could anyone know when an actor was true and not acting?” - Rosemary’s Baby

 

Rosemary’s Baby is an older book that does show its age. Some of the ideas are dated, and there are racist undertones, but I think the story sticks around because powerlessness will always be terrifying.

UnBound

UnBound: Stories from the Unwind World (Unwind Dystology) - Neal Shusterman

First, the covers changed! I am pleased. No more creepy cover critters for this series! I hope that the new covers encourage more people to pick up these books.

 

UnBound is currently the last book in the Unwind Dystology. (Is Dystology even a real word? I still haven’t figured that out.) Whatever a dystology is, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m sad it’s over. I’ll miss this world.

 

UnBound is a collection of stories and novelettes set in the Unwind universe. A lot of these stories have spoilers for the series. Don’t read them until after you’ve finished book #4. The stories introduce some new characters and give updates on the lives of Cam, Una, Miracolina, Hayden, Grace, and Argent. The stories also fill in some gaps in the series. We get to see the real reason behind why Risa became an unwind and the history of Roland’s tattoo.

 

I think the stories lack the depth of the novels. I didn’t find them as thought-provoking as the full-length books. None of them blew my mind, but it was so much fun to be back in the Unwind world. I think I said this in another review, but I’d read anything set in this universe. Every time you think this series can’t get more depraved, it does. There seems to be no bottom to the horror that is unwinding. Who knew you could do so much with human body parts?

 

Like I already said, I didn’t find any of these stories to be mind-blowingly amazing, but I did like some more than others:

 

“Unfinished Symphony” introduces a few characters who knew Risa before the start of the series. The feud between Risa and the main character is really stupid, but the story has great suspense and untrustworthy characters. It shows why Risa was chosen to be unwound.

 

“Unnatural Selection” explains the mysterious Burmese Dah Zey. The doctors who work for the organization make some interesting creations with human body bits.

 

“Rewinds” is my favorite story because Cam is in it. I honestly didn’t care about the other characters after the series ended. I just wanted to know what happened with Cam. “Rewinds” follows Cam and Una as they try to deal with Proactive Citizenry’s failed military experiment.

 

“UnStrung,” which is the #1.5 novelette, is in this collection, so you don’t have to buy the e-book if you don’t want to. I’m very happy to have a hard copy of it now.

 

Mostly, this collection made me sad that the series is over. My favorite characters are the Rewinds, and this book just proved to me that we didn’t get enough of their disturbing awesomeness in the series. I think the Rewinds deserve a spin-off novel . . . . 

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

It took me a week to read the first 100 pages of this book. Then I finished the rest of it in a day. It takes a while to get going, but when it’s good, it’s really good.

 

This is a difficult novel to review because the synopsis is misleading and doesn’t give enough information, but giving too much information will ruin the surprises. I think the book would have been easier for me to get into if I had known more about what was coming. The narrator has a very slow, meandering storytelling style. I kept wondering why I should care about her and her strange childhood. I think the book would have held my attention better if I had some idea about what was going on.

 

Basically, Never Let Me Go is set in an alternate-history 1970s – 1990s England. Human cloning is an accepted part of life. The narrator, Kathy, is working for hospitals when she reconnects with two of her old school friends, Ruth and Tommy. Her old friends are now patients who she is assigned to care for. Kathy starts reminiscing about Hailsham, the odd, secluded boarding school where she and her friends grew up.

 

I found the beginning of the book to be really slow, but I was hugely impressed with the author’s ability to write realistic child character. The characters have distinctive personalities. Ruth is a manipulative leader who’ll do whatever it takes to fit in. Tommy is mentally slower than the other kids and has a fiery temper, but he can also be innocent and sweet. Kathy doesn’t put up with crap from either of them. They spend a lot of time arguing and storming away from one another in a huff, but like real children, they forgive each other quickly. The characters are so lifelike that it was easy to see myself and my childhood friends reflected in them. Just like real children, the characters drift apart as they get older and meet new (and less volatile) people.

 

If you’re a writer who wants to create believable young characters, you need to read this book immediately.

 

“It never occurred to me that our lives, until then so closely interwoven, could unravel and separate over a thing like that. But the fact was, I suppose, there were powerful tides tugging us apart by then, and it only needed something like that to finish the task. If we'd understood that back then—who knows?—maybe we'd have kept a tighter hold of one another.” - Never Let Me Go

 

The plot isn’t super unique. If you’ve read other books that involve cloned characters, you can probably guess what happens. However, the way that the author handles the clone plot is unlike any other book about clones I’ve read. Never Let Me Go is probably the most thematically interesting book I’ve come across so far in 2016.

 

This book is about culture and how we can be so sheltered by our own culture that we don’t question the things that happen to us. We accept cultural oddities because everyone around us does. Sometimes, an event or idea has been around for so long that we just go along with it without thinking. It can be difficult to spot strange ideas in your own world.

 

At the end of the book, the characters get a chance to talk to people outside of their boarding school culture. They are surprised to find out that the cultural norms that they never questioned are seen as controversial by the outside world. People were fighting to change the characters’ way of life, and the characters never knew that their lives were contentious. Everything that happened was normal to them.

 

“You have to accept that sometimes that's how things happen in this world. People's opinions, their feelings, they go one way, then the other. It just so happens you grew up at a certain point in this process.” - Never Let Me Go

 

“The problem, as I see it, is that you've been told and not told. You've been told, but none of you really understand, and I dare say, some people are quite happy to leave it that way.” - Never Let Me Go

 

I think this book is about the danger of being blinded by your own culture. The alternate-history setting helps drive home that point. The setting is comfortingly familiar—it’s our world—but there are strange things happening in it. This book encourages you to look at your world from a different perspective. By the time you notice that something is wrong, it could be too late to change it. Ask questions and pay attention to life outside of your own boarding school.

Poor Things

Poor Things - Alasdair Gray

I was hesitant to read Poor Things because there is a lot going on in this novel. The book has strange formatting and images. It’s written to sound like a Victorian classic, but it’s also satirizing Victorian classics. It’s a bizarre feminist Frankenstein reimagining told by multiple unreliable narrators. It’s a book-within-a-book. I wasn’t sure if it would be too meta for me to get interested in the story. I often feel distant from metafiction because it can be too clever for its own good.

 

The majority of Poor Things is made up of a memoir written and self-published by the main character, Dr. Archibald McCandless. He tells the story of how his friend, Dr. Godwin Baxter, acquires the body of a drowned pregnant woman. Baxter resurrects the woman by replacing her brain with the brain of her unborn baby. Baxter names his creation “Bella Baxter” and tries to make her into his perfect companion. This works out well until Bella and McCandless fall in love and get married. (This isn’t a spoiler. McCandless says it in the beginning of his book.)

 

The second part of Poor Things is a letter from “Bella” to her great-grandchildren. After her husband’s death, she reads the memoir he wrote and decides that she needs to set the record straight. Her marriage to McCandless was far from perfect, and her Frankenstein-like “resurrection” wasn’t anywhere near as mysterious as he made it seem.

 

“You, dear reader, have now two accounts to choose between and there can be no doubt which is most probable.”- Poor Things

 

 

I have mixed feelings about this book. It definitely wasn’t too meta for me, but I did have problems with it. The beginning and end are entertaining. I laughed at Bella’s “erotomania” and the way that her sex drive and wandering eye exhaust men. She quickly turns their fantasies into nightmares. But, the middle of this book is extraordinarily boring. This is one of those novels where the characters don’t do much. I have to admit that I skimmed parts of the middle and that I considered giving up on the book multiple times. The middle mostly consists of McCandless and Baxter talking and reading letters. I lost patience with the lack of action. The only reason that I kept reading was because I knew that Bella’s side of the story would be told at the end, and I wanted to hear it.

 

I also got annoyed with reading Bella’s rambling, punctuation-less dialogue and writing. I know that she (supposedly) has the brain of an unborn baby, but I skimmed some of her letters and dialogue because I couldn’t take it.

 

“Dear God I am tired. It is late. Writing like Shakespeare is hard work for a woman with a cracked head who cannot spell properly.” – Poor Things

 

Even though I was bored for the majority of the book, there are a few things that I really like about it. The author does an excellent job with the unreliable narrators. They have vastly different interpretations of the same events. A character who is likeable from one person’s perspective can be a total jerk from another’s. It’s very realistic.

 

I also like the feminism. Every man sees Bella as a blank slate. They each try to make her into what they want. They tell her what to believe about religion and politics. They try to form her into their ideal wife or companion. Even McCandless attempts to make Bella what he wants by taking it upon himself to tell the world her story. The reader doesn’t get to hear Bella’s real voice until the end. Everything else she says in the book is filtered through the male narrators. It isn’t until the end that the reader realizes that Bella may be manipulating the men just as much as they are manipulating her. She uses the men to make a difference in the world.

 

“I clenched my teeth and fists to stop them biting and scratching these clever men who want no care for the helpless sick small, who use religions and politics to stay comfortably superior to all that pain: who make religions and politics, excuses to spread misery with fire and sword and how could I stop all this? I did not know what to do.”- Poor Things

 

I can’t say that I recommend reading Poor Things because I thought the majority of it was slow, but if you’re interested in feminist literature, you might want to check it out.

UnStrung

UnStrung - Neal Shusterman, Michelle Knowlden

I was slightly disappointed in this novelette. It didn’t deliver what I’d hoped it would. Maybe I would have been more impressed with this story if I had read the series in order, but I’m a rebel and didn’t do that. I read UnStrung after finishing the fourth book.

 

UnStrung fills in some of the gaps in the Unwind series. Before thirteen-year-old Lev arrives in the airplane graveyard in book #1, he spends some time on a “ChanceFolk Rez.” In book #3 of the series, the reader learns that a musical prodigy was kidnapped by parts pirates while Lev was on the Rez. Lev got the blame for the kidnapping. This story explains what happened with Lev and the musical prodigy.

 

Like all of the books in this series, UnStrung is a quick and entertaining read. It only took me about an hour to finish this novelette. Even though I knew exactly how the story would end, I read the whole thing without putting it down because the Unwind universe is so interesting. I’d probably read anything set in this world.

 

My biggest issue with this story is that the synopsis is misleading. It says, “How did Lev Calder move from an unwillingly escaped Tithe to a clapper?” Unfortunately, the story doesn’t answer that question at all. It doesn’t explain how a thirteen-year-old became involved with terrorists. The story fills in some plot gaps in the series, but it doesn’t do anything else. The other books did a fine job of showing why Lev became a suicide bomber. This story doesn’t add anything to the explanation.

 

Lev’s character seems “off” in UnStrung. This could possibly be because the author was working with a cowriter. The other books in the series show that Lev became a suicide bomber because he feels exhausted, hopeless, angry, and powerless. None of those emotions are present in this book. If this story is meant to explain Lev’s decision to (potentially) blow himself up, then shouldn’t those emotions be there? Lev’s character seems shallower and more passive than he does in the other books.

 

I also had a hard time with the end of the story. In book #3, the people on the Rez are angry at Lev for the kidnapping, but this story shows that Lev didn’t have anything to do with it. And, why didn’t the people on the Rez try to rescue the kidnapped kid? Did I miss something? Shouldn’t there at least have been a search party? The kidnappers were on foot when they took the kid, so could the kidnappers have been intercepted before they got to a road? I have so many questions!

 

If you like this series as much as I do, then this story is an entertaining gap-filler, but I wouldn’t call it a must-read. 

A Guide to being Born

A Guide to Being Born: Stories - Ramona Ausubel

These stories are bizarre. That’s the best word to describe them. Even the stories that aren’t magical realism have that strange “people behaving weirdly” thing going on. The author definitely has a talent for making the realistic feel fantastical.

 

As soon as I finished this collection, I put Ramona Ausubel’s other books on my wish list because A Guide to being Born contains some of the best writing I’ve seen in a long time. The author takes small details and makes them hugely meaningful, but not in a melodramatic way. Every word feels significant and carefully chosen. The stories are both darkly hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time.

 

Like all short story collections, I like some of the stories a lot more than others. A few of the stories lack tension, and I struggled to stay interested in them, but, fortunately, most of the book was captivating.

 

I’ll summarize my favorite stories. (Actually, I have a lot of favorites, so I’m only going to talk about my favorite-favorites):

 

In “Safe Passage,” a group of grandmothers wakes up on a ship in the middle of an unknown ocean. The grandmothers aren’t sure if they’re alive, dead, or somewhere in between.

 

“Poppyseed” alternates points-of-view between a father and a mother. The father gives ghost tours of a “haunted” ship while the mother takes care of their disabled daughter. The structure of this story is slightly confusing at first, but I like how it discusses the rights of severely disabled people. This one turned out to be the most thought-provoking story in the collection.

 

“Atria” is the most heartbreaking story. It’s about a pregnant teenage girl who is convinced that she will not give birth to a human baby. Over the course of the story, she stresses about what type of animal she will give birth to and how to take care of it.

 

In “Chest of Drawers,” a man is so envious of his wife’s pregnancy that he literally grows a chest of drawers in his body. He fills the drawers with ethnically diverse plastic babies and some other interesting objects.

 

“Welcome to Your Life and Congratulations” is full of morbid humor. A family’s cat is run over by a car. Getting rid of the body turns out to be harder than they expected.

 

“‘We can do a cremation here, at the house?’ I ask.

‘We built a fire,’ my father says.

‘Obviously. And I put the whole cat in the fire?’

‘There isn't a whole cat,’ my mother says.

‘What is there?’

‘Parts of cat,’ they say together.

‘Bones?’ I ask.

‘Mostly. And some fur. And some face.’” – “Welcome to Your Life and Congratulations,” A Guide to being Born

 

As the title suggests, these stories are all about being born. Many of them are about pregnancy, but some of them examine birth in more subtle ways. The characters are born into death or into a new way of life. This collection feels more cohesive than a lot of short story collections. I enjoyed seeing the author’s different interpretations of the “birth” topic.

 

I’m looking forward to reading more of Ramona Ausubel’s work. This collection is impressive.

The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow & Rip Van Winkle

Rip Van Winkle and The legend of Sleepy Hollow - Alan Hines, Washington Irving

First, a confession: I’m not the biggest fan of Washington Irving. I studied his work in college, and I found most of it to be pretty tedious. But, it’s my goal to read more classic horror this year. It felt wrong to ignore “the father of American literature.”

 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle are two novelette-length works that are set in the Catskill Mountains of New York. The stories were both published in 1819 and quickly became popular around the world.

 

In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a superstitious schoolteacher named Ichabod Crane attends a party where he hopes to catch the attention of the party host’s pretty daughter. Instead, he ends up listening to the other party guests telling ghost stories. On his way home from the party, he is stalked by a headless horseman. Ichabod isn’t sure if the horseman is a real ghost or a party-goer pulling a prank, but he ends up running for his life.

 

This story starts out very, very slowly. The majority of the story is actually descriptions of the landscape and Ichabod’s personality. I was tempted to skim because nothing really happens. The end of the story is much better. Once the headless horseman shows up, things get tense. I think the end is supposed to be a mystery, but I wish it had been a little more mysterious. The truth about the headless horseman is very obvious. I guess the moral of this story is not to get so carried away with your imagination that you can’t think critically.

 

Rip Van Winkle is about a lazy man who goes hunting to escape from his demanding wife. While in the woods, he comes across a group of ghostly men playing ninepins. Rip gets drunk with the ghost men and falls asleep. When he wakes up, his beard is a foot long, his gun is rusted, and his dog is gone. He makes his way back to town and finds that everything has changed. Rip discovers that he has been asleep for 20 years. He’s slept through the American Revolution. He went into the woods as a loyal servant to England’s king and came out as an American citizen in a baffling new country. After he learns that he’s slept through a war, he goes to his daughter’s house and resumes his lazy ways.

 

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. Don’t take alcohol from ghosts? Maybe it’s a form of wish-fulfillment? Americans wish they could have slept through the horrors of the Revolutionary War? I don’t know.

 

I actually like Rip Van Winkle more than Sleepy Hollow. The pacing is faster, there is less description, and there isn’t a long lead-in to the action.

 

I can’t say that I love either of these novelettes, but I’m glad that I read them. I’m a fan of modern speculative fiction, and these stories had a big impact on the early days of the genre.

UnDivided

Undivided - Neal Shusterman

Well, that was satisfyingly messed up.

 

In the final-ish book of this series, Connor, Risa, Lev, and Cam uncover some of Proactive Citizenry’s secrets. The organization has been blocking scientific progress so that they can use their technology to get rich off military contracts. While Cam tries to expose Proactive Citizenry, Connor and Risa are on the run from parts pirates, and Lev is trying to get justice for all of the teens who have been unwound. While all of this is happening, Starkey continues his terroristic attacks on harvest camps, but some of the kids he commands have a plan to overthrow him.

 

One of the reasons why I don’t read a lot of series is that I usually don’t like how they end. There are so many plot threads in a series that they are rarely all wrapped up in a satisfying way. I think authors also sometimes chicken out with the ends of series. Authors are so desperate to give every character a happily ever after that the finale is bland.

 

Neal Shusterman did a fairly awesome job of ending this series. UnDivided is unpredictable, fast-paced, and creepy. There were several times where I stared at the book in horror, thinking No, that did not just happen! I was scared for the characters the whole way through. Every time I thought this series couldn’t get any more disturbing, it gets more disturbing. I would love to give examples, but everything I want to say is a spoiler, so you’ll just have to trust me.

 

This is my second-favorite book in the series. The first book is still my favorite, but this is a satisfying ending. I only have two small problems with it:

 

First, (I know I already said this in another review), I still don’t understand Risa. She’s a love interest and nothing else. I really, really wanted her to have more of a role in the conclusion of the series.

 

Second, there is a scene where Connor is trapped in a room full of kids who are sedated with IVs. Connor can’t get out of the room, so he pretty much just sits there until he’s captured. Why didn’t he yank the IVs out of the kids? He yanked out his own IV. Maybe taking out everyone else’s would have caused enough chaos that he could have escaped. Or he could have had a very sleepy army at his disposal. Maybe I missed something, but that part of the book didn’t make much sense to me.

 

Again, I’ve said it in other reviews, but my favorite part of this series is the ethical questions that it examines. UnDivided shows the dangers of letting science go too far and also the dangers of suppressing science.

 

“ . . . facts never prevent the ignorant from jerking their knees into the groin of science.” - UnDivided

 

Just because modern science doesn’t have the perfect solution to a problem doesn’t mean that it never will. We have to keep working toward solutions, but we have to be careful about how we do that work. Getting rich from scientific advancements should not be more important than human lives.

 

If I had to sum up this series with one word, I’d call it “brave.” The author confronts a lot of topics that most other authors would shy away from. I don’t agree with every position that the author/narrator/characters take in these books, but I think UnDivided is a brave conclusion to a brave series.

UnSouled

UnSouled - Neal Shusterman

Am I the only one who thinks that the covers of this series are terrible? The books are wickedly entertaining, but the covers are just . . . ick.

 

Anyway, in UnSouled, the characters’ sanctuary is destroyed, and they are once again separated and on the run. They know that an organization called Proactive Citizenry is the major driving force behind unwinding, but they aren’t exactly sure what this organization does or who controls it. As Connor, Lev, and Risa work to bring down the organization from the outside, they come face-to-face with Cam, who is trying to bring it down from the inside. But, can Cam be trusted? Meanwhile, Starkey and his band of teenagers are waging a terroristic war on unwinding camps around the country, but is Starkey helping the cause or hurting it?

 

I liked this book more than the second one but less than the first one. That seems to be an unpopular opinion because a lot of people say that this book is their least favorite. I feel like UnSouled moves the story forward and develops the characters a lot more than UnWholly. Most of the main characters are becoming less impulsive and less naïve. They’re learning to harness their anger and turn it into something productive.

 

“Cowards hide . . . but warriors lie and wait . . . the only difference is whether you're motivated by fear or purpose.” - UnSouled

 

Cam, the “rewound” boy, is the wildcard in this book. The reader can never be sure what he will do (or what Proactive Citizenry will do to him). I feel bad for Cam. He’s still trying to figure out what he is, why he exists, and whether or not he should exist. He’s being bought and sold like property and doesn’t have much say in what happens to him. I love that his defiant, snarky nature comes out in this book. He’s a troubled teen who’s made from bits of other troubled teens, so you know that this whole Cam situation is going to end badly for someone.

 

My favorite parts of the book are the arguments between Connor and Cam. Both characters are so intelligent that their fights are hilarious. Neal Shusterman can definitely write some awesome dialogue:

 

“‘Talking about someone in the third person is rude,’ Cam tells her coolly.

“‘Really?’ says Connor. ‘When you're a hundred people, wouldn't third person be a compliment?’” - UnSouled

 

I’m going to read the next book in the series, but there are a few things that I didn’t like about this one. First, typos. My copy of the book has enough typos that I got distracted. Whenever I find a typo in a book, I sit there and stare at it because I’m neurotic and think I can make it go away by glaring angrily.

 

The next thing is probably my fault: I didn’t read book #1.5. I actually didn’t know that there was a book 1.5 until I was partway through book #3. It turns out that 1.5 is kind of important. I wasn’t confused while reading UnSouled because the author does a nice job of bringing the reader up to speed, but I still feel like I missed a pretty large chunk of the story.

 

My biggest complaint about this book is Risa. The rabid fans of this series on Goodreads seem to love her, but I don’t get her at all. At this point in the series, she has several boys in love with her. Both whole boys and pieces of boys. (I’m counting the boy-brain-bits that make up Cam as “boys.”) I know that this book wouldn’t be a YA dystopia without an old-fashioned love triangle (or love mob?), but I don’t get the appeal of Risa. I think she’s the least-developed of the main characters. She’s kind of a nonentity in the series so far. She serves as motivation for the boys, but she doesn’t really do anything on her own to move the plot forward. Other than being a love interest, I don’t know why she exists. I wish she had a more-important role in the story.

 

The best part of this series is still the questions that it raises. The series is definitely a product of modern times. UnSouled focuses a lot on terrorism. It shows that terrorists are created when society makes a group of people feel unwanted and ignored. Those people see terrorism as a way to get the world to listen, even if their actions create more problems than solutions.

 

Like the other books in this series, I got through this one quickly. If unputdownable was a word, this series would be the definition. I’ve been neglecting life to read these books.

 

So, bring on book #4! Or book #1.5! I don’t know.

Attachments

Attachments - Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell is one of my favorite authors. I’ve been putting off reading Attachments for a long time because I didn’t want to run out of Rainbow Rowell books. I shouldn’t have put it off because it felt good to be back in one of Rowell’s stories. I’ve read almost all of her books. Her characters and dialogue are always amazing. I get so absorbed in her novels that I forget everything that’s going on in my life. That’s a sign of a talented writer.

 

“‘It's nice of you to say I'm your best friend.’

‘You are my best friend, dummy.’

‘Really? I always assumed that somebody else was your best friend, and I was totally okay with that. You don't have to say that I'm your best friend just to make me feel good.’

‘You're so lame.’

‘That's why I figured somebody else was your best friend.’” - Attachments

 

In Attachments, Lincoln O’Neill gets a job as an Internet security officer at a newspaper. He hates his job because he wants to meet new people, but he works at night when the office is empty. He spends most of his time reading strangers’ e-mails and writing up warnings about the inappropriate ones. Two people whose e-mails often get flagged as inappropriate are Beth and Jennifer. Lincoln doesn’t want to report them because reading their entertaining e-mails is the only fun part of his job. As the months pass and he continues reading their mail, he finds himself falling in love with Beth. But, he’s never met her. He doesn’t even know what she looks like.

 

Even though I love Rainbow Rowell’s writing, I didn’t think Attachments would be my type of book. It sounded too fluffy, romantic, and predictable for my tastes. My instincts turned out to be correct. I didn’t enjoy this book nearly as much as I enjoyed Rowell’s young adult books. Like her other novels, this one has hilarious dialogue (and e-mails), but Attachments is too romance-heavy for me. It explores the fantasy that many girls have about guys falling in love with their personalities rather than their bodies. That part of the story is sweet, but other than the romance, there isn’t much going on in this book.

 

I didn’t love the romance, but I did love the themes. Attachments is about how one person’s “Average” can be another person’s “Extraordinary.” It actually took me a long time to figure out what Lincoln sees in Beth. Yes, she’s funny and opinionated, but so what? She seems pretty average to me. Then I realized that her e-mails are exactly what Lincoln needs to pull himself out of his unhappy rut. She unknowingly gives him the courage to try things that he wouldn’t normally do. To me, Beth is average, but to Lincoln, she’s extraordinary.

 

The theme works the other way, too. Lincoln sees himself as an average guy, but when his presence becomes known to Beth and Jennifer, the way they describe him is anything but average. This book shows that the way you see yourself could be very different from the way that others see you.

 

“He knew why he wanted to kiss her. Because she was beautiful. And before that, because she was kind. And before that, because she was smart and funny. Because she was exactly the right kind of smart and funny. Because he could imagine taking a long trip with her without ever getting bored. Because whenever he saw something new and interesting, or new and ridiculous, he always wondered what she'd have to say about it—how many stars she'd give it and why.” - Attachments

 

So, for me, this book is fairly average, but I can completely understand how someone else could see it as extraordinary.

UnWholly

UnWholly - Neal Shusterman

So . . . I stayed up all night to finish this book. I was completely useless the next day, but I regret nothing. That ending is awesome.

 

UnWholly picks up about a year after where Unwind left off. Connor, Lev, and Risa have gotten the world to pay attention to unwinding, but now they don’t know who to trust. Some people want to help them; others just want to collect the bounty on their heads. No place—not even the airplane graveyard in the Arizona desert—is safe. This book introduces three new characters. Starkey is a teen who’s obsessed with becoming just as famous as Connor. Miracolina wants to be unwound. And Cam . . . is a human made entirely from the body parts of other humans.

 

One of my biggest issues with the first book is that I didn’t buy unwinding. It doesn’t seem like a practical solution to any problem. This book adds enough worldbuilding that unwinding becomes slightly more believable. The story shows how this futuristic society is collapsing and the fear that people have of “feral” teens. Unwinding is big business in this world. Greedy medical companies are trying to make unwinding bigger, better, and more necessary. I really appreciate the worldbuilding because I felt like it was lacking in the first book. The new worldbuilding also takes some of the focus off of the abortion debate, which could be good or bad, depending on how you feel about the abortion stuff in the first book.

 

“The sad truth about humanity . . . is that people believe what they're told. Maybe not the first time, but by the hundredth time, the craziest of ideas just becomes a given.” - UnWholly

 

We need to talk about Cam. After I finished the first book, I started wondering if it was possible to use unwinding technology to build a whole new person. I wasn’t surprised when that’s exactly what happens in this book. I was (weirdly) hoping it would happen. Cam is the character I wanted. He’s fascinating. He’s super-naïve and super-intelligent at the same time. His brain is made up of pieces of other people’s brains, so he has an interesting way of thinking. What’s even better is that he encourages the reader to think. What, exactly, is a human? Is it possible to be more than one human at the same time? If Cam was created instead of born, is he property? How ethical/necessary is it to improve the human body?

 

Cam replaced Lev as my favorite character in this series. I still feel bad for Lev because he’s so young and has had to put up with so much crap, but Cam is what makes me want to read the next book.

 

I’m going to continue with this series, but I didn’t like this book quite as much as the first one. Compared to Unwind, UnWholly starts off very slowly. It took me a while to get into it. Also, UnWholly feels like a recycled version of Unwind. Actually, “recycled” is probably the wrong word. Let’s say that Unwind was unwound and then rewound into UnWholly. Some of the new characters are very similar to the old ones. Miracolina is the new Lev. Starkey is the new Roland. The characters are still dealing with the same problems as in the first book. This book doesn’t feel as original as the first one.

 

Despite the “rewinding” issues, I’m eager to continue with the series. I want to know what happens next.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove

Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories - Karen Russell

Karen Russell is one of my favorite authors. She’s unbelievably creative, and I love how her stories come together at the ends. Usually, when I’m reading one of her short stories, I’m like, “Where is this going?” and then I suddenly get it. All of the pieces click together in an awesome way. The stories have a lot of humor and weirdness, but they also have a lot of depth. I’m rarely disappointed in them.

 

Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a collection of eight longish short stories. Like all short story collections, some of the stories are hits and others are misses for me. These are the four stories that stand out in my mind:

 

In “Proving Up,” a young boy confronts greed and death while he rides across the prairie to deliver a window to his neighbors.

 

In “The Barn at the End of Our Term,” former US presidents are not sure if they are in heaven or hell, but they do know that they have the bodies of horses.

 

“The New Veterans” is about a massage therapist who learns that she can alter her client’s memories by touching the tattoo that he got after he came home from war.

 

The final story that stands out is “The Graveless Doll of Eric Murtis.” This is my favorite in the collection. A group of school bullies discovers a scarecrow version of a boy they used to torment, but they have no idea who made the doll or why.

 

I like the themes of the stories in this collection. Many of the stories have to do with time, memory, and regret. If you could alter time, would you do it? If you suddenly found yourself in a vastly different body, how would you choose to live the rest of your life? Is it ethical to change a person’s sad memories to happy ones?

 

I didn’t like this collection as much as the author’s other collection, and I felt like a few of the stories dragged on a little too long, but if you’re a lover of magical realism, then this is a must-read. I highly recommend it.
 

Unwind

Unwind - Neal Shusterman

This is a hard book to review because I have so many problems with it, but I love it so much. Also, I feel weird for loving it because it’s a severely messed-up story. Seriously, unwinding is yucky business.

 

People have been telling me for years that I need to read Unwind, but I’ve been avoiding it for two reasons:

 

Reason #1: I was worried that it would be another tropey YA dystopia. I’ve read more than enough of those.

 

Reason #2: That creepy human/fingerprint critter on the cover. It’s not creepy in an “I need to read this book immediately” way. It’s creepy in an “I don’t want that ugly bugger staring at me from the bedside table while I sleep” way.

 

Then, I heard people comparing this book to The Hunger Games. I was in the mood for something fast-paced and deadly, so I decided to give it a try. I was not disappointed. This book was exactly what I wanted. Don’t you love it when that happens?

 

I think the comparisons to The Hunger Games are valid, even though Unwind was published first. Both books are action-packed and feature teens who are rebelling against the government in order to save their lives. Both books also require the same type of suspension of disbelief. In The Hunger Games the government murders teens to keep the peace. In Unwind the government murders teens because that somehow satisfies both the pro-life and pro-choice people. All of this teen-murdering leads me to believe that our modern government is not killing nearly enough teens. Teen-murder seems to solve a lot of problems. Temporarily, at least.

 

Anyway, Unwind follows a group of teens who are trying to avoid being “unwound.” Their parents or the government are forcing them to give up their bodies. Every part of them will be donated to a person who needs it. No one is sure what happens to the teens’ consciousness when they are unwound. People don’t know if the teens die, or if they continue to live in a “divided state.”

 

This is a difficult book for me to review: I had a hard time buying the premise, but I couldn’t stop reading. It has been a long time since I got through a book this quickly. I needed to know what happened next because some parts of this novel are downright scary. I was worried for the characters. Every time I wasn’t reading this book, I wanted to be reading it. I was completely hooked once I got past my disbelief.

 

The story is told from multiple perspectives. My favorite perspective is Lev’s—he starts out wanting to be unwound as part of his religious duties, but he goes through a huge transformation over the course of the book. He’s the most well-developed and complex of the characters. I know that this book is part of a series, so I hope the other characters develop the same level of complexity as the series progresses.

 

Even though I love this book, there are two tiny things that distracted me. First, my edition has noticeable typos. These may have been fixed in newer editions. Second, the perspectives occasionally get slightly murky. The chapter headings suggest that this book is written in limited third-person point-of-view with alternating perspectives. Most of the book is written that way, but the third-person narrator occasionally breaks out of that limited perspective and becomes omniscient. It’s not confusing at all, and it builds suspense, so it’s technically not a problem, but it distracted me.

 

I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series. I think it’s brave for an author to take on the abortion debate in a fiction book. I’m interested to see what happens next.

A Madness So Discreet

A Madness So Discreet - Mindy McGinnis

First, I need to profess my love for that cover. It definitely gave me a “Shut up and take my money moment.” It’s beautiful in a messed-up way.

 

Mindy McGinnis’s other book, Not A Drop To Drink, was one of my favorite books that I read in 2015. When I heard about this one, I knew that I needed to give it a try. Luckily, it’s pretty good.

 

This novel is set in the 1800s and follows a woman, Grace Mae, who is committed to an insane asylum for being an aristocrat with loose morals. Basically, her family sent her to an asylum because she’s pregnant and unmarried, and they don’t want the public to know. In the asylum, Grace meets a doctor who is studying criminal psychology. The doctor notices Grace’s intelligence and great memory, so he decides to make her his assistant. They work together to stop a serial killer who is murdering young girls.

 

I saw this book marketed as a historical thriller, but I’m not sure if that’s a good way to describe it. The pacing is very slow for a thriller, but it’s an entertaining historical novel. I love that it gives off vibes of classic horror and detective stories. Grace’s life in the asylum is so brutal that she begs for a lobotomy. Most of the doctors and nurses offer no help and treat the patients like animals. Grace spends most of her time locked in a cell until she meets a doctor who sees her potential. It’s depressing, but historically accurate. Insane asylums were not pleasant places.

 

The characters are the best part of this book. Even the ones deemed “sane” are unpredictable and morally gray. The reader has to question what “sane” and “insane” mean because many of the characters blur the lines. These characters are wicked-smart. They don’t always make the most ethical choices. Their dialogue is snappy. Even though the story is depressing, there were times where I laughed at the characters’ conversations. If you’re interested in novels with brilliant dialogue, check this one out.

 

I did have trouble with some parts of the book. First, the plot sometimes feels like it isn’t going anywhere. It’s just floundering. The middle is especially slow. I wish the characters had felt more urgency to catch the murderer because the slowest parts occur while they are sitting around, discussing the crimes.

 

I also think that some parts of the story work out a little too conveniently. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but a few situations—especially at the end—are solved a little too easily for me to believe.

 

I didn’t love everything about this book, but I did love what it teaches the reader about the history of mental health care. “Sane” and “insane” are often just labels. They can be subjective, and their meanings can change as society changes. In this book, all of the characters are a little crazy, even the ones who don’t live in the asylum.      

A Swiftly Tilting Planet

A Swiftly Tilting Planet - Madeleine L'Engle

I had planned on reading this entire series, but I’m done after this one. I admit defeat. You have defeated me, children’s books. You win.

 

A Swiftly Tilting Planet takes place about nine years after the events of the previous book. A South American dictator is threatening to blow up the world for some reason. It’s up to fifteen-year-old Charles Wallace and a time-traveling unicorn to stop him. They do this by going back in time and altering history to keep the dictator from existing.

 

This book has a lot of the same issues for me as the first two books. It’s tediously repetitive, full of plot holes, and largely consists of an oversimplified battle between good and evil. I don’t like good vs evil stories because the world is more complicated than that. People have complex beliefs and motives. I don’t think it’s fair to reduce a person to something as simple as “good” or “evil.” The good-defeating-evil themes are the biggest reason why I lost patience with this book.

 

A Swiftly Tilting Planet undoes everything that I liked about the first book. Meg was a plain-looking nerdy girl who loved math. In this book, her brothers and husband are successfully becoming doctors and lawyers. Meg is . . . pregnant. Seriously, all we learn about her in this story is that she’s pregnant and beautiful. What has she been doing for the past nine years? Her brothers have obviously been doing things. We don’t hear about Meg’s accomplishments, and then she spends the entire book lying in bed, psychically eavesdropping on Charles Wallace’s adventure. It’s disappointing.

 

Charles Wallace doesn’t fare much better. He definitely gets the short end of the stick in the first two books. He’s mind-controlled by an evil communist monster, and then he almost dies from a disease. I was excited to see what he’d do in this book now that he’s older. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really do anything. He hops on his bubble-blowing unicorn, flies through time, and watches history happen. Watching is pretty much all he does. Sometimes he says a rune/prayer/poem thing that somehow makes bad situations better. The book doesn’t give a good explanation of how the magic rune works. It just does.

 

I found Charles Wallace’s mission in history to be vaguely creepy. Basically, a bunch of Welsh guys have been inbreeding with a tribe of Noble Savage women for generations. They start out breeding in the US, then somehow end up in South America. Charles’s job is to make sure that the “good” Welsh guys procreate instead of the “evil” ones. The author makes this easy for him by giving all the “good” people blue eyes. This seems weird to me. Is the author saying that “evil” is genetic, like eye color? That’s a terrible message to give young readers. Just because someone in your family is a jerk doesn’t mean that you’ll grow up and start a nuclear holocaust.

 

Also, I’m not sure how many children will be able to follow this story. The characters have very similar names, and it’s confusing. Even with the helpful color-coded eyes, I had a hard time keeping the characters and their relationships straight.

 

I tried my best, but I’m done with this series. There are plenty of other books in the sea.