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Book Review: “Divergent” by Veronica Roth (3 Stars)

A young woman’s action-filled quest for identity in a society of rigid virtues gone sour.

This first person narrative is chock-full of action. Tris is coming of age in a dystopian society that has divided people into personality attributes rather than race, creed, birth or socioeconomic status. Each person is born to a family that ascribes to one of five virtues that are meant to maximize the individual’s potential in a way that benefits the entire of society. After basic schooling, the individual is given a test to inform them as to their strongest leanings. After this test and before adulthood, the individual is given the right to choose which of the five virtue-factions they want to join. They can stay with the one they are born into, or change sides to a different one. However, once a choice is made the individual is to give total loyalty to their new faction. You are to feel loyalty to those that are like you even over bonds of family. A different kind of society—yet not so different since factions have existed in all times of history with varying reasons for loyalty and community.

Most of the story is spent around the character’s choice of faction and what that means to her. As it turns out, her test results were inconclusive, and in a sense she does not belong to one faction over another and probably can fit into more than one. Her prime struggle is that of identity. A key theme in many books of this ilk.

The immediate plot revolves around Tri’s struggle as she earns her way through the initiation rights of her faction of choice. She suffers abuse at the hands of her piers, instructors and the various outside obstacles she must face. These are countered with the relationships and bonds she forms which are also continually tested through the trials and tribulations of the initiation process.

The romantic interest, “Four,” is in some ways a typical misunderstood silent-type. Yet, he did feel real and genuine enough. Believable. Interesting twists evolve as romantic feelings evolve between the protagonist and this attractive, initiation instructor. The romantic element is plays out well enough, if a little stretched out.

One of the strengths of this book is occasional drops of realism. As other reviews have pointed out, the protagonist is of slight frame and build. Her attributes mainly come from her personal courage, wit and ability to be creative and lead. Despite her inherent talent for greatness, she does not become some instant badass that can swipe bad guys away with the back of her hand. She has vulnerabilities that make her real. Opponents can beat her in sheer bids of strength, but she has opportunity to ply her attributes in other ways that demonstrate her equality or superiority.

The story also hints at bigger problems. There are a few drops here and there about what is going on in the greater world. Yet, for the most part the story is very insular, staged around a single city. While, I know this narrative is about the character’s inner struggle to find herself, the plot felt a little stifled after spending so many pages inside the fraternal workings of the protagonist’s faction. They were interesting in some ways, but not compelling. I was curious to know about the differences in the factions, and how they developed their new initiates into ascribing to their philosophies, but it got old. The author tried to make the stakes high (death and alienation), but ultimately the characters were playing games that didn’t feel all that original or deep. It lacked a true “philosophical” or “vocational” feel (in some ways).

Much is made of “simulations” that the characters must undergo, which test their strengths and loyalties. Everyone is getting injected with this colored liquid or that colored liquid. Then they are transported into a virtual reality type environment where surreal things can challenge them. All these injections are part of a bigger plot that gets outside the initiation rituals and ties Tris into the seedy underbelly, which lies behind the altruistic vision in which the factions were founded. Yet, this comes into play late in the book, and was somewhat hard to swallow. A lot of what is seen technology-wise, didn’t feel all that new—and didn’t feel like it had a unique spin on it.

The author includes some show-stopping drama. These moments are sort of sparse and jarring, but they instantly ground the story. The occasional horrific act that befalls the protagonist (or her cohorts), remind the reader that even though the initiation rights are a sort of game, the stakes are indeed high. I feel like this book would have been better if it was cut down some, with more focus on these heavier elements.

All in all this is a book, heavy in adventure and action. The character development is made in a first person narrative and the protagonist is believable, but it’s slow going with her. Her struggles are relatable and appropriate to her age, but there is something in the overall tone of the story that works against that a bit. However, the moments of serious drama are thoughtful, and give the reader some good nuggets to chew on though a few of the lighter parts.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes or our website. (www.nodeodorant.com)

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “Divergent” (book/movie) Veronica Roth – Neil Burger (Ashley Judd)

Ryan Sean O'Reilly:

New Podcast Episode!

Originally posted on No Deodorant In Outer Space:

PODCAST:

Listen to the podcast here (click to play/right click and select “save target as” to download):

S2E3 – Divergent (book/movie)*

WRITTEN BOOK REVIEWS:

Ryan: 3 Stars “…A young woman’s action-filled quest for identity in a society of rigid virtues gone sour…

Wilk: 1 Stars “…This book is reductive and dull. People that enjoy it are not for me. A terrible waste of time…

Rick: 2 Stars “…The story is too convoluted and concerned with what is cool or aesthetic to teens in the context of the market to have any fidelity or at least a genuine investment with attempts on logic and pure creativity...

Guest: Amanda Budnik: 4 Stars “…I thought it was an overall just arching story about a teenager trying to find out who she is, and where she fits in in society, but in a much…

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Posted by on May 1, 2015 in News, Podcast

 

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Book Review: “The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch” by Joseph Delaney (3 Stars)

A heroic fantasy blending in just the right amount of horror for young readers to delight in.

Our young hero is the ill-fated, seventh son of a seventh son. Thomas Ward was born to a farming family living out in the countryside. His Mam has a little something extra going on with her, and planned quite an interesting and unique future for her youngest born. Through his mother’s influence, it has been decided that Ward will take on an apprenticeship with Mr. Gregory. This strange vagabond has the auspicious profession of being a sort of ghost-hunter or witch-finder. Dangerous, but necessary work for keeping the darkness at bay and insuring that the local people of the County can be free from unruly harassment or worse from the ghosts and ghoulies prowling about.

This is a Young Adult story that moves at a good pace (after it gets going). The words are easy to digest for young readers and the occasional big word that comes around gets explained succinctly and in context. However, all this is contrasted with dark tonal themes. There are a few more visceral elements and descriptions that “up” the horror meter into a more mature level. Fans of the darker genres will delight in the real risks at stake: cannibalistic witches, missing limbs, and the typical creepy ghosts born of horrible tragedy. Some of the antagonists are down right scary (Mother Malkin is straight out of Terminator 2).

Also, the creepy settings that are done very well; I could really picture Ward’s struggles as he tangled with the various antagonists. The author does a good job of bringing this element in without going over the top. More sensitive readers might not care for the imagery, but many of us enjoy a scary tale now and again. So, I felt this element added in abundance to the narrative.

Another thing Delaney does, is develop a nice perspective for the protagonist. Traditions, methods, outcomes are all questioned. Right and wrong are not so simple to figure out—even when dealing with ghosts and witches (blood-witches at that!). Ward and his mentor are always conscious of the possible consequences of their actions, they seek to avoid undue cruelty less they find themselves acting just like those they are fighting against. Some of this is typical “Saturday morning cartoon” morality, which gets wrapped up a little too easily. However, I felt like the horror elements balanced this out, so that it didn’t always feel like things were being resolved too conveniently. Perhaps the tone is just right for the YA audience?

A particularly great character is that of “Alice.” She is a girl around Ward’s age who has been raised by witches, but is not quite a full convert. Ward is warned about her, but he is also told to follow his instincts. Alice provides great elements of mystery as we go along for the ride with the protagonist as he constantly wrestles with how much he should trust her. This seems to be setting up a long-standing conflict for books to come.

The world-building elements were also a nice touch. At times, it almost felt like the author was establishing rules for a future role-playing or table-top card game. I enjoyed learning about the different types of monsters that populated the County and looked forward to encountering them. I could see looking forward to reading other books and discovering even more. Ward’s mentor and his mother fill in back story in just the right amount and at just the right times (Always fun exploring new worlds without being overwhelmed). I also really enjoyed all the folklore learned by the apprentice—especially when his mentor explained the different methods that were available with dealing with the creepy-crawlies and things that go bump in the night.

I feel that this story is great for fantasy fans and those interested in dabbling in horror. The elements blend well. The story doesn’t get so deep as other great fantasy authors, but there is something really good here. Perfect for a Young Adult Audience.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes, YouTube or our website.

 

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch” by Joseph Delaney – “Seventh Son” by Sergei Bodrov (Jeff Bridges)

Ryan Sean O'Reilly:

New Podcast episode!

Originally posted on No Deodorant In Outer Space:

PODCAST:

Listen to the podcast here (click to play/right click and select “save target as” to download):

S2E2 – The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch – Seventh Son*

WRITTEN BOOK REVIEWS:

Ryan: 3 Stars “…A heroic fantasy blending in just the right amount of horror for young readers to delight in…

Wilk: 3 Stars “I liked this book. But I would of liked it better if I was a twelve year old boy

Rick: 4 Stars “…The book adopts an environment and characters perfect for indoctrinating your preteen with haunted tales...

(Click the links to read full written reviews on Goodreads.com)

SUBJECT MATTER:

“The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch” by Joseph Delaney

Book: “The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch” by Joseph Delaney

Alternate Title in UK:”Wardstone Chronicles: The Spook’s Apprentice”

“For years, Old Gregory has been…

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Posted by on April 2, 2015 in Podcast

 

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Preview Episode (Pratchett Tribute and The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch – Seventh Son)

Ryan Sean O'Reilly:

Podcast preview episode

Originally posted on No Deodorant In Outer Space:

PREVIEW PODCAST:

Listen to the podcast here (click to play/right click and select “save target as” to download):

S2P2 – Preview Episode (Pratchett Tribute – The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch – Seventh Son)*

SUBJECT MATTER:

“The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch” by Joseph Delaney

Book: “The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch” by Joseph Delaney

Alternate Title in UK:”Wardstone Chronicles: The Spook’s Apprentice”

“For years, Old Gregory has been the Spook for the county, ridding the local villages of evil. Now his time is coming to an end. But who will take over for him? Twenty-nine apprentices have tried—some floundered, some fled, some failed to stay alive.

Only Thomas Ward is left. He’s the last hope, the last apprentice.” (from Amazon.com)

*** * ***

“Seventh Son” by Sergei Bodrov (Jeff Bridges)

Movie: “Seventh Son” by Sergei Bodrov (Jeff Bridges)

“In a time long past, an evil…

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Posted by on March 15, 2015 in News, Podcast

 

Book Review: “Horns” by Joe Hill (3 Stars)

A fluidly crafted fiction of magical-realism that twists away from common story-telling pitfalls.

Ig Perrish has been tried and convicted for the rape and murder of his longtime girlfriend—in the court of public opinion. However, he has not been tried in the court of law. Instead of taking the reader on a crusade to clear the good name of the protagonist, the author takes a side turn into a supernatural introspection on good and evil.

I really enjoyed the supernatural elements present in this book, and the modern underplaying and unique twist on classic Christian mythology. Ig Perrish grows horns. Quite literally. This aspect of the story was fun and well balanced, just as you might find in other modern writers like George R.R. Martin. The protagonist has “powers,” but there are logical and understandable limits that allow this aspect of the tale to inform the story, devoid of any kind of deus ex machina contrivance. The nuances are played well, and imagery artfully constructed from well-established traditions. The pitchforks and snakes were fun and fitting elements to give the story an ethereal feel without feeling extraneous or over-played. One of the elements of Ig’s special powers is that people’s darkest secrets and desires are revealed to him. This idea has been done many times over, but the author’s take on it feels fresh. Ig’s not consumed with seeing the worst in people—at least that doesn’t make up the bulk of the story. There are other stakes at play.

The book is divided into chapters, which in turn are grouped into five major sections that allow for time and point of view switches. In one sense, this is a short tale—what really happened the night that the protagonist’s girlfriend is murdered? Yet, I found myself moving along at a decent pace and feeling like the author was close to wrapping up one of the mysteries, when the story would stop and switch gears providing new revelations from a different perspective. This is a sort of classic “mystery” or “crime-story” device that works well as we masticate over the various details we’re allowed to chew on. With each new pass, we learn just enough to keep us hooked for another run—cumulatively inching toward the conclusion. Effective story telling.

The characters were written well. The chief antagonist is believable in the classic sense of a true sociopath, and we really see how much havoc can be caused by an utter detachment from life as a fatal flaw. The protagonist and his strained relationship with those close to him were developed well also. Especially notable was the complicated relationship between Ig and his increasingly detached best friend, Lee. The push and pull struggle which the protagonist agonizes over regarding their friendship felt real and was very compelling. This was the strongest element of the story.

There are some interesting esoteric aspects in this book. Is the protagonist the devil, or is he becoming the devil? Who is the devil and what does it mean to be the devil, or a devil? Is there purpose behind the plight of the anti-hero? A wonderful aspect of this, is that we don’t have to waste time with some kind of annoying struggle where the protagonist fights to hang on to his humanity and free his sole from damnation. None of that comes into this story. An easy trap to fall into, but done to death. So, Hill gets kudos for that.

Still, I would have liked to see a bit more depth in the book. The story flows quite nicely. The main characters are real enough, and their actions are believable in the contexts their given. I felt that we were digging very deep into the emotions at stake. We cared about the characters and the awful things happening to them, and we rooted for the hero (or anti-hero) to raise his flag and champion his cause. Only, what was it all for? There is revenge, yet not so much vindication. Maybe that’s a good thing—maybe that’s more original than other authors might have attempted? I’m not sure.

Another minor gripe I had was the over-the-top puns that increase in the second-half of the story. The author’s style becomes rather tongue-in-cheek as he plays off trite devil references, like classic songs about or mentioning the devil or using the word “damn” a lot. Not a big deal, it just became silly.

Hill has a fluid writing style. He sets up a few key mysteries and drops in reveals at appropriate times so that the story comes to a satisfactory conclusion. This is a well-crafted tale of magical realism intermixed with elements of mystery and crime.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes, YouTube or our website.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “Horns” (book/movie) Joe Hill – Alexandre Aja (Daniel Radcliffe)

Ryan Sean O'Reilly:

New podcast Episode!

Originally posted on No Deodorant In Outer Space:

PODCAST:

Listen to the podcast here (click to play/right click and select “save target as” to download):

S2E1 – Horns (book/movie)*

WRITTEN BOOK REVIEWS:

Ryan: 3 Stars “…A fluidly crafted fiction of magical-realism that twists away from common story-telling pitfalls…

Wilk: 3 Stars “… …

Rick: 4 Stars “The story itself was fairly simple but Hill made it a suspenseful page turner with a narrative that methodically and semi-sequentially spoke through each character’s perspective of the tragic events...

(Click the links to read full written reviews on Goodreads.com)

SUBJECT MATTER:

“Horns” by Joe Hill

Book: “Horns” by Joe Hill

“Joe Hill’s critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling, Bram Stoker Award-winning debut chiller, Heart-Shaped Box, heralded the arrival of new royalty onto the dark fantasy scene. With Horns, he polishes his well-deserved crown. A twisted, terrifying new novel of psychological…

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Posted by on March 1, 2015 in News, Podcast

 
 
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