Top Ten Tuesday: My Five-Star Reads

In this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, we’re sharing our latest five-star reads: the best of the best, la creme de la creme, our very own A-game! As luck would have it, in the five years that I have been blogging, I have only given a five-star rating to exactly ten books, out of 107 books total!

I’d say that less than 10% is reasonably selective, so if you’re searching for a perfect springtime read, make sure you pick up one of these!

5 Star Collage

  1. 1984 by George Orwell
  2. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  3. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
  4. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
  5. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Ed note: sequels not recommended, so read at your own risk!)
  7. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman
  8. I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
  9. Bossypants by Tina Fey
  10. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

So which books would give five out of five stars? Share your top recommendations in the comments!

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Book Review: Reached

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 2 out of 5

BEWARE: Spoilers ahead!

Good lord, am I glad that I’m finally finished with this series. Ally Condie’s dystopian trilogy (Matched, Crossed, Reached) started off great, but I seriously have no idea why the finale is rating an average of four stars on Amazon and Goodreads.

The reason why it took me almost six weeks to complete this novel was that it was 512 pages of booorrrriiiinnnnnnggggg. I can summarize the entire saga like this: Protagonist Cassia Reyes, who lives in a totalitarian state where the Society decides everything for you–including who you marry and when you die, joins a rebellion called the Rising with her two love interests Ky and Xander. In the end, after a catastrophic plague, they realize that the Rising is just the Society with a different name and eventually learn how to rebuild their lives and make decisions for themselves.

Does this sound original at all to you?! Condie couldn’t even give her factions unique names! Unfortunately, The Hunger Games has unleashed the floodgates of mediocre young-adult dystopian fiction, and the Matched series is right up there with that of Divergent for being utterly disappointing. At least Mockingjay elicited anger out of me! Reached definitely went out with a whimper rather than a bang.

And don’t get me started on the so-called love triangle. I have never witnessed a duller character than Xander. The poor boy never had a chance, and anyone who thinks otherwise is probably one of those girls who can manufacture an entire pseudo-relationship with a crush with whom she’s had only one conversation.

In fact, all three of Condie’s main characters are total squares. They’re so bland that when I was reading each chapter, I often couldn’t tell whose point-of-view it was.That’s one of the top sins of writing: if a reader can’t even differentiate between your characters’ perspectives, then you need to go back to your sub-par MFA program and demand your money back.

I know that I’m harsh, but I’m just sick and tired of these dystopian books gaining a bunch of unwarranted hype. The problem is that it feels like a bait and switch: the debut novels start off just strong enough to get a bandwagon going, so even if the sequels are lackluster and the finales are absolute crap, well too bad because you’re already too invested in the stories and feel obligated to finish them.

I think that another reason why Condie particularly rubbed me the wrong way was that it was obvious that she was trying SO hard to be deep. In the beginning, I appreciated the allusions to poetry, especially since I love Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night.” But I honestly lost count of how many times I rolled my eyes trudging through this saccharine prose.

Instead of being subtle, the symbolism hits you so hard in the face it gives you whiplash. The navel-gazing over the “morals” of the story just came off simplistic and self-righteous: the way Condie tells you what to think rather than letting you interpret the message for yourself makes her almost a meta-Society official taking away your autonomy.

More importantly, it means that she still has a long way to go before becoming a renowned novelist. Given how she’d yammer on about the loss of culture and the destruction of the environment, I thought it was only a matter of time before she burst out of the pages screaming, “But what about the children?!”

So let’s do ourselves a favor and let this genre take a breather. Dystopian literature has reached full saturation, and now it’s all starting to suck. If you can’t get enough of big governments doing bad things, go read 1984 and Orwell will show you how’s it’s done!

Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most

To explain today’s post, I have to use my fellow book blogger Wanton Creation’s intro, since he put it so perfectly:

“Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke And The Bookish. I haven’t participated in these before, but today’s one looked quite fun so I figured why not?”

Why not indeed? Let’s get started!

Image via The Broke and the Bookish

Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most

  1. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  2. His Dark Materials trilogy – Philip Pullman
  3. Demian – Hermann Hesse
  4. 1984 – George Orwell
  5. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  6. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  8. The Stranger – Albert Camus
  9. Fight Club –  Chuck Palahniuk
  10. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Reviewing this list, I realized some things. As much as I love The Lord of the Rings, I find that I do not recommend it often, since it’s truly an acquired taste that unless you’re giddy for fantasy, you won’t stomach well.

I also noticed how much I enjoy pushing classic dystopian and existential literature (also known as books to piss you off and shake things up!) onto those who have jumped onto The Hunger Games bandwagon. Orwell, Huxley, and Bradbury are my Holy Trinity of oppressive governments!

Lastly, Never Let Me Go will continue to be my top recommendation, for these reasons:

  • It’s a perfect blend of romance, tragedy, science fiction, and other genres–thus, appealing to a wide audience.
  • I can’t say much without giving away the plot, so the mystery gets people intrigued.
  • Ishiguro is a literary genius, and I would recommend anything he writes. 
  • It’s just what the world needs, given the over-saturation of Stephenie Meyer, E.L. James, and Nicholas Sparks. ESPECIALLY Nicholas Sparks. In fact, my loathing of him deserves its own blog post in the near future. So be on the look-out!

I would have included some ancient Greek and Shakespearean plays, but I don’t consider them “books,” so do a bit of searching, and I’m sure you’ll find some great choices.

So what would your top recommendations be? Would you veto any of mine? Sound off in the comments!

Dance like Big Brother’s Not Watching You: A Tribute to Dystopian Novels

I’m currently at a conference predominately catered toward analysts and engineers in the government sphere, which has got me thinking about some great novels about what can happen when governments grow too corrupt, using technology for devious purposes. This dystopian theme has garnered more popularity in the past few years, thanks to the rise of young adult thrillers like The Hunger Games, so I thought I would share some tidbits about the novels that make you want to wear an aluminum hat.

The Classics

1984 by George Orwell (1949): The king of dystopia, Orwell paints the bleak picture of a totalitarian state that not only watches your every move, but also sabotages your mind with double-think. The intensity of this story quickly made it one of my favorites of all time!

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932): This is an excellent portrayal of genetic engineering gone totally wrong, complete with drug-induced complacency. Read with caution, as it also contains more disturbing themes than the other two classics.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1950): A haunting commentary of society’s attention-deficiency and willingness to sacrifice literature and civil rights for mind-numbing entertainment. Its brevity proves that good things can come in small packages.

The Genre Re-Definers

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985): One of the most well-renowned feminist writers, Atwood illustrates an alternate dystopia where the feminist movement of the 1970s backfired, creating a twisted world where women are reproductive slaves. Given current politics in America, this story’s just as relevant almost 30 years later.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005): I’m hesitant to label this novel as science-fiction, or even describe its main premise for fear of spoiling the reading experience, but I will say that never have I seen an author blur the lines between genres as Ishiguro. A heartbreaking tale that transcends past, present, and future.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (1988): I don’t normally include graphic novels, but this one epitomizes dystopia to the max. Based on the history of Guy Fawkes’ Day, it depicts the ultimate narrative of revolution. The V mask is a must-have for anarchists everywhere.

The Newcomers

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008): After flipping channels between reality TV and war footage, Collins wrote the bestselling trilogy of the ancient Greek-esque punishment for rebellion. Arguably too brutal for children, but it’s an apt critique of society’s desensitization of violence.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (2005): One of my favorite YA series, it demonstrates how our obsession with beauty and perfection often hides uglier interiors. Add an element of romance, and you’ve got the next silver screen contender.

Matched by Ally Condie (2010): Again, what’s a YA trilogy without a love triangle? Lit nerds will love its influence from poetry, and Twihards suffering withdrawals will soon have new boys to swoon over when Disney brings the adaptation to a theater near you.

So there you have it! My recommendations for those wanting to dive into dystopia! What other novels would you add to the list?

“Community” is Officially the Best Comedy on TV

So if you haven’t experienced the wonderland that is “Community,” then you are missing out–big time! This show about an eclectic study group at Greendale Community College has some of the wittiest jokes I’ve ever heard on TV. Instead of the slapstick nonsense that normally gets aired, “Community” has become a beloved cult classic for its rapid-fire one-liners, political incorrectness, and meta-entertainment that appeals to the hipster masses.

The latest episode, “Digital Exploration of Interior Design” (yes, all episodes are named to sound like college classes!), elevated the humor to a new level by parodying George Orwell’s 1984. Take a look at this clip:

In this episode, Shirley and Pierce are upset that their cafeteria sandwich shop idea has been stolen and sold to Subway. Because of a loophole which allows individuals to become physical representations of their corporations, Subway can sell its food to Greendale’s students. Britta falls in love with the face of Subway (real name Rick), despite her resistance to corporate capitalism.

My favorite part of that clip is when Subway thinks that students should be “forced” to read 1984. While I agree that the novel is one that everyone should experience, forcing them would be doing exactly what Big Brother does in the story. Needless to say, I was downright giddy with the “Community” writers this week for coming up with such irony!

And the 1984 references don’t stop there! In a sideplot, best buds Troy and Abed find themselves feuding over whether they’re going to break a world record by building the largest blanket or pillow fort. They come to a standstill when they run out of room in the school, and Greendale must choose sides, creating a battle for no reason whatsoever.

Blankets v. Pillows…Oh, the humanity!

Fans of 1984 will notice the similarities between this fort war and the wars between Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. The entire world fought over arbitrary land boundaries simply to keep the military-industrial complex alive. Luckily, in the show, the battle ends with zero casualties, but I greatly enjoyed this subtle comparison to Orwell’s masterpiece.

All in all, “Community” is TV’s most underrated show, suffering low ratings while mind-numbing junk like “Jersey Shore” and “Dance Moms” manages to gain publicity. Some people are just too dense to appreciate real, well-thought-out comedy that exists in this diamond in the rough.

Do yourself and “Community’s” staff a favor by watching this show and saving it from cancellation. Forcing you would be very Orwellian, but trust me, it’s for your own good! Mwahaha!

A Dystopian Timeline

I ran across this awesome infographic on Goodreads and wanted to share it with you. It shows the various trends and popularity in dystopian literature from the Great Depression to today. While I personally feel that romance has weakened the power of the genre, I will support any book like The Hunger Games that can get people interested in classics like 1984 or Brave New World. In fact, if a student of mine is a fan of Katniss and Peeta, I immediately steer her in the direction of Bernard and Lenina.

Teachers should use young adult fiction as an opportunity to broaden teens’ reading habits. Love Twilight? Read Wuthering Heights. Obsessed with Percy Jackson? Try Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. I admit that I can be a literary elitist at times, and these teaching moments will not only encourage kids to keep reading, it will get them to read better books, in my opinion. You shouldn’t talk about Harry Potter on the SAT essay, but why not discuss witchcraft in Macbeth?

Anyway, what are your thoughts of this dystopian uprising? How do you think the genre will change in the decades to come? Let me know!

Image via Goodreads

Dystopian Movie News!

Yes, let's!!!

Odds are, you’ve heard that this little movie called “The Hunger Games” is coming out tomorrow. Advanced tickets have completely sold out and critics are estimating that it could make up to $150 million this weekend. I’ll be busy chaperoning for my mom’s third-grade class at the Fresno Food Fair tomorrow, but since I got my dad to read the book, we’ll be seeing it first thing Saturday morning.

Right now, I’m optimistically excited. I’m not a fan of the end of the trilogy, but I’ve been watching clips and reading interviews of the cast, and hopefully it will be worth all the hype. I’m not too thrilled with its PG-13 rating since I wanted as much authenticity to the book’s brutality, but I understand that the story’s main demographic are teenagers and an R rating would cost the producers too much money.

I’m also skeptical of massive bandwagons. I greatly enjoyed The Hunger Games, but as I’ve discussed before, my overall opinion of the series is pretty blah. Since it’s been over six months since I’ve read the series, I’m already on the hunt for the next big thing, and I’m sure I’ll be sick of all the fuss after a while, just like I am with the Twilight saga. But I’m determined to watch the film with qualified appreciation, so be sure to read my review when it comes out!

I'll be watching you watching me, Big Brother...

Another tidbit of news that was released yesterday is that Imagine Entertainment will be remaking 1984 by George Orwell! The company has teamed up with street artist Shepard Fairey, who has become famous for the Obama hope posters, so there might be some great Big Brother propaganda in the works! Of course, the internet is abuzz with talk about casting, and top favorites for Winston Smith include Gary Oldman and Michael Fassbender.

Personally, Oldman might be too old now to play Winston, but could pass for the sinister O’Brien. Fassbender has done some great work recently, and I think he could do a fantastic job in this film. I’ll have to watch the first film adaptation, actually released in 1984, which starred John Hurt and Richard Burton. But I’m super excited for a modern remake since technology today could definitely enhance the story. I read 1984 only just a few months ago, but it is already one of my favorite books of all time (Read my stellar review HERE!) Maybe this movie will get a new generation of readers to love the book as much as I do!

So will you be waiting in line at midnight tonight to root for Katniss and Peeta? Who would you cast in the new “1984” film? Or, are you sick of all these dystopian tales? Let me know in the comments!