Book Review: Awaken

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover via Goodreads

Yet again author Meg Cabot gets me to drop whatever book I was reading and read her latest release instead. Awaken is the final novel in her trilogy which adapts the ancient Greek myth of Persephone and Hades to a high school setting.

I’ve already reviewed the previous novels in the series, Abandon and Underworld. In Awaken, teenager Pierce Oliviera is navigating her unconventional relationship with John Hayden, Lord of the Underworld.

But it’s not like they can get lots of quality time together, not when the Fates have mysteriously abandoned the universe, prohibiting recently deceased souls from entering their final resting place.

Since the Fates have disappeared, Pierce, John, and their friends must battle the evil Furies to restore peace both on Earth and underneath it. And with so many people stuck in limbo, what does it mean when the worst happens to someone who isn’t technically alive?

This series will obviously garner comparisons with Twilight, given that both female protagonists have brooding, supernatural boyfriends. Whether you’re a vampire or consort to Hades, you’re required to sacrifice a normal life with family and friends.

At least Pierce has more of a personality than her counterpart Bella. She throws herself into dangerous situations, wielding a whip and Fury-annihilating diamond necklace, so you certainly can’t call herself a passive bystander.

However, it’s a shame that her identity is still defined by John’s existence. Not to mention, even though she took responsibility for her sex life in book two, she throws safety to the wind and becomes surprisingly nonchalant about possibly getting knocked up (Bella much?).

Should have listened to Coach Carr!

So, yes, I’m still waiting for much-needed feminist young-adult novels. It would be nice to see a girl kick ass the entire time and not give into stereotypical gender norms by becoming the equivalent of a Stepford wife in the end (This applies to Katniss too, by the way. I stand by my argument).

But as much as I complain about weak female characters, Meg Cabot still does a good job writing an entertaining mythological adaptation. Sure, the jokes can be corny and the obstacles are resolved with little effort, but let’s face it, I’m a sucker for Greek gods.

If you’re also a classics nerd, then don’t worry, because there are better books out there. I highly recommend Gods Behaving Badly (you’ll literally laugh out loud) and The Song of Achilles (bust out the Kleenex for this romantic tragedy).

Hope everyone has a happy Halloween! Be sure to check out my blog tomorrow because I will have a special announcement. Stay tuned!

Book Review: Underworld

Rating: 4 out of 5

Ok, guys, I have a confession to make: I cheated. Cheated on I, Claudius, that is. I’m usually not someone who juggles multiple books at a time, but I fully support book-sluttiness (it’s the best kind!). It’s not that I, Claudius is not a good book, because I have every intention on finishing it. But I’m sure you all have that author who when he/she publishes something new, you drop whatever you’re doing to read it.

That’s how I am with Meg Cabot, queen of teen fiction. After a quick calculation, I’ve found that I have read almost half of her entire bibliography, which currently clocks in at over 70 books! I don’t think I’ve ever read 34 novels of any other authors–I mean, I have a whole shelf dedicated to Cabot!

Why do I love her so much? Cabot’s like cotton candy to me: She’s not a writer of heavy substance, but she’s light and sweet, and her words just melt in your mouth. I can’t ignore cotton candy when the Fresno Fair rolls around every October, and I can’t help but cheat on books when a new Cabot novel is released.

Underworld is Cabot’s second work in her Abandon trilogy. (You can find my review of Abandon here). The book starts off with Pierce Oliviera waking up from a nightmare, only to find herself in the Underworld with death deity John Hayden. In this modern adaptation of the Persephone and Hades myth, Pierce must save her cousin Alex from the Furies, who can inhabit the living earth by possessing weak-willed people–such as Pierce’s own grandmother, who as a Fury, has been secretly trying to kill her ever since she was a young child.

Along the way, Pierce learns about John’s dark past and meets his crew-mates who assist him in sorting the dead and battling the Furies. She also struggles with her own teenage hormones, dealing with the temptation of cohabiting with her boyfriend, who just so happens to be Lord of the Underworld.

I absolutely love this ancient Greek myth, and this version balances new and old pretty well. Pierce and John have great sexual chemistry, and the story-line was intriguing and suspenseful enough for me to finish this book in three days. True to form, Cabot produces another sugary read, and fans of light-hearted romantic reads will enjoy this sequel.

I also appreciate Cabot for addressing sex in a way that is not condescending to teens, and is also smart and safe. One of the first things Pierce asked was whether she could get pregnant by a death god–oh, how I wish Bella Swan could have been that thoughtful before she got knocked up with a vampire baby! Cabot is highly aware of the faults of other young adult bestsellers, like Twilight, and ensures that her readers are aware of the consequences of their decisions.

However, Cabot is not without faults. People who need heartier reads might find Underworld formulaic and cheesy at times. Also, although Cabot takes a more liberal stance when it comes to sexuality, I found the descriptions of her gay characters stereotypical. I knew that the cemetery sexton Mr. Smith was homosexual without him having to wear pink all the time! I’m sure the gay male community would appreciate representations in media that don’t have to do with pastel colors, flamboyant speech patterns, or cliche occupations like interior designers or hairdressers.

Other than that, I would recommend Cabot’s Abandon trilogy, and I’m looking forward to the last sequel Awaken next year. And I promise to return to I, Claudius–no more cheating!

So are you monogamous or polygamous when it comes to reading? What books are your cotton candy? Send me your comments!

2011 Book Review Catch-Up: Part 3

The time’s come to review my final two books of 2011, which I read this past summer. Both books are young-adult fiction, Abandon by Meg Cabot and Matched by Ally Condie.

Abandon by Meg Cabot (Rating: 4 out of 5)

One of the first books I reviewed on this blog was Cabot’s vampire sequel Overbite, which I would not recommend unless you absolutely cannot get enough of anything vampire-related. However, I have read almost every single one of Cabot’s novels, and for the most part I love them to bits. Her most famous series, The Princess Diaries, is excellent, and I also love her Runaway and Queen of Babble trilogies. So naturally, when I heard that she’d be releasing a novel during the spring based on the ancient Greek myth of Persephone and Hades, I was excited. I wrote my 20-page senior project on two poems about Persephone (Tennyson’s “Demeter and Persephone” and Swinburne’s “Hymn to Proserpine,” which I’ll probably discuss in a Masterpiece Monday sometime). As a Classics minor, I was ready to get my nerd on with this modern adaptation.

Persephone and Hades are reincarnated in this story as 17-year-old Pierce Oliviera and her love interest John Hayden. After a near-death experience a couple years earlier, John is determined to bring Pierce back to the Underworld. The novel suffers from weaknesses seen in other Cabot works, namely predictability and cheesy dialogue. However, she nicely infuses folk tales from Florida’s history and incorporates other mythical elements like the Furies. While many might find Pierce annoying and John more of a kidnapper than boyfriend material, I didn’t mind it because their relationship should be more like Phantom of the Opera at first, because what girl with any brains would willingly choose death over her loved ones? (*cough*Bella Swan*cough*). I could be wrong, but I trust that Cabot will have their relationship grow some more before Pierce makes her decision. Can’t wait for the sequel Underworld to come out in May 2012!

Matched by Ally Condie (Rating: 4 out of 5)

This dystopian novel which was published last year ponders the idea of having the government choose your significant other. At her Match Ceremony, 17-year-old Cassia Reyes is partnered with childhood friend Xander Carrow, which proves to be a rare match since they live in the same borough. All the teenagers receive a microchip with their match’s personal information, but when Cassia insert hers in her home port, another boy named Ky Markham pops up on the screen. Unfortunately, because Ky is known as an Aberration for a crime his father committed, he’s not supposed to be matched with anybody. So what explains this anomaly?

In this world, people survive on soma-esque pills to cure anxiety and erase memories, all their time is scheduled, and they are euthanized on their 80th birthdays. Only 100 poems and 100 songs have been approved to exist, but Cassia comes across a forbidden copy of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which sparks her need to rebel against the system. While some may call this yet another love triangle tale like Twilight, I enjoyed the mystery–and of course the literary references. I’m looking forward to its sequel Crossed, which I received for Christmas. Keep an eye out on this trilogy, because Disney bought the film rights before the book was even released! What’s up with Mormon authors like Ally Condie and Stephenie Meyer making major bank on their young-adult novels? Coincidence? Or should I seriously think of converting to board this success train? Well, either way, Matched was worth its hype, and I hope Crossed doesn’t disappoint!

Now that I’ve caught up, I’ll be posting my master list of 20 books, from best to worst, by Thursday. Hope you enjoy it!