Wednesday, 23 October 2013

book review: allegiant by veronica roth

Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Genre: Dystopian YA
Rating: 6/10
The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.


I'm not sure what I was expecting but I wasn't expecting this. I'm not mad. I'm not raging. I'm not going to write a scathing review on Amazon. I am, however, very disappointed.

To get straight to it, I don't hate the idea of Tris dying. In principle I don't think it's a terrible way to go - at every point up to now she's been willing to sacrifice herself (if not always for the right reasons). In practice however it just felt wrong. It was underplayed and underwhelming - it should have been this huge moment about Tris and it didn't feel that way at all, it was about everyone but Tris. I was sceptical of the dual narration from the start - I liked Tris' unreliable narration and viewing this world solely through her perspective, it was flawed but it felt real. As Allegiant went on I couldn't shake the feeling that Tobias' POV was designed as a structural device; it wasn't there to give profound insight into his character, it was there to make sure that the story could continue when Tris was no longer able to narrate. I suppose that works in theory, you need some way to discuss the aftermath but it meant that Tris' death was completely overshadowed by people's reactions to it. It wasn't about her sacrifice, it was about Four's grief - she gave her life for a cause that was never really mentioned again. Worst of all, her sacrifice didn't seem to mean anything - there was no real sense that the world was very much different. The Bureau was one branch of a government that was never developed or explicitly discussed. Chicago and its inhabitants didn't lose their memories but what did they really gain? There was no suggestion that the broader societal conflict was cured, just that Chicago was now safe space (until the government deem otherwise).

To quote myself: "By no means Mockingjay awful but broaching Mockingjay levels of wasted potential."

I loved Insurgent. While I maintain that the plot was convoluted, I'm willing to forgive that because Veronica Roth did such a great job of balancing character development and broader themes/philosophies. As a Ravenclaw I was so excited to read a book exploring the philosophy and ethics of knowledge and it all played out not only through Tris' narrative butg in the character development of Jeanine, Caleb, Cara and Peter. In Allegiant however, those two processes were separated and Roth's ethics lessons completely overpowered character story. The moralising about the ethics of surveillance, of genetics, of intervention, of social structures and of race relations was so unsubtle and completely hijacked the book. I also grew increasingly frustrated with the suggestion that all governments are ultimately corrupt - it's tiresome and bleak - and for Roth to try an reverse that by suggesting that hope for Chicago lies in a democratically elected government felt really hollow.

Overall though, I'm most frustrated by the fact that Allegiant shelved the primary message of the series in order to solely focus on stories of grief, betrayal and sacrifice. It took me a little while to warm to Four but I always felt that one of (if not the) most powerful ideas in this series was the one that he articulated towards the end of Divergent:
"I think we've made a mistake," he says softly. "We've all started to put down the virtues of the other factions in the process of bolstering our own. I don't want to do that. I want to be brave, and selfless, and smart, and kind, and honest." He clears his throat. "I continually struggle with kindness."

The idea that our choices define us and that in order to be our best selves we must embrace numerous qualities not just cling to a single identity is really powerful and at the beginning of Allegiant it looks as though that's going to be the driving force of the narrative. Early on Four reflects on the changing dress code of the new factionless society: " clothes, but beneath them, my Dauntless tattoos. It is impossible to erase my choices. Especially these." His aptitude was Abnegation and he chose Dauntless but he chose to embrace all factions. His body is physically branded with his belief that we can only be our best selves if we look beyond our instincts and dominant qualities. Later on, after the discovery of the genetically pure/damaged divide, Tris tries to explain why it doesn't matter, why she is so uneasy about that distinction being used to define individuals and to account for social unrest. The set-up is perfect to develop this notion of nature vs. nurture and for the characters to come around to the conviction that your genes matter less than your choices, to articulate that message to the world and to embrace diversity. But that didn't happen. Instead, all that build-up was passed off as the story became about defending the city from a big bad that wanted to remove their memories. It was no longer about trying to fix a flawed ideology of human psychology and behaviour but about a dubiously waged war and a sabotage plan riddled with plot holes.

The book traded in its important and relateable message about agency, responsibility and self-awareness for an ethics lesson on abstract social injustices. Not only that but it executed that message poorly.

On the plus side, there were some A+ make-outs...

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

top ten tuesday: books i was forced to read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

top ten books i was 'forced' to read

This is quite the nostalgia trip! I'm twisting the meaning of this so that it's less focussed on 'forced to read' and instead features novels that I was encouraged to read for various school/uni classes and projects.

GCSE English Literature

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
1984 by George Orwell

When my class revolted against having to read Hemingway (they objected to the endless pages describing hand cramp!), our teacher suggested 1984 as an alternative. That decision was quickly reversed when the class realised that 1984 was much longer and far more complex! I wasn't a particular fan of the Hemingway but as I liked history and was interested in the USSR, I really enjoyed 1984. It was the first dystopian novel I read and I'd encourage any fans of recent dystopias to check it out.

AS/A2 Level English Lit

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

My experience of English Literature in the Sixth Form was very positive - I had wonderful teachers who were enthusiastic and engaged and tiny classes (in Year 13 there were only two of us!)- but the curriculum was a bit of a mixed bag! Worst of the lot was Heart of Darkness which I really didn't connect with (I'm not sure I ever finished it). At the other extreme however, was the A2 synoptic paper on Gothic Literature which I loved! We had to study a whole range of novels/short stories and poems for that module but the two that I really loved were The Bloody Chamber and Dracula. Also, as there were only two of us in my A2 class, when it came to choosing a novel on which to write our coursework, our teacher gave us complete freedom. I chose The Handmaid's Tale and wrote my essay on the various depictions of women in the novel - it was the first time I'd ever really considered gender in an academic piece of work, it has a lot to answer for!

MRes Dissertation

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

It's a bit of a cheat to include Rebecca on here as I'd read this before I studied it but I didn't fully appreciate it until I went back to study it in more detail this summer. I read all of these books this summer as part of my dissertation on adultery in interwar Britain. Of the four Rebecca is my favourite, followed by The Good Soldier which really is stylistically excellent though more than a little depressing. A Handful of Dust is hard to like as all of the characters are so ridiculous but Waugh's gift for razor-sharp wit is evident throughout. I'm still not sure how I feel about Lady Chatterley - some of the prose is beautiful but Lawrence's constant moral/philosophical interjections are tedious in their misogyny. As someone who has something of a mental block when it comes to pre-1950s literature I was pleasantly surprised by how accessible all of these were and am glad that I had this incentive to read some modern classics!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

craft post: geraldine the giraffe

Say hello to Geraldine!

Ravelry project page

If I may say so myself, she's lovely! You can't tell through pictures but she has the most wonderful bobbly head!

Although the basic pattern wasn't that much more complicated than the one I used for Bozwonk, the colour work made it extra fiddly. If I was making her again I'd reposition the legs and add more beads to the body to make sure she sat upright but I feel that her tendency to recline adds to her charm!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

book review: more than this by patrick ness

More Than This by Patrick Ness
Genre: YA Sci-Fi?
Rating: 6/10
A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighborhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust, and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him? Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this. . . .

A couple of weeks ago I was complaining about how hard it can be to review books that I love, today I'm worried about reviewing a book that really disappointed me. I'm not quite sure which one is worse.

The real trouble here comes from that fact I have a huge amount of respect for Patrick Ness. I adored the 'Chaos Walking' trilogy and A Monster Calls and I really admire his attitudes towards his audience and young people in general and although I knew little about the premise, More Than This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year. Based on previous experience I expected a lot - I expected to be moved and deeply affected and I expected a book with an exciting plot and insightful character studies. I felt that the More Than This was trying for all that but it missed by a mile.

The book isn't bad - there was nothing that left me shaking my head or made me want to stop reading. It has some interesting things to say about the nature of reality and guilt and maybe younger readers would be more taken by the various morals of the story, but I never felt connected to the characters and so the story and its messages never resonated with me. Compared to the nuanced characters and plots in the Chaos Walking series everything here felt very superficial. By far the sections that I enjoyed the most were the flashbacks/memories - I found myself anticipating these interludes, hoping that they'd fill in the otherwise bland characterisation but they never managed to flesh out the personalities of the main characters. Too often things just happened to characters - the sense of agency that was so immediate and important to the development of Todd and Viola in The Knife of Never Letting Go etc. was sadly missing here. It's difficult to say much more without ruining the book's twists but I'd also add that the observations on internet culture, immigrant experience and child abuse were very heavy handed and the bluntness of their social commentary distracted from their role in characterisation/narrative.

I'll definitely read Ness' future publications because I refuse to let one disappointing experience completely tarnish my respect for him and his writing but (apologies in advance) I really hope there is more than this.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

top ten tuesday: series endings

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

top ten seven series endings about which i have feelings

I tried really hard to shake things up so these series' weren't exactly the same ones as in my top ten mid-series installments post from a couple of weeks ago but that didn't really work! I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS ABOUT THESE SERIES' OKAY?!?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter #7)
The older I get the more problematic I find aspects of this series and certain aspects of the conclusion (yes, the epilogue is meh but I also hate that Ginny never got to kill a Horcrux as closure for her possessed-by-Voldemort arc in CoS and would have liked to see Neville face Bellatrix) but The Forest Again is a chapter that exists and I don't think I'll ever be over it. Harry's arc in this book is PERFECT.
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials #3)
As a whole I'm not sure if this is my favourite book in this series but there are so many moments/sentiments etc. that I adore that it definitely warrants a place here.
Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking #3)
Probably the best exploration of war in modern YA lit. Brutal, hugely emotional but full of hope, this made me cry on a packed commuter train.

FitzOsbornes at War by Michelle Cooper (The Montmaray Journals #3)
I'm still not entirely sure why this disappointed me so but something just didn't click for me.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games #3)
I've ranted about this before - the things I love (GALE!!!!!!!!) I really love and everyone ends up pretty much exactly where I expected them to but everything else is terrible!

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares (Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants #5)
A perfect case for not returning to a series you've already finished. This really doesn't do the rest of the series justice. You can read my initial review here.

Spellbound by Rachel Hawkins (Hex Hall #3)
I was so thrilled with this when it was first published last year - this was one of those series where I cared about the characters WAYYYYYYYYY more than the plot and all of my favourites got what they wanted (they're going to college together and it's WONDERFUL!) so I was really happy. I re-read the whole series earlier this year though and this really fell flat - I still loved Sophie and Jenna and ARCHER but everything else is really flimsy and half-baked so I'm conflicted!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

monthly roundup: september 2013

After a pretty stressful summer, I could not have had a more stress-free September. There was the odd twine of anxiety as I tried to get registered for my PhD and find somewhere to live but I spent most of last month reading, shopping, watching movies and The West Wing and crocheting. I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep up that level of stresslessness or the same frequency of blog posts as I begin my PhD but it was fun while it lasted!

books read

034 Mary Ann Shaffer - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (7/10)
035 Marissa Meyer - Cinder (7/10)
036 Marissa Meyer - Scarlet (7/10)
037 Katie Coyle - Vivian Versus the Apocalypse (9/10)
038 Maggie Stiefvater - The Dream Thieves (9/10)

new movies watched

The King and I* (5/10)
About Time^ (8/10)
The Princess Bride (7/10)
Rush^ (7/10)

craft projects


Forest - Park, Squares, And Alleys
Renaissance Girls (Nick Zinner Remix) - Oh Land
We Can't Stop - Bastille
Cannabutter Kisses - Elli Ingram
Elliot - Roosevelt
Grand Union - Arthur Beatrice
Darling Are You Gonna Leave Me - London Grammar
Stay With Us - Seoul
Cry No More - Vaults
Rescue - Yuna

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

craft post: a cowl and crochet mitts

In the last couple of weeks Autumn has definitely descended on the UK and while I'm not a fan of the cold I do love knitwear and winter accessories! It only made sense that I'd make some of my own and these were both really simple mini-projects.

I made this cowl in only a couple of hours.

Ravelry project page

The pattern is free and very simple. I did have to extend my initial chain though so it would go around my neck twice. I'm not completely happy with the colour of the wool - in the ball it looked much bluer - but it makes for a very cosy cowl! We'll be very closely acquainted by the time spring rolls around!

These gloves took a little longer but I finished them in the space of an afternoon.

Ravelry project page

I made these mainly because my house is FREEZING at the minute and my dad refuses to turn the heating on until at least the middle of October. I needed something to keep my hands warm while I crocheted and these were perfect as they leave my fingers free. Again, this pattern was free and very simple. This isn't a colour combination I'd usually go for but I wanted to use up some wool in my stash that I'm unlikely to use for much else.

Do you have any favourite homemade knitwear or scarf/hat/glove projects that you're working on in preparation for this winter?