Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dystopian Novel "Divergent" by Veronica Roth ~ Cautionary Tale

Published by: HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books
Pages: 487
Genre: YA Fiction, Dystopian

Why Was I Drawn to This Novel? I love dystopians. Truthfully, I'll read almost any novel that says it's dystopian...especially a YA genre.

Cover Value? Interesting cover. Again, it's the dystopian look that really caught my eye, and the title, too. That firey circle reminded me of the "eye" on our dollar bill and the secret society that is supposed to represent the "New World Order" in our present world. Creepy!

Author? Veronica Roth was not known to me before reading "Divergent." I'm going to be very interested in reading her next book.

Series? Yes! The next book in this series comes out in May, 2012. It's called, "Insurgent." Can't wait!!

My Weekend Review:

"Divergent" is one of the YA novels I was most curious about this past year. I kept holding off reading it like a gift I wanted to wait to unwrap until a special time; then I realized the year was coming to an end! I'm glad I picked it up last weekend and read it...devoured it, is more like it.

In summary, the story centers around a teen aged protagonist, Beatrice, who is of the important age when she can choose which "faction" or lifestyle she will live and work within for the rest of her life. Of these factions, there are these: Abnegation, which values selflessness; Candor, which values frankness/honesty; Erudite, which values knowledge; Amity, which is a faction concerned with working for peace and compatibility; the "factionless" who have not qualified for any factions so are poor and perform the most menial of jobs, and Dauntless, the brave and bold--the fierce fighters.

Beatrice was born into an Abnegation family but never felt at home within the confines of that restrictive environment, and looks forward to her time of reassignment, albeit with a heavy heart with concerns about hurting her parents and brother.

When the test administrators come to her school and give her a "stimulation" inoculation to determine her most appropriate faction placement, Beatrice is pulled aside and told she is something called "Divergent" ~ one who could fit in to several factions ~ and something which is never to be shared with anyone at anytime, ever. It is a dangerous thing to be. She is told that to protect her, her test will be made unclear to those it's reported to, and that she should simply choose a faction she feels most inclined to...Abnegation and Daunting, and Erudite being where she scores.

What follows is the story about Beatrice's choice to join the Daunting faction, her initiation within that faction, her love interest, and her wisdom gained that will conclude with a surprise that will bring all the factions into play.

As a dystopian novel, I felt that "Divergent" was fairly successful. Its creation of a futuristic society that had been partitioned into different "factions" to carry on a world which had an apparent catastrophic ending, was believable. Although the setting played at being in a destroyed, futurist Chicago, we have only a few hints to discern that; and, we are not given any knowledge as to what caused the destruction of the "world" or the United States. I felt at a loss for that information.

The initiation section of the book was excellent in concept, but it seemed to take up too much of the story content, in my opinion. It could have been compressed to lend as much impact; possibly more impact. It began to belabor the story, but was pulled out just in time to move on to a conclusion, thankfully. The conclusion, however, seemed rushed in contrast. Possibly the author was cut short by editors, but the ending of her book failed to tie things together well enough to answer questions that seemed pertinent to this particular story. It seemed abrupt, to me.

There is no doubt that Veronica Roth can write a story that is intriguing and full-bodied. She writes one with interest and good character building. I felt as if her characters were realistic and captivating, personal and probable within her world-setting. They engender a caring response, and an understandable connectedness to each other within the novel. I think these are her strong points, and very immediate ones, ultimately making "Divergent" a good book to read. Nothing better than an author who can create great characters we can attach ourselves to!

I would recommend this book to YA readers, and to many adult readers who enjoy dystopian novels. With the small exceptions I've mentioned that do not in any way take from her overall presentation of a worthy novel, this is quite the entertaining book!

While the story is left unresolved, I expect a second book to conclude it, making this a series. Personally, I'll be looking forward to reading it.

4 stars and a choice of Erudite for my faction

Deborah/The Bookish Dame

My Favorite Character?   Four     You'll have to read the book to find out who that is...   ;]

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Jane Austen Made Me Do It..." Compiled by Laurel Ann Nattress ~ These Short Stories Are To Die For!

Published by: Ballantine Books
Pages: 464
Genre: Fiction, General & Historical Romance

The Dame's View:

Will it be enough to say that I wish this book had gone on and on just like a Jane Austen novel?

Laurel Ann Nattress has achieved a coup in this first of her books. Who could have imagined that so many "mash-up" short stories would have been released about Jane Austen's novels and her characters? I'll bet the great Jane wouldn't have. And, I'll bet she's having a delighted laugh over this one because it's by far the best of the best in concept and expression of any books like it.

Fun, luminous, entertaining, in the original sense; meaning a time when a book was meant to entertain before television and video games, "Jane Austen Made Me Do It.." is the book of this literay season that you'll want to give your best friends, your daughters, neices and mother. I'm getting copies for Christmas gifts.

How on earth Ms Nattress ever chose from what had to have been a mountain of fabulous entries, because those that made it are the finest of the finest, I have no idea. With writers such as Stephaine Barron, Janet Mullany, Lauren Willig, Margaret C. Sullivan...and I could go on, I just can't fathom who was left out!

These stories are about nightmares, ghostly visitations, visits from Austen characters, ideas and imaginations mixed with readings of Jane's books and more. Short stories that lead one into another until you want to grab the orginal books and thumb through them to laugh or cry again at the characters and Jane Austen quotes. And, Jane is quoted with such majesty here.

What more can I say except this is a book great fun to have in your Austen collection. And I know anyone who's read this review so far, by this lackluster blogger, has a Jane Austen collection.

5 tearoom nods


Is Latest Trend Towards Demonology & Sexually Explicit Scenes In YA Fiction Concerning?

Are young adults and adults, alike, being duped by "beautiful covers?"

Current trends in YA fiction which include more specific sexual content, demonology and in dwellings of fallen angels concern me. When young adult fiction was first identified, it seemed to be separated from other genre. Its content had to do with teen aged "coming-of-age" and angst stories, friendship cliques, family dynamics, mild fantasy, syfy, and boys' sports conundrums, just to name a few fairly harmless plots.

*It must be said up-front that I do not mean to include these series': "Harry Potter," the "Twilight" series and lighter YA fiction in my discussion but use them only as examples of the evolution of YA fiction toward fantasy in a non-threatening way.

Upon the debut of the "Harry Potter" series, YA fiction took a greater leap into the fantasy world, drawing adult readers as well as young adults and children whose parents readily read the books to them. While this series drew some controversay from conservative groups, it was massively received and marked a new trend toward the magical and mystical we'd not seen in children's literature in recent times.

Then came the vampire series topped by "Twilight" and its copycats. A seemingly harmless group of novels that soft-peddled beautiful, teen aged vampires who were for the greatest part, sad they had to drink blood to survive and wanted to be part of an ordinary high school. No explicit sex and no demonology with succubi and incubus's, werewolves included, at the beginning of this trend. But, not your old-fashioned vampires in the long-run ...

Suddenly, or perhaps insidiously, I'm not sure which, some authors have turned a corner seeming to draw unwitting YAs who seek a little more darkness, and are led by gorgeous book covers. Why have writers begun to lose their sense of what is appropriate for young adults to read? Their sense of direction has become strange.

Some books have begun to tell occult stories, easily drawing the darker sides of teen aged minds and troubled/drug-exposed lives or worse. They're writing stories featuring beautifully etched spirits and angels from the dark side, demonology, losing one's soul, humans selling one's soul forever, in dwellings of angels of darkness, fallen angels who are minions of Satan, sexually explicit scenes and the like.

What has happened to a sense of concern and awareness of young adult audiences? Where are these stories leading them, anyway?

I'm afraid, but I'm compelled to speak out and to take a stand about this trend.

When things began to deteriorate in some countries of Europe in the 1920's, no one spoke up about the "mythologically-based" trends of the Nazi regime. Were you aware that their symbols, their beliefs and rules of order were taken from ancient occultism and mysticism? Were you aware that Wagner's music and opera were mythologically based and were the favorites of Hitler and his staff? Beautiful stage settings..gorgeous program covers..stunning performers...

Hitler's justification for the murder of Jews and other "undesireables" was based on mythology and beautiful gods and goddesses who came down to fraternize with humans. These stories birthed his compulsion to create the pure Aryan race, which is based on a mythological people.

The symbol for the "SS," Hitler's most feared secret police, is from the mythological symbol for Vril or the "god" Odin. The Swastika is also.

In an article by Dr. Danny Penman called "Hitler and the Secret Satanic Cult at the Heart of Nazi Germany," he writes:

"Historians have tended to downplay the occult foundations of Nazism for fear of trivialising its heinous war crimes, but a recent documentary on the Discovery Channel laid bare the untold story of the secretive religion at the heart of fascist Germany. And bizarrely, it is thought to have been based on a 19th Century science fiction novel that predicted flying saucers, an alien race at the centre of the earth, and a mysterious force known as Vril.

"Occult myths played a central role in Nazism,” says Professor Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, head of the Centre for the Study of Esotericism at Exeter University. “When we look at these ideas today, we think of them as crazy, but they were central to the early Nazi Party and through them played a critical role in 20th century history.”

“The Vril society was dedicated to evil,” says historian Michael Fitzgerald. “Through their control of the Nazi party they committed the greatest acts of evil in the 20th Century.

“Vril occultists worked in complete secrecy doing anything that would promote Aryan power. This ranged from straightforward political assassinations, through to evoking the spirits of the dead, human sacrifice and summoning mysterious energies – or Vril - through sexual orgies.”

“They began by indoctrinating the Hitler Youth with Satanic ideologies,” says Michael Fitzgerald. “Children and the future leaders of the SS were taught that compassion was weakness. They were encouraged to celebrate pagan festivals and to carry out occult ceremonies..."

I'm hoping you will add your comments to this post. I'm hoping I won't be alone in my worries about this trend. I really don't know what else to do but share my concerns.


Friday, November 4, 2011

"Come Back To Me" by Melissa Foster~ Unforgettable Novel About American Soldier in Iraq

Published by: Greenforge Books
Pages: 316


Tess Johnson has it all: her handsome photographer husband Beau, a thriving business, and a newly discovered pregnancy. When Beau accepts an overseas photography assignment, Tess decides to wait to reveal her secret--only she's never given the chance. Beau's helicopter crashes in the desert.

Tess struggles with the news of Beau's death and tries to put her life back together. Alone and dealing with a pregnancy that only reminds her of what she has lost, Tess is adrift in a world of failed plans and fallen expectations. When a new client appears offering more than just a new project, Tess must confront the circumstances of her life head on.

Meanwhile, two Iraqi women who are fleeing honor killings find Beau barely alive in the middle of the desert, his body ravaged by the crash. Suha, a doctor, and Samira, a widow and mother of three young children, nurse him back to health in a makeshift tent. Beau bonds with the women and children, and together, with the help of an underground organization, they continue their dangerous escape.

What happens next is a test of loyalties, strength, and love.

The Dame Reviews:

For every war in history, there's been a love story that captures the hearts of those in battle and those left behind. Melissa Foster has written that story. The love story of the war in Iraq.

Ms Foster knows how to capture the feelings and thoughts of people and to translate that to the written word into her characters. This is a mighty gift for a writer. It is, in fact, the essence of powerful writing and the thing that authors long to achieve. When authors are asked what makes a good book, or what's the single most important factor that they want to achieve in writing; hands down they respond "writing good characters." Well, Melissa Foster's forte' is just that. I can give her no higher praise.

You have read the essence of her book in the summary above, and probably watched the video, I hope. It's the story of two young people who have just started a life together and who love each other with all their hearts. The story of not giving up when the worst thing in life has happened to them. It's the story of hope over every possible reason not to believe in it. It's the story, then, of the best in the human spirit.

I've said it before about Ms Foster's novels such as "Megan's Way," which has won so many prestigious awards and is in production for a movie, and for "Chasing Amanda," which has also won a basketful of awards; her writing is just stellar. You can't find a bunch of books you'll love more and that will change your perspective on things.

An unforgettable book, this is one for you to read this weekend! She's an author who's been compared to Jodi Picoult.

Melissa Foster is also on Facebook where you can find a great following because she believes in helping other authors, and links to her organization: The Women's Nest.

5 bold and beautiful stars


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen" by Donia Bijan is Breath-taking

Published by:  Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Pages:  250
Genre:  Memoir


For Donia Bijan’s family, food has been the language they use to tell their stories and to communicate their love. In 1978, when the Islamic revolution in Iran threatened their safety, they fled to California’s Bay Area, where the familiar flavors of Bijan’s mother’s cooking formed a bridge to the life they left behind. Now, through the prism of food, award-winning chef Donia Bijan unwinds her own story, finding that at the heart of it all is her mother, whose love and support enabled Bijan to realize her dreams.

Donia Bijan graduated from UC Berkeley and the Cordon Bleu.  After presiding over a number of San Francisco's acclaimed restaurants and earning awards for her French-inspired cuisine, she ran her own restaurant, L'Amie Donia, in Palo Alto for ten years.

The Dame Savors This One:

This is a memoir to savor.  It's a breath-taking account of a young woman who lived the life of a cherished and richly encompassed child of the world at large.  I became spellbound by Donia Bijan's life story immediately, and found myself holding my breath as I grasped her book, not wanting to read it slowly, but speeding through its pages like a delicious crepe filled with Turkish coffee ice cream.

While Ms Bijan's memoir is captivating in and of itself, her exotic recipes included at the end of chapters are both slightly tipped with the savory and screaming to be tried in one's own kitchen.  I can hardly wait to try her Cardamom Honey Madeleines.  Proustians everywhere know of his love affair with Madeleines to begin with, so her distinctive twist of cardamom with trying out farmers' market honeys makes this recipe irresistible to me. We have a great farmers' market in Naples.
Not to mention that I have a fabulous Madeleine pan I've never used!

What I found intriguing among so many things about this memoir is the tone of her literary "voice."  I suppose I expected a lilting celebration of food and family...a "warm and inviting kitchen" experience as expressed on the cover review.  Instead, Ms Bijan's telling of her past life as a refugee from revolutionary-torn Iran, to the shores of a hip and culturally shocking San Francisco, and an unimaginably glorious but difficult training in the bowels of kitchens in Paris, France, is somewhat maudlin.  It's reflective.  I found it a surprise, and a powerful memoir for that reason.

Food, studying the art of food preparation and restauranteering isn't what's important in her memoir, it seems to me.  What is important is the underlying story of trials, family obligations and examples of dedication to others, of loving and sharing gifts through food, of finding wholeness within the simplicity of homemade and close-to-home foods and ingredients that are discovered.  Food was the life-blood of Donia's family. It is also the foundation of her heritage,where she is today, and where her son and future generations are going.

It was significant to me that her mother was not only a central figure in Donia's learning the importance of food and cooking, but she was a strong role-model: a midwife, a women's liberation advocate, a tireless volunteer in wartime, a teacher, a woman of grace and celebration, a knitter and seamstress, a mother and devoted wife.  Her mother didn't show her the example of taking the easy road in life, of failing to show up and give ones best efforts.  It's obvious in Donia's life.

I highly recommend this book of many trips through a life that's magical and meaningful.  There is much I've left out because there's so much in this memoir, beautifully told, never boring--quite the opposite--like a teatime set with Brussels lace on a silver tray holding lemon tea steeped in a china pot draped in a knitted cozy...side served with a plate of freshly baked cardamom Madeleines; this book will be in your hands until the last perfect word is read.

5 delicious stars