Saturday, April 19, 2014

Guest Post: A Dystopian Future

Last month was the release of Divergent, the film based on the bestselling YA book series by Veronica Roth. The film marks the continuation of one popular trend, YA books-turned-movies, and is leading the pack when it comes to another, emerging trend: dystopian fiction.

While the dystopian genre has been around for centuries, we are about to bear witness to an onslaught of dystopian movies, television shows, and books all arriving this year. It seems that the appeal of the genre is the unlimited creativity its author has over the whole society -including the possibility of constructing our own planet’s history and future. It’s a concept that many screenwriters and authors are flocking to in a bid to foster their boundless ideas. 

An easy argument could be made that The Hunger Games was the first series to start this trend. The first book in Suzanne Collins’ series was released in 2008 with the second and third quickly following in 2009 and 2010. The series gathered a large fanbase almost immediately, and critical praise due to its somewhat natural evolution from today’s society. While the series takes place in a post-apocalyptic society, humanity as a whole remains generally unchanged. The whole premise of the games, an exercise in extreme voyeurism, recalls reality shows like Fear Factor and Survivor, mixed with live sports. Ordinary citizens are plucked from their dismal surroundings and are immediately turned into stars with legions of fans watching their every move. Sound familiar? Both The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which arrived in theaters this past year have the same themes. 

So far, between the two The Hunger Games films, the franchise has made an astonishing $1.5 billion at box offices worldwide. With two more films (Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2) scheduled to release in November of 2014 and 2015, this series is on track to becoming one of the highest internationally grossing movie franchises of all time (it’s already number 26 on the international list and 18 on the U.S. list with only the first two films under its belt).

Another notable YA film adaptation in the same dystopian vein that will be released this year is The Giver, based on Lois Lowry’s famous story of Jonas, the Community, and the Giver himself. The dystopian environment of the Community in The Giver is very similar to that of Divergent, in that most of the citizens are blissfully unaware of what’s actually going on. There is the same dark, controlling government, the same suppression of those who are different, a similar placement test for children once they hit a certain age. However, The Giver takes a much more subtle approach to the story, meaning there isn’t the same action that you’ll see in Divergent. It’s also important to note that the book is also part of a trilogy that predates The Hunger Games and Divergent by over ten years.

The film is slated to be released on August 15, 2014 and comes with a pretty big list of stars in it. Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges will star as Chief Elder and the Giver, respectively. In addition to Streep and Bridges, Australian newcomer Brenton Twaites will be playing Jonas, with Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes stepping in as his parents. In a bit of surprise casting, Taylor Swift will be playing Rosemary, the former Receiver of Memories. The film will be only her fifth acting role ever.

It’s clear to see that we’re going to be getting more than our fair share of dystopian films this coming year. And we all know that with the films will come television shows and an increased focus on new and already available dystopian books. Soon, it will be a veritable onslaught of dismal predictions of the future. Hopefully, though, we’ll be able to get some great entertainment out of the trend before it’s inevitably forgone for another YA idea or concept.

A special thanks to Elizabeth Eckhart for writing this wonderful guest post on the current trend of dystopian movies. You can follow her on twitter @elizeckhart

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blog Tour: Up at Butternut Lake by Mary McNear

The Butternut Lake Trilogy. HarperCollins (April 2014) TLC Tours
In the spirit of Kristin Hannah and Susan Wiggs, comes this debut novel-the first in an unforgettable new series by Mary McNear

It's been ten years since Allie Beckett crossed the threshold of her family cabin at Butternut Lake, Minnesota. Now, newly widowed after the death of her husband in Afghanistan, she's returned with her five-year-old son.

There, she reconnects with the friends she had in childhood-best girlfriend Jax, now married with three kids and one on the way, and Caroline, owner of the local coffee shop. What Allie doesn't count on is a newcomer to Butternut Lake, Walker Ford. 
Up at Butternut Lake follows these four unforgettable characters across a single summer as they struggle with love, loss, and what it means to take risks, confront fears, and embrace life, in all of its excitement and unpredictability.
Allie Beckett could never have imagined, when she ran away from her old life, that she was running into a whole new life, up at the lake….

An author's ability to construct experiences, emotions, and personalities in characters that aren't even real, but are made real by something as simple and complicated as their imagination, is the reason I fall desperately in love with books like this one. It's always characters in a story that make a book worth reading. With Up at Butternut Lake, the lives of four people are explored across one summer in the small town of Butternut. Surprisingly, although the summary suggests otherwise, I found myself reading through four POV's. There was something incredibly convincing about these particular lives that made me truly believe in them and their stories. There is so much hope and fear that I could see these characters being actual people in real life, and it might also be because I've been reading too much science fiction but, nevertheless I loved the characters portrayed in this book.

Allie lost her husband two years ago in Afghanistan. After countless pitying glances and encouraging words to move on she's had enough of her old town. She decides to move her and her 5 year old son, Wyatt, to an old family cabin at Butternut Lake where she spent her summers as a young girl. Allie felt very straight forward for me until the last parts of the book. She was clearly conflicted with her growing feelings for a man who was not her husband. And even after two years had passed since her husband died I felt I understood her motivation for everything she did. She didn't want to get hurt and at the same time she couldn't let go of someone she will always love who passed too soon. Her motivation was clear but towards the end to me she acted foolish. However, I realize that she was doing what she was always doing - putting herself and her son before anything else. It was nice when she opened up to Walker and started to finally let go. Letting go felt like the obstacle she needed to face the most while Walker's was facing the exact same thing.

Walker ends up being someone much more interesting than I could have hoped for. He's supposed to be this dangerously handsome man who keeps to himself. He has a business with his brother selling boats which in the book is much fancier than you would think. It sounds like he's going to be a cliché but in fact he's got his own demons he's been living with - guilt being the main one. It was fascinating figuring out who he really is and the way he thought about Allie. He saw Allie as beautiful right away even if she didn't even seem to notice him. Their relationship was at times smooth sailing while at others times there was some tension. Overall their romance was sweet and patient. There was some moments where sex played a factor but it's a book geared towards adults so it's expected. I liked how Walker genuinely cared about Allie and her son. Wyatt was always very quiet, independent, and uncomplaining like his mother which Walker saw in him right away. He was quick to care about him and Allie as a whole which is nice since Allie is a single mother and all. She clearly wants her son to be happy so to have Walker care too really bumped him up in my mind.  

The two other story lines are Caroline, a coffee shop owner and Jax, Allie's best friend when they were teenagers. Caroline is like the wise old woman that gives great advice although she isn't that old. Her daughter is leaving to college soon and she can't help feeling overwhelmed by it all. I loved their obvious bond for each other. The next book centers on them which should be fun especially since compared to the other story lines she was in the background. Jax's story is the one I was so surprised I ended up loving. Maybe because Jax has secrets she's keeping from everyone and they are about to come out. Also, Jax, her husband Jeremy, and her three daughters are all great people. They are all very kind that I couldn't help feel for her situation. And boy is she in trouble...   

I really got invested in these characters and their lives.  These great characters followed by such interesting plots and an awesome small town setting made me really enjoy reading Up at Butternut Lake. I plan to read the rest of the trilogy to see where McNear takes Caroline and her daughter's relationship.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours, the author, and the HarperCollins for letting me read and review Up at Butternut Lake in exchange for an honest review!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

March 2014 Wrap-Up

So this past month I've been thinking about changing direction in what I want to study and do for the rest of my life. It's scary but I want to do some research to figure out where I'll be happiest in the career I choose. I worry a lot in my life especially about what's going to happen in two, five, ten years in the future. I know I shouldn't get too wrapped up in the future yet it's time I take action in certain parts of my life which is what I wanted for myself in the beginning of the year. So here's to what should be a hopefully a productive, decision making month.

I read 10 books and 2 picture books.

Books and Picture Books I've Read:


My favorite book by far was The Program, Til Death was great too as well as well as the book in The Lying Game Series. Fearscape was one of the scariest books I've read in a long time. It still lingers in my mind...

Personal Challenges:

I'm planning to run more and do regular push-ups in April. I still need to draw more so I'm going to go for it this month. I did complete a new recipe: pancakes. I'm going to probably try to make pasta or something like that next. 

Blogosphere Challenges:

I finished my first series! I've also read 2 more books for my TBR challenge and 1 book for my re-reading challenge.

Plans for April:

I'm going to set my goals realistically to reading 10 books this month. I'm focusing more on my personal goals especially fitness and art goals. Here are some books I plan to read:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Black Crow White Lie by Candi Sary

Standalone. Casperian Books (2012) Author
I could feel tiny stars gather in my hands...
Carson Calley grew up living in Hollywood motels with his fortune-telling mother, who is full of stories about their lives together and prophesies about his future.
We were Indians - Californian Indians. This pale skin was once native brown. And these legs of yours were once big and strong so that you could run after deer and shoot them with your arrows, and then bring the meat back to me. You were destined to be the great medicine man, the great healer who would take away all the pain and disease and suffering of our people.
Believing his mother's yarns, Carson becomes a healer, with the people of Hollywood waiting in long lines to see him, but a purpose built on lies and exaggerations can't last...or can it?

Carson has grown up on stories of his past life, his hero father, his ability to heal, and the potential he has to become great. As a preteen he eats up his mother's tales as well as anyone else's that he comes across. He soaks up these stories and enthusiastically believes that he could truly be the greatest healer of his time. But, he knows that not everything that his mother says is true what with her obvious exaggerations once she has alcohol in her. She could be gone for days and when she is he feels this rage inside him that a healer like him should not have. As Carson branches out to heal people other than his mom he learns some things about himself that have him asking whether his life has any truth in it.

I liked stories. I liked the way they had the power to make sense of life. You could go through a chaotic experience and come out of it feeling confused, but once you tell it to someone as a story, somehow it starts making sense. And I liked watching people cross over to that place that made sense as they retold their tales. I felt like I had company in that safe place away from chaos.

Black Crow White Lie was definitely a very unique book since the protagonist believes he has powers. He heals his mother whenever she asks. He is drawn to light not only outside but inside of him. He uses these stars that gather in his hands to heal his mother and later others. It sounds very strange yet it fit perfectly with the message of the story.

You know how you are told all these things from your parents that you later find out aren't real? Or sometimes you are protected from the harsh realities of life then, at a certain age it all comes crashing down on you? You learn that the world isn't as magical as you thought it was. There is this growth and realization that Carson discovers in this story that we all have felt once before. There's this anger inside him because he knows something is wrong with his mother and his view of the world, he just doesn't understand it yet. 

I really like the growth I see inside of Carson. He is odd but, he is just a kid needing some direction. His friends try to give him that. Faris is an old tattoo artist that looks after him and listens to his stories from time to time; Casper is a head shop owner who sees his potential to help people. Both of these two see that Carson needs a little guidance so they try to help him out in their own way. I think Carson really needed these two male role figures even if they are also odd in themselves. Everyone is a bit different in this story which is what captured my attention most. Black Crow White Lie is a very unique and sweet story about a boy realizing that nothing and no one can change who he really is and who he wants to be.