Guest Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

 

Special shout out to Midsummer Contributor, Brittany, for reading and reviewing The Circle!

 

 

 

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency.

As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO.

Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America – even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

This novel was a friend’s choice in our book club.  I was only supposed to read half the novel for our first meeting but I couldn’t stop.  I ended up reading the entire book and I LOVED IT.  Yes, I have read books that have a similar storyline (very 1984ish) but I was really able to relate to this specific portrayal. This is my first time reading the author, Dave Eggers, but I will now be looking into more of his work.    

The Circle is a powerful tech company that is slowly taking over….basically everything…the way you shop, the way you interact with others, and even the way the government works.  In my mind I pictured something along the lines of Google or Facebook.  The Cirlce made me question my own presence on social media.  It made me question the power of the internet in general.  It’s quite chilling because I could potentially see this as our future.  There were multiple times when I put my book down and just thought, “Holy crap.  This could really happen.”  This novel made me ask questions.  What are our limits as a society when it comes to sharing knowledge? Where is the line between innocent curiosity and breaching privacy?  Are we becoming dependent upon instant gratification?  

Some of the ideas and beliefs of the Circlers are just mind blowing.  For instance, if you don’t post a picture of yourself surfing in Costa Rica then you are selfish and are denying others the opportunity to be involved in the experience.  Their belief is that everyone is entitled to ALL knowledge and “sharing is caring”.  Out of context it seems obviously insane, but Eggers brings you so deep into the Circle that these radical ideas begin to make sense.  It brings forth your true notions on how society and privacy should be constructed.  

Mae is such a wonderfully well written character.  I loved watching her journey in finding her place within the Circle and the unraveling of her humanity.  I’m super pumped because this is going to be a major motion picture with Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, and John Boyega.  It looks SO good!

Eggers does an outstanding job with this novel.  And let me just say, the ending is awesome.  

5 bards 

Blog Tour Review: The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares

Summer for Sasha and Ray means the sprawling old house on Long Island. Since they were children, they’ve shared almost everything—reading the same books, running down the same sandy footpaths to the beach, eating peaches from the same market, laughing around the same sun-soaked dining table. Even sleeping in the same bed, on the very same worn cotton sheets. But they’ve never met.

Sasha’s dad was once married to Ray’s mom, and together they had three daughters: Emma, the perfectionist; Mattie, the beauty; and Quinn, the favorite. But the marriage crumbled and the bitterness lingered. Now there are two new families—and neither one will give up the beach house that holds the memories, happy and sad, of summers past.

The choices we make come back to haunt us; the effect on our destinies ripples out of our control…or does it? This summer, the lives of Sasha, Ray, and their siblings intersect in ways none of them ever dreamed, in a novel about family relationships, keeping secrets, and most of all, love.

Release Date: April 25, 2017

When I started The Whole Thing Together, I immediately fell for Sasha and Ray.  I loved the way they spoke about each other.  Almost reverent tones reflected the lovely thoughts they each held for the other.  Ray reminisced about the summer they built a Lego city together and talked about the safety he found in their shared bed. Sasha mused about his stubble in the sink and their shared copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.  I was hooked from the start on the beautiful things they thought about the other and the fact that while they didn’t know each other, they had feelings beyond fondness.

As we stepped into the lives of the rest of the family, however, I had less love.  I felt disinterested in Emma’s perfection, irritated by Quinn’s sage thoughtfulness and downright hated Mattie’s bratty behavior.  I pressed on through the drama and the hardship though.  It was worth it for the beauty and simplicity of Ray and Sasha and their sweetness.  I rolled my eyes at the arrogant Robert, the timid Jamie & Evie and the flighty Lila.  Adam and Jonathan were barely on my radar.  Overwhelmed by character names? I was too, at first.  I often wondered, why did she include all these other character’s stories, why not just focus on Ray and Sasha and their perspective.

However, as I read on I began to relate to Emma and it hit me, this family was a lot like my own.  My parents were divorced when I was young and growing up I often wondered if they would ever be able to be in the same room without a brawl breaking out.  I have five younger brothers and sisters in total and I don’t bother with explaining the halves of any siblings.  As Ann Brashares newest book came to its conclusion, the answer to my question became clear.  Brashares included the stories of each character and the perspective of each kid because that’s how a family works.  If something happens in a family that seems small to one person, it can ripple its way to another and they can get hit by wave.  I used to think about this a lot as a kid.  Worry about how my life choices could hurt my mom or drive away my dad.  Eventually, thankfully, I discovered that our lives can’t be lived that way.  Everything we do can affect those we love but that doesn’t mean we should make choices for everyone else. It is the opposite actually. Choose love, kindness and goodness and it will give you the strength to ride out the waves that can be created.  This book reminded me of the importance of family, the good, the bad and the ugly.

It is a beautiful picture of love in its purest form and its darkest (also known as hate).  Life is not as two dimensional as it can seem; sometimes we are an Emma- overachieving our hearts out, occasionally we are a Mattie- misbehaving for attention or to hide a truth unspoken and maybe a few of you are lucky enough to be a Quinn- wise and thoughtful.  I strive to be a Sasha- modest, brave and overcoming my anxieties with love and beautiful thoughts.

This is a great story for teens and adults and just to top it off, it’s set at the beach, bringing the concept of ripple to wave full circle.

4.5 bards

 

 

Special thanks to contributor Lesley for reading and reviewing this book for A Midsummer Night’s Read.

 

 

 

Vlog Review: Be My Galentine

 

 

 

Book Review: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

When it comes to sequels, the resounding cry is usually “the first one was better.” (Pirates of the Caribbean, anyone? Anyone?) Given that I wasn’t bowled over by Shadow & Bone, I had reservations when I began Siege and Storm.

I struggled through the first chapters (I’ll elaborate more on that later), before the plot suddenly took an unexpected turn and proved… that the sequel was in fact better than the first. While still imperfect, Bardugo’s second effort expands the world and continues to play on complex issues in the life of a flawed, human hero, Alina Starkov.

Bardugo’s depictions of Alina’s struggle to cope with her growing power brings into question the corrupting nature of power itself. As Alina attempts to step into the role she believes herself to be destined for, her decisions repeatedly cause conflict and confrontations with those around her, forcing Alina to question her own motives. Complicating the issue is the fact that Alina was born with power that was later suppressed. Having found her true capabilities, and embraced them, Alina is reluctant to let go of what has become a foundational part of her identity. In a way, Bardugo’s text both addresses and subverts the idea of power as corrupter, as Alina does struggle to maintain her identity but must also accept and embrace her natural powers and what she believes to be her destiny.

As Alina undergoes her struggle with power and identity, it begins to complicate her love life with Mal unsure of his role and relationship with Alina. Mal and Alina’s struggle is, in itself, not inherently Bad. In fact, that Mal questions his traditional masculine role is every bit as interesting as Alina’s own struggles with power as a woman, but Bardugo then inserts the most overused trope in existence: the love triangle. By making use of such a tired device, Bardugo undermines the strength of Alina’s journey. In fairness, it makes sense for Alina to question her “young love” with Mal, but I’m a bit over the concept of the love triangle in general.

My major issue with the book was the plot line of the opening chapters. While the book ended strong (I did enjoy it more than the first after all), the early chapters specifically force the reader to relive the same story arc presented in the first book. It’s not a summary, it’s a continuation, but it goes over the same emotional ground presented in book one without advancing the story. Alina faces the Darkling and searches for another amplifier for her powers – it’s literally what happened in the first book and did nothing for me as a reader.

Overall, with its complex assessment of relationships and power, I have to give Siege and Storm a solid four and a half bards.

four.fivebards

 

 

 

This review was submitted to A Midsummer Night’s Read by Valerie. 

 

Book Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

You can check out Jessica’s review of the first novel, Seraphina, too!

First, I would like to say thank you to Rachel Hartman for including a summary of Seraphina at the opening of Shadow Scale. It has been at least a year, if not more, since I read book one, and having a reminder of the major plot points and characters made it much easier to slip back into the world of Goredd. I wish more authors did this.

I wanted to just LOVE this book, and it quite upsets me that this review isn’t going to be glowing. I loved Seraphina and had been really looking forward to seeing how Seraphina developed in the second book and if and how war between the dragons and the humans would be averted. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I loved it. I liked it, yes. Maybe I even really liked it, but I most definitely didn’t love it.

Let me start with the parts of the story I did like. I enjoyed Seraphina’s journeys – both the physical journey to all of Goredd’s neighbouring countries and her internal journey to learn more about herself. Seraphina has found herself in the middle of a diplomatic crisis, and this crisis gives her the opportunity to travel to a number of different countries where she learns that Goredd’s way of doing things is not the only way, or even the best way. This physical journey corresponds with her internal journey. Seraphina has always felt different (being half dragon will do that to a girl) and now that she has embraced her existence as half dragon and half human, she is learning what that means. It was heartbreaking to me when Seraphina realized that all of the other half dragons could see what they called mind-fire – an internal light that all half dragons have – and she couldn’t. Much of the first book was taken up with Seraphina’s search for others like her, and now that she has found them, she is still different.

I also found the love triangle between Seraphina, Prince Lucien Kiggs and Princess Glisselda very well done. All three characters love each other deeply, and none of them want to see either of the others hurt in any way. This leads to them taking great care with the emotions of the others.  These are characters who are not selfish; who realize that there is more to the world than their wants, or even their needs. It was refreshing to see this. Unfortunately, this also led to a part of the story that I did not like. Throughout all of the first book, and about 80% of the second book, the characters have behaved in one way. Suddenly, near the end of the second book, there is a massive change that has come out of nowhere. I don’t mind plot twists, but this particular twist didn’t seem to serve any function; especially given how the love triangle is eventually resolved. It seemed to me to be pandering to a specific demographic, and I did not see how it added to the story in any way.

I wish that had been my only disappointment in the story, but it wasn’t. Sadly, Rachel Hartman used one of my least favourite plot devices to end the problem – she invoked Deus ex machine. The entire story has been about Seraphina learning to accept who she is, along with all that goes with that, and in the climactic moment, when Seraphina is faced with her nemesis, a supernatural being comes along and walks off with that nemesis. Wait, what? Why couldn’t Seraphina have defeated Jannoula on her own? Why did we need an external force to come in? Seraphina has just discovered her abilities, and is learning to use them, and suddenly the need is gone. It was such a letdown for me. I wanted Seraphina to embrace herself, to accept that she has abilities beyond those of humans, and learn how to use those abilities.

This leads me to my biggest problem with the story – the unequal power between Seraphina and her nemesis, Jannoula. Jannoula was mentioned briefly in the first book, but in this book, she takes centre stage. She has the ability to take over the minds of others – and there doesn’t seem to be a limit to how many other minds she can control. How does one fight against this? I understand that to create drama, and a build up to a strong climax, the reader needs to feel the hero’s pain, but t his just went too far; so far, in fact, that Seraphina couldn’t defeat Jannoula – it required the last minute intervention of a godlike figure. I wanted Seraphina to learn how strong she really was, and to be able to defeat Jannoula on her own, but that didn’t happen.

For all these reasons, I can only give Shadow Scale 3 bards.

threebards

 

 

 

 

 

This review was submitted to A Midsummer Night’s Read by Sarah. 

Book Review: Zodiac by Romina Russell

Zodiac Book Cover

Book Cover from Goodreads

At the dawn of time, there were 13 Houses in the Zodiac Galaxy. Now only 12 remain….

Rhoma Grace is a 16-year-old student from House Cancer with an unusual way of reading the stars. While her classmates use measurements to make accurate astrological predictions, Rho can’t solve for ‘x’ to save her life—so instead, she looks up at the night sky and makes up stories.

When a violent blast strikes the moons of Cancer, sending its ocean planet off-kilter and killing thousands of citizens—including its beloved Guardian—Rho is more surprised than anyone when she is named the House’s new leader. But, a true Cancerian who loves her home fiercely and will protect her people no matter what, Rho accepts.

Then, when more Houses fall victim to freak weather catastrophes, Rho starts seeing a pattern in the stars. She suspects Ophiuchus—the exiled 13th Guardian of Zodiac legend—has returned to exact his revenge across the Galaxy. Now Rho—along with Hysan Dax, a young envoy from House Libra, and Mathias, her guide and a member of her Royal Guard—must travel through the Zodiac to warn the other Guardians.

But who will believe anything this young novice says? Whom can Rho trust in a universe defined by differences? And how can she convince twelve worlds to unite as one Zodiac?

Adolescence carries with it a series of life-altering changes and perspectives that childhood only dreams to pursue. One of the reasons why I love young adult literature is the very nature of its willingness to ignite some of those existential questions, even though they may be catastrophic to the world that we knew previously.

For Rho, a child of the House Cancer, her world is literally under attack. Zodiac, by Romina Russell, explores the delicate and frustrating battle of finding one’s identity during a time of chaos. Have you ever had someone thrust expectation upon you, whether you felt ready for the responsibility or not? One day, Rho is a student graduating from her education, and within hours, she is expected to be a diplomat. And the reasoning behind her appointment is based on her natural skills in a study that she has been repeatedly told she was doing incorrectly by her teachers.

The worst part about losing control of her life is that no one seems to believe her when she tries to explain the cause of the traumatic events; even some of her friends are skeptical. Through all of her own self-doubt, she battles that of those she’s supposed to work with. Zodiac captures this mistrust in young adults in an epic metaphor in which our protagonist believes she can only trust her peers and her friends.

Or can she?

There’s no going back to the way that life was before the attacks on her world. All she is left with is the present and her conflicted feelings towards her mother, who begins as a mysterious mentor from her past. Her contempt following abandonment and her mother’s words of advice echoing through every decision, much like that of many (especially female) Zodiac readers.

Believable, yet science-fiction-inspired, technologies and cities provide enough visualization to bring you to the many new worlds she visits. An energy network that reminds me a lot of The Force in Star Wars is an asset to those within the universe, yet Rho quickly learns that it could also be a dangerous and risky connection to those looking to destroy life as they know it. Together with her newly-appointed advisor and a mysterious stranger from Libra, she battles the skepticism of those in power and seeks to save as many people as she can. Speaking of those in her corner, you can look forward to some tense and befuddling attractions that she’s forbidden to explore.

Sounds like high school to me.

With its turbulent journeys, suspenseful character development, and the questions of philosophy meeting reality, this book really captured my attention from the first few pages. I cannot wait to navigate this series further and find out the ultimate fate of the universe.

This book has definitely earned four and a half bards!

four.fivebards

Book Review: Corsets and Clockwork by Various Authors

Dark, urban fantasies come to life in the newest collection of Steampunk stories, “Corsets & Clockwork.” Young heroes and heroines battle evils with the help of supernatural or super-technological powers, each individual story perfectly balancing historical and fantastical elements. Throw in epic romances that transcend time, and this trendy, engrossing anthology is sure to become another hit for the fast-growing Steampunk genre!This collection features some of the hottest writers in the teen genre, including: Ann Aguirre, Jaclyn Dolamore, Tessa Gratton, Frewin Jones, Caitlin Kittredge, Adrienne Kress, Lesley Livingston, Dru Pagliassotti, Dia Reeves, Michael Scott, Maria V. Snyder, Tiffany Trent, and Kiersten White.

I will admit it; I judged a book by its cover. The cover of Corsets and Clockwork attracted me from the minute I saw it, and when I found that a couple of my favourite authors (Lesley Livingston and Maria V. Snyder) were contributors to this collection, I knew I had to read it. And then … it didn’t quite live up to what I expected. Maybe it was the different authors; maybe it was the subject matter was too broad, but there did not seem to be enough of a flow throughout the stories. Yes, they were all tied together by the idea of Steampunk, but that wasn’t enough to hold the book together. A couple of the stories were great, but others were definite let downs.

As I entered the Steampunk world of Corsets and Clockwork, the first story hit all the right notes. Rude Mechanicals, by Lesley Livingston was just what I have come to expect from her. It was a little Steampunk and a little Shakespeare with just enough of a twist to keep me guessing. Unfortunately, it was followed by Frewin Jones’ The Cannibal Fiend of Rotherhithe, which hardly seemed to fit into the Steampunk genre at all. It was much more a fantasy/horror match up featuring a cannibalistic half-mermaid. There was no smooth transition from the first story to the next, and it was quite jarring to jump from one world to the next. The lack of smooth transition, or unifying theme throughout the book really affected my enjoyment while reading.

I did like that Corsets and Clockwork introduced me to some new authors. I will definitely be looking for other works by Ann Aguirre, who contributed the story Wild Magic to the collection, and Tessa Gratton, who contributed King of the Greenlight City. The possibility of discovering new authors is something that draws me to anthologies, so perhaps it is too much to hope for that I would love every story. If you enjoy a combination of fantasy and Steampunk, I do suggest picking up a copy of Corsets and Clockwork. If you are anything like me, you will find a couple of stories in it that make you wish it was all real, and a couple that make you very glad that it is all fiction. It is hard to come to an overall conclusion for the book since there were stories that I loved as well as stories that I did not enjoy at all. This also makes it hard to for me to conclusively recommend the book. My overall reaction was really one of ‘meh’, and that is not a strong recommendation at all.

3 Bards.

threebards

 

 

 

 

This review was submitted to A Midsummer Night’s Read by Sarah.

 

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