Forbidden

Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

Forbidden by Ted Dekker by Tosca Lee
The Books of Mortals # 1
Publisher: Center Street
Number of pages:  384
My copy: ebook, review copy from Netgalley

A terrible truth has been revealed to one man: the entire human race has been drained of every emotion except one– fear. To bring life back to the world, Rom must embark on a journey that will end either in his own demise or a reawkening of humanity.  But to bring love and passion back into existence will also threaten the powers of the world with the revolution and anarchy that had nearly destroyed them previously.

After happening upon a journal through strange circumstance,  Rom’s world is shattered. He learns that humanity long ago ceased to “live,” that it exists today in a living death of emotions. In a terrible risk, Rom exposes himself to the vial of blood folded into the old leather of the journal. His change is fearful and fraught with mind-bending emotion. A once-pious observer of the Order’s passionless statues, he is filled with uncontrollable impulses. He is filled with love.

He is undone, terrified, and alone in the desolate world.

My supply of Christian fiction has sort of run low ever since I started reading more YA books, so new books from my favorite Christian authors are always exciting and squee-worthy. One of the dream team-ups I had ever since last year when the news went out was Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee, and I have waited with anticipation over this book, Forbidden. Imagine my excitement when I saw that the book was available in Netgalley.

In the year 2005, geneticists discovered that there is a certain gene in our DNA that controlled the emotion of fear, further leading to the discovery of other genes that control other kinds of emotions. After a war that devastated the world, humanity vowed to destroy everything that led to that war, particularly the emotions that come with it — love, joy, passion, anger, hatred, sorrow. Out of all emotions, only fear was allowed to survive. And because of this, peace reigned.

480 years later, we meet Rom Sebastian, a simple, ordinary man who sings songs for the dead. On his way home from a funeral, he meets an old man who tells him of an Order called Keepers and leaves a vial of blood wrapped in a vellum with strange symbols. Citadel Guards caught up with them and to Rom’s horror, they killed the man. Soon Rom is on the run from the guards with his childhood friend Avra, confused and scared to why they were running away. When he decides to drink some of the blood in the vial he carried, long-forgotten emotion surface within him together with the fear that he has been so used to feeling: sorrow. Anger. Passion. And most of all, love.

Early into the first pages of Forbidden, I couldn’t help but compare this book with Delirium by Lauren Oliver. Both books have the same premise and almost the same environment. But where Delirium lacks, Forbidden totally makes up. The world building in this book is solid, so real, and contains the signature Dekker that I have known and loved. I found that the world building here makes the idea of a world operated by fear because of genetic means more plausible as compared to that where “love is illegal and I’d have to cut a vague area under your ear to get that love out”. This book had touches of Dekker’s Circle series, with the countries and royalties and guards and the people. The composition of the world contains both ancient and modern elements that somehow mesh together really well — from advanced alchemy to the hierarchy order of the Brahmin. This somehow gives the readers a clue that while it is set in the future, it doesn’t mean that it is actually advanced. Maybe the truth is, the world is going backwards because of the fear that the people were kept in.

Add to the world building, we have the fleshed out characters, which I think is Tosca Lee’s expertise. I liked how different and conflicted the characters were — Rom with his good heart, Avra’s loyalty, Neah’s hesitation, Triphon’s bravery. Feyn’s wisdom, Sarric’s greed, Jonathan’s innocence. These all seem like typical character traits, and I have to admit that some of the characters’ actions were predictable, but I think they were able to give life to them. People may be a bit turned off with the jubilant exaltation of emotions that some characters did in the book, but I thought it was forgivable as they’ve never experienced emotion like that before. Taking the reactions of the characters in this context, it wouldn’t seem exaggerated but just right. These characters were also involved in the right amount of action that it made me cringe and be surprised a couple of times. There was a particular part in the book that got me shaking my fist, but knowing I was in the hands of good writers, I know well enough to trust them.

Forbidden is very, very good. So what’s keeping me from giving it five stars? Well, it may be just me, but I cannot shake off the similarity of this with the Circle series. Also, this book feels just a tad like a prequel rather than the real first book. While there is action, I felt the climax and the ending was just a little anticlimactic. Perhaps I was expecting more…erm, bloodshed there? Not that there wasn’t enough bloodshed earlier, but I just thought there would be more there. However, that may be just because Dekker and Lee are preparing us for the next book in the trilogy. And the ending really did leave a lot of loose ends that I’m sure will be picked up and played with in the next book.

The Keeper by Ted Dekker and Tosca LeeIf you’re still not sure if you want to splurge on this, the authors have released a short story prequel to Forbidden, entitled The Keeper, available for free as an ebook. In this short story, a man named Talus meets two hermit monk brothers who he chooses to share the terrible secret that he has been carrying, to recruit them in helping protect the knowledge that will save humanity. This short story is a very quick read, and if you’ve read Forbidden before reading this, there’s really nothing much to surprise you here. However, I think that it gives those who have yet to read the first Book of Mortals a chance to taste Dekker’s world building and Lee’s characters. I have a feeling that reading The Keeper will make you want to know more about what this secret is and if Talus ever succeeded with his mission. Also, if you have read the Circle series (Black, Red, White, Green), you will spot a very familiar name in this short story that will probably make you say, “I knew it!” Then the story of Forbidden suddenly makes more sense.

I will finish this review with a quote from the book that pretty much sums up the message of this book:

This is the mystery of it. Life is lived on the ragged edge of the cliff. Fall off and you might die, but run from it and you are already dead!

Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee is now out in paperback and hardbound in all stores. In the Philippines, I saw some trade paperback copies of it in Fully Booked. Must. Get. Finished. Copy!
Rating:
Forbidden –
The Keeper

My copy:
Forbidden – e-ARC from Netgalley
The Keeper –
ebook from Amazon Kindle store

Other reviews:
The Violet Hour
Unveiled
Birth of a New Witch

The Ask and the Answer

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick NessThe Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
Chaos Walking # 2
Publisher: Walker Books
Number of pages: 517
My copy: US paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss.

Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order.

But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even alive? And who are the mysterious Answer?

And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…

* * *

So it’s been a little over a year since I read The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first book in the Chaos Walking series. Having loved that book, it would have made sense if I immediately dived into the second one, especially since I had a copy. But here’s the thing I realized with the Patrick Ness books I’ve read so far: they’re all pretty emotional, the kind that makes you need some time and space in between his books to prepare yourself for another ride. Especially if you’re one who gets a bit attached to the characters, like me.

Spoilers for the first book inevitable at this point forward. And so now that a year has passed, I pick up The Ask and the Answer. The book picks up almost immediately where Knife left off: Todd wakes up and finds himself tied to a chair facing Mayor Prentiss, now President Prentiss, questioning him. Todd had only one concern in mind — where Viola was, and if she’s still alive, especially since he remembered carrying her almost-lifeless body towards what they thought was Haven. The “haven” that they expected is now New Prentisstown, with the Mayor as the new leader. But it seemed like the Mayor doesn’t want Todd dead. He spares his life, teams him up with his son Davy to do some work in New Prentisstown, promising Todd that Viola will live if he follows the rules. The Mayor suddenly doesn’t seem to be the person Todd believed he was…but can he be trusted?

In the other side of town, Viola wakes up, far from dead. She meets Mistress Coyle, one the best healers in Haven, and Viola finds out that the Mayor has locked all women in for reasons yet unknown. As Viola recovers, she becomes an apprentice healer, constantly worried about Todd and if he has survived whatever the Mayor had in store for them. But soon, Viola finds out that there’s more to Mistress Coyle than being a normal and best healer in New Prentisstown — and she needs Viola on her side.

Then the bombs start exploding.

The Ask and the Answer picks up the pace from the first book, dropping us straight into the conflict. Todd and Viola’s separation tears at them both, and while they don’t really know what to do or who to trust, they know they have to be with each other, no matter what. They both grow up lots in this installment, with all the politics and manipulation and desperation going on around them. This is also far darker than its predecessor, tackling themes such as torture, genocide and terrorism to name a few. This book had the same vibe I got from Mockingjay, with the violence unleashed in the pages…and this isn’t even war yet! It makes me wonder if the second book is as intense as I found the third Hunger Games book was, what more of Monsters of Men? I can’t imagine how dark that would be now.

This book blurs lines between the good and the bad guys, and truly, it’s hard to pick a side in the entire story. Should the end justify the means? Is terrorism the only way to achieve “peace”? Gray areas abound and the moral issues were tackled with the same detail as in Knife, but not too deep that it’s not so hard to understand. As if that’s not enough, Ness brings in another player into the field by the end of the novel, which I should have expected but took me by surprise.

My favorite character in this installment isn’t Todd or Viola, though, but Davy Prentiss. Davy, who only wanted to make his dad proud. Davy, who acts like a tough man but who’s really a boy. I loved how the relationship between Todd and Davy was developed, especially since I hardly saw it coming. It was easy to dismiss Davy as a villain especially after he shot Viola in the first book, but his evolution was a definite surprise. I am impressed at how Ness made him into a character that would earn the sympathy of the readers in the end.

Lately, I found myself balking whenever I see that a book I was about to start reading is more than 350 pages. With all the books in my TBR pile, I feel like I can’t invest that much time in a too thick book — you get what I mean? This book defied that though — it had 500+ pages but I hardly felt it. My friends, I think that is a good measure for a great book. :) While not as heart-wrenching as Knife (I admit that I’m still quite attached to that), The Ask and the Answer is a very good follow up in the trilogy. I am really looking forward to reading Monsters of Men now. Yes, I still need a breather before jumping into that, but I think I can promise that it won’t take another year before I crack my copy open. :)

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
Required Reading – September

Other reviews:
Persnickety Snark
The Book Smugglers
Book Harbinger

Required Reading: September

(I promise to write that book-related trip post soon; I just have to prepare the photos :D)

So, I was kind of doubtful that I would reach my August Required Reading goal, given that I was traipsing all over Europe at the second half of the month. But I guess I shouldn’t underestimate myself and long plane/train rides because surprises! I actually finished reading all the books I set to read in August. :) Unfortunately, no reviews up for them yet because I’m terribly behind. Eeep!

  1. Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto – I actually finished this weeks before I left. I wasn’t exactly a big fan of The Time Traveler’s Wife, so I was kind of wary of the story for this one. I liked the European setting a lot, though, even if I didn’t really get to visit any of them. :P
  2. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly – Oh, this book. I was intimidated by its 8o+ chapters, but it turned out to be a very quick read. Plus it made Paris come alive to me, and I couldn’t help but squeal a bit every time I see familiar places I read about in the book while we were touring the city. Bastille! Palais-Royal! Eee. :D
  3. No and Me by Delphine de Vigan – This was cute, but also not so much in a totally unexpected way. I think I understand what made people like this book so much, with its charm despite its sort of broken ending.

Like I said, never underestimate 11-13 hour plane and train rides. It gives you good reading time when you’re not sleeping. :D

Required Reading: SeptemberNow here we are on September. I’m back on night shift, but I don’t really know if that is helpful with my reading (July was awesome, though, so maybe?). I was thinking of a theme for this month yesterday and I honestly couldn’t come up with anything. I was just trying to remember the reading buddy things I’ve promised to do when I return, and that’s when a theme hit me. Kill [n] birds with one stone, right? Or something like that.

So September’s Required Reading theme: sequels/spin-offs!

I’m not a big fan of sequels, because they’re really a hit or miss, but I love spin-offs, especially for other characters in a book. :) The thing with me and sequels/second books/spin-offs is, I don’t really pick it up immediately after reading the first book because…well, I’m not sure, except maybe I didn’t want the story to end just yet. Haha. I figured it’s time to get myself reading those books I’ve put off long enough now, right?

So the list!

  • The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking # 2, the second book after The Knife of Never Letting Go)
  • The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta (spin-off to Saving Francesca)
  • The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (second book of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series — took me long enough to finally decide to read this)

Just three books for now. I kind of need to take it easy since I’m still reeling from my trip. :) Thank goodness my job isn’t as demanding as some Network Engineer Jobs out there.

Joining this month’s challenge? Leave a link to your entry so I can list you here! There’s no need to follow my theme, just pick books from your shelf that you need to read or get out of your TBR and try to finish them within the month. :)

Happy September, everyone!

Divergent

Divergent by Veronica RothDivergent by Veronica Roth
Divergent # 1
Publisher: HarperCollins
Number of pages: 489
My copy: hardbound, from Fully Booked

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

* * *

It’s been a while since I read some dystopia, and to be perfectly honest, I think I may have lost some of my taste in them. Oh, don’t worry, I still like it a lot, but I guess I have this feeling that I’ve run out of really good and credible ones that make my heart race, or make me rave like the way The Hunger Games or The Knife of Never Letting Go did1.That, and I’ve been enjoying immersing myself in fantasy and contemporary, so that other little sub-genre of seeming despair, destruction and surviving some sort of end of the world or society as we know it has taken a back seat.

This pause of dystopia stopped because of Divergent by Veronica Roth. I’ve heard so many good things about this book that it’s made me curious, and it doesn’t really help that the cover of the book looked, well, fiery. Well and fine, so I got the book in hardcover in case it is what everyone said it would be and I’d want to keep a hardbound copy for my collection. In case it wasn’t…well, with bookish friends, it’s become easier to dispose of un-rereadable books.

In a future Chicago, the society is divided into five factions that uphold certain virtues that are believed to be a solution to the evil in the society: Candor the honest, Amity the kind, Erudite the intelligent, Abnegation the selfless and Dauntless the brave. Every year, all 16-year-old would take an evaluation that would tell them which virtue they display the most, and are given the choice to choose which faction to live with for the rest of their life. Beatrice Prior is Abnegation, but she knew she was far from selfless. On her choosing ceremony, she leaves her faction and joins the Dauntless, intrigued by their recklessness and bravery. She renames herself as Tris, and what follows is a series of challenges for her and other batch mates for the Dauntless initiation, and surviving it means being able to join the society and upholding the faction’s beliefs. Failure is not an option, as it means either death or worse, factionless — forever shunned by everyone but Abnegation. But Tris has a secret that makes her special and wanted and dangerous, and she discovers that her secret is related to the growing unrest in the seemingly perfect society.

Divergent was interesting. It’s definitely a little different from what I’ve read before, with the society focusing on something as abstract as virtues to make it run. This makes it a bit hard to wrap my head around the society because I don’t think a human being can be just only brave or selfless or intelligent. Virtues are hard to quantify, and I’d think that everyone will be evaluated as Divergent at the start because everyone can exhibit all those virtues, even if one is dominant over the other. So this should really be a deal breaker for me in this book, but here’s the thing: somewhere while reading, I find myself accepting the world the author created, faults and all. It didn’t really make sense if I think about it too much, but a part of me decided to say, “Who cares? Just let it go and read on.

Perhaps what contributed to this acceptance is the fun readability of this. Divergent is addicting. It’s been a long time since I find myself immersed and somewhat invested in a dystopian world. I guess being set in the Dauntless faction and reading about the training is really fun. I liked how the trainings were set up. It’s action packed, bloody and almost brutal — as in knife in the eye socket brutal. There are a lot of themes explored in the book, and I liked how they tried to define bravery. I liked how one of the lines in the Dauntless manifesto says this:

I believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives on person to stand up for another.

It’s heavy without being really too heavy, if you get what I mean? Tris is also an excellent heroine, IMO. I loved how she’s no pushover, and how she can be cold and calculating and vengeful one time and guilty and compassionate after. I also liked her little group, and the moments she spent with them softened their hard times and gave them a more human side. It somehow reminds the readers that even if they’re being trained to shoot guns and beat other people up, Tris and company are still teenagers.

The only other complaint I have in this book is it’s a tad too predictable — two of the three twists I managed to predict pages before it was revealed. I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone, but I guess I managed to pick up on the other clues in the book too easily to predict these twists. Also, I may be one of the few who’s not really that interested in the romance aspect in the story. Not that I thought the guy wasn’t hot — he is, but perhaps he’s just not my type. Heh. Or I’m just nitpicking.

Despite all that, Divergent is a fun and addicting read. A little bit on the violent side, but not too gory. To address the question of comparison with other hit dystopias: this book is no Hunger Games, but it’s entertaining. I really like it enough for me to be curious about the rest of the trilogy.

Rating: 

Other reviews:
Attack of the Book
Steph Su Reads
The Book Smugglers
Forever Young Adult

  1. I do have the rest of the Chaos Walking trilogy on my TBR, but I need to be emotionally ready to read it []

Bumped

Bumped by Megan McCaffertyBumped by Megan McCafferty
(Bumped # 1)
HarperCollins, 304 pages

When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents are forced to pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and had never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Until now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in religious Goodside, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to bring Melody back to Goodside and convince her that “pregging” for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.

When I first heard that Megan McCafferty of Jessica Darling fame is coming up with a YA dystopia novel, I kind of squee-d. I wasn’t sure if I was squee-ing because it’s a dystopia novel, or because it was written by Megan McCafferty — probably both, so it was one of my highly anticipated reads for 2011.

It was the year 2036, and teen girls are the most important people in the world. Girls under the age of 18 and are fertile, that is, after a virus has spread that renders adults incapable of producing offspring. Teen girls — the ones who allow themselves to be, that is — are now surrogettes, allowing themselves to get “pregged” for a couple who wants children, at least until before they become infertile, too. Some girls make use of their fertility as a business, prepping themselves up with talents and health just so people would bid on their wombs, and they’d get pregged by top guys who are obviously selling their fertility as well. This is where we find Melody Mayflower, who’s 16, a pro-pregg but still waiting for her agent to get the best guy to pregg her for her very picky clients. Melody’s life has been planned from early on, until she meets one person she never expected: her twin sister, Harmony.

Now if Harmony had the same viewpoint as Melody, there probably wouldn’t be any problems. But she’s not. Harmony comes from the Goodside, a little community that believes that pregging for profit is a sin. When Harmony finds out she has a twin, she goes to the Otherside to visit her, and intends to help her twin see the light and bring her to Goodside. That is, if Harmony’s own secrets don’t chase after her.

Bumped is fun. I was immediately faced with loud, strong characters who fought for attention from page one, but I never really felt overwhelmed by them. Just like in Jessica Darling, Megan McCafferty had the characters’ voices down pat. I actually really liked Harmony, even if I know most people were annoyed by her. I think it’s probably because I saw the churchy side of me in her. I never felt lost between the switching POVs, and I found the twins very endearing despite their differences. The supporting characters were quite fun, too, especially Shoko and Zen and even Johndoe, even if I was never really sure about Johndoe’s personality. McCafferty definitely knows her characters, and it was a pleasure to read them.

The world that the characters moved in is kind of confusing, so it took a while for me to get fully immersed in it. There were a lot of familiar things but it took me a while to place them, especially the technology that they were using. I don’t think this represents the kind of dystopia that people are used to or that people expect, but as far as the world building is concerned, I think it’s pretty stellar. You can see that the author really built her world from the ground up, taking care to make sure details fit, and that it all felt real. Take a bit of patience getting yourself familiar with the world, and soon you’d also want to have your own MiNet contacts (like Facebook, Twitter and all other social media thing combined — maybe even uses some kind of megameeting.com web conferencing), or even wonder if anyone has a Stalker app on you. :P

Overall, I found Bumped not only enjoyable, but actually quite relevant especially in the light of all the Reproductive Health Bill issues happening in my country right now. I don’t have much opinion over that debate, but I think the story that Bumped tells can be connected with that — whether for pro or anti, I’m not really sure. I do think this book tackles issues existing today in a thought provoking but funny way, and it would be useful to start good discussions on teen pregnancy, sex, and religion among others.

The ending wasn’t really such a big cliffhanger, but I do want more. I’m curious to what will happen to Melody and Harmony. Bumped is another good one from Megan McCafferty, and I think missing this one would is a neggy thing to do. :)

Rating:

My copy: Kindle edition

Cover and blurb: Goodreads

Other reviews:
Steph Su Reads
Forever Young Adult