Hello 2011!

Image from weheartit.com

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

Well, it’s 2011 in my side of the world, and I know some of you are already there too, while others are still waiting for the clock to strike midnight. But whatever time you get to read this, I hope you are having a splendid 2011 so far.

Now that I am done with my 10 for 2010 lists (and believe me, it was very hard to make those lists – fun, but very hard!), I can rest from choosing among the many, many books I’ve read last year and now focus on…the math. I know, why am I starting my new year with math?! But this is fun math, anyway, and it doesn’t require much complicated stuff, only statistics. :)

So, presenting, my reading stats for 2010:

Total books read: 118
Total pages read: 32,973*
Total print books: 50
Total ebooks:
58
* Includes 558 pages from The Message Bible

Written by male authors: 29*
Written by female authors: 94*
* Books written by a male and a female author (Rachel Cohn & David Levithan, Ilona Andrews) count twice

Reviews written: 114

Ratings:
5 stars – 24
4 stars – 47
3 stars – 33
2 stars – 13
1 star – 1

2010 Challenges Status:
118 out of 100 books read
20 out of 20 fantasy books read (I stopped counting after 20)
3 out of 10 classic books read (6, if you count C.S. Lewis’ books — are they considered as classics already? No? Okay)

TBR Challenge: 2 out of 12
Project 20:10: 16 out of 20
YA-D2: 5 out of 5 (but not all in my initial list was read)

Okay, that is enough numbers, I think. Overall, it is a very good year in reading, despite not having finished all my challenges. I mean, 118 books is already so many books read, and I know I’m not stopping anytime soon.

I know I won’t be doing a quantity challenge again for the 2011, because I think I’ve already proven that I can read a lot. Plus in the end, it’s not really the numbers, anyway, but the quality of books read, right?

I am pretty sure I will try to top my 3 classic books this year and try to make it to 4 or 5. I will also keep on reading as many local fiction possible, not only because I’m Filipino, but because I believe in our literature, and I want to be one of the reasons why Filipinos will keep on writing. I will probably try a genre specific challenge, or at least something that will help me get out of my reading comfort zones.

Like what I said, 2010 has been a great year in reading, and I’m sure a lot of people agree. :) Here’s to a greater reading year in 2011. *cheers*

P.S. I finally moved all my blogs under one domain, so, plugging my personal blog – tinamats.com . Non-book related posts and other life stuff will be here. Do join me every now and then. :)

tinamats.comP.P.S. Anniversary giveaway is still ongoing up to January 9, so keep the comments coming. :)

Retro Friday: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie of Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
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I wasn’t planning to post a Retro Friday post today, but as I was writing this review, I realized that this book qualifies for it. So to hit two birds with one stone, my fifth YA-D2 challenge book is also a Retro Friday book. :)

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Laurel-Leaf Books, 179 pages

In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newbery Medal winner, Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price.

A few days ago, I was lamenting over Twitter about how I seem to be deprived of good literature back when I was in school. The only times I was required to read a novel for school was during senior year in high school and then in college. I didn’t get my love of reading from school, that is for sure. Because of this, I wasn’t able to read the books that my friends had read for school, and now I am making up for it.

But in a way, it’s also good, because I get to read these books now for leisure instead of for grades. So I guess it’s not really a loss?

I picked up The Giver early this week because I was pondering on getting Matched by Ally Condie via Kindle. I was hesitant to get the latter because there were many lukewarm/cold reviews on it from the reviewers I trust, and most of them compare it to the former. I decided that if I was getting Matched, I have to read The Giver first. I also thought that I cannot call myself a real dystopia reader if I haven’t read this one, and it’s always nice to go back to basics, right?

The story starts with Jonas as he thinks about the upcoming December ceremony in his community. He’s about to turn Twelve, in in Jonas’ world, turning Twelve means he is going to be given his Assignment in the community. He was kind of apprehensive about it because he had no idea what his Assignment would be. To his surprise, during the ceremony, Jonas was selected rather than assigned: he was selected to be the next Receiver of Memories. It was an honor to be selected, but it was also painful in ways the Elders cannot describe to Jonas. Little did Jonas know that the pain involved in his training is really more pain than he ever imagined, but at the same time, he was given the chance to experience true happiness that he had missed out in favor of an equal community.

There is a simplicity in The Giver that other dystopia novels nowadays do not have. Most of the dystopia (ex. The Hunger Games, The Knife of Never Letting Go) I read this year are about worlds that are not peaceful, where oppression is apparent and death and destruction are normal. The Giver is different because it presents itself first as a utopia — a seemingly ideal world where there is no poverty, violence or inequality. The people in the community work as a well-oiled machine and truth be told, the control freak in me liked it. I liked how everything has its place, how everything was so orderly. It was so uncomplicated, and I wonder how it feels to live an uncomplicated life.

Wait, I think I know how it would be: boring. Sure, we could use less complicated living, but not always. I remember some times when there were so many things happening in my life that I’d wish for a boring one, but once nothing happens in my life, I would wish for something to happen just so I won’t be bored. If I were to live in the world that Jonas lived in with my memories still intact, I would probably go crazy.

But that was the thing: no one had memories of the past except for The Giver. I loved the way Lowry described the Jonas’ life before he became the Receiver. It may seem, well, boring, but the writing style fits the world perfectly. I liked how as Jonas learned more and more of the truth, that we get to feel the sadness and horror he felt when he realized that the utopia he is living in is not what it seems.

The ending is much-debated for its openness, but I liked it. I am fond of open endings because it gives me room to think, and it opens up a lot of possibilities that could be a springboard to a sequel. However, as some of my friends in Goodreads said, The Giver has the type of ending that could stand on its own without feeling the need to read its other companion novels.

It’s a good book. The Giver is one of those books that you have to read even just once in your lifetime. It has this haunting sadness that made me really think of what utopia really is, and if it’s really worth losing so much just to gain an uncomplicated life.

Rating:

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 5 of YA-D2 Reading Challenge

My copy: paperback, from National Bookstore

Cover image & Blurb: Goodreads

Other Reviews:
BlogCritics
At Home With Books
Rhapsody in Books

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Maze Runner # 1
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Number of pages:  375
My copy: paperback, gift from Ace

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

* * *

I have seen The Maze Runner in bookstores and blogs for a while now, but I never got around to picking it up because I wasn’t very enticed to get it. I honestly thought the summary was kind of bleak, and that’s already coming from me who likes dystopia. I would not have bumped this book up in my TBR if it wasn’t for my friend Ace, who gave me his paperback copy after upgrading his to hardbound and if he didn’t post a glowing review of the book with special mention to me. How can I not read it, right? (And this means I am an easily swayed person :p )

Most of The Maze Runner‘s strengths lie in its pace and plotting. This is the type of book that will keep you guessing and will keep you on your literary feet. The world of the Glade and the maze that they need to stolve added to the creepiness factor of the book, with the closing doors and the scary half-machine, half-something Grievers, and the community that the boys have created inside the Glade to keep them going. The amount of detail written about the Glade, the boys’ dialect and their own “government” and social designations made it very believable, and at the back of my mind, I wondered if this mirrored the world outside of the Glade, or if there was even a world outside at all. The author levels it up with the book’s pacing, and he did a very, very good job in keeping the readers in the dark even all the way up to the end. I was kept at the edge of my seat for most of the book. Even if answers were given, other questions come up, and in the end (which was a total cliffhanger, by the way), there were more questions than answers, leading readers wanting to pick up the next book immediately.

But with all those strengths, I think what didn’t really work for me in The Maze Runner was the characters. The Maze Runner is reminiscent of The Knife of Never Letting Go in terms of world building, but the latter had characters on its side. I found Thomas a bit Gary Stu-ish, with his messianic role in the story. Sure, it was his story, but it was just kind of hard to believe that the other boys inside the Glade never figured out the things that Thomas figured out in his stay there, especially if they were supposed to be smart. Teresa, the only girl, felt more like a distraction than an important part of the story. I couldn’t quite figure her out, as well as her relationship with Thomas — is there a romantic angle here? What is her use in the story except be a girl and talk to Thomas and be cuddly with him? I’m not quite sure I got it. I did like the other characters though, particularly Newt, Minho and Chuck, and they provided a good variety and even some comic relief with the bleak atmosphere of the book.

I must warn readers, though, that this is a very talky book — most of the exposition is done by telling, not showing, so this may be an issue for other people who like descriptions more than dialogue. Despite that and the slight falter in the main characters, I think The Maze Runner is still a good book. Its tight plot, good pacing and mysteries definitely makes this book deserving of its popularity among the dystopian ranks. I will definitely pick up its sequel, The Scorch Trials, to know what happens next…but I will not pick it up anytime soon, because frankly, the end of The Scorch Trials excerpt in my paperback copy really freaked me out. :-s

Rating:

Other Reviews:
The Book Smugglers
Steph Su Reads
Bart’s Bookshelf

Freedom in Grace

Grace by Elizabeth ScottGrace by Elizabeth Scott
Dutton, 208 pages

A fable of a terrifying near future by critically acclaimed author Elizabeth Scott.

Grace was raised to be an Angel, a herald of death by suicide bomb. But she refuses to die for the cause, and now Grace is on the run, daring to dream of freedom. In search of a border she may never reach, she travels among malevolent soldiers on a decrepit train crawling through the desert. Accompanied by the mysterious Kerr, Grace struggles to be invisible, but the fear of discovery looms large as she recalls the history and events that delivered her uncertain fate.

Told in spare, powerful prose, this tale of a dystopian near future will haunt readers long after they’ve reached the final page.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with Grace when I got it. Okay, so I posted a WoW post about this because I was curious, even if I’m not (yet) a fan of Elizabeth Scott. So far, out of all Scott’s work, the only book I liked was Stealing Heaven, and I am not so sure if I want to read her other books after that. But I made an exception for this because it is dystopian, and I have been liking that sub-genre a lot lately.

Grace was raised as an Angel, a suicide bomber trained by the People to fight against Keran Berj’s oppression. She was brought to the People by her dad after her mother died, and she knew that she will be herald of death, a girl chosen by the Saints to fight for freedom against Keran Berj’s cruelty against the land. She grew up knowing what an honor it would be to die for the cause, but knowing is not the same as believing. On the day that she was supposed to kill the Minister of Culture, Grace decides not to die and instead escapes. She is joined by a mysterious, seemingly compassionate man named Kerr as they rode the train to a border that they were not sure if they could reach.

The story is simple, both in prose and plot. It’s confusing at first, because the story wasn’t told in a linear manner, but in flashbacks and anecdotes of Grace’s past and the history that she knew of about their land and Keran Berj’s rule. After some time, though, as I got used to the narration, I finally got the hang of it and it was easier from there. The chapters were short, sparse and almost poetic and but it does not lack the emotion or action that would pull the readers in Grace’s bleak world. There is very little hope as what little of Grace’s story unfolds, and I felt afraid for her as she rode the train to the border. This is not a book you would want to read for a quick and easy read because it’s not. However, despite all that, Scott manages to weave a little bit of hope in the story, a little spark in the darkness that Grace had lived in almost all her life. Just like Grace, I was hesitant to believe in that hope, but I wanted her to hold on to it because I wanted to believe that there is still something good in the world she lives in.

This is a depressing book. It reminds me a lot of those war movies and books that I avoid, particularly ones about World War II and the Nazis. I never liked watching those movies because it’s scary, and I hate the idea that it could possibly happen again. I know it’s weird coming from someone who likes dystopian fiction, but there is a certain level of separation between reality and the dystopian books I have read. Grace is different, because there is a definite sense of reality in the story, a question that I can’t help but ask as I read this book. That is the most terrifying thing in this novel. This is not fantasy. There’s no magic, no special high technology, nothing. The lack of out-of-this-world elements in this story makes you wonder if this is really happening somewhere else…and if it is, is there anything we can do to stop it?

Rating:
→ Depressing. Terrifying. Hopeful. Grace is simple but it packs a lot of punch as it paints a part of our world that could be existing right now, and yet, it still manages to give hope.

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 98 out of 100 for 2010
* Book # 3 of YA-D2 Reading Challenge

My copy: hardbound from Fully Booked

Cover image & Blurb: Goodreads

Other Reviews:
Persnickety Snark
Chachic’s Book Nook
The Frenetic Reader

Torch those z’s

Z by Michael Thomas FordZ by Michael Thomas Ford
Publisher: HarperTeen
Number of pages: 288
My copy: hardbound, bought from Fully Booked

The First Rule of Torching: Cleanse with fire.

Josh is by far the best zombie Torcher around—at least, he is in his virtual-reality zombie-hunting game. Josh has quickly risen through the player ranks, relying on the skill, cunning, and agility of a real Torcher.

The Second Rule of Torching: Save all humans.

But luckily for Josh, zombies exist only in the virtual world. The real zombie war is now more than fifteen years in the past, and the battle to defeat the deadly epidemic that devastated his family—and millions of others—is the stuff of history lessons.

The Third Rule of Torching: You can’t bring them back.

Charlie is the top-ranked player in the game. Since all the players are shrouded in anonymity, Josh never expects Charlie to be a girl—and he never expects the offer she makes him: to join the underground gaming league that takes the virtual-reality game off the screen and into the streets. Josh is thrilled. But the more involved he gets, the more he realizes that not everything is what it seems. Real blood is spilling, members of the team are disappearing, and the zombies in the game are acting strange. And then there’s the matter of a mysterious drug called Z. . . .

* * *

One of our favorite past times/stress busters at work is zombie killing. No, seriously. Whenever we (namely Grace and I) find ourselves extremely stressed at work, and we have some money left, we’d troop over to Timezone (the nearest arcade at work) and start hogging the House of the Dead 4 machine and start blasting zombies away. There’s something really therapeutic about gunning down zombies and killing monsters, even if we never get past the third level.

Z by Michael Thomas Ford reminds me exactly of House of the Dead 4. Not with the story, but with how the book has a general zombie video game feel. Z immediately drops us into action as we follow Josh go through what seemed to be an abandoned hospital, looking for z’s to torch and humans to rescue. It seems very realistic at first, but we are surprised later by an interruption, where we find out that Josh is really just playing a video game, and one he wasn’t supposed to play.

But of course, Josh keeps on playing, and his skills were noticed by Charlie, one of the best players in the game. Josh gets invited to a secret gaming community that brings zombie torching into another level: a face to face game with real torches with seemingly real zombies and seemingly real blood. Josh is both horrified and fascinated, but since it’s not real, there’s no harm in playing, right?

Z has a pretty interesting take into zombies, different from what I have read so far. Zombies, according to Josh’s world, are not reanimated dead but people who contracted a mutant flu strain that enlarges the R-complex, or the reptilian part of the brain, removing all sentient thoughts of the person. This virus reduced the person’s ability to feel pain and thickened the blood, making the zombies hard to kill save for setting them on fire. The human being doesn’t exactly die but their humanity does, making them pretty much dead, anyway. It’s an interesting idea that doesn’t really lessens the horror of zombies. In fact, it may make things even scarier, since the virus takes living people and turns them into the undead right in front of you.

I like how the author managed to put in the game feel in the story. The descriptions were sharp and vivid, and the zombie hunting scene carried enough tension to make me gasp in surprise whenever some z’s show up. The author was able to put some kind of “face” for the zombies by their little gory descriptions — hair and scalp pulled out, milky eyes, rotting mouth, etc. The zombies here are not just one mob of undead shuffling towards the living but individual horrifying people that used to be the characters’ friends. This is the very strong point of Z in my opinion, and it gives the book an overall gaming feel, a-la Resident Evil or House of the Dead.

However, that’s where the strength ends. I felt the plot of the book a bit lacking. While there was an element of surprise in the zombie hunts, the overall story arc is pretty typical as far as zombie novels are concerned. It’s pretty straightforward, really, and while there was one twist that was kind of unexpected, the rest were pretty predictable. I feel like there’s really nothing new that Z could offer as far as zombie stories are concerned. It’s not shallow, but it just doesn’t have the depth that other zombie novels managed to capture.

I would recommend Z as a sort of fluffy reading for zombie aficionados and gamers (be it PS3, PSP or even a wii — are there zombie games on Wii’s?). Like with other reviewers, I think this book is written more for the younger audiences, particularly boys. It’s fun, it’s gory, but it’s not really the zombie novel that changed my life.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Jawas Read, Too!