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The Vindico by Wesley King
The Vindico

lilianxcheng, July 30, 2012

X-men meets the Breakfast Club? Doesn't that sound exciting or what? I was interested when I heard about The Vindico in the beginning of the year, and I was excited to finally read it when I saw it on the shelves. Unfortunately, The Vindico just didn't work for me on so many levels. The concept was fresh, but the execution was just disappointing. Perhaps it would have been better suited as a lower-middle grade novel rather than young adult with it's simple writing style; the plot was fun but also unbelievably unrealistic along with the poorly fleshed out characters. The more the story progresses, the messier it becomes with the countless introduction of new minor, forgettable characters left and right, and messy fight scenes.

To be honest, I am surprised Putnam picked this one up; The Vindico was like a graphic novel that didn't translate very well into novel format. I'm disappointed that an interesting concept was turned into a very corny (borderline lame) superhero story. However, it is a fun and often humorous book--and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a younger audience (especially Marvel/DC fans.)

A group of teenagers from 13 to 17 are kidnapped to be trained as part of The Vindico, a group of evil super-villians, to fight against The League (a group of superheros.) They are given superpowers like telekinesis, telepathy, or just super strength.

The Beginning:
One of worst openings ever. The first five chapters where basically dedicated to each of the five protégées, telling how they were kidnapped at home or from school. I found it a complete drag, utterly frustrating, and unnecessary. It would've worked better if all of them just woke up in unfamiliar surroundings from the beginning for suspense.

A Hodgepodge of Characters (You'll Forget 90% of Them):
This novel has a severe case of too-many-characters syndrome.
Five protégées, five villain mentors, one coordinator dude, two other children, plus a whole slew of The League people with "superhero" names--way too many people for 300 pages. Here is where I think the author bit off more than he could chew: with eleven people running around under a roof, things are bound to get messy. There's just not enough room to well-develop all of them, making every character simple and flat. I was struggling with names throughout the novel. Even the funky, "super-villain" names didn't help. As a result, many characters fade into the background.
I also had an issue with Lana and Leni, because of the two-letter difference in their names and the fact that they are frequently in the same scene, I often had to do a double-take.

The Protégées (This Word Is A Hassle To Type):
I know they are teenagers, but they are surprisingly shallow. "OH SHOOT! I GOT KIDNAPPED BY MASS MURDERS!!...wait, I get SUPERPOWERS and I can live in this fancy mansion??? NEVERMIND THE MASS MURDERS, I'M STAYING! LALALALALALA"

Emily: I like her sense of humor, but she is so stereotypical: the smart, geeky Chinese hacker. (Maybe it's because I'm Chinese that I'm being too sensitive)

Sam: The crybaby and the youngest of the group. For some reason he gets assigned to wear a suit.

Lana: The blonde harlot. (only because other words will get censored from Amazon)

James: The loser who gets dumped (and tries to beat his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend guy up, but fails miserably and faints instead) and wants to make everyone suffer with him. At one point, his mentor punches the new boyfriend out a bus window to get revenge for him--not knowing that he was in the middle of apologizing for his mistakes. It annoyed me that James was happy to see his classmate severely injured. There is no excuse for being that heartless, not even if you are a super-villain. Obviously, I dislike this guy.

Hayden: The other funny one in the group who doesn't know when to shut up. Good comic-relief though. His laid-back attitude makes him stand out but he also comes off as a stuck-up pervert. This guy proposes a game of spin-the-bottle to "get to know each other." I suspect the spin-the-bottle game kept this book from being classified as a middle-grade.

The Lamest Villains Ever (Do These Adults Even Have A Diploma?):
The only semi-memorable villain was The Torturer, because of his ridiculous name. They all have their backstories, but most were just products of being overdramatic: "THEY KICKED ME OUT! THEY DIDN'T LET ME JOIN THEIR EXCLUSIVE PARTY! OH NO, I HAVE TO GET REVENGE! KILL KILL KILL!" (if you have such violent tendencies, it's no surprise they want to kick you out. *hint hint*) I suppose King wanted to add a layer of human emotion to the villains by making them feel paternal towards the children, I saw it--but it didn't work. It was a pity that Leni, one of the villains who was plotting to redeem himself, never got the opportunity to carry out his plan.

As part of Vindico's "brilliant" plan to mentally intimidate (or to stop them from being attached to their families) the protégées, they dig up these scandalous family "secrets" and announce them in hopes of making the kids feel unloved by families. Seriously. This guy comes out and says something like "You know your ex-girlfriend that you asked out when you were twelve? Well, she cheated on you! And your best friend knew! MUHAHAHAHAHAHA! FEEL THE BURN! MUHAHAHAHA And your parents? They didn't even care when you were missing! NYAH NYAH NYAH"

And the sad thing is, he actually think its working. That's about the lamest excuse for intimidation I've ever heard of. The worse part, he makes five of these omg-are-you-serious "scary" announcements. Every time I wince at the corniness.

Death Is Taken So Lightly
Maybe because the book was targeted at younger audiences that the concept of death must be glazed over, but I have issues with how death is handled. To "prove" that the villains scary, it is revealed how they killed all these superheroes. And then the superheros supposedly killed some people as well as part of a conspiracy. It is only briefly mentioned how they got killed and it basically treated as inconsequential minor events. No guilt is ever involved with the adults. I was relieved when Lana (one of the protégées) felt guilty about killing a superhero--but she was let off the hook very easily.
The death that tested my limits was when Emily was smugly told that her grandfather died of heartbreak while looking for his missing granddaughter during her "announcement." I know that the announcements was supposed to show how heartless the Vindico was, but it annoyed me that Emily look the event so lightly. I was expecting her to escape to see her grandfather (or at least attend the funeral), but she basically forgot about the whole thing after like a day. YOUR GRANDFATHER DIED WHILE SEARCHING FOR YOU, GIRL. THAT'S SERIOUS BUSINESS, NOW STOP PLAYING WITH YOUR TOYS AND DO SOMETHING.

Lana, taking insta-love to a whole new level. "OH NO! He has such a soft, hidden side to him! I LIKE HIM! I don't care if he's acting like a stuck-up pervert! I'm going to kiss him!" There's also this poorly constructed love triangle...but only because James didn't confess his love and was too busy moping about it.
And, you don't ask for a date in the middle of a fight, just sayin'.

Structure/Writing Style:
I don't know if the third person omniscient perspective was the right way to go. I would have preferred the third person limited narrator to keep the suspense element, or even first person for each of the teens. I found the novel too juvenile, simplistic, and completely rejects the "show don't tell" mantra. "THIS HAPPENED..AND THEN THIS OTHER THING...AND THEN THIS...X IS FEELING SAD, Y IS FEELING ANGRY, B IS WORRIED...C IS HAS A SECRET PLOT"
The narrative often felt unbearably stoic, especially between the adults because they all speak in this pseudo-evil "tone."; nobody speaks in perfect, full sentences, only cyborgs do that. Part of the reason was because the adults were used for info-dumping, turning them into talkative drones more than fleshed-out people.

Messy Fight Scenes:
Mind-control doesn't make a good fight scene. Unless it's like Inception. That's all.

I guess this is the problem with superheroes: they have so many cool gadgets and awesome powers that they can do anything. And because they are so "perfect," they are boring. Often, the novel reliance on gadgets annoyed me--they are superheros, they don't need guns, missiles, and RIFLES(what the heck?), that stuff is for losers. The gadgets dragged down the story with extraneously mundane descriptions: I don't want to hear how she has guns in her belt, the color of her clothes, and miscellaneous cannisters on her shoulder.

The Blur Between Good and Evil...Was Non-existent
The synopsis promised that the teens would "earn that the differences between good and evil are not as black and white as they seem" but it ended up incredibly simplistic.
I wanted to see how the conflict between good and evil will play out. But it disappointed me how black and white these kids were: they referred to the villains as "bad guys" and the superheros as "good guys." Sure the villains killed people, but the superheros aren't innocent either. They were sometimes conflicted, but pretty much got over it in a few seconds. In the end, I am not sure if The League were even the "good guys." I felt there could have been a lot more depth since morality was a major theme.

Overall, The Vindico was a major disappointment. It was like if someone took Sky High and squished it with The Incredibles and made it super corny. The fascinating concept of conspiracy, character development, and morality themes were thrown out to make room for banal writing that focused on describing clothes, gadgets, and chaotic action sequences. Perhaps the novel would've translated better as a movie, graphic novel, or even a younger middle-grade novel. But young adult novel? No.
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Pandemonium (Delirium #2) by Lauren Oliver
Pandemonium (Delirium #2)

lilianxcheng, July 29, 2012

I loved Pandemonium--perhaps even more because I was one of the few who didn't like Delirium very much. I am glad the flowery, beautiful writing was toned down to more manageable levels to allow room for action without dragging the pace down, which was my main problem with Delirium. The quotations in the beginning of Delirium's chapters have disappeared (honestly, I wasn't a big fan of them), instead chapters are separated into Then and Now. I was pleasantly surprised with the new format, it allowed a break between tense moments and to give the readers backstory without a deluge of flashbacks or the dreaded info-dump. Lena learns to be more independent: she learns to take initiative, and decide things for herself.

World-building: Finally, Can I Get Some Answers?
Well, at least I know where some of the outcasts go and about how far the reign of deliria spans. But I still don't buy the society completely: it's further reinforced that the people can't feel hate, are zombies, and are fueled by fear. You can hardly blame them, the choice is clear: you get cured, or you get thrown in prison (or beat to a pulp.) I don't know how the society would function if nobody cared about others; if people are naturally "no better than animals," then we wouldn't hesitate to wreck havoc. But I am also starting to understand the utopian concept: is love worth sacrificing if it also takes away hate? As long as you comply with the rules in this society, you will survive and be protected. Sure, you may not have "love," but you will have a shirt on your back, a comfty bed, and food.
Unfortunately, the creation of this society is still a mystery so I'm sticking my theory that it was created by a group of lonely, butthurt cat ladies.

The "Then" chapters are Lena's backstory right after her escape into The Wilds. She meets a group of Invalids, and she quickly learns how to survive in the Wilds. At first, her refusal to help out under the excuse that she was too weak completely appalled me since she admits to feeling guilty and selfish. I felt it was only right for her to at least try to help out instead of being dead weight. The Wilds is a brutal place where survival comes at a cost, a lesson Lena is forced to learn. I began to suspect it was because Lena was fearful of going outside. Perhaps Oliver wanted to show Lena's growth from a selfish, whiny girl to an strong, independent woman. Lena reveals that she can self-reflect, she knows when she is immature--and she fixes herself. The ability to admit to one's flaws and do something about it makes Lena so much more likable.

Most people say the Now chapters were more exciting, but I honestly can't decide between the two. I can see why the Now chapters may be much more enthralling because it is unpredictable. You know for sure Lena is going to make it out fine from the Then chapters (because if she didn't there wouldn't be Now chapters), but I still wanted to see how the two stories intersected.
The Now chapters are filed with much more action with Lena as a spy for The Resistance. Unfortunately, her stint as a spy doesn't last very long when she is captured and locked up in a room underground. Her journey out of that room is a testament to how much Lena has grown. And I'm loving it!

With Alex out of the picture, I wasn't sure what would happen: would Lena be depressed and lovelorn, or will she get another beau? Turns out she does have another lover. I definitely liked the romance between Julian and Lena a lot more than the one with Alex (to be honest, I thought a lot of Lena's feelings toward Alex was fueled by infatuation and first love.) I suspect it's because Alex was too mysterious and flat for me to like--while Julian was fleshed out. He had his flaws, his backstory, and his weaknesses. The best part was that Lena wasn't the confused, damsel-in-distress anymore. HALLELUJAH! In fact, I think Lena was the stronger one, though Julian does have buff muscles (even though I don't know where he got them since he seems to be on the wimpy side.)
Lena also loves to pick the wrong love candidates: she has to pick the son of Thomas Fineman (Delirium Free America's leader.) Another forbidden love story served on a silver platter. I was surprised at how easy it was to "unbrainwash" Julian since he was raised by the leaders of the entire deliria movement. I'm secretly expecting him to go rogue at any moment. And yes, he has eyes that seem to constantly change colors. Oliver must have an affinity with eyes. Apparently they can't be just boring brown blobs.

I'm Way Too Good At Guessing These Plot Twists:
You'd have to be pretty oblivious not to know what's up with all these obvious "plot twists." Honestly, I'm not sure if Lena is so smart anymore. At least one of them was just screaming at me: seriously, why would someone make you carry a 600 page book without other intentions? And if Coin's name was a flashing red light.
As for Lena's mother--I don't know how I knew. Maybe because I sensed that she had to be in the book somehow? Or was I subconsciously hinted at with foreshadowing?

Ending (OMG, EPIC CLIFFHANGER MOMENT...but really, we all knew it was coming):
CLIFFHANGER ALERT! I knew it was coming, but it did make me excited for Requiem. Though I know some are going to be frustrated.

I'm glad Pandemonium didn't suffer from second-book syndrome. Most people expect the middle book to be a bridge between the first and last book, but I'm pleased that Pandemonium built from its first book, Delirium (which now that I think about it was just intro material) to give readers a very welcome surprise. Even if you didn't like Delirium, Pandemonium will change your mind. The action, the plot twists, the heart-stopping tension definitely makes Pandemonium an irresistible pageturner.
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Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

lilianxcheng, July 28, 2012

Valente brings us the absolutely spellbinding world of Fairyland in he Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Twelve-year old September is swept by the Green Wind while washing teacups and brought into Fairyland for a unique retelling of the Persephone myth. The characters, the creatures were fascinating, and the story testing the limits of my imagination every step of the way. I see the magic of Fairyland, the beauty of Valente’s writing, but at times it just felt a bit too random, a bit too confusing for me to follow. While reading, I often felt disillusioned�"I find myself asking, “Did I just read what I think I just reading? Or did I get lost somewhere along the way?” Never the less, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book for fairytale lovers. It will blow your mind if you have the imagination big enough for it.

Story (Where is this Story Going??):
I knew it was a Persephone retelling, but I had no idea what to expect. Valente’s whimsical style is quite obvious from the beginning�"it reads like one of our beloved “Once Upon A Time” fairytales with an omnipresent narrator who doesn’t hesitant to address the reader. From the title, I knew she would be sailing (but calling it a ship might be stretching it a bit), and I was waiting and waiting for the sailing to happen�"it certainly took a loonnng while. Even the plot felt unclear at times: to explore Fairyland? to leave Fairyland? to get a sword? to save her friends? to overthrow the Marquess?
I have to say the story wrapped up really nicely at the end though, like a pleasant fairytale.

The Marquess
The villain who hides a shocking secret of her own that adds another layer to the story. I’m grateful that she does have a backstory, and is not evil just for the heck of it. She also is the source of many questions: is she a kid? or an adult stuck in a kid’s body? And are her actions really evil?
She’s a bundle of mysteries I would love to unravel.

This was the main reason why even 250 pages turned into a hard struggle. It felt like another Wonderland where nothing seems to quite make sense; I was also reminded of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach (the sailing part) and Terry Pratchett’s YA Discworld novels.
I was left in confusion a huge chunk of the time: “What? A cross-breed between a Wyverin and a LIBRARY? Is there another definition of library that I don’t know of, or does she mean a physical LIBRARY? What? She’s turning into a TREE??”

I Wanted To Have a Dictionary Beside Me. Is This REALLY a Middle-grade, Or Am I Just Stupid?:
I wonder if it’s a middle-grade simply because there were words I didn’t know. I rarely even have that problem with YA reads. I am feeling slightly ashamed right now. *hides in a hole* I need to expand my vocabulary!
I am not sure if it’s my mind the the gutter (or me reading too many Harlequins), but a twelve year old being “ravished” just doesn’t sound right even though I am aware of its multiple meanings.

The ending redeemed the story for me, it just tied together nicely. Not exactly a cliffhanger, but the ending left me with many questions. Are they pulling a time paradox on me?

Overall, it was a magical story that just fell a bit short for me. But I know many others love it, and if you have a big imagination�"you certainly will as well. It’s a very unique book, with a lovely story and a delightful little girl.
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Wonder Signed 1st Edition by R. J. Palacio
Wonder Signed 1st Edition

lilianxcheng, July 27, 2012

I'm usually not a middle-grade reader, but the cover caught my attention since the beginning of the year. I've seen a couple glowing reviews for it, but I didn't think much about it until I saw it in the library last week, and I was like "why not?" I read the first few pages to test the book out, and I somehow ended reading thirty pages...and I still wasn't sure what's up with the main character, Auggie: from the first few pages, I knew he had something that set in apart, but I didn't know what exactly--so I borrowed the book to sate my curiosity. And boy am I glad I did.

Wonder is the fascinating, inspiring story of Auggie who is born with a severe Treacher-Collin's syndrome, making his face almost hideous to strangers. He attends school for the first time in fifth grade, and he struggles to fit into the school environment. But he is not the only one with problems as his friends and family also struggle to adapt to him. The story, theme may be predictable, but it's the execution that makes Wonder special. Each character has their own engaging, heartfelt story to tell. Wonder is definitely one of my favorite, thought-provoking reads this year. It opens itself to many discussions, and I wish I read it when I was in fifth grade.

So What Does August Look Like?
Admittedly I had a hard time picturing August (Auggie) since the descriptions made him sound like everything that could possibly go wrong--went wrong on his face. What in the world are cauliflower ears? And no jaw? bulging eyes?
So I Googled. And it was just heartbreaking. Though maybe I've seen my share of not-so-normal things, it didn't surprise me. I can see why kids would be horrified though.

Fifth Graders Can Be Mean:
What stood out for me was Palacio's uncanny ability to capture the feeling of being ostracized in school. I had a nostalgic feeling of being back in fifth grade (even if it has been nine years ago) and I had my share of unwelcome peers--and I wasn't even suffering from Treacher-Collins syndrome. Like Auggie, I've dealt with "The Plague," friends who didn't stand up for me, and knowing telling the teacher is pretty useless (even if you can live down being a tattleteller.) Fifth-grade was serious business, and I was glad I missed the last week of school for a trip--I was eager to get away from my peers.
The thing that hurt most was the realization that the 10-year old me would probably not stand up for Auggie. Instead I would be grateful that it wasn't me that they were picking on. Not having a partner for field trips or group projects was not on my list of priorities. Hey! I was ten, stuff like that matters.

I was pleasantly surprised with Palacio's wide spectrum of characters and how the voices still remained distinguishable. Wonder is composed with several points of view from Auggie, Jack, Summer, Via, Miranda, and even Justin. They may be all kids, but they speak volumes. I was delighted with their complexity, and I ended up loving each character for being themselves. I was disappointed I didn't get Julian (the head bully)'s viewpoint though, I was convinced he had more depth--beyond the influence of his stuck-up, rich parents. What I really wanted to see was Julian's parents being taught a lesson.

August (Auggie)
I have mixed feelings about him. Throughout the novel I see him grow-up, and not use his appearance as an excuse: when he goes to sleep by himself without being told and when he leaves his stuffed animal behind. But even at the end of the novel, I can't help feeling like he hasn't changed that much. There's a scene where he hopes that he will be handsome man in his next life, and his dependency on the astronaut helmet--both of these scenes make me feel Auggie is still the kid in the beginning of the novel. Rather, I think it's the people around him that deserve more credit.
However, I still admire this kid. Never did he feel sorry for himself, or wonder out of the probabilities--why was he chosen like the people around him do.)

Olivia (Via)
My favorite character, and arguably the most realistic one. August's older sister who is starting high school. She's my favorite character for she embodies so many conflicts, but yet still remain in control of her emotions. She is a wonderful older sister. Via is also a heart-wrenching character because she loves Auggie, but she hates herself for the less-than-nice thoughts she has of her brother. At times Via shows signs of sibling jealousy--but yet she restrains herself. She constantly debates what's best for her brother: if they should make him feel normal (and if that would be lying to him), or teach him how to deal with being abnormal.

Via's boyfriend. He is the passive observer who at first doesn't know how to react to Auggie. I had my reservations since his lack of capitalization irked me, reminding me of Omegle conversations with illiterate people (I imagine him talking in slurs.) He also seemed like a very reserved character. But even he does some surprising things that made me like him instantly.

One of Auggie's friends. Honestly, I find her the most unrealistic character. Not being she's super nice (which she is), but because her actions are idealized. Why would you sit down and immediately start making a list of names with a kid you just met? I am not sure how good of a conversation started that is in real life.

I was bracing myself for a happy, cheesy ending--and I got the unrealistic, happy, cheesy ending I secretly didn't want. Oh well, at least it tied well to Auggie's belief that "everyone deserves a standing ovation."

Despite the cheesy ending, I fell in love with Wonder. There are points in the book I wasn't a big fan of such as the whole precept idea. I just thought that was unnecessary and even slightly lame. But I loved the multiple perspectives, and the astronaut helmet. A brilliant novel, and an inspiring story.
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Everybody Says Hello by Michael Kun
Everybody Says Hello

lilianxcheng, July 23, 2012

Michael Kun's Everybody Says Hello is a wonderful, funny epistolary (it means "consisting of letters," I looked it up a minute ago) novel. We deduce Sid Straw's adventures through his writing to his family, friends, co-workers, Heather Locklear, Obama, a black cop, and transvestite he met online. Everbody Says Hello is a perfect light read, and it was just a whole lot of fun--if not tummy-hurting hilarious.

Why I Wanted To Read It:
I was feeling hipster and wanted to read something that nobody heard about. Ok, not completely (even though I do lean towards box from big publishing houses.)
I came across LOLing at Books an article by Morgan Macgregor on BookRiot. And I was curious just how funny Kun was since he's capable of making someone laugh to the point she had to get off the bus.

It was a funny book, I chuckled a bit but I didn't find myself laughing out loud (even though I really wanted to.) I "get" the humor, but maybe timing just wasn't right or the jokes were too overt. Now I am having doubts about my sense of humor. Is there something wrong with me? I did like that the humor didn't depend on giving me a host of expletives (in fact, I'm sure there were no expletives even when Sid was furious, which made me admire the guy even more.) And didn't have fart jokes. HALLELUJAH!
The best way I can describe the humor is if you mixed Thoughts From Paris with E-mails From an Asshole (both are hilarious blogs I love) and sprinkled it with Becky Bloomwood (from Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series.) Not a good description? Well, I tried.

Sid Straw Is Just So Likable:
He is the perfect protagonist, a nice guy who sometimes does stupid things. You just can't dislike the guy; at one point, he feels guilty about ripping a page out of the hotel's yellow pages and proceeds to send the hotel twenty five bucks to replace it. And then sometimes he does hilarious things like trying to get the hotel to change "adult movie" into "Harry Potter" on his receipt. But somehow he just keeps getting stuck in unfortunate situations which leads to one misunderstanding after another--like accidentally sending a cat into a coma.

It's A "Sequel"
I didn't rad the first book (The Locklear Letters), but I don't think it hindered too much with the story and Everybody Says Hello can be read as a standalone. It makes me sad I don't know what this Eat Wheaties thing is all about though. Now I feel left out of a joke. I guess it's a good excuse to buy The Locklear Letters then.

This book only looks gigantic, but you'll finish it in no time--if not because of the humor, because of the one word pages (don't worry, it's not another New Moon, nobody is suffering an emotional meltdown.) It may not look like it, but Everybody Says Hello is a very quick read. I wasn't sure where the story was going to go since unlike other novels, it doesn't leave much room for action and didn't have much of a plot, but I was very happy with the ending and the flow of the novel. My only caveat is that I forgot half the people he was exchanging postcards/letters with towards the end.

Stuff I Learned From Everybody Says Hello
Hiring a "lawyer," and threatening to file lawsuits is the best thing that can happen to you; and may also prove to be very lucrative. TV may not mean television. And guys asking to see your feet may not be because they have a foot fetish...but it's because they want to check if you are a girl.
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