Book Review || The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

Author: Claire Legrand

Publishers: Simon & Schuster

Release Year: 2012

My Summary

Victoria is perfect in every way. Her grades are immaculate and her room simply shines. The only blemish on her beautiful life is her one and only friend, Lawrence, who is a sloppy dreamer who adores music and playing on his “wretched piano.” And then one day, when Vicky goes to school, Lawrence isn’t there. Strange, thinks Victoria. All of a sudden, she starts noticing things: adults smiling their overly bright, too-happy smiles. Cockroaches crawling out of people’s homes. People ignoring the fact that Lawrence, as well as a few other children, have disappeared. So, she does what she loves best. Victoria researches. And then she finds out about Mrs. Cavendish’s Home for Boys and Girls. An orphanage… or is it? When she goes to visit, she is greeted by happy children and kind, sweet Mrs. Cavendish, who gives Victoria butterscotch and sends her on her way. However, sinister things keep happening. More disappearances. Her only ally, Professor Alban, being dragged away by the cockroaches. Precocious Victoria decides that she’s had it, and sneaks into the Home. Inside, she finds Lawrence, Jacqueline, and other acquaintances of hers who have been taken. Children who are considered “imperfect” and “strange.” But that’s not all she finds. The Home has a dark secret, and no one who is sent there ever comes back out the same… or comes out at all.

My Thoughts

I’ll start off by saying: this is a book you’ll want to read over and over and over! The plot, the concept, the characters, everything about it is simply amazing. Let’s start off with an analysis of the characters. I will admit that they are exaggerated. At times, they are even a little bit— dare I say it? — two-dimensional. BUT… it works! These types of novels often require characters with more exaggerated qualities than those in, maybe, realistic fiction. cavendish book photoAnother thing is the “shiver-factor.” In other words, it’s scary enough for you to be creeped out for a while, but not enough for you to lose sleep. (Well, okay, maybe just a little…) 😉 In any case, this book is plenty frightening. For one thing, there are quite a few delightfully dreadful deeds in this story. (Let’s just agree that this book made me never want to eat butterscotch again.) And Mrs. Cavendish, sweet, beautiful-looking Mrs. Cavendish, is just such a wonderfully psychopathic antagonist. The horror is written out very well and lasts just long enough for you to fully relish it. (And it’s not gory or overly-disturbing, which is why this book is suitable for the middle-school palate.) Plus, I absolutely loved the gorgeous yet freaky illustrations that accompanied some of the chapters, and I will not lie, it was the cover of this book that immediately drew me to it. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is the perfect nightmarish novel for those of us who aren’t afraid to be scared out of our wits, but also need to know that good will always prevail in the end.

❤ Yasimone

(By the way, what do you think about my new book review format? Do you think it’s better than before? Yes, no? Please do let me know!) 🙂

Book Review || The Selection

Author: Kiera Cass

America Singer lives in Illéa, where the society is divided into eight castes— the royal family which rules the land are Ones. The homeless and poorest are Eights. America’s family are Fives, meaning that their roles in society are being artists and musicians. America is happy; she even (secretly) loves a boy. ❤ However, he is a Six and outside of her caste, and America is not sure whether her mother would approve if she found out. Meanwhile, the Illéan prince, Maxon, is coming of age and the Selection will soon commence. Many girls from all over the nation will apply, but only thirty-five will be picked. These elite girls will then go to the palace to live there for the next few months as the prince one by one eliminates them until only one girl is left— the one who will be his wife. America’s mother wants her to apply; so she does. Never in her wildest dreams (or nightmares) did she expect to be selected. So she must turn her back on Aspen, her love, and compete for her family. Along the way, she gathers sponsors, makes friends, and even gains rivals. Life at the palace is luxurious, except for when the rebels attack, and she and Prince Maxon, after a few mishaps, befriend each other. Just when she decides that maybe, just maybe a life with Maxon wouldn’t be so terrible, Aspen reappears— this time as a palace guard. What should she do?…

First things first— although this is not the worst book, it is not the best either. Yes, it is about a competition. No, it is not like The Hunger Games. A note about the organization of the book: 1) it has a dystopic, futuristic feel to it, 2) it has a fantasy, princess-tale feel to it, 3) it has an oppressive, monarchy government feel to it. Now that’s all fine and well, but combining those three is perhaps not the best of choices. The book is literally going in three different directions. 😐 Also, the caste system has been used for hundred of hundreds of years in places like India, and it is not a very futuristic idea. The writing is fine, though I would have appreciated a little more elaboration and description. I just thought that the plot was a little bit cliché. It was rather obvious from the beginning that America would be Selected, and that love triangle at the end… well, it was slightly predictable. I also would have liked for Maxon to be than an average prince, and when he mentioned that he didn’t know the lower castes were starving, homeless, and poor, I was incredulous— do I remember this story from somewhere? (Oh, yeah, it’s from Buddha’s life: he was a prince, carefree and happy, when he walks out into his land for the first time and witnesses the suffering of his people. He then gives up his decadent lifestyle to live with the people and devotes himself to helping others.) Is he really that uninformed about his future kingdom? That said, there are some sweet and funny moments in The Selection, and if you are looking for a fun, frothy read, then this is the book for you. 😉

-Yasimone

Book Review || Finally

Rory Swenson has been waiting forever to turn twelve years old. Literally, all her life. And finally, the day has (almost) come. Luckily, Rory is prepared— she has a to-do list.

Big Things

1. Get a cell phone.

2. Stay home alone.

3. Get my own screen name so I can IM.

4. Shave my legs.

5. Go to the mall with Annabelle and no parents.

6. Wear makeup.

7. Get a pet.

8. Babysit.

9. Get my ears pierced.

10. Get contact lenses.

11. Attend Natalie Karp’s boy-girl birthday party.

Smaller (But Still Very Important and Worthwhile) Stuff

1. Get my own house key.

2. Go to bed at 9:30 pm.

3. Drink coffee.

4. Watch Friday the 13th Part IX.

5. Sit in the front seat of the car.

6. Do my homework without anyone checking it.

7. Pick out my own clothes.

8. Use electrical appliances without permission or supervision.

9. Walk home from school.

10. Buy lunch in the cafeteria.

11. Ride an upside-down roller coaster.

So how does Rory’s birthday go? Well, not exactly the best. She drinks coffee for the first time, and— oops— caffeine overload! But then her parents allow her to get a phone (albeit “the lamest cell phone in the history of cell phones”)! In less than fifteen minutes, Rory manages to lose it. Thank goodness her father forced her to buy insurance policy. When she gets her second phone, she receives quite a few calls— but not from the people she expected. All of that, however, is minor compared to the fact that she’s 12! In no time, Rory starts her quest: completing her list. However, things do not turn out exactly as planned. Turns out she’s allergic to make-up… and earrings… and eye-contacts are more dangerous than they seem. Her bunny, Kyle, tries to murder her. She stars as an extra in a movie being taken in her very own hometown (!) but keeps on showing up either hurt or swollen up. She gets a locker slammed in her face by a famous movie star. And maybe boy-girl parties aren’t what they’re all cracked up to be. But Rory makes quite a few friends— including the eccentric Amanda and Leo, a clever ten-year-old, a ballerina, and a wise old woman with a duck-shaped birthmark, and sees that the road to your goal is not as rewarding as helping those you meet on the way.

Yup, this is the sort-of sequel to 11 Birthdays. Wendy Mass is at it again, writing touching but funny stories about growing up. Rory is an awesome character: she’s sweet and down-to-earth but really, really clumsy. She’s just trying to make the best of her newly-gained independence and her crazy mistakes. Her parents are also pretty cool, I must say. They may be overprotective but they are understanding and actually have a sense of humour. The ending is absolutely amazing, I won’t spoil it but I think it’s my favourite part of the book. To quote Angelina, who is the duck-shaped birthmark woman by the way, “You won’t get what you want until you see what you need.”

-Yasimone

Book Review || 11 Birthdays

Author: Wendy Mass

Amanda Ellerby is about to turn eleven. She’s stuck having a costume party she doesn’t really want, and wearing a very uncomfortable costume. But most of all, it’s the first year she isn’t having her birthday with Leo. Leo is her best friend ex-best friend. They were even born on the same day. But one year ago, on their 10th birthday, Leo said something terrible, and Amanda hasn’t talked to him since. After an okay-ish day at school (she has a pop-quiz!), her birthday celebrations are not going well: half the guests haven’t even shown up, and the other half are slowly leaving her party to go to Leo’s huge birthday bash. 😐 *sheds tear* Amanda is extremely relieved when, finally, the day is over. Blissfully, she goes to sleep. But the next morning, everything happens exactly the way they do yesterday! At first Amanda thinks it’s a twisted trick. But when the same thing happens the next day, Amanda understands that something else is at work. But what? Before long, Leo and Amanda realize that, for some strange reason, they are in it together: they need to forgive each other and find out what exactly is causing their 11th birthday repeat over and over. Along the way, they meet a mysterious kind elderly woman with a duck-shaped birthmark who knows quite a bit about their ancestors and in the end, see that friendship is important in ways they never imagined.

Wendy Mass is, I must say, also one of my absolute favourite writers. She combines the real world and magic one seamlessly. Amanda and Leo are ordinary kids who act just their age and are true-to-life. The writing keeps you interested and turning pages eagerly. This is a heartwarming book that shows that friendship can be broken, but much more easily fixed.

-Yasimone

Book Review || Divergent

Author: Veronica Roth

Beatrice is just an average 16-year-old Abnegation girl— selfless, kind, quick to forget herself. Or so everyone thinks. Beatrice knows, that in her heart, she doesn’t want this life, doesn’t deserve it, because she is not selfless enough. Aptitude tests are coming up, and they will recommend which faction the new adults, 16-year-olds, should switch to— or stay in. What will Beatrice get? Dauntless, which the brave and courageous pick? Candor, where you cannot ever lie? Erudite, the faction with all the intellectuals and scholarly? Amity, where the people are peaceful and happy? Or Abnegation, her home faction, where she is not sure she fits in? After she takes her test, Beatrice learns that she has equal aptitude for not one, but three factions: Dauntless, Abnegation, and Erudite. She is Divergent. The test administrator tells her not to mention this to anyone, not even her family… or terrible things could follow. On the day of the Choosing Ceremony, where the teens must pick the faction to live the rest of their lives in, Beatrice is faced with a hard decision: follow her dreams and abandon her family by switching to Dauntless, or stay with her mother, father, and brother but regret the choice for the rest of her life in Abnegation (she has already decided that she most definitely does not want Erudite). At the ceremony, her brother Caleb, much to everyone’s surprise, becomes a member of Erudite. Beatrice is panicked, not wanting to stay yet not wanting to leave her parents all alone in their faction. In a moment of spontaneousness, Beatrice selects Dauntless, shocking everyone including herself. In the extremely harsh, competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris. She struggles, along with her fellow initiates, to survive initiation. They must train to shoot, throw knives, combat, and face their greatest fears through vivid simulations that delve deep into their minds. Tris finds herself making friends and, slowly but surely, falling in love with her instructor, a secretive but fascinating boy named Four. However, she soon realizes that life in her faction may not be what it seems, and that her secret— that she is Divergent— is a dangerous one to keep, one that might destroy both her and her loved ones.

Veronica Roth began writing Divergent when she was in college, and it has turned into the first book of one of the most popular trilogy describing the dystopic, very structured Chicago from Tris’ point of view and emotions. Tris is a head-strong and intelligent girl, observant of her surroundings and easy to relate to— don’t we all feel like we don’t belong sometimes? The writing of this book is fast-paced and highly suspenseful. Behind all the action, however, are meaningful themes. It touches on identity, loss, love, bravery, friendship, and above all, finding your place in society.

-Yasimone

Book Review || Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Author:  Grace Lin

Minli lives in a poor, monotonous village at the base of Fruitless Mountain, where nothing beautiful grows and the villagers spend their days tediously planting rice. Her mother sighs loudly and often about their terrible misfortune, and Minli longs to make Fruitless Mountain green as it was long ago so that the village may prosper and her mother and father will be happy. One night, her father tells her a story about the Old Man of the Moon, who knows the answer to every question. Minli decides that she will go on a quest like the ones in the stories her father tells her every evening to meet the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how to bring good fortune to the village. The next day, she quietly packs her bag, writes her parents a note, and slips out of the village, beginning her journey to Never Ending Mountain. Minli’s parents are desperate for her to return, and their days are long and bitter. Along the way, she meets a talking fish who helps her find her way, a dragon named Dragon who becomes Minli’s travelling companion, a king, friendly villagers who save Minli and Dragon from an evil tiger, and, of course, the Old Man of the Moon. In the end, however, Minli understands the true meaning of fortune, and when she returns to her family, Fruitless Mountain blooms again.

This is a beautiful book that seamlessly brings together many Chinese and Asian folk tales together to create Minli’s journey. The settings are described vividly and the emotions that the characters experience— joy, remorse, excitement, discontent, desperation, sadness, and thankfulness— feel so real. It has a universal appeal in the discontent mother, the wise, faithful father, and the clever, selfless daughter who just wants the best for her family. The message, that appreciating what you have is the key to good fortune, is very meaningful and ends the story on a happy note: where everyone is prospering.

I actually had the chance to meet Grace Lin, the author of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, a few years ago at a book convention and it was a great experience. Ms. Lin talked a little bit about the Chinese culture and where she got her inspiration for this book from. She said some of the fables in the story are actual Chinese myths, while others were made up, although you can probably find similar elements in other Asian folktales. According to Ms. Lin, the Old Man in the Moon is actually Yue-lao, the Chinese god of marriage merged with Shou Xing, the god of longetivity. The settings in the book were also inspired by real places such as the mountain village of Chuadixia and the Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou in China.

Grace Lin even signed my copy of the book! 🙂

-Yasimone

Book Review || The Hunger Games

Author:  Suzanne Collins

In what was once North America, there is a prosperous country called Panem. It is ruled over by the Capitol, a rich city of luxury, which is supplied by 12 districts, each with their own natural resources. Every year, the Capitol hosts a televised death match: The Hunger Games. Two “Tributes,” one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen, from each district are chosen randomly in what is called the Reaping to fight to the death until only one remains. Katniss Everdeen is a sixteen year old girl who lives in District Twelve, a small mining colony. She is extremely talented with a bow and arrow, but not with friends.  She must (illegally) hunt in the woods with her only friend, Gale, to sustain her sister and mother. The day of the Reaping, her sister is chosen as a Tribute. Katniss, panic-stricken, volunteers; Peeta Mellark is chosen as the other Tribute. Katniss and Peeta must travel to the Capitol to try to stay alive and win the Games. Katniss decides she must win, for the sake of her sister. But there can only be one Victor…

I know that this is already a very popular book, complete with its own movie, but the dystopian world in the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy, created by Suzanne Collins, is full of sophisticated details and eccentric characters, as well as heroes who have their own flaws. I can admit that this is one of my favourite books, if not my most favourite of all. I just wanted to pay homage by starting my book reviews with this incredible novel. The movies are wonderful, but don’t stop there; read the books, because the intricate flavor you get from them is incomparable.

-Yasimone