The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs

Lewis Barnavelt, pudgy, orphaned and lonely, has moved into his uncle’s creepy old home in New Zebedee, Michigan and becomes fascinated by the mystery of the clock. Hidden in the walls of the house, the clock is counting down to the end of days. As if it wasn’t hard enough to be an insecure boy trying to make friends in a new school, Lewis finds himself adapting to the news that his uncle is a wizard, and his new neighbour Mrs. Zimmerman is a witch.

To solve the mystery, and in a desperate attempt to make a friend, Lewis teams up with one of the most popular boys in his class, and proceeds to tell a series of … untruths … make a series of very bad choices, and get himself into some scary situations. But I was pleased to see that for once, the protagonist is not portrayed as the hero. He’s 12 years old. He’s not the brightest or bravest boy around. He’s doesn’t discover hidden magical powers. He’s just a kid, which makes him awesome.

I absolutely loved this book and wish I could have read it years ago. I was that kid who loved to scare herself silly – and this would have done it. It’d not just a spooky mystery story – this is gothic horror for kids. Absolute terror mixed in with characters calling each other “hag face” and “weird beard.”

Read it. You won’t be disappointed. And you will be scared.

Mass Market Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Puffin, January 1, 1993 (First published 1973)
ISBN-10: 014036336X
ISBN-13: 978-0140363364


Women and girls in dystopian fiction

I am so excited to be participating in Dystopian Survival Week. I have been enjoying dystopian fiction since long before I knew it was a genre. I remember watching the TV movie based on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale when I was too young to really get it – and yet I was enthralled and terrified by the idea of these women being entrapped not in some historical society, but in some possible future.

When I had to choose a theme for my blog post and challenge this week, there was no question. It had to be related to the role of women and girls in dystopian fiction.

A look at dystopian novels throughout the years shows they were dominated by men(written by and about) for the most part until approximately 10 years ago. (This is nowhere near a complete list, but arguably representative). But all of a sudden, women are writing dystopia about women and for women. And not even for women as much as for girls. And it is working. Why?

Personally, I am constantly amazed by the strong female characters I see in dystopian novels. Does the setting allow authors to create a strong and independent character easier than other contemporary settings? Is it more acceptable to readers that a woman/girl would shun romantic ideals and fight for herself only if the world has been turned upside-down? And if so… what does that really say about our society?

So my challenge to you is twofold:

1. Tell me why you think dystopian fiction features so many kick-ass female characters.

2. Tell me who your favourite female dystopian hero is, and why she is awesome.

oh and …

3. Do it all in 100 words or less.

Leave your answer in the comments below Contest is open to residents of the US and Canada, and runs until midnight (AST) on Monday, April 30.

The randomly selected winner gets a copy of Blood Red Road by Moira Young – which features my favourite female dystopian star: Saba.

Saba amazed me. Strong, stubborn and proud. Selfish, and even cruel. But in her struggle to save her twin brother Lugh, she learns valuable lessons, including how to open herself up to others and how to ask for and accept help.

After you’ve entered here, be sure to check out the other participants in Dystopian Survival Week, and enter their contests as well.

Seeing Night Reviews – Will host the Dystopian Image Scramble Challenge (Giving away: Insurgent)

EM Castellan – Guess that Quote Challenge (Giveaway: The Knife of Never Letting Go)

YA Book – Government System in Dystopian Novels (Giving away Various Dystopian Novels)

Ali’s Bookshelf – Would you make it through the Maze Challenge (Giving away The Maze Runner)
Pretty Deadly Reviews – Hunger Games Theme (Giving away Hunger Games + Swag)

Breath of Life Book Reviews – Article 5 Theme (Giving away Article 5 + Post Card)

Book Lovin Mamas – Surviving the Caves Challenge (Giving away The Host)

Sharon Loves Books and Cats – The Hunt Challenge (Giveaway: The Hunt)

It’s Dystopian Survival Week

Seeing Night Reviews and Ali’s Bookshelf and are hosting the Dystopian Survival Week Hop in honor of all the fantastic dystopian novels in the market right now. As a huge fan of the genre, I had to sign up.
Dystopian Survival week is a series of blog posts, where nine different book blogs will host a specific topic of a dystopian theme or challenge they’d like their readers to do or read to enter their giveaways.
April 23rd 

Seeing Night Reviews – Will host the Dystopian Image Scramble Challenge (Giving away: Insurgent)

April 24

EM Castellan – Guess that Quote Challenge (Giveaway: The Knife of Never Letting Go)
YA Book – Government System in Dystopian Novels (Giving away Various Dystopian Novels)

April 25th
Ali’s Bookshelf – Would you make it through the Maze Challenge (Giving away The Maze Runner)
Pretty Deadly Reviews – Hunger Games Theme (Giving away Hunger Games + Swag)

April 26th

Breath of Life Book Reviews – Article 5 Theme (Giving away Article 5 + Post Card)
Book Lovin Mamas – Surviving the Caves Challenge (Giving away The Host)

April 27th
One Book Per Week (Me!) – Women and girls in dystopian novels (Giveaway: Blood Red Road)

Sharon Loves Books and Cats The Hunt Challenge (Giveaway: The Hunt)
Be sure to check tham all out, and be back here Friday for my giveaway.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior has a big decision to make: will she stay with her family and friends in Abegnation, leading a life of selflessness and devotion to the greater good, or follow her dreams and desires into a life with the Dauntless, performing brave feats and protecting the city from harm?

Tris lives in a near-future dystopian Chicago, where after a long war that destroyed much of the city, residents decided the best way to ensure peace was to divide the society into five factions, each aiming to be a living embodiment of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Each faction serves a specific purpose in keeping the society going.

At the age of sixteen, on an appointed day each year, residents undergo an aptitude test to determine which faction they belong in – but regardless of the results, they may choose the faction they wish to live with. The choice is for life. Most test for and stay with the faction in which they were raised. Others choose to leave. A rare few – the Divergent – don’t test for any particular faction. The Divergent are feared as a dangerous threat to society and must hide their results.

So, I had mixed feelings about this book really. It started well. Then there was a whole lot of ‘so what’ and then it picked up again in the last 100 pages or so. I’m having a hard time figuring out why I liked it, but didn’t love it. There is no particular reason, but overall the package just wasn’t quite right. The characterization was inconsistent, making it hard to bond with a character when they were constantly acting in ways you did not expect. And generally, while I found the world Roth created to be interesting, I couldn’t really buy into it. Would people ever divide themselves up according to virtues – and would they choose these five virtues out of all possibilities?

Would I recommend it? Hard to say. I already have recommended it to a few people who I know love YA dystopia, but outside that group, I don’t think I would. But then, as mentioned, the book got much more interesting near the end, and I do intend to read the sequel Insurgent when it is released next month.

Hardcover: 496 pages
Publisher: Katherine Tegen (May 2 2011)
ISBN-10: 0062024027
ISBN-13: 978-0062024022

Jennifer Government by Max Berry

When Hack Nike signs his new employment contract without reading it, he unwittingly agrees to assassinate teenagers who buy the newest Nike shoe – in a ruthless stealth marketing campaign that catches the attention of law enforcement agent Jennifer Government. Hack & Jennifer live in a satirical near-future world where corporations have run wild, everyone takes the surname of their employer, the world is divided into US and non-US countries and the NRA is a hotly traded stock. God help us.

I originally picked up a copy of Jennifer Government after hearing it described as an interesting dystopian novel with a good environmental message. While I don’t think either of those is false, that isn’t how I would describe it. This is satire, through and through. In one page I frequently went from laughing at the irony of the invented situations to grimacing in horror at the choices made by the characters.

The action was fast and so over-the-top it was almost believable. The novels only downside was part of what I loved about it: dangerously close to cliché with one-dimensional prototype characters, Barry was one mis-step away from losing me through the entire storyline. But he did not mis-step, and had me hooked.

Described as “brilliant and hilarious” by Naomi Klein, and as “is the best novel in the world ever” on its own back cover, Jennifer Government delivers outrageous reading fun, and is sure to provoke some serious thinking.

Paperback: 336 pages

Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (Jan 6 2004)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1400030927

ISBN-13: 978-1400030927

The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

Celia and Marco have been training all their lives for a competition that only one can survive, though neither of them know the rules to the contest, when it begins or how it might end.

Celia and Marco are magicians – and not theslight-of-hand, fancy tricks kind. Not even the Harry Potter wizarding-school-alternate-society kind. They practice real magic in the real world (OK, in a book that wants us to think it is the real, Victorian era world) and they must compete their entire lives to prove who is most skilled. The prize is life.

Their battleground is the Cirque des Rêves. The Night Circus. And the competition to the death becomes far more complicated when they fall in love.

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

The Night Circus is one of the more unique of the last decade’s deluge of books about magic. Based on a dark premise, it still manages to be light and hopeful. None of the circus talent or management really know what kind of magic is holding the circus together, only that they have something no one has had before. The Cirque des Rêves changes people, changes lives.

While Celia and Marco are the central characters, the story is told alternately from the point of view of many of the circuses performers, financiers and fans. In no particular order – jumping forward and backward through time quick enough to give you whiplash. A list of main characters is nearly impossible. Everyone qualifies, yet no one qualifies. And while this is one of the aspects of the book I enjoyed most while reading, it may also have been the aspect that kept the book from being truly great.

With so many characters and so many stories to tell, as a reader I bonded with no one. I found the central love story weak and cliché, and the conclusion too easy. I would just get wrapped up in a storyline, and we would jump back 20 years in time into something completely new. By the time we returned to a story again, I forgot the details or sometimes stopped caring at all.

I also felt like a minimum of five more chapters were necessary to justify the huge leaps taken to secure the future of the circus in the end.

With that caveat, I would recommend it to anyone who likes a bit of magic, fantasy and fun. Just be prepared for the jumpiness of the narrative.

Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Doubleday; 1ST edition (September 13, 2011)
ISBN-10: 0385534639
ISBN-13: 978-0385534635