Book Review: Matched by Allie Condie

Matched by Allie Condie

Published September 2011

Summary:  Set in a post-apocalyptic America, called the Society , the novel follows Cassia through her Matching ceremony. In this new world everything is laid out for citizens: their food is premeasured and send to them, their jobs are based on intense aptitude tests and their deaths are pre-planned. Matching is at the center of these plans and involves young people being chosen for each other by a committee. The Matching Ceremony allows the young people to see a picture of their match for the first time and to revel in their new “adulthood.”After the ceremony, the matched are given a computer chip with information about their intended so that they can get to know them. Cassia’s experience is complicated by the fact that she sees someone other than her Match on the computer chip. When this happens she begins seeing all of the things that have gone wrong within the Society.

Bechdel Test?: Cassia doesn’t really have any girlfriends so this is a little hard to determine. There is a female government official with whom she has conversations about the state of things, so I think it passes!

Rating: 3/5

Though I’m late to the party — the third book in the trilogy comes out this fall– I’m glad that I arrived! This is a thoughtful book about how government control can corrupt a society. I was most intrigued by the way the Society interacted with art and culture. . The Society decided that the world was too cluttered by choice so a committee chose 100 paintings, 100 poems, and other things to save and then burned all of the rest. I was appalled at the destruction of important documents but found it amazing that these treasures play such a central role in the novel!

Book Review: Gilt by Katherine Longshore


Gilt  by Katherine Longshore

Published May 15, 2012

Summary:  Though I’veread a lot of historical fiction set during the Tudor dynasty, I had never read a book that chronicled Catherine Howard’s rise to the throne. In Gilt,we see the story from Kitty’s perspective. Kitty is a minor noble who becomes friends with Catherine Hoaward when they are both in service to a wealthy Howard relative. Catherine has lofty ambitions and it is clear from the start that Kitty will follow her every move. The novel traces their friendship from servanthood to the Tower. Along the way both indulge in romances that are dangerous, politically and psychologically.

Bechdel Test?: Surprisingly, I didn’t think so. Even though the two main characters, Kitty and Catherine, are strong women in their own right, together they talk only about plotting love affairs.

Rating: 3/5
A solid historical intregue, Katherine Longshore’s novel was exactly what I thought it would be: fluffy goodness.There wasn’t much that the (informed) reader didn’t realize going in but it was fun to see the way that Longshore jazzed up the well-known story. Overall, I wish that the story had focused more on Kitty since she was the more interesting woman. I finished the book feeling as though there was a great deal more that Kitty could’ve done.

Book Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Published  2011

Summary: Like many memoirs written since the fall of the Taliban, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana tells the story of an Afghanistani woman who disobeyed the strict regime and made a way for herself and the women of her village. In this case, Kamila sets up a small dressmaking factory in the midst of Taliban-controlled Kabul so that she can provide for her family. Selling through the local tailors, the women’s business thrives. As word spreads among the women’s community, young girls flood to Kamila’s house to beg for work. Determined to help all of them in any way that she can she decides to open a school where she will instruct the girl’s in the basics of tailoring so that they will be able to make their own money. Taking the education a step further, Kamila begins working with the UN to education women about business and the Qu’ran. When the Taliban are overthrown, Kamila works with the new aid agencies to re-establish peace in Afghanistan.

Bechdel Test?: Absolutely passes. The women talk amongst themselves about everything from money, to family, to politics.

Strangest Part?: Hearing about the Titanic fever was hilarious. Apparently when VHS tapes of Titanic hit Afghanistan, men began cutting their hair in “the Leo” and the Taliban had to outlaw the haircut. Any men caught with the floppy hair were taken to the barber for a buzz cut.

Rating: 2/5
I’m not loving it. Maybe it’s because I’m in a class on Afghanistan right now (HIST 391: Afghanistan and Central Asia) but this book feels like a million others only less interesting. There has been a major uptick in books about Afghanistan since 9/11 and this is one in the series. It looks only about the surface-level problems in Afghanistan, like women’s education and empowerment. While I agree these things are absolutely essential to nation building, so are roads, access to clean water and basic medicine!

Book Haul: April 24

My first galley review will be up later this week and another is coming your way very soon! Just as a note, I will not be reviewing the books that I didn’t like/couldn’t bring myself to finish.  Here’s what came this week:

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The Wild Rose

The Wild Rose (Jennifer Donnelly)
on sale 5/22 

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My Last Empress: A Novel

My Last Empress (Da Chen)

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Advent: A Novel

Advent (James Treadwell)
on sale 7/3/12

Book Review: The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny

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The Book of Madness and Cures: A Novel

The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny

Published April  2012

Summary:  Set in the late 16th century, this novel is the story of a young woman who has chosen a non-traditional path. Gabriella Mondini learned about medicine from her father and has been keeping up his practice in Venice since he disappeared many years ago. When the medical community in Venice tries to take away Gabriella’s right to practice medicine she sets out to find her father. The journey is arduous and, for the most part, unsuccessful. Along her trip Gabriella adds to her father’s book The Book of Madness and Cures.

Bechdel Test?: Absolutely passes. The main character is female and she has many discussions with others about her profession, medicine.

Weirdest part?: Spoiler Alert! During Gabriella’s journey she meets and falls in love with several men. One of the men ends up dead and on the dissection table in the next city she visits.

Rating: 3/5
I wanted to love this book so much more than I actually did. While I appreciate the attempt to cross traditional gender boundaries, it was more than a little annoying that Dr. Mondini kept cross-dressing to be admitted to the various libraries. She asserts agency in the face of her mother’s traditional views and tries desperately to make her own way but is ultimately unsuccessful and ends up with a husband & baby. Maybe I was asking too much but I wanted Gabriella Mondini to gain her entrance to the Venetian Doctors’ Guild of her own accord, not because of her new husband’s presence.

Book Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

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The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Published September 2011

Summary:  Rory Deveraux moves to England to attent a boarding school in London’s poshest neighborhood. As soon as she arrives killings like the 1888 Jack the Ripper murders begin. When Rory is the only witness to see the murderer she is forced into a world she doesn’t understand and suddenly she has trouble knowing what is real.

Bechdel Test?: Not even close to passing. Rory lives with two female roommates but most of their conversations revolve around boys or gossip. Also Rory’s mother doesn’t appear in the book.

Series Potential?: Eh. I’m sure that Johnson could write a sequel but I don’t like any of the characters enough to follow them forward.

Rating: 2/5
This book had everything going for it in my mind: British goodness, a connection to Victorian London, a central female character, boarding school, cool supernatural elements. Unfortunately it just didn’t all come together. Honestly, the only reason I kept reading was the England/Jack the Ripper connection. Jack the Ripper has been a bit of a hobby of mine for many years now; I even wrote a paper on how his crimes changed British journalism!

The characters in The Name of the Star were flat and SPOILER ALERT I really don’t love the way the ghost concept was used. I’m an equal opportunity supernatural YA reader (and I loved the Mediator series) but the whole concept didn’t work for me.

Book Review: Pure by Julianna Baggott

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Pure by Julianna Baggott

Published February 2012

Summary:  It’s post-apocalyptic! (Note: this may seem novel at this point but once I post a few reviews you’ll start to notice a trend. I have a real think for post-apocalyptic YA and lucky for me there’s a lot of it. ) The world as we know it ended with a nuclear explosion. Some were able to escape the nasty fall-out by going into the Dome, a sort of biosphere with genetically engineered everything. Those who were left on the outside were disfigured and became part of whatever was around them at the time of the explosion. Enter Pressia and Partridge (ignore their names, yes they’re weird). Pressia grew up in the desolate landscape outside of the dome. She has a doll fused to her hand and lives in fear of the dangers lurking outside her door. Partridge grew up in the Dome and had the privileged life of a leading politician’s son. Both think the grass is greener on the other side.

Bechdel Test?: Surprisingly it passes with flying colors! Pressia befriends the wife of another politician and they have several interactions about how to overthrow the current system. Even better? Pressia’s mother isn’t entirely absent.

Series Potential?: Sure! There’s a lot more to be unpacked about the politics of the Dome and I would love to see more about what made Patridge’s father become as he is.

Rating: 4/5
For a post-apocalyptis YA it’s original and so interesting. It’s hard not to compare Pressia to Katniss Everdeen with all of the Hunger Games hype right now. This doesn’t necessarily bother me–I like to think the YA world is big enough for more than one kick-ass female hero!