bibliophile betty

Books & Books & Books & Books

The City of Ember (The First Book of Ember)

The City of Ember (2003) Jeanne DuPrau

The City of Ember (2003)
Jeanne DuPrau

Lately when I finish YA fiction, my reaction is “…meh.”

This book had potential. A couple hundred years ago, Ember was created underground with everything necessary for survival, and for a while it worked. But now supplies are low, tension is high, and corruption is spread throughout the city. Rolling blackouts occur more frequently and for longer periods of time, which is the biggest threat to the citizens. Lina, a young girl and messenger apprentice for the city, grows suspicious when delivering a note to the mayor’s office, and Doon, a pipe-worker in the deep underground, thinks he’s found a way out of the city. To the unknown!

However, the writing fell flat by way of telling, not showing, and the plausibility of the plot is weak. Lina has no notable characteristics other than that she is the primary caretaker of her baby sister and that she likes to draw. As a writer, I know it’s a difficult task to make your protagonist special, whether that’s a physical mark or a capability or a talent that no one else has. Take, for example, Harry Potter. He’s not particularly brilliant and often stumbles across his conclusions by accident or with the help of much more powerful wizards, but he IS the chosen one, and everyone knows why. He has a special mark that links him to his innate abilities and he has to consistently make choices that could kill him or help him. While Lina’s life isn’t in any sort of dire straits, she’s unremarkable in every aspect and the lack of real danger aids her typicality.

Even the city seems unremarkable other than that it’s underground but no one has made any leaps forward as far as technological advances are concerned. Torches are a thing, apparently – and that’s the US-ian torch, not the British flashlight torch (goddamn limeys) – but eventually they burn out, and no one has created portable lamps or battery-powered anything, really. Is DuPrau’s novel an alternate timeline diverging from the past? It’s hard for me to believe that light is really the issue here.

Lina and Doon’s goal is to decipher a half-eaten note (courtesy of Lina’s baby sister) that contained instructions for how to get out of the city. I was mildly curious about where they would be getting out to, but not enough to want to pick up the rest of the series. I imagined a bunch of grey-faced anonymous blobs floating around in the background since no one else in this book was even remotely memorable. Even the mayor and the director of distribution, who doles out canned foods and supplies from the giant storerooms, were only vaguely evil. If you’re going to create an antagonist (especially one with a decently solid reason to cover up a conspiracy), make it better than, “Go away and never return to ask anymore silly questions.” Step up the game here, lady.

The monotony of the book was only propelled forward by the need to finish. I rarely give up on books and since this was a relatively quick read anyway, I labored through it. I’m getting kind of disillusioned with boring YA fiction – I appreciate the thematic and creative elements of a lot of the genre, but the repetition is tiring. Just because your book is about kids who border on their teen years doesn’t mean they’re particularly interesting. This should really be classified as a children’s book.


Avenging Myself

So. It’s been a while.

The last couple months of my life have been pretty weird. At the end of March I finished my Master’s program and received my MA in English literature, which was pretty awesome, but also began a sort of downward spiral for me. April and May consisted of me sinking into a deep depression and nearly relapsing and the subsequent breakup of my two-plus year relationship. While it was very sad and frustrating and angering and hurtful, it was also very relieving. And in what was almost a weirdly narrative period for me, I transformed into this amazing thing that gets to do what she wants when she wants and doesn’t have to worry about hiding a huge part of her identity, giving affection and love to friends and family freely without restriction, or running decisions by a second party before making them. There were a lot of downsides – I saw what was eventually revealed to be the worst in some people, even one of my own closest friends. I suffered from a minor home invasion (ex-boyfriend’s homeboy – real classy guy). I spent many nights angry at myself for letting another person disrespect me repeatedly. I spent many nights sitting outside for hours in the early morning chill trying to stave off the urges to relapse. But ultimately, throughout June’s Pride Parade and July’s BFF birthday celebration, August’s quarter-century anniversary of me, myself, and I and September’s new writing challenge, I found myself.

And that’s why I’m returning to this blog. Because after letting it go for so long, there were plenty of points where I said I was going to just let it die in the internet graveyard like so many other projects I started. But you know what? If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last five months, it’s that I get to choose when I pick up and start again. I get to choose to reach the finish line rather than sit on the bench. I’ve got a new and improved life. I’ve got a new nephew! I’ve got a new guinea pig, and new friends, and new projects. And I intend for this to remain one of them.

Alright, enough platitudes. For old readers, sorry I abandoned you for a couple months. I’m back and better than ever, bitches. For new readers, howdy do! Take a look around. Getchyoself comfy. Because I’m Bibliophile Betty, goddamnit.



Declassified: 50 Top-Secret Documents that Changed History (2008) Thomas B. Allen

Declassified: 50 Top-Secret Documents that Changed History (2008)
Thomas B. Allen

In this collection of 50 documents, Thomas B. Allen briefly details the secrets of spies and behind-the-scenes (often behind enemy lines) that provided pivotal turning points in history, American and otherwise. Many of the documents focused on the Cold War, naturally, and while I felt this volume was too short to give a full history of the circumstances surrounding these documents, it certainly sparked an interest to research further.

Many of the early documents mentioned originated in Elizabethan England and the Revolutionary War. It’s fascinating to recognize how many spies, double agents, and moles tried to double cross Queen Elizabeth I, the singularly most powerful monarch in sixteenth century Europe. Her quests for international expansion and her indomitable military branches, particularly the British Navy, were nearly thwarted by men who attempted to double-cross her. Silly boys, you should have known that you can’t defeat a queen.

Much of the other histories focused on the Cold War, naturally, as this period is considered the height of espionage. However what I found most interesting was not the interaction between the United States and the Soviet Union, but rather the interactions between the Soviet Union and China. Though the U.S. had a strong hand in driving North Korea and South Korea apart, China played a significant role as well. This was one instance that I’d like to look further into, so I might be picking up some histories on Chinese-Soviet relations soon.

My favorite declassified document? The kidnapping plot of Abraham Lincoln (or April Ham Lincon, for whom I am naming my first child). Unbeknownst to me and despite all my research on the Lincoln assassination, turns out the plot to kill the president was initially a kidnapping plot. The others involved dropped out, leaving John Wilkes Booth alone. One man can’t kidnap the president, especially a six-foot five lumberjack of a president, so Booth decided he would shoot him instead. Absolutely fascinating stuff.

Allen’s book piques the interest of readers without bogging them down with unnecessary details. While I wish the book had been just a bit longer, I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for a starting point on international espionage.


Band of Brothers

Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest (1992) Stephen E. Ambrose

Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (1992)
Stephen E. Ambrose

Since this year is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, I thought picking up a historical account of the E Company would be a decent supplement to the other histories I had planned to read in 2014. Turns out, Stephen Ambrose’s account is a jingoistic, dry read peppered with the occasional genuine sympathy-provoking personal recollection. You’re better off watching the mini-series, which I have yet to start but it’s in my queue.

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Infidel (2007) Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Infidel (2007)
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

This memoir has been on my list since its release, and I finally got around to reading it after receiving it as a gift this past holiday season. Rarely have I read anything so painful, so uplifting, and so motivating.

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Insurgent (2012) Veronica Roth

Insurgent (2012)
Veronica Roth

Finally, a sequel I’m satisfied with! It’s been tough to find a good follow-up, especially for a debut author, but Veronica Roth’s Insurgent, coming a year after the first book in this trilogy, made me ridiculously happy to read an un-put-down-able book (don’t judge my made-up words). I finished the book in a remarkably short period of time; a quick, easy read, it did not disappoint with the action and suspense.
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A Dance with Dragons (ASOIAF #5)

A Dance with Dragons (2011) George R. R. Martin

A Dance with Dragons (2011)
George R. R. Martin

It took me about a month to finish this book. NOTHING HAPPENED. But you know what? I ain’t even mad.

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