Sunday, February 12, 2012

Crossed by Ally Condie

Crossed by Ally Condie

Rating: PG-13; 4 1/2 stars

Summary: Cassia is determined to be reunited with Ky, no matter what it takes. After working in various camps with Aberrants, Cassia may be close to finding Ky. That is, if Ky is still alive and hasn't run away...which he has. Oops. That won't deter Cassia, however, and she is determined to follow his trail into the wilderness, perhaps locating the legendary Rising along the way.

Opinions: Perhaps you will recall the tail end of 2010 when I reviewed Matched, the first book in this trilogy. As good as Matched was, Crossed did not disappoint. I read the entire book in just two sittings, and for the most time was riveted. I found myself alternately laughing and gasping aloud, and when my friends assured me they didn't mind spoilers, I began ranting about the stupidity of various characters. One of my big pet peeves is when characters are obstinate, even though I know it's for the sake of the story, and it usually drives me to read more.

One of the big things that I liked about Matched was the fact that Cassia was not working to save her dystopian society. She was simply trying to live her life the way she wanted to. It was a refreshing change from the standard convention. Crossed follows in much the same way. Cassia is trying to reunite with Ky. Along the way, she learns of an underground rebellion, and she wants to join, but her priority is finding Ky.

I would have liked to see more of Xander, but since the book is from Cassia and Ky's perspective, I understand that why his presence was limited. Still, I really like his character, especially after learning certain things about him in this book. I can only hope that he will once more become a major player in book three, which is slated for release late this year.

I have to say, something that I continue to love about this series is the repeated use of older poetry, particularly Tennyson, because I'm a Tennyson nut. I've also become incredibly fond of Dylan Thomas' “Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night,” which I believe is a villanelle...Sorry, that's the English major in me coming out.

Middle books in a trilogy are hard to write. They usually both pick up and end at a bit of a downswing, tension-wise. However, Crossed does not seem to suffer from middle-book-blues. Yes, the ending is not as satisfying as I wanted it to be. However, it tied up many loose ends, while still indicating that more was to come. It did not end on a cliffhanger, which I personally like. Others will disagree.

I gave this book a PG-13 for violence, as there is quite a bit at certain points. I don't recall any swearing, but that doesn't mean there isn't any. I gave it 4 1/2 stars for being an awesome book, but still missing that final, almost indescribable, “oomph” that puts it into the 5 star range.

I recommend this book to anyone who has read and enjoyed Matched. If you haven't read the first book, but you enjoy dystopian fiction, give this trilogy a read. So far, I've enjoyed it immensely.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Secret Life of Pronouns by James W. Pennebaker

The Secret Life of Pronouns by James W. Pennebaker

Rating: PG; 4 stars

Summary: Function words, the little words that our eyes glaze over when we read, are more than they appear to be. In The Secret Life of Pronouns, author James Pennebaker reveals exactly what the title suggests: the hidden meanings and uses of words like pronouns that we use every day without even thinking. The book is divided into ten chapters, and although each discusses a different aspect of function words and psychology, there is, understandably, a lot of overlap. The book utilizes psychology and statistics to track how people use function words in various situations, and what that might reveal about their personality and motives.

Opinions: Overall, I really, really enjoyed this book. Then again, that shouldn't be surprising; I am an English and French double major who formerly considered going into linguistics. In short, I am a word nerd. I thought that this book provided some really interesting insights into the way language is used in culture today. I was absolutely fascinated by the examples pulled from fiction, perhaps because I am a creative writer.

I was a bit disappointed by the lack of definitive results in much of the research discussed in the book. Then again, in my experience with psychology, research is rarely definitive. I am glad that Pennebaker admitted to the gaps in the research and didn't try to cover them up or even lie about them. It makes the book (and him!) seem more credible and reliable.

I was a little frustrated with the overlap in topics of each of the chapters, but at the same time, I was also grateful for it. There was a lot of information being thrown at me, so the reminder was a good thing. I wish there was a way to keep the information fresh without having to rehash it all.

Still, despite my few complaints (or, in some cases, wishful thinking), I really did enjoy this book. The ideas it presented were really fascinating, and they were presented in a very engaging manner. Not once did I feel like I was reading a dry textbook, although someone who is not as interested by words as I am might disagree. By the time I finished the book, my sister was sick of hearing me talk about function words.

I have to say, it's interesting to write a review on a book about function words, because it really makes me wonder how I'm using function words in this review, and whether they are revealing anything about my personality...hmm...

I gave this book four stars because it really was enjoyable. I had a few complaints, but I still fully enjoyed the book. I gave it a PG simply because reading level. I really can't see anyone younger than high school reading this and understanding it in a meaningful way; some of the vocabulary related to statistics and psychology is a bit advanced, and there are some cultural references that children might not get. I just think that a kid would probably lose interest.

In general, I think that people who love words will enjoy this book. I also recommend it to writers, because it sheds some interesting light on writing fiction. This isn't a book for everyone; many people are bored reading about words. I, however, found it fascinating, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.