Tuesday, December 20, 2011

End of the Year Review - Best of 2011

Continuing from my post back in June where I posted on the best books from the first half of 2011 , this is a list of the best books I've read in the second half of this year. Again, since I read more YA than other genres, there will be more of those listed than in any other category. Since I don't have a rating system (ratings are subjective anyway), you'll have to skim the reviews to see if these will impress you as much as they did me. These are in no particular order, and the books aren't all necessarily published in 2011 (but most are), I just happened to read them in 2011.


1. Breadcrumbs - Anne Ursu

2. One Crazy Summer - Rita Williams-Garcia

3. A Tale of Two Castles - Gail Carson Levine


1. When She Woke - Hillary Jordan

Young Adult

1. A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness

2. Marcelo in the Real World - Francisco X. Stork

3. Nothing - Janne Teller

4. Cleopatra's Moon - Vicky Alvear Shecter

5. Forbidden - Tabitha Suzuma

6. Bumped - Megan McCafferty

7. The Girl of Fire and Thorns - Rae Carson

Thursday, December 15, 2011

When She Woke - Hillary Jordan

Title: When She Woke
Author: Hillary Jordan
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2011 (Paperback)
Length: 341 pages
Genre: Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: December 3, 2011
Finished: December 15, 2011

From the inside cover:
I am red now. It was her first thought of the day, every day, surfacing after a few seconds of fogged, blessed ignorance and sweeping through her like a wave, breaking in her breast with a soundless roar. Hard on its heels came the second wave, crashing into the wreckage left by the first: he is gone.

Hannah Payne’s life has been devoted to church and family. But after she’s convicted of murder, she awakens to a nightmarish new life. She finds herself lying on a table in a bare room, covered only by a paper gown, with cameras broadcasting her every move to millions at home, for whom observing new Chromes—criminals whose skin color has been genetically altered to match the class of their crime—is a sinister form of entertainment. Hannah is a Red for the crime of murder. The victim, says the State of Texas, was her unborn child, and Hannah is determined to protect the identity of the father, a public figure with whom she shared a fierce and forbidden love.

A powerful reimagining of The Scarlet Letter, When She Woke is a timely fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of the not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated, and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned but chromed and released back into the population to survive as best they can. In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a journey of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith and love.

Yay, first review post-baby! I picked this book because it received a lot of hype during the summer and it peaked my interest. Even though it's adult and I don't tend to enjoy reading many adult books, I couldn't turn down the dystopian plot of this one, and I was pleasantly surprised by it.

When She Woke is a creative re-imagining of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, in which heroine Hannah Payne's skin is dyed red to mark her crime of murder (abortion). Hannah's world is a futuristic USA, one marked by a horrific STD outbreak that essentially renders women infertile. With this outbreak, church and state become closely infused, and abortion becomes a crime. Under the new penal system, convicted criminals have their skin dyed different colours depending on their crime: red for murder, yellow for misdemeanors, and blue for crimes against children, among others. This eliminates the need for prisons since most Chromes find themselves at the mercy of the outside world after conviction and their life spans greatly shortened. After Hannah's release from the Chrome Ward, she must find a way to live as a Red; rejected by society, her family, and the father of her aborted child.

I liked the world-building and themes of When She Woke, a place where church and state are nearly one in the same, where women's rights have gone back a hundred years, where Hannah questions the religious values that she's been brought up to believe. The elements from The Scarlet Letter were woven in quite nicely, so that aspect was well done.

The only thing about the book that I wasn't fond of was the fact that it loses steam towards the end, it rushes into the ending and doesn't have the same feel as the first half of the book. Up until Hannah leaves the Henley's cloistered little halfway house for Chromes the pacing was great and took its time to explore and savour all the elements that make the novel great (the religious hypocrisy and cruelty, the dystopian elements), but afterwards when she ends up on the little Underground Railway-esque journey to Canada (yay for Canada being the cliche safe haven yet again) things feel rushed and the care taken to explore things in the first half just isn't there in the second half.

Love the premise and the set-up, but things start to fall apart towards the end. Still an excellent book though, and the Scarlet Letter elements are nicely integrated into this dystopian tale.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it, the black background works well with the red profile view of Hannah's face, it's a very sophisticated cover.