Nerdy Books

Yep, it’s that time of year again for many of us. Break out the pencils, way too expensive (and heavy) text books, and get ready to take some notes, because once again the school year is upon us.

If you’re looking to show off just how much of a nerd you are (and let’s get real, sometimes it’s fun to be a little over the top when it comes to bookish nerdery), these books will help get you off to the right start. All links lead to their book reviews, unless I haven’t reviewed the book on here, then the link will take you to the Goodreads page.

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The Martian (Andy Weir): I know, I know! I can hear you now: “Anna, how many lists can you put this book on?” and the answer is a lot. But honestly, as much as I loved this book, it’s hard to keep up with at times! The spot on science challenges the best of us. You’ll learn a lot reading it (especially about potatoes) and have a great conversation starter to boot.

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Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune (Bill Dedman, Paul Clark Newell Jr.): I never reviewed this for the blog, but this is one of my favorite non-fiction books. I really wish that it was more widely read. It’s about Hugette Clark and her family. How her family got so much money, how they spent it, and how that impacted American society. I learned so much from this book and my country by reading it. It covers an incredible amount of time too. It’s not as long as you’d think, but well worth the read. Again, another way to start off a really interesting conversation, but also a way to learn what many US history classes have overlooked.

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The Lord of the Rings (J. R. R. Tolkien): Now I’m not talking about the first book (which isn’t called LotR anyway). I’m talking about the version that Tolkien originally intended, all three books in one, a plethora of appendixes, and glorious maps all leading up to world building that helped re-define a genre for generations to come. One, it’s a much more cohesive read. The publishers broke the book into three to keep printing costs down making the end of the first two books rather jarring. Reading the book as intended makes a big difference. Two, if you loved the movies, you’ll get a new appreciation after reading. Thirdly, it’s cool to be able to see just how much influence this book has had, not just in the bookish world, but in the world outside of it too. But if all of that’s not cool enough, Tolkien created his own language for the elves from scratch. That alone is enough to solidify its place on my list of nerdy books.

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Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World (Kathleen Ragan): This is such a cool collection of folktales. While it does lack diversity in stories from certain areas, overall it’s a strong and powerful collection. Each story comes with an introduction and each section is prefaced with a map so that you know the geographical location the stories come from. It’s a fantastic book to add to any personal library but is also a great nerd book thanks to the variety of stories and cultures it covers. After all, why have one story when you can have 100?

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A Madness of Angels (Kate Griffin): Ok so this might not seem like your typical “screams nerd” book. But I really think that’s only because it doesn’t get enough love. The world building is amazing and I know my inner nerd delighted in the complex magic system and how everything so beautifully tied into the real world. It also is a book that makes you think. There’s a plethora of plot twists for one and secondly there’s a layered mystery as well. On top of all that, you also have to figure out just how reliable of a narrator Matthew Swift is. It’s a sophisticated book and I think it deserves a place on any urban fantasy lover’s shelf.

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Book Review: Coraline

“Spiders’ webs only have to be large enough to catch flies.” ~The Cat

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Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Middle-grade horror, fantasy

Synopsis: When Coraline steps through a door to find another house strangely similar to her own (only better), things seem marvelous.

But there’s another mother there, and another father, and they want her to stay and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.

Coraline will have to fight with all her wit and courage if she is to save herself and return to her ordinary life.

My Opinion: Ah, Coraline. The book of my heart. Clearly I love this book. While there is a bit of ableist language, the creativity, heart, and detail this story holds makes it one of my all time favorite books. The movie is fantastic too, although it’s quite different than the book (in fact, the book wasn’t finished when the movie was made). But I’m not here to talk about the movie, I’m here to focus on Coraline the book. This truly is a winner. Four and a half stars!

As this is a middle-grade/early young adult book, this makes for a quick read. But what makes it so enjoyable for anyone is the wonderful characters. While the cast is small, each character is well developed and purposefully made with their own little mystery. I really did love this, and the limited, unique cast made Coraline’s interactions all the more powerful. My favorite character aside from our heroine was the Cat. The relationship the Cat and Coraline shared is one of my all time favorite book friendships.

Another reason I think this book is so timeless and ageless is because everyone can find something that’s downright creepy in it. Perhaps it’s the old house with odd doors that go nowhere and somewhere, or maybe it’s the fact that adults are to be trusted, yet clearly can’t be. Perhaps it’s the button eyes that the Other Mother and those who inhabit her world have. There’s plenty more examples that I could share, but for the sake of length and to prevent spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. Coraline is completely atmospheric, with just the right amount of creepiness, humor, and suspense.

In a way this book is very straight forward. A girl goes on an adventure and has to save herself. And yet, the story is packed with so much more, yet these lessons never beat the reader over the head. Through Coraline’s growth, we learn lessons in hope, courage, and resilience. This has now become a go-to book when I’m going through a hard time. It’s quick, it’s fun, yet it’s deeply important. I also loved that Coraline reminds us that even when others have our best interests at heart, that’s not always what’s right for us, and those who say they have our best at heart, don’t always. It’s such an important lesson for anyone, especially upcoming generations to learn. Coraline is a journey of self discovery and an honest (although fantastical) depiction of that.

There really is something in here for everyone, whether it’s the humor, the moody atmosphere, or the relationships. The writing is lovely as well and completely absorbing.

TL;DR: I have no idea why you’re still reading this and not hunting down your own copy of Coraline. An important, unique, and fun book, I really do think very people wouldn’t enjoy it. If you’re a fan of Gaiman or are looking for a good introduction to his works, Coraline is a must read.

 

Book Tour: The Thirteenth Gate

Book Tour: The Thirteenth Gate

Welcome to my stop for The Thirteenth Gate book tour! I’ve been pumped for this book for what feels like ages and I’m thrilled to be a part of this tour. Below you’ll find my review, a giveaway (a signed print copy of the first book, The Daemoniac), and a bit about the author. Be sure to check out the giveaway (a signed print copy of the first book, The Daemoniac) and take a look at the rest of the tour here.

|+| Warnings: Death, violence, mild language, mild sexual situations |+|

“[…] monsters are real, Harry. It’s just that some of them are perfectly human.” ~John

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Author: Kat Ross

Genre: YA Historical, Mystery, Paranormal

Synopsis: Winter 1888. At an asylum in the English countryside, a man suspected of being Jack the Ripper kills an orderly and flees into the rain-soaked night. His distraught keepers summon the Lady Vivienne Cumberland—who’s interviewed their patient and isn’t sure he’s a man at all. An enigmatic woman who guards her own secrets closely, Lady Vivienne knows a creature from the underworld when she sees one. And he’s the most dangerous she’s ever encountered.

As Jack rampages through London, Lady Vivienne begins to suspect what he’s searching for. And if he finds it, the doors to purgatory will be thrown wide open…

Across the Atlantic, an archaeologist is brutally murdered after a Christmas Eve gala at the American Museum of Natural History. Certain peculiar aspects of the crime attract the interest of the Society for Psychical Research and its newest investigator, Harrison Fearing Pell. Is Dr. Sabelline’s death related to his recent dig in Alexandria? Or is the motive something darker?

As Harry uncovers troubling connections to a serial murder case she’d believed was definitively solved, two mysteries converge amid the grit and glamor of Gilded Age New York. Harry and Lady Vivienne must join forces to stop an ancient evil. The key is something called the Thirteenth Gate. But where is it? And more importantly, who will find it first?

My Opinion: If y’all aren’t familiar with my review for the first book in the series, check it out here. I adored it. This sequel somehow managed to match it. With a diverse cast, wonderful representation, and a stunning plot I gave this book four stars.

I’ll start with the two things that frustrated me. The first is that there is a plethora of characters that were sometimes introduced too close together. I had to go back and re-read to make sure that I had gotten all the names right. This book is filled with suspects and interesting people, but keeping up with them all was a bit of a challenge. I also wanted to see more of Harry and John. I fell in love with their friendship and was a bit bummed to find that most of the book focused around Lady Vivienne and her partner Alec.

Onto what I liked. As I already mentioned, we met a lot of new characters. Of the new folks my favorites were Vivienne, Alec and Count Kohary. As with the first book Ross delivers detailed characters, and I loved seeing the connections between everyone. Another big selling point for me with this book was the diversity. Vivienne is not a native to London and I really enjoyed seeing how she carried herself despite the racism thrown her way. This element was treated with accuracy but also with respect.

Most of all I was impressed with how well this book wove into the mystery of its predecessor and expanded on an already well established world. I was in awe realizing how many little details I missed in The Daemoniac and how beautifully they tied into The Thirteenth Gate. Watching the two mysteries the groups were trying to solve come together was really enjoyable and kept me on the edge of my seat.

If you’re looking for historical fiction with fantastical elements, The Thirteenth Gate is the way to go. If you enjoyed the first book in the series, the sequel is a must read.

TL;DR: What I loved about The Daemoniac was back in full force in The Thirteenth Gate. A diverse cast, fantastic world building and an entrancing mystery made this book a delight. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, especially historical fiction with a paranormal element, this series is not to be missed.

About the Author:

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Kat Ross worked as a journalist at the United Nations for ten years before happily falling back into what she likes best: making stuff up. She lives in Westchester with her kid and a few sleepy cats. Kat is also the author of the dystopian thriller Some Fine Day (Skyscape, 2014), about a world where the sea levels have risen sixty meters. She loves magic, monsters and doomsday scenarios. Preferably with mutants.

Book Review: Seeds of Eden

|+| Warnings: Detailed deceptions of violence, death, sexual content, and public humiliation |+|

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Author: A.P. Watson

Genre: New Adult Romance, Paranormal

Synopsis: Visions of decapitated corpses, pools of blood, and a masked executioner have haunted Evey for as long as she can remember. Torn between a life in the waking world and dreams of the dead, she realizes her normal existence is nothing more than an illusion. As the veil between reality and her subconscious dissipates, she begins to question her own sanity. Each night as she closes her eyes, she wonders what wrongs she committed to warrant such a curse.

When a handsome stranger suddenly appears in Evey’s life, he is able to provide her with the answers she seeks. However, the only thing more mystifying than Conrad’s appearance in one of her nightmares is the undeniable attraction she feels for him. It is only when he confesses their fates and souls have been intertwined for centuries that an ancient secret is revealed. Now, the two of them must outrun a great darkness or it will claim their lives again.

My Opinion: Thanks to Xpresso Book Tours for providing me with a free copy. The following is my honest review.

Seeds of Eden has a really unique premise combining idea of reincarnation with many stories from Christianity. This story has beautiful writing, interesting characters, and throws a new spin on history. I really liked these elements but I was disappointed by the slut shaming, girl on girl hate, the way that the love interests all treated each other like property, and the fact that abusive relationships were portrayed as somewhat romantic. The book was really a 50/50 for me, so after a lot of deliberation (because there were a lot of things I liked), I decided to give the book three stars.

Evey is mostly normal. She has a part time job, enjoys fashion, hangs out with her best friend, and goes to school. But her nightmares that feel much more real than they’re supposed to. Not to mention the fact the nightmares repeat themselves. Pretty early on we discover why. Evey isn’t Evey at all. She’s the first woman, Eve and she has been reincarnated over and over to help bring out the goodness in humanity. The idea over all is really unique, and really interesting. While I can see how this would be uncomfortable to conservative Christians, as a Christian myself I didn’t see a problem with it. I found this an interesting idea that made for an interesting story.

A big focus of the story is Evey dealing with her memories which come in the form of visions and nightmares. The nightmares and memories were incredibly well done. The descriptions were beautiful and I really appreciated the thought that went into them. As a history nerd, I really liked how different memories focused on different time periods. Although around the 200-page mark I got a little tired of them.

My biggest issue with this book is the lagging middle. This book has such a fantastic start. The pacing, characters, and world building, is absorbing. But towards the middle we get tension in the form of too many love triangles and girl-on-girl hate. I was really disappointed, especially because up until the half way mark, Evey was great. Enter the second love triangle and she stops being supportive of other girls and starts slut-shaming before she even knows someone. It felt out of character and far too petty for the book as a whole. It distracted me from the main plotline and took too much tension away for me.

Another issue I had was how romantic relationships were treated. Evey was someone’s. Couples belonged to each other and while there were multiple arguments about how people aren’t property, the behavior and phrases outside of these arguments said otherwise.

So, what kept me going? The plot and the characters. The idea of reincarnation combined with elements of Christianity really intrigued me. This is one of those books where it is impossible to separate plot and character because both are so integral to each other. The way the characters reacted to the situation seemed so plausible that I could really get behind the majority of them and their actions. I adored the relationship between Evey and her best friend Caroline too. I’m glad I kept reading because honestly that ending came with a twist and cliffhanger I didn’t expect. To top it off, the book was unapologetically dark. My kind of thing for sure!

TL;DR: If you’re into dark soulmate stories, interested in religions, and like a flair of drama in your books Seeds of Eden is probably a safe bet! It has fantastic characters and great world building. It’s a dark and sophisticated drama with romance in it. What more could you want? I can see fans of The Mortal Instruments and the Twilight series enjoying this book as well.

Book Review: The Daemonaic

|+| Warnings: Violence, multiple deaths including suicide |+|

“The trap had been set. Now I had only to spring it.” ~Harry

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Author: Kat Ross

Genre: YA Paranormal Mystery, Historical Fiction

Synopsis: It’s August of 1888, just three weeks before Jack the Ripper will begin his grisly spree in the London slum of Whitechapel, and another serial murderer is stalking the gas-lit streets of New York. With taunting messages in backwards Latin left at the crime scenes and even more inexplicable clues like the fingerprints that appear to have been burned into one victim’s throat, his handiwork bears all the hallmarks of a demonic possession.

But consulting detective Harrison Fearing Pell is convinced her quarry is a man of flesh and blood. Encouraged by her uncle, Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry hopes to make her reputation by solving the bizarre case before the man the press has dubbed Mr. Hyde strikes again.

From the squalor of the Five Points to the high-class gambling dens of the Tenderloin and the glittering mansions of Fifth Avenue, Harry and her best friend, John Weston, follow the trail of a remorseless killer, uncovering a few embarrassing secrets of New York’s richest High Society families along the way. Are the murders a case of black magic—or simple blackmail? And will the trail lead them closer to home than they ever imagined?

My Opinion: This is how you do historical fiction. Ross seamlessly wove historical elements into the story keeping it realistic, while never beating the reader over the head with it. The characters are well fleshed out. There are so many unique elements here (including an incredibly unique reference to Sherlock). There are just one or two things that I would have liked to see more of and sometimes the pacing felt a little slow for my liking. Over all, I loved this book and can’t wait to dive into the sequel! 4.5 stars.

My biggest issues with the book were some ableist dialogue towards the end and the off pacing in one or two parts. There was a couple of incidences that made me uncomfortable simply because of the way mental illnesses were talked about. While it was a bummer, it wasn’t enough to make me stop reading because the book already had so many great things in it. The other issue was pacing. For the most part the pacing was spot on. There was one part towards the start and then again towards the middle where I felt like things were going a little too slowly. In each of these parts our heroine and narrator, Harry, was waiting on something. So in this case this could very much be a a case of great writing where the reader really feels what the heroine is feeling or a me thing.

On to what I loved. If my previous reviews are anything to go by, I really want a story where I can fall in love with the characters and watch them grow. This book delivered on this front. The characters were all unique and I loved seeing Harry’s relationship with everyone, especially John and Collin. I found that all the characters together helped each other shine. Usually I feel a bit bummed after reading a book with a great cast because the minor characters don’t feel as fleshed out. I honestly can’t find a thing to complain about as far as the cast of characters and the characterization of each one goes. Each character was interesting, played an important role, or lead to more twists in the mystery. I also really liked the relationship between Harry and her sister, Myrtle, as well as their relationship with Moran. There’s a lot to be built upon here for the sequels.

As I said, the characters really helped move the mystery forward. The mystery overall was well balanced. We have two opposing sides here, John’s idea that the serial murders taking place are the act of someone who is possessed by a demonic entity. Despite wanting to be a part of the Society for Psychical Research, a paranormal investigative group, Harry doesn’t believe in the supernatural. Throughout the story we see evidence pointing both ways and yet never forced into one side or the other. I really like it when a book can pull that off. But what impressed me so much was the fact that this story is as much about the mystery of the paranormal as it is the mystery of the serial killer. It was very well done, and I felt like I was never beaten over the head with either mystery as both were combined into one.

I love historical fiction but I find that it’s usually very whitewashed unless the story is by an #ownvoices author. There’s also the issue of a lot of racial slurs because “it’s accurate.” I’ve never liked that excuse and it always makes the reading experience uncomfortable for me. In The Daemoniac Ross did a lovely job of avoiding racist dialogue and putting in organic diversity. While I would have loved to have seen more diversity, there was a mixed-race couple who was portrayed very positively and some diversity as well. This is so rare and it was well done to boot so I was extremely happy.

All in all, historical fiction with some diversity, a lovely mystery and unique characters made The Daemoniac a fantastic read. The world building just sealed the deal. History and the paranormal blended together so well and made the history geek in me so happy. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series.

TL;DR: If you’re a fan of historical fiction and are looking for a good mystery, start with The Daemoniac. An authentic world, detailed and interesting characters, as well as a strong mystery really makes Roth an author to invest in. I really do recommend this book, especially if you’re a mystery or  historical fiction fan. Best of both worlds right here.

Book Review: The Turning

|+| Warnings: Unreliable narrator, emotionally abusive relationships |+|

“The big, dark house was their world and they were letting me in. But only so far.” ~Jack (The Turning)

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Author: Francine Prose

Genre: YA Horror

Synopsis:  Jack is spending the summer on a private island far from modern conveniences. No Wi-Fi, no cell service, no one else on the island but a housekeeper and the two very peculiar children in his care. The first time Jack sees the huge black mansion atop a windswept hill, he senses something cold, something more sinister than even the dark house itself.

Soon, he feels terribly isolated and alone. Yet he is not alone. The house has visitors—peering in the windows, staring from across the shore. But why doesn’t anyone else see them . . . and what do they want? As secrets are revealed and darker truths surface, Jack desperately struggles to maintain a grip on reality. He knows what he sees, and he isn’t crazy. . . . Or is he?

My Opinion: The Turning has all my favorite horror tropes in it and uses them beautifully. Did it scare me? No, but there’s only been one horror book that’s done that, so I won’t hold that against this book. Although it took me a bit to get into the writing style and I wasn’t fully satisfied with the ending, I was in love with the concept, characters, and setting. Overall I gave this book 3 stars.

This book is based off of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, a book I’ve had on my TBR list for a while, but have yet to read. I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed The Turning more or less if I had read Henry James’ book. Regardless, this book relies a lot on classic horror tropes and uses them flawlessly. The book doesn’t feel bogged down with tropes because from the start, we know exactly what we’re getting. We expect to get a creepy house with creepy kids and paranormal activity and we do.

I love books that are told through letter style, and to see a horror book that does that was super fun. I think the only problem with this narration style was that we ultimately had three letter writers (Jack, Sophie, and Jack’s father) that all sounded the same. I found myself double checking the “Dear ____” part because I was getting confused. This took me out of the story somewhat.

I also had an issue with the predictability and pacing of the story. There’s odd and interesting things that happen at the start, but it’s easy enough to make (accurate) assumptions about them. This changes 100+ pages into the story. Because this is a short book (just over 200 pages), that meant a lot of waiting.

Despite the slow pace and the predictability I think what sold me on this book was the fact that once it picks up, it picks up. Not only that, while we’re seeing tried and true horror tropes we also are seeing some genuinely interesting things. This is done mostly through the setting and how the characters react to it. The way that the characters and supernatural events behave within the setting was extremely well done. This element was what really kept me going.

TL;DR: If you’re looking for something to scare you stiff and a more serious horror book, this might not be your cup of tea. But if you’re looking for a more fun horror read and are a fan of horror tropes, this is the book for you! Although this book is predictable and has a slow start, it’s still a quick and fun read.

 

Book Review: The Hunger Games

|+| Warnings: Detailed depictions of violence (including torture and abuse), death, suicide mention|+|

“It’s to the Capitol’s advantage to have us divided among ourselves.” ~Katniss Everdeen

“I’m not the forgiving type” ~Katniss Everdeen

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Author: Suzanne Collins

Genre: YA Dystopian

Synopsis: The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.

When 16-year-old Katniss’s young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives. , she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

My Opinion: For the record, spellcheck keeps wanting me to change Katniss to Satanists. Strange, funny, but true. Anyway, moving on.

We all know at this point that dystopia and sci-fi are not my things. The Hunger Games is phenomenal and the one dystopian book I will swear by. This book is a hard read but worth it. The honest portrayal of violence, survival and poverty, and the portrayal of human brutality and grace makes this one a must read. That’s not even touching the world building and three dimensional characters. Hands down, five stars. 

Honestly, I don’t know where to start. This book gives me such tangled emotions, and everything in the story is so interconnected it’s hard to know where to begin. But I’ll start with Katniss herself.

Katniss knows she’s different in that she’s one of the few brave enough to sneak out of district boarders to hunt for food. Not only is this dangerous, it’s highly illegal. To add on to this, she has a weapon (her bow)-again highly illegal. Both crimes have the penalty of death. But Katniss knows she’s like everyone else in that she hates the Capitol, she wants her family to survive, and she, like the rest of her district, is dreading the approaching Hunger Games. Despite all this, at the start Katniss is surprisingly self centered. It’s her against the world and through her time as a Tribute, she realizes that it’s not just her against the world. There’s others who share her thoughts, who have her back, who are rooting for her. She and her family are not as alone as she thought. Due to the narration style it’s almost hard to see how Katniss grows until the very end of the book because she doesn’t realize it herself. But the growth is there. This touch of realism is one of the things that really sold me on this book and made me root for Katniss and her friends.

Katniss is also perfect for showing us the new dystopian world because she wants no part of it. She’s not indoctrinated into the way of thinking, and she wants nothing of adventure or of being a hero. In this respect she’s very practical. She’s not blindly in love with the system like we usually see in many YA and Adult dystopian books. Again, this adds a dash of authenticity. Katniss’ world is brutal. Some of it hit a little too close to home for me. But I think that can be eye opening for those who haven’t experienced it. Dystopian fictional world? Yes. Completely unfounded? Absolutely not.

Onto the fabled love triangle. Heads up, it’s not there. Katniss has no time for Peta or Gale. She’s too busy trying to survive and keeping her family alive. She manipulates, kills, and allows her humanity to slip. But what makes this book so vital and fascinating is what she does to try to retain and regain her humanity. Peta plays a key role in this, although not in a romantic way. There are others such as Rue, the true Mockingjay, that help with this too. It’s incredibly refreshing, but more than that, it’s incredibly realistic. Love is not a priority when you’re fighting for your life.

There are so many important things and people in this book, but I think Rue is the most important. Without Rue, Katniss wouldn’t have indirectly rebelled later in the book. Katniss was able to keep her humanity while with Rue and then carries her humanity throughout the rest of the Games. That was the biggest rebellion of all.

TL:DR; This book is not a book you can passively read. It’s not the typical dystopian in the way that it offers no hope or a way out where everyone gets a happily ever after. I think that is why this book is such a turn off for so many. Romance is not the core, nor is the taking down of a corrupt system. But that makes it no less powerful or important. The pacing, character development, and the physical and moral challenges these characters face make the book phenomenal and important. Even if dystopian books aren’t your thing, I strongly encourage you to read this.