Top Ten Tuesday (April 24)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the fine folk over at The Broke and the Bookish. They created it because they are particularly fond of lists, and I’m participating because I am particularly fond of lists. Fancy that!

So the topic for this week’s list is:

Top Ten All-Time Favorite Characters In Books

There will be some minor spoilers in here, because some of the reasons I love these characters are kind of spoiler-y.

10. Cinna (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins) – Cinna is cool, composed, and suave. He’s a stylist, so you wouldn’t think of him as being a fighter. But he proves himself to be brave and devoted to a cause greater than himself. He fights intelligently, not with swords and fists, but with well-placed images that turn the tides of feeling in the Capitol and the Districts. He was the secret but powerful force behind the Girl on Fire.

 9. Molly Weasley (First introduced in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling) – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention such a wonderful example of a mother. Molly Weasley is often in the background of the story, knitting horrible sweaters and fussing over her brood of red-headed children. But her fierce love and devotion for her family is never in doubt, and ultimately, she demonstrates the kind of power that comes from a mother’s love for her children. It’s nothing to be trifled with.

8. Robert Muldoon (Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton) – This is going to be short and sweet. Muldoon is freakin’ awesome, and if they’d all have listened to him from the beginning, dinosaurs wouldn’t have wound up eating most of them. And, unlike in the movie version, Muldoon is smart enough to not get eaten himself .

7. Valentine Wiggin (Ender’s Game and its sequels by Orson Scott Card) – In a world where children are turned into weapons by the military, Ender’s sister Valentine was rejected from the program for being too sympathetic and compassionate. But her intelligence was never the issue. Valentine’s game against her brother Peter is on a much smaller scale than Ender’s against the Formics, but she plays it well, proving what a shrewd strategist she really is. She also is Ender’s emotional center, the one member of his family who is always supportive and loving of him, no matter what he has done. She later proves her devotion to Ender when she accompanies him on his travels after the completion of the Game.

6. Jamie Fraser (The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon) – If you like your romantic leading men big, burly, and Scottish, look no further than James Fraser. From the moment Claire Randall finds herself inexplicably transported from 1945 to 18th-century Scotland, Jamie is her savior, her protector, and her friend. He is innocent, funny and friendly while also being a strong warrior and leader. He’s not without his flaws, chief among them his fiery temper and fierce stubbornness. But ultimately, it’s his enduring love for Claire — a love that literally spans centuries — that makes him utterly endearing.

5. Peeta Mellark (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins) – I never really bought into the whole “Team Peeta”/”Team Gale” thing (in my opinion, Peeta’s biggest rival for Katniss’ affections was Katniss.) So my admiration for Peeta is not based on the fact that he’s just sooooooo dreamy. Peeta takes more mental and physical abuse than any other character in THG series (barring, of course, the ones who die). But his strength of character and his will to be true to himself ultimately prevail. He is gentle, kind, and full of hope in a world where all of those are in short supply; but he also demonstrates strength and power when the situation demands it. Katniss may be the focal point of THG, but in my mind, Peeta is the true victor.

4. Professor Remus Lupin (First introduced in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling) – As Harry’s only Defense Against the Dark Arts professor who is both qualified and competent, Professor Lupin’s teachings are instrumental in Harry’s fight against Voldemort. Additionally, in spite of Lupin’s internal struggles, he continues to be one of the main leaders of the Order of the Pheonix. He serves as mentor and protector of the Dynamic Trio, and ultimately helps Harry understand the power of sacrificial love.

3. Westley (The Princess Bride by William Goldman) – If you haven’t read The Princess Bride, go get yourself a copy and read it. Right now. The movie is great; the book is better. And however much movie Westley is the ultimate in swashbuckling romantic heroes, book Westley is even better. If you thought his survival in the Pit of Despair was impressive, wait until you see him in the Zoo of Death. “To the pain” indeed.

2. Nighteyes (Farseer Trilogy/Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb) – Nighteyes is protagonist FitzChivalry’s wolf companion for most of his journeys. Nighteyes is as you would expect a wolf to be: vicious, cunning, and fiercely loyal. But he is also surprisingly witty, refreshingly honest, and endearingly playful. Through all of Fitz’s misadventures, Nighteyes is there to ground him, support him, and be the voice of reason. In a series I loved full of characters I loved, Nighteyes was among the best. I’ve never felt so emotionally attached to an animal character, before or since.

1. The Fool (Farseer Trilogy/Liveship Traders Trilogy/Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb) – In Robin Hobb’s spectacular trilogy of trilogies, The Fool is the thread that ties them all together. He is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in a cleverly worded and slightly biting riddle. And somehow, even though you never truly understand everything about him — even after 9 books — you come to know him. Introduced as a comical background character, The Fool ultimately evolves into one of the most complex and fascinating characters I’ve ever read. But despite the vast mystery that surrounds him, it’s hard to doubt or deny his friendship and devotion with Fitz, even in the face of unimaginable hardship.

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):

Neville Longbottom, Hermione Granger, Professor McGonagall (Harry Potter)

Burrich (Farseer Trilogy/Tawny Man Trilogy)

 Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe (Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery)

Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

Kent McFuller (Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver)

Jo March (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)

 I may add more to this later. It’s too painful not to mention some of these great characters.


Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver is quickly climbing my list of “authors I trust.” She may not have many books under her belt yet (she is also the author of Delirium and Pandemonium – read my review of the latter here), but I love what I’ve read so far. She has an amazing talent for writing characters in such a way that I feel like I know them and understand them – even if I don’t agree with them. She tackles subject matter I wouldn’t normally be interested in, and makes me care.

Such is the case in her debut novel, Before I Fall.

The Plot

The story follows Sam, your typical popular, Plastics-esque high school villain. She has it all: good looks, charmed life, macho boyfriend, beautiful friends.

That is, until the night she dies in a fiery wreck.

Imagine her surprise when she wakes up the following day…only to find out it’s not the following day. It’s the same day. Again.

What follows is a week of Sam reliving (and sometimes re-dying) that same fateful Friday over and over again.

She goes through it the way I imagine most of us would. First she denies what is happening to her. Tries to pretend it was all a dream or a hallucination. But it quickly becomes clear that what she’s going through is very real. And once she figures that out, she struggles with how to move forward.

Should she approach each day with a carefree, “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow I’ll be dead” attitude? Should she try to right her past wrongs? Should she attempt to change the future?

As Sam goes through each day, her eyes are slowly opened to the realities of her life and the lives around her, and the truth behind her death.

My Thoughts

I’ll get it out of the way early: Before I Fall is Mean Girls meets Groundhog Day. Sam’s story is equal parts Cady Heron (post-Plastification) and Phil Connors (although she probably resembles Lindsay Lohan a bit more than Bill Murray).

But you know what? I love Mean Girls and Groundhog Day. And I loved Before I Fall. So who cares? A good story is a good story.

So, that said, what’s the fun in reading a book about a Mean Girl that lives the same horrible day over and over, and dies after most of them?

As I said before: Lauren Oliver has an amazing talent.

I’m guessing that unless you really are Regina George, you will hate Sam at the start of the novel. She’s shallow, she’s rude, she’s selfish, and she’s mean. She justifies all her actions to herself, but she’s not in any way likable. I spent most of the first few chapters wanting to shake some sense into her vapid, empty head.

However, the more I read, the more invested I was in Sam and her journey. She grew. She transformed. Sometimes I wished she would snap out of her Plastics mentality faster, but Ms. Oliver wrote her arc very naturally and organically. And even when I didn’t agree with her decisionsI understood them.

Yes, there were parts where it dragged slightly (the fact that those parts are few and far between is still a monumental achievement in a book that recounts the same day seven times). And while I found myself ultimately liking Sam and cheering her on, there were a few other characters that made me gag every time they entered the scene (Sam’s BFF, Lindsay, and hunky boyfriend, Rob, are two prime examples). I understand their necessity to the story, but man, were they ever annoying.

The biggest problem I had with the book was that even after Sam realizes the error of her ways, she never calls out her friends (especially Lindsay) on their incessant bullying of…well, just about everyone. On the one hand, I can see how Sam is still intimidated by Lindsay and afraid of upsetting her. On the other…I kind of just wanted her to grow a spine.

However, those annoyances were completely overshadowed by my investment in Sam’s story; my complete adoration of the character of Kent, the sensitive, socially awkward boy who’s had a crush on Sam ever since elementary school; and my fascination with the character of Juliet, a reclusive girl who Sam, Lindsay & Co. have been tormenting for years.

Before I Fall ended before I was ready, but it ended where it needed to end. The story was resolved the way it should be (and no, I’m not going to tell you if she lives or dies. You’ll have to find that out for yourself).

I found myself thinking about Sam and her story long after I put the book down. Her story is haunting, sweet, heartbreaking, and inspiring. I loved it.

Grade: A

Content Guide: Contains some violence, teenage drinking and drug use, bullying, minor sexual content and language.

Review: Pandemonium, by Lauren Oliver

WARNING: Spoilers for Delirium ahead.

Pandemonium is the second book in Lauren Oliver’s Delirium Trilogy. In the first book, Delirium, Lena lives in a future dystopian United States, where love has been designated a disease, and everyone is cured on their 18th birthday. Lena was eagerly anticipating her “cure” and her orderly, predictable life to follow, free from the “Deliria” that leads to mood swings, irrational behavior, violence, and death. That is, until she meets Alex, an “Invalid” from The Wilds – a boy who has never been cured and doesn’t believe that love is something that needs a cure. Alex teaches Lena about love, and they plan to escape Portland to live in The Wilds together. But in the end, Alex sacrifices himself to allow Lena to escape.

Pandemonium’s narrative alternates between two separate time lines. The first picks up right where Delirium ends. It follows Lena in the days, weeks, and months after she has escaped Portland, losing Alex in the process. Predictably, she meets up with other Invalids living in The Wilds, and slowly assimilates to life with them. Away from the familiar comforts of the city. Away from fear of the Deliria. Away from Alex.

The second takes place several months later. Lena is now an active part of the resistance, and is living undercover in New York City. Her cover is that she is part of a new political movement – the DFA or “Deliria-Free America.” The movement’s mission is for the cure to be administered to everyone in America before their 18th birthday. Lena’s mission is to keep an eye on the DFA, especially its leaders: Thomas Fineman and his son, Julian.

[Spoilers Ahead]

But everything turns to chaos when Scavengers – a violent extremist group of uncureds – attack a DFA rally, and Lena and Julian are kidnapped and held hostage together. Their captivity forces them to question their preconceived notions about each other and about who their enemies really are.

Pandemonium was an enjoyable, exciting, fast-paced book. I did find it a bit predictable – I wasn’t nearly as surprised as Lena at the twists and turns of the plot – but that didn’t lessen my enjoyment of it at all. And as much as I loved Alex in Delirium and I wasn’t sure initially if I would be able to accept if Lena moved on, I found that I loved Julian just as much as Alex. I appreciated how the evolution of Lena and Julian’s relationship mirrored that of Lena and Alex – but with Lena’s role reversed.

Ultimately, I thought Pandemonium was a great set-up for the third book in the trilogy. I anticipate the conclusion to the Delirium Trilogy will contain lots of action, a likely love triangle (which is overdone in YA books, but in a world where the entire plot focuses around the benefits and drawbacks of falling in love, it probably can’t be avoided), and Lena’s deeper involvement with the resistance. It answered some questions set up in Delirium while asking several more. And it introduced us to some great new characters.

My frustrations with the book were minor. I missed the characters from Delirium (but I suspect some of them will pop up in the 3rd book). I couldn’t understand how just a couple days lost in the woods resulted in Lena needing weeks to recuperate, considering how physically fit she was at the end of Delirium. And several of Lena’s great plans just seemed far too simple (especially in the couple parts where she has to deal with key codes).

But overall, none of that was enough to take away from my enjoyment of the book. The storytelling was excellent, and I found myself completely immersed in the characters and world that Ms. Oliver created. I’m intrigued and excited to see how she wraps up Lena’s story in book 3.

Grade: B+

Content guide: Contains scenes of violence and peril.