Review - The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Vault of Dreamers
By Caragh M. O'Brien 
Released: September 16, 2014
Genre: Young Adult
Source: Advanced Reader Copy

Dreams have always been source of mystery for mankind. There have been theories surrounding the nightly visions for hundreds of years, if not more, as well as countless studies from various disciplines – form cognitive psychology to biology. Yet, despite all the studies, dreams remain elusive and secretive. Every one of us dreams. Sometimes we remember them upon waking and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes they take us on grand adventures, other times they’re just a collection of images thrown together by our subconscious. Either way, they are our dreams. No one but us know the darkest desires we have and what we dream. But what if someone found a way to see them? To get inside your head and taken them without your approval? This is the exciting premise of The Vault of Dreamers.

Rosie Sinclair is a fifteen year old filmmaker from Doli, Arizona, a dirt poor town with little opportunity. In a stroke of luck, Rosie is selected to receive a scholarship to study filmmaking at the prestigious Forge Academy – an art school for talented and creative artists of all types. But the Forge School isn’t your run-of-the-mill art school. It’s also one of the most popular reality TV shows on the air. Cameras are placed all over the school and the students are on air nearly every waking moment of the day. Students’ popularity is directly linked to the numbers of viewers who watch their feed and with higher number of viewers comes marketing opportunities and big money to help with their future endeavors.

And if being on live TV wasn’t enough, the school also has a strict policy on sleeping – every student must be in bed by six in the evening and sleep twelve hours until six the following morning. At night, the students are always given sleeping pills to help them drift off. This practice, the school claims, helps peak creativity. But when Rosie skips the nightly pill one evening, she suddenly discovers that something unseemly is going on at night. Kids are being fed drugs through IVs, are wheeled out of their dorms at night, and – worst of all – Rosie knows it’s happened to her at least once.

The majority of the book deals with the mystery surrounding the Forge School. After investigation – which included her sneaking out of bed, going to off-limit sectors of the school, stealing swipe cards and what have you – she determines that kids’ dreams are being “mined.” In other words, they’re being drugged and their mind is sorted through against their will.

There is something unsettling and decidedly creepy about this entire concept. And that is why I found this book so fascinating! We want to feel safe in the confines of our sleep; we believe in the sanctity of our dreams – that they are ours and no one can touch them. So, when we are threatened at our most vulnerable – while we’re fast asleep – we feel violated. Rosie goes through all these mixed feelings and more. I can feel her terror throughout the entire narrative and I sympathize with her.

So, why are these evil people mining dreams you might ask? There’s a very detailed chapter dedicated to the reasoning behind it. I don’t want to give away too much, as I want to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, but it dealt with helping coma victims. I was very impressed with Ms. O’Brien’s theories behind it. Now, I majored in archaeology in college, so I have no way of knowing if the biological theories behind the whole dream mining is completely legitimate – but from what I read it was certainly a clever theory and leaves the reader wondering if something like this could, indeed, happen in the distant future. It was so creepy!

As Rosie digs deeper and deeper into the secrets surrounding the Forge School, her grip on reality starts to slip. The story is told from the first person point of view, making her questioning of her own sanity all the more entrancing for the reader. In an attempt to document what it going on behind the scenes at the school, Rosie tries to record the nightly secretive activity, only to find that every time she looks back on the footage, it’s either been erased or tampered with. Is someone really taking her camera when she isn’t looking? Did she really see what she thought she saw? Did she dream up the entire dream “mining” idea or is she simply crazy? With friends and foes both questioning her, we are right there with Rosie as the tries to maneuver through all these feelings. O’Brien’s pacing with part of the novel was pitch perfect! There were some chapters that I was wondering myself if Rosie was a reliable narrator and if I could trust what she saw.

Add to this creepy plot some interesting side characters and a dash of romance and – viola! You have everything you could ever ask for in a compelling, young adult read. The only problem I had with the entire book was the ending – Gosh, that ending! The Young Adult genre as a whole, I fear, is certainly suffering from “AED” or what I like to call, “Abrupt Ending Disorder.” I felt as if the last few chapters had been left out of my ARC and there were too many questions left unanswered. As a stand-alone novel, the ending definitely left something to be desired. But I dearly hope that Ms. O’Brien decides to give us a sequel to at least tie up the loose ends.

Nonetheless, The Vault of Dreamers is an eerie and captivating read and, despite the irritating ending, I highly recommend you pick it up come September 2014!

Top Five - Warrior Cats

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Warrior Cats from the Warrior Cats Saga

I'm an absolute fanatic when it comes to the Warrior Cats Saga by Erin Hunter! Oddly enough, I didn't come across this series as a child. It was a little after my time, as I was more interested in Redwall by Brian Jacques at that point, as well as other longer books. It wasn't until I was a junior in college - yes, COLLEGE - that I picked up the first book. And from then on, I was instantly hooked. Luckily, we had a children's section at my university - meant to be used by Education majors in their papers and such - but I secretly read them for the fun of it. Now, I've read all the books and I'm eagerly awaiting new additions to the series. Below are the top five cats I've come to love in the series. 

All pictures used in this post DO NOT belong to me. They were created by talented artists of off DeviantArt. Below the pictures will be links to their DA profiles. Check them out - they're all very talented!

Credit to Marshcold from DA

Number Five: Hollyleaf 

Hollyleaf is a mysterious cat from the Power of Three series and littermate to Lionblaze and Jayfeather. She's a compelling character through the entire third series, but it isn't until the final book, Sunrise, that she really shows her true colors. She driven, determined and ruthlessly holds grudges  - to the point that she hurts another cat to get revenge for her family. In the novella about her, we learn more about what happened after her big scene in the final book. She's definitely a mystery and elicits enough feels for the number five spot.

Credit to ThorinFrostclaw at DA

Number Four: Cinderpelt

Cinderpelt is not only a loveable character, but her story is also one of the most tragic throughout the entire Warriors Saga. As a 'kit and 'paw, she longed to be a Warrior, but in an accident she loses the ability to properly use her back leg, so she ends up being an apprentice Medicine Cat. Not only that, but she had a crush on one of the most eligible toms in ThunderClan, as well as one of the most tradgic endings. For fear of divulging too many spoilers, I'll simply say that she's a character that will pull at your heartstrings and leave you rooting for her the entire series. 

Credit to Momma-Ran at DA 

Number Three: Graystripe 

Graystripe is one of the pivotal characters throughout several series additions in the Warriors Saga. As a best friend to Firestar, he manages to get dragged along on many of the adventures that his friend gets into. Not only that, but he gets into his own decent amount of trouble. Like Cinderpelt, he had a pretty dramatic relationship. In addition to his memorable antics, he's a jokester and will keep the readers on their toes and asking for more of him!

Credit to Kuiwi from DA

Number Two: Yellowfang

Yellowfang is, initially, one of those characters you love to hate. She's mysterious and when you first meet her in the series, you don't know what to think of her - much like the rest of the ThunderClan cats. Firestar (then, Firepaw) takes an interest to her, and - eventually - a liking to her. As he learned more about her twisted past, the reader begins to sympathize with the grumpy and hostile cat. I learned to love her harsh, but honest words as well as her cynical view on life. She's definitely a memorable cat - one that I'll always remember fondly despite her sins - and that earned her the number two spot. 

Credit to Khatoolah from DA

Number One: Jayfeather

Jayfeather is perhaps one of the most interesting and important characters in the Power of Three and Omen of the Stars series. He was born blind but despite his handicap, he probably sees and knows more than any other cat in all the clans. He was gifted with a different kind of sight, where he is able to look into the past, as well as "become"other cats while dreaming. With his gift, he makes one of the most successful ThunderClan medicine cats, and - with his snarky, sarcastic and no-nonsense attitude - he's completely enthralled me. In a way, he's taken me on more adventures than even Firestar. I hope to read more about him in the coming Super Edition, Bramblestar's Storm. Nothing would make me happier than to see more of him in the future!

Review - The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver
by Lois Lowery
Released: January 24th, 1993
Genre: Middle Grade
Source: Library Loan

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While this review does not contain direct spoilers, there are several elements of the story revealed in it. Please read at your own discretion.

It’s really hard to review a book that is so critically acclaimed to be a children’s masterpiece. Not only that, but an award winning one, as well as the fact that I’m well beyond the intended age group. But I will try my best.

First of all, this book is geared toward middle school kids, approximately around the age of 10-14. And I’m reading it at the age of 24 – haha! It was available when I was that age, but I was much more interested in Redwall by Brian Jacques as well as Harry Potter. I was aware that it was in the school library and while I always intended to pick it up, I never got around to it. Until just recently, when I found out it was being made into a movie. In preparation for it – because I REALLY don’t like seeing a movie before reading the material it was based off – I borrowed the torn and battered copy from the library. It was obviously well loved and it was clear that many people had checked it out in the past. So, I became pretty optimistic.

The Giver is set in the future, in which a young boy, named Jonas, is turning twelve and about to get his assignment for his job, which he will have for the rest of his life until he becomes an elder. His society is seen as a “utopian” by all the members who live there. “Sameness” has been achieved, in which everyone seems to look alike and the landscape is alike. No one is allowed to tell lies to each other. When born, children are taken from the “Birth Mothers” and placed with families who have applied to have children. Only two children are allowed per couple, one boy and one girl. The children are separated based into age groups, in which the kids get different responsibilities. At the age of eleven, Jonas had been volunteering in his free time, in order to discover what he liked doing in life. However, children aren’t allowed to decide their fate – the counsel does it for them. At the Ceremony for Twelves, Jonas discovers he’s to be The Receiver, a special job in which he will start to know how the past unfolded and many secrets that are kept from everyday people. After that, he meets with The Giver (the previous Receiver) to discover new ideas, feelings, and sensations that have long been lost to others. For example, Jonas first learns about colors through The Giver, as well as the sensation of snow. Not only that, but he learns of the chilling truth of what happens to troublemakers who are “Released” after causing issues within the society, as well as those who are too old.

This book is a pretty easy and quick read – I read it in a few hours. But despite how short the book was, it left me with quite a few questions about Jonas’ world. Sensations such as color, as well as the decisions to lie and the ability to sympathize with others is something that in innately human. Lowry never gave us any answer as to how this big change occurred in the world, other than the fact that “Sameness” occurred. But how can you weed out color from people’s vision? How can you keep others from being envious or empathetic - their very humanity? I just didn’t understand how this could ever happen. I could sort of understand why Jonas never knew of snow – as it was hinted that global warming had occurred, but why was it so essential for people to forget something as little as snow? At one point, it was mentioned that skin tone had been changed to where everyone was the same now, and I can understand the intentions behind that, as there have been many battles and war fought over differences between people. But why snow?

Anyway, I suppose I’m looking too much into in and asking too many questions. Middle grade kids probably wouldn’t be asking the same things I am, but that still doesn’t mean that the children don’t deserve an answer to these questions. But then again, perhaps that was Lowry’s intent the whole time, to keep the book open ended and to keep children guessing and thinking about the deeper meaning of the book. Not only that, but the ending of the book is left completely open to interpretation. Some books do this very well, such as The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, but in this instance, I really don’t like it. I didn’t spend the whole day reading the book to not get an answer to the story.

In the end, I can definitely see how this book won the awards it did and how it can be considered required reading for young children. It was well before it’s time and I applaud Lowry for writing a book that can really challenge children. But was this book for me? Probably not. It was compelling, but frustrating. I sort of wish I would’ve read it when I was younger – I can’t help but wonder if I could have liked it better.