Book Review: Panic

Panic

Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date Published: March 4, 2014
Number of Pages: 408
Standalone: Yes

What’s It About?

Each year in the dead-end town of Carp, NY, every student in the graduating class has the chance to enter Panic – a legendary, and dangerous game of luck and chance. Spurred by heartbreak and revenge Heather and Dodge enter the game. Every decision, every ounce of courage leads to new alliances, chances for romance and a shot in the dark at a way out of town.

Initial Thoughts

My first introduction to Lauren Oliver came in the form of her Delirium trilogy, of which I only ever read (and only half of it) the first book in the series. To many the books are killer, to me they were just, well dull. I found the concept to be beyond reaching and I really couldn’t get down with lead character Lena who I felt was whiny and cowardly. Harsh I know. I’m saying all of this because I was really reluctant to pick up Oliver’s newest book Panic but I’m glad I did.

Panic is nothing at all like Delirium, a standalone book – the overall concept, a mysterious and dangerous game (with a big payout) held for the graduating high school class in small town New York builds to a crescendo in an intense and riveting manner.

Told from the dual perspectives of contestants Heather and Dodge, playing for their own independent reasons, the book is a surprisingly intense commentary on youth and the way in which desperation of all kinds can drive a person to do things they never thought themselves capable of.

The concept is enthralling – Oliver manages to capture your attention from the very beginning. As the game progresses and the stakes are raised you find yourself becoming more and more invested in the characters and desperate to know the outcome.

Dual Narration
The dual narrative can at times come off a little gimmicky – for instance in Allegiant it was evident very early that the reason for the change in narrative style was because the end of the story couldn’t come from the character it had always come from. In Panic the dual narrative makes sense. It offers a great duality in reasoning for the various reasons these kids would put their lives in such danger for a cash prize. For many it’s seen as a way out of small town life for the story’s narrators it’s much more.

Heather

Heather is incredibly likeable. Suffering from heartbreak and a bad home life Panic is a way from her to step away from the stress of everyday life. It’s also a chance to provide a better life, away from her alcoholic/drug addicted mother, for her and her sister. As the story progresses Heather’s growth from wallflower to a confident, beautiful girl is striking yet organic.

Dodge

At first Dodge comes off a little slimy – you kind of recoil at the thought of him, but his is a great example of character development and how wrong first impressions can be. Loyal to a fault Dodge is determined, pragmatic and clever. His relationships with his sister, Heather and Nat (Heather’s best friend) paint him as loving guy with a great deal of respect for the opposite sex.

The Minors (characters)

Nat – Heather’s best friend, Dodge’s love interest – I’m not going to lie here. I kind of hated her. She’s incredibly self-involved and without spoiling anything – um, I can’t actually finish that sentence without spoiling things. Needless to say the gif below best describes my feelings about her.

face

Bishop

Heather’s other best friend, and the boy she’s obviously in love with but has yet to realize this fact (trust me I’m giving nothing away) is perfectly likeable but I will say his purpose in the story is fairly obvious – I have yet to determine if it was meant to be this way or if it’s just a weak link in the story. Whenever Bishop entered the scene I always found myself doing that twisty head thing that puppies do…: puppies

Anne, Krista, Lily

All three women play a vital role in Heather’s life, Krista – her mother is a disappointment, forcing Heather to play the parent role. Lily, Heather’s little sister though very minor and not as developed as other characters gives Heather purpose. And Anne – well she’s really awesome. Best way to explain her.

The Writing

There’s a reason people keep buying Oliver’s books, despite not being a fan of her earlier work there’s no denying she can write. In Panic she creates characters with meaning and reasoning. For every action there is a reaction, a reaction that continuously ups the ante. She also manages to create unique character voices. Both Heather and Dodge stand out so clearly as independent characters, yet when they’re brought together they mesh.

Oliver’s writing is also great for its intricacies. She adds in small details that provide so much for your imagination. The town of Carp is so beautifully illustrated by simple additives like Meth Row or as a friend pointed out Nat’s obvious OCD – which is never named but very evident.

The Elusive YA Standalone

What I think I particularly appreciate about Panic is that it’s a standalone – a concept that seems incredibly unique in the current world of YA overrun with dystopian trilogies. It’s nice to read a book and know that the end is really the end. There’s something to be said for an author who tells the story in one go, sometimes it just makes the story so much more rich.

The Final Judgement

Panic is a great story. It’s unique, engrossing and filled with interesting plot twists, strong and likeable characters. It’s the perfect concoction of mystery, suspense, romance and adventure. Throw in a little coming of age and a little revenge it kind of has a bit of something for everyone. If you’re looking for a tightly woven tale that builds to an ultimately explosive crescendo, you should probably pick up a copy.  4.5/5

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books On My Spring 2014 TBR List

toptentuesday

It’s that time again – Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, this week: Top Ten Books on My Spring 2014 TBR (to be read) list.

SideEffects

10. Side Effects May VaryJulie Murphy (March 18th, HarperCollins)
Alice finds out she’s dying of cancer, so she writes the most epic bucket list ever (with pay back a plenty included) and lives it out (revenge and all.) Then she learns she’s not actually dying. Chaos ensues.

Forget About Me

9.  (Don’t you) Forget About Me, Kate Karyus Quinn (Harper Teen, June 10)
If you’ve read Kate Karyus Quinn’s first novel Another Little Piece than you know she’s great when it comes to the whole fantasy/mystery thing. Don’t You Forget About Me revolves around a mysterious town where you never get sick and you live a long life. But there’s a price to be paid, one that comes every fourth year.

Killer

8.  Dear Killer, Katherine Ewell (Katherine Tegen Books, April 1)
(From Goodreads) …a sinister psychological thriller that explores the thin line between good and evil, and the messiness of that inevitable moment when life contradicts everything you believe. Um – hell yeah.

DreamBoy

7. Dream Boy, Madelyn Rosenberg  (Sourcebooks Fire, July 1st 2014)
Definitely a case of the be careful what you wish fors, this mystery centers on a beautiful and mysterious boy who proves that dreams really do come true. But with this dream comes a nightmare or two.

Dorothy

6. Dorothy Must Die, Danielle Page (HarperTeen, April 1)
Imagine an Oz where the sweet, girl from Kansas who liberates the people from the clutches of the Wicked Witch of the West finds a way back to that magical land only to become the dictator she once defeated.

ToTheDead

5. Love Letters to the Dead, Ava Dellaira (April 1st 2014, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
What starts off as a school assignment soon turns into an epistolary tale of first love, dysfunctional families and betrayal.

QueenofTear

4. Queen of the Tearling, Erika Johansen (Harper, July 8)
Full disclosure – I’ve already read this, but I plan to re-read in celebration of its official release in July. This book is awesome, it’s kind of Game of Thrones meets Reign meets something entirely different.

WeWereLiars

3. We Were LiarsE. Lockhart (Delacorte, May 13)
There’s tons of buzz around this YA thriller – and here’s why (from Goodreads):

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

Need I say more?

CityOfHeaven

2. City of Heavenly Fire, Cassandra Clare (Margaret K. McElderry, May 27)
The last book in Clare’s insanely addictive The Mortal Instruments series, this final chapter sees Clary, Jace and the gang face off against her sociopathic brother Sebastian and his army of evil nephilim.  How cool is that?

GodMonsters

1. Dreams of Gods and Monsters, Laini Taylor (Little, Brown & Company, April 8 )
Really is my number one shocking to anyone who reads this blog? I’m obsessed, OBSESSED with Laini Taylor’s beautiful, seductive, enthralling fantasy trilogy about love and war and everything in between. Will Karou and Akiva end up together (they’d better…) Will the Chimaera-Seraphim war finally come to an end? Will the renegade Stelian Seraphim save the day? I am equal parts excited and anxious, happy and sad – because really, when this series comes to end what will my life become?

Book Review: The Evolution of Mara Dyer

Author: Michelle Hodkin  Evolution
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date Published: February 28, 2013
Number of Pages: 544
Series: The Mara Dyer Trilogy, book #2

What’s It About?

Everyone around Mara Dyer thinks she’s crazy. But she knows better. She knows she can kill with her mind, that her boyfriend can heal with his and that the ex-boyfriend everyone else believes died in an accident that killed his sister and Mara’s bestfriend, is alive, well and looking for revenge. Afraid of a power she can’t control and desperate for answers Mara and Noah work together to figure out how Jude survived a building collapse and why he seems to know more about Mara’s power than anyone else.

The second book in the  Mara Dyer trilogy The Evolution of Mara Dyer picks up where the last book (the insatiably good The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer) leaves off – with Mara convinced she can kill with just her thoughts and fearing attack from the ex-boyfriend she knows is not dead. But as with the first book the big question throughout Evolution is whether or not any of what’s happening is real. Which is what makes this series so good.

This second book does several things that make it a great follow up – because in my humble opinion the second book in a trilogy can often get bogged down with too much set up in preparation for the final book – Evolution however amps up the intensity, the drama, the questions and excitement. From a foray into the occult and a dalliance with a priest of Santeria to attempted murder The Evolution of Mara Dyer pulls you even further into Mara’s complicated story.

Sharp Writing Goes A Looooong Way

Author Michelle Hodkin has a knack for sharp writing – Mara’s story is layered, well thought out and amazingly executed. It’s easy to zip through this book because Hodkin’s use of language is clever and concise. Plus she creates incredibly strong character voices – every exchange between Mara and Noah, whether it be playful or serious always evokes some sort of emotion. Also as Cassandra Clare so aptly points out on the cover the story is dreamlike – effortless – good writing will do that for a story.

The love story – Noah is swoon worthy

Par for the course with love stories is the usual boy/girl meets girl/boy, they fall in love, drama ensues, they’re ripped apart due to unforeseen circumstances or some other girl/boy comes between them. Not so much with Mara and Noah – there’s drama, of course there is, you can’t fall in love with a girl who, general consensus agrees, is nuts but who claims to be able to murder with her mind and not expect some ups and downs. But Noah is steadfast in his love (or is it obsession?) with Mara. He sticks with her despite Mara’s conviction that she will eventually hurt/kill him. Their relationship is definitely unconventional yet highly functional. It makes for a nice change of pace.

Some people suggest that Mara’s become too reliant on Noah. I tend to disagree with this line of thinking. Both Noah and Mara are equally as obsessed with the other – Noah’s obsession is obvious in how he inserts himself into any and all situations that involve Mara. He practically lives at her home, he is willing to indulge her every whim all for the sake of keeping her happy. These facts though are easy to look past because the reader is not provided with Noah’s stream of consciousness the way they are with Mara. We know more about her obsession/love for Noah because this is her story. It is her relaying the events to us and so her thoughts and feelings towards everything, Noah included, are more readily available.

But how anyone could fail to notice Noah’s dependence and infatuation with Mara is beyond me. Why is no one seemingly concerned that Noah inserts himself into any and all situations involving Mara? He willingly has himself committed in order to stay close to her. If that’s not slightly obsessive I don’t know what is.

Jude – Why you so cray?

I’m a big fan of antagonists. They’re often the best part of a story. I really think Jude is a great character/figment of Mara’s imagination/ghost/? – regardless whatever he is, he is great. As antagonists go he draws you in because though his motivations are clear there never seems to be any rhyme or reason to his intent. You’re never certain whether he only wants to hurt/torture Mara or if he really wants her dead. He’s horrible, and evil and any scene involving him is always full of tension and suspense.

*Spoiler*

Mara Dyer is teeming with unexpected twists – this is a book that loves to confuse its readers – is it all a set up? Is Mara sane and really capable of killing with just her mind? Or is she truly insane? Only adding to the confusion and frustration is learning that Dr. Kells (Mara’s therapist) knows Jude and is apparently in cahoots with him. Is in fact seemingly controlling this whole situation. This was a spin on the story I was not anticipating – are Mara, Noah, Jamie and the others just lab rats? Pawns in an even bigger game? Or is she really nuts? Unfortunately I can’t say because Hodkin continues to keep her readers in the dark. Which is exactly why we keep coming back for more.

The Evolution of Mara Dyer continues to entertain and confuse readers. This continuation has a little something for everyone – romance, suspense, fantasy (or is it crazy?) – and a mystery that leaves you desperate to know the truth. Hodkin’s truly worked to evolve not only the story but her characters while working to answer questions left unanswered all while adding more questions to the pot.  4/5 stars.

Book Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

maradyer

“If I were to live a thousand years, I would belong to you for all of them. If we were to live a thousand lives, I would want to make you mine in each one.”

Author: Michelle Hodkins
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date Published: September 27, 2011
Number of Pages: 466
Series: The Mara Dyer Trilogy, book #1

What’s It About?
Mara Dyer wakes up in a hospital bed only to learn that she is the only survivor of a building collapse that claimed the lives of her best friend, her boyfriend and his sister. Wracked with survivors guilt and suffering from major PTSD Mara and her family moved to Florida to start over. Only Mara can’t. In a fragile emotional state Mara constantly has visions of her dead ex-boyfriend and his sister, terrible nightmares and hallucinations. It’s not until she meets Noah Shaw that she begins to suspect she may not be quite as normal as she once believed.

***Spoilers abound beware***

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is one of those books that has a great beginning. It opens with a confession – Mara Dyer (our heroines assumed name) is a murderer. How and why is yet to be determined. Mostly because Mara herself doesn’t know these answers. But she’s on a mission to find out. The set up is perfectly executed. From the very first page you’re hooked – you need to know the circumstances, you need to know Mara’s secrets. Author Michelle Hodkin starts the suspense high and manages to maintain it throughout.

How she does this though is both invigorating and frustrating as all hell because Mara Dyer you will soon discover is not the most reliable narrator. The fact is she’s suffering from PTSD, brought on by the major bought of survivors guilt she’s suffering from. A guilt that’s so encompassing it has her seeing things that aren’t there, suffering from nightmares and all around going loopy. To help assuage her precarious emotional state Mara’s parents decide a change of scenery may help and so the family up and moves to Miami, Florida.

The move however does nothing to help Mara, in fact it only seems to aggravate her precarious situation because soon she finds herself seeing her dead boyfriend all over the place. Stressed, depressed and convinced she’s totally lost the plot Mara’s life is in a seemingly endless downward spiral.

That is until she meets Noah Shaw – of course as YA trilogy’s dictate he’s beautiful, a real dream boat, wanted by every girl in the school. He’s smart and has a cute British accent to boot. He’s also apparently the school man-whore.

Now it just so happens that I’m a sucker for a well-written male love interest (I mean I’m not opposed to a female love interest but since that’s not the case in this book we need not discuss this further.) And Noah Shaw easily captures your “aw shucks” gene and refuses to let go. From the beginning the chemistry between Mara and Noah is intense, clever, witty and everything you kind of want. As Mara and Noah’s relationship develops – in, despite all of the crazy surrounding Mara, a relatively normal way. Noah pursues Mara, and eventually wins her over by protecting her from an incredibly awful high school mean girl.

This is all set up though, apart from showing the strength of the connection between the two characters, and revealing Noah’s true nature (mainly that he’s nothing at all like everyone says) it has little to do with the real story at hand. But it does set up what will no doubt become an incredibly heart-pounding and intense love story.

The real story develops slowly, with an increasing sense of urgency and creepiness. Weird things are afoot in the life of Mara Dyer – she keeps seeing her dead ex-boyfriend, objects in her room move around, and her father just so happens to be the lawyer for a wealthy man accused of brutally murdering a young girl.

As the story progresses more is revealed about that fateful night that Mara’s life changed. Hodkin uses dreams as her medium for major revelations, and because of this fact you can never be sure if Mara’s dreams/visions are true or if her mind is trying to come to terms with a terrible accident. Mara becomes convinced that she is the cause of the building collapse, that she somehow has the ability to kill people with her thoughts and is therefore a danger to everyone around her.

But as the reader you can never really be sure if what Mara believes is true or not, and Noah is no help in this matter. He’s indulgent to the point of detriment. Quite honestly you begin to question his sanity too.

But this is the brilliance of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer – Hodkin keeps you guessing. Right until the end you can never be sure if you should believe Mara or Noah. What is reality and what is not flips back and forth, it’ll have you pulling out your hair and screaming “WHY? WHYYYYYYYY?!” But in the best way possible.

Add to this a great antagonist in Mara’s ex-possibly still alive, but probably not because a building totally collapsed on him-boyfriend Jude. Whether he’s real or simply a figment of her imagination he will give you the willies. Something about the brief flashback’s that allude to Jude, the small moments when he pops up in everyday life or when Mara suspects his existence tell you he’s an absolute skeeze. He is skin crawlingly demonic, and not knowing whether or not he’s there or not at times has you looking over your shoulder as you read. There’s nothing more delightful than a well written, creepy, scary, sociopathic foe. And in Jude you get one.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is the first book in the Mara Dyer trilogy. Author Michelle Hodkin sets up a story full of proverbial twists and turns, with a main character who’s fragility is equalled only by her thirst for the truth. Add to that a swoon-worthy love interest and the most unreliable narration you could possibly imagine, Mara Dyer is as frustrating as it is thrilling, and comes highly recommended.

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

Author: Jay Asher
Publisher: Razorbill
Date Published: October 18, 2007
Number of Pages: 304 (Hardcover)

ThirteenReasons

Clay Jensen arrives home from school to find a mysterious package waiting for him on his doorstep. Upon opening the package he discovers a shoebox filled with tapes with instructions from Hannah Baker, the enigmatic girl from school who only two weeks earlier committed suicide. Confused and intrigued Clay plays the first tape – where Hannah reveals that there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself. And that Clay is one of them.

After finishing Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why I wasn’t really sure what to make of it; I had to take some time to evaluate and digest what I’d just read. If I’m being perfectly honest I wasn’t sure if I actually liked the book as a whole. I knew I liked aspects of it, I knew I really liked the overall concept but I needed time to decide if the book is actually as profound as I think it aims to be.

The answer is yes…and no.

Suicide is a touchy subject no matter the medium, teen suicide even more so with its prevalence as of late in the media. One of the things that TRW does best is remain neutral about the act itself. In no way does this story glorify suicide, or suggests Hannah’s actions were the right choice. Instead it aims to simply examine what lead to such a drastic decision. And questions who is responsible?

My main issue with the book is Hanna. I can’t help but feel a little bit of the incredulity and impatience I usually reserve for Holden Caulfield alone towards her.  As Clay plays each tape, agonizing over the revelations and truths Hannah confesses I found myself thinking about the superficiality of some of these problems. Perhaps this is a sign that I’ve really left my adolescence behind once and for all, maybe I’ve just forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager. But I don’t think that’s true, because the saddest truth you discover as an adult is that high school is really just a precursor for the incredible follies of the workplace, the grocery store, the highway – life in general. The mean girls from high school grow up to be the mean girls at work and the circle of life continues. This isn’t to diminish the way Hannah feels, but as I read I couldn’t help but feel in the end she lacked the foresight necessary to move forward. Instead of hoping that Mr. Porter would magically guess at her problem and then make everything better it would have been smarter (and braver) if she’d just told him what was wrong. She trusted him enough to go to him. The fact is, by the time she went to Mr. Porter, she’d already made up her mind. She’d already decided there was no other way to solve the problem.

The novels main concept – Hannah’s 13 reasons, is incredibly clever (and a little morbid.) The tapes and Hannah’s hit list of those responsible reminded me of A Christmas Carol and Scrooges’ ghostly visits, with Hannah as Marley’s ghost. (Because good tidings she does not bring.) Asher manages to give Hannah the perfect amount of vulnerability and rebellion, making it hard to dislike her (regardless of how perfunctory some of her reasons may be.) And ultimately making you, as the reader wonder why these kids treated her so badly.

If you take Hannha’s words at face value than this is a story filled with unlikeable characters – but it’s important to recognize we only ever learn about them through the eyes of a troubled, and embittered girl. Which begs the question, are they really as terrible as Hannah says? Are there maybe extenuating circumstances in their lives that have caused them to make certain choices that in turn affected her? Everything in life is cause and affect right? If this is true than really the story is one-sided and definitely skewed so that the reader agrees with Hannah, so that the reader can empathize with her pain. Or at least that’s how it appears initially, however as the story progresses it’s made more evident that even though Hannah is narrating the major events this story is all about Clay. It’s about the guy he was to her, and the guy he could be to someone else. Clay’s tape acts in a way as Hannah’s redemption – she knows that the tapes -calling out these kids who have wronged her- is warped and cruel. She’s perfectly aware she’s manipulating them from the grave. But, she also knows that in not opening up to Clay she wronged him (in a sense.) She pushed him away; she was so broken that she couldn’t give him a chance, even though she knew he wasn’t like the rest. And despite Clay’s own musings on being afraid to get to know Hannah for fear of what others would say it’s obvious he’s enough of his own person that he would have overcome that feeling, because to him she was worth it. By the end of the book it’s not Hannah you feel for but Clay – Clay who, in having to listen to the tapes has to live with the knowledge of his peers’ cruelty, and the pain the girl he loved lived with. That seems like a harsh and unfair burden for a guy everyone says is genuine and nice.

I won’t go ahead and spoil the ending but I will say this, it was my favourite part. Instead of ending on an angst ridden, “why me?” note, Asher actually sets in motion a new wrong to right and he does so in a way that leaves you feeling like the emotional roller-coaster you just road was worth it. That’s a pretty strong way to end.

Overall I did enjoy Thirteen Reasons Why . After taking the time to digest the story and pick apart Hannah’s reasons and Clay’s reactions I was able to appreciate how the events played out. And though I still stand by my statement that some of Hannah’s reasons were relatively superficial, I do believe that the overall point of the story was really well executed. Also once you recognize that this is really and truly Clay’s story it becomes so much easier to appreciate the secrets and lies that are being revealed.  I do wish Clay had been a little more developed – that his thoughts weren’t just responses to Hannah’s revelations and actions but rather more insightful as to who he is as a character. Regardless Thirteen Reasons Why is a compelling story about the how the actions of one can affect another. It’s a somewhat harsh but valuable lesson.

In a Perfect World…

sweetness2“As I stood outside in Cow Lane, it occurred to me that Heaven must be a place where the library is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

No … eight days a week.”

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley

Literary Theme Songs

Below is a list of songs I think would make for great literary theme songs. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, mostly because I spend a good deal of my time wishing I had my own theme song. This desire arose after watching a particularly inspiring episode of Family Guy where Peter wishes for and is granted his own theme music.

I had a brief moment of thinking I too could jump on the bandwagon, hopefully helping to create a new fad but I quickly gave up on it when I realized that:

1. I have limited musical talent and
2. Far from getting the reference, most people thought I was crazy like a fox.

But in my pursuit to give something a theme song I realized I could assign songs to books and allow them to act as each books personal theme song. Simples right? Not so. Not so at all. This activity was in fact a lot more difficult than I expected. But in the end I came up with a handful that I think are rather apropos.

Book: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor
Song: Uninvited, Alanis Morissette

Stop it Nic Cage. Just stop it.

Stop it Nic Cage. Just stop it.

If we ignore the fact that this song was used in the awful Meg Ryan/Nicolas Cage vehicle that was City of Angels the song in and of itself encompasses perfectly the books main theme. DOSAB is all about forbidden love, unrequited love, heartache and jealousy, love gained and love lost, and it’s all so unexpected, and totally uninvited.

Choice Lyrics
Like any uncharted territory/I must seem greatly intriguing
You speak of my love like/You have experienced love like mine before
But this is not allowed/You’re uninvited/An unfortunate slight

Book: Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe
Song: Sympathy for the Devil, The Rolling Stones

Technically it’s a play – but it still works, Marlowe’s controversial play about a man who sells his soul to the devil has had such an indelible impact on literature, from its orgins in German Legend to its reinterpretations by Goethe, Mann and even – yes people, even Ghost Rider, the Faustian protagonist is a very permanent and beloved character for any morality tale.

Choice Lyrics
Just call me Lucifer/Cause I’m in need of some restraint/
So if you meet me/Have some courtesy/
Have some sympathy/and some taste/
Use all your well-learned politesse/Or I’ll lay your soul to waste/

Book: Frankenstein, Mary Shelly
Song: The Monster Mash, Bobby “Boris” Pickett & The Crypt Kickers

I’m sorry. I know. Too easy.  Young-Frankenstein-3

Choice Lyrics
I was working in the lab/late one night
When my eyes beheld an eerie sight/
For my monster from his slab began to rise

Book: The Spectacular Now, Tim Tharp
Song: Time to Pretend, MGMT

Sutter Keely – loveable ne’er-do-well, slacker, alcoholic, rock star (in his own mind at least) he is the great pretender. Though his hearts always in the right place his unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions and own up to his own shortcomings leave him with two choices – prepare himself for the inevitable bleak future of life as a big fat loser, or drink himself into awesome oblivion.

Choice Lyrics
This is our decision to live fast and die young/
We’ve got the vision/Now let’s have some fun/
Yeah it’s overwhelming/but what else can we do?/
Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?

Book: The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
Song: I Don’t Wanna Grow Up, Tom Waits

Here’s the absolute truth about Holden Caulfield, he’s a whiny git who’s paralyzed with fear by what growing up encompasses. And, like most teenagers he rails against the system because he knows one day it’ll pull out the ‘phony’ in him. Yeah, I said it.

Choice Lyrics
Seems like folks turn into things/That they’d never want
The only thing to live for/Is today

Now enjoy this music video – because what in the world is Tom Waits doing?

Book: James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
Song: Peaches, The Presidents of the United States of America

I do in fact realize that this is the second time within this list I’ve used the most obvious song choice possible, but come on! How can I not? Does it really matter that the song and the actual story share little in common but the central theme of peaches? I think not.

Peaches?

Peaches?

Peaches

Peaches or…

Choice Lyrics
I took a little nap where the roots all twist/
Squished a rotten peach in my fist/ And dreamed about you woman
I poked my finger down inside/makin’ a little room for an ant to hide/
Nature’s candy in my hand or can or a pie

(It really makes no sense but you can’t knock a group that got rich off a song about peaches.)

Book: We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver
Song: Pumped Up Kicks, Foster The People

The melody may be fun and catchy but the lyrics are serious and evoke the image of a kid who’s snapped – with seemingly no sense of the sanctity of life and no regard for the pain his actions will inflict on others – kind of perfectly sums up the probably sociopathic Kevin in Shriver’s novel.

Choice Lyrics
Robert’s got a quick hand/He’ll look around the room/He won’t tell you his plan/
He’s got a rolled cigarette/hanging out his mouth/He’s a cowboy kid

Book: An Abundance of Katherines, John Green
Song: The Ex-Factor, Lauren Hill

I really wanted to use either Danke Shoen by Wayne Newton or Ben Folds Five Song DumpedFor The Dumped but the former is maybe just a little too happy and the latter a little too angry, so I’ve gone with sad and mushy. Colin Singleton is obsessed with Katherines, but Katherines keep dumping him, after being dumped by Katherine XIX Colin attempts to win her back by achieving “genius” status through a mathematical equation that will predict who in a relationship will be the dumper and who will be the dumpee.

Choice Lyrics
Tell me who I have to be/To get some reciprocity/No one loves you more than me/
And no one ever will

Book: Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell
BigBrotherSong: Testify, Rage Against the Machine

Orwell’s dystopian novel about a world in perpetual war run by an elite group led by the omnipotent (and possibly non-existent) Big Brother is a bleak tale of the loss of individuality, thought police, ultimate control and historical revisionism. It’s only fitting that Rage Against the Machine – a group whose name itself demands rebellion – would provide the best possible choice for a theme song.

Choice Lyrics
Your voice it is so soothing/That cunning mantra of killing/
I need you my witness/To dress this up so bloodless/
To numb me and purge me now/Of thought of blaming you

Book: Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
Song: Anyone Else But You, The Mouldy Peaches

I’m currently in the process of re-reading this gem of a novel (after which I do in fact plan to write a review) but this story of two misfits who unexpectedly fall in love is kind of amazing.

Choice Lyrics
I kiss you on the brain in the shadow of the train/
Kiss you all starry-eyed/My body swingin’ from side to side/
I don’t see what anyone can see in anyone else but you.

If you’ve got any suggestions leave them in the comments!

Book Review: Paper Towns

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”

Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books
Date Published: 2008
Number of Pages: 305

Quentin Jacobson has been in love with the enigmatic yet untouchable Margo Roth Spiegelman as long as he can remember, so when dressed as a ninja she breaks into his bedroom and convinces him to join her on a revenge themed adventure he finds he can’t refuse her. But when day breaks Margo has completely disappeared,  with no signs as to where she’s gone. That is until Quentin realizes she’s left behind clues for him.  As Q discovers clue after clue, he realizes the closer he gets to finding Margo the less he really knows about her.

As I’m certain it is evident by now that I’m kind of in love with John Green’s novels, Paper Towns is the third of his quartet that I’ve read and (no surprise here) I adore it. Funny and endearing, it is the quintessential coming of age story with a great cast of characters and quite frankly one of the most likeable leads ever.

The plot is both familiar and unique; Quentin’s longing for Margo Roth Spiegelman is a common plot line in a JG novel (boy loves girl, girl seems unattainable – don’t get me wrong, this never gets old in my world but it’s definitely a recurring theme.) However what makes this story so different is that Quentin never really tries to win over Margo. He resigns himself to the idea that she will always be untouchable. But he does allow himself to be swept up in her tide and to be influenced by her sense of adventure.

Paper Towns  is really a quest story – Quentin, seemingly the only person who’s Paper Towns Pinactually concerned for MRS’ safety and mental well-being quickly becomes consumed by the idea of finding Margo, of cracking the code behind the clues she’s left behind and hopefully finding her before it’s too late. As he moves from clue to clue and realizes how little he truly knows about the girl he’s seemingly loved his entire life Q manages to learn more about himself and about what he wants in life. Most importantly as the story progresses Quentin’s maturity and intelligence allow him to see that despite Margo’s assessment of him he is in fact confident and heroic because he, unlike her, has never felt the need to perform to please others. That’s a pretty strong message to put out there.

If I’m being honest, I did find it rather morbid that throughout a large portion of the book Margo’s fate – whether she’s dead or alive, the question of whether Q is searching for Margo herself or just her body – remains ambiguous. The sinister possibility about Margo’s fate does however add urgency and a sense of suspense that help with the pace of the novel.

As the story unfolds and more and more is revealed about the real Margo Roth Spigelman Green provides insight into the mind of a lonely and unhappy girl, who from the outside seems to lead the most charmed life – she’s the most popular girl in school, everyone wants to be her, yet she feels lost and alone. Margo’s unhappiness manifests in this need to be found. A desire for someone to follow the clues she leaves behind in order to learn who she really is. This of course is misconstrued as an attention grab – and I guess in a way it is. But not for the reasons others assume. At first I was kind of over Margo – I didn’t understand why she needed so much more attention when she was already pretty much the center of everyone’s universe. But as I thought more and more about it I came to understand that Margo was more complex than that. She may have been the most popular girl in school but that was all people were really seeing. No one really took the time to know her. That would be pretty lonely. That being said I found myself having a bit of a love/hate relationship with MRS. Her numerous complexities are often at odds with each other and well, she’s kind of self-involved.

On the other hand I absolutely adored Quentin. He’s funny, charming, a bit self-deprecating, a good friend and just unbelievably likeable – especially when I compare him to Colin in An Abundance of Katherines (who in retrospect I kind of don’t like, I mean he absolutely pales in comparison to Quentin and there’s just no comparing him to Augustus Waters – who’s name alone makes me swoon.)

The story is broken up into four acts – the final act, which will from here on out be known as The Road Trip – was epic. It was absolutely everything you would want a road trip with friends to be (minus the cow debacle). Green is the master of great chemistry amongst characters and Paper Towns really highlights this particular talent. The relationship between Quentin, Ben and Radar is identifiable; you can easily name one friend who reminds you of one of these characters. It’s real and honest, their banter is kind of everything. The Road Trip is by far the highlight of the entire book, which is saying something since the overall story is excellent.

This is a quest that is entirely worth taking part in if not for the humour (Margo’s fish message “MS’s love For you: it Sleeps With the Fishes”, the confederate flag t-shirt for Radar) and the overall chemistry between the characters – but especially the enigmatic Margo and Quentin – who it turns out is a bit of an enigma himself…wrapped in a paradox.

This is a story I’d love to see on film, I can’t even begin to imagine who I’d want to play any of these characters but I can’t help but feel that it would be awesome.

Overall Paper Towns is as entertaining as it is touching. And I think thus far my second favourite of John Green’s novels because who am I kidding? Nothing is going to beat The Fault in Our Stars but Paper Towns is definitely a story I would and will happily re-read.

Book Review: The Silent Wife

Author: A.S.A. Harrison
Publisher: Penguin Books
Date Published: June 25, 2013
Number of Pages: 336

SilentWife

“The world is full of damaged people and without the sane ones to take up the slack no couple would be safe.”

Psychotherapist Jodi Brett silently watches as her already dysfunctional 20-year relationship slowly disintegrates, leaving her slighted, disturbed and fighting to retain her way of life.

This is the second book I’ve read and reviewed that’s been likened to Gone Girl (the first being Kimberly McCreights Reconstructing Amelia), after reading the latter I was slightly disappointed, it was a decent story but no way as suspenseful, thrilling or shocking as Gone GirlThe Silent Wife however is a different story. Harrison’s story has all the suspense of Gone Girl as well as that nameless quality that makes you silently scream in your head as the story unfolds and each characters actions and decisions take them further and further towards an unknown abyss.

This is largely due in part to Harrison’s unbelievable writing, which switches back and forth between main characters Jodi and Todd – from the opening lines you know how the story will unfold and as it moves along you find yourself being engulfed by the feelings of dread and foreboding Harrison’s prose creates. The story’s narration is done in such a matter of fact way, there’s no judgment or opinion, just facts. Add to that the brilliant use of the omniscient narrator – which reminded me of the narration in the film version of Tom Perrotta’s Little Children which incidentally is a really good film, but I digress. Harrison assumes that the reader’s intelligence is on par with her own; her use of language is colourful, intriguing – yet almost academic in presentation, highly mature and incredibly fluid. It’s very cool. She evokes strong imagery, for instance take a look at this doozy: As the northern hemisphere hurtles away from the sun, the lengthening nights and disappearing days strike her as a punishment designed for her selectively. Harsh winds whip up rain and fog, whistle through trees, and slam into windowpanes. Leaves that were green just last week have turned the colour of piss and dung and are piling up on the pavement.  (Chapter 11, Opening paragraph) Stunning.

The brilliance in Harrison’s writing lies in her ability to make even the most obvious situations or outcomes surprising. How the story unfolds is not in and of itself unexpected but the way in which scenarios play out – with a sense of detachment on main character Jodi’s part and unbelievable delusion on that of her husband Todd’s.

I found main character Jodi to be frustrating in her restraint and her refusal to accept the facts of her life. By turning a blind eye to Todd’s behaviour for so many years she’s placed herself in – what she believes to be this impenetrable bubble – when in fact, despite all of her attempts, her refusal to get married etc., she’s become complacent just like her mother.  And in doing so she’s in a way put herself at Todd’s mercy. Even with all of her education, and a career that could potentially make her financially independent she’s allowed her world to revolve around Todd and therefore become dependent on him. I mean how naïve can you be? Is it really possible that it never crossed her mind that eventually her husband’s antics would escalate, that he would eventually take the final step and leaver her for someone else? Someone younger? It baffles me to think that this character would never have thought to put a little money away just in case. It also annoys me that she would be so blind-sided by events that were twenty years in the making! Yet there’s this streak of rebellion in Jodi that we get glimpses of periodically – a prime example is the sleeping pills she puts in a cup of cocoa for Todd. Eleven in total. And she’s seemingly not perturbed that she could have potentially killed him.

Yet as I read the book all of these questions were constantly pushed aside due to the unbelievable rage and astonishment I felt towards Jodi’s husband Todd. Instantly unlikeable, arrogant, pompous and self-involved as more of Todd’s character is revealed you come to realize that he’s, well, kind of an idiot. His arrogance is inflated by this belief he has that he’s “really not that bad”, he’s a nice guy you know, he’d never be mean to someone, and he’s trusting, always willing to accept a person at face value. The way he rationalizes his behaviour, his lies, his cheating coupled with the way he walks out on Jodi – with his tail between his legs, it’s all just so vile. *SPOILER* The man impregnates the 21 year-old daughter of his childhood best friend! And then, even more amazingly convinces himself that eventually his good ol’ buddy Dean (his fiancée Natasha’s father) will get over it, come to accept it and value it.

Watching Todd endure this midlife crisis is like watching a diabetic left in a candy store, painful to the point of torture. Hitting the gym, buying a new wardrobe it’s all very pathetic.

Throughout the entire story Todd wavers between Jodi and Natasha, he even manages to convince himself that he and Jodi could be friends, and in fact going so far as to hope that in essence he could turn Jodi into the mistress. Are you kidding me? The worst thing about Todd is that I know someone like that. This kind of person is totally possible. Beware the Todd’s of this world.

Adding further dysfunction to the story – Todd’s soon to be baby mama has got to be the most obnoxious, vapid and shrewish chick in town. The differences between her and Jodi are beyond striking. Natasha is immature beyond all reason, jealous and demanding – it makes you wonder, is youth and spunk really all it takes to make a person turn their back on a loyal, loving and accepting companion? One who, if we’re a little vain, and who are we kidding of course we are, has been acknowledged by numerous characters as being both fit and attractive. If so there’s no hope for any of us. Though Jodi has her faults, she is a little too perfect, a little Stepford wife in her behaviour and her silence though often chilling, is more detrimental to her than she realizes.

As the story hits its peak it plays out like a cautionary tale – Hell hath no fury meets Apple and Tree ie. Try as you might you’ll probably turn into your parents (which definitely explains Lindsay Lohan so take heed children.)

If I have one criticism it’s that I found the ending to drag a bit, both Jodi and Todd make selfish choices and both of them suffer from serious indecision about them – it’s the indecision that encumbers the story. Regardless in the end they both hold true to their persona’s – Todd moves on to another unsuspecting girl with the hope that she’ll be the one who cures him of his ennui, and Jodi follows through on what she feels is the only way to keep the life she’s known for the past twenty years. Harrison does manage to throw in one final twist at the end that once again appears so obvious but somehow she manages to make it seem startling.

The Silent Wife is a captivating and intelligent story that will make you so angry, appalled and confounded you’ll wonder why you’re reading it while at the same time hoping it won’t end. It stands strong on its own and definitely lives up to the hype.