Book Review: Dreams of Gods & Monsters

Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Date Published: April 8, 2014
Number of Pages: 613
Series

What’s It About?

After deceiving the rebel Chimaera army Karou has managed to seize control. After a shocking truce sees Akiva’s Misbegotten siblings align themselves with the remaining rebels the groups are forced to work together to stop the Seraphim emperor Jael procuring arms from Earth, not to mention preventing the apocalypse.

On the far side of Eretz the Queen of the reclusive Stelian clan sets out with a small group to find – and kill – the unknown magus stealing their power.

And on Earth as the invading angels shock and awe humanity a young scientist discovers a truth that has the ability to destroy not just the world but every and all universes.

The Story

Gods Monsters

They’d left nothing behind but thoroughly empty dishes and – this would be on for the conspiracy theorists – several long blue hairs in the shower where an angel’s hand had stroked a devil’s head, locked in a long – and so very long-awaited – embrace.

Beginning with the reaction to Jael’s army of Seraphim on Earth interspersed with flashes to Eretz and the integration of Akiva’s Misbegotten brothers and sisters with Karou’s’ Chimaera rebels the tension is intense. Palpable. The story takes off at lightening speed moving between character viewpoints – some like Karou & Akiva who we’ve come to know so well and others we’ve been dying to hear from (Liraz she has a soul! Who knew?) Taylor also introduces a knew character in the form of doctorate student Eliza Jones. At first Eliza’s story seems disruptive – every time the story shifts from Eretz and back to Earth and the discovery of the bodies in the pit you find yourself cursing the lack of Karou and Akiva. Eliza’s story though becomes more and more riveting and mysterious, so in tune with the overall story you eventually find yourself desperate for more.

The action is acute and never missing for too long – in fact the story plays out almost like a film with the perfect balance of conflict, fighting, strategizing and romance (and not just from Akiva and Karou.)

This exemplary melding of themes, genres and stories comes down to one thing – Laini Taylor is a genius. Her ability to seamlessly weave a multitude of stories together in perfect harmony is something to fawn over. Her ability to ensure that each of those stories is told to its fullest, given its dues and serves a purpose is awe inspiring. Like J.K. Rowling, Taylor planted seeds to her story’s ending at the very beginning, and like J.K. Rowling she didn’t disappoint in allowing those seeds to grow and bloom into a nearly perfect ending. This final chapter in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy was well worth the wait. Stirring, dramatic, surprising and heartfelt Taylor managed to maintain the realities of the worlds she created while leaving readers happy and, interestingly enough, salivating for more. (Is it possible? Dare one hope?)

From the impending threat of apocalyptic doom spanning two worlds, to the revelation about the vile fallen angel Razgut’s previous life, to the uncloaking of the mysterious – and supremely powerful – Stelians, to the sweet romance of humans Mik and Zuzana and the epic, heartrending, soul searing love story of Karou and Akiva not to mention the life threatening deception Karou and Ziri are trying to pull off – each story plays a role, each story connects somehow, magnificently to another and another, spinning an ending that makes for a book you can’t possibly put down.

The Writing

Let’s just take a minute to discuss the unbelievable beauty of Taylor’s prose – it is equal parts poetic, fluid and colourful without ever being over the top. It’s nearly impossible not to speed through her stories simply because her writing is so easy. Not easy in the sense that it’s “dumbed down” because it’s not (how can it be when you’re throwing out words like “cartilaginous”? Amirit?) Easy in that it flows, it’s melodic. It’s stunning.

Karou & Akiva’s Epic Love Story

I hate anyone who likens their story to Romeo and Juliet. Hate. Their story is uniquely their own. Sure they’ve got the whole star-crossed lovers deal but their strength, their determination to succeed, their inability to ever truly lose each other is something altogether different. Even when in Days of Blood & Starlight Karou’s anger blinded her (or attempted to) love for Akiva it was there, tangible, and weighing heavily on everything she did. In Dreams of Gods & Monsters Karou accepts this love, realizing that in denying it she’s weakening herself by denying her right to her own happiness. Which is incredibly profound and moving. But what truly solidifies this couple at the top echelon of YA romantic couples is that they are always willing to sacrifice their own happiness to save others and most importantly – they’re both acceptance of this fact in each other. Seriously how much more romantic can this be.

Shout Out to a Great Supporting Cast

No review of this final book would be complete without a nod to the colourful cast of characters littered throughout the series and this final chapter. Zuzana and Mik are a given as the best representations of what being colour blind really means – it’s presented simply in their easy acceptance of both the Chimaera and Seraphim, their desire to help both. Ziri and Liraz – opposites attracting so perfectly. The disfigured, ruthless Jael and the snivelling Razgut, both of whom you can’t help but love to despise and yet feel sorry for in the strangest way possible. And the even smaller players – The Shadows that Live, Virko, Nightingale et al. Each character, regardless how minute their part in the story is so wonderfully designed, so full and multi dimensional you want to know each and every one of their stories.

Dreams of Gods & Monsters the final book in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy is a grand and heroic ending – brimming with intellect, heart and romance, it offers the perfect closure to a riveting story while not fully closing the door on a world overflowing with possibility. 5/5

 

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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

Book Review: Elusion

Author: Claudia Gabel & Cheryl Klam  
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins)  Elusion
Date Published: March 18, 2014
Number of Pages: 400
Series: Yes

What’s It About?
Imagine a machine that could virtually transport you anywhere in the world utilizing only the power of your mind. That’s Elusion. Now imagine your father is the genius creator behind the invention, that he dies unexpectedly in a plane crash. Imagine your best friend (who happens to be the heir to the tech company your father worked for) takes over the project. It becomes a smash. Only for every great thing about it there’s a rumour to counteract its success. But what if the rumours are true? What would you do? That’s the question Regan is faced with answering. 

The Review
It’s only in the last few months that I’ve made the foray into Science Fiction – and the few books I’ve read I like to refer to as Science Fiction Light. Mindee Arnett’s Avalon was the first I tackled, it was definitely enjoyable, I really dug the whole space opera vibe. So I figured Elusion would suit me just fine. I was wrong.

It’s not that there’s fundamentally anything glaringly wrong with this book. It fits into several of the niche markets that make up YA literature – romance, mystery, dystopian (or kind of dystopian, it’s hard to pin point because despite constant reference to the world – or at least America  – being in a poor environmental state there’s never any real explanation as to what caused it. One of many incongruities in the book.) It also comes equipped with a female lead, and a love triangle. These are all elements that usually land well in YA. But in the case of Elusion they all just, well, fall flat.

Let’s Break it Down
This book is long. It drags. It’s not until nearly three quarters in that the story picks up and really starts to focus on the actual mystery at hand. There’s so much filler and so much build-up, build-up that doesn’t even really set up anything. As I’ve already stated there is some illusion (no pun intended) to the world not being a very healthy place environmentally speaking. However nowhere in the 400 pages of this story does it ever explain why – why do people have to wear what basically amount to gas masks? Why is there seemingly no place on earth one could vacation without fear of death by air? An explanation would have been nice.

Not only is it lacking in explanation but it goes around and around and around. By books end you will feel like a very well exercised hamster. That is if you can manage to finish it.

Least Interesting Lead Characters…Ever
The story centers on teenager Regan – her recently deceased father is the creator of Elusion, her best friend Patrick now seemingly runs the operations of all things Elusion (which is amazing when you consider this guy’s meant to be like 18) and Josh – an ex military school apparent dream boat, loosely connected to Patrick through camp (or something, I don’t even remember.) Not one of these people is remotely interesting. I mean you’ve got a teenage whiz kid millionaire and he just comes off whiny, pathetic and a little crazy. Regan is a stick in the mud covered in a wet blanket. And Josh, good ol’ Josh is basically an excuse for strife and friction.

What’s the Story Morning Glory?
As I’m sure you’ve guessed the story is a love triangle. Patrick loves Regan, Regan has no idea, she’s also put Patrick so far in the friend zone he’s basically related to her, Josh has piqued Regan’s interest. Oh but wait, what about Patrick? Maybe she does like him? Oh no. No she doesn’t. But she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings. But she doesn’t mind kind of stringing him along. Oh now she’s confused why he’s angry and jealous that she’d take more interest in a guy she barely knows and not give her best friend of many years even the slightest chance…you see where I’m going here. I didn’t think it was possible to make a love triangle lamer than Edward, Bella and Jacob but the proof is in the proverbial pudding kids.

The worst part is – this is just side story, the real story is that Elusion, though praised by many may also be killing its users. Specifically teenage users. And people are kind of getting addicted to it.

No wait the story is that Regan’s dad’s death is kind of shady and there may be more to it than anyone’s letting on to.

Sorry, the stories about how Josh’s sister’s gone missing.

There’s a lot of threads to this book. A multitude of stories, none of which are ever properly explored. Things just kind of happen for about 300 odd pages. It’s frustrating and disappointing.

Writing why you so boring? YUNOGuyMemeFace
The overall writing is cumbersome. Too much. Too many words. Too much description of nothing. There’s not even any witty banter to assuage the readers outrageous boredom.

But the real kicker with Elusion? The ending. I won’t give it away but let me just say if you choose to invest time slogging your way through 400 pages of clutter with a little bit of mystery thrown in you want answers. You want an ending. You want to know that you have not read in vain. Unfortunately when you make it to the end you soon learn that indeed it was all for naught. This book is not a standalone. And it’s important to know that going in.

I’m always weary of books with multiple authors. I find myself wondering how two people can create a cohesive story that makes sense and still demonstrates each of their strengths and talents. When I read Beautiful Creatures I felt vindicated in those feelings. Having powered through Elusion I can’t help but feel that I’m still very much right to wonder. Reader beware. 1/5

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: World After (Penryn and the End of Days #2)

world after

“It’s amazing how many times we need to go against our survival instincts to survive.”

Author: Susan Ee
Publisher: Susan Ee (Skyscape)
Date Published: November 19, 2013
Number of Pages: 320
Series: Penryn and the End of Days, #2

After managing to survive the initial onslaught of the Angel apocalypse through an unlikely alliance with the enemy, Penryn finds herself, along with other survivors trying to salvage some semblance of a normal life camped out with the resistance a group of civilians set on taking down the Angelic invaders. When a group of people capture Penryn’s sister Paige thinking she is a monster the spectacle leads the newly created scorpion/locusts hybrids to the survivors. In the ensuing chaos Paige escapes, leaving Penryn and her schizophrenic mother searching the streets of San Francisco to find her.

Meanwhile Archangel Raffe (Raphael) believing Penryn dead continues to search for the fallen Angel Beliel in order to seek vengeance and get back his wings. As the story unfolds Penryn makes some shocking discoveries about the Angel’s plans and privately longs to reunite with Raffe.

World After the second book in the Penryn and the End of Days series proves that Susan Ee is most definitely not suffering from the sophomore slump. This is one of the best follow ups to a great first novel I’ve read in a long time.

Picking up right where the first book left off, World After doesn’t feel like a sequel because it flows so seamlessly – Penryn’s story is so perfectly laid out, Ee ensures you remember how the first book panned out without rehashing everything.  Even better is that this series truly sets itself apart from the other major female led, dystopian/apocalypse/fantasy series out there  and that comes down to Penryn.

Penryn puts other major female heroines (Katniss, Tris, etc) to shame she’s neither so tough and self-righteous that you can’t identify with her, nor does she complain about her current lot in life. She is unapologetic for the things she’s forced to do to survive as she navigates this new, apocalyptic, angel run world. Penryn’s sense of self-preservation knows no bounds – she will do whatever it takes to protect her little sister and her mother. She is a perfect mixture of vulnerability and steeliness.

In the first book Angelfall a big part of the story revolved around the relationship between Penryn and angel Raffe. In World After Archangel Raffe doesn’t make a proper appearance until more than halfway through the book. A great choice on Ee’s part – this is Penryn’s story and though Raffe is a great character (I mean he is particularly swoon worthy) she’s not allowing him to become Penryn’s sole purpose for survival, nor is she allowing her to become dependent on him, either physically or emotionally.

That being said I found myself waiting with bated breath for their reunion – Raffe despite his incredible piety and status as an Archangel is slowly but surely developing a great sense of humanity, his interactions with Penryn, their connection and the feelings he has for her that he never truly acknowledges nor denies only makes him more accessible and real as a character.

Though it’s obvious Penryn and Raffe have feelings for each other (I mean holy chemistry Batman!) Penryn never allows herself to become so wrapped up in Raffe that she forgets what she needs to do or what she’s capable of. Part of what makes their relationship so great is that despite Raffe’s otherworldliness he treats Penryn as an equal – because he knows she’s got his back. I love that when Ee creates these intense moments between Penryn and Raffe – with all this unspoken subtext Penryn always finds a way to remind herself of what’s important – survival and protecting her sister. She gets these great moments of being a teenage girl but never dwells because she knows at the moment there’s more important things to deal with.

Ee creates a broad range of interesting and unique characters, deeply entrenched in the realism of the world she’s created. Through Penryn’s little sister, Paige who despite being “Frankensteined” maintains her sweetness and love for her sister while dealing with her newly developed savagery, their mother who in her paranoid schizophrenic state demonstrates more clarity and know how than those of sound mine, and the members of the resistance exhibit both the good and bad of human behaviour this new, dark, and cold world takes shape.

Ee weaves numerous stories into the fabric of Penryn’s overall tale – the resistance, her mother’s struggle with mental illness and Paige’s struggle with her new form only enrich the story. The Angels and their fight to be messenger – the mixture of power, politics and heavenly bodies heightens the drama and adds a sense of urgency to the fight. *Slight spoiler* the creation of the locusts to act as a sign of the apocalypse to help push for the angels agenda and dominate the world is a really great, unexpected twist.

Ee’s appropriation of Christian angelic hierarchy and the new elements she’s created (the warrior’s connection to their sword, the lightness of angels despite their power, their regenerative powers) adds to the angelic folklore we already know.

Ee is a great storyteller, she’s creating a world that readers can identify with and get lost in, with strong characters – and particularly a great lead it’s no wonder she’s become a self-publishing phenomenon. Also, little side note here, the book covers for both Angelfall and World After are amazing – dark, dangerous and beautiful they offer a perfect, wordless explanation of what to expect when picking up these books.

Susan Ee’s Penryn and the End of Days series is shaping up to be a great addition to the YA fantasy/dystopian canon – it’s a fascinating story with the right amount of edge, fantasy and romance. I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Until You

Author: Penelope Douglas until you
Publisher: Penelope Douglas
Format: Ebook
Date Published: December 4, 2013
Number of Pages: 368
Series: Fall Away (1.5)

Until You is the follow up story to Penelope Douglas’ self published Bully (you can check out my original review here.) A re-telling of the story but from Jared’s point of view, Until You is an entertaining companion piece for anyone who enjoyed the original story. (Or anyone who swoons over dark, brooding types.)

In Bully we followed Tatum “Tate” Brandt as she begins to fight back against Jared Trent – her next door neighbour, once best friend and current high school tormentor. Despite making her a social pariah Tatum finds it hard to fight the feelings she’s always harboured for Jared. As the story unfolds the reasons behind Jared’s bullying are unveiled, leading eventually to a reconciliation between the two.

At first the idea of a companion piece seemed a little gimmicky to me but Until You is actually worthwhile. Why? Because Douglas doesn’t just rehash the same story but with a different POV – she gives fans of the original new anecdotes, stories and more insight into the life of the guy who nearly allowed his anger and pain to destroy his own happiness. And yes the dark, brooding male archetype is perhaps a bit of an overdone staple in romance and NA literature but Jared is a compelling and sympathetic character. As arrogant as the character can be there’s great moments of vulnerability revealed throughout the story. Moments that really humanize him. He’s conflicted not because he loves Tate but because of things from his past that have nothing to do with her. She’s just a scapegoat. There’s an actual story in Until You. Not only is there a real story but Douglas has an uncanny ability to make you like Jared. Even though he’s a jerk. (Something even he acknowledges.)

In my review of Bully I commented on Jared engaging in a rebound relationship with Tate’s best friend KC (after he sets her up to learn that her longterm boyfriend has been cheating on her.) That part of the story really burned me up. For Jared’s character it made total sense, but I was outraged that Tate’s best friend could be so callous. I love that in Until You that relationship is further explored and even more I love that it turns out it was never what it appeared to be. It’s little things like that that (for fans of the series at least) make Until You worth reading.

Douglas gives her characters strong voices, it’s obvious she knows who they are and makes a great effort to ensure her readers know too. I’d say her writing style is fairly simple, first person narrative but it works for the story. I found the little asides to be a bit tacky – unspoken thoughts italicized to emphasize, I don’t know, the sincerity of the feelings. It’s a bit like in a movie when a character physically indicates the object or person they’re discussing. It’s unnecessary, and really a little frustrating because all you can think is “why don’t you just say it out loud?” and avoid all the drama. But then I suppose there would be no story.

Though I still find it hard to believe anyone could easily forgive someone who spent three years tormenting them and willingly enter into a relationship with that person I can’t help but like this story. Both Tate and Jared are charismatic characters who’s chemistry is explosive and perfectly developed by Douglas.

Until You is part of Penelope Douglas’ Fall Away series, the next story Rival focuses on Jared’s best friend, partner in crime and lackey Madoc – who, incidentally, is an interesting character in that he’s the polar opposite to Jared. Where Jared is dark, brooding, quiet and menacing, Madoc is sarcastic, funny, easy-going and from a life of privilege. It will be interesting to see the story arc Douglas develops for this new story.

Until You though part of a series does work as a standalone novel, however I would suggest reading Bully first if only to get a better understanding of why fans of the novel were so excited for this new take. If you’re looking for a romance story that’s not all hearts and flowers and over-the-top declarations of love, a story about flawed characters who are desperate to rectify their mistakes, or a story with a smokin’ hot lead than Until You is probably the right choice.

Book Review: Allegiant

Allegiant2

Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins imprint)
Date Published: October 22, 2013
Number of Pages: 526

 

After revealing the truth about the society in which she lives, Tris Prior finally escapes to the world beyond the fence only to learn that despite everything she thought she’d discovered, things are still not quite what they seem.

That seems like the vaguest possible description for this book and there’s good reason for that. Let me start by saying I was beyond excited to read this last book in Roth’s series, I loved Divergent and Insurgent and because I’m a giant nerd I may or may not have counted down the days to Allegiant’s publication. I prepared myself for the usual two to three days of ignoring everything in life but the book and devouring it as I’ve done in the past. But that didn’t quite happen. I don’t want to say that I didn’t like the book because that’s not true. I’m glad to have experienced the completion of Tris’ story, I’m happy that Veronica Roth took some chances and made some stylistic changes (namely the dual perspectives between Tris and Four/Tobias) but I can’t help but feel that this final part of the story lacked the ingenuity and ease of the first two. To be blunt, it was a little all over the place.

The dual perspectives was a great add-on to the story mostly because Four is a character that you want to know more about. He’s just as integral to the story as Tris and it was nice to see his point of view because it helps to put things into perspective. It also makes you, as the reader, question whether Tris is always right. I liked that. Instead of having us blindly follow Tris, Roth gave us reason to doubt and question her motives – adding a level of complexity to the story that wasn’t there before.

Tris and Four

I love the relationship between these two characters. I love that they are both so flawed and that they are constantly making mistakes but that they always find their way back to each other. I found it incredibly touching when Tris (in chapter 36) comes to the realization about relationships and having to forgive over and over but that it is a choice you make. I thought it was an incredible show of vulnerability and the most human she appears in this last portion of the story.

*SPOILER* Do not continue to read if you don’t want to know how it ends

There’s been a lot of disdain, incredulity and rage all over the net about Roth’s decision to kill Tris. I have to say I don’t know why – the character always had a SUPER death wish. I mean in a way it was kind of her major character flaw. Tris Prior definitely suffered from a Messiah complex. In her attempts to always do what was right, to save other’s from the evils around them she was always willing to make the “ultimate sacrifice.” I mean in Insurgent the girl willingly allows herself to be led to her imminent death. I don’t even know how many times she ends up being shot through the series but it’s a lot. Her death was pretty much always in the works. It was clear she was not going to get her happily ever after. And I’m okay with that.

What I’m not okay with is the somewhat of a hot mess Allegiant turns into. I desperately want to love this final book. And though I commend Roth for going against the grain, for not being afraid to kill off her protagonist (a character whom no doubt she loved dearly) the impact of Tris’ death does not hold the same weight as say Dumbledore’s in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The major difference being that when it came to Dumbledore’s death Rowling had a point – it was part euthanasia but it was also integral to maintaining Snape’s role as Voldemort’s right-hand man and ultimately ensuring Harry’s success in defeating He Who Must Not Be Named.

In comparison Tris’ death seems almost unnecessary and sloppy. First – Tris is more than just a soldier, she’s a leader, a rebel and a revolutionary, and despite her anxiety about guns when it came time for her to get into the weapons room I can’t possibly believe she would have left her gun behind, regardless of whether or not she thought the possibility of encountering someone in the room was slim to none. The fact is there was still a chance. And Tris is not a character who leaves things to chance. Secondly, and more importantly, prior to this whole “sacrificial lamb” change of pace did she not go on about wanting to live? About recognizing the importance of life and fighting for a way of life that was free from division and autocrats? What purpose did that diatribe serve? Finally, I don’t care how much she loves her brother, he aided and abetted in leading her to her death. And he did so with little remorse. He even acknowledges that his willingness to sacrifice himself (to break into the weapons room) was because of his guilt not because of his love for her or anyone. (Perhaps this is just an example of my harsh stance on forgiveness for people who try to kill you.)

No doubt there’s a contingency of fans out there who are truly upset that Roth killed her main character solely because that’s kind of a big taboo in these types of stories. But I like to think that there’s an even larger group of fans out there who recognize the major holes in Tris’ “sacrifice” – namely that it wasn’t one. The fact is her death was poorly executed. Though I don’t think Roth’s intention was shock value, I think her point was muddled in its development.

Sacrifice vs. Selflessness

There has also been a lot of debate about sacrifice vs. selflessness and whether Roth confused the two. I don’t think so – that Tris was certain she could survive the death serum suggests she wasn’t really being sacrificial. That she in fact did survive it only to be shot by David proves that she wasn’t making a sacrifice, she was just being Tris and taking another risk. Was she being selfless? I think so. Was she intentionally sacrificing herself? No, not at all. She knew she could survive the death serum. And she did. But I reiterate, why would she leave her gun behind? Is it possible that a part of her wanted this ending? I wouldn’t blame her if you know, she was just tired of everything. She’s only sixteen and look at what her life has been.

Where I think some creative liberties were taken when it comes to selflessness is with Evelyn. It’s strange that a character who was so hard, so determined to get her way, not afraid of using the death serum on her own people to maintain control of the city would just back down from ruling because her son promises her a relationship. That’s a little far flung. Talk about a deus ex machina. It’s weird that Roth didn’t blink an eye at killing off her protagonist but stopped short of all out war when it came to the city Tris was trying to save. It was all a little too easy.

The Epilogue

I kept expecting that Tris would eventually show up, like it was a big ruse (for what purpose I don’t know) but still, when the epilogue started two and a half years after her death I had no clue what to expect. That Roth demonstrated that Tris’ death wasn’t in vain was important and needed. It was also great to see how the others went on to survive without her and make lives for themselves in the “new” Chicago. I also felt incredibly sad for Four. There’s a character who’s life is not one you would like to experience. If anything it was the effect that Tris’ death has on Tobias that got to me. I always felt that she couldn’t make it to the stories end. That any other life would seem out of place and unnatural for her. But Four has suffered and lost so much, it’s heartbreaking to think that after everything he has to lose her too.

That the final thoughts in the book come from him and from a place of hope within him is comforting for any fan who invested in Tobias and were heart broken at all he has lost.

Of the three books in the Divergent series Allegiant is by far my least favourite. Though I commend Roth for making hard choices and going against what was expected I can’t help but feel that the overall point of the story gets lost in a lot of excess, that there are too many holes and most importantly that she didn’t go far enough to make the loss of Tris have a strong enough purpose.

Despite all the criticism Roth is an exciting writer and this series is a great addition to the YA Dystopian canon – I look forward to whatever she comes up with next because really she can only get better.

(Also it’s quite possible six months from  now when I sit down to re-read this my thoughts will completely change, in which case I promise to acknowledge that fact.)

Book Review: Eleanor & Park

“I just can’t believe that life would give us to each other,’ he said, ‘and then take it back.’ ‘I can,’ she said. ‘Life’s a bastard.”

“I just can’t believe that life would give us to each other,’ he said, ‘and then take it back.’
‘I can,’ she said. ‘Life’s a bastard.”

Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martins Press
Date Published: February 26, 2013
Number of Pages: 325

Set over the course of a school year in the mid 1980s Eleanor & Park recounts the story of two teenage outcasts who form an unlikely bond, eventually fall in love and fight to maintain their high school romance despite the numerous adversities in their way.

The story of high school outsiders – redheaded Eleanor and half-Korean Park living in small town Nebraska is both simple and complex. It’s a love story that doesn’t involve supernatural beings, dramatic love triangles, bullying and hate that’s secretly love. It’s not about unrequited love, or love gone sour, it’s simply the story of two lost souls that – surprisingly – find love with each other. It’s beautiful, funny, poignant, insightful and real.

Eleanor & Park is a rare experience as far as young adult novels go in that it’s extremely nuanced, the relationship between the two leads develops slowly and organically – there’s no major catalyst that hits you over the head and says ‘Hey! These two are now madly in love.’ Which is part of what makes the story so enjoyable.

The writing is clean, fluid and straightforward – it’s effortless, which makes reading the story even more enjoyable than it already is.  The fact is this is one of those books you pick up and read and when you look up you realize you’ve lost four hours when it only felt like 4 minutes.

This is also a very multifaceted story – both Park and Eleanor are dealing with the regular elements that being a teenager encompasses – fitting in, popularity, figuring out who they are, not to mention raging hormones (which for the record I really don’t think is exclusive to teenagers but whatevs). To add further complication Eleanor’s home life is beyond a disaster, her mother is blind to their circumstances; her stepfather is a raging, potentially homicidal, lunatic and Eleanor is incapable of saving herself let alone her younger siblings. And when at school she’s mercilessly picked on by the other kids for things she can’t control (her hair, her weight, her clothes) and yet Eleanor has a strong sense of self, she’s pretty tough, and maybe a little snarky.

Though Park’s home life is relatively sane and much more stable than Eleanor’s his struggle with fitting in is heightened by the fact that unlike his father and brother he’s slight and sensitive. Add to that being half-Korean in a sea of white and black and it’s easy to understand Park’s struggle for identity. Despite this Park goes through an intense maturing process – at the beginning of their budding romance Park’s feelings for Eleanor place him on an emotional rollercoaster – though unwilling to admit it outright Eleanor or more specifically how others see her embarrasses him. Possibly one of the best demonstrations of how a good writer can mature a character the way Rowell has Park work through these feelings and his embarrassment only intensifies the strength of his feelings for Eleanor. It’s kind of remarkable.

That their love story begins on a bus and after an act of (unwilling) kindness and develops over comic books and music (The Smiths!) is heartwarming. The relationship progresses slowly – there’s no heart stopping first kiss until nearly halfway through and in fact there’s little touching apart from handholding until nearly the end. In a way it’s all very old fashioned. Both Eleanor and Park are so tentative and shy, slowly gauging the other’s reaction when they touch – it’s nice. There’s an innocence to their story, it’s all about discovery –of each other and themselves.

What really sets this book apart from others is how truly distinct the character voices are, when Eleanor says or thinks God you can hear the exasperation, when she rolls her eyes you can feel her incredulity – and it’s the same with Park, every time he utters Jesus his mood and the intent behind the word are so evident, you would swear they were right in front of you.

There’s a reason everyone’s talking about this book and that’s because it’s a breath of fresh air – a stand alone novel, Eleanor & Park is an engrossing story that will take you back to high school and make you relive the good (and the bad) that comes along with it.

Next up: Night of the Purple Moon (it’s an ARC so we’ll see how that goes) and the monthly re-read Richard Adams’ Watership Down

Book Review: Looking for Alaska

Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books
Date Published: March 2005
Number of Pages: 221 

Thomas Edison's last words were 'It's very beautiful over there'. I don't know where there is, but I believe it's somewhere, and I hope it's beautiful.

Thomas Edison’s last words were ‘It’s very beautiful over there’. I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.

With the hope of seeking The Great Perhaps Miles Halter leaves behind his uneventful life in Florida for the definitely different, sometimes crazy, super not boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School in Alabama. Once there Miles meets the enigmatic, beautiful, funny, wild, confusing and sad Alaska Young who pulls him into her world and in doing so changes his forever.

The last of the John Green quartet for me to read – and yet the first of his novels to be published, Looking for Alaska is a prime example of the devastation and havoc John Green can so masterfully wreak on your heart. Which is what makes his books so wonderful because as heartbreaking as they can be they are also incredibly introspective and philosophical.

Of his four books I have to say Looking for Alaska is a close second to The Fault in Our Stars (which wins for one reason: Augustus Waters, yes, I have an obsession…with a fictional character.) In a way it’s almost a precursor to it, a not yet perfected but still unbelievably moving coming of age story rife with thought provoking reflections on life and our place in it. In essence it’s totally deep. And incredibly moving.

Like most of the male leads in his stories Miles “Pudge” Halter is not the coolest kid in town, in fact he’s practically friendless and spends a good deal of his time memorizing famous peoples last words. Which in and of itself is both a strange yet interesting hobby. Especially for a sixteen-year-old. When he trades in his life in Florida for a boarding school in Alabama his parents worry it’s because he has no friends, but for Pudge it’s all about seeking The Great Perhaps. Which is really what the story is all about – this is the year that defines and moulds Pudge, this is the year he grows up.

It’s also a year in the life of a group of misfits who are connected by their love of one enigmatic, beautiful, mysterious, sad girl. It’s all very tragic. But the beauty of Looking for Alaska is that as terrible as certain events may be they are not played out like soap operas, nor are they overwrought with teenage angst. Which, let’s face it grows tiresome quickly. Instead they are dealt with not delicately but truthfully, and with all the requisite emotions you expect. And it’s genuine. And that makes the story all the more meaningful and moving.

This story pretty much blew me away – partly because I was under the impression it was going to be the general uncool-boy-falls-in-love-with-popular girl-and-chases-after-her-in-his-own-loveable-but-self-deprecating-way story. It definitely begins with that vibe but boy does it take quite the turn. As the story develops and we begin to learn more about Pudge, the Colonel, Takumi and Alaska, their relationships with each other and see how the boys dote on and respect Alaska you can’t help but fall in love with all of them. Including Alaska, who, as Pudge himself acknowledges isn’t necessarily the easiest person to love. She’s polarizing, confusing and sometimes not likeable at all. But she has dimension and depth and keeps the boys on their toes, she also makes Miles think, she is a major player in his maturing process.

In general the characters in Looking for Alaska are interesting, loveable, funny and highly developed. Even The Eagle (who acts as one of the story’s main antagonists) has depth – showing that he does care about the students and isn’t simply a drone hell bent on catching them in the midst of misbehaving.

The fact that the characters work so well, are so fleshed out and have such great chemistry makes the great moments within the story even better – and there are a lot of really great moments – most funny, some touching, some tragic. All of the pranking, especially the final prank is clever and funny (well except for Miles being thrown in the lake). “Barn Night” will forever live on in literary infamy.

One of the things I loved most about this story (and in general John Green’s writing) is how introspective and philosophical his characters can be. I really appreciate that along with their general teen-ageness they all share a maturity and sophistication that most adults fail to recognize in just about anyone under 30. Pudge starts off as clearly an intelligent but lonely kid, he does well in school, he’s not particular outgoing and definitely not a troublemaker, in fact he doesn’t really stand out at all, but within the year he experiences a lot of firsts (girlfriend, drunkenness, smoking, love, heartbreak etc.) and though not all of the experiences are good he somehow manages to still see the proverbial bigger picture and in doing so it enables him to grow and develop and live.

The concepts of The Great Perhaps and the idea of life as a Labyrinth are not only fitting for the story but add depth and dimension to a story that could have gone the way of melodrama (but fortunately for us dear reader did not.)

The book is broken up between The Before and The After (I won’t say of what, even though I realize I’m incredibly prone to spoiling books – for which I’m very sorry.) I found myself wanting desperately to know what the countdown was leading towards, and then being horribly upset once I found out. The After is bittersweet – one of the best parts about it is how much closer together it brings Pudge and The Colonel. It also perfectly sums up (without bashing you over the head with it) the idea of what it means to grow up, to have to take responsibility for your actions and learning to live with the choices you make without letting them define you forever.

I especially enjoyed that the story ends with Miles new found outlook on and understanding of life, I really like that he was so open to allowing his love for Alaska to change him and yet remain the same.

There’s a reason Looking for Alaska is an award winning book – it’s more than just an entertaining story, it has great characters, great meaning and great heart. It will make you laugh, make you think and break your heart but it’s totally worth it.

Next up: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – which I’ve already finished reading and have already begun to re-read…

Book Review: Bully

Bully-Book

“Do you know what this is?” I took my middle finger and patted the corner of my eye with it. “It’s me, wiping away the last tear you’ll ever get.”

Author: Penelope Douglas
Publisher: Penelope Douglas
Date Published: July 17, 2013
Number of Pages: (ebook) 290
Series: Fall Away #1

After years of being bullied by Jared Trent – the most popular guy in school and her next door neighbour, Tatum (Tate) Brandt jumps at the opportunity to spend her junior year of high school studying in France with the hope that the year away will help diminish her tormentors seeming obsession with making her life miserable. When she returns she finds that though Jared is very much the same she isn’t. No longer afraid of his wrath and unwilling to back down Tate begins to fight back.

Main character Tate has suffered unbelievable humiliation and degradation at the hands of her once best friend Jared and with no understanding of what happened to make him hate her so much. For years she’s worked hard to avoid him and his cronies, she’s never fought back and has resigned herself to the life that’s been forced on her. Just before leaving on her year away Tate breaks Jared’s right hand man Madoc’s nose – foreshadowing the change slowly taking her over. Tate escapes for a year of peace, and when she returns she’s no longer willing to be the meek, easy target she’s once been.

Awesome right? That’s what I thought when I first started reading Bully. But it quickly became obvious that the story was heading in a very specific direction – a direction I’m still not sure I agree with.  It’s made incredibly obvious early on that Tate is attracted to Jared, and it’s easy to surmise that under his serious, closed and down right mean façade Jared has been harbouring intense feelings for Tate. It’s basically a case of the most extreme “I bully you because I like you” tactics commonly found on the playground at recess amongst children ages 5 to 10. Okay I’m trivializing it somewhat, eventually there’s a much darker reasoning provided to Jared’s treatment of Tate, my issue is, despite what’s revealed would it really be possible to fall in love with someone who has gone out of their way to make your every waking moment a living hell?

But hears the thing, (and the reason I enjoyed this book) I found myself feeling frustrated by and yet understanding of Tatum’s feelings. Jared is awful to her. He goes out of his way to not only torture her but to encourage others to as well. He makes her a social pariah, fearful, anxious and sad and for seemingly no reason.  He spreads rumours and innuendo about her that destroy her reputation. All of this is bad enough but add to that list the fact that he’s been blessed with ungodly good looks and is basically the king of the school poor Tate doesn’t stand a chance. She endures his torment for years, and finally escapes for a year during which time she matures and seemingly grows a pair because when she returns to school she’s ready to take a stand against her tormentor and former best friend. And she does. She stands up for herself, she fights back and shows him she’s no longer afraid of his wrath and is ready to fight fire with fire. As the reader you start to feel excited and proud of her. The thing a bully fears the most is the idea that one day those he puts down will turn on him. But then – there’s all these conflicting feelings. This unbelievably strong physical attraction Tate feels towards Jared. Coupled with her strong desire to regain the friendship with the boy Jared once was. She’s constantly trying to fight it but very obviously she’s going to give into it and it confused me while at the same time making me angry. I mean no, just no.

Call me crazy but I think I would find it rather difficult to find anything attractive about a guy who made my life a living hell for years. I don’t know that any sob story would be enough to turn my fear and anger at what he’s done to me into crazy, passionate love. But here’s the rub Jared is kind of (and it pains me to say this) dreamy in that whole “I’m bad because I’m tormented by my past and feel unworthy of love” way.

Combine that with the fact that Douglas amps up the chemistry and passion between Tate and Jared to a fever pitch and in doing so at times you become willing to forgive him too. I mean there are some rather steamy scenarios between the two of them.

What Douglas does brilliantly is make you, as the reader, feel just as confused and conflicted as Tatum because you both hate and love Jared.

The other strong suit to Douglas’ story is her writing. Considering the age of her characters she creates really strong character voices and uses language that is realistic. It’s also really nice to know that even though Tate is a “good girl” she can curse like a trucker when the moment calls for it.

*Little side note here*

Now for anyone out there who’s read this, it would be nice to know that I’m not the only person who felt an almost obscene rage that our heroine’s best (and only) friend would decide to rebound with her high school nemesis/tormentor. K.C. is billed at the books beginning as a great friend, she’s stood by Tate regardless of the rumours and despite the fact that no one else is willing to be her friend. That shows gumption. K.C.’s her own girl. That is until her relationship with her boyfriend of two years Liam falls apart (obviously and blatantly exposed to her by the conniving Jared) and oops suddenly he’s not so bad and now it’s okay to defend him and lie to your best friend about the time your spending with not only a guy who makes it no secret he hates her guts but is known for being mean and treating girls like trash. And yeah, yeah, yeah I get it – rebound. Whatever. I’m positive there are more than two guys in the town they live in. She could have rebounded with anyone. That little diatribe is my way of saying I kind of hated her character.

Regardless there are some really great moments in this book (such as Jared asking Tate to race his car for him and her snappy comebacks to just about everyone), and despite the conflicted feelings I have towards this concept of falling in love with one’s bully I can’t deny that the book entertained me. The characters are interesting, and though the story is a bit obvious I found it riveting and that’s probably because Penelope Douglas made me care about both Tate and Jared and to me that’s the sign of a good storyteller. If you like stories like Wuthering Heights then I recommend Bully. Just know the characters are much more likeable than Cathy and Heathcliffe.

This book falls into the New Adult genre – now for anyone out there who really likes YA novels and figures this would be a natural progression, a word to the wise – not quite. In an attempt at subtlety let me just say NA books are much more ugh…mature, if you get my drift.

Next on the reading list: John Green’s Looking for Alaska (it’s the last of his four books I haven’t read and thus far I’m liking it) and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.