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.

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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

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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: Cruel Beauty

Author: Rosamund Hodgecruelbeauty
Publisher: Harper Collins
Date Published: January 28, 2014
Number of Pages: 352
Standalone

What’s It About?

Bargained away at birth by her father Nyx was promised to the evil ruler of her kingdom, The Gentle Lord, as is his future wife when she came of age. Raised to believe she is the only hope for the freedom of her people, Nyx knows that saving her kingdom means sacrificing herself. Despite this she resents her family – the father who sold her freedom, the little sister who is favoured, and an aunt engaged in a secret affair with her dead sisters husband.

On the day of her wedding Nyx leaves the only home she’s known to live with a man she’s never met, with the sole purpose to seduce and then destroy him. Only she soon discovers there’s more to The Dark Lord than she could have ever imagined. Desperate to free her people yet drawn to a man she’s supposed to despise Nyx must choose between her kingdom or her own happiness.

The Review

Cruel Beauty, Rosamund Hodge’s first book, is an adaptation of the classic Beauty and the Beast mixed with Greek mythology. Which sounds both intriguing and exciting. However it fails to hit the mark. Though an interesting take on the Beauty and the Beast story it’s more inspired by the tale as opposed to a straight adaptation. Though there are elements reminiscent of  the classic tale – a beautiful woman imprisoned by a “monster” who names her mistress of his home, an enchanted castle, a heroine who believes her jailer to also be imprisoning a handsome woeful prince. In Hodge’s version the monster is not covered in fur, in fact his description is reminiscent of the Disney film’s main antagonist Gaston. But likeable. Which is probably the saving grace for this book.

It’s not that Cruel Beauty is terrible, because it’s not. It’s a quick, easy read that is relatively entertaining, it just lacks substance. The characters are there but almost caricatures of what they could have been. Main character Nyx lacks all of the charm and, well seemingly inner beauty that Beauty and the Beast‘s Belle was overflowing with. Her father, sister and stepmother come off as nothing more than stock characters, with Nyx’s sister Astraia falling into the cliché of “not so innocent-innocent.”

Interestingly enough the most exciting character is the bad guy – Ignifex – who really doesn’t seem all that bad. He offers an in-depth explanation as to why he does what he does, proves that the bad that befalls those who make deals with him would’ve happened regardless of role in the matter yet despite this explanation Nyx still finds a way to condescend and judge him.

Ignifex is complex, showing a vulnerability that you wouldn’t expect in a books antagonist. He is by far the best developed character in the story – his back story was more interesting than the actual story at hand.

Further adding to the mediocrity of Cruel Beauty is Hodge’s writing which, at times, is reaching. She fluctuates between modern, every day language and an attempt to cast her characters in a medieval type setting by use of flowery, purple language, which isn’t always a bad thing but in this case, it definitely is. It’s jarring, and, well, a little lame. There’s also an attempt at achieving a certain poeticism in her prose. Rather than elevating the quality of the writing it only helps to further limit it.

The book is also excessively long. You get to a point that you think is the ending, but it turns out it most definitely is not. The false ending doesn’t work and the real ending is a let down because after everything there’s still no promise of a happy ending. It’s really unsatisfying. Some stories are not meant to have a happy ending but it feels like the story breaks with convention just to be different, not because it’s what’s right for the story.

Cruel Beauty, Rosamund Hodge’s first foray into YA fantasy though inspired by Beauty and the Beast fails to compete with the classic tale.  2/5

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: The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand

adamstrand

“Live in the moment, just do it – those are phrases thrown around by people who don’t know what they mean. Just do it – it’s idiotic. You could slap that slogan on a picture of Hitler and it would make as much sense. He did it, all right.”

Author: Gregory Galloway
Publisher: Dutton Books (Penguin Group)
Date Published: February 21, 2013
Number of Pages: 314

Adam Strand is your average teenager – bored, malcontent with everything, only his boredom can seemingly never be overcome. To alleviate this intense sense of ennui Adam kills himself, he kills himself 39 times to be exact. Most often he jumps, but no matter the method he just can’t seem to stay dead. Frustrated, determined and totally unconcerned for the feelings of those around him Adam’s story remains the same until he’s forced to face the mortality of someone else.

The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand is the second YA novel written by Gregory Galloway (though his first As Simple as Snow  was originally intended for an adult audience) both the book and the author would probably never have come to my attention had it not been for a great review posted by The AV Club.

39 Deaths is an interesting piece in the YA canon – as morbid as it is full of dark humour it deals with a difficult and relatively taboo subject with a bluntness that is almost unheard of. This is not the story of a suicidal teenager, this is an existential take on the disenfranchisement and ennui suffered by modern-day teenagers. Adam isn’t depressed, he’s bored, so bored that he would rather jump from bridges, swallow poison and do a slew of other things to facilitate his own death then continue on in a life he feels is pointless.

Adams proclivity towards self-annihilation strangely demonstrates just how much of your typical selfish, self-involved teenager he is. He gives little thought or consideration to how his actions affect those around him. It’s not until nearly the end of the book that he gives any real thought as to who it is that constantly finds him. Even when his friends confide how affected they were watching him jump from the back of a car Adam barely reflects on the damage he may have caused. His desperation to succeed, his uncontrollable urge and unwillingness to fight it are the perfect example of teenage self-indulgences.

Told out of sequence and interspersed with moments of everyday life – disappointment with friends, failed relationships, awkward familial relations, and littered with incredibly dry musings on everything from therapy to the high suicide rate of dentists (a fact brought about after being forced to sit and entertain the dentist father of a friend) 39 Deaths treats its readers with an understanding that Adam’s thoughts and feelings are his and his alone, they’re not a battle cry to do the same. The book never seeks to pontificate or lecture on the subject of suicide or depression. It is a fabulous example of existential literature.

Galloway’s major success is the duality of  how bold and subtle his writing is – it’s a feat that only helps to make the books premise more striking because really Adam’s predilection to cause his own death can easily be transferred to any number of analogies for how callous teenagers can often be.

As the story progresses and his relationships change, as he gains more responsibility – particularly when tasked with the job of taking preteen Maddy to and from the hospital for numerous tests – Adam slowly begins to see the world in a different life, and though the pull to continue on as normal remains strong he begins to see reason in fighting the urge. He begins to mature and understand that only he can control the intensity of his weariness. In essence in living Adam begins to see the light.

Strange, profound, dark, funny and striking The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand is a bit of absurdist existentialism written to perfection. This book is a masterpiece in cleverness and originality that deals with one mans thoughts on suicide, death, mortality and “The Point, the bridge, and the emergence of the pestilence of Mormon flies and Troy Lidell” (the awesome title of chapter 7.) This book is one of those rare gems you somehow manage to stumble upon and once you read it you can’t imagine how life was before you found it.

Book Review: Night of the Purple Moon

Author: Scott CramerPurpleMoon
Publisher: Train Renoir Publishing
Date Published: May 28, 2012
Number of Pages: 179 (Kobo)

Abby and Jordan Leigh were looking forward to watching the moon turn purple. Little did they know that the comet streaking through the night sky causing the purple phenomenon, was carrying a dangerous pathogen that would dramatically change life as they know it.

The first in his Toucan Trilogy – Night of the Purple Moon is an interesting twist on the post-apocalyptic, survival story. With a very subtle Lord of the Flies like undertone it never quite reaches the same extent of the dark, grisly, side of humanity thrown into chaos, instead offering only small glimpses.

Brother and sister Abby and Jordan Leigh faced with the fact that a seemingly harmless comet and the “space germs” it trailed across the earth have not only caused the death of their own parents but of just about every adult and teenager in the world are forced to band together to take care of their three-year-old sister Toucan and figure out how to survive in a world without adults. Soon Abby and Jordan are joined by Kevin and Emily Patel – with the Patel’s, specifically the scientifically inclined Kevin, Abby and Jordan learn that the space germs attack hormones – putting anyone who has entered puberty at risk. Knowing the cause of the epidemic and how it acts as a ticking time bomb for anyone on the verge of puberty, Abby, Jordan, Emily and Kevin soon collect all the surviving children on Castine Island and begin to rebuild society to the best of their abilities.

Night of the Purple Moon has great moments of being a captivating read – in Abby and Jordan Leigh, Cramer has created two interesting main characters whose overall personalities both clash and remain strikingly similar (which makes sense with them being siblings.) The back and forth perspectives – which are provided mainly by the siblings offer glimpses into the minds of children learning to be adults. The commune-like setting that develops through their efforts and brings together just about every kid on the island – safe for a small group of rebels, who add the perfect amount of threat and tension to the children’s’ safe haven – is an unexpectedly peaceful and well-oiled machine.

Despite this neither Abby nor Jordan hold any falsehoods that the rest of the world is living quite as peacefully, and regardless how well things function on the island the effects of the space dust wreak their havoc on the older (at 12 and 13!) population, forcing the children to mature and learn to deal with and accept death much sooner than they should have to.

The books pacing for the most part is good, however there are some moments when the story seems to drag – specifically towards the end when the race is on for Jordan and Abby to procure the antibiotic created to stop the space germs from decimating the rest of the population.  Despite this fact the change of scenery –moving from the island to the main land- adds a new, more heightened threat as both Abby and Jordan fight against the effects of the space germs but also the pillaging gangs of children out to save themselves.

There are moments in the book where it’s hard to reconcile that these kids are meant to be 10, 12 and13-years-old – especially when it comes to the budding relationships that develop between some of them – it seems too mature. But then it could be rationalized that with a world in peril, they’ve been forced to grow up faster than is generally expected.  Also there are times when certain issues – particularly when Abby hits puberty – where the description is perhaps a little too forthright. It’s really dependent on the age group this book is geared towards.

Cramer’s Night of the Purple Moon is an entertaining read, the story is clever and fresh, with interesting characters who’s overall fighting spirit has you rooting for their survival and on the edge of your seat as you wait with baited breath to find out if they can survive in a world unlike any they’ve known before. If you’re someone who enjoys stories of survival and a world in peril this is a story you can definitely get on board with.

*This copy was provided to me by author Scott Cramer through LibraryThing.

The Reading Queue – Upcoming Reads for September

the-reading-queue

As I was navigating my way around the Blogosphere I stopped by one of my personal faves Book Tasty, who along with Books: A True Story hosts the Reading Queue a monthly meme where you list the books you’ve read over the past month and those you’ve lined up to read for the upcoming month – pretty awesome. This is my first time taking part and I’m loving every second, what with my strange penchant for lists.

August Reads

Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell

Looking for Alaska, John Green

Bully, Penelope Douglas

Paper Towns, John Green

The Monthly Re-Read: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor

Like most avid readers my To Read list grows at a far more rapid pace than I read but I do always have a list in the ol’ noggin of what I’ll read next.  So without further ado my current lineup for September (subject to change as my daily whims see fit):

13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend, Kody Keplinger

Tampa, Alice Nutting

Me Before You, Jojo Moyes

Monthly Re-read: Watership Down, Richard Adams

And finally I have three ARCs lined up:

Discretion, David Balzarini 
Night of the Purple Moon, Scott Cramer 
The Devils Beat, R. Scott Vankirk

Of course in a perfect world I’d have nothing to do with my days but read, unfortunately the world is not perfect and those two pesky and seemingly eternal sidekicks – work and school – will most likely get in the way of me completing this list, but, there’s always October.

Book Review: Days of Blood and Starlight

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Author: Laini Taylor

Publisher: Hachette Book Group

Date Published: 6 November 2012

Number of Pages: 513 (Hard Cover)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

The second book in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, Days of Blood and Starlight picks up after heroine Karou has left earth and her Seraphim lover Akiva to head into Eretz with the fallen angel Razgut in search of her Chimaera family.

This book quickly moves the story away from the mystery of Karou, instead delving deeply into the world of Eretz and the long-standing war between the Seraphim and Chimaera. Taylor’s choice to bring in not only new characters separated from the entwined story of Karou and Akiva – specifically the Chimaera children Sarazal, Sveeva but to focus on the relationships between Karou and the people from her past as Madrigal (specifically Thiago and Ziri) as well as Akiva’s relationship with his brother and sister makes for a nice, if somewhat jarring change of pace. Jarring in that if you go in expecting this book to be as flowery (in a good way) and dreamy as DOSAB you’ll be disappointed.

Days of Blood and Starlight brings the reader directly into the troubles of Eretz, the aftermath of the bloodshed and destruction of the Chimaera capital Loramendi and the beginning of the new rebellion. It delves into the politics of the Seraphim (introducing us to the Seraph king (and Akiva’s father) Joram and his brother – Jael) and those of the Chimaera, specifically what happened to the old leaders and the goings on of the new rebel force lead by Thiago.

What’s most interesting is to see the melding of Karou/Madrigal and how both of her selves manage to coexist. Karou is a consistent, charismatic and likeable lead character. Watching her struggle with the burden of resurrection, the loss of her family and the love and hate she feels for Akiva can be riveting.  She is so complete – yet so untouchable.  One of the minor downfalls of this book is that with the new storylines there’s far less of Karou than in DOSMB.

The upside is that there is more Akiva – yet, even with a bigger part he somehow remains a relatively mysterious character.  With this second book the hope was that more of Akiva would be revealed, but rather it’s much the same – a lot of pining for Karou and a desire for change. What would have been better is if we saw him focus on better developing his magic, searching for his mother and the break away Stelian Seraphim. It’s not until the final few chapters that we actually see Akiva put anything of substance in motion. (Though it is worth the wait.)

The slight twist towards the end and the introduction of Jael as the real threat to both the Chimaera and Seraphim was actually a nice – if unexpected – change of pace. And Zuzanna and Mik’s discovery of Karou’s “monster castle” adds some much needy lightness to a story that oozes misery (in a good way).

What makes this book (and its predecessor) so enjoyable is Taylor’s writing. It’s lush and poetic without being pretentious. It draws you in and paints such a vivid picture of the world and characters she’s created you can taste it. In short Taylor’s writing is visceral – she makes you care. And in doing so you become so invested that you can’t help but feel slightly bitter that you have to wait another year (at least) for the final chapter.

Days of Blood and Starlight is a strong follow up to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Taylor continues to create a fantasy world with both characters and plots a readers will care about.

If you haven’t read Daughter of Smoke and Bone you really should read it first before checking out Days of Blood and Starlight, both make great reads.

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines

Author: John Green
Publisher: Puffin Books Publishing
Date Published: September 21, 2006
Number of Pages: 256

“Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.” John Green

“Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.”
John Green

Ever since reading John Green’s The Fault in our Stars I’ve become, well a little obsessed with him. Unhealthy? Yes. Worth it? I think so.  So for my first John Green follow-up I chose An Abundance of Katherines. I was inspired to read it after having seen it repeatedly listed on several different blogs and lists of best/important YA novels.

Child prodigy/not genius Colin Singleton is great at languages, he has an impeccable memory, the ability to anagram just about anything and a real knack when it comes to being dumped by girls named Katherine a feat he has achieved 19 times. His most recent dumping by Katherine XIX leaves him both heartbroken and destitute. Convinced by his overweight slacker best (and only) friend to head out on the open road, Colin finds himself in Gutshot, Tennessee where he sets out to prove a mathematical theory – one that can accurately predict who will be dumper and dumpee – thus thrusting him into the realm of genius and hopefully helping him win back K19.

The story in and of itself is a great twist on both the road trip to self-discovery theme and the breakup theme in that our protagonist, Colin is automatically made interesting by his child prodigy status, further adding to the interest is the fact that he
1. Has an obsession with the name Katherine (which no one seemed to find particular disturbing which in turn made me find it disturbing)
2. Has been dumped by 19 girls with that name

Instantly you want to know more about Colin and why Katherines keep dumping him. And without spoiling anything let me say Green is one of those authors who delivers on his promise when it comes to answers. You literally get the reason why every Katherine with a K dumped our man Colin. It’s really quite satisfying.

As important as the overall story is to a novel I always find myself focusing the most on the characters.

I have to admit that for about half of the book I couldn’t decide if I liked Colin or not. He’s kind of annoying, which I mean he knows, so the fact that he can acknowledge his own faults makes him respectable if not necessarily likeable. But as the story progressed and more of Colin’s life is revealed it becomes easier and easier to feel a certain kindness towards him. It’s not easy being an outsider. Colin is also made infinitely more enjoyable by the awesomeness of his best friend Hassan.

Hassan and Colin’s friendship was so genuine, enjoyable, and funny. The fact that Colin and Hassan don’t even need to speak to communicate with one another was such a great representation of that kind of friendship, you know the one where you speak in half sentences or without actual words and your friend still knows what you mean?  For example a conversation between my ‘hetero life mate’ (as I like to call her) and I can sound something like this:
Her: Can you grab the thingy, in the thingy with the do-dad by the whatdyacall it?
Me: The spatula? Sure.
Her: Thanks.
Everyone else: That wasn’t even English.

My point being that in general the use of humour throughout this book is so natural and realistic. And at times will actually make you laugh out loud. So extra points for that. 

Lindsey Lee Wells vs. K-19

Another thing that made me decide I did in fact like Colin Singleton was that despite his obsession with Katherines he willingly admitted – at least to himself – off the bat that Lindsey Lee Wells was kind of a big deal. Of course it annoyed me that he continued pining over K-19 (yes, yes I’m heartless I know, but he really was a sitzpinkler which for anyone wondering is a German turn of phrase for a person who sits to pee, but is used derogatorily in reference to someone being a big giant pansy.) LLW vs. K-19 reminded me of Betty and Veronica, in that you become increasingly frustrated with Colin, who is clearly the Archie character here in that he knows that Betty is fun and sweet and cool yet he continues to go after the hot but infinitely evil Veronica. The more you got to know LLW and the more you learn about K-19 and her relationship with Colin the choice becomes a no brainer, because let’s face K-19 was a bit of an…unlikeable lady, if you get my drift.

LLW however was fascinating, she was at once cool and collected, smart and tough and incredibly vulnerable. When she opens up to Colin about her “non-cool years” and her boyfriend’s, the aptly named The Other Colin or TOC, past treatment of her (the Alpo can on Valentine’s day, I think my heart may have shattered in that moment) and how she dedicated herself to becoming his girlfriend to prove I don’t know what, it was sad and strangely empowering in an almost vengeful way (“Now he’s dating that dog” Jesus girl…that’s cold.) LLW was so complete as a character a big part of me would like to read a book about her. Also, I’m beginning to wonder if the triple name for a female character is a John Green-ism (Hazel Grace Lancaster, Lindsey Lee Wells).

As the summer progresses and Colin et al interview the towns folks, discover the big secret LLW’s mums been keeping, take on a feral hog, angry hornets, and TOC (that fight scene was kind of crazy, I mean who the heck is TOC? The Incredible Hulk?) Lindsey and Colin slowly fall for each other, Hassan stops being lazy and starts to experience life and Colin makes a huge discovery. There’s a lot of growth in this book, in ways it’s quite subtle, but it’s definitely there. And its reveal is incredibly rewarding because you don’t realize how invested you’ve become in the characters until the very end.

The ending by the way kind of reminded me of the end of The Perks of Being a Wallflower not in the whole devastating secret is revealed way but more so the fact that Colin begins to accept life as it is.

In a way John Green’s books remind me of those by John Irving (The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany) in that in a Young Adult book world filled with doomed supernatural romances, crazy dictators and the children/teenagers who must work to overthrow them etc., Green writes really normal stories. This is not meant as a criticism, in fact, what makes me liken him to John Irving (one of my favourite authors) is that he has this uncanny ability to take completely normal characters, living completely normal lives and somehow make them extraordinary. Granted in the case of AAoK Colin is a child prodigy, but Green uses Colin’s intellect as a crutch, it hinders Colin in everyday life, it alienates him from his peers and ultimately leaves him lonely and needy. All feelings most of us can identify with. Also despite the breakup sorrow Green goes light on the “teenage angst” angle, instead he creates characters that demonstrate maturity and depth through understanding, humour and the connections they make with others.

An Abundance of Katherines is both a complex and simple story, it deals with relationships, friendship and growing up in a way that’s both clever and easy to identify with. The characters are unique without being unattainable, people you could see yourself hanging out with – I highly recommend it.

Next up on the reading list: The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison – this ones not a YA novel, but it has been likened to Gone Girl, so we’ll see how that goes. As for the continuation of my John Green obsession: Paper Towns. Exciting, I know.

Book Review: The Spectacular Now

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“Goodbye, I say, goodbye, as I disappear little by little into the middle of the middle of my own spectacular now”

Author: Tim Tharp

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Date Published: October 20, 2008

Number of Pages: 294 (Hardcover)

Sutter Keely – he’s cool, he’s fun, he’s the life of the party. He’s also irresponsible, unreliable and a bit of an alcoholic. Nothing really matters to Sutter apart from wining back his ex-girlfriend and his next drink. That is until he wakes up one morning on Aimee Finecky’s lawn. Poor Aimee has none of the awesomeness of Sutter and so he takes it upon himself to introduce her to his spectacular world. Only it seems he gets in a little too deep. For the first time in his life Sutter has the chance to make a difference but can he handle it?

The life of Sutter Keely is indeed spectacular. Sutter, the world’s most high functioning teenage alcoholic is a loveable ne’er-do-well who takes us on the journey that is his life. Philosophical, funny and full of heart Sutter is easy to like even if he’s cheesy (constantly referring to himself as “Sutterman” in fact that he actually refers to himself in the third person makes The Persnickety Rapscallion roll her eyes. See what I did there? Clever right?)

There’s also the fact that he is, as previously stated, a high functioning alcoholic. And no one seems particularly perturbed by this fact. While I read I kept asking myself, “Is it really possible that his mother just doesn’t notice that her son is in a perpetual state of drunkenness? Or is she really just a crap mother?” Neither of which questions are ever answered, or even broached. Which I suppose explains Sutter’s disdain for commitment, in his experience people really don’t seem to care so why should he? But he does care. Which is what leads him to do stupid things, like try to “save” Aimee.

Aimee Finecky – now there’s an interesting character. The complete opposite of our man Sutter, she’s quiet, shy, neat and nerdy (at least in Sutter’s estimation, I mean sure there’s nothing remotely sexy about a giant purple coat, mostly because all it brings to mind is images of Grimace but nonetheless – you know, different strokes and all that.) She’s also a doormat, pushed around by her family and her best friend – who possibly comes equipped with one of the best descriptions I’ve ever read, “Krystal Krittenbrink is what you’d call amorphous – a blob.” Amazing. Aimee’s also full of hopes and dreams and yet for all her sweetness and intelligence she gets so wrapped up in Sutter and his way of life (particularly the drinking) that you start to wonder if she’s going to throw away all that hard work in order to keep Sutter around.

Sutter and Aimee’s relationship is at times sweet and at other times painful. Sutter, so desperate to bring Aimee out of her shell and and for her to recognize her self-worth doesn’t realize the negatives his influence is having on her. And Aimee so eager to please and amazed that the super cool Sutter Keely would even be interested in her is unwilling to acknowledge Sutter’s flaws. It killed me every time she apologized to him for his stupidity.

There’s also the fact that throughout most of their friendship/relationship Sutter’s still jonesing to get back with his ex-girlfriend who dumped him, yet he continues to allow things with Aimee to progress towards a relationship. Sutter truly is an ass. (A likeable ass, but an ass nonetheless.)

There are some really great minor characters in this story, specifically Sutter’s best friend Ricky – who embodies the idea of growing up and maturing, and Sutter’s ex Cassidy who recognizes that though he’s chock full of good times, Sutter’s incapable of providing the stability and reliability anyone would want in a relationship.

The contempt Sutter feels towards his mother, the fact that he blames her for his father’s disappearance from his life, that he lies to his friends about where his father works offer brief glimpses into the part of Sutter he hides away. When he finally see’s his father after so many years and realizes that his mother wasn’t lying, that his father was a cheat and a good-for-nothing it’s kind of the smack in the face he’s needed all this time. It was a glimpse into his future if he keeps on the same path. It also makes him realize he’s not what Aimee needs (thank god for that.)

The book is littered with references to God (Sutter’s mantra: “I am God’s own drunk”) which I guess goes along with our main characters messiah complex which ironically also happens to be his fatal flaw. Sutter’s desire to always be kind, to make people feel good is what leads him to leading on Aimee and taking things too far, even in breaking up with her he beats around the bush and skates over the issue to avoid causing her pain not realizing that what he’s doing will ultimately cause her more pain then if he just told her the truth.

He’s a complex guy, Sutter.

Let’s talk about the ending, because when it happened I definitely started mumbling under my breath about getting a faulty book. Then when my stupidity subsided and I realized that was in fact the end I found myself cursing loudly and repeatedly shouting, “WTF?” So basically the end was awesome. I love when stories end in seemingly obscure ways, mostly because in my mind it means the story hasn’t ended. I’m not suggesting that Tharp plans on writing a sequel – I just mean that Sutter’s story continues, on what looks like the exact same path he was heading down when the story first began. Which is incredibly sad because Sutter Keely, despite his obvious flaws, is really quite special, which in turn is what makes The Spectacular Now special. Really it’s just a story about a series of events; there are no crazy circumstances, no evil dictatorships to overthrow, or existentially uptight wimpy vampires to fall in love with. Everything that happens is totally plausible. It’s just made so spectacular because of an awesome character, and great writing.

I’m curious to see how this story has been translated to film (despite the fact that it once again stars Shailene Woodley – apparently the only young female actress suitable for any YA novel film adaptations. Which by the by I totally don’t agree with and I’m a little filled with rage that she’s been cast in The Fault in Our Stars, but that’s a rant for another time kids.)

The Spectacular Now is one of those books that seem like a rarity in YA novels at the moment – it’s a simple story, about a regular kid who’s regular life is made extraordinary because of who he is and how he lives. It’s a breath of fresh air and a really great read.

Oh and for anyone interested, here’s a link to one of the trailer’s for the movie: The Spectacular Now