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

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Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Favourite YA Books…at the moment

toptentuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish – I’ve been meaning to take part in it for quite some time now and it would appear today is the day for my first foray into the lovely land of weekly lists.

Picking my all time favourite anything book-wise is pretty difficult, picking my favourite YA books? Well that’s kind of a “Sophie’s Choice” for me. So I’ve decided to go with the books I keep going back to, some are relatively new reads, some not so much. But the top three are without a doubt my all time favourites. So, without further ado…

10. Graceling, Kristin Cashore 

Graceling_cover

The first in author Kristin Cashore’s sort of trilogy (more like a companion piece and a sequel) despite being first published in 2008 I first read, or rather heard it last month. (The audiobook – full cast! was my first and was awesome.) After finishing the audiobook I decided to buy a copy of the physical book and read it. Which basically solidified my love for this epic fantasy romance. Heroine Katsa is kind of everything I’d like to be.

9. The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand, Gregory Galloway

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Galloway’s Adam Strand is an unusual kid – plagued with the constant need to commit suicide, he is constantly killing himself, only to feel utter disappointment when he comes back to life, some 39 times. Perfectly dry, perfectly macabre The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand is unlike anything else in the YA canon.

8. Hey Nostradamus, Douglas Coupland

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Arguably Coupland’s best book, this is the story of a fictional school shooting in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1988. Told from multiple first person narratives it is the perfect blend of themes like religion, sex, grief and adolescence.

7. His Dark Materials, Phillip Pullman

materials compass

Many know these books as the series about two kids who set out in essence to kill god – but it’s so much more. An in depth and intelligent commentary on life, organized religion, the afterlife and science, the books though controversial are, well, epic.

6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

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You can mark this as one of the first books to break my heart. Chbosky’s Charlie is painstakingly tragic and poignant as the titular “wallflower”, this coming of age story should be read with tissues in hand. Perks also happens to be one of those rare books to make a seamless transition to film. The movie adaptation starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson is astounding, and totally worth watching.

5. The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton

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Ponyboy. Darry. Sodapop. Greasers. Socs. Friendship. Family. Rivalry. This book has it all. Even more amazing despite originally being published in 1967 the book still holds up 47 years later.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee 

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There are so many life lessons in Mockingbird – but what makes it so good is that it never feels preachy. Each lesson serves a purpose, and really when Atticus Finch is teaching you morals it’s hard not to listen.

3. The Spectacular Now, Tim Tharp  

“Life is spectacular. Forget the dark things. Take a drink and let time wash them away to where ever time washes away to.”

“Life is spectacular. Forget the dark things. Take a drink and let time wash them away to where ever time washes away to.”


I love this book. The story of loveable ne’er-do-well and teenage lush Sutter Keely pulls you in, takes you for a ride and blows your mind with its unconventional ending.

2. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor 

DaughterOfSmokeAndBone

This series is my current obsession, and though I dearly love Days of Blood and Starlight (the second book in the trilogy) series opener DOSAB is a book I go back to time and time again. With a love story that spans not just lifetimes but worlds, the book unfolds so beautifully and yet so unexpectedly. It’s a real gem. (28 days until Dreams of Gods and Monsters!)

1. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green The Fault in Our Stars

There’s no denying I am definitely a JG fangirl – I have often wondered where he was when I was in high school and in desperate need of characters like Margot Roth Spiegelman, Quentin Jacobson, Lindsay Lee Wells, Alaska Young, Miles Halter and most importantly Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters. Of his four books what makes TFIOS my favourite (and makes it top not only this list but the list of my favourite books) is the reality with which it is so deeply entrenched. Despite what some say, this is not an “issues” book, this is a love story. An honest, innocent, beautiful love story, one that doesn’t just draw you in but makes you invest in each character. Best of all you’ll laugh just as hard as you’ll cry.

Love Quotes

Because capitalizing on love is what February 14th does best! Voila five quotes all about l’amour…

“I have something I need to tell you,” he says. I run my fingers along the tendons in his hands and look back at him. “I might be in love with you.” He smiles a little. “I’m waiting until I’m sure to tell you, though.”
– Veronica Roth, Divergent

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“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
– John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

okay

“I am nothing special, of this I am sure. I am a common man with common thoughts and I’ve led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me, this has always been enough..”
– Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook (Because who does cheesy love stories better than NS? No one. That’s who.)

notebook

“You love me. Real or not real?”
I tell him, “Real.”
– Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

peetaKatniss

“In my arms is a woman who has given me a Skywatcher’s Cloud Chart, a woman who knows all my secrets, a woman who knows just how messed up my mind is, how many pills I’m on, and yet she allows me to hold her anyway. There’s something honest about all this, and I cannot imagine any other woman lying in the middle of a frozen soccer field with me – in the middle of a snowstorm even – impossibly hoping to see a single cloud break free of a nimbostratus.”
– Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook

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.

In a Perfect World…

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

No … eight days a week.”

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley

10 Literary Parents We Secretly Wish Were Real…and Our Own

10. Carlisle and Esme Cullen, Twilight

The whole being creatures of the night thing aside, Carlisle and Esme Cullen are pretty normal parents – they’re understanding, easy going (what with that whole everyone shacking up with everyone thing), non-judgemental and supportive, because it can’t be easy when your adopted vampire son brings home a girl who’s blood apparently smells like filet mignon and you know deep down inside you’d like to bite her. *Restraint. Keeping families together since 1774.

9.  Bob Cratchit, A Christmas Carol

He slaves away day and night for a dead beat employer without a complaint, goes without in order to take care of his family and does it all with a smile on his face. Though if he was smart he’d have listened to his wife and found himself another job, but hey, no one’s perfect.

8. Wendy Darling, Peter and Wendy  Wendy Peter Pan

Though at first she shows the same disdain for growing up as Peter while in Neverland Wendy’s loving nature has her acting as mother to the lost boys and her brothers even taking on some domestic duties (I know it’s a little sexist, it was written in 1904 okay?!) In the end she decides growing up isn’t so bad, goes on to marry and have a daughter of her own and when Peter comes back from Neverland Wendy allows her kid to run off with him too, trusting she’ll make the same choice her mother did. A parent who trusts their kid? Inconceivable.

7. Luke, The Mortal Instruments

There’s something to be said about a man who takes on another’s child as his own. Add to that the fact that Clary’s father happens to be his evil ex-best friend who tried to have him killed by a pack of werewolves, and then encouraged him to off himself after said werewolves infected him with lycanthropy and it’s fair enough to say that that man is pretty awesome. Also he’s crazy in love with her mom, a fierce protector and doesn’t get mad when her best friend eats all the pizza he’s just paid for. I’d say pretty top notch dad material.

6. Haymitch, The Hunger Games

So maybe he’s a bit of an alcoholic, and he might be a little on the rude side and he definitely does not know decorum or tact but he understands Katniss more than she realizes, and though he may seem like he doesn’t care he puts his life on the line to help fight against the Capitol. Even after the Games have finished and the rebellion is in full swing he remains a mentor to both of his tributes. Despite their often volatile relationship the bond between Haymitch and Katniss is one that’s both strong and honest.

5. Alfred J. Pennyworth, Batman Alfred

He’s more than just a butler – in a way he acts as Bruce’s conscience, he keeps all of his secrets, doesn’t laugh when his charge decides to dress up like a bat and become a notorious vigilante, he even takes responsibility for Bruce’s son Damien after Bruce apparently meets his untimely end. Stalwart to the end, Alfred always puts Master Wayne first.

4. Mr. Bennett, Pride and Prejudice 

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An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.

It’s a good thing Elizabeth, Jane et al. had Mr. Bennett to counter their embarrassment of a mother or else they may have all turned out like the wayward Lydia. Mr. Bennett is the perfect counterbalance to Mrs. Bennett, quiet, clever, contemplative and witty, he treats his daughters as equals and though at times he may appear a little flippant in the end he’s not afraid to step in and rescue the day *cough Mr. Collins cough*

3. Cersei Lannister, A Song of Ice and Fire

Ok, hear me out on this one – Cersei Lannister is vile, there’s no doubt about this, that whole brother-lovin’ thing just ain’t cool. But, and this is a mighty big but – no one can say she wouldn’t do anything for her children. In fact she’s pretty damn fierce when it comes to her kids. Sure she doesn’t mind torturing and murdering other people’s children, in fact she probably, definitely delights in the misery of others. But only a mother could love Joffrey. An awful, terrible, despicable, villainous, sordid mother, but a mother nonetheless.

2. Molly and Arthur Weasley, Harry Potter

Sure they have too many kids and The Weasleysnot enough money but theirs has to be the most love filled house in the wizarding world. Despite being tight on cash they welcome both Harry and Hermione into their home with open arms, they become surrogate parents to Harry – worrying about him, fussing over him, listening to his concerns, dolling out advice. There’s also the fact that Mrs. Weasley’s a secret badass who ultimately achieves justice for Sirius when she blasts murderess Bellatrix Lestrange straight to you know where. Lesson: Don’t mess with Mama Weasley’s kids.

1. Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

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Courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.

Because he’s Atticus Finch. Stoic, upstanding, heroic, progressive and honourable are only a few of the litany of adjectives that can be used to describe good old Atticus. From allowing his kids to call him by his first name, answering their questions honestly, standing up for what he knows is right despite the ridicule, disgust and anger bestowed on him by his neighbours – Atticus Finch is the dad any kid would be proud to call their own. Heck I’d take him as an uncle, or a friendly next-door-neighbour.

Literary Theme Songs

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

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

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

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

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

Stop it Nic Cage. Just stop it.

Stop it Nic Cage. Just stop it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peaches?

Peaches?

Peaches

Peaches or…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: 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.