Zac and Mia by AJ Betts

Athletic and easy going Zac has grown accustomed to being the youngest on the cancer ward. When the feisty, angry and rebellious Mia moves into the room next to his to say he’s surprised would be an understatement. Unable to … Continue reading

Book Review: Dreams of Gods & Monsters

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

What’s It About?

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

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

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

The Story

Gods Monsters

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

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

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

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

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

The Writing

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

Karou & Akiva’s Epic Love Story

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

Shout Out to a Great Supporting Cast

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

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

 

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

adamstrand

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

Heynostadamas

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

perk1 perks

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

outsiders1

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 

mockingbird

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.

Book Review: The DUFF

Author: Kody Keplinger
Publisher: Little, Brown
Date Published: September 7, 2010
Number of Pages: 280duff

Bianca Piper has no time for high school relationships – as far as she’s concerned love takes at least five years to properly develop. Cynical, sarcastic and too smart for her own good Bianca’s world is turned upside down when the school’s big time player Wesley Rush reveals her status as “the DUFF” (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) within her group of friends. Offended, hurt and already stressed by her parents crumbling marriage and the return of guy who broke her heart, Bianca finds herself drawn to Wesley and his ability to make her forget (if only for a little while) all her problems.

What initially caught my attention with this book was the title, The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend – it’s pretty funny and clever. That being said I didn’t really know what to expect from the story.

First – the DUFF’s lead Bianca is a bit of a breath of fresh air – she’s cynical, jaded, sarcastic and is (generally) more concerned with her own intelligence than how good she looks. This is not a story about a girl who’s nerdy and through a series of events/adventures grows into a beautiful swan. This is a story about a 16-year-old with major trust issues, who prides herself on her own intelligence and capabilities – which ultimately leads to friction when she becomes determined to deal with some big issues on her own rather than allow herself to depend on friends. In doing so Bianca becomes overwhelmed and turns to the schools resident man-whore Wesley Rush to help her forget her problems.

In a weird way this story is kind of like an unrefined version of Eleanor & Park, or rather it falls along the same lines in that it’s main characters are smart, funny, kids each dealing with their own familial and emotional turmoil. Despite appearing to not care at all about what people think about them both Bianca and Wesley are far more vulnerable and sensitive then they let on. What’s moving about the story is how (slowly and unwittingly) they let down their guards for each other – their relationship develops in a backwards yet organic way. What starts off as a relationship of convenience for Bianca – a means of escape from the collapse of her parents marriage, the return of the guy who broke her heart and Wesley himself opening her eyes to her role as “the D.U.F.F” – develops into so much more as she allows herself to trust Wesley.

At times it’s easy to roll your eyes at the stories obvious trajectory – there’s no surprise here about how the story unfolds, it’s pretty stock. But the two main characters are interesting, more insightful than expected and show a vulnerability that helps give some weight (but not enough) to the story.

It’s strange to think that a character like Bianca could have such low self-esteem but obviously her willingness to engage in a relationship based only on sex with the guy who told her she’s the ugly one amongst her friends suggests she does. A fact that unfortunately is never really addressed in the story. That being said the best moments in the book are those between Bianca and Wesley, mostly because their verbal sparring is full of witty humour, but also the development of their relationship, and that Bianca doesn’t recognize her own feelings reflected in Wesley is written in such a way that it deflects the stories arc in a good way. This unwillingness on Bianca’s part to believe someone like Wesley could reciprocate her feelings helps lead in to Bianca ending things with Wesley (because she’s afraid of being hurt, especially by someone she figures is incapable of caring about anyone) and moving on to a relationship with her longtime crush Toby Tucker.

The secondary relationship with Toby is no doubt necessary to help highlight how much of a better match Wesley is (and also a subtle way of noting that what you want and what you need are usually two very different things.) That being said Toby is so lame. I couldn’t help but find it strange that Bianca – who’s so tough and knows herself so well would like such a do-gooder.

The circumstances that lead to Bianca and Wesley’s relationship are issues that for many are easy to identify with – having your heart-broken, dealing with divorce, alcoholism – however in some ways it feels like Keplinger throws out a lot of different problems with the hope that one sticks. Since all of these issues way heavy on Bianca and are all traumatic in their own right none of them are ever truly explored as fully as they could have been. They have the tendency to come off a bit superficial because we never really see Bianca deal with them head-on. Especially when it comes to her father’s drinking. Possibly the most shocking and devastating moment in the book is when Bianca is confronted with her father’s abusive drunken behaviour (in front of Wesley) the situation quickly escalates to a point that would be traumatizing for any child. Yet the entire situation is easily forgiven and forgotten.

What’s missing most from this story is weight, real substance. It’s there in peaks and valleys but not consistent enough to really make the story shine. Though most of the major issues Bianca is dealing are either solved or in the process of being mended the lack of exploration as to how they affect her are never truly revealed. We know at first she’s using Wesley to help gloss over these issues but it would’ve been nice if as their relationship grew there was a little more discussion between the two characters about how their problems could be solved.

Overall Kody Keplinger’s The DUFF is an entertaining story with two interesting and charismatic characters. Though the story never really manages to delve past the superficial elements of its characters problems it does touch on sensitive issues that are easy to identify and empathize with.

Book Review: Paper Towns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: 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

Book Review: Reconstructing Amelia

Author: Kimberly McCreight

Publisher: HarperCollins

Date Published: April 2, 2013

Number of Pages: 384 (Hardcover)

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“It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t been counting the minutes until I could forgive her. But it’s a lot harder to forgive someone who’s not looking to apologize.”

After the apparent suicide of her only child, law associate Kate Baron struggles to come to terms with her loss. After receiving an ominous text that suggests Amelia’s death was not as it seems Kate takes it upon herself to investigate the circumstances of her daughter’s death and the secret life of a child she thought she knew.

This book was first presented to me as Gone Girl meets Gossip Girl – which I thought sounded pretty awesome and though there’s definitely a lot of Gossip Girl in there, I can’t say Reconstructing Amelia is anywhere near shocking or gripping as Gone Girl.

It seems almost unfair to compare any new mystery/thriller release to the juggernaut that is Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl; it really just can’t be matched. In the case of Reconstructing Amelia the only similarity I could see was that both dealt with a mystery surrounding a family member. Reconstructing Amelia is nowhere near as misleading as Gone Girl. Like Gone Girl it too offers many red herrings  – none that lead to any outrageously, “Wow I did not see that coming” moments (maybe I should call them “baby herrings”, which of course I can since this is my blog) but regardless of their size they are very much there in the story. However the seeds and clues that McCreight plants through the story are much easier to piece together. Quite frankly I figured out the ‘whodunit’ part about half way through, or at least I called it. This in one way could be a bit of a bummer if you’re really looking for a shocking ending but I kind of liked it. It’s as if McCreight wanted you to figure it out before she summed it all up. What was important was that both Kate as the protagonist and the reader learned of the incidents and circumstances that led to the tragedy together. The reader is meant to experience Kate’s journey as she does. I like that – it makes the story so much more interactive.

Like Gone Girl, Reconstructing Amelia is very relationship based – though with so many more characters most of the relationships are only shown in snippets, which makes them lose some of their depth. Unlike Gone Girl not a single character in this novel is anywhere near as terrible, awful, vile and amazing as Amy Dunne (nope, not even crazy Zadie).

That being said Reconstructing Amelia definitely has its own vibe and I liked it. McCreight, in the creation of Amelia’s prep school prestige and the “secret” sororities led by the richest, meanest and prettiest girls, sets the stage well for a plot full of twists and turns. I liked the Gossip Girl vibe – the prep school background and the rise to sudden popularity and lightening quick fall of a likeable character. It’s all very dramatic.

But what really makes this book enjoyable is Amelia – as far as characters goes, she has to be one of the most likeable, sincere and genuine characters I’ve come across in recent literature. She is so composed and self-accepting – which is impressive in anyone but in particular a 15-year-old. At first you might think this composure’s not realistic, but based on the voice McCreight gives her, the quiet confidence and strength she continuously demonstrates, it is believable. She’s a kid any parent would be proud to call their own.

It’s interesting how McCreight demonstrates the way Amelia deals with her tormentors, instead of presenting Amelia as unable to deal with her fall from grace and the fear and isolation she’s feeling she stocks her up with unbelievable grit and love. Amelia fights through the pain of a broken heart and the bullying being dealt to her (lead by the borderline psychopathic Zadie – that girl makes Regina George look like Mary Tyler Moore – I say Mary Tyler Moore because she just seems so nice you know?) Despite her world falling apart Amelia doesn’t allow herself to break in order to protect her best friend – even though that same best friend is beyond self-involved, and it’s worth questioning whether she’d have done the same.

There are a lot of relationships – most of which are clearly unhealthy – in this story, each one plays its part perfectly though I have to say I wanted more insight into Kate’s relationship with her nasty co-worker Daniel and less of the emails between her and the tree-hugger guy. I mean I understand the purpose those emails played – the fact that she used him as an idealized version of the father she wished Amelia had but still Daniel was so much more fascinating. Then again the awful characters always are.

What Reconstructing Amelia lacked was suspense. It was all a little too obvious and a little too easy. And perhaps not nearly as salacious as it’s hyped up to be – instead really it’s a sad glimpse into the life of a teenage girl who made a lot of stupid mistakes for love and in doing so paid for it with her life. If you focus less on the actual mystery and more on the relationships it’s easy to enjoy this book.

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

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Author: John Green

Publisher: Dutton Books

Date published: January 10, 2012

Number of pages: 313

What’s it about?

Hazel Grace Lancaster, a terminally ill cancer patient is coerced by her mother into attending a support group for youth where she meets and eventually falls in love with cancer survivor Augustus Waters.

I actually had to read this book twice before I could sit down and write about it. Not because it’s bad (because it most definitely isn’t bad, unless we’re using the Ebonics form of ‘bad’ which then suggests something is in fact good in which case this book is incredibly bad.) I fell in love with this story and both Hazel and Augustus so deeply that I didn’t think I could actually put into words how I was feeling. It’s a difficult book to define, part philosophical journey, part tragic romance yet filled with unbelievable hilarity The Fault in Our Stars is a book you can read over and over again – and never get bored of.

Part of what is so striking about The Fault in our Stars is how well Green portrays teenage angst – and how he does so with unbelievable humour and warmth. Augustus’ obsession with having a meaningful life – being a hero, combined with his astonishing sense of ennui (the existentially fraught free throws) kind of sums up being a teenager. And yet because both characters have had to face their own mortality – their maturity, the level of intelligence and wit these characters display allows them to acknowledge their suffering without allowing it to control them.

But let’s just talk about Augustus Waters for a minute. First of all Augustus Waters – why is that one of the greatest literary names ever? Furthermore, he’s kind of totally swoon-worthy. Self-assured, intelligent, thoughtful, kind and funny, Gus is a nice change of pace from all the bad-boys-with-a-heart-of-gold-that-they-have-to-hide-because-they-need-to-be-tough that seem to currently permeate YA novels (Jace Wayland, Will Herondale, Patch in the Hush Hush series, Four – not that they’re not swoon-worthy in their own right.) It’s just that Gus is normal yet extraordinary.  Everything he does is just a little amazing because of how he does it; he displays a sense of selflessness that’s not generally expected of 17-year-old boys. This quality isn’t something that only comes out with Hazel; his entire relationship with Isaac demonstrates Gus’ kindness and understanding (not to mention his slightly perverse sense of humour.) The ‘night of the broken trophy’s’ as Hazel calls it and the egging of Isaac’s ex-girlfriends house (done while at the height of Gus’ illness) are just some of the examples that come to mind.

There’s also the fact that despite the serious disappointment that Van Houten proves to be, Gus continues to write to him, asking for help with his eulogy for Hazel and demanding he answer her questions – further demonstrating the extraordinary thoughtfulness and love Gus possesses.

What really grabs you with this story is how bittersweet it is – you always know it will end sadly, the entire book kind of prepares you for it.  But Green takes you on this journey, he leads you through the process of dealing with mortality and the inevitable and he does it in a way that is neither condescending nor pathetic. You watch these characters as they live their lives with the burden of cancer and marvel at the humanness, the fight, the hope and despair – that Green creates, all done with so much flair and humour – real humour – not forced, it’s all so natural. The conversations between Hazel and Augustus are believable – you could imagine having those same conversations with your own friends. The progression of their relationship and the feelings of fear and frustration Hazel feels, Gus’ persistence in pursuing her and the inevitable heartbreak that comes with his death – make this story seem so much bigger than your average YA novel but quite frankly, that’s what makes this book so charming and real. It’s the underlying sadness coupled with the distinct voices Green saddles his characters with that makes The Fault in Our Stars such a standout story.