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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Book Review: Night of the Purple Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Eleanor & Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Paper Towns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: The Silent Wife

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

SilentWife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: Dead Ever After

Author: Charlaine Harris

Publisher: Ace Books

Date Published: May 7, 2013

Series? Yes

Number of pages: 338

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“It’s always possible for human beings to spoil their own peace of mind”
― Charlaine Harris, Dead Ever After

Dead Ever After the final book in Charlaine Harris’ uber popular Southern Vampire Mysteries series (also known as the Sookie Stackhouse novels) takes up where we last left telepathic barmaid Sookie Stackhouse – having just used her super powerful magical fairy artifact the Cluviel Dor to save her boss Sam’s life (thus effectively destroying her relationship with vampire Eric Northman.)  On top of simultaneously dealing with the demise of her relationship with the reigning sheriff of Area 5 and Sam’s difficulties in adjusting to being brought back to life, Sookie’s former coworker/friend (and attempted murderess) Arlene returns to Merlottes to ask for her job back.  After Sookie denies her request Arlene turns up dead and Sookie quickly becomes the prime suspect.

The above only just skims the storyline in this series finale, the book is overflowing with additional stories that – granted – all connect but there are so many and so much to remember from the past twelve books it becomes both difficult and tedious trying to keep up with what’s going on. Basically everyone Sookie’s ever pissed off has banded together to end her once and for all. Okay maybe not everyone but hyperbole seems the only way to go with this review so bear with me.

The book is chock full of returning characters, some enjoyable (Mr. Cataliades and his half demon niece Diantha and were-tiger Quinn to name a few) some inane and annoying (*cough Amelia cough*) and some so uninspiring you barely remember who they are if you remember them at all. The book is also chock full of a lot of nothing. Most of the story is Sookie lamenting over the lazy ending of her relationship with Eric and Sam’s distancing himself from her and his overall weirdness towards the woman who restored him to life. And rather than use a brain cell and think “Hmm my super scary, totally powerful and really pissed off vampire ex-boyfriend probably threatened my boss in some manner because I used a super magical artifact to save his life rather than release my boyfriend from 200 years of servitude and effectively becoming a high-class courtesan to the vampire Queen of Oklahoma” she just flounces around the place bein’ all confused ya’ll.

While all of this is happening there also remains the fact that Sookie has been framed for a murder she didn’t commit and the fact that someone is once again out to get her. The girl cannot catch a break.

Add in deals with the devil, a vengeful father who figures if he murders his daughters friend he can control her and the world’s lamest and biggest copout ever of a TWELVE BOOK LONG LOVE TRIANGLE and it’s quite easy to see that there’s a reason Charlaine Harris didn’t go on tour to promote this final book and that is, to be quite blunt, because it sucked. I’m sorry but there’s just no beating around the proverbial bush here. This final book is quite possibly the worst of the series, perhaps only trumped, or better yet tied with the series’ penultimate book Deadlocked which really should have been indication enough that this series had totally and completely jumped the shark.

Now for those who may stumble across this little ol’ blog of mine and be in the midst of reading this series *SPOILER ALERT* am I the only one truly offended that Harris would stick Sookie with Sam in the end? After years of continuously saying no and picking any other man over him what on earth would make his character even want her anymore? She picked dead guys (albeit super-hot ones) but regardless dead supernatural beings known for their blood thirsty ways over him. And whilst constantly turning him down and whatnot she continuously ran interference in his relationships. She was kind of a jerk. And that’s coming from someone who genuinely likes the character of Sookie with all her Southern sass and unexpected bravado. But seriously how freaking desperate is Sam?

Furthermore, is this not the world’s biggest copout? The way this series ends brings back memories of my unbelievable annoyance over the fact that Harry was the seventh unexpected horcrux – in the words of my four year old niece, like for serious? The entire point of the series was that Sookie finally found a world in which she belonged when the vamps came out of the closet, in Bill and then in Eric she found peace of mind – literally. And she just turns around at the end of everything and says “Oh Sam it was you all along.” Lame…lame, lame, lame, laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame. Did I mention I think this is lame?

In the end Sookie overcomes the bad guys and walks off into the sunset with her copout boyfriend – but goes so far to acknowledge that she doesn’t really know if there’s anywhere for things between her and Sam to go but you know, whatevs.  Way to back pedal there Sookie.

It’s as though at the last minute Charlaine Harris just decided she was over it. A little forewarning would’ve been nice lady. Perhaps a small book tour where she said ‘Hey dear reader beware, I may not have had the lady balls to make a choice between our resident vampire lovers so I you know just let Sookie settle.” And yes I realize that this particular approach I’m suggesting would not have been smart for the whole book selling process but seriously between her editors, agents, publisher and family did no one think to point out the obvious? That this decision would be pissing people off for years to come? This is like when Joey and Rachel started dating after she gave birth to Ross’s baby. I mean come on! We knew that wasn’t going to work out and I’m sorry but in the fictional world of Sookie Stackhouse there is just no way in my personal fantasy of this series that her and Sam make it for the long haul.

In closing Dead Ever After has to be one of the most disappointing finales to a series I’ve ever had the misfortune of putting myself through. Disappointing, lackluster and lame is how I’d best describe this series finale. I say read up until the sixth book and then just watch the show, because I think we can all agree that it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the show as long as Alexander Skarsgard is on the screen. Preferably with limited clothes.

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.

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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Original book cover

Author: Gillian Flynn

Number of pages: 432

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

Date published: 2012

Note* there may be a spoiler or two tucked away in this review. I highly suggest reading the book first and then reading the review.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

On their fifth wedding anniversary Nick Dunn’s wife Amy suddenly disappears. As the story unfolds all the evidence suggests Nick is responsible for his wife’s disappearance. But, as is often the case, things aren’t quite as they appear.

THE REVIEW

Told from the viewpoints of both husband and wife, this story unfolds in one of the most suspenseful, invigorating and rage inducing ways possible. The story is broken into three acts: Before the disappearance (told through Amy) the disappearance (told by both Nick and Amy, separately) and the return (again both characters tell ‘their’ versions.) The back and forth between each characters version of events is done seamlessly, with each new revelation beautifully sculpted before actually being revealed.

The book is riddled with red herons which, if you’re the type of reader who becomes almost emotionally entwined with a novel, will have you feeling a vast array of emotions ranging from undeniable rage to complete shock followed swiftly by disgust and usually wrapping up with a little bit of awe. This is good. Flynn’s Gone Girl is a story that will make you anxious and leave you fearing marriage. (If you don’t already.)

The use of the unreliable narrator is set up in such a way that you might actually feel shocked and hurt when certain things are brought to life – at least in regard to the character of Nick. His unreliability kind of blindsides you. Yet, despite wanting to hate him you always kind of find yourself rooting for him. Maybe it’s because it’s so obvious he’s a lost cause. Maybe it’s because the feeling of dread that Flynn creates, the fact that as you continue to read you know, without a doubt another bomb is about to drop, you hope he’ll ‘man up’, fight back and reveal the truth, because despite how pathetic he is (and as far as characters go, Flynn has done a brilliant job of creating the most yellow bellied character wrapped in a pretty package to date) you really don’t want him to lose.

Why don’t you want such an awful character to lose? Because the only other choice for a winner is such a disgusting and vile creature – amazingly developed, with brilliant nuances and ingenious deviltry that you literally feel sick at the thought of her. Amy Elliott-Dunn is plain evil. Evil and fun. What’s most inspiring about her character is that as much as you hate her (and trust me you’ll hate her, and if you don’t you may need to start reevaluating your morals) you can, in a way, live vicariously through her because, if I’m being honest, everyone’s been in that one relationship where the thought of unrelenting, earth-shattering revenge is almost all consuming. Of course most of us don’t actually go out and attempt to enact our fantasies of revenge, and certainly not to such detrimental (yet brilliant) extremes. Look out for her inspired diatribe on being the “Cool Girl” – mind blowing.

There’s a reason Gone Girl has been at the top of the best sellers list for the past year, Flynn’s writing is astounding. She creates characters with so much depth – despite their shallowness and self-involvement.  Gone Girl transcends all genres and really is on the borderline of great literature. Is it a crime novel? Mystery? Suspense? Morality tale? Revenge? It’s all of those things, and more. Thrilling and suspenseful, with two of the most awful characters out there this book is hard to put down and will invade your psyche for weeks.

If you’ve already read Gone Girl check out Flynn’s other novels Dark Places and Sharp Objects – my personal favourite between the two.

Book Review: Beautiful Creatures

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Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Original book cover

Author(s): Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Publisher: Little, Brown

Date of Publishing: 2009

Number of pages: 563

Series? Yes

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

All highschooler Ethan Wate wants is to escape boring, ever-the-same Gatlin County. Reeling from the sudden death of his beloved mother and plagued by the same nightmare night after night where he loses the girl of his dreams, his world and life change when strange, vulnerable and alluring Lena Duchaness – the same girl he’s been dreaming of for months – arrives in town. Niece to the reclusive Macon Ravenwood (the town’s own Boo Ridley) outcast Lena turns the town upside down and brings with her a secret world that involves witches who aren’t witches, voodoo, succubus’s and ultimately leads to devastating consequences come Lena’s sixteen birthday.

THE REVIEW

Interesting as this story may seem I’m not a fan. The best indication I think for anyone reading a book that tells them they like it is the speed and desire with which they devour the story. I’ve read books that I’ve loved so much I have forgone a decent nights sleep in order to keep reading. When I finish a book I’ve loved or that has at least intrigued me I’m often filled with unhealthy rage because I finished it so quickly. I annoy friends and family with non-stop blather about the book always stopping short for fear I’ll give too much away (and I wouldn’t want to do that because I have every intention of forcing them to read the book and bask in its glory like I already am.) Beautiful Creatures didn’t do this to me. In fact it took me nearly two weeks to finish this book, which is nearly unheard of for me.

Quite frankly, I think I didn’t enjoy the story because I couldn’t get invested in the characters, specifically protagonist Ethan Wate.  It’s kind of hard to enjoy a story when you can’t really connect to the person telling it. Through 563 pages of a story centered on and told by Ethan by books end I still wasn’t sure I really knew or learned anything about him, or if I cared that I didn’t. Sure we learn that Ethan’s tall, decent looking, a good basketball player, loves books, does well in school, has a best friend called Linc who’s none too bright but super loyal. We learn Ethan yearns to be free of the shackles of his small town, carries a secret disdain for just about everyone he goes to school with and really loved his mum. But it all feels kind of vacuous, superficial even. All of these elements are just that: elements, things. Authors Garcia and Stolh – despite their attempts – don’t manage to create the connection needed between the storyteller and the reader. There’s just something about Ethan that’s – boring. And sometimes that’s the point, the character starts of kind of bland and as the story progresses and new characters are introduced, life-shattering events take place – the character grows, develops and is suddenly worth investing in. But this never happens with Ethan. Even the relationship that develops between him and Lena, who as the female lead and love interest is equally as bland as her male counterpart, feels a little contrived.

Ethan and Lena’s impending relationship and ‘deep connection’ is set up from the books very beginning. We know they’re going to fall in love, we know they’re going to share some deep, unbreakable connection and we know that different people for different reasons are going to test their bond. There’s nothing wrong with telling the whole story before it even begins. It’s a literary concept that’s been used time and time again; we know the ending before it begins and then we learn how things get to that point. However, generally when an author chooses to do this they still make an attempt to build chemistry and suspense. With Ethan and Lena it all just kind of happens. One minute she’s just a girl in his dream. The next she’s there in the flesh. And with the blink of an eye they’re fast friends, inseparable and falling in love. They’re relationship just lacked tension. It lacked tension and urgency. You never suffer that slight anxiety that they really won’t be able to be together. You’re never outrageously angry at whoever is standing in their way, quietly mumbling under your breath about how truly dreadful said character is (generally I do this while on the bus, which makes for an exciting ride what with all the subtle glances and quiet shuffling away from me…) And who is it that stands in their way? High school mean girls? A crazy, heritage obsessed mother in the form of Mrs. Lincoln? And to be honest I found it confounding that no one in this small town would find it strange that a woman of respectable repute would go on such a violent, menacing and crazy witch hunt over a soon to be 16-year-old girl (oh but there’s a twist!)

The two most interesting characters were that of Amma (Ethan’s, I’m not sure what to call her Nanny-Maid?) and Macon, (Lena’s debonair, super smart, classy Cary Grant-esq uncle) their back-stories, which were never fully revealed, were what I desired most in this story. How they came to know each other, which I suppose is hinted at with the whole Genevieve back-story, and who they are to each other. Quite frankly I found myself making it all up in my head, it involved a torrid affair that ends with unbelievable heartbreak and was truly quite riveting. Unfortunately as I said, I made it up myself.

Oh and what exactly is this Genevieve story I mentioned? Yeah. Basically it’s the story of how Lena’s family came to be cursed and how the evil streak developed through an attempt to raise the dead all with the backdrop of the civil war and a sellout confederate soldier. And really, doesn’t everyone know that there are always consequences when you raise the dead? Just the idea of this add-on story bores me.

The ‘caster’ concept is also, well, kind of lame. She’s a damn witch. I hate when people don’t want to call a spade a spade. Imagine if Stephenie Meyer had decided Edward and his gang of depressed, ‘vegetarian’ vampires weren’t vampires they were oh I don’t know just ‘cold ones’ like that werewolf guys people called them. It would be rage inducing. Because clearly if you have pointy teeth and survive on blood you’re a bloody vampire (no pun intended). And if you cast spells and wear flowy skirts you’re a damn witch. Regardless, these are about the lamest witches I’ve ever read about. Lena, as a “natural” seems able to control the elements, okay that’s kind of cool, but then there’s her once best friend but now evil turncoat cousin Ridley who – apart from coming up with stupid nicknames for male characters in the book (she calls Linc or Ethan, I can’t even remember which one “Shrinky Dink”) sucks on a lollipop that then somehow manages to magically enable her to control people, or rather men, because we never see her use her power on any women. And Lena’s cousin Larkin who can “Spellcast” which is I’m assuming meant to be a fancy way of saying he’s an illusionist.  But they aren’t witches. Even though the most powerful book in the Caster world is the ‘Book of Moons’, which just so happens to be full of spells one can cast. But they are not witches.

The ultimate ‘bad guy’ of the story, Sarafine is pretty much your run-of-the-mill evil witch. She’s kind of like Maleficent and the Queen from Snow White rolled into one. Really at the books crescendo I was pretty much hoping she would win.

What redeems this story apart from Amma and Macon? The writing isn’t terrible. It has a steady flow and definitely knows where it’s going which is always nice. However, it lacks any real build. The expectation and apprehension the reader should feel, as it gets closer to Lena’s birthday, seems non-existent. In the end it’s just a series of incidents in the life of Ethan and Lena.

The ending of course sets up the next story in the series to follow. Though I can’t say I’ll be reading it. Beautiful Creatures clearly has a fan base, but this reviewer doesn’t get the hype. I don’t mind a story that’s already been told as long as I’m given a reason to root for the characters and I don’t feel that Beautiful Creatures provides on that end.

For those who’s interest is piqued but not enough to actually want to read the book, you can of course watch the movie when it comes out February 14 of this year. (Jeremy Irons plays Macon Ravenwood, which in my opinion is excellent casting.)

×× (Out of five)