Book Review: Dreams of Gods & Monsters

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

What’s It About?

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

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

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

The Story

Gods Monsters

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

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

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

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

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

The Writing

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

Karou & Akiva’s Epic Love Story

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

Shout Out to a Great Supporting Cast

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

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

 

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Book Review: Panic

Panic

Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date Published: March 4, 2014
Number of Pages: 408
Standalone: Yes

What’s It About?

Each year in the dead-end town of Carp, NY, every student in the graduating class has the chance to enter Panic – a legendary, and dangerous game of luck and chance. Spurred by heartbreak and revenge Heather and Dodge enter the game. Every decision, every ounce of courage leads to new alliances, chances for romance and a shot in the dark at a way out of town.

Initial Thoughts

My first introduction to Lauren Oliver came in the form of her Delirium trilogy, of which I only ever read (and only half of it) the first book in the series. To many the books are killer, to me they were just, well dull. I found the concept to be beyond reaching and I really couldn’t get down with lead character Lena who I felt was whiny and cowardly. Harsh I know. I’m saying all of this because I was really reluctant to pick up Oliver’s newest book Panic but I’m glad I did.

Panic is nothing at all like Delirium, a standalone book – the overall concept, a mysterious and dangerous game (with a big payout) held for the graduating high school class in small town New York builds to a crescendo in an intense and riveting manner.

Told from the dual perspectives of contestants Heather and Dodge, playing for their own independent reasons, the book is a surprisingly intense commentary on youth and the way in which desperation of all kinds can drive a person to do things they never thought themselves capable of.

The concept is enthralling – Oliver manages to capture your attention from the very beginning. As the game progresses and the stakes are raised you find yourself becoming more and more invested in the characters and desperate to know the outcome.

Dual Narration
The dual narrative can at times come off a little gimmicky – for instance in Allegiant it was evident very early that the reason for the change in narrative style was because the end of the story couldn’t come from the character it had always come from. In Panic the dual narrative makes sense. It offers a great duality in reasoning for the various reasons these kids would put their lives in such danger for a cash prize. For many it’s seen as a way out of small town life for the story’s narrators it’s much more.

Heather

Heather is incredibly likeable. Suffering from heartbreak and a bad home life Panic is a way from her to step away from the stress of everyday life. It’s also a chance to provide a better life, away from her alcoholic/drug addicted mother, for her and her sister. As the story progresses Heather’s growth from wallflower to a confident, beautiful girl is striking yet organic.

Dodge

At first Dodge comes off a little slimy – you kind of recoil at the thought of him, but his is a great example of character development and how wrong first impressions can be. Loyal to a fault Dodge is determined, pragmatic and clever. His relationships with his sister, Heather and Nat (Heather’s best friend) paint him as loving guy with a great deal of respect for the opposite sex.

The Minors (characters)

Nat – Heather’s best friend, Dodge’s love interest – I’m not going to lie here. I kind of hated her. She’s incredibly self-involved and without spoiling anything – um, I can’t actually finish that sentence without spoiling things. Needless to say the gif below best describes my feelings about her.

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Bishop

Heather’s other best friend, and the boy she’s obviously in love with but has yet to realize this fact (trust me I’m giving nothing away) is perfectly likeable but I will say his purpose in the story is fairly obvious – I have yet to determine if it was meant to be this way or if it’s just a weak link in the story. Whenever Bishop entered the scene I always found myself doing that twisty head thing that puppies do…: puppies

Anne, Krista, Lily

All three women play a vital role in Heather’s life, Krista – her mother is a disappointment, forcing Heather to play the parent role. Lily, Heather’s little sister though very minor and not as developed as other characters gives Heather purpose. And Anne – well she’s really awesome. Best way to explain her.

The Writing

There’s a reason people keep buying Oliver’s books, despite not being a fan of her earlier work there’s no denying she can write. In Panic she creates characters with meaning and reasoning. For every action there is a reaction, a reaction that continuously ups the ante. She also manages to create unique character voices. Both Heather and Dodge stand out so clearly as independent characters, yet when they’re brought together they mesh.

Oliver’s writing is also great for its intricacies. She adds in small details that provide so much for your imagination. The town of Carp is so beautifully illustrated by simple additives like Meth Row or as a friend pointed out Nat’s obvious OCD – which is never named but very evident.

The Elusive YA Standalone

What I think I particularly appreciate about Panic is that it’s a standalone – a concept that seems incredibly unique in the current world of YA overrun with dystopian trilogies. It’s nice to read a book and know that the end is really the end. There’s something to be said for an author who tells the story in one go, sometimes it just makes the story so much more rich.

The Final Judgement

Panic is a great story. It’s unique, engrossing and filled with interesting plot twists, strong and likeable characters. It’s the perfect concoction of mystery, suspense, romance and adventure. Throw in a little coming of age and a little revenge it kind of has a bit of something for everyone. If you’re looking for a tightly woven tale that builds to an ultimately explosive crescendo, you should probably pick up a copy.  4.5/5

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

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

4. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee 

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.

Love Quotes

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

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

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

okay

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

notebook

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

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

Book Review: 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

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

10. Carlisle and Esme Cullen, Twilight

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

9.  Bob Cratchit, A Christmas Carol

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

8. Wendy Darling, Peter and Wendy  Wendy Peter Pan

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

7. Luke, The Mortal Instruments

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

6. Haymitch, The Hunger Games

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

5. Alfred J. Pennyworth, Batman Alfred

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

4. Mr. Bennett, Pride and Prejudice 

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

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

3. Cersei Lannister, A Song of Ice and Fire

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

2. Molly and Arthur Weasley, Harry Potter

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

1. Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

atticus-finch

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

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

Book Review: Looking for Alaska

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: 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.