What happens when real life and gaming culture collide blurring the lines between what’s real, what’s fantasy, what’s friendship and what’s obsession? When the many roles we’re forced to play only confuse and confound? Those are some of the questions … Continue reading
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Date Published: April 8, 2014
Number of Pages: 613
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.
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.
Let’s just take a minute to discuss the unbelievable beauty of Taylor’s prose – it is equal parts poetic, fluid and colourful without ever being over the top. It’s nearly impossible not to speed through her stories simply because her writing is so easy. Not easy in the sense that it’s “dumbed down” because it’s not (how can it be when you’re throwing out words like “cartilaginous”? Amirit?) Easy in that it flows, it’s melodic. It’s stunning.
Karou & Akiva’s Epic Love Story
I hate anyone who likens their story to Romeo and Juliet. Hate. Their story is uniquely their own. Sure they’ve got the whole star-crossed lovers deal but their strength, their determination to succeed, their inability to ever truly lose each other is something altogether different. Even when in Days of Blood & Starlight Karou’s anger blinded her (or attempted to) love for Akiva it was there, tangible, and weighing heavily on everything she did. In Dreams of Gods & Monsters Karou accepts this love, realizing that in denying it she’s weakening herself by denying her right to her own happiness. Which is incredibly profound and moving. But what truly solidifies this couple at the top echelon of YA romantic couples is that they are always willing to sacrifice their own happiness to save others and most importantly – they’re both acceptance of this fact in each other. Seriously how much more romantic can this be.
Shout Out to a Great Supporting Cast
No review of this final book would be complete without a nod to the colourful cast of characters littered throughout the series and this final chapter. Zuzana and Mik are a given as the best representations of what being colour blind really means – it’s presented simply in their easy acceptance of both the Chimaera and Seraphim, their desire to help both. Ziri and Liraz – opposites attracting so perfectly. The disfigured, ruthless Jael and the snivelling Razgut, both of whom you can’t help but love to despise and yet feel sorry for in the strangest way possible. And the even smaller players – The Shadows that Live, Virko, Nightingale et al. Each character, regardless how minute their part in the story is so wonderfully designed, so full and multi dimensional you want to know each and every one of their stories.
Dreams of Gods & Monsters the final book in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy is a grand and heroic ending – brimming with intellect, heart and romance, it offers the perfect closure to a riveting story while not fully closing the door on a world overflowing with possibility. 5/5
Top Ten Tuesday 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!)
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.
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
“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
“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.)
“You love me. Real or not real?”
I tell him, “Real.”
– Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay
“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
Until You is the follow up story to Penelope Douglas’ self published Bully (you can check out my original review here.) A re-telling of the story but from Jared’s point of view, Until You is an entertaining companion piece for anyone who enjoyed the original story. (Or anyone who swoons over dark, brooding types.)
In Bully we followed Tatum “Tate” Brandt as she begins to fight back against Jared Trent – her next door neighbour, once best friend and current high school tormentor. Despite making her a social pariah Tatum finds it hard to fight the feelings she’s always harboured for Jared. As the story unfolds the reasons behind Jared’s bullying are unveiled, leading eventually to a reconciliation between the two.
At first the idea of a companion piece seemed a little gimmicky to me but Until You is actually worthwhile. Why? Because Douglas doesn’t just rehash the same story but with a different POV – she gives fans of the original new anecdotes, stories and more insight into the life of the guy who nearly allowed his anger and pain to destroy his own happiness. And yes the dark, brooding male archetype is perhaps a bit of an overdone staple in romance and NA literature but Jared is a compelling and sympathetic character. As arrogant as the character can be there’s great moments of vulnerability revealed throughout the story. Moments that really humanize him. He’s conflicted not because he loves Tate but because of things from his past that have nothing to do with her. She’s just a scapegoat. There’s an actual story in Until You. Not only is there a real story but Douglas has an uncanny ability to make you like Jared. Even though he’s a jerk. (Something even he acknowledges.)
In my review of Bully I commented on Jared engaging in a rebound relationship with Tate’s best friend KC (after he sets her up to learn that her longterm boyfriend has been cheating on her.) That part of the story really burned me up. For Jared’s character it made total sense, but I was outraged that Tate’s best friend could be so callous. I love that in Until You that relationship is further explored and even more I love that it turns out it was never what it appeared to be. It’s little things like that that (for fans of the series at least) make Until You worth reading.
Douglas gives her characters strong voices, it’s obvious she knows who they are and makes a great effort to ensure her readers know too. I’d say her writing style is fairly simple, first person narrative but it works for the story. I found the little asides to be a bit tacky – unspoken thoughts italicized to emphasize, I don’t know, the sincerity of the feelings. It’s a bit like in a movie when a character physically indicates the object or person they’re discussing. It’s unnecessary, and really a little frustrating because all you can think is “why don’t you just say it out loud?” and avoid all the drama. But then I suppose there would be no story.
Though I still find it hard to believe anyone could easily forgive someone who spent three years tormenting them and willingly enter into a relationship with that person I can’t help but like this story. Both Tate and Jared are charismatic characters who’s chemistry is explosive and perfectly developed by Douglas.
Until You is part of Penelope Douglas’ Fall Away series, the next story Rival focuses on Jared’s best friend, partner in crime and lackey Madoc – who, incidentally, is an interesting character in that he’s the polar opposite to Jared. Where Jared is dark, brooding, quiet and menacing, Madoc is sarcastic, funny, easy-going and from a life of privilege. It will be interesting to see the story arc Douglas develops for this new story.
Until You though part of a series does work as a standalone novel, however I would suggest reading Bully first if only to get a better understanding of why fans of the novel were so excited for this new take. If you’re looking for a romance story that’s not all hearts and flowers and over-the-top declarations of love, a story about flawed characters who are desperate to rectify their mistakes, or a story with a smokin’ hot lead than Until You is probably the right choice.
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
The love triangle – a common theme seen throughout literature, some of it good, some of it bad, some incredibly questionable…some so bad they’re good. So with this in mind I’ve made a list of just a few love triangles and taken it upon myself to rank them.
The Good: All around swooning and mooneyes/Things get rough but love triumphs
The Bad: Things aren’t just rough, decisions are questionable, and loyalty means nothing
Will, Jem, Tessa
(The Infernal Devices, Cassandra Clare)
This triangle has caused a lot of strife for fans of Clare’s prequel series The Infernal Devices, with a clear divide between team Jessa and team Wessa (?). In one corner you have the sensitive, kind and dying James Carstairs in the other corner, the fiery, caustic, sensitive and misunderstood William Herondale. And in either corner you’ve got a guy whose calling in life is to slay demons of which you may be one. Oh and did I mention their best friends? Awkward.
In the end Clare cleverly works it out where Tessa gets her cake and eats it too. But she does so in a way that’s incredibly touching, thoughtful and respectful to those on either end of the opposing teams. I say kudos Ms. Clare, kudos indeed.
Betty, Veronica, Archie
Anyone who’s ever read any of the adventures of the Riverdale crew knows that there’s a heavy emphasis on the Betty vs. Veronica quandary poor Archie’s in the middle of. I mean who to choose? The lovely, sweet, kind, patient and fun Betty or the super rich but stuck up, vain and self-involved Veronica? Quite frankly I could never understand Archie’s dilemma. I mean wasn’t the right choice kind of crystal clear? Regardless Betty and Veronica, despite their BFF status were in a constant battle to win the affections of the world famous ginger.
I always found it rather apropos that despite having two hot chicks constantly fight over him in the end Archie’s always willing to dump both for the redheaded vixen Cheryl Blossom. Cheryl by the way was originally deemed too sexual for a children’s comic and removed for a two-year period. This is not surprising. Her name alone screams harlot. Blossom? BLOSSOM?! It’s so salacious. Think about it people. In the end Archie is your typical teenage guy, clearly Ms. Blossom is…a little freewheeling.
Jean Grey, Cyclops, Wolverine
(The X-Men, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby)
Theirs is a complicated love story. Jean is either married to or dating Cyclops (depending on which story you follow) but clearly has feelings for Wolverine, who we know for a fact is absolutely nuts about her. Cyclops and Wolverine despise each other. Not to mention they’re mutants. Oh and Jean Grey also happens to be one of the most powerful mutants (Omega level guys) around and has a crazy split personality called The Dark Phoenix. In retrospect it’s not really that complicated.
Despite their mutual attraction and obvious chemistry Wolverine never really acts on his feelings for JG, nor she for his, despite the fact that Cyclops marries a JG clone and has a “psychic affaire” with Emma Frost. Not cool man. Not cool. Plus you don’t mess with a chick with infinite super powers.
Rating: WTF (based on all the crazy mutant-ness, death, resurrections, adamantium skeletons, a guy with laser eyes. Etc.)
Sidney Carton, Lucie Manette, Charles Darney
(A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens)
Oh Sidney, try as you might the good in you never quite outweighed the bad everyone else saw. His is a tale of unrequited love, regret and redemption. Making the ultimate sacrifice for the woman he would never have, I’ve often wondered if given the chance to do it over would he still think it was a “far, far better thing” to do?
Tess, Alec, Angel
(Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy)
Ah Tess, you always believe the best in people and they always turn out to be, well, wankers. Poor Tess is used and abused by manipulative libertine Alec D’Urbervilles and placed on a pedestal only to be callously thrown away by the ironically named Angel Clare when he learns of her past. The story is wrought with angst and despair, love gained and love lost and in the end no one really wins. It’s all so tragic. (Yet terribly entertaining, an 19th century soap opera of sorts.)
Rating: Good (in terms of its iconic status, Hardy’s overall themes especially that of the sexual double standards of the times and the fact that Tess is a survivor.) Bad (Alec and Angel are kind of d-bags.)
Bill, Eric, Sookie
(The Southern Vampire Mysteries, Charlaine Harris)
This triumvirate of supernatural love was always one of my favourite parts of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels. After years of being seen as the loveable but crazy Merlottes waitress this sassy telepath was able to find love with a handsome, southern gentleman. Albeit a dead one, but hey no one’s perfect. Fast track ahead a few books and things between Sookie and Vampire Bill come to a sad end and she eventually takes up with the super-hot Viking sheriff of Area 5 Eric Northman. But Bill was always in the background, consistently remaining a possibility.
There was always such great tension between Bill and Eric but their mutual love of Sookie time and again (and often begrudgingly) had them working together to keep her safe from harm. In the end it would seem that Harris couldn’t make a choice, and so instead she copped out and put Sookie with the one character she always refused to get with to begin with. I said it before and I’ll say it again, lame.
James, Lily, Snape
(Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling)
A well-kept secret this triangle was hinted at throughout the seven book series but never fully disclosed until the ghoulish and menacing Prof. Snape gives his memory’s to an embattled Harry just before he succumbs to the bite of He Who Shall Not Be Named’s pet snake Nagini. Though the full story lasted a single chapter the truth – that Snape was madly in love with Harry’s mother Lily and dedicated his life to protecting her son upon learning of her murder at the hands of Lord Voldemort was heartbreaking and beautiful. It also completely changed the way we looked at Severus Snape, an unsung hero who tried to do the right thing, all for love he would never have. *Swoon*
Edward, Bella, Jacob
(Twilight, Stephenie Meyer)
I am not a Twilight hater, I truly believe like anything it has its place in the pantheon of teenage-supernatural love stories. Many a person has argued that the character of Bella is a bad role model for teenage girls, what with her whole willingness to give up her life for a guy, literally, but I’ve often felt people failed to recognize that death wishes aside Bella is the one who generally saves the day in this series, so she can’t be quite as meek and docile as people say.
Granted there’s also the argument that –ignoring the fact that Edward would very much like to eat his beloved, he’s also a bit of a creepster considering when he first falls in love with her she’s 17 and he’s about a billion (okay, okay he’s 107, but “frozen” physically at 17, regardless you get my point.)
And then there’s the fact that her other paramour Jacob turns into a massive, vampire killing wolf, and it just so happens that this particular form of wolfism is relatively sensitive and deeply tied to emotion so you know he could potentially wolf out on Ms. Swan if she doesn’t put her plate in the dishwasher the right way.
Looking past these arguments, which are all debatable, the reason the Bella/Edward/Jacob threesome of all-enduring teenage angsty love gets the bad rating is due to the pestiferous (I’ve been waiting so long to use that word, which is just an obnoxious way of saying annoying) excuse used to put it to rest. Not to mention the overall extra creepiness of it. Bella chooses Edward, though she acknowledges if he’d never come into the picture she’d have stuck it out with Jacob. That’s gotta sting. Despite being her second choice Jacob leaves his pack to protect her and her unborn vampire-human hybrid baby only to then turn around and “imprint” on said vampire-human hybrid baby, thus breaking his apparently not undying love for Bella and instead making him willing to bide his time while he waits for the child of the girl he’s been in love with for a while now to grow old enough for him. Got it? Good. Now allow me to state the obvious: that is creepy. That’s beyond creepy. That’s not romantic. It’s not sweet. It’s weird and not cool and quite frankly I’d be telling him to stay the hell away from my hybrid baby.
Rating: WTF (not to mention gross, weird, unhealthy and icky)
Elena, Damon, Stephan
(The Vampire Diaries, L.J. Smith)
They’re brothers! Come on! Have a little decency, a little respect for brotherly love and affection. Plus don’t you find it a little suspect that both brothers happen to have fallen in love with you despite your uncanny resemblance to the vampire who initially came between them and oh made them vampires?
Elizabeth Bennett, Darcy, Wickham
(Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)
I’ve always loved the strife and mayhem Wickham caused between Elizabeth and Darcy. Charming, clever, slimy and manipulative Wickham made for an enjoyable villain. Ingratiating himself to Elizabeth by telling tall-tales about the misunderstood Mr. Darcy, playing on her already affirmed prejudice towards him, the slippery Wickham worms his way into her affections whilst further enraging the man who’s kid sister he ran off to marry so he could get his hands on her wealth. The cad!
In the end the truth is revealed, Elizabeth and Darcy find their way to each other and Wickham gets his (in the form of the insanely insufferable Lydia Bennett). Huzzah!
Author: John Green
Publisher: Puffin Books Publishing
Date Published: September 21, 2006
Number of Pages: 256
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.
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.
Author: Tim Tharp
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Date Published: October 20, 2008
Number of Pages: 294 (Hardcover)
Sutter Keely – he’s cool, he’s fun, he’s the life of the party. He’s also irresponsible, unreliable and a bit of an alcoholic. Nothing really matters to Sutter apart from wining back his ex-girlfriend and his next drink. That is until he wakes up one morning on Aimee Finecky’s lawn. Poor Aimee has none of the awesomeness of Sutter and so he takes it upon himself to introduce her to his spectacular world. Only it seems he gets in a little too deep. For the first time in his life Sutter has the chance to make a difference but can he handle it?
The life of Sutter Keely is indeed spectacular. Sutter, the world’s most high functioning teenage alcoholic is a loveable ne’er-do-well who takes us on the journey that is his life. Philosophical, funny and full of heart Sutter is easy to like even if he’s cheesy (constantly referring to himself as “Sutterman” in fact that he actually refers to himself in the third person makes The Persnickety Rapscallion roll her eyes. See what I did there? Clever right?)
There’s also the fact that he is, as previously stated, a high functioning alcoholic. And no one seems particularly perturbed by this fact. While I read I kept asking myself, “Is it really possible that his mother just doesn’t notice that her son is in a perpetual state of drunkenness? Or is she really just a crap mother?” Neither of which questions are ever answered, or even broached. Which I suppose explains Sutter’s disdain for commitment, in his experience people really don’t seem to care so why should he? But he does care. Which is what leads him to do stupid things, like try to “save” Aimee.
Aimee Finecky – now there’s an interesting character. The complete opposite of our man Sutter, she’s quiet, shy, neat and nerdy (at least in Sutter’s estimation, I mean sure there’s nothing remotely sexy about a giant purple coat, mostly because all it brings to mind is images of Grimace but nonetheless – you know, different strokes and all that.) She’s also a doormat, pushed around by her family and her best friend – who possibly comes equipped with one of the best descriptions I’ve ever read, “Krystal Krittenbrink is what you’d call amorphous – a blob.” Amazing. Aimee’s also full of hopes and dreams and yet for all her sweetness and intelligence she gets so wrapped up in Sutter and his way of life (particularly the drinking) that you start to wonder if she’s going to throw away all that hard work in order to keep Sutter around.
Sutter and Aimee’s relationship is at times sweet and at other times painful. Sutter, so desperate to bring Aimee out of her shell and and for her to recognize her self-worth doesn’t realize the negatives his influence is having on her. And Aimee so eager to please and amazed that the super cool Sutter Keely would even be interested in her is unwilling to acknowledge Sutter’s flaws. It killed me every time she apologized to him for his stupidity.
There’s also the fact that throughout most of their friendship/relationship Sutter’s still jonesing to get back with his ex-girlfriend who dumped him, yet he continues to allow things with Aimee to progress towards a relationship. Sutter truly is an ass. (A likeable ass, but an ass nonetheless.)
There are some really great minor characters in this story, specifically Sutter’s best friend Ricky – who embodies the idea of growing up and maturing, and Sutter’s ex Cassidy who recognizes that though he’s chock full of good times, Sutter’s incapable of providing the stability and reliability anyone would want in a relationship.
The contempt Sutter feels towards his mother, the fact that he blames her for his father’s disappearance from his life, that he lies to his friends about where his father works offer brief glimpses into the part of Sutter he hides away. When he finally see’s his father after so many years and realizes that his mother wasn’t lying, that his father was a cheat and a good-for-nothing it’s kind of the smack in the face he’s needed all this time. It was a glimpse into his future if he keeps on the same path. It also makes him realize he’s not what Aimee needs (thank god for that.)
The book is littered with references to God (Sutter’s mantra: “I am God’s own drunk”) which I guess goes along with our main characters messiah complex which ironically also happens to be his fatal flaw. Sutter’s desire to always be kind, to make people feel good is what leads him to leading on Aimee and taking things too far, even in breaking up with her he beats around the bush and skates over the issue to avoid causing her pain not realizing that what he’s doing will ultimately cause her more pain then if he just told her the truth.
He’s a complex guy, Sutter.
Let’s talk about the ending, because when it happened I definitely started mumbling under my breath about getting a faulty book. Then when my stupidity subsided and I realized that was in fact the end I found myself cursing loudly and repeatedly shouting, “WTF?” So basically the end was awesome. I love when stories end in seemingly obscure ways, mostly because in my mind it means the story hasn’t ended. I’m not suggesting that Tharp plans on writing a sequel – I just mean that Sutter’s story continues, on what looks like the exact same path he was heading down when the story first began. Which is incredibly sad because Sutter Keely, despite his obvious flaws, is really quite special, which in turn is what makes The Spectacular Now special. Really it’s just a story about a series of events; there are no crazy circumstances, no evil dictatorships to overthrow, or existentially uptight wimpy vampires to fall in love with. Everything that happens is totally plausible. It’s just made so spectacular because of an awesome character, and great writing.
I’m curious to see how this story has been translated to film (despite the fact that it once again stars Shailene Woodley – apparently the only young female actress suitable for any YA novel film adaptations. Which by the by I totally don’t agree with and I’m a little filled with rage that she’s been cast in The Fault in Our Stars, but that’s a rant for another time kids.)
The Spectacular Now is one of those books that seem like a rarity in YA novels at the moment – it’s a simple story, about a regular kid who’s regular life is made extraordinary because of who he is and how he lives. It’s a breath of fresh air and a really great read.
Oh and for anyone interested, here’s a link to one of the trailer’s for the movie: The Spectacular Now
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.