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

Advertisements

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

divergent-tattoo-movie-clip-twitter-reactions

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

okay

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

notebook

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

peetaKatniss

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

Book Review: Until You

Author: Penelope Douglas until you
Publisher: Penelope Douglas
Format: Ebook
Date Published: December 4, 2013
Number of Pages: 368
Series: Fall Away (1.5)

Until You is the follow up story to Penelope Douglas’ self published Bully (you can check out my original review here.) A re-telling of the story but from Jared’s point of view, Until You is an entertaining companion piece for anyone who enjoyed the original story. (Or anyone who swoons over dark, brooding types.)

In Bully we followed Tatum “Tate” Brandt as she begins to fight back against Jared Trent – her next door neighbour, once best friend and current high school tormentor. Despite making her a social pariah Tatum finds it hard to fight the feelings she’s always harboured for Jared. As the story unfolds the reasons behind Jared’s bullying are unveiled, leading eventually to a reconciliation between the two.

At first the idea of a companion piece seemed a little gimmicky to me but Until You is actually worthwhile. Why? Because Douglas doesn’t just rehash the same story but with a different POV – she gives fans of the original new anecdotes, stories and more insight into the life of the guy who nearly allowed his anger and pain to destroy his own happiness. And yes the dark, brooding male archetype is perhaps a bit of an overdone staple in romance and NA literature but Jared is a compelling and sympathetic character. As arrogant as the character can be there’s great moments of vulnerability revealed throughout the story. Moments that really humanize him. He’s conflicted not because he loves Tate but because of things from his past that have nothing to do with her. She’s just a scapegoat. There’s an actual story in Until You. Not only is there a real story but Douglas has an uncanny ability to make you like Jared. Even though he’s a jerk. (Something even he acknowledges.)

In my review of Bully I commented on Jared engaging in a rebound relationship with Tate’s best friend KC (after he sets her up to learn that her longterm boyfriend has been cheating on her.) That part of the story really burned me up. For Jared’s character it made total sense, but I was outraged that Tate’s best friend could be so callous. I love that in Until You that relationship is further explored and even more I love that it turns out it was never what it appeared to be. It’s little things like that that (for fans of the series at least) make Until You worth reading.

Douglas gives her characters strong voices, it’s obvious she knows who they are and makes a great effort to ensure her readers know too. I’d say her writing style is fairly simple, first person narrative but it works for the story. I found the little asides to be a bit tacky – unspoken thoughts italicized to emphasize, I don’t know, the sincerity of the feelings. It’s a bit like in a movie when a character physically indicates the object or person they’re discussing. It’s unnecessary, and really a little frustrating because all you can think is “why don’t you just say it out loud?” and avoid all the drama. But then I suppose there would be no story.

Though I still find it hard to believe anyone could easily forgive someone who spent three years tormenting them and willingly enter into a relationship with that person I can’t help but like this story. Both Tate and Jared are charismatic characters who’s chemistry is explosive and perfectly developed by Douglas.

Until You is part of Penelope Douglas’ Fall Away series, the next story Rival focuses on Jared’s best friend, partner in crime and lackey Madoc – who, incidentally, is an interesting character in that he’s the polar opposite to Jared. Where Jared is dark, brooding, quiet and menacing, Madoc is sarcastic, funny, easy-going and from a life of privilege. It will be interesting to see the story arc Douglas develops for this new story.

Until You though part of a series does work as a standalone novel, however I would suggest reading Bully first if only to get a better understanding of why fans of the novel were so excited for this new take. If you’re looking for a romance story that’s not all hearts and flowers and over-the-top declarations of love, a story about flawed characters who are desperate to rectify their mistakes, or a story with a smokin’ hot lead than Until You is probably the right choice.

Book Review: Days of Blood and Starlight

Image

Author: Laini Taylor

Publisher: Hachette Book Group

Date Published: 6 November 2012

Number of Pages: 513 (Hard Cover)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

The second book in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, Days of Blood and Starlight picks up after heroine Karou has left earth and her Seraphim lover Akiva to head into Eretz with the fallen angel Razgut in search of her Chimaera family.

This book quickly moves the story away from the mystery of Karou, instead delving deeply into the world of Eretz and the long-standing war between the Seraphim and Chimaera. Taylor’s choice to bring in not only new characters separated from the entwined story of Karou and Akiva – specifically the Chimaera children Sarazal, Sveeva but to focus on the relationships between Karou and the people from her past as Madrigal (specifically Thiago and Ziri) as well as Akiva’s relationship with his brother and sister makes for a nice, if somewhat jarring change of pace. Jarring in that if you go in expecting this book to be as flowery (in a good way) and dreamy as DOSAB you’ll be disappointed.

Days of Blood and Starlight brings the reader directly into the troubles of Eretz, the aftermath of the bloodshed and destruction of the Chimaera capital Loramendi and the beginning of the new rebellion. It delves into the politics of the Seraphim (introducing us to the Seraph king (and Akiva’s father) Joram and his brother – Jael) and those of the Chimaera, specifically what happened to the old leaders and the goings on of the new rebel force lead by Thiago.

What’s most interesting is to see the melding of Karou/Madrigal and how both of her selves manage to coexist. Karou is a consistent, charismatic and likeable lead character. Watching her struggle with the burden of resurrection, the loss of her family and the love and hate she feels for Akiva can be riveting.  She is so complete – yet so untouchable.  One of the minor downfalls of this book is that with the new storylines there’s far less of Karou than in DOSMB.

The upside is that there is more Akiva – yet, even with a bigger part he somehow remains a relatively mysterious character.  With this second book the hope was that more of Akiva would be revealed, but rather it’s much the same – a lot of pining for Karou and a desire for change. What would have been better is if we saw him focus on better developing his magic, searching for his mother and the break away Stelian Seraphim. It’s not until the final few chapters that we actually see Akiva put anything of substance in motion. (Though it is worth the wait.)

The slight twist towards the end and the introduction of Jael as the real threat to both the Chimaera and Seraphim was actually a nice – if unexpected – change of pace. And Zuzanna and Mik’s discovery of Karou’s “monster castle” adds some much needy lightness to a story that oozes misery (in a good way).

What makes this book (and its predecessor) so enjoyable is Taylor’s writing. It’s lush and poetic without being pretentious. It draws you in and paints such a vivid picture of the world and characters she’s created you can taste it. In short Taylor’s writing is visceral – she makes you care. And in doing so you become so invested that you can’t help but feel slightly bitter that you have to wait another year (at least) for the final chapter.

Days of Blood and Starlight is a strong follow up to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Taylor continues to create a fantasy world with both characters and plots a readers will care about.

If you haven’t read Daughter of Smoke and Bone you really should read it first before checking out Days of Blood and Starlight, both make great reads.

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.

Literary Love Triangles: The Good, The Bad and the WTF?

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.

Ranking system:
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
WTF: Self-explanatory

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.

*Spoiler*
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.

Rating: Good

Betty, Veronica, Archie
(Archie Comics)

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. YouKnowWhatIMean

Rating: Bad

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.

Welcome to the Friendzone, population: 1, Name: Wolverine

Welcome to the Friendzone
Population: 1
Name: Wolverine

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?

Rating: Good

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.

Rating: WTF

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*

SnapeNew

Rating: Good

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.

And don't forget the slobber factor.

And don’t forget the slobber factor.

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.

imprinting

That’s right, I generated a meme for this exact purpose. That’s how much I disagree with imprinting.

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?

Rating: Bad

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!

Rating: Good

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

Image

“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: Clockwork Princess

Image

Author: Cassandra Clare

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Date Published: 19 March, 2013

Number of Pages: 438 (Hard Cover)

*Spoilers ahead, if you have not read Clockwork Princess but plan to, don’t read this review until you finish the book.*

Before I can lay critique to the final book in Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices trilogy I have to say going into Clockwork Princess I was not as big a fan of this series as I am of The Mortal Instruments. Though I enjoyed Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince they didn’t resonate with me the same way The Mortal Instruments has. However, Clockwork Princess has completely changed my mind on the series. This final chapter (that epilogue!) not only entertained me but moved me as well.

What’s it about?

Clockwork Princess picks up a little after the events in Clockwork Prince, Jem and Tessa are preparing for their upcoming wedding, Charlotte and Henry the arrival of their baby and Will is dealing with his kid sister Cecily and well, brooding over Tessa, and the Magister is still at large and his plan for Tessa yet to be revealed has everyone on edge.

Clare takes us fairly quickly into the action of the Shadowhunting world – moving the story along smoothly and efficiently. Gabriel Lightwood’s revelation about his father’s descent into madness and transformation into a giant worm (which is both gross but humorous) and the message of The Infernal Devices sets things in motion, ultimately leading to an attack on the institute by Mortmain’s steel army (and Mrs. Black!) where Tessa is kidnapped and of all people Jessamine (who only just returned, literally) reveals to Will the Magister’s whereabouts.

In between all the action the story plays out as both a Gothic Romance (Byronic hero and all) and a comedy of manners – which is a good thing, the love triangle between Jem, Tessa and Will is so heavy and intense that the bits of comedy scattered throughout provide a well needed cathartic release.

The letters between Consul Wayland and the Lightwood brothers and Gideon’s ever-blossoming love for Sophie play out along the lines of a Whycherly play in that it’s all affected politeness and scheming and manipulation but in an absolutely fun and enjoyable manner (that first letter to Consul Wayland – priceless). And the “Great Scone Debacle” was really, well, adorable.

The race to save Tessa as Jem wastes away and ultimately the final show down had all the elements of the Shadowhunter world that make Clare’s novels so enticing.

But of course (Mortmain and his Infernal Devices be damned) the real story is the triangle that is Jem, Tessa and Will. It’s exhausting and draining and exciting and suspenseful and completely sad all at once. It’s the stuff good love stories are made of.

Quite frankly I fear the brilliance of Clare’s story will be lost on a lot of people who will focus too much on the fantasy aspect of the world she’s created (which clearly is awesome). But really, if you were to take away all the ‘otherness’ of this story – the Shadowhunters, the demons, the magic, a crazy man creating crazy demon powered robots (yes I went there, I called them robots) – it’s really just an examination on love. And not just romantic love – Clare explores the love between siblings, caregiver and receiver and friends – as so epically written in the story of Will and Jem.

But it all boils down to the love triangle. Generally these types of story are so black and white – there’s the good one and the eternally flawed one, and the one in the middle must choose between what’s easy and what’s difficult, perfection or imperfection. But in the case of Jem,  Tessa and Will everything’s kind of laid out on the table from the get go. We know what Jem’s flaw is, we know why Will behaves as he does and we know Tessa is something other than just a girl – and somehow it makes the whole thing so much more intense. Neither Jem nor Will is perfect; the question is who’s perfect for Tessa.

From the beginning I was always team Will – Jem was nice and kind and patient and sweet and probably the safer choice in that he didn’t appear to be an emotional mess, but the guy was an addict marked for death. I mean really, I couldn’t help but feel how unbelievably selfish Jem was being in asking Tessa to marry him knowing he would be dead sooner rather than later.  I admit I was rooting for Will. Though about a quarter of my way through the book I actually started to think that maybe, just maybe no one would end up with Tessa. (My alternate ending being the death of Jem and Will joining the Silent Brothers which let’s be honest, would have really played into the Gothic theme and would have been devastating for fan girls and boys everywhere. But really who doesn’t love a good tragedy?) When it was revealed that Jem had in fact joined the Silent Brothers and he said his farewells to both Tessa and Will the sixteen-year-old girl in me swooned because I knew Tessa would now end up with Will. And I felt like Will deserved her. He gave up so much to protect those he loved, this was his reward, it was what he was owed – a lifetime of love and happiness. And though it was made clear that Tessa loved Jem as much as she loved Will – to me it always seemed like Will was the right fit. The one who would make her live, make her experience life in a way she may not have thought possible.

But then I got to thinking – the fact that Jem would so unselfishly renounce true love for the happiness of his friend, his Parabatai – told me two things: Jem was really as pure and kind as everyone believed and that theirs (Will and Jem) is the true love story, each willing to forsake their own happiness to spare the other heartache.

Which makes for a nice change. Often “brotherly love” is explored jokingly, all ‘bro code’ and no heart. Clare subverts that ideal and offers a truly tender examination of male friendship and love. And in doing so the reader understand perfectly how Tessa could fall in love with both men.

The Epic Epilogue

Going into the epilogue I was expecting a tie-in to Jace as the last of the Herondale’s, maybe meeting Tessa or having brother Zachariah (who we now know with certainty is Jem) tell him about the family he never knew. Instead Clare totally destroyed my heart with Tessa’s walk down memory lane of her life with Will, and more specifically his death.

I couldn’t help but be moved at the final image of Will’s life with Jem on one side and Tessa on the other. And I love the idea of Jem playing his feelings, his experiences – singular and shared – through his violin. Something about the way it’s described just kind of pulls you in, it becomes so visceral and tangible. The brief images that are invoked to describe Tessa and Will’s life together – and how despite the rules around the Silent Brothers Will consistently worked to incorporate Jem into their lives, were lovely and touching.

And only adding to the bittersweet reality of Tessa’s life, the fact that after so many years, so much patience and determination Jem managed to overcome what stood in his way and offer Tessa a second chance at the life she could have had with him kind of destroyed my heart. (Is it weird that part of me felt – I don’t know, fear maybe, that in going off with Jem it meant it negated Tessa’s love for Will? I don’t think for a minute that’s what Clare was suggesting; I guess I just really love Will…)

But Clare manages to please both team Jem and team Will while at the same time offering a beautiful, bittersweet ending that was really and truly quite unexpected and exceptionally moving. And one that stayed true to the story.

The whole steam punk/Gothic vibe, the allusions and subtle comparisons to A Tale of Two Cities (Will as Sidney Carton, pfffft not even), and all the love stories makes this third and final book in The Infernal Devices, in my humble opinion, the best of the bunch.

I highly recommend reading the entire series, the lead up to this final book is worth the suspense.