Book Review: The Evolution of Mara Dyer

Author: Michelle Hodkin  Evolution
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date Published: February 28, 2013
Number of Pages: 544
Series: The Mara Dyer Trilogy, book #2

What’s It About?

Everyone around Mara Dyer thinks she’s crazy. But she knows better. She knows she can kill with her mind, that her boyfriend can heal with his and that the ex-boyfriend everyone else believes died in an accident that killed his sister and Mara’s bestfriend, is alive, well and looking for revenge. Afraid of a power she can’t control and desperate for answers Mara and Noah work together to figure out how Jude survived a building collapse and why he seems to know more about Mara’s power than anyone else.

The second book in the  Mara Dyer trilogy The Evolution of Mara Dyer picks up where the last book (the insatiably good The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer) leaves off – with Mara convinced she can kill with just her thoughts and fearing attack from the ex-boyfriend she knows is not dead. But as with the first book the big question throughout Evolution is whether or not any of what’s happening is real. Which is what makes this series so good.

This second book does several things that make it a great follow up – because in my humble opinion the second book in a trilogy can often get bogged down with too much set up in preparation for the final book – Evolution however amps up the intensity, the drama, the questions and excitement. From a foray into the occult and a dalliance with a priest of Santeria to attempted murder The Evolution of Mara Dyer pulls you even further into Mara’s complicated story.

Sharp Writing Goes A Looooong Way

Author Michelle Hodkin has a knack for sharp writing – Mara’s story is layered, well thought out and amazingly executed. It’s easy to zip through this book because Hodkin’s use of language is clever and concise. Plus she creates incredibly strong character voices – every exchange between Mara and Noah, whether it be playful or serious always evokes some sort of emotion. Also as Cassandra Clare so aptly points out on the cover the story is dreamlike – effortless – good writing will do that for a story.

The love story – Noah is swoon worthy

Par for the course with love stories is the usual boy/girl meets girl/boy, they fall in love, drama ensues, they’re ripped apart due to unforeseen circumstances or some other girl/boy comes between them. Not so much with Mara and Noah – there’s drama, of course there is, you can’t fall in love with a girl who, general consensus agrees, is nuts but who claims to be able to murder with her mind and not expect some ups and downs. But Noah is steadfast in his love (or is it obsession?) with Mara. He sticks with her despite Mara’s conviction that she will eventually hurt/kill him. Their relationship is definitely unconventional yet highly functional. It makes for a nice change of pace.

Some people suggest that Mara’s become too reliant on Noah. I tend to disagree with this line of thinking. Both Noah and Mara are equally as obsessed with the other – Noah’s obsession is obvious in how he inserts himself into any and all situations that involve Mara. He practically lives at her home, he is willing to indulge her every whim all for the sake of keeping her happy. These facts though are easy to look past because the reader is not provided with Noah’s stream of consciousness the way they are with Mara. We know more about her obsession/love for Noah because this is her story. It is her relaying the events to us and so her thoughts and feelings towards everything, Noah included, are more readily available.

But how anyone could fail to notice Noah’s dependence and infatuation with Mara is beyond me. Why is no one seemingly concerned that Noah inserts himself into any and all situations involving Mara? He willingly has himself committed in order to stay close to her. If that’s not slightly obsessive I don’t know what is.

Jude – Why you so cray?

I’m a big fan of antagonists. They’re often the best part of a story. I really think Jude is a great character/figment of Mara’s imagination/ghost/? – regardless whatever he is, he is great. As antagonists go he draws you in because though his motivations are clear there never seems to be any rhyme or reason to his intent. You’re never certain whether he only wants to hurt/torture Mara or if he really wants her dead. He’s horrible, and evil and any scene involving him is always full of tension and suspense.

*Spoiler*

Mara Dyer is teeming with unexpected twists – this is a book that loves to confuse its readers – is it all a set up? Is Mara sane and really capable of killing with just her mind? Or is she truly insane? Only adding to the confusion and frustration is learning that Dr. Kells (Mara’s therapist) knows Jude and is apparently in cahoots with him. Is in fact seemingly controlling this whole situation. This was a spin on the story I was not anticipating – are Mara, Noah, Jamie and the others just lab rats? Pawns in an even bigger game? Or is she really nuts? Unfortunately I can’t say because Hodkin continues to keep her readers in the dark. Which is exactly why we keep coming back for more.

The Evolution of Mara Dyer continues to entertain and confuse readers. This continuation has a little something for everyone – romance, suspense, fantasy (or is it crazy?) – and a mystery that leaves you desperate to know the truth. Hodkin’s truly worked to evolve not only the story but her characters while working to answer questions left unanswered all while adding more questions to the pot.  4/5 stars.

Book Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

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“If I were to live a thousand years, I would belong to you for all of them. If we were to live a thousand lives, I would want to make you mine in each one.”

Author: Michelle Hodkins
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date Published: September 27, 2011
Number of Pages: 466
Series: The Mara Dyer Trilogy, book #1

What’s It About?
Mara Dyer wakes up in a hospital bed only to learn that she is the only survivor of a building collapse that claimed the lives of her best friend, her boyfriend and his sister. Wracked with survivors guilt and suffering from major PTSD Mara and her family moved to Florida to start over. Only Mara can’t. In a fragile emotional state Mara constantly has visions of her dead ex-boyfriend and his sister, terrible nightmares and hallucinations. It’s not until she meets Noah Shaw that she begins to suspect she may not be quite as normal as she once believed.

***Spoilers abound beware***

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is one of those books that has a great beginning. It opens with a confession – Mara Dyer (our heroines assumed name) is a murderer. How and why is yet to be determined. Mostly because Mara herself doesn’t know these answers. But she’s on a mission to find out. The set up is perfectly executed. From the very first page you’re hooked – you need to know the circumstances, you need to know Mara’s secrets. Author Michelle Hodkin starts the suspense high and manages to maintain it throughout.

How she does this though is both invigorating and frustrating as all hell because Mara Dyer you will soon discover is not the most reliable narrator. The fact is she’s suffering from PTSD, brought on by the major bought of survivors guilt she’s suffering from. A guilt that’s so encompassing it has her seeing things that aren’t there, suffering from nightmares and all around going loopy. To help assuage her precarious emotional state Mara’s parents decide a change of scenery may help and so the family up and moves to Miami, Florida.

The move however does nothing to help Mara, in fact it only seems to aggravate her precarious situation because soon she finds herself seeing her dead boyfriend all over the place. Stressed, depressed and convinced she’s totally lost the plot Mara’s life is in a seemingly endless downward spiral.

That is until she meets Noah Shaw – of course as YA trilogy’s dictate he’s beautiful, a real dream boat, wanted by every girl in the school. He’s smart and has a cute British accent to boot. He’s also apparently the school man-whore.

Now it just so happens that I’m a sucker for a well-written male love interest (I mean I’m not opposed to a female love interest but since that’s not the case in this book we need not discuss this further.) And Noah Shaw easily captures your “aw shucks” gene and refuses to let go. From the beginning the chemistry between Mara and Noah is intense, clever, witty and everything you kind of want. As Mara and Noah’s relationship develops – in, despite all of the crazy surrounding Mara, a relatively normal way. Noah pursues Mara, and eventually wins her over by protecting her from an incredibly awful high school mean girl.

This is all set up though, apart from showing the strength of the connection between the two characters, and revealing Noah’s true nature (mainly that he’s nothing at all like everyone says) it has little to do with the real story at hand. But it does set up what will no doubt become an incredibly heart-pounding and intense love story.

The real story develops slowly, with an increasing sense of urgency and creepiness. Weird things are afoot in the life of Mara Dyer – she keeps seeing her dead ex-boyfriend, objects in her room move around, and her father just so happens to be the lawyer for a wealthy man accused of brutally murdering a young girl.

As the story progresses more is revealed about that fateful night that Mara’s life changed. Hodkin uses dreams as her medium for major revelations, and because of this fact you can never be sure if Mara’s dreams/visions are true or if her mind is trying to come to terms with a terrible accident. Mara becomes convinced that she is the cause of the building collapse, that she somehow has the ability to kill people with her thoughts and is therefore a danger to everyone around her.

But as the reader you can never really be sure if what Mara believes is true or not, and Noah is no help in this matter. He’s indulgent to the point of detriment. Quite honestly you begin to question his sanity too.

But this is the brilliance of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer – Hodkin keeps you guessing. Right until the end you can never be sure if you should believe Mara or Noah. What is reality and what is not flips back and forth, it’ll have you pulling out your hair and screaming “WHY? WHYYYYYYYY?!” But in the best way possible.

Add to this a great antagonist in Mara’s ex-possibly still alive, but probably not because a building totally collapsed on him-boyfriend Jude. Whether he’s real or simply a figment of her imagination he will give you the willies. Something about the brief flashback’s that allude to Jude, the small moments when he pops up in everyday life or when Mara suspects his existence tell you he’s an absolute skeeze. He is skin crawlingly demonic, and not knowing whether or not he’s there or not at times has you looking over your shoulder as you read. There’s nothing more delightful than a well written, creepy, scary, sociopathic foe. And in Jude you get one.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is the first book in the Mara Dyer trilogy. Author Michelle Hodkin sets up a story full of proverbial twists and turns, with a main character who’s fragility is equalled only by her thirst for the truth. Add to that a swoon-worthy love interest and the most unreliable narration you could possibly imagine, Mara Dyer is as frustrating as it is thrilling, and comes highly recommended.

Book Review: Reconstructing Amelia

Author: Kimberly McCreight

Publisher: HarperCollins

Date Published: April 2, 2013

Number of Pages: 384 (Hardcover)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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Original book cover

Author: Gillian Flynn

Number of pages: 432

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

Date published: 2012

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

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

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

THE REVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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