Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

Why, John Green, why? Why do you take such touching, realistic, inspiring characters, make me want to be best friends with them, and then put them in this particular storyline?

My only complaint about this book? It was too well written. I actually felt the emotions. I cared for the characters. And I choked up when the rollercoaster started going downhill.

The plot itself is pretty simple. Hazel has terminal cancer in her lungs. She’s reliant on a machine to pump oxygen into her body, she doesn’t go to school anymore, and her days are occupied by being a Full Time Sick Person. Then, into her life bounces Augustus Waters, who is sexy, charming, quirky, and full of witty one-liners.

“You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories. We made the funny choice.” Like Hazel and Augustus, John Green also decides to tell his heartbreaking story the funny way. One moment, you’re amused by the character’s antics, and the next, you feel like breaking down because everything is just so hopeless. The review on the cover really sums it up best- ‘filled with staccato bursts of humor and tragedy’. Honestly, how can I review a book when Jodi Picoulti has already done such a good job of it? Alas, I will still try.

I could go on forever about John Green’s amazing writing style and characters and all, but if you’ve read his other books/aren’t living in a hole, you already know about all that. What I wanted to highlight was how illuminating this book is about death. I mean, it’s a pretty central idea, seeing as Hazel has a terminal illness. So many questions are asked, like will they be remembered and how, will they leave their mark on the world and what’s the point of life if they don’t, what happens after death, and how to deal with pain. I’ve never seen, and I doubt I will ever see, a book that deals with deal in such a frank yet thoughtful way. It really stood out for me when Augustus says that the average kid with cancer, even though they’re supposed to be remembered as being “stoic and determined…who heroically fights her cancer with inhuman strength and never complains or stops smiling even at the very end”- they can be pitiful and mean. The book emphasized that a couple times. It sounds harsh, and I was totally taken aback by it.

Anyhow, this book will make you feel so lucky to have more time than the characters. It will make you want to live every moment to the fullest, like they do. But you’ll be persuaded in a less cliché and overdone way because it’s John Green writing this story, and the way he says it sounds much better than me.

(That’s part of the reason I used so many quotes in this review;)  

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Something Wicked by Alan Gratz

There are so few mystery books out there that I’ve really tucked into. I mean like real mystery, not just with ‘mysterious undertones’. But this book…it’s my favourite mystery out there.

The plot is sort of similar to Macbeth, but don't expect the thees and thous and wherefore art thou Romeos. Although there are some references to the play cleverly built in (characters Mac, his girlfriend Beth, and a dog called Spot that later is commanded to leave...see what I'm getting at?) Anyhow, a fortune teller prophesizes that Mac will one day rule the Scottish games. Beth, Mac's ambitious and gorgeous girlfriend, is especially interested by this news. One night, the head of the games, Duncan, is brutally murdered. Horatio Wilkes, Mac’s friend and the awesome main character of this story, has to solve the mystery.

If you haven't read Macbeth, you'll still enjoy this book, but you won't as much as if you had read the play. (Trust me, I speak from experience. I hadn't read Hamlet before I read the sequel to this book, Something Rotten, and I felt like I wasn't getting some of the references). If you've read the play, you'll snicker behind your hands at all the clever ways that Alan Gratz has adapted the storyline. Kind of like being in on an inside joke. That said, this is still a great stand alone book. It's super thrilling, and it had me doubting whether or not the book would follow the play.

The characters are all great, but I’ve gotta say, Megan is one of my all-time favourite female protagonists. She’s super sassy and strong and not about to let anyone walk all over her. She gets to do some serious butt-kicking during the book, too- OH YEAH!!!!

Another thing I’d like to point out is that I loved how the mystery was written. Not naming any names, but some mystery books don’t share all the important details when they happen. Like at the very end the character will suddenly remember a mysterious shadow lurking in the corner of the crime scene, or that the murder victim has a divorced wife who has a criminal record. Or they suddenly find a diary page with the killer’s intents on it. I feel SO CHEATED when books do that. No, every single detail that is ever referenced in this book did actually happen. I checked. I also like how every single end gets tied up, even the whole ‘familiar music’ thing, but you’ll have to read to the end of the book before you figure out what I mean. J

Loved this book? Then you’ll like:

Something Rotten by Alan Gratz
Getting the Girl by Susan Juby

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

I've done a lot of glowing reviews on this blog, but no more Mr. Nice Guy.  

I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its title. But in the case of this one, you most definitely should. It's just as dull as its title- and in some ways I wish it was briefer.

I'm going to complain about everything, but we'll start with the format. It's written like a diary. Now, I don't mind diaries so much. It can- and has- been done with minimal casualties. But, as if to make this diary seem more authentic, random remarks are thrown in. It's like the author thought 'oh, I have to remind my reader that is isn't a book they foolishly spent their hard earned birthday money on. Oh no. It's a journal.For example, Sophie (the main character) spends half a page discussing whether or not to get another candle so she can see the words she's writing. Actually, she ends up mentioning the candle many times to start and end her diary entries, making me want to scream, "ENOUGH OF THE FREAKING CANDLE, GET ON WITH THE STORY!".

That leads me to another problem. The plot. Or rather, the lack thereof. I swear, nothing happens until two-thirds of the way in. Then, it gets exciting. But for the first two-thirds of the book, Sophie describes her life on a small island kingdom called Montmaray, where there are almost as many royalty as there are subjects. She talks about her beautiful and smart cousin Veronica, her tomboy sister Henry, and her crazy uncle King John. And then about her crush, Simon. These parts were utterly unbearable. She kept mooning over him, pages and pages of describing him, worse than a typical chicklit. And she does nothing through the course of the entire story to a) tell him how she feels, b) get to know him better, or c) say five straight words to him.This book does wonderful job of enforcing the stereotype that girls are stupid, weak, and self-centered. She also has this strange need to make witty comments here and then, as if she realises periodically that she a bore and that she should liven it up a bit with some weak attempt at injecting humour into her ramblings. I think the main problem was that I just really disliked her as a character, so it was hard relating to her or, to be honest, caring about her. Later in the book, I really wouldn't have minded if she got shot or drowned. Another annoying thing was all the history that came up. I don't mind a little bit, if it's relevant and subtly done, but here Toby was in his letter 'oh guess what monumental historical event just took place where I live!'. The incorporating of these events was just so obvious.

Finally, let me just say that I don't like historical fiction. And I don't like slow paced books. So this book was pretty much hung from the get-go. Redeeming features: it's a unique plot and the end bit is exciting.

Just to wrap this all up, though, I would say that this book is a cross between a socials textbook and a soap opera.

There we go. That's all the ranting you'll get for a while.

If you liked this book...

I've got some paint on my wall that you might enjoy watching as it dries.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Paper Towns by John Green

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together until all living humans read the book.”
-John Green, The Fault in our Stars

 I read this quite a while ago, but I’ve been too shy to blog about it because I wanted my review to reflect the awesomeness of this book. This was my very first John Green book, and it blew my head off. Emily Dickinson once said, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” Nope. That’s a John Green book. After I finished this book, I sat on the couch with it in my hands, thinking about how amazing it was.

But I digress.

Margo Roth Spiegelman is the admired, popular queen bee of Quentin Jacobsen's school. Everyone tells stories of her daring escapades, and the many times she ran away, leaving clues hinting to her whereabouts. Quentin is absolutely besotted with her, but she barely registers his existence. One night, completely out of the blue, Margo drags him along on an adventure of revenge, and he thinks that things might start to change for him. The next day, Margo disappears. As he searches for her, he realizes that she may not have had the perfect life he imagined she did. Through his journey, he learns about understanding and accepting not only her, but also himself and his friends.

This is a heartwarming story with great messages mixed in with killer humor. The interactions between characters are both hilarious and authentic. The boys are joke-cracking and raunchy, yet caring characters that you will remember. This book has the trademark John Green quirkiness added in by way of an extensive collection of black Santas and a kidney infection, just to name a few (how do those two things manage to exist in the same story? Hilariously.). The three metaphors for understanding others were so cleverly woven in, and I still think about them sometimes now. There are many subtle hints of profoundness (is that a word?) that made me- and I barely ever reread- read the bit again, to soak up the meaning conveyed in so few words. I also have to say that this book wins my award for best last line EVER (The Sweet Far Thing is second). I am totally OCD over last lines, so when I tell you this one is fantastic, you better believe it’s fantastic. This is the kind of book that, when finished, makes you want to cry not out of sadness but because they learned so much. A great read with a lasting impact, and definitely one of my all time favorites.

Loved this book? Then you’ll like:

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Looking for Alaska by John Green
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
The Fault in our Stars by John Green
Swim the Fly by Don Calame (and series)

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Cassandra Clare has done it again: she's produced another book with a title that starts with C.

Just kidding. She's produced another book with dashing male characters, intricate mysteries, and a fierce heroine. (But seriously, after her 'City' series and all her 'Clockwork' books, she's gonna have about ten books all starting with C!)

After reading City of Fallen Angels, I was disappointed. It seemed like it was just tacked on, because the story finishes so nicely at the end of City of Glass. (I mean, bring the bad guy back from the dead? Really?) Anyway, my confidence in Cassandra Clare has been completely restored by this book. I picked it up while I was midway through another book which shall not be named at this time, and I was hooked. It starts off with a bang and never stops moving. The idea of the Shadowhunters and the Clave is the same as in the Mortal Instruments series, but the book is set in London. It is historical fiction, but it doesn't read like it; the only historical thing that stood out for me is that they have maids and they wear dresses. Tessa is rescued by Will (the equivalent of Jace in this series, I'm feeling) from two sisters who have trained her to use her powers and are planning to marry her off to a mysterious man called the Magister. Tessa has the power to Change, which means she can take on the form of other people. At the Institute, she meets girly Jessamine, secretive Jem, strong Charlotte, and head-in-the-clouds Henry (nice alliteration? Why thank you). She's determined to rescue her brother, who is imprisoned by the Magister. She has to learn to use her power to defeat the Magister and his automaton horde.

This book does require a bit of what my drama teacher calls 'suspension of disbelief'. Which means, you have to pretend you haven't read anything by Cassandra Clare before. I know that it bothers a couple people that the characters are pretty similar, but hey, she had a pretty darn good formula before so I don't mind if she more or less follows the same one! So suspend your disbelief, read this book like you don't now what else she's written, and devour the traditional Clare fare: hints of romance, lots of fighting, snarky comments, and an intriguing and terrifying enemy. The twists that the plot take left me wide-eyed and clutching the book for dear life- and the descriptions of the automatons (especially when they shred their fingers) are just chilling. (Yeah, that was a spoiler). What's really great is that even though there are enough loose ends to send me sprinting for the bookstore, the book doesn't seem like its only role is to set up the rest of the series; it's complete in itself. The one thing I'm going to complain about is the names. I mean, Mrs. Black and Mrs. Dark, the Dark sisters, the Dark House- really? Really?

If you like a light, fast paced read with lots of action and a plethora of secrets, Clockwork Angel won't disappoint.

Loved this book? Then you'll like:

Scepter of the Ancients by Derek Landy (and series)
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (and the rest of the Mortal Instruments series)
Stuff by Tamora Pierce
Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow (and series)
Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

Friday, 20 July 2012

Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

My relationship with this book is full of mixed feelings. On one hand, I love Froi almost as much as I love Melina Marchetta’s writing style. On the other, this book was just so…long.

Quick plot summary. Froi gets sent to Charyn to assassinate the king. Charyn is under a curse (similar to Lumatere’s) where all the women are barren and the men are infertile. The princess, Quintana, is totally crazy (not in a partying type way, in a random-prophecy-spewing, frequent-personality-swinging way). She claims that she will birth Charyn’s first child, and that it will be fathered by a last-born. Froi is ordered by his captain not to get mixed up in the affairs of Charyn, but since he is a disobedient little twerp, he does anyway. When chaos reigns in Charyn, he has to save Quintana and find out who he really is *insert dramatic trail-off here*.

The mysteries and intricate plot are similar to Finnikin of the Rock; if you didn’t like Finnikin, you’re weird, and don’t read this book. The writing is excellent, as per usual. The adventure, fighting, and betrayals were exciting. The romance was a break from the typical ones I see in teen books over and over again, mostly because the girl is utterly unattractive. So why, oh why, does this book fall flat?

It’s mainly because of the length. Some of the scenes just really aren’t necessary. I’m going to try and give an example without giving a huge spoiler. Froi leaves multiple times. And every time, I’m like yeah, you’re going to come right back. And then he thinks of the faces of the people he’s leaving behind and does just that. I mean, come on! We don’t need scene after scene after scene to show us how insecure and doubtful Froi is! The repetitiveness of other things, such as interactions with Quintana and all the betrayals, gets really annoying too. 

The other thing with the length was that things get more complicated than they need to be. I will admit: I found parts (small parts, mind you) confusing. There’s a lot of information given at the beginning that gets tied up at the end. But the end is so far away that you’ve forgotten the little hints that were dropped in the beginning so you’re mixed between Where the heck did that come from? and Okay, I really couldn’t care less.

There were good parts. Truly they were. But they were hidden by the sheer length and repetitiveness of the book. The ending was dynamite, though. I’m holding out for the third book- Quintana of Charyn. I feel like the ends may justify the means in this situation.

If you liked this book...
...see suggestions on the Finnikin of the Rock review 

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Porcupine by Meg Tilly

No author has been able to give me warm and fuzzy feelings like Meg Tilly. I’m pretty sure I was smiling as I read this book, which is weird for me, because I usually have a poker face when I read.

After Jack’s (her real name is Jacqueline, but she’s a tomboy) father dies while fighting in Afghanistan, she and her siblings Tessa and Simon move to live with their grandmother. But this isn’t a sweet old grandma who bakes cookies and knits 24/7. She’s tough as nails, hard on the kids, and makes them do all sorts of work. Jack’s mom totally breaks down, and through the story she becomes one of the most interesting characters.

While my plot summary doesn’t sound super exciting, the real beauty of this story doesn’t come from the action-packed, fast-paced-ness of it all; it comes from the interactions between the characters and how they grow to the end of the book. I loved Jack’s care for her siblings, and even though I don’t have siblings myself, that kind of fierce protective love rings true somewhere. And how her perception of her grandmother changes…oh, it’s just so good! There are so many truly sweet moments. Through pretty much the entire second half, I was beaming the entire time. It’s impossible not to. This is such a heartwarming book. 

If you loved this book, you'll like:

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klager
Janey's Girl by Gayle Friesen
Men of Stone by Gayle Friesen
Losing Forever by Gayle Friesen (and sequel, For Now)
Criss Cross by Lyn Rae Perkins
Alice, I Think by Susan Juby (and series)
Getting the Girl by Susan Juby