Looking for Alaska – John Green

Originally posted on my previous blog – this post has been edited for spelling errors/clarity

looking-for-alaskaMiles Halter transfers from his childhood school in Florida to an exclusive boarding school in Alabama to look for the ‘Great Perhaps’ quoted in the poet, Francois Rabelais’ last words. At Culver Creek, he finds many unique friends, including the funny, self-destructive Alaska, and many new and exciting adventures, and of course, pranks. As he tries to understand himself, he is pulled into Alaska’s labyrinth that leads to some shocking consequences.

Once upon a time, in 2011, Looking for Alaska – Green’s first novel – was the only book by him available in the UK, so receiving this as a present was a pretty big thing, as a rising but not yet hugely popular author. Considering he is arguably one of the most popular teen authors now, it’s amazing to see where he’s come in the last six years, helped along by the incredible The Fault in Our Stars.

I really liked this book, I really did. It was almost a five star rating, however, there are two small things that let it down, and from reading other reviews on this book, I know I’m not the only one that thinks these things.

The book is in two parts, the chapters marked with the days leading up to an unforeseeable event and then its aftermath. I thought the first half was so good – amazing even. I loved Miles’ voice and how original all the characters were. They are all such unique people with their own personality and importantly, they didn’t feel cliched or anything for me.

However, in the second part, it started to go downhill. It started to get tedious, boring, went on and on about the same thing. It was also much shorter (or at least seemed it) even though the events in the second half are integral to the plot. While the book’s ambiguity wasn’t its downfall, I felt it seemed quite rushed in a way that it wrapped up too tightly in the last ten or so pages. For me, it just wasn’t how a book like this should end and it disappointed me slightly.

The second little niggle was Alaska. She started to get on my nerves latterly. I just found her quite annoying at times, with behaviour that didn’t make sense to me at times. I preferred Miles as a character overall.

This book held both good and bad points. The characters, both teachers and students (The Eagle and Takumi made me laugh) and descriptions were all so original and different to many things I’ve read before. The characters’ interactions are so real and so emotional – it’s really nice to see. What John Green does successfully is show what it is truly like to be a teenager. While, the ‘After’ bit held some really good and emotional points, it was this part that let some of my enjoyment down for this book.

The book has some dark moments, but overall, this is a YA book I would highly recommend. It is full of characters you’ll love, an engaging plot that, through its great writing, carries you throughout. Overall, I think John Green has done a great job, especially as this was his debut. I really enjoyed this book, despite some disappointment at the end.

I give it a 4 out of 5

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

Originally posted on my previous blog – this post has been edited for spelling mistakes/clarity

faultinourstarsHazel is 16, a typical teenager with Stage IV thyroid cancer. She was due to die when she was diagnosed at 12 but after a medical miracle at 14, she is on borrowed time – connected forever to an oxygen tank to help her ‘crap lungs’. Enter Augustus Waters, a 17 year-old remission who suddenly appears at her Cancer Support Group. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that she may leave behind.

My first reaction after reading this was mostly “Why on earth did I not read this sooner?!”

When you start this book and are introduced to the extraordinary characters of Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters, there is this little nagging feeling deep down, where you think you know exactly how it will end. In some ways, this book – both its writing to begin with and the hype surrounding it – seems to have been evolved out of cliches, books like My Sister’s Keeper and The Notebook coming to mind throughout, waiting for something bitterly terrible to happen.

However, John Green is no cliche and about 70% of the way through, this book blossoms into something incredible, something that changes the narration, your thoughts and ultimately, your emotions about this book.

At no point in this novel does the narrative dip, it continues to be compelling, beautiful yet quirky in its plot and characters. I was hooked from the first sentence and only got thrown out the other end at this book’s finale with awe.

There is not much else I can say. While some may avoid this book because of the hype that surrounds it, I promise you that you will not be disappointed by how brilliant this book. I’ll leave you with the quote that inspires it title:

‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves’

I give it 5 out of 5

If I Stay – Gayle Forman

Originally posted on my previous blog – this post has been edited for spelling mistakes/clarity

81aTBRY7dxLSeventeen year-old, Mia has possibly the perfect family, an amazing best friend, Kim and a gorgeous supporting boyfriend, Adam. She would rather, unlike most teens, go out with her family on a drive or play her cello.  She has lots of choices about her future to make about her career, her family and her personal life. But then, one snowy February morning, something tragic happens and all her choices are gone. Except one: to stay or to die.

This book left me on the verge of tears, which is pretty hard for someone like myself that rarely cries at books or films. In this books’ 210 pages, it is so powerful and thoughtfully written to leave you with such a strong message.

We follow basically Mia’s conscience as she walks around, observing the aftermath of the crash and seeing her body in a coma while she attempts to decide the rest of her life. The wonderful element of this novel is its balanced combination of tense, sad moments as well as funny, entertaining moments, mostly from Kim, to create a novel that assesses many issues and decisions in life with maturity and relevance.

This is a deep, gripping, heart-breaking, but somehow uplifting, about appreciating your life in every moment.

Will you cry? Probably
Should you read it? Definitely.

I give it 5 out of 5

Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

Originally posted on my previous blog – this post has been edited for spelling mistakes/clarity

The unnamed narrator of Rebecca returns with her new husband, Maxim du Winter, to his home of Manderley where the legacy of his previous wife, Rebecca, still lingers especially through Manderley’s creepy housekeeper, Mrs Danvers. Maxim, however, changes from the bright, happy man she met in Monte Carlo to a dark, moody stranger. Soon, the heroine begins to uncover the secrets and covered up lies about Rebecca’s life, particularly the circumstances of her death as she compares herself increasingly to the other woman.

Rebecca is a novel that holds a lot of value for me, it’s stuck with me since I read it a few years ago, partly because of the novel’s name but also because I loved its writing and particularly the character of the unnamed narrator.

However, I started this book doubtful and after reading the start very slowly, I was starting to doubt my choice, because I was only reading ever so often over the space of a few weeks. My first impression was completely wrong.

This book gripped me once she goes to Manderley until its end. I was absorbed by the mystery of Manderley, Mrs Danvers, the heroine, Rebecca, Maxim – my, even the dog, Jasper has a little of mystery and past about him.There is plenty of lies, deceit and mystery to be getting on with in this book alone, leaving every chapter on an eerie, compelling note. I can see why this was made into a Hitchcock film, merely for that alone.

The characters, the writing, the mystery, the beautiful locations, the plot – This is the perfect book to wrap up in the winter in bed or by a fire on a snowy day and just simply read. These are characters you may grow to hate, yet I always found something in the story that made me feel for them in someway by the end. This book is about discovering yourself and how secrets and lies can cause the worst situations. Your first impressions, like mine of the book, will change for every single character.

Rebecca is a book that kept me up in the waking hours wanting to know why Maxim changed in his return to Manderley as well as many of the other mysteries throughout the book. There is not much else I can say that hasn’t been already said about this book since its release in 1938. A fact which I hope says why this is a great book, despite it being 74 years old is this: Rebecca has never gone out of print.

‘Last night I dreamt of Manderley’ – I think any reader will after reading this.

I give it 5 out of 5

Matched trilogy – Ally Condie

Reviews for Matched, Crossed and Reached were originally posted on my previous blog – this post has been edited for spelling errors/clarity

7735333The Matched series imagines a society where Officials decide who you should love and marry; how many children you will have; where you will work and ultimately, when you will die. For seventeen year-old Cassia, this is her frustrating world. When she sees two faces then on her match screen – her best friend, Xander, and an unknown boy, Ky – Cassia, for the first time ever, has to make an impossible and important choice.

This series starts right in the middle of the action and continues from there. Normally I consider this a good thing, however, I’m not so sure in terms of this series. When I finished this series, I felt a little bit underwhelmed. A lot of the time, I was waiting for something dramatic to happen to keep me hooked throughout. Throughout the book you’re getting nearer and nearer the end and you’re waiting for that big, shocking event but really, it never happens. From the middle to the end, it is very flat and this is of course where the main things happen. I’m just not sure.

The writing and characters, on the other hand, were really well done. Ally Condie writes some beautiful stuff especially when Cassia goes hiking on the hills. At some points this did distract my attention from the action however. While I was disappointed by the pacing of this novel, the last chapter of Reached was spectacular, allowing Condie to finally pick up her game and write some thrilling and beautiful prose. The ending was satisfying and tied up the various plot lines across this series well.

Cassia was alright as a protagonist. I questioned a lot of her decisions and although I enjoyed her narration, I found her personality annoying at times as well as a lot of cliche decisions. On the other hand….Xander. Oh my. If he was real, he WOULD be my best friend. He is just so lovely and understanding. A little obsessive but nonetheless, I love him as a character. I found I liked him more and more as the series progressed especially as he latterly comes to the forefront, feeling more like a main character by the end rather than blending into the background.

In conclusion, while I had clear problems with this series, I did read the whole series which means it must have hooked me to some extent! I thought the series got better as it carried on. The dystopian element of it was believable and added a relatable element of this scary world. There are certainly better dystopian series out there, but this is worth a shot if you’re intrigued.

I give it a 3 out of 5

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist – Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Originally posted on my previous blog – this post has been edited for spelling mistakes/clarity

Nick and Norah's Infinite PlaylistThe night begins when Nick asks Norah to be his five minute girlfriend to avoid his ex, who has just walked in to see his band play with her new guy. After one kiss, Nick and Norah are off on an adventure across New York City with the confusion, excitement and anticipation of a first date.

After reading and loving Levithan and Cohn’s other novel, Dash and Lily’s Book of DaresI wanted to read their other more famous novel. Initially, I thought I wasn’t going to make it through. The first few chapters did not hook me at all and I found it hard to get into this novel unlike reading Dash and Lily. 

However, I did get into it eventually and loved it. This is a book that brings together the beauty of being young and living in a city into a story. Nick and Norah are great characters, with a host of other brilliant characters in the background, similar to my thoughts in Dash and Lily. I liked Norah’s powerful lead as well as laughing at her sarcasm. She’s had some bad experiences with boys in the past and through this, she become cynical and afraid almost I guess. I also loved Nick, he is a genuine, honest character and I liked to see his reactions of the events they go through.

I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews for this book and I can understand why some people don’t like this book. But I feel the reason for that is all down to this book’s level of originality. The voices of Nick and Norah are very individual and at times I felt it was trying to be TOO quirky and original. I found this particularly evident in Norah’s parts as she has an interesting, cynical, sarcastic voice that can be quite hard to read at some points and ultimately, it can feel like these parts are trying too hard to seem angsty. I enjoyed the plot of this book and Nick and Norah’s relationship, however, the time scale – over one night – felt incredibly unrealistic in this romance, unlike Dash and Lily.

This book is modern, current and has an element of true voice for teenagers. It’s quirky, original and something I will remember for a long time afterwards. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is a book that brings together the spirit of being young through its language, its humour and its setting running around a city, enjoying music. This isn’t the best book I’ve ever read but I still really enjoyed it – perfect for any music fans out there.

I give it a 3.5 out of 5

Undone – Cat Clarke

Originally posted on my previous blog – this post has been edited for spelling mistakes/clarity

UndoneJem is in love with her best friend, Kai, who is gay. However, one night at a party, something dreadful happens to Jem. But something even more horrible happens to Kai – he’s outed online over his gayness. A couple days later, Kai is dead. Jem is left alone after her best friend’s suicide. But after discovering who she thinks is responsible for the video, Jem wants to get back at them. She wants revenge.

I was lucky enough to get a proof copy of Undone through work. I have never read anything else by Cat Clarke but many bloggers and friends I know have continually recommended her books so I thought I was in for a really good read by choosing this.
I have to admit I really thought this was going to be one of those typical teen reads – silly, fun, a little bit frivolous, and you get that impression I think from the blurb. However, this was far from frivolous. I was so surprised by the events in the novel, Jem’s character, the writing – just everything wretched my heart into pieces.

The remarkable aspect of this novel – which I think was done so so well – was its ability to make you as a reader think firmly throughout the majority of the novel that the ending will end in a certain way, but then completely turn the ending on its head once you get there. I thought I knew how this was going to end, to me it was obvious. But then the last few chapters happened and its ending stayed with me for quite a while after finishing the book. The ending itself is amazing, dramatic and subtle in so many different ways.

Another aspect that made this book (if it’s possible) more heartbreaking was the realism that Clarke employs. I recognised Jem’s struggle, her hatred for the elite popular group and the power they hold over everyone else and I think Clarke definitely portrayed this aspect in a way that was scarily real to me. I could relate to Jem a lot with my far share of arguments and isolation from those I considered my friends at the time. This novel really shines a light on the power of bullying in schools especially in the age of social media and Clarke makes that poignant in Undone.

I found Jem an interesting character, a little scary at some points considering the lengths and transgressions she was willing to go in order to carry out her plan of revenge. She is in a bad place throughout the majority of the novel and it the pure rawness and emotion that Cat Clarke portrays that I think really makes this novel stick in your mind – there were many times when I felt incredibly uncomfortable which I rarely feel in books. Jem’s resolution for revenge is incredibly engaging to read, but also scary as I continually wondered how far she would go. She is consumed by rage, fear and revenge that this makes this book so intense to read.

As my first dose of Cat Clarke, I was impressed at Clarke’s writing style and I liked how she brings up many teenage issues. It’s refreshing to see a YA novel that deals with bullying in this way from the point of view of both being bullied and doing the bullying and I think there needs to be more books such as this on the market.

Cat Clarke’s writing is what makes this book so great as she has a mastery of keeping key information from the reader until the last moment. I felt a constant stream of suspense throughout this novel that left me guessing and guessing until the end and beyond. This is a jewel of a book that I’m so glad I had a chance to read.

I give it a 4 out of 5