Book Review: What I Was

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what_i_was_1At the cusp of adulthood, we are all looking for one thing: identity. Some find it quickly, while others linger in a fog of confusion. Meg Rosoff captures this enigmatic aspect of life with a powerful and emotional tale of self-discovery and friendship.

Near the end of his life, “H” reflects on his troubled youth. Bouncing from one boarding school to another, he finally lands at St. Oswald’s on the eastern coast of Britain. Despite being well aware that this is his last chance to prove to his parents he can rise to their expectations, he questions whether his path in life involves learning Latin, mastering maths, and wallowing in a second-rate boys school.  H is lost in a world constantly trying to force him into a life of conformity and he has yet to decide if he will join the masses or step outside the box.

Framing H’s dilemma is a beautifully crafted atmosphere of fog, chilly wind, mist and gray skies. Rosoff brilliantly allows the scenery to mirror the melancholy and isolation breathing inside of H as he struggles with the pain of growing up. The drab walls of St. Oswald’s could almost be the pale skin of a young man trying to find his place in the world.

As the tide begins to shift, so does the trajectory of H’s existence. One day, while walking on the beach, he meets Finn. What follows is an infatuation that drives H to break every rule in order to spend time with the young man who lives in a hut on the shoreline.

Finn is beautiful and everything H wants to be. Independent. Alone. Free. H’s emotions are intense and all-consuming, but much like everything else in his life they are hard to define. The question of whether it is love, friendship, or envy is never answered, as H himself is unable to sort through the feelings driving his connection to Finn.

The relationship between H and Finn grows into one of comfort of companionship, but forces beyond their control pull them in different directions. Both find themselves fessing up to truths they’d rather forget and making choices that can’t be avoided. While this sounds like a typical coming of age story, Rosoff crafts a brilliant twist ending that leaves both H and the reader with a surprise neither saw coming.

Final Verdict: On goodreads, I gave this book (a rare) 5 stars. If it’s not on your shelf, if should be.

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c.b.w. 2014

Favorite Thing Friday: Last Books

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Any reader of a series has mixed feelings about the last book. This is especially true of Young Adult readers that spend large portions of their lives immersed in other worlds built of science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal romance. We don’t just read these books, we live them. Even those of us well into our thirties. There’s something to be said for the magic and escape only Young Adult series books can offer.

Sitting on my bookshelf is no less than thirteen series of Young Adult novels. I anxiously wait for the next book in each series to come out and I buy it the day it hits stores. In many cases, I drop whatever I’m currently reading, so I can dive right into the newest addition of a given series. That is until the series concludes with the last book. Part of me is ready to read it in one sitting, but the other more powerful side is hesitant to even crack open the cover.

Over the last year I’ve made a pile of books, each of which are the last book of a series. They sat and collected dust as I found myself wedged between two very strong emotions. On one end there’s the uncontainable excitement of finally learning the fates of much beloved characters. One the other end is the sadness of having to bid them goodbye. Thanks to the evidence of dust, its easy to guess which end of the dichotomy rules my psyche.

Once the dust layer started evolving into dust bunnies, I knew it was time to get over my crippling hesitance. Since January, I’ve managed to clear four last books from the pile and it’s been an interesting experience of highs and lows.

Allegiant (Divergent Series) by Veronica Roth

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The first foray into last books almost doomed my mission from the start. I loved the first two books of Roth’s thrilling Divergent series, but the last book left me feeling cheated and angry. I can’t remember the last time I was so disappointed with a book at every level (i.e. character development, end of story, legacy, etc.). The silver lining: It was super easy to let go considering the entire series was essentially ruined.

Beautiful Redemption (Beautiful Creatures Series) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

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This last book more than made up for the disaster of Allegient. It offers a satisfying ending to a fantastic series in that it gives the story a solid ending without becoming predictable. My only complaint was the use of multiple points of view (I hate that. See One YA Reader’s Desperate Plea), but ultimately the story was strong enough to overcome that one little glitch.

Rapture (Fallen Series) by Lauren Kate

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Another fantastic last book. Not only does it deliver on wrapping up multiple story lines, but it includes a completely unexpected plot twist. In addition, the last chapter is perhaps one of the best endings ever conjured. Beautifully done.

Clockwork Princess (Infernal Devices Series) by Cassandra Clare

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Clare certainly knows how to weave a mesmerizing tale, but she does get a little carried away in some places, (i.e. scenes that go on much too long, repetitive dialogue, etc). This is somewhat forgivable as her characters are interesting and very likable. The final book offers a satisfying ending, but the epilogue left me scratching my head a bit as it diminished the emotional conflict of the entire series.  Still, it was a pretty darn good book!

Currently, I am immersed in the final book of Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush SagaFinale. So far, I have no complaints. One of Fitzpatrick’s strengths is character development in that she allows her characters to grow without letting them grow too far out of their skin (a common problem in YA).The story is progressing nicely and I am becoming more and more curious of how it will all end. For that reason, last books are my favorite thing this week!

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Next on the list is City of Heavenly Fire (Mortal Instruments Series) by Cassandra Clare. It won’t be released until later this month, but I am anxiously awaiting its arrival, (even though this series was technically supposed to end two books ago). I promise no dust will be collecting on this last book!

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What’s your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2014

 

 

Book Review: Perfect Ruin

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23658Lauren DeStefano’s Perfect Ruin (Book #1 of The Internment Chronicles) is a perfect combination of fantasy and allegory wrapped up with a beautiful Young Adult series bow. Destafano is already known for expert world-building, (as in her Chemical Garden series), but she takes it to a new level in her latest book.

Imagine a city on a hunk of land that floats high above the ground. A large dome protects the city from the atmosphere and creates a barrier between the population and the Edge. Trains run around the city to get people where they need to go, but they are also the dividing line between an orderly civilization and forbidden territory.

In a city where everyone and everything is controlled by an all powerful king, the concepts of individuality and free thought are virtually nonexistent. The government arranges marriages, dictates when babies can be born, assigns jobs and living quarters, and essentially brainwashes the entire population with a state religion and fictional history. Anyone who dares to think outside these boundaries is declared as “irrational” and subjected to therapy and medications, or worse.

Morgan has lived in the city her all her life and she knows the rules. The Edge is a dangerous place and there are serious consequences for even thinking about what lies on the ground. Still, her imagination often tries to picture the landscape and who might live there. Both her best friend, Pen, and betrothed partner, Basil, can see the danger of her daydreams, but they too share her curiosity. All can’t help but wonder if this one city is all there is in this life. The distant land below beckons as Morgan and her friends begin to question the life laid out by their government.

Perfect Ruin is a high concept story that digs deep into social and adolescent issues like independence, family, and self-discovery. At the same time, it is a compelling allegory that explores the folly of master societies and dictatorial states.

Verdict: Well worth reading.

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c.b.w. 2014

 

“A Life” Faces The Truth

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128618A Life by Guy de Maupassant is the story of a woman who grasps the reality that life is rarely fair. While the premise is nothing new in terms of storytelling, the way in which Maupassant approaches it is revolutionary.

The story begins with a young woman who is full of dreams and bright imaginings of her future. Unfortunately, her innocent fairy tale mentality clouds her perspective. When real life begins to unfold she feels the pain of crumbling fantasies as life deals her a few cruel blows and her choices further entrap her into an existence she never imagined for herself. As she approaches midlife, she becomes jaded and full of self-pity. It’s only when old age sets in that she starts to sift through the memories of life with a new eye. Instead of tragedy, she finds herself remembering only the joys.

The beauty of the novel lies in how Maupassant contrasts different views of life. There is always something influencing the character’s point of view – whether it be the innocence of youth, scorn of adulthood, or impending death, never does she view life in an unbiased mindset. In the process, Maupassant unveils the universal emotions we feel when faced with our own mortality.

One of Maupassant’s strengths is his ability to transform a rather simple story into something beautiful with well-crafted imagery and flowing prose. Lengthy descriptions of nature are used to represent the feelings, emotions, and rites of passage for the main character. Rather than explore these realms the old fashioned way through the mind of the character, he creates magnificent and sometimes haunting images of emotion with landscapes, water, and plantlife. These passages are often long and sometimes drag, but I was swept into them as soon as I viewed them as part of the character and not just insanely long descriptions.

The last line is where Maupassant dazzles with subtlety. Never does he end a story with everything tied up into a neat little package. There is room to wonder what happens next, while saying goodbye to the characters. For a novel that depicts the often unfair attributes of life, he manages to put it all in perspective with a perfectly balanced dose of optimism and pessimism.

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c.b.w. 2014

One YA Reader’s Desperate Plea

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I have a bone to pick with Young Adult authors. This has been burning a hole in my brain for quite some time, so I apologize in advance if I get a little persnickety. Here it goes …

WHY DO YOU FEEL THE NEED TO CHANGE THE POINT OF VIEW IN THE LAST BOOK OF A SERIES??????

Shouty capitals may seem rude and  uncalled for, but I’m down to my last nerve on this irritating literary trend. For the record, I’m not just asking this question as a reader, but also as a writer of YA Fantasy. Personally, I would never pull this trick on my readers as most of the time it isn’t necessary.

I should point out that the device of changing the point of view has always bothered me no matter the genre, but I’ve reached a new of level aggravation due to its use in several Young Adult series.  I don’t mind small instances of shifting points of view in a prologue  or epilogue, but my brain explodes when the concluding book in a series breaks a previously established point of view.  Why write an entire series from one point of view and then suddenly switch it up at the end? It makes no sense!

I’m a long time reader of multiple book series, mainly in the paranormal and fantasy divisions. Even though I’m an adult, I’m still a teenager at heart and I love YA books. The authors of these books deserve huge snaps for vivid and creative storytelling, but I’m finding myself more and more leery of picking up a new series because I fear what will happen with the last book of the series.  From some untold reason, this is when authors decide to rob me of my favorite characters!

My frustration apexed when my phobia of changing points of view kicked into gear twice over the last month. First, with Veronica Roth’s Divergent series and second with Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures series. Before I go on my rant, I do want to point out that these are very talented writers, I just happened to disagree with their tactics.

There are a number of reasons why Roth’s Divergent series is on my poop list, but my heart sank when I read the inside flap and found out Allegiant was written with a dual point of view. I decided to stick it out because I loved the first two books, but the sudden change in format really irked me for two reasons:

1. I loved the main character and didn’t like being pulled from her head.

2. A little critical thought on why Roth chose a dual point of view format gave away a major plot point. Before I was done reading the first chapter, I knew who was going to die. Cue my broken heart.

When I picked up the last book in my most recent favorite series, Beautiful Creatures, I was devastated to find it was divided into a dual perspective. What? Are you kidding me? I spend three books entrenched in the charming Ethan Wate’s head and you’re going to make me leave him? Not cool. Lena Duchannes might be one awesome chick, but she is more intriguing through Ethan’s eyes.

Even my favorite series of all time contains the dreaded change in point of view. Imagine my horror when I opened Twilight: Breaking Dawn and realized I was stuck in Jacob’s head instead of Bella’s. It was torture and I’m still mad I had to spend so much time with a character I detested. Stephenie Meyer, I love you, but why spend three books developing Bella’s point of view only to rip it away from your readers?

There are many more guilty series, but it all comes down to the same thing: Why change a good thing? When a series progresses with each book written in one point of view, it’s only logical to retain the same point of view through the last book. After two or three books with one character, readers stick around because of love for the character and a relationship of trust with that character’s perspective. When the last book shifts into someone else’s head it fractures the reader/character dynamic.

While fiction writing is all about trying new things and shaking up reality, there is something to be said for maintaining a sense of order within a series. Let me walk through the story by the side of a character I’ve come to know and love. Please don’t force me to wonder what she’s thinking as her story comes to a close. Readers deserve to complete the journey in the same way it began. Anything less feels like betrayal.

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c.b.w. 2014