Sunday, 24 January 2016

Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz. 

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. 

When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Date of Publication: 21st February 2012

This book. This book. This book... I don't even know how to express how lovely and special this book is - and what it means to me. It's like that feeling when you hear a song playing and it just clicks with the beat of your heartstrings and you feel like every one of your thoughts is dancing slowly and happily with this beautiful song. I feel like this book changed me - made me feel things in a different way, with more emotion and heart, and made me appreciate everything about the ones and the world around me more because this book is like a breathe of fresh air that I never want to stop inhaling. I sound so lost trying to express how much I adore this book - and perhaps overly dramatic - but all I'm trying to say is I love this book for everything that it is.

From the blurb it may not seem especially special, and I wasn't sure I'd love it so much - but the sparkling reviews on goodreads and the fact that I enjoy books that take something that seems simple and makes it extraordinary and lovely. You already get a hint that it's something new from the main characters names: Aristotle and Dante - both unusual names inspired by philosophers and poets.

When I picked up this book I did not intend to read it right there and then because I thought I was tired and in a lazy mood but once I started reading this book I couldn't stop - I read it all in one go, which I haven't done in a while, because there was something about Ari's voice that captured me there and then. Sáenz crafted a beautiful mixture of self-deprecating, bitter, pessimistic, secretly hopeful, funny, sarcastic and subtly loving in one voice that I enjoyed reading. I remember right from the get-go smiling and laughing because of the way Ari saw the world. This book is definitely not all smiles and laughs and sunshine and unicorns because, as the blurb says, Ari is someone who is trying to deal with a lot of anger and doesn't really know how to make or keep a friend because of his tendency to push people away. But, on the topic of sunshine, then Dante comes into the story. Oh Dante, I wish I could know you. There's always this unusually sweet but genuine tone underlying anything he says - even if it's not that innocent or predictable - and you cannot put him in a box or even dare try to label him because he is so much more than kind. He's different and so is Ari - their uniqueness because of their many layers - and this is what creates the unexpected friendship between them. This book is not just milk and honey - it has its darker moments, as life does, and that made it feel all the more real.

This book spans over a few years, and I enjoyed this because you get to see both Ari and Dante in different phases of their life and see how their perspectives and relationships change as they grow older (it's not that many years but from being around 15 to 17 or 18 I believe:)). This made so many of their thoughts and experiences relatable - but even experiences far away from mine felt relatable because of the way I felt invested in both of them. I just felt so emotionally invested that I didn't know what to do and I didn't want the book to end.

Family and friendship are explored with such a touching and distinctive insight by the author. He shows two families that would have such different scrapbooks of experiences yet overlap in the most perfect ways. The friendship between Ari and Dante is built up in such a believable and lovely and fun manner because we see two completely different people connect and get to experience them connect - so many writers skip over the forming of bonds but Sáenz indulges us in it from the start. Sometimes I found myself grinning over their jokes or worrying over their setbacks because I CARED SO MUCH.

This book is packed with so many deep insights that I feel I can apply to my outlook - but it never feels too direct or forceful - instead he weaves in these messages with a understated and gentle touch. I may have kinda cried reading this book - not because of happy or sad moments, even though it has plenty of both - but because of the overwhelming feeling of loving it too much and loving the characters too much and loving the experience of reading it too much. At one point I'd be sure I'd know where the story was going but at the next I'd start to wander - and I liked not being sure of where the book is going but getting to experience it as Ari and Dante would - in the beautiful moment. It's not an overly dramatic or action-packed book but the author's way of showing us the lives of two Mexican-American teenagers in such vivid detail and with such unwavering brilliance and subtlety makes it more impactful than you could ever guess. I don't even know if I want to post this because I don't think it does the book justice but I will because I can't not rave about this book:)

There's meaning in this story like there are stars in a dark night sky. 5 million stars!
Thanks for reading!

Also, for once you've finished the book or those who have read it, here's a song that somehow is a match made in heaven for this story: 
Moondust by Jaymes Young

Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Betrayed by his family and left for dead, Prince Yarvi, reluctant heir to a divided kingdom, has vowed to reclaim a throne he never wanted. 
But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea itself - all with only one good hand. Born a weakling in the eyes of a hard, cold world, he cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he has sharpened his mind to a deadly edge. 
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast, he finds they can help him more than any noble could. 
Even so, Yarvi's path may end as it began - in twists, traps and tragedy... 
Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die . . .

Date of Publication: 15th July 2014

A fantasy YA book that George RR Martin, Rick Riordan and Patrick Rothfuss love is one I can't help but try, and I'm so glad I did. This book is especially great for someone who wants to dip their toes into the mystical pool of fantasy but is intimidated by the ginormous fantasy books that seem almost twice my height in length. The book is around 336 pages, and Joe Abercrombie does not waste a page, paragraph or sentence in this magical adventure.

At first, I wasn't sure if I would love this book because even though I loved The Name of the Wind, I'm not someone especially experienced with full-out fantasy books but I really want to be so that anticipation made me nervous. But as I read past the first few pages I slowly became more and more absorbed with the story and with Yarvi. The premise of him sharpening his mind and wits to survive in the harsh world he lives in captivated me and the author's execution of it was perfect. I loved Yarvi for everything that he was - his dark and his light. Because that's the thing about fantasy books, their characters tend to lie in a fascinating grey area but some of them you can't help but root for. His adventure to reclaim his throne moved so fast that I never got bored and the decisions he has to make along the way inspire admiration and sympathy for all the good and bad outcomes.

The group of people he meets along the way add something dynamic and special to this book because they bring out different sides to Yarvi but also stand as individuals who I want to learn more and more about. Their path constantly twists and turns, and even though I occasionally fancy myself a bit of a detective when it comes to having an idea of the end, I really couldn't predict anything and I loved that so much because of the surprise and the realisation of Joe Abercrombie's genius that comes with it. His mind, and the mind of many wonderful fantasy authors, tends to, much like the mind of a crime writer, know exactly how to fit the millions of intricate and colourful puzzle pieces together to form a bittersweet, sad or happy picture.

His writing really captured Yarvi's personality - his deep sadness, his anger, his love, his intelligence, his wit, his hope and all his layers - in a way that made every word engaging once you get into the book. So even though I didn't fall in love from the first page, there was a moment really close to it that just made me drown into his story and never look back. I hadn't read a book in a really long time so I appreciate this book for bringing back that "I really just can't put this book down" feeling.

This book is part of the Shattered Sea series but I feel like he wraps up a huge element of the current conflict and story in this book so it felt like a standalone. The relationships Joe Abercrombie creates fall all on points of a spectrum of love to hate and each in its own is so interesting and emotional. The fact that it's a YA book written by an author who usually doesn't write YA does not hinder the wonder of this book in the least as I liked the experience you could tell Abercrombie has with fantasy and the YA element means that Yarvi was in my age group so his relatable voice made the book a lot easier to fall in love with and follow.

So that's 5 golden stars for another fantasy!

I can't wait to read more of Joe Abercrombie's books:)
Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Review: Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother’s mysterious death, he’s lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the truant officers. 

One day, he’s tracked down by a man he’s never met—a man his mother claimed was dangerous. The man tells him an impossible secret: Magnus is the son of a Norse god. The Viking myths are true. The gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Trolls, giants and worse monsters are stirring for doomsday. 

To prevent Ragnarok, Magnus must search the Nine Worlds for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years. When an attack by fire giants forces him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents, Magnus makes a fatal decision. 

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die . . .

Date of Publication: 6th October 2015

I absolutely love Rick Riordan, and all the books he writes, and this is no exception. I was a bit hesitant to begin this series because I didn't want to start comparing it to the Percy Jackson series (because I love it so much!) but this series is hilarious, sweet and hits all the right places in its own way so it doesn't beg to be compared. When Tom Hiddleston plays Loki he becomes such an intriguing character that you crave to learn more about- and he becomes so three-dimensional when you learn a bit of his backstory - so Norse mythology was something I was excited to read about. Rick Riordan's skills at finding fascinating myths within these mythologies and molding them intelligently and delicately into the bits and pieces of the plot never fails to amaze me.

I loved Magnus Chase! - he was an adorable, strong and intelligent (intelligent in the same way as Percy as he doesn't always act like he is and has slight Seaweed Brain tendencies;) but he's undeniably smart, daring and strategic in a battle). There's just something so relatable about Magnus because I get what he thinks and why, and you can tell how much his heart motivates him - there are so many frustrating protagonists in other novels so it was a relief to enjoy his voice wholeheartedly. He also starts of as 16 which makes him closer to my age than I thought he would be - and this makes it feel even more like I'm having a fascinating and fun conversation with a friend who happens to be a son of a Norse god. Sam was also a great character because of her strength, loyalty and determination to succeed despite constantly feeling like an outsider. I liked the moments of vulnerability we saw in her too because characters are so much more than a list of a few traits. The relationship between Sam and Magnus becomes a friendship after some struggles shall we say - but I can't help but wonder, as someone who loves Percabeth, whether it'll evolve into something more.

Talking about Percabeth, we also get to see our resident Wisegirl Annabeth Chase in this book because as Rick Riordan revealed, she is his cousin. The consistency in Rick's description of her made me feel so nostalgic as when the girl with the fierce, stormy grey eyes appears, I couldn't help but miss Percy. But I can't not mention that Magnus has many other relationships with friends or allies that are so moving and fun at the same time. Hearth and Blitz were so original, and Rick's development of the oh-so-fashionable Blitz and the determined Hearth was beautifully executed as usual.

The plot was inspired! The plot feels like a large and intricate spider web that Rick masterfully weaved because there are so many different dimensions of Norse mythology he explores from the gods, the nine worlds, runes, and a giant scary squirrel, but they all tie together in a natural and perfect way. There's also the fact that, like in Percy Jackson, Rick ties together one part of the plot - so one chapter of a bigger story closes which is refreshing because I feel satisfied rather than like I'm wheezing for some sense of closure.

Overall, I loved this book and I had a feeling I would because of who wrote it:) It was a perfect escape from school because it made me genuinely laugh out loud unlike so many other books. It has magic, Loki, quirky and unexpected plot lines, friendship and family - what more could you want?:P SO 5 GOLDEN stars!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases we're eagerly longing for and anticipating!

My choice is The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo #1) by Rick Riordan!

Here's how Rick described it in his exciting blog post:
How do you punish an immortal?  By making him human. 

After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disoriented, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus’ favor. 
 But Apollo has many enemies – gods, monsters and mortals who would love to see the former Olympian permanently destroyed. Apollo needs help, and he can think of only one place to go. . . an enclave of modern demigods known as Camp Half-Blood. 

As I explained on tour, the idea came to me while writing Percy Jackson's Greek Gods, because Apollo had been turned mortal twice before when he got on Zeus' bad side. The first novel has been so much fun to write! The Trials of Apollo is told first person from Apollo's point of view. During the series you will see all the characters from the previous Percy/Heroes of Olympus series so you can get a chance to see what they are up to.
Date of Publication: 3 May 2016

Finding out about this book has been one of the best surprises! I know there's so long from now to May but this can be part of the sunshine at the end of my IB tunnel;) I was so sad to read the last Percy Jackson book because he was one of my favourite characters and always will be<3 To hear that characters from Percy's series (hopefully him included!) will make an appearance in this book was more than music to my ears.

One thing I really admire about Rick Riordan is how he manages to take fascinating tales from Greek mythology and use them in his own stories. He actually inspired me to read the original Greek myths and I love them all the more once characters as special as his have explored them in a modern landscape. Apollo in the Percy Jackson series was hilarious because of his love of writing goofy haikus so it'll be really interesting and different to see him play the leading protagonist. Also he'll be going to Camp Half Blood which makes me feel so nostalgic - as though I was once a demigod who lived there, and experienced Chiron's warm advice, Mr. D being Mr. D and the magic within it:)

Can you imagine all the funny events that will occur when Apollo, the shining god of the sun, poetry, archery, prophecy (and many other things...) is forced to endure being a mortal? Well I have a feeling that Rick Riordan will exceed any expectation and as always bring some heart and meaning to the whole story.

This is essentially how I feel...;)

Thank you for reading!
What's your Waiting on Wednesday?:)

Monday, 9 November 2015

Review: The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

A modern love story told through a series of dictionary-style entries is a sequence of intimate windows into the large and small events that shape the course of a romantic relationship.

Date of Publication: 4th January 2011

This book is different from anything I've ever read and I loved every second of the unusual delight. As said in the blurb, it's a love story told through entries inspired by dictionaries.

For example:
abstraction, n.

Love is one kind of abstraction. And then there are those nights when I sleep alone, when I curl into a pillow that isn't you, when I hear the tiptoe sounds that aren't yours. It's not as if I can conjure you up completely. I must embrace the idea of you instead.”

ubiquitous, adj.

When it’s going well, the fact of it is everywhere. It’s there in the song that shuffles into your ears. It’s there in the book you’re reading. It’s there on the shelves of the store as you reach for a towel and forget about the towel. It’s there as you open the door. As you stare off into the subway, it’s what you’re looking at. You wear it on the inside of your hat. It lines your pockets. It’s the temperature.
The hitch, of course, it that when it’s going badly, it’s in all the same places.”

David Levithan is so articulate that he is able to breathe life into these words, and make them mean something and everything. He uses words like these and his character's versions of their definitions to show us a love story in all its stages. We get to see the good and the bad - the breathtaking and the heart wrenching and sometimes just appreciate the deliciously quiet moments of any relationship. 

There is not a chronological order which may seem confusing but I liked how the book felt like a puzzle that I could put together in my mind as I dissect the love put before us. However I do wish that there was a feeling of finality when I had finished because I felt like I wasn't at the end of the story at all. But looking back I realize that relationships don't have clear cut beginnings and ends - in fact, they're messy but in a gorgeous kind of way so the structure of the book does reflect that. I would have loved if the end had more of an impact - like one last word that just made me smile or made the world around me stop so that the experience of the book could be represented well.

This book isn't long and it got me out of a reading slump so if you'd like to try something different and you love love and raw feelings (and maybe you're a dictionary aficionado who can't wait to see your favorite words in a new light?) then this is the book for you! Books with concepts like this don't come so often so embracing the creativity of the experience made it even better. 

I would probably give this book 4.5 stars out of 5:)

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 6 November 2015

Books in Second Person

There's something so fascinating about books in the second person. I haven't read that many in novels in the second-person narrative but as soon as I came across it, I knew I needed more! How entrancing and captivating is it that you become the character? All these beautiful and complex plots are told around that unexpected "you."

So here's a list of books that use second person because they may be worth exploring!

1. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler is a marvel of ingenuity, an experimental text that looks longingly back to the great age of narration--"when time no longer seemed stopped and did not yet seem to have exploded."
The Reader buys a fashionable new book, which opens with an exhortation: "Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade." Calvino intersperses 10 different pastiches--stories of menace, spies, mystery, premonition--with explorations of how and why we read, make meanings, and get our bearings or fail to.

This book is one of the most famous second person books and it's supposed to be the ultimate book for book-lovers! Why? Because it's all about reading, but throughout the journey of books is also love and tragedy which sounds like a intoxicating mix to me!

A book that starts with "You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, "No, I don't want to watch TV!" Raise your voice -- they won't hear you otherwise -- "I'm reading! I don't want to be disturbed!" Maybe they haven't heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: "I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's new novel!" Or if you prefer, don't say anything: just hope they'll leave you alone." is a book I know I'll drown into. One great thing about second person books is that you tend to forget the world around you and feel fully immersed in a book that's engaging you as there's some intangible emotional pull to an author writing about "you" - especially when you're characterised as "The Reader". I haven't read this book yet but I really want to so hopefully I will soon.

2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called “Le Cirque des Reves,” and it is only open at night. 

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. 

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

I have read this book and I'm absolutely infatuated with the use of second person because it transported me to the mystical and magical night circus that I now dream of visiting. The plot about the duel may not have always been strong nor parts of the romance but this book was definitely worth reading and I still love it because it's one of those times when I felt like I had literally jumped into a fantasy world. The writing is gorgeous and Rick Riordan himself loves it;)

The whole novel is not in second person but whenever the night circus is being described, second person is used to give the reader a feel of the dreaminess of it all. There's a quote from the book that goes, "like stepping into a fairy tale under a curtain of stars" and that's how the description of me walking into this bizarre and beautiful circus made me feel.

“You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Rêves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus.
You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.”

3. Bright Light, Big City by Jay McInerney

With the publication of Bright Lights, Big City in 1984, Jay McInerney became a literary sensation, heralded as the voice of a generation. 
The novel follows a young man, living in Manhattan as if he owned it, through nightclubs, fashion shows, editorial offices, and loft parties as he attempts to outstrip mortality and the recurring approach of dawn. With nothing but goodwill, controlled substances, and wit to sustain him in this anti-quest, he runs until he reaches his reckoning point, where he is forced to acknowledge loss and, possibly, to rediscover his better instincts. 
This remarkable novel of youth and New York remains one of the most beloved, imitated, and iconic novels in America.

This is also one of the most famous second person narratives. I am so intrigued by the idea of experiencing someone's "anti-quest" as he slowly loses himself but hopefully finds his happiness again. I feel like reading a book like this could give me a new perspective and also give me the opportunity to experience his rollercoaster journey (from the safety of my couch). From the blurb it seems as though he loses hope and purpose, and if a book that brings you in, by making you the protagonist, explores this journey, I hope it leaves you with a profound message on redemption or identity.

And read this amazing quote: "But what you are left with is a premonition of the way your life will fade behind you, like a book you have read too quickly, leaving a dwindling trail of images and emotions, until all you can remember is a name.”

4. Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris, David Javerbaum and Antony Hare


Tired of memoirs that only tell you what really happened? Sick of deeply personal accounts written in the first person? Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the “u” back in “aUtobiography”? Then look no further than Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! In this revolutionary, Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative, actor/personality/carbon-based life-form Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life. You will be born in New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp. You will get into a bizarre confrontation outside a nightclub with actor Scott Caan. Even better, at each critical juncture of your life, you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John’s yacht. Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a hideous death by piranhas. All this, plus magic tricks, cocktail recipes, embarrassing pictures from your time as a child actor, and even a closing song. Yes, if you buy one book this year, congratulations on being above the American average, but make that book Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography!

As an avid 'How I Met Your Mother' fan, I was so excited by this book. But that's not the only reason... an autobiography that's in second person is such a fun idea! I like the idea of choosing Neil's path and seeing where Neil would end up if I was the one making the decisions. It's a book that seems like it would make me smile.

Also Patrick Rothfuss, the author of the Kingkiller Chronicles, said, "I expected this book to be witty. I expected it to be clever and fun. And it was. It was all of those things in spades. But I didn't expect it to be sweet and sad and honest and touching. I mean, it's framed as a choose-your-own-adventure. You don't expect those to be heartfelt, emotional stories...." (To read his lovely review, click here!).

That's all for now!
Thanks for reading:)

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases we're eagerly longing for and anticipating!

My choice is The Winner's Kiss (The Winner's Trilogy #3) by Marie Rutkoski!

War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it, with the East as his ally and the empire as his enemy. He’s finally managed to dismiss the memory of Kestrel, even if he can’t quite forget her. Kestrel turned into someone he could no longer recognize: someone who cared more for the empire than for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she cared for him. At least, that’s what he thinks. 
But far north lies a work camp where Kestrel is a prisoner. Can she manage to escape before she loses herself? As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover unexpected roles in battle, terrible secrets, and a fragile hope. The world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and Kestrel and Arin are caught between. In a game like this, can anybody really win?

Date of Publication: 1 March 2016

YESSSS! I loved both books in this series and I cannot wait for more! The first book made my heart skip a beat and the second took my breath away. Arin and Kestrel's relationship is so complex, beautiful, scarred and undeniable that I can't help but feel wholly invested in them. It's the last book in the trilogy so I need Kestrel and Arin to be together but whatever the outcome, I know the journey is going to be unexpected and perfect.

There are so many miscommunications that hinder their relationship from being fully realised and I'm one step away from jumping into this book and making them finally kiss. When a book like this comes along all I can do is anxiously wait for it to come out. But at the same time, I don't want this series to end... I love it too much. If you haven't read this series then I strongly recommend it if you love reading books with characters that are so well-written than they become pieces of art, romance, political intrigue and power plays.

Thank you for reading!
What's your Waiting on Wednesday?:)