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!