Book Review: More Than This by Patrick Ness

September 9, 2013 | Posted by in Books, Reviews

More Than This by Patrick Ness
Release Date: September 10th, 2013
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pages: 480
Source: Netgalley
Rating: ★★★★★ 

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A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighborhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust, and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him? Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this. . . .

At one point while reading Patrick Ness’s newest YA novel, I was trying to figure out when the last time a book confused me, moved me and made me think as much as More Than This did, and then it dawned on me: It was (of course) Ness’s previous masterpiece, the Chaos Walking trilogy. Fans of Ness’ ability to write immersive, compelling, funny and tragic stories will devour his newest book, a great addition to his collection of stories that mindfuck the hell out of you (and leave you thankful for it).

It’s hard to talk about this book’s plot too much without delving into major, twisty-turny spoilers, but suffice to say our hero, Seth, very vividly drowns in a horrific death only to find himself awake and back in his old childhood home, seemingly completely and utterly alone in the world. From there, Seth’s journey to discovering where he ended up is interspersed with flashbacks to his life before his death.

Both stories are fascinating and Seth is a compelling protagonist, a well-rounded and emotionally vulnerable teenager coming of age amidst family tragedy and peer pressure and then finding himself – after his own death, no less – in even more dire situations. His romantic entanglements and relationships with his friends, especially, feel fresh and engaging and manage to shine a light on teenage relationships that not very many other YA novels have been able to. And oh yes, there are twists, ones that feel obvious or slight and ones that knock you over and make you rethink everything you thought you knew, and they keep coming one after the other.

Best of all, as always, Ness asks Big Questions of his readers, and doesn’t offer any concrete answers. The work is all the better for it, elevating it beyond just an exciting, action-filled read (which it also is). While Chaos Walking dealt with very complicated issues of war and good vs evil, the very nature of reality and existence, and one’s sense of self, is questioned here. Oh, is that all?

Book Review: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

August 14, 2013 | Posted by in Books, Reviews

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
Release Date: August 13th, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 288
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★★★ 

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Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

In this riveting book, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out.

If you’ve read “The Silver Linings Playbook” (and if you haven’t what in the world are you waiting for?! Note: It’s pretty different from the movie), you know Quick has a knack for writing incredibly empathetic, quirky, funny and relatable characters who have some mental problems. It’s an interesting dichotomy between “Silver Linings”‘ Pat Peoples and his new YA novel’s titular protagonist Leonard Peacock. While Pat was an adult man who retreated back into a childlike state to fend off the brutal realities of life, Leonard, here, is a teenage boy who can’t escape his very adult thoughts and the reality of a very bleak future. So it’s not a spoiler to stay this is a much darker book than “Silver Linings,” but perhaps even more worthy of a read.

Leonard is a kid who, when he ditches school, instead of going out and partying, dresses up in a suit, pretends to go to work, and follows around miserable-looking adults because he’s convinced no one is happy when they grow up. He hopes against all odds that someone could prove him wrong, but he finds only more confirmations of his very pessimistic views. So what’s the point in striving towards such misery? Killing his former best friend and himself becomes, in his very messed up mind, a better alternative.

It’s clear Leonard feels powerless in his life, and somehow carrying the gun around in his backpack makes him feel more in control. His various fantasies about whipping the weapon out and killing those around him are hard to read, but on a much deeper level, understandable. In one example of how he became such an angry, sad individual, his neglectful mother, who leaves him alone in their house most of the time and lives in her own apartment in a different city, refuses to let him have therapy, because “I’m not going to let some therapist blame me for Leo’s problems.” Infuriating stuff.

Leonard is in various turns snarky, lonely, weird, funny, frustrated, wise, delusional and unfortunately, his most consistent characteristic is how much pain he’s in. He so lonely and wishes just one person would wish a him happy birthday, but he can’t bring himself to tell anyone the significance of the date, not even when he delivers his presents and his friends practically beg him to open up. When a teacher encourages him to write himself letters from the future he would like to inhabit, it’s a heartbreaking glimpse into the deepest part of his psyche, which still longs for the least bit of acceptance and love, even as he consciously plans to end it all.

More than just written to elicit sympathy, Quick’s characterization of Leonard also feels well researched. He delves deeply and sensitively into familiar situations of bullying, peer pressure, parental neglect and abuse that can lead a young, impressionable mind astray, but makes it clear at some point an individual is responsible for his own actions. Quick is also able to infuse some light into the story and into Leonard, rendering him not quite as hopeless as he could be if he continues down his current path. He’s one walking, talking cry for help, and always there’s the possibility that he could be “saved”, because he’s surrounded by some great, positive influencing supporting characters.

This is a dark, bleak and heartbreaking read, but its message of hope is the one that will resonate and stick.

Book Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

August 13, 2013 | Posted by in Books, Reviews

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Release Date: August 20th, 2013
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 624
Source: BEA 2013
Rating: ★★★★★ 

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On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.

For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself.

Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world.

The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.

Night Film, the gorgeously written, spellbinding new novel by the dazzlingly inventive Marisha Pessl, will hold you in suspense until you turn the final page.

I never read Marisha Pessl’s super hyped debut “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” and honestly did not have much knowledge of the author herself, her writing style, etc. I picked up “Night Film” at BEA because it sounded a bit like Syndrome E, a film-themed murder mystery that I really enjoyed last year, but as it turns out “Night Film” is just so much more.

The plot description perhaps does not do the book justice: The daughter of an eccentric filmmaker commits suicide, and the journalist who decides to investigate her death gets caught up in increasingly deeper, creepier and darker webs. And it basically is about this, but Pessl’s world, so perfectly rendered and populated with such interesting characters and twisty, turny developments, seen through the eyes of Scott McGrath, our lovable but unreliable narrator, came alive in really beautiful and terrifying ways.

From just about the first page Pessl’s writing drew me in. Nothing truly riveting or action-oriented plot-wise happened for quite a while, but there was something about her sparse, direct prose that was endlessly readable and kept me turning the pages nonstop. I knew it was a bad idea to read this book late at night, alone, but I just couldn’t put it down. But despite all the darkness, there were also characters to root for, namely Scott and his two sidekicks, the spunky Nora and mysterious Hopper, who in turn leave Scott annoyed, protective, amused and suspicious. Because of Scott’s own uncertainty over the events as they happen in front of him, I found myself questioning everything along with him and sometimes towards him, knowing at any moment the rug could and probably would be pulled out from under me again.

There were times, as is the usual with these kinds of mysteries, when I thought I figured it all out, but Pessl was always two steps ahead, subverting expectations, as if saying, “I know what you’re thinking, but nope.” Instead, I was on the edge of my seat for the entire ride, never fully grasping what’s coming next and being surprised at every turn. And yes, the twists keep on coming up until the very last page.

Top Ten Tuesday: Film Adaptations

July 8, 2013 | Posted by in Books, Movies

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week’s was a toughie for me. Top Ten Best Movie Adaptations should be a piece of cake since it combines my love of reading and watching movies, but when I tried to limit myself to only cases where I’ve both read the book and seen the movie, it was a lot harder. Goodbye, movies I love like “Perks of Being a Wallflower”, “Life of Pi”, “Gone with the Wind”, etc. I promise I will read the original books one day!

But for now, in no particular order, here are 10 of my favorite big screen literary adaptations (of books I’ve actually read).

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Waiting on Wednesday: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

July 2, 2013 | Posted by in Books

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

For my fourth Waiting on Wednesday, I chose a new book from an author who wrote one of my favorite books from last year.

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Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

July 1, 2013 | Posted by in Books

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Release Date: June 18th, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Pages: 181
Source: Purhchased/Autographed
Rating: ★★★★★ 

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Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

This book reminded me much more of “Coraline” and Patrick Ness’ “A Monster Calls” (which I also loved) than something like the sprawling, epic “American Gods”, though the language, magic and beauty is still pure Gaiman. Partly based on something that happened in his own childhood that he had no knowledge of until he was older, and with a narrator the author describes as quite similar to his own self as a child, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is a bittersweet, personal and subtly profound tale of innocence lost and the meaning of true friendship.

Our unnamed narrator returns to his hometown for a funeral of an unspecified relative, gives a eulogy and then wanders down memory lane, both metaphorically and literally has he happens across the red barn at the end of the lane, where something life-changing happened to him when he was seven years old. He sits by the pond and remembers Lettie Hempstock, the 11-year-old girl (who had been 11 for a very long time) who took him under her wing after a lodger at his house killed himself in his father’s car. The man’s death seems to set off a chain of events that begin with people getting the things they wish for, but turns into something much more sinister for our narrator.

When the perfectly coiffed and beautiful Ursula Monkton shows up to be the boy and his little sister’s new nanny/housekeeper, the door between the real and the magical opens further, as she seeks to drive a wedge between him – one of the very few who knows the truth – and his family, who of course don’t believe the silly little boy when he tries to tell them of his new nanny’s true evils. His only hope is Lettie and her mother and grandmother, who are quite encased in the magical realm and who help him fend off Ursula’s attempted takeover.

The book can certainly be described as a dark fairy tale for adults (there’s enough disturbing imagery both of the real and magical kind to warrant the adult label), but I found it closely resembled YA as well, with our narrator’s perhaps more mundane growing pains and loss of innocence manifesting itself as a great mystical struggle between good and evil. The pain Ursula manages to inflict on him and his family, whether real or imagined, is very real and something that clearly he has carried to adulthood. And while he can barely remember specifics about Lettie in the years since he grew up and moved away, it’s clear her genuine kindness and care for him at a time in his life when everything else was falling apart saved him even more than he realized. And that had nothing to do with her ability to do magic.

Top 10 Tuesday: Books Read in 2013 So Far

June 24, 2013 | Posted by in Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week’s, being mid-June and all, is the perfectly themed Top Ten Books Read in 2013 so far. Normally I would try to make this 2013 releases only, but I really have not read as many books as I would like this year, and as it happens, my “Favorites of 2013″ bookshelf on Goodreads has exactly ten titles on it right now, so I’m going to take it easy on myself. So, in no particular order…

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Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

May 24, 2013 | Posted by in Books, Reviews

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Release Date: May 7th, 2013
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Pages: 480
Source: Purhchased

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After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

I tore through this because it was thrilling and engrossing and I liked the way the storylines intersected and culminated in the end. I even liked the romantic pairings, however flawed and somewhat creepy they might come off, something that’s becoming very rare in the ever swelling sea of bad YA, which is ironic since their popularity is so often contingent upon the ~cute boys~ who populate them.

This would have easily gotten five stars for its enjoyment factor but I just didn’t buy the child soldier angle. It seems to serve no purpose aside from making it relatable to the teenagers reading the book. Cassie as the protagonist on a personal mission to rescue her little brother, I can roll with, but anyone, alien or human, entrusting the survival of their race and planet to a bunch of kids is just a step beyond the point of suspension of disbelief.

I almost deducted another star for the ending, because I’m tired of books that are built into a trilogy structure before it’s earned the right to sequels. Which is basically all YA books these days. It’s manipulative and blatant money-grabbing schemes but I digress.

I really did enjoy “The 5th Wave”, despite the gripes that are, to be fair, hardly exclusive to Yancey’s book.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Romances in Books

February 12, 2013 | Posted by in Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week’s Valentine’s Day themed topic is Top Ten Romances in Books. For the most part, I’m going to interpret this as Top Ten Couples in Books. So, in no particular order…

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Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

February 5, 2013 | Posted by in Books, Reviews

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Release Date: August 16, 2011
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 374
Source: Kindle

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It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune–and remarkable power–to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved–that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt–among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life–and love–in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

To me, the 1980s was a lost decade. The fashion was bad, I had no patience for video games and I never got the whole John Hughes obsession. With as much disdain as I feel towards the decade “Ready Player One” is so lovingly a tribute to, it was with more than slight astonishment that I found myself unable to put this book down. As it turns out, Cline’s original yet nostalgic take on the popular dystopian genre is the most fun, most addictive reading experience I’ve had in a long, long time.

This must be how avid video gamers feel when they play an addictive new game, is what I thought to myself more than once when I powered through this book, eagerly anticipating each puzzle and obstacle that would come next. Like with some of the more advanced video games (I never really made it past Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt), there’s a clever, self-referential level of wish-fulfillment at the core of Cline’s universe. The entire human population spends 99% of their time plugged into the virtual environment OASIS, where they can be anyone they want. This is reflected back onto itself when moving through Halliday’s scavenger hunt, because many of the puzzles involve diving into and reenacting various pop culture moments, including reciting John Hughes movies start to finish. So you have Wade, as his virtual alter-ego Perzival, pretending to be Matthew Broderick playing a character in a movie. So meta!

“Ready Player One” is by no means close to a perfect book. The writing is rather simple (all the easier to plow through it, my dear) and the answer to the first puzzle seemed so obvious to me I was pretty disbelieving that in five years no one could figure it out. Cline also tends to let his pop culture references do the heavy-lifting for him, in that he would present them as they are in their original form and let them act as the reader’s entertainment. There isn’t a lot of depth or insight into his choices and his futuristic dystopian universe doesn’t say too much about our own, but then again, if there is any quintessential example of escapist entertainment, this would be it.

Waiting on Wednesday: The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

January 30, 2013 | Posted by in Books

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

For my third Waiting on Wednesday, I chose a book that’s been on my radar for a while but which recently updated with some compelling new details!

Title: The Crane Wife
Author: Patrick Ness
Publication Date: April 2013
Publisher: Canongate Books
Page Count: 320

Add on Goodreads | Pre-Order on Amazon

The extraordinary happens every day…

One night, George Duncan – decent man, a good man – is woken by a noise in his garden. Impossibly, a great white crane has tumbled to earth, shot through its wing by an arrow. Unexpectedly moved, George helps the bird, and from the moment he watches it fly off, his life is transformed.

The next day, a kind but enigmatic woman walks into George’s shop. Suddenly a new world opens up for George, and one night she starts to tell him the most extraordinary story.

Wise, romantic, magical and funny, The Crane Wife is a hymn to the creative imagination and a celebration of the disruptive and redemptive power of love.

I will read anything Patrick Ness writes. He absolutely broke my heart with his Chaos Walking trilogy, as well as A Monster Calls, and now he’s written an adult book? Too good to be true. Ness announced The Crane Wife last year, but I had thought he said it would be released in the fall of 2013, and was in for a shock when I checked the book’s page on Goodreads recently and noticed it had an April release date (and a cover and a synopsis)! Way too good to be true.

In even more unbelievable news, Ness also recently announced he will have not one but two books releasing this year. After The Crane Wife sends us all into a mess of ugly-crying (I’m assuming) in spring, we’ll have just a few months to put ourselves back together to fall to pieces all over again when his new YA novel, More Than This comes out in September. Oh god, even the title sounds heartbreaking. Deep breaths, tissues within reach, everyone.

Recommended Reading (1)

January 17, 2013 | Posted by in Links

Here are some recent articles that I read and would recommend if you find the subject interesting. I will try to do this weekly. They’ll probably mostly be aligned with my interests, which is to say, they mostly involve politics and pop culture. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Why Hagel Matters, The Daily Beast
This article is a bit dated as President Obama has already nominated Senator Hagel for Defense Secretary, but the fight is far from over, and Peter Beinart lays out in great detail and easy to understand terms what exactly the appointment of Hagel will mean for US foreign policy going forward.

10 Sundance Hits and 10 Sundance Flops, The Playlist
Today is the official start of the Sundance Film Festival, and like everyone else, I have my sight unseen favorites. The Playlist has put together a great feature on why advance buzz (or even festival buzz) doesn’t always translate to mainstream hit.

Russell Explains What Cooper Whispers at the End of ‘Silver Linings Playbook’, The Hollywood Reporter
This is a pretty self-explanatory, fun little anecdote for people who enjoyed the movie, as I did. Spoilers, obviously, if you haven’t seen it. And if you have, don’t worry, he doesn’t give all the mystery away.

‘Disturbing’ & ‘Misleading’, The New York Times
I was a big fan of Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” and am not personally ready to answer the question of whether it promotes torture, but I also find the willful ignorance displayed by some fans of the film pretty disturbing. The film’s quality isn’t in question, but as far as the torture debate goes, it’s hard to argue against well thought-out pieces like this one by Steve Coll.

Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie, The New York Times
A detailed, fascinating, heartbreaking look at the making of ill-fated “The Canyons”, which, in hindsight, was never going to be Lindsay Lohan’s comeback vehicle.

The 46 Places to Go in 2013, The New York Times
In my mind, I’m a much more frequent traveler than I am in reality. Here’s a great list of 46 less-traveled places if you’ve already seen everything else. As for me, I’ll be adding these place to my ever-growing “Must Visit Someday But Probably Never Will” list.

Notre Dame’s real dead woman,
By now we’ve all read about Manti Te’o and his fake dead girlfriend but I had no idea that while all the media attention was focused on that rather silly scandal, something very serious is happening concurrently on the same campus, within the same football program. Lizzy Seeberg deserves your attention, more than Lennay Kekua does.