Sunday, August 26, 2012

Book #47: Paper Towns

Book #47: Paper Towns by John Green
5/5 stars

This is the second book by John Green that I've read so far and I'm hooked! I previously read and reviewed Looking for Alaska, also by John Green, and can't decide which of these I like better. I can't wait to read more of his novels. Though cataloged as YA, Green's books have more depth than most of what I read in middle and high school.

Paper Towns is about a high school senior, Quentin, who is nicknamed "Q" and lives in Orlando, Florida. For most of his life, Q has been infatuated with his next-door neighbor and childhood friend, Margo Roth Spiegelman. The once inseparable duo have not spoken much since they grew up, and Margo became the school's "It Girl", even though they still live mere feet away from one another.

However, one night, a few weeks before prom and graduation, Margo comes to Q's window in the middle of the night, as she did when they were kids, dressed in all black like a ninja. She has an eleven-step plan for revenge against the peers who have wronged her recently, and she needs Q's assistance. Confused but intrigued, Q goes along with Margo for a strange, crazy night that includes everything from taking blackmail pictures, to leaving dead fish in people's cars, to breaking into Sea World. All of the steps are completed leaving a half hour to sleep before school that day.

Q is left wondering how he and Margo will interact in the daylight after the incidents of the previous night, but Margo doesn't show up to school that day, or the next or even the next. Q begins to worry about her, though this is not the first time she's run away, this is certainly the longest. Q searches for and finds clues that Margo has left, to lead him to her he presumes. He enlists the help of his two eclectic best friends: Ben, an inappropriate band geek whose favorite pastimes include playing video games and fantasizing about the hot girls who don't even notice him, and "Radar" (whose real name is Marcus), a computer nerd whose parents own the largest collection of black Santas in the world.

This quirky, intelligent novel kept me laughing out loud (especially about the black Santas, which by the way, are displayed all year round at Radar's house), and guessing at the mysteries surround Margo. I found her to be similar to Alaska, from Looking For Alaska, in that she was an enigma, and while intelligent and popular, she seemed somewhat lost in the world.

Paper Towns is written in the signature John Green style that reads so easily, yet makes the reader think deeply about life. It's so different from some of the YA novels I read as a young adult myself, where all of the main characters get drunk and do stupid things all the time. The characters in this book do party occasionally, but there is more to them than that. Paper Towns served to further my obsession with Green's writing, and offered a new, interesting perspective on young adults.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book #46: Sharp Objects

Book #46: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
5/5 stars

Agh, I know, I've been reading slow lately! Life has been busy and I haven't had as much time as I would have liked to just sit and read, but every free moment I had lately I grabbed this novel and spent as much time with it as I could. I don't remember where I first heard about Gillian Flynn, but she is an incredible writer whose popularity is ever growing. Sharp Objects is her first novel, published in 2006. Since then, she has gone on to write two more wildly successful novels (that are taking me forever to get a hold of from my local library because they are in such high demand!).

Sharp Objects is a twisted mystery novel that will grip you until the very last page. It's protagonist, Camille Preaker, is a reporter living in Chicago and working for a small, forgettable newspaper. Her boss sends her back to her tiny hometown in Missouri to cover the kidnappings of two young girls within the past year, one of which ended in murder. The other girl had recently gone missing with no trace of her dead or alive having been discovered yet. Camille reluctantly returns to her childhood home in Wind Gap, hoping to get her story and be out as quickly as possible.

However, soon after she arrives, the second young girl, Natalie, is found dead. That makes two murders in the tiny town within a matter of months, whereas prior, there had been basically no violence for the miniscule police force to have to deal with. A detective is pulled from Kansas City to help out the incompetent policemen with the investigation, but it seems that even he has no leads after months. Camille attempts to get at least a few facts from the citizens of Wind Gap to report back to her boss in Chicago, but everyone is either speculating based on rumors, or has clammed up entirely, refusing to help out the woman who was once their neighbor and friend. There are clearly some dark secrets within this town that Camille is desperate to uncover, and fast.

Because Camille is not just facing the issue of not having enough to report about. During her stay in Wind Gap, she is back in her old home, with her mother, stepfather, and stepsister, all of whom are basically nuts. Adora, Camille's mother, refuses to acknowledge what Camille is there to do, feigning melodramatic grief about the deaths of the young girls, whom she seems to have barely known. She also refuses to accept the death of Camille's sister many years earlier, an event which also has some mysteries surrounding it. Amma, Adora's other living daughter, is only 13 years old, but acts much older, engaging in dangerous and illicit activities, and acts as a surprisingly creepy ringleader to her friends. Camille tries to put Adora, Amma, and the memories of her deceased sister out of her mind, but her scars, both emotional and literal, refuse to fade.

I loved this novel because Camille, the protagonist, is far from one-sided. Of course she's the good guy, the one we root for, but she has a twisted past that is revealed bit by bit rather than handed to us on page one. She has many layers to her, a product of the traumatic events she has faced throughout her life. Though facing her childhood is so much more than difficult for her, she continues to try to get to the bottom of the story, not just because she is a reporter, but because she wants justice.

Flynn's debut novel is astounding. It's sometimes creepy and graphic, yet always compelling and it crawls inside your mind and refuses to leave. Stephen King calls it "an admirably nasty piece of work, elevated by sharp writing and sharper insights". He also agrees that this story will stay with you long after you finish it and won't let you go. Prepare yourself for a novel that will grab you in its clutches, terrorize and boggle you, and then stay and wait for your reaction.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book #45: The Guardian

Book #45: The Guardian by Nicholas Sparks
5/5 stars

So in my last post, about Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks, I mentioned that he delved into a new genre for him: thriller. I had forgotten about The Guardian. This novel, which came out in 2003, I had read about four years ago, and borrowed it from my sister to re-read. It sat on my shelf for months as I worked through other novels all summer, as I debated about whether or not I should read it again. I remembered tiny bits and pieces of it and couldn't remember if it was worth a revisit. Finally, I opened it up two nights ago and couldn't put it down.

The Guardian begins as another beautiful but slightly predictable Nicholas Sparks romance novel. In the prologue, Julie has recently lost her husband at a very young age, and is feeling lonely, when an unexpected Christmas gift arrives. It turns out that Jim, her late husband, before he died arranged to have a puppy sent to Julie to comfort her in his absence. Julie names the Great Dane Singer, and he becomes her companion for years to come.

Four years later, Julie still misses Jim but is ready to find love again. She begins dating but has no luck. All the while, Jim's best friend Mike is right in front of her, head-over-heels in love with her, and Julie doesn't quite realize how perfect they are for each other. She begins to date a wealthy, seemingly perfect man named Richard, who takes her to the theatre and picnics on the beach. He seems absolutely wonderful...but maybe not exactly her type. Julie attempts to nicely break off the relationship, and finally pursues Mike, the man who has been there for her all along.

However, this is where the novel takes a thriller twist. Richard is not the kind of man who takes being dumped easily. Julie sets off a chain of events that put her and everyone she loves in danger as Richard flies into a jealous rage. In a Fatal Attraction type twist, Richard pursues Julie with everything he has, as he attempts to convince her of his love and win her back.

This novel was absolutely insane and kept me on the edge of my seat, even while reading it for a second time. There was a lot that I had forgotten and I was surprised by some of the same things I had been the first time, so the novel isn't completely predictable. Sparks successfully combines romance with terror and suspense, even better than in Safe Haven. He taps into the unbalanced mind of Richard Franklin and gives his readers a glimpse of insanity. The story is a quick and fantastic read that will keep your mind whirling late at night....that is, if you can even put the book down and try to sleep!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Book #42: Safe Haven

Book #42: Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks
5/5 stars

Hello All! This time I'm blogging about a book that I read a few years ago, but recently re-read as a refresher before the upcoming film is released. That's right, yet another Nicholas Sparks book turned movie is in production and set for release this February, right around Valentine's Day. The book is fairly new (2010), but in case you missed it or passed over it as yet another sappy Nicholas Sparks novel, take a second look. This novel differs from his others as it dips into a more suspenseful genre alongside the romance.

It centers around a young woman named Katie who has recently moved to a small town in North Carolina. She doesn't know anyone there, and doesn't volunteer much information about her past or personal life. She scrapes by, working double shifts at a local restaurant, and then goes home alone to the modest house she rents at the end of a road. No one really knows the shy woman's story, and she won't let anyone close enough to really get to know her.

The other main character is Alex, a widow with two young children. He runs the town store which sells everything from gas and snacks to travelers passing through, to groceries for the locals, to fishing rods and burgers hot off the grill. He's a charming, well-liked guy in the town, but still struggles with grief over his wife's early death and being a single dad.

Of course, as in all Nicholas Sparks novels, these two characters find their way to one another and, over time, begin to open up and find love that they didn't know they could have. But this novel goes deeper. We finally learn the truth about Katie and the dark secret that haunts her, why she is so guarded around people, where she came from, and why she left.

Of course I can't tell you the answers to these questions; you'll just have to read the book! But I will tell you that when I first read this book two years ago, it literally kept me up at night. Even when I was finally able to put it down and try to get to sleep, it haunted me. This novel reaches for a new level that Sparks usually does not attempt, and it is a success. As with all of his characters, you will fall in love with Katie and Alex and root for them against all odds, as they try to find love, faith and hope in this crazy, scary world.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book #41: The Shadow of the Wind

Book #41: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (translated by Lucia Graves)
5/5 stars

I know, I know, I've been a bad reader. I've been super busy and have therefore been reading much slower than usual. However, it worked out well in a way, because The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is not a novel that can or should be rushed through, but rather devoured slowly and enjoyed thoroughly. Thank you to Grace Hobbs who recommended this novel to me in my "Book Suggestion" box. I hope that others continue to recommend me great books because I would have never known about this incredible novel without her tip!

The Shadow of the Wind was originally published in Spanish, and translated to English and sold here a few years later. I was shocked that a translated version of a novel could read so beautifully. Each sentence has clearly been crafted with thought behind it, and this is not "lost in translation" if I may. =)

The story follows Daniel from the time he is ten years old. His father takes him to "The Cemetery of Forgotten Books", which is basically heaven for someone like me. Daniel is allowed to pick from hundreds of books in the shop and take one that speaks to him, to be his special book for life. "According to tradition, the first time someone visits this place, he must choose a book, whichever he wants, and adopt it, making sure that it will never disappear, that it will always stay alive. It's a very important promise. For life." - Daniel's father, pg. 6. Daniel selects The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, and when he takes it home that night, he devours it much in the same way that I often do. Also, like me and many other avid readers, once Daniel has finished and fallen in love with the novel, he is eager to find more works by the author. However, he is met only with dead ends and mystery. It seems that there are few, if any, copies of Carax's novels left intact, because a mysterious man is obtaining and burning all of them.

Daniel, now intrigued by the author and this mystery, sets out on a journey over many years to discover why these incredible works are being destroyed, and who is doing so. However, as his questions lead him to different people who have been involved in this mystery over time, answers simply lead to more questions, and deeper mysteries. Along the way, Daniel encounters many different people, of different ages and backgrounds, who give him little pieces of the story that he must try to put together. With the help of an eclectic mix of friends, (including an intelligent but eccentric man named Fermin, who believes that television is the "Antichrist" and who has no sense of modesty at all) Daniel pursues the story of Carax, stopping at nothing to uncover the truth.

There is so much I could say about this novel but it would take forever. The characters are beautifully created; the story contains so many subplots within subplots, yet it is still easy to follow and intriguing until the very last page; the language is breathtaking. This novel is a masterpiece. There were times when I gasped or laughed aloud. I fell in love with Fermin, Daniel's crazy older friend and accomplice. He was a fantastic comic relief character who also had depth and was a wonderful addition to the novel. The quick mentions of Carax's fictional works caught my attention and made me wish that they were real, because the plots sounded so awesome! Daniel's perseverance is the strongest I've ever seen, in a novel or in real life, as he spans years searching for the true story of Carax and the mysterious man who burns his books. The Shadow of the Wind contains intrigue and mystery, but also love and heartbreak, comedy, tragedy, and history. Above all, as my friend Grace who recommended this book to me so beautifully put it: "It's a love letter to books and writing." Daniel, who aspires to be a writer himself, has such a beautiful perception of Carax's writing and of the world. He loves books as much as I do, which connected us immediately. This book was an incredible journey from start to finish. Leave yourself some time to read it, because it is best read slowly and carefully, partly to catch all of the clues, but mostly just so that you, as a reader, can fully recognize and enjoy the brilliance of this novel.

Note: Apparently this is the first is a series by Zafon. The second book is a prequel called The Angel's Game and the third is entitled The Prisoner of Heaven, though I don't know where in time it is supposed to take place. I can't wait to find out though!