Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Looking For Alaska by John Green

Looking For Alaska by John Green
Release Date: March 2005
Publisher: Dutton
Pages: 221
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words - and tired of his safe, boring and rather lonely life at home. He leaves for boarding school filled with cautious optimism, to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps." Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps. Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another."

Looking For Alaska is a book that truly touched me. I stumbled upon it by accident and I'm so glad that I did. Separated into two sections, "Before" and "After", the book chronicles the months leading up to and immediately after a horrific event in the lives of Miles Halter, Alaska Young and their group of well-crafted, multi-faceted friends. There isn't much in the way of plot, but the inner monologue of Miles (or Pudge as he is christened at Culver Creek) is poignant and more than enough to carry the book.

What I admired most about this novel is the way that John Green created Alaska. She's not perfect - in fact, she's infuriating at times. She squanders her potential, she's a little messed up, she doesn't have any idea what she wants, but Pudge is well aware of this and doesn't make her out to be anything she's not. We see Alaska through his eyes and, though she's flawed, we, as readers, can all empathise with his unyielding feelings for her.

The book tails off a little towards the end of the second section, but I finished it with a bittersweet feeling of satisfaction. Looking For Alaska is a heartrending novel, with themes which every teen (and most adults) can identify with. 

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Release Date: March 2004
Publisher: Sceptre
Pages: 544
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Six interlocking lives - one amazing adventure. In a narrative that circles the globe and reaches from the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic future, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of time, genre and language to offer an enthralling vision of humanity's will to power, and where it will lead us."

Although not a particularly YA novel, which I mainly intended to post about on this blog, I couldn't not review this book. To adequately describe the storyline I'd be here for at least an hour, so I'll try and condense it down as much as possible. The story begins with the journal of Adam Ewing, travelling across the Pacific on the Prophetess. His journals are discovered by Robert Frobisher, a composer who spends most of his narrative in Belgium writing letters to Rufus Sixsmith, who is later murdered for his involvement in the cover-up of a potential nuclear disaster (keeping up?). Sixsmith gets stuck in a lift with Luisa Rey, a journalist who attempts to uncover the story Sixsmith first shed some light on. The narrative then jumps to an almost dystopian world dominated by a single corporation, where humans are genetically engineered to be used as slaves and even the moon is used as advertising space. The last section, taking place after the 'Fall' of this futuristic world follows Zachary, a Pacific Islander who welcomes a foreigner to his land.

To say this book is bold would be a massive understatement. The creativity and imagination which has gone into it astounds me, and it is nothing short of a masterclass in vocabulary and style. Each narrative is starkly different, each character is vivid and interesting, each section has mysteries, romance, comedy, action and everything else you could ever want from a novel. As someone interested in music I particularly enjoyed Robert Frobisher's first excerpt where he moves in with a distinguished composer and attempts to aid him (not so much his second section, where he becomes hung up on his landlord's daughter, goes a little bit insane and forgets to shave). The prose is fluid and elegant and it's obvious that David Mitchell is well-read when it comes to classical music; he can describe it perfectly. 

The most fascinating part for me was Somni's first section, set way into the future in a terrifying glimpse of what greed, money and power could do to humanity. Corporations, or rather, a single all-owning corporation, has taken over and technology has advanced so far that it's possible to genetically engineer humans (or 'fabricants') to act as slaves. One of these slaves manages to break free from her enforcers and we see this new world through her eyes; coffee is now simply called 'starbuck', cars are called 'fords', a watch is simply named a 'rolex', a photo is called a 'kodak'. When we hear about the 'golden arches' of the fast-food establishment from which Somni escapes, it's not hard to imagine what company that could be years into the future. The sheer inventiveness of this section astounded me, although this meant that the rest of the book didn't quite live up to the fantastic level set by this narrative. A special mention has to go to Luisa Rey's section, which I felt could have been a novel in itself. 

I would recommend this book to anyone with a brain. It's not an easy read, some sections are very difficult to digest (Zachary's excerpt written entirely in Pacific Islander dialect being the case in point) and even I felt that I had to force myself to push on through some parts. But it's a fantastically rewarding novel - I feel like a better person for reading it, as cheesy as that sounds. Although not a YA author, David Mitchell has leapt onto my author-radar and I'll definitely be buying more of his work in the future - I recommend you all do the same!

Friday, 6 May 2011

A Certain Slant Of Light by Laura Whitcomb

A Certain Slant Of Light by Laura Whitcomb
Release Date: 21st September, 2005
Publisher: Graphia
Pages: 282
Buy The Book: Amazon

"In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them: for the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen—terrified, but intrigued—is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess."

I absolutely adore the concept behind this book. Helen is Light, a ghostly spirit, tied to a living being known as the Quick. She risks death when straying too far from her current human host. James occupies the body of one of the Quick - looking after his shell until the human's soul returns. I'll refrain from typing a synopsis of the story and instead I'll say that this original, beautifully written book should be a must on anyone's reading list!

The themes explored here are touching and emotional. A large theme of religion and Christianity running through the book will not be to everyone's tastes but it is easily overlooked in favour of the stunning notion of Light and Quick. There is some sexual content, but one of the most tastefully written scenes I have ever read. Again, trying not to give anything away but the ending left me with tears in my eyes! 

As this is a supernatural teen book, I've seen it compared to the Twilight series - all I can say that this novel is infinitely more sophisticated in the issues it delves into. The characters are wonderfully crafted and era-appropriate, the prose is fluid, lyrical and elegant. I would recommend this to anyone, teens and adults alike. Beautiful!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Release Date: December 2, 2010
Publisher: Dutton
Pages: 372
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Claire: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he's taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home. As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Anna—and readers—have long awaited?"

For a while I have mostly read YA fantasy fiction, where relationships generally play second fiddle to action, so it was a wonderfully refreshing change to read a purely romantic novel. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all slushy and mushy – the characters are real, honest and believable. The relationship between the adorable Anna and (my new fictional dreamboy) Etienne is a fantastic slow-burner. They haven’t decided they’re soul mates within ten seconds of meeting; they become friends first. No boring clichés here people. Some of their scenes together are truly tingle-worthy, and almost impossible to read without wishing you were Anna!

The setting could not be any more perfect. If you’ve never been to Paris (or even if you have), this book will all but coerce you into booking a trip! There aren’t many books which can do a city like Paris justice in terms of description but this is definitely one of them. With two terrific leads and a wonderful location checked off the ‘perfect book criteria’ list, all we need now is a supporting cast… and boy do we get it. Meredith, Josh and Rashmi make up the rest of Anna and Etienne’s clique and we get to know them so well we almost feel like the sixth member of the group.

With two more books planned in the series (Lola and the Boy Next Door coming September ’11 and Isla and the Happily Ever After the following year), I cannot wait to devour another of Stephanie Perkins’ well-written, absorbing thoughtful, funny, believable and, above all, romantic novels.

City Of Fallen Angels by Cassanda Clare

City Of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare
Release Date: 5th April 2011
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Pages: 432
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Someone has been killing the Shadowhunters who used to be in Valentine’s Circle and leaving their bodies around New York City in a manner designed to provoke hostility between Downworlders and Shadowhunters. Internecine warfare among vampires is ripping the Downworld community apart, and only Simon — the Daylighter who everyone wants on their side — can decide the outcome; too bad he wants nothing to do with Downworld politics. Meanwhile, Jace and Clary investigate a mystery that has deeply personal consequences for them — consequences that may strengthen their relationship, or rip it apart forever. Love, blood, betrayal and revenge: the stakes are higher than ever in City of Fallen Angels."

As an avid fan of what used to be the Mortal Instruments Trilogy, and an excited follower of Clare’s other series, The Infernal Devices, I had mixed emotions when I learned that there was to be a fourth MI book. The complicated plotlines and even more complex characters have proven themselves to make a compelling read, and part of me felt that the more books of Clare’s on offer, the better. I’d sit and read the telephone book if she’d had a hand in writing it. However, City Of Glass was one of the most striking books I’ve read in a long time, in that the ending was so perfect without being nauseating or too perfectly tied-up a la J.K.Rowling’s ’19 Years Later’. I put down CoG with both tears and a smile on my face. Every character got the ending they deserved, and in the strangest way I didn’t want to read any more about them. I wanted Clare to leave them alone and let them have their happy ending. They’d been through enough!

It was with a dubious anxiety that I picked up CoFA, and after devouring it in less than 24 hours, I think I was right to be dubious. The book lacked the witty spark I always associated with Clare’s work – in almost all of her previous books there have been numerous lines that I’ve insisted on reading out to people because they tickled me so much. I had always admired that, even when placed in the most depressing situations, the characters in MI seemed to be able to say something that would put a smile on my face. There is much less comic relief in CoFA.

Character wise, Clary, although showing flashes of brilliance with her angelic talent for creating runes, seemed oddly ‘fanfiction-ish’. You’d think that after almost single-handedly bringing down an evil dictator such as Valentine, a girl might have some confidence. You’d be wrong. Despite still being the most talented Shadowhunter on the planet, Jace has lost his irresistible dangerous edge, turning into a sort of Edward Cullen-style mopey martyr, too worried about hurting Clary and forever moaning about what an awful person he is. Simon, whose battle against and acceptance of his new vampire status is a major theme of the book, is disappointingly pedestrian for a ‘Daylighter’, although this can also be viewed as one of his better traits. Isabelle and Maia are a breath of fresh air in the face of Clary’s woeful lack of self-belief – the relationship between Maia and her ex-boyfriend Jordan is definitely one to watch in the upcoming books.

Concerning the plot and the storyline, I had previously thought that it would take a pretty special baddie to eclipse the Voldemort-esque Valentine. But Clare has succeeded, creating a villain of literally Biblical proportions in Lilith (and bringing back an old one who never quite got what he deserved). However this new enemy is only introduced in the last few chapters – the rest of the book is a lot like City Of Bones in that it very much lays the groundwork for the books to come. As readers, we spend a lot of this book piecing together cryptic clues that won’t make any sense until the end of the book (or even the next books in the series). A lot of the time I didn’t feel ‘in the know’, I was just plodding along and hoping it would all become clear to me at the climax of the novel.

I don’t want to be entirely negative about the book. I genuinely enjoyed reading it, as I always do with Clare’s novels. They’re very well-crafted, imaginative (probably an understatement) and intuitively written. I got a little thrill out of seeing Camille and Will’s names mentioned (characters from Infernal Devices, the companion series) and I always enjoy scenes which feature Magnus. It would have taken a pretty incredible book to topCoG and I don’t think CoFA has managed that, but I am looking forward to the rest of what looks to be another hit series for Cassandra Clare.


Welcome to Fate Is Kind Book Reviews. My name is Lauren, I'm 20 years old and currently living in Manchester, UK. I'm studying towards a degree in English Literature and Journalism, so I spend a lot of my time reading; my favourite novels are YA fantasy books and so I figured I'd start a book review blog to talk about the well-known favourites that everyone loves and share some secret gems that I've found.