Friday, 16 December 2011

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Release Date: February 1st, 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 448
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Ninety-five days, and then I’ll be safe. I wonder whether the procedure will hurt. I want to get it over with. It’s hard to be patient. It’s hard not to be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet. Still, I worry. They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness. The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t."

After reading Before I Fall I decided to seek out some more of Lauren Oliver's work. I was a little bit undecided whether I liked her previous book but I felt like her dreamy prose had promise and so I decided to see what else she'd written.

Delirium is one of the most beautiful books I've read for years. Not since I read A Certain Slant Of Light by Laura Whitcomb have I felt so completely moved by a book. The basic concept is original and intelligent, with a convincing backstory that makes for uncomfortable reading (especially with excerpts from the Book Of Shhh). A life without love is bad enough but a life without the capacity to even feel emotion... unimaginable. Those who have been 'cured' of love lose enjoyment in their hobbies, food tastes bland, friendships dissolve; it is difficult reading at times.

Lena, the lead, is convincingly straight-laced at the beginning of the novel. Abiding strictly by the rules is all she's done for her whole life, believing the stories force-fed to her by her adopted family and the government which has taken over. Her awakening to the truth of what's going on in this dystopian world does not just happen overnight; the realisation takes time. Lena struggles convincingly with the truth and struggles with trying to resist what has been drilled into her for her entire life. She is wonderfully brave and honest, with a good heart. You can't help but like Lena. Seeing her and her beliefs fall apart and build herself back into the person she is at the end of the book is thrilling and satisfying. You like to think that, should you be in her place, you'd be as brave as her.

But this is just the start. I had no idea when I picked up Delirium that it was the first of three novels, and so when the ending came I was in SHOCK (I convinced myself my book must have some chapters missing because it could just NOT END THERE). Having thought it was a standalone novel I was devastated with the ending, but now that I know it's just the beginning of the trilogy I see that it's a fantastic cliffhanger. 

Delirium feels like a more adult novel than Before I Fall. Concepts are echoed in both books, with themes of loss and identity represented strongly, but Delirium feels like a much more polished work. Lauren Oliver's prose is lyrical, fluid and beautifully written; the last few pages especially stick in my mind. This dystopian world is intriguing and I am truly excited to see what happens next. Check back for my review of Pandemonium, the next installment in the Delirium Trilogy, in February 2012.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Paper Towns by John Green

Released: 16th October 2008
Publisher: Dutton Books
Pages: 305
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life--dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge--he follows. After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues--and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees of the girl he thought he knew."

I am definitely on something of a book binge; surely five separate novels in five days must be some sort of record? Today I finished Paper Towns and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. One of the most profoundly moving books I've ever read, John Green is a truly gifted and wonderful writer and I've already bought everything else he's written, ready to absolutely devour.

Having read Looking for Alaska not long ago, I was very excited to read this book. It has many similarities with Alaska, with certain themes strongly represented in both books; loss, abandonment, love, solving a mystery, the idea of trying to get into someone else's head and figure out what they're thinking. The male leads are quite alike in both novels too - I preferred Paper's Quentin to Alaska's Pudge, but I can't quite put my finger on why. 

My favourite aspect of the book was the exploration of how we relate to people and how different people see us in different lights. Everybody had their own idea of who Margo really was, and who's to say any of them were right? The idea of people seeing us through mirrors and windows was an enthralling one for me. John Green's novels are not only entertaining, they also make you evaluate areas of your own life.

The plot in parts manages to seem far-fetched whilst also being entirely realistic. It's been a long time since I was so nervous to finish a book for fear of what the ending might be, but like in Alaska, the ending, when it eventually arrives, feels bittersweet and perfect. This isn't to say it's a depressing story; there were some genuine laugh-out-loud moments from really stand-out supporting characters. Radar and Ben are the perfect foils for Quentin's character and are wonderfully genuine and believable. It's one of the best representations of high school life I've ever read (and I've read a few!). John Green is fantastic at creating beautifully likeable characters, especially his protagonists.

I would recommend this book to teens and adults alike. It is one of the few books I can see myself reading over and over and finding something new each time.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare
Released: December 6th, 2011
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Pages: 528
Buy The Book: Amazon

"In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has at last found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when rogue forces in the Clave plot to see her protector, Charlotte, replaced as head of the Institute. If Charlotte loses her position, Tessa will be out on the street—and easy prey for the mysterious Magister, who wants to use Tessa’s powers for his own dark ends. Tessa finds her heart drawn more and more to Jem, but her longing for Will, despite his dark moods, continues to unsettle her. But something is changing in Will—the wall he has built around himself is crumbling. Could finding the Magister free Will from his secrets and give Tessa the answers about who she is and what she was born to do?"

If you read my review of City Of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare you'll know that I was disappointed with what I thought of as a lazy follow-up to one of my favourite book trilogies ever. My faith in the talented Cassandra had faltered and I was awaiting this book with a mixture of excitement and dread. All I can say is THANK GOODNESS.

The book is a brilliant return to form. One of the aspects I felt most let down CoFA was the strange backwards character development that seemed to make each of the well-loved cast regress into mere fanfiction caricatures. Clockwork Prince couldn't be any more different; no character is left unchanged. We learn about Will's heartbreaking history and the reason he is the way he is. I had anticipated that once I knew the big secret of Will's, the mysterious aura surrounding him would dissipate and I would be disappointed. I couldn't have been more wrong; hearing his revelation only made me love him more as a character. He became more real to me; he wasn't just acting up because it makes for a good scene-stealer.

We also learn more about his parabatai, Jem. In almost every other novel I've read which features a love triangle, I have always been able to guess who would end up with who. The hints have always been laid, there is always an almost instinctual feeling of which way the relationship is going to end up. But in this series, I really have no idea which way it will go. Jem is a wonderful foil to Will's caustic and impulsive nature, and it was refreshing to see his emotional side in this book. Tessa seems to care for the boys in entirely different ways and I have no idea which will win out. I just have an awful feeling that it will come down to tragic circumstance rather than choice...

Tessa is wonderful as always; brave, intelligent and a brilliant heroine. It's nice to note that Clare's leading ladies are usually the key to the plot rather than hopeless damsels swept up in something which doesn't concern them. Tessa is suddenly integral to these people's lives and she handles it all admirably. One of my favourite things about her is her love of classic fiction. I think it helps many readers to relate to a character when they share a common interest, and Clare must have known that many of her readership would have read and loved the same novels as Tessa (and Will, to an extent).

As in Clare's other work, the city of London is as much a character as any of the cast. Her descriptions of the murky Victorian city are vivid and appropriately grim, with the specific reference to places making me itch to get out a map and trace the footsteps of the characters. The backing cast are as weird and wonderful as ever, with Magnus Bane especially shining. You can guarantee that any scene with Magnus will be emotional, memorable or insightful. Jessamine's betrayal somehow felt expected and shocking all at the same time, showing off Clare's innate ability to make you care for the characters that maybe aren't so agreeable.

All previous sins from CoFA have been (briefly) forgiven. This book undoubtedly feels like it's laying the groundwork for a seriously grand finale, and I for one cannot wait.

Lola And The Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Released: September 29th, 2011
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Pages: 384
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn't believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit—more sparkly, more fun, more wild—the better. But even though Lola's style is outrageous, she's a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood. When Cricket—a gifted inventor—steps out from his twin sister's shadow and back into Lola's life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door."

Having literally just finished Lola this very second, I realised it was definitely time to stop procrastinating and write an absolutely glowing review of this lovely book. I re-read Anna in around five hours flat to refresh my memory before I started Lola, and the first thing I'll say is that although the two are companion novels, they are very, very different books. The protagonists are two very different girls; I found Lola much more vulnerable than Anna, and her backstory interested me much more. Where Anna's backstory played a minor role in the book as she discovered a new life in Paris, Lola's past forms the very basis of her story. Maybe it was because we didn't see much of Anna's home life first hand, but Lola felt like a more complete character because you can see exactly where she's come from to become who she is.

But this isn't a comparison essay, it's a review, and even as a standalone, Lola is a completely lovely book. The characters are well-thought out and vibrant, and that's saying something when they're cast against the colourful backdrop of San Francisco. Stephanie Perkins has a remarkable way of making you want to immediately visit any city she describes. Cricket Bell is a truly lovely 'boy next door'; he is thoughtful and kind and intelligent, and I also loved the way that, towards the end, he said things intimating that he might not be such an innocent boy (a certain sentence about him pressing someone against the wall with his hips made me come over all flustered). Making him a twin was also an interesting insight into a sibling relationship that I found sweet, endearing and lifelike.

As in Anna, action and plotline generally play second fiddle to character development and interaction, but this is at no detriment to the book. Stephanie Perkins creates characters that you miss when they're not in scenes; whenever Cricket wasn't home for the weekend I felt impatient to read Lola's next interaction with him. The wonderful author is also a master of slow-burning romance. The last third of the book is sheer torture, in the best way.

I would recommend this book to anyone who needs a dose of realistic romance in their life.

(Also, Cricket you are adorable, but my heart still belongs to Etienne St. Clair and the amount of Etienne-loving in this book, though unexpected, makes me very happy indeed.)