Paper Towns by John Green

papertowns__span

review-starsreview-starsreview-starsreview-stars

In reading Paper Towns, I’ve completed my tour of John Green’s young adult novels. In this story, Green presents readers with the story of Q, a high school senior from Orlando, FL who’s life has been tied loosely with the girl-next-door popular girl, Margo Roth Spiegelman. When they were children, Q and Margo were very good friends but began to drift apart after an incident when they discovered the corpse of a suicide victim in a neighborhood park. They are reunited during their last year of high school when Margo, ever the unpredictable, independent, and mysterious woman, knocks on Q’s window late one night and reels him into an all night adventure playing pranks on classmates that had done Margo wrong. Q is not sure why Margo chose him to be her accomplice in her night of mischief but he has to start to piece the puzzle together when Margo goes missing the next day. She has left behind various clues for Q, which he becomes obsessed with figuring out. Finding Margo becomes the number one thing on his to-do list and he tries even harder when he begins to fear that Margo might have killed herself and sent him searching for a corpse instead of a devious classmate.

I am biased in my review of this book because I quite enjoy reading John Green’s novels. As always, I found the characters very relatable. There was something particularly interesting about the balance between Q and Margo in this novel: Margo is this person who seems like she has it all together but really is suffering from so much inner turmoil and then Q has this public turmoil about his love for Margo which he has to internalize in order to completely understand his relationship with her. I think that both characters, as well as the supporting characters, are accurate and dynamic depictions of real life teenagers. Green definitely has a talent for capturing youthful emotion in a very truthful way and pinpointing certain feelings in order to draw them out and bring them close to home for readers.

My one complaint about this book is that it was very front loaded; there was a lot of rising action that lead to a fairly quick conclusion. In fact, when I think back to the reading of this book I can hardly remember exactly how it ended. However, that doesn’t make the story any less entertaining. After all, it is truthful in that the “getting-there” is often more important than the destination itself.

I think for sure this book should make it onto your to-read list. I quite enjoyed it; quick and leisurely!

Posted in Fiction, Four Star | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dirt Work by Christine Byl

Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 11.38.53 AM

review-starsreview-starsreview-stars

I picked up Dirt Work by Christine Byl for various reasons: I liked the cover and the title, I enjoyed reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed and thought that this would be something like that, and I like the idea of going to national parks for work. In Dirt Work, Byl recounts her early years as a trail dog. After graduating college with an English degree, Byl didn’t really know where her life would take her so she decided to give herself some time to figure it all out by taking some seasonal work at Glacier National Park. She entered a man’s world, hauling rocks, building fences, marking trails, and felling trees; she fell in love with the land and the work and the challenge of physically exerting herself in ways she never did before. Seasons came and went and Byl remained a trail dog, moving up the ranks, with her husband by her side. Byl’s piece of work is not a memoir per se, as it doesn’t really have a storyline. She warns readers about this very early on in the book. Her writing of this piece is not to satisfy readers, but instead to satisfy herself and to pay homage to the land, her youth, and this period of her life.

Although Byl’s writing is beautiful, it is also very time consuming. The whole book reads more like a poem than prose and at times it became heavy and disconnected from the raw, physical subject matter. Half way through the book, my reading pace slowed as I found myself unable to breeze past Byl’s extensive use of metaphor, four-letter-words, and lists of trail dog words that make the reader feel like they’re on the outside of an inside joke. At times like these, it became apparent that Byl was writing more with herself in mind than with the reader in mind. I had to keep reminding myself that at least she did give me fair warning that this would be the case.

All things aside, however, Byl is able to create mental pictures for the reader where the language is almost as beautiful as what I expect the real sight would be. She is also talented at connecting her trail work to everyday life at various points in the novel. Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

When you’re dead tired and in love with the world, the shabbiest trappings can make for home. -46

The optimist in me hopes that people will always have the good sense to protect this place, and feels lucky for what I’ve received here. The pessimist in me knows that eventually, we kill what we love. -167

Nothing stays the same. The old days always seem like the good ones. From far off, it’s easy to mistake rust for gold. -224

Overall, I think that if you are interested in the subject matter and have some time to dedicate to an intricately written book, you should give Byl’s Dirt Work a try. If you are looking for something leisurely and light, this isn’t the read for you.

Posted in Memoir, Nonfiction, Three Star | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dreamland : Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall

ebook_image

review-starsreview-starsreview-starsreview-stars

A few days ago, I went to my local library to return all of my Emily Giffin books and I found myself craving something a little more substantial. I wandered my way out of the “New Fiction” section into one of my favorite aisles of the library: “New Non-Fiction.” This is the shelf I turn to when I want to feel like my reading is also something that might, for example, help me add interesting information to a dinner party. Anyway, I picked up more books than I could handle and started in on my pile by reading “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.” When I first picked this book up off the shelf, I was drawn to the subject matter (In seventh grade, I won our school science fair with a report on the science of sleep and dreaming; My mom even got me an appointment to meet with a sleep scientist in his lab at our local hospital. Not bad for a 12-year-old!) and even though I usually only read health-related books if the author’s name is followed by MD. or PhD., I decided to give “Dreamland” a go when the author information on the inside of the back cover revealed this smiling picture and the fact that Randall was staff at New York University, where I am currently seeking my own BA:

86802573b0100ad8976fef.L._V393012269_SX200_

 

Randall might not be a doctor or a specialist in the field of sleep, but he does have something going for him: he’s an excellent journalist. The praise that I have for “Dreamland” is that it didn’t feel like reading a textbook. Randall expertly mixes current statistics and findings with historical anecdotes and real-life experiences. This balance made “Dreamland” easy and fun to read in addition to being informative.

“Dreamland” is not necessarily a self-help book, but instead gives an introductory overview to a state of being that you will spend 1/3 of your life in. Randall covers the history of sleep and how it has changed with the advent of technology that can elongate the work day; how sleep affects your ability to learn, remember, and recover; what your brain is doing while you are laying in your bed and how slight malfunctions can lead to serious accidents; and varying scientists views on how to improve your sleep (HINT: The answer actually isn’t always Ambien or Lunesta).

Overall, I thought that Randall’s presentation of sleep as an integral part of human life really made me, as a reader, reconsider how much importance I place on my own relationship with shut-eye. I go to the dentist for my teeth, I work out to help my cardiovascular health, I put on sunscreen to protect my skin–isn’t it simple logic that we should all start paying more attention to our sleep? I would say that even if you sleep like a baby through the night, “Dreamland” is still a good book to pick up and read because it is interesting to understand what exactly is going on after we stop counting sheep. Definitely an interesting, quick read.

Posted in Four Star, Nonfiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Love The One You’re With by Emily Gififn

love-the-one-youre-with-emily-giffin

review-starsreview-starsreview-stars

“Love The One You’re With” is a book I had heard about from various girlfriends and decided to pick up after reading Giffin’s first two novels. “Love The One You’re With” tells the story Ellen, a young newlywed, a New Yorker, and a fledgeling professional photographer who finds herself taking the next step in her relationship with her husband by agreeing to a move in order to enhance his professional life as an attorney. Ellen finds that her own personal life suffers greatly because of the move and her way of coping with the situation is to revert back to her first love from New York City, a journalist named Leo. Ellen finds herself deciding between two separate but equally promising lives: the one she is living, a secure married relationship that is financially stable but also somewhat run-of-the-mill or the one that got away, an artistic and passionate but somewhat unpredictable love with Leo.

I think that the premise of this novel was interesting and more relatable that the story that Giffin told in her previous novels “Something Borrowed” and “Something Blue.” My only complaint about this book is that the action was very bottom heavy; I felt like no key plot points happened until the last chapter of the book and then all of a sudden everything was concluded and the book was over. I do think that Giffin is a creative author that can envision real life situations with a twist that make for the basis of good novels, but I also have found myself a little bit frustrated with her presentation as well as her use of motifs that can sometimes feel forced. However, I do think that if you’re going to read Giffin, “Love The One You’re With” is a viable option.

Posted in Fiction, Three Star | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Something Blue by Emily Giffin

something-blue-emily-giffin

 

review-starsreview-starsreview-stars

I decided to pick up Emily Giffin’s sequel to “Something Borrowed” as soon as I finished the first book. I just started my full-time summer job and for me, the light reading that “Something Blue” was destined to provide was exactly what I was looking for. I went into the second novel feeling that I would be occupied by reading it but not necessarily entertained, a judgement I made solely on the first novel. However, I was pleasantly surprised by “Something Blue.” Again, while the ultimate ending was something that I saw coming, I did find myself more surprised and more engrossed in my reading along the way. “Something Blue” is narrated from the view point of the fiance in “Something Borrowed,” Darcy. Darcy is a beautiful, bubbly, personable girl who goes through a pseudo coming-of-age plot in “Something Blue,” despite rounding age 30. But Darcy is also made out to be a little bit of an airhead, so it is suitable that her growing up happens very late in life.

I think what made “Something Blue” more successful than its predecessor is the fact that Darcy’s transformation is one that can universally be recognized as a positive change: she goes from a childish, materialistic, shallow character to a well-adjusted, worldly, and mature woman. This contrasts with the transformation presented in the first book where Rachel is breaking her shyness and becoming a more selfish more self-serving character; while this sometimes is a change that needs to be made, it can (and did) leave a sour taste in some people’s mouths. In no way is Darcy’s transformation questionable; in fact she proves to be the bigger person in many of her interactions with her best friend, Rachel, throughout the novel.

I think that this book was better than the first, and for that purpose I would highly recommend it as a “redeemer” if you put in the time and effort to read the “Something Borrowed.”

Posted in Fiction, Three Star | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

23774

review-starsreview-stars

My anti-reading sister picked up “Something Borrowed” from the library saying that if she liked romantic comedy movies, she thought she could get herself to read a romantic comedy book. On a rainy day, I stole the book from her room and read it without her even noticing it had gone missing. As expected, the book was an easy read. “Something Borrowed” tells the story of how an under-appreciated best friend and maid of honor deals with her feelings for her best friend’s fiance. I think what made the book interesting for me was the fact that it was set in New York City and a lot of the settings were places that I knew myself or had my own memories of.

There isn’t much to say about this book. While Giffin attempted to create twists and turns for the reader, I was really only genuinely surprised at one revelation; the rest of the book is fairly predictable. Furthermore, I felt that the main character, Rachel, was annoying. While I’m glad she is able to go through a transformation over the course of the book, I felt like the costs she paid to do so made her seem a little self-serving. I would suggest this as a beach read or something easy to get yourself back into some summer reading, but if you’re already on a literary kick I wouldn’t necessarily invest in this book unless you are willing to read the sequel as well (reviewed in the next post).

Posted in Fiction, Two Star | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

grayson

review-starsreview-starsreview-starsreview-stars

In the past few months I have found myself tearing through all of John Green’s novels and I decided to read “Will Grayson, Will Grayson” as the next up on my “Tour of Green.” This book was actually suggested to me by a commenter on one of my previous reviews of Green and I decided to pick it up after enjoying all of his other stuff. I was happily pleased to find that he co-authored the novel with David Levithan, author of “The Lover’s Dictionary,” which I thoroughly enjoyed for it’s raw emotion and poetic qualities (it even has a place in my personal collection).

“Will Grayson, Will Grayson” tells a story of teenage struggle and angst, but it does so in a particularly entertaining way. Unlike other novels by Green, there is no death, no disease, and no mental abnormalities. However, the book does tell a story that hits home in today’s society– an openly gay teenage boy traversing through a world where he is the exception and not the rule. His story is told by two separate characters that share the same name: his best friend, Will Grayson, and one of his love interests, Will Grayson. The storyline unfolds as each chapter alternates its point of view between each Will and chronicles the developing relationships between the two storytelling characters, their respective romantic relationships, and their relationships with themselves.

Overall, the characters in this book feel very real in comparison to the geniuses, cancer patients, and martyrs that we meet in Green’s other novels–not to say that his other characters weren’t relatable, but Will Grayson and Will Grayson balance each other out in a way that makes readers ask themselves if they might possibly have two sides of themselves that have to learn to meet in the middle. One of the Wills is a just-trying-to-get-by, typical teenage boy who tends to run from any extreme emotion while the other Will is a dark, sensitive, self-depreciating teenager who becomes openly gay over the course of the plot line. Definitely worth a read for anyone, especially serial Green readers.

Posted in Fiction, Four Star, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Image

ImageImageImageImage

I was lucky enough to travel around Europe with my godfather this past January. While in Milan, I was spending an afternoon exploring the city on foot and came across an American bookstore. After having spent two weeks in countries where I had no idea how to communicate, I thought the store was a mirage but was happy when I walked in and all the books really were in my native tongue. I picked up Nabokov’s masterpiece, Lolita, from the classics section with a lot of excitement; I had planned on reading this book for awhile and finally got the chance to do so.

In Lolita, Nabokov introduces us to Humbert, his narrator and protagonist, who is retelling the better part of his life story and his love affair with Lolita, the pre-pubescent daughter of his American landlady. Humbert wins over the reader by being as truthful as possible, but admitting his unreliability when it is present. He is tortured, manic, funny, and genuine. It is difficult to reconcile the fact that such a likable character is involved in such shady sexual behavior. Even Humbert himself has difficulties trying to come to terms with his own desires and this is mirrored in the reader’s difficulty in deciding whether they feel sorry for or are disgusted by Humbert.

That being said, I must admit that as a first time reader I liked Humbert’s character more than Lolita’s, which, perhaps, is not what one would expect because Lolita would be considered the “victim.” However, while I do feel that Humbert’s actions and emotions have manic tendencies and could at points be considered unhealthy, I also feel sincerity in his love for Lolita. In that sense, the reader can relate to Humbert, his feelings, and his eventual heartbreak.

I think that Nabokov’s greatest triumph in this novel is the fact that he is able to create such multidimensional characters and also tell a coherent story with a plot that spans decades. My greatest fear in reading Lolita is that it would be very slow and very heavy, making it difficult to read. (Admittedly, this is my fear whenever I’m approaching any “classic.”) However, I was pleasantly surprised with the pace of the story and the subject matter really does push the plot line along and keeps the pages turning.

I would suggest this book to any reader because it is one of those books that you can put a feather in your cap for; it makes you more well-read, which can’t really be said of all of the more contemporary books on this blog. It’s also worthwhile to mention that this book came up in the discussion section of one of my english classes just this week and I was very proud to raise my hand when the professor asked who had read Lolita, despite it not being part of the syllabus. Besides the brownie points of reading classics, this book really is a great read and will be interesting for anyone who likes romance or psychological books. There’s so much to dissect about Lolita that I know that it will be one of the books I come back to and read again and again.

Posted in Fiction, Four Star, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

9780525478812_custom-7eb6cc16a8a3f2266865895e1718ac9e9d6232e0-s6-c10

 

review-starsreview-starsreview-starsreview-starsreview-stars

“‘You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices.'”

After reading “Looking for Alaska” and “An Abundance of Katherines,” I decided I might as well round out the “big three” of author John Green. Let me tell you: I definitely saved the best for last. In “The Fault in Our Stars,” Green tells the story of Hazel an introspective, smart, and mature teenager who also happens to be suffering from a lung cancer that affects her ability to breathe normally. Bookish Hazel is urged by her mother (whose full time job is taking care of/doting on her sick daughter) to be “normal” and try to make friends and enjoy their company, but Hazel has no problems sitting in bed and rereading her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction… that is, until she meets Augustus Waters. I’ll let you pick up the book and figure out the rest.

Of what I knew of Green going into Fault, I expected a relatable story of struggling young lovers. What I got was so much more. In Fault, Green takes his storytelling ability to a new level by making the decision for the “struggling young lovers” to not only be struggling with love, but also with cancer. The inclusion of disease makes everything that’s happening in the plot more poignant and meaningful; these characters aren’t just young kids who will go on to love countless other people once the reader reaches the back cover, they are young people whose days are numbered, thus making every decision a big decision. Green does an excellent job of relating this urgency to the reader through emotional passages and also dark “cancer humor.” Furthermore, as a pre-med student, I must say that Green’s depiction of cancer is very realistic and believable. It isn’t sugar-coated and it seems like Green did a decent amount of homework to get the details right. (Side Note: on the acknowledgements page, Green thanks Josh Sundquist, a cancer survivor and motivational speaker who I have personally met. What a great guy! It made me happy to know that awesome people in this world get together to make awesome things happen.)

Aside from his success in navigating the cancer situation, Green does some things in Fault that definitely make it my favorite novel from him so far. Green does an amazing job of presenting a believable female protagonist (the main characters in both Alaska and Katherines were male, like the author himself). Hazel is, to me, the most lovable character he has presented so far. She is quietly heroic, unapologetically genuine, loyal, and brave: everything a young woman should be (cancer or not!). Also, Green does a great job of creating overlapping plot lines that all come together in the end. Unlike his other novels, there is something in Fault that will surprise every reader. Finally, Augustus Waters is extremely, extremely dreamy.

The movie rights for Fault have been optioned by Fox 2000 according to Green’s website. If a movie is produced, I am not sure that I would watch it, solely because I have such a clear mental image of Hazel, Augustus, and the other characters that I don’t want to tarnish with Hollywood things. Although I’m sure that this would make an amazing movie, like all good books, I’m sure the book will still be better. I highly recommend The Fault in Our Stars. Confession: I cried over this book in public, which means it was all kinds of good. My final comment on the book is that I purchased it to add to my personal library, so you can trust me on this one.

Posted in Fiction, Five Star | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

AbundanceKatherines

review-starsreview-starsreview-stars

I picked up An Abundance of Katherines after a friend suggested it to me. I went in kind of knowing what I should expect because I had previously read Looking for Alaska, also by John Green. An Abundance of Katherines tells the story of Colin Singleton’s romantic adventures and costars his best friend Hassan and a new friend, Lindsey.

An Abundance of Katherines started out quite slow for me, as I found the main character, Colin, to be somewhat annoying. He is a child prodigy who enjoys anagrams and has recently graduated high school and been dumped for the 19th time by a girl named Katherine. Although his predicament of being dumped by a high school sweet heart whom he loved fiercely and, perhaps, immaturely is definitely a universal situation to which the reader can relate, I still found myself poking holes in Colin’s character. One thing that particularly angered me was the rate at which Colin got over his loss of “Katherine XIX” and began exploring other romantic options despite his self-proclaimed love of his ex-girlfriend. But, I suppose, this could be something that only I would find bothersome.

I think that this book is a good read if you have nothing else on your list, but there was nothing really surprising or unpredictable about the novel. The only aspect of the book that was quite intriguing was Green’s inclusion of Colin’s formula project that he works on throughout the novel and helps define Colin’s character as a child prodigy. The formula is Colin’s way of relating romantic relationships to a mathematically defined line and, if the reader so desired, could be used in real life. I actually might try to plug in some of my own variables myself.

Overall, I’m not ranting and raving about this book but it was entertaining and, as expected, Green’s ability to simultaneously present young romance, heartbreak, and humor is much appreciated.

Posted in Fiction, Three Star | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment