Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

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Virginia Woolf wrote: ‘English, which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear, has no words for the shiver and the headache… the merest schoolgirl, when she falls in love, has Shakespeare or Keats to speak her mind for her; but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry.’ And we’re such language based creatures that to some extent we cannot know what we cannot name. And so we assume it isn’t real. We refer to it with catch-all terms, like crazy or chronic pain, terms that both ostracize and minimize. The term chronic pain captures nothing of the grinding, constant, ceaseless, inescapable hurt. And the term crazy arrives us with none of the terror and worry you live with. Nor do either of those terms connote the courage people in such pains exemplify, which is why I’d ask you to frame your mental health around a word other than crazy.

I know that this is a very long quote to start my review with and I apologize. But it hit me hard as one of the best descriptions of what people with a mental-illness go through that I have read/heard in a very long time. I want everyone to read that passage.

I am not a John Green fan. I know that these days that’s a very unpopular thing to say but I’m just not. I read The Fault in Our Stars about 4 years ago and it was okay. But honestly just okay. I can’t remember if I read Paper Towns before or after I read TFIOS but I really hated that one. I read Let It Snow and couldn’t even finish John Green’s section. I think I tried Will Grayson, Will Grayson too and DNFed about 30 pages in. So I have given him a reasonable try and had given up.

When Turtles All The Way Down came out I thought the title was interesting and the cover attractive. But I had given up on John Green already so I was mostly ignoring the very small hype. But the other day I went with my best friend Elri to the library and I was picking out some easy vacation reads. TATWD was there and I looked at her and I grabbed the book, resolving to give him one last try and if I hated this book then never give his work a second glance ever again.

I did not hate this book.

There, I said it.

But I didn’t love this book either. I actually gave it 3 stars.

I think one of my biggest difficulties with John Green was that he tried too hard. He so desperately wanted to be deep that instead it felt cheesy to me. I think he might finally be getting to the maturity of a writer who can actually be deep. I also like that there weren’t a million and one f-words and incessant swearing and sexual language from the characters. This book was actually pretty PG. I’m not against some of that stuff in YA, but it can be a bit over the top and that’s how I’ve felt about his works in the past. This was refreshing to me from Green.

I liked Aza, I sympathized with her. I liked her best friend Daisy and I felt for what she had to put up with. I liked Davis too and how much he accepted Aza’s boundaries. Aza’s mom was sweet and Noah was too. I found the characters likable and the plot decent.

I don’t know why I didn’t love it. It may honestly be that I am still biased, I’ll admit to that. But it might also be that I felt that John Green is getting there, but isn’t quite there yet. I think I will give his next book a go. I might even consider buying this one as it is good enough to own. That says something right?

One final note: the texting actually resembled teenagers how teenagers text. FINALLY!

Buy Turtles All the Way Down here (you should do it, you know you want to, look how pretty it is).

Beartown Duology by Frederik Backman

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“Bears shit in the woods and everyone else shits on Beartown.”

Fredrik Backman is one of my favorite modern authors. There’s an increasingly small number of his works that I haven’t read. My Backman journey began in March 2017 with A Man Called Ove. Eleven months later, I saw Backman’s newest book, Beartown, was available on Audible and, without knowing a single thing about it, I purchased it and began listening…

“Everyone has a thousand wishes before a tragedy, but just one afterward.”

For those who are unaware of this fact, Beartown is about a girl who was raped and the ripple following this tragedy. Because of this, there are a few incredibly intense, somewhat graphic scenes. The audiobook may also magnify the intensity of these elements. Nevertheless, if you can make it through these, there is a treasure worth seeking. Backman has a sharper, clearer perspective on life and the way a community of people functions together in the wake of controversial tragedy than anyone I have ever read.

“What is a community? It is the sum total of our choices.”

Beartown feels real. Painfully real. As someone who grew up in a small town, some of the “mob scenes”, so to speak, were incredibly relatable. Morality becomes vague in the surge of consensus and conflicting interests. What was formerly black and white becomes grey. A cliff becomes a slope. Oftentimes, it is the loudest, most determined voice that prevails. Backman observes moral decline and offers a powerful commentary on society. It is his “state of the union” address to the whole world and it has the power to shatter you.

“Loneliness is an invisible ailment.”

Unfortunately, Beartown would have been better left standing solo. Its follow-up novel, Us Against You lacked much of the reality and poignance that made Beartown so magnificent. Perhaps Backman felt as though he had unfinished business in Beartown. The story leaves one with a partially resolved unease, so I can see why this would be his feelings. In Beartown, Backman simply seems content to offer his thoughts on humanity and the various dynamics of a community. In Us Against You, however, he seems compelled to offer hope, closure, and comfort to both reader and characters. I would not discourage reading Us Against You, as it did have some merit on its own. I just caution you to not expect the quality brought to us in Beartown.

If you have wondered what makes a person, a family, a community shatter…if you have wondered how to pick up broken pieces without knowing when or how they broke…then Beartown may offer some comfort (or, sadly, familiarity) to you.

It is a story that will challenge the way you think and act. It will, if you let it, impact the way you live today, tomorrow, and forever.

“We stand tall if you stand tall.”

Buy Beartown Here

Buy Us Against You Here

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

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Reese Witherspoon declared this her Reese’s Book Club X Hello Sunshine pick of October and so I decided to pick it up without any real knowledge of what the book was about. So I downloaded the audio and off I went on a journey with no expectations.

I loved it.

Honestly, every single second of this book was loved by me. It is a story of a family, a family in which the last born doesn’t want to be a “he” but rather a “she”, but really it is simply about a family.

I don’t tend to spend a lot of time reading LGBTQ+ books. I have read one or two, but I don’t personally seek them out like some of my friends do. Sometimes I feel like I really can’t relate to them at all because they seem to be pushing an agenda at times and then it can honestly come out seeming contrived to me. This book wasn’t contrived, this book was so real and so heart warming and yet heart breaking simultaneously.

Penn, the dad, was my favorite character. Maybe that I have ever come across in any book. The simple reason being he reminds me of Christian. Penn is a sweet man and all his moments are what will stick with me from this book. Staying in the ER so that he can talk to Rosie whenever she comes out, or maybe just so she will get a glimpse of him, because he wants to woo her. I loved that everyone did homework together under his supervision and only after he had made them “a really good snack”. I loved loved loved his stories that he told his wife and children (honest moment: Christian makes up stories for me regularly and this similarity may be the reason I most loved this book).

I think the biggest thing about this book is it simply felt so raw and real. You could have no relation to anyone LGBTQ+ or even really know anyone LGBTQ+, and you would still likely relate to this book in some way. Because reading (or listening to, like I did) this book feels like you have been invited to join the family. The characters were real and lovable and relatable and I felt like I knew them. In this book I laughed and I cried, I got anxious and fearful, and I had so much hope.

I don’t feel like I can adequately sum up this book. I don’t feel like I can give this book what it deserves in my review. I kept saying to Christian (and Elri, my best friend) “you have to listen to this book” and that’s my advice to you too. Whoever you are, whatever you are doing, stop and go listen to this book!

Buy This Is How It Always Is Here (I personally recommend the audio)

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

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I was lying in bed, Christian’s new job meant that I couldn’t talk to him until after midnight so I was scrolling through Libby looking for a way to pass the hours. I clicked on “Available” and then “Audiobooks” and then “Romance”. This was at the top of the list. I thought it looked light and fun and comforting.

That is the story of how I found this book. I love romance novels, they’re my guilty pleasure, and with our wedding less than 6 months away I am enjoying them even more. I also love the royal family and a fan-fiction that mixes the love stories of Prince William and Kate Middleton and of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle seemed like a really good idea.

The thing is, while I really enjoyed the beginning of this book and the end of this book, the middle was long and dragged. Instead of being 454 pages, this book could have been around 250 or 300 and been far more enjoyable and engaging. About half way through the book I realized that they had been together (on-again-off-again) for four years and thought “where else could this go”. As a result what was supposed to be a fun and light read for me ended up being a chore to get through (I did really want to know how it ended) and having several hours of boring audio in there.

One final complaint is I got all mixed up with the names. Gemma, Emma, Eleanor… they were rather similar. And sometimes it felt like a character would disappear for a while and then return and I would have no idea who they were. This is a pet peeve of mine in books.

My advice to all you romance readers looking for a royal romance would be to give this a go. I thought the characters were fun and I did enjoy the story. However I wouldn’t recommend the audio as it is so long (about 18 hours) and I would be willing to skim through some of the scenes that felt repeated. The beginning and the end were all worth it in my opinion but, unfortunately, I have to give the book as a whole only 3 stars.

Buy The Royal We Here

Almost, Maine by John Cariani

“Here I am at the end of the world, and I have nowhere to go, so I was counting on staying here.”

For no identifiable reason, this play stole my heart. It is everything a good play should be—witty, charming, magical, satirical, sappy—the only issue is it seems to make absolutely no sense at face-value. If you dig a little bit deeper…it still makes no sense.

Almost, Maine is a set of nine beautifully satirical vignettes that I would call “the anatomy of love” (Almost, Maine is truly a better title; this is why I don’t name things). It addresses nearly every facet of love—a rather impressive feat. It’s a whimsical work, with a weight and depth far surpassing expectations. Through the tears of laughter, one suddenly realizes that there is a dark reality to these short, seemingly comical scenes.

“Almost” is not quite a town but also not a nothing either.

EAST: You’re in unorganized territory. Township Thirteen, Range Seven. It’s not gonna be on your map, cause it’s not an actual town, technically.

GLORY: What do you mean?

EAST: See to be a town, you gotta get organized. And we never got around to getting’ organized, so…we’re just Almost.

“Almost” is a place anything can happen from love. Medical conditions can heal, hearts can literally break, love can be measured in bags, and people can shrink from the loss of love and hope. This play made me think several times of Brother’s Grimm Fairy Tales and the Wizard of Oz. Except this one bit harder. There are portions that cause you to laugh until you are stopped short by the shocking realization that it is an accurate representation of the beautiful beast called love.

It is rather hard for me to put this review into words. If you are comfortable reading plays, I highly recommend this one. It is a stunningly clear commentary on the most blinding of things, a voice cutting through an unknown silence. The main reason I am unsure how to approach this review is because with most satirical works the author is trying to point out some issue that requires attention and usually some level of maintenance and repair and change. But this does not particularly feel like an attack on love. Instead, it felt like he had finally gotten to the heart of what love truly is in many regards.

“You can be hurt and be bleeding or bruised…”

Some of the downsides to this play is that it does not have an extremely specific and observable plot. The characters are lovable, though, and the scenes are poignant and thought-provoking. Certainly worth the short amount of time it takes to get through it.

One more thing: this play is difficult to find. I do not think it is available on Kindle and my library seemed to have no idea it even exists. However, there is a place online that has the full text.

“I won’t be able to love you back. I have a heart that can pump my blood and that’s all. The one that does the other stuff is broken. It doesn’t work anymore.”

Buy Almost Maine here

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

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Rare is it that I finish a book, stand up, and clap out loud for it. A tip of the hat and a bow to Stephanie Garber. Whimsical, fantastical, breathtaking, this novel appealed to me for so many reasons.

1. I’m a sucker for YA romance. I know to many it’s the worst things ever but oh well get over yourself.

2. I’m an enormous fan of books that can make me feel something. This book had me (still has me) on my toes. I trusted no one, no situation, nothing. I embarked on the rollercoaster under the stars, plummeting through darkness. And the smells! Oh goodness the smells and sights and feels in this book. I may just read it over immediately to enjoy it again. It’s as though I could smell and taste and feel the astounding game of Caraval. Truly breathtaking work of art.

3. Often times in books with many twists the twists become so many that the plot no longer makes sense. Not so with Caraval. This book twists and turns like no other and leaves me wanting more. It piques my curiosity and engulfs my mind and heart in an insatiable thirst for more Caraval and, namely, for answers to all my questions.

All in all probably one of my favorite books I’ve read all year. 5-stars for this awe-inspiring book.

Buy Caraval Here

 

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Cather is a freshman in college. She has always had her twin sister Wren by her side but now Wren wants to experience college life without the “built in best friend” benefit. Cather finds herself with a scary roommate and feeling alone. She wants nothing more than to go back to the way things were, with Wren and her attached at the hip again. But in this time of distress, who else could she turn to but Simon Snow, the main character of the book series she and Wren have followed obsessively since their mother left them when they were kids.

Ok, my summary is terrible. But I enjoyed this book so much that I am scared to give more information for fear of spoiling it for you. I was expecting something else from this book, but it was so much better than I thought it would be.

Now, I’m not sure that everyone else would love this book as much as I did. It was well written and sweet and I think that is what most people would see in it. But I saw myself in Cather. I know what it’s like to feel completely alone in a place where I am unfamiliar and feel almost paralysed by that fear. I completely understand staying holed up in my dorm room wanting to interact with no one and simply write and read. To not go looking for the cafeteria and to sit in my room eating protein bars. To become completely obsessed, for lack of a better word, with a series and not be able to think past it. To not even start a project because I feel that I simply cannot do it so I am not even going to try.

I listened to this on audio but I am going to buy myself a copy of the book. I am not such a fan of the language or the gay fanfiction; but for the reasons above this will be one of my favourites for a long while.

Buy Fangirl Here

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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Callum McGreggor is a nought, he is pale skinned. Persephone (Sephy) Hadley is a Cross, she is dark skinned. Crosses and noughts do not mix and they are never friends. There is a clear divide between the two and the Crosses are superior to the noughts simply because of their coveted dark skin. Crosses are there to rule the world and hold all the good jobs, noughts are there to serve them. But Callum and Sephy have been friends since they were kids. Can they stay strong in a world of noughts and Crosses?

The idea behind this story was good. I really enjoyed the plot, and since I enjoy dystopian that doesn’t follow the typical themes this suited suited my reading tastes. I felt the way it played out was realistic and the characters were believable. I liked how this idea was a twist on what we already know and I admire the author for undertaking this feat.

But there were a lot of problems with this book. In the beginning I felt patronised because the writing was childish: “He actually kissed me! Wowee! Zowee!” – I have never heard anyone say “zowee” and I felt like she was overemphasizing the immaturity of a fourteen-year-old.

For quite a way through the book “noughts” has a lower case “n” and “Crosses” an upper case “C”. I remember thinking this was an interesting way to show that Crosses are more important and noughts are lesser. But then towards the end of the book they became “Noughts” and “Crosses”, both with upper case starting letters and no reason for the switch. This annoyed me a little bit because it felt like the author had let something symbolic slip.

As someone who has read many articles on writing, I know that common writing advice is to keep the reader hooked by never finishing a chapter or even a scene with closure. Rather the reader should be baited into reading more by have something new and exciting happen. Blackman tried hard to do this, several times, but she didn’t execute it well enough. For example she would say something like “I was shocked to hear what she had to say” at the end of the chapter but then when I turned the page, it wouldn’t tell me what “she” had to say but other random events would occur and only several pages and scenes later would she get back to that point. This honestly just left me frustrated because it was too easy to forget things that had happened and it interrupted the flow.

The book was also just a little bit slow. It took me four days to read the 446 page book, and it had big print. I should have been done a lot faster than that (particularly since I was up until 1 or 2 in the morning reading when I couldn’t sleep). But because it felt set up to drag me into it, I was unable to get lost in the book.

So in conclusion, the story and plot were good. The basic idea behind the book was good too. The execution, not nearly up to standard. It simply wasn’t all it could have been.

Buy Noughts and Crosses Here