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).

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

Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven

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“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” – Albert Camus

I hesitate to write this review, which is why I decided to hide behind the great Albert Camus would be a wise way to start. To give a bit of background, earlier this year I read All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven and it instantly became a favorite of mine. To go even further in depth, I am a sucker for YA romance. Everything, Everything is one of my all-time favorite books. Oftentimes, I find myself wondering at what point is a story too cheesy for my liking (I have yet to hit that point in a YA book I’ve finished, shockingly). Some amazing ones I have read recently are:

Everything I Never Told You

All the Bright Places

Everything, Everything

The Sun is Also a Star

Before I Fall

This is a genre I am fairly new to, but one I have quickly grown to like. I like the innocence, the flirtatiousness of it. I enjoy the ways these books grip my heart and do with it as they please. But, to cut to the heart of it, I did not like Holding Up the Universe. I feel this book could have been very great. In fact, I remarked to my fiancée today that this would have been a great book if Jodi Picoult had written it. I felt that Jennifer Niven compromised. She went for something bold but then made choices along the way that undermined the otherwise stellar premise and purpose of the novel.

Holding Up the Universe is about Jack Masselin and Libby Strout. Jack has prosopagnosia, which is the inability to recognize faces, even those of his loved ones. Libby Strout has made her way into the news as “America’s Fattest Teen”. This book has received lots of criticism about being insensitive towards issues such as obesity, anxiety, and cognitive disorders. I do not think it is insensitive, at least not intentionally. I just do not think Niven did enough research.

The characters felt very faked and flat. Their two-dimensionality made it hard to fall in love with them and that’s even with listening to a well-done audiobook version of it from Audible. Their relationships, interactions, and lives felt too constructed and I was not very engaged or interested in what happened with them. But the plot was the reason I stuck with it.

***SPOILER ALERT DO NOT READ THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO SEE A SPOILER***

Halfway through the book, Libby and Jack expectedly fall in love. Three-quarters through, they break-up. It is here that I became re-intrigued. Again, I love a good romance as much as the next guy or girl, but I also love things that are unique, which this seemed to be shaping up to be. The book took a turn and it began to be about finding meaning within yourself and not seeking acceptance and fulfillment from other people as your identity. And then it happened. Right at the end of the book, as the two characters have come to terms with who they are and accepted it…they fall back in love and the final quote is from Jack who says when he is with Libby, he is home. Moreover, he suddenly can identify Libby’s face…even though I don’t think that’s how a cognitive disorder works. I felt that Niven had built to an amazing point with a great message and then let it all fall flat at the end.

***SPOILERS OVER***

To sum up what you may have missed, Niven basically ruined her entire book in the final pages. It was sitting at about a three-star read for me before the end and then it fell to a two-star. This all being said, I understand that some people do enjoy this book and the characters. I would caution you. This is not a particularly good YA romance. See the list of books above if you would like a better one to read. A hearty round of applause for All the Bright Places, but a disappointed shoulder slump for this novel. I guess I’ll just have to go read Everything, Everything yet again to make up for it…

Buy Holding Up the Universe Here