Saturday, October 19, 2013

Book Review: Just One Year by Gayle Forman

I think it's safe to say that nobody really hates love. Sure, some people might find over-the-top, ooey gooey declarations of how the mere sight of one's beloved sends their spirits soaring through the air and all that a tiny bit sickening. But no one actually hates love. Love is perennial, timeless. It's been there since Adam and Eve, to Romeo and Juliet, to Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr. In Gayle Forman's "Just One Year", we have Willem and Allyson. This sequel to "Just One Day", which, I kid you not, had me squealing on the edge of my seat, was released just last week, and I, hopeless romantic that I am, naturally had to grab it. ASAP.

Rewind one year. When Willem wakes up in a hospital, he doesn't know where he is, or why he's bruised and battered. All he knows is that he's alone once again, and that he needs to find a girl named Lulu. He remembers that one day they shared together in Paris, just one day in which Willem begins to wonder whether he's met the girl he's not going to fall in love with--but stay in love with. Determined to find her, Willem travels all over the world in an attempt to chase fate, from Mexico to India. But as a year passes by with no sign of Lulu, Willem begins to lose hope--and the belief that they were fated to be together.

While I absolutely loved both Lulu and Willem in "Just One Day", I have to reluctantly admit that I was a little disappointed with Willem's character in "Just One Year". The entire book kind of goes like this: 'Gasp I have to find a girl named Lulu', 'darn, pissed off my ex-girlfriend because I slept with her again (oops) so I can't just wait for Lulu when she comes to pick up her luggage', 'let's go to Mexico', 'let's go to (insert other country here)', 'oooh hot ex-girlfriend, time to sleep with her again', 'sad sad where's Lulu', etc. You catch my drift. I just felt like Willem was such a frustrating protagonist to follow throughout the novel, because there's so much he could do, but he just so easily gives in to his whims and fancies. I mean, this whole thing where he's sleeping with any and all of the ex-girlfriends he stumbles upon, even though he's still pining over the elusive Lulu? Sure, he's nice and charming and good looking and all, but I just couldn't help but feel like he was way too complacent. That being said, there is some character development going on, especially with his family issues and insecurities, and that was definitely one area in which I found myself sympathizing with Willem a little more. And yes, he is the type, because of those issues, to run away from commitment, whether to a girl, or places, or jobs, but I mean, come on, Willem! Snap out of it!

The plot of "Just One Year" was a little diminished by the whole wanting-to-slap-Willem-awake thing, but was pretty exciting nonetheless. Don't get me wrong, Willem isn't a character you end up hating. He's just frustrating, is all. It's really interesting to see things from Willem's perspective, after having spent "Just One Day" in Allyson/Lulu's, and meeting his friends and family and numerous ex-girlfriends coloured his character in a little more as well. What's especially exciting is that Willem, of course, travels all over the world, so Ms. Forman takes her readers across the globe from Mexico to India to Holland. It's like going on an adventure, seeing different cultures and types of people--like taking a little trip through reading. The people that Willem meets on his journeys are diverse and dynamic, and really added dimensions to the story and Willem himself as well.

Frustrations with Willem aside, I thought that the writing in "Just One Year", as always, was beautiful. Ms. Forman is able to create thoughtful, striking prose, with nuances that are both understated and poignant at the same time. And such incredible and balanced writing is necessary when dealing with Big Themes like love, since you don't want cliched, over-the-top tropes that you hear over and over again and become over-sensitized to. In fact, let me give you one of my favourite lines in the book:
There's a difference between losing something you knew you had and losing something you discovered you had. One is a disappointment. The other is truly a loss.
Like, wow. There's nothing flamboyant or crazy about those three short sentences. But the words capture such a powerful truth in the most perfect way, one that hits you right in the heart and makes you think, Exactly. It is really through Ms. Forman's prose that I found myself really being drawn into the story, seeking moments of connection and realization of so many truths in life, ones that you don't really notice until you see them written out just like that.

Overall, "Just One Year" is more of an okay sequel to "Just One Day", largely because of how frustrating Willem is throughout the novel! Nonetheless, there is some interesting character development going on, as well as some exciting adventures, and, of course, the beautiful, striking writing. I'd definitely recommend checking out the first book out--and maybe checking out "Just One Year" if you really want to hear more about Allyson and Willem.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

I think it's no big secret that I am absolutely in love with Brandon Sanderson's books. Ever since I read the first book of the "Mistborn Trilogy", "The Final Empire", I knew that the most beautiful fangirl love was blossoming within me (yes, my love knows no bounds, even if it calls for flowery language). I eagerly lapped up "The Rithmatist" and "The Way of Kings", and nearly fell out of my seat when I discovered that Mr. Sanderson was releasing a new YA book last month! I might have even kissed the floor and cried a little. But I digress.

It is now 10 A.C., a whole decade after Calamity came. When a huge burst in the sky erupted and gave select men and women extraordinary powers, the people were in awe. What they didn't know was that these Epics are no friend of man. With incredible powers comes the incredible urge to dominate, even if it means oppression and murder--including that of David's father. David is out for vengeance ever since he saw Steelheart, the most powerful of all Epics, ruthlessly massacre everyone in a bank--everyone but him. But nobody fights the Epics, nobody except for the Reckoners, a shadowy group of ordinary humans bent on assassinating Epics. David wants in. He has something they need, knowledge no one else has. He's seen the invincible Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

One of the (many) things I love about Mr. Sanderson's novels is the incredible world-building that goes on in each and every one of them. Every series has its own unique universe, whether it's the mysterious world of Allomancy or the magical, almost Harry Potter-esque world of Rithmatics. In "Steelheart", Mr. Sanderson concocts a dystopian period in which Epics maintain a tight control over their domains. To me, Epics are kind of like superheroes. Or I guess they're more like supervillains. Their powers are pretty awesome, like moving the earth and creating illusions. But what makes Mr. Sanderson's worlds that amazing is that they involve a certain degree of complexity in them, like in the way every Epic's powers can be organized into categories. It seems like Mr. Sanderson definitely likes organization--looking back, there are always hierarchies and sub-levels and such in all of the worlds he builds! It adds extra oomph and dimension into the story, and it's just mind-blowing how such intricate worlds can pop out from someone's head like that.

The same can be said about Mr. Sanderson's characters, and especially about his protagonists! His main characters always go through some intense and believable development throughout the course of the story, and it's always so interesting to see them grow with each obstacle they encounter. David, to me, is a pretty exciting character to follow in "Steelheart", but I think I'm going to have to say that I didn't love him as much as I did his other protagonists. Don't get me wrong, David's incredibly clever (just don't call him a nerd), determined and brave--all qualities any great hero should have. But I just felt as if I never reached that point of true connection with him, like I did with Vin from the "Mistborn Trilogy". I think this feeling arises from the impression I got while reading the book that Mr. Sanderson was trying a little too hard to make him into a goofy, yet likable and strong character. For instance, there were many times when David would use a really bad metaphor then go on to talk about how bad he was at making metaphors. It's a definite quirk, but I felt like it was a little too forced and too awkward. The same can be said about his crush on Megan. Having said all this, I may be being a little bit too harsh, since I'm probably comparing him to Mr. Sanderson's other characters from his other novels.

The other characters in "Steelheart" were pretty awesome, and definitely added to the story's dynamics and relationships. Prof is an especially interesting character to me. He's that kind of leader who's aloof yet passionate in the inside, with dark pasts that he's reluctant to share with others. Plus he has a cool black lab coat and science goggles--can you spell super cool superhero? The other Reckoners in the team, like Tia, Abraham and Cody, really helped to create that group vibe within their team, each bringing their own personalities and styles to add to the family. And, of course, the apple of David's eye, Megan. I quite liked her character as well. She's tough and passionate, and she definitely has some serious issues going on in her life, but there's also a vulnerability in her. After all, she's just a teenager. And the twist at the end--let me just say here that I knew it! But of course, no spoilers!

Overall, "Steelheart" is a fun read that's almost like a comic book, filled with action and super cool pew pew powers and all that. I wouldn't say that it's the greatest of Mr. Sanderson's books, but it's still worth checking out--it's a fun ride!

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, October 5, 2013

October '13 Releases!

I can't believe this slipped my mind! With college life, things can get pretty hectic, so bear with me. October officially marks autumn territory, with leaves falling from their branches and the air becoming crisper and cleaner. Grab your boots and sweaters! And also maybe take a trip to the bookstore; there are a ton of amazing books that are being released this month as well--perfect for keeping you warm in bed on chillier days. Gah, at this rate, I don't know how I'll be able to read all of these books!

"The House of Hades" (The Heroes of Olympus #4) by Rick Riordan
Release date: Oct. 8

"Just One Year" (Just One Day #2) by Gayle Forman
Release date: Oct. 10

"Revealed" (House of Night #11) by P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast
Release date: Oct. 15

"Across a Star-Swept Sea" (For Darkness Shows the Stars #2) by Diana Peterfreund
Release date: Oct. 15

"Teardrop" (Teardrop #1) by Lauren Kate
Release date: Oct. 22

"Allegiant" (Divergent #3) by Veronica Roth
Release date: Oct. 22

"Desert Tales" (Wicked Lovely) by Melissa Marr
Release date: Oct. 22

"Horde" (Razorland #3) by Ann Aguirre
Release date: Oct. 29

"The Iron Traitor" (The Iron Fey: The Call of the Forgotten #2) by Julie Kagawa
Release date: Oct. 29

It's kind of ridiculous just how many amazing books are out this month. Let me just...

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I just want to start off by saying, how gosh darn cute is that cover? Not that I'm too surprised by it, especially after reading Rainbow Rowell's "Eleanor & Park", which was ridiculously cute. And I don't mean 'cute' in the belittling, patronizing way. Oh no. What I love about Ms. Rowell's books is that sure, they're cute, but they have a darker undertone in them, one that tells her readers about the unpleasant realities in life. And that's what life is: at times, it can be gushingly cute, and in others, it can be a real slap in the face. "Fangirl" was released just last month, and of course I had to get my grubby hands on it. And when I did, I found myself sucked into yet another fantastic story about real, human life.

Cath is sure of three things in life. First, she doesn't know what she'd do without her twin, Wren. Second, starting college stinks. And third, she is irrevocably, undeniably a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her entire life--and she's really good at it. In fact, her Simon Snow fan fiction has won her a more than a few fans of her own. But when the time to start freshman year in college hits, and Wren begins to move away from fandom, Cath finds herself entirely on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. With only her laptop as her sole constant companion, Cath needs to face huge changes ahead. The question is, can she do it? Is she ready to start her own life, write her own stories? And does she even want to, if it means having to leave Simon Snow behind?

I think I can confidently say now that I love Ms. Rowell's characters. They're not perfect--not even close. They can be awkward, self-conscious, not the prettiest person on the street... you get the picture. But this is precisely what makes them so undeniably real. You could probably tell this already from the synopsis, but Cath is most definitely not the perfect girl. She prefers the fiction world to the real world, and finds a lot of difficulty in adjusting to changes. And in this, I found a little bit of myself in it! Having started my own freshman year in college, I was really able to relate to what Cath was going through. Finding your niche, homesickness, settling into a completely different lifestyle--these were all things I'd experienced, and still am! It's this moment of connection between a character and yourself, when you go, "Hey, she's a little like me!", that you truly begin to relate and become invested in. You can even begin to learn from Cath's story and become inspired to do something in your own life--just like how I got a little kick in the butt to get writing, just like how Cath was. There's just something almost magical about these kinds of deep connections with a character in a book, and for that alone, I'm actually grateful to Ms. Rowell--and Cath!

The rest of the characters in "Fangirl" are just as equally as amazing, I don't even know where to start! Wren is the perfect complement to Cath. Sure, they're twins, but Wren's always been the more outgoing, confident one in the pair. When she begins to put herself out there more in college, she becomes a great foil for Cath, and it's intriguing and heartbreaking all at once to see how their relationship changes throughout the course of the novel. You also have Reagan, Cath's surly roommate who oozes sexuality and a devil-may-care attitude, and I loved seeing their friendship/roommateship develop as well. Then there's Cath and Wren's dad, who's loving but fragile after their mom left them. It is so sweet to read about the bond between Cath and her dad, how the filial dynamics aren't quite what we're used to seeing in our own lives or even in other books. They're protective of each other, and it just makes me miss my own parents more (dammit, Ms. Rowell!). There's also Nick, Cath's writing partner in her Fiction-Writing class. And then, of course, you have Levi, Reagan's charming, perpetually-smiling boyfriend who's always hanging out in their room. Lemme just say that this is one amazing cast of characters--one you'll fall in love with and shake your head at and laugh with, all at once.

Ms. Rowell has done a wonderful job in creating a great storyline that remains compelling and exciting throughout, even if there are no blood-pumping action scenes or anything of that sort. Everything is so fluid and smooth, it's like you're just there with Cath the entire time as the story progresses, no bumps that jerk you out of the story. I think this is a really important aspect of any realistic fiction, this fine balance between boring and unbelievable, and Ms. Rowell is awesome at keeping her readers engaged. I did feel like some parts, especially toward the middle, were a little dragged on, but it never did so to the extent that I got bored. I also love, love, love the way the chapters of the novel alternated with little excerpts from Simon Snow books or Cath's writing--they tie in together in such subtle ways and enhance the novel as a whole! Not to mention that ending. Just, wow. It floored me.

All in all, "Fangirl" is a fantastic coming-of-age novel that you have to go pick up at a bookstore now. With an incredibly relatable protagonist, a dynamic and exciting cast of characters, and some amazing storytelling, it's a read that's not to be missed.

Rating: 5/5