Friday, December 28, 2012

My top pick of 2012 (Book review): The Fault in Our Stars

Disclaimer: This review appears on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

The Fault in Our Stars

Contrary to what Cassius believes, sometimes the fault DOES lie in our stars and not in ourselves.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Penguin Books)
One of my current favourite songs is a song called All this and Heaven too, by Florence and the Machine.

In this tune, Florence Welch sings about how the language of the heart is hard to translate. 

She croons about it speaking in whispers and sighs, and prayers and proclamations. 

She acknowledges its eloquent beauty and its indescribable splendour.

And while the words of her song and its melody is nothing short of exquisite, it's the part about how she, for all of her education, can't seem to find the proper words to commend or command it, that resonates very deeply within me.

Regardless of how hard she tries to capture it in poetry, she can't because she's been "scrawling forever" and would give "All this and Heaven" to understand it.

For me,this is the essence of just why this song is a conduit that describes my every thought and feeling about John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.

Not because I don't understand it, but because I'd give everything to be able to give this book the praise it deserves without me fumbling over the words.

I want to paint this book in stars and write it a Shakespearean love letter.

I want to seduce you into buying it without you feeling liked you've been conned or connived into it.

I want to find a way to immortalise this book and give it even bigger wings to fly than it already has been flying.

Most of all, I want you to experience this profoundly tragic, funny, beautiful and heart-wrenching read and I want you, like me, to feel ALL the things, think ALL the thoughts and contemplate life in all of its raw, chaotic and unflinching beauty.

I'm not sure if I have it in me to paint this review in such incandescence, but I am going to try. 

Most of you know that I'm not a huge fan of books that fall victim to the hype monster. Past experience has often taught me that these must-reads , for the most part, tend to be commercial fodder that offers nothing new in terms of characters, plot and substance.

So you can only imagine my reluctance when everyone around me started raving about John Green's The Fault in the Stars. Having said that, I did like the premise of the story, so did end up putting it on my list of books to read.

When a number of bookish blogger friends I trust implicitly started raving about the book, I finally began thinking that there may be something here I'm missing out on.

So, when I finally picked the book up and sat down to read it, my feelings went on a journey that took me from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other, all the while feeling every single thing in between.

The Fault in Our Stars is a gobsmackingly magnificent read.

It's luminescent in its beauty and ugly in its truth. It takes a good, hard and long look at the effects of Cancer on the dying and rips you apart beautifully, terribly and tragically.

If I could sum up the way this book made me feel in a paragraph and address it to John Green, this is what I would say:

"Dear John.
There's no way to stop the faucet of tears that's just been unleashed. I don't think there'll ever be a tourniquet effective enough to stop my heart and soul from bleeding all the world's heartache in your book that is filled with aching tragedy.

Please don't ever stop writing books that make me feel."


Such is the power of this book of his. 

It's not just about his writing, which by the way, is nothing short of genius (and which I'll elaborate more on later), but it's about the plot, the characters and the stripped-bare, uncensored look at sickness, death  and the Cancer-stricken victims fighting it in all of its battle stages.

Hazel is a 16-year old teen who has stage four Thyroid Cancer. Due to a specific medical type of treatment that has somehow managed to shrink the mini tumours living inside of her, Hazel, although still terminally ill, has been granted a few extra years to live.

The brave, young girl is only too aware that she's dying and so she spends most of her time reading, watching TV and just being around her parents (After all, she doesn't want to be the grenade that mortally wounds the ones she allows close to her, by dying).

What Hazel doesn't realise, is that life has other plans in store for her.  Plans in the form of a hunky, one-legged boy named Augustus Waters (a boy who himself is a survivor of Osteosarcoma - bone cancer).

When she meets him at the weekly Cancer Kid Support Group she attends, her life takes on a whole different dimension and suddenly Hazel has to learn that falling in love is not only inevitable, but unavoidable. And no terminal illness can ever prevent that.

I am convinced that this is the most beautiful book of 2012, if not ever. 

I haven't had a book affect me this much since I've read Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.

 John Green is just such a phenomenal writer.

The thoughts he expresses, the sentiments that are gleaned can be summoned up in a quote from the book itself: "My thoughts are stars I can't fathom into constellations."

It not only speak of the intelligence of this book, but it speaks of the larger than life characters that crawled deeply into my heart, giving me no other option but to love them.

A friend's review stated that she's seen many people criticise the voices of the teens because they're so much older than teens should be, but I completely disagree with this sentiment.

Impending death has a way of aging you and because these two teens are so gravely ill, their maturity, their intelligence and their ability to appreciate and marvel about everything that's around them because they know that their infinities are less than others , only serves to make you fall  more deeply in love with them and their story.

Hazel is an incredible protagonist. She's smart, funny, sardonic, accepting without being defeatist and incredibly clever.

She tries so hard to protect the ones she allows around her that it hurts to see how she views herself at times.  Augustus couldn't be more right when he says the following to her:  "You are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are."

And by this token, it's exactly why I love this boy. He's not just a hot boy, he's a boy that sees so much more than a sick girl who breathes through an oxygen tank. 

Despite how heartbreaking his own story is, the strength of his love for her, and the lengths he goes to make her dreams come true, make him more than just a funny and sexy boy fighting his own battle.

I wish I could map out the profoundness of the novel in its entirety and tell you more about the unexpected twists and turns of this novel, but my flimsy attempt at expressing my feelings is nothing but a black hole in comparison to the sheer and magnetic force of John 
Green's writing.

If there's one book you still need to read this year, make it this one.

It will change you more than you could ever begin to imagine.

Special note to my lovely blog followers:

I'm so sorry I haven't been around much this year. It's been one chaotic year for me, leaving me with barely any time to update regularly or given me enough of an opportunity to visit all your blogs.

THANKFULLY, I am on a bit of a break now, so will be playing catch up on all your blogs soon. Oh, and look out for a giveaway coming soon.

In the meantime, hope you guys enjoyed my review of The Fault in Our Stars - it really is the best book I've read this year. Seriously, lovelies, make a point of reading this book.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cover reveal, excerpt & contest: Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein

Hi everyone

Today I’m pretty fortunate to be part of the big cover reveal  for Lisa Burstein’s up and coming YA novel, Dear Cassie. Now for those of you who don’t know, Dear Cassie is the companion novel to Lisa’s debut novel, Pretty Amy.

As part of the cover reveal, the Entangled publishers and Lisa have kindly allowed all the bloggers taking part in the cover reveal to also feature an excerpt from Dear Cassie, which will be out in March 2013.

Not only that, but Lisa is hosting a really awesome contest to celebrate Dear Cassie’s cover reveal, the details for which you can find below.

On to the big reveal: how awesome is the cover?


About Dear Cassie
Publication date: March 2013
What if the last place you should fall in love is the first place that you do?

 You’d think getting sent to Turning Pines Wilderness Camp for a month-long rehabilitation “retreat” and being forced to re-live it in this journal would be the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.

You’d be wrong.

There’s the reason I was sent to Turning Pines in the first place: I got arrested. On prom night. With my two best friends, who I haven’t talked to since and probably never will again.

And then there’s the real reason I was sent here. The thing I can’t talk about with the guy I can’t even think about.

What if the moment you’ve closed yourself off is the moment you start to break open?
But there’s this guy here. Ben. And the more I swear he won’t—he can’t—the deeper under my skin he’s getting. After the thing that happened, I promised I’d never fall for another boy’s lies.

 And yet I can’t help but wonder…what if?


DEAR CASSIE excerpt:
We kept walking on the lake trail, the bullfrogs croaking. There was also a humming in my ears from the nicotine.

 It could only be from the nicotine. It had nothing to do with being outside, at night, alone with Ben. It had nothing to do with Ben coming to the cabin and taking me instead of Nez and it definitely had nothing to do with the stars above us shining like they were the sky’s tiara. 

I stopped on the trail and looked up, taking them in, when all of a sudden bright colored lights exploded in the sky—fireworks, one after another, on top of each other, huge kaleidoscopes of light, like sparkling rainbow spiders.

“How did you know?” I asked, my voice going softer, like if I talked too loudly they would stop. It was so beautiful, after weeks of so much ugly. 

Ben turned to look at me, the colored lights in the sky turning his skin pink, blue, green. “I’m magic.” He shrugged.
I geared up to tell him to fuck off, because that was some corny-ass shit, but then I realized that he really kind of was. In that moment he was able to actually make me forget being me.
 “I would try to kiss you,” he said, “but I’m afraid you’d kick me in the balls.”

“I probably would.” I laughed, the sky filling with noisy color like paint launching from a giant popcorn popper. “But like I said, it wouldn’t be about you.”

“I guess I’ll have to figure out how to make it about me,” he said, taking off his boots and socks and standing. “Come on.”

“There is no way I am getting near that water again,” I said.

“I’ll make sure nothing happens to you,” he said, holding his hand out to help me up.

 I looked at his palm, open, waiting, just wanting to hold mine. For once, I didn’t think about anything except that there was a cute, sweet, smart-ass boy standing in front of me with his hand out.

I pulled off my boots and socks and took it.
 
We stood at the lakeshore, our hands still clasped, the water licking our feet, fireworks decorating the sky.

I turned to him. He was looking up, his mouth open in wonder like he was trying to swallow the moment.

It was definitely one worth keeping.

Contest:

Lisa is hosting an EPIC CONTEST to celebrate DEAR CASSIE’ s cover reveal.  Lisa wants you guys to share diary entries of your favorite fictional characters with me. That’s right, choose ANY character from books, TV, movies, a cereal box and write a 500-750 length diary entry from their point of view.

We will choose the top 5 and then let the masses vote on their favorite. The favorite will be published in the final version of DEAR CASSIE. You read that right, published with the author’s name! The additional four will win $20 book buying gift cards.

So get diary-ing! Send you entries to prettyamystories@yahoo.com  by January 1st!
Voting for the top 5 will begin January 7th, with the winner being announced January 14th!

About Lisa
Lisa Burstein is a tea seller by day and a writer by night. She received her MFA in Fiction from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. She lives in Portland, OR, with her very patient husband, a neurotic dog and two cats. Dear Cassie is her second novel.

DEAR CASSIE pre-buy links:

Add Dear Cassie to your Goodreads TBR
The Book Depository
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

PRETTY AMY Links:
Add Pretty Amy to your Goodreads TBR
Powells 
The Book Depository
Amazon 
Barnes and Noble

Additional links to Lisa’s pages:

Twitter
Facebook
Website

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Book review: The Other Life

Disclaimer: This review appears on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.
 
The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker (Usborne)
It's been a good while since I've read anything dystopian, so when The Other Life arrived on my desk for review, I couldn't help but be intrigued.

Having come across it on previous occasions, I actually didn't realise it was a work of speculative fiction until I really paid attention to the synopsis (I previously just skimmed through it, so didn't actually have a real sense of what the book was about).

And was I surprised by how much I ended up enjoying this!

I think the reason for this is that with so many works of dystopic fiction saturating both the Adult and Young Adult market, The Other Life does, at first, seem like just another non-descript, post-apocalyptic novel no different from the rest.

While it certainly follows a formula that make up some of the common characteristics of the genre, what sets this book apart is, that for such a relatively short novel, it actually packs quite a punch. It's jam-packed with action, great characters and offers an interesting twist on zombies.

Better yet, even though it tackles a genre that's more known for its much darker and moodier elements and atmosphere, The Other Life actually manages to add a component of fun to the novel, all without the book losing any of the essence of its genre.

The novel starts off when we meet Sherry and her family.

Living in a sealed bunker (really just a fancy term for basement), it's been more than 3 years since they've dared to venture outside. Closed off from the world outside, they've always managed to make do - at least until the inevitable happens and they run out of food.

With no other option left, Sherry and her father are forced to venture outside in search of other people and to see whether or not they are able to find any food sources.

What they find instead is a city ravaged by destruction and a landscape devoid of human activity.

There's not a soul in sight...at least not until they reach an abandoned store where the action really begins.  While on the hunt for food, their scavenging is interrupted when they are attacked by zombie-like creatures thirsting for their blood.

Sherry manages to escape (with the help of the gorgeous but haunted Joshua), but her father isn't so lucky and ends up being snatched by one of the zombies (aka The Weepers). 

What follows is a desperate hunt for her father (before he becomes one of a mutant Zombie... or worse), a quest to save and keep her family safe and of course, dealing with her growing feelings for the boy who's consumed with his desire to kill every single weeper out there.

With books like The Hunger Games and Veronica Roth's Divergent proving to be bestselling reads, speculative fiction has proven to be quite a popular genre. In fact, this genre is one of the predominant categories found in YA fiction, so it's no wonder that more and more authors are jumping on the dystopian bandwagon.

Susanne Winnacker's The Other Life is another one of the many books that can be added to this particular genre - and while it's not in the same league as the aforementioned reads, it still makes for a very entertaining read.

What I loved about the book, is that Susanne takes a seemingly simple plot idea and adds a few interesting and unexpected elements  to the book that took me completely by the surprise - especially regarding to how the title of the book comes into play.

I certainly have to admit that I didn't give a thought to why the book was called The Other Life, until towards the end of the novel, when certain revelations are revealed.

The details and reasons behind the existence of the Weepers are quite sparse, and are at times a little frustrating, but since there is a sequel coming out next year, I'm hoping that there are answers to some of the most important questions I have.

What we know is that there was a virus developed by the government. The virus mutated, spread and resulted in mutant-like creatures running rampant.  Very few reasons are given and all the events prior to what has happened, is shrouded in a veil of secrecy.

Was this deliberate? Is this a government ploy to create anarchy?

Considering that they haven't been in contact with the survivors for months on end already, one can't help but be suspicious of them, their lack of communication a menacing cloud lurking just beneath the surface and prompting many questions from the reader as to just why they haven't been in touch with the remaining survivors.

It's questions like these that have me desperately hoping for answers in the next book. 

Character wise, Sherry and Joshua made for a great team.

Since the novel is relatively short, I couldn't help but feel as if I didn't get to know them as well as I would have liked.  I do, however, suspect that this could probably have been deliberate on the author's part and that we'll get to see some more character development and insight into their personas in the next book.

I loved the chemistry between Sherry and Joshua and have to applaud Winnacker for creating a male protagonist who doesn't treat the female character as if she's unable to fend for herself.  Sherry is one gutsy, kick-ass heroine who refuses to give up without putting up a fight.

Pretty much my favourite kind of heroine, really.

Combined with plenty of heart-stopping moments filled with action, weeping zombies and a promising introduction to a great cast of characters, The Other Life makes for a thrilling read and will have you waiting in breathless anticipation for The Life Beyond, the next book in the series.