I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE: a book review

Some books have many different names. This is one of them.

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I Know This Much Is True is the perfect name for Wally Lamb’s novel. It’s true that Dominick, our protagonist, doesn’t seem to know much, even about his own life. He doesn’t understand why his twin is mentally ill and he isn’t. He doesn’t know who his father is. He doesn’t get so much about the world he lives in, and what he writes in these pages is all he knows for sure.

Yet, I Know This Much Is True could go by many different names.

It could easily become “Fathers and Sons,” one of the major themes in this work. What is a father, and how does a father’s life influence his offspring? Dominick has difficulty coming to terms with what “fatherhood” means to him, and indeed, considers himself fatherless because he never knew who his father was. Questions of fatherhood haunt the text.

It could also be called “Mirror Image” because that’s what Dominick and Thomas are. As twins, they share a life, yet live lives that are so different from each other. The idea of singularity, and two becoming one is also a theme that runs abundant in the text. As well, the twins are said to be mirror images to their grandfather, a man they never met. Thus, questions of identity and self, and how two things alike can be so different yet the same, are crucial to the story.

Or maybe “Generational” due to the importance of family. Above all else, this is a family epic. Although it does not span generations, it’s about the Birdsey family, and how history repeats itself, and how your past can shape everything about you.

To put it short, the novel follows Dominick who is struggling to put the pieces of his life together while everything falls apart. I went into the book knowing nothing, and maybe it’s best you do the same, because describing what happens is only going to bore you. It doesn’t sound like anything special, but it is. It’s a story of a man, being his brother’s keeper. It’s a story of a man, trying to find his father. It’s a story of a man, falling apart so he can put himself back together.

It’s a story about life, plain and simple as that.

But it’s astoundingly beautiful.

I tore through pages, reading them as fast as my eyes allowed, yet I read very few a day because I had to rest, had to let the story sit with me, so I could contemplate its meanings. It’s a sad story, without a doubt, but I think there’s a glimmer of hope in it too.

It will hurt, but it will be worth reading. Trust me.

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ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS: A Book Review

Most people won’t like this book. Luckily, I am not most people.
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Do you love magic in the every day? Do you love lush prose that you could fall into? Do love books where you can’t explain them to anyone else because “nothing happens” even if so much does? Do you love character pieces that bring life into the words on a page? Do you love omnipresent narration that makes it seem like the story is being told to you by your grandmother who knows all? Do you love the bizarre and the magical and the strangely beautiful? If so, then you are also not most people.

The thing about Maggie Stiefvater is that she gets better and better with each book she writes. All the Crooked Saints is not a perfect novel, nor does it pretend to be. Like the title suggests, it’s skewed: from the characters to the writing to the story itself, you can’t help but feel that there is something unbalanced, something not being said that needs to be. And that’s okay. It is this imperfect, this “well that doesn’t make any sense” that makes the book so charming.

Don’t read this book if you are looking for answers, because you won’t find anything. Read this book if you are searching for something you can’t articulate, something that exists in that place beyond your dreams.

I love this book. I love it with every inch of me. I can’t wait to reread and reread and reread, and discover that darkness inside me that I’m not sure if I want to name. If anything, All the Crooked Saints teaches you that that brokenness inside of you can define you, but it doesn’t have to. But beyond that, it teaches you that you don’t have to deal with it alone.

 5 owls out of 5.

TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN: A Book Review

Sometimes, books make you cry because they’re sad. Sometimes, you cry because you’re filled with joy. And sometimes, you cry because finally someone gets it.

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Full disclosure: I love John Green. For some reason, everyone decided it was time to make fun of him, and suddenly it wasn’t cool to read John Green, but he is one of my favourite authors because every single one of his books holds up a mirror and whispers see? There you are.  Turtles is no exception. In fact, I see myself more in Turtles than I have in maybe any other book I have ever read.

Aza is a character that has wrapped her way around my heart. I know this girl, because I am that girl, in many different ways. She’s so personal which makes her charming and also very real. I don’t feel like she’s been “smoothed” down; she’s allowed to keep her sharp edges that might make her wonderfully imperfect.

Maybe you’re not an Aza though. Maybe you’re a Davis, who has problems of his own that are quieter, but still permeate the text. Or maybe you’re a Daisy, who wishes someone would listen to the problems she has for once. Every character is so entirely human, and fractured, and for lack of a better term, lovable. I honestly feel like I read a book about me and my closest friends.

Turtles is both personal and subtle.  The writing style is beautiful (as Green’s writing always is) but I found it to be much simpler than his previous works. It’s still wordy, and has metaphors that make you sigh, but it’s all toned down, letting Aza’s quietness reflect the story she’s telling. Plus, it makes the “loud” parts that much more effective.

Now for what you all want to know: yes, there is a romance plot, but no, this is not a love story nor a romantic book. It is entirely Aza’s story, and the true love story in this book is not between Aza and Davis, but Aza and Daisy. Their friendship soars, and that’s the plot that’s going to squeeze your little heart.

Turtles is John Green without being “John Green.” It’s not a quirky romance, but a true story that reflects the reality of having anxiety in the information age. It’s not as beautifully heart-wrenching as Looking for Alaska, nor as romantically devastating as The Fault in Our Stars, but it is subtle and personal and quiet, which is sometimes all you want a book to be.

And yes, the ending made me cry. In the best, most wonderful way.

5 turtle backs out of 5

A Little Light

It’s not hard to see that I haven’t been reviewing books as frequently. I have no need for excuses; the truth is the easiest way to explain. And the truth is this: the internet has been a dark, dark place and being on it for too long sets my brain aflame.

We live in dark times. One simply has to turn on the news to see the darkness that feasts upon the world. What people tend to forget is that the world has always been dark: there have always been wars, and discrimination, and fear, and the few controlling the plenty. Indeed, we exist in the safest point in history. But if there has always been dark, then the opposite is true too: there is always, always light.

I find my light in books. Some days, the darkness overwhelms and I have to read a lighthearted young adult romance, or a children’s lit adventure. Sometimes, I crave escape, and the world of fantasy calls me. In these books, I find a form of reassurance: while reading of a world so different from my own, I come to understand my life. Sometimes, I read the bleakest stories I can find, the ones with no happy ending that leave your pages crinkled from free-falling tears. In these books, my heart hurts, then it is reborn. I can heal with these characters and let out all the sadness that rests in my soul.

No matter what you read, you will understand. There is something that comes out, illuminating the words on the page and igniting emotion in your heart. Search for books that make you feel. Search for books that make you believe. Search for books that speak to what you cannot say.

Find your light.

Find it, and never let it go.

AT THE EDGE OF THE UNIVERSE: A Book Review

Wow. Okay. So Shaun David Hutchinson is definitely not a “one book wonder.” Yes, We Are The Ants is a masterpiece, but don’t forget this little gem either because– wow.

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Hutchinson’s books are weird. At The Edge of the Universe is the 3rd book of his I’ve read, and they’re all the types of books that get you VERY strange looks when you try to explain them to someone. Don’t you understand that the disappearing universe is a metaphor, but it’s one that feels very real to our protagonist? That’s where the brilliance in this novel lies; as you read the book, you *know* the universe isn’t *really* shrinking, which means that you can’t trust the narrator, which makes you wonder… what else is he hiding? And yet, to Ozzie, the shrinking universe is very real, so it’s easy to get swept up in that aspect which makes you wonder yet again– why is the universe shrinking? What has happened to Ozzie to cause it to shrink? The novel provides answers that are thorough enough to satisfy the reader but vague enough to leave you thinking about it for long after you’ve finished.

A few days ago, a YA author I admire tweeted how he wished there were more YA novels where bad things happen to the protagonist, which essentially boils down to this: books where the ending isn’t tied with a perfect red bow. I love messy protagonists, and messy stories where your heart hurts at the end but you know something has changed in the protagonist, and maybe in you too.

If you like messy books with satisfying ends that pain you, even just a little bit, then this is a book for you.

Because trust me. It’s messy. And it might hurt. But it’s worth it.

It’s a lot like love and life in that way, isn’t it?

4 starless skies out of 5

THE RETRIBUTION OF MARA DYER: A Book Review

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The Mara Dyer trilogy isn’t quite what I expected it to be. As Mara says, her story is a romance, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a story of the oddities in life, how the strange and unusual walk among us, dangerous and safe. It’s about how monsters lie dormant in our blood. It’s about evolution of self, of relationships, of humanity. It’s a dark series, filled with answers yet leaving the reader not quite sure of—anything, really.

 

Like most trilogies, the second book – The Evolution of Mara Dyer—is by far the strongest. While the first book is good, it’s missing the strangeness of Mara’s story. It’s the closest book to a typical romance, although there are a lot of dark mysterious and curiosities. The second book is—insane. You spend about 98% of the novel unsure of what is true and what isn’t; about what Mara sees and about what Mara only sees. You are thrown into a hall of mirrors, and Mara is leading you out, except she has no idea where the exit is.

 

The final book – The Retribution of Mara Dyer – takes a different format. Unlike the first two, there is no primary setting. This lack of setting heightens the theme of instability.  Like Mara and her friends, there is no “safe space” for the reader to fall back on when they’re trying to distinguish truth from fiction. While they are answers given, there’s always a voice nagging at the back of your head, whispering but is this the truth? Is it?

 

Mara’s story is strange, yet it feels real. The characters are all fantastic, and I ended up liking them a lot more than I thought I would. I love Jamie’s constant pop culture references (which, yeah, are going to feel outdated in a few years time), and I even ended up loving Mara and Noah’s relationship, which I really worried I wouldn’t about midway through the first book. I love how the last book pulls all the pieces together, so much so that you realize that nothing is coincidence. That’s how you tell a story.

 

So maybe the ending wasn’t the big, climatic scene I was hoping for. Maybe it didn’t cause worlds to explode and maybe I kind of wish Mara had been a bit more badass (don’t worry, she still is, it’s just—well. Who is the hero and who is the villain?).  Still, the series ends with a satisfying conclusion, filled with the answers to the questions that most desperately required resolution. While not everything is answered, I quite liked that: I like the openness, and the idea that there is still so much more that Mara and company don’t know. It’s a good ending but still—it could have been more.

 

The Mara Dyer trilogy is phenomenal, the type of series that sticks with you, and makes you question everything you know. It’s the type of series that makes me want to wave the book around and yell at strange to READ IT, READ THIS BOOK. It’s good; what more can I say?

 

5 symbolic necklaces out of 5

NOW I RISE: Book Review

This book…… may have destroyed me a little bit.

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So I absolutely loved And I Darken when I read it a few months back. One of the biggest critiques that I have seen about it is that it can be rather slow paced. And yeah, it is pretty slow, but I never found that to be a problem because the story was so solid. If you found And I Darken slow…. well, you might want to stop reading now.

Because Now I Rise is slooooooooooow. 

At least at the beginning.

I found the first 100 pages or so extremely difficult to get through. I read it, but I wasn’t absorbing it. Once the plot picked up, I even found myself having to flip back to remember who certain characters were and how they were introduced into the novel. I mean, ask me what happened at the beginning, and I’m going to be able to tell you nothing. It was bad.

But then it picks up. I love And I Darken, but now I love Now I Rise even more.

What makes these novels excellent is the characterization. There are characters here that I have never seen before. The relationships are fleshed out and complicated, and I love how different yet similar they all are.

Lada is relentless and completely savage. I love her burning desire, and as much as I love her, I can’t wait until it consumes her entirely. She is such a strong female character, and one who does not renounce her identity as female but proves that she can be woman and strong. In fact, all the women in this novel are strong and ambitious and so much more than the world tries to tell them they are. I admire every one of them.

And Radu… oh, Radu. I hope for only happiness for you. Radu is extremely important to this series, for he is the heart of these novels. He is everything Lada is not, but a lot more similar to her than I believe anyone is willing to admit. Without Radu, the novel would be too harsh, with Lada making hard decisions fearlessly. Radu, on the other hand, struggles with every decision he makes, and is entirely morally grey. His choices and allegiance vary based on the situation as he tries to be “good” but comes to realize there is no such thing. Radu deserves love and happiness, even if he doesn’t believe so himself.

I eagerly anticipate the next book because, honestly, I don’t know how much better it can get, but I know it’s going to. The ending is wonderful, and leaves you craving so much more. I can’t wait to get my heart torn apart. Again.

5 stars out of 5