Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Greg Gaines has made it as a senior in high school.From here on, it should be smooth riding to graduation. All he had to look forward to is hang out with his sort-of-friend Earl to make a final movie, and avoid the discussion of college. It sounds easy– until his mother crashes his plans, and makes him hang out with a classmate who was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly, Greg’s plan of low-key profile before graduation becomes a long distance dream.

Personal Take: I watched the movie first, and I LOVED it. So much so, that I decided, maybe I should read the book because it’s bound to be more awesome than the movie. Except…I was surprised to find that it wasn’t. Many readers already warned me that I would probably prefer the movie over the book. And while I appreciate that the movie closely at least maintained the spirit of the original story not being a romance story, the characters in the book…could have been more. It seemed that Andrews tried his hardest to make our protagonist Greg such an unlikable character. He is definitely awkward, and his narrative is absolutely hilarious.  But I think towards the end, there was too much emphasis on his apathy, which I found slightly unbelievable. Or maybe he’s too realistic of a character.

Other characters like Earl and Rachel were great to read– Earl especially was amazing. Sickening sometimes, but loved each chapter he was in. The story itself lacked a connection with what Rachel was going through, but keeping observation at high-level was interesting to experience.

Towards the end though, I found that I wasn’t attached to any of the characters, which was a shame because they were so well-written. It was a good read at the end of the day, but I’d still pick the movie over the book for this title.

Audience: Older teens for language and disturbing references.

Rating:

 

Other recommendations: Andrews also authored The Haters and an anthology of new writers Take a Pique.

Review: The King’s Touch by Jude Morgan

For most of his childhood, Jemmy’s memories are filled with strange men frequenting his mother’s bedroom, destitution, hunger and the constant claim made by his mother that he is the son of the exiled King of England. His whole life changes when the exiled king himself, Charles II, claims him. Suddenly, Jemmy, “Master James Croft” is swept into the world of the English court and political intrigue. While the monarchy is once again established on a rocky throne, it is in no less danger from wars in neighboring realms, and internal mischief. And through it all, Jemmy tries to make sense of the King, the father whom he loved, but would never claim as his legitimate first born.

Personal Take: Jude Morgan is one writer to always look forward to whenever he releases historical fiction. His regency books are simply fantastic, and brings up the spirit of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen. His other books bring historical characters to life, truly delving deep into their times and lives. So I was excited to read The King’s Touch, as I was looking forward to a beautiful narrative. And it truly was beautiful.

It’s clear that Morgan balanced the line between historical accounts and the fictional, and he did it very well. The book chronicles events of the exiled royalty Charles II and his family, up to his restoration, and eventual death. While it’s interesting that the narrator was his illegitimate first born, it felt for most of the book that James, the son, was passive. And his passivity brought up the same conflicts over and over again, making it painfully repetitive throughout the book. It was also a little sad and frustrating that James’ own story was secondary to his father’s for most of the story up until just before the book ended.

Another thing was, while it was so beautifully written, it could have been condensed if the repetitive parts were removed. The book picked up for me towards the end as the story worked its way to concluding events, but before that, things just took too long.

It’s definitely an interesting, and beautifully written account of the Merry Monarch, but I don’t think it’s the best of Morgan’s books.

Audience: Adult language and situations.

Rating:

 

Other recommendations: One of my favorite novels by Jude Morgan is Symphony. I’ve already read and thoroughly enjoyed A Little Folly and The Taste of Sorrow. Check out Morgan’s other books!

Review: Getting the Girl (Wolfe Brothers #3) by Markus Zusak

Brothers Cameron and Ruben Wolfe have always been loyal to each other – even when Rube goes through dating girls he has no intention of being serious with. Until Cameron meets and falls in love with Rube’s latest girlfriend, Octavia. Already struggling to not hide under Rube’s shadow, Cameron isn’t even sure if a beautiful girl like Octavia would go for a guy like him. And even if she was, would it be worth breaking the brotherly bond between him and Rube?

Personal Take: After being given an amazing spoonful of such good, emotional writing in the second installment of this series, I had high expectations for the last book, specifically when it came to Cameron’s personal growth. There was growth, but not the “awakening” kind I was expecting.

But before I go into that, I want to point out one thing I noticed was that Zusak approached this book without referencing a lot from events in the previous book Fighting Ruben Wolfe, which was weird, as it was a turning point for both brothers. In Getting the Girl, it felt like Rube was the one that found his ground, while poor Cameron had maybe a semblance of a foundation (and there were plenty!), but not enough to prop him up.

Having said that, the self-discovery and struggle Cameron goes through is still emotional and heartfelt (and sometimes quite shitty, actually), and the beautiful prose keeps blossoming as he finds his ground. For the romance though, it was eh. It was too fast, and it didn’t feel like Octavia was much of a character. I think that, along with the constant awkwardness of Cameron, were the two only downsides.

While this series doesn’t show the best of Markus Zusak’s writing, it’s still brimming with his talent of writing.

Audience: I’d stay older teens for a few choice words.

Rating:

Other recommendations: I’ve read and reviewed the first two books in this series; Underdog and Fighting Ruben Wolfe. Also read the much critically acclaimed The Book Thief, and I Am the Messenger.

Review: Transformations by Anne Sexton

The fairy tale-based works of the tortured confessional poet, whose honesty and wit in the face of psychological pain have touched thousands of readers. (from Goodreads.)

Personal Take: There’s something captivating and haunting about Anne Sexton’s poetry. Taking well-known fairytales, Sexton captured their dark essence in her stanzas. Much like the style she’s known for, there are elements of a tortured confession in each of her poems, beginning as if like an anecdote before launching into a familiar, but kind of new, tale. In some instances, it is a jab at the style of how fairytales are told, replacing happy endings with morbid or unhappy endings. One of the things I observed and loved when I read her poetry is the use of language. Sexton’s dark tones were, like I said, captivating and moving.

Transformations brought forth interesting twists  to the well-known fairytales that I reveled in.

Audience: Contains adult themes.

Rating:

 

Other recommendations: Anne Sexton wrote many poetry books, one of which, Live or Die, received a Pulitzer Award for Poetry.

Review: Fighting Ruben Wolfe (Wolfe Brothers #2) by Markus Zusak

Tough times fall on the Wolfe household. With Mr. Wolfe unemployed, and Mrs. Wolfe working overtime; the Wolfe siblings are helpless, and each copes differently. With Cameron and Rube, it’s involves getting into shenanigans like betting at the dog track. But when rumors of their sister circulates at school, Rube starts a fierce fight– one that gets unexpected attention. Suddenly Rube, along with Cameron, are thrust into the underworld of boxing. While the two brothers vow to watch each other’s backs, Cameron feels a change coming on Rube, and he’s not sure if it’s the good sort of change.

Personal Take: If Zusak’s first book seemed like a solid for such an aimless story, the second installment more than makes up for it. Cameron has much more substance, along with all the characters mentioned. There’s something beautiful and desperate in Cameron’s voice that I love, and his growth is subtle but deeply felt. I also love how he’s contrasted against Rube, and his view of his brother is so pure and heartfelt. The story itself is much more solid and concrete, and not as aimless as Underdog.

That Zusak could make us sympathize with such grungy characters is a testament to his talent.

Audience: Older teens and adults, for some language.

Rating:

Other Recommendations: Needless to say, must reads are Book Thief and I Am The Messenger. Part of this series though (and which I reviewed) is Underdog.

Review: The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Vol. 2 by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Wirrow

 

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, Looper, 500 Days of Summer) made a big splash with The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories – so now he’s back with volume 2! One of the most ingenious and successful projects to come out of Gordon-Levitt’s online creative coalition hitRECord – an international collaboration of artists and writers – The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 2 offers more quirky, delightfully small, ingeniously illustrated haiku-like tales, proving once more that the universe isn’t made of atoms; it’s made of tiny stories. The best things do come in small packages. (From Goodreads.)

Personal Take: After being charmed by the first volume, I couldn’t resist ordering the second, and just like the first, it was utterly irresistible to go through. The one-page stories, the impeccable pieces of artwork, and seeing how the collaboration works, it all makes this project so unique and necessary for other creatives and humans in general.

There isn’t much to describe this book other than it is filled with happiness, and that everyone who wants a shot of it should read it.

Audience: Older audience, for understanding abstract emotions.

Rating: 

Other recommendations: I’ve read and reviewed The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Volume 1, and will be reading Volume 3 soon!

Review: Underdog (Wolfe Brothers #1) by Markus Zusak

 

Cameron and his brother Ruben are hopeless. Not quite sure how to fill their time, the two get into quite a lot of trouble– needless violence, humiliating moments, and making up robbery plans that never take place. But then Cam falls for a girl, and suddenly things aren’t quite so simple. While Cameron hangs his heart on his sleeve, he isn’t too sure about how to approach her. After all, who could ever fall for an underdog like Cam?

Personal Take: This is quite a different tone from Zusak’s other books. Not quite a masterpiece like I Am The Messenger, but it still packs a little rawness. The setting Zusak paints for his characters is quite bleak, and yet, they fit so well in it. Cameron, his family and friends, the people he interacts with– it’s all so well crafted into this short story that I was still captivated by it. The format was also interesting, ending each chapter with a little of Cameron’s dream that feeds into his reality somehow. This is the first of three books, and while it doesn’t delve too deep into Cameron’s life yet, I enjoyed reading about his “beginnings”.

It’s a little rough around the edges compared to his other works, but it’s still a page-turner.

Audience: Older teens and adults.

Rating:

Recommendations: Markus Zusak is well known for two major works: The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger (which is my personal favorite). He also wrote The Wolfe Brothers trilogy.

 

Best Reading Hits of 2016

 

For 2016, I’m of two minds; I’m bummed that I didn’t get to meet my reading target goal. But on the other hand, I’ve read a lot of great books this year!

Here’s the top hits for me this year (in no particular order)– if you haven’t read any of these, be sure to add it to your 2017 list!

 

The Storied Life of A.J Fikry by Gabriel Zevin

 

 

 

 

 

How to Fly a Horse by Kevin Ashton 

 

 

 

 

 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates

 

 

 

 

 

Wild by Ben Okri

 

 

 

 

The-Name-of-the-Rose

 

Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

 

 

 

 

 

Not For Bread Alone by Konosuke Matsushita

 

 

 

 

 

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

 

 

 

 

 

Arabian Love Poems by Nizar Qabbani 

 

 

 

 

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows

 

 

 

 

 

The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupery

 

 

 

 

 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

As Charlie begins his year as a freshman, he recounts his ordeals about himself, his new friends, and his observations about his family to an anonymous friend. Careful to reveal more than is needed, Charlie shares his world, his blooming first love, and surprising and unexpected rites of passage. Through it all, Charlie is aware of a strangeness in him that he cannot place.

Personal Take: This book surprised me. I had this on my list for so long, and in my mind I built it up to be this beautiful writing that carried a monumental sort of story. While it wasn’t the beautiful writing I imagined, there is definitely something raw and beautiful in the way Charlie’s voice comes off the pages. Clever, only slightly objective, but still deeply entrenched in his reality, Charlie takes readers through a journey that is both wild and mundane, enlightening and disturbing. And still, his account cuts clear with the intent of his honestly.

I couldnt’ get enough of Charlie’s story, or of his family or friends. I feel like I’ve left behind people that I know so well to continue living their stories after the last page, and I love that feeling.

It is definitely a must-read.

Audience: Older teens and adults for sexual themes.

Rating:

Other recommendations: This is the only novel published by Chboksy, while he edited Pieces, a collection of short stories by budding writers.

Review: Hear the Wind Sing (The Rat #1) by Haruki Murakami

The first novel written by Haruki Murakami, Hear the Wind Sing follows a Japanese student who spends his summer at home, reminiscing on years past, while keeping his friend, who goes by the name Rat, company.

Personal Take: After reading Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, and After the Quake, I am a huge fan of Murakami. His words (and his translator’s) are so beautifully crafted, and his characters quirky, and always a vehicle of exploring the human nature. His first novel is just the same– not only exploring his character’s life, but the supporting characters as well. Though it was a little aimless, Murakami’s words counted in each chapter. Some chapters also alternated to different formats; one sentences, sketches, even a monologue by a radio host, which was pretty interesting.

It fascinated me that this was his first novel, and how it set the style for his writing. For Murakami fans, I definitely recommend it.

Audience: Adults, as Japanese literature tends veer into the dark side of human nature and introspection.

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Other recommendations: I read Wind-up Bird Chronicles and After the Quake– and I recommend both. I’m still working my way through his other works.