the curious incident of the dog in the night-time

“And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery…and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything.” (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon)

CoverThere are few things I love more than a well-executed understated plot. So many books revolve around a marriage plot, a world-saving plot, or a grand mystery unraveled that one gets sick of all the escapades. How many events that dramatic happen in one’s own life? Eventually it becomes impossible to relate to them except as a method of escapism. In this book, no one changes except perhaps the secondary characters, and nothing happens that is more exciting than a train ride to London.

In spite of the circumspect plot-line, Haddon uses his first-person narrator – an autistic teen – as a springboard to discuss subjects as far ranging as advanced mathematics, philosophy, and physics in language so straight-forward and clear that it becomes poetry. You come away from the book both with the intimate comfort of insignificant things and the mind-expanding thrill of learning something new. A lovely combination, and an exceptional read.

Recommended Action: Buy Borrow Now – Borrow SometimeAvoid
Length: 226
Ending: So hopeful and brave that you have to shed a tear, even though there’s not one particle of sentimentality in the whole book
Incidental Learning: Classic mathematical problems, facts about space, Sherlock Holmes references, etc, etc, etc
Further Reading: I’d suggest moving on to more adult/children’s books, like Neil Gaiman, perhaps.

The Fifth Wave

“Aliens are stupid. I’m not talking about real aliens. The Others aren’t stupid. The Others are so far ahead of us, it’s like comparing the dumbest human to the smartest dog. No contest. No, I’m talking about the aliens inside our own heads. The ones we made up…” (The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey)

Some books make you feel like a reading fortune-teller. After the first few chapters, you find yourself making predictions and being right, right, right. At the end of the book, you kick yourself for not having placed bets on how it would turn out because you were just so damn right. If money could be made through reading, you tell yourself, you’d be a millionaire. Or at least a thousandaire. In any case, better off than you are now.

Unfortunately, I don’t know any bookie who would take a bet on book endings. This either has to do with the fact that you could always skip to the last chapter… or that I don’t know any bookies. Too bad, because this book was 100% predictable. If you read it, read it for the teenaged, irreverent narrative style – not the plot. And don’t bother hoping that Yancey will dig YA literature out of the love-triangle/defiant heroine rut it has wallowed in since Twilight. He won’t.

Recommended Action: BuyBorrow Now – Borrow Sometime Avoid
Length: 512 pages
Ending: predictable
Further Reading: Any other best selling YA novel would be an excellent follow up if you’re looking for more of the same.

Eleanor and Park

“You always look nice.’
‘I never look nice.’ she said. Like he was an idiot.
‘I like the way you look,’ he said. It came out more like an argument than a compliment.
Eleanor and Park CoverThat doesn’t mean it’s nice,’ she was whispering, too.
‘Fine then, you look like a hobo.’
‘A hobo?’ Her eyes lit.
‘Yeah, a gypsy hobo,’ he said. ‘You look like you just joined the cast of Godspell.’
‘I don’t even know what that is.’
‘It’s terrible.’
She stepped closer to him. ‘I look like a hobo?’
‘Worse,’ he said. ‘Like a sad hobo clown.’
‘And you like it?’
‘I love it.’
As soon as he said it, she broke into a smile. And when Eleanor smiled, something broke inside of him.
Something always did.” (Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell)

Well, when John Green writes a glowing review of a YA book in the NYT, there isn’t much use for my exhortation (which is the same as his: read it now), but I feel compelled to type it anyway.
So many romances these days start with blind attraction as an excuse for love that I had almost forgotten it was possible to read a book where love slowly develops out of curiosity and recognition. Rowell creates a beautiful romance by shifting between Eleanor and Park’s perspectives so that the reader falls in love with each character through the others eyes, experiencing exactly how they intrigue and fascinate each other. It is not a generic romance – not just anyone could love Park or Eleanor – but they compliment and amplify each other so very well.
Rowell writes some of the steamiest non-sex scenes I have ever read in my life. All these two have to do is hold hands, or describe each others eyebrows, and their raw emotion feels more intimate than the most graphic of erotica. My only qualm with the book is the ending. I understand that ‘literary novels’ do not have happy ones these days, but why ever not? It will be impossible for you not to feel unsatisfied and write and rewrite their stories in your head for weeks after putting down the slim volume. Which is, perhaps, the point.
Recommended Action: Buy – borrow – TBR – Avoid

Length: 336 pgs

Ending: As stated

Further Reading: John Green – all of it. This is a book to add to that short list of superb reads for smart, mature teens.

Ready Player One

“Being human totally sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that make life bearable.” (Ready Player One by Earnest Cline)

Ready Player One CoverI have to admit I never thought I was what some would call ‘cool’, but I did not think I had as much 80’s knowledge stored under my belt as I apparently do. I avoided this book for a while in spite of the stellar reviews because I thought all the geeky references would fly over my head, but Cline makes his 80’s allusions in such a way that the reader feels smarter instead of overwhelmed. He may throw in a plot point about an obscure video game or D&D magazine every once in a while, but all that is really required is a working knowledge of pop culture, which means having seen things like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones (and who hasn’t?). So, I’m going to defy all the reviewers who call this book a ‘nerdgasm’, and claim that the appeal of this book is its fast-paced adventure story and relatable protagonist; the 80’s stuff is just atmosphere – don’t let it scare you away from this hilarious read.

If Ready Player One has a flaw, it is also one of its greatest strengths. At its heart, the book is a classic quest story-line, and as such it should be complete with the requisite exquisitely happy ending where all loose ends are tied up and everyone besides the bad guy lives happily ever after. Though the ending seems to be of the tying-up, happy variety, the reader can’t close the book without some unease. Cline sets his near-future adventure story in a world that is falling apart every which way; the main characters talk a lot about how to fix the world, but the book ends before the problems are fixed or even remotely addressed. It makes the ending feel a little like a veneer of happiness just painted over the grime of the background. Yet, if Cline were to go into the politics of the real world after the adventure ends, the book would no longer be a short, sweet quest, but instead a towering, bogged down work of advocacy. Cline succeeds in bringing the reader’s awareness to current problems while also entertaining them with an adventure, and if the two of these aims sit uneasily in the same book, perhaps Cline meant it to be so. Is the reader supposed to come away from the book feeling satisfied, or feeling like something needs to be done in the real world?

Recommended Action: Buy – BorrowTBRAvoid

Length: 384

Ending: Seemingly happy yet slightly unsettling.

Further Reading: This book is a veritable bible of further 80’s entertainment. However, if you are looking for more of the ‘fast-paced adventure’ sort, I’d recommend Enders Game by Card and Mistborn by Sanderson. And, though this is not at all a read-alike, the sardonic, slightly crazy teenage narrator’s voice reminded me a lot of of Holden Caulfield…


Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side

Jessica's Guide CoverI am an absolute sucker for a book within a book. Give me an imaginary book with an even remotely intriguing title, and I can’t help myself. So, when I read the jacket and discovered that this book had one entitled: “Growing Up Undead: A Teen Vampire’s Guide to Dating, Health, and Emotions”, it was pretty much a done deal. The only problem with loving books within books so much is that, more often than not, you wish you could read the fictional book instead of the one published in the real world. This was no exception. I enjoyed reading it as a Twilight parody, and laughed a few times, but every now and then I got the sneaking suspicion that this was not intended to be a parody… A slightly disturbing thought. 

Recommended Action: BuyBorrowTBR OR Avoid 

Length: 351

Ending: Overly emotional. 

Further Reading: One of my favorite fictional book was in A Common Reader by Alan Bennett. Unfortunately, the imaginary book sounded so good that I actually became depressed when I found out that it had never been written. 


“Perhaps the logical conclusion of everyone looking the same is everyone thinking the same.”  (Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld)

Uglies_bookI’m finally getting around to writing some of those short posts of only-OK books I keep talking about. Uglies doesn’t get a full, two-paragraph post for the simple reason that I do not feel compelled to convince anyone to read it. Yet, I also don’t feel as though I must get up on my soap-box and warn everyone to stay way. Mostly, I feel ambivalent. It is simply a fast-paced action novel set in a dystopian future, starring young adults with lots of hormones and moral dilemmas. Despite the hype, I didn’t see anything interesting happening here. If you’ve never read a YA dystopian before, or do not even know what the genre is, you could read this without damaging your reading mind, but there are definitely better out there.

Recommended Action: BuyBorrowTBRAvoid

Length: 432

Ending: Predictable early on

Further Reading: The Giver is an excellent example of a YA dystopian. A more recent one is Pure by Julianna Baggot or the Incarceron series by Catherine Fisher. All of these are more complex, literary, and have much better character development then The Uglies.

Read Voraciously, then Discard

Sometimes what you need is an ‘escapist’ book. There’s no way around the fact, especially right after a stressful semester at graduate school. I’ve been noticing that lately escapism has started to mean something akin to ‘easy to dismiss’ or ‘not worthwhile’, and it tends to be uttered with a sarcastic, overly-intellectual tone, as if people who are serious about reading don’t read to merely ‘escape’. I, of course, disagree with this uppity sentiment. Every book deserves its reader, and every reader has a time when they want to read a book where the driving question is simply: ‘what happens next’?

Although they don’t have much else in common, this collection of YA lit can each properly be termed ‘escapist’: The Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard, Ten Cents a Dance by Christin Fletcher, Hikaru No Go, and Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. They lead you along at a fast clip, pulling the reader from one plot arch to the next with ease. The Pretty Little Liars series is pure mind candy: the suspense, mystery, and glamor of it captivated me entirely for an entire weekend while I read each book, one right after another, like brightly colored M&Ms lined up on my bedside table. Ten Cents a Dance, a historical romance set in the 40’s, is just as glamorous as The Pretty Little Liars, but the reader gets a little more insight into the main character’s thought process and the plot isn’t as mystery driven.

Hikaru No Go, an exceptional manga series about the game ‘go’, pulls the reader through a series of battles held over the board. While the change from glamor and mystery may seem sudden, wondering whether Hikaru will succeed at his next match keeps the pages turning just as quickly as any high-fashion thriller. Jellicoe Road is the only book I hesitate to include here, given my personal dislike for it, but in many ways it does fit the bill perfectly, as its driving thrust at least intends to be: ‘what happens next’?

Pretty Little Liars covers