All the Bright Places

  “I learned that there is good in this world, if you look hard enough for it. I learned that not everyone is disappointing, including me, and that a 1,257 bump in the ground can feel higher than a bell tower if you’re standing next to the right person.”

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the ledge of the bell tower at their school. Theodore is the sometimes strange, charming and erratic young man that often does weird things or gets into trouble at school. Violet is a popular, easygoing girl who recently lost her sister in a car accident. When they climb down off the ledge together, everyone assumes Violet is the hero – she must have saved Theodore. But in truth she was up there for her own reasons and they saved each other.

In the days that follow, Theodore reaches out to Violet and partners with her on a project where they must discover the wonders of their home state. Though hesitant at first, Violet agrees to partner with Theodore. They set out on adventures to explore places neither of them ever never knew existed. As they get to know each other, Theodore slowly helps her heal. Violet starts to write again, drive again and talk to her parents about her sister. She stops letting herself hide in the shadow of her sisters memory and begins, slowly, to live fully despite her loss.

The pairing of Violet and Theodore is uplifting and sweet in the beginning. We watch Violet heal, but as much as Theodore wants to get better, he can’t. He begins to feel the edges of what he calls being “asleep” come back to him. Those periods in his life where he fights not to disappear into his head, not lose himself for months at a time. Though at one point we get a hint of his illness when a counselor tries to speak to him about being bi-polar, he erases the counselor’s messages on his family’s answering machine and runs away.

“All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven is a story about loss, love, mental illness and suicide. It explores how anyone can be struggling with these issues, whether they’re the well liked cheerleader with great grades, or the school “freak” as some bullies call Theodore.

Violet and Theodore learn together that struggling with suicide doesn’t always have a definitive reason or easy cure to a happy ending. And though we wish it could be true, sometimes love is not enough.

The Strange Library by Murakami

Last night I eagerly climbed into bed and cracked open The Strange Library by Murakami. Freshly released, much anticipated – I couldn’t wait to delve into it.

15 minutes later I was done. It was over. What? WHAT?

Not that it was bad, I enjoyed the short romp into one of Murakami’s worlds… I just wish there was more! I wanted more! Why wasn’t there more?

The Strange Library is a compact, but beautiful, little story. It has intriguing illustrations incorporated into the book as the story progresses, something I haven’t seen before in Murakami’s works and which adds a whole new perspective to the story you’re enjoying. In this tale, we go on an adventure with a young man who just wanted to check out some books. (Don’t we all?) It begins as he enters the city library and returns a few volumes. The woman at the front desk tells him to go to room 107 in the basement. Suspicious, but wanting new books, he goes to room 107 and there he meets a large, angry, man. The man asks him what he wants and the boy tells him the first thing that pops into his head – he is interested in books on tax collection in the Ottoman Empire. Three large dusty tomes are fetched and the boy is instructed that he must go to the reading room to read these books. To get to the reading room he follows the large man through a labyrinth, down many dark hallways, stairways, and eventually – into a cell. Suddenly the boy finds himself locked away and in grave danger. He must read all the books he was given or he won’t be allowed to go home. The mysteriousness of his adventure continues, though I don’t want to ruin it for you. There is an odd accomplice in a sheep suit, a beautiful girl and a daring attempt at escape. There is even delicious donuts and a brave pet starling.

As always, Murakami’s writing is lovely. He’s imaginative, mystical and unique. Nothing ever quite makes sense in his stories but we don’t mind, we’re just along for the ride.

When you pick up The Strange Library, turn those pages slowly and savor it while it lasts. It’s a short but sweet escape into a library of darkness, danger, books and possibly, love. We couldn’t ask for anything more.

New releases to lose sleep over

Holidays are great aren’t they? Not only do we get to buy books for our loved ones but people give us books! And certificates for books! And money to buy MORE books! It’s the best time of the year.

Here are a few upcoming releases to be excited about this holiday season and save some of that cash for.

           To be released: December 2, 2014

Haruki Murakami will be releasing “The Strange Library” next week and if you’re a bookworm – be really excited. Book nerds like us adore authors who write about their love of literature or set their stories in a place of books. Shadow of the Wind? Dash and Lily? Ex-Libris? So many great novels revolve around books within books. “The Strange Library” is about a boy and a girl who try to escape a dark and mystical library full of nightmarish things. SO EXCITED! Who doesn’t want to read about being trapped in a dark, surreal library? It’s a dream come true.

 

 To be released: January 6, 2015

SO YOU THOUGHT FLAVIA WAS GONE? Think again. Flavia may have been packed up to be sent away from Bradshaw at the end of the last book, but her new adventures will occur in the super secret boarding school for spies. New mysteries to solve, new murders to stumble upon. And all with fellow children her age who are uncannily intelligent! It’s a whole new world and I can’t wait to see what Flavia will get tangled up in next.

 

To be released: February 17, 2015

I can only imagine this will be yet another rollicking adventure with our favorite couple, Sherlock Holmes and his badass wife Mary Russell. They are on their way to California (always an excellent choice) and decide to stop by Japan on the way over. The mystery begins aboard their steamer and continues round the world, from Tokyo to Oxford.

                  To be released: December 23, 2014

I have not actually read Sundquists’s other book but I’ve read great reviews on it and this one sounds really funny too. I’m looking forward to checking out this author and seeing if he’s worth his salt! “We should hang out sometime” is Josh humorously investigating why he can’t seem to get a girlfriend. He has many adventures and mishaps and it promises to be an amusing trip into his world.

 

I’m sure there are many more upcoming. What are some of the books you’re excited for?

An Evening with Neil Gaiman

image1

I’m always unsure if I want to hear one of my favorite authors speak. What if they aren’t as I imagined them? What if they fall flat? What if they’re awful and all my dreams are dashed forever and I can’t ever enjoy their writing again? What if I end up hugging a pile of their books in my home while curled up crying in a ball of pain and disillusionment?

I have been unpleasantly startled by less than thrilling presentations from great authors or odd voices. Have you ever pictured an author’s voice in your head for years – then met them and your mind is immediately blown? It’s not their fault, but sometimes you just have a voice in your head. It’s been there, keeping you company every time you cracked open their books, you heard it telling their story. It’s horrible to have that change and never be able to read their books in quite the same way again. It’s like seeing the movie rendition of a book you love, you’ll never be able to go back to how the characters looked in your head before you watched that damn thing.

But there have also been amazing authors whose appearances have only increased my admiration of them. I was lucky enough to hear one of them speak last night.

I am an ardent admirer of Neil Gaiman, he is one of my all time favorite authors. I have shoved his books into many a hand in bookstores, whether I knew the person previously or not. I’ve put them in stockings yearly and given them as random gifts for no other reason than I really want someone to experience them. They’ve shown up on the desks of co-workers, who I then pester with various renditions of “have you read it? did you love it?” until they actually do read it. Thankfully, they always end up enjoying the books so my slightly annoying dedication to making their life hell until they finally read the wonderful book I’ve purchased for them is inevitably forgiven.

image2

Last night Gaiman spoke at a special charity event here in Ogden. The event’s organizers went all out in honor of The Graveyard Book. Shadows of trees projected on the walls, a cemetery, a homey set on stage to instill the feeling that you’re sitting in a crumbling mansion next to a fireplace in the dark of the night. Though it felt like forever until he took the stage (I was impatient and hid it badly) once he was up there, he was everything I had hoped.

image3

He read a couple short stories, talked about how he became an author and spoke about how important it is to help our future generations be literate. Listening to Neil Gaiman is exactly like being inside one of his books. His voice is the one you hear in your head, describing the Other Mother or the little boy flitting from grave to grave in the fog. He was descriptive and engaging, keeping the room amused and silently spellbound by turns.

If you haven’t read his books, I can only hope you will after today. Gaiman’s stories are darkly, magically, beautiful. He creates characters and worlds that come alive, burrowing into your imagination to stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.

Though I have loved every book – short, long, for children or adults – that he has written, Neverwhere holds a special place in my heart. If I ever get to visit London, I know I’ll be trying to fall through the cracks, hoping for a chance to cross the Knightsbridge and survive a visit to the Earl’s Court to Islington. It’s one of those stories that makes you yearn, with all your book loving soul, that the places and people could actually exist.

Even the dangerous, terrifying ones. Even the ones that make you leave all your lights on when you go to bed.

If you were a child that climbed into wardrobes to find Narnia, I know you’ll love Gaiman’s books as much as I do.  You’ll spend the rest of your adult life hoping, praying, wishing that somehow, somewhere…  Gaiman’s worlds are actually there, just waiting for us to find them.

Top Ten Characters You Wish Would Get Their OWN Book

Rachel Lynde from Anne of Green Gables

I’ve always wished I could read a book from Rachel’s perspective. I’m sure it would be delightfully crotchety and full of griping and gossip and conspiracies in Avonlea.

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books from The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

OK so this isn’t precisely a character, but I would love to see a collection of short stories or a novel encompassing all of what goes on in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The main characters always visit and it shapes their lives, but we never get to really dive into it. I want to live there, see everything.

Joey from Winger by Andrew Smith

if you haven’t read Winger yet, it’s a YA book about a young man, Ryan Dean West, who goes to boarding school and all the self-exploration and growing up he does there. It’s self deprecating and sweet most of the way through, but ends with a sad sudden occurrence in relation to a close friend of his, Joey. I wont’ ruin it but I would love to delve deeper into Joey’s story and who he was. He’s such a central character to Ryan’s story, and yet he’s not. I always felt he deserved more.

Molly Carpenter from The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

Molly begins as Dresden’s best friend’s daughter, becomes his apprentice and then a future main/secondary character in this series. She grows from a gothy angsty high-schooler not knowing how to handle her life to confident, almost scary, powerful magical entity. It would be awesome to see the whole story from her point of view and get to know more of what she goes through, not just the bits and pieces we see in Harry’s story.

Poppet and Widget from The Night Circus

It’s not just that I want to experience more of the night circus, which I do, but the twins are awesome strange characters who wander and grow up in the circus. It’s their whole world. I would love to see a book just about them growing up as the circus grows and taking it over later.

Top Ten Tuesday is a Broke and the Bookish weekly feature that lots of book bloggers take part in.

‘But they said it was good!’ – Book Hype and Disappointment

One of my pet peeves as a book lover is books that everyone reads because of the hype that aren’t actually good books. My friends inevitably read these books (despite my warnings) and then are disappointed. If you’re looking for quality reading, don’t read these over-hyped bestsellers.

  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

It’s a movie from a book, so you want to read the book first right? Well, normally I’m in total support of this. But on this one? Well, just don’t bother. If you read the book you’ll like it at first and end up annoyed by the end. You may even feel you wasted your time. You may sit there at the end going “Really? That’s how it ended? Really? That’s what the characters ended up as?” over and over until your friends tell you to shut up or leave the coffee shop because this is a public place and people are staring. This was definitely a book I felt had potential, but it ran out of steam (and flew off in various directions) the more it went on. The characters fell flat and ended up disappointing me in their inability to evolve or have original thought. Save yourself the time, just watch the movie, I hear it’s pretty good. But then, I heard that about the book too.. and look how that ended up.

  Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert 

This book pisses me off. Seriously, it slightly enrages me. And I’m saying “slightly” because I don’t want you to think I’m a crazy person who walks around shaking her fist and fuming over a book years after it’s been released, but that may all be true. I read this book because so many people spoke well of it and I love traveling books and I love books that don’t depict women as helpless creatures who need saving, so I was all in. At first. Then I read the damn thing and was so angry.

Firstly, it’s badly written. The initial part (Eat) was pretty interesting and kept me pretty engaged. She goes to Italy, she eats food, experiences new culture and finds a little independence. Great! But then the book spiraled downward. The writing became tedious and less descriptive. The actual action of the book became almost non-existent. Suddenly, nothing was happening for chapters and chapters and yet she still had to fill that space because she made the trip with the contract to write a book about it, which is totally backwards because now she had to manufacture some kind of plot to fill those pages.

The worst was Pray, it was incredibly hard to get through. A lot of prattling on with no discernible point. And then, to top it off, after starting the book because of the premise – a divorced woman finding herself becoming independent while traveling the world – she ends with her finding happiness because she hooks up with a new guy. See: enraged. If you’re going to write a book about finding contentedness within yourself, being alone and experiencing the world, then do it. But don’t pretend to do it and then take it all back at the end because you found a new flame. Geezis.

  Twilight by Stephanie Meyer 

I can’t. It’s just. So. Awful.

My faith in humanity almost died for eternity after Twilight became a best-seller. Badly written, horrible grammar, non-sensical descriptions, trite plot. And then to add grievous insult to injury, Bella spends all the books crying, wailing and waiting for some male to save her. It’s everything I’ve ever loathed in a book. And it somehow sold millions. COME ON AMERICA! What were you thinking? I read it because friends (who I now wonder why we are friends, because really? You thought this was a good book? A lot of trees DIED for this piece of crap you know.) told me to read it before I judged it, so I did. And I do. Judge it. Greatly.

 Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Some friends and I decided to read this book at the same time so we could all talk about it. We heard it was really well written, inspiring and had great storytelling. So much hype, for so little reward. It was well written, I’ll give it that. The descriptions, the imagery, the prose, all very well done. But the story itself broke down over and over. I’d be interested for a couple chapters and then he’d lose me completely. I’d barely be able to scrape my way through the next 50 pages and then suddenly, it was great again! I loved this book! And then.. once again, I could barely the turn the page. It felt a lot like reading a broken down car that starts and stops unexpectedly. In the end, I couldn’t finish it. Maybe someday I’ll try again, but this book was still one of the biggest disappointments for me in the past few years.

Now that I’ve ranted a bit, what are some books you were excited for because of the hype but ended up disappointing you? Add to my list! I’d love to hear about it.

REVIEW: Jack Reacher #207 – Personal

“Then finally he opened the wrong door, and what came out at him was his problem, not mine.”

There is something comforting about a series like the Jack Reacher novels. None of them are extremely original, but they’re all entertaining. If you’ve read these before, you know that Reacher will be honorable, kick-ass and clever. He’ll kill a few people, save a few people and figure out the conspiracy just in time. There will be a little death, some blood and guts, but nothing too extreme. Overall, they’re pretty clean-cut adventure novels, always guaranteed to keep your fingers flipping (or swiping) those pages until the end.

Personal is not the 207th novel as the title of this blog post jokes – though sometimes if you’re a reader of the whole series, it may feel close to that. We’ve been through so many scenarios with Reacher, it feels like he’s been around much longer than he has. I can’t swear I’ve read all 19 Reacher novels. I definitely read first five or so and after that it became a little sporadic, but always fun, when I stumbled upon one. The great thing about the Reacher books is that you don’t need to read them in any particular order. He’s a pretty simple character that you can engage with through any book you happen to pick up.

In Personal, a sniper has taken a shot at the president of France from an astounding distance. The president isn’t killed, but the threat has been declared. A large international summit with global leaders is coming up where they’ll all be in danger, so their governments must find the sniper before the summit occurs. A worldwide search for snipers that could make that shot is put in motion and of course, only a few names come up.

One of them, John Kott, is fresh out of prison and has an intense personal vendetta against Reacher because Reacher was the one to put him away 15 years prior. Reacher ends up hunting down his old foe and defeating new ones along the way, as he tries to get to Kott before Kott gets him.

This Reacher adventure is chock-full of the usual. A woman partner (though Reacher would prefer to work alone), thugs, guns, stake-outs, plots inside plots and the various sectors of the military weaved throughout the entire debacle.

On a day when I needed a little book-vacation, I picked up Personal and was delighted by an evening of mindless lighthearted reading. As always, it was a perfect escape.