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The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

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The Fault In Our Stars, or TFIOS, as those who are on the up and up like to call it is the latest novel by John Green. Now, John Green is my hero for many reasons. To begin with, he’s an unabashed nerd or shall I say nerdfighter; he is helping to lead the fight to decrease world suck; he’s witty; he makes me laugh; he makes me cry; and let’s face it, he writes damn good books.

With the exception of one subpar novella found in a holiday themed anthology that I refuse to name, John Green has hit it out of the park again and again. Will Grayson, Will Grayson — laugh out loud funny. Paper Towns — forever more will I see paper people living in paper towns. An Abundance of Katherines — I’m still trying to do something remarkable. Looking for Alaska — this book haunts me to this day.  And now, The Fault In Our Stars will be added to that list of Great John Green Books.

So, here’s the story which I can’t reveal too much about because spoilers would ruin this book. We’ve got 16-year-old stage IV cancer patient, Hazel Grace, and 17-year-old-in-remission-from-osteosarcoma Augustus Waters. Hazel’s lungs don’t work and Augustus has had one leg amputated. They meet at a support group through their mutual friend Isaac, another cancer patient. You should be warned that this is not your average story about young adults going through cancer. I mean, it is, but it’s so much more than that and if it hadn’t been I would have been so disappointed because this is John Green writing here. Well, the man does not disappoint.

Augustus and Hazel Grace inevitably fall for each other and it’s a beautiful thing. But TFIOS isn’t a YA romance novel about two kids with cancer falling in love. It’s about a girl who doesn’t want to die because then her mom might not be a mom anymore. It’s about a boy with a crooked smile who believes that oblivion is inevitable. It’s about cracking blind jokes with the friend who just lost both of his eyes to cancer. It’s about dealing with the side effects not of cancer, but of dying.

I’m kind of tearing up right now just thinking about the last few pages that already made me cry. In the book, Augustus says that you don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world but you do have some say in who hurts you. As he tells Hazel Grace, “It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”

John Green, it has been a privilege to read your books and they have all left a mark. I highly recommend this book.

The Darkest Surrender (Lords of the Underworld, Book 8) by Gena Showalter

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I was going to wait until I read book 9, The Darkest Seduction, that was just released in February so I could review both books 8 and 9 at the same time but I’ve been lagging a bit on my reading and have nothing else to review, so…

The Darkest Surrender is the 8th book in what is appearing to be a very long paranormal romance series by Gena Showalter. The Lords are a group of immortal bad boys who make butterfly tattoos look sexy and harbour in each of them the demons that escaped when Pandora’s box was opened. They’re controlled by the Greek god Cronus who pulls the strings from his perch on Mount Olympus. His wife Rhea is his adversary and she has control over the demon, Hope, as well as the Hunters whose only goal is to kill the Lords. The only problem with this war is that Cronus and Rhea are tied together in that if one dies so does the other. It’s a bit of a quandary that will have to sort itself out in later, later books I’m sure.

So, our hero of this story is Strider who is possessed by the demon of Defeat. That’s right, if he loses a battle or a challenge no matter how small or big he will suffer immense pain and anguish. He’s a big, tough guy so for the most part he can handle any challenge issued to him. But like any normal guy what he really wants is a girl who won’t use his demon to her advantage. Enter Kaia the Harpy who has been crushing on Strider for a while now but the only problem is that Strider won’t give her the time of day since she slept with one of his buddies, Paris, who just so happens to be the keeper of the demon Promiscuity.

Kaia, known to her Harpy clan as “The Disappointment”, has a lot to prove in this book and must go back to face her past as she battles in The Harpy Games where everyone who isn’t on her side is intent on killing her. Strider reluctantly tags along as her “consort” to help her survive the games.

There was a lot to like about this book. Even in past books I have enjoyed the inclusions of other creatures such as the harpies and the angels. Seeing The Harpy Games unfold like the most brutal and vicious Olympic Games you could imagine was fun. There was a little plot development as well and I could tell Gena Showalter was slowly setting the reader up for Paris’s story which many readers have long been waiting for. I actually haven’t been a big fan of Paris’s in this series but everyone else seems to be going crazy for him. Overall, this is definitely one of the better books in the series; the characters were semi-interesting, there was some sort of a plot, and the writing wasn’t overly distracting. Go, Gena!

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer deals with the aftermath of 9/11 from nine-year-old Oskar Schell’s perspective. His father died September 11, 2001 in the World Trade Center and he embarks on a journey to find the lock to a mysterious key that he finds in his father’s possessions.

I was 14 when 9/11 happened and I can’t really say how I felt at the time. I don’t think I realized the gravity or severity of the situation. I do remember sitting in first period French class and having the speaker come on advising us that there would be counsellors available all day if needed and that was kind of when it all began to sink in. Canada may be an entirely different country but very little separates us from the US and I think most of us began to realize just how close to home this attack was.

It’s weird. My sister was born 8 days later on September 19th and I can’t remember much about going to the hospital or bringing her home. I’ve blocked out a lot of my teenage years because the memories aren’t that great but you’d think I’d remember that. It’s just one of those things that you kind of regret not cherishing because soon enough babies grow into toddlers and toddlers grow into little people. And then they become little people with personalities, and then bigger people with bigger personalities.

This book was a fairly easy read. I enjoyed how engaging this book was in that it’s more than just a book. It was a diary, it was a photo journal, it had pops of colours on some of the pages, and sometimes the words literally blended together. Oskar Schell is on a mission to find the lock that his key fits. The only clue he has is the word “Black” written on the envelope that held the key. He decides to visit every person in New York with the last name Black and he meets a whole host of people.

The book is about finding solace after tragedy. Not just for Oskar, but for everyone he comes into contact with whether they’re stranger, friend, or family. Oskar doesn’t know whether or not a person with the last name Black is really going to lead him to the lock his key fits but just seeing how many lives he touches and is touched by is kind of inspiring. Just a little bit.

I would be interested in seeing the movie version of this book only because I find it hard to imagine it in movie form. There are some books that are so great and fantastic that I would feel ripped off on behalf of everyone who hasn’t read it yet if their opinion was only based on the movie — or worse, ruined by the movie. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not one such book but The Time-Traveller’s Wife was. Not to say that this isn’t a good book — because it totally is — it’s just not one I can see a movie completely ruining. And I suppose that’s not a bad thing, either.

The Descendants & Shine

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The Descendants

 With his wife Elizabeth on life support after a boating accident, Hawaiian land baron Matt King takes his daughters on a trip from Oahu to Kauai to confront the young real estate broker, who was having an affair with Elizabeth before her misfortune. (Taken from imdb.com)

I really like George Clooney. He’s charismatic, charitable, and looks a lot like my late father. His films are usually a mixed bag, and he’ll never be considered a ‘great actor’, but he has a certain kind of old-Hollywood vibe. Like Cary Grant and Clark Gable there’s just something intrinsically suave and cool about him.

Since the Oscars started nominating 10 films for Best Picture instead of 5, I’ve felt that some of the nominations have been a bit of a stretch. This year there were quite a few stretches. The Descendants, while not a bad movie at all, isn’t great. Having something like this or Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close be nominated for Best Picture instead of something like Drive doesn’t make any sense at all.

The Descendants tries to be a heart-warming journey of a father connecting to his daughters over his wife’s tragedy. What I didn’t really like about it is the story. It’s beyond depressing. I felt significantly worse after watching it, and I didn’t feel like I got enough out of it to justify all that depression. While I’m not like my mother and need the movies that I watch to be some sort of joy-inducing fantasy rides, I do need to be at least artistically stimulated when the movie makes me feel bad. Requiem for a Dream is a great example of a movie that makes you feel like shit, but you feel like it’s worth it. The Descendants just isn’t.

Shine

 Based on the true story of Australian pianist David Helfgott, this delightful movie charts the traumatic early years through adulthood. Telling the story in flashback we see David as a child prodigy and as he grows up while his patriarchal father abuses him and his siblings with the memory of his childhood in Europe and the loss of his family in the concentration camps. David finally breaks away from his father and goes away to study overseas, he later suffers a breakdown and returns to Australia and a life in an institution. Many years later he is released and through several twists of fate (in reality even more unlikely than film portrays) he starts playing a piano in a bar before finally returning to the concert hall. (Taken from imdb.com)

I’d been meaning to see Shine for many years, but never got around to it. I went through the Best Picture Oscar nominees for the last 20 years or so and got the ones I hadn’t seen. I’m a dedicated movie-lover. There were around 5 that I hadn’t seen, and I started with Shine. I took private piano lessons when I was a kid, so I could relate to Helfgott to a certain degree. It’s an incredible story about someone who is pushed way past his breaking limit. With unrealistic expectations and ugly prejudices, Helfgott’s father transformed the piano from an instrument of great beauty into an ugly obsession.

The film is a somewhat low-budget Australian production, using lesser-known but still impressive actors such as Geoffrey Rush, Armin Mueller-Stahl, John Gielgud and Lynn Redgrave. While the main focus has been on Rush’s deservedly Oscar-winning performance over the years, the real star of this film is the story. The real Helfgott is an incredible character, with his life’s story being almost too strange to be true. The scene where he enters the restaurant, shaking, mumbling, and chain-smoking, sits down at the piano and conjures up something so extraordinary that the crowd is dumbstruck is a great one. While the whole of the film doesn’t quite live up to the expectations of Rush’s stellar performance, it’s definitely an interesting film about an interesting man.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

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The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes tells the story of a middle-aged man looking back on his life after being bequeathed a journal and 500 pounds by the mother of a woman he used to date decades ago. The narrator is Tony and he’s lived somewhat of a peaceable life. He married, had a kid, got divorced, and is still friends with his ex-wife. He hasn’t had a bad life but neither has he had a great one. The book is so short, only 150 pages, that any indication of the plot is almost like a mild spoiler.

I’m not really sure what the entire point of the book was. That said, it wasn’t a bad book and it was awarded the Man Booker prize in 2011 to prove it. There is some discussion as to the ambiguity of the ending but aside from the whole story, I think reading this book is cause for reflection on one’s own life, whether you’re a 20-something girl like me or in your 50s or 60s.

So, here’s this guy who’s got to be about 60 odd and he’s looking back at his past relationships as best as he can with the memories he’s retained up to this point in his life. He admits that time has fractured his memories but takes pleasure in the moments that come to light for him. He remembers his time in high school with his 3 best buddies, notably his friend Adrian who this story is also about. He recalls the girl, Veronica, who he dated for a time until he wasn’t and then afterwards when Veronica and Adrian started dating. That’s kind of the whole crux of the story right there.

Maybe this book is about Tony’s life and realizing that the”peaceable” life he always wanted and had isn’t that great when all is said and done. His life wasn’t fantastic and it wasn’t horrible, but he appears to be content with it. He has regular lunch dates with his ex-wife but neither wants or seeks a reconciliation. He sees his daughter and his grandchildren occasionally and is pretty content to live the rest of his life out this way. Whether we’re supposed to take note that “peaceable” isn’t so bad or to strive for greater things, it’s debatable.

Or, perhaps the story seeks to show how we view ourselves as self-important people who believe that every story must and does revolve around us. Tony thought it was all about him but as he was repeatedly told, he just “didn’t get it”. I’m still not quite sure what he didn’t get, but that’s hardly the point now.

When I’m Tony’s age, I want to “get it” and I want to have lived more than a peaceable life. I want to have more to show for myself than an ex-wife I’m on good terms with and a daughter who doesn’t trust me enough to let me take care of my own grandson. I don’t want to commit thoughtless actions today that I won’t even remember further down the road but regret immensely when it’s realized how much harm they might have caused.

I feel that there’s much more to this book than what I got out of it, but that in itself makes this an excellent read in that no matter who reads it I think we can all take something away from the experience, something that resonates with us personally; and any book that can accomplish that is one I’ll recommend.