Review: Nina LaCour – We Are Okay

we are okay
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

4 out of 5 stars

Contemporary YA is not really my genre. And it’s fairly rare that any book in that genre catches my attention. For me to want to read it there has to be something particularly interesting or special about the plot/style/narrative. There just has to be something about it.
And, to be honest, most of the YA books out there can’t really keep that kind of promise. Which is okay. I’m in my thirties now (oh well, writing that down hurt a bit) and these books are definitely not written for me. They are not supposed to speak to me in any way. However, from time to time there are a few gems to find in that genre.

One of those gems is We Are Okay by Nina LaCour.
It’s the story of Marin, who we meet as a lonely college girl who seems to have left her hometown and her friends and family behind because of something or other that happened, which she doesn’t want to talk about. It’s all quite mysterious for the first part of the novel and I’m not going to reveal anything in this review.

The narrative goes back and forth between the past and present and it is done in such a structured and well-written way that I can’t seem to decide which I liked better. LaCour makes you want to keep reading. At first, because you want to know the reasons for Marin’s escape and her sadness. But then you keep going because you actually feel for her and hope that her story will come to a happy ending.

And that is what most YA contemporary novels lack, in my opinion: sincerity and authenticity. Yes, some of Marin’s actions are quite angsty and over the top; but still, they are believable behaviour for a teenage girl who has pretty much left everyone she loved behind.

Another thing that makes We Are Okay stand out is that it’s not plot driven at all and that it relies heavily on language. Nina LaCour has a beautiful way of describing feelings and memories. Here’s an example:

“It’s a dark place, not knowing.
It’s difficult to surrender to.
But I guess it’s where we live most of the time. I guess it’s where we all live, so maybe it doesn’t have to be so lonely. Maybe I can settle into it, cozy up to it, make a home inside uncertainty.”

Also, that love scene on the beach is one of the most sincere, realistic, and touching things I’ve ever come across in a YA book. Simply beautiful.
To me, this is a book that shows that its author takes her readers seriously. There’s no dumbing down, no simplifying of matters or feelings. I love it when YA literature is intelligent and honest!
Also – what a cover! 

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Review: Nathan Hill – The Nix

the nix nathan hill

The Nix by Nathan Hill
5 out of 5 stars

Wow! This book! It’s only March but The Nix might become my number one read of 2017!

It surprised me; it kept coming back to me even when I wasn’t reading; it made me laugh; it was sad at times; it was an agitating read; and a fun one; and a pensive one.
These things wrapped into one big tome of roughly 600 pages. And every single one of them has a right to exist! Not one page felt superfluous. Even though you don’t see it at first, everything, every character, and every meandering plotline is important for the novel as a whole.

The Nix is a story about a college professor whose mother left him when he was eleven. It’s fairly safe to say that this was a traumatizing episode for young Samuel; and given the chance as a grown up, he wants to find out the true reason for his mother’s abandonment. That’s the books premise in a nutshell. The really wonderful thing is what Hill makes of it.
Because it’s not only a novel about abandonment issues. It’s about family structures and about the fixed impressions we have of the people in our life. I love how Hill makes you hate/dislike a certain character up until you find out their backstory and you begin to rethink your opinion. In general, the characters in this book don’t seem too relatable until you get to their point of view and you see their motivations for behaving the way they do.
Hill leads the reader through these ever-changing narratives in a non-linear but structured way. He’s awesome at seamlessly picking up where he left off a few chapters ago.
He makes it possible for every character in this book to be the main character once. A quote that captures this fairly well, in my opinion, is this:

“Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in our own story that we don’t see how we’re supporting characters in someone else’s.” p.618

What a great way of saying you have to take a step back and see the big picture before judging someone!

Yes, you do have to get through the first fifty to hundred pages not knowing what’s really going on. And I actually kept thinking to myself, “why should I be interested in this whiny guy’s story again?”. But once you’re into the flow of the novel you get why the narrative makes all these digressions. And then it all comes together piece by piece, with every page you read.

Another thing I absolutely love is how The Nix doesn’t take itself too seriously. It constantly pokes fun at academia and the publishing industry. It even goes into metafictional terrain from time to time. One quote that made me laugh was when the main character’s publisher says this about the book he – Samuel – writes:

“So it’s going to be like six hundred pages and ten people will read it?” p.613

Reading this sentence near the end of the epic six-hundred-page novel you’re about to finish is pure genius!
What a novel! I highly recommend it to anyone interested in reading a well-crafted, intelligent, and beautiful story!

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What I read in February

My reading goal for this year is 30 books. I set up a goal that is rather low (compared to the number of books I usually read per year) in order to take some of the pressure off reading. I wanted to be able to stop thinking about the speed at which I read.
There are also a few things about to change in my personal life that will affect my reading life. I’ll reveal more about that soon. For now, let’s just say that I will be able to choose my reading material much more freely than I am now.

However, even though I’ve set quite a low goal for this year’s reading challenge, I’ve already managed to read TEN books. Without giving it any special thought I’ve already achieved a third of what I set myself to do. Of course, I never believed I would only read 30 books in 2017 but I absolutely love that there is no longer that looming, hovering number stressing me out. Reading-wise, this year is off to a great start.

So, without further ado, here is what I read in February 2017.

 

My absolute favourite this month was Sylvain Neuvel’s Waking Gods (5 stars), which is the second part of his “Themis Files” series. Anyone who likes entertaining but meaningful SciFi needs to read this!

If you’re interested you can find reviews of The Trap (2 stars) and Time Travelling with a Hamster (4 stars) here on my blog.

I also read some comic books. This is how I spent my day recovering from an Academy Awards all-nighter.
That first omnibus of the new Captain Marvel series was a bit unimaginative but okay – 2.5 stars.
Wolverine: Old Man Logan was bloody and dark and awesome! 4 stars for that one.

All in all, a pretty good reading month!

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Review: Ross Welford – Time Travelling with a Hamster

time-travelling-with-a-hamsterTime Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford
out of 5 stars

Ross Welford has written a really wonderful time travel story for kids!
This is the story Albert Chaudhury who on his twelfth birthday gets a letter from his deceased father telling him that Albert might have a chance of preventing his dad’s death – by travelling through time! What a great premise for a middle-grade book! There are tons of time-travel stories out there but I really think this one stands out.

Let me tell you why…
First of all, you have the cultural background invoked by Welford. Albert is part-Indian and the way the author includes bits of Indian culture here and there is really well-done and makes for an interesting read. I absolutely loved the (a bit over-the-top) portrayal of Alberts grandfather wearing traditional Indian clothing, drinking chai tea and meditating all the time.

I also like it when a book can teach you bits and pieces of knowledge without getting too “teachy” about it. Welford manages to explain Einstein’s theory of relativity and the paradoxes of time travel in a book aimed at 10-to-twelve-year-olds, for crying out loud! He also includes a bit of 80s trivia, computer knowledge and pop-culture references – making this book a fun read for any (kind of geeky) adult.

Apart from that, it’s also a beautiful little story of friendship and family. It’s as much about time travel as it is about the fact that our actions always have consequences; it’s about being brave and standing up to bullies, and it’s about doing everything you can for the people you love.

It’s not the best time-travel plot I’ve ever read, but it is one of the best middle-grade time-travel books there is!

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Welcome, Reader!

So, you’ve stumbled across my humble book blog – welcome!
This is where I write about my reading experiences. I review books I’ve read. I share my thoughts on various reading topics. And sometimes I write about my personal life.
Feel free to check out the most recent posts down below.
Looking for something specific? Have a look at my review list!

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Review: Melanie Raabe – The Trap

thetrapdiefalleThe Trap (orig. Die Falle) by Melanie Raabe
2 out of 5 stars

Initially, I wanted to give this a one-star rating but the fact that I actually wanted to know how it ends merits another star in my opinion. It’s the story of Linda, who found her sister murdered in her own apartment. Linda is convinced that she saw the murderer escape but he was never found. Years later she has become a famous author living a life in total isolation. Content with this agoraphobic lifestyle her only human contacts are her publisher and her assistant. One terrible day she sees the man, who allegedly escaped the scene of the crime twelve years before, on TV. He’s become a well-known journalist. So in order to get him to confess Linda writes a crime thriller about her sister’s murder and invites the man she deems to be the murderer into her house.

So far so good.

I found this premise pretty intriguing and was hoping for something of a cat-and-mouse game between these two characters – especially since Linda is portrayed as a very intelligent and clever woman. I was also hoping for something that would resemble a play since the setting (a dining room) is fairly enclosed and there really are only the two main characters who truly matter. I was hoping for an intelligent verbal exchange of blows along the lines of Koch’s The Dinner.
Alas, none of this happened.
From the beginning, Linda as a character is just not likeable. She’s arrogant and self-involved. (I listened to the audiobook and absolutely hated the voice of the actress reading it so it might have added to my opinion of the protagonist.) So you kind of hope for her to crack and to have made the wrong assumptions. I simply did not want her plan to work.

The problem is that not one of the characters are very plausible. I’m trying to keep this spoiler-free so I won’t go into this too much. But the way these people forget important things and how they react to mentally stressful situations is not very realistic.

Also, the overall conclusion was the least believable of all possible outcomes. It felt like the last showdown was simply tacked on to the rest of the plot to give the whole book some kind of grand finale.

One last thing that I absolutely hated was how the murder victim was portrayed like she had deserved to be brutally stabbed to death. In every scenario the author gives us, the victim provokes her murderer into a blind rage. It’s like the author wants us to think that the crime was in some way satisfied because this woman simply was a husband-stealing, mean girl; a bad person.

In conclusion, this book was not bad in itself. The plot was actually constructed fairly well, if not very plausible. Raabe had me convinced that I knew what was going on until the twist at the very end. She’s also not a bad writer. I think this book could have done with a more feasible motive for the murder and with a better understanding of what trauma does to a person (a deeply-rooted fear of the outside world cannot be overcome in mere hours).

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Mini-Review: Blake Crouch – Dark Matter

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Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
out of 5 stars

—Minor spoilers ahead—

A word I  came across in a lot of reviews of this: mindbending.
People seem to think this is the weirdest book they’ve read in a long time. I simply don’t get it. The story is completely linear and you can pretty much see what’s coming around page 50. The only reason I kept going was because I was hoping for some twists and turns that would take me completely by surprise. Well, that never happened.

Don’t get me wrong; this is not a bad book. Not at all. It’s an interesting and suspenseful thriller. I just think that nothing in this book is a new thought; it has all been done before in some way or other. String theory and all that multiverse stuff seems to be a bit of a hype right now and it actually is a cool subject for a thriller – if it’s done well. “Dark Matter” to me fell completely flat – it was all too linear and the solutions were way too easy.

If you really want to read a story that makes you go “wtf?!” every few pages, I’d recommend The Raw Shark Texts or The End of Mr Y or House of Leaves.

 

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