Worthy Thoughts

Books, reading, life & other worthy thoughts

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Author: Carlie Sorosiak

Publisher: Harper Teen

Wild Blue Wonder is a quirky, original and beautiful book about grief and guilt.

The story alternates between two timelines, both narrated by Quinn. We follow Quinn in the present day during fall/winter, as well as the previous summer when Quinn’s life changed forever.

Quinn is seventeen years old and the middle child in a family that has drifted apart. As well as Quinn, there is her gay older brother Reed and her rebellious younger sister, Fern.

Quinn’s life was turned upside down when her best friend Dylan died in the summer. Dylan was adored by all three siblings and his death tore a once close-knit family apart. We find out that Quinn feels responsible for Dylan’s death and it would appear that her siblings blame her as well. She feels ostracized by not only her family but the small town that her family live within. The siblings are grieving and rather than turn to each other for support; they have decided to deal with Dylan’s death alone.

Instinctively, I roll my eyes, noticing that Fern and Reed do, too, and for a split second we forget not to smile at each other. When we remember, even the room sighs, all the hardwoods letting out a collective whoosh.

Quinn’s family owns a summer camp called The Hundreds, which serves as the setting for the majority of the book. The Hundreds is a magical place and Sorosiak makes you want to live in such a place. Her writing makes The Hundreds come alive both in summer and winter with her beautiful descriptions – blueberries grow in  winter, sick cats wander into the woods and suddenly they’re cured, ghosts wander through the camp and according to the family, an aquatic monster roams the depth of their cove.

The Hundreds, the summer camp that my family owns and operates – where we live. It’s aggressively pretty under the moonlight and dusting of snow. Small rustic cabins. A meadow of dormant wildflowers. A hundred acres of birch, ash and maple trees that whisper to one  another in the wind. No matter how green it is in June, The Hundreds is most striking in fall and winter.

In the flashbacks to the summer, we are given glimpses of life for the family before Dylan’s death. The siblings were inseparable and loving. They were the perfect family. The happiness and love you feel during the summer months contrast entirely with the emptiness, anger and despair that you feel in the winter months. Quinn was present when Dylan lost his life and she blames herself. She has decided that she is not worthy of living a happy, full life when Dylan’s is gone. Her siblings are confused and angry and all this is enhanced by the cold winter backdrop.

Wild Blue Wonder is a story of grief, but it is also a story of friendship and family. Sorosiak lightens the read by introducing us to some beautiful supporting characters including Quinn’s best friend, Korean-American Hana Chang and Alexander Kostopoulos, a Greek-British student grappling with family issues of his own. Hana and Alexander provide a humorous element to the book so that you aren’t overwhelmed by the guilt, anger and grief felt by the family characters. Also add to the mix, Quinn’s eccentric, hilarious grandmother Nana Eden who is determined to put the family back together again.

The plot is compelling and you will be drawn in by the mystery of what happened to Dylan, the fun of the summer camp, the beauty of winter in Maine and the characters who will make you laugh, cry and scream.

Sorosiak has masterfully written some likeable and well-developed characters and you will want everything to work out for them. This family deserves a happy ending. This is the first book of Sorosiak ’s that I have read and I was mesmerized by her writing.

She can write snark:

Fern can walk out of a room like she’s slamming a door in your face.

And she can write so so beautifully:

Outside it’s foggy, tendrils of haze crawling along the ground like vines. Even though the birch trees are whispering to each other, it feels empty. Beautiful, but empty. I miss the summer – the chaos of voices in the mess hall, sunshine against emerald glass, and fullness. Now the only moving things aren’t living at all: icicles on the ropes course swaying with the wind, haloed mist swirling above the wildflower meadow, and vague, shadowy shapes on the Yoga and Meditation Cabin’s porch. When I pass, they drift back and forth like splinters of moonlight, dispersing in the air as squid ink does in water.

Carlie Sorosiak, I am happy I found your beautiful book.

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Author: Scott Westerfield

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

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I loved Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series. I have read other Westerfield books, but none have captured my imagination as the Uglies series did.

I was pretty excited to hear that there was to be a continuation of the Uglies series consisting of four new novels, the first one being Impostors.

Set in the futuristic world of Westerfield’s Uglies books, I was hoping that this book would hold my attention as much as the original series. I enjoyed Imposters and I know that Westerfield fans will love this book and I think that he will gain a whole new readership with this series, I found it to be a good read, but I didn’t devour this book like I did the original series.

Frey and Rafi are sixteen-year-old twins and their father is a powerful and controlling man, leader of the city of Shreve.

Rafi was raised in the public eye; she is the face of Shreve. She has been taught to be the ultimate diplomat and the good daughter. She has a public profile and regularly attends parties and functions. Frey is a secret to the public. As far as the people of Shreve and other cities know there is only one daughter. Frey has been taught to be Rafi’s body double. She has been trained to ward off would-be assassins and she takes Rafi place in the public when it is deemed too dangerous for Rafi.

The twins father strikes a deal with the first family of a neighbouring city, Victoria. He wants steel and is negotiating an agreement with the ruling family. The family do not trust the twins father and ask that Rafi is sent as collateral to ensure that there’s no funny business on his part. Of course, Rafi is not sent but Frey. As far as their father is concerned Frey is disposable.

Frey is sent to Victoria. The first family of Victoria are honourable people and they live a different existence to the people of Shreve. I did enjoy this part of the story. Victoria and Shreve are ruled entirely differently and it makes me wonder what our world will be liked in the future and how different countries and cities will adapt.

Col and I walk on the street like randoms. No body armour, just half a dozen wardens blending into the crowd around us. A single drone hovers up among the pigeons. It’s probably only there to make sure I don’t run. The weird thing is, I’m more free as a hostage here than as a second daughter back home. House Palafox has no special corridors or elevators. No spy dust in the air.

My tutors explained how privacy is an obsession in Victoria. The city scrubs its data every day, forgetting where everyone went, what they pinged each other, what they made with their holes in the wall.

Shreve felt a little like a future America and Victoria felt like a European city. Westerfield through the depictions of the different cities and leadership is able to explore themes such as environmental conservation and individual freedom.

If the wardens in Shreve want to know what happened at a certain place and time, they just call it up on the city interface. They can watch from any angle, replay any sound but the softest whisper.

The book is flawlessly plotted as you would expect of a Westerfield novel. It is a book that moves quite quickly but still allows you to have an understanding of the character’s motivations (including the minor characters).

It is an impressive book by an accomplished author, but for me, it lacked the heart and emotional connection of the Uglies series.

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grace and fury

Author: Tracy Banghart

Publisher: Little, Brown

I enjoyed Grace and Fury, but it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. I was led to believe that it would be more groundbreaking. There seems to be a lot of books these days that have us believe that we are going to be thrown into a world where women have very few rights. Is this a way to remind women of how far we have come or is it because it makes for a good story? It would be nice to read a book where the men are the inferior sex or maybe where women and men are equal, but where’s the outrage in that story?

Grace and Fury is another book where female readers are meant to be incensed at the fact that women are subservient to men. It is all a little predictable. Though in saying all that, I did enjoy this book and I found it easy to read, fast-paced and gripping, but I am hoping that the next book in the series is more left of centre and takes the characters in a different direction. Grace and Fury is just another feminist story of oppression and resistance that is beginning to get a little old and unoriginal.

A story about two sisters, Nomi and Serina, who are fighting for their freedom in a world where women have no rights. One of the sisters has been chosen as a Grace (a Grace is a female companion to the royal leader) and the other sister has been sent to an island where she must fight for her life under primitive and cruel conditions.

The setting is a world with a tyrannical monarchy that makes the rules up as it sees fit. The only choices that women have in this world are servitude, factory work and marriage unless of course you are chosen to be a ‘Grace.’ A Grace is an attendant to the royal monarch and means that you and your family will be looked after. A Grace will never want for anything, but in return, she is a servant to the royal monarch in every way. She can make no choices for herself and must never refuse her royal monarch.

Serina wants to be chosen to be a Grace to the Heir of the monarch and she and her mother have spent their whole life working towards this goal. Of course, we have Nomi, the unruly rebellious sister who wants nothing but to be able to read and study like her brother. In this world, it is illegal for women to go to school or to read (sound familiar?).

Of course, nothing goes smoothly and Nomi being the wild younger sister sets off a chain of events that results in the girls being separated and facing challenges that they haven’t been prepared for in their young lives. Serina has been brought up to be a Grace and Nomi was brought up to be her sister’s maid. Neither is equipped to deal with the challenges that they are about to face.

Also, just once, I would love a character like Serina – who has trained her whole life to be a Grace to crumble under the adversity that is thrown her way, but of course, she doesn’t and she rises to the challenge – as all strong women do.  I understand what the author is trying to achieve, but I find it all a little banal and would welcome something a bit unexpected in stories like this one if only to throw the reader off balance.

I  was disappointed that considering this was meant to be a story of women empowerment that there were love stories thrown in for both girls. Though thankfully the romance didn’t take over the plot. I found both romances to be unnecessary and I think the author could have found more original ways to incorporate these men into the story.

Grace and Fury is an entertaining book and you will find it gripping and hard to put down once you start reading but if you are looking for a book with a fresh take on female empowerment than you need to keep looking.

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Author: Tayari Jones

Publisher: Vintage Books

An American Marriage is a powerful novel and it is a novel that will haunt you long after you finish reading.

Tayari Jones’ novel about marriage, life and the criminal justice system is intelligent and compassionate and never didactic.

The story begins with Roy and Celestial – a newlywed black couple who are intelligent, beautiful, successful and upwardly mobile. Roy and Celestial are going places. Roy is an ambitious, handsome man who isn’t the perfect husband (he has a wandering eye) but it is clear that he is devoted to Celestial and their life together. Celestial is a strong black woman who is an up and coming artist. She has reservations concerning Roy, particularly his disdain of her career and is suspicious of his fidelity but she doesn’t question his love for her or his wanting to build a life with her. Roy and Celestial are strong-minded individuals who are new to marriage and they are figuring out how to remain true to themselves and how to be a couple with a shared future.

“I know that there are those out there who would say that our marriage was in trouble,” Roy says. “People have a lot of things to say when they don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, up under the covers, and between night and morning. But as a witness to, and even a member of, our relationship. I’m convinced that it was the opposite.”

Then on a visit back home, Roy is arrested for a crime he did not commit. He is tried, convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison.

Tayari Jones gives us a little insight to the couple before Roy is imprisoned, but it is scarcely a glance at their lives together. This helps play into the fact that Roy and Celestial have hardly begun their married life together when Roy is put in prison for twelve years.

The story is then told through letters that Roy and Celestial write to each other during his imprisonment. The letters are emotional and you feel their frustration and anger with the circumstances that life has thrown their way. You learn more about each character through the letters. As the years’ progress, you can feel that Celestial life is moving forward. Her career is flourishing and she a success both artistically and financially. You don’t learn much about Roy’s life while he is in prison and you so you get this sense of Roy being stuck.

Tayari Jones is a talented writer. I don’t think you ever fully take sides between Roy and Celestial as you watch their marriage and future collapse. She presents the story in such a way that you can see where both of them are coming from and you wonder how they can both move forward to being happy. Jones will tug your heart in different directions and you’ll find yourself being more sympathetic to a certain character but then she will take you in another direction in the next few pages. You can feel the pain of both Roy and Celestial. She never ignores their flaws or their arrogance, but she also shows two people who want the best for each other. Two people who are ultimately kind and good. You can also see the growth of both Roy and Celestial. They are much nicer people at the end of the book then they were at the beginning.

This is a book about marriage as the title of the book suggests but it is so much more. It is a novel about the criminal justice system in American which from all reports is seriously letting the American people down, particularly black Americans. The book is set in Louisiana, the state with the highest per-capita rate of incarceration in the United States and where the ratio of black to white prisoners is four to one. Startling statistics and the way that Jones writes the arrest, trial and conviction are so matter of fact. Roy has no chance. It is quite chilling and is a timely reminder that we all should remain considerate and empathic and not so quick to judge. For only the grace of good fortune, this could happen to anyone.

Of course, An American Marriage is at its heart a love story, but it is so much more than a love story. It is, of course, a comment on our society today and who we are as people.

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Author: Andrew Daddo

Publisher: Penguin

Just Breathe, a beautiful coming of age book. I consider myself a person who isn’t too emotional, even a tad cynical at times, but this book by Andrew Daddo melted my cold heart – I also shed a tear and I can’t remember the last time I shed a tear when reading a book.  I heard Andrew Daddo on the radio and he said when he asked his fifteen-year-old daughter what should he write about next, she suggested, ‘write something to make me cry’. Well, I’m sure Daddo’s daughter did cry.

This is a book about possibilities. Two young people who are on the brink of discovering who they are and what they hope for their future.  Just Breathe is an exhilarating, emotional rollercoaster – the rollercoaster of being a teenager.

What I particularly liked about this book was that the two characters that the book centres around are such great kids. Emily and Hendrix are two kids who are dealing with challenges in their life, but they aren’t letting these challenges rule their life or determine their future. Together they are navigating their own lives and supporting each other to be the best person they can be.

Emily is dealing with a life-threatening tumour but she doesn’t want it to define her, nor does she want it to limit her life. She wants to fall in love, to make mistakes and most importantly, she wants to be a teenager.

Hendrix is living and training as an elite athlete. His father is controlling his life because his father’s dream is to see Hendrix as the next national champion. In the beginning, Hendrix believes that this is what he wants, but as his world expands, he realises that life has so many more possibilities and that he doesn’t want to be tied to his father’s dream.

Emily and Hendrix are two beautiful characters who are intelligent, funny and snarky. Daddo’s writing is superb. Just Breathe will capture your heart from the moment you start reading and it never let’s go.

Special mention must go to Ethan. Hendrix and Ethan strike up an unlikely friendship through their running and Ethan reminds Hendrix of what it is to be a teenage and particularly a teenage boy.  Ethan provides us with many moments of sheer joy and humour. He is also the friend that everyone should have in their life. Ethan is an easy-going character whose actions start at his heart, not his brain. He doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body and he wants the best for everyone, but he isn’t a syrupy character and I applaud Daddo for providing us such a great character.

Just Breathe shows us that teenagers are fundamentally the same no matter the era. Daddo has managed to write a beautiful book that captures that fantastic time of being a teenager. When you can see all the possibilities that life has for you, but you are also frightened and overwhelmed by those possibilities. As you read this book, you will be taken on an emotional ride that will make you feel, laugh and cry. Just Breathe is a book full of heart.

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Author: Emily Gale

Publisher: Random House

I Am Out with Lanterns is a fresh, multifaceted and funny novel. The story is told from multiple perspectives. It follows a medley of characters as it explores bullying, friendship, family, love, community and the yearning to belong and be accepted.

Gale imitates life in this book which I think is why it resonates so hard with you when you read it. The lives of Wren, Adie, Ben, Juliet, Hari intersect in ways that are both sad and beautiful. Like real life, their lives are like a roller-coaster, one moment riding a high and the next a low.

Gale’s writing is nuanced and vibrant and her weaving of so many characters together shows exceptional writing skill. There were times when I felt she was bringing too many diverse aspects to the table in one book, but I let that slide and understood that this was what the book was about, characters who show us that life is not black and white, that for most us life is filled with all different colours – a kaleidoscope of colours.

The grieving Wren who is cynical and sarcastic but yet also vulnerable. The lonely outsider Juliet who comes from a loving and supportive family. Juliet may have been my favourite character with her quirky sense of humour and her passion for literature. Milo who is compassionate, funny, smart and autistic. Hari who shows enormous strength, confidence and maturity for someone so young. And of course, Ben the villain. We hear from Ben and we realise that sometimes bullies are just that, bullies. We will always live in a world where individuals will be thoughtless, cruel and careless with other peoples’ lives and feelings. I love that Gale didn’t let Ben off the hook. Yes, he has difficulties in life but nothing that should allow him to behave the way he does in this story.

Gale has shown extraordinary restraint and yet still managed to weave together a plot that is sophisticated and relies heavily on chance and the randomness of life. The book has great lessons, but it also has great warmth, humour and charm. You will fall in love with Gale’s characters and when the book ends you will wonder and mused about the characters for days.

I Am Out with Lanterns is a book that will linger with you long after you read it because it is a book of hope and love.  Defiantly diverse and original this is a book that is a must-read.

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Authors: Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

I was immediately drawn to this book. Who doesn’t love a good dinner party? I liked the idea of twins throwing a dinner party and inviting three guests each, but the other doesn’t know who they asked – it has disaster written all over it. After the first few chapters, I felt slightly cynical and was thinking that it was all too slick and too predictable. I stuck with it, though, and I will say you will enjoy the book if you let go of your cynism. I guess it could be quite a fun read. Though, because I am quite cynical, I thought the book was quite ridiculous.

It’s senior year for brother and sister Sam and Ilsa and time for one final dinner party at their grandmother Czarina’s rent-controlled apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The rules are simple: The twins may each invite three people and see how the guests interact. The premise is excellent and one that I could get on board with but I struggle with the book beyond the blurb.

Sam’s list of invitees is his ex, Jason Goldstein Chung who comes across as obnoxious and bitter. Ilsa’s ex, Parker, who appears to have no faults – he is sophisticated, gracious, kind and considerate. Sam’s final invitee is Johan, an Afrikaner whom Sam has been checking out on the Subway and he decides to invite to his dinner party (as you do!). Ilsa’s list consists of her school friend Li Zhang, KK Kingsley who is a rude socialite and I expect we are automatically supposed to dislike her because she’s presumedly white and privileged and finally Frederyk Podhalanski, a blonde Polish exchange student who communicates mostly through his sock puppet, Caspian. I never grasped the whole storyline with the sock puppet and I hope someone can help me with my blatant ignorance. I also found Caspian rude and obnoxious, but this was acceptable behaviour (for some reason) – once again, if someone could explain this “character”, I would appreciate it.

Like most dinner parties there is too much alcohol, too many exes in one room and too many unresolved “issues” and most of those issues seem to stem from the twins. The evening is narrated from alternating points of view over the evening – Sam & Ilsa. The book I gather is meant to be a humorous romp, but I thought it was severely lacking and it was trying too hard to be witty, hilarious and edgy. I found it all a little too politically correct and a good dinner party needs to be the opposite. This is one dinner party that won’t be remembered fondly, but I know, that others will hold it dearly in their hearts – each to their own.

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