In case you're wondering, traveller is spelt with double L's in the UK ;)
Audrey Niffenegger's debut isn't a literary paradigm prose-wise, but it is perhaps one of the most compelling romantic stories I have ever read in a long time.
Henry DeTamble has a rare genetic disorder that enables him to travel through time – a gift, because if you think about it, time travelling is cool; and a curse, because he can't control it, and there's no telling where he could end up when he disappears. The book opens with Henry at his workplace, a library, where he encounters Clare for the first time. But the way she acknowledges him suggests he may have met her before, probably during one of his time travelling adventures. Clare promises to explain everything over coffee. Henry accepts her invitation. When she spills the beans, he's blown away. Turns out a future him has visited Clare 152 times right from when she was a kid, and apparently they end up falling madly in love and marrying.
Talk about information overload. Poor Henry.
At first, you think it's an absurd story, but the more you read, the more fascinated you get. You want to find out how Henry and Clare fall in love, how they deal with his time travelling problem, whether or not they get that happily ever after that comes after marriage, and so on.
I have to tell you, at times, this book felt a little wordy, but overall, it was worth my time. I loved it. It made me cry, and I hardly ever cry over a book.
Henry, Clare and their love for each other as they struggle with Henry's time travelling disorder are the main focuses in The
Time Traveller's Wife. In other words, this is a character-driven novel, albeit a great one. So vivid, these characters. It's not a perfect book by all means. Traveller does require quite an effort to get through certain parts, and some characters were just plain disgusting. My accusing finger points to Gomez. I still don't understand why Henry and Clare continued their friendship with this dude. Also, Henry and Clare have very strange tastes in music and politics. But, hey, no one's perfect, right?
World Building: 9/10
Audrey employs some pretty impressive genetic tinkering in her bid to explain Henry's disorder, which surprised me, considering how romance took precedence over science fiction in this book. I really didn't expect her to pull it off. Reminds me of how Stephanie Meyer was able to carve her own unique brand of vampires, even though her aim was to offer a tale of extraordinary romance. It's these aspects – the time-travelling and the vampires – that attracted me to both The Time Traveller's Wife and Twilight. The difference is Audrey was able to juggle both features – the sci-fi and the romance – without skewering one in the hopes of force-feeding the other to her readers.
Awkward descriptions lie here and there, and dialogues tend to be a little off at times, but not enough to detract from the book's awesomeness.
One word: excellent.
Final Score: 9/10
A meteor slams on the moon, shattering bits of it and shifting it closer to the earth. What follows is a series of unfortunate events that lead to millions of deaths and in some instances, complete devastation of some countries and cities. The story, wonderful and moving, is told through Miranda's diary entries.
Life as We Knew It excels mostly because of Miranda. She grows from a selfish, petulant teenager to a valiant, selfless girl who understands that life as we knew it is but a dream; a new world is here to stay forever, and the logical thing to do is to be smart, adapt and survive. And most of all, in extreme circumstances such as this, family and friends are more important than anything else.
Every. Single. One. Awesome. And it hurts all the more when the memorable ones die. Even the weird Christian girl who starves herself to death – you know she's being idiotic in her ridiculous quest to attain salvation through hunger strike, but you can't help but feel sorry for her and in some ways understand why she's doing it. Man, the characters in this book got to me. Pulled my heart strings, I tell you.
World Building: 8/10
I'm not a scientist, so I can't vouch that Susan Beth Pfeffer's depiction of the world after the moon's repositioning is accurate, but it works well for the book. The fact is if what happened in this book happened in real life, life would suck. Cities would fall. Countries would drown. People would die. A lot of people, good and bad ones alike. I know it. You know. Susan knows it, and she spares absolutely no one in her fictional mayhem.
There is, however, one thing Susan fails at on an epic scale. In times of disaster, Christians are normally the first to respond with a helping hand. They're not the weirdos portrayed in this book. I'm not saying this because I'm a Christian; it just feels like Susan has something against Christianity.
Final Score: 8/10
This book needs no introduction. If you love reading YA books or books for that matter and you haven't read Catching Fire, then what the hell is your problem?? But before you run off to your local bookstore for this one, I'd advise you to devour The Hunger Games first. It's better that way: The Hunger Games first, Catching Fire second.
After succeeding in the bloody hunger games, you'd think life would take a turn for the best for Katniss Everdeen. But after an impromptu visit from President Snow (strange man, strange name), things actually turn for the worst.
Fans of the series will love this book, no matter what anyone says. And Catching Fire deserves to be loved.
But it isn't as great as The Hunger Games, and that's not Suzanne Collins' fault. How do I explain it? Ok, check this: you're a 22 year-old man. You're on your way to the supermarket when you bump into someone. You mumble apologies, look up, and freeze. There she is – the most beautiful woman you've ever seen. You can't take your eyes off her. She's like ... a goddess. Two weeks later, you two have sex. Amazing. The best sex you ever had. Two years later you marry. Twenty-two years later, even though you're still in love with her, it just ain't the same no more. Not your fault. Not her fault. You probably still love her as much as you did when you two first met, and you wouldn't trade her for anything, but ... it's ... not the same.
Or when you buy a new car and for the first few weeks you feel like you're riding a supernatural rocket. Months later, your car's just a car. Still a nice car, and you love it, but it's not a rocket anymore. It's lost that special tinge of freshness.
That's Catching Fire. Reading it, you get a feeling of déjà vu. Been there, done that with The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. It's still an exciting read, but you can't chase away that nagging sense of familiarity. And if you're smart enough and you analyse hard once you get somewhere close to the middle of the book, you can actually see the plot twist a mile away.
Katniss rules. I wish there were more girls like her.
I'm still not sold on the love-triangle, though. Peeta gets more appearances than Gale, who emerges in, like, a total of five scenes. And even when Gale's around he hardly does anything. How's that fair, Suzanne? It's more than likely Katniss will end up with Peeta, unless Peeta dies, which would suck and piss off an entire fan base.
World Building: 9/10
Final Score: 8/10
Imagine for a second: you're a beautiful woman, stunning in every manner – from your hair to your toes. Everything about you magnetises men. Hell, probably women too. You're so gorgeous, so breathtaking, that when people lay their eyes on you they feel a sudden, overwhelming burst of emotion – love, lust, anger, jealousy, greed, rage; whichever the emotion, they will do whatever they must to get their hands on you. To possess you. To kill you.
Now let's ice the cake with chocolate butter: you also have the ability to read and project thoughts, compelling anyone to do anything you want.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Fire.
In 2008 Graceling was Kristin Cashore's remarkable entrance into the publishing world. From prose to plot, she had it all down to near perfection. The hype was there. The hype was real. And when Graceling reached the general public, it stomped on all expectations, proclaiming: 'I know you heard about me. But what you heard isn't half of what I truly am.'
Back then, the only reason Cashore couldn't be regarded as a literary assassin was because of her debut status. Well, that status is gone. If Graceling was the warning shot, Fire is the bullet that killed the sheriff. And Kristin Cashore didn't have to utilise cheap love-triangles to lure her target.
All you YA writers out there, get a pen, get a notebook, sit your butt down, and let Kristin Cashore school you in how to write a book with a frigging plot and believable romance.
What I like most about Fire, our heroine, is how realistic she is. Taking into account the bad reputation her father bred for himself and everyone like him, Fire is determined never to use her powers on anyone, friend or foe. But then war ensues, and she realises there comes a time when you must use what you have to protect the ones you love. But she doesn't become reckless. She handles herself like a pro, evaluating her moral convictions and altering them for the better, not for the worse. In other words, she evolves. She grows.
The lesson: real life is much too complex to adhere by only ground rules or childhood ideals or fantasies.
So many YA authors struggle with this concept. Even JK Rowling. I remember Lupin chastising Harry in Deathly Hallows for always using the Expelliarmus spell, and Harry defends himself by saying, 'I won't blast people out of the way just because they're in front of me. That's Voldemort's job.' Reading that, made me laugh. Harry first used Expelliarmus when he was 10 or so, in the first or second book. Now he's a teenager, thrust into a war that concerns him, against a dark lord intent on murdering everyone without just cause, and instead of learning new spells or devising new tactics, he makes up ridiculous excuses along the lines of: bad people are the only ones who use guns and bullets and wands and evil magic. Good people should only use sticks and bats and tranquilisers.
Or Mary from Forest of Hands and Teeth who loves the ocean and retains this childhood fantasy to visit it someday; when she suddenly finds herself in the big bad world of zombies, when she has a chance to re-evaluate her choices, take the logical step, she decides getting to the ocean – following her childhood fantasy – is the best course of action. No one should ever give up their dreams, but sometimes, we have to make sacrifices in order to ensure those dreams come true. Why, cos nothing is ever that simple.
At the end of their respective stories, Harry defeats Voldemort with Expelliarmus and Mary gets her ocean. Nothing wrong with that. Remember, these are fantasy books, not guides to real life. But to me, none of these characters grew. Yeah, Harry kissed a couple of girls, got a girlfriend, and fought the big bad wolf. Yet, after all was said and done, all I saw was a kid with braver, more intelligent companions and far too many lucky charms. And Mary was nothing but a romanticised idea of her creator.
Magic, zombies, and powerful villains are fantastic tools for character development, but sometimes, it's the little things that make the big difference.
Nevertheless, Harry Potter would still get a 9 in this category. While Harry, in my opinion, was never deserving of praise for taking down Voldemort (the dude's killing curse rebounded and iced him – it's called suicide), there were still a host of memorable, three-dimensional characters that made the Potter books worth every page.
World Building: 9/10
No, seriously, her prose is THAT awesome, and very distinctive. Kristin Cashore has this peculiar way of stringing unusual sentences and words together, and they end up comprehensible and sounding cool. It's her unique style. Very few writers have that. Kristin is one of them.
Final Score: 9/10