Review: Sophrosyne by Marianne Apostolides

22225751Title: Sophrosyne

Author: Marianne Apostolides

Published by: BookThug

Publication Date: September 2014

ISBN: 9781771660501

Sophrosyne

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Sophrosyne is one of only four virtues identified by Socrates – four traits which, if lived deeply, define who we are as human beings. But sophrosyne is a concept our culture has long forgotten. “”Self-restraint, ‘ ‘self-control, ‘ ‘modesty, ‘ ‘temperance’ – none of these terms expresses the essence of the word.
In this provocative new novel about desire and restraint in a digital age by acclaimed author Marianne Apostolides, 21-year-old Alex is consumed by the elusive problem of sophrosyne for reasons he cannot share with others. While Alex’s philosophy professor believes studying it will help shed light on the malaise of our era, Alex hopes it will release him from his darkly disturbing relationship with his mother. As he attempts to uncover his mother’s truth, Alex is drawn inside an amorphous, indefinable undercurrent of love and violation. Only through his lover, Meiko, does Alex open into a new understanding of sophrosyne, with all its implications.

This book is the most complex story that I’ve come across this year. It is a book, not simply to be read, but to be studied. Apostolides’ writing invites in-depth conversation with her disturbing, yet fresh and thoughtful prose. This story has unsettled me. It’s stopped me in my tracks and forced me to reconsider my thoughts on humanity,  on romance, on academia, on intimacy. Alexandros is haunted by his awfully dark relationship with his mother. He struggles to free himself from the impotence that plagues him, both sexually and intellectually. Through his academics and with the help of his lover, Meiko, he begins to cast aside the chains imposed upon him by the relationship he and his mother had.

We never directly see Sophia, Alex’s mother, yet she is a constant and imposing presence. She is always there, pushing and taking from Alex. She is presented through his thoughts, perceptions, and memories. Everything he is and everything he becomes is influenced by her. She is as much alive to him when she is absent as when she is present. She pushes him to better him, she says. But she holds him back, restraining him and isolating him from his peers. He questions, and thus the reader questions, what it means to be human, what it means to be a man, what it means to love.

Sophrosyne is a novel that cannot be read just once. There is no way to completely understand to fully absorb this story after just one read because it pushes you to think further and to delve deeper. It’s challenging in a way that most stories are not, but Apostolides coaxes you through with eloquent and poetic prose. Despite such disturbing subjects, her writing is beautiful.

This story is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s unsettling, it’s contemplative, and it’s vast. Apsotlides’ reader must be smart and thoughtful, willing to contemplate on the statements her characters make. For now, I will be setting Sophrosyne aside, with every intention of returning to dwell on this prose again soon.

 

Review: Alphabetique by Molly Peacock

20758113

*I received this copy free from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review. See author Q & A below.*

Title: Alphabetique

Author: Molly Peacock

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Publication Date: November 4, 2014

ISBN: 9780771070150

Alphabetique, or Tales of the Lives of the Letters

Synopsis from Goodreads:

“Alphabetique,” ” or Tales from the Lives of the Letters “is one-of-a-kind, but nevertheless fits perfectly with Molly Peacock’s extraordinary body of work, drawing on the same wellsprings of creativity and artistry as her poetry and her nonfiction, especially “The Paper Garden.” These 26 charming, incisive, sensual stories of love, yearning, and self-discovery are complimented by Kara Kosaka’s layered, jewel-bright collages.

I really liked this book. I can’t say that I loved it, but it was cute, fun, and extraordinarily unique. I’ve never read anything quite like it. Alphabetique brings our alphabet to life, one letter at a time, through quirky stories and breathtaking images. I can’t say that I loved it because, as I’ve stated before, I’m really not a short story person. I enjoy reading new stories like this just to try something new, and I was definitely pleasantly surprised. Alphabatique will have a special place in my home where it can be displayed, whether that’s on my coffee table, or at the forefront of my bookshelves. It’s a book to be looked at, to be touched, and to be studied with an artful eye. Each story can be read individually, but it is best read, um, alphabetically (ha!). The illustrations add a sense of life to the stories, giving you a peek into each letter’s existence. It’s printed on lovely paper and is full of colour. It’s vibrant and beautiful. The stories are light-hearted and enjoyable, but there isn’t a whole lot of depth. Very charming!

Check out what Molly Peacock had to say about it:

 

  1. Why do you love tiny things?

I love miniatures because they can’t pretend to be more than they are. The tiny and detailed thing draws your attention because it is a little world in itself. You enter that world without pretense.  That’s why I love the short tales of Alphabetique.  They’re magic, not big and tragic.

 

  1. What’s the importance of noticing in our everyday lives?

When you notice something, even if it’s only a button or an orange or the pattern in a sidewalk grate, it’s as if someone has handed you a rarity. Attention creates luxury because it stops time. For a suspended moment you are calmly energized by what you are seeing, hearing, and touching. It brings you back to your senses.  Even the gravel beneath your feet becomes a marvel of a mosaic.

 

  1. How did you get the idea for Alphabetique: an Advent Calendar on www.tinyletter.com?

Kara Kosaka, the illustrator of Alphabetique, and C.S. Richardson, the Art Director at Penguin Random House made little morsels of details from the illustrations, and I thought, “I’ve got to share these!” Then I realized that 26 letters = 26 days, almost like an Advent calendar. If I started a very select e-mail list through TinyLetter, for people who have things to say, I could show the list these adorable details & I could excerpt a sentence or two from each story to illustrate the illustrations.

It’s amazing:  every day I have more subscribers.  And even after the Tiny Letters stop on November 26, you can subscribe to see them at https://tinyletter.com/mollypeacock

or go to the website: http://mollypeacock.org/advent.html

 

  1. Pencil or pen?

Pencil for poetry on blue lined pads.

Computer for prose!

 

  1. Do you get jealous of other writers?

Sure, but then I remember Jean Rhys who said, “we’re all just drops in the ocean of literature.”

 

  1. What’s your motto:

Go with the Flaw.

 

  1. What words do you try to live by? 

 Only do what you can only do.

 

  1. What is the mantra you’d tell a young woman to keep saying to herself?

 In the attempt is the success.

 

  1. What’s your practical philosophy for writers?

Keep your expectations low and your standards high.

 

  1. Is it ever time to take a break from writing?

Of course—every fertile field has to lie fallow.  The trick is not to think you’ve got writer’s block just because you need a rest.

 

  1. Name a single quality that is BOTH your best and your worst quality:

Whining. It’s time to stop thinking that whining is annoying! Whining is like opening a window and having a sea breeze swoop all the stale air out of a room.  Stop whining, I tell myself, and then I think of the greatest whiner of all:  William Shakespeare. He whined about his love life in the greatest sonnets ever written.

Review: The Young Elites

20821111Title: The Young Elites

Author: Marie Lu

Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, Published by the Penguin Group

Publication Date: October 2014

ISBN: 9780388157836

The Young Elites (The Young Elites, #1)

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

What a wonderful introduction to Marie Lu. The Young Elites is the first of her books that I’ve read and I couldn’t be more pleased to find a new author whose series I will await in restless anticipation! The Young Elites is the first YA series that I’ve been excited about since Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series. The story reminds me of a Game of Thrones for the young reader with a bit more magic and supernatural thrown in there for good measure. It’s a story that casts aside the conventional romance, happy ending, and good girl protagonist for a strong female protagonist who is both physically and mentally scared, crippled into not knowing who to trust or where to turn. It challenges the notion of good and evil and pushes us to accept unfortunate plot twists that we may vehemently oppose.

Adelina’s world is not a pleasant one. Thousands of people are left scarred, malfettos, by a blood fever that took down their nation. The malfettos are completely dehumanized by the unmarked. They are stalked, hunted, and killed. They are forced out of the city and used as tools in order for the unmarked citizens to gain control and establish a city of fear. The elites are fighting for a world in which malfettos walk free, but we cannot be entire sure how “pure” these elite are. They too are filled with fear and darkness, Adelina more so than the rest of them.

I love Adelina’s story. She gains our devoted sympathy and compassion throughout her upbringing, the oppressed at the hands of the oppressor. She shocks us with her powers and is full of surprises. What I loved most about her was that she is flawed. She is not perfect and the mastery of her powers does not come to her easily. She struggles and fails and is absolutely real. She has always been fearful and that fear is not something that she easily discards, if it ever leaves her completely at all (I’d argue not.). She loves and she hates, but her story is one of self-discovery and personal understanding. Sure, she wants to save the world, but she is trying to know who she is and what her capacity for power is.

Everyone in this story has secrets. Deception is the name of the game. Perhaps that’s why it is such an exciting tale. Even as the reader, you can’t trust the characters. You cannot know who is good and who is evil. I can’t even begin to fathom where book two is going to take us. I’ve been swept off my feat. HOW AM I GOING TO SURVIVE THE WAIT FOR BOOK 2?!?!?!?!?!

Book Club No. 1

I’ve started a book club with a friend of mine! We’re meeting once a month to try different books that maybe we wouldn’t have read otherwise and to challenge ourselves to try new things. We’ve set out our books for the next 6 months and we hope that our book club will expand.

99561Title: Looking for Alaska

Author: John Green

Publisher: Speak

Publication Date: 2006

ISBN: 9780142402511

Looking for Alaska

 Synopsis from Goodreads:

Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter’s whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the “Great Perhaps” (François Rabelais, poet) even more. He heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.
After. Nothing is ever the same.

It was unanimously agreed that we were disappointed with Looking for Alaska. I’ll give you our overall thoughts:

  • Who is the intended audience for this novel? It reads like a YA, but it deals with very heavy and very adult themes. We couldn’t decide on the age group.
  • We couldn’t understand the relationships in this book. None of the romantic relationships have any real basis. Couples seem to be together “just because.” Attraction isn’t based on intellect or personality, but physical attraction. Yes, so Alaska is hot, but what else? Everyone is in love with her, but why–beyond the fact that she has big breasts and supplies everyone with cigarettes?
  • The Colonel is the most interesting character. He has a genuine interest in learning, is mischievous, is a loyal friend, and has a close and respectful relationship with his mother. Having coming from a rough and impoverished background, he has a genuine reason to dislike the “Weekend Warriors,” aka the wealthy and entitled kids at the school, but he does respect those who respect him. He won’t rat them out. It’s mutual.
  • Green’s initial exploration of grief is unbelievably accurate. It’s the highest point of the novel because these few pages reveal the most honest and accurate portrayal of his characters. This is the only point when any of the characters seem real.

After reading and discussing Looking for Alaska, I cannot understand why this novel is so popular. It was okay, but that’s it. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. But reading John Green has reinforced my desire to avoid reading authors such as him, Jody Picoult, or Nicholas Sparks. They really just aren’t my thing.

Funky Cover Friday

My apologize for posting this so late! It’s my busy week and Funky Cover Friday slipped my mind until now. But I have a good one for you today. This week, I’m absolutely enthralled with the cover for Claudia Gray’s A Thousand Pieces of You. I can’t wait to get my hands on this book, not only because it sounds like a fascinating story, but because it’s beautiful to look at. I’m drawn to unique watercolour images. The watercolour background turns this cover into a work of art. The contrast between the modern grey city above, and the colourful, “old world,” Russian city below, is eye-catching, but also gives you reason to stop, to think, and to interpret. It’s such a stark contrast. Visually it’s stunning and it builds up the anticipation for the story within. According to Goodreads, A Thousand Pieces of You is “Every Day meets Cloud Atlas.” Sound good to you? Because it sounds great to me! I’m all in!

17234658

 

A Thousand Pieces of You | Claudia Gray | Harper Teen | November 4, 2014 | ISBN: 9780062278968

Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

18367581Title: Afterworlds

Author: Scott Westerfeld

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication Date: September 2014

ISBN: 9781481422345

Afterworlds

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she’s made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings…

Told in alternating chapters is Darcy’s novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the ‘Afterworld’ to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved – and terrifying – stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.

This is one of the more difficult posts that I’ve had to write in quite a while, mainly because there was so very little that I enjoyed about Westerfeld’s Afterworlds. I had high hopes for this one. I loved reading the Uglies series back in high school, and though I haven’t read any more of Westerfeld’s books, I was hoping that Afterworlds would wow me in the same way. Alas, it did not. It left me disappointed and wanting more. I’m a huge fan of Westerfeld’s writing style, and true to form, even in a story that I didn’t enjoy, his still writes so well that I wasn’t able to put the book down. Now there’s a conundrum for you.

Afterworlds combines two stories: that of debut author Darcy, in contrast to the story of her character, Lizzie. It’s a work of metafiction. A book within a book. Also known as “bookception.” I couldn’t help but feel like, in making this one book into two stories, each story loses something and, as a result, each becomes quite lacklustre. I didn’t feel like I really got to know the characters in either plot line because there was no room for character development.

I’ll start with Darcy’s own story. Perhaps the world of American publishers is different than it is here in Canada. I work as a marketing assistant at a small, independent, Canadian publisher. I feel, here in Canada, that those of in publishing are close knit, warm, relaxed, fun, and maybe not so glamorous all of the time. The world that Darcy enters is sparkling and star-studded, but isolating. Relationships are superficial, people are competitive, and everyone seems to be hiding something. It seemed to be a thinly veiled, negative commentary on the American publishing biz. In my own opinion, Westerfeld seemed to be venting some of his own frustrations here. BUT this is all speculation. Darcy has unexplained trust issues, she wants to act like an adult and be free of her parents but can’t handle adult responsibilities (i.e. her own finances), no one ever questions that this girl is under the legal drinking age (I get it, it’s New York City, but when I was there only a month away from my 21st birthday, I couldn’t even get into a bar to see my favourite band play), and the adults (parents, family, etc.) seem to be strangely nonchalant about this girl’s life choices. Sigh. That’s enough of Darcy. Let me explain my frustrations with the story she’s written, Afterworlds.

Afterworlds (the story within the story), starts of GREAT! I was pumped! What a fantastic first chapter. My heart was pounding. I was on the edge of my seat. Wow. But that’s it. That’s where it ended. We’re reading, presumably, the final version of the story. The version that gets published. The romance falls completely flat, unfortunately. Perhaps it could have been better with more time to pan out. All we know about Yama is that he’s a Hindu god of death, he’s hawt, and Darcy can’t do anything without him. The foundation of their relationship is Yama’s hotness. We rarely witness a conversation between the two of them (other than establishing his backstory). I couldn’t believe their romance for a minute. Darcy is impulsive and stubborn. I really was quite frustrated.

I wanted so badly to like this book and I couldn’t. I won’t be dissuaded from Westerfeld’s other books, because I know I like his style. His writing made quite an impression on my younger self and I can attribute a huge part of my love of YA to his previous series. But Afterworlds didn’t make the cut, I’m sorry to say. I can’t recommend it to you, as much as that pains me to say.

 

 

Review: The Walled City

18196040*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Walled City

Author: Ryan Graudin

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Publication Date: November 4, 2014

ISBN: 9780316405058

The Walled City

Synopsis from Goodreads:

730. That’s how many days I’ve been trapped.
18. That’s how many days I have left to find a way out.
DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible….
JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister….
MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She’s about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window…..
In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.

The setting in The Walled City is probably one of the most unique that I’ve ever encountered. Set in what is actually known as Kowloon Walled City in Hong King, The Walled City is a shamble of an ecosystem surviving independent of the thriving world around it. Thank you to Ryan Graudin for providing me with a new place to focus my obsession of strange, forgotten, and abandoned places; I will now be up all night watching videos and reading articles about Kowloon.

I’ve given this book 4 stars on Goodreads, but that rating more accurately hovers between 3.5 and 4 stars. The setting, as I mentioned before, is captivating, thrilling, and wonderfully different. It’s the perfect setting for a story that sets your pulse racing and quickens your breath. I couldn’t get enough. This is a city of life or death. There is no middle ground. It’s full of cut-throat characters who live to fight and more often than not, who fight to live. In this fully contained world are thriving gangs, crime rings, drug lords, and vagrants all taking advantage of the weak and the helpless. Characters are ruthless, facing death and destruction on a daily basis.

Jin was most definitely my favourite character. She’s one ballsy young woman. She leaves her home, hides her gender, becomes a shadow, kills, fights, loves, all in the slight hope that one day she might find the sister who was stolen from her. She’s the kind of person that in the event that the apocalypse comes in my lifetime, I’d like to be just like her. She’s a survivor.

 

*Somewhat Spoilers Below!*

 

What took away from the book for me were things like the subplot of the tough vagrants who drop everything for weeks just to hunt Jin down. Her actions against them consume this group completely which is difficult to believe when they too are trying to survive in this unforgiving world. As well, the relationship that forms overnight between Jin’s friend Dai and Jin’s sister seems far too rushed. It draws such a focus in the book, their relationship really becoming the point of action that leads to the novel’s climax. While I do admire these two characters as taking such a risk all for the sake of hope, it just wasn’t enough for me to believe that a few chance and fleeting encounters could lead to the entire destruction of the city’s ruling crime lord.

 

Overall, I’m certainly very impressed with how Graudin sets up his story. He has very strong-willed, determined characters and an intriguing setting. I can’t get it out of my head. There are just a few things lacking for me…things that could have made this story absolutely fantastic. It’s a good book, full of heart-stopping, adrenaline filled moments. And it’s a very quick read. I’d definitely recommend this one.