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One From the Archive: ‘My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Winter Romances’, edited by Stephanie Perkins ****

I will just highlight the fact that I do not tend to read young adult books at all, but wanted to read something a little different a couple of years ago.  I received a review copy of this, and enjoyed it far more than I first thought.  The moral of the story is read everything, folks.

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Winter Romances features a variety of authors who largely write solely within the Young Adult genre, from contemporary fantasy and the paranormal, to ‘the strange things that love can do to people’.  Edited by Stephanie Perkins, this collection features one of her tales, along with work by Rainbow Rowell, Holly Black, Ally Carter, Gayle Forman, David Levithan, Matt de la Pena, Laini Taylor, Jenny Han, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire and Kiersten White. 9781250059314

The blurb of My True Love Gave to Me calls it ‘a gift for teen readers and beyond’.  It is ‘the perfect collection of short stories to keep you warm this winter…  Each is a little gem, filled with the enchanting magic of first love and the fun festive holidays’.  The inspiration within the collection is vast, and whilst all of the authors have used the festive period in their stories, they have done so in decidedly different ways.

Rainbow Rowell’s tale – the lovely ‘Midnights’ – opens the book.  In it, her protagonist, Mags, sits in her friend’s garden on the 31st of December and reflects upon three of her previous New Year’s Eve celebrations.  Each of them revolve around her allergy-prone friend Noel, who is described as ‘her person’; the one whom she turns to in periods of strife.  Rowell’s writing is sharp and her characterisation works marvellously.  In Kelly Link’s interesting ‘The Lady and The Fox’, a mysterious figure in a beautifully embroidered coat befriends a young girl named Miranda during successive Christmas celebrations.

In Matt de la Pena’s ‘Angels in the Snow’, a young man faces spending Christmas alone, hours away from his family.  Jenny Han’s story ‘Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me’ is told from the perspective of Natalie, a Korean who was adopted by Santa, and is the only human girl to live in the North Pole.  In Stephanie Perkins’ ‘It’s a Yuletide Miracle’, protagonist Marigold has gone in search of a boy who works in a Christmas tree lot near her apartment because she ‘needed his voice’ for a project; the sweetest of scenes and most sharply observed conversation ensues.  The narrator of David Levithan’s ‘Your Temporary Santa’ dresses up as Santa Claus to keep the dream alive for his boyfriend’s younger sister, despite being Jewish.  In Holly Black’s ‘Krampuslauf’, a New Year’s Eve celebration converges with a hearty – and clever – dose of magical realism.

Whilst I have not discussed each story here, it is fair to say that there is not a weak link in the collection.  Only two of the stories were not to my personal taste, but they were still interesting to read.  My True Love Gave to Me is both quirky and memorable, and it provides a great introduction to a wealth of different authors writing contemporary YA.  One can never quite work out where the majority of the stories are going to end, or what will occur within them; they are largely very unpredictable, and incredibly sweet. The physical book itself is lovely, with its duck egg blue and gold cover, fluorescent pink page edging and gold ribbon bookmark. My True Love Gave to Me is a great collection, in which many different viewpoints have been considered.  The characters which have been created are both believable and unpredictable, and each narrative voice has been crafted with the utmost care.  It is sure to make every reader – whether teenage or older – feel marvellously festive, and is a great antidote to those winter blues.

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One From the Archive: ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ by John Green and David Levithan ****

First published in May 2014.

I love John Green and David Levithan, so the very fact that they collaborated on a novel together excited me rather a lot.  I couldn’t wait to read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and it was almost agony to put it onto my to-read shelves and wait for its title to come out of my book choice jar, rather than to begin it straight after purchasing it from Waterstone’s Piccadilly.  I was patient, however, and thankfully I didn’t have too long to wait to read it.

My favourite John Green novel – rather predictably, I suppose – is The Fault in Our Stars, and my favourite of David Levithan’s is the fabulous Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares (written with Rachel Cohn), which I read every Christmastime without fail.  (Also, I must mention that the periwinkle coloured Penguin cover of Will Grayson, Will Grayson is just lovely.)

I tried not to read many reviews of the novel before I started to readit, but from what I’ve seen, it appears to be a ‘Marmite’ book of sorts, and is either loved or hated.  Its premise is simple yet clever:

“One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two strangers cross paths.  Two teens with the same name, running in two very different circles, suddenly find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, culminating in heroic turns-of-heart and the most epic musical ever to grace the high-school stage.”

I loved the nod to Neutral Milk Hotel at the start of the book (a great band, and the favourite band of my favourite band’s frontman).  As with most of Green and Levithan’s characters, almost everyone was instantly likeable (aside from Maura, that is).  Each protagonist in Will Grayson, Will Grayson had noticeable flaws, but they felt all the more human for it.  The stories of each Will Grayson blend seamlessly, and I very much liked the different literary techniques which the authors had used to differentiate their protagonists from one another.  Out of both Will Graysons, I much preferred the gay one (I am almost entirely sure that this is Levithan’s creation); he was quite simply adorable.  The same can be said for Tiny, the character who essentially links both Wills.

Elements of both authors’ novels have been skilfully woven in – there is a love story a la John Green, which is rather unexpected but warms the heart nonetheless; there are many references to homosexuality, as in David Levithan’s books, and a few gay characters – all of whom I would love to call friends; and there is wit, humour, and even hilariousness at some points.  Will Grayson, Will Grayson is an immensely difficult book to put down, and the authors write so well together that I hope they choose to collaborate again in future (multiple times, please, gentlemen.  You know you want to.).  The novel has been perfectly executed, and I would heartily recommend it to everyone in search of a heartwarming and amusing novel.

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American Literature Month: Flash Reviews from the Archives

A series of flash reviews of American Literature seems a fitting interlude to post amongst the extensive reviews of late.  These have all been posted on the blog over the last couple of years.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner ****
I adore the Deep South as a setting and am wondering why, after finishing this stunning novel, I’ve not read any of Faulkner’s work before.  I adored the differing perspectives throughout, and the way in which each and every one of them was so marvellously distinct.  The story is such an absorbing one, and I love the idea of it – a family waiting for and commenting upon the death of one of their members.  Faulkner’s differing prose techniques in use in As I Lay Dying are wonderful, and show that as a writer, he is incredibly skilled.  Terribly sad on the whole and very cleverly constructed.

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Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann ***
I have read some absolutely marvellous reviews of this novel, and couldn’t wait to begin it.  The prologue of Let The Great World Spin is visually stunning and well thought out.  If only the rest of the book had been the same!  I enjoyed the author’s writing on the whole – some of his descriptions, for example, are sumptuous – but my stumbling block came with the characters.  They were interesting enough on the whole, but they were all so broken, often by alcohol and drugs.  Because of this, no distinct characters stood out for me, and I found it difficult to empathise with any of them in consequence.  An interesting novel, but a little disappointing by all accounts.

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Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan ****
Summer days warrant these witty, fun reads for me.  The books which Cohn and Levithan write are not your usual teen fare.  Rather than being fluffy, simply written and overly predictable (sorry, Sara Dessen, but I’m looking at you), their tales are smart, well constructed, intelligent in their prose and rather unique in terms of the cast of characters they create.  Yes, I suppose that there was an element of predictability here with regard to the ending, but the entire story was so well wrought that it really didn’t matter.  The characters are all marvellous, with perhaps the exclusion of Naomi, whom I found to be an incredibly difficult protagonist to get along with.  I loved the way in which Cohn and Levithan tackled serious issues – the rocky road of teen friendships, homosexuality, trying desperately to conform with peers, and so on.  Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List is a great book, and one which I struggled to put down.

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Children on Their Birthdays by Truman Capote *****
As with the delightful Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I got straight into these stories from the outset. I love the stunning sense of place which Capote never fails to create, and his characters are both marvellously and deftly constructed. His writing is just perfect. The tales in Children on Their Birthdays are short, but boy, are they powerful and thought provoking.

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A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams *****
Williams portrays relationships, even the most complicated, in a masterful manner. I love the way in which he writes. His characterisation is second to none, and he gives one so much to admire in each scene, each act. The characters were all fundamentally troubled souls, each imperfect in his or her own way, but they worked so well as a cast, and Blanche Du Bois is eternally endearing. Williams’ dialogue is pitch perfect. An absolutely marvellous, perceptive, strong and unforgettable play, and one which I’m now longing to see performed.

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‘Marly’s Ghost’ by David Levithan ***

David Levithan’s Marly’s Ghost is a ‘remix’ of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  The whole has been given a ‘Valentine’s twist’ to further set it apart from its original.  Marly’s Ghost begins in rather an interesting manner: ‘Marly was dead, to begin with.  There was no doubt whatsoever about that… When she went off the treatments, she decided she wanted to die at home, and she wanted me to be there with her family.  So I sat, and I waited, and I was destroyed… She was sixteen years old, but there in the bed she could have been ninety’.

The novel is narrated by Marly’s boyfriend of three years, Ben (whose real name is, perhaps rather predictably, Ebenezer), and is told from a position of retrospect, three months after her death.  Understandably, his grief is still raw as he laments upon the fate of his girlfriend and isolates himself from those around him: ‘It was ‘I needed distance for my own grief…  It was as if all the moments [of our relationship] had died along with her.  Everything had died.  Everything except me.  And that was arguable.  There were times when I felt I had died, too’.  The advent of Valentine’s Day is merely adding more pain and sadness for him, particularly as his friends are so intent upon marking the day in some way: ‘What’s Valentine’s Day about,’ he asks, ‘except the desperate search to find someone to spend Valentine’s Day with?’.

Ben is visited by the Ghosts of Love Past, Love Present, and Death, interestingly.  All three of these spirits, whilst wishing above all to alter his melancholy character, are interested in his ‘welfare’ and his ‘reclamation’.  Whilst Ben is a modern character in many ways, the voice which Levithan has crafted for Marly leans toward the highly Dickensian in terms of its phrasing and vocabulary: ‘I am still tied to this life.  Just as you have been tied to this death.  As long as the ties are there, I wander through the world and witness what you will not share.  While you’re caught, I’m caught’.  It is subtle changes like this which make Marly’s Ghost well worth a read, particularly if one is familiar with the original tale.

The parallels which Levithan has drawn with Dickens’ original are sometimes predictable, but the whole is well executed – for example, the door-knocker of Ben’s house turns into Marly’s face: ‘Before I could even gasp, she was gone’, and the consequent appearance of her ghost: ‘The chain she dragged was around her waist…  I saw it was an elongated version of the charm bracelet, with objects from our life clasped to each link.  Not just the golden bell and the golden house and the golden heart from the real bracelet [which she wore], but books I had given her, flowers from holidays, blankets shared after sex’.  The essence of Dickens’ morality tale has been kept, and the alteration of the still recognisable characters – a gay couple named Tiny and Tim, and a party-loving man called Fezziwig, for example – works well.

Marly’s Ghost is definitely not Levithan’s strongest book, but it is certainly an interesting one.  The novel is intelligently written, and Ben’s narrative voice feels realistic.  Although Levithan writes primarily for a young adult audience, he does not dumb anything down, and likes to explore dark and thought-provoking themes in his fiction.  As usual, he handles a deep and worrying topic marvellously well, and his skill as an author comes through on every page.  Marly’s Ghost is quite a quick read, but it is a multi-layered and thoughtful one nonetheless.

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Short Story Series: Part Four

I adore reading short stories, and don’t see many reviews of collections on blogs in comparison to novels and the like.  I thought that I would make a weekly series to showcase short stories, and point interested readers in the direction of some of my favourite collections.  Rather than ramble in adoration for every single book, I have decided to copy their official blurb.  I have linked my blog reviews where appropriate.

1. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
‘Award-winning filmmaker and performing artist Miranda July brings her extraordinary talents to the page in a startling, sexy, and tender collection. In these stories, July gives the most seemingly insignificant moments a sly potency. A benign encounter, a misunderstanding, a shy revelation can reconfigure the world. Her characters engage awkwardly–they are sometimes too remote, sometimes too intimate. With great compassion and generosity, July reveals their idiosyncrasies and the odd logic and longing that govern their lives. “No One Belongs Here More Than You” is a stunning debut, the work of a writer with a spectacularly original and compelling voice.’

2. How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan
‘This is a collection of stories about love from the New York Times bestselling author of Every Day. They met on a plane / at Starbucks / in class. It was a set-up / it was completely random / they were dancing. It was love at first sight / it took time / it was a disaster! Love is a complicated, addictive, volatile, scary, wonderful thing. Many of the stories in this collection started out as gifts for the author’s friends. From the happy-ever-after to the unrequited, they explore the many aspects of the emotion that has at some time turned us all inside out and upside down.’

3. The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield
‘Innovative, startlingly perceptive and aglow with colour, these fifteen stories were written towards the end of Katherine Mansfield’s tragically short life. Many are set in the author’s native New Zealand, others in England and the French Riviera. All are revelations of the unspoken, half-understood emotions that make up everyday experience – from the blackly comic “The Daughters of the Late Colonel”, and the short, sharp sketch “Miss Brill”, in which a lonely woman’s precarious sense of self is brutally destroyed, to the vivid impressionistic evocation of family life in “At the Bay”. ‘All that I write,’ Mansfield said, ‘all that I am – is on the borders of the sea. It is a kind of playing.”

4. Don’t Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
‘John and Laura have come to Venice to try and escape the pain of their young daughter’s death. But when they encounter two old women who claim to have second sight, they find that, instead of laying their ghosts to rest, they become caught up in a train of increasingly strange and violent events. The four other haunting, evocative stories in this volume also explore deep fears and longings, secrets and desires: a lonely teacher who investigates a mysterious American couple; a young woman confronting her father’s past; a party of pilgrims who meet disaster in Jerusalem; and a scientist who harnesses the power of the mind to chilling effect.’

5. Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry by Elizabeth McCracken
‘Like her extraordinary novel, McCracken’s stories are a delightful blend of eccentricity and romanticism. In the title story, a young man and his wife are intrigued and amused when a peculiar unknown aunt announces a surprise visit–only the old woman can’t be traced on the family tree. In ‘What We Know About the Lost Aztec Children’, the normal middle-class son of a former circus performer (the Armless Woman) must suddenly confront his mother’s pain. In ‘It’s Bad Luck to Die’, a young woman discovers that her husband’s loving creations–he’s a tattoo artist–make her feel at home in her skin for the first time. Daring, offbeat, and utterly unforgettable, Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry is the work of a n unparalleled young storyteller who possesses a rare insight and unconventional wisdom far beyond her years. Her stories will steal your heart.’

6. This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor
‘From the publication of his first Booker-nominated novel at the age of twenty-six, Jon McGregor’s fiction has consistently been defined by lean poetic language, a keen sense of detail, and insightful characterization. Now, after publishing three novels, he’s turning his considerable talent toward short fiction. The stories in this beautifully wrought collection explore a specific physical world and the people who inhabit it.Set among the lowlands and levees, the fens and ditches that mark the spare landscape of eastern England, the stories expose lives where much is buried, much is at risk, and tender moments are hard-won. The narrators of these delicate, dangerous, and sometimes deeply funny stories tell us what they believe to be important-in language inflected with the landscape’s own understatement-while the real stories lie in what they unwittingly let slip.A man builds a tree house by a river in preparation for a coming flood. A boy sets fire to a barn. A pair of itinerant laborers sit by a lake and talk, while fighter-planes fly low overhead and prepare for war. “This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You” is an intricate exploration of isolation, self-discovery, and the impact of place on the human psyche.’

7. Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
‘Flannery O’Connor was working on “Everything That Rises Must Converge” at the time of her death. This collection is an exquisite legacy from a genius of the American short story, in which she scrutinizes territory familiar to her readers: race, faith, and morality. The stories encompass the comic and the tragic, the beautiful and the grotesque; each carries her highly individual stamp and could have been written by no one else.’

8. Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories by Mollie Panter-Downes
‘For fifty years, Mollie Panter-Downes’ name was associated with “The New Yorker.” She wrote a regular column (“Letter from London”), book reviews, and over thirty short stories about English domestic life during World War Two. Twenty-one of these stories are included in “Good Evening Mrs Craven”–the first collected volume of her work.Mollie Panter-Downes writes about those coping on the periphery of the war who attend sewing parties, host evacuees sent to the country, and obsess over food and rationing. She captures the quiet moments of fear and courage. Here we find “the mistress, unlike the wife, who has to worry and mourn in secret for her man” and a “middle-aged spinster finds herself alone again when the camaraderie of the air-raids is over.’

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‘My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Winter Romances’ – edited by Stephanie Perkins ****

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Winter Romances features a variety of authors who largely write solely within the Young Adult genre, from contemporary fantasy and the paranormal, to ‘the strange things that love can do to people’.  Edited by Stephanie Perkins, this collection features one of her tales, along with work by Rainbow Rowell, Holly Black, Ally Carter, Gayle Forman, David Levithan, Matt de la Pena, Laini Taylor, Jenny Han, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire and Kiersten White.

The blurb of My True Love Gave to Me calls it ‘a gift for teen readers and beyond’.  It is ‘the perfect collection of short stories to keep you warm this winter…  Each is a little gem, filled with the enchanting magic of first love and the fun festive holidays’. The inspiration within the collection is vast, and whilst all of the authors have used the festive period in their stories, they have done so in decidedly different ways.

Rainbow Rowell’s tale – the lovely ‘Midnights’ – opens the book.  In it, her protagonist, Mags, sits in her friend’s garden on the 31st of December and reflects upon three of her previous New Year’s Eve celebrations.  Each of them revolve around her allergy-prone friend Noel, who is described as ‘her person’; the one whom she turns to in periods of strife.  Rowell’s writing is sharp and her characterisation works marvellously.  In Kelly Link’s interesting ‘The Lady and The Fox’, a mysterious figure in a beautifully embroidered coat befriends a young girl named Miranda during successive Christmas celebrations.

In Matt de la Pena’s ‘Angels in the Snow’, a young man faces spending Christmas alone, hours away from his family.  Jenny Han’s story ‘Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me’ is told from the perspective of Natalie, a Korean who was adopted by Santa, and is the only human girl to live in the North Pole.  In Stephanie Perkins’ ‘It’s a Yuletide Miracle’, protagonist Marigold has gone in search of a boy who works in a Christmas tree lot near her apartment because she ‘needed his voice’ for a project; the sweetest of scenes and most sharply observed conversation ensues.  The narrator of David Levithan’s ‘Your Temporary Santa’ dresses up as Santa Claus to keep the dream alive for his boyfriend’s younger sister, despite being Jewish.  In Holly Black’s ‘Krampuslauf’, a New Year’s Eve celebration converges with a hearty – and clever – dose of magical realism.

Whilst I have not discussed each story here, it is fair to say that there is not a weak link in the collection.  Only two of the stories were not to my personal taste, but they were still interesting to read.  My True Love Gave to Me is both quirky and memorable, and it provides a great introduction to a wealth of different authors writing contemporary YA.  One can never quite work out where the majority of the stories are going to end, or what will occur within them; they are largely very unpredictable, and incredibly sweet. The physical book itself is lovely, with its duck egg blue and gold cover, fluorescent pink page edging and gold ribbon bookmark. My True Love Gave to Me is a great collection, in which many different viewpoints have been considered.  The characters which have been created are both believable and unpredictable, and each narrative voice has been crafted with the utmost care.  It is sure to make every reader – whether teenage or older – feel marvellously festive, and is a great antidote to those winter blues.

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‘Every Day’ by David Levithan ****

On talking about one of my recent book hauls with the lovely Ana fiches de lectures, we decided to read the one title which both of us had in common: Every Day by David Levithan.  I personally do not read many young adult titles, but Levithan is an author whom I will always make exceptions for, as I have so enjoyed everything of his which I have read to date.

The premise of Every Day is both simple and original – A, our gender-free protagonist, is a sixteen-year-old who wakes up in a different sixteen-year-old’s body each morning.  (Please note that I will be referring to A as ‘him’ merely for the ease of writing a review.)  On the day in which we meet him, A has woken up as a rude, sullen boy named Jason, and tries to live the day out as he expects Jason would.  Things are turned on their head as soon as A reaches Jason’s school, however, and quickly falls for his kind girlfriend, Rhiannon.  A tends to try and forget about those whom he has become and interacted with on a daily basis to save overcomplicating things, but he is soon finding ways to meet up with Rhiannon – whom he slowly lets into his secret – whilst inhabiting different teenage bodies.

Many issues – both positive and negative – are touched upon or discussed at length throughout the novel, from teenage relationships and their lasting power, relationships with siblings and parents, and friendships to fear, drug use, and suicide.  Levithan builds the relationship between A and Rhiannon so well, through the use of many distinctively different characters.  His sculpting is skilful and sensitive, and there is a sense of gritty darkness which is introduced to the novel as it goes on.  A’s existence is well charted from beginning to end, and the almost unpredictable ending is refreshing.

Every Day is, like Levithan’s other work, so tenderly written.  He sculpts such vivid scenes and his characters spring to life as soon as they are introduced.  He has a real gift for slipping inside the skins of his protagonists, and seeing the world as they would.  A lot of his writing is beautiful, and he adds so many depths to his work.  Whilst his style is easy to read, Levithan still manages to create thought-provoking novels, and Every Day is perhaps the best example of this which I have come across thus far.  The novel is certainly one of Levithan’s best, and its clever ideas, beautiful writing and themes hold equal appeal for every reader.

You can read Ana’s review here.

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‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ by John Green and David Levithan ****

From ‘greenquotes.tumblr.com’

I love John Green and David Levithan, so the very fact that they collaborated on a novel together excited me rather a lot.  I couldn’t wait to read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and it was almost agony to put it onto my to-read shelves and wait for its title to come out of my book choice jar, rather than to begin it straight after purchasing it from Waterstone’s Piccadilly.  I was patient, however, and thankfully I didn’t have too long to wait to read it.

My favourite John Green novel – rather predictably, I suppose – is The Fault in Our Stars, and my favourite of David Levithan’s is the fabulous Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares (written with Rachel Cohn), which I read every Christmastime without fail.  (Also, I must mention that the periwinkle coloured Penguin cover of Will Grayson, Will Grayson is just lovely.)

I tried not to read many reviews of the novel before I started to readit, but from what I’ve seen, it appears to be a ‘Marmite’ book of sorts, and is either loved or hated.  Its premise is simple yet clever:

“One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two strangers cross paths.  Two teens with the same name, running in two very different circles, suddenly find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, culminating in heroic turns-of-heart and the most epic musical ever to grace the high-school stage.”

I loved the nod to Neutral Milk Hotel at the start of the book (a great band, and the favourite band of my favourite band’s frontman).  As with most of Green and Levithan’s characters, almost everyone was instantly likeable (aside from Maura, that is).  Each protagonist in Will Grayson, Will Grayson had noticeable flaws, but they felt all the more human for it.  The stories of each Will Grayson blend seamlessly, and I very much liked the different literary techniques which the authors had used to differentiate their protagonists from one another.  Out of both Will Graysons, I much preferred the gay one (I am almost entirely sure that this is Levithan’s creation); he was quite simply adorable.  The same can be said for Tiny, the character who essentially links both Wills.

Elements of both authors’ novels have been skilfully woven in – there is a love story a la John Green, which is rather unexpected but warms the heart nonetheless; there are many references to homosexuality, as in David Levithan’s books, and a few gay characters – all of whom I would love to call friends; and there is wit, humour, and even hilariousness at some points.  Will Grayson, Will Grayson is an immensely difficult book to put down, and the authors write so well together that I hope they choose to collaborate again in future (multiple times, please, gentlemen.  You know you want to.).  The novel has been perfectly executed, and I would heartily recommend it to everyone in search of a heartwarming and amusing novel.

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Sunday Snapshot: Christmas Reads

Although I am scheduling this post rather far in advance, Christmas will be almost here by the time this is posted, so I thought it would be a good idea to post a list of marvellous Christmas reads.  All of these are ones which I have very much enjoyed, and which I will be sure to be re-reading this year.

1. Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan *****
2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss *****
3. Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien ****
4. The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet Ahlberg *****
5. The Book of Christmas by Jane Struthers ****
6. Dickens at Christmas ****
7. The Virago Book of Christmas, edited by Michelle Lovric *****
8. Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm and Other Stories by Stella Gibbons ****
9. A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas ****
10. Madeline’s Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans *****

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Flash Reviews (26th September 2013)

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki ***
I was warned that this would be heartbreaking holiday reading, but intrigued as to why, I began it regardless.  I really like the way in which Nao’s story converges with Ruth’s, but I found a lot of the sections which dealt with Ruth rather dull in comparison to those which focused upon Nao.  I understand why Ruth, living on a remote island somewhere near Canada, was used as a character in the book – she was essentially a vehicle to move the mystery of what happened to Nao forward – but she was still not overly necessary in the quantity of her sections.  Some of A Tale for the Time Being was incredibly difficult to read, and a couple of the scenes were almost heartbreaking in their violence and sadness.  The novel, for me, would have been far more powerful as a whole had it focused mainly upon Nao, who was a believably constructed character, with so many sides.

None Turn Back by Storm Jameson **
I would not have read this book at all had it not been on the Virago Modern Classics list which I’m working my way through.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from the novel, but after the rather promising first chapter, it began to read like a third rate South Riding.  The writing was nice enough, but the characters – and there were so very many of them! – were both dull and instantly forgettable.  Whilst the social context is interesting, I think Jameson loses sight of it a little.  In consequence, it is not overly clear what she has set up to achieve with this volume.

The Big Trip Up Yonder by Kurt Vonnegut ***
An odd yet rather clever futuristic tale, in which the concept of time is examined and reexamined.  I expected it to be a lot larger in size than it was, but it throws up some interesting ideas, particularly with regard to age.

Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan ****
Love is the Higher Law is very much a chilling tale.  It tells the story of three different teenagers living in the vicinity of New York City on the morning of 9/11.  Each perspective is linked by the event and by eventual frienships forged due to common ground.  Levithan has captured distinctive voices in each of his narrative perspectives, and has lovingly crafted the entirety.  The book is a sad one, but an incredibly important and worthwhile read.