The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

Book cover of The Vast Field of OrdinaryThe Vast Fields of Ordinary
by Nick Burd
Published on: May 1st, 2009

From Goodreads:

It’s Dade’s last summer at home, and things are pretty hopeless. He has a crappy job, a “boyfriend” who treats him like dirt, and his parents’ marriage is falling apart. So when he meets and falls in love with the mysterious Alex Kincaid, Dade feels like he’s finally experiencing true happiness. But when a tragedy shatters the final days of summer, he realizes he must face his future and learn how to move forward from his past.

My thoughts:

I read this book a year back. Yup. Long, long time. But just couldn’t get around to talking about it because I tend to lose my coherence when I end up liking something (which, I understand, is a terrible thing to admit on a book blog but whattodo!).

This book is one of my brother’s favourites (the kind that he re-read so much that he actually lost count of how many times he has read it) and he gave it to me at this time last year when I had no idea what I was doing with my life and made the impulsive decision to shift from Calcutta to New Delhi again.

Anyway. I moved to ND almost empty-handed (in terms of books, really) save for this. And thank god for that. What an ache-y, sensitive, beautiful book this was.

I believe the true test of a book lies in holding your attention and making you feel, really feel, when you’ve shut yourself from the rest of the world and kind of hit rock bottom. Everything stops mattering at this point. And if a book ends up mattering, well, you can guess how good a book that must be,

This is an extremely well-written book, exploring that time between high school and college when everything around you is changing and you are not quite sure if you want it to or maybe you’re just torn between wanting it to and not wanting it to. Dade is at that point, wanting to leave high school and his town behind but not quite sure how to, especially when he falls in love with the strangely alluring Alex Kincaid (fictional crush alert, yup). This is a book about relationships, complicated relationships – between divorcing parents, between parents and children with secret lives, between lovers and ex lovers, and it’s all very sensitively handled. It’s a book with a big heart and it’s essentially a bite of a-few-days-in-the-life-of-a-gay-teenager. And it’s done beautifully. And that makes all the difference.

I don’t know if Nick Burd has written any more books. I haven’t come across any more but I wish he does, because I would read it. He is immensely talented. It takes a deft hand to make the everyday so beautiful and significant.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller
Published: September, 2011
Winner of the Orange Prize, 2012

From Goodreads:

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

My thoughts:

I don’t quite know where to begin with this book. When I finished it I wanted to talk about it immediately, but I refrained because I was too overwhelmed and I wanted to distance myself enough to look at it objectively.

Tried. Failed. Can’t. It’s been over a week and I’m still overwhelmed by it and I can’t keep myself from talking about it anymore.

I LOVED THIS BOOK.

It destroyed me and I loved it. 

When I was in school, I was obsessed with the Trojan war and when Brad Pitt and Eric Bana came together to play Achilles and Hector in that terrible movie, my teenage hormones went into overdrive. Back then I used to read up every book I could find on the Trojan war. 

Which makes you wonder what new thing could anyone offer on the Trojan war. It’s been told and re-told and dealt with and done with. What else? Well, a love story maybe. And not the Helen-Paris kind which, honestly, makes me roll my eyes too much. But, hello, Achilles and Patroclus! Madeline Miller hits it just right. Of all the things that somebody dealing with an epic retelling could try to take up, this love story is the crux of this story. This is no Trojan war retelling. The Trojan war is just a by-the-way detour (albeit the most important one) of the many detours that come in the way of Achilles and Patroclus’ story.

And.

This is quite possibly the greatest and most beautiful love story I’ve ever read. Madeline Miller has a way with words. She hits the right balance between literary and commercial. An epic setting and a glorious story of two boys from childhood to adulthood and thereafter. Of course, since I was familiar with the detailed story of the Trojan War, I knew where the book was heading and what would happen but that did not stop me, rather could not stop me, from reading this in one sitting. My housemate was appalled seeing that I had very conveniently skipped lunch and a bath and every other essential everyday thing for the book. When I finished the book at about 1 a.m. in the morning, in tears, right before the power went off for the next three hours, she was even further appalled. 
‘I’ve never seen or heard you cry over a real person before,’ she said. Oh, and she has known me for the last eight years.

Anywho. The point is, this book is going straight into my forever-favourites list. A week since reading it, just looking at the book on my shelf makes my heart all tight and big and it’s funny how it does both those things at once but THIS BOOK IS SO BEAUTIFUL I WANT TO CRY WHENEVER I TALK ABOUT IT.

AND I WANT TO TATTOO SOME OF THOSE LINES BECAUSE OMG SO GORGEOUS –

“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”

“I know. They never let you be famous AND happy.” He lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll tell you a secret.” “Tell me.” I loved it when he was like this. “I’m going to be the first.” He took my palm and held it to his. “Swear it.” “Why me?” “Because you’re the reason. Swear it.”

“This, I say. This and this. The way his hair looked in summer sun. His face when he ran. His eyes, solemn as an owl at lessons. This and this and this. So many moments of happiness, crowding forward.”

If you read only one book this year, let it be this.

Do you like historical fiction?

 

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Everything Leads to You
by Nina LaCour
Published: May 15, 2014

From Goodreads:

A love letter to the craft and romance of film and fate in front of—and behind—the camera from the award-winning author ofHold Still. A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world. Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic…. She’s beautiful. And she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.

My thoughts:

I’ve wanted to read a Nina LaCour novel for so long. I have Hold Still and The Disenchantments on my phone but somehow, life, ugh, and other books, hmmm, keep getting in the way. Thankfully, Everything Leads to You was a supersmooth ride and I had so much fun reading it and nowihavetoreadeverythingelsebyherYES.

I loved the Hollywood setting. I loved that there wasn’t the usual glitz and glamour you generally associate with the industry and all, because this is just regular people going about making a movie. And then our main character is a set designer, which I thought was the coolest nonclichedjobinabooksetinHollywoodEver. I don’t know how authentic the Hollywood setting was since I’ve, obviously, never been there, but it felt so real. No jarring edges and jagged ends, the plot fit in smoothly with the setting, the mystery and romance angles taking themselves along into the mix. It was a good book.

The characters were so well fleshed out and I’m not just talking about the two leads. I’m talking about EVERYONEOFTHEM – a certain someone’s certain ex, a random old couple who could just be passing through in the book but are equipped with such good moments that I remember them even months after reading the book.

The only complaint I’d have is to do with the romance, because there’s not much of that – but there are fantastic friendship portrayals and a perfect little Hollywood mystery and it’s the kind of book that throws you into quick-read mode (I read this in 3-4 metro rides; Yes, I read all my books on the metro these days. I’ve become one of those people) and it was good. It’s a one time read but a good one time read.

It’ll engross you and leave you with a smile.

Quite perfect for the summer.

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

All the Rage
by Courtney Summers
Release date: April 14th, 2015

From Goodreads:

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women after an act of sexual violence, forcing us to ask ourselves: In a culture that refuses to protect its young girls, how can they survive?

My thoughts:

I read this in two sittings. On my way to work, and back. There was an 8 hour interval in between, because, you know, work – which almost killed me because HOLY CHRIST THIS BOOK. 
I love Courtney Summers. She is fucking fabulous. The things that Some Girls Are did to me, oh gosh, I can’t even gush enough. And Cracked Up To Be. My brother and I still debate over which we think is better. (We still haven’t come to a conclusion)
And then This. All The RageALL THE RAGE. This book is everything that Cracked Up To Be and Some Girls Are built up to. It’s like both those books actually were leading up to this. The running themes of sexual-assault, rape-culture, victim-blaming, slut-slamming – everything culminates in here and wow. 

I have to say, I don’t think the blurb does the book much justice. It appears too straightforward, when really, the devil’s in the details. Courtney Summers is such a brilliant writer. Her minimalist style is like poetry. She doesn’t tell, she casts shadows and in the shadows of what isn’t told, you get the chills.

I don’t know how to sound cohesive about this. It’s such an explosion of a book. And it talks of all the things that surround us all the fucking time but which we conveniently choose to ignore., because, hushmychildspeaknoevil.

In many ways, All The Rage reminded me of Fury by Australian author Shirley Mar, which is one of the best books I’ve read. I felt the same surge of anger and helplessness as I had felt when I’d read Fury some 4 years back. The rage. Yes, the rage is the unspoken kind, the one that bubbles just beneath the surface for months and years till it spills over. It’s such an universal rage against the way girls are treated in this world, at every fucking step, that lewd whisper in your ear as you go shopping or that silent eye-undressing that happens everysingleday – I thought I would burst because there finally was a book that gave language to that. (Living in a country that doesn’t recognize marital rape as a criminal offense and takes pains to victim-slam before arresting rapists, such rage is an everyday story.)

So I would like to thank Courtney Summers for writing this book, for putting it out there, for making people think about the very things they quickly sweep under the carpet after a furtive glance around, for the rage.

I wish every teenage girl could be given this book. Every one of them. Before they are silenced.

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

The Darkest Part of the Forest
by Holly Black
Release date: January 13, 2015
From Goodreads:

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.
Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.
At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.
Until one day, he does…
As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

My thoughts:

That blurb and I was sold. It makes you think Creepy Delicious Fairy-Tale instantly. So obviously I had to get my hands on it. I didn’t even care about the cover, even though I think it goes perfectly with the blurb etc, but, what I mean is, even if this book had pictures of potatoes on the cover, I’d still have read it, because THE BLURB IS PERFECT.

But, you see, that is also kind of the problem.

The blurb is so good that I obviously trooped in with expectations and the first chapter was even better, so the expectations heightened. And, well. Thing is, even though this was my first Holly Black book, it showed me that she is a really good writer. The language is gorgeous and she builds up the world perfectly. And her narrative style sets the scene appropriately for a book titled The Darkest Part of the Forest and just when you’re all set for the creepiness to crawl up your skin, it, uhm, stops being creepy.

Oh, book, what have you done to me? I don’t quite know what to think of you.

I liked it, okay? It had siblings, it had magic, it had a beautiful horned boy and things that go bump in the..forest. The writing is good and it’s a fairytale. What more can you ask for? But, I don’t know, the siblings didn’t quite have that siblingy thing, the magic wasn’t something I felt part of and the horned boy was less fascinating awake than he was asleep. By the middle of the book I was more huh than wow. Which is kind of sad, because I reallyreallyreally wanted to love it. I wanted to wax eloquent about it and write love letters to the characters and fantasize about Fairfold. I wanted this book to be the book that would make me fall in love with urban fantasy once again. Maybe I had too much expectations. By the end of it I was, hmm, okay, nice.

I think The Darkest Part of the Forest had the potential to be a lot more than it is – go down in YA history as a landmark urban fantasy of sorts or something. I don’t know. It sure laid the most fascinating foundation. It has movie potential, though. It would work really well on screen, I think.

I will read more of Holly Black, though. I shall keep The Coldest Girl in Coldest as the next book of hers on my to-read list. Meanwhile, I would recommend The Darkest Part of the Forest, just not as something that will offer anything new.

What’s the latest fantasy/urban fantasy/paranormal/magic realism book you’ve read?

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

Book cover of I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy NelsonI’ll Give You the Sun
by Jandy Nelson
Release date: September 16, 2014

From Goodreads:

At first, Jude and her twin brother Noah, are inseparable. Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude wears red-red lipstick, cliff-dives, and does all the talking for both of them. Years later, they are barely speaking. Something has happened to change the twins in different yet equally devastating ways . . . but then Jude meets an intriguing, irresistible boy and a mysterious new mentor. The early years are Noah’s to tell; the later years are Jude’s. But they each have only half the story, and if they can only find their way back to one another, they’ll have a chance to remake their world. This radiant, award-winning novel from the acclaimed author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

My thoughts:

Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere has been one of those books that don’t quite leave my mind when  I’m thinking of books that have stayed with me. Sometimes when people debut with such memorable books, most follow-up works don’t quite match up. Sometimes that happens. And sometimes that doesn’t. Sometimes it only gets better.

Jandy Nelson is a magician. I want to write that across the skies. JANDY NELSON IS A MAGICIAN.

I’ll Give You the Sun  is the kind of book that made me want to climb out of earth and bring the sun for her, because SoMuchBrilliance. This book is a stunner of a read. The writing is gorgeous, so gorgeous I felt like I was drowning in it. Although, yes, I do admit it might not be the kind of writing that everybody will like. If you didn’t like the prose-style of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, erhm, you should maybe just read a sampler of this to see if it’s your thing and go ahead, because if you’re going by this review, HOLY YES, I WANTED TO EAT THE BOOK. (This happened with The Sky is Everywhere as well, but it happened double-times with this)

So much of the feels. So much of it that feels isn’t even the right word. So much of the feels and this is why:

  • Siblings. Can there pleaaaaaase be more books about siblings? And siblings who aren’t trying to kill each other and aren’t just hanging around the background scenes just so they could be there but real-life, living, breathing siblings that have that pull which is the thing about siblings anyway (which is also why I loved Imaginary Girls so much *breathes heavily*). Noah and Jude are more like NoahAndJude and Jandy Nelson doesn’t just tell you, she shows you how. It’s brilliant how she managed the dual perspective throughout the book, giving the two of them such distinct voices that you don’t have to go check the chapter head to see whose portion you’re reading, yet you just know that these two are two sides of the same coin. Throw brother and sister and love and art and jealousy and guilt and love and more love and you will get NoahAndJude.
  • Family. The family you want to run away from and return to. The family that isn’t just the people that are alive but the ones who’ve died and are still there because you decide if you want to keep them there or let them go. Yup, Jandy Nelson nails that. (PS. For ghosts and other such things that you-don’t-really-see-happening-around-you-because-you-don’t-notice, I’ll Give You the Sun often reads like magic realism and even though it’s not the specified genre, I’m starting to think, maybe it is.)
  • Art. ‘What is bad for the heart is good for art‘ is something one of the characters says in the book (I won’t say who because I don’t want to give away anything), and that is more or less the basis of all great art in this book. It captures the essence of the artist so well, I had to stop for breath (which was difficult, considering that I read most of the book on the metro, on the way to and back from work, and the metro is at that time so crowded that it hardly leaves you space to stand, let alone, stand and read). You get how the description of such art comes from the soul, because the author apparently wrote this book over three years, shutting herself in darkened rooms, with just the light from the laptop giving her company, because things like that come from, I don’t know, somewhere within, and when you read or see the book or the sculpture or the painting, you can feel where it comes from.
  • Love. Oh man. The Beatles probably wrote All You Need Is Love for Jandy Nelson to write this book. Love spills from the spine of this book. There is not a single person who hasn’t been affected by love here. All kinds of love. ALL KINDS.
  • Romance. I could have clubbed this with Love but there’s so much of Love already, I realised this kind of needed highlighting of its own. And What Happens With Noah is probably my favourite Romantic Story of the Year.
  • The Ones Who’ve Died and are Still Around, Like Really, Because (you remember how Sirius Black said that The Ones That Love Us Never Really leave Us) They Don’t Have To Be Ghosts, you see.
  • Metaphors. I like metaphors, okay? Don’t judge.
  • Title. I officially think this is the Coolest Title of the Year.
  • I got lost in this book. Like, literally. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked into the wrong metro because of this book. Oh yes.
Just read the book, okay? I don’t know what else to say. I’m bursting with words and I feel like I’m coming up short and stupid and I just want everyone in this world to read this book because it’s that good. Yes, that good.

 

A Note of Madness by Tabitha Suzuma

There really is no better way of dealing with the jolts life sends you than to disappear in a book. Just when I think that nothing perhaps could make things better, books prove me wrong. Over and over again. This happens often.
 
I won this book via a giveaway on the author’s Facebook page, a long time ago. A reaaally long time ago. I loved Tabitha Suzuma‘s Forbidden. Even now I’d consider it one of the most powerful books I’ve read (just so you know, I read Forbidden four years ago). Somehow, though – whether it was life or university or other books – I never got around to reading A Note of Madness
 
On Wednesday, I was rummaging my shelves for something to read. There’s always too much to read. My shelves are spilling and I always have to look for newer places around the house to make room for my books. A lot of those books are unread, not because I didn’t want to read them, but because other books came along and then even more books. My copy of A Note of Madness was signed ‘August 2010’ with a message from the author. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t let it go.

 

From Goodreads:

Life as a student is good for Flynn. As one of the top pianists at the Royal College of Music, he has been put forward for an important concert, the opportunity of a lifetime. But beneath the surface, things are changing. On a good day he feels full of energy and life, but on a bad day being alive is worse than being dead. Sometimes he wants to compose and practice all night, at other times he can’t get out of bed. With the pressure of the forthcoming concert and the growing concern of his family and friends, emotions come to a head. Sometimes things can only get worse before they get better.

 
My thoughts:
In the last few months, I’ve lost count of the number of times I thought I was going mad. It happened with increasing frequency and I kept thinking it would get better but it didn’t, not then. It’s hard to define madness. It’s an easy step-over from sanity. I think it happens to everyone, at least once in our lives. Flynn’s madness pushes him over, way over the edge. And the whole spiralling-downwards experience is what the book chronicles. There are no minced words, no twists and turns, it’s probably the most straight-cut book I’ve read. Flynn loses his mind and how.
 
After I read Forbidden, I had an overwhelming urge to connect with the author. The book had such a huge impact on me, I had to tell her. We befriended over Facebook, and yes, if you know her, you would know how she has battled (and still battles) mental illness. She is very vocal about it and I think that’s important because nobody really talks about it. A Note of Madness was her debut novel and you get it, you know. You get the fact that the author knows what she is talking about because you get into Flynn’s head, ride the highs and lows with him and feel the crippling fear that makes it impossible to go on and do anything, even though the book is written in third person and you’re just supposed to feel objective about it. 
 
It’s an atmosphere of paranoia. Flynn’s, his family’s, his friends’. Sometimes you’d want to shut the book, just so you could breathe. It’s not an easy read, of course. But it’s good, it’s really good. 
 
After Robin Williams’ suicide, when everybody was talking about depression, Ms Suzuma shared this post on Facebook. It talks about her family’s fight with the disease. I think you should take a look.
 
I think the book has a most apt cover. The blackness, the boy at the edge, the title placement – I think it’s one of my favourites now.