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.

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.

 

My Invented Life

With Roz and Eva everything becomes a contest—who can snag the best role in the school play, have the cutest boyfriend, pull off the craziest prank. Still, they’re as close as sisters can be. Until Eva deletes Roz from her life like so much junk e-mail for no reason that Roz understands. Now Eva hangs out with the annoyingly petite cheerleaders, and Roz fantasizes about slipping bovine growth hormone into their Gatorade.
Roz has a suspicion about Eva. In turn, Eva taunts Roz with a dare, which leads to an act of total insanity. Drama geeks clamor for attention, Shakespearean insults fly, and Roz steals the show in Lauren Bjorkman’s hilarious debut novel.

 

 Oh didn’t I just adore this novel. It has to be one of the most open-minded novels written. And I’m not saying so because of the issues embraced and talked about. There are a lot of issue based books out there but what the open-mined aspect of it really comes through because of the characters, I loved them. Every one of them. Even the mean girl. Yes, can you believe that? I didn’t start out loving her. I mean, she was a meanie and a bully of sorts but Lauren Bjorkman does such an amazing job with all the characters, they all have rich backstories to them and it worked out oh-so-well for me as a reader.

Roz is a most endearing protagonist – fickle, impulsive, overtly imaginative with an odd tendency to insult in Shakespearean slangs (!) Don’t you just love her already? She is out and ready to pretend to be gay to help her sister come out of the closet – who she believes is really gay after finding a book about lesbian lovers in her possession. It starts as a trifle dare spurred on by impulsiveness that sets off a a random set of events that make up this book. And it’s a hell of a ride.

The thing about My Invented Life, is that the atmosphere of the book is light and pleasant in spite of the difficult things the characters have to face up to. It doesn’t bog you down. Yet keeps you hooked so you can’t stop reading and then makes you wish it didn’t end  so you could keep reading it. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it all over again.

The writing is utterly delightful. You know the author’s done a fine job when the writing, the story, the characters are all handled skillfully. And really, Ms. Bjorkman’s characters are indeed ones to be boasted about. Roz, Eva, Jonathan, Bryan, Nico all had distinct personalities and the collison of them all in the school production of As You Like It is insanely amusing. And Andie. Eyeliner Andie has to be one of the most dynamic characters ever created in YA fiction. Oh, how I loved her. She may only be a supporting character but she is a genius in creation. It shows a lot of responsibilty on the author’s part to create someone like her. Because books and what you portray in them send you signals, and they may be wrong ones or right ones. And authors have such great influence over readers it is important to portray things in the right light. And Lauren Bjorkman’s handling of Andie’s sexuality…wow, just wow.

Way back last year, I interviewed Lauren Bjorkman but I didn’t get to read her book till now. And, for me, this is a book to hold on to. My Invented Life is clever, outrageously hilarious, big-hearted and has that funky vibe which just makes it very, very cool. I adored it to bits. And I had a lot of Shakespearean fun doing that 🙂

To give you an idea, have a look at the book trailer:

What’s the most fun book you’ve read recently?

Championing Contemporary YA: Empress Of The World

Championing Contemporary YA is a movement in celebration of June as the Contemporary month over at The Contemps. Between, the 3rd – 10th of June, Dreamcatcher’s Lair will be championing Contemporaries that deserve championing.

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Nicola Lancaster is spending the summer at the Siegel Institute Summer Program for Gifted Youth-a hothouse of smart, articulate, intense teenagers, living like college students for eight weeks. Nic’s had theater friends and orchestra friends, but never just friend friends. And she’s certainly never had a relationship. But on the very first day, she falls in with Katrina the Computer Girl, Isaac the West Coast Nice-Guy-Despite-Himself, Kevin the Inarticulate Composer…and Battle. Battle Hall Davies is a beautiful blonde dancer from North Carolina. She’s everything Nic isn’t. Soon the two are friends-and then, startlingly, more than friends. What do you do when you think you’re attracted to guys, and then you meet a girl who steals your heart?

With a summary that ends with a last line like that, how can you not pick up Empress Of The World? I’ve always been curious about the book that has a seemingly hetrosexual girl suddenly falling for a girl. You don’t get to see many of those, because, sadly, not very many authors like experimenting with the protagonist’s sexuality in mainstream YA. Such books get marginalised into the sub-genre of LGBT fiction, out of the general reading public.
That is just plain unfortunate.
Because books like these are little gems. Yes, the initial chapters felt a bit wobbly to me, with being introduced to many different characters at one go, but Sara Ryan does a fine job of telling the story of a different kind of first love, friendships lost and won at summer program, much like a summer camp, except with academics.

The cast of characters were quirky, and I loved them all because they were so well fleshed out in such a short span of time. I could guess who was saying what without looking at the dialogue tags. The friends-circle of the bohemian, serial-smoker, computer nerd Katrina, the good guy with political aspirations Isaac and the perpetually soporific music-composer-with-sunscreen Kevin, make up a wonderful supporting cast. They reminded me of the circle of friends in Anna And The French Kiss in many ways.

Anthropologist-in-the-making, Nic has a funny, observant eye and she’s the kind of character who makes you wish you were friends with her. Sara Ryan blesses her with a great sense of humour, and oh, I absolutely adored her!
As for the love interest, Battle – well, her characterization is vague. There’s a lot more to her than meets the eye. And I guess, a lot more about her is revealed in next book, Rules of The Heart, which is being called ‘a book about Battle’. I just wish she wasn’t so much of a mystery throughout the book. I’d liked to have known her more.
And the romance between the two? It played out like a real teen relationship. From friendship, to more to complications and much more, the depiction was perfect.For me, the exploration of the relation between the two more than made up for Battle’s vagueness of character.

Nevertheless, Sara Ryan must be commended for the ending she drew out. It was the best kind of ending Nic and Battle could have had. She kept to the realism of it with a sweetness and nostalgia that was quite fitting.

Set against the unique background of a Summer Program for teens at a college, Sara Ryan’s Empress Of The World is an intelligently written summer romance that redefines labels (Nic has a tendency to label everyting, even herself) with  its light-heartedness and humour, and should be worth a read 🙂

What’s the best book with LGBT characters that you’ve read? Any that you would suggest I read?