Book Review: Pandemonium, by Lauren Oliver

February 22, 2012 at 10:20 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

WARNING: This is the second of a series, so if you haven’t read Delirium yet, you should probably go read that instead of this review.

Lena did the impossible: she survived. She made it out of Portland, away from the cure and the expectations and the empty life stretching before her, and into the Wilds and freedom. She made it- but Alex didn’t. Lena Haloway died in the flames with him, and a strange new creature has emerged in her place. In the unforgiving hardships of the Wilds and all the lays beyond, a new Lena will have to grow and stand tall, to find her place. Once, love was worth dying for. Now she’ll have to decide if love is worth fighting for.

I loved Delirium. Beyond the ability of words to express, I loved the first book. So much so I’m scared to reread it for fear I won’t love it as much the second time. And for fear that I’ll love it even more and I’m already incoherent about it. So I was a little scared coming into the second book. I didn’t want to expect too much of it, because any time I get myself too excited for a book, I get myself waaaaaay too hyped up.

And at first, as I read the first few chapters, I was a bit worried that I was right to be afraid.

Then I kept going and OH MY GOD.

It’s a little difficult to talk about this book because it would be so easy to give things away, and that would be criminal. It is, in every way, a worthy successor, more than just a middle book in a trilogy because it genuinely succeeds in growing.

What initially threw me off was this book passes back and forth between two timelines, each told in present tense. It’s not merely flashback- it wouldn’t be possible to separate the two halves of the book and reconfigure them into a more linear flow. Despite a separation of months between them, the two lines actually build upon each other, not just in the lessons learned that become lessons applied, but even in the word choice.

What carries me away more than anything- more than the characters, more than the story- is the actual writing. While the frequent lack of contractions in the narrative throws me sometimes, the imagery is so clear and precise that the words wrap around you from the page, simply envelop you. That it so ably combines poetry with coarseness is astonishing, but it does. In the broad sweep of just a few sentences we have the electric imagery of a city alive with light- and bird shit. And yet it all goes together. The image or metaphor that ends one chapter of a specific timeline is frequently what springs us into the next, in the other timeline. The lessons Lena forcibly learns in the previous timeline she’s forced to put into motion in the present timeline, and for all the separation of months, it feels seamless.

In the first book, we learned of how brittle the construct we call a person can be, how much of a shell exists- as well as the emotions that can be poured into that empty voice. Here, we learn the darker aspects of the soul. Where we learned of love as a product of the deliria, now we learn also of the flip side of passion: hatred. We learn fierceness, we learn strength. We learn of survival and the deep cost it bears, the scars it leaves. And over and over we’re given reinforcement of just how fragile we are, despite all our posturing or attempts to seem otherwise. We see the spines and prickles of attitude, we see the valiance and courage of protecting others- and we see what that kind of fierce survivalism can turn us into.

I’m not going to tell you anything of what actually happens- it’s really not possible to do that without giving away valauble, integral pieces. Pandemonium comes out 28 February 2012, just around the corner, so if you haven’t read Delirium yet, rush out and do it now. These books are not to be missed.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Trailers

January 15, 2012 at 8:12 pm (General) (, , , , , )

I’m of two minds about book trailers- sometimes they’re done really really well, and sometimes they come across as something out of a high school av lab. For me, trailers don’t really do anything for me. Well-done trailers of books I already love make me smile, make me fall in love even a little more, but even a well-done trailer for a book I’m not in love with makes me appreciate the talent that goes into the trailer, not the book.

BUT, that being said, a well-done trailer is a great way to make someone curious about a book. I tend to only check out trailers for books I already have an interest in, but I talk to quite a few people in the store who find about a book from a trailer.

And there are a few book trailers I absolutely adore. Let me share them with you. *grins*

This was recently finished for Lisa Mantchev’s So Silver Bright; the hardcover came out in September, with the paperback out in May. Guys, I love this book. Love it, love it, love, the culmination to a beautiful trilogy that makes all the geek parts of me very happy. It’s a beautiful trailer, one that fills all the potential of the series and the empty space of pages.

(Lisa Mantchev is having a trailer contest on her blog; check it out, there’s some fun stuff there!)

I adored Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver; it was such a gorgeous, lingering book, and the trailer does that every bit of justice. What’s really awesome about this is how it takes the actual illustrations from the book and pairs them with an original song. Yes, you read that right: original. And it’s beautiful. Really fits the impressions of the book.

Third one here is Forever by Maggie Stiefvater. I haven’t actually read this book yet- I’m waiting for it to come out in paperback so I can read all three at once- but I LOVE this trailer. This is one of the few trailers that would actually pull me in to investigate a book I know nothing about. The fact that I do know this book, and have been looking forward to it greatly, just makes it even more amazing.

Normally I’m not a huge fan of trailers with a lot of words on the screen- I guess I figure the words are for the page and the trailer is for the audio/visual enticement, but I was surprised to find I really liked the trailer for Ally Carter’s Only the Good Spy Young. It gave an action-movie feel to it, like a teenage spy thriller on the big screen, which is perfect for the book and for the series.

Last one is for a book that came out several years ago, Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron. I love how simple it is, how it pretty much plays off of the cover and uses that to lure the viewer in to the rest of the story. It’s elegant and mysterious and doesn’t give too much away.

Any trailers you particularly love? Or hate? Share below!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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And the Winner Is…

August 28, 2011 at 11:20 am (Giveaway) (, , , )

Congratulations to Vivien!!!

Random.org did its magic and selected our winner. Thank you so much to all of you for entering- had to laugh, a lot of the covers you mentioned (Hourglass, Unbecoming of Mara Dyer) were also covers that continually catch my eye, especially Mara Dyer.

Vivien, I have sent you an email, so once you ping me back I can send off the book!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Liesl & Po, by Lauren Oliver

August 10, 2011 at 2:57 pm (Book Reviews, Giveaway) (, , , , )

Liesl, like many others, barely remembers the sun. Unlike many others, Liesl barely remembers what it feels like to be out of the attic, where her stepmother has locked her for months beyond counting. Every night, she sits up in the window with a bare lamp and draws and dreams. Then she meets Po and Bundle, a ghost and its sort-of-pet from the Other Side, and finds the first company she’s had since her father got sick.
Will does remember the orphanage, as well as the crippling, killing mine labor the boys get sent to if they’re not adopted; some days he’s not sure that isn’t preferable to being adopted by the cruel, slave-driving alchemist. Always cold and hungry, answering to endless variations of Useless rather than his name, the one bright point in his life is stopping by a house and watching a girl sit in a halo of light at the attic window.
What brings them together is a mistaken delivery, a message from the Other Side, a hope of magic and rest, of murder and good intentions, of running away and maybe, if you’re lucky, finding home.

In her note to the reader that fronts the book (or at least fronts it in the ARC; its position in the final text may differ), Lauren Oliver reveals that this book is extremely personal for her, a confession and a journey from her own experience with the death of a loved one. It shows. In every page, in nearly every sentence, that journey shows through, but don’t mistake this for a book about grieving, or even about facing death and moving on. Through its utter simplicity, it is far, far more complex than that.

This is a book without a time or place. It’s definitely in our world- there’s a passing reference to New York City, and to countries with which we’re familiar- but it’s not really stationed in one place or another. I’ll admit that, for me, the book had a very English feel, but that’s also because the setting and the manners and the voice all came together to create a sort of dreary Victorian feel. There are trains and carriages and alchemists, and certainly the illustrations (though not yet final in the ARC) add to that impression with the style of clothing worn by the characters, but it’s not pinned solely to that era, and it’s never pinned down to a specific country either. Its cities are Dirge and Gainsville and Cloverstown, cities of smoke and fire and grey skies where the sun hasn’t shone in 1,728 days. It’s part of our world and yet somehow outside of it as well, floating outside of a precise time in a way that makes it quite timeless.

The voice contributes to that timelessness in a significant way. At first, it seems to teeter a bit. There’s a difference in voice between Young Adult and Middle Grade, and authors who go between the two, especially on their first trip to the other side, can have a hard time finding that voice. Sometimes it came off a little too YA (please don’t ask me to explain that, we could be here all day and I still wouldn’t feel like I’d done an adequate job), sometimes it came off as squarely MG, but- and these were my favorite moments, and increasingly the norm as the book progressed- sometimes it came across as an old-fashioned Victorian fairy tale that speaks directly to the reader with bits and pieces of a lesson or something a character “might have seen” if they weren’t rushing past. It’s a difficult voice to capture well and it took a few chapters, but once it founds its niche, it flourished.

This book is an exquisite display of balance in so many ways. Its characters are a careful balance of sympathetic and horrible, its tone is a balance of darkness and beauty, and even the tug and swirl of locations are balanced between Living Side and Other Side. There’s a high degree of slapstick in the story, especially when it comes to chance meetings and intersections and coincidences, but it all comes neatly together so that, while incredibly funny, it never feels contrived, but the slapstick weighs into a story that, all things told, is fairly dark. The slapstick keeps it lighter for the younger readers, but through all of it, there’s a very fragile thread of hope that stretches up towards the missing sun, just as Will stands on the street and basks in the sight of Liesl’s face in the lamp at the attic window.

Liesl is an amazing little girl, strong in ways she hasn’t understood yet- and even still doesn’t understand fully when the book is done- but her perspective on things is simultaneously world-weary and simplistically trusting. She has a child’s lack of patience with things she sees as unimportant or generally accepted, can be thoughtlessly offensive and not over-apologetic about it even if she later realizes it, but she has a boundless imagination and deeply rooted love that overwrite all the rest of her character. She’s a child who has been cruelly treated but it’s neither broken her nor left her cruel in turn. Her friendship with Po and Bundle is that of a child- nearly instantaneous, not particularly graceful at times, but cherished and strong enough to survive misunderstandings and small offenses.

Po is rather more complicated. It can’t remember the name it was born with- it died a very long time ago, and things get rather blurry on the Other Side- nor can it remember whether it was a boy or girl. Whenever I saw the name I thought of Edgar Allen Poe and loved it a little bit more. Po is the strangest blend of a child’s limitless curiosity and the bone-deep weariness that comes from having been dead for so very long. It doesn’t really understand the Living Side anymore, finds it exhausting, and yet it finds itself drawn to Liesl for reasons it can’t understand. Bundle, a blurred hybrid somewhere between a cat and a dog, is just plain adorable. I wants one.

The adult characters are more types than individuals, but just as in a fairy tale, it’s put to incredibly good use here. The Lady Premiere is mysterious and terrifying, with a heavily veiled past; the stepmother (Augusta Varice- A. Varice, I LOVE IT) is cruel and simpering in turns; the alchemist is greedy, grasping, firmly convinced of his own superiority; the old lady with the cane and the cat allergy cracks me up; and then there’s Mo. I love Mo. He is such an amazing man and in a sense of both his innate goodness and his mental status, I’d probably rank him with the children. He isn’t very smart, no (Mo is short for Molasses, as in slow as or thick as molasses) but his kindness is bone-deep. He doesn’t always do things the right way, and sometimes it causes trouble for himself or others, but his intentions are so good it actually makes your heart ache.

Laced through the Victorian fairy-tale quality of the voice comes some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever seen. Any time spent within the Other Side is gorgeously conveyed, and there were some sentences that had me scrambling for a pen and paper so I could copy them down and go over them at my leisure because I didn’t want to pull myself away from the story long enough to do them full justice. At its heart, this is a story of hope and of not being alone. Liesl is alone in the attic, Will is alone with the alchemist or on the streets, Po and Bundle are alone on the Other Side, and home is a sort of nebulous thing for them both. Only Liesl’s father had a strong sense of home and the driving need to return there, and his sense infects Liesl with a deep longing for the place she used to know as home but can barely remember. The most beautiful moments in this book are realizations that tie around loneliness and belonging, where home is a magic- and at times mythical- concept.

“People need other people to feel things for them. It gets lonely to feel things all by yourself.”

“She understood then, too, that everyone drowns differently, and that for everyone- even ghosts- there is a different kind of air.”

“She belonged to the world but the world did not belong to her; seh was only the smallest, sprouting part of it”

I could meditate on those sentiments for hours, perhaps even days, and still feel I hadn’t explored them fully.

Skirting around a few things that happen too near the end of the book to include in a review, there were so many moments in this book to love, even within a story that I enjoyed and savored from start to finish. I look forward to seeing the finalized artwork in the published version- they have almost a sketch quality that uniquely suits not only Liesl’s drawing abilities but also the unending grey of the sunless world and the nature of Po and Bundle and the Other Side.

Liesl has a love for the word ineffable, a word her father taught her that he explains as a feeling so big or vast that it could not be expressed in words, and yet they came up with a word to express it anyway. The word comforts her, calms her when she’s upset, reminds her of her father and happier times. From start to finish, through the darkest times and the worst fears and the most slapstick ridiculosity, this is a story of beauty and ineffable hope.

Liesl & Po, by Lauren Oliver, out in stores 4 October 2011.

Want to get your hands on a copy early? I got an extra ARC, and I am giving it away! Check out my Cover Love post for a dissection of the cover and for giveaway details- giveaway runs through Saturday August 27th.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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