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The Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth


“But when I do feel all the strength go out of me, and I fall to my knees beside the table and I think I cry, then, or at least I want to, and everything inside me screams for just one more kiss, one more word, one more glance, one more.”  – Veronica Roth in Allegiant

From Lauren’s Perspective:

I am going to write this, not as a separate review for each book, but instead as a collective.  I read the first two books over a year ago and reread them before reading the final book in the trilogy.  I feel that I don’t need to separate the books because they truly tell just one long story.  It is the story of a girl named Tris.

I will begin by telling you how much I loved these books.  I’m slightly biased because I love most Dystopian YA novels, of which I’ve read at least a dozen at this point, but this one, just like Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy, stand out above the rest.  The writing is beautiful and poignant, the characters are flawed but likable, and the plot teaches the reader something about life.

Book one focusses on the very important theme of bravery.  Throughout this story, Tris constantly finds herself wondering what it means to be brave.  She questions her own bravery as well as those around her, and wonders if her choices in life are making her any braver than other choices might have done.

While learning all of this, Tris also develops her first friendships, her first crush, and her first enemy.  She goes through many trials on her way to becoming a full “Dauntless” and while the reader can feel how hard the trials are she is suffering through are, it is also easy to predict that things are only going to get worse.  Soon Tris stops asking whether she is brave or not, because her bravery is, time and again, put to the test.

Along with bravery, fear plays a hugely important role in this novel as well.  Tris and the others must constantly overcome their fears, better themselves in order to make themselves stronger.  Roth writes, “Becoming fearless isn’t the point. That’s impossible. It’s learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it.”  These moments of revelation are scattered throughout the novel in thoughtful messages that allow Roth to convey her message, but also allow the reader to learn the lessons right alongside Tris.  You’re never sure what side you are on while reading these books.  There are good and bad people in every faction, there are good people that turn bad, bad people that turn good, and that confusion could distract from the story, but it doesn’t, it helps you question your own moral standings and it asks:  How important is bravery to you?  The clear answer Roth wants derived from this book is that bravery is everything, being brave means being good, and smart, and selfless, and honest.  Being brave means being everything.

Roth does a magnificent job of introducing characters as well.  You love Tris from the moment you meet her because of her mousy ways and reluctance to choose between what is right and what she wants, you love her because she is not confident yet, but you know she will be.  Later, when we meet Four, you are immediately drawn to his mysterious ways.  He is always intriguing, never quite giving away everything that’s going on in his mind, but always saying or doing something that leaves you wanting more.  Tris’s friends, Christina and Will are fun and energetic, and just what you’d want for someone like Tris.  And Tris’s enemies are just what you’d expect, callous and calculating, despicable, but fun to read.

In the second installment, Tris continues along her path of self-destructive behaviour, hoping to find the answers she is looking for.  Is she as selfless as her abnegation parents?  What does being Divergent mean?  By asking herself these questions, she leads us along a journey where she searches for answers about being selfless in the name of love, and sacrificing yourself in times of war.  The whole novel pits her against herself (as well as many other enemies) as she attempts to discover who she really is, and whether that’s who she wants to be or not.  Roth writes about Tris and Four,  “We both have war inside us. Sometimes it keeps us alive. Sometimes it threatens to destroy us.”  The fact that these wars that are happening internally and externally all because of the traumas of their pasts drives this story further and deeper into the realm of a stunning story.  Roth’s beautiful writing sets her apart from other YA authors, she finds sentimental and passionate ways of making her story’s theme heard.  The second novel in the trilogy connects everything Tris has learned in the first book and adds another level of life lessons to learn, near the end, she says, “I have done bad things. I can’t take them back, and they are part of who I am. Most of the time, they seem like the only thing I am.”   It is this vision of Tris that we are left with as we enter the third and final novel of the trilogy.  So far brilliant, beautiful, and thought-provoking.

Finally, we reach Allegiant, the final book in the Divergent, the book some fans (including myself) have been waiting ages to read.  I feel the need to write:  SPOILER ALERT  here, in case anyone hasn’t read this, but I hope that those who haven’t read it won’t go searching to read reviews.  All the same, I’ll try not to give it all away.  Where book one talked of bravery, and book two spoke of selflessness and war, book three speaks of self-sacrifice and what it really means.  Tris learned in Insurgent that self-sacrifice isn’t giving up your life for no good reason.  She realizes the error of what she did when she walked herself into Erudite headquarters, and knows that that would have been squandering the gift her parents died to leave her with.  The gift of her life.  So in this book, we learn all about Tris’s search for the perfect way to honour her family, to try to forgive her traitorous brother, and to learn that bravery doesn’t mean giving up.  Tris learns her lessons through another series of very hard tests and tough decisions, but as usual she comes out on top of it all.  She finally begins to understand her purpose in all of this war, and act the part of “Dauntless” that intrigued her so much when she joined.  Roth brings everything full circle rather epically, reverting us back to the themes of the previous novels, answering the questions both Tris and Four had about fear and about bravery.  She writes, “There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.  But sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.  That is the sort of bravery I must have now.”  This beautiful passage puts everything that Tris and Four have gone through into perspective.  Then Roth continues with her amazing ‘lessons’ that she treats to her readers through this fascinating story, “She taught me all about real sacrifice. That it should be done from love… That it should be done from necessity, not without exhausting all other options. That it should be done for people who need your strength because they don’t have enough of their own.”

Without going into anymore detail for worry of spoiling too much, I will say that I loved the way Allegiant ended.  When I finished it I immediately messaged my friend to complain, “How DARE Roth do that!!!??”  We complained to one another.  But the more we talked about it, the more I began to think, maybe it was the right thing to do.  There was really no other way for her to end her trilogy if she wanted it to share the messages I believe she was trying to share from the start.  To me, Roth was trying to teach all her readers about the importance of bravery and selflessness, about the complicated nature of good and evil, about the evils of war, and about self-sacrifice.  And although I was at first incensed, I came to understand and even accept the ending as something close to perfect.  No ends were left untied, and of course in a story like this, there could never really be a happily-ever-after, because it was never that type of story from the beginning.  To me, this book ended in a way that, was upsetting, sure, because you grow attached to each and every character, you want to watch them grow and see how they change, but the fact that we were all so attached just proves how good a job Roth did at portraying her characters perfectly.  Any book that ends leaving the reader bereft with grief over a fictional character is a job well done, in my eyes.  And I don’t think anything Roth wrote was meaningless, or done to get a reaction, I believe she truly wrote what she believed was right for the story, and for that I commend her.  And you have to admit, Veronica Roth has got some guts!!!

Overall, I thought the three books were amazing.  Some compare here to Suzanne Collins, and rightfully so, they did both write similar stories at around the same time.  However, in all honesty, the books couldn’t be more different outside of their Dystopian nature, and both are well written, beautifully executed, and well received, so any comparison, I can only assume would be graciously accepted.  If you only had time to read one series of the two, I would be hard pressed to tell you which one I prefer.  I actually think, overall, that the heroine in Divergent outshines even Katniss Everdeen in her willingness to do what is right, where Katniss is sometimes forced into that position, Tris takes it on eagerly.  And I also find the love story in Divergent more appealing too because there  is no choice to be made between Team A or Team B, there is love there for sure, but it isn’t the number one driving force behind the book.  I will say that Collins was better at pacing the action throughout her trilogy and had fewer dull points in between the action sequences, so that was easier to read.  Basically, both trilogies are worth the read so don’t make me choose, because I can’t.


Plot – 4/5
Writing/Style/Form – 4/5
Characters – 4/5
Enjoyment/Entertainment Value – 5/5

Overall Score – 17/20


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A Fault in Our Stars by John Green


From Krista’s Perspective:

Almost everyone is obsessed with leaving a mark upon the world. Bequeathing a legacy.  Outlasting death.  We all want to be remembered. I do too. That’s what bothers me most, is being another unremembered casualty in the ancient and inglorious war against disease. I want to leave a mark.

I had a hard time reading this book and have oddly super procrastinated writing this review.  I sat down to write it this morning and shuddered at the fact that I had made my notes while reading Fault in Our Stars on March 18th.  This book was exceptionally written and I poured through the pages in no time at all.  I felt countless emotions while reading it: humor, sadness, anger, devastation.  John Green has depicted life and death and love so honestly that his words resonated with me and you felt like you were living through the characters.  You empathized with them, you laughed with them, and you mourned with them.

But I had a hard time reading this book because of my own grief I am currently living with following the tragically sudden death of my fiancé in October 2011.  Hazel, Augustus, Isaac, the parents… all were living and breathing life and death so realistically that it hit incredibly close to home.  Hazel’s story put into words the wretched nature of grief that so many of us live with and so many aspects of the story felt like they were my own story.

The pain was always there, pulling me inside of myself, demanding to be felt. It always felt like I was waking up from the pain when something in the world outside of me suddenly required my comment or attention.

At times I felt like John Green was writing my story, writing this directly to me, and describing my grief in a way only I could understand.  That is the powerfulness of his words.  But I guarantee there are thousands of other people who felt the same thing as they read it.  The beauty of this book is that you can take it personally, see yourself within the pages, and completely understand the depths of what Hazel’s story is.  So many times I thought….. this is me!

The waves tossing me against the rocks then pulling me back out to sea so they could launch me again into the jagged face of the cliffs, leaving me floating face-up on the water, undrowned.

As Hazel describes her journey with her illness and her impressions on the futility of life, you find yourself drawn in and you almost cannot comprehend how this young girl is so wise.  Her illness, her brushes with death, and her losses have made her wise beyond her years in a way that only pain can.  Any one of us who has experienced tragic loss or lived with a disease, either personally or through a family member, understands how dramatically pain changes you.  John Green captures all of these emotions with ease and I think anyone who reads this would find it completely relatable to their lives.

What a slut time is. She screws everyone.

Even the concept of time was described in such a simple way and yet anyone who has experienced loss will understand it completely.  There is never enough time.  There are never enough tomorrow’s.  When you have lost someone you understand the obsessive desire for just one more tomorrow.  John Green captures this through his compelling words and you can’t help but be reminded how fleeting time is.  I think that was the best part of this book for me  — not how beautifully it was written, not how honest he describes the reality of life, not how intriguing the characters were, but how he tells life how it is in a no bullshit kind of way.  There is no sugar coating loss, death, suffering, and struggle.  Green is able to write this amazing story with complete honesty and makes no excuses for the reality of pain and one’s desperate need to cling onto time.

And then there is the love.  While the main focus of this book is about understanding death, tragedy, and genuine courage, there is love.  A sweet, romantic, teenage love story that can be seen as beautiful by a reader of any age.  This is no sappy childish love story.  This is one inundated with the harsh reality of their suffering and their unity over understanding the lurking sense of death.  This especially resonated with me and I understand Hazel’s anguish of loss and her unfailing love even after a harsh separation.

I want to close by saying that I fully recommend this book to absolutely everyone, but prepare yourself to be changed, to feel sorrow, and to come away from it with a new appreciation of time, life, and love.  I close with five final quotes that I cannot help but share.  I dedicate these beautiful words to my love, my sweet Zach whom I will forever love and will always wish for one more tomorrow.

I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things.

It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you

I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouln’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.

The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with. It felt like losing your co-rememberer meant losing the memory itself, as if the things we’d done were less real and important than they had been hours before.

I missed the future. I felt robbed.

From Lauren’s Perspective:

“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” ~~ John Green in A Fault in Our Stars

It isn’t everyday you read a book that takes hold of you and grabs your attention and your passion and even steals a bit of your life away.  It isn’t everyday that you are desperately happy not to fully enter the life of the characters you are reading.  To feel such pain for them and hurt for them because of what they are suffering, to empathize with them and to relate to them, but to really not want to be them.  Or to only want to be a part of them.  It is not every day you get to feel that much for a character in a book at all.  But the days I got to spend reading The Fault in Our Stars, I experienced all of that and more.  This book is beautiful.  This book is probably as close to perfect as they come.  And while technically it is supposed to have been written for a younger audience, it is beautiful and intelligent and self-realizing in a way few adult books today are.  It teaches.  It shows you life from a point of view that most of us aren’t familiar with, that most of us thank whoever it is we believe in that we aren’t familiar with it.  But it shows real life.  True and real living.  I beg everyone who reads this post to read this book.  It’s one of the good ones.

“That’s the thing about pain…it demands to be felt.”

To give a brief synopsis of this novel, I won’t say much.  I don’t want to spoil anything, and the plot is better left uncovered as you read.  Simply, I will say, it is about a girl who is ill and her journey through life and love.  It is about true love.  It is about pain.  It is about death and all that means to all people.  In a rather poignant statement, Green writes through his main character Hazel, “There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”  It is in that statement that I can best describe this book.

“I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”

To start, I will state clearly, the characters were charming.  Hazel Grace, the narrator is a rather precocious 16 year old girl.  She is incredibly intelligent, well read, and has accepted her rather hazy fate, if in a slightly anti-social and depressive way.  She is dealing with life’s problems the best she can, and her strength comes through on every page.  It is her strength that drew me in.  Her love of reading drives the novels plot forward, she says, “Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”  Through this love she discusses her favourite book, the one she reads over and over and over again for how it relates to her, how it makes her feel.  Books, beside her budding love life, are the only place she finds any solace.  She is a solitary person and her books give her comfort.  The character of Augustus is also written perfectly.  He is weird and strange in all the right ways.  He is intelligent and happy and exactly the opposite of what you would expect an eighteen year old boy to be.  Both he and Hazel have intense world views, and quite astute beliefs about death and what that means for everyone around them.  They have, afterall, had a lot of time to think about it.  Put the two together, and you have star crossed lovers, reminiscent of a Shakespearean tale.  It is breathtaking.  Even the books secondary characters, Hazel’s parents, Isaac, and the drunken Van Houten are delightful in their own way.  But once again, I want you to discover them for yourselves.

“You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world…but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices.”

Finally, I will discuss the writing within the pages.  I want to tell you how well I thought they were written.  How amazing a wordsmith the author is.  But I have shown you what I think already, by smattering this review with quotes from the story.  Even those were a snippet of the beauty held within, I had a million more I wanted to add in somehow, but couldn’t for fear of giving away the story.  The writing is brilliant.  It is simple, easy enough for a young adult to understand, but poignant and thoughtful enough for anyone to read and take away beautiful realizations about their own lives.  It is the kind of writing that I long for in a book.  Simple.  Beautiful.  Filled with meaning.

It has been some time since a book has touched me in a way this book did.  Please take the time to read it.  It will be well worth your time.  And hopefully you will learn something about true love, pain, and the unfortunate side effects of death.


Plot – 4/5
Writing/Style/Form – 5/5
Characters – 5/5
Enjoyment/Entertainment Value – 5/5

Overall Score – 19/20


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The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)


“The dead could only speak through the mouths of those left behind, and through the signs they left scattered behind them.”  ~~ Robert Galbraith (or J.K. Rowling) in The Cuckoo’s Calling

From Lauren’s Perspective:

I’d like to start by saying how incredibly happy I am.  Ecstatic.  Thrilled.  Overjoyed.  A lot of books make me feel happy and giddy and all those wonderful things, but rarely does one make me feel them in this way.  I’ll tell you why:  I LOVED this book!  Loved it!  I was enthralled from the first to last word, and was barely able to put it down when I had other mundane things to do, like working and eating.

If you read this blog, you must know that I am a huge Harry Potter fan.  Potterhead, I think they call it.  I am obsessed with those books and can honestly say they changed my life.  So, when The Casual Vacancy came out last year, I bought it immediately, knowing that J.K. Rowling couldn’t let me down.  And she didn’t.  Not really.  But I say that having been unable to finish the book.  It just didn’t interest me.  I read the first 150 pages or so, but couldn’t get behind the story.  The writing was beautiful, as Rowling’s words always are, but I just couldn’t make myself care about the characters.  This was devastating for me.  I wanted to be a Rowling fan, not just a Harry Potter fan, because her writing truly is beautiful.  But here I was, with her first book post-Potter, and was completely unable to finish it.

Then, along comes this hidden gem of a book called “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by unknown author Robert Galbraith.  It is found out months after its release that it was secretly written by none other than Rowling!  Of course excitement in the publishing world grew and thousands if not hundreds of thousands of the book were printed within days to cover the overwhelming demand for the book.  And this time, I have not one bad thing to say.  With “The Casual Vacancy”, Rowling still had her wit and charm and beautiful use of the English language, but what was lacking was an appealing story, at least for me.  “The Cuckoo’s Calling” brought back everything Rowling-esque from her Harry Potter books and gave it to us in a wonderful mystery full of intrigue and suspense.  It was honestly delightful.

The writing was beautiful, Rowling’s insights into the world of fame and fortune were as apt as those insights about love and death found in the pages of all her Harry Potter books, She writes, “It’s an illness,” she said, although she made the words sound like “it’s uh nillness.” Nillness, thought Strike, for a second distracted. Sometimes illness turned slowly to nillness, as was happening to Bristow’s mother… sometimes nillness rose to meet you out of nowhere, like a concrete road slamming your skull apart.”  Just absolutely beautiful.

I can honestly say I have never been happier to like a book in my life, and I can also say that I can not wait to read Coromander Strike’s next adventure, as Rowling has assured us that he will return.

To end, I will say with pride, and a great sigh of relief:  ROWLING IS BACK!  (Not that she ever really left 🙂 )


Plot – 4/5
Writing/Style/Form – 5/5
Characters – 4/5
Enjoyment/Entertainment Value – 5/5

Overall Score – 18/20

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette? – By Maria Semple


“My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.”  ~~ Maria Semple in Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

From Lauren’s Perspective:

I’m going to start somewhere I don’t usually start in these book reviews, I want to talk about the cover.  Although I’ve never mentioned it before, I believe that the cover of a book can completely sell a novel.  It can also completely ruin one.  There are hundreds of books I have passed by, even if I thought I’d be interested in the story, because the cover is atrocious and I can only assume that means the text inside will follow suit.  There are too many books out there for me to waste time on ugly artwork.  So I thought I’d start by saying that this is one of the best covers I have seen in a long time.  It drew me into the book before I even knew what the book was about, partly because of the beautifully contrasting colours, and partly because of the equally interesting title .  Either way, whoever created this cover design:  Well done.  I think it will catch a lot of eyes, and don’t worry, what’s inside is every bit as beautiful and contrasting as the cover.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?  Is the story of a mother and daughter.  It is the story of family dynamics, and the story of love.  It is told from the point of view of Bernadette’s fifteen year old daughter, Bee, through correspondences between her mother and anyone who had been in contact with Bernadette leading up to her disappearance.

The layout of this book is fantastic.  It does not read in regular prose, but instead, you read letters and emails passed between various characters.  It is a fascinating and different way to learn about a characters personality and surprisingly easy to read.  When I first began, I did think it might be hard to follow the seemingly haphazard style that Maria Semple undertakes, however, Semple does a beautiful job mixing in letters with regular prose, taking us back and forth between Bernadette’s point of view in all her correspondence, and Bee’s point of view in the space in between.

The book was an absolute pleasure to read, and when you add in Semple’s beautiful knack for writing, the story becomes impossible to put down.  Semple writes in one of her more meaningful moods, “”That’s right,’ she told the girls. ‘You are bored. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.”  It is through writing like this the the book really sold me.  I have always appreciated a good story, even those that are sometimes not written all that well (*cough* twilight *cough* *cough*), and really, I will read almost anything (Except Ulysses.  I tried.  I really tried.)  But when you throw together not only a wonderful story, but also beautiful prose; well that’s pretty much my heaven and it was close to perfect.

So far, here’s what you have learned from me, without giving away any spoilers:  The plot is haphazard and jumpy, but brilliant.  The writing is simply beautiful, it’s simple and beautiful.  Now, what about the characters?  I always find the most important thing (to me) in writing and reading characters is the ability to relate to the characters.  Obviously I’m not going to relate 100% of the time to every character, but I like to find a part of myself in each of them, no matter how fantastical, as a way of truly being able to understand the characters.  This book is a perfect example.  Bee is an over achiever, brilliant just like her parents, and not the most popular girl at school.  We have little in common, but I loved her.  I loved her because I could be a bit of a loner like her, and in that I found a common bond.  She is wonderfully written, precocious, and so smart you could die.  And what’s weird, she has an amazing family dynamic, this amidst a story where her mother inevitably disappears.  You find yourself yearning for friendships with your parents akin to the ones Bee experiences, and that’s an amazing thing.

Bernadette herself is perfect, in my opinion, because of her flaws.  Her life is a little off kilter, but she stands tall and proud when people start accusing her of her life being off kilter.  I love that.  Confidence in a woman who knows she has worth despite the fact that she is going through a small mental breakdown.  Reading some other reviews, I heard some people write that they didn’t like the character of Bernadette, that she was too whiny.  I couldn’t disagree more.  She is a strong woman who stands up for herself despite her fears.  Yes, she makes some bad decisions, but she is intelligent and strong through it all.  And honestly, I don’t find anything wrong with being a little crazy.  Bernadette is so full of love, I don’t know how anyone could dislike her.  She writes in a letter to Bee near the end of the novel the most perfect description of her passions and, through that, her beautifully broken mind, “Every single iceberg filled me with feelings of sadness and wonder. Not thoughts of sadness and wonder, mind you, because thoughts require a thinker, and my head was a balloon, incapable of thoughts.”  Her mind was amazing, despite everything going wrong within it as well.  As for the secondary characters, I won’t go into detail about them  as they played an important role in the book and were written well, but were not nearly as interesting as the two main characters.  I will say this about them:  They all have flaws that are at once delightful and infuriating.  They are all perfectly human.

In the end, all I want to finish by saying is this:  Read this book.  It is a beautiful tale of a mother and daughter, but it is also so much more.  It is the story of a life going wrong, trying to pick up the pieces, but standing tall and proud throughout.  It is a story of confidence in yourself, and having hope when hope is all but lost.  Please pick up this book if you have the chance.


Plot – 5/5
Writing/Style/Form – 4/5
Characters – 4/5
Enjoyment/Entertainment Value – 5/5

Overall Score – 18/20

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Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris


“A person doesn’t consciously choose what he focuses on. Those things choose you, and, once they do, nothing, it seems, can shake them.” ~~ David Sedaris in Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls

From Lauren’s Perspective:

Hilarious and insightful as always, Sedaris has another hit with Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.  The stories found within its pages did more than just make me laugh, they made me think.  They made me question humanity and it’s current state, and whether its current state is positive or not.  And most of all they made me really want to know David Sedaris in the way it felt like I already knew him after reading this collection of essays.

Reading a book like this, one full of very personal short stories about a writers life, is always hard to critique.  I can’t do it in the way I would a novel, yet there is a lot to be said about Sedaris’ stories.  He manages to write about a world that happens to be his reality, while still making it seem outlandish in some ways, unbelievable in some ways, and hilarious in most ways.

He writes about normal, everyday things like what to get his boyfriend for Valentine’s day in his story “Understanding Understanding Owls”, and he writes about all the amazing trips he goes on in just about all of his other stories.  But even while travelling the world, seeing amazing things and experiencing life in a way everyone should, he manages to bring you with him.  Instead of talking about staying in expensive hotels, he talks about renovating a home and picking up trash at the side of the road.  Instead of talking about five star travel, and first-class lounges, he shares stories about a sea turtle that changed his life in Hawaii.

That’s not to say he tries to relate to everyone. That’s not to say he is trying to down play the amazing life he’s lived.  He still tells stories about buying homes in Paris and in West Sussex, about living all over the world; but rather than tell us stories about a lavish lifestyle, he relates stories about the mundane things that happen within that sometimes lavish lifestyle.  He makes you relate by showing you that no matter what, you will experience strange people in strange cities doing strange things, and sometimes those strange people will be your family and friends, and sometimes those strange cities will be the ones where you spend most of your life.

The best thing about Sedaris, in my opinion, is his ability to go off on a tangent while always bringing the story back home.  What starts out as a story about an inside joke turns into a story about a journey for the perfect Valentine’s day gift, which then turns into a story about his love of strange and sometimes disturbing objects.  But in the end, Sedaris brings his readers back to the importance of the owl, he brings his readers back to the reason he wrote the story to begin with.  It feels as though you are reading twenty stories at once, you wonder where he could possibly be going with his stories, until suddenly, you don’t have to wonder anymore and everything makes sense.  He always ends his stories perfectly, oftentimes throwing in a life lesson, or sometimes simply describing a peculiar life event, but always doing so with perfectly timed humour.

David Sedaris is a unique writer, in that he has spent most of his career writing about nothing but himself, even though he claims he hasn’t lived that extraordinary of a life.  To have the talent to write about sometimes mundane things that happen in everyday life and turn them into something meaningful and hilarious is a wonderful thing.  To give this to his readers time and time again is his gift to the world.

This book is perfect for anyone who claims not to be a lover of books, someone who doesn’t spend all their time reading.  The stories are short, easy to get through, easier to laugh through, and perfect for anyone looking to get into some great summer reading.


Plot – N/A
Writing/Style/Form – 4/5
Characters – N/A
Enjoyment/Entertainment Value – 4/5

Overall Score – 8/10

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The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper


“To know ourselves and, in turn, to endure the perpetual reminder of our solitude. To be cast out. To wander alone.”  ~~Andrew Pyper in The Demonologist

From Lauren’s Perspective:

Oddly enough, it was the advertising for this book that drew me in.  This doesn’t usually happen to me, as I am not usually the type of person to notice advertising without it being thrown in my face.  But the truth was, this book was sort of thrown in my face.  The advertising wasn’t particularly clever, but it was everywhere.  Every time I walked onto the subway I would see this bright red book cover staring back at me.  Every time I walked into a book store I would see a poster exclaiming “coming soon from Andrew Pyper”.  So finally, after having been bombarded with images of this supposedly amazing book, I took the time to read about it, and in a simple blurb about the book, I knew I had to read it.  I even knew that I would love it.

The plot was perfectly complex without being too hard to follow.  The books premise is based around Professor David Ullman’s strange encounter with a “thin woman” who sends him on a journey that results in the disappearance of his daughter.  The premise is, of course, much more complicated then that, but that sentence essentially sums up the plot.  The intricacies that follow this story, including the ever present link to Milton’s Paradise Lost, as well as the texts religious overtones are more than enough to keep you turning page after page after page.  From the first chapter, I couldn’t put the book down, which is exactly how I enjoy my books.  Intriguing, interesting, intricate.

The characters were as interesting as the plot.  Professor Ullman, our stories protagonist, was a doting father, studious professor who excelled in all things Milton while remaining a devout atheist, and a generally likable guy.  He suffered a few tragedies that sent him on a misguided mission which resulted in his whole world being turned even more upside down than it already was.  His faults gave him character and his strengths gave him charm.  Ullman’s main counterpart, O’Brien, was a likable know-it-all, who came off in a pretentious manner, but one that you could relate to and even wish to have as a friend in your own life.  She was the antithesis of Ullman’s cheating ex-wife, and the romantic undertones of their relationship was a pleasure to read because they didn’t detract from the books main message, but instead added to the depth of the characters and their need for comfort in times of fear, rather than their need to be loved.  Even the books secondary characters were well written.  Tess, though she appears very briefly before being lost to a mysteriously “unnamed” dark force, is a precocious eleven year old with a brain as big as her fathers.  She seems like the perfect daughter, if at times slightly moody.  My only complaint would be in the character of “the pursuer”.  He was mysterious to a fault.  His purpose in the story never fully grasped.  Who did he work for?  Why did he do it?  Was he human or other?  What made him care so much about the life of David Ullman?  These questions were skirted around but never directly resolved, so I found his presence slightly frustrating.  All other secondary characters in the book were well used and in some cases, incredibly creepy.  No one was there without purpose.

Moving on to Pyper’s writing style, I would call it more than adequate.  There was nothing spectacular or mind-blowing about it, but there was nothing disappointing in it either.  Sometimes a book can’t be all about perfecting the English language, sometimes it has to be about the story first and the words second, and in a book that entwines Paradise Lost with demonology with a cross-country spiritual journey to find a missed loved one, the story had to come first.  This is not a fault.  If the language had been too convoluted, the reader would have easily gotten lost among the words and been unable to follow this fascinating, and actually terrifying story.

Pyper’s tale has been related to Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code, but I think this is doing him a disservice.  Pyper is a much better writer than Brown, in my opinion, although both can surely tell an interesting story.  To me, Pyper’s writing is more similar to that of Steven King, in style and in story line.  There was just enough horror and scenes of spine chilling terror that fans of King would feel right at home within Andrew Piper’s words.

All in all, The Demonologist was definitely a good book and definitely worth the quick read.  Just be prepared to sleep with the night light on.


Plot – 4/5
Writing/Style/Form – 4/5
Characters – 4/5
Enjoyment/Entertainment Value – 4/5

Overall Score – 16/20

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A Brenner/Gowing Thought ~~ Part Six

wordsSome words of wisdom from the greats!

I came across this the other day, when considering what it means to read, to write, to edit, and to review, and just had to share.  Lauren and I have been enthralled with words our entire lives, whether they be words we have written ourselves or words in books from talented authors we aspire to be.  Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) is an incredibly well-known author who was famous not only for his amazing literary works, but also for his eight tips on how to write a short story:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

But as I was looking more into Vonnegut and the method to his madness, I found an assignment he gave to his class in 1965 at the Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop and found it to be brilliant.  The way he encourages students to analyze stories, to review them, edit them, and even grade them in a cynical way was just…. well brilliant!  I can’t seem to place another adjective with  it.  Read it for yourself.  What can we all learn from becoming editors following Vonnegut’s style?


November 30, 1965


This course began as Form and Theory of Fiction, became Form of Fiction, then Form and Texture of Fiction, then Surface Criticism, or How to Talk out of the Corner of Your Mouth Like a Real Tough Pro. It will probably be Animal Husbandry 108 by the time Black February rolls around. As was said to me years ago by a dear, dear friend, “Keep your hat on. We may end up miles from here.”

As for your term papers, I should like them to be both cynical and religious. I want you to adore the Universe, to be easily delighted, but to be prompt as well with impatience with those artists who offend your own deep notions of what the Universe is or should be. “This above all …”

I invite you to read the fifteen tales in Masters of the Modern Short Story (W. Havighurst, editor, 1955, Harcourt, Brace, $14.95 in paperback). Read them for pleasure and satisfaction, beginning each as though, only seven minutes before, you had swallowed two ounces of very good booze. “Except ye be as little children …”

Then reproduce on a single sheet of clean, white paper the table of contents of the book, omitting the page numbers, and substituting for each number a grade from A to F. The grades should be childishly selfish and impudent measures of your own joy or lack of it. I don’t care what grades you give. I do insist that you like some stories better than others.

Proceed next to the hallucination that you are a minor but useful editor on a good literary magazine not connected with a university. Take three stories that please you most and three that please you least, six in all, and pretend that they have been offered for publication. Write a report on each to be submitted to a wise, respected, witty and world-weary superior.

Do not do so as an academic critic, nor as a person drunk on art, nor as a barbarian in the literary market place. Do so as a sensitive person who has a few practical hunches about how stories can succeed or fail. Praise or damn as you please, but do so rather flatly, pragmatically, with cunning attention to annoying or gratifying details. Be yourself. Be unique. Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.

Since there are eighty of you, and since I do not wish to go blind or kill somebody, about twenty pages from each of you should do neatly. Do not bubble. Do not spin your wheels. Use words I know.


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