Great Reads Come in Threes

Are you looking for a new, fun and fascinating series to read? Here are three YA trilogies that you may not have heard of, but that are definitely worth your time!

The Matt Cruse Trilogy By: Kenneth Oppel

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Photo courtesy of The Book Wars

 

First Book: Airborn
If you like airships, adventures, and fantastical creatures, you’d love this series!

Though not exactly new, the Matt Cruse trilogy has flown pretty well under the radar since its publishing with Airborn in 2004. Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a famous luxury passenger airship. In this first book alone, Matt encounters pirates, a mysterious tropical island, and a bizarre flying creature, which Matt calls the ‘cloud cat’. The trilogy explores Matt’s experiences with flight, discovery, and adventure, and we get to see Matt grow and develop his relationships with the passions and people he loves.

The Mapmakers Trilogy By: S.E. Grove

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Photo courtesy of S.E. Grove

First Book: The Glass Sentence
If you like history, time-travel, and stories with strong strong friendships, you’d love this series!

Published in 2014, The Glass Sentence introduces us to a world that has been drastically altered from an event known as the Great Disruption. We follow Sophia Tims as she embarks on a journey to search for her kidnapped Uncle, and we see much of the new world the Great Disruption has created – a world in which different regions have been thrown into different time periods. Throughout the series, we travel the world with Sophia and her friends, and come to understand how the world became this way, and what it means for the future. The Mapmakers trilogy has pretty much everything that an epic adventure/fantasy series needs: a complex world, a series of cunning villains, a group of lovable, brilliant characters, and a little bit of magic.

The Iremonger Trilogy By: Edward Carey

First Book: Heap House
If you like creepy houses, creepy families, and creepy illustrations, you’d love this series!

Heap House, published in 2013, is an odd, quirky, and thoroughly addictive book that introduces the reader to a fantastical version of Victorian-era London. Heap House is the home of the Iremonger family – a strange group of relatives who live amongst the ‘heaps’ of London. Clod Iremonger is an especially unusual member of this family, as he can hear the voices of objects whispering to him. This series is definitely the strangest of the bunch that I’ve mentioned, but it’s exactly this strangeness that makes it so enjoyable. Interspersed with creepy illustrations, the Iremonger trilogy is a great pick if you’re looking for something fun, eerie, and unlike any YA series you’ve read before.

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January & February Reads

From least favourite, to most favourite, here is the list of books I read over the past two months! What have you read recently?

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Photo courtesy of Goodreads

6. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage By: Haruki Murakami

In a Nutshell: A man tries to resolve the internal turmoil and depression that was brought about when his teenage group of friends abruptly cut ties with him without telling him why.

Plot: 5/10
Characters: 5/10
Pace: 5/10
Quality of Writing: 5/10
Insightfulness: 5/10
Enjoyability: 5/10
Overall Rating: 5/10

This was definitely my least favourite of the novels I have read by this author. Haruki Murakami’s novels are known to be introspective, odd, and shrouded in magical realism. With Colorless, however, the storyline didn’t interest me and the characters and writing were pretty bland. I’d recommend Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle over this one.

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Photo courtesy of Goodreads

5. The X-Files Origins: Agent of Chaos By: Kami Garcia

In a Nutshell: A 17-year-old Fox Mulder investigates a case of child abductions and murders, curious about how his sister, who went missing years before, could fit into the picture.

Plot: 6/10
Characters: 5/10
Pace: 7/10
Quality of Writing: 5/10
Insightfulness: 5/10
Enjoyability: 7/10
Overall Rating:
6/10

If you’re a fan of The X-Files, this is worth a read if you are looking for a fast-paced and entertaining story that showcases some of your favourite characters from the show. If you’re not, well, this book doesn’t really have anything else going for it – the plot is pretty predictable, the side characters are nothing special, and the writing is very basic. Still looking forward to read Scully’s story, though: The Devil’s Advocate.

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Photo courtesy of HarperCollins Canada

4. Every Hidden Thing By: Kenneth Oppel

In a Nutshell: A romance emerges in the late 1800s Wild West between the children of two competing archeologists, as they each try to lay claim to the biggest dinosaur fossil known to man.

Plot: 7/10
Characters: 6/10
Pace: 8/10
Quality of Writing: 7/10
Insightfulness: 5/10
Enjoyability: 8/10
Overall Rating:
7/10

This book was fast-paced and fun, and a really enjoyable read. It was nothing too memorable, but if you like young adult adventure stories, as well as Romeo and Juliet-style romance, you’ll really enjoy this book!

Photo courtesy of Image Comics

3. Paper Girls Vol. 1 By: Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matthew Wilson

In a Nutshell: The first volume in a series of graphic novels that takes place in the 1980s follows a group of four girls as they are caught in a supernatural adventure.

Plot: 7/10
Characters: 7/10
Pace: 9/10
Art: 10/10
Enjoyability: 10/10
Overall Rating:
8/10

This graphic novel was really fun and entertaining. The characters and dialogue were humourous and relatable, and the plot was completely unpredictable. The style and colouring of art was beautiful, and made the novel that much more enjoyable.

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Photo courtesy of Goodreads

2. Sleeping Giants By: Sylvain Neuvel

In a Nutshell: A science-fiction novel about an organization’s research into a mysterious metallic hand of unknown origin.

Plot: 9/10
Characters: 8/10
Pace: 8/10
Quality of Writing: 8/10
Insightfulness: 7/10
Enjoyability: 8/10
Overall Rating: 8.5/10

Another fast-paced and entertaining read, Sleeping Giants was fascinating, believable, and suspenseful. The novel is told in a series of interviews between a mysterious man and the various people who are working to discover the truth behind this otherworldly artifact. I loved it, and I’m definitely anticipating the release of the second book in the series, titled Waking Gods, which comes out this April!

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Photo courtesy of Goodreads

1. Kids of Appetite By: David Arnold

In a Nutshell: Dealing with the recent passing of his father, and growing more and more distant from his mother, 17-year-old Vic Benucci runs away from home and stumbles across a group of kids – all orphans – who have formed a strong family amongst themselves. Together, they embark on a mission to scatter the ashes of Vic’s father in the places that meant the most to him.

Plot: 9/10
Characters: 8/10
Pace: 9/10
Quality of Writing: 8/10
Insightfulness: 10/10
Enjoyability: 10/10
Overall Rating:
9.5/10

The novel is just as quirky and moving as it sounds, or at least as I made it sound. My description’s in a nutshell, of course. This book has so much going for it: likeable and extremely dynamic characters, an interesting, adventure-like storyline, and gorgeous writing and heartfelt insight into themes like loss, family, identity, and the power of art. This novel was enjoyable and thoughtful, from start to finish, and it’s a must-read for.. well, anyone, really, who loves a good story and all the ups and downs it comes with.

Cheap Reads

Does the price of a book reflect it’s quality? I ask this because I often come across books at the dollar store and in the bargain section of bookstores that are priced cheaper than retail, for whatever reason. But, I often feel hesitant before I buy these books. Similarly, I find intriguing books from used bookstores, but I wonder if the fact that people have gotten rid of these books says something about the quality of their content. Should the fact that these books are cheaply priced give me reason to question their quality, even if the novel sounds interesting? I’ll be writing about some of the most surprising and the most disappointing of these books that I have bought and read recently. Thanks to Vanessa at candidconspiracy for the idea!

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Photo courtesy of Amazon

“The Secret Life of Bees” By: Sue Monk Kidd

Found for $1.79 at Value Village, used

This book was definitely a pleasant surprise. The Secret Life of Bees is a beautifully written novel about community, love, and loss. The novel takes place in 1960s South Carolina, and tells the story of a young girl, Lily Owens, who sets off in search of the truth behind her mother’s death. She comes across a family of three women beekeepers, and Lily is taken in by them and taught about beekeeping, as well as many valuable life lessons. This novel involves the Focus on Faith theme of Community and the Common Good, as the main characters of this novel recognize the innate dignity of all human beings, regardless of differences in race, and welcome a struggling person into their home.

The novel also provides beautiful insights about faith: “And whatever it is that keeps widening your heart, that’s Mary, not only the power inside you but the love. And when you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love – but to persist in love.”

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Photo courtesy of Goodreads

“The Impossible Knife of Memory”  By: Laurie Halse Anderson

Found for $2.50 at Dollarama, slightly damaged 😦

Unfortunately, I don’t have the same positive feelings for this book as I did for The Secret Life of Bees. The Impossible Knife of Memory is about teenager Hayley as she deals with attending a new school and caring for her father, who is suffering from PTSD. This book didn’t lack so much in the subject matter as it did in the characters and general plot. I found this book to be boring and predictable, and the same could be said for our main character. Though I appreciate the themes and difficult topics the author was trying to tackle within this book, I don’t think it was done as well as it could have been. I ended up feeling like I didn’t really take anything out of this book. Thankfully, Laurie Halse Anderson has written several other books that I have yet to read that I, and you, may enjoy much more than this one.

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Photo courtesy of Goodreads

“A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain” By: Adrianne Harun   

Found for $7.00 at Chapters, new

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain is about – well, I don’t really know how to accurately describe this book. It takes place in British Columbia. It follows a group of teenagers, as well as several other… odd characters. The whole time I was reading it I was sort of looking for a point, or for a plot, or for some indication of what this book was about, and more importantly, what this book wanted me to understand from its confusing metaphors and interspersed chapters of poetry and fairytale-like stories. I didn’t really connect with the characters, and the story rarely had me intrigued or excited to keep reading. I think this is just one of those cases where there’s nothing that’s actually wrong with the book, I just didn’t get it.

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Photo courtesy of Goodreads

We Were Liars  By: E. Lockhart    

Found for $7.00 at Chapters, new

We Were Liars has everything you could ever ask for from a Young Adult mystery novel: a dubious summer island, sketchy characters, jarring prose, family drama, a seemingly unreliable narrator who loves to exaggerate everything, and a possibly, maybe, definitely, unexpected plot twist, I don’t know you’re going to have to read it for yourself. This novel, in few words, was tragically beautiful and suspenseful. I think I’m gonna leave it at that.

So, what conclusion can be drawn from this? Well, I still think a novel’s synopsis is the best indicator of whether you will enjoy a book or not. I think this proves that you can often find books for a great price that are also of a great quality. While books like The Secret Life of Bees and We Were Liars were very enjoyable and worth the price, for me, the same can’t be said of the other two I mentioned. But, that all depends on opinion and taste anyways, right? What do you think: does a book with a lower price automatically lower your expectations of it, or do you try to look past the price, and pick up a book based on its description?

Freedom in Literature

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” – Alice Walker

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Alice Walker, American novelist                        Photo courtesy of CBS News

Freedom is one of the most prevalent topics and themes in both classical and modern literature. Many authors decide to bravely explore such complicated and controversial topics as religious freedom, personal freedom, political freedom, and spiritual freedom. And what makes these creative works and discussions possible? Fittingly, it’s freedom of speech.

An article from The Guardian titled “Literature needs freedom – and freedom needs literature” explores freedom of expression in publishing. Written by Burmese human rights activist and writer Ma Thida, this article discusses censorship in literature, as well as the author’s own personal experiences and beliefs, as she was imprisoned in Burma for over five years under censorship and publishing laws. I wholeheartedly agree with this article, and believe that freedom and literature need one another to inspire change and allow for free, innovative thought in society.

In literature, freedom can be used in both fantastical stories and stories ingrained in real life. They encourage us to recognize the freedoms innate in every human being and call us to use the power we have to demand that these freedoms be observed. Over the centuries, thousands of novels, both fiction and nonfiction, have been published that examine the concept of freedom and the ways in which we work to achieve it. The following is a short list of novels that I am interested in reading that have been highly acclaimed, and that explore freedom in its various forms. As I have not read any of these books yet, I won’t be able to provide an opinion on them. However, feel free to let me know if you have read any these novels, and what you thought of them. I hope you find some great recommendations that can get you thinking about freedom, and how we often take it for granted in our everyday lives.

“The Kite Runner” By: Khaled Hosseini  

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Photo courtesy of Goodreads

Published in 2003, The Kite Runner is about Amir, a young boy who strikes up an unlikely friendship with his servant Hassan, who is a Hazara – a hated and  impoverished social class in Afghanistan. Taking place during the fall of the monarchy in Afghanistan, this novel has underlying themes of religious and personal freedom, as well as insight on more prominent themes such as friendship and redemption. The novel was a number one New York Times bestseller for two years, and has received international critical acclaim.

 

“In Order to Live” By: Yeonmi Park

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Photo courtesy of Goodreads

In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom was published in 2015, and is Yeonmi Park’s story of escape from the oppressive rule of the North Korean government. Park fled with her mother in 2007, when she was 13 years old, and arrived in South Korea two years later. In this memoir, Park tells her story of suffering and survival, with the hope of inspiring others. Park is now a human rights activist and speaker.

 

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Photo courtesy of Penguin

“1984” By: George Orwell

Published in 1950, 1984 was Orwell’s haunting prediction for the future – a dystopia in which the government holds a tyrannical regime over its people. Oppressing all forms of freedom, the world of 1984 is a world in which Big Brother is always watching. This book is known as speaking to the scary visions of a future that we all fear, in which we have no control over our own lives, one that alarmingly resembles such present regimes as that in North Korea.

 

“The Colour Purple” By: Alice Walker

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia 

The Colour Purple, later adapted into a play as well as a movie, is an epistolary novel that was published in 1982. The novel takes place in the southern United States during the 1930s and focuses on the life of African-American women, and the racism and sexism that was so substantially present at the time. Alice Walker is an American novelist, poet, and activist. As suggested by the quote above, Walker has made numerous contributions to empower those who feel powerless, and The Colour Purple is just one contribution of many that voices the importance of freedom, and the strength so many have shown in preserving it.

“The Catcher in the Rye” and “A Clockwork Orange”: Comparison 

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Photos courtesy of Wikipedia and The Huffington Post

“I knew it wasn’t too important, but it made me sad anyway.” – The Catcher in the Rye,  J.D. Salinger

“And all it was was that I was young.” – A Clockwork Orange,  Anthony Burgess

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess have their fair share of similarities in their use of literary devices, their controversial characters, and their interesting themes. They also have their share of differences, especially in plot.

“The Catcher in the Rye” was published in 1951, and is about teenager Holden Caulfield as he ditches his boarding school and goes to New York City. The novel speaks to the time period it was written in, including criticisms of the American Dream and other such “phony” lifestyles. It is told through a stream of consciousness, first person narrative that is somewhat frustrating, but also somewhat endearing, and you probably already know all of this, considering the novel is required reading in many high schools.

“A Clockwork Orange” on the other hand, was published in 1962, and takes place in a dystopian society where our main character Alex (also a teenager), chronicles his life as a member of a horrifying youth-based subculture that places emphasis on all things violent and immoral. I should preface by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed both of these books, and this review is for fun rather than being very technical or critical. I think both novels bring up some interesting points and themes, which I will be mentioning in this comparison. I’ll be discussing some of the commonalities I picked up in both books that contributed to my enjoyment of them. If you’ve read and liked one book you might like the other!

  1. Literary Devices/Writing Style

Catcher:  Though not as foreign as the writing style in A Clockwork Orange, Catcher’s main character Holden definitely has a distinct way of speaking. The novel is told in a stream of consciousness style, and as you read the novel, you become familiar with Holden’s voice.

Photo courtesy of Quirk Books

Clockwork: The style of writing in this novel is definitely a lot harder to get used to, but similar to Catcher, the literary devices used to establish the main character’s voice become an important part of the novel, and speak to the culture that the novel takes place in. Alex and his friends in Clockwork speak in “nadsat” – a dialect invented by Burgess and inspired by the Russian language.

Both novels have a unique and interesting writing style that helps to set the tone of the story and immerse the reader in the world it takes place in.

2. Characters  

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Photo courtesy of Hamish Hamilton

Catcher:  From the start, it’s easy to pick up how critical Holden is of the societal ideals and expectations he is surrounded by. Throughout the novel, we see instances where Holden deliberately separates himself from others, and rejects the more adult lifestyle his peers are living, vowing to preserve and protect the innocence of those around him instead.

Clockwork: Unlike Holden, Alex has been completely  influenced by and immersed in the popular youth culture he is a part of, despite this culture’s horrendous principles. He partakes in local trends – taking drugs, participating in awful acts of violence, and frequently going against the law and the government that imposes it.

These characters are opposites in many ways, but when taken in the context of each of the books, they are actually quite similar. Both reject the law, and do things simply because they want to. In Catcher, Holden says, “It’s really too bad that so much crumby stuff is a lot of fun sometimes.”  Similarly, in Clockwork, Alex says, “I see what is right and approve, but I do what is wrong.” Both characters are affected by the expectations that others place on them, rejecting the institutions and societies they were brought up in, because they see them as corrupt. Both are victims of the society they grew up in, yet both are fully responsible for their actions due to their free will, which makes for interesting and dynamic characters.

3. Themes: Youth & Identity

Catcher: Holden is constantly reflecting on his youth, wishing that he could hold on to it for as long as possible. Much of Holden’s actions and feelings in the novel are a result of his feelings of depression and isolation, as he feels disconnected from the rest of society and from those in his age-group specifically. He often feels left out of the lifestyle many of those around him are living, and is critical of the American Dream, and adulthood and conventional living in general.

Clockwork: The nadsat subculture Alex is a part of completely influences his actions and lack of morality. He is arrested part way through the novel and is forced to go through treatment in which he is made to be resensitized to violence, so as to deter him from committing violent crimes in the future. At the end of the novel, when his treatment is over and has been extremely successful, Alex reflects that all of his actions and ideas were a result of him being young, or going through a “phase”. He begins to struggle with his identity, seeing the world completely different from how he did before.

“The Seeds of Time” By: John Wyndham

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“These Earthmen have big bodies, but inside them there are lost children.”

Published in 1956, The Seeds of Time is a collection of ten short stories by science fiction author John Wyndham. The collection contains stories that include sub-genres such as  drama, comedy, satire, and horror. I had expected to enjoy this collection, since I had read The Chrysalids by Wyndham and really enjoyed it. This collection did not disappoint: it was fun, meaningful, and unique, and got me interested in reading more from the sci-if genre. In this review, I’ll provide a short synopsis for each story, in case you are interested in reading a story individually, and I will also be discussing my more in-depth thoughts about my three favourites in this collection.

“Chronoclasm”: time-travel

“Time to Rest “: the last human on Mars

“Meteor”: aliens of an odd stature

“Survival”: a stranded spaceship

“Pawley’s Peepholes”: tourists from another time

“Opposite Number”: parallel universes

“Pillar to Post”: body-swapping

“Dumb Martian”:  a satire on racism, set in space

“Compassion Circuit”: creepy robots

“Wild Flower”: nature vs. technology

1. “Time to Rest”

After a failed relocation of human life to Mars, we follow the sole survivor of this mission as he wanders aimlessly around his new home, trying to distract himself from his inevitable loneliness. We see his interactions with the native Martian species and his struggle to adapt to his new environment. The concept of this story was enough to sell me on it – it reads like a tragedy, putting an ordinary person in an unfamiliar circumstance. The story speaks to the alienation that we often feel on a daily basis and the struggle we face to fit in and find happiness in a new place, where everything is done so differently from what we’re used to. As with all of the stories in The Seeds of Time, the writing in “Time to Rest” was great and the characters were well-crafted and interesting, as much as they can be in a 16-page story.

2. “Pawley’s Peepholes”

I loved this story mainly because it is purely clever and fun. It takes place in an unnamed city, where a strange phenomenon is taking place: floating limbs are emerging from walls. We follow a journalist as he tries to uncover the mystery behind these occurrences, which turns out to be something so weird, you just can’t help but love it. If you were to try to find a serious side to this story, you could look at the entertainment industry and its wrongful exploitation and dehumanization of celebrities, just as the futuristic tourism industry in this story causes widespread anger and frustration for the present-day humans who are made a spectacle of. But other than that, this story is pure fun and enjoyment, and brings up an interesting “what if?” scenario.

3. “Pillar to Post”

Often said to be the best story of this collection, “Pillar to Post” is about the unconventional struggles of a paraplegic man named Terry Molton, as he finds himself swapping bodies with a healthy man from the future. A war between the two men ensues, as each tries to maintain their hold on the healthier body. This story is pretty absurd, but in a good way. It looks at emotions and themes such as pain, despair, and desperation as each man fights for the most desirable life possible. It’s interesting and thoughtful, and full of insights such as this: “In the end, defeat and the cold must come…. Not to admit that is a foolish vanity. Yet one grows flowers because they are lovely – not because one wishes them to live forever.”

Overall, this is a really enjoyable short story collection, and a great place to start if you are interested in reading more science fiction.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia 

“Number9Dream” By: David Mitchell

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“Maybe the meaning of life lies in looking for it.”

number9dream is author David Mitchell’s second novel, released in 2001. It takes place in Japan and follows 19-year-old Eiji Miyake as he ventures out of his rural hometown and into the city of Tokyo, in search of his estranged father. Interspersed with dream-like sequences and stories within stories, the reader joins Eiji on his search for his father and his own personal identity.

What stood out for me in this book was the writing style. The author’s creative use of language is what establishes the surreal, dreamlike tone of the story. Settings and events are described in the utmost detail, and it can definitely be a challenge to get used to Mitchell’s style of writing, but once you do it becomes a highlight of the novel. The novel is essentially a coming of age story, looking at themes of loss, identity, and relationships, all of which I thought were thoroughly developed and fit in naturally with the plot.

Another stand-out was the structure of the novel, with events weaving between Eiji’s present experiences, as well as his daydreams, memories, and other works of literature that Eiji comes into contact with, such as a fairy-tale story, and a Japanese soldier’s journal account of his experiences in WWII. The novel is split into nine parts instead of chapters, with symbols indicating what type of narrative follows. The structure was another unique element to the novel that I really enjoyed, as it made the novel read like an epic, complex adventure story.

Another aspect of the novel I enjoyed were the characters. Although there were several characters in this novel that we only spend a little bit of time with, they were still relatable, funny, and endearing. There was much character growth on Eiji’s part, and it was enjoyable to read from his perspective and see how his thoughts and opinions develop and change throughout the novel.

number9dream reads like a dream, as the title suggests. Combining reality with fantasy, Mitchell expertly crafts a world in which anything can happen and still seem plausible. Although reading this book was an overall enjoyable experience, it was definitely a challenge to get through at times, as much focus as the novel calls for from the reader. That being said, I think the book is best read at a slower pace, since there is something to enjoy and get you thinking on every page.

Below is a link to “#9 Dream” by John Lennon, one of Mitchell’s fitting inspirations for the novel.

Photo courtesy of Goodreads