A unique perspective in “At the Water’s Edge”

at waters edgeAnyone who knows me, knows I am completely obsessed with the 2006 novel “Water for Elephants.” I wholeheartedly believe it is the best written romance novel of our time. It is one of my favorites, and don’t even get me started on the movie. Few movies make me weep tears of joy at the end, but “Water for Elephants” does.

The author of this deeply loved novel—Sara Gruen—recently released another book “At the Water’s Edge.” I was so excited to check it out and see what this fascinating author has been up to since creating one of my favorite reads.

waterThe thing about Sara Gruen that I love so much is that her stories are so original. Until “Water for Elephants” I hadn’t ever read a novel about circus workers. I’m sure there are a few out there, but what I mean is that this concept wasn’t some idea that’s been done over and over. It was different than every other novel I had ever read. Her newest novel is even more creative and original than the last.

“At the Water’s Edge” follows Madeline Hyde in her story of self-discovery. When her rich in-laws kick her and her husband Ellis out of their mansion in Philadelphia and cut them off financially, Ellis gets the crazy idea in his head that the two of them along with his best friend Hank should travel to the village of Drumnadrochit, Scotland in search of the Lock Ness Monster. Normally this would be a bad idea, because everyone knows the Lock Ness Monster is just a myth, but it’s even worse of an idea due to the fact World War II is raging in Europe.

Almost against her will, Maddie decides to tag along to Scotland. What she doesn’t know is that her entire life is on the verge of change, and sometimes change is a really good thing. Everyday Hank and Ellis leave her to go search for the Loch Ness Monster. In the meantime, Maddie becomes close to the locals and imagines how life could be outside of her privileged upbringing. She discovers there is so much more to life than parties, money and keeping up appearances. In the journey to find a monster, she finds herself.

Gruen writes period pieces with beautiful eloquence and wonderful word choice. Granted I’ve never lived in Scotland during WWII, I felt like I was actually in the story. Her visual articulation captivates readers, and her stories are laced with characters who seem real and relatable. While I wouldn’t say her newest work is as good as its predecessor, I quite enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone.
“At the Water’s Edge” has everything I look for in a story—romance, adventure, adversity, hope. It is the perfect book to cozy up next to the fire with a cup of hot cocoa and read as the chilly weather creeps in.

I will always hold a special place in my heart for “Water for Elephants” and will probably always be a little biased towards it. After reading “At the Water’s Edge,” though, I am certain there is room in my heart for a few more favorites.

Two John Green books, a lot of similarities

Like many other women in the world, I was captivated by John Greene’s novel “The Fault in Our Stars”. I loved the characters, I loved the story, I loved the pain it demanded me to feel. Despite what neigh-sayers may say, it’s a beautiful book.

After I finished it, I promptly bought another of Green’s works, “Looking for Alaska” and put in on my bookshelf. As much as I hate to admit it, that’s exactly where the book has been sitting for over two years—just collecting dust between my Gillian Flynn novels and the classics. I kind of forgot I had it honestly. So many other books have come into my life.

paper townsOne of these other books, was “Paper Towns” another John Green book. After seeing the previews pretty much nonstop for months for the feature film, I really wanted to read it. When I received it as a gift, I read it in about a day. A couple weeks later,  I found myself alone in a movie theater watching it on the big screen.

“Paper Towns” is about Quentin “Q” Jacobsen, a high school senior looking forward to his looming graduation. Throughout his entire life, one thing has been a constant—his love for Margo Roth Spiegelman.  As children, the two of them were inseparable until in the park one night they discovered the body of a man who had committed suicide.  After that insane encounter, the two grew apart. Margo moved on with her life making new friends and becoming the most infamous girl in the entire school. Q, however, held on to his love for the girl who lived on his street. He always held out hope that they would reunite.

Sure enough, only a couple weeks until graduation, she shows up in his bedroom needing him to be her accomplice in a night of mayhem gaining revenge on all the folks who had done Margo wrong. When the night ends, Q feels like his life is finally coming together and he’s finally gotten the attention of the girl he loves, but then Margo disappears. Q and his friends go on an epic journey to find Margo based on clues she left behind.

From the first page, I enjoyed “Paper Towns”. It is a fun read, and sometimes, that’s all you need a book to be. Don’t get me wrong, it is a coming-of-age story that I’m sure most teens can relate to in some ways. Even as an adult, there were elements I could relate to.

After reading “Paper Towns” I realized I still had that other John Green book lying around somewhere. With only a little bit of digging, I found it and began reading. “Looking for Alaska” was actually Green’s first novel, and it received the Michael L Printz award from the American Library Association in 2006—a prestigious award given to the best Young Adult book written each year.

Much like “Paper Towns”, “Looking for Alaska” is told in the perspective a teenage misfit boy. In this story, he is a high school junior named Miles “Pudge” Halter attending a boarding school by his own choice in Alabama. Miles is loner who is oddly obsessed with knowing famous people’s last words. loookin

His first year at the school, he encounters a wide range of different personalities and becomes friends with the most exciting personality there—Alaska Young. Despite the fact that Alaska is in a committed relationship, Miles falls quickly in love with her. He also becomes best friends with his roommate Chip Martin, who is affectionately called The Colonel. The three of them become a crew of pranksters taking out their plots on other kids in the school. As they become closer, Pudge falls more and more in love with Alaska. Then something insane happens, and they are left picking up the pieces of an impossible puzzle.

These two books have a lot of similarities that are pretty undeniable. Both Pudge and Q are quiet unpopular outsiders, whereas Alaska and Margo are both popular free spirits. While both books are in a way about a boy’s great love for a girl, they focus more on the boy’s friendships with a core group of other misfits. In the end of both books, the friends are brought together for a secret mission given to them by the women they loved.

These books aren’t exactly the same, but there are a lot of parallels I can’t really ignore. Regardless of that, though, I did enjoy reading both books. “Looking for Alaska” is definitely the darker of the two, and “Paper Towns” has a little more comedy. In my opinion, “Paper Towns” is the better read, but there are likeable characteristics in both.

John Green is a great writer, and he definitely knows his niche. Despite the fact he is a 30-something year old man, he has a way of getting into the minds of teenagers and knowing exactly how to portray them. Few young adult novels come across as organically as John Green novels do.

If you’re looking for fun and easy reads with just a little bit of drama, either one of these should do the trick.  While I think “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is the best Young Adult book ever written, I do merit these as being pretty decent too.

“Missoula” tough topic, tougher realizations

misscoverSome topics are beyond difficult to talk about—war, violence, murder, politics, etc. Every once in a while, an author comes along who isn’t scared of those difficult topics.

These writers don’t care about the boundaries they’re pushing and the people they offend. Instead they live guided by the pursuit of truth and justice. These folks, aren’t only authors, but they are journalists who shake up the foundation of beliefs we have about society and our culture.

One such writer, and the best at doing this in my opinion, is Jon Krakauer. He’s had a number of best sellers in recent years, such as “Into the Wild” and my personal favorite “Under the Banner of Heaven.”

His most recent work entitled  “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town” deals with a topic not often discussed or written about—the date rape epidemic taking place in our college towns.

While I normally talk about fiction books on my blog, I regularly find myself completely engrossed in nonfiction works. This book particularly had me intrigued. For one, I think that Jon Krakauer is brilliant in his writing and ideology. Second of all, I like reading about those tough subjects so that I gain perspective on them.

The book highlights the town of Missoula, Montana, a small college town invested more in football than safety of those living within city limits. Krakauer tells the stories of multiple women who have been sexually assaulted in this college town. The horrific testimonies of these women’s experiences fill this book, but what’s even more upsetting is the way the government within Missoula handled these situations.

Within this book you will find detectives, government officials and campus leaders downplaying and even disregarding rape cases in order to keep up appearances or keep popular players on the college football team. You’ll see police officers who are supposed to be helping troubled women in their time of need, instead blaming these women for the horrible things that have happened to them.

“Missoula” is definitely eye opening, and overall a good read. For those who don’t like nonfiction, this book will prove to be a little drier than some of his other works. It is filled with dialogue and testimonies from real conversations and court appearances. There is also a lot of factual information mixed in as well. For those faint of heart, this also may be difficult to read. The accounts of each women are very graphic and upsetting.

Despite the things that may keep you from reading, though, it is truly a fascinating piece of work. Even though “Missoula” focuses only on one area, it makes me question what the justice system across the nation looks like in the context of date rape. How do other colleges handle this sensitive topic? Are other cities neglecting women who have experienced trauma as Missoula has clearly done? Why are people covering up such heinous acts instead of doing something about them? Why instead of punishing men who hurt women are we so focused on silencing the women and allowing these things to be morally acceptable?

Reading “Missoula” has made me very angry, and if you read it, you will probably be angry too. That being said, I recommend this book highly. I think it is important to be informed about hot topics like this, to take a stand and to have a voice. If you read this book, you will have opinions, questions and concerns just as I do. But more than that, you will be informed of the truth, and the truth is a powerful weapon to have.