Ask the Passengers – A.S. King

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Title: Ask the Passengers
Author: A.S. King
Publisher: Little Brown
Year: This edition 2013, original edition 2012
Format: Paperback, 293 pages
ISBN: 9780316194679

It’s not often that I walk into a bookshop and impulse buy books anymore. Although the internet is great for keeping updated with books, it is also limiting the experiences I have in truly being surprised by a book. I’ve always loved going into a bookshop, picking up a book based solely on the cover or spine, reading the blurb, and then purchasing it. Very rarely do I do this anymore, as I always know which books I want to purchase, and in which cover design (if there is a choice between US and UK) I want to get. Ask the Passengers was the first book in a long time that I let myself be surprised by a book in a bookstore, and I am so glad I did because I adored this book.

Ask the Passengers is a contemporary novel that deals with how we choose to identify ourselves. Astrid Jones feels as if there is no one she can share her secrets with. There’s her pushy mother, her uninterested father, her not so close younger sister, and her over interested friends who wouldn’t understand exactly how she’s feeling. Then there is the girl that Astrid is slowly falling in love with, a secret that she can’t share. With no one to listen, Astrid watches airplanes in her backyard, and asks the passengers of these planes her most personal questions, as these passengers cannot judge her. She also sends these passengers love, as Astrid understands what it’s like to feel like you need some love. But when her secret comes out and everyone begins to label her, Astrid discovers that she refuses to be labeled as anything, and tries to break free of society’s boxes and definitions.

From the very first sentence, I knew that I was going to love this book. I was instantly sucked in. It’s not very often that you open a book and know that from page one you are going to love the author’s writing. Especially when it is an author you have never heard of before, and you have therefore, never read any of their previous books. The rest of the sentences in this book are equally beautiful, with King demonstrating a poignant writing style. I don’t think I have ever come across an author in that I have become so attuned to their writing style in such a short amount of time. I have so many references to quotes in my notes that I just loved so much. Here is a random collection of them:

“I see shapes in the clouds by day and shooting stars by night.”

“It feels good to love a thing and not expect anything back.”

“I can see blue. Blue like in the deep end of a swimming pool. Blue like if I lived in a bubble in the sky.”

“You have to let people get to know you before you decide they don’t like you.”

I really love books that I feel I get some form of life lesson from. Ask the Passengers is one of those books. I just feel like there were so many important things about society that were questioned in this novel, and I loved that the author managed to achieve this in a tasteful manner. Sure, this book has some heavy bullying involved that would be deemed as not tasteful, but it is the structure of the sentences and the word choice that the main character takes from these negative experiences that make it a learning experience for the readers of the book. I think the best way to explain what I mean would be of an example: “everybody’s always looking for the person they’re better than…I am equal to a baby and to a hundred-year-old-lady. I am equal to an airline pilot and a car mechanic. I am equal to you. You are equal to me. It’s that universal. Except that it’s not.” I most definitely did not go into this book expecting to read so much insight into common human behaviour. This is something we all do, and I think King explained this in just the perfect way. This is only one example of many social aspects that King beautifully questioned throughout this book.

Moving on from my thoughts on the writing style because they’re getting slightly ramble-y, another aspect of this book I enjoyed was the magical realism. Up until this book, I had never read a book with magical realism in it. To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what this even meant. So I Googled it! For those of you who also don’t know what it is, magical realism is a genre where magical or unreal elements are a natural part of an otherwise realistic environment. So in Ask the Passengers, every few chapters there is a short perspective of a passenger on a plane. You learn briefly about something occurring in their lives, and then you read about each of these passengers receiving an unexpected feeling of love. On the ground, Astrid likes to watch the planes and imagine sending love to the passengers. The magical realism is that the love Astrid is sending is actually being received by the passengers on the planes flying over her house. It is an interesting concept, and because I have never read about this I found it an intriguing take on a contemporary novel. I think it is definitely something I will look out for in other books to give a try.

I think what makes this novel is the very realistic characters. Astrid embodies any teenager who is just trying to find out who they are, and find their place in the world. Although I can’t relate to her coping with her coming out as gay, I do admire King for incorporating this theme into a novel. I think that not enough books convey this theme, and I think this is sort of sad for teenagers who want to read books that they can really relate to. I like the way Astrid dealt with the situation once she is outed. People are being absolutely horrible to her, and she just keeps her chin up and tries to not listen to all the hate. In the words of Taylor Swift, she shakes it off. I think this is a quality in people/characters that should be admired. I also felt incredibly sympathetic for her situation. At one stage in this book Astrid has no one left whom she can turn to, and I think for many people in this situation, this could be disastrous, but for Astrid she just sends the love to the people on the plane to keep her strong.

My least favourite character in this book was Astrid’s Mum, Claire. I just don’t understand how any parent could not obviously see how they unequally treat their children. Claire would always prefer Astrid’s sister Ellis to Astrid, and would have mother daughter activities that Astrid was not invited to. Claire’s favoritism towards Ellis was obvious in almost every little thing she said or did whether in regards to Astrid or not. Even at the end when Astrid is being hated upon for being gay, the mother believes that Ellis and herself have it worse than Astrid because of how embarrassing it is. It made me incredibly frustrated to read about a mother treating her daughter in such a horrible way. It also made me sad that no one called Claire out on this. She got away with it. Another interesting tidbit about Claire was that she seemed to communicate better with Astrid’s best friend Kristina, than her own daughter. I truly felt as if Claire was making no effort to really get to know her daughter, and this made me further sympathetic towards Astrid. It definitely made me feel very appreciative to my own Mother. Once again this book showed me how lucky I have it in life.

An element that I enjoyed in this novel in regards to character relationships was the sister bond between Astrid and Ellis. These two have not been close in years, and as a result do not really stick up for one another or communicate on a deeper level. I loved seeing the evolution of their relationship, as you learn about how they were as children and roughly when they stopped being close sisters. The novel then came full circle and allowed for the to sisters to become trusting of one another again, and I thought that it was a nice inclusion in the story. I think Astrid was a very lonely character, and I think that having her sister by her side throughout the events of the book would have been touching for Astrid. I also like that by the end of the book it was acknowledged that both sisters had the blame for not fixing their relationship. I’m a strong believer in that it takes to people to be in a relationship, and I think we all enjoy associating blame with people. But we are equally in charge of who we communicate with, and I appreciated that this book explored this.

This book was also very insightful into how school environments are most definitely not supportive. “We have a sign in the entrance hall that says this is no place for hate, but that doesn’t actually make it no place for hate.” Once Astrid and her friends have been outed, her school is not supportive in the slightest. The students ridicule and bully, and they seemingly get away with it. I can’t remember any teacher stepping in to stop the hate. I can’t realistically see how any school could react in such a way. They even decide that a compulsory assembly and pep rally (I think this is what it was at least) was a good decision in how to ease the situation. Personally, I don’t understand how putting a bunch of intolerant people in a room and trying to make them listen to something they clearly don’t want to hear is going to solve anything. If anything, it is providing more opportunity for hate, just on a greater scale. I also find it appalling that parents of other students would belittle a teenage girl just because of her sexual orientation, and make a big deal out of their children having to sit in classes together with a gay person. There’s many horror stories that you hear about high schools and gay students, and it makes me happy to know that the high school I went to was not anywhere near as bad as this when they were dealing with issues about sexual orientation.

I gave Ask the Passengers 4 stars. It was beautifully written, with realistic characters, and the perfect blend between enjoyment and thoughtfulness. I loved the aspect of magical realism, and am hoping to explore other books in this genre within the coming months. I was pleasantly surprised as to how much I enjoyed this book, and I look forward to reading other A.S. King books to see if I am as much a fan of those as I am with Ask the Passengers. If you enjoy contemporaries but want one that has a different spin, give Ask the Passengers a try, because it truly is an amazing book.

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Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

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Title: Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer
Author: Rick Riordan
Release Date: October 6 2015
Publisher: Penguin Teen Australia
Format: Paperback Advanced Readers Copy, 528 Pages
ISBN: 9780141342429

Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer could quite possibly be my favourite Rick Riordan book ever. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Riordan’s other books, but because I didn’t grow up reading them, I don’t feel as strongly attached to them as everyone else. The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is at a reading level I’m too advanced for; the Heroes of Olympus series was much better, but filled with characters (*cough* Jason *cough*) who I didn’t care about but was forced to continue reading about. For me, Magnus Chase was much easier to get into than any prior Riordan book I’ve read before, and came close (but not close enough) to being the first Riordan book to get a 5 star rating from me.

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The Retribution of Mara Dyer – Michelle Hodkin

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Title: The Retribution of Mara Dyer
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Year: 2014
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Format: Paperback, 472 pages
ISBN: 9781471122002

 

This is the third and final books in the Mara Dyer trilogy, and will most definitely contain spoilers for the first two books. I’ve reviewed the first two books The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and the Evolution of Mara Dyer, so if you haven’t read all the books in this series, I would suggest reading my review for one of those first.

The Retribution of Mara Dyer was one of my most anticipated releases of 2014. I was one of those readers who has been a fan of Mara Dyer since close to book one’s release date. The publication date of Retribution got pushed back so much, it ended up being an almost two year wait for it. A two year wait that almost killed me. To top it all off, on it’s initial release, the paperback edition was not released, and as I have the OCD tendency where my book series need to match, I couldn’t just buy the hardback edition. Once I could finally buy the paperback, I could not find it anywhere in any Australian stores, so I ordered it online. That then took a further two weeks to arrive. On top of that, when it finally did arrive, I was in the middle of my final weeks of the semester for uni, meaning I couldn’t start reading it because I was too busy completing final assignments and studying for exams. Anyways, the point of this long paragraph is to show you the ordeal I went through to read this book, and to kind of show that after all that, my expectations were fairly high. On completion of reading I would say I was disappointed, but not completely disappointed. The one positive to not getting to read this close to its release was that I got to hear about everyone else’s disappointment and lessen my expectations.

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Firecracker – David Iserson

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Title: Firecracker
Author: David Iserson
Year: 2013
Publisher: Razorbill
Format: Paperback, 331 Pages
ISBN: 9781595146816

 

One of my favourite reading experiences is buying and reading a book that you know absolutely nothing about. With the internet providing us with so many ways to learn about books (blogs, Goodreads, Instagram), there are not many occasions where I find myself entering a bookshop and not buying a book I had already been planning on buying. One day I was in a bookshop, and I saw this beautiful cover staring at me. And I knew then and there that I was going to buy it. I didn’t even read the blurb to see what it was about. I literally took it for face value of its cover, and I am so glad I did because Firecracker was such a surprising read, one I immensely enjoyed.

I’m going to acknowledge now that this book is most definitely not for everyone. It has a particular kind of humour that you are either going to love or hate. If you love it, like I do, you can tolerate the main character Astrid. If you hate the humour, chances are you will hate Astrid and therefore hate this book.

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A Thousand Pieces Of You – Claudia Gray

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Title: A Thousand Pieces of You

Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: Harper
Year: 20124
Format: Paperback, 360 pages
ISBN: 9780062357694

 Hands down and without a doubt, A Thousand Pieces of You wins the prettiest book of the year award. LOOK AT THAT COVER! It’s one of the most beautiful covers I have ever seen. I honestly cannot fault the cover. It makes me so excited to see what the sequel covers will look like. Pretty cover aside; the story itself is also pretty spectacular, and definitely one of my favourites that I’ve read this year.

A Thousand Pieces of You is an alternate dimension kind of book. It follows Marguerite Caine, the daughter of two physicists who have created a device called the Firebird that allows a person to travel to different dimensions. When Marguerite’s Father is murdered, all the evidence points to her parent’s grad student Paul, who has taken off with the Firebird into another dimension. Marguerite and another grad student and friend of her parents, Theo, take the remaining two Firebirds and follow Paul into different dimensions to avenge her Father. But what Marguerite discovers throughout her dimensional travel is that everything is not as it seems, and that something greater than avenging her Father’s death is taking place. Continue reading

Masquerade – Kylie Fornasier

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Title: Masquerade

Author: Kylie Fornasier

Publisher: Penguin Australia

Year: 2014

Page Count: 340 Pages

ISBN: 9780143571070

Masquerade is the debut novel for Australian author Kylie Fornasier. I first heard about this book in June at the Sydney Penguin Teen Australia Live Event. I was lucky to get to hear Fornasier talk about this book firsthand, and she instantly had me wanting this book. I am normally not the biggest fan of Australian authors – it honestly is nothing personal but I have never managed to find an Australian book that I can rave about. Masquerade changes this, as it was a book I thoroughly enjoyed. I enjoyed it so much, that I’ve decided to set myself a little goal. Each month I want to read and review at least one Australian book, and I’m starting this month with the one and only Masquerade.

Masquerade is set in 1750’s Venice, and follows seven teenagers whose lives intercross with one another. All seven characters are hiding something, whether this deals with their loves, desires, loyalties, or beliefs, and the Venice setting of ballrooms, theatres, palazzos, and promenades mean that the drama is intensified with gossip, games, and schemes threatening to have it all come crashing down. Everyone is being played by someone who knows more than they do, and coincidentally they too are being played. This is everything you could want in a novel – mystery, scandal, drama, and romance.

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If I Stay – Gayle Forman

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Title: If I Stay
Author: Gayle Forman
Publisher: Speak
Year: 2009
Page Count: 234
ISBN: 9780142415436

I first read If I Stay just short of two years ago. I remember it was New Year’s Eve and I spent my night reading. On completion of this book, I remember balling my eyes out. I had planned on getting the sequel, but I never got around to it. This year I finally did, and I knew I needed to reread If I Stay first. I also wanted to read this again before the release of the movie. I had not planned on reading it on the day I saw the movie, but somehow that happened. I was reading this book for the second time in public places, primarily on trains and at my uni. I was so nervous that I was going to be crying and people would be looking at me weirdly with their judgey eyes that scream, “why the hell are you crying?” Lucky for me, I didn’t cry at all whilst reading this book for the second time, and I’m not sure if that is because I knew what to expect, or if it is because there isn’t actually that much to cry about in this book (what I mean by this is although it is sad, it’s not the saddest book by far).

If I Stay is an emotional book. It is a beautiful book. It has beautiful characters, and beautiful scenes, and beautiful relationships. It has beautiful writing, and beautiful pacing. Everything about it is simply wonderful. Continue reading