Some thoughts on: One of Us is Lying

Note: This review contains spoilers regarding One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus. 

So I just finished reading One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus (and by just I mean in the last hour) and I thought that I might just write down some thoughts on it right now and see where they take me.

First, the premise of the book. It is roughly a YA murder mystery where five kids go into detention, one of them dies and the police discover that it wasn’t an accident. I had a look at this novel in a bookshop a few weeks before I actually bought it and was completely hooked by the blurb so that was a good start!

The novel is narrated in parts by each of the four kids who made it out of detention, namely Bronwyn who is identified as a geek, Cooper, who is the classic jock, Addy who is the girl in school going out with the most popular guy and Nate who is on probation for dealing drugs. Something I really like about these characters is that they are set up as fitting into classic steretypical characters even on the cover of the book, but through the novel and their narration you learn that they’re much more than that, and subsequently that everything is not so black and white and easily categorised.

The four principle characters were also all very interesting and engaging and seemed very real and mostly very relatable. I genuinally believe that these four characters could have been sole protagonists in their own books. The single issue with this is that occasionally a situation wasn’t explored as much as I would have wanted. Take, for example, when Nate gets out of jail and briefly discusses feeling useless. Skip forward three months to the epilogue and he’s beginning to get over that and feels ready to be with Bronwyn again. I would have really liked more from his point of view regarding how he worked through those issues. The same with Cooper and his Dad and coming to terms with being openly gay, especially in a sporting context, following his coming out. Like I said though, all of this might have taken a novel each for the protagonists, so settling with this one novel, it was nice to have four such interesting characters narrating.

Aside from the four narrators there were cool characters everywhere, especially Bronwyn’s sister Mauve (who could also be the main character in her own book). Again, I would have liked to know more about some of the characters like Kris, Cooper’s boyfriend, who ends up being key to figuring out the cental mystery. However, this book must be pretty great when the only complaint I have is that I didn’t get to learn more about the characters!

In terms of the central mystery, it was really engaging trying to piece together snippets of what the characters told you, the reader, and trying to figure out what you knew about a character and if the other character’s knew the same information. It also had me asking questions of the characters even while they were narrating (confession: when Nate got arrested I questioned his innocence for a second, if only because it could be a double bluff i.e. the criminal actually commited the crime, but I quickly came to my senses). The eventual resolution was satisfying because it was a twist but didn’t take away from the rest of the novel up until that point.

So, basically, I really enjoyed this novel. The murder mystery was interesting enough but it was really the characters that hooked me. I loved finding out about them and seeing them really progress throughout the novel and break out of the stereotypes teenagers are so often forced into. I would have loved to hear more about them and some of the situations they were in but that was because I had come to care for them so much, which can surely only be a good thing!

Some Thoughts on The Lorien Legacies

Last month I started one of my summer TBR projects, namely finishing the Lorien Legacies series by Pittacus Lore that I started a few years ago. I had already read the first four in the series as they came out but decided that I wanted to reread these and then move onto the rest. A few weeks later I have finished the series and am really glad that I decided I wanted to do this. I have really enjoyed reading the series both in terms of plot and character but, additionally, I have enjoyed the experience of reading a whole series back to back; something I am pretty sure I have not done before! A few thoughts on all of that in a moment but first a short summary of the series:

  • It follows members of an alien race from a planet called Lorien
  • These aliens are part of a group called the Garde who were sent to Earth from Lorien when it was attacked by another alien race called Mogadorians
  • The Garde have powers (including invisibility and healing) called Legacies
  • As the series progressess they go from trying to protect themselves to trying to protect Earth from the Mogodorians and their leader Setrakus Ra

Of course there is a lot more to the series than this and I feel like I am not even doing the parts I have described justice, but it is a very interesting and exciting series with a lot of interesting developments and surprises!

So, I would definitely categorise this series as sci-fi which is interesting because sci-fi is not a genre I have ever been particularly interested in. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate it and I like to think I will always give a book a go no matter the genre, sci-fi is just not one I am naturally drawn to. Despite this fact, I really enjoyed this series and I think there are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, the books build up gradually to the more sci-fi elements. Take, for example, the first novel in the series. We know from the beginning that the narrator is an alien being hunted by other aliens and he is experiencing gaining powers for the first time. But, in addition to that, he is dealing with the issues of normal teenagers such as living in a small town, fitting in at school and first love which does make it relatable. It is not until the fifth novel in the series that we get a glimpse of space and even then it is only momentary before we return to Earth. I was pleased with this development because I’m not sure I would have been as invested had the action shifted to another planet. Setting it on Earth made the stakes higher and made it seem more real and thus more exciting!

Secondly, I find the series to be very character driven. The narration of the novels actually demonstrates this quite well. The first novel in the series I Am Number Four is narrated entirely by the titular number four or John Smith as he is known. Then, in the second novel, narration is split between John and another member of the Garde, Marina. The following books contain narration from other characters too including John’s human best friend, Sam, and Six, another member of the Garde. This type of first person narration really gives an insight into lots of characters’ thoughts, feelings and motives and makes it easy for you to root for all of the protagonists.

In this vein, I would also say that I don’t think I have read a series where I genuinally liked so many of the characters! My favourite character was continuously changing from Sam to Nine (another one of the Garde) to Adam (a sympathetic Mogadorian) although ultimately I think my favourite character has to be Marina!

As well as helping you get to know the characters better, the switching narration also genuinally made the books unputdownable. Narration normally switches between chapters and excitingly (although sometimes infuriatingly!) most of these chapters end on mini cliff hangers. Of course, this could be annoying if you had to read through a boring chapter just to get to something interesting (I had this problem reading Game of Thrones) except I found all of the different character perspectives and situations they were in interesting, so it was actually a really enjoyable experience!

Of course I didn’t enjoy everything (across seven books I think that would be a minor miracle!). First, I was a bit disappointed with the character of Mark. In the first novel Mark is a stereotypical jock bully seen in many YA novels. Despite this, in subsequent novels he has a really cool character ark where he becomes a really interesting character and, based on this, without giving away any spoilers, I was really disappointed with how his story ended.

Secondly, I found the main couple in the series, John and Sarah, quite infuriating. I love them as individual characters but just felt that, for me personally, I was being told a lot why they were such a great couple but didn’t quite get it myself. Also (as I touched on in my June roundup) relationships got a bit complicated for a while. Take, for example a line from the second novel, The Power of Six where Six says:

‘You like me and Sarah. I like you and Sam.’

This is the kind of drama I am really not interested in. Luckily it sorted itself out pretty quickly so I was able to get back to enjoying the story.

Lastly, without spoiling any surprises, I was really upset about a particular character death. This, though, is not something I dislike about the series as it is actually quite refreshing to have such real stakes in this type of series, where there is the very real possibility of central characters dying and staying dead (which bizzarly has become quite a big issue in entertainment today!).

In terms of reading the majority of the books back to back, it was a really cool experience that left me hugely invested in the series (when I finished the last one I wasn’t massively sure what to do with myself to be honest!). On the topic of the last novel, I will just mention that I was very pleased with it. I love book endings anyway (especially last sentences) and I was very happy that the Lorien Legacies had a great ending after seven books worth of investment.

So there we have it, The Lorien Legacies done and dusted and all I will say now is that I thoroughly enjoyed them!

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Some Thoughts on The Book Thief

I recently finished re-reading The Book Thief and was once again bowled over by the beauty of this novel. There are many reasons that I love this book as an avid reader, as an English Literature student and as an individual. I have tried to put some of them into words here. But first a short summary of the novel

  • It is narrated by Death
  • Liesel Meminger is the book thief
  • She goes to live with her adopted parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann
  • They hide¬†a Jew in their basement
  • Death visits the book thief three times

Death

Not only is this novel narrated by Death, but the portrayal of death (with and without an upper case ‘d’) is, for me, a new and unique one. So often humans use death as a scapegoat when we¬†are at fault for killing each other, at¬†best through ineptitude, and at worst, through the evil humanity is capable of. In The Book Thief, though,¬†Death merely clears up the mess humanity has made. He is remorseful and caring of the souls he picks up, carrying them like babies and even has to pay close attention to the colours of the sky to distract himself.

‘I am haunted by humans’

Here, we come to the last lines of the novel,¬†where Death admits that he is ‘haunted by humans’.¬†I¬†should¬†point out that I love the last lines of novels. As I approach the end I get really excited wondering what¬†thought or revelation I am going to be left with.¬†On this count,¬†The Book Thief does not disappoint.¬†I just find this simple line so beautiful. For me, it epitomises all of the loneliness and despair of¬†Death. Just consider some of the meanings of ‘haunted’. It can mean tormented, and¬†Death is certainly¬†tormented by humans and humanity. It also, of course, refers to ghosts,¬†which perhaps suggests that even¬†as humans¬†live they are merely¬†ghosts to Death as even our natural life span is¬†hugely finite while¬†Death points out that he is eternal. This idea is¬†accentuated by the fact that Death sometimes¬†tells us chapters in advance¬†about deaths¬†that are going¬†to occur, so that we too have to hear about the experiences of characters¬†and in many cases fall in love with them, all the while knowing in the back of our¬†minds that they are soon going to die. Personally, I find this experience utterly heart-breaking, though it¬†gives only a slight¬†insight into how Death must feel and makes his confession at the end of the novel all the more affecting.

‘I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right’

One of the differences between my first and second readings of the novel was my recognition of the status of words in the novel. Upon first reading I knew that words were important but until rereading, I did not appreciate that words were a major, if not the main character of the novel. Words are constantly personified in the novel and given agency and power; Hitler starts a war using words, Liesel gives Max (the Jew hidden in her basement) the sky using words. Words are everywhere in this novel. Not only are we told of the importance of words, we are shown first hand through the poetic writing of the novel itself. It is a truly beautiful experience.

Characters

Using Death as an omniscient¬†narrator, this novel manages to give an insight into the lives of¬†many different characters, making us feel for, and with, all of them. There is¬†of¬†course Liesel,¬†the book thief herself, Hans Huberman with his living¬†accordion, Rosa Hubermann with her “Saumensch”, Max Vandenberg, stealing¬†the sky (I can’t help but feel that Death must feel a certain kinship with Max, as he too could be said to steal the sky as he collects souls) and Rudy, Liesel’s best friend to mention but a few.

The Book Thief

Despite all of the above, perhaps what I love most about the Book Thief is the range of different things different individuals can take away from it. Even on a second reading I have discovered new and exciting elements to the story so who knows what someone else may find?

Ultimately, The Book Thief is a beautiful novel that broke my heart, it made me feel, it made me cry and it made me fall in love with words over and over again.