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The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

The Fault in Our Stars; John Green; Dutton; 2012

Book summary (taken from Amazon UK: Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now. Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means) Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault. Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly, to her interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

Literature for Lads review:
John Green and his band of 'nerdfighters' are something of a Internet phenomenon. Colonising websites, blogs and twitter with the #DFTBA acronym (Google it if you don't know what it means)they are quite a force of nature. The fact that Green's books have not yet been published in the UK, yet they still have an army of fans is proof of the power of Greens online presence. In fact it was through the constant excited tweeting from some of his UK fans that 'The Fault in Our Stars' came to my attention.  Librarian colleagues, unable to believe I hadn't read any of John Green's previous novels told me, "I had to read this book".

I now echo what those colleagues told me. You have to read this book. This is a wonderfully written, heart-wrenchingly sad, yet at times gloriously funny book. When writing about such an emotive subject as Cancer in teenagers it would be easy to fill a book with stereotypes and cliches.  However this novel is quite the opposite and Green should be commended with the approach he has taken to writing a novel on this subject.

From the first moment we meet Hazel, describing the Cancer support group her parents insist she attends, we are engaged with her. She's smart, funny, and although she's dying from Cancer, the last thing she wants is for us to feel sorry for her. It's at the support group that Hazel meets the enigmatic Augustus.  Arrogant and self-assured, Augustus is in remission, is in Hazel's eyes gorgeous, and to Hazel's surprise, is interested in her.

The journey that Hazel and Augustus take from this moment on will envelope you as you watch their fledgling relationship develop into a beautiful romance.  Trying desperately to do everything any other teenagers in a relationship would do, and yet at the same time coping with the pressures and demands of living with cancer is evoked wonderfully by Green. 

Green does not want us to feel sorry for Hazel and Augustus, rather he wants us to see them for what they are, two teenagers experiencing love for the first time.  For anyone who has suffered the effects of cancer this must be a battle they face every day - for people to see them as themselves not as someone who is fighting to stay alive.

This book is much more than a book about Cancer. It's a book about death, love, relationships and how we feel about all of these things.  The characters in the book are real and we are invested in them from the 1st page. The fact that they are dealing with something which is heart-breakingly sad only makes us care about them more.

There can be few books who take the themes of this novel and deal with them in such a sensitive yet real and unimagined way. Teenagers everywhere (including boys as this is not a slushy chick lit romance) should read this book.  In fact let's not stop at the teenagers. Everyone should read this book, it's exceptional and will make you think about life, love and death.

Marks out of 10: 9

Here is the trailer for the book...

 

For more information on John Green, including details of his other novels, visit his website here

Insignia - S.J.Kincaid

Insignia; S.J. Kincaid; Hot Key Books; Publication Date - 2nd August, 2012

Book summary(From Hot Key Key Books Catalogue): Tom's life changes dramatically when his virtual-reality prowess is discovered in a future world where war is fought by robots.  Equipped with a new computer chip in his brain it looks like Tom might actually become somebody...but what happens when you start to question the rules? The first part of an electrifying new sci-fi trilogy by debut author S.J.Kincaid.

Literature for Lads Review:
As a librarian and book blogger I read a lot of books. Many of the books I read are good, some of them great. Sometimes they are disappointing. And then occasionally I read something which is exceptional. Something that is so good that it consumes me and everything that I do.  Where previously I couldn't find time to squeeze in one more chapter, I can. A book so enjoyable, engaging and exciting that reaching the end of the book will only end in disappointment as the adventure will be over, and I will be left with nothing to fill the void the book has left. 'Insignia' is one of these books...

When I first picked up this book I will admit that I wasn't quite sure what to expect. 'Insignia' is set in a high tech future where multinational companies control everything, even the world's food and water. Each company is aligned to either the Indo-America or Russia-Chinese alliance and the world is at war.  World War Three however is not happening on earth but rather in space with computerised machines, controlled by humans back on earth, fighting each other for control of the solar system's natural resources.

During the first couple of chapters we are introduced to Tom Raines, the books main character, whilst at the same time it is explained to us how the world has once more become engaged in global conflict.  Tom is a gamer who supports himself and his gambling addicted father by hustling players in Virtual Reality (VR) parlours.  When Tom is approached by the Indo-America alliance and offered a place at the Pentagonal Spire the home of the Indo-American Military Academy, and where the next generation of Virtual Reality Soldiers are trained, ‘Insignia’ bursts into life.

On arrival at the Spire Tom is fitted with a neural processor, a computer chip implanted into the brain.  This is our first taste of some of the futuristic technology that Kincaid explores in the book.  It's a fascinating idea and Kincaid executes it brilliantly.  The constant stream of information flowing into Tom's brain after the device is implanted is eerily similar to the information overload theory Patrick Ness explores in 'The Knife of Never Letting Go.'

The Pentagonal Spire also has a sense of familiarity to it, it being reminiscent in many ways of a certain school for wizardry.  Full of futuristic technology, common rooms for each 'division', teachers with hidden histories and an engaging set of characters the Spire and what goes on there is one of the books greatest strengths.  Kincaid writes in a way that will make teenagers feel they are in the Spire, sitting alongside Tom and his gang of friends, Vik, Wyatt and Yuri. This gang of four are engaging, funny and you will love following them on their journey through their first year at the Spire. 

Much of the originality in Kincaid's book is in her use of video games and the concept of gaming.  Students at the Academy train for battles using Virtual Reality (VR) software.  The scenes in the book where students are hooked up to the VR software create some of the most exciting parts of the novel, taking the character, and the reader, out of the Academy's classroom and into (virtual) battle. Of course at some point our Academy recruits must put their training to use in the field, engaging in battles with fellow gamers high up in the echelons of space, fighting not only for their own pride, but for their country.

There is so much to enjoy in this book.  Although full of futuristic technology there is a real sense of realism throughout the book. The book is full of humour and has a great cast of characters who you will not only believe in but want to be friends with.  But maybe most importantly Kincaid does not shy away from the issues hitting the headlines and making an impact on the lives of teenagers today. Corporate greed, corruption, the impact technology has on the world, the ever diminishing natural resources on earth and the power of democracy are all prominent themes in this book. 

The skill that Kincaid has is that she takes these themes and uses them to form the backdrop for a thrill-a-minute adventure that is full of originality and is far from predictable. ‘Insignia’ is one of the best debut novels I've read and I suggest you start counting the days until you can immerse yourself in the world of Pentagonal Spire. You won't be disappointed.

Marks out of 10: 9(and a half)

For more information on S.J. Kincaid and the Insignia books visit her website here 

The website includes a very cool playlist to accompany the book! 

Has this review whetted your appetite for the book?  Does it sound like the kind of book you would read? What do you think about the concept of gaming being included in a novel?

We would love to hear your feedback on the book and the review via our comments section below.