The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Hazel was diagnosed with Sage IV thyroid cancer at the age of 13 and her prognoses wasn't good. At the age of 14, however, a new drug miraculously shrunk the tumors in her lungs and effectively held her cancer at bay. It was by no means a cure, but it prevented her cancer from being an immediate death sentence.

At the age of 16, Hazel lives a sort of half life. Her illness has kept her from living a normal life, as she is tethered to an oxygen tank. She is disconnected from her friends and the life of a normal teenager. She spends most of her time at home watching bad TV and re-reading her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction.

When her mother insists that she get out of the house, Hazel goes to a meeting of a support group for kids living with cancer. Enter Augustus Waters. Augustus is gorgeous and in remission, having "won" his battle with osteosarcoma, but having lost his leg in the process. Augustus and Hazel fall in love and together they examine life and death, sickness and health, and what is left behind in the end.

I loved, loved, loved this book. I couldn't put it down once I started reading it. I laughed, I cried, I fell in love with Hazel and Augustus. Such is the plight of a book lover - to love characters so much that when their story ends you feel an emotional and physical loss. I felt that after reading this book. Some have criticized the book because the characters don't sound like typical 17 year olds, but it didn't bother me at all. In fact, if they had sounded like typical teenagers, I might have been sorely disappointed. When people deal with pain, with illness, with things that are beyond their control, it changes them. Forces them to grow up and view the world through different eyes. Hazel and Augustus don't sound like typical teenagers because they are not typical teenagers. What they experienced was so far removed from the experiences of their peers. Others dismiss it as a typical "cancer book."

Maybe it is, but for me the ideas about life and death in this book were quite profound. My favorite quote from the book is "I thought of my dad telling me that the universe wants to be noticed. But what we want is to be noticed by the universe, to have the universe give a shit what happens to us - not the collective idea of sentient life but each of us, as individuals." I loved these lines because I feel like they sum up the human condition so beautifully. Yes, the universe not only wants to be noticed, it demands to be noticed. It interjects into our lives daily, often at inconvenient times. But don't we all want the universe to notice us too? We live our lives trying to leave a mark because we fear being lost to a void of oblivion. Deep down we desperately hope that the universe will acknowledge us, that our small existence in this world was not lived in vain. We want to know that we were important, that we mattered to something bigger than ourselves, hopefully beyond the small world of our everyday existence.

We are scared by the universe and we leave our own scars. Another favorite quote is: "You don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you." These words ring true for my life and it is a lesson that I am only now learning to fully understand. Sometimes pain is a gift, because it means that you have loved fully. You cannot love without experiencing pain, and if you shut yourself off to avoid feeling pain, you will also shut yourself off from love and all that is good in this world. In order to truly love, you must make yourself vulnerable to pain. The beauty is that the choice is yours. You can shut yourself off to avoid feeling pain, or you can wear your scars as evidence of your ability to open your heart to love, despite the pain. It's a beautiful idea - taking the bad with the good - because in the end, the good makes the bad worth it.

I will be forever grateful for having read this book and I'm sure that it will take a long time, and several more re-readings, before I am able to process all of my thoughts and feelings about it. I do know that I have been changed because I read this book. I have read many books in my life and will read many more in the future, but only a few have left a scar on my heart and soul like The Fault in Our Stars


Witchlight (Night World #9) by L.J. Smith

Raksha Keller is a shapeshifter. She and her crew have been chosen to track down and protect the new Wild Power. Iliana Harman has no idea that she is a lost witch, let alone the famed Witch Child and a Wild Power. Keller must convince Iliana of her power and to join Circle Daybreak before she is captured by the Night People who are also seeking her. Doubt over Iliana's power arises when she refuses to accept or acknowledge that she is the Witch Child and a Wild Power. The fate of the world is resting on Iliana's decision and her ability to harness the blue fire of the Wild Powers.

Things get even more complicated when Keller meets Galen, the prince of the shapeshifters and finds her soulmate in him. The problem is that he has been promised in marriage to the Witch Child in order to form an alliance between the witches and the shapeshifters. With so much depending on this alliance, Keller and Galen know that they cannot be together, but can they stay away from each other?

This installment of the story was much more action packed and exciting. We have finally reached the point in the story where the millennium is upon the world and struggle between the Night World and Circle Daybreak is heading for its climax. L.J. Smith introduces some new mysterious powers in this book in the form of Dragons. Unfortunately book #10, Strange Fate, has not been published yet and L.J. Smith has not released a publication date. There are rumors that the book will be published in the Fall of 2013, but for now it appears that we shall just have to wait and see. This is the one thing that makes reading series frustrating...waiting for the next book to be released. Hopefully it will be sooner, rather than later. I am also hoping that when the book is published that it will continue the momentum the series has picked up over the last 2 or 3 books. I would hate to take a step backwards, especially when the action is just now starting to pick up and the story is starting to get exciting...

Black Dawn (Night World #8) by L.J. Smith

When Maggie Neely's brother goes missing and is presumed dead, Maggie instinctively knows that something is not quite right with his girlfriend's account of what happened. Determined to figure out what happened to her brother, Maggie follows the girlfriend and soon finds herself taken captive and being transported to the Dark Kingdom as a human slave. She meets Jeanne, P.J. and Cady, who are also captured slaves and together they manage to escape their shape-shifter captives.

Cady is deathly ill and while hiding from the shape-shifters, Maggie encounters Delos, prince of the Dark Kingdom, vicious vampire, and a Wild Power. Maggie quickly realizes that they are soulmates, but Delos refuses to accept that fate. He leads the hunting party away from Maggie and Cady, but threatens her with death if she ever comes to the castle. Meanwhile, Cady is getting worse and it becomes clear that she will not survive unless they can get her to a healing woman. Maggie and the girls get Cady to the castle and healing woman and soon discover that Cady is a witch, an important witch named Aradia, who was sent to the Dark Kingdom as an ambassador to plead with Delos to help the witches in their battle against the vampires.
When Hunter Redfern shows up, it becomes clear that something is amiss and Maggie discovers his plan to kill all of the human slaves and take over the Dark Kingdom.

Maggie, who the slaves believe is the prophesized Deliver, becomes determined to get Delos to prevent the planned hunt and sneaks into the castle to confront him. When Delos finally gives in to the "soulmate principal" he wants to make Maggie a vampire. When she will not cooperate, he throws her in the dungeon until she will. Maggie must convince him to help and if she fails, more than just the fate of the Dark Kingdom is at stake.

I liked the setting of this story a lot. The Dark Kingdom is described like a medieval world and it was almost like Maggie had stepped back in time. I also liked Delos and his initial resistance to the "soulmate principal." I think that Black Dawn was a much more exciting read than many of the other books in the series. It was not filled with a bunch of superfluous side stories and the story flowed relatively well. I was also excited to see some more developments in the upcoming battle for the "End of the World" that all of these books have been eluding to. I tried not to give to much away in my synopsis, but I feel like we are finally making some progress toward this prophesied battle!

On to book 9 - Witchlight.


Huntress (Night World #7) by L.J. Smith

Jez Redfern is a vampire, the leader of a gang of vampire raiders. Her world is in perfect order and she is confident in her place. All that changes when she discovers a secret that turns her world upside down - she is part human. This revelation leads Jez to abandon her former life and become a vampire hunter, protecting humans from the Night People.

Jez is recruited by Circle Daybreak to search for the legendary Wild Powers, the group who will stand to protect the humans when the Night World War begins. This requires Jez to return home and rejoin her former gang, including Morgead, the vampire who used to be her second-in-command. Jez finds herself drawn to Morgead and soon discovers that he is her soulmate.

It quickly becomes apparent that Circle Daybreak are not the only ones looking for the Wild Powers. The Night World Council is searching for them as well. Jez and Morgead find themselves in a race to find one of the Wild Powers and they discover it in the most unlikely of places.

I have now read several of L.J. Smith's books and I still can't completely decide how I feel about her as an author. There is always something that bothers me about her novels and I can't quite figure out. I think that it has something to do with the technical aspects of her writing. For me, her stories never seem fully developed. The stories are all very simple and move quickly, which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, especially considering that it is Young Adult Fiction. But I often find myself wanting...What keeps me returning to her stories is her imaginative stories and her characters. I love her characters and her stories do not lack for imagination. I think I just wish that the writing behind them was a little stronger.


Soulmate (Night World #6) by L.J. Smith

Hannah Snow had a perfect life. She was a happy high school student with friends and dreams for the future. All this changes when mysterious notes begin appearing in her own handwriting warning her of impending doom - dead before seventeen. Hannah begins to question her sanity and seeks the help of a young psychiatrist in an attempt to solve the mystery. Instead she discovers a series of past lives in which she dies before her seventeenth birthday at the hands of a vampire named Thierry.

The problem is Thierry is her soulmate. He is the Lord of the Night World, the first made vampire, and he has searched for Hannah throughout the ages, trying to make amends for the past. Hannah finds herself a pawn in an epic struggle between Thierry and Maya, the first vampire who is determined to have Thierry for herself. This battle has been going on for centuries and always results in Hannah's death, apparently at the hands of Thierry. Thierry is determined to end this cycle, even if it means giving Hannah up.

As Hannah seeks answers in her past lives, she learns that maybe what she has come to believe as the truth about Thierry is not all that it appears. But with Maya out for revenge, can even Thierry save Hannah from her destiny?

Finally my frustration with this series is slightly (yes, only slightly) appeased. There is a slight merging of stories as Hannah meets the members of Circle Daybreak, who are all the characters from the previous novels in the series. It is a very brief reunion, but it was enough to keep me interested in continuing with the series. I hope it is a foreshadowing of an epic battle between the Night World and Circle Daybreak...we shall see. I have a feeling that I am going to end up disappointed in this...

For now it's on to book #7: Huntress


The Chosen (Night World #5) by L.J. Smith

Rashel's life changed forever at the age of 5 when her path crossed with a vampire. From that moment on, she vowed that she would never be helpless again, that she would rid the world one vampire at a time until she found the vampire who destroyed her world.

Now she is a vampire slayer. Out on patrol one night she rescues Daphne Childs and uncovers a secret slave trade operated by the Night World. In an attempt to bring down the slave trade and discover an unknown vampire enclave, Rashel sets out to get herself chosen as a slave by the vampires. Along the way she meets her soulmate in the last person she ever anticipated - John Quinn - a vampire with a dark reputation.

Together Rashel and Quinn discover that there may be some dissent brewing within the Night World - Lamia vs. made vampires, the Daybreakers vs. vampires who view humans as vermin. Trouble is brewing and even members of the Council, those charged with keeping the peace and enforcing the laws, are in on it.

This book was much more developed that the others in this series and I wasn't left wanting like I was after book #4. I am getting slightly frustrated with this series, however. It is clearly building to something. With all of the cross human/Night World relationships going on, the character cross overs and all the illusions to a coup, I am curious to see how all of these stories are going to intersect. It is clear that this is where the series is going, however 5 books in and we are still being introduced to new characters and there doesn't seem to be any merging going on. I am hoping that happens soon, or I might start to lose interest in this series... 


Dark Angel (Night World #4) by L.J. Smith

Gillian Lennox is invisible and yearns to be part of the popular crowd. After a near death experience, Gillian returns to her body accompanied by Angel, who claims to be her guardian angel. With Angel's help, Gillian is finally able to achieve the popularity she has always desired, as well as catch the eye of David Blackburn, who turns out to be Gillian's soulmate.

Angel even helps Gillian discover her true nature - she is a lost witch. As he introduces Gillian to her heritage and the Night World, Angel begins making some requests that have Gillian wondering whether Angel is in fact an angel, or something else entirely.

I think the concept of this story is by far the best in the series. However, the execution of the story leaves something to be desired. The whole thing felt rushed and under-developed. The potential for greatness was there, but in my opinion was not achieved. There were so many times throughout the book where I had anticipated more suspense, more action, more mystery than what I got and it was so disappointing.

For example, when Gillian finally figures out that Angel may not be what she thought him to be and realizes that she is in fact possessed, I had expected some great struggle of wills between her and Angel as she tries to banish him from her mind. Not the case! He simple just leaves! No struggle at all! How can you have a possession without the possessed having to fight the possessor? Another disappointment came when Gillian then had to figure out what Angel's unfinished business was so that she could send him back to the "Other side." That mystery lasted about a page and a half! Angel simply told her! No detective work involved! Very frustrating!

There are several other examples that I could give you, but I don't want to give the whole story away. I really feel like this book could have been developed so much more than it was. It was almost too simplistic and it felt very rushed. The story never had the time to truly develop, which is very disappointing because I feel like it has all the elements of a great story. Even the love story and soulmate principal was somewhat lacking in this story.

On to book #5: The Chosen...