Review: I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski

Series: I See London, I See France #1

i see london, i see france -sarah mlynowski I see London, I see France
I see Sydney’s underpants.

Nineteen-year-old Sydney has the perfect summer mapped out. She’s spending the next four and half weeks traveling through Europe with her childhood best friend, Leela. Their plans include Eiffel-Tower selfies, eating cocco gelato, and making out with très hot strangers. Her plans do not include Leela’s cheating ex-boyfriend showing up on the flight to London, falling for the cheating ex-boyfriend’s très hot friend, monitoring her mother’s spiraling mental health via texts, or feeling like the rope in a friendship tug-of-war.

In this hilarious and unforgettable adventure, New York Times bestselling author Sarah Mlynowski tells the story of a girl learning to navigate secret romances, thorny relationships, and the London Tube. As Sydney zigzags through Amsterdam, Switzerland, Italy, and France, she must learn when to hold on, when to keep moving, and when to jump into the Riviera… wearing only her polka dot underpants.

2.5 Drink Me Potions

Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

**I See London, I See France came out July 11, 2017**

Although it may seem like any other fun YA contemporary novel with plenty of European travels, this book had its own moments too. Reminiscent of Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss and Gayle Forman’s Just One Day, this funny (yet still somewhat serious) novel would definitely entertain certain fans – especially since the book actually mentions the aforementioned novels within it as stories the protagonist herself read.

I have both good and not as good things to say about this novel. Being the half glass full kinda person I am, let’s start with the more negative stuff, shall we?

I will be honest. I didn’t like Sydney all that much. I guess it’s more a personal thing but I didn’t connect well with her (minus the fact that she had some anxieties – I will return to this later). She probably would be someone’s nice breath-of-fresh-air kinda character as she was very open about relationships and sex life. But there were other little things and attitudes she had that didn’t really make me feel for her.

Then there was her best friend. She’s flaky. Period. She goes from her ex back to Sydney and then back to her ex. She can’t make up her mind. She’s not dependable overall. And she’s possessive of Sydney in a way that she’ll throw a hissy fit if someone else has Sydney’s attention. Talk about a bestie relationship that needs some fixing.

Oh and then there’s the male love interest. Jackson. I didn’t feel a thing for him. He’s a player (ok, been there, done that), but he doesn’t really evolve past this stereotypical personality. He drinks, he pushes his best friend to do things that’re somewhat extreme, and he doesn’t do relationships at all. Sigh, I’m bored already. I feel like I know you and I don’t like you, Jackson.

So basically all the main characters were kinda eh, personality wise. Let’s leave it at that.

BUT, here comes the positive stuff. Mlynoski didn’t keep this story to just the little fluffy contents of some YA contemporaries. Sydney’s mother was agoraphobic. But more specifically, she was afraid to leave home because of panic attacks.

That floored me. Is this what it would like if someone let their anxieties rule over their lives? Being a person prone to anxiety and panic attacks too, I thought that was a really interesting note to include in such a novel. The author handled it well, I think, additionally challenging Sydney to overcome her feelings of responsibility to her family – to the point of it being something that held her back – as well as her own panic attacks that formed during the trip.

I may not love Sydney but that’s one lesson we can all learn from her.

I breathe. I breathe again. Faster. It’s coming. The end. 

No. No, no, no. 

I am lost. I am overwhelmed. But I am not being chased by a lion…

In and out. In and out. Slowly. Slower still. You are going to be fine, I tell myself. Everything is going to be okay…

I am not going to let the panic spiral. I am not going to let the fear win. 

I am strong and I am brave. 

I open my eyes.

Beyond this, I love the different cities they travelled to. It was unfortunately short for some places, but the locations that were explored for a longer time (e.g. London!!) made it worthwhile. I haven’t been back in London in a long while, but the descriptions made me feel like I was exploring that city again and experiencing it through a different set of eyes.

The author’s prose was easy enough to follow along. Very casual and Sydney’s voice wasn’t particularly boring. Would I recommend this? I’m not sure it’s the kind of book for everyone. I’ll say that it has its merits but read at your own discretion.

NOTE: this book is NOT meant for younger teens. The excessiveness of their pot smoking and sex shows along their travels made even me feel quite funny at my age. It’s not quite graphic, per se, but it doesn’t shy away from anything either. Just some forewarning.

Overall Recommendation:

I See London, I See France did well as a travel type of book. I thoroughly enjoyed getting a taste of Europe. However, it’s far too explicit in more mature themes and it was very hard to connect with pretty much all the characters, love interest and Sydney included. The one upside is how the author addressed mental health and anxiety here, and for that, I gave it a higher rating. Otherwise, this may not be worth your time, even on a relaxing summer day.

Note: all quotes are subject to change when published. 

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Series: Flame in the Mist #1

flame in the mist -renee ahdiehThe only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

4 Drink Me Potions

Flame in the Mist was steeped in gorgeous Japanese lore that made the story both unique and enticing. While it wasn’t always moving at a fast pace, I can see why this book has been raved about. Because it’s very very true.

I haven’t read any of Renee Ahdieh’s other works yet but I’m not surprised that I enjoyed this novel. There was a lot of background work, I’m sure, to set this novel in such a setting and time. Although I was a little wary, to be honest, about how well this kinda YA book could be executed, I was delightfully surprised.

Here’s why:

  1. It’s like stepping into the Japanese culture and the way of the samurai. It never felt like the author only briefly did her homework and called it a day. She sold me on the genuine authenticity feel to this book.
  2. Intriguing things being laid out in the story’s background (for the next novel). There were little tidbits throughout that made me wonder if such events would become relevant later and things were tied well together in the end, no matter the cliffhanger-ish ending.
  3. The ability to weave a story with 2 main guy characters and not have a love triangle to keep things interesting. Okashi, the Wolf, was by far Mariko’s preferred choice, no matter that Ranmaru was so much more likeable at first.
  4. Mariko. Just Mariko ❤

To elaborate a bit more beyond those brief points, Flame in the Mist had a cast of characters and plot events that genuinely seemed to portray the Japanese culture. From teahouses to geishas and the lay of the lands, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Japan like this in a YA novel.

The one negative thing I would note is that the beginning is rather slow. It takes time for Mariko to even find her way to the Black Clan camp, and then she’s stuck there for a while doing nothing exciting at all. Except for mundane tasks. But once you get past this bump, it will surprise you as things develop more quickly.

Overall Recommendation:

Flame in the Mist shouldn’t be a surprise to fans of Renee Ahdieh’s books. She has weaved a beautiful story steeped in Japanese culture that still fits so relevantly in YA fantasy. Although it was slow to start, Mariko as our protagonist and the two mysterious guys leading the Black Clan will capture you in their story until the very last pages.

Panic Attacks and the YA world

I was going to write a review (or my June book haul which is completely delayed), but I needed to write this first.

I don’t know if it’s just me or something, but a number of books I’ve been reading lately in this year have all revolved around a protagonist with panic attacks or anxiety. And myself being one to have experienced such things, I automatically found them more relatable.

It makes me wonder. What has brought anxiety even to the midst of YA? Is it the fact that we talk more about mental health these days in our society, and are more accepting of it? Is it that we feel it’s no longer such an uncommon thing, that in fact we can relate to each other in our moments of absolute weakness? Or has this always been there, with the same numbers of people facing anxiety issues in our midst, but we are only now realizing it? I discussed this recently with a friend and honestly, it could be any of these or something else entirely.

Regardless of the why, I am thankful for the different books I’ve encountered that highlighted not just a realistic protagonist going through anxiety in her day-to-day life, but also growing from it and through it. I wanted to highlight some of these books today in this post.

If you do not know what it may feel to have panic attacks or have generalized anxiety, I will say that the experience may be different for each person. There are common symptoms, of course, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone goes through the same exact course and consequently deal with it in the same way.

So for the audience here who may not have experienced such a thing, I will give you some of my own experience as a taste of what it may feel like (although it most definitely is not the same for everyone) so that you can understand why the following books meant something to me. If the following may be uncomfortable for you to read, feel free to skip it to look at the books.

It starts with a tingling sensation in my legs, from the very tips of my toes. Or sometimes, it may start off with a hitch in my breath, and a sense of foreboding that something oh so wrong is about to crash over me like a wave. Or the worst kind, it starts with the beat of my heart.

It picks up. My heart pounds faster. My brain tells it to stop. What’s there to be causing such a reaction? My breathing gets faster. Something is wrong. Of course, something is wrong. The tingles in my legs are similar to the ones in my arms and hands now. Can I grip anything? Why won’t it stop shaking? Nothing I do is making a difference! When will it be over? Is it ever going to stop? Is it ever going to stop?

People are staring. Or are they not? Do I even want them to? If they do notice, no one is doing anything about it. Is this all just in my head? But why can’t I make it stop then?

And as my heart pumps, pumps, pumps, I wonder if this is what dying would feel like. And I wonder if it would feel this lonely. Even in the midst of strangers.

I close my eyes, and I wait it out. And hope that there is an end.

This was what I felt during my first panic attack. I read maybe one book before this occurred on a character with anxiety. I didn’t fully understand it. I didn’t fully appreciate the growth, the portrayal of strength in the midst of such a personal struggle. I will admit that not every author may go about this issue in the same way, and I will respect if others’ experiences make them feel differently about how they’re portrayed in YA or the following books. However, no matter what we may or may not agree on with the particulars, I hope most people can agree with me that I am grateful these authors put a spotlight on something like this in any way in their writing. They don’t have to. And to do it well and right may require so much more effort that isn’t necessary if they didn’t want to do it.

  1. All Things New by Lauren Miller

all things new -lauren millerThis whole novel focused on mental health and put it almost into a philosophical spin. I absolutely adored that. I know it’s not out yet in stores, but I fervently hope that you do pick up a copy when it comes out the beginning of August.

This protagonist faces a completely different level of anxiety than I do, but it doesn’t make her story any less poignant to me. We are all broken in some ways, some more visible than others. This novel showed how we can face these things, not necessarily on our own, but finding it in a community of people we feel we can trust. Whether it be from a physical support group to go to, or the people placed in our lives that we’re blessed to have found, this story stirred something in my heart to respond in the same way.

2. By Your Side by Kasie West


One of my earlier reads of the year (although technically in the 2016 count), I really appreciated Kasie West tackling this subject. I’ve always loved her writing, but this book was different as it was just a light contemporary novel I breezed through like her others.

The protagonist in this book starts off really facing her fears. She gets left behind in a library all alone, with all those who supposedly care about her having forgotten she wasn’t with them anymore. I don’t know about others, but I relate to the fact that being alone with oncoming attacks is sometimes worse than facing a room of strangers or even friends watching me embarrass myself. And being left behind adds to the anxiety of being alone even when there are people around. I like how this book does develop the protagonist’s character, and her choice to admit to someone close to her know that she isn’t always all right. And that it’s okay.

3. Crash into You by Katie McGarry

crash into you -katie mcgarrySurprisingly, this book features anxiety too. I love the way Katie McGarry can make situations and people feel so real that you’re practically living it with them. Likewise, I really enjoyed this protagonist.

The main character wasn’t always seen as strong. It didn’t help that she had older brothers and protective parents. But it made opening up about her fears so much harder. Although it wasn’t nearly as hard to admit to my family and close loved ones about being less than okay, it’s still not an easy journey. Not everyone understands what you face, and why. They may think similarly to how this girl’s family did – trying to pretend that everything was okay and ignoring the little signs that showed that in fact, nothing was getting any better. The journey this protagonist takes for herself, regardless of the romance featured, made this an easy read through one sitting. I wished I could have such strength in myself.

4. Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno

everything all at once -katrina lenoThis isn’t a book I have technically reviewed yet. But that’s because I’m currently going through this novel. Although I haven’t read anything from this author before, I find her take on this girl’s journey to learning to live life with a different perspective something that resounds in me. I will write more on this later, but it doesn’t focus so harshly on anxiety so much as showcases that strength comes from within. I can’t wait to see what else the novel has in store, but having anxiety on the back burner isn’t necessarily shoving it away from the spotlight. It’s another way I appreciate the subtle nod to those who understand, and the real, reflective amount of personal growth it sometimes takes to face it head on.

5. I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski

i see london, i see france -sarah mlynowskiAlso a book that hasn’t been reviewed yet on this blog, but it’s coming soon, no worries! Recently released this week in your local bookstores, this novel seems like it’s all fun and cute romance, but surprisingly, holds a main character that deals with some anxiety herself. Although I didn’t relate to every aspect of this character, as I will mention in a full review, I think what stood out to me was her will to face the fear straight on. We can hide all we want, wishing another one would never hit us, or we can live our lives and hold on. Personal challenges may be the best way to help us face incoming attacks. I’m not saying conquer, but at least face. And as a friend said to me, simply facing it is sometimes enough. That in itself is strength, not weakness.

So, I’ve held up like way too much of your time. Whether you fully understand or not, I hope this at least made you pause and think huh, never thought of it quite this way before. I may not have said it all that well, so go and read the books! And if any of you do understand this feeling, I hope you know you’re not alone in it.