Tag Archive | friendship

Review: Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

long-may-she-reign-rhiannon-thomasThe Girl of Fire and Thorns meets The Queen of the Tearling in this thrilling fantasy standalone about one girl’s unexpected rise to power.

Freya was never meant be queen. Twenty third in line to the throne, she never dreamed of a life in the palace, and would much rather research in her laboratory than participate in the intrigues of court. However, when an extravagant banquet turns deadly and the king and those closest to him are poisoned, Freya suddenly finds herself on the throne.

Freya may have escaped the massacre, but she is far from safe. The nobles don’t respect her, her councillors want to control her, and with the mystery of who killed the king still unsolved, Freya knows that a single mistake could cost her the kingdom – and her life.

Freya is determined to survive, and that means uncovering the murderers herself. Until then, she can’t trust anyone. Not her advisors. Not the king’s dashing and enigmatic illegitimate son. Not even her own father, who always wanted the best for her, but also wanted more power for himself.

As Freya’s enemies close in and her loyalties are tested, she must decide if she is ready to rule and, if so, how far she is willing to go to keep the crown. 


3.5 Drink Me Potions


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

**Long May She Reign comes out February 21, 2017**

Rating: 3.5 stars

Long May She Reign was something familiar but at the same time, so very different from what I expected. From princesses to the scientific method, Freya was a girl after my own heart. There are many things to be praised about this book, and I shall endeavour to point those things out.

LOVED:
1. I’m a scientist. It’s not so surprising that a science-lover like myself would be overjoyed to find something so out of place like the scientific method in experimentation in a YA fantasy novel. So of course I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect. Freya was a chemist, tinkering with chemical reactions from different powders and metals. Her curiosity about the way the world around her worked was refreshing. She wasn’t pompous in her assumptions or her worldview because everything needed proof. That was the way science worked.

2. Freya herself was a wonderful protagonist.
She just wanted to be a scientist, to explore the world and create experiments. But when disaster occurred and turned her plans – let alone world – upside down, she left her plans behind to do her duty. To become queen, the last thing she wanted to be. She was afraid, who wouldn’t be? Such responsibility in the aftermath of such a tragic event in the kingdom. But her courage and belief that she could make a difference, make the kingdom better , was admirable.

I loved Scientist Freya, but Queen Freya was just as amazing. She remained down-to-earth throughout the novel, facing each hurdle while trying to remain true to herself even when others were trying to manipulate her to their own image. This leads me to the wonderful character development which is always important. From a frightened nobody to a more confident queen, we get the privilege of seeing Freya learn what was important in managing a kingdom and people who had never given her the time of day before.

3. At the heart of this book was a mystery. A simple who-dunnit kind of question. Who killed all those people at the banquet that put her on the throne? I love a good mystery. Long May She Reign was honestly more of a mystery story than a fantasy. The sole focus was hunting down proof, evidence!, that someone had plotted to kill the court and it wasn’t her (because it looked suspicious it’d be her since she ascended to power). I thought it was a well-done mystery, with red herrings being pointed towards by Thomas, and it wasn’t altogether too predictable due to the motive.

4. Last point of wonder was the few secondary characters placed around Freya. Her best friend Naomi and new friend Madeleine were great examples of strong female characters. Freya herself was too. They didn’t need the prince riding down on a horse to save them from all their problems. Freya proved herself smart and capable with her scientific knowledge and heart for the people. Naomi and Madeleine, likewise, were the strong advocates backing up their queen, giving her the strength and courage to face the troubles coming. I loved that about them.

Of course, there’s still a love interest. Ah, William Fitzroy. He was a fun character. A little clichéd with his injured pride and princely status, albeit an illegitimate one, but he had his vulnerable moments that made me really like him. For Freya, there was no one better (although, that may also be due to the fact that there WERE NO OTHER young men her age to potentially court her anyway).

NOT-SO-LOVED:
1. Of course, this is where I diverge in praise and head into the problems. Rhiannon Thomas is known for not giving her characters happily-ever-after in romantic bliss. Now I can kinda see why in this standalone novel. It’s not to say that Freya and Fitzroy don’t have a chance for the future, but she leaves it in a way that is very ambiguous. Like, yeah maybe they can get over their differences and form something someday. But for now, this is kinda where they stand. Yes, there’s hope, but it’s not the wonderful solid “yes they’re together!” that I love.

2. And the other thing I’d point out is the lack of world building and slow pacing. I love Freya. If I didn’t, this rating may have dropped a little. If you’re looking for something dark and bloody and ridiculously suspenseful, well, unfortunately this is not for you. Long May She Reign is nothing like the fights for the crown that you may expect from TV shows like Reign or from history, like the comical re-telling of Lady Jane Grey in My Lady Jane. Freya goes about things in a logical manner with that scientific mind of hers, and I wouldn’t say there’s even truly a “battle” scene in this story. So if action is a must-have on your list, this may be a problem. The world building wasn’t much beyond the divine beings this land worshipped that later plays a small role in the story, but for a true fantasy novel, it just didn’t really focus much on this aspect.

At the end of the day, this book was wonderful in many ways for me (it brought me back from a book hiatus after all), but it’s not for everyone.

Overall Recommendation:
Long May She Reign hosts a cast of wonderful characters, in particular the protagonist. Freya is a scientist, a girl that I could very well love. With deep character development, Freya navigates ascension to the throne with the help of her fierce girl friends. Add a funny love interest and it’s got the makings of a fantasy story, but personally, Freya ties it all together for me. It’s not a book for everyone as it lacks heavy action and suspense, plus romantics out there may also be disappointed in the outcome of the romance. Overall, it’s a beautiful mystery but it could be a hit or miss for some.

Review: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

V23 new typeface tagline.inddEverything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?

Julie Buxbaum mixes comedy and tragedy, love and loss, pain and elation, in her debut YA novel filled with characters who will come to feel like friends.


3.5 Drink Me Potions


(1) I just finished it and let me tell you. The ending was perfect. P-E-R-F-E-C-T. Others say it was a bit rushed and there could’ve been more, but I think it was the proper place and way to end it off because of the way Julie Buxbaum set it all up from the start.

Let me start from the beginning (in which it might make more sense with my ramblings that way).

(2) I initially didn’t like this book. At all. Was thinking it pushed 2 stars at most. It wasn’t necessarily ’cause Jessie’s all sad and lonely and nothing seems to be going right in her life with her familial situation. And not necessarily ’cause it was slow. It might just be a slow accumulation of all these things happening to her at the less-than-fast pace it was going. The only thing that kept me somewhat interested was the Somebody Nobody (otherwise known as SN, of course) angle which really kept me guessing (I’ll come back to this later).

Heck, around this time, I wished I was able to escape Jessie’s life as much as she did. I suppose that should account for something if the writing brought out such a strong emotion in me too.

It got to the point where I needed to take a week-long break from this novel at around the halfway mark. But when I came back to it, it was like opening my eyes to a whole new story. Yes, Jessie still was hurting from her change in environment and situation with her dad and steppeoples, but it didn’t feel like just whining anymore. She really was like a ninja, a kick-ass fighter who could maker he way through hard stuff alone even if at the time she didn’t realize she could be so strong.

Jessie grew a lot in the second half. And what made me inhale this part so fast was that she was relatable. No, I never lost a parent (and I don’t wish that to happen any time soon), but her insecurities and her with to be seen was all very real. The pain and loss she felt were also a huge part of who she was, and it may have been annoying at first when it was all that her character seemed to be, but I wouldn’t exchange this part of her now ’cause it helped her figure things out about herself and learn to take a step forward in moving on, little by little. She didn’t solve anything big about her grief for her mom, but the little things do matter. Like patching things up a bit with her remaining parent and learning to tolerate (may I even say “love” even?) her stepbrother and stepmom. Nothing is 100% wrapped up, but these things were a start to hopefully a realistic (but happy) story for Jessie.

(3) Now, my fav. part and what cemented this story together (in my honest opinion) was SN. And his identity. I thought I knew who he was from the start, yet Buxbaum made me guess and re-guess as she threw out red herrings and what not.

And I wanted to know because SN’s conversations with Jessie were absolutely amazing. Their little game of telling each other 3 things (where the title was obviously taken from) about themselves each day was fun yet also made opening themselves up to each other easier. Their honesty about what they feel was real. Their connection over loss and grief was potent, but they knew that the other understood. That even when they felt so alone in their every day life, they were still seen.

So the ending that seemed a little abrupt? I wholeheartedly disagree. It should end there, with SN’s identity. It’s one thing to connect and say all these well-edited words on a screen and not have the person staring back at you as you open up your heart of all that’s burdening you. Buxbaum even acknowledges that every time Jessie wondered whether her connection to SN was because she could so easily be someone different, someone better, on screen since she had the time to edit her words and change them if she didn’t like it. Real life is harder. There are no delete buttons and things pop out your mouth before you can filter them. So upon meeting the one person who kept Jessie grounded since she moved to Cali was very fitting. And knowing that their identity doesn’t necessarily change everything about their relationship.

Romance and grief aside (along with my not-so-humorous attempt to list 3 things this book was to me), this story also had its hand of strong supporting characters. Jessie had a pretty strong and distinct narrative voice, but still had that quality that made her someone I could connect with – a feat that is hard to create well. From her flamboyant, gay stepbrother to the wise and brave bestie she left back home in Chicago, this cast was well-developed, each with their own personalities and problems to overcome.

There were hints of a love triangle, even in the synopsis, but personally, it didn’t ever really feel that way. It can still be construed as one as you read it, but Jessie made it clear there was only one guy she was interested in that way from the start. So I’m not sure you can really count it as one. Ethan, her English partner, was totally a delicious character. His aloofness, hot-and-cold moodiness, plus being a rocker guitar player automatically lands him the bad boy status. But his sensitivity to poetry and smart comments about what matters in life beyond what rich kids at their school normally think are important made me wish I had an Ethan in my life too. He ranked pretty much as high as SN in this book for me.

All in all, Tell Me Three Things took me on a roller coaster ride that in hindsight I’m glad I continued all the way to the end. It may seem like just another romantic book on first love and dealing with loss, but Buxbaum crafted it realistically and beautifully.

Overall Recommendation:
A story full of emotion, Tell Me Three Things follows Jessie, a girl you may feel is quite familiar to you even if you haven’t experienced half of what she did, on her journey across the country to a brand new start she never wanted. From the excitement of conversing with an anonymous person dubbed Somebody Nobody and wondering at his identity, to dealing with the pain and loneliness of moving into her new stepfamily home, Jessie’s experiences moved from fun to heartwrenching in the next moment. Buxbaum makes the things Jessie’s going through realistic and the connections she makes with new friends in Cali are sometimes very deep and profound. After struggling for a good half of the novel, I will say that Tell Me Three Things thoroughly redeems itself, and by the end, left me sighing with an ending that was just right.

Review: Shooter by Caroline Pignat

shooter -caroline pignatThe Breakfast Club meets We Need to Talk About Kevin

A lockdown catches five grade 12 students by surprise and throws them together in the only unlocked room on that empty third floor wing: the boys’ washroom. They sit in silence, judging each other by what they see, by the stories they’ve heard over the years. Stuck here with them–could anything be worse?

There’s Alice: an introverted writer, trapped in the role of big sister to her older autistic brother, Noah.

Isabelle: the popular, high-achieving, student council president, whose greatest performance is her everyday life.

Hogan: an ex-football player with a troubled past and a hopeless future.

Xander
: that socially awkward guy hiding behind the camera, whose candid pictures of school life, especially those of Isabelle, have brought him more trouble than answers.

Told in five unique voices through prose, poetry, text messages, journals, and homework assignments, each student reveals pieces of their true story as they wait for the drill to end. But this modern-day Breakfast Club takes a twist when Isabelle gets a text that changes everything: NOT A DRILL!! Shooter in the school!
Suddenly, the bathroom doesn’t seem so safe anymore. Especially when they learn that one of them knows more about the shooter than they realized…


3.5 Drink Me Potions


Shooter unites four (potentially 5) very unique narrative voices in a story that touches on loss, academic pressures and familial responsibilities. Initially, I thought this was going to be a scary, suspenseful mystery on the school shooter, and yes, it totally is that. But it was also so much more.

I at first came in thinking it would be a similar kinda read like Are You Still There which I read last year. In some ways, it definitely had that kinda vibe. However, there are so many more protagonists in Shooter and their own unique back stories that I’m not sure it’s fair to really compare the two to each other.

Each voice was very distinctive and true to that character. They weren’t simply cliched personalities I’ve read many times over in many other books. Alice can’t be simply narrowed down to “that book-ish Nerd Girl who can’t handle herself in the real world outside of her books”. Likewise, Hogan isn’t just the “jock with no brain and a tragic past to overcome”. Or Isabelle as the “popular It-Girl who cares about herself only” (although it sure seemed like she fit this portrayal very accurately at first).

Trapped in the men’s washroom while on lockdown, these 5 characters got to know each other a little better, maybe in a way that no one ever took the time to know them in this way before, all because of a shooter let loose in school building. So for the first half of the story, it wasn’t so much focused on the mysterious person shooting up the school. It was on these people who really didn’t “know” each other at all, even after so many years of school together. It was learning about what made them tick, what uncertainties they were facing at the end of high school, and just how much they had in common with each other no matter how different they were on the outside.

Alice was probably my favourite voice. This may be due to the fact that I associate myself most with her. I’m not as introverted, but she was also not just a simple cliche. She may love her book facts (that no one else cared about) and could care less about social media or school spirit but she had courage when it came to protecting her autistic brother Noah.

The way the other characters saw each other made them seem more real, like we as readers get the full glimpse of who they were because we can see the subjective (and biased view) they have of themselves and also the objective one from the others as they’re practically strangers at the beginning of the story.

Xander, strangely enough, was also another POV I enjoyed immensely. The way he saw the world was very straightforward. He didn’t understand social cues very well. He just saw the world through his lens and tried to capture not the good and “positive” aspects of life, but also the negatives which make life all the more real. He captured the honest moments we have that sometimes are easier to deny than to deal with. The way the author described his photographed pictures of each of the characters trapped in the washroom with him truly captivated me, probably making it my favourite part of the whole story.

Through learning to understanding each other, these 5 protagonists captured my heart. I gobbled the story in one sitting. It was deep in certain ways. They all had something they were dealing with, something pressing on their hearts. Their lives weren’t perfect, weren’t simple. I couldn’t believe the supposed time span of the whole novel was only an hour. There was so much grit, so much heartfelt conversations that took place in that time period. They laid down their masks to show each other what was truly on the inside so that maybe, just maybe, true healing could take place.

And then the next half of the book came learning about who was attacking their school. It wasn’t as much of a mystery as I thought it would be. The name of the perp was literally given right in the middle, but it was learning who the person was and why they were doing this that made the story more exciting. Locked away in one of these characters’ minds and back stories was the key to figuring out how this day was going to end.

Continuing with the honest voices of each of these characters, Pignat made this novel more than just another bullying story that ended in violence. It was a story that really made these teenagers real and showed the brutal honesty of what high school life can be like. I am so glad that there is such a great Canadian author like her, and I can’t wait to see what else she may write in the future.

Overall Recommendation:
Told in 5 very unique and distinctive voices, Pignat made Shooter both a suspenseful story about a shooter let loose in a high school but also one that explored the lives of teenagers that were very different on the outside yet had so much in common once they learned more about each other. I enjoyed the different POVs, but most of all, I loved the way I got to see how such unique people lived with their day-to-day problems. It felt very real, like I could find an Alice or a Xander in my own life. At the end of the day, this novel brought out the honest moments of life as a teenager in high school, something I can still remember pretty clearly. This is one story I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Review: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

Series: The Witchlands #1

truthwitch -susan dennardIn a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden – lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls’ heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.


4 Drink Me Potions


I will be honest. When this book first came out in stores, my friend and I admittedly thought it sounded a bit cheesy. Upon seeing all the great ratings and reviews, I thought I would check it out for curiosity and amusement’s sake.

I’m never as happy to admitting that I was wrong as I am in this moment.

Truthwitch feels like the high fantasy story that I’ve been waiting for this year. It has all the components that make it a wonderfully entertaining journey. Immediate action right from the very start, hot and steamy flirtations, a world of intrigue and magic that’s wonderfully developed.

And at the heart of it, the perfect friendship between an unlikely pair that speaks of true loyalty.

Here are my pointers of what I absolutely adored about Truthwitch.

1) Beautifully complex characters
I’m gonna run through the 4 main characters of the book and what was so great about each and every one of them, individually AND together.

Safiya was initially hard to relate and connect to. She’s wildly impulsive, reckless in her actions and quick to temper. Her gone-awry plans led both her and Iseult into a ton of problems. But I loved that she had a huge heart for her Threadsister. She took the blame for things she caused and aimed to fix whatever she could. She’s not just simply defined by her recklessness. She tried to plan ahead, examine her surroundings and get to know her enemies as she and Iseult dived head into the beginnings of war.

I loved that out of everyone, she had the most personal growth. Sometimes she came off as very independent and selfish. She thought of others after it was too late and the consequences of her actions had caught up to them. It wasn’t that she meant to, though. It was just her impulsiveness to dive head into action before fully thinking it through. However, by the end of it, she truly did her best to put others first, to change the world as maybe only she had the power to do, what with her special witchery powers.

Her other half, Iseult, was a wonderful complement to her reckless. Iseult was a Nomatsi girl, a tribe living outside of big populated cities that kept to themselves. I kinda pictured it akin to a gypsy-type of peoples, which made her more intriguing. It never quite said why people hated her kind so much, but it characterized her actions. She was easier to understand and relate to. As a Threadwitch, she saw the connections between people and the emotions of the world. And she could also see how much people didn’t want her around. All except for Safi and her close friends. Iseult felt too much emotion, things she was not supposed to feel with her witchery. She always had to live up to the failure of being less than what she could be with her power.

Things get crazy with her in the story. She, like Safi, was endlessly loyal to her Threadsister. They may be total opposites, but together they could face the world. A world that was coming close to the brink of major changes and war. Although she may have been the quieter main character, she was never eclipsed by Safi. Her narrative was just as enjoyable, the thoughts and worries flitting through her mind a beautiful glimpse into her unique character.

As for the men, there’s obviously a love interest you can totally root for. But Prince Merik wasn’t just simply a “love interest” to dangle like a pretty flower. He had depth too. He loved his dying country, but was thrown away as useless by his power-hungry family. He didn’t get along with Safi immediately, which made their angry banters such fun to read between the lines. He, too, was also quick-tempered, but no one could ever question his loyalties to crew and Thread family. Merik, altogether, was a wonderful male lead, but my heart wasn’t as intrigued by him as the other male protagonist.

Enter Aeduan, the Bloodwitch. I know, right? The synopsis made it sound like he was absolutely evil, the type of villain you’d easily hate and root for their horrible demise. Aeduan was nothing like that. He has secrets, yes, which slowly get hinted at and revealed bit by bit, but his choices into mercenary actions weren’t necessarily his fault. Where else would someone with Bloodwitchery be left alone and unharassed? In some ways, I think he and Iseult would really understand each other, what with being marginalized by society in the same way, just for being born different. I don’t think I’m reading too deeply into it, but I’m positive Dennard has something hot and steamy planned for the two of them. Iseult and Aeduan would make a very powerful couple, and I think they could learn and grow a lot from each other’s experiences. Here’s to hoping. *Fingers crossed*

2) Consistent action and well-paced plot
It never got boring or dragged. Right from the very first page, Safi’s got the two of them in deep crap. And from there, they individually get into more troubles as the world they know may just be falling apart at the seams.

Magic curses, mythical sea monsters arising, a new formidable foe who could raise the dead, and whole kingdoms chasing them around the world. Things couldn’t get any crazier. There were generous hints for plot arcs that would obviously continue into the next books, but oh how I wish I could read more about them now. Shows how thoroughly thought out Truthwitch was.

3) Incredible Worldbuilding
I know one reviewer mentioned the need for a glossary for all the types of witchery there are. I would agree. There are plenty.

Initially, when I first picked up this cover in early January, I thought the sound of a Truthwitch who could tell lies and truths apart sounded very cheesy and uncreative. However, there are so many more witcheries out there that I will happily eat those thoughts back. From Wordwitches being incredibly persuasive to Ironwitches who can control iron like it’s malleable putty and Bloodwitches taking hold of others’ blood and scent, the Witchlands seem to have more to offer than I had ever thought.

The downside to it was that the first 50 pages was like an information overload, with me flipping back and forth to the map and wondering what the heck some of these terms mean. If you can just roll through that part, it gets a TON easier to understand and more entertaining, I promise you.

4) Uh, romance anyone?
I said above that there were steamy romantic moments. Well, they were more like steamy flirtations with things that had to be read in between the lines. But I absolutely adored it. Things don’t have to get physical to be sweet, and for Threads of deep connection to be built and bound between people. Safi and Merik were a very fun couple to read about as they got to know each other, amidst the arguments and hot tempers. And if I have anything to say about it, Aeduan and Iseult’s small moments were already so lovely. I honestly ship those two together so hard. It better come true, Susan Dennard!

To conclude this longer than necessary review, I will give you a tidbit of such loveliness to dwell upon (and to urge you to read it for yourself if you want more of what’s here).

Then Merik reached across the map to tap at a snaking line of blue. His arm brushed hers.
It was a seemingly accidental touch, yet Safi knew – knew – from the way Merik moved, confident and determined, that it wasn’t accidental at all.
Frantic, she couldn’t seem to meet his stare. In fact, she stared at every part of his face but his eyes. He had stubble on his chin, on his jaw, around the curve of his lips…It was the hollow of Merik’s throat, though, that grabbed her attention – the pulse that she thought she saw fluttering there.
Finally, she risked flicking her gaze upward – and found Merik’s eyes roving across her face. To her lips. To her neck.
The door flew wide. Safi and Merik jerked apart.
Evrane strode in…then instantly reared back. “Am I….am I interrupting something?”
“No,” Safi and Merik intoned, stepping apart two paces. Then a third, for good measure.


Overall Recommendation:
Truthwitch was nothing that I had initially imagined. It’s anything but cheesy. From endless dangers, kingdoms chasing them around the world, dark curses, a potential enemy who could kill and raise the dead, and wonderful loads of different witcheries, this book has absolutely everything. The four main characters all are intriguingly complex, each adding something to the overall story. Their friendships and hinting buds of romance tie all the adrenaline-heavy action together into one book that you won’t easily forget after the last page’s been turned. I fully recommend it.

Review: Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

Series: Hundred Oaks #1

Score_CVR.inddONE OF THE BOYS

What girl doesn’t want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn’t just surrounded by hot guys, though-she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys and that’s just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university.

But everything she’s ever worked for is threatened when Ty Green moves to her school. Not only is he an amazing QB, but he’s also amazingly hot. And for the first time, Jordan’s feeling vulnerable. Can she keep her head in the game while her heart’s on the line? 


 

1.5 Drink Me Potions


I’m not even sure it’s really worth this high of a rating, but Catching Jordan felt like a book I had to make myself finish, which is never really a good sign.

Jordan Woods, known just by her last name to her fellow teammates, was a nice enough protagonist. She was different. A tomboy who didn’t care much about her appearance or dresses – granted, she was taller than most other guys at 6 feet – but who just wanted to play ball as her career after high school. Her life was exactly where she wanted it to be, with scouts potentially looking at her performance as quarterback (yes, a female quarterback, which is pretty darn cool).

She had a good relationship with her team of guys, particularly close to three of them. JJ was your stereotypical jock with the bulking size and plenty of girls he “used” to relax from the stress of the games. Carter was the quieter and I suppose, the “least jock-like”, with no girlfriend and going home to practice his technique all the time. Then there was Henry. Oh, dear Sam Henry. I liked him. He was Woods’ best friend and he was hilarious half the time. Their platonic friendship was nice.

Of course, then things had to get complicated. One look at the handsome Ty Green and Jordan Woods was gone. Started trying to wear tighter T-shirts to school and brushing out her hair (which she never did). And once she actually decided it was worth getting together with Ty (and sleeping with him in the first go), she finds out Henry’s feelings for her wasn’t altogether platonic after all.

Literally a day after she was with Ty, she starts moping for Henry Continue reading

Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman

I was here -gayle forman

Cody and Meg were inseparable.
Two peas in a pod.
Until . . . they weren’t anymore.

When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

I Was Here is Gayle Forman at her finest, a taut, emotional, and ultimately redemptive story about redefining the meaning of family and finding a way to move forward even in the face of unspeakable loss.


4 Drink Me Potions


I Was Here left me breathless and stunned with the simplicity of Cody’s journey. It left me wishing that there was more after the last pages faded from sight, although it did end on a good note.

Cody was left devastated after the sudden – and unforeseen – death of her best friend, Meg. Now, I haven’t personally been touched by a loved one who even made an attempt on their life, and I generally don’t read a lot of novels on suicides, but I Was Here resonated deeply with me. Meg was her best friend, her better half. To not have known something so huge happening in someone who played such an integral role in her life left her shattered.

 

“I recently lost someone. Someone so integral to me, it’s like a part of me is gone. And now I don’t know how to be anymore. If there’s even a me without her. It’s like she was my sun, and then my sun went out. Imagine if the real sun went out. Maybe there’d still be life on Earth, but would you still want to live here? Do I still want to live here?”

 

I may not personally understand that feeling, but Gayle Forman writes in a way that realistically draws you in. Even without having read the Author’s Note at the end, it was obvious that this novel was inspired by someone who might have actually gone through an experience like this. It was poignant and, well, real.

Cody was also a very interesting heroine. Right off the bat, you knew she wasn’t some scared, weak girl who wanted to cry. She was tough as nails. And maybe more than a little bit angry at herself and Meg for killing herself.

 

“Meg’s parents look blasted into heartbreak, the hollows under their eyes so deep, I don’t see how they’ll ever go away. And it’s for them I find my least stinky dress and put it on. I get ready to sing. Again.
Amazing Grace. How Vile the Sound.

 

But she also was fighting a lot of grief and guilt. She was the best friend. Shouldn’t she have known? Shouldn’t she have been the one telling Meg life wouldn’t be the same without her?

Enter Ben McCallister into this turmoil. He had history with Meg, one that Cody personally did not like. They had a rough start, but there was something drawing them together. Maybe it was this shared guilt for Meg’s decision. Whatever it was, this romance wasn’t some silly-nilly attraction. It was based on a shared understanding on how messed up their lives can get, the same need for someone to just listen and get it. Get them.

I loved how they interacted and the fact that they’re both imperfect. Ben’s not some great guy. He used girls, albeit regretful and a little ashamed afterwards. Cody’s…well, she’s just angry deep inside. Mostly at herself, but this causes her to lash out and distance others. Oh, and both have mouths like sailors.

But together? They lit a tiny spark. A spark that may just be hope for the future. And realizing that Meg’s death wasn’t their fault. They just had to learn to forgive themselves. After all, forgiveness is a miracle drug for the soul.

With this thought in mind, I Was Here was the perfect name for this novel. ‘Cause at the end of the day, what better message for anyone to leave behind than “I was here”?

Overall Recommendation:
Gayle Forman does it again with another sweeping tale of heartache, guilt and a personal journey in finding a way to forgive. Cody was an imperfect heroine who went in search of the reasons why her best friend would kill herself. Without telling her. Without even knowing it could happen. Although she hoped to find a way to give justice to her best friend, if not in life then in death, it leads her to finding herself, as well as a particular guy who may just understand exactly what she’s going through. I Was Here is a poignant story that dives deep into the psyche of someone considering to kill themselves, and how people closest to them would deal with the aftermath. I would definitely recommend you read this touching novel.

Review: Parallel by Lauren Miller

parallel -lauren millerYour plan changes. Your destiny doesn’t.

Abby Barnes had a plan. The Plan. She’d go to Northwestern, major in journalism, and land a job at a national newspaper, all before she turned twenty-two. But one tiny choice—taking a drama class her senior year of high school—changed all that. Now, on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, Abby is stuck on a Hollywood movie set, miles from where she wants to be, wishing she could rewind her life. The next morning, she’s in a dorm room at Yale, with no memory of how she got there. Overnight, it’s as if her past has been rewritten.

With the help of Caitlin, her science-savvy BFF, Abby discovers that this new reality is the result of a cosmic collision of parallel universes that has Abby living an alternate version of her life. And not only that: Abby’s life changes every time her parallel self makes a new choice. Meanwhile, her parallel is living out Abby’s senior year of high school and falling for someone Abby’s never even met.

As she struggles to navigate her ever-shifting existence, Abby must let go of the Plan and learn to focus on the present, without losing sight of who she is, the boy who might just be her soul mate, and the destiny that’s finally within reach.


4 Drink Me Potions


We are more real than real, said Abby to Josh, a guy whom she only met through her parallel self taking a different path than she did.

Alternate realities and parallel worlds can be so complex, but Lauren Miller did a fantastic job with this novel. Parallel is just indescribable, in the best way possible.

You ever wonder what it would have been like if you’d just done something differently? For Abby, the decision that set her on two different trajectories in life between her parallel worlds came down to this: taking drama or an astronomy class as her last-minute elective in her senior year.

Parallel alternates between Abby’s senior year, following her parallel self experiencing a different set of events after having to take astronomy class instead of drama, in which that path would have led her to becoming the Hollywood actress she remembered she was from her “real” life, and one year later where she finds herself in Yale. Now, if that doesn’t get complicated enough, every time her parallel self makes a different decision, it could cause HUGE rippling effects onto the reality that Abby is now living with as a student at Yale.

This novel explored how even the smallest decisions or events could have led to almost-lost friendships, or could-have-been moments with someone special. Not only that, but it looked into fate (we have a reason for living) and ultimately, what our destiny is even with the ever-changing realities.

I could gush forever, but Miller’s debut novel was absolutely fantastic. With Abby as an amazing protagonist trying to remain “independent” of her parallel self while dealing with a setting that could change at any moment, it made living the day to day all the more important. The conclusion of the novel was stunning, in the sense that it also covered the topic of soulmates. What if her parallel met someone who could love her in a way no one else can, but Abby in her other life chose differently and thus hadn’t met him? What then?

The answer was simple. Our path or trajectory in life may change based on our day-to-day decisions, but something destined in our lives will find its way. And that’s exactly what happened in Parallel. The ending was perfect. Sure, it was a little bittersweet, but it was still so romantic. Being able to find that someone for you even when it first came through as only memories from your parallel self, that speaks of a love that’s more real than real, with real suggesting it stays true even across realities.

At the end of the day, this novel handled everything amazingly. It was clever. Wildly imaginative and creative. I will end off with one of my favourite quotes from the book.

“Abigail Hannah Barnes,
You changed my life. A year ago today, when you walked into it. ‘Are you here by fate or choice?’ you asked me. I said choice. Now I know better.
-Josh”

Overall Recommendation:
Parallel was an absolute fantastic read. It explored so many philosophical elements, from our changing fate when making decisions in life to the ever-present destiny that we each are supposed to hold and possibly that one person (our soulmate) that lies somewhere in our world to find. It asked questions that made you really think. What if you had done something differently? Would your life have changed in ways you could never imagine? Could you miss out on meeting your soulmate if you made the wrong decision? All in all, this novel was deeply romantic and thoroughly explored elements we can all relate to. A definite page-turner & 100% recommended

Review: The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

the start of me and you -emery lordFollowing her pitch-perfect debut Open Road Summer, Emery Lord pens another gorgeous story of best friends, new love, & second chances.

Brimming with heartfelt relationships and authentic high-school dynamics The Start of Me and You proves that it’s never too late for second chances.

It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?


3 Drink Me Potions


“Knowing what happens isn’t the same as knowing how it happens. Getting there is the best part.”

Likewise, it wasn’t hard to predict how The Start of Me and You would turn out, but Paige’s journey in rediscovering herself, both returning to her old self before the accident as well as figuring out her new self, was a wonderful thing to witness. Paige had lost her boyfriend, Aaron, by a freak drowning incident after only a few months of dating. I was a little glad that this book didn’t focus on her sadness too much, as some books with similar freak accidents do. Instead, it focuses on her determination to get rid of That Look of pity from others and to learn to move on with her life without feeling guilty that she had this opportunity while Aaron hadn’t.

Thus, she makes a simple list of 5 things to accomplish for her junior year to help her move on from her standstill. For some reason, I really like books that make simplistic lists to follow as it gives the events of the story a structured feel. But accomplishing lists don’t always seem as easy as it is to just write it down. Throughout her school year, Paige finds in herself all these small moments that she could never have predicted she could have gotten. I thought she rather aptly named her list of goals as How to Begin Again, as it really was the first step that set the ball rolling for the rest. In fact, I liked it so much, I kind of wonder why How to Begin Again wasn’t the title. Ah well.

Besides the steady-paced journey to discovery for Paige, I loved her relationship with her 3 girlfriends. Their friendships were so real, as besties should be. Each brought something different to the table, they were uniquely themselves (come on, they each even had very specific music preferences), yet they could come together so easily in order to hold up each other when any of them needed it. Not many books write about friendships as well as Emery Lord does. I think my favourite way that Lord described this friendship was in this single sentence.

“Together, we made four walls, holding each other up even as the world around us shifted.”

It is absolutely the best way to imagine a close friendship, or rather, close friendships between 4 girls. Even when the world threw all these different problems at them, whether it be death or breakup or abandonment from parents, they held each other up. That’s the kind of inspiring relationship here that I’m starting to recognize as Emery Lord’s signature description of the best kinds of friendships.

And that leaves me to talk about the romance. It was, at the end of the day, realistic. Yes, it was kind of slow, especially since Paige was so consumed by the idea of Ryan. However, I loved Ryan as much as I loved Max. Just because one guy is popular while the other is a nerd doesn’t mean they can’t both be kind and selfless. In fact, the biggest difference I found between the cousins was just in their label: the Guy Everyone Wanted to Date and the nerd. So, just because there is the stereotypical label in place, their personalities aimed to be different. That was an admirable attempt, although it made the two boys harder for me to decide on which I liked more. Hence, the romance was a little lagging for the first half of the book.

The only other problem was Ryan’s rather unnecessary attempt to chase after one of Paige’s friends. Like, just because she moves on to realizing Max might be more meant for her, was it really necessary to make Ryan seem a little desperate to move onto someone else as well, given the bad breakup he had? Sure, this book is all about rediscovering yourself and possibly finding the involuntary pull of someone else. It just felt a little off to me, although I was kind of glad Lord didn’t tie it into such a neat bow that there was an explicit relationship mentioned. I guess it left it open for interpretation for anyone who would rather that he found his happiness too.

At the end of the day, The Start of Me and You was a very interesting story with its heartfelt relationships, both with friends and with Paige’s family, as it chronicled her year of attempting to begin again.
See? How to Begin Again would’ve made such a great title. Honestly.

Overall Recommendation:
Another beautiful story of the best kinds of friendships, heartbreak and the ability to redefine yourself afterwards, Emery Lord doesn’t disappoint. Albeit a bit slow in the romance department at first, the story excels in other areas as we follow Paige’s journey at learning to be herself again without the label of Girlfriend Whose Boyfriend Drowned. Loveable characters and universal ideals that can easily touch anyone’s heart, this proves that Emery Lord weaves gorgeous stories that inspire hope and friendships even in the darkest of days. I suggest you give this a try.

Review: The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

the fill-in boyfriend -kasie westWhen Gia Montgomery’s boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she has to think fast. After all, she’d been telling her friends about him for months now. This was supposed to be the night she proved he existed. So when she sees a cute guy waiting to pick up his sister, she enlists his help. The task is simple: be her fill-in boyfriend— two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. After that, she can win back the real Bradley.

The problem is that days after prom, it’s not the real Bradley she’s thinking about, but the stand-in. The one whose name she doesn’t even know. But tracking him down doesn’t mean they’re done faking a relationship. Gia owes him a favor and his sister intends to see that he collects: his ex-girlfriend’s graduation party — three hours, zero commitment, a few white lies.

Just when Gia begins to wonder if she could turn her fake boyfriend into a real one, Bradley comes waltzing back into her life, exposing her lie, and threatening to destroy her friendships and her new-found relationship.


4.5 Drink Me Potions


The synopsis makes this story sound like it’s some light, fluff piece, but it’s so much more than that. The Fill-In Boyfriend follows Gia Montgomery, a girl whose life seems as normal as it gets. Popular, president of student council, has some close girlfriends and a family that hasn’t been torn apart by divorce. Everything looks perfect on the outside. That all started to change with the fill-in boyfriend (aka FIB) who is rather insightful.

Breaking from Perfection
With the arrival of the lies starting at prom, Gia’s life starts to unravel into imperfection. I love how it explores the family dysfunction in a way that’s different from other stories. Sure, her parents and brother get along fine with each other, but maybe, that’s the problem. When things don’t get resolved in order to maintain peace and have the appearance of perfection, you start to hide emotions deep inside and only work with surface emotions in every relationship. Who knew that not getting punished enough for something could cause just as many problems in a family? It also prevented Gia from being able to talk to her parents when her life was falling apart. Too emotional, right? And that would require admitting that something in her life wasn’t working just perfectly.

Outgrowing friendships
There was just so much emotion in Gia’s story. With a frenemy that was out to get her, it was awesome to have someone to hate. Sometimes, I find stories like to give redemption to those that may initially seem awful. Not this one. I absolutely can’t stand her friend who is so hell-bent on destroying Gia’s close friendships. And all for a reason that is rather lame. Although the story concludes without the neatly wrapped up ending, I was a little sad that there wasn’t as much closure with her friends. There was hope, but I guess the message is that sometimes, you outgrow even lifelong friends who may become different people as the years go by.

Finding out who you are
Besides family and friends, this story touches so much on Gia’s journey into opening up to people and finding out who she wanted to be. I love character development and this story focused so much on this gradual change that was working its way through her. By the end of it, she had grown so much that it literally brought tears to my eyes. My favourite advice was something the fill-in boyfriend’s mother had told Gia when her world started to fall apart. She was asking about how to truly gain life lessons and find herself when nothing terrible has happened to her. This is the wisest thing I’ve heard yet to answer such a question.

“We rarely find depth by looking inside of ourselves for it. Depth is found in what we can learn from the people and things around us. Everyone, everything, has a story. When you learn those stories, you learn experiences that fill you up, that expand your understanding. You add layers to your soul.”

Love, of course
Speaking of tears, The Fill-In Boyfriend definitely had a lot of romantic chemistry going on there. He brought so much insight into Gia’s life, that even though they were only going to spend just two nights together, it was hard to get him out of her life and mind. I’m so glad that there was this simmering attraction between them that was so tangible, I almost felt like I could reach out and touch it. It wasn’t only the attraction that was enjoyable, but also their witty banter that was hilarious to read. The path to romance doesn’t always have to have constant staring and romantic lines, but it may very well lie in a deep-rooted friendship. The ups and downs to their relationship was beautifully written. Falling for someone for real while pretending to only be each others’ dates definitely complicates things.

Although Kasie West’s On the Fence wasn’t as huge of a favourite with me, The Fill-In Boyfriend has quickly shown me that this author has so much to offer in YA literature. This is a beautiful story of finding who you are in the imperfections while falling for the very person who challenges all those cracks in your life and learning to let go of emotions. A definite must-read.

Overall Recommendation:
The Fill-In Boyfriend is so much more than its synopsis limits it to be. It’s a remarkably well-written story about finding love in the unexpected, seeing the beauty in life’s imperfections and staying strong when your world starts to crumble from the lies in your past catching up to you. This is Gia’s journey in finding herself, and all I can say is that it’s heart-warming and almost brought me to tears as it is so relateable in so many ways. I highly recommend this book to anyone to read. It’s way more than just fluff.

Review: Catalyst by Lydia Kang

Series: Control #2

catalyst -lydia kangFor fans of Uglies and The Maze Runner comes a complex, thrill-filled love story that will make you question exactly what it means to be human

In the past year Zel lost her father, the boy she loves, her safety, and any future she might have imagined for herself. Now she, her sister, and the band of genetic outcasts they’ve come to call their family are forced on the run when their safe house is attacked by men with neural guns. But on the way to a rumored haven in Chicago, Zel hears something–a whisper from Cy, the boy who traded himself for her sister’s safety. And when she veers off plan in order to search for him, what she finds is not what she expected. There’s more to their genetic mutations than they ever imagined…aspects that make them wonder if they might be accepted by the outside world after all.


2.5 Drink Me Potions


I was quite a bit disappointed with Catalyst. I loved Control so much that it physically hurt to see my expectations fall by such a wide margin.

To be fair, Lydia Kang is still just as amazing with her integration of science in her writing. I loved how Zel’s mind works, and in this next and final installment, many obstacles are thrown in her path which really developed her into a better character and person. From having to act as fugitives in their country to fighting off a new Aureus-like House, it wasn’t like there wasn’t anything happening with Zel and her friends.

The disappointment first stems off with Cy. After that conclusion in Control, let me just say that I totally hadn’t expected so much distance with him. Oh, and with another girl too thrown into the picture. Don’t worry, it’s not what you think (not a love triangle), but there’s definitely a wedge in their relationship after the year long separation and Cy seems fond of this girl. Yeah, he eventually lets Zel in after realizing he couldn’t “protect her from worrying about him”. I would just like to tell him that he’s an idiot and should’ve realized that Zel would worry twice as much from the added distance. Boys. They can be so naive.

And yes, there’s things to worry as Cy is displaying Ana-like traits. Freaky! Or not, ’cause it’s cool to receive air kisses and hear his voice in your head, whispering sweet nothings (or poetry). Unfortunately, it’s not as romantic as it sounds as the story never really goes into depth on their relationship, just somehow sliding back into place over time. I swear, it never even explains what happened that brought Cy and…the girl so close. Granted, I skimmed through a lot of this book (I was too saddened by my expectations slowly crumbling to read as slow as normal) so there may have been a few things I missed, but Catalyst is definitely not heavy in the romance department, unlike Control.

I will say that I loved the usual family dynamics with the rest of the Carus House members, and even seeing some redemption in former Aureus members. This story may not be considered a romance, but at least it stayed true to other themes like character development and learning to survive in a world that deems you illegal.

The ending was solid, in my opinion. Whatever problems I had with Catalyst, I think Kang did a wonderful job in choosing her conclusion. It was realistic and not some magical happy ending (it’s not sad, either, so don’t worry), but it held promises left up to the imagination of what may happen next to our favourite group of genetically manipulated friends. Not everything is answered. In fact, maybe there were more questions that popped up, but as Zelia even mentioned in the epilogue, some things may never been understood but you can choose to be happy or remain disatisfied with the unknown.

I love Lydia Kang’s writing and the science. So maybe this was just my own disappointment leaking into a biased view. Either way, Catalyst was unexpectedly surprising and still worth at least a primary read.

Overall Recommendation:
Control was by far my favourite sci-fi book that actually integrated accurate modern science into it. So with such high expectations come a downfall with Catalyst. Not so much a romance as Cy and Zel’s reunion was definitely NOT quite a happy one, the story still presented with action as the Carus House members are separated and chased by the society they live in. Zelia really grows in this story, finding in herself to take charge while all the same, remaining compassionate and forgiving to people even I would reconsider forgiving (and I like to think that I’m a rather nice person…). With that being said, don’t take my low rating as “it’s terrible”. It just wasn’t for me, but it may be a decent read for you.