Tag Archive | friendship

Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

before i fall -lauren oliverWith this stunning debut novel, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver emerged as one of today’s foremost authors of young adult fiction. Like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why and Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, Before I Fall raises thought-provoking questions about love, death, and how one person’s life can affect so many others.

For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—”Cupid Day”—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.

However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


Before I Fall definitely has that extra something that propelled it into fame when it was first published, where at the heart of it is a girl who learns more about herself and others in death than maybe she ever did in life.

I will be honest with you. I had many chances over the years to read Lauren Oliver’s debut but there was something that always made me hesitant to pick it up. In lieu of the movie that was released not too long ago, I thought it was finally time to do it.

And frankly? I wasn’t disappointed. But at the same time, it was exactly what I thought it would be like and why I was always hesitant in reading it.

Sam Kingston is no nice girl. Not like Mean Girls where the protagonist just kinda fell into the machinations of the popular group but she thrived in this setting for so long. The way she acted towards those she deemed not part of her group, she didn’t think twice about laughing it up with her besties. Now, those girls were all sorts of messed up too. Lindsay’s your typical alpha, although the others seemed to have more say than other stereotypical cliques. Ally isn’t particularly bright but rich, and Elody just seems desperate with the boys. The book is broken down into 7 parts aka 7 repeats of Sam’s last day. The first day was dreadfully long, although I understood the necessity of setting the foundation of what the original day was like.

If the slow pacing wasn’t a killer to get through in the beginning, Sam’s attitude was just a huge turn-off. From wanting to just get it over with, she submits to her unworthy boyfriend Rob to lose her V card that night, to being completely rotten to sophomores and her childhood friend Kent who just wasn’t cool enough for her now. Honestly, I wanted to tell Sam to cut it out half the time.

As the story progresses, I will say that Sam’s character development does slowly change, and at a proper pace. She doesn’t miraculously decide to become an angel after the first time she re-woke on Valentine’s day again. It took looking at these different “days” from different perspectives to start to grasp just how little she really saw of her world. Her classmates’ lives weren’t as simple as she thought they were, or how absent she’d become in her own family. I really enjoyed that part.

It’s a good story when you start feeling for your characters. Even the horrid ones. Although Sam’s group of friends don’t technically change from each rewind, you still see beyond the stereotypical mean girl persona they put up. Each one has their own story and struggles that they hide behind their popular status at school. Everyone had their own fears. And at the heart of it all, Sam was trying to figure out how to move on (or was this how the afterlife should be?).

I will say the friendships and Sam’s strong narrative held the story. Each day and rewind got better. She became braver and less selfish (slightly). She started understanding what her actions led to, and how things should’ve been while she was alive. Even though it took a while, I couldn’t hate Sam even at the start. She wasn’t nice and she wasn’t someone I connected with at first, but I understood she was human and she had her own insecurities, though I’m not condoning how she put down others to lift herself up. I even understood why Sam couldn’t hate her friends after seeing what their summed up actions could lead to in others’ lives. That’s a marker of a true story that resonates with the audience. When you can’t even hate these two-dimensional fictional characters because they’re real enough to you, and you get that people make mistakes, albeit some worse than others.

The romance, if you can even quite call it that, was bittersweet. It’s a part of why I dreaded reading this novel. She finally got to the point where you know that she’s a better person ’cause of the days and moments that passed, but no one remembers it but her after each rewind. Her sweet moments with Kent were erased each time, and of course, she couldn’t stay like this forever. She couldn’t spend more time with her family, or truly find a love that would last. Her moments were now limited to just the one day, repeatedly. And hopefully, that wouldn’t be the sum of her afterlife.

Everything wraps up the way you would think it would/should. It’s as bittersweet as I predicted, but at the end of the day, I can see why it got so popular and won awards, even optioned for a movie. The beauty lay in Sam’s transformation and the everyday lessons she learned along the way. And at the heart of it, it was about friendship and family, and not knowing when that last day will be.

Overall Recommendation:
Before I Fall is everything as I imagined it would be ever since it first came out. Poignant and bittersweet, it follows Sam’s story as she navigates the last day of her life over and over again, picking up on the consequences of her actions and how things didn’t have to be the way it was if only she had made different choices and saw things differently. With a romance that doesn’t take away from the main story, ultimately we get to follow Sam’s journey as she tackles final moments with friends and family in order to move on. It’s a story that transverses the contemporary YA boundary and should resonate in some way with readers.

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.