Tag Archive | thought provoking

Review: A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

a mad, wicked folly -sharon biggs wallerWelcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.

After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?


 

4.5 Drink Me Potions


A Mad, Wicked Folly has been on my to-read list for a long while, but I kept putting it off for who knows what reasons. So to my utter surprise, I realize I had set aside this long a book that spoke volumes to me. The historical YA genre has started picking up with better books lately, so if you like a dose of history (with clear evidence of research into the time period) along with a strong protagonist fighting for a cause, this is the book for you.

Set in the early 1900s, the women suffragist movement was picking up in both America and England. I always love a good novel set in London, and this Edwardian era novel is no exception. The times are changing and women are fighting for more freedom and equal opportunities as men. More education, getting their own wages and doing something more substantial than just hosting the next dinner party for their husbands. I never considered myself a huge feminist and just briefly studied the history of women’s rights. But this book really opened my eyes to the very realistic struggle that such women went through in order to make a better life for their daughters, their nieces and any woman who was radical enough to want something more for themselves for a change.

Vicky Darling was no exception as such a protagonist. She yearns to go to art school, to exhibit her work in galleries and get paid for it. She dreams more for herself than just being a docile wife to a man who thinks she has no brain or useful purpose beyond being an arm candy.

I loved Vicky. She was already bold for a girl in her social circle. Being an upper middle class young woman meant more pressures into being the traditional kind of lady. Marrying for title and for money. It was harder to break out of the mold. But she posed nude. For the sake of art! I’m not sure even I would be bold enough to do such a thing now, 100+ years after.

Not only was she courageous enough to do such a thing, she faced the resulting consequences with her head held high. She grew immensely through the events of the book. Sharon Biggs Waller did a great job of documenting the events of Vicky’s life after that single moment. Vicky initially didn’t align herself with the suffragettes but the focus of this book is mostly on their fight for equality.

Now, normally, I would think such a premise would make it kinda boring, right? And of course, there’s tons more to this story beyond the historical accuracies of the women rights movement for voting. However, this surprisingly (and I’m glad for it) took my breath away, at the emotion of the fight. It might connect more if you are also a woman, to understand that real women fought such things so that we could do things we take for granted now.

If that doesn’t satisfy you enough to want to pick up the book, A Mad, Wicked Folly also revolves around a love triangle of sorts. You know I abhor those, but this was more of a complicated situation. On one hand, Vicky needed to get out of her father’s control, and marriage to a suitable husband could provide that. Even if she didn’t love him.

On the other hand, you’ve got Police Constable William Fletcher. Ah, Will.

The blooming romance with him was amazing. And it mainly stems from how great (and hot) of a model he makes for Vicky’s drawings. Here is where the other great aspect of the book comes in. Wait for it? Is it the romance? Sure, it played a decent role in the plot and was very enjoyable, but what blew my mind? The art.

I don’t confess to know much about art, or have the greatest passion for it. I’m more of a writer, if this doesn’t already surprise you. But the details that went into describing Vicky’s work and seeing her world through an artist’s eye made it all the more breathtaking.

I think there’s a bit of everything all wrapped up in a beautiful novel set in Edwardian London. Don’t make the mistake I did to wait so long to read it. Sharon Biggs Waller writes in a manner that draws you into the time period and into the emotions of our protagonist and those surrounding her.

Overall Recommendation:
A Mad, Wicked Folly is another example of how amazing well-researched historical YA books can be. Vicky Darling is an artist, or at least she hopes to be if she could ever get the chance to learn more. But in Edwardian London, women aren’t allowed the same opportunities. Set in the time period of the women’s rights movement, it gives a wonderful picture of how hard real-life women in the past fought for things we may take advantage of now. Vicky’s journey and self-growth as she learns what it takes, what sacrifices she may need to make, in order to pursue her dream as a young woman in the early 20th century. Add a sweet romance with her model, I’m sure this book has something to draw just about anyone in. Who ever said history couldn’t be fun to read about?

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: Matched by Ally Condie

Series: Matched #1

matched -ally condieCassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate… until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.


3 Drink Me Potions


In a world where it’s just plainly called The Society, things are strictly governed by people dubbed the Officials. Everyone carries 3 tablets at all times (green, blue and red), with the red one having an unknown purpose. People are reared for the most optimal health, even Matching couples to generate the best genes. The citizens are told they have choices. They can choose if they want to be Matched or if they’d rather remain Single with no children.

But in reality? Everything is governed by others. Even when and how you die.

This is the setting for Matched. It is a very intriguing world that sounds like it could happen down the road if people really thought that living long and amazing lives could only be dealt in this way. Enter our protagonist Cassia. She was so obedient and never wondered if there could be something more to life than the simple one they all lived out. Never dreamed of creating things of her own, just following along with what she was told to do.

I liked that she grew more restless of the course of the story. I really enjoyed the way her grandfather prompted her down this road of “not going gentle into the night”, to fight for herself and for others. It was a good premise – I just didn’t love the way Ally Condie went about writing it.

The pacing was a little too slow for me. I get that writing a dystopian novel requires time to get the readers acclimatized to the rules and general ideas of the world through world building. But, at the end of it, I still don’t know all too much about The Society besides that there are different ranking Officials and each are segregated into different departments specializing in various fields. That way, no one person would know how to do anything all the way through on their own. And other than their Matching program, most of the society seems to somewhat operate similarly to the present life. So you can see that I’m NOT impressed by the world building.

The plot centred too much on Cassia’s gradual awareness of The Society not always being right. It wasn’t exciting enough. Oh, and of course, her piqued interest in Ky after seeing his face pop up accidentally after Xander’s.

The “love triangle” didn’t interest me all that much either. I think it’s ’cause there really wasn’t much passion going on between them. The Society forbade any of the teens to really pursue childish crushes ’cause at the end of the day, the probability of being Matched to someone in the same town you live in is virtually impossible. So there was definitely friendship love going for them, but it was harder for me to see that she truly loved either boy in that manner. And frankly, both guys are really good people, so for once, I wouldn’t care who the author chose to put Cassia with.

Which, I guess, is a bad sign in itself because I’m ALWAYS worked up about a love triangle. Meh.

You can say that I’m feeling rather indifferent right now about Matched. I will read on with the sequels to see what happens, but I’m mainly interested in the demise of The Society now that rebellion may be stirring in some people’s hearts.

Overall Recommendation:
With a very promising and intriguing future world, The Society rules by compromising all choices that the citizens can make. Enter Cassia. She was initially a very boring and obedient girl who just followed along with what she was told to. Gradually, with prompting from her Grandfather, her character started questioning what exactly it meant to have a choice and whether it was worth ruining their way of life. Set at a rather slower pace than I would’ve liked, the first installment in this trilogy has left me feeling hugely indifferent about the potential love triangle as there really wasn’t much passion in them in that way. Here’s to hoping that it could only get better from here as the foundation has been set. Fingers crossed!

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: Free to Fall by Lauren Miller

free to fall -lauren millerWhat if there was an app that told you what song to listen to, what coffee to order, who to date, even what to do with your life—an app that could ensure your complete and utter happiness?

What if you never had to fail or make a wrong choice?

What if you never had to fall?

Fast-forward to a time when Apple and Google have been replaced by Gnosis, a monolith corporation that has developed the most life-changing technology to ever hit the market: Lux, an app that flawlessly optimizes decision making for the best personal results.

Just like everyone else, sixteen-year-old Rory Vaughn knows the key to a happy, healthy life is following what Lux recommends. When she’s accepted to the elite boarding school Theden Academy, her future happiness seems all the more assured. But once on campus, something feels wrong beneath the polished surface of her prestigious dream school.

Then she meets North, a handsome townie who doesn’t use Lux, and begins to fall for him and his outsider way of life. Soon, Rory is going against Lux’s recommendations, listening instead to the inner voice that everyone has been taught to ignore — a choice that leads her to uncover a truth neither she nor the world ever saw coming.


4.5 Drink Me Potions


Free to Fall has one of those plots that are commonly found in sci-fi/dystopian novels. Protagonist lives in a world that is (very) different from present day. The system that governs their every day is corrupt in some way, and the protagonist has to find a way to fix this in order to save society. This book has that theme running through it. However, unlike anything I have ever come across before, Lauren Miller added many thought-provoking themes within this central plotline.

In this society in the year 2030, set not too far off from our day in age, an app guides people’s decisions in everything they do. From small things like what to eat; what to wear; when to leave the house, and all the way to big decisions like applying for which schools to attend, the app Lux collects the data on each individual and provides the “best” opportunities for them. People no longer listen to their own little voice in their head that occasionally tell them to do irrational things that are sometimes against all reason. What do they call it instead? A psychological disorder called The Doubt.

The Doubt is a very unique aspect of this book. This concept is a pretty real one. Some people call it intuition, others call it the voice of God or even yet, a conscience or moral compass. Throughout the story, Milton’s Paradise Lost was referenced. Yes, religious undertones were definitely heavily weaved into the core of the story, but I think no matter what personal religious backgrounds you may have or not, this is the kind of book that really makes you think. In present day, how often do we go about and allow media and internet stories guide our every day decisions? It may not be as drastic as following an app, but the idea isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility.

From the synopsis of the novel, it could have gone in so many directions, but I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong in all my expectations coming into this. With secret societies, a prestigious school as the setting, a Mohawk-tatted love interest, and a school course that conducts real-life simulation scenarios that make me wonder whether or not I would have gone for a reasonable or irrational response, following Rory in Free to Fall left me thinking in ways not many books have ever done. It is definitely a very powerful read.

Overall Recommendation:
This was a deep and thought-provoking novel about our freedom to choose for ourselves. One can choose themselves and self-gratification (and hence, choose for their eventual fall), or they can make the decision to be self-sacrificing and listen to that inner voice in their head. With intense scenarios essentially allowing you to play God, Free to Fall leaves behind questions about ourselves and how we make our every day choices. This is nothing like anything else out there. Romance, secret societies, hacking and the next-level iPhone-like technology, I guarantee that this book would surprise you in ways you may not be able to predict.