We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

I don’t always like reading novels that are sad or deal with grief, but the beautiful cover and the softness of the writing style really had me interested so I decided to give it a shot. Here is my review:

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about what happened, why she abandoned everyone and everything.  Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from California, at college in New York, Marin struggles to pull away from her tragic past. Now, months later, Marin is alone in her empty dorm. She is waiting for Mabel to come and visit. With this visit, Marin will have to face everything left unsaid and confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

This novel was beautifully written but it was excruciatingly slow. Now, I understand that this a story about loss and grief and running away from things you don’t want to face. That’s all great. But literally nothing happens in the novel. Nothing. There are millions of inconsequential details mentioned that just bog down an already slow story. There is a softness to everything that, while beautiful, stops the story from actually having any impact. Marin’s character was also not my favorite. I don’t always need a super hyper female character to be the lead but she vacillated between having no real voice to showing teen angst. When the reason behind her avoidance was revealed, I was surprised… but not in a good way. I felt like I was missing something major. She had all of this loneliness, all of these feelings of betrayal… over this? I thought it would be something a lot more upsetting considering the extent of Marin’s behaviour. Maybe that was just me. Overall, I think this was a very beautifully written but boring novel, with nothing really that poignant about it. I’m giving this a 1.5/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

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The Party By Robyn Harding

This novel has been on all the trending reading lists. I really wanted to know what the hype was about. There’s been a trend in stories that talk about parties going wrong, but this one seemed unique in that it was not just told from the perspectives of adults but also from teens. Here is my review:

Sweet sixteen: it’s an exciting coming of age. To celebrate this milestone, Jeff and Kim Sanders plan on throwing a party for their daughter, Hannah, a sweet girl with good grades and nice friends. Instead of an extravagant affair, they invite 4 girls over for pizza, cake, movies, and a sleepover. But things go horrifically wrong. After a tragic accident occurs, Jeff and Kim’s flawless life in a wealthy San Francisco suburb suddenly begins to come apart. In the ugly aftermath, friends become enemies, dark secrets are revealed in the Sanders’ marriage, and the truth about their perfect daughter, Hannah, is exposed.

This novel was confusing in that it wasn’t sure what it was meant to be. In the beginning, I thought this story would pan out into a thriller, with increasing tension and a grand reveal. It started off giving every indication that that was exactly what would happen. And then it suddenly became a drama. Now, we are reading from the perspectives of adults and how this situation has changed their views on their children, and how they now question their parenting. It becomes a story about culpability, and guilt, and revenge. When the teen perspectives are shown, it’s all about bullying, guilt, and self-esteem and identity. And this is fine. There is nothing wrong with any of these themes. But it just came off a bit cheesy and overdone. It didn’t help that the adults were all extremely selfish and annoying. Just when I got used to all of this melodrama, the story begins to show hints of this big reveal. Once again, I’m feeling confused as to what I’m reading. In the end, the reveal really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary; it’s something that was easy to suspect, and may not even have been necessary. There were also a specific detail that the author mentioned (I will refer to it as the introduction of a psychopath) that really bothered me; it didn’t have to happen and was just there to add more drama to an already cringe-worthy situation. Overall, this novel was just confusing: it didn’t know if it wanted to be a thriller or a soap opera. It might have been better as the latter, since I felt that the grief and emotional aspects of the story were not too shabby. I’m giving this a 2.5/5 stars, but I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone looking for a good read; for me, this was just okay.

Happy reading ~

A Good Idea by Cristina Moracho

I’ve read many adult thrillers but not too many that are in the realm of teen fiction. I thought it would be interesting to see how the author takes this genre and makes it appropriate for this age group. Here is my review:

Fin and Betty have been best friends for longer than they can remember. Even when Fin moved to Manhattan, they continued to maintain their friendship, through phone calls, letters, and summer visits. They even planned to apply to NYU and become roommates. But then, Betty disappears. Her ex-boyfriend Calder admits to drowning her, but his confession is thrown out. The town believes that Calder was coerced into giving the confession, and Betty has simply run away. But Fin knows the truth: Betty is dead. She returns to Williston for one final summer, determined to get justice for her friend, no matter the cost. But Williston is a town full of secrets, and Fin is not the only one with an agenda.

This book was not a good idea. I know that this novel was created for a teen audience but I still had high expectations regarding the quality of the story. And this novel didn’t match my expectations. The story starts off interestingly enough, with Fin attending Betty’s graduation – sans Betty, of course, since she’s dead – and there is a commotion when a female student expresses outrage that no one makes mention of Betty. Through Fin, we are introduced to a whole host of characters, each more ridiculous and convoluted than the next. I didn’t like a single character in this entire novel. They were unrealistic and their motives were so obtuse that it just didn’t work for me. I felt that, for the level of seriousness of the case this novel was presenting, the behaviours of the characters were very juvenile. I also didn’t think there was much happening plot-wise; it was mostly Fin stirring up drama and accomplishing nothing, and then the ending rushed up to the forefront. It really wasn’t a satisfying conclusion because it made no sense. I wish I could talk about this in more detail, but I don’t want to ruin the story for those still interested in reading this novel. Overall, I found this to be an ill-conceived, and not well-executed story that was more about teen angst than anything else. It was quite boring and had an ending that defied common sense. Other reviewers mentioned that this story is based on an actual case; I cannot speak on that since I don’t know of any crime cases similar to the one in those story, and the author also did not make mention of anything. However, based on my experience with this novel, I’m giving it a 1/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One of the first classics I ever ready was Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I loved it so much that I read a bunch of her other novels. While I may not have loved all of them, I have fond memories of curling up with an Austen book. The title of the novel caught my attention and the premise held it. So here is my review:

Mary Davies enjoys her job as an engineer. It doesn’t hurt that there is an adorable and intelligent consultant working alongside her. But things aren’t perfect. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel, offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways. But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.

This book is not like your typical Austen-style book. It doesn’t try to be a modern version of any Austen classic; instead, it takes the Austen characters and analyzes them through the pretense of an Austen-themed costume weeklong getaway. I loved the concept behind it: strangers sign up to live in a manor that is set up in the Regency era, and each person chooses a character from Jane Austen’s novels and pretends to be them for the duration of their stay. It’s the kind of adventure I would want to do! I really loved Mary’s character; she was one of the most realistic characters I have ever read about. The thoughts and feelings she has are ones I could relate to, and her actions make a lot of sense. She isn’t overly dramatic and doesn’t live in her own fantasy world; she is a quiet character who has her unique strengths and weaknesses. Mary was the kind of character I could envision as my friend because she was just so real! I also loved all of the other cast members of this novel, and how each played their part in telling this story. I thought that Isabel’s memory loss could have been done better (it was a little wishywashy in its appearance and disappearance and just didn’t have as strong of an explanation as I would have liked) but this did not detract from the novel’s story. The romance was done very nicely in this novel; again, it was not too dramatic and the misconceptions that occurred here were ones that I could see happening in the real world. I guess what I loved about this book so much was that it was so realistic and plausible that I could easily fall into the story and believe in it. All in all, I had a great time reading this book and would give it a solid 4/5 stars!

Happy reading ~

These Violent Delights by Victoria Namkung

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Abuse of any kind has been a topic that a lot of authors are writing about. It is a very sensitive topic that needs to be taken seriously and handled carefully. There have been many times when authors try to portray some scenario of abuse but end up over-dramatizing it to the point where it is no longer taken seriously. I really did not want that happening here, and I am happy to say that it didn’t. Here is my review:

Windemere School for Girls is an elite private school in America that boasts of its ability to nurture the young minds of its female charges. The school has various teachers, including Dr. Gregory Copeland, the chair of the English Department and everyone’s favorite teacher. Although he is married, he has its own agenda, namely teenage girls who are under his care. For years, he has been targeting girls – until a former student goes public with allegations of inappropriate conduct. With the help of an investigative journalist, and 2 other Windemere alumnae who were Copeland’s students, these women unite to take him down.

I had recently read a book that dealt with domestic abuse and had not been too happy with the way the author had handled that subject matter. This author did not have that same problem. I felt that the issue of sexual abuse and abuse of power by authority figures was handled delicately and maturely. The story revolved around a former student who was interning at a newspaper and decided to share her incident through the news. This later led an investigative journalist, who was this student’s mentor, to help track down other women who had faced similar issues with this same teacher. The author really showed what investigative journalism is like. I also liked that the author did not shy away from difficult aspects of abuse. The story was also very real about the physical and mental damage that comes with abuse, as well as the negativity that comes when people accuse someone of perpetrating the abuse. It was very insightful. I will say that I don’t think this was really a story. From the way it was written to the actual events that were happening in the story, it felt more like a nonfiction book, which may throw off some readers. Either way, kudos to the author for doing a good job in chronicling sexual abuse in schools. I’m giving this a solid 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Burning Girl by Claire Messud

This book has been making its rounds in the reading circles, and I’ve been seeing it on every shelf in bookstores and in libraries. It’s been in high demand, and I just really wanted to give it a chance, to see what it was all about. Now that I’ve read it … well … here is my review:

Julia and Cassie have been friends since they were little. They have been a part of each other’s lives and shared every experience together. They’ve talked about their secret desires, including leaving their stifling town Royston. But as the two girls begin their journey into adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put her life in danger.

Initially, I thought the story would be told from alternating perspectives. But no. It is told from Julia’s perspective only. This really bothered me because the story is really about Cassie. It’s about how Cassie’s life changes as the girls enter grade 7. Julia is really just an onlooker who only receives information about Cassie after the fact. I would much rather have read this story from Cassie’s perspective and seen her struggles through her eyes. I thought this would be a short read but it ended up dragging on for ages. Every time I thought that something important was going to happen, it didn’t. I kept reading and reading, waiting for that closure, for that monumental moment in the novel … but I got nothing. At the end, I wondered what was the point of this novel. Nothing really happens and we don’t even get the true story from the main character! Yes, it is a story that shows how friendships evolve, change, and break apart through various forces but it was nothing new, nothing that blew me away. To be brutally honest, it just felt like a waste of my time. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to give this a 1/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I resisted for a long time before reading this novel. Why? Because it was getting super popular and it was getting televised, and I thought it was just all hype. It’s happened so many times where people get really excited about a book and then I read it with high expectations and get let down. Also, the story seemed to be a little on the fluff side, if you know what I mean, and I generally stay away from that. But I decided to get out of that mindset and give this novel a shot. I’m so glad I did.

When Madeline gets involved in something, she is a force to be reckoned with. She’s passionate and funny, and holds onto grudges. However, Madeline’s ex-husband and his hippie new wife have moved into Madeline’s beloved community – and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest. And to make matters worse, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. How will she cope with all of this?!

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. She’s always flustered and in a dreamlike state … but who wouldn’t be with such active twin boys? Now that the boys are in school, Celeste and her husband seem to be the perfect fit as king and queen of the school parent body. However, royalty comes with a price, and Celeste doesn’t know if she can pay up.

Jane is a single mom who has just moved to this town. Sad beyond her years, she is harboring secret doubts about her son… but why? As Madeline and Celeste take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

After reading this novel, I cursed myself for waiting so long. It is such an amazing novel and I honestly don’t know where to start with this review.

First of all, I love the moms. They are so unique and amazing. They are funny, and have deep emotions and I was able to connect and understand each of them as they go through their individual struggles. I never felt like I liked one main character over the other; all 3 were equally important to me. I also loved the way they interacted with the other mothers and with their own children; it was such a realistic portrayal of how misunderstandings can bloom into full-out hatred. And both the creation and breakdown of relationships was described beautifully.

This novel was also beautifully written. I loved how there were moments in each chapter that read like a transcript from an interview. It kept me guessing as to what they were hinting at, and it also served to spice up the traditional writing style. I loved that the author spoke from multiple perspectives and managed to keep each one separate. There were perfect bursts of comedic relief thrown in during intense moments; this has got to be one of the only books that can intersperse humor in between serious scenes. And yet, the author still managed to highlight the importance of these issues; in no way did the humor take away from the seriousness of the situation at hand. I loved it.

Overall, this was just a fantastic novel. The characters were great, the plot was great, the relationships and interactions between characters was beautifully written, the pacing was on point, and the writing style itself was golden. I cannot recommend this book enough because I guarantee it will take your preconceived notions and make you chuck them out the window! If you have been a fool like me and not read this novel, go read it now! If you haven’t already guessed, I’m giving this a 5/5 stars!

Happy reading ~

The Space Between Words by Michele Phoenix

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve never read Christian fiction. It’s not like I go out of my way to avoid it but I generally try to stay away from any books that focus on any religion. However, I thought this novel had an intriguing premise and I wanted to give this genre a chance. So here is my review:

When Jessica regains consciousness in a French hospital on the day after the Paris attacks, all she wants to do is run away. But her best friend Patrick urges her to reconsider her decision. Reluctantly, she agrees to continue with the trip they had planned before the tragedy. During a stop at a county flea market, Jessica discovers an antique sewing kit that contains a faded document. As new friends help her to translate the archaic French in the papers, they uncover the story of Adeline Baillard, a young woman who had been condemned for practicing her faith centuries ago. Adeline and her community had been decimated by the Huguenot persecution. But the documents showed that there were those who had managed to escape the brutality, including Adeline’s siblings. Determined to learn the fate of the Baillard’s, Jessica retraces their journey from France to England, spurred by a need she doesn’t understand. Could this stranger who lived three hundred years before hold the key to Jessica’s survival?

I was quite surprised to find that I really enjoyed this novel. It definitely went beyond my expectations and I loved that the author had a historical aspect for this story. I really knew nothing about the Huguenots until this novel, so that was a huge revelation for me. It is always a sad thing to hear about people being persecuted for their beliefs, and the fact that this still happens to this day is just terrible. I liked how Jessica goes on this journey to understand the Baillard’s continual belief in their faith, while also figuring out what happened to them. Jessica became invested in finding out their truth, and so I as the reader became invested in it, too. I always love reading about documents that start a journey, and this one was no exception! In fact, I think the author did a great job of making the journey progress the way that it did. As expected from a novel in this genre, there is a focus on faith and religion, but it is really quite mild and it is presented in a way where people of all different religions can enjoy and appreciate the message. I will admit that I was more intrigued by the historical aspect than what Jessica was going through, but the author did a good job of showing how PTSD can traumatize a person and shake their identity. Overall, this was a really solid novel, with good writing and a good journey!

Happy reading ~

The Lives of Desperate Girls by Mackenzie Commons

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was intrigued by both the premise and the location of this novel. I really like novels where teens are dealing with something difficult and take it upon themselves to find out what’s really going on. I also wanted to see how the author portrays Northern Ontario; as a Torontonian who has never really gone up north, I was excited to read about what life is like there. Anyways, here is my review:

When 16-year-old Helen Commanda is found murdered just outside Thunder Creek, no one pays any attention to it. All her death does is shed light on the earlier disappearance of Chloe Shaughnessy. Chloe is everything Helen isn’t: beautiful, wealthy, and white. The fact that Helen was from the reservation only seems to make it easier for people to dismiss her. Only Jenny Parker, Chloe’s best friend, seems to think it is important to look into Helen’s death, and so she takes it upon herself to look for answers about Helen’s life and death. But what can a teenage girl really accomplish where adults have failed? And how much is Jenny actually complicit in a conspiracy of silence?

I have mixed feelings about this novel because there are a few things that the author does that I like but an equal amount of things that I don’t like. I really liked that the author highlighted the problems of the First Nations people of Canada. Not many people are aware of their struggles and the things they have endured – and continue to endure – are heartbreaking. And the author really does do justice to them: she tells it like it is. I only wish it had been told from the perspective of an actual Native and not just from that of a white teenage girl. While Jenny is definitely trying to understand and be aware of the oppression and racism that the Aboriginal people face, I don’t think she is necessarily the best spokesperson for it since she really isn’t a part of their community or culture. I wish there had been more emphasis on the way life is on the reserves and the traditions that the First Nations value, as that would have allowed the reader to see some of the wonderful aspects of their culture. However, the idea that a Native girl’s death is not as important as a Caucasian girl’s disappearance was an interesting one and I think the author did a really good job of bringing that to the forefront. I actually found the writing style compelling, even if it was confusing to follow at times what with the various jumps in time that Jenny took; it was hard to tell if something was happening in the present or if it was just a memory. I did not like the love angle that the author tried to force into the situation; it didn’t add anything to the novel and it was not well planned or executed. It was literally just two teenagers hooking up and doing drugs and drinking, none of which screams romance or bonding. I didn’t like the incompetence of the cops, and I’m not just referring to their dismissal over the case of Helen. I’m referring to the almost comical way they question and interrogate Jenny over Chloe’s disappearance; you would think adults would know how to run an investigation and ask the right questions but clearly, that is not the case in this novel. The author also takes on another topic: slut-shaming. While I think this is an important topic to discuss, I don’t really like Jenny’s role in that aspect and I wish the author had made her more … sensible or intelligent. I also didn’t really like how things were resolved in the novel because, well, it didn’t really feel resolved. I understand that not everything can have a happy ending but this just felt messy and unfinished. Overall, I think the author chose 2 very important topics to center her novel around. While the writing was compelling, the main character’s decisions as well as the actual ending of the novel left me disappointed. For those reasons, I’m giving this novel a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

 

Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel

From its description, this novel sounded really interesting and quirky. And I’m all about quirky! I decided just to give it a go, so here is my review:

When grad student Kate Pearson’s handsome French boyfriend dumps her, she goes down in flames. All her confidence and ambition goes away, and all she wants to do is sit and mope and do nothing. Her sister and her friends do everything they can to get her out of bed but it seems like nothing will get Kate back into the real world. Miraculously, a disastrous interview leads to a position in the admissions department at the prestigious Hudson Day School. Kate is thrust into her job, where she has to interview all types of children for a position at the school. And then she has to deal with the parents who simply refuse to take no for an answer. She soon realizes that there is no room – or time – for self-pity during admissions season. As Kate tries her best to figure out how to make sense of her new job, her sister and friends find themselves going over and beyond in their efforts to keep Kate on her feet. Never mind that Kate seems to be doing perfectly well on her own without any of their interference…

While I’m all about quirkiness, this story was not doing it for me. I don’t think it had to do with the story itself. It was more that I really did not like the main character. Here’s the thing, I don’t mind characters that are a little bit bumbling or caught up in their own world. But Kate is a whole different story. Maybe it’s because I am an older sister and identified more with the character of Angela (Kate’s sister), but I found Kate exasperating. She literally did nothing to help herself, and made everyone else do things for her. I understand that an undergraduate degree does not always lead to the job in the area you want, and doesn’t always give you the skills you need to transition into something else … but you have to have some basic common sense! How do you not know how to dress for an interview or even how TO interview?! I get it, she was despondent and depressed … but it just irked me how she was so confused about everything in life, and literally knows NOTHING about how the world works. Where have you been living for so long, under a rock?! Sorry, I usually don’t get so ramped up but it just got too much, so much so that I couldn’t really enjoy the story, which was actually kind of funny. There are quite a few people who did enjoy this novel so I might be just an anomaly, but this book really did not work for me. I’m going to have to give this one a 1/5 stars.

Happy reading ~