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Book Thoughts: Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins

anna and the french kissAnna Oliphant’s sudden-millionaire author father has decided that his settled American daughter needs to finish high school in France. So, for her senior year of high school, and mostly against her will, Anna is sent to an American school in the centre of Paris. She’s ready for a year of hiding in her room, longing for her American life back, but then she meets Etienne St Clair, a ridiculously gorgeous boy with an English accent, incredible personality, and a girlfriend. Anna soon fits in with his crowd, but she can’t help her feelings for him, and suspects that they might just be mutual.

I thought I didn’t really like YA, but books like this one just keep on winning me over. I have known so many book bloggers who have read and adored this book, but I still thought – not for me. I’m not even entirely sure why, now; I know I don’t particularly like contemporary books, sometimes I find YA romance a little too overwhelming, but neither of those are justifications. I bought it, based on all the rave reviews out in the world, but I didn’t pick it up until last week, when to be perfectly honest I needed something that was light, stress-relieving, and not a huge chunkster like the other two books I found myself reading.

I didn’t expect much, but this book is so sweet and wonderful. It is a romance which grows from a friendship, even if attraction is always there. I love books that do this – completely portray the underpinnings to the love story, not just oh-look-I’ve-seen-you-I-love-you-now. Etienne and Anna are friends. They grow together. They learn how to talk to each other, and they learn how to deal with the myriad concerns that compose their lives. They really turn into best friends. And it’s not actually to the exclusion of all of their other friends, either. It’s easy to believe that a couple like them could genuinely stay together in the real world because they’ve had to learn so much to get to the point where the book ends.

Anna’s confusion and homesickness at the beginning of the book completely and totally won me over. Her embarrassment at her foreignness, her terror of embodying stereotypes, her complete block against even trying to speak French – these are things I could relate to, even though I have always consciously chosen to live away from my own country. I’ve actually read reviews that criticize Anna for this, which baffles me. Perhaps they’ve never quite experienced the combined paralysis of shyness and unfamiliar culture. The fact that Etienne is experienced in more cultures than Anna is but still understands then in turn made me love him (also, the English accent, never gets old even when you live in England and are married to an English man), and the rest of the book I spent luxuriating in the slow burn of their growing romance.

Although, seriously, sometimes people in books need to talk to each other.

Plus, Paris itself. I will be completely honest, I didn’t like it that much in person, but in this book I loved it. I could connect my memories to Anna’s experiences and think, yes, actually; this could have been magical. For her it is as she gets used to it and the city becomes a place of wonder and discovery. I loved the way their love story was woven into the fabric of the city, that their major landmarks in discovering each other are mirrored by shared experiences within such a romantic place. If a book could make me want to go back to Paris and try it all over again, this is the book.

I finished it in one day with a happy sigh, and then bought Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla and the Happily Ever After. If you, like me, have been waiting to read this book because you’re not sure, I would encourage you to give it a try anyway. It might surprise you.

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Review: Panic, Lauren Oliver

panicCarp is a small town with small town traditions and Panic is one of them. Every year, high school seniors take on dangerous dares in order to win a large monetary prize that will help them escape their town for good. Heather thinks she’s too sensible to get involved, but she finds herself caught up in the rush anyway with her best friend Natalie. Dodge, another student, has always known that he would participate in Panic, although for different reasons than Heather. The book alternates between the points of view of these two students while the game gets ever more dangerous.

I felt decidedly “meh” about this book. I had anticipated something more along the lines of Before I Fall and Delirium. Both of those struck me hard, especially the first; I love the concept of living over and over again and learning as you go (see also Life after Life by Kate Atkinson, another big hit with me). They were interesting and innovative and they made me excited to read Panic, too.

But as soon as I started I knew it was different – this is just an ordinary town. The concept of high schoolers taking on a life-or-death game isn’t really the same as a world without love or a girl who lives the same day over and over again. It’s something that could actually happen in the real world. I suppose for some that might be an advantage, but for me it was a drawback. Some of the games are ridiculously dangerous and outrageous, yes, but none beyond the realms of our actual real world. This wasn’t what I’d expected and I wasn’t as impressed with this as I was with the other two books I’d read by the same author. It didn’t suit my own personal taste and it wasn’t a book that I felt went above and beyond.

Is it worth your time? That’s a separate question, I think. This is more in the style of a thriller than the other two and I have seen positive reviews floating around. It has its positive points – I think the characters grow over the course of the book, the romance is okay, and it does keep a reader’s attention – but it just didn’t work for me. I would start with Oliver’s other books in any case.

I received this book for free for review.

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Review: Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell

fangirlCather Avery would have been perfectly content to stay at home with her dad and twin sister, Wren, and write fanfiction about Simon Snow for the foreseeable future. If she has to go to college, which of course she does, she’d at least have preferred to live with her sister, as she has for the first eighteen years of her life. But instead, both twins go to college, and Wren chooses to live with someone else – leaving Cath to stand on her own two feet for the first time in her life. Cath can’t deal with her roommate or her roommate’s adorable boyfriend, Levi; she can’t seem to find enough time to write the fanfiction that she loves so much and she’s afraid to leave it behind to write fiction separate from that world; she can’t stop worrying about her dad, coping alone in the world without his two daughters for the first time. Can she find a place for herself in the world outside the bubble she’s created for herself?

Rainbow Rowell’s books make me want to write about them immediately. I loved Eleanor and Park late last year (how has it been that long?) and it was only a matter of time before I found myself starting FangirlOf course, I am a “fangirl” myself, which explains part of the attraction. I spent most of my teenage years hanging out on Final Fantasy forums and have tried my hand at writing fanfiction more than once. I have had plenty of friends who have done the exact same thing. Like Cath, too, I’m shy and socially inept (at least in my own head). Starting college with literally no one I knew anywhere was hard and scary, and while I didn’t hide in my room like Cath, I certainly wanted to until I found my eventual, amazing friends who made that time incredible.

What I’m trying to say with the above paragraph is that I massively related to this book, to Cath, and I felt like I could get more inside her head than with most other fictional characters. I normally don’t like books that are too close to my own possible life experience, but I related and I wanted better for her. And I loved Levi, the boy who gives smiles away like it doesn’t cost him anything. I loved them together, I loved that everything was behind closed doors but so, so charged with tension. Rowell is absolutely brilliant at this – who can forget how emotional she makes hand-holding in Eleanor and Park – and she puts her talents to good use in this book, too.

On top of the wonderful relationship she’s got starting with Levi, Cath relates to everyone and cares so much. Her conversations with Reagan had me laughing, frequently, and her constant care for and worry about her father and sister make her a good person. It doesn’t matter what else is happening at any given moment, if someone she loves needs her, Cath will go there and be with them. Everyone has lessons to learn in this book, but Cath doesn’t need to learn how to love. She’s so good at loving that it’s no wonder she worries people will take advantage of her, and she’s damaged from having that love essentially spurned. But even though she categorizes herself as broken, she’s not. She just needs to learn how to be whole again and this book is her wobbling and then learning to do just that.

I could quote so many passages that I loved, but instead I’ll link to this goodreads page. Every quote on there is golden. So often there would be a passage and I would think yes that it’s impossible to summarize all of them. I’d have to quote the entire book.

I read this book in the space of a single evening, forgoing sleep in favor of getting to the end; although there is no real suspense here, it’s hard to tear yourself away from a page that is so full of beautiful words and emotions and living. Rainbow Rowell is brilliant. I’m glad I already bought all of her books, because I’m certainly going to be reading all of them.

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Review: Chime, Franny Billingsley

chimeEverything bad that’s happened in Briony Larkin’s life is all her fault, for one simple fact; she is a witch. It is she who burned down the library, who caused illness in her family, who must then protect her sister Rose from all harm. As such, she is no longer going to the swamp, where she might ask the fae to do harm for her by accident, and instead stays close by the parsonage to protect her sister and keep to the right path. But when a young man, Eldric, comes to live with them, and worms his way into her family, Briony’s life and assumptions are turned upside down.

I loved this book. I read several excellent reviews from a number of other trusted bloggers, enough to make me buy it, but I didn’t actually understand how much I’d love it until I began reading it. Billingsley uses one of my very favourite devices, the unreliable narrator whose worldview changes radically as he or she realises some important truths, and combines that with a delightful mix of fantasy, romance, and elegant writing to make a truly outstanding novel.

The book starts out slightly confusing. Briony is a narrator that lives very much inside her own head, and as a result the story is told fractiously; it takes a while for us to work out exactly what she is talking about, why she feels threatened by Eldric and his family, and about Rose’s peculiar behaviour. But once hooked, I couldn’t stop reading, and devoured the entire book in a single evening. I loved the atmosphere, which was very much like England a hundred years ago and with more magic. The swamp reminded me of the way the fens were in Lady of the Butterflies by Fiona Mountain, although the books themselves are wildly different; a magical and mysterious place that no longer exists in the modern world, long past drained to produce more land for houses, farms, and monetary gain in general.

It was the relationships and how they grew that really affected me, though; I absolutely adored Eldric and the way he bonded with each of the characters, especially Briony and Rose. He really causes her to question all of the assumptions she’s built up over the years. Backing him up is Rose, who seems to understand more about everything that’s happened despite her own peculiarities. I loved how Eldric and Briony so clearly made one another happy, too, and the completely organic way their relationship grew over the course of the narrative. It’s completely in contrast to the other young male character, Cecil, who attempts to bully Briony into marrying him.

In fact, just talking about Chime makes me want to read it again, which for me is a sure sign of an incredible read. It immediately secured its place on my new “to be re-read” shelves, and as such I completely recommend you make space for it on yours, too.

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Review: Where She Went, Gayle Forman

where she wentThis is the sequel to If I Stay. The review will contain spoilers for that book.

Mia may have stayed in her life after she lost her whole family, but that didn’t mean she was going to keep everything in her life the same. In fact, she left her native hometown almost as soon as she could, when she was accepted into Juilliard. Her boyfriend, Adam, was left behind, and even three years later, he’s never quite gotten over the blow. His new rock star reputation hasn’t helped at all; in fact, he usually just wants to be left alone, not interrupted on the street. But when Adam and Mia’s paths cross in New York City, he is forced to face where she went, and where he wants to go himself.

Like most others, I found If I Stay to be an incredibly powerful book that had me eager to read the sequel. While that book was really self-contained, I was entranced by the concept of the other side of the story, Adam’s story. I didn’t know how much I would like him, but I loved him in this book. He was tormented, but justly so, I think; I actually found myself wondering if he’d have been so tormented if he hadn’t become famous. Certainly part of his need for Mia seemed driven from his need for a life as it was before stardom and groupies, although not all of it.

Other than the star main character, I found myself really enjoying the rest of the novel as I went through it. Adam was tortured, yes, but in a way that I could almost understand, and sympathise with; the writing is smooth and the plot is easily sped through, not that there is much of one. A lot of the book is Adam mulling over the last three years and, finally, exploring New York City and feelings past with Mia – both of them catching up and trying to understand where to go next.

Ultimately, however, the ending wasn’t really what I’d hoped for. Well, it was, but it somehow didn’t fulfill the promise of the rest of the book. I was looking for something that was, I think, more powerful, and we didn’t get that here. I wanted to whole-heartedly love every piece of this book, believe me, but I also wanted something *more*.

Regardless, Where She Went is a very good read, emotionally wrenching in parts, worth trying if you do wonder where Mia went after the ending of If I Stay.

All external book links are referral links. I received this book for free from Amazon Vine.

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Review: Wither, Lauren DeStefano

witherHumans will never stop trying to find a cure for death and disease. In Rhine’s world, scientists thought they’d figured it out – until they realized that the disease simply killed everyone, girls at 20 and boys at 25. Just four years before her inevitable death, orphaned Rhine is kidnapped from her twin brother and married to wealthy Linden with two other stolen sister-brides. Rhine longs for nothing more than to escape – the last thing she wants to do is bear Linden’s baby and spend the rest of her life under the thumb of his scheming, aging father as he attempts to find the cure for the disease that kills all of the perfect generation.

I so badly wanted to like this book. It caused a huge splash when it came out, and I’m not capable of resisting dystopias that sound awesome – plus, when it arrived as part of my Secret Santa gift, signed and everything, I started reading almost immediately. Couldn’t resist. So maybe this is a case of expectations getting too high, or me reading too much amazing science fiction and fantasy over the past few months, but this book didn’t live up to my expectations.

First of all, I’m not one to question too much, especially in books like this; I’m really good at suspending disbelief and going where the author takes me. In this book, I had way too much trouble doing that, particularly because the book hammers the discrepancies into your mind. Rhine’s life before the kidnapping is terrible, and she says that she fares better than most in her home city of New York City. She and her brother get by, with both of them working, hiding from the kidnapping gangs that want to take Rhine away. Other orphans get shut out to die in the cold by these two, because they can’t support any more people.

But when Rhine arrives at Linden’s mansion, she is truly in the lap of luxury. She’s a prisoner, in theory, but a very well-treated one. What I don’t understand is why there aren’t poor orphaned girls banging down Linden’s gate trying to get into this life of luxury. Do they simply not know what awaits them? But why shouldn’t rich people tell them, so they have a choice of wives, instead of kidnapping and killing girls? Wouldn’t it be better to have a willing wife than one you had to kill sisters to get? Maybe someone else can explain this to me – not the obvious wealth disparity, but the fact that rich, single men are not in demand. And that they kill the wives that weren’t selected – surely they’d want all the women in the world alive to continue producing children?

The other aspects of the book were enjoyable – it was well-written and well-plotted as it kept me turning the pages – but the world-building simply didn’t make sense. Some of the blurbs compared it to The Handmaid’s Tale and implied that this is a future we could imagine happening, but to be honest, I couldn’t, so it lost the whole creepy point of dystopia where we can see what our world could become. I couldn’t see our world turning into this one, unfortunately, and the best writing in the world wouldn’t be enough to cover that lack.

So, Wither is an enjoyable quick read, but don’t expect to believe in the world.

All book links to external sites are affiliate links.

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Review: Bloodlines, Richelle Mead

bloodlinesRichelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series is one of the few YA series I’ve actually kept up with over the past year or so; as a result, I immediately latched on to this book as soon as it was released. I was curious to know more about the minor characters from the first series, and Bloodlines follows on seamlessly from those with a change in characters. This means the review will contain spoilers for the Vampire Academy series, but I’ll try and keep them to a minimum.

Sydney Sage worked together with Rose to help save the Moroi world from catastrophe, but her close association with vampires and dhampirs has gotten her into trouble with her fellow Alchemists. After all, the goal of the Alchemists is to keep vampires and other supernatural races from discovery, not to associate with them personally, and as a result Sydney’s motivations have been called into question. But when Lissa’s sister Jill needs cover and a protector, Sydney goes in the place of her sister, who is judged too young for the responsibilities. Living life as a normal high school student, Sydney, along with series regulars Eddie and Adrian, must keep Jill out of harm – but there’s something strange going on at the school, and Sydney decides that finding out might just be worth the risk to her reputation.

Like the rest of the VA series, this was a light read that provided a lot of page-turning entertainment. I’ve always liked Sydney – I’m immediately attracted to fellow nerds and Sydney knows a lot – and I was happy that Mead chose to turn this new series around her story. At the same time, it also feels like we’ve set up a larger story for the rest of the series, which didn’t bother me but might with someone who was looking for a book without a cliffhanger ending.

Also, because it follows on directly from the Vampire Academy series, I feel it’s well worth having read the previous books before digging into this one – you’ll feel immediately familiar with the world and the issues contained in the novel. Otherwise, I feel as though you’ll miss out on the purpose for protecting Jill – the book says, but unless you’ve experienced the rest of the series, the importance may be diminished – and won’t understand the severity of Sydney’s plight.

Overall, another solid, enjoyable entry in this series, worth the read if you’re already invested.

I purchased this book.

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Even More Mini Reviews: Urban Fantasy, YA, and Memoir

the name of the starI’m atrocious at keeping up with reviews these days, so I thought more mini reviews could only be a good idea! For this purpose, I am completely skipping plot summaries and just sharing with you my own thoughts on the books below. Some of the reason I blog is to keep books straight in my mind later on, after all, so I wanted to share at least a few thoughts.

The Name of the Star, Maureen Johnson

I had no idea that this was about Jack the Ripper, which led to an eerie night as I discovered that while reading in bed! This is my first read by Maureen Johnson and I definitely enjoyed it, though; I loved the edge of creepiness the whole book had, the boarding school rivalries, the London atmosphere, and the engaging plot. Really looking forward to more of these.

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

This book deserves way more than it’s going to get in these few sentences, but suffice it to say that I found it an insightful glimpse into Hemingway’s early life as a writer. Excellent paired with The Paris Wife, which is why I read it in the first place. Anyone struggling with Hemingway will be pleasantly surprised by how easy this is to read, as well.

storm frontStorm Front, Jim Butcher

Ah, urban fantasy. I perpetually love it and find myself going back to it, so I’m always finding new series to read. This was my latest choice, and the first installment was enough to keep me reading.  Harry Dresden is your average urban fantasy main character, always kicking butt and getting severely injured for good. If you like the genre, give this a go.

Fool Moon, Jim Butcher

In the same vein as the last, but just that extra touch deeper with the backstory from the first book. Things get more exciting and more dangerous, a villainous character reveals another side, and Harry gets himself nearly killed. All good. I have books 3 and 4 of this series and will probably be reading them very soon – hopefully at least for one of those I’ll manage a full review.

Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord, Sarah MacLean

I myself adored MacLean’s first book in this series, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, so it was kind of inevitable that I’d be disappointed by this one. I actually liked both main characters, but the spark struggled to appear and I couldn’t really get into their relationship. I am definitely going to continue reading MacLean, though, as I already have her next book lined up on my TBR shelf!

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Review: If I Stay, Gayle Forman

Mia has a fairly typical teenage life, full of big dreams and her potential as a cellist at Juilliard when she moves to New York City for college. But she’s also torn between leaving her boyfriend Adam and friends behind to achieve her dreams, knowing that things are going to change soon. On one snowy winter day, Mia learns that despite all well-laid plans life is always unpredictable, leaving her with a single choice, probably the most difficult she will ever have to make.

I purposely waited a good while before beginning If I Stay because it was incredibly hyped on its release and I didn’t want that to tarnish my own experiences with it. I always hesitate with a book everyone loves, because sometimes I don’t love it as much as they did, but with Where I Went out and clogging the blogosphere with reviews, I thought I’d better get a move on before the story was completely spoiled. With this book, I fell just as hard as everyone else. I had actually managed to avoid spoilers of any kind, so I wasn’t quite sure where the book would take me. I simply knew that a girl had to choose whether to live or to die over the course of the book.

It all starts out quite straightforward. Mia and her younger brother have been granted an unexpected snow day from school, so both of her parents stay home too. When the snow starts to clear up, they head out for an amazing free day, but the roads are still slippery, and a large truck hits Mia’s family’s car. Mia winds up in a coma with an extended out-of-body experience as she does her best to decide whether life is worth living. This approach means that we can see just how deeply everything affects her; we learn the status of her family members as she does, we witness all of her visitors, and we can see how painful her choice truly is.

I loved how, despite Mia’s circumstances, we still get a complete picture of her life before the accident, told through flashbacks that make perfect sense. This doesn’t work for some novels, but it struck me hard; Mia isn’t the drama queen or mean girl that features in many teenage novels, but neither is she a wallflower. It’s easy to get the gist of her personality from the flashbacks and begin to understand just what she’s lost and what the world would lose without her. We get to know all of her family members and the depth of their relationships to her and to one another. Although I thought her family seemed at times too perfect, they needed to be for the book to really work. As for her romance with Adam, I liked that it was already somewhat on the rocks before the accident even happened due to their potential separation. It felt more real than a simple diehard teenage love story.

If I Stay is an excellent YA novel that uses a tragedy to explore very common teenage feelings of uncertainty against the world and the fragility of life. I’d recommend it!

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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Review: Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver

Popular high schooler Sam Kingston dies one night after attending a party at an old friend’s house. But she wakes up the next morning, only to find that she’s living that same Friday over again. And then it happens again. By the time she gets the hang of it, Sam starts to wonder why she’s being forced to live the exact same day over and over again. But as she does, she also begins to consider her actions more closely, to think about her friends more deeply, and to think about the small – and big – things that she does which can change the course of not only her life but those of everyone around her.

When I read Delirium a couple of months ago, I loved it, but many other bloggers said it was good but didn’t quite live up to this. I can completely see that now – this was a five star book for me, not necessarily from the first page, but as Sam went on living Cupid Day, I fell more and more in love with it.

It’s easy to see why, for me, as well, because this book has everything that I love about fantastic character development simply inherent in it. The premise of going back and living the same day over and over again gives us a whole different spectrum of ways to view Sam. She realizes that her actions have no consequences at one point, because she’ll just repeat the day over again, and so acts outrageously. But then she’s still stuck with the memory of what she did and how unhappy it made her, even if it impacts no one else. People do all sorts of small acts that simply pass by, without thinking of what they’ve done to others, but Sam can change this one day for everyone.

The book itself is truly breathtaking; I could not put it down as I was reading it. I’d intended to cycle through this and two non-fiction books I was reading, but they fell to the wayside because I absolutely had to finish this one. Despite the fact that Sam’s living the same day over – a plot which I thought would get repetitive – it genuinely doesn’t because each day is different. Each day brings new discoveries. I loved the way Sam could start to work out how everyone around her ticked because of the way she asked different questions and acted differently depending on what she’d discovered. It worked and spotlighted so many different aspects of any teen’s life at the same time – friends, family, boyfriends, sex, teacher crushes, drugs, even popularity itself. It sounds like a lot, but it fits perfectly.

Oh, and the end? That’s perfect as well. I was wary of reading anything else afterwards – even my non-fiction – because I didn’t want to spoil the way my mind kept going over the book. It keeps popping up in my head, too, like the characters have never left.

I wholeheartedly recommend Before I Fall, an absolutely fantastic YA read that will keep you turning the pages until you’ve finally closed the book.

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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