Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday (#43) - Ten Characters I Just Didn't Click With

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Feeling some sort of connection with the characters in the novel I am reading is extremely important for me. But once in a while, unfortunately, I come across books that include characters that I just cannot click with. This often leads to me disliking the said book, and I do have to admit that that several books on this list are ones that I have not rated very high.

So, here's my list of ten characters I just didn't click with.

1. Olivia from Drowning is Inevitable by Shalanda Stanley - I ended up giving this novel 3/5, which means that I actually quite liked it. Though I did not click with Olivia, I found her to be a fairly interesting character and what really bumped up the stars for me was the way this novel was written. Shalanda Stanley's prose is beautifully weaved together and her language is lyrical and at points almost close to magical realism. It is very rare for me to like a book I cannot connect with, but this one is definitely an exception.

2. Ana and Zak from The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak by Brian Katcher - This book was just a "meh" for me, which is not what I expected, because the premise of the events taking place in a convention made me very excited! Much of the character interactions are build around the fact that Ana and Zak are supposed to be these complete opposites but once they spend time together, they actually connect in ways they never expected they would, Ana is on the road to being the Valedictorian, whereas Zak is this slacker. There was nothing in this book I really disliked or hated. The problem with this one really was the fact that these characters were not memorable at all. It's probably a month from when I read this and I honestly remember very little from it at this point.

3. Tom from Sweet by Emmy Laybourne - Oh man, I really did not like this book. The love interest of the main character is this child star turned actor called Tom. Let me tell you about Tom. Supposedly, he is really hot and all that jazz, but he is also obnoxious and bit of a douche. The book lets the reader believe that he has this sensibility he needs to hide in order to keep up his star image, but really, I never saw that side. Also, he is really obsessed with gym and the whole thing is mentioned way too many times in the novel.

4. Khalid and Shahrzad from The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh - I know... A lot of people are probably thinking "WHAT THE HELL MILKA!?!? HOW DARE YOU PUT THESE CHARACTERS ON THIS LIST?" If you caught up my review of this book that I posted a while ago, you probably know that I did not like this book. It is not like I hated it or anything... I just didn't feel the hype at all. Or these characters. I can't really pinpoint what it was in this book that made me not like it. Maybe it was the very generic feeling love triangle situation. I think mostly it was the actions of Shazi. She is first portrayed as this kickass girl who hates this monster of a man. Then they spend like a couple of nights together and of course he is not a monster anymore... Recently, I have gotten so tired of these story lines where the main character has to suppress her feelings somehow because with books like this, YOU KNOW THEY ARE GOING TO END UP TOGETHER, AT LEAST FOR A WHILE. So I don't know... This one just wasn't for me.

5. Oakley from Love, Lucas by Chantele Sedgwick - I really wanted to feel for Oakley. I really did. But the more I kept reading, the more convinced I became that I would not start to like her. She is one of those very cliche, clumsy "I am so bad with guys" types that categorizes herself as a dork just because she is in the swim team or sometimes blurts out the wrong things at the wrong time. First of all, isn't being an athlete supposed to be cool in a high school setting? Also, she has this constant need to use the word "cute". There's also a scene in which she cries about the death of her brother and then instantly thinks she looks like a "monster" and is afraid that the guy she likes actually sees her showing some emotion... She is supposed to be 17 in the novel, but for most of the time she really acts like she is 13. Also, THIS GUY CARSON IS BIT OF A DOUCHE! OAKLEY TELLS HIM ABOUT THE DEATH OF HER BROTHER AND THIS GUY RESPONDS BY TELLING THAT HE HAS SEEN THAT OAKLEY HAS A BEAUTIFUL SMILE AND THAT SHE SHOULD SMILE MORE. IDIOT, SHE JUST TOLD THAT HER BROTHER DIED. MAYBE SHE DOES NOT WANT TO SMILE. 

6. Kelsey from Last Year's Mistake by Gina Ciocca - This was one of my most expected releases of 2015 and unfortunately it just did not work for me at all. I especially felt very distanced from Kelsey and found myself really disliking her. She desperately tries not to be "one of those girls", thinks that the world revolves around her and is generally very self-centered. She thinks she is better than the "sluts" and "skanks" that she goes to school with. I love opinionated, snarky characters, but I am not fine with slut shaming.  

7. Sadie, Darcy and Rosanna from City Love by Susane Colisanti - City Love is one of the worst books I've ever read. It made me want to throw my Kindle on the wall and for most of the time, I was not quite sure whether I should laugh or cry. The book is like an episode of Gossip Girl, written by a set of 14 year old boy-crazy girls. The novel is told through narrative point of views, but very quickly, I noticed that the narration is all over the place and the points of views don't really chance that much. All of these girls are just so incredibly crazy about boys that it kind of gets ridiculous. Every cute guy they meet on the street, they see as their possible soulmates, and after a one conversation, they think they are deeply in love. Also, one thing that droe me crazy was the fact that these girls tend to define themselves through the guys they are with - for example Rosanna feels special for the first time after a guy notices her, not before that. Maybe I can too cynical to believe in the kind of instalove this book features... or maybe this one just sucks!

8. Finch and Violet from All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven - Alongside The Wrath and the Dawn and The Winner's Curse, this is probably one of those picks that makes other readers question my sanity. All the Bright Places was very hyped after it was published, and I was extremely excited to read it, but it just did not work for me at all. I expected a lot of tears and emotions, but found myself completely unable to connect with this one in any way. As someone who can labeled as a Survivor of Suicide, I do appreciate Niven's courage to write such a story, but since we all deal with grief differently, maybe the way this one was written just didn't match my expectations. One of the main problems for me was the fact that I constantly kept feeling like the characters are bit fake - too quirky, too special, like their characterization had been taken a bit too far. I love interesting and different characters, but in some ways, these characters felt too cliche or something. Also, whereas Finch's characterization was taken quite far, Violet was left a bit bland, at least for my tastes. I don't know...I guess this is one of those cases where it can be proved that really hyped books are not for everyone.

9. Kestrel from The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski - This book has an absolutely beautiful cover, but unfortunately what was written on the pages did not make me quite as excited. The main problem I had with this book was the fact that it did not really make me feel anything - I almost wish that I would have really disliked it because that way I could easily explain myself and my opinions. The more I read, the harder I found it to click with Kestrel. I kept feeling like she felt superior to others, even when she denied thinking so. She does care for her family, but often it seems like when it comes to the people outside her inner circle, she did not care. Yes, she does come through in the end, but for me, it was too much of a too little too late kind of situation.

10. Emmy and Oliver from Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway - This one has also been quite popular after its publication and once again I have to say that it just wasn't for me. I was annoyed by the way the author portrays the parents of Emmy and constantly kept rooting for them rather than for Emmy who complains about the rules and lies so she can do what she wants. I felt no connection towards these characters and almost gave up on this book after reading about 60% of it.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Book Review: Behind the Scenes (Daylight Falls #1) by Dahlia Adler

Release date: June 24, 2014
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Age group: YA
Pages: 328
Purchase the book: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

High school senior Ally Duncan's best friend may be the Vanessa Park - star of TV's hottest new teen drama - but Ally's not interested in following in her BFF's Hollywood footsteps. In fact, the only thing Ally's ever really wanted is to go to Columbia and study abroad in Paris. But when her father's mounting medical bills threaten to stop her dream in its tracks, Ally nabs a position as Van's on-set assistant to get the cash she needs.

Spending the extra time with Van turns out to be fun, and getting to know her sexy co-star Liam is an added bonus. But when the actors' publicist arranges for Van and Liam to "date" for the tabloids just after he and Ally share their first kiss, Ally will have to decide exactly what role she's capable of playing in their world of make believe. If she can't play by Hollywood's rules, she may lose her best friend, her dream future, and her first shot at love.

 Behind the Scenes is one of those books, now that I have finished it, that totally has earned its place on the "MILKA WHY ARE YOU AN IDIOT AND DID NOT READ THIS ONE EARLIER?" list. It has been on my Gooreads to-read list since I first heard about in 2014 and I have had a copy of it for months now, but for some reason, it took me over a year after its publication to pick it up. Silly, silly me.

I have always loved the "ordinary person-celebrity" dynamic in books and movies. For some reason, it just really works for me. As someone who is quite obsessed with several celebrities, I think I find pleasure in reading stories about famous people who might seem like douches but who actually are vulnerable and nice and honest and funny and so so so so hot. Day dreaming about meeting people like Sidney Crosby (only one of the best hockey players in the whole world) or John Krasinski (Jim Halpert 5ever) and falling in love with them still takes quite a lot of my time (too much?), which means that when I am faced with a story about similar situation, I am instantly excited. 

Ally is no stranger to the buzz of Hollywood. Her best friend Van has been acting for years and on her side, Ally has met celebrities, attended celeb filled parties and walked red carpets. Though Ally is 100% supportive of Van's desire to act, she does it as desirable for herself to be surrounded by the prying eye of the paparazzi and fans. What has kept their friendship strong is a shared past and the fact that they are not jealous of each other. But when Van learns that she can been cast to play the lead role in a new teen show Daylight Falls, things soon start to unravel. Van hires Ally, desperate to earn money for college, as her assistant and on the set, Ally meets Liam, the male star of the show and a renowned Hollywood heart-throb. The connection between Ally and Liam soon starts to get closer as they spend more time together, but the budding relationship gets bruised when Liam and Van, as a publicity stunt, are paired together and Ally is made to look at their faked happiness from a close proximity. 

From the very first pages onwards, I started to quickly fall in love with the way Dahlia Adler writes her female characters. First of all, there's diversity. Van is of Korean heritage, which makes her a "rare" leading lady in the very whitewashed world of Hollywood entertainment. I loved the way Adler had incorporated this aspect to the novel, reminding the reader of the very real and current problem facing Hollywood casting. The fact that Van is cast in a role designed for a white girl is empowering and adds an important note of diversity to the story without the novel turning into a book about diversity. I also loved the fact that Adler's Van and Ally are both flawed and quite complicated characters. Van is so wrapped up in her world of fame that at points she does not seem to realize that not everyone is interested about her fame. At the same time though, Van is also shown as a character who is willing to miss the big celeb parties or important events when her friend needs her. Though Ally is supportive of Van, she is quick to judge anyone and everyone who is famous. She can see Van as just her friend, but when anyone else is who famous and gorgeous and loved by the masses tries to come close, she instantly thinks those people are assholes and full of themselves. She is quick to insist that she is completely happy in her own world of normalcy, but starts to get jealous when it seems like in order for her to be with Liam, she would have to fit in to a world that is very different from her own. At the same time though, Ally is a loving daughter and sister and a loyal friend. She also is able to acknowledge her mistakes and learn from them, which in my opinion makes her very real.

Both Van and Ally can be quite catty and might not always think what they say or do, but I think that also adds a level of realism to the story. Think of yourself as a teenager - were you always perfect and controlled and calm, especially when it came to boys? I don't think so. The way Adler gives voices to these characters is so well done that I am still catching my breath. 

This novel really has everything I love in a YA contemporary novel! It has a friendship that is loving and strong and evolves through the novel as a result of a collection of events, a family story that affects the decisions and the mindset of the main character and those around her, and a romance between two people who are clearly very good for each other. Despite the fact that it is set in Hollywood, were a lot of things are very unrealistic for a "common" reader, the story is able to retain a level of realism and never made me think like things like that just don't happen to "normal" people. Adler's way of writing is engaging and extremely hilarious, and I couldn't help but to fall in love with her wonderful set of characters.

I highly recommend Behind the Scenes for everyone and ask you not to be as silly as me and keep this hanging on your TBRs. Read it now because it really is quite an amazing book!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Book Review: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

Release date: September 17, 2013
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Age group: YA
Pages: 288
Purchase the book: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski's strong suit. All throughout her life, she's been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing. 
Told in a refreshingly genuine and laugh-out-loud funny voice, Leila Sales' THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE is an exuberant novel about identity, friendship, and the power of music to bring people together.

Oh man, this book truly was something special. Going into this, I expected a cute, fluffy YA contemporary romance. I love cute, fluffy YA contemporary romances, but this one was so much more. It is not really cute, it definitely isn't fluffy, and I wouldn't call it a romance either. Instead, it is a story about the pains of growing up, about fitting in and about finding yourself through finding your passion. 

Elise has always found it difficult to make friends. She feels like she has always been a bit too much of a smart-mouth to her own good. She has never learned what is considered "cool" or "in" and though she has tried to avoid attention, she has gained it through becoming the butt of jokes. She is the ultimate outsider. And what she wants more than anything is to fit in. After she spends the whole summer trying to learn things that would make it possible for to fit in, Elise is sure that now is her time to stop being an outsider. But when her plan fails, quite miserably so, she is not quite sure what to do. Or whether she should do anything at all and just give up on everything. 

At a moment of desparation, Elise finds herself wandering the streets at night. During one of her walks, she finds Start, an underground dance party. There she meets Vicky, a girl who has herself struggled with fitting in, Pippa and Char, a cute DJ who promises to show Elise the ropes and thus introduces her to the world of DJing. 

Through DJing Elise, who has always loved music, finds a voice and finally feels like she fits in somewhere. Though I am not into DJing myself, I was able to relate with how Elise felt when she finally found what she really loves - if you were to change DJing with books or films, that would be my story. Though I never really was an outsider, I was able to relate with Elise in the sense that I often felt like I was not quite sure how to act or what to say in order to fit in. What differentiates Elise from me is the fact that I never really desperately wanted to fit in. That does not mean that I was not able to feel for Elise though. Throughout this book, I so badly wanted her to find herself and to feel like she has a purpose in the world. This struggle and the things Elise need to go through in order to find her own happiness make This Song Will Save Your Life a coming-of-age story NOT TO BE MISSED.

One thing that I definitely was able to relate with right away when it comes to Elise is her constant need to win and to gain more information. If she starts a new hobby, she instantly needs to master it. If she starts a new project, she cannot sleep before she is done. That impulse to master something and to learn as much as possible and never leave things unfinished is something I feel on a deeper level, because that is EXACTLY like me. In my life, it has been both a good thing and a bad thing. My mom's husband often says that he asks me to do little projects around the house just because he knows that I will do everything well and finish my work. That is a good thing - it is nice to know that someone respects my work ethic. But when you are working in a group of five people and you are the only one who really wants to do the work, you soon become the person who starts to complain and to rush others. Soon, you become the person no one wants to do group work with and you learn that you actually work better on your own. Whether you want it or not, you become bit of an outsider.

Elise isn't perfect. Especially at the beginning I was not quite sure of how I should feel about her. But I think the fact that she is so real and so complicated eventually made me love this book so much. She struggles with self-destructive thoughts and suicide, she hurts those close to her in order to make herself feel better, and sometimes she does not really know how to be a friend. But at the same time, she goes through a process that teaches her who she really is, and through that journey she learns to appreciate and love the people essential for her happiness.

Music definitely is a part of this story, though not as largely as I expected it would be. Music is definitely the factor that brings Elise and Char together. Char is a character that I kind of loved to hate. It seems like she is almost as confused as Elise is - not in a same way, but confused nevertheless. What they share is something they need at their lives at that moment, and it has an influence on Elise, but I do want to let you know that if you are looking for a cute romantic story, Elise and Char cannot give you that.

This Song Will Save Your Life is a well-written young adult contemporary novel with an important message. It is a story we can all relate in some way, whether we were the outsiders or the ones inside. It is a story about depression, about bullying, about family and most importantly, about finding your place in a world. I wholeheartedly recommend This Song Will Save Your Life to EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday (#40) - Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (February 2nd, 2016 by Baltzer+Bray)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. 
For more information, click here

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is . . . Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender-fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.





What are you waiting for this week?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday (#42) - Top Ten Books That Would Be On My Syllabus If I Taught YA Contemporary 101

For more information on Top Ten Tuesday, click here

This week, I will share a list of ten contemporary YA books that would be on syllabus if I would teach a course on YA CONTEMPORARY literature (how awesome does a course like that sound?)

1. This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp - This upcoming 2016 YA contemporary novel focuses on tragic 54 minutes that take place in a high school that quickly turns from a haven of education into a battlefield when one of the students opens fire in the school auditorium. School shootings are an unfortunate phenomenon often connected to United States. Though school shooting happen in other countries as well, in 2014 alone there were about 40 shooting related incidents at US schools. There are films and documentaries about such incidents, but what we often see on the screen does not exactly match the reality. After reading Dave Cullen's brilliant and harrowing account of the Columbine shootings, I've been looking for a piece of fiction that somehow captures the essence of that piece of non-fiction, and I think Nijkamp succeeds - her novel feels so real, the feelings and emotions of the characters are tangible, and the way she approaches the situation is respectful and it really seems like she has put a lot of research into her story.

2. Dumplin' by Julie Murphy - The release of Dumplin' is close and let me just tell you - if this isn't on your wishlists/TBRs already, add it now! Willowdean is such a great main character - she is funny, realistically flawed and proud of herself just as she is. It has been a long time since I connected with a book in a way I connected with this one. Often with contemporary YA novels, I find some sort of connection with the main character, whether it be nerdiness, social anxiety or a situation in life. Very rarely I connect with a character who is described looking like me. As a proud and loud fat girl, it was so refreshing to read about a character whose mission is not to fit in through weight loss. Yes, Willowdean is fat, but it is not the thing she uses to define herself. Dumplin' is such an empowering, body positive read that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

3. I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios - This one was such a surprise for me. I am a sucker for novels/movies/TV shows that have a love interest who is or has been a soldier, and that was purely the factor that drove me towards this novel. As I started reading, I noticed that it actually delves into a lot of serious issues, from family relationships to trust and finding yourself and happiness from a place you least expect to find it from. The writing is amazing, the characters are so well developed and so easy to feel for.

4. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera - As someone who has continually found it difficult to connect with YA novels narrated from a point of view of a young male, More Happy Than Not was like a breath of fresh air. From the first page onwards, I really felt a connection with Aaron - maybe it is because I have also gone through the grief caused by the suicide of my father. The reason I put More Happy Than Not on this list was largely made due to the fact that it really made me question what I would decide to do if I were given a chance to wipe away all the negative memories that still have a role in my life and in my decision making. Also, More Happy Than Not is extremely well written, paced and thought out diverse novel that deals with extremely important and sensitive issues with grace and honesty. And while it can be serious, it is also extremely funny and easy to read. The perfect package I would say.

5. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon - Though I do think there were some plot inconsistencies in this novel, especially when it comes to explaining the illness that the main character suffers from, I wanted to include this novel on this list because despite those little inconsistencies, that might ruin this book for some readers, I really liked this one and found it to be an interesting YA debut. What I really loved about Everything, Everything was the writing style and the inventive form Yoon uses. The illustrations by Yoon's husband fit so well into the overall story and I felt like they actually had a purpose within the pacing and development of the novel. Also, I often feel like I am rarely surprised by what happens in YA contemporaries, but with Everything, Everything, I really did not see some of the events coming. 

6. Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli - The first reason for this book being on this list - IT IS SO GOOD AND FUNNY AND CUTE AND WELL WRITTEN AND EXACTLY WHAT I WANT FROM A YA CONTEMPORARY NOVEL. It is a love story of two incredible characters who fall in love under unusual circumstances (though Internet love stories are getting more and more common). It is so well paced and there's a mystery aspect in there when it comes to the identity of Blue. It also makes you crave Oreos, and if I did someday use this book as teaching material, I would definitely provide my students with some Oreos! 

7. All the Rage by Courtney Summers - I have been a fan of Courtney Summers's style of writing and the way she writes female characters ever since I read Some Girls Are. All the Rage was exactly what I expected it to be, and so much more. Though I am no stranger to books that deal with sexual violence, All the Rage is the first book for me that deals with in such a harrowing manner. All the Rage feels so realistic and honest and it instantly made me question the way our society deals with sexual violence, especially when it comes to the treatment of the victim and the way too often happening victim shaming. The blame is often put on the community, alcohol or the girl herself, as it is done in this novel, and often the perpetrator himself is completely forgotten or protected. All the Rage definitely made me rage, not because it wasn't a good book, but because it made me once again realize the injustices young girls have to face in your society. 

8. Damsel Distressed by Kelsey Macke - This novel made me feel so many things: compassion, anger, joy, sadness, happiness, and an array of emotions I cannot put into words. I connected with this novel on a deeper level, and like with Dumplin', it was nice to read about a character who is overweight. Imogen might not as be as confident in her body as Willowdean is in Dumplin', but there is some definite character development in Damsel Distressed through which Imogen learns to love herself just as she is. Despite the heavy issues the novel deals with from bullying to depression, Damsel Distressed is occasionally also extremely funny in a laugh-out-loud way. Also, there's a guy called Grant in this story who is just wonderful and for some reason made me think of Seth Cohen, one of my first fictional boyfriends, from The O.C.

9. Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson - All of Morgan Matson's novels deserve a place on this list, but in order to offer variety, I had to pick one and decided to go with Second Chance Summer. The way Matson writes about the family relationships and the struggle the characters who through when faced with a situation where they all know what will happen is so well executed and developed. This book made me laugh and cry and the way Matson paces the story really kept me interested throughout. The characters are wonderful and the relationships between them work so well. 

10. Saving June by Hannah Harrington - I had such a hard time deciding which novel that deals with suicide I should include on this list and I want to give a special mention to The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand  before going on to explaining by I chose Saving June. As someone who has gone through the suicide of someone close to me, I often tend to avoid books that deal with suicide, mostly because sometimes I feel such books do not do it with the emotional intensity that a person goes through in such situation. It almost feels like in order for you to write about suicide in a way that feels honest, you have to have gone through it yourself. I don't know what the deal is with Harrington, but I really did connect with Saving June and appreciated the honesty with which Harrington writes about the grief that the main character Harper goes through. This one hit right it to the emotions and I cried A LOT while reading it. It might sound like a good summer read with the road trip aspect and all, but honestly, this book is really sad. The writing is beautiful and the way Harrinton paces the story worked really well for me. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Review: Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Release date: May 6, 2014
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Age group: YA
Pages: 480
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back?

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger? Um... 

Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane's list. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go skinny-dipping? Wait...what?

After reading and falling in love with both Amy and Roger's Epic Detour and Second Chance Summer, I was pretty positive that I would love Since You've Been Gone. And I did. I REALLY DID!

Since Emily met Sloane, things have been good for her. Before, she was the shy girl who never really knew what to say or how to act around kids her age. After she became with Sloane, she might have still been shy, but she knew that Sloane was always there to save the day. Very quickly, they became best friends, doing everything together. Then, at the beginning of summer holiday, Sloane disappears without a word. First Emily thinks that she's just gone for a couple of days, maybe taking a family holiday. But as weeks go by, it starts to dawn on her that maybe Sloane is actually gone. Just as she is about to lose all the hope she has of reuniting with Sloane, she gets mail from Sloane. In the envelope is a list, including tasks such as "go skinny dipping" and "kiss a stranger". At first, Emily is positive there's no way she can do such things. But then the wheels start to turn and Emily finds herself with a new group of friends, realizing that she can be brave without Sloane. She just does not want to, if only possible.

While Emily goes through the list, treating it as a clue to finding Sloane, she finds herself from a new group of friends. There's Dawn, the girl working at the pizzeria next to the ice-cream shop Emily works at. There's Collins, a slightly goofy and at first glance, over-confident guy whose mission is to find a girlfriend. And then there's Frank Porter, a guy on his way to being the class Valedictorian and a future Ivy League scholar. Once these new friends learn about the list, they start to help Emily with it, and as the summer goes on, Emily finds herself connecting with these new friends in ways she never expected she would connect with anyone else but Sloane. 

Much like Amy and Roger's Epic Detour and Second Chance Summer, Since You've Been Gone manages to juggle a coming-of-age, finding yourself-type of story with family problems. Emily's parents, a pair of playwrights, completely isolate themselves to the process of working on a new play idea, which means that in addition to taking care of herself, much of the care of her younger brother Beckett is on her shoulders. Then there's Frank's parents who are going through rough times while attempting to keep up a facade of happiness and professionalism. Finally, mostly through flashbacks, the reader is introduced to Sloane's parents, who Emily sees in a very positive light, but who from time to time manage to disappoint their daughter. 

This family narration adds a level of realism to the story and allows Matson to open up the lives of her main characters in a more extensive manner to her readers. The pacing of the novel is well executed and it feels like every single page gives you more information about the characters and allows you to get to know them a little bit better. 

Emily is such an easy character to identify with, because like her, I tend to be quite timid and shy and often scared of taking a leap/risk. Her friendship with Sloane has often meant that Sloane has been the one taking the risks, and now that Sloane is gone, she's faced with a reality where she needs to be the one taking the risks. Since You've Been Gone does not deal with a similar type of loss than Matson's previous novels, but as I kept reading, I understood where Emily is coming from. I have had the same best friend for 21 years, and I think if she just suddenly left without a word, I would feel the same way. 

Like with Roger and Henry from Matson's previous novels, I pretty much instantly fell in love with Frank. I loved the fact that Matson decided to go with a "popular nerd" rather than a "popular jock". Don't get me wrong, I do love me some popular, sweet jocks, but once in a while, it is nice to read about a guy who seems like an "unconventional hottie" (though it seems like these nerdy guys are becoming the trend these days). For some reason, Frank brought into my mind Jim Halpert from The Office, probably because like Jim, Frank just honestly seems like SUCH A GOOD GUY! 

Unlike Matson's previous novels, Since You've Been Gone includes much more friendship narrative, which I loved. Though I love romance, I have recently found out that I tend to like awesome friendships even more! Nothing really beats BFFs. 

With Since You've Been Gone, Matson further solidifies her status as one of my favorite YA contemporary authors. I absolutely loved this book and I think you should all read it (most of you probably have already because you know that Morgan Matson's A QUEEN). 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Review: Unravel Me (Shatter Me #2) by Taheref Mafi

Release Date: February 5, 2013
Info about the author: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: HarperCollins
Age group: YA
Pages: 480 (kindle copy)
Buy the book: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

it's almost
time for war.

Juliette has escaped to Omega Point. It is a place for people like her—people with gifts—and it is also the headquarters of the rebel resistance.

She's finally free from The Reestablishment, free from their plan to use her as a weapon, and free to love Adam. But Juliette will never be free from her lethal touch.

Or from Warner, who wants Juliette more than she ever thought possible.

In this exhilarating sequel to Shatter Me, Juliette has to make life-changing decisions between what she wants and what she thinks is right. Decisions that might involve choosing between her heart—and Adam's life.


After really enjoying Shatter Me, I knew I would want to continue with this series. Once I noticed that there was a 1.5 novella for the series, I decided to read that before going to Unravel Me, and oh my, I am happy I did so. I feel like Destroy Me really provided me with much needed background to Warner, a character everyone seemed to love, which I never really understood. Until Destroy Me. Quickly, like probably a lot of readers of this series, I'm moving towards Team Warner instead of Team Adam. I like Adam, but I feel no connection whatsoever towards him. Since I am a fan of the whole damaged, misunderstood guy thing, I've become a sucker for Warner.

Juliette is in Omega Point - a haven for people like her. People with gifts. Or curses, like she feels about her talent. Everyone would think that Juliette is happy now - she won't be used as a weapon, she is free to love Adam and she is in the heart of the rebellion against the Reestablishment, the government that has been torturing her. But things start to get more and more difficult with Adam and without knowing why, Juliette finds herself thinking Warner way more than she should.

I won't say much about the events of this book because I don't want to spoil the book or tell too much for the readers who haven't read the first book yet. But what I will say is that I really enjoyed watching Juliette grow as a person. She is in no way flawless; she makes mistakes and does not quite know how to react to her powers and the new situation she finds herself from; but she tries herself. Another character I really loved to read about was Kenji - he definitely is a character I want to know more about.

Mafi's writing style still managed to take my breath away. Unravel Me is poetic, intriguing and simply beautiful. The writing flows a lot better in this one than the first book, but when it comes to the enjoyment of the story, I feel like I enjoyed the story of the first book a bit more. But in no way was Unravel Me a bad read - on the contrary. It made me very excited about the last book in the trilogy - I can't wait to see what happens to these characters and this wonderful fictional world.