Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Book Review: Wanderlost by Jen Malone

Release date: May 31st, 2016
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 352
Purchase links: Amazon - Amazon UK - Amazon CA - B&N - Book Depository - IndieBound - iTunes - Google Books - Adlibris

Description (from Goodreads):

Not all those who wander are lost, but Aubree Sadler most definitely is on this novel’s whirlwind trip through Europe.

Aubree can’t think of a better place to be than in perfectly boring Ohio, and she’s ready for a relaxing summer. But when her older sister, Elizabeth, gets into real trouble, Aubree is talked into taking over Elizabeth’s summer job, leading a group of senior citizens on a bus tour through Europe.

Aubree doesn’t even make it to the first stop in Amsterdam before their perfect plan unravels, leaving her with no phone, no carefully prepared binder full of helpful facts, and an unexpected guest: the tour company owner’s son, Sam. Considering she’s pretending to be Elizabeth, she absolutely shouldn’t fall for him, but she can’t help it, especially with the most romantic European cities as the backdrop for their love story.

But her relationship with Sam is threatening to ruin her relationship with her sister, and she feels like she’s letting both of them down. Aubree knows this trip may show her who she really is—she just hopes she likes where she ends up.

Wanderlost represents the reader with a kind of a dream scenario, a summer trip of a life time. When all of the aspects of it are put together it does not seem very realistic, but I think with a book like this it is not even necessary, because the interesting and likable characters and the swoonworthy guy make it a fun, relaxing summer read perfect for the beach or the pool. 

Aubree feels most comfortable at home and has never really felt a need to travel. Unlike her sister, who seems to be always on the move, Aubree is looking forward to her summer before entering to college close to her home so she can still live with her parents. When Aubree's sister Elizabeth takes responsibility of something unplanned, her summer plans go down the toilet and she realizes that in order for her future to go as she has planned, she needs to find someone to substitute her as a guide on a senior road trip to Europe. Aubree is not at all interested when Elizabeth asks her to go to Europe instead of her, but eventually she feels like she has no other option. She packs her backs and to Europe she goes.

While Aubree is not at first into the idea of leaving home, I loved the fact that she eventually starts to embrace the idea of seeing the world - she is EXTREMELY privileged and if a character in such a position constantly complains, I lose my patience very soon (Royally Lost, I AM TALKING ABOUT YOU!) The seniors in Aubree's group are extremely entertaining and add a lot of humor to the book. 

Sam, the guy Aubree meets on the trip, is super cute and the exchanges between them are witty and fun to read about. I would like to point out though that I think there was a lot of unnecessary awkwardness between them - for example Aubree is ashamed of what she likes to eat and that turns into a whole web of ridiculous lies. Those moments make this novel very cliche and at points I had a hard time seeing past them. 

Wanderlost is nothing monumental, but it does make an entertaining summer contemporary if you are looking for one. 


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Book Review: All The Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

Release date: August 9th, 2016
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Pages: 352
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible "adult" around. She finds peace in the starry Midwestern night sky above the fields behind her house. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father's thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle. What follows is a powerful and shocking love story between two unlikely people that asks tough questions, reminding us of all the ugly and wonderful things that life has to offer.

I had no idea what to expect from this book when I requested it from Netgalley for review. I had not heard anyone talking about this book yet, but after looking for it from Twitter, I noticed that it has been generating buzz for a while now. I usually wouldn't pick books like this (literary fiction/adult fiction) up as ARCs, but I am happy that I did because this book was freaking awesome - beautiful, haunting, disturbing, lovely, and so much more.

Wavy's father Liam is a drug dealer. Her mother Val is only one of Liam's many conquests, a woman who is sometimes herself and sometimes like a completely different person. As an eight-year-old big sister Wavy is the only one taking care of her little brother. She trusts no one, talks very little and eats in secret. For her whole life her mother has told her that she is dirty and that nothing really belongs to her. 

Due to Liam's drug dealing and her mother's desire to keep tabs on Liam wherever he goes, Wavy and Donal are occasionally dragged to Val's sister's Brenda's place. Brenda has two daughters, Amy and Leslie (I want to think that the author has been watching Parks and Recreation and has picked these names from there - the main character Leslie is played by Amy Poehler) and a husband who is not very enthusiastic about the idea of raising the "white trash" children of Val's. 

Everything changes when Wavy meets Kellan, a twenty something ex-con who works part-time for Liam. Kellan and Wavy form a bond that is protective and loving. Eventually, their relationship develops into something more romantic. The problem is that Kellan is an adult, whereas Wavy is just a child. Though Wavy says that she loves and wants to be with Kellan, does she really understand what she is agreeing to? 

All The Ugly and Wonderful Things covers a number of years from 1975 to 1990 from multiple point of views. Throughout, the author keeps the reader somewhat distanced from what is happening - you witness, rather than experience. The novel shows rather than tells - like a good film, it is atmospheric, detailed and well put together without being overly emotional or melodramatic. Due to the multiple narrators, you never really have a chance to fully identify with any of the characters and the multiple point of views fragment the story in interesting ways. Wavy and Kellan are at the center of the story and much of the events of the novel are build around them. It is extremely interesting to read different accounts and reactions to what happens between Kellan and Wavy - the novel does not offer the "right" interpretation but rather gives the reader a chance to make her own conclusions.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is essentially the love story of Kellan and Wavy and t

Monday, August 15, 2016

Book Review: It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover

Release date: August 2, 2016
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 384
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town in Maine where she grew up—she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. So when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life suddenly seems almost too good to be true.

Ryle is assertive, stubborn, maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily. And the way he looks in scrubs certainly doesn’t hurt. Lily can’t get him out of her head. But Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing. Even as Lily finds herself becoming the exception to his “no dating” rule, she can’t help but wonder what made him that way in the first place.

As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan—her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.

Oh my, this just wasn't for me AT ALL. I didn't hate it as much as I thought I would after the first hundred pages or so, but It Ends with Us just wasn't the kind of reading experience I expected from Colleen Hoover. 

Growing up, Lily got used to hearing her mother being beaten by her father. At first her father always said sorry and told it would never happen again, but as time went by, it became clear to everyone that it would not stop. The one way Lily's mother could get rid of the violence was by leaving. But how can you leave someone you love even when that person hurts you?

This whole "How can you leave someone you love, even if he hurts him" question becomes very prominent in It Ends with Us. As Lily starts navigating her own adult life, she meets Ryle, a handsome surgeon with a dark past (how surprising!). As their relationship gets deeper, Lily starts to realize that Ryle might share some characteristics with her recently deceased father. Characteristics Lily swore she would never invite to her own life. 

Ryle is the ABSOLUTE WORST and even though the reader is probably meant to fall in love with him at first like Lily does, there is no way I could feel anything positive for a guy like that. He is arrogant (not in a good way) and violent and even before they enter into a relationship, the warning signs are there! He is probably supposed to be this great romantic hero at the beginning of the novel, but NO! He, for example, comes to Lily's door and begs for sex on his knees - apparently having sex once could help him forget her. As the novel processes I hated Ryle more and more and though Hoover does a fairly good job narrating Lily's thoughts and hesitations, I felt like something was missing. Throughout the novel, even at the beginning, Lily and Ryle lack any sort of chemistry and it feels like they don't really even know each other that well - they just have sex and then suddenly get very serious. If they would have had this epic love story that then turned sour I think I would have had an easier time understanding Lily's mindset and why she is hesitating.

When Lily was a teenager, she helped out a guy called Atlas who ended up becoming her first love. She hasn't seen Atlas for years, but he is still very much present in the novel through Lily's old diary entries. While Atlas was part of her life, Lily wrote "letters" to Ellen Degeneres, telling about her life and her love for Atlas. I feel like the Ellen-bit is a publicity stunt (like hey Ellen I mention you in my book) and completely unnecessary - the entries would read similarly without the whole "Dear Ellen" bit and occasional mentions of Ellen's show. Nevertheless the diary entries are a nice addition to the story and definitely made me like Atlas a lot more than Ryle. There is no love triangle in It Ends with Us, but relationships past and present start to merge and become the cause for both hurt and healing.

I formed my opinions about this book quite early and I feel like my early earned hatred for Ryle kept me quite negative throughout the book. In addition to Ryle being a total dick, I constantly felt like TOO MUCH was happening. The novel jumps quite a bit in time, and the very sudden twists and turns made me feel like I was reading a script for a soap opera. The characters remain quite one-dimensional and lack depth and I constantly kept looking for something to grab into so I could get more into the story. Atlas is a shining light within the story and a character I wish would have been more prominent within the narrative - he is pretty much the only character who kept occasionally reminding me why I have enjoyed some of Hoover's previous novels.

I know I am in the minority with my thoughts (the Goodreads rating for this novel is something ridiculous like 4.6 at the moment), which I think makes it even more important for me to write my thoughts down. I am definitely not giving up with Colleen Hoover though because she has written novels that I have absolutely loved. It Ends with Us just wasn't one of those stories for me. 


"Did you just knock on twenty-nine doors so you could tell me that the thought of me is making your life hell and I should have sex with you so that you'll never have to think of me again?" 

"His head drops between his shoulders and he shakes it back and forth. He pushes off the door and stands up straight. He half-turns, heading for the hallway, but then suddenly drops to his knees in front of me. He wraps his arms around my waist. "Please, Lily", he says through self-deprecating laughter. "Please have sex with me." He's looking up at me with puppy dog eyes and a pathetic, hopeful grin."

"I want you so, so bad and I swear, once you have sex with me you'll never hear from me again. I promise."

"I'm not the kind of guy who needs someone more than once."

"There's a three-second pause where I think this could go one of two ways. He's going to leave me. Or he's going to hurt me."

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Play Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne (NO SPOILERS!)

Release date: July 31st, 2016
Publisher: Little Brown UK
Pages: 330
Purchase links: Amazon - Amazon UK - Amazon CA - B&N - Book Depository - IndieBound - iTunes - Google Books - Adlibris

Description (from Goodreads):

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Don't worry, there will be no spoilers here!

If you have read somewhere that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child reads like a piece of fanfiction, you have read right, because it very much reminded me of something I would expect to find from a fanfiction archive. It is based on a story by J.K. Rowling, but it does not read like a J.K. Rowling novel. Characters old and new are present and some elements of J.K.'s stories can be identified, but at the end of the day, the end result is something that has to be credited to Jack Thorne, not Rowling. 

For nostalgia reasons alone I was desperate to read this. I know seeing the play won't probably be a realistic option for me for a few years, so I was happy that I got a chance to somehow live the story through. Since it is a play, it is obvious that only reading it does not introduce you to all of the magical aspects the stage play most likely has. But at least you know what the play is about and don't have to rely on secondhand accounts and rumors.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child focuses mainly on Harry, now working for the Ministry of Magic, and his youngest son Albus. The play jumps in time quite a bit, so we get to see Albus in Hogwarts for a number of years. Both Harry and Albus are haunted by events from Harry's past, and it seems to Albus that he will never live up to some of the expectations his father has for him. Albus navigates his life at Hogwarts with an unexpected friend and runs into something that has a potential to turn his life, as well as the lives of those around him, very dangerous.

While I loved reading more about the characters I had already fallen in love with (Harry, Ron, Hermione and others) as well as new characters like Albus, I couldn't help feeling like something was missing. Maybe it is that distinctive voice and style of Rowling that is not as present in this as in the original novels or the fact that at the end of the day, this story is supposed to be experienced as a performance. Some of the characters felt very underdeveloped on the page, and there were a few relationships that I wish could have gone into a different direction. But at the end of the day, I am happy for the chance I got to spend a few hours back in the magical world of witches, wizards and Hogwarts and I really hope that one day I have the chance to experience this as a performance.