Book Review: Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw

25982869Title: Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here
Author: Anna Breslaw
Publisher: Razorbill
Pub Date: April 19, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 288
Source: Library
Genre(s): YA, Contemporary, Romance
Rating: ★★★★★
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Book Review: We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Thirteen-year-old Stewart is academically brilliant but socially clueless. Fourteen-year-old Ashley is the undisputed “It” girl in her class, but her grades stink.

Their worlds are about to collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it, but Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder.

They are complete opposites. And yet, they have one thing in common: they—like everyone else—are made of molecules.

My review:

“Right now, as I’m talking to you, you’re probably picking up a few Stewart molecules and vice versa.”

My heart swells for Stewart. To put it in his own words, he is a “quality human being”. The fact that he refers to his parents as quality human beings makes him even more of a quality human being. I just love that.

Stewart is earnest and matter-of-fact and just plain charming. You probably never got to know him in school. Ashley is attractive (and vain) and places no real value on friendship, or family, for that matter. And I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been friends with an Ashley. Or a dozen. Heaven knows I have. Of course, this would not be a good book if mistakes weren’t made and learned from.

I assumed this was a middle grade book, however, there were some very serious topics being discussed. This book is able to talk about death, divorce, homophobia, bullying, and sexual harassment in a way that everyone can understand. It’s important for youth to read about these things to learn about what is and is not okay.

On that note, I really enjoyed the writing style. It was quick and witty and just how I remember feeling when I was 13-years-old. Needless to say, Stewart’s intelligence comes across in his thoughts, and his way of looking at the world–at people–is spectacular. He sees everything for what it is. Ashley’s P.O.V. was entertaining to say the least, often misplacing words like “emancipated” with “unconstipated”. Divorcing from your parents and cleansing your intestines are two very different things. Or maybe it’s not, haha!

My favourite part of this novel was the fact that it takes place in Vancouver, my hometown. It’s surreal reading about streets and trains that you take every day. It made the story that much more real to me.

★★★★ (4.5 stars) because we are all made of molecules. The sooner we all realize that, the sooner we can all accept each other.

Book Review: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

 

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Nothing living is safe. Nothing dead is to be trusted.

For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a lie; and Blue, who loves Gansey…and is certain she is destined to kill him.

Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

My review:

“He was a book, and he was holding his final pages, and he wanted to get to the end to find out how it went, and he didn’t want it to be over.”

I don’t know how to feel about things now that this is over. Or, sort of over. I’ll come back to this point later.

After reading other reviews, it’s easy to see that The Raven Cycle—but more accurately, the Raven lifestyle—is an acquired taste (although the majority of us are like Hungry Hungry Hippos when it comes to the ladies of 300 Fox Way and the boys of Aglionby). I wanted more, and I was prepared to take whatever I could get. I am so thankful for this book.

On that note, this final instalment was not perfect. It was everything I loved about every page of every other book in the cycle, and it was also not. It was Nino’s and Robobees, scrying and dying, dreamworlds and the real world, nobility and decomposition. It was always about the boys, and Blue, and Cabeswater. And in the end, it was still the boys, and Blue, and Cabeswater. I am so thankful for this world.

“Gansey just loved it, fearfully, awesomely, worshipfully.”

For me, The Raven Boys was love at first page. I don’t know how to put it into words. The writing style and character development and eerie thrill and magic that fills its pages is something you have to witness for yourself, from the very beginning. If you did not enjoy the first book, one can assume you would not enjoy the rest, but that’s irrelevant if you’ve already come this far on the journey to find Glendower. I am so thankful for this journey.

I need a separate paragraph just to note my appreciation of the creature/dreamer/warrior that is Ronan Lynch. “Half a dreamer, half a dream, maker of ravens and hoofed girls and entire lands.” He is something else. He is everything you could want from a character. Someone filled with so much good, bad, the ugly and beautiful, that their existence, to simply know them or know of them, is like a gift. I am so thankful for Ronan Lynch.

And can we talk about Pynch? <spoiler removed> Yes. Yes. Yes. They are everything, everything, everything. I am so thankful for this love.

Also, Henry Cheng grinds my gears. Whatever type of plot device he was intended to be, his insertion into this world, into Gansey’s life, felt forced upon me. And I did not like it. In my opinion, the only good thing that Cheng added to the story was his sage advice to Gansey: “If you can’t be unafraid, be afraid and happy.” I am so thankful for these words.

And thank you, Maggie Stiefvater. Reading this series has made me feel like there truly is something more out there. I couldn’t imagine giving this anything less than 5 stars because I truly feel like this series will always be a part of me. Not in the same way that Harry Potter was (and still is), but just as significant. Just as important. I am so thankful for this series.

★★★★ (4.5 stars) because one can never be satisfied with something so beautiful coming to an end. But at least there’s still the possibility of something more. It’s never over. Cabeswater will always exist in some shape, way, or form.

Book Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.

Featuring cameos from fan-favorites Anna, Étienne, Lola, and Cricket, this sweet and sexy story of true love—set against the stunning backdrops of New York City, Paris, and Barcelona—is a swoonworthy conclusion to Stephanie Perkins’s beloved series.

My review:

“Phones are distracting. The internet is distracting. The way he looked at you? He wasn’t distracted. He was consumed.”

Perkins has done it again! After being in an awful reading slump for the past few weeks, I was actually able to devour this book in one sitting! In my opinion, there is nothing better than a cute and romantic novel to cheer a reader up.

In regard to the plot, I would be lying if I said these books weren’t predictable and (sometimes) cliché but that is honestly the best part. Sometimes stability—or in this case, knowing what you’re getting—is very satisfying in itself. Does that make sense? I knew this book would be fast-paced, cute, and heartwarming before I even read it. I knew I would feel like reading more books as soon as I finished this one. And that’s exactly what happened. Success!

I’m ready to read again. Bring on all the fantasy and romance and sad things. I am so ready.

★★★★ (4 stars) because I can always count on Perkins for a “reading slump cure”.

Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love…or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them — not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all — family money, good looks, devoted friends — but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

My review:

“Fate,” Blue replied, glowering at her mother, “is a very weighty word to throw around before breakfast.”

I thought the synopsis of this book was detailed, but wow, it doesn’t even begin to cover it.

I expected some YA angst and drama and forbidden love. This was so much more than that. It was captivating. It was family and magic and understanding. It was right and wrong and life and death. It was beaten-up Camaros and pizza from Nino’s. It was bruises and birds and bones. It was fate.

How do I say this without sounding like an idiot? I feel as if I know the true essence of every character. The character development was astounding. It’s as if I was given access into the minds of almost everyone: Blue, Neeve, Maura, Persephone, Calla, Whelk, and most importantly, all of the notorious Raven Boys.

I can’t explain how thrilled I was throughout the entire book. I was literally on the edge of my seat. Seriously. My leg has an odd cramp in it because I was so tensed up.

I wanted to say that the world-building was perfect but it wasn’t necessarily a new world. It was our world, but with undiscovered magic and the quest for purpose and trees that speak Latin.

★★★★★ (5 stars) for the eccentric sensibility of Blue and all the ghosts who are our friends. For Gansey.

Book Review: To Hear The Ocean Sigh by Bryant A. Loney

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I received a free copy of this book from Verona Booksellers in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influences my opinion of the work.

“It’s human nature not to think of storms when the ocean is quiet.”

This coming-of-age story follows Jay Murchison, a self-proclaimed loner who leads a seemingly comfortable life, but is filled with a yearning hope for something more. Fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower can find familiar comfort in Jay’s noted self-awareness and observations of the people around him. Readers may also find such an air of mystery and need for understanding that can only be compared to that of Looking for Alaska‘s.

It seems that overnight, Jay has fallen into step with a close-knit group of friends. These friends are church-goers, weekenders (for lack of a better term), and dysfunctional in the way that most of us were/are at 15 years of age. One might think their motto is: Sin on Saturday/Repent on Sunday. I sincerely apologize if that offends anyone, as that is not my intention. Basically, Jay transitions from wallflower-status to partygoer. More notably, a mistakenly sent text message results in Jay forming a close “textual” relationship with a girl named Saphnie. These new relationships converge and slowly unravel as Jay attempts to make sense of a tragic event and the incidents leading up to it. If you want any more information about the plot, you will just have to read the book.

Before I get into what I liked and disliked about the book, I would like to point out that this would have been a lot more enjoyable if I hadn’t already experienced my own horrific version of high school. Maybe I am getting too old for coming-of-age stories. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was a very quick and (mostly) painless read. My thoughts are a bit scattered though, so bear with me.

I was only a few pages in before I became skeptical of the direction of this book. I’m referring to the interaction that Jay witnesses between Nick and the distressed girl on the bus. Would anyone seriously outright ask someone if they considered killing themselves? Much less a stranger? In retrospect, Nick seems like a truly disturbed being so I’m not as confused/annoyed by this conversation anymore.

And then there was that little comment by Aunt Nancy regarding Canadians. “They’ve got a fuggin’ marijuana leaf as their flag”. I laughed out loud. It’s true though. I never thought of it that way, but it’s more than fitting if like myself, you’re from British Columbia (“BC Bud”).

And then there was this gem regarding a picture that Jay’s mom took: “Sometimes you’re the pigeon, sometimes you’re the statue.” Why is this so relatable? I actually had to pause to think about this. It is so relevant.

I want to say that Saphnie, but more specifically her perspective on things, was my favourite part of this novel. After Jay tells her about some troubling events, she responds with “I like how your friend suggested you be a photographer since you clearly need to find your focus.” Saphnie, you witty, little ray of sunshine.

Without bombarding you with too many quotes, I want to note a few things that could have been better:

1) There was too much high school drama. That being said, this wouldn’t be a coming-of-age story without it. Maybe this is just me being old and bitter.

2) I understand that technology/social media was important in forging and maintaining Jay’s relationships, but it is really annoying reading text message threads in a book. The majority of the dialogue seemed like it was through text message. On another note, I will say that it wasn’t as bothersome to me as it has been in other books. So maybe it was well done.

3) There was a paragraph near the beginning that basically sold me on exactly what was going to happen. I won’t even post that here in case in deters someone from wanting to pick up the book. Luckily, I kept reading because I still wanted to see how everything unfolded.

Besides that, I quite enjoyed this read. Normally, I determine the strength of a book by the impression it leaves on me, whether that be negative or positive. This was a small moment in the grand scheme of things, but I kept thinking about when Jay says: “Let your parents deal with this, not you.” I wish someone would have told me that when I was younger (when I was 9, or 10, or honestly any year after that). Picking up the pieces of broken plates and broken people is not a skill anyone should acquire from a young age. It’s just not right. Fortunately, I’ve seemed to keep the pieces together so far.

We all have this need to make sense of the things around us. Why do people say or do certain things? What do we really know about ourselves? What do others really know about me? What do I really know about others? It’s all about perspective. This book is a great example of that.

I want to give this book 3.5 stars, because there’s always hope. And oceans. But it’s definitely closer to a 4, so I’m giving it ★★★★, and hope, and oceans.

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

My review:

“But love was always something heavy for me. Something I had to carry.”

Initial response (last night): My heart needs time. I only planned on reading a few chapters before I went to bed. It was sometime between 11 pm and 12 am when I read the first page. Now I’m here, at 2:12 am, wondering what took me so damn long to read this book. I was not expecting this. This book. Wow. I don’t want to write a review yet because I’m sleep-deprived and need time to digest but I can’t contain all the feels. Just wow. I want to thank the author. Thank you, Benjamin.

Update (this morning): This book is one of those books that you want to tell everyone about. I want to talk to everyone about this book. I want the universe to know that I read this book and that now nothing will ever be the same. Like, where do I even begin? I don’t think I’m capable of writing anything coherent right now. I just think everyone should read it.

This book is the definition of ★★★★★ (5 stars). All the stars in the universe. In the desert. Where there is no light pollution. Looking up from the bed of a pickup truck.

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

My mini-review:

“To really be a nerd, she’d decided, you had to prefer fictional worlds to the real one.”

Relatable. So relatable. Like, unbelievably relatable. I imagine that my life would be written a lot like this if it were a YA novel; however, Fangirl is far less tragic and far more cute than my story. Also, I don’t normally “ship” people—nor do I even use that phrase—but I have to say that Simon and Baz make me want to use the word “ship”. I ship them. So there. I did it.

★★★★★ (5 stars) for reminding me why I love and embrace being a nerd. This is probably now one of my all-time favourite books.

Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.

My mini-review:

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”

The majority of this book was read while I was waiting around in airports, so my expression remained rather stoic (in an attempt to go unnoticed by other passengers) except for the few times I couldn’t quite suppress my laughter and it slipped out like a chuckle or a cough. I didn’t much like how people were staring at me while I was reading. I am a bit paranoid though. Anyways, the point I wanted to make is that I felt rather involved yet withdrawn while reading this book, and then for some reason, after reading the last page and putting the book down, I felt my eyes stinging and I didn’t know what to do with myself.

★★★★★ (5 stars) because I’m not really sure what is so great about this book but it was something I needed to read. I do wish that the author was a terrific friend of mine.

Book Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Synopsis from Goodreads:

The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.
 
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

My mini-review:

“There was nothing to make him last a long time.”

I understand that some readers may have disliked this book because they thought it was written to be tragic just for the sake of being tragic (if that makes sense), but it was still a lovely story. And from what I hear, it’s inspired by a personal experience of the author’s, so the tragedy is hardly present just for the plot excitement. One can also make the point that a lot of YA novels are regurgitations of each other, but I still found this to be a very touching story. Like Theodore, I am a different Layla for different people for reasons unknown, and I have lasted longer than I thought I could.

Ugh, I love Finch.

★★★★★ (5 stars) because you make me lovely.