1 star · romance · young adult

once and for all by sarah dessen is, for once, 1/5 stars

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once and for all

author : sarah dessen

pages : [hardcover] 358

memorable quote :

It’s about the courage to go for what you want, not just what you think you need. 

favorite character : ira

summary :

As bubbly as champagne and delectable as wedding cake, Once and for All, Sarah Dessen’s thirteenth novel, is set in the world of wedding planning, where crises are routine.

Louna, daughter of famed wedding planner Natalie Barrett, has seen every sort of wedding: on the beach, at historic mansions, in fancy hotels and clubs. Perhaps that’s why she’s cynical about happily-ever-after endings, especially since her own first love ended tragically. When Louna meets charming, happy-go-lucky serial dater Ambrose, she holds him at arm’s length. But Ambrose isn’t about to be discouraged, now that he’s met the one girl he really wants.

Sarah Dessen’s many, many fans will adore her latest, a richly satisfying, enormously entertaining story that has everything—humor, romance, and an ending both happy and imperfect, just like life itself.

review :

This is the first Sarah Dessen book I’ve ever read that I wished I DNF’d.

love Sarah Dessen. I think a lot of YA readers go through a phase between those pre-teen and teenage years where they discover Dessen, and her writing, and the wonderfully beachy, romantic, comedic, quirky books she writes. I love how each of her books references characters in the others. I love that feeling that there’s this town where all of the people are meeting and falling hopelessly, madly in love with one another in adorable ways.

I didn’t get any of that from Once and For All.

To be fair, I knew nothing about this book going in, because since high school Sarah Dessen has been on my auto-buy list. New book coming out? Say no more. I’ll end up reading it at some point. Quite the feat, because I can only name two contemporary writers on that auto-buy list, and not many more where I’ve loved their books. Contemporary, usually, isn’t the genre for me. I saw a copy of this book at my local Target that was autographed, freaked out a little, and immediately knew it had to come home with me. And so it began.

Once and For All is about Louna, who works for her mother’s wedding planning company even though she’s cynical about love because of a certain tragic backstory and doesn’t plan to follow the career past her last summer before college. Which was a little disappointing, because I feel like there was so much focus on her job, and it would have been nice if she’d been a little more enthusiastic about it. After all, she’s annoyed whenever anything goes wrong or a certain someone bumbles through her day, but she’s never happy about . . . anything. Even if it isn’t a lifetime career goal it would have been nice to see her involved, maybe with the creative aspects, or . . . Actually, I don’t think we were given any indication of what Louna would like to do besides this. And it’s fine, not to have your life set in stone when you’re eighteen, but it would have been better to know what she’s passionate about, or even just likes, rather than her moping around all of the time.

Another huge chunk of the plot concerns a bet that seems like a common staple in romantic comedy movies but I’m not sure I’ve read about in a YA book before. Rather than taking an unexpected or even whole-heartedly romantic turn like I’d hoped, it turned into something very predictable, very cliche, and very disappointing.

I may be one of the rare ones who doesn’t need to sworn over the romantic lead in my contemporary romance to ‘get it’. All I need is a good character. And I’m not sure I got even that much. Ambrose is very . . . quirky. And so not ready for a serious relationship, which I guess would be the only thing to save Louna from a certain tragic backstory.

Which . . . I’m not certain of how that was meant to fit into the rest of the plot. It happened five months before the book starts, I think, but everyone is already pressuring her to move on and basically find true love when she’s barely eighteen. Everyone in this book, Louna and Ambrose included, just needed to take a little time to just sit back and enjoy themselves a little.

While it was boring, the writing wasn’t absolutely terrible. I’ll still try more of Sarah Dessen’s books in the future. But I’m afraid that, now that we’ve hit book thirteen, if she doesn’t mix something up, the stories will always end up this bland.

1/5 stars

 

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5 stars · children's books · fiction

imaginary fred by eoin colfer & oliver jeffers is the book all kids and grown-ups need

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imaginary fred

authors : eoin colfer & oliver jeffers

pages : [hardcover] 48

summary :

A quirky, funny, and utterly irresistible story from Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers, two of the finest children’s book creators on the planet.

Did you know that sometimes, with a little electricity, or luck, or even magic, an imaginary friend might appear when you need one? An imaginary friend like Fred.

Fred floated like a feather in the wind until Sam, a lonely little boy, wished for him and, together, they found a friendship like no other.

The perfect chemistry between Eoin Colfer’s text and Oliver Jeffers’s artwork makes for a dazzlingly original picture book.

review :

I never had an imaginary friend when I was younger. Maybe because I had books instead.

That sounds incredibly corny, but it was true. Whenever I was lonely, I could always find someone to be friends with me, and maybe fictional characters are their own kind of imaginary friends. I’ve been obsessed with them long enough to not really know the difference.

Imaginary Fred is an amazingly cute, quirky story about what it is to be a friend, what it is to be recognized, and what great things the imagination can do for you. Sam has always wanted a friend, and Fred has had many people befriend him during his imaginary friend gig . . . but they all, inevitably find real friends for themselves. And forget all about him.

Sam and Fred have an amazing relationship and friendship and I love all of the messages told in this story. I don’t want to spoil any of them (and, really, this book is short enough, so you need to go and read it yourself if you’re so curious, and just because it’s that good). Messages about friendship, about identity, creativity, love, caring, altruism . . .

And, yes, I know children’s books always have some kind of hidden agenda, right? They’re always trying to teach something. Or at least a lot of tiny little things. Imaginary Fred does it right because while the messages aren’t hidden, they aren’t spelled out for the kids, either. It lets younger readers do all of the critical thinking on their own.

But, really, the illustrations and story are cute enough for readers of any age.

5/5 stars

 

2 stars · fiction · young adult

I Hate Everyone but You

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i hate everyone but you

authors : gaby dunn & allison raskin

pages : [arc] 352

summary :

Dear Best Friend,
I can already tell that I will hate everyone but you.
Sincerely,
Ava Helmer
(that brunette who won’t leave you alone)

We’re still in the same room, you weirdo.
Stop crying.
G

So begins a series of texts and emails sent between two best friends, Ava and Gen, as they head off to their first semesters of college on opposite sides of the country. From first loves to weird roommates, heartbreak, self-discovery, coming out and mental health, the two best friends will document every moment to each other. But as each changes and grows into her new life, will their friendship be able to survive the distance?

review:

I received an ARC from Wednesday books in exchange for my honest review. 

I was so excited to read this book, because books with a unique text format are always something that I’m going to reach for an try out. I Hate Everyone But You is told in text messages and emails between two best friends who are separated from one another by over 3,000 miles as they navigate freshman year at college. All of the exploration, romance, and fun that comes with attending college, wrapped into an important relationship between two teenagers.

Unfortunately, it was a cute concept with little execution.

Before getting into that, I would like to note what I did love about this book. I loved that Ava, one of the main characters, has a variety of disorders–I say variety because she mentions problems with OCD, anxiety, and depression, though we can’t be entirely certain what her diagnosis is. I don’t say I loved this because I want anyone to go through this–mental illness is horrible. But it’s so rare to find YA in which a main character having even one of those mental illnesses isn’t the actual plot of the book. Yes, it certainly affects Ava, and the course of the novel, and even Gen, but this isn’t a book about OCD, or anxiety, or depression. It’s about Ava and Gen. And I loved that. The characters don’t define themselves by these illnesses, and knowing how many younger readers will be picking up this book because the authors both publish videos on YouTube, that’s an incredibly important message to send out.

The thing that had me most reluctant to review I Hate Everyone But You is because I could never quite find the plot in it. The way that it ends, the authors may be setting up for a possible sequel, because it just ends. Many things that I thought might be resolved, like romance and personal issues that I won’t get into for fear of spoiling anything, tapered down to a rushed ending.

Throughout the novel, it was extremely hard to discern one voice from the other. Ava and Gen blended together so completely that I often had to check the names in the headers of their emails to determine who was who. As best friends, I know their writing would have some overlap, but with such distinctive personalities, their text speech should have differed more as well. The texts were more confusing to read than the emails, as using icons next to their names was a cute idea but forced me to triple-check which icon belonged to who each time a conversation started.

And then there was the date rape joke.

We arrived at ZBT to a line of freshman pledges handing out tropical punch and leis. The party had a jungle theme and probably at least one case of date rape. (I’m joking. I hope.)

(This is a quote from the ARC, so I plan to check this quote against the finished copy when the book is released on September 5th.)

I simply don’t understand when people will stop thinking that rape jokes are funny. With all of the other huge issues in this book, with Gen and Ava navigating what is appropriate/inappropriate to say in LGBTQ+ spaces–those conversations were great. I feel like these lines by Ava could have sparked another discussion. One that reiterated how not okay it is to make light of date rape, because there are still so many men and women whose experiences and traumas are invalidated.

That was the biggest problem I had with this book.

I know many readers and reviewers will also feed into the controversy of YouTube personalities filtering into the publishing industry these days. I’ve personally never watched either author’s videos, but I feel like that shouldn’t matter. Whether someone has striven to become an author since they were a kid or they only decided to write because they already had a fanbase, the book is still going to be judged on its own. I Hate Everyone But You just didn’t hold up for me.

Is this the last we’ll see of Gen and Ava? Maybe not, if this book does well. But it’s certainly the last I’ll see of them.

2/5 stars

 

2 stars · fiction · young adult

She, Myself, & I by Emma Young: bland writing, cool concept

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She, Myself, & I

author : emma young

pages : [hardcover] 384

favorite character : rosa

summary :

Ever since Rosa’s nerve disease rendered her quadriplegic, she’s depended on her handsome, confident older brother to be her rock and her mirror. But when a doctor from Boston chooses her to be a candidate for an experimental brain transplant, she and her family move from London in search of a miracle. Sylvia—a girl from a small town in Massachusetts—is brain dead, and her parents have agreed to donate her body to give Rosa a new life. But when Rosa wakes from surgery, she can’t help but wonder, with increasing obsession, who Sylvia was and what her life was like. Her fascination with her new body and her desire to understand Sylvia prompt a road trip based on self-discovery… and a surprising new romance. But will Rosa be able to solve the dilemma of her identity?

review :

I received an ARC of She, Myself, & I from BookCon and while I am exceptionally thankful for that, it in no way affects my review.

I wanted to love this book. From the minute I read the summary, I knew I had to get my hands on it, and my friend and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time during BookCon to grab an ARC. I guess the only book I could possibly compare it to is that Meg Cabot novel about the girl who has her brain placed inside the body of a celebrity. This is nothing like that.

Rosa is in many ways a typical teenager. Her brother is simultaneously annoying and a best friend; she has friends online across the world she’ll probably never meet in real life; her parents hover a little too much. But she’s also been diagnosed with a real, debilitating, terminal illness. Her independence has slowly been taken away by this neurological disorder that isn’t ever named (so far as I know) and the specifics of which remain vague. Still, it’s shown that the longer it progresses, the less Rosa has a chance at life.

Until tragedy strikes, and one family is losing their teenage daughter. But for Rosa, this means she might get to live.

I love how She, Myself, & I addressed so many questions that there aren’t really answers to–ethical, spiritual, physical. One brain, one body–so is it all Rosa? Is anything left of the dead girl? As painful as it was, I loved that struggle, because it made it feel so much more real. Rosa’s questioning her own soul, what it means now that all that’s left of her old self is her brain.

While the ideas and themes were great, the writing just didn’t do it for me. The dialogue was fairly bland and the writing was quick, simplistic, and not very descriptive. The romance felt a little forced for me, less insta-love and more like Rosa picked the best out of all of her options and simply went for it. I didn’t feel much chemistry between them, and honestly thought it would have been more interesting had they remained simply friends. The book didn’t particularly need the romance; it didn’t improve from it, and Rosa is already dealing with so many other changes I feel like the focus should have remained on them.

There were a few other plot points that fell flat for me, but I won’t mention them because I don’t want to give out any spoilers. That’s because I know there will be people who love this book more than I did. I really want to read more of Emma Young’s writing in the future because I can see the potential here and feel like her perfect book for me simply hasn’t been written yet.

I probably won’t go around recommending this book, but I’ll certainly hand it off to someone else so they’ll have the chance to read it.

2/5 stars

 

3 stars · fiction

they both die at the end didn’t manage to make me cry

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they both die at the end

author : adam silvera

pages : [hardcover] 384

favorite character : rufus

summary :

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

review :

A big thank you to Edelweiss for providing me with an E-ARC in exchange for my honest review.

I was really really really excited to read this book.

This is the first book by Adam Silvera that I’ve read and when I attended Book Con this year, I think this was one of the most popular ARCs floating around the scene. I’m not a typical contemporary reader–there are times I absolutely love them, times I hate them, and I can never read too many of them in a row. But I dove right into this book without knowing about it’s compelling concept: somehow, someone has developed Death Cast, a system where if you are slated to die on a certain day, you’ll have your call by 2 A.M. that it’s your day to die.

Of course, this leaves so many questions. How do they know this? Who determines it? Are people dying because they’ve been told to die, or is this thing that predicts their deaths also predicting everything they’ll do after learning they’ll die? What about the people who end up dying between midnight and 2 A.M? Do they not get a call, or do they get their call the day before?

So many questions, and I love how the characters address some of the questions themselves, because they don’t know. The operators at Death Cast don’t know. The people getting the calls don’t know. The people left behind by their dying loved ones don’t know. They can question and beg and plead for answers all they like and, in this book as in reality, there are no full answers. Which I liked.

Another thing I loved was the diversity in this book. Most of the main characters are people of color, one of the narrators is bisexual, and the other never outright defines his sexuality apart from giving enough evidence that it certainly isn’t straight. That was awesome.

But, what I didn’t love, what ended up distancing me from this book I wanted so desperately to love, was the writing. It didn’t grip me; it felt too bland. I couldn’t connect fully with the other characters because some of the dialogue felt clunky and jarred me out of the story. In the plotline, there were some pieces that read too much to me like things that often make me put down contemporaries. Pieces that are so obviously slated to be symbolic, or quirky, or meaningful, that just don’t feel realistic or flow reasonably in the setting. I won’t give any specific examples because of spoilers, and quoting from an ARC, but it’s something I ran into before.

And, I have to admit, I cry a lot over books. It isn’t unusual for me. This book didn’t really get to me until hours later, when I was still considering how it had made me feel. I think, most importantly, it made me consider what I would do if I knew it was my last day to live. Or what I would do if it was my last day and I never knew it until it was too late. Would I want to know? I don’t think so. But, as They Both Die at the End shows, maybe something great can come out of the knowing.

This book certainly wasn’t for me. I don’t regret reading it, and I’m definitely going to try other books by this author. Still, I won’t be throwing this into any recommendations I give out.

3/5 stars

5 stars · Fantasy · fiction

if you love Peter Pan, you’ll LOVE hook’s tale

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hook’s tale: being an account of an unjust villainized pirate written by himself

author : john leonard pielmeier

pages : [hardcover] 288

favorite characters : tiger lily & james

summary :

A rollicking debut novel from award-winning playwright and screenwriter John Pielmeier reimagines the childhood of the much maligned Captain Hook: his quest for buried treasure, his friendship with Peter Pan, and the story behind the swashbuckling world of Neverland.

Long defamed as a vicious pirate, Captain James Cook (a.k.a Hook) was in fact a dazzling wordsmith who left behind a vibrant, wildly entertaining, and entirely truthful memoir. His chronicle offers a counter narrative to the works of J.M. Barrie, a “dour Scotsman” whose spurious accounts got it all wrong. Now, award-winning playwright John Pielmeier is proud to present this crucial historic artifact in its entirety for the first time.

Cook’s story begins in London, where he lives with his widowed mother. At thirteen, he runs away from home, but is kidnapped and pressed into naval service as an unlikely cabin boy. Soon he discovers a treasure map that leads to a mysterious archipelago called the “Never-Isles” from which there appears to be no escape. In the course of his adventures he meets the pirates Smee and Starkey, falls in love with the enchanting Tiger Lily, adopts an oddly affectionate crocodile, and befriends a charming boy named Peter—who teaches him to fly. He battles monsters, fights in mutinies, swims with mermaids, and eventually learns both the sad and terrible tale of his mother’s life and the true story of his father’s disappearance.

Like Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, Hook’s Tale offers a radical new version of a classic story, bringing readers into a much richer, darker, and enchanting version of Neverland than ever before. The characters that our hero meets—including the terrible Doctor Uriah Slinque and a little girl named Wendy—lead him to the most difficult decision of his life: whether to submit to the temptation of eternal youth, or to embrace the responsibilities of maturity and the inevitability of his own mortality. His choice, like his story, is not what you might expect.

review :

I received a copy of Hook’s Tale from the publisher for review in exchange for my honest opinion.

If you know me at all, you know I have a love for Peter Pan that will never grow up. Also, that I tell terrible jokes. If you don’t know me, then you know fairy tale retellings have only been growing in popularity–not all of them good. Hook’s Tales is one of those books you would say isn’t good. It’s great.

Hook’s Tale is narrated by the man himself, or rather, the real version of the villain. James Cook is rather offended by the nickname, though having a hook for a hand is quite useful. I absolutely loved that this book plays with the idea that Cook told his story to the author of the original Peter Pan play, who of course got all of the details horribly wrong. Hook wasn’t quite a villain, and Peter wasn’t quite innocent, and that ticking crocodile wasn’t quite out to devour him, either.

James Cook travels to Neverland quite accidentally, and the story begins with Cook as a child, with both hands intact, around Peter’s age. I loved that we were allowed this dynamic interaction between classic hero and villain, because the roles are often switched between the two of them. Cook can be sensible, and cunning, and brave, whereas Peter can also be these things, as well as vindictive, and cruel, and childish. Sometimes a deadly combination.

Throughout Hook’s Tales, Cook returns to England several times through a route he discovers for himself, that inevitably lead to the events of the classic story that everyone knows well. However, thingsstill aren’t quite the way they are told in that narrative. Cook is out to set the truth down, once and for all, about what happened in Neverland and the role he played in this story.

I loved it, I devoured it, and I want more of it even though I know there can’t be any more of it. Cook was a fascinating character and his book is written in journal entries, giving the reader a perfect view into his mindset in this world. He experiences fantastical things, like flying and fairies and mermaids, as well as tragic things, like the loss of innocence and death. There, written for anyone to see, is his truth, a contradiction to whatever else history will know of him.

This book is perfect for fans of the original because there are so many references to it that are renewed here in the way the plot twists. Basically, take everything you thought you knew about Peter Pan and prepare to leave it all behind for Cook’s version of events. Keeping a sharp eye out, you’ll read all of the classic elements of the original.

The text reads like a curious mix between historical fantasy and fairy tale, because it’s written to be just lingering at the edge of belief. Cook travels from a real place, in a real time period, to this fantastical Neverland. And who’s to say this island doesn’t exist, somewhere, waiting to be found? That Cook’s side of the story isn’t the real one?

I can’t recommend this book enough. Fans will fly through the pages, particularly if they head toward the second star on the right and go straight on to morning.

I had to at least get one more joke in there.

As a person who reads fairy tale retellings above all else, and Peter Panbooks very often, Hook’s Tale stands out as a fantastically written, wonderfully reimagined story I’ll read over and over again.

5/5 stars

 

1 star · fiction · middle grade

The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden: faeries, death, & mystery

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the accidental afterlife of thomas marsden

author : emma trevayne

pages : [hardcover] 247

favorite character : thomas

summary :

Grave robbing is a messy business. A bad business.

And for Thomas Marsden, on what was an unremarkable spring night in London, it becomes a very spooky business. For lying in an unmarked grave and half covered with dirt is a boy the spitting image of Thomas himself.

This is only the first clue that something very strange is happening. Others follow, but it is a fortune teller’s frightened screams that lead Thomas into a strange world of spiritualists, death and faery folk.

Faery folk with whom Thomas’s life is bizarrely linked. Faery folk who need his help.

Desperate to unearth the truth about himself and where he comes from, Thomas is about to discover magic, and ritual, and that sometimes, just sometimes, the things that make a boy ordinary are what make him extraordinary.

review :

I found this book at a library sale and was instantly attracted to the gorgeous cover and intriguing title. It seemed a little dark for a middle-grade book, enough so that I dove into it without reading anything about the book so I could get the full, uninhibited experience.

The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden is kind of hard to pin down with it’s genre. Set in the past, with fantasy elements, a mystery plot, as well as a hero’s quest, it’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Paired with some confusing, rushed writing and my surprise at how unfinished this standalone book ended, this book left me unsatisfied and, mostly, disappointed.

Let me first state that I wanted this book to be standalone. It was only in the last thirty pages or so that I realized the plot couldn’t possibly wrap up each of its elements neatly in the space left to it. Unfortunately, Trevayne did try to finish it all before the pages ran out. It’s extremely hard to write a fantasy book as short as this one. Throwing in all of the half-heartedly realized plot elements that appear in this novel . . . It reads like someone got to the last week of NaNoWriMo and realized they needed to patch up the plot quickly enough to reach their goal on time, never again to revisit the manuscript and fix anything.

I’m still confused. There were points where the characters would literally have the answers to their quest handed to them, with no foreshadowing whatsoever, possibly because, again, there was no time in the novel for anything but easy answers. Elements so fully thrown in that I needed to read whole paragraphs several times over to try to understand what was happening, only to fail. I don’t want to spoil anything by leaving any examples, because these random moments would always serve to answer some part of the plot that hadn’t been mentioned until the page before.

Mostly, I’m frustrated with this book because it had the potential for so much more. It could have been a cute fantasy, or an interesting mystery. I love books that are complexly written and aimed toward children, because far too many authors in middlegrade tend to belittle their readers. No, what The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden needed was a thorough overhaul, or at least a duology to spread this cluttered plot out a little more.

1/5 stars