Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Title: The Moon and More
Author: Sarah Dessen
Rating: 3.5 Stars
The Moon and More has a lot to love, but it's very different from a typical Dessen novel. I think, by now, we've all come to expect a certain type of book when we hear the name Sarah Dessen. Obviously contemporary with a heavy dose of character development, beautiful settings, and swoon. Not to mention rich secondary characters and always, always, always growth, if not self-discovery. And it's a formula that works, every time. While I am thrilled that Dessen chose to veer off from her usual this time around, I can't say I wholly enjoyed it. Nevertheless, this is perfect for those who are looking for highly realistic young-adult-on-the-cusp-of-new-adult reads.
Emaline is an easy character to love; motivated, kind, and with a readable narration. While she lives by the beach, helping a family business, making out with her boyfriend Luke, and generally enjoyed life in a small town, she yearns for more. Emaline was conceived when her mother was only a young teen and, consequently, her family is a little different from most. While she has her mother, she also has her dad - who married her mother when Emaline was only three - and two step-sisters. And then, of course, is her father whose contact with her is still recent but already unreliable for he was unable to pay for Emaline's tuition into Columbia and refused to attend her graduation. Needless to say, the relationship between them is strained at best. In the midst of all this, though, Emaline's relationship with Luke isn't heading in the direction she planned and now her father is driving down for the summer as well. All in all, this isn't shaping up to be the summer Emaline imagined...not at all.
As always, Dessen excels in building family relationships. Emaline's relationship with her mother is deep and touching, the kind of bond that takes years to build but is so effectively conveyed by Dessen's writing. Furthermore, Emaline's blooming friendship with her half-brother, Benji, is simply adorable, especially as she helps him to cope with his parents - her father's - divorce. In particular, though, Emaline's relationship with her father is most intriguing. It ends on a very realistic note, bittersweet because of the sad admission that people don't always change and yet the hopeful thought that something strong still does exist between them. And their journey there, their awkward encounters through the summer and the curveball they constantly seem to throw at Emaline, are all so richly explored. Classic Dessen: she never disappoints.
And yet, her most compelling point, the romance, seriously fell flat. For one, it should be known that Emaline and Luke are together only for a short time before they break up and Emaline winds up dating Theo, a NYC student in Colby to film a documentary on Clyde Conaway, a local resident and past artist of great merit. On one hand, I really did like Theo - he was different, cute in a nerdy way and very insecure about himself, unable to really believe that the gorgeous Emaline would date him. At the same time, though, he's quite irritating, a pushover when it comes to listening to his boss and ambitious in a round-about manner. Personally, I was impressed that Dessen created an unlikable love interest. I mean, let's face it: most romances in life don't work out and even if they do, not all of them make you swoon. And yet, I will admit that this set-up didn't make for an interesting read. For one, the plot was slow - as is always with case with Dessen's novels but where the romance picks up when the plot lags, here the romance only slowed it down further - and secondly, Theo was just not a character I could get behind. As readers, we don't really know much about Theo beyond what we see on the surface and he remains that way, oscillating between extremes (insecurity and ambition) and generally failing to charm the crowd.
In addition, there was a lack of depth regarding the secondary characters. Dessen can write beautiful sibling relationships, as she proved with this installment, but I felt as if the bonds between step-sisters was forsaken in this novel in favor of the half-brother relationship Emaline sustained with Benji. Sadly, I know Dessen can write multiple sibling relationships well, as in Just Listen, but that aspect was ignored with her latest. Another issue was the fact that Emaline's father got a lot of limelight and thought in this, but not so much her dad. Cashore's Fire explores a similar father/dad situation, but both these figures are fully realized and their relationship with Fire is as well. The Moon and More lacks that clarity.
Nevertheless, despite the flaws this book had, its messages and themes were incredible. Emaline not only comes into her own, realizing what she wants from life, but she also comes to realize that change and disappointment go hand-in-hand with every walk of life. In this summer leading up to her first year as a college student, she grows immensely and in important ways, which was a nice change from the naive heroines whose growth seems so obvious. All in all, despite my qualms with this one, The Moon and More is a solid read and a Dessen novel I wouldn't hesitate to recommend. Only, really, The Truth About Forever and Just Listen are her best and probably will always remain that way.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Can you believe it? I can't. In all honesty, this has been the hardest year of my life. Junior Year in America is no walk in the park. I've had Major Life Changing Exams every month and have been taking ridiculously hard classes I now regret taking and in the midst of all that I've been blogging. Seriously, it's thanks to you all that I am sane and even made it through the year. Every comment, every conversation, every kind word - it all made my day and, really, my year. I can't wait to have many, many more blogoversaries in the future and make even more amazing friends.a Rafflecopter giveaway
HUGE thank you's to...
If you want to get to the giveaway, just scroll below. Otherwise, stick around while I embarrass the heck out of you and thank all of you amazing people (in no particular order) for making my past year online absolutely amazing! :D
HUGE thank you's to...
Inge for encouraging me to start my own blog. I wouldn't be here without you! Also, thank you for your loooong e-mails that make my day and your fabulous Tom Felton GIFs that bring a smile to my face every time! ;)
Aneeqah for being the very person person to comment on my blog and one of my most faithful followers still.
Sam, Rachel, Olivia, Jenny, Wendy, Rey, Melissa, Asheley, Tanja, Heather and Amanda for their wonderful comments!
Steph Su for encouraging me to read Jessica Darling - which I then proceeded to absolutely LOVE. Also, thanks to Sarah for forcing me to read that series as well, not to mention many others. I also love your podcasts. A lot.
Jasprit for all our crazy read-alongs, your sweet comments and your continued friendship.
Lauren for our great e-mail conversations and ongoing discussions. I would have probably gone crazy if I couldn't shoot an e-mail to you, Lauren, while reading CP2. ;)
Heidi for the numerous recommendations, beautiful reviews that I always look forward to, fantastic read-alongs, and wonderful conversations. You're amazing. I hope you know that.
Maja for my staggering TBR-Pile, for introducing me to every UF Series I currently read, for oozing passion in your reviews so I'm convinced to pick them up, and for all our great book discussions. I love your writing style and I really hope you'll write a book one day. I'll buy it. Promise.
Mandee for being one of the nicest people in the world. Seriously, Mandee has a heart made of gold and she is generous beyond words. Thank you, dear, for not only our book swap (and all the other books you've sent me), but for our conversations and your lovely comments.
Savindi for all of our long e-mails on everything from One Republic and The Script to David Gandy. Also, thanks for letting me know about all the giveaways out there (and helping me win) and for your insight on college and books, especially The Raven Boys.
Flannery & Catie from The Readventurer for being incredibly awesome in their own right. Flann for sending me The Bitter Kingdom (I know you said it wasn't a big deal, but it TOTALLY WAS for me) and for tweeting me and writing me the sweetest comments; Catie for all the fabulous reviews that have pointed me towards some amazing books and for our Blue Sword read-along - thanks to you I wasn't the only one who disliked that one. Also, thanks for giving me the opportunity to guest post on your blog, ladies! :D
And last, but never least, Kailia, my long-lost-twin-sister. We're both Indian. We both love Kristin Cashore. And pretty much every other book we both enjoy is the same too. Nearly all our ratings match up and basically, you're just fantastic. Thanks for all the amazing twitter conversations. You inspire me to blog since you actually read my blog, so I always know that at least one person is reading my posts every day. Congrats on graduating and I can't wait to meet you this summer!(:
If I forgot anyone, please forgive me and shoot me an e-mail. I will reply with an ode to how incredible you are and what an idiot I am for forgetting you. Also, I'd like to thank ALL of my followers, readers, commentors, and subscribers - you're all fantastic and that feeling of happiness that comes from seeing that someone else is reading my blog or from finding a comment from someone new or from just seeing my page view increase never ceases to make me happiest. All of you have supported me this year, so thank you! :)
Enough sentimentality, let me let you all win some books! I'm giving away ONE book from the following list - a list of my most anticipated reads for the upcoming year - to one lucky winner INTERNATIONALLY. If I reach 1000 followers (at least 750 on Bloglovin'), I will give away THREE books to three respective winners. I don't expect to reach that many followers, hence the reason I'm being so generous, but if you like my blog then do spread the word. Also, sorry for the continued terrible button and header. I need to change those this summer...
GOOD LUCK! :)
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Title: A Northern Light
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Read By: Hope Davis
Rating: 5 Stars
A Northern Light is one of those books you come across every few years; the type of novel that buries itself in your heart from the first page and simply lingers in your thoughts for days, weeks, and even months afterward. Although I've probably read at least two books and three novellas since I set this story down, it has still been in the forefront of my thoughts. I will likely tell my parents to yell at Jennifer Donnelly if they want someone to blame for my bad grades and sleepless nights. After all, how could I have done anything with my life until I knew what happened in Mattie's? And now how can I possible continue do anything without her voice by my side? It's the cruelest kind of paradox, one that only arrives when you love a protagonist as much as this one. Without a doubt, A Northern Light is very possibly the best book I've read - and will read - this year.
Prior to having read A Northern Light, the only Donnelly novel I'd read was Revolution, which made me sit up till 3 AM wracked with sobs while I finished the book. Now, let me tell you, that was not a fun reading experience. I had swollen cheeks, red eyes, and an aching heart by the end of it. Needless to say, I more-or-less swore off of Donnelly after that. Any author whose words had that type of power over me was dangerous. Quite thankfully, though, a lovely review convinced me to pick this one up and I'm so very glad I did. A Northern Light is a quiet, unassuming sort of tale, one that is filled with courage and strength and hope instead of despair and death and loss. It isn't always a happy story, but it is a truthful one; it never glosses over the harsh realities of life, especially for women of the time, and it faithfully empowers women in a manner that is never overbearing, merely subtle.
Donnelly's A Northern Light is told cleverly with two timelines neatly converging into one, creating an ending that is both satisfying and powerful. When the novel begins, the body of a drowned woman, Grace Brown, is found near the inn where Mattie works. Shortly before leaving for her boat ride, Grace gave Mattie a bundle of letters to burn, but just hours later, Grace herself is found dead. Mattie, suspicious of the circumstances surrounding her death, begins to read the letters Grace gave her. As the contents of these letters are slowly revealed, so is Mattie. For every present-day chapter there are even more chapters from the past, not only detailing Mattie's journey but also showing who she really is.
Mattie's story takes place in the early 1900s, a time when women were expected to run a household and raise a family. Mattie, however, yearns to attend college, despite the fact that her mother recently died and her father needs her help on their farm. Although there are many other responsibilities Mattie has, from the beginning itself it is hard not to root for her. After all, this is a protagonist whose love for language pushes her to learn a new word from the dictionary everyday. And though I regard A Northern Light to be a tale that empowers women and celebrates feminism, Mattie herself is no Alice Paul. Instead, what makes her such an endearing and unforgettable protagonist are, first and foremost, her passions and secondly, her own inner battles. While society pushes Mattie towards a life of love and comfort in a house with children, her own heart begins to push her that way too, which makes the decision to chase her dream that much more difficult.
All the more, Mattie is not a perfect character. Although one of her best friends is an African American boy who is on his way to Columbia, Mattie doesn’t always treat her own family properly. In fact, these family dynamics are what make the novel so fascinating, what make us keep flipping these pages frantically. Will Mattie convince her father to allow her to go to college? Can the inspirational teacher Mattie had help her in this endeavor? Is Mattie really going to be tied down to her small town by a promise she once made to her dying mother? In such a subtle manner, Donnelly uses Mattie’s life to build her era. Instead of paragraphs of bland information, Mattie’s society is build around her and stems from her perceptions, making this the best kind of historical fiction there is – the kind that doesn’t feel like fiction at all.
In all honesty, though, I can keep prattling on about this book for days if you’d allow me. Mattie is such a vivacious, strong, and courageous character that her story captures you from the beginning. You yearn for her to fulfill her dreams, for her to realize her true calling in life and pursue it despite what others may say. You begin to pray that she will somehow escape her small town and farm life. You keep the book aside and tie your hands behind your back because you don’t want to know what happens even though you really do, but you’re so very scared of the outcome. You begin to hope feverishly that her love for her family will not cause her to disregard her love for words; that she will finally gain the opportunity to do what she wants to do. It’s a beautiful book, the kind you’ll always carry around with you – in your heart.
Friday, June 14, 2013
I recently discovered this series, full of Paris and chocolate and sexy French men. What's not to love? I simply adored the first book and the second wasn't too bad either, so I cannot wait to continue this series and share my love of it with others! Bon Apetit!
Title: The Chocolate Thief (Amour et Chocolat, #1)
Author: Laura Florand
Rating: 4 Stars
HOLY HOTNESS. I picked up The Chocolate Thief while taking a quick study break, but I didn't set it back down until I had devoured the entire novel. Frankly speaking, I am surprised no one has tried this combination before: chocolate and romance, all set against the backdrop of Paris? What's NOT to love? Although its cover just screams chick-lit, The Chocolate Thief is quite thankfully a little more sensual and deeper than that. While it may lack the depth most readers - including myself - crave,
Sylvain it captured me heart and soul. (And made my parents turn their nose up and the number of chocolate wrappers strewn around my bed, not to mention the discarded textbooks on my desk, but no matter. Sylvain Marquis is worth it. *melts*)
What makes The Chocolate Thief so unique and different from all other romances out there is, quite simply, the presence of chocolate. Cade Corey heads out to Paris to fulfill a childhood dream of introducing a sophisticated European line of chocolate into her multimillionaire dollar family-owned company. Corey Bars are all the rage in America, but in Paris, Cade is unable to find a single chocolatier willing to join her on her venture and have their name stamped on her chocolates. Sylvain Marquis, rated the best chocolatier in Paris, is the first person Cade approaches - and is rudely refused by. But neither Sylvain nor Cade can get each other out of their head and their accidental meetings only increase the unspoken sexual tension between them. Until, that is, Cade breaks into Sylvain's store and, overnight, becomes the chocolate thief...and potentially the thief of his heart as well.
Where do I start with this romantic masterpiece? For one, there is something so beautiful about the French language and culture. I may sit bored out of my mind in French class every week, but that can be blamed on my ninety+ instructor and her strange immunity to old-age ailments that keeps her hired. Yet, French truly is the language of romance and the city is bursting with life - all of which is so palpably felt through this love story. We witness the unfolding of this romance through the alternating third-person perspectives of both Sylvain and Cade which enables us to witness their misunderstanding and understand both their point of views. Although Sylvain comes across as a rude snob at first, we see his hidden layers and insecurities as the novel wears on. Cade, too, becomes much more self-actualized from the corporate businesswoman she appears to be as she embarks on a subtle, but significant, journey of self-realization. Moreover, I found myself appreciating the attention given to Cade's wealthy status. Granted, there could have been a more in-depth analysis of so much in the lives of these two, but it maintained a steady balance between romance and depth which worked out surprisingly well.
And yet, perhaps the reason I am so forgiving of the minimal depth in this novel is because the sexual tension fries your brain. I never thought it was possible to become so hot and bothered by reading about the process of making chocolate, but with Sylvain Marquis (and his hands!) making the chocolate, it is guaranteed. Furthermore, the biting remarks and witty banter between these two only added to the aura of the novel, making it melt my heart and turn my feet to jelly. It may not seem like the type of novel capable of such feats, but it is. Unfortunately, after the first-half, the novel seemed to lose a bit of its charm with the back-and-forth insecurities of both Cade and Sylvain, neither of them knowing how to define their relationship or its future. Nevertheless, despite that small qualm, The Chocolate Thief is one of the most gripping, witty, and steamy romantic novels I have read in a really long time. It ends wrapped up quite nicely and the uncovering of the true Sylvain and Cade beneath their sexy personas is deftly written. Not only do these characters mold their way into your heart, but antics of the thievery in this book will keep you grinning and swooning in equal parts. If there is but one major flaw with the novel, it lies in its ability to make you crave chocolate, Paris, and a smoldering chocolatier of your own. Anyone know where I can order one?
Title: The Chocolate Kiss (Amour et Chocolat, #2)
Author: Laura Florand
Rating: 3 Stars
I sat up till 1 AM with The Chocolate Kiss, waiting for the moment when the magic of The Chocolate Thief would be re-captured, but to no avail. I fell asleep with my lights on, dreaming of witches and chocolates and pastries and Sylvain Marquis...not Philippe Lyonnais. Needless to say, that would make him rather upset, I imagine, but he had tough competition. As a companion novel to The Chocolate Thief, this installment of cute chick-lit romance is adorable and charming, but it failed to make me swoon and sigh the way its predecessor did. And yet, these few hours spent delightfully in Paris, in the safe alcove of Île Saint-Louis is worth it.
The Chocolate Kiss reminds me a little bit of my favorite movie "You've Got Mail" - only not quite as good. Magalie and her two aunts are the owners of La Maison des Sorcieres, a chocolate store known for its vivid decorations, warm atmosphere, and magic hot chocolate that can grant wishes and change people. When Philippe Lyonnais, undoubtedly the best pastry chef in Paris, decides to move in close-by, Magalie refuses to stand for it. While her encounter with Philippe fails to get him to move elsewhere, it does make him insta-charmed by her and begins a feud between the two, with Philippe enticing Magalie to try his pastries and vice versa. And yet, Magalie's seemingly childish insistence to stay away from Philippe when he so obviously is smitten by her hides a darker truth of her past - one that only the most faithful chocolate kiss can help heal.
Like its predecessor, The Chocolate Kiss starts out promising enough, introducing us to Magalie and Philippe, both strong and independent characters in their own right. Although their initial feud begins when Philippe takes great offense that Magalie could possibly refuse one of his famous pastries, it soon develops into a war neither of them want to be the first to succumb to. And yet, as their sexual tension builds, they so badly do. Increasingly entertaining though it may have been, this "war" between Magalie and Philippe is carried on for too long until eventually, the reader is simply yelling at these two to give in already because how many times has this same scene of offer-and-refusal occurred? Once this aspect of the novel is finally complete, though, well over half-way through the book, the story takes on a much more serious note, exploring Magalie's insecurities and past troubles. It was this part of the story that captured me - the gentle and caring way that Philippe convinced Magalie that he was there to stay, the understanding gestures that signified he loved her despite her flaws, and especially the depth given to Magalie and Philippe's romance. While The Chocolate Thief dealt more with an issue of Cade and what she wanted from life, lending to a slightly lighter dilemma, this novel goes on a darker path, but finishes out just as strong.
And yet, The Chocolate Kiss was missing a few vital ingredients. For one, the dialogue at times could be rather head-ache-inducing. Although all the talk of princesses in towers and beasts and princes and witches and paupers was charming, it grated on me after awhile and, frankly, I didn't need those metaphors beat over my head paragraph-after-paragraph. Additionally, Philippe is a much more dominating male figure than Sylvain is, which may please some readers but it made me wince and squirm - not in a good way. With The Chocolate Thief, Florand was able to create an important balance, showing us how flummoxed Sylvain could be when an idea backfired on him, making him come across as a jerk when really he had well-meaning intentions. In this manner, through his eyes, we fell in love with him and actively wanted him for Cade. The Chocolate Kiss doesn't give us nearly as many moments into Philippe's head - and it should. From Magalie's perspective, he comes across as a complete arrogant jerk at times, which makes it difficult to like him. Even though we do eventually learn that his actions were well-meant, they were too dominating for me to fall for him in the swoon-worthy manner chick-lit novels like this one promise. Nevertheless, The Chocolate Kiss was worth the stress-free hours I spent with it, despite my growling stomach by the end.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Title: When You Were Here
Author: Daisy Whitney
Rating: 4 Stars
As far as Young Adult - and New Adult - is concerned, When You Were Here has so much to offer. Whitney has broken free of the constraints these two genres seem to impale and created a novel that, really, has so much to love. From the beginning itself, the grief of Danny, our narrator, is so palpable. Not only has Danny's mother recently passed away after a long, five-year battle with cancer, but his father was killed in a car crash years back and he is now alone. With graduation looming around the corner, Danny is reminded of his mother - and her loss - even more, especially as his graduation was what she lived for. And ultimately couldn't see. Now, Danny is simply seeking answers, both of his mother's life and his own. Quite simply, Danny cannot understand how his mother, who was dying, could be so happy when he, well and truly alive, cannot be.
And this is such a beautiful idea to explore. I feel as if life is always throwing us curves, testing us to our limits, and this question, this unattainable answer of happiness, is forever crossing our minds. Or at least mind, at any rate. As such, to see Danny attempt to answer this in his own way, on a trip to Tokyo, the city he loves, was a truly beautiful journey. Danny is grieving, he is sarcastic, he is in pain, and yet he is curious and his love for Tokyo and its culture and lifestyle is so palpable. Everything about the setting of this novel, including the people Danny meets there who soon become his friends, are so vividly written and portrayed. Whitney's characters are fleshed out and solid, the type of people who have flaws and are still loved. And they all have their back stories, their pasts, their problems. And they're all still sticking it out, each day at a time.
For me, this is where my issues with this novel begin to emerge. While I appreciate the efforts Whitney took in creating such stark and realistic characters, I do feel as if our exposure to them was too minimal. Danny's sister, for instance, who is adopted shares a gripping story of her own growth and acceptance into finding herself in her Chinese roots. Clearly, while this is important to Danny, that importance is never felt to the reader for her screen time is so short. Even the characters who did play a greater role, such as Kana, the Japanese girl Danny befriends, remain static upon the page because, despite their depth and impact on Danny, their influence is never fully felt emotionally.
And yet, When You Were Here does have its emotional moments. Danny himself undergoes a slow, creeping growth that, though concluding in a neat epiphany, was very well-written. Holland, though, had the story that drew me in the deepest. Danny has had a massive crush on Holland, his neighbor and the daughter of his mother's best friend, ever since he was young. With carefully timed flashbacks and present-day scenes, their love story is built up, from its nascence to its sudden end. Surprisingly, though, the romance is subtle, never resorting to meaningless drama and proving to be rather poignant overall. Even the sex scenes - the few of them that lie in this book - are awkward and realistic, making me adore this novel for the places it was willing to go and the boundaries it was willing to climb over.
Still, the fact remains that, in the end, When You Were Here didn't do a whole lot for me. It was a quick and memorable read, one that managed to pack a punch in its short pages, but sadly not enough of a punch. Whitney's novel has been compared to Forman's Where She Went and while I believe that fans of Forman will find much to love in Whitney's latest, the two novels are vastly dissimilar. Where Forman's work is marketed as a romance, proving to be an in-depth analysis on a young man as he comes to terms with himself and his life, Whitney's novel is really about a young man...and so many more people too. Danny's story was not the all-consuming emotional investment I expected it to be. Granted, it's a lovely book, full of tales that will likely influence many readers, but it didn't do much for me simply because I wanted more from it. And the fault most definitely lies with me - I am not an easy reader to please. On that count, When You Were Here is a beautiful edition to your shelves (LOOK at that cover!) and a touching novel with unforgettable characters. Just don't expect too much from it and it will likely deliver the full impact you want it to.