Review | Lola and the Boy Next Door | Stephanie Perkins

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Lola and the Boy Next Door

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Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion… she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit – the more sparkly, more wild – the better. And life is pretty close to perfect for Lola, especially with her hot rocker boyfriend.

That is, until the Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket return to the neighbourhood and unearth a past of hurt that Lola thought was long buried. So when talented inventor Cricket steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally face up to a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door. Could the boy from Lola’s past be the love of her future?

Fall in love with the international bestseller from queen of young adult fiction, Stephanie Perkins.


THIS BOOK DOES NOT TAKE PLACE IN PARIS.

I mean, c’mon. That’s what I loved about Anna and Isla. There’s nothing more romantic than the Eiffel Tower with a snowy winter backdrop, or a sexy weekend getaway to Spain. I didn’t even know that Lola would be different in that regard; for the first fifty pages I kept waiting for her to get shipped off to Paris and was très disappointed.

And yes, the lack of the romantic setting definitely affects the plot. Cricket didn’t become a viable interest for me as the reader until probably the last two or three chapters. I didn’t buy any of the so-called “chemistry” before that. Also, while it’s clear we’re supposed to root for Cricket, Stephanie Perkins doesn’t give the reader a legit reason to root against Max until they’re pretty deep into the book… Bearing in mind that I’m a girl born out of a marriage between a couple who has a ten-year age gap between them and they started dating when my mom was 16. So I don’t see age as an issue.

Lola lacks the maturity that Anna and Isla had too, which had me rolling my eyes at her way too often. The way she carries on about Cricket’s “betrayal,” you’d think she was raped. I honestly thought that was the turn this book would take, what with her dropping and breaking a dish at the sight of him and everything. But no, she simply didn’t get invited to his party.

…What? You’ve been nursing a broken heart for two years because you didn’t get invited to a party? Please get over yourself.

But the biggest let-down of the whole book? The homophobic and racist slurs.

“At the mention of ice, Andy pauses. My dad loves figure skating. It is–and I don’t use this expression lightly–the gayest thing about him.” -pg. 116

Exsqueeze me? You shouldn’t use that expression at all. Why? Because being gay and liking figure skating have absolutely nothing to do with each other. 

“I stop by New Seoul Garden, and Lindsey packs a bag of takeout, which causes the entire car–on both of the trains it takes to get to Barkeley–to smell. Whoops.” -pg. 293

ARE YOU KIDDING ME. Here’s the thing. It’s not as if Perkins wrote that the whole train ended up smelling like her food and she felt badly for the other passengers for making them smell her delicious food. She basically says this: I went to my Asian friend’s family’s restaurant and then the whole train smelled like Asian food. Whoops.

That “Whoops” speaks volumes. It suggests that filling the train with the smell of specifically Asian food is a bad thing. And I can’t even.

I’m very disappointed in Stephanie Perkins with this book. Why does she even get 3 and a half stars? Because towards the end she remembered how to write with the same tone and spark that Anna and Isla were written with, and kudos for having the parents be a gay couple. But that’s it. Give me back Isla and Anna, please, and let’s pretend Lola never existed.

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Review | All the Crooked Saints | Maggie Stiefvater

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All the Crooked Saints

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Here is a thing everyone wants:
A miracle.


Here is a thing everyone fears:
What it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

Maggie Stiefvater has been called “a master storyteller” by USA Today and “wildly imaginative” by Entertainment Weekly. Now, with All the Crooked Saints, she gives us the extraordinary story of an extraordinary family, a masterful tale of love, fear, darkness, and redemption.


There was a moment while reading this book where I realized that I was experiencing some truly special writing. I’ve read Maggie Stiefvater before, but if ever an artist creates a masterpiece, this is it for her. 

The book has been categorized as YA, but I don’t think that’s right. This book is definitely an adult fiction title with fantasy elements. It very much reminded me of The Cure for Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson-Dargatz which, although told from the perspective of a teenager, is considered Canadian cultural fiction. I would argue that All the Crooked Saints should be labelled American cultural fiction, though maybe Americans would disagree.

The story Stiefvater weaves is incredibly powerful. My favourite parts were when you meet a new character and she writes them like so: “Here is a thing she wanted: blah blah blah. Here is a thing she feared: blah blah blah,” because she did it in such a way that usually the wants and fears complimented each other and you could read so far beyond the surface level of their wants and fears to get at the person they truly are at their core. I feel that the characters are so pure and at the same time so complicated, which is master storytelling at its finest. It is also told in third-person and in the way of old-fashioned folktales, which is so refreshing and unique. I’ve never read anything like it and I will always remember this book for Maggie’s oratory voice throughout her writing. Also, the “fantasy” element of this story is not magic or mythical creatures but suspended disbelief and visual metaphor very much in the vein of Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson.

If you read only one other book for the rest of the year, I recommend you pick up this one. It should not be missed. 

Pub. Date: Oct. 10, 2017


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Review | The Diviners | Libba Bray

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The Diviners

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Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.


The first thing you need to know is that it took me two tries to get into this book and finish it, with two years in between attempts; the reason being that you really have to be in the mood to commit to this long-winded book. I also think you need to prep yourself for Evie—she’s a handful both as a character and for the reader, with her flapper-speak and over-the-top-ness. I think you also need to approach this book knowing that she’s an immature character, and that it was definitely an intentional choice for Libba Bray to write her that way. Once you’ve readied yourself for all those factors, you’re good to go.

I originally gave this book a 4 out of 5 because I enjoyed reading this book. If you’re willing to let go and just enjoy the ride, you’ll likely feel the same as me. However, in retrospect, I have some thoughts.

The first issue I have with this book is the glaring historical plot hole. What do you think the chances are of seven young characters, who are mostly thrown together by happenstance, all being excessively liberal-thinking for the time period and readily accepting the non-white or non-straight characters? Based on all of my university history classes of New York during the 1920s, the answer is that the chance is incredibly, incredibly slim. Sure, this is fiction. But I still need to be able to believe it. And when I’m sitting there, the entire time, remembering that this is fiction, yes, but historical fiction… It’s like if someone wrote a book that took place during the Salem Witch Trials, in Salem, with witches, but there was no mention of the trials or the dangers they faced—I’d be like, nah bro. That’s not happening—it’s a glaring oversight. And while I wish that, historically, everyone had been accepting and liberal-minded, that just wasn’t the case, and I think it’s actually a disservice to not make a point of the fact that it wasn’t, and the injustice of it all. The closest we get is the mild concern that Theta and Memphis have over how their relationship will be judged, but there lacks the weight behind it that should have been there. I think we all need to remember that characters like Memphis could have been lynched for openly having a relationship with a white girl. THAT’S the time period this book is taking place in, and yet those factors are completely ignored.

The second issue I have is that this book could easily have been half the size. So much page space is wasted to unimportant prose that has little to nothing to do with the main, or even secondary, plot elements that it’s baffling. Where was the editor during the creation of this book? This colossal, 500+ page book could have been 300-400 pages without sacrificing a single bit of the adventure or suspense. What would the book be without, then? Here’s a sampling: Evie’s goodbye to her old friends before leaving to New York (she never mentions them again nor stays in touch with them after her move); summaries of her initial outing with Mabel; Mabel chickening out of getting her hair bobbed; Evie listening in on Uncle Will’s lecture (a short summary would have sufficed); the outings with Theta and Mabel; Mabel deciding to get her hair bobbed; the whole scene (chapter?) where they are at an illegal club and it gets raided. Just a few examples.

My third issue, and I’m trying to avoid any spoilers here so it may be confusing to you if you haven’t read it, is that the “secret” about Jericho’s character is so incredibly out of place to the rest of the story. In a book about magic and fantasy, we randomly—and towards the end, and in a way that feels inauthentic—have sci-fi plunked into the plot-line like it’s no big deal. But like I said, it feels random and inauthentic. My actual reaction was: “What the heck? Why?” So there’s that.

Finally, and most important, is that I have no need or desire to read the next book. It’s not that I actively don’t want to, but The Diviners left off in such a way and place that I feel just sort of “meh” about continuing the series.

After giving myself time to think about this book, I’m changing my rating to 3. It’s just not good enough to get a 4 from me. I’m glad I thought about it, though, before posting a review because I think the points I made are important things to consider before you pick it up. It’s a huge time investment, and I’d rather you spend your time on a book you’ll really love. Let me know your thoughts!


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Review | The Storyteller | Jodi Picoult

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The Storyteller

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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things, My Sister’s Keeper, and House Rules comes an astonishing and complex novel that proves some stories live forever.

Mourning the passing of her mother, Sage Singer decides to attend a grief support group. She doesn’t expect to start an unlikely friendship with an elderly man also attending. Josef Weber is a beloved, retired teacher and Little League coach. Together they attempt to heal.

But one day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses but then he confesses his darkest and long-buried secret, one that irrevocably changes Sage’s worldview. She suddenly finds herself facing questions she never expected, such as what do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who’s committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren’t the party who was wronged? And most of all, if Sage even considers his request, is it murder or justice? The Storyteller explores these issues and more in this “profound and moving novel about secrets, lies, and how the power of stories can change the course of history” (Shelf Awareness).


The back cover copy (which is what I’ve posted above) doesn’t do a summary of the story justice. Sure, it was enough to reel me in and make my buy my first Jodi Picoult novel since high school with the promise of something OTHER THAN a sick kid and a court case, but it doesn’t tell you this: The Storyteller is a novel about the Holocaust. 

The novel shows the reader four perspectives: Sage’s, Josef’s, Leo’s, and Minka’s. If you follow me on Goodreads, you’ll know that when we first switched perspectives, I complained. I take this back. First off, Jodi doesn’t do it as frequently as she has in the other books I’ve read by her. Secondly, I could have gotten lost in Minka’s perspective for all eternity, and we don’t hear from her until the very middle of the book. Minka’s story is that of the Jewish ghettos and concentration camps of the Holocaust.

If you’ve never read any prose on the Holocaust, fiction or otherwise, then this will likely be a hard book for you to stomach. It is very emotional and raw. By all means, don’t let that deter you, though. Jodi Picoult has written here another one of the great novels that needs to be studied by generations to come. I’ve studied, extensively, WWII and the Holocaust in high school and university, so while this book didn’t make me cry because I knew what to expect, it did teach me a lot about humanity and empathy. The question central to the story is this: Is evil unforgivable, even if the person who committed that evil repents their sins? I believe the novel ends with the answer being that no, evil–especially evil such as the Holocaust–is unforgivable, but please let me know if you disagree. I also think that the novel presents the circumstances in a way that force that conclusion, but I could envision scenarios in which such evil could at least come close to being forgivable in individual circumstances. If you’ve read the book, perhaps you know what I mean. Importantly, Minka does an excellent job of underlining that blaming an entire group of people for evil done by only some of that group is wrong, and thus she emphasizes that the Germans are not the ones to hate after the Holocaust because that would make her just as bad as the SS Nazis that imprisoned her.

As I write this review, I’m trying very hard not to give anything away, because there are twists and turns at literally every corner of the story. Believe me when I say that Jodi Picoult has changed my opinion about her as a writer to a much better one and that I’ve learned so much from this novel. I’m glad I waited to read this when I did, though, because the mass-market trade paperback, and the cover, were a really great format to read it in. I think this particular cover is the best one of any edition I’ve seen and relates best to the story arch that Jodi takes us on.

Why only 4 stars? I was disappointed by the ending, for two reasons: 1. I saw that final twist coming, and in fact predicted it in the first quarter of the book, and 2. It ended much too abruptly. I do find it interesting, though…and let me try to say why without spoilers. Hmm. I think that, with this ending, Jodi is asking us if we can forgive one of the main characters for what they’ve just done. Is this main character any better than some of the other characters in the book, or the same? Have they committed evil? Does it make them a monster? Does it overshadow any of their other qualities as a person? So while I felt the ending was abrupt and thus disappointing, I do think Jodi’s purpose was for us to ponder these questions. Had she gone much further with the story, she may have started answering them herself. 


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Review | What Does Consent Really Mean? | Pete Wallis, Thalia Wallis, & Joseph Wilkins

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What Does Consent Really Mean?

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“Consent is not the absence of ‘NO’, it is an enthusiastic YES!!”

While seemingly straightforward, Tia and Bryony hadn’t considered this subject too seriously until it comes up in conversation with their friends and they realise just how important it is.

Following the sexual assault of a classmate, a group of teenage girls find themselves discussing the term consent, what it actually means for them in their current relationships, and how they act and make decisions with peer influence. Joined by their male friends who offer another perspective, this rich graphic novel uncovers the need for more informed conversations with young people around consent and healthy relationships. Accompanying the graphics are sexual health resources for students and teachers, which make this a perfect tool for broaching the subject with teens.


My feelings for this book are complicated. On the one hand, I love that this conversation has been made so accessible and in such a cool way (graphic novel format). I also appreciate how straight-forward the message is, rather than hiding it within subtext. At the same time, I was taken aback by just how straightforward the message is; if, like me, you thought there would be an actual narrative here, with the message explaining consent, then you’ll be disappointed. It’s my feeling that this novel lacks a narrative entirely. It’s very much like those “moral lesson” books you were given in elementary school where the characters are basically having a dialogue explaining the concept you were meant to learn. There isn’t really a storyline, a plot, a climax, etc. The book is solely argumentative.

I see the merits in this for sure, especially for school age kids. However, this was another point on which I struggled; the subject matter is at times appropriate for all ages (and I definitely think it should be made to be—let’s teach our kids what consent means as soon as they learn to talk!) but there were other times where the content was definitely more mature, with swearing and semi-explicit discussions of sexual relationships, that I would never feel comfortable giving to, say, an eleven-year-old to read. On the flip side, the artwork definitely depicts the characters as younger. Even while they were swearing and talking about their sex lives, I was looking at the drawings of the flat-chested girls with baby faces thinking, There’s no way these girls are older than twelve. Yet the actual verbal content of the book suggests that they are much older than twelve.

Overall, I really appreciate that a book with such a straight-forward approach to the topic of consent has been made available, but I think there is some confusion as to the age group of the audience. I also think the author and publishers will see less success than they hope because of the lack of a narrative; it feels very much like a lesson book, and I foresee this only being read by kids if it’s mandatory.

*

I received a free digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed herein are my own and do not reflect my professional associations or affiliates in any way.

THE HOUSE BETWEEN TIDES by Sarah Maine

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3 out of 5

In Sarah Maine’s The House Between Tides, a deceased painter’s Scottish summer house is inherited by Hetty. Her attention is immediately brought to the bones discovered under the centuries-old manor, and the story of the manor’s previous owners is slowly woven together. Theo Blake and his young wife Beatrice had a happy start, but their relationship soon grew troubled as the house and its memories haunted the artist. What happened that led to the body under the floorboards?

Like Theo Blake, Maine is a painter in her own right, sucking the reader in through the picturesque Scottish landscape. Beatrice’s storyline throbs with intensity and keeps the story alive. In contrast, Hetty and company are far from fully formed characters; it is clear that Maine cared more for the characters of the past and neglected to bring the same interest and tension into the present storyline. Additionally, the plot does little to build suspense in the reader until the end. Not that the novel is boring, but rather Maine carries the reader along a horizontal path that suddenly spikes with fifty pages left to go. A slow read that would have worked better had Maine focused on the stronger storyline and done away with the other all together.