Review | I See London, I See France | Sarah Mlynowski

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I See London, I See France

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I see London, I see France, I see Sydney’s underpants.

Nineteen-year-old Sydney has the perfect summer mapped out. She’s spending the next four and half weeks traveling through Europe with her childhood best friend, Leela. Their plans include Eiffel-Tower selfies, eating cocco gelato, and making out with très hot strangers. Her plans do not include Leela’s cheating ex-boyfriend showing up on the flight to London, falling for the cheating ex-boyfriend’s très hot friend, monitoring her mother’s spiraling mental health via texts, or feeling like the rope in a friendship tug-of-war.

As Sydney zigzags through Amsterdam, Switzerland, Italy, and France, she must learn when to hold on, when to keep moving, and when to jump into the Riviera…wearing only her polka-dot underpants.


First of all, I’ve gotten a lot of new subscribers in the last week or so, and I just want to say thank you and welcome! I’d love if you could tell me in the comments how you found this blog so I know how to reach even more readers!

This novel was a really fun ride from start to finish. Think Maureen Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes meets Euro Trip. Sydney and her best friend Leela are no strangers to boys, but when the book starts it has been a while since Sydney let herself have much fun. She’s taken on the burden of her mom’s agoraphobia and allowed it to distance herself from her friend.

I liked that Sydney and Leela’s friendship felt deep and genuine right away. There was no need to set it up or provide much backstory because their chemistry and the way they interacted spoke volumes. I also liked that Leela’s codependent personality revealed itself in stages which simultaneously allowed the reader to feel towards her the same way that Sydney did, at the same pace. For example, it’s not as if she was written to be really annoying but the reader finds her that way before Sydney does. Instead, as the reader I found that my feelings for her changed and developed as the character developed, which is really strong writing in my opinion. 

There are, of course, boys, and lots of them. While it was fun to watch Sydney explore various dalliances and play with romance, nothing was super steamy or exciting. Even when the main love interest gets on the scene, I wasn’t desperate to flip the pages to get more of him. Not that he was written badly or even boringly–I just didn’t get the tingles when I read about them.

The book also lacks in setting description. Sydney and Leela are travelling through all of these incredible places across Europe, but there are no visual details provided. I felt very much like Sydney had tunnel vision, focusing mainly on Leela, the boys, and her phone. I wanted to snap my fingers in her face and say, “Look up, lady! I want to know what London looks like!” It was definitely a weakness that resulted in me feeling somewhat removed from the story.

However, the pacing is very fast and the characters are well developed. It definitely has the feel of being the first of a series because you are left with a few unanswered questions and what I would call “problems” that still need to be resolved by the characters. For example, I don’t think Leela and Sydney’s friendship is going to last if Leela doesn’t grow up a little bit. I also NEED to know more about Kat. Honestly, I hope the sequel focuses solely on Sydney’s upcoming school year; her adventures with Kat were hinted at and I want to see that in detail, and I want to see how she navigates her new long-distance relationships. Plus with her mom on the road to recovery and her sister possibly going down a self-destructive path, there is so much story to be read there! I’m really excited. I’m sure she doesn’t need it, but if the author ever wants someone to bounce ideas with, I’m here.

I definitely recommend it and hope you will all grab yourself a copy. A great start to my 2018 Reading Challenge for sure!


Links

Goodreads     Indigo     Amazon.ca

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Review | I Hate Everyone But You | Allison Raskin & Gaby Dunn

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I Hate Everyone But You

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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?

I Hate Everyone But You, the debut novel by two emerging major talents in YA, Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn, is a story about new beginnings, love and heartbreak, and, ultimately, the power of friendship.


I’ve been getting into certain audiobooks lately. My fiancé and I are in the middle of a huge renovation and move, so it’s been very hard to balance my free time to allow reading for pleasure. Then I get dragged down and feel stressed, and while at work I feel even worse. I turned to audiobooks as a middle-ground: I’m not getting to hold a physical book in my hand, but I do get to listen to a story while I accomplish my other tasks.

A few weeks ago I promised a review of the audiobook of The Sin Eater’s Daughter but…that never happened. I still want to because I LOVED it, but honestly speaking I might not get around to it. Sorry! Instead, let me share with you my review of the best audiobook I’ve ever listened to, which I had the pleasure of enjoying this past week. It’s I Hate Everyone But You performed by the authors, Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn.

If you’ve never watched the YouTube channel Just Between Us and you identify as feminist, I’d recommend you head on over to YouTube and take a look. Allison and Gaby play versions of themselves where their quirks and/or flaws are ultra-heightened and the result is hilarious. They are a great comedy duo, their writing is qualitatively spot-on, and so I knew when I heard they were writing this book that it would be great. Then I picked it up in stores, discovered that it was a novel composed of texts and emails…and was promptly put off. I can’t stress enough that I hold a strong disdain for diary, letter, or text-style novels. I can’t stand them. So I didn’t pick it up. But then I learned that there was an audiobook and that Allison and Gaby perform it together. I thought, this might work. AND IT SO DOES!

Gaby voices the character Gen, who I imagine to be a younger version of the Gaby portrayed in Just Between Us. Likewise Allison voices Ava, a younger version of JBU’s Allison. However, both Gen and Ava are toned-down versions of the characters in JBU. The listener follows along as the two characters part for their first year at university on opposite sides of the country, navigate self-exploration, expression, and romance, and, like an old married couple, work out the kinks in their newly long-distance relationship. Allison and Gaby’s performance is imbued with warmth and a genuine care for the characters and each other that I think would be, potentially, missed in the printed versions. They both have excellent comedic timing and perform the novel in such a way that I truly believe the audiobook is the only way this novel should be experienced. I loved it so much that I plan on listening to it again and again until the disk breaks. The story is timeless, relatable, and genuine. I can’t recommend it enough.


Links

Goodreads     Amazon.ca     Indigo

Review | There’s Someone Inside Your House | Stephanie Perkins

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There’s Someone Inside Your House

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Scream meets YA in this hotly-anticipated new novel from the bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss.

One-by-one, the students of Osborne High are dying in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, the dark secrets among them must finally be confronted.

International bestselling author Stephanie Perkins returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.


There’s Someone Inside Your House is the perfect book to read in the week leading up to Halloween, but don’t expect to get too scared by this book. Until the final quarter, TSIYH is more love story than it is horror story. You’ll be more grossed out than anything, with really gruesome and gory murders serving as the backdrop for the romance that blooms between Makani and Ollie.

I love Stephanie Perkins, but she does try too hard to point out the diversity in her books. She writes diversity in such a way that it’s like she’s inserted a flashing neon sign pointing it out, which bugs me. It’s great that we have such a diverse cast, and not so great that Perkins underlines it five times with a red pen.

It seemed to me that this book was marketed as a horror story and I found that misleading. Thriller is a more appropriate word. Romantic thriller is a more accurate genre for it to fit into. I expected to be put on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading it, and I definitely was not. I was also disappointed that the killer is revealed halfway through the book. It takes part of the surprise out of it. However, I was very pleased with the motives Perkins created and thought that the reasoning behind the killings was very realistic. Given that this is a story about a teenage killing rampage, it fits that the motivation the killer had was simplistic and maybe a little attuned to someone who hadn’t experienced very much of the world, or of life, yet.

Loved—the setting. What is it about the countryside that is so creepy? And the backdrop of the seasons being on the verge of shifting from fall to winter made the stark setting feel even more bleak and hopeless. I also loved Stephanie Perkins’ ability to make you care about characters that only get a few pages before they’re murdered; in a limited number of words she has created a fully realized character with a history and a future, both of which are erased in seconds, and that really got to me towards the end. Especially with KK’s death (initials to try to avoid spoilers)—that one really got to me. Also, please see the image below for my biggest love in this book: the fact that Perkins wrote about a girl peeing and having to change her tampon. #Godbless

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Dislikedthe abrupt ending. Holy crud, it feels like the last part of the book is missing. Are we getting a sequel? Was there an editing error? I mean, WHAT? It really irritated me to turn that final page and suddenly be faced with the word “Acknowledgements”. Exqueeze me? No, ma’am. We deserve more resolution than that.


A Bit of Housekeeping

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Purchase Links

Indigo.ca     Amazon.ca    B&N

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a review copy.

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.

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!


Buy Links

Indigo.ca          Amazon.ca         B&N

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.

Review | A Little Something Different | Sandy Hall

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A Little Something Different

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The creative writing teacher, the delivery guy, the local Starbucks baristas, his best friend, her roommate, and the squirrel in the park all have one thing in common—they believe that Gabe and Lea should get together. Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is reserved, Gabe has issues, and despite their initial mutual crush, it looks like they are never going to work things out.  But somehow even when nothing is going on, something is happening between them, and everyone can see it. Their creative writing teacher pushes them together. The baristas at Starbucks watch their relationship like a TV show. Their bus driver tells his wife about them. The waitress at the diner automatically seats them together. Even the squirrel who lives on the college green believes in their relationship.

Surely Gabe and Lea will figure out that they are meant to be together….


Here’s the thing: this romance is super cute and the way the story is told really is “a little something different.” But I would go so far as to say that the story is TOO cute. There’s not much substance here, to be honest. For example, two of the viewpoints come from a squirrel and a bench, and it’s kind of ridiculous in a roll-your-eyes way. Then you have the fact that all these different characters are basically the same: they talk the same ways, they think the same things, they feel the same about stuff. Even the one character, Victor, who is supposed to hate Gabe and Lea (our couple) doesn’t actually hate them. (The author tells us over and over that he does but then he’s as obsessed with them as everyone else and it makes no sense.) It’s a prime example of telling, but not showing, and it is–quite frankly–weak writing. 

I would argue that Hillary has the potential to be one of the most unique characters and yet her parts are very short, AND Sandy Hall does her a HUGE injustice by slotting her into the “blonde bimbo” trope. I mean, COME ON.

In second place is Danny (yeah for LGBTQIA!) but he has the least amount of sections (boo!), and again, he is slotted into a few stereotypical “gay college boy” tropes.

In third place is Charlotte, who starts off as a character I could like but then turns into all the other characters (they are honestly the same–take away their names and you wouldn’t know the difference). AND everyone’s obsession with this couple for sure crosses into creepy. My frustration for this book bubbleith over.

Not to mention that there’s nothing about Gabe or Lea that is particularly likeable. Not that there was anything wrong with them; I liked them both just fine. But they are tertiary character material at most. While everyone is going gaga over their supposed romance, I’m sitting here as the reader going, “But why?” Honestly, they’re so boring! And everything that happens between them is SO. BORING. Another prime example of the author going, “Oh, they’re so cute, they look great together, we love them” and providing zero actual substance for these assertions. The author was shoving this down my throat and I was choking on it going, “BUT YOU ACTUALLY HAVEN’T PROVEN ANY OF THESE THINGS!”

So much potential. So do not recommend.