Book Review: Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

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Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Year Published: 2017

My Rating:★★★★☆

This book follows our main character Alice, who has had a crush on her best friend Teddy for years. On his 18th birthday, she decides to get him a lottery ticket, and lo and behold he wins. Like $150 million big. While Alice is combatting the change that this huge amount of money brings on her and her friends’ lives, she is also combatting issues of her past. The death of her parents haunts and determines the decisions she makes every day, and now that this big change has come upon her life with Teddy’s newly acquired wealth, it feels like life is being thrown way out of balance.

Initially, this book was slow to start. It took about 150 pages for the story to really pick up, but when it did, I found it to be a solid contemporary. It’s not just fluff and romance, but has some real depth to it. Each character has their own challenges to battle, and it’s evident that these battles are the focal point of the story, not the romance. Our main character, Alice, has lost both her parents. Teddy, our lucky winner, has to deal with a dead-beat dad. And lastly, Alice’s cousin Leo (who she lives with, along with his parents) is dealing with whether he wants to pick a college where he can be with his boyfriend, or if he should follow his heart and take his future elsewhere. All of this combines to make a very thoughtful and meaningful story. The only issues I had with this book was the pacing and the fact that the teenage characters didn’t talk like teenagers do. At least to me they didn’t. Other than that, I quite enjoyed this book.

By the end of it, I fell in love with each of the characters and, to be honest, the ending was just perfect. Jennifer E. Smith has stepped up her game (more specifically, her writing) in this one. It’s not just fluffy romance, it goes into a lot more deeper issues, like family loss, grief, and broken familial relationships. The book is given way more depth in this way, all the while you’re rooting for the characters to have a happy ending, romantically and just in general. A solid YA contemporary overall.

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Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

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Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBT

Year Published: 2017

My Rating: ★★★☆☆

In a nutshell, and not to seem too spoiler-y since this doesn’t come out until the fall, this book follows our main character, Sal, a gender-fluid assassin/thief that has a tragic past and is looking for revenge in the future. To do this, they enter a tournament to become the next member of the Left Hand, the Queen of the kingdom’s league of assassin’s and spies, in order to get close to the court’s nobles. Along the way, Sal encounters allies, enemies, and a possible love-interest with the daughter of a court member. It’s not all fun and games and revenge though, as Sal learns there is more at stake than they originally thought.

This book was not as great as I expected it to be, but it was good nonetheless. It takes quite a while for the story to take off, as our main character is a bit of mystery until about 1/4 of the way through the book. Not only that but the fantastical world this book takes place in felt like it was kind of thrown at the reader; there was a lot of info-dumping and many times I felt confused as to what was going on because I didn’t know the workings of the world I was in. Eventually, however, the story began to pick up pace as Sal became more of a rounded character, along with their love interest and the rest of the members of the Left Hand.

The stakes were high, and I appreciated the suspense in that. In the end, I did enjoy this book for its characters and the potential for some serious action in the next book. Again, it wasn’t a very solid YA fantasy, but I do think there is room to grow. As such, I look forward to the next book in the series, and I will definitely be recommending it as a book with (from what I can tell, being a non-gender fluid, heterosexual person) good representation of gender fluidity.

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Book Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

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Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism

Year Published: 2017

My Rating:★★★★☆

This book gives such a deep and personal perspective on the migrant story. I appreciate the messages it gives to those who perhaps aren’t as familiar with such stories, all the while adding a magical element so as to engage the reader just a tiny bit more.

In this book, we follow the relationship of Saeed and Nadia, two people living in a (presumably Middle Eastern) war-torn country. Through magical doors, they are able to escape with other refugees to safer lands. Although they escape to these safer lands, that does not mean they are entirely safe. They still have to survive, and survival is hard when you think of what has been left behind and how unstable your future really is.

The focal point of this story are not the magical doors, as one may think. They are simply a fantastical element used to transport the characters from one point to another. The main story is the journey that Saeed and Nadia take, from the moment they meet in a classroom, to their time in small refugee settlements on the outskirts of cities. I really appreciated that, as I think readers should be focusing more on this aspect anyway.

The writing in this was very raw and very honest. The author did not waste time with metaphors of how the characters felt about each other or what was going on around them, but was very straight and to the point. He gives Saeed and Nadia personalities of who they were with their families, and who they were when they were together. This, I think, is important, especially when the goal is to make the reader feel everything the main characters are going through, including what they lose and what they gain in this journey to safety.

I found this to be a very unique and important read. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was good and succeeded in sending out a message: that refugees are people just like us. And just like us, they need help in times of sacrifice and suffering.

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Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery

Year Published: 2014

My Rating:★★★★☆

What a wild ride this one was. I was never intending on picking this book up, but my library just happened to have the audiobook available, and it’s a short audiobook, so I thought why the hell not.

In a nut shell, this book follows our main character, Cadence Sinclair. She is a part of the very prestigious and very rich Sinclair family. Every year, her family and her cousins visit an island owned solely by their family. One summer, Cadence returns to the island after something mysterious, and something she can’t remember, happened on the island two years previously. This book is about her figuring out exactly what happened those two years ago.

I honestly don’t want to get more into it than that, because I feel like it’s best to go into books like this one without knowing much.

Overall, I really did enjoy this story. I might be the only person who didn’t figure out what was going on until it was revealed at the end of the book, but I’m going to take that as a good thing, because it definitely added shock value and heightened the reading experience for me.

I really commend the author on being able to create a compelling story with well-rounded characters in such a small amount of pages. That is honestly something to be proud of as a writer. Not only that, but the book has a lot of re-readable value. It’ll be interesting to go back and pick up on things I hadn’t picked up on previously, now knowing the whole truth of the story.

I definitely look forward to reading more compelling reads by E. Lockhart in the future.

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Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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Genre: Literary Fiction, Dystopian

Year Published: 2015

My Rating:★★★★★

This book has easily already made it into my top books of this year. I don’t know why I waited so long to read it, but golly am I glad that I finally did.

This book is half dystopian/half flashbacks to present day. In the dystopian world, the world has previously been ravaged by an almost inescapable disease that killed approximately…like… 99% of the population (scary stuff, no joke). In this post-apocalyptic time, we follow a troupe of theatre actors and musicians who travel the mid-west of the United States performing Shakespeare plays, because “survival is insufficient.” One of the actresses in this theatre group is Kirsten, and her life provides the connection to the flashback moments of the book. She once knew a famous actor named Arthur Leander, and through her memories of him, we are given flashbacks of his life and the lives of his friends and loved ones.

We see struggle in both modern day, and post-apocalyptic times. The author seamlessly connects the past to the present, all the while providing us, the readers, with beautiful writing. Mandel almost makes it seem as though that pre-apocalyptic times were more tragic than post-apocalyptic. To have the ability and success in conveying this, I think, is an immense feat.

Over-arching all of this is the message that life goes on. We live, we die (in either tragic or non-tragic ways), and we continue to move on. We see this with one of the characters we see in the beginning of the story, and don’t see again until close to the very end. The motivation to live, to overcome obstacles created not only by nature, but by other people as well, is the very definition of humanity…and I think this book conveyed just that. It was beautiful and simple, horrifying and complex, everything all at once. Much like what life is…everything. All at once.

Overall, I obviously gave this a 5/5 stars. I’ll leave you guys with some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Hell is the absence of the people you long for.”

“First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.”

“She had never entirely let go of the notion that if she reached far enough with her thoughts she might find someone waiting, that if two people were to cast their thoughts outward at the same moment they might somehow meet in the middle.”

“If you are the light, if your enemies are darkness, then there’s nothing that you cannot justify. There’s nothing you can’t survive, because there’s nothing that you will not do.”