Book Review: Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

32048554

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.

Find this book elsewhere: Goodreads Amazon Book Depository

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

mask of shadows

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.

Find this book elsewhere: Goodreads Amazon Book Depository

 

SaveSave

Book Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

30688435

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.

Find this book elsewhere: Goodreads Amazon Book Depository

Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

we were liars

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.

Find this book elsewhere: Goodreads Amazon Book Depository

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

23995368

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.”

Book Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

underrose

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mental Health

Year Published: 2016 (UK) 2017 (US)

My Rating: ★★★★1/2

I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is a non-spoiler review.

TRIGGER WARNING for self-harm and depression.

This was one of my most highly anticipated reads for 2017 and boy oh boy was I right in anticipating this. The reason I was anticipating this book was because the blurb indicated it was a story about a main character with agoraphobia (fear of leaving one’s home or ‘safe space’), OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), extreme anxiety, and depression. These are all things that I have suffered from, so to see a book that was coming out that explored all of these things in one character really had me intrigued. I wasn’t disappointed.

In a nutshell, this YA contemporary follows our main character Norah, a 17 (?) year old teenager living in California who suffers from all of the above mentioned. The reader follows her day to day life and how she deals with the illness she suffers from. It explores her relationship with her mother, as well as her therapist. There is also, of course, the love interest as well. The love interest comes in the form of Luke, a boy who has just moved in next door and is intrigued by Norah: the girl who sits in the open doorway of her house, watching the outside world while her mind keeps her trapped inside her house.

Right off the bat, hearing that there is a love interest to someone who has agoraphobia, or any other invisible illness, may make a reader hesitant. Is this just another book about the love interest fixing the mental illness of the main protagonist? Because that in itself is very unrealistic.

You may think this at first, but this book is far from that. The love interest in this book definitely does not fix Norah’s illness. In fact, she still has a very long way to go by the time the end of the book comes about. What he does do, and what her mother and therapist also do in this book, is help Norah deal with the day to day hurdles she has to jump through. They help her grow.

What really amplifies Norah’s internal struggles in the book is the knowledge that the author herself has suffered from all of these things. This therefore makes it an own-voices book (a book in which the author identifies with the same characteristics of the main character). Norah’s story suddenly becomes all the more real with this piece of knowledge and it really authenticates the story in this way. It authenticates that people with this mental illness think about things such as the following daily:

-Self-harm
-Low self-worth
-Wondering if this illness will ever let them have a life
-Thinking every worst situation possible will happen if they step outside their door
-Overthinking every word a person has communicated to them
-Overthinking pretty much everything in general to the point where it makes them sick

We, the readers, discover that Norah thinks about these things daily. Her struggle with these things, and slowly but surely overcoming them only to find something else blocking her path to recovery, is what this book is really all about. The romance is a cute subplot, but again, it is not the main focal point of the story.

The only thing I would have to complain about this book was that a lot of the pages that contained Norah’s internal thoughts were overflowing with metaphors and similes. A lot of what Norah would be thinking about was compared to something else. I understand that it is hard to write a book that comprises mostly of the narrators thoughts without metaphors and similes, but I feel as though the book would have benefited more if there was less of this.

Other than that, I highly enjoyed this novel. It, in my opinion, should be required reading of any teenager in high school. It really opens up the subject of mental illness and even shows that it is more common than one may think. Students, and pretty much any one of any age, will learn that they are not alone in reading this book…and I think that’s one of the most important things to remember when you have a mental illness: that you are not alone.

Find this book elsewhere: Goodreads Amazon Book Depository

Book Review: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

milk

Genre: Poetry

Year Published: 2014

My Rating:★★★★☆

This collection of poetry has sky-rocketed in the past year. So, as a person who is an avid reader of poetry and is open to trying the most obscure poets as well as the most popular, I decided to pick up this collection to see what it was all about.

The first thing I noticed was the style in which it is written. The style is very short, free-verse poetry that tends to have one or two very impactful lines within the poem. For example, here is one of the poems from the collection that I particularly liked:

your name is
the strongest
positive and negative
connotation in any language
it lights me up or
leaves me aching for days

-rupi kaur

Now, many people (more specifically, avid poetry readers, especially those who pride themselves on reading the greatest names in poetry) would say this is not poetry. That it’s ‘hipster’ poetry for teenage girls.

I, as a reader of all types of poetry, having studied poetry as an English major at the previous university I attended as well as one I attended abroad (which was one of the top in the UK) strongly disagree with this. I have read the greats and have appreciated them just as much as I appreciated this collection of poetry.

Why?

Because unlike poets such as Yeats, Dickinson, Whitman, Frost, and Keats, this collection by Rupi Kaur is, in a word, accessible.

It is accessible to ALL readers and allows readers who are not as familiar with poetry to read and enjoy this. It opens up a whole new world of reading to them, and maybe somewhere down the line in their new journey of poetry reading they will reach the greats and appreciate them as well.

Moving on from the above discussion, I would like to discuss why I enjoyed the content of this collection.

Kaur has an innate talent of packing a big punch in very short poems. This is not an easy feat. To find the words, and so very few at that, that will make a person look up from the book and think “Wow. This is incredibly true and incredibly raw,” is a huge accomplishment. Not only that, but the author tackles subjects that are very touchy, such as rape. She does it in such a way that makes you want to stand up and join all of those women that were marching this past weekend and protect those who have gone through such horrendous, disgusting ordeals (women and men alike). Her poetry is empowering and puts a lot of thoughts and feelings thousands of people have stuck inside their heads onto paper for all to read and all to understand.

All of this is not to say that this is a perfect collection of poetry. There were some poems that didn’t hit home as much as they were intended to. There were some that could have been left out of the book and not have downgraded the collection by any means. However, that being said, I did still enjoy reading every poem in this collection.

The main reason I enjoyed this was because it did something for me, and I’m sure for many other avid poetry readers, that no other collection has done before: it has opened poetry up to the world again. It has made poetry more popular, and it has made poetry a genre that more people are seeking out. For that, I am grateful for this collection.

Find this book elsewhere: Goodreads Amazon Book Depository