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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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: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

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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.

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Book Review: The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass

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Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Year Published: 2016

My Rating: ★★★1/2☆

I went into this book not knowing much about it. I thought it had something to do with some sort of buried secret, and in a way, it did. However, it wasn’t the secret at the end of the novel that was revealed that really made this an interesting read for me. What made it interesting was the uniqueness of it. I have never come across a family, in reality or in fiction, as disturbing as that of the Cresswell’s. More specifically, the father of the family. The fact that it was so disturbing really lifted the rating of this book for me, because I have not come across a book in my lifetime that has done so.

I admired our main character/narrator and her role in breaking her family out of the religious cult that her father built for the family, but in the end I think she was just a means to an end. I wish she was a little more rounded as a person. For example, we could have had her explain when the questioning of her family’s ways began; if it started early on, or if only just now the thoughts began to creep into her head. That way, we see some sort of development into the person she becomes: someone who has become openly defiant of her father and the control he has over them.

In the end I would have to give this book a 3.5/5 stars. This is because I felt as though it had the potential of being much longer, allowing the reader to get to know the characters more and what their lives have been like. Also, some of the characters seemed ambiguous in their beliefs, especially the main character’s siblings. They would defy their father, but then they would go back to submitting themselves to his will. There wasn’t much consistency there. Otherwise, I thought this was a very thrilling and different read. I would not, however, recommend this to certain people, as religion can be a touchy subject, despite the fact that it was portrayed in such a radical way that it wouldn’t usually offend anyone. However, in the end, I felt as though things were handled quite well and it was a solid read.

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Book Review: Solitaire by Alice Oseman

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Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Year Published: 2014

My Rating: ★★★★★

Brief Summary: Teenager Tori Spring has always felt somewhat outside of her friends. She likes to blog and she likes to sleep. One day, two things appear in her life that change all of that. The first is Solitaire, and the second is Michael Holden. The cover does not lie; this is not a love story. Tori faces battles at home, at school, with her friends, with Michael Holden, and most importantly, with herself. Solitaire is a coming of age novel that explores the type of teenage years that many teens today experience; something that people who are older may not understand.

Review: I really enjoyed Alice Oseman’s writing in this novel. It was simple and to the point. I really felt as though I was inside Tori’s head the whole time. I had a very clear understanding of who she was as a person: cynical and pessimistic, yet not entirely helpless in either of these areas. The plot also came from someone that was near the age group of the main characters in the novel, which made it more credible. Often adults are writing novels about teenagers and thus cannot be 100% accurate about how teenagers act today, but because of Oseman’s young age, the writing and the story was absolutely believable.

The characters were fantastic as well. Each of the main characters—Tori, Michael, Becky, and Charlie—were deeply developed. We learned each person had their own fatal flaw and we observed those flaws through Tori’s eyes, and along the way, Tori began to see her own by means of observing others. She was very self-aware of her personality. As the novel progressed you could see her deteriorate mentally, and in the end, the beginning of her revival. How she came to that endpoint, I will not go into, but the book is definitely worth the read to find out how this develops between Tori and her friends.

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Book Review: Paper Towns by John Green

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Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Year Published: 2009

My Rating: ★★★★★

(Very vague spoilers in this review, nothing important or plot-spoiling).

This book surprised me. I have to admit, after reading An Abundance of Katherines, it was a major relief. I think that both novels were exploring the theme of growing up and learning about oneself, but Paper Towns succeeded far more than An Abundance of Katherines did.

Q and his friends had one hell of a journey ahead of them, and I never knew what was going to happen next or whether or not the next paper town Q turned into would contain something good or something bad. That excited me. Nothing was predictable.

I also loved how quirky the characters were, and found it extremely hilarious about the collection of black santas that Radar’s parents have. Their interactions with one another and just the story in general was different, but not so different that I found their story unreasonable or unrealistic. It was a relatable-different, as I the reader can definitely relate to things like the high school system, fear of adult vs. childhood imagination, etc.

I did get annoyed a few times at Q for when he complained about Ben, but I suppose he came to terms with things in the end. Also, I felt like the ending was very abrupt and could have taken a little bit more time to wrap things up.

In the end, however, I was pleased with Paper Towns. It was the type of book that I couldn’t put down, but when I did, I immediately wanted to get back to it. The writing was fluid and easy to get through, while not being so simple that it suffered from lackluster. It was an overall good read that I would recommend.

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Book Review: Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

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Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Year Published: 2015

My Rating:★★★☆☆

I received an advanced reader copy of this novel courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Not If I See You First is a young adult contemporary novel that follows the perspective of high school-er and protagonist, Parker. Parker is blind and has recently lost her father, her mother also dead from a car accident that left Parker without sight years ago. Her aunt and cousins move in to live with her, and this book follows what goes on in her life as school begins and new and old loves arise, as well as when friendship issues occur.

The author, Eric Lindstrom, did an excellent job telling the story in the perspective of someone blind. That in itself was a very unique and intriguing concept. Not only that, but we also learn that our main character is a fantastic runner despite being blind. The story of how her mother caused the accident that resulted in her loss of sight and the unsure truth of why her father died is also quite interesting. I desperately wished all of these things were explored further

Unfortunately, all of these intriguing story lines were set aside for the novel to be about Parker and her dating this guy who turns out to be best friends with the boy she was in a relationship with when she was 13. This novel had a lot more potential than what it ended up being. Often, I felt as though all Parker did was complain. I found her to be very self-centered and very dramatic. To say that her boyfriend of 2 weeks when she was 13 could have been her soul mate and falling into deep despair because of that was annoying. I understand that being blind is something that requires a little extra attention from people, but Parker’s whole storyline is revolved around the issue with Scott and other smaller issues that appear between her and her cousin, as well as her friends.

This book had a lot of potential to explore the growth of a young girl who has experienced so much tragedy, yet chose to continue her life and do her best to focus on one of the things she loves to do most, as well as her family, friends, and possible significant other. Perhaps if I was younger (not 21 years old), I would have connected to this book more. But, unfortunately, I am not and I could only see Parker as an annoying, self-centered, dramatic teenager that has an extremely unfortunate disability she must learn to deal with every day.

Because of it’s interesting premise, I’ll give this book a decent rating. But on the whole, I admit I did not enjoy it as much as I was hoping to.

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