Review: The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin

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Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: January 26, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 320
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Few things come as naturally to Harper as epic mistakes. In the past year, she was kicked off the swim team, earned a reputation as Carson High’s easiest hookup, and officially became the black sheep of the family. But the worst mistake was her first one: destroying her relationship with her best friend, Declan.

Now, after two semesters of silence between Harper and Declan, Declan is home from boarding school for summer break. Everything about him is different – he’s taller, stronger… handsomer. But Harper has changed too, especially in the wake of her mom’s cancer diagnosis.

While Declan wants nothing to do with Harper, he’s still Declan, her Declan, the only person she wants to talk to about what’s really going on with her. But after she betrayed his trust, he’s also the one person she’s lost all right to seek comfort from.

As shared friends and shared histories draw them together, Harper and Declan must decide which parts of their past are still possible to fix and which parts they’ll have to live with forever.

MY THOUGHTS

3 stars

The Year We Fell Apart is Emily Martin’s debut novel and I dove straight into this one as soon as my copy arrived in the mail because it reminded me of Second Chance Summer (which I loved), with the second chance romance and the parent struggling with cancer. Unfortunately, I didn’t love this one as much as Second Chance Summer because of a few problems I had with the characters and plot.

For a debut novel, I was quite impressed with the writing in this book. I noticed from the first page how beautiful the prose was but, most importantly, it was easy to read. The words flowed very well and I flew through this book in just one sitting.

What I really struggled with was Harper’s character. She was very frustrating and I didn’t really understand her behaviour and her reasoning behind most of the things she did. I feel like this book had the potential to be a great coming of age story, but Harper really didn’t develop very much and continued to make the same mistakes over and over. She really reminded me of Molly from 99 Days, another character that just continued to make the same mistakes and never grew or learnt anything from her mistakes. Perhaps my biggest problem with Harper was that she was very mopey and her attitude just made her a little bit hard to like. She kept putting herself into situations where she would make the same mistakes she had in the past, but in the aftermath, she would act like it wasn’t her fault at all. I just could not bring myself to feel sorry for her. Having said that, it wasn’t all bad when it came to Harper. She had a few great moments and she was far less annoying than Molly from 99 Days.

“People change. And sometimes that means drifting apart. But other times it just means working harder to find some common ground.”

I thought the events that led to Molly and Declan breaking up a year ago were a little bit overdramatic and weak. I don’t even fully understand why they broke up. And for those events to have caused such a huge change in Harper, it was slightly unrealistic to me. And despite the two of them being together in the same place again, they never really communicated with each other. There were just so many misunderstandings and I just wished they would talk to each other. There were even instances where one character was given the opportunity to explain their actions, and the other just said “nope, you don’t have to explain”. I reached the end of the book feeling very unsatisfied with how everything played out and I don’t think their issues were resolved at all.

The romance between Harper and Declan is definitely at the forefront of the book, but there is a secondary story arc that involves Harper’s mother and her struggles with cancer. In my opinion, this was dealt with so poorly that I have no idea why it was even included in the book. I suppose watching her mother become ill was supposed to snap Harper out of her recklessness, but there was so little development in Harper’s character! In fact, for most of the book, Harper just avoids the issue by lying to her parents and going out and being reckless. There also aren’t very many mentions of Harper’s mother in the whole book so I just thought that story arc was a bit weak. It also felt kind of convenient at times and it seemed like her illness was only mentioned when the plot needed to move forward. There were also a couple of other things that felt convenient, such as the photography summer class Harper attended. It was only brought up a handful of times when the plot needed to develop.

I did like some of the side characters in the book. I appreciated how supportive some of Harper’s friends were and wished that they could have featured a bit more in the book. However, there were also other friends that I was absolutely disgusted by and thought were terrible people. I was a little bit disappointed by how Harper handled these friendships. I just wanted to see her cut ties with them completely but that didn’t really happen. I liked Declan as a love interest but he did some really stupid things that just didn’t make sense to me, so overall I was a little bit underwhelmed by the two leads.

This was a little bit of an underwhelming read for me. I didn’t love Harper as a main character and thought that there were a lot of loose ends that weren’t tied up. The plot felt a bit shaky at times and I just needed it to be better resolved. It had great drama but I thought it was a bit overdramatic, especially since the catalyst was so… not worthy of drama.

Review: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

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Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Release date: September 24, 2015
Format: Paperback
ISBN13: 9781408867785
Pages: 306
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Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to keep afloat in the midst of economic and social collapse. Living in their car, surviving on tips from Charmaine’s job at a dive bar, they’re increasingly vulnerable to roving gangs, and in a desperate state.

So when they see an advertisement for the Positron Project in the town of Consilience – a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own – they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for this suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month, swapping their home for a prison cell.

At first, all is well. But slowly, unknown to the other, Stan and Charmaine develop a passionate obsession with their ‘Alternates’, the couple that occupy their home when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire take over, and Positron looks less like an answer to prayer and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

MY THOUGHTS

3 stars

I received an ARC of The Heart Goes Last from Bloomsbury Australia. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I don’t really know how I feel about this book. There were things that I really enjoyed but also some things that turned me off. I liked the concept of the book, and that was what made me want to read it in the first place, but I feel like the whole book was just about how people are obsessed with sex.

The Heart Goes Last takes place in the near-future after the economy has kind of collapsed. Our main characters, Charmaine and Stan, are living in their car and surviving on the very little money Charmaine makes. When they find out about the Positron Project, which seems very much like a utopia, they sign up immediately. This was the first thing that bothered me. They pretty much sign up for this utopian scheme without thinking about it and considering the pros and cons, even though this project is FOR LIFE. Once you enter Consilience, you’re not allowed to leave or have any contact with the outside world. Even though they’ve been warned by people not to enter the project, Charmaine and Stan sign up without any hesitation. That just didn’t seem very believable to me. They don’t even really believe in the ideals of the scheme after they’ve signed up FOR LIFE, though they want to I guess.

Stan has never heard so much bullshit in his life. On the other hand, he sort of wants to believe it.

I wasn’t really into the book until about 100 pages in. The first 70 or so pages felt a little bit boring and slow. I couldn’t really picture the real world they were in that was apparently so anarchic that they had to stay in their car almost 24/7 in case it was stolen. I could picture Consilience and the Positron a little bit better but I just didn’t feel like it was completely believable. I think the story really picked up when we got to about page 120, where there’s a twist. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting it at all and I started to enjoy the book more after that point. The book picks up in pace and we start to see a bit more humour, which I actually found to be quite humorous. I loved the whole scheme to take down Positron from within and how Stan and Charmaine get involved in this plan separately and unknowingly.

My problem with this book were the characters. They were all very dislikable and flawed. It seemed like they were all sex-crazed and it was the only thing they could think about. The book is filled with people obsessing about sex, having sex, watching others have sex. I just wanted a lot less of it. It was like sex as the only thing on their minds. And of course, this being a Margaret Atwood book, feminism is a big theme in the book. Men are portrayed as predators and women their victims. The men wanted to have sex with every woman they came across. A sex-bot business was formed so that men could have a sex doll customised to look and sound like the women they wanted. And men were having sex with chickens when they were separated from the women in the prison. I almost couldn’t deal with the book by this point, but luckily the plot twist came soon after…

I really did not like Charmaine in this book. She was very self-important and put down people who she thought were not as pretty or skilled as her. For most of the book she thinks only about herself and her own goals. When she first becomes obsessed with the ‘Alternates’, she comes up with a plan (in her imagination only) to brutally kill Stan so that she can be with Max, the Alternate. I don’t want to spoil, but there are other instances where she formulates selfish plans in her head to get her out of bad situations. I just thought she was despicable. I liked Stan a little bit more because he seemed to be more level-headed, though he was also obsessed with sex (and at times seemed very pushy with Charmaine about sex). In general, I just thought most of the characters were nasty.

Overall, I did end up enjoying the plot but there were some things that I didn’t find to be very believable. I didn’t connect with or like any of the characters and I wish they had some redeeming qualities. I found some parts of the book to be funny and I enjoyed those parts a lot. I just wish there had been less emphasis on sex because the main message of the story, about freedom and free-will, was lost.

Review: The Shadowhunter’s Codex by Cassandra Clare & Joshua Lewis

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Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Release date: October 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 1442416920
Pages: 288
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Congratulations. You have opened this book, and you are ready to embark upon the righteous and rewarding life of a Shadowhunter. We have been chosen by the Angel to keep our world safe from the evil creatures we call “demons.” And now you are one of us, and with this book, you will learn our lore and our ways.

Angels, demons, faeries, vampires, werewolves, warlocks: they all exist, and they all must be managed and kept at peace. The Shadowhunter’s Codex will provide you with the tools and knowledge you need to join our noble work.

Now in its twenty-seventh edition, the Codex covers it all: the history and laws of our world; how to identify, interact with, and, if necessary, kill that world’s many colorful denizens; which end of the stele is the end you write with. Geography, history, magic, and zoology textbooks all rolled into one, the Codex is here to help new Shadowhunters navigate the beautiful, often brutal world that we inhabit.

Finally available in a smart, modern edition using all of today’s most exciting printing techniques, and suitable for carrying unglamoured through the mundane world, the Codex has been the young Shadowhunter’s best friend since the thirteenth century. Welcome to our ranks, and study hard. This book could be the difference between life and death.

MY THOUGHTS

3 stars

I’m a big fan of Cassandra Clare’s books and the Shadow world, so I thought I would pick up The Shadowhunter’s Codex to learn more about the world. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy the reading experience that much.

But let’s discuss the positives about this book first. This book would look great on your shelf, along with your other Shadowhunter books. It has beautiful illustrations (and beautiful endpapers) throughout the book. There is also ‘handwritten’ commentary from Clary, Simon and Jace throughout the book too that I really enjoyed reading. I loved being able to read Clary and Jace’s interactions through their notes and commentary, and it was really nice to be able to see more of their personalities.

However, there are spoilers for The Mortal Instruments in their notes (at least up to City of Fallen Angels), so I wouldn’t recommend reading this as a guide prior to starting the series. Which is unfortunate, because I kind of see this as a guide book that you should read along with the series, to supplement your knowledge about the world. But if you do that, you’ll either be spoiled or you won’t really understand some of the references.

There were some really interesting facts that were presented in the Codex, but at other times it felt like information overload. There were bits that were kind of boring and dry. I think that the parts that interested me the most were things that I had already encountered in The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices books. Plus, the majority of the facts that were presented in the Codex, you can get just by reading the series. The additional facts that you get in the Codex aren’t important to the story in TMI or TID at all. Having said that, it was nice to be able to read more about the kinds of demons that appear in the book, to see what the runes look like, and to learn about the different types of Fey that exist in the world (there are illustrations too!).

The best thing about this book is that you can definitely read it out of order, because it’s kind of like an encyclopedia of the Shadowhunter world. I read it in order from start to finish so that I wouldn’t miss any of the information but I found some parts to be very boring, especially the history lessons. The sarcastic commentary from Clary made it more bearable but it still wasn’t the most enjoyable reading experience.

This book is definitely not a must-have. I think it would be nice to have it in your collection if you’re a hardcore fan of the series. There are some great Clary, Jace and Simon interactions in the margins that fans would really enjoy. It would also be helpful to have this on hand to supplement your knowledge as you read the series, but only after you’ve gotten past City of Glass because you do not want to be spoiled.

Review: Sunkissed by Jenny McLachlan

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Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Release date: August 13, 2015
Format: eARC via Net Galley
ISBN: 1408856115
Pages: 302
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Kat can’t believe her family are sending her to Sweden for the summer. But without her friends, or even a phone signal, can Kat make it on her own?

In a land of saunas, nudity and summer sun, Kat soon realises she has nowhere to hide. It’s time to embrace who she really is, underneath what she’s been thinking people want her to be. Especially if she’s going to win the heart of mega fit Swede Leo! Can Kat find her inner strength and prove she’s got what it takes?

Kat soon finds that when you’re surrounded by phosphorescence and wonder it’s easy to sparkle. Or maybe that’s what happens when you fall in love . Or maybe you only shine when you’re true to yourself.

MY THOUGHTS

3 stars

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher but all thoughts in this review are my own honest opinion.

This was my very first encounter with Jenny McLachlan’s writing. Sunkissed, from what I understand, is the third book in a 4-book companion series (think Stephanie Perkins, and her Anna, Lola and Isla series) that features one girl from a group of four friends in each book. These can be read as standalone novels, and I read Sunkissed without having read the two preceding books.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the book. When I first started reading, I had a lot of problems connecting with the writing and with Kat. She’s a 15 year old girl, so she came across as very juvenile at the beginning. Because it was narrated from her point of view, it made the writing feel very juvenile too and I almost felt like I was too old for the book. However, once I got used to the writing style and the pace, I started to let that go and enjoy the story.

I had issues with Kat for probably the first 100 pages. She was a bit bratty and whiny, and I just did not like her character. She was very obsessed with her hair and her nails and I just found her to be kind of off-putting. She did grow on me as the book progressed though and I thought she became more mature. But, at times, it also felt as though the author intentionally made Kat’s character very dislikable so that it would make her character development seem greater than it actually was. And that’s kind of a trope that I’m sick of seeing. Why not make your characters likeable from the very beginning?

I don’t think my opinion of Kat changed my feelings about the story though. It was a very fun and summery story, with a very unique setting. There were some parts of the plot that felt cliched. The plot reminded me a little of The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, and I kept having to distance myself from that book. There were definitely some things that I think needed some more development, and the last 50 or so pages felt very rushed. I wish I had gotten to enjoy and savour that last part of the book a little more. I also didn’t enjoy the romance aspect of the book – it felt like something I had read many times before. My first impression of the romance was that the author was trying too hard not to make it insta-lovey but it ended up being kind of insta-lovey anyway. Having said that, I did like how it ended, although it was probably a little bit unrealistic.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable read and I finished it in one sitting. I think I would have enjoyed this book more if I was a little bit younger or still in high school. But I would still recommend this to anyone who’s looking for a fun, summer read that is set in a Swedish island location.

Review: The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi

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Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: June 16, 2015
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0062302191
Pages: 304
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Before Matt, Ella had a plan. Get over a no-good ex-boyfriend. Graduate from high school without any more distractions. Move away from Orlando, Florida, where she’s lived her entire life.

But Matt – the cute, shy, bespectacled bass player who just moved to town – was never part of that plan. And neither was attending a party that was crashed by the cops just minutes after they arrived. Or spending an entire night saying “yes” to every crazy, fun thing they could think of.

Then Matt abruptly left town, and he broke not only Ella’s heart but those of their best friends, too. So when he shows up a year later with a plan of his own – to relive the night that brought them together – Ella isn’t sure whether Matt’s worth a second chance. Or if re-creating the past can help them create a different future.

In alternating then and now chapters, debut author Lauren Gibaldi crafts a charming, romantic story of first loves, lifelong friendships, uncovered secrets, and, ultimately, finding out how to be brave.

MY THOUGHTS

3 stars

This debut novel by Lauren Gibaldi is a short and fun contemporary read. I thought it was a good debut novel that reminded me of writing by Sarah Dessen and Jennifer E. Smith. However, I thought The Night We Said Yes lacked the depth and emotional quality that Dessen and Smith incorporate into their novels. It wasn’t as sophisticated but if you’re looking for a fun and fast-paced read, I would definitely recommend this.

This book contains alternating chapters of ‘then’ and ‘now’, which I’m not always a fan of. Lauren Gibaldi did a great job at integrating the dual timelines so that it read as one story rather than two separate story lines. My problem with the alternating timelines was that some aspects of the story felt very repetitive, especially because Matt and Ella are trying to recreate a night that happened a year ago. Things that happened in the past would be alluded to or described in a ‘now’ chapter, and then described again in the following ‘then’ chapter. Because of this, I would have preferred just one single timeline, which would also allow for deeper exploration into the story and the characters.

I didn’t feel a deep connection to any of the characters. I liked Matt but wasn’t in love with him like I normally am with YA male love interests. I felt like we never got a good sense of who the characters were. I liked Ella but I didn’t always love her voice. I also felt like there could have been more character development. I felt as though all of her character development came in random bursts of sudden self-realizations. I would have definitely liked the novel more if we got to see her character gradually developing. The alternating timelines also made it difficult to see her character develop.

Overall, I enjoyed the reading experience. I finished it in one sitting and I appreciated how relatable the book was.