Review: The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release date: January 26, 2017
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 373
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Love chose me, and I tried, but I couldn’t stop the arrow in its flight.

As one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, fifteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of using her extraordinary sense of smell to mix base notes, top notes, and heart notes into elixirs that help others fall in love.

All while remaining incurably alone.

For Mim, the rules are clear—falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa doesn’t want to spend her life elbow-deep in soil and begonias. She dreams of a normal high school existence—taking up a sport and limping away flush from victory, joining the debate club and saying things like “That’s a logical fallacy!” Having a boyfriend.

When she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the school soccer star to help fix the situation, Mim quickly begins to realize that when it comes to falling in love, the choice isn’t always hers to make.

MY THOUGHTS

I have a few Stacey Lee books at home on my shelf but The Secret of a Heart Note is the first one that I’ve picked up, and it absolutely blew me away. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately and this was just what I needed. It was not only cute and a feel-good read, but also a really refreshing contemporary story with a sprinkle of magical realism.

This book follows Mimosa, who is one of two aromateurs left on the planet. Her role as an aromateur involves making love elixirs and playing matchmakers for the clients who visit her and her mother for help. These elixirs are based on the scents or notes of her clients and there are lots of intricacies involved. Mim has a superior sense of smell because of her being an aromateur, which brings a lot of pros but a few cons as well. There are lots of rules involved and not all of the rules are agreeable to Mim, especially the one dictating that she must never find love in her own life, or she’ll cease to be an aromateur due to her superior olfactory senses fading away. Having just recently gotten her reluctant mother to allow her to attend high school, rather than continuing to be home-schooled, Mim finds her time as a student in jeopardy when she accidentally gives the wrong target a love elixir. In order to fix this problem, she requires the help of Court, the rich boy and school soccer star, but quickly finds herself falling for him.

I thought this story was so adorable. It was whimsical and fun and I have to say that the magical realism really added to the story here. It made it a really unique and refreshing read and I fell in love with it from page one. But that wasn’t the only thing that I loved about the story. I really enjoyed all of the relationships that were explored in this book and I loved that it wasn’t only about romance but was also about familial love and the relationship between Mim and her mother. With the weight of the world and the family aromateur legacy on her shoulders, Mim has always felt that she needed to be exceptional in order to not disappoint her mother and to uphold the legacy of her family, even though she longs to just be an ordinary girl. It was really great to see Stacey Lee explore that in detail and to focus on those family elements in the novel. But that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the romance between Court and Mim. I found it to be really endearing and sweet, and I looked forward to every scene with the two of them. I liked the dynamics of the relationship, especially the forbidden love aspects, and it’s one of my favourite romance stories that I’ve read so far this year.

I also loved almost every single character in the book but Mim was definitely my favourite. She was an extremely relatable character because, while she had an extraordinary gift, her wants, desires and though processes were really ordinary and relatable. I admired her tenacity and her wanting to set things right whenever she made mistakes and I loved following her on her journey. I also absolutely loved Court, even though sometimes he made rash decisions that frustrated me. The other side characters in the book were all a lot of fun to read about and I really loved the reading experience because of how much fun I had reading about the characters and their antics.

Overall, I absolutely loved The Secret of a Heart Note. It was an extremely unique read and I finished it in two sittings because I was so captivated by the story. It’s one of my favourite books that I’ve read so far this year and I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for a light read that will leave you with all the warm and fuzzies.

Review: When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

when-the-moon-was-ours Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release date: October 4, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 288
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To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

MY THOUGHTS

5 stars

When the Moon was Ours is the epitome of everything that I love in a story. It had beautiful writing, a romance and friendship that gave me hope, and magical realism elements that left me in wonder. This book isn’t for everyone, but if you love all of the things that I mentioned above, I think you will absolutely fall in love with this story.

I read Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Weight of Feathers at the beginning of this year and fell in love. That novel is still my favourite of her books but When the Moon was Ours explores other things that are near and dear to my heart. The diversity in this novel is absolutely amazing and I loved the exploration of and focus on identity and having the courage to be the person we want to be. This novel follows two LGBTQ+ characters: Sam, a transgender boy, and his queer best friend, Miel. And what I appreciated about this LGBTQ+ representation was that it didn’t feel forced. McLemore incorporates the exploration of gender identity so well into her plot, her characters and her magical realism elements, and everything just worked seamlessly and effortlessly. While I do read a lot of LGBTQ+ fiction, I’ve read very few books that feature transgender main characters and When the Moon was Ours is by far the best. It thoroughly examines the struggle that transgender people go through, including the fear of rejection by the community and the fear of nonacceptance by family and friends. It explores the courage that it takes to tell others and to own your identity. It was evident that these issues mean a lot to the author and it’s particularly special knowing that her own personal story is reflected in this novel.

This book not only has diversity of sexual orientation, it also includes lots of culturally diverse characters. Sam is Pakistani and there’s a lot of Pakistani food and culture mentioned in the book. McLemore uses a Pakistani cultural practice called bacha posh quite heavily in her book and I really enjoyed how much of the plot and Sam’s identity was tied to this. Bacha posh is a practice where families without boys will choose one of their daughters to dress and live as a boy until they are old enough to get married. In the novel, Sam hides behind the practice of bacha posh and uses it as an excuse to keep living as a boy, without hurting or disappointing his mother. I just really appreciated how these cultural elements were incorporated into the story and that the author wasn’t scared to include a lot of diversity in her novel. Cultural identity is important and McLemore highlights this importance brilliantly in her book.

She was a place whose darkness held not fear, but the promise of stars.

My favourite thing about this book is definitely the relationships. The romance between Sam and Miel was first and foremost a friendship and I loved how much they supported each other through the good times and the bad. Their connection was great and the way that they kept each others secrets and protected each other was really beautiful. But it wasn’t just the relationship between Sam and Miel that warmed my heart. I absolutely adored Sam’s relationship with his mother, as well as Miel’s relationship with Aracely, the lady who takes in Miel at a young age. The family and friendship elements were exquisite and made the book extremely touching and enjoyable to read.

All of the beautiful elements that I’ve discussed above make it unnecessary to even talk about the plot because at this point you’ve probably already run away to order the book. But I also absolutely loved the plot. I thought it was extremely clever and the way that the magical realism elements tied into the themes of the book as well as the plot was really masterful. I loved all the magic and the quirkiness of the story and its setting, even though it was surprisingly creepy and thrilling. There were some amazing plot twists that I didn’t see coming and I highly enjoyed every last word of this novel.

Review: Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

anna-and-the-swallow-man

Publisher: Corgi Children’s
Release date: January 28, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 240
Goodreads || Book Depository || Dymocks

Kraków, 1939, is no place to grow up. There are a million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. And Anna Lania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father and suddenly, she’s alone.

Then she meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall. And like Anna’s missing father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgement, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous . . .

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

I received a copy of this book for review from Dymocks via the publisher. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The premise of this book is simple. Seven-year-old Anna is left with a friend of her father, while he attends a meeting at the university where he works as a linguistics professor. However, he never returns from his meeting and Anna is left alone in the middle of Kraków when her father’s friend abandons her. She meets a tall stranger who speaks multiple languages and reminds Anna of her father, and ends up following him around Poland for years. But while the premise and the plot of the book are simple, there’s a lot that’s left to interpretation. And it was this aspect of the book that I enjoyed and felt moved by the most.

Although this is classified as a young adult novel, it had a very literary feel to it. The writing was beautiful and conveyed so many emotions, while still remaining simple and easy to read. There was very little dialogue and lots of description that really transported me to WWII Poland. I felt like I was there with Anna and the Swallow Man, trekking through the snow in the winter with an empty stomach. And books like these are my favourite to read because it’s very rare for me to read a book and feel like I’m experiencing everything that the characters are going through. The book had a very slow-paced historical fiction feel to it, so if you like the genre, you will enjoy the pacing of this book.

The plot of this book may seem banal to some readers, but I highly enjoyed every moment of Anna’s story. The Swallow Man takes Anna under his wing and the two of them set off on a journey around Poland. Though the Swallow Man seems to be leading Anna around with purpose, there doesn’t seem to be a destination and the two wander around aimlessly for years and years. We do get a small glimpse of the reason behind this trip around Poland towards the end of the book, but much of it is up to the interpretation of the reader. I’m very satisfied with my own interpretation of the conclusion of the story, which was why I enjoy this book so much. But I can also see readers not liking this novel at all because it can seem quite pointless.

Anna still was not certain what precisely was meant by this word “war,” but it seemed, at least in part, to be an assault on her cookie supply, and of this she simply could not approve.

Anna was a wonderful character. You really get to see her grow and mature quickly throughout the book. She starts off as an innocent little girl who isn’t really sure what the war really means and what it means to be on the run. But she quickly learns to shed her identity, to blend in, and to survive. I enjoyed seeing things from her perspective, and I enjoyed that we didn’t really get to see the things that Anna learnt and or went through in her first two years with the Swallow Man, but slowly got to see more as she matured. It showed her maturation and how she was starting to think for herself, rather than following and imitating the Swallow Man’s every action and order. It was wonderful to see her incorporate her experiences and her interactions with other people into her identity and personality. Anna is a character who you will want to root for, no matter what happens.

The relationship that she had with the Swallow Man was a unique and puzzling one. It was beautiful to see their connection and how they treated each other like father and daughter, despite the Swallow Man’s aloofness and the distance that they placed between them. They really felt like kindred spirits who were meant to share this tough journey together. The way that they took care of each other and were responsible for each other really moved me, and even destroyed me at certain parts of the book.

If you’ve read Anna and the Swallow Man, I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you thought of the ending. I enjoyed the whole book immensely, especially the bond between Anna and the Swallow Man.

Review: The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

the-love-that-split-the-world

Publisher: Razorbill
Release date: January 26, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 400
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Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start…until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.

That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

This book was very hard for me to rate. I initially rated it 4 stars, but upon reflection, it’s really more of a 3.5… or even a 3. Overall, if I had to sum up my experience of this book with one word, it would be “confused”. I was confused when I started the book, confused during the middle section of the book, and even more confused by the time I had finished the book. I’ve come to terms with the fact that this book is confusing and no matter how many times I read it, I will still be confused. And I think this might be the case for a lot of readers, so that’s something to keep in mind before picking up the book.

Disclaimer: This review probably makes zero sense because I was so confused but I wanted to get my thoughts out into the world. And maybe, if you’ve read the book, you can help me out?

So… why am I so confused? First of all, I have no idea how to categorise this book. Initially I thought it was contemporary with a bit of magical realism. Then it started feeling very paranormal. And finally, we learn that there is time-travel. So, I’ve basically just categorised it as contemporary, fantasy, magical realism and sci-fi. Of course, this is a super minor point… so let’s move on to what the book is actually about.

Natalie lives in a small town in Kentucky and ever since she was a child, she has been visited during the night by somebody called ‘Grandmother’ who tells her stories about creation and how the world began. However, nobody else can see Grandmother and everybody dismisses these visitations as hallucinations. One night, Natalie receives one final visit from Grandmother who tells her that she only has 3 months to save “him” and that she needs to find “Alice Chan” in order to do so. Natalie has no idea who she’s meant to be saving or who Alice Chan is but the next day, she meets Beau, a boy she has never met before even though they live in the same town.

Probably one of the main reasons why I felt so confused about the time travel elements of this book was because they were linked to psychology. At the beginning of the book, we find out that Natalie has gone through some trauma and has been seeing a therapist and trying a variety of different therapies in order to overcome her hallucinations. There’s a lot of information given about different kinds of hallucinations and there are even consultations with a professor of psychology who specialises in ‘visitations’ and psychic phenomena.

Because of my background in psychology, I could feel myself rejecting most of what was written, and I wasn’t able to suspend my disbelief and just be taken into the story and the world. First of all, there were these huge info-dumps on hallucinations and the Myer-Briggs personality types that, while well-researched and accurate, was honestly kind of overwhelming for me even though I have pretty sound knowledge on these topics. But the main reason why my brain rejected these concepts was because everything was based not on psychology but pseudo-psychology. While we all like to have our fun with the Myer-Briggs Test and call ourselves INFJs or INTPs, this is pseudo-psychology. The test has poor validity and reliability, and there is just no way that any research or theory could be or should be based upon these personality types. I found the professor of psychology that Natalie was consulting to be absolutely unprofessional in her approach and her area of study. There is no way, NO WAY, that somebody who specialises in psychic phenomena could be the head of the psychology department at a university. Because, in case this wasn’t clear, the study of visitations and premonitions is not an area of psychology. Sure, there are plenty of researchers who study consciousness and hallucinations, but none that are linked to psychic phenomena.

Because I resisted all these concepts, I had a hard time accepting what was happening. But none of this mattered because soon after, the concept of time-travel and multiple dimensions was introduced. Which left me feeling even more confused because I had no idea what I was supposed to think or believe. Is this all happening because she has a personality type that makes her prone to having hallucinations of people and things she shouldn’t be seeing? Or does she just have the ability to move through time and space? Or is it a combination of the two? Some of these questions were answered at the end, but I had a hard time fully understanding the explanation. Everything is explained to us at the end of the book, without us or Natalie truly having to figure it all out. I wasn’t a fan of this approach because I feel like I could have understood what was happening a little bit more if we had followed Natalie on her journey to unravelling the mystery. Instead, we were just told what happened and if you don’t understand the explanation… you’re never going to because the way that it was explained is never going to change.

Because I couldn’t completely latch on to the world and everything that was happening, I had to rely on the romance to keep me invested in the story. Thankfully, this book is first and foremost a romance story. The novel is filled with scenes of Beau and Natalie, and if you enjoy the two of them together, you’ll have no problems getting through this book. Sadly, I didn’t really fall into this camp. I enjoyed both of their characters and I didn’t mind their love story, but overall it felt a little bit unoriginal and lacklustre. There is a severe case of insta-love and the romance progresses rather quickly. It’s definitely a love at first sight kind of story about two people who are soul mates. It has little development because they pretty much go from being strangers to being in love within a few days.

What redeemed the book for me was the writing. The way Emily Henry writes is magical. Her words are lyrical and beautiful, and they kept me reading the book even when I was confused and wanted to quit. I also enjoyed the stories that Grandmother told Natalie. They were intriguing and the way they were told was just so captivating. They were, by far, my favourite aspect of the book.

Even though the book was confusing to me and I had no idea what happened at the end of the book, this wasn’t a bad reading experience. I loved the writing and it took me on a journey. I also liked the characters and the diversity that was in the book. But I was just left a bit unsatisfied… and confused.

Review: Every Day by David Levithan

every-day

Publisher: Text Publishing
Original release date: August 28, 2012
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1921922958
Pages: 324
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Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.

Every morning, A wakes in a different person’s body, a different person’s life. There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

And then A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

MY THOUGHTS

5 stars

This book was spectacular. This was my first David Levithan book but I loved it so much that I rushed out today to pick up some more of his books.

This novel was so engrossing that I didn’t want to put it down. I flew through it in a couple of hours. It features a lot of unique and interesting characters and also tackles many issues that we see in society today, including mental illness, drug and alcohol use/abuse, grief, and LGBT issues. Even though the book addresses all of these things, everything just fit together so seamlessly into a beautiful story. The writing in this book was beautiful. David Levithan makes use of differing sentence lengths and chapter lengths so wonderfully and with such great impact. The book felt deep and poetic but was very easy to read.

The book doesn’t try to explain why A wakes up in a different body each day, and I really appreciated that. I liked that Every Day wasn’t that type of book, and that we didn’t get all the answers, because the story isn’t about that. The story is about humanity and belonging, and what it means to be connected with other people. What David Levithan gave us was incredibly moving and heartbreaking, and I was thoroughly satisfied with how everything played out. Everything in this book just worked. We jump into the A and Rhiannon story from the very first chapter, and even though it was a little bit insta-lovey, it all just felt right. Nothing in this book felt far-fetched. My one minor criticism about the plot was that the ending felt slightly rushed, but I also think it ended in a way that leaves the door open for a sequel.

In this book, we not only get to see A’s story, but also the stories of the people A wakes up as. They were all such interesting and diverse characters, and even though we only get small glimpses of them, I was able to connect with every single one of them. What was really interesting was that A was able to retain his own personality even when in the bodies of different people. He refers to them in third person, so we can see a disconnection between A and whoever he is for the day. A has such as strong and likeable voice that I was really able to connect with him, despite him being a different person each day. Even though we don’t know what A is, we know who he is. And I thought that made this book very special.


UPCOMING COMPANION NOVEL

another-day

Another Day is a companion to Every Day that will be released at the end of August, 2015. This isn’t a sequel, but a companion novel. So it will be about the same events in Every Day but from Rhiannon’s point of view.

I’m not sure how I feel about it. Before reading Every Day, I was excited that there was a companion being released. But having now read Every Day, I feel like that book works so well as a standalone. Also, Rhiannon is a bit of a weak character, with not much self-esteem, and I don’t know how much I would connect with her and enjoy reading from her perspective.

I’ve also heard that Another Day ends in the exact same place as Every Day and I don’t think I can go through that twice. If there was a sequel, I would be more excited about picking it up. But at the same time, Every Day was so great that I don’t want future books to ruin it for me.

Review: A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

a-year-of-marvellous-ways

Publisher: Tinder Press
Release date: June 18, 2015
Format: ARC (from Hachette Australia)
ISBN13: 9780755390922
Pages: 320
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Cornwall, 1947. Marvellous Ways is a ninety-year-old woman who’s lived alone in a remote creek for nearly all her life. Recently she’s taken to spending her days sitting on the steps of her caravan with a pair of binoculars. She’s waiting for something – she’s not sure what, but she’ll know it when she sees it. Freddy Drake is a young soldier left reeling by the war. He’s agreed to fulfil a dying friend’s last wish and hand-deliver a letter to the boy’s father in Cornwall. But Freddy’s journey doesn’t go to plan, and sees him literally wash up in Marvellous’ creek, broken in body and spirit. When Marvellous comes to his aid, an unlikely friendship grows between the two. Can Freddy give Marvellous what she needs to say goodbye to the world, and can she give him what he needs to go on?

MY THOUGHTS

5 stars

This book is so beautiful. It’s poignant and moving and just full of all the things I love in a novel. It’s historical fiction with some great magical realism, and an equally great cast of characters.

At first, I thought this book was a bit slow but as I got further into it, I realised that the pace was one of its charms. The slow pace of it allows you to take it all in and enjoy Sarah Winman’s writing, which was so poetic and metaphorical. I also liked the formatting of the book. I didn’t mind that there were no quotation marks in the book; I think I’m used to this format now, having read quite a few literary fiction novels. Also, it was done so masterfully that it wasn’t hard to follow. Without the quotation marks, the dialogue was really integrated into the story and, for me, it really enhanced it.

I loved the messages in this book. I liked reading about the things that Marvellous has gone through and all the life lessons that she’s learnt. This book made me think about my grandparents a lot and I really connected with the story, and with Marvellous. I think it’s a book that you just need to dive into and discover for yourself. I’m sure that everybody could get something out of it. And the ending was absolutely lovely.