Review: The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release date: May 16, 2017
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 384
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There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: the boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: the brooding, dark-souled guy who is dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose the Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be—whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

MY THOUGHTS

I love supporting Aussie authors and I was so excited to check out The Love Interest because it had an intriguing synopsis and a really stunning cover. But I was left feeling really disappointed because I don’t think the book lived up to its full potential.

The book is told from the perspective of Caden, who is a Love Interest. He grew up in this secret organisation where he was groomed to become a Love Interest to someone important or powerful enough to have an impact on the world. Love Interests are spies who are expected to report back to the organisation with secrets about their partners. However, in order to be in the lives of their partners, they need to first have a fight to the death with another Love Interest who is also vying for the attention and love of that partner. When the partner makes their choice, the Love Interest who has lost is killed. Caden and Dylan are Love Interests fighting for the love of Juliet, who is a genius scientist and inventor. But a friendship between them forms when they realise that nobody else in the world understands them better than each other.

I actually really liked the first 70 or so pages of the novel. I was captivated by the concept and the world of the Love Interest organisation and I found it to be addictive in a reality TV show/The Bachelor kind of way. But as I progressed through the book, I became a little bit bored with the lack of plot and the lack of development in the story. There wasn’t very much that happened and it just came across as a boy trying to get a girl to fall in love with him using very dramatic and unrealistic methods. I couldn’t connect with the story because of how unrealistic and cheesy it was. I struggled a lot of how little of a learning curve Caden needed to fit into the real world when he’s never actually been in the real world. He seemed to know exactly where to go at school and he seemed to have zero problems starting a job at Starbucks. I know Caden fitting into society wasn’t the focus of the book, but I was just extremely disconnected with everything that happened because there was so little realism.

My biggest problem was with the characterisation. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters in the book, though I did really like Dylan. They just weren’t developed very much and they all kind of just came off as the same person to me. I felt no emotional connection to the characters and this was probably due to the fact that the novel didn’t really explore any of the characters’ emotions. We got to briefly see Caden’s doubts about what he was doing and the guilt he felt at being responsible for Dylan’s death if he won. But none of this was explored in very much detail, which again made me feel like there was a wall between myself and the novel and its characters. The character that I felt the most frustrated with was probably Juliet. She was described as a genius who had been inventing things from a young age. But that never really came across to me throughout the book. She came off as a regular girl, sometimes whiny, and there didn’t seem to be anything special about her. The only time her inventions and her ability came into play was in a very deus ex machina kind of way towards the end of the book, and by that time, it was too late for me to change my opinion of her.

Overall, there wasn’t very much that I could latch onto. I did like the first 70 pages and maybe the last 30 or so pages but aside from that, I was kind of bored and disappointed with the novel.

Review: Children of Eden by Joey Graceffa & Laura L. Sullivan

children-of-eden Publisher: Keywords Press
Release date: October 4, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 278
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Rowan is a Second Child in a world where population control measures make her an outlaw, marked for death. She can never go to school, make friends, or get the eye implants that will mark her as a true member of Eden. Her kaleidoscope eyes will give her away to the ruthless Center government.

Outside of Eden, Earth is poisoned and dead. All animals and most plants have been destroyed by a man-made catastrophe. Long ago, the brilliant scientist Aaron al Baz saved a pocket of civilization by designing the EcoPanopticon, a massive computer program that hijacked all global technology and put it to use preserving the last vestiges of mankind. Humans will wait for thousands of years in Eden until the EcoPan heals the world.

As an illegal Second Child, Rowan has been hidden away in her family’s compound for sixteen years. Now, restless and desperate to see the world, she recklessly escapes for what she swears will be only one night of adventure. Though she finds an exotic world, and even a friend, the night leads to tragedy. Soon Rowan becomes a renegade on the run – unleashing a chain of events that could change the world of Eden forever.

MY THOUGHTS

3 stars

I had been seeing Children of Eden around for a while and the synopsis sounded interesting enough that I eventually picked it up. There are two things that you should note about this book before picking it up. The first is that this book isn’t written solely by Joey Graceffa. Despite there being no indication on the cover, it clearly states on the title page that it was written with Laura L. Sullivan. The second thing is that, while this book is ostensibly a standalone, it really is not. The story does not end with any kind of resolution and actually leaves more questions than have been answered. There is definitely a sequel planned for this book.

Children of Eden is a dystopian novel, set in a post-apocalyptic world where the sole survivors of Earth now live in Eden, where everything is regulated, including the human population. Each family is only allowed to have one child, in order to preserve the little amounts of food that exists in Eden. Second Children are illegal and are usually killed before they are even born. Those who have been hidden away in secret by their families, usually live a life of imprisonment and are not able to live a normal life, unless they are able to obtain black market lenses that are used for identification, and assume a new identity. Rowan is a Second Child and comes from a well-respected family who have the means to buy her a pair of lenses and a new identity. However, having this new identity and freedom means that she can never see her family again. When Rowan learns about this, she has her first act of rebellion and escapes from her house for a night. There she meets a friend but this taste of freedom leads to dangerous and tragic consequences. Soon, she finds herself on the run from the Greenshirts and meets other Second Children along the way.

I liked the world in this book a lot. It was well conceptualised and nicely described. It wasn’t the most original of worlds and it’s definitely similar to other worlds that I’ve read about before. But I thought it included some interesting elements and I liked that there was a pretty big focus on it in the novel. Having said that, I do think that too much of the book was dedicated to the world building and there wasn’t a lot of anything else in the novel.

I thought the book was well written for the most part. The writing was much better than I had expected going into the book. My criticism with the writing was that there was a bit too much telling and not enough showing. Rowan asks all the questions for the reader, which is not a style that I typically enjoy. Being told exactly what questions to ask about the story makes the reading experience less enjoyable for me and I was a bit bored with the book about 40% of the way in. There needed to be a lot more subtlety and a lot less telling. There was also some made up curses and swear words in the book, and I found them to be incredibly distracting and honestly, kind of stupid? It was something that I couldn’t really get over.

The plot itself was fun and adventurous but I thought there needed to be better transitions and development. There isn’t a lot of action in the book, which is fine, but what was going on in the story gave me whiplash at times. For example, Rowan goes from hating someone to not wanting to be away from them within the span of a few pages. There just needed to be a bit more gradual development for my liking. There were also some things that I found to be unrealistic or hard to believe and I checked out of the story about halfway through. I did not understand the last 20 pages of the book at all and I disliked the way that it ended. I also found Rowan to be extremely annoying throughout the novel and I didn’t like her as a main character. I thought some of her decisions were very illogical and didn’t make sense to me. I just never managed to connect with her.

My biggest issue with the book was the romance. There is love triangle in the book and they were both cases of instalove. My overall impression of the romance in the book was that it felt extremely forced and I was just disinterested in the romance. The only thing that I did like about it was that it was a bisexual love triangle but other than that, I was not on board with the romance. Needless to say, I probably won’t be picking up the sequel.

Review: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

the-hating-game

Publisher: Piatkus
Release date: August 9, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 363
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NEMESIS (n)

1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome
2) A person’s undoing
3) Joshua Templeman

Lucy Hutton has always been certain that the nice girl can get the corner office. She prides herself on being loved by everyone at work – except for imposing, impeccably attired Joshua Templeman.

Trapped in a shared office, they’ve become entrenched in an addictive, never-ending game of one-upmanship. There’s the Staring Game, The Mirror Game, The HR Game. Lucy can’t let Joshua beat her at anything – especially when a huge promotion is on offer.

If Lucy wins, she’ll be Joshua’s boss. If she loses, she’ll resign. So why is she questioning herself? Maybe she doesn’t hate him. And just maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game . . .

MY THOUGHTS

5 stars

I have no words for how incredibly adorable and sweet this book was. It was exactly the kind of story that I needed to read after having a rough time these past few days. It definitely brightened up my day, put a huge smile on my face and melted my heart.

The Hating Game is an office romance with two of the most endearing characters. Ever since Lucy and Joshua’s respective publishing houses merged, they have shared an office working as executive assistants for the two co-CEOs. And they absolutely hate each other. They love engaging in different ‘games’ and trying to beat out the other person. When the position of chief operating officer is up for grabs, Lucy is determined not to let Joshua beat her. If she loses, she’ll resign and she makes Joshua promise the same thing. But in the days leading up to the interview and promotion decision, she finds that she doesn’t really hate Joshua as much as she thought she did. And he doesn’t seem to hate her as much as she thought either.

One of my favourite romance tropes in fiction is the hate-to-love trope and The Hating Game executes it perfectly. I could feel the tension between the two characters throughout the book, including a whole heap of unresolved sexual tension (HAHAHA). Their banter was fantastic and the way that they tried to one-up each other was absolutely perfect. The way that their romance unfolded was very realistic to me and I really enjoyed the way that it was developed very gradually. I thought the slow-burning romance suited the characters and the story brilliantly and added to the ‘will they or won’t they?’ aspect of the book. It kept me interested and I devoured this novel!

Lucy was a fantastic narrator. I loved her voice so much and I could never be tired of reading about her. She’s such a relatable character and I found myself connecting to her from the very first page. She’s quirky, she’s fun and she’s bite-sized, which makes for some wonderful banter between her and Josh about her height. Josh was also an amazing character. He was grumpy and broody and exactly the kind of guy I like to read about. Even though he was a bit prickly, he was also sensitive and romantic and I swooned hard, guys. I swooned hard.

This is a feel-good book that I can see myself rereading over and over when I need a pick-me-up. It’s a fantastic debut novel and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more by Sally Thorne.

Review: The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee

the-thousandth-floor

Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: August 30, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 448
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A hundred years in the future, New York is a city of innovation and dreams. But people never change: everyone here wants something…and everyone has something to lose.

Leda Cole’s flawless exterior belies a secret addiction—to a drug she never should have tried and a boy she never should have touched.

Eris Dodd-Radson’s beautiful, carefree life falls to pieces when a heartbreaking betrayal tears her family apart.

Rylin Myers’s job on one of the highest floors sweeps her into a world—and a romance—she never imagined…but will her new life cost Rylin her old one?

Watt Bakradi is a tech genius with a secret: he knows everything about everyone. But when he’s hired to spy by an upper-floor girl, he finds himself caught up in a complicated web of lies.

And living above everyone else on the thousandth floor is Avery Fuller, the girl genetically designed to be perfect. The girl who seems to have it all—yet is tormented by the one thing she can never have.

Amid breathtaking advancement and high-tech luxury, five teenagers struggle to find their place at the top of the world. But when you’re this high up, there’s nowhere to go but down…

MY THOUGHTS

45 stars

I don’t know where to start with this review. I loved this book so much more than I expected to! I have to admit that this was first and foremost a cover-buy (I could go on a 10 minute ramble about why this cover is the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen, so don’t get me started) but I enjoyed the writing, the world and the story in The Thousandth Floor so much!

The standout aspect of this novel is definitely the world that Katharine McGee has created. The novel is set in the near future in the 22nd century. There’s a lot of really advanced technology but it wasn’t so farfetched that I couldn’t imagine everything actually existing. There were so many wonderful inventions that I wanted to have or try out, and I’m so sad that I won’t be able to in my foreseeable future. There was an incredible communication system where people wear a digital display as contacts… if they can afford it. There’s also a really advanced transportation system of hovers, autocars and trains that can travel from Manhattan to Paris in 3 hours, under the Atlantic. But most exciting of all, Manhattan is literally inside a Tower with 1000 floors. There are streets and different landmarks on different floors, with transportation running up and down the Tower as well as on each floor. For example, Central Park is on the 307th floor of the Tower. I thought this was such an interesting concept and the world was built so nicely in the book. I was just really enamoured by the world and it kept me immersed and interested in the story throughout the entire novel.

The plot of the book was also captivating. The story starts with a prologue that describes a girl falling to her death from the very top of the tower. We don’t know who she is, why she was there or what caused her to fall from the tower, but we slowly find out as the story progresses. I loved the mystery in this book but I tended to forget about it because there were so many other things going on. It wasn’t until the last 100 pages that I remembered that it was supposed to be a mystery. But I didn’t really mind that because I was so intrigued by all of the characters and what was happening in their lives. The Thousandth Floor definitely has a Gossip Girl vibe to it. There are lots of first world problems and dramas but I found them to be kind of relatable in a weird way. I found myself really caring about what happened to these characters and what they would do next, and this really kept me invested in the story. I was a fan of Gossip Girl though, so I guess it was no surprise that I’d love the drama and the multiple POVs in this novel.

The characters themselves were also interesting. I didn’t really feel a close connection with any of them but I understood and empathised with most of them. They weren’t particularly likeable characters but I still found myself caring. If I had one criticism, it would be that I thought some of the characters could have been a little bit more complex and developed. They were at times a little bit too typical or one-dimensional and I would’ve liked to have seen a little bit more out of them. My favourite character in the book was Cord, who isn’t a main character in this book but I’m really interested to see more of him in the upcoming books. I liked Rylin, Avery and Eris quite a bit in this novel. I thought they were the most relatable to me and I was most interested in their stories. Leda and Watt were a little bit too creepy for my liking but I still appreciated what they brought to the novel and the roles that they played.

There were a lot of romantic relationships in this book and I can’t say that I was a huge fan of any of them. Having said that, I didn’t dislike any of them either. I was just ambivalent and I’m hoping that we’ll get much more development in the sequel and that there will be a romance that I can latch on to and champion. I did really like that there was a F/F relationship that didn’t just last a couple of pages and I’m happy that there’s some diversity of sexual orientation and race in this book. However, there is a bit of cheating in this story and a relationship that could be considered taboo, so if either of these things are a dealbreaker for you, you may want to avoid this novel. I should say, however, that these were two very minor aspects of the novel and the rest of it was incredibly well done.

I’m super excited for the sequel of this book. The Thousandth Floor does end in a slightly unresolved way (though I wouldn’t call it a cliffhanger) so I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book to see how the story continues. I enjoyed the writing immensely and I absolutely loved the world and the idea of Manhattan being literally inside a tower.

Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

all-the-birds-in-the-sky

Publisher: Titan Books
Release date: January 26, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 432
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Patricia is a witch who can communicate with animals. Laurence is a mad scientist and inventor of the two-second time machine. As teenagers they gravitate towards one another, sharing in the horrors of growing up weird, but their lives take different paths.

When they meet again as adults, Laurence is an engineering genius trying to save the world – and live up to his reputation – in near-future San Francisco. Meanwhile, Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the magically gifted, working hard to prove herself to her fellow magicians and secretly repairing the earth’s ever growing ailments.

As they attempt to save our future, Laurence and Patricia’s shared past pulls them back together. And though they come from different worlds, when they collide, the witch and the scientist will discover that maybe they understand each other better than anyone.

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

I don’t really know where to start with All the Birds in the Sky. It was strange and unique and I can’t neatly fit it into any one particular genre. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t good because I thought it was incredibly quirky and unlike anything I’d read before.

This story is about magic and science and what happens when they interact. It’s set in the near future, in an apocalyptic setting where the world is about to self-destruct and our two main characters are on separate missions to save the future. But they have two very distinct ways of going about it. Laurence, a scientist and engineer is working to create a machine that will allow people to be transported to a different planet. His philosophy – and the philosophy of his fellow scientists – is that humanity doesn’t have to be tied to this particular rock in the universe. However, Patricia, a witch with a magical tie to nature, is determined to save the future by saving planet Earth and curing it of its ailments. As magic and science go to war, what will happen to the future?

But the story doesn’t begin there. The story begins more than a decade ago when Patricia was just a young girl discovering her magical abilities for the first time, and Laurence is a young boy who is obsessed with science and spaceships, and the inventor of a time machine that can propel him two seconds forward into the future. As they make their way through middle school as the misfits and are bullied by those who despise any kind of weirdness and unconformity, they gravitate towards each other and become the other’s only friend. The first half of All the Birds in the Sky is actually about Laurence and Patricia’s past. We spend a good amount of the book learning about their friendship as teenagers and how their connection and their story would later affect the future. This section of the book was probably my favourite (and this may partly be due to the fact that I read a lot of YA) because we really got to know the characters and what they represented… as well as what they meant to each other.

But that’s not to say that I didn’t love the rest of the book too. The second half of the book is about Laurence and Patricia reconnecting as adults, after having spent high school apart. In the first section of the book about their adulthood, we get to learn more about the upcoming apocalypse as well as who Laurence and Patricia are now as adults. I thought it set up the climax really well and I enjoyed the romance that was brewing between them. However, I did feel that there was a strange transition in the book where the romance and the plot of the book just kicked off without warning. I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it because even though it felt really sudden, the whole book up until that point had been setting up for that moment. My main criticism of the plot would have to be that the last 50-70 pages of the book felt a little rushed and the ending slightly unresolved. But overall, I really enjoyed the entire story.

What I loved most about All the Birds in the Sky was the writing and the pacing of the book. I loved the third person omniscient narration in this book and I found the writing to be lyrical and beautiful. The book was quite slow-paced, especially in the first 3 parts of the book, and I thought that this added to the slightly magical feel of the story. I thought the format of the book worked really well and I enjoyed following Laurence and Patricia’s story from childhood into adulthood.

The writing and narration style also made it easy to connect with the characters. I absolutely loved Patricia and Laurence separately and together. They were both strange children who stood out too much for society’s liking. They’re bullied at school and are treated with almost no affection from their parents. But they were some of the most interesting and unique characters that I’ve read about and I really appreciated their quirkiness. Together, Patricia and Laurence were amazing. They became each other’s one and only friend in childhood and also had a wonderful connection in adulthood. ‘Friendship goals’ is all I can say.

This novel isn’t going to be for everyone. But I definitely enjoyed it. If you like slow-paced fantasy stories or magical realism stories, I think you might enjoy All the Birds in the Sky. I think it’s an adult fiction novel that would appeal to YA readers too.

Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

shatter-me

Publisher: HarperCollins
Release date: October 2, 2012 (originally November 2011)
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 338
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Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war – and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

MY THOUGHTS

3 stars

I’m not really sure what to say about Shatter Me. I’ve been looking forward to reading it because I’m probably the only person at this point who hasn’t picked up this trilogy… and the male love interests sounded really interesting. But after reading this first installment, I’m feeling a little bit let down.

My main issue with Shatter Me is that I felt like there was no plot. The story for me didn’t begin until 30 pages from the end of the book and I felt like the first 300 pages were just 300 pages of nothing. I couldn’t even tell you what happened because I feel like nothing did. This book follows Juliette, a girl who has a fatal touch. She’s been imprisoned for over 250 days in a dark cell but one day she’s brought out of her cell in order to aid The Reestablishment in their mission… something which Juliette doesn’t want to do. But even though the novel had a really great concept, I don’t think it was executed to its full potential. Juliette spends most of the book either locked up in different locations like a prisoner or on the run from different people who are after her. The plot doesn’t really progress and by the end of the book I felt like I was still kind of at the beginning.

What this book does focus on are the relationships between the characters and the romance. But I wasn’t a fan of the romance in this book, nor the developing love triangle. Even though Adam seems like a great guy, I never really warmed to him and was always suspicious of him. I felt like the romance developed slightly too quickly and it was just a bit uncomfortable for me to read. Warner was an intriguing character to me but I also felt like he was a bit of a creep. Overall, none of the characters really did it for me.

I did like the world in the book. The novel has an apocalyptic setting that I found really interesting. It was interesting to read about how the weather and ecosystems are failing due to human activities, and how the people live with barely any food and are concentrated in small communities that are governed by soldiers and The Reestablishment. What I was a little bit underwhelmed by was The Reestablishment itself. I thought the book lacked description and I didn’t think The Reestablishment was very well conceptualised. I had a rough idea of who they were and what they did but I thought the world building in this respect was weak.

Having said that, I enjoyed the writing style. It was easy to read and I sped through the book in two sittings. It made me want to keep reading and I’ll definitely be picking up the rest of the trilogy. Hopefully the next two books address some of the plot and world building issues that I had.

Review: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

where-things-come-back

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release date: May, 2011
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 228
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In the remarkable, bizarre, and heart-wrenching summer before Cullen Witter’s senior year of high school, everything he thinks he understands about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town vanishes. His cousin overdoses; his town becomes absurdly obsessed with the alleged reappearance of an extinct woodpecker; and, most troubling of all, his sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother, Gabriel, suddenly and inexplicably disappears.

As Cullen navigates a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young, disillusioned missionary in Africa searches for meaning wherever he can find it. And when those two stories collide, a surprising and harrowing climax emerges that is tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, and above all, hope.

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

I’m having a hard time putting to words what this book was about. On the surface, When Things Come Back is an emotional mystery about a boy dealing with grief and the strange disappearance of his brother but the novel is about so much more than that. It explores religion and the meaning of life in an intricate and complex way.

When Things Come Back was beautifully written. It has wonderfully constructed prose that draws you into the story and the refuses to let you go. It was philosophical, emotional and, strangely, it also felt like magical realism even though this book is definitely realistic fiction. I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the book and how writing set up the melancholy and stuffiness of this small, sleepy town in Arkansas. I also really loved the occasional third person omniscient narration, which is probably my favourite kind of narration in fiction. I really connected with it and highly enjoyed it. This book is however, mostly written in first person, from Cullen’s point of view. I loved his voice in the book and thought he was very honest and real. However, he did refer to himself in third person a lot and it really threw me off and made the book a little bit confusing. Other than that, I thought the writing was wonderful.

While the book is beautifully written and emotionally impactful, it’s really the last section of the novel that makes this book brilliant. The entire novel is written in alternating chapters, following Cullen and a young missionary called Benton Sage who is sent to Ethiopia at the beginning of the book. I have to admit that I was quite confused for a good 5 chapters of the book because Benton’s story was quite distinct from Cullen’s and I had no idea how they were connected. For a while, I thought Benton’s story was a story that Cullen was writing (because I obviously don’t read blurbs carefully enough) and I just had a hard time seeing how they were connected. However, these stories are connected and they are connected brilliantly. It doesn’t become clear what the connection is until the last 25% of the book, but I thought it was very well done and I definitely didn’t see any of it coming.

This book is definitely unexpected. It is extremely unique and doesn’t go in a direction that is obvious. But having said that, I did find that I couldn’t connect to a large part of the story. There’s a very strong religious component and being not religious at all, I couldn’t really get a grasp on some of the messages in the book. Or put more honestly, I couldn’t really bring myself to care enough about those religious aspects to try to put it all together. However, even with this gap in my knowledge, I still really enjoyed the story. It’s a great exploration of grief and second chances, and it also has some really great friendships and relationships in the book. I loved the friendship between Cullen and his best friend, and I especially loved the relationship between Cullen and his brother, Gabriel.

“To lose a sibling is to lose the one person with whom one shares a lifelong bond that is meant to continue on into the future.”

While this isn’t my favourite John Corey Whaley book that I’ve read (I’ve only read two and Highly Illogical Behaviour is my favourite of the two), I think it brings a very unique and intricately woven story that is full of honesty and emotion. I think this is more appropriate for a more mature YA audience but would definitely recommend it.

Review: The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

the-smell-of-other-peoples-houses

Publisher: Faber & Faber
Release date: June 22, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 272
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Alaska, 1970: growing up here is like nowhere else.

Ruth wants to be remembered by her grieving mother.
Dora wishes she was invisible to her abusive father.
Alyce is staying at home to please her parents.
Hank is running away for the sake of his brothers.

Four very different lives are about to become entangled. Because if we don’t save each other, how can we begin to save ourselves?

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s extraordinary, stunning debut is both moving, and deeply authentic. These intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation on the edge of America’s Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare and wonderful talent.

MY THOUGHTS

5 stars

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for sending me a review copy of the book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I’ve just finished this book and I am now a crying and sobbing mess. If you’re looking for a book that will give you a good punch in the feels, The Smell of Other People’s Houses is the one. This novel was one of my most anticipated releases of 2016 and my gut was completely right about this one.

A heartfelt and honest depiction of love and loss, this story was everything I wanted it to be and more. It was a beautifully conceptualised and executed story that really captures the atmosphere of the Alaskan setting and the culture of the people who live there. I know nothing about Alaska but I knew without a doubt that the descriptions were authentic and I felt like I was there in 1970s Alaska. The historical feel of the book was there and I enjoyed the slow pacing that I feel is unique to historical fiction. It was really beautifully done and progressed at what I thought was the perfect pace for this kind of story.

What I loved the most about The Smell of Other People’s Houses was the writing. It had a literary feel to it. There was great flow and lyricism and I just drank it all in. I felt everything that the author wanted to convey and the writing definitely pulled me into the story and made me feel like I was part of the experience. It was just so beautifully complex, yet simple at the same time and it brought out all of the emotions in me.

This novel contains four different perspectives and I actually really enjoyed that aspect of the book. I thought it worked very well and I never felt like I was being pulled around in different directions. I really liked being able to see from all four of the perspectives and it definitely made the story more intimate for me. But it wasn’t just the four perspectives that made this book interesting to me. This book actually contains four separate stories that come together at the end. We follow the lives of Ruth, Dora, Alyce and Hank and I was in awe of how seamlessly their four stories tied together in the end. There were times when I felt like everything was a bit too interconnected but I also loved that about the book and really appreciated all the links between the four narrators and their lives.

The characters in this book were perfection and it was impossible for me not to completely fall in love with every single one of them. I felt so connected to the four protagonists of the book and enjoyed every single one of their journeys. I loved Ruth, the girl who was abandoned by her mother when she was just 5 years old and now lives with her grandmother who is strict and controlling. Ruth was definitely my favourite of the four characters and her strength and resilience really resonated with me. There was also Dora, who was probably my least favourite of the main characters. She was very bitter about her circumstances and while I did understand her family struggles, it was a little bit hard to like her. She did grow on me towards the end and I thought her character growth was amazing. We also followed Alyce, an aspiring ballerina who feels a little bit trapped because of the conflict between her dreams and her duty towards her family. She was probably the character that I felt like I knew the least and wished her character had been explored a little bit more. But I enjoyed her story arc and her character. Hank was another favourite character of mine. We follow him as he runs away from his neglectful mother with his two younger brothers. He acts as the father figure to his brothers but he just wants to be his own person and live his own life. I loved his relationships with his brothers and how he forged relationships with others.

I don’t really have anything negative to say about this book. I did have a little bit of a hard time remember who all the characters were during the first two chapters but each character was so different and unique that it took me very little time to figure it all out. This book is so full of wonderful characters, relationships and love. It was just beautiful to see how each character overcame their hardships and leaned on others for support. It’s become one of my favourite books and I would recommend this to everyone in a heartbeat.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses was published on June 22, 2016 by Faber & Faber and is available at Australian retailers for $16.99.

Review: The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith

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Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release date: March 22, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 384
Goodreads || Book Depository

Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.

What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, and while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.

MY THOUGHTS

2 stars

This book was a missed opportunity. Ostensibly, this book explores rape and the effects of rape or sexual assault on victims, but what I read was a four year journey of self-destruction and recklessness on the part of the main character. For me, it was 300+ pages of not much substance.

At the beginning of the novel, 14-year-old Eden is raped by her older brother’s best friend. She doesn’t tell anybody what happened to her and holds the secret inside of her throughout high school. This book follows her journey from freshman year to senior year. Which was the first problem that I had with it. Because the book spans such a long amount of time, nothing is really explored in detail. There were lots of time skips and things just seemed to happen out of the blue. One day she’s chugging along nicely at school and the next she’s being bullied and called a whore. One day she’s calling her parents ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ and the next she’s calling them by their first names (which was really confusing when it first happened because I thought they were new characters that randomly appeared). I would have preferred to see the catalysts for these events, rather than a general overview of her high school life. The story just lacked depth and I felt really disconnected from everything that was happening. I also didn’t think that the novel was very well-resolved at all. I just wanted a lot more from the plot.

Eden is probably my least favourite main character I’ve ever read about. She was so incredibly dislikeable and just… nasty. Initially, she was an okay character. I enjoyed that she wasn’t the typical popular girl who became reclusive after going through a traumatic experience. She was the nerdy girl who blended in with everybody around her, and I appreciated the message that these things can happen to anybody. However, Eden quickly became very frustrating and dislikeable. She reinvents herself to disconnect from the naive and innocent person who went through that traumatic experience. But I was extremely frustrated by the fact that she thought that the person she wanted to be and the person she “could stand to be” was somebody who smokes multiple cigarettes a day. She ditches her friend because she doesn’t want to be seen with someone uncool, and pretty much just acted like a bitch to everybody around her. She was selfish and constantly lied to everyone. She was just a horrible person who used the people around her without a thought for their feelings.

I just didn’t think that this book delivered very good messages to young readers. I didn’t approve of any of the things that Eden did in this book. She engages in a lot of drinking, smoking and pretty much has sex with every guy who looks at her (she mentioned that she’s been with 100 guys). She  throws tantrums and snaps at everyone around her, especially her parents, who seem to always be either absent or extremely passive. While I can appreciate that this is a depiction of one fictional character’s experience with rape, and the confusion and thoughts that come with having gone through such an experience, I don’t think this book presents a good message for readers who might have gone through a similar experience. Younger readers might think that it’s acceptable to behave in the same reckless and irresponsible way that Eden behaves, or that people aren’t victims of rape if they don’t act in such a way. I thought that the whole issue was handled terribly and I had no idea what the message of the book was besides the fact that you should probably report these things if they happen to you. Oh, and that it’s okay to be extremely rude and disrespectful to your parents and everybody around you because you’ve been through a tough time.

My opinion seems to be an unpopular one since most people on Goodreads have rated this 5 stars and loved it. But for me, this was a total let down. It hardly explored the issues that I thought needed to be addressed and ultimately, it was just a 300 page book about a dislikeable girl who engaged in reckless and undesirable behaviour until she lost all of her friends and hit rock bottom. If you’re looking for a book about rape or sexual assault, I wouldn’t recommend this one at all.

Review: Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

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Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release date: May 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 344
Goodreads || Book Depository

Amy Curry is having a terrible year. Her mother has decided to move across the country and needs Amy to get their car from California to Connecticut. There’s just one small problem. Since her dad died this past spring, Amy hasn’t been able to get behind the wheel. Enter Roger, the nineteen-year-old son of an old family friend, who turns out to be unexpectedly cute… and dealing with some baggage of his own.

Meeting new people and coming to terms with her father’s death were not what Amy had planned on this trip. And traveling the Loneliest Road in America, seeing the Colorado mountains, crossing the Kansas plains, and visiting diners, dingy motels, and Graceland were definitely not on the itinerary. But as they drive, Amy finds that the people you least expected are the ones you may need the most – and that sometimes you have to get lost in order to find your way home.

MY THOUGHTS

45 stars

Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour was Morgan Matson’s first novel (the first one that she published as Morgan Matson anyway) and I really, really enjoyed it. It’s my least favourite of her books, but I gave both Second Chance Summer and Since You’ve Been Gone 5 stars and they’re pretty hard to top.

This book follows Amy who lost her father in a car accident. As a result, her family is in a bit of a transition phase as they try to adjust to being a family of 3 rather than a family of 4. Amy’s mother has moved to Connecticut for work and is in desperate need of her car. She assigns Amy the task of driving the car across the country but Amy has sworn off driving since the accident that killed her father. Roger, the son of a family friend, needs to get to Philadelphia and is asked to drive Amy and the car to Connecticut. However, neither of them are very fond of the route and itinerary that Amy’s mother has mapped out for them and they decide to go on an epic detour on their cross-country trip.

And the detour was truly epic. The characters visited so many different and interesting places along the way. What I really loved about their journey was that it was completely impromptu and they went to places that they felt like they needed to go to in order to resolve certain issues that they had in their lives. I really enjoyed every single location that was featured and the descriptions were so vivid that I felt like I was in the car with Amy and Roger the whole way. It was really interesting to see how the states differed from each other and how distinct even neighbouring states could be. The book  was not only fun but a really great learning experience for me. I learnt so many little facts about each place and the kinds of foods that each state was famous for. I discovered landmarks that I had never heard of before, such as the Loneliest Road in America, which is so long and lonely that you could easily run out of gas before reaching the next gas station. It was also really interesting to see how the states differed from each other and how distinct even neighbouring states could be.

The format of the book also really helped make the long journey interesting. Amy keeps a travel journal and the book included lots of notes about each state, as well as playlists for their trip. These little notes kept the book interesting, especially in the first half of the book where there was lots of driving and not much else happening. The book also contained receipts and photos of some of the things that were mentioned and I loved being able to see exactly what was being described. The formatting just really allowed us to be immersed in the story, as well as to get a really good sense of who the characters were. It brought the story to life for me.

I absolutely loved both Amy and Roger as our main characters. I thought they were completely relatable and I really connected with all of their struggles. I loved the way that Amy’s grief was explored and how the loss of her father has left her shut off from the rest of the world. I also connected with Roger’s desperation and persistence in understanding what went wrong in his previous relationship and trying to fix things. The development that both of these characters went through was definitely the most noteworthy aspect of the book. They’re both a little bit closed off and enigmatic in the first half of the book, but we slowly see them opening up and breaking free of all the things that held them back. The pace of the development felt very natural and I loved how the little things they encountered on their journey played a part in their development.

What I loved most about Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour is that it’s not just a coming of age story for Amy. The road trip and journey of self-development that they take is just as much for Roger as it is for Amy. Roger’s not just the love interest who tags along and serves as eye candy; we get to see his development and explore his story just as much as Amy’s. I loved how the two of them supported each other and encouraged each other to resolve their respective problems. And, of course, I absolutely loved their friendship and their subsequent romance. I thought the romance developed very naturally and realistically. It wasn’t rushed and it just worked. I would’ve liked to have seen just a little bit more of them together at the end, to satisfy the romantic in me, but I’m incredibly happy with how their relationship played out and the decisions they made.

The relatability of the characters and the character development is the main reason why I love Morgan Matson’s books so much. Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour certainly didn’t disappoint on this front. It had a wonderful emotional journey of self-discovery as well as a physical journey that will inspire wanderlust in anybody who reads the book.