Monday, 31 August 2015

Review: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised. With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

Date of Publication: 7th April 2015

So in my Top Ten Tuesday I mentioned this book (and fangirled all over it) while I had still been in the process of reading it and can I say I LOVE IT SO MUCH!
This is what I said about it then and all of it is still truer than true:) :

I'm reading this book right now but I'm already fangirling about it because it's not just like eating an amazing chocolate bar - it's like eating your favourite kind of chocolate cake, your favourite chocolate bar, brownies, and all of your favourite comfort food being laid out before you while your all-time favourite movie happens to play and pillows form underneath you till you're in some kind of fluffy paradise. What I'm incoherently trying to express is that this book makes me smile more than most books have ever managed! It's been a while since I've loved a narrator so much that I've just wanted to watch Harry Potter with them and give them a great big hug because they deserve a thousand. Simon is a Harry Potter fan (a.k.a. he's one of us;)) who is a lovely friend. He's a bit uncomfortable at parties and has a golden retriever called Bieber - can I just say I love him? This story is about Simon, who is gay, falling for a guy he only knows as Blue as they've been emailing after Simon saw a beautiful written post Blue wrote that he needed to tell him he loved. Simon is being blackmailed by someone who read his emails so he's in a tricky situation plus he knows Blue and he go to the same school but not who he is (it was unexpectedly suspenseful!) Reading their emails and seeing Simon's reactions to them is like eating candy. This is a book about the characters (like how The Office is about the wacky and wonderful characters) so if you love that then give this a go!

This book makes me feel happier than happy. IB causes so much stress but while reading this I felt like I was on a cotton candy cloud and I couldn't keep a smile off my face. I loved everything about this book so ending it was a painful bittersweet experience because I wish I could erase my memory of it and read it all over again.

Simon is the kind of protagonist and narrator that you want to be your friend because it's so fun to be in his mind and you can't help but see the world in his bubbly, sweet and unique point of view and wish that you could buy a pair of sunglasses tinted with his colourful perspective. He's someone built up with such love that I can imagine him in reality and I can imagine having a crush on him even if I knew he's gay:( He's been emailing this guy he only knows as 'Blue' for quite a while and would love and fear meeting him. Slowly over email they become close and he can't help but wonder who Blue is. His curiosity became mine and it felt as suspenseful as a mystery novel because I felt so invested in the characters. I wished I could hire Sherlock Holmes to help Simon figure out who this funny and lovely grammar nerd of a guy is. BUT I wouldn't actually because I loved (how many times I have used the word 'love' in this review;)) how Becky Albertalli resolved this mystery. It ended perfectly. At one point I was worried I wouldn't like the truth of who Blue is but my faith in this story overruled and my trust in the author was way more than well deserved. 

Also the author manages to capture a teenager's voice in an impressive way. She did work as a psychologist at a high school so she gained insight into our flowery and strange minds. Sometimes when adults try to harness a teenager's voice it feels awkward and like they're trying to capture a voice they haven't quite understood, but here Simon feels like a real and lovable teenager who I could pluck out of the book at anytime.

The romance was something special. Blue and Simon have something like a meet-cute via the internet (Tumblr I believe;)) that turns into something so much more. It was so refreshing to see a romance that starts with words - that starts with two souls meeting. I know that physical attraction does play a role in romance, but sometimes it is has too much emphasis and this takes a way from the genuine connection between the characters. The pace of their relationship is just right. Their relationship from friendship to more is enviable because they just make each other happy and that is beautiful in its own simple way. Reading their emails made me feel like I was allowed a privileged sneak peak into a conversation that showed just how powerful words can be.

Simon's friends and family make up a big part of his life and so a big part of this book. They're all like a huge, hilarious and compassionate family. Their interactions felt genuine and beautiful because Simon valued his friends and his family which was refreshing when compared to other YA novels. None of the characters ever felt like they had a label on them - often with books that deal with high school there are stereotypes used (and sometimes they are wonderfully and skilfully challenged) but here all the characters had many dimensions like fascinating, real and relatable pieces of art. Nick isn't just the guy who plays guitar, Abby isn't just the cheerleader and none of the secondary characters feel like they're being used to fill up space. They have relationships and feelings too - they're the protagonists of their own stories. Relationships are really what makes this book feel like it's written with sunshine. The focus on the characters is done without exploiting them at any turn and without them falling into the expected. Simon isn't defined by his sexual orientation and like he says throughout the book, a part of him wants coming out to be a big deal and the other part strongly doesn't want it to be. He and Blue both have personalities as bold and sweet and special as a impressionist painting so that's how we know them and just how we love them.

I think I'm going to stop myself because I can just feel more metaphors coming on - comparing this book to some of the things that make me feel like I can never stop smiling, things that make me feel at home and comfortable and things that I want to hug so I shall stop myself before I ramble on:) 

If I could say one thing I would say: Give this book a try if you want to remember how books can make you feel like it's harder not to smile than to smile;)

So, obviously, 5 burning bright stars!

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught Contemporary (with a lot of romance!) 101

Time for some Top Ten Tuesday:)
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the lovely book blog: The Broke and the Bookish.
Today I'm going to be exploring the topic: Top ten books that would be on my syllabus if I taught contemporary 101! The funny thing is, initially I came in a bit weary of what the vast and colourful world of contemporary world would be like but then these books made me realise that it's a kind of paradise.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
One of the first contemporary books I ever read (thanks to my BFF<3) was Anna and the French Kiss  This book has made Stephanie Perkins an auto-buy author for me because I cannot tell you how much I love this book! It's in Paris, the city of love, and is filled with an atmosphere I wish I could bottle up and save so it would twinkle in a little glass bottle endlessly. The CHARACTERS. Anna is one of the most relatable and likeable characters ever- sometimes she thinks just as awkwardly as I do and she's so fun to experience the story with. Etienne... *sigh* - I loved how he and Anna go together like PB&J. While I use the cliche of PB&J, I'd like to add in that I never found it too cheesy - in fact I kinda loved how I felt like I floated away to Paris when I read this book and I thought the relationships felt so grounded in a true and beautiful connection that it wasn't too cheesy but perfect. They're so sweet and real and serious and right for each other that their scenes together make me feel like I'm watching one of my favourite romcoms. The thing is I use this as my standard of contemporary romances because this romance felt genuine because the characters actually got to know each other over time to the point of you getting more and more invested in their relationship as the books goes on. If you want to smile and swoon then this is for you!

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
I'm reading this book right now but I'm already fangirling about it because it's not just like eating an amazing chocolate bar - it's like eating your favourite kind of chocolate cake, your favourite chocolate bar, brownies, and all of your favourite comfort food being laid out before you while your all-time favourite movie happens to play and pillows form underneath you till you're in some kind of fluffy paradise. What I'm incoherently trying to express is that this book makes me smile more than most books have ever managed! It's been a while since I've loved a narrator so much that I've just wanted to watch Harry Potter with them and give them a great big hug because they deserve a thousand. Simon is a Harry Potter fan (a.k.a. he's one of us;)) who is a lovely friend. He's a bit uncomfortable at parties and has a golden retriever called Bieber - can I just say I love him? This story is about Simon, who is gay, falling for a guy he only knows as Blue as they've been emailing after Simon saw a beautiful written post Blue wrote that he needed to tell him he loved. Simon is being blackmailed by someone who read his emails so he's in a tricky situation plus he knows Blue and he go to the same school but not who he is (it was unexpectedly suspenseful!) Reading their emails and seeing Simon's reactions to them is like eating candy. This is a book about the characters (like how The Office is about the wacky and wonderful characters) so if you love that then give this a go!

I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." Gosh I adore this book like I love art and love. 
A story about twins, family, love, tragedy, art, mistakes and acceptance that makes me feel like I've lived through everything the characters go through because I'm so invested in them.I actually wrote a review on it here:) -->
Let's just say the rainbow of creativity within this story, the beyond soulful and beautiful description of art in Noah's mind and the messed up but lovely characters made this one to remember. 

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
 I may have read this a loooong time ago but I'll always treasure the romance of it. Brittany and Alex are so different... or are they? Being in high school, it's so interesting to see how two people from two very different groups interact and how slowly they realise what people expect of them isn't what defines them. Love is a choice we get to make and this book shows you what a intense and butterfly-inducing experience it is when you get it right.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
This book was a moving and gorgeous read that anyone who loves bookshops might love. It's about a bookstore owner, A.J. Fikry, who has given up on life because he's never smiling - he's never really living. But then one day a baby called Maya is left on his doorstep and his life changes forever. I liked reading a story about becoming who you are and love and explored these themes in a new way. The fact that the main character is a booklover helped too:P Seeing someone's life go through a rollercoaster of change is really something that makes you appreciate every little lovely thing and it makes you root for them and yourself.

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
I wrote a review which basically explored this book and MY LOVE FOR IT!:
This was also at the beginning of my contemporary journey and let me just say this is one I'll never forget. This is what I want falling in love to feel like for me. Who doesn't love a good friends to something a bit (a lot!) like love romance?:) Amy and Roger were written so insightfully and with a loving hand because they're wonderful apart and together. They go on a road trip together that turns into so much more than a trip with a destination - it turns into an adventure in which Amy and Roger counter bears, delicious food, ice cream, new makeover-loving and video game-loving friends, golf courses and Graceland. 

Where She Went by Gayle Forman
This book is like a melody that you never want to let go of. The lyrics that Gayle Forman wrote as Adam's character are so emotional and raw - they give the book a whole new layer of golden musical notes. I think the love story in this one is one that I couldn't help but root for. An undeniable connection. Love leaking through their eyes. Hoping love wins. 
Reading this book felt like lying on a cloud above and watching a couple so destined for each other work their way back together.

Pushing The Limits by Katie McGarry
Another perfect recommendation from my amiga! Just thinking back to this book makes me relive it - and it's a wonderful feeling. It's such an intense romance that I felt and still feel so sucked in by it. I loved who Noah and Echo both went through so much in their lives and somehow it leads them to each other. They don't seem like two pieces that would fit together yet they're strangely and perfectly made for each other. Noah's in YA tend to be amazing, don't they?
He's had a hard life and so has Echo, and I felt like I had their scars while reading this which made me love them all the more.

Two Contemporary Books I Want To Read:
Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley: It's a book about teenagers on an adventure of graffiti, art, high school, love and life in 24 hours. After reading 'I'll Give You The Sun," I've been longing for another book that made the world a bit more colourful and chalky.

Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith: This is about a couple who are about to embark on the next chapter: university. They're trying to make the difficult decision of whether to break up or try long distance once they go to university so they decide to retrace their relationship. I'm fascinated by the idea of a couple reflecting on their own relationship so I hope it proves an emotional, sweet and moving read. (& the COVER!)

Thanks for reading! What do you guys think should be on my Contemporary 101 syllabus?:)

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics. Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel. Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives. And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.

Date of Publication: 1st March 2012

This is book is a bit of a rebel - it deviates from what you expect a book that explores illness, friendship and finding yourself in high school to be like. And I really appreciated that. It's like seeing a rainbow that's painted in teal, maroon and pink. It's a book I wanted to experience ever since I watched the trailer of the movie (AND look at that cover:)) and felt chills and felt excited for this new and weird (in a lovely sense) coming-of-age story! It didn't live up to my expectations but it was worth the read. 

The beginning of this book is one of my favourite beginnings. Although the beginnings of books tend to not be the strongest, this one unashamedly makes me laugh and pokes fun of the high school hierarchy. I picked up this book hoping it would be as hilarious as I hoped it would be and Greg's description of high school groups is not cliche in any way but so ridiculous and perfect that a smile can't resist itself. 

Greg's philosophy on high school is so different from most peoples that I felt like I was watching a social experiment. He doesn't want to belong with anyone - he doesn't want friends - he just wants to make it through high school without having a spotlight shining on him. I loved how he and Earl make quirky parody movies because it's fun to hear about the ideas behind their weird and wonderful (not technically but in spirit;)) films. Greg and Earl have an interesting and unusual relationship that I would call friendship even though the 'friendless' Greg refuses to acknowledge he does indeed have a friend. Their dynamic is a special part of this book because it shows you that friendship can spring from unlikely places and that friends have the ability to push you to become a better person.

This book is not a dreamer. This book does not pretend to be a dreamer or an optimist. That was one thing that made it unique. It refused to give in to what we expect in a book: romance, typical relationships and big dreams dreamt by everyone. It chooses to be raw and realistic and funny, even when you it would be so easy for it to fall to convention. I liked how Rachel, Greg and Earl interacted with eachother because it was like pieces of different puzzles somehow coming together. It could get really awkward for them (People cringe in real life so why not in books too?:P) but that's what the start of things tends to be like (and I like how their awkwardness and weirdness was so real - it wasn't eccentric - it was more grounded in reality with a fun twist). 

But there was just a slight disconnect between me and this book. I'm not sure if it's just me being an eternal dreamer and an optimist who likes a bit of cheesy or lots of emotion but I just didn't feel like I got an emotional pay off as I didn't feel satisfied by the end of the book. Normally books that focus on characters and relationships are my chocolate (for example, the TV show, the Office (US) has so much humour but also touching and beautiful moments - and it's about a paper company BUT it's really about the people who work there!) but I just never felt as invested in the characters or in the plot as I wanted to be. That's why the start of this book was my favourite part of it. I did thoroughly  enjoy this book but it's not an all-time favourite for me and if there was a fire and I had to choose which books to save (Never let this happen!), this would probably not be one I'd run for.

So this book gets a lovely 4 stars!

Review: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy. While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?
Date of Publication: September 2 2015

As always, Sarah J. Maas' characters are written with so much honesty and insightful detail, that they feel real. It was almost as though Celaena Sardothien had just appeared right in front of me with her unquenched anger, latent sadness and glowing strength radiating from her. In the last book I think we all saw Celaena in one of her darkest and most vengeance-fuelled moments but here we get to see the startling after shock of her actions and how she deals with what she's been through. More than anything she feels alone at the beginning, not even the loveable and cute Fleetfoot is with her, so we see her deal with a whole colour wheel of feelings by herself for a while.

But one special thing about this book is that there's a bunch of new characters! I loved getting to explore how these new puzzle pieces fit into the story because I know at first it seems like it has the potential to take us away from the characters we are so invested in but in the end it really added to the story. Some of the new characters became huge parts of the main characters' lives, and because of that we get to see a new side of them. 
Some of the new characters are Rowan, Sorsha and Manon. Rowan is rough and tough, but not...;) He, in a way, acts as a begrudging mentor to Celaena - but their dynamic is wonderful because he isn't afraid of her unleashed wildness.

(Spoilers from the 2nd book) 
Rowan has awesome and complex tattoos and comes off as glaringly hostile and tough at first. But, of course, in this world the characters are beautifully 3-dimensional so we delve deeper into his true compassion and acceptance. He is the one who pushes Celaena to accept her Fae nature and not be afraid of what she can do- he is not afraid of her in the least. I loved the dynamic between them because it feels like Celaena has met her match, which you can see in their snarky battle of words and the way he makes her see what she is capable of. It isn't all sunshine and rainbows because he isn't for the faint-hearted- when I say he pushes her, I mean he shoves her towards her destiny of magic.
(Spoiler done;))

Sorsha has actually been part of the story before. She is the healer, who oh-so-kindly helped take care of all our characters in the last book when they got hurt. So here we see her own story and sweetly innocent thoughts - she's almost the opposite of Celaena in some ways which was interesting to see because I'm so used to our fearless, bold and daring protagonist, that to see someone who was in the background before come to the spotlight is new in a great way.

Chaol and Dorian are thankfully not forgotten at allI liked how Chaol moves away from his obedience to the King and instead chooses to walk down a path filled with danger, rebellion and magic. It shows us just how much Celaena has awoken him to the cruelty of the King and his role to play in fighting it. Come on guys!- just reunitePretty please...

I've always liked Dorian's character, not necessarily for Celaena, but instead just as a character. I feel like Dorian would be a way better ruler than his father could ever imagine, just because of his kindness and his determination to right what's wronged. Did I say I love the twist (from the last book) in which he has magical abilites? Because I doIn this book the author uses it to give him a new love interest... As cute as the stolen glances, blushes and puppy-love smiles were, I wish their romance was developed further- I like the whole Cinderella-esque romance because he's the Prince and she never even thinks he notices her but I just want them to have a funny conversation so that we can see that they can make each other smile in normal times. I wanted Dorian to be given a new love interest because it would mean he's finally over Celaena and moving on to someone who loves him back. As said in Moulin Rouge, "the greatest thing is just to love and to be loved in return."So he does get a romance that is startlingly different to the one he had with Celaena.

Manon Blackbeak is a new character that is so dark and twisted because that's how she was brought up to be. At first I hated the cruel grin on her bloodthirsty face but later we get to see her show some kindness to someone who has only been hurt and left to break.
Ah the character development is so wonderful!

(Spoilers from 2nd book and minor spoilers from this book)
Manon and the beaten but ferocious and determined wyvern was one unexpected but wonderful storyline. As someone who loves animals, I couldn't help but appreciate the way she treated him with friendship when everyone else was satisfied to watch him break. Go Manon
Aedin so obviously cares for Celaena that I really want them to meet again! The flashbacks just showed how they were like a two-in-one deal so having that positive side of her past come back in the flesh might be fun and may be endearingly sweet. 
(Spoilers done!)

Writing: As always the writing was engaging, magical, gentle, harsh and everything right! Initially I was sticky-noting all the parts which had lovely writing that made me re-read the quotes again and again. But then I was basically bookmarking every single page so I decided to stop:P None of the meaningful and almost lyrical lines she writes feels forced- the feel like they break open a hidden light in characters or create a setting so vivid that I can feel the frost chill my bones or feel the leaves tickle my arms as I run past them faster than an enchanted hurricane.

Plot: The plot... the plot... it was... AMAZING! I mean I'm always somehow shocked by just how unique the storylines are. I honestly wish I could borrow Sarah J. Maas' mind someday because the tiniest things that happen in the plot are always so well-thought out and push forward the overall story and character development. The plot starts off quite slow for Celaena which was unusual but I think it reflects her situation and then all of a sudden the plot is just on fire! There are so many things I didn't see coming but that, even if they break my heart, I loved. There were many shadows at the end of the tunnel but none were out of the blue, which makes for a perfect book!

So 5 stars!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga. Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird. In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and na├»ve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration. That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo. First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.

Date of Publication: 27 March 2014

I don’t even know how to start with this book because it’s so beautiful.
Leslye Walton is going to be on my auto-buy list of authors because the world she creates feels so real and surreal at the same time. She uses magical realism like it’s something she’s done for a 100 years. In fact, the reason I enjoyed her magical realism was that I feel it shows a truer version of the world – feelings and thoughts felt on the inside are illustrated on the outside in ways which show a raw and magical reality. In this world if I felt rejected my heart would literally break and that adds this layer of silver honesty which was perfect.

The story spanned generations of the Roux family which made it feel like an epic - years of tragedy, lost love, desire and regret. I devoured every single story and read every single word like they were the last words I’d ever read. It felt like I was absorbed in a cinematic universe of colours, pain and angel wings with each story. Seeing the different downfalls of the family and the ways they succumbed or survived was mesmerising and emotional. I felt so emotionally invested in all the character’s stories, especially Ava and Viviane’s stories - I haven’t experienced anything like they have yet it felt like I had felt everything they felt - like a pang in the heart, a midnight kiss or a breaking heart - on a new starry out-of-this-world level. 

Ava was born with angel wings but in the end she’s just a girl who wants to fit in. I think the exploration of the importance of self-acceptance and finding people in your life who love you as you are is wonderful because everyone can relate to that. I loved the progression of her story because it stayed true to her character yet showed her grow into someone stronger - character development is one of my favourite journeys to go on. Her character shone like someone had painted her with golden glitter, and so did the romance she experiences because that shimmered with blossoming flowers and constellations because it was so refreshing and sweet - it didn’t overpower the plot but it played a role in it that felt natural. 

Also, Ava has a twin brother who has never spoken a word - and can I just say I LOVED how his character grew because it was adorable and weird and lovely. 
Nathaniel Sorrows thinks that Ava is an angel and not an ordinary girl because of her angelic and majestic wings. We get to see his perspective and just thinking about him gives me chills because he’s so set on his views that nothing stops him. His existence in the book adds suspense that keeps you feeling wide awake and a bit frightened for our favourite characters because he’s cruel and obsessive and we can see that through every word he uses and every thought he thinks. 
Viviane and Jack's stories was one of my favourite to read - and Emilienne's and her sisters so maybe just all of them! - because its equal amounts hopeful and heartbreaking so I think it's a story that takes you places you don't always expect it to go which can be so immersive.

The settings were so vividly described that they spilled out of the pages with the smell of newly baked bread, celebrations and rain-soaked grass and the colours of a swirly and perfect masterpiece. 

So read it for the characters, read it for the scale, read it if you want to live in a crooked fairytale;)