Joint Review: Austenland

In this post, my sister and I write a joint review of Shannon Hale's Austenland series. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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As promised, I’m doing a co-review with my sister! We both read Shannon Hale’s books Austenland and Midnight in Austenland, two romances that center on the fictional vacation place where visitors dress and act like characters from a Jane Austen novel. Rather than a formal review, we decided to discuss our thoughts about both books. So be forewarned: There are spoilers for both books ahead!

Monica: To start off with, have you read any other Shannon Hale books?
Melanie: Princess Academy, right? And Goose Girl?
Monica: Yes. I’ve read those and also Book of a Thousand Days, and the two graphic novels she wrote with her husband. I thought it was interesting because most of what I know about Shannon Hale is her YA/children’s fiction. She usually writes stories with strong but flawed female MCs that give a darker twist to lesser-known fairy tales. So I felt like these adult fiction books were really different!
Melanie: Yeah, it’s almost like these books (well, the first one anyway) were lighter than what she writes for children. I assume it was because she was going for an Austen feel?
Monica: Yes, which brings me to another question: What did you expect from these books, and how did that differ from what you read?
Melanie: I’ve read Austenland before, and it was pretty much what I expected, a light rom-com thing. So I had every expectation that Midnight in Austenland would feel the same way.
But I was very wrong…
Monica: So I had never read these books before, and I guess I was kind of expecting them to be a little more along the same lines as her YA books, a little darker maybe? Honestly, I really didn’t like the first one very much; I thought it was pretty cheesy.
Also, did you think the whole idea of Austenland a little creepy? I think I would have been good with the historical reenactment part if they hadn’t promised you a fake romance also…
Melanie: It was pretty cheesy, but I liked that about it. It was just a nice, sweet, entirely implausible book. It did seem a little emotionally manipulative of the women who came, though.
I just got frustrated with the protagonist in the first book because I felt like she really didn’t understand the dynamic between Lizzie and Darcy for the first half of Pride and Prejudice.
Monica: What do you mean? Like she expected to fall in love and have it be perfect immediately?
Melanie: No, like how she was so angry at Henry and thought he was such a jerk, and kept comparing him to Darcy at the end of Pride & Prejudice. Like, “Oh, he’s such a jerk, he’s not really a Darcy, he’s just rude.” It was like she didn’t see that he was being first half of P&P Darcy.
Monica: I guess the audience is supposed to see the parallels between him and Darcy when the MC doesn’t.
Melanie: Yeah, I guess it was to make the love story feel like P&P, but I felt like she should have been more self-aware, being such a huge fan of Austen. It was almost like she kept forgetting he was an actor playing a role.
Monica: Yes! That was the worst part to me, in both books. If you’re into historical reenactment, that’s awesome! It sounds super fun. But the idea that this was kind of a resort mostly for bored wives looking for romance felt really creepy. Like, you paid a ton of money to dress up and play pretend, why do you keep thinking this is real?
Melanie: Exactly! Like, in one scene, they’d be totally unable to get into character and feeling super awkward, and then in the next scene, you couldn’t even tell that they weren’t actually living it.

Monica: So my next question is basically book 1 vs. book 2. What did you think? I was surprised at how different they felt!
Melanie: Right? I really thought they’d only be as different as two of Austen’s books. I kind of thought that was the point. I think she was going for Northanger Abbey with the second one, but Northanger Abbey did not actually have a murder…
Monica: I actually liked the second one a lot better because 1) I thought Charlotte had a better grip on her life and 2) I’m addicted to mysteries and I liked that this book was a little less romance-focused.
Melanie: I think I liked the first one better. I felt like I could identify more with Jane than with Charlotte, because I know more about being obsessed with romances in books than I do about being cheated on and having kids. Also, I don’t think I like mysteries very much because I am a wimp. I kept getting creeped out in the second one. Basically any time Charlotte wandered the house by herself, and when she had to go to sleep in the dark and her door wouldn’t lock. I kept thinking of a Jane Eyre adaptation I saw once where Jane was laying in bed and then lightning flashed and then the insane wife was there.
Monica: It was kind of a big leap from straightforward romance to suddenly a dead body! And a murderer running around!
Melanie: That was the biggest problem for me. I just reading along, and then all of a sudden, wait! That murder was real! And there’s crazy people!
Monica: Reading the second book did give me a little more sympathy for Lydia and Kitty in Pride and Prejudice. Life as an upper class lady would have been pretty boring except for all the balls and social gatherings… and murders!
Melanie: That’s a good point. Although, what’s up with this “let’s put on a play!” “let’s play a game called Murder!” Jane got way cheated out of evening entertainment in her stay.
Monica: The one thing I liked less about the second book was the romance itself. Not that I disliked Eddie (or Reginald), but I felt a little strange about the deus ex machina ending where she had  to stay in the country because of the murder trial, and magically her kids were fine with it?
Melanie: I really liked the buildup to the romance in the second book. I thought it was sweet how they were friends during the whole time and everything. But yeah. It all worked out veeeeery conveniently in the second book. Like, she didn’t even have to see the crappy stepmom or anything!

Monica: So my last question/discussion is about the implications of Austenland. Would you go if there was a real one? Is the forced romance creepy? (spoiler alert: yes) Did you find it weird in the first book how Jane was so desperate to find love that her aunt died and left her a trip to Austenland?
Melanie: I think Austenland would be fun in real life if there were more guests and fewer actors. Like if the hosts were actors, but you could bring a group of friends, or your significant others, and just do historical reenactment, I think that would be more fun and less creepy.
Monica: That sounds great! I do like the idea of historical reenactment. I felt like Miss Charming was the epitome of the so-called “Ideal Client,” at least in a pessimistic way. Like she was so starved for affection and distraction that she was willing to live in a literal fantasy world, letting this gay guy fake fall in love with her for months on end. So I thought it was interesting that Jane and Charlotte came to heal their romantic wounds. I feel like in real life it would just be a bunch of Austen fangirls, not nearly so much drama!
Melanie: Yeah, I did appreciate that we got to know Miss Charming better in the second book and she got a nice resolution. That’s probably what all the other vacations were like, when the actors didn’t accidentally fall in love…

Monica: Any other thoughts about these books to wrap it up?
Melanie: Hmm. As I was reading Austenland, I thought it was really interesting how much Jane cared about everyone’s opinions. Even though she knew they were actors, she still really wanted them to like her.
Monica: Good point… It’s kind of a clue to her whole approach to life. Thanks for reviewing these books with me!
Melanie: Thank you! I never would have read the second one otherwise!

Adult Fiction Mini Reviews

A widely varied collection of light adult fiction. Nothing challenging, but some fun picks in several genres. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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This is a widely varied collection of light adult fiction. Nothing challenging here, but some fun picks in several genres. (All summaries via Goodreads.com.)

Ella Minnow Pea

Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

I wanted to love this book, but I definitely didn’t. It consists of overly formal writing that devolves as letters become outlawed on the island of Nollop. It’s silly–why did the government decide banishment was a good punishment for accidentally using one of the banned letters?–and the writing drove me nuts. I don’t see the purpose of using long and/or archaic words for the purpose of impressing others, and that’s what the writing in this book felt like to me. (Maybe I’m not really a word lover so much as a story lover.)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Lizzy and Jane

In a desperate attempt to reconnect with her cooking gifts, struggling chef Elizabeth returns home. But her plans are derailed when she learns that her estranged sister, Jane, is battling cancer. Elizabeth surprises everyone—including herself—when she decides to stay in Seattle and work to prepare healthy, sustaining meals for Jane as she undergoes chemotherapy. She also meets Nick and his winsome son, Matt, who, like Elizabeth, are trying to heal from the wounds of the past.

I thought Lizzy and Jane would be a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but it wasn’t, not really. It took some (very few) of the elements of that story and incorporated them into a very different romance story. Elizabeth is a New York City chef who has lost her spark. Desperate to get it back and salvage her job, she travels to Seattle to spend time with her father and her sister, Jane. Ever since their mother died of cancer, Elizabeth and Jane have had little to do with each other, but now that Jane herself has cancer, the two must find a way to get along and heal past wounds. (Also Elizabeth falls in love, but honestly, that almost seems beside the point here.)

The story of Elizabeth reuniting with her sister during Jane’s cancer treatment was rough. Both sisters had some very selfish, hurtful moments, and both had moments when they started to heal their relationship. I usually find romance-based novels a bit sappy, and I felt that way a bit with this book. Not having gone through cancer treatments myself or with any close friends or family, I was unsure whether or not that aspect of the book was well done.

If you want a sweet, heartwarming story, Lizzy and Jane might be a good choice. It wasn’t really for me, but it was a fun, quick read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The ABC Murders

There’s a serial killer on the loose, bent on working his way through the alphabet. And as a macabre calling card, he leaves beside each victim’s corpse the ABC Railway Guide open at the name of the town where the murder has taken place. Having begun with Andover, Bexhill and then Churston, there seems little chance of the murderer being caught – until he makes the mistake of challenging Hercule Poirot to frustrate his plans.

You know I love me some Agatha Christie, and I’ve been reading through some of her Hercule Poirot books with my husband recently. As always, Agatha Christie will surprise you, even when you think you know it all. This is one of her most famous Poirot mysteries–a serial killer starts killing people alphabetically, leaving an ABC Railway Guide next to his victims, and Poirot must figure out who the killer is before he makes his way through the alphabet–and if you haven’t read it, I don’t want to spoil it for you by saying anything more.

This wasn’t my favorite Christie mystery ever, but I’m not sorry I read it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARC: Class of ’59

Class of '59 is the latest installment in the American Journey series. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When Mary Beth McIntire settles into a vacation house on June 2, 2017, she anticipates a quiet morning with coffee. Then she hears a noise, peers out a window, and spots a man in 1950s attire standing in the backyard.

In the same house on March 21, 1959, Mark Ryan finds a letter. Written by the mansion’s original owner in 1900, the letter describes a basement chamber, mysterious crystals, and a formula for time travel. Driven by curiosity, Mark tests the formula twice.

Within hours, Mary Beth and Mark share their secret with her sister and his brother and begin a journey that takes them from the present day to the age of sock hops, drive-ins, and jukeboxes. In CLASS OF ’59, the fourth book in the American Journey series, four young adults find love, danger, and adventure as they navigate the corridors of time and experience Southern California in its storied prime. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve reviewed several of John Heldt’s books in the past (you can see those reviews here, here, here, and here). This book is the fourth installment in his American Journey series, a time travel/romance series which brings couples together against the backdrop of famous times and places in America’s past.

Unlike earlier books in the series, Class of ’59 opens with the main characters discovering the time-traveling tunnel without the help (or knowledge) of the professor. Mark, a collegiate boy living in the late 50s, discovers an unbelievable story about time travel hidden in a desk in the new house his family moved into. When he tries it out, he finds himself transported to the same house almost sixty years into the future, where he meets Mary Beth and her sister. The two girls make the trip back to 1959 and experience the glory days of southern California, participating in school dances and meeting stars in Hollywood.

Of course, the two girls find themselves falling in love with Mark and his brother. The romances are sweet, if a little rushed. But after a few weeks of bliss, the four new friends find themselves in danger, and they have to quickly make choices that will affect the rest of their lives.

Class of ’59 had a few of the same problems I encountered in the last book, namely the use of descriptors rather than names and some flowery sentiments (how many times do we need to be reminded that Mark views Mary Beth as “stunning” or “beautiful” or “never ceases to amaze” him?). Still, if you can get past those details and enjoy the romance and the historical setting, you might give this book a try. And if you’ve enjoyed the rest of the American Journey series, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Review Copy: Indiana Belle

Indiana Belle is the latest installment in John Heldt's time travel romance series. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When doctoral student Cameron Coelho, 28, opens a package from Indiana, he finds more than private papers that will help him with his dissertation. He finds a photograph of a beautiful society editor murdered in 1925 and clues to a century-old mystery. Within days, he meets Geoffrey Bell, the “time-travel professor,” and begins an unlikely journey through the Roaring Twenties. Filled with history, romance, and intrigue, INDIANA BELLE follows a lonely soul on the adventure of a lifetime as he searches for love and answers in the age of Prohibition, flappers, and jazz. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve read and reviewed several of John Heldt’s books in the past (see the reviews here, here, and here), so I was excited to receive his latest book in the American Journey series, Indiana Belle. It’s full of romance, a bit of mystery, and, of course, time travel.

Cameron has very few ties in his present-day life, so when he gets the chance to go back in time and investigate the beautiful journalist who is a part of his doctoral dissertation, he jumps at it. When he meets Candice, the vivacious woman who captured his imagination through an old photo, he instantly falls in love and determines to do whatever it takes to save her from her tragic death–despite the warnings of Professor Bell.

The story is sweet, despite the bad case of insta-love that Cameron suffers from. You get a good feel for what the Roaring Twenties were like in small town Indiana, including everything from speakeasies to the KKK. Later in the book, Cameron takes a short trip to the future, which I found pretty fascinating (I’d love to find out more about it in later books!).

There were a couple of problems that I had with this book. The habit of using descriptors rather than names (the time traveler, the Rhode Islander, the society editor, the stodgy relative, etc.) gets a little annoying at times–I know the characters’ names, so why not use them? Also: *spoiler* I found the ending kind of unsatisfying–it celebrates Candice’s decision to quit the reporting job she had wanted the entire book to raise children and be a wife. Sure, this is probably the most historically accurate decision, but it rubbed me the wrong way.

On the whole, this is a sweet romance with the added benefit of an interesting backdrop and a little time travel, too. Check it out if you’ve enjoyed the rest of the American Journey series–you won’t be disappointed.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Book Pairing: Are You There, God? and The Girls’ Guide

A fun book pairing by two authors who explore the topics of love and growing up. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m back from my blogging hiatus! I’ve been unable to post recently because of the chaos in my personal life, namely, my sister’s wedding! Everything went off without a hitch, and now I’m back home, settling in for the holidays and ready to kick off my end-of-year reviews with this book pairing.

Most of my last reviews of the year will be posts for the Reading to Distraction book pairing challenge (you can read the previous posts here, here, here, and here). Apparently, I couldn’t get it together to read these pairings until the last minute!

The books in this pairing are Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume and The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank. As always, here’s the BuzzFeed connection:

The troubles that Margaret Simon experiences in the Judy Blume classic — romantic anxiety, body confusion, the awkwardness of fitting in with new friends — are especially potent in the preteen years but by no means limited to them. Melissa Bank proves this as she follows protagonist Jane Rosenal from age 14 to her mid-twenties in a series of hilarious and heartbreaking stories of navigating love, work, and life.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

Margaret Simon, almost twelve, has just moved from New York City to the suburbs, and she’s anxious to fit in with her new friends. When she’s asked to join a secret club she jumps at the chance. But when the girls start talking about boys, bras, and getting their first periods, Margaret starts to wonder if she’s normal. There are some things about growing up that are hard for her to talk about, even with her friends. Lucky for Margaret, she’s got someone else to confide in… someone who always listens. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I have to admit, I never read this book as a kid, although I certainly heard about it. Now, reading it as an adult, it’s not nearly as risque as my childhood friends thought it was. The book is a bit dated, but Judy Blume really knows her stuff. Times may have changed, but the insecurities and frustrations of being a preteen girl certainly haven’t.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing

Generous-hearted and wickedly insightful, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing maps the progress of Jane Rosenal as she sets out on a personal and spirited expedition through the perilous terrain of sex, love, and relationships as well as the treacherous waters of the workplace. With an unforgettable comic touch, Bank skillfully teases out issues of the heart, puts a new spin on the mating dance, and captures in perfect pitch what it’s like to be a young woman coming of age in America today. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is a quick read, and the first thing that will strike you about it is the beauty of the author’s writing. She is able to write a sentence that will make you look at ordinary things in a new way. You get the sense that Bank knows the people she is writing about, and she makes you know them, too. So my problem with this book wasn’t the writing or the characters, which are by turns humorous and heartbreaking, but the plot itself. Namely, that there isn’t much of one. The story is told in a series of vignettes, almost, and they are only loosely connected. Most are told from the viewpoint of Jane Rosenal, but a couple are not, and although all the sections center around the topic of love and heartbreak, I wish they worked together better to create a more cohesive whole.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

I can definitely see why these books make a good pairing. Both present the story of a girl who is growing up and exploring the subject of love–with mixed results. Although neither book was exactly my cup of tea, I’m glad to have read them both. Judy Blume and Melissa Bank both know how to write amazingly sympathetic MCs and draw you into their lives.

Have you read either of these books? How do you think they stack up to each other? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Review Copy: Mercer Street

Mercer Street is a fun but forgettable novel filled with romance, drama, and time travel. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of Mercer Street from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Weeks after her husband dies in the midst of an affair in 2016, Chicago writer Susan Peterson, 48, seeks solace on a California vacation with her mother Elizabeth and daughter Amanda. The novelist, however, finds more than she bargained for when she meets a professor who possesses the secret of time travel. Within days, the women travel to 1938 and Princeton, New Jersey. Elizabeth begins a friendship with her refugee parents and infant self, while Susan and Amanda fall for a widowed admiral and a German researcher with troubling ties. Filled with poignancy, heartbreak, and intrigue, MERCER STREET gives new meaning to courage, sacrifice, and commitment as it follows three strong-willed souls on the adventure of a lifetime. (Summary via Amazon.com)

I have read and reviewed a couple of Heldt’s books before, and they are always a pleasure to read. This book is the second in the series which began with September Sky, a book I really enjoyed. If you have read September Sky, some of the beginning, in which the professor explains how time travel works and guides his protegees in their adventure into the past, will be familiar to you. This is good news to brand new readers, though, because you don’t have to have read September Sky to understand and enjoy Mercer Street.

In this book, three generations of women who have recently experienced tragedy are taking a much-needed vacation when they come across the eccentric professor. They slowly begin to believe his incredible stories and decide to take the professor up on his offer to send them back in time. The women travel to New Jersey in the late 1930s, with war brewing across the ocean. As Elizabeth, Susan, and Amanda begin to settle into their new but temporary life in the 30s, they are each faced with difficult decisions about how their past will affect their futures.

I must admit that I did not enjoy this book as much as I did its predecessor. Although I love World War II fiction, I enjoyed the lesser-known events of the previous book in the series. I’m also not a huge fan of romance, which takes up a lot of space in this book. However, the characters were well-written and interesting, and as always, Heldt has a gift for making the reader feel present in whatever era his characters end up in.

If you’re a fan of time travel historical fiction and you don’t mind a bit of romance with your story, you will love this book! I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment in this series.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Book Tour: Nicknames

Mary Geneva tells the tale of her crazy love life using nicknames for the many men who have come into and out of her life. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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There are a million bad dates in the city that never sleeps.

Mary Geneva has been on 999,999 of them.

When she moved to Manhattan in her mid-20s, Mary imagined being single in New York City would be like something out of a Hollywood movie. And it was—a horror movie.

Nicknames is a look at some of the most hopeless, horrendous, and frequently hilarious dates you can imagine. Mary shares her true-life adventures looking for Mr. Right in the treacherous New York dating scene. You’ll meet men so bizarre, their names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Our cast of characters includes:

● Crazy Eyes, who didn’t just resemble an escapee from the local mental hospital, but proved he probably belonged there

● James Bond, the mysterious South African with the secret life

● Germ Sperm, a guy so classy, he actually named himself Germ Sperm!

● And many, many, many more.

Part memoir, part self-help book, Nicknames will have you laughing out loud…and possibly abstaining from dating forever.

Note: I received a review copy of this book through Bliss Book Promotions in exchange for an honest review.

I requested this book expecting a fun and hilarious romp through somebody else’s love life (sounds kind of nosy when I put it that way, right?). And that’s what I got–to an extent.

In Nicknames, Mary Geneva lays bare her dating life, including all the crazy men she has met along the way. It’s a great premise, but unfortunately it just wasn’t for me. I’m a bit squeamish about reading sex scenes, and I clearly should have anticipated that there might be more than I could handle in a book about serial dating! Some of the stories are hilarious, but that wasn’t enough to make it enjoyable for me.

If you’ve just gotten out of a relationship, or you’ve dedicated years of your life to online dating, or you have some dating horror stories of your own, you’ll probably get a kick out of this book. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

You can find Nicknames on Goodreads or Amazon, and you can connect with the author on her website, Facebook, or Twitter @marygenevanyc.

 

ARCs: If I Speak True and Pity Isn’t an Option

These two very different books by Jessica L. Brooks struck me in very different ways. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received an audio copy of these books from the author in exchange for an honest review.

If I Speak True

Dahlia Kennedy’s sixteenth birthday marks a decade of mysterious dahlias arriving and strange, lonely dreams of being in a forest. The only difference this birthday, however, is that for the first time, someone is there with her. And he’s practically from a whole other era.

The more often Dahlia visits Rowan in his land of Ambrosia, the stronger their connection grows. But… is Ambrosia real? Is he real? What is going on between the two of them, exactly, and why does he insist that she keep it to herself?

As secrets usually go, however, it’s only a matter of time before everything comes out. And when Dahlia finds out the truth of who Rowan is, who she is, and how he really feels — it’s beyond anything she could have ever imagined. (Summary via Amazon.com)

I had a few problems with this book. First of all, I hated the narrator’s voice, which made it difficult for me to judge the book fairly on its content. I found the plot interesting–Dahlia finds herself crossing over into another world and becoming involved in its affairs–but the romance was just not my thing. My aversion to fantasy is well documented, but it wasn’t too bothersome to me in this book. Still, it just wasn’t my kind of story.

If you like YA fantasy romance, you’ll most likely enjoy this one. Just maybe don’t listen to the audio version.

Rating: Not My Cup of Tea

Pity Isn’t an Option

Seventeen year-old Jonas Norton is trying to come to terms with what his blood disorder has robbed from him, including his two most favorite things: basketball, and competing in Hatchet Racket, Wanless’ annual hatchet-throwing contest. The facts that his father works constantly to pay for his blood tests and Jonas can actually see the disappointment in his eyes for being such a failure only make matters worse. And even worse than all of that? Jonas’ own twin brother, Micah, is perfectly healthy and becoming quite the basketball player himself. Also, Hattie, the girl Jonas has loved for forever? She has no idea how he feels. Sixteen year-old Hattie Akerman lives down the hill from Jonas. Though her father, Heath, tries to hide his lack of mental clarity behind the bottle and she’s pretty much given up on having any kind of relationship with him, she would still rather her younger sister, Lucy, not have to deal with the consequences of his behavior. Hattie helps her mother by baking food to sell at Market and looking out for Lucy. No matter what the rest of the town says about her crazy father, Jonas sticks up for them. He is, by far, her very best friend. As if things aren’t complicated enough already, Heath and Micah are unexpectedly drafted into President Kendrick’s army (an army from which no one ever returns) just days before Thanksgiving. When Heath disappears instead of arriving at the Meeting Place to check in, Hattie and Jonas decide they’ve had enough, and take matters into their own hands. And though nothing could have prepared them for what happens next, Hattie and Jonas learn that hope can be seen in every situation. You just have to know where to look. (Summary via Amazon.com)

This book, on the other hand, I really enjoyed! Dystopian YA is much more my cup of tea, and I found the alternating sections between Jonas and Hattie to be wonderful. They were both well-rounded characters, and I felt sympathy toward both of them. Jonas is struggling to keep healthy while his parents work overtime to try to pay for his blood disease care. Hattie’s father is starting to lose his mind, and her mother is left to care for her two children on her own. Both characters work well together, and their families, though not perfect, are also interesting to read about.

My one regret from this book is that there wasn’t more description of the dystopian world in which they live. I think this is the first of a series, however, so there may be more in the books to come! I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series. (And I wouldn’t mind if this audio book narrator continued narrating the series.)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

31 Days of All Things Books by NewberyandBeyond.com
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My Introduction to Sarah Dessen

My first foray into the world of Sarah Dessen's books was only partly successful. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’ve been hearing a lot lately about Sarah Dessen’s brand new book, Saint Anything. I put the book on my TBR list but decided I wanted some insight into Dessen’s writing style before I checked it out. And… that may have been a mistake. I ordered the book duo How to Deal from Paperback Swap, because who doesn’t love a two-for-one deal? I didn’t find out until later that these two books, combined to form the plot for the Mandy Moore movie of the same name, were the first two Dessen published. And unfortunately, it shows.

The two books contained in this package are Someone Like You and That Summer. Neither of them really struck me, and I think part of the reason is that they’re dated. For example (slight spoilers ahead!), in Someone Like You, the main character’s best friend gets pregnant. With her boyfriend out of the picture, she must decide if she wants to keep the baby, all while continuing to navigate the dangers of high school. Meanwhile, the main character has to make the decision of whether or not to sleep with her own boyfriend, a bad boy character who is starting to get pushy. It’s a decent enough book, but I’ve seen this plot so many times before. Maybe when the book first came out, it was less of a cliche, but reading it in 2015 was a bit disappointing.

The second book, That Summer, I actually enjoyed a bit more. Fifteen-year-old Haven is having a tough summer, with her cheating father marrying his mistress, her mom contemplating big changes in her own life, and her difficult older sister planning a wedding of her own. With all of these pressures, Haven can’t help but think back to a better summer, when her family was intact and her sister was dating a boy who helped bring them all closer together. Unfortunately, she soon discovers that even these happy memories weren’t all they seemed. Although not much happens in this book, I still found it less predictable than Someone Like You.

On the whole, I’m not overly amazed by Sarah Dessen’s books so far. I’m hoping that I just picked the most boring ones to start with and that Saint Anything will be as wonderful as I keep hearing it is. Is there hope for me and Sarah Dessen? Do the books get better, or should I give up now?

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARC: Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything lived up to the hype--this book is incredible. #spon | A book review from NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster. (Summary via Amazon.com)

Before I picked up Everything, Everything, I had already heard mountains of good things about it. I couldn’t believe it was still available on NetGalley, so I immediately requested it and devoured it in one day. I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t say a word to my husband when he got home, because I was 85% of the way through the book! He had to wait patiently until I had finished the book, and I immediately began describing the whole plot to him. And then I told my sister and my sister-in-law and my bookish friends on Facebook that they absolutely had to read the book.

If you haven’t gathered already, I adored this book. It lived up to the hype 100%. I won’t describe too much of the story to you (unlike what I did to my poor husband), because part of the fun is discovering Maddy’s world for yourself. But here’s the gist of it: Maddy has a very rare immune disease that basically makes her allergic to everything. She lives in a bubble world, where her house is completely airtight, the only people allowed in and out are Maddy’s mom and her full time nurse, and Maddy is protected in a sterile room full of books and bland foods. But when Olly moves in next door, he starts communicating with Maddy, and, of course, they fall in love. With Maddy unable to leave her house, she must decide what it means to truly live.

The romance in this book was very sweet. I’m not usually into books centered on romance, but this one was pretty adorable and believable, and there was enough plot happening to keep it from getting sappy. The style of the book was also kind of unexpected–scattered throughout the book are Maddy’s drawings and worksheets, which are funny and/or cute additions to the plot. And the drama! Again, I usually don’t go in for drama like this book has, and I know a lot of people will dislike the ending of this book for that very reason, but somehow it worked for me.

For those who are squeamish about such things, there is a very short, vaguely described sex scene in this book. But please don’t let that deter you from reading it! It’s very easy to skim over if it makes you uncomfortable.

This book is recommended for fans of Rainbow Rowell and John Green, and having read both of these YA authors, I’d have to agree. Nicola Yoon provides a fresh, unexpected ride of a novel, and I can’t recommend it to you enough.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

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