BOOK REVIEW: The Sky Is Everywhere – by Jandy Nelson

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Title: The Sky Is Everywhere
Author: Jandy Nelson
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: March 9th 2010
Finished reading: December 29th 2015
Pages: 277
Rating 4qqq

“When he plays
All the flowers swap colors
And years and decades and centuries
Of rain pour back into the sky.”

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I have been wanting to read this novel ever since I finished I’ll Give You The Sun last April. Jandy Nelson has a way of writing her books that simply blows your mind: beautiful, creative, emotional, sad, funny… Her prose is a mix of all that and more. The Sky Is Everywhere is just as beautifully written as her other book. It is a terribly sad and emotional story where the main characters try to deal with Bailey’s dead; the musical elements and descriptions make this book into something truly exceptional. Why didn’t I give The Sky Is Everywhere the full five stars? I had one problem with this otherwise brilliant novel: the love triangle. I think I have become allergic to love triangles after reading too many YA novels and the Lennie-Toby-Joe triangle more than bothered me. Sure, grief can make you do unspeakable things, but still… I think I could have lived without that element. That said, if you like YA contemporary romance stories and don’t mind having to use a full box of tissues, make sure you read The Sky Is Everywhere!

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After her older sister Bailey dies suddently, seventeen-year-old Lennie doesn’t know what to do with herself. She is used to be on the background, a bookwork and clarinet player, but now has nobody left to hide behind… She lives with her grandmother and uncle ever since her mother left her daughters behind to wander the world; all three of them now stunned by their grief. Bailey’s boyfriend Toby keeps visiting the family as he tries to live with his loss… And Lennie and Toby both feel they are the only ones that really understand each other’s grief. Lennie tries to continue with her life and still goes to band practice, where she meets the new boy and musical talent Joe. They slowly get to know each other, but Lennie is confused about her feelings… Her grief blinding her from making proper decisions.

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The beautiful prose, musical elements and many descriptions and bits of Lennie’s writing truly make The Sky Is Everywhere into something special. I personally didn’t appreciate the love triangle, but the rest of this story is outstanding. It’s a really sad story that will probably bring tears to your eyes at some point, but this Jandy Nelson novel is without doubt worth reading if you like the genre. Recommended!

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BOOK REVIEW: My True Love Gave To Me – by Stephanie Perkins

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Title: My True Love Gave To Me
Author: Stephanie Perkins 
Genre: YA, Romance, Contemporary
First published: October 14th 2014
Finished reading: December 29th 2015
Pages: 336
Rating 3,5qqq

“He says presents aren’t important, but I think they are – not because of how much they cost, but for the opportunity they provide to say I understand you.”

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Another Christmas read I end up reviewing in January… Although I’m finally starting to catch up with my reviews! Since My True Love Gave To Me is actually a collection of twelve Holiday themed short stories, I’ve decided to to this review slightly different from my normal format and discuss every story separately. As a whole this bundle edited by Stephanie Perkins is without doubt an entertaining read and perfect for the Holiday season, although I did like some stories better than others. If you haven’t read this one yet and like themed reads, put this one on your December 2016 TBR! On to the separate stories…

Midnights by Rainbow Rowell. (4,5/5)
This is such an adorable little story to start the collection with, and also very Rainbow Rowell! Without doubt one of my favorites… Midnights is basically story about what happens between two teenagers on various New Years Eves.  It’s funny, it’s awkward, it’s adorable and very well written as well.

The Lady And The Fox by Kelly Link. (2,5/5)
Meh I didn’t particularly like this one. It was without doubt an original story with a touch of magical realism, but I can’t say I was put under its spell. This is one of those stories that might have worked better as a longer novella… Because I felt it lacked proper explanation and character development.

Angels In The Snow by Matt De La Peña. (3/5)
This one was better than the second story, but I can’t say I was a fan of the prose. The story itself is quite funny where the main character is cat sitting and doesn’t have money for food, and the only other person in the building is a girl his age with a broken shower… You get the idea. The story itself sounds interesting, but like I said, I didn’t particularly like how it was told.

Polaris Is Where You’ll Find Me by Jenny Han. (4/5)
Such a cute little story! I love the idea of a human being ‘rescued’ by Santa and living with the elves. I also like the fact that this story was different from the others and the fact that it took place on the North Pole. Original, interesting and adorable!

It’s A Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins. (4/5)
I enjoyed this story! It was sweet but not too sugary, and that is just how I like my Holiday themed reads. It’s about a girl who wants to ask a favor of a guy who sells Christmas trees and ends up buying a tree she doesn’t have room for… And he offers to help her organize her home.

Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan. (3,5/5)
This story was quite entertaining and I liked the glbt angle. I wasn’t 100% convinced by the prose, but I have had problems with his work in th epast. It’s a cute story though and perfect for the Holiday season; a boy who dresses up as Santa so he can convince his boyfriend’s sister that Santa is real.

Krampuslauf by Holly Black. (3,5/5)
This one was interesting enough, although not amazing. I liked the fantasy element in the story and the prose and descriptions… I have a feeling it would have worked even better as a longer story, because the characters sound interesting.

What The Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth? By Gayle Forman. (4/5)
Quite an entertaining story! Not the best of the lot, but definitely one of the better stories. I’m seeing a lot of race/religion/sexuality diversity in these short stories and I like it! I wasn’t completely convinced by the main characters, but it did made me crave winter food.

Beer Buckets And Baby Jesus by Myra McEntire. (3/5)
I can’t say this was a great story, but it was not that terrible either. I just wasn’t convinced by the general plot or actions… Although I know others loved this one. Somehow a boy who is in love with the pastor’s daughter and accidentally burns down the church just before Christmas is just a little too cheesy to my taste.

Welcome To Christmas, CA by Kiersten White. (4,5/5)
YESSS! Food AND Spanish?! I’m sold. If this isn’t my favorite story it would come a close second, because I really loved this one. A girl lives in a town called Christmas and works at a diner when a new chef arrives… And he is not only a great chef, but attractive as well. Cute, well written and the perfect Holiday read!

Star Of Bethlehem by Ally Carter. (3,5/5)
This was such a sad story! Well written like I would expect of Ally Carter (I loved reading All Fall Down last year) and definitely worth reading, even though it’s not one of my favorites of the bunch.

The Girl Who Woke The Dreamer by Laini Taylor (4/5)
This story confirmed to me that I really have to start the Daughter Of Smoke And Bone series soon, because I loved the prose. Very beautiful and such a creative worldbuilding for a short story. It was a little confusing and strange, but without doubt very interesting.

BOOK REVIEW: Let It Snow – by Maureen Johnson, John Green and Lauren Myracle

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Title: Let It Snow
Authors: Maureen Johnson, John Green, Lauren Myracle
Genre: YA, Romance, Contemporary
First published: October 2nd 2008
Finished reading: December 24th 2015
Pages: 352
Rating 3qqq

“Once you think a thought, it is extremely difficult to unthink it.”

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You know you’re terribly behind with your reviews if you have to review a Christmas themed read in January… Sigh. That said, it took me a long time to actually finish the three stories in Let It Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green and Lauren Myracle. The main problem with the first story was that I wasn’t exactly in the mood for this kind of read when I first picked up Let It Snow. The result: me being annoyed with Jubilee and a story so sweet it was giving me a tootache. The second time around I actually ended up enjoying The Jubilee Express, and it is my favorite of the three stories. (3.5 stars)  The second story, A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle, is a typical John Green story and unfortunately not one of my favorites. It almost felt like he was trying too hard to be funny and the whole cheerleader thing was really getting on my nerves… (3 stars) Things got worse though with the last story: The Patron Saint Of Pigs. That one is without doubt my least favorite of the stories and I REALLY disliked the main characters. (low 2.5 stars). I did appreciate the fact that all the stories are kind of connected with each other and I guess it is a pretty good Holiday themed read. But if I have to be honest, I would only recommend reading Maureen Johnson‘s (the first) story.

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In three different short stories written by Maureen Johnson, John Green and Lauren Myracle we read about the adventures of three different groups of teenagers after a storm on Christmas Eve buries the residents of Gracetown under multiple feet of snow. In the first, Jubilee has to travel to her grandparents after her parents were arrested in a very embarrassing incident. A storm takes her train by surprise and she ends up stranded in Gracetown with the rest of the train passengers… She braves the storm to a still open Waffle House and the rest soon follow. Soon various lives will be changed forever… Three friends also try to reach the Waffle House that night in a race. Whoever gets there first can stay and hang out with a group of cheerleaders that is also on the train. And more importantly, eat hash browns. Also the fate of a teacup pig will depend on a girl that can only seem to think about herself… And that is even more troublesome since she is currently very much lovesick after her (ex)boyfriend stood her up.

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Like I said above, I liked the fact that all stories were connected. Unlike with other short story bundles, this one almost felt like one big story. And I say almost, because you could see obvious quality difference between them. The first one is almost too sweet, but very well written and I actually liked the cliche ending. The John Green story was quite a disappointment and the constant repetition of the cheerleaders’ presence became seriously annoying. The last story was the worst; the main problem being the horrible main character. In short: what started off as a promising collection ended up getting worse as I continued reading… And I stick with my opinion that I only would recommend the first story.

BOOK REVIEW: The Raven Boys – by Maggie Stiefvater

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Title: The Raven Boys
(The Raven Cycle #1)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal
First published: September 1st 2012
Finished reading: December 21st 2015
Pages: 416
Rating 4qqq

The fact was, by the time she got to high school, being weird and proud of it was an asset. Suddenly cool, Blue could’ve happily had any number of friends. And she had tried. But the problem with being weird was that everyone else was ‘normal’.

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I have wanted to start The Raven Cycle for a long time now, but after not really enjoying The Wolves Of Mercy Falls I somehow held back. Such a shame, because I actually liked The Raven Boys a lot better! I’m not fangirling all over the place like a lot of people, but I cannot deny it’s a more than solid read and very entertaining. The biggest problem I had would probably be the love triangle, but it seems that those are hard to escape anyway when you want to read a YA novel… But still, whenever they appear it’s quite annoying. The prose was really easy to read though and the characters are quite likeable; my favorite would probably be Blue and not only for her name. I love quirky and strong main characters! And the only reason it took me so long to actually finish this novel by Maggie Stiefvater is that I didn’t really have a lot of free time to read at the time I read it… Because I really enjoyed The Raven Boys and I will definitely try to read the sequel soon. Recommended!

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It is tradition that Blue goes along with her mother to the churchyard every year as the soon-to-be-dead walk past. Blue doesn’t exactly has powers herself, but her clairvoyant mother can see them. This year, things are different though when a boy shows himself to Blue and speaks directly to her…  For years, every paranormally gifted person has predicted that when Blue shares a kiss with her true love, he will die. And now everybody at Blue’s house thinks the poor boy will be her victim. Blue doesn’t believe it, because she would never hang out with a ‘raven boy’, a student at the local private school Aglionby, in the first place because they always mean trouble. But somehow she meets a few raven boys anyway while she is working and things soon start to change… And Blue is suddenly having a hard time keeping up with her promise to stay away from boys.

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I still want to hit my head for not reading this series first, because I liked The Raven Boys a lot better than Shiver and its sequels. The characters are better developed and I liked the overall story better as well. Sure, the love triangle was a minor setback, but the whole mystery/paranormal element really made up for it. It’s a very entertaining read and I will be looking forward to the sequel!

BOOK REVIEW: Memories – by Lang Leav

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Title: Memories
Author: Lang Leav
Genre: Poetry, Romance, Contemporary
First published: October 6th 2015
Finished reading: December 19th 2015
Pages: 256
Rating 3qqq

“I have always thought of memories as fragments, like colored glass shards in a kaleidoscope. It is the source of great beauty in our lives, yet the cause of such heartache.”

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It had been too long since I last read poetry anyway, so when I needed to read a book of poetry to help complete a challenge I didn’t mind picking up Memories at all. I have written my share of poetry in the past and I really enjoy reading it in general as well. The poems and thoughts written by Lang Leav are without doubt interesting and some even have the same feel about them as those poems I wrote myself a few years back… But somehow these sad broken relationship poems couldn’t keep my attention right now. It might be the fact that I have been happily in love for the last three years, but the poems and thoughts started to feel melancholic and repetitive as I advanced in the book. This collection might be perfect for those who feel a little heartsick or a hopeless romantic, but I almost felt like I was ruining my reading experience by disagreeing and feeling that true love does exist (even if it sounds corny). It’s a well written collection though, so if you like the genre you might enjoy it a lot better than I did!

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Memories is a collection that consists of a mix of the best of Lang Leav’s previous work Lullabies and Love & Misadventure and quite a few new poems. This collection is illustrated by the author and all poems and thoughts have the same general theme: love. Lang Leav explores love and broken relationships in poems and thoughts full of emotion that will sound familiar to most of us.

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Lang Leav is able to describe situations and emotions most of us have felt at some point in our lives (unless you’re lucky enough to have happily married your first love). Her prose is both simple, emotional and beautiful and the only reason I couldn’t really connect to them because it’s simply hard for me to identify myself with sad/broken relationship poems right now. Memories is a treat though for those who enjoy the genre and don’t mind reading about bad relationship experiences and negative feelings!

ARC REVIEW: Rough Roads With Reckless Drivers – by Lara Pass

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Title: Rough Roads With Reckless Drivers
Author: Lara Pass
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Mystery
First published: October 30th 2015
Finished reading: December 18th 2015
Pages: 132
Rating 1,5qqq

“The colours of the house were dreary and grey with harsh lightting and dark shadows. The house seemed to reflect Anna’s mood and how she felt about being exiled to live with a father she never saw.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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When I was approached by Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd. with the question if I wanted to read and review Rough Roads With Reckless Drivers earlier this month, I immediately said yes because it sounded like an interesting short story. I really wanted to like this novel by Lara Pass. Unfortunately, I have to be honest and say I probably only finished this read so I could write a proper review about the problems I had with the story. First of all, Rough Roads With Reckless Drivers is supposedly a YA novel with teenagers fulfilling the roles as main characters. Nothing wrong with that, would you say, but the prose sounds painfully formal both for the target age and in the dialogue of the teenage characters themselves. And not only the tone is off, but the prose itself is quite annoying as well. I normally don’t add a lot of comments to my goodreads updates as I read, but in this case I had so many I decided to add them to my review:

goodreadsroughroadscomplaints  As for the bright/wide/big blue/green eyes: if I counted correctly, they were mentioned about 30! times in 132 pages. A bit of an overkill and seriously annoying, if you ask me. Another thing that bothered me is the slow pace and the fact that nothing really happens until you’re about 65% into the story. I honestly think I wouldn’t have made it to this point if Rough Roads With Reckless Drivers hadn’t been an ARC, because the first part is painfully boring and slow to read. The last part of the story has more potential, but the action feels rushed and the ending doesn’t make a lot of sense. I have the feeling this story could have been a lot more interesting if the focus and prose would have been different… Because as it is, neither the prose, plot nor the characters convinced me.

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After her parents separate Anna has been having trouble to settle down and make friends. Her mother doesn’t exactly have a stable life, and Anna decides to live with her dad for a time so she can focus on her school work. She doesn’t have a lot of contact with her dad because he is never around, so she feels quite lonely… But Anna convinced her mother she would be fine and promised to try and make friends at her new school. It’s not easy, but slowly Anna is starting to fit in and her new friend Holly helps to make her feel at home. Anna also meets a guy named Luke; annoying, but she cannot seem to get him out of her head. And when she decides to spend her Holidays at Holly’s place, things become really strange…

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I was looking forward to this read and I really wanted to like Rough Roads With Reckless Drivers. Unfortunately, I had a hard time finding something positive about this short story. I couldn’t really connect to the characters both because of the formal prose and unnatural dialogue. The pace was slow and the plot basically didn’t exist until the last part of the story. The last part had a lot of potential, if only it would have been introduced earlier and elaborated more… All in all a very unsatisfying read that I wouldn’t recommend.

BOOK REVIEW: The Happiness Project – by Gretchen Rubin

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Title: The Happiness Project
Author: Gretchen Rubin
Genre: Non Fiction, Self Help, Memoir
First published: December 29th 2009
Finished reading: December 16th 2015
Pages: 315
Rating 3qqq

“One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.”

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I normally quite enjoy reading memoirs, but honestly I’m really not that into self help books. I decided to pick up The Happiness Project anyway since I got a free paperback copy at a book exchange earlier this month. I actually quite enjoyed the first part… The idea of investing time and start a project to bring more happiness to your life sounds interesting, but unfortunately reading about Gretchen Rubin‘s own experience started to turn into something annoying after a while. I mean, she pretty much already had a great life before the project: an according to her handsome and succesful husband, two healthy little girls, a job she loves and a great home in NY. I don’t mind her wanting to be happier, but she did come over as a bit hypocrite in some chapters. I know some people see her as a great example, but I personally would have preferred reading about someone with a bigger and more genuine challenge. As far as the prose: it shows that Gretchen Rubin did a lot of research for her project and I liked that she incorporated blog comments in her chapters. Do I agree with everything she said? No. But I do believe the right person might benefit from at least part of her message.

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Gretchen Rubin was taking the same city bus as she always did when she had the realization that “the days are long, but the years are short”. She also realized she wasn’t as happy as she could be and wasn’t focusing enough on the things that really matter. Hence the happiness project was born, where she wanted to try and focus on improving a different aspect of her life each month. Every chapter tells the story of her adventures during a specific month, giving advice and contemplating both the good and bad parts. Novelty and challenge turn out to be powerful sources of happiness, money can help buy happiness when spent wisely and small changes can truly make the biggest difference… All those conclusions and more can be found in the happiness project.

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Gretchen Rubin had some very interesting ideas in her book, but I can’t say I agree with all of them nor do I think her already almost perfect ‘before’ situation is the best example of a ‘proper’ happiness project. Everybody has the right to be happier and I’m not saying she was wrong doing the project OR writing about it, but I didn’t like her tone in some chapters. Would I recommend this read? Only if you like self help books and are interested in the theme.