BOOK REVIEW: After You – by Jojo Moyes

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Title: After You
(Me Before You #2)
Author: Jojo Moyes
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary
First published: September 23rd 2015
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Finished reading: December 29th 2016
Pages: 353
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“Sometimes I look at the lives of the people around me and I wonder if we aren’t all destined to leave a trail of damage.”

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I know, I know, I should have known not to read the sequel after I discovered that Me Before You didn’t really live up to my expectations last year. It’s not the first time I end up disappointed by hyped books, although I’m not saying the first book is a bad read either… After You however seemed to be a totally unnecessary sequel to what should have been a perfectly good and closed ending. I can understand why fans of the first book would be devastated to have its magic broken by such a mediocre and uninspiring follow-up. I picked up After You mostly because I already had a copy of it and it would mean one less series on my still-to-finish list. But to be honest, I kind of would have preferred not reading it at all. Unlike the first book, the plot in After You is rather weak, cliche and felt forced. Sure, it’s a fast read and the prose is easy to read, but I just felt something was missing… The fact that Lily is a completely obnoxious and highly annoying character doesn’t really help either. In short, would I suggest reading this sequel? I don’t think so, because I’ve heard a lot of actual fans feeling really disappointed by this sequel as well. Read at your own risk!

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WARNING: Possible spoilers! Please don’t read this summary if you haven’t read the first book yet. I’ll keep the summary super short but it’s impossible to keep it completely spoiler-free…

After the most recent events, Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. Her time with Will Traynor has transformed her, and she is struggling to continue her life without him. After she has a very serious accident in her new home in London, she is forced to return home to her family. There she is confronted again with her past and she feels she’s right back where she started… Louisa knows she needs to find a way to start living again, but that’s easier said than done. Will she be able to move on and create a new future for herself?

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I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the After You sequel in the past, and now I’ve read it I can join the crowd. I personally wasn’t blown away by Me Before You, but I can’t deny it was still a solid read and I understand why so many people love it. I have no such feelings for the sequel though. It felt the story was more build around the success of the first book rather than a proper plot, and the whole thing  simply felt unnecessary and forced. I can see why so many fans felt cheated by After You

BOOK REVIEW: Anna And The Swallow Man – by Gavriel Savit

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Title: Anna And The Swallow Man
Author: Gavriel Savit
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
First published: January 26th 2016
Publisher: Knopf
Finished reading: August 25th 2016
Pages: 240
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“Because,” said the swallow man. “A friend is not someone to whom you give the things you need when the world is at war. A friend is someone to whom you give the things that you need when the world is at peace.”

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Ok, here’s the thing: I normally love historical fiction and I have a special interest in WWII stories. As soon as I heard about this novel by Gavriel Savit, I just knew I had to add it to my wishlist. Unfortunately Anna And The Swallow Man didn’t seem to convince me and I honestly struggled to finish it. The idea behind this story is interesting and I liked both the linguistic references and how languages were described; they really woke the inner philologist nerd in me. That said, I found that the tone was all off and I didn’t like the prose itself. It just didn’t seem to fit the middle grade target at all… I also wasn’t convinced by the magical realism elements in Anna And The Swallow Man. I guess this ones just one of those cases were magical realism just didn’t do it for me and I don’t think the target group would be able to fully understand its meaning either. In short, while the linguistic and historical references were interesting enough, the prose and surreal elements made me enjoy this story a lot less.

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Anna Lania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father in 1939 during the purge of intellectuals in Poland. Her father is a linguistics professor and has a gift for languages: he can speak many languages fluently and Anna has been a willing student. Now he is taken away, Anna is left alone. She then meets the Swallow Man. He is a complete mystery… A strange and tall man, a skilled deceiver and a language expert not unlike her father. Anna knows he is in danger of being taken as well, but the Swallow Man seems to have some tricks up his sleeve. Because when German soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see. Anna is entranced, and decides to follow the him into the wilderness.  And they encounter all kind of dangers during their travels together…

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I was really looking forward to this read, but unfortunately it mostly turned out to be a disappointment. I guess that one of the dangers of reading a story with magical realism elements is that it can go both ways, and in the case of Anna And The Swallow Man it just didn’t work for me. And while I liked some of the other elements, I’m not sure if I can actually recommend this book…

BOOK REVIEW: The Hired Girl – by Laura Amy Schlitz

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Title: The Hired Girl
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Religion
First published: September 8th 2015
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Finished reading: July 23rd 2016
Pages: 400
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“But I think the most important thing those books gave me was a kind of faith. My books promised me that life wasn’t just made up of workaday tasks and prosaic things. The world is bigger and more colorful and more important than that.”

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The Hired Girl was my latest TBR jar choice and quite a fortunate pick, since I already planned to read it for the When Are You Reading? Challenge anyway because of its historical 1910s setting. I normally really enjoy reading historical fiction, but unfortunately I wasn’t impressed by this story by Laura Amy Schlitz. Most people seem to love The Hired Girl though, so I guess this will be yet another unpopular opinion review… First things first, I can’t deny the historical setting is well executed and I liked that the prose matched the era. The descriptions and prose in general show that the author has investigated the era thoroughly and used the terms appropriate for the 1910s. This was probably the strongest feature of The Hired Girl, because the rest didn’t manage to convince me. While the first part is interesting enough (even though the first chapters are a bit dull) and the descriptions are great, the story takes a strong religious turn later on. I don’t mind religion in a story as long as it doesn’t have a strong presence, but in The Hired Girl it was just too much for me to enjoy. The fact that I didn’t like the main character in general didn’t really help either. I know a lot of people seem to love Joan, but she was too naive and later on even whiny for me to grow closer to her despite her love for books. During most of the book this unlikeable character still wasn’t too much of a problem, mostly because of the interesting historical setting. Unfortunately the last part of this story was full of strongly religious dialogue and cheesy romance; ending up ruining the reading experience for me. I know I’m in the minority for not enjoying The Hired Girl though, so you might enjoy this historical fiction story a lot better than I did.

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After her father decided that his fourteen-year-old daughter Joan can attend school no longer because she is needed at home, Joan has no longer an escape from the hard work at Steeple Farm. Her mother died years ago and her father and brothers don’t exactly treat her well; the dreams of her mother (and Joan herself) for her to become a teacher seem to have evaporated. How will she ever escape the neverending and dull work at the farm? Miss Chandler used to be a teacher and gave her a diary, telling her she should write to practice. Joan pours her heart out into the diary and decided to seek a new and better life for herself despite better judgement. Maybe escaping the farm, traveling to the city and working as a hired girl cleaning and cooking for a family will finally help her improve her chances of a better future?

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The historical setting and well researched descriptions and prose are without doubt the best feature of The Hired Girl. I especially liked the Rosenbachs and what they added to the story; the descriptions of their household were really intriguing. I can’t say I liked the main character Joan though. I understand she is still really young, but instead of endearing I found Joan mostly annoying, naive and even whiny at points. And then I’m not even talking about the romantic blabbering and strongly religious dialogue in the last part… I really wanted to enjoy The Hired Girl, but this novel just wasn’t for me.

BOOK REVIEW: The Neverland Wars – by Audrey Greathouse

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Title: The Neverland Wars
Author: Audrey Greathouse
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Retelling
First published: May 9th 2016
Publisher: Clean Teen Publishing
Finished reading: July 20th 2016
Pages: 302
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“People think that only the serious is important. They forget how essential it is to remain whimsical.”

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I have to confess I’m confused. Did I miss something and The Neverland Wars is actually the first book of a series? Because I really had the feeling the actual story was still missing after I reached the final page. I mean, for a book that is called the Neverland WARS, there isn’t much explained about this supposed war between the children and adults… And the story kind of ended right when it was starting to become interesting. I have to be honest and say I wasn’t really impressed by this book, and even thought of DNFing it once or twice. The first part had quite a slow pace and the prose/tone really bothered me. For a teenager not wanting to grow up, Gwen sounds awfully dull and ‘adult’. Just to give an example:

“Absorbed in their own antics, the young children did not much care as Gwen slunk away from the table. They continued boisterously, but she crept through the forest, stepping softly with her bare feet.”

Tell me I’m wrong when I say this doesn’t sound like YA appropriate prose. And definitely when it’s supposed to be about a teenager that doesn’t want to grow up… The tone just feels all wrong and the prose is ‘distant’ and doesn’t seem age-appropriate.  I agree things become better once they are in Neverland, but it didn’t stop bothering me. I wasn’t really a fan of Gwen in general, although I liked the general idea behind The Neverland Wars of an older Peter Pan and a teenager being torn between average teenage life and Neverland. I just wish the plot itself would have made more sense; less cliche teenage life and more Neverland magic, and of course more focus on the war itself. I kind of hope there will be a sequel focusing on the war… Because that truly was the most interesting part of this retelling.

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Gwen is just like any normal sixteen-year-old girl with a place on the debate team and a crush on the soon-to-be homecoming king. She doesn’t really want to grow up, but doesn’t really believe in magic either… And she definitely didn’t know her little sister Rosemary could actually run away with Peter Pan, or that magic does really exist. Because that is exactly what  did end up happening, and Gwen soon finds herself chasing after her little sister so she can bring her home safe. But Neverland is without doubt a magical place, and Gwen is starting to like it there even though she feels out of place as a teenager. And her sister doesn’t seem to want to leave either. Gwen will have to make the difficult choice whether to stay in Neverland or return to reality, and the war isn’t making things easier.

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I was really looking forward to this Peter Pan retelling, but unfortunately The Neverland Wars didn’t live up to expectations. I enjoyed the part that was set in Neverland and the descriptions of the fictional place, but I wasn’t too convinced by the plot itself. I wish there would have been more about the war and less about Gwen and her cliche teenage life… Because that is what would have made this read truly interesting. And I think I have already made it clear I wasn’t convinced by the prose/tone either.

ARC REVIEW: We Awaken – by Calista Lynne

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Title: We Awaken
Author: Calista Lynne
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal
Publish Date: July 14th 2016 
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Finished reading: June 27th 2016
Pages: 180
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“You know your sexuality isn’t set in stone. There are more things than just gay or straight. ”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Harmony Ink Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I was immediately intrigued when I first saw the cover and read the blurb, so when I was able to get a review copy at Netgalley I decided to read We Awaken straight away. This novel by Calista Lynne has the promise of a realistic fiction story with a paranormal touch and main characters exploring their asexuality. Especially the last part caught my attention, since asexuality isn’t something that has been written about often in YA novels as far as I am aware. And I think this interesting topic is probably the strongest feature of We Awaken, because I found the other elements kind of lacking. The story had a fast pace, the prose was easy to read and I liked the descriptions of the dream world in the beginning. I also liked the general idea behind the plot, but I wish there would have been more focus on the after effects of the accident and the dream world itself and less on the romantic scenes. Because if I have to be honest, the romantic elements are what most bothered me about this story. First of all, the relationship between Victoria and Ashlinn felt too much like insta-love; their relationship evolved so quickly that it just wasn’t credible anymore, especially for a confused teenage girl who hasn’t had any previous experience with love. The romantic babbling between the two definitely made me enjoy this story a lot less, and the scenes mostly felt awkward, forced and unnatural. The exploration of asexuality is actually quite well done, but I felt it was kind of buried under the other romantic scenes/dialogues. I probably would have liked the story a lot better if there would have been a better balance between the actual plot and romance scenes, because both Victoria’s life and the idea of two ‘creatures’ creating dreams and nightmares sound truly intriguing.

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After her father died in a car accident last year and the same accident left her brother in a coma, Victoria Dinham feels like she doesn’t have much left to look forward to. The only thing that keeps her going is her dream of being accepted into the Manhattan Dance Conservatory… But then, just before the audition in New York, an otherworldly girl named Ashlinn visits Victoria in her dream with a message from her comatose brother, claiming the two are friends. Ashlinn has the task of creating pleasant dreams for humans, while her counterpart creates nightmares… And soon Victoria finds herself looking forward more and more to her dreams with Ashlinn. In Victoria’s mind the two are starting to become close, and she is finally able to understand herself and her sexuality better with the help of the asexual Ashlinn. And then, when Victoria needs Ashlinn’s help outside the realm of dreams, she suddenly appears in front of Victoria in human form… But aren’t dreams too good to supposed to last forever?

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There is no doubt that the general idea behind the plot of We Awaken is very interesting, and I really liked the fact that it incorporates a topic that you don’t come across often in YA fiction novels: asexuality. Like I said before, that is probably the strongest feature of We Awaken, because unfortunately the story itself didn’t live up to my expectations. There was so much focus on the romance scenes that the balance with the main plot was lost, and the romance itself felt mostly unnatural, not really credible and awkward. The pace is fast though and romance fans might still really enjoy this read.

BOOK REVIEW: Dumplin’ – by Julie Murphy

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Title: Dumplin’
Author: Julie Murphy
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
First published: December 22nd 2015
Finished reading: May 15th 2016
Pages: 375
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“I hate seeing fat girls on TV or in movies, because the only way the world seems to be okay with putting a fat person on camera is if they’re miserable with themselves or if they’re the jolly best friend. Well, I’m neither of those things.”

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This novel by Julie Murphy has been recommended numerous times to me in the past and I was excited to finally read it. But while I really wanted to like this story, Dumplin’ has turned out to be yet another ‘unpopular opinion’ book. And it’s not like I shouldn’t be able to connect with the main character, because basically I have been struggling with my weight myself during most of my life (especially during high school)… But I don’t think this story actually portrays the image body positivity it seems to be wanting to promote. First of all, the main character Willowdean is actually quite a bitch. It is one thing to accept your body and try to be immune what others might say to you, but that doesn’t mean she has to treat the people close to her the way she does. Also, the fact that her own mother consistantly calls her Dumplin was quite annoying; how disrespectful can you be towards your own kid?! Dumplin’ was also packed with stereotypes, I wasn’t sure what to think of the whole cliche Miss Clover City beauty pageant in the first place and like I said before: there was a lot of unnecessarily bullying and negative comments involved that didn’t exactly show that teenagers should just accept their bodies. To make things even worse: there was even an completely unnecessary love triangle included in this story. The horror! Having two boys pining over Willowdean doesn’t make her seem more popular or shows she is ‘ready’ to accept who she is. And I’m not even talking about they way she treats them. So as you might have guessed, even though Dumplin’ was quite a fast read and had an interesting premise, I can’t exactly say I enjoyed it. This seems to be one of those books you either love or hate though, so don’t give up on it if you think you might enjoy it.

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Willowdean Dickson has always accepted her body as it is, even though not even her own mother and former beauty queen mom might not feel the same. Dumplin had inspiration closeby: her own aunt always tried to show her that she shouldn’t let other people stop her from doing the things she wants just because of her weight. Together with her best friend Ellen things have always seemed fine, but things change when Will takes a job at the local fast-food joint Harpy’s. One of her new collegues is the attractive Bo, and to Will’s surprise he seems to be interested in her as well. She doesn’t know what to make of his intentions and starts doubting herself… And to make things worse: she and Ellen seem to be slowly growing apart. What happens next might change Will’s life forever: she decides to enter the same Miss Clover City beauty pageant her own mother won in the past to show that she deserves to participate as much as those other girls. But is it really worth it?

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I really wanted to enjoy Dumplin’, but now I’ve read it I don’t think it is actually worth the hype. The main character isn’t exactly likeable and I don’t like the way Willowdean treated the others OR the way the ‘unlikely’ contestants were treated. Add the many stereotypes, unnecessary bullying, negative comments and annoying love triangle to the mix and there just wasn’t any other conclusion possible than that I wasn’t convinced by this story. I know many people love this book, but unfortunately I wasn’t one of them.

BOOK REVIEW: Daughter Of Smoke & Bone – by Laini Taylor

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Title: Daughter Of Smoke & Bone
(Daughter Of Smoke & Bone #1)
Author: Laini Taylor
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance
First published: September 27th 2011
Finished reading: May 8th 2016
Pages: 418
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“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”

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Warning: unpopular opinion ahead. I think I have lost count of the times this series has been recommended to me ever since I first started my blog. I’ve had a copy of Daughter Of Smoke & Bone on my TBR pile for a long time, and the main reason I finally decided to pick it up was that it came out as the winner of the which series should I read next? poll. One of the things of starting such a popular series is that it can both ways; and I kind of have an ‘unpopular opinion’ reputation when it comes to hyped books in the first place. And guess what? Daughter Of Smoke & Bone turned out to be one of them. And trust me, I feel I have been nice with the rating, because I had a STRONG dislike for the second half of this book and even thought about just DNFing it. Why? First of all, let me make it clear that I loved the first part of the story. The worldbuilding is great and I simply loved Laini Taylor‘s prose and descriptions of both the different cities and the magical elements. Karou starts out like such an interesting character as well; it’s so easy to connect to her and really made the first part into something special. But then Akiva showed up… And just as I already was afraid of, he turned out to be one of those typical pretty boy male love interests. Insta-love, forbidden love similar to Romeo & Juliet, sappy romance scenes and dialogue, a strong female character falling in love with the pretty boy and completely loses her original charm… What a way to ruin a story with so much potential! I already have a copy of the sequel, but I’m really worried about actually reading it now… Because (the second part of) Daughter Of Smoke & Bone definitely wasn’t for me.

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Karou seems to be just another young art student living in Prague, but there is more to her than what meets the eye. People believe the monsters in her sketchbooks are a figment of her imagination, but is that really true? And what about the fact that she is able to speak multiple languages perfectly, disappears often on mysterous errands and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that way? Karou has seen things most humans haven’t, growing up in a hidden shop where the chimaera Brimstone collects teeth of all sizes he uses for who knows what afterwards. He never seems to want to answer questions about her past, but it seems like she won’t be waiting much longer before she finds out the truth… Mysterious winged strangers mark the different doorways to Brimstone’s world with black hand prints; marking the beginning of the end… And Karou soon has to fight to stay alife. She crosses paths with the beautiful haunted Akiva, who seems to be just as curious to find out what Karou really is. He should and could have killed her, but something makes him decide otherwise… What will happen to them?

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Like I said, I loved the first part of Daughter Of Smoke & Bone and the story was well on its way to being added to my list of all time favorites. Then Akiva appeared and the story was turned into a Romeo and Juliet spin off… And I lost my interest completely. I know it’s almost impossible to avoid romance in a YA fantasy series nowadays, but after such a promising start I was really REALLY disappointed with the road this story took. I was browsing my kindle quotes for this review, and the sheer amount of sappy love quotes made me want to vomit… I know just about everybody seems to love this series and I’m glad, but unfortunately I’m not one of them.