ARC REVIEW: Who We Were Before – by Leah Mercer

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Title: Who We Were Before
Author: Leah Mercer

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Drama
First published: October 1st 2016
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Finished reading: October 9th 2016
Pages: 256
Rating 3,5qqq

“I spend a lot of time inside my head. I like it there, blanketed from the world.”

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

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I requested a copy of Who We Were Before on whim from Netgalley some time ago. I’m normally not really into drama, but the blurb sounded interesting enough and I decided to give it a go anyway. It seems like yet again my intuition didn’t fail me, because this novel by Leah Mercer turned out to be an easy and fast-paced contemporary read. The ‘present/Paris’ chapters weren’t as strong as the ones set in the past, and I’m not quite sure they were all that believable either. I mean, it sounds pretty farfetched that someone like the main character Zoe can just wander around in a strange country all day without any money, and on top of that isn’t able to find her husband. That said, I enjoyed reading the chapters set in the past and it was interesting to learn more about how the two main characters first met and how it all started to go wrong… Poor little kid. The character development of both characters is very well done and they seem realistic (except for the chapters set in Paris like I mentioned before). In short, Who We Were Before is without doubt a fast-paced and interesting read for any contemporary romance/drama fan.

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It’s been two years, but both Zoe and Edward are still haunted by that terrible tragedy. Edward knows they should find a way to take healing steps together, but Zoe always seems to shut him out and he is tired. Zoe knows that it wasn’t really her fault, but she still blames herself for not being able to stop the car that killed their little son. And she cannot forget Edward’s bitter words at the time of the accident either… A weekend in Paris might be their last hope for reconciliation, but mischance sees them separated before they have even left the train station Gare du Nord. Edward and Zoe now must try and find their way back to each other and the way back to the people they were before, but is that even possible?

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If you are looking for a fast-paced and entertaining contemporary read, I can definitely recommend Who We Were Before. It has a healthy dose of drama and the character development is both well done and realistic. The story is easy to read despite the drama and the chapters set in the past are excellent. I had some minor issues with the credibility of the Paris chapters, but all in all it’s still a great read.

BOOK REVIEW: Leaving Time – by Jodi Picoult

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Title: Leaving Time
Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Paranormal
First published: October 14th 2014
Finished reading: May 13th 2016
Pages: 416
Rating 3,5qqq

“I think grief is like a really ugly couch. It never goes away. You can decorate around it; you can slap a doily on top of it; you can push it to the corner of the room—but eventually, you learn to live with it.”

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I personally hadn’t heard of this title before it was chosen as this month’s The Revolving Shelf book club read, but I wasn’t too worried about it since I really enjoyed reading Jodi Picoult‘s other novel The Storyteller last year. And while the plot of Leaving Time is completely different from that novel, I still very much enjoyed reading this story. The plot is basically a missing person (cold) case mixed with a dash of paranormal and a healthy dose of elephant facts. I have admired this stately animals ever since I was little, so I was very pleasantly surprised with the role they played throughout the story. Jenna’s mother Alice goes missing when she is little, and her mother’s study on elephant grief is relevant to both the elephants and human characters in the story. The chapters switch between the POV of different characters and are set both in the past and present. It takes a while to get a proper idea of what is really going on and it might slow down the pace quite a bit, but the ending is without doubt a surprise. The paranormal elements as well as the initial clash between two unlikely allies Virgil and Serenity make typical missing murder case a lot more interesting as well… In short Leaving Time is without doubt an interesting read and worth reading if you like the genre, although I still prefer her other novel The Storyteller.

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Jenna Metcalf’s mother Alice vanished when she was only three years old, and she has been trying to find out where her mother went ever since. Her grandmother doesn’t exactly encourage her, but that doesn’t stop Jenna from searching online, rereading her journals on studying grief among elephants and leaving no stone unturned. She decides it’s about time to take more drastic measures, and calls in the help of two unlikely allies. The first is Serenity Jones, a psychic for missing people who seems to have lost her gift after a big case went wrong. Serenity doubts her gift, but Jenna is determined to get her help anyway. The other is Virgil Stanhope, a PI with a complicated background who originally investigated the case when Alice first went missing. Virgil isn’t sure how he can help the girl either, but the three slowly start putting together the pieces of the past anyway… With a very surprising outcome.

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While I didn’t love Leaving Time as much as I thought I would, I still quite enjoyed reading this story. Some of the plot might not be all that credible, but I liked the mix of paranormal elements and a typical mystery read. The elephant info was a huge bonus, although I can understand why some people might see the many facts as something potentially boring or even annoying. It is without doubt something that is an acquired taste… The story has quite a few plot twists though and it has an ending you definitely won’t see coming!

BOOK REVIEW: Love Letters Of The Dead – by Ava Dellaira

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Title: Love Letters To The Dead
Author: Ava Dellaira
Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary
First published: April 1st 2014
Finished reading: May 10th 2016
Pages: 336
Rating 3qqq

“There are a lot of human experiences that challenge the limits of our language,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons that we have poetry.”

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I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about this book ever since it first came out, so it’s easy to say I was a bit hesitant to read it myself. To be honest I wasn’t sure whether to read this book at all… But since I already had an e-copy and it came up as one of my TBR jar picks, I decided to just give it a go and see how things turn out. Love Letters To The Dead didn’t end up being a particularly bad read, but I wasn’t blown away by it either. While the whole ‘chapters in the form of letters’ idea seems rather original, it does look quite similar to The Perks of Being A Wallflower. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but as always with a comparison there is a winner and a loser and things aren’t looking good for this Love Letters To The Dead. What I did enjoy is that the main character Laurel writes her letters to famous deceased people that are related to whatever happens in the story: Kurt Cobain, E.E. Cummings, Janis Joplin, Amelia Earhart, Amy Winehouse… Those elements (especially the music and poetry references) were a nice touch to an otherwise quite repetitive story. Because that is what the rest of the plot basically is: a repetition of the same letter idea where Laurel is trying to figure out how to deal with the death of her sister. Laurel blames herself for her death, although she takes a long time revealing why that is. This was actually quite annoying, both because it made the story drag and the actual plot twist was not that great either. (Why did she never tell anyone before?!) In short, while I liked some things of the story, there were other elements that made me enjoy this story a lot less than I would have hoped.

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Laurel has been struggling to deal with the death of her sister May, and even decided to go to a different high school to avoid the stares full of pity. Laurel blames herself for May’s death, but isn’t ready to tell the truth about what happened yet as much as she doesn’t really know how to grieve for May either. An English assignment marks the beginning of a journey where she starts writing letters to famous dead people about both her feelings and what happens to her during her days. Slowly Laurel starts to accept the past and how life can go on without May… Starting high school, new friendships, learning to live with the new family situation, falling in love; life does go on even after such a terrible experience. But how do you really mourn for someone you haven’t forgiven yet? Can Laurel finally make peace with what happened?

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I was almost afraid to read Love Letters To The Dead after hearing so many mixed opinions. And while I didn’t think it was a particularly bad read, I wasn’t blown away by it either… Some elements like the music and poetry references were really interesting, but others (repetitive plot, ‘big secret’ plot twist) made me enjoy this story a lot less than I thought I would. Would I recommend this novel by Ava Dellaira? With all those mixed reviews out there, I guess I would leave that up to your own decision.

BOOK REVIEW: Out Of My Mind – by Sharon M. Draper

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Title: Out Of My Mind
Author: Sharon M. Draper
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Contemporary, Middle Grade
First published: March 4th 2010
Finished reading: April 13th 2016
Pages: 320
Rating 4,5qqq

“Everybody uses words to express themselves. Except me. And I bet most people don’t realize the real power of words. But I do. Thoughts need words. Words need a voice.”

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I was not sure what to expect when I first picked up my copy of Out Of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, but I was more than pleasantly surprised with what I found. The main character Melody has spastic bilateral quadriplegia, also known as cerebral palsy, and her story has without doubt an inspiring message and should probably be made into an obligatory middle grade read. Out Of My Mind, not unlike another well known middle grade read with about the same theme Wonder, gives us the valuable lesson that being different or having a disability doesn’t mean that person should be discriminated or treated as a ‘lesser’ being; what really matters is what is on the inside and what that person CAN do. I agree that part of Melody’s story seems a bit farfetched; it’s hard to believe her parents or doctors didn’t think of a better way for her to communicate before with all the technology out there and famous cases like Stephen Hawking (he is even mentioned in the book itself). Still, since this book was ment as a middle grade read, I believe the focus should be on the story itself and the message it is trying to give… And I think Sharon M. Draper did a more than excellent job telling Melody’s story in a way that is both understandable for the age group, easy to read and even emotional at points. Melody’s character development is very well done, although the other characters do lack some dept (especially the ‘bad’ guys). Would I recommend reading this one? A definite yes, although I suggest keeping in mind the age group when you are reading it.

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Eleven-year-old Melody is probably one of the smartest kids in her whole school, absorbing every single fact she has ever heard or seen in her photographic memory. The thing is nobody actually knows it… Melody has spastic bilateral quadriplegia, also known as cerebral palsy, meaning she can’t talk, walk or write down what she wants to say. She is basically stuck inside her head and most people don’t realize what she is actually capable of, including her teachers and doctors… But Melody’s wish to finally speak up for herself may finally come true as she discovers something that will help her to speak for the very first time. Melody finally has a voice, but not everyone will be ready to hear it… Or accept the fact that Melody is a lot smarter than they thought she was.

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If you forget about the sometimes not so credible circumstances around Melody’s situation and lack of development of the characters around her, Out Of My Mind is without doubt an incredible read. The story is easy to read, has an inspiring message and the character development of Melody is very well done. I loved how she reacted in one of the final scenes at school! This story will probably stay with me for a long time and I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the genre, especially if you’ve read and enjoyed Wonder  by R.J. Palacio as well.

BOOK REVIEW: Where Things Come Back – by John Corey Whaley

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Title: Where Things Come Back
Author: John Corey Whaley
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
First published: May 3rd 2011
Finished reading: March 30th 2016
Pages: 228
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“I wanted the world to sit back, listen up, and let me explain to it that when someone is sad and hopeless, the last thing they need to feel is that they are the only ones in the world with that feeling. So, if you feel sorry for someone, don’t pretend to be happy. Don’t pretend to care only about their problems.”

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This book by John Corey Whaley has actually been recommended to me various times over the last few years, so when I finally found a copy I was one happy camper. Not only is the cover basically a mix of everything I love (black&white, blue and pretty fonts), I was also intrigued by the blurb of Where Things Come Back. And it might just be because of those high expectations, but I ended up being mostly underwhelmed by this read. First of all, the two completely different storylines were quite confusing and almost too distracting from the main event. It took a long time to understand how the two stories connected and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Closely related to this is the sheer amount of religious elements in Where Things Come Back. I’m not religious myself and although I normally don’t mind a mild dose of religious talk in a story, in this case I felt it became too preachy. I know this is highly personal and I’m by no means saying this is a bad read because of it, but the religious talk did cause me to enjoy this story a lot less than I thought I would. I couldn’t really connect to the main characters either, but I have to admit that the pace was fast and the mystery around Gabriel’s disappearance intriguing. Would I recommend this book? Yet, but approach with caution for the reasons I mentioned above.

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Cullen thinks he is about to have another boring summer in his small and dull Arkansas town before he starts his senior year, but things turn out to be quite different. He goes through a rollercoaster of emotions as his cousin overdoses and his aunt doesn’t know how to deal with his son’s death… And his town is no longer dull as allegedly an extinct woodpecker seems to have reappeared near it. The whole town becomes obsessed with the little bird, with no exception of his fame-seeking neighbor. But the most shocking fact of all is that his sensitive and gifted younger brother, Gabriel, suddenly disappears one day. Cullen is desperate to find his missing brother and hold his fragil family together… All this while somehow finding an explanation to it all. What about the bird that everyone seems to be looking for? And what does a young and disillusioned missionary in Africa has to do with all of this?

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I had high hopes for Where Things Come Back and I’m starting to believe this book simply isn’t for me, because it isn’t necessarily a bad read. The story reads fast and the whole mystery around Gabriel’s disappearance is intriguing. I personally didn’t actually like the main characters, the fact that the two storylines didn’t seem to connect for too long OR the religious elements, but I can also see why others might really enjoy this story by John Corey Whaley. So if you were interested in this book before reading this review, make sure to give it a try anyway.

BOOK REVIEW: Apple And Rain – by Sarah Crossan

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Title: Apple And Rain
Author: Sarah Crossan
Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction, Romance
First published: August 14th 2014
Finished reading: March 29th 2016
Pages: 330Rating 3qqq

“Poetry can teach us about ourselves. It can comfort us when we are in despair. It can bring joy. But not only that…it can open us up. It can make our worlds bigger and brighter and clearer. It can *transform* us.”

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I read Sarah Crossan‘s One not that long ago and I was really impressed by both the prose (the whole book is written in verse) and the story itself. So when I was looking for something good after a few disappointing reads, I remembered I had a copy of Apple And Rain waiting for me on my shelves. I started reading it expecting it to be similar to One, and that is probably part of the reason why I didn’t enjoy it that much. Rather than a full story written in verse, Apple And Rain is a story about poetry with only a few poems incorporated in the text. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I wasn’t particularly impressed by the story itself. I did like the poems, but the plot, prose and characters are not exactly inspiring. I understand the main character Apple is quite young and that explains part of the ‘childish feel’ of the book, but I can’t say I liked her and most of the plot is a bit farfetched. Rain with her doll, Apple’s mother, Apple herself… I just didn’t feel it. I know other people seemed to enjoy Apple And Rain though, so don’t let this review discourage you if you think you would enjoy it.

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When Apple was still a little girl, her mother decided to leave her on a stormy Christmas Eve because she just couldn’t take it anymore. Apple has been living with her grandmother ever since, always secretly hoping her mother would return one day. Her grandmother is quite strict and doesn’t stop treating her as a child even as Apple grows up, somehow afraid Apple will turn out as her mother… Only pushing Apple right back into her mother’s arms when she suddenly returns after eleven years away without a word. Apple’s love for her mother makes her blind and she doesn’t see the signs for trouble… And soon she will meet someone who is even more lost than she is.

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The general idea behind Apple And Rain is interesting even though it’s not that original, and I really liked the poetry bits. Those parts would have gotten 4 stars, but unfortunately I wasn’t blown away by the rest of it. The plot, prose and characters didn’t manage to convince me and most of it just didn’t feel credible. It is a really fast read though and has some interesting insights on poetry, so don’t discard it if you think you might like it. Still, I would definitely recommend reading One first if you haven’t already.

BOOK REVIEW: One – by Sarah Crossan

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Title: One
Author: Sarah Crossan
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Poetry
First published: August 27th 2015
Finished reading: March 4th 2016
Pages: 400
Rating 4qqq

“‘No one is whole,’ I told him.
‘Everybody is missing pieces.'”

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I was browsing my TBR pile for a book featuring strong familial relationships the other day and this novel by Sarah Crossan sounded like the perfect match. What I didn’t know or expect was that the whole story is written in verse! I don’t read or know a lot about poetry, but that doesn’t take away that I can really appreciate it when it’s done in the right way. The free verse used in One made me fly through the pages and really connect to the main characters. The plot itself is interesting and tells us the story of two girls, Grace and Tippi, who were born joined at the waist. Through the voice of Grace, Sarah Crossan is able to address a lot of prejudices about conjoined twins. It is interesting to see how other people react to Grace and Tippi and how both twins are fighting to have their own identity. If you are looking for a good contemporary realistic fiction read and don’t mind reading it in free verse, One is without doubt a very good choice.

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Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins who are joined at the waist. When they were little, they were told they wouldn’t be able to live for long, but the two sisters are now sixteen and still going strong. They share everything, but both girls have different dreams and wishes as well. When you’re a conjoined twin, you don’t exactly have privacy, but still Grace and Tippi would never want to be apart either. Unfortunately, something seems to be wrong with Grace even though she doesn’t want to admit it… She doesn’t tell even Tippi, but how long can she hide the truth? There might be a choice waiting for them in the future neither of them wants to make…

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This novel by Sarah Crossan surprised me, but in a really good way. I was expecting just another contemporary/realistic fiction read, but when I opened One to the first page I was confronted by free verse. I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I enjoy reading it in general especially when it’s well written like in this case. The prose made me fly through the pages and both the characters and the plot are really interesting. If you are looking for an interesting and original read, make sure to consider One!