ARC REVIEW: Heartborn – by Terry Maggert

Title: Heartborn
Author: Terry Maggert

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance
First published: September 1st 2016
Finished reading: May 28th 2017
Pages: 238

“Sometimes, she thought books had been the only thing other than the love her parents that kept her from quitting. They were old friends who never left, and always took her by the hand to go someplace her broken body could not.”

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

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I haven’t read all that many books about angels before and I was intrigued by both the cover and blurb when I first heard about Heartborn. What I didn’t realize until later is that this is actually the first book of a series… And that’s probably why I was kind of surprised when I reached the last page of this story. Heartborn definitely ends right when things are starting to make more sense and the story was becoming more interesting. This was one of the main things I was struggling with as I was reading this story: the credibility of it all and the lack of worldbuilding/descriptions of the word the angels live in. I liked that Heartborn is a story that is a mix of the ‘real’ world and the fantasy, linked together through the characters, and it definitely made the story more interesting. But even though I liked Livvy’s character (‘real’ world) in general, I had serious doubts about her reactions to everything. I mean, she somehow takes the news of a completely foreign world being out there somewhere without even a complaint or thinking twice? And she just accepts and gobbles up everything Keiron and the others say without completely freaking out? Not credible at all. And then I’m not even talking about the insta-love happening somewhere in the middle.  Also, I can’t go into details without spoilers, but let’s just say that I felt there was a lack of balance in the plot; some parts felt rushed and lacked explaining, while others started to drag. The ‘angel’ chapters were interesting enough, but I would have liked to see more details and worldbuilding to properly enjoy them. This fantasy world has a lot of promise, but didn’t reach its full potential for me. All in all not as good as I would have hoped it would be.

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Livvy Foster was born with only half a heart, and has somehow completely surprised everyone and survived to reach her seventeenth birthday. Life hasn’t been easy on her and she bears the scars to prove it; forced to live slow as to not damage further her already weak heart. She has only just started working in the library when she meets Keiron. What she doesn’t know is that there is a whole lot more about him than just another library visitor… Because he has come from a place far away, a guardian angel pushed from high above with a mission to save her. What will happen to the two?

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Now I’ve read Heartborn I can’t deny there is a lot of potential in this story, and it’s a shame the fantasy world has been described only so briefly. An extra 100 pages or so would have helped develop their world better and that would probably help enjoying this story a lot better. I also had problems with the credibility of it all, mostly due to Livvy’s reactions to so many (for her) shocking details. The final part of the story also felt a bit rushed and the ending abrupt. All in all a lot of potential, but in the end it just didn’t work for me.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Five Stages Of Andrew Brawley – by Shaun David Hutchinson

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Title: The Five Stages Of Andrew Brawley
Author: Shaun David Hutchinson

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: January 20th 2015
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Finished reading: February 14th 2017
Pages: 297
Rating 3,5qqq

“I realize that adults are just as fucked as the rest of us. No one really grows up. No one unravels all of life’s many mysteries. They just grow up older and become better liars.”

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The Five Stages Of Andrew Brawley has been on my TBR pile for a while now, and recently my TBR jar thought it would be about time to finally pick it up. I still posponed it for way too long, but I’m glad I finally gave it a go in the end. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first picked up this novel by Shaun David Hutchinson, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. True, some of the story was a bit too weird to my taste, but in general I enjoyed reading it. The Five Stages Of Andrew Brawley is part graphic novel, part GLBT contemporary romance and part magical realism (which includes all the weird parts). I don’t mind a touch of surrealism, but the whole Death thing and even the main character Andrew himself made me raise my eyebrows more than once. I also had some difficulties with the credibility of part of the plot. I mean, how on earth is Andrew to be able spend so much time at the hospital without raising suspicions? And what about the total disregard of protocol and protection of the seriously ill characters/friends when Andrew banters into their rooms and even takes some out of the ward? Health risk much? That said, I can’t deny it’s an entertaining and original read and I really liked the graphic novel bits with patient F.

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Andrew Brawley was supposed to die that night his parents and sister passed away. But he survived, and he now lives in the hospital. He serves food in the cafeteria, is friends with the nurses and sleeps in a forgotten supply closet. Nobody knows who he really is and I tries to hide his past from everyone. Because if Death finds him, she will take him too. Then one night Rusty is wheeled into the ER, a teenager with half of his body burned by hateful classmates. Andrew feels a strange connection to Rusty, and decides he needs to protect him from Death. Because Death is always looking for her next victim, and Andrew refuses to lose Rusty too.

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I like that The Five Stages Of Andrew Brawley is actually a mix of different genres that work quite well together. The surreal elements were a bit too weird to my taste, but there is no denying they were original. The contemporary romance bit can be a bit cheesy at points, but I liked the dynamics between the main characters in general. I’m still wondering about the title though, because the supposedly ‘five stages’ weren’t mentioned anywhere… The graphic novel bits were definitely a highlight though and I liked how the pages were incorporated into the rest of the story. All in all a very interesting read!


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ARC REVIEW: Making Faces – by Amy Harmon

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Title: Making Faces
Author: Amy Harmon

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: October 12th 2013
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Finished reading: January 28th 2017
Pages: 405
Rating 5qqq

“I don’t think we get answers to every question. We don’t get all the whys. But I think when we look back to the end of our lives, if we do the best we can, and we will see that the things we begged God to take from us, the things we cursed him for, the things that made us turn our backs on him, are the things that were the biggest blessings, the biggest opportunities for growth.”

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

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It’s been over two weeks since I finished reading Making Faces and I still find it difficult to put my thoughts properly on paper. It doesn’t happen all that often, but Amy Harmon was able to give me another book hang over with this little masterpiece. I’m ashamed to admit I have only recently discovered her work, but I’ve already become addicted to her lovely prose and diverse plots. Making Faces is no exception. I had already heard great things about this book and I basically broke down the request button as soon as I saw it was available at Netgalley. All the raving reviews were absolutely right: this story is simply brilliant. I fell in love with both the characters, writing style and plot and this story will definitely stay with me for quite some time. Sure, some of it might be a little cheesy if you think about it critically. But if you have characters like Fern, Bailey and Ambrose, it is really easy to put those thoughts aside. I loved the war veteran elements as well; it’s such an important topic and definitely deserves more attention, especially as they are often misunderstood by society. As you might have guessed already, I simply adored Making Faces and I can definitely recommend it to any contemporary fan. I promise you that you will fall in love with the characters and their story! This new edition published by Spencer Hill Press later this month has some nifty bonus content as well.

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Ambrose Young’s looks and talent have made him really popular during his high school years. He isn’t just tall, muscular and good at sports, he also seems to have walked right off the cover of one of those romance novels. Fern Taylor should know, because she has been reading them since she was thirteen. Fern has had a crush on him for years, but she isn’t exactly the ‘prettiest’ girl in town and she doesn’t think Ambrose would ever look at her that way. But life isn’t just about physical attraction and works in funny ways. After the 9/11 attacks, Ambrose and his four friends decide to join the cause and were sent off to war. Only one comes back… And the whole town struggles to deal with the loss; each in their own way.

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I kind of feel I’m not doing the story justice with this summary, but I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot… This line in the blurb describes the general idea behind Making Faces beautifully though: “a modern tale of Beauty and the Beast where we discover that there is little beauty and a little beast in all of us“. It’s contemporary romance with a healthy dose of realistic fiction, a cup of tears and mixed with lovely characters and a very important topic. I basically loved everything about it and this story has confirmed Amy Harmon is one of my new favorite authors.


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ARC REVIEW: No Excuses Detox – by Megan Gilmore

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Title: No Excuses Detox
Author: Megan Gilmore

Genre: Non Fiction, Cookbooks, Health
First published: February 21st 2017
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Finished reading: November 4th 2016
Pages: 208
Rating 3,5qqq

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

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I actually read this cookbook by Megan Gilmore last November as part of the promise to myself to start eating healthier, but I haven’t published my review before since No Excuses Detox is actually going to be published recently next month. The cover and promise of quick, affordable and delicious food recipes that will make it easy to follow a healthy lifestyle every day had me sold straight away. This cookbook focuses on showing everyone that it is doable to start changing your eating habits and that there are literally ‘no excuses’ to be posponing the change. No Excuses Detox talks about the most common excuses and shows a wide variety of recipes that will please even the most complicated eater. I do admit I wasn’t convinced by everything that was talked about in the introduction and I think some of the points were a bit too complicated to be called simply ‘no excuses’. That said, the recipes are without doubt excellent and I liked that the author showed just how cheap a healthy meal can be. I have quite a few marked and I will be looking forward to try out more.

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In this cookbook, the author presents a collection of 100 recipes that are both quick to prepare, affordable, delicious and family-friendly. These recipes will make it easy to follow a healthy lifestyle every day and convince even the most complicated eater. Recipes for traditional comfort food favorites have been altered to make them both healthy and still taste as good as their counterparts. It also gives answers to all most common excuses for posponing a change, and shows that being ‘too busy’, ‘healthy food is expensive’ and ‘healthy food probably won’t taste good’ are no excused to stick to a healthy diet.

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I always enjoy browsing cookbooks for more healthy recipes, and No Excuses Detox was without doubt a little goldmine. I don’t agree with everything that is said in the introduction about the common excuses, but I did enjoy the different recipe chapters. From budget and family-friendly recipes to variations of your favorite comfort food; if you are looking for a book that might help you start eating healthier, this one is worth the try.


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BOOK REVIEW: When Breath Becomes Air – by Paul Kalanithi

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Title: When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi

Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, Health
First published: January 12th 2016
Publisher: Random House
Finished reading: November 18th 2016
Pages: 208
Rating 4,5qqq

“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”

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I have been reading more memoirs and non fiction reads than average in 2016, but Paul Kalanithi‘s story is without doubt one of the most powerful ones I’ve read this year and it deserves being nominated for Best Memoir in the Goodreads Choice Awards. When Breath Becomes Air is powerful, raw, emotional and simply heartbreaking… The story of a young neurosurgeon who lost his battle against cancer, a man who tried to write down the story of his life as he was trying to race against the clock. This rush especially shows in the last part of the memoir he managed to write himself, but that only makes this memoir more authentic and adds a whole other level to it. It’s hard to write about and/or criticize the work of a person whose life and dreams were cut short, and I have decided not to take in account the minor flaws in the prose and pace that might slow down the reading at points. The mismatched pace is a sign of a man who ran out of time, and desperately tried to finish what he had always wanted to do at some point in his life: write a book. If you are looking for a powerful memoir and don’t mind having a few packs of tissues ready, pick up When Breath Becomes Air. You won’t regret it.

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Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at the age of thirty-six, just as he as about to complete a decade worth of training as a neurosurgeon. Suddenly, his life went from making a living treating the sick and dying to being a patient himself… And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. In this memoir, he wrote about his connection to literature and questions about the virtuous and meaningful life, and how he ended up deciding to study to be a neurosurgeon. What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future suddenly flattens out into a perpetual present?

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When Breath Becomes Air is without doubt one of the most powerful and emotional memoirs I’ve read this year. If you look critically, the prose might have a few minor flaws and the pace wasn’t perfect, but that is all soon forgotten if you just think about who wrote this story in the first place and his background. Paul Kalanithi was a man running out of time, and yet still determined to follow his dream and finally write his book as his legacy. Powerful throughout and the final part written by his wife was especially moving.

BOOK REVIEW: Everything, Everything – by Nicola Yoon

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Title: Everything, Everything
Author: Nicola Yoon
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: September 1st 2015
Publisher: Delacorte
Finished reading: July 9th 2016
Pages: 320
Rating 4qqq

“Sometimes I reread my favorite books from back to front. I start with the last chapter and read backward until I get to the beginning. When you read this way, characters go from hope to despair, from self-knowledge to doubt. In love stories, couples start out as lovers and end as strangers. Coming-of-age books become stories of losing your way. Your favorite characters come back to life.”

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This book by Nicola Yoon was on my 2015 most-anticipated-releases list and has been recommended to me numerous times in the past, so I’m glad I finally found time to read it. I can definitely understand why so many people seem to love Everything, Everything, because it’s without doubt a ‘cute’ and entertaining read. And the fact that the two main characters are so adorable together is probably why I have given this book a high rating, because I did have some serious issues with the credibility of the plot. I mean, Maddie is supposed to get really sick the minute she steps outside, so doing what she did would be mostly insanely stupid and not adventurous like the story wants to portray. Because people with SCID wouldn’t have that option in the first place… And since SCID plays such a big role in both Maddie’s life and the plot, I’m not sure a detail that big can be overlooked. That said, I loved LOVED the prose and illustrations and I literally flew through the pages. I really liked the characters as well; especially Olly was adorable (although like I said before how he handles the whole SCID situation is not that credible). But credibility aside, Everything, Everything is basically a very cute and fluffy YA contemporary romance story that fans of the genre will most likely love.

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Madeline Whittier has SCID, and has basically been living inside a bubble for the last seventeen years since she is allergic to just about everything. Even the smallest contact might kill her, so she never left the house since she was a baby. But when Olly moves in next door and wants to talk to her, Maddie is not so sure she can accept her monotone life anymore. Her mother doesn’t want to do anything to do with a possible meeting, but the two soon start talking anyway after Olly writes his IM address on a piece of paper and shows it to her at her window. They start talking, and soon Maddie feels the need to meet him in person. But will her mother let her? And what would be the consequences?

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The credibility of the plot (especially the part involving SCID) was probably the only issue I had with this story, because otherwise I really enjoyed reading Everything, Everything. It’s a well written, fast-paced and adorable contemporary romance story that will manage to both make you cry and bring a smile to your face. Recommended to everyone who enjoys reading the genre.

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!

BOOK REVIEW: Charm & Strange – by Stephanie Kuehn

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Title: Charm & Strange
Author: Stephanie Kuehn
Genre: YA, Mystery, Fantasy
First published: January 11th 2013
Finished reading: February 20th 2016
Pages: 224
Rating 4qqq

“From what I can tell, morality is a word. Nothing more. There’re the things people do when others are watching and the things we do when they aren’t.”

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Charm & Strange has been floating around on my kindle for a while now, and I finally picked it up the other day because I needed something short and entertaining to get me to read again. Let me tell you: it worked like a charm. Like the title says, this book is without doubt strange, mysterious and very intriguing. What I thought was going to be another fantasy story full of werewolves and romance turned out to be something completely different… And I must say Stephanie Kuehn left me speechless and guessing what was really going on even long after I finished the last page. Win/Drew is a very interesting character with a touch of unreliable narrator, which makes the story into something messy and unique. Reading Charm & Strange was not quite what I was expecting, but in this case in a positive way. The story has a fast pace, reads easily even though you might not know exactly what is going on and I liked the character development. Recommendable!

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Andrew Winston Winters is at war with himself. Part of him is Win, a lonely teenager who is forced to attend a remote Vermont boarding school after a family tragedy. He doesn’t want to connect to his classmates and prefers to be alone with his secrets… And then there is Drew, an angry young boy that seems to be under the control of violent impulses. His family seems to have a secret, and when he spends one summer with his brothers and teenage cousins something unthinkable happens. Something that will lead to the family tragedy Win is now suffering from… Andrew will have to battle both the ghosts and pain of the past and the loneliness of the present. And what does the moon and do his wild and dark memories have to do with it?

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This novel by Stephanie Kuehn has truly surprised me. I don’t know what I was expecting, but Charm & Strange turned out to be a truly unique and intriguing story. I’m not sure I actually like all the main characters, but the whole mystery around Win/Drew really makes this into a great read. If you are looking for a fast, interesting and unique read, make sure to give Charm & Strange a go!

BOOK REVIEW: Me Before You – by Jojo Moyes

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Title: Me Before You
(Me Before You #1)
Author: Jojo Moyes
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary
First published: January 5th 2012
Finished reading: February 15th 2016
Pages: 369
Rating 3,5qqq

“Some mistakes… Just have greater consequences than others. But you don’t have to let the result of one mistake be the thing that defines you. You, Clark, have the choice not to let that happen.”

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It seems like everybody is reading or rereading this book right now! I’ve heard so many great things about it and I know everyone including my neighbor’s cat loves this story, but I guess I am one of those unlucky few who wasn’t blown away with Me Before You. Yes, I do have a heart and I thought the ending was heartbreaking. It is an interesting enough story and I like the general idea of the plot, but that doesn’t take away that I had some minor problems with it. I know part of the disappointment itself comes from the fact that I had really high expectations of this novel by Jojo Moyes before I started it, but that doesn’t change the fact that I thought the main character Lou is annoyingly ignorant at some points in the story. I do like Lou and I can actually relate to her partially (especially the not being afraid to be different than the stereotype), but her expecting to change Will’s mind without asking him if he wants to? And organizing all those outings without thinking it through and asking will first if he likes those things in the first place? I’m sorry to say those facts and other more day-to-day things started to get on my nerves. Will’s character is more complicated to judge and I give him the benefit of the doubt, but Patrick is a man I seriously can’t stand. And yes, I would totally order cheesecake in a bar full of health freaks like Lou did and I’m not afraid to admit it. Another thing that seriously bothered me was the pace, or at least it took me ages to actually finish it. It might just be that the read wasn’t for me, but I just couldn’t understand the hype around it… But Me Before You won’t be the first nor last hyped book that doesn’t live up to my expectations anyway. So if you like the genre, don’t let my slightly negative review discourage you!

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Lou Clark is living a comfortable and predictable life living in a small town with her parents and sister. Lou has been in a relationship with Patrick for years, but somehow they never decided to take the next step. She also loves her job working in The Buttered Bun tea shop… But everything changes as the owner decides to close the shop and Lou is left without a job. She is desperately trying to find another job, especially since her parents and sister count on the money she earns to keep things afloat. She has tried all kinds of jobs already when the opportunity comes up to work as a caretaker for Will Traynor. Will has been in a motorcycle accident that took away his movability and desire to live… His mother wants to hire Lou to show him that his life can be worth living, but what Lou doesn’t know at first is that she has a deadline: if she doesn’t convince Will in six months, his parents will have to assist him in ending his life. Will Lou be able to chance Will’s mind?

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I’m not saying Me Before You is a bad read; it’s a great story even though I had some problems with the characters and pace. I’m not sure if it was just me or if the story reads slow for everyone, but it took me a long time to actually finish it. The fact that Lou’s actions were starting to become annoying at points didn’t help either… And lastly, I’m not sure if I’m alone in this, but I felt the story kind of gave the negative impression that it’s easy just to give up on life if something bad happens to you. Still, Me Before You was good enough for me to want to read the sequel some time in the future.

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.