Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

Always And Forever Lara Jean – Jenny Han

“To love a boy, to have him love you back, it feels miraculous.”

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Blurb: “Lara Jean is having the best senior year. And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends. Life couldn’t be more perfect! At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks…until she gets some unexpected news. Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans—but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?”

After completely falling in love with this series from the first book, it’s not surprising that I’ve flown through the trilogy and found myself faced with the finale.

Always and Forever Lara Jean sees our favourite protagonist being thrown in the deep end: with her school life coming to an end and future plans falling apart, not to mention facing being long distance with her rather attractive boyfriend. This is the book where it feels like the reader really gets to see Lara’s character arc as a whole. It’s been wonderful to see her grow and still hold the same moral and family values no matter what she came to head with, and the finale is no different. Lara is very much a perfectionist so when things don’t go how she wanted, it was interesting to see how she found a way to readjust and see the new opportunities available to her that she may have not considered otherwise.

The most interesting character shift for me personally was Margot, who seems incredibly abrasive and unlike herself compared to the pervious book, but as the story progressed it was understand how she felt like she had lost her place among the family after physically seeing her father’s new relationship flourish. As she has been away at college, getting to see how she learned to also accept a new form of change really hit home with the themes the book was trying to convey.

It seemed only right to end this adventure the same way I began: by listening to the audiobook. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, Laura Knight-Keating has cemented herself as one of my favourite audiobook narrators ever. It’s been a real treat listening to her bring this story and its characters to life and I honestly wouldn’t have binged on this trilogy in any other way.

However, I think that Always and Forever Lara Jean is my least favourite in the series. It just didn’t grab me the same way the others did and I actually had instances where I put off listening because the story just wasn’t moving as fast as I would like. Also Peter became very unlikeable and his actions regarding trying to get Lara to sign a supposedly jokey contract about Lara having to call him every day and put pictures up etc to show she was in a relationship just left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

Overall, I would read the whole series again, but To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is definitely the best.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Nevermoor: The Trials Of Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend

“There it was. The truth she kept squashed down, something she could ignore but never forget. The truth that she and every cursed child knew deep in their bones; had tattooed on their hearts: I am going to die on Eventide night.”

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Blurb: “Enter the Wundrous world of Morrigan Crow and Nevermoor – the most fantastical children’s release of the year.Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks – and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears.”

The Trials of Morrigan Crow was, by all accounts, a book I should have loved. It has everything I adore: magical places, clever twists, adventure and competitions. But something didn’t quite gel with me.

Morrigan Crow is a cursed child, blamed for all manner of ridiculous things that happen in her town from the weather to someone making a bad batch of marmalade. As a result of this, her family hates her because they’re constantly forced to pay compensation for Morrigan’s supposed involvement in minor town mishaps. There’s a hilarious scene where Morrigan is forced to write apology letters to everyone she’s wronged in the town.

The first part of this story was so well done as the reader is given enough time to get to know Morrigan, her life and her negative family dynamic before she is whisked off to the magical world of Nevermoor by the mysterious Jupiter North. This whole section was brilliantly action packed and I grew to really love Morrigan as a character. But once the story shifted to Nevemoor, everything came to a screeching halt. Jupiter North simply abandoned Morrigan and took the excitement with him.

I found it very difficult to ground myself in the world and a lot of characters are just thrown at the reader to the point where I found it hard to keep track of who was who. Normally the prospect of trials fills me with glee – it’s a trope I can really get behind – but I didn’t feel it was the best way to explore this brand new world. Towards the end of the book I even started skimming several pages at a time, and often giving side-tracked by something outside of the book, just hoping it would all pick up at the end.

I don’t know if my issues with this stemmed from having read a really good book prior to this and I was in a bit of a slump without realising, but I just didn’t get on with this book like I thought I would.

It seemed to have all the potential and a good start but not enough to power through to the end.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, young adult

What We Left Behind – Robin Talley

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Blurb: “Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They’ve been together forever. They never fight. They’re deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college – Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU – they’re sure they’ll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive. The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship. While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won’t understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni’s life. As distance and Toni’s shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide – have they grown apart from good, or is love enough to keep them together?”

*I was sent this book by the publisher but this in no way affects my review*

*Toni uses “they/them” pronouns at the end of this book and so those will be used in this review until Robin Talley informs me otherwise*

There are so many things that attracted me to this book. For one, this is a story more about the relationship rather that how the relationship came about. For another, it’s realistic in terms of how a distance relationship is handled, and most importantly, it features a genderqueer character.

Quick definition of genderqueer for those who don’t know:

Genderqueer (n): a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both or a combination of male and female genders.

As the “we need diverse books” outcry seems to be growing in numbers, there are a lot of books featuring trans characters dominating the shelves: recent books include The Art Of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson and George by Alex Gino. However, there doesn’t seem to be many books tackling genderqueer characters. Although genderqueer is a term that falls under the trans umbrella, genderqueer folks are a lot more fluid in their gender.

This book has so much complexity to it and that it’s hard to know where to start.

The plot is centered around Toni and Gretchen who are in a relationship and makes use of both “before and after” and dual perspectives to tell the story. While I’m getting slightly bored by books that follow this format, Robin Talley couldn’t have told this story in any other way. The reader sees the two characters going to university and through Gretchen’s perspectives we learn that the pair originally planned to go to the same university – Harvard – but Gretchen feared she would spend her time there focused entirely on Toni. Gretchen wanted the freedom to explore herself in an entirely new place with entirely new people and so applied (and got into) NYU. So there’s already some tension bubbling under the surface. As the story progresses, each chapter states how long it has been since the duo last saw each other.

Toni becomes involved with Harvard’s LGBT society where they meets a lot of interesting and diverse people. Being round this group and people gives Toni the freedom they’ve be waiting for to explore their identity. The most prominent internal monologue for me was this: “If I call myself trans I’m afraid people will think I’m a dude when truth is, I’m not really there.”

I found Toni a very frustrating character to read most of the time. They are relatively open with their gender, trying out different pronouns to see which best fits before abandoning pronouns only to use them again, which gives an insight into the thoughts of someone who identifies as non-binary. However, Toni is obsessed with putting other people into boxes and gets internally stressed when they can’t place people’s sexuality or gender. The most memorable scene that is an example of this is when some of the LGBT group are out together and Toni is unable to genderise a particular character until Toni spots the binder under the character’s shirt. They then automatically label them as trans and wonders if this character is on hormones and even internerally discusses with themselves how much this character “passes” as a specific gender.

(It actually reminded me of someone I used to know who would constantly force people into boxes. I had a conversation with them once about sexuality as I identify as bisexual and when I was asked if I’d ever date someone trans, I responded with “if I liked the person and enjoyed spending time with them, then yes. Genitals don’t matter to me” to which this person then said “well you’re pansexual then, not bisexual. But back to the actual review…)

Naturally Toni exploring their gender creates a big issue in their relationship with Gretchen because Toni never actually talks to Gretchen about well… anything. Toni lets Gretchen know they’ve started using pronouns, might try hormones but doesn’t actually discuss any feelings with Gretchen which ,as you would expect, feels like a punch in the face for her because she makes mistakes and Toni takes things badly. Something that’s pointed out later in the book when Gretchen says “you can’t be so hard on everyone, sometimes people make mistakes, say the wrong-” to which Toni responds “whatever” and shrugs it off.

It was really interesting seeing both sides of the relationship because Gretchen identifies as lesbian, but if her partner starts identifying as male and is thinking of transitioning, doesn’t that make Gretchen straight? This combined with the distance makes for a very stressful, complicated read but it felt real.

Anyone who’s ever had a distance relationship can relate to this: the time spent apart, wondering if anything will be different and if you’ve changed too much as people when you’re finally together.

The internal monologues of the characters -especially Gretchen – just added to the layers and I wanted to physically crawl into this book and just give Gretchen a hug.

You also have the horrific scenes where characters aren’t too accepting of trans people that just made me sick to read them, but you also had more accepting characters.

This book was just so well written.

If you are going to pick up any book in October, make sure you mark October 27th on your calendar because you don’t want to miss this book.

 
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Posted in fantasy, review

A Darker Shade Of Magic V.E.Schwab

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Blurb: “Kell is one of the last travellers – magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city. There’s Grey London, without magic and ruled by the mad king George III. Red London – where magic is revered, and where Kell was raised alongside the heir to the empire. White London – where people fight to control the remaining magic and magic fights back. And once there was Black London…”

A Darker Shade of Magic is a book that I’ve seen constantly talked about in the book blogger/booktube world for a long time. It had a lot of hype and, while this tends to make me cautious about reading popular books, I decided to pick up a copy.

The story primarily follows Kell who is the “red traveller” and a kind of personal ambassador for Red London. His role is to carry correspondences between the royals of each London. However, on the side he smuggles parts of each world to the inhabitants of the others, if they are willing to pay. (Note: not everyone can travel to the different Londons)

On one of his escapades, Kell bumps into Delilah (Lila) Bard who robs him: the most notable item being a stone. Lila’s plans quickly unravel when she ends up saving Kell from a dangerous group intent on killing him. Kell informs Lila that the stone is in fact full of magic. But not just any magic. Magic from Black London.

Black London is basically a part of this world that has been ravaged by magic, used for evil, selfish reasons and now lies in ruins.

The duo part ways until a man called Holland jumps her. He knows about the stone, it’s powers and naturally, he wants it for himself. He threatens Lila and demands that she call Kell to the situation. Kell makes his dramatic entrance and repays Lila by saving her.

Kell’s plan is simple: get to Black London and return the stone.

Of course, Holland isn’t going to give up that easily. So it looks like Lila and Kell are going to have to put up with each other for a little while longer.

I can only get down on my knees and worship V.E.Shwab for the amount of planning that must have gone into this book. The world building was spectacular and each London was so distinctive that I felt as if I was really there on the streets. The characters were gloriously interesting. Schwab gives just enough information for you to picture them (for example, Kell) but just a smidge not enough which keeps you reading in the hopes that those gaps will be filled.

Also, kudos to the cover artist for this book because after I finished it, I realised that the circles on the cover actually represent each of the Londons.

This was a fantastic read and it has been a good while since a book has had me this hooked and left me asking myself questions long after I’ve finished it.
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