Book Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After

IslaIsla and the Happily Ever After
by Stephanie Perkins
Published by: Dutton
Form: Purchased Hardback
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Big Themes
: Falling in Love, Boarding School, Finding Yourself, Art, Paris, NYC, Barcelona

Other Books in the Series:
Anna and the French Kiss
Lola and the Boy Next Door
*
This series is more like companion books than sequels.

Summary:
Isla, class valedictorian, has had a crush on Joshua Wasserstein, bad boy artist, since her freshman year.  One night in New York while they are both home for the summer fills Isla with hope that perhaps something might happen this year when they return to school in Paris.

Review in a Nutshell:

I. Love. Stephanie.  Perkins.

Stephanie Perkins captures young love at its finest in each of her books.  She captures those moments of awkwardness.  Those moments of hope.  Those moments of infatuation.  Those moments of wonder. I rarely read contemporary romance because they don’t have enough action for me.  But Stephanie Perkins crafts characters that feel real and her stories are authentic to teen experiences.  I love her work.

Lola and the Boy Next Door will remain my favorite in this series because I adored the quirky characters Lola and Cricket.  But Isla has it’s own charm that shouldn’t be missed.  If you like the quiet, nerdy girl falls for misunderstood, bad boy, then this is your book.  If you think that sounds too predictable, there are plenty of surprises that made the story fresh.

Isla really captured what I think is a real teen persona: the super successful academic who has no idea what they want to do in their life after high school.  I think there are a lot of teens who push and push themselves to achieve in high school and get into competitive colleges but are lost when it comes to a passion and career they want to pursue.  I really liked that Perkins explored this person in Isla.

Josh, the romantic lead, is Isla’s opposite.  He has always known what his passion is and what he wants to do with his life.  They compliment each other, and yet conflict is present as well.  I loved the descriptions of Josh’s artwork throughout the novel.  I’d imagine that would be hard to capture as an author, but I thought Perkins did a wonderful job.

The story is well crafted.  You are invested in Isla and Josh as a couple, and then the conflict is heart-wrenching.  I sort of wanted to know what Isla’s passion and purpose was going to be, but I think it is better that we don’t get a resolution there because, just like a real teenager, she needs time to explore and develop.  I also wanted some resolution with Josh’s hand pains.  I want to know that he’ll be okay!

And if you’ve ever wanted to travel to Barcelona, this book will make you want to go even more!

Overall:
Four and a half stars.  Really, really enjoyed it, but it won’t beat Lola and the Boy Next Door in my heart.  Highly recommend!  For ages 14 and up due to language and sex.

Book Review: Afterworlds

afterworldsAfterworlds
by Scott Westerfeld
Published by: Simon Pulse
Form: Purchased Hardback (autographed)
Big Themes: Writing, Afterlife, Death, Ghosts, Revenge, New York City, Growing Up, LGBT, Ramen

Summary:
This book tells two stories: Darcy Patel, the teen who lands a book deal and moves to NYC to pursue a career in writing–and–the other story being the book Darcy wrote: the story of Lizzie, the victim of a terrorist attack who can see ghosts and travel the afterlife following her close encounter with death.

Review in a Nutshell:

Really fantastic concept.  Loved reading the story of an author side by side with the book the author is working on.  The writer in me especially loved that.  And Westerfeld totally pulled it off.  I had no difficulty keeping the two stories straight.

I was far more interested in Darcy’s story than Lizzie’s story.  I really enjoyed getting a little glimpse at the writing life, especially the romantic idea of living in New York City after a huge signing contract and being able to take a stab at writing full time.  That’s my dream life.  Not to mention living in a refurbished dance studio with huge windows?  Sigh.  I want that life.

I was less enchanted with the romantic subplots of both stories.  Lizzie/Yama or Darcy/Imogen did not feel authentic or swoony to me at all.  I think this was due to a lack of tension or build-up in either romantic plot.  Both relationships fell together rather easily.

Overall:
I’m a huge fan of Scott Westerfeld, but this won’t beat the Leviathan series for me.  I liked the glimpse of the writing life.  And I liked the whole concept of reading a writer’s life side-by-side with their novel.  Three stars.

Book Review: Every Day

Every DayEvery Day
by David Levithan
Published by: Ember
Form: Purchased Paperback
Big Themes: Humanity, Trust, Love, Reincarnation

Summary:
Every day, A wakes up in a new body.  He has no choice as to what body he wakes up in.  A’s life has no consistency.  Each day is new faces.  A new situation.  Until A falls in love, and struggles to cling to the possibility that this body-hopping life may have a purpose.

Review in a Nutshell:

A totally unique concept.  This book really makes you think about what it means to be human and the idea of a human soul.  What makes us who we are?  I loved the idea of a person being recognizable no matter what body they are in.  The idea that a soul can transcend your physical body.

You really feel for the character A and all that he/she has to go through on a daily basis.  You yearned for A to have some stability and normalcy.  With each day being an entirely different situation, I definitely found this book to be a page-turner and quick read.

The book is guilty of using some stereotypes in terms of the characters that A body-hops into.  That didn’t bother me as I was reading, but I read it in some reviews afterwards.  I thought the author did an excellent job of exploring many different personas, and frequently created sympathy for those personas through A’s voice and observations.

Overall:
Four shining stars.  This book was a fascinating look at humanity and what it means to be human.  Unique and worth reading. Recommended for ages 14 and up for mild drug/sex references.

Book Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Disreputable History Frankie LBThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
by E. Lockhart
Published by: Disney-Hyperion
Form: Purchased Paperback
Big Themes: Secret Societies, Pranks, Societal Structure, Popularity, Identity, Growing Up, Falling in Love, Girl Power/Feminism

Summary:
Frankie, girl genius and underestimated by all, attends an elite boarding school and infiltrates an elite boy-only secret society.

Review in a Nutshell:

This book.  Blew me away.  I know I’m late to the E. Lockhart game.  I am eager to read We Were Liars.

If you want a girl power read, this is your book.  If you want a book that will challenge how you look at the world.  This is your book.

I think the biggest reason this book resonated with me is its ideas about power.  How people obtain power.  How people diminish other’s power.  How you can empower yourself.  I loved watching Frankie figure out the world around her as some sort of social experiment.

HR sealofapprovalOverall:
Five big shining stars.  I know this was a short review, but I read this book over the summer and neglected to post it.  The messages of this book have stayed with me long after reading, and this is one I highly recommend.

Book Review: The Girl Who Could Fly

Girl Who Could FlyThe Girl Who Could Fly
by Victoria Forester
Published by: Feiwel & Friends
Form: Purchased Paperback
Big Themes: Uniqueness, Friendship, Gifted Children

Summary:
Piper McCloud comes from small town rural life. When her parents discover she can fly, they tell her she shouldn’t. Her flying should be kept a secret, and maybe her ability will just go away. Normal is better. But Piper can’t contain her ability. She’s meant to fly. And when word of her flying gets out, she is invited to a special school for gifted kids. This book was described as Little House on the Prairie meets X-men, and I’d say that’s an apt description!

What I Loved:

Voice: The story is told in such a quirky, charming voice.  You feel like you are surrounded by rural, small town life.  This more than anything else lured me in.

Eccentric characters and species: I loved all the abilities of the different children.  There were other gifted species as well and those fascinated me just as much, especially the giraffe and cricket.

Piper McCloud: Piper is an extremely endearing main character.  Her optimism and kindness to others might have made her just as special as her ability to fly.  Her name is pretty fantastic too!

Criticism:

Ending: The ending felt very anti-climactic to me.  One, the ending is pictured my copy of the book (image above).  I think this is cruel to the reader.  The biggest moment of the book as well as one of the book’s main surprises should NOT be on a book’s cover.  Two, I felt there was a lot of build up and little pay off.  The final challenges were overcome with relative ease compared to other obstacles.  I was really chugging along through conflict after conflict for the first half of the book, but the ending took me forever to finish.

Overall:
Three stars, maybe three and a half.  The anti-climactic, slow-paced ending that was ruined by the book’s cover image knocked this down for me.  But if you want great voice, gifted children, and a lovable protagonist, check this one out.

Review: Just Listen

just listenJust Listen
by Sarah Dessen
Published by: Penguin Group Inc.
Form: Purchased Paperback
Big Themes: Family, Identity, Friendship, Falling in Love, Sexual Abuse, Eating Disorders, Modeling, Music

Summary:
Annabel is the youngest of three sisters.  All were models.  All are different.  Something happened to Annabel at the end of the school year, and when she returns to school in the fall, everything has changed.  Annabel has to figure out who she is and what she wants out of life.

What I Loved:

Family: Sarah Dessen does families well.  The characterization and family dynamics seem to often be one of the central plots her books.  I liked the sisters a lot in this book, and I enjoyed how each of them had a hobby they were passionate about.  I love when characters have cool hobbies in books–bonus points!

Quirky Love Interest: Owen is passionate about music and it was captured in every aspect of his character.  He really came to life on the page.  Musical guys aren’t really my thing, but if you like musical leading men–this is your book.

Criticism:

Heavy Flashback in Exposition: Ergh. Sarah Dessen, this is another trademark of your books it seems.  The beginning is heavy with flashbacks and delays getting to the real story.  While it does provide character insight, I prefer my books to be faster-paced and flashbacks inevitably bog the story down.

The Secret Game: Ergh. This is a major pet peeve of mine.  I can’t stand when the main character clearly knows something or went through something, but we as the reader aren’t being informed of what it was.  It feels like a manipulative game by the author because I should know everything the character knows if they are the one telling the story.  It’s one thing if it’s just not information that comes up organically in the story.  But I feel cheated when the character is walking around thinking about this obscure ‘bad thing’ but the character isn’t revealing what the ‘bad thing’ was.  This is a trick to me.  Because if I was in that characters head, then I’d know what the bad thing was.  Don’t hold it back just to string us along.

Overall:
Three and a half stars.  I bought this book for a trip to the beach, wanting a light romantic read.  But the subject matter was a lot heavier than I probably want in a light read.  I generally don’t want to read many problem novels, and with both eating disorders and sexual abuse, this was not exactly what I was looking for.  However, there is great characterization, great family, and a sweet love interest.  Worth reading.

Behind the Story: Journaling Your Writing

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week’s topic:

Journaling Your Writing

I wanted to share something I started doing as part of my writing routine that’s been helpful for me.  Perhaps it will be helpful to other fellow writers as well!  I’m calling it journaling because that’s pretty close to what it is. Here is what I include in my journaling:
  • Today’s Date
  • Brief Description of Where I Left Off in My Novel
  • What Scenes I Know Are Coming Up Next
  • Surprises While I Was Writing
  • My Final Word Count For the Day
I don’t write a ton for each entry.  A typical day looks like this:
Write Tip Pic
I want to explain what each part does for me, and why this has been a useful tool:
  • Today’s Date: Helps to hold me accountable for writing each day.  And it’s useful in tracking my own productivity.  I also give myself gold star stickers on a calendar for each 1k I write, and if I forget to “star myself” then I can go back here to check.
  • Where I Left Off: I always begin my writing day by re-reading the last scene that I wrote.  I usually try not to do any editing.  Rereading gets me back in the zone and refreshes my memory.  And then writing a brief blurb of that scene in my journaling helps me focus on what about that scene was important.
  • What’s Next: Listing the scenes that are coming up next can serve as an outline, menu, or brainstorm session.  Sometimes it’s a reminder of what’s on my agenda.  Sometimes I can kind of pick from the menu based on what I think comes next organically.  And sometimes I have no idea what comes next and I brainstorm some possibilities.
  • Surprises: This is probably the part of my journaling I love most.  Whenever I sit down to write, something will usually come out that I was not expecting.  An unplanned plot point or an emotional burst from a character or a new quirky secondary character makes himself known.  My favorite part of my writing day has become writing down the surprises, and often I want to explore that surprise more the next day.  I also think it might be fun to share with readers someday… “This character came out of nowhere!” or “I was never planning to do that!”
  • Word Count: This holds me accountable for my writing most of all.  I try to write a 1,000 words a day… no matter what.  It’s a high goal, but honestly, the hardest part is making the time to write and getting your butt in the chair.  Once I’m started, I usually make it.
Not only has this journaling been helpful, but I also think that somewhere down the road, this is going to be a sentimental keepsake.  Being able to look back and see how my story unfolded… I wish I’d done this from the very beginning.
Now I have a beautiful use for all those awesome journals/notebooks that people give me as gifts  🙂
Any other writers do some form of journaling?  Anyone plan to give this a try?
Let me know if there is a “Behind the Story” topic you would like to see… Happy Writing!