Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.
That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.
Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.
Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.
I don't know how to carry on after reading this book.
I read almost the entire book straight through last night, finishing well past one in the morning, at which point I was basically a puddle of emotions. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it all day - every other thought in my head is related to Carry On, and how amazing it was, and how I'm probably going to go home and immediately start rereading it. A book hasn't made me this ridiculously happy in a long time.
I don't read a lot of romances, or get super emotional over them very often, but Rainbow Rowell has this amazing ability to write a romance that leaves me flailing my limbs like an overexcited toddler and feeling like a swarm of Amazonian butterflies have settled in my stomach. And the romance inCarry On is just so well done. The growth of Simon and Baz's relationship is so realistic and beautifully written (and wonderfully cliche free!) that I don't think I'll ever be over it.
Carry On is, at its core, a romance, but it's also a fantasy novel that loosely parallels Harry Potter. The first few chapters have a lot more parallels and veiled allusions to HP, but after after that, Rowell sets up her own magical world with a unique set of rules, values, spells, and magical creatures. The worldbuilding is honestly genius, playing off of what people expect to find and adding plenty of twists. The politics of the World of Mages and Simon and Baz's place in them are fascinating and intricate, and the magiclore is clever and intriguing (I especially love the spells - they seemed a little silly at first, but after we got a better explanation of them, I was blown away by how ingenious they were).
The adventure/fantasy side of the story is predictable (I guessed the Big Twist not even halfway into the book) but with enough small surprises that it isn't stale. The focus is on Simon and Baz's characters and relationship, and their roles in the magickal world add more depth to that without being the center of attention. That said, if you're only interested in Carry Onbecause of the fantasy aspect, Rowell created such a cool world and villain that it's still worth the read.
(And the reread. And the next reread).
I think the only thing I didn't like about this book was that there wasn't more of it - which is saying something, given that it's 522 pages!
Winter by Marissa Meyer
Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.
Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.
Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?
This book was hard to finish. Not because it was bad or anything, but because I didn't want this series to end. From the first page of Cinder, Marissa Meyer delivered lovable characters, fast-paced action, political intrigue, and beautiful storytelling, and she didn't stop until the last page of Winter. I think The Lunar Chronicles are the only YA series that has never let me down. I loved every sentence of every book, and I am so sad to be finished with it.
That said, Meyer absolutely nailed the ending. Bittersweet and wonderfully thought out, Winter is the perfect conclusion to this amazing series. The elements of Snow White are incorporated with the subtle genius that Meyer brought to her sci-fi/dystopian/political thriller/romance interpretations of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel.
The leading ladies of The Lunar Chronicles are the best part of the series. I could rant for hours about the importance of a series based around six fully realized female characters and filled with a beautifully diverse cast of characters, but for now I'm just going to thank Marissa Meyer.
Thank you for this exciting, heart-wrenching, stay-up-reading-until-two-am-good series.
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.
Oh, my heart! One minute this book had it bursting with happiness and the next it was broken to bits. The last book to send my emotions on such a roller coaster ride was The Fault in Our Stars (although I wasn't reduced to a blubbering puddle of tears with this one, thank God).
I'll Give You the Sun is narrated by both twins, in two different times of their lives. Both narrations are perfectly interwoven, and the whole story is revealed to readers only at the very end of the book. Along the way, each twin narrates their version of events in their own distinct voice.
All of the characters were fantastic, but especially the twins. They both develop tremendously throughout the book, and their changes are seen mainly through the eyes of the other. This, combined with their individual artistic creations, adds volumes to their characters. I am head-over-heels in love with both of them, their myriad eccentricities, and the way Nelson wrote them.
If I ever meet Jandy Nelson, I am going to hug her for writing not one but two gorgeous love stories into this book. Fairly realistic and definitely swoon-worthy (I was honestly so happy I was lightheaded at one point), both Noah's love story and Jude's deserve some serious praise.
Towards the end of the book, Nelson starts to wax poetic a but much; the last chapter is filled with its fair share of cheesy lines. The chapters themselves are rather monstrous in size (some of them are 100+ pages) and should probably have been broken down more. However, the guidance-counselor quotes and incredibly lengthy chapters weren't egregious enough errors to take anything away from this shining example of YA fiction.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find a rooftop to yell about this book from.
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world.
Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic…. She’s beautiful. And she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.
Everything Leads to You is the perfect book to read on a lazy afternoon, or backstage. Emi's job as a set decorator - in Hollywood, not even just in a high school - made me like her instantly. As a theatre tech, I probably got a lot more into Emi's project than most readers. Even without a drama background, readers will find the backlot setting interesting and different from most YAs.
Lacour has a particular talent in bringing characters to life. Emi is both prodigious and down-to-earth, grown up and talented while still being a typical teenager. Even the characters in the movies Emi works on undergo character development.
The best element of this book is the romance. It's written like a million other romances, but that's what makes it awesome. Everything Leads to You is a completely unabashed lesbian romance, a shining example of LGBTQ representation in YA. Romantics everywhere will be smiling when they finish this book.
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.
Maybe that was always beside the point.
Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.
When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.
That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .
Is that what she’s supposed to do? Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?
I am convinced that Rainbow Rowell lives in a radioactive library, because she has writing superpowers.
Landline is just as fabulous as all her previous books (which I love with all my heart), and maybe even more so, because it's adult fiction. I don't read much adult fiction for the simple reason that I have nothing in common with forty-somethings worried about high school reunions and impending divorce. Not only that, but a lot of those forty-somethings are insufferably whiny.
In swoops Rowell to save the day!
Landline tells Georgie and Neal's story in what is essentially three parts: the time they met, 1998 (where Past-Neal is), and the present day. The writing is gorgeous, the love story sweet, and the conflicts realistic. Georgie and Nearl have a much more believable love story than three quarters of the fictional couples out there. And they deal with their problems like normal people instead of reality TV stars.
Every character in Landline is one-of-a-kind and gorgeously written. They are all lovably flawed, and some of them are hilarious, and the kids are adorable. Even the side characters are fantastic. There's even a touch of diversity!
With a magic telephone, Back to the Future refernces, and fantastic writing, Rowell has taken the cake in adult romance. I don't have enough adjectives to describe this book. Ingenious, brilliant, and witty come to mind, with about a hundred others.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Dante can swim. Ari can't. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari's features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.
But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.
This book has so much representation I might just have to happy-dance. Not only are the two main characters and their families people of color, but there are several gay characters - and none of them are portrayed badly! Plus, aside from being wonderful examples of diversity in literature, all the characters are layered and interesting. Dante and Ari are a bit too immature for fifteen at the beginning of the book, but they get more believable after their birthdays.
The entire book gets better the more you get into it, really. Most of my thoughts on it were gibberish and "awwww's" for the first few hours after I read it. I'm still not entirely sure how to convey my feelings for this book except to say that I really, really love it. I absolutely adore Ari and Dante, their story, the way Sáenz writes - let's just say it's not hard for me to imagine why Aristotle and Dante won all the awards on its cover.
On the other hand, I can definitely see why some people don't think it quite lives up to expectations. Especially in the first few chapters, the book reads more like a middle grade novel than a YA one, and the dialogue i occasionally stilted. Still, those are relatively small problems. There was much more that went right with this book than wrong. I can't guarantee that you'll love Aristotle and Dante, but I can assure you that I most definitely did. Subtle, profound, and fun to read, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a book you should definitely give a chance.
Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid
Five strangers. Countless adventures. One epic way to get lost.
Four teens across the country have only one thing in common: a girl named LEILA. She crashes into their lives in her absurdly red car at the moment they need someone the most.
There's HUDSON, a small-town mechanic who is willing to throw away his dreams for true love. And BREE, a runaway who seizes every Tuesday—and a few stolen goods along the way. ELLIOT believes in happy endings…until his own life goes off-script. And SONIA worries that when she lost her boyfriend, she also lost the ability to love.
Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia find a friend in Leila. And when Leila leaves them, their lives are forever changed. But it is during Leila's own 4,268-mile journey that she discovers the most important truth— sometimes, what you need most is right where you started. And maybe the only way to find what you're looking for is to get lost along the way.
It is impossible to stay sad while reading this book. The sweet, never-fail happy endings alone will boost your mood, but add in the adventurous, unconquerable Leila, and your frown will do a backflip.
Each character narrates only a short portion of the book, their own little adventure that ties into Leila's larger story. In the short amount of time each character gets to narrate, Alsaid develops them fully, not only with backstories, but with hints at what their futures might hold. Readers get to know Leila as she pops up in the other characters' lives, but it isn't until the last part of the book that she tells her own story - which was a creative and brilliant way to develop her character. Leila and the mystery she presented worked well to tie all the stories together.
Leila herself was exciting and witty, constantly getting into trouble. The various and often hilarious ways she helped the other characters reach their happy endings were heartwarming; sometimes a bit cheesy, but sweet all the same. There was quite a bit of romance, too (some of which was also cheesy). Only one relationship seemed a bit sudden and potentially underdeveloped; the other two were believable but cutesy.
Let's Get Lost is a good book to read on the beach or on a road trip, or when you just need a literary pick-me-up. It doesn't deal with very serious matters (for the most part; there are a few heavier parts) and doesn't require as much thought as, say, A Tale of Two Cities. This is a book to read for pure enjoyment and leisure, one that will leave you with a smile on your face.
The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith
Lucy and Owen meet somewhere between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City apartment building, on an elevator rendered useless by a citywide blackout. After they're rescued, they spend a single night together, wandering the darkened streets and marveling at the rare appearance of stars above Manhattan. But once the power is restored, so is reality. Lucy soon moves to Edinburgh with her parents, while Owen heads out west with his father.
Lucy and Owen's relationship plays out across the globe as they stay in touch through postcards, occasional e-mails, and -- finally -- a reunion in the city where they first met.
As a rule, I stay away from romance books, because I am always disappointed. Maybe disappointed isn't the right word. I just find romances to be too cliched, with too little plot. I can appreciate a good love story, but there comes a point where I can't help but roll my eyes.
For fans of teen romances, this is a fantastic book: it's sweet and the characters are fairly well developed. There wasn't much happening besides the love story; even the travel was really an extension of the romance. Throw in some family troubles and you've covered the entire plot.
I'm being a bit harsh. Honestly, I enjoyed The Geography of You and Me. As someone with permanent wanderlust, I absolutely adored the world-travel aspect of the book. The romance was sweet and I was rooting for Lucy and Owen, I'll admit. That doesn't mean there wasn't a whole lot of fluff and a few nearly-painful cliches, but The Geography of You and Me is definitely in the top 20% of teen romance.
Thorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin
Becca was the perfect girlfriend: smart, gorgeous, and loved by everyone at New England’s premier boarding school, Thorn Abbey. But Becca’s dead. And her boyfriend, Max, can’t get over his loss.
Then Tess transfers to Thorn Abbey. She’s shy, insecure, and ordinary—everything that Becca wasn’t. And despite her roommate’s warnings, she falls for brooding Max.
Now Max finally has a reason to move on. Except it won’t be easy. Because Becca may be gone, but she’s not quite ready to let him go…
The young adult genre - especially YA romance - gets a pretty bad rap. And while not all books fall into the crappy, instalove category, Thorn Abbey definitely does. Ohlin managed to take a creepy plot idea with a lot of potential and turn it into a giant YA stereotype.
Which makes sense, I guess, since most of Thorn Abbey's characters were basically walking, talking stereotypes. There's the perfect girl with the dirty secrets, the bad girl and her weight-obsessed fashionista posse, the dark, handsome, and brooding love interest, and, let's not forget, the awkward and lovesick narrator. Blech. The only character who wasn't completely 2D and boring was Tess. But any good that little bit of character development did her was overpowered by the constant reminder that she's just "not like other girls." Not only that, but Tess is yet another example of social anxiety being portrayed as cute and quirky.
Tess also has an annoying habit of over-clarifying everything that happens. She'd read or hear something about Becca and then say "What? So-and-so did this with what's-his-name!?" Or, after uncovering information on Becca, she'd immediately say "What? What does it mean!?" even though whatever she'd just uncovered was glaringly and blatantly obvious. Instead of creating suspense, it made Tess come off as a bit dumb, which she obviously isn't.
The most annoying thing about Thorn Abbey was the romance. The love story between Tess and Max was almost cringe-worthy at times. Reading it was like running down a checklist of bad YA cliches. Instalove? Check. Super-hot boy falls for completely ordinary and nerdy girl? Check. Jealous ex the boy can't seem to get over? Check, again. Okay, yes, this time, the jealous ex was dead, but Tess' constant insistence that she could "so help him get over Becca" canceled that out. Romances like this one give YA a bad name - but hey, at least this time there wasn't a badly-executed love triangle!
Thorn Abbey wasn't a total flop. The book got creepy fast and stayed creepy. It wasn't actually thrilling or scary, but it was a little freaky. And it definitely built up to a chilling climax. Stephen King fans would be extremely disappointed by this book, but those who don't like true horror might find it more their speed. The "twist" ending was another pretty good thing about Thorn Abbey, even if it was still pretty predictable. Thorn Abbey didn't really satisfy me, but readers who don't mind books with a little less substance might like the creepy, slow-build ghost story aspect of it.
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, art by Maira Kalman
Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box. Inside the box is why they broke up. Two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.
I really wanted to like this book. The story is bittersweet, the narrator's voice is strong and clear, and it's paired with gorgeous artwork. All major points in its favor - and yet I can't get too excited about Why We Broke Up.
My friend tells me I just "don't get it" because I've never been through a breakup (or a relationship, for that matter). But it isn't the love story that bugs me about this book; the romance is pretty well developed and, from what I've heard, fairly true to life. Why We Broke Up is very nostalgic, and it's kind of neat to read about a love story in hindsight. Less with the rush of giddy emotions and more of the why-didn't-I-see-that. I very much liked that aspect of the book.
The things about Why We Broke Up that annoyed me were actually pretty trivial, but they added up fast. One, although Min's side of the love story is well developed, Ed's is a little bit lacking. I might be willing to tack that one up to the first-person narration if it weren't for, two, the only reason Ed can come up with for loving Min is that she's "different." The two of them are obviously from opposite social circles, but by God, what a weak adjective. What a crappy declaration of love! Okay, yes, a lot of the other declarations of love were really cute and sweet, but the only reason for Ed's devotion is that Min's "different."
Three, there are a lot of run-on sentences and giant blocks of unbroken text. A few runaway sentences is cool, maybe even stylistic, but when they pile up and create two full pages of text with no paragraphs, it's too much. A lot of the run-ons were just listing things, like what's happening in a basketball game, and weren't really necessary. By the end of Min's story, the entire book had started feeling like one of those blocks of text - like it had gone on forever and wasn't going to stop. The intense amount of detail was interesting to begin with, but by the last hundred pages it was just tedious. So although there were a lot of things I liked about Why We Broke Up, I was actually a little relieved to finish it.
Once Upon a Time...
As a longtime lover of stories and a believer in the power and magic of books, I've spent my life seeking out the best reads. This blog is dedicated to reviewing the books I read - good, bad, or magnificent - to help other readers find their next favorite books.