Category Archives: contemporary

Review Paper Towns by John Green

Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life – dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge – he follows.

After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues – and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer Q gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew.

Genre: YA Fiction
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release Date: October 16, 2008
Page Count: 305
Source: My copy.
Rating: 3/5

There’s a few things I’ve learned about John Green’s books reading Paper Towns:


-I don’t agree with the common opinion that all Green’s characters are the same.
Quentin Jacobsen (anxiety) is very different from Will Grayson (typical) who is very different from Miles Halter (the great perhaps) who is extremely different from Augustus Waters (oblivion). However:

-I do think that Alaska Young and Margo Roth Spiegelman have a lot in common, or are, essentially, the same character.
And I don’t get it. Not that they are the same really – that’s fine, it happens – but I don’t get their appeal. As Miles is with Alaska, Quentin is absolutely enamored with Margo. And I understand she’s beautiful and popular and spontaneous and adventurous and all of these wonderful things that might lure in a teenage boy, but she’s also really self-absorbed. She’s careless about the ones who love her. She knows that Quentin is actually obsessed with her (and that’s what this book borders on, obsession) and she doesn’t care. She actually plans to hang out with him and blow him off in the same night. And maybe, maybe I can understand their appeal a little bit – on the outside these girls are these free, beautiful spirits, but that’s not enough if you’re just going to walk all over everyone to get what you want, while thinking you’re better than everyone else. The point is, while I may never understand because I’m obviously not a teenage boy, I think there are plenty of beautiful, eccentric, free girls out there that won’t stomp all over your heart the first chance they get. I guess I’m rooting for the underdog. And this is mainly where my rating comes from. Because I truly dislike Margo, and therefore dislike Quentin for stooping to her level.

-I read Green’s books in the wrong order.
Unfortunately, I only discovered John Green last year. The Fault in Our Stars, my favorite book, was the first book I ever read by John Green. Then Looking for Alaska, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and finally Paper Towns. I’m sure every author wants their next book to be better than their last, and such was the case. Except I read them backwards.

To conclude, I never really thought I’d rate a John Green book three stars. But as it turns out, Paper Towns is my least favorite. And that’s not saying it’s a bad book – there are plenty of books I rated three stars that I really liked – just not my favorite.

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Review The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

A heartwarming debut novel, soon to be a major movie by David O. Russell.

“Aawww shucks!” NPR’s Nancy Pearl said. “I know that’s hardly a usual way to begin a book review, but it was my immediate response to finishing Matthew Quick’s heartwarming, humorous and soul-satisfying first novel . . . This book makes me smile.”

Meet Pat Peoples. Pat has a theory: his life is a movie produced by God. And his God-given mission is to become physically fit and emotionally literate, whereupon God will ensure him a happy ending—the return of his estranged wife, Nikki. (It might not come as a surprise to learn that Pat has spent several years in a mental health facility.) The problem is, Pat’s now home, and everything feels off. No one will talk to him about Nikki; his beloved Philadelphia Eagles keep losing; he’s being pursued by the deeply odd Tiffany; his new therapist seems to recommend adultery as a form of therapy. Plus, he’s being haunted by Kenny G!

David O. Russell, the Oscar-nominated director of The Fighter, is helming his own adaptation of The Silver Linings Playbook. Due in theaters this Thanksgiving, the movie features Bradley Cooper (Peoplemagazine’s Sexiest Man Alive) in the role of Pat, alongside Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Julia Stiles, Chris Tucker, and Jacki Weaver. As the award-winning novelist Justin Cronin put it: “Tender, soulful, hilarious, and true, The Silver Linings Playbook is a wonderful debut.”

Genre: Realistic Fiction
Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Page Count: 289
Source: My copy.
Rating: 3/5
I’ve got to stop reading the book just because I want to see the movie. That’s not to say this book is bad, but the movie looked really funny and cute and I love Bradley Cooper and I like Jennifer Lawrence and I didn’t even know there was a book until I saw the movie cover at the bookstore and, well, I think I would have really just enjoyed the movie. And now I don’t think I will. As much.

Like I said, the movie looked really funny and cute and the book is well… it’s not really funny or cute. At all. It’s sad and depressing and kind of twisted. Pat’s thirty-five year old mind has been reverted to a really immature teenager’s mind due to a traumatic experience. And no one in the book – not even his psychiatrist – really says he is acting that naive, but really. I mean, he actually refers to things as “apart time” and thinks his life is a movie. It’s really sad. And it’s painfully obvious to the reader that he is just so wrong about everything, but you just have to ride it out with him.

I did end up rating this book higher than I thought I would, due to the somewhat satisfying ending (albeit a bit rushed), but mostly didn’t enjoy it because I thought I would be getting something other than what I got. If you go into this book expecting a quirky, funny, light read, I think you’ll be disappointed like I was. It is quirky, kind of, but not very funny, in my opinion. I mean, I laughed a few times, but mostly this book tackles the seriousness of mental illness, and the things people do when they are learning to cope with it. And Pat copes with it by working out (way too much I think – he is quite obsessive about it) and watching football. I mean, really. If you’re like Tiffany and you hate football, you probably don’t want to read this book.

I did enjoy Pat and some of the relationships in this book – especially his mother and his brother, Jake – but the love story was kind of botched for me. I didn’t agree with the way the author pushed the romance on these characters. I think the interpretation that fucked up people can only be with fucked up people (and I’m not saying the mentally ill are “fucked up”, but “fucked up” is exactly how Pat and Tiffany are portrayed and treated) is bullshit. I didn’t necessarily have a problem with Pat and Tiffany as the people that they were (except for Tiffany’s grave mistakes), but I think that two people should be together because they want to, not because they should or because they are settling for one another. And that’s kind of what it seemed like to me. Maybe I’m being naive myself or maybe I’m just super lucky to have found someone I truly love, but the whole thing just seemed forced.

I “liked it” (Goodreads rating) because of the characters. I wasn’t necessarily a fan of Pat and Tiffany’s relationship or the football or the working out or even the somewhat strange dancing competition, but I really liked Pat and his mom and Jake and Dr. Patel. I thought they were all great people that I could really connect with.

Unfortunately, this novel spoils several books that I wanted to read, including The Bell Jar and Catcher in the Rye. In his story, Pat actually reads these books and tells us the ending of every one (there is like five books total). So, if you want to avoid a serious spoiler alert for a bunch of classics, you probably want to be careful with this one.


Review The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

When her widower father drowns at sea, Gemma Hardy is taken from her native Iceland to Scotland to live with her kind uncle and his family. But the death of her doting guardian leaves Gemma under the care of her resentful aunt, and it soon becomes clear that she is nothing more than an unwelcome guest at Yew House. When she receives a scholarship to a private school, ten-year-old Gemma believes she’s found the perfect solution and eagerly sets out again to a new home. However, at Claypoole she finds herself treated as an unpaid servant.
To Gemma’s delight, the school goes bankrupt, and she takes a job as an au pair on the Orkney Islands. The remote Blackbird Hall belongs to Mr. Sinclair, a London businessman; his eight-year-old niece is Gemma’s charge. Even before their first meeting, Gemma is, like everyone on the island, intrigued by Mr. Sinclair. Rich (by Gemma’s standards), single, flying in from London when he pleases, Hugh Sinclair fills the house with life. An unlikely couple, the two are drawn to each other, but Gemma’s biggest trial is about to begin: a journey of passion and betrayal, redemption and discovery, that will lead her to a life of which she’s never dreamed.
 
Set in Scotland and Iceland in the 1950s and ’60s, The Flight of Gemma Hardy–a captivating homage to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre–is a sweeping saga that resurrects the timeless themes of the original but is destined to become a classic all its own.
 
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: January 24, 2012
Page Count: 447
Source: My copy.
Rating: 4/5

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book so beautifully crafted as The Forgotten Garden or any of Kate Furnivall’s books. I know The Flight of Gemma Hardy isn’t exactly historical fiction, but it sure reads like one. Which is definitely not a bad thing.

I haven’t read Jane Eyre, so I don’t have a lot to go on when comparing this retelling. But I can tell you that its rawness and turmoil shines through Gemma’s young eyes, and it’s beautiful. It’s ugly. It’s ugly and it’s beautiful, like life so often is. But this is not a normal life. Young Gemma is treated horribly not only by her schoolmates and her teachers but by her own family. She’s never really been given a chance. And everyone seems to think that she thinks she is better than everyone else she’s around but that’s the thing… she is better. After being orphaned—even when she has family who is perfectly capable of taking care of her—worked to the bone, and never been given a chance, she refuses to stoop to their level of darkness and evil. Anyone would be damaged by this kind of treatment at such a young age but Gemma thrives and stays true to the good person she is, the good person her beloved uncle brought her up to be. I admired her. I’m not going to say that she didn’t frustrate me at times—she reminded me of The Language of Flowers’s Victoria Jones—but I believed in her. She was truly a good person. And sadly, a character like that has been hard to come by in literature lately.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy is one of those books you want to take your time with. Though I read it in a day, it’s not one of those books you just read. You have to take your time absorbing its elements and eventually it will swallow you whole. I read the first two hundred pages without looking up. It’s just written that beautifully. You can’t look away.

Despite this, I thought the romance (or romances) could have been better. I didn’t think there was much development to be found in Gemma and Hugh’s relationship and there was practically no build up. I liked him, but I felt that the author wanted us to fall head over heels for him but with the way he was portrayed I thought he was just a normal guy. I’m a romantic at heart—I pretty much need at least a little romance in every story I read—but I would have been happy without it here. Gemma was intriguing enough on her own.

Furthermore, I thought the ending was a bit off. It didn’t feel rushed but I felt like other relationships (friendships especially) could have been wrapped up better. Actually, I didn’t feel like some of them were wrapped up at all.

These are forgivable elements though, as the novel as a whole was so wonderfully crafted. Livesey has definitely worked some magic here. And, though it doesn’t matter to some people, the cover of this book is freaking PERFECT.

A new favorite, for sure.


Review The Edumacation of Jay Baker by Jay Clark

A few “sexy” bullet points about Jay: 
– He is in love with a cheerleader named Cameo “Appearance” Parnell 
– He is forever losing “Love-15” to tennis-playing goddess Caroline Richardson 
– He rocks a touche array of pop-culture references, jokes, and puns 
– His family-life cookie is about to crumble. 

Live vicariously through Jay as he faces off against his mortal enemy, gets awkward around his dream girl(s), loses his marbles in a Bermudian love triangle, watches his parents’ relationship implode, and, finally, learns to get real and be himself(ish).

Genre: YA Fiction
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Page Count: 272
Source: My copy.
Rating: 3/5

I really liked this book. I liked Jay and his quirks, and loved (most) all of the supporting characters. He suffered from some serious teenage boy syndrome during his rival with Mike and the bad choices he made where Cameo was concerned, but he made up for it in character so that was okay.

I had a real hard time connecting with Cameo, who is mostly responsible for the loss of rating. I know the author tried to portray her as a mistake-prone girl with good intentions, but I just wasn’t buying it. She wasn’t sincere to me.

Caroline, however, I loved. I was able to picture her perfectly and could definitely see myself being friends with her. I know that the author’s fiancee is named Caroline (and he is Jay), so one can only hope that she is like Caroline in the novel, because she is really down to earth. I do wish that we could have experienced the development in their relationship though, rather than “it’s one month later and we’re dating”.

Ms. Lambert was probably my favorite character though. Funnier than even Jay, I thought she was witty and very intelligent. Anyone who has a teacher like this, who cares about their students as much as she did, is really lucky.

I knew going into the novel that its main plot point was a love triangle (which I usually stay away from at all costs) but it wasn’t overdone so it turned out okay. Plus, it was told from a boy’s perspective which is not as common, so I was interested to see how that would play out.

Wholly, The Edumacation of Jay Baker is a humorous, witty contemporary that does deal with some real issues (divorce, etc.), but is not a tearjerker or anything like that. I would recommend it for a pretty light read.


Review The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden by Jessica Sorensen

There are those who don’t get luck handed to them on a shiny platter, who end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, who don’t get saved.

Luck was not on Callie’s side the day of her twelfth birthday when everything was stolen from her. After it’s all over, she locks up her feelings and vows never to tell anyone what happened. Six years later her painful past consumes her life and most days it’s a struggle just to breathe.

For as long as Kayden can remember, suffering in silence was the only way to survive life. As long as he did what he was told, everything was okay. One night, after making a terrible mistake, it seems like his life might be over. Luck was on his side, though, when Callie coincidentally is in the right place at the right time and saves him.

Now he can’t stop thinking about the girl he saw at school, but never really knew. When he ends up at the same college as Callie, he does everything he can to try to get to know her. But Callie is reserved and closed off. The more he tries to be part of her life, the more he realizes Callie might need to be saved.

Genre: New Adult
Publisher: Independent
Release Date: December 13, 2012
Page Count: 296
Source: My copy.
Rating: 2/5

Can I just say how much I hate fucking cliffhangers? Because, really, there’s a cliffhanger, and there’s a Cassandra Clare cliffhanger, and then there’s this cliffhanger. And the first two I can deal with, but there’s something very immature and noncommittal about ending a novel in the middle of the story. And that’s exactly what the author did here. She did not finish the story. And, series or not, that is unacceptable.

Two stars seems harsh for this book, especially since I liked the characters and the story they had to offer me, but two stars is for “it was okay”, and, with the amateur writing, the book turned out just okay for me.

I thought this novel could use an editor. Between the constant knitting of eyebrows and the lack of originality (see “knight in shining armor” or “think with your head and not with your dick” – so cliche), I thought the language could use some work.

This is one of my first experiences with New Adult and I thought that went alright. I fully expected it to read like a YA book but it didn’t – it fully encompassed the elements of a new adult’s life. So that was good. Like I said, I liked the characters and thought their connection was believable. I thought Kayden could be a little bit over the top at times, and despised Callie for expecting Kayden to do something about his life while she was on a downward spiral herself, but these were forgivable instances. Most of the time, I really liked them as human beings and felt for their circumstances and the pain they went through.

All in all, I thought the story flowed well and the writing needed work. I hated the ending (or lack thereof) and am kind of on the fence about reading the sequel. Like I said, it was okay.


Review Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan & Rachel Cohn

It all starts when Nick asks Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes. He only needs five minutes to avoid his ex-girlfriend, who’s just walked in to his band’s show. With a new guy. And then, with one kiss, Nick and Norah are off on an adventure set against the backdrop of New York City;and smack in the middle of all the joy, anxiety, confusion, and excitement of a first date.

This he said/she said romance told by YA stars Rachel Cohn and David Levithan is a sexy, funny roller coaster of a story about one date over one very long night, with two teenagers, both recovering from broken hearts, who are just trying to figure out who they want to be;and where the next great band is playing.

Told in alternating chapters, teeming with music references, humor, angst, and endearing side characters, this is a love story you’ll wish were your very own. Working together for the first time, Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have combined forces to create a book that is sure to grab readers of all ages and never let them go.

Genre: YA Fiction
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Release Date: August 26, 2008
Page Count: 208
Source: My copy.
Rating: 4/5

Having seen Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist The Movie, and loving it (except the emphasis on Norah’s non-orgasms, that was weird [and I’m glad there was only a single mention of it in the book]) I really wanted to read this book. I also liked Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares (mostly), which made me want to get my hands on this book even more. And I really did enjoy it. Even more than I did Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares.

I could see how the overuse of the word “fuck” or any variation of it could make readers want to shy away from this novel (especially being teen fiction and all), but I thought it was appropriate. My views on swearing and sex in teen fiction is this: teens swear. A lot. And sex is part of their lives as much if not more so (with the pressures that go with teen life) than adults. And I don’t think the adults writing the teen fiction should censor these novels to a point where the elements of these teens’ lives are not present. And so, the passionate swearing in this novel worked for me. I think both characters were really passionate in their lives and it made sense for them to express themselves with such passion. But I’ll tell you right now, if the word “fuck” bothers you, you’re not going to want to read this book.

I thought, at times, that Nick was a bit sensitive for a teenage boy, but he had just broken up with his girlfriend so it wasn’t totally unwarranted. But I absolutely loved Norah. She was strong, yet aware of her weaknesses and the mistakes that she made. She had loving parents, which was refreshing – I realize not all teens have that perfection in their lives where parents are concerned, but the reality is that some do, and it was nice to see that. I think Nick and Norah had amazing chemistry – especially in that one scene, whew! – and I enjoyed seeing their relationship develop. Somehow the authors did not enter insta-love territory, despite the fact that the entire novel is the course of one night, they kept it classy – these teens were actually interested in getting to know one another. I loved the backdrop of the music scene – it all felt very genuine. The novel was really short, but not too short to develop the characters. I thought the whole thing was executed brilliantly.


Review Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan & Rachel Cohn

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the bestselling authors ofNick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

Genre: YA Fiction
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: December 26, 2010
Page Count: 260
Source: My copy.
Rating: 3/5

The simple truth is, I loved this book until That Thing Happened. I thought Dash was an intelligent, unique, rooted boy who I could very easily relate to and I thought Lily was quite charming. I think Levithan and Cohn make a sensational team and frankly, I cannot count on two hands how many times this book made me laugh out loud. Really, laugh.

But the book was a bit pretentious. The reason I say it like that is because I read a review in which the reader rated it lowly because of its pretentious nature and I didn’t really believe it. But now I understand. The story goes from Dash wanting to meet Lily to Lily making a fool of herself to Dash thinking they shouldn’t have met, not because of what Lily did but because they just… shouldn’t? Why? And I don’t know if I’m just being naive or if I just wanted them to work so badly or what, but I feel like I don’t understand his reasoning. I mean, I understand that the girl in his head probably doesn’t exist and if she does, Lily is most likely not that girl, but if he realizes that the girl in his head doesn’t exist, then what is wrong with Lily, if her fault is not her actions. This is where the book felt pretentious to me. I felt like that there was an inner meaning to the whole girl (or boy) in our heads, but I don’t think that inner meaning really shined through in this novel. It was never really achieved.

And Lily. I really liked her, but what she did, how she acted in that one instance that served as a first impression, was unforgivable. Not only was it out of character, but it was as if she had completely given up on herself, not to mention Dash. And she just declined from there. I had gained so much respect for her and her morals, I was completely floored by her. And its in instances like this where my opinion conflicts with that of the entire book population. Sometimes, I don’t feel that a story needs conflict. For me, it would have been okay to tell Lily and Dash’s story without forcing for Lily to do something stupid to delay the whole thing. I think it would have been okay for them to stay true to themselves instead of make the mistakes that they made. And everyone makes mistakes – I understand that – but personally, I can’t stand in books when one person becomes two different people. And because Lily was That Person, I don’t feel that she really was right for Dash, and therefore disagreed with the rest of the book.

Apart from that, I absolutely loved Dash and all of his friends. Especially Boomer. He was one of the most kindhearted characters I have come in contact with in a long time. I think the book had strong world building – I could really picture New York from where I sat – and I really enjoyed the premise of the story. I thought it was executed well, like I said, until That Thing Happened that really propelled the story in the wrong way for me. But in a way, Dash’s character drove it home for me. Despite my disagreements with the story as a whole, I really enjoyed falling into his chapters and getting to know him as a person. He was very interesting.

I would recommend this book for solid writing, to readers who are looking for a light read, and who may be a bit more forgiving of humans than I am.