Once and For All: 5

Once and For All
Author: Sarah Dessen
Rating: 5/5

TRIGGER WARNING: this book lightly touches on gun violence

“As we walked behind the counter, with the twins in tow, the salesgirl was still focused on her computer, and I averted my eyes so I wouldn’t see the screen.  But I knew what was most likely there, as well as to come.  A long shot of a flat, nondescript building, maybe with a mascot on the side.  People streaming out doors, hands over their heads.  The embraces of the survivors, mouths open, caught in wails we were lucky not to hear.  And, in the worst case, pictures of kids just like the ones in my own yearbook, lined up neatly, already ghosts.”

– Sarah Dessen, Once and For All

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking:
“Lissa, What on earth makes this book so special that you gave it a perfect rating? You’re usually so picky.”

* Ahem*

man standing at a center of stages on podium surrounded by people
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Ms. Dessen managed to craft one of those rare stories so compelling that, if there were any stylistic or grammatical errors, I did not notice. I read this book in one night, because I simply couldn’t put it down. Yes, I’m Exhausted. Yes, it was worth.

book girl indoors lampshade
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Louna, the protagonist, struggles to move on in her life after the sudden death of a loved one.  She works part-time for her mom’s wedding planning business, and she goes to school.  Her best friend Jilly has to cajole her into coming out of her shell to socialize (ie. dating.)  The son of an important client, Ambrose, is driving said client crazy, so Louna’s mom hires him for the summer.  Louna and Ambrose become close, etc.  It’s another teenage love story.  Except that it’s not.  At least not for me.

While Ms. Dessen’s writing style certainly made the story a smooth read, this particular novel reached the pinnacle of my rating scale because I personally believe that this is the type of story that we need in YA right now.  There are so many issues that teenagers deal with that are taboo to talk about.  What happens to the survivors of school shootings? With the loved ones of the deceased? How are they supposed to move the most traumatic event of their young lives?  We see the power of a movement in The Hate U Give, but Louna’s grief was powerful because it was just her.  Sometimes you don’t have a deeper movement to fight for.  Sometimes it is enough of a fight to get out of bed every day.  To do normal things like go out with friends or date.  Unlike other YA novels that deal with death and grief, Once and For All shows the aftermath a year later.

Dealing with loss is a difficult concept at any age, but death is still a foreign concept of teenagers.  It hits so much harder when they experience it.  Louna, the protagonist, bears the mental scars of her experience. Her interactions with other characters demonstrate how jaded she’s become, and she has every right to be. Death can be just as scarring to those it leaves behind.

The subtlety which Ms. Dessen expertly uses to allude to Louna’s experience makes the story line more powerful, because it allows anyone who has experienced loss at a young age to relate to Louna’s story.

I was crying quietly while reading, because being able to relate hit me SO HARD. Throughout my freshman year of college seven of my friends from high school passed away. The death I struggled with the most though, had been my theater “mentee” throughout high school. It was his senior year and then suddenly his friend drove around a curve too fast and he was gone. I remember standing in my boyfriend’s kitchen, listening to his mom read out the names of the passengers and their conditions. Her voice was sad, because it was a tragedy, but relieved because she didn’t think we knew any of them.

I remember my knees giving out and sobs wracking my body. Randomly bursting into tears any time something reminded me of Andrew. I remember feeling so alone. This book brought back all of that, with a cathartic release that I didn’t realize I still needed after five years. It would have been easy to write about how this story made me laugh and feel giddy, how Ms. Dessen has mastered the craftsmanship of an epic summer romance, and all of those things are true. this book is romantic and haunting, hilarious and heart breaking, but the real magic in Once and For All does not lay in its romance, the real magic in Once and for All comes the ability to make the reader feel like maybe, just maybe, they’re not alone.

NOTE:  I’ve seen several other reviews where people criticize Louna’s grief as an inauthentic device to further the plot.  It’s important to note that the events that unfold in this book occur a year after her loss.  When something traumatic, like the loss of a loved one, occurs, time helps to dull the grief.  Every once in awhile, it still hits you though.  You’ll catch a certain scent, or see a stranger that looks a little too familiar, and it will hit you in the gut all over again.  Grief is a wound sustained in an emotional battlefield.  It shreds through you, and even after it heals it will throb on a rainy day to remind you of its existence.  This story is special because it deals with moving on.  It shows that it’s possible.  It provides hope for those still struggling.

Do you agree?  Comment below!

Want to change my mind?  No. Not on this one.

Crazy Rich Asians: 2.7

Crazy Rich Asians
Author: Kevin Kwan
Rating: 2.7

“Carol simply felt obligated to attend a few charity galas every week as any good born-again Christian should, and because her husband kept reminding her that ‘being Mother Teresa is good for business.'”

-Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians

I wanted to like this book.  I wanted to love it, and reread it again and again.  But I would have settled for liking it.  There are only two reasons I finished this one, and the other two in the series.  1) I’m a book junkie, as we’ve already established, and 2) I was stuck in the Chicago airport overnight after a concert, because my Airbnb cancelled on me.  As in never sent me the door code and was completely MIA during the 24 hours before that I tried contacting them.  Anyway, long story short, I was stuck in a sketchy Starbucks inside of ORD with limited phone battery and three books.

So, sit down, and I’ll put a pot on.  We’re about to spill the tea with this book summary.  It was that dramatic.

close up of black teapot
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Rachel Chu’s boyfriend Nick Young invites her to his best friend, Collin Khoo’s wedding, and to meet his family in Singapore.  What poor unsuspecting Rachel doesn’t know is that Nick Young is considered to be the heir to one of Singapore’s richest families, and the claws of the Asian jetset are about to come out.  Everyone assumes that she must be from one of the rich Chu families, but she’s proud of her single mother who immigrated to America and scraped out a living for them.  As she should be.

Eleanor Young, Nick’s mother, has been plotting and scheming his entire life to make sure that he’s the heir to his grandmother’s estate.  She’s not thrilled that this girl shows up out of nowhere and essentially threatens her life work.  For her 3rd person POV, she does everything she can to mitigate what she considers to be the damage.  With me so far?

Astrid Leong, megarich heiress and Nick’s cousin, is struggling with marital problems.  She holds a good portion of the book on her own, and is almost never shown with Nick and Rachel.  Oliver T’sien spends the whole book plotting for his own benefit.  Alistair Cheng is naive and in love with a tacky actress, Kitty Pong, who, to Eleanor’s dismay, makes Rachel look like a saint.  Eddie Cheng is, along with being the most annoying character ever written, a conceited social climber with a superficial personality to match.  He’s extremely abusive to his wife and children in his quest for perfection. AND ALL OF THESE STORYLINES ARE HAPPENING AT THE SAME TIME IN THE SAME BOOK.

Suffice it to say, it was confusing to read.  The different storylines played a part in that, but so did the constant footnotes to translate words in different languages.  Personally, I prefer being able to infer the meaning of a word from the writing around it than having to stop every few minutes to figure out what it means.  It really disrupts the flow of the story.

The cultural and food descriptions were the best parts of this series.  Seriously, I was practically panting at some of the food they got to eat.  I absolutely plan on doing a Crazy Rich Asians themed dinner night.

Aside from that, this book was fairly annoying to get through.  The inconstant narrators kept cutting off storylines like it was rush hour traffic, and the hyperbolized characters were shallow, dramatic, and boring at the same time.  There were maybe two unpredictable twists in the whole book, and that was only because they were dropped in out of nowhere.  Also, Eddie Cheng’s choice curse was “fucky-fuck” and quite frankly, as a lady, I was offended, but as a decent human being, I was totally prepared to strangle the character through the pages if he said it one more time.

This is the one, and perhaps the only story, that I believe that the movie was better than the book.

Do you agree? Want to change my mind? Comment below! Maybe there’s something I missed the first time around.

Six of Crows: 4.8

Six of Crows
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Rating: 4.8/5

“‘I don’t like it, boy.  Big Bolliger was my soldier, not yours.’
‘Of course,’ Kaz said, but they both knew it was a lie.  Haskell’s Dregs were old guard, con men and crooks from another time.  Bolliger had been one of Kaz’s crew- new blood, young and unafraid.  Maybe too unafraid.”

– Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows

This.  This book is the heist novel I never knew I needed.  I literally listened to the audiobook, went out, bought the book, and read it again.  For the record, the audiobook cast is amazing and did true credit to the story.  If you’re looking for a new listen, I highly recommend it.

Essentially, Kaz Brekker is the unofficial leader of a gang, the Dregs, in Ketterdam, which is located in the Grishaverse, for those of you familiar with Ms. Bardugo’s earlier work.  Kaz is hired/coerced into performing a heist in the Ice Court of Fjerda, and the story follows his crew from their various perspectives as they attempt the impossible.

READ THIS BOOK.  Drop what you’re doing.  Quit your job.  Settle in for a good fifteen or so hours or more, if you decide to reread it.

Okay, so don’t quit your job.  But drop what you’re doing to at least grab the audiobook ASAP and listen while you work.

If you’re looking for a light, playful, thief novella, this book is not for you.  Go read Ally Carter’s Heist Society.Six of Crows is dark, witty, full of intricate world building, and characters as deep as the ocean.  There’s romance, there’s drama, action, backstory, and everything I need in a good novel.  These alone would have earned it a 4.5 rating, but Ms. Bardugo went above and beyond in crafting this story.

In her subtlety, Leigh Bardugo also crafted a tale of acceptance, a world where misfits can conquer, and anti-heroes can save the world.  The prologue starts off a bit slow, but the back story is essential to the plot.  I promise that once you finish, all of the pieces come together neatly and you’ll be screaming for the sequel, which is also amazing.

Upon my first reading of this novel, I had yet to read Ms. Bardugo’s prior work, which I promptly did after reading the sequel to this wickedly lovely story.  I can say with 100% confidence that I will read ANYTHING she puts out from here forward.  She could publish her tweets in a book, and I would go buy it.  Moral of this post, READ THIS BOOK.  PUT IT AT THE TOP OF YOUR TBR PILE.

Thank you, and good night.

Do you agree? Want to change my mind? Comment below! Maybe there’s something I missed the first time around.

Caraval: 2.8

Author: Stephanie Garber
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Rating: 2.8/5

“Hope is a powerful thing.  Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether.  Elusive, difficult to hold on to.  But not much is needed.”

– Stephanie Garber, Caraval

The premise of a magical carnival where dreams come true, of a dangerous world of enchantment and mystery, seemed almost too good to be true.  Sisters Scarlett and Tella have never left the island they call home, but they have dreamed of attending Caraval for years.  Caraval is an annual audience participation show of the highest order.  The winner receives a wish, and nothing is what it seems.

When a friend told me about the premise for this book, I was all in.  I couldn’t even wait to drive to the bookstore.  I quite literally purchased the audiobook and started listening to it on the way home.  At first, I thought maybe it was slow to pick up, but I stopped listening once I got home and decided to pick it back up in the morning.  So, Day One, I listened to about the first thirty minutes of the audiobook.  For the record, Rebecca Soler did an amazing job with the narration, emotion, pacing, and is one of the main reasons I was able to trudge through this book.

I just… I don’t understand how something with so much action and promise could fall so flat.  Quite literally.  The characters were static, the action was mediocre, and the world building was subpar at best.  I loved the idea more than the actual product.  Maybe it’s because I had such high expectations from the start, but I was sadly disappointed by this story.  Even the romance was sweet, but so unrealistic that I felt I couldn’t get lost in the story.  To be clear, the writing was beautiful.  It was the depth of the story itself that fell so far from expectations.

I sincerely apologize for the short and vague review.  I try to avoid spoilers, and the disappointment is still too fresh.  Even writing this makes me sad.

Do you agree? Want to change my mind? Comment below! Maybe there’s something I missed the first time around.

Rebel Belle: 3.8

Rebel Belle
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Rating: 3.8

“If Dr. Dupont hadn’t been a total drama queen and raised the sword with both hands, he might have actually killed me.  He certainly wouldn’t have ended up giving me the opening he did.
Because while his arms were high over his head, about to bring the sword down, I pushed myself off the floor and into a spin, the high heel clutched in hands, sharp point out.”

– Rachel Hawkins, Rebel Belle

Y’all, as a proud southern belle, I was more excited for this book than a perfect pitcher of sweet tea. Too much? Okay, maybe. I did grow up in a big city, and honestly, I hate sweet tea. Please don’t take my belle card away.  Here, have some lemonade.

Seriously, though, Harper is the protagonist I needed growing up. She manages to be a lady in the streets and the ultimate ninja in a fight. This is a book for all of the girls whose mothers made them attend cotillion instead of knife throwing classes. You CAN have it all. (That’s right Maman, I’m calling you out.)

Essentially, Harper Price is the quintessential homecoming queen who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and becomes endowed with pseudo-super powers.  Then she finds out that she’s honor and magically bound to protect the guy that she’s hated since she was in diapers.  What’s not to love about this storyline? You’ve got the teenage angst, the ultimate independent female protagonist, and the promise of some great action scenes.

I wish I could have ordered my copy with the angst on the side.  The fact that I was so excited for this book made all of the exaggerated stereotypes so much more disappointing.  I loved the idea of Harper Price, but in reality she was a little annoying. Her relationships with everyone in her life are so superficial that I couldn’t let it go throughout the entire book. And the sequel. Look, I’m a book junkie, sometimes I just HAVE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

Even her relationship with her boyfriend, Ryan, at the beginning of the book made me want to cringe.  And vomit.  And pray that I was never like that in high school.  I mean, seriously, who dates someone because they check off a box?  I understand that Rachel Hawkins fit in this relationship as part of Harper’s character arc, to show how she grows as a person.  Harper was originally all about the perception and being perfect, and blah, blah, blah.  How much more heartless and cliché can you get?

It’s a great beach read, and I’d recommend it if you’re looking for something to pass the time, but it’s nothing special.  I had no problem putting it down when I had other matters to attend, which probably says all that you need to know.

Do you agree? Want to change my mind? Comment below! Maybe there’s something I missed the first time around.

The Cruel Prince: 4.3

The Cruel Prince
Author: Holly Black
Rating: 4.3/5

“Maybe Oriana isn’t entirely wrong to worry that we might one day get caught up in it, be carried away by it, and forget to take care.  I can see why humans succumb to the beautiful nightmare of the Court, why they willingly drown in it.”

Holly Black, The Cruel Prince

Allow me to begin by explaining that I am a newer fan of Holly Black’s work. I never had the pleasure of reading The Spiderwick Chronicles growing up, and BOY does the rich world building of The Cruel Prince make me regret that. Black’s vivid descriptions bring the fae to life in a way that makes the reader both yearn and fear their world.

Perfectly imperfect, Jude’s character is a breath of fresh air. Her naïveté is realistic, and I found myself agreeing with her decisions. Jude is a kick-butt independent young lady who is rational and works well with others. She’s passionate, strong, intelligent, loyal, and one of my new favorite protagonists.

Jude and her twin sister Taryn are humans who were raised in a fae world.  There’s this whole thing about their human mother being a runaway fae bride, and then being murdered by her fae husband. Because men.  Well, she also faked her death and ran away with his human blacksmith, successfully cuckolding him, but she didn’t deserve to die.  Aside from being, well, a murderer, Madoc is actually really honorable, and takes Jude and Taryn to live with him.  After he kills their parents.  He also takes their half-sister Vivi, who is actually his child.

I loved Jude’s character.  She could be a bit rough at times, but Ms. Black made it very clear that it was a necessary trait in the dangerous world she inhabits.  She was wonderfully refreshing as an independent protagonist, especially when so many protagonists portray a false sense of independence.  Jude was very much her own person, and I enjoyed seeing her go toe to toe with the fae.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the other prominent female characters. Oriana plays a damsel in distress, Vivi a rebellious teenager, and Taryn… well Jude’s twin is certainly the yin to her yang. Despite the intricate novelty of the world that Ms. Black has crafted, the stereotypes of these remaining female characters are tired.

I would argue that the only real character growth we see in this book is Cardan, the cruel prince himself, and even that is debatable. Ms. Black considerably shifts the key roles of the character’s around, but for better of worse, their personalities remain static.

Stylistically, everything from the world building to the story arc was brilliant. I can’t wait to get my hands on The Wicked King when it comes out in 2019. It was the lack of growth in characters and boring stereotypes that left the story wanting. Is it worth reading?

Absolutely. Should you clear your schedule? Not so much.

Do you agree? Want to change my mind? Comment below! Maybe there’s something I missed the first time around.