Friday, June 26, 2015

[Review] Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Publication (dd/mm/yyyy): 10/03/2015
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 368
Source: For review
Genre: YA (16+) - Contemporary

Violence | Sexual ContentProfanity

Book Tunes
Mr Probz - Waves

My Rating: 

Intense, captivating

My thoughts

I can say with absolute certainty that I have said this in the past but I have no reservations against repeatedly saying it for ever-- Lauren Oliver can do no wrong. I went into this book expecting something akin to a Gone Girl for teen readers/audience, and in a way I was sort of right. Reading this new book that had been written by one of my more favoured contemporary authors I was struck with something like déjà vu--of the best kind. Because, like Gone Girl, Vanishing Girls surprised me, captivated me, provoked me to think about issues and topics that hadn't previously been on my mind. It is bold. It is a lyrical masterpiece in the young adult genre (as are all of her other novels). It is relateable and remarkably human and beautifully disastrous and just a book of the best kind.

In Vanishing Girls, sisters Dara and Nick were inseparable until the accident that tore them apart. Now Dara has a permanent reminder by the scars on her face, thus ending her popularity. Then, on her birthday, she disappears. Around the same time another young girl, Madeline Snow, has been reported missing and it is all over the news. Nick believes that there may be a connection between the two disappearances and she is going to do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of it, no matter what.

Note: Now I'm going to start off by saying that it's been about half a year since I've posted on the blog. I've been struggling to find motivation for the longest time and I bear so much guilt--to the many book publishers and their beautiful publicists who graciously send me copies of their books for review, only for me to let them down with my absence. Most of the books I receive aren't preceded by an email alerting me about the book, or asking me if I wish to receive this or that book in hopes that a review will be produced by me. But that doesn't relinquish me from my guilt. Looking at the boundless amounts of books I have yet to read on my shelves I doubt this guilt will ever completely go away either. But I'll endeavour to post my reviews on a more timely basis in the future (I finished this book in April!). Now that that's out of the way...

Nick is the all-around good girl, according to Dara. After the accident Nick is forced into a summer job over at their local amusement park FanLand, which she actually grows to enjoy. First off, Parker (who used to be her best friend until he started messing around with her sister) also works there... maybe it's possible they can patch things up and become friends again. It's lovely to see relationships form and develop at a workplace environment. We get to know a bit about some of the other people who work at the amusement park, only glimpses, mind you, but just enough to prompt you to think.

This is the first time I'd ever read a book where the protagonist works at an amusement park. I found it to be very refreshing and interesting (especially as I have not, nor will I ever have the opportunity to work at one myself). It's only until you step back and look at the big picture do you realise that this time is very important to Nick's character development. Especially the end where Alice talks about the amusement park and why she is so invested in it, it's really quite beautiful.

Vanishing Girl is, at its heart, about sisters. They're complicated relationships. Dara and Nick were once close, then Dara starts sneaking off and is never home, and then after the accident.... Their relationship becomes a series of unreplied messages, silences and disappearances. Nick would do anything to have things back to the way they were.. and when Dara actually goes missing... well, maybe it's a cry for help, maybe she's in trouble, and just maybe there's a connection to the Madeline Snow case and only she can get to the bottom of it.

I absolutely love reading stories about sisters. I feel connected with them, maybe because I have a sister of my own and I find myself relating with the situations they're involved in, the relationships that they have. I never like getting too personal with my reviews but Vanishing Girls is doubly meaningful to me because I used to be quite close to my sister and now that we're older things have become incredibly strained. There was always that level of nurturing with an undercurrent of competitiveness that has led to resentment and jealousy. Just like in Vanishing Girls, the distance between us is almost palpable and, at least on my end, painful at times. Anyway, Oliver handles the delicate nature of sisterhood well, and I can say that at least for me it resonated on a deep and meaningful level because it felt real and true.

There's also the topic of family in general. Their family becomes a broken shell of what it once was. The parents divorce marks the beginning of the rift that forms between the two sisters. I can believe the way the sister dynamic has changed after the split-- Dara goes into party mode while Nick becomes the diplomatic disciplinarian. I haven't seen divorce nearly as much in my reading travels, and I hope to read more in the future because it is a contemporary teen issue that really has a lasting impact.

The writing style is flawless. This is Lauren Oliver we're talking about. 'Nuff said.

There is a bit of romance. And I found it to be tremendously, heart-achingly sweet. I'm quite the sucker for a good old, slow development, with conflict and small moments that matter, that make you believe the attraction goes far deeper than the physical. 

I can honestly say that I did not expect the ending, unlike many other reviewers on Goodreads it seems. I normally just read a book, totally absorbed in its world and the emotions and the characters that I don't pick up on hints as to how the story will end. Some readers have complained that they could see the twist from miles away. I admit I was very slow on the uptake, and once I did come to that revelation it hit me hard. I actually really liked the direction in which Oliver took the story, found it fitting and poignant and essentially Oliver-esque. The meaning behind the narrative has changed, our viewpoint on Nick has changed and it just brings you to see things from another angle and reevaluate everything that you had learned from the beginning. From what I can gather, as long as you're not a rabid reader of psychological thrillers you shouldn't be too disappointed by the ending.


First line: "Want to play?"


"Weird how you can confuse two feelings so different. Cold and hot.
Pain and love.
But I guess that's the whojle point, isn't it? Maybe that's why I kept thinking about that time with the lighter. Here's what nobody tells you: 90 percent of the time, when you fall in love, somebody gets burned.

"I jump back, yelping, as the water is abruptly illuminated from below in crazy rainbow shades: neon oranges and yellows and purples and blues, shifting Technicolor strata. A wave gathers on the far side of the pool and works its way slowly toward me, causing all the colors to bend and break and re-form. I back up as the wave breaks at my feet, scattering into shades of pink.
     "See? Told you it was worth it." Parker reemerges, jogging, silhouetted against the crazy light display.
     "You win," I say. I've never seen the wave pool lit up like this; I didn't even know it could be. Fingers of light, shimmering and translucent, extend up toward the sky, and I have a sudden, soaring sense of happiness--like I, too, am nothing but light.

And of course the last chapter.. because it's beautiful and just perfect. But of course I can't share that here. :)


AUSTRALIA: Booktopia

INTERNATIONAL: Book Depository 

I have received this review copy in return for an honest review.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

[Review] I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Publication (dd/mm/yyyy): 16/09/2014
Publisher: Dial (Penguin)
Pages: 371
Source: Bought
Genre: YA (14+) - Contemporary

Violence | Sexual ContentProfanity

Book Tunes
Jessie J - Sweet Talker

My Rating: 

A masterpiece

My thoughts

Jandy Nelson's debut novel, The Sky is Everywhere, was one of my absolute favourite debut novels of 2010. Its strong depiction of the ailing effect of music and love in the midst of a grieving period in a young teen's life quickly landed the author a place on my list of authors I will follow no matter what. In that book she showed a unique sensitivity and delivered a beautifully-woven story that I could not forget.

Her sophomore title, I'll Give You the Sun, surpassed her debut by far. I cannot even begin to describe how invested I had become with the story and the characters; everything was so powerful, so emotional, so beautiful. Contemporary YA will always be my home genre and I think I'll Give You the Sun just confirms to me that Jandy Nelson can do no wrong. 

[Note: I haven't been in the mood to write for a while so it's been >1 month since I read this book, so I'll write as much as I can.]

I'll Give You the Sun is a story about family. Jude and Noah are twins. Each have their own perspective, their own side that they share to the reader: Jude at 16 years, Noah in the past when they were 13 years of age. At the heart of everything is their mum, who favoured Noah's artistic talent while seemingly dismissing Jude when they were 13 years old and about to apply for the prestigious CSA (which Jude didn't want to go to because she wanted to be "normal"). At 16 they are separated, but their stories will intertwine, the truth will become uncovered and they will eventually start to love one another again.

I loved the use of dual perspectives--one from the past, one from the "present". Their individual voices were unique so you could easily differentiate the two. Jandy Nelson's talent lies in writing beautiful prose, lilting and rhythmic, that flows and moves the reader.

I was able to sympathise with both Jude and Noah, whose roles and personalities and lives seem to have swapped in those three years. Jude, who only wanted her mother's approval and to be "normal" and have a brother who will open up to her. Noah, whose passion and drive for art is destroyed when he isn't accepted to CSA. When the truth is unleashed, they--and we--will understand everything.

Jude is at odds at the CSA: she's one failed step from quitting the academy. She is convinced her mum's ghost is destroying all her sculptures, to punish her, to push her to give her brother back his rightful position at the academy. Her only hope is to use another medium, to use unbreakable stone, reach out to the stone-master and esteemed mentor, Guillermo Garcia... who turns out to be closer to her than ever imagined.

I loved the story behind Guillermo, and how he fits into their story. Not to mention his incredibly arrogant and flirtatious assistant, Oscar, with whom Jude is instantaneously drawn to. Almost enough to break her boy ban... I loved the romance and relationships that shift and develop and evolve. Oscar frustrated me, mostly by what he puts Jude through, but in the end he's trying to change. In the end I do think they're good for each other, but true to life there are gray areas of doubt.

I don't want to make a big deal about this, but it does need to be mentioned. There are themes of GBLT in this book. There's so much confusion, anger and frustration linked to Noah's story in relation to his sexual orientation. He becomes enamoured with his one and only friend, the new kid from up the block, Brian... which becomes complicated when Brian becomes popular, the star athlete, got a reputation to uphold, and a relationship with another guy will unravel all his plans. As a straight female I was still able to sympathise with Noah. I feel like the underlying themes of longing, regret and inability to love someone completely and how you want to are heart-renderingly universal--such that I was able to relate to his situation on some level.

In the end, this book just got me. It was just perfect for me. I love stories about art/music/performing arts. I love stories about family and love and heartbreak and revenge and secrets. It does get a little bit melodramatic near the end, but that never seemed to bother me too much. The ending is a little bit abrupt, I'll admit, and I definitely would love to know what happens after, but maybe that's just proof of how attached I became to all of the characters. I absolutely cannot wait for Nelson's next book. Without a doubt she will not disappoint.


First line: This is how it all begins.


"It's very hot and steamy to laugh out of control inside a wool hat, so after a time I lift it up and see him there, his face splotchy and eyes watering from truly losing it, and I'm filled with something I can only describe as recognition. Not because he looks familiar on the outside this time, but because he feels familiar on the inside.
    Meeting your soul mate is like walking into a house you've been in before - you will recognize the furniture, the pictures on the wall,the books on the shelves, the contents of drawers: You could find your way around in the dark if you had to. (221)
Source: penginteen@Tumblr

And so many others. This book is filled with quote-worthy passages (that I managed not to save, which means I will have to re-read in the future! ;)).


AUSTRALIA: Booktopia | Fishpond

INTERNATIONAL: Book Depository | AbeBooks

I have received this review copy in return for an honest review.

Monday, November 10, 2014

[Review] Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Add to Goodreads
Publication (dd/mm/yyyy): 14/09/2014
Publisher: Dutton
Pages: 352
Source: Bought
Genre: YA (14+) - Contemporary

Violence | Sexual ContentProfanity

Book Tunes
Christina Perri - Arms

My Rating: 

Feel good read

My thoughts

Let me preface this review by saying that I am madly in love with Stephanie Perkin and her previous books (Anna and Lola!). Her stories and characters are so incredibly realistic, fun and interesting. You can't help feeling happy reading her books. In the case of Isla and the Happily Ever After... I'm not sure if it's just a personal thing (where I am compared to where I was back when I read her previous novels), but there was just too much of it. It was too cutesy, too happy, too easy. Instead of feeling excited to continue reading I was groaning and waiting for the agony to end.

The first 150~ pages is practically a recount of Isla and her mad love affair with the dreamy, swoony, perfectly gorgeous bad boy artist with whom she had been crushing on for the past three years--turns out he has been crushing on her all this time, too! It was just... too sweet for me to swallow. But afterwards there was actually some substance and STORY and now my feelings for this book as a whole is a jumbled mess. On the one hand I love where the story ends, but the beginning was such a struggle to get through. It pains me to even say this about Isla. All things considered, I am glad that this book exists and I applaud Perkins for finishing all of their stories. :)

Isla and the Happily Ever After follows Isla, an introverted and ordinary teenage girl, as she falls deeper and deeper in love with her "the one", an artistic and attractive guy by the name of Josh, one year her senior. During the summer holidays off SOAP, they meet up in Manhatten through a chance encounter. She's doped up on happy gas fresh from the dentist and in a moment of madness/bravery she asks him to draw her... and the rest is history. The problem is that Josh is trouble... and his parents...

I love that Perkins discusses the future. For teenagers it's such an important issue. Many people have no idea what they want to do after school, while some, like Josh, have it all planned out. Isla has no idea
what the future holds for her, where she wants to go, who she wants to be. Perkins allows this issue to be contemplated by the reader.

As for the characters, Josh is an interesting character. He reminds me somewhat of Logan from Gilmore Girls (who I despised).
But anyway. Josh's parents are the rich but absent type; he is never left wanting for anything... except for their attention. He's artistic and a romantic and idealistic and reckless and he's got big things coming for him in the future. I do feel like he's a little bit too wish-fulfillment-y. (But I'm okay with that.) Then there's Isla. On the one hand, I can empathise with her: I think everyone can. We all have insecurities, and sometimes we may feel like we aren't deserving of love... for whatever reason. She's also really unsure of herself and of her future, she hasn't really got it all figured out. Yet again, something that lots of teens would be able to relate to. I think my problem is in her development. I don't quite BELIEVE it. It all just kind of happens too quickly so the resolution doesn't feel that genuine to me. It's beautiful, just very idealistic and a bit rushed. Thinking back, I can't really pinpoint anything specific or special about Isla, so if that bothers you it might be a bit of a struggle finishing this book.Isla and Kurt. Their friendship is so beautiful. I wish I had that kind of strictly platonic friendship with a guy where we could sleep together and it wouldn't be weird or out of the normal at all. Kurt is a great support character for Isla... while he does have a few character traits of his own he really gets pushed to the sidelines (since it's written in Isla's perspective). I wish we could have known more about Kurt and his side of the story. (Idea for a short story in his POV, Stephanie?)

Lastly, there's the development of the sisterly relationship between Isla and her younger sister, Hattie. Hattie is reckless and loud and bold and abrasive and seems to deeply dislike Isla. I actually liked Hattie by the end, you see there's more to their relationship and to her than first thought. I love when family, especially among siblings, is an aspect of the story. I think Perkins explored their story well and I liked where they ended up. Yay for resolution! :D

And lastly (for real), I need to briefly mention the characters from previous novels. You know: Anna, St Clair, Lola, Cricket, Meredith. In this one they don't really bear too much significance, other than to shake Isla by reminding her that Josh has this whole other life with these friends that she knows next to nothing about, has barely seen besides a short encounter or two and the portraits that surrounded Josh's dorm room. They have that same warm dynamic and it's just nice to find where they've all ended up.

So I did enjoy this book, but I can't say that it was my favourite. There was still a lot of charm in this book, but Anna and Lola did it better.


First line: It's midnight, it's sweltering, and I might be high on Vicodin, but that guy--that guy right over him--that's him.
The him.


AUSTRALIA: Booktopia | The Nile | A&RFishpond

INTERNATIONAL: Book Depository

I have received this review copy in return for an honest review.

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