Friday, May 24, 2019

Review: ONE TRUE LOVES by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Rating: 5/5 stars

The day before Emma and Jesse’s one-year wedding anniversary, Jesse goes missing and is presumed dead. Four years later, after mourning and moving on and getting engaged to someone else, Emma gets a call from Jesse, and he has been alive this whole time and he is coming home.

This book is both beautiful and sad. It’s about what it’s like to love and let go, how it’s possible to love both someone from your past and someone from your present and that loving one person doesn’t mean you love the other any less. It’s about making hard decisions and growing up and deciding what kind of person you want to be. I can’t imagine being in Emma’s position because that’s obviously an impossible place to be in.

I love that we were able to get the backstory of how Emma met and dated and got engaged to both Jesse and Sam. There was definitely a while when I was conflicted about who I wanted her to be with, who I thought was a better match for her.

I love Taylor Jenkins Reid’s writing style and how she is always able to communicate so much emotion and create such a connection between the characters and the reader. Her books always resonate so much with me and touch my heart in a special way.

[I love how this book explores how time changes us and how just because two people were right together at one time doesn’t mean they are right together now, and how that’s okay.

I wanted Emma to be with Sam so I’m really happy it ended that way. I love that she was able to stay true to who she is now and that Jesse was also able to be himself and find happiness. They had obviously grown apart while he was gone, which makes jumping back into that relationship really tough, but they both realized they loved who each other used to be, not who each other is now. That’s so important to understand because forcing a relationship that isn’t meant to be never turns out well. I’m glad they both ended up happy.

At the end when it said “eight months later” I thought that Emma was going to say she was pregnant and it was going to end up being Jesse’s, and what an ending that would have been! But I was completely wrong, and I did love the way the story actually ended.]

This is truly a beautiful story and I’m so glad I had the chance to read it.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Review: AGAIN, BUT BETTER by Christine Riccio

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The story opens up with Shane on a plane to London for a study abroad in college. The beginning of this book was not very good. It felt like the kind of story a high schooler would write, to be honest. But about 150 pages in, I noticed a huge change in the tone of the story, the maturity of the characters, the writing style, and the overall plot, and suddenly I became more interested. The more I read, the more I liked it, and by the end, I actually enjoyed the story. And I love how it ended.

The first half of the story takes place in 2011 and it is so obvious this is the case because of all the pop culture references and the unnecessary description of how things were back then to make it clear we aren’t reading a book set in 2019.

Six years after the study abroad, Shane and Pilot go through a “time warp” back to 2011 and have the chance to literally redo their year abroad. I was hoping when the synopsis said they could redo their year that it was like them deciding to take a trip back to revisit London in the present and relive some of the moments they had on their study abroad, not them actually going back in time. However, even though the plot basically happens twice, Shane and Pilot going to the exact same places in the same cities, the story doesn’t feel repetitive, which makes me really happy.

Shane describes herself as socially anxious: she has trouble making friends and talking to guys and doing anything outside of her comfort zone. I would also describe myself as a socially anxious person, however I did have friends and relationships in college. Not a lot, but I was not completely by myself. After learning this about Shane right from the beginning, I thought it was strange the decisions she started to make. She seemed to have no problems befriending her flatmates, and she walked right over to the cute guy to introduce herself, which is something I never would have done. So right away that felt out of character for her. Her social anxiety felt like the kind of social anxiety that everyone experiences from time to time, but nothing extreme or really even worth noting.

Christine mentions in the author’s note in the beginning how this is the book she wishes she would have had when she started college because she was all alone. What I can’t understand then is how Shane is able to be so outgoing with boys right from the get-go. I can’t imagine that someone with the level of anxiety she claims to have would have felt comfortable walking right up to a cute guy and saying “hi” and then going to the store with him and then flirting with him mere hours after they met. I feel like I’m a halfway capable person in the social department but I never could have done that because I was always way too shy around guys. So for Christine wanting to write a book that’s relatable to early-twenty-somethings, that’s a pretty unrelatable thing to include, especially at the beginning before Shane’s character has any time to develop. She even says, “I don’t usually say stuff like that to people I’ve just met.” And let’s not even talk about the glaring insta-love that develops within the first few hours of their meeting.

Something that bothered me about this entire book was the amount of repetition in the phrases used in any given scene. The wording could have been changed to give some variance, but frequently the same set of words was just repeated from sentence to sentence, and it got tiring. (It is so ironic to me that a lot of the individual wording feels repetitive when the plot happening twice does not feel repetitive, as I mentioned earlier.) In the same vein, literally every time Shane stands up, the chair she was sitting in falls over. I’m pretty sure this has happened to me only twice in my whole life so far, yet I kid you not it happened to her every single time she stood up. Like so often that I actually lost count. Talk about a realistic main character.

Another detail I want to note is the amount of unnecessary descriptions of mundane activities. I remember watching in one of Christine’s videos about her writing process for this book that she was trying to cut out like 30,000 words or some ridiculous number from the final draft, and I think the end result was still longer than it was supposed to be. I’m baffled by this because there were sentences upon sentences that didn’t need to be there. Every detail about Shane’s daily actions is mentioned. In one scene when they go to Starbucks, there are four sentences in a row about their time spent waiting in line. Was that necessary or interesting? No, I thought not.

The unnecessary detail and repetition in the writing was a big factor in the book feeling amateur for me. I’ve mentioned in many reviews before that the writing style is the biggest factor in me liking a book. The story itself in Again, but Better was interesting and fun, and the characters were okay, but the novice writing tendencies were a huge hindrance to the book.

What I enjoyed the most about this book was being able to relate to the setting. I, too, went on a study abroad to London and stayed in a flat with other people in my college program, and we had a communal kitchen where we would all hang out just like the characters in the book. In reading about those parts, I was able to picture the scenes perfectly because I already knew the setting. Every single place Shane went in the book (with the exception of Italy), I also went while on my study abroad in college. London, Paris, even Edinburgh was the exact same for me. It was so much fun to remember all those adventures I had and relive them through her eyes and imagine her doing what I did. I could picture all the minor details and I loved it; the setting felt very genuine, and that’s the biggest compliment I have for this story.

Another thing I enjoyed was that the plot was engaging enough to keep me reading. I never felt like I was forcing myself to pick up the book, even though the writing was sometimes cheesy and the characters one dimensional. It was easy for me to get through the book, which I was grateful for, plus the short chapters were a breath of fresh air after reading primarily fantasy books with long chapters for the past five months.

The story also gets tremendously more interesting after Amy shows up in the picture. Certain events happen that just ramp up the tension and had my eyes glued to the page to see what was going to happen next. This is also when I saw a huge increase in the quality of writing and the maturity of the story.

Music plays a big role in the story. All the chapter titles are from song lyrics, plus Pilot’s passion is playing music and he and Shane constantly reference different songs. Also, on an unrelated note, I like that Shane calls Pilot “Pies.” The story is cute and the romance is cute. However, the author tried too hard to add humor and funny dialogue but it just felt forced to me and not at all funny. I read all the dialogue in my head in a high-pitched overenthusiastic voice because that’s honestly how the story feels like it is written, where everything feels like it ends with an exclamation point.

It seems obvious that this could go without saying but the main character, Shane, is a replica of Christine. They look and talk the same and they have identical personalities. There’s nothing inherently wrong with writing yourself as the main character, but it’s worth mentioning at least.

I mentioned in one of my updates that Again, but Better feels like Anna and the French Kiss to me. Basic contemporary romance, European setting, studying abroad, the “absolutely perfect” cute guy, underlying cheating, unnecessary explanations for everything, etc. I didn’t like Anna and the French Kiss, and this one was only slightly better.

I casually watch Christine’s YouTube channel so when I found out she was writing a book I was interested to read it. However, the real reason I read Again, but Better when I did instead of putting it off for a few years is because I am moderating the book club at work, and this book was chosen as the first month’s pick. I’m glad I read the book and was able to support Christine, but I also think my time of enjoying romantic contemporaries like this one is mostly behind me. This novel felt too young, even though Shane is in her early twenties like I am, and I just couldn’t relate to her like I thought I should have been able to. This is definitely a young adult book, and young adult contemporaries are just not my thing anymore, unfortunately. I do think this book will be wonderful for many people, probably girls still in high school or just starting college, so if this sounds like something you’d enjoy then give it a go. I probably would have liked it quite a bit more myself if I were younger, but alas, I am in my mid-twenties now and my reading tastes have changed quite a bit since I was in high school.

I have to note this from an editor’s perspective that whoever edited this book does not know how to use en-dashes, and the context can actually get confusing when a hyphen is used instead. I stumbled over words on a few occasions because I was reading as if it were a hyphen when clearly an en-dash was intended. One example among many is “I need an eye contact-less second,” and I seriously thought she was talking about contact lenses and I was very confused. That’s such a clunky way to word that sentence anyway; why not just say, “I need a second without eye contact”? We won’t talk about any other editing errors I noticed.

I really liked the ending of the book. However, here’s how I was secretly hoping it would end: [SPOILERS: Pilot and Shane decide to just live through the past again and make a better future for themselves and finally admit their feelings for each other, and you think it’s going to be a happily ever after until Shane accidentally pushes the button one day (because we know she’s clumsy after always knocking over her chair) and they return to 2017 and forget their redo trip to London. They end up back in the elevator and go about their lives but they have this inkling that they need to see each other again so they meet up and decide they need to give each other a chance because neither of them is happy with their current life so they break up with their partners and finally get together and move on from there, and then essentially it ends the same but six years later and with added tension.]

Friday, May 17, 2019

Review: THE WELL OF ASCENSION by Brandon Sanderson

Rating: 5/5 stars

After rereading Mistborn, I knew I wanted to reread The Well of Ascension as well because I remember this installment being my favorite of the trilogy despite not remembering much of what happened in the book except the ending.

Basically, the whole plot can be summed up thus: the siege. The siege at Luthadel constituted about ninety percent of the plot, obviously with many subplots and politics occurring.

This book is very political. Much of it is about how to handle the city now that Elend is its king, how to create a fair government, how to deal with three invading armies, how to grow and develop into a leader, how to trust those around you, etc.

I love the character development we get to see in this book. Elend goes through some obvious maturing thanks to Tindwyl. Vin has to learn what friends are and what trust is and what love is. I can even see changes in the minor characters as they are confronted with the siege and all the issues they are battling in Luthadel. No character has such a vast arc as Sazed, however. 

Sazed goes through a vast journey of doubt and reflection in The Hero of Ages, and you can see the instances in this book that caused him to reach that low place. SPOILERS AHEAD: [The initial seeds were planted when Sazed visited the warehouse and had no religions to offer the woman who had already lost five children and was soon going to lose her last child. He realized there was nothing left to rebel against by preaching religions long dead, so he started to wonder what good they were anymore.
He then went a long time without preaching any religions until he told Clubs about the religion of Dadradah and gave him a wooden token of that sect. Then the black hole of doubt formed when Sazed saw Clubs lying dead in the snow, the wooden talisman still around his neck. “It hasn’t helped,” Sazed had said.
Then, to top it all off, Sazed finds Tindwyl’s body and he realizes that none of the religions gave him comfort during this time or helped to save those who he had lost. “My life,“ thought Sazed, “has been a sham.” Losing the woman he loved was the true catalyst for his journey of self-discovery that we see in the next book.
And finally, at the end, Sazed returns to the Conventical of Seran and reads the true inscription on the wall and realizes he has been tricked all along by the changed words of the recording. “It was the final blow, the last strike that killed whatever was left of his faith,” we read.]
Sazed’s trial and internal conflict is one of my favorite character arcs of growth and reflection in any book I’ve read. It’s so raw and honest.

Like I did with the first book, I am including here all the instances of foreshadowing I noticed while reading. This section is full of HUGE SPOILERS:
[—The first line of the book: “I write these words in steel, for anything not set in metal cannot be trusted.” Hm, that doesn’t foreshadow like half the plot of this book or anything. . . .
—Elend saying, “Do you honestly think that a Terriswoman would try to kill me?”
—Ham jokes that Cett kicked out Breeze because he was found with Cett’s daughter. Little did we know . . .
—“Kandra can’t kill humans.” But it didn’t say anything about them being allowed to kill animals or other kandra. This is more reading between the lines than foreshadowing.
—Zane tells Elend, “You are, after all, his only son.” But Zane is also Straff’s son. Not necessarily foreshadowing but definitely a hint of the reveal during my reread.
—Zane hearing “God’s” voice telling him to kill just about everyone he meets. An intuitive reader would be able to piece together that the only characters hearing voices in their minds are those with bits of metal piercing their skin.
—Dockson saying about the idea of koloss attacking Luthadel: “I say we worry about that when, and if, they arrive.” Oh they will arrive, no ifs about it.
—In the logbook, Kwaan mentions that the Hero of Ages will have a birthmark on his arm. I do not remember if this turns out to be true or not but it is still interesting noting this specific detail that was easily overlooked during my first readthrough.
—Vin saying, “Maybe Zane isn’t fully under Straff’s control,” because we later find out that Ruin is controlling him too, or at least influencing him.
—Vin outright claims that “the Hero of Ages will have to come again.” Hm, I wonder what’s going to happen in book three.
—When Breeze is soothing Sazed and Tindwyl in the warehouse, he makes some observations that foreshadow them falling in love later.
—Elend thinks about the Koloss, “Whatever is in those pouches, could it be the way Jastes controls the creatures?” Indeed, it could be. This is some of the more obvious foreshadowing because the text tells you outright that this is true even before you know what’s in the pouches.
—The koloss say, “We are humans.” We still don’t know about Hemalurgy at this point in the series but it has been referenced so many times in passing.
—Zane telling us about the spike through his chest also foreshadows Hemalurgy.
—Tindwyl tells Sazed, “The Hero of Ages won’t be Terris.” Hehehe, just you wait.
—Sazed states, “Religions are often very careful with their writings.”
—Zane comments that “God” (AKA Ruin) never told him to kill Vin, and “God” says, “Of course I didn’t tell you to kill her” because he knew that Vin would be the one to release him from the Well, so she’d need to stay alive.
—Ham says, “Maybe Kell is out there somewhere, watching over us.” This foreshadows Mistborn: Secret History.
—“The longer they traveled [to Terris], the weaker the thumpings seemed” foreshadows that the Well is actually back in Luthadel instead of in Terris.]

I love this book and this whole series and I’m so glad to be rereading it to refresh my mind with all the details I had forgotten. I highly recommend this series to any fantasy lovers out there.
“Do not dismiss someone’s beliefs because you do not understand them.”

Friday, May 3, 2019

Review: MISTBORN: THE FINAL EMPIRE by Brandon Sanderson

Rating: 5/5 stars

This is my favorite series. Even though I read it only three years ago, it was time for a reread because I missed this world and these characters and I wanted to be back with them. And I loved this book even more the second time around, which I didn’t know was possible.

My first time reading Mistborn, I found the beginning to be very slow and I struggled to get into it until around page 150, when Kelsier starts teaching Vin how to use Allomancy. Upon my reread, I still found the beginning to be slow but I appreciated it much more because I could see the crucial world building happening and the whole plot was being set up and characters were being defined. It’s very political but it’s absolutely worth sticking out because this is the most intricate and incredible series I’ve ever read.

Allomancy is the main magic system, which focuses on ingesting different metals to give you different abilities. It’s highly complex in how it all works yet it’s easy to understand (especially with reference to the Ars Arcanum at the back). It’s also downright cool. I’ll never get tired of reading about Allomantic fights and seeing all the incredible ways the characters can use their metals.

I forgot how political and dark this book was. Most of this book is political maneuvering, planning for raids, recruiting an army, spreading gossip at balls, weakening the structure of the nobility, yet I enjoyed it. Despite loathing politics in real life, I find political intrigue in fantasy books to be one of the most enjoyable elements for me because I love to see how everything is planned behind the scenes and then come together at the end. Plus the politics here tie seamlessly into the rich history and lore that is set up as the basis for the story, and we see how the governmental structure caused much of that history to be lost over centuries. It’s all fascinating.

Besides writing politics so well, another thing Sanderson does well is his worldbuilding. Scadriel is expansive, especially when looked at in the grand scheme of the Cosmere, and he is constantly adding on more intricate details in each chapter. He always reminds you how dreary it is in Luthadel, with ash falling from the sky and everything being grey and the mists swirling around at night. It paints a whole scene in your mind.

The atmosphere isn’t the only grey aspect in this book: we also have tons of morally grey characters with a range of personalities. My first time reading this series, Vin was my favorite character. Now upon rereading it, even though I still love Vin and Kelsier and Elend, Sazed is my favorite character (although I think that’s because I already know how he will grow throughout the series so I appreciated him much more in this book the second time around). I like Sazed’s demeanor and I appreciate his devotion to his calling and how seriously he takes religion. He always talks about various religions and asks people if they want to convert, but not in a begging preachy way, more in a way that’s liked him asking “would knowing about this religion help you find peace and joy in this world?” and I really admire that about him, how he wants to help people in that way. He’s very complex, and he goes through one of the most intimate and soul-searching trials of self-identity and doubt across this series that I’ve ever seen and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking to watch.

“The right belief is like a good cloak, I think. If it fits you well, it keeps you warm and safe. The wrong fit, however, can suffocate.” —Sazed, on finding the right religion.

I didn’t realize how much of this book I had forgotten over the past three years. Minor details and connecting events. I remembered all the major plot points so rereading it was exciting because I was like “I know this is going to happen, but I cannot remember or even see now how we will get from here to there,” so it was so much fun to go on that journey again.

I never realized how much foreshadowing happens in this first book for events later in the series. So many details I overlooked the first time I read it but that I saw this time and I just sat there with wide eyes as it all dawned on me, saying, “Ohhh....” It’s incredible to see how everything wraps together, that it was all planned out from the beginning. Sanderson is truly an incredible writer to leave hints all throughout this book for the events to come in later books, and it made this reread so worth it. I can’t imagine how much he had to plan this series out before he began writing it.
Here are just a few of the foreshadowed events I can remember:

[—There’s foreshadowing for Marsh becoming an Inquisitor when he’s called Ironeyes.
—There’s foreshadowing that Kelsier is going to die and become the religious leader when Sazed explained to him of the Valla religions, how the followers stayed determined longer than any other and they believed in their leaders even though they were dead. Kelsier also makes many statements throughout the book that foreshadow him becoming a martyr.
—Vin telling Kelsier that everyone leaves her and asking him when he’s going to leave her foreshadows his death.
—Vin and Elend’s conversations foreshadow their future relationship. I couldn’t help but giggling at times because I already know what happens to them in The Well of Ascension.
—There’s foreshadowing about Hemalurgy, even though it’s never explicitly mentioned in this book, because of Vin’s earring and how she can hear Reen’s voice once she puts it in but it’s actually Ruin.
—So many of the epigraphs before each chapter foreshadow events to come in the rest of the trilogy. They reference the Bands of Mourning (though not by name), the Well of Ascension (also not by name), and the fate of the world and end of the series. Seriously incredible when you look at it as a whole, that Sanderson was dropping these hints back at the beginning.
—There are so many other instances that I wish I would have written down as I was reading, but there were little foreshadowed details here and there that tied the whole story together. This book is definitely more intricate on the second go around.

I do think the end when Vin goes into Kredik Shaw was a little too easy for her, like when and where did she learn these new techniques to defeat the Inquisitors? However, I’ll forgive this being easy because of the unexpected way in which she defeats the Lord Ruler.]

This is absolutely my all-time favorite series. It completely changed my mind and opened my eyes about fantasy and made me fall in love with the genre. It is unlike anything else I’ve read; it’s very unique even while having a plot that’s not entirely original. I mean it has three separate magic systems, each of which is complex enough to garner its own series, but to mix them all together—Mistborn is captivating and full of surprises, and the series has so many facets that contribute to it being a truly great work of fantastical literature. I will never stop loving and recommending this book.

As Kelsier said, “There’s always another secret.”