Review: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! There was so much about this book that I really loved. ‘Eleanor & Park’ was touching and beautiful in it’s simplicity. This book captured the essence of first love and the perils of high school, while also tackling some serious issues, like abuse.

I listened to the Audible version and I have to give kudos to the narrator(s). The narration was extremely well done. The voices of the characters really drew you in and made you feel like you were right there in the moment with the characters. It says a lot about the narration when it can pull you into a story so completely.

As I was listening to this story, my heart broke for Eleanor. She had such a horrible home life and her school life wasn’t any better. The poor girl couldn’t escape bullying wherever she went. I felt so bad for her as she tried to navigate her difficult teenage years while trying to stand proud in the face of such cruelty. She was so smart, but trapped by the life she was dealt.

Park’s life stood out in stark contrast to Eleanor’s. He was raised in a home that was pretty much “ideal”. Of course, he had the typical teenage concerns and conflict with his parents. However, his petty problems only served to highlight how fortunate he was to have loving parents when contrasted with Eleanor’s reality.

Although Park initially avoided any association with Eleanor, succumbing to peer pressure, he eventually opened up to the girl that sat beside him on the school bus. That took a great deal of bravery on his part. Let’s face it, teenagers can be very cruel. Park risked joining Eleanor at the bottom of the social hierarchy when he decided to go against the grain and be kind to her. Little by little, they formed a friendship. Eventually, that friendship grew into more.

Park became the single most positive part of Eleanor’s daily life. He was the only person that showed her concern and treated her kindly. As the two grew closer, his family also served as a safe haven for Eleanor. For these reasons, I grew to love Park also.

This is a coming of age story and a story of first love. Rainbow Rowell managed to transport me right back to high school. Everyone who has been a teenager can relate to the experiences and emotions of these characters. This is the type of story that serves to remind us of the consequences of our actions and the effect of our words.

From start to finish, I was enthralled with ‘Eleanor & Park’. I was sure that this would be a 5-star read for me right up until about the 90% mark. Then, the story ended rather abruptly and I was left wanting. I couldn’t believe that the author that wrote such a beautiful story would end it in that way. It just didn’t seem fair or right. After everything, I was furious to see it close in the manner it did.

Overall, it was still a fabulous story. I won’t lie. I hated the way that the story ended. I just don’t need my fiction to be that true to life.

In fairness, the ending doesn’t seem to be an issue for most of my friends that have read this book. For me, it was upsetting enough to knock a star off the rating. The ending wrecked me and I went in search of a second book or an extra something that would provide closure. It didn’t happen and I’m still reeling. So, I loved it….right up until the ending.

View all my reviews

Review: Lone Star, by Paullina Simons

Lone StarLone Star by Paullina Simons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Lone Star’ is a beautiful coming of age story, brought to us by the same author that gave us ‘The Bronze Horseman’. It tells the story of a group of teenaged friends from Maine that set out on a European adventure before they begin college. I enjoyed this story immensely.

However, I couldn’t help but to keep comparing it to Ms. Simons’ better-know work, ‘The Bronze Horseman’. In contrast to that epic story, ‘Lone Star’ fell noticeably short, despite being great in and of it’s own accord. In so many ways, it isn’t a fair comparison to make. They are different types of stories and, let’s face it, not many books will ever measure up to the greatness of ‘The Bronze Horseman’ in my mind. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but to compare them.

That being said, I loved the way that Ms. Simons was able to capture the essence of youth in this story. More often than not, I find that teenagers are either portrayed as mini-adults or pre-teens. Accurately capturing the behaviors and emotions of this age group seems to be particularly challenging for many authors. This is probably because their emotions and maturity levels are all over the place. Regardless, I thought that Ms. Simons did a great job of selling these characters as believable teenagers. The one exception to that would be Johnny Rainbow, which I’ll get to later.

Told from multiple points of view, this story follows Chloe, her best friend, Hannah, and their boyfriends as they travel eastern Europe. Barcelona is their destination, but to gain permission to go on this trip of a lifetime, Chloe had to agree to a few conditions set by her grandmother. She must lay flowers on the grave of her grandmother’s one-time lover, who was murdered by the Nazis in WWII.

Along the way, the four meet another young American traveler. Johnny Rainbow is an incredibly charming young man that seems to be an expert on getting around Europe. He repeatedly crosses paths with the other young travelers and insinuates himself into their group. It was clear that he had eyes for Chloe. The only person that seemed unaware of this was Chloe’s oblivious boyfriend, Mason.

Johnny was a pivotal character in this story. I always had a strong distrust for him, even as he seemed to do everything perfect. In fact, that was probably it. He was just too damn perfect. Like me, Blake was suspicious of Mr. Perfect right from the start.

Aside from his overwhelming charm and charisma, I had a hard time believing that he had done everything that the author would have us believe. At nineteen, he had traveled Europe, making connections virtually everywhere that they were going. He had also been accepted to some very prestigious schools, and promptly been kicked out. He had a band and performed in the US. He was a street performer and a tour guide. Whatever the topic may be, Johnny was an expert on it. Want to go somewhere? He’s already been. Etc., etc. I just found him to be a little too accomplished for a nineteen year-old boy.

Despite not buying into Johnny completely, I still found myself lost in this story. I loved Chloe and as she began to fall for Johnny, I fell for him also. Their story was reminiscent of naiveté, youth and summer flings. It was sweet and innocent and earth-shattering all at the same time.

Meanwhile, I loved Blake also. While I can’t say that I ever grew especially attached to Mason or Hannah, I adored Blake. He was always the steady friend that could be counted on. He was kind and responsible, even while being taken for granted.

When their trip ends, the relationships between these friends are forever altered. Some will grow closer. Some will grow apart. Hearts will be broken. I even cried.

The ending is not necessarily the way that I had envisioned, but I thought it was fitting. In fact, I’d say that it worked out perfectly. Sure, it was kind of sad…but it was kind of beautiful also. I especially liked the tie-in to the characters from ‘The Bronze Horseman’ at the end. That was a really nice touch.

Overall, I thought that this was a fantastic love story. It was sweet and incredibly touching. It may not be the huge, epic romance that ‘The Bronze Horseman’ is, but it is still a wonderful story.

View all my reviews

Review: Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1), by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1)Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a spectacular world Laini Taylor has crafted in this book! Every once in awhile I enjoy a paranormal/fantasy type of story, but it definitely isn’t my go-to genre. Yet, Laini Taylor has managed to suck me in once again. The beauty of her words and the vivid imagery that she creates never ceases to amaze me.

This book centers on Lazlo Strange, aka “Strange the Dreamer”. An orphan, he has never really had a home or felt like he fit in. The closest he’s come to a sense of normalcy is during his time in the Great Library. He grows up to become a librarian, submersing himself in the stories that he loves so much.

More than anything else, he is captivated by tales of the “unseen city”. He remembers hearing the stories about the city and the travelers that used to return from having crossed over the city’s borders. Then one day, the city seemed to be forgotten. Unlike everyone else in his town, Lazlo remembers the feeling of having his memory of the name of the city pulled away from him. In it’s place is the name “Weep”.

When a mythical hero, the Godslayer, arrives in town, Lazlo is able to join the group on their quest for Weep. This is his biggest dream come to life. He finally has a chance to see the legendary city that he’s only fantasized about.

What awaits Lazlo is more than he had imagined. Mythical beings, age-old grudges and a history that melded the worlds of gods and men. As more of Weep’s past is unearthed, the brutality of the city’s past is brought to light. Lazlo is forced to look at the city and it’s inhabitants through a new lens.

Although Lazlo was the central focus for much of this story, Ms. Taylor provides a robust cast of characters. Each member of this large cast brings something special to the story. I don’t want to say too much for fear that I might spoil this story for others.

Sarai is such a character. Her relationship with Lazlo is essential to the progression of the plot. From his dreams to his reality, Lazlo could not have found a better match than Sarai. They made each other better for having known one another. Their relationship was sweet and innocent, but also intense and emotional. I loved watching their bond evolve and seeing how their actions changed how they viewed the “outside” world.

From start to finish, this was an entertaining and captivating story. Laini Taylor’s writing is poetic. You can’t help but notice the beauty of her prose.

I listened to the Audible version of this book and it was well-narrated. My only criticism is that it was a bit hard to follow at first. This author’s works are multifaceted and incredibly detailed. At first, this can be a bit difficult to follow when listening. I did have to rewind a few times in the beginning to keep my characters and events straight. However, I was able to get it all sorted out pretty soon and I wouldn’t trade the richness of the story for the small amount of time lost.

Overall, I thought that this was a wonderful story! I would definitely recommend it, whether you’re a die-hard fan of paranormal/fantasy or if you’re just an occasional dabbler, like me. Laini Taylor has created a fantastical and intriguing world. I am looking forward to seeing where this series will go.

View all my reviews

Review: Here to Stay (The Fish Tales, #3), by Suanne Laqueur

Here to Stay (The Fish Tales, #3)Here to Stay by Suanne Laqueur
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third book in ‘The Fish Tales’ series, ‘Here to Stay’ chronicles Erik and Daisy’s new beginning. After everything that they’ve been through and all the pain that they’ve inflicted on themselves and each other, they are finally trying to work things out. However, a past like theirs is not easily forgotten. It will take a lot of understanding and forgiveness to move past the hurt that they’ve hung onto for so long.

As happy as I was to see one of my new favorite couples find their way back to one another, they still had a lot of healing ahead of them. There was no way that they could ever pick up where they left off. Too much had happened. I’ve never seen a couple that caused each other so much pain, even as they loved each other so much.

Aside from repairing his relationship with Daisy, Erik also has to make amends with Will. For me, the disintegration of their friendship was just as heartbreaking. I was so glad to see them reunited and to have Erik acknowledge his mistreatment of Will.

While Erik and Daisy are navigating the new terms of their long-distance relationship, there are some expected insecurities on both of their parts. Understandably, Daisy fears abandonment. Erik has his own worries about his fertility and what that will mean for their future.

Along the way, Erik finally faces his past. He has allowed the actions of his father to model his future for too long. When a long lost relative reaches out to Erik, he and Daisy go on a journey of self-discovery. He uncovers family secrets that shed light on his father’s sudden disappearance. While he doesn’t get all of the answers that he was looking for, he gains a better understanding of the demons that haunted his father.

Of course, nothing comes easy for Daisy and Erik. Just when you think that they’re going to ride off into the sunset and live their happily ever after, tragedy strikes. I swear, they just can’t catch a break.

Old habits die hard and the couple must overcome the desire to slip back into old coping strategies. This time around, they are more mature and better able to help each other heal. I was very glad to see that they were able to work through this upset together and come out stronger as a couple because of it.

‘Here to Stay’ was a wonderful finale to Erik and Daisy’s story. I have loved every minute of this series and the vibrant characters that Ms. Laqueur has brought to life. I highly recommend this series. I listened to the Audible version and the narration was fabulous as well.

View all my reviews

Review: Give Me Your Answer True (The Fish Tales, #2), by Suanne Laqueur

Give Me Your Answer True (The Fish Tales, #2)Give Me Your Answer True by Suanne Laqueur
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started reading, or rather, listening to, ‘Give Me Your Answer True’ immediately after finishing ‘The Man I Love’. I fell in love with Erik, Daisy and the full cast of supporting characters in the first book, but I want more. I need to hear each of their unique perspectives. I cannot get enough of this story!

‘Give Me Your Answer True’ provides Daisy’s account of events. Erik’s perspective was provided in the first book and my heart broke alongside his. However, I needed to hear Daisy’s point of view. I had to know what the hell she was thinking and why she did what she did.

This book gave me the answers I had been craving. While I can’t say that I was satisfied with Daisy’s reasons, it is what it is. The truth is that she did something thoughtless and hurtful and had to live with the consequences of her actions for many years to come. I am still angry with Daisy. (Yes, I get angry with fictional characters!) However, nobody could be more disappointed in her than she was in herself. I had to remind myself that she was only human and, like everyone, she makes mistakes.

That being said, I was completely on-board with Erik’s total abandonment of Daisy. I know that most of my friends were like, “that’s harsh”, but not me. Nothing bothers me more than having a character that really screws up and then is forgiven with little more than an apology, like what they did wasn’t absolutely devastating. Nope! I expect for them to suffer and live with the emotional pain that they caused [me] when they screwed up. I expect some serious groveling before forgiveness is granted. Thankfully, that is exactly what I got with this book. Grovel away, Daisy!

Not surprisingly, Daisy’s story was heartbreaking. She definitely had to hit bottom before she could start to piece her life together again. While I felt for her, I never forgot that her pain was self-inflicted. She made her bed and was forced to sleep in it.

The same goes for David and John “Opie” Quillis. They may have wanted Daisy and even cared about her in their own way, but they knew whom her heart belonged to. I understood their motivations, but couldn’t really sympathize with them too much.

I guess I can be kind of harsh when it comes to any interference between the “original” love interests. I always want the first couple that I fall in love with to end up together. In this case, that would be Erik and Daisy. Rarely, do I ever come around to accepting a subsequent relationship for the hero or heroine of a story. Accordingly, I never got the least bit attached to Erik’s wife or any of Daisy’s boyfriends during the years that they were apart. They were just meaningless place-holders to me.

Although I continue to love this series, I can’t deny that I didn’t like this book quite as much as the first one. That is probably due to the fact that I was not as sympathetic toward Daisy as I was toward Erik. However, that isn’t to say that this book wasn’t fantastic. It was terrific!

I will definitely be continuing this series. I’m diving right into the third book and cannot wait to see what the future holds for Erik and Daisy. Finally, it seems as if they might get things back on track. I am also hopeful that Erik can repair the damage done to his friendship with Will. If his break-up with Daisy was her fault, only he is to blame for the rift in his friendship with Will.

View all my reviews

Review: The Man I Love (The Fish Tales, #1), by Suanne Laqueur

The Man I Love (The Fish Tales, #1)The Man I Love by Suanne Laqueur
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading ‘An Exhaltation of Larks’, I knew that I wanted to read every book written by Ms. Suanne Laqueur. Her writing is exquisite. The stories and characters that she brings to life are raw and emotional, heartbreaking and inspiring. I’ve definitely gone a little “fangirl” where she is concerned!

‘The Man I Love’ tells the story of a close-knit group of friends at Lancaster University. In many ways it is a coming of age story, set against the backdrop of a terrible tragedy. They were young and carefree until the unthinkable happens. Then, this group of friends struggles to survive in the aftermath of a terrible attack.

Each of them copes with the trauma in a different way. As young, college students, they don’t appreciate the need to seek out professional help. All of them develop some destructive behaviors. In the months and years that follow they fall into a downward spiral, nearly destroying themselves and their relationships with those that they love.

No relationship undergoes more strain that that of Erik “Fish” Fiskare and Daisy Bianco. Erik was a theatre tech when he met Daisy, a lead ballerina at the school. The two were head over heels in love. They had the kind of relationship that others envied…until that day. Nothing was the same after that day.

Aside from Erik and Daisy, there is a robust cast of characters that make this story memorable. Will Kaeger, Erik’s best friend/roommate and Daisy’s dance partner, also plays a pivotal role. He is left to live with guilt and questions whether or not his actions were to blame for the events of that tragic day. It was his brief love affair with another student, James, that seems to have been the motivator for James’ horrific actions on that day.

Spanning over a decade, the long-term effects of a single traumatic event are played out through these character for readers. This story was absolutely beautiful, but also tragic and highly emotional. These characters both broke my heart and inspired me.

The first book in a series, ‘The Man I Love’ proves to be an addicting read. I will definitely be reading the other books in this series immediately. I highly recommend this book. I am utterly captivated by this story and these flawed, very human characters.

View all my reviews

Review: Documentary (Documentary, #1), by A. J. Sand

Documentary (Documentary, #1)Documentary by A.J. Sand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook of ‘Documentary’ and it was pretty good. The narration could have been better, but was not terrible. Overall, this was a 3 1/2 star read/listen for me, but I’m rounding it up because I feel optimistic today. It falls in the “good but not great”, “liked it but didn’t love it” category for me.

Dylan Carroll is a filmmaking student that is offered the job of a lifetime. She is hired to film a web documentary on the life of Kai White, a rock star that is undergoing a PR crisis. This is the type of job that can open doors for her and set her on a path to success. She knows how important this job is and she cannot afford to screw it up.

Kai White has had a recent fall from grace. On probation after beating up his former bandmate, his fans have turned on him. Once loved by all, he is now shunned in the industry and viewed as an out of control and violent offender. This web documentary is a last ditch effort at salvaging his public image.

Despite the need to keep their relationship purely professional, Dylan and Kai cannot fight their strong chemistry. They “get” each other on a level that others do not. However, Dylan knows that pursuing a romantic relationship would be disastrous. If she ever had any doubts, Kai’s manager has made that abundantly clear to her.

Meanwhile, Kai is refusing to be forthcoming with Dylan about the infamous fight with his former bandmate, Jeremy. She knows that the best way to save his image is to address the elephant in the room and she can’t understand why Kai won’t talk about it. How is she supposed to save his image when he seems to be working against her?

Eventually, everything comes out. However, there is a lot of jealousy and misunderstandings along the way. Both Kai and Dylan contribute a lot to the ongoing tension and seem to enjoy playing games with one another.

Maybe I’m just outgrowing the college-aged romances, because I couldn’t help but feel that the characters were emotionally immature. There was plenty of angst and lots of back and forth drama. I spent most of this book wanting to shake some sense into the main characters. So much stress could’ve been avoided if they’d only been honest with each other about how they felt.

By the time everything was revealed, nothing was much of a surprise. It was predictable, but fairly entertaining. This was an “okay” story, but I don’t feel compelled to continue the series. It is a good choice for recovering from a book hangover, when you just want a predictable, HEA-type of story that you can listen to and not have to think about too much. It won’t leave a lasting impression, but it served it’s purpose. I’ve listened to/read much worse.

View all my reviews

Review: We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I went into ‘We Were Liars’ blind, for the most part. It had been sitting on my Audible shelf for so long that I had long-since forgotten what it was supposed to be about. Sometimes, I get it in my head that a book is going to be about something, when it absolutely has nothing to do with it. God only knows where I get these ideas, but I do. As a result, I often find myself being surprised by the content of the stories I read without re-reading the blurbs. This was one of those times. Note to other readers: This book has nothing to do with WWII. Where do I even get these ideas?

Instead, ‘We Were Liars’ tells the story of four young teens. They spend the summer together on Beechwood Island, a private island owned by the Sinclair family. Needless to say, the Sinclair family is filthy rich.

The story is centered on Cadence, the oldest granddaughter of Mr. Sinclair. She is her grandfather’s favorite. Along with her cousins, she has spent many a summer on her grandfather’s island, getting into trouble and taking her privilege for granted.

One summer, her Aunt’s boyfriend brings along his nephew, Gat. He has lost his own father and his uncle has taken Gat under his wing, so to speak. Despite the obvious differences in race and financial standing, Gat becomes good friends with Cadence and her cousins. Together, they come to be known as “The Four Liars”.

Cadence and Gat soon become inseparable. He makes her think about life and the wrongs of the world. He brings depth to her pampered existence, prompting thought on topics such as race and social standing. It was young love. It was beautiful.

Then, Cadence suffers a terrible accident. She nearly dies, but doctors are able to save her. The accident has left her forever changed though. It has also taken it’s toll on her relationships. Worst of all, Gat seems to have abandoned her in her time of need.

After a prolonged absence, Cadence returns to the island once again. It is the first of many steps that she will take toward recovery. However, the truth that has alluded her will eventually resurface.

I won’t say too much because I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone. Unlike others, I have to say that I did not predict the big twist at the end. I was completely blindsided. I never saw it coming.

Overall, this was a great read for me. At times, it could get a little slow. However, I found myself really enjoying the story of Cadence and the “beautiful Sinclair family”. ‘We Were Liars’ serves as a cautionary tale, warning readers of the consequences of greed, hypocrisy and racism, among others. Things aren’t always as “perfect” as they seem when looking in from the outside. This book makes that crystal clear.

View all my reviews

Review: Lost and Found (Lost and Found, #1), by Nicole Williams

Lost and Found (Lost and Found, #1)Lost and Found by Nicole Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘Lost and Found’ was a sweet, heartwarming story that ended up being a pretty good way to pass some time. This book tells the story of Rowen Sterling, a troubled teenage girl that has spent years acting out. She has used drugs, alcohol and sex to try and get her deadbeat mother’s attention to no avail.

When Rowen’s mother has finally had enough of Rowen’s antics, she sends her to the home of an old friend in Montana. Rowen has never met the Walker family before, but she will be spending the summer on their ranch. It is about as far from Rowen’s normal life in the city as possible, but she begrudgingly agrees to go or else her mother will not pay for her to attend art school in the fall.

Right from the start, I noticed that there was a contradiction between who Rowen was supposed to be and who she actually was. From the moment that she arrived on the ranch, she was considerate and respectful. She immediately fell into the routines of the Walker family and pulled her own weight. She was a far cry from the rebellious hell-raiser that she was supposed to be.

In very little time, Rowen and the Walker’s son, Jesse, have caught each others’ attention. While Rowen was supposedly the “bad girl”, Jesse was a total sweetheart. He was hardworking, good looking and the type of guy that parents want their daughter to date. It was hard not to love Jesse.

As Rowen and Jesse’s summer romance takes off, Jesse’s past comes back to haunt them. His ex-best friend and his ex-girlfriend add a little drama to this story. Both Jesse and Rowen have to fight their insecurities at every turn.

When Rowen’s mother shows up on the scene, all hell breaks loose. To say that her mother is nurturing is putting it mildly. Rowen’s mother has spent years selfishly placing the needs of her revolving door of boyfriends above the needs of her own daughter. She is selfish and shallow. Suddenly, it becomes very apparent why Rowen had been acting out at home.

Overall, this was a nice, sweet story. If you’re in the mood for a heartwarming, YA type of romance, this is a pretty good choice. This can easily be read as a standalone, although it is part of a series. You won’t be left hanging. It will leave you with warm fuzzies.

View all my reviews

Review: Defy (Sinners of Saint, #0.5), by L. J. Shen

Defy (Sinners of Saint, #0.5)Defy by L.J. Shen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since reading ‘Vicious’, I have been looking forward to reading the story of Jaime and Melody. I love a forbidden love story and says “taboo” like a student-teacher romance. ‘Defy’ was everything that I had hoped for. I devoured this quick read and all of it’s naughty goodness!

After her dream career as a dancer comes to a tragic end, she is forced to pursue a lackluster job as a high school Literature teacher. With no real interest in teaching, she is less than enthused to face the spoiled rich kids than run the elite school where she’s been hired on a whim. It is no mystery to her that she doesn’t belong there and that the Principal intends to fire her at the first opportunity that she gets. With her job on the rocks, Melody Greene does the unthinkable – she has an affair with her high school student.

Of course, Jaime isn’t just any student. He’s the Principal’s out of control son. It seems that both teacher and son have an axe to grind with the Principal. What better way than by having an illicit affair right under her nose?

While this novella was steamy and sordid, with a dose of forbidden, it was also surprisingly sweet. L. J. Shen did a good job of showing the softer side of Jaime, while staying true to the privileged, above-the-law young man that we were introduced to as one of the four Hotholes in ‘Vicious’. There were really two sides to Jaime that were in stark contrast to one another.

Melody also proved to be a character that I really liked. She was so very human and flawed that she was easy to sympathize with. She was not blind to her faults or Jaime’s, but she loved him anyway. I loved that she chose to embrace her forbidden desires, pursuing a relationship with Jaime, knowing the controversy that would result. Similarly, I love that Jaime had the spine to stand up to his parents, even though it meant losing the wealth he’d always known.

Overall, I thought that this was a fantastic novella. It was a steamy, short read and highly entertaining. If you enjoyed ‘Vicious’, or even if you didn’t, this is a great choice if you’re looking for a taboo, forbidden love story.

View all my reviews