Tag Archives: coming of age

Review: The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen

23 Oct

Series: No, stand-alone

Published:  April 6th 2006 by Puffin

Details: Paperback, 374 pages

My Rating: 4.5/5

My Summary:

Beautiful and heart-felt story about Macy who after her father’s death shuts down emotionally. Problem is, everyone else thinks she is fine. This goes on until she crosses paths with the chaotic but warm Wish catering crew and learns to live again. I laughed, I cried, my heart felt with Wes and Macy. In short, a wonderfully told story. And yes, I am now officially a Sarah Dessen fan!

A few chapters in:

I’ve been reading quite a few young-adult novels these last couple of months, and consequently I’ve  also come across Sarah Dessen. It’s impossible not to, as she is somewhat of a legend in the young-adult literary market. She has published a number of feel good novels, usually coming of age stories about teen-age girls with various issues. In doing so, she’s created a little following of admirers, raving about her books just about everywhere in the blogosphere. So after reading the 111th five-star review of a Sarah Dessen book, I made my decision. This is it. I’m going to read at least one Sarah Dessen book, just to see what all the fuss is about.

Once that decision was made I only had to pick one of her books. Which didn’t turn out to be so easy. Every Sarah Dessen-fan has a favourite novel – and those favourite titles vary about as much as the collection itself. After reading a couple of reviews and checking the goodreads overall reviewer-grade I finally settled for this one (currently grade 4.29 which is promising).

I am now 100 pages in and I am liking it so far. The writing style reminds me slightly of Simone Elkeles in how easy it flows, detailed but not too detailed, and with a great pace. The characters are likeable and easy to relate too. I got caught in the story almost immediately and am already finding it hard to put it away.

The main character is Macy Queen, also known as the girl who saw her dad die of an heart-attack. Even though one and a half-year has passed, she has not recovered. The problem is, everyone else thinks she has. Instead of fully grieving she put the cap on, and went on about life as if she was handling it fine, not wanting to trouble anyone. Appearance got important, as that was the only thing she could really control in order to convince everyone she was fine. She met her boyfriend Jason, who was as concerned with perfectionism and appearance as her. And all was well, on the surface at least.

Until summer comes and Jason heads off for a summer camp, leaving Macy alone to take care of his dead-boring library job. One day Macy crosses paths with the Wish catering crew at one of her mother’s open house events. They are a mix of craziness, chaos and warmth – all of which Macy has been avoiding ever since her father’s death. But she is tired of living a life devoid of emotions, and decides to take the leap and get to know these people better.

That’s as far as I’ve got but I’m liking it..a lot!

After finishing the book:

Ok, so I’m officially a Sarah Dessen fan. I loved it.

The funny thing is, not much happens in terms of plot. What I described earlier was basically it. Macy shuts down after her father’s death, then meets this new group of people, among them the artistic good-looking Wes, and starts living again.

Yet, it was such a great read. The characters are all so alive and well-rounded I found myself caring for them pretty much straight away.

What I also loved was the relationship between Wes and Macy. In so many YA books I’ve read lately, the romance happens out of thin air, basically one look is exchanged and then boom they are in love. In this book however it’s well founded and it feels real. They get to know each other first, they open up, become friends and first after a while does it become romantic. That’s the way it should be.

It also deals with grief – how we all grieve differently and how it’s important to accept that. And it deals with fears of letting people in – of getting hurt, but how rewarding it can be if you dare to be yourself and let people in. Macy shuts off because she is afraid that other people can’t handle it if she shows them her true self. It turns out others can handle it just fine.

The Bottom Line:

Essentially, this book touches on a lot of truths in life that we are all aware of but that sometimes seems so hard to put in practice. Things such as really talk to people you care about – even if it seems hard.

In short, it’s such a lovely book – sad, funny and hopeful. It made me want to go hugging everyone I care about and tell them how I really feel. Life is too short not to do otherwise.

Also, it made me want to go straight out and get my hands on another Sarah Dessen book, because wow she really is something!

Advertisements

Review: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

5 Aug

Series: Uglies, book #1

Published: February 8th 2005 by Simon Pulse

Details: Paperback, 425 pages

My grade: 4/5

My Summary:

Great series set in an distopian future that makes you think about the way things are in our society. Very fast-paced and action-packed. There won’t be a dull moment. With a love story as well, all though it’s not the main focus of the story. Highly addictive read!

See my full review here:

Synopsis:

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. Not for her license — for turning pretty. In Tally’s world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to be pretty. She’d rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world — and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.

My thoughts:

Uglies is the first book in the Uglies Trilogy. At first, when I started reading it, I thought it was just  a light and fun read; a page turner yet not something I’d lose sleep over, a 3 out of 5. But as I read more, I found myself getting more and more invested in the characters. By the time it finished (and it finishes with a cliff hanger) I literally threw myself at the next book Pretties, thankful I had already acquired it. So it does get better!

The book starts with the young heroine, 15-year old Tally, who is an “ugly”. She has been left alone in “Ugly town” since her slightly older best friend Peris, has moved to the “Pretty town” (for his 16th birthday) to have his operation. In this dystopian future, Tally lives in a society in which everyone has major surgery on their 16th birthday, to become supermodel gorgeous. Before the operation, as a normal person, you are thought of as ugly, and thus every teenager longs for the day of the operation.  So does Tally.

Things change though when Tally cross paths with Shay, a girl who has opinions on the society in which they live, not completely accepting it. When Shay runs away just before her 16th birthday to escape the operation, the authorities force Tally to choose between staying ugly for life or to find and bring back her friend.

Tally decides to go after Shay, and well, that is essentially where the adventure begins. I won’t say too much, as there are so many surprising twists and turns in this book, it is best knowing as little as possible.

There were a couple of things that I really liked about the book. Firstly, the plot of the story makes you think about the way things are in our society. Not only about our obsession with beauty and what price is worth paying for it,  but it also makes you reflect on the environmental issues of our world. In the book, our society is constantly referred to, as the utterly stupid society who lived in such an unsustainable way that it nearly extinguished the world. This truly makes you think about how we live our life. One example is when someone tries to explain to Tally what “newspapers” used to be in our society; essentially books printed for a one-day-use to be thrown away the day after. All those trees wasted for a one day read. How utterly stupid and wasteful, Tally reflects. And I can’t but agree.

I also liked how Tally, the main character grows throughout the book, as in the rest of the series. She starts off as a quite immature girl, completely unaware of the effect her society has had on her, but gradually becomes stronger and also more likable.

There is romance, but it’s not the focus of the story. Actually, that happened very quickly, I did not even see it coming (and I’m usually good at spotting those things). Consequently, it’s not something to swoon for, and never really made my heart racing. Still, it’s kind of nice that it’s happening. It sort of adds to the story rather than makes the story if you know what I mean.

Finally what I liked about this book is how you gradually get to know more and more about the society they live in, as Westerfeld reveals secrets throughout the book. He keeps you on the edge, revealing bits and pieces here and there, but always leaving things out, so that you are wishing for more, and keep turning pages.

Uglies does not feel like a stand-alone book, and as I mentioned before, you will most likely want to keep reading the next two when it is finished. It kind of draws you in gradually. Starting light and easy and then before you know it you will be hooked. If you like books like The Host and Hunger games, I’m pretty sure you will like this series as well.

Review: Fire by Kristin Cashore

5 Aug

Series: The Seven Kingdoms Trilogy, book #2

Published: October 5th 2009 by Gollancz

Details: Hardcover 461 pages

My grade: 3.5/5

My summary:

A prequel to Graceling, also featuring a heroine with paranormal abilities set in the Seven Kingdoms. It is not as good though, as it focuses more on a looming civil war rather than the love story. Still a quick and enjoyable read.

See my full review here:

Synopsis:

Fire, Graceling’s prequel-ish companion book, takes place across the mountains to the east of the seven kingdoms, in a rocky, war-torn land called the Dells.

Beautiful creatures called monsters live in the Dells. Monsters have the shape of normal animals: mountain lions, dragonflies, horses, fish. But the hair or scales or feathers of monsters are gorgeously colored– fuchsia, turquoise, sparkly bronze, iridescent green– and their minds have the power to control the minds of humans.

Seventeen-year-old Fire is the last remaining human-shaped monster in the Dells. Gorgeously monstrous in body and mind but with a human appreciation of right and wrong, she is hated and mistrusted by just about everyone, and this book is her story.

Wondering what makes it a companion book/prequel? Fire takes place 30-some years before Graceling and has one cross-over character with Graceling, a small boy with strange two-colored eyes who comes from no-one-knows-where, and who has a peculiar ability that Graceling readers will find familiar and disturbing…

My thoughts:

This is the second book in The Seven Kingdoms Trilogy by Kristin Cashore. I devoured the first book Graceling, and for that reason was surprised that I didn’t feel as much for Fire.

This book is not continuing the story of Graceling. Instead it is a prequel, and set in another kingdom all together. As mentioned in the synopsis above, there is one character from Graceling that appears in this book, but apart from that, as the environment and the characters are completely new, it does feel like a stand-alone book.

So I’ll try to get at why exactly I wasn’t as fond of this book as I was of Graceling.

Firstly, I think it is because the main character Fire is gorgeous, I mean, she is literally so beautiful that it is a problem to her as everyone she meets gets swept away (one way or another) by her beauty. Cashore does do a good job of portraying how that can actually be a problem, and so I do see her issues with her beauty, and of course the danger she’s constantly under, by being a monster. But it is still hard to relate to someone so breathtaking beautiful. I personally like heroines who have flaws, and more human so to speak.

Another reason is because this book is more political than Graceling. While Graceling is focused on a coming-of age story of the heroine Katsa, this book is more focused on the underlying movements of a kingdom nearing towards war. It does portray Fire getting stronger and more secure of how to use her paranormal abilities, just as in Graceling, but somehow the other elements of a looming war overshadows that.  It is interesting to have a looming war provided as a background to the story, but I would have liked that as a mere background, and the story itself  to be more focused on character development.

There are quite a few supporting characters in the royal court where Fire spends most of her time in the book, but for some reason they seemed pretty one-dimensional to me, and I really didn’t care what was happening to them.

I did care about the romance though, which is slowly growing throughout the book, and I rooted for the guy. However,  I was constantly wishing for them to have more time together. He was far too busy, always going somewhere else, and sometimes I had a hard time not just skipping through the pages to get to the next section of them together.

In saying all this, I still read this book quickly, so it was definitely a good fun read. It just didn’t quite live up to my expectations after having read Graceling, that’s all.

Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

5 Aug


Series: The Seven Kingdoms trilogy, book #1

Published: October 1st 2008 by Harcourt Children’s Books

Details: Hardcover 417 pages

My grade: 4.5/5

My summary:

Great book which is a coming-off age story about a girl Katsa and her relationship with the prince Po set in a fantasy land called the Seven Kingdoms, somewhat similar to the set of Lord of the Rings. Great read about a strong heroine with paranormal abilities and a believable love story.

See my full review here:

Synopsis:

In a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing.

She lives under the command of her Uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to carry out his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him. Breaking arms and cutting off fingers are her stock-in-trade. Finding life under his rule increasingly unbearable Katsa forms an underground Council, whose purpose is to combat the destructive behaviour of the seven kings – after all, the Middluns is only one of the Seven Kingdoms, each of them ruled by their own king and his personal agenda for power.

When the Council hears that the King of Liend’s father has been kidnapped Katsa investigates …and stumbles across a mystery. Who would want to kidnap him, and why? And who was the extraordinary Graced fighter who challenged her fighting skills, for the first time, as she and the Council rushed the old man to safety? Something dark and deadly is rising in the north and creeping across the continent, and behind it all lurks the shadowy figure of a one-eyed king …

My thoughts:

I hardly ever venture into fantasy land, The Lord of the Rings series being the one and only exception. And now that I come to think about it, it’s strange, because seeing as I devoured that series I wonder why it never occurred to me to seek out other books in that same genre?

Anyway, to cut it short, I am a novice when it comes to the fantasy genre, and so Graceling wouldn’t be my usual pick.  But as I stumbled across reviews of this book on various book blogs, I was intrigued, both by the tough heroine with paranormal abilities and of course the romance. (I’m a sucker for the latter)

So, as for the review, I can start by saying that Graceling was a page-turner. I think I read the book in about 2 days. It’s filled with action-packed adventure and a beautiful romance, but at its core it is a coming-of age story about Katsa.

The story is set in a land of seven kingdoms where some children are born graced with an extreme skill. A skill that can be anything you might think of, from trivial things like walking backwards, holding your breath, climbing trees to more advantageous graces like exceptional sword fighting or mind reading. Katsa is burdened by the grace of killing, and is naturally feared by most people. Ever since her grace was known (by accidently killing an annoying cousin) the king has been using her to perform his ill-willed tasks. In order to balance out the acts of evil she performs under the influence of the king, she has started a secret council, bent on doing good. It’s during one of their missions that we are introduced into the book.

At the start of the book, Katsa carries around a lot of anger. She’s angry to be burdened by her grace which is making her a “freak”,  lonely and feared by most people. She’s angry to be used by the king carrying out his dirty missions. More importantly, she is not entirely sure how to separate the evil acts  she performs for the king with herself. She is doubting her own “goodness” so to speak. As the story moves on she gradually comes to terms with who she really is and how to accept her grace as a part of herself.

One character that helps  her on her way to self-discovery is Po, a prince from one of the other kingdoms who sets off with Katsa to solve the mystery of the kidnapping (the council’s mission at the start of the book). Po is a wonderfully drawn character, and as he has that emotional maturity and security that Katsa lacks, he appears to be that perfect person to befriend the temperamental, angry and wild Katsa. I just loved watching the two of them getting to know each other!

Another great character is introduced halfway through the book when Katsa and Po cross paths with Bitterblue, a child princess from yet another kingdom. This is when  it starts getting really interesting, not only because the story itself heats up, but also because Bitterblue is such a likable character, strong, brave and mature, who immediately forms a strong bond with Katsa.

In short, I loved the plot which contained everything you might wish for; adventure, romance, fighting scenes, creepy villans and a tough cool heroine.

My only minor criticism is that I found the language a bit uneven. There were parts in the book where I got distracted from the story because certain paragraphs were constructed in such odd ways. The language just didn’t have that effortless flow, at least no constantly throughout the book.

Either way, it’s still a good novel with one of the most interesting heroines I’ve encountered in a while, not too unlike Katniss in Hunger Games.

Graceling is the first book in a trilogy. The third book in the series is  to be focusing on princess Bitterblue, once again involving Katsa and Po in the story.. and well, I know I’ll be running out to get my hands on that book as soon as it is released!