Book Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I really struggled over giving this book such a low rating because I really wanted to rate it highly – it was a book talking about a very difficult, sensitive and taboo topic and Laurie Anderson was very brave to write this book. Unfortunately, however important the topic may be the execution was just not very good, and I was pretty disappointed by the end.

(this review is going to be a little spoiler-y since I feel like the plot is kind of important on this one)

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Pages: 224

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

RATING: ★★

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The first ten lies they tell you in high school.

“Speak up for yourself—we want to know what you have to say.”

From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication.

In Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.

The angsty narrator was interesting…for awhile. Melinda is understandably jaded and depressed, and it gives her a very angry and dismissive outlook on life. She ridicules her teachers and parents in her head, dismisses all her other classmates as shallow, and generally hated everyone around her. I thought there would be some sort of character development, but even by the end of the book despite the ways she improved herself her overall attitude didn’t really change.

The plot leads nowhere. Majority of the book is Melinda miserably going through school, which made me just as miserable reading it. I got bored listening to Melinda ranting about her terrible school, terrible parents, terrible everything in life.

Melinda supposedly ‘fights back’ against her rapist, which…didn’t really happen. From the looks of the synopsis, you would think that the book starts out with Melinda trying to overcome her trauma, but gets confronted by her rapist and retaliates, speaking out against him. Well (spoiler alert!) this doesn’t happen until the last few pages. I kept reading to find out when Melinda would stand up against her attacker, but even by the end I couldn’t really say she was brave and ‘spoke out’ against him. Instead what happens is he attacks her, she defends herself and runs away, and some witnesses spread the word and he gets ousted. That’s it. I saw it less as ‘fighting back’ and more like self defense. Though Melinda does do brave things like warn her friend about her rapist and write on the wall of the girl’s bathroom that her rapist was a terrible person, the former was disregarded almost immediately and the latter was done in anonymity. I just felt like the synopsis hyped up her actions to seem much more than they were, and I was pretty disappointed by the end.

Pretty much no likeable side characters. I thought that there would be characters Melinda would talk to to help her healing process. Someone to confide in, to help her through the ordeal eventually. Well, there weren’t any. Everyone in the book was an ass. Her so-called ‘best friend’, her art teacher, her parents, her classmates – everyone sucked. The only good characters in the book showed up for maybe 10 pages or less. Maybe Anderson was making a point about how rape victims often have to suffer alone, which I understand, but it didn’t make the book very enjoyable to read about terrible people.

I feel like Anderson tried to paint a realistic picture of a rape victim’s life – some may have no support system, no one to turn to, no easy healing process, leaving them to suffer alone for a very long time. There’s no easy ‘forgetting about it and moving on’ for Melinda, and she has to carry the weight of her trauma for many, many days. Unfortunately I felt the realism made for a pretty monotone read. Without any interesting characters or events happening throughout the book, I found myself losing interest and struggled to finish. However I applaud Anderson for writing this book, as it’s a topic that must be given a voice and a platform, and I hope other authors can follow suit.

Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Another mystery novel – how could I resist? As Cadence Sinclair returns to Beechwood Island with no recollection of the accident that happened two years ago, she reunites with the Liars, her closest friends. As she tries to uncover the secrets, what will happen between them? I sped through this story with no regrets – the buildup kept me on edge and the ending blew me away.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Pages: 242

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery

RATING: ★★★★

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A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.

And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

Broken prose for a broken girl. Lockhart writes and very choppy sentences, with lots of line breaks. It kind of reminded me of E.E. Cummings poems. It felt broken, disjointed, much like Candace’s thoughts after her accident at Beechwood. Could Cadence be a little melodramatic? Definitely – Gat was her sun, moon, and stars and she had a tendency to exaggerate her migraines – but who isn’t a tad overdramatic as a teen?

Speaking of which, still not sure what to feel about Cadence. I’ll admit, Cadence was not the best protagonist. She was pretty entitled and unaware of her rich white privilege, which was a tad frustrating. She was ungrateful for a free trip to Europe and unaware of Gat’s struggles as a person of color. However, I do believe that she had good intentions at heart. She rebelled against her family’s materialistic attitude and shied away from the family’s petty squabbles. It might not have made up for everything, but I could see that she was trying, and that was enough for me.

The book kept dropping hints, and I needed to know more. Some mystery novels try to throw several plot twists at a time to throw you off track before the truth is revealed at the very end. However Lockhart takes a different approach, edging closer to the truth ever so slowly. As Cadence tried to unravel the mystery behind the accident on Beechwood island, Lockhart gradually leaves breadcrumbs to pique your interest until the truth comes out at the end. Every chapter a new clue would appear and I needed to keep reading to try and understand what it meant, and before I knew it I had finished the book.

A plot twist that leaves you in shivers. I feel like mystery novels can fall into one of two pitfalls – either the plot twist was so predictable you could see it a mile away, or the mystery’s explanation comes so out of left field for the ‘shock factor’ that there was no way you could’ve guessed it and it ruins the point. This book does neither, and instead creates an ending subtly hinted at throughout the book, yet would not be obvious unless you observed very, very closely. It’s one of those books that when you read the ending, you can reread the book in a whole new light. When I skimmed through the book a second time, I found many small details that made so much more sense in the context of the ending. I thought it was one of the best mystery endings I’ve read in a while (definitely up there with The Silent Patient)

A slow-burning mystery told by an imperfect and unreliable narrator, We Were Liars keeps you hooked until the end with hints of the truth. With a truth reveal delivered like a punch in the gut, it is definitely a book worth picking up.

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Once again, Gaiman doesn’t disappoint. The Ocean at the End of the Lane gives us a glimpse of the magic that may be hiding just around the corner, all through a child who looks to Lettie Hempstock for guidance. Gaiman delivers a beautiful story with compelling characters and a sinister villain, and recaptures the joy of seeing the world through a child’s eyes.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Pages: 181

Genre: Magical Realism, Fantasy

RATING:

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Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark. 

Gaiman excels at writing in a child’s perspective. The narrator is a young boy, the picture of innocence and childhood. After meeting the Hempstocks and getting a glimpse of their mystical nature, I found myself swept up his fascination and awe of the magic surrounding him. To him everything seemed so big and mysterious and magical, and I felt a sense of nostalgia remembering the times when everything seemed so simple.

An otherworldly villain that I despised and feared. After the little boy meets the Hempstocks however, a monster started appearing in his life, and she was nothing short of what I expected from Gaiman. A terrifying woman made of unraveling fabric disguised as a well-meaning nanny, Ursula Monkton was a vile creature. As she exerted her authority over the helpless narrator with a maniacal grin, it made me shiver knowing the monstrosity lurking underneath the surface. I felt creeped out, angry, and frightened by her all at once.

(slight spoiler here) Loved the fairy ring sequence. Towards the end of the book the narrator is told to stay in a fairy ring and never leave for his own protection. What follows is haunting, as Urusla Monkton attempts to coax him out of the circle by posing as different people as the narrator cowers in the dark. Just as Gaiman excels at writing a child in amazement, he also shines at writing a child terrified out of his mind. I could feel the narrator’s fear as the dark closed in on him and he was left alone.

Everything remains a mystery, but maybe that’s okay. I kept waiting for a full explanation to the magic and all the questions the book brought up. Who or what were the Hempstocks? Where did they come from? What were their powers? Where were did Ursula come from, and where were they trying to send her back? Just a whole slew of questions that Gaiman never really answered. He dropped hints and clues as to what the answers might be, but mostly left it up to the reader’s imagination. But in the eyes of a child, it made sense, as any magic would be power too vast to comprehend. At the end of the novel, I found myself believing that the Hempstocks deserved to remain a mystery.

This book was a nostalgic reminder of the simplicity of childhood, with magic sprinkled in to add to the wonder. I loved it to the very end.

Book Review: One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Pages: 360

Genre: Young Adult, Mystery

RATING: ★★★★

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The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little LiarsOne of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
AndSimon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?
Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

How to get Away With Murder in book form. A murder mystery right off the bat and a bunch of young suspects with secrets to hide. What’s not to like?

Cliche characters? Maybe at first. The four main characters start out as obvious stereotypes – the nerd, the jock, the preppy blonde, and the troubled delinquent, until they’re all accused of murder. As you’d expect, this pits them against each other until they start to get to know each other, and as they bond you get to learn more about each of them and find that there’s more to them that meets the eye. I enjoyed all the character’s perspectives – especially Addy, the queen bee who tumbles from grace but grows stronger and comes to realize things about herself. I was actually interested and invested in all the characters, which I feel is honestly not easy to pull off whenever there’s an ensemble cast.

Twists and turns that keep you guessing. Just when you least expect it, a new reveal comes out of nowhere and with every secret exposed a new suspect comes to light, making you rethink all your theories on who killed Simon. McManus gives good plot twists, ones I didn’t see coming, and I was constantly kept guessing till the very last page.

A satisfying ending. In the end McManus does a good job of giving a sort-of realistic and unexpected reveal to who the murderer was, thought I felt that how they found the murderer was a little out of the blue. Though the murder mystery was good, I think what I liked most were how the individual character storylines were finished off – not everyone had a perfect ending, but each character had a good arc and I genuinely felt that they each came out of the ordeal a different and better person.

I’d say the book requires a little suspension of disbelief (don’t scrutinize the plotlines too closely) but all in all it’s a pretty fun ride. A fun murder mystery with likeable characters and actual character development, I’d recommend it to those who want a dose of teen drama mystery.

Audiobook Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

This review is going to be short because I just could not finish this book. I gave this book multiple tries, but I just could not do it. A combination of the lackluster plot and unappealing characters made me put the book down.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Pages: 459

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Paranormal

RATING: ★☆☆☆☆

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Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

The plot was just…boring. I thought that Yale’s secret societies would be interesting, but I just found it dreary. There were some dark elements thrown I felt like were merely for the shock factor. Alex’s murder investigation felt like it was going nowhere and by the time it picked up I had already lost interest.

Magic elements were cult stereotypes. I just felt like there wasn’t any huge originality here. It was all the typical summoning ghosts, chanting gibberish meant to sound menacing, magic circles and dark rituals one would expect from the occult. They were pretty cliche occult tropes, which was disappointing.

I didn’t care for Alex or Darlington. Alex is a troubled girl who’s gone through some dark stuff, and I feel like I’m meant to pity her and feel for her, but I just didn’t. She was monotone and boring, and her bleak and cynical view of the world just dampened my spirits and mad me want to stop reading. Darlington was a little more interesting but barely showed up at all, and certainly not enough for me to care what happened to him.

I wanted to give this book more than 1 star because I do believe it’s got some okay qualities, but I just couldn’t justify it when I couldn’t bring myself to finish it.

WWW Wednesday: May 20, 2020

WWW Wednesday is hosted by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words! All you have to do is answer the following three questions: What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? What do you think you’ll read next?

Took a little break from reading as I’ve finally graduated! I took the time to just relax and let it sink in, but I’m back.

What are you currently reading?

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Goodreads

Just started this book, and the prose is gorgeous. Wanted to start out with a light read, and this novella is only 209 pages so should be interesting.

 

 

What did you recently finish reading?

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Goodreads

Wow, this book was amazing. I started the book at 1:00 am for a light read before bed then ended up staying up until 4:00 am speeding through it. I just had to keep reading more.

 

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Goodreads

I usually have a problem with ‘love at first sight’, but this book actually pulled it off pretty well. Natasha and Daniel had a lot of chemistry and Yoon made their love seem believable despite the crazy circumstances.

 

 

What do you think you’ll read next?

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Goodreads

This book has a lot of hype, and I’m hoping for a good reason. I’ve already bought the sequel, Muse of Nightmares, so I’m excited to start this book!

Book Review: The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

‘Love at first sight’ is a trope that usually makes me cringe, and is hardly done right. This book is an exception. Daniel and Natasha are an adorable couple with adorable chemistry, and they make me want to believe that insta-love can be real.

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Pages: 384

Genre: Romance, Young Adult

RATING: ★★★★☆

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Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

A book to read without any expectations of realism. Look, let’s be real – love at first sight and the crazy coincidences in this book are one in a million at best. Looking over Goodreads I found that this was a problem with some people, but I found it best to read the book with an open mind. In the end it’s more of a romantic fantasy, but I found it fun to indulge in.

Great chemistry between an adorable couple. Natasha is fiery and founded on science, while Daniel is a dreamer and a romantic. When Daniel sees Natasha and believes they are meant to be together, Natasha pushes back despite her growing attraction to him. Though I found Daniel’s beliefs unrealistic, he won me over with charming remarks to Natasha’s sarcasm and sass. The romance is made all the more bittersweet with Natasha’s deportation looming over their heads, and I found my heart aching knowing that they may never see each other again.

I really enjoyed the short stories of the side characters. It’s easy to tunnel vision into our own lives and forget about the people around us. Yoon writes short anecdotes of the people Natasha and Daniel pass by in their lives – the security guard in the immigration office, the driver that almost runs Natasha over – these people may seem insignificant in Natasha and Daniel’s narrative, but Yoon reminds us that they too have their own story.

The portrayal of Daniel’s family was…disappointing. I was pretty disheartened that Yoon decided to go with the Asian-American family stereotype – strict father and mother who force their son into a doctor’s career. Call me cynical and pragmatic, but I also thought that forcing their son to attend Yale was entirely reasonable, even at his protests that he ‘wanted to be a poet’ and ‘didn’t want to go to college’. I found myself taking the side of Daniel’s parents and rolling my eyes at his optimism. Then again as a Westernized Asian myself, I might be more than a little biased.

All in all the book was a fun albeit far-fetched romance of a couple young and in love. I’m looking forward to finally watching the movie!