Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes


Much has been said about Me Before You. While some people loved it, others disliked the premise enough to boycott the book. I tried reading with a neutral mind, but that didn’t save me from the heartbreaking conclusion.

It felt like a punch to the gut, even though the whole time I suspected how the story would end. This book was written to engage readers, making us feel like we know the characters, and that alone is art.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but friends have told me it’s just as powerful. Hopefully soon I can watch it, too.

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Me Before You follows a young woman named Louisa Clark. After losing her job at a cafe, she finds work caring for a paraplegic man named Will Traynor. He had an accident which left him unable to move from the neck down.

It’s the story of Louisa’s quest to show Will there’s reason for him to live. I thought it a very good story.

Articles have been written about this book. It continues to spark debate, proving books do matter, even fiction. They stir conversation for months, prompting us to examine life and discern right from wrong.

Philosophy aside, what did I like about this book?

  • It showed that love takes many forms. The affection between Will and Louisa was refreshingly honest. With physical interaction limited, they were forced to bond in deeper ways.
  • Louisa isn’t perfect, but her faults make her likeable. She isn’t the smartest sister in the family and doesn’t have much ambition—which makes it more powerful when she sets out to convince Will he has a purpose.
  • Jojo Moyes uses opposites to make the plot stronger. For example, Louisa’s life is dull because she chooses not to take risks; Will’s life is dull because he cannot take risks. Lou’s boyfriend Patrick is a professional runner, but shows little affection for her. Will can’t move, but in several scenes he demonstrates more love.

This book is one of the most powerful I’ve read, because of the mixed feelings it placed in my heart. It made me think and see life differently.

As for the controversy, I don’t understand it.

Storytellers don’t tell people how to live their lives. They find situations that deserve recognition, packing truth into paperback books. The truth can be interpreted in many different ways.

Often it’s difficult to accept, but that’s not the storyteller’s fault.

Me Before You was worth the read. It made me rethink many things I had taken for granted. I didn’t realize how deeply the book affected me until the day after I finished it, when I had a dream I was wheelchair-bound.

I promise you won’t forget this story, whether you like it or not.

Book Review: Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer


What if there was a character who wanted to escape the pages of his book? How far would he go to live among readers?

Between the Lines tells the story of Prince Oliver, who wants to do just that. He’s lived in a book for as long as he can remember, and doesn’t see magic in it anymore. He wants something new and exciting, because his life has been programmed to always follow the words of the book.

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Oliver has several reasons for his restlessness, including:

  • Boredom—he is tired of finding himself on Page 1 each time a Reader opens the book.
  • He does not care for the love interest, Seraphima, but has to pretend in scenes where they kiss.
  • It irritates him, seeing how content his friends have become. They don’t wonder about the outside world.

But he never actually thought it possible to leave the book. It seemed pointless to even try. Then a new Reader becomes hooked on Oliver’s story.

When Delilah finds the book in her school library, the story becomes a refuge from the complications in her life. Oliver falls for Delilah so deeply, he gets her to notice him! Then he begs for help escaping the book, and they start experimenting.

Is it possible to change a story once it’s put in ink? Can a character’s will be strong enough to outsmart the book?

This is a charming story because of the questions it makes you ask. How many times have you wished a character could hang out with you? How many times have you wanted to live among the pages with them?

Between the Lines captures the wonder of good story, the pull which keeps us turning pages.

It may be impossible for characters to leap off the page, but this story gives us a comforting thought: If they had the choice to join us, some would without thinking it twice. Some would fight to live with us, just as we long to be near them.

Between the Lines pulls us into a realm where ink isn’t a barrier. In this realm, there is hope that one day readers and characters could meet.

I recommend this book to fans of faery tales and romance—but really, it’s great for any reader who’s fallen in love with fictional characters. Oliver’s story will give you much to think about, and it will make you smile.

Book Review: The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson


The Bookseller follows a woman named Kitty who lives in Denver, where she runs a bookstore with her best friend, Frieda. In 1962 it’s not usual for her to be unmarried at the age of thirty-eight, but she tells herself she’s content. Having gone through a failed courtship and several dates that led nowhere, she’s come to terms with life at home with her cat.

Things aren’t as stable as she’d like them to be. The bookstore is losing business as customers flock to big shopping centers in town. She and Frieda are struggling to pay the rent, contemplating the idea of moving to a location that’ll attract more business.

In the midst of this uncertainty, Kitty begins to have strange dreams. Each night when she drifts off, she finds herself in an alternate universe where everything is different.

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Kitty’s married with children in this universe. Her husband, Lars, is a man she spoke to once in the waking world, on the phone; they never met, but in the dream they are married. They have started a family; he built a lovely house for her and the children.

In this dream universe, Kitty is wealthy and has plenty of friends. She has a closet of elegant clothing, even a maid. The world she visits in her sleep is full of contradictions to her real life; it’s like the flip side of a coin.

As the dreams become more vivid, readers are left wondering which of the two universes is actually a dream? It becomes hard to decide. Cynthia Swanson has done a good job of taking two outcomes and making both of them plausible.

The Bookseller addresses the timeless question “What if?” We’ve all wondered how our lives could be different if we made that choice differently, or took the left road instead of the right. How would the universe change if we embraced a different hobby? How would it change the future, how would it change us?

This novel drew me in with its poignant writing and powerful scenes, making me question my own life. As the story progressed and fog cleared, I marveled at Swanson’s genius: She took a concept difficult to pull off, writing each reality with grace and elegance. Both of them have their pros and cons. Neither is complete.

But life is never truly complete. This truth doesn’t escape the pages of books. The Bookseller is wonderful because it makes us ponder our own choices, compelling us to ask “What if?” the way we did when we were children.

Life might look better in an alternate universe, but we’d find ourselves missing things we don’t notice now. The Bookseller helps us appreciate what we have, not envying others’ lives or wishing away our truths.

Like Kitty does in both realities, we’ll wake up and realize these little things are gone. But they only seemed little when we took them for granted, because they will leave great voids.

The Bookseller is a beautiful piece of literary fiction, one I can rate five stars without thinking twice. Give it a try and let it change your perspective on life.

Book Review: Unrivaled by Alyson Noel


Success can be a vicious game. Unrivaled by Alyson Noel follows three young people participating in a competition to best promote the hottest new clubs in downtown LA. They all hope to win best promoter and use their victories to pursue other ambitions.

None of them could foresee how fiery the race would become.

Aster, Tommy, and Layla are not the only competitors, but they’re clearly putting the most effort. This whole book follows their often desperate attempts to sit well with the boss, Ira Redman. Ira owns the nightclubs, and he’s going to determine who wins this competition…but since it’s unclear what his standards are, the participants pull strategies of near Hunger Games-level riskiness.26116460

Luring celebrities in is an obvious shortcut; by the midpoint, they’re circling like flies around Madison Brooks, impeccable actress and America’s sweetheart. (I kept thinking Taylor Swift.) Since Madison is almost impossible to come by, their second-best choice is her also-famous boyfriend, Ryan Hawthorne. Through him, they each hope to reach her.

But the quest for Madison’s attention soon becomes a dramatic search—because she disappears. Aster, Tommy, and Layla all wind up as suspects.

This all started because they wanted success, money to make their marks in the world.

LA was a town of actors and storytellers, populated by those more comfortable playing an imaginary role than being themselves, and the prize always went to the one who faked it best.

This is not a genre I typically read. I was sent a copy to review, and found myself hooked by writing that pulled me along with the characters. Some of the quotes were truly beautiful, others intense—there’s enough cussing to make scenes properly intense. All the characters, even Madison and Ryan, were sketched perfectly; they felt like real people.

Having been in LA, it was nice to read descriptions of streets; I pictured myself strolling the Walk of Fame, could almost smell big city air. It was like stepping through a window back into California, a place where you never know what you’ll find around the corner.

The character Aster is my only criticism. Most of her choices were too childish, like she was trying to fit into a grown woman’s shoes. Then again, this is an LA version of the Hunger Games; I can forgive her losing sight of reason in the race to beat Layla, who ironically becomes an ally towards the end.

More than the characters, it’s the situation which I found addictive, like a bad tabloid or a reality show you can’t turn off…except this is well-written, a journey into the dark part of fame. By the end of Unrivaled, you’ll ask yourself what you’d do for success—and if it’s worth the losses.

You might even lose yourself in the process.

Book Review: Char by Kristina Wojtaszek


I accepted a review copy of Char, having been told beforehand that it was a good read. I think I expected it to be a good read anyway, because I love stories about faeries. The book did not disappoint me; I was excited to read this book and see what I’d find.

It was an emotionally scarring trip through the land of fae. I could feel dirt under my feet, taste smoke in the air; my heart raced during intense scenes.

The world of Char is one of magic and danger. Luna has embarked on a quest which costs her actual blood—a bit of her pinkie finger. It separates her from all the people she loves most, but she’s determined to follow through. She has a no-nonsense mindset, focusing on the task at hand.

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Char lived up to my expectations in almost every way. However, once I finished reading, I realized the love triangle felt over-emphasized. The interactions between Luna and her love interests were enjoyable—I certainly hopped on one of the ships!

However, I wonder if that emphasis on love was necessary in a story driven by urgency.

Why is Char different from the other faerie books out there? It gives you a sensation of freedom. You are living this journey with Luna, feeling her pain, facing the danger. It’s written so your heart feels like it’s dancing on the pages.

Also, the faerie queen is not perfect. She’s got haunts and regrets so powerful, she often seems like a normal girl. We do not like everything she does, but feel enough sympathy not to judge. It was nice to see her off the pedestal, struggling alongside her people.

Luna’s fate at the end was so harsh, it almost made me sick. It showed how human-like these faeries could be, making decisions based on feelings of fear and betrayal. Events in Char were arranged to shock readers, dropping a bomb.

Char has several traits which make it worth the read:

  • Clever character development. It must take delicate planning to make the faerie queen so vulnerable that readers feel sympathy, despite the darker things she has done.
  • A setting written like artwork. You smell the forest as it’s described, feel grass under your feet. You aren’t turning the pages of a book—you’re living a story!
  • The ending. It has a powerful effect, shattering what was generally a peaceful setting. We are pulled along harmoniously, and the ending shatters our daydream.

In all, Char was a beautiful book that’ll have my mind reeling for a long time. It’s a faery tale you can taste and smell. Give this book a try if you like faeries or are a lover of nature; I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Book Review: The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson


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The Paris Winter leaves a proper chill in your soul after you finish reading it. It is the haunting story of Maud Heighton, an English painter who takes art classes in Paris, all the while struggling to get her daily meal.

Her situation doesn’t go unnoticed at the academy, especially when she starts to lose weight and ration meals. A fellow student from Russia named Tanya has sources; she takes Maud to find a job that’ll help her survive the winter.

Maud is employed as companion to the sister of wealthy, mysterious Mr. Morel. She is to teach Sylvie to draw, something she can do easily. It seems she’s finally found stability—she’s eating proper meals and sleeping in a warm room.

It was all too good to be true, however. The Morels had a sinister fate planned for her all along. They did not count on her surviving it, but she wakes with anger in her heart and a desire for revenge.

She’s been used in a scheme the Morels planned for months. When Christian Morel blames her for stealing the Countess’s tiara, she becomes a thief to society. He throws her in the river and claims she committed suicide, so she wakes up not only a thief but dead.

They could not have done more to destroy her reputation.

From childhood, Maud has learned to fight. They might have killed her in the eyes of society, but desire for revenge leaves her very much alive. With the help of her friends, she plans a comeback.

She works with the help of both Tanya and Yvette. A model from the academy, it was Yvette who noticed how thin she’d been getting. Roughened by a life on the streets, she’s courageous enough to stand by Maud to battle injustice.

Friendship is important in this novel. There’s no romance for Maud; as a main character, her strong relationships are with friends. They stand by her when she becomes the ghost of herself in pursuit of revenge.

This emphasis on friendship made the book unique. These women are there for each other in the face of horrific things. I wish more books focused on the strength one can in find a good friend.

Though Maud gets her justice, the ordeal changes her for life. She returns to England with Yvette, hard of heart and angry with life—but driven to start anew as an artist, respected and alive.

This will join my collection of Paris books as a favorite, having caught my attention from the start. Not only does it have a beautiful cover, it’s got an intense plot and strong relationships.

I recommend The Paris Winter to people who, like me, devour any book set in the City of Light. It is also great for fans of historical novels and thrillers. You will be satisfied by the ending; I am sure you’ll find a new favorite in it, as well.

Book Review: Under the Trees by Ashley Maker


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Desperate to prevent an abusive arranged marriage, Princess Araya flees to a neighboring kingdom, only to land at the mercy of the impulsive Crown Prince Thoredmund, who provides refuge in a secluded forest and teaches her survival skills. Her surprise at the unexpected hold the prince has on her heart mirrors his shock at falling for the one girl he can’t have.
As the young couple’s feelings for each other grow, the fragile alliance between the two kingdoms threatens to break apart. With a vengeful duke and an enraged king fast on their trail, Thor and Araya must decide how much they’re willing to risk for love.
Even if staying together means starting a war.

A beautiful fantasy romance, Into the Trees follows Princess Araya’s flight from home in search of freedom.

Araya is escaping an arranged marriage which looms over her like a shadow. Crossing into a neighboring kingdom, what is her luck? She runs into that kingdom’s prince, who has an impulse for helping people in need; hearing her story, Prince Thor swears to get her to freedom—and loses his heart to her on the way.

It’s a quick and charming escape for those who love fantasy worlds, written at a pace to reflect Araya’s urgency. Betrothed to a disgusting man, she would rather abandon her life of luxury and her title than marry him.

However, it’s not that easy. Having been raised a princess, she doesn’t know the first thing about living as a commoner; she can’t start a fire or figure out how people greet each other in a different kingdom.

Small details such as these make incredible worldbuilding. More books ought to pay attention to customs, otherwise cultures sound unrealistically similar. When at times the book got too fast-paced, Maker’s worldbuilding made up for it; she put satisfying thought into the realm she created.

I loved the scenes in the forest! I could almost smell the nature and trees—the river, moisture, flowers. This forest sometimes had more life than the characters wandering it.

Most of this tale takes place in the forest, where great love and panic unfold. Could these trees whisper about what they saw after the story ended? I wouldn’t be surprised, for the environment teemed with magic.

I felt the resolution was rather abrupt, but the ending satisfied me as a reader. Under the Trees is a tale where beauty and magic are balanced with corruption; there’s a charming prince as well as dark characters quick to abuse their power.

Araya wants to escape a grim fate; she’s willing to leave her comfort zone for it. The story sweeps you into her journey, so you experience both giddy love and foreboding fear. I finished this book satisfied that everyone had gotten the ending they deserved.

If only there were more books like this–focusing on the beauty of love in a lively setting, like that place under the trees.

Book Review: Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb


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Ship of Magic sweeps us into a world of pirates and sailors, traders and sea serpents. Don’t let the length of the story frighten you: There’s hardly a dull moment in this novel, the first installment of Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders trilogy.

It’s crafted with so much care, I found it difficult to tell who the villains were—and harder still to dislike them. These characters grow with each plot twist. One of the book’s strengths is characterization. We feel by the end that we’ve gotten to know them personally, even the pirate and the liveships.

The centerpiece detail of the series, liveships are vessels with talking figureheads crafted from wizardwood. They can be unpredictable and difficult to control. Some are wild with unsettled pasts, others are social and love to gossip. These ships are characters, a concept  I found very cool!

Though most of the chapters were gold, I struggled when we switched to the sea serpent’s point of view. Those scenes seemed too out of place, rarely revealing anything. Eventually I started to skim them, something I may regret when I start book two.

Overall it was beautiful, the characters rich with depth—like a pirate who wants to be pirate king, and an abandoned liveship named Paragon. He suffers the way a human would if left in utter solitude.

Ship of Magic will satisfy the reader who longs for adventure at sea. I cannot wait to start the next one.

Review: Be Your Own Fairy Tale by Alison Davies


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From the beginning, Be Your Own Fairy Tale looked promising—a book any lover of magic and dragons ought to have on their shelf. With lovely illustrations, it was impossible to ignore; however, it wasn’t what I expected.

I thought it would offer more in-depth history of fairy tales, introducing undiscovered gems. Instead, Be Your Own Fairy Tale uses the well-known stories to help us find direction in life.

The book does give some history in the first chapter, explaining how these tales changed as they were passed down orally. I expected more history, which made it disconcerting when we switched to self-help chapters.

Once I got over the shock, it was a pleasant surprise. They use symbolism to shift perspective. The exercises were fantastic, helping to dissect mundane things and find magic within.

Be Your Own Fairy Tale was about helping readers recognize their hero’s journey, more so than it was about telling history. If you want a different perspective on life, try the exercises in this book; you’ll be surprised at where magic is hidden.

Review: After Alice by Gregory Maguire


Written by a master storyteller, After Alice might be the richest Alice in Wonderland retelling available if you’re looking for lyrical writing and elaborate description. I wanted to quote every other sentence or store it away in my memory, hoping Maguire’s genius might rub off.

The plot, however, is okay at best.

Our main character, Ada, is daunted by the responsibility of being a new big sister. In a moment of anxiety she runs away from her governess and from home, where she comes across Lydia—Alice’s sister—who claims Alice has vanished again before sending Ada off.

Moments later Ada finds herself in the same strange world—Alice has been there, because people know who she is. Since Alice is her only friend, Ada takes it upon herself to find her and bring her back home, but in a place where nothing makes sense that might be nearly impossible.

There are new characters, including a freed slave boy named Siam—and Charles Darwin! I might have to read the book again to understand the connection between Darwin and Alice’s Wonderland. Alice’s sister Lydia distracted me in scenes featuring the old man by flirting shamelessly with his American companion, Mr. Winters…

Aside from the curious presence of Charles Darwin, this was a typical Alice retelling; the nonsense is there, talking plants and a Cheshire Cat. The strange creatures Ada encounters are maddening as ever; I had the constant urge to shake them.

If you’re looking for a mind-blowing rendition of the classic, After Alice might disappoint; however, I suggest you give it a try for the writing alone. Few books these days have such a firm, beautiful control on description and language.

It might not have been my favorite book by Gregory Maguire, but I myself am not disappointed. I wanted a good story from a master, and it was indeed a good story (not great.)

I can only hope one day I’ll be able to write like him.

Review: Never Never by Brianna R. Shrum


Readers have been enchanted by the tale of Peter Pan for generations, sympathizing with the boy who didn’t want to grow up and the children who went on an adventure with him. Having read the book twice, it was exciting to find Never Never at the bookstore–because it sheds more light on the legendary Neverland.

When it comes to villains in a story, there’s so much we don’t know. Why did this person turn bitter and hateful? Which events turned him into such a haunted soul?

Never Never painted such a beautiful and sad past for Captain Hook. The tables had turned when I closed the book—it was Pan I hated most.

James Hook is a boy who has only one dream: To be a pirate. In real life, though, he longs to become a man and make his father proud. These two desires make for a powerful character, given that he’s only a boy when the novel starts, preparing to head off to boarding school.

That’s when he meets Peter Pan who tells him about the place Neverland, where children don’t have to grow up. Even though he wants to be a man and make his father proud, he wants to see the pirates; he agrees to go with Peter to visit, trusting that he’ll be returned in time to go to Eton.

But Peter does not keep that promise; he forgets it instantaneously after their arrival at Neverland, also forgetting that James never wanted to become a Lost Boy. James followed him to Neverland as a visitor; now he’s trapped following the whims of a scatterbrained boy who turns out to be a dictator.

When James breaks Peter’s greatest rule and begins to grow up, he runs away to the pirate ship Spanish Main, where he’s received as captain without question. The Main was always his dream, one Peter somehow brought to Neverland.

The sweeping novel chronicles James’ struggle to adapt as pirate captain in a place he’s beginning to hate, because it belongs to Peter; everything works at Peter’s whim, including the weather. Neverdays seem to last a lifetime, and there are so many scenes which broke my heart; in the end we find the soul of a person we grew up seeing as villain.

Fans of Peter Pan, misunderstood characters, and book spin-offs will enjoy Never Never. It’ll make you angry, it’ll have you tearing up; most of all, you’ll sympathize with someone you despised as a child.

Things are not always what they seem. By the end of Never Never you’ll probably hate the Pan, too.

Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black


The Darkest Part of the Forest is a must-read for any faery tale lover, especially the tales where Fae are tricksters, inflicting chaos on unsuspecting humans. Fairfold is a little town located near a forest teeming with faeries; they live in tentative harmony, though the humans resort to superstition in order to avoid tricks. It’s been unusual but quiet in Fairfold for many years—but that’s about to end. The horned boy in the glass coffin wakes up, and with him chaos stirs.

I didn’t like the main character, Hazel, at first. There’s nothing special about her, and though we learn later that it was done intentionally, in the first chapter I wondered why she was the main character. Others—like her brother Ben, or his friend Jack—seemed more worthy of the title of protagonist. Of course later we learn there was more to her than the plain girl who kissed lots of boys.

But what we’re really interested in is the horned boy who’s slept in the glass coffin since Hazel and Ben’s parents moved to Fairfold. The glass has been beaten, screamed at, kicked, defiled, but nothing wakes him up. Hazel and Ben have always wanted to wake him, but could never have imagined what would actually happen when he did wake—never predict he would have such a bizarre personality, or lead them into a world so dark and frightening.

The Alderking rules over Fae who live perpetually dancing, drinking, eating, causing trouble to humans—but they aren’t truly free. I don’t think they know what happiness is, because they don’t know true love. The one time true love did come about, the Alderking put an end to it—something I can’t elaborate on without spoiling things. These Fae are not happy so they pick on the humans. I loved this idea of them.

Hazel seems so plain in the beginning, but I closed the book thinking I really wanted to be her, to live where she did, to have the friends she did. This is a book that swept me away; the writing was fantastic, poetic, creating vivid imagery in my head. It would be a great springtime read for anyone who likes faeries, mythology, and complicated characters.

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