All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the bright places

All the Bright Places

 

■Synopsis (Excerpt from Goodreads)

The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

■ My Thoughts (it might include some spoilers)

I gave this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.

This is such an intense, compelling novel. I went into this book without knowing anything about the synopsis and I was so astonished to find how intense and compelling this book was. It literally blew my mind.

This book has an incredibly strong second half.
That is not to say the first half is weak -nothing could be further from the truth in fact – it’s got a nice, engaging first half, it’s just the latter half – in particular, from around 225 pages mark – left much big of an impact on me. I literally ate this book up. I couldn’t, didn’t want to put it down. I wanted to keep reading, I just didn’t want this book to end.

The writing is so explicit. I don’t think it’s all beautiful or flowery,  but it’s got a strong ‘draw’ to it; something that makes the readers keep reading once it captures their hearts. At least it got mine. overall.
I felt some parts a bit slippery and off though. It was like it was all getting pretty close, building up the tension toward the highest point and I was kind of expecting it to explode, yet failing to hit my notes at the most crucial moments, leaving me feel a bit underwhelmed.
I also had a slight issue with the style in which the story is narrated. This book is in dual perspectives, so each chapter is narrated either by Finch or Violet. It might have been only me, but I sometimes lost track of who the narrator was and got confused. It often happened that I read over a page feeling something amiss and then I found that I had been following the story through the wrong point of view.
Yet overall, it was really well-written, incredibly evocative and more than anything, visceral. In particular, I didn’t even realize that I was doing so myself, but I was holding my breath while I was reading the last 100 pages or so. That was where the story really picks up, getting more complex, and where we’d start to see SOMETHING SNAP inside Finch and things get spin out of control.

The descriptions depicting this portion of the story was just brilliant. I could easily visualize, or imagine how Finch’s circuits in his brain are firing up in all directions and how he gets swallowed in the darkness slowly and steadily. I even felt my head spinning; I felt as though I was smothered by emotions.
By that point, I got so invested in Finch’s character, it was so painful and hard to keep reading. I literally didn’t want to see anything bad happen to him any more because he had already gone through enough.

Finch was a really fleshed-out character. He’s quirky at a glance, adopting a different persona by dressing differently and talking differently depending on his mood.
I couldn’t really find any decisive factor that makes him ‘different’ as he is painted, but I definitely see how his thoughts wander off and how complex his character is. On top of all that, he’s incredibly sensitive, fragile and vulnerable. He is like a ticking time bomb waiting to go off; I got to feel his inner struggles and emotional process through his voice and it was just brilliant.
And his voice – HIS VOICE. I fell in love with his voice. Whatever words that come from him rang through me and captivated me; I was in the clutches of his words. I simply can’t get enough of it.
On the other hand, I found Violet was a bit weak compared to Finch. It doesn’t feel right to say this, but her struggles and depression since the accident didn’t appeal to me as much, they didn’t feel strong enough. But I really enjoyed how she develops herself and gets back on her feet through the wander and the interactions with Finch. The dynamics between those two main characters and its development was such a delight to read through.

That is all the more reason why I was so stunned when I found what happens to them in the latter part. I couldn’t read the remaining 40 pages without crying.
That was the last thing I wanted to happen. For me, it was like a nightmare coming true. I cried over Violet’s words and compunction from then onwards. Every time she reflects back and wonders what could have been done to make him last – I cried. Her words cut through my heart.
Although I’m kind of content with how she gets over what’s happened and how the closure arrives, it’s still poignant and heart-breaking. It just hurts.

This is not a feel-good fluffy YA; it deals with some serious issues like depression, suicide, and bullying – how small a thing that we consider inconsequential and nothing can push others over the edge. We can get a glimpse of what could be going on inside the brains of someone with mental illness through the voice of Finch, and I really appreciate that.

That said, it wasn’t that I didn’t have any issue with this book; as far as mental illness goes, the thing that didn’t sit well with me was that Finch didn’t confide in anyone with his true emotions and issues that plagued him. Rather than asking for help from experts and professionals, he chose to bottle up his feelings and took the matters into his own hands, which kind of bothered me; to be honest, I was a bit frustrated, thinking thing could have ended up differently if he had let someone in on what was actually going on.

Other than that, I really enjoyed reading this book. This book really affected me emotionally and I loved that.

This is really a poignant story, you may feel sick in the stomach, or end up crying your eyes out (like I did) but this is also an amazingly beautiful book. This is my type of book, this is my jam.

In my personal opinion, this is way better than The Fault in Our Stars. Hands down.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

the book thief

The Book Thief

I wasn’t quite sure if this book was really going to live up to my expectation until I reached the very end. Although it did move me to some extent, the tidal wave of emotions that I had been expecting didn’t arrive;

Until I reached the chapter, The End of the World (Part Ⅱ)  to be more specific.

Set in the years 1939 – 1943, Nazi Germany, The Book Thief weaves a story of a German girl, Liesel, and her encounters with the inhabitants on her street.
She loses her brother on their way to their new foster parents’ home and she commits her very first thievery after her brother’s burial ceremony.

She picks up a book lodged in the snow – The beginning of Liesel’s book thievery.

To me, this book felt like a collage of the lives of inhabitants of Himmel Street rather than a story.
There is, indeed, a solid story line running underneath the entire book, but I think the vast majority of the book is about Liesel and the people whom she gets to know or comes to love.
There is Rudy, there is Papa, most importantly, there is Max. A Jew who left a big impact on Liesel and with whom Liesel forms a very strong friendship.
Stories with individual characters are woven amazingly in detail and are entertaining, but the real culmination of the tension (at least for me) arrives at the remaining 20 pages mark. This is where all the stories come to life. This is where this book hit me in the feels and made me all welled-up.

I particularly loved the friendship between Liesel and Max. They respectively become indispensable to each other. With Max being a Jew, Papa and Mama know what it means to hide Max from the pursuit of Nazi and what consequences await them, but they risk everything to protect Max and to keep a secret that Papa had made to Max’s father.
Such details behind each character serve very well to make this book emotionally engaging and captivating.

The writing is absolutely gorgeous; I don’t know how to articulate what it feels like.
It’s stunningly beautiful, lyrical and poetic. More than anything, it’s generally calm and quiet, yet very strong.

What struck me interesting about this book is that the story is narrated by Death himself and I really liked his voice. His narration is dignified, yet I sensed the humor in his voice. He is very calm, collected and observant, too. Although this story is told through the eyes of Death and sets in Nazi Germany,  it didn’t feel morbid and depressing so much. Not that I’m saying that it’s all uplifting, which is definitely not the case, but it is NOT all bleak and gloom. Through Death’s very observant detailed narration, we can get a glipmse of happiness (albeit occasionally) in Liesel’s life.
He says ‘Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me,’ but I felt he is actually nice. I could even feel some warmth in his voice.

The main characters are all lovable and in particular, the bond between Papa and Liesel literally warmed the cockles of my heart. Which is all the more reason why the aforementioned scene broke me; I know it’s inevitable, yet it still hurts.

This book is rather long with 538 page count and this is not a fast-paced quick read.
This is one of those books that should be savored and devoured by taking as long as one needs to let the story sink in.
This is a story of life, friendship and keeping promise. It is simply breathtaking and magnificent.
Even if you feel it a bit dull with not so much going on, the jolt does come in the end.
This book does need patience. I’m so glad that I read it. I will definitely reread it.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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Thirteen Reasons Why

■Synopsis (from the back cover)

Clay Jensen returns home to find a strange package with his name on it.
Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and first love – who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

Hannah’s voice explains there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

All through the night, Clay keeps listening – and what he discovers changes his life…

Forever.


 

This book didn’t blow me away as much as I hoped it would.
I did enjoy the reading experience and found it a quick read, but it just didn’t completely click with me.

In fact, I’m still indecisive about this book; while I don’t particularly adore this book, I still find this very haunting; it definitely left a vague, yet lasting impression on me.

This may be a kind of book that one may not particularly love yet can’t help thinking about. That’s exactly what’s happening to me, to be honest.

Like I said, this is a quick, engaging read. In each chapter with the number of cassette tapes you’re on – you’ll listen to Hannah narrating her side of the story as to what led her to taking her own life. Personally, I found it pretty voyeuristic.
There are thirteen reasons why she killed herself and are thirteen people on the list to whom the cassette tapes will be passed on.
Which means, each and every one of them will be listening to what each of them on the list had done to Hannah – in detail and learning that it was actually them who pushed Hannah over the edge – in a hard way.
With regard to this, I think it’s very clever and engaging, but at the same time, it comes across a bit too vindictive and venomous.

As for the writing style, it actually took me a while to get used to.
While the story is basically narrated in the first person -from Clay Jensen’s perspective, since we are supposed to be listening to Hannah’s soliloquy throughout the thirteen cassette tapes, namely thirteen chapters, there’s a constant back and forth between Hannah’s narration and Clay’s inner thoughts; I personally found this pretty distracting and I actually had to do a lot of re-read to figure out which perspective I was on.

I know that I’m digressing and it may be only me who feels this way, but Clay’s teenage angst and wandering around the town not being inclined to go home kind of reminded me of Haulden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye.
I don’t know why, but it just did. Please share your thoughts if you felt the same way.

Story-wise, I personally didn’t find the respective thirteen reasons that drove Hannah to taking her own life were particularly tough and severe. Now, please do note that I’m only talking about the plot; I have absolutely no intention of dissing or denigrating those who are agonized over such issues dealt in this book. I merely thought that we probably would not take our own lives over these incidents if we encountered just one or two out of them –  I wouldn’t say they are totally everyday matter and we all have been there, but then again, we may have experienced such issues more or less at some point in our lives, I assume.
The real problem, what makes it insufferable for Hannah is that they come in droves.
Like I mentioned, we could probably take some of the incidents that Hannah describes, with the help of others, that is. They are tough enough and might take some time for the wounds to heal, but we could probably bounce back if we have a solid support system.
However, I don’t think we could handle all of them if they came back to back, literally consecutively. That would be too much to take particularly for teenagers.
Although my first gut-reaction towards Hannah’s claims was a bit inconsequential, maybe? but I can easily imagine it would be humiliating and seem like her future holds no hope whatsoever for her. So, I could live with that.

Another point I want to make and what I particularly liked about this story is the change that visits Clay’s mind after hearing Hannah’s tapes.
This story tells you what big of an impact you can have on someone else’s life; how your words and deeds can affect others and the ripple effect of your conducts, even though the effect of which is unbeknownst to yourself.

And once you know the truth, that’ll change how you view things and people.

Being blatantly shown what he could have done to save her but he didn’t must have been too much for Clay, trust me – it was so hard to read, I felt for him – but I liked how he changes – or tries to change – after such a revelation.

And he actually puts his determination to action.

That’s enough for me; it’s such a hopeful, rewarding end.

I gave this 3.5 out of 5 stars, but this rating could be changed afterwards (probably in a positive way.)

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows

Six of Crows

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. This book definitely measures up to the hype and I quite enjoyed reading it.

Despite that, I must note that it took me quite a while to get into the story.
The reasons are:

a)I wasn’t particularly familiar with the Grisha world (I haven’t read the Grisha Trilogy) and,
b)There are just too many characters making an appearance at the early stage in the story and some of them turned out to be minnows who I didn’t necessarily have to keep track of.

What really drained me is b): the number of characters. As I previously mentioned, many of them ended up being of no importance thus I didn’t necessarily have to spend my time and energy in keeping track of.
However, I ended up doing a lot of re-read and skipping ahead to understand who is who and who the character is connected to, which drained a lot of energy out of me.

For those reasons, the first 40 pages, particularly the parley scene was really excruciating and mentally draining to me.
I didn’t find it info-dumpy, it was totally immersive and gripping once I picked up the book and started reading, it was really an exciting read. But once life got in the way and I put aside the book, the mental exhaustion that I had experienced in the first 40 pages actually made me a bit hesitant to pick it up again and I ended up dragging the hesitation the entire time until I finished the book.
Other than that, I really enjoyed reading this book.

Apart from the unfamiliar names and settings that come with the Grisha world, I think the writing is on point, brisk and very easy to get through. It’s also very descriptive and I could easily visualize each scene; some scenes actually made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
I found the plot a bit predictable, particularly what was supposed to be a huge twist in the end, nevertheless, it didn’t make the story any less interesting. I really enjoyed it.

I gather this is a kind of book that you should go blindly knowing the bare minimum about the plot; even a brief mention about the heist seems to be quite spoilary to me. (So I wouldn’t.)

As far as the character goes, my absolute favorite will be Kaz Brekker and Nina. I assume Kaz will be a heartthrob to many, but I absolutely love Nina’s character. She is sexy, gentle and strong and capable. I particularly adore the romance between Matthais and Nina in the end… it made my heart swoon (not as much as it did for Cinder and Kai in The Lunar Chronicles, but it did).
But Nina, oh my gosh, Nina. What have you done?! It was actually one of my favorite scenes in the book. Some may see it as overly dramatic, but I just adore the scene. Love it.

Kaz’s feelings toward someone whose name I won’t divulge here came as a bit of a surprise – I wouldn’t say I didn’t see it coming at all, nonetheless, it was a nice surprise. It actually made me a bit warmed up to Kaz.

The friendship built amongst the crews is also what I really liked about this book.
My favorite goes to the one between Inej and Nina and Jesper and Wylan.
The rest of the crews first disregard Wylan at the earlier stage of the heist, but as the story goes, as they go through a lot of predicaments together, they start to look at Wylan in a different light and think more of him. I liked the change A LOT.

Overall, I think Leigh Bardugo did an amazing job in weaving such an exciting, thrilling story by tactfully entwining each character’s background story with the main one with vital clues and revelations as to, for instance, why Kaz Brekker always wears gloves and things along those lines.
Despite the initial mental exhaustion that I experienced, I found the latter half is such a page-turner, a great read.

Although I’m yet to be ready to dive right into the sequel, ‘Crooked Kingdom,’ and I’ll be most likely to take a bit of a break, I highly recommend picking this up.
It is definitely worth your time and energy. It’s such a rewarding, exciting read. Definitely lived up to my expectations. I’m glad that I finally finished this book.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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We Were Liars

 

I picked up this book because of its hype this book has gleaned from the book community, and most importantly, YA is my jam; I started this book with high expectations.

It’s been nearly four days since I finish this book, but I still haven’t been able to make up my mind when it comes to deciding whether I like this book or not.
Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely enjoyed reading this book. This is such a page-turner with a huge, surprising twist in the end. That being said though, when it comes down to the issue of liking it or not, I still don’t know which side I am on. I’m somewhere in the middle.

I gave this book 3 ~ 3.5 out of 5 stars.
As I previously mentioned, I enjoyed reading this; this book made me keep turning pages.
There’s not much of a plot going, it’s just narratives of the ‘Liars’ summers on the island where their grandfather has a great influence on. The Sinclair family is a well-off, distinguished family and they have almost everything and they have the luxury of spending summertime on the island every year.

What I found interesting is the relationship between the ‘Liars,’ Cady, Johnny, Mirren and Gat. They get along really well on the island, yet their relationship never goes beyond the summer; they lose in touch at some time or other and let it fall through the cracks until next summer. I wonder why, but they do and I assume that’s exactly what makes their summers on the island really special.

Another aspect that I found interesting is the crumbling relationship between their mothers. On the surface level, they seem to get along all right, but deep down they’re constantly against each other and currying favor with their father to secure the better family possessions.
The underlying enmity slowly elevates the matters to the point that comes to a head and that eventually drives the ‘Liars’ into taking the matters into their own hands – which leads to the shocking, devastating consequence.

A huge twist in Part 5 literally took me by surprise; It made me hold my breath and cry, ‘Oh my gosh,” I didn’t see it coming at all.

The writing is one of the strongest points in this book, I gather. As the story is basically narrated from Cady’s perspective, everything feels kind of hazy and untrustworthy; I constantly wondered whether to take in everything she says as is or not. I absolutely enjoyed the platonic, beautiful slow-burned love between Cady and Gat, but on the other part of me constantly doubted if it was what was actually happening. I personally think that’s what heightens the sense of suspense and makes this book gripping.

I enjoyed Cady’s narration as well – it’s very lyrical at times and the prose is very beautiful. I also enjoyed reading the short stories presumably written by Cady inserted here and there in the story.
It indirectly insinuates the consequences of her/their actions and reflects her emotions.
It was really well-done.

The ending literally wrecked me. I definitely saw some hope in it, but it was, at the same time, very sad and haunting. Cady has to live on dragging the luggage of what she had done in the ‘Summer Fifteen,’ and how she herself recognizes it just broke me. It was heart-wrenching, yet also beautiful. I lost my words after closing the book.

As I said earlier, I still don’t know whether I adore this book or not. But I definitely have a soft spot for this kind of book.
I can vouch that this is a great summer read, such a page-turner. I recommend you picking this up if you haven’t already.

A World Without You by Beth Revis

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A World Without You

 

I got this book having watched my favorite BookTuber Mollie Reads video in which she literally cried her eyes out holding the book, saying she has no words to describe it.

As some of you probably know, I like books that emotionally destroy me; it may sound weird, but I seemed to have developed a penchant for emotionally disturbing books somehow, I don’t know why, but upon watching the video, I thought this book would definitely be right up my alley.

And it proved me right; an inexplicable feeling washed over me when I closed the book and I got welled up. It was hard to hold in my emotions from gushing out.

I gave this book 4 stars out of 5 stars.

This book opens with a funeral scene of a girl by the name of Sophia who is said to have committed suicide. Her boyfriend and the protagonist of this story, Bo, doesn’t buy what everyone says and tries to save her from the past where she is trapped by using his special powers of maneuvering timestreams.

I went into this book pretty blindly and didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t even know the synopsis much other than this book is about mental illness, so I wasn’t quite sure if I should take what I read at face value or be skeptic. That sense of suspense added a lot to my excitement as I read along.

Just like another book on mental illness, ‘Under Rose-Tainted Skies,’ I felt like I was sneaking inside Bo’s head and seeing what was going on in his mind and how he was processing his emotions. It felt really accurate and realistic, painful at times.

The writing is crisp and straight-forward, it didn’t come across particularly beautiful, but I thought it was quite visceral and emotionally evocative.  I particularly liked how well Beth Revis describes Phoebe’s vacillating emotions and her honest feelings wanting to be as she is without disguising herself.

The diverse cast of characters are all well-fleshed out and felt down-to-earth, not fictional at all. Again, I particularly liked Phoebe for her own imperfections and her self-doubt. Her inner conflicts make this story more gripping and add a lot of depth to it.
The scene where I get to see the snippet of Dad’s true feelings and angst is just heart-wrenching. The whole family, Bo’s family is just going through the motions of being a ‘real family,’ acting as though nothing had happened while bearing loads of baggage inside them, and that scene underlined the charade so perfectly and brilliantly. It felt so poignant.

As the ‘reality’ dawns on, the story get heavier and I found it difficult at times to keep reading. It was getting incredibly gripping but knowing what the ‘reality’ implies, I felt torn between me wanting to keep on and me needing to take a break for a while.
The last 60 pages or so is such a page turner. As the story inches up to ‘the core,’ the harder it gets to put it down.

What made me cry was the epilogue. Until then, I didn’t think I would cry over this book.

That said,

I cried.

When I read the remark Bo makes in the dialogue with Phoebe, it hit me in the feels, thinking,

He says THIS, after what he went through, after the choice he made, he says THIS!

Personally, the epilogue is just amazing and stunning. I am quite happy with that.

As I mentioned, this book is on mental illness, so it is not a fluffy book with a happy vibe.
It is gripping, beautiful, yet serious and heavy.
That being said though, I think it is definitely worth reading it.

I am glad that I did.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

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I gave this book solid 4 stars. It could be 4.5 stars, yet I’ll be honest, and I will say it’s a 4 stars book for me.

I docked a star because it took me a while to get myself on track. For some reason, this book didn’t grab me at my first attempt. The first chapter was brilliant and strong, it actually sucked me in right off the bat, but from then onwards it kind of lost its momentum and I started feeling the words slipping away not fully sinking in on me.
When I was about halfway through the book, I decided that I couldn’t go on like that; I went right back to the beginning to read it again with a clear mindset.
The enormity of the atrocity dawned on me surprisingly well the second time. The book immediately reeled me in and kept me engaged the entire book.

Despite the chilling and upsetting inhumane conducts committed by the Soviet guards, I felt something calm running through the book; Lina’s narration is surprisingly calm and subdued. That said, I must say there were times when I held my breath. The writing is clear-cut and powerful, it adds a lot to the underlying tension and I kept reading with bated breath. It was so much and so hard to take all in; I just can’t imagine what it would have been like to survive with barely any food on their hands in a place like Siberia. It’s beyond my imagination.

The characters are all well-developed; I adore Lina for her feisty yet solid, independent and strong character while Jonas being so pure and adorable. Her mother, Elena is literally an epitome of goodness. She is so compassionate, warm-hearted and strong.

The latter part of the book, particularly close to the end is so poignant and strong; I was pretty close to tears.
However,  I also found it so therapeutic and purgatorial to find goodness even within someone who appears -or we think to be absolutely evil.

I must admit I was completely sold on the epilogue. It was stunning and utterly amazing.
I felt as though the time had stood still with the world around me grinding to a halt. The writing is so beautiful and descriptive; I could clearly visualize the scene. It was beyond reproach.
In addition to that, I was so happy to see the main two characters whose names I wouldn’t divulge here end up being together.

I adore the couple. It is a sole delight in the entire story; I breathed a sigh of delight and relief.
It was definitely worth a read not to mention a good historical lesson. I’m glad I read it.