Review: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Lone Star, by Paullina Simons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Forbidden, by Tabatha Suzama

ForbiddenForbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! That was some deeply disturbing and super depressing stuff. I’m thinking this was somewhere between a 3 1/2 and a 4 star read for me. This one will take some time to digest. In fact, as I write this review days later I’m still not sure exactly what to make of this story.

Lochan and Maya have been forced to grow up too quickly. As the oldest, these two siblings have had to take on the responsibility of raising their three younger siblings. Their drunken, deadbeat mother breezes in and out of their lives when she chooses, leaving all of the day to day responsibilities up to her two oldest children. As a result, Lochan and Maya have a relationship that more closely resembles that of a husband and wife than that of a brother and sister.

Since I knew where this story was heading from the start, I wasn’t surprised at all when the siblings’ relationship started to take on a more romantic feel. However, I was incredibly surprised when I found myself rooting for them as a couple. Going into this book, part of me had convinced myself that they were going to be step-siblings or half-siblings or some other relation that would somehow lessen the taboo nature of their relationship. That wasn’t the case and I had to deal with some very uncomfortable feelings. It was so wrong, but they were just so damn right for each other at the same time.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’d be right too. Awkward, right? I’m going to get it out and just say what we’re all thinking, “Ew!” I’m not going to try and deny that this was some seriously messed up stuff. Just the thought of incest makes me cringe. To say the least, this was a very uncomfortable read as a result.

Nonetheless, I found myself hoping that Lochan and Maya would somehow get a HEA. Even as I knew it was totally improbable, I wanted them to be happy. No teenagers ever deserved happiness more than these two. They bore the weight of the world on their shoulders. Right to the end, they sacrificed for their younger siblings.

Of course, this is not that kind of story. This is the type of story that you go into knowing that it will break your heart…and it does. I cried big, fate tears and probably went through half a box of Kleenex while reading this story.

Aptly titled, ‘Forbidden’ is taboo and controversial. While I won’t try to justify incest, consensual or not, I will say that this story was a heartbreakingly beautiful love story. You will fall in love with each of the siblings, as you hate their worthless mother. You’ll respect Lochan and Maya for their strength and dedication to their family. You will feel their love, anger, and desperation, even as you curse the injustice of it all. No way around it, you will FEEL while reading this story.

As much as anything else, this story made me feel conflicted. I usually don’t waver much in my convictions. However, this book made me question my values and morals. I found myself pondering “what if” more than I was comfortable with. Days later, I have to say that this story still has me feeling unsettled.

Will it make you highly uncomfortable? Yes. Would I recommend it? Absolutely! In my opinion, the books that challenge the status quo and make me look at life through a different lens are the best kinds of books. Agree or disagree, but consider alternate viewpoints. Books like this aren’t necessarily there to change what you believe, so much as they are there to make you examine why you believe what you do and consider other perspectives. Are there situations in which there should be exceptions to some steadfast rules of morality? This book will make you think about that type of thing.

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Review: Undo Me (The Good Ol’ Boys, #3), by M. Robinson

Undo Me (The Good Ol' Boys, #3)Undo Me by M. Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third book in ‘The Good Ol’ Boys’ series, ‘Undo Me’ is the story of Dylan and Aubrey. These two had one of the most tragic and complicated stories that I’ve ever read. Never have I wanted a couple to get their HEA so badly. As I listened to their story, I hurt for them. They deserved some happiness after everything they went through.

While reading ‘Complicate Me’, I was sure that I had figured things out between Dylan and Aubrey. In fact, I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to read this book because I was so sure that I already knew how things would play out. I was so wrong. ‘Undo Me’ was so much more than I expected.

Of all the “Good Ol’ Boys”, Dylan was the one that I felt least connected to at the onset of this book. He was kind of just the player in the background in the first two books. He was dating Aubrey…then he wasn’t. He went from the dedicated boyfriend to a manwhore, seemingly overnight, without any explanation. I didn’t know why, but it was off-putting to me.

My questions were answered in this third book. Finally, I know what events led up to the downfall of Dylan and Aubrey. Now that I know, I can say that my perception was completely inaccurate.

I had expected this book to be the “shallowest” of the series. However, I was greatly mistaken. This book was the most emotional and dealt with the “heaviest” content in the series to this point. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you’ve read the first two books in the series, you already know that abuse is going to be addressed. It doesn’t stop there. This book will gut you.

This book would’ve been a 5-star book for me, if it weren’t for the fact that it got so far-fetched toward the end. Don’t get me wrong. It was a great story. However, some of the events toward the very end were a bit too convenient and far-fetched for me.

Overall, it was a deeply emotional read. I would recommend this book if you’re looking for something angsty and touching. Keep your tissues handy, but rest assured that things will work out eventually. It doesn’t come easy for this couple, but they get there in the end.

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Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1), by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! I loved this paranormal fantasy! Although this isn’t my usual genre, I find myself reading a fair amount of paranormal reads lately. Luckily, I saw some great reviews for this book on friends pages, or I might have missed this gem.

From a young age, Feyre has had to bear the responsibility of providing for her crippled father and two helpless sisters. On her deathbed, Feyre’s mother made her promise that she would keep them together and take care of them. When her father’s poor choices cost the family their wealth and status, Feyre is forced to take drastic measures to ensure her family’s survival.

One day, Feyre is hunting in the forest when she kills a large wolf. Unknowingly, she sets off a chain of events that will alter the course of history for the Fae and humankind. The wolf was no regular wolf, but rather a faerie in disguise.

When the faerie’s friend, Tamlin, comes to Feyre’s home to seek justice, she sacrifices herself. She agrees to live her life in the faerie’s territory, forsaking her family, or else she faces certain death. Knowing that she will be unable to fulfill her promise to her dead mother, Feyre leaves with a heavy heart.

From early childhood on, human children are told stories, warning them of the Fae’s cruel treatment of humans. Expecting to be tormented and live a life of unknown terrors, Feyre is surprised to find that her captor provides her with a life of opulence and plenty. No longer does she have to scrounge for food or wood for heat. In fact, she isn’t expected to work or do anything other than whatever she wants within Tamlin’s lands.

Soon, Feyre realizes that there is more going on in her new home than the innocuous activities that meet the eye. There is a darkness that is slowly seeping into Tamlin’s territory, slowly draining his powers and holding his subjects captive. Feyre is not the only one imprisoned in this strange land.

As Feyre spends more time with Tamlin, she finds herself growing fond of her captor. She can relate to the sacrifices that he’s made for the safety of his subjects. Begrudgingly, she comes to realize that her hatred for the Fae may have been entirely unfounded.

In time, Tamlin and Feyre act on their desires. However, just as they are beginning to explore a romantic relationship, the troubles in Tamlin’s lands come to a head. He chooses to send Feyre home, rather than see her become a victim of the same magic that has cursed his lands for years.

Back at home, Feyre realizes the danger that Tamlin is in and knows that she cannot leave him to face that fate alone. She would rather die with him than live without him again.

From the start, I loved every minute of this story. Even when I thought Feyre was acting like an ungrateful, petulant child, I understood why it was necessary for the storyline. The supporting characters, such as Tamlin’s best friend, Lucien, were also captivating and well-developed.

Overall, I loved this story! There was plenty of action and suspense to keep me on the edge of my seat. There was a beautiful love story. Feyre and Tamlin were intriguing characters that had me rooting for them from start to finish. I wouldn’t change a thing!

Now, I’m dying to read the second book. Unfortunately, it isn’t due to be released until May of 2016. If it’s half as good as this one is, it’ll be well worth the wait.

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Review: City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments, #2), by Cassandra Clare

City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments, #2)City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Picking up where ‘City of Bones’ left off, ‘City of Angels’ doesn’t waste any time before plunging you right back into this supernatural world. This book was packed with action and adventure. With ever-changing information and plenty of teenage angst, this cast of characters tries to stay one step ahead of Valentine, making for a highly entertaining read.

Still reeling from the news that they’re siblings, Jace and Clary struggle with their feelings toward one another. Awkward doesn’t begin to describe the dynamic between these two after that cat was let out of the bag. Maybe it’s just my wishful thinking, but I’m betting that somewhere down the road we’ll find out that they aren’t really siblings after all. I just refuse to believe that they won’t end up together.

While the blooming romance between Jace and Clary came to an abrupt and uncomfortable halt, Simon steps out of the shadows. With Jace out of his way, Simon decides to pursue his feelings for Clary. He’s always wanted to be more than just her friend and now is his chance.

Soon, Simon finds himself experiencing a major, and unexpected, life change. Nothing will ever be the same for him. He is forever changed, as is his relationship with Clary and everyone he’s ever held dear.

Like Simon, Clary and Jace begin to discover changes within themselves. Valentine made it clear that they were “different”, but didn’t give any details. Little by little, they begin to figure out some of their unique abilities. Although it is early-on in this series, it is evident that they are powerful and their full strength is as of yet unknown.

Overall, I thought this was a great continuation of this series. I am enjoying these characters more and more as the story evolves. I don’t know what is in store for them, but am certain that we’ve not seen the last of Valentine yet. I’m on to the next audiobook now.

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Review: An Exaltation of Larks, by Suanne Laqueur

An Exaltation of LarksAn Exaltation of Larks by Suanne Laqueur
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was absolutely spectacular! I am in awe of this author’s abilities. ‘An Exaltation of Larks’ was the first book I’ve read by Ms. Suanne Laqueur, but it certainly will not be the last. I’ll be adding all of her books to my TBR list ASAP!

From the opening lines, I knew that this was going to be a story that would stick with me…and it has. The writing is flawless and incredibly poetic. I could not pull myself away from this story, even falling asleep with my propped up on my chest at night. I was entirely consumed with the fascinating lives of these characters.

This story was so rich with history and emotion that I am still digesting everything I read days later. I loved the way that Ms. Laqueur was able to weave fact and fiction together so seamlessly. The end result was a superb story that ended up being enlightening and deeply touching, as well as highly entertaining.

At the onset of the book, I was sure that I knew what direction the story would head in. It had the ominous feel of danger, as a young Alejandro Penda hides in his parents closet in the days following the overthrow of Chile’s government by a military coup on September 11, 1973. The air was thick with the fear of Chile’s citizens, as many are rounded up and taken away, never to be seen again. His own parents had been taken, leaving a young Alejandro to fend for himself.

After days of being left alone, Alejandro’s father returns. He is able to get safe passage for Alejandro to the United States, to stay with an uncle. However, he cannot go with Alejandro. He decides to stay behind to search for his wife, who is pregnant with their second child. Alejandro watches his father walk away from the U. S. Embassy, never to see his parents again.

Although Alejandro can never completely move on, haunted by the unknown, he quickly assimilates himself into his new life. Going by the name of “Alex”, he is befriended by the children of his uncle’s friends, the Larks. Their son, Roger, becomes Alex’s best friend. One of their daughters, Valerie, becomes the object of his affections. They all grow up together in the peaceful community of Guelisten, NY, where the Lark family is practically a legend.

When Alex’s uncle dies several years later, the Lark family assumes guardianship of Alex. He is older, but still in school and too young to live independently. The dynamics of his relationship with Val change drastically, but the attraction is still there, just below the surface.

This book spans decades, from the time that Alex is a young child, well into his adult life. The story follows the characters through their childhoods, chronicles their struggles as college students and young adults, and later as adults with families of their own. This book sees the rise and collapse of governments as the political climate changes across the globe. In one word, this story is “epic”.

Along the way, we are introduced to Javier, a young man terribly abused and cast out by his own family. Forced as a teenager to make his own way on the streets of New York City, he is eventually introduced to work as an escort. Under the tutelage of his mentor, Gloria, he quickly rises through the ranks, becoming one of the most sought after male escorts in the city.

At first, I didn’t understand where Ms. Laqueur was going with Jav’s story. He seemed to be introduced out of nowhere, pulling me away from Alex and Val’s story. However, fate has plans for all of them. Soon all of their lives will intersect in life-changing ways.

I don’t want to give too much away, or spoil this story for anyone. It is a story that deserves to be read and savored individually. If you’re sitting on the fence with this one, read it.

This was a beautiful, multifaceted story. It is just the type of thought-provoking story that I needed to start my year off right. It was breathtaking and so much more than I had ever hoped it would be. I highly recommend this book. It is absolutely spectacular!

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