Review | The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

Following her pitch-perfect debut Open Road Summer, Emery Lord pens another gorgeous story of best friends, new love, & second chances.

Brimming with heartfelt relationships and authentic high-school dynamics, The Start of Me and You proves that it’s never too late for second chances.

It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

5 cupcakes

My poor friends back home have all listened to me rave over Open Road Summer, which has become a sort of standard for contemporary YA books in my mind, given its strong female friendships and adorable romance. So it should come as no surprise that The Start of Me and You had been on my to-read list for months – and I’m very happy to say that I liked it even more than Open Road Summer.

Our protagonist, Paige Hancock, is real, flawed, and incredibly easy to identify with. Although my new start was a result of completely different circumstances (moving to Waterloo for university), I had a similar approach: create a checklist, which may or may not have included making friends with cute boys and joining a bunch of clubs. I’ve experienced the same insecurities and fears as Paige (and still do, in some cases), and her deep love for books, her family, and her friends immediately endeared her to me.

Paige’s support system was absolutely wonderful. Her home life is filled with love and support, from her parents and her little sister, and Paige’s close-knit relationship with her grandmother was incredibly touching. Like Open Road Summer, there is an emphasis on strong female friendships. Paige’s best friends (Tessa, Morgan and Kayleigh) are wonderfully supportive. Although they bickered occasionally – but honestly, which friends haven’t? – they were always there for one another, and each girl had an important and distinct presence in the group. I also loved how the friend group eventually evolved to include a couple of guys, and still kept the same dynamic instead of leading to cattiness and drama.

And, of course, there’s the romance. It’s a slow-burn unlikely-friends-to-something-more kind of relationship, and it had me grinning like crazy every time Paige and Max interacted. I love how they confided in one another and became integral parts of each other’s support system, while also using Pride and Prejudice as inspiration for their flirting. Their nerdy banter was so adorably sweet, and it’s safe to say that Max Watson is someone who I wish I knew in real life.

Overall, The Start of Me and You can be summed up in two words: absolute perfection. It was so, so cute – both in terms of the romance, and Paige’s rock-solid support system – while still managing to cover serious topics. I can’t wait to fall in love with Emery Lord’s next book!

I received a copy of this book from a Goodreads First Reads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

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ARC Review: The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

3A rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn’t had the easiest childhood.

But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.

So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing…

Introducing a bright young voice destined to charm the world, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a celebration of curious incidents, astronomy and astrology, the works of Kurt Vonnegut and the unexpected connections that form our world.

My Rating:5 cupcakes

When describing this book to my parents, I noted that it reminded me of “a mixture of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Pixar’s Up, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.” While that may seem like a strange combination, elements from all of these works are seamlessly combined to create a humorous, poignant novel that will leave a lasting impression.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods is written as a first person retrospective narrative in the style of Kurt Vonnegut, whose works play a rather important role in the novel: the reader is immediately exposed to the action at the end of Alex’s story, and is then brought back to the beginning to see how the events leading up to the present situation influenced and shaped his personality and worldview. At first glance,it is a coming of age story about a young boy, Alex, who lives a very unconventional life: he doesn’t know who his father is, his mother reads Tarot cards, he is a bit of a celebrity after having been struck by a meteorite when he was young, and his best friend is a Vietnam veteran. However, it is also a thought-provoking work of fiction that deals with many heavy subjects – such as bullying, free will, life, death, euthanasia and morality – in a respectful and meaningful way.

The protagonist, Alex, is a logical, naive, introverted young man with a compelling, authentic voice. There is a lot of social disconnect between him and his peers, due to the fact that he enjoys learning, voices his opinions – regardless of their appropriateness – and tends to go off on many tangents. As a biology student, I found all of the detailed information that Alex provided in regards to his scientific learning to be very interesting (which, from what I’ve seen, places me in the minority on that count). It is hard not to empathize with Alex, whose childlike innocence and unique worldview make him quite easy to like.

The friendship between Alex and Mr. Peterson is very much like that of Russell and Carl in Up: a young boy befriends a grouchy old man who lost his wife, and eventually the two begin to consider each other as a family of sorts. I loved watching this friendship grow and develop. Though it was filled with difficulties, the influence that this friendship had on both parties was quite powerful – especially towards the end where it is shown just how much they are willing to do for each other. At the beginning of the novel, Alex is a boy, but with Mr. Peterson’s help, he becomes a man with a heightened sense of integrity and a new outlook on life.

Overall, this was an excellent novel that will leave you with many ethical and existential questions, and will inspire you to read some of Kurt Vonnegut’s works.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

ARC Review: Dark Child by Adina West

Perfect for fans of The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, this intriguing urban fantasy follows the story of Kat Chanter, who discovers that the world she knows is controlled by ancient creatures who feed on blood. And she might just be one of them …

Lately things have been getting weird for pathology technician Kat Chanter. She’s been craving raw meat, and having dreams so realistic they’re scary. When she accepts a job offer from the prestigious Hema Castus Research Institute, she hopes she’ll have the chance to discover what’s wrong with her, but instead, her move to New York thrusts her headlong into a treacherous hidden world, where the wrong move could be fatal…

Tarot, witchcraft and astrology all take on a frightening resonance in Dark Child’s richly imagined alternative reality where vampiric beings live among us, hidden by magic. Dark romance tangles with paranormal fantasy and page-turning suspense in this enthralling tale of ‘dark child’ Kat Chanter, half-human and half-vampire, who has woken an ancient prophecy and must face a formidable destiny.

My Rating:  2 cupcakes

The premise of Dark Child was fairly appealing, though its execution left much to be desired. It started off very slowly and couldn’t keep my attention – to the point where it took me two weeks to finally finish reading it. I wasn’t invested in any of the characters and there was virtually no character growth; Kat was far too passive and willing to accept whatever she was told, the love interests (because of course there had to be a love triangle) were subject to the typical hero and bad boy archetypes, and the villain didn’t even seem that bad. It wasn’t until halfway through the book, when the unalil were introduced, that the action picked up and I became interested enough to read to the end. Unfortunately, the ending was quite abrupt: nothing was really resolved, leaving me with a feeling of disappointment and more questions than answers.

Despite this, Dark Child possessed a few redeeming qualities. Shape-shifters and vampires are quite prominent in paranormal fiction, and West managed to provide a fresh take on these supernatural beings and the legends and lore surrounding them. If I hadn’t been told that Dark Child was originally released in five episodes, I wouldn’t have guessed it: there were no obvious breaks or awkward transitions.

Overall, while Dark Child was much different from The Mortal Instruments, it was very similar to many other paranormal novels that I’ve read: cliched, enjoyable at times, and completely forgettable.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Every Day by David Levithan

ImageEvery day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.

There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

 

My Rating:  4 cupcakes
If you became someone different every day, could you still maintain a measure of self-identity? What makes us love? Is it possible to unconditionally love someone who looks different every day? Those are just some of the philosophical complexities of love, relationships and identity that Levithan explores in Every Day. It reflects and challenges the stereotypes and prejudices that are present in every day life, and will make you see your friends, family, and the people that you pass on the street in a new light.

Objectively speaking, this novel is beautifully written. A combination of thought-provoking subjects, such as drug addiction, sexuality, abuse and depression, and eloquent prose made for a thoroughly enjoyable read filled with memorable, moving quotes.

I highly recommend Every Day if you’re interested in an engaging read with a unique plot that will make you think and (possibly) change your worldview.

Book Review: Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger

ImageOnce there was a Postman who fell in love with a Raven.

 

So begins the tale of a postman who encounters a fledgling raven while on the edge of his route and decides to bring her home. The unlikely couple falls in love and conceives a child — an extraordinary raven girl trapped in a human body. The raven girl feels imprisoned by her arms and legs and covets wings and the ability to fly. Betwixt and between, she reluctantly grows into a young woman, until one day she meets an unorthodox doctor who is willing to change her.

One of the world’s most beloved storytellers has crafted a dark fairy tale full of wonderment and longing. Complete with Audrey Niffenegger’s bewitching etchings and paintings, Raven Girl explores the bounds of transformation and possibility.
My Rating:  4 cupcakes
Until now, I had never read an Audrey Niffenegger book. Shameful, I know. While I had heard all of the praise surrounding The Time Traveler’s Wife, I had never gotten around to reading a copy, despite shelving it every day when I worked as a student library page. Naturally, as soon as I had time to read it, I arrived at the library only to find that it was unavailable. Sitting in the place where The Time Traveler’s Wife should have been was a thin book called Raven Girl.
The first thing that I noticed about the book was the cover. I know that they say never to judge a book by its cover, but in this case, my first thought – that the simple, self-explanatory picture and choice of font were reminiscent of a fairytale – was indeed correct. In Raven Girl, Niffenegger combines the modern magic of medicine and technology with the more traditional elements of princes, transformation and unlikely lovers to create an wonderfully unique Gothic fairytale. It’s quick read is supplemented by Niffenegger’s own illustrations which enhance the story and bewitch the reader.
There were only a few things that I disliked about this story: the ending was quite abrupt, some details were glossed over, and the book was quite short (80 pages total, and not even all of the pages contained words). However these can be chalked up to the fact that the story is a fairytale, where such practices are commonplace.
This story took me on a dark adventure that I really enjoyed. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re willing to embrace your inner child and suspend your disbelief for about half an hour, I recommend you give Raven Girl a try.