Maybe if I'd taken the time to read the blurb or ask what How to Love by Katie Cotugno was about, I wouldn't have read it. Or maybe morbid curiosity w...moreMaybe if I'd taken the time to read the blurb or ask what How to Love by Katie Cotugno was about, I wouldn't have read it. Or maybe morbid curiosity would still have gotten the better of me, but I'd have had an easier reading experience for being prepared.
Because there are some books you read for the pleasure of losing yourself totally, of becoming an entirely different person in a different time and a different reality. And there are some books you read to catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, to see yourself reflected back from a new perspective.
I wasn't prepared to see myself staring back at me in the form of Reena Montero.
Before: Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember: as natural as breathing, as endless as time. But he's never seemed to notice that Reena even exists . . . until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears from their humid Florida town without a word, leaving a devastated—and pregnant—Reena behind.
After: Almost three years have passed, and there's a new love in Reena's life: her daughter, Hannah. Reena's gotten used to life without Sawyer, and she's finally getting the hang of this strange, unexpected life. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. Reena doesn't want anything to do with him, though she'd be lying if she said Sawyer's being back wasn't stirring something in her. After everything that's happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again?
In this breathtaking debut, Katie Cotugno weaves together the story of one couple falling in love—twice.
Full disclosure: this is going to be a very personal review from me, likely without even a hint of objectivity. Because I've been Reena. As you might know, I am a single mother. I became a mom much earlier than I intended to be, and I did have to put most of my plans on hold to raise a child by myself. So to say this book hit home is a pretty enormous understatement.
This book destroyed me.
I don't know if I've ever been more emotional. I ran the gamut from sorrow to despair, to frustration to PISSED OFF. I might still be a little pissed, to be honest.
Katie Cotugno got a lot of things right. The bone deep exhaustion of a single mother, the constant worry, the unending juggling act of trying to work full time, while still going to school and trying to raise a child without asking too much help from your family. The shame and the disappointment from your family, from your friends, and from everyone who wanted better from you. The resentment and the guilt tempered with the joy and wonder and absolute devotion you feel toward your child.
And most importantly, the armor you have to forge to get through those first few years without shattering under the weight of responsibility and fear and despair.
I identified with Reena so much, in both the Before and After points of view. The heady enormity of first love that eclipses every single thing in your life. That spark that, even in the After--after the worst kind of heartbreak--lingers, lives dormant under your skin just waiting to be ignited again.
A baby before my seventeenth birthday and a future as lonely as the surface of the moon and still just the sight of him feels like a homecoming, like a song I used to know but somehow forgot.
I know Reena. I was Reena. And I wanted better for her.
I won't go into the spoilery details of why How to Love threw me into a rage, but somewhere along the line it shifted from a story about how Sawyer left Reena to raise a baby by herself, to a story about how it wasn't Sawyer's fault.
For me, Sawyer was never redeemed. He never made an effort, or seemed penitent. He just slipped back into Reena's and Hannah's life like he belonged there, without having to earn his place at the table. I'm pretty sure he never actually said sorry, without an excuse immediately following it.
And uh... yeah, I may have been projecting just a teeeensy bit of my own issues onto a fictional character, but I was what you might call a Rage Monster for most of the last half.
That being said, I think--my issues not withstanding--How to Love is a beautifully written book with strong characters (some stronger than others *cough*), and an important story about what life looks like after the teen pregnancy. (less)
This review appears on The Midnight Garden. Check back Monday, 6/10/13 for a guest post by author Katja Millay!
I’ve been in a book rut. I’d started no...moreThis review appears on The Midnight Garden. Check back Monday, 6/10/13 for a guest post by author Katja Millay!
I’ve been in a book rut. I’d started no less than five books, and finished exactly zero of them. Nothing grabbed me. Nothing excited me, or made me feel anything but vague annoyance, boredom, or mild confusion.
So, I did what anyone would do in such dire straits: I took my plight to the twitters, who told me almost in unison to read Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay. I was skeptical. New adult, you say? High on the angst, is it? Originally self-published? Hmm.
But I remembered Wendy recommending it during our conversation with Leigh Bardugo, so I picked it up.
And I didn’t put it down until I lay in bed with an aching chest and bittersweet tears rolling down my cheeks at two in the morning. I went to sleep with a shaky smile and a satisfied sigh because yes, THAT was what I had been looking for.
Sea of Tranquility isn’t an easy story to read--on any level. The beginning was extremely slow for me; I think at least 20% of it could have been excised for a tighter story, and a trimmer pace. I’d flounced books for much less, but something about Nastya and Josh Bennett’s story kept me reading, reaching for more.
I wanted to know them. I may have thought Nastya made ridiculous decisions, and rolled my eyes at her affectations--but I wanted to know the why of them. I wanted to know what happened to make her so brittle and brash. I could feel the throb of her bruises just under the surface of the story, but I needed to know their shape.
“I am pressed so hard against the earth by the weight of reality that some days I wonder how I am still able to lift my feet to walk.”
Katja Millay does an excellent job of keeping the reader in almost total darkness about Nastya’s past, giving us just enough to know without knowing, to feel without seeing.
Sea of Tranquility is an unquestionably heavy read, but leavened with just enough humor and romance to keep the reader from drowning, and Millay excels at writing characters who feel and sound authentic, and infusing them with a depth that is often surprising. (Here I am speaking of Drew, of course, who may be my favorite.) Every single character has an arc, and grows in some way over the course of the story.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Josh Bennett. Josh f*cking Bennett--it says so right on his birth certificate. Has there ever been a swoonier guy? With the chair. (THE CHAIR.) And the pennies. (YOU GUYS, THE PENNIES.) And the EVERY. SINGLE. THING. ABOUT. HIM. (Except for that one thing. The one that made me want to barf.) He is supremely flawed, and damaged, and sad, but just so... so... good. Josh is a good person in the way real people are good, in the way you can be good but not always nice. “I’m going to walk over to you,” I say, taking one step at a time in her direction like I’m talking down a jumper. “I’m going to put my arms around you and I’m going to hold you,” I pause before taking the last step, “and you’re going to let me.” I think what I appreciated most about Sea of Tranquility was that love was not the answer to every one of their problems. Nastya and Josh’s issued didn’t dissolve because they fell in love. They helped each other, in some ways they healed each other, but they couldn’t fix each other. Not by themselves.
When their issues had been written in such stark, unflinching realism, I appreciated that the resolution wasn’t a tied-with-a-bow happily ever after. It was just as romantic and bittersweet as it needed to be.
And the last two words of the story? They made every stomach twist, heart ache, tear trickle, and next-day-puffy-eyes worth it. MY. HEART.
So, Sea of Tranquility ended my Book Rut. But now I have a different problem: the Book Hangover. How can anything else I read possibly measure up? I guess I’ll have to take this to twitter again...(less)
Lovely, Dark and Deep is certainly accurately named. The prose is absolutely lovely, at tim...more3.5 stars. This review also appears on The Midnight Garden.
Lovely, Dark and Deep is certainly accurately named. The prose is absolutely lovely, at times bordering on poetic (which is no surprise given McNamara has her MFA in poetry). There is a rhythm to the words, a cadence that so deftly draws the exact shape of Wren's mental state. Short staccato sentences, and long streams of consciousness give the words a voice and a mood all their own, pulling the reader right into Wren's story. The writing itself is nothing short of breathtaking.
However, for all its loveliness, the depth of the story's darkness make it a painful and heart-heavy read.
Wren Wells wants to disappear. After a devastating accident that kills her boyfriend, but leaves her unscathed, she abandons her college plans, and moves to the woods of Maine to live with her father. She seeks the quiet and the dark, and most of all, the solitude. Somewhere she doesn't have to speak. Away from her mother's prodding, and the sad eyes that worry and wonder.
"I came here because it’s pine dark and the ocean’s wild. The kind of quiet noise you need when there’s too much going on in your head. Like the water and the woods are doing all the feeling, and I can hang out, quiet as a headstone, in a between place, a place that could swallow me if I need it to."
But even in the quiet of the woods, and the space her father gives her, she can't escape the guilt, and the grief. Every thing reminds her of Patrick. Every breath is a reminder that she is alive when he is not. And does she deserve to be? After what she did?
After weeks of sleeping days away, and waking groggy and unrested, Wren's father finally forces her to do something productive with her time. She begins working part time at the library in town, and acting as an assistant to Cal Owens, a young man with secrets and grief of his own.
Though she is reluctant to let him in, Cal quickly becomes a integral part of Wren's new life--the one she's finally beginning to make for herself. Through her relationship with Cal, she begins to discovery who she is now, and how different she is from the Wren that was.
I found the stark portrayal of Wren's grief very realistic, if painful to read. McNamara pulls no punches in describing Wren's emotional state. I appreciated the accuracy, as well as Wren eventually seeking psychiatric help, which is not, in my experience, often seen in YA.
Though Cal is the catalyst for much of Wren's recovery, he is the element of the story that worked the least for me. I liked his character quite a bit, and enjoyed his and Wren's dynamic, but I felt their romance developed too quickly. Wren, grief-stricken, barely functional, and mostly mute, is attracted to him from the first moment they meet. Likewise, though Wren was not at all polite or inviting during their first meeting, Cal is insistent and unrealistically adamant about getting her to spend more time with him.
I found the romance element too prevalent and unrealistic for a story so otherwise focused on grief. I could have done without it entirely, and would have appreciated Cal's character more if he'd remained a friend with possibility, rather than a full-fledged love interest whilst Wren was so broken.
That being said, Lovely, Dark and Deep was a beautifully crafted story of overcoming grief, and rediscovering yourself after tragedy. (less)
I keep to myself, but I find they are watching. I clench both my fists; I'll kill them in a beat. Your words pound my brain, Froi; if they dare try to touch me, a knife to the side and a slit ear to ear.
Those in my cave, they grab and they drag me. They want me to bathe, but they'll soon know the truth. And the fear in their faces speaks loud of their awe, and I capture the crying and tell them what's true.
...and the women, they stare with fear in their hope, but it's a hope drenched in tears, and it smothers me whole.
Every time I set out to review something by Melina Marchetta, I end up staring at a blank screen wondering just what I could say that could possibly do what I've read justice.
Quintana of Charyn is my fifth Marchetta book, but it hasn't gotten any easier. I am, as usual, left speechless in awe.
I could talk about the scope of the world building in the Lumatere Chronicles; how Marchetta has created a full-fledged country--or continent, maybe--with 11 different regions, and countless provinces within them. And within those, their own separate societies, languages, traditions, and lore.
Or maybe I should focus on the characters. I should tell you about the way they reach off the page and wrap their fists around your heart. They way they crawl under your skin and build a home inside you, so you swear they must be real people you've known forever. So you burn, and ache, and grieve for them. So you love them, even when they're wrong. Maybe especially when they're wrong. Because their flaws make them feel all the more real.
The sheer depth Marchetta is able to bring every last one of her characters is astounding--especially when you consider just how many characters there are in this series. And not one is superfluous.
Froi's characterization in particular is nothing short of masterful. From "filthy little feef", to farmer, to assassin, to lover, to a beautifully flawed man, capable of loving with a ferocity that is as ruthless as it is endearing. His emotional growth is evident on every page, but never conspicuous.
And then there's Quintana, who I have loved from the first shadow puppet. So broken, so strong. Her character only grows more interesting, more complex. More lovable. Just as insane, but imbued with an undeniable humanity. With the same fierce love as Froi, the same courage that grows from self-doubt, but with a grace that is all her own.
One of the things I love the most about this series is how all the characters continue to grow through all three books. Finnikin and Isaboe, Lucian and Phaedra, Trevanion and Beatriss (and, and, and...) are not simply relegated to background characters. They continue to grow, to change, to have an integral part of the story. The relationships between them all deepen, stretch, conform to fit the shape of the new people they become.
The message of family, and friendship, and love--for your country, for your home, for your people, for yourself--endures in Quintana. It is a gripping, haunting, sexy conclusion that fulfilled and exceeded every one of my expectations.
So, no. I don't really know what to tell you, only that I hope you read these books--or any book at all by Melina Marchetta, who writes the most emotionally powerful stories I've ever read.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher.(less)
More like 2.5 stars. It was good, and I get the hype, but I have definite issues with it.
I think I've said this before, but I have issues with John G...moreMore like 2.5 stars. It was good, and I get the hype, but I have definite issues with it.
I think I've said this before, but I have issues with John Green. I think he's a fantastic person; I love the vlog brothers and the nerdfighteria and everything he does to uplift and affirm young people.
But I feel like I read the same characters in every single one of his books. They all have the same voice: his. Girl, boy, heartsick, cancer sick--they're all the same fast talking, twenty-dollar word using, existentialist, metaphor loving caricatures of the author himself.
I liked Hazel Grace and Augustus, but all I could see was John Green pulling the strings above them, waving his hands and gripping his hair and talking a mile a minute to his brother Hank. It's pretentious. Do I think some teenagers--certainly the ones I like to read about--are capable of thoughtful conversations, rife with SAT words and metaphors? Absolutely. Do I think they speak in questioning-the-meaning-of-my-existence soliloquies as often as his characters do? No, I don't.
Additionally, I felt the Van Houten plot device was an unrealistic element (another JG calling card) to a story that didn't need it. The Fault in Our Stars would have been meaningful and thought provoking without the trip to Amsterdam (I mean, really?!). I think John Green did himself a disservice with it; he was more than capable of posing the same questions and arriving at the answers in a realistic way that fit the story.
The Fault in Our Stars had the potential to be a beautiful story, but needed to be written with a less self-conscious hand.(less)
I've been trying to write this review for hours. I'm just not sure what to say--what could possibly d...moreI received this advanced copy from the publisher.
I've been trying to write this review for hours. I'm just not sure what to say--what could possibly do the story justice.
I began Forbidden fully aware of its taboo subject matter, armed with all the preconceptions that go along with such a sensitive and easily exploited topic. I thought at best I'd be slightly disturbed, at worst completely sickened by Lochen and Maya's story--but I was neither. Instead I was completely caught off guard by the strength of Suzuma's storytelling, the depth of her characterizations and the way she humanized such a sensationalized subject.
Maya and Lochen, sixteen and eighteen, have the weight of their world sitting on their shoulders. After their parents divorce and their mother's subsequent descent into alcoholism and willful neglect, they become the sole caregivers for their three younger siblings. They are wholly responsible for raising the children--they cook, the clean, they wash, they dress, etc etc etc--while still in school themselves. The pressure on them is enormous, and they have only each other to lean on. They are partners more than they've ever been siblings, thrust into the roles of pseudo-parents and the heads of the household.
The evolution of their relationship is gradual. It's a slow burn--a spark that ignites as soon as it is allowed to breathe, a desperate and terrible need that wells between them. Not once in its entire progression did I ever stop to question the morality of their relationship--whether it was right for them to be together. Whether it was plausible for them to love each other in that context. Instead, I found myself rooting for them, 100% in their corner and wishing desperately that they could find a way to be together.
Maya and Lochen's relationship is, quite simply, beautifully done. There is nothing sensational or exploitative about it. Forbidden rocked the foundation of my morality and my perception of right and wrong. It is a story that will stick with me, one that I know I will still be mulling over weeks from now.
Hours later, and still this line rings in my head:
"Being together, we harm nobody; being apart, we extinguish ourselves."
I'm trying to think of a single thing to say that will do this story justice, and I can't.
I could say it's a coming of age story. I could say it's ab...moreI'm trying to think of a single thing to say that will do this story justice, and I can't.
I could say it's a coming of age story. I could say it's about what you find when all the extraneous trappings you've used to define yourself have been stripped away. I could say it's about finding your voice. About standing on your own. Saving Francesca says so much, says it subtly and with such honesty that it moved me to tears on more than one occasion.
I can't say enough about Marchetta's ability to write authentic and poignantly teenage voices. And though Saving Francesca is by no means a book about depression, as someone who has lived with it on all sides (inside, outside, from a distance, on the fringes) I can say that aspect was handled with sensitivity and an accuracy that made my heart ache.
I'll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible.
"Please don't make me write a song for you."
That was the line that made me burst into tears for the...moreI'll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible.
"Please don't make me write a song for you."
That was the line that made me burst into tears for the first time in If I Stay. The one that made me fall in love with Adam. The one that made me, after sitting on the fence with her, want her to stay.
Where She Went is about the songs Adam ends up writing for Mia; the destruction left in her wake when she disappeared. It's exactly as gut-wrenching and painful as I'd imagined it to be, but just like If I Stay, it's no less gorgeous for all the heartache.
I'll admit I was skeptical when I heard there was a sequel coming out. I only just read If I Stay a couple of weeks ago, and the brutally painful beauty of it still felt a little bit like a fresh bruise; a little tender to the touch. I didn't know what could possibly stand up to that, and more--if anything should try. It seemed a little bit like messing with perfection.
But, they're almost two separate entities. Where She Went isn't so much of a follow up as it is an offshoot, almost. Whereas If I Stay was about loss, Where She Went is about grieving, and how hard it can be to heal. The theme of choice ties the books together; choosing to wallow, to hold on to things long gone. Choosing to let things happen rather than to make yourself happy.
I found myself very upset with Mia through about 75% about the book, which I think is a testament to Forman's writing and the way she enabled me to become completely immersed in Adam's point of view. There was one point where I was sure I was not going to get the resolution that I wanted. And I would have been okay with it, which is another big point for Forman. In all actuality, it would have been a realistic conclusion to their story. But, despite that realism, I was so happy with the way it ended.
After an entire book of heartache and another of angst, the smile the last few pages spawned made it all seem worth it.
I started this at 10pm last night. I should know better than to start a new book right before bed, but nothing lately has grabbed me by the throat and...moreI started this at 10pm last night. I should know better than to start a new book right before bed, but nothing lately has grabbed me by the throat and forced me to read until there were no words left, so I thought I was safe.
I was wrong.
I couldn't put it down. My eyes were heavy and dry and blurry--I don't think my eyes stopped tearing after about ten pages in. I finished at midnight, and promptly sobbed. It wasn't pretty. I'm an ugly crier.
This book, though? It's beautiful. Gut-wrenching, heart plummeting, twisty and terrible...but beautiful.
It starts with a brief glimpse into a normal morning with Mia and her family. You get a feel for the dynamics, the outline of their shapes and how they fit together. It's not overdone--there's no cloying sweetness, no sap--but you can feel the love between them.
And when it's all wrenched away from Mia in a second--literally the time it takes for your eyes to jump from one paragraph to another--you feel her confusion as she watches the chaos happen all around her, outside of herself. You feel her anxiety. She may feel separate from her grief, and the grief of those around her, but you feel it for her. You feel it when her grandfather cries. When her best friend prays. When her boyfriend holds her hand.
When she realizes that she must make the choice to stay or to go, my first thought was of course she has to stay. Look at everyone around her pulling for her, begging her to fight, to live. She's only seventeen, she has so much life left. She's so talented--Julliard! And Adam! She can't leave Adam.
But how do you live when you've lost so much? It's a terrible choice to have to make.
I love the way Foreman constructed the story, how she wove snippets of Mia's past into it so seamlessly that it felt organic. Nothing about Mia's memories and the reason she was thinking about them felt contrived, or as a means to an end.
It's a beautiful story about love and hope and identity, about what it means to be a family. About appreciating life. My heart still feels bruised and all morning I've been revisiting bits and pieces of the story.
This will be another review along the lines of the one I did for Saving Francesca where I have absolutely nothing of use to say except THIS IS FANTAST...moreThis will be another review along the lines of the one I did for Saving Francesca where I have absolutely nothing of use to say except THIS IS FANTASTIC, PLEASE READ IT. It's an intensely emotional journey--one that hit me on a wide spectrum of feelings--but so beautifully crafted with characters that came alive for me. I laughed and smiled and cried for them, felt them carve their way into my heart. By the end I was clutching my chest and smiling through my tears, and it was worth every moment I spent feeling as though my heart was going to crash right out of my chest and smash to pieces on the floor.
I will warn that the beginning is very confusing--and is so for quite a bit of the book. I would encourage readers to just push through. If you read to absorb rather than try to figure it out, it becomes easier. All is answered (and though it takes quite a bit, answered at the right time in my opinion) and by the time you get to the end, you won't care about how confusing the beginning was--and you'll know why it had to be that way.
Beautifully and uniquely written story. I don't know why Marchetta isn't more popular than she is. The two books I've read in the last two days have left me in awe, and I can't wait to read the rest of her work. (less)