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leaning on the side of wonder

The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion

Overall, I found The Rosie Project to be unique, charming, well-written, humorous, heartfelt, but sadly, rather rushed at the end. As I read, I kept thinking how lovely & fun & fresh & endearing, and "this is a 5! this is a 5!" But then then the very end... which is lovely, but abrupt & could use a lot more fleshing out. "ugh. 3-star ending." But I absolutely loved Don's narrative, his naivety, and his willingness to keep going in the face of rejection and the supporting cast of characters are excellent.

There are a few areas that could have been more thoroughly explored: the "bad times" that Don mentions, his family & his sister's death, and quite frankly, the sex. I felt like Simsion was too chicken to give us the details, which was too bad because their kissing scenes were so well-written & did a fantastic job of building the UST. The dialogue is tight, with so many excellent one-liners, and I was surprised that I liked the first-person narrative as much as I did. It was perfect for Don. I'd really like more Don & Rosie (& Claudia & Gene!)

'Professor Tillman. Most of us here are not scientists, so you may need to be a little less technical.’ 
This sort of thing is incredibly annoying. People can tell you the supposed characteristics of a Gemini or a Taurus and will spend five days watching a cricket match, but cannot find the interest or the time to learn the basics of what they, as humans, are made up of.



'If you really love someone,' Claudia continued, 'you have to be prepared to accept them as they are. Maybe you hope that one day they get a wake-up call and make the changes for their own reasons.' 



'You’re saying your mother engaged in unprotected sex outside her primary relationship?’

‘With some other student,’ replied Rosie. ‘While she was dating my’ – at this point Rosie raised her hands and made a downwards movement, twice, with the index and middle fingers of both hands – ‘father. My real dad’s a doctor. I just don’t know which one. Really, really pisses me off.’

I was fascinated by the hand movements and silent for a while as I tried to work them out. Were they a sign of distress at not knowing who her father was? If so, it was not one I was familiar with. And why had she chosen to punctuate her speech at that point … of course! Punctuation! ‘Quotation marks,’ I said aloud as the idea hit me.

‘What?’

‘You made quotation marks around “father” to draw attention to the fact that the word should not be interpreted in the usual way. Very clever.

Lips Touch: Three Times

Lips Touch: Three Times - Jim Di Bartolo, Laini Taylor

Taylor's writing is exceptionally beautiful. Her prose is just a style unto its own, and Lips Touch is no different. Having first read (and loved) Daughter of Smoke & Bone as well as Days of Blood & Starlight, I found this book - published before her others - a bit rougher & less polished in terms of the story development. All of her books have a visceral element of creepiness, danger, and gore. I love that she's not afraid to go there. 

This first story was short, but had a nicely succinct arc to it and the ambiguous ending added perfectly to the already high creep-factor. Despite being brief, Goblin Fruit was has some of the most quotable prose & visceral descriptions. Kizzy & her wayward Jack... 

“Kizzy wanted it all so bad her soul leaned half out of her body hungering after it, and that was what drove the goblins wild, her soul hanging out there like an untucked shirt.” 

“Cats and ghosts both partook of the saucers of milk and that was okay. They consumed different parts of it: the cats its substance, the ghosts its essence, and none went to waste.” 

“Kizzy was so busy wishing she was Sarah Ferris or Jenny Glass that she could scarcely see herself at all and she was certainly blind to her own weird beauty: her heavy spell-casting eyes too-wide mouth wild hair and hips that could be wild too if they learned how. No one else in town looked anything like her and if she lived to womanhood she was the one artists would want to draw not the Sarahs and Jennys. She was the one who would some day know a dozen ways to wear a silk scarf how to read the sky for rain and coax feral animals near how to purr throaty love songs in Portuguese and Basque how to lay a vampire to rest how to light a cigar how to light a man's imagination on fire.” 


I didn't care too much for the second story, Spicy Little Curses, and maybe this is where the book fell short for me? I don't think there was anything wrong with Taylor's writing or story-building here, it just didn't suit my tastes.

“An idea fell like a seed and over the next weeks it went on growing like a fig vine lush and conquering twining round her old beliefs and covering them in new growth until they were as invisible as a tiger in a thicket and just as deadly.” 


The third, and by far the longest, of the 3 stories was the last: Hatchling. Once again, her prose and careful world-building are nothing short of amazing. It was probably the resolution of the fairy tale (it seemed like one, yes?) that got me. Taylor builds her stories with such careful layers, her beautiful prose pulling you in to her world... and then 2/3 of the way through I found myself thinking "what??" Still, the story was engrossing, enchanting, creepy, imaginative, gory (the cats!!), and beautiful, but the last part of it just lost me. I think I needed a better resolution for Mab.

“Is that all souls are for? For when we die?" 
"No. They're for living, too.” 


Lips Touch might not have been my favorite of Taylor's three novels, but it was still a worthy read. If you like fairy tales that are rough and gritty, if you like truly unique stories and beautiful beautiful prose, then her books are not to be missed.

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness, Jim Kay

Additional shelving titles for this one could be: Requires Chocolate (Because Professor Lupin Said So), Have Your Tissue(s) Handy, Even Adults Can Enjoy Illustrations, Everyone Should Read This.

 

A beautiful story about love, loss, holding on, and letting go... and a breathtaking monster that "goes walking" only in the most dire of circumstances. In this instance, it's for Conor O'Malley as he & his family watch his mother lose her battle to cancer. This book was not what I thought it would be - it was so much more. So lovely and heart wrenching and full of lessons and metaphors and humor and things that make you THINK.

 

It's always a treat to read a book with such a well-crafted story and told in such beautiful words. My reader's gratitude goes to Siobhan Dowd for her idea, and Patrick Ness who ran with it & made all sorts of trouble.

 

 

“If you speak the truth, the monster whispered in his ear, you will be able to face whatever comes.”

 

 

“Stories don't always have happy endings."
This stopped him. Because they didn't, did they? That's one thing the monster had definitely taught him. Stories were wild, wild animals and went off in directions you couldn't expect.”

 

 

Because humans are complicated beasts, the monster said. How can a queen be both a good witch and a bad witch? How can a prince be a murderer and a saviour? How can an apothecary be evil-tempered but right-thinking? How can a parson be wrong-thinking but good-hearted? How can invisible men make themselves more lonely by being seen?

"I don't know," Connor shrugged, exhausted. "Your stories never made any sense to me."

The answer is that it does not matter what you think, the monster said, because your mind will contradict itself a hundred times each day. You wanted her to go at the same time you were desperate for me to save her. Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.

Fracture Me

Fracture Me - Tahereh Mafi

Oh Tahereh. You're such a lovely writer & I really love the Shatter Me series... but you should have just left well enough alone and spent last fall concentrating on your nuptials & Instagram account, etc & kept this little outtake in your notebook. Unlike Destroy Me, it really added nothing of value to the overall story arc - if anything, it pushed me off the Adam-or-Warner? fence and firmly into "Warner For-evah!" territory. In other words, it did nothing to strengthen Adam's character (and I loved him SO much in the first book!). Anything of value in this novella could have easily been worked into the forthcoming series finale. ILY Tahereh... but not Fracture Me.

Hurt

Hurt - Tabitha Suzuma

Ugh. What a heart-wrenchingly drawn out book. Never lacking on Ms. Suzuma's beautiful words or her painfully real depictions of a person in anguish, this one, however, falls short of the near-perfection of Forbidden. I think it was the overly drawn-out reveal of Matheo's life-changing incident that grew tiresome to me. Don't get me wrong, her portrayal of his pain & anguish were spot on & devastating - but it went on for so very very long...and then was brought up short by the ending. Which, you kind piece together what had happened & where she's going, but not the VERY ending. That pushed it all over the edge for me. After the build-up to the big reveal - and the build-up of a particular character's strength & steadfastness   throughout the entire novel, it just made no sense for me to end it the way Suzuma ended it. Still, Hurt was an engrossing novel by an extremely capable author, one who I will always jump at the chance to read. 

Fortunately, The Milk

Fortunately, the Milk - Neil Gaiman, Skottie Young

Whimsical, imaginative, silly, over-the-top, and very charming. It's as if Edward Gorey illustrated a Roald Dahl book set in current times. It really all comes down to a dad telling his children (very skeptical children) an outrageous story all the while trying to bring home the milk for their breakfast. And his tea. Parts were a bit patchy, but any shortcomings in the story were forgotten in the wake of Skottie Young's incredible illustrations (although there is a Chris Riddell version too) which made everything delightful. And as a former invitation-designer & all-around fontwhore, the typefaces in the Skottie Young version were just phenomenal. 

 

All in all, a great little read from the brilliant Mr. Gaimen that everyone in the family can enjoy - although I did find myself wondering if the milk was even still good by the time it finally got home. That whole time-space continuum can really mess with those expiration dates!

 

"Here. Have a SPANISH DOUBLOON and come and join us on our piratical adventures. It's the eighteenth century," she added, "and there's always room for a bright, enthusiastic pirate."

 

"Why are you a pink pony with a pale blue star on the side?" I asked. "I know," said the pony with a sigh. "It's what everybody's wearing these days. Pale blue stars are sooo last year." "I am just so glad there were ponies," said my sister. 

 

"I think that there should have been nice wumpires," said my sister, wistfully. "Nice, handsome, misunderstood wumpires." 

Roman Holiday 5: Ignited

Ignited - Ruthie Knox

Definitely the best of the 5 so far, for answers and plot movement, and FINALLY some emotions from the main characters. Still, it was a good little read during Jury Duty week.

Roman Holiday 4: Ravaged

Ravaged - Ruthie Knox

Again, this was better than the first two installments, but not as good as the third. Sigh. I'll keep reading.

Roman Holiday 3: Hitched

Blindsided - Ruthie Knox

ETA: while my overall review of this series stands, this installment was slightly better as the story moved forward with better momentum & we finally are getting some answers about the main characters pasts. And there was finally some shenanigans. Ahem.

I usually love everything by Ruthie Knox, and had been saving this little serial for a busy time when I needed something fluffy to read. This past week I served jury duty & read these 5 during breaks, etc. I don't know if they would have come across more fluidly if they were all read as one book, but I felt like the characters were weaker (I just don't think I personally connected with them this time, like I usually do) and then the serial nature of the story made it feel even more disjointed. And frankly, there was not enough believable attraction between the two main characters to support the UST she was trying to build. I guess I needed a little more lemony payoff throughout. It's still a quick fun read, but I think I'd have been more satisfied going back & rereading a favorite unf-y, UST-y fanfic or one of her earlier books.

Roman Holiday 2: Hitched

Hitched - Ruthie Knox

STRUGGLED TO FINISH.

 

I usually love everything by Ruthie Knox, and had been saving this little serial for a busy time when I needed something fluffy to read. This past week I served jury duty & read these 5 during breaks, etc. I don't know if they would have come across more fluidly if they were all read as one book, but I felt like the characters were weaker (I just don't think I personally connected with them this time, like I usually do) and then the serial nature of the story made it feel even more disjointed. And frankly, there was not enough believable attraction between the two main characters to support the UST she was trying to build. I guess I needed a little more lemony payoff throughout. It's still a quick fun read, but I think I'd have been more satisfied going back & rereading a favorite unf-y, UST-y fanfic or one of her earlier books.

Roman Holiday 1: Chained

Chained - Ruthie Knox

I usually love everything by Ruthie Knox, and had been saving this little serial for a busy time when I needed something fluffy to read. This past week I served jury duty & read these 5 during breaks, etc. I don't know if they would have come across more fluidly if they were all read as one book, but I felt like the characters were weaker (I just don't think I personally connected with them this time, like I usually do) and then the serial nature of the story made it feel even more disjointed. And frankly, there was not enough believable attraction between the two main characters to support the UST she was trying to build. I guess I needed a little more lemony payoff throughout. It's still a quick fun read, but I think I'd have been more satisfied going back & rereading a favorite unf-y, UST-y fanfic or one of her earlier books.

Truly

Truly - Ruthie Knox

I really love Ruthie Knox's stories. They're smart, well-written, and generally have well-developed characters. For me, her novels are like a chick-flick, in that I know there will be a happy resolution, but I still find myself getting caught up in the meet-cute, angst/UST-development, and angst/UST-resolution. And Truly doesn't disappoint. May and Ben are engaging, with snappy dialogue and build an interesting relationship as they solve their own personal issues. Overall, it's a fun "fluff-with-substance" read, and was the perfect anecdote between some heavier fare I was reading in December. It was also nice that it wasn't just novella length, but a fully-fleshed out story rather than a quick "half hour sitcom" read.

“It was easy to love your idea of someone - to fall hard for their very best self. The question was whether, once you had to spend some time living with their worst self, you could bear to be with them anymore.” 

*read on Wattpad

Beautiful Beginning

Beautiful Beginning - Christina Lauren

A solid 4.5 for the ending of this series. Say what you will about P2P, but this series stands on it's own two feet. Yes their start came from fic, but the other 5 books (particularly Stranger & Player) truly earn C & Lo their place on the Bestseller lists. 

The final installment of the BBastard Series continues along in what I refer to as "The 'Friends' Suspension of Disbelief" (ie. what 20-something actually has an apartment in NYC that's as huge or as well-appointed as Monica's, what with the meager jobs they have & who can afford to dress like they do… but you know, I'm happy to suspend my disbelief because it's just SO MUCH FUN!) with an over-the top wedding, many many shenanigans, limo rides, and lots of couture shoeporn. While some of it was on the cheeseball side for me, at the heart of it lay the intense connection, and heat, and love between Chloe & Bennett. 

Lo & Christina have always been great at balancing serious emotion and humorous dialogue, but they really knocked it out of the park this time. Really really great dialogue between Chloe & Bennett, and it's especially fun since their characters are so familiar, yet it allows us to get to know them even better. I didn't think it was possible to see these two get hotter or more deeply in love, but somehow amidst all the shenanigans & secondary characters, they do. I'll admit, C&B were not my favorite couple of the three books, but this novella - particularly Bennett's inner dialogue - really won me over. He reminded me of a certain crazy intense, passionate, BLISSful character we know and adore. It's really a testament to their skill in writing the characters inner dialogue. And Bennett's filthy filthy mouth? OUI.

Some portions of the story are what you'd expect of a Big! Wedding! Finale! (See: shenanigans, crazy relatives, etc etc) but they were balanced with enough little scenes & twists that the story remains fresh, fun, touching, and utterly true to the two main characters. And so very very hot. #hottestlimorideever

What a fun ride these books have been.

Allegiant

Allegiant  - Veronica Roth

A LOT of feelings. So many emotions. My 4 stars (rather than 5) are not for the ending, which I thought was actually very well done, but for the content around the middle. For the (many many) overall themes & incredibly astute observations about life & love & the world we live in, Ms Roth gets all of the stars.

“You don’t believe things because they make your life better, you believe them because they’re true.”

“And as I stare out at the land, I think that this, if nothing else, is compelling evidence for my parents’ God, that our world is so massive that it is completely out of our control, that we cannot possibly be as large as we feel."

“There is a difference between admitting and confessing. Admitting involves softening, making excuses for things that cannot be excused; confessing just names the crimes at its full severity.”

“I belong to the people I love, and they belong to me- they, and the love and loyalty I give them, form my identity far more than any word or group ever could.”

“Just as I have insisted on his worth, he has always insisted on my strength, insisted that my capacity is greater than I believe. And I know, without being told, that's what love does, when it's right-it makes you more than you were, more than you thought you could be. This is right.”

“We are not people who touch each other carelessly; every point of contact between us feels important, a rush of energy and relief.”

“She said that everyone has some evil inside them, and the first step to loving anyone is to recognize the same evil inside ourselves,so we're able to forgive them.”

“To me, when someone wrongs you, you both share the burden of that wrongdoing - the pain of it weighs on both of you. Forgiveness, then, means choosing to bear the full weight all by yourself. Caleb's betrayal is something we both carry, and since he did it, all I've wanted is for him to take its weight away from me. I am not sure that I'm capable of shouldering it all myself - not sure that I am strong enough, or good enough.”

“There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved for the sake of something greater.”

"Be brave."

The Lover's Dictionary

The Lover's Dictionary - David Levithan

A love story told through dictionary-style entries (some very brief, others a page or two long) detailing the ups & downs of an anonymous relationship. The book is filled with clever, candid, sometimes heartbreaking, but always thoughtful observations on love, sharing a life with someone, and all the trappings that come with a relationship. There are lighthearted moments too, especially when Levithan cleverly bends the meaning of a word to fit a specific situation or insight.

“autonomy, n.
I want my books to have their own shelves", you said, and that's how I knew it would be okay to live together.” 


“Indelible, adj.
That first night, you took your finger and pointed to the top of my head, then traced a line between my eyes, down my nose, over my lips, my chin, my neck, to the center of my chest. It was so surprising. I knew I would never mimic it. That one gesture would be yours forever.” 


“obstinate, adj.
Sometimes it becomes a contest: Which is more stubborn, the love or the two arguing people caught within it?”

Liesl & Po

Liesl & Po - Lauren Oliver

This is a challenging review to write because while I enjoyed every minute of Liesl & Po and felt a warm sense of comfort upon finishing it, I've had time to reflect further & find that there's some overall elements that don't truly merit 4 stars. 

On one hand, Oliver earns every single star for her beautiful prose & what I found to be a very comforting vision of life after death. Her version of Heaven (Beyond) and limbo (The Other Side) were conjured so gently & imaginatively. Like many of us, I have an almost crippling fear of death but if it's anything like the way Oliver writes it, I'm not half as scared as I usually am. The whole journey with Liesl, Po, Bundle, Will, and the secondary cast of characters was just really really lovely and unrushed and both melancholy and hopeful.

"The chances I will see him again are next to nothing," Po said. The ghost did not want the girl to get her hopes up. It might not even recognize Liesl's father if it saw him again; by then, Liesl's father might not recognize himself. He might have begun to blur, letting infinity tug on him gently from all sides, like sand being pulled by an eternal tide. He might have already begun the process of becoming part of Everything. He would begin to feel the electricity of distant stars pulsing through him like a heartbeat. He would feel the weight of old planets on his shoulders, and he would feel the winds of distant corners of the universe blowing through him." 

Also, I absolutely adored Po's animal companion named Bundle. I guess if I have to imagine what it's like after I die, I hope I have a Bundle, flickering ahead, Mwark!-ing gently at me while turning circles, and wrapping his essence around me when I need comfort.

On the other hand, after I've had a few days to reflect, I find that while the plot is rather formulaic (sweet young girl is orphaned after her father's death & left in the hands of her evil stepmother. She escapes, ghosts appear, mix-ups occur, coincidences happen, friendships are made, and challenges are met), the lack of deeper characterization bothered me some. It's narrated in 3rd person and while it gives the prose a luminous quality (given the subject matter), it sort of prevents any deeper exploration of any of the characters. Don't get me wrong, the good ones are very likeable & sympathetic, and the bad ones are easy to dislike, but I'd have enjoyed knowing more about Liesl & Will & Po's feelings. 

There were also a few key elements left unanswered & I found that's what I was focusing on as I reflected on the story in the days after finishing it. The unanswered things bothered me more than the lack of characterization, actually. For all the fleshing out of the afterworld that Oliver did, I wish she'd given herself more space to round out a few of the more curious mysteries in the story.

Overall, there's really no big message or hidden meaning in the book. It's just a really lovely adventure about people dealing with loss, easing loneliness, and finding their way forward. And sometimes, especially in a middle-grade book like this, I think that might be enough. Oliver herself has said that this book was a way to heal after the death of a dear friend.

“Additionally, Liesl and Po is the embodiment of what writing has always been for me at its purest and most basic--not a paycheck, certainly; not an idea, even; and not an escape. Actually, it is the opposite of an escape; it is a way back in, a way to enter and make sense of a world that occasionally seems harsh and terrible and mystifying." (from her author's note at the end of the book). 

“People need other people to feel things for them," she said. "It gets lonely to feel things all by yourself.” 

“She liked the word ineffable because it meant a feeling so big or vast that it could not be expressed in words. And yet, because it could not be expressed in words, people had invented a word to express it, and that made Liesl feel hopeful, somehow.”