Thursday, December 31, 2020

Review - The Cursed Sea

Original Title: The Cursed Sea
Series: The Glass Spare, #2
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Published: December 18th, 2018

Publisher: Balzer + Bray


It took a while, but I finally reached out and grabbed this book. It was long overdue; I dragged my feet for too long before finally deciding to read it, and get some closure on this story.

In general terms, I think The Glass Spare duology is one of those fantasy series meant to end up underrated. However, after an intense, promising first instalment, I’m not happy to say the next one fell short, and that it definitely could have been better. Although as a whole, it’s not bad, and the writing is absolutely gorgeous, I still believe that the story would have worked perfectly well as a stand-alone. A long one, that is, but a stand-alone nonetheless.

As I have said before, Lauren DeStefano’s writing is amazingly beautiful, she has this poetic way of saying things, the way they are perfectly understandable, and still stir something inside of you. Although things may twist and turn in the span of a few pages, they still make sense for the reader to understand what’s going on, and that is honestly well done. For example, I truly felt the scene in which Wil is dying after being stabbed by Loom, under Pahn’s control; I mean, my goosebumps, my accelerated heartbeat, and my true concern, were not fictional at all. However, that isn’t exactly constant in the entire book. Sometimes, the writing would get so flowery, that I would find myself losing track of what was happening in the scene. Again, the style is really beautiful and I really admire it, but it can (and does) get a little exhausting from time to time.

Also, I think the story would have greatly benefited from a first-person narrative, instead of a third person one (more so, with the dual perspective). Although you can perfectly follow Wil through her transformation, seeing how she may be alive, but her old self definitely dies as the story moves on, and she can’t go back to being the kingdom’s princess just like that, I still believe that a raw, intense narrative from her own perspective would have made the story ten times better.

In general, the character development is well done. Although there’s a small cast of them, the author makes sure everyone plays a part. Wil is a strong heroine, perfectly capable of surviving on her own, and even though she’s deeply in love and feels everything so intensely that the reader feels it too, she doesn’t let that stand in the way of other important things in her life. As for Loom, I liked him, and admired how his willingness to sacrifice anything for his kingdom’s wellbeing –even his own right to the throne–, in despite of having been banished by his own father. Both him and Wil are selfless and have a strong sense of duty towards their people, like any self-respecting royal should, and that’s really well written.

The only character I wanted more from was Zay, as she played such a big part in the first book, being a fiercely strong badass, but practically becoming background noise in this one. She’s only there to steer the ship, and I frequently forgot she was there.

On the other hand, in this book we got a lot more on Espel, the princess from the Southern Isles, turned into a deadly weapon by her own father. She’s the statement that monsters are not born, but made, and that it doesn’t matter who you were born to, but who and what you grow to be. Raised to consider her own brother an enemy, we learn that Espel’s life is mostly a façade, her cruelty hiding her most vulnerable point, which is being in love with Masalee, her personal guard. I think it is well done how Loom let her be the one to take their father’s life, and thus appoint herself queen, not only exacting revenge on what he did to her, but also, making her own decision for once, instead of following orders, and basically acting as his puppet. I just wished we could have gotten a glimpse of her on the throne, because I’m sure she would not want to rule the way her father did.

As I said, the character development is well done, and it’s visible in the love story. Wil and Loom take their romance to the next level, and you can tell they truly love each other. Their moments together are beautifully written, and when they finally sleep together, the author knew how to write it for us to be focused on their feelings, instead of making the whole thing overly physical and graphic, which is always a bonus point for me. But, as always, when these happy, peaceful moments take place, it’s not difficult to guess that something horrible is about to happen. And I wasn’t wrong. Things went downward from then on, and I liked how Lauren DeStefano was able to imbibe the story with the gloomy darkness she uses to describes the crude Northern Arrod winter. It’s like you are there, and the environment is also noticeable in the storyline itself, everything being colder and darker with each turn, just as winter settles. Bravo, Lauren!

Overall, this book seems to be some sort of steampunk fairytale. At one point it strongly reminded me of Snow White, and specially, the Evil Queen. Through a series of dreams, Wil learns the reason behind her kingdom’s curse, and upon reading it, I had mixed feelings about it. I mean, come on, cursing an entire kingdom and dooming an entire family, because your wife cheated on you? I get that people do crazy things over a heartbreak, but killing an innocent little girl who’s done nothing wrong, after years and years of bitterly ruminating his pain… It’s the childish attitude of “I’ll make everyone miserable just because I’m unhappy.” It’s exaggerated, self-centered, and it speaks of a person who isn’t mature enough to be king. I mean, his wife cheated on him, and him alone, right? That is why I want to slap the guy and yell “grow the hell up!”. Your descendants have not even born yet, and you are still going to make them pay the price of your tantrum when things didn’t go your way!


Ok, the worldbuilding… I was left with some questions about it, because, although the story isn’t exactly set in our own world, in this dimension, they still divide the calendar in our twelve months, as it is said Wil was born in October, during the Northern Hemisphere’s fall. And I wonder, which is it? Ours, or a completely different, made-up world? It’s not the most important part, but I didn’t know where to draw the line. I guess this is a little too nitpicky of me, but I couldn’t help noticing.

One of the things I didn’t like about this book is how the story jumped back and forth all the time, getting confusing at certain points. Because, when Wil comes back to Northern Arrod, she says that her power doesn’t fully work, because the kingdom is cursed. Later, she tells Gerdie:

Usually, if I can’t use my curse, there’s a horrible pressing feeling like there’s an animal trapped in my blood that wants to burst free. But it isn’t there now.

Perhaps this is me, misreading or missing something, but how can the curse not work, when in the previous book, the very plot starts because Wil accidentally kills her brother Owen with her crystallizing power? In her kingdom. The very one that later prevents her from fully using it. So… which is? How is it? It’s difficult to ignore the lack of clarity in that regard.

Also, Baren! What happened to him? Things were going great, because he was a dark, mind-twisted character, in a position of power, with a lot of potential for further development (something that his own grandmother saw, but apparently, not the author herself). Lauren DeStefano was clever enough to reveal, as a slap in the face, that his attitude and behaviour were the product of his unhappiness, origin of a fragility that their grandmother used to manipulate him and exact her revenge. He didn’t have much of a personality, and as his family didn’t pay attention to him, he was the perfect pawn in the game of others. However, DeStefano built so much around him, telling us about his attitude, his fears, his mental instability, his bad relationship with his siblings, how much he hated Wil… And by the epilogue, the last thing we knew was that he was king, as the rightful heir being the second son, and suddenly, Addney (a character who is barely there) has both given birth to Owen’s daughter, and taken the throne as regent queen. So? Knock knock. Is someone there who can tell where the hell Baren is? What happened to him? Did he leave? Is he dead? Did he forfeit the throne just like that? Please, tell me something! Anything!

And on that note, that is one of the things that most bothered me about this duology: the lack of details when the reader most needs them. So far, the author has told me all about curses, bloodlines, places and feelings, in full detail, but when she had to wrap up the story, she delivered a rushed ending that left me with more questions than answers, that I needed to patch up the plot holes scattered all over the place. On the bright side, it’s not your typical ending, even when at one point, you think that’s where the story is going, upon Wil finding her family dead, and hence being the rightful queen. Lauren DeStefano did a good job avoiding that cliché, but still, I think the ending as a whole could have been better written.


Anyway, that’s it for this review!
Thank you for stopping by, and I wish you a great start of the new year!
‘til next one!

Friday, October 9, 2020

Review - Wishful Thinking

Original Title: Wishful Thinking
Series: Wish, 2
Author: Alexandra Bullen
Published: April 1st, 2011

Publisher: Point


Ok, what to say about this companion novel?

It’s nice, and lovely, but it’s definitely enough. I don’t think the concept of magical dresses that grant wishes to lonely girls could be exploited any further, so I’m glad the author stopped the series with this one. I was hoping to find a book that would be better than the previous one, and in the end, I found them to be rather similar. That is why it is a solid three GoodReads stars to me. Not terrible, but not amazing, either. An okay read.

Overall, Wishful Thinking is a book focused on family and friendship, in the context of time travel, which, honestly, isn’t the best I’ve ever read. At first, I thought, how come no one notices that Hazel is dressed differently, and has this camera that obviously is not from the present time, but then I thought, no one is going to say “this girl came from the future”, so I’ll let it sly. But, I do question Rosanna’s instant trust in her, hiring her without inquiring anything about her past, or her family, or even her last name? Later she says she never believed what Hazel said, about her parents being traveling in Europe, but it was weird that she never asked anything about the real story. Like, ok, she wouldn’t pry on things that were not her business, but before hiring someone who came out of nowhere, and bringing her to live in your property, you should find out a thing or two about her, don’t you think?

One of the things I liked the most about Hazel was that she has photography as a well-defined passion in her life, instead of spending the whole book whining about how sad her life has been. Just like Rosanna tells her, she had a lot of potential even before knowing it, a way to find beauty in unexpected places, which is, at the end of the day, some sort of survival mechanism in a life in which happiness is so scarce. That is well done, because, even with strangers that weren’t from her own time and place, Hazel was able to find her own value and recognize parts of herself she always took for granted, but were what made her special.

As for the others characters, my favourite was, actually Rosanna Scott, with her passion for art and her decision of not letting her sickness determine her decisions. Jaime, Reid and Luke weren’t really of my liking, specially Reid, because of his attitude when he knew about the pregnancy, immediately abandoning both Jaime and her baby, and ditching the responsibility for his actions. He wasn’t really the father Hazel deserved. As for Jaime, I think she was the most realistic character in the book, because all her reactions were understandable. Scared upon finding out about the baby, not knowing what to do about it, going back and forth between keeping it, or giving it away for adoption… It’s a natural reaction to an unplanned, teen pregnancy. Just, the outcome isn’t very clear, because, at one point, Jaime tells Hazel she will keep her baby, but when she returns to the present, she hasn’t kept her word, because nothing has changed since she left.

The romance was really not for me. I’m never into insta-love, and this is not exception. I honestly didn’t care about it, since they jumped into love at the two months of knowing each other, and if we think about it, Hazel had told Luke absolutely NOTHING about herself. And I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that you can say you love someone you virtually don’t know, and after such a short time. So, no, this just didn’t work for me.

The ending was bittersweet, I really was left wanting a reunion, once Hazel found out who Jaime was, and that she had another child, her half-sister. I would have loved to read about Jaime’s reaction when Hazel told her “I’m your daughter”, but it never happened. Plus, just like it happened with Wish, I think the whole book would have benefited from a first-person narrative instead of the third-person, to live the experience along with Hazel, in a more personal way.

I think the overall message of this book is good. Hazel didn’t have a happy life, moving from one foster home to another, without really belonging anywhere, but her experience teaches her a valuable lesson. Even when it’s not easy nor nice to learn that you were an unwanted baby, it’s important to know that who your parents were doesn’t have to determine who you are, that finding yourself and giving value to your own talents and passions, it’s still worthy, and that your past doesn’t have to determine your future. Plus, Hazel learns to value those who were there in her life, instead of constantly suffering for those who weren’t –or wouldn’t–, like Wendy, her dead foster mom, who saw her dream of having a child come true when she adopted her, but couldn’t enjoy it for long, and Roy, who didn’t have to take care of her, but did it, anyway.

So, I guess it was a good book, even when it could have been better. Overall, I liked the concept of Posey and the magical dresses, but I would have liked to know more about both. Yet, I think the charm lies in not knowing everything, and letting the magic flow.

Do I recommend the duology? Yes. It’s great for those fairytale fans and contemporary fantasy, even when it’s not perfect. It’s a nice read to pass the time, and they will keep you entertained for a little while.


Thanks for reading!
See you soon!

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Review - Wish

Original Title: Wish
Series: Wish, 1
Author: Alexandra Bullen
Published: April 1st, 2010

Publisher: Point


Here we are, again with a book that was never on my TBR. I guess I was just curious, and in need of a fairytale, and that’s why I went for this one. And what can I say? It’s an ok story. Not the best ever, but not a complete disaster, either. The first thing I thought when I finished it was that it definitely lacked a certain spark that would have made it better.

One of the most prevalent aspects of this book is its narration, which I often thought, was poorly chosen. Even when the grieving aspect is well written, and the portrayal of the brokenhearted Larsen family, trying to move on after their terrible loss, is realistic, with both parents trying to unsuccessfully drown their pain in work, I still think that the third-person narrative was not the best way to go. If instead we could have been in Olivia’s mind, through a first-person narrative, her raw experience through loss and emotional swings would have been a lot more intense, and would have felt more as a personal journey than a mere plot device to justify their moving to San Francisco (not that it is, though).

For me, the best character in this book was definitely Violet, the dead twin. Through the wish Olivia makes while wearing the magical dress, she’s allowed to come back as a ghost, and immediately, you can tell her personality is completely different from her sister’s. And I think it was lacking in that aspect, as Olivia felt, more often than not, really flat as a character, without enough depth as for me to believe she could actually be a real person. That’s why I liked Violet better, as she is strong and direct, never feels sorry for herself, always takes the lead, and is virtually the driving force that leads Olivia to change her life and start to move on, finding her own self in a life in which she mostly depended on her sister to make decisions. Violet was the risk taker in opposition to the careful, restrained Olivia. Yet, I think the sisterly bond is really well written, and I liked how, by the end, Violet is the one who pushes Olivia to be herself, and find her own identity, separated from the life they had together before the tragedy.

As for the romance, I really didn’t care a lot about it. It felt a little forced, because Olivia falls for Soren without even really knowing him. I liked that he was the listening kind of guy, and that he had the nice gesture of taking her to see the stars, thinking it would make her happy. But we never really get a real reason why he suddenly breaks his solid, year-long relationship with Calla –a person who has done nothing wrong and is actually very nice to Olivia–, for a girl he has known for a couple of weeks and is in the middle of a terrible grieving process. It makes no sense. At one point, Olivia asks him what is that he likes about her, but the answer is vague and not very believable, and I was left really unfazed by their relationship, not really caring if it worked out, or not. Plus, it felt really out of place that, in one moment, Olivia is thinking that she doesn’t belong and never will in her new world, and not two paragraphs later, as she talks to Soren, she suddenly feels she does. What?

Also, at certain points, I honestly didn’t know where the plot was going, as it felt like it was rambling on and on without really leading somewhere. Although it was obvious that Violet would be gone by the end of the book, in general, she was the most interesting character, because none of the others had much of a personality. In many cases, I could have taken them out of the story, without disrupting the plot. Like the girls, Lark and Bowie. Or Miles, who’s intervention only helps to solidify the metaphor from Virginia Woolf’s book, in which the protagonist finishes her painting and moves on, as a reflection of Olivia herself. Even though I think this symbolism could have been introduced without bringing yet another character to the plot, I still think it’s well done. Just as Woolf’s character, Olivia feels she’s nothing without her sister, but not having her anymore is what has to push her to build her own life, separated from Violet’s personality. She needs to close that chapter of her life –a.k.a, finish the painting–, even if she thinks the grieving process will last forever, at the end of the day, it’s necessary to unstuck herself and continue living her own life.

As for Olivia’s parents, I think their portrayal was realistic, and well done. Doing their best to hide their pain after their loss is a natural, self-protective reaction, but I kind of hated that they didn’t seem to remember they had another daughter that needed them, and was in as much pain as them, having not only lost her sister, but also having been uprooted from everything she knew, leaving her life behind to start anew. Some family therapy was immediately needed there, no doubt. But I liked that, by the end, the family didn’t try to hide their pain anymore, choosing, instead, to do their best to remember Violet with love and joy, even if losing her was terribly painful. It’s never easy to go through such processes, but the way is described is honestly well done, for a children’s book.

And, finally, I would have really liked to know more about Posey and her grandmother, and their unusual ability to sew magical dresses. It’s definitely interesting, as it speaks of a parallel world of magic I would like to know better. Still, the fact that we do not know much about them helps to create this mysterious aura around them, so that way, it’s nicely done.

So, in short, it’s a lovely book, but it definitely could have been better. I will read the next one in the duology, and I just hope it’s good.

Thank you for reading!
See you soon!

Monday, September 28, 2020

Review - Since You Asked...

Original Title: Since You Asked...
Author: Maurene Goo
Published: June 25th, 2013

Publisher: Scholastic


This book is definitely one of the stupidest, most pointless pieces of nonsense I’ve ever read. I can’t explain how unbelievably glad I am that I read Maurene Goo’s other books first, because if I had started with this one, there would have been no way I would have continued reading her work, missing on her actual good novels. I still recommend the author and I think she’s great, and if you are going to judge her, please, do not do it based on this novel.

One of the most annoying things in this book was that it has absolutely no plot. I tried to find a storyline to follow after the accidental submission of the wrong article for the school newspaper, but it wasn’t possible. It’s just not there. Instead, this book can be defined as a bunch of random scenes in the life of a fifteen-year-old girl named Holly Kim, that are not even interconnected, nor integrate a bigger plot the reader can follow. Everything is so messy, with so many ridiculous characters, that there are not positive aspects to it, nor things I can say I liked. For one, it includes everything I hate about American movies set in high school. It’s full of stereotypical characters who do nothing, and seem to be created to fill space, resulting in one of the most boring pieces of literature that I’ve ever encountered.

Holly Kim, our young protagonist, turned out to be a completely unlikeable person after just a couple of pages. I mean, I get why people would like her, as she only has a couple of close friends in a school where people virtually don’t know who she is, but it’s not my case. I personally found her to be too whiny and opinionated for my taste (not that being opinionated is a bad thing, when you actually have something to say, which isn’t the case here). Half of the book consists on her columns in the school newspaper, and the only thing she does there is complaining, and saying how much she hates school events and holidays, like Valentine’s Day. And as reader, I can’t do much with them, except reading them as I wait for the actual plot to show up. But, definitely, one of the things that most bothered me about Holly was her constant whining and the fact that nothing was good enough for her. She first complains she has to spend Christmas in Las Vegas with her big family, and then, because she gets to buy her own presents, and she doesn’t even give us a reason why she hates that. She just does. And yes, her parents may be annoying, but let’s be honest, she doesn’t make her job any easier.

As every protagonist written by Maurene Goo, Holly is Korean-American, but, unlike in the other books by the same author, here her family is big and loud, instead of small and tight-knit. But her parents… *face-palm*. Her dad is nice, but does nothing nor says much. And her mom, oh my God. She’s absolutely cartoonish, and irritating, with zero redeeming qualities. I can practically see her with the anime throbbing vein in her forehead, in literally every single scene she’s in. She only lives to question Holly, scold her, and say she’s a bad daughter. And at the end of the book, they hug, and it’s like nothing happened. There’s no development, no deepening in their lives, no meaningful conversations… Nothing. Simply, nothing.

As I said before, this book is just a bunch of events and people that are not connected with each other. Holly’s supposed close friends are nothing but background noise. Their families and physical appearance are briefly described, but them, as characters directly related to the protagonist, have no distinct personalities –except for a few things, that are not enough. Same as the other characters. Maurene Goo wrote a whole scene in which Holly goes to this Matthew Reynolds’ house to interview him for the newspaper, and meets his autistic little sister, and absolutely nothing happened after it, to justify that I had to read it. At the very least, I thought Matthew would become the love interest, but not even that happened. So why writing that in the first place?

As for the romance aspect, it’s non-existent. Around Valentine’s Day, Holly keeps getting presents and cards from a secret admirer she bashes in her column, and as I read, I discovered myself feeling zero curious about who could it be. And when it was finally revealed, I just wanted to flush the book down the nearest toilet. The guy turned out to be a Latino boy named Alex Garcia, who we had NEVER seen before, in the entire book. Not once. And what the hell is that supposed to mean? How am I supposed to care about someone I’m seeing for the first time, two pages away from the ending?

I can’t with this. No. Just no.

Most of the time I felt like Maurene Goo was about to tell me something great, and at the end, NOTHING happened. Like when we meet Holly’s cousin Sara. Or when Holly secretly goes to buy a dress for the school dance; there’s an entire scene dedicated to it, as she tries one dress after another without any luck, finally setting on one that fits her perfectly, and in the end, she doesn’t even go to the dance. Or even worse, when she and her whole family go to Las Vegas for the holidays, there’s this huge description of the city, as Holly chases after the kid who ran away from his family, and when you move to the next chapter, the whole Christmas scene has passed, without anything having happened that was relevant to the plot (except more yelling from her mom). I could have cut those three things out from the book, and nothing would have changed. Literally, nothing.

And don’t even get me started on the Battle of the Bands or the ballet class, because those are just more random scenes that serve to no purpose. And Holly, honey, please, do not joke about school shootings. Never. They are not a laughing matter, and I shouldn’t be the one saying it. The author herself should know better.

So, in short, this book sucks. It’s terrible. But, I will say, I know for sure Maurene Goo is so much better than this, and that with her other books, she proved she’s a good writer. Give her a chance with titles like The Way You Make Me Feel and I Believe in a Thing Called Love, because there you can truly see character development and meaningful friendship and family bonds. I’m glad that her style and her characters’ build-up improved with each new book she released, and I look forward to her work, even if her debut novel wasn’t everything it could have been.

Thanks for reading, guys!
See you soon!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Review - Somewhere Only We Know

Original Title: Somewhere Only We Know
Author: Maurene Goo
Published: May 7th, 2019

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)


That was one cute, wonderful book! I don’t know where this Maurene Goo reading rush came from, but I don’t regret a second of it. Her books were never in my TBR in the first place, as neither is the contemporary genre, but you know, the unexpected sometimes is the best that can happen to you. And this is, precisely, the point of this lovely story.

One of the best aspects of Somewhere Only We Know is the fact that it is neither set in the US, nor in high school. Refreshing as that is, it is also a wonderful way to walk through Hong Kong as we go with Lucky and Jack in their one-day detour, and it is nothing short of fascinating. After I finished the book, I learned that the author based the general plot on the 1953 classic movie Roman Holiday, with Katherine Hepburn and Gregory Peck, but until then, the first thing I thought was that it felt like a ‘Notting Hill meets Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ kind of thing (only k-pop themed). And even when I know that this novel doesn’t have the most ground-breaking plot ever, it is its simplicity, and its message, what makes it beautiful.

Normally, stories set in the course of one day are not my favourite thing, as they often feel rushed, and in general, for me, they tend to be hit or miss. But this one is definitely a hit, as, even if I didn’t go for the insta-love between Jack and Lucky, it is necessary to see beyond the teens falling in love to understand the whole point of the story, because, for such short amount of time, Maurene Goo managed to write fully meaningful dialogues, and a true connection between the main characters, making me love them, even if they were far from being perfect.

Let’s talk about Lucky, our heroine, for a minute. She’s a k-pop star with a million fans and followers, that is finishing her Asian tour, as the book opens with her final concert taking place in Hong Kong. Right after it ends, we get see how her life really is off-stage, how her every move is a part of a carefully laid out schedule, in which she doesn’t have a say. I honestly don’t know much about the k-pop world, as it is not my preferred music genre, but I do know that it is terrible in terms of abuse. After I finished the book, I was able to read about the starvation, the eating and sleeping disorders, the exhaustion, and the plastic surgeries Lucky mentions, among other things that go on in the k-pop industry, and I guess that, even sad as it is, it’s not that strange in the show business. I mean, as fans, we only get to see the finished product, where everything is perfect and seems effortless, but actually, that perfection has a price, and that is the part they don’t tell you. As Lucky tells us her story, we get to know that her fame and success mean she can’t see her family, neither have any real friends nor lasting relationships, nor make any long-term plan around other areas of her life. Her music career is literally everything, and it consumes her identity. And Maurene Goo illustrated it perfectly with the jazz bar scene. After Lucky leaves her room in search for the hamburger she’s not allowed to eat, and is under the drowsy effects of her sleeping pills, she and Jack go to a bar where dead butterflies are a part of the decoration; she snatches one, and says:

Were these killed on purpose? To display here for our viewing pleasure? Like barbarians?!

And I think, it’s not too different from her life. She was that butterfly in the first years of her k-pop career, young, pretty, filled with hope, happy in the music world as she lived her dream, but now, she does things robotically, with her eyes empty of that initial enthusiasm, as everything is controlled by others. In the process that took her to the top of her field, her essence was killed for the pleasure of others. But I liked that, as the story progresses, we get to see how she finds a way to remain loyal to herself, and has this star quality that makes Jack fall for her, eventually realizing she can be so much more than just the product she was made into. Her attitude, her way of seeing things, even if they were buried by the pressures of her way of life, is untouched, and that is the source of her bravery, the one that leads her, by the end, to make her own decisions and take charge of her public image.

On the other hand, we have Jack Lim, the hero of the story. Even though his world and Lucky’s are complete opposites, their lives are not that different. They both feel lost, adrift in a world they can’t control, living day by day, without any long-term plans, and dreading what comes next, even if they don’t know what that is. I personally loved Jack’s passion for photography, and even though, at first, his intentions with Lucky are far from honourable, as their day together progresses, he gets to see things differently. The fact that, by the end, Lucky finds out his real intentions, and all the pictures he took of her during the day, to sell to the tabloid, is absolutely predictable, a rom-com trope you know it will happen eventually. But the important things lay elsewhere, in my opinion. At one point, as they are sitting on the tram, Jack says:

We were both quiet, sitting with our lies.”.

Do you know the famous quote that says “give a man a mask and he will show you his true face”? Well, it was my first thought when I read that. They are lying to each other the whole time, as Lucky pretends to be a girl who came to Hong Kong with her church choir, and although Jack knows it isn’t true, he still plays along to get the photos he needs. And yet, through those masks they put on, they can show themselves as they really are, to be honest as they never are, sharing their passions and thoughts, and building trust. And although I think that creating such a bond between them should take more than one single day, it’s still really well done.

And yet, even though I do not agree with saying that you love each other at the end of one day, as it feels rushed and unrealistic, I do believe it can be interpreted beyond the literal meaning of it. True is that both Lucky and Jack are better when they are together, they bring the best in each other out, and their honest conversations and exchanges are what, at the end of the day, pushes them to be themselves in a world that is constantly trying to change them, and define their paths for them. So, the love declaration, in my opinion, feels more like an “I love who you are”, or even “I love all about this version of you.”, rather than expressing the pure feeling itself.

Moreover, after she finds out about the tabloid and leaves the bar in a rush, not even knowing where she’s going, Jack goes after her, and spots a cat, finding her next to it. And I think it was incredibly meaningful, because later, her real name is revealed to be Catherine, so I think it was a way of showing us that Jack was going after the real person. Not the insanely famous k-pop star Lucky, but a simple girl named Catherine who helped him make life decisions and taught him the importance of doing what gives his life meaning. It’s simple, and beautiful.

I don’t know if I’m right with that interpretation, but it’s just the way I see it.

Overall, I think the story sends a very good message. Being the real, authentic you, is far more valuable than money, fame, or the blinding lights of a stage. Even when making the final decision is not easy, your talent and the things that make you happy should be your priority, in a life controlled by yourself, and not by others. Lucky had given up everything for a chance in the music world, and by the end, exchanging her stardom for a quieter, more authentic way of sharing her own art, she found herself, and the possibility to balance her passion with her family and friends, and even her physical and mental health. Same as Jack, who found the courage to say no to the path he knew would make him miserable, getting to live his own passion for photography, and so, finding his own self in the world.

Oh, and by the way, I loved the little cameo of the Shin food truck by the end of the book! The KoBra family is there! It made me smile, like I just had seen a friend. Lovely detail.

So, in short, this may be not be a world-changing kind of book, but it does encourage the reader to change their own, to be brave enough to let go of the things that are easy, for a chance to let your passion bloom. And I agree. I honestly think Maurene Goo has become an author to look out for, and I will happily read more books by her in the future.


Thank you for reading!
See you soon!

Friday, September 18, 2020

Review - The Way You Make Me Feel

Original Title: The Way You Make Me Feel
Author: Maurene Goo
Published: May 8th, 2018

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)


Wow. I mean… wow. I don’t know what I was expecting from this book, but it was definitely not this. I thought it would only be a cute, fluffy book about a summer romance and food, and instead, I found a novel that is surprisingly deep on the psychological aspect, tackling complex issues, with realistic, relatable characters, and a plot that is both believable, and incredibly well written. You don’t find this often, and, in my experience, much less in YA.

I read reviews on this book saying that it was impossible for some people to finish it, due to the totally hateable heroine, and how hard it was to tolerate her. And I agree, because Clara Shin is a selfish girl who can’t take anything seriously, and actually puts effort on ruining things that are important for others, just for the sake of it. Which is basically the beginning of the novel, as she takes a prank a little too far, almost setting her school on fire, and fighting with Rose Carver, a girl that is her complete opposite. I mean, from the moment we meet her, we can tell Clara is not a good person, and even more after she tells us that, after Rose caught her smoking once, and told on her, she has dedicated a lot of time and energy to ruin everything that was important to her. And it’s not just that, but the fact that she knows she creates chaos, and yet, doesn’t actually care about being a better person.

And let me say, of course we do not like Clara! That’s pretty much the point. She’s deeply flawed, but all those shortcomings and negative traits have roots, and the plot of the novel is, precisely, finding them out. I’m no expert in psychology, but I can tell when someone needs therapy as soon as they can get it, and that is the case with her. Her rebellious, insolent attitude, the things she says and does, go far deeper than just her being a good or bad person, as I read them as both a vulnerable girl trying to get attention from adults, and at the same time, as a self-protection mechanism, in which not caring means less hurt when facing loss. And those are both natural responses to a life in which very little is solid, with an absent mother, and a father figure that is more of a friend to her than a parent.

At one point, she tells Rose:

The smoking. It was something I could control.

And I think, is there any clearer way to tell that someone needs therapy, and that is not just about the smoking itself, but an attitude rooted in deep-seeded issues? Which leads me to talk about Clara’s parents. Even when in the previous book by the same author, I Believe in a Thing Called Love, Desi Lee and her dad have a lovely father-daughter relationship, loving and supporting each other after their loss, in this book, the bond between Clara and her dad takes the center of the stage. At first, I thought Adrian Shin was a total joke, that he only grounded her and forced her to work on his food truck because he saw Rose’s parents being… well, parents, and he didn’t want to look bad in front of them, instead of doing it because he thought Clara deserved it, or had gone way too far this time. But then, as I read on, I was able to understand him better. Clara is not exactly the easiest girl to parent, as she is strong-willed, and often disrespects her dad, calling him a jerk, and even using his mental disorder against him, making me want to slap her all the way to Korea. But my point is that, while Clara’s mother is little else than a guest star in her life, her dad is there for better or worse, no matter what, struggling to make sure she lacks nothing, and overall, figuring out how to be a father along the way, as Clara is the result of an unplanned pregnancy when they were only eighteen years-old. Of course he’s gonna make mistakes!

And that’s basically the difference with Clara’s mother. As we read, we hate Clara, when in fact, we should be hating her mom. She’s the truly bad person here, because both her and Adrian had their own dreams, but Adrian was the only one who truly assumed the responsibility of their actions, and put them on hold, to take care of their daughter, while Juliana practically abandoned young Clara, to go and live her dream life. It can’t get more realistic than that, and with a selfish mother who is never there, and a father who can’t discipline her because he doesn’t know how, no wonder Clara is out of control. And it’s amazingly well written.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m all about following your dreams, and living your best life, but to the point of ditching the responsibility of a child to prioritize social media followers, is nothing short of selfish, in one of its worst versions. Clara and her mom don’t have a very intimate relationship, as Juliana never sets time apart to devote exclusively to her, always mixing her with work, sharing everything with a thousand strangers online, with whom she is closer than with her own daughter. And, even worse, all her motherly attitudes over the years never came naturally to her, but were the result of Adrian prompting her to remember important dates and events on Clara’s life, so she wouldn’t miss them. Even the promised vacation together in Tulum, is something to Story on Instagram, instead of the purely mother-daughter time Clara needs. I mean, she suddenly ran away from L. A. in distress to find her, and her mother says she should have told her so she could have “sent a car” to the airport instead of picking her up herself! This seems small but hits hard, so I just have to mention it. It’s so sad! Everything about Juliana Choi says that Clara isn’t a priority in her life. Plus, her hypocrisy during the interview in Tulum is unbelievable! As she is praised for balancing her busy life with motherhood, she says she had Clara when she was very young, and then:

But, with Clara’s dad’s support, I was able to strike out on my own.

Support’? She just calls ‘support’ to the fact that Adrian had to be a single parent for both of them, and did everything for Clara so she didn’t have to? Oh my God! I hate her. I want to punch her, because, while she may have given birth to Clara, it was Adrian who was the real parent there, the one who raised her, and made all the sacrifices needed to give her a good life, in a country that wasn’t his own, no less. So, it’s not surprising that Clara lives in the moment, doesn’t take anything seriously, doesn’t make long-term plans, nor has any meaningful relationships in her life. It’s the example she has always seen. And if you think about it, it’s terrible.

So, in short, patience is key with this book, because although Clara is highly unlikeable, the point of the plot actually is going with her on her journey of self-discovery and self-improvement, finding her own self in the midst of chaos, and giving her life a new meaning. Appreciating her transformation is what gives the story its depth.

As for the rest of the characters, save Clara’s friends, Felix and Patrick, all the relevant ones to the plot are not just background noise (something that happens more often than not in YA novels), and they all have an important story to tell. Like Rose Carver, a character I liked very much. She is everything Clara is not, and for me, she was the most relatable person in the entire book. For one, her description of how anxiety feels like is the most accurate I’ve ever read, and through their forced proximity, Clara gets to know her for herself, instead of seeing her through the lens of the things she saw her doing in school. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the point of writing about friendship, that many authors miss, choosing to write about cat fights, slut-shaming, and girl-hating. Because, although at first Rose and Clara were sworn enemies, the fact that they weren’t trying to get to like each other made them be their authentic selves, and so, they realized that the other was not that bad, after all. Even when they don’t seem to have a lot in common, you see how they slowly become better as individuals when they are together, taking things from each other, which is the point of any good relationship. As their bond grows, Rose learns to relax and have more fun, and Clara becomes more responsible, truly caring about others, and stops taking everything as a joke. Their lost summer wasn’t so lost after all, and they send the very good message that people can get along and settle their differences, in despite of prejudice.

The only thing I didn’t particularly loved about this book was the romance part. Not because of Hamlet, though. He is a very nice, gentlemanlike guy, and genuinely likes Clara. The way he asked her out was the sweetest thing ever, all dressed up and with flowers, and as their bond grew, I was fascinated with how much respect Hamlet had towards her. He never forced to do anything, and always had her well-being in mind. I just didn’t quite like that, only after a couple of dates, he already could instantly notice that something was off with her. It felt too soon. Like, you could expect that attitude from her dad, because he knows her since birth, but Hamlet has only known her for a couple of weeks, she flinches, and he already knows something is wrong. That doesn’t quite work for me. However, I liked that Maurene Goo wrote this couple with zero drama and unnecessary, tacky horniness, and although Clara feels all the time that she’s not good enough for Hamlet, and that she doesn’t deserve him (which is kind of true), I liked how the bond with him helped her get away from the shallow, unfulfilling relationships she had had before him.

I think is beautiful how the author did the whole “Love has a way of finding you” thing the book cover mentions. Because finding love, in Clara’s case, didn’t mean just finding a boyfriend, but actually, getting to love and take care of herself, making true friends, and realizing how much her father loves her, through noticing the many things he did for her, even when she wasn’t aware of them. The fact that things have a bad start doesn’t mean that they can’t lead to something good. That little, tight-knit family that grew around the KoBra, where everyone had something to say and became an inseparable part of each other’s life, is the best aspect of this book, because Clara was finally able to find people worth keeping in her life, that were worried when she disappeared, and actually tried to find her when she put distance between them (unlike her mother).

So, to sum up, this book was a beautiful surprise, and I liked it very much. I’m not usually a contemporary reader, but I’m happy I gave this story a chance. It sends a wonderful message, while it also is a great display of diversity, tackling issues such as family, parenting, immigration, friendship, cultural differences, and even mental health, all wrapped up in a context of hard work, not just on the food truck, but in every area of life.

I highly recommend it!