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Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

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“I like the way he looks at me, like I am a wood nymph that he happened upon one day and just had to take home to keep.”

RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Life is good for Lara Jean. She is head over heels in love, her dad’s finally getting remarried and her sister Margot is coming home for the summer. But change is looming. And Lara Jean can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make – where she goes to college for one. Because that would mean leaving her family – and possibly the boy she loves – behind.

When your head and your heart are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?”

 

REVIEW: After finishing ‘P.S. I Still Love you’ in a single sitting, I rushed straight into reading the third and final instalment of this trilogy, ‘Always and Forever, Lara Jean’. Once again, it was a smooth and easy transition onto the next novel, moving fluidly along with the storyline. By this point in the plot, Lara Jean and Peter have been together for a year, and have a lot of decisions to make in terms of their futures, both in terms of their careers and their life together as a couple. Han deals well and sensitively with the whole idea of growing up and moving on, particularly in terms of home and family as Lara Jean wonders what will become of her Dad and sister Kitty if she moves away to college. As someone who commuted to university from home and has yet to be able to move out, I understand the pull of family ties and how important home is, and many of the readers of this novel will surely be at the age where they are facing similar feelings and decisions. When Lara Jean fails to make it into her first choice university close to home, she is forced to consider the possibility of moving elsewhere, leaving her family behind and potentially jeopardising her relationship with Peter. Their fears of the dangers of a long-distance relationship threaten to tear Lara Jean and Peter apart, whilst at home things are also becoming tricky as Lara Jean’s elder sister Margot rebels against their idea of their Dad remarrying. There is a sense of nostalgia that runs throughout the novel, another thing that readers can identify with, as we have all had to make decisions that make us reflect on our childhood and younger years. The whole novel deals with this conflict between the familiar and the new, and the feelings this conflict presents us with, as well as the subsequent dilemmas. I really enjoyed this novel, in fact the whole trilogy, and felt it provided an ideal ending. By finishing with Lara Jean and Peter aiming to continue their relationship despite their moving to separate colleges, it gives readers the chance to develop their own conclusions about the future of their relationship and to invent their own happy ending for the couple. I would highly recommend this whole series for a light, sometimes emotional, but mostly uplifting read that appeals to the true romantic in all of us.

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P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

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“I know now that I don’t want to love or be loved in half measures. I want it all, and to have it all, you have to risk it all.”

RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter. They had just been pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever. Then another boy from her past returns to her life, and Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at the same time?”

REVIEW: I couldn’t wait to get started on this novel having just finished its predecessor, ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’, and was pleased to find that ‘P.S. I Still Love You’ flowed seamlessly on from that first novel; it almost felt as though there had not been a break between them at all. The novel picks up with Lara Jean dithering over what to do about her fall out with Peter who, after embarking on a fake relationship with him in order to make their respective crushes jealous, it turns out she does actually have feelings for. Once again, Lara Jean has turned to letter-writing in order to express her feelings for Peter, who she fears will go running back to his domineering ex-girlfriend, Genevieve. The two confess their feelings for one another, and the reader can’t help but be ecstatic when Lara Jean and Peter agree to try out having a relationship for real. It isn’t long, however, before jealousy begins to rear its ugly head, with Lara Jean uncomfortable with the close relationship Peter maintains with Genenvieve, and Peter growing jealous of Lara Jean’s frequent contact with another boy she used to have feelings for, John Ambrose McLaren, who doesn’t help things when he comes back to town and turns out to be the great-grandson of Lara Jean’s favourite resident at the care home she works at. With Peter needing to be at Genevieve’s side in order to help her deal with family issues, and Lara Jean’s friend Stormy trying to push her and John together, their relationship is severely tested. Jealousy is something anyone who has ever been in a relationship can understand, and makes the whole story more relatable for the reader. I found the whole story to be more emotional than the previous novel as the ups and downs of Lara Jean and Peter’s relationships were played out. However, I remained connected to the characters in the novel throughout and felt strong amounts of empathy for them. I still choose Kitty as my ultimate favourite character, however, and I love the sass combined with vulnerability that her character brings to the novel. I read this book in one sitting and did the same with the third and final installment – keep an eye out for my review of that, which I’ll be posting tomorrow!

 

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

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“Love is scary: it changes; it can go away. That’s the part of the risk. I don’t want to be scared anymore.”

RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Lara Jean Song keeps love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her – one for every boy she’s ever loved. She can say anything she wants, because the letters are for her eyes only. Until the day they’re sent out…”

REVIEW: I read Jenny Han’s previous trilogy, ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’, when I was in secondary school. I remember how much the characters resonated with me, and how well Han manages to portray the dilemmas that so many of us go through in our teenage years. Unfortunately for me, I’m kind of reliving some of these dilemmas now I’m in my early twenties, so felt it might be a good time for me to finally embark on ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’, which has been on my TBR list forever.

‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ is narrated by Lara Jean Song, a slightly awkward, kooky and family-orientated Junior year student who seems to be far more fond of the idea of love than she is of actually being in it – a feeling that I can sympathise with, having always been a bookworm who thought that my life was going to turn into a real-life version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Lara Jean keeps a box of letters to all the boys she has had feelings for in the past, which she hides even from her closest friends; her capable older sister Margot and sassy younger sister Kitty. When Margot goes off to study at University in Scotland, it’s left to Lara Jean to manage things at home – alongside dealing with the fallout that her letters have after they mysteriously get sent out. One of the first to confront Lara Jean is Peter Kavinsky, the most popular boy in school, who gave Lara Jean her first kiss. Much to her surprise, Lara Jean finds herself in a fake relationship with Peter as he tries to rile his ex-girlfriend Genevieve, and she tries to antagonise the boy she truly loves: Margot’s ex-boyfriend and their next door neighbour, Josh. With him and Margot only recently having broken up, Josh is shocked to say the least, but it soon becomes apparent that he, too, has feelings for Lara Jean. While Josh is beginning to realise his feelings for her, however, Lara Jean is gradually starting to wish that her relationship with Peter wasn’t actually a set up after all…

I absolutely loved the development of the relationship between Lara Jean and Peter, which, although its blossoming was easy to predict, was still highly believeable and certainly felt real. I identified a lot with Lara Jean as a character, and I think a lot of readers will; not only is she a very likeable protagonist, she also goes through many of the same conflicting emotions and experiences that we’ve all suffered when it comes to boys. I also really warmed to Kitty, who was probably my next favourite character in the novel – I loved the mixture of her strong attitude combined with her vulnerability. I read this book at top speed, it’s so easy to read and the need to know what is going to happen kept the pages turning for me. I enjoyed it so much that I instantly ordered the following two novels, and am already fifty pages in to ‘P.S. I Still Love You’ – which I’m sure I shall be reviewing very soon!

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Love Letters to the Dead by Aca Dellaira

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “It begins as an assignment for English class: write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain – he died young, and so did Laurel’s sister May – so maybe he’ll understand what Laurel is going through. Soon Laurel is writing letters to lots of dead people – Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, Amelia Earhart, Amy Winehouse…it’s like she can’t stop. She writes about her new high school, her new friends, her first love – and her shattered life. But the ghosts of Laurel’s past can’t be contained between the lines of a page forever. She must face up to them – before they consume her.”

REVIEW: This book has had a few highly critical reviews on Goodreads, so I went into it with pretty low expectations. It certainly exceeded them, however, as I personally really enjoyed this novel! As someone who has been grieving, and is still not entirely past it, I found Dellaira’s depiction of grief, as expressed by Laurel’s character, to be very relatable, and considering grieving is such a complex process that differentiates greatly between people, I think this is an impressive feat for any writer to achieve. The novel tells the story of Laurel through the letters she writes to a variety of dead celebrities and historical figures. Through Laurel’s letters we learn of her struggles to accept the death of her older sister May the previous year, and how it has torn her family and changed the dynamic since – Laurel’s relationship with her Dad was one I found particularly moving. We also learn about Laurel’s new life upon transferring to her new school, particularly her friends and the boy she develops a crush on. She reveals nothing about her sister even to her two closest friends, Natalie and Hannah, and they struggle with problems of their own as they develop feelings for each other and try to face the social stigma that these feelings are a victim to. With Sky, however, Laurel is able to be most herself, as Sky seems to understand and empathise with some of what she is going through and how it has damaged her; it is clear to the reader that Laurel has severe anxiety problems, even though she doesn’t neccessarily realise this herself, and these problems make it a struggle for her and Sky to progress in their relationship – particularly as Laurel refuses to confess to him her previous childhood traumas and how May’s death has added to these. I think the characters in this novel are so well-written in that they all seem so real; they are relatable and the reader can empathise with all of them and their different situations. I think Dellaira’s depiction of grief and loss in this novel are its best and most impressive quality, and I would recommend it, particularly to those who have been through similar experiences.

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The End of Oz by Danielle Paige

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Ding Dong – Dorothy is Dead. I watched as the Emerald Palace crumbled to the grouns, burying Dorothy, the Girl Who Rode the Cyclone, under the rubble. And now that the rightful ruler, Ozma, has been restored to the throne…Oz is finally free.

My name is Amy Gumm. You might remember me as the other girl from Kansas. When a tornado whisked me away to the magical land of Oz, I was given a mission: Dorothy must Die. But it turns out girls from Kansas are harder to kill than we look. Now the Road of Yellow Brick is leading me away from Oz to the dark world of Ev, where I have a new, powerful enemy to deal with: The Nome King. And – surprise – he has a gingham-clad bride. With my magical shoes and a shrinking group of allies, I have one final chance to fulfill my mission, and save not only what’s left of Oz, but Kansas, too. As the line between Good and Wicked blurs even further, I have to find a way to get rid of Dorothy once and for all – without turning into a monster myself.”

REVIEW: Although I have always loved the premise of this series, the books have been a little bit up and down for me, often seeming rushed and a little cliche. Yet, it is a credit to them that I have always been hooked and wanted to know what happens next, even if I have found flaws in the book. ‘The End of Oz’ is the final book in the ‘Dorothy Must Die’ series and picks up right where the previous book, ‘Yellow Brick War’, left off. At this stage in the story, Dorothy is believed dead, Ozma is the ruler of Oz and Amy was trying to start over at home with her mother in Kansas. But with the arrival of the Nome King, everything turned upside down, and Amy is now back in Oz with her high school enemy Madison and love interest Nox. As the yellow brick road leads them into Ev, they discover that not only is Dorothy alive, she is engaged to marry the Nome King. Having the perspective of Dorothy in this novel is interesting, and the reader ends up finding her strangely likeable; doubtless, she is evil, but she shows some compassion, and is highly intelligent. We are, of course, still rooting for Amy, particularly as the relationship between Amy and Nox begins to blossom. As I have mentioned in reviews of the previous books, the developing relationship between Amy and Nox is probably my favourite part of the series, due to the fact that it has not been rushed and has been slowly built upon throughout the books, making it more believeable. I especially loved it in this book, when the two finally admit their feelings for one another. As the race to kill Dorothy becomes more and more urgent, the group face ever more threats, and the introduction of the character of Lanadel as their ally adds to the enjoyment of the novel. I don’t want to give away too much, as I really enjoyed the ending and felt it was a fitting way to end the series – though a suggestive cliffhanger hints that it may not actually be the end after all. Although once again, I felt that the story was rushed in places, I really enjoyed it and felt that it provided the perfect ending to the series.

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Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Long before Alice fell down the rabbit hole…and before the roses were painted red…The Queen of Hearts was just a girl, in love for the first time.”

REVIEW: I’ve been wanting to read this reimagining of the story of the Queen of Hearts for quite some time, and was really excited when I picked it up on my birthday book-shopping trip. This novel tells the story of Catherine, Lady Pinkerton, the future Queen of Hearts. In this version, however, Catherine is a very a likeable character; a young woman who wishes to run away from her life as a member of the nobility and use her exceptional talents to set up a bakery with her maid, Mary-Ann. This dream appears to be dashed, however, when Catherine discovers that the perfectly kind but extremely foolish King of Hearts wishes to ask for her hand in marriage, a fact which her parents are all too delighted by. Upon fleeing his initial proposal Catherine meets the King’s new court jester, Jest, a handsome and mysterious young man who captures Catherine’s interest at once. As the Kingdom begins to grow in fear after a series of Jabberwock attack and the King’s intentions grow increasingly serious despite her attempts to slow things down, Catherine’s dreams seem to be becoming an increasingly distant possibility. Her relationship with Jest develops throughout the novel in a way that draws the reader in at once and makes us desperate for the two to find a way to be together, removed from the world they know so that each of them can realise their dreams. It is difficult to write more of the plotline without giving away spoilers, but it is easy to see how Catherine developed into the infamous Queen of Hearts, a villainess we are familiar with from her many depictions in book and particularly in film. Even knowing what she will become and witnessing some of this transformation towards the end of the novel, the reader still sympathises with Catherine. I am really hoping that there will be a sequel to this novel, as it is definitely one of my favourite Wonderland-set novels that I have read, and I’m eager to find out what happens next now that Catherine is the Queen of Hearts.

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Splintered by A.G.Howard

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Alyssa Gardner hears the thoughts of plants and animals. She hides her delusions for now, but she knows her fate: she will end up like her mother, in an institution. Madness has run in her family ever since her great-great-great grandmother Alice Liddell told Lewis Carroll her strange dreams, inspiring his classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

But perhaps she’s not mad. And perhaps Carroll’s stories aren’t as whimsical as they first seem.

To break the curse of insanity, Alyssa must go down the rabbit hole and right the wrongs of Wonderland, a place full of strange beings with dark agendas. Alyssa brings her real-world crush – the protective Jeb – with her, but once her journey begins, she’s torn between his solidity and the enchanting, dangerous magic of Morpheus, her guide to Wonderland.

But no-one in Wonderland is who they seem to be – not even Alyssa herself…”

REVIEW: I’m sure frequent readers of this blog have gathered by now that I enjoy retellings of classic stories and fairytales, and I have a large stack of Alice in Wonderland retellings ready to get through on my bookshelf. Splintered was one of these books. It tells the story of Alyssa Gardner, a bold young woman who finds herself isolated from most of her peers due to her ability to hear the words spoken by insects and plants. The only people she lets herself be close to are her father, who is still devoted to her mad mother, her best friend and work colleague Jen, and Jen’s older brother Jeb, who has always been protective towards Alyssa, but whom Alyssa has always wanted much more from. After an incident at the institution where her Mum lives, Alyssa finds a series of clues and objects linked to Wonderland which she believes will cure her mother’s madness. During an argument with Jeb, she accidentally lures him into Wonderland with her, plunging the two of them into great danger. Although the pair begin to learn much more about themselves and each other, leading them to confess their feelings for one another, things are complicated by Morpheus, Alyssa’s dangerous but attractive guide to Wonderland. As Alyssa completes an increasing number of tasks that we recognise as stemming from the original story – for example, her emptying of the Pool of Tears – she begins to uncover more and more secrets about her heritage, and finds a way to break the curse of madness that has plagued the women of her family ever since Alice Liddell.

This book was clever and imaginative, and the storyline was more unusual and different from many of the usual formulaic reproductions of the Alice story. There were some parts of the book that I simply enjoyed less than others; I loved the development of the relationship between Alyssa and Jeb, and the conflicting desires Alyssa felt for the two men in her life. There were some elements of Wonderland itself that I enjoyed less; for example, the moment when the flowers turned into zombie-like creatures and chased Alyssa and Jeb in an attempt to eat them. I can’t pinpoint what exactly about this book didn’t quite hit the spot for me, because I did enjoy it, and the writing style was good with vivid description. I am intrigued to see what the further books in this series have to offer for this tale.