Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

IMG_4416“How can I expect people to empathise with a sickness they can’t see?”

“You don’t expect anything. You talk, you teach.”

Under Rose-Tainted Skies is the story of Norah, a teenage girl who suffers from agoraphobia, anxiety, OCD, and depression. All of this came about when Norah was thirteen and she has been homeschooled ever since, only leaving her home for weekly therapy sessions, which causes a great deal of anxiety for her. It is all very difficult to deal with and something she has to face on a daily basis. However she is not alone, and has the support of her mother who is there for her through everything. When a new family moves in next door she has a few interactions with Luke, and they slowly develop a friendship. Now Norah is dealing with a whole new set of feelings, and questioning whether she will ever be able to let someone in and experience a regular relationship.

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“See, anxiety doesn’t just stop. You can have nice moments, minutes where it shrinks, but it doesn’t leave. It lurks in the background like a shadow, like that important assignment you have to do but keep putting off or the dull ache that follows a three-day migraine. The best you can hope for is to contain it, make it as small as possible so it stops being intrusive. Am I coping? Yes, but it’s taking a monumental amount of effort to keep the dynamite inside my stomach from exploding.”

There are many aspects of this novel that work really well, but there are a few that did not particularly click for me, which left me with some mixed feelings after reading it. Norah’s story is based on the author’s own experiences and struggles, which she does a stellar job of portraying and bringing across. I have a great deal of respect for her story, and sharing it in this way can undoubtedly reach and potentially help a lot of people to not feel alone in their own struggles. Norah’s feelings and frustrations are described and related in an effective way, and you can’t help but feel and understand those frustrations and limitations.

As I was reading, I did get the sense that the story had no clear direction and was unsure of where it was going. It’s not something I would have particularly minded, because I did very much like the characters and was happy to just go along with whatever their journey ended up being. However, the story itself goes in a rather strange direction and one that begins to feel like a different kind of book altogether, all of which leads to an abrupt ending. For me, the story as a whole doesn’t really come together, but as I said there is a lot that does work, the main one being the mother-daughter relationship, which was the highlight of the novel. Not the best novel of this genre, however it is one that is definitely worth reading.

“Sometimes things are going to happen and the only way out is through.”

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

IMG_4357“Inside a dream.
Within a lost city.
In the shadow of an angel.
At the brink of calamity.”

Lazlo Strange has spent most of his life dreaming of the lost city of Weep; a city that has turned into myth. As the years pass, his dream of finding the city that has become an obsession, gradually begins to feel like an impossibility. He is no one of importance after all, but a junior librarian and orphan who found his home among books. One day, a man known as the Godslayer and a group of legendary warriors provide a once in a lifetime opportunity, one that will answer all of Lazlo’s questions and uncover a long lost mystery.

Strange the Dreamer is a wonderfully crafted, page-turning read. From the opening paragraph to the very last sentence, the beautiful writing is downright captivating, as the story and characters are brought to life. There is a dreamy quality to Laini Taylor’s storytelling that transports the reader to the fantastical world she has created. The characters are interesting, each consisting of great depth and complexity, which brings up thought-provoking issues of morality and justice. It also explores complex emotions given the circumstances and situations the characters have encountered.

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“And that’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can.”

“So they layered cynicism atop their longing, and it was something like layering laughter over the darkness — self-preservation of an uglier stripe. And thus did they harden themselves, by choosing to meet hate with hate.”

There are a number of layers to this novel, all of which work wonderfully: the story of Lazlo’s life growing up, the mystery surrounding the mythical city of Weep, the story of gods and goddesses, the intriguing characters, the magic, and of course the dreams of a dreamer. This is the first book in what is to be a duology, with the second book expected to be released in 2018. Now I wait. 🙂

“It was impossible, of course. But when did that ever stop any dreamer from dreaming?”

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

BLOG“I can’t let anyone know what really happened, or what’s wrong with me. I can’t bear the thought of how they’d look at me, and treat me, if they knew how many pills I take every morning just to act more or less like everybody else.”

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a YA novel that tackles the important and complicated issue of mental illness. It is something many people live with and deal with on a daily basis, but do so in secret due to the fear of the stigma that may come along with it. Sixteen year-old Mel struggles with bipolar disorder and has hidden this part of her life from almost everyone in her life, apart from her parents, aunt and an old friend of her grandmother’s. She keeps her friends at a distance, not letting them see the real Mel or know about a tragedy from her past that impacted her in a significant way. It is a difficult way to live and has led to an end of a friendship with a group of close friends, and while Mel develops new friendships there is a lot left to be resolved with those who were an important part of her life. When she meets a boy who she might be interested in a relationship with, the struggle between distancing herself and wanting to let someone in brings up many emotions she must come to terms with.

This is a beautiful and heartbreaking novel. It portrays life with bipolar disorder in a real way, allowing the reader to see and feel everything through Mel’s perspective. We get a thorough understanding of her struggles, thoughts, feelings, and desires. I particularly liked the way her relationships with those around her are described and portrayed, which gives an excellent look into the complexity of emotion and the constant instinct to protect oneself. A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a wonderful novel that takes on an important topic and does so really well. I highly recommend this one.

*ARC provided by NetGalley for an unbiased review.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

img_3682“People spend their whole lives looking for love. Poems and songs and entire novels are written about it. But how can you trust something that can end as suddenly as it begins?”

A charming novel that tells the story of Natasha and Daniel, how they meet, and the power of fate. Natasha is not one to believe in destiny and places her beliefs in science and facts. On what is set to be her last day in the US before her family is deported to Jamaica, all she can think about is finding a way to prevent that from happening. What she doesn’t plan on is meeting and falling for a boy. Daniel, on the other hand, is a dreamer and a romantic who is carrying the weight of his parents’ expectations on his shoulders. On this particular day, the universe leads him to Natasha. Through the perspective of both Natasha and Daniel, along with a few characters introduced along the way, we learn about everything that fell into place for them to meet, and follow their day as they get to know and learn about each other.

“There’s a Japanese phrase that I like: koi no yokan. It doesn’t mean love at first sight. It’s closer to love at second sight. It’s the feeling when you meet someone that you’re going to fall in love with them. Maybe you don’t love them right away, but it’s inevitable that you will.”

This one will speak to all the romantics. It does a wonderful job of presenting the various perspectives throughout and taking the reader on Natasha and Daniel’s journey. I came to really care about these characters and found myself eagerly turning the pages to see where the story would go and what their fate would be. There is an elegance and beauty to Nicola Yoon’s writing, which provides numerous lovely passages and sentences. She not only beautifully conveys the feelings associated with new love, but also with the immigrant experience through both Natasha and Daniel. A truly standout novel, which has made Nicola Yoon a must-read author for me.

“Maybe part of falling in love with someone else is also falling in love with yourself.”

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

img_3051“To the boys who get called girls,
the girls who get called boys,
and those who live outside these words.
To those called names,
and those searching for names of their own.
To those who live on the edges, 
and in the spaces in between.
I wish for you every light in the sky.”

What a wonderful way for an author to introduce a novel. When the Moon Was Ours is a magical realism novel that tells the story of love and friendship between Miel and Sam. Miel is an outcast who fell out of a water tower when she was five years old, and roses grow out of her wrist. Sam is a young trans boy, struggling with his identity, and known for painting moons and hanging them in trees. We are taken on a journey through their personal struggles and stories, which are expressed through beautiful writing.

There is a very whimsical and dream-like quality to this novel, which is absolutely lovely and reminded me why I adore stories with magical realism. The characters are compelling and the way in which the author tackles different social issues along with those surrounding identity is effective, relatable, and ultimately very powerful. There are moments throughout the early sections that are a little confusing and hard to follow, however once I got into the flow of the story it became quite engaging. A truly beautiful novel I recommend for anyone who enjoys magical realism.

*ARC provided by NetGalley. Publication date: October 4, 2016.

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

IMG_2693Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They’re gonna come and eat you all.
Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.
Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They’re gonna come and eat you all!

First in what is set to be a duology, This Savage Song is the new YA fantasy from the very talented Victoria Schwab. August Flynn and Kate Harker are on opposite sides of a divided city during a time when violence creates actual monsters. Kate’s father leads by allowing monsters to roam free and protects those who are able to pay for it. Kate is intent on proving herself to her father and showing him that she can lead and follow in his footsteps. August is one of the Sunai, a monster who looks human but is able to steal souls through music, which is part of his nature that he greatly struggles with, wanting nothing more than to be human. When Kate is sent back home to attend the local school, August is assigned to enrol in order to keep an eye on her as the tensions between the two sides of the city are rising.

A fun read with a great concept, This Savage Song is thoroughly enjoyable. It is well written and very easy to sink into, with descriptions and dialogue that flow with ease. I especially appreciate that it is not a story that relies on typical tropes found in YA novels with romantic entanglements and complications. In fact, there is no romantic component, which is a refreshing change. I did find that the novel lacked a certain depth, particularly when it came to exploring this world and questions of good vs. evil and right vs. wrong. As a result I wasn’t as invested in the story as much as I would have liked. However, it is a fun and easy read that provides a nice little escape, and perfectly sets up the next part of the story that is to come in the second and final instalment.

The Rose & the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh

IMG_1889“That is not the way of it. Your future is not set in stone, my dearest star. A coin turns on itself a number of times before it lands.”

The Rose & the Dagger is a satisfying conclusion to the adventurous and romantic story of The Wrath & the Dawn duology.  Starting from where the first book left off, Shahrzad is reunited with her family at a camp in the desert, surrounded by those who are planning an attack on Khalid and his kingdom.  With a war on the horizon and a curse that may keep her away from Khalid forever, Shahrzad must harness her own power in an effort to put an end to it all.

The Wrath & the Dawn was such an enjoyable read and its follow up delivers a story with the same humour, sharpness, and interesting characters.  What makes this such an exceptional series is the quality of the writing with which the characters, the scenery, and the action are brought to life.  As was the case with the first book, I did feel the plot could have moved along a little faster at times, however it was still an engaging and thoroughly enjoyable read.  There is something about the world that Ahdieh has created that is undeniably charming.

“It was easy to be good and kind in times of plenty. The trying times were the moments that defined a man.  And love?  Love was something that did much to change a person.  It brought joy as it brought suffering, and in turn brought about those moments that defined one’s character.  Love gave life to the lifeless.  It was the greatest of all living powers.  But, as with all things, love had a dark side to it.”