Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

From the Trade Paperback editionNaomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Published by Ember, an imprint of Random House

Naomi and Ely have been best friends almost their whole lives. They have been through a lot together, and although Naomi is in love with Ely, Ely loves Naomi in a platonic way, since he prefers to fall in love with boys. So they create a “No Kiss List” of people neither of them are allowed to kiss, which is working just fine until Ely kisses Naomi’s boyfriend Bruce. Bruce, who they neglected to put on the list. And this one kiss has serious consequences for their friendship.

The best way that I can think of to describe this book is cute. It is a fun concept, cute characters, and the resolution is satisfying if a bit predictable. I liked the characters, although I have to admit they frustrated me to some extent. The whole in-love-with-my-gay-best-friend thing got annoying after a while, especially since Naomi has always known he was gay, it’s not that he suddenly told her after she’d already fallen for him. And Ely kissing her boyfriend – that was obnoxious. I guess it was the whole point of the story, but still… he wasn’t even sorry he did it! That bothered me a bit.

But you know what, I enjoyed this book while I was reading it. And one thing I especially liked was that it was much more a book about friendship than about teen romance, which is refreshing to see. While this book isn’t one of my favorite YA novels, I have high hopes for the Rachel Cohn/David Levithan combination and will probably eventually read the rest of their books. I liked the concept of this book, and the characters are cute but annoying… so overall, I’d say Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List was just okay for me.

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

From the Hardcover editionEvery Last One by Anna Quindlen
Published by Random House

Mary Beth has the life she’s always dreamed of. She still loves her husband, and she deeply enjoys being a mom to their three teenagers, Ruby, the eldest, and their twin sons, Alex and Max. When one of her sons becomes depressed, Mary Beth uses every tool at her dispense to help him the best she possibly can. But Mary Beth’s perfect life is shattered to the core when an act of violence blindsides her and changes everything.

This is a difficult book to summarize because there is a huge event smack dab in the middle of the novel that changes its direction completely. I don’t want to give anything away, because I was blindsided by what happened (although I knew something happened, just had no idea what) and that is important, I believe, for this book. So don’t read any spoiler-y reviews if you plan to read the novel yourself!

I like Anna Quindlen. I have read almost all of her novels at this point, and they all have one thing in common: great characterization. I love how she writes flawed people who the reader still can’t help but root for. That was definitely true in this case – Mary Beth could be any one of us, and in fact I think a lot of mothers will see themselves in her. Heck, I saw myself in certain aspects of her personality and I am not a mother! Her marriage is realistic, her children seem like regular teenagers with all their teen drama but the good stuff that comes with having teenagers at home, and she is just plain likable.

I can definitely recommend Every Last One, but it will make you cry. I would say that this is probably one of Quindlen’s better novels and I can absolutely suggest you read it.

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan
Published by Candlewick Press

Sixteen-year-old Rosalinda Fitzroy is awoken from a sixty-two years-long sleep (known as stasis) when she is awoken to a world she knows nothing about. Her parents died during the horrific Dark Times, leaving Rose heiress to the biggest interplanetary empire that exists. But Rose is overwhelmed and terrified by the new world she finds herself in. She’s weak and frail from being in stasis for so long, and she doesn’t know who in her parents’ company she can actually trust. She finds herself falling for the boy who woke her up and becoming friends with the strange blue alien at her school, as he is an outcast just like Rose. She must adjust quickly to her new surroundings, though, because things are not what they seem and someone is searching for Rose with a deadly weapon – so she must uncover the mysteries of her past in order to move on with her future.

A Long, Long Sleep is novel constructed around a very interesting concept – the idea (inspired by Sleeping Beauty, according to Sheehan) that a person could literally sleep her entire life away and wake up to a whole different world – that, in my opinion, really delivered on this unique concept. This is a book that doesn’t fit neatly into one genre. It has aspects of science fiction, it is kind of dystopian, it is a twist on a fairy tale, it has a hint of romance… yet it all comes together seamlessly and really doesn’t need to fit into a specific genre to be successful.

The most compelling aspect of A Long, Long Sleep is Rose herself. She is a person who has been completely dependent upon her parents for her entire life, so to wake up to a world without them in it was shocking for her, to say the least. She was an interesting character because she had moments of feistyness and bravery and extreme intelligence, yet overall she was such a passive, compliant person because that’s who her parents raised her to be. So I quite enjoyed her journey over the course of the novel as she became the mature, independent, and spunky young adult/adult she should have been the whole time.

As far as the story itself and the world Sheehan created, I was definitely on board with everything. The story itself was believable and the world was not so out-there that it didn’t seem remotely possible. Possible in the very distant future, at least. The events toward the end of the novel shocked me and the ending definitely had me reeling. Let’s just say that Sheehan hooked me with this one and I was desperate to find out how it all turned out… and I loved what she did with the ending.

I read this novel as an audiobook and the narrator, Angela Dawe, is a voice I’ve heard before and really loved. She did an excellent job with A Long, Long Sleep and I can absolutely recommend experiencing this book in audio format.

One other thing – readers will be shocked to learn that this is NOT a trilogy! To be honest, this is one of the first YA books in a while that I’ve seen that doesn’t have a major cliffhanger ending because of a planned trilogy. Sheehan could definitely take this same world and characters and write another book, but there is a clear ending to this one. It was refreshing to see that, to say the least.

I enjoyed A Long, Long Sleep quite a bit. Definitely recommended!

The Slap by Chris Tsiolkas

The Slap by Chris Tsiolkas
Published by Penguin

This is a novel that revolves around a single incident: a man slaps another couple’s child at a barbecue. The book is told from the perspective of eight individuals who were present that day, and it is an examination of how one event can have far-reaching consequences.

The fact that I read The Slap is a perfect example of how awesome book blogs are. I wouldn’t have even heard of the book, except for the fact that Raych’s review intrigued me so much that I requested it from the library. And before I say anything else, I highly encourage you to read what Raych has to say on this one, because she is clever and hysterical and eloquent and completely right on every single thing she says about The Slap.

As for my own two cents, I was beyond impressed with this novel. The way that Tsiolkas forces the reader to get inside the minds of so many different people with differing perspectives on what happened and why it happened is amazing. I found myself agreeing with one person, and then the chapter would be over and five minutes later I was nodding in agreement with someone else completely.

These characters are so well-written that they are real people, or at least they were to me. I loved some and hated others. But even the ones that I hated, I still felt a measure of sympathy for them. And the beauty of the novel is, like Raych said, not every reader will love and hate the same characters – it depends on who you are. And the book made me think, in the way that I couldn’t stop turning it over in my brain for days after I finished it. Tsiolkas is extremely talented, and clever to a serious degree. He is just good.

Highly recommended! Read it. And then come back and tell me what you think so we can discuss.

Outside the Lines by Amy Hatvany

Outside the LinesOutside the Lines by Amy Hatvany
Published by Washington Square Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Eden had always worshiped her father, even though his bouts of mania and depression scared and confused her as a child. But when she was ten years old, he attempted suicide which prompted her mother to finally file for divorce. Eden’s mother got remarried to a wonderful man, and Eden only heard from her father (David) a few more times in the twenty years since. Now Eden is in her early thirties, and decides to search for her father so she can forgive him and move on with her life. But Eden’s search for David reveals many painful truths, secrets her mother kept from her as well as the reality of the life David is living now. Eden must decide how far she’s willing to go in order to find the man who abandoned her so many years before.

I read and loved Hatvany’s Best Kept Secret [my review] so it was pretty much a no-brainer that I’d be interested in reading whatever she wrote next. Outside the Lines definitely had to live up to some high expectations that I’d set for it, and I’m happy to say that I enjoyed this novel almost as much as I expected to.

Although I think Best Kept Secret is the better of the two books, Outside the Lines has a lot going for it as well. Eden is a compelling and believable main character and I really felt for her. Her father’s bipolar disorder made for a very traumatic childhood for Eden, and while she grew up into an incredibly intelligent, talented, and driven young woman, the memories from her younger years were never far away in her mind. And although her father failed her on so many levels, she still loved him and wanted him in her life. I sympathized with her a great deal and wanted things to work out well for her – I kept hoping that she would reunite with her father and he would be miraculously cured and they could live happily ever after.

Of course, Outside the Lines is too realistic for such a sappy, implausible ending such as the one I described above, but I do think that Hatvany did a good job balancing the reality of the situation Eden was in with the best possible outcome for her. While I didn’t love everything about the events toward the end of the novel, I think Hatvany wrapped things up in the most realistic, yet still hopeful, way she could have.

What is interesting about this novel is that Hatvany chose to tell it from the perspectives of both Eden and her father, David. David’s point of view was especially intriguing because the reader absolutely wants to shake him for the way he behaves and the things he says around his young daughter, yet there’s a huge element of sympathy for him as well. Mental illness is not a pretty thing, and for a young child to have to experience it is horrible, but what David was going through was just as terrifying and scary for him. It was fascinating to read about how this disorder really broke David down and turned him into a shell of his former self, and to read it firsthand from David’s perspective was even more fascinating.

I really liked Outside the Lines. Hatvany did an excellent job following up the fabulous Best Kept Secret with this novel. This isn’t the easiest of reads emotionally, just because bipolar disorder is not the most pleasant of subjects to read about, but the novel is worth the emotionalĀ roller coasterĀ it takes the reader on. Recommended.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
Published by Harper Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins
Review copy provided by the publisher in conjunction with TLC Book Tours

Every morning Christine wakes up and has no memories of her life whatsoever. She doesn’t even know her own name. The one person she can count on is her husband Ben, who every morning reminds her of who she is and gives her details of their life together. But when she begins seeing a therapist who recommends that she keep a journal, she begins to see inconsistencies in what Ben tells her on a daily basis. The one person who she can rely on may in fact be lying to her, and the only way to find out is to investigate this on her own.

Before I Go to Sleep isn’t exactly a thriller, but it does have that creepy/things are not what they seem vibe to it. To go into this book expecting a thrill ride would be a mistake, because it’s much quieter than your typical thriller – but to be honest, I was kept at the edge of my seat almost the entire time I was reading this novel. From the first page, I was sucked into Christine’s life and desperate for answers, just as she was. It’s clear from the very beginning of the book that someone is not telling the truth to Christine, and I was absolutely frantic to find out what was really going on – I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

What was strange for me about Before I Go to Sleep is that since the main character doesn’t really know herself, it’s difficult for the reader to get to know her. Despite that, I found myself drawn to Christine. Although I knew very little about her life – only the little she knew, or thought she knew – I felt a deep sympathy for what she was going through and I truly cared about her finding out the truth. I can’t say that I felt a real connection with her character, it was more that I cared for her at arm’s length, but still I did care for her and wanted desperately for things to work out in her favor. I was so hoping that this memory loss thing would be temporary and that one day, she would wake up and suddenly begin remembering things again.

I have to say that the twists in this novel were appropriately placed and I at least did not see most of them coming. When all is said and done, the ending wasn’t exactly perfect – actually, it was a little too perfect, which makes it not my favorite – but I was still very happy with the book overall. I loved the pacing of the novel and I was fully invested in it as I was reading. Before I Go to Sleep was a book that I simply couldn’t put down and one that I would absolutely recommend.

The Bungalow by Sarah Jio

The BungalowThe Bungalow by Sarah Jio
Published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin
Review copy provided by the publisher

Anne Calloway is newly engaged but has bigger dreams for herself than being a wife and mother at the age of twenty-one. So with her nursing degree in hand, she sets off to the island of Bora-Bora to serve in the Army Nurse Corps to do her part for the Second World War. Although she loves her fiance back home, she befriends an intriguing soldier named Westry, and quickly their friendship develops into something deeper. In an abandoned bungalow on the beach, they are able to love one another in peace, until Westry is redeployed and Anne is forced to return home to her fiance. Seventy years later, she returns to Bora-Bora to find the love she thought she lost all those years ago.

I highly enjoyed Jio’s debut novel, The Violets of March [my review] so I was thrilled to read The Bungalow as soon as I could get my hands on it. While the two books are very different, The Bungalow definitely stood up to the expectations I had for it, and it was just as enjoyable as Jio’s first novel.

This is a story about a love that stands the test of time. It is a story about the most epic kind of epic love – two people who love each other for decades, even though neither person knows if the other is even alive, let alone still reciprocating that love. Jio did an excellent job making me believe in Anne and Westry’s relationship – it started slowly as a friendship, they began to trust each other at a deeper level, and then once they really showed their love I was right there with them, completely believing what I was reading. It was clear from the beginning that Anne was not in love with the man she had back home, so when someone as gorgeous and sweet as Westry came around, it was bound to happen. But for their love to stand the test of time, that was the really magical part.

The majority of the novel takes place on the beautiful island of Bora-Bora, and Jio truly shows the reader what living on this island is all about. I could see the clear blue sky, smell the salty sea air, feel the sunshine on my face, and hear the sounds of life on an Army base as I was reading this novel. The talent Jio has for creating a sense of place is showcased quite clearly in The Bungalow.

The Bungalow is an incredibly sweet story of the kind of love that most of us only hope for. Anne and Westry are wonderful characters that crept into my heart, and Jio’s descriptions of life on the island of Bora-Bora were the icing on the cake for me. The Bungalow is a beautiful novel that I really and truly enjoyed.