The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand | A Review

Elin Hilderbrand’s latest novel The Perfect Couple follows the story of Celeste and Benji whose Nantucket wedding is suddenly cancelled after the maid of honor is discovered dead in the ocean. Throughout the course of the novel, we get a glimpse into the investigation into her death. We also learn more about the progression of Celeste and Benji’s relationship as well as their starkly different backgrounds, with Benji coming from wealth and Celeste coming from more humble beginnings. On the outside looking in, Benji and Celeste appear to be the perfect couple. But appearances can be deceiving!

34840184.jpg

Going into this book, based on the cover and the author’s reputation for writing beach reads, I expected a ridiculously light and easy read with a fun storyline. I expected the writing to focus more on being summery and fast, and less on creating well-developed characters and themes. And then finally I started reading, and once again, the idea to not judge a book by its cover and to not be a total book snob was reinforced for me. Truly, this is a well-written novel with intriguing, multi-faceted characters and a storyline that slowly and masterfully works its way toward revealing the mystery in a surprising and satisfying manner.

Though the mystery is compelling, what makes this book enjoyable is really its characters. The bride, Celeste, is unique. She is a biology “geek” and the assistant director at the Bronx Zoo. She also has an incredibly tight-knit relationship with her parents, which is both sweet and odd at times (she calls her mother Betty!). And her inexperience with relationships and friendships, and her anxieties and insecurities, manifest themselves in interesting ways and behaviors. And Benji, the groom, is insanely wealthy and is quite taken by Celeste’s quirks and her humble background. But The Perfect Couple does not dwell on Benji and Celeste. The various other characters, including the police officers investigating the murder, along with the bride’s and groom’s family members and friends, are all given a fair amount of the story, keeping it fast-paced and dynamic.

The Perfect Couple is, in fact, the perfect beach read, reminding me that just because something’s a beach read doesn’t make it all fluff and no substance! It has the perfect balance of all the elements you look for in a beach read. It has beachy imagery with its descriptions of Nantucket. It has mystery with its exploration into the cause of the maid of honor’s death. And, of course, there is romance, with the characters’ various complicated relationships and affairs.

Rating: 4/5

Check out The Perfect Couple on GoodReads.

 

Advertisements

3 Quick Graphic Novel Reviews

The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne & Veronica Fish (Illustrations)

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 8.24.56 AM.png

This graphic novel puts a unique and dark spin on the story of Peter Pan and Neverland. It tells the story of 16-year-old Wendy who’s little brother recently died in a car accident. To cope with his death, she imagines that he was taken to Neverland to live in a perpetual state of childhood with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.

The Wendy Project, for being so short, packs quite a punch. Firstly, the artwork is stunning, with its vivid and strategically added pops of colors. Much of the story is displayed in black and white, so when splashes of color are added, they add significance to the story and highlight the distinction between the real world and the fairytale realm.

On the surface, the story is about a young girl who is caught between two worlds: reality and Neverland. But truly, it’s a story about dealing with grief for the first time and coming to terms with a devastating loss. The Wendy Project is heartbreaking, dreamlike, and creatively told, and it’s a perfect quick read for fans of fairytale retellings.

Luisa: Now and Then by Carole Maurel, adapted by Mariko Tamaki

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 8.25.11 AM.png

This graphic novel, adapted from French, tells the story of Luisa in the present day, where she encounters her 15-year-old self. The story details Luisa’s interactions with her younger self, who is unsure of how she was transported into the future. It also details her growing attraction to her female neighbor. Now, in her thirties, she is finally forced to confront not only her attraction to women, but also her dissatisfaction with her career.

Luisa: Now and Then is a light, breezy read, as it takes us on a tour of the character’s Parisian neighborhood. It’s also a humorous read, as Luisa constantly butts heads with her younger self and as the situation starts to take a turn into Freaky Friday territory and the characters begin to switch attributes. It’s also comical to see young Luisa with her nineties-style clothing and her nineties-style interests. And with the story’s lightness comes an important learning experience for Luisa, as she eventually begins to make her way toward self-acceptance.

Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll (Illustrations)

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 8.25.27 AM.png

Laurie Halse Anderson’s 1997 novel, Speak, has worked its way to becoming a modern classic and a staple in high school assigned reading. Speak is a poignant story about a high school freshman named Melinda who’s been outcasted by her classmates and friends after calling the cops on a party. Melinda’s internal struggle is heartbreaking, as only we, the readers, know that Melinda called the cops after being raped by an upperclassman and one of the most popular boys in school.

This graphic novel adaptation tells the same story but in a different medium and through a visual lens. And just like the original novel, this version captures Melinda’s inner battle to accept that what happened to her was not her fault. And Emily Carroll’s haunting illustrations serve to complement Melinda’s dispirited and disheartened state of mind. Because Melinda does not speak, much of what she is experiencing comes through in her expressions, in her surroundings, and in her artwork – all of which are especially brought to life here, in the graphic novel. This is a must-read for anyone who read and was impacted by the original work.

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli | A Review

Leah on the Offbeat is the sequel to Becky Albertalli’s Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. In Leah on the Offbeat, we learn more about Simon’s best friend Leah Burke as she navigates her senior year in high school. The book hones in on her relationship with her mother, her friendship with Simon, conflicts among her friend group, as well as her struggle to come out to her friends as bisexual.

unnamed-2

In my review of Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, I mentioned that I didn’t get a good sense of Leah’s character. I found her interesting but felt her complexities were largely unexplored. Fortunately, she really comes to life in Leah on the Offbeat. We get a closer look at her romantic life, her relationship with her young single mother, her interests in art and drumming, along with her humorous outlook on life. I found myself smiling and giggling so many times at all of her comical observations and commentaries about herself and the people around her. The deadpan sarcasm and dry humor Simon talks about in book one is actually put on display in the sequel.

Another thing in book one that I felt was lacking was the closeness between Simon and Leah. We’re told that they’re best friends, but it feels like they’re hardly even acquaintances. Their relationship is more fully developed here. The fact that they’re best friends is apparent in the way that they’re there for one another in times of crisis and in their witty banter. It’s also interesting to see that Simon’s interpretation of Leah’s feelings towards Abby and Nick were not necessarily accurate in book one. It goes to show that first person narrators are not always reliable when it comes to other characters’ feelings.

What threw me off in this book is that Nick and Simon don’t quite feel the same as they did in book one. Simon seems goofier, and Nick seems less cool, calm, and collected. I would have liked to see more consistency with these characters, because part of what was so exciting about reading the sequel was getting to hang out with them again after growing attached to them in book one.

Another thing I loved about book one was the storyline. The mystery behind learning who Blue is and the process of getting to know Blue’s life through his emails added an extra layer to the story. This book, on the other hand, feels pretty aimless at points and likes it’s going nowhere. It just feels like it’s missing something. And Leah’s incessant whining can become grating at times. She can also be pretty judgmental.

Also, the  ending brushes over a major conflict between Leah and a friend. At the end of the novel, the book skips ahead in time and barely addresses the conflict. It feels like a cop out, and I think it sends a weird message about not properly communicating with friends when there’s an issue.

If I had to choose, I would say I preferred Simon’s story, simply because his book feels more complete. While this book doesn’t have quite the same impact as the first one, it’s still ultimately worth reading. Leah’s relentless and often times self-deprecating humor and her hilariously wonderful way with words had me giggling throughout. And just like Simon, this book offers young readers lessons about compassion and acceptance, while still remaining funny and light-hearted. And along with Leah’s personality and her friendship with Simon coming to life, what makes Leah on the Offbeat special is the way it captures the drama of being a teenager, when everything feels monumental, life changing, exciting and scary all at the same time.

Rating: 3.5/5

Check out Leah on the Offbeat on GoodReads.

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus | A Review

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus is a YA mystery about four high school students whose lives are forever changed after they witness their classmate die. It happens when the five students meet in detention, with each student representing a different high school stereotype. There’s the brain, the beauty, the criminal, and the athlete. And finally, there’s Simon, the outcast, who dies suddenly and who also happens to run a gossip app. When police find his unpublished post revealing the four surviving students’ secrets, the students become murder suspects and we’re left wondering: who’s telling the truth and who’s lying?

unnamed

Firstly, I love the throwback vibes to The Breakfast Club, particularly in the beginning of the novel when the students first meet in detention and acknowledge their different places on the social hierarchy. And throughout the rest of the novel, The Breakfast Club vibes sort of fade, giving way to a distinct Gossip Girl vibe, particularly with Simon’s malicious app playing with people’s lives. With these tributes to old favorites, the book strikes a sort of nostalgic and sentimental chord for me.

When the media catches on about the alleged murder of Simon, the four students are forced to come together to find out what truly happened on that day in detention. As a result, we get a glimpse into their work as amateur sleuths. The armchair detective work the students do together is just plain fun to read!

Moreover, the subplots aside from the murder/whodunit plot make this dynamic and more than just a thriller. The fact that it’s a YA book where the characters face real life obstacles in their social, family, and romantic lives, make this a coming-of-age story as well. And seeing the camaraderie develop between the four suspects is not only entertaining, but also a great lesson in breaking down barriers and seeing beyond labels. The four would not have come together otherwise, but when circumstances sort of force them to, they realize how unnecessary and limiting cliques truly are. In this way, McManus is able to create three-dimensional characters who are not bound by stereotypes.

Although One of Us Is Lying is a unique and all around compelling YA mystery, there are points where it drags and sort of strays too far away from the main story. Specifically, there are points where it feels more like a fluffy romance and where it’s like it doesn’t know whether it wants to be a light rom/com or a dark thriller.

Also, this was another thriller with a “twist” ending that you’ll likely see coming from a mile away. In fact, when it came time for the big reveal, I hardly reacted at all. When so much of a thriller’s enjoyability relies on the unexpectedness of the twist, it’s important that the ending not be SO obvious.

If you can get past the lackluster ending, One of Us Is Lying is perfect for readers looking for a YA mystery that also explores social dynamics in high school and offers a significant romantic subplot.

Rating: 3.5/5

Check out One of Us is Lying on GoodReads.

The Wife by Alafair Burke | A Review

The Wife by Alafair Burke is a domestic thriller about a woman named Angela who is the wife of a successful bestselling author and economics professor. When her husband is accused of sexual harassment by a college intern, and then shortly after, of an even more abhorrent crime toward another woman, Angela is forced to question whether she truly knows the man she married. She also must grapple with unwanted media attention as she tries to keep her tragic past a secret.

unnamed-1.jpg

What makes The Wife so engaging is its state as both a psychological thriller and a crime novel. Along with becoming ensnared in Angela’s psychological battle, we become entangled in a legal battle as well. And because the author has served as a Deputy District Attorney and has specialized in domestic violence crimes, the legal details of the novel feel authentic. All the little complexities that go into gathering evidence for a case are fascinating. And we also get a glimpse into the thought process behind a defense attorney’s decisions, which is equally fascinating.

This novel offers multiple perspectives. We get the first person point of view from Angela, the wife, and the third person point of view from the detective involved in the case, Detective Corrine Duncan. The switch in POVs works to keep readers feeling wary, as we attempt to determine who can and can’t be trusted.

Personally, I really grew to love Detective Duncan. She has this funny and honest, yet subdued way about her that made her parts my favorite. I especially enjoyed her banter with ADA Brian King.

One thing that really hindered my enjoyment of the novel was that I guessed the major twist pretty early on. Therefore, there was no “wow” factor for me. Though I can’t help but wonder: did I guess correctly because the novel is predictable or is this simply a testament to my reading too many thrillers lately? I think it might be the latter! And there were a couple of other twists that did catch me by surprise.

My other gripe is that one particular aspect of the mystery was not fully revealed or resolved, and if it was, it went over my head.

While the ending is slightly dissatisfying, overall, The Wife is relevant, totally captivating and can be devoured in a couple of sittings. One of this novel’s greatest strengths is its topical exploration of the dynamics of the #metoo movement, in addition to the way mass media/social media functions today to serve the public with instant gratification,

My Rating: 3/5

Check out The Wife on GoodReads.

Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli | A Review

Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is a YA novel about a 16-year-old theatre kid named Simon, who finds himself being blackmailed by the class clown, Martin. When Martin finds Simon’s private romantic emails between him and another male classmate, Martin threatens to reveal Simon’s sexual identity if he doesn’t help to bring him closer to his beautiful friend Abby. As Simon worries about being outed before he’s ready, he continues to become close to the mysterious “Blue” through their flirtatious email exchanges.

unnamedDespite the enormous popularity of this book, I honestly hadn’t heard of it up until very recently, when I saw that the recent movie adaptation, Love, Simon, received positive reviews. But before seeing the movie, I thought I’d pick up the book, and I don’t regret it! Despite it being cliche and a little sappy, it’s an all around fast and fun read with a good message.

What makes this book so readable is its narrator. Simon is so charming and likable that you can’t help but root for him, even when he makes mistakes or says the wrong thing. Through his witty and playful narration, we get to know him quite well. We understand his anxieties, his relationship with his family, his passions, and even his taste in music!

Unfortunately, characters outside of Simon are underdeveloped. His lifelong best friend, Nick, is just kind of there. We don’t learn a whole lot about him besides the fact that he plays guitar. And his other closest friend, Leah, is so intriguing, yet she’s hardly explored. Simon refers to her as moody and sarcastic but, like Nick, she’s basically just there. For Nick and Leah supposedly being so close to Simon, they feel like a couple of cardboard cut-outs. While I’m looking forward to reading Leah on the Offbeat, I also feel like I shouldn’t have to pick up the sequel to get a good sense of an important character.

On top of the one-dimensional side characters, the storyline, although fun, is unoriginal. The idea of someone being blackmailed in exchange for help with one’s love life has surely been done before.  Also, there’s lots of great build up/anticipation before Blue’s identity is revealed, but then, when he’s finally introduced, it feels rushed. The in-person romance happens abruptly and a little too easily.

What redeems this novel is how genuine and warm it is. The overall feel of the story remains upbeat and hopeful. Also, aside from being a joy to read, the book offers valuable lessons for its young readers. It touches on heavier subject matters, like bullying and homophobia. And it questions why certain “types” of people are often considered the default in our society.

All in all, Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is a young adult novel that’s worth your time. While lacking some character development, it remains a sweet, funny, profound, and all around enjoyable read.

Rating: 4/5

Check Out Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda on GoodReads.

Top 5 Wednesday: Summer Reads

118368

This week’s Top Five Wednesday topic is summer reads. Here are a few of my summer reading recommendations!

1. Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

36336078

I recently read this and I can’t stop thinking about it! The book takes place over the course of a summer in northern Italy. Not only is the setting gorgeous, but the exquisite language and the harrowing love story will sweep you off your feet and into Elio’s world.

2. Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

24727094-1

In this coming-of-age graphic novel, Maggie recounts her summer at Camp Bellflower when she was 15 years old, and when she fell for another girl, her camp counselor. The story captures the summery feel of going to camp as a kid, along with the excitement/anxiety that comes with developing your first crush.

3. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

20525628-1.jpg

Teenager Johanna goes through a series of successes and heartbreaks as she butts heads with her eccentric family and navigates the cutthroat world of music journalism. If you’re a fan of British humor and/or the 90s music scene, this is the perfect summer read for you.

4. Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

16074758-1

A group of high school seniors spend their spring break in Aruba, where the protagonist, Anna, finds herself being accused of something terrible by friends, media, and law enforcement. This unpredictable YA mystery is great if you’re a fan of psychological thrillers and you want something you can fly through.

5. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

5664985-1

After her parents’ divorce, Auden spends her summer at her father’s beach house, where she meets and gets to know a boy named Eli. Just about any Sarah Dessen book is perfect for summer, as they all take place at the beach, where the protagonist finds romance and goes through a period of self-discovery.

 

I’m looking forward to discovering a new batch of favorites this summer! Any recommendations?