Review | The Secret History of Us by Jessi Kirby

Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: 24th July 2017 

 

Gorgeously written and emotionally charged, The Secret History of Us explores the difficult journey of a teenage girl who must piece her life together after losing her memory in a near-fatal accident.

When Olivia awakes in a hospital bed following a car accident that almost took her life, she can’t remember the details about how she got there. She figures the fog is just a symptom of being in a week-long coma, but as time goes on, she realizes she’s lost more than just the last several days of her life—she’s lost her memory of the last four years. Gone is any recollection of starting or graduating high school; the prom; or her steady boyfriend Matt. Trying to figure out who she is feels impossible when everyone keeps telling her who she was. 

As Liv tries to block out what her family and friends say about who she used to be, the one person she hasn’t heard enough from is Walker, the guy who saved her the night her car was knocked off that bridge into the bay below. Walker is the hardened boy who’s been keeping his distance—and the only person Olivia inexplicably feels herself with. With her feelings growing for Walker, tensions rising with Matt, and secrets she can’t help but feel are being kept from her, Olivia must find her place in a life she doesn’t remember living.

A quick, breezy read that I need every now and then to escape reality.

The story follows Liv, who miraculously survives a fatal car accident but has lost her memory of the last four years of her life. Her journey to recovery after the accident made me question how I would react if I woke up with the realisation that I’d lost the last 4 years of my life and whether I’m happy with the person I am today. After creating a quick summary of things I would change vs things I would like to remain the same, it turns out if I were to lose the last 4 years of my memory, there are definitely things in my life that I would do differently.

The message I took from The Secret History of Us is that we shouldn’t care about what other people thinks of us or what society expects us to do. Do what you want.

“You gotta go with what seems right to you, not what you think you should be doing because it’s what you’ve been told. You’re allowed to change. We all are.”

We spend half our lives living in fear that we’ll get judged for doing something unconventional or un-us. But who cares about what other people think? Life is short, do what you want for yourself.

Jessi Kirby continues to be on my list of authors to look out for every year. I can’t wait for her future books!

3 Reasons Why ‘All The Bright Places’ Wasn’t My Cup of Tea

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All The Bright Places
by Jennifer Niven
Published by Penguin Australia 
on January 6th 2015

As soon as I saw the cover and read the quote “This is the next Fault in our Stars” I had a feeling All the Bright Places wouldn’t be my cup of tea. I should probably listen to my gut feeling more often haha. While I didn’t find All the Bright Places life-changing or soul-crushing – in fact, I found one third of the book particularly boring – I’ll admit that the last one hundred pages were rather memorable and I would highly recommend it to my friends/anyone who liked The Fault in our Stars i.e. 99% of the population but definitely not me.

The main reasons why All the Bright Places didn’t work for me

  • Couldn’t connect with the characters

This is a it’s not you it’s me thing, but I felt there was no intimacy between me as the reader and the characters I’m reading about, and that’s a very serious issue for me. If I can’t connect with the characters on any level, then there’s no point in continuing with the book.

The story is told from alternating perspectives of Finch and Violet, an approach that was executed terribly. I couldn’t distinguish between the two voices as they sounded exactly the same. On more than one occasion, I started reading a new chapter thinking it was from Violet/Finch’s perspective, only to later realise that it was actually from the other character’s POV. Violet and Finch had the same dull voice and that truly frustrated me as a reader.

  • The characters didn’t have chemistry

Violet and Finch had no chemistry, in my opinion. I realise this is probably a result of feeling disconnected from the characters and the storyline, but the fact remains: I didn’t feel any chemistry, which made it infinitely more difficult for me to root for them.

  • The constant references to dead poets and statistics

I’ve always hated poetry. I can’t wrote poetry nor can I analyse them. I’m sure there are readers out there who appreciated the references to dead poets and the death related statistics, but I wasn’t one of them. It ruined the flow of the story for me because I had no interest in the information and skipped most of it.

I considered giving up after 100 pages but forced myself to continue reading because I make it a point to always finish books that I paid for. (Otherwise I’d feel like my money was wasted) . I ended up skimming almost 260 pages until FINALLY after page 260, Mr Embryos/Finch semi-explained what was wrong with him. As soon as I discovered Finch’s possible ‘diagnosis’ – or since Finch hates labels so much, the possible explanation for his erratic and uncontrollable behaviour – I developed a newfound interest in the book. I wanted to know more about Finch and what this illness could do to a person if untreated.

As I mentioned before, the last 100 pages were extremely memorable; Finch’s condition was heartbreaking and I wished someone had noticed what he had been going through for so long. I didn’t understand how everyone just brushed off his behaviour as “it’s just Finch”, like it’s completely normal for anyone to just up and disappear for months and then come back as if nothing had happened. I didn’t understand how Finch’s older sister Kate was aware that he was away from school for months but didn’t care enough to see what wrong with him? I especially hated Finch’s mum; how could she be completely oblivious to everything that was going on under her roof?

All in all, All the Bright Places wasn’t for me but I would recommend it to all contemporary readers! I think I’ll give Jennifer Niven’s books another go sometime in the future, but I’ll be approaching them with caution and low expectations.

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Review | The Possible by Tara Altebrando

Publisher: Bloomsbury Australia
Release Date: 1st June 2017 

 

Another twisty psychological suspense from the author of The Leaving, where a teen searches for answers about her mother’s dark history, telekinesis, and the power of will.

What if . . . no one knows the truth about you? It’s been thirteen years since Kaylee’s biological mother, Crystal, once infamous for her supposed telekinetic ability, got a life sentence for killing Kaylee’s little brother in a fit of telekinetic rage. Today, Kaylee’s living a normal life with her adoptive parents and almost never thinks of Crystal. Until a woman shows up on Kaylee’s doorstep, asking to interview her for a podcast about her mother. Was the whole telekinesis thing a hoax, or does Crystal have some kind of special powers? Is it possible that Kaylee has them, too? It would certainly explain some of the stranger things that have happened to her over the years. 

What if . . . she did the interview? Met her mother for the first time since the trial? Can her mother prove she can make things happen with her mind? Can Kaylee do the same? And what if she has been doing it, all along? As the podcast begins airing, everyone in Kaylee’s life–everyone in the country–is hearing this dark history and asking questions that even Kaylee has never dared ask herself.

The Possible is a twisty, surprising story, and an exploration of the power of our own minds, the power of will, and how our histories define us . . . or not.


The Possible had an intriguing premise, but failed dismally to deliver. The execution was horrible and the only reason I managed to finish was because the book was short and by skimming ¾ of the book, I managed to finish it in a couple of hours.

The Possible begins with Kaylee getting visited by a reporter, who wants to interview her for a podcast about her biological mum. Her biological mum, who is currently in prison for the murder of Kaylee’s brother, was once ‘famous’ for supposedly possessing telekinetic powers. The storyline essentially revolves around Kaylee investigating whether her mother’s claims of telekinetic powers are true, and simultaneously discovering whether she herself has these supernatural powers.

I’m assuming that the author intended for readers to spend the entire journey guessing whether Kaylee has powers, but I chalked up every single strange incident to coincidence – Altebrando’s storytelling wasn’t convincing enough for me to wonder whether Kaylee had supernatural powers. Her writing was too simple with a lot of “telling” rather than “showing”, and there were too many line breaks that ruined the flow of the story. Kaylee would be in a conversation with her parents, the conversation would quickly and conveniently wrap up, then the story would jump to another scene a few days later. There was no smooth transition between scenes which made it feel like the story was all over the place.

Speaking of Kaylee, it was impossible to like her. She was so self-centred and immature, I honestly would not want to be friends with her in real life. Instead of finding another date or going with friends to prom, she was under the illusion that her unattainable crush would somehow miraculously dump his current girlfriend, who she so kindly nicknamed “Princess Bubblegum”, before prom and would then somehow miraculously notice her and take her to prom even though they’ve never spoken to each other before. I’m usually fine with characters fantasising about their crush, but when they say  stuff like “Yeah, he’ll dump her before prom and then take me” and purposely orchestrate a plan to break them up, then we have a problem.

I believe this story had potential, especially since telekinesis is such an interesting topic. If only the writing was stronger and the characters were more level-headed, memorable and less like… cardboard cut-outs, I would have liked the book a lot more. The pacing could have been slower too, since it read like the author rushed to finish writing the book. All in all, this wasn’t my cup of tea.

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Review | Eliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: 30th May 2017 

 

Eighteen-year-old Eliza Mirk is the anonymous creator of Monstrous Sea, a wildly popular webcomic, but when a new boy at school tempts her to live a life offline, everything she’s worked for begins to crumble.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, smart, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of a popular webcomic called Monstrous Sea. With millions of followers and fans throughout the world, Eliza’s persona is popular. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community. Then Wallace Warland transfers to her school, and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart. With pages from Eliza’s webcomic, as well as screenshots from Eliza’s online forums, this uniquely formatted book will appeal to fans of Noelle Stevenson’s Nimonaand Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.

Eliza and her Monsters is by far, my favourite YA book of 2017. It’s not a spur of the moment decision either – I’ve had a couple days to sit on it and yes, as of June 2017, it’s my favourite 2017 book.

Eliza is the anonymous creator of the world-famous webcomic, Monstrous Sea. For the last 3 years she has, without fail, uploaded new additions to the comic every Friday. She has constantly stressed how consistency and her top-quality work (she would never upload something that she isn’t 100% happy with) is what her fans deserve. This is a sentiment that as a book blogger, I can relate to. Back when I was more active on Shiirleyy’s Bookshelf I was pushing myself to finish at least several books a week so that I would have at least 2-3 reviews up every week. I didn’t want to disappoint the publishers who kindly sent me books, the same way Eliza never wanted to disappoint her fans. I really admire Eliza for singlehandedly creating this virtual empire that stemmed from her passion for drawing. She is a fighter, a fantastic main character but not without her flaws. I felt that Eliza was so absorbed in her online life that she neglected her family, especially her two brothers. Eliza admitted that she didn’t particularly care about her brothers’ games, which was extremely disheartening since they were siblings and her brothers cared deeply for her and knew everything about her internet fame. I am however, happy with how Eliza matured as an older sister towards the end 🙂 

I liked the representation of Eliza’s parents; her parents always thought this Monstrous Sea webcomic was simply a hobby and were supportive but never truly understood the extent of their daughter’s popularity and talent. I remember an interview I read featuring one of Australia’s most famous fashion icons, Margaret Zhang where she shared that even after almost half a decade, her parents were not aware of what she did. I think the representation of Eliza’s parents was rather accurate and while sometimes I wanted to yell at them for not making the effort to open their eyes and see how talented and successful their daughter is, I agreed with their constant nagging for Eliza to leave her room. 

The illustrations were absolutely stunning and I can’t wait to buy myself a copy to stare at all day! Whether you’re a teenager, or an adult, I strongly recommend picking this up. I went through a roller coaster of emotions in the second half of the book. I was on the verge of tears towards the end because it was so emotionally draining and my heart ached for both Eliza and Wallace – who, by the way is an absolute sweetheart!! Eliza and her Monsters sends a strong message of hope and to pursue your passion. Don’t waste your life doing things you loathe, make the most of your life!

 

5 STARS

Review | Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Publisher: Penguin 
Release Date: 5th May 2015  

 

Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.


Two years ago when I read
Saint Anything for the first time, I liked it. Two days ago I decided to re-read it, and upon finishing discovered that I love it. I have since bumped it up from 4 stars to 5 stars. I decided to read Saint Anything again in preparation for Sarah Dessen’s new book Once and for All out in June (not long now!!!!!).

Saint Anything is so raw, so heart-achingly relatable that you have to read it for yourself to understand just how real  it is. Dessen has managed to strategically weave a beautiful story of family, friendship, forgiveness and redemption. I used to like Dessen’s work because I loved the romance in her books, but with Saint Anything, it wasn’t just the romance that hit home. It was the feeling of always being invisible until you find that one person, or group of people that you realise actually see you and get you. Perhaps the reason I was able to connect with Sydney is because I’m still searching for a Layla and/or Mac, but in the meantime, I have Saint Anything to give me hope.

Sydney has always been in the shadows of her older brother, Peyton, someone who is gorgeous, charming, and as Sydney puts it “once you saw Peyton, you couldn’t take your eyes off him.” This is in contrast to Sydney, who is pretty but in that “common-face-pretty” kind of way. She represents all the ordinary girls out there who aren’t striking in any way, who don’t have obvious talents, who just don’t stand out. Perhaps staying unseen is better than getting negative publicity, but sometimes all we want is to be recognised for our achievements, to be seen as an individual or our own person.

“My own life felt flat and sad too much of the time; It was reassuring, somehow, to lose myself in someone else’s.”

The quote above hit home because the reason why I read so many books is to somehow lose myself in someone else’s life. When my life becomes a routine, it feels flat and boring. I’m always craving a new adventure – which is probably why I love travelling so much – but in the meantime when I’m stuck in the same city doing the same things every day, losing myself in books keeps me sane.

“But without them (TV Show characters), the house felt so empty….I;d grown to dread the moment I stepped off the bus after school.”

As an only child, I usually have the entire house to myself when my parents are at work. I used to like it when I was younger, but now? It’s lonely. I always dread going home early on Friday nights because the house is so empty and quiet. If I had it my way, I’d be out every Friday night with friends or family.

Although I’m able to relate to Sydney on so many levels, there was one particular thing that I couldn’t – and it’s largely because my parents listen to me and trust my judgements in people (Thank heavens!)  Sydney never outright told her parents how she felt uncomfortable around Ames ( I would’ve told them straight up or left the house every time he was there). I don’t know how she kept her sanity; I can’t imagine feeling unsafe or terrified of the people living in my own home.

To conclude, please do yourself a favour and read this. Sarah Dessen is a saint for writing this spectacular book and I can’t wait for Once and for All! 

5 STARS