Review | The Opposite of Falling Apart, Micah Good

OppositeOfFallingApartThe Opposite of Falling Apart is a sweet story of friendship and romance. While the main character Brennan and Jonas were certainly attracted to each other, the story felt very much more about them finding comfort and belonging with each other than actually falling in love.

Brennan’s anxiety felt incredibly real — Good does a great job in making us feel just how terrifying it is for Brennan to do seemingly mundane tasks like going to the grocery. I especially love how Good takes us into Brennan’s head whenever she meets Jonas and feels incredibly awkward around him. Even though we as readers can tell that her words and actions aren’t as cringeworthy as she believes, we cringe along with her anyway, because her feelings are real.

Jonas was a bit tougher for me to warm up to, especially as a romantic hero. I found his flirting to be more arrogant than charming, and he was sometimes a jerk to his mom. That being said, I liked how real his PTSD felt whenever he had to get in a car — he lost one of his legs in a car accident, and there’s a scene near the beginning where he had to drive somewhere and almost had a panic attack.

Both teens’ self-consciousness over their respective conditions — Brennan with her anxiety and Jonas with his missing leg — also felt realistic. I love how sensitive Brennan and Jonas were to each other’s needs, and how they often understood what the other was going through even before the other teen was willing to open up about it. For example, Brennan was incredibly self-conscious over her anxiety, and worried that Jonas would judge her if he knew about it, when the truth was that Jonas could sense her worry about certain situations and so he’d do things to make her more comfortable. Brennan also helped Jonas practice walking with his prosthetic leg, and did so in a way that was encouraging but also not pressuring / judging. Both teens are vulnerable in their own ways, and I love how they made each other feel comfortable and accepted for who they are in their entirety, vulnerabilities and all.

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Thank you to Raincoast Books for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review | Of Curses and Kisses (St Rossetta’s Academy 1), Sandhya Menon

OfCursesAndKissesI’m such a huge fan of Sandhya Menon’s Dimple and Rishi series, so when I saw she was doing a contemporary boarding school spin on Beauty and the Beast, I was beyond ready to fall in love with her writing again.

I wanted to get swept away. Unfortunately, I couldn’t lose myself in this story enough to do so.

Of Curses and Kisses had the difficult task of straddling a super fine line between fairy tale and reality, and it didn’t quite succeed in that. It was too much of a realistic contemporary to buy into some of the more fairy tale-ish elements: Grey believing in the family curse and Jaya thinking there’s literally no other option but to marry a family friend she doesn’t love.

But the fairy tale elements were also so integral to the story that it was hard to get super invested in it either as a fully realistic story. For example, I was concerned about the hints of Catelina possibly having an eating disorder because of her heartbreak, but then I’d be pulled out of it by Grey’s worry over dying on his 18th birthday because of the curse. The characters themselves were skeptical of the curse — Jaya insisted it wasn’t true, and Grey knew it was illogical — yet the story took the possibility of Grey’s impending death so seriously that it was hard to figure out how to feel.

Some stories succeed at keeping the reader off-balance in a good way, so that you’re eager to see what the truth turns out to be. Here, I just felt like it was a fancy boarding school story (like Gossip Girl, maybe?) with Beauty and the Beast references crammed in. Even Jaya and Grey’s snowball fight, with its almost frame-by-frame reference to the scene from the Disney movie, made me laugh at the forced parallel rather than get all giddy with the flirtation. And Jaya and her girl classmates descend a long staircase to their dates for a dance, because of course we need that fairy tale glamour.

The ending is really cute and heartwarming, and I like how the curse unfolded in the end. I also enjoyed meeting the cast of characters at the Academy, and can imagine all the forthcoming romances blossoming among them. I just wish this book had had more of the kind of magic that made me full in love so hard with the Dimple and Rishi series.

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Discretion (The Dumonts 1), Karina Halle

DiscretionOk, I admit I picked up Discretion partly because of the cover model with the wavy hair and smouldering eyes. I also wanted an escapist read with lots of luxury, decadence and fantasy.

While there was certainly a lot of wealth and fantastical elements in this story, I found myself disappointed overall.

The thing I did love was all the soap opera-ish drama around Olivier and his wealthy family. The Dumont family is split into two factions: on one side is Olivier, his sister Seraphina and their father. They respect the family legacy of elegance and taste, and want to maintain the quality and integrity of the Dumont brand. On the other side is Olivier’s villainous uncle and his equally cruel cousin Pascal. (Pascal does get a shot of humanity later on, with a sad childhood story involving a guinea pig, but the uncle is clearly beyond redemption.) Their main claim to villainy is wanting to commercialize the Dumont brand, such as adding online shopping options and finding cheaper workarounds to stuff. The uncle also blackmails Olivier about a decade ago, after Olivier does Something Bad.

The family drama is deliciously campy and over-the-top, and honestly, I found it the most entertaining part of the book. The one gripe I have about this plot thread is that when the story begins, Olivier basically agrees to hand over his share of the Dumont company to his uncle in return for the uncle keeping his Big Secret. Given that kind of build-up, I’d expect the Big Secret to be something truly horrendous, or — given that as the romantic hero, Olivier can’t be too irredeemable — at least truly embarrassing. The thing is, the Big Secret doesn’t seem like that big a deal to me. Certainly not worth handing a family business worth millions over without a fight. Olivier is also 20 when he makes this agreement, which, while young, should at least be old enough to know his uncle doesn’t really have that much of a hold over him. The author later tries to explain this further by painting the uncle as some kind of mob boss, and Olivier’s capitulation as a genuine fear for his safety rather than just concern over his family’s reputation, but if that was the case, it should have been more obvious from the beginning.

The romance, sadly, fell short for me. Olivier’s relationship with Sadie felt more like super-lust than even insta-love, and for all that the author told us Sadie and Olivier were in love, I couldn’t really understand why. Both characters also make major life-altering decisions for their relationship, which is fine, but when their connection feels mostly physical, their decisions are a bit hard to believe.

Partly, it may be because I never really warmed to Sadie. She seems super naive and — for all her whining about how poor she is — also super privileged. While reading this book, I realized that I’m tired of the trope of ‘poor American student’ who somehow can afford to travel around Europe and leave behind her real life for a full month with no consequence. It’s a fairly common romance trope, so this is not the author or the book’s fault in this case, but more a personal preference. It’s a major privilege to be able to backpack around Europe and also not have to go home for a job / apartment / family responsibilities as Sadie did in this book, so her whole “I’m so poor and broke” thing just annoyed me. I realized I prefer older heroines who actually have responsibilities that they need to consider / sacrifice in order to enjoy being swept away by the wealthy hero.

The other part is that while I enjoyed reading about Olivier dealing with his family drama, I never really warmed up to him as a romantic hero either. His idea of a term of endearment is calling Sadie “my rabbit”, and while there’s a cute childhood story attached to that, I couldn’t quite bring myself to find it romantic. The other thing is that while Sadie fails to acknowledge her privilege, Olivier can sometimes be an outright jerk about his. There’s a scene where Olivier wants to show Sadie that money isn’t an issue at all, and so he just breaks an expensive plate in the hotel room. It was a throwaway scene, but such a turnoff.

Still, the family drama and all the thrillerish elements are over-the-top escapist fun, and I enjoyed meeting the Dumonts.

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Thank you to Thomas Allen Ltd for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.