Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks // A heartwarming, true-to-life romance

two-by-two-uk“If it comes, let it come. If it stays, let it stay. If it goes, let it go.” 
― Nicholas Sparks, Two By Two

At 32, Russell Green has it all: a stunning wife, a lovable six year-old daughter, a successful career as an advertising executive and an expansive home in Charlotte. He is living the dream, and his marriage to the bewitching Vivian is the center of that. But underneath the shiny surface of this perfect existence, fault lines are beginning to appear… In a matter of months, Russ finds himself without a job or wife, caring for his young daughter while struggling to adapt to a new and baffling reality.

Romance / Fiction / 497 pages

This novel is written from Russell’s point of view. We watch him change and adapt as curveballs are thrown into his life, and things that are precious to him are taken away. I love that Russell has both strengths and flaws: He is ingenious when it comes to advertising, and he is a kind and trusting person. On the other hand, because he hasn’t been the primary caregiver for his daughter London, it is an uphill climb for him to learn to take care of her. I also love that we get up close and personal with Russ. We not only learn about his present but also his past – his childhood, his relationships with his family, and his mistakes, which all shape who he is as an adult. Russ is a likeable character who seems real.

I liked reading about the other characters, for the most part. Some of my favourite scenes are dialogues between Russ and London, which are so natural and at times comical. Throughout the story, we see how their relationship changes and evolves, as London learns to trust and rely on her father more. I also like Marge and Liz, Russ’s sister and her wife, and Russ’s mother and father. They each have their own personalities, and we get a sense of how their histories with Russ shape their relationships with him.

On the other hand, I find Vivian’s character (Russell’s wife) to be less believable. For  most of the story, she is selfish, manipulative, and almost sociopathic. And that’s fine. I’d say (from personal experience), that some terrible peeps are like that in the real world. Call me jaded, but these people don’t change. However, towards the second half of the story, Vivian’s personality goes through a dramatic shift which I find to be unrealistic.

The plot unfolds slowly, with ample amount of time to explore Russell’s relationships with the people who are important to him. I think that is appropriate for the type of book it is. There is a very subtle and slow-moving romance which is nice and heartwarming. Oh, and there is a plot twist towards the end of the book which comes out of the blue. I am not too sure how I feel about it: It is an event that is not caused by any of the characters, so it doesn’t feel relevant to the story. On the other hand, this is a story that is meant to imitate real life, and well, in real life, $&@* happens.

This is a pretty clean novel. We usually equate the Romance genre with super sexy and steamy love scenes. But there is none of that here. Maybe just, like, a sentence. This is a novel that I would recommend to my conservative, traditional-minded Asian mom. Seriously :’)

I am a fan of the writing in this novel. Russell’s internal monologue flows well. All the dialogue between characters is fantastic.

The Bottom Line:

Despite the few qualms I have about this novel, I liked it. I liked Russ, London, Marge, Liz, Emily, and Russ’s Mom and Dad enough that it kept me turning the pages. This novel is a good rainy day read when you want to immerse yourself in someone else’s reality.

Blog_4stars

Blog_letschat

Have you read this book before? Have you read another Sparks novel? To be honest, this is one of the first adult fiction that I’ve read in a while… Do you prefer adult or young adult fiction?

Advertisements

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera // A phone call that can change your life

333852291On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

Young Adult / Contemporary / 384 pages

They Both Die at the End is an interesting book that makes you think. Note that I listened to the audiobook version and did not read the physical book.

They Both Die at the End takes place in an unique world: In this hypothetical near-future world, an organization called Death Cast has data on who dies within the next 24 hours, and will contact these people (called “Deckers”) by phone. Because of this, there are also other businesses that are set up to cater to Deckers, such as the Last Friend app, which pairs Deckers up with other Deckers, or with non-Deckers, so that they will have someone to spend their last moments with before they die. There is also the Make A Moment company, which simulates thrilling experiences, like sky-diving, and there are bars and clubs where Deckers go to party it out for one more night. And because people get advanced notice before they die, this also makes for some interesting experiences: you can watch your own grave being dug, or you can attend your own funeral among friends and family. Even though They Both Die at the End is classified as a contemporary novel, some aspects of this novel strikes me as being science fiction (in a good way.)

5fd68db1-6a98-48e3-bd4a-9279c05927d1

Mateo and Rufus both won my heart from page one. Mateo is a sweet and kind boy who loves to read and play the piano. However, he is afraid to go outside and face the world, and he enrols in online courses to be able to stay inside the house. Rufus is the exact opposite: he is surrounded by a close-knit group of friends and he is not afraid to get into trouble. In the beginning of the novel, Rufus is beating up another guy for getting in between him and his girlfriend. As Mateo and Rufus get to know each other through the Last Friend app, they both have something to teach each other: Mateo learns to take risks, and Rufus learns to be kind.

Though most of the chapters are told through either Mateo or Rufus’s points of views, the story occasionally shifts very briefly into points of views of minor characters, like Zoe and Delilah (other Deckers who are called by Death Cast), or Andrew and Victor (employees of Death Cast), or Mateo and Rufus’s friends. These chapters add some interesting insights to the story: Like, how does a friend feel when he/she knows that you’re going to die in a day? Or, how does it feel to work at a company who notifies people of their deaths? Or, does a celebrity have any regrets when they know they are about to die? On the other hand, there are so few paragraphs devoted to each supporting character, that I don’t feel connected to any of them, nor am I interested in how they think. I keep on wanting to speed through these sections and continue reading about Rufus and Mateo.

0fd6c654-b165-4cd5-95bf-a7695bf20430

As to be expected, this premise leaves some food for thought: What would you do if you know that you had less than a day to live? Would you want to know that you have less than a day to live? These are all important and worthwhile questions, and we see how different characters approach this: Mateo decides that he wants to take more risks, doing things that he would be scared to do before, including seeking a Last Friend. On the other hand, Delilah chooses to deny the fact of her death completely. While I appreciate that the book talks about the theme of death without hesitation, there are times when I wonder if it is too repetitive and not subtle enough. 

The writing is great, but… it’s pretty depressing. There are books out there about depression or grief that somehow packs in some pockets of humour (I don’t know how the authors do it), but this one does not joke around. Because of this, the book is a bit of a heavy read. It was harder for me to get through compared to some of Adam Silvera’s other books, like History is All You Left Me.

The audiobook is good. I have no qualms about it.

27843285-045d-4e48-ba0c-412b9f53e36d

The Bottom Line:

They Both Die at the End is an interesting read for days when you are feeling philosophical.

Blog_4stars

 

Blog_letschat

Have you read this book, and what did you think about it? If not, will you be reading this book? Would you want Death Cast to exist in our world and call us when we are about to die in the next 24 hours?

[Images are courtesy of Amazon and Goodreads]

Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

While waiting for They Both Die at the End to come out (and it DID this week!! *squeal*) I decided to read one of Adam Silvera’s other books. I’ve heard SO many amazing things about History is All You Left Me and Adam Silvera. This book did not disappoint 🙂

25014114“One night we argued for a solid hour over who would win in a duel between Lord Voldemort and Darth Vader. I’m surprised we’re still friends.” 
― Adam Silvera, History Is All You Left Me

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

Young Adult / Contemporary / LGBT / 320 pages

Disclaimer: This is a review of the audiobook. I did not read the print edition.

Love the diversity in this book. First of all, there are LGBT characters (Griffin and Jackson, who are gay, and Theo, who is bisexual.) Second of all, our main character Griffin has a mental illness (obsessive-compulsive disorder).

I feel that OCD is misunderstood at times. People often joke that they have OCD, because they are overly organized or perfectionistic, but I think it is more than that. In this book we get a sense of what having OCD could be like, though I can’t comment about the accuracy of this representation. I like that although OCD plays a role in Griffin’s life and in his story, it is not the focus of this book. Just like how I imagine that a person can have mental illness without it being the focus of his or her life. I also like that his OCD is not “cured” in the end, which is realistic, given that mental illness is something that people live with.

In this book, we get up close and personal with Griffin, who is caught between the past and the present. I love that the writing shifts between Griffin’s memories with Theo, and the present day, when he is coming to terms with his loss. It is touching to read about how Griffin and Theo fell in love and the firsts that they experienced together. As the story progresses, the present and the past converge, and Griffin’s feelings about Theo and his relationships with the other characters change.

Although the story is written in Griffin’s point of view, the author uses the second person (“you”) to refer to Theo. It is almost as if Griffin is writing a letter or having a one-sided conversation with Theo in his head.

I like how the supporting characters, Wayne (Griffin’s childhood friend) and Jackson, develop throughout the novel. I love how perceptions of both characters change in subtle ways as Griffin learns more about them. It captures perfectly how first impressions can change, and sometimes even friends that we’ve known for a while can surprise us. And even though Theo had passed away prior to the beginning of the novel, his presence is felt throughout the book, and he is a character in his own right.

The audiobook is narrated well. It took a short while for me to warm up to the narrator’s voice. At times it was difficult to distinguish between characters’ voices, and between dialogue versus Griffin’s inner thoughts. Overall, I did enjoy the audiobook.

The writing is absolutely beautiful. Despite this being a heavier read, it took almost no time for me to finish this book. It’s one of those books that I got addicted to very early on in the novel and just couldn’t wait to finish.

The Bottom Line:

History is All You Left Me is a beautifully written book about overcoming grief and living with mental illness.

Blog_4stars

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

32075671“Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means you go on even though you’re scared.” 
― Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Young Adult / Contemporary / 444 pages

Blog_div3

The Hate U Give was an amazing book that I read a while back, but didn’t get a chance to review until now. By the way, this is my review of the audiobook, which was superb. I had never read the print version of the book.

This book touches on the issues of racism and police brutality without holding back. I love that we walk a mile in the shoes of Starr, a black girl who is personally involved in a case of police brutality, and we get a sense of the anger and grief that she feels. I believe that through creating relatable characters and telling their stories, books like this can change people’s opinions and attitudes towards minority races.

Starr is a strong heroine, and it is amazing to watch her grow over the course of the novel. In the beginning of the story, Starr lives a double life: She tries to fit in at Garden Heights – her poor neighbourhood – and at her preppy school. She needs to show people at her school that she is not from the hood, while she needs to show people at Garden Heights that she is still “black”. However, Starr’s two worlds collide when she witnesses her best friend being shot by the police, and she needs to make the decision to be vocal.

We are with Starr on this journey as she discovers that some people disappoint her, while others surprise her in how much they care. We see Starr grow from being self-conscious and fearful, to someone who is not afraid to speak up and embrace who she is.

The characters are a highlight of this novel. I love Starr and her family: I love that her mother and father are portrayed as the multi-dimensional people that parents are: they are loving, though they are not perfect. I love that her boyfriend Chris and her friends Maia and Devante have personalities of their own. And even though Khalil was dead from page one, he is a haunting presence throughout the novel.

The pacing of this novel is slow. This is not meant to be a book that we speed through, it’s meant to be slowly digested. On the other hand, I feel that some scenes and chapters of the novel can be condensed or omitted to produce a more tighter work.

I was conflicted about the portrayal of villains in this novel: Officer 115 who had shot Khalil, and one of Starr’s friends who is a blatant racist. I typically want to see that villains have character, and I had expected that, over the course of the novel, these two characters would start to show dimension, instead of being portrayed as just bad. But on the other hand, this is Starr ‘s story. It’s not Officer 115’s story or the racist friend’s story. And if I were Starr, I would hate these people to the end of the world too.

I love the witty writing in The Hate U Give. The dialogue breathes life to each of the characters. And did I mention that the narration of the audiobook was stunning!?

Blog_div1

The Bottom Line:

The Hate U Give tells an unflinching tale of how racism and police brutality can affect an entire family and neighbourhood, and how violence only begets more violence. I absolutely love the characters, the writing style, and the audiobook narration. This is a heavier book in the YA genre that can capture your heart if you give it a chance.

Blog_4stars

Blog_signature

Review: The Upside of Unrequited

9780141356112“I don’t entirely understand how anyone gets a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. It just seems like the most impossible odds. You have to have a crush on the exact right person at the exact right moment. And they have to like you back. A perfect alignment of feelings and circumstances. It’s almost unfathomable that it happens as often as it does.” 
― Becky Albertalli, The Upside of Unrequited

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. And then there is Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

Young Adult / Contemporary / 336 pages

This is such a cute love story that had me smiling from beginning to end. Note that I did listen to the audiobook (which is amazingly narrated), which means that I was walking on the street with my earphones in, smiling from ear to ear like a crazy person. It’s all good 🙂

I absolutely love the diversity in this book. Molly isn’t your typical skinny heroine who is beautiful without knowing it. She is… well, kind of fat. There aren’t that many books out there that feature fat characters, and there should be, because people come in all shapes and sizes, and everyone is worthy of a love story. Molly’s twin sister Cassie is gay, and her Korean-American girlfriend is pansexual. And Molly and Cassie have two Moms, which means that they are sperm donor babies. How awesome is that?

7f96a862-6144-4f2c-8691-745db6951986

Molly is such a relatable character, and I love listening to her internal dialogue. She is a shy and quiet person who thinks twice (and sometimes three or four times) before speaking. While being quiet on the outside, she is a storm of emotions on the inside, which she holds back from expressing to others. She is convinced that she will never be loved because of her appearance, and because of this, she never really put herself out there. Despite her twenty-some crushes, she never told anyone how she felt. Molly’s internal dialogue is written so convincingly that she sounds like a real person, rather than a character from a book. (Did I mention that Molly thinks and talks SO much like me?)

I love the supporting characters, who each have distinct personalities. Cassie is the opposite from Molly. She is conventionally beautiful, loud, outgoing and has plenty of “flings”. Will is that noncommittal and flirtatious guy, and Reid is dorky and adorable. However, there is more to each character than what meets the eye. They have lives of their own.

68581b39-04d6-4c29-b444-659f297e459d

I also love the relationship between Molly and Cassie, and their parents: Patty and Nadine parents are open-minded and genuinely cool people. They are the sort of parents who would sit you down and discuss birth control options. Still, being teenagers, Cassie and Molly can’t help but keep secrets from their parents. Patty and Nadine also have their own struggles as well. Being gay, they face stigma from the world around them, and sometimes even from their own family members. I love that, as the parent figures in this book, Patty and Nadine are portrayed as being empathetic and having problems of their own.

The writing is humorous and witty. I also love how the dialogue flows and how the chemistry between Molly and her love interest (I won’t mention which) never feels forced. It’s such an adorable story and a fast read.

The audiobook is narrated superbly.

a0f75c15-0a11-49c3-b1ce-f56d161eb01f

Bottom Line:

The Upside of Unrequited is a light-hearted love story with the most adorable and relatable main character. If you love reading about characters of all sizes, sexual orientations, and skin tones, then give this one a try!

four-star1

(The lovely quote images are courtesy of Amazon.com)

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi (Audiobook)

28458598“Seriously? That’s what you think I should be relegating my brain space to? Looking nice? Like, if I don’t make the effort to look beautiful, my entire existence is nullified? Nothing else matters-not my intellect, not my personality or my accomplishments; my hopes and dreams mean nothing if I’m not wearing eyeliner?” – Dimple

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” She is excited that her family finally lets her sign up for a summer program in app design.

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

Young Adult / Contemporary / Romance / 380 pages

We all know When Dimple Met Rishi. It’s been circulating in the blogosphere for quite a while. I was very excited to read this book because of all the positive reviews, though I’ve been warned about the cheesiness. In the end, I liked this book. It gives me a warm and happy feeling. But booooy is it cheesy.

I absolutely love that this novel features diverse main characters. Dimple and Rishi are both from Indian families who hold traditional values, yet Dimple and Rishi themselves are very different. Dimple is a strong-headed and independent girl, she is ambitious and she wants more than anything to aim for the career of her dreams. She could care less about having the Ideal Indian Husband, and she cringes at the notion of the obedient housewife who caters to her husband’s every single whim, with no room to pursue dreams of her own. Meanwhile, Rishi is proud of his heritage. As the older son, he feels the obligation to abide by tradition and be the perfect son and role model. He is a hopeless romantic who admires the loving relationship between his mom and dad, and he has faith in the institution of arranged marriage that it will take him there too. Through Dimple and Rishi, and their heartwarming, hilarious, families, I learned more about the Indian culture, which fascinates me.

The characters are well thought out, from Dimple and Rishi to the supporting cast. At first glance, Dimple is that sharp-tongued and sharp-witted girl who is driven by ambition. But we learn that she has a soft side and she is a romantic at heart. Rishi is determined to uphold his traditional Indian values, and he wants to be the Ideal Indian Husband. He is set to start MIT in the fall, because he is determined to graduate with a respectable degree and get a well-paying job to support his future family. However, he tries to deny his true passion, which is art. The supporting characters have lives and personalities of their own: from Rishi’s brother to Dimple’s roommate. It is amazing to watch their stories unravel before our eyes, and to see their relationships strength and change throughout the novel.

The writing is witty and made me laugh at just the right moments. The first few chapters drew me in completely, because both Dimple and Rishi are just so adorable and hilarious. I loved that they each have a distinct voice and it is fascinating to see the world from each of their points of views.

However, as the story progresses, I felt that both Dimple and Rishi lose their uniqueness and they become your typical lovestruck teenagers. And it just gets cheesy. The heart pounding and the butterflies in the stomach and so on and so forth. It gave me goosebumps and chills down the spine. That’s how cheesy it was.

I am conflicted about the POV switching in this novel. In general, I am not against POV switching. I’ve enjoyed many novels that are written this way. But is there a point when the POV switching happens too often? In When Dimple Met Rishi, there are often moments when a scene is broken into many parts, alternating between Dimple and Rishi’s points of views. To be honest, I am not quite sure what I make of it.

I loved the performance in the audiobook.

The Bottom Line:

Despite the cheesiness and predictability, When Dimple Met Rishi is a light read that warmed up my heart and made me smile. If you are interested in learning about the Indian culture, and in a mood for a good romance, you may want to give this a try.

ecmopekcn

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? How do you feel about dual POV books in general?

Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (Audiobook)

18460392Theodore Finch is a troublemaker. He is unpredictable and does things that no one understands, like hurl a chair against the chalkboard, then disappear for days on end. Violet Markey is the popular girl who everyone likes. She is a model student and is on track to apply for the top universities. Except, after Violet’s sister’s tragic death, Violet realizes that no one understands her. She finds herself on the bell tower at school, where she meets Finch.

Together, Violet and Finch work on a geography project where they travel the wonders of the Indiana State. As they get to know each other, Violet learns to deal with her sister’s death and finds joy in doing what she loves. However, as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s world begins to shrink.

Young Adult / 378 pages

Note: I listened to the audiobook version of this book, and I have never read the print edition. This may have influenced my opinion of the book. For example, I was not fond of Violet’s voice, it grated my ears for the entire 11 hours. I would not recommend the audiobook to anyone. Despite this, I will try my best to evaluate the content of the book separately.

I love that this book speaks honestly and boldly about the topic of mental illness and suicide. It touches on the idea of labels and stigma, which prevent teens and adults who have mental illness from seeking treatment. I believe that stories like this help spread awareness about mental illness, and that with more awareness, there will be fewer barriers for people to seek help. Also, perhaps people who do have such conditions will read this book and feel less alone. I am glad to see that this book is translated into many languages, won awards, and will be adapted into a movie.

Theodore Finch is a intriguing and complex character. He is quirky and has a sense of humour. He loves music and is gifted at playing the guitar and composing his own songs. However, he hides a secret from his friends and his family, and that is his mental illness. He can’t quite control his outbursts and periods of time when he is just “asleep.” Instead, he tries to make it appear to everyone that he chooses to be that way, and everyone accepts him as he is. Finch is a character that makes us want to keep reading.

On the other hand, I was not in love with the other characters, including Violet. Violet strikes me as whiney, and it took me a while to warm up to her personality. I am glad to see her grow as the book unravels. I am less impressed with the supporting characters, who don’t quite develop beyond their stereotypes. This includes Violet and Finch’s classmates and the adults. I feel that there is potential in some of the characters, such as Amanda (Violet’s ex-best friend) and Violet’s mother and father, but there just aren’t enough pages dedicated to developing their characters.

This is a slow-paced book. In general, I have no qualms about slow pacing itself, because sometimes it is needed to fully develop a relationship, or to portray the growth in a character over time. However, in All the Bright Places, I get the sense that there were scenes that served no purpose. I feel that the story dragged until about the last 10%.

Despite this, All the Bright Places leaves a haunting message. Coming to the last few minutes of the book, I find myself thinking: what about the troublemakers and drop-outs that I had known from school? Perhaps they have a story of their own. And I believe that this is what makes a good story – the ability to leave you thinking.

The bottom-line:

All the Bright Places speaks boldly about the topic of teenage mental health and suicide without holding back. We see a glimpse of the world through the Finch’s points of view, which is quirky and one-of-a-kind. Despite the slow pace, and the other, less-interesting, characters, this book may be a worthwhile read if you enjoy reading about mental health.

ecmopekcn