Book Review: Sisterhood Everlasting

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 3 out of 5

BEWARE: SPOILER ALERT!

Once again, apologies for my infrequent posting, but I’ve got a good reason! This Saturday I’ll be moving to San Jose, CA, and starting a new job after Memorial Day!

These past couple weeks have been hectic with apartment hunting and packing, but life is finally winding down enough to get back to blogging.

The latest book that I have read is Sisterhood Everlasting (2011) by Ann Brashares. Those familiar with the popular YA series Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants know that this is the fifth installment, a long-awaited sequel which follows four best friends Bridget, Lena, Carmen, and Tibby as they are about to turn 30 years old.

In the time after college, Carmen has become a successful actress engaged to an arrogant jerk in the biz, art instructor Lena still pines for her teenage Greek love Kostos, Bridget lives with her boyfriend Eric in San Francisco but suffers from nomadic restlessness, and Tibby is living on the other side of the world in Australia with her techie boyfriend Brian.

Over the years, the girls have become so involved with their own lives that they’ve grown apart, each secretly yearning for re-connection but never following through. So when Tibby books them all a surprise trip to Greece, they are ecstatic to reunite after so long…

…that is, until tragedy strikes.

[If you’re planning on reading this book, I highly suggest you stop reading this review now. Major spoiler alert up ahead!]

Let me start by saying that Tibby’s death derailed the novel into territory that was both far-fetched and melodramatic. Since it occurs in the first quarter of the book, the rest of the pages are spent narrating through the other three girls’ grief processes as they try to decipher whether Tibby drowned accidentally or intentionally.

I don’t care if they were out of touch for awhile: I find it insanely hard to believe that Tibby would not inform her best friends of her terminal illness and her pregnancy, and instead would decide to send them on an emotional rollercoaster via the letters she gave them to be opened as designated dates after her passing.

Tibby was a no BS type of woman, and regardless of the turmoil that she must have suffered while being sick and isolated, a decent person would have at least given her friends a heads up that she just popped out a baby and would be kicking the bucket in the near future. Cold-hearted as it may sound, I found this plot twist utterly selfish and incongruent of Tibby’s character. A terminal diagnosis is an opportunity to appreciate your loved ones while you’re still alive–not a chance to send them on a wild goose chase to discover your toddler after you’re gone.

And let’s discuss her child Bailey for a moment. I don’t mind her introduction as a way of keeping the spirit of Tibby alive; it’s cliche, but I accept it. What I cannot tolerate is using Bailey to emotionally manipulate Bridget into keeping her own child.

The author Ann Brashares makes a big fuss that Bee couldn’t imagine terminating her pregnancy after connecting with Bailey, couldn’t even recognize the woman who could commit such selfishness before. I’m not aware of Brashares’ personal beliefs regarding abortion, but Bridget’s storyline is so pro-family that I find it offensive to women. Bee could have appreciated Bailey just as much if she decided not to become a mother herself–and to suggest otherwise was a major turn-off for me reading this book.

All in all, I loved the Sisterhood series but was ultimately disappointed by this book’s turn of events. The girls either never developed (looking at you, Lena) or changed so much that they’re nigh unrecognizable. Brashares has stated that she’s open to writing more sequels, but Sisterhood Everlasting left such an everlasting bad taste in my mouth that I doubt I would be interested in reading more.

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My Top Ten All-Time Favorite (Living) Authors

Meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is about our all-time favorite authors, which is simply way too difficult for me to limit to ten people. Because I tend to prefer writers of long ago, I thought it best to narrow my selections from living authors rather than spend my time agonizing over the vast number of literary geniuses throughout history.

After much deliberation, here are my top ten favorite living authors!

(Note that to be one of my favorites, I had to have read more than one novel or series of theirs. Sorry, J.K. Rowling, no one-hit reads allowed!)

TTT Authors 1 TTT Authors 2

Literary Fiction

1. Kazuo Ishiguro
2. Margaret Atwood

Young Adult

3. Philip Pullman
4. David Levithan
5. Scott Westerfeld
6. Meg Cabot

Romance

7. Sophie Kinsella
8. Julie James
9. Vicki Lewis Thompson

Bonus genre! Manga

10. Yuu Watase

Book Review: Invisibility

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 3 out of 5

Oh, how I wanted to enjoy this book more! Invisibility, a collaboration between David Levithan (Every Day, The Lover’s Dictionary) and Andrea Cremer (The Nightshade series), was published in 2013 and seemed to be every YA lover’s dream. But while the story started out great, it only got more disappointing with each page.

The book’s structure is certainly unique. The authors alternate chapters between two teenagers living in Manhattan: Levithan writing from the POV of Stephen, a boy cursed into invisibility by his grandfather, and Cremer writing as Elizabeth, his new next-door neighbor who discovers that she is the only one who can see him…and possibly cure him.

This sounded similar to Every Day, since it also features a paranormal romance, but I quickly found out that it’s subpar to Levithan’s solo story. In that book, the protagonist known simply as “A” wakes up in a new person’s body every day (hence the title), and the reader is given almost no reason as to why. I appreciated that sentiment also seen in Kafka’s Metamorphosis, because the audience must take a leap of faith and begin in media res.

However, Invisibility attempts to explain Stephen’s condition with poorly designed world creation in which magical curse-casters and spell-seekers exist in constant tension with one another–the former like Stephen’s grandfather whose nature it is to spread cruelty, and the latter like Elizabeth who have the power to keep them in check.

There are so many plot holes in this story that it would take forever to list them, but the most egregious is that there is no explanation as to why Elizabeth is the only spell-seeker who can see Stephen when there are others who can’t. The rules of this magical universe are haphazard, and the overall logic is just abysmal.

In addition, this novel suffers from the common YA mistake of ‘insta-love,’ given that Stephen and Elizabeth are willing to die for each other only a few weeks after meeting. I won’t give the ending away, but even a hopeless romantic like myself has a hard time buying that their relationship could possibly have a ‘happily ever after.’

Nope, not even if I’m looking at you, Ryan Gosling!

As much as the book is entertaining and keeps you turning pages, I find it a rushed, terribly thought-out tale that reads more like mediocre fan-fiction than a legitimate novel. I rated this 3 stars because Levithan’s writing prowess is undeniable, but it far outshines Cremer’s. While I’m happy for her for getting the chance to ride his coattails, I’ll stick to the work of her writing partner in the future.

Book Review: Afterworlds

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Rating: 4 out of 5

The year is almost over, and my reading challenge is finally completed! I set out to read 20 books in 2014, and the last on my list is Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. I got my copy at a book signing in October, and after meeting the author, I was more excited than ever to read this story.

I have to say that this is the most meta tale I’ve experienced. Afterworlds is a book within a book, and is named after a novel that recent high school grad Darcy Patel wrote during NaNoWriMo.

Darcy hits the jackpot by landing a publisher and a six-figure advance for a sequel. She defers college to move to New York City, too swept up by fellow YA debutantes and drink nights to stick to a budget.

While attending writer parties and rapidly draining her checking account, she falls in love with Imogen Gray, a pseudonymous author writing the sequel to her trilogy. I can’t stress enough how refreshing it is to have a famous YA author like Westerfeld write a protagonist of color in a same-sex relationship. How unfortunate that these characters aren’t more common in literature!

The chapters of this book alternate between Darcy’s world and the world which she created. Afterworlds is a novel about Lizzie, a high schooler who survives a terrorist attack at an airport by pretending to be dead–so well, in fact, that she wills herself into the afterworld.

There she meets Yamaraj, an attractive and mysterious spirit guide who teaches her how to hone her newfound powers of seeing ghosts and walking through walls. She also befriends Mindy, a friend of Lizzie’s mother who was tragically abused and murdered by a serial killer when she was 11 years old. Mindy’s ghost lives in Lizzie’s house, fearful that the ‘bad man’ will find and hurt her again.

Lizzie must oscillate between the worlds of the living and the dead, all while attempting to avenge Mindy’s death and further a relationship with Yamaraj. What’s intriguing is that this story changes as Darcy makes revisions to it, so it’s fun to read this work in progress.

What’s not so fun is that at 600 pages, Afterworlds tends to drag in places. Without one half, the other would suffer, but because of this symbiotic partnership, the whole novel gets a bit bloated.

I also found Darcy grating at times. It’s natural to be self-absorbed and clueless in your teenage years, but I kept wishing for Darcy to stop sweating the small stuff and focus on her writing. It’s pretty bad when her younger sister is the voice of reason.

And even though I felt that Westerfeld was sometimes trying too hard to keep up with the teenage slang (annoying meme is annoying!), overall I loved getting the inside scoop about professional writers, from dealing with editors and going on book tours, to conducting research and learning all the unspoken rules.

If you’re an aspiring author and love young-adult fiction, I recommend reading Afterworlds to immerse yourself within the writing process. And if you haven’t read Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy already, definitely do so because it’s excellent dystopian fiction.

I may be done reading this year, but I’m not done blogging! Come back to Book Club Babe on Tuesday where I’ll be revealing my top ten resolutions for 2015!

Book Signings in SF!

Hey everyone!

I just popped in to brag that I had an awesome time last night meeting the one and only Scott Westerfeld! The YA author of the Uglies trilogy visited Books Inc. in San Francisco to discuss his recently published novel Afterworlds and do a signing.

The coolest part about the event–besides seeing an admired author in the flesh–is that 15% of the book proceeds support NaNoWriMo! In fact, I only found out about this signing on Tuesday after logging into my NaNoWriMo account and reading a memo from one of my region’s Municipal Liaisons.

Why the fundraising? Well, it turns out that Afterworlds is about a teenage girl named Darcy who creates a novel during NaNoWriMo that later gets published, thereby inciting her writing career.

And the uniqueness about Afterworlds is that it swaps chapters between Darcy’s world and the world that she brings to life in her own novel. I love the idea of reading a book within a book, so I’m really looking forward to this one!

I would have recommended Scott Westerfeld before meeting him, but especially so afterward. He was such a down-to-earth guy with a great sense of humor. I appreciated his insights about the YA community and his writing advice regarding POV. Needless to say, I’m inspired to revive my own writing for NaNoWriMo!

Thanks for the autograph! 🙂

The good times continue to roll next week, since Books Inc. is hosting another signing for Azar Nafisi, best known for her novel Reading Lolita in Tehran. That book was an exquisite window into her experiences as an English Lit professor in post-revolutionary Iran, and her new novel The Republic of Imagination describes her path to American citizenship.

So big thanks to Books Inc. for coordinating these opportunities to learn from these wonderful writers. I’ll see you again next week!

Audiobook Review: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

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Rating: 4 out of 5

This was a book that I couldn’t resist after reading so much great feedback from other book bloggers. Jenny Han was a new author to me, and I’m glad that I was introduced to her work.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a young adult fiction novel that follows Lara Jean Song, a high school-aged middle child. Her older sister Margot just broke up with her boyfriend Josh and is studying abroad in Scotland. Her younger sister Kitty is obsessed with convincing their dad to get her a puppy. And Lara Jean finds herself in the most mortifying of predicaments.

It turns out that her habit of writing love letters to the boys she was once in love with has epically backfired, because somehow the letters get mailed. And one of those boys just happens to be Josh.

To save face, Lara Jean impulsively decides to pretend to date her old middle school crush, Peter Kavinsky, who also received a letter. Peter agrees to fake-date her to make his ex-girlfriend jealous, which adds even more drama because nobody crosses the queen bee and gets away with it.

This was a great audiobook, because Han imitates a teen girl very well with her short, simple sentences and conversational tone. However, as much as I loved the fact that Lara Jean was half-Korean (seriously, why aren’t there more protagonists of color in literature?!), you could obviously tell that the narrator was unfamiliar with certain terms, like incorrectly pronouncing the Japanese manga that she reads as “main-gah” instead of “mahn-gah.” A small quibble, but I couldn’t help but cringe during these moments.

Other than that, I enjoyed this story because it was so relatable. Lara Jean, inexperienced in relationships, must learn to adapt when her once-unrequited loves start to show interest in her. She must also navigate her changing family life, dealing with her older sister so far away from home. With their father raising three girls alone after their mother’s death, Lara Jean has to step up to be a role model to her younger sister.

I was a bit disappointed by the conclusion, since the story took too many turns toward the end that I couldn’t predict where it would stop. Once it did, I felt that I would have outlined it differently. However, I learned that Han has a final sequel planned for April 2015 called PS: I Still Love You, so hopefully the plot comes together better in the second half.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a fun, lighthearted read that will make you empathize with your teen self and nostalgic for your own coming of age.

Book Review: Reached

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Rating: 2 out of 5

BEWARE: Spoilers ahead!

Good lord, am I glad that I’m finally finished with this series. Ally Condie’s dystopian trilogy (Matched, Crossed, Reached) started off great, but I seriously have no idea why the finale is rating an average of four stars on Amazon and Goodreads.

The reason why it took me almost six weeks to complete this novel was that it was 512 pages of booorrrriiiinnnnnnggggg. I can summarize the entire saga like this: Protagonist Cassia Reyes, who lives in a totalitarian state where the Society decides everything for you–including who you marry and when you die, joins a rebellion called the Rising with her two love interests Ky and Xander. In the end, after a catastrophic plague, they realize that the Rising is just the Society with a different name and eventually learn how to rebuild their lives and make decisions for themselves.

Does this sound original at all to you?! Condie couldn’t even give her factions unique names! Unfortunately, The Hunger Games has unleashed the floodgates of mediocre young-adult dystopian fiction, and the Matched series is right up there with that of Divergent for being utterly disappointing. At least Mockingjay elicited anger out of me! Reached definitely went out with a whimper rather than a bang.

And don’t get me started on the so-called love triangle. I have never witnessed a duller character than Xander. The poor boy never had a chance, and anyone who thinks otherwise is probably one of those girls who can manufacture an entire pseudo-relationship with a crush with whom she’s had only one conversation.

In fact, all three of Condie’s main characters are total squares. They’re so bland that when I was reading each chapter, I often couldn’t tell whose point-of-view it was.That’s one of the top sins of writing: if a reader can’t even differentiate between your characters’ perspectives, then you need to go back to your sub-par MFA program and demand your money back.

I know that I’m harsh, but I’m just sick and tired of these dystopian books gaining a bunch of unwarranted hype. The problem is that it feels like a bait and switch: the debut novels start off just strong enough to get a bandwagon going, so even if the sequels are lackluster and the finales are absolute crap, well too bad because you’re already too invested in the stories and feel obligated to finish them.

I think that another reason why Condie particularly rubbed me the wrong way was that it was obvious that she was trying SO hard to be deep. In the beginning, I appreciated the allusions to poetry, especially since I love Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night.” But I honestly lost count of how many times I rolled my eyes trudging through this saccharine prose.

Instead of being subtle, the symbolism hits you so hard in the face it gives you whiplash. The navel-gazing over the “morals” of the story just came off simplistic and self-righteous: the way Condie tells you what to think rather than letting you interpret the message for yourself makes her almost a meta-Society official taking away your autonomy.

More importantly, it means that she still has a long way to go before becoming a renowned novelist. Given how she’d yammer on about the loss of culture and the destruction of the environment, I thought it was only a matter of time before she burst out of the pages screaming, “But what about the children?!”

So let’s do ourselves a favor and let this genre take a breather. Dystopian literature has reached full saturation, and now it’s all starting to suck. If you can’t get enough of big governments doing bad things, go read 1984 and Orwell will show you how’s it’s done!