Book Review: Drowning is Inevitable by Shalanda Stanley

This book was…a lot. If you’re looking for a book that will slowly crush your heart with lyrical writing and an incredible friendship, you have come to the right place.

4/5 stars

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synopsis for reviews 2

Olivia has spent her whole life struggling to escape her dead mother’s shadow. But when her father can’t even look at her because Olivia reminds him of her mother, and her grandmother mistakenly calls her “Lillian,”  shaking a reputation she didn’t ask for is next to impossible. Olivia is used to leaning on her best friend, Jamie; her handsome but hot-tempered boyfriend, Max; and their wild-child friend, Maggie, for the reality check that her small Louisiana town can’t provide. But when a terrible fight between Jamie and his father turns deadly, all Olivia can think to do is grab her friends and run.

In a flash, Olivia, Jamie, Max, and Maggie become fugitives on the back roads of Louisiana. They’re headed to New Orleans, where they hope to find a solution to an unfixable problem. But with their faces displayed on all the news stations, their journey becomes a harrowing game of hide-and-seek from the police—and so-called allies, who just might be the real enemy.

Shalanda Stanley’s breathtaking debut novel explores the deep ties between legacy, loyalty, and love, even as it asks the question: How far would you go to save a friend?

Add it on Goodreads.

my thoughts for reviews 1

This book has been sitting on my shelf for almost a year. It was a Christmas gift that I just now worked up the courage to read.

Why did I need courage? Because this is not my type of book. When I read contemporary books, I usually read fluffy romances. I turn to fantasy or historical fiction for my “impossible situation” plots—and even then, I rarely read books whose plots are like this. I know I don’t like framed-for-murder plots, and though this book is not one of those, it had a lot of the same qualities.

Anyway, going into DII, I knew that it would be a challenge.

Nevertheless, I’m incredibly glad I read it. This book was intense. I do not think there was a moment when I was not a few words away from tears. But more than making me cry, this book made me panic. 

I have to separate this review from myself a bit, because I do not really like books that make me panic over things that could actually happen. I especially do not like books filling me with panic when I am already a college-app-fueled ball of stress. I had to read DII in small chunks, honestly afraid that if I read too much at once I’d lose it.

But I have to admire DII for how much it moved me. I was unable to control my emotions; I cared too much about the characters. DII felt real, and the fact that I could imagine being shoved into the same situation with my closest friends made my heart hurt.

Olivia was our main character. She’s already somewhat lost on the first page, not sure where her identity starts and where her dead mother’s identity ends. Sure that something in her will make her commit suicide when she turns eighteen the same way her mother did, Olivia has no plans for the future. The only things she knows for certain is that she will do anything for Jamie, her childhood friend, and that she loves her boyfriend Max, and her friend, Maggie.

Most of all, this is a book about friendship. Yes, Max and Olivia are a couple, but even their romance is more about friendship than romantic love. The four characters will do anything for each other—and they end up proving it when Jamie’s abusive father takes things too far and everything falls apart.

I really, really loved DII for its dedication to friendship. If you are searching for a book that takes the feeling of friendship and puts it so perfectly into words that it is palpable, you need to read this book.

Jamie and Olivia are tied closer together than any other characters I’ve read about, but there is never romantic tension between them. They’re “just” friends, but they still go to the ends of the earth for each other. While they may not make the best choices, I love that this book shows that a girl and a guy can love each other without it being romantic.

DII is not perfect. The pacing is off, mainly because the plot does not have a clear arc. The characters are running away, but we all know that their luck will run out eventually. While that created an emotionally charged plot, it meant that not a lot actually happens, so sometimes the pacing lagged. The book never lost its emotional hold over me, but occasionally, the pacing issues got in the way of my enjoying the book fully.

Additionally, I wanted a little more from Max and Maggie’s characters. I loved both of them, and it is remarkable how much characterization the author gave them in such a small amount of time, but I still wanted more. This book could have benefited from multiple POVs, I think.

Still, this book left me awestruck. It is rare to find a book that is so simple but so emotional throughout. Though I definitely chose to read this book at the wrong time in my life, I still appreciate the power of it. I would recommend this book to everyone who is looking for stories about friendship and who is willing to have their heart broken.

Book Review: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

I read this book years ago, and after reading a series of tear-inducing fantasy novels, I decided I needed this cheerfulness in my life again.

4/5 stars

cover sisterhood of the travelling pants

synopsis for reviews 2

Carmen got the jeans at a thrift shop. They didn’t look all that great: they were worn, dirty, and speckled with bleach. On the night before she and her friends part for the summer, Carmen decides to toss them. But Tibby says they’re great. She’d love to have them. Lena and Bridget also think they’re fabulous. Lena decides that they should all try them on. Whoever they fit best will get them. Nobody knows why, but the pants fit everyone perfectly. Even Carmen (who never thinks she looks good in anything) thinks she looks good in the pants. Over a few bags of cheese puffs, they decide to form a sisterhood and take the vow of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants . . . the next morning, they say good-bye. And then the journey of the pants — and the most memorable summer of their lives — begins.

Add it on Goodreads

my thoughts for reviews 1

I can’t tell you how happy I am that this book was as good as I remembered. After being slightly overwhelmed with my recent reading choices, this book was a perfect dose of real life.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is four stories in one, one for each of the friends as they explore their first summer apart. Each summer takes unexpected twists and forces the characters to face parts of themselves they had previously ignored. It was never hard to keep their stories straight, and I liked how the narration jumped back and forth between stories often.

Carmen’s story was incredibly relatable. She thought her summer was going to be filled with father-daughter bonding time, only to find out that her father is remarrying and that she is a guest in his new perfect life. She feels rejected, and even though she knows she’s being petty, she doesn’t want to take the high road. And you know what, I didn’t blame her, because I understood what she was feeling. Every part of her story grabbed me, until I couldn’t tell where her emotions ended and mine began.

Lena’s story was more simplistic. I loved that she is intensely introverted, and I thought that her relationship with her own beauty was a really interesting addition to her character. Like Carmen, I felt Lena’s emotions alongside her as she spends the summer with her unfamiliar relatives in Greece. Looking back on her plot line, though, I wish that a little more had happened.

Bridget’s story was the most intense. She’s the extrovert of the group, wild and determined in a wholehearted way that I associate more with fantasy protagonists than contemporary ones. While I couldn’t relate to her character as much as I could to the others, her story was written in a way that at least made me understand what was going on in her head.

I cared about Bridget, and I was genuinely worried for her as she chased down the coach she had a crush on at her soccer summer camp. Her plot line was rough and unforgiving, never romanticizing or condemning her actions, just letting the story speak for itself.

Finally, Tibby’s story was the most emotional. Stuck at a crappy job while her friends are off exploring the world, Tibby sought solace by making a documentary about her summer. She ends up befriending a preteen with cancer who pushes her to reevaluate her life. It sounds cliche, but it really wasn’t. Instead, it felt real and important, and I know that plot line will stick with me for a while.

There is something gloriously refreshing about this book. It is teenage girls being teenage girls, with no extra glamour. This isn’t a book about cute meets or perfect romances; it’s a book about real life happening to four people at once. If you’re expecting an entirely cheerful book, then I should warn you that I quietly cried through the last quarter of the book. Fundamentally, this is a book that will grab your heartstrings, for happiness and for sadness.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a story about friendship and real life. It isn’t solidly happy or sad, it is more complex than that. For me, it was exactly what I needed to read right now.

Top Ten Books With Incredible Villains

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

 

I love the idea of starting October with a villain-themed topic. It sets the Halloween mood. I’m not listing the villain’s name, just the book they appear in, so as to avoid spoilers.

Pure Evil Villains

The character that is so sickening evil that you can taste how much you hate them

1. The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness

2. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

3. Bitterblue (and the rest of the series) by Kristen Cashore

Fascinating Villains

The villain you never saw coming

4. Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

5. The Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray

6. A Court of Mist and Fury (ACOTAR #2) by Sarah J. Maas

7. Blood Promise (Vampire Academy #3) by Richelle Mead

8. Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

Awesome Villainous Forces

The villainous presence that is more than a specific character

9. The Angel Fire trilogy by LA Weatherly

10. Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Top Ten Parts of High School I Wish YA Authors Talked About More

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic is a Back to School Freebie.

I’m a senior in high school, and my high school career has been very academic-focused. I can’t speak for everyone, and I don’t want to act like my HS experience is everyone’s HS experience. That being said, here are some things that I wish I saw more of in YA literature. 

1. Homework. No seriously, homework.

I don’t care if your character is the biggest slacker in the world or the valedictorian, they have homework. Maybe they cheat on their homework, or do it during class, or only turn in every third assignment. Still. If your character goes to high school, I’d really like to have homework mentioned.

2. Club meetings during school. Or club meetings at all.

This might just be my school, but for me, most of the clubs on campus meet during lunch. That means that sometimes I can’t eat lunch with my friends, either because they’re in a meeting or I am.

3. Extracurricular activities that aren’t sports.

I think YA authors are pretty good at having athletic characters. But even if a character isn’t athletic, they probably have something to do after school.

4. STRESS.

Oh my god this needs to be talked about more. Do you know how frustrating it is to read about characters that are supposedly smart (or even just kind of care about grades) that don’t stress about school? Ever?!?!? Tests are stressful. Projects are stressful. Not knowing how to do math homework is stressful. School is stressful, and not just for people trying to get a 4.0.

5. College stress.

I want to see freshman planning what classes they will take in the next four years to be in a good place for college. I want to see sophomores freaking out because they haven’t done enough community service or didn’t get a leadership position in a club. I want to see juniors ready to stab the next person that asks them which colleges they want to apply to. I want to see seniors frustrated that they have to defend their college choices from the relentless judgement of others.

I wish those things didn’t exist, but they do, so start writing about them.

6. Bad teachers.

While inspiring, there-when-you-need-a-word-of-advice teachers are common in YA, bad teachers aren’t talked about enough. They can destroy a school year. They can make you not want to go to class or care about your grade.

7. Battles for something other than valedictorian.

I have started seeing a lot of books centered around people battling for being top of the class. First of all, a lot of schools don’t do ranking anymore (my school doesn’t), and second of all, academics are competitive even on a lower level. College apps pit you against millions of other high school students, and that puts an inherently competitive edge into a lot of aspects of high school.

8. An understanding of AP classes, the SAT/ACT, SAT subject tests, etc.

So often, I’ll be reading a book and a character will go to “AP History.” It seems like a minor thing, but it jars me out of the story. There are at least three different classes that could be called “AP History,” and when the author doesn’t pick one, it gives me the impression that they haven’t talked to HS student in years.

There’s also a financial side of standardized tests that should be looked at. If your character is poor, talk about how expensive these tests are, how complicated getting fee waivers can be, and how frustrating it is to be competing with people who can buy prep books and classes without blinking an eye.

9. Dress codes.

Not every book needs to talk about this, but some should. There is a giant push back against dress codes right now, pointing out how sexist and outdated they are. I would love to see this discussed in a YA book.

10. Sleep deprivation.

I can’t tell you how often I hear people say that they got 2-3 hours of sleep the night before, or that getting 5 hours is a lot for them. Sleep deprivation has serious side effects that I see all around me every day, and I wish more authors would talk about it.


What do you think? Fellow high school students, does this sound familiar? What parts of high school do you feel authors miss?

Book Review: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Edit: It has been brought to my attention that this book has problematic representation. While this book helped explain gender-fluidity, it does so in a way that is clearly written for cisgender people, not for gender fluid people who need representation in fiction. If you want to read about gender fluid individuals, seek out #ownvoices stories which center gender-fluid people, rather than writing for cis people’s benefit. Additionally, while never revealing the main character’s gender assigned at birth or using pronouns to describe the MC is compelling, it is a choice that can undermine important parts of life for gender-fluid individuals. Also, not using pronouns undermines the educational value, in my opinion, by refusing to normalize gender-neutral pronouns.


An emotional roller coaster of a story that helped me understand gender fluidity.

3/5 stars

cover symptoms of being human synopsis for reviews 2

The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is…Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

Add it on Goodreads

my thoughts for reviews 1

I did not know what to expect from Symptoms of Being Human, but I got an emotionally charged story that honestly changed the way I see the world.

I loved Riley’s character. Their voice was clear from the first page, with just enough sass and never too much brooding. I was sucked into their life and was incredibly emotionally invested in everything that happened.

Through Riley, I got a vivid window into what it is like to be gender fluid. The way that the author presented Riley’s character felt natural; it feels like a novel, not a pamphlet. I had never considered what it would be like to be gender fluid before, but Symptoms of Being Human really helped me understand it. SOBH also has various other LGBT characters and spends a lot of time clarifying the nuances between each in a clear way—without breaking up the flow of the story. I am thinking of passing this book onto my grandparents because of how simply but clearly it explains different LGBT identities.

Riley’s first day of school made me nervous. The depiction of high school was extremely stereotypical, kind of everything I avoid when it comes to contemporary books. Though it never completely shook the stereotypical beginning, the high school was thankfully given more nuance as the story progressed.

The side characters helped the story avoid being totally cliche. Both Solo and Bec broke the “best friend” and “love interest” molds, bringing originality and life to the story. I loved that their relationships with Riley did not progress easily from their first meets to friendship; the friction they had with Riley gave the story more layers and helped the plot go in interesting directions. Bec’s backstory complemented the main plot without feeling like it was added in only for that purpose.

Speaking of the plot, SOBH was paced exceptionally well. For a contemporary book, the pacing is pretty fast, especially past the halfway mark. I was sucked in, both because of the plot and the emotions the plot evoked. I read the book in basically two sittings, and I cried for most of the ending.

The process of Riley’s blog going viral felt natural and realistic. Riley was actually a really strong writer who was able to put his emotions into moving words, making it understandable why his blog would become popular. Even so, the blog did not go viral overnight, and it was not a positive process. Riley started a blog assuming no one would care and became a lightning rod for LGBT controversies and discussions within a few weeks. It was overwhelming and frightening for Riley, and that was before someone threatened to expose his identity in real life.

As much as I loved SOBH, I have a few problems with the plot. I saw the identity of the person who was threatening Riley coming from miles away. Though the plot grabbed me, it never took an entirely unexpected turn. Looking back on the story, I feel like the author could have done more to make the plot less predictable. Making the story longer and fleshing out some of the side plots could have helped make the story more unique, I think.

Overall, I would recommend SOBH to everyone. It does a fantastic job bringing Riley’s identity to life. Though the plot has technical flaws, the story is gripping and powerful, and I dare you not to be horrified and saddened throughout the book. I will definitely read anything else Jeff Garvin writes.

Book Review: The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

An incredible story of love and friendship that made me laugh and cry in equal measure.

5/5 stars

cover the unexpected everything

synopsis for reviews 2

Andie had it all planned out.

When you are a politician’s daughter who’s pretty much raised yourself, you learn everything can be planned or spun, or both. Especially your future.

Important internship? Check.

Amazing friends? Check.

Guys? Check (as long as we’re talking no more than three weeks).

But that was before the scandal. Before having to be in the same house with her dad. Before walking an insane number of dogs. That was before Clark and those few months that might change her whole life.

Because here’s the thing—if everything’s planned out, you can never find the unexpected.

And where’s the fun in that?

my thoughts for reviews 1

As this was my third Morgan Matson book, I had no doubt that I would enjoy the story. I just didn’t think that I would love it as much as I did.

Andie was a great protagonist. She starts off the book your typical Type A, planning-for-college-since-freshman-year character, but when her plans go off the rails, a more complex personality starts to emergeFor a little while, it seemed like she was going to be really similar to Matson’s other protagonists, which would have been a little disappointing, but thankfully she grew into her own character.

Though her life was very different from my own, I felt instantly connected to Andie. She was incredibly relatable, and I always understood what she was feeling and why she made the choices she made. Her growth felt natural and well-paced. I couldn’t describe the exact moment she became a more down-to-earth person—that was how smooth the transition was.

Andie’s group of friends had everything that I look for from friendships in books: Positive interactions between girls in which they actually talk about emotions/insecurities/sex? Check. Male friends that have nuanced personalities and are treated as part of the group? Check. Side characters that have nuanced relationships with each other and clear personalities and their own subplots? Check, check, check. Yay!

Andie’s relationship with her dad was one of the most unexpected parts of the book. I knew that they would of course bond throughout the summer (it’s just that kind of book), but I was surprised at how natural the change in their relationship felt. The story was never preachy or cheesy, never yelled at the reader to just shut up and love their parents. Andie and her dad both consciously worked to improve their relationship.

And then there was Clark. I am 110% in love with Clark. He started the book as your average, gawky in front of a cute girl nerd (though his Doctor Who t-shirt already separated him from the pack). However, there was so much more to his character, and he ended up being one of the most unique love interests that I think I’ve ever read about.

I really don’t want to spoil anything because I loved how shocked I was as we slowly learned more about Clark. Suffice to say that I really related to him and his passions, and I wish we got to see more male characters with this kind of personality.

The romance between Clark and Andie was adorable (obviously, this is Morgan Matson we’re talking about). They have a cliche beginning—the usual “hey I met a hot person and we kept bumping into each other” thing—but from there on, their relationship became more and more unique. I liked that they didn’t immediately fall for each other and that even once they had been together for a while, they still hadn’t opened up to each other completely. I understood why they both held back, and it made what could have been a tired attempt to add drama feel new and believable.

I’m not going to lie, I spent most of the middle of TUE terrified because I could tell that their perfect relationship was bound to fall apart (they just had too many unresolved issues), and I knew it would kill me. Well, guess what? I spent the last quarter of the book crying. So at least I get credit for being right???

Even as I was crying, though, I knew that there was more to TUE than the romance. I wasn’t sobbing just because of Andie and Clark, but also because of Andie’s dad and Andie’s friends and Andie herself. Each of the subplots was written in such a way that they could all break my heart. TUE’s power comes from how freaking real it is; never once did something strike me as unbelievable or out-of-place.

TUE is really long. Like, longer than any other contemporary book I’ve read, I think. Because of how long it was, every plot line had time to shine and develop, every character got to grow, and none of their relationships felt rushed. I wish that more contemporary authors took this long to explore their stories.

Now for the little things I loved: The title, for one, is absolutely perfect. I loved the way that fantasy novels were woven into the book, combining two of my favorite genres in one. I loved that TUE and SYBG share the same setting, and I actually squealed out loud when I hit the tiny crossover scene between those two books.

Finally, I loved the ending of this book. I had finally stopped crying by the last pages, and I was able to enjoy the happiness that the ending gave me. However, the ending doesn’t fixes everything, and I appreciated that some things were left imperfect. An ending that put everything back together would have ruined the realism of the story and undermined its message.

I would recommend TUE to anyone who loves contemporary stories or who is looking for a book with a large focus on friendship and family. Though I spent an entire morning crying over it, the story is happy and uplifting more than anything else. My favorite Morgan Matson book yet.

Top Ten Reasons I Love Contemporary Romance

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Hey everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve taken part in TTT consistently, but it’s a new month and I have a good feeling about June.

This week’s topic was sort of a freebie: Top Ten Reasons I Love X. In the spirit of summer, I chose contemporary romances. Summer weather just puts me in the mood for a cute romance. For fun, I’ve included pictures of books that fulfilled each of the items on the list. 🙂

1. They make me smile.

cover ten things we did and probably shouldnt have

Let’s be honest: sometimes I need to be captivated by a story that isn’t dark magic and life-and-death situations pushing characters to the brink. Sometimes, I just want to read a cutesy love story with great characters and even better dialogue.

2. They help me recover from darker stories.

cover the distance between us

As I said, I can’t read doom and gloom fantasy novels 24/7, no matter how much I love them. I’d die of heartbreak and stress. Contemporary romances give me a chance to shake off the stress, heartbreak, and darkness from one fantasy series before starting another one.

I’ve also noticed that when I oscillate between fantasy and contemporary books, I have clearer memories of each, because I don’t ever have similar novels back-to-back. This only seems fair to all of the books I read.

3. They make me want to go out and do new things.

cover since youve been gone

Since You’ve Been Gone really did this for me, as did The Summer of Chasing Mermaids. There is nothing like reading about realistic characters going off and having adventures in the real world to make me want to do that for myself. As a fairly introverted person, it takes a lot to get me to want to do new things, and I love that these stories can have this effect on me.

4. Everyone needs some romantic humor at some point.

cover anna and the french kiss

I know I can count on contemporary books for some hilarious dialogue, usually with a lot of cringe-humor flirting. Few things can put a smile on my face faster than an awkward cute meet between two characters…or watching them stumble into love.

5. Two words: swoon-worthy love interests.

cover to all the boys ive loved before

This isn’t specific to contemporary books (I’m looking at you Rowan…and Gansey…), but it is basically a requirement for fluffy romances. And you know what? Sometimes a hot, witty love interest is exactly what I want from my reading experience.

6. I have a soft spot for ridiculous things.

cover the fill in boyfriend

A lot of contemporary romances have somewhat ridiculous premises. Characters get shoved into one-in-a-million circumstances, the boundaries of “possible” get stretched to allow for a cute meet, worst-case scenarios come true with remarkable frequency. It’s ridiculous and improbable…and I love it. I don’t necessarily need my adorable romance to have realistic foundations, not all the time. (Just as long as I believe in the romance that develops)

7. They bring friendship to life.

cover sisterhood of the travelling pants

Again, this isn’t something that is inherently specific to contemporary books, but some of my favorite friendships have come from this genre. There is something about seeing friendships tested by (and survive) real life circumstances that makes them come to life.

8. They can make me cry.

cover love and other unknown variables

A lot of people never cry at books. I am not one of those people. I cry all the time, and crying about a book gives me a special release that I can’t get anywhere else. I love books, even when (especially when) they destroy me—it’s part of the magic. And while I cry at all genres, contemporary books have a high success rate in this area.

9. They talk about the real world.

cover dream things true

I guess this is obvious, but contemporary books inherently talk about the world we live in today. A lot of times, they shy away from social issues and focus more on the romance—and that’s fine. But I love it when books weave swoony romances together with discussions of important societal problems.

10. They are so much more than “cute.”

I know that when I pick up a contemporary book, 99% of the time I’m just looking for a pick-me-up with some witty flirting, but most of the time, these books get the better of me. They talk about social issues and emotional frustrations and fears and joys.

It’s easy to write off these books based on their lovey-dovey covers and ridiculous plots—to be honest, I’ve done this—but it is almost never fair. I don’t think I can list a single book that could be described as “just romance.” Contemporary romances push us to see our own world in a new light, to understand our emotions in a different way, and that is a power that should never be ignored.


What about you? Why do you love contemporary romances?

Do you have any recs? I desperately need more of these books if I’m going to survive my heartbreaking TBR for this summer.