Review: 99 Days

Review: 99 DaysTitle: 99 Days
Author: Katie Cotugno
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Release Date: April 21, 2015
Genre/Age Group: Contemporary, Young Adult
Source: Edelweiss
Add it: Goodreads
Rating: 4 Stars

Day 1: Julia Donnelly eggs my house my first night back in Star Lake, and that’s how I know everyone still remembers everything—how I destroyed my relationship with Patrick the night everything happened with his brother, Gabe. How I wrecked their whole family. Now I’m serving out my summer like a jail sentence: Just ninety-nine days till I can leave for college, and be done.

Day 4: A nasty note on my windshield makes it clear Julia isn’t finished. I’m expecting a fight when someone taps me on the shoulder, but it’s just Gabe, home from college and actually happy to see me. “For what it’s worth, Molly Barlow,” he says, “I’m really glad you’re back.”

Day 12: Gabe got me to come to this party, and I’m actually having fun. I think he’s about to kiss me—and that’s when I see Patrick. My Patrick, who’s supposed to be clear across the country. My Patrick, who’s never going to forgive me.

my thoughts

How to Love was one of my favorite books of 2014, so naturally 99 Days was one of my most anticipated but also most hyped-up-in-my-mind books of 2015. I was scared to read it. What if it didn’t live up to my crazy high expectations? There was absolutely no need to worry though—Katie Cotugno is a brilliant author. She’s a master at telling stories, especially ones about strong females, and she proved it once again with Molly, Imogen, and Tess in 99 Days. Even Cotugno’s dedication is perfect—“this one’s for the girls.” I feel like every female can relate to some of what Molly goes through in this book, and the way Molly handles herself? Flawless. I’m not saying that she doesn’t make her share of mistakes, but she does the best she can, especially in her world full of double standards and difficult situations. I will admit that I didn’t love 99 Days quite as much as How to Love, but it came pretty darn close.

Molly was practically a member of the Donnelly family for most of her life. She’d dated Patrick since they were kids, she was best friends with his sister Julia, and as a result of always being at the Donnelly house, she was also friends with their older brother Gabe. Molly ate supper there; she spent summers there; she was there when their father died—pretty much any major event in their lives included Molly. Unfortunately, one night with Gabe (after a fight and break-up with Patrick) changed Molly’s relationship with the Donnelly family forever. To make matters worse, Molly’s mother does something unthinkable, which forces Molly to leave Star Lake to spend her entire senior year at boarding school. 99 Days picks up the summer between high school and college, when Molly returns to her hometown and to face the Donnellys (and her former friend Imogen) for the first time since everything happened the previous year. Things get interesting very quickly, to say the least, as she counts the days until she can leave for college.

For me, the thing that makes Cotugno’s books so special is that they are real. Her characters are flawed, even unlikeable at times. There are moments when her books are even uncomfortable to read, but in a good way: she has this amazing ability to tap into the intensity of adolescent feelings. As I was reading 99 Days, it felt like it was just yesterday that I was in Molly’s shoes, feeling as if I was stumbling around in the dark, hoping that the decisions I made were the right ones. Realizing that people who I thought hung the moon had flaws (gasp! you mean the boy isn’t perfect?), and finding out that there isn’t a flashing arrow that always points you in the right direction. Sometimes you’re going to fall flat on your face. I love that Cotugno isn’t afraid to let her main characters be vulnerable or make bad decisions. As much as I was rooting for Molly, I had a sinking feeling that her infatuation with the Donnelly brothers was going to blow up in her face sooner or later. She made some not-so-great decisions during her summer in Star Lake, but damn it, you want to root for her and hope that just maybe it will have a happy ending!

There are so many things about 99 Days that I want to discuss, but if I mentioned them all, this would end up looking more like an essay instead of a review!  But seriously, I made so many notes about this one, and one thing specifically that stood out to me was the double standard that Molly has to deal with throughout the book. Molly is portrayed as the bad guy quite often, and I swear, I wanted to throw the book across the room at times because of the slut shaming that she repeatedly faces. She is blamed for “cheating” on Patrick, but is Gabe? Of course not, though he was certainly as “guilty” as Molly. She’s the person who has to leave town, the one who gets her house egged. However, it’s clear that Molly is a good person at the core. Even when she makes (really) bad decisions, she’s driven by her feelings and doing what she thinks is right for her at the time.

There are some AWESOME females in 99 Days, however, so don’t get the impression that this aforementioned double standard overwhelms the book. This book oozes girl power, and I love it. Imogen and Tess, two of the minor characters, are perhaps two of my favorite minor characters in YA recently. Imogen is a strong-willed friend who speaks her mind; she makes sure that Molly knows that she doesn’t approve of what she’s doing, and she also makes it clear that she will NOT drop Tess as a friend just because it may be awkward for Molly. And  Tess? My goodness, she’s a rock star. She is so genuine, and despite the awkwardness that results from her being Patrick’s new girlfriend, she is a good friend to Molly and vice versa. Though it’s clear that, due to the circumstances, Molly and Tess will never be BEST friends, I love that there’s no drama or slut shaming between these two. They respect each other, and it’s just refreshing to see positive female relationships in YA in lieu of drama!

If you can’t tell, I’m officially a Katie Cotugno fangirl for life. Since I read A LOT of YA contemporaries, sometimes they all start to seem veryyy similar and repetitive, but Cotugno’s 99 Days (and How to Love– read it too, if you haven’t!) is refreshingly unique. I can’t recommend her books enough. Now comes the hard part for me–waiting a year until her next book! Sigh. :)

Memorable Quotes

Taken from the ARC.

“…I think virginity is kind of an antiquated concept, right? Like some boy sticking it in you changes who you are as a human being.”

“He was my best friend. He was my first love. I had sex with his big brother. I broke his fucking heart.”

“For so long I just belonged to Patrick, the two of us so close we weren’t even two distinct people, like conjoined twins or one of those mutant double crackers you get sometimes if the Nabisco machinery slips up and doesn’t separate them correctly. It was good until it wasn’t, it worked until it broke, but sitting here at the top of the Ferris wheel with the whole world spread out in front of me all I can wonder is what would have happened if I’d spent all of high school–all my life–with Gabe instead. What if I’d gone to lake parties and hung out at Crow Bar instead of hiding out in the Donnellys barn with Patrick, the two of us casting idle judgement and breathing each other’s air? Would I have left so much horrifying wreckage? Would I have had more than just a tiny handful of friends?”

“I miss him so stupidly, absurdly much.”

“It feels like we’re tossing a ball back and forth, like Hot Potato, like neither one of us want to be the one left holding it when it explodes.”

Top Ten All Time Favorite Authors

 ttt

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

Ellis: This was pretty hard for me, because except for Marchetta, I haven’t read and/or loved everything by these authors, so then I started to question what even makes an all-time favourite author, because trust me to make things about 85% more difficult than they need to be. Anyway, these are the authors that go on my auto-buy list and whose books I’d consistently force on people, even if they wrote a disappointing one amidst of all the flawlessness. Melina is obvious number one, but the other four are in no particular order. | Judith: I also used Ellis’s strategy, because it sounded like a solid one. | Ellice: Same for me! I could have listed so many more, but I knew I had to stop somewhere or Judith would kill me for asking her to make so many graphics (speaking of, aren’t her graphics pretty?!)

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Series review: Engelsfors

Series review: EngelsforsTitle: Engelsfors series
Author: Mats Strandberg, Sara Bergmark Elfgren
Publisher: Hammer
Release Date: June 7, 2012
Genre/Age Group: Romance, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Purchased
Add it: Goodreads
Rating: 4 Stars

One night, when a strange red moon fills the sky, six school girls find themselves in an abandoned theme park, drawn there by a mysterious force. A student has just been found dead. Everyone suspects suicide. Everyone - except them.

In that derelict fairground an ancient prophecy is revealed. They are The Chosen Ones, a group of witches, bound together by a power, one which could destroy them all. But they soon learn that despite their differences they need each other in order to master the forces that have been awakened within them.

High school is now a matter of life and death. Because the killing has only just begun.

my thoughts

Disclaimer: the Engelsfors series is this very underrated super awesome YA series that consists of three books (The Circle, Fire, and The Key) but since I binged it and want to discuss the main lines I’m doing a non-spoilery series review. More motivation to start reading here.

I remember years ago View Spoiler » when I read the first book in the Engelsfors series and was a bit disappointed upon finishing. I think it came down to this: I bumped into it at the bookstore and saw it was about WITCHES. Instant excitement. Then I read the back or the first page or whatever informed me that this story was originally written in Swedish so I was like “cool. European YA.” MORE INSTANT EXCITEMENT. So my expectations were super high and this was at the time when I still started a book the moment I had it, but then I finished and was like “eh, nothing special.” Having reread the first book and then gone on a very intense series binge, I can now say that I was so hilariously wrong the first time around.

These books actually are pretty special, though most of it is in the characters and the details. I’m going to quickly discuss the not-so-special first. The main plot centres around this rather standard Chosen One narrative, though PLOT TWIST, there are actually seven of them so their guide is like “well wtf am I supposed to do with this now” while the Chosen Ones are like “was it really necessary to do this botched initiation ritual in the middle of the night in our PJs and also can we go home PLEASE.” The levels of sass and general hilaritude are quite high with this one, though it’s often very subtle, which doesn’t make it any less delightful. All three of these books come with quite a bit of build-up and it especially takes some time for things to get going in that 900-page brick of a third book, but trust me, it’s worth it.

The main goal for these seven teenage witches is to stop the prophesied apocalypse while also trying not to get murdered. And I’m not even trying to be funny with that one, because these authors are NOT playing around. At one point (end of the second book in case you’re curious) I started screaming and flopping around on my bed because I thought all my faves were going to die. I was not entirely wrong. What I loved about The Circle especially is how it shows these girls dealing/struggling with their powers and the imbalance it sometimes caused in their life. For example, some will at first abuse their new power to gain social status. Others are curious and excited and test them out as much as possible. There are also amazing parallels drawn between how these super witches can still be completely powerless in certain situations and/or don’t have the control on their life they wish they had, but keep fighting and try to find ways out for themselves and others.

Which brings me to the elements these books absolutely excel at: the characters, their relationships and the tremendous character arcs. In the hands of less skilled/invested authors, this part easily could have gone wrong. At first, each characters seems to be a high school archetype. We have Linnéa, the goth, Vanessa, the “slut”, Ida, the mean girl, Minoo, the nerd/teacher’s pet, Anna-Karin, the loner, Rebecka, the popular girl with an eating disorder, and Elias, the troubled teen. I’m actually starting to think the authors tried to trick us with these stereotypes because these characters have such depth, so many layers and are so three-dimensional pretty much from the beginning. (Yes, I know I basically said the same thing three times. It’s all true.)

*casual intermezzo*

Natalie, if you’re reading this: remember when we were yelling all those girls liking/hanging out with/standing up for/taking care of/having fun with girls things about Saving Francesca and then started headcanoning girls going down on girls alternatives? Read this series.

*casually moonwalks back*

Slightly related, but the sex positivity and acknowledging teenage girls as sexual beings with different experiences and preferences is on point. We have girls masturbating, girls fantasising, girls watching porn, girls not being interested in sex all that much, girls completely owning their sexuality, girls being scared that no one will ever be attracted to them, girls who have sex because they need an escape from the mess that is their lives, girls who have sex because they love it, and girls who share sexual experiences and non-experiences with each other. Also, quite a few main and side characters are queer and/or fluid in their sexuality. Some of them have always known, and others discover this in the course of the series. It’s beautiful.

However, there are also a lot of serious issues that get dealt with. There’s a story line that involves one of the girls being forced to jump off a bridge and kill herself by the most popular guys in town, and the town is willing to let them get away with it because these are SUCH GOOD GUYS and look at her she is SUCH A SLUT. There are subplots that deal with bullying, mental and physical abuse, unhealthy friendships and family dynamics, (dubious) consent, eating disorders, the foster care system, and generally not fitting the mould a small town expects you to conform to. It’s painfully realistic and handled with care and respect.

*casual intermezzo pt. 2*

Oh, and did I tell you about my otp? So one of them has the power to become invisible and sneaks into the other one’s apartment because she’s solving a personal mystery. The other one is fully aware that she’s there but that doesn’t stop her from getting it on with a guy right in front of her. It’s heavily implied they both got off on it. (Not the guy, though. Nobody cares about the guy. He’s completely ignorant.) They also borrow each other’s clothes, swap bodies, find the other immediately when they’re in the same room, keep checking each other out when they think the other one isn’t watching, used to date the same guy but consistently pick each other over him nonetheless, give each other grief over the losers they’re dating/hooking up with, and so much more I want to get into but spoilers.

*casually moonwalks back while trying not to slip on my own tears*

I love these characters so much. It’s in Minoo knowing how most people see her as plain and really not a threat, but doesn’t want to be harmless. It’s in Vanessa being the most loyal and loving character. It’s in Linnéa slowly letting people in and wearing her make-up as warrior paint. It’s in Rebecka trying to keep the circle together when they don’t even want to acknowledge each other’s existence. It’s in Anna-Karin speaking up and rallying the troops when everyone wants to give up. It’s in Ida going through this spectacular redemption arc without excuses ever being made for the horrible things she did in the past, even if it was under peer pressure and because of the mentally abusive household she grew up in.

And most of all, it’s in the fact that everything I just said is only a part of their amazing personalities. They’re allowed to be cranky, annoyed, tired, angry, and 100% done with the world. They’re allowed to be curious, sexual, worried, restrained, happy, lonely, creative, desperate, caring, determined, hurt, and get drunk, high, and naked. They’re allowed to care about school, their families, trying to fit in, wanting to be noticed, wanting to have real friends, fighting for doomed relationships, and the safety of the people closest to them. They’re allowed to cry and make mistakes, and while these and their importance won’t be brushed off, they are also not condemned for them. These books treat their characters as smart, capable and complex beings. Teenage girls are treated with so much respect and understanding and DID I TELL YOU THEY HAVE AIN’T NOBODY FUCKING WITH MY CLIQUE MOMENTS SEVERAL TIMES THROUGHOUT THIS ENTIRE SERIES AND OH THE TEARS I SHED.

And do I have to remind you that all this is happening against a backdrop of them trying to save the world hmmmm.

I do have a few critiques, though. First of all, it took some time to get used to the language. I can’t tell if it’s because it’s a translation or because it’s a writing style I’m not entirely used to. There’s also a bit too much telling for my taste. Sometimes things get overexplained and some of the sentences even almost looked like very awkward stage directions. Especially in the first book, there’s a lot of jumping between POVs at the most random of moments, and I was sad that not all POVs were included from the beginning, though there are reasons. However, once the language clicked for me, I started seeing the humour in the way Elfgren and Strandberg phrased things. They’re also very talented at creating their characters through language and dialogue.

Nevertheless, I’m very glad I gave this series a second chance. While the books are quite chunky, they read surprisingly fast. I completely fell in love the second time around and am 100% rereading these soon(ish).

Here, have a list:

  • favourite main character: Vanessa
  • favourite side character: Evelina
  • favourite arc: Minoo, even when she was FUCKING EVERYTHING UP
  • favourite ship: Vanessa and Linnéa
  • favourite friendship: Vanessa, Evelina and Michelle with an extra headcanon of them dancing on tables to Taylor Swift’s New Romantics

memorable quotes

“‘Who are you?’ she asks.
‘Nicolaus Elingius is my name. I am your guide. You are the Chosen One.’
‘Chosen for what?’ Minoo asks.
‘I don’t know yet,’ says Nicolaus impatiently.
‘So you don’t know any more than I do about what’s going on?’
He looks around furtively. ‘No. I mean . . . We have to be patient. I’m trying to grasp my memories, but that’s like trying to catch a sunbeam. Like the newborn lamb that opens its eyes to the light and is blinded, we shall—’
‘I’m going home now,’ says Minoo.”

“‘I thought you’d take it much harder,’ she says.
‘So did I. But the way he behaves is so unsexy. I just can’t take it … Michelle is upset because we don’t hang with her any longer. And Dad is bitter because I’ve stopped going to Örebro. Mum and I have fought more than ever because I’m skipping school all the time, and all I want to say to all of them is like, Hello, I’m busy trying to save your life and everybody else’s.”

“Rebecka was such a sensible girl, not at all the type to develop an eating disorder, the nurse thought.”
(PSA that a lot of people think like this but SHOCKINGLY eating disorders aren’t just for “silly” girls.)

“Wille teases her for always wanting sex, but he loves her for it, she knows. He thinks it’s all his doing, that he’s so incredible in bed she just can’t get enough of him. But Vanessa has always loved sex. Even the first time, when everyone said it was supposed to hurt.”

“‘Hello?’ Ida says shrilly. ‘Are you still there?’
‘Yes, yes. I’m here. But listen, we need to concentrate on the trial now,’ Minoo says. ‘We can’t fight two enemies at the same time.’ A sound in the phone, almost a sob. ‘Is everything all right, Ida?’ Minoo asks.
‘What a fucking marvellous life!’ Ida says. ‘How I simply adore my wonderful rich life! My family, my boyfriend and all my friends have joined a demonic sect!’”

“Shit, she really is hot, Vanessa thinks.”

“Not that it’s ever quiet inside Minoo’s head: to-do lists, obligations, possible and impossible scenarios play out constantly. And there’s always a stupid remark she made or some embarrassing thing she did to obsess about. Sometimes she contemplates embarrassing things she did a hundred years ago and is overwhelmed by shame.”

Jump for Jojo: The Last Letter from Your Lover + Giveaway

jumpforjojo

Welcome to the fourth installment of Jump for Jojo, y’all! It’s probably no secret to any of you that Jojo Moyes is one of my favorite authors EVER. So when Alexa and Rachel asked if I’d like to participate in a week-long event that they were planning in celebration of this amazingly talented writer and her books, I jumped for Jojo, errrr, joy. :) My portion of the Jump for Jojo tour celebrates The Last Letter from Your Lover, a book that packed a huge punch to my gut, my head, and my heart, just like any Jojo Moyes’ novel is prone to do. As I was reading The Last Letter from Your Lover, I found myself wishing for certain items that I couldn’t get my hands on at 11:00 at night when I was in bed, reading Jennifer Stirling’s emotional story. That’s when the idea hit me– survival kits! Since reading her books is such a wonderfully absorbing, thought-provoking, and emotional experience, each Jojo Moyes novel should come with its very own, customized little survival kit! When I re-read The Last Letter from Your Lover (a 5-star read for me, if you had any doubt! haha), here is what I will want in my…

The Last Letter From Your Lover Survival Kit

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Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaTitle: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Author: Becky Albertalli
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Release Date: April 7, 2015
Genre/Age Group: Contemporary, Young Adult
Source: Purchased
Add it: Goodreads
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

my thoughts

This is quite a short review because while I really liked Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, I just don’t have much to say about it. I actually bought this book on a whim when I saw it in the bookstore because I’d forgotten my current read at home, and I’m glad this happened because I ended up finishing this book in less than a day. I enjoyed it a lot!

The book is about sixteen-year-old Simon Spier, who is gay but no one knows it except for Blue, a mysterious boy he’s been emailing. I liked Simon, who didn’t always make the best choices, but who still cared. My main reason for finishing this book so fast, though, is that I was dying to find out who Blue was. Their emails were actually the most adorable thing, and it was so sweet to see them fall for each other. I kind of figured out Blue’s identity, but I was still unsure until the very end, and the ending made me smile. Aside from the romance, I like how this book felt very complete to me. Often, YA contemporary books are focused on one aspect, mostly romance, and the rest of the characters’ lives gets pushed to the side. That wasn’t the case in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. This book deals with family, friendship, romance, school, after school activities, and at the end, most of these aspects felt complete and dealt with appropriately.

Furthermore, the family and friendship dynamics just made me so happy. I love how family is still obviously an important part of Simon’s life, and his relationship with his parents and sisters was amazing. Obviously they make mistakes and they don’t always handle things the way they should, but in the end, they all love and support each other. This was also an important part of Simon’s friendship group. Albertalli showed really well how the dynamics of a friend group work, and should work. Of course, people will mess up and it’s always difficult when you all go through big changes, and when new people join the group, but ultimately, these friends loved each other a lot, and that was lovely to see (even if I wish there had been a little more resolution with Leah, who got pushed to the back a bit). But I love how both Simon’s friends and family never once treated him differently once he came out. So much love and support in this novel.

There are some things I think deserved a little more, like Nora’s story, or Leah’s story, but of course, this is Simon’s story and it might be more realistic this way. There were also a lot of little things that I really enjoyed, like the fact that Simon was in the play, but didn’t play the lead character (this doesn’t happen very often), or the way his drama teacher reacts to homophobic/asshole teenagers, or the random games Simon’s family played (like the Facebook scavenger hunt). All in all, I enjoyed Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda a lot, but more in a quick read kind of way. I don’t think this book will end up being very memorable to me in the future, but I am happy I read it and even happier that this book exists, because it shows just how important family and friends are when it comes to finding out who you are, even when they don’t always react in the right way and things might get messy for a bit. Support really is everything.

memorable quotes

“As a side note, don’t you think everyone should have to come out? Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it should be this big awkward thing whether you’re straight, gay, bi, or whatever.”

“It is definitely annoying that straight (and white, for that matter) is the default, and that the only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit that mold.”