Review: Before Everything by Victoria Redel 

This book is a lot of work to read. It’s emotionally taxing (although I didn’t even cry until near the end) and, frankly, depressing. Anna is dying of cancer. And that’s no spoiler, pal. That’s the premise of the book. 

Before Everything is also about love and friendship and family and a few secrets. Victoria Redel designs Anna’s friendships so realistically that the secrets the women have make me remember secrets I have with my friends … not contrived or hyperbolic or beyond belief, but just stuff we know about each other because we’ve been friends for so long. 

I read this book in hopes that I’d come to a better understanding of what it’s like for the family of a person dying of cancer. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let myself feel it 100%. So instead I read with my shoulders tensed, my mind rushing to get to the next scene, and only half my heart with Anna. 

It’s a good read if you can let your guard down. I held back because otherwise it would’ve been too painful. Thinking about that, well, maybe I did learn what it’s like to be close to someone who’s dying. 

-calliope

Buy BEFORE EVERYTHING

Review: All the Ways the World Can End by Abby Sher

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Funny.  Sad.  Relatable.  Unbelievable.  This book covers all this and more.  And then it goes back and repeats.

Lenny has a lot going on in her life.  A LOT.  Her dad is dying from cancer, mom is a busy attorney who uses her job to escape that harsh reality, and sister Emma is away at college. That leaves Lenny to deal with the day to day stuff.  Still, she’s in denial about how sick her dad actually is.  She copes by keeping a list of all the different ways there are for the world to end.  Oh and her crush on one of her dad’s doctors.

I went back and forth on how much I enjoyed this book, alternating between liking it very much and just liking it.  It’s good, heartbreakingly so at times.  But there are some underlying issues I didn’t feel good about.  Lenny’s behavior at times borders on mentally unstable.  Understandable with all she’s dealing with but still.  And her obsession with the doctor is over the top. Nevertheless it’s a good read, a realistic picture of life and dealing with death.

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  All the Ways the World Can End

Review: Under a Summer Sky by Melody Carlson

This is a cute summer read set in Savannah, where we find art teacher Nicole house-sitting for a family friend and working at an art gallery. Nicole thought she’d have a quiet summer with plenty of time to paint, but instead finds herself overwhelmed with a difficult co-worker, childhood friends-turned-handsome-men, and a teenager who just needs a little love and direction. 

I loved all the references to art and architecture, the Savannah sunsets, and the diplomatic way Nicole finessed her way through a few unexpected situations. As usual for her novels, Carlson includes a little bit of God to illustrate his presence, but doesn’t use the novel to preach or proselytize. And as usual for my favorite summer reads, this one ends in a happily ever after. 

-Calliope 

Buy UNDER A SUMMER SKY

Review: All the Forever Things by Jolene Perry

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I love strong female characters.  I especially love unique, strong, teenage female characters.  It’s hard enough to be a teenager.  More so if you’re female and march to the beat of your own drum.

Gabriella lives in a funeral home.  It’s all she’s ever known.  So of course she’s heard all the jokes and whispers at school.  Bothered her at first, but now she’s used to it.  She has her own (very little) group of friends to go along with her strange family.

As all teenage things are destined to do, though, her comfortable life comes to an end.  When her forever best friend falls for one of her biggest tormentors, Gabriella finds herself lost.  Luckily there’s a new kid at school, and he’s almost as strange as Gabriella.  Hartman seems to want more than friendship and she’s not sure she’s ready for that.  Along the way, her friendship with Bree is tested in ways she never imagined.

This was such a fun story to read.  The cast of characters that comes from living in a funeral home is just as you would imagine it to be.  Gabe is funny and charming, and her parents are just as much so.  One of my favorites of last year!

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  All the Forever Things

Review: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

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For a long time, young adult novels pretty much ran the gamut from surviving a bully to falling in everlasting love.  Thankfully times have changed somewhat.  Today’s authors are giving us stories full of believable characters, not just those who fit into a stereotypical mold of the perfect teenager.

Libby has A LOT of things going against her.  She’s overweight, significantly so.  She’s never had a boyfriend.  Her mom is dead.  She’s been homeschooled for the past several years and is way out of touch with the high school scene. She has no friends and has been bullied in the past.  And, oh yeah, she achieved national notoriety when she had to be cut out of her house because of her weight.

But she also has a lot going for her.  She has a loving father.  She’s lost a ton of weight since that infamous incident.  She’s funny, kind, smart, and resilient as all get out.  And she’s back in school after so many years away.  Of course there are struggles, but Libby’s up for the challenge.

And then there’s Jack.  As one of the popular, cool kids he’s the exact opposite of Libby on the outside.  But he has his problems and insecurities, too.  His swagger and confidence comes from a place of insecurity and shame.  He’s covering up a secret that he’ll do anything to protect.

Although Jack and Libby seem to have nothing in common, they’re unwillingly thrown together as the result of a cruel prank.  They find friendship first, and then something more.  Is it possible that two such different people can actually be happy together?

This is kind of a sappy romance book, which I’m usually not a fan of.  But I loved Libby’s spunk and her spirit.  She’s strong and confident as she flies in the face of everyone’s idea of the perfect teenager.  I would only wish that all young girls could have such confidence.  It’s very good most of the time.  Granted, there are parts of the story that were highly unbelievable for me just because I know how society treats people who are different.   It’s certainly something to wish for, though.

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  Holding Up the Universe

 

Review: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

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I can’t remember the last time I read a book with such a fitting title.  I mean, when you’re talking about navigating the world of high school as a confused and misguided teenager,  it truly does become the most dangerous place on earth.

The story really begins a few years before.  Something very tragic happened in middle school.  And while certain people were definitely to blame, very few will admit it.  Fast forward to high school.  Same kids, different problems. Switching back and forth between several characters, we hear it all.  Bullying, both face to face and online.  Drug and alcohol use.  Hooking up.  Hooking up with teachers.  Being ignored by parents.  Just because your parents are loaded doesn’t make these problems, and a myriad of others, any less damaging. Some people are resilient and able to move on.  Some people pretend they’re okay but they aren’t really.  Who you are in high school and what you choose to do can determine the rest of your life.

This story is dark. It’s depressing.  And it leaves little hope for the state of the American teenager in today’s world. But it’s also very realistic as much as parents and other adults might want to think otherwise.  The issues presented are happening.  Maybe not all at the same time and in the same school but still.

I must also caution that, although this is described as a young adult book, I would leave it for older and more mature teens only.

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Review: Detached by Christina Kilbourne

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There’s  a game my fellow Muses & I like to play from time to time.  We call it “Guess the Muse” and it involves guessing which one of our brilliant reviewers has written a certain review.  Yes, we are that predictable at times.  And I’ve been known to gravitate towards books involving young people facing issues of all kinds.  So for this review,  I’m staying true to form.

Anna is in a very dark place.  She enjoys nothing, feels nothing, even tastes nothing.  Everything in her life is just there.  So she dreams of an escape route, even going so far as to make a list of possible ways to commit suicide.  And she makes a few attempts, although none of them come close to being successful.  Until the very last one.

Depression and suicide in teens are always difficult topics to read about. But they’re   important ones because they’re  very real. This book does a good job of telling the story of one such teen in a way that’s entirely believable. Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed was hearing Anna’s story told from three different perspectives: Anna herself, her mother, and her best friend. It’s a reminder that these are issues that don’t just affect one person but instead everyone around that person.

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  Detached