The book recommendations return, just in time for the end of NaNoWriMo!
SAINT ANYTHING by Sarah Dessen (Goodreads)
Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?
Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.
I’ve talked about my love for Sarah Dessen’s books many, many times. She’s one of my favourite authors, but this one blew everything out of the water. It’s the sixth book of hers that I’ve read, and it’s now replaced JUST LISTEN as my favourite of hers. I didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did, honestly. Most of Sarah Dessen’s books are a lot lighter, and this one—a novel where the main character’s brother is in jail and is described as her “deepest and most psychologically probing” book yet—made me a little leery. But I think part of the reason why some of my other favourites of hers are my favourites is because of that dark aspect. So I picked this book up from the library, and I wasn’t disappointed.
There are certain things I can point out from some of her other novels that I love—the Wish Catering family in THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER, the relationship between Owen and his sister in JUST LISTEN—that, in SAINT ANYTHING, were even better. The Chatham family drew me in immediately. Probably partially because I’m an only child, I’ve always loved books that have big, tight-knit families in them, and the Chathams certainly fit the bill. I loved Layla, who I firmly believe is my soul sister (because fries), and Mrs. Chatham (this lady is hilarious, oh my God), and Rosie for all her faults, and, of course, Mac. One of my favourite thing about Sarah Dessen books is how real her male leads are, but something about Mac just captured my heart. Man, I think he may have even beaten out Wes as my favourite of her male leads.
Then, of course, there’s the main character. I really liked Sydney, because as the shy kid who feels invisible sometimes too, I could relate to her. Actually, the only thing I didn’t like about this novel was how controlling Sydney’s mother was, but I could understand why, so it wasn’t that much of a problem for me. Overall, I really, really loved this book.
ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven (Goodreads)
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
God, this book.
Let me tell you a story: I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down, actually. I loved Finch’s character so much, because he was so quirky and wonderful. And after a few chapters, Violet took a piece of my heart too. Gosh, I loved their romance, I loved the buildup—I loved everything. It was so real to me I could see it in my head like I was Finch or Violet and I loved it. This is the kind of book I can sink my teeth into and lose myself in. I thought this might even be my second favourite book of all time (THE FAULT IN OUR STARS will always take the top spot, because it was one of the first books that made me sob like a damn baby, and also AUGUSTUS WATERS).
And then, near the end, something—no spoilers—happened, and suddenly I hated it.
It was such a visceral reaction, too. For a couple seconds, I just stared down at the same sentence over and over again, open-mouthed. Reading it over and over again like maybe I read it wrong, or maybe somehow it’d changed. But it stayed the same.
Then, I slammed the book shut, looked at the cover for another couple seconds, and said, fairly loudly, “WHAT THE F***?!”
It was two AM, guys. I wasn’t even supposed to be up, but I loved the book so much that I’d done the thing my parents strictly forbid me from doing, and was reading in bed. My parents weren’t asleep, thankfully, but my dad was in his office in the next room. He came in to find out what was wrong just as I started swearing again, and when I finally told him why—something that included a lot more swearing—he wasn’t amused.
This book rattled me so much it took me an hour before I could calm down enough to sleep. I was so mad I actually refused to finish reading this book—something that I’ve done maybe once or twice in my life. But then, two days before I had to take ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES back to the library (re: broke high school kid), I finally gave in. And like the initial reading, I didn’t put the book down until I finished the last page. And truth be told, the ending was, all things considered, the best possible ending it could have been.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. I love Jennifer Niven’s style, and I love love love her characters. This book still broke my heart, though, and in that week where I refused to finish it, I honestly hated it. Maybe that’s because some part of what happened is personal. Maybe it’s because I got too involved in this book. But I was really, really angry at this book for a while. But right now, if you were to ask me what I thought about ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES, I’d tell you it’s an amazing/wonderful/beautiful book, and even though it might break your heart, you should read it.
CITY OF HEAVENLY FIRE by Cassandra Clare (Goodreads)
In this dazzling and long-awaited conclusion to the acclaimed Mortal Instruments series, Clary and her friends fight the greatest evil they have ever faced: Clary’s own brother.
Sebastian Morgenstern is on the move, systematically turning Shadowhunter against Shadowhunter. Bearing the Infernal Cup, he transforms Shadowhunters into creatures out of nightmare, tearing apart families and lovers as the ranks of his Endarkened army swell.
The embattled Shadowhunters withdraw to Idris – but not even the famed demon towers of Alicante can keep Sebastian at bay. And with the Nephilim trapped in Idris, who will guard the world against demons?
When one of the greatest betrayals the Nephilim have ever known is revealed, Clary, Jace, Isabelle, Simon, and Alec must flee – even if their journey takes them deep into the demon realms, where no Shadowhunter has set foot before, and from which no human being has ever returned…
I get really into some series(es?), man. There’s the HARRY POTTER series, the PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS/THE HEROES OF OLYMPUS series, the HUNGER GAMES trilogy, the DIVERGENT trilogy, and, of course, the MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series. I don’t read a whole ton of fantasy, admittedly, but the fantasy series that I do read, I fall in love with. God, this series. Clary always seemed so real to me, so relatable, and I loved her from the first few sentences. Also, there’s Jace. Oh my gosh, I could write novels on that boy.
Look, I don’t like bad boys. I actually really, really hate that cliché. But bad boys hiding a lot of hurt that are actually cute little teddy bears inside? Show me one and I will love them. Jace Lightwood, Bellamy Blake, Four—oh man. It’s an actual problem. I really, really love Jace because he’s like this tough boy who—in his own words—believes that “to love is to destroy”, and hides his feelings with indifference and sarcasm. Then he becomes this cute little adorable Shadowhunter who stumbles around Clary and opens up to her and starts to let himself show emotion and—yeah, okay, I’m rambling. Point is, Jace’s characterization is amazing. I love all the characters in this series, honestly: strong, badass Isabelle Lightwood, who’s scared that love will make her fragile; Alec Lightwood, the boy struggling to make his parents proud in a world where his sexuality is frowned upon; Magnus Bane, the crazy-fabulous warlock; and last but definitely not least, Simon Lewis, Clary’s adorably nerdy best friend who I could probably also write novels on, but I won’t.
This book in particular is my favourite, though. What I like about the MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series is that although CITY OF BONES is pretty fricken’ awesome, Cassandra Clare’s writing gets better and better as the series goes on. This book, the last one in the series, just proves this. It’s the most heartbreaking and dangerous book in the series yet, but it’s also the most character-driven one, I think. You see a lot more development of the secondary characters, and a lot of development in the major characters, too. Even Sebastian, the book’s antagonist, was extremely well-written. Basically, if for nothing else, you should read the series just so you can get to this book, because it’s amazing.
What’ve you guys been reading lately? I’m always up for more book recommendations 🙂