Searching for Sylvie Lee

Rating: ⭐
Author: Jean Kwok
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
Pub. date: Jun. 2019 (read Aug. 2019)

I really like Jean Kwok’s writing style. I read Girl in Translation last year and loved it and have been dying to read Searching for Sylvie Lee since I first read the synopsis. Both books are quite different, but left me with similar feelings. I feel like both were probably 4 star books, but something about the writing and the characters just makes me feel very strongly about them and in the end, I rated both books 5 stars. Searching for Sylvie Lee does get a little dramatic and unbelievable towards the end, but because the book was really about character development for me, I can let it slide.

Searching for Sylvie Lee is told from multiple perspectives, with the most dominant (for me anyways), being told from the point of view of Amy. Amy is younger sister to Sylvie and both are daughters of Chinese-American immigrants. Their parents moved to America and struggled to survive, deciding to send their first daughter, Sylvie, to the Netherlands to live with her grandmother until they could afford to give her a better life. She returns at the age of 9 (I think, can’t quite remember), after the birth of the second daughter, Amy. The story is narrated by Amy, Sylvie, and their mother, so we get many perspectives from this small family.

To Amy, Sylvie is the epitome of accomplishment and she greatly looks up to her, considering herself the lesser sister. To Sylvie, Amy is the image of innocence. She works very hard to be successful because she feels her parents will never love her as much as Amy since she was raised away from them for the first part of her life.

When their grandmother becomes ill, Sylvie returns to the Netherlands to say goodbye, but disappears before returning home. No one knows what happened to her and Amy’s dutch relatives don’t seem too concerned about Sylvie. But Amy knows Sylvie would never just disappear like that, so she jumps on a plane for the first time in her life and travels to the Netherlands to search for the truth.

This is the prefect family drama about all the feelings of love and resentment that exist within the family dynamic. Everyone has their own secrets and the unspoken past has had longstanding and far-reaching consequences on the entire family. Sylvie has a life in Holland that none of her family in America could really understand and the impact of growing up under the thumb of her Aunt impacted her in ways the sisters don’t understand until much later. Sylvie struggles to be the daughter she thinks she should be, while Amy is afraid to live her life the way she would like to.

Everyone has secrets and they have been tearing the family apart for decades without them even realizing it. This is very much a book about the immigrant experience, but also a book about living courageously. I thought that each character was well realized and developed. Everyone had flaws, but it only made them more relatable and served to make me empathize more with each character.

Like I said, it’s a character driven book, but it does have a strong plot to support it. We’re propelled by the mystery element of what happened to Sylvie, but discover so many secrets and deceptions along the way. That said, don’t come to this book looking for a mystery/thriller. It’s not the driving force of the story, but rather a tool to connect with the deeper pain and anguish of each of the characters. The ways they’ve been wronged, the mistakes they’ve made, and the ways in which they’ve been misunderstood.

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Bookish Academy Awards Tag

I love watching and reading people’s lists for this tag every year, so this year I decided to jump on the bandwagon and do the tag myself! It’s basically a list of all the awards at the Academy Awards, but for the books I read in 2018. I’ll be picking my winners from all the books I read in 2018, not just the ones that were published in 2018. So I have a total of 120 books to pick from and you can see my full list here if you’re interested. I’ve done my best to avoid selecting the same book for multiple categories, but in some cases I felt the same book really was the best pick for both awards. Here we go:

Best Male Protagonist (Best Actor)

Winner: Bitty from Check Please!: #Hockey

Reason: He’s a gay hockey player who loves to bake and make people feel good! What’s not to love?!

Runner ups: Prince Cas from Ruined, Radu from Bright We Burn, Cormoran Strike from Lethal White

Best Female Protagonist (Best Actress):

Winner: Morrigan Crow from Wundersmith

Reason: She is brave and perseveres though she is alienated at her school. She just wants to be accepted and be a good friend.

Runner ups: Kimberly from Girl in Translation, Felicity from The Ladies Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, Maddy from Code Name Verity

Best Male Sidekick (Best Supporting Actor):

Winner: Axel from The Astonishing Color of After

Reason: He is so sweet and such a good friend! He is always there for Leigh and understands when she needs some personal time.

Runner ups: Mitch from Vicious/Vengeful, all the boys in Fence, Benji from Us Against You

Best Female Sidekick (Best Supporting Actress):

Winner: Kitty from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Reason: She has such a great personality and she loves her sisters. She made me laugh so much and I loved her energy!

Runner ups: Amari from Children of Blood and Bone, Sheilagh Fielding from The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Rosa from Rose Under Fire

Best Writer you discovered for the first time (Best Director):

Winner: K.A. Tucker

Reason: I read her newest book, The Simple Wild and fell in love with her writing, characters, and setting!

Runner ups: Alice Oseman (Radio Silence), Emma Hooper (Our Homesick Songs), Courtney Summers (Sadie)

Best Plot Twist (Best Cinematography):

Winner: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Reason: There are a ton of crazy plot twists and I didn’t see any of them coming! Blew my book club’s mind!

Runner ups: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager, The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

Best Action in a Book (Best Visual Effects):

Winner: Ruined by Amy Tintera

Reason: It is so fast-paced, it just throws you into the action right away and it never stops!

Runner ups: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Best Book Cover (Best Costume Design):

Winner: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Reason: LOOK AT IT! This is my first repeat, but I am just so in love with how beautiful this is and all the colours – I had to pick it!

Runner ups: Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper, The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Best Audiobook (Best Musical Score):

Winner: Joanne Froggatt in Wuthering Heights

Reason: Froggatt is an accomplished actress and she did a wonderful job with all the accents and drawing me into the story!

Runner ups: Kyla Garcia in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Phoebe Robinson in Everything’s Trash, but it’s Okay, Rebekkah Ross in The Nowhere Girls

Most Unique Plot/World (Best Original Screenplay):

Winner: Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

Reason: I am obsessed with everything about this series. I love the world-building, the plot, and all the characters.

Runner ups: Women Talking by Miriam Toews, The Poppy War by R.F. Huang, Sadie by Courtney Summers

Best Book to Movie Adaptation (Best Adapted Screenplay):

Winner: Love Simon

Reason: I actually liked this more than the book. The acting, storyline, and soundtrack were all amazing! Technically I didn’t read the book, Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda, this year, but I did see the movie!

Runner ups: To All the Boys I Loved Before by Jenny Han on Netflix

Best Graphic Novel (Best Animated Feature):

Winner: Fence by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad

Reason: So much wonderful character development in this series! Somehow these authors succeeded in making fencing super interesting!

Runner ups: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Check Please!: #Hockey by Ngozi Ukazu

Best Novella or Short Book (Best Short Film):

Winner: Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Reason: Unique storytelling that demonstrates women’s ability to find solace, humour, and healing in one another.

Runner ups: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, Songs of a Sourdough by Robert W. Service

Best Historical Fiction (Best Documentary):

Winner: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Reason: The writing, the setting, the characters, and the story are all so captivating and richly developed.

Runner ups: Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Best Standalone (Best Picture):

Winner: Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

Reason: The writing is magical and transporting. I loved this mix of historical fiction and magical realism.

Runner ups: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker, Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Top 5 Reads of 2018

This is the companion post to my Top 10 Books of 2018, which features my favourite reads of the year that were actually published in 2018. This post will feature my top 5 books of the year that weren’t published in 2018. This works out well for me because its hard to narrow it down to just 10 books and the majority of the books I read are new releases. So here’s my top 5 reads of 2018 in no particular order:

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

You know how sometimes you read a book and you really like it, but then the more time passes, the more unsure you are of whether you actually liked it as much as you thought? This book was the opposite of that for me. I really liked it when I read it, but the further removed I’ve gotten from reading it, the better I think I actually like it. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tells the story of Julia, the teenage daughter of Mexican immigrants, and how she deals with the death of her older sister Olga. I know some people aren’t a fan of this book because honestly, Julia is super unlikable and confrontational in the story, but I thought it was such an accurate portrayal of a raging, rebellious, grieving teenager. Julia is struggling with accepting the death of her sister, who was the perfect daughter in her parents eyes, and she acts out against her parents traditional Mexican values. She struggles to understand her parents and her parents struggle to understand her. It’s ultimately a coming of age story about grief and the struggles of immigrant families. I listened to it as an audiobook and I would highly recommend this format – the narrator was fantastic and the whole reading experience was super enjoyable, despite the heavy topics.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

This was probably my most unexpected read of the year. I set an informal goal for myself to start reading more classics. I tried some Jane Austen and wasn’t the biggest fan, but I found Wuthering Heights on audiobook for a really cheap price and decided to give it a go. I’m not sure whether to credit Emily Bronte or Joanne Froggatt (the narrator) for how much I liked this, but together they made me absolutely LOVE this book. I don’t always love classics because they tend to wane on too much about nothing, but I loved the drama of Wuthering Heights. Evidently I have a thing for unlikable characters because NO ONE in this book is very likable. I think most people are familiar with the plot, so I won’t get too into it, I’ll just say that it’s an inter-generational story about the cycle of abuse and the human ability to both love and hate. I’ll still give Bronte most of the props, but Froggatt’s narration definitely played a role in making me love this as she does a fantastic job with all the characters and accents!

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation was one of the first books I read this year and while it was a slow-read novel, I really loved it. This book tells the semi-autobiographical story of 10 year old Kimberly Chan and spans about a decade in scope. Kim and her Ma are sponsored by her Aunt and move to New York from China. It’s based off the author’s experience immigrating to America and I thought it was such a well crafted story about the struggles immigrants face to build a new life and climb their way out of poverty. Kim and her Ma live in a run down apartment and work in her Aunt’s sweat shop sewing clothing. It’s technically Ma that works in the shop, but the workers regularly enlist the help of their children since they work on commission and it’s the only way they can make decent money. Kim attends school during the day and is driven by her desire to learn and get a job that will enable her to lift her family out of poverty. Like I said, it’s a quiet sort of story, but powerful and I really loved Kim’s character and perspective.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

I’m just now realizing that I read 3 of the 5 books on this list as audiobooks (this being the third), which is actually super impressive since I tend to dislike audiobooks a lot more than I love them. But I guess I found some real winners on Audible this year! The Nowhere Girls tells the story of 3 very different high school classmates: Grace, Rosina, and Erin. The biggest thing I can say about this book is: great representation. Grace is a fat, Christian girl; Rosina is a gay, Mexican girl; and Erin has Asperger’s. Grace is new to town and when she learns that the former resident of her bedroom was a high school girl who was essentially driven out of town when she claimed she was raped at a party the year before, she starts a secret club to do something about it. I really liked this book because it was diverse and it addressed relevant social issues that any teen girl can relate to. Plus, it has another great narrator!

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

I’ve been raving about this series since I read it back in August. I included the sequel Wundersmith in my Top 10 Books of 2018 post, and I have to include the first book in this list. I can not say enough good things about this series. It is the smart, fun middle grade book that I’ve been looking for since Harry Potter. It tells the story of cursed child, Morrigan Crow, who is whisked off to the magical land of Nevermoor on the eve of her death day by the enigmatic Jupiter North. There she participates in the trials to become a member of the prestigious Wunder Society, all while trying to hide the fact that she’s an illegal immigrant to Nevermoor. This book is so whimsical (it has a giant, talking cat and flying umbrellas), but what I love most about it is that it has depth. It’s so well written and crafted that this magical world pretty much builds itself. It’s obvious that there’s a lot more to the plot than Townsend reveals upfront and I think we’re in for a multi-layered, multi-book series that has the potential to be just as popular as Harry Potter. I really, really loved this and I can’t wait to see what Jessica Townsend publishes next!  

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow

Rating: 
Author: Jessica Townsend
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Pub date: Nov. 13, 2018 (read Nov. 2018)
Series: Nevermoor #2

Happy Pub Day Wundersmith!

Hachette Book Group was so kind as to send me an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. And all I can say is that this book is WUNDERFUL!

I heard some really great stuff about Nevermoor, the first book in this series, so I read it a few months ago and absolutely loved it! It’s a middle grade book that I can’t help but compare to Harry Potter. They have a lot of similar elements, but are still quite different. In my opinion, Nevermoor incorporates all the features that made Harry Potter a phenomenon and I feel like it’s the series I’ve been searching for since Harry Potter ended.

Over the last few years, Throne of Glass has been my go to series, but it’s over now and now I just can’t stop thinking about Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor. The second book in a series is super important because author’s can often get the second book blues after a really successful first book, and the chance to prove to your readers that you’re not just a one-book phenomenon. After finishing Wundersmith, I am totally on the Jessica Townsend bandwagon and even MORE obsessed with this series.

First of all, the covers are gorgeous and I think they perfectly capture the whimsical nature of these books. Just to give you a quick synopsis, Nevermoor is about 11 year old Morrigan Crow. Because of when she was born, she’s spent her entire life as a cursed child, being blamed for all the misfortune that happens in her town in the Wintersea Republic. Until one day, red-head Jupiter North shows up on her doorstep and invites Morrigan to move to the mythical city of Nevermoor to compete in the trials for the Wundrous Society.

Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead for Nevermoor if you haven’t read it, but I will keep the rest of the review spoiler free for Wundersmith.

At the end of Nevermoor, Morrigan is successful in passing her trials and is invited to join Wunsoc. However, she is shocked to discover that she is a Wundersmith. The last Wundersmith in Nevermoor was Ezra Squall, who committed such evil acts that he was forever banned from Nevermoor. For this reason, Wundersmiths are not well liked or accepted and Morrigan is forbidden from learning the arts of the Wundersmith or from telling anyone her talents. But when strange events start taking place in Nevermoor and she is bullied by her classmates, she questions whether all Wundersmiths really are bad,

This book was everything I wanted from the sequel. It had all of the whimsical elements that the first book had, while continuing to test Morrigan, introduce new characters, and deepen the plot. I said in my review for Nevermoor, and I’ll reinterate here, that what I like so much about this series is the gradual world building and the fact that you can tell this world is going to have so much more depth than what has been revealed to us. The entire book is a plot within a greater story. What made Harry Potter so good was Rowling’s ability to tell one story, while simultaneously building on that larger story arc. Our questions are not always answered in a single book and the story continues across the greater series. I loved Rowling’s foresight in Harry Potter and her ability to craft her arcs and mysteries in advance of writing each book and then weave them together over the course of the novel and series. I can’t be sure because we’re only two books in, but I suspect Townsend is following a similar format.

I think it takes a very accomplished author not to rush through their world building – to tell a fun and fascinating story, while still withholding enough of the secrets to keep us coming back for more. There can be a tendency to overload your reader with information about the world you’re creating, but slowly introducing parts of that world is a much more effective way to draw your reader in and not overwhelm them. I keep learning more about Nevermoor, yet it already feels like a fully formed place. I don’t feel as if Townsend is trying to explain her world to me, but rather is gradually building that fully formed world around me. It’s hard to explain, but it makes for a really enjoyable reading experience.

The Harry Potter feels continue in this book and I feel like Townsend is setting us up for a substantial series. Morrigan enters the Wunsoc society in this book and we get to know the 8 other students that make up her unit (unit 919). Wunsoc parrots the belief that your unit is your family and that you must learn and grow together. A success or failure on behalf of one person is a success or failure for the entire unit. Morrigan’s initial draw to the society was the opportunity to have 8 ready made friends, something she never had as a cursed child. But she soon learns that Wunsoc is not as perfect as she believed and that trust, respect, and friendship are still things that will need to be earned.

Morrigan is tested in this book. Wunsoc is essentially a little Hogwarts type world where she will attend school for the next 6 or 7 years (can’t remember exactly how many), before pursuing greater endeavors. Her classmates are all signed up for fun and interesting classes, but as a secret Wundersmith, the society is a bit at a loss for what to do with Morrigan. She is forbidden from learning how to use her talents as a Wundersmith, but as wunder keeps gathering to her, her talents can no longer be ignored.

I don’t want to give away any of the plot, so I’ll just say that I loved the mystery element to this book and I loved the characterization. Hawthorne is just as fun in this book as the first book and I really liked getting to know Cadence a bit more in this book. It was a little hard at times to keep track of all 9 of the Wunsoc students as 6 of them are brand new characters to us, but I’m really excited to get to know them better as the series progresses. We’re also introduced to the Scholar Mistresses at the school in this book and I can’t wait to see where the next book takes us with the two different streams of study at Wunsoc. Townsend builds on the relationships of the folks living at the Hotel Deucealion. Jupiter continues to be an elusive, eccentric, Dumbledore type character and I have a lot of questions about what he’s really up to. Fen continues to be one of my favourite characters and I hope to see more of her and Jack in later books.

In conclusion, I still highly recommend this series and I loved every part of this book. My only regret is reading it too fast and having to wait too long for the next book!

On the Jellicoe Road

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Melina Marchetta
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Read: Jan. 2018

As usual, all the stars in the world for this book! Can’t re-call if this is my 4th or 5th time reading On the Jellicoe Road, but it is still just as beautiful and moving and leaves me tearing up on the couch, feeling so emotional!

I’m pretty sure I will never stop loving this book. It is just the most gorgeous writing and story! Melina Marchetta knows how to crack your heart open and writes the most moving characters!

On the Jellicoe Road is a bit of an older YA book now, published in 2006, and is set in rural Australia. It definitely has one of the more bizarre-sounding plots, and I will admit to being a little bit confused the first time I read it because there’s a lot of characters and I didn’t realize at first that the story was switching between two different points of view, so I’ll warn readers about that up front. The main story is told by Taylor Markham, but everything that’s italicized is a different point of view.

The novel is set at a boarding school called Jellicoe, which is located about 7 hours drive from Sydney, right next to Jellicoe Town. Every year from September to November, a group of cadets come to Jellicoe to practice their outdoor skills and set up camp in the woods for 6 weeks. There are three main factions: the kids boarding at the Jellicoe school, the Cadets, and the Townies, who live and go to school in Jellicoe Town. During the 6 weeks that the Cadets visit every year, the Townies, Cadets, and Jellicoe School have a secret war going on behind the teacher’s backs and duke it out to win territory from each other.

This year Taylor has been selected as the leader of the Jellicoe School. Taylor has an unfortunate history and was abandoned by her mother on the Jellicoe Road when she was just 11 years old. She was picked up by Hannah, who lives in a small house next to the school and spends the next 5 years attending the school. Taylor knows very little about her past and struggles with the pain she feels about being abandoned by her mother and hesitates to let anyone into her life. She is tested when at the beginning of term, Hannah, the only person who’s ever been there for her, disappears. Taylor wants more from the people in her life, but she’s afraid to love or let anyone in lest they abandon her too.

The only thing Hannah leaves behind for Taylor is an unfinished manuscript about 5 kids and a tragic accident that happened on the Jellicoe Road 22 years earlier. Taylor is confused by the story, but starts developing an attachment to Hannah’s characters, wondering if they might have more to do with her past than she realizes.

Every single thing about this story is beautiful. The best thing I’ve always loved about Marchetta’s writing is the bonds and relationships she creates between her characters. Marchetta really understands friendships and our need as humans to belong to something. Taylor is slowly falling apart in this novel and I love watching the relationships she builds with the other kids in the story and how they become friends and support each other. I love how each character has this incredible backstory that brings so much depth to the novel. I love that even Marchetta’s minor characters are fully realized individuals and that every character matters. There are never throw away characters in Melina’s novels.

This is ultimately a story about growing up and self discovery. As someone who has been shuffled around, Taylor craves history and I love the history Marchetta creates between each of the characters. Many of them are very broken people and I love watching them grow throughout the novel. Plus, the writing is so dreamy. I think the manuscript is really well written, but I also love Taylor’s inner monologue. There are so many great quotes in this book and it hits me right in the feels every time I read it.

You do not have to be a teenager to enjoy this book. It actually has some pretty dark and mature themes and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone! Please read, it is by far one of my most favourite books of all time!