The Selection series (The Selection, The Elite, The One) by Kiera Cass : A Review

Before I get started on this review, I’d just like to say two things. Firstly, after I finished the first three books of the series, I did try to read The Heir and The Crown. However, they seemed more like spin-off fan fictions of the main books than novels with actual plots of their own. As such, I wasn’t really a fan of them, so I won’t include them in this review. Secondly, I’m aware of the controversy surrounding Kiera Cass. However, I still wanted to give this series a try after seeing how it kept being recommended on BookTok. With that, let’s get into this review.

When I first saw the premise of this series, I initially dismissed it as too cheesy for my tastes, given that I am almost twenty years old (at the time of writing this). However, when I started on the first book, I found myself getting quite captivated by the simple writing style, which made the books easy to get through and digest. Additionally, I also found myself growing rather attached to the characters, who are generally pretty well-written.

CHARACTERS

Regarding the series’ protagonist, America, she surprised me a lot by being such a lovely, mature and idealistic individual. Honestly, I was expecting her to be b*tchy, or immature and judgemental, especially after we found out that she only joined the selection because her mother essentially pressured her to do so. Fortunately, that was far from the case. Throughout the series, she treated others (including her maids) with genuine politeness. I think my favourite moment involving her was when she gave her jewellery to a thief who had stolen some clothes for his daughters, allowing him to repay his debt to the king and save him from life imprisonment.

Plus, even when America was falling for Maxon, she didn’t resent the other girls when they were getting close to him too. Rather, she was supportive of them and even gave them some nice advice regarding their worries or feelings. Also, I was really impressed when America unhesitatingly went over to comfort Celeste when she was crying in the library, despite their previous animosity and Celeste’s hostility towards her. Even though Celeste had done nothing up till that point to deserve America’s compassion, America still took the initiative to reach out and be kind to her anyway. (Side note: I’m so sad that Cass killed Celeste off in the middle of her redemption arc. Just when is readers were starting to see her as a three-dimensional person with actual feelings and insecurities and not just some petty b*tch, she died. Plus, I’m really shocked that her death was so abrupt – it was literally just in one sentence, and after that, America only mentioned how much she missed her once.) Moreover, even though America can’t physically fight at all, she’s still a strong protagonist nonetheless, being courageous enough to stick to her own beliefs (despite how idealistic they may seem) and stand up for what’s right regardless of the odds stacked against her.

As for Maxon, he is such a soft love interest – probably the definition of the word “gentleman”. Given that this book is aimed at young teens, I think it was good of Cass to write this sort of likeable, kind and mature male love interest, so that young girls know what to look out for should they want to date. You can tell that he really cares about America – being protective of her (but not overly so), listening to her worries (in fact, after hearing about America’s financial difficulties growing up, he immediately made changes to the financial support given to the castes), being completely honest with her, and apologising to her when he unintentionally wrongs her. Even though he and America had their moments of conflict and tension along the way, their relationship was still a deep and tender one – far from the usual hasty romances associated with teenagers and youths.

I also did like Aspen’s character. Despite being the man who was vying for America’s love and competing with Maxon, he was still a sweet, lovable guy, and even though America never ended up returning his affections, he still cared for immensely and never blamed her for not reciprocating his love for her. Lastly, I liked how even though the other girls in the Selection were not the main focus of the novel, the books allow us to get enough glimpses of them to show that they possess well-written characterisations and personalities. Generally, the same can be said for the other supporting characters as well, such as Maxon and America’s family members. That’s one of the things I love in books, because they just make the story feel so much more well-rounded and real.

OTHER THINGS

Now, on to some other things about the series. The worldbuilding was simple and easy to understand / get behind, and I liked how facts about the history of the current world were incorporated into the story through the girls’ history lessons. I was also really glad that Marlee and Carter were able to get their happy ending, but I was sad to hear that Queen Amberly died. She was like America’s second maternal figure, and you could tell that Maxon loved her a lot as well.

However, I am a little conflicted over the the love triangle between Maxon, Aspen and America. I wonder if America ever felt bad about being in love with both Aspen and Maxon simultaneously, and spending times alone with both of them. In spite of her maturity, I could tell that by the end of the first book, she was still confused about whether to choose Maxon or stay with Aspen. Even though she was young, and her heart was being pulled in two different directions at once, did it count as cheating if she was essentially being romantic with both Maxon and Aspen? Oh well.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

Although The Selection is marketed as a dystopia, I feel like it doesn’t really work as one. It comes off as more “romantic fantasy”, and doesn’t appear very deep or thoughtful, despite several dark moments scattered throughout the series to remind you of the dystopian theme and the fictional society’s unethical hierarchy. Frankly, I think The Hunger Games is the only YA dystopia that actually did real justice to the genre.

As such, some may find The Selection superficial or cheesy, given that it mostly revolves around romance and the monarchy. Nevertheless, it was still an enjoyable and digestible read, and I recommend it if you are looking for some light, romantic escapism – 4.1 / 5

good girl

silhouette, woman, looking, sun, orange, sunset, person, golden hour, sky,  nature | Pxfuel

honeyed words,
puerile platitudes
flowing from her mouth,
archaic expectations
twining toxic tendrils
round my tender neck

and sinking its roots in,
fortifying the fact
that my golden spirit
must outshine
the sloth in my shadow,
the parasite in my wake.

so i forgo my fury –
molten magma
coursing through me,
outlandish outrage
cooling to leaden rock
and settling in my veins.

i leave it there.
i know nothing of fire,
or quality extinguishers.
neither am i akin to
acerbic wit, acidic words,
armour against assaults.

each time i echo eve,
selfish autonomy
leading me astray,
i curse myself to the role
of pet punching bag,
deformed scapegoat

taking the blame
as i tiptoe through a minefield,
where stones of laziness
thrown from glass towers
burning hot and cold
scatter upon the hair-trigger ground.

some days i long
for the explosion,
let the vesuvian eruption
carry me skyward,
the weight of outdated epithets
falling away into nihility.

yet each time i wake,
my fragile wings
dissolve into dreamsand,
leaving my burdens
welded to my soul
as i desperately cling

to shreds of hope
scavenged from the ruins
of times long gone,
feeling like i’m lost at sea,
praying for a rescuer
to let me start anew.

Burn by Patrick Ness : A Review

I have pretty mixed feelings about this book.

For one, I started reading this book because I was very attracted to the premise. I was pleased when the novel started off pretty strong, and I also really liked seeing Sarah and Jason’s arc, as well as Malcolm and Nelson’s narrative. But then, the story started to get really confusing. The plot was muddy and difficult to follow, and the rest of the story just seemed pretty anticlimactic. Honestly, I was quite disappointed, since I was expecting something epic when I read about the prophecy in the premise.

I think the problem with this book is that its worldbuilding was too vague, and unlike A Monster Calls (the only other Patrick Ness book that I’ve read, which was amazing btw), the emotions of the storyline and the characters didn’t really bleed through as well. As such, I found it tough to get emotionally attached to both the story and the characters (something very important for me when I’m reading fiction). Plus, I really wanted to see Sarah and Kazimir (the dragon) bonding more, since I assumed their relationship would be the central focus of the novel when I saw the premise. Overall, even though the start of the book seemed really interesting, the story rapidly became very underwhelming – 2.7 / 5

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas : A Review

After I finished Concrete Rose and The Hate U Give (which I did reviews for on this blog as well), I was very eager to read this book – both because I really enjoyed the aforementioned books, and because I was intrigued by this book’s premise. Although On the Come Up is set in the same fictional location (Garden Heights) as the aforementioned books, it has a very different tone, narrative and set of characters as compared to them. However, that didn’t stop it from being just as fantastic.

For one, even though On the Come Up‘s tone is less sombre than Thomas’ previous books, it is still very emotionally charged. I loved following Bri’s journey to becoming a recognized rapper while battling her circumstances along the way. Although there were many factors that tried to label her as a stereotypical “ratchet hoodlum” and bring her down, she never stopped fighting, and refused to be silenced in her battle to speak the truth and bring awareness to sensitive issues like racism, police brutality and gang violence – issues that she herself had experienced. Thomas did a great job of letting you feel Bri’s emotions and mental state, and allow you to get really attached to her journey. She’s sassy and confident, but still realistic in the sense that she still carries genuine insecurities related to her family’s financial issues, as well as her fear of being a burden on her loved ones. I’m glad that she managed to strengthen her relationships with them by the end of the novel.

Additionally, just like when I read Concrete Rose and The Hate U Give, I found myself getting really attached to the other characters in this book as well, perhaps even more so than the aforementioned books. Miles’ arc probably stuck out to me the most, since he was introduced as Bri’s rap competitor and potential antagonist. But as the story progressed, we got to know more about who he truly was, rather than that shallow, brash persona we saw at the start of the story. (I literally yelled out loud when that plotline about his relationship with Sonny was revealed.) Curtis and Bri getting together made me really happy as well, because I had kind of predicted they might end up together, or at least admit their feelings for each other before the end of the book. Jay was also a strong woman, given that she managed to maintain the willpower to stay clean for eight years to care for her children. She was also a great mother to Bri (despite the fact that she intially wasn’t supportive of Bri rapping for obvious reasons), and I was so happy when Bri finally started calling her “Mom” again. Trey, Sonny, Aunt Pooh and Malik were also great characters as well, and had their own individual arcs that I loved too. Overall, just like Thomas’ previous side characters, all the characters in On the Come Up possess very three-dimensional, fleshed out personalities and arcs, which makes the novel even more of a pleasure to read.

The only thing that I didn’t like about this book is that Bri wasn’t able to retrieve her father’s pendant. But I guess this is a realistic aspect of the story, given that a literal gangster held her at gunpoint to steal it. Plus, I personally think it’s supposed to represent Bri becoming her own person, as compared to earlier in the story when she was overshadowed by her father’s legacy. Side note, I had no idea that Angie Thomas herself used to be a rapper until I flipped to the inside of the book’s back cover and saw her bio. That completely explained why Bri’s lyrics seemed so legitimate and sounded like real rap. In fact, just the lyrics of Bri’s songs alone made the whole story feel more real and emotional. Overall, I loved this book, as well as Thomas’ uncensored descriptions of the various effects of racism and its numerous forms, be it internalized, covert, or violent. It really highlighted the message that when you’re of a minority demographic, everything about your identity and choices can easily be interpreted as a stereotype or a political statement. I can’t wait to see the movie when it finally comes out, and I really hope that it’ll do the book justice – 4.8 / 5

Shell

I found a lonely shell on the sand,
its surface battered and colour bland.
And it made me wonder what poor creature
in the confines of this husk did feature
a brief, short-lived, negligible life
that saw much tribulation and strife.
Now, this calcium hull between my fingers
is but an earthly testament that lingers
of a speck in a fathomless battleground,
a pelagic spoil of war run aground.

—————————————————

NOTE: This poem was inspired by Relic by Ted Hughes.

Solace

man and woman hugging each other on seashore during sunset photo – Free  Image on Unsplash

Longing is a cruel mistress,
tempting me with an impossible dream
of the insignificance of skies
and the triviality of planets
as I find refuge in the arms of my other half,

the gates to our private haven
closing shut behind us,
locking us in a mansion of sanctuary
like Adam and Eve
in an eternal garden of paradise,

their souls untouched
by the sickening stain of sin,
basking in the purity
of the prelapsarian world.
Here, religion lies not within a church

where devotees kneel at the feet
of shrines to unseen deities above,
but in the gentle caress,
the tender embrace of a companion
who asks nothing more of the other.

Reader’s Love Song

Though I search tirelessly
for real-world stories
that captivate me
as much as fictional ones do,

I find none,
and so I open a book once more.
The words on the page
pull me in lovingly,

and I fall down,
down,
into a hidden alcove
where forbidden lovers embrace,

whispering sweet nothings
to each other,
the tendrils of their tender promises
creeping quietly into my ears

as I sneak out of their dwellings
and journey to another story,
this time one where the sounds of battle
ring into the air,

swords clashing furiously
as the princess fights for her kingdom,
while a dragon swoops high above,
incinerating enemy troops,

blazing fire
scorching my skin
as I find myself sinking
into yet another tale,

now one where a body lays on the floor,
throat slashed to ribbons,
bright red viscera turning my stomach,
while a detective scours the grounds for clues,

looking for a possible motive
and hopefully, a murderer.
But the search for the killer is long,
and so I head to the next tale,

where centuries into the future,
humanity canvasses a planet
for minerals and fuel,
unaware of the native life

plotting to drive these invaders from their land.
And as the indigenous succeed,
triumphant cries echoing all round,
I find myself fading from these Edens,

my form more incorporeal
each passing minute
as my journey with those
locked in the precious pages

comes to an end.
Violently, I tumble
back into reality –
a life devoid of wildness and wonder.

Talking to Myself

Endless chatter,
words like waterfalls,
babbling brooks of enjambments
with a subject who will never tire

nor beg me to cease my mindless gabber.
Joyfully, they converse back,
our conversation flowing like a river
into my ears and into my soul,

heedless of the outsider, 
an exasperated chiding
wanting nothing more
than to silence me and my lonely mind – 

a secluded graveyard of sorrows
trapped within itself,
seeking to find a flicker of light
to hinder the darkness in my head.

Persephone

I am the sun in the warmth of day
and the glow of the moon at night,
the first rays of dawn that light up the sky
and the darkness that steals your sight.

I am the gentle swell of the sea
and the wrath of the blazing flame,
the courageous knight in shining armour
and the beautiful, fragile dame.

I am the bringer of life in spring
though I nurture its dreaded foe,
for I am the maiden in meadows above
and the goddess of death below.

—————————————————

NOTE: This poem was inspired by a quote by Nichole McElhaney from A Sisterhood of Thorns and Vengeance. The quote goes: “Do not worry about your contradictions – Persephone is both floral maiden and queen of death. You, too, can be both”.

Concrete Rose and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas : A Review

Before I get started, I just want to say that I’ve put these books together in the same review because they’re part of the same timeline. The Hate U Give was published first and describes 16-year old Starr Carter’s journey to becoming a BLM activist after witnessing the shooting of her friend by a police officer. Meanwhile, Concrete Rose is set 17 years earlier, and follows Starr’s father, Maverick, as he adjusts to his new life as a teen father, while dealing with other emotional events in his life as well. Both these books are incredible in their own rights, and in this review, I’ll do my best to explain why.

Concrete Rose

In previous reviews, I’ve mentioned that I absolutely love character-driven novels when they are written in such a way that they get you extremely attached to the main character in spite of their shortcomings, and pull you into their story while keeping you rooting for them. Concrete Rose is one of these novels. Despite Maverick’s big mistakes, the book still establishes and reinforces the fact that he is a good man trying to right his wrongs, and that’s what keeps you supporting him throughout his journey, despite the fact that he may be far from right sometimes (given his age and circumstances). As the novel progresses, we see his incredible character development as he matures from a typical teenager to a devoted boyfriend and father who is determined to craft a good future for both himself and his little family.

Additionally, Angie Thomas did amazingly well in crafting the world of Garden Heights, and did even better with creating many three-dimensional, intriguing characters. Usually, in character-driven novels like these, I tend to focus on just the main character, especially if the other characters are less well-developed or are not distinct enough to be memorable enough for me. But in Concrete Rose, I found myself being drawn to the majority of the characters much more than when I read most other books. Iesha, King, Lisa, Maverick’s parents, Carlos, and many other characters all felt so real, with their own distinct personalities and motives. Even the characters who only appears briefly, like Maverick’s grandmother or Brenda (Khalil’s mother) were well-rounded, and felt like they were placed in the novel for a reason. That’s another really strong point in a novel for me. I also love how the entire book is narrated with AAVE (African American Vernacular English) – it just made the story sound so much more authentic.

Overall, this novel does a great job in pulling you into Maverick’s narrative and how his rapidly changing life circumstances shape him to become the man we see in The Hate U Give 4.8 / 5

The Hate U Give

I felt that this book was a bit tougher to get through in comparison to Concrete Rose, because of just how real the fictional depictions of police brutality and gang violence felt. Nevertheless, in The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas was able to gracefully cover the nuances and subtleties of racism against black people in a really well-rounded manner. Just like in Concrete Rose, Thomas pulls you into the world of Garden Heights and fleshes out all her characters insanely well so that they feel just as real. Once again, I found myself rooting fiercely for her protagonist (in this case, Starr), and being drawn to all the other characters as well, such as Starr’s family, Ms. Ofrah, Chris, Hailey, Maya, and even the less likeable characters such as Iesha and King. They all have their own unique personalities and beliefs, and are all memorable in their own way. Frankly, if I were to go into detail about how I liked each of them, this review would never end.

Aside from an engaging writing style, strong characterization all around is a very important factor for me when determining a good book. The Hate U Give has both these factors and more. The movie is just as incredible too, although some scenes are more dramatized and action-packed in order for them to play out in a more memorable and emotional way on-screen. With that, I give The Hate U Give a 4.8 / 5.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

Overall, I think that both Concrete Rose and The Hate U Give are incredibly heartwarming, well-written (both writing style and subject matter-wise) novels that just feel so real. They are humorous, serious and heart wrenching at all the appropriate times, and I think they are books that every reader who loves YA should check out, because of just how relevant their stories are.

Shadow of the Titans

The titans of legend stride past,
towering to the skies,
their colossal footprints
legacies in their wake.

Hastily, I scramble to the side,
stumbling over their vast tracks,
narrowly avoiding
being trampled for another day.

The ground trembles,
shaking reverently
as these behemoths depart,
slack-jawed worshippers trailing close behind.

Silently, I continue my journey,
carefully edging round massive imprints,
mindful of the few scavengers
not lured away by the giants

sparing passing glances
at my minuscule form,
waiting to pick me apart
like the accused in a crow court,

sharp spurs and cutting barbs
shredding tender flesh to ribbons,
forcing the ant amongst mammoths
back to the shadowy margins,

my own prints
fading into the mud
along the fringes of the path
walked by titans and men alike.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas : A Review

This novel was a really refreshing read – both in terms of fantasy-related themes and subject matter. Fantasy-wise, it’s always great to see magic or myths from minority cultures being incorporated into YA novels. Plus, as a reader, it’s always fun to diverge from reading archetypal Eurocentric fantasy lore and magic. As for the subject matter, the book also covers racism and transphobia openly yet elegantly, bringing up examples of both subtle and explicit forms of the prejudices in a really grounded and realistic way, at least in my opinion, given that I am neither trans nor Latinx. (T.W: Mention of Misgendering) For me, I think the most memorable incident where Yadriel experienced transphobia was when he angrily corrected his grandmother who addressed him using his dead name, and even though his grandmother appeared to accept his true identity for a moment, the conversation ends with her saying, “But you’ll always be my little girl.” That spoke volumes about how damaging and hurtful even the most subtle forms of prejudice can be. (End T.W.)

Regarding the characters, I love Yadriel (the protagonist) and Maritza so much – they’re such driven and independent individuals, especially with Maritza being so outspoken and feisty. My favourite character has to be Julian though – he’s so fun, sassy and likeable, while still remaining a three-dimensional character with insecurities and emotional commitments of his own. I also wasn’t expecting that plot twist about the villain. Normally, I prefer villains whose motives and characterisations are developed thoroughly throughout the course of the book, but it made sense for the true antagonist to be hiding in plain sight in this novel set in the modern day.

Overall, this was a fun, easy read, and I particularly loved the fast-paced ending of the story, which turned out to be a complete emotional roller coaster that ended on a really happy note. It’s nice to see more Latin American representation in popular culture aside from mainstream media such as Disney’s Coco. Plus, this book also isn’t afraid to delve into serious, real-life issues that minorities or the less privileged face these days, which is always important when you’re targeting a young demographic (i.e young adults) – 3.7 / 5

Rapunzel

(i) Captive

Like an untameable bird of paradise,
freedom seems to have flown away,
my recollection of the concept
a mere shade imprisoned in an underworld
of memories traced upon a beach
where waves batter the shore relentlessly.

I sit within my glorified cell,
a penitentiary paralysing my spirit,
the never-ending turmoil outside
barring my limitless leeway to the world,
leaving me in the hands of nature’s will,
isolated by stakes towering high above.

(ii) Boredom

Each time the gaping maw in my soul
yawns with a ravenous thirst
for new endeavours to quell the monotony,
the undying indolence of my mind
rears its gruesome head,
sending idleness coursing through me,

clogging the arteries of my potential.
Though countless prospects for new ventures await,
my asinine excuses refuse to concede,
and so I condemn myself
to repeat the same humdrum activities,
the days passing in a blur of banality.

(iii) Powerless

I have always feared
I would end up some hapless creature
caught in the maelstrom of the Great Flood,
clawing at the sides of Noah’s Ark,
nails carving desperate lines into the wood
as I drown in the wake of paradise.

It seems like this fate has come to pass,
unabating hopelessness taking hold of me,
clutching my ankles in a death grip,
dragging me ever deeper into the bleak abyss
as the leviathans of reality cruise overhead,
casting long shadows over my sinking form.

(iv) Loneliness

The tension between my kin and I
ricochets off the walls incessantly,
scraping along my nerve endings
and flaying my synapses raw.
I have become an island
within the ocean of my own home,

a yearning to rival Pandora’s
entrenched within my golden sands,
the need to reunite with cherished friends –
companions through thick and thin –
and the desire to blaze trails for myself
burning brighter with each passing day.

(v) Repetition

My existence has now narrowed
to a circadian rhythm
of clockwork sounds and sights,
my wings callously clipped
each time I dare to extend them,
the days scrolling by

like the endless pages of my devices.
Tenderly, I blow upon the embers of my spirit
to keep my fading fire alive
as I stare out my window,
a soldier at Dunkirk waiting
for a rescue that may never come.

Flowers

The Meaning of Every Rose Color – Capital City Real Estate Magazine

The flowers fill every inch of my house,
condensed within my cramped quarters.
Everywhere I look, they are present,
endless blooms pouring in
from ardent devotees begging for me
to turn an eye to them for a heartbeat.

Relentlessly, they invade my home,
a riot of colour pervading my senses,
numerous bouquets cluttering my rooms,
suffusing the air with their scents
and filling my pupils with countless hues
till I am drowning in them.

I am out of vases and space,
withered blossoms cramming my trash cans,
living ones piled upon every vacant surface,
tables, dressers, drawers
all littered with these floral documentations
of a love based off a reality

tailor-made for its inhabitants.
Day after day, a new bloom succumbs
to the neglect I water it with,
petals falling to the ground
as their bearer sings its swan song,
scions of the first Narcissus

fading into a sea of blackened blossoms.
Once, I adored these alluring gifts,
relishing the way they fanned my flames.
Now, my love for them lies in some unmarked grave
like a witch prosecuted for her passion.
And still, they keep coming.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath : A Review

TRIGGER WARNING: Mentions of suicide, depression and mental illness

When I read Sylvia Plath’s Ariel collection for literature when I was JC2, I fell in love with her writing as soon as we started analysing it. I think she’s probably one of my favourite poets today, so I decided to check her only novel out for myself. While reading The Bell Jar, I caught some parallels to some of her poems, such as her struggle with the German language in Daddy, the flowers sent to her after her suicide attempt in Tulips, and the symbol of the arrow in Ariel, which was really interesting. I love spotting parallels in the same author’s different works.

Personally, I feel that one key aspect to making a character-driven novel an interesting one is to have a likeable protagonist who has a story that the reader can easily follow. In The Bell Jar, Esther fulfilled this criteria really well, and it was great to see the tone in which she told the story subtly become more assertive, as she grew from a lost individual who was just “going through the motions” in life to a stronger person who knew what she wanted. However, it was really haunting (and a huge emotional sucker punch) to see how Esther tried to commit suicide by overdosing in a cellar – the same way Plath herself did so in one of her suicide attempts. It’s even more tragic to know that even though Esther (who can be seen to be a fictional reflection of Plath) made it out of her dark place and ended her story on a hopeful, optimistic note, Plath herself did not manage to get her own happy ending, taking her own life at the age of 30. She was such a wonderful person and writer, but sadly, she left too soon. It’s such a sobering reminder that it’s best to get help whenever you’re struggling with a mental illness so you can prevent your life from spiralling out of control.

Overall, even though this book contains some dated terms and references, its unromanticized depiction of one’s struggle with mental illness and their eventual recovery is still immensely relevant today – 4 / 5

The Love & Collection by Jenna Evans Welch : A Review

It’s been a while since I sat down to read a book in its entirety, and my attention span has dropped drastically since then. Hence, I wanted to find a relatively short book in order to help ease myself back into the habit of reading. I’d actually heard of the Love and Gelato series before, but I’d never gotten around to trying them because back then, I wasn’t really into archetypal YA Bildungsromans or romance, and preferred fantasy and sci-fi. But the whole reason I tried this series out was because it had really good reviews. So here’s my review for all 3 books (which are standalones, by the way).

Love & Gelato

I really adored this lovely little story – previously, when I saw it on recommended lists of YA novels, I just brushed it off as too cheesy for my taste. But when I finally read it, I discovered that there’s so much more to it than meets the eye.

For starters, Lina is a great protagonist – even though she’s on the quiet side, she’s still independent and responsible. But who I really want to talk about in this review is Howard, a close friend and later lover of Lina’s mother. That man is practically a saint. He was so in love with Lina’s mom, and he was willing to take care of Lina despite having never met her or being related to her by blood. (I really wish he and Lina’s mother stayed together. But then again, if they had, this book wouldn’t exist.) In fact, he kind of reminds me of Charlie Swan from Twilight. Even though he didn’t know Lina well initially, he was still chill around her, only becoming slightly protective over her when it came to guys. I genuinely hope I can eventually meet a caring, devoted and kind guy like Howard some day, and avoid people like Matteo (Lina’s mother’s professor who took advantage of her naïveté when he dated her) at all costs.

I also liked how even though Thomas (a guy who Lina initially had a crush on) flirted with Lina, he handled her rejection very well, and didn’t make her feel bad in any way – he just casually acknowledged her rejection and redirected her to Ren when she confessed that she was in love with the latter. I wish more guys handled rejection that decently. In fact, pretty much all the guys in Welch’s novels act very maturely despite their age, which is great to see in a YA novel (given that the target audience involves teenagers who need to be taught about what to look for in a healthy relationship).

Plot-wise, it was super interesting to read about Lina learning about her mother’s backstory down (with Ren’s help) via her mom’s journal and contacting her old friends. Whenever I read parts of Lina’s mother’s journal, it felt like I was walking between two parallel worlds – or rather, between the past and the present. The plot twist regarding Lina’s father was very well executed too, and I love how Welch showed how Lina’s mother’s story slowly intertwined with Lina’s. My only minor complaint about this book is that I felt that the ending was a little rushed, what with Ren figuring out his feelings for Lina so quickly. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed this book a lot – 4.4 / 5

Love & Luck

I actually read Love & Luck first, even though it’s the second in the series, since it was the shortest one out of the three books. When I first started reading it, I didn’t particularly like the main character, Addie, and the tone of the book also seemed to be one of those typical slightly-immature and sarcastic teenage voices you often find in YA fiction. But as I continued reading, I found myself really enjoying Addie’s character development, and her emotional growth from a heart-broken, short-sighted teenager to a more mature individual who was able to handle conflict and stressful situations much better than before. I also did like that arc about the reason behind her breakup with Cubby (Addie’s horrible ex), and how her brother, Ian (and later Rowan) handled it and comforted her when she was dealing with the fallout from her regrettable decision (even though it was Cubby’s fault that it got so out of hand). Plus, it’s clear that she and Lina are great friends, with Addie going out of her way to support Lina when her mother passed away.

Speaking of Ian, he also surprised me as a character, because I wasn’t expecting him to be a jock who actually hates everything about his sport and prefers writing and blogging to football. I was also surprised at the plot line regarding his involvement with Cubby and Addie herself, and was very pleased that Welch managed to stage that reveal without turning it into some unnecessary, overly-dramatic fight between the siblings that set their relationship back just as they were starting to build it up again. That scene really reflected their growth as characters and how far they’d come. Plus, as someone with a younger sibling, Welch really nailed Ian and Addie’s sibling dynamic. Even though they fight passionately during conflicts and are unwilling to let the other win, they still look out for each other’s welfare when the time calls for it.

I also really liked Rowan – he’s mature, diplomatic, and a great friend (and conflict resolver / mediator when necessary) to both Ian and Addie. Even though he was struggling with his own emotional and familial problems, he was willing to put those aside to help the siblings, particularly by participating in Addie’s “recovering from heartache” exercises. I loved those scenes, because I liked to see Addie actively taking steps to recover from her breakup, and bond with Rowan at the same time. I did like how he had a moment near the end of the book where he finally got to talk about his familial problems and why he didn’t like to see Addie and Ian fighting. I also did like how he and Addie didn’t unrealistically fall in love (i.e. confessing to each other and kissing) within 3 days, especially since both of them were going through their own emotional issues.

I’ll end off this review with some other things I liked about this book. Addie and Ian’s mother’s reaction to finding them at the end was realistic, but I’m glad she still let them achieve their endgame – watching the concert. Plus, I think she was secretly happy to see her kids getting along again. The descriptions of the different locations in Ireland were so beautiful as well, and if anything, increased my longing to travel. I also liked the quirky excerpts / pieces of advice from the book on getting over heartache that Addie was relying on. The ending was also satisfying and pretty realistic as well – even though some things (like the total fallout of Addie’s decision) were not covered, the book still ended on a hopeful tone. With that, I give this book a 4 / 5.

Love & Olives

Out of all the books in the series, this one is probably the most grounded in reality – seeing from how it portrays things like the effects of mental illness, or how two people who are right for each other can meet under the wrong circumstances and eventually part.

Regarding the characters in this book, I found myself liking Liv’s father a lot more than I expected – he’s a very well-written character. Liv was a good protagonist as well, and I can’t believe that Liv agreed to dive with her father (of her own volition) despite her immense fear of drowning. That was incredibly brave and selfless of her. The side characters in this story were pretty memorable too, with their own distinct attributes. However, I initially found Theo (Liv’s eventual love interest) pretty annoying – he seemed to lack a good understanding of EQ and others’ personal space. I knew that he meant well, but he came off extremely intrusive, especially to an introvert like me. Nevertheless – I think I understood why Welch wrote him that way. She probably wanted Liv to have someone to force her out of her comfort zone and stop covering up her true feelings (which she eventually does).

One issue I have with this book, however, is the whole “child being forced to reconnect with their estranged parent who suddenly wants to come back into their life and make amends out of the blue despite having abandoned their child for years” trope. I’m really not a fan of this trope, so I’m glad that Welch managed to make it work by making the story significantly more sentimental and real when everything was revealed near the end.

(Random note – I loved the part where Liv talked about Atlantis being a morality myth that Plato came up with, because it makes perfect sense. Plato was already very familiar with the depth of humanity’s ignorance and pride. So it makes perfect sense, that he, the brilliant philosopher who came up with the allegory of the cave, would make up a fable about Atlantis – an island sunk by the gods when the demigods living on it became too power-hungry. I think he pretty much capitalised on humanity’s belief in higher powers to remind them to not be too avaricious lest forces beyond their control / comprehension punish them for it.)

I’ll end off this review with my favourite quote from the book, which happens to be something Liv’s younger brother texted her. The quote goes, “IT IS OK TO LOSE TO OPPONENT BUT NOT OK TO LOSE TO FEAR” (yes, all in caps). Even though he’s only five, I thought that was a wonderful little piece of wisdom. With that, I give the final book in the Love and Gelato series a 3.8 / 5.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

I feel that the Love and Gelato series seems to have a common theme of emotionally lost and isolated teenage girls travelling to different countries with beautiful landscapes and a charming culture, and getting swept away in the “otherness” of the place, finding themselves and forging new relationships along the way, without overly romanticising or butchering the country and its culture. I really love this concept, particularly because Welch manages to execute her stories in a way that isn’t too cheesy. Additionally, all the female protagonists have distinct, well-written characterisations, and the soft male leads are a breath of fresh air from many problematic or “alpha-type” male love interests that I’ve read in other books. This series is just really well written overall. To conclude, if you’re looking for a cozy, heartwarming read, I suggest trying this series out.

the mermaid to her astronaut

you came from the skies,
space wanderer clad in white,
and plucked my heart from the sea,
boarding your rocket with it snug in your palms.

yet when we reached the realm beyond,
you saw my scales start to dull,
my skin begin to desiccate,
and fearing that I would fade away,

you built an ocean amongst the stars,
wringing water from nebulas
and stripping salt from constellations,
resolutely marrying my world with yours

so the lovers from binary stars
could traverse the galaxies together,
the sun and moon swimming within our souls,
the universe cradling our inseparable spirits.

—————————————————

NOTE: This poem is a rewritten version of one of Gabbie Hanna’s poems from Dandelion, her book of poetry. In my poem, the persona is still a mermaid, but I reimagined her lover as an astronaut to intensify the distance between them.

Hanna’s original poem goes like this:

MERMAID

you built an ocean
in the galaxy
and we swam
in the universe
the sun and moon
in each of us

An Emotion I Can No Longer Feel

The demons that shred me apart in the night
cling to my dreams till the morning light.
I wish the pain of these wounds that won’t heal
is but an emotion I can no longer feel.

The stars wink out and the moon goes black
And all that has passed comes circling back.
I wish the pain of this endless ordeal
is but an emotion I can no longer feel.

The voice that dwells in my traumatised head
keeps telling me I’ll be much better off dead.
I wish this pain I can never conceal
is but an emotion I can no longer feel.

The others all tell me to smile a bit more,
to revert to whomever I was before.
If only they knew this utopian ideal
is but an emotion I can no longer feel.

I wander amongst memories stolen by time,
longing to reclaim the joy that was mine.
Yet I can only wish that my long-lost zeal
was still an emotion I am able to feel.