Friday, 27 November 2015

Anna and the French Kiss - Stephanie Perkins

“Anna, Anna," Josh interrupts. "If I had a euro for every stupid thing I've done, I could buy the Mona Lisa. You'll be fine.”

This is not a book I was supposed to be reading (exams are a real thing, I’ll have you know), but I bought it while down in Edinburgh with my mum last weekend and well, I suppose it says a lot that I could hardly put it down after starting it. Also, please take note; I figured I could stop using dull book cover images pulled from Google for actual books, so have a hipster picture I took in the local Starbucks today instead! If I get accepted to this one thing in January, I'll buy myself an actual camera for my birthday. Things to look forward to...?

Anna and the French Kiss is the story of Anna, who’s a neat freak and a film enthusiast and gets sent to a boarding school in Paris by her father for a year. She doesn’t know the language and has to make new friends, but she also meets the gorgeous, gorgeous American-French boy with a British accent (yes, I know), Étienne St. Clair. Sad thing is that they’re both kind of taken, of course. We wouldn’t have a book if people could just get together as soon as they recognise that the attraction is mutual, right?

I recognise that the book has a lot of issues. I mean, it’s a first world problem book, and that’s something you just have to live with if you’re going to read it. Anna realises that she’s being sent to the Most Amazing City In The World (I’ll get back to this later) and a boarding school only open to rich Americans, yet she has the nerve to cry about it. She begs her father to up her weekly allowance because she doesn’t have enough money for proper food, yet she goes to the cinema six times a week. It’s kind of terrible.

She’s also terribly stupid and has that (admittedly stereotypical) ‘American teenager with enough privilege to ignore the rest of the world‘ air about her. I’m still seething that she didn’t know how to write s’il vous plait (instead writing see voo play and having a friend correct it) or even oui (“The only French word I know is oui, which means “yes,” and only recently did I learn it’s spelled o- u- i and not w- e- e.”) or that in her 17 years, she hasn’t realised that her family motto, tout pourvoir, is French. (“Argh, I don’t know. I always assumed it was in Latin or some other dead language.”) I mean, could you not have Googled a few basic things before making myself, the reader, think that you’re incredibly stupid? She's everything that's wrong with America, in one person.

Étienne – St. Clair as he’s known most of the book, is nice. He’s passionate about history and awfully kind, good-looking, afraid of heights and being left alone. He might be a bit too perfect, but I’ll let that slide since his description is through the eyes of a girl that loves her. All in all, I liked him. I also liked the rest of the people in their little group of friends – Josh, Rashmi and Mer. They’re all quite likeable and aren’t totally cookie-cutter in their personalities, and they don’t even warm up to Anna the New Girl right away. I don’t have complaints about them. I especially want to mention artsy Josh, who skips classes and draws and is generally super nice. I liked him.

The ‘bad guys’ of the school are very, very stereotypical, however. There’s the popular, pretty girl who hates the main character just because she gets along with the cutest guy in school. There’s the jock who just likes to drink and party and has little to no personality other than to be an asshole. They were just that forgettable, with super generic names like Amanda and… David or something. You know the type, I’m sure.

As for the plot, it’s mostly nice. It flows well and has a good balance of carrot and stick – Anna’s problems and the times things actually work out. The main conflict however is messy and had me skipping lines because I saw where it was going and didn’t really care about the description when it did. There are some bright moments that made me smile but on the other hand there are also very boring ones. For an example, there’s a very generic ‘getting drunk’ scene that could belong to any single movie or book aimed towards teen audiences. Bleh.

The book is set in Paris and I think I have to admit that’s why I picked it up to begin with. I wanted to see if it was Paris with rude people and croissants and a constant hurry and too high a rent or Paris with dreams and croissants and art and all that magic they claim the city has, the American fantasy. Of course, I was disappointed. I kind of wish the book had been set in, say Amsterdam or Vienna (this just because these are my personal favourites, cities I’d love to set a book in because they’re just so curious), or that it was actually set in Paris, fully and truly embracing the beautiful city and not just a dull tourist stereotype.

Anna and the French Kiss is cute YA chick lit, that’s all there is to it. I knew this coming in and I mostly enjoyed the read. I kind of want to give this four out of five, but that would put it on the same line as books like Laughter in the Darkness and Water For Elephants, books I liked more unconditionally than this one. Also, I talked to my friend on Skype and she told me to burn this book, so I can’t really give it more than a three. But if you happen to stand first world problems and want some cute romance set in a fairy tale city… go for it.

Monday, 16 November 2015

All the Bright Places - Jennifer Niven

“I remember running down a road on my way to a nursery of flowers. I remember her smile and her laugh when I was my best self and she looked at me like I could do no wrong and was whole. I remember how she looked at me the same way even when I wasn’t. I remember her hand in mine and how that felt, as if something and someone belonged to me.”

I don’t know what I expected from All The Bright Places anymore. I mean, the synopsis begins with the line When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom,’ and it sounds great. (Bell tower at a school though? I just rolled with it) I don’t know what and why but either way, it sounded nice. It sounded interesting, it sounded special. In the author’s note, Jennifer Niven mentions that she wanted to write an ‘edgy’ novel, a YA novel, a novel about personal pain (I wouldn’t have known this just reading the book, sadly). Was it all those things? I suppose you know where I’m getting at.

Meet Ultraviolet Remarkey-able – and I wish so bad I was kidding about that name but sadly I’m not. I mean, I kind of found the nickname cute in that terrible, dorky way that makes you want to cringe, at first anyway. But I lost count how many times the Hot Reckless BoyTM of the book repeats it. And I mean, it honestly made me cringe every single time so I hope you feel my pain here. Violet recently lost her sister, Violet is depressed, unfairly pretty, a cheerleader, a writer, quirky and popular. I kind of liked Violet. I had nothing against her depressed quirkiness. I think. Oh, also, Violet makes a webzine designed to help teenagers with all their problems, because she’s kind of saintly like that. It’s mostly irrelevant to the plot but relevant to my annoyance so there you go.

Theodore Finch is the mandatory hot reckless guy. He’s bipolar, suicidal, unreliable and hot, basically everything you could expect from a discount hot guy. Want to know the worst part of his character, though? He does not sound like a 18-year old. I mean, he quotes Virginia Woolf (some of it with the help of Google, which did make me chuckle) and writes Violet poetry on email. He writes songs and to top it off, he also talks like someone from the 19th century. I’ll get back to his ultimately annoying poetry when I’m ready to spoil the ending for you.

The book claims to be the story of both of these characters, but I believe it was the story of Violet more than anything. She was characterised more strongly, and she got the focus most of the way. I don’t mind – she was more likeable than pretentious Finch whom the end made me hate more than anything. I'm not going to go into detail about the plot - they're forced to be friends and fall in love, naturally. The plot lacks actual conflict, and I was just constantly waiting, waiting and waiting.

I’ve seen people compare this book to The Fault in Our Stars, and I’m fairly sure the synopsis brought this up as well. It's not out of nowhere, either - we have the atmosphere of death, the girl whose name is a colour, the guy whose name is right-up ridiculous and to top it off, they do not sound like teenagers in the slightest with their metaphors and carefully constructed sentences. Of course, All the Bright Places loses in this comparison by miles – the plot was dull and lacked the tension of TFIOS most of the way through, the characters didn’t sound beautifully poetic but annoyingly so, and most importantly, TFIOS did it first. All the Bright Places is in this sense a Monday copy, a lookalike mimicking the success of a wildly better book – and I’m not even a TFIOS fangirl, believe it or not.

The weird thing is that I enjoyed the book, mostly. It was around the time Finch runs six miles frantically to get Violet flowers (violets, naturally) and where I took the quote at the top of the page from that I started to think, ‘Wait a minute. Do I actually enjoy these characters, because they’re kind of starting to piss me off right now?’ From there it was all downhill and the last tenth of the book (audiobooks make me measure weirdly, I know), I just forced myself to chug it down so that I could write a review about it and finally, thankfully read something else. I hope this doesn’t mean I’m getting over my YA phase because there are at least 50 more YA novels I’d like to read and enjoy.

…So anyway, the ending. The ending. Finch dies – it’s not surprising per se, but it was badly built and the tempo of the book didn’t give it the importance it could have had. I wish to draw another parallel to TFIOS here – it’s the same ‘this even is so important I’ll just say it’ kind of plot development. Finch actually commits suicide by drowning, and before he does, he leaves Violet fucking cryptic Facebook messages filled with poems to talk about the places he visited before fucking killing himself. I am so annoyed by the premise of this that the wannabe cuteness of Violet visiting all these places and seeing the signs he left behind didn’t make me awww or feel bittersweet or anything. I was just so done.

Violet also writes pretty little poetry for Finch after he’s dead and I continue to be so done. We pretend to see Violet pick up the pieces of her broken life but I think Niven was too afraid to actually give us an actual look at her future, so we get half-assed little glimpses instead. I don’t think this was the right time to ~leave it up to the reader~, honestly.

I think this is where the book goes wrong for me. I mean, the author wants to get across the message that suicide is serious, that I should feel sorry for Finch, who felt like he had no other option. But honestly? His life didn’t seem that bad to me and half the book was from his POV so I should know. He seemed to be kind of getting it together and then he spends a week or so visiting all the cool sights of Indiana (this makes sense in the context, sort of) and writing poetry. Then he kills himself, and I don’t feel sorry for him, and I think he had a choice, and I think he was an annoying asshole. I’m just so upset by this, ugh. Like Everything, Everything, this is another audio book I’ll be returning to Audible, because I honestly did not like it.

Also! There’s going to be a movie based on this book, apparently! I can't express how much complaining I'll be doing when it actually comes out. *sigh*

On other news, I picked up Never Always Sometimes as my next project, and so far it seems like a fairly typical high school novel with unquirky, actually teenager-like main characters. I’m content with my life choices right now, but I still can’t recommend All the Bright Places to you.