It’s become a semester-ly tradition of mine to read some “destress books” to wind down from the grueling high-brow literature of the English major canon. I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this; you all understand the struggle that comes with a mission like “destressing.” By the very nature of the word “destress,” the book should be something simple and mindless to read with some nice outcome to keep your mind off the previous semester. Sometimes I hit some really great hidden gems (*coughcough* Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins…), but most times I smack the ground hard. I was going to say I won’t mention any names, but isn’t that what you’re here for? To avoid the cringe-worthy plots and sad characters of specific books so that you don’t dole out the money? Well, if you are here for that, read on. I won’t disappoint.
In ascending quality order, here are some rants. Ratings are my own.
This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith (2 stars)
Because of some coincidental spelling mishap when typing his agent’s email address, teen heartthrob Graham Larkin contacts Maine-based nobody Ellie O’Neill, the girl with all of the L’s and E’s. While it sounds ridiculously cheesy, that’s kind of why I bought it. It was $3 at BAM, the cover looked promising, and I’m all for a cheesy romantic YA destress book. HOWEVER, this book is quite the annoying doozy of events. Neither character is likable. Plus, they have all of this pent-up passion after half of the book but all they do is kiss maybe twice (I’m not looking for erotica—duh it’s YA—but how is that realistic?! YOU REALLY LIKE EACH OTHER DON’T YOU?!) In short, it’s unsatisfying. The ending is strange and unresolved, the Graham/Ellie relationship is sort of sweet but quickly turns annoying, and some characters just feel like faceless add-ons.
Read It: fluffy stupidity for those who wish of a Hollywood romance taking place in Maine (it can happen? I don’t know), mindless reading, decent writing
Don’t Read It: annoying characters, random father plotline, weird mother plotline, actors owning pigs (seriously, what is that about)
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (3 stars)
A girl, for some unknown reason, writes letters to each of her crushes (detailed and very full of feelings), addresses them (there’s no reason for this), and keeps them in an old hat box. There are many things wrong with this idea to begin with, but the novel hopes you’ll put those details aside. Spoiler: I didn’t. My Kindle version is littered with shouting-caps notes about how dumb the plot is. Regardless, my biased opinion aside, I only picked up this book because of a BookTuber, polandbananasBOOKS, or Christine May. She said in one of her last videos of 2015 that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before would satisfy the need for cheesy love that Stephanie Perkins’ novels give you. If you’ve read my reviews of Anna and Lola by Perkins, you’ll know I LOVE those books. I was so excited! Until I read the first couple chapters and lost every sense of my suspension of disbelief. Sorry, Jenny Han, I won’t pick up the second novel P.S. I Still Love You until I am promised it gets better. I’ve heard it doesn’t.
Read It: Peter is a guilty pleasure character (jerk but he’s fun to read), you feel vindicated when Lara Jean starts hating Margot (BECAUSE SHE’S THE WORST), mindless reading
Don’t Read It: empty characters, annoying characters, stupid love triangles that shouldn’t exist, weird sister falling in love with older sister’s ex-boyfriend nonsense, letters never meant to be sent but are addressed, and unresolved ending, THE WRITING
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (4 stars)
A dystopic world and star-crossed lovers. No, this isn’t Divergent or The Hunger Games, this is SPARTA. No, just kidding, but the world is inspired by the ancient greats. This little number is the only novel this season I finished quickly without skipping chapters and wishing it would end swiftly (you know, like the other two). Two stories—a Scholar slave Laia and an Empire soldier Elias—and a beautiful world. I read the entire 400-page tome in two days and couldn’t put it down! The characters were fully rounded (albeit developed a bit too fast in terms of Laia), the settings were beautiful descriptive, the weapons were flipping cool, the whole Empire concept was inspired, the love plotline was delicately approached, and YES DIVERSITY IN YA HOLY GOD! My only criticism, and one I’ve noticed across Goodreads, is that the love rectangle present was a bit strange on the Laia side. You’ve been warned, but maybe you understand it more than I do. Regardless, I absolutely cannot WAIT until the next in the series.
Read It: characters with life, heartbreaking motives, kick-butt women soldiers, family plot twists, beautiful world building, THAT WRITING THOUGH, THAT DIALOGUE
Don’t Read It: weird love rectangle, love plot pushed to the back (which is fine with me, but might be sad for others?)
So, there you have it. Three books read in a span of a month, each of them vastly different than the others. It was an emotional rollercoaster in good and bad ways, but I survived. If I was able to, I think you should as well. What did you all read over the holiday break? Let me know in the comments and recommend me some books! I’m always looking for new literature, and obviously I have no bias to what I read. Until next time!
Featured image from FreeJupiter, all other images from Goodreads