Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genres: YA, Romance, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Two misfits. One extraordinary love.

Eleanor... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.

Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

Everyone I know who has read Eleanor and Park has loved it. I’m talking five stars, constant recommendations and general fawning over the whole book. It’s set in the 1980s but has a contemporary feel; it’s about misfits and triumph over adversity; it’s a love story. From these descriptions and the endless hype, it sounded like Eleanor and Park was the perfect book for me.

It wasn’t.

It’s hard to admit, but it’s the truth. This book just didn’t work for me, and even worse than that, I hated some parts of it. There are several fundamental cornerstones of this book that fail miserably in their aims, and before I knew it, the entire novel’s  credibility came crashing down as a result.

We may as well start with the big one: the romance. There is so much insta-love in Eleanor and Park it’s ridiculous. I pride myself on being relatively tolerant of fast-paced YA love stories – when they’re written well. Eleanor and Park’s romance is anything but enviable. It’s not even enjoyable. One day they despise each other and the next they’re declaring their undying love for one another. They swear they’ll never love again and that it’s. There’s no character development, no realism and nothing like the beautiful, memorable relationship I’d been promised by those behind the media storm that both preceded and followed the book’s release.

And the thing is, there are parts of Eleanor and Park’s relationship that are just downright creepy. I loved that the book was both historical and featured major POC characters - but Eleanor turns Park’s race into something so ‘Other’ you begin to wonder if she’s just obsessing over him because he looks different to anyone else she’s ever seen before, instead of her actually having an interest in what being mixed-race means to Park, and more importantly, who he is as a person, regardless of race. And the way Rainbow Rowell talks about Park’s ‘femininity’, which is directly attributed to his Asian ancestry, insulting him and then trying to make up for it by turning it into a fetish? That’s not only offensive to Park’s characterisation outside of being half-Korean, it’s also kind of racist.

In fact, characterisation as a whole is another fundamental problem in Eleanor and Park. Both of the title characters are far more flat and one-dimensional than they deserve. I’ve already mentioned how Park’s race seems to be his defining feature – which by the way, is more indicative of bad writing than diversity in YA – and Eleanor is similarly unrealistic. You sympathise with her because of her horrific family situation but there’s a difference between sympathising with and actually liking a character. I couldn’t relate to Eleanor, and no matter how much I wanted her to, she just never made that vital leap off the page.

Rowell does her best to pack plot into Eleanor and Park, but that doesn’t quite work out, either. There are so many issues left unresolved and even more that are barely explored at all, it felt as if she’d avoided the real intricacies of the book and just filled it with mind-numbing diversions instead. It’s so important to talk about tough topics like poverty, abuse, alcoholism and racism in YA, and while some of these very real problems do go hand in hand in reality, by shoving all of them into one novel, Rowell gives herself no time to explore any of them thoroughly. Nobody tries to help Eleanor escape the toxic environment in which she lives, but then again, neither does she try to help herself, and the same can be said of her mother, too. Nobody blames her abusive stepfather for being a despicable character either, which is basically Rowell saying that because these events supposedly happened in the past and it was ‘accepted’ then, it doesn’t need to be pointed out as a wrong. 

Park comes has a more stable home life than Eleanor, but aside from her appearance, his mother’s Korean heritage is pretty much swept under the carpet. Park’s mother, married to a veteran and brought to live in Nebraska (white saviour complex, anyone?) is given no voice in this book. There’s no hint that – shock horror – she might actually have feelings about the life she left behind, whether they be positive or negative, or whether she wants to pass her culture onto her children, because Rowell as a writer just doesn’t give her the chance, and by extension, neither do her family.

One of the only things about the book I liked was the writing style. The short, snappy chapters helped keep the pace up and there is a frankness to Rowell’s writing that has to be admired. I only had one problem with it: the sheer volume of trivia and pop culture references. I’m all for pop culture in books – John Green, among many others, does it all the time – but Rowell doesn’t go a single page without reminding you this book is set in 1986 and it gets really irritating. I also had this problem with Sarra Manning’s Diary of a Crush series , despite the fact that I’d loved another of her books, Adorkable, so I probably should have seen it coming. Brand name references tart to wear thin after you’ve seen them crop up fifty times in thirty pages.

However, Eleanor and Park is not Rainbow Rowell’s only published work. Undeterred, I recently read her book Fangirl, and in all honesty, I wish I’d read that first. It’s such a wonderful book, brilliant in all the ways Eleanor and Park isn’t. If you’re going to read any Rainbow Rowell book, read Fangirl, because it’s fabulous, while Eleanor and Park just isn’t an enjoyable or well-drawn novel.

Arianne x


My First Blogoversary!

I really and truly cannot believe that I've been blogging for a whole year already! This is incredibly crazy. I've never been the person to stick with a hobby for long so to last a whole year at this blogging thing is pretty amazing!

I started this blog on a whim a year ago. I had just finished Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo after buying it that day and I was looking for another book that would be along similar lines. I can't even remember the terms I searched but suddenly I stumbled upon this amazing community. I had been aware of book blogs before. I was a dedicated follower of The Book Smugglers' but that was pretty much it. I never realised before just how many people there were out there who were just as interested in reading as I was.

I decided to start this blog myself to have somewhere to discuss my obsession with books. I logged onto Blogger with my email and spent five minutes brainstorming a name. Once I have it in my mind to do something I don't delay! 

I picked a template offered by Blogger and to make matters worse it was one of the first options that I chose. I didn't even bother to search! I can only imagine how many other blogs had the exact same design! As I got a bit more blog savvy I found a few free templates offered by blog designers and managed to find one I liked enough. In any case it was the best I could find at the time! Then the incredible, amazing Georgie at What She Reads designed the amazing blog design you see before you now. 

I feel so incredibly lucky to have been introduced to everyone through this blog. I'm not even going to attempt to name all the people I've been so lucky to have met. If I had never created this blog I would never have gotten to attend BEA this year (definitely the highlight of my year!) and got to meet so many fabulous people in person! 

Finally I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has taken the time to comment on the blog, tweet links to posts, enter giveaways and engaged in discussion with me. You have no idea how much each and every comment means to me! I love writing posts but to know that someone has taken the time to read it and form a thought on what I've written still blows my mind and keeps me going when I feel like quitting!

I know that I haven't been posting much lately and I am sorry for that. I just started a new job and I'm incredibly busy. I'm still trying to find a balance between all the different aspects of my life right now, but hopefully I'll be back to posting regularly soon! 

One more announcement before I let you run off to enter the giveaway! As I mentioned above, I started Live to Read, Love to Read on a whim and came up with the name without much thought. I've never been truly happy with it and I've decided to do something about that! In the next few months I will hopefully be changing the name of the blog and moving to a .com web address. I already have a name for the blog thought up and I really love it. Hopefully this change will occur in the next few months, and I hope you all love it!

Now on to the giveaway!

You can enter to win one of four books! There will be four winners. I will email each of the winners at the same time and the first to reply will have first choice of the books offered.

Now what books can you win??

ARCs of these books! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genres: YA, Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan...

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
There’s something about Fangirl that knocks you for a six and yet feels achingly familiar at the same time. It’s as warm as a well-worn scarf yet as sharp and piercing as a pair of six-inch stilettos. There’s so much honesty and truth in the writing, it’s impossible to look away. It feels like an old favourite from the second you turn the first page and it’s hands down one of the most original books I’ve read all year. 

Twins Cather and Wren have always been inseparable. Cather always believed they’d have each other’s backs no matter what, but the moment Wren tells her she doesn’t want them to be roommates in college, that dream shatters. Wren is surging toward independence; she doesn’t want to be known as a novelty twin or be mistaken for her sister anymore. She wants hot guys, wild parties, friends and interests of her own. Wren is leaving Cath behind.

Cather – alias Magicath, nickname Cath – isn’t outgoing or brave like Wren, but she is a wonderful protagonist. Even if you don’t like her right away, you won’t want to say goodbye to her by the end of the book. She’s dedicated, naïve, kind-hearted, flawed. She represents the best thing about the characters in Fangirl: they feel like real people whether you want them to or not, including spiky, forceful Reagan and slimy, despicable Nick. 

My favourite character by far, however, was Levi. He’s unadulterated on-tap sunshine. He brightens up every page, and in a world where brooding bad boys with supernatural powers, violet eyes and a chronic need to be ‘saved’ rule the roost, he’s a breath of fresh air. He’s supportive, hard-working  and has a deliciously mischievous sense of humour. He makes mistakes, but he tries to makes up for them and he always has a smile to spare.  His romance with Cath felt so natural; it’s a slow-burn, eventful and satisfying. I fell for Levi hook line and sinker - and want to see more guys like him in YA. 

Fangirl is a contemporary novel, so there are themes like the break up of family, mental health issues, overcoming fears and realizing that not all problems are meant to be solved, but it is, of course, also about fandom - and it’s brilliant. As Rowell taps into the previously unexplored importance of fandom throughout Fangirl, it’s apparent that it’s a trend-setting move that will appeal to readers everywhere. Cath writes fan-fiction for a book series about a young British wizard named Simon Snow (yes, it’s based on Harry Potter, though weirdly Harry Potter also seems to exist in Fangirl’s universe, and yes, it also walks that thin line between homage and blatant plagiarism more often than not). As the publication date for the final Simon Snow book looms near, Cath is also close to completing her Simon Snow fan-fiction epic, rather appropriately titled ‘Carry On, Simon’. In Cath’s version of the story, Harry – sorry, I mean Simon – and Draco – sorry, I mean, some guy called Baz – are more than just mortal enemies; they’re in love. Excerpts from both Cath’s fan-fiction and the Simon Snow series are littered throughout Fangirl but even they’re eclipsed by the sheer simple brilliance of Rowell’s decision to have fandom at the centre of her novel. It’s a trend setting move that begs the question “Why did no one ever think to do this in YA before?!”

Of course, with great hype comes great responsibility. Ther are downsides to the book – it’s not suitable for younger readers as it’s set during Cather and Wren’s first year of college, the Simon Snow excerpts occasionally feel as if they’re getting in the way of the real story, and perhaps worst of all, you may be reminded of the word ‘catheter’ every time you read Cather’s full name – but I’d still highly recommend it. It’s a story worth investing in: you won’t regret reading it, and I can guarantee you’ll be throwing Emergency Dance Parties of joy when you have. 

In short: Fangirl is a page-turning, trend-setting and near-perfect novel. It’s an engaging and stylish tale of friendship, sisterhood, first love, new experiences and fandom which pours irresistibly off the page. The storytelling is exceptional and the romance is wonderful; it’s fresh, feel-good and punctuated by honesty. Magnificent. 

Arianne x 


Review: 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma

Title: 17 & Gone
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Genres: YA, Mystery, Paranormal, Thriller
Seventeen-year-old Lauren is having visions of girls who have gone missing. And all these girls have just one thing in common—they are 17 and gone without a trace. As Lauren struggles to shake these waking nightmares, impossible questions demand urgent answers: Why are the girls speaking to Lauren? How can she help them? And… is she next? As Lauren searches for clues, everything begins to unravel, and when a brush with death lands her in the hospital, a shocking truth emerges, changing everything.

With complexity and richness, Nova Ren Suma serves up a beautiful, visual, fresh interpretation of what it means to be lost.

We all see the stories on the news now and then about young girls that have gone missing, ones that ran away or were taken somewhere unimaginable. And over time, the young female runaway has become yet another cliché to avoid.

Yet, author Nova Ren Suma resurrects this cliché by transforming it and placing it at the center of her brilliantly written and captivating thriller 17 & Gone. Rather than the than a novel about a teenage girl who physically goes missing into the night, this novel is about a girl who goes missing into her own thoughts and dreams when she begins having visions of girls who have run away or otherwise gone missing from home.

17 & Gone is the story of Lauren, a teenager living in New York state who starts seeing what she believes are the ghosts of girls that have gone missing in her area. An eerie occurrence that started with one girl begins to balloon out of control, forcing Lauren to collapse into herself and neglect the person she was before the girls.

The first missing girl that appears to Lauren is Abigail Sinclair, who starts as a face on a missing person poster on a telephone pole but becomes an obsession. Lauren is positive Abigail did not run away like everyone else seems to think after a series of odd visions from the night Abigail disappeared. As she digs for the truth, more girls start appearing, each with their own harrowing story to tell.

The resulting novel is one not only about Lauren and her journey or about the missing girls, but a story that walks several fine lines: the line between life and death, the line between sanity and insanity, the line between missing and present. 17 & Gone is as much a story about the different tragedies girls face in their adolescence as it is about the dark secret behind Lauren’s own struggle, a secret that will stun the reader.

The beautifully lyrical and descriptive writing style of the novel is instrumental in shaping Lauren’s voice, which readers will find bold, honest and mildly eerie. Her character seems to come to life off the page, leaving readers hooked in anticipation of what happens next.

One of the few faults in this novel is that, while Lauren herself is a fascinating, flawed and complex character, the intriguing and emotional stories of the missing girls she has visions of take control of the stories at times. And while this could be symbolic or a plot device, it takes a bit away from the poignancy of Lauren’s own inner struggles.

Another minor weakness is the use of time in the novel. While most of the novel takes place over a single winter, Lauren’s growing addiction to these girls’ stories feels drawn out at times. There is also a jump in time in the novel, which is necessary for the plot, but flowed more like an afterthought than a seamless addition to the story.

The plot, however, is masterfully constructed and Lauren tells the story in a way that is equally reflective, immediate and suspenseful. Recalling her story in the recent past, Lauren drops hints of what’s to come along the way, things she realizes that she didn’t before. What results is a story that is in itself a girl learning how to recount her own while also remember the stories of others.

Overall, 17 & Gone is a jarringly eerie tale about the lives of missing girls and the one girl who seems to understand their stories. Suma’s daring novel will keep readers up all night and is so suspenseful that they will be gripping the book with white knuckles, relieved and disappointed when they come to its end.

Have you read 17 & Gone? Did you enjoy it? Let us know in the comments below!


Books I've Been Told I MUST Read

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish. Every week a new topic is selected in advance and participating bloggers must make a list in regards to the topic!

This weeks Top Ten Tuesday isn't really a top ten anything. I've only been able to come up with seven books! There may be others, but none that immediately come to mind. I wanted to only include books that I have seen recommended countless times and I want to read eventually. This eliminates plenty of books that, while they have rave reviews and are recommended a lot, I just am not interested in. These are books that trusted bloggers seem to really love, and I have the full intention of reading them eventually!

Everything Lead to You by Nina La Cour - I've heard nothing but good things about this book! The protagonist is a young lesbian who is passionate about set designing. At least that's what I've gathered from reviews. One of the aspects of the book that I look forward to the most is the protagonists passion about set designing. From what I've read in reviews it really jumps off the page and you can feel how passionate she is.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin - Does this one need any explanation? I adore the show! This book has been lauded time and again and I really need to get in on that. I don't know if I'd be actually that interested in reading it once I started though. I hate knowing what happens in books, I can't even look a page ahead for fear of spoilers that will ruin my enjoyment of the book. From the show I know so much! I know that the show doesn't show everything though. But, though I hate spoilers for books, I quite like them for TV shows! I've read everything I possibly can on wikipedia and other websites about the books so I know what to expect from the show.

Open Road Summer by Emery Lord - The cover alone has me interested in this one! I've been interested in this book since I first heard of it. It sounds fun! But I just never got around to buying it and reading it. Then all of the reviews started coming in. I expected pretty good reviews, but from the sample of reviews I've read, this is apparently an amazing book! Apparently it took a lot of people by surprise and blew them away so hopefully it will do the same for me!

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson - I thought this one sounded good enough, but after seeing Nikki mention it a million times I know I have to get to it eventually.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch - This is another one that I see Nikki rave about constantly. Everytime she posts a tweet about it I get more excited to read it! But the book itself is quite chunky and a bit daunting. I'll make time in the near future to read it because the suspense is killing me. I need to know what's so great about it!

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski - This seems to be another one that took people by surprise. I still don't really expect it to be quite as good as everyone is raving about though, the hype machine has fooled me too many times for that. But I still love the concept and can't wait to get my hands on it!

Vicious by V. E. Schwab - Apparently when it comes to great books at the moment, Victoria is the one to look out for! I haven't read any of her books yet. When I first heard of Vicious it wasn't really something I was interested in. Even when people started to rave about it I wasn't that interested. But over time, twitter and other bloggers have managed to convince me that I really need to give this one a shot.

Have you read any of the books on this list? Would you recommend them? What other books would you say I absolutely have to read?