The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand ★★★☆☆

Reading for A Very Merry Readathon

I am a huge fan of a Christmas Carol, so when I found out there was a story that was inspired (perhaps even set in that universe) by it, I knew I had to read it. I don’t know much more about it going in, but I am psyched! I really hope I like this. The concept surely peeked my interest. I’ll admit, what I’ve heard has me worried. It is a YA book and someone mentioned a love story, and I’ll be frank. A Christmas Carol is not a love story. I don’t see that working. So we will see.

Update 12/15/19 (1:30 AM, ~38% progress)

I’m feeling all sorts of ways about this one. I am having a lot of fun; I won’t lie about that. However, I don’t like a lot about this book. Let’s start with what I do like. It begins recounting the tale of a Christmas Carol and replaces Scrooge with a young self absorbed teen. That is a delightful twist on the original tale. I also just love the general Christmas Carol theme of it all. My problem is with the characters, the writing, and perhaps the plot (too soon to say for sure). The premise is Holly is scrooge. She doesn’t listen, so she is forced to work with Project Scrooge to help save souls. Fast forward five years, and Holly hasn’t changed one bit. I get she won’t age. I get she is a scrooge for a reason, but for christ’s sake, she’s five years older and should be five years more mature.

It is little things like that which Hand tries to have to give an artificial weight to Holly’s story, but she fails to take it to the logical extreme. She wants a suffering 17 year old girl. That girl will not stay 17. Now she is falling for some hot guy, mostly just because he is hot. It seems so painfully obvious that this will be her redemption, but lets not get ahead of ourselves. Lets address a few creepy things about all this. Holly is 17 + 5 years of age. That could be a teacher fresh out of college. Now, introduce that 22-23 year old to a 17 year old. It could be worse. Now introduce Holly’s position in project scrooge, which, without giving too much details, gives her a position of power and knowledge over this boy. That makes this little love duo seriously problematic.

Now, I don’t see this getting above a three star simply because of the issues I’ve mentioned. That said, it is still a lot of fun, and sometimes it can even be fun to hate something too. The real trick will be deciding how much that fun is worth when it comes time to rate this. For now, I’m heading back in!

Finished 12/15/19 4:00 AM

That was fun. I can’t say it was great, but I enjoyed it well enough. There is just so much about this that made me cringe. Principle among this is the idea that love plays a pivotal role in redemption. It is true that Scrooge has to gain a love for his fellow humans, but this story takes it to next level and makes romantic love interest central to the story. That is not the crucial component of Scrooges turning point. It is a combination of things. I am also frustrated by our characters. This is a story about first world problems. We are meant to care about these characters are the most shallow and self involved people around. Holly’s redemption stems from her relationship with the scrooge she is trying to save, but the most profound growth we really observe is one of lust.

Hand tries to paint a picture of an improving person, but really, all she was doing was putting her character in a series of ever more selfish scenarios. Finally when she gets to the breaking point, that one action is somehow enough to save her. Honestly, this story makes me question what it is I liked about the original. It lacks the soul of the original story and bends a little too religious for my taste. I cringed so hard when I found out our scrooge was an atheist because he hated god for killing his father. That is so cliche. Sure, there are references to god in the original, but it isn’t a christian story. It is about caring about more than your self. Holly may reach that point, but it isn’t really earned. What’s more, the attempts Hand makes to do so focus on all the wrong reasons.

I’m conflicted on how to rate this. It does so much wrong, but it kept me interested, even at 4 AM. For now, I am going to land on 3/5 stars; I’d only go so low as the high 2’s anyway.

Update: I provide a larger comparison to A Christmas Carol in my post discussing my reread of it.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz ★★★★★

Read 12/9/19 – 12/11/19

I loved this book. It was beautiful and heartwarming. Honestly, it has been so difficult to find a young adult book that really resonated with me. Sadie seemed like the perfect thing to strike a cord, but it failed to work for me. Luckily, the same can’t be said for Aristotle and Dante. Parts of the story definitely has a young adult tone to it, so for the first chunk of the book I wasn’t sure if it was quite 5 star material. As the book approached its conclusions, it did all the right things to tug at my heartstrings so much that I can’t feel anything but love for this book.

This is the story of two boys, Aristotle and Dante, who become best of friends in the early teens. What follows is a series of heartwarming, and at times saddening, events that work to build the bond between them and our connection to them as well. The novel is very fast paced. We make it through several years of their lives, and it allows for their relationship to evolve in a natural and understanding way.

I can’t really say much more than that without spoiling it. Nevertheless, I think it is fairly well known that this is an LGBTQ story, so I do want to comment on that a bit because it is really where this novel shines. These two boys are best of friends, but one of them is more fond of one than the other is of him. This creates a very realistic and heartbreaking dynamic. I really appreciated the dilemma that the characters are put it because these are very series issues we need to be prepared to deal with. Sometimes, feelings aren’t shared even if it seems they are. Other times, we don’t know what we think we feel. In all cases, its important that we treat people with respect and understand the pain and feelings they are having as well.

This a coming of age story. Its about friendship and accepting your friends for who they are but also about learning about yourself in the process. Mixed in with this is their Mexican heritage. That extends to issues of acceptance of homosexuality as well as gang violence and drug addiction. I was reminded a lot of Netflix’s On My Block. It is one of the few shows, targeted toward young adults, that I enjoy watching. It is similar its tone of heartwarming take aways and somewhat unrealistic positivity while still touching on the very real issues of what is like to be a latino kid.

I have to be honest that the reason this resonated so strongly with me is probably because I am bisexual. I don’t, or haven’t read a lot of gay characters. My experience is very different from the one in this story, but it doesn’t mean I don’t still relate and sympathize.

In any case, the novel worked really well for me. I don’t think it was a perfect 5 star, but it is a solid 4.5/5 stars.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood ★★★☆☆

Read 12/1/19-12/4/19

I am so torn on how I feel about this book. This is a story of an old woman who tells us about her life and her sister, who we find killed herself (or died accidentally) by driving off a bridge. This isn’t a spoiler. The opening line is: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister drove a car off the bridge.” What unfolds is a story split between Iris (our narrator) telling the story her life and excerpts from her sister, Laura’s, “scandalous” romance novel, titled The Blind Assassin in which the male love interest tell his own story, The Blind Assassin which is a very sexist and poorly formed science fiction story. For nearly the entire book I mistook Laura’s book for her memoir of sorts. I thought it was a parallel narrative of part of Laura’s life.

Iris provides what I find the most compelling part of the story. It starts from her grandfathers perspective because his pride for his self made business plays such a pivotal role in shaping her father and his choices. This ripples through the story in a way that is representative of what make it so well told. Atwood has woven an intricate and compelling narrative about a family struggling to get by all while dealing with a stranger daughter (Laura). Atwood does an excellent job crafting a compelling story that is fairly sad and painful.

The fact that I didn’t understand the side stories were fictional (I had to google it) should tell you how this part of the book played for me. That is to say, I didn’t love it. Honestly, I didn’t mind the narrative of the wealthy woman and the hack writer; it was the long overdrawn segments of the science fiction The Blind Assassin that drove me absolutely mad. I recognize it has its merits. The dynamic between between the two characters reflects Laura’s own way of thinking about life and love. In fact, that story makes a lot more sense now that I know it was essentially a fantasy written by Laura. Still, Atwood digs into the hack writers story for so long that it just started feeling like a job. I was not enjoying it.

That sucks because I really enjoyed the main storyline. When I think about that, it is a solid 4 stars easy, but when I start to think about those parts that just drone on, I couldn’t give it that high a rating. Atwood is a more literary writer who. I knew going into this I may find the literary style difficult to connect with. Still, I am trying to read more of her books because she often has a lot to say in a novel, including this one. There are parts of this book that really didn’t work for me, but there were parts that did. I don’t regret reading it. Unfortunately, it has a lot holding it back from being a really great novel. 3.5/ 5 stars, rounding down.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid ★★★★★

Started Reading 11/21/19

This is one of the books I chose to read for Buzzwordathon 5.0, and you can read more about why I choose Seven Husbands there! I am pleasantly surprised. I am reading this fresh off Reid’s newest novel, Daisy Jones and the Six. That was a story that was easy and fun, but it wasn’t nearly as great as so many professed. I struggled to connect to the characters in a real way. That was my fear here. Although, I don’t think that is an issue this go around. I am about 75% through the story, and I can say with confidence that I am connecting more than Daisy Jones.

Evelyn Hugo isn’t a very good person, at least in my estimation. However, she is successful, and it seems as though she is the way she has to be to succeed. The world isn’t/wasn’t very amenable to women 70 years ago, let alone to a woman of color (Hugo is a cuban woman). The question then becomes where does the blame belong? There is no great answer. All that matters is that Hugo is a woman with real desires who isn’t afraid to pursue them using all the powers she has at hand, the consequences be damned.

A lot of the time, it is hard not to root for her, but there are others where it is hard to believe she’d do this. Honestly, as interesting a situation as it becomes, it does at times feel a bit contrived. In large part, her hands are tied. In others, there is a serious destructive mindset. Nevertheless, her cavalier attitude makes her come across as a bit of caricature which was the problem I had with the characters in Daisy Jones. All in all, I think this novel is working better, but that is one problem I have with it.

Finished 11/22/19

I loved this book. Part of me was proud of my dissent from the popular opinion, but that can’t stand. This book resonated too much with me. Sure, parts of it felt convenient. Nevertheless, the Evelyn’s story of finding herself and what she wanted really resonated with me. I felt for her in a way that only a great book can do. In this book, there is love and loss and scandal, and I am here for it. 4.5/5 stars founding up.