I’ve made it my New Year’s Resolution to attempt to review every (or nearly every) book that I read in 2013. In the past, even on Goodreads, I tend to read most books, star-rate them, and move onto something else, but this does nothing for my blog, or express at all how I truly felt about these books (there’s only so much you can capture in a number or fraction). But then, sometimes, I read so quickly but am so busy that I don’t have enough time to thoroughly write a detailed review. I’ve decided to remedy this with the occasional “chibi” (mini, or rather, smaller-than-usual-but-not-quite-“bite-sized”) book review. Though they won’t be as detailed or as long as my usual book reviews, they’ll still be long enough to convey my thoughts.
Today’s chibi!reviews are of the novels This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith and Of Poseidon by Anna Banks.
|If fate sent you an email, would you answer?
When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O’Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds. Then Graham finds out that Ellie’s Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media’s spotlight at all costs?
Sometimes you read a book that’s absolutely adorable, and it charms you so much that you don’t even mind how impossible some of the circumstances in the book may be. For me, this novel was This Is What Happy Looks Like. A lot more straightforward than Jennifer E. Smith’s debut, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, This Is What Happy Looks Like is a novel about two teenagers who serendipitously meet via email, and end up falling in love with the person on the other side of the random, adorkable, and occasionally quite personal digital notes. While I won’t claim to know anything about what it’s like being famous, I truly felt like I was able to step into Graham Larkin’s shoes. I understood why this happenstance stray email to a stranger (and all of their subsequent conversations) would mean so much to him, and why, when he’d felt such a deep connection with her, he’d feel compelled to seek her out. Jennifer E. Smith is sincere in her portrayal of unexpected, real-life internet connections, and I thought she authentically captured how friendships can be formed on the internet through a post or an email or a blog every day (some of my best relationships are with friends I have yet to meet in person). I enjoyed the fact that Graham and Ellie were three-dimensional, dealing with their own issues beyond the love story (and Graham’s celebrity status), particularly those related to their respective families. Ellie’s strong relationship with her mother, and Graham’s estranged relationship with his parents both stood out to me, well-written and dynamic.
What did bother me, however, was that Ellie seemed to share her life with Graham, either willingly or because he had the means to know more about her background than she does (his manager sought information about her as a background/security check), while Graham, even if he wanted to speak to Ellie or someone about his problems, did not do the same. Her personal journey, grappling with finding a way to finance her dreams and make peace with her deadbeat father, take up a large portion of the story, and his journey is more internal. Both journeys come to some sort of conclusion, but I felt that Ellie received more closure than Graham did (though one of Ellie’s main dilemmas just fizzled into nothing towards the end). His worries, which plagued him for the entire book, somehow worked themselves out, which I’m glad about, and it makes sense that his parents could naturally — eventually — adjust to his new life and try to rekindle that relationship… But it still felt a little anticlimactic to me.
This Is What Happy Looks Like is a lighthearted, cute romance that delivers exactly what it promises: a story that will make you smile. (Which is what I hoped to read when I started.) Readers looking for something more serious may want to pick up Jennifer E. Smith’s The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight instead.
Galen, a Syrena prince, searches land for a girl he’s heard can communicate with fish. It’s while Emma is on vacation at the beach that she meets Galen. Although their connection is immediate and powerful, Galen’s not fully convinced that Emma’s the one he’s been looking for. That is, until a deadly encounter with a shark proves that Emma and her Gift may be the only thing that can save his kingdom. He needs her help — no matter what the risk.
Of Poseidon is the first paranormal novel I’ve read in a while. It’s also the first mermaid novel I’ve ever read, so I had absolutely no idea what to expect, despite having heard from nearly all of my friends that this was a series worth reading. Having finished the novel, however, I feel both intrigued and disappointed. Of Poseidon revolves around mythology, Syrena/underwater history, and a mystery that spans the entire novel (up until a cliffhanger I actually did not see coming). A few of the twists are predictable (only that one really managed to take me by surprise), but the fantastic witty, hilarious dialogue, the extraordinary world building (I loved all the details about Syrena culture and their underwater kingdom), and the banter (I love a great exchange of insults, especially between two potential love interests) kept me reading.
Although I ended up enjoying the book, I did have problems with several aspects of it. I’m always wary when it comes to dual perspectives in novels, but I liked the way Emma and Galen carried different aspects of the story (particularly because Galen filled us in on what was happening in the sea, while Emma’s was always based on land), working together well to tell a single tale (that ended up being much greater than I imagined). However, stylistically, the change of viewpoints did not work for me because with each change of character perspective came a change of grammatical point-of-view. Switching between Emma’s first-person to Galen’s third-person from chapter to chapter was so jarring that I felt thrown out of the story every time. I also was bothered by the chauvinistic attitude of male Syrena, specifically concerning Galen’s sister, Rayna. I know Rayna and Toraf clearly cared about each other, but that did not give Toraf, her father, or her brother the right to claim to know her mind, or to marry her off to Toraf without her knowledge. I come from a culture of arranged marriages, but in that culture is a respect for female agency and a respect for women in general. The way Toraf and Galen spoke about Rayna and Emma (and constantly disregarded their opinions) annoyed me to no end. However, the fact that Rayna and Emma never backed down or called them out on their ridiculous notions, no matter how rooted in the culture they may be, pleased me. I was glad to see both Toraf and Galen learn to be more respectful toward Rayna (and Emma) as the story went on.
For me, the weakest point in this novel would actually be the romance between Galen and Emma. Though near the end, it managed to win me over, for most of the book, I did not understand the appeal. Galen and Emma are instantly attracted to each other. It isn’t instant-love, but I can’t explain why either of them are so drawn to each other initially outside of the paranormal aspects at work or the mystery Galen was investigating. I tend to love relationships that start off kind of love/hate, with the characters dancing around each other, so I was surprised when Emma and Galen’s flirtatious/not-quite-dating-but-still-love-hating relationship didn’t do it for me, or feel very genuine when it actually took off (especially with Emma and Galen suddenly acting like a two-week old relationship was something stronger). I did eventually like the characters, and by the end, when the enormous declarations of love started to sound more natural and not as ‘SO-SUDDENLY-INTENSE’, I felt that their feelings for each other (at this point) were authentic.
Ultimately, Of Poseidon‘s romance was not a selling point for me. I was more drawn to the phenomenal historical mythology and the world-building, which is why I enjoyed the novel and what I would recommend this series for. (Warning: the ending is a cliffhanger.)