The Upside of Unrequited

I can be really harsh on some books. If I feel like a small detail doesn’t add up, it can really change my experience. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but a lot of them have a love triangle. But once in a while a book comes along where the downsides don’t seem to matter. Where the upsides make you want to physically hug all of it. The good, the bad, the ugly, the sad. You guessed it, The Upside of Unrequited is one of those books for me.

Seriously, there were a couple of times where I held this book close to my chest. In public. It was just that good. Becky Albertalli really captured teenage insecurities on love. Actually there’s a lot of feelings in this book I still go through. The wanting to date, but not wanting to go through the process and the feeling awkward when people discuss intimate details are only a few. I still haven’t figured out how people get a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Then again, I guess it just happens.

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There’s a whole list of diversity this book can check off – in one person. I’ve heard some people find this too much, but it didn’t really bother me. I guess to some it could feel like Becky was forcing it, but I bet there’s wonderful people with a mix of these things living in our world. I think it’s nice that someone like that was given a voice. Then again I’m the type of person that can watch videos about LGBT+ and other diversity issues for literally 6 hours straight. No pun intended. The only checklists I needed was that Molly watches Steven Universe and that a character in this likes penguins (aka my favorite animal). That was seriously the moment I decided I loved this book. I guess it’s because fan culture is such a huge part of my life that I get really excited when even characters share something I like.

Becky is a queen when it comes to writing characters I want to befriend. Her own voice is funny in a non-vicious way, but trust me she’s sharp and witty. Molly’s thoughts and insecurities can be relatable, but also downright adorable. Although I have to say this isn’t as relevant and lifechanging as Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda was. The Upside of Unrequited is a wonderfully executed YA-novel that is worth reading because of its funny and cute writing. There’s a lot Becky wants to tackle. From the many diverse things about Molly to YA-tropes like love triangles and finding selfconfidence. Maybe at times there’s a little too much going on. But it doesn’t matter because I want to hug every sentence.

And as a writer I’ve decided that I should write about diversity everytime I wonder if it’ll be too much. Because these people are out there and they need a voice. Or do we really want YA-heroines that are exactly the same? Skinny, white, in love with two boys, clumsy but good at fighting and that don’t even have a funny bone in their pinky.

P.S: Can you get these mini eggs in The Netherlands? I must know how they compare to Oreos.

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Sea of Sorrows

Sea of Sorrows reads like a play to me. It is divided into several acts and the dialogue (especially in the first few chapters) would fit better when actors shout them on stage, almost blinded by the spotlights hanging above them. It was so over the top and dramatic at first that I couldn’t take it too serious. I bet it’s not easy being Cobiah Marriner. It takes only a couple of chapters for him to lose everything – with dramatic flair that Shakespeare might’ve approved of.

This does get better. The dramatic flair stays, but at least the characters start to feel fleshed out. They’re not just carbon copies meant to demonstrate one of the races of Tyria, but they clearly have their own goals and needs. Sometimes the goals even seem to be different than what we had come to expect. As the characters grow older, the dialogue (usually) feels more layered. This book is a wonderful guideline for how the different races in Tyria can speak. Better yet it’s a historical seafaring extravaganza, which gives the game itsself more depth.

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I like that Sea of Sorrows is different than what you would expect of a novel about an MMORPG. This is not your actionpacked fullfledged adventure, but the history of a figure that has meant much for the world in this game. If you’re a lore enthusiast this book might just fullfill some of the cravings for a story. If you’re not this will have many dragged out scenes, over the top dialogue and not enough heartracing fighting.

I’m a bit in between. I appreciate what this book does for the world of Guild Wars 2. It gives a part of it more context like reading a historical non-fiction work would, only with the added dramatic flair of a play. I’m down for this, but it wasn’t what I wanted to read at the moment. And so this book only fed my reading slump as I forced my way through the book. I appreciate it, but I couldn’t fully enjoy it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are actionscenes. Huge chunks of this fictional memoir happen on the sea. And even though the characters don’t have many places to explore on a ship, it’s the most exciting. Maybe because it makes sure the focus stays on the characterization or the action. Of course this book will have swordfighting and canonballs. There’s even seafaring zombies and ghosts of the past. But there’s also growing up and a man settling down in a city to become part of its council. It doesn’t help that the characters all blame Cobiah for choosing this path, it makes the scenes feel even more dragged out. Even though I did enjoy the policits involving asura.

In some ways I feel like this is a gem that’s not polished enough. Sea of Sorrows might be in need of a good editor, one that knows its way with dialogue. In one of my creative writing lessons I was taught that a book shouldn’t contain descriptions or even words that don’t contribute to the story. In the last act the three previous parts do all come together but for the longest time this seems to be a collection of tales in a lifetime. I couldn’t place a lot of the scenes and how it benefitted the story. Sometimes in life things don’t add up. I haven’t decided if I want my books to give me a cohesive story to fill that void or if I like it when some things happen without reason, just like in our world. Just when I decided I accepted that this book went for the latter, the plot holes get solved. I know that should be a good thing and that my complaining is silly, but reading through all of it, it didn’t feel satisfying.

For all the nagging about dialogue I have to give credit where credits due. The descriptions of the characters, objects and places really made the world come alive. I can easily picture what it looks like. To me, it even seems that someone that hasn’t played the game could do the same. But the eloborate and imaginative descriptions couldn’t save the fact that I think this story might have actually been better suited as a script for a play. Ree Soesbee, if you’re ever in want of a new career, maybe you should try being a playwright.

Sea of Sorrows is a novel by Ree Soesbee and its set in the world of the MMORPG Guild Wars 2.

Like No Other

To me the greatest love story of all time is not really a love story at all. It’s a story about teenage lust and naivity. When I became a teenager myself I started to question if Romeo and Juliet were ever really in love at all. Was it just lust? Love at first sight seems so unbelievable…

But it’s Like No Other that made me understand how a person can fall so hard in just a few minutes. In the beginning of the book I believed they had fallen in love. Never did I question why that happened. To Devorah, Jaxon is the opening to a whole new world. He is the prince that unlocks the door to her tower. She’s on guard yet floored by love and while they’re stuck in an elevator something is set in motion. I like the insight that people who fall head over heels might be looking for more than just love. Perhaps they’re looking for a way out, for a new world to explore. One that’s filled with acceptance, music and yes, love.

Una LaMarche did her research. It’s almost as if she was brought up in a Jewish community herself. I can only applaud the amount of work that must have cost her. I’m not familair with the specific branch of the Jewish religion but after reading this I feel like I’ve learned a lot. It’s really fascinating to read about two completely different worlds, both unfamiliar to me. Devorah’s was really well done in terms of immersion, but Jaxon’s is also worth noting. I like how she wrote about his awareness of being a minority, from the conversations with his white friend Ryan to feeling like he needs to work hard so people won’t view him as a thief only because of his skin color. The foundations for the worlds that LaMarche let us peek into were sublime.

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Devorah’s world was really fascinating, but as a character I’m not a huge fan of her. She’s a little too quick to throw the world she knows (which is everything she knows) overboard. I get the feeling the writer was going for the when you’ve done one bad thing it just becomes easier and easier to break those habits situation, but in this case it feels fake. What I wanted to see is Devorah try to break the rules at first, but then stop halfway and have a panic attack. She would then pray very hard and lay in bed, crying for forgiveness. Later on she would find the courage to follow her own heart. At least, that’s how I would have written it.

For the longest time I thought it was only Devorah’s issue that she would throw away her beliefs, motivations and reasoning all of a sudden. But near the end there’s other characters who do too. This goes completely against what we’ve learned in the rest of the book. They’ve gone to such lengths to change the situation and then all of a sudden they agree to a compromise. I don’t feel like the writer takes me seriously as a reader. Nor herself as a writer. It’s like she got sorry for her main character so she made up this ending. And the decision that Devorah made before that just made me raise my eyebrow. After that I couldn’t care for her anymore.

I do care for Jaxon. He makes a fine prince that goes on the quest to save the damsel in distress. At times he does stupid things, but for his upbringing and character it makes sense (for Devorah it did not). I like his kind and spontaneous nature. Most of the time when he thinks about his crush he’s being ridiculous, but that’s what a teenage boy falling freely in love is. I like how he outshines other characters by being normal. He’s easily my favorite in this book.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I love the way you just know Una LaMarche has completely devoted herself to portraying accurate versions of Jaxon’s and Devorah’s world. I have a lot of respect for that. Especially the Jewish community must not have been an easy thing to write about and never in the story do you question that part of the book. Then there’s Jaxon who’s just a blast to read about. He may be as naive as Romeo was, but deep down we all want someone to fight for us the way Jaxon did. But I can’t ignore that throughout reading this book I was wondering if the writing style suffered because of the translation (I read this in Dutch). Sometimes I wondered if sentences were grammatically incorrect (happened about three times), but even if they weren’t I still thought it wasn’t a nice sentence. Overall it’s not bad, but there’s not the beautiful poetrylike prose I think a beautiful story like this deserves. I felt like this fascinating plot needed a bit more of a literary touch to better carry the story. But in the last half of the book there’s a lot of story and character choices I didn’t like. The ending being the most obvious one. I think I demand too much of some books. I had such high hopes for this, maybe I set the bar too high.

Like No Other is a novel by Una LaMarche. I read the Dutch translation.

The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and The Gods of Asgard #1)

A Rick Riordan book can be summerized as a diverse lesson in mythology without the feeling you’re learning. Most of the time it’s as thrilling (if not more) and laidback as watching a movie. Only with more diverse casting than Hollywood is known for. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I went into this book expecting just that. But it didn’t deliver on all fronts.

The diverse aspect is delightful. It may even surpass some of his other books because this time he features a deaf character that uses sign language and a very heroic and noble moslim woman. Write what you know, they say. I ask you to ignore that advice like Riordan does. All you need is a lot of research and the gift to not stuff your whole book with all the information you’ve gathered. As a writer myself I look to Rick for inspiration for this. Whether it’s the myths, the modern references or a character’s background you get the feeling he knows what he’s talking about. But it’s never about the knowledge he gathered, rather using it as a tool to bring his characters to life. Even in a book that deals with a lot of afterlives, he managed to do it once again. I love his take on all characters: diverse heroes, villians and especially the Norse gods (with an honorable mention for Loki).

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However I can’t ignore the fact this book took me more than a month to read. At first I thought this was due to the sheer weight of the edition I’m reading. It’s so big that it hurt my wrists reading it in the first few chapters. But as I continued I still wasn’t as stoked as I usually am with his book.
It’s not as exciting or thrilling like the fastpaced adventures of Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus and Apollo. When things finally get rolling and the adventure starts it all reads like a caricature, a summary of jokes. The heroes have some bonding, but I wasn’t feeling it. When the book tells me the three best friends welcome another to their group it doesn’t feel as organic as Rick usually pulls off. Only near the end I finally accepted their friendship as a group.

The meetings with gods or slaying of enemies all happen so fast. Despite this the book still feels slow. I think this is due to the start where Rick Riordan takes a lot of time to set up the story. I’m not even sure this is his fault, because even though norse mythology clearly shaped many fantasy stories, the public doesn’t know much about it. So you will have to explain many things about the gods and the afterlife. As with any book he doesn’t spell it out, which is a good thing. But it does take the thrill out of the first half. When he finally decides to speed up the pace I feel like I’m always running behind, trying to catch up to it all but being so caught off guard by it that I never really do.

But as much as you know you can expect Rick Riordan to deliver a diverse myth packed as an adventure novel, it’s also common knowledge that the first book in one of his series is never the best. I have high hopes for the next book.

Eleanor & Park

Some people can alter your life. Their actions change you, shape you. Who would have thought so the first time you met? Looking back on that first meeting seems impossible, because how could you not see the importance back then? Whether they’re there for the long haul, some people have come into your life to help you. Just as Eleanor helped Park become more authentic to himself and no longer wishing he was invisible on the back on the bus. And how Park helped Eleanor wish she wasn’t invisible at times.

This book is one of my favorite books ever. I wish I could tell you why, but it’s hard to explain. That would be like Eleanor and Park trying to figure out why they like each other. They just do. However I’ve been trying as hard as Park tries to put into words what he loves about Eleanor.
I like the references to geek culture. Whenever books do this it always feels familiar, even if I don’t know the fandoms. It’s just that I can relate very much to falling in love with stories that it puts a smile on my face when characters do this. In theory I could expand my love of this book by listening to all the songs they mentioned. Which reminds me of listening to music a friend (or love interest) recommends to me. That’s how much I care about this book.

Maybe I love it because it’s not love at first sight. At first they look at each other like you might look at any random person you come across. Merely stating the facts viewed through their life experiences. Not knowing that Eleanor takes any scraps of fabric she can finds and puts them on her clothes for anything but a fashion statement.

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I love this book for its dialogue. Not just the nerdy moments, but also Rainbow Rowell’s gift of saying things without rubbing it in your face. In the end you find out the truth has always been there, but its too ugly to face. Too hard to acknowledge.

It’s the details and her ever fun and compelling characters that make the story. Personally I love character driven stories. Rainbow uses the describtions that are unique to her characters, which makes them feel very real and organic.

I love this book because it’s more than just a fluffy romance. To some this feels overdone, to me it feels realistic. It’s in the way Eleanor can’t imagine why anyone could ever like her, because at home and at school she only hears she’s not good enough. Or the fact she’s always cautious, afraid of those moments when she lets go of that fear because that could mean the end. The end of her, the end of them. My high school years very much felt like finding a way to survive and I’m very grateful for every person that made me escape my fears. Even though, like Eleanor, I was afraid to let them get too close. Maybe because that meant I could lose them for they might not stick around if they found out the truth. This must be the biggest part of why I like Eleanor & Park so much. Because a huge chunk of it, are my high school thoughts thrown back at me in a slightly different form. Perhaps that’s also why I always break near the end.

I’m constantly trying to convert people to start reading this. If I had to pick a top 5 of favorite books this might just be the number one. It’s confirmed to me just how much people can make your life better, how it’s silly to begrudge high school bullies and how trying to stay invisble can be one of the bravest acts of them all. And let’s face it. I want to find my own Park.

Eleanor & Park is a novel by Rainbow Rowell. This is my second time reading it. I first read it in January 2014 and this is what I thought about it back then.

The Cursed Child

The Cursed Child is what you get when you take Harry Potter and combine it with Once Upon a Time and a dash of BBC’s Merlin. It’s entertaining and compelling and like the TV-show Once Upon a Time it’s kind of a trainwreck – in the best way possible. When I say trainwreck I mean there’s a lot of plotholes and treatment of characters that just didn’t line up to Rowling’s stories. The scriptwriter mostly got the style of dialogue for the characters right, but I felt he didn’t know what they were really about. Therefore most of the original characters are mere shadows of their book companions. They took one character trait from most of them and enlarged that and made it more dramatic. Then again, this is theatre. What works on stage is different than what works on paper. The Cursed Child is meant to give Harry Potter fans a wild ride like a rollercoaster. It’s great fun, but you might not want to look around too much or you’ll ruin your enjoyment.

I expected to hate this, but I don’t. I just can’t accept this as canon Harry Potter, because it’s too different from the original. In theory things might seem the same, but this reads like a soap opera. There’s plotholes, flaws and things that contradict the original series. But there’s also heartfelt moments that make you see Hogwarts and Harry’s past in a different light. I like that they’ve shown that Hogwarts is not paradise on earth for all students. I loved that Albus was very much the same as his father but still made very different choices and clearly has a different life than Harry does.

I also loved Scorpius’ and Albus’ ‘friendship’ and banter. In ways this friendship might be even deeper than Ron and Harry. It reminds me of Arthur and Merlin from the BBC-show Merlin where a pair of faithed best friends go on all sorts of adventures. Speaking about Scorpius he was perfect. One of the biggest flaws of the Harry Potter series is making it look like all Slytherins are evil. With Scorpius and Albus it does set things right. I love how geeky and goofy they were. Seriously, Scorpius has some amazing dialogue. I have to say I laughed out loud in occasions.

Another character done right is Draco. It’s clear from the get-go that he doesn’t visit Harry’s place all the time to drink tea with him. They’re still frenemies in a way and I like that. I’m also grateful about Draco not making the same mistakes as his father did. He’s actually a very loving and caring father.

But for all the good characters there’s bound to be some bad ones. There’s the professor from the original series that everyone either loves or hates that’s not his snarky self and there’s Delphi (did I mention this being a soap opera). And then there’s characters like Hermione and Ron that don’t feel like versions of themselves no matter what timeline. But I’m willing to let that last point go. Maybe it’s like reading something on WhatsApp where the text just doesn’t come across like it’s supposed to. But when did having a job at the ministery mean nothing? All the adults that work there do nothing but look for their children at places or just hang out at home! J.K Rowling always made sure the plot aligned with the daily activities of the characters.

If you would ask me what I wanted from a Harry Potter play I’d say I wanted to experience magical moments at Hogwarts with new characters in new settings. I was quite excited to see what Harry’s children would be up to because I like hearing about other perspectives of the well crafted wizarding world. I would also mention something about the political themes and social commentary that was always very apparant in the series. Even if all the books were about an orphan boy and his magical adventures it was never a question that there were more adult things going on in that world. Researchers say the Harry Potter series teaches people certain values like accepting people for who they are and not where they come from. The play embodies nothing of that rich world Rowling created. There’s no reading in between the lines. In fact the adult characters aren’t worried about politics and other adult matters. They’re only there to play the role they were assigned. The plot doesn’t move organically, things happen and people do something because the plot demands them to.

However I think the people that came up with The Cursed Child wanted to make a play that would let people relive Harry’s magic from a different perspective. They were looking for something for all ages. With laughs and giggles, but also dramatic turns and twists that are bizarre, but would have people sit at the edge of their seat. Visually this must be stunning. With all the different locations, times and even a little use of polyjuice potion I’m wondering how they can pull that off on stage. But knowing that they must have found a way I’m getting excited just thinking about it. The set must be phenomonal and magical. Harry Potter doesn’t have to be serious like Hamilton and Les Miserables. Even though Once Upon a Time is not a very well written show in my opinion, I still liked it. And this script felt exactly like what Once’s take on The Boy Who Lived would be. I mean, Harry Potter as a soap opera does sound amazing. I just can’t help wondering if Rowling is okay with this adaption of her story.

In the end I liked reading this. Sometimes I enjoyed it because it was so over the top that it got funny. Odette and I read this as a buddyread. She was surprised to learn how much she loved this, despite all the critics. In fact while I thought this didn’t feel like the Harry Potter I know, she liked how much this reminded her of the original series. And that’s okay, too :).

The Cursed Child is a script by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne and J.K Rowling. 

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

What if you had never met that person? How different would your life be without that first hello? In any life there are people who can change the course of action. This is what happens when Thaniel Steepleton meets the Japanse watchmaker Keita Mori. Against all odds they befriend each other – or was it a friendship that was always meant to be? Baron Mori makes Thaniel into another, better version of himself. At first you can’t imagine the chances of them meeting, but their lives become so intertwined it’s impossible to imagine it any other way.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street excels with its own rules and style. It’s been often compared to The Night Circus, including me while reading this. However the comparision is only because it seems to be the same sort of genre. This has wonderful complex characters and development, magical realism, a dash of steampunk, countless of possibilities and inevitable faith. I can’t bring myself to put a label on it. That wouldn’t do it justice.

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You see, in most books things start out great for the characters but genuinely get worse and worse. Only to come back around in the end. Natasha Pulley doesn’t care much for this format. She is skilled enough to tell a story where the character is stuck in an ordinary life, but finds luck along the way. He lived his life like a clockwork, always carrying out the same motions. But then something happens that stops the clockwork, although you can count on the watchmaker to wind him up again. Throughout the book everything clicks for him, but it’s never boring.

There’s a slow pace that comes with all the luck that very much suits all the Japanese characters in this book (and there were a lot). But in the end it gets a thrilling finale with twists that are as unpredictable as the toss of a coin or using dice. I can imagine that it’s so easy to overdo it, which will make the reader feel like Thaniel gets way too much. But it all happens organically, which only a truly gifted writer can achieve. In this book full of wonders and science ahead of its time there’s only one thing I found unbelievable. I didn’t really understand how an ordinary man with average intelligence managed to learn Japanese out of dictionary in only a few months.

That didn’t stop me from adding this novel to my favorites. It’s not just the fact that the story combines two of my favorite topics: Japan and steampunk Victorian London. It does so without feeling too intense or too much. The story slowly grabs you and without noticing you’re engulfed. It’s a love story, it’s a mystery, it’s an historic novel and I can only hope that in 100 years it will be a classic.