Again, But Better – Christine Riccio Full Review

Again, but better cover
Again, but Better – Christine Riccio Full Review

Author – Christine Riccio

Publisher – Wednesday Books

Publish date – 7th May 2019

Genre – YA

POV – First person, Present tense

Rating – 3/5

Summary

From one of the most followed booktubers today, comes Again, but Better, a story about second chances, discovering yourself, and being brave enough to try again.

Shane has been doing college all wrong. Pre-med, stellar grades, and happy parents…sounds ideal — but Shane’s made zero friends, goes home every weekend, and romance…what’s that? 

Her life has been dorm, dining hall, class, repeat. Time’s a ticking, and she needs a change — there’s nothing like moving to a new country to really mix things up. Shane signs up for a semester abroad in London. She’s going to right all her college mistakes: make friends, pursue boys, and find adventure! 

Easier said than done. She is soon faced with the complicated realities of living outside her bubble, and when self-doubt sneaks in, her new life starts to fall apart. 

Shane comes to find that, with the right amount of courage and determination one can conquer anything. Throw in some fate and a touch of magic – the possibilities are endless.”

Full Review

(Avoid spoilers – read the Quick Review)

 

A semester abroad in London is 20 year old Shane’s chance to fix her college mistakes. Binging Netflix, remaining friendless and unkissed, Shane is unsatisfied with her choices in life. London is her chance to push herself out of her bubble. A redo. But the reality of turning around her life is a difficult and complicated journey. One that will take all her will, some personal growth and a dash of magic.

Again, but Better is Christine all over from the moment it begins. Told in very personal first person, present tense, the plot follows Shane in 2011 as she goes to London on a semester abroad and spans through years of her life journey. All of it giving a sense of nostalgia and reminding me of myself in my teenage years.

The book is told in a slice of life style following Shane day to day through school, work etc on a loop and it could be a little mundane at times. Some parts of the book I really just wanted to flip past until something new happened, though, I think, Christine did well spicing things up and keeping things relatively tight. Another minor downside I saw with the plot was its sometimes obviously formulaic nature. There were times where it was blatant that something was being set up and I found myself guessing the why’s and resulting events before it was played out in the book.

Just when you start to feel deflated in the plot Christine utilizes a well used time skip. Things are fresh as we catch up with Shane again, and though she’s still thinking about Pilot in 2017 and still not following her dreams of writing, she has evolved somewhat from the 20 year old we first met at the beginning of the book. And then the time travel. God was it cathartic to see Shane regain that lost time and opportunity, that chance at her lost love and lost dreams.

The magic/fantastical element felt a bit, you know, so this is here and works, whatever, onto the romance! But its not really about the magic,so I sort of forgive the lack of details there.

The themes of self discovery, first love and self love were discussed with an authentic quality and progressed through the growth of characters. I could really feel for Shane through her struggle of figuring out what she could do with her life and struggling to give her passion of writing any legitimacy in the eyes of her parents who expect her to have a stable career and future. Her social anxiety and self doubt a running theme for most people. I appreciated that despite the magical redo, there was no quick fix. Everything she wanted to accomplish took work and continuing to push herself out there, and we see that, even if it didn’t all result in immediate success.

Shane (and I almost wrote Christine) is funny, insecure, naive, a little dramatic and a dash clumsy though in a way that resonated as endearing and relatable. Pilot is charming though he has some legitimate faults. The romance is sweet, warm, a little goofy (in a good way). I was quite convinced and taken with their chemistry.

I had no major qualms with the slight/but not really/but definite emotional cheating. Relationships and people are complicated, these things happen and I am the last person that’s going to berate an author for not creating picture perfect characters who either only make palatable mistakes or are made to be positive role models and influences rather than just fictional characters who in ways reflect us and the sometimes shitty choices we make.

Besides which I found Shane to be a positive influence anyway, if that’s what you’re looking for in a book. I was surprised by her growth and her ability to think of herself and her own life, needs, aspirations and relationships outside of her romance with Pilot. That feels sad to say but YA characters can be a little overly involved in their romances. It was a wonderfully surprising growth in the character that emphasized living life first for yourself.

I will say though that personally I found Pilot a little difficult to like at points. Some of his actions toward Shane and his girlfriend felt cold, a little cowardly and a little indecisive. Still, 16 year old me would be into Pilot. 28 year old me was put off.

The rest of the characters were interesting and a diverse group (perhaps for the sake of being diverse) but since so much of the plot does end up being romance and Shane’s issues with herself and her parents, we don’t see them develop or too much of them at all.

For a debut I felt like the book was decently written. I was prepared for and dreading disappointment but I, well, wasn’t. There was an authenticity and bright, engaging feel to the whole book that screamed Christine, and if you’re a fan of Christine that’s a plus. The ending is positive and fluffy and feel-good. Everything wraps up nicely, and I was left contented and entertained. While there were some minor hindrances for me on the way to that end, ( I have to mention the over-stuffing of pop culture references that felt a little ‘how many of Christine’s favorite books, shows, musicians and authors can we mention in every chapter?’) I have to hand it to her, the girl can write a decent book. I am already anticipating her future works and improvements.

I have received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

– 3/5 A charming slice of life with a dash of magic.

Buy it – Again, but better

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The Night Before – Wendy Walker Quick Review

The Night Before - Wendy Walker Quick Review
The Night Before – Wendy Walker Quick Review

The Night Before – Wendy Walker Quick Review

When her relationship comes to a sudden end, Laura Lochner escapes city life for her sisters house in the suburbs. Despite the lack of luck she’s had in love, with the support of her sister Rosie, Laura pushes herself to try again. She’s met someone online. When she doesn’t return from her date the morning after, Rosie is left trying to piece together what could have happened to Laura… or what Laura could have done to her date.

The Night Before is separated between Laura’s past therapy sessions, Laura’s present POV, Laura’s POV from the night before and Rosie’s present POV. It sounds like a potentially clustered mess of chapters but I promise you, it is very easy to follow and the different POV’s worked well to serve the purpose of the book.

I could not stop reading this book. I flew through it all in one night, pulled in and consumed by the mystery. It was all the qualities I tend to fall in love with; emotionally resonant themes, characters and events, an unreliable narrator, intriguing twists and turns that had me changing my perception again and again and again.

Though I am new to Walker’s work, I could see her skill at evoking unease and dread, keeping the suspense and mystery building. Using carefully drawn out personal details and past events to color the characters and add to the way the readers view their actions. The subtle word choices that could be read as honesty or guilt or innocence or as a threat. The troubled girl who could be victim or predator just as easily. Who is the dangerous one? Laura? Jonathan Fielding, a stranger that Laura met online, who she’s alone with and vulnerable with, who she could potentially know nothing about? Are we being led to disregard Laura’s ability to be a victim because of how she and others perceive her?

There is no shortage of clever misdirection utilized. Honestly, I suspected several people, almost everyone, in turns which made the revelations at the end satisfying and the extent of it all surprising.

The two POV characters are convincingly their own voices. The rest felt mostly like background characters as the focus was for the most part on the two women and told in first person.

The one thing I had some trouble with (which I won’t go into much as I don’t want to give anything away) were some of the character decision making and opinions that felt kind of like odd leaps. There was also a lot of backstory, internal monologuey, telling but it was used well and definitely helped with some aspects of keeping up the story’s mystery.

This was a great read. I really recommend it. It’s short, it’s compelling and it’s psychologically dark.

*I have received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

– 4/5 The Night Before checks all of my psychological thriller boxes. It’s twisty, tense and the writing pulls you in and makes you question everything.

Buy it – The Night Before

 

 

One Little Secret – Cate Holahan Quick Review

One Little Secret - Cate Holahan Quick ReviewOne Little Secret – Cate Holahan Quick Review

One Little Secret – Cate Holahan

Three couples decide to go on vacation together when their kids are off at camp. Drama ensues as their time goes on, the drinking starts, and the energy turns from excitement, to awkwardness, to tension as their tangled lives come apart in front of us.

One of them is murdered, and Gabby, a detective, finds herself entangled too as she tries to get to the bottom of it all. She’s got her work cut out for her. None of the suspects are totally innocent.

One Little Secret is a fun, intriguing little read. Told in third person from the perspectives of Gabby, Jenny and Susan. Three wives, three mothers with three different lives.

The way the neighboring couples are all wrapped up in drama and each other’s drama at first is fun. An eaves drop into their personal lives. Flirting, awkward, tension. Dig a little deeper beyond the successful women with their polite facade’s and their lives become complicated messes, a little deeper and it gets plain dark. That intertwining of people and events is what makes the book so interesting. I really loved the characters and all the interactions and business between them.

The characters and themes are relatable and real enough to be believable, driving the tension up, and ultimately making the resulting murder believable too. You could see how, given the right set of circumstances, a person could snap, how quickly it could escalate and turn into something else altogether.

While I did know from close to the beginning who the murderer was, it was still an entertaining, winding journey to the end. I was able to feel enough for the characters that I could see myself somewhat justifying some of their actions. Even hoping things would turn out for the better for some couples. And there was enough mystery and entanglement for me to second guess myself. The real mystery, I felt, was discovering how exactly it all fell into place and what the driving final motivations truly were.

I have received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

– 3/5 A quick, fun, little mystery that tugs at the outward facade of couples, weaving everyone into a tangled net that ultimately pushes someone to murder.

Buy it – One Little Secret

Vivatera – Candace J. Thomas

Vivatera - Candace J. Thomas Quick Review
Vivatera – Candace J. Thomas Quick Review

 

Vivatera – Candace J. Thomas Quick Review

Vivatera is a young adult fantasy about Naomi, a young orphaned girl with no insight to who she truly is, her self-discovery, her magic and her importance to the world.

The premise is so, so promising.

And in some respects, it pays off. The magic is interesting, somewhat unique and beautifully described at times. Almost sentient, playful or moody things inside the wielders. The world building in places is full and interesting as well. There are a lot of intriguing mysteries laid out that pull you along.

However, the book just wasn’t what I’d expected.

The pacing is rushed rather than fast. So rushed it’s jarring and the story becomes entirely unbelievable and confusing.

The romance was lack lustre. No intensity, no build up. We are told they are in love but not shown. There’s no discovery or growth to it. No chemistry.

And unfortunately, while the characters were likeable and interesting at points, I just could not feel invested in any of them. It might have been the rushed, sometimes confusing amounts of characters pushed into the small amount of story or the fact that it was often difficult to picture them, get a sense of their age, their stakes in anything that happens around them. I left the book feeling like the characters were strangers and that, for me, is the worst part since I put a lot of weight on character and relationships – more so than plot oftentimes.

The story could have benefited better with some build up and increasing pace rather than jumping immediately into the thick of things, especially with the scale of the story and world Thomas seemed to be reaching for.

I have received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

– 1/5 Interesting premise and some beautifully written qualities let down by overly rushed yet overly full plot and unbelievable romance.