Friday, 22 January 2016

Mini Reviews feat. These Shallow Graves and Before I Fall

I was recently considering stopping doing these mini reviews and separating them all, but I've since realised that I like doing them this way better.  I don't feel the pressure to write 1000 words about one book, because there's two reviews in the same post.  So I'm keeping this style of reviewing.  Of course I will still do separate reviews for books I received to review because I feel like that's only fair somehow.  Anyway, onto today's reviews!

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

These Shallow Graves follows Jo, a rich girl living in 1890s New York, as she tries to solve the mystery surrounding her father's death.  First, I'll talk about the characters.

I absolutely loved Jo.  She was a realistic character with plenty of determination and ambition.  I loved that she wasn’t completely helpless, but she wasn’t perfect and had her moments where she needed help or she realised she was in over her head.  I liked that she never gave up on her quest for answers, but we still understand how scared she is to pursue them.  It was interesting to hear the story from her point of view, because she's always pointing out injustices in her thoughts, even if she doesn't mention them out loud.  She's torn between two worlds and two versions of herself: who she is and who she is expected to be (a timeless struggle, but particularly relevant for her lifestyle), and it was great to see her contemplating which side she should pick, and which would be easier.  So, yes, Jo was my favourite character and she pretty much made the book for me.

I didn't like the other main character though.  I thought Eddie was given a tragic backstory to make up for his complete lack of personality.  There's really not much else I can say about him, except that he was as ambitious as Jo.

Other characters I liked were Oscar, Fay and Anna (so pretty much every other character).  I liked that Fay, like Jo, was tough but had moments of weakness.  Oscar provided some laughs.  Anna ended up being more complicated than I thought, though she was still very much a background character.

It's also worth mentioning that I especially liked that Bram wasn't made out to be a villain, despite him representing the society that Jo wants to escape from.

I was intrigued by the mystery side of the book, especially as more and more dimensions revealed themselves.  It starts out as a small mystery - the death of Jo's father - but it becomes so much bigger than that which I enjoyed.  Unfortunately, I guessed the mastermind very early on and there were a lot of other predictable elements too (highlight for spoilers)[for example, am I really supposed to believe that a body found in a river was a particular person, just because it was wearing her watch]?

I also had lots of issues with the romance.  When it started becoming to much of the centre focus, rather than playing on in the background, it began to irritate me.  Mostly because it was very cliche and the whole struggle that Jo has has already been written about and put in movies so many times.  Plus there were plenty of moments where miscommunication and assumptions got in the way of the relationship and that always annoy me - it's just a personal preference, I don't think it would bother everyone.  It just kills me when a couple are angry at each other because they don't talk to each other about their problems.  Plus seriously, [how many books am I going to read where the protagonist assumes the love interest is cheating and it turns out that it was just his sister/cousin/aunt]?

Overall, I loved the atmosphere and setting of this novel as well as the main character, but there were also a lot of things that bothered me.  If you love historical fiction, I would definitely recommend this one, as long as you can deal with the romance!

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Guys, this is absolutely my favourite Lauren Oliver book so far.  I was not expecting to love this so much, especially considering how I disliked Vanishing Girls last year.  But yes, I fell in love with this novel.

It follows high school student Sam on the day she dies.  She gets stuck having to relive the day over and over, learning a lot about herself and life on the way.

I don’t think anyone can deny that Oliver’s writing has an addictive quality to it, and she manages to somehow put ugly truths into beautiful words.  I struggled to put this book down.

Also, despite the nature of the plot, I didn't find this book repetitive at all.  I think the author did an amazing job of making sure that each day was different enough for the reader to still be entertained.  I don’t think anything happened the exact same way twice.  It’s ridiculous how un-repetitive this book was considering the storyline.

Possibly my favourite thing about this book is that although it's filled with some very nasty characters, it doesn't condemn them.  It shows that they're human just like everyone else and make the same mistakes.  It also shows that you can still love your friends, even if they make some bad decisions.  I think too often in YA there are stereotypical mean girls which have no other dimensions to them - they're shown to be mean just because they are (or they have issues with their parents).  In this book, it's explained why the characters are mean.  They're not one dimensional at all.  Whether it was to seem cool, to maintain a high spot in the social hierarchy or just to go along with everyone else, there was always a complex reason behind each character's choices.  It shows that sometimes they're not mean to be malicious, rather to fit in or to try and make their friends laugh.  It shows just how easy it is to become swept up in bullying without even realising the immense negative affects on the victim.  I know that I personally have laughed at mean jokes - yes, I'm ashamed, but I don't think it makes me an evil person, and Before I Fall makes sure it demonstrates this.

So I've accidentally turned this review into a bit of an English essay, but I do think that the above points are very important and had a huge contribution to my love of the book!

The one thing that I had issues with was the ending.  Obviously, the reasons are spoilers: [I really did not want Sam to die!  It was like she learnt how to be a better person all for nothing!  I guess, yeah, she saved someone else's life, but what about her own?!  Surely there could have been a twist of fate that let her live]!

This was an incredibly moving story which I won't forget for a long time to come.  If you're a fan of contemporary, don't hesitate to pick this up!

I hope you enjoyed this mini reviews!  If you've read either of these, please share your thoughts (and links to your reviews)!


  1. I have to admit, I'm a little disappointed that you didn't love These Shallow Graves! I've been watching out for reviews before I read it and I've seen mixed things. I'm glad you loved Before I Fall though! Maybe I should give that one a try!

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

    1. Don't let my opinion put you off too much! I was really loving it for at least the first half of the book, and I'd say it's still worth a read.
      I hope you do give Before I Fall a go!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed these and it appears you loved Before I Fall which is great! I read the Delirium series and wasn't blown away so I doubted whether or not her other books would be for me but maybe Before I Fall in particular is worth a shot :D the themes you mentioned definitely caught my attention because like you said it often isn't explored. Hopefully I'll like it as much as you! Lovely reviews
    Enchanted by YA

    1. Honestly, I didn't absolutely love the Delirium series either (the last book was infuriating), which is one reason I was so surprised by Before I Fall. I hope you like it too! Thanks :)


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