Double Review: ‘Anna and the French Kiss’ by Stephanie Perkins

Double Review: ‘Anna and the French Kiss’ by Stephanie PerkinsAnna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Published by Usborne Publishing Ltd on 2010-01-01
Format: Hardcover
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Can Anna find love in the City of Light?

Anna is happy in Atlanta. She has a loyal best friend and a crush on her coworker at the movie theater, who is just starting to return her affection. So she's less than thrilled when her father decides to send her to a boarding school in Paris for her senior year. But despite not speaking a word of French, Anna meets some cool new people, including the handsome Étienne St. Clair, who quickly becomes her best friend. Unfortunately, he's taken —and Anna might be, too. Will a year of romantic near misses end with the French kiss she's waiting for?

So I just got around to reading this, after hearing so much buzz around the book because Stephanie Perkins’ Isla and the Happily Ever After comes out on the 14th of this month.  Because I know that Anna and the French Kiss is already an established favorite around the blogosphere, I thought I’d switch things up a little and do a double review with my sister, Renee!


My sister Renee!

Renee is going off to college in SoCal with me this fall, and she’s been learning a little French this summer so that she won’t be too lost in French I! She’s also looking at being a potential European Studies major (so this book is perfect for her!). She really likes crêpes and wants to taste her first macaron in France. Renee actually read Anna and the French Kiss before I did and recommended it to me.

So here we go!

Each of us will be sharing our thoughts on a part of the book. Renee will be in purple, and I (Lina) will be in turquoise.

9707c2b81337054bd6eb9b5abbbd103c(On the MC, Anna)

Lina: There were times when I was slightly frustrated with Anna — her lower self-esteem, her negative reaction to change, her troubles with understanding relationships — but she works through them. There was true character development here. And Anna’s not as completely quiet and passive as she first seems…she’s got some surprises up her sleeves. And did I mention she’s also a blogger? *cue happy dance*

Renee: I thought she was a little self-centered because she couldn’t see any of the good parts about being sent to Paris, only the bad parts. She could be a bit clueless at times because she couldn’t see that St. Clair obviously loved her (and how could she not know about Paris being the movie capital of the world? Her movie review blog was titled Femme Film Freak, for goodness sakes!). But I related to her because she had never been to a boarding school or away from home before, and how she reacted felt realistic and I can imagine going off to college will feel the same way. I liked how she grew as a person through the book and became more independent — it’s encouraging to see that.

c6abeb4ba8c74e06092c1a535c4d46ab(On  Anna and Étienne as a couple)

Lina: Anna and Étienne make an amazing couple. Though I realize they stay ‘just friends’ for so long because of other circumstances, it’s great how much of their relationship is based in a strong friendship. They know each other so well, and their inside jokes and teasing, etc. never felt like it was forced or simply the next step in ‘getting the girl’ or anything. Maybe it’s Anna’s lack of close friends (I was never really feeling Bridget, Mer, or Rashmi), but her and Étienne are the BEST of friends. Confiding in each other, doing things for each other, being there…the whole nine yards. And at the same time, it was never awkward for such good friends to want to be together (Anna shared her secret desires well enough with the reader, haha). Well done, Stephanie Perkins!

Renee: Who wouldn’t want a British boy at a Paris boarding school falling in love with you? That’s my secret dream! I could read about that forever — but is it realistic? To me, Étienne seemed way to obvious with his feelings, and I don’t know how true to life that was. Buuut the awkward pauses and back-and-forth questioning of feeling seemed pretty real to me. He’s everything you’d want in a guy (except for the shortness…because who really wants a short guy?), even charismatic — it’s always so charming and nice to see when a guy can relate to others so well, and it’s pretty hot. Étienne was parfait (perfect).


Josh and Rashmi, Anna and Étienne, and Mer.

(On the secondary characters)

Lina: I do feel like the secondary characters were often mentioned — as if the author made sure to not forget about them — but still not that well fleshed-out. I only got a rough feel for Anna’s friends and family. But hey, that’s what the companion novels are for, non? I’m personally SUPER excited to see Isla and Josh.

Renee: The book described them as the ‘artsy’ crowd, and I was worried that they’d be a very typical artsy clique, but each of them had their own little quirks and broke the mold. Mer was sporty and tall, Rashmi had a unique personality… it was fun to get to know Anna’s whole friend circle. It felt like the reader was a part of it, even with their ups and downs.


The City of Lights!

(On the setting)

Lina: Ah, Paris! It was perfectly presented to the reader. It was never overwhelming, but it was always there. The baguettes, the macarons, the famous cathedrals, the fetching young Parisians…Perkins really gave the sense of a foreign country that was maybe not so foreign. As Anna began exploring Paris, the reader too sees it as conquerable and exciting.

Renee: I have always dreamed of going to boarding school! Now that dream has passed me by, but at least I can read about it! The school seemed really realistic — while it had its beautiful lobbies and dining hall, it was still like a typical school with its not-so-enticing dorms and desks. But I wouldn’t really care what my dorm would look like, because it would still be in PARIS! It was nice that Stephanie Perkins included little details that really made the reader feel like they were in Paris with Anna — the opera singer across the street, the cinema owner and his little dog, Anna and her friends’ outings to pâtisseries and cafés, and even riding the métro. When Anna was home on break, she realized how much she missed Paris and how she felt Parisian. Why can’t that be me?

d2fbcfe424b2be74d4f90f39f95bdb3d(On our overall thoughts)

Lina: While there wasn’t any sort of weird pacing in this book to speak of (thank goodness!), I really feel that the later half made this book stand out to me. The first half or so felt very typical, very predictable, but it was the second (and more trouble-filled) part that really proved to me who Anna and Étienne were, stayed true to their characters, and deviated from the norm. I don’t feel that these two parts were unreconcilable; rather, they fit well together and there was a lot of character growth and maturing done. By the end of the book, I knew Anna and Étienne’s love story would be one I’d remember and cherish. <3

Renee: I thought it was really funny and well written because of the attention to detail and how well the reader felt they knew all the characters. Even minor characters like her allergenic brother and not-so-lucid grandma gave so much humor to the story. The plot is unbeatable — who wouldn’t want to read about a boy and girl falling in love in Paris? I’d recommend it to anyone, because there’s so many things to love about it!

Well, there you have it!

If you liked the images I included in this post, check out my Pinterest board for Anna and the French Kiss!

Have you read Anna and the French Kiss? What did you think of it? Burning thoughts on Étienne you need to share? Any questions or crêpes for Renee?

Review: ‘The Distance Between Us’ by Kasie West

Review: ‘The Distance Between Us’ by Kasie WestThe Distance Between Us by Kasie West
Genres: Contemporary, Love & Romance, Social Issues, Young Adult
Published by HarperCollins on 2013-07-02
Format: Paperback
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Money can't buy a good first impression.

Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers learned early that the rich are not to be trusted. And after years of studying them from behind the cash register of her mom's porcelain-doll shop, she has seen nothing to prove otherwise.

Enter Xander Spence—he's tall, handsome, and oozing rich. Despite his charming ways and the fact that he seems to be one of the first people who actually gets her, she's smart enough to know his interest won't last. Because if there's one thing she's learned from her mother's warnings, it's that the rich have a short attention span.

But just when Xander's loyalty and attentiveness are about to convince Caymen that being rich isn't a character flaw, she finds out that money is a much bigger part of their relationship than she'd ever realized. With so many obstacles standing in their way, can she close the distance between them?

Glowing reviews for Kasie West’s newest novel, On the Fence, have been buzzing around the blogosphere this month, and I’ve just been dying to get ahold of a copy myself. But until then I figured that I could satiate myself by checking out one of her other contemporaries, The Distance Between Us.

I picked this up because I was in the mood for a contemporary, but from the first few pages, I was hooked. Maybe it had just been a while since I read a good contemporary, but I think it was more that that. The Distance Between Us was genuine and funny, hit just the perfect balance between serious and lighthearted, and was just about everything that I think a good contemporary should be.

Caymen has always been wary of the rich, mainly because of how her wealthy father wanted nothing to do with her mother when she found she was expecting Caymen. So as Caymen lives her life trying to help with her mom’s doll shop and ignoring her own dreams, she goes on believing this. But then Xander comes and begins to change her mind about things, leaving her torn between the ‘rightness’ between them and her loyalty to her mother.

One of the main themes of West’s novel was Classicism. Despite her attraction to Xander and the way he makes her feel, she often can’t overlook his family’s immense wealth. She keeps try to characterize him by it, but time and time again he surprises her by surpassing her expectations. But Caymen’s trust is hard-earned.

I really appreciated how the topic of money was approached in this book. While at first Caymen seems justified in her convictions, she still tries to cling to them even as she gets to know Xander. It was hard for her to redefine her view of how the wealthy fit into the world, and a little destabilizing. There are points in the book when she still tries to make critiques of the rich, and it is obvious she is in denial.  She begins to see that “being rich isn’t a character flaw,” and it doesn’t define Xander. West develops her argument surely and without too much one-sidedness, and definitely convince me as a reader.

But The Distance Between Us wasn’t a somber or humorless social critique. The main character Caymen is exceptionally sarcastic, reminding me of myself (or at least, in my head). She provided for quite a few laughs, especially whenever she was in conversation with just about anyone. Her banter with Xander was always a treat to read. But Caymen was also level-headed and had an oversized sense of responsibility, both of which really rounded her out as a character and made me root for her yet also want to help free her. She’s exactly the kind of grounded and common-sense friend I’d want to have, though she’s not averse to fun.

While the author didn’t linger over the world-building, I loved the slow build-up of the story and romance. It felt natural whenever Xander would come by with their morning hot chocolate, or when Caymen was filling orders around the shop. I was somehow never bored by it, which leads me to believe that West just has a knack for portraying normal life. The pacing was perfect as Caymen’s life began filling with problems and Xander became something more to her. Sigh It was a pleasure to read. And though I thought I saw where the plot was going, there were definitely some surprises to keep things exciting.

I have but a few gripes. As is typical with many YA romances, Caymen kept her distance from Xander for a while because she was confused about his relationship status; this is one of my pet peeves. But it didn’t end up being the main issue in the relationship, thank goodness. And then there was the book’s ending. For a book that seemed pretty realistic, I feel the ending may have been a little to convenient and tidy. But really, doesn’t Caymen deserve a happy ending?

I can’t wait to read On the Fence whenever I get it.

Genuine, funny, and the perfect balance between serious and lighthearted.

Review: ‘If I Stay’ by Gayle Forman

Review: ‘If I Stay’ by Gayle FormanIf I Stay by Gayle Forman
Series: If I Stay #1
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Published by Penguin on 04-02-09
Format: Hardcover
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Just listen, Adam says with a voice that sounds like shrapnel.

I open my eyes wide now.
I sit up as much as I can.
And I listen.

Stay, he says.

Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind?

Then one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it's the only one that matters.

If I Stay is a heartachingly beautiful book about the power of love, the true meaning of family, and the choices we all make.

I’m definitely on the fence about this one. On the one hand, it was well-written and felt so real. But there were other elements of the book that I enjoyed less, for sure.

Though she feels that she is dealing with many tough choices in her life (go to the local university or try for Juilliard, across the country), Mia suddenly is left with only one choice when she and her family are involved in a horrific car accident. She finds that in her ‘medically-induced’ coma, that she is the one who decides what happens to her; Mia is the one “running the show.” Will she choose to leave now that she is an orphan, or will she choose to stay for all that she has left (her best friend, her boyfriend, all the others who love her, and her future career in music)?

It is a bit difficult to describe the plot of If I Stay. The present-day plot follows Mia as she goes from the accident to her stay in the hospital. All the while, Mia is having a sort of out-of-body experience as she goes around the hospital separate from her comatose self, able to see and hear everything while she moves freely about.

A secondary plot of the book was entirely made up of flashbacks throughout Mia’s life, chronicling some of her most important memories involving her cello playing (a huge part of her life) and her moments with her family, boyfriend, and best friend.

Some of my gripes involve these plots. The hospital was mostly predictable, while the flashbacks kept the pacing rather slow. While I did enjoy the flashbacks because they reveal who Mia is and how the people in her life make her who she is, it still means that half of the book is slower because the flashbacks aren’t the ‘present’. But I think Forman tries to remedy this by making the book rather short (under 200 pages) so that the plot must move along at a reasonable pace.

A main theme for sure was music, as almost everyone is Mia’s life is musical. Mia herself is a cello prodigy of sorts, while her parents were a part of the punk rock scene in their day, and her boyfriend, Adam, is in a local band that is just taking off. While it was interesting to read deeply on a type of culture that I am not a part of, the music theme was a little too much for my taste. Every metaphor in the book centered around music, which I tired of. Maybe it would appeal to music aficionados, though.

Postcards of Cannon Beach from my trip to Oregon.

Postcards of Cannon Beach from my trip to Oregon.

What I did enjoy was the Pacific Northwestern setting of If I Stay. Forman’s novel is set in Oregon, and includes little snippets of Northwest culture, from the omnipresent rain to the hipsters. Having visited the Portland area and Oregon coast last November for a college visit, I really loved hearing more about the area — I definitely want to go back some day. :))

And of course, as is typical with near-death experiences, they always put life into perspective — and Mia’s life was definitely put into perspective in If I Stay.  We so often make things harder than they need to be, or don’t try hard enough for the things we want most. Only when all our opportunities are taken away do we see how much we had and how much we could do.

And hey! It also has a movie coming out in August. The trailer is below for your viewing pleasure…it may have SPOILERS, with this book it’s kind of hard to tell what would be one even after having read it. It seems like the movie may be told in a slightly different order, and it looks to me to be already more appealing as a movie because the visual and sound elements add so much more to what the book was able to present.

A recommended read for music lovers, and would appeal to those who are looking for a ‘deep’ read.

Review: ‘Catch a Falling Star’ by Kim Culbertson

Review: ‘Catch a Falling Star’ by Kim CulbertsonCatch a Falling Star by Kim Culbertson
Genres: Contemporary, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Published by Scholastic Inc. on 2014-04-29
Format: Hardcover
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A deliciously charming novel about finding true love . . . and yourself.

Nothing ever happens in Little, CA. Which is just the way Carter Moon likes it. But when Hollywood arrives to film a movie starring former child star turned PR mess Adam Jakes, everything changes. Carter's town becomes a giant glittery set and, much to her annoyance, everyone is starry-eyed for Adam. Carter seems to be the only girl not falling all over herself to get a glimpse of him. Which apparently makes her perfect for the secret offer of a lifetime: playing the role of Adam's girlfriend while he's in town, to improve his public image, in exchange for a hefty paycheck. Her family really needs the money and so Carters agrees. But it turns out Adam isn't at all who she thought he was. As they grow closer, their relationship walks a blurry line between what's real and what's fake, and Carter must open her eyes to the scariest of unexplored worlds - her future. Can Carter figure out what she wants out of life AND get the guy? Or are there no Hollywood endings in real life?

Simply from the cover and from the synopsis, I was worried that this book was simply going to be another normal-girl-falls-in-love-with-a-celebrity book, of which there are a surprising number. But Catch a Falling Star definitely surpassed my expectations and was much more than just a girl meets (famous) boy story.

Let me start by saying that I would love to inhabit the small, Northern California town of Little. As soon as possible. You know, if it were a real place.  I could try to describe it, but I think the opening scenes of the novel portray Little best:

“If my life were a movie,[…] the scene would open as the shot found the curve of our river cutting through the granite mountains, its waters famous for their inky green swirl, reflecting all the pine and sky. […] Next, the shot would […] move along the pretty pastel roads of Victorian shops and houses […] past gaggles of people at outdoor cafés or leaning their bikes against storefronts or waving as they crossed the street.”

But maybe an even better way to get to know Little was by reading about its residents. From protest-organizer Nora Trent, to coffee shop regular Mr. Michaels, and even to Cleo Smythe, who has lived out all 103 years of her life in the same house, everyone is alike in their love of the town. That the author spends the extra time to make Little really come to life makes Carter’s own life all the more real and touching.

It was certainly refreshing to read a book narrated by a character like Carter. She stands out from the mob of bland main characters in so many ways: in her thoughtfulness, her natural way of caring for her family and everyone around her, her level-headedness…I could go on. Carter is very likable indeed, so it was never difficult to read on under her narration.

But on to what everyone wants to hear about…Carter’s romance with celebrity Adam Jakes! Though he is at first distant and closed-off, we soon  begin to see the charming and surprisingly normal guy underneath, at least when the paparazzi aren’t around. Their romance, though it has its roots in a fake relationship, slowly progresses at a credible pace. Adam really just needs someone he can open up to to reveal the person who isn’t just the celebrity, and Carter soon finds parts of his life that echo her own.

But what will be memorable about Catch a Falling Star isn’t necessarily the romance; it’s everything else. Long after reading I will remember Carter: how she loved working at her parents’ cafe, her struggles determining her future, and her musings about life, the nature of celebrity, and society’s expectations while stargazing with her friends. Little and her life there will not leave me soon.

A charming, satisfying, and summery read that surprised me!

What did you think of Catch a Falling Star? Have you been to Northern California or lived in a small town like Little? Have you ever met a celebrity?