Bookish Tags, Other

T5W: Hate to Love Ships

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s topic is all about ships where the characters started out hating each other but that hatred blossomed into sweet, sweet love. In my opinion, the will-they-won’t-they of a romance plot is much more interesting than the same romance plot after the characters have gotten together. I love the anticipation. That’s why this is one of those cliches that I really don’t think cheapens a work. There are some that I grow tired of, but watching a tense relationship between two strong characters change against the characters’ wishes is always so exciting and satisfying. It just goes to show that sometimes it doesn’t matter that a story is predictable, what matters is that it entertains you.

There are a lot of great relationships in this category, and I tried to choose examples from a wide cross-section of literature. So, here goes. My favourite Hate to Love Ships are:

1. Lizzie Bennett and Mr Darcy – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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It’s impossible to complete a post on hate to love relationships without paying homage to the most famous of all. Did Lizzie and Darcy begin this trope? I’m not sure, but they definitely are a prime example of it done perfectly. Each is certain that the other is absolutely detestable, and even make this thought public, and, as their feelings begin to change, they remain certain that the other hates them. They meet multiple obstacles, until finally, they see the light and come together. This pair have gone down in history as being an amazing hate to love ship because Austen’s  writing is so funny and light, and her characters are crafted so well that they come to life on the page.

2. Dimple and Rishi – When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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This incredibly fun read was only recently released, but it is making waves. It puts a modern twist on a classic tale. This is, at heart, a simple tale of will-they-won’t-they, where the pair clash at the start, and then come together. In this tale, the hatred is more one-sided than in others, but we still see the same changes in the relationship of the characters and the happy ending.

Click here to read my full review for When Dimple Met Rishi.

3. Amani and Jin – Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

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The scenes in this series which stand out the most to me are both in this book, and both involve high tension scenes between these characters. Amani and Jin spend much of this book at loggerheads, and then are thrust together against their will and have to stick together to survive, or get what they need. Their wittiness made their petty arguments fun to read, and the development of this tension to love made me feel all squishy inside like a good romance plot should.

Click here to read my full review for Rebel of the Sands.

4.  Cat and Griffin – A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet 

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Okay, I’ll be honest. I didn’t love this book and there were even bits of this relationship that I found a bit problematic. However, this is a great example of a great hate to love plot. The emotions between these characters are always strong, always raw, and always fun to read, despite my issues with the book in general.

Click here to read my full review for A Promise of Fire.

5. Louisa and Will – Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

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Will is really mean to Louisa when he first meets her. He’s condescending, he teases her, and he frankly treats her like crap. However, the journey that the characters go on together makes for a really brilliant reading experience, and Jojo Moyes’s writing shows how both characters feel, why they act the way they do, and what makes them change.

Click here to read my full review for Me Before You.

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Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

My Heart and Other Black Holes – Jasmine Warga Review

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Rating:★★★★

I was concerned starting this book that it would fall into a lot of cliches, and to be fair, it did – a lot of cliches. However, I still enjoyed this book. The writing and the characters meant that the cliche plot didn’t stop me appreciating the book.

My Heart and Other Black Holes revolves around sixteen year old Aysel and Roman, who meet via a Suicide Partners website. Both want to die, and they agree to do it together, a month from their first meeting. They’re both running away from something, but as they spend more and more time together, Aysel starts to wonder if running away is really necessary, or if all you need is someone who understands you. Eventually, Aysel realises that there is more to live for than there is to run away from, but the clock is ticking, and Roman is much more committed to the plan than she is.

The first cliche that I was apprehensive of in this novel was the suicidal teen story. Obviously, suicide and depression are very important issues to address in fiction, but sometimes I worry that teen novels romanticise mental illness as characteristics and quirks. Warga addressed the feelings of both Aysel and Roman well enough that their problems didn’t feel like they were just being used to advance a plot. Aysel’s father committed a horrific crime a few years before, and she is running away from the fear that she is just as bad as he is. Roman is running away from guilt that he could have stopped a tragedy in his family. Warga wrote this after the death of a close friend and you can see clearly that her writing is influenced by real experiences. This novel is dark, because it honestly addresses the characters’ experiences, and while it is heart-wrenching at times, this means that overall, mental illness doesn’t feel like a prop.

Further, the characters both feel real and less like quirky caricatures than they sometimes feel in other teen novels that address characters with health problems. Instead of being one-dimensional and cookie-cutter characters that serve the author’s purpose of writing about their mental health problems, Aysel and Roman were multi-faceted and fun to read. Personally, I loved Aysel’s interest in physics and how it influences her narration of the story. She also talks us through some of her memories, and we see how these affect her, without an annoying info-dump or cringe-y flashback. Both Aysel and Roman have their own sense of humour and wit, and overall, they were just a lot of fun to read and very likeable characters.

All of these little cliches, however, developed into what felt like one big cliche. I don’t want to ruin the ending, but my feelings around the ending made me feel unsure about the  novel as a whole. On the one hand, all of the little cliches developed into a bigger cliche ending that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Lifetime movie. While this felt refreshing compared to other teen novels about mental health that sometimes feel like they romanticise huge tragedies, the ending isn’t objectively super happy. Rather, it is an open-ended and hopeful conclusion. However, the ending did feel a little rushed, and so the cliche aspect of the ending was emphasised until it was much stronger than it actually might have been.

Overall, it’s just my ambiguous feeling to the ending of My Heart and Other Black Holes that dampened my feelings to the novel overall. The characters were well-crafted and multi-faceted, and Jasmine Warga’s writing is excellent. While it was a really good read, I don’t feel like it made an impact in the same way that other novels on this topic has, but at the same time, I didn’t think that any aspects of her exposition of mental health and suicide was problematic or unresolved.

Bookish Tags, Other

T5W: Favourite ‘Unlikeable’ Protagonists

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s theme is unlikeable protagonists. I personally love a brilliant villain, but it can be difficult to have a good unlikeable protagonist. You have to take someone with serious flaws and make readers see some light in them. It’s difficult to do, and sometimes a ‘good’ unlikeable protagonist just becomes someone that you can’t stand, and the balance between flaws and strengths is lost. Here’s a list of examples where I think it’s been done right.

1. Naondel – Maria Turtschaninoff

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I couldn’t just pick one of Naondel’s many narrators, but something that I think Turtschaninoff did really well was craft really complex characters. All of the women that narrate this novel are out to save their own skin, and largely remain so for most of the novel. They are selfish and ambitious out of need and form few friendships and bonds between them. However, you come to love them as characters because their lives and thoughts are so well presented and you see their distinct personalities coming together when they realise they should not be enemies any longer.

2. Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass – Sarah J Maas

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I chose the protagonist of the early books in the Throne of Glass series over that of the later books because Celaena was everything that I enjoy in an unlikeable protagonist. I loved how she toed the line between hero and villain. She was dangerous, a threat to everyone and not afraid to show it, proud of her strength and skill, scheming, and powerful, but at the same time we saw gentler sides to her. We saw her both as an assassin and as a friend, lover, and protector. While some people simply love Celaena, I actually often toe the line between love and hate in these books, especially in the later books. There are moments where I love her sassiness, her wit, and the double sides to her character, and there are other moments where I feel tired of it, and want her to just pick the a side, good or bad. I guess that’s what makes her such an intriguing protagonist.

3. Eva from We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

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Eva is far from a likeable character because of her crude honesty. She is completely open about not having wanted her first child Kevin, about her dislike for him as a child and uneasiness around him, about her resenting many of the choices that she allowed herself to be talked into by her husband. We learn that her son Kevin killed seven students and two adults in a massacre at his school, and we see Eva visiting him in prison and even preparing her house for his return, taking extra care to ensure he will be comfortable. Throughout the novel, I wasn’t ever quite sure about Eva, and I definitely felt uneasy reading this novel, but it was an unfamiliar feeling that I actually really enjoyed.

4. Cersei Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire – George R.R. Martin

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I always get weird looks for saying that Cersei is one of my favourite characters in this series, but she is just the epitome of a great villain. What I love about Cersei, and about the characterisation in this series generally, is that you always see the characters’ motives for their actions. Cersei is undeniably selfish and cruel, but you also know that she does the things she does to protect her family. I also think she’s a fascinating character in how scheming she is and how she is one of the most dangerous characters in the series without being a warrior in the typical sense.

5. Pip – Great Expectations from Charles Dickens

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Reading this novel, I actually actively disliked Pip. I thought he was selfish and couldn’t see past his own desires, he was ungrateful to his uncle, and narrow-minded. I hated how he treated those who had helped him, and how quickly he seemed to forget all about him. However, it all fits into the story well, as it is about growing up and learning valuable lessons, which Pip definitely does. He learns that the things he had thought were wrong, and comes to realise the errors of his ways.

Do you like an unlikeable protagonist? How many flaws is too many flaws?

Book Reviews, Contemporary

The Vegetarian – Han Kong Review

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Rating: ★★★★

This book was recommended to me by a friend who absolutely loved it, and  I was intrigued by it because she had said she found it difficult to describe properly. To put it simply, this is a book about a woman who spontaneously decides to become a vegetarian,  and the effects of this decision. The novel actually touches upon issues such as women’s place in society, freedom, identity and mental health.

Yeong-hye and her husband have an ordinary and average life. They are ordinary and average people. That is why Yeong-hye’s decision to stop eating meat shocks her husband so much. In the first section of the novel, that is narrated by him, he tries and fails to understand his wife’s decision to change her eating habits, and how she can completely disregard his comfort, and her own appearance. He is angry that she would make such a decision without running it by him first, subject him to her dietary choices, and frankly, make any decision by herself. The subsequent two sections of the novel are also narrated by those close to Yeong-hye: her brother-in-law and her sister, as Yeong-hye is admitted into psychiatric care multiple times.

Although this is about Yeong-hye’s choice to stop eating meat, it is actually about much more than that. From the first section onwards, we see that what is really shocking to people is that she has made any decision for herself at all, that she stands by it, and that she defies tradition – her family are a family of meat-lovers, and even try to force feed her at a family dinner. Eventually, Yeong-hye’s lifestyle becomes even more radical, as her whole identity changes and she begins to become more and more like a plant, stripping to absorb sunlight and insisting that she doesn’t need food, only water. Although her decisions are seen by others as a sign of lunacy, by the end of the novel, in the section narrated by her sister, we wonder which character is most trapped.

I have read some modernist works before, and the style of writing in The Vegetarian is quite simple, so I didn’t find the novel too difficult to grasp. In fact, I read it in one day as it is quite short. I enjoyed the symbolism and the way it addressed themes such as women’s subjugation. I think that it approached this theme really well, as we see different aspects of control over women throughout the book, w whether it is her Yeong-hye’s husband’s expectation that his wife always think of his feelings first and put them before her own, her father’s violence, her brother-in-law’s obsession with her, or her sister’s doubt over how her sister is being treated.. We also barely see Yeong-hye speak herself, and her story is wholly told by those around her. However, I am grateful that this book wasn’t longer. By the end of the novel, I was starting to, not lose my way, but grow a bit tired of symbolism and allegory and wanted to return to my usual explicit action and plot. I was starting to read faster just to get ahead in the book, and so I think that I probably will have missed details in the final chapter, which I will probably return to so that I can really look at it properly.

Overall, I can see why this book made such waves when it first came out, and why it is receiving so much attention. It looks at various themes about women and society through the lenses of different characters, and really makes you think about how they play out in reality. Although I started to get bored towards the end, I put that down mainly to the fact that I wanted to finish the book by the end of the night. Whilst modernism isn’t for everyone and can be a bit difficult to get your head around or get back into if, like me, you studied modernist texts as a student, but this book at just under 200 pages isn’t too much to handle in my opinion, and unlike some older classics in modern fiction, its prose isn’t rambling or confusing at all, so it might be a good place to start.

Bookish Tags, Other

T5W: Side Ships

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s topic is relationships that don’t involve the protagonist. I am a major shipper, so this was a lot of fun. There is some repetition in this post, as much as I try to avoid it, but I couldn’t help it! Here we go!

1. Dorian and Manon (Throne of Glass)

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I almost gave Manon her own entry here, just “Manon with herself” because Manon really doesn’t need another party to be whole, but her and Dorian are a great couple to read. I saw it coming a mile off, but their characters really do read together really well.

2. Lorcan and Elide (Throne of Glass) 

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It’s almost impossible for me to not fall in love with a ship where two people who initially hate each other are stuck together on a long journey, both pursuing different aims and possibly secretly each other’s enemies. It’s a recipe for great sexual tension and relationship angst, and Sarah J Maas really delivered here. If there is anything that Maas does well, it’s relationships!

3. Sevro au Barca and Victra au Julii (Red Rising) 

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Sevro and Victra are a power couple if ever I’ve seen one. I loved reading their relationship because they’re so different, they’re such bold characters, and they both hold their own. I almost couldn’t believe that they would get together!

4. Lupin and Tonks (Harry Potter)

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These characters’ deaths were some of the most painful in the whole series for me. Not only did it take forever for them to get together, but even once they got together they just couldn’t get a break.

5. Bill and Fleur (Harry Potter) 

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This pairing go through a lot, and to make things even better, all of their exchanges are told with a great written rendition of Fleur’s French accent, for example: “Bill, don’t look at me — I’m ’ideous.” How can you not enjoy them?

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Holding Up the Universe – Jennifer Niven Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★

I was so certain that I was going to love this book – after all, I adored All the Bright Places (also by Jennifer Neven) and heard a lot of hype around this title when it was released last year. However, this book was such a disappointment. The characters were one-dimensional, the story felt contrived, and I just couldn’t get into the story.

Much like All the Bright Places, Holding Up the Universe includes two teenage protagonists, each with their own ‘issue’. Here, Libby Strout is returning to school after years of battling with weight problems, which were so bad that she had to be rescued from her house with a crane and was dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen’. She is hoping to not only be a normal teenager again but also to pursue her dream of dancing. Meanwhile, Jack Masselin’s cool, popular, and slightly mean persona hides a secret – Jack has prosopagnosia, which means he can’t remember or recognise faces. He forgets a face the minute he turns away from it, meaning he can’t even recognise his own family.

I myself don’t quite understand where this novel went wrong, except that it all felt a little too formulaic, like Niven had followed a recipe for a good, angsty YA romance. Both protagonists have their unique traits, a goal, a secret and/or a tragedy. They meet and initially do not see eye to eye, but after being thrown together, they see past the mask that the other has put up to come to love the person underneath. Whilst they help each other in pursuing some goal, they also pursue goals independently, and so grow as people as well as as a couple. My issue was these characteristics all felt too pragmatic, like they were just there because Niven needed something to make her characters stand out, but the characters didn’t seem well developed outside of these traits. Libby is defined by her mother’s death, her weight, and her dancing, just as Jack is defined by his secret illness, his douche-y personality, and his goal of building a robot for his younger brother. They had friends outside of each other, and they had family members with their own problems, but these were all one-dimensional too. Jack’s girlfriend is just a cookie-cutter high school bitch, and I can’t even remember if Libby had one, two, or three friends because they were all basically just background characters that I couldn’t distinguish from each other. To make matters worse, the story’s development fell into huge cliches, like the characters happening to show up at the same party even though they operate in completely different circles, or like Libby’s being the only face that Jack can recognise (I almost choked).

I quickly grew disillusioned with this book because I could see from the beginning that this recipe for an angsty teen romance was being followed, and it felt like every other angsty teen romance where the characters are battling something feels. I kept pushing through in the hopes that something would happen that would perhaps change everything, a huge plot twist maybe, but nothing came. The characters that I met in the beginning were basically the same, and none of the problems that they faced felt that significant compared to what the characters had gone through before the story began. For example, the bullying that Libby faces is horrible, but compared to what we had been told she had already gone through (bullying on a national scale) and how she had gone on national television to defend herself, it didn’t feel like a big enough deal to drive the story. The ‘problem’ that the pair face as a couple is so negligible I couldn’t really understand why it was a thing, and I can’t even remember whether Jack faced any new problems that weren’t set out from the moment we met him, those being his prosopagnosia and his family situation.

Overall, this book was so disappointing for me. I expected so much more, but the characters were flat and didn’t come to life in the way that I saw Niven’s characters come to life in All the Bright Places, and the story was, frankly, bland. I always try to write as balanced reviews as possible, but this book just felt too run-of-the-mill and cliche for my liking.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

American Gods – Neil Gaiman Review

 

 

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★★★★★

I said in a T5W post a few weeks ago that I was desperate to read more of Neil Gaiman’s work, and with the release of the television adaptation of this book, American Gods seemed like a good place to start. I was so excited to read this, and I was well rewarded for making it through the 600+ pages with a winding tale of mythology, fantasy, magic, murder, and American road trips.

At the start of the novel, Shadow is awaiting release from prison so that he can return home to his beloved wife Laura, however, days before his release, he is told that his wife has died suddenly and allowed to return home early. On the journey home, he meets the mysterious and charismatic Wednesday who offers him a lucrative job for him, and having no other options, Shadow agrees. This leads him on a journey with Wednesday that takes him to intriguing locations in small town America, and also introduces him to a vast array of gods, old and new gods, loved and forgotten gods, gods that he had never heard of.

It was impossible to not be drawn into the cast of this novel. There are so many interesting gods in this novel that I had mostly never heard of. While I had heard of big names like Odin and Loki, Mr Jaquel who was the Egyptian god Anubis, and Eostre, the goddess of Easter, I hadn’t heard of others like the Zorya sisters, Czernobog and the characters of Mad Sweeney and Whiskey Jack. What I loved was that the characters are often initially introduced as ordinary characters, and then we piece together what gods they actually are. I also really enjoyed the new gods, such as the technology kid and Media. The concept of gods dying if they are forgotten was interesting to read not only as a plot point but also as a sort of commentary of modern society, and it makes you think about what makes certain deities and beliefs fade away and what makes certain aspects of our modern lives like television and freeways take their place.

Second, I absolutely loved how this book crosses so many genres. There was fantasy, mystery, adventure, love, history, and my personal favourite, the murder mystery that takes place in the town of Lakeside. I always looked forward to the ‘Coming to America’ chapters, which take the form of individual short stories describing how certain gods were brought to America by all sorts of figures, from travelling tribes, to prisoners who were transported to America, to slaves and modern immigrants. Neil Gaiman did a really good job of developing these characters well so that you felt a connection to them even in a short time. My favourite was probably that of Salim and the jinn, but all of these stories are emotional and tell stories of people from all over the world throughout history.

I didn’t know how long this novel was, and at times it did feel quite dense, but it always paid off in the end. I think I am getting out of the habit of reading longer novels, but American Gods was overall a lot of fun with lots of plot twist that I didn’t see coming – maybe I am slow, maybe they were obvious to other people, but they definitely shocked me! I am definitely looking forward to continuing my journey of reading as much of Neil Gaiman’s work as I can get my hands on.

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Bookish Tags, Other

T5W: Books For Your Hogwarts House

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s theme is about books that represent your Hogwarts house. I am a proud Ravenclaw, and so I’ve tried to think of books and characters that remind me of the themes of knowledge and learning. Here we go

1. When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandy Menon

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Dimple feels like a Ravenclaw through and through. She wants nothing more than to focus on her passion, coding and computers. Her love of learning marks her out as a Ravenclaw from the very beginning.

Read my review here.

2. Maresi – Maria Turtschaninoff

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This book takes place at the Red Abbey, a safe haven for women escaping from all sorts of traumas and dangers, but it is not only that. It is also a community that is dedicated to learning and knowledge. The girls who come to the Red Abbey have opportunities and access to education that they often couldn’t dream of accessing elsewhere.

Read my review here.

3. Uprooted – Naomi Novik

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There are several aspects of this book that reminded me of Ravenclaw. When Agnieszka is taken to live with the dragon, she is understandably afraid, but we later see her grow to become inquisitive and eager to learn as much as possible about her powers and the forest in her land. She knows that her power and strength and the only way to defeat the forest is through learning how to hone her skills.

Read my review here.

4. Matilda – Roald Dahl

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Another character that I don’t believe we can deny has some pretty strong Ravenclaw traits. Matilda loves to read so much that she reads her way through the library, she loves learning so much that she asks to be sent to school, and she can move things with her mind! I hope she got her Hogwarts letter when she turned eleven cause she definitely belongs in the Wizarding World!

5. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

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Book are an escape for Liesel, and not only stories. The first book that she stills is a gravedigger’s guide, and she still reads it religiously. The books also bring together the characters in the book, who are united by the stories that they read to each other, and for Liesel and Max, language and vocabulary plays a significant role in their relationship. As a Ravenclaw, I loved the way that words meant to much to the characters in the book.

Read my review here.

Book Reviews, Contemporary

After You – Jojo Moyes Review

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Rating:★★

I kept forgetting to write this review, not because updating this blog is not important to me, but because I literally kept forgetting that I had even read this book. Where Me Before You stayed with me for days, I could barely be bothered to finish this one, and once I had, I realised that it had left no impact at all.

After You is the sequel to Me Before You, which you’ve probably heard about. If not, you can read my review for that book here. If you want to avoid spoilers for the first book (there’s a pretty big spoiler ahead) then, as much as I love that you have come here to read this post, I would advise you to skip this post altogether – here are some alternatives!

After You picks up a few years after Me Before You’s dramatic ending. Louisa has done what Will wanted her to do after his death – she has travelled, met people and done exciting things, but now she is back in London, working another dead-end job, and has realised that she hasn’t dealt with her grief at all, but rather has just been shoving it aside. After an accidental fall from her rooftop garden, which family think was a suicide attempt, Louisa is forced to enter a grief support group. Meanwhile, a shocking revelation in the form of a strange girl appears on her doorstep and Louisa must revisit her time with Will again.

I’ll get to the point quickly – this review really didn’t need to happen. I suspected that this would be the case before I read it, but I kept pushing on in the hopes that I would be proven wrong. Unfortunately, I was right. The mysterious new character’s identity was such a cliche that, for me, the book read too much like mediocre fanfiction. I think that as Me Before You was so driven by the relationship between Louisa and Will, Louisa on her own with a bunch (literally, so many) new characters with either a tenuous link or no link at all to the original story just didn’t work. I didn’t really care about any of the new characters, for example, I could barely differentiate one support group member from the other, and the ‘will they won’t they’ romance storyline was dull, because the relationship lacked the same banter and drama that Louisa and Will had.

I almost never wish that I hadn’t read a book before, but After You is pushing me to the limit. A quick google search told me that there will be a third book to this series. Why? Me Before You was a great, striking standalone novel, and as much as you might wonder what happened to a character after a novel ends, that isn’t enough justification to extend a story that has finished. The rest of Louisa’s story, frankly, is just not interesting in the way that Me Before You. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to say that I’ll not be reading the next book about Louisa, but i case it wasn’t clear, I won’t. I would rather just think of Me Before You as a standalone book.

Have you read After You, and if so, what did you think? What are some series that you think would have been left as a standalone, or stretched on too long?