Love Letters to the Dead

In my opinion, most books are the same and by that I mean, they’re built the same. They all tell a story through chapters and the reader is usually seeing everything unfold through the main character’s eyes. But sometimes a book will stick out from the rest and I think that’s what Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead did.


It all starts when Laurel gets an assignment in English to write a letter to a dead person at the beginning of her first year in high school. She chooses Kurt Cobain for two reasons. He was her sister May’s favorite and like May, Kurt Cobain died young. But Laurel has trouble handing in her assignment when it’s done and instead of doing that she starts writing more letters to dead people, such as Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger and Amy Winehouse. Her first year in high school is tough, not only because she now lives part-time with her dad and her aunt and not only because she just started a whole new school where she knows no one, but mostly because May died not even half a year earlier. To cope with all of this Laurel writes her letters about everything that happens to her all the while trying to find her voice and her place in the world.

Like I said at the start of my review, there are some books that goes against the stream. Love Letters to the Dead are, unsurprisingly, a collection of all the letters Laurel writes and it’s through them that we get to take part of her story. Life for Laurel isn’t easy, not since her parents split up two years ago and May went off to high school and left Laurel behind and when May died everything around Laurel came crashing down. Her mom moves to California to deal with her grief there while Laurel is left living alternate weeks with her dad and her aunt, attending a new school and trying to find new friends who knows nothing about her sister and dealing with the fact that May is gone for good.

I thought it was a very intense story in its way, about a young girl who is seeking to find her place in the world but ending up trying to be her sister instead. It’s not just a story about dealing with losing someone close to you, although that is a major part, but it’s about finding your voice and who you are. I believe that this novel has a lot to offer to people in Laurel’s age and I do hope they can take comfort in Laurel’s adventures and her feelings.

Maybe I was a little old for this story but I still found quite a few things that I liked. It’s a very diverse book in my opinion, about broken families and the tough time during teenage years, first loves, how to deal with grief and guilt, abusive relationships as well as homosexuality. I liked that this novel had so much to offer, it felt like anyone could get something out of it and that's the mark of a really good book. The bigger portion of the main characters all came from broken homes with divorced parents, mother or fathers that left or died or had mental illnesses. Everyone had their own problems, one way or the other and most of the main characters needed to step up and act as the grown up and take responsibilities they shouldn’t need to take.

Besides Laurel and May we meet Laurel’s love interest Sky and her friends Natalie, Hanna, Kristen and Tristan. They vary in age but all attend high school and form a strong bond. I liked the love story between Laurel and Sky, who seemed to be the one Laurel could really lean on and help her through her difficult times. I also enjoyed reading about the struggling relationship between Natalie and Hanna which focused a lot on the hardship of love between two girls in a high school where everyone watched and judged them. Tristan and Kristen, while being a relatively big part of the story, was a little harder to connect to but still brought something to the table.

While reading I was reminded of Stephen Chbosky The Perks of being a Wallflower. They’re both stories told through letters and they both tell stories about similar main characters, struggling with dealing with grief, starting high school, meeting new friends and all that comes with it. If anything I think this might be the female version of Chbosky’s novel although having read both I have to say that I actually liked Love Letters to the Dead better. If that's because I'm female or just because I found Dellaira’s story better I don't know. 

I have a hard time breaking this novel down in parts and analyzing it the way I usually do, perhaps, I think, because the overall message in Love Letters to the Dead is so strong and so bright that it eclipse everything else. I think it’s a really beautiful story about finding yourself in the midst of all this chaos that is life. I really think anyone would get something out of reading this book and therefor recommend it to all, no matter your age or gender or usual preferences when it comes to books. I believe this is a novel that is bigger than most books, one that will make you see life, and yourself, in a new way.

Persuasion

Classics are classics for a reason and have thus been read and loved for a very long time. After reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion it’s easy to see why it has captured the heart of so many readers throughout the years. With its gentle language and sweet romance it’s hard not to fall in love with this story.

It’s been eight years since Anne Elliot broke it off with Captain Wentworth after being pressured by her family not to marry him since he wasn’t good enough for her. Now Captain Wentworth has made a name for himself in the navy and has returned again to Anne’s circles, but he is cold and distant and she realizes that he no longer feels anything for her but rather is in the task of seeking a wife among her acquaintances. But eight years was not enough to quench the feelings Anne had for Captain Wentworth and she can’t help but hope that deep down he still loves her, too.

At first I found this novel to be rather boring. It moves slowly and involves a lot of characters and detailed descriptions about characters that I feel don’t have too much to do with Anne and Captain Wentworth. It was almost tedious in the beginning and I felt sleepy and not in the mood every time I picked the book up. Despite that I held on, knowing that a lot of classics can be slow and a bit boring in the beginning, and I’m so very glad I kept going.

This is a love story so different from how love is perceived today, which might be why so many readers adore this novel (and so many like it) in this day and age. It is slow and gentle and sweet but so very romantic despite that. It goes against how we are used to not only date and be in a relationship, but even to read about it in books set in a more modern setting. I loved Persuasion because it was so sweet and so very different from what I’m used to. The love felt real and authentic in a way I haven't really seen in any modern book I've read.

Despite how old Persuasion is I felt like it was a very fresh story. It highlighted many interesting questions and showed off a female main character who was very strong even though she lived in a time when women didn’t have much power. Captain Wentworth was a very lovely character as well, both strong and gentle in his way, and the suspense between him and Anne throughout the entire story was subtle yet very exciting.

I found the relationship between Anne and her close friend Lady Russell to be quite irritating, but I did read this book with modern views. Lady Russell is the one to tell Anne she should break it off with Captain Wentworth eight years before the story starts and it annoys me that Anne actually listened and did so, even though she explains why later on in the novel. Lady Russell was against Captain Wentworth because she didn’t believe him to be enough of a hardworking man to deserve Anne but was afriad he would destroy her and at the same time Lady Russell took another important character under her wings and professed how much she adored him and how wonderful he was when he turned out to be the villain of the story and this is something I liked. It shows that it doesn’t matter what you look like, where you come from or how you act – awful people can be found disguised even in the nicest clothes and manners and I enjoyed Lady Russell having to eat up all the bad things she said about Captain Wentworth.

I haven’t read too many classics in my life but have nonetheless found a few that I like but with Persuasion it’s different. I’m actually surprised by how much I came to love this story and I know without a doubt that this is a classic that I will return to again and again in the future. If you haven’t read it yourself already it’s definitely one I recommend!

Uprooted

Disappointment, that's the word I would use to describe this book. Disappointment and something of a catastrophe. Like so many books I’ve read lately, this is one that has gotten great reviews, that I’ve heard wonderful things about and that I’ve looked forward to reading. And like most books it was a huge disappointment. I can’t even begin to understand why people love it so much and here are my reasons for disliking it and for telling you to say away and spend your time on something better than Uprooted.

Every ten years, the Dragon comes down from his tower to the valley and chooses one girl who will live with him for the following ten years, in exchange for the Dragon protecting the valley from the Wood and its corruption which tries to take over everything and everyone. Now, when it’s time for the Dragon choose again, everyone knows he will pick Kasia, the most beautiful and lovely girl in Agnieszka’s little town and her very best friend. But when the Dragon comes he doesn’t choose Kasia at all, but Agnieszka, who is brought to his tower where she learns that she’s a witch and that the Dragon, not an actually dragon but a wizard, is going to teacher her magic. The threat from the Wood is greater than ever and can Agnieszka help to save her people?

This was pretty much everything I knew when I started reading Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, except for the last part. I had no idea that the story would escalate into war with the Woods and was instead under the impression that this was about the Dragon and the girl he chose to serve him in his tower and the love story that would so obviously evolve between them. It turned out that that part, the choosing and the moving-to-the-tower part only covered the first fifty or so pages of the book. The rest was about Agnieszka learning how to be a witch, Agnieszka saving Kasia, Agnieszka fighting the Wood, Agnieszka going to the capital and spending time doing not very much at all, Agnieszka being in the middle of a political conflict, Agnieszka fighting a fierce battle, Agnieszka fighting the Wood again and Agnieszka saving everyone. It could’ve been mentioned on the back of the book that it wasn’t a story about a girl having to live in a tower with a wizard for ten years, but that of a witch fighting a very evil Wood-queen.

I found nothing in this book to be good and actually turned away from it every chance I got. The feeling of wanting to read, of liking to read, drained out of me and eventually I forced myself to finish it by pure will – and by skimming the bigger portion of it. It turned out that that was enough because I still got the gist of the story, I still understood what happened despite the fact that I skipped whole passages and pages, and that’s not a good thing for a book. Novik dragged everything out, spent long passages explaining and giving great detailed descriptions of everything that didn’t matter. The world in which Agnieszka lives was never explained and I had such a hard time picturing it in my head. I had a bunch of questions, like why did the Dragon only choose girls and not boys to serve him?, but none of those were answered. Instead Novik focused on repeating herself time and time again to the point that I was contemplating pulling out my hair or setting the book on fire. It was exhausting to read and it certainly didn’t help that the writing wasn’t good. It lacked flow to bring me deep into the story and at times I had to go back to reread sentences because I couldn’t understand them.

Much of the book was simultaneously filled with a lot of action and useless parts that could easily have been cut out and I’m certain that two hundred pages could’ve disappeared without it making much of a difference. So much of what happened was not needed for the story but it made the book cramped and heavy to read. Everything was so dragged out that I expected a big blow-up in the end, but nothing really happened. When Agnieszka finally faced off with the Wood and its Wood-queen it was all over so quickly that I had to question if I’d missed a chapter. The big revelation about the story of how the Wood came to be was extremely weak as well, which was disappointing since the entire story-line is built on the horror of the Wood. For this book I would suggest either to cut out the useless parts or to split the novel in two so it would be easier to read because this was like a brick. A very dry and boring brick.

On top of this, the characters were awful. Agnieszka is said to be the reverse of Kasia, who is brave and beautiful and perfect in every sense. Agnieszka is sloppy, always dirty and smudgy and not talented in any way, yet she takes to the art of magic right away and despite only having studied it for less than a year she still manages to be better than wizards and witches that has lived for hundreds of years. She’s powerful and smart and just knows things, she can do magic the Dragon spent years trying to learn after only reading about it in a book once. It later turns out that she is brave and she is wonderful and she is perfect and she catches not only the Dragon’s eye but also a young prince, so I suppose she’s beautiful as well. She’s in every sense lovely and her loveliness made me ill.

The Dragon, on the other hand, was clearly created to be the kind of male love interest that both the female main character and the reader first hate and then fall in love with. While Agnieszka did fall for him (as for why, I don't know since they kissed about twice during the entire book, never talked about their relationship or showed the other one any sweet feelings so I guess this was yet another thing that was supposed to happen without it actually having any foundation at all) I did not. He never showed a sweet side, ever, and took every opportunity he had to call Agnieszka stupid, an idiot and a bunch of other degrading things. He acted like a complete ass and it was never explained why so I guess that’s just the way he is and it’s not a personality I liked. I do like some tension between love interests, but the Dragon was a down-right douchebag and since I didn’t like him it made it so much harder to like the book.

Kasia was an interesting character as well, but not because she was an actually good character but simply because she, just like Agnieszka, was able to do a lot of things she’d never practiced or even done before, on her first try and obviously succeeding in it. Who, I ask, can just pick up a sword, swing it around and expertly kill a bunch of people when you’ve never held a sword before? No, she wasn’t believable, but neither was any other character in the novel.

Later in the story we meet two princes, a king and a handful of wizards and witches. They have battle experience, a lot of knowledge on the Wood and can think tactically. Yet despite that they still acted like stupid children, believing only what they saw with their own eyes and obviously never taking Agnieszka and her fears for real. That for me is not believable at all. I could so strongly feel Novik’s hand behind everything that happened in the book and it was extremely annoying. Things just happened because that was how the storyline looked, that was how Novik wanted it to be and that's alright as long as you have characters strong enough to hold that story up but Novik did not. I felt nothing for any of the characters and nothing for the story itself, except when I came to the end and was relieved that it was all over.

I thought this was awful and am so sorry I ever bought this book, wasted any money, energy and time on it and I advise you to not make my mistake. Don’t read this. There are so many other, better, books out there. Give them your time and love because this book, this book was awful in every sense and then some.