I read and reviewed Stephanie Perkins’ holiday anthology My True Love Gave to Me in 2014, so when I discovered earlier in the year that she would be releasing a companion anthology, I knew I had to get my hands on it. As you may have read in my previous anthology reviews, the reason I love anthologies so much is the opportunity to “taste test” new authors before I pick up their full length novels. In this summer romance anthology, I had only read a handful of authors, but all I had to see listed on the cover were the names Bardugo, Clare, Roth, and Smith and I was sold. I was also secretly hoping that I might find a new writer to fangirl over, too, as there were a few names I recognized but had yet to read.
Like my previous anthology reviews, I’ll cover the stories I thought were most noteworthy as well as those whom I felt missed the mark. If a story isn’t mentioned, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was good or bad. Most were very sweet stories, but I just can’t cover them all due to time/length constraints.
1.) The Map of Tiny Perfect Things by Lev Grossman – This was the final story in the book and wow – talk about ending on a high note! Mark is the MC of this story and he finds himself trapped in a never-ending summer. And not metaphorically. Literally. By the time the story opens, it’s been August 4th for several days. No matter what Mark does, he can’t figure out how to make time flow forward again and, worse yet, it seems like he is the only one aware of the predicament. Everyone else goes about their day as if they haven’t relieved it over and over – until he meets Margaret, the only other person he’s seen who is aware of the issue. Of course, she has a big problem of her own… What I loved most about this story is its simplicity. Not so much in storyline, but how it’s aware that it’s not always the “big” moments in life that shape or form us. It can be a small thing, a split second, that can change us. With every day being August 4th, Mark and Margaret take it upon themselves to find and map all the “tiny perfect things” they can find in the city, such as a sunrise, an act of nature, or a child laughing. I found it touching that the teens in this story can find happiness in such small gestures. Moreover, I liked the reason that time had stopped. I think we’ve all had a moment in our lives in which we wished the world would just stop spinning for a moment, to give us time to cope or adjust. I loved peeking into Mark and Margaret’s secluded paradise!
2.) A Thousand Ways This Could All Go Wrong by Jennifer E. Smith – I was so happy to see Smith in this anthology and even moreso when I finally read (and loved!) her story. Annie is once again a summer camp counselor, but this year she finds herself juggling a new camper: six year old Noah, who is Autistic. Between trying to befriend the shy and soft-spoken child, she is also trying to woo the guy she’s been admiring all year in Spanish class – Griffin. Of course, it would happen that the day she snags a date with Griffin, Noah’s mother is late picking him up at camp! Griffin offers to wait with the two and, to Annie’s astonishment, Griffin befriends Noah almost immediately. Of course, it’s only after they go on their first date that Annie realizes that Griffin has Asperger’s… As someone who has a family member with high functioning Autism, this story stuck close to home. Smith details both ends of the Spectrum with honesty and aplomb. I applaud her for bringing to light a topic that is so underrepresented in fiction these days. While YA is becoming broader in race, religion, and sexuality, books that tackle issues such as mental retardation and learning disabilities are few and far between. That Smith did so – and that she addressed the issues those with Aspergers or other cognitive disabilities live with daily – gains my highest respect. If only we had more couples like Annie and Griffin in novels today!
3.) Inertia by Veronica Roth – While I really liked the previous two stories, it’s clear to me which story was the crown jewel of the anthology, and that was none other than Roth’s. (And seeing as I’m still salty over Allegiant, my admitting as much says quite a bit! JK!) Matt and Claire used to be best friends, until they weren’t. And until Matt was in a serious accident. Believing that Matt’s time is coming to a close, his doctors ask those he requested to come to the Last Visitation. The Last Visitation is advanced technology that allows those who are about to pass away and their loved ones to talk and revisit past shared memories. Seeing that they were mad with one another, Claire is at a loss as to why Matt asked her to Visit him. It’s through the shared memories that we get a glimpse of what happened in the past and how they came to be at odds… The very idea of this story was what hooked me from the first paragraphs. I’m sure there isn’t a single person on Earth who didn’t wish to have one last moment with a loved one before they passed on; one last time to make things right or to tell them you love them or that you’re sorry. This was perhaps the only story I thought would have made a lovely novel, had it been flushed out. It had a likeable set of characters and addressed heavy topics with surprising clarity, despite the fact that it was a short story. The desire for a second chance or, at the very least, closure is something anyone can relate to and it’s that reason, I think, that this story was so poignant and spoke to many readers, myself included. The fact that we got a happy ending was merely icing on the cake! (And, again, that’s saying a lot, since Roth wrote it! XD)
1.) Last Stand at the Cinegore by Libba Bray – This was definitely one of the low points in this anthology for me. I was really looking forward to reading Bray’s work for the first time, seeing as she’s so popular with her Gemma Doyle series. I was ready to jump aboard her fan train, but after reading this story, I’m desperately hoping that her other work isn’t similar in quality. I think what made this one so frustrating is that it was set up to be a story I’d really like. Creative nerdy dude? I’m game. Set in a run-down theater that plays mostly horror flicks? Hell yeah! Actual inhabitants from Hell coming alive and eating people? ….What? And no, you didn’t misread it. It actually happened. This story went from cute, summer read about a guy struggling to ask his crush out to demons spilling open from a portal to Hell and slaughtering everyone. And quickly, too. Like, 0-100 in 3.83 seconds kind of crazy quick. I guess the juxtaposition of reality and fantasy – particularly when it happened so quickly – was just too jarring to me. It’s literally read like one person wrote the first part of the story, accidentally left it that the coffee shop after getting their frappe, and a stranger finished it. I can’t fault Bray’s creativity, at the very least, but this was definitely a story that left me scratching my head.
2.) Love is the Last Resort by Jon Skovron – This story was cute in the traditional sense of summer romance, in that it takes place at a resort, where both the employees and some of the vacationers are trying to find their summer flings – or in some cases, the ones they’ve been trying to woo for several years. Whereas Bray’s story was well executed up until the crazy jump-the-shark moment, this story had all the elements of a summery read I’d like but little to show for it. For the most part, I thought the characters rather boring. Lena, for a lead MC, was exorbitantly cold. Arlo was goofy and fun, but predictable. Franklyn could’ve held merit, but he couldn’t step out of his nerd archetype long enough to impress me. There are literally, like, ten characters and I couldn’t even remember their names – I had to look them all up for this review. Another big problem is that the vast majority of the characters are stagnant. They have no drive to do things for themselves and instead have to rely on Lena and Arlo – who admit that love is for fools - to orchestrate a crazy plan to get everyone hooked up. Oh, and surprise, Arlo and Lena hook up in the end, even though they had no chemistry. Lastly, the dialogue in the story was very stilted and… stiff. Arlo seemed to be the only character that remotely thought or acted like a normal teenager. The rest either did or spoke in a way no kid – at least none that I know – could’ve found relatable. I think Skovron was trying to be clever, or maybe I’m just too stupid, but this type of storytelling was a major turn off.
Aside from a couple of dud stories, this anthology was really quite cute and enjoyable. Bardugo’s, Perkins’, and Clare’s stories were all adorable, too! Whether you like contemporary romance, stories with more fantastical elements, or even stories that pull at your heartstrings, this is definitely an anthology that has at least ONE thing for every reader. I just hope that we’ll get Spring and Autumn anthologies now, or my OCD will forever taunt me when I look at the other two on my shelf!
In case you missed any previous posts in the Review Train, here they are:
Genni at Ready, Set, Read reviewed The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
Lauren at Always Me reviewed Future Shock by Elizabeth Briggs
Laura at Blue Eye Books reviewed The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
Sam at Tsundoku Books reviewed Even if the Sky Falls by Mia Garcia
Czai at The Blacksheep Project reviewed Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver
Alicia at A Kernel of Nonsense reviewed The Distance Between Us by Kasie West
Ashley at [Insert Title Here] reviewed Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Sinead at Less Reality, More Books reviewed The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood
Ashley at What's She Reading? reviewed Open Road Summer by Emery Lord
It’s been an absolute pleasure to host the Summer 2016 Review Train. This little idea came to mind about five weeks ago and, honestly, I was wondering whether or not I’d even get a handful of people to help me bring it to fruition. So, I was completely floored when a total of ten people signed up for the Train. Not only that, but every single review was lovely and posted on time with nary a hitch. I really couldn’t have asked for a better set of bloggers to help me with this project, and I’m so thankful to have gotten to know you guys better over the last few weeks. You rule! And, should you ever want to host a fun activity of your own, consider me in. I’d be more than happy to return the favor.
To those readers who have followed the Review Train faithfully, thank you for all your kind comments, shares, retweets, and the like. You’ve made the Review Train a rounding success – and this will hopefully be the beginning of many Trains in the future.
Signed Throne of Glass Giveaway!!
As a big thank you to both my blogger buddies and readers/followers, I’m giving away a SIGNED, PAPERPACK copy of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. This giveaway is OPEN INTERNATIONALLY, so be sure to get as many entries as you can and share the news with your friends! (Closes 6/15/16!!)