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The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand
Published February 10th 2015 by Harper Teen
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★★½

There’s death all around us.
We just don’t pay attention.
Until we do.

The last time Lex was happy, it was before. When she had a family that was whole. A boyfriend she loved. Friends who didn’t look at her like she might break down at any moment.

Now she’s just the girl whose brother killed himself. And it feels like that’s all she’ll ever be.

As Lex starts to put her life back together, she tries to block out what happened the night Tyler died. But there’s a secret she hasn’t told anyone-a text Tyler sent, that could have changed everything.

I’m pretty sure this book drop-kicked my heart out the window. Ran over it and then backed up and ran over it again. Only a few dozen pages in, and I was already teetering on the edge of tears; three different places pushed me over that edge. And in all honesty, if I’d been fully aware of what I was signing up for, I probably wouldn’t have cracked The Last Time We Say Goodbye open at all. But the back cover copy was vague, so here we are. It covers a lot – family, friends, life, loss – and way too much hits way too close to home, though from a different POV, and I just. Ached. The Last Time We Say Goodbye is gorgeous in its prose and delicate in its delivery and it fits together so, so well. Too well, maybe. I don’t know if I’ll be able to pick this up again.

I love how the tone managed to be mourning and emotional but wry at the same time, without overdoing any of it, and the way the tone is able to capture Lex’s character development and journey from numb to understanding, without spelling anything out. Everything is slow and purposeful, information revealed in tiny doses, and though the pieces don’t quite fall together in resounding resolution, the reveal at the ending packed a punch just the same.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye looks at everyone – Lex, Ty, their mom, their dad, Ty’s girlfriend, Ty’s old friends, Ty’s new friends, Lex’s old friends, Lex’s new friends… everyone. There’s a lot of subtle themes at play here, too – so many, but somehow, they work, interwoven with the larger trajectory of the story – and Lex’s relationship with her mom in particular really pulled all the threads together and brought the story forward. We see a lot of different relationships that Lex has with different friends, and they waver at varying times, but her relationship with her mom was this almost tenuous thing at the beginning that we can just about see being built up throughout the story. Theirs was a heartbreaking story, but the way they pulled each other up was bittersweetly heartwarming.

One thing that irked me though? Avoiding spoilers, I’ll just say that I was bothered enough by the way the author handled a certain forgiveness dilemma. I literally stopped crying when I got to that part. I’m a firm believer in the idea that you don’t owe anyone your forgiveness, and that choosing not to forgive someone won’t taint your character. You aren’t a bad person for not telling someone who hurt you, as well as the people you love, deeply, over many years, seemingly unrepentant until it the situation became grave, and then convenient, that you forgive them. I can’t see that as a negative character trait. The Last Time We Say Goodbye says differently.

And while I really liked the idea of a more mathematically-geared, cooly logical aspect to Lex’s characters, and really appreciated all the references, I couldn’t help but feel like, thought the writing was consistently heart-achingly poignant and subtle across the story, Lex when she made math references felt like a different character from Lex in the rest of the story. It’s not jarring enough to feel like the references were just thrown in for the aesthetic or for the idea of her, but there’s a definite disconnect between Lex’s characters in those two situations, and enough to feel like one part isn’t completely reconciled with the other.

But, Lex and Steven? Cuuuuute. (Also, that reveal? Punch me in the gUT.)

The Last Time We Say Goodbye isn’t without its flaws, but the way the author writes, with the diary entries and the slightly wavering timeline and the way everything fit together – it was heart-aching and so, so lovely, and I’ll definitely be thinking about it for a long while.

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab
Published February 24th 2015 by Tor Books
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★★½

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

4.5

I’m something like two years late to the party, but oooooh wow. Dang. All that hype? They aren’t lying – A Darker Shade of Magic is really, really good.

There’s something about the author’s writing that I love. I’m usually a huge fan of delicate descriptions and subtleties weaved into prose, and while it’s not quite like that – the author’s writing is a lot more matter-of-factual – there’s something about it that just works really well, especially with stories of this sort. It’s the ordinary undertone she takes while telling fantastical stories, I think, and the way she moves the story so fluidly from being gentle and quirky and whimsical to uncertainty and despair. The former bit like so:

“Kell wore a very peculiar coat.
It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.
The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed. Not all of them were fashionable, but they each served a purpose. There were ones that blended in and ones that stood out, and one that served no purpose but of which he was just particularly fond.”

The story is also pretty fucking cool, and the execution lives up to expectations. There are many Londons! Magical Londons! Non-magical Londons! Crumbling Londons! Pirates and whimsical magic and chess pieces and curious stones and masquerade parties and traveling smuggling princes and! I! Just! It’s a little strange and a little out there but it worked, and it made for an incredibly interesting read.

The characters were just the same, from Kell – a little curious, a little cool, and a little morally gray, taking with him elements of the author’s other book, Vicious, which may be one of my all-time favorite reads – to Lila, who was self-confident and brave and determined, though it did take me a bit to warm up to her (her introduction wasn’t exactly the most endearing of scenes). There’s also Astrid Dane and Athos Dane, both chilling and unflinching and villains to the bone and Rhy, the prettily charming and charmingly pretty prince. And Holland, who, at first glance, seems like the stone-cold foil to Kell, but! It’s a V. E. Schwab book, so everyone’s vulnerable and nothing’s as it seems and so of course shit happens and of course I feel partial to Holland and of course my taste in characters is equal parts terrible and untimely. 🙂 sobcriesbye

I do wish there was a glossary of sorts at either the beginning or end of the book, though, with some of the Antari phrases and their meanings. I’m a little slow at remembering that kind of stuff, and a lot of the book would read so much smoother and engaging if I knew what the characters were saying and what they meant when they said it, rather than having to pause every once in a while to flip back to the beginning to look for an explanation.

The ending’s unexpectedly satisfying for a book that’s the first in a series – no cliffhanger! Which, in theory, means you could just stop here. The real question is, why would you?

(Also, um. I. Really want that coat?)