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Thursday, 14 July 2016

Book Review: Summer Days and Summer Nights

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Maybe it's the long, lazy days, or maybe it's the heat making everyone a little bit crazy. Whatever the reason, summer is the perfect time for love to bloom. Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories, written by twelve bestselling young adult writers and edited by the international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins, will have you dreaming of sunset strolls by the lake. So set out your beach chair and grab your sunglasses. You have twelve reasons this summer to soak up the sun and fall in love.

Featuring stories by Leigh Bardugo, Francesca Lia Block, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Brandy Colbert, Tim Federle, Lev Grossman, Nina LaCour, Stephanie Perkins, Veronica Roth, Jon Skovron, and Jennifer E. Smith.

Image: Macmillan Children's Books / Big Shot PR
Despite the fact that I have contributed to one in the past (After Us, an anthology of apocalypse-themed short stories, which you can buy here) I've never really read many short story anthologies before. Surprisingly, I've never actually read anything by any of the 12 YA authors included in this anthology either (I know, I was surprised by that too!)

So when I was offered the chance to review it, I thought - why not? I'm always willing to give any book a go, after all.

Head, Scales, Tongue, Tail by Leigh Bardugo

Wow - what a way to kick off the anthology! This story was my joint favourite from the twelve. Right from the start it has the slightly off-kilter vibe that's usually only reserved for horror, but actually works really well here. It survives on the idea of taking something mundane and twisting it just slightly to make it seem normal on the surface, but with a deeper, yet low-level, hidden element to it. It's very well done and expertly written - the only thing is, it threw me a little because Bardugo writes in a very similar style to my own fiction which for me made the story even more disconcerting!

Rating: 5 stars

The End of Love by Nina LaCour

I liked the simplicity of this story. There's nothing particularly complicated going on, and sometimes the simplest of plots can be the best. It was relatable and managed to hold my interest. My only downside to this one is that I felt it kind of fizzled out towards the end. Still - in amongst all the fancy ideas and clever storylines, The End of Love's simplicity is golden.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Last Stand at the Cinegore by Libba Bray

Horror's not usually my thing, so even though this was more comic horror than horror horror, I was still pleasantly surprised to enjoy it as much as I did. The whole idea was really inventive and original, and the author managed to carefully cultivate that necessary feeling of suspense throughout perfectly. I also loved that it plays so much on all those old cliche horror stereotypes - it shouldn't work, but it does anyway.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Sick Pleasure by Francesca Lia Block

I have to admit, I wasn't particularly sold on this story. In fact, it was actually my least favourite of the lot. As I've not read any of the author's other work, I did a bit of research and from what I can see, Block seems to be very much one of those 'love it or hate it' kind of authors. But unfortunately, I couldn't get into it. The fact that the characters were only referred to by their initials confused me to begin with as I kept forgetting who was who. I wasn't a fan of the ending either - the whole story just seemed to be going in circles and seemed to lack a clear direction. It wasn't for me.

Rating: 2 stars

In Ninety Minutes, Turn North by Stephanie Perkins

This was much more the kind of thing I was expecting to be reading in this anthology. Cute and sweet, playful, a dash of humour, and that all-important Happily Ever After. What's not to love?

Rating: 4 stars

Souvenirs by Tim Federle

If we're just going in terms of the writing style, this was one of my favourites. Federle has a great writing voice and his descriptions are incredible - without being overstated or overly descriptive, I could picture everything perfectly. I also loved the characters in Souvenirs. The two are so different which makes for great drama within the story, but still stays true to that age old saying - 'Opposites attract' - and in this case, they do. Also, for a bibliophile, the continuing literary theme and references to Dickens were a lovely added bonus!

Rating: 4 stars

Inertia by Veronica Roth

My other joint favourite. This story is great because it uses such a simple concept in an incredibly original way. I don't want to talk about it because I don't want to spoil it for you, but be warned, this one is a massive tear-jerker - it had me in floods of tears! If you only read one story from this anthology, it should be this one.

Rating: 5 stars

Love is the Last Resort by Jon Skovron


Although I enjoyed this story, I struggled to get a handle on it to begin with. I'm not really a fan of the author talking directly to the reader as a kind of sentient narrator, which is how this story starts off. Not the greatest beginning for me which, coupled with the fact that the whole thing is written in this lighthearted, funny, tongue-in-cheek style which I'm not used to reading threw me a bit. Once I got the hang of it though, I enjoyed it. The story was fun and humorous. Plus I could easily imagine this as a sitcom...

Rating: 3.5 stars

Good Luck and Farewell by Brandy Colbert

This was a sweet but heartfelt story that, for some reason, has really stuck with me since I finished reading it. It's one of the most realistic offerings in the anthology, and it boils down to two of the simplest yet most common themes in everyday life. In its purest form, this story deals with love and loss, and it does so remarkably.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Brand New Attraction by Cassandra Clare

Right from the start, I loved the premise of this story. I've always been a little fascinated by stories about carnivals, circuses, and fairs (ever since reading about them all in various Enid Blyton stories as a kid) so as soon as I saw the setting for this was a dark carnival, I was hooked. I loved the motley mix of carnival folk and the way that the author is able to create such a vibrant and full world in a story this short is a credit to her skill as a storyteller. The characters are great, the setting is great - the only thing that ever so slightly let this one down is the plot, which I felt got a bit convoluted towards the end. Still, I enjoyed it nevertheless.

Rating: 4 stars

A Thousand Ways This Could All Go Wrong by Jennifer E. Smith

This one is by far the sweetest story of the lot. Our two main characters are just adorable and are clearly made for each other. Again, I'm wary of giving away spoilers, but stick with it. It's a little slow going in places, but overall it's a lovely story with an important message.

Rating: 3.5 stars

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things by Lev Grossman

I was really looking forward to this one, purely based on the title. I was sincerely hoping the editor, Stephanie Perkins, had been saving the best 'til last. Sadly, I was left underwhelmed and a little disappointed by this story. I think the biggest problem for me was the entire concept. Being honest here, I'm not exactly a fan of the whole Groundhog Day idea. It's irritating and unoriginal, and this story was full of plot holes - it's like any possible logic just flew out of the author's window. Its saving grace was the characters and the idea of the actual map of tiny perfect things. In itself, I thought that was a great idea. I just wish the author had been able to write about the map without having to resort to the Groundhog Day cliche.

Rating: 3 stars.

As a whole, this collection includes some absolute gems. The beauty of short stories is that they're easy to dip into and much easier to read than a traditional novel. Summer Days and Summer Nights is one of my reading highlights of the year so far, and the book is available to buy now - I highly recommend it!

What do you think of short stories? Let me know in the comments below!

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