Review: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff


It would be much easier to tell this story if it were all about a chaste and perfect love between Two Children Against the World at an Extreme Time in History. But let's face it, that would be crap.

Daisy is sent from New York to England to spend a summer with cousins she has never met. They are Isaac, Edmond, Osbert and Piper. And two dogs and a goat. She's never met anyone quite like them before - and, as a dreamy English summer progresses, Daisy finds herself caught in a timeless bubble. It seems like the perfect summer. But their lives are about to explode.

Falling in love is just the start of it. War breaks out - a war none of them understands, or really cares about, until it lands on their doorstep. The family is separated. The perfect summer is blown apart. Daisy's life is changed forever - and the world is too.

-from puffin


First, I hope that this was intentional, as the phrasing is quite distinctive:

"Early the next morning I was strolling around as usual in my unpleasantly populated subconscious..."
-HOW I LIVE NOW (Ch 5, p. 17)

"I was wandering around as usual, in my unpleasantly populated subconscious..."

I do hope Rosoff is paying homage to Smith's brilliant I CAPTURE THE CASTLE here. I'd like to think so, because HOW I LIVE NOW otherwise possesses a thoroughly original voice. If I really tried, I could summon up the similarities between these two novels: I CAPTURE THE CASTLE and HOW I LIVE NOW both have main characters whose voice renders them completely real as people, perhaps more than real. Both novels bring the English countryside (a la run down castle/manor) to life with glorious, ecstatic prose and touch on first love, albiet with rather unconventional love interests (bearded older man in love with sister/ cousin).

I first read HOW I LIVE NOW more than a year ago, when it was recommended to me by a friend (thanks, Vee!). I don't know what I was doing at the time, but for some reason, I didn't connect with the book. I barely remember reading it, though I do remember vaguely thinking "this is pretty good."

When I reread it yesterday, the aliveness and the vividness and the connection was there. As if this book had waited for me, patiently, resting in my bookshelf until the day I could pick it up in the right frame of mind and really appreciate it.

I appreciate it now.

HOW I LIVE NOW is one of the voice-iest YA novels I've ever read. The main character Daisy is humorous and LOUD and uninhibited and insightful. She narrates with run on sentences breathless with wit and CAPITALIZED WORDS to emphasize a point. There's not much dialogue, and the book is mostly her telling us what happened and what she thinks, but it works. It more than works.

At first, HOW I LIVE NOW has this sense of peacefulness (although mediated with Daisy's loudness) emanating through the pages. Her cousins, who she comes to live with in England, possess gifts that are related to us in a matter-of-fact tone but are actually quietly magical: Isaac and little Piper talk to animals, and Edmond can feel Daisy's thoughts. There's this light touch of magical realism when it comes to Daisy's interactions with her family, making everything feel sort of strange, but lovelily strange.

Later, Daisy falls in love with cousin Edmond, and though she acknowledges it's wrong, she talks of it as if it's inevitable and natural and effortless. I don't know if I really understood the Edmond/Daisy relationship. Was it just two alone souls reaching across to each other, yearning for love during a time of war? Was it lust? If Daisy is to be believed, this is love, though of an unorthodox kind.

Daisy and cousins spend a few golden months living without parental supervision (thanks to her Dear Aunt being stranded in Norway). They fish and swim and play and it's generally a bit like The Garden of Eden. War interrupts eventually, as it has a habit of doing. Daisy has hinted at it since the beginning. The enemy is unnamed, the public is confused, cites are bombed, people are dying. When war finally catches up, Daisy and her cousins are separated. There's death and violence, without sense or cause, graphic and mindless and sickening to read about. Daisy and her cousin Piper stick together, attempt to survive it all. It's here that Daisy comes into her own, and when I wanted to stand up and APPLAUD because she's so damn strong.

Really, the only problem I had with this book was the ending, and then the six-year jump that acted as an epilogue. The precursor to the time jump was abrupt and Rosoff, for whatever reason, had Daisy tell us about it only after it happened, which was disorienting to me. The six year-jump was interesting, especially since Rosoff matured Daisy's voice beautifully. But the ending almost felt almost like Rosoff laughing at us and saying "hey, these really cool and fascinating things happened, and sorry that you missed it, but here's this situation and ending that will hopefully tie things up for you."

Still, I really liked HOW I LOVE NOW. It's one of those books that's left an impression on me, one that I'll return to reread. Most notably, its narrator managed to escape its pages and become a part of me. I think that's when you know you've read a good book; when you can feel the edges of a character and the dimensions of his/her voice, and they've set up shop in your brain and they're as complete and solid to you as a person you might've talked to in real life.

Yes, I'm glad I reread HOW I LIVE NOW.

RECOMMENDATION: Highly recommended. It's a Printz winner, so I'm not the only one who thinks it's great.


I'm kind of tired of series.

I've noticed something lately: when it comes to series, I'm feeling reading fatigued.

When I browse through upcoming reads on goodreads, I kind of internally flinch away when I see MARVELOUS INTRIGUING TITLE (#1). More often then not, I'm noticing, this (#1) intrudes subtly but insistently upon my subconscious, radiating do-not-read vibes. I guess that (#1) scares me away.

It's not that I'm against series, particularly. How can you be against books? So that's not it, it can't be it. I love the Harry Potter series. I love Garth Nix's Seventh Tower Series. I can do it, I can read through seven books about one character that take years and years to come out. I can stick by a series.

I can.

It's just, I sort of resent the occasions where, by picking up one book, you've signed yourself unknowingly over to having to pick up the next one or two or five, in order to get a satisfying conclusion.

I sort of resent reading a very strong first book that would be pretty much great if it didn't have a cop-out, scrambled together ending that inserts a ready-made conflict solely so the BRAVE MAIN CHARACTER can embark on another adventure.

I sort of resent reading a filler second book that only leads to a third book that's not even as good as the first one.

I guess I can deal with the series trend when the first book has a satisfying, fulfilling conclusion, when it can be read as a standalone. And yet, I'm human, I'm a reader. I'm far from invulnerable to that pang that hits you when you see the next book out in the bookstore, or it's shiny new cover of shininess, or that main character you loved gracing the next new book with her visage of awesome.

Much too often, in the same manner I'm drawn inevitably to a box of unwrapped and tantalizing chocolate*, I can't resist. I pick up the next book, shelling over that $18, and float home wrapped up in a cocoon of excited expectancy. But more often than not, I'm in for a few hours of frustration.

I'm not inherently opposed to spending another book's time with the same character. I don't have problems with the idea of a continuing story. It's just, too often, that next book isn't worth it. It sort of ruins the memory of that first book in my mind, colliding and enmeshing with it, until I can't separate the two reading experiences.

I guess I get too attached. From the HUNGER GAMES trilogy to WHERE SHE WENT (sequel to IF I STAY) to THE WAKE TRILOGY I've felt that disappointment. And then I wonder, why?

Why can't I just leave it at one? Why can't the author just leave it at one?

So now, I'm very hesitant to pick up any book that has (#1) tacked on to its title. I know it's judgmental and horrible of me in a way, but I feel like it's the only way I can save myself from disappointment. I dislike feeling disappointed, after being left to wait a year or two before the cliffhanger ending is resolved. I dislike feeling like the characters have morphed into unpleasant caricatures of themselves, dislike feeling like the true ending (the last book in the series) didn't quite live up to the beginning, the first book.

I understand the logistics behind the abundance of YA series, the money behind it and why publishers love it so much. And some stories are legitimate in that they're too big to tell in one book, like LORD OF THE RINGS. This series epidemic is by no means a YA-only occurrence; I feel torn to shreds by George R.R. Martin's devilish, scheming mind as he cavorts away from any sort of resolution, leaving countless cliffhangers in his A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series.**

It's just, this feeling as a reader--that you can't trust books because of that fateful (#1); that you have to be cautious; that you must not pick up the second or the third unless you want you reading soul to be crushed into let-down smithereens--isn't a nice one to have. It makes me a little sad, and most of all, so weary.

*Or cookies. I can't resist those either.
**Don't get me wrong. I love A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, but those last two books? A bit of a let down. However, it's definitely a case of a story too big for one book.


my past reviews are mostly void + title vibes+ notes

Concerning reviews:
I think about 70% of my past reviews are either overexcited, too verbose, or misrepresent my current views on those books.

My reading tastes have altered. I don't agree with a lot of what I say in those reviews anymore. I don't agree with my ratings anymore.

And I don't understand why I felt the need to write such long reviews that SUMMARIZED the book in the first two paragraphs when the book summary is RIGHT THERE. *facepalm*

Therefore, I will probably be taking down a few on goodreads and editing some of the others.

On another note:

No more ratings on this blog. Just four categories of recommendation:
1. HIGHLY RECCOMENDED: Read this book--it's worth your time.
2. RECOMMENDED: Not bad, but proceed with some caution.
3. NOT RECOMMENDED: Not a good read.
4. SAVE YOURSELVES! : Terrible.

Another another note (title vibes):

I have recently noticed something terribly obvious but still feel enlightened. Have you ever noticed how some authors always have similarly worded titles? NO I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT HARRY POTTER and other series titles. (I'm not that thick.). I mean, books that aren't even related to each other, other than by author.

Take Courtney Summers:


It's all :drumroll: common expressions that almost feel like they're begging to have a sentence filled in around them.


Sarah Dessen:
etc etc (this lady has written too many books)
They sort of have the same feel, these titles. Like they were all born from the same title mother.


Laurie Halse Anderson

It seems the gods of publishing has forbidden this lady-authoress multi-word titles. She gets to be the queen of enigmatic one word titles instead.

I mean, it's hard to explain, but don't a lot of books with the same author give off similar title vibes? Think about it for a minute. They just feel connected, don't they? There's probably some clever explanation--similar number of syllables, corresponding vowels, but I don't know what it is.

Or possibly I'm crazy and a few choice examples don't mean anything and I'm wasting my breath.

But still.

Even if my enlightenment is false, I feel happy. However, this is a rather sad revelation for debut authors that secretly hate their first titles, I'm thinking. They're dooooomed.

on another another another note:

I'm not officially out of hiatus mode. Just lately, I've felt like writing conversational things about books, and instead of talking to myself in my head I thought, why not talk to myself on the internet?

So no, I am not officially back because if I say that what happens when I have to disappear for college (which I'm starting soonish, ahhhh!)

But I am not averse to occasionally littering the odd thought/review/nothing-babble/ramble here.

another another another another note to anyone who still knows who I am:

another another another another another note:

I quite like goodreads now. My profile's here, if you'd like to friend me. It's a lovely place and I've taken to checking it around once a day.


Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

I am leaving this here solely because I would like this beautiful cover on my blog first-thing, not some depressing post about a hiatus.

Also, hello (:


Chloe's older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can't be captured or caged. When a night with Ruby's friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the dead body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby.

But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.

With palpable drama and delicious craft, Nova Ren Suma bursts onto the YA scene with the story that everyone will be talking about


I just finished IMAGINARY GIRLS. Literally--I turned the last page a moment ago. It's normally a bad idea for me to write reviews without a breathing period, where my thoughts can take shape, my reaction stabilize. And I haven't written a review for a long time, have purposefully not written reviews for months. But I want to write this so I can think about this book more. I'm not sure what I feel about this book and why. I need this space to decide.

In some ways, this book was everything I could ever want out of a novel. In glittering, shining moments of the narrative, when a particular line uncurled itself from the page, came alive, just stood there and said hello to me, I felt it. When an arresting image appeared in front of my eyes, vivid and real enough to touch or breathe or live briefly in, I felt it. It's that thrilling feeling you get sometimes, when you're reading something that will become important to you. It's like a tickle in the gut. This was THE BOOK, I thought. My newest soul-book.

But for some reason, as the last page lies read on my nightstand, I realize IMAGINARY GIRLS never quite arrived there. What I'm left with is more a fleeting impression of a novel; several alive scenes, restless segments of language stuck in my head, a recollection of dialogue. At this moment, at least, IMAGINARY GIRLS is not quite substantial enough for me. Not quite enough.

It's not because of the prose, because the writing is beautiful. Suma writes with such grace. Her sentences flow ceaselessly on the page, undulating into and out of themselves, connecting with each other in moments of wonderful rhythm. Her imagery is precise--the details, small actions and appearances of characters focused on with microscopic intensity render sometimes surreal, sometimes poignant scenes.

It's not the premise. Magical realism or surrealism are currently my favorite things to read. I want more of it in YA; I'm hungry for it. And I want more stories like this in YA, that leave questions in your mind,
that are perhaps a bit strange but singularly unique, that make you think. Though the slow-moving events and the sometimes lack of a plot won't win as many teen readers over, I didn't mind too much, although I'll admit my attention sometimes waned during long paragraphs of internal monologue. Or perhaps it is the plot--how do I explain? It doesn't feel entirely like a linked story, this book. More a collection of compelling, surreal images. There's more atmosphere than happening, more prose than character.

And it's the characters, I've begun to think, that makes this book one star less for me. They're not quite enough. It's the fact that I can't sense them. They didn't come alive, in the way the setting and the descriptions did. I can't think of a character trait for the main character Chloe other than her obsessive love for her sister Ruby, her yearning. Ruby is easier, I suppose. She's cruel and beautiful and powerful. But Chloe? She's an empty vessel for the story. She narrates. She tells of enigmatic, wonderful Ruby, and that is all. But do I have a right to complain about her, when I love THE GREAT GATSBY so? Shouldn't I think something more reasonable, like Chloe's lack of substance is a reflection of Ruby's power to ensorcell, to captivate everyone and everything, so even a book about her younger sister focuses on her while her "echo" of a sister dissipates?

I don't know. I am left feeling strange by this book. It's not the more unusual turn of events, which I found refreshing and lovely. It's the feeling of having missed something, lost something. Maybe if I'd read this earlier in my life (or later--I'm not sure which) it would have meant more to me. It's the fact that it doesn't--for whatever reason--the characters, I suppose--that makes me feel unsettled, more than the threatening, oil black surface of Chloe's reservoir ever did.

RECOMMENDATION: Highly Recommended. One of the better YA books I've read, though the mystery of why I don't strongly love it (only really like it) is why I wrote this review.


"I was an echo of her."

"In reality I was a pencil drawing of a photocopy of a Polaroid of my sister--you could see the resemblance in a certain light, if you were seeking it out because I told you first, if you were being nice."

"my boots miss your feet
my head misses your hairbrush"

"She locked her eyes on mine. (The whites of her eyes staring up at the half moon.)

She cracked a smile. (Her lips drained of color.)"