The Liebster Award

Aw yeah. Look at this beautiful award.

I was tagged by the always-wonderful Jenna at Bookmark Your Thoughts.

She updated her graphics recently – go admire the new layout! Continue reading

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MINI BOOK REVIEW: Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Image result for daughter of smoke and bone

First impression: “This looks really trashy.”

Second impression: “No one can see me reading this.”

My emotional journey:

  • “This is stupid.”
  • “But it’s written so beautifully.”
  • “Sold. I’m into it.”
  • “What’s going on with the teeth?”
  • “Wow, this is getting intense.”
  • “WHY IS HE ON FIRE!?!?”
  • “NOOOOOO!”
  • “NOOOOOOOOO!”
  • “Okay, that took a turn.”
  • “I get that this is supposed to be a romance, but I don’t like it.”
  • “SO obvious.”
  • “This is stupid.”
  • “Never mind.”
  • “Never mind.”
  • “So that’s what they do with the teeth…”
  • “Never mind.”
  • “Wait, what?”
  • “Wait, WHAT!?!?!?”
  • “WHAT!?!?!?!?”
  • “What did I just read?”

BOOK REVIEW: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

The premise: At the start of the book, fraternal twins Noah and Jude are best friends despite being opposites; Noah is shy, likes to draw, and folds in on himself, while Jude is more outgoing, feels comfortable around others (especially boys), and prefers making sculptures. Three years later, the two no longer speak and have almost switched personalities: Jude is on a boy boycott and Noah is now popular and athletic. Both are miserable. Told in alternating perspectives chronicling the past and the present, the twins figure out how to love their messed-up family, each other, and themselves.

Go buy a copy of this book immediately. Immediately.

I’m always amazed by Jandy Nelson’s writing. She is full-stop, italicized-and-underlined, jaw-drop, face-plant awesome.

She’s better at expressing emotions than I am at verbalizing them. She nails the most obscure emotions by writing off-the-wall descriptions about planets or moons or flying into the ceiling. When I read her books, I feel everything her characters feel and more without having to be persuaded. And she makes it seem easy (it’s not).

To be honest, it took me a while to get into this book, which starts in Noah’s perspective. Being in Noah’s head is so bizarre I thought for a while he had synesthesia. Despite its weirdness, the first chapter sets up Noah’s odd worldview and his family dynamics.

Then Jude’s chapter–taking place three years later–hits and everything is terrible.

After the time skip, Noah and Jude’s worlds are drastically different. I was shocked that so much happened so quickly without knowing why. The book’s organization sets up an intriguing mystery that lets readers slowly piece together exactly what went wrong with Noah and Jude’s family.

Nelson’s writing benefits from having two drastically different narrators. It was fascinating to see how each twin dealt with romance and grief and to compare their differing–and often faulty–perspectives on the same events. The title comes from a game invented by the highly competitive twins where they divide up the world–Noah takes the oceans but keeps the flowers, Jude keeps everything but gives up the sun, etc. The game underscores their complicated relationship; the twins love each other and have fun together, but always with an underlying spirit of intense competition.

The twins make poor decisions yet remain likeable. In other books, I can be overwhelmed by the amount of tension and conflict. Every event in this book contributed to the tension, ruining relationships and sometimes killing characters, but nothing that happened felt unnecessary. Each thing that happened tied into the eventual conclusion, leading to satisfying resolutions to every plot thread.

The plot thread that stuck out to me was Noah’s relationship with his dad. Gay, artistic, and sensitive, Noah has never felt accepted by his sports-loving father. In the latter half of the timeline, they bond over animal documentaries and tennis. Noah is both elated and worried that their fragile peace will be ruined when he comes out of the closet. Of all the storylines–romance included–this one was my favorite because it was treated with such delicacy. Noah’s dad isn’t a bad guy–he’s just a stranger in his own family, at a loss at how to interact with his two gifted kids. The culmination of Noah’s coming out story provided one of my favorite endings in recent YA history.

This is a book I want everyone to read and talk about, and one that has earned a spot on my shelf. Here’s a list of instructions inspired by one of the books best quotes:

  1. Buy this book.
  2. Read it.
  3. Make a wish.
  4. Take a (second or third or fourth) chance.
  5. Remake the world.

BOOK REVIEW: Defy by Sara B. Larson

The premise: Alexa Hollen has been disguising herself as Alex Hollen for years to escape the king’s ominous “breeding house.” She and her twin brother Marcel are part of the prince’s guard, sworn to protect Prince Damian above even the king. A series of events results in Alex being kidnapped, along with the prince and her fellow guard, Rylan. Alex must deal with a terrorist group, a royal conspiracy, and her feelings for both men, all while trying to keep them–and herself–alive.

My favorite book growing up was Alanna: The First Adventure. Alanna did all the things I was nowhere near ballsy enough to do: disguise herself as a boy, train to be a knight, protect her prince, collude with thieves, and fight mythical beasts. My favorite part was that she posed as a boy for years–I couldn’t believe she was able to pull that off to fulfill her dream. It struck me as impressive and brave. Prior to puberty, I was convinced, if given the chance, I could pull it off.

As an adult, I’m less positive I could do it. But that’s not the point.

Alexa, the protagonist of Defy, also chooses to pose as a boy and join the king’s army to avoid a life of constant rape and pregnancy. I applaud her decision, but would have found it more meaningful if I hadn’t hated her SO. MUCH.

It really irritates me when a convention I like is done poorly. The two conventions in Defy‘s case are the aforementioned girl-dressing-as-boy plot point and a reaaaallly half-hearted love triangle.

I wasn’t super girly as a kid and didn’t feel feminine, so I like books where the heroine relates to and feels comfortable around men. I didn’t like Alexa, though, at all–something about her really bugged me. Her issues seemed off. I can understand how confusing it would be to pretend to be a straight male in order to gain respect while hiding sexual feelings for your male companions. Alexa’s reaction, however, to this event was, “What is wrong with me? Why am I feeling this way?”

Not, “I can’t afford to feel this way,” though that was explored a bit. No, her main question was, “Why am I feeling this way?”

…because you’re straight. You like guys. You are actually a woman and you are attracted to men.

It just struck me as a strange reaction and/or focus for the author, and it made Alexa seem reaaaal stupid.

Alexa also repressed a lot of her emotions to keep up the man facade, even after multiple of her peers told her it was okay to grieve. I didn’t feel it was consistent with her character; I felt it was an assumption about how her type of character should act. I think my irritation is personal; I don’t like “non-girly female” interpreted as “unemotional female,” because those don’t always go together. Case in point: a short-haired, uber-casual female blogger who cries once a week about entertainment.

My face is turned to hide my tears.
My face is turned to hide my tears.

The love triangle was the other part that didn’t work for me, which is unfortunate. I understand why people have problems with love triangles, and I should be horrified by them on principle…but I secretly love them. And, sometimes, love triangles can wooooork.

This one did not.

Defy‘s love triangle can be summed up as, “Alexa found herself drawn to Prince Damian more and more…and also Rylan was there.” It’s hard for me when love triangles are uneven. If you can’t write one side of the triangle convincingly, why not cut it? Then you could have a convincing romance instead of wasting pages on a weaker one.

And UGH. I hated Rylan. So, so much.

He came across as very entitled. I get how frustrating it is to love someone who loves someone else, especially when that other person is unworthy. “Grand Theft Autumn” is one of my favorite songs, and I have earnestly sung, “You need him?/I should be him,” many a time. You are allowed to feel this way and even express these feelings if the person you like has been stringing you along. It’s best to get everything out in the open.

HOWEVER.

It is not okay to shame the person you like for not liking you and/or liking someone else. You do not deserve their love because you’ve loved them for a long time. If someone is not interested in you, despite your good qualities, that sucks…but you HAVE TO GET OVER IT. PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE.

Rylan throws tantrums and guilts Alexa the entire book. Even though he was intended to be a sympathetic character, I did not find him sympathetic in the least, and was even less invested in the love triangle because of his childishness. He hurt the story rather than helping it; if he had been written differently, he might have been sympathetic. As it was, he was awful and useless and I wish his actions had been framed as selfish.

Characters aside, the situations they found themselves seemed laughable and sort of fanfic-y. “Oh no, here I am as a prisoner in the jungle, and I have to share a tent with both the guys I like! What a dilemma!” At least the shojo animes I watch have the sense to play this event for comedy!

Also, for all his good qualities, Damian kept trying to get in “quality time” with Alexa while Rylan was sleeping. That’s gross and also SUPER RUDE, and would be even if the guy in question wasn’t in love with your girl! Alexa would tell him to stop, because she didn’t want to hurt Rylan’s feelings. Um, how about IT’S COMMON COURTESY NOT TO BANG IN FRONT OF SOMEONE YOU SHARE A TENT WITH?

The book wasn’t all bad. I finished the whole thing. Larson kept me guessing with the plot, constantly bringing up twists that I in no way anticipated. She didn’t flinch away from harsher material; while dark and hard to read at times, I appreciated that she didn’t sugarcoat what reality was like for women in the kingdom. She also dealt well with grief and sacrifice and the loneliness of keeping up a pretense. Unlike Tamora Pierce, she didn’t shy away from killing off important characters (note: I say that with regard to Lady Knight specifically.) And, perhaps most admirably, she didn’t offer romantic resolution. I don’t love the way she went about it, but I felt that choice was purposeful and improved Alexa’s character. The ending was sort of a sequel hook and while I have no intention of reading the next book, I felt the hope of the characters as they looked forward to a new start.

To sum up, while parts of this book were good, the elements that failed brought the whole book down. It’s one I’m glad I got from the library instead of buying. Give it a read if you want interesting ethical dilemmas and some good fantasy action; also check it out to see how NOT to write a love triangle.

BOOK REVIEW: The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle

The premise: “Good girl” Wren Gray has just done the unthinkable–she’s withdrawn from college and decided to move to Guatemala for a year, much to her controlling parents’ chagrin. Wren continues to disappoint her parents by pursuing foster kid Charlie Parker. The rest of the book chronicles their intense, confusing, and ultimately triumphant relationship.

I’ve got a few trigger authors, and Lauren Myracle is one of them. The phrase “trigger author” doesn’t denote anything bad, per se–I’ve just read a lot of their stuff and know them well enough to know they’re only okay. (My other trigger author is David Levithan. I find him consistently underwhelming. It’s a struggle.)

I’d been wanting to read The Infinite Moment of Us for a while, but was hesitant when I found out Myracle had written it. Like with Levithan, I’ve never found her particularly insightful or entertaining, so New York Times‘ description of her as “this generation’s Judy Blume” was baffling to me. (Or maybe Judy Blume is another one of my trigger authors. It’s a mystery.)

I read the book anyway, clearly. It was at the library and had a pretty cover–I couldn’t resist.

There was no epiphany–I’m still not a huge fan of Myracle’s writing–but, unlike many of her other books, this one evoked a reaction. The way Myracle addressed the confusion of adolescence, growing up, and the risk of intimacy was well-done–every page resonated . The importance of family is a common theme in her books and this book was no exception, contrasting Wren’s hyper-controlling parents with Charlie’s loving foster family.

Myracle also explored her characters’ other relationships: Wren realizes her friendship with best friend Tessa is valuable but transitory, while Charlie navigates a dysfunctional relationship with Starrla, knowing he should pull away but unsure about the timing.

The book does a pretty good job of increasing tension, though some of the conflicts come across as a little…childish? Yes, these are 18-year-olds, and I recognize some of these behaviors as (unhealthy) things I’ve done in prior relationships. In that way, the book represents the teenage experience very well. Some of the teenage navelgazing was a little irritating, but most, if not all of the conversations, were ones I could see real teenagers having. I guess I was surprised that much of the plot hinged on two teenagers’ inability to deal with minor relationship difficulties. I read YA fiction all the time, so maybe I shouldn’t feel this way? It felt more dire than other YA books I’ve read (Anna and the French Kiss comes to mind), but not as heartbreaking as others (i.e., I’ll Give You the Sun.)

Okay, fine. I cried. A lot. From page 286 to the end.

I cared about the characters. Even though I thought they were dumb at times and made terrible, terrible decisions, I cared about what happened to them, and I wanted a happy ending. One of my favorite books that I read this year (Just One Day–review forthcoming) had an ambiguous yet satisfying ending. Infinite Moment‘s ending reminded me of that, which I enjoyed. I didn’t need everything in the characters’ lives to be wrapped up; I was happy enough to know they were on the right track.

The only other aspect I wasn’t crazy about was the graphic sexuality. There are, however, only one or two sexual scenes. I know people have different opinions about sexuality in YA books, so do with that information what you will.

Even though I’ve never been crazy about Lauren Myracle–or about books that take place in the South–I would recommend this book. It’s the best one she’s written by far and will leave you crying for 31 pages.

BOOK REVIEW: Geek Girl by Holly Smale

Tagline: Meet Harriet Manners. Girl. Geek. International supermodel?

When I saw “New Girl” for the first time, I didn’t think I’d like it. I started watching it as a joke and was surprised at how funny it was. The writing made me laugh out loud–a rarity–and, after one episode, I couldn’t wait to watch another.

Reading Geek Girl was similar. I checked this book out based on the tagline alone, thinking it would be super cheesy and fun to make fun of. Two pages in, I was already laughing–and not because it was bad either!

Geek Girl follows “geek” Harriet Manners, an astonishingly unpopular girl who has more interest in Russian history and animal facts than fashion, so when she becomes the new face of fashion line Baylee, it comes as quite a surprise.

I normally dislike books with obvious morals, but in Geek Girl‘s case, I didn’t mind. The story offered a new take on the “Be Yourself” motto that other books and movies tout and immediately contradict. Despite the subject matter and some of the more outlandish happenings, this book was more believable than many of those other ones.

For instance, some “be yourself” stories have it so that once the main character accepts who they are, they find true love, popularity, worldwide fame, and wealth. The true lesson: you can only have these things once you no longer care about them!

Geek Girl didn’t go in that direction. At the end [minor spoilers], Harriet is still unpopular and still only has one friend (and one stalker), but she’s reprioritized what is important to her and rediscovers the good things she already has. The only possibly unbelievable bit–a fellow supermodel having loved her the whole time–is tempered by the fact that the reader gets to see their relationship develop. Nick has a personality and a character; he’s not just there as wish fulfillment.[/minor spoilers]

Geek Girl moves along at a fast clip, each chapter ending on a cliff hanger and/or zinger from one of the characters. The pacing is excellent and makes me wonder whether Smale has ever written for television.

This book is so freaking funny. Here are some gems:

“Frankie here looks like the ginger child of an alien and duck union, and that is so fresh right now.”

“So that makes this a secret between the two of us, right?” I glare at him. “Which makes us kindred spirits? And–correct me if I’m wrong–soul mates?”
“We’re not soul mates, Toby. You can’t just go around stealing secrets and then forcing people into being your soul mate.”

Oh my God. I’m the Right Girl? I’m usually the Girl That Will Have to Do I Suppose Because That Other One Got Chicken Pox (Year Five play Cinderella).

And from the sequel:

In fact, you could say I’ve really grown up since you last saw me.

Developed. Blossomed.

Not literally. I’m exactly the same size and shape as I was six months ago, and six months before that. As far as womanly curves go, much like the volleyball captain at school, puberty is making no bones about picking me last.

The thing that most surprised me was how many twists the story offered. Since the jokes were so spot-on, I expected the story to be average–I’m cynical enough to believe that a plus in one category means a deficit in another. Contrary to my expectations, there were more than a few moments that I did not see coming. And they weren’t shocking in a Kady-Cross-I-wish-you-had-foreshadowed-that way, but in a No-way-I-can’t-believe-they-went-this-direction-that’s-awesome way. MORE THAN ONE TIME. THAT’S RARE FOR ME, GUYS.

My favorite conversation takes place at the end of the book and has given me new romance goals:

There’s a long silence. “I like you,” Nick says finally. He’s still speaking slowly, but the laziness that is always there seems to have disappeared. My whole body feels like it has a lightbulb in it.

He likes me?

Lion Boy likes me?

“But…why?” I manage to stutter.

Nick shrugs. “You’re different.”

I frown at him. “Good different or bad different?”

He grins. “Good,” he says. “And bad. But even the bad bits are different and they always make me laugh.”

“That makes no rational sense at all,” I tell him, crossing my arms. “There are 7,228,898,142 different people in the world. You clearly just haven’t met that many.”

I’ve met enough,” he says, twinkling at me and taking a step forward. His cheeks have gone pink now as well. I didn’t know it could happen to boys.

A human heart is supposed to beat between sixty and ninety times a minute, while resting. A hedgehog’s heart beats up to 300 times a minute while standing still. Honestly, I think I might be turning into a hedgehog.

Wonderful revelation of a YA book. Go read it. You have 30 minutes to find a copy before I kidnap your dog.

BOOK REVIEW: The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

Once in a while, books come along that feel special, books that leave me choked up for no reason, books that make me feel like I’m on a runner’s high when I read them.

The Good Luck of Right Now is one of those books. It almost feels like it was written for me.

The plot is unremarkable: Bartholomew Neil, a man implied to have an intellectual disability who recently lost his mother, processes his grief with the help of his doubting priest Father McNamee, his troubled grief counselor Wendy, his cat-obsessed, alien-fearing therapy buddy Max, and Max’s sister Elizabeth AKA the Girlbrarian AKA Bartholomew’s dreamgirl.

The events are relayed through Bartholomew’s letters to Richard Gere, his mother’s favorite actor, with whom Bartholomew feels he shares a spiritual connection.

Epistolary novels are my favorite–you as the reader learn so much from the narrator’s limited (and often unreliable) perspective by what they exclude, focus on, and misunderstand.

I started to love the book almost midway through when tensions escalated between Bartholomew, Wendy, and Father McNamee. The book gave an honest and accurate portrayal of what it’s like to live with an abuse victim, struggle with doubt, and deal with negative self-image. Throughout, Bartholomew describes an “angry little man” who lives in his stomach and shouts abuse any time he makes a mistake, a phenomenon any self-conscious person can relate to. Though not directly related, these lines stuck out all the more because of it:

And what is reality, if it isn’t how we feel about things? What else matters at the end of the day, when we lie in bed alone with our thoughts?

The ensuing scene, where the Father and Bartholomew fail to convince Wendy to leave her boyfriend, was spot-on–not sure if Quick has had loved ones in abusive situations, but he nailed it.

While the emotional moments were good, I kept reading because I was desperate to know: WOULD THEY EVER MAKE IT TO CAT PARLIAMENT?

I was still wondering down to the last 10 pages, speedreading like crazy to find out.

If I had one critique, the ending seemed a bit rushed because so much was packed into the final pages. Still, I preferred it to the more ambiguous ending of Silver Linings Playbook. I like, too, that it was happy; endings don’t need to be tragic to be satisfying.

Great read deserving of space on your bookshelf.