Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
Publisher: Alfred Knopf Borzoi Books
Publication Date: May 9, 2006
Source / Format: Library Book!
Page Count: 357.
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Goodreads & Amazon

Ed Kennedy is an underaged cab driver who isn't going anywhere fast. He lied about his age to drive a crummy cab around town. He lives in a shack with his smelly, yet lovable, dog the Doorman. He is in love with his best friend Audrey, even though he knows she'll never love him back, and the rest of his friends seem stuck in the same directionless rut that he is. But everything changes when he witnesses and stops an armed bank robbery. Suddenly, Ed is seen as a hero, and he receives the first Ace in the mail with three addresses. Each address is a home that needs a message delivered, and Ed becomes the unwilling messenger. The first Ace is followed by three more, each one of a different suit. He must fulfill each mission of the cards, some harder than others, and some too close to home.

Before I even mention me, I should tell you some other facts: 
1. At nineteen, Bob Dylan was a seasoned performer in Greenwich Village, New York.
2. Salvador Dali had already produced several outstanding artworks of paint and rebellion by the time he was nineteen. 
3. Joan of Arc was the most wanted woman in the world at nineteen, having created a revolution.
Then there's Ed Kennedy, also nineteen...
Just prior to the bank holdup, I'd been taking stock of my life. 
Cabdriver--and I'd funked my age at that. (You need to be twenty.)
No real career.
No respect in the community.

Like the rest of the universe at this point, I read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and became obsessed. I turned my reading of that book into a full blown experience. I saw a play adaptation of the novel and went to see Markus Zusak speak about the novel twice. It's one of my favorite books of all time, and because of that, I think I was hesitant to read his other novels. I was nervous they wouldn't live up to the hugeness that was The Book Thief for me, and I would be disappointed. But after months of seeing I Am the Messenger taunt me from the shelves of my neighborhood library, and me realizing there was a small Markus Zusak-sized hole in my chest that needed filling, I finally picked it up, and I am so glad that I did! 

As the kids dance around the front yard under the nigh sky and the lights, I see something. 
Lua and Marie are holding hands. 
They look like they're so happy, just inside this moment, watching the kids and the lights on their old fibro house. 
Lua kisses her. 
Just softly on the lips.
And she kisses back. 
Sometimes people are beautiful.
Not in looks. 
Not in what they say.
Just in what they are.

It came as no surprise to me that I Am the Messenger was filled with beautifully well-rounded characters. I think Zusak is just brilliant in that way. Ed Kennedy is someone who on paper doesn't seem like much of a human at all. He doesn't have a great relationship with his mother, his living situation is less than desirable, and he has no plans for further education or career goals. Instead of being leery of our narrator though, we are sucked right into his situation and Ed is one of the most perceptive and poetic narrators I have read in YA fiction. He notices a lot of the beauty in the small things and the people he meets, and then processes them in a very real, human way. His emotions are raw and visceral, especially when he must deliver a difficult message. Ed also has a wonderful voice that was fun to read. He has a snarky way about him, and that translated well into his thoughts and dialogue with his friends. Ed had me laughing out loud one second, and then wanting to cry the next. 

After a long drawn-out silence, I confess to the father. I tell him I still don't know why I'm here. I don't tell him about the messages I've already done or the ones still left to do. I only tell him that I have a purpose here and that it will come to me. 

Even the characters that we don't get to know for very long leave an impact, much like they do on Ed. When Ed delivers his messages, he sometimes has to stake out the family or individual to discover what exactly the message is that needs delivering. In just a short chapter, we get to know very well a random stranger and what it is they need, and why something as simple as an ice cream cone can make their day. Zusak doesn't just throw these characters away though, each one leaves a lasting impression on Ed, and he sometimes visits them again and again to further validate his experiences and see how his actions have impacted their lives. Everything comes full circles with Ed and his messages, which created a beautiful reading experience for me. 

I think about what Audrey's been telling me. Maybe I truly am shedding the old Ed Kennedy for this new person who's full of purpose rather than incompetence. Maybe one morning I'll wake up and step outside of myself to look back at the old me lying dead among the sheets. It's a good thing, I know. But how can a good thing suddenly feel so sad? I've wanted this from the beginning.

I Am the Messenger is also filled with lots of great action that gives the novel a great, quick pacing. I blew through the 350+ pages of this book in a couple of days. From violence to small acts of kindness to card games, there is something always happening in this book. If Ed spends any time in his head, it is always while he is doing something else and moving on from one card to the next. 

This book cannot be fully compared to the brilliance that is The Book Thief, but it was brilliant in it's own way with beautiful, meaningful characters and lots of quick-paced action that kept the story moving. Markus Zusak has further solidified himself as one of my favorite authors, and I can't wait to read his other books.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday [2]: Creepiest Book Covers!

This week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted over at the Broke and the Bookish, is fueled with Halloween spirit! We have been summoned to show off the top ten creepiest book covers we have seen. I have recently rediscovered my love for reading horror, so this is right up my alley! Here are some of the spookiest book covers I have ever seen in no particular order.

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff: In any context, old baby carriages give me the chills. They all just scream, "Rosemary's Baby!" at me, and remind me of creepy moms. Creepy carriage + sharp objects dangling haphazardly over it = SPOOKY.

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty : I am reading this one right now (as you can tell by my own personal instagram photo!) and let me tell you, this cover has eyes that seem to follow me everywhere. Even creepier is when I have it on my night stand and I shine my light on it at 4 am while I'm getting ready for work. This book is also just the perfect Halloween-time read.

Misery by Stephen King :  Uh, what about this cover ISN'T creepy? His tattered clothes! The look of sheer pain and torture on his face! The demented look of amusement and infatuation on her face! I wish the face was Kathy Bates', of course, but she still looks haggard and CRAZY.

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin : Back to the old baby carriages. Plus there's the creepy little hand of the demon baby and is that crucifix BURNING? Creepy to the max. Maybe my top ten list should have just been book covers with creepy baby carriages. Also, Rosemary's Baby is one of my favorite films of all time. The book is pretty fantastic as well. 

The Lucifer Child by Shelley Katz : Let me paint you a picture: I stop to look inside of one of Chicago's Free Books bins on the street. The blond boy with the icy blue and demonic looking eyes is literally reaching out to me from the cover of this book. I had to have it. Now it's one of the creepiest books on my shelf, and I have yet to read it out of fear of creeping out everyone around me. I think it's also too creepy for the internet considering this was the ONLY picture of it I could find on Google images (way too lazy to take a picture of my own copy) and on Goodreads the cover is blank!

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy : There's something dehumanizing and eerie about the way her mouth and eyes are ripped out on this cover. 

The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson : I think just the sight of the Amityville house has become iconic in the world of horror. Everyone knows what it looks like and the story of the 'Amityville Horror.' That house + the creepy devil tail + the promise of getting the hell scared out of me = SPOOKY.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson : Just thinking about this short story makes me feel uncomfortable. I remember the shock of reading it in high school and it has always stuck with me. This is another creepy, vintage cover that gives me the same feeling the story does. All of those stones...

It by Stephen King : Sorry to my clown-hating boyfriend for this one, and yes, another Stephen King cover. I'm actually not the biggest fan of clowns, either, and the look of evil determination on this one's face gives me the shivers. I don't want to know what this clown has in store for me, hence why I haven't yet read this book. 

Asylum by Madeleine Roux : I actually just won this book in a giveaway hosted by Jamie at the Perpetual Page-Turner and Epic Reads! I had the choice between this one and several other spooky novels, and it was the creep-factor of this one that helped me choose it! The scratchy handwriting and ghostlike picture of the girl has me shaking already! 

I think I freaked myself out with all of these book covers, and it has me excited to read some more spine-tingling horror! I'm going to dive back into The Exorcist, but one of these may be on my list next. Who says we can't read horror after Halloween? Muahahaha. Have you read any of these books? Do their covers give you the creeps, too? 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Review: The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
Publisher: Little Brown/Poppy
Publication Date: September 7, 2010
Source / Format: Library book!
Page Count: 277
Genre: Young Adult
Goodreads & Amazon

When cocky and arrogant Wesley Rush calls Bianca Piper a DUFF -- Designated, Ugly, Fat Friend-- he gives her a complex, and a justifiable reason to hate him outside of his man whore tendencies and obnoxious self assuredness. Bianca always knew she was big but she never realized how much Wesley was right about her appearance status with her two best friends. On top of that, her parent's marriage is crumbling, and she is assigned to work with Wesley, which actually doesn't end up being as horrible as she had wanted it and hoped to be. In fact, he's kind of a good listener, and she's just not ready to not hate him.

"I actually need your help. You see, your friends are hot. And you, darling, are the Duff." 
"Is that even a word?" 
"Designated. Ugly. Fat. Friend," he clarified. "No offense, but that would be you." 
"I am not the--!"
"Hey, don't get defensive. It's not like you're an ogre or anything, but in comparison..." He shrugged his broad shoulders. ... "The point is, scientists have prove than every group of friends has a weak link, a Duff. And girls respond well to guys who associate with their Duffs." 

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger forced me to get back in touch with High School Me. Not that I wanted to. According to my diaries back then, I totally felt like the Duff. I didn't know the acronym existed, but I dedicated several entries to the same kind of self-deprecation that Bianca feels when Wesley bequeathes her with the title of the DUFF in her group of friends. Bianca is just one of those characters that I instantly connected with because of our eerie similarities. Not quite an 'ideal' body type. Attracted to the cute, smart, political boys. Feminist. Not always down for the loud clubs and extreme social gatherings. Oh, and full of wry, sarcastic comments and wit. Basically, Bianca and I are soul sisters. Keplinger was 18 when The DUFF was published, which is probably why Bianca's voice, and the voices of her peers are strikingly accurate and realistic. And so, the theory that I started on with Doormat by Kelly McWilliams continues: more teens should write YA! 

At one time, I thought being the Duff meant no boy drama. Clearly, I was wrong. How did this happen? How did I, the ugly girl, end up in the middle of a love triangle? I wasn't a romantic. I didn't really even want to date. But there I was, torn between two attractive guys that, by all means, I shouldn't have had a shot with. (Trust me, not as glamorous as it sounds.)

When I read my old high school diaries, and relive my feelings of Duffness, I want to reach into the pages and shake my old self. "Snap out of it!" I want to yell at me. Much was the same for my reading experience with Bianca. Sometimes I thought her cynicism and inability to look on the bright side of anything was laid on a little bit too thick. Even when people are giving her a chance or complimenting her, she shoots it down with a snarly retort and keeps a very strong wall built up around her. I wanted to tell her, like Wesley does, to lighten up a little bit and enjoy the high school experience, no matter how sucky it can be. Bianca's friends were sweet to her, and embraced her pessimistic outlook on life while also trying to lift her up to be the best Bianca she could be, which I thought was sweet. Her friends really understood her, but also knew that there was potential for something else within her and kept pushing her towards things that would make her happy.

Wesley stood up, his face hard and serious. He grabbed me by the shoulders and held me firmly, forcing me to look up at him. "Listen to me," he said. "You are not a whore. Are you listening, Bianca? What you are is an intelligent, sassy, sarcastic, cynical, neurotic, loyal, compassionate girl. That's what you are, okay? You're not a slut or a whore or anything remotely similar. Just because you have some secrets and some screwups...You're just the rest of us." 

I appreciated that Keplinger gave her characters the power to surprise her readers, which I think ties in perfectly with the overall theme of not judging those around you. She paints each character in such a specific light, that we think we have them all figured out. Then a little anecdote slips in from Bianca's memory and suddenly, we see the characters differently. Case in point is WESLEY. I thought for sure that I would absolutely, 100% loathe Wesley. For several chapters I could not find a redeemable quality in the smarmy, arrogant little bastard. But then, we learn more about him and suddenly, we're not able to pigeonhole him into the stereotype we thought we would be able to. 

Though reading The DUFF yanked me back into awkward high school flashbacks of my self consciousness, I loved the raw and realistic characters and the surprises that they threw my way. I can't wait to read more work from Keplinger!

Rating: 4 / 5

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

The First Part Last (Heaven, #2) by Angela Johnson
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: January 1, 2005
Source / Format: Library book!
Page Count: 131.
Genre: Young Adult
Goodreads & Amazon

On Bobby's sixteenth birthday, he receives news from his girlfriend that he never could have expected: she's pregnant. He'll admit it himself that they've been dumb when it comes to protection, but that still doesn't prepare him for the idea of having a baby so young. The parties, art, music and vibrancy of New York City seem to dull as he goes to appointments with Nia and sees social workers who seem to think that the only way out of this is for them to put their baby up for adoption.

I've been thinking about it. Everything. And when Feather opens her eyes and looks up at me, I already know there's change. But I figure if the world were really right, humans would live life backward and do the first part last. They'd be all knowing in the beginning and innocent in the end. Then everybody could end their life on their momma or daddy's stomach in a warm room, waiting for the soft morning light.

It wasn't until I was marking this book as 'currently reading' on Goodreads that I learned this book was part of the Heaven trilogy by Angela Johnson. But after a little research, it seems like the binding factor of the trilogy is a place, rather than the characters. I read a few chapters, and didn't feel like I was missing any pieces, so I continued onward even though this book falls in the middle. The First Part Last was a realistic look into teen pregnancy through the father's eyes. Told in alternating tenses, the Then and Now, the reader gets a heartbreakingly honest look at the struggle and outcome of Nia's pregnancy.  Bobby is truly stuck between the idea of being a father and having to grow up, and still wanting to be a child of the streets, tagging walls, and partying with his friends. We see all of the things he will miss when Nia gives birth, but also everything he gains when he looks into his daughter's eyes. 

This novel was quick and sweet, hence the quick and sweet review ;) Johnson's prose is beautiful to read, and I felt like I was in a game of tug-of-war along with Bobby, and I felt that no matter which way the cookie crumbled, I still would've rooted for him. 

Rating: 4 / 5 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Reading Books and People.

A couple of days ago, my boyfriend sent me this article from NPR about a new study that was given to readers of literary fiction, popular fiction, and non-fiction. Participants were shown black and white photos of people's eyes and were asked to pinpoint which emotion they were feeling. The study, though it's not trying to discredit popular fiction, proves that people who read even just a little bit of literary fiction have an increased perception of other people's thoughts and feelings. Basically, literary fiction readers can read people just as well as books ;)

Why? In the article, it is stated that popular fiction focuses more on plot and keeping the readers attention. It's a more explicit reading experience. By explicit, I mean that everything is out on the table as far as characters feelings, and we don't have to work very hard to know what they are thinking. The example I gave my boyfriend is, "When Sarah walked into the room, I could tell she was mad by the way her fists were clenched." We see her anger, but we are also told about her anger. The article describes literary fiction as being more about the psychology and inner workings of a character's mind and life. In literary fiction, we might have to read Sarah a little more to see exactly how she is feeling. We'd see her body language, follow context clues, and then determine she was angry without the help of a narrator. 

It's a fascinating study to me, and made me want to try and read more literary fiction. Admittedly, now that I am out of school, I've more or less kicked classics to the curb, even though it was a resolution of mine to work more classics into my reading life. 

If you'd like to take a similar quiz to the participants in the study, the New York Times posted one here.  I got a 29/36. Let me know in the comments what you got!

What do you think? Do you think this study is valid? When you comment with your score, also let me know what genre you primarily read!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Review: Psycho Killer by Cecily von Ziegesar

Psycho Killer by Cecily von Ziegesar
Publisher: Poppy
Publication Date: October 3, 2011
Source / Format: Library book!
Page Count: 309.
Genre: Young Adult.
Goodreads & Amazon

Serena van der Woodsen is back from boarding school, and naturally the Upper East Side of New York is buzzing with rumors. Some say she's actually been in rehab and is a drug dealer. Other's say she was in France, having and putting a baby up for adoption. Or there's the classic ol' rumor that she's been bedding dozens of boys, and then killing them off. Definitely rumors? Or is there a chilling truth? Serena is most looking forward to getting back on Best Friends level with Blair, but handsome Nate Archibald is standing in the way and the only way to get him out of it, is to kill him. Serena's feelings start to warm up to Nate again, and then decides that the person who really needs to be murdered is Blair. Little does Serena know, Blair has more than enough wit and strength to formulate her own plans of getting Serena out of the picture, and away from Nate.

Still wearing her gloves, Serena dropped her bag on the desk and removed the giant syringe she'd procured from the groundsman's shed up at Hanover. Two skulls with X's through them and the word POISON were emblazoned on the oversized syringe in large black capital letters. She'd smuggled the syringe into the city in a violin case stolen from a Hanover sophomore who used to play first string in the school's orchestra--before he went snowboarding with Serena and had to be air-lifted to the hospital with a fractured jaw, a severed tongue, a punctured lung, and two shattered wrists.

I decided to kick off my Halloween reading spirit with Psycho Killer, a re-imagined, re-written, gory take on the first book in the Gossip Girl series. It had been so long since I've read the first Gossip Girl novel, but I used to really love them, and my sister and I would anxiously await for each new book in the series. So rich, Upper Eastsiders? Murder? The money to get away with it? Sounded perfect. Though as you can imagine from the amount of remorseless and inconsequential murder that takes place in this book, it's not one to be taken seriously. Think of it as a B-Horror movie based on Gossip Girl and in book form. And I love B-Horror films. So cheesy, so bloody, and so hilariously put together.

Still looking in the mirror, Serena lifted her chin and narrowed her eyes into a regal glare. When their friendship had finally played itself out, King Henry VIII had had Thomas Cromwell beheaded for treason. And so it went with her and Blair. They couldn't just keep killing other people and fighting over Nate. Of course Serena would kill whomever she must to protect herself. But if she really wanted to take back her old station and hold on to Nate, the one person she would have to kill, whether she liked it or not, was Blair herself.

I thought this re-imagined first book of Gossip Girl was hilarious. The details Cecily von Ziegesar injected into the story to fit more with the theme of high society murderesses were great. Our favorite goth-film girl Vanessa is working on a short film for school about a serial killing couple. Dan's dislike for Chuck Bass is taken to kill-worthy heights. Blair has a penchant for old horror movies, instead of classic old movies like Breakfast at Tiffany's. Big-boobed Jenny has a never-satisfied craving for raw meat. All of these things really added to the goofy tone of the book. Murder is talked about and done so flippantly, and we never truly mourn the loss of any of the characters. The only killer for me (haha, get it?) was that some of the themes were laid on a little too thick. Every page had some sort of reference to blood, murder, killing, or being so annoyed with someone that they could just kill them. Like we needed to constantly be reminded that we were reading the BLOODY KILLING version of Gossip Girl. 

If you're a fan of Gossip Girl and cheesy horror, and looking for something fast and fun to read for the spooky Halloween spirit, this is obviously perfect.

Rating: 4 / 5

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Publication Date: January 1, 2012
Source / Format: Library book!
Page Count: 415.
Goodreads & Amazon

On Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears. All she leaves behind is a destroyed living room, and her annual scavenger hunt that she prepares for Nick every anniversary. Amy's disappearance quickly becomes a much talked-about case: she is beautiful, from money, and the inspiration behind her parents wildly popular book series Amazing Amy, which features the more perfect version of herself. Nick quickly becomes the target of scrutiny in the media, especially since everyone knows the husband always commits the crime. Nick, and his twin sister Margo, are the only ones who are confident in his innocence, but someone is making it very hard for him to prove it. He's also not helping himself with his stockpile of lies, strange behavior, and desire to always be the good guy. Nick becomes more determined than ever to find out what the hell happened to his wife. Told in alternating point of views between Nick present day, and old diary entries of Amy, we see the gritty details of a young marriage, and the fierceness of revenge.

I'd know her head anywhere. And what's inside it. I think of that too: her mind. Her brain, all those coils, and her thoughts shuttling through those coils like fast, frantic centipedes. Like a child, I picture opening her skull, unspooling her brain and sifting through it, trying to catch and pin down her thoughts. What are you thinking, Amy? The question I've asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?

Another insanely hyped up book crossed off my to-be-read list! And another book that is well worth the buzz that has been following it around for the past two years. I read Sharp Objects by Flynn a couple of years ago for a class. I was glued to the pages and the untrustworthy characters within them. Sharp Objects packed a punch, and a plot twist that still has my mind reeling when I think about it. I knew that if Gone Girl could live up to that, I would be happy. And it so, so did. This novel is over four-hundred pages, yet I read it in a little over three days. I stayed up into the early hours of the morning unable to put it down. I read through my lunch breaks at work, and twenty minutes never ever seemed long enough. I rode the bus instead of biking home so I would have more reading time. 

He promised to take care of me, and yet I feel afraid. I feel like something is going wrong, very wrong, and that it will get even worse. I don't feel like Nick's wife. I don't feel like a person at all: I am something to be loaded and unloaded, like a sofa or a cuckoo clock. I am something to be tossed into a junkyard, thrown into the river, if necessary. I don't feel real anymore. I feel like I could disappear. 

The alternating point-of-views for each chapter definitely added to the un-putdownability of Gone Girl. Also the fact that each character was truly grimy and close to despicable, and I wanted to keep watching the train wreck that their lives were becoming. I kept telling myself, "at the end of this Nick chapter, I am going to go to bed/get off the bus/live my life." But then Nick would do something so horribly incriminating, or some huge bomb in the Amy case would be dropped, and I would have to keep reading. However, to get to the next Nick chapter, I would have to read one of Amy's diary entries, which were filled with self-loathing, fear, and revelations about her marriage to Nick, and the dramatic change that came when she moved from New York City, to small-town Missouri with him. Then to get back to what was happening to Nick, and carry that through, I'd have to read a whole 'nother Nick chapter. So started a vicious cycle. Flynn was really genius with these alternating chapters, leaving each one on a cliffhanger that made it impossible to put down. 

Of course that's what we have to do, and of course if he had presented the problem to me like I wasn't his enemy, that's what I would have said. But he came out of the door already treating me like a problem that needed to be dealt with. I was the bitter voice that needed to be squelched. My husband is the most loyal man on the planet until he's not. I've seen his eyes literally turn a shade darker when he's felt betrayed by a friend, even a dear longtime friend, and then the friend is never mentioned again. He looked at me then like I was an object to be jettisoned if necessary. It actually chilled me, that look. 

Like in Sharp Objects, Gone Girl carried a lot of layers, and twists and turns. Each diary entry revealed something about Amy and Nick's marriage that wasn't shown to us in Nick's narrative. Nick's constant lying brought on consequences. And Amy's usually cheerful walk down memory lane for their annual scavenger hunt has taken on a new tone that Nick isn't used to. The constant cliffhangers, revelations, and my previous reading experience of her work, had me doubting myself, and every possible outcome I thought of for the case of Missing Amy. 

Rating: 5 / 5

Are you also weary of much-hyped books? Have you read Gone Girl? Were you just as hooked as I was?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Publication Date: September 21, 2006
Source/Format: Library book!
Page Count: 215
Goodreads & Amazon

Colin Singelton is a former-child prodigy who is fluent in several languages, can anagram any word or phrase in seconds, and is always trying to find his 'Eureka!' moment. What he can't seem to find is a girl named Katherine who won't dump him. He's just been dumped by Katherine #19, and this is the one that hurts the most. To cheer him up, his friend Hassan drags him along on a road trip to break the monotony of Colin's Katherine problems. But all the road trip does is give him more time to dwell on where he has gone wrong with 19 Katherines, and The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability--a theorem he hopes will predict the future of any relationship--is born. With the help of Hassan, and a group of new friends he makes in Middle-of-Nowhere, TN, his most amazing 'Eureka' moment yet is just around the corner.

They listened to a country radio station turned up so loud that the twangs of steel guitars were distorted in the Hearse's old speakers. When they could catch on to the chorus, they sang loud and off-key and didn't give a shit. And it felt so good to sing with those trumped-up, hound-dog country accents. Colin felt sad, but it was an exhilarating and infinite sadness, like it connected him to Hassan and to the ridiculous songs and mostly to her, and Colin was shouting, "Like Strawwwwwberry Wine," when all of a sudden he turned to Hassan and said, "Wait, stop here." 

I have to say that this was my least favorite John Green novel, but that's not to say there wasn't anything redeemable about this read. The main 'issue' I had with An Abundance of Katherines was that I felt excluded for some parts of it. After being dumped by Katherine no. 19, he starts his work on the Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which is what he hopes will predict the future of any relationship ever. Colin sees himself as the constant Dumpee, and wants to prevent this from happening in the future. However, the road to the theorem involves a lot of math, and anyone who knows me can tell you that I really hate math. I don't get it, especially when it's put into words and insane equations. Therefore, much of the development of the Theorem, which is supposed to be the greatest thing Colin has ever cooked up, I skimmed over. No part of me wanted to read into the equations and understand them. Because of all the mathy-ness, I also did not feel myself connecting to Colin at all, and actually had to distend my belief in a contemporary novel to accept that a 17/18 year old boy has had a chance to date nineteen girls, let alone nineteen girls ALL with the same name. 

Dumpers and Dumpees. A lot of people will claim to be both, but those people miss the point entirely: You are predisposed to either one fate or the other. Dumpers may not always be the heartbreakers, and the Dumpees may not always be the heartbroken. But everyone has a tendency.

Even though I didn't connect to Colin, or his best friend Hassan, or his new friend Lindsey hardly at all, there were still some epically relatable character revelations that come in every John Green novel. I liked Hassan as a character--he was often the comedic relief in the bleak cloud of Dumpee-ness that is Colin's life. Hassan also had my favorite character revelation in the novel. I didn't totally care about Colin's theorem and trying to predict his relationships, because homeboy should've learned to stop dating girls named Katherine after he noticed the trend. Or maybe looked inside himself a little to see why instead of putting it back into science and math. Hassan's, though, was something I struggle with myself: always seen as the jokester, but with little to no motivation to push himself farther in life. I loved reading his revelation and seeing his change from the jokester, into the doer.

An Abundance of Katherines is further proof that John Green is a nerdy little genius. Sadly, he displayed that in this novel in a way that probably excluded readers like myself who dislike math and reading about it. However, in true John Green fashion, the laughs were genuine, and each character had a brilliant revelation that showed change towards a brighter future.

Rating: 3 / 5

Have you read An Abundance of Katherines? How do you think it compares to other John Green novels?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: February 26, 2013
Source / Format: Library book!
Page Count: 325.

Guys, I can't even fully summarize this book without wanting to throw the whole thing out there and geek out about it even more than I already have. Here's the short of it:

Eleanor is the new girl at school, and she sure has a way of sticking out. Her clothes don't fit her, and they're all thrifted and covered in patches. She decorates her body with different ties and ribbons. Her step-father is notorious in their small Nebraska town for being a not-so-great kind of guy. And she's got wild red hair and a bigger body that is the target of ridicule from her peers. The only peer that doesn't rip her apart is Park, the quiet Asian kid on the bus who lets her sit with him, and shares his comics and tapes with her. What blossoms from this seat sharing is FEELS. PURE FEELS.

To kick off this 'review,' I will post this twitter exchange that also just made me throw my hands up in the air and die:
It's decided: if I ever need a book that will make me cry in seconds, this is the one. Not only for the cries, but the sweet smiling and book hugging that comes right after the tears. Rowell is a wizard at creating characters that I want to take under my wing and love, and also characters that I want to burn in hell. She was a puppet master of my emotions for the whole 12 hours that I spent reading and obsessing over this book. Every time I had a heavy sigh and tears poking at my eyes for the thousandth time, it was immediately followed with a laugh or smile, and it was a great balance that made me keep reading and feeling like I was too much into a rut of sadness.

All I do when we’re apart is think about you, and all I do when we’re together is panic. because every second feels so important. And because I’m so out of control, I can’t help myself. I’m not even mine anymore, I’m yours, and what if you decide that you don’t want me? How could you want me like I want you?

The best part about this whole book? The characters and the realistic connections between them. In a lot of YA novels, teenage romance seems to be the thing that always works out with little to no complications, but that is hardly ever the case. Rowell approached the relationship between Eleanor & Park with a heart squishing realness that made me both respect and admire her. And despite her realness, it's a teen romance that I wholeheartedly rooted for. Both characters have their flaws, but each one has such shining qualities and characteristics that I almost forgot they were high schoolers. Even the not-so-great relationships like the ones between Eleanor and her step-father, or Eleanor and her bullies was a beautifully painful portrait of character relationships. GAHHHH. 

Eleanor was right: She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something. 

I don't know what else to say about this book other than JUST READ IT!!!!!!! It's real, it's beautiful, it's painful, it's swoon-worthy, it's tearjerking. This book is just so lovely that I want to and need to read it again. I was initially nervous to read it, because of the HUGE hype that surrounds it, but I can see now that the hype is well, well, well deserved, and now I cannot wait to read Attachments and  Fangirl

Rating: 5,000,000 / 5

Have you read Eleanor & Park? Tell me in the comments what your reading experience was like!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 11, 2011
Source/Format: Library book!
Page Count: 332
Goodreads & Amazon

When sixteen year old Jessica loses her leg in a bus crash, her life goals shatter right in front of her. She is meant to be a runner. She doesn't just love running, she lives for running. Her junior year and senior year was supposed to be dedicated to getting sports scholarships and beating her personal records with her teammates. It was definitely not supposed to be filled with physical therapy appointments, learning how to live a normal life again, and filled with the lingering dread that she will never be able to run again. But with the help of her best friends, family, teammates, and a classmate with Cerebral Palsy named Rosa, Jessica wonders if the loss of her leg is really the loss of her life, and suddenly the impossible seems possible.

My life is over. Behind the morphine dreams is the nightmare of reality. A reality I can't face. I cry myself back to sleep, wishing, pleading, praying that I'll wake up from this, but the same nightmare always awaits me. "Shhh," my mother whispers, "it'll be okay." But her eyes are swollen and red, and I know she doesn't believe what she's saying. My father--now that's a different story. He doesn't even try to lie to me. What's the use? He knows what this means. My hopes, my dreams, my's over.

I have been seeing this book floating around the internet for a while now and when I went to my neighborhood library and saw it on display brand new, I had to grab it and see what all of the hype was about. The first thing that I loved about this book was how Van Draanen handled Jessica's amputation in a way that forced empathy. I really related to Jessica in that I've had a life-altering, slightly body changing thing happen to me that completely changed a lot of my relationships with people and the way they looked at me. She perfectly captures the awkward stares of Jessica's classmates that are fixated on her stump, and the way Jessica notices that some people pretend to not notice her at all and she becomes invisible. There was even the tense family dynamic of her sister who doesn't quite understand the emotions Jessica is going through, and her parents constant worry and stress over their daughter's well-being, but also how they are going to pay for her medical bills and a shiny, new leg. 

After school I see the track teams loading onto a bus. I stand in the distance and watch, feeling cold and shaky. How can they even get on a bus? I remind myself that it's not their first away meet since the wreck. There have been two of them...For them the memory must be fading. For me it feels like yesterday. And every tomorrow, for as far as I can see.

That being said, I had a hard time figuring out the audience that this book was intended for. Jessica and her classmates are in high school, which is the loose guideline for a book being in the YA genre. I wouldn't be able to lump this novel in with other books in the contemporary YA genre, though. The Running Dream read like it was for a younger audience, with simple language, frequent chapter breaks, and the glossy, best-case-scenario outplay of Jessica's life as a new amputee. The dialogue between Jessica and her super-wonderful best friend Fiona (like really, Fiona is the best friend I wish I had in high school) did not seem true to how teenagers speak to one another. Even though what happens to Jessica is heart wrenching, and we want to believe that everything is butterflies and rainbows after the crash, I found myself not believing that her progress was as easy as it was portrayed to be and didn't seem very realistic. 

...I've never spoken to a grave before. I don't know what to say. I don't know how. "I'm so sorry," I choke out, but that's as far as I get before I start crying. I feel bad that she's gone. I feel overwhelmed. And I feel guilt...Guilt that I'm happy. Guilt that I ever thought she was the lucky one. I can't get the words out, so I just cry. 

Even though the butterflies-and-rainbows nature of this novel did not fully appeal to me, I think there were some strong and beautiful messages within it. I enjoyed the friendship that was formed between Jessica and her classmate Rosa. Rosa blossoms into Jessica's biggest fan and motivator, and it was the scenes between Rosa and Jessica that touched me the most. I also, as corny as it sounds, found myself inspired after reading about Jessica's pure determination to get back into running again, no matter which obstacles were forced her way. And of course, I loved seeing how Jessica started working to eliminate the stigma that surrounded people with disabilities, and forced the public to see her, and Rosa, and other's like them for who they were, not just their disability. 

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Have you read this one? What did you think? 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Get To Know the Reader.

As a book blogger, my readers tend to only know one thing about me: which books I love, and maybe which city I live in. Of course, books aren't my only interest, though sometimes even I forget that there are other parts to my life besides New Releases, TBR piles, and book reviews. Here's a fun meme I found on Kaelah's blog that I thought would be fun to give a whirl! 

1. What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
Depends on the day! If I'm working, I wake up at the obscenely early hour of 4:30am. In which case the first thing I do is groan and turn off my alarm. I usually take a quick minute to check my e-mails and the weather for the day before hitting the shower! If it's one of my days off, I lay in bed for a long while, and then make myself look presentableish before walking to the coffee shop near me for a coffee, and a bagel with cream cheese, cucumbers, and tomato! 

2. What is the 3rd picture on your phone? Share it! 
This is from so long ago! I used to work at a really neat, kitschy little event venue that hosted corporate brainstorming meetings during the week, and special parties and events on the weekends. I guess one night I thought it looked particularly cool, hence the photo!
3. What TV show are you most excited about returning this Fall?
It's already started, but I was so excited about the return of Parenthood. I am also looking forward to Top Chef coming back on tonight, and my skin is already tingling with anxiety for American Horror Story next week!

4. What is something really popular that you secretly (or not so secretly) loathe?
I'm having a surprisingly hard time coming up with something...Fifty Shades of Grey? The cronut? (I actually don't hate the cronut, I just hate hearing about them all the time and don't think they are worth hours of waiting!) Dubstep? 

5. Do you have any pets? Tell us about them! Bonus points for pictures.
I have one cat! She is a little furball weirdo named Nico. She has great moments where she can't get enough cuddles, but she gets frightened really easily which means we get lots of cat scratches :( She is cute though so we let her stay, and we do everything we can to keep her relaxed! Here's a picture from our most recent cuddle session:
6. If you could put together one outfit that represents you perfectly, what would it be?
Something really simple. One of my main gripes with myself is that I have little to no sense of 'style.' A perfect outfit for me would be slim fitting dark jeans, ballet flats, a simple t-shirt, and my beloved coral color cardigan with white polka dots! 

7. What is your favorite adult beverage?
This also depends! If I'm just chilling out, I drink like an old man. I love Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, Whiskey Sours, and extra-dirty martinis with extra olives. If I'm wanting to 'party,' I embarrassingly love cosmopolitans. 

8. What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
90's music, reality TV (i love the Kardashians), and reading books that I know are terrible just for the laughs, ie: Fifty Shades of Grey. 

9. What are 3 positive words to describe you?
Creative, understanding, sassy. 

10. What is your favorite Friday afternoon/evening activity?
Sometimes, if I'm living it up, my guy and I will go to a bar in our neighborhood for a small dinner and drinks. But technically, my 'Friday' is Monday! In which case I love to take a nap, and then stay up late reading, watching TV, and getting amped for 48 hours off!

11. A day in the life: What does you typical day look like?
Typical day, I am WORKING! So, I wake up at 4:30am and do the whole phone checking and showering thing. I ride my bike to the bus stop, take that to work, and set up the store! I work in a gourmet doughnut shop as an assistant manager which is super fun. I spend the next eight hours doing doughnut saleslady things: count the drawer, drink an obscene amount of coffee, assist my manager, and have fun with the customers. At the end of the day, I skip the bus and bike five miles home. When I come home, I crash for a 2-3 hour nap and wake up when my boyfriend gets home from work. We then trot to the grocery store and debate for 3 hours on what we want for dinner. Then we make dinner, watch whatever show is on that night. I then tap out around 10 o'clock for a couple of minutes of reading before bed!

12. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
I like the idea of Paris, though I've never been there. I also like the idea of San Francisco, though I've never been there either. 

13. You've got a whole day to yourself...what will you do?
I typically spend Tuesdays by myself! It's my day off, and Chris has a full 8 hours of work and then class. So I usually don't do much. My 48 hours off are full of laziness. I sleep in a little bit (7:30am), check my social media platforms, and watch any shows that I have on DVR that the boy doesn't like. Then I walk to the coffee shop, get my provisions, and then walk back to eat and drink. Then I read. Then I go to the library, which weirdly doesn't open until noon, and I return books I'm finished with and check out a whole new stack. Then I go home for more reading, make a lunch, look for 'big girl jobs' and keep doing things. I then pick something that I want for dinner, and then I go to get things for that and have dinner made by 9 o'clock, when the boy gets home!

14. Dream job?
Full-time novelist! That takes awhile though, so for now I would love to work in advertising as a copywriter. 

15. Least favorite chore?
I hate washing dishes and sweeping. Basically almost all chores.

16. When do you most feel like a rock star?
When I get a really great compliment on my work, whether it be writing or at my job. Also, I've had two bylines in a local paper lately so seeing those is FABULOUS. Even though they're really tiny reviews, I always want to walk up to someone, grab them, and scream, "THIS IS ME!"

17. What is something you are currently trying to improve within yourself?
MOTIVATION!!! I struggle a lot with keeping myself motivated, whether it be looking for my post-college job, actually working out and eating healthier, and writing. I am dying to write a novel, and I have an idea, but I'm just not motivated enough. I am also working on getting to meditate more and be more present. In my job, it's really easy for me now to switch on the autopilot since I've been there for so long, and my days turn into a blur. I'd like for that to not happen anymore. 

Phew, do you feel like you know me any better, now? :) Tell me some things about yourself!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Review: Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Happy October, everyone!

Like a lot of you out there, October is my FAVORITE month of the whole year. Sweater weather is finally slowly creeping in, everything is pumpkin spice and joy, I'm starting to ride my bike home through crisp, dead leaves, and it's just FALL. Plus, I'm obsessed with Halloween, so that's a major bonus, too. This month, I'm making it a goal to read some spooky fiction. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is FINALLY on hold for me at my library, which means that once that's done, I'm dedicating myself to horror, or other Fall-related books. Any suggestions?

Before we get into Halloween, though, let's get into Christmas!

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 1, 2010
Source / Format: Library Book!
Page Count: 260.
Goodreads & Amazon

Christmas is Lily's favorite holiday of the year. It's full of family tradition, baking, snow, and festive cheer. But when her parents go to Fiji for their wedding anniversary, and her grandfather takes a trip to Florida to see his long-distance lover, she is left with her sick brother, his boyfriend, and no Christmas cheer whatsoever. Thus, the Book of Dares is born: a little red Moleskine that Lily hides in the stacks of the Strand bookstore in New York City for one lucky boy to find. That lucky boy is Dash, a moody, Christmas hating guy with a love for the Strand and words. Inside is a small list of dares, guiding him through the bookstore, where he is left to give a dare of his own. Dash and Lily send each other on a handmade tour of New York City, leaving clues and dropping hints, but will it actually bring them together?

Imagine this: You're in your favorite bookstore, scanning the shelves. You get to the section where a favorite author's books reside, and there, nestled in comfortably between the incredibly familiar spines, sits a red notebook. What do you do? The choice, I think, is obvious: You take down the red notebook and open it. And then you do whatever it tells you to do. 

You may remember that while I loved Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan as a movie, but not so much as a book. From what I remember of it, there wasn't a huge sense of adventure and I didn't love the characters as much. But! I've seen Dash & Lily's Book of Dares splashed all around the internet for a hundred years now, so I decided to take the plunge and actually enjoyed it much more than Nick & Norah. I've never been to New York City, but this book brings it alive on the page and I loved following the hesitant Dash and overly-eager Lily through the Christmas infused city. A lot of the places that are visited in the novel are places I've heard of: Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, FAO Schwartz, Macy's and so on. It was fun reading the characters interacting within these places and bringing them alive. 

But no matter what, I love Christmas, really really really I do, don't care if I am sardined in between two million panicky Christmas shoppers, nope, don't care at all, I loved every moment of the experience once I got inside--the jingle bells playing from the speakers, the heart-racing excitement at seeing all the colorful toys and games in such a larger-than-life setting. Aisle after aisle and floor after floor of dense fun experience. I mean, Snarl must know me well already, perhaps on some psychic level, if he'd sent me to FAO Schwartz, only the mecca of everything that was Great and Beautiful about the holidays. Snarl must love Christmas as much as me, I decided. 

Though I loved getting a written tour of New York City, and loved the Christmas vibes practically radiating off of the page, I did not much enjoy the characters. Firstly was the fact that I had very little idea of what they looked like. For the first hundred or so pages, I thought that this was a brilliant maneuver on Cohn & Levithan's part. I thought they were keeping us in the dark on purpose. "Oh my God!" I thought, "Dash and Lily don't know what each other looks like through the notebook, so we don't get to know either!" But as we got further along in the story, I wish I had a few more descriptors to fully see the two of them. Dash, I loved, mostly because he is definitely the type of boy I would have loved in high school. He is bookish, a lover of words, and a little bit of a shit head. I really, really could not get into Lily's character though. She is optimistic about a lot of things, but Cohn treated her in a way that made her seem naive and childlike. Lily refers to herself a lot in the third-person, was a little too loyal to her grandfather's rules and curfew while her parents are out of town, and still calls herself 'Shrilly'--a nickname that was bestowed to her in elementary school. Oh, and for a sixteen year old girl living in New York City, I was surprised to see her cringe when she hears curse words. Dash and Lily do get themselves into some hilarious situations, though, that made me laugh out loud. 

The Strand proudly proclaims itself as home to eighteen miles of books. I have no idea how this is calculated. Does one stack all the books on top of each other to get the eighteen miles? Or do you put them end to end, to create a bridge between Manhattan and, say, Short Hills, New Jersey, eighteen miles away? Were there eighteen miles of shelves? No one knew. We all just took the bookstore at its word, because if you couldn't trust a bookstore, what could you trust? 

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan really takes the reader on a ride through New York to some of the most famous tourist destinations and each one is brought to life in a way that makes the reader feel like they are right alongside of them. I was anxiously awaiting the next pass off of the notebook, because that meant a new adventure with Dash and Lily. The characters left much to be desired, and I had hoped to see them more clearly. Lily left much to be desired, and I wanted to take her under my wing just to teach her a thing or two about the ways of the world. 

Rating: 3 / 5 

Have you read this book? What did you think? Even though it wasn't my favorite, it still has me very excited for Christmas! Looking forward to getting some fall-worthy reading suggestions!