Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Review: The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: May 12, 2009
Page Count: 213.
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Goodreads & Amazon

Kyra is a thirteen, soon to be fourteen, year old girl living in a gated, secluded, polygamist community ruled by the seemingly omniscient Prophet. Though she lives in a community commanded by God, Kyra has plenty of secrets. Every week she walks to the edge of the community to check out books from the Ironton County Mobile Library, and she hides and reads them in her favorite tree-an act forbidden by the Prophet. And then: there's Joshua. A cute boy she meets in private and who she wishes she could choose for herself. She dreams of someday becoming his first wife, since a man needs three to get into heaven, but her dreams are shattered when she appears in a Prophet's vision. The Prophet declares that she is to be wed in four her sixty-year old uncle who already has six wives. Kyra then has to decide if she can force herself to love her uncle in order to stay with her family, or if she would rather attempt an escape to the Satan-filled world outside of the community--a feat that is rarely successful for anyone who dare try escape.

My sins.
A plan. Books. And a boy. 
There's a boy. 
Oh, I am carrying the weight of what I have done. But no one seems to notice. 

I am fascinated by all kinds of weird things, polygamous communities included, and that was what drew me to pick up The Chosen One. Even though these secluded communities give me the creeps in general, I was not expecting this novel to frighten me the way that it did. Prophet Childs, the leader of The Chosen Ones community, was a villain unlike any I've read recently. Prophet Childs gained his title when his father died, and Kyra and her family can remember the 'before' time. They were allowed to read, and the rules were not quite so strict. Their new Prophet is notorious for doling out harsh punishments to men, women, and children alike. He also has the tendency of forcing young girls to marry the old men in the community. Prophet Child's also lives in the most lavish house while the rest of his disciples live in trailers. He also claims to see everything through the eyes of God, given his Prophet status and all, which gave a Big Brother feel to Kyra's narrative as she visits the bookmobile (which sounds awesome, by the way), and meets up with Joshua--a boy her age and who loves her. 

For a minute, I think I might scream every bit of life out of me. But I bite my tongue. 
"The ceremony will still be," Prophet Childs says. 
"I won't do it," I say.
The Prophet looks back out his big window. I wonder how the God Squad will get Joshua out of this building without being seen. Or maybe they don't care who sees what they've done. Of course they don't. Standing here, I remember more than one person paraded down the street for others to see. To teach us all a lesson. Sometimes those people showed up in church meetings. Sometimes we never saw them again. Not a lot of people. Mostly The Chosen Ones do what they are told. But I'm not so sure I can. 

Williams also showed a lot of interesting forms in The Chosen One. In times of high stress for Kyra, the traditional paragraphs melt away and what happens is free form poetry. Fragments of sentences take up whole lines and beautifully show the tense, quick bursts of thought that cross Kyra's mind. In these tense moments, though, Kyra tends to repeat the same thing to herself, along the lines of "I will be a seventh wife. My husband will be fifty years older than me. My husband will be my father's brother." At first, it was a heartbreaking reminder of what her life is threatened to be. After a couple more times though, the repetition lost it's intensity for me and the force behind it fell a little short. 

There's part of me that wants to run out to Dragon Girl. Grab her by her black hair. Throw her on the ground and punch her face in. But what about everyone else? Would I have to smack the cashier who shakes her head after looking at us? Or pinch the woman with her three small children after she hurries them all past? And what about the woman cutting large swaths of material, the way she keeps staring, not even bothering to look away when I meet her eyes. I'd have to beat up this whole town for hurtin Laura, embarrassing my mothers. 

I felt claustrophobic in The Chosen Ones community. There is a fence around the perimeter that keeps everyone out, including reporters who occasionally hound the children for an interview about the polygamous lifestyle within. Prophet Childs has the 'God Squad' on his side, the internal police force that administer punishment to those who don't obey the Prophet and track down those who attempt to escape. Kyra's mother is also having a horrible pregnancy, one that she knows can be eased from the books she has read. However, Prophet Childs is strongly against outside help. Hence the God Squad. As for women who are having awful pregnancies like Kyra's mother? They have sinned and deserve the fate of their babies or themselves. SO SCARY. I felt trapped reading this with Kyra, and feared for Kyra as she worked through her decision of possible escape. 

The Chosen Ones is a suspenseful read full of tension, thanks in part to an evil villain who made me glad that I would never have to be a member of this community. The stakes in Kyra's family are high, and we root for her the whole way to carve out a life that's better for her and her siblings. 

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Review: Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman & Kim Barnouin

Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman & Kim Barnouin
Publisher: Running Press
Publication Date: December 6, 2005
Page Count: 224
Genre: Non-fiction, health & dieting
Goodreads & Amazon

It is rare that I pick up a book related to health or dieting and actually read the whole thing. 2014 is just within spitting distance, though, and to say I have let myself go health and body-wise is an understatement. Of course everyone plans on a transformation to go with the start of a new year, and I'm not unlike everyone else. To start research and journey into healthier eating and a better body, I decided to start with Skinny Bitch. A friend of mine in high school read it and decided to go from vegetarian to vegan. It didn't work out--she liked the occasional ice cream bar too much. However, a friend of a friend said that after reading this book, she went from vegetarian to vegan in a snap and has stuck with it ever since. Granted, the book doesn't indicate on the jacket or description that this is a roadmap to becoming a vegan, but that is essentially what it is.

"Don't talk to me until I've had my morning coffee." Uhm...pathetic! Coffee is for pussies. Think about how widely accepted it has become that people need coffee to wake up. You should not need anything to wake up. If you can't wake up without it, it's because you are either addicted to caffeine, sleep deprived, or a generally unhealthy slob. It may seem like the end of the world to give up your daily dose, especially if you rely on Starbucks as a good place to meet men. But it's not heroin, girls, and you'll learn to live without it. 

To describe this book, I would tell people: this book shits on everything I love. Like, actually everything. Coffee? Check. Sugar? Check. CHEESE?! Check. That's not to say though, that their information was invalid. In fact, quite the opposite. It made me second guess my love for everything mentioned above with the scary facts about some of my favorites. Caffeine? Creates an acidic environment in your body that cancer cells are known to love and gives you a slew of stress, digestion problems, and ulcers. Suddenly, the weirdos I encounter who don't drink coffee seem so smart. A lot of the stuff I like to feed myself, I know is not that healthy for me, and Skinny Bitch told me exactly why that is. It was scary and now every time I drink coffee, I say a silent, "I'm sorry" to my organs. 

Now would be a good time to reflect on the old adage, "You are what you eat." This statement in all its simplicity, is brilliant. You are what you eat. You are a human body comprised of organs, blood and guts, and other shit. The food you put into your body works its way through your organs and bloodstream and is actually part of who you are. So every time you put crap in your body, you are crap. 

A major issue that I took with Skinny Bitch was not the way that it took everything I adore in the realm of food and made me scared of it, but it was the tone with which it delivered these facts. "So your junk food has a shelf life of twenty-two years and will probably outlive your fat, sorry ass." "So you do the math: sugar = fat. If you'd drag your cankles to a health food store, you'd find aisle after aisle of "acceptable junk food." Those two quotes were found in just the first chapter and were almost enough to make me put down the book. If it wasn't for the crash-course schooling I was getting on caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and dairy I would've stopped reading. Chances are, especially since the book is not advertised as being a vegan handbook, the person picking up this book, like me, is overweight, looking for a change, and probably calls themselves a whole slew of personal insults. We don't need to be constantly reminded of our fat asses/lumpy thighs/stomach rolls/cankles. The two authors also placed so much emphasis on, "think of how much better you'll feel when you're SKINNY!" "Get some new clothes so you look GREAT when you're SKINNY!" "You will radiate with infectious energy when you're SKINNY." The emphasis on these statements were so strong, that when they threw in the occasional, "but remember, looks aren't everything!" it doesn't sound genuine. They also state how fasting is a great way to lose weight and detoxify your body--which it is if you know how to properly do so. They give vague discussion, and also don't discourage women with a history of disordered eating from fasting, which could be a trigger for those with an ED.

All dairy products contain casein, but cheese has the highest concentration. In fact, cheese contains far more casein than is naturally found in cows' milk. It also has phenylethylamine (PEA), an amphetamine-like chemical. So when we kid around and say, "I am addicted to cheese," it's not a joke--it's true. We are chemically addicted to cheese.

When the author's aren't using insults to address their readers, their conversational tone actually made it very easy to process the information they were handing us and made it fun to read. On top of the in depth analysis of foods that non-vegans commonly eat, there is also a lot of other really helpful things in the book. Near the back, there is a four-week menu plan for those dipping their toes into the waters of veganism. Each meal is listed out with the Skinny Bitch stamp of approval. There is also a section dedicated to things we should avoid if we see them on food labels, and the most helpful thing to me was a list of essential vitamins and the foods we can find them in. Part of the Skinny Bitch 'method' is eliminating toxins from your body, one of those being medication and supplements, so I thought it was important that they told us how to get those nutrients otherwise. 

Skinny Bitch was a great crash course into adopting a vegan lifestyle, and how to eat more consciously.  It has a lot of essential information on vitamins, nutrients, and the eating habits of non-vegans. However, the insulting tone of the book really turned me off to wanting to read anything else by these two authors. I would also be hesitant to recommend this book to everyone based on the potentially triggering segment on fasting and the obsessive focus on being skinny. 

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts? Do you have any other health or diet related books that you would recommend? 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Review: Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
Publisher: Little Brown & Co
Publication Date: December 28, 1998
Page Count: 166.
Genre: Adult, Short Story, Memoir, Humor
Goodreads & Amazon

Last week, the snowy season officially fell upon Chicago and suddenly I felt guilty for still having my Halloween decorations up. My Halloween decorations are still up, but the light snow fall put me in the holiday spirit. I don't believe in putting up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving, so I resorted to the next best thing which was finding a Christmasy book to read. Fate should have it that as chunky snowflakes fell outside of my library, I stumbled across Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris in the stacks. I'm a long-time lover of David Sedaris. I've read a majority of his essay collections and can always count on him to make me laugh-out-loud. This story collection was no exception. In fact, I was crying within the first three pages over a joke about Sallie Mae--not even Christmas related at all! For this review, I've decided to share my Top 5 stories out of the twelve that are featured in this little collection. Here they are in the order in which they appear in the book:

SantaLand Diaries
This was the first story in the book, and introduced us to the spirit of the rest of the collection: witty, sarcastic, dry, slightly twisted, and hilarious. In this essay, formatted like--you guessed it--diary entries, a thirty-something year old David is forced to apply for a job as an elf at a Macy's SantaLand when his dreams of becoming New York's finest writer just isn't turning out. Sedaris shares the dirty ins-and-outs of a green-tighted, yellow-turtlenecked, velvet-vested Elf in SantaLand. From too-true to character Santa's, and predatory elves who pray on single moms, he shares it all.

Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!
In this twisted, cautionary tale, Jocelyn Dunbar is asking for something a little out of the ordinary in her family's annual Christmas greeting card. When her American husband's twenty-two year old Vietnamese daughter, a product of an affair during the war, turns up on the Dunbar's doorstep, the ever-optimistic Jocelyn learns that life can get much worse than she thought. She's already dealt with her daughter marrying a despicable boy and giving birth to a drug-addicted baby. But Khe-Sahn, who typically wears only bikinis, is more than Jocelyn can stand. This story was outrageous and funny in a way that shouldn't have been funny at all. Jocelyn's use of multiple exclamation points and poor-little-me narrative gave me just the idea of what kind of woman she was and it was fabulous.

Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol
A scathing review written by Thaddeus Bristol of local, elementary school holiday plays. I died over this one, and he perhaps says everything and more about what parents are perhaps thinking during a child's dull Christmas play. Thaddeus Bristol hilariously takes things way too seriously, and puts things a little too bluntly, stating that a one-footed student only got the role of Tiny Tim out of sympathy.

Based Upon a True Story
A television executive, known for his brilliance at creating TV dramas and sit-coms, visits a small town church and addresses it's attendees on Christmas Eve, offering all of them rewards that would make their lives incredibly easier. However, in order to receive the reward, they must convince one of their own to sell her story to the television executive so he can make a mini-series of it. Her story is quite unbelievable, and up until now, she has remained silent about her incredible story. It is now up to the locals to get her talking, to the exec only, and for a price.

Christmas Means Giving
This was maybe my favorite story in the whole book because of its outrageousness alone. A family is the richest, most well-to-do family with the most meaningful Christmas greeting card in their community until the Cottinghams move in next door. The Cottinghams start small, renovating their house to be bigger and better than our narrator's family. Our narrator matches each move of his neighbor's, adding extensions to his house, sports fields, display rooms, and theaters. But the Cottinghams cross the line when they steal the annual theme of our narrator's family's Christmas card. Then it is war, with each family one-upping each other in the most over the top ways to prove that their family fully embodies the motto: Christmas Means Giving.

A couple of the stories included in Holidays on Ice weren't as gripping as these first five, but they were entertaining in their own way. Next to the pure craziness within Christmas Means Giving and Season's Greetings, some of the stories simply paled in comparison.

Have you read this collection? What did you think? Do you have any other favorite Christmas reads?

Library Book Haul!

Well, everyone, I did it! I took the plunge and made a YouTube video. I'm still not sure how frequently I will make videos, but despite my awkwardness I would love to do it again! It is something I've been thinking about doing for a little while now, and after a hearty trip to the library the other day, I wanted to do a haul. I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to make my first video! So, here it is! Any pointers for a better video in the future?
Have you read any of these books? Should I get started on any of them right away? What would you like to see in future videos? New review coming soon!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books
Publication Date: September 2, 2008
Page Count: 289.
Genre: Contemporary Adult
Goodreads & Amazon

Pat People's has just gotten out of the bad place. He swears he was only there for a few months, but his family and friends say things that make it seem like he's been there for years, and he knows that can't be possible. The start of his time in the bad place was also the start of apart time from his wife, Nikki. During his time in the bad place, he started seeing the beauty of silver linings, and worked hard on his fitness to be more physically fit in attempt to get Nikki back. Now that he's out of the bad place, he is still working out for hours a day to remain physically fit, reading classic literature that his mother checks out for him from the library, and is working on being a better Eagles fan so his father will start talking to him again. Then Tiffany, a family friend's young, widowed sister starts following him on his morning runs, and suddenly he is faced with a beautiful woman who understands his mental issues, and has many of them of her own. He is too focused on being reunited with his wife, though, to realize that his silver lining could be right in front of him.

It hurts to look at the clouds, but it also helps, like most things that cause pain. So I need to run, and as my lungs burn and my back rebels with that stabbing knife feeling and my leg muscles harden and the half inch of loose skin around my waist jiggles, I feel as though my penance for the day is being done and that maybe God will be pleased enough to lend me some help, which I think is why He has been showing me interesting clouds for the past week. 

Do any of you ever feel a little twinge of weird guilt whenever you see a movie based on a book before you read the book? That's how it went down with this book, and that's a little bit of how I feel. Luckily, for the sake of this book review, I rarely remember films unless I've seen them twice, and I've only seen this one once. This review will only be about Silver Linings Playbook the book, not the movie. Though I can tell you that I did really enjoy the movie (I am in love with Jennifer Lawrence), and it made me really excited to read the book. It has just taken me a while to get my hands on it at the library because of the huge film-induced popularity surrounding it.

I think it's strange to live in a house with someone you cannot talk to--especially when that someone is your father--and the thought makes me a little sad.

Pat Peoples is such an interesting character and I loved being in his head as I read this novel. He is a former history teacher at the high school where is estranged wife taught english literature. We pick up the story with him finally getting to leave the bad place (a mental institution) with his weepy mother. He is incredibly perceptive, though a lot of people don't expect him to be, which I think could open up quite the dialogue about how people treat those with mental illnesses. He always notices the way people guard their words around him, and the knowing glances that they give each other when he talks about Nikki and his desire to get back together with her. Or the quick hush-hush that fell around his group of family and/or friends when something Not-Pat-Friendly was mentioned. I also enjoyed the fact that he wasn't a reliable narrator at all. He uses heavy exaggeration, and believes truths that we as readers know to be untrue because of the things his family says or doesn't say around him. Even though we don't believe everything he says or believes, we still trust him enough to keep reading his story and wait for him to discover the real truth. The only thing that got me a little bit about Pat was that for a thirty-four year old man, he sounded a little infantile over some things, such as calling the institution "the bad place" and his separation from Nikki "apart time." Intrigued by this, I talked to one of my co-workers who is also a psych major and she says this kind of thing is completely normal. Especially because of how long he was institutionalized, and because of the harmful things he is protecting himself against. So yeah...

I nod and I promise I will report any hallucinations to my mother, but I do not really believe I will hallucinate no matter what type of drugs he gives me, especially since I know he will not be giving me LSD or anything like that. I figure weaker people probably complain about their drugs, but I am not weak and I can control my mind pretty well.

Some parts of the book I did skim over, though, especially a lot of the scenes involving football. This isn't because they were awfully written, just mostly because I dislike football. Before going to the mental hospital, Pat bonded with his younger brother and his father over Philadelphia Eagles football, and now that he is out, he's trying to catch up with season's worth of football. I didn't fully enjoy reading the scenes where they were actually at the games, but I did appreciate the way football was used outside of the stadium. Pat's father is a man who doesn't wear his emotions very well, and now that his son is out of the hospital, he isn't sure how to relate to him, and this just means ignoring Pat. The only time they are able to grow closer is through watching the games together. He is also able to bond with his little brother again, and some of the scenes at the games force Pat to interact with other people who also don't know how to navigate conversation with him now that he has been stamped with a crime and time done in a mental hospital. 

So I'm thinking this is the part of my movie where things appear as if nothing is going to work out. I have to remind myself that all movie characters go through this sort of dark period before they find their happy ending. 

Then of course, there is the semi-love connection between Pat and Tiffany. Tiffany is another great character. She is young and beautiful, and her husband passed away in a tragic accident, leaving her just as damaged as Pat. Pat and Tiffany are introduced at a dinner party hosted by Tiffany's sister, Veronica, who is the wife of Pat's best friend Ronnie. At first, Pat is annoyed by Tiffany, especially when she starts following him wordlessly on his runs every morning, and he can't wait for her to go away. Then, he is coerced to be her partner in a dance contest. He starts spending more and more time with her, and realizes she's not as annoying as he thought. But she's not Nikki, and he has a hard time working his way around apart time with his wife, and the new feelings he has blossoming for Tiffany. 

Silver Linings Playbook was a great read, narrated by one of the most interesting and complex characters I have read in a while. Though I did feel a little left out on the scenes involving Pat attending football games, I liked seeing how it impacted his relationship with those around him, and I really rooted for him to find his silver lining in his life's movie ending.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Review: Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt

Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: March 26, 2013
Page Count: 310.
Genre: Contemporary young adult.
Goodreads & Amazon

When Mallory is cleaning out her grandmother's attic in the process of helping her move, she comes across a treasure trove of all things vintage. Cute sundresses, old yearbooks, and notebooks and notebooks full of lists. One list in particular jumps out at Mallory, "Junior Year: Back-to-School Resolutions." The list stands as proof that 1962 was a much simpler year to be a junior in high school. It includes five things:
1. Run for pep squad secretary.
2. Host a fancy dinner party/soiree.
3. Sew a dress for homecoming.
4. Find a steady.
5. Do something dangerous.
The List also could not come at a better time. Mallory is also at the start of her junior year, and she just found out that the boy she thought was her steady was cheating on her with an internet wife named BubbleYum in an alternate-life game and she has decided to give up technology. With the help of The List, she hopes to capture the essence of a simpler time where boyfriends didn't cheat on their girlfriends with online wives named after gum. But Mallory's quest for all things vintage unearths some family secrets, and brings a cute boy (who is also her ex-boyfriend's cousin) out of the woodwork to be pep squad president, she begins to wonder if going vintage is enough to ease complications of the modern world.

"Adolescence is the same tragedy being performed again and again. The only things that change are the stage props."

As a lover of all things vintage, I was really excited to read Going Vintage. I often wish that things were simpler like they appeared to be in the 50's and 60's, and it would be awesome if people were a little less plugged into their electronics and a little more plugged into each other (that sounds more saucy than I wanted it to, but I'm going to roll with it anyway). That being said, Going Vintage was a little disappointing for me, but that's not to say I didn't like it! The List is Mallory's leaping point into singledom and grabbing her junior year by the horns. She gets rid of some seriously modern day essentials: phone, laptop, and even some of her baseball bobble-head collection. I was excited to see how Mallory would approach the list decades after it was written, but beyond the banning of modern technology and embracing vintage clothing, Mallory didn't jump head first into the list and practically pawned the list items off on other people and relied heavily on her sister and grandmother despite her attempts to find herself and be independent of her ex-boyfriend. After such a fixation on The List, it didn't get completed in a way that I had hoped and expected of someone who was attempting to try something new and different.

But I can't settle on a clear Rumination today. I have to comb through all the doubt and whining, the Why would Jeremy do that? and Will I ever find love again? to The List and what it means. I'm two beignets in when I finally settle my mind on what I really want from The List: understanding. I don't know if I'll figure out what happened with Jeremy, or who I really am, or who my grandma was. But if only one of these questions is answered, it will be a win. 

Even though Mallory's attempt at fully submerging herself in The List and her 1960's obsession, I was in love with her voice and the humor she brought to the book. I found myself laughing out loud at several points throughout the story with her sarcastic quips. Her timing was also great. The sarcasm wasn't laid on too thickly, and she was funny in a way that didn't make me not take her seriously when she was actually feeling emotional and not-so-quippy. 

It was easy for Grandma to live like this because the technology wasn't there to miss. But there's all this networking and connecting floating around me, and I'm not a part of it. No one but Ginnie knows Jeremy sent those flowers or Oliver called my house. Normally I would spend hours dissecting those advancements with my friends. Maybe the communication isn't all real, maybe those online personas are facades, but even if it's 30 percent truth, that's still more than the big fat Zero I was getting now. What was I supposed to do, bike over to my friend's house? Paige lives two miles away. No wonder all those small-town teens used to spend the weekends driving up and down Main Street--it was the only way they could find their friends. 

The characters that Mallory surrounds herself with--some by choice, others by nature--were also very rich and I so enjoyed reading them. Am I allowed to say that I had a total dad-crush on her dad? Greying hair? Glasses? Half-sleeve of tattoos? Antiques for a living? Count me in! Even though her dad sounded crush worthy, he didn't make half as much of an impact as Mallory's mother. I loved her mom. She was that mom. The hot mom who dresses like she knows she's hot but doesn't acknowledge it. She's also the mom that totally gets in everyone's business. It was hilarious for Mallory to notice every time that her mother looked at her with anticipating doe-eyes, waiting to feast on the gossip in her daughters lives. Her mom also harbors a secret that had a hilarious reveal. Then of course, there is the sassy grandmother who was so fabulous I couldn't stand it. She was just as quippy and sassy as Mallory, so it was obviously easy to see where she got it from. I also appreciated Oliver Kimball and his effortless cool and amazing phone etiquette, and Ginnie, Mallory's sister, for her dedication to The List in solidarity with her sister. 

Mallory did not dedicate herself as much to The List as much as I had hoped she would, but her strong voice and eccentric family made Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt a light and enjoyable read. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Review: Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown

Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 21, 2013
Page Count: 272.
Genre: Contemporary young adult
Goodreads & Amazon

Ashleigh's boyfriend Kaleb is getting ready to leave for college, leaving her to suffer alone for two more years of high school. All she wants to do is hang out with him and soak up their last few weeks together, but he keeps shrugging her off to hang out with the guys on his baseball team. When Ashleigh confesses to her friends that she's worried he will forget her when he leaves for college, they give her a drunken solution: send him a naked photo that he will never forget. Filled with liquid confidence, it doesn't take much persuading to get Ashleigh naked, in front of a mirror in her friend's bathroom, and snapping a picture. It takes even less thought to hit 'send.' When Kaleb finally leaves for college, Ashleigh can't handle the lack of calls and visits, or the female 'study partners' who sometimes answer his cell when she calls. When their relationship ends in a nasty breakup, all it takes are three evil words to spark the flame that torches Ashleigh's reputation: PYBKS R HELL. Now Ashleigh, her family, and Kaleb must suffer the consequences of her drunken photo, and try to seek a sense of normalcy and a new start. 

But for a moment during Vonnie's end-of-summer party, the volleyball game over and Rachel's nail tragedy a thing of the past, Vonnie drunkenly giggling on her chaise lounge again and a naked photo of me winging its way through cyberspace toward my least for that moment...I knew I had his full attention. I knew that I had something that his boys would never have. It felt powerful. And when my phone vibrated in my pocket minutes after I'd sent the photo, a jolt of excitement surged through me. He'd received it. His text simply said: OMG.

This was my first Jennifer Brown reading experience, and I'd been looking forward to reading one of her books. I saw this one on a couple of other blogs, and I've had Hate List by her on my TBR list for a while. I thought the plot of teenage sexting was extremely relevant to this day and age, where it seems like this kind of thing is unfortunately happening all the time. Realistic fiction like this treads a fine line of being preachy, though, which made me a little hesitant, but I'm happy to report that Thousand Words was void preachiness, even in Ashleigh's community service group, where she is assigned to create a pamphlet about teen sexting. There are facts about sexting that leak into the story as she does her research, and Ashleigh regrets the drunken evening she hit "send" but I didn't feel like I was being talked down to as a reader, and I didn't feel like girls who did send text were made to sound like evil sluts, even though that's what everyone called Ashleigh anyway. 

Back when I was born, my parents didn't own a computer yet. They didn't send emails or surf the Internet, and they certainly didn't send texts, much less picture texts. How much had changed in that short period of time. This would change, too, and soon nobody would care about the dumb photo I'd sent to my boyfriend back when people were doing something so outdated as texting. The thought gave me hope. If someone didn't mind tossing out a photo of their children having fun, surely eventually my photo would end up in recycle bins, too. 

The stakes of this novel were what kept me engaged in this story. I thought the tense that Thousand Words is told in gave it too much distance and even though the emotions were raw, I didn't feel like I was standing right there with Ashleigh as the events were unfolding. I felt sorry for her, but in a way that didn't seem immediate. I was also at times confused about where I was at in the story, as it alternates chapters from her Community Service post-viral-picture, and the days following her sending the text in the first place. Each chapter that didn't involve her Community Service was started with a couple of the hate texts she received once her nude picture started getting sent around, even if the chapter took place in a time when the picture had not yet been leaked out. So there was some weirdish tense stuff. But ohhh boy the stakes! We see Ashleigh as a golden girl of sorts, full of ambition, good grades, and a place on the cross country team. Oh, and her father is super-intendent of the school district, not exactly a good career to be in when your daughter is in the midst of a sexting scandal. 

I bit my lip as I typed in the words "sexting and teens" and hit "search." Articles popped up, one after another, and I groaned inwardly. Most of them were about me.

Thousand Words was an engaging read full of high stakes and realistic character interactions. Even though the tense was a little weird for the intense emotional story being told, I still felt Ashleigh's pain and was cheering for a positive outcome for her. 

Have you read this? What did you think?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Celebration Book Haul!

I just got a pay raise at work with my new promotion, y'all, so naturally I had to buy some new books. I don't buy a lot of new books very often. Or ever, really. I live a five minute walk away from my neighborhood library branch, and Chicago is loaded with tons of awesome used book stores, so I can never fully justify buying brand spankin' new hardcover books. But in my book (haha), pay raise = CELEBRATION! What better way to celebrate AND embrace my new goal of keeping up with what's hot and new than taking that elevated paycheck to a Barnes and Noble (sorry small book stores :().

To be honest, when I hatched my plan to go to Barnes & Noble, I only had my heart set on buying one book. I promised myself I could look around, but I could only get the one book I planned on buying. Who was I kidding? The moment I walked in, I must have instantly become intoxicated by warm, coffee smells wafting out of the in-store Starbucks (seriously, could this haul be anymore corporate-ified?) and all the books looks like shining little jewels on the shelves. Their covers so soft and smooth and new looking. Spines that had never been cracked. The following text conversation between me and my boyfriend happened while I was overwhelmed in the stacks:
I'm really hyping up this book buying experience but really, this is SO rare for me to buy three brand new books at one time. So, without further ado, here are the books I acquired at Barnes & Noble AND my prize from the giveaway that Jamie hosted with Epic Reads!

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai : Excuse the 30% off sticker on it that LEAVES A RESIDUE. One of my pet peeves. Anyway, I have been following the story of Malala for a few months now, and I feel empowered by her passion for education for girls, and how she continues fighting for what she believes in even though she has already faced incredible threat and danger. She was shot in the head at point blank range and has lived to tell the tale and keep fighting. I am excited to read this one.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell : This is the one book I originally went into B&N to buy. I loved Eleanor & Park so much, and I need more Rainbow Rowell in my life. My own mother beat me to reading it, and it revolves around a girl who is epically involved in a fandom and writes fanfiction, the whole bit. I may or may not have written fanfiction in my early high school I'm way, way excited about this one. I'm sure the hype is real with this one.

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken : This is a book I have been seeing around other blogs and booktube channels for a couple of weeks now. The sequel, Never Fade just came out or is about to come out and I keep hearing awesome things about this dystopian world. Another one that I'm way excited about!

Asylum by Madeleine Roux : This is the book I won as a runner-up in the giveaway and I just intercepted it from my UPS man twenty minutes ago (no joke). I picked this one mostly because I think old psychiatric hospitals are some of the creepiest places on earth (not like I've ever been to one or anything). I'm also a huge fan of American Horror Story, and last season was called Asylum. Now that I've got it and can flip through the pages, it seems even creepier with old black and white photos of medical instruments. Halloween may be over, but my desire to be kept up late at night with nightmares is not.

So that's my small haul for now! Hopefully now that my money train is rolling a little more smoothly and I'm ready to tackle the world of best selling new releases, there will be more frequent hauls.

What books have you bought recently? Have you read any of these? Any I should start with first?

Keeping Up

'Tis the season for Goodreads to start the voting for their Choice Awards for 2013. It is fun for me to add to my TBR list and see the best books of the year duel each other, but it's also just a little bit depressing to see how much I suck at keeping up with things.

A few years back, I dedicated a large chunk of my life to music. I created a mostly music based blog, I was a talent scout for an online music magazine, and I had big dreams of writing for Alternative Press. My days were spent scouring MySpace and Purevolume for the newest bands and then making mixed CD's for me and my friends. I religiously voted for the MTV VMA's, because I figured that my small votes would make a difference for my favorite pop-punk band of the year and I could school America on how to listen to music. I would also watch the Grammy's, fingers tightly crossed in each category my faves were nominated in, and then curse when they lost to bands or artists I had never heard of. Then, when I started getting more attached to my favorite bands and MySpace fell to the wayside, music became less of a priority for me. I still watch the VMA's and Grammy's out of ritual, but now each category is filled with artists I've never even heard of...yet they're the best of the best! I don't drive here in Chicago, so I don't listen to the radio, and it's very easy for me to stay in my own little bubble.

Same applies for movies. I used to spend a lot of time watching movies. It was what my friends and I did while we were together. My family had a membership at the video rental store. I just loved watching movies and going to the movies. So when things like the Golden Globes and Academy Awards rolled around, I had my favorite picks and was able to compare one movie to another. Then I moved to Chicago, the land of $11 movie tickets, and suddenly I wasn't going to the movies anymore save for one or two a year. Video rental stores basically don't exist anymore and I always forget to return my RedBox movies so I just stopped getting them. Now, the movie awards are the same as the music awards. I watch out of ritual, and entire categories flash by that are filled with movies I've never seen or heard of.

Now with the freaking Goodreads awards! Sigh. I read a whole lot, obviously. I'm up to 56 books read this year. So when I saw that the Goodreads awards were up, I was so excited to finally vote for books, since this year especially I have dedicated a good chunk of my life to books and reading. UM, not so much! I was able to vote for only two books that I actually read and every other category I voted based on reviews and hype I've heard about them, or because it was written by an author I like.

As book bloggers, we are constantly reading, but the saying continuously stands true, "so many books, so little time." No matter how many books I read this year, there are just that many books coming out this month alone. How am I supposed to read classics and other books from decades past and still keep up with every new release and best seller? It's impossible. I've decided to start trying a little more to keep up with new releases, and my library's 'New Release' shelf has been a Godsend so far. I just need to make a little more effort in keeping up with different genres and the stars within each one. I would also like to start branching out into different genre's again. I've kind of been stuck in a contemporary YA kick, because that's what is easiest for me to read quickly and keep up with blogging and reviews. But by sticking myself in this little box, I miss out on a lot of other wonderful genres and books within them.

This has been kind of a rant, so sorry if it doesn't make much sense. Oops!

How do you keep up with reading? Do you tend to stick to the new releases section of the bookstore or go wherever your heart desires? I'd love to hear your thoughts on keeping up with the ever expanding TBR lists.

Friday, November 1, 2013

October Wrap-Up

Holy moly, guys, I cannot believe October is over. OctOVER if you will. Get it?

October is my favorite month of the whole year, and I think it could be considered my power month given the awesome luck I had in it this year. For starters, I read ten books, which is more books in one month than I can ever remember reading in recent times. I have been loving staying curled up inside with coffee/tea/hot toddy's and reading late into the night while cold wind howls outside.

In fact, October was so great that I decided to start doing monthly wrap-ups of the books I read in the past month, and other life events that I don't always get to talk about on this blog.

October Books:
1. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green - See my review HERE. Not my favorite John Green novel, but I still loved the character revelations.

2. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. See my review HERE. Sigh. I freaking loved this book and everything about it. I loved the love, I loved the pain, and I loved the realistic approach Rowell took to teen romance.

3. The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen. See my review HERE. Though I thought Jessica's amputation and healing process was a little too perfect, it was a motivating read that had a great lesson in determination!

4. Psycho Killer by Cecily von Ziegesar. See my review HERE. A fun, bloody rewrite of the first book in the Gossip Girl series. Not to be taken very seriously, and with a lot of B-list horror film qualities.

5. The Rules for Disappearing by Ashley Elston. Review coming soon, plus a surprise! Main character Meg makes a lot of risky decisions that could jeopardize her family's place in the Witness Protection Program. Enjoyed this one!

  6. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Beautiful short story collection that is rich with sensory details and raw human emotions.

7. The First Part Last by Angela Johnson. See my review HERE. I enjoyed the look into the father's side of teen pregnancy within this short novel.

8. The DUFF by Kody Keplinger. See my review HERE. Bianca became my soul sister after I read this book. Loved her voice and cynicism, even though I thought it was laid on a little too thick in some parts.

9. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. See my review HERE. Another beautiful, wonderful, and eye opening novel by Zusak. I really felt all of the characters and especially loved our perceptive narrator Ed.

10. The Exorcist by William Petter Blatty. I finished this one on the 30th, just in time for Halloween! Some scenes really dragged, but when we with Regan, aka THE POSSESSED, I was riveted and creeped out.

October Sounds:
Songs I can't get enough of this month: 
>>"Royals" by Lorde. 
>>"Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus. 
>>"Don't Worry Baby" by The Beach Boys
>>"Lloyd, I'm Ready to be Heartbroken" by Camera Obscura

Cool October Things!!
>>I was named Employee of the Month at work! 
>>I was then promoted to Store Manager!
>>I was a doughnut for Halloween! 
>>For the first time ever, an author requested me to read and review her novel!

What's Ahead: 
>>The Lit Girl's first birthday! I can't believe this blog is almost a whole year old! 
>>My boyfriend's birthday! 
>>My boyfriend and I's four year anniversary! I also cannot believe we have been dating for a whole four years! 
>>A trip to Tennessee for Thanksgiving!

October was such a fab month, and it seems like November is shaping up to be pretty awesome, too! Can't wait for it! 

How was your October? Are you looking forward to anything awesome?