P.S. I Like You

p-s-i-like-you-kasie-west-2016-ya-books-by-authors-we-love-e1448935598556First Lines: A lightning strike.  A shark attack.  Winning the lottery.  No.  I lined through all the words.  Too cliche.

When I got this in my Uppercase box last month, I’m pretty sure I squealed out loud.  Yes, how very adult of me.  (I don’t care.)  When Kasie West comes out with a new book and you get a signed copy of it, you respond appropriately, regardless of your age.

Chemistry class is the bane of Lily’s life.  So, bored, she starts doodling song lyrics on her desk.  The next day, she finds that someone has continued the lyrics on the desk and added a message for her.  Interested, Lily and this secret writer strike up a pen pal-like friendship.  They share bands, secrets, and song lyrics.  And when Lily starts to realize that she’s falling for her pen pal, she begins to ask the most important question: who is writing these notes?  As she begins to unravel the mystery while balancing family, friends, and her own dreams, she begins to see that life doesn’t always go the way you planned…

For fans of Kasie West, this is pretty much exactly what we’ve come to expect of her contemporary romances.  It’s cutesy, funny, and still quirky enough to pull at your heartstrings.  I tend to like the more caustic, sarcastic heroines (which Lily is not), but she was cool.

Lily is a social outcast.  After a horrid nickname stuck her freshman year, she’s been much more comfortable living on the outskirts of popularity with her best friend Izzy.  Oh, and it also doesn’t help that she looks like she’s having a stroke every time she tries to talk to a guy.  But at least on the outskirts she can be weird and embrace the things she enjoys, like her favorite bands and her songwriting.  I liked Lily.  I liked that she was quirky and so so awkward.  I even liked that she tends to be horribly judgmental because it gave her a believable flaw that she even acknowledged that she had.  (If they acknowledge it and are even attempting to make themselves better, I’m sold on it.  I can’t stand it if they think it’s fine.)

The plot plays out pretty well.  It moves quickly, mostly because of the letters, but the events in Lily’s life definitely help keep things moving as well.  She’s got friend issues and family issues, so that always meant there was something to read about.

Even though I thought this was cute, I didn’t think it really brought anything new to the genre.  Like how The Distance Between Us talked about socioeconomic status.  Or how On The Fence dealt with breaking stereotypes of what it means to be a “girl”.  (I feel ridiculous putting quotes on that, but I think it helps stress my point.)  And true, those things aren’t exactly new, but they are still pretty rare.  I struggle to finds clever books about money issues or books with an athletic heroine who loves playing in the dirt with the boys.  I didn’t think that Lily’s story really had anything like that.  It all felt kind of cliche.  Cute, but cliche.

Overall, I liked it.  It’s certainly not my favorite Kasie West story, but I liked it.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Fall TBR Pile

Hey guys!  Ok, this week I can totally get into.  We’re going to look at books that I totally (hopefully) plan on reading this fall.  I tried to narrow it down to ones that I actually physically have on my shelves or on my Kindle.  So let’s start looking!

toptentuesdayTop Ten Books on my Fall TBR Pile

1. All We Have Left by Wendy Mills

It’s supposed to be a really interesting look at 9/11 from the perspectives of two different girls.  And this book keeps showing up everywhere I look lately.  I have to check it out.

2. A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody

It looks like a combination of Groundhog Day and Before I Fall.  I dig it.

3. The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron

This came in my Uppercase box this month.  Never was really on my radar before, but now that I own it?  Yeah, I’m going to read it.

4. Like a River Glorious by Rae Carson

I have this as an ARC, even though I think this is supposed to come out soon.  Like I wouldn’t read this anyway.  The first book in the series was brilliant.

5. The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro

That’s right, friends.  I snagged this ARC too.  More Sherlock and Watson coming my way!

6. Rook by Sharon Cameron

It wasn’t until I typed this out that I realized this was the second Sharon Cameron book on this list.  I’ve never read anything by her!  But I guess since I’ve been interested in two of her books, she must be ok.

7. Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

I will get around to this eventually.  You know it, I know it.  Now that I’ve started reading Maas, I don’t think it’s physically possible to pass up her new books.

8. Asylum by Madeleine Roux

My students have been talking about this book for about a year now and a couple of girls are trying to get me to read it.  I’m thinking it’s the perfect creepy read right before Halloween.  (They warn me not to read it at night because it gave them nightmares.  Now I’m scared.)

9. The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

Bought this at a sale over the summer.  Sounds like an interesting premise, so I wanted to try it.  Have given up on complete sentences for this one.

10. Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Given the amount of racial tension in the news, I feel like this book is timely, even if it’s set during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.  I bought this last year and it just got mixed in with all my other impulse buys.

Don’t Look Back

dont-look-back-finalFirst Lines: I didn’t recognize the name on the street sign.  Nothing about the rural road looked familiar or friendly.

I bought this book last year from Scholastic for my classroom and it’s been sitting on my shelf since, waiting for me.  (This is a common theme in my life.)  For some reason, I thought reading this suspenseful book was a good idea while grading my students’ narratives.

Four days ago, Sam and her best friend Cassie disappeared.  Now, Sam has returned, but with no memory of her life at all before she’s found on the side of a country road.  As she begins to piece together what her life used to be, she starts to realize that maybe that life isn’t want she wants anymore.  Old Sam took “mean girl” to a new level and Cassie was her frenemy rather than confidante.  Now, Sam can use this as a fresh start, a second chance at her life.  She can be a better daughter, sister, and friend, on top of falling for the hired help, Carson Ortiz–who she treated like trash in the past.  But Cassie is still missing and Sam knows that she probably has the answers lost inside about what happened.  When threatening message begin appearing, Sam realizes that she’s not the only one with answers–someone else out there knows what happened.  She desperately wants to remember what happened, but what if not remembering is the only thing keeping her alive?

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a suspenseful mystery book.  I kind of miss them, but I didn’t know it until I read this.

I pretty quickly connected with Sam.  This girl had it all and then lost it all the moment she lost her memory.  She’s starting from scratch with her friends and family, and that made her incredibly vulnerable.  I liked that contrast of vulnerability with her Queen Bee mean girl side.  It definitely helped show how different she was.  I liked learning about her life at the same time she was.

The minor characters were also pretty great.  I adored Carson and Sam’s brother Scott.  They were sweet.  And it was really awesome to see them try to reconcile the Old Sam with the New Sam.  I think we start to truly believe that Sam is different when they do.  And I loved the protective side Sam’s amnesia and new vulnerability brought out in the guys.

As for the mystery, it was definitely a surprise at the end.  I could never narrow it down!  There are little clues dropped that make you think you know, and then a later clue makes your conclusion seem impossible.  I had it narrowed down to about 3 people the whole time–and I could never fully rule any of them out.  I did suspect the ending before it happened, but it wasn’t the ending I was banking on.  I liked that.

This book isn’t perfect, I’ll admit it.  There are some twists that seem bizarre, even now that I’ve finished the book.  And the amnesia thing is a bit cliche, even as this book tries to reinvent it.  But it was fun to read and I kept picking it up when I had the chance.  (I was grading while reading this, so I’d grade 3 essays, read a chapter, and repeat.  I even read this on the commercial breaks of the JonBenet Ramsey special CBS ran earlier this week.  It was a bit creepy how similar these two things seemed at times.)

Anyway, it’s overall a fun mystery that will keep you guessing until the end.

Top Ten Tuesday – I’m Skipping This Week!

Hey guys!  Thought I’d let you know that I’m not doing the Top Ten this week for the simply reason that I have nothing for it.  The topic this week is Top Ten Best Audio Books and I simply don’t listen to audio books.  I can’t.  If I’m listening to an audio book, I cannot be doing anything else.  Not driving, not washing dishes, not exercising.  NOTHING.  I have to sit in a quiet place and zone everything else out, which is totally ridiculous when I could otherwise just pull out a book and read anywhere.

Some of you are probably wondering why I can’t just listen to the book like a normal person.  My mind is a wanderer and I always feel like if I get interrupted or I’m not paying attention for even just a few seconds that I’m missing something crucial to the story.  It stresses me out.  Therefore, it’s simply just easier to  have the book in front of me and reading that.  I can go back and reference something if I feel like I missed it.  That’s way too much work with an audio book.

So my apologies that you’re not getting some enlightening and life-changing list from me this week, but it happens.

And it’s back to grading papers for me…180+ essays to read…

Top Ten Tuesday – ALL TIME Favorites

Hey guys!  This week’s Top Ten is All Time Favorites in a particular genre.  I have a feeling I’m going to regret this next month because this is sure to be a topic, but I want to talk about ghost stories this week.  Because truly, who doesn’t love a good ghost story?  And besides, once October starts, you really want to have these things decided.  I like to know early what creepy story looks good.

toptentuesdayTop Ten ALL TIME Favorite Ghost Stories

1. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

A return from last week!  This ghost story is creepy, unsettling, and highly entertaining as we get to see ghosts that are more than just an annoyance–they’re deadly.

2. Hereafter by Tara Hudson

This is a cute human-ghost romance.  And not the only one of those on this list.  But, as you’d come to expect from a ghost story, it also goes dark at times.  It’s not all fluff.

3. Shade by Jeri Ready-Smith

Just thinking about this series weirdly puts me in a good mood.  Set in a world where kids can see ghosts, it’s totally normal for people to get messages from beyond the grave.  But how is a girl supposed to move on from her dead boyfriend when he won’t stop haunting her?

4. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

And we’re back to the creepy.  I totally adore this book, partly because it’s one of two on this list with a male protagonist.  Also, it builds like an episode of Supernatural.  Anna, a ghost with the ability to kill, takes out everyone that enters her home.  Everyone…except for Cas.

5. Wake Unto Me by Lisa Cach

Alright, we’re back to the human-ghost romances.  This one was always super cute because it’s set in France and it has a ton of history in it.  I really liked that.

6. My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent

Ok, so this series is really about banshees (or bean sidhes, as they say in Gaelic).  But you can’t haven banshees without death, and Kaylee does see their spirits, so that counts as a ghost story, right?  Yes.

7. Project 17 by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Aaaand…creepy.  This is one of those books that is going to give you the willies.  A bunch of teenagers decide to spend the night in an abandoned asylum, videotaping the whole thing for a movie competition.  But the asylum isn’t what it seems to be…(is it ever though?)

8. Shadow Kissed by Richelle Mead

I’m going to say very little about this one, the 3rd book in the Vampire Academy series.  Suffice it to say that this book pulls at my heartstrings and makes me emotional every time I read it.  And yes, even though it’s a vampire book, there are definitely ghosts in this one.

9. Intrinsical by Lani Woodland

This is kind of like a Ghost Whisperer story, where our main character sees ghosts.  However, these ghosts are not benevolent.  There’s a curse, and they’re going to carry it out.

10. The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade

This is simply one of those stories that is just funny to read.  The stereotypes alone of a cheerleader (our ghost) and a goth getting along make it funny.  I just think it’s cute and humorous, a nice lighthearted ghost story after all these other ones filled with deadly and malevolent ghosts.

Happy 100th Birthday, Roald Dahl! A Review of The Twits

514t8fruxvl-_sx322_bo1204203200_First Lines: What a lot of hairy-faced men there are around nowadays.  When a man grows hair all over his face it is impossible to tell what he really looks like.

A few weeks back, I was asked if I’d like to participate in a blog tour for the beloved Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday occurring this week and of course I said yes.  As a kid, I fell in love with so many Dahl stories.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, and yes, The Twits.  So I reread The Twits to celebrate.

This is the story of Mr. and Mrs. Twit, the smelliest and ugliest people in the world.  They hate everything and everyone–but they love to play pranks on each other and catch birds to put in their Bird Pie.  But after years of harassing their pet monkeys, the Muggle-Wumps, the Muggle-Wumps have had enough.  And they’re out for revenge.

Is this a classy, sophisticated story?  No.  But is it still funny and charming?  Yes.  Definitely yes.  It weaves the art into the story so there’s something on every page.  You don’t just get descriptions of the ugliness of Mrs. Twit, but you get to see her transformation from somewhat-pretty to ugly.  It’s just good fun.

And truly, those pranks that they play on each other are just silly fun.  I can vaguely remember being a kid and finding them hilarious.  Perhaps that’s where my sense of humor came from…

True, this isn’t one of the best known Dahl stories.  Most people know more about Charlie Bucket and Matilda than they do about the Twits.  And that’s fine.  This may not be his best story.  But it’s so definitely Dahl’s style and I will be passing these stories on to my own kids whenever that happens.

Remembering 9/11

It’s been 15 years now since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  I know some of you reading this are too young to remember it and some of you remember it far too well.  Whether or not it’s something you remember, this moment, this day, redefined a generation.

For my grandparents’ generation, the question everyone asked was, “Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?”  For us, it’s “Where were you on 9/11?”

I was 10 years old.  A sheltered, oblivious 4th grader.  My teacher didn’t tell us anything about what was happening during school, so I didn’t find out until I got home.  But I knew something was different that day.  I remember that we walked the long way around the school from the playground to come back in from recess through a specific set of doors.  I remember there was a sign on the door telling all visitors to report to the office to sign in.  At the time, this was unusual.  Parents used to just be able to walk in and head up to a classroom.  We weren’t worried about who was in the building.  We trusted people.

When I got home, I realized that something was seriously wrong.  Both of my parents were in the family room in front of the TV.  My dad was standing close to the screen while my mom sat perched on the edge of a couch cushion, one hand almost covering her mouth.  By this point, they had been watching coverage for hours.  The Twin Towers had fallen.  The Pentagon had been hit.  A plane went down in Pennsylvania.

I walked in on chaos and speculation.  No one on the news knew exactly what would happen next.  It was clear that it wasn’t an accident by that point, but we didn’t know why it had happened.  We didn’t know who was behind it.

We didn’t know how many people had died.  But we knew it was bad.  It only took one desperate jumper to make you realize that there were a lot of people not making it home that night.

We didn’t know what to do.  To put this in context, before 9/11, the last major attack on the United States was Pearl Harbor in 1941, 60 years earlier.  Hawaii wasn’t even technically a state at that point.  By the time I learned about Pearl Harbor, it was this historic, heroic thing.  America turned that attack into a rallying point, entered the war, and turned the tide of World War II.

No one talked about how tragic it was.  No one talked about the fear, the carnage, the unknown in a time when news was much slower than ours.  It wasn’t until the Ben Affleck movie a few years later that I really understood the similarities between Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

I can’t even explain to you what this did to a 10 year old.  I didn’t understand.  At that point, I had never been to a funeral, never lost so much as a great-grandparent in my lifetime.  I didn’t understand death.  I couldn’t conceptualize 3,000 people, let alone that nearly that many people were missing or dead.  I didn’t understand hatred that ran so deep you were willing to kill innocent people to achieve your ends.  I didn’t understand the pain or fear of the unknown of all those families wondering what had happened to their loved ones.

But now I do.

I followed the news of this for months.  I still have old journals where I wrote about what the news had said that day, about cleaning up the wreckage and continuing to put out fires a month later.  (Some just smoldered under all the rubble for weeks.)  I watched our president try to rally the nation.  Truly, I don’t care what you thought of Bush as a president, but you have to admit that he did the best he could in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.  He managed to bring us all together when we needed him to.

Now, 15 years later, I’m teaching classes of students who weren’t alive during the attacks.  We read a novel in the spring that takes place 2 years after 9/11 and I actually have to walk them through what happened.  I have to show them video timelines so they understand how we all believed it was a tragic accident after the first plane hit and how terrifying it was to watch the second arrive, knowing in a split second that this was no accident.  I have to tell them about the brave men and women who brought down a plane in an empty field, hoping to save other people even if they couldn’t save themselves.

I understand how they feel.  Some of them don’t understand the gravity of it all.  I was too young to remember Columbine or the Oklahoma City Bombing.  My mom and my teachers had to explain those to me.  It doesn’t impact me as much as it did them.  But I know how big they were at the time.  They were tragic and frightening and earth-shattering.

Things changed after this date.  We don’t trust as easily anymore.  We fear Muslims because of the actions of the few, forgetting that there were Muslims killed in the attack as well.

There are times when I feel like 9/11 is one of the few days when we remember that we’re all Americans.  We all feel the same pain, whether we’re White, Black, Muslim, Latino, Asian, or anyone else.  Pain and fear translate across race, across religion, across beliefs.  And hope is not stopped by language barriers.

It may have been 15 years ago, but I hope we’ll never forget.