The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave, #1)

512and8xm0l-_sx331_bo1204203200_First Lines: Aliens are stupid.  I’m not talking about real aliens.  The Others aren’t stupid.  The Others are so far ahead of us, it’s like comparing the dumbest human to the smartest dog.  No contest.

Look at me, knocking out books left and right!  That’s because IT’S SUMMER VACATION!  So hopefully this means I’ll get back to normal with all these reviews.  I’ve got a huge backlog of ARCs and new releases that I’m working on.  So sit back and watch me read!  (Wait…that sounds kinda boring…)  Anyway, this was a book my students are always reading and I needed to see what was up with it.  Literally all I knew about it before starting it was it was a movie and there were aliens.  That’s it.

Four waves of an alien invasion have basically wiped out the human population.  If Cassie has learned anything so far, it’s to trust no one.  And with the 5th wave just beginning, she knows that only the strongest and smartest will survive…and she’s determined to be in that group.  To stay alone is to stay alive, since the Others can look just like humans.  But that all changes when she meets Evan Walker.  He is Cassie’s only hope for saving her brother.  So Cassie has to choose: stay alone and miserable with little hope of saving her brother but staying alive herself or joining up with Evan to save her brother but putting herself more at risk?

Boy, did it take a while to get into the story. I was stuck in the beginning for the longest time, even stopping to read another book in between because it just wasn’t going anywhere. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of alien stories unless there’s something else about the story to grab my interest. And at the beginning of this, I wasn’t finding that “something else”. It wasn’t until the end of Part II that I started feeling like we were getting somewhere.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like Cassie as a character. I think she’s strong and fierce, especially when she has to deal with the entire world collapsing around her. It’s pretty awesome how she manages through it all. The beginning is this weird mash between Cassie’s past before the invasion and her living alone in the woods trying not to go crazy. And the longer the story went on, the more I liked her.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, which were sometimes hard to keep straight because it never comes out and tells you who is speaking. You have to figure it out. But for the most part, it’s not terribly difficult. The weirdest thing is that one of them is sorta told in 2nd person, which never really happens. And it’s just different.

The minor characters were great as well. I don’t want to get too far into the details because I think half of the fun of this is not knowing what’s coming. (Somehow, even with a movie out, I managed to completely not know what this book was about besides aliens.) But I found the characters to be intelligent and clever and resourceful. Exactly the characteristics someone surviving in an apocalyptic world should have. If they were idiots, they’d be dead.

The action of the story, once you get past the beginning, is actually pretty interesting. We’re basically in the middle of a war zone, humans vs. aliens. So constant battles, injuries, and suspense about who we can trust. It’s always moving. My one complaint about the action is that the constantly switching perspectives sometimes means that something exciting happens and then you have to read an entire part to get back to that. It felt like it slowed things down rather than keeping me in suspense, which I think was the point. I was way more likely to put the book down when it did that than when I could just stick with Cassie.

Sure, aliens aren’t really my thing, but this book was pretty good. I can see why so many of my students kept telling me to keep reading when I told them it was going so slow.

The Great Pursuit (Eurona Duology, #2)

thegreatpursuitfinalFirst Lines: A new beast roamed the kingdom of Lochlanach, killing at will.

Sorry the first line is so short, but any more than that and I started having spoilers from the previous book and really, who wants that?  So today is my OFFICIAL FIRST DAY OF SUMMER VACATION.  Thank God.  Not that I don’t love my kiddos, but I am desperately in need of a break.  And I’m way backlogged on my books.  Hopefully, that means I get a lot of reading done soon!

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

The kingdom of Lochlanach may have managed to destroy the beast that hunted their land, but they have traded that for an enemy so devious and vicious that she may just destroy the world as they know it.  Rozaria Rocato is beautiful, dangerous, and clever.  And she’s offering Paxton Seabolt a future and power that he never imagined having.  But all of that comes at the expense of his home and his love, Princess Aerity.  Lochlanach is ruled by traditionalists who don’t want things to change, even in the face of extinction.  When dire circumstances force Aerity’s hand, she realizes that now is the time to make big decisions for the sake of her kingdom before Rozaria can further destroy them.  One hunt may have ended, but another is about to begin.

I’m not used to two-book series, but I will say that I am kind of digging them. The action in this one was always moving because, hello, all the loose ends needed to be wrapped up by the end of the book. So we had a good conflict/cliff hanger to from the end of the last book to lead into this one and then it was off and running. There really wasn’t ever a dull moment or a time when I thought the action was being drawn out as a filler. So that was awesome.

I really like the strength of the characters in this book, especially the female cast. Aerity is stubborn and determined enough to do whatever she thinks is best, but she still worries all the time about making the wrong decisions. That was a nice weakness to give her strength. Vixie and Wyneth really grew as characters in this book and I loved that. I didn’t really remember them that much from the first book, so I liked seeing that change. And, of course, I adore Pax. Just as stubborn as Aerity, he’s got a real self-deprecating streak that makes him more real.

I will say that Higgins knows how to write characters. I’ve always felt that, even from the Sweet series. She writes characters that have real motivations, believable personalities (in terms of their strengths, weaknesses, and actions), and great hearts. The characters she writes are always endearing.

I think the ending of this book felt reasonable. There were a few twists and turns I didn’t see coming. Since this is only a two book series, I did feel like the big resolution came early, just because I’m so used to waiting so long for it. But the action was well-paced, exciting, and easy to follow. It was interesting and I did have to stop at one point or I wouldn’t have gotten any sleep until I finished it.

This was really good. I’m glad I’ve got another series I can cross off my list.

Alex, Approximately

30312700First Lines: He could be any of these people.  After all, I don’t know what Alex looks like.  I don’t even know his real name.

Hello everyone!  I hope you and your mamas had a great Mother’s Day weekend!  This girl finally managed to finish the monstrous nonfiction book she was reading and decided it was definitely time to go YA again.  She is also referring to herself in the 3rd person.  Please excuse this; it has been a very trying few weeks.  (Less than 2 weeks of school left and then it’s all summer reading!)

Bailey Rydell loves classic movies with all her heart, and what could be better than finding a like-minded person to share that love with?  Bailey has been talking to a stranger named Alex online for months, gushing over the classics.  When Bailey moves across the country to live with her dad in what is coincidentally Alex’s hometown, she’s racked with doubts.  What if Alex isn’t as amazing in person as he is online?  What if he’s actually a creep?  So she keeps her move a secret and begins life in her new home.  But life would be so much easier if she wasn’t always heckled by Porter Roth, the security guard at her new museum job.  He may be her archenemy, but Bailey’s going to see how fine the line is between hatred, love, and whatever’s happening between her and Porter.  As the summer goes by, Bailey must decide between her online crush and the one forming in real life.  This decision is simpler and more complicated than she knows, because Porter is Alex…approximately.

This was adorable! I really enjoyed it from start to finish!

Bailey is a bit different from a lot of protagonists. She deems herself the “Artful Dodger” (a reference to Charles Dickens if you caught that) because of her avoidance of fights, awkward conversations, and general avoidance of difficult moments. And she has this trait basically the whole book. A lot of protagonists who say this aren’t actually avoiders. But Bailey is. And I enjoyed this for two reasons: A) as a fellow dodger, it was so awesome to read about someone else who is uncomfortable in certain situations and just think You get it! and B) it shows the downside of being a dodger in so many different ways. And, as someone who tends to be a dodger, sometimes I need this reminder myself.  It was just great to see someone with what basically amounts to introversion actually be an introvert.

The plot was incredibly interesting. Bailey moves across the country to live with her dad, who is geeky but actually a good parent (shocking for a YA novel). She meets Porter, a security guard at her new job and deems him her new archenemy…until she gets to know him a little better. (Very When Harry Met Sally, to stick with the theme of classic movies.) Mostly it’s about her life in this new town, but it’s interesting. She’s dealing with stuff with herself, with friendships, and with her family. So there was never a lack of things going on.

The writing is great as well. I felt like I was invested enough in the story to constantly stick with it as well as the fact that the story was well-explained. What I mean by that is there are tons of references to old movies from the 40s and 50s. The plots of these were explained in a way to allow us to see the parallels between the movies and the plot of this book. I could easily follow along with who all the characters were, where everything was, and what was going on. There’s humor in the story and the descriptions are quite good as well. Oh, and no info-dumps! It teases things out, even when you pretty much know what’s going to happen. It was fun to read.

This story also manages to cover a series of pretty serious topics, but in a classy way.  I mean, things from more (seemingly) mild problems like trust issues and friendships to more difficult ones that I really don’t want to spoil.  They were all covered with respect and in a way that didn’t make you feel uncomfortable in the slightest.  I’m actually pretty surprised by how subtle it all was because these were issues that characters dealt with daily rather than just being awkward teaching moments.

This was just so much fun to read.  Perfect for your summer.  But be warned (and I say this from personal experience and the many reviews of this I’ve seen), you’ll have a hard time putting it down.

The Catastrophic History of You and Me

11387392First Lines: There’s always that one guy who gets a hold on you.  Not like your best friend’s brother who gets you in a headlock kind of hold.  Or the little kid you’re babysitting who attaches himself to your leg kind of hold.  I’m talking epic.  Life changing.

I know this book is older (it was published in 2012 and it’s been on my to-read list since 2011), but it’s always been one of those books that I’ve sort of had my eye on.  I was scanning the library shelves one day and grabbed this because, you know, it’s been a while since I’ve read about death.  (That wasn’t weird, right?)  Anyway, I really wanted to give this book a chance.

Brie had everything going for her: a great group of friends, the perfect boyfriend, and diving skills that could have taken her to the Olympics.  But when her boyfriend tells her he doesn’t love her anymore and it literally breaks her heart, all of her dreams are gone, just like her.  And death isn’t easy to deal with.  While trying to come to grips with the fact that she’s no longer one of the living, her family back in Half Moon Bay is falling apart.  Her best friend has been keeping secrets about Jacob, Brie’s boyfriend–and the truth behind the betrayal that broke her heart.  With the help of Patrick, a fellow soul and sometimes guide through the afterlife, Brie tries to understand what happened and why.  But how can you pick up the pieces when you’re broken yourself?

Right from the beginning, I liked Brie. She’s not perfect, but you tend to forgive her her faults because we meet her just as she’s reeling from her death.  I don’t think anyone expects their life to be over at 15 and Brie certainly wasn’t.  It puts her in a bad mood quite often (understandably), but it’s all within reason.  She never came across to me as a diva or drama queen.  Just a lost girl who wanted to be living her life.

The crafting of this story was really well done. Brie’s path toward understanding and moving on from her death felt realistic and really never moved into the cliche like it so easily could have. Instead, she feels everything I would expect her to feel: angry, sad, betrayed, lost, miserable, forgotten, hopeless. (It’s a pretty dark read at times. I was in tears multiple times from beginning to end.) But on top of that, you get a real sense of hope as well. Like that there are better things out there after death, and that our loved ones don’t forget us when we’re gone. It was tragically beautiful.

The writing was really well done as well, shifting from present to past and with subtle foreshadowing sprinkled in from time to time.  I knew that there were a few things that were going to happen from the foreshadowing, but it was vague enough that I couldn’t quite piece together exactly what it was.  It was just really well written and enjoyable.

I really enjoyed all of the characters in this story, from her best friends to her boyfriend to her family and the spirits she meets after her death. Everyone had a backstory and a realistic motivation to be who they were and they weren’t just flat stereotypical characters. I keep saying this over and over, but it was delightfully written. Even though it’s dark.

I thought this was just amazing. I had a really hard time putting it down.  If you haven’t read this before, you really need to.

Liv, Forever

18077961First Lines: Chances of a girl like me ending up at Wickham Hall were next to nothing.  I was a farmer’s daughter and neither of my parents even finished grade school.  But I loved to read.

I’ve had this book sitting on my priority reading shelf (because that’s a thing…right?) since Halloween when I thought a ghost story sounded awesome.  Well…Halloween was about six months ago and I finally just got sick of seeing it.  And I gave it a try.

Liv Bloom has only ever wanted two things: to get out of the foster system and to become an artist.  After being adopted by an ok family, she gets accepted to the prestigious Wickham Hall on a scholarship, where she gets her own art studio.  It’s a dream come true…even if the traditions there are a bit strange.  But it’s here that she meets Malcolm Astor: legacy student, artist, and the only boy who has been able to melt her defenses.  And her only friend is Gabe, a fellow scholarship student who warns her to stay away from Malcolm.  But she’s finally enjoying her life…until it ends.  Weeks after arriving, she’s murdered and, in death, discovers that she is not the first.  With the ability to see ghosts, Gabe is the only person who can help Liv find her murderer, uncover the conspiracy, and stay connected to Malcolm.  It won’t be easy…

I found this to be an interesting, slightly unsettling read. There are times when it takes a big leap into the cliche, but I still enjoyed reading it. I liked that it was mysterious and vaguely creepy the entire time, even if I kinda knew how the mystery was going to end.

I’m not going to say that any of the characters are real stand-outs. Liv is artistic, but she’s pretty much a stock character beyond that, even though she’s the narrator. Gabe and Malcolm, the two supporting characters, are really the only ones who go through any measurable character development.  But even they are kind of forgettable.

I did like the quirks that these ghosts had, their powers and their limitations I mean. That’s what made it all interesting. And, as I mentioned, I liked the way the mystery unfolded.  I think this probably comes back to enjoying the writing style and the way the plot unfolded, but honestly, I can’t tell you what exactly it was about this book that kept me hooked.  This is an odd feeling for me.

There are moments that this book is trite. But there are also moments where it really does draw you in.  I like a good ghost story and while this one didn’t scare the pants off of me, it was pretty unsettling at times and had me looking over my shoulder from time to time.

The Upside of Unrequited

5139zwihtyl-_sx329_bo1204203200_First Lines: I’m on the toilet at the 9:30 Club, and I’m wondering how mermaids pee.  This isn’t random.  There’s a mermaid Barbie attached to the door of the bathroom here.  Which is a pretty odd choice for a bathroom mascot.  If that’s even a thing.

Hey guys!  So I got this as an ARC ages ago and forgot I had it…(oops?)…but I did manage to finish it around the time it came out!  (It released yesterday.)  At least I’m timely!  Anyway, I had to give this book a try.

Molly knows all about crushes and unrequited love, since she’s had twenty-six crushes throughout her life.  And it doesn’t matter how many times her twin sister Cassie tells her to get out there because Molly can’t stand the idea of being rejected.  Fat girls never win the guy in movies.  When a cute girl comes into Cassie’s life, Molly finds herself suddenly alone and dealing with her sister’s love life.  Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend brings with her a cute hipster boy.  If Molly can win him over, he could be her first kiss.  The only problem is Reid, Molly’s chubby Tolkein-superfan coworker.  Because there’s no way Reid could be cuter than the hipster…right?

I was up and down with this book. There are some very intelligent observations in this book about family, relationships, and friends. I appreciated those. I also really liked its portrayal of love in all its forms. (We have lesbian parents, another couple involving one female who is gay and one female who is pansexual, and straight couples too.) I didn’t feel like it was trying to make a big flashy point like, “LOOK! WE HAVE A GAY COUPLE HERE! PRAISE ME FOR ADDING GAY CHARACTERS!” It felt more natural. No one questioned why anyone was gay or straight or anything else. It was just their normal.

I also liked the portrayal of those uncomfortable feelings, like being a third wheel or having an unconventional, politically-incorrect, probably racist grandmother making uncomfortable comments in front of other people. (As cringe-y as she was, I did like Grandma Betty.)  And the truths about dealing with misogyny, weight, social pressures, etc.  This book covered a lot of ground.

I liked that the main characters included so many diverse types. Molly is, by her own admission, a big girl. She has two moms, one white and one black. Her twin sister is gay. Molly’s friends include total nerds and hipsters. So it was cool to see how some of this played out throughout the story.  And, of course, I love people who are unapologetic nerds.  The ones who like what they like and everyone else can take it or leave it.  There are a few of those in this story too.

But there were also things I didn’t like. I didn’t like the constant (and I mean constant) profanity. And boy, do they get creative with it. I think every other page had some form of profanity on it. Yes, I know people curse, but this was prolific.

I also thought a lot of the dialogue was unnecessarily vulgar and forced. I have lived a quarter of a century and I have never had 60% of the conversations Molly and her friends have about female bodies, boys, sex, etc. Nor have I heard most of those conversations at any point. At first it felt fine, like it was a little bit of a shock factor but whatever. But the longer it kept going on, the more it sounded like that attention-grabbing student who blurts out dirty comments in order to get the class to pay attention to them. It was more annoying than anything.

It just all came across as kind of eh to me. I keep picking it up and then losing interest. Not that it wasn’t good in a lot of ways, but it just didn’t keep my attention.  But given its high rating on Goodreads, it’s working for a lot of people.  Just not me.

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Season 1 (Netflix)

a-new-series-of-unfortunate-events-to-hit-netflix-462487Secrets will be revealed, one unfortunate event at a time.

It dawned on me the other day that I finished this series recently and I hadn’t blogged about it!  And with Netflix’s sudden interest in adapting YA novels into TV series (looking at you, 13 Reasons Why), I’m going to be busy!

If you don’t know the premise of A Series of Unfortunate Events (which is an unfortunate event in itself), here’s some background: three children (Violet, Klaus, and Sunny) find themselves suddenly becoming orphans after a fire destroys their home and kills their parents.  Shipped off to live with their closest relative, Count Olaf (played by Neil Patrick Harris), the trio find life is no longer comfortable and safe.  They have too many questions about their parents, their parents’ deaths, and their new guardian.  Because no matter how they try to escape Count Olaf, they can never get far enough away.

Quick overview of the episodes: this series covers the first four books (The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, and The Miserable Mill).  Each book is broken into two episodes that range in length but generally run about 50 minutes.

I thought this series was really interesting.  I watched it over the course of about a month with my boyfriend, who kinda sorta knows the stories.  Anyway, the story is narrated by Lemony Snicket (played by Patrick Warburton).  He cuts in and out to explain what words mean or tell us that something bad is about to happen, the same way Snicket did in the books.  (It’s probably been over 12 years since I last read the books and I still remember Snicket’s way of defining words All. The. Time.)

The acting, I thought, was great.  Obviously I enjoyed Warburton’s dry humor and his somber delivery as our narrator, but NPH…give this guy some props.  He plays Olaf (and Olaf’s many personas) masterfully.  Olaf is obnoxious and boisterous and terrible, but that just goes to show how good NPH is because that’s so not the NPH we’ve come to know.  And the fact that he pulls off these weird disguises he wears to get close to the children also goes to show just how amazing an actor he is.  (As if that isn’t enough, he also sings the theme songs to each episode!  The songs are all a little different, depending on which book you’re in.)

The children were also delightful.  Violet (played by Malina Weissman) is clever and careful.  I totally bought into her older sister act as she tried to keep tabs on Klaus and Sunny to protect them.  And Klaus (played by Louis Hynes) was just a sweetheart.  He’s booksmart and savvy, always two steps ahead of Olaf.  They were so much fun to follow, and the chemistry between the two of them was great.  They really seemed like family.

And of course, the minor characters were fantastic.  From Olaf’s crew of henchmen to the Baudelaire orphans’ new guardians, they were all well-cast and brilliant.  I did kind of have a freak out when I saw that Aasif Mandvi was playing Uncle Monty.  I think Mandvi is hilarious.

The show, amazingly, is targeted at both children and adults.  So the humor remains clean and the children’s conflicts are familiar to other kids.  But as an adult, I loved the subtle jokes this show got off.  It broke the fourth wall, they made all kinds of literary references to classic novels and writers, and the acting sometimes gave subtle jokes as well.  It’s mostly based on puns and slapstick for humor, but that’s my favorite.  And like I said, there are great literary references if you listen closely.  Everything from George Orwell to Virginia Wolf to Moby Dick.  Basically every episode dropped something that my English major side picked up on.

I really enjoyed this.  I won’t say everything was perfect; some of the episodes felt long.  There were times I started getting a little bored.  But it was still fun to see this series come to life and I’m really interested to see where the next season goes.