First Lines: As soon as I see the blond girl bouncing down the aisle, I know she’s heading for the empty seat beside me.  It’s just my luck.

I’ve had this on my to-read list for 3.5 years, and it just happened that I put it on hold at the library right about the time I started getting really into Spanish/Latino culture.  So it all worked out!

Bria Sandoval desperately does not want to be the Bria Sandoval she was.  Everything changes when she books a trip to Central America the summer before college–but it’s the wrong trip.  Instead of being with other teenagers, she’s with middle-aged tourists in fanny packs.  When Bria meets Rowan, a backpacker and dive instructor, and his sister Starling, Bria ditches her tour group to see Central America as a backpacker.  But while Bria is a good girl trying to go bad, Rowan is a bad boy trying to be good.  Together, they discover something they have in common: they’re both running from their pasts.  But if Bria wants to make her life better, she’s going to have to start looking back, no matter what Rowan says.

Much like Bria was at the beginning of the book, I am not a traveler.  Whereas I have friends that go on road trips and buy plane tickets at the drop of a hat, I would much rather just travel into the town I grew up in or just over the state line somewhere.

But this book was fantastic for showing me what Central America would be like if I ever wanted to visit.  (Hint: after reading about some of the awful bugs and monsters Bria runs into, I’m fine here, thanks.)

I’m not sure what I really expected out of this story and Bria, but they both took me by surprise.  Bria is the kind of person who is an observer rather than a doer, and she wants to change that.  The fact that she travelled out of the country on her own and tried to reinvent herself like that when others said she couldn’t…she totally earned my respect.

While we’re talking about characters, let’s just round out the main characters.  Starling and Rowan were very sweet characters.  Starling is this bubbly, exuberant personality.  Her scenes usually made me smile.  Rowan, on the other hand, is more dark and mysterious.  He’s still sweet, but it’s tempered by his darker personality.  He’s a little standoffish, but it worked for his character.  It really felt like him instead of some plot device.

I thought the scenery was beautifully described.  I feel like I’ve actually visited Guatemala and Belize.  Everything from cramped capital cities to the pure blue of Lake Atitlan to the Mayan ruins were vividly written.  (And really, I’d rather just pretend I’ve been there.  Fewer sunburns and bug bites, but also LESS SCARY ANIMALS.  *shudders*)

I mentioned earlier that Bria is an observer, but she’s also an artist.  And, lucky for us, the author is also.  She included drawings of some of the scenes throughout the book, which was really great.  It just gave us another layer of Bria’s personality, come to life.  I liked that I could see exactly what she was seeing.

Finally, I just want to say that this book is cute, funny, and inspiring.  There were more layers to the story than I had expected, and the characters and scenery were incredibly vivid.  A definite read for people who want to travel the world from their own couch!

Spotlight Friday (126)

Hello my lovelies!  Oh, it’s so good to be back to writing like this!  I’m finding that the longer I’m a teacher, the more I just want to share all kinds of things like advice, stories, and great new books!  OH WAIT… 🙂  (Again, this is why my students think I’m lame…but really, I’M AWESOME.  And apparently in a very good mood today at that.)  On with the books!

Red by Alyxandra Harvey

Release Date: March 10, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

Bad girls burn hot…

Red is the color of Kia Alcott’s hair.
It’s her temper, which blazes hot and always gets Kia into way too much trouble.
And it’s the color of fire. Fires that Kia can start…just by thinking about them.

When her latest “episode” gets her kicked out of school, Kia is shipped off to her grandmother, who works for the wealthy Blackwoods. It’s an estate shrouded in secrets, surrounded by rules, and presided over by a family that is far from normal…including the gorgeous and insolent Ethan Blackwood.

Ethan knows far more about the dangers of the forest surrounding the estate than Kia can ever imagine. For this forest has teeth, and Ethan is charged with protecting the outside world from its vicious mysteries.

But inside, even the most vibrant shade of red doesn’t stand a chance against the dark secrets of the Blackwood family…

What’s To Like: Even though, to some extent, I feel like I know how this book is going to turn out, I’m still interested.  First, I’ve never met an Alyxandra Harvey book I didn’t like.  Second, all this mystery surrounding the estates sounds awesome.  Third, she can start fires by just thinking about them?  What other powers might people have?  She can’t possibly be the only one, right?

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Release Date: March 17, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads)Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.

What’s To Like: I love how original this story is!  I think I rarely ever see stories about the Oregon Trail, much less with protagonists who are Chinese and African-American.  The diversity in this already is awesome.  I am so interested in this it’s not even funny.  Plus, is that cover not the most gorgeous thing ever?  I absolutely love skies that look like that.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Release Date: March 24, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads): Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.

What’s To Like: Well, speaking of diversity, this one totally has it too.  I’m really happy that more diverse stories are coming into YA lit.  I think it’s really cool that I can learn about different cultures through books like this.  I think I already like Naila, who I’ve mentally pictured as being quiet yet strong-willed.  Should be a fun adventure, right?  (Another unintentional similarity to the last book is that they are both titled with titles relating to the sky.)

My review of Written in the Stars

Embracing Your Inner Single Girl

Hello my lovelies!  I just want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who embraced my previous confessional post Being Quiet Has Its Perks.  It really seems like a lot of you understood how I felt and were happy to know that you weren’t the only ones feeling the same!  So I decided I’d do another one, with another regrettably lame title.  (It’s a curse, truly.)

Embracing Your Inner Single Girl.

Or, as I like to call it, My Life.

As many of you are already aware, I broke up with my last boyfriend on January 1st after exactly 3 months of dating.  (Yeah…that timing was accidental.  I swear.)  But I found myself constantly worrying about one thing or another and I felt like things were very lopsided.  He was absolutely putting more into the relationship than I was, even though I was trying.  I, however, was still somewhat hung up on the guy I had dated before that.

It interfered all the time.  I was making myself unhappy being in a relationship that didn’t feel right, so I ventured back into Singledom with a newfound respect for trying to love myself before I tried dating again.

I know.  How cliche, right?  I thought so too.  But I’m 23–I want to do my own thing for a while without trying to make someone else happy.  I wanted to have my Friday nights back for watching sappy romantic comedies that no previous boyfriend of mine had ever wanted to watch.  I wanted to have my reading time back (because boyfriends and a job seriously cut into that).  But most of all, I wanted to enjoy my life.  Lately, it’s felt like dating is more of a chore than an enhancement on my life.  Which probably totally means I was with the wrong guys.

At first, it started out pretty easy.  I put up motivational post-it notes on my mirror with things like “Carpe Diem,” “be brave,” and “do what makes you happy” on them.  I watched those sappy romantic comedies.  I learned the salsa, cha-cha, and samba dances with the Spanish club at school.  I even had time to start writing a new story of my own, though I will probably be the only one that ever reads it.  Oh, and I finished cross-stitching my own Christmas stocking!  (After 1.5 years, it’s about time!)

I was being productive and I was doing things that made me happy.  It felt like it was the first time in ages I’d been able to do that without constantly worrying about spending time with someone else.

And then the dark clouds started rolling in again.  The bitter cold of this winter reminded me how warm it was to be snuggled up with someone else.  The romantic comedies I like so much made love and relationships look so perfect.  The songs on the radio even made me miss having someone.  (Seriously–my computer just started playing “Good Morning Beautiful” by Steve Holy.  An older song, but beautiful.)

Even though I was missing having someone around, it’s not what I wanted.  It’s still not what I want.  This bitter winter has made it hard for me to go out and do those things I so desperately want to do.

I hate to say I want to reinvent myself.  It’s not that.  I just want to do the things that I’ve always thought I couldn’t or shouldn’t do.

Here are a couple of examples:

1) I want to cut my hair.  My hair is thin and this weird kind of wavy that’s only wavy below my ears.  But it’s been shoulder-length or slightly longer since around my freshman or sophomore year of high school.  Sure, I changed a few things about it.  Bangs here, layers there.  But I can look at middle school pictures of myself and see the same hair style.  I need a change.  Now, though, I’ve been seriously thinking of cutting it chin length.  Like mid-2000s Julia Stiles in The Prince and Me (pictured below) or the early Bourne movies.  God, I have serious hair envy for that.  I have for years.  And now I think I’m brave enough to try it.  I honestly think the last time my hair was that short was when I turned 13.

2) I want to go to dinner and the movies by myself.  On college campuses, the one thing they constantly drill is that you should never go anywhere alone.  Safety in numbers!  But I think there’s something to be said for treating myself every once in a while.  If I’m the only one of my family/friends who wants to see the new live-action Cinderella, why should I wait until it comes onto DVD to see it?  If I’m in the mood for Italian food, what’s stopping me from treating myself to dinner after a long week at school?  I know someone will likely look at me sadly as though I’ve been stood up for a date, but I think it could still be fun.

I’m quickly learning that being young and single isn’t the curse I always thought it was.  While there are days where I wish I had someone to share everything with, I’m actually quite happy on my own.  An open calendar means I can spend the day shopping at the mall rather than waiting for a phone call.  I can wear what makes me feel good rather than what makes me look good.  And I can spend my evenings cha-cha dancing to the Latin Workout station on Pandora if I want to.  (It’s an awesome workout, FYI.)

And who knows?  Maybe while I’m out embracing myself as a single girl, I’ll bump into the right guy at the right time.  I’m not ruling it out…I’m just not actively looking for it.



The Queen of Zombie Hearts (White Rabbit Chronicles, #3)

First Lines: Are you ready for this?  The romance and sizzle…the betrayal…loss…pain…The end?

Dude, is this the best first line ever or what?  (Though, to be totally honest with you, I’ve heard whispers that this is not the last book in the series, as has been previously stated.  No, Gena Showalter didn’t feel like the series was finished with this book, so she’s writing another.)

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Alice “Ali” Bell thinks that the worst is behind her, but she couldn’t be more wrong.  Anima Industries, the company that can control the zombies, will stop at nothing to take out Ali and her friends.  After a sneak attack that kills four of her friends, Ali realizes that sometimes human can be more monstrous than actual monsters.  As the slayers prepare for all-out war, Ali discovers that she can also control zombies…and that she isn’t the girl she thought she was.  She’s connected to the woman who killed Cole’s mother.  How can their relationship last?  As the danger increases, Ali will fight harder than ever to save her friends–and maybe even sacrifice herself to do it.

In the words of Ali’s best friend Kat, this book is so cake.  (Seriously, can we make this a thing?  It’s already so much cooler than fetch.)

I really like the characters in this book.  They all feel unique and new.  I mean, sure, it isn’t often I’m reading about characters who are tattooed, emancipated (or close to it), and constantly give off this dangerous air.  But underneath that, they just feel different.  They all have a unique voice, from Ali’s sarcasm to Kat’s overenthusiastic…enthusiasm.  Truly, the characters are fantastic.  I think the strongest voices come from Ali, Kat, Cole (Ali’s boyfriend), and Gavin (another slayer).  I always looked forward to scenes when Ali was with these three other characters.

There was a lot of action in the story, which I expected.  A zombie war is coming to a head, after all.  Sure, some of it got repetitive and a touch boring just because it was the same action over and over, but fight scenes still kind of rock.  And there were plenty of plot twists to keep me on my toes.  I figured a few out ahead of time, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment.

Ok, some of the plot lines/twists did seem a bit soap opera-esque.  A little far fetched, a little unnatural, a little excessive…and I’m saying this about a series in which slayers separate their spirits from their bodies in order to fight zombies.  The irony is palpable.

Overall, the characters are great and the character voices are strong (which means the writing is good), but the plot could’ve been a little less cliche.  Still, if there’s a 4th book, I’m there!

The Elite (The Selection, #2)

First Lines: The Angeles air was quiet, and for a while I lay still, listening to the sound of Maxon’s breathing. It was getting harder and harder to catch him in a truly calm and happy moment, and I soaked up the time, grateful that he seemed to be at his best when he and I were alone.

In an effort to keep up to date on series I’m reading (and losing that battle epically), I picked this up at the library to continue this series.  This got a much better rating on Goodreads than the previous book, so I was encouraged that this would be better than the last book.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

What began with thirty-five girls has now gone down to six.  America is one of the Elite vying for Prince Maxon’s heart, and she knows she’s a forerunner, despite what the others girls imply.  But America still doesn’t know where her heart belongs, with Maxon as future queen or with Aspen, her first love?  America is desperate for more time to decide, but time is one luxury America can’t have.  With the rest of the Elite suddenly looking like real competition, America may find that her time to win over Maxon has run out…

Oy vey.  Where do I start?

I’ll start with the positives.  First off, I really do like this plot.  I love that it’s a televised competition to test their qualities as a potential future queen.  Sure, it’s a romance as well, but it’s really testing the girls’ ingenuity, creativity, and ability to handle tough situations.  I also like the subplot about the rebels and how that is becoming slightly more flushed out than it was in the last book.

It’s the characters that drive me crazy.  I’m a very character driven reader, so this absolutely 100% to-infinity-and-beyond bugs me.  America is as flighty as a butterfly when it comes to trying to decide if she wants Maxon or Aspen.  It bothered me that she could fancy herself in love with–and on the verge of marrying–one of the boys and then, after some slight from said boy, she completely changes her mind.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

As if America’s antics weren’t enough, Maxon and Aspen suddenly felt like flat characters with little personality of their own.  They lacked the charisma and charm they had in the last book, maybe because America was seeing both of them in a new light.  Maxon became impatient, dark, and passive-aggressive toward America.  And Aspen became pushy and demanding.  For all I care, Aspen can just go jump off a proverbial cliff.  I despise his character.

I also felt as though America lost a few marbles up in her pretty little red head this time around.  When one of the girls gets into massive, horrifying trouble, what does America do?  She knowingly does the same thing.  Really?  As horror-struck as America was with the punishment for that crime, she willingly commits the same act?  Really?  She seemed to have a habit of actively searching out trouble and then hoping there wouldn’t be any consequences.  This seemed very immature to me…and I’m a middle school teacher.  7th graders have a better grasp on this than America did.

I am willing to admit that the ending did perk up a bit.  There was action, there were sweet scenes, and I felt some of the characters regained their former charm.  But it was just too little too late.

Apparently others see something worthwhile in this book.  I didn’t.  And sadly, I know I’ll end up reading the last book in this series just to see how it ends.  I really do like the storyline…just not the characters!

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)

First Lines: I am a coward.  I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was.  I have always been good at pretending.

You guys have been so lovely in the last 24 hours that I wanted to give you a review!  And one from a book I thought many of you had heard of, if not read yourself.

On October 11, 1943, a British spy plane crashes down in France.  The pilot and her passenger are best friends, but only one will get a chance at survival.  When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s given a choice: reveal what she knows or face a ghastly execution.  On each scrap of paper she’s given, Verity shares her story, a story of friends, spies, and war.

I read this partly because A) I bought the book a while ago and B) my students are in the middle of a Holocaust unit right now and I thought this would help get me in the right mindset.

But really, I just don’t think this book was for me.

Here’s what I liked.  I liked the amount of female empowerment this story had.  Verity and her friend Maddie totally step up into whatever role they could to help the British war efforts in World War II.  They were dedicated and strong.  And the best part was that real women did these things too, though we never hear their story.

I also liked how well written it was.  It was descriptive but not overly so.  And with it being written almost like a letter (or maybe like someone’s autobiography, if they just wrote down whatever came to mind), there was plenty about the writing style to admire.  It was unusual, and it worked out better than I expected.

Also, I never quite had the story figured out.  There were so many unexpected twists that it just constantly kept me on my toes.  I had no idea how the story was going to end.

Here was my biggest issue with the story: I felt completely lost through most of the story.  I just couldn’t pin anything down.  For the first 60 pages, we don’t even know who our narrator is or why she’s writing this story about a girl named Maddie.  There’s nothing to explain that for 60 pages.  It drove me crazy.

I usually rely on the book jackets and back covers to at least tell me what to expect or anticipate in a story, but this had virtually nothing.  The back cover tells you enough to jump you into page 1.  This made the book feel unbearably long because I never knew what to anticipate.  I got bored.

Having this story written in that narrative/autobiography style also means that we’re dealing with an unreliable narrator, which was cool and frustrating.  It’s not something I’m used to, so I just assumed our narrator was reliable.  Then I got to the end and had to re-evaulate the whole story.  I almost felt betrayed because I had trusted the narrator to tell me her story to the best of her ability and she didn’t do that.  So while I can appreciate unreliable narrators as an art form, I don’t particularly care for it.

It’s definitely a different kind of story and a different take on World War II.  (How many times do we get to read spy stories?  Most are about Nazis and concentration camps.)  I just found it to be a frustrating read that was hard for me to follow at times.  Particularly when the girls started using mechanical/airplane jargon.