I just wanted to inform everyone that I have now crossed the halfway point of my 20s.  Carry on with your regularly scheduled Friday.  I’ll just be over here, partying it up…and by “partying,” I mean “reading.”

Breathe, Annie, Breathe (Hundred Oaks)

First Lines: As a kid, I had the worst mile time ever.  Our gym teacher made us run the mile a few times a year for something called the Presidential Fitness Test.  I’d huff and puff and wonder why the hell President Bush cared how fast I could run laps around the playground.

Miranda Kenneally is no stranger to my bookshelf.  I adore her stories because not only are they romances, but they touch on so much more than that.  This was on my to-read shelf for the longest time until I finally saw it at the library and just grabbed it.  (I really have to start putting things on hold…)

Annie hates running; she always has.  But she can’t outrun the guilt she feels.  If she hadn’t broken up with her boyfriend Kyle, he might still be alive.  So in his memory, she trains for the marathon he wanted to race in.  But training is harder than Annie ever believed, not just physically (which is excruciating) but also mentally and emotionally.  With every mile, Annie is cheered on by Jeremiah, her trainer’s brother.  And with ever mile, Annie’s confusion grows.  For Annie, running into a new relationship may be harder than running a marathon.

I’ve said this once, and I will keep saying it over and over again until another author decides to do something similar: I think it’s fantastic that Kenneally is writing a series of sports novels for girls. There are so many sports books out there for boys, but the list of those written for girls is much shorter. The fact that this series also covers a number of difficult topics (class, identity, religion, etc.) makes it that much better.

While I will freely admit this was not one of my favorites from this series, I still thought it was really good. Annie was (mostly) a realistic character struggling to learn what to do with her life when every other thought focuses on how her ex-boyfriend that died would never get to do the things she’s doing. It colored a lot of her interactions. There are a few things she does that seem a bit off (as I saw a few other reviews mentioning), but one poor moment like that wasn’t going to ruin the book for me. Even though it was a very weird scene that did seem contrived to create drama and wasn’t exactly realistic in any other way.

The romance in this also wasn’t what I remembered from the other books. The romance here was more like an after-thought, but I was ok with that. The story was more about Annie starting to overcome her grief and start living her life again. That was the important thing, and I think it worked for this story. Too much emphasis on romance would’ve been weird, given her situation.

It was also really great to see some of those old characters come back into this story (Jordan, Kate, etc.). There’s been a lot of time that’s passed since the first couple of books in this series and these kids are adults now, with adult jobs and lives. It’s kind of strange because we never see that in most series, but I really like it.

While this wasn’t my favorite book in this series, I still thought it was well on par with the other books in this series and definitely not a bad read.

20 Years of Harry Potter

I can’t believe I didn’t know about the 20th anniversary of this awesome series!  It’s incredible that this has been around for so long and is still so incredibly popular.  So in honor of 20 years of Harry, I’m going to share with you 20 memories I have about the series that, I’m positive, changed my life.

harry_potter_and_the_sorcerer27s_stone1.Bedtime Stories

I remember being 8 years old (in 1999, so about 2 years after the first book came out) and my mom reading me the story before bed.  We’d get through either a chapter or part of a chapter every night.  Funny enough, my mom hates stories of magic, so I’m not really sure why she picked it out to read.  We didn’t finish it at the time because we moved shortly after.

2. Midnight Premieres

Like any loyal fan, I went to a number of midnight premieres for the movies.  I went to the Order of the Phoenix with my best friend and her dad, I went to Half-Blood Prince with a guy I had a crush on, and I saw Deathly Hallows Part 2 with the same best friend from OotP.  I cannot express to you the awesomeness of seeing that many fans in one place, with many of them dressed in costumes.  Everyone is in such a good mood.  And before Half-Blood Prince, two people rushed into our theater and had a duel.  It was so cool!

1362513. Book Release Parties

I only went to one of these, the one for the Deathly Hallows.  It was at my local library and it was amazing.  There were palm readers, workers dressed up as characters (the Snape guy was so good he made tons of little kids cry just by looking at them), and there were crafts of all kinds.  I went with my best friend from the 2 movie premieres (whose last name is, legit, Potter) and my mom, who had to drive us.  We had a blast and we even got our picture taken with Gilderoy Lockhart.  (He’s just as conceited as you’d expect.  He basically asked us to take the picture and talked about himself the whole time.)

4. Reading Deathly Hallows

Being the last book, I really wanted to see how everything went down.  After we left the release party mentioned above, my mom drove me to a 24-hour Kroger on the way home and we bought the book at 1 AM.  I stayed up until 5 reading, got 5 hours of sleep, and then read from 10 AM to 10 PM.  This included in the car to my brothers’ baseball game and through the game.  (I was worried I’d be hit with foul balls the whole time, but I couldn’t stop.)  I ended up finishing the book in a grand total of 21 hours, before the day it was released was over.  I bragged for months, if not years, about that.

p17dkbfdi41arevc8mdr8kmfr0_530435. …Fanfiction…

I’m not entirely proud of it, but during my freshman year of high school, I wrote Harry Potter fanfiction.  (Didn’t we all?)  It was overly dramatic in the worst ways and thankfully, it’s been lost on the internet for years.  Even I can’t remember where it is.  But it taught me a lot about writing.  It taught me about character development and how to write believable emotions.  And it was a ton of fun.  I don’t regret it, but I’m never letting anyone read them ever.

6. Harry Potter Fan-Made Spin-Offs

The best part about being a fan of something this big is that there are tons of people out there with genius ideas of great HP videos.  My favorite is, of course, A Very Potter Musical.  I loved it so much that I memorized the lines of not only that one, but the Very Potter Sequel as well.  StarKid Productions knew what they were doing with that one.

hillywood-show-harry-potter-rebecca-black7. Speaking of Videos…

Before I went to see Deathly Hallows Part 2 in theatres, I wrote a post about it and attached a number of Harry Potter videos that I thought were hilarious.  There are still a couple on here that make me burst out in the most interesting snorts and giggles (I’m a sucker for low budget, stupid comedies.).  If you’re looking for a laugh, I recommend these.

8. Dobby

This is a weird story, but bear with me.  My family went on vacation to St. Louis, Missouri, years ago.  It was a new hotel and you could tell.  One thing that happened was the elevator would talk to you.  “Third floor,” etc.  Well, when you reached the ground floor, it said, “Lobby,” only my parents at first thought it said, “Dobby.”  […] The elevator sounded slightly British when it spoke and that’s what they got out of it.  Even now, like ten years later, they still tell me that Dobby is in St. Louis no matter what I say back.

harry-potter-and-the-prisoner-of-azkaban-54f744bb0b1179. Prisoner of Azkaban

This is controversial of me to say, but my favorite Harry Potter movie is the Prisoner of Azkaban.  It was the first movie where the actors didn’t have to wear robes all the time, they were growing up and no longer going through voice changes (*cough* Ron *cough*), and it had my favorite characters in it.  I’m seriously in love with the Marauders to a ridiculous degree.  So one summer, whenever I had down time, I played this movie on repeat.  I got so good at memorizing it I could practically quote the entire movie without the movie even being on.  (Are you starting to notice a trend yet?)

10. The Illustrated Versions

Like any devoted fan, I’m well on my way to owning at least two different versions of the same book.  (I say at least because my mom owns the original first 4 books from their early prints, I own the boxed set with Hogwarts on the spines, and these illustrated ones.)  I seriously love these illustrated versions that are coming out.  I have the first two (the third comes out in October and I can’t bloody wait) and I love reading them.  They’re so pretty!  When I got one of them, a few of my students flipped out and I let them gently flip through to see the pictures.  Because I’m nice like that.

voldemort11. The-Student-Who-Didn’t-Know-Who

I’m not making this up.  The moment I realized I was part of the Harry Potter generation was when I was a senior in high school.  I interned in a middle school English class, helping out a teacher while I tried to decide if teaching was what I wanted to do.  One of her projects was a book talk, where you told her when you finished a book and you’d have to present it to the class.  This student did Order of the Phoenix and did a nice job summarizing it without giving spoilers.  This girl near me raised her hand and asked, “Who’s the bad guy?”  I’m pretty sure my jaw hit the floor, especially after the boy told her it was Lord Voldemort and she proceeded to pronounce it incorrectly multiple times.

12. The Students Who Get It

For as many students as I have that haven’t read Harry Potter or seen the movies, there are those who are super fans.  And with them, I love to make weird comments no one else gets.  Like I think once I said something about dementors or something and those students’ faces just lit up for being in on the joke that no one else got.  And one of my favorite students at the end of this school year went back and forth with me with Harry Potter lines like, “Beware the nargles!” for a couple of days before summer.  It was great.

612bnk5cusil-_aa300_13. Harry Potter Read-Along

Anyone who talks to me about books for more than five minutes quickly learns that I like this series.  So when I started dating my current boyfriend who hadn’t read the series and said he didn’t like it, I put a little pressure on him to try it.  He kept insisting he wouldn’t, so I didn’t bring it up.  Then he surprised me by telling me he was in the middle of reading it.  I kept pace with him, reading my own copy as he read his.  Eventually we even started reading it out loud together and it was so fun.  Your throat gets dry really fast, but it was fun.

14. Harry Potter Concert Series

As if he wasn’t awesome enough, my boyfriend (the one from above) took me to see Harry Potter in Concert back in April.  The local Philharmonic played the score to the movie as the movie played behind it.  It was really cool and I loved seeing that many Potter fans back in one place, booing certain characters and making Potter jokes.

978207061536015. Learning Languages

I’ve done this more than once, but I have used the Harry Potter films to help me learn different languages.  I turn on the different languages and the subtitles and I just watch.  Obviously, I know the plot and I have a general idea of what most of the lines are supposed to be, so it’s pretty easy to follow along and learn new vocabulary.  Also, it’s hilarious to hear these different voices coming out of their mouths.  Hagrid’s is always so different.

16. Scene-It

Years ago, there was this game called Scene-It where they would have a DVD with different sound clips, videos, and games and it would all be themed around something.  I had a Harry Potter version (it’s so old the Goblet of Fire hadn’t even come out at the time).  I was so good at it that no one wanted to play against me after a while.  It didn’t help that I was the only one in my family who really cared.

il_570xn-751801420_grzk17. Etsy

I’m telling you, even now it is so much fun to check out Etsy for all the Harry Potter stuff people are making.  I got a mug at Christmas this year from there that says, “Don’t Let the Muggles Get You Down.”  I seriously want to buy all the shirts.  Especially this one that says something like, “Hogwarts wasn’t hiring, so I teach Muggles instead.”

18. Potter Puppet Pals

If you forgot about these videos, you’re welcome.  They’re still hilarious. “DUMBLEDORE!”

harry-potter-gryffindor-robe-child-costume-bc-3303119. Halloween

It started as a joke last Halloween in school.  Teachers and students are allowed to dress up, usually because spirit week is the same week.  But a few of us teachers (those of us in our 20s) made a joke that we should dress up this coming Halloween as different characters from the story and bring in our wands and memorabilia.  The hilarious thing was we all wanted to be different characters.  One wanted to be Luna, another wanted to be like Lavender Brown, and I’m like, “Dibs on Hermione!”  It was so cool to see how we all connected with all these different characters based on our personalities.  I really hope we follow through with this because this could be epic.

20. Passing on the Legacy

I cannot tell you how excited I am to some day share the love of this series with children of my own.  I want to read the books to them.  I want to create a Harry Potter room like this one.  Study after study has shown how much more empathetic Potter fans are compared to those who didn’t read it growing up, and how much more critical they are of problems and solutions.  These books are genius, and I want to keep passing that on.  Always.

The Hidden Memory of Objects

30653927First Lines: My brother, Tyler, died three times: first in an abandoned building in Washington, D.C.; then in the back hall of a funeral home in McLean, Virginia; and finally on the stage of Ford’s Theatre, just a few feet from where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  I couldn’t blame myself for the first two, but the third one?  That was entirely my fault.

I’ve been really behind on my books from Edelweiss lately, and this was one of them.  I was interested in the premise but it wasn’t one that had been on my to-read list for ages or anything.  I’d just read the synopsis and thought it looked good.

Megan’s brother is dead.  Cops are saying that Tyler died of a drug overdose–possibly suicide–but Megan can’t believe it.  Determined to find the truth, Megan begins going through the things Tyler left behind, searching for answers.  As an artist, Megan knows the power of objects and the meanings they can hold.  But more than being an artist, Megan has developed the ability to see memories attached to the things her brother treasured…and they show a brother she never knew.  With the help of an artifact detective who shares her ability, Megan finds herself drawn into a world of personal and national traumatic memories.  And with a little help from a classmate and her brother’s friend, Megan finds the brother she lost…but is he the brother she recognizes?

This was…interesting. It took me a while to get into this book because I’ve been reading a lot of dark books lately (and that gets to me), so I had to distance myself a bit before I could actually enjoy it.

But enjoy it I did. This was a surprising read on a couple of levels.

I knew this was supposed to be a mystery, since Megan doesn’t really know what happened to her brother and why he died. But the mystery is actually good. There are unexpected twists. And it’s not always the focus of the story, so you don’t get burnt out on it before the end.

The whole supernatural Megan-can-see-an-object’s-history thing was a bit weird and I’m not sure it got explained well enough for me, but I bought into it. It became a fixture in this story and I really wanted to see how it would play out, even though it sometimes came across a bit cliche or just bizarre.

The characters are a huge selling point for this book. This is a family going through turmoil, with their 18 year old son dead and more questions than answers. That’s devastating, and the characters all react in different ways to their grief, just like real people. But more than that, even though there are so many people grieving, they have interesting motivations when it comes to living their lives. Megan has something to get out of bed for in the morning while you can see another character feeling like they don’t have that. The characters were flawed, but they were real.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this story was its fixation on Abraham Lincoln. Since this story is set in D.C. and Megan’s mom works at Ford’s Theatre, most of the characters have more than a passing interest in the past president. It’s kind of weird how obsessive it sometimes gets, but for the most part, it was really cool. As a history buff, I approve. (And there are so many facts in this that most people don’t know about the people surrounding the president!)

This was surprising. And it was those surprises that kept me coming back.

Throwback Thursday: Anna and the French Kiss

Hey guys!  It’s SUMMER and so while I’m reading so many new books, I sometimes interrupt all those new books to reread something off of my bookshelves.  After reading a few really dark, emotional stories about death, I needed a fun break.  And what should have caught my eye but Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.  So I thought I’d do a throwback review!

annaukI originally read this in February of 2011 during my freshman year of college and I hadn’t reread it since.  I’m really excited to compare my original review with my thoughts now!  (The original review will be in italics, but if you would like to read the actual review, you can find it here.  This was one of my first reviews, so don’t judge it too harshly.)

As strange as it sounds, I am very hesitant to give it as high a rating as I will.  It’s not because it’s bad (because it’s far from that), but because it has mirrored my first year in college with alarming accuracy.  And it’s forced me to see things I was much happier not facing.  

Even six years later, I still stand by this.  I spent my entire freshman year thinking I was in love with my best friend, just like Anna.  And we had one misunderstanding after another, just like Anna.  This book actually helped me say something to him about it.  (It kind of blew up in my face, but I don’t blame the book.)  Still, it was super eerie.

That’s probably part of the reason this book gets such good ratings.  Girls can always recall that one guy that they fell in love with even though they knew they shouldn’t.

Stephanie Perkins, in my opinion, has written the quintessential unrequited love story.  Never have I read another story that hits so close to reality when it comes to that mix of bliss and masochism that is unrequited love.  The characters are beautifully written and I love each and every one of them.

The pain Anna feels is raw (and mixed with my own, it’s a lethal combination).

I may have been a bit melodramatic, but Perkins has always excelled at writing emotions with such skill that it feels personal.  Sure, it didn’t hit me as hard this time as it did six years ago (I’m in a happy relationship at the moment, so no more unrequited love, thank God), but the emotions are still there.  I remember those feelings, as I’m sure nearly all of you do as well.  The feelings of betrayal, happiness, loneliness, lost-ness (I may be making up a new word there, but I’m an English teacher, so I can), and rightness when you’re with the right person.  And Perkins perfectly encapsulates them in Anna’s experiences.

What’s really awesome is that this summer, I’ve started teaching myself French and I can understand more of the French that pops up in this story now, and I get the French culture a little better.  The setting of this is probably why I picked this book in the first place out of the hundred others in my possession.  C’est trés belle en France oui?  Bien sûr!  (My French is still really basic, but I’m learning.)

Anyway, the setting of this book is gorgeous.  Not only is it in Paris, but Anna ends up visiting some of the beautiful landmarks in the city.  The Panthéon, Notre-Dame, many cafes around the city.  I just love how much culture is in this book.

Even after all these years, I still find that this book speaks on a level that is just so different from many of its contemporaries in the YA contemporary romance category.  It’s just different.  The characters are different and the situation is different.  This book totally deserves every rose I give it.

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1)

81xxsrsppulFirst Lines: The scythe arrived late on a cold November afternoon.  Citra was at the dining room table, slaving over a particularly difficult algebra problem, shuffling variables, unable to solve for X or Y, when this new and far more pernicious variable entered her life’s equation.

Ok, let’s all agree that Neal Shusterman is an amazing author who is delightfully messed up.  (I mean this as a compliment.)  I’ve read a few of his previous books (Unwind, for example) and they are way creepy.  I love stories about grim reapers, so I desperately wanted to read this.  I just hoped it wasn’t going to give me nightmares.

Citra lives in a perfect world.  There is no such thing as poverty, no such thing as hunger, no such thing as depression or war.  Humanity has even conquered death.  In order to keep the population under control, the only ones who can end lives are scythes, who must follow specific guidelines about how they do it.  Citra and another boy, Rowan, are chosen to be apprentices to a scythe–a job neither of them wants.  They must master taking lives, or they could lose their own.  Who will become a scythe and who will die?

I initially liked the premise that this was about basically grim reapers, only they’re alive and revered like holy men or celebrities (it’s a fine line for some people).  I’ve read a lot of reaper stories, but most of them have to do with ghosts or people thinking they’re crazy.  Which is fine; I really enjoy those.  I probably should stop calling these “reapers” though because they aren’t actually what we think of as reapers.  They’re more like glorified murderers, but someone has to keep the population in line.

This is more of a dystopian/futuristic story, and that lost me a little bit, but I came around to it. I’m not really into sci-fi unless I know I’m getting into it ahead of time.  This was a surprise, though I can’t really say what I thought it would be.  But I eventually settled into the story and liked it.  It was really interesting.

The characters are really what drive the story. Citra and Rowan are clever, flawed, brutal, and compassionate. It’s a really intriguing mix of characteristics for our leads. But even more than that, we have compelling villains that don’t see themselves as villains, heroes who make mistakes, and people who are corruptible but are good at heart. I mean, these characters make mistakes and it feels real.  Just like people, you find yourself making excuses for a character because you know their actions don’t reflect who they are at heart.  That’s some good writing there.

This story tends to explore a lot of deep questions about life, death, and everything in between. It does slow down the action a bit, but it really helps set up the conflicts. And trust me, there’s plenty of action in this story. It’s just a bit more strategic about it.

There’s a lot of commentary here about our society and how our society could change with all these advancements in technology. It’s interesting, but from time to time I did skim over things. I tried not to, but I think it happened more often than I remember. But it was an accident! I’d only realize it later.

Really, this was just fun to read. There was a lot of action and interest, a lot of depth, and great characters. I’m really interested to see where this series goes.  I know it doesn’t exactly sound like it, but I had a hard time putting this down.  There are some really excellent twists in this story, and of course, excellent writing.  I can’t commend that enough.