The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend

Image result for the duff bookFirst Lines: This was getting old.  Once again, Casey and Jessica were making complete fools of themselves, shaking their asses like dancers in a rap video.  But I guess guys eat that shit up, don’t they?  I could honestly feel my IQ dropping as I wondered, for the hundredth time that night, why I let them drag me here again.

This was one of those rare cases where I saw the movie before I read the book.  (I thought the movie looked interesting whereas the book…not as much.)  So when I finally bought this for cheap last summer, I got around to reading it eventually.

Bianca Piper is feisty.  She doesn’t take crap from anyone, she’s cynical, and she’s too smart to fall for pick-up lines.  And while she’s unfailingly loyal to her friends, she feels like they’re way prettier than she is.  Enter Wesley Rush, the slimy hottie with no brain to his name.  When Wesley calls her the “Duff”, Bianca throws her Coke in his face.  But Bianca’s home life isn’t great right now and she’s desperate for a distraction.  So she kisses Wesley…and likes it.  Soon, Bianca and Wesley are engaged in an enemies-with-benefits style relationship.  Only that backfires when Bianca realizes that Wesley isn’t that bad after all, that he has problems too, and she may actually be falling for the guy she thought she hated.

I knew going into this book that the book and the movie were supposed to be vastly different.  (I forget who told me that, but at least I knew.)  And they were very different, but they were both good in their own ways.

Bianca is sassy and dark, which I kind of liked, especially since it was so different from her friends. But I just liked her. She knows who she is, but that doesn’t save her from self-confidence issues.  And I feel like that’s realistic because sometimes the people who put up the most confident front are the ones who have the most insecurity.

Actually, I liked pretty much all of the characters. It was easy to see people I know in some of the characters. I thought some of the action was a little over the top, but not unrealistic. Just that things seemed a little too convenient, but not outlandishly so.

Looking back on this, what stands out to me the most is that this book, for all of its fluff, actually covers some really heavy topics.  Alcoholism, absentee parents, stereotypes, self-confidence issues, and more.  That’s what I remember from this book: that it tackled tougher subjects.  As I mentioned, some of it did seem a little over the top, but I thought it was good that it at least talked about them.

The romance was…interesting. It was nontraditional (with the whole hate angle) and a whole lot more…action-y…than I was expecting. It wasn’t bad, just different.  (However, just as a warning, if you aren’t a fan of reading about characters getting it on, you may want to avoid this book.  It happens a lot.)

Also as a general warning, there’s a lot of profanity in this book, if you couldn’t guess from the first lines.  If that bothers you, maybe just stick to the movie.

Anyway, I ended up thinking this was pretty well written and interesting.

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Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe, #2)

Image result for thunderheadFirst Lines: How fortunate am I among the sentient to know my purpose.  I serve humankind.  I am the child who has become the parent.  The creation that aspires toward creator.

The first book in this series was all-consuming, to the point where I didn’t get a whole lot done after I started reading it.  I had a feeling (and a hope) that this one would be similar in that respect.  At the time, I needed something that could help me escape the world.

Rowan and Citra, former friends, now sit on opposite sides of the Scythedom.  Rowan has gone rogue, serving up his own brand of vigilante justice as Scythe Lucifer, taking out corrupt scythes across the continent.  Citra, a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, wants to curb corruption from the inside out.  But this is harder than she thought it would be, as she’s struck down by “new order” scythes at every turn.  She realizes she can’t do this alone and turns to Scythes Curie and Faraday for help–but she also risks being “deadish” to talk to the Thunderhead for help.  But will the Thunderhead help or will it simply watch the destruction unfold?

I was thoroughly impressed.

From the moment I started this book, I was sucked into it. Something about Shusterman’s writing style with this series is just captivating. It didn’t matter if I read two paragraphs or twenty pages; I was always lost in it.

Part of it is because I actually really enjoy the idea of scythes and their supposedly humane gleanings in a perfect utopian world. I think that concept in itself is interesting, especially when you factor in the different facets of that utopian world. How they don’t understand greed and jealousy, how technology has perfected everything, how if they die in an accident it’s not even a true death. Everyone comes back. It’s just alien enough to actually feel realistic in a sense.

But it’s the characters who really sell this story. Everyone from the wise and compassionate scythes like Citra/Anastasia and Curie to the “villains” of the scythedom. Every character plays a role and every character totally sells it.  Seriously–you even understand where the villains come from even as you want to beat them to a pulp.  It’s really awesome.

Also, the suspense and plots twists in this are fantastic. It’s just incredible where this story ends up going. You do not see it coming.  This was one ending that I never ever would have predicted in any way, shape, or form.  Shusterman upped the ante on that one from where most YA goes.

So so good. I’m totally ready to see where this story goes next. If I know Shusterman, it’s about to get really weird.

Top Ten Favorite Books from The Great American Read

Hello everyone!  I’m pretty much obsessed at this point with this PBS special/contest-thingy where America gets to vote on their favorite books from a list of 100.  There are so many excellent choices and I thought I would take the time today to talk about my favorites from this list.  If you have some other favorites on the list, please share!  I’m hoping to work my way through a number of these books this summer!

Top Ten Favorite Books from the Great American Read

(in no particular order)

1. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Ever since I got into Christie as a teenager (a 7th grader, really), this one has kept me puzzled.  I even taught it last year to my 8th graders and I still don’t totally get how everything it woven together.  It’s genius, and every reread reveals something new I didn’t catch the time before.

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This book is pure gold.  I reread it just about every year (I’m up to 5-6 times now) and it’s just beautiful.  Everything about it is beautiful and heartfelt.

3. Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews

When my mom recommended this to me as a 7th grader, I was super weirded out by what I was reading.  But this tale of abuse and incest is quite riveting.  I ended up reading the whole series.  In middle school.  (Did I mention that I was a book nerd and pretty weird in middle school?  I blame my mom.  Like, at least a little, anyway.)

4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The more and more I learn about Mary Shelley, the more I respect this book.  It’s celebrating its 200th anniversary this year and this book was so revolutionary during its time.  Not to mention everyone still knows who Frankenstein’s monster is and his basic backstory.  (Did you catch my distinction between Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster?  Oh, I went there.)

5. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

What more can I say about this series?  It chanced the lives of an entire generation and if this doesn’t end up winning the vote, I’ll eat my hat.  Then I’ll go join Dumbledore for lemon drops.

6. Looking for Alaska by John Green

While this wasn’t the John Green book I was expecting to find on this list (I’m really surprised it wasn’t The Fault in Our Stars), this was still a solid pick.  It deals with some really heavy topics for  teens, but some that need to be aired.  And they come out with Green’s distinctive sense of humor and realism.

7. The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

If I’m going to spend an entire summer reading an 8-part series of books that are all well over 1,000 pages and I’m going to cry during nearly each of the books, you can bet I’m going to be casting votes for this one.

8. The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

I totally loved this series when it first came out.  The action, the romance, the rebellion.  But the older I get, the more realistic it seems.  Someday soon, we’re all going to be those survivors in District 13, fighting back against the Capitol.  In its own way, this book is also changing a generation, just like Harry Potter.

9. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

I didn’t read this until I was teaching, but I adore this book.  I’ve read it 4-5 times now and it’s just genius.  And the fact that Hinton was only a teenager herself when she wrote this?  It’s astounding.

10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This is another revolutionary book, and one that highlights the subtle (and not so subtle) stereotypes and racisms that are ingrained in people in America.  I love that it’s told from a child’s perspective because it helps to show just how irrational  stereotypes are.

Into the Bright Unknown (The Gold Seer Trilogy, #3)

Image result for into the bright unknownFirst Lines: The log cabin I share with the Joyner family is murky and dank, with a packed dirt that moistens to near mud at the base of the walls.  But it has a solid roof, a cozy box stove, and–best of all–a single bright east-facing window with a real glass pane.  Real glass!

I adore Rae Carson’s writing, especially since everything I’ve read weaves in some element of magic/fantasy.  She’s very talented in that.  And to finish off this series, I was excited.

Life is so much better than Leah could have predicted.  Having made it to California Territory, Leah, her fiance, and her friends are rich and settled.  But their riches make them a target for a rich billionaire intent on destroying them.  They decide that it’s time to fight back with all they have.  As Lee’s magic becomes stronger and more powerful, she realizes someone may have figured out her magic…someone who may have magic herself.  With a daring plan in mind, Lee and her friends will have to be brave but careful as they attempt to finally make California safe for themselves.

I really enjoy the cleverness in Carson’s writing. Even though I can catch most of the foreshadowing because I know her writing style, I still usually miss a few things. (Side note: it’s not a bad thing that I can spot the foreshadowing. It makes me look forward to the reveal.)

This was a pretty good conclusion to this series. I like that it’s over a historical time period that doesn’t get much attention and that it has diverse characters.  (And boy, does it cover diversity!)  That just gives it another layer that other Gold Rush stories lack.

Lee is very smart and clever herself, so it’s interesting to read about her getting herself into and out of trouble as she tries to bring justice to California. I like the whole cast of characters as well, though I will say that it is a large cast and it took me a while to keep everyone straight again, since it’s been a while since I read the previous books.

The action of this book was interesting. It had action at times and was more subtle at others. I never got bored, per se, but there were times when it didn’t always have my full attention. But once I got to the second half, I was pretty well hooked.  The second half is where the plotting/scheming really picks up anyway and I have to say, this scheme was pretty much genius.

This is a really interesting historical fantasy series that touches on real issues and I very much enjoyed it.  Maybe not as much as I enjoyed the Girl of Fire and Thorns series, but it was still good.

Ripper

Image result for ripper stefan petruchaFirst Lines: “Let me show you a secret.”  Elizabeth B. Rowley liked the man’s confidence.  She usually mingled with balding walrus types or younger men, who were as awkward as the monkeys in the Central Park Zoo.  This one was different…wolfish.

Alright, this is another throwback review of mine from NOVEMBER.  Ugh.  I’m disgusting myself at this point.  So, this was a book I had in my possession for a super long time, totally intending on reading because I have a love-hate relationship with reading about anything associated with Jack the Ripper.  So it sat in Book Purgatory until I finally picked it up.

Carver Young’s dream is to become a detective.  But being an orphan with no real social mobility available to him, he just has to reach his dream by reading mystery novels.  That is, until the day Detective Hawking of the Pinkerton Agency discovers Carver’s talent for sleuthing.  Carver is given the chance not only to find his biological father, but to also find the serial killer taking over New York City.  But when the answers aren’t what Carver is expecting, he’s forced to make some very difficult decisions.  Including his loyalty to Detective Hawking.  With the body count rising, Carver will need to decide quickly.

At the time, I kept reading this in spurts. I’d start it, read 40-50 pages, then put it down for a week before reading some more. It wasn’t that it was bad…it just wasn’t keeping my attention.

Our lead, Carver, is clever. He’s an orphan, but at least moderately well educated. He loves mysteries and, when he discovers that his own life contains a gigantic mystery, he enthusiastically jumps into it. And while all of that was great, I just never quite connected with him. He was almost too clinical. I couldn’t get into his headspace because the only emotions he seemed to feel were interest, confusion, and fear. But the suspense didn’t exactly translate for me.

There were a number of characters and, even though it took me so long to read, I was able to keep them all straight. That alone is impressive and tells me that each one had a unique personality. There were some I really liked (Delia, Emeril) and some based on history that I thought was awesome (Teddy Roosevelt and his daughter, Alice). There was a lot to like about many of them.

Some of the characters were also super quirky.  Looking back on this book 6 months later, there are still a number of them (particularly Detective Hawking and Alice, who was actually this weird in real life) that still stayed with me.  Have I mentioned before that I thoroughly love quirky people?

And speaking of history, the author does a fairly nice job tying in actual history with his fiction. I mean, we’re talking about Jack the Ripper and that information was accurate. The history about Roosevelt was fun too, especially since he’s such a bombastic and flamboyant person to begin with. I got a little fed up with the technology though. Some things, like information about the telephone and pneumatic subway, were accurate as the author acknowledges in the end. But he also made up a lot of other technology that’s anachronistic for the time and that just bugs me when I read a historical fiction. Not to mention that wasn’t why I was reading this book. I couldn’t care less about the technology; I wanted the mystery.   I felt like that took away from the plot a bit.

I thought the mystery was actually pretty well done. I started suspecting the killer by the end, but it’s quite convoluted the whole time leading up to it. It makes some sense, but I’ll also admit it seems a bit far-fetched. Again, it was just a little hard for me to buy into it. Perhaps weirdly, I didn’t feel like there was all that much of a tie to Jack the Ripper. But maybe that comes from taking so long to read this.

We’ve also got this weird cliffhanger at the end that makes it feel like this isn’t the end of the book, but as far as I can tell there is no other book. So I’m not really sure what to make of that, unless it was just open like that in case the book did well enough to warrant a sequel.

It’s not a book that I would rush to reread, but there were parts of it that I liked.  It was just slower than I wanted it to be.

These Vicious Masks

23688792-2First Lines: Death.  This carriage was taking me straight to my death.

Hey there!  So I’m trying to catch up on some of the reviews of books that I read months and months ago, but never blogged about.  Now, I don’t have as many as I thought I would because I got on a nonfiction kick there for a very long time, but there are some.  This beauty comes to us from SEPTEMBER OF 2017.  Dear God.

I’m going to copy the summary from Goodreads: England, 1882. Evelyn is bored with society and its expectations. So when her beloved sister, Rose, mysteriously vanishes, she ignores her parents and travels to London to find her, accompanied by the dashing Mr. Kent. But they’re not the only ones looking for Rose. The reclusive, young gentleman Sebastian Braddock is also searching for her, claiming that both sisters have special healing powers. Evelyn is convinced that Sebastian must be mad, until she discovers that his strange tales of extraordinary people are true—and that her sister is in graver danger than she feared.

This book started off really strong. I was pulled in by the fear Evelyn had, struggling to find her sister and knowing something was wrong when no one else believed her. I was grabbed by the contradictory personalities of the two men, Mr. Braddock and Mr. Kent. I wanted to know what was going to happen and where Rose was.

But after a while, it started to fall off. All that action and suspense got a little too wrapped up in trying–and failing–to make a tense love triangle. It got lost in a very lofty plot that sort of suffered in the execution. There was just too much going on, too many characters, and too little time figuring it all out. Answers would more or less appear, rather than Evelyn working for them. Things were just…too convenient.  (That’s something I desperately hate in this post-Sherlock world of storytelling.)

And seriously, that “love triangle” was kind of ridiculous. First of all, neither side really seemed too concerned about the other. But perhaps worst of all, Evelyn seemed ambivalent to both of them, which really killed the mood for a love triangle. I liked it at the beginning when she was still just figuring out who Mr. Braddock was, but it quickly got old when it remained status quo and nothing happened. Just like a tennis match, it was a lot of back and forth.  (Also, I generally hate love triangles, as a rule.)

So yeah.  This book could have been a lot better.  It wasn’t awful (like I said, I really liked the beginning), but by the end it was just…yeah.

I’M BACK! + Great American Reads

HOLY GUACAMOLE BATMAN, I’M BACK.

After something like a 5 month hiatus (plus, let’s be honest, a barely-there presence for like 6 months before that), I feel like I’m ready to be blogging again.

Let’s be real: I missed you guys.  I miss talking about books, I miss a supportive reader community, and I miss a shared excitement over books.

I feel like over the last 6 months, I’ve changed a lot as a person.  That guy I previously mentioned, my high school crush that I reconnected with?  Yeah, that went from spectacular to spectacularly wrong.  I didn’t feel like I was getting the respect I deserved as a person, as a woman with life and dreams of my own.  Anyway, I called that off and I’ve felt a resurgence of confidence and identity about who I truly am.

And a major part of that that I’ve been denying/starving for some time is my reader side.

Now that my summer is about to start (with the end of my 4th year of teaching!), I’m ready to dive back into the world of books.  And I have a number of reviews stocked and ready to go.  And hopefully a few lists in mind.

But I wanted to share with you this thing that has me really excited this summer.

It’s called the Great American Read.  If you haven’t heard about it, it’s a PBS special/contest where you vote for your favorite book from a list of 100 that a survey compiled as the favorite/most life changing books of Americans.  I watched the special when it aired on Tuesday and I have to say, I’m really excited to get to read some of these.  A few I’ve heard of before, a lot I haven’t.  But it was really cool to see so many people (authors, celebrities, etc.) talking about how these books have changed their lives.

The way voting works (if you’re interested) is that you can vote all summer long, once a day, for as many books as you want to.  It’s pretty awesome in that respect.

There’s also a quiz that you take to total up all of the books you’ve read on this list.  I scored 25/100, which I think is pretty decent.  The list is a collection of contemporary books (The Help, Looking for Alaska, Game of Thrones) and the classics we all know (Pride and Prejudice, Tom Sawyer, Great Expectations) and the quirky (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Alice in Wonderland, Flowers in the Attic) and the politically charged (The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games, To Kill a Mockingbird).  Now, these are only 12 of the 100 nominated.  I highly recommend that you check this list out.  It’s awesome and you’ll probably find a few books on this list that you can add to your summer reading list.

Oh, and the best part?

#YARepresents

Yeah, YA (and a few other children’s books) makes a pretty awesome showing on this list.  They include:

  • Charlotte’s Web
  • The Hunger Games
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Looking for Alaska
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • The Book Thief
  • Hatchet
  • The Outsiders
  • Twilight

And did I forget to mention Harry-freaking-Potter?  For real, I know that all of the books on this list (ok…most…I’m looking at you Fifty Shades of Grey) deserve this recognition and a shot at winning.  But let’s be realistic: there are very very few books that have made the kind of impact that Harry Potter has on an entire generation.  If this series doesn’t win/end up in the top 5, I will eat the imaginary hat that I do not own.  (That’s not a great bet consequence, but since I make the rules…)

So yeah.  It’s going to take me some time to fall back into the blogging routine, but I’ll get there.  I really miss writing and sharing my thoughts with you guys, and perhaps by telling you guys about my adventures in the Great American Read at the very least will help me get back into the swing of things.

Until then!

~Holly