Slay (Freya, #2)

Image result for slay matthew laurenceFirst lines: The lava hasn’t even cooled yet.

We interrupt our dour doom-and-gloom post of yesterday to bring you something light and fluffy: a marshmallow!  I joke.  But really, this book is light and funny that it can blast away pretty much any bad mood.  So what did I think of it?  Let’s find out.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

After Freya escaped from the Finemdi Corporation, she journeys to Hollywood with her friend/high priest Nathan and Egyptian goddess bestie Sekhmet.  Again, Freya disguises herself as Sara Vanadi, an up-and-coming actress on a television show.  She desperately needs followers because each worshiper she has gives her more of the power she had when the Norse gods ruled.  But her enemies aren’t done with her yet.  Freya needs to walk a fine line between goddess and mortal.  Because if she loses her humanity, who will save the world?

The first book in this series bowled me over. I mean, it was sassy and action-packed, absurd and so much fun.

This book really isn’t any different in those respects, but I struggled with it. Part of it probably had nothing to do with the book. It was a book hangover from finishing a different series and while I thought I wanted something completely different from what I had just finished, apparently that was not the case.

But part of it, I think, was the book. It’s hard to put my finger on what exactly it was, but I’m going to try.

Ok, so Freya/Sara is still as sarcastic and kick-butt as ever. She will grind you into dust and examine her nails as she does so and it’sawesome. But I think part of what was weird about this book was that Sara was so unsure about herself. And I get that it’s not a bad thing to have flaws (she has plenty in other respects, like being pretty impulsive and morally iffy in some of her actions), but the self-consciousness was odd. I mean, we pretty much never saw her question herself in any respect in the first book and then about a quarter into this one, she suddenly starts feeling unsure about a lot. It was an odd tone for her to take.

I will say that one of my complaints about the first book was fixed this time around. I thought Nathan felt like a flat character last time, but that was definitely not the case this time around. I appreciated that. And getting to know other characters, like Sekhmet. She’s an interesting one.

The action’s also not as fast as it was in the last one. Last time, we were getting introduced to Norse mythology (if you weren’t well-versed in it anyway), figuring out just what exactly Finemdi wanted, and discovering Freya’s character. This time, it just felt slower. Sara decides she’s going to be a movie star for all the idolization, but every step of her journey was mentioned. Her spa days, her shopping sprees, her magicking her way to the top. In the reality TV-soaked world that we live in, I thought we may not have needed all of the details. I saw in a way why they were there, but it slowed the pace.

I will say that the end was quite adventurous. It took a very huge risk and I thought it paid off. That was gutsy and I respected that. I’m interested to see where that goes from there.

It’s so not a bad story. I’m still very invested in the story. Just the wrong book at the wrong time, I think.

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The Year I Was Stalked: A True Story

I bet that title got your attention, didn’t it?

So recently, one of my previous posts, my attack on the “friend-zone” construct as a way to shame girls into dating boys they don’t like, has gotten popular again.  And I’m always looking for ways to pass on wisdom to others so they don’t make my mistakes, so I thought this was a story it was time to tell.

Frankly, most of the time, I try to forget about it.  Not because it’s traumatizing, but because it’s uncomfortable.

Let me set the scene for you.  In 2009, I was a senior in high school.  I was about 5’6″, 110 pounds, sarcastic, witty, even more of an avid book nerd than I am now, and blossoming with newfound confidence.  That was the year I discovered that I was a good actress.  I’d gotten the lead in my school play in my first show.

Now let me introduce you to *Kaiden.  (*I’m changing everyone’s name within this post for privacy, even though I highly doubt it will ever get back to anyone.)  In 2009, Kaiden was a freshman in high school.  He was roughly 6′ tall, easily over 200 pounds (more fat than muscle but still not exactly someone to mess with), had a lazy eye, and lacked social skills.  We’ll come back to that last part later.  But suffice it to say that Kaiden would not have looked out of place in a crowd of football linebackers.

The first time I saw Kaiden was after one of my rehearsals for the play in October.  It was the end of practice and everyone was getting ready to go.  We’d been sitting on the stage getting our notes about what we needed to work on and everyone was walking off to get their things.  I turned and happened to look into one of the stage’s wings.  The wing itself was dark but there was a hallway beyond that was lit.  All I could see was a figure standing in the doorway, unable to make out any of his features.  All I knew was that he was staring in my direction.  For a moment, I almost thought he was a ghost, but then he moved away down the hall.

It freaked me out.

One of my friends who was also a freshman saw him and knew who he was.  He more or less rolled his eyes and gave off the impression that no one liked Kaiden.

Besides the fact that it was a little creepy, I didn’t think anything more about it or him until around February, when we started rehearsing for our spring musical, The Sound of Music.

If you’re unfamiliar with the musical, it’s the story of the Von Trapp family (a widowed father and his seven children) who hire Maria, a local postulate, to be their governess.  And it’s all set in Austria just as the Nazis are coming to power.

I played Liesl, the oldest girl who is sixteen-going-on-seventeen.  It was a bigger role, so I needed to be at most every practice, especially since I had to help the rest of the kids (ages 5-15) learn their dances and lines.

Kaiden got a role as an extra/chorus member.  Even though he didn’t need to be, he was also at most practices.

At first, he was simply an annoyance.  It was clear early on that he had some kind of infatuation with me.  He tried to be in my general area as often as he could.  He even befriended my Rolf, who was a home-schooled musical prodigy, which gave Kaiden even more of a reason to hang around me, since Rolf and I were usually together for scenes.

I need to introduce two others as well.  Because of their roles as Georg Von Trapp (my “father”) and Friedrich Von Trapp (my “little brother”), I’m going to call them Fred and George.  Ironically, they are actually quite similar to the Weasley twins.

Both Fred and George were class clowns, though George was a senior like me and Fred was a freshman.  George was the head of our drama club, a former football player, just over 6′ tall and also over 200 pounds.  He had the respect of everyone in the group and no one dared cross him.  Fred, as a low-man on the totem pole, didn’t have the same respect, but people generally liked him for his goofball tendencies.

Both of them became my protectors.

Kaiden started to let it be known that he had a crush on me.  In typical high school fashion, he told George who was supposed to tell me about the crush while Kaiden watched my reaction from somewhere else.  While I don’t remember what my reaction was, it must not have dissuaded him or impressed him.

So Kaiden did more to get my attention.

He started memorizing my schedule and showing up wherever I was.  Even though he didn’t eat the same lunch period as me, he started showing up at my lunch and sitting at the table with me and my friends (who included Fred, the freshman).  He started crossing my path in the hallways during the school day.  And, of course, he intruded on every moment he could at musical practice.  Like if I was working on a scene with the kids in a hallway, he was standing there watching and talking to Rolf.

It started to creep me out, but I didn’t say much of anything.  Sure, my friends knew and they helped me run interference so I wasn’t alone with him, but it didn’t feel like a problem.  Yet.

Then he started getting violent with my friends, specifically Fred.  Because they had a history, I think he felt like he could do more to him.  I just remember one lunch period where Kaiden showed up unexpectedly and sat at the table.  Fred, who had a short fuse to begin with especially when Kaiden was involved, made one snarky comment too many for Kaiden.  Kaiden grabbed Fred’s books and hit him over the head with them.  It was obvious that Fred was in pain, but Kaiden was laughing about it.

I tore into him.  I yelled at him.  I told him something along the lines of hurting my friends was not a way to earn my affection.  In fact, it was doing the opposite.

He left like a dog with his tail between his legs.  But he wasn’t done either.

Through all of this, I didn’t tell any adults.  At 18, I thought I was old enough to handle my own problems.  Besides, nothing had really happened besides the lunch time violence and even that would have probably looked like teenage horse play to a teacher.  (As a teacher now, I can confirm that boys do stupid stuff like that all the time.)

Still, I felt uneasy just going to practices at this point.  Kaiden always found a way to get near me.  And he had little concept of a “personal bubble,” so whenever he’d sit by me to talk, we were practically touching.  And that was something I certainly didn’t want.

So I talked to my friends.  George, who already hated Kaiden anyway, came up with the idea of being my pretend boyfriend to dissuade Kaiden from pursuing me.  I agreed.

On the afternoon we put it into effect, I sat in the choir room waiting for practice to begin.  George was hovering in wait nearby, watching for Kaiden to come in.  When Kaiden entered, he started to make his way over to me.  George cut him off and took a seat next to me.  “Hey babe,” George said, sliding his arm over my shoulder and pulling me in.

Kaiden quickly changed directions and walked away.  He started asking around, clearly not believing our ruse at first, but he started to buy it when my friends (who were in on it all) started backing it up.

Like most teenagers, we celebrated our victory by making fun of Kaiden.  Out of his hearing, of course.  We thought we had won.

But it was about to get worse.

Later in that same practice, I was standing in the darkened wing watching my friends practice their scene.  While I wasn’t going to be on for some time, I liked watching how everything would all fit together.

Kaiden appeared out of nowhere and cornered me.  Where I was standing was about four feet wide at most, with some of that room being taken up by the thick stage curtain.  So when Kaiden stood in front of me, my back was to a cinder block wall and he was so close we were nearly touching.  And he was towering over me.

“How long have you and George been dating?” he asked, trying to get as many details as he could.  He was smiling as he asked me, like he was happy for us.  I went along with the story, fabricating something as I went while sending glances in either direction as a cry for help.

No, Kaiden hadn’t touched me.  He hadn’t threatened me.  He hadn’t technically broken any rules.  But I was so incredibly uncomfortable with the situation that I was desperate.

Thankfully, two of my friends who were extras saw my distress and faked an excuse to get me out of there, claiming they needed help with their dances.  Kaiden watched me go and when my friends got me alone, we came up with a “distress code.”

We were stupid, but we went with something inconspicuous.  I had a habit at the time of playing with my hair, so that was our signal.

If I wasn’t careful, though, it looked like flirty hair twirling.  I didn’t realize that until much later.

Near the end of practice, Kaiden cornered me again.  This time, I was standing on the edge of the stage when he approached.  He left me nowhere to go except to fall off the stage and started talking to me.  I could see my friends were frantically talking to George, telling him about how Kaiden had cornered me and our new sign.

I tugged on my hair and George came quickly to my side, my knight in shining armor.  He wrapped an arm around me and we talked to Kaiden for a few minutes until Kaiden walked off.

Then George turned on me.  He was angry that I hadn’t told him about the signal, that I had let myself get cornered by Kaiden, that I hadn’t asked for help sooner.

At the time, I didn’t think it was that bad. I was sorry I’d upset George, but Kaiden wasn’t going to hurt me.  Looking back, though, I can see why George was worried.  I can understand better why all of my friends kept urging me to be more careful.  While I still don’t think to this day that Kaiden would have hurt me, I have to admit he was something of a lose cannon.  He was unpredictable at best.

But that day was the last straw for me.  I told my parents what was going on and, while they found elements of it all funny (like the hair-twirling and George’s plan), they told me I needed to tell someone at school.

So on Monday, I arranged to talk with the assistant principal, whom I’d never had a conversation with before.  I told him about Kaiden’s advances and his violence against Fred (which still happened from time to time in moderation) and how he was showing up during a lunch he didn’t even have.

The vice principal took notes and said he would have a talk with Kaiden and if things didn’t change, I was to come back.

Thankfully, a talk from authority was all it took to dissuade Kaiden and convince him I had no interest.  He started keeping his distance and, while not exactly avoiding me, didn’t try to engage me every moment either.

A week or so passed and I was able to put it out of my head.  I came to school on a Saturday to help build sets when the issue came up again.  My director, who I’m going to call Mr. Darcy and who is perhaps the best person I know and love and respect, called me aside to talk.  The vice principal had told him what had happened and he wanted to know why I hadn’t come to him.

The truth was that I hadn’t wanted to disappoint him.  I valued Mr. Darcy’s opinion of me over virtually everyone else’s.  But by not telling him about this very real and fairly preventable problem, I had disappointed him all the same.  And it hurt.

Thankfully, it all blew over in my case.  I know this is not the case for others.  I was able to move on and I wasn’t emotionally scarred by it all.  Others are not so lucky.

I’ve only had two or three run-ins with Kaiden since, when I couldn’t avoid him.  The last instance was in May as I tried out for a community theater.  When I saw Kaiden, I did everything I could to stay away from him, to avoid eye contact and to be as inconspicuous as possible.  But Kaiden and I got put into the same audition group and there was no avoiding it anymore.

But Kaiden barely even recognized me.  He had to ask me what my name was and only vaguely remembered that we’d gone to school together.

So maybe it did all scar me a little more than I thought.

If you find yourself in a situation like this, where you find yourself the object of a guy’s unwanted affection (whether it’s even more minor than mine and especially if it’s more major), you need to tell people in authority.  At school, that’s easy–counselor, principal, teacher, coach.  As a teacher, I can assure you that that news makes its way through the right channels to make it stop.  I get emails frequently to keep X away from Z or to watch the halls to see if anyone starts bullying Y.  The more teachers and administrators know, the more they can help you.

Maybe it’s something that’s happening at work.  If it’s a coworker, you need to talk to authority, stat.  And yeah, that might be really difficult.  Perhaps you have a horrible manager/boss who doesn’t believe you or care.  Maybe the offender is your manager/boss.  If that’s true, maybe you need to find a way to go higher or even perhaps call the police department (the non-emergency line, not 911) and try to get help.  (Depending on the severity, a restraining order may be possible.)  You should not have to feel like a victim just because you don’t return the feelings.

I was lucky.  Mine happened in a place that was always populated with other people.  There was almost zero chance of it turning into something worse than just being followed or being watched.  Others of you may not feel as safe.  Please do what you can to keep yourself safe.  Make those around you aware of the problem.  Don’t be alone with that person.  Walk to your car with someone else.  Keep your phone close so you can dial for help if you need to.

It absolutely kills me that I am telling you to follow all of these defensive strategies.  You shouldn’t have to.  Nothing makes you feel hunted more than trying to avoid and outsmart the hunter.  But unfortunately, there are places and times in this world where that’s unavoidable.  Mollie Tibbetts did everything right in order to fight off her attacker and it still wasn’t enough.

I can’t help but wish sometimes that in this world, it was more ok for women to have agency in their own feelings and wants.  Oh, you don’t like this guy?  Fine, he moves on.  No big deal.  But more and more often, I’m seeing that’s not the way many men view it.  Some men see themselves as deserving that affection and when they don’t get it, they get angry.  It’s like women are an Affection ATM: men push the buttons and love comes out.  These kind of men see it as their right to have a girlfriend, to have your love whether you like it or not.  You as a person do not matter to them.  You are an object, something for them to possess.  It’s a horrible realization and a cruel reality.

Please, please, if you find yourself in this kind of position, promise me that you will get help.  Telling your friends, your family, your coworkers is a good start if they can help protect you.  But you have to go higher if you can.  And perhaps nothing will change.  In the workplace, this push-back is somewhat common.  They’re not going to fire someone over being creepy.

I thought the same thing with Kaiden, that there wasn’t anything they could do.  He hadn’t broken any rules.  But the truth is that sometimes the guy doesn’t realize that they’re coming off too aggressive and simply having someone in authority tell them to back off is all that’s needed.

If you need advice, I am here for you.

~Holly

Top Ten Characters That Make Me Laugh

I was actually kind of struggling to come up with my Top Ten topic for this week because I normally base it on whatever I’m interested in/ranting about that week.  This one wasn’t originally the case.  It really stemmed from the fact that I’ve read a couple of really dark, really serious books in a row.  When I was thinking about what I wanted to read next, I realized I wanted something with humor.  So I got thinking about who some of the funniest characters are that I know of.

What’s perhaps even better is that I didn’t find these characters through my conventional means of looking back through my read list on Goodreads.

Nope, I did one better.  I looked back through my quotes list.  I’m absolutely obsessed with quotes and for years I diligently added my favorite quotes from each book I read to my Goodreads/my quotes journals (I have 3 now).  What better way of finding funny characters than through their own words?

So if this school year is already getting you down, let these characters pick you back up!

Top Ten Characters That Make Me Laugh

1. Jace Wayland (City of Bones by Cassandra Clare)

Let’s not pretend this one wasn’t a no-brainer.  I didn’t even look him up before adding him to the list.  His quote, “I’m out of commission.  Look, jammies,” is my life motto.  At every turn, he has a sarcastic comment.  And for whatever reason, I like his more than I like Will Herondale’s (whom I left off this list for fear of being redundant by including 2 Cassandra Clare characters).

2. Kenji (the Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi)

Kenji is…well, there’s no one quite like Kenji.  I adore him and his humor because it’s just so off the wall.  When Juliette gets sucked into her depression, or can’t stop focusing on everything that needs to happen, Kenji is there with a quip and over-the-top dramatics.  His is the comic relief that series needed and I love him for it.  He tends to push things a little, but he’s funny, like this one: “Yeah, bro.” Kenji puts his utensils down. “You are moody. It’s always ‘Shut up, Kenji.’ ‘Go to sleep, Kenji.’ ‘No one wants to see you naked, Kenji.’ When I know for a fact that there are thousands of people who would love to see me naked—”

3. Charlie Davidson (First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones)

This is the one “adult” series on my list.  I had a hard time passing Charlie up simply because she is just so sarcastic.  She wears shirts that say things like, “Never knock on Death’s door.  Ring the doorbell then run.  He totally hates that.”  And her wardrobe is not the only thing that has the power to roast others.  She has that in spades.  It is literally so much fun to read these books.  And this reminds me that I’ve only read like 3-4 of them.

4. Penryn and Raffe (Angelfall by Susan Ee)

This is one of only two couples that I added to this list, purely because I couldn’t decide which of the two were actually funnier.  They both equally get some really great one-liners off on each other, especially as the series goes on.  I love them.  Their banter is some of the funniest back-and-forth I’ve read in a long time.  Here’s one that makes me giggle: “A little weird? That was freakin’ Bizarroville.”  He pauses and looks back at me.   “Are you speaking English?”

5. Rose Hathaway (Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead)

When it comes to sarcasm and bravado, I don’t think many can top Rose.  Her quotes were some of my favorite in high school.  I even kept one on my Facebook info section for a long time that said, “No one had ever called me unnatural before, except for the time I put ketchup on a taco.  But seriously, we’d been out of salsa, so what else was I supposed to do?”  You can now see why she’s my favorite.

6. Kat (Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter)

This girl is so sweet and funny and charming and cute that I just want to turn her into a teddy bear.  Unlike most of these on the list, her humor comes from her cuteness.  Like, she’s not ditzy, but it’s her mannerisms that are just as funny as her words.  Also, anyone who can make me put, “That’s so cake” into my reviews gets a nod here.

7. Harper Price (Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins)

Rachel Hawkins is a beast when it comes to fantastically funny characters.  Harper is no exception.  Part of the humor is situational, some of it is observational.  Harper will comment on things that people would normally never mention.  Like she says, “Bruce Wayne’s parents get killed and he goes to Tibet or whatever, and Superman is an alien, and Spiderman had that radioactive spider. Me? I kissed a janitor in the school bathroom.”  That, my friends, is an impressively funny juxtaposition.

8. Puck (the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa)

Oh Puck.  Even Shakespeare had a hand in creating this delightful nuisance in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (admittedly not one of my favorite plays).  However, this Puck is an extension of that Puck, ready to wreck havoc at a moment’s notice.  He cracks me up like in this line, “Metallic trees. That’s new. If you see any steel dryads, be sure to tell me so I can run away screaming.”

9. Claire and Shane (the Morganville Vampires series by Rachel Caine)

What’s funny about this pairing is that Claire is usually the straight-man to Shane’s humor.  He needs her rationality to bounce off of, and that’s why I thought these two were perfect to list together.  Also, Claire isn’t afraid to make observational jokes of her own, but they tend to be subtler than Shane’s.  Ok, so here’s one of my favorites of them: “Another thing I don’t want on my tombstone,” Shane said.  “You have others?” Claire asked.  He held up one finger. “I thought it wasn’t loaded,” Shane said. Second finger. “Hand me a match so I can check the gas tank.” Third finger. “Killed over ice cream. Basically, any death that requires me to be stupid first.”

10. Anyone written by Maureen Johnson

You know, I truly tried to pick a characters.  The closest I got was Rory from the The Name of the Star, but even that didn’t do justice to the cast of characters that shows up in literally every Johnson novel.  Because the simple truth is, if I want something funny, I’m going to pick up any one of her books and I know I’m in for a good time.

Here’s a taste of Johnson’s humor:

“Welsh is an actual, currently used language and our next-door neighbors Angela and Gaenor spoke it. It sounds like Wizard.” – Rory, The Name of the Star

“Salt. Wound. Together at last.”  – 13 Little Blue Envelopes

“Except for his eyes. Those were completely bloodshot. “What time did you get up?” David said, looking him over. “Four twenty?” – Truly Devious

Compare This! Perfect Chemistry vs. Pushing the Limits

Hey everyone!  So I was trying to come up with a topic for this one and I figured some of you were heading back to school just like me.  (I just started my 5th year teaching!)  One way or another, I ended up on contemporary romances where seeming opposites fall in love in large part because of school.  Who doesn’t love a back to school love story?  Because of their covers, I like to call this the Battle of the Near Make-Outs.

Let’s dive in!  Please don’t get lost in the chemistry.  (*ba-dum-chiss*  Get it??  Chemistry??  Oh, am I pushing the limits of your pun tolerance?  …I’ll shut up now.)

(Fun Fact: these two books have exactly the same rating of 4.07 on Goodreads.  I just saw this.)

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

VS.

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Image result for perfect chemistry

Perfect Chemistry

Synopsis: Perfect cheerleader Brittany Ellis’s life begins to unravel the second she walks into chemistry on the first day of her senior year.  Her lab partner is Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town.  Alex took a bet that he could lure Brittany into his life, thinking nothing of it.  But the more he gets to know Brittany and sees she’s a real person behind the “perfect” mask, the more he realizes taking that bet was probably the dumbest mistake of his life.

Pros:

  • I vastly enjoyed the multicultural aspect of this book.  Brittany is pretty typically white, I’ll admit, so it’s Alejandro (Alex) Fuentes who brings the color.  And I thought this book did a nice job of highlighting his culture and those difference between him and Brittany.
  • The emotions of this story are raw.  Both Brittany and Alex have their struggles that they desperately want to hide.  And having been a perfectionist like Brittany in school, I can attest to how realistic her struggles are.  (Having never been part of a gang, I can’t speak for Alex’s, but they certainly felt 100% real as I was reading.)
  • I liked that these two were so very different and yet they found common ground with each other.  There’s just something about that trope that I keep coming back to.
  • The title is pun-tastic.  They meet in chemistry and they have perfect chemistry?  #LoveIt

Cons:

  • Like many romance stories where opposites attract, it plays into a number of cliches.  So there are moments of predictability.
  • It’s been a while since I’ve last reread this, but there is the potential that pieces of the portrayal of Alex’s Latino community may be…um, a little stereotypical now.  I’m just going off what I remember of the story (and who knows how accurate that truly is anymore), but I remember a scene or two that may not exactly be flattering.  And whether that was just Alex and his friends or could be read as Latinos as a whole, I don’t remember.

Image result for pushing the limits

Pushing the Limits

Synopsis: No one knows what happened to Echo the night she went from popular girl to the freak with scars on her arms.  Even Echo doesn’t completely remember–she just wants life to go back to normal.  But when the leather-wearing, girl-user Noah Hutchins takes an interest in Echo, her world shifts in ways she never imagined.  They should have nothing in common, and yet…

Pros:

  • The things that Noah and Echo go through are painfully real.  They go through things that teens are actually going through.  It’s not sanitized–it shows you the bad and the ugly about life that many actually experience.
  • The characters are deeply flawed, but in a lovable way.  You realize very quickly that their flaws make them beautiful.  And they aren’t interested in fixing those flaws so much as they are making life better for them.  It’s a great philosophy to have.
  • Even minor characters feel completely fleshed out.  You kind of know what makes everyone tick, rather than just the biggest characters.  That kind of development is pretty rare.
  • More than just being romance, it also has a great amount of suspense and mystery.  You’re going to get sucked in quickly.

Cons:

  • Ok, yes, being a romance book about two people who seemingly have nothing in common plays into a lot of your cliches.  I mean, it’s going to happen.  There are parts that are going to be predictable.
  • There are times when this book really should be rated M for Mature.  I read this as 22 and even then, I had a hard time stomaching some of the action.  I’m not even talking sex (which isn’t even in the book)–I’m talking abuse, violence, neglect, etc.  It’s real, it’s dark, and you kind of have to be in the right mood for it.

 

My Winner: Perfect Chemistry

Why?  I remember being blown away by this book in high school.  Like, to the point where I named my first Kindle Alejandro after Alex.  (That’s not even a joke–I really did that.  I like to give my Kindles literary names.)  Having had the same personality type as Brittany, it was so easy for me to fall into her story.  And I really loved watching Alex turn from villain (you’ll understand why when you know the terms of the bet) to hero was so endearing.  I just loved every minute of it.  Simone Elkeles has a way of writing simple, tender moments that feel so real.  Something as simple as holding hands feels like so much more.

As always, this is not to say that Pushing the Limits is not worth your time.  It’s totally a great read.  But as one must have a winner, there must also be a loser.

What do you think?  Do you prefer one over the other?  Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018 Netflix Movie)

Image result for to all the boys i loved beforeThe letters are out.

This has gotten so much hype so quickly that I had to see what it was about.  I mean, not that I didn’t know.  I read the book years ago when it first came out, so I knew the plot.  But every YA author was all over Twitter spreading love and I needed to check it out.

In case you don’t know, Lara Jean Covey writes letters.  Ok, she only writes letters to her crushes when the feelings are so overwhelming that she doesn’t know what to do with them.  She never intended for them to be seen.  They were a way for her to deal with her feelings.  But when the letters get sent out by mistake, Lara Jean quickly finds herself caught up in trouble she never wanted.  When one of the boys pretends to be her boyfriend to save her from some of this trouble (and helps him get back with his ex), Lara Jean thinks it’s the perfect deal.  Until the feelings may not be pretend anymore, at least.

In a nutshell, it’s cute.  I’m thrilled at the diversity of Lara Jean’s half-Korean family (her dad’s white, her mom Korean) and all that came with that.  I thought the story was intriguing and I got sucked in even though I was initially doing other things when it started.

Lara Jean is the girl I think many of us might have been in high school.  She has one best friend, but mostly spends time with her sisters and stays home.  It’s all she needs.  She’s messy and shy and lives by the rules she sets for herself.  (She makes her fake boyfriend sign a contract!)  But perhaps my favorite trait of Lara Jean’s is that she is terrified of driving.  Praise the angels, there’s finally a character like me!  At 16, the last thing I wanted was the responsibility of handling a multi-ton vehicle that put my life–and others–in jeopardy every time I was on the road.  I’ve never seen another character like that and I’m so thrilled that Lara Jean was able to represent me in that way.

The plot, as I mentioned, is cute.  Lara Jean is stuck in a hard place, as one of the letters that went out was to her sister’s ex-boyfriend that Lara Jean had been crushing on for years.  Um…oops?  Watching her dodge that but also getting into hi-jinx with her fake boyfriend was just fun.  It was pretty light-hearted and funny most of the time.

But it definitely gets deep too. Death, abandonment, rumors, and bullying all play a role in this.  And it deals with them in a way that’s definitely respectable.  It didn’t feel like it was the “adult” response to these things, but it felt like teens trying to muddle through the best they could.  And that was pure and real.

And now we come to my single complaint of this movie: it’s not for younger viewers.

A coworker of mine is of Persian descent.  Her girls are half Persian and half white.  She’s constantly looking for movies and books for younger teens (7th and 9th grade) with a minority lead so they have representation.  I initially told her this might be a good choice.

I was wrong.  And I hate that she can’t show this to her girls.  (Also, they’re the type of girls who would self-censor, so it’s not entirely because their mother’s fault.)  Sex jokes, mentions of porn, and some strong language all make this perhaps not the best choice for younger teens.  I know some younger teens will watch it regardless, but I’m frustrated that YA as a genre (books and movies) seems to be making the main characters more/too mature for their ages.  It used to be that I couldn’t find YA books for older teens, but now I can’t find YA that’s appropriate for middle school, like I grew up with.

And I know that I can’t fault this movie too much for following the trend.  I promise I won’t take it out on this movie.  But I’m frustrated.  (Side note: if you know of any YA books with minority leads that are appropriate for middle school, leave a comment and you will have my eternal gratitude if not my soul to boot.)

Ahem.  As I was saying, this movie as a whole is quite cute.  The love story is adorable, Lara Jean is charmingly quirky, and it’s quite funny.  Just don’t maybe let the little ones watch it unless you want to explain what some things mean.

Top Ten Books I’ve Completely Forgotten

Today, we’re going to be completely honest with ourselves.

I’ve been keeping track of my reading list religiously on Goodreads since June of 2008 (that’s an entire decade, folks).  In that time period, I’ve read 1,436 books (at the time of writing this, anyway), which equals out to about 463,825 pages (excluding a large number of times I’ve reread books that Goodreads didn’t start tracking until lately).

So yeah, it’s more or less conceivable that I’ve forgotten a few books along the way that I’ve read.  Generally speaking, though, I tend to at least remember something of every book I’ve read.  By no stretch of the imagination am I saying that have a mind like a steel trap, but there’s usually something.  A scene, a feeling I associated with the book, something.

I thought it would be interesting today to take a look back at those books that, for one reason or another, I absolutely 100% have no recollection of.  It’s so bad that I may have even looked at this book on the library shelf and went to pick it up again because I didn’t remember anything.

Top Ten Books I’ve Completely Forgotten

1. Lucky in Love by Kasie West

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This is the book that gave me the inspiration for this post.  Apparently I read this and didn’t like it, since I gave it a 2 star rating.  I saw this on another site and went to Goodreads–only to discover I’d already read it.  Things that make you go hmmm….  (I feel especially bad/old since I just read this like 2 years ago and nearly every other book on this list is from at least 6 years ago, if not longer.)

2. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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I know I read this in college, but I remember nothing.  (The odds are good that since it was assigned, I probably read it quickly and moved on.)  When it showed up on the Great American Read list, it sort of tickled my brain that I knew something about it, but that was it.

3. Ever by Gail Carson Levine

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Y’all, I got nothing.  It certainly looks like something I would have read at 17 (which was roughly when I did read it), but beyond that…nada.

4. The Devouring by Simon Holt

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I have a vague sort of uneasy feeling associated with this, but I can’t tell if it’s the cover or if the book creeped me out.  But beyond that weird feeling, I couldn’t tell you anything about the book.

5. Another Kind of Cowboy by Susan Juby

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I started rereading the description of this one and it jogged nothing.  As someone who grew up listening to country music and wanted to be a country girl despite her suburban roots, I knew why I was drawn to this.  But maybe it wasn’t good enough to remember?

6. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

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Now, I know this was a homework assignment.  My senior year of high school had two Ayn Rand novels to read–this and Atlas Shrugged.  (I recommend neither.)  Seeing the cover of this one sort of jogged something (“Hey, isn’t this about an architect or something?”) but not much else.  Actually the more I sit her typing about it, the more I’m starting to remember.  ABORT MISSION!  ABORT MISSION!  PURGE THE FILES!

7. Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

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If someone showed me this cover and asked me if I’ve read this book, I’m about 99% sure I’d say no.  It didn’t even look familiar as I went through, much less did the description throw up any new information.  But at one point, I must have read it.

8. Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause

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The only reason I know this book is about werewolves is because I just saw it in the description.  When I first saw the cover again, my guess was vampires.  Shows you how much I remember about this.

9. Tartuffe by Moliere

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Ok, so like technically this is a play rather than a book.  But I don’t remember a lick about it.  This was from a theatre class I took in college, I know that much.  But other plays we read in that class–A Doll’s House, M. Butterfly, etc.–I remember.  I must really have not liked this one.

10. Possess by Gretchen McNeil

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I recognize this cover in that vague kind of “Oh yes, I’ve seen this before” sort of way, but I know nothing about the book.  Something about demon possessions, but I only know that because I reread the description.  Oh, and the title.

What about you?  Do you completely forget entire books you’ve read as well?  Don’t make me feel like I’m the only one here!  Leave a comment and we’ll wallow together!

Classics: Pride and Prejudice

Image result for pride and prejudice bookFirst Lines: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

I am 27 years old.  I took every AP English class I could in high school, majored in English education in college (which was basically majoring in both English and education), and I’ve been teaching for just over 4 years.

I’d never read Pride and Prejudice until now.

What’s ironic is that it was my own prejudice against it that kept me from reading it.  I had acquired a distaste for classics when I was in high school after being forced to read Dickens and Ayn Rand repeatedly, not to mention everyone telling me 1984 was great (it wasn’t).  I just stopped trusting that classics were actually good.

On top of that, I was forced in college to watch Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley by some friends.  (They promised Moulin Rouge and didn’t mention P&P was going to follow it.)  And after watching it, I didn’t get it.  I even saw the play version of this last fall and still didn’t totally get it.  What was the big deal with this story?  Why did girls fawn over Mr. Darcy, who was clearly a jerk?  Why was everyone so ga-ga over this book?

But after reading it…I get it.  I’m not going to say it’s my favorite book ever and I want a P&P proposal (pfft, Harry Potter all the way), but I understand the hype.

But this is supposed to be a book review, not my life story. I was charmingly surprised by this book, to be honest. Elizabeth, Darcy, Bingley, and Jane were all delightful for their own reasons. Elizabeth wasn’t afraid to say what she thought if someone pushed her too far. Jane is incapable of seeing the bad in anyone. Darcy is somewhat shy and his reticence comes off as being disagreeable and proud. Bingley, poor Mr. Bingley, keeps getting sucked into plots of someone else’s making. It was kind of cute.

Let’s make it clear though: Mr. Darcy is not, in my opinion, a stud muffin.  However, I can see why he’s a famous romantic figure.  Darcy is the farthest thing from an alpha male I think I’ve ever read.  He’s arrogant at times, sure, but he’s patient and humble and caring when it comes to those in his inner circle.  He does what he thinks is best for others and admits when he made a mistake.  These are very attractive qualities for sure, and I can see why he’s gained the reputation he has.  He’s just not what I would want most.  Thank you for putting up with my short stud muffin rant.  (I’m sure that Jane Austen’s greatest wish was that Darcy be described as a stud muffin, and therefore, I will continue using the phrase.  You may continue cringing.)

Austen’s writing style can sometimes gets confusing to a modern audience, particularly dealing with who is speaking. I frequently noticed that when three people were in a room, sometimes I had no idea which of the three were talking. I’d get almost done with a very long paragraph and realize someone else was actually speaking.

But truly, Austen’s writing was much easier to understand and follow than I expected, based on other classics I’d read. It’s funny and not terribly intricate, but there are webs Elizabeth attempts to dodge. It was more character driven than plot driven, which slows things down a bit, but I had no problem sticking with the story. I remembered the movie/play well enough to vaguely know what was supposed to be coming next and I was fascinated to see what the differences were.

I’m actually rather impressed that this female-driven story did so well for itself at the time. (Not that women didn’t want representation in books–I’m sure they did!) I’m also impressed that the women are well-fleshed out. Not every woman is a likable character. Some have nothing going on upstairs, some are petty, some are vengeful. But on the flip side, there are other women who are the model of female virtue (of the time), women who are strong-willed but kind, women who only want the best for those around them no matter the personal cost. I’m impressed.

Having had so much success with this book, I think I may have to add other Jane Austen novels to my to-read list. I hear good things about Sense and Sensibility