The Evolution of My Reading Tastes

Hey everyone!  So I know I’ve been really patchy lately about posting reviews and that’s not because I’m not reading.  (Some days, I’m getting through 2 books a day.)  The issue is because my reading tastes are evolving a bit and I wanted to talk about that a little.

So look, reading tastes change with age.  Obviously.  Most of us probably aren’t reading picture books anymore unless A) you’re a parent, B) you’re an elementary school teacher, or C) you’re an editor/librarian.  We grow out of it.  It’s natural.

And from there, we start reading chapter books.  Then we move on to Middle Grade or Young Adult, depending on the availability of either.  (My mother encouraged me at that vulnerable age to read mysteries…so I spent 7th grade knowing far too much about serial killers.  She still denies this was her fault.)

And as adults, well, I think our tastes get alternately more broad and more defined.

I still absolutely love YA.  I love the way it tackles hard issues like family dynamics, social injustice, racism, duty, first love, friendship, morality, etc.  YA tackles that in a way I’ve never seen in any other book genre and I still adore that with all of my being.  I will never completely outgrow YA.

But I’ve also noticed in a few of the books I’ve picked up that I’m starting to relate more to the parents than the protagonists.  It’s…weird.  I spent like 15 years looking up to the heroes in these stories and suddenly I’m finding more in common with their parents?  It’s kind of icky.  (There.  I’ve solidified my immaturity in writing.)

A Change of the Guard

So while I definitely do still enjoy reading YA, I’m finding that I get new satisfaction from reading books I used to spurn.  I went through a heavy nonfiction phase for a while a few years ago, where I was reading anything historical I could get my hands on.  Yes, I do still tend to do that.

But mostly, my tastes have gravitated toward anything that I know will end happily, because this world is a dark place and I need the knowledge that even though things are dark and grim now, they will get better.  That’s why I usually have a healthy dose of romance novels on my shelf or on my Kindle.  I love that they’re character-driven, slower paced (but no less interesting for it), and end happily.  Not to mention, romance novels are one of the rare art forms where women are listened to and respected.  (Don’t believe me?  Compare Shakespearean comedies to his tragedies.  Women are respected more in comedies and ignored in tragedies.)

And I’ve always had a love of historical fiction, but I’m finding that it’s specializing even more than it ever used to be.  Medieval English history, mostly.  Knights, kings, queens, earls, and more.  The longer ago it’s set, the better.  The reason I enjoy these the most actually leads me into where my newest genre came from.

Fantasy.

I mean, look, I’ve also always had a healthy love of fantasy.  Who wouldn’t, after Harry Potter, am I right?  And I grew up in the Age of the Dystopia: Hunger Games, Divergent, Legend, Angelfall, and more.  The more removed I can be from our current world, the better.  I’m not ignoring this world, but it’s nice to take a break and escape to something new for a while.

So I’ve recently been finding a whole trove of new–and adult–fantasy novels that I enjoy.  Particularly Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series, which I’m working my way through as we speak.  I find I like the fantasy novels that are still partially grounded in the “real world” with fantasy elements, like angels and demons or vampires or supernatural powers or whatever.

And the best part?  These heroes are typically closer to my age and dealing with things that I’m dealing with.  Like Merit from CV, she deals with things like a thankless job, coworkers who sometimes share too personal information, remaining friends with people who hurt you and your family, and the delicate walk between people who hate each other but still need to work together.  I’m not saying I deal with these things on a daily basis or anything, but sometimes it’s more relatable to me than reading about a 16-year-old having to listen to their parents.

The Circle of Life

Over the years, I’ve seen my reading habits cycle like this.  I spend 6-8 months on a kick of some kind and circle back to YA for a while.  Then I discover a new author/series/genre that I adore and I’m on a new kick for a time before coming back.  YA is my home.  It always will be.  My shelves are populated with my favorites and will always remain so.  But it’s natural that sometimes I branch out from that and try something different for a while before coming back.  It makes me appreciate YA all the more for taking a break from it.  And no, it’s not a cold-turkey leaving of any kind; of the library books I have checked out right now, 5 of the 13 are YA.  (Um…13 books checked out at one time is sort of a low number of me…*cough*)

You’re definitely going to be hearing about these books.  It’s just that I have these other ones that have captured my attention as well right now.

And hey, maybe some day down the road I start reviewing these book too.  I just think for many of you, this is a YA blog and needs to stay that way.  I kind of like it that way as well right now, so I don’t see that changing any time soon.  But maybe someday.

Anyway, I just wanted to explain a bit of what’s going on on my end as well here.  Reading will never not be my passion.  It’s just what I read that changes.

~Holly

House Hunting — Learning the Hard Way

Hey guys!  I know I haven’t been exceptionally present on here for a few months and, besides teaching, a large part of that has been due to house hunting.  It’s time consuming, it’s boring, and it eats your soul.

Or, at least, it tried to eat mine.  And I’m barely exaggerating.

So let’s settle in for story time.  If you’re someone who’s looking to buy your first home soon, this might be kind of enlightening for you.

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It all really started over last summer.  I was looking for houses on Zillow because, frankly, it was the easiest website to find information on and to understand.  When I had free time, I would start poking around and seeing if there were any houses in my general area that I liked.  Every now and then I would see one that was kind of cute, but I didn’t ever do anything about it.

Well, finally I saw a house I thought was really cute, something I thought I could actually move in to.  The way Zillow works is, if you don’t have a real estate agent, they kind of “assign” you one from your area.  I requested more information on the house and I almost immediately got a phone call from Zillow.  They connected me to an agent, who told me that the house I was looking at was actually now off the market but Zillow hadn’t quite caught up yet.  But she was going to help me look for houses from then on.

Let’s call my agent “Bridget“.

For the next, oh, 3 months, Bridget sent me daily emails with houses in the area for sale in my price range.  These were automated emails asking for feedback–what did I like about this house?  What did I not like and why?  I responded to these fairly regularly…and found out much later that she wasn’t looking at them at all.  She’d call or email me every few weeks asking if I’d seen anything I liked rather than looking through my feedback.

RED FLAG #1: Your real estate agent is having you do all the work that technically they should be doing.

In late September, I saw I house I feel in love with.  It was a little ranch with a huge great room, windows in the roof for sun, brightly colored walls (I hate beige), and a lot of quirky personality traits.  I loved it.

I met Bridget in person for the first time while seeing this house.  I came after school and my parents were going to meet me there as well, since I had literally no idea what I was supposed to be looking at.  My parents and I beat Bridget there by about 5-10 minutes.  When she got there, she basically followed us into the house and just stood there, telling us to look around and ask any questions we had.

RED FLAG #2: Your real estate agent doesn’t do her homework.

Bridget was very accommodating, but she knew nothing about the property.  She pointed out a few things to us that she saw along the way, things that the owner would probably need to fix before we bought the house, but she said that wouldn’t be a problem.

I’m not kidding you at all when I say that this house was a bachelor pad.  The floors in the garage were painted with team logos.  One bedroom had his favorite baseball and football teams (pro and college) painted on 3 of the walls.  All of the walls were painted some kind of primary color–lime green, royal blue, red-orange, gold, black, etc.  But the weirdest thing of all was that in the “sports room” (that team bedroom I mentioned) was that there was a framed, signed photo of a naked woman on the wall.  I’m pretty sure she was a stripper because it looked professionally done.

RED FLAG #3: If the seller can’t be bothered to clean up the house before showing it, it’s probably a sign they can’t be bothered to do other things.

After about a week and a half of debating, I impulsively made an offer on the house.  I don’t do anything impulsively, let me tell you, but this house just wiggled its way into my brain and it was the cutest thing I’d seen in a while.  I loved that it had character when so many other houses looked cookie-cutter.

I very quickly realized that Bridget had no idea what she was doing.  About two days into the process, I got an email from another agent at Bridget’s office listing the next five things I needed to do and the dates they needed to be done by.  (Example: getting the earnest money check to the realtor’s office, scheduling an inspection, etc.)  The earnest money needed to be delivered by the next day or I was out of contract.

Stuff like that would have been nice to know earlier so I could actually feel prepared, you know?  As a first time home buyer, I didn’t have a clue how the process was supposed to go.

Everything went more or less smoothly until the inspection.

I hired the highest rated company I could find in the area and took a half-day off work to go to the inspection and see first-hand what needed to be fixed.  I figured having it explained to me would be better than just reading a report.

I left school shortly after noon to head toward the house.  I got a call two minutes into my drive from the inspector and the conversation went something like this:

Inspector: “Hi, is this Holly?”

Me: “Yes, it is.”

Inspector: “Hi, this is Jesse from the inspection company.  …Are you planning on coming to the inspection today?”

Me: “Yes, I’m actually on my way there right now.”

Inspector: “Um…you may want to delay for a bit.  Grab some lunch or something.”

Me: “…Why?”

Inspector: “Well, I just got here a few minutes ago and the owner is still here.  I knocked, I unlocked the door, I called out that I was from the inspection company and a man called from the bedroom, ‘I’m not dressed!’  It’s uh…it’s probably going to take him twenty minutes or so to pull himself together and leave.  He said, for some reason, that his realtor had told him the inspection was at 4:30, which is just ridiculous.  I’m so sorry about this, this never happens.”

Me: “Uh…ok…”

Inspector: “Again, I’m so sorry.  I’m leaving myself for a little while to give him some time.  I can call you when I’m back?”

Me: “Ok, sure…”

I cannot make this up, I promise you.  So I went shopping for about 45 minutes before I got a call saying it was ok to come to the house.

And the inspection went terribly.  I’ll give you the highlights (or lowlights, if you will):

  • None of the windows had cranks to check if they could even be opened.
  • Most every window was rotted out so badly that you could literally feel the wind blowing in underneath them.
  • Flooring wasn’t finished in places where he would have had to cut the wood/laminate in awkward ways.  He just covered it with a rug.
  • Drains that were slow/plugged, he just pulled out the stopper to make them work better.

This guy didn’t care a flip about the house and it showed.  Badly.  I mean, there were even beer bottles left in the backyard.  FOR A SHOWING.

And that’s when the trouble really started.

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RED FLAG #4: Make sure your agent is actually an advocate for you and not just himself/herself.

Bridget told me after the inspection some really insane stuff.  Things like the listing agent was only giving me 24 hours to make a response to the inspection (what I was asking them to fix).  Having no idea how much windows cost, I had to quickly do research on that.  Looking at roughly $600 per window to buy and install, I asked for about $2,700 dollars, knowing I was going to fork out some myself.

Bridget thought my number was too high.  The listing agent balked and tried to bully me down.

I stood by my guns.  My parents had just put in new windows three months earlier.  I had friends at school who have rental properties and are constantly doing fixes like this.  I trusted their judgment.

The only time I ever saw Bridget actually working was when she was trying to convince me that I was in the wrong.  She sent me picture after picture of windows with their prices attached.  She hired a company to come out and do an estimate for the windows to prove that I was wrong.  (Boy, did that one backfire–his number came out to be almost exactly what I asked for.)

She was calling me all the time to tell me this or that.  The listing agent was demanding that I give them more time to decide.  (By this point, I was furious with them and was giving them 24-48 hours to respond to things because that’s what they were doing to me.)  The listing agent was furious my bank hadn’t done an appraisal yet.  The listing agent was furious I wasn’t paying for the survey.

RED FLAG #5: If something feels wrong, it probably is.

I’ll spare you the minutiae of it all and simply say this: it got to the point where just looking at my phone made me grind my teeth together.  Bridget was calling me all the time at school and I eventually got really rude with her.

Because I had a damn good feeling that someone (Bridget or the listing agent) was trying to take advantage of me for being A) single, B) a female, C) young, and D) a first time home buyer.

They just didn’t bank on me being stubborn.

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I went through the contract with a fine-toothed comb.  My friends and family (who viewed me as a daytime soap opera and asked almost every day, “So what’s the new drama?”) gave me names of other realtors who might be willing to help me.  By this time, I knew I wanted out.  You couldn’t have paid me to buy this house anymore.

I called up a new realtor and explained what was happening.  He was appalled.  He told me that, if the inspection response from the seller wasn’t satisfactory, then I could legally back out of the deal then.

I asked for $2,700–and they offered me $1,300.  I was out.  I wanted my earnest money back.

And that was a sticking point.

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RED FLAG #6: Seriously, and I cannot say this enough, NEVER EVER get into a situation where your realtor and the seller’s are from the same company.  You need an advocate on YOUR side.

Bridget and the listing agent, Bob, worked in the same office.  They talked.  And, from what I heard from other sources, Bob was a real MFer.  Nasty, rude, etc.  I think he truly thought he could take me for a ride.

So I signed paperwork to get out of buying the house.  After days of not hearing back from the seller, I called Bridget.  Why hadn’t they signed it yet?  Wasn’t there some kind of time table on it like on every other contract I’d had to sign?

No, she told me.  We couldn’t force them to sign it so we just had to wait.  And in the meantime, because I was in a contract with him, I couldn’t enter into a contract with anyone else.

Oh, but he could continue to show the house and try to sell it.

It was such BS.  But I waited.  And waited.  After a little over 2 weeks, I’d had enough.  I called my helpful, non-Bridget realtor again and asked him what I could do next.  He told me I could take my case to the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and they could decide whether or not something was amiss and get me my money back.  The downside?  It took a long time, probably a couple of months.  The upside?  While the case was in contention like this, the seller couldn’t even have the house on the market.

So I told Bridget that’s what I wanted to do.  I simply told her I would find the paperwork and file it myself.  She must have talked to Bob because within 24 hours, I had the signed contract in my hand and my earnest check ready to pick up.

Seriously, sometimes you just need to pull out your broomstick and pointy black hat and make a stink.

Bridget hasn’t contacted me once since, and I’m fine with that.  Instead, I partnered up with my helpful realtor and I’m currently in the process of buying a house I think will actually work for me.  While it is covered in beige (yuck), it has a lot of potential.  And the sellers are working with me–when the inspection showed a few things were wrong, like one shower not working, they agreed to get it fixed.

This process has been much smoother because I learned from past experiences.  And that’s what I wanted to pass along to you guys.  House buying can be tough.  Just make sure you read the paperwork, know what your rights are, and find someone who knows what they’re doing and will advocate for you.  That has literally made all the difference.  This time around has been so much calmer and less stressful because I know I’m not the one stuck in the middle of all of this; my realtor’s taking care of it.

Learn from my mistakes!

~Holly

King’s Cage (Red Queen, #3)

Image result for king's cageErm, this is kind of uncomfortable for me to admit.

I didn’t finish this book.

I absolutely adored the first two books in this series.  Action!  Deception!  Risks!  Secrets and surprises around every corner!  They were thrilling and suspenseful and always kept me on my toes.

This one moved at the speed of a sloth stuck in molasses.

I tried, I really did.  I stuck with it for 2.5-3 weeks and I made it 190 pages in.  But nothing was happening.  It was just a mental chess match between Mare and Maven the whole time.  No action, just a stand-off between two stubborn and cunning characters.  Everything I had loved about this series was suddenly gone.  No action.  Little suspense.  Basically no deception.  No surprises.

I get the impression that those things were coming, and maybe I gave up on it too soon.  But if I can’t get through a book in 3 weeks and I’m constantly putting it aside to read other books (I read at least a dozen books in that time), then why am I still bothering with it?  It didn’t hold my interest.

I’m disappointed.  I really liked how this series started and I wish I could’ve kept going on it.  Maybe in the future I’ll try again, but for now?  I’m done.

Nimona

Image result for nimona(Sorry, it’s a graphic novel and therefore doesn’t exactly have first lines.)

Alright, so I’m maybe not the biggest graphic novel fan in the world.  But I do enjoy them occasionally and when I was kind of bored at the library, I spotted this.  The name was familiar to me, so I thought I’d try it.

Nimona is a shapeshifter with a knack for villainy and an impulse control that doesn’t exist.  Lord Blackheart is a villain thirsting for revenge.  As sidekick and villain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are ready to wreak some havoc.  Specifically, they want to prove the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics is not the all-powerful good that everything thinks it is.  But as small acts of villainy escalate to dangerous levels, Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are more unpredictable than he thought.  And her wild side might actually be dangerous to everyone around her.

It was definitely interesting. This immediately felt more diverse than a lot of books I read. Nimona has a look that is entirely her own. Blackheart is missing an arm and tries to prove that he’s still capable. A couple of characters seem to be gay, though that’s more alluded than forthright.

But what I loved was that good and evil were not clearly defined. Nimona and Blackheart are the supposed “villains” of this story, but that sometimes doesn’t fit right because the “good guys” are sometimes more ruthless than the villains. It’s an interesting study in what makes someone evil. (Think Megamind.)

I’ll be the first to admit that I probably didn’t enjoy the art form the way I’m supposed to.  I basically read for the story and use the pictures to help fill in the blanks.  (I took a college class on how to read graphic novels–we dissected the art big time and it was never my strength.)  I couldn’t exactly get a good read on what Nimona’s look really was, like what’s going on with her hair and that kind of thing.  I just don’t think I appreciate it the way it’s supposed to be appreciated it.  I kind of prefer building my own pictures in my mind.

I won’t say I was entirely bowled over by this (because I wasn’t), but I thought it was a good story. While I didn’t exactly like Nimona herself some of the time, I did get quite sucked into Blackheart’s story. And really, he’s more the narrator than Nimona is.

The Secret History of Us

Image result for the secret history of usFirst Lines: The girl he pulls to the surface is dead.  I know it the moment I see her.  The camera zooms in, shaking a little as she comes into focus.  Even in the golden lights shining down from the bridge, her skin is an unnatural shade of blue.

For me, Jessi Kirby is a reliable author that I will keep coming back to time and time again.  She always writes deep stories with relatable characters that punch me right in the feels.  And when I saw this at the library, I had a feeling this would do the same.

After a near-drowning accident and being in a coma for days, Olivia finally wakes up…and realizes she doesn’t remember what happened.  Not just the accident, but the last four years.  Nothing, all of high school erased.  She doesn’t remember her boyfriend Matt at all, doesn’t remember why she’s not friends with her bestie Jules anymore, none of it.  That’s when it dawns on her that the accident may not have taken her life, but it took something just as important: her memory, who she’s become as a person.  The more she tries to remember, the worse things get.  And it doesn’t help that as she tries to figure out who she is, everyone keeps telling her who she was.  And then there’s Walker, the guy who saved her.  The more Olivia tries to talk to him, to find out what happened, the more he pulls away.  As her feelings grow toward him, tensions rise with Matt.  And Olivia realizes that there are plenty of secrets being kept from her.

There’s just something about Kirby that always draws me in.

In this story, we meet Liv, who is an interesting character.  People keep trying to tell her maybe it’s a good thing she doesn’t remember high school–who wouldn’t want to forget those awkward years? But Liv doesn’t see it that way. Not only has she completely forgotten her boyfriend of two years, but she’s suddenly not friends with one of her best friends from middle school. Her room is covered in memories she no longer has and everyone has some input on who she was before.

Of everything, I thought this was an interesting message about identity. Who are we? Are we the memories we create? Are we the person we are with our friends and family or the person we are when we’re alone? And how can we change that identity? It was fascinating because Liv isn’t exactly a blank slate, but she’s missing four years of her life, a time when most of us underwent radical changes. On top of that, the people around her are gently lying to her about who she is because they want to paint who she was in the best light–but it leaves Liv feeling like she has no idea who she is now.

The characters are a little shallow. Flat. Liv isn’t, but she’s the main character. And while I enjoyed the other characters in the story, especially Liv’s brother, not many of them had a whole lot of personality. And I suppose I can’t fully blame the story on that because Liv is pretty self-centered through all of this as she struggles to remember anything.

But I liked the plot. I liked how things unfolded and how Liv’s conflict played out. It kept my interest and I ended up finishing this book pretty quickly.

Jesse’s Girl (Hundred Oaks)

Image result for jesse's girl miranda kenneallyFirst Lines: Backstage, there’s so much security, you’d think it was the White House.  I’ve been to plenty of concerts, but I’ve never had a backstage pass, so I follow Dr. Salter’s lead and keep flashing my all-access badge over and over.

I keep working my way (slowly) through the Hundred Oaks series.  They’ve typically been cute, moving, and with a whole host of different types of girls.  No two stories feel the same at all and that’s so awesome you guys.  I’ve seen myself in many of the girls but all for different reasons.  And I had high hopes for a story about a country singer, since that was my dream job at 13.

At Hundred Oaks High, career day is a joke.  You want to be a famous chef? Shadow a small baker for the day.  You want to be president? Follow this lawyer for a day.  So when Maya Henry said she wanted to be a rock star, she figured she’d get a crappy job too.  It’s a shock when she ends up with the Jesse Scott, teenage country heartthrob.  But spending the day with Jesse doesn’t go the way Maya thought it would.  She’s constantly reminded of how much she’s lost: her band, her boyfriend, any chance to make the music she loves.  It doesn’t help that Jesse is pushy and opinionated–and he thinks Maya’s playing backup to other people.  Can Maya strike out on her own and finally own the spotlight?

Ok, so this was adorable. As I knew it would be.

In this book, we meet Maya (the younger sister of Catching Jordan‘s Sam Henry). She’s spunky, cool, driven, and an 80s tribute singer. She loves Queen and aspires to be a performer in her own right. So when her school sets her up to shadow Jesse Scott, the hottest thing in country music, she’s torn; it’s great to shadow a real star, but did it have to be a country singer? But Jesse’s not what she expected.

The story pulled me in very quickly. Part of it is because of my love of music. I’m a solid combo of Maya and Jesse, with a definite 80s throwback to myself (even though I wasn’t born in the 80s) but I grew up on country music and appreciate it as well. And at one point in my life, I thought about trying to be a singer. So it was kind of an interesting “what if?”

Jesse and Maya are both interesting characters with their own quirks. But the thing that kept me entertained is that they’re funny. Jesse is willing to say just about anything out loud for a reaction and Maya has a more sarcastic sense of humor. I loved both of them. And both of them showed their vulnerable side through the book and I thought that was great.

The plot isn’t very even in terms of the timeline, mostly because about half the book is devoted to the one-day career shadowing expedition. But it wasn’t bad. I mean, I barely realized it was taking so long until I stopped once and saw I was about halfway through the book. The timeline after that was better paced, but I was never bored.

This was super cute and I can’t wait to read the next one.

My Baby is 8!!

…And by “my baby,” I mean this blog.

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I think I tell this story every year, but this started as just a passion project.  I took a college class my freshman year on “digital literacies.”  Basically, it was how to understand and write everything from blogs to Wikipedia pages.  And when I saw how easy it was (and how I didn’t exactly care for the format of Blogger), I went on the hunt for something new.

TADA!

I thought up the name “Belle of the Library” off the cuff while I was in my dorm room.  I realized I needed something and, probably feeling snarky at the time, I thought of the phrase “belle of the ball.”  Obviously that wasn’t going to work for a book blog, so I tweaked it to “belle of the library.”  With the play on words with Belle the Disney princess, it was perfect for me.

Eight years later, this blog is still going.  Maybe not as regularly as it has in the past (or over the summer, when I have more time), but it’s still here.  I’m still here.  You’re all still here, and that’s probably the craziest part of it all.

For whatever reason you like this blog, I hope you continue to like it.  I try to be as authentically me as I can be and I think that’s what some of you really like.  I’m currently in the middle of show choir season and what amounts to my 2nd attempt to buy a house in 6 months (the 1st attempt went horribly wrong), but once things start settling down, I’ll hopefully be back.  Of course, by then it’ll probably be summer again and we’ll be good to go!

Thanks for 8 excellent years, my friends!

~Holly