The Rest of the Story

Image result for the rest of the storyFirst Lines: There weren’t a lot of memories, especially good ones.  But there was this.  “Tell me a story,” I’d say when it was bedtime but I wasn’t at all sleepy.  “Oh honey,” my mom would reply.  “I’m tired.”

It’s probably semi-embarrassing to admit this, but it’s been quite a few years since I read anything by Sarah Dessen.  (According to my Goodreads, it’s been nearly 4 years…)  But I heard so many good things about this book and it being a Goodreads Awards finalist, I decided I needed to read it.

Emma Saylor doesn’t really remember her mother, who died years ago.  The only thing she does remember well are the stories her mother told her about the lake.  Now that it’s just Emma and her dad, life’s pretty predictable.  Or at least it was.  While her dad’s on his honeymoon with his new wife, Emma is sent to stay with her mother’s family at North Lake to stay with the grandmother, aunt, and cousins she doesn’t remember at all.  It soon becomes clear that there are two different lakes: North Lake is a working class community while Lake North, where her father spent his summers, is a rich resort area.  And the longer she says with her family, the more she feels divided into two different people.  With the help of her cousins and her new-old-friend Roo, Emma is determined to put together the pieces of who her mother was.

I forgot how good Dessen’s writing is.  Nuanced and subtle, her stories never quite go where you initially thought they would, but they certain go where you want them to.

In this story, we’re introduced to Emma Saylor, Emma to her dad’s side, Saylor to her mom’s side. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to call her Emma. Emma is anxious about virtually everything, bordering on OCD as a result of her parents’ divorce and her mother’s sudden death about five years earlier. I really related to her anxiety, seeing as I’d been just like her at that age. But aside from all of that, Emma’s curious. She wants to use this summer to get to know her mom better, from the memories of the people at North Lake.

I didn’t think I would, but I really liked the North Lake/Lake North differences. It’s a class issue and I liked how it was portrayed. Emma technically comes from Lake North stock, growing up with money. But her mom’s family is from North Lake, the working class side of the lake where most people hold more than one job in the summer. It was all shown very well, sometimes showing their stark differences, sometimes focusing instead on how both sides have the same struggles.

Most of you know Dessen’s writing style–you know what you’re getting into. It’s the same kind of story we’ve come to expect. It’s deep but charming and funny with real characters. It’s sweet but also so real you can’t look away from the bad times either. There are plenty of ups and downs for Emma and the others and I was just moved by it.

Such a gorgeous story. Worth the read.  And so worth being a Goodreads Award nominee.

Top Changes To My Reading Habits

Hey everyone!  So I guess I missed this one last week, which is ironic considering it was actually one that I wanted to do.  But I’m not sure how it works for a “Top Ten” list as I can’t really say I have ten changes or even necessarily five.  But this is something worth talking about.  So let’s chart some of my reading territory!

Beware, though: Here be dragons.  (I’m sorry, I had to.)

Top Changes To My Reading Habits

Let’s start this story around 2004 because I totally explains why I am the way I am.

#1) Picture me as a dorky 7th grader.  My school library contained just as many adult books as children’s books, from classics to current fiction.  I was told from the time I was in elementary school that I had an advanced reading level and I needed to push myself.  (Anyone else do AR in school?  Hey-o.)

For that reason, I actually started a lot of my reading career with three authors: Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, and V.C. Andrews.

Oh yeah.  At 13, I’m reading about dudes murdering people and cutting up their bodies to hide them in freezers or mothers who are so twisted they pretend the female twin is actually the male twin and freak out when she acts like a girl.  Those are actual plots of two of the books I remember.

Kind of explains a lot, doesn’t it?  It was even worse, looking back, when I did a book report to the class on Flowers in the Attic while every other kid was doing something like Redwall.

Let’s jump ahead a few years.

#2) The year is now 2009.  I’m a senior in high school and it’s common knowledge between my friends, classmates, and teachers, that I’m going to be reading a different book in two days.  I got through them really fast.  And I loved books that were bizarre and had shock value with their covers.  (Going Bovine by Libba Bray, Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi)  It was an easy conversation starter, if someone saw my cover.  I was more than happy to talk to them about the book, but I was still awkward and had trouble with small talk with people I didn’t know well.

My tastes at this time were decidedly YA.  I’m not sure when that became the case, but I slowly eased away from the murder mysteries I’d grown up with.  (And V.C. Andrews eventually became just too weird.  I have not regretted walking away from that.)

I actually started Goodreads in the summer of 2008, so I can actually track what I was reading from that point forward.  In 2009, my favorite books involved Fae, fairytales, magic, and LOTS of vampires.  OMG, so many vampires.  (It was the age of Vampire Academy, Twilight, and Evernight, to name a few.)  I do still enjoy the occasional vampire story, but I’m also not exactly mad that craze is over.

Let’s bounce ahead another say, 3-4 years.

#3) In 2013, I was two years into this blog.  (I know, right?  Holy Toledo, Batman, it’s been almost 9 years as of right now!)  Around this time, I was starting to get my first author requests to read indie books.  It was an exciting time, but since I said “yes” to pretty much everything that came my way, I ended up finding out very quickly which ones I should start saying “no” to.  The vampire craze was over by this time and yet I was still saying yes to vampire books.  And they were pretty creepy by this point as they tried to stay unique.

At this point, zombies and spirits were in high demand.  I loved ghost love stories like Hereafter and zombie love stories like Die For Me.  But I was also branching out a little more toward YA contemporary romance.  Not that I hadn’t read them before, but they were starting to become a little more prevalent.  I was near the end of my college career at this point with a boyfriend, so my reading time was limited.  And yeah, the whole “boyfriend” thing may have played a role into how many love stories I was reading.

#4) In 2015, I read the most books I’ve ever read in a single year at 174.  And that’s not counting rereads, which Goodreads didn’t track at the time.  I was also at the end of my first year of teaching/beginning my second during this year and I think I read so much to retain my sanity.  I didn’t know what I was doing as a teacher yet, but reading?  I knew how to do that–and do it well.

I was still reading a lot of YA love stories, like anything by Kasie West or Sarah Ockler, but this was also the year I discovered Outlander.  Yes, I read every single one of the Outlander books that year and still managed to read 174 books overall.  I literally don’t know how I did it, except that I read those Outlander books in about 3-4 days each because I couldn’t put them down.

And with that, there is a shift beginning.  I started discovering a love for historical romances around this time.  Sarah MacLean was my gateway author there.

#5) Now, getting up to 2018-2019, I’m noticing a lot of higher-concept books.  They have to have an interesting plot, not just be whatever’s popular to get me to read them.  Like This Is How It Happened by Paula Stokes, about a girl dealing with the aftermath of a car crash that put her in a coma and killed her boyfriend.  Or The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand, a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol with a twist.

But I’m also still reading a lot of historical romances.  I find I’m drawn to that genre for the same reasons I like YA: it’s a genre predominately written by women with delightful female heroines going through realistic issues.  I’m at the point right now where I can only stand to watch the news maybe twice a week.  But romances make me happy.  They’re fun but real and don’t get the recognition they deserve as a genre.  Rarely do I find a poorly written historical romance.

So when I go a little while without posting a new review, it’s probably that I’m reading a historical romance rather than YA.  I try to alternate them because there are still so many YA books I want to read and it’s still my home-base, but there’s an excitement now to fully explore this other genre too.

I think that about covers it!  So maybe it does kind of work as a list.  Who knew?  Though admittedly it’s more like a timeline, but I think that makes it better.

The Boy Who Sneaks In My Bedroom Window

Image result for the boy who sneaks in my bedroom windowFirst Lines: I sat on the kitchen counter, watching my mom make pasta bake.  She was panicking slightly and kept glancing at the clock every couple of minutes.  I knew why she did this–my dad was due home in exactly sixteen minutes and he liked dinner to be on the table as soon as he got in.

This book has been on my Kindle for a few years now and I only just got around to reading it when I was looking for something a little different.  It has a ton of ratings on Goodreads and a pretty high rating overall (3.92/5), so I thought it would be worth looking into.

Amber Walker can’t stand Liam James by day.  Liam is her brother’s best friend and he’s constantly being a cocky jerk to her.  He’s a player who a trail of broken hearts behind him.  But at night, Liam is Amber’s protector, the one who keeps her nightmares of her abusive childhood from overwhelming her.  He’s the only one who truly understands how badly her past hurts her.  Amber knows Liam is the last person she should fall for, but she’s not sure she can stop it from happening…

In the end, I ended up feeling a little disappointed by it all, especially given how highly it was rated. That was especially disappointing.

First of all, this is so pre-Me Too that it almost hurts. The beginning of the book is so uncomfortable. Amber has a Tragic Backstory that makes her uncomfortable with anyone touching her. So of course, everyone from the waiter at the Chinese restaurant to the random dude at a party have to practically grope her All The Time.  Also, on nearly every page it seems, someone is being called a slut. It is equal opportunity, referring to men as well as women, but it was too much for me.  And all anyone seems to care about is getting some.  Literally, that’s the story.

The story did get better once it started settling down from that and sinking into the romance. Amber and Liam are a cute couple who really enjoy teasing each other, and some of Amber’s antics were really funny. I was giggling out loud as I read. I really got into the middle of the book as they tried to figure things out.

And then back toward the ending, I started to lose it again. It started to feel like a soap opera, with everything that could go wrong happening. I mean, I had been starting to wonder what exactly was the plot of the story, but it was a bit too predictable and dramatic for me at the end.

For the most part, the characters were pretty good, if sometimes inexplicably odd. Liam is sort of painted as the female fantasy, and while I thought he was cute, he wasn’t McDreamy.  In fact, some of his comments about Amber (whom he calls “Angel” and almost never calls “Amber”) are actually pretty creepy. Amber’s trauma is sometimes painted as a positive almost, a quirk that makes her cute rather than showing the horror she’s lived through.  It’s hard for me to reconcile her trauma with, “Look at how she flinches away from everyone but me.  Isn’t that cute?”  Same for her brother Jake, who is overprotective to a fault and yet it’s almost brushed off as a positive, even though he threatens to kill people on a daily basis.  I was concerned about what I was reading more than once.

The plot sort of meanders without any clear focus. For a while it seems like the plot is one thing. Then it’s something totally different. And then it’s a third thing. I didn’t really know what to make of that, but it didn’t make it a bad story.

Was it diverting for a weekend read?  Yeah.  But I kind of shudder to think of actual teenagers reading this and thinking these things are normal.  Remember when everyone was reading Twilight and, as teenagers, we swooned over Edward sneaking in to watch Bella sleep but adults were weirded out?  Yeah…that’s this book.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns Series Reread

Hey everyone!  Part of the reason I haven’t been updating lately is because I’ve been rereading one of my favorite fantasy series, a series I did reviews on a few years ago.  But now that I’ve finished the series in anticipation of the upcoming standalone 4th novel, I thought I’d kind of post about this series.

Image result for girl of fire and thorns series

If you have not read this highly engrossing series by Rae Carson and you enjoy Sarah J. Maas books, I implore you to check this out.  If it hadn’t been for this series, I would not have discovered my own love for high fantasy.

The basic gist of this that we follow Princess Elisa of Orovalle.  On her 16th birthday, she’s married off to the much older (about 10 years or so older) King Alejandro of Joya d’Arena, a neighboring kingdom.  But Elisa is different from other princesses–she’s been chosen by God to have a special destiny and there’s a pulsing, living gemstone in her bellybutton prove it.  She’s been married off to Alejandro with the hope that she can help save his kingdom from the attacking Inviernos, who are determined to destroy not only Joya d’Arena, but also Orovalle if given the chance.  Initially just a pawn, Elisa grows into her new role and becomes a formidable leader in her own right.

And all of that is just book one, like the first half.  I dare not tell you what else happens because the surprise is half the fun.

This series is beautiful for so many reasons and I don’t think it gets enough credit anymore because it has been out for close to a decade now.

Part of its beauty comes from Elisa’s transformation.  In the beginning, she’s the last person you’d ever expect to choose as a new queen–and she knows it.  Her self-confidence is non-existent.  But as the story goes on, we see her start to believe in herself as she’s forced to either stand her ground.  And it’s so empowering to read, especially as we see others not believing in her and she continues to believe she knows what’s best for herself.

But what’s also beautiful about this is the struggle.  The conflicts come from every angle, from every side.  Elisa is never truly given respite from it all and these challenges help to show who she’s become.  Each one helps forge Elisa into a stronger person and I love that.

Truly, if you like the way Maas crafts a fantasy story, you’ll enjoy this.  And these books are shorter while not skimping on the details.

The stories are clever, the characters are charming, and the writing is ace.  I feel like I’ve fallen headlong into the stories every time I start reading them.  They’re perfection.

And they give me faith.  Elisa was so sure she knew exactly what her life was going to be like and then there are all these challenges that came her way that made her an even better, stronger person than she was before.  That transformation always hits hard, no matter how old I get.

It’s beautiful.  It’s suspenseful.  It’s sad at times.  But it shows strength in its purest sense, a strength that comes from who you are rather than from exerting power over another person.  I love that.

Let It Snow (Netflix movie)

Image result for let it snow netflix posterWith the Christmas season quickly approaching (my tree and decorations are already up thanks to a snow day last week), I wanted to see what this movie had to offer.  I read the book years ago (so I don’t remember it incredibly well at all) and I was ready to see how it compared to other Christmas movies.

This movie follows 8 different teenagers on a snowy Christmas Eve in their tiny small town.  There’s Tobin who has a crush on his best friend, Julie and Stuart who just met on a train, Dorrie whose crush just walked into the restaurant where she works, and Addie whose boyfriend appears to be cheating on her.  A snowstorm brings all of them together.

This was super cute.  And, from what I remember, very different from the book.  I remember the book being somewhat crude and oddball (what did you expect from John Green and Maureen Johnson?) and this is definitely toned down from that.  But that doesn’t mean there’s not a fair share of teenage awkwardness.  It still has that in spades and it’s hilarious.

Someone on Twitter called this a teenage version of Love, Actually but with people of color and they’re not wrong.  It’s basically a movie of vignettes, where we keep following these stories that at first seem to have little in common and slowly become intertwined.  That is always fun to watch, trying to find those links.

There was just so much to enjoy about this.  I loved all of the characters, who I felt like we got to know pretty well even with their limited screen time.  I felt like a little of each of them.  Tobin’s charm comes from being awkward and sensitive.  Duke’s is from being strong and adventurous.  Addie is anxious and Dorrie is confident and Julie is guarded and Stuart is sweet and so many other things could describe these characters.  They were all really well done, from a writing and an acting standpoint.

But one of the best characters is our narrator, played by Joan Cusack who wears a literal tinfoil hat as she drives a tow truck through town.  Oh. My. God.  It was the thing I didn’t know I needed.

The only thing that even semi-bothered me was that because there are so many stories we’re following, they’re very simplistic.  Problems are overcome very quickly because there isn’t time to dwell on them.  I tend to like a little more complexity in my stories, but I understand the limitations here.

It was super cute and if you haven’t watched it yet, make sure you add it to your Christmas to-watch list.  It’ll make your heart happy.

Please Excuse My Absence

I just wanted to shoot you guys a little note.  I’m still here, I’m still reading and writing and watching movies related to YA.

But my stress feels like it’s through the roof right now and at the moment, this blog is just one more thing on my plate, one more deadline hanging over my head.

I promise I will be back, once I can calm down.  I’ve had an excess of grading lately, a lot going on at school, the stress of yet another school shooting on my mind and listening to people who don’t understand talk about what is or isn’t the problem, the frustration of a website I rely on daily failing at every turn, and other general life issues.

The only two things that seem to successfully calm me down are reading and singing.

A lot of the time right now, I can only maintain my sanity if I avoid watching the news and if I stay off the internet.  So it’s not that I don’t love you lovely people (because I do), but I have to take care of myself at the moment.

Thank you for understanding.