Lucky Caller

Lucky Caller

First Lines: It was Christmas, and Dan was in the middle of proposing to my mom when there was a knock at the door.

So I love me some Emma Mills. She writes some of the most interesting, cute, and meaningful stories that I’ve read in a while. Like, she’s up there with Morgan Matson and Sarah Dessen as far as depth and interest. So this was an easy call to read this. (But was I lucky? Hm…)

Nina is expecting her radio broadcasting class to be an easy A. That’s what everyone says it is, anyway. But when her broadcasting group of four misfits teams up, it quickly becomes clear this is going to be a disaster. They have nothing in common and, even worse, Nina’s estranged childhood best friend, Jamie, is in the group. Cue the horrible awkwardness. The show is a train wreck, internet fandoms could bring them down, and Nina’s home life is in turmoil. Everything is spiraling out of control. But…can everything still turn out ok anyway?

What I always love about Emma Mills’s stories is how real they feel while still being light and funny. Taking place in my home state (in locations that I’m familiar with) is an added bonus I’m starting to find with her work.

In this story, we’re introduced to Nina and Jamie. They grew up together, but as they started high school, they started to drift apart. Now, as seniors in their last semester at school, they’re forced to work together in a radio class as part of a group of four. Each character definitely has a lot of personality and I liked seeing Jamie’s constant vulnerability contrasted with Nina’s closed emotions. It’s not a dynamic I usually see and I really liked the reversal.

The plot is interesting as well. Each group in this radio class needs to produce their own radio broadcast through the school’s radio station. Seeing all four of them grow into their roles in this group was really cool and sweet. Joydeep is hilarious and Sasha is the responsibility that they needed to even Joydeep’s impulses out. The story is also written sometimes as transcripts of radio “links,” or the talking they do between songs. Those were really entertaining as well.

It’s hard to tell right now if this is a super memorable story that I’m going to be thinking about in the future or if it’s just another quick, cute read. I mean, it’s definitely the latter, but I think it has elements of the former as well. There was a brief reference in this book to another of Mills’s books and I immediately caught it…which says something for its memorability. I think this does actually have a lot of depth to it, so it could stand the test of time pretty well.

Sweet. Fun. I laughed a lot reading this and also maybe cried once. It’s good.

Hood

Hood

First Lines: Isabelle took great pride in herself that she did not cry once during the whole wretched, messy ordeal. Not when the soldiers barked their orders at her to stand down; not when they grabbed her up like a common criminal and threw shackles on her wrists; not when they shoved her in this moldy makeshift prison cell that once served as a potato cellar; not even when the strips of light leaching in from outside grew longer, and thinner, and then disappeared altogether.

I am BACK, friends! I did not realize it had been so long since I’d posted a review and well, we’re going to remedy that! So we’re starting with a retelling of Robin Hood…but with a twist.

Isabelle’s life has always been quiet. Behind the walls of the convent at Kirklees, not much ever happens, even with her mother, Marien, as the prioress. But after Isabelle is arrested for protecting the villagers, she attracts the attention of a man known as Wolf, King John’s right hand man and not someone to mess with. Desperate to keep Isabelle safe, Marien sends her daughter to the person who can help: Isabelle’s father, Robin Hood. As Isabelle is thrown into a world of mercenaries, thieves, outlaws, and enemies, she learns startling things about her life, about those in power. Isabelle will join Robin and the Merry Men in a final battle against the Wolf for everything she holds dear…but will she succeed?

I have been a fan of Robin Hood retellings for years. I love the heroics, the insanity, the good vs. evil dichotomy, the usual characters, etc. What’s not to like, really?

This story stood out, being about the daughter of Robin Hood and Marien (as her name is spelled here). Isabelle has been raised at a priory her entire life. She knows nothing about life outside of Kirklees, which made her very innocent and naive most of the story. That did make her interesting, I will admit, because she’s not only figuring out the world of Sherwood Forest, but she’s also learning about how the world works–how some men are willing to kill her simply because of who she is and what she represents.

But by setting this story up this way, with the 2nd generation of outlaws, it kind of took away what I love most about the Robin Hood stories: the usual characters. Sure, Little John and Allan a’Dale are still characters, as are Robin and Marien, obviously. But Robin’s in, like, half the story. Marien in even less. Little John and Allan are minor characters at best. They feel more like cameos just to prove they’re there. So as much as I wanted to like this story, it wasn’t going the way I thought it would.

And I did struggle with the writing a little as well. This story happens fast. You’re immediately chucked into the action with little understanding of what has happened. And there really isn’t a subplot this whole story. It’s all: Isabelle needs to find her father and protect her mother. That’s it. That’s the story. I don’t want to say I got bored with this, but it definitely seemed like the story was somewhat stagnant.

That doesn’t mean it’s all bad. The battle scenes are fun, as they should be, and the Merry Men antics are on par with what you’d expect from Robin’s men. And the story does take a daring twist near the end that I was not expecting. So there are worthwhile moments.

I guess mostly, it just didn’t turn out the way I expected it would. It took away what I love most about Robin Hood tales and that hurt.

Top Ten Characters I’d Name a Pet After

Oh, this is just delightful because I can tell you, I will probably be a little bit vindictive? Like, I will get personal joy out of naming a dog, like, Draco or something, and making him sit or roll over. Maybe that’s mean, but if it brings me joy…

Ok, let’s get real and get to the list!

Top Ten Characters I’d Name a Pet After

1. Rory from The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Ok, we’re starting off with a girl name because I sort of got carried away with boy names on this list. BUT THAT’S OK. I like this name because it’s short and it’s different enough that I’m not probably going to confuse people too much with it were I to yell it at the park. (That is also going to be a running trend here.) Also, Rory has just always been a name I liked. I would probably use it on a kid.

2. Rhys from A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Another oddball name you don’t hear too much (though it is definitely gaining momentum, as I usually have at least one Reece every year and I picture these being pronounced the same). Rhys is such a strong character and a strong name that this could definitely work for a big dog. Not so much for a little ankle-biter, as my dad calls them.

3. Dexter from This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

Ok, I’m not going to lie. For one thing, I see this name working really well for a Golden Retriever. But I giggled when I pictured myself saying this name in the same manner as the main character in Dexter Laboratory, with that sort of lisp? Because I would absolutely do that.

4. Jamie from Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Who am I kidding? I have loved this name for years, for a girl or a boy. And odds are incredibly high I will use it on a kid one day.

5. Ismae from Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Again, this is an odd name that I doubt I would ever run into anyone with it. And that’s kind of the way I like it. Ismae is only two syllables and if I got embarrassed by it for some reason, I could call her Izzy. Perfect.

6. Dimitri from Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

I have ulterior motives for this one because while, yes, I would name him Dimitri, I would absolutely call him Misha in honor of Misha Collins. Let’s be real, Misha sort of acts like a hyper dog anyway, so it’s perfect.

7. Patch from Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

This is already a dog name, so I don’t think I really need to justify that one.

8. Sirius from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

I think this one is equally obvious. It makes me giggle.

9. Dally from The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Ok, this one I might need to defend myself on a little. I really wanted to pick a name of one of the Curtis brothers, but I can’t see myself calling a dog Pony or Darry. Soda was the closest I got, but that just gets weird. And Johnny’s too normal and I just can’t picture a dog with that name. But Dally? I can kind of see that. The dog will probably be a headstrong troublemaker, but I can see it.

10. Jace from City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

I really like this one for a dog too. Like, it’s short and easy to say, which is a bonus. I think it’s actually kind of sweet.

So there we have it! This was a breeze to make and really interesting too, since I had to dive into some of the old classics for a good name. It had to mean something to me, as a good name should.

When To Move A Book to DNF? And Other Thoughts

Hey guys! I know I’ve been super bad about posting anything here lately…and a large reason for that is that I have really only been reading romance novels lately.

I think there’s a couple of reasons for that.

The first is super obvious. It was an incredibly stressful October and November really isn’t shaping up any better. (My school got closed once already for too many kids out with COVID…and it’s about to happen again.) So romance novels are easy. They’re predictable. They’re funny. I usually feel good after I finish reading them. Hence, it totally makes sense that I’ve been drawn to them en masse lately.

The second reason is a little more subtle. I think maybe I’m starting to age out of YA? I can still appreciate a well-written YA story, don’t get me wrong, but I’m (obviously) relating better to a 20-something’s search for love than a 17 year old getting upset about not getting enough Insta followers or whatever. I don’t even have an Instagram account. So I feel like these just hit a little truer at the moment.

Maybe once this pandemic is over, YA will sound a little more appealing. And even as I say that, I still very much love YA and I will definitely still be keeping up with the blog. It’s just that my reviews may be a little more spaced out because I need to sprinkle in some romance.

But let’s get to my original premise:

When do you just give up on a book and move on with your life?

I find I’m having this issue more and more often. I mean, I could probably count on one hand how many books I’d given up on in the past 5 years.

I’ve already moved two to my DNF in the last month.

The first was King of Crows by Libba Bray, the final Diviners book. It was not badly written or anything like that. It was simply far too dark and stressful at a time when I was looking for literally anything else. The second was The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White, which I just quit. I found I wasn’t connecting with the characters and I had no idea what was going on. In both cases, I was about 100 pages in. It wasn’t that I read the first 3 pages and quit–I stuck with it for a long time.

Normally, I feel really guilty about quitting books. I hate it. I keep wondering if I’m giving up too soon. And especially in these two cases, these are solid writers for me. I’ve never found a book by either of them that I’ve hated.

But I can’t focus on certain books anymore to save my life. Again, I think this goes back to stress. If it’s not funny, got good characters, or romantic, I have a hard time sticking with it. I haven’t read fantasy in months, I don’t think. Not really.

I’m just having a hard time finding the will to even care about some of these books anymore. Like, I know it’s time to give up a book when I’m doing literally anything else to avoid reading it. If I can only read it in 10-20 minute snatches and that’s it before I’m looking for something else to do, it’s quitting time. Because I will repeat this process for days. If this goes on for 2-4 days in a row, I know it’s time to give up. I’m not connecting and it’s just going to keep dragging on when I could be reading something I actually want to read instead.

So yeah. That’s the update with me. School’s a mess, politics are a mess, and my family is dealing with a few issues related to my grandparents and their health, so that’s keeping me busy.

In case you were wondering, I’m putting up the Christmas tree this weekend, I think. Should be entertaining.

Top Ten Book Titles That Would Make Great Song Titles

This is such a fun topic! I remember doing the book titles that would be fun band names and this is just an extension of that.

I’m going to warn you, though, I listen to country music (and I love the really old stuff–Cash, Dolly, etc. thanks to the Ken Burns documentary a year ago), so with most of these, I’m picturing story songs.

Let’s check it out!

Top Ten Book Titles That Would Make Great Song Titles

1. Wicked Saints (by Emily A. Duncan)

Country music has a constant link to Christian themes, so the saints part fits in pretty well with that, even when it’s not technically about anything religious (“Cowboys and Angels” by Dustin Lynch immediately comes to mind). I think this song could be a story song about how people are generally good but sometimes make bad decisions.

2. Long Way Home (by Katie McGarry)

This is definitely a country song. Home is a big deal in country. (“Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver, anyone?) I feel like this would be a melancholy song, about how they have to take the long way home for some reason.

3. One of Us is Lying (by Karen McManus)

Without a doubt, I picture Carrie Underwood with this song. With so many dark murder ballads in her career (“Church Bells,” “Two Black Cadillacs,” “Choctaw County Affair”), I could totally see her singing a song about two people talking about something and then, when you get to the end of the chorus or the bridge, you learn that one of them is lying. Perfect country song.

4. Yes No Maybe So (by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed)

We also in country have a theme with relationships and saying yes or no. (“Check Yes or No” by George Strait is a HUGE hit, even 25+ years later.) So I could see this in a very similar vein–a couple of kids passing notes about whether she wants to date him, moving up to adulthood when he proposes, moving up again to whether or not she’s pregnant or something. The passage of time like this will definitely come up again. We do that a lot too.

5. The Fountains of Silence (by Ruta Sepetys)

I’m not going to lie, my first thought here was “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel, which isn’t country, but I do picture a slow, dark sound to this song. The story I see with it is literally a guy sitting at a fountain in the middle of some square thinking through his mistakes and all he hears back is silence from the fountains. Oh! No! Here it is! He keeps dropping pennies/wishes in the fountain and all he hears back is silence! It’s gold! Actually, I kind of want to write a story about that now…

6. The Rest of the Story (by Sarah Dessen)

Much like One of Us is Lying, I picture this as a story where we don’t know the full story at the beginning, but I don’t see this as a murder ballad. I see this as a couple that’s fighting over something and as they walk away, we hear the narrator say in the chorus something about how they don’t know the rest of the story. And then throughout the song, we see them come back together and make up and like, learn the rest of the story? It needs work.

7. The Leaving Season (by Cat Jordan)

We like word play in country and I think this has enough ambiguity to it to work really well (“Don’t Take the Girl” by Tim McGraw or “Even Though I’m Leaving” by Luke Combs come to mind, how they keep changing meaning). I see this as someone watching someone leave at the end of summer, like the end of camp. Then maybe leaving for college and having to leave their hometown and their family behind. And maybe the third one is when their own kids leave for college and they’re getting left behind. It could be really sweet.

8. Save the Date (by Morgan Matson)

I wasn’t going to do this one, but the creative juices are flowing now. I see this as a melancholy song, about someone (girl or guy) who get a save the date card from The One That Got Away. (Thomas Rhett’s song “Marry Me” is the vibe I’m going for.) It can reflect on the bittersweet memories of the relationship and how the other person has moved on. Country music is nothing if not prone to melancholy. Can we party it up? Absolutely. But we don’t shy away from the darker feelings either.

9. The Edge of Always (by J.A. Redmerski)

Ok, this idea isn’t fully formed either, but it does play on that idea of time again, but more in line with “Temporary Home” by Carrie Underwood or “There Goes My Life” by Kenny Chesney. I like this idea of being on the edge of a life changing event. The two obvious ones are marriage and the birth of the first kid. I’m actually picturing this song as really loving, like “I’m on the edge of always loving you” kind of thing. See? I can come up with something besides lovesick odes and murder ballads!

10. Last Year’s Mistake (by Gina Ciocca)

Aaaand we’re back to lovesick. I like for this one having someone reflect back on a broken relationship and the mistake they made by ending it. And then they try to correct their mistake by calling up that person. I would give them a happy ending by saying that they’ll never make last year’s mistake again or something. (Yes, it’s very much like “Austin” by Blake Shelton, which is one of my favorite songs.)

Throw Like a Girl

Throw Like a Girl

First Lines: In every baseball movie ever, it’s the same. Bottom of the ninth. Bases loaded. Two outs. The crowd breathless at the batter’s back. The players in the dugout on their feet.

Look, I love a good sports story involving girls. As someone who grew up playing softball and having an enjoyment of many sports, I love seeing other girls who also enjoy them. This story combined my two sport loves: softball and football. I couldn’t wait to see what happened.

The state championship softball game should be the best day of Liv’s life. But when she throws a punch at an opposing player, she loses her scholarship to her fancy private school, her boyfriend, and her team all at the same time. With no other option, Liv is forced to enroll at the nearby public school, Northland. She has to convince the coach to let her play softball with them next season if she stands any chance of getting a scholarship. The problem? She’d punched a Northland player. Then comes Grey, the injured Northland quarterback, to save the day with a foolproof plan: join the football team as the temporary quarterback and he’ll make sure she gets a spot on the softball team. But it’s going to take more than a good arm for Liv to find acceptance at Northland, as she soon learns. And behind that perfect smile and stylish hair, Grey may not be as perfect as he seems…

It ended up being really cute. (I’ve only just realized this book came out this year? How did I miss it this long?) Both of our characters, Grey and Liv, have bad things in their past. For Liv, hers is something everyone knows. At the championship softball game, she punched the other team’s first baseman in the face after the first baseman said some really awful things. And Liv’s consequence was losing her scholarship to her private school and now she needs to go to public school. Specifically, the same school the girl she punched is from. So, you know, a fun and easy transition.

I really liked Liv. Does she make stupid decisions? Yes. She’s not a perfect person despite how much she strives for perfection in her personal and sports lives. And also, she’s just 16. But I liked how she owned her mistakes when she made them and how she had such a good support system around her. She listened to them when they gave her advice. I liked reading a story where a family was so supportive. I feel like most stories are about broken families and the fact that this wasn’t was refreshing.

Grey is a character who, well, he kind of falls into a grey area. (I’m sorry. I had to.) I liked him, for sure, but his decisions were dumber than Liv’s. Grey is supposed to be smarter because he’s older, but he sure knew how to inflict the worst pain on himself and others. But don’t get me wrong, he’s also a really sweet guy. He just has issues–that he doesn’t apologize for and Liv doesn’t have to try to change. Like Liv, he (usually) owns up to his mistakes. Even if it takes him some time to figure out how to do that.

ANYWAY, I thought the sports angle was great for this story. I don’t think enough stories show girls playing sports, so the fact that this highlights Liv playing softball and football, as well as another female character playing softball and volleyball, and even more female characters doing yoga and running, it just felt very positive, I guess? I don’t know how to describe it. I just really like reading about girls playing sports rather than the stereotypical shopping trips and doing their nails. The sports world was far more my world than that stereotypical world ever was.

I’m digressing again. Sorry. I’ll wrap this up. This is a cute story that I wanted to keep picking up to see what happened next because I connected with it on a lot of different levels. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and it’s light. Light is a big win right now.