Before I Fall (2017 Movie)

Image result for before i fallMaybe for you there’s a tomorrow.

So this is based on the Lauren Oliver book of the same name.  And I can assure you, I remember exactly how heart-wrenching the novel was.  I put off watching this for a long time because I just didn’t want to put myself through that.  But, I mean, you can only put it off so long.  I decided it was time.

Samantha “Sam” Kingston has everything: perfect friends, perfect boyfriend, perfect future.  Until everything changes.  After an accident, Sam finds herself trapped in the same day over and over and she begins to question just how perfect her life really was.  And as she begins to unravel why she’s stuck, she learns about the mysteries of those closest to her and the power of a single person, a single day, to change someone’s life.

You’re gonna need to keep a box of tissues next to you as you watch.  FYI.  I’m only looking out for you here.

The story in and of itself is just heartbreaking but also hopeful.  The story starts out tonally like Mean Girls but without the humor.  Sam and her friends are popular and aren’t exactly nice to those around them.  They’re very interested in retaining their image as popular and cooler than everyone else.  Those that are “beneath” them hardly warrant a second glance–but Sam and crew aren’t above yelling hurtful things at them.  And it’s this loop that Sam gets stuck in, slowly seeing the effect this has on others.

For as much as I dislike stories with parallel universes, I do like stories like this about reliving the same day over and over again.  Every little change changes something later down the road.  It’s almost scientific curiosity on my part.  If this variable changes, what happens next?  And because this is a movie rather than a book, there’s a very clear passage of time, of just how many days she’s seen doing the same thing over and over again.  Within a few seconds, you can tell she’s been there for weeks.  That’s some great editing.

Thematically, the themes are fantastic.  I mean, we’re kind of dealing with this idea of how you want to be remembered, what you would do with your last day, what it means to be a friend, etc.  That’s also where the heartbreak comes from.

The acting was pretty good.  I’m a fan of Zoey Deutch, who plays Sam.  I thought she did a great job of showing how Sam sometimes is conflicted when she doesn’t want to show that, how depressed Sam is during each “new” day, and how she can be really sweet.  Sam is really the only character who gets massive amounts of screen time, but I didn’t think any of the other characters were badly acted.  We just didn’t see a lot of them.

The one thing I will say that I noticed as a difference from book to movie is that it does feel rushed.  With Sam reliving the same day over and over, you wouldn’t think there’s anything really missing.  But there is.  Like, when Sam finally starts to figure everything out, I felt like we were rushing through what was the most poignant part of the movie.  I wanted more than I was getting.

But overall, it’s worth a watch, whether or not you’ve read the book.

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Top Ten Books That Changed My Life

Hey everyone!  So there was this thing on Twitter last week about YA authors talking about finding your own story.  And, one thing led to another in my brain, and I was thinking about books that have made me look at the world differently.  I’m not necessarily going to be talking about book series that I obsessed over or that are some giant awesome fandom.  I’m going to be talking a lot about YA books that made me realize things about life.  They’re the books I probably can’t stop thinking about.

While this is obviously a little more on the personal side for me, I hope that you find something here that can/has changed your life.

Oh, and if you’re worried about these all being heavy tear-jerkers, they’re not.  Some are quite light and/or funny.  That doesn’t mean they can’t be life changing too.

Top Ten Books That Changed My Life

Image result for life changing

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

Let’s get the most obvious out of the way first.  I can’t even pretend that Harry Potter was not the most significant series in my entire life.  It was one of the earliest chapter books I can remember reading as a kid with my mom.  On top of that, there were all those themes about overcoming corruption and what it means to be a friend and the dangers of prejudice (mudbloods, etc.).  There is so much about life layered away in those books that I think I would be failing as a blogger if I didn’t include it.

2. Stolen: A Letter to my Captor by Lucy Christopher

This is not a widely known story, and I think that’s part of the reason it’s so life changing.  Written as a letter from a girl to her kidnapper, it details everything the girl was thinking and experiencing during her captivity in the Outback of Australia.  Not only is it beautifully written, but it shows us that even though people can be truly horrible and evil, they can have the capacity for goodness…no one’s entirely good or evil.

3. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

I can remember reading this in the car on vacation years ago and trying not to let the five other people in the vehicle know that I was crying.  It’s so powerful to watch Sam discover that she’s been living her life all wrong and that she’d missed out on all these amazing people because she was too wrapped up in herself and trying to be cool.  It’s heartbreaking but soooo good.

4. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

An interesting choice for this list, to be sure.  But here’s why: Cath is the same shy, quiet, bookish, and occasionally lost girl that I was in college (and still can be today).  She was real.  And the fact that she was introverted and would ask for personal space and whatever else she needed was a revelation.  Everything in romantic comedies and love stories always had everything moving so fast.  When I knew that wasn’t me and that wasn’t how my life would go, I’d feel depressed.  But finding Cath and discovering that relationships can move at whatever pace the couple is ok with…that was life changing.

5. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Elisa is completely and totally the reason this book is on the list.  I connected with her self-conscious hopelessness from the very beginning.  She’s forced into a situation where she’s completely out of her element and she’s forced to adapt, even against her will.  Her personal revolution is undeniably inspiring and when you finish reading this book, you feel like you can move mountains too.

6. If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Whenever I need a tear-jerker, this is my go-to movie AND book.  It’s that ultimate question of what do you live for when it feels like there’s nothing left to live for?  I really like the way the story’s written and its powerful messages of family and love.  I don’t think I will ever recover from this book.  Nor do I want to.

7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I teach this book every year, and I have to say it’s just so beautiful.  It’s all about the absolute power of the written word.  It shows the dangers of Nazi Germany and the systemic destruction of “other”.  It shows the pain of loss and the slow growth of hope.  It shows the power of the family you choose to call your own, not the one you were born into.  I just…like I am so in love with this book and its message that I have seriously debated about naming a child of mine Liesl.

8. The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

There’s a reason that this is my go-to reread on my shelf.  Yes, I vastly enjoy the romance and the twist on Greek mythology, but it’s more than that.  Stay with me here: I grew up Catholic and I was never quite satisfied with what the afterlife was supposed to look like.  Pearly gates, streets of gold, etc., or an eternity of burning.  That’s it.  I didn’t care for that.  This book was the first book where I actually found a way of talking about life after death in a way that I could get behind.  So whenever I experience loss in my life, this is the first book I go back to because it helps me feel grounded in what I believe.  If that makes me some kind of heretic, then so be it.

9. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I mean seriously, could I make this list without this book either?  I’ve legitimately used quotes from this book in college essays.  I’m not joking.  It’s cynical and doesn’t sound like any teenager I’ve ever met in its use of vocabulary or metaphors, but what Gus and Hazel are going through is all too real and shows you just how fragile life can be.  And how powerful love can be, even when it feels finite.  Love is infinite.

10. Sing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison

This book destroyed me.  It’s very similar in themes to TFioS, but the tone is completely different.  Beth finally starts coming into some confidence and starts to realize her worth, especially as she begins to get close to someone else.  But love is always complicated and things get messy.  It just helps show that sometimes we think we know someone but there’s always more to learn.  And I also really love that music has been twisted into the whole story because music is also a powerful force.

Romeo Redeemed (Juliet Immortal, #2)

Image result for romeo redeemedFirst Lines: We reach the lonely hilltop just as the sun sets over Verona.  Golden light bleeds to a crimson stain that spreads across the city, dipping into every secret place, marking every shadow.  Just as her blood seeped from her chest…spread out to coat the stones of the tomb.  Cold, mute stones.  They will keep my terrible secret.  Juliet is dead, and her blood is on my hands.

After being pleasantly surprised by the previous book in the duology, I had to give this a go.  Besides, who doesn’t love when Romeo and Juliet involves immortals, good vs. evil, and more insta-love?

*Slight Chance of Series Spoilers Ahead*

Because of his actions, Romeo is doomed to spend the rest of eternity stuck inside a rotting corpse.  But when given the chance to redeem himself, he jumps at the chance, even though it’s not going to be easy.  He needs to travel back in time and save the life of Ariel Dragland.  Unbeknownst to Ariel, she’s incredibly important to both the Ambassadors of Light and the Mercenaries, the two powers of good and evil.  Romeo must make her fall in love and believe in love–all before her darker tendencies make her a target for the Mercenaries.  While it all starts as a lie, Romeo soon finds himself drawn to Ariel for real.  Soon, he’ll do what is needed to protect her.  But when Ariel is lead to believe that their love is a lie, her darker tendencies will put them both at risk and may end what they’ve started.

Hmm. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t like this as much as the first book, but at least I think I can articulate why.

First of all, I thought it was nice to see Romeo’s side of the story. I liked seeing what was different, how things were flipped to fit his telling. He’s still a tortured, conflicted soul, but it was fun to get into his headspace for a change.

The trouble with this story started quickly enough for me. Because Romeo’s trying to save a girl that didn’t survive the first book, we’re basically in a parallel universe. There are variations to the characters, to the plot, etc., from what we learned about in the first book. I’ve never been a fan of parallel universe stories. I like linear timelines. I like knowing that what I know about the story is true, not that it will be different in this world. It’s a little thing, but it bothers me.

Look, I understand why changes needed to be made. In many respects, this is the same story as Juliet Immortal. Same characters, some of the same/similar events. If they weren’t changed, this would be incredibly boring. But as it was, I was still kind of bored by the whole thing.

And obviously, the characters are incredibly impulsive. In order for two people to fall in love in 3 days, yeah, they’d both have to be pretty impulsive. It actually gets a little annoying that they don’t think anything through before they do it.  I’m a planner and pretty much not impulsive at all.  So yeah, it irritated me.

Actually, what I ended up really liking were the very few scenes that happened in 1304 Verona, when the story jumped back in time. Those ended up being far more fascinating than anything else this story had to offer.

So yeah, it may not have been perfect. It wasn’t even always interesting. But I can still appreciate how she put her own spin on this classic tale and reinvented it. I did enjoy that.

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1)

Image result for truly deviousFirst Lines: Look! a riddle!  Time for fun!  Should we use a rope or gun?  Knives are sharp and gleam so pretty, Poison’s slow, which is a pity.  Hanging’s a ropy way to go, a broken head, a nasty fall, a car colliding with a wall.  Bombs make a very jolly noise.  Such ways to punish naughty boys!  What shall we use?  We can’t decide.  Just like you cannot run or hide.

So I love Maureen Johnson as a person.  Her Twitter account is outrageously funny.  But this book really wasn’t on my radar until I saw the hype it was getting.  I decided I probably had to read it, even though I feel like for the most part I’ve outgrown the mystery phase I went through in middle school.

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont, where only the best and brightest artists and thinkers go.  It was a school started by Albert Ellingham, who wanted to make a place where learning was a game and students could focus on what interested them.  But shortly after the school opened, Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped.  The only clue was a riddle detailing different ways to kill someone.  (See: first lines.)  It was signed Truly Devious, and this case became one of the most famous unsolved cases in America.  Enter Stevie Bell, a true-crime aficionado whose greatest dream is to solve the Ellingham case and become an FBI agent.  But coming to school at Ellingham is going to take up a lot of her time, especially as she gets to know her strange housemates: the welder, the writer, the artist, the actor, and the video game designer.  Everything changes the moment Truly Devious returns and murders a student.  It seems Truly Devious has returned from the grave and gotten away with murder.

As I expected, this book retained some of Johnson’s quirkiness.  I like quirky, and it’s just odd enough to bring some humor and levity to this murder mystery.  It’s an incredibly clever story, modeled after the mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, just to name a few. Having been an avid Christie fan as a teen, I saw many parallels to those specifically.

Stevie is a wannabe FBI agent. She’s obsessed with criminology, always reading about it and listening to podcasts and trying to solve cold cases. But it also means she’s well aware of how investigations work and what she needs to look for as a detective. In fact, she has traits similar to Sherlock, able to make huge deductions about a person based on scraps of evidence (a tan, an expensive watch, etc.).  So it was fun to read about a teenager who knew exactly what do to, even though she’s never actually dealt with a dead body before.

The story bounces between going back to 1936 when the Ellingham kidnappings happened and the present. Stevie’s obsession with the kidnappings shows us all the evidence of the case so we can get a better idea of what happened. And in the present, when Truly Devious returns, we see that unfold as well.

The mysteries were very clever. There are a lot of riddles in this book, a lot of loose ends that you need to try to put together. And, because this is a trilogy, there are cliffhangers that leave you feeling pretty unsatisfied at the end. I was hoping for more than I got. But I did enjoy the ride, considering there were little things along the way that didn’t feel right and then your instincts were proved right at the end.

There are quite a few characters that, because there are a lot of them, mostly come off feeling somewhat flat. But I enjoyed reading about them. Everyone who comes to Ellingham is quirky because they’re supposed to be passionate and great at whatever their passions are. Stevie’s is crime, but her roommates include a writer, a welder, a video game designer, an actor, and an artist. And every one of them is weird in their own rights. Some of them are likable because of it. Others are not, but that’s also kind of the point.  They’re being true to themselves.

I’m interested to see what the sequel brings. Hopefully I won’t have lost the thread of this story by the time it comes out.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Image result for jumanji welcome to the jungleThe game has evolved.

Alright, so I know this isn’t *technically* YA, but there are two very good reasons I have for reviewing this: 1) the story of Jumanji is actually based on a children’s book from the 80s and 2) it’s about teenagers of different social groups forced to work together, like you see in a lot of YA.  So I thought it appropriate.

Oh, and also #90sNostalgia.  I grew up watching the original movie and while I absolutely love Robin Williams, it gave me the heebie-jeebies.

When four high schoolers of different social groups are sent to detention, they soon find something to keep their interest: an old gaming console with some weird game called Jumanji.  But as they begin playing, they literally get sucked into the games as their avatars.  And it quickly becomes clear that they aren’t just playing a game–they’re playing for their lives.  To beat the game and return home, they’ll have to work together, discover what Alan Parrish left 20 years before, and learn a little about themselves.

I am so so glad I watched this.  I’m not going to lie–I knew the plot was about getting sucked into a video game, but all I really was interested in was seeing Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Dwayne Johnson together.  All three of them are so funny in everything else.  (I didn’t know who Karen Gillan was, but I guess she’s Amy Pond from Doctor Who?  That got some nerd cred for her, even if I haven’t seen the show.)

Oh my gosh, this was hysterical.  The story starts off a lot like The Breakfast Club with four very different students stuck together in detention.  There’s Spencer the nerd, Fridge the jock, Bethany the Instagram-obsessed preppy girl, and Martha the argumentative nonconformist.  This part was pretty angsty, but also had funny moments.

But the real fun begins once they get stuck in Jumanji.  Let’s keep in mind that of the four teenagers, two are boys and two are girls.  In the game, one of the girls has a male avatar.  I don’t want to ruin it by saying more, but that was by far the funniest thing of the entire movie.  I was rolling.

The acting on the parts of our four leads (Black, Hart, Johnson, and Gillan) was really great because really, they’re playing teenagers stuck in different bodies.  And it was really funny while still feeling like lost teenagers.  Each and every one of them had moments to shine and it was fantastic.

There’s even a surprise actor in the movie and I’m certainly not spoiling that.  Suffice it to say I may have squealed a bit when I saw who it was.

The plot of the game is pretty typical of a 90s video game.  Pass the levels, beat the game.  That sometimes seemed cheesy.  But factor it in with the character development and what these teenagers were going through and it was pretty good.  The simplicity of the game, while often cliche, allowed the characters to shine because we didn’t have to think too hard about what they were being asked to do.  We could focus on their arguments with each other or the way they seemed to be growing as people.  I really appreciated that.  I also appreciated the structure of pairing the teens with the avatars that were least like themselves to give them something to struggle with.

I will say for those who are hoping it’s similar to the original Jumanji, it’s not.  Not really.  Sure, they get sucked into the game and have to fight to survive, but this doesn’t have anywhere near the same danger level as the previous movie.  This is a hilarious (and sometimes a little raunchy) comedy movie about teens getting sucked into a game.  It is nothing like the suspense and terror I felt as a kid watching a town get overrun by exotic animals, a mad hunter willing to kill people, a floor turning into quicksand, or a boy turned into a monkey.  This movie isn’t really scary at all.

But I enjoyed the heck out of this movie.  I love laugh-after-laugh comedies and that’s what this was.  I enjoy witty banter between characters and seeing character development.  I got all of that.  Sure, it’s not the same as the 90s version, but did I expect it to be?  No.  Nothing’s going to match Robin Williams, and I’m glad they didn’t really try.

This is how Jumanji evolved for our lives.  It didn’t just become a video game; it became a comedy too.

Compare This! The Gold Seer Series vs. Fire and Thorns Series

Hey guys!  So last week’s Compare This! about Sarah J. Maas books was really popular and I had fun with it, so I thought I’d pick another to do!  This time I picked two very awesome series by Rae Carson, The Gold Seer series and the Fire and Thorns series.  So let’s see how they match up!

The Gold Seer Series

VS.

Fire and Thorns Series

Image result for the gold seer trilogy

The Gold Seer series

Pros:

  • It’s historical fiction with a fantasy twist, which is awesome.  For those who get bored reading simple historical fictions, Lee’s power to “feel” where gold is gives an added excitement to the story.  And if you are into historical stories, this has many truths to the Gold Rush.
  • The danger/suspense feels super real.  Lee is running from a murderer intent on using her powers for his own gain.  You feel this danger throughout the entire series, even as the villain changes.
  • The characters are awesome.  Lee starts off the series as a runaway but she soon finds a quirky bunch to hang out with and, while she can’t trust everyone, she starts to find herself a new family.
  • The love story is subtle.  It’s a slow build and, in a world of YA books that have couples falling madly in love in 3 days, this was different.
  • The stories are clever.  Even when you can kind of predict what’s going to happen by the end, you can’t always figure out how it happens.

Cons:

  • I thought Lee’s magic could have been used more in the series.  At times, it felt more like it was there in name but not actually present in the story.  It was almost just a side note.
  • Lee was sometimes forgettable.  Her personality can be a bit bland at times and it’s sometimes hard to find something to dig your teeth into about her.  (Um…that went from zero to vampire real quick…my apologies.)
  • The large cast of characters sometimes makes it difficult to remember who is who, where they’re supposed to be, and what they’re supposed to be doing.  The cast is so big there’s actually a list of who everyone is in each book to help keep everyone straight.

 

Image result for girl of fire and thorns series

Fire and Thorns series

Pros:

  • It’s completely a fantasy story, so there are new kingdoms, magical powers, strange enemies, etc.  And the world building for it is excellent.
  • Elisa is an unlikely heroine.  When we first meet her, she’s getting secretly wed to a king she doesn’t know.  She’s mousy, terrified, and legitimately fat (which she admits because eating is a coping mechanism for her).  But she undergoes a massive amount of character development throughout the series and it’s amazing.
  • The books grip you quickly and you’ll soon find that you’ve been reading for eight hours and maybe didn’t even stop to eat.  Or you continued reading while you ate.  It’s that good.
  • This also had a slow-build romance, one that will actually take you by surprise but also not.  If that makes sense.
  • I don’t have a better way to explain it than this, but this series is ballsy.  There are many twists you never see coming because it goes places books don’t normally go.  And I loved that.
  • It’s actually an uplifting story for some of the strangest reasons, but all of us have been Elisa at some point (she’s scared, self-deprecating, and doesn’t usually know what to do).  So watching her transform really makes you feel like you transformed too.

Cons:

  • I felt the series started to lose power by the last book.  The first two were just so powerful as Elisa learned to navigate her new world and powers, and when she finally has it figured out, it then lacked some of the excitement I was drawn to.
  • I thought the last book also became predictable and didn’t take as many chances as the first two books.  Not that I didn’t still enjoy it, but you want the series to end on a high note, right?  And for me, this wasn’t quite what I was hoping for.

 

My Winner: Fire and Thorns series

Why?  Look, I’ve come to love high fantasy series and this was the series that did it for me.  I was completely blown away by Elisa and her friends.  Every book played out like a movie in my head and I just wanted more and more and more.  All the time.  I’ve read the books maybe twice and I can almost paint the scenes that I can see in my head because they are that vivid, even after all this time.  It’s inventive, creative, and so much fun to read.  Seriously, you will not see some of the twists coming.

And while historical fiction is probably my real wheelhouse, I just couldn’t pick it over the story that showed me how amazing fantasy can be.  The Gold Seer series is still really good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just not as good as Carson’s first series.

Did I make the right choice?  What do you think of these series?  Any recommendations on what I should compare next?  Leave a comment below!

Freya (Freya, #1)

Image result for freya matthew laurenceFirst Lines: I live in a mental hospital.  I’m not actually crazy; I just like it here.  The Inward Care Center has a lot going for it.  They give you clean clothes and neat slippers, feed you, and protect you, and nobody questions the bizarre.

Ok, so this was a book I had never heard of before.  I was walking through my library and thanks to The Last Kingdom, I’m more interested in Norse Mythology now.  A book about Freya?  I was willing to try it.  And let’s not forget to mention that this cover is absolutely awesome.  I love the bright colors, graffiti, and the absolute sass rolling off that model.  If the book was anything like the cover, I was in.

Sara Vanadi is more than she appears.  In her hey-day, she was Freya, goddess of love, beauty, war, and death.  But because of the direction the modern world has taken, she’s largely forgotten.  Believers are hard to come by, which really sucks when your power comes from believers.  She’s been laying low for decades when a corporation comes to her with a deal: join us and receive power and believers–or refuse and die.  It’s a tough decision for Sara to make, so she chooses neither and escapes with her new friend, Nathan.  With the power of humans growing so greatly that they are determined to control the divine, Sara knows she needs to fight back.  But first she needs real clothes.

I vastly enjoyed that. It was funny and exciting and suspenseful and interesting.

Sara and the other gods are delightfully flawed, but I’ll speak about Sara since she’s the main character. So even though (or perhaps because) she’s a goddess, she’s got a lot of flaws. She’s short-sighted, vengeful, impatient, and brutal toward enemies. But she’s also witty, clever, and able to analyze a situation from multiple angles in seconds. You really do start to like her from the very beginning despite her flaws. And it was actually fun to read about a character who was that flawed and really didn’t care. She wasn’t ever really questioning her decisions. If she made a mistake, she shrugged it off and kept going. It was kind of awesome.

Also, she’s incredibly sassy.  I adore that in characters, and this was great.  Her wit and cleverness really come out in her sass.

My one qualm with this book was her pal, Nathan. For being a main character, he is decidedly one-dimensional. I mean, even the villains feel almost three-dimensional but her best friend is flat? What kind of sense does that make? Nathan was a window dressing in this story, there for good looks and when Sara needed him. That was about it. I wish he’d had more of a role, or at least that we could see more about him.

The plot/premise is absolutely ridiculous and I loved every second of it. I mean, there’s an agency that collects old gods and goddesses? Ok, sure. Sara wants to go into hiding from them? Totally get that survival feeling. So where does Sara go to hide? Disney World. It’s just fantastic and so so funny.  And it makes some wicked good sense the whole time.  I loved the absurd feeling of the whole thing.

The action is definitely worth it. There are excellent fight scenes, there’s a lot of espionage and intrigue, and there’s a lot of set-up early on to stuff to come later and you just know it’s going to be good. I stayed up late to finish this book because I started getting to the really good stuff just before midnight. When there’s that much action, you can’t just put it down and pick it up tomorrow. That ruins the fun.

Anyway, this was absolutely delightful. I really enjoyed this.  And I’m really looking forward to the sequel, which promises to be equally ridiculous, and really, there are some days when you just need that complete lack of rationality.