Throwback Thursday: Anna and the French Kiss

Hey guys!  It’s SUMMER and so while I’m reading so many new books, I sometimes interrupt all those new books to reread something off of my bookshelves.  After reading a few really dark, emotional stories about death, I needed a fun break.  And what should have caught my eye but Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.  So I thought I’d do a throwback review!

annaukI originally read this in February of 2011 during my freshman year of college and I hadn’t reread it since.  I’m really excited to compare my original review with my thoughts now!  (The original review will be in italics, but if you would like to read the actual review, you can find it here.  This was one of my first reviews, so don’t judge it too harshly.)

As strange as it sounds, I am very hesitant to give it as high a rating as I will.  It’s not because it’s bad (because it’s far from that), but because it has mirrored my first year in college with alarming accuracy.  And it’s forced me to see things I was much happier not facing.  

Even six years later, I still stand by this.  I spent my entire freshman year thinking I was in love with my best friend, just like Anna.  And we had one misunderstanding after another, just like Anna.  This book actually helped me say something to him about it.  (It kind of blew up in my face, but I don’t blame the book.)  Still, it was super eerie.

That’s probably part of the reason this book gets such good ratings.  Girls can always recall that one guy that they fell in love with even though they knew they shouldn’t.

Stephanie Perkins, in my opinion, has written the quintessential unrequited love story.  Never have I read another story that hits so close to reality when it comes to that mix of bliss and masochism that is unrequited love.  The characters are beautifully written and I love each and every one of them.

The pain Anna feels is raw (and mixed with my own, it’s a lethal combination).

I may have been a bit melodramatic, but Perkins has always excelled at writing emotions with such skill that it feels personal.  Sure, it didn’t hit me as hard this time as it did six years ago (I’m in a happy relationship at the moment, so no more unrequited love, thank God), but the emotions are still there.  I remember those feelings, as I’m sure nearly all of you do as well.  The feelings of betrayal, happiness, loneliness, lost-ness (I may be making up a new word there, but I’m an English teacher, so I can), and rightness when you’re with the right person.  And Perkins perfectly encapsulates them in Anna’s experiences.

What’s really awesome is that this summer, I’ve started teaching myself French and I can understand more of the French that pops up in this story now, and I get the French culture a little better.  The setting of this is probably why I picked this book in the first place out of the hundred others in my possession.  C’est trés belle en France oui?  Bien sûr!  (My French is still really basic, but I’m learning.)

Anyway, the setting of this book is gorgeous.  Not only is it in Paris, but Anna ends up visiting some of the beautiful landmarks in the city.  The Panthéon, Notre-Dame, many cafes around the city.  I just love how much culture is in this book.

Even after all these years, I still find that this book speaks on a level that is just so different from many of its contemporaries in the YA contemporary romance category.  It’s just different.  The characters are different and the situation is different.  This book totally deserves every rose I give it.

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1)

81xxsrsppulFirst Lines: The scythe arrived late on a cold November afternoon.  Citra was at the dining room table, slaving over a particularly difficult algebra problem, shuffling variables, unable to solve for X or Y, when this new and far more pernicious variable entered her life’s equation.

Ok, let’s all agree that Neal Shusterman is an amazing author who is delightfully messed up.  (I mean this as a compliment.)  I’ve read a few of his previous books (Unwind, for example) and they are way creepy.  I love stories about grim reapers, so I desperately wanted to read this.  I just hoped it wasn’t going to give me nightmares.

Citra lives in a perfect world.  There is no such thing as poverty, no such thing as hunger, no such thing as depression or war.  Humanity has even conquered death.  In order to keep the population under control, the only ones who can end lives are scythes, who must follow specific guidelines about how they do it.  Citra and another boy, Rowan, are chosen to be apprentices to a scythe–a job neither of them wants.  They must master taking lives, or they could lose their own.  Who will become a scythe and who will die?

I initially liked the premise that this was about basically grim reapers, only they’re alive and revered like holy men or celebrities (it’s a fine line for some people).  I’ve read a lot of reaper stories, but most of them have to do with ghosts or people thinking they’re crazy.  Which is fine; I really enjoy those.  I probably should stop calling these “reapers” though because they aren’t actually what we think of as reapers.  They’re more like glorified murderers, but someone has to keep the population in line.

This is more of a dystopian/futuristic story, and that lost me a little bit, but I came around to it. I’m not really into sci-fi unless I know I’m getting into it ahead of time.  This was a surprise, though I can’t really say what I thought it would be.  But I eventually settled into the story and liked it.  It was really interesting.

The characters are really what drive the story. Citra and Rowan are clever, flawed, brutal, and compassionate. It’s a really intriguing mix of characteristics for our leads. But even more than that, we have compelling villains that don’t see themselves as villains, heroes who make mistakes, and people who are corruptible but are good at heart. I mean, these characters make mistakes and it feels real.  Just like people, you find yourself making excuses for a character because you know their actions don’t reflect who they are at heart.  That’s some good writing there.

This story tends to explore a lot of deep questions about life, death, and everything in between. It does slow down the action a bit, but it really helps set up the conflicts. And trust me, there’s plenty of action in this story. It’s just a bit more strategic about it.

There’s a lot of commentary here about our society and how our society could change with all these advancements in technology. It’s interesting, but from time to time I did skim over things. I tried not to, but I think it happened more often than I remember. But it was an accident! I’d only realize it later.

Really, this was just fun to read. There was a lot of action and interest, a lot of depth, and great characters. I’m really interested to see where this series goes.  I know it doesn’t exactly sound like it, but I had a hard time putting this down.  There are some really excellent twists in this story, and of course, excellent writing.  I can’t commend that enough.

Dark Breaks the Dawn

29283751First Lines: The jeweled forest blurred into a tapestry of color as Evelayn sprinted away from the castle.  She whipped past the trees and bushes as though she was made from the wind that pushed at her back.

I received this as an ARC a few weeks back, but I failed at reading it before it came out.  C’est la vie.  I tried.  Anyway, I tried to read it close to its release date at the very least.  (It came out May 30th).  I loved Sara B. Larson’s prior fantasy series, so I had to give this a try.

It’s Princess Evelayn’s 18th birthday, and she can finally access the magic that runs through her kingdom and through her blood.  Everything is brighter and sharper and just more.  But what Evelayn wants more than anything is to spend her birthday with her mother, the Queen, who is fighting against King Bain of Dorjhalon on the war front.  King Bain, though, is plotting.  He wants control of both kingdoms and will do whatever he needs to to get it.  When his focus shifts to Evelayn, she’ll have to overcome her fears and her youth to fight against this corrupt king, relying on her advisers and the handsome Lord Tanvir for help.  But finding balance between the kingdoms comes with a steep price…is Evelayn still willing?

I felt like it took a really long time for this book to get on its feet. The action starts up pretty quickly, but that didn’t mean I understood what was happening. We’re in a fantasy world; we need some time to figure out what’s happening. It doesn’t just happen in a chapter, and that made some of the emotional parts in the beginning feel weird to me. I wasn’t invested in the story or the characters yet.  I kept putting it down to do something–anything–else.

I did like the characters. Evelayn is a worthy queen and her friends Tanvir and Ceren are great counterparts to her. Even the enemies were well-written. My only issue with the characters was that the story spent so long telling us that we couldn’t trust anyone that I eventually didn’t trust any of them. So when I found out who we could trust and who we couldn’t, it didn’t pack much of a punch because there was so much distance I’d created between us. It was like the story was trying to tell me not to get too attached from the beginning.  So I didn’t.

I felt like a lot of the action was also a bit slow or anticlimactic. Something tense would happen, but then it was quickly resolved. Which is fine a couple of times, but it meant that I didn’t feel a whole lot of reason to keep reading the book.  There wasn’t much suspense.  The action did pick up in like, the final chapter with some really awesome twists that made me want to pull out my popcorn and settle in. But, like I said, that was the last chapter or so. Not the whole book.

I don’t think Larson is a bad writer. I think she’s actually pretty good at crafting a good story. I just wasn’t particularly sold on this one. I’m not sure if it helped or hurt that I don’t know the story of Swan Lake, which this is based on.

A Taste for Monsters

31223346First Lines: I woke up next to a dead woman.

If you’ve been reading my blog for long, y’all know I like weird books.  I love me some supernatural (the paranormal as well as the show of  the same name) and a historical fiction with a paranormal twist was definitely on my radar.

London, 1888.  As if Evelyn, a disfigured teenage girl, didn’t have enough to worry about by being homeless and ugly in the Whitechapel district, Jack the Ripper is on the loose.  Self-conscious from the accident that ruined her face, Evelyn accepts a position as a maid in the local hospital for The Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick.  Evelyn wants to be locked away from the world like Joseph, so people can’t see face.  But in Joseph, she finds a kindred soul and a true friend, one who understands her pain.  When the Ripper starts killing his victims, however, Joseph and Evelyn are haunted nightly by the ghosts of the dead women.  To help them, Evelyn will have to face her fears and discover the darkest secrets of human nature…

This wasn’t a bad story.  The plot was intriguing enough to pull me in. Evelyn, a young girl suffering from a facial deformity after exposure to white phosphorus, joins a hospital as a maid for the Elephant Man. But things take a turn when the ghosts of the Ripper’s victims begin showing up. It’s an interesting premise.

I liked Evelyn and Joseph, the Elephant Man. They were both interesting characters trying to reconcile that they would never be “normal”. They were both sweet and charming in their own ways, and I liked that.  I think sometimes we forget that in these darker time and places (like Whitechapel in 1888 or the Middle Ages or whatever) that there were still optimists, still innocents, still people who make the best of a bad situation with a smile on their face.

I liked this running theme of who/what actually is a monster. Is it someone who looks different from everyone else? Is it someone who lives on the outskirts of society or someone who exploits those who do? Is it someone who ignores a crime or someone who commits a crime? It’s a truly compelling question that gets (indirectly) asked over and over in the story. And I liked that a lot.

I was actually a little indifferent about the whole Ripper thing. For as big as it was for the plot, it almost didn’t make any sense to me. It felt like it was this subplot that really didn’t need to be there. And there were some things with each of the girls that just made me want to roll my eyes and move on. Some of the facts were very interesting, and it goes a little more in-depth on who the women were as people rather than simply recounting their grisly murders. I appreciated that, at least.

I don’t think there was much about this that I didn’t like, but I was just generally indifferent to the story. I wanted to keep reading just because I wanted to say that I’d read this book, not because the story was compelling. Not much about this stood out.

Actually, my one complaint is that there wasn’t any kind of author’s note at the end to explain what was fact and what was fiction. While I know quite a bit about the Ripper’s victims, I knew absolutely nothing about the Elephant Man. Zippo, zero, nada. So it would have been nice to have something about him since he’s a main character. But I’m a history buff, so this is the stuff I look forward to reading.

It’s not a bad story; it just wasn’t particularly astounding. It was probably a bit forgettable.

Summer Days and Summer Nights

91q8iuk2b3clHey guys!  It’s hard to do first lines for an anthology, so I’ll just get right to it.  This anthology was edited by Stephanie Perkins and I’ll break down each story in its own right without (hopefully) too many spoilers.  Whether you want to read the whole thing or just part of it (or if you’ve already read it yourself and want to see what I thought of your favorite short stories), this is your guide!

Head, Scales, Tongue, Tale by Leigh Bardugo

This one was weird and I thought an odd choice to start off an anthology of love stories.  It’s definitely fantasy, but like…urban fantasy?  Anyway, I thought it was odd.  3/5

The End of Love by Nina LaCour

The first of a number of LGBT stories.  This was a little dark content-wise (which I kind of expected from LaCour, who has made a career writing about dark topics like suicide), but it was cute.  Kinda hopeful, kinda cynical.  It worked.  4/5

Last Stand at the Cinegore by Libba Bray

Freaking creepiest story in the whole book.  It didn’t help that I was reading it at midnight right before I planned on going to bed.  Leave it to Libba.  But the story itself was hilarious and incredibly well-written.  Just freaky.  5/5

Sick Pleasure by Francesca Lia Block

I truly think I just don’t like Block’s writing style.  She didn’t give any of the characters names, just letters like L, M, and J.  And, in terms of content (not scare-factor), this was the darkest of all of the stories.  It wasn’t even really a love story.  2/5

In Ninety Minutes, Turn North by Stephanie Perkins

This was what I expected out of Perkins.  It was cute, with a narrator who is a little bit lost, a little bit off balance because of things happening around her.  I could get behind both of the characters and it was all very sweet.  And it was funny.  I really enjoyed it.  5/5

Souvenirs by Tim Federle

Another LGBT story, set in a theme park.  While I don’t normally read LGBT stories (nothing against them, they just aren’t what I normally search out when I pick books), this was really good.  Federle makes some hilarious observations about people at theme parks and the difference between introverts and extroverts.  5/5

Inertia by Veronica Roth

Probably the only story in this book that had a little bit of a sci-fi bend to it, which I expected from Roth.  It was an interesting story, but I still felt like it was missing something.  4/5

Love is the Last Resort by Jon Skovron

A slightly bizarrely-told love story that follows multiple couples working at/visiting a resort.  The story telling was funny, but it felt fake/forced at the same time.  3/5

Good Luck and Farewell by Brandy Colbert

This is one that starts off depressed and lightens up a little as the story goes on.  I wasn’t overly thrilled with it because of that mood and how it never really felt like a love story either.  3/5

Brand New Attraction by Cassandra Clare

Oh, Clare.  Leave it to her to write a creepy story.  But I’ll tell you what, these creepy supernatural love stories were some of the most entertaining.  Clare’s inventive to say the least.  5/5

A Thousand Ways This Could All Go Wrong by Jennifer E. Smith

This was utterly adorable.  It starts off a little like a comedy of errors, but you quickly learn why things don’t go the way the main character, Annie, thinks it should.  It was really really cute.  5/5

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things by Lev Grossman

Like Groundhog Day, this couple who’s never met get stuck reliving August 4th over and over again.  It was cute, but it didn’t seem to focus on the romance and it seemed a bit odd.  Like it focused on things that I wouldn’t have focused on.  3/5

Overall, I thought this was a good anthology.  There will always be stories you don’t like because of an author’s writing style or what have you, but there are others that are totally worth it.

House of Furies (House of Furies, #1)

29736099First Lines: My name is Louisa Rose Ditton.  I work and live at Coldthistle House, a house for boarders and wanderers.  A house owned by the Devil.

I’m going to start by saying that I’ve never read anything by Madeleine Roux before, but I always hear about her.  My students love the Asylum series; I just haven’t gotten around to it.  So when I had the chance to read this as an ARC from Edelweiss, I jumped at the chance.  (The book officially released yesterday…I’m only a little behind.)

After escaping from an abusive boarding school for girls, Louisa is grateful to find work as a maid at the Coldthistle House.  But soon after arriving, she realizes that things aren’t right here.  Things that go bump in the night are actually real…and dangerous.  The owner, Mr. Morningside, isn’t simply interested in taking in boarders; he’s out for revenge.  He and the staff pass judgment on those who are too far gone to be saved and execute them.  Quickly, Louisa begins to fear for a kind and charismatic young man named Lee.  She doesn’t think he deserves the ultimate judgment, so it’s up to her to prove he’s innocent.  But in a house owned by the Devil, how can Louisa know who to trust?

Let’s take a little stroll through my likes and dislikes.

I really liked the concept. Set in the 1800s, the Devil owns a mansion and exacts revenge against people who commit atrocious crimes. Alright, that sounds interesting. Pour on top of that a healthy mix of supernatural beings who add flavor to this story and you have something guaranteed to catch my attention (and apparently make me use food-related metaphors). I love supernatural stories, and the weirder the better. This wasn’t the weirdest thing I’d ever read, but it had its moments. And I’m all for that.

I really liked the cast of minor characters. Louisa’s friend Lee was sweet and open in a way that contrasted nicely with the world that she’d grown up in and the one she currently found herself in. He was innocence in all the darkness. And the others in the mansion like Poppy, Mary, and Chijioke were interesting counters to what was happening as well. Even though they were part of it all.

What I didn’t like may be a slightly longer list.

I wasn’t crazy about Louisa, the main character. She spent a lot of her time being in denial, which seemed to just make the story longer and more boring because she’s hearing things from twenty different directions and she’s choosing to ignore them all. It was annoying, even if I understood her motivations. She was also a pretty typical maiden-in-distress that only sometimes was able to save herself. Look, I know in the 1800s it was seen more that women needed men to save them. We’ve got plenty of fairytales from that period that proves it. And I’ll admit that I’m getting used to historical novels where the women are gutsy and strong. But I still believe there had to be women throughout history (and more than just a handful) that could save themselves, especially girls like Louisa who were poor and beaten down. Those are your fighters and she just wasn’t.

I thought the plot was slow and unsurprising. The book jacket basically tells you everything big that happens in the book, so there were no twists or big reveals. And the “twists” that were there were hardly what I would call surprising. There was no sense of suspense at all throughout this entire story. Ok, maybe once or twice, but it didn’t last very long.

I also thought some of the writing choices were strange. We get to read excerpts from a guide Louisa finds and they come at the beginning of many of the chapters. However, sometimes those excerpts were longer than the chapters themselves and by the time I got done with the excerpt, I’d forgotten what was happening in the chapter before. So it made the story feel a bit choppy and then I tended to forget about what the excerpts had said because there was no context for it in the story and it didn’t seem to fit with the action anyway. (They do come into play later, but not for a long long time.)

A point that’s neither here nor there but is worth mentioning is that I had an ARC copy, which means a lot of the interior pictures were not there. The illustrations for Morningside’s book were there, but photographs/other artwork were not. So I know I’m missing out on something that probably could have enhanced my reading of this book. C’est la vie.

Overall, I just wasn’t very impressed by this. It wasn’t scary, I couldn’t really get into the main character’s mindset, and the action really never went anywhere.

The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave, #1)

512and8xm0l-_sx331_bo1204203200_First Lines: Aliens are stupid.  I’m not talking about real aliens.  The Others aren’t stupid.  The Others are so far ahead of us, it’s like comparing the dumbest human to the smartest dog.  No contest.

Look at me, knocking out books left and right!  That’s because IT’S SUMMER VACATION!  So hopefully this means I’ll get back to normal with all these reviews.  I’ve got a huge backlog of ARCs and new releases that I’m working on.  So sit back and watch me read!  (Wait…that sounds kinda boring…)  Anyway, this was a book my students are always reading and I needed to see what was up with it.  Literally all I knew about it before starting it was it was a movie and there were aliens.  That’s it.

Four waves of an alien invasion have basically wiped out the human population.  If Cassie has learned anything so far, it’s to trust no one.  And with the 5th wave just beginning, she knows that only the strongest and smartest will survive…and she’s determined to be in that group.  To stay alone is to stay alive, since the Others can look just like humans.  But that all changes when she meets Evan Walker.  He is Cassie’s only hope for saving her brother.  So Cassie has to choose: stay alone and miserable with little hope of saving her brother but staying alive herself or joining up with Evan to save her brother but putting herself more at risk?

Boy, did it take a while to get into the story. I was stuck in the beginning for the longest time, even stopping to read another book in between because it just wasn’t going anywhere. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of alien stories unless there’s something else about the story to grab my interest. And at the beginning of this, I wasn’t finding that “something else”. It wasn’t until the end of Part II that I started feeling like we were getting somewhere.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like Cassie as a character. I think she’s strong and fierce, especially when she has to deal with the entire world collapsing around her. It’s pretty awesome how she manages through it all. The beginning is this weird mash between Cassie’s past before the invasion and her living alone in the woods trying not to go crazy. And the longer the story went on, the more I liked her.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, which were sometimes hard to keep straight because it never comes out and tells you who is speaking. You have to figure it out. But for the most part, it’s not terribly difficult. The weirdest thing is that one of them is sorta told in 2nd person, which never really happens. And it’s just different.

The minor characters were great as well. I don’t want to get too far into the details because I think half of the fun of this is not knowing what’s coming. (Somehow, even with a movie out, I managed to completely not know what this book was about besides aliens.) But I found the characters to be intelligent and clever and resourceful. Exactly the characteristics someone surviving in an apocalyptic world should have. If they were idiots, they’d be dead.

The action of the story, once you get past the beginning, is actually pretty interesting. We’re basically in the middle of a war zone, humans vs. aliens. So constant battles, injuries, and suspense about who we can trust. It’s always moving. My one complaint about the action is that the constantly switching perspectives sometimes means that something exciting happens and then you have to read an entire part to get back to that. It felt like it slowed things down rather than keeping me in suspense, which I think was the point. I was way more likely to put the book down when it did that than when I could just stick with Cassie.

Sure, aliens aren’t really my thing, but this book was pretty good. I can see why so many of my students kept telling me to keep reading when I told them it was going so slow.