Dangerous Lies

20909906First Lines: An angry rap shook the motel room door.  I lay perfectly still on the mattress, my skin hot and clammy.

Oh my gosh, it’s a book review!  The odds of seeing one of those on here anymore is like trying to spot a unicorn.  I picked this up at the library a while ago when I got nostalgic for the suspense in Black Ice, Becca Fitzpatrick’s first foray into suspense thrillers.  I thought this would be worth it.

After witnessing a horrific crime, a girl is given a new identity and a new home.  She becomes Stella Gordon and moves to Thunder Basin, Nebraska.  But Stella isn’t ready to give up her life just yet.  Why should she give up her boyfriend, her high school career, her life–because someone else committed a crime and she needs to testify against them?  How can she be expected to start a life in Nebraska, of all places?  Stella begins to count the days until she turns 18 and can legally set out on her own…but things change when she meets Chet Falconer and it becomes harder for her to keep her distance.  She knows she can’t tell Chet about her past, but the guilt of constantly lying to him is starting to eat her alive.  And just when Stella begins to feel safe in her new home, she’ll realize that her enemies are much closer than she believed…

While this had moments of feeling like a thriller/suspense story, it’s way more mellow than Black Ice. Basically, this is the story of Stella as she struggles to feel normal in the middle of Nebraska after being relocated there by the witness protection program. Yes, there’s quite a bit of stuff about how she landed in witness protection, but this book is equally about her culture shock, coming from Philly.  So it’s not much about the suspense as it is about her learning about life, love, and forgiveness.

Stella is a good protagonist for this story because she’s stubborn and strong, even though sometimes she’s too stubborn for her own good. I kind of like that, though. And I also liked that she had moments of weakness that made her seem more flawed. She’s more annoying at the beginning than she is later.  And I only say that in retrospect because I don’t remember finding her annoying in the beginning at all.

The plot was good as well, though I felt like it tended to jump around a lot. There are quite a few loose ends in this story that never fully get answered. They are left vague, perhaps to force you to make your own conclusions. That wasn’t really a tactic I liked, but I’ll freely admit that I had a hard time putting this book down. I read most of it in one sitting.

Mostly, I enjoyed the characters in this book and how they all interact. I like trying to figure people out, so to watch Stella do that in a town she doesn’t know or truly understand was fun. And there are definitely some interesting characters, as you would expect in any small town. There are secrets, gossips, corruption, and cover-ups. It’s always interesting.

Overall, I found this to be an interesting cast of characters and a serious look at the problems in life from addiction to teenage pregnancy.  But if you’re looking for a hardcore thriller, this probably isn’t your book.

A Life Update: March Comes In Like a Lion…

Hey everyone!  I know I haven’t been posting much lately (story of my life, right?), but I’m about to enlighten you on what I’ve been doing:

Show Choir

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(Yes, show choir usually does look an awful lot like this, if you’ve never seen it before.)

As I’ve posted about before, I volunteered to be an assistant director for my school’s show choir.  I did it for 5 years when I was in school and it’s definitely something I know a lot about–I know how the shows work, what judges look for, staging, etc.  I had no hesitations about volunteering for this.

Aaaaand then the competitions started.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the competitions in themselves.  I love seeing other groups, watching my own group kill it on stage, and those excited butterflies you get just before a performance (even if I’m not on stage).  What I didn’t love was the stress of making sure everything was ready, making sure everything was running smoothly and on time, making sure every person was where they needed to be, making sure the kids were all doing what they should be doing…  The list goes on.  It was also a huge time commitment as well, where yesterday’s competition had me getting up at 4:20 AM to perform at 9:10 and not being able to leave until after 3:00 (the school scheduled awards 4 hours after the last middle school performance, which was really just a ploy to get people to stay and pay for food).

Anyway, my introverted (INFJ) self has sort of been spazzing out.  I’m a perfectionist anyway, so show choir just kept feeding into that anxiety.  I literally had dreams the week before a show about everything that could go wrong.  It’s been hard sometimes to not feel like a lost fish in a sea of hundreds upon hundreds of people at these things.

But my INFJ side is also eating up the fact that I’ve gotten super close to a lot of the kids.  I’ve picked out kids who are spectacular performers but don’t exactly believe in themselves.  I’ve made an impact on kids I don’t even have in class who now smile at me in the halls when they pass me.  I love that I’ve been able to see a number of these kids in a different light.

I’ve had competitions for the last five weekends straight.  We just finished out last competition yesterday, so now it’s just me doing what I want on weekends for a time (re: reading!)

Grading

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The last few weeks of the grading period arrived in the middle of all this show choir, forcing upon me a couple of the things I hate the most as a teacher:

  1. Late work that is literally 2 months old.  I’m not taking that.  I’m not grading it.  Stop wasting my time.  You had your chance two months ago.  That’s no longer an “oops, I forgot” thing.
  2. “Can I get extra credit?”  Like, no.  If you’d done your work on time and well in the first place, you wouldn’t need to be asking about extra credit two days before the end of the quarter.  This quarter has been really bad as 8th graders suddenly realized that high school starts for them in a few months and all those resolutions they made (“I’ll try harder/study more/get all my homework in on time”) aren’t going to happen if they don’t start applying themselves now.

I’ve just had so much grading and so little time to work on it.  It’s hard to want to read anything for fun after you’ve just spent all evening reading essays.

Seeing Someone Sweet…

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A couple of months ago I started dating a guy who is, in many ways, my exact opposite.  Where I’m more creative and imaginative, he’s more logical.  Where I’m a planner and have some anxiety if I do not have a plan, he wings everything.  Where I have more emotional reactions to things, he’s more…unemotional is definitely not the right word, but less emotionally invested than I am.  (We’re talking crying during movies vs. not crying.  nbd.)

But through all of those differences, we still have similarities.  If I’m feeling introverted after a long day of show choir, he’s fine with a night in with a Redbox movie.  If I make a comment about something I like, jokingly or otherwise, he tries to get it for me.  (Even if it’s just milk and Swiss Miss.)  And I try to return the favor where I can.  You guys, he is as sweet as the Girl Scout cookies he buys in bulk.  (He also usually reads these posts, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to hear about that one later…)

If you’ve been following my posts for the last few years, you know that some of my past relationships have been rocky to say the least.  But this one feels good.  I’m having fun.  I enjoy the time I get to spend with him and I always look forward to seeing him again.

(He’s going with me to see the new Beauty and the Beast movie this coming weekend, so that’ll be a new review that I will be hopefully getting out to you guys soon!)

Peace!

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Top Ten Books to Try If You Like Sarah J. Maas

Hey guys!  I know there’s not an official Top Ten Tuesday today (it’s on hiatus), so that inspired me to try a topic myself!  I love recommending books based on what other people like.  (For example, a student of mine loves Kasie West and so I keep introducing her to other contemporary YA romance writers like Sarah Dessen.)  I know a lot of us are HUGE Sarah J. Maas fans, so I thought I’d try finding a few other books/series that you may also like!  (You may see authors come up more than once.)

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Top Ten Books to Try If You Like Sarah J. Maas

1. The Gold Seer Trilogy by Rae Carson

This may seem like a weird choice, but I promise it works.  The series starts with Walk on Earth a Stranger, a tale about a girl who can sense gold in the era of the American Gold Rush.  Like many of Maas’s heroines, Lee has a horrible backstory and relies on her own wits and instincts to stay alive.  The series is historical with a hint of fantasy and romance of the slow-moving kind.  The story is about so much more than love and I found it delightful.

2. Ruined by Amy Tintera

The fantasy novel knocked me off my feet last year.  In Ruined, Em has watched her parents’ brutal murder and infiltrates the enemy kingdom under the guise of the prince’s betrothed.  Basically, Em is Celaena Sardothien (Throne of Glass) in a different form.  This fantasy promises bold action sequences, alliances between unlikely forces, and characters you will not forget.

3. The Remnant Chronicles series by Mary E. Pearson

One staple of Maas books is their detail and length.  The Remnant Chronicles can rival any Maas book in length.  The first book, Kiss of Deception, is nearly 500 pages and it just goes up from there.  This series involves rival kingdoms, assassins, princes and princesses, and major battles.  It’s also incredibly well-written, the kind where you feel like the characters are real people that you know in your daily life.  They are so vivid.

4. The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

I feel like most people know about Outlander either because of its rise to fame in the last few years or because of me constantly talking about it, but I’m going to talk about it again.  Outlander is the story of a World War II army nurse who accidentally goes back in time to 1743 and has to rely on her wits to survive in a brutal and political world where a single misstep could get her killed.  The books are incredibly long, well-written, and delightful.  Claire and Jamie, at the point, are real people to me.  And even the minor characters are family.

5. The Splintered series by A.G. Howard

If you’re looking for a kooky, out-of-the-box fantasy, this is it.  A modern retelling of Alice in Wonderland, Splintered is the story of Alyssa, a girl whose ancestors have always been lured to Wonderland or to madness (sometimes both).  And the real Wonderland is much darker and dangerous than Lewis Carroll’s version.

6. The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa

One of the staples of Maas’s books is the fey, so I thought I’d include a fey story on the list.  The Iron King, the first book in the series, is about a normal girl who becomes a pawn in a fey fight for power.  While she may not be a strong fighter like Maas’s characters, there are still plenty of battle scenes, humor, plots, and brilliant characters.

7. The Fire and Thorns series by Rae Carson

This is like, the crowning series that I think is remarkably like Maas’s writing.  The Girl of Fire and Thorns begins with Princess Elisa, a girl who doesn’t feel fit to rule the country she is now queen of thanks to an arranged marriage.  There are daring twists in this series, bold and dangerous enemies, magic, character development that goes through the roof, and shocking twists.  If you haven’t read this series yet, you totally should.

8. Penryn & the End of Days series by Susan Ee

I went in a slightly different direction with this pick.  Most of Maas’s books have to do with a dangerous and seemingly invincible enemy.  If powerful angels who literally destroyed the world doesn’t fit that bill, I don’t know what does.  Angelfall begins by introducing us to Penryn, a teenage girl determined to do whatever it is to recover her disabled sister from the angels who kidnapped her, even if that means befriending the enemy to do so.  Well-written and insightful, it takes a look at human nature as humanity falls apart, but it also creates a scarily realistic dystopian world.

9. The Pledge series by Kimberly Derting

Again, I went in a different direction here.  In The Pledge, we are introduced to a world of distinct class structures and oppressive rulers who kill for fun.  We see underground resistance groups, fights, magic, and a heroine who needs to outsmart some very dangerous foes.

10. Defy series by Sara B. Larson

This series is basically a more romantic version of the Throne of Glass series.  Defy is a tale where Alexa disguises herself as a boy (Alex) in order to flee the terror of being a woman in a man’s world.  An able fighter, she becomes an integral part of the King’s Guard and her secrets start to come unraveled.  Alexa is very similar to Celaena in many respects, but this book definitely has more of an emphasis on the romance than Maas books usually do.

World After (Penryn & the End of Days, #2)

17849112First Lines: Everyone thinks I’m dead.

Ok, so if the beginning of this book wasn’t a big ol’ spoiler for the previous book, I would definitely give you more information.  But as it stands, that one sentence is all you get for first lines.  This was a book I moved to the top of my to-read list like a year ago and I finally tried reading it.  (I move quickly, you see.)  But first, I reread Angelfall to remember the story and the characters.  Best. Idea. Ever.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

To Penryn, the world after the angel apocalypse looks nothing like the world she knew before.  Making it seem normal again isn’t easy, especially after a group of people attack her sister, Paige, thinking Paige is a monster.  What ends in a massacre leaves a family torn apart and Paige disappears.  Desperate to find her again, Penryn takes to the empty streets of San Francisco, but a question lingers: where is everybody?  Her search reveals the angels’ plans and the depths they are willing to go to for control.  Meanwhile, Raffe can’t rejoin the angel ranks unless he gets his wings back.  But stuck between helping Penryn survive or his wings, which will he choose?

Y’all, I love this series.  There’s something that’s so different about it and I wish I could put my finger on it. But I’ll do my best.

Penryn is such a fascinating lead. She’s independent and self-reliant for such a realistic and reasonable reason: her mentally ill (and unstable) mother has never been able to care for her or her sister. So for Penryn to be clever and resourceful makes sense. She has strong survival instincts that only come more in handy in this apocalypse. I love that she’s sassy and a fighter. It makes every scene where she gets to fight back that much more exciting.

The minor characters also are a complete joy because they are so nuanced. I adore Raffe, I have a crush on Dee and Dum, and I have a place inside of me where I just want to pummel the angels for destroying Penryn’s world. But even the angels (looking at you, Uriel) have nuanced motivations and personalities. There was one moment in this book where Uriel was startled by something that happened and it sticks with me because it shows that he wasn’t planning on something happening the way it did. Penryn assessed the situation perfectly and I just can’t get over how simply perfect that one little sentence was.

The action is as amazing as ever. We haven’t seen the last of the scorpion creatures and they certainly bring a level of insanity and terror to every scene they are in. They’re just creepy and wrong. But at least we have Penryn around to kick butt (literally…just wait and see what she does in this one!) and take names. The fights are intense and I just love the way a couple of them turned out.

The world of this apocalyptic Silicon Valley is just amazing. I may never have been there, but it doesn’t matter. I can picture all the destruction and devastation as easily as if I had seen it myself. Ee pulls in a lot of landmarks that also help set the scene well.

What I loved best about this book was this tension with whether or not Penryn and Raffe would find each other again. There are a few…twists…that come along the way that I thought were well done.

Seriously, is there anything this book can’t do?

Vassa in the Night

28220892First Lines: When Night looked down, it saw its own eyes staring back at it.  Two big black eyes, both full of stars.  At first Night ignored them.

I got this book a few months back from Uppercase, but I kind of let it sit on my shelf forever because I just wasn’t sure what to make of it.  I hadn’t really heard of it at all before it arrived in the mail and it seemed like the type of book I had to be in just the right mood to read.

In the  enchanted city of Brooklyn, there are two types of people: the people who can party without worrying about anything and the people stuck in the working class district where the chance of death is much, much higher.  This is Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters.  Nearby is a convenience store owned by Babs Yagga, a women whose policy is to behead anyone caught shoplifting in her store–and sometimes innocent people when the mood strikes.  When Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs, Vassa knows this could easily be a suicide mission.  But with a little big of luck and a magical wooden doll from her mother named Erg, Vassa might just break the curse and free her neighboorhood.  But when Bab’s doesn’t play fair, what will Vassa do?

This book was weird.  Like A.G. Howard’s Splintered series weird.  The kind of weird where you have to read sections two or three times and you still don’t actually understand what’s happening.

Vassa is a teenage girl in Brooklyn who doesn’t really fit in. Her stepsisters don’t understand her and her only real friend is a talking doll named Erg. As a trick (sort of a game of chicken, really), Vassa’s sister insists that Vassa go to the nearby BY’s store, where most people who go in after dark never make it out alive.  I thought Vassa was incredibly dumb for even taking her stepsister’s dare, and my opinion of her didn’t improve much throughout the story.

The story is just so bizarre that it’s very hard to follow and I found myself getting bored of it because it was so hard to follow. I kept giving up. I’d read a chapter or two and put it down to do something more interesting.  That’s never a good sign.

There was very little about the first half of this story that I liked. I never had a single character that I clicked with who kept me reading. I never had a moment where I was excited about what I was reading. Even the climax wasn’t terribly exciting for me besides the fact that I was almost done with the book.

The story only really started to improve when it was in its last twenty pages or so. Once the loose ends started getting wrapped up, I finally started feeling like the story was falling into place. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly encouraging. I had to put up with 270 pages before that.

(Some of you are probably wondering why I even bothered finishing this. I own it, bought through Uppercase. I felt obligated to read it all the way to the end.)

It was just too much.  It tries to play into many fairy tale tropes while simultaneously turning them on their head.  But it felt like it was trying to do this with every trope instead of just focusing on a couple.  It’s overwhelming.  Not one I’ll be reading again.

American Street

30256109First Lines: If only I could break the glass separating me and Manman with my thoughts alone.  On one side of the glass doors are the long lines of people with their photos and papers that prove that they belong here in America, that are allowed to taste a bit of this free air.

I receive this as an ARC from Edelweiss (I’m cutting it close; it comes out February 14, 2017.)  Before I saw it on Edelweiss, I’d never heard of this book.  But the description sounded awesome and I wanted to give it a shot.

This was supposed to be Fabiola Toussaint’s chance to live the perfect American life.  With her mother, she was going to move into the little house on the corner of American and Joy Streets with her cousins and aunt.  But after they leave Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by US immigration, leaving Fabiola on her own as she tries to navigate the complex world of Detroit’s west side with her cousins Chantal, Princess, and Donna.  Just as Fabiola begins to figure out this strange new place, a dangerous offer presents itself to her and Fabiola must decide how much she’s willing to pay to live the American dream.

Can I just start by saying how timely this novel is?  The fact that it’s being released only weeks after a massive American travel ban that is separating families the same way Fabiola is separated from her mother?  I know these book releases are planned far in advance, but the timing is astounding.

Ok, here’s what I liked: I liked the infusion of Haitian culture and American culture. I liked seeing Fabiola try to understand American culture while her cousins, most of whom never saw Haiti, struggle to understand her culture and beliefs.  It’s a real culture shock for both sides.  (Especially when you see what happens on Thanksgiving!)

I thought Fabiola was a dynamic character. She begins scared and completely out of her element, especially as her mother remains detained in New Jersey. She’s on her own, with family she doesn’t remember. Then, as the story progresses, she grows into a stronger, braver girl who is beginning to find her place in this new city and new family. I liked seeing that confidence build.

I also liked how none of the characters were black-and-white heroes or villains. The characters you believe are good make mistakes–monstrous ones. The characters you hate have redeeming moments that make you think there’s still a chance for them to mend their ways. You can’t call any of them good or bad because everyone is both. Just like in life.

I also felt this was a stark and jarring view of life for many African-Americans and teenagers. I will be the first to admit that I have absolutely no idea of what the hardships are that people face in places like Detroit, that seem to be written off by everyone else as a dying city (which it’s not). But this book was shocking and, at times, uncomfortable. My world is nothing like that. And I had no idea that this was what it took to survive in these places.

Here’s what I didn’t like so much: the portrayal of Fab’s cousins and aunt. While I understand why they are so complicated, they also managed to seem flat. There was almost too much going on in their lives and by the time I got adjusted to what I’d just read, we were throwing more on top of it. For such main characters, they underwent virtually no change at all. And Matant Jo was barely in the story at all.

The story also seemed a bit unfocused. While we’re waiting to see what happens to Fab’s mother, we’re also watching her Haitian culture mix with American culture, Donna’s story, Pri’s story, Chantal’s story, how brutal American schools are, Dray’s story, Kasim’s story, and this backstory about a white girl who died taking bad drugs. There is literally so much going on that I could type out three full pages on the plot alone. Half of the time, I forgot about Fab’s mother.

This is neither negative nor positive, but I would like to just throw it out there that this is an incredibly dark book.  There is a massive amount of profanity, drug references, and violence in this story. It’s on virtually every page, which helps drill home what teenagers in Fab’s situation deal with on a daily basis. But it’s also a lot and sometimes it’s exhausting because it’s so common.

Overall, I thought this was a daring book that shows the struggle of teenagers we don’t normally get to read about.

GUESS WHAT?! GUESS WHAT?!

My blog has been going strong for…wait for it…

6 YEARS!

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Never ever did I imagine that I would be doing this for this long, and I just have to thank you guys for being loyal readers for so long.  Actually, I think I have to thank you for caring what I had to say about all these books and movies over the years.  Y’all are the best readers anyone could ask for and I’m delighted to say that these six years have been amazingly fun.  I couldn’t do it without you guys!

…Well, I could, but then I suppose this would be more like a diary than a blog…since I’d just be writing for myself…

Anyway, contrary to my posting habits thus far this year, Belle of the Library is still going to be going strong.  Here’s to another year!

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