Asylum (Asylum, #1)

First Lines: They built it out of stone–dark gray stone, pried loose from the unforgiving mountains.  It was a house for those who could not take care of themselves, for those who heard voices, who had strange thoughts and did strange things.  The house was meant to keep them in.  Once they came, they never left.

For a couple of years in my classroom, this book has had quite the following among a select group of students.  And for a long time, they tried to convince me to read it.  I’m not opposed to horror/scary stories, but I have a hard time reading them because I feel like I can’t read them late at night.  (I sometimes get nightmares; thanks, Stephen King.)  But having read another Roux book, I thought I’d give this a try.

Itching to get out and experience the world, Dan thinks the perfect start is to go to New Hampshire College Prep.  It’s a program on a college campus that gives students a taste of college, pulling students together from all over the country.  It’s perfect for Dan…except for the part where summer housing has been closed and they’re forced to stay in the Brookline dorm–a former sanitarium.  As Dan and his new friends Abby and Jordan begin exploring Brookline, they discover the horrible things that happened there, and the secrets that tie Dan and his friends to the asylum’s past.  Because Brookline wasn’t just a hospital, and sooner or later the truth will come out.

I can see why middle schoolers like it. The pictures (similar to the ones in the Miss Peregrine books) give a creepy feel to the book in a way that words alone don’t. The asylum setting is definitely creepy. The strange happenings at the asylum are also sufficiently creepy.

But that’s about all it was. It was low-level creepy, enough to be unsettling. And that was mostly because Dan starts to become a potentially unreliable narrator. But beyond that? It wasn’t the scary, nightmare inducing story I thought it was going to be.

I’m starting to notice this with Roux’s work, actually. The plots always sound incredibly interesting and creepy, but the follow-through just isn’t there. Suspense is not something she excels at. She really just seems to take things that are normally creepy and hopes that their creepy factor is enough to carry the story.  After trying two different series by her and being underwhelmed by them both, I think I’m just done with her writing.

The characters were interesting enough, if sometimes acting in unexplained ways. Like sometimes the characters fight and none of them know why. Or they talk in slightly bizarre ways (Felix comes to mind here). So I didn’t really connect with the characters as well as I would have liked.  I mean, they just didn’t feel like people.  Even the main characters felt like caricatures.  Actually, now that I think about it, that’s the way characters are in horror movies too, and it’s the exact reason why I can’t stand horror movies.

It’s not a bad read. It’s actually pretty quick. But I think a younger, less choosy audience (like my students) would like it better.


A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3)

First Lines: The painting was a lie.  A bright, pretty lie, bursting with pale pink blooms and fat beams of sunshine.

I got this for my birthday about a month ago because, duh, I had to own it.  I own the other two books in this series (and reread them from time to time), so it wasn’t a surprise that I thought this one would be the same.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*  Of course, there truly isn’t much I can say anyway without giving the plot away.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, though not because she wanted to.  Stuck, she decides to use this opportunity to spy on Tamlin and gather information about his maneuvers and those of the invading king.  But this means playing a deadly game, one that could cost Feyre dearly.  If she gets caught, it could mean the end of Prythia as they know it.  As war approaches, Feyre will have to decide who to trust among the High Lords, and maybe find some allies in unexpected places.

I’m going to give you the warning that I never received before reading this: this is more or less the end of Feyre’s story.  Apparently there’s still more coming in the world of Prythia, but the crux of Feyre’s story is over.  I didn’t know this, so the end of this book surprised me and I was a tad disappointed that I wouldn’t be reading more from Feyre.

Ok.  One thing I love about Maas’s writing is how clever she is. She can spin and twist things in ways that you never expect but still make so much sense. It’s brilliant and engaging in so many ways. And she has a wonderful way of writing about relationships between characters, and their emotions.

That said, this one felt different in a few ways. Since it’s really the first book where Feyre is settled emotionally, I didn’t feel things as strongly with this book as much as I did the others. (Though, as one other reviewer said, I definitely stayed for Nessian.) I actually had trouble staying with the story in the beginning because I wasn’t connecting with Feyre the way I expected to. Not that I was going to put it down, but it just felt different from the previous two books.

But the action was great, the plot was superb, and the conflict was definitely worth it. So much backstabbing and two-timing, to the point where you don’t even know who to trust. I liked that.

I wasn’t expecting this to be any sort of ending, and I’m a little disappointed by that, as I said.  I was expecting another huge cliffhanger, the likes of which we saw at the end of the previous book, but there wasn’t.  And so here I was reading along, all the while noticing that this felt like an ending but hoping otherwise.  And when I got to the end, it just didn’t feel as satisfactory since I thought there’d be more.  True, there are still loose ends that will probably be worked into whatever future books there are, but I didn’t want it to be over.  Ugh.

Still, this was another excellent book in this series and I’m always looking forward to what Maas puts out next.

Top Ten Tuesday: Hey, I Should Probably Read That…

Hey guys!  This is a Top Ten list I came up with on my own after an off-hand comment I made in yesterday’s review.  I started thinking about some of the books that have been on my to-read list on Goodreads the longest and I thought I’d bring them to the light of day and see which ones you guys recommend I should hustle up to the top of my to-read list!  Some of these have been on Goodreads for an embarrassingly long time.  If any of these are your favorites/worth checking out, leave a comment!

toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday: Hey, I Should Probably Read That…

  1. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen (since June 23, 2008)

  2. The Hollow by Jessica Verday (since May 14, 2009)

  3. Intertwined by Gena Showalter (since June 22, 2009)

  4. Forever… by Judy Blume (since June 29, 2009)

  5. Kiss Me Kill Me by Lauren Henderson (since July 11, 2009)

  6. Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken (since July 24, 2009)

  7. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder (since September 5, 2009)

  8. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson (since September 9, 2009)

  9. Deerskin by Robin McKinley (since November 5, 2009)

  10. Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (since November 6, 2009)

…This was way more embarrassing than I thought it would be.  These have all been on my to-read list since before I graduated high school…

So?  Any of these worth checking out?  Or should I just give up?

Imposter (Variants, #1)

First Lines: (um….I returned this book to the library without getting the first lines, guys…whoops…my bad)

This has been on my to-read list since 2013, when it came out.  One way or another, it works its way to the top of my “Hey, you should probably read this eventually” list.  So I grabbed it (finally) and gave it a shot.

Tessa is a Variant, or a person with a genetic variation that gives her something similar to a super power.  For Tessa, this means being able to absorb the DNA of a person and mimic their appearance.  After being shunned from her family for her abilities, she’s been training with a secret branch of the FBI called the Forces with Extraordinary Abilities.  When a serial killer strikes in Oregon, Tessa is given her first mission: impersonate Madison, a normal teen, before the killer strikes again.  Tessa hates everything about impersonating another person, but she loves being a normal teen for once in her life.  Because, as Madison, she learns what friendship is, what family means, and a little romance.  But the clock is ticking and if Tessa isn’t clever enough, she may be the next victim.

This turned out being better than I thought it would be. When I started this, I thought it was so slow. It wasn’t going anywhere, it was super cheesy, and I couldn’t connect with the characters. But it got better.

At first, I wasn’t sure what was going on with this whole Variants thing. It throws you right in and expects you to just figure everything out, which takes a while (though it does avoid a weird info-dump). It was probably close to 70-100 pages before I felt like I had a grasp on the story, and I know a lot of people won’t hang in there that long.

Surprisingly, the mystery was actually pretty good. I mean, it’s not exactly impossible to guess the culprit (he/she made my suspect list), but it didn’t exactly go the way I thought it would. And that kept me reading.

I also eventually got pulled into Tessa’s character as well. Here’s a girl on a mission to infiltrate a family and pretend to be their daughter without anyone noticing the differences. It’s challenging mentally, but the emotional side of it blindsided Tessa, and I liked how that played out. Once I had that connection to the story, I was invested.

There is, admittedly, quite a bit of cliche and eye-roll worthy writing. This book is more than a few years old, and it heralds back to more cliche YA writing, where there are love triangles, BFFs to the death, and other YA tropes that I sometimes struggle with. I guess I’m not saying this as well as I’d like, but there were definitely points where I wished the writing was better.

Still, the surprise was good and there’s something of a cliffhanger that I kind of want to read the next book to learn how it gets resolved.

Anxiety: A Response to Eliza and Her Monsters

Hey everyone!  If you’ve been following my blog for long, you’ll maybe have noticed that I rarely post about my personal life.  I don’t normally have a lot of time for that, but I also think there’s some right to privacy, you know?  But the topic of the last book I read was one that I felt compelled to write about.


I feel like anxiety gets trivialized in the media, like how we’re the Prozac nation or the Xanax generation, but anxiety can’t be trivialized when you have it.  This is my story.

For most of my life, I’ve been what people have referred to as a worrier or a worry-wart.  I stressed out about things I had no control over and mothered people as a way to retain that control when I could.  Since I was 7 or 8 years old, I’ve picked at my nails, and around 18 or 19 it started to include picking at the skin around my nails.  (Both of these are symptoms of anxiety, I’ve read.)  I worried about everything.  I worked hard on all my homework so I wouldn’t worry about grades, Google-mapped every route 12 times to make sure I wouldn’t worry about going new places, and listened to all the health experts about what I should and shouldn’t do with my body so I wouldn’t worry about my health.

I’m not going to sit here and proclaim that I have full-blown anxiety syndrome.  I don’t. (Or at least I don’t think I do.  You may not agree by the time you read all this.)  But like many people, I suffer from somewhat frequent (and random) bouts of anxiety over many things.  Making phone calls.  Driving.  Confrontations.  Hospitals.  Churches.  (Those are all real anxieties I have, by the way.)

And of course, anxiety takes many forms.  Many of us feel anxious going into a job interview or working on homework or going somewhere new.  That’s normal.  I get that too, but sometimes I think it goes beyond what most people feel.  I sometimes let that anxiety win.  If I’m too afraid of what parking is going to be like downtown or if I don’t know if I’ll like a restaurant, I just won’t go.  If I’m afraid of what people will think of me eating at a restaurant by myself, I won’t do it.  While I’m better now than I used to be in some ways, it’s still a problem at times.

Let me tell you about my latest (and worst) anxiety attack.  A couple of weekends ago, I went to a wedding with my boyfriend for one of his college friends.  I’d met the groom before, but he and my boyfriend were the only two people I knew.  And, being an introvert, I was worried about constantly being surrounded by people I didn’t know and how I’d have to make small talk or risk looking like a loser sitting by herself.

Ironically, this wasn’t what set off my anxiety attack.  The church was.  Or, more specifically, the mass.

See, I grew up Catholic.  And for a number of my formative years, I enjoyed parts of it.  As a kid, I liked the songs and my Sunday school teachers and the Bible stories.  But I never liked communion.  And as I got older, the constant Catholic message of needing to be perfect, of being worthy, absolutely terrified me that I wasn’t enough.

I have always been a perfectionist.  My anxiety stems from perfectionism, whether it’s grades or sports or crafts.  I have to keep working at it until I perfect it.  And if I can’t master it, then I’m not good enough.  Sometimes that challenges me enough to keep trying, sometimes I shut down and panic.

And Catholicism, in my experience, feeds on that doubt and panic.

What my boyfriend neglected to tell me (because he knew I’d freak out) was that this was going to be a Catholic wedding.  So when we arrived for the rehearsal the night before the wedding, I got quite a shock.  But the rehearsal went well and I started to meet a lot of new people.  Everything was going ok.  I was having fun.

Until the wedding.  If you’ve never experienced a Catholic wedding, they tend to combine the wedding with an actual mass service, communion and several readings included.  And one of the things they say in that service is that you should feel worthy before accepting communion, like by making peace with yourself before you come up to the priest or something.  I’m actually not entirely sure what they intend when they say “feel worthy.”  But I know how I interpret it.

As a perfectionist, I never feel worthy.  So over the years, I’ve become conditioned to freak out as soon as I see the communion part of mass start.  Is this logical? Maybe not.  But, I argue, when has anxiety every been logical and rational?  All I know is that part of every church service I’ve ever sat through has a section where I feel like I’m not good enough and everyone around me feels like they are.  (It doesn’t help that those who don’t receive communion sit in the pews by themselves, further ostracizing them from the herd.  Like an injured gazelle in the savannah, everyone notices you and does nothing about it.)

So when the priest started going through the communion rituals at the wedding, I started panicking.  Like, legitimate panic.  Normally, I have someone near me (family, etc) that I try to stay calm around because, you know, I’m a perfectionist and I don’t want anyone to see me freak out over something like this.  But I was alone.  My boyfriend was a groomsman and up front.  Everyone else I’d met the night before was in the wedding party and also up front.  I was in a pew by myself, with no one around me.  One guy was across the aisle from me, but that was it.  No one in front of or behind me.

And I panicked.  My breathing sped up, my heart pounded against my ribs, and I started to feel light headed.  It felt like I’d just got done jogging a half-mile, the way I was breathing.  I wasn’t quite gasping for breath, but it was close.  I was sweating and my fingers were trembling.  I could barely get my fingers to wrap around the pew in front of me to hold on (we were standing at the time).  I was losing strength in my hands and legs.  I even intentionally bent my knees to keep from locking them and passing out.  I stared at the pew in front of me with wide eyes and tried to take deep breaths, all the while attempting to drown out the priest’s words so something he said wouldn’t make it worse.

It was terrifying.  I’ve never been that far gone in an anxiety attack before in my life, and here I am, doing it in the middle of someone’s wedding ceremony.  I was terrified, on top of that, that I was going to either A) hyperventilate and pass out, thereby creating a scene or B) have to leave the church during the service, also probably creating a scene.  I did not want to be remembered by all these people as The Girl Who Fainted in Church.  I had to keep mentally telling myself that everything was ok, I was going to be ok, the service would be over soon.  Because the minute I stopped saying those things, a mental chant of “I’m not ok, this isn’t working” started to run through my head and it got worse.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I remember little of the end of the ceremony.

It felt like eons before we exited the church, though it was probably only another ten minutes.  I was still shaking even after that as we welcomed the happy couple into the world, though I think I did a good job hiding it.  I didn’t entirely feel better until well after we’d left the church.  And even then, I was still freaked out that it had been that strong.

So when I read Eliza and Her Monsters, which is about anxiety, I connected with Eliza on a number of levels.  I understood her anxiety about people and wanting to stay home and watch TV reruns rather than go out.  I understood her need to hold onto her anonymity in the world.  I understood her fear and worry and (obviously) anxiety when everything started to fall apart.  I had gone through something that felt similar to that only recently.

And it was because of Eliza’s story that I wanted to share my own.  I think that’s part of why stories about mental health are so important and why I gravitate so much toward Francesca Zappia’s writing.  I think that’s exactly why she keeps writing books like this.  It not only makes us more aware of what other people are going through, but it makes us also want to speak up about our own experiences.

I’m not going to say there’s a happy ending to this.  Sorry.  Anxiety is something I deal with in moderation basically every day.  It could be a little thing like posting a personal story online or it could be bigger like wondering if I made the right career choice.

All I can say is that talking seems to help me.  And I have to teach those around me how to listen.  I have a few people that I trust to talk to about these worries.  Sometimes I only talk to one of them, sometimes I talk to multiple for different perspectives.  But the best listeners are the ones who just let me get it out and ask questions about how I feel or what happened next when I don’t know what to say.  (Word of warning: watch out for the ones who say, “You’re fine, there’s nothing to worry about.”  For me, that only makes things worse because clearly, I’m not fine and telling me not to worry doesn’t magically make the panic go away.)

So, from one person to another, be kind.  If you see someone struggling with anxiety, even if it doesn’t make sense to you, try to be understanding.  There may be a story behind it that you don’t understand yet, like me panicking in a wedding ceremony.  Just listen and be there.  Or, if you’re the one with anxiety, talk about it.  Truly, sometimes mentally working through your worries and discussing them out loud decreases the fear they hold over you.  And, by talking, you’re increasing your support system rather than isolating yourself.  And that support system is key to feeling better.

If you’d like to leave a comment with your own stories, feel free.  You aren’t alone in this.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish Were Movies

Hey guys!  I had some free time this week (some of my last before school starts back up again…ugh), so I thought I’d do a couple of specialty posts before summer ends.  And while there aren’t any official Top Ten Tuesdays until August, I thought it would be fun to go back and look at a couple that I haven’t done but look interesting.

And I love movies (who doesn’t?), so I thought this might be cool.  We spend a lot of time complaining about how Hollywood ruins movies as they adapt them (though they are getting better), so this is my Best-Case-Scenario adaptations.  Also, if you have news that any of these are going to be movies/already are and flew beneath the radar, please leave that in a comment!  There are so many adaptations being done right now that I’ve lost track.

Top Ten Books I Wish Would Be Movies

(Or a TV series…I’d be good with that too.)

  1. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

    Let’s be realistic.  Is there ever going to be a time when this doesn’t show up on my Top Ten lists?  No.  But that’s because this story is complex, well-written, surprising, and has a whole cast of great characters that you love, love to hate, and want to impale on a pike.  (…Too much?)  I think this would be an awesome fantasy series, if it could be done well.  And by that I mean no changes from the source material whatsoever.

  2. Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay

    Everyone’s super into Beauty and the Beast right now, so why not adapt a brilliant sci-fi version?  I mean, how many variations of Cinderella are out on video?  Let’s get BatB on that bandwagon.  Because this story is also brilliant and complex, with an interesting and unexpected twist on the tale as old as time.

  3. Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

    The reason I want this to be a movie may be surprising.  It’s not because it’s a great teenage love story (though it is), but because of Jordan herself.  She’s fiesty and athletic and totally one of the guys.  She’s a fantastic atypical role model for girls and I would absolutely love to see girls have someone like her to look up to.  Growing up a tomboy myself, I constantly felt like people and the media were judging me because I wasn’t wearing makeup and doing my hair, etc., and I don’t want other girls to be judged the way I was.

  4. Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

    I love a good Robin Hood retelling, as do many people judging by how there’s a new movie every 5-10 years.  This one is less action based than some of the others, but it makes up for it with the intricacies of the plot and the scheming of the baddies.  There are impossible predicaments these characters are put in with no easy answers.  And I’d love to see a movie that does that.

  5. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

    I feel like this go looked over in the rush of turning YA novels into movies.  I know angels are kind of on the outs right now and not nearly as popular as tragic teen love stories, but I think if done well, this could be spectacular.  The special effects in this alone would probably get me to the theatre.

  6. Graceling by Kristin Cashore

    Like seriously, how is this not a thing?  I mean, Hunger Games, Divergent, The 5th Wave all got made into movies.  This was just as big as any of those.  Yes, it’s more fantasy than dystopia, but still.  This was one of the first fantasy novels where I fell in love with a fantasy world.  And you’ve got to admit there’s a lot of action.

  7. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

    This could be really interesting as a movie, especially when you take into account that the main character is an unreliable narrator since she can’t tell reality from fiction.  So while highlighting mental illness and making it relatable, I think this could also be an interesting experiment in movie making.  Probably an indie movie, though, since big companies would think it’s too risky.

  8. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

    Like seriously, how has this not been turned into a movie either?  It’s a creepy ghost story in line with other horror stories and ghost thrillers, but with a dash of humor and romance.  It’s so interesting and good.

  9. A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier

    I’ve noticed lately that movie makers are starting to delve into little-known historical moments and people to make into make really interesting movies (see: Dunkirk, The Imitation Game, Hamilton [it’s a musical but so what?]).  So I think this extremely well-written book about the 1918 outbreak of the Spanish Influenza that devastated cities across the country would be really fascinating.  Because this was the era of World War I, still-growing medical knowledge, and new technology.  And, like many of the dystopians that are famous, you get to see neighbors turning on each other for survival.  Only this is scarier because it’s real.

  10. The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

    When I first wrote this one down, I was all for it.  And I still am, but I think this is probably another indie movie-style book.  The main character doesn’t talk.  She can’t.  And it’s a great look at what it means to be silenced in the many ways that someone can be silenced.  There’s drama and some action, but it’s mostly about the themes.  And I think an Indie movie would do it justice.

Eliza and Her Monsters

First Lines: Eliza Mirk is the kind of name you give to the creepy girl who clings to her ex-boyfriend for weeks after he’s dumped her because she refuses to accept that he hates her guts.  Eliza Mirk is a low-level villain with a secret hideout in the sewers.  Eliza Mirk belongs in a comic book.  But Eliza Mirk is me.

If you’ve been with me for a while, you may recall my love for Zappia’s debut novel, Made You Up, which deals with a girl with schizophrenia.  It was a beautifully written novel.  And when I knew this was coming out, I was very interested to see how it would measure up to the previous novel.

In the real world, Eliza is weird.  She’s shy, maybe a bit creepy, and definitely a loner.  But online, she’s the creator of the massively popular webcomic Monstrous Sea.  And because her online life is so amazing, she has no reason to try to make her real life any better…until Wallace.  When Wallace Warland moves to her school, she finds a kindred spirit.  A huge Monstrous Sea fan and fanfiction writer, Wallace manages to draw Eliza out of her shell and she begins to wonder if life offline can be just as awesome as online.  But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she cares about–Monstrous Sea, her relationship with Wallace, her family–starts to fall apart…

I was not disappointed. Zappia does her homework when it comes to the mental health issues she uses in her books and she writes about it in a realistic way so you can feel it too. This was very well done.

Also, you know what this reminds me of?  Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.  There are a number of similarities between Eliza and Cath, though obviously there are a lot of differences as well.  But I think if you’re cool with Fangirl, you’ll probably like this as well.  This is maybe a little less heavy on the fandom stuff and a little heavy on mental health issues.
Eliza is an antisocial artist. For years, she’s been working on a webcomic that became big. And no one knows she’s the artist, just the way she likes it. Eliza is not perfect, which is the way I like protagonists. She’s seriously closed off, a bit selfish, and definitely has trouble communicating with anyone if she can’t talk to them via the internet. But it was relatable. As an introvert myself, I got it. I understood that need to have a few moments to think through your answers before you say important things out loud. I understood that need to get away from people and settle in somewhere alone to work on your own projects.

And the other characters are equally imperfect and well-written.  You can tell that almost everyone means well, and the ones who don’t still have redeeming moments. But it’s the emotion that gets you. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that hit me that hard right in the feels. This one was raw.  The last like 50 pages left me struggling for my composure.

Sometimes, it was almost too raw. A couple of the characters (I won’t say who) deal with anxiety and panic attacks. And as someone who deals with mild anxiety of her own, there were some scenes that were almost too well-written because my own anxiety started to flair up. But I managed to get over it quickly enough. Still, that was a surprise.

This is beautifully written and such an accurate portrayal of what it means to have anxiety, among so many other things.  Zappia is, I think, doing so much for bringing mental health issues to the forefront by creating real characters who show you that this is just a part of their life and they still struggle with all the same things (boys, school, family) that you do.  I’m really starting to love her for that.