The Woods Are Always Watching

The Woods Are Always Watching

First Lines: Neena cut the engine, and the speakers went silent. Mid-lyric. The trail was straight ahead, but her gaze could only follow it to its first bend.

Usually, I’m not the kind of person to gravitate toward horror. Do I sometimes enjoy it? Yes. I’ve read a handful of Stephen King books in my time. But generally, it’s not something I find myself drawn to. But with Stephanie Perkins as the author, I find myself more likely to pick it up.

Neena and Josie have spent high school as outsiders. Loners, if you can be a loner together with your best friend. But with college looming on the horizon and two thousand miles of distance coming for them, they have one last chance to spend some real time together…on a three-day hike deep in the Pisgah National Forest. With tensions rising between them and a detour off their trail, the girls soon find that something is watching from the woods. And this last-chance hike may be their last, for real…

Ok, so the overall Goodreads rating for this book (3.17 when I read it, 3.12 at present) is surprisingly low. And I feel bad for this book. Yes, it has its issues, but it wasn’t a bad story if you keep an eye on your expectations.

What I mean by that is that it’s essentially YA horror. Horror is about the suspense and the thrill rather than the characters or themes or anything like that. And I thought this was a really good thrill.

We’re following Neena and Josie, two friends on the verge of starting college on opposite coasts. They’re scared their friendship may not last and, before they split, they go on a three day hiking trip just outside their homes in Asheville, NC. But obviously, things don’t turn out the way they expect.

The plot is super easy to follow. There aren’t really any subplots or anything. It focuses mostly on Josie and Neena’s hurt feelings between each other and then, obviously, the horror of what’s in the woods. That’s pretty much the story.

Josie and Neena are fairly flat characters, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dynamic. But again, the story was mostly about what’s in the woods and the suspense, so I wasn’t expecting a heavy character-driven story. Knowing what I know about Stephanie Perkins’s love of horror movies, this was essentially what I was expecting.

The story is gory, graphic, and has a lot of profanity, if any of that bothers you. It’s written in ways meant to shock you. I had fun with that but I know not everyone feels that way.

There’s Someone Inside Your House

Image result for there's someone inside your houseFirst Lines: The egg-shaped timer was on the welcome mat when she came home.  Haley Whitehall glanced over her shoulder, as if expecting someone to be behind her.

I checked this out in like, September, to read before Halloween.  Well, once I decided to do the Harry Potter rereads, this got pushed to the back burner.  And after renewing the book as many times as my library would allow me, it was time to either read it or return it.  So I read it.

Makani Young thought she’d left her dark past behind when she left Hawaii for the cornfields of Nebraska.  She’s found a few new friends and she’s starting to fall for the quiet Ollie Larsson, but her past won’t leave her alone.  Then, one by one, teens at her high school begin dying in gruesome murders, each more disturbing than the last.  As the danger draws closer to her, Makani realizes she needs to come to terms with her past and her growing feelings for Ollie.

I, admittedly, have never been much into slasher movies. I’ve seen maybe 1-2 in my life and I definitely fell asleep during one because there was no plot. But since this was Stephanie Perkins, I had higher expectations.

There was definitely plot here. Makani has a secret she doesn’t want to tell anyone. A killer strikes the town and at first everyone is just devastated at the senseless death. But as the bodies pile up, the fear in the town becomes tangible.  It sort of reminded me a little of In Cold Blood in some ways–“safe” town rocked by tragedy, brutal killings, etc.

I think that was actually my favorite part of this book: the pervasive fear that slowly grew. The town reacted slowly at first, thinking the typical things: it’s a terrible tragedy, a girl gone too soon, etc. And then as one body turned into two and two into three, the town gets a very real dose of fear. It’s not just the main characters that are freaking out–it’s everyone. Everyone does their best never to be alone. People come up with elaborate schedules to stay together. It’s things like this that really drill home the eeriness of the story.

And I did actually like that eerie feeling. We find out the killer much sooner than I had anticipated, but I guess I’m just used to the mystery novels of Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark. I forgot that slasher stories and mysteries are not the same thing. But even once we knew who the killer was, the suspense didn’t diminish. We still didn’t know why.

So in terms of plot and suspense, this was really good.

As for the characters…I liked them. They were different than the leads you typically see in horror films. Makani is half-Hawaiian, half-African-American. New to Nebraska, it’s literally just corn fields to her. Her best friend is transitioning from female to male and her crush is a semi-goth dude with pink hair. Like, you would never see that in a movie. And I appreciated that diversity.  (Note: Apparently Netflix has acquired the rights to this and is turning it into a movie for 2019?  That’s what I hear.)

And admittedly, they didn’t do the stupid things most horror movie teens do, like going into the basement or the shed that weird noises are coming from. But with so much going on in the plot, it was hard to feel like I really got to know the characters. Especially when they’re all so secretive the whole time.

And I know that a lot of teens experience a lot of horrible things (hazing, absent parents, drugs, deaths in the family, etc.) but this was really dark on that front for me. Content should be rated M for Mature. There’s a veritable minefield here. Originally, I’d been hoping this was something I could recommend to my middle schoolers, but that’s a big fat NOPE.

It was good. Will I read it again? No. But it was worth the first read.

Top Ten Best Fictional Couples

So Friday (7/6) was International Kissing Day or something like that, so I got thinking about the best fictional couples, the ones I adore reading about the most.  I feel like this is different from my favorite fictional crushes because there is different criteria for this.  For example, when it comes to my crushes, I’m looking for the characteristics that mesh the best with mine.  For the couples, I’m looking for the ones whose personality traits mesh well together.  I’m looking for couples that balance each other well, the ones that I fight for to stay together through every hardship.

Will there be some overlap?  Undoubtedly.  But I think it’s going to be enlightening nonetheless.

And if you’re not into series or if you’re looking for a standalone contemporary romance, I made sure to include those on my list as well.  Hopefully you can find something you haven’t read before!

Top Ten Best Fictional Couples

1. Henry and Kate, The Goddess Test series by Aimee Carter

So, this is one of my favorites series to reread (in large part because of the Greek mythology, I won’t lie) but also because of the level of emotion I feel from Kate.  Kate is sweetness and despair, constantly intertwined.  Henry is completely closed off, seemingly emotionless, hopeless all because he lets fear rule his life.  I love that Kate never really gives up on him and that he has a lot more depth than he ever shows anyone else.  It’s awesome.

2. Rhys and Feyre, A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas

Y’all, let’s not even pretend to be surprised that these two are on the list.  Besides the fact that Rhys made it onto my swoon-worthy crush list AND I just did that spotlight on Maas books on Friday, it was pretty much certain that these two would show up at some point.  These two are the perfect counterpoints to each other.  They both have a lot of bravado and snark, but they feel pain deeply.  They both strive to protect others until their dying breath and they are utterly vicious toward anyone who wants to hurt them.  Their similar personalities also mean that arguments are explosive.  It’s delightful fun to watch them fight and make up.

3. Anna and Etienne, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I don’t think I give this book as much credit as it deserves.  I adore these two because when I first read this book, it was like they were speaking to me.  Anna was me. But what I like about these two together is that they’re encouraging.  They see what the other’s hopes and dreams are and they listen and push them to reach it.  It’s not an easy beginning to their relationship, but I think it makes them stronger for it.

4. Penryn and Raffe, Angelfall series by Susan Ee

I debated a little with this one.  Like, were they actually a couple of epic proportions?  But considering the story involves explosions, death, and dismemberment, I’d say it’s pretty epic.  We’re talking angels, so everything is on a massive scale.  The danger level is high, which means the emotions run that much stronger.  They’re both bitter about the life they now lead, but they find someone who understands in each other.  And while that maybe doesn’t lead to a perfect life, it does show exactly how far they’ll go to save the other.

5. Scarlet and Robin, Scarlet series by A.C. Gaughen

Ok, this couple right here needs to stop being so freaking adorable.  The life Scarlet’s running from is absolutely awful, so awful that she’d rather live dressed as a boy than let anyone even guess who she really is.  The fact that she trusts Robin means a lot because she no longer trusts anyone.  And Robin, while being understanding and sweet, is undeniably fierce when it comes to protecting her.  I really enjoy reading about these two.

6. Kate and Matt, Things I Can’t Forget by Miranda Kenneally

Do you ever have a book that you read and you just can’t get it out of your head, no matter how much time has gone by?  That’s this book for me.  This couple is different from many other couples.  Kate is religious and quiet.  Matt is silly and a nerd who grew up into all his delicious glory.  It was so much fun to watch these two try to understand each other, to learn from their mistakes, and to finally acknowledge their feelings.

7. Charlie and Braden, On The Fence by Kasie West

I think this is easily my favorite Kasie West book.  Charlie is a tomboy.  She hangs out with her brothers and plays all the sports.  Braden is her neighbor and best friend of her brothers.  They’ve known each other forever, so when the feelings start becoming more than that, it runs the risk of making everything awkward.  But I loved that Charlie really doesn’t fit the mold of a typical romantic lead and that there is this that friendship between them before it becomes something more.  It’s sweet.

8. Christian and Elyse, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

When we’re talking about two characters that balance each other out, I don’t think there are two better characters than these.  Elyse is from the Caribbean, a talented singer who lost her voice in a freak accident.  Christian is a rich boy who lives on the coast with his family and is pretty much spoiled.  They’re complete opposites in so many ways, but Christian sees Elyse in ways that no one else does.  He’s the only one who treats her normally, not like she’s broken.  She’s the only one who sees the pressure being piled on Christian’s shoulders.  I adored that balance.

9. Ali and Cole, the Alice in Zombieland series by Gena Showalter

Again, this is a couple that balances each other well.  When Ali and Cole meet, she’s almost afraid of her shadow because of what happened to her family.  Cole is tough as nails and definitely someone Ali should be running from.  But he gives her confidence and treats her like a person.  And Ali softens his edges.  Again, it’s a very cute couple, even though they’re quite terrifying at the same time.

10. Sydney and Adrian, the Bloodlines series by Richelle Mead

I have a very hard time deciding between Sydney and Adrian or Rose and Dimitri, from the companion Richelle Mead series, Vampire Academy.  But I ended up going with Sydney and Adrian because of their amazing character development.  And it’s not just that Adrian grows up–it’s Sydney too.  She finally starts to realize how important other things are in life, starts to question what she’s seeing.  But together, these two are magical.  There’s just something so compelling about how Adrian can pull out Sydney’s sillier side as well as see her in a way that she doesn’t feel like anyone else has seen her.  And there’s something wonderful about the way Sydney saw a spark of promise beneath Adrian’s sarcastic, self-destructive exterior.  They understand each other in a way that is simply beautiful.

Lola and the Boy Next Door

First Lines: I have three simple wishes.  They’re really not too much to ask.

Once I read Anna and the French Kiss, I knew Stephanie Perkins was going to be an author to watch out for.  Anna was just so explosive on the YA market.  Lola, however, failed to completely live up to my expectations.

Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion…it’s costume.  She never wears the same outfit twice and loves to design her own things.  Her life is pretty perfect, from her best friend to her hot rocker boyfriend. But when the dreaded Bell twins move back in next door, Lola’s world is turned upside down.   Now that Cricket’s back and out of his sister’s shadow, can Lola stay away from him like she wants to?

First off, I love the cover.  It probably took me half the book to fall in love with it, though.  There’s so much of the story that plays into it that at first I was just like, “Ok, cute, but so what?”  But after reading it, I can spot all the little details that are mentioned in the story on it.  Plus, the boy gets hotter the more you know about Cricket.

I thought it was going to play out exactly like Anna did, following the same standard plot, but it didn’t exactly.  The general idea is the same (and really, you know how this will end before you read it), but it was fundamentally different as well.  Unlike Anna, Lola’s already got a boyfriend when this story starts.  This changes the game a little.  I guess you could say it’s like what Etienne’s point of view would be…if he was a girl…

I guess I was just a little disappointed with it.  I loved Anna so much because I could relate to it on so many levels.  But Lola was a lot harder.  Both Lola and Cricket were unique in ways that I just can’t relate back to myself.  I still liked them, don’t get me wrong, but it really helps when I can attach myself to something in each of them and I couldn’t do it.

It was still cute and worth the time.  Don’t doubt that.  I caught myself swooning a little in parts.  But if you expect this to be formulaically like Anna, prepare to be disappointed.  I fell for Anna, but I didn’t fall for Lola.

My 10 Favorite Fictional Crushes, Book Edition

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to make this one all about my favorite crushes from books.  Perhaps sometime soon I’ll get around to doing a movie edition.

It was actually harder than I thought it would be to come up with a list.  While I’m reading, I typically develop crushes on every main lead, but it takes something special about them for me to remember them months or even years after I’ve read it (and for some of these, it has been years).  And, surprisingly, I could only come up with 20 characters I loved enough to want to put on this list.

10. Tucker from Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

Why I Love Him: Tucker’s a cowboy in Wyoming and I’m a sucker for cowboys.  He’s sharp as a tack when it comes to wit and humor, which I especially love.  He’s just a simple guy, who loves what he loves and he’s not afraid to let you know it.  He’s not going to hide who he is because you don’t like it.  That makes him epically amazing in my book.

9. Alex from Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Why I Love Him: Alex is…well, Alex.  How do I explain?  He’s tough as nails and willing to do whatever he has to in order to protect those he loves.  That’s how he grew up.  But he’s also insanely sarcastic or sincerely sweet when he wants to be.  He’s used to sacrificing things for a greater good and in Perfect Chemistry, we get to see him take a few moments for himself, without having to give anything up.

8. Kaleb from Hourglass by Myra McEntire

Why I Love Him: Kaleb is one of two people on my list who isn’t the lead male.  Kaleb is one of those blatantly flirty guys who have an internal repertoire of pick up lines and come ons.  But he’s also extremely sensitive and selective about who he lets into his life.  I couldn’t help but hope he got the girl.  And if she doesn’t want him, I will gladly take him.

7. Shane from Glass Houses by Rachel Caine

Why I Love Him: In a town of vampires, you’ll take whatever safety net you can find.  And it happens to be Shane.  At 19 years old, he’s had a rougher life than most people, even those who’ve lived in Morganville their entire lives.  But that’s led to him being fiercely loyal and protective of those he loves and a big softy to the girl who has his heart.

6. Etienne from Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Why I Love Him: He’s French.  Is that enough of a reason?  It’s totally sexy.  He’s incredibly funny when he wants to be and very caring.  He’s also just so…normal.  He’s like the boy next door.  He doesn’t always make the best choices, but does anyone?

5. Ethan from Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill

Why I Love Him: Ethan is the kind of hot that curls your toes, turns your insides to mush, and turns you into a giggling girl.  He makes me melt.  Being the leader of a house of vampires, Ethan is normally very stoic, very reserved around others.  And more than a little sarcastic.  I loved being able to see the other side of him, the one that wants to woo the girl.  I think most girls like the rugged man with a softer side.

4. Eric from Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Why I Love Him: I admit, True Blood does play a part in this decision.  Eric is just so sexy.  Much like Ethan, he is also a leader of vampires and that comes into play as to who he is as a character.  It makes him more vicious, edgier.  It’s startling.  But at the same time, he can also be sweet.  I’ve always wanted Sookie to be with him instead of Bill.

3. Derek from The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong

Why I Love Him: Derek, for lack of a better term, is huge.  He’s described as being taller than everyone else.  Tall guys=sexy.  While he can be gruff and unemotional at times, I’ve seen moments when he’s the sweetest guy in the world.  Another fiercely protective guy.  He’s also so smart it’s intimidating, and that’s something I don’t say often.

2. Dimitri from Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Why I Love Him: With Dimitri, it seems like this list never ends.  He’s smart, funny, tall, protective, loyal, sweet, loving, a brilliant fighter (a “badass”, as Rose describes him), and very sensitive.  I fell in love with this Russian cowboy back in the first book and he’s had a grip on my heart ever since.

1. Peeta from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Why I Love Him: From the very first interview he had before the games began, I knew I was putty in his skilled baker hands.  He’s the rose to Katniss’s thorn.  He’s so sensitive and smart.  He’s modest to a fault at times, and he’s fierce enough to save Katniss from herself when he has to.  Oh, and there’s kind of this gorgeous looking actor playing him for the movie.  Want to see some pictures?

Whenever I see him, I feel like a *squee*ing school girl again, just like used to do whenever a new Harry Potter trailer would come on TV.  *Sigh*  Peeta…

Spotlight Friday (4)

Spotlight Friday is a segment I created in which I talk about 3 upcoming releases that have my attention and why they look super awesome.  Hope you find something you like too!

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Release Date: September 29, 2011

Summary (from Goodreads): Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit — more sparkly, more fun, more wild — the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood. 

When Cricket — a gifted inventor — steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door. 

What’s To Like: If the name “Stephanie Perkins” sounds familiar, it should.  She wrote Anna and the French Kiss, and I’m fairly certain Lola isn’t about to disappoint.  Anna created a frenzy in YA lit and, if I’m not mistaken, Lola will probably do the same.  Also, it just sounds like a super sweet, probably partly silly, love story.  Those are the most adorable.

My review of Lola and the Boy Next Door.

The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle

Release Date: September 6, 2011

Summary (from Goodreads)Anyone who’s had something truly crappy happen to them will tell you: It’s all about Before and After. What I’m talking about here is the ka-pow, shake-you-to-your-core-and-turn-your-bones-to-plastic kind of crappy.

Sixteen-year-old Laurel’s world changes instantly when her parents and brother are killed in a terrible car accident. Behind the wheel is the father of her bad-boy neighbor, David Kaufman, whose mother is also killed. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laurel navigates a new reality in which she and her best friend grow apart, boys may or may not be approaching her out of pity, overpowering memories lurk everywhere, and Mr. Kaufman is comatose but still very much alive. Through it all there is David, who swoops in and out of Laurel’s life and to whom she finds herself attracted against her better judgment. She will forever be connected to him by their mutual loss—a connection that will change them both in unexpected ways.

What’s To Like: I just adore stories like this, where love isn’t fairy tale easy.  These are characters I connect to quite strongly.  Plus, from the description, it sounds like a cross between If I Stay and Perfect Chemistry.  I’m hoping this stays with me the same way both of those do.

As I Wake by Elizabeth Scott

Release Date: September 15, 2011

Summary (from Goodreads): Ava is welcomed home from the hospital by a doting mother, lively friends, and a crush finally beginning to show interest. There’s only one problem: Ava can’t remember any of them – and can’t shake the eerie feeling that she’s not who they say she is.

Ava struggles to break through her amnesiac haze as she goes through the motions of high-school life, but the memories that surface take place in a very different world, where Ava and familiar-faced friends are under constant scrutiny and no one can be trusted. Ava doesn’t know what to make of these visions, or of the boy who is at the center of them all, until he reappears in her life and offers answers . . . but only in exchange for her trust.

What’s To Like: I love the mystery behind who Ava is and what this stranger knows about her.  Also, is everyone lying to her about who she was or do they just not know her well enough?  Elizabeth Scott is an amazing writer, who always makes the stories very real.  And as teenagers, struggling to find your identity is hard enough, but it becomes nearly impossible after you forget who you were.