Book Wrap-Up February 2018

Full disclosure: February is my least favorite month of the whole year.  I tend to try to rush through it as fast as I can, because even though it’s the shortest month, it feels soooo long!

February 2018 was a slower reading month for me than January, but I still made it through quite the stack of books!  And, as usual, they are all over the place genre-wise.


1. The Real Peter Pan: J.M. Barrie and the Boy Who Inspired Him, Piers Dudgeon


The world has long been captivated by the story of Peter Pan and the countless movies, plays, musicals, and books that retell the story of Peter, Wendy, and the Lost Boys. Now, in this revealing behind-the-scenes book, author Piers Dudgeon examines the fascinating and complex relationships among Peter Pan’s creator, J.M. Barrie, and the family of boys who inspired his work.

After meeting the Llewelyn Davies family in London’s Kensington Garden, Barrie struck up an intense friendship with the children and their parents. The innocence of Michael, the fourth of five brothers, went on to influence the creation of Barrie’s most famous character, Peter Pan. Barrie was so close to the Llewelyn Davies family that he became trustee and guardian to the boys following the deaths of their parents. Although the relationship between the boys and Barrie (and particularly between Barrie and Michael) was enduring, it was punctuated by the fiercest of tragedies. Throughout the heart-rending saga of Barrie’s involvement with the Llewelyn Davies brothers, it is the figure of Michael, the most original and inspirational of their number, and yet also the one whose fate is most pitiable, that stands out.

The Real Peter Pan is a captivating true story of childhood, friendship, war, love, and regret.

Spoiler Alert: Peter Pan isn’t the beautiful fairytale Disney has led you to believe, and James Matthew was even more of a sleazeball than Depp’s portrayal of him in Finding Neverland.  That being said, I am in love with the complexity and darkness of the lives of the families Barrie and Llewellyn-Davies.  I actually appreciate that such a beautiful exploration of innocence and death came out of these people and their lives.

This book was a lot of primary sources, which I enjoyed, especially as I got to read even more Barrie prose than I have to date.  And it was an easy-to-digest narrative with a natural build toward the ending you know is coming–at least, if you know anything about Michael Llewellyn-Davies.  That being said, I felt the title of this book was a little misleading.  There was very little in this text about Barrie himself, even though I was expecting it to focus on him.  Instead, the book is about Michael and his short life.  I’m glad to know more about Michael–the inspiration for Peter Pan–but I picked up the book expecting a biography on Barrie.  So, I’ll have to go out hunting for a more accurate biography of the author in the future!

This is a cautionary tale: read at your own risk.  Again, I cannot say enough about how different the real story of Peter Pan is from Disney’s watered down cartoon.  You’ve been warned!


2. The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman


Will is the bearer of the knife. Now, accompanied by angels, his task is to deliver that powerful, dangerous weapon to Lord Asriel – by the command of his dying father.

But how can he go looking for Lord Asriel when Lyra is gone? Only with her help can he fathom the myriad plots and and intrigues that beset him.

The two great powers of the many worlds are lining up for war, and Will must find Lyra, for together they are on their way to battle, an inevitable journey that will even take them to the world of the dead…

I’ve already talked about “His Dark Materials” in my January Wrap-Up, and I don’t have a lot to add here.  I think this book suffers from the typical troubles of the third book in a trilogy–all those loose ends the author created have to be tied up, and quickly.  But still, the characters in this text stay true to their form, and that is something to appreciate.  And the ending of the book is satisfying, in that not-quite-perfect-so-it-feels-real kind of way.  This still isn’t my favorite fantasy series, and I’m not a huge fan of the story, but I do appreciate what Pullman accomplished with it.


3. Teach Me to Forget, Erica M. Chapman


This is the story of Ellery, a girl who learns how to live while waiting for the date she chose to die.

Ellery’s bought the gun, made arrangements for her funeral, and even picked the day. A Wednesday. Everything has fallen into place.

Now all she has to do is die.

When her plans go awry and the gun she was going to kill herself with breaks, she does the one thing she has control over–return it and get a new one. After tormenting the crusty customer service associate by trying to return the gun with the wrong receipt, Ellery gets caught by the security guard who also happens to be someone she knows–the annoyingly perfect Colter Sawyer from her English class.

Colter quickly uncovers what she’s hiding and is determined to change her mind. After confessing a closely held secret of his own, he promises not to tell hers. Ellery tries to fight her attraction to him as the shadows of her past cling tight around her, but when she’s faced with another tragedy, she must decide whether she can learn to live with what she’s done or follow through with her plan to die.

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation, Depression, Loss of a loved one, Self-harm.

I’m from a very small town.  At the end of January, we lost three young men to suicide.  They were all close in age, and one of them was a close friend of my family.  At the time, I was feeling very broken and discouraged.  How do you cope with such unexpected, devastating loss?  I knew I had this book on my shelves, and so I picked it up looking for understanding and perhaps a sense of closure.

The situations in this book are bleak.  The trigger warning listed in the description is absolutely necessary.  And yet, Chapman’s exploration of grief, loss, healing, and suffering is beautiful and captivating.  I can tell that she honestly sought to explore the mind of one with suicidal thoughts, to give voice to the mental agony associated with such hopelessness.  And, in many ways, it shows.

I have a few concerns with this book that have kept me from completely loving it, including the situations that have led Ellery to attempt suicide.  We have to be so careful about associating traumatic events with depression, because the reality is the things Ellery faces could affect anyone, even if they had not suffered the losses she did.  I also did not care for the romance between Ellery and Colter.  This is perhaps my age showing, but anyone in Ellery’s situation is in no position to be getting into relationships… And my interpretation of her situation is, should she and Colter dissolve, so might her resolve to go on living.

So, not a perfect book by any means.  But I was so grateful for this story and its message at the time that I read it.


4. To Catch a Pirate, Jade Parker


Once caught, it’s harder still to let a pirate go

When Annalisa Townsend’s ship is set upon by pirates in search of her father’s treasure, one of the crew, James Sterling, discovers her in the hold. When he moves to take her necklace, she begs him not to, as it is all she has left of her mother. He accepts a kiss in exchange for the necklace. “A fair trade, m’lady,” he tells her afterward, before disappearing.
A year later, with a forged letter of marque, Annalisa is intent on hunting down the wretched James Sterling and reclaiming her father’s treasure from him. But now she’s in danger of him stealing something far more vulnerable this time: her heart.

Not gonna lie, the only reason I read this book was to fulfill the POPSUGAR Challenge Criteria: A book set at sea.  I have read this book before, and I remembered really liking the dynamics between the two main characters.  This time around, I found it a little more cheesy.  But, hey, what do you expect from a romance, right?  A fun, fluffy read perfect for Valentine’s Day.


5. The Magicians, Lev Grossman


A thrilling and original coming-of-age novel for adults about a young man practicing magic in the real world.

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.

He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, The Magicians boldly moves into uncharted literary territory, imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions. Lev Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren’t black and white, love and sex aren’t simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price.

I have a more full review of this book on Goodreads, but the long and short of it is I did not enjoy this book.  I like the Harry Potter-esque themes, several shades darker to reflect “real life.” And I like Grossman’s writing.  However, I found the plot to move far too quickly (there was a lot of ground covered for a single book; I’m terrified to think how much more may be waiting in the rest of the series…!), and I hate the characters.  None of them have truly redeeming qualities, which perhaps is getting at the commentary Grossman has with Rowling on what actual magicians/wizards would have to deal with in the real world.  But that makes it super hard to root for anyone, “good” or “bad.”

Actually, I’ve found myself to be quite partial to the TV series.  I enjoy Elliott and Penny so much more in their film roles than I do on the page, and I actually support the rewrite of Janet to Margot. The plot in the show is slowed down a good bit, and you get to know the characters in ways you don’t in the text.

(And, honestly, I had no expectations for the show.  I only watched it because Felicia Day shows up in Season 3.  Love her!)

All that to say, I may give the next book a chance.  A friend of mine mentioned the series gets better, so we’ll have to see…


6. The War I Finally Won, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley


When Ada’s clubfoot is surgically fixed at last, she knows for certain that she’s not what her mother said she was—damaged, deranged, crippled mentally as well as physically. She’s not a daughter anymore, either. What is she?

World War II continues, and Ada and her brother, Jamie, are living with their loving legal guardian, Susan, in a borrowed cottage on the estate of the formidable Lady Thorton—along with Lady Thorton herself and her daughter, Maggie. Life in the crowded cottage is tense enough, and then, quite suddenly, Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany, moves in. A German? The occupants of the house are horrified. But other impacts of the war become far more frightening. As death creeps closer to their door, life and morality during wartime grow more complex. Who is Ada now? How can she keep fighting? And who will she struggle to save?

I am completely in love with this duology.  These two books are absolutely beautiful. Everyone, of every age, needs to read them at least once.

The War That Saved My Life is a beautiful story of love and acceptance, and the true meaning of family.  Ada learns so much about life in her first adventure, and this follow-up continues that education perfectly.  It’s wonderful to see her wrestle with ideas of self-acceptance, prejudice, and politics, and to try and understand war, grief, and healing.  This story is beyond accessible, and yet it’s so complex, even I felt that I followed Ada through the emotions and thoughts she experiences.

I can’t say enough good things, so just go read them yourself.  The sooner, the better!


7. The Upside of Unrequited, Becky Albertalli


Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

I love Becky Albertalli’s writing so much (and I cannot wait to see “Love, Simon” when it comes out!).  This book was no exception.  Molly is a different sort of protagonist from most YA stories, and some of what she faces is a different sort of struggle.  There is decent representation in this book, and the topics addressed are real and present today.

This book, in all its realness, made me extremely angry at times.  I seek solace in the thought that I believe this is what Albertalli wanted to happen.  But conversations surrounding popularity, body image, and self-acceptance were infuriating to me.  The story ends with the OTP I wanted, but good grief, I wasn’t sure we’d ever get there.  This plot reminds me that, in terms of behaviors of students in schools, we have a long way to go before bullying, stereotyping, and general “clique”ness can be fully eradicated.


8. It’s Not Like It’s a Secret, Misa Sugiura


Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like that fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore anymore.

Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy… what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.

I’ll be honest–I wanted to like this book more than I actually did.  I really like Sana and Jamie, and the relationship that they have.  However, the drama and conflict in this story is upsetting and largely left open-ended.

I read a few Goodreads reviews before starting this book (a common practice I have, to figure out why someone did or did not like a particular story and to see if I think it will be a good fit for me).  I saw several people complain about the racism and the “infidelity” in the book.  At first, I brushed this off, assuming that Sugiura was going for authentic, which may be off-putting to some people.

Unfortunately, after finishing the book, I have to agree with a lot of those reviews–while the racism is, perhaps, authentic, it’s never really addressed for what it is–something very wrong and what should not be tolerated.  And while the complexity of the love triangle Sana finds herself in makes for high drama, I felt the whole escapade with Caleb to be unnecessary and harmful.  So, while the story is beautiful (and, again, excellent representation!), it didn’t quite take me to the place I expected, and I found several problems with its execution.


And that’s it for February!  March is already shaping up to be a busier reading month, so I look forward to sharing my thoughts on those books in April.





Filed under Bookish

Book Wrap-Up: January 2018


I know, I know–this post is soooo late!  But I’d worked so hard on it, I didn’t want to leave it hanging…

On the flip side, a February Wrap-Up will hopefully come sooner, rather than later! 🙂

1. The Ethan I Was Before, Ali Standish


Ethan had been many things. He was always ready for adventure and always willing to accept a dare, especially from his best friend, Kacey. But that was before. Before the accident that took Kacey from him. Before his family moved from Boston to the small town of Palm Knot, Georgia.

Palm Knot may be tiny, but it’s the home of possibility and second chances. It’s also home to Coralee, a girl with a big personality and even bigger stories. Coralee may be just the friend Ethan needs, except Ethan isn’t the only one with secrets. Coralee’s are catching up with her, and what she’s hiding might be putting both their lives at risk.

This book was a beautiful exploration of grief and guilt for young audiences.  Ethan is a touching narrator, full of emotions and struggle that feel real and potent to the reader.  Nothing is simplified in this story, despite the fact that it’s written for a young audience (and I think that’s a great thing!).  The story is also complex, with layers and intertwining lifelines and twists… Standish does an excellent job of fleshing out a whole series of characters, each with unique traits.  I don’t see this one becoming a “favorite” for the year, but I still appreciate what this book accomplishes.


2. The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, Jonas Jonasson


From the author of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared comes a picaresque tale of how one person’s actions can have far-reaching-even global-consequences On June 14, 2007, the king and the prime minister of Sweden went missing from a gala banquet at the royal castle. Later it was said that both had fallen ill, but the truth is different.

The real story starts much earlier, in 1961, with the birth of Nombeko Mayeki in a shack in Soweto. Nombeko was fated to grow up fast and die early in her poverty-stricken township, be it from drugs, alcohol, or just plain despair. But Nombeko takes a different path. She finds work as a housecleaner and eventually makes her way up to the position of chief advisor, at the helm of one of the world’s most secret projects. Here is where the tale merges with then diverges from reality. South Africa developed six nuclear missiles in the 1980s, then voluntarily dismantled them in 1994.

This is the story of the seventh missile, the one that was never supposed to have existed. Nombeko Mayeki knows too much about it, and now she’s on the run from both the South African justice system and the most terrifying secret service in the world. The fate of the planet now lies in Nombeko’s hands. Jonasson introduces us to a cast of eccentrics: a nerve-damaged American Vietnam deserter, twin brothers who are officially only one person, three careless Chinese girls, an angry young woman, a potato-growing baroness, the Swedish king and the prime minister. Quirky and utterly unique, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden is a charming and humorous account of one young woman’s unlikely adventure.

I’ve said this before, and I will continue to say it: For all of the reasons I loved The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, I hated this book.  Where the characters in the first book were lovable, none of the characters in this story had redeeming characteristics.  The plot itself was so steeped in African and Swedish history, I was simply lost (and yes, this is a failing on my part and on the part of the American education system, but still–I couldn’t even enjoy the story!).  The story line itself ran a little long, with a lot of extra details that never actually connected back.  And the conclusion of the book was largely disappointing.  This is the first book of 2018 that I did not enjoy, and I have a feeling it may make a “Worst of” list by the end of the year.


3. Pashmina, Nidhi Chanani


Priyanka Das has so many unanswered questions: Why did her mother abandon her home in India years ago? What was it like there? And most importantly, who is her father, and why did her mom leave him behind? But Pri’s mom avoids these questions–the topic of India is permanently closed.

For Pri, her mother’s homeland can only exist in her imagination. That is, until she find a mysterious pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, she is transported to a place more vivid and colorful than any guidebook or Bollywood film. But is this the real India? And what is that shadow lurking in the background? To learn the truth, Pri must travel farther than she’s ever dared and find the family she never knew.

In this heartwarming graphic novel debut, Nidhi Chanani weaves a tale about the hardship and self-discovery that is born from juggling two cultures and two worlds.

I thought this story was delightful and adorable.  I’ve seen a few negative reviews that focus on the age of Pri, and I do agree that her age seems at times incongruous with her behaviors.   At the same time, I think it’s easy to overlook that and still appreciate what the book is saying.  I appreciated the look into a culture that isn’t my own, and I like the choice to have a protagonist learning about herself.  The pictures are beautiful, and the use of color vs. gray-scale is excellent.  This book is certainly for young audiences, but I think several age groups can gain something from it.


4. The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman


Lost in a new world, Lyra finds Will—a boy on the run, a murderer—a worthy and welcome ally. For this is a world where soul-eating Specters stalk the streets and witches share the skies with troops of angels.

Each is searching—Lyra for the meaning of Dark Matter, Will for his missing father—but what they find instead is a deadly secret, a knife of untold power. And neither Lyra nor Will suspects how tightly their lives, their loves, and their destinies are bound together… until they are split apart.

I read “His Dark Materials” trilogy when I was in high school, and so I am only revisiting the series now.  Many elements of these books disturb me.  I have a hard time reconciling the content with the prescribed age group.  However, I have a lot of respect for Pullman’s storytelling abilities.  The layers of these books are well-constructed, intricate.  And while I at times find the elements uncomfortable and dark, I understand the talent behind them.


5. Uncommon Type: Some Stories, Tom Hanks


A collection of seventeen wonderful short stories showing that two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks is as talented a writer as he is an actor.

A gentle Eastern European immigrant arrives in New York City after his family and his life have been torn apart by his country’s civil war. A man who loves to bowl rolls a perfect game–and then another and then another and then many more in a row until he winds up ESPN’s newest celebrity, and he must decide if the combination of perfection and celebrity has ruined the thing he loves. An eccentric billionaire and his faithful executive assistant venture into America looking for acquisitions and discover a down and out motel, romance, and a bit of real life. These are just some of the tales Tom Hanks tells in this first collection of his short stories. They are surprising, intelligent, heartwarming, and, for the millions and millions of Tom Hanks fans, an absolute must-have!

Featuring additional performances by Peter Gerety, Peter Scolari, Cecily Strong, Holland Taylor, and Wilmer Valderrama on “Stay With Us.”

I think Steve Martin says it best in his blurb on the back of this book: “It turns out that Tom Hanks is also a wise and hilarious writer with an endlessly surprising mind. Damn it.”  These stories are delightful, thought-provoking, educational… I hate to say I was surprised, but I honestly was.  I feel like Hanks would have done himself a service if he had published these in a two- or three-part volume series, because the single book is quite the tome (it weighs in at just over 400 pages).  By the end, I was a little burnt out on short stories featuring typewriters.  However, the quality and texture of the stories never dwindled.   Fans of fiction and of Hanks will like this collection, a whole lot.

6. Unraveling Oliver, Liz Nugent


In this “compelling, clever, and dark” (Heat magazine) thriller, a man’s shocking act of savagery stuns a local community–and the revelations that follow will keep you gripped until the very last page. This work of psychological suspense, a #1 bestseller in Ireland, is perfect for fans of Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Ware.

“I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.”

So begins Liz Nugent’s astonishing debut novel—a chilling, elegantly crafted, and psychologically astute exploration of the nature of evil.

Oliver Ryan, handsome, charismatic, and successful, has long been married to his devoted wife, Alice. Together they write and illustrate award-winning children’s books; their life together one of enviable privilege and ease—until, one evening after a delightful dinner, Oliver delivers a blow to Alice that renders her unconscious, and subsequently beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath of such an unthinkable event, as Alice hovers between life and death, the couple’s friends, neighbors, and acquaintances try to understand what could have driven Oliver to commit such a horrific act. As his story unfolds, layers are peeled away to reveal a life of shame, envy, deception, and masterful manipulation.

With its alternating points of view and deft prose, Unraveling Oliver is “a page-turning, one-sitting read from a brand new master of psychological suspense” (Sunday Independent) that details how an ordinary man can transform into a sociopath.

This book is terrifying, in that bone-chilling way that makes you think, “Holy crap, this could actually happen…”  In the same vein as Psycho and its descendants, this story explores the mind of a man with a frightening absence of remorse.  I love the way Nugent uses multiple perspectives to reveal the reality of what happened behind this story.  Everyone has a tiny piece of the puzzle, but it’s only when the reader sees every story set side-by-side that we can see the reality of Oliver.  Frightening, dark, and not for the faint of heart, this story was the exact type of thriller that I love.


7. We Are Okay, Nina LaCour


You go through life thinking there’s so much you need…

Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

I need to start with a disclaimer here: I listened to the audiobook of this book, and I feel like I missed so much because of the format.  I fully intend to actually read this book before the year is out.

This story is beautiful.  The characters, touching.  Like The Ethan I Was Before, it’s an honest exploration of grief on a level that young people could understand.  But, even more so than the first book, I think this is a story that will touch individuals of all ages.  The story is recognizable, and yet it captures unique perspectives and ideas in ways not yet visited.  And I haven’t even touched on its representation!  Let’s just say, we need even more books like this one as we go forward (and that responsibility should not fall solely on LaCour, even though she’s shown herself to be capable).


8. Little & Lion, Brandy Colbert


When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

Okay, another disclaimer: This is the first book I have ever personally encountered with a bisexual main character.  For this reason, I think I loved the story more than others who’ve read more books with subjects like this, because I’m unaware of overused tropes (this is the first I’ve seen them!).

love that this story is about siblings.  The relationship between Lionel and Suzette is excellent and handled so well.  The complexity of their connection is enjoyable and torturing, at the same time.  As a sister, I felt this story on a very deep level, and I appreciate Colbert for tackling these two characters.  I do feel that the book tries to tackle too many issues all at once.  In fact, the book touches on almost every major social issue we talk about in culture today, at some point.  I think the plot and characters may have been stronger with a little more focus.  I still loved this book, and would consider it my favorite for January 2018.


9. The Storyteller’s Daughter, Cameron Dokey


In a faraway kingdom, a king has been betrayed. Deeply hurt and bitterly angry, he vows never to be deceived again. Unfortunately, the king’s plan to protect himself will endanger all of the realm’s young women, unless one of them will volunteer to marry the king – and surrender her life.
To everyone’s relief and horror, one young woman steps forward. The daughter of a legendary storyteller, Shahrazad believes it is her destiny to accept this risk and sacrifice herself.

On the night of her wedding to the king, Shahrazad begins to weave a tale. Fascinated, the king lets her live night after night. Just when Shahrazad dares to believe that she has found a way to keep her life and an unexpected love – a treacherous plot will disrupt her plan. Now she can only hope that love is strong enough to save her.

This is one of my favorite books of all time.  I don’t know that I’d ever make it through the original Arabian Nights, but this adaptation makes me want to try.

My favorite element of the book is the way in which the stories Shahrazad tells blend into the overarching plot.  I like the interruption of the short tales, and the way the reader can see how they connect back to the rest of the story (none of the storyteller’s stories are actually random, you know).

I also really love the attitude toward women in this book.  There are certainly bad eggs present for driving the plot, but considering the cultural foundations of the story, Shahrazad has a lot of agency.  And Shahrayer is a worthy companion to such a strong woman.

If you haven’t read Cameron Dokey’s adaptations before, I think this is a great one to start with, and then you should check out the others, too!


10. This Is Really Happening, Erin Chack


BuzzFeed senior writer Erin Chack provides a collection of personal essays for the Snapchat generation.

Erin recounts everything from meeting her soulmate at age 14 to her first chemotherapy session at age 19 to what really goes on behind the scenes at a major Internet media company. She authentically captures the agony and the ecstasy of the millennial experience, whether it’s her first kiss (“Sean’s tongue! In my mouth! Slippery and wet like a slug in the rain.”) or her struggles with anxiety (“When people throw caution to the wind, I am stuck imagining the poor soul who has to break his back sweeping caution into a dustpan”).

Yet Erin also offers a fresh perspective on universal themes of resilience and love as she writes about surviving cancer, including learning of her mother’s own cancer diagnosis within the same year, and her attempts to hide the diagnosis from friends to avoid “un-normaling” everything.

This book is marketed as an easy-to-digest memoir for teens, but I think it is so much more than that.  Chack’s voice is authentic and approachable, and her stories are so real they can be felt.  She writes to a young audience, but I don’t think that necessarily isolates the topics she’s discussing.

I am, of course, a huge fan of memoirs in general.  So I naturally enjoyed this one a lot, just by its nature.  But I also think this goes beyond a lot of the semi-autobiographical books people write nowadays and attempts to talk about deep themes we see and know in our own world.

In short, I laughed, I cried, I said, “Girl, me too!”


11. Fans of the Impossible Life, Kate Scelsa


Mira is starting over at Saint Francis Prep. She promised her parents she would at least try to pretend that she could act like a functioning human this time, not a girl who can’t get out of bed for days on end, who only feels awake when she’s with Sebby.

Jeremy is the painfully shy art nerd at Saint Francis who’s been in self-imposed isolation after an incident that ruined his last year of school. When he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn, it’s as if he’s been expecting this blond, lanky boy with mischief glinting in his eye.

Sebby, Mira’s gay best friend, is a boy who seems to carry sunlight around with him. Even as life in his foster home starts to take its toll, Sebby and Mira together craft a world of magic rituals and impromptu road trips, designed to fix the broken parts of their lives.

As Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world, he begins to understand the secrets that they hide in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible.

I’m beginning to notice an unfortunate trend with many LGBTQIA+ books, which is that we quickly develop a main character with a unique identity, but then we don’t know what to do with them… This book had a great premise with an awesome cast of characters, but I was left questioning why the plot took the turns it did.  I really liked Mira and Jeremy, but I didn’t enjoy Sebby, which made a good bit of this book hard to swallow.

I think books like this often try to tackle too much, so what they do address feels watered down or skimmed over.  This story is still super important, but it’s not my favorite YA text on subjects like it.

(Also, it was recommended to me based on my love of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and, unfortunately, I see absolutely no similarities.  This book brought with it none of the affection I had for Charlie, Sam, and Patrick).


12. One Was Lost, Natalie D. Richards


Damaged. Deceptive. Dangerous. Darling. Are they labels or a warning? The answer could cost Sera everything.

Murder, justice, and revenge were so not a part of the plan when Sera set out on her senior camping trip. After all, hiking through the woods is supposed to be safe and uneventful.

Then one morning the group wakes up groggy, confused, and with words scrawled on their wrists: Damaged. Deceptive. Dangerous. Darling. Their supplies? Destroyed. Half their group? Gone. Their chaperone? Unconscious. Worst of all, they find four dolls acting out a murder—dolls dressed just like them.

Suddenly it’s clear; they’re being hunted. And with the only positive word on her wrist, Sera falls under suspicion…

All I can say is, whoa!

This was a great spine-chilling read, with lots of unbelievable twists and turns.  The plot was so complex, it actually had me stumped for quite a bit of it (which is super hard to do, so props to the author on that one!).  I did end up feeling that the story got a little long.  There was a few too many “Is he, or isn’t she…?” moments, but this still fed into a great mystery and a lot of suspense.  It’s pretty impressive when an author can make you think, Wait…is the narrator behind this?!


13. You Know Me Well, Nina LaCour and David Levithan


Who knows you well? Your best friend? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? A stranger you meet on a crazy night? No one, really?

Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is, until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other—and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

Told in alternating points of view by Nina LaCour and David Levithan, You Know Me Well is a story about navigating the joys and heartaches of first love, one truth at a time.

I liked this book a lot better than Fans of the Impossible Life, even though it’s not my favorite LaCour or Levithan story.  These characters are adorable, and I LOVE that the focus of the story is on the friendship between Kate and Mark.  It’s unconventional, which helps keep this story distinguishable from others like it.  I also liked how this entire plot addresses the complexity of friendship.  Yes, romance is still real and accounted for in the book, but so much of the characters’ time is spent looking at platonic relationships and how to navigate them.  I’ve felt inundated with romance for far too long, so having a story like this (and Little & Lion) was like a breath of fresh air.

My one complaint was the ways in which the plot jumped back and forth in time.  Because I was listening to the audiobook, I had a hard time keeping track of what was happening when.  Perhaps this is more noticeable and navigable in the printed text, so I may give this one another shot on paper!


And that’s it for January!  I really had planned to publish this in that first week of February, but c’est la vie.

See you with a February wrap-up soon! (But no promises…ha!)



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Best Reads of 2017

Hello, fellow book nerds!


This week, I’ve been feeling a little under the weather.  I had hoped to get this post up earlier, but here we are!


I posted recently about my completed POPSUGAR Challenge.  This post is going to be much smaller, as I reflect back on my Top 10 Books/Series that I read in 2017.  While I’ve read dozens of wonderful stories this year, I’m excited to focus in on these titles!


#1: Beartown, Fredrik Backman


I absolutely love Fredrik Backman, and I was totally blown away by this book.  This story is very different from Backman’s traditional topics, but he handles the subject matter like a pro.  I loved the setting, the characters, the conclusion… everything!  I especially enjoy how much time Backman spends developing individual characters, even those on the sides of the plot, and expertly winding their lives together.  I think this book was very timely, and it gives a gritty look at culture and how we handle controversy when our “celebrities” are involved.


#2: The Child Thief, Brom

The child thief

This book is a dark spin-off on the Peter Pan myth.  Anyone who knows me knows I love Peter Pan.  I actually avoided this book for years, because Brom’s Peter is an antihero with a serious dark streak.  Despite my worries about whether or not I’d like this Peter, it turns out that The Child Thief was the version of Peter’s story that I’d been missing!  I absolutely love Brom’s characters.  His story is the perfect blend of darkness and a harsh look at the reality of the human condition.  I’m so glad I finally read this one, and I have a feeling I will be revisiting Peter Pan, Child Thief in the near future.


#3: Cyclone, Doreen Cronin


I really enjoyed this cute, middle-grade novel about a girl learning how to forgive herself.  These characters are so lovable and real; it breaks your heart as your reading.  I think this story belongs alongside Wonder and others like it–books that inspire young people by telling a pretty honest truth about the world.  I think my favorite part about this book is how true Cronin stays to her characters; she doesn’t fill their heads with thoughts middle-schoolers couldn’t have.  She uses a very normal young person voice to help them and her readers learn and grow on their own terms.


#4: Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, Jenny Lawson

furiously happy

This book had me literally laughing out loud!  I listened to the audiobook, and having Lawson read her stories to me made this book even more hilarious.  While the stories she tells have a lot of humor in them, she’s also very authentic and real about her mental health and her struggles.  She proves that talking about things like depression, insomnia, and anxiety don’t have to always be somber and serious.  In fact, she does a great job of “normalizing” mental illness without downplaying its significance.  I highly, highly recommend this book.

#5: The Girl with All the Gifts, M. R. Carey

girl with all the gifts

I did not expect to enjoy this book at all, but I ended up really liking it!  I’m not a fan of dystopian worlds, especially those that involve the undead, so I was taken by surprise when I started feeling for these “hungries”!  This is another story with excellent characters who, though fairly blatant stereotypes, fit well into this plot.  And the story itself moves at the perfect pace.  It doesn’t race through, too focused on action, and it doesn’t drag either.  A book totally outside my typical genre, this story grew my interest in science fiction and horror.

On the topic of the sequel, however… I didn’t like The Boy on the Bridge as much as The Girl with All the Gifts.  I felt like the characters from the original story were pretty much replicated in new bodies for the second story.  And I don’t think the conclusion justified an entire book to build up to it; it would have made a decent epilogue to the first story.


#6: The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas

the hate u give

I feel like almost everyone who read this book in 2017 is going to put it on their “Best of” lists.  There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said, tweeted, written, and so on about this book.  Thomas has captured a part of American culture that needs to be talked about more.  And she does it through the eyes of a young person, still learning, and yet caught up in the middle of the struggle.  If you haven’t yet read this book, make sure it’s on your 2018 TBR!


#7: Library Wars, Kiiro Yumi

library wars

This manga series was a lot of fun to read.  I really liked the characters (can you tell I tend to prefer books that are character driven…? ha!) and the way they grew through the 15 volumes.  I also liked the subject matter, which felt like a fresh look at Fahrenheit 451.  The inclusion of librarians in the fight to end censorship and to protect privacy was just the icing on the cake!




#8: The Lunar Chronicles, Marissa Meyer

lunar chronicles

Yes, I did listen to this entire series over the course of only a couple months–including Fairest and Stars Above. I tend to avoid books that show up on popular reads lists, so I was very wary about starting Cinder. Now, I’m just happy I had the whole series published to blow through, because waiting for Winter to be released would have been torture!  Another book (series) with great characters who feel very real.  I also liked the way Meyer layered the stories, so you weren’t experiencing a horrendous info-dump in the first book.  It shows a talent for good storytelling.  While I cannot say I loved everything about this series, I can say this is one of the few teen fantasy/adventure series I’ve enjoyed beginning to end.


#9: Not a Drop to DrinkIn a Handful of Dust, Mindy McGinnis

This little duology was dark, twisted, bare, and absolutely fabulous.  McGinnis is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors for her excellent female leads.  Lynn and Lucy in these two books are so badass!  I could go on and on about how great these books are, but rather than repeat myself, I’ll just refer you to my blog post where I discuss them in great detail.


#10: The War That Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

war that saved my life

I picked up this children’s book not knowing much about it other than that it had won an award, so I was amazed by the emotional roller coaster inside.  Ada is an amazing character, and her story is just beautiful.  Being raised in the American education system (yuck), I only have minimal knowledge of what it was like in Europe during the World Wars.  This book shed more light than I had gleaned from any textbook, and it was in such subtle ways, tucked around a tale of love and family and friendship.  I hope to read Brubaker Bradley’s sequel this year.


I’m contemplating doing a Worst of 2017, but we will have to see how fast I recover…  In the meantime, have fun reflecting on your own favorite books of the year!  If you’ve read one of these, or have a recommendation from your 2017 reads, leave a comment below!



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2017 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

For the last three years, I’ve taken on the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge for each year.  I set out to read and/or listen to books that meet all of the criteria on the list, and, when I’m feeling extra competitive, I try to make sure I have an individual book to meet each item on the POPSUGAR list!  I’ve just finished my Challenge for 2017 (with a matter of days to spare!) and I thought I’d share with you all the books I listened to and read to get there!

Small Disclaimer: Several books I’ve read this year meet each of the criteria on this list, and even the titles I’m going to mention may fit into more than one category.  I also read more books this year than are represented in this list (sometimes you just have to read a book because you think it sounds good, not because it fits into the challenge!).  In fact, several books on this list weren’t even in my Top Reads for the year.  However, I’m a very competitive person, and so my main goal in the creation of this list was to ensure that I had at least one unique title to meet each of the individual components on my checklist.

So, here it is! My list of books that fill the list of the 2017 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge!

PopSugar Challenge 2017 Book Covers

  • A book recommended by a librarian
    • The Child Thief, Brom
  • A book that’s been on your TBR list for way too long
    • 1984, George Orwell
  • A book of letters
    • The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis
  • An audiobook
    • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, Jenny Lawson
    • Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, Jenny Lawson
  • A book by a person of color
    • The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
  • A book with one of the four seasons in the title
    • The Winter People, Jennifer McMahon
    • Endymion Spring, Matthew Skelton
    • I Know What You Did Last Summer, Lois Duncan
    • Autumn Falls, Bella Thorne
  • A book that’s a story within a story
    • Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
  • A book with multiple authors
    • As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride, Cary Elwes, other cast members
  • An espionage thriller
    • Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
    • Homeland, Cory Doctorow
  • A book with a cat on the cover
    • The Cat Who Went to Heaven, Elizabeth Coatsworth
  • A book by an author who uses a pseudonym
    • We Were Liars, E. Lockhart
  • A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read
    • Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
  • A book by or about a person with a disability
    • Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening, John Elder Robison
    • We Are the Ants, Shaun David Hutchinson
  • A book involving travel
    • On the Road, Jack Kerouac
  • A book with a subtitle
    • Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment  Office, Jen Lancaster
  • A book published in 2017
    • Beartown, Fredrik Backman
  • A book involving a mythical creature
    • The Girl with All the Gifts, M. R. Carey
    • The Boy on the Bridge, M. R. Carey
  • A book you’ve read before that never fails to make you smile
    • Never Flirt with Puppy Killers: And Other Better Book Titles, Dan Wilbur
  • A book about food
    • It Was Me All Along, Andie Mitchell
  • A book with career advice
    • Gracious: A Practical Primer on Charm, Tact, and Unsinkable Strength, Kelly Williams Brown
  • A book from a nonhuman perspective
    • Watership Down, Richard Adams
  • A steampunk novel
    • The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart, Mathias Malzieu
  • A book with a red spine
    • Library Wars, Kiiro Yumi
  • A book set in the wilderness
    • Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis
    • In a Handful of Dust, Mindy McGinnis
  • A book you loved as a child
    • Della Splatnuk, Birthday Girl, Lisa McCourt, Pat Porter
  • A book by an author from a country you’ve never visited
    • Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty
  • A book with a title that’s a character’s name
    • Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
  • A novel set during wartime
    • The War That Saved My Life, Kelly Brubaker Bradley
  • A book with an unreliable narrator
    • The Facts Speak for Themselves, Brock Cole
  • A book with pictures
    • Big Mushy Happy Lump, Sarah Andersen
  • A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you
    • Out of Darkness, Ashley Hope Perez
  • A book about an interesting woman
    • She Persisted, Chelsea Clinton, Alexandra Boiger
  • A book set in two different time periods
    • March, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
  • A book with a month or day of the week in the title
    • The October List, Jeffery Deaver
    • Freaky Monday, Mary Rodgers & Heather Hach
  • A book set in a hotel
    • Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson
  • A book written by someone you admire
    • What Happened, Hillary Clinton
  • A book that’s becoming a movie in 2017
    • Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon
  • A book set around a holiday other than Christmas
    • Narvla’s Celtic New Year, Therese Ghiraldi
  • The first book in a series you haven’t read before
    • Cinder, Marissa Meyer
  • A book you bought on a trip
    • The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts will Rule the Digital World, Scott Hartley
  • A book recommended by an author you love
    • Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling
  • A bestseller from 2016
    • The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
  • A book with a family-member term in the title
    • The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, Alice Ozma
  • A book that takes place over a character’s lifespan
    • The Cider House Rules, John Irving
  • A book about an immigrant or a refugee
    • The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon
  • A book from a genre/subgenre you’ve never heard of
    • The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson
  • A book with an eccentric character
    • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Chris Grabenstein
  • A book that’s more than 800 pages
    • It, Stephen King
  • A book that you got from a used book sale
    • Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott
  • A book that’s been mentioned in another book
    • The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton
  • A book on a difficult topic
    • All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven
  • A book based on mythology
    • The Raven Cycle, Maggie Stiefvater


WHEW!  And there you have it!  The full, completed POPSUGAR Challenge for 2017.

Anyone else out there doing the challenge?  Share the books you read to fill the list!  (And even if you didn’t take the challenge, see what books you’ve read and where they’d fit in above!)

And, is anyone up for taking the 2018 Challenge with me?  Let me know!




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Review: Mindy McGinnis’ “Not a Drop to Drink” and “In a Handful of Dust”

I always love when I come across a book or series with a female protagonist who is a total badass, and I’ve quickly learned that I need look no further than Mindy McGinnis and her YA books.  She creates these epic protagonists who you wish existed in real life (but only if they were on your side…).  For those of you who follow me on Instagram (@waitingforthesecondstar), you know how obsessed I was with McGinnis’ books during the month of October.  Her terrifying plot lines and tough-as-nails teenage girls were the perfect combination for Halloween reading.

During this time, I read Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, two companion novels that tell the story of Lynn and Lucy, a couple of girls fighting to survive in a world where fresh water is hard to come by, and even harder to protect.  The books were some of my favorite for the year, and so I wanted to put out a more formal review than what I usually post on Goodreads.

Mindy is a local author for me.  I have met Mindy three times, and she is spectacular.  I absolutely love going to see her at signings.  I adore her work because she’s unafraid to challenge gender stereotypes in her texts.  She’s also unashamed to go “there,” wherever “there” might be in a particular book (if you’ve read anything by her, you understand how dark and twisted her books can be!).  But in person, she’s super down-to-earth and fantastic, and I know I’m going to be a lifetime fan.

I’m going to split this review between the two titles, reviewing them separately.  I gave each of these books 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.  They are an excellent companion set focused on girlhood and growing up in a world that’s just gone wrong.  And while they’re shelved in the teen books, they’re definitely worthy of a crossover.  Not for the faint of heart, these twisted tales will make your skin crawl and your heart break.

So, shall we?


not a drop to drink

Regret was for the people who had nothing to defend, people who had no water.

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most important, people looking for a drink.  She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest.  But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers.  The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it…

With evocative, spare language and incredible drama, danger, and romance, Mindy McGinnis depicts one girl’s journey in a barren world not so different from our own.

Not a Drop to Drink follows closely the story of Lynn, a teenage girl who lives with her mom in the middle of nowhere, next to a precious pond of fresh water in a world where faucets don’t work and cholera is a constant threat.  Lynn’s mom has raised her on the idea of “shoot first, ask questions later,” and the closest she’s ever been to other humans has been through the scope on her rifle.  A terrible accident leaves her alone, and she has to reach out to her only neighbor, a man she hasn’t spoken to since her mom helped him get his foot out of a bear trap nearly a decade before.  And a set of city-slicker strangers will challenge the cold-hard shell of Lynn’s heart, forcing her to open up and take a chance at love in a world without hope.  Suddenly, with a very real threat just miles away, Lynn has far more to protect than just a pond.

This is a book that I would describe as “reads slow but has a lot going on.”  Sometimes, you pick up a book and the pages seem to turn really slowly, but you get to the end and you realize everything that happened and suddenly the book feels far more complex than you originally thought. (It’s kind of like feeling like a single day of the week drags by, but then Friday shows up before you expect it and you realize the week as a whole went by really fast.)  That’s how this book was, with everything that happened coming about in a matter-of-fact way.  The plot was chilling, action-focused, and it utilized characters as pawns in its game (so don’t get attached to anyone!).  And one of my favorite parts of McGinnis’ writing is that she takes these shocking moments and states them in such a straightforward way.  It adds to the darkness, the bleakness, and the horror.

Some of the events in this plot are somewhat predictable, but not in a bad way.  For instance, I had a pretty good idea who may show up in the final pages, and I was right.  But, that didn’t take away from the scene wherein Lynn meets this person, and what goes down is totally bone-chilling.  And, on the other hand, some moments were straight-up shocking!  Like, where did that come from?! So those moments helped to balance out the more obvious ones.

(Seriously.  Do NOT get emotionally attached to these characters!)

Honestly, I appreciated the fact that McGinnis was able to *remove* some of her characters from the plot, and she did so in such a way that it wasn’t overly emotional.  This wasn’t a John Green-esque bedside lament, but a “necessary evil” in the face of a dystopian future.  Most people find dystopian novels where no one dies to be unrealistic, and I have to agree, so I am so happy (is that demented of me?) that someone died in this one.  At the same time, I was equally happy that there is a companion book, because our two main characters–Lynn, and Lucy–had become so important to me.

(Okay, so you can get mildly emotionally attached to Lynn and Lucy, if you want to.  Just…you’ve been warned).

I also love that these books take place in Ohio, because it’s great to be able to imagine fields like the ones around where I grew up, and a city like the one I live in now.  Lots of books I read are set in other areas I’ve at least been to, but it’s definitely a neat experience to read something set where am.

There are several key characters in Not a Drop to Drink that I think really carry McGinnis’ novel to its conclusion.  Of course, there’s Lynn, a cold-hearted girl forced to grow up and do things no young person should have to.  I know some people have issues with her coldbloodedness, but characters like this are staples in McGinnis’ work.  You’re likely to find at least one terrifying woman whose sense of justice leaves everyone on edge.  I say embrace her, because we have far too many male characters in popular culture who would do the same thing, and we accept them with no questions asked.  This is the kind of subversive writing that I love, and Lynn is an excellent protagonist for a world where the girls get to be the badasses.

Stebbs is Lynn’s neighbor, and older man with a bum leg from his run-in with the bear trap.  He serves as the compassionate foil to Lynn and her mom, building the gap between the girl and the newcomers, Eli, Lucy, and Neva (these are the city slickers with no sense of living in the wilderness).  As a male character in a female-dominated text, I think Stebbs is excellent.  And he serves as an adorable grandfather figure throughout the series.

Eli is a sixteen-year-old boy who fled a nearby city with his brother and sister-in-law and their daughter.  Eli’s brother was killed before the trip really got started, and so Eli is trying to take care of his family.  He’s not as capable as his brother would have been, though.  I love Eli’s character, because he is so dependent on Lynn (again, some awesome challenges to gender roles here).

Lucy, Eli’s niece, is the instigator for melting Lynn’s cold heart.  She’s a seven-year-old girl with an earnest desire for life, and she is wonderful.  In this book, she’s largely treated as a child who’s still learning about the world.  It’s in the sequel that we get to see into her view (so more on her later!).

Neva is Lucy’s mother, forced to leave the city because she was pregnant with her second child (a dark world calls for dark laws).  After tragedy strikes her pregnancy, she’s never quite the same, but she manages to be a great mother one more time.  Neva is a definite foil to Lynn’s own mother, and while she is perhaps the most frustrating character to read, she’s again an awesome addition to the struggles that this small band of humans face in the wake of several tragedies.

Several awesome themes come out through this book, that I can’t stress enough for being so awesome.  The first, as you can probably guess by what I’ve said so far, is the heavy emphasis on motherhood and sisterhood.  I was often reminded of the work of Fannie Flagg while reading this, because so much time and energy goes into establishing powerful connections between women.  And men, because of their nature (usually faceless brutes coming to steal water from Lynn and robbing people on the road blind), are often seen as the “other,” for a fresh take on who our heroes should be.  The men we like in this story are kind and compassionate, containing many characteristics that may be somewhat effeminate, and they never upstage the women.  The bonds between women are powerful, and this book chooses to highlight that.

There’s also a heavy emphasis on the idea that family doesn’t end with blood.  Lynn ends up essentially adopting Lucy, and Stebbs becomes a great protector for the little family.  These relationships are key in a world without anyone else, but it also displays the important message that families look all sorts of different ways in the real world, too.  Again, an awesome element of diversity and inclusion.

You also get a really great glimpse at a dark, dark world.  Anymore, readers of YA frequently take comfort in worlds that seem more hopeless than our own.  This book certainly provides that kind of a perspective.  And yet, it’s handled with such taste.  Innocence is still preserved in the integrity and honesty of the characters.  This would be an easy thing for McGinnis to leave out, and yet it’s there, and it’s beautiful.

And, finally, and perhaps most importantly, this book tells a story of a girl who learns how to save herself.  Lynn is the leader in this outfit, and she directs Eli, Stebbs, and others along the way.  When fate threatens to intervene and turn her world upside down, she’s the one that tells it, No.  Whether this was intentional or not, I think it’s greatly important, because this is another book out there for young women to read and remind themselves that they are powerful.

Not a Drop to Drink is an excellent girlhood, dystopian story with a unique premise and challenging conclusion that leaves you begging for more.

Fortunately…there is more!

in a handful of dust

The only thing bigger than the world is fear.

Lucy’s life by the pond has always been full.  She has water and friends, laughter and the love of her adoptive mother, Lynn.  Yet it seems Lucy’s future is settled already–a house, a man, children, and a water source–and anything beyond their life by the pond is beyond reach.

When disease burns through their community, the once life-saving water of the pond might be the source of what’s killing them now.  Rumors of a “normal” lifestyle in California set Lucy and Lynn on an epic journal west to face new dangers: hunger, mountains, deserts, betrayal, and the perils of a world so vast that Lucy fears she could be lost forever, only to disappear in a handful of dust.

In this companion to Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis thrillingly combines the heart-swelling hope of a journey, the challenges of establishing your own place in the world, and the gripping physical danger of nature in a futuristic frontier.

This book is told with a closer eye on Lucy, and it begins in a community that’s been established around Lynn’s pond and Lucy’s dowsing abilities.  When polio strikes that community, and Lucy may be the carrier of the disease, Lynn and Lucy have to leave the town altogether.  So, they set out for California (from Ohio!) and take on all the perils between here and there (ha! Because I’m in Ohio).  Lucy is confident with Lynn at her side, but as their journey wears on, she has to learn how to find strength from inside herself.

The plot of this one seems to move more quickly, perhaps because the girls are actually travelling.  This plot was also far less predictable, as so many of the things and people they encountered as they went along were shocking, terrifying, revolting…aye!  There was also more focus on character, since it was just Lucy and Lynn for a lot of the book, and this read very much like a coming-of-age story for Lucy.  She’s now the age Lynn was when they met each other, and she admires Lynn’s strength, but she knows she doesn’t want to live like Lynn.  For these reasons, this was my favorite of the two books.

And for that reason, the ending of this one nearly ripped my heart out.

(Do. Not. Get. Emotionally. Attached…I think you get the point.)

This one also had me sobbing at different moments from the writing alone.  McGinnis powers up the prose, for sure.  I felt so much of this, physically and emotionally.  I was raw and reeling for over 24 hours after finishing it.  This writing really built into the settings, and you feel like you’re crossing the mountains or the desert with the girls.

Character names are somewhat less important to this plot (or, rather, more important, because naming anyone would give a good bit of the plot away), but I can summarize some of the themes I noticed in character placement and why I enjoyed them.

This book is still very female-driven.  Many of the men are Bad Guys or accessories, and the two girls are the main carriers of the plot.  I like this because it remains consistent with the first book.  However, McGinnis also provides some more devious women in this book, some girls and grown-ups as bad as the men.  (And, there is one spectacularly wonderful man who helps to counteract some of the darkness from the other men!)  This complicates the plot, I think, and adds an edge to what McGinnis has created.  Girls are now reading and thinking about what type of girl they want to be, just like Lucy is thinking herself.

Several themes repeat themselves in this text.  For instance, sisterhood and motherhood are brought right back to the forefront.  Lucy treats Lynn like a mother, and they set themselves apart from almost everyone they encounter.  There’s an inherent distrust of anyone else that stems from the world they live in, but this blatant fear creates a fierce bond to exemplify the pure strength and resilience of women when they work together.

Survival is a more significant element in this book, because life-sustaining substances are harder to come by.  There’s also a fascinating interplay wherein Lynn has become the kind of person she would have shot, no questions asked.  Also, Lucy is wrestling with more than physical ailments, as McGinnis takes a good stab at anxiety and “adulting” fears.  There’s also an underlying theme of what makes an appropriate way to survive, because in this text many people are encountered who do things the wrong way.  And hope is personified in the other side of individuals who show up with good things.

And finally, as I mentioned above, this book is about becoming yourself.  As I said, some readers take pretty serious issue with Lynn.  She’s cold, man; ice cold.  So this story is of a more human character, Lucy, who admires Lynn’s strength and yet wonders what her strength will look like on its own.

In a Handful of Dust is a spectacular sister/mother/daughter story of survival and self-discovery, with just the right amount of darkness and hope to keep the pages turning.


Put these two together, and you have a super kickass masterpiece.  These books won’t be right for everyone, and yet I can’t praise them enough.  We need more books like this, where women take on a role that men would normally fill, and then make it their own.  And we need more books that offer hope in unusual forms, heroes in unusual capes, and families in unusual sizes.  I’m so grateful to Mindy for writing books like this, and I look forward to reading more of them.


Cheers, and happy reading!

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50 Years of YA, Part 5

This post has been written for, like, two weeks, and I just realized I never published it!   Whoops!  Here you are:

#28: How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff

Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

A riveting and astonishing story.

Putting this book up against other postmodern stories, this one wasn’t too bad.  I liked the sort of casual approach to a human-made disaster.  This is a motif I’ve seen a few times in recent literature, and I think it creates a different dialogue on a worn-out trope.  You know, we have a lot of books about after the disaster (dystopian), and a lot of books from before (realism/realistic), but I like that people are venturing into during.

I will say, though, that the romantic relationship in this book weirded me out a little bit.  I am all for forward thinking and inclusive portrayals of relationships in YA.  I’m just not so sure that I think incest is one such story that should be told.

To be fair, the taboo relationship is handled with care throughout this text.  It’s also not the focus, as most of the story feels more like a coming-of-age experience and a journey tale.  I’m just not sure that I agree with its presence, period.  Very weird, if you ask me.

In terms of the overall story, it’s an excellent book.  But no OTP here for me.


#32: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, M.T. Anderson

It sounds like a fairy tale. He is a boy dressed in silks and white wigs and given the finest of classical educations. Raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers, the boy and his mother — a princess in exile from a faraway land — are the only persons in their household assigned names. As the boy’s regal mother, Cassiopeia, entertains the house scholars with her beauty and wit, young Octavian begins to question the purpose behind his guardians’ fanatical studies. Only after he dares to open a forbidden door does he learn the hideous nature of their experiments — and his own chilling role in them. Set against the disquiet of Revolutionary Boston, M. T. Anderson’s extraordinary novel takes place at a time when American Patriots rioted and battled to win liberty while African slaves were entreated to risk their lives for a freedom they would never claim. The first of two parts, this deeply provocative novel reimagines the past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

I’ll be honest: this was the book during which I finally decided it would be okay to only read the first book in the series, rather than the entire set of books.

I just did not understand this one.  I liked the premise.  I think it’s important to consider the perspective of slaves and “nontraditional” Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries.  But I lost interest in the actual production.  What’s the point of creating a fabricated universe of horror, when actual historical events could capture it well enough?

I’ll also be honest: period language is difficult for me to understand and appreciate.  I associate it with my least favorite college classes, and then it was written by people who actually spoke it and used it.  I’m not a fan of fabricating it for false authenticity.

I’ve also noticed in this list of titles a strong emphasis on literature that may appeal more heavily to a masculine audience, and I think this one applies.  I feel like it’s good that this list sought to be inclusive.  However, now I’m thinking we need several 50 Best Books lists that give 50 titles to each characteristic found in a few of each of the books on this list… Hmmm….


#33: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

With a forward by Markus Zusak, interviews with Sherman Alexie and Ellen Forney, and four-color interior art throughout, this edition is perfect for fans and collectors alike.

I’m so glad that I finally read this one!  It’s been on my TBR for far too long.  Do I understand why it is mainly read as a required book for school?  Yes.  Do I think everyone should read it at least once, regardless of requirement or otherwise?  Also yes.

This book is a little more didactic than I prefer in my YA, but I’ll forgive Alexie for the simple fact that he is providing an uncommon narrative to an audience that is most likely unfamiliar with it.  The struggle of Native American tribes in the U.S. is largely silenced, as is revealed in this text.  I think it’s wonderful that Alexie sought to provide a first-person account from someone in this people group to a younger audience.

It has earned its awards, even if it’s not the most fantastic fast-paced story I’ve ever encountered.  Kudos to you, Mr. Alexie, and thank you.


#35: The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1), Patrick Ness

Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

Okay, it’s time for two truths:

  1. I have never read A Monster Calls
  2. After reading this book, I am now terrified to read the above title, for fear of hating it.

I need to be honest, y’all–I did NOT enjoy this book at all.  I didn’t even really finish it.  I felt like the premise was really neat, but it took too long to figure out what the actual drive of the plot even was.  Too much mystery with absolutely no reveal.  And then, the one shocking fact was shared, and it was not surprising at all.  It was completely predictable, and also something that I had thought was inherently known from the beginning.

I also fear that Ness has the same problem John Green has: writing the death of lovable characters for the sentimental response of the reader.  This book had at least one, if not two or three, deaths of great characters (I won’t name them, but you may also be able to guess [like I did]) so that the reader has an emotional reaction to them.  I detest this type of story, ever since I was doped by Uncle Tom’s Cabin (still a great book, but let’s be honest, some of those dying scenes are meant to leave you an emotional wreck).  And so all authenticity was lost in the first moments of these deaths.

And finally, our villain.  Or, at least, one of them.  The character that continues to almost die and always returns.  I could definitely do without him.

This one is perhaps like the others that are directed more heavily toward a masculine/boy audience.  And yet, I can’t help but think that young men deserve better.

I may still one day give A Monster Calls a chance, but it won’t be any time soon.  My trust has been broken before it was fully extended.


#40: The Monstrumologist, Rick Yancey

These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me . . . and the one who cursed me.

So starts the diary of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthorpe, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.

A gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does man become the very thing he hunts?

This was another series that I won’t be finishing, but I can honestly say it’s only because it’s outside my genre.

I started this book expecting something out of Supernatural, the TV show about the brothers who fight evil beings.  The actual result was very different.  This story is much slower paced, but has some fun and interesting twists along the way.  I also think the layout of the book (letters) contributes well to the eerie tone.

I found the pace of the book to be a little boring, especially as I was expecting Sam-and-Dean speed action.  The slower evaluation and experience of the doctor and his assistant isn’t a total negative; it’s just not something I enjoy and so it’s not something I will be finishing.

But this is one of the few titles that I’m like, not for me, but others will probably enjoy it!  So, if you don’t mind a bit of monstrous gore, go for it!  I think you may really like it!


44: The Raven Cycle, Maggie Stiefvater

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

This is the first series on this list that I have finished, cover-to-cover-to-cover-to-cover!  Ha!  And I did so for a couple reasons: (1) the characters are engaging, (2) the mythology is not Greek/Roman, and (3) Will Patton read the audiobooks!

This is an excellent mysterious story about several different people who, through fate, find their lives inevitably intertwined.  I have a few plot issues with the story, but overall, I really did enjoy what came out of it.  The individuals are well-sculpted with strengths and flaws like real people.  And while the story begins with a focus on two specific characters, all of the “supporting roles” get excellent opportunities to “shine.”

You can tell that Stiefvater built this story in a Rowling-like way: with the end in mind as she sculpted each installment.  It’s also in true Stiefvater fashion, in that even the end of all four books leaves you wishing you had more from her.

I’m not a fan of romance, so I was extremely skeptical by the premise of this book (Blue’s fortune, and Gansey’s fate).  However, the romantic side of the story did not overpower the mythology, friendship, and mystery.  Sure, it got mushy at different points, but it wasn’t suffocating.

I had characters I liked and ones I didn’t, and overall, I have positive feelings about this series.  I can see why people are reading it, and I agree with its inclusion on our list.  You should try it, too.


#48: A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery, Albert Marrin

John Brown is a man of many legacies, from hero, freedom fighter, and martyr, to liar, fanatic, and “the father of American terrorism.” Some have said that it was his seizure of the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry that rendered the Civil War inevitable.

Deeply religious, Brown believed that God had chosen him to right the wrong of slavery. He was willing to kill and die for something modern Americans unanimously agree was a just cause. And yet he was a religious fanatic and a staunch believer in “righteous violence,” an unapologetic committer of domestic terrorism. Marrin brings 19th-century issues into the modern arena with ease and grace in a book that is sure to spark discussion.

This is one that I just skimmed, but I felt I had to include it here for consideration anyway.

I was raised on stories of Bonhoeffer, so Brown’s approach to righteousness was not unfamiliar to me.  It’s interesting to see some of the connections drawn between the men.

I think it’s also good to include books like this that shed light on different parts of history, particularly if those stories weren’t likely to end up in traditional history books.

Not much more to say than that; a history buff page-turner, for sure!


#49: I Crawl Through It, A.S. King

Four talented teenagers are traumatized-coping with grief, surviving date rape, facing the anxiety of standardized tests and the neglect of self-absorbed adults–and they’ll do anything to escape the pressure. They’ll even build an invisible helicopter, to fly far away to a place where everyone will understand them… until they learn the only way to escape reality is to face it head-on.

I really hate to end this post on a negative note, but this is the last book in chronological order to report on today, so here it is:

This book, I did not understand.  I get that it’s supposed to be this postmodern piece in teen literature, but I don’t think it does the best job.  In fact, I think the effort to create this oasis-type space (accessible by invisible helicopter, obviously) detracts from the actual, real-life struggles of the four main teen characters in this story.

We should expose teens to all sorts of different genres of literature, absolutely.  But I don’t think that should come at the expense of extending clear and honest understanding on topics that real teens face in real life.  And so, while this book addresses some of those ideas with the lives of its characters, the idea of a helicopter as escape is not what I would call a healthy response.

I don’t think YA should prescribe solutions to teen problems (particularly when obvious ones aren’t present in real-life), but I also think leaving vague, figurative experiences as answers can cause as much damage as the overly didactic.  There is certainly a balance to be found, and I think other books on this list do a better job.

Some people love this book and this author.  Good for you.  I’m going to continue to pass.


Here’s to hoping for a positive conclusion on the next YA post!

Also, keep your eyes peeled for upcoming projects:

  • An “Unpopular Opinions” book tag post! 😀 [The first confession will send you “Rowling”!]
  • A Review of Mindy McGinnis’ Not a Drop to Drink and In A Handful of Dust

Cheers, and happy reading!


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What Happened When I Read Hillary’s Book: A Review of “What Happened”

What Happened

I pre-ordered Hillary Clinton’s new book What Happened almost as soon as it was available (and marked down on Amazon).  I got my copy a whole afternoon early (you go, Amazon!  I’m sorry I say mean things about you), and decided to read it immediately.

I wanted to read this book for extremely personal reasons, all centered around my own reaction to the results of the 2016 Presidential Election.  Reading this would be an intimate experience for me, not a public one.  So when a friend of mine asked, as I neared the end of the book, whether I would talk about it here–on my blog–I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to that.

I try to remain as unbiased and indirect on here as possible.  I make sure my most offensive and arguable opinions are based around my taste in books.  What I love most about the book blogging community is that, despite our diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and ideas, we can come together under the same opinion that books are AWESOME.  And the last thing I want to do is say or talk about something divisive to hurt the common ground we share.

But this book affected me in ways that I can’t ignore, just like last year’s United State Presidential Election, so I feel like I need to talk about what I thought.

I’ll try to treat this with as much professionalism as possible, but I may also gush over how wonderful it was to hear the emotions and feelings of this powerful woman from her own pen.

So, here we go.


What Happened is, quite literally, what happened in 2016 and in everything that led up to Election Day.  Hillary splits her time between discussing political history and revealing some of the personal moments from her experience on and leading up to the campaign trail.  She talks about many of the hot topics that hit her campaign, including race, gender, and sexuality discussions, her emails, and general campaign decorum differences between herself and Trump.  She is, most definitely, writing to her constituencies, addressing their questions about what happened, rather than trying to explain herself to those who did not believe in or agree with her.  Therefore, her tone is one of camaraderie and understanding rather than explanation and justification.  She concludes with a hopeful look to the future, one in which another several women will be leading the way.

In reading this book, I felt that Hillary Clinton was actually telling two different stories: a political one, and a personal one.  Each story resonated differently with me, and their combination gave me a different overall impression.

The personal side of this book was beautiful.  Hillary is extremely honest about her emotional responses before, during, and after her campaign.  She speaks very honestly about where and when she struggled, what gave her the energy to keep going (her family, of course), and what still breaks her heart today.  It was this element of the book that led me to want to read it.  I was devastated over her loss, and I wanted to know how she was coping and what she recommended for us.  These moments humanized Hillary Clinton in a beautiful way.  I loved getting to know the woman behind the movement.

The personal moments in this book also include a lot of Hillary’s explanations as to why she supports the policy that she does.  This part resonated with me a lot.  I am the only Hillary supporter in my direct family, and I’m also one of the only ones who would claim to be “moderate” or “liberal” (I find myself to be moderate, but when we have those few and infrequent political discussions they claim I’m more liberal).  Many of my family’s conservative beliefs stem from a religious, moral foundation.  While I share a similar foundation, I’ve disagreed with many of their convictions for years.  This has often presented either an impasse in our discussions, or some of my family members conclude that I don’t actually believe what I claim to believe.  To read someone who also has similar convictions talking with passions about the things I agree with was empowering and encouraging.  And Hillary doesn’t just list numbers–she talks about her real-life convictions on discussions around hot-button issues, and where they stem from.  That was absolutely enjoyable.

She is also so honest in her evaluation of Donald Trump, it would be scandalous if she was still in office.  Yet, as someone who had wanted to see her take the stage on Inauguration Day, I felt her convictions were more than justified (and cathartic).

And, of course, she is apologetic about where her campaign fell short and why.  While some of these feel glossed over due to the way the book is written (categorically, and then chronologically), she hits hard on those topics that the media claimed she was unwilling to discuss.

The other half of Hillary’s book was focused on the political history surrounding the campaign.  This is where many people grew frustrated with her, because she speaks directly about people like Bernie Sanders and why their campaigns were destined to fail (or how they hurt her campaign).  This is where she writes about the “cold-hard facts,” the statistics, the realities.  She looks at a developing history surrounding her own career, as well as Democrats and Republicans in general.  She looks closely at the issues that decided the campaign and what role policy, partisan politics, and the media played in each.  This is where the chronology is most important, because she helps us see both how Trump unexpectedly won and why so many people decided to support him.

These sections I found a little less interesting, if just because I’m not a political science-minded person.  I appreciate historical context and facts, but dates and details are a little more mind-numbing to me.  And, while I think it was important to the writing of this book, I felt like it wasn’t why I wanted to read it.  That it was written for a different audience than me.

Which leads me to my evaluation of the book as a whole–I think the two different elements, combined in one, hurt the message of each individual piece.  And I think this is why many people (who should love her book; I’m ignoring the one-star reviews on Goodreads from Trump supporters who just want to watch the world burn) criticize her integrity and purpose in its creation.  It’s because she talks about flaws in Bernie’s campaign next to moments in which she expresses personal frustrations with the Congressman that lead some people to say she’s bashing Bernie in the book.  That’s not the impression I got, but I can understand why people may think that.

The combination also seems to weaken some of her apologies.  While she may be expressing conviction over a decision she made, she would also be talking about a whole history of people that created her situation.  At times, this felt like a cop-out, which hurt the overall integrity of the piece.

In the end, I think Hillary’s book appealed to two separate audiences who may or may not appreciate both book elements.  I don’t know that she could have picked one or the other, or if she would have been capable of writing two different “what happened” titles, but at minimum, the collaboration of the elements could have been stronger.


My final conviction over this book is that it was necessary.  Millions of Americans, including Hillary, were left reeling after the election results.  Many people were asking the question this title mimics.  Others, like me, were asking “what’s next?” or “what do we do?”  This book is encouraging because it addresses those concerns.  Hillary validates them by confirming that she feels them too.  And expresses regret at what was lost, but hope for what may come.  And that, right now, is what we need.

Thank you for making it to the end of one of my more partisan posts.  I appreciate your support.  May we seek to always be inclusive in our reviews and discussions, giving voice to all beliefs and convictions, while still returning to the fundamental idea that books have the power to bring us together.

“What do we do now?” I said.  There was only one answer: “Keep going.”

–Hillary Rodham Clinton

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50 Years of YA, Part 4

Warning: This post may contain a majority number of books I found less than amazing on this list.  So sorry for so much negativity!

#1: The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton

According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for “social”) has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he’s always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers–until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy’s skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser.

This is a book that has slipped on and off my radar since I was in high school, but I never took the time to sit down and read it.  I know there’s a definite shortage of books in the children’s/YA genres with male protagonists, but when I was younger I didn’t want to read any of them.  So, while I might have enjoyed reading this one, it always fell under a pile of other books with more female leads.

Needless to say, I’m excited that I finally got to experience Ponyboy and Johnny.  There’s a lot to be said about the fact that Hinton was only 16 when she wrote this; it feels like a book written by a kid for kids (and not in a bad way).  As I was reading it, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for people to sit down and read this book when it first came out, and to finally have a voice that seemed to resonate with their own.  Now, I’m a little too old to relate to all of the teenager-ness, but I still love the book’s authenticity.

There’s not necessarily anything extraordinary about this book, in my mind, but I love what it stands for and what it sought to accomplish.


#2: The Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin

Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth.

Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.

So, the whole Earthsea trilogy is actually on the list, but I don’t think my non-fantasy-reading mind can take two more books like this one.  Don’t get me wrong–the book is excellent, and there’s a reason it’s withstood the test of time.  I just don’t read fantasy if I can avoid it, and I’m going to in this situation.

I definitely understand why this book is on the list (of course it is!  It’s an incredible time capsule, teen read, and all-around excellent book!).  The character alone are powerful and inviting.  There’s depth here that I don’t notice in a couple of the other early teen titles on this list.  Also, the wrestling with self which is personified in this book’s quest (hopefully I’m not giving too much away) is something all young people can definitely relate to.  And, while I found the story long and tedious, it really is a nice short fantasy novel that I’m sure serves as a great introduction to the genre, if you like that sort of thing.

In the end, I prefer this fantasy to others I’ve read.  I’m glad it was included for its historical significance and its ongoing impact.


#12: Sweet Valley High, Francine Pascal

Will Jessica steal Todd from Elizabeth? Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield are identical twins at Sweet Valley High. They’re both popular, smart, and gorgeous, but that’s where the similarity ends. Elizabeth is friendly, outgoing, and sincere — nothing like her snobbish and conniving twin. Jessica gets what she wants — at school, with friends, and especially with boys. This time, Jessica has set her sights on Todd Wilkins, the handsome star of the basketball team — the one boy that Elizabeth really likes. Elizabeth doesn’t want to lose him, but what Jessica wants, Jessica usually gets … even if it ends up hurting her sister. Meet the Wakefield twins, their guys, and the rest of the gang at Sweet Valley High….

This is another book where the entire series is on the list, but I could barely make it through the first one… Unlike The Wizard of Earthsea, I feel like this one has far less redeeming qualities.  These books play on the good/evil twin motif, which is fine.  Unfortunately, I feel like it pushes it to an uncomfortable extreme and fails to fully resolve anything.

Okay, I just hate Jessica.

More than that, though, I think these books (at least the first one) attempt to portray teenage girlhood in an accurate light, but it over-portrays only certain aspects of that life, and it’s a narrative specific to the rich and white.  I understand that it’s a product of its age, but some of the language surrounding the Wakefields and their disinterest in other families and associating with them made me very uncomfortable.  If this list is honoring books held exclusively within their contexts, I can almost allow it.  However, whereas most of the other books I’ve seen as beneficial in contemporary classrooms, I’m glad to know that this series has lost most, if not all, of its following.


#42: They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group, Susan Campbell Bartoletti

“Boys, let us get up a club.” With those words, six restless young men raided the linens at a friend’s mansion in 1866. They pulled white sheets over their heads, hopped on horses, and cavorted through the streets of Pulaski, Tennessee. Soon, the six friends named their club the Ku Klux Klan and began patterning their initiations after fraternity rites, with passwords and mysterious handshakes. All too quickly, this club would grow into the self-proclaimed “Invisible Empire,” with secret dens spread across the South. On their brutal raids, the nightriders would claim to be ghosts of Confederate soldiers and would use psychological and physical terror against former slaves who dared to vote, own land, attend school, or worship as they pleased.

This is the story of how a secret terrorist group took root in America’s democracy. Filled with chilling and vivid personal accounts unearthed from oral histories, congressional documents, and other primary sources, this is a book to read and remember.

As you can probably tell, this is one of a different sort of book on this list!  It was very educational and eye-opening.  There’s a lot of history to the South and the KKK that I didn’t know, until I read this book.  Bartoletti does a great job of tracing the group’s growth through history, and tying into what would have been contemporary context when the book was published.  It actually sheds a horrifying light on some things today, for those who follow (willingly or unwillingly) American news and politics.  This one’s for the history fans!


#47: Midwinterblood, Marcus Sedgwick

Have you ever had the feeling that you’ve lived another life? Been somewhere that has felt totally familiar, even though you’ve never been there before, or felt that you know someone well, even though you are meeting them for the first time? It happens.

In a novel comprising seven parts, each influenced by a moon – the flower moon, the harvest moon, the hunter’s moon, the blood moon – this is the story of Eric and Merle whose souls have been searching for each other since their untimely parting.

I’ll be honest: I was lost.

This book was so confusing, and in the end, somewhat disappointing.  I was intrigued through the first two parts, and then I just lost track of the timeline and couldn’t find my footing.

I appreciate the unusual and the unconventional, but I’m starting to think this list has a few too many titles added purely because they’re “different.”  I’m sure this book is great to some people, but I just didn’t get it.


Again, sorry for the depressing reviews! I’m hoping my next set of 5 will be happier.  (If it helps, there are more series on this list than Earthsea and Sweet Valley that I’m actually enjoying, so I’m waiting until I’ve read their sequels to review them!)




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50 Years of YA, Part 3

I could write an introduction, but y’all know what’s coming.  Let’s do this!

Note: I decided to try including synopses with the books from here on out.  We’ll see if I remember to do this, and if it sticks.


#4: The Friends, Rosa Guy

A powerful, award-winning novel about friendship.

Phyllisia Cathy–She is fourteen. Her problems seem overwhelming: New York, after life on her sunlit West Indies island, is cold, cruel and filthy. She is insulted daily and is beaten up by classmates. What Phyllisia needs, God not being interested, is a friend.

Edith Jackson–She is fifteen. Her clothes are unpressed, her stockings bagging with big holes. Her knowledge of school is zero. She has no parents, she swears and she steals. But she is kind and offers her friendship and protection to Phyllisia.

“And so begins the struggle that is the heart of this very important book: the fight to gain perception of one’s own real character; the grim struggle for self-knowledge.”–Alice Walker, The New York Times

This book offers an interesting look at what it means to reach an age where you can identify your own prejudices.  Phyllisia is an extremely relatable character.  She just wants to be considered normal and to fit in, and after moving to this new place, it’s not coming as easily as she thought it might.  I really enjoyed her character in the sense that I think young people can look at her and see themselves.

Edith is the perfect foil to Phyllisia: Aware of who she is and unashamed of it (at least, willing to admit that nothing will change for her without her initiating the change).  She’s also a character you enjoy reading about, because she so perfectly depicts goodness.

I have a few issues with how the plot of this book is carried out.  In many ways, I think it is too didactic for the teenage reader.  They can spot a phony solution.  And the trauma that Phyllisia experiences as she’s learning to accept people who are different is almost textbook sentimental literature.

Despite its shortcomings (many of which are most likely a result of its age), The Friends is a story that offers an alternative perspective, and I can understand why it was included on this list.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for “fun” reading, but it’s one to take a look at if you’re interested in what YA was like in the Beginning.


#5: A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich, Alice Childress

Benjie can stop using heroin anytime he wants to. He just doesn’t want to yet. Why would he want to give up something that makes him feel so good, so relaxed, so tuned-out? As Benjie sees it, there’s nothing much to tune in for. School is a waste of time, and home life isn’t much better. All Benjie wants is for someone to believe in him, for someone to believe that he’s more than a thirteen-year-old junkie. Told from the perspectives of the people in his life-including his mother, stepfather, teachers, drug dealer, and best friend-this powerful story will draw you into Benjie’s troubled world and force you to confront the uncertainty of his future.

Can I just say, I love this title?

This book is really neat due to its style.  Each chapter is from the point of view of a different character (although sometimes, like in the case of Benjie, they have mutliple chapters), and each of these characters shares his or her perspectives on what’s happening in Benjie’s life.  This gives the author the opportunity to personify the different ideologies and persons surrounding a heroine epidemic.   The other really neat part about this book is that it’s written in dialect.  It was difficult to read at first, but you quickly get used to it as you get to know the characters (and each character has a slightly different way of speaking, too).

This book, like The Friends, is from an early time in the world of YA, and therefore it has some weaknesses in terms of how engaging the plot is.  When reading it, I could definitely see this one being required reading in a freshman high school classroom.  Again, another you wouldn’t necessarily pick up for “fun.”  Yet I can also see how it could be challenged and banned in certain communities.  It’s brutally honest about how young people find and use and sell drugs, at least within the context of its day.  It also deals heavily with race issues, which in the story and in history were not resolved.

It was during the reading of this book and The Friends that I started to see this list of “50 Best YA Books” in a new light.  While I began reading these books because I thought they represented what teens loved, I think a more accurate description of them would be books that educators, librarians, and booksellers offer for their value to young people.  It doesn’t make me want to stop reading through these titles, but it does kind of change my approach to them.


#24: Kit’s Wilderness, David Almond

The Watson family moves to Stoneygate, an old coal-mining town, to care for Kit’s recently widowed grandfather. When Kit meets John Askew, another boy whose family has both worked and died in the mines, Askew invites Kit to join him in playing a game called Death. As Kit’s grandfather tells him stories of the mine’s past and the history of the Watson family, Askew takes Kit into the mines, where the boys look to find the childhood ghosts of their long-gone ancestors. Written in haunting, lyrical prose, Kit’s Wilderness examines the bonds of family from one generation to the next, and explores how meaning and beauty can be revealed from the depths of darkness.

I actually listened to the audiobook for this title, and I have to admit, I got lost.  It was hard to follow the story.  I don’t think it was the fault of the performer or anything; I just think this text is probably best read on your own.

The overall feel of the book is very weird, but in kind of a good way.  I love the haunting images and rhythm to the writing.  And the relationship between Kit and his grandfather is sweet and believable.  Having just recently experienced the loss of a grandparent, I was able to relate to the pain behind the struggles his family was facing.

Because I got lost with the overall plot of this story, I really have no idea what was going on with John Askew.  I think if I had read the story in print, I would have grasped it better.  However, there are 50 books on this list and I don’t have time to reread at this point.  If the title still sounds interesting to you, find it in print!


#26: Hole in My Life, Jack Gantos

In the summer of 1971, Jack Gantos was an aspiring writer looking for adventure, cash for college tuition, and a way out of a dead-end job. For ten thousand dollars, he recklessly agreed to help sail a sixty-foot yacht loaded with a ton of hashish from the Virgin Islands to New York City, where he and his partners sold the drug until federal agents caught up with them. For his part in the conspiracy, Gantos was sentenced to serve up to six years in prison.

In Hole in My Life, this prizewinning author of over thirty books for young people confronts the period of struggle and confinement that marked the end of his own youth. On the surface, the narrative tumbles from one crazed moment to the next as Gantos pieces together the story of his restless final year of high school, his short-lived career as a criminal, and his time in prison. But running just beneath the action is the story of how Gantos – once he was locked up in a small, yellow-walled cell – moved from wanting to be a writer to writing, and how dedicating himself more fully to the thing he most wanted to do helped him endure and ultimately overcome the worst experience of his life.

I didn’t recognize the title of this book, but when I saw the cover, I had a gigantic “Aha!” moment.  I’m pretty sure every single boy in my class in middle school checked out this book from the library, at least once.  In my mind, it’s the quintessential book guys chose when they had to find something to do during Silent Reading (oh, how I miss that designated half hour of the day!).  For that reason, I wasn’t super excited about this book.  I figured it would have very little to offer me that I would find engaging.

On the one hand, after reading this book, I can TOTALLY see why a certain school demographic was attracted to it.  There’s language, sex, and drugs on pretty much every page.  I went to a rather sheltered public school, and so this was probably one of the first introductions to anything grungy and on-edge for these young teenagers.

On the other hand, I ended up really enjoying the “memoir” aspect of this book.  Gantos is an excellent writer, and it shows through this very personal story.  I love reading memoir, and this actually did not disappoint.  I still struggled to really connect with any of his life experiences.  But, to me, the mark of a good memoir is that you end up relating to its speaker even if you have no personal experience with what they went through.

In terms of required reading and recommending this to young people, I think this book continues to speak to young men entering into the stage of life in which Jack’s experiences occurred.  And I think this one will stay relevant, as evidenced by its inclusion on this list.


#41: Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the multiple-award-winning Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery.

I’m not going to lie–this book was extremely difficult to read.  It wasn’t that the prose was stilted or that the plot was slow-moving; it was just so emotional and dark.  As someone who has struggled with body image issues in the past, Lia’s internal dialogue gave me a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach.  The blurb from Goodreads does not lie–this is the most emotionally wrenching book by Anderson I have ever read.

I personally cannot stand when serious emotional and physical issues are used for entertainment purposes.  There are several very popular TV shows and movies I refuse to watch because I think there’s a limit to how much violence we should willingly take in for the sake of a good story.  As I began this book, I wondered if its content would fall in the same category.  In the end, though, I agree that this story is important.  The struggles Lia and Cassie face are not glorified, by any means.  Instead, they’re exposed for what they truly are: an illness, real and powerful, that no one can fight alone.  And this story likewise highlights the important role family and friends play in combating the darkness many people face on a daily basis.

This is not a fun book, by any means.  But it’s beautiful, and it’s important.  I’m glad it was included on this list and that I finally was able to read it.

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Happy #NationalBookLoversDay! Disney Book Tag

Hello, Book Lovers, and Happy National Book Lovers Day!

I’m spending the majority of my day at a virtual library conference called SLJTeenLive.  I am enjoying hearing from YA authors about their books and what they’re reading.  It seems to be one of the best ways to spend a day dedicated to book lovers!

I also thought it would be fun to honor the day with a Book Tag.  I’ve never done one before on this blog, and it seemed like the perfect way to highlight some of my all-time favorite works, as a lifelong book lover!  I stumbled across the Disney Book Tag a few weeks back.  It’s categories highlight some of the best titles I’ve ever read, and I can’t wait to share them with you!  I hope you enjoy.Image result for disney book tag

The Little Mermaid:
A Character Who is Out of Their Element


Wonder, for me, is the uncontested winner for this category.  Auggie is thrown totally out of his element when he goes to school for the first time.  His classmates, even, experience some of the Little Mermaid syndrome as they learn how to relate to him.  This book has a powerful message about bullying and acceptance.  I can’t say enough about how much I loved this story and its characters.


A Character Who Goes Through a Major Transformation


I thought I’d be a little humorous with this one and name the Ranma 1/2 manga series.  Ranma, the main character in this story, has fallen into the Pool of Drowning Girl during his martial arts training.  Thus, every time he gets splashed with cold water, he turns into a girl!  And every time he gets splashed with hot water, he turns back into a boy.  Absolute madness ensues in adventures galore as he uses his curse to get out of bad situations.  Absolutely hilarious and adorable, this is one of my favorite manga series.

And, you have to admit, fluid transgender modifications make for a fairly large transformation!


Snow White:
A Book with an Eclectic Cast of Characters


I feel like any fantasy series is a good fit for this category, but I wanted to honor one of my favorite stories from my childhood: Bruce Coville’s Unicorn Chronicles.  With all of the mysterious and wonderful characters that usually appear in a fantasy world, this series is captivating.  Cara is one of my favorite female lead characters ever, and I loved reading about her adventures in Luster.  Also, if I could have my own Lightfoot,  that would be pretty cool!


Sleeping Beauty:
A Book that Put You to Sleep


Most of my followers know how much I love Peter Pan, so you may realize how painful it was for me to add this book to my DNF pile.  The film Hook is one of my favorites, but the story version was too long and detailed to hold my interest.  I know Terry Brooks is a huge and important name in fantasy literature, but I found this work unreadable.  Rarely, if ever, do I say that the movie was better than the book.  But in this case, I’ll go even further–don’t bother reading the book; just enjoy the movie!


The Lion King:
A Character Who Had Something Traumatic Happen to Them in Childhood


Spoiler Alert!  But not really–it doesn’t take long when reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower to figure out that Charlie has experienced something traumatic in his past.  The Big Reveal of what that was shook me the first time I read this book, and it inspired me to write my senior thesis on this title in my undergrad.  To date, Charlie is one of my favorite characters, and in many ways I consider him a friend.  I am grateful to the story Stephen Chbosky tells through him.


Beauty and the Beast:
A Beast of a Book that You were Intimidated by,
but Found the Story to be Beautiful

Anna Karenina

I actually signed up for a class because Anna Karenina was on the syllabus, and I knew if it weren’t required reading, I would never make it through the entire book.  I’m so glad I took that class, too, because this ended up being one of my favorite classics of all time.  The story is beautifully written and hauntingly memorable.  If you haven’t experienced Tolstoy, I beg you to give him a go.  And if you really want to dive in, push yourself to read this amazing story of love and betrayal.


A Character Who Gets Their Wish Granted, For Better or Worse

Down with the Shine

This is another sort of ironic inclusion, because the premise of this book is essentially be careful what you wish for.  I spent the entire time I read this book wondering if it was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, because it combines a very literal experience with satirical extremism.  I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s sort of both.  (And, while several people have their wishes granted, I can think of one specific young man who asks for an enhancement to his anatomy in the form of a metaphor, with hilarious and disastrous consequences!)


A Character Who Pretends to be Someone They Are Not

Thirteenth Tale

Another (potential) Spoiler Alert!

If you haven’t yet experienced the mystery that is Vida Winter’s life, you need to read this book.  The plot twist at the end is totally mind-blowing.  I’ve read this twice, and I bet if I read it a third time I would discover even more hints toward the revelation of the mystery.  This is such a great book for people who like to try and solve the riddle, and a perfect fit for this Mulan category.


Toy Story:
A Book with Characters You Wish Would Come to Life

Peter Pan

I mean, do you even have to ask?  I would love to meet Peter Pan in real life.  I feel like we would have a blast reading books together.  And I’d love to go to Neverland, even if at this point I would have to be a pirate or an aborigine (because, unfortunately, I’ve Grown Up).


Disney Descendants:
Your Favorite Villain or Morally Ambiguous Character


So, I’ve never experienced The Descendants, but I like the connection this category makes.  And this book cover is actually a stand-in for another of this author’s books, The Female of the Species.  My sister has my copy, so I couldn’t snap a picture of it today.  However, in terms of a villain/morally ambiguous character, you needn’t look any further than Alex.  The Female of the Species opens with the line, “This is how I kill someone.”  And the story that follows will haunt you and challenge you on your ideas of morality and justice.

I just received Not a Drop to Drink in the mail this week, so unfortunately I haven’t been able to read it yet.  If it’s anything like her other book, I know I’m going to love it–and perhaps it has its own ambiguous character to inspire us!


So, that’s it!  I had a lot of fun working through this challenge, and I’m so happy to have mentioned so many favorite books on this very special day.  Celebrate today in your own way: by reading a new book, picking up an old favorite, tweeting a favorite quote, or visiting a bookstore.  And if you have favorite titles to meet these categories, let me know!  I’d love to hear your ideas, too.

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