Sunday, August 31, 2014

Magic Arrows: Just One Wish

Just One Wish by Janette Rallison
Release Date: March 5, 2009
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Pages: 272
Keywords: celebrities, competition, cancer
Format Read: ARC from publisher (thank you!)
Goodreads | Book Depository
Seventeen-year-old Annika Truman knows about the power of positive thinking. With a little brother who has cancer, it's all she ever hears about. And in order to help Jeremy, she will go to the ends of the earth (or at least as far as Hollywood) to help him believe he can survive his upcoming surgery.
But Annika's plan to convince Jeremy that a magic genie will grant him any wish throws her a curveball when he unexpectedly wishes that his television idol would visit him. Annika suddenly finds herself in the desperate predicament of getting access to a hunky star actor and convincing him to come home with her. Piece of cake, right?
Hooray for finally grabbing books off my TBR pile that ended up all the way at the bottom and sort of forgotten! Also my ARC of this is blue, but this was the only high-resolution photo I could find. That's been an issue with the older books, not all of them have good quality cover photos I can use for my images.

The first line of this book was so funny, and it immediately set the tone and set my expectations up a bit for this book:
"I would have expected to see this sort of line if, say, Elvis had returned from the dead to give a concert."
 The feel of this book was so lightweight and funny that it was hard to realize that it was centered around Annika's younger brother, who was diagnosed with cancer. Her whole story begins as she sprints through a toy store trying to secure the hot item that season for her little brother, an action figure of Robin Hood, which has been featured on a new show. It's about teen Robin Hood, and they both watch it religiously. Of course, Annika's an archer too and teaches Jeremy all she knows.

On her journey to convince the actor to come visit her brother, she and her best friend get into some interesting hijinks, and their methods for getting around secret places, while unrealistic, were still funny. Amid all the humorous dialogue, though, there were a few issues I had overall with the book.

One of the main things, I'm very aware, was a personal issue with the book. This may not turn everyone away, but it did get a bit annoying for me. It was a teeny bit too Jesus-y. Annika had a lot of moments where she thought and talked out loud about why God was doing this, and she seemed kind of preacher-y when talking about this to other people. Like I said, I'm very aware that was more of a personal issue. I appreciated seeing her religious spirit, but I felt like it was mentioned too many times to be subtle.

Another issue I had was while all their antics were funny, they were so highly unrealistic and physically impossible that I just had to put it in my mind that there's no way any of this could have happened. Which was fine, and it was cute and adorable, so I didn't mind moving past it. Additionally, when the book is about three-quarters of the way over, instalove reared its ugly head. BAM. Out of nowhere. And then, suddenly, they were planning a future, and I wanted to gently remind them that they just met less than 24 hours ago.

I'm going to have a hard time rating this one on Goodreads, because while it was a really cute and enjoyable story, I can't think of it as good as the other cute stories I've read recently. There were just too many things I had to look past to consider it a truly wonderful book.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Book Drinks: Night in Manhattan

Welcome to Friday Book Drinks, where I pair up a drink with a featured book for the week! This feature rotates every other week with Topics Time.

I've been reading Starry Night by Isabel Gillies this week, and the book opens with an incredibly fancy party. The character's father is the curator at the Museum of Natural History, and he hosts an incredibly upscale party at the museum. All these fancy people are invited, and the main girl wears an incredible red Oscar de la Renta ball gown.

The perfect drink for the occasion is the French 75, recipe courtesy of Foodie Crush. It's basically a souped-up champagne with a shot of vodka and some fancy garnishes. I thought it would be the exact drink served at such an upscale party like the one in the beginning of this book.
To make it you'll need:
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 oz. vodka 
1 teaspoon fine sugar
maraschino cherry
All you do is mix the lemon juice, vodka, and sugar with ice and shake in a cocktail shaker, pour it in the glass and top with champagne. A cherry amps up the flavor a bit as well. :)

So make a French 75 and host a fancy dinner party or just curl up with a good book about fancy dinner parties instead, like I'm doing :)
(Review will come shortly, probably on release day which is in the beginning of September.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Time Travel Shakespeare: Juliet Immortal Review

Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay
Release Date: August 9, 2011
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Pages: 306
Keywords: romance, time travel, supernatural
Format Read: hardcover from publisher (thank you!)
Goodreads | Book Depository
Juliet Capulet didn't take her own life. She was murdered by the person she trusted most, her new husband, Romeo Montague, a sacrifice made to ensure his own immortality. But what Romeo didn't anticipate was that Juliet would be granted eternity, as well, and would become an agent for the Ambassadors of Light. For 700 years, she's fought Romeo for the souls of true lovers, struggling to preserve romantic love and the lives of the innocent. Until the day she meets someone she's forbidden to love, and Romeo, oh Romeo, will do everything in his power to destroy that love.
This cover was striking, and I've had this on my TBR shelf for eons. Probably since it was first published. So I finally decided to pick it up, and even after I've finished it, I'm torn.

The whole idea behind the book was extremely interesting — Romeo wasn't actually the love of Juliet's life. Instead, he wanted to be a part of this immortal group that promised him glory and fame and fortune, and to do that, he had to kill Juliet. So she fell in love, and he sacrificed her, and he ran off to this group. Well, the Nurse found Juliet and brought her back to life (sort of) to be on the other side of this immortal group, the kind that saves lovers and brings them together for eternity. And each of them keeps coming back to life to inhabit lovers bodies to try and break people up or keep them together.

My main issue was that the story line was confusing. It seemed intriguing at first, but then Juliet was looking for mirrors to call Nurse, and I didn't know how that worked. Then she talked about the council or Ambassadors in charge. And I didn't know how that worked. And then Romeo couldn't decide what side he was on, and then more people from their time showed up in other bodies, and I couldn't keep track of who was who or who was on what side, or even if the main characters knew that these other guys were here.

I really liked Ben and Gemma, characters that popped up when Juliet inherited Ariel's body. They were dynamic and funny, and they grew along with Ariel/Juliet (see what I mean about confusing?) throughout the story. They had great personalities and seemed to care a lot about their friends, and I loved both of their different approaches to how they handled situations.

Ultimately, though, I didn't feel invested in the story because I didn't even fully understand what was happening. I found myself pushing to finish it not because I truly wanted to, but there was one part of the storyline that I vaguely wanted to see how it would play out. Sadly, I will not be looking for book two. It just was not my style.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Arrivederci, Bruno: Wish You Were Italian Review

Wish You Were Italian by Kristin Rae
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 352
Keywords: travel, adventure, romance
Format Read: eARC via NetGalley
Goodreads | Book Depository
The summer before senior year of high school. It's supposed to be one of the biggest summers of her life, but Pippa is headed to an art program she has no interest in. The one saving grace is it's in Italy. And when the opportunity strikes, she decides to ditch the program and travel Italy accomplishing her own list of goals. Things like swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, eating a whole pizza in one sitting…and falling in love with an Italian boy!
As she explores the famous cities of Rome and Pompeii, Pippa finds herself falling for two boys: a local guy she knows is nothing but trouble and a cute American archaeology student who keeps disappearing and reappearing at the strangest moments. Will Pippa find her true love before her parents find out the truth about her summer program?
This book scared me a little bit — and I know people may yell at me — but I totally judged the cover. To me, it looked super juvenile, cheesy, and really REALLY not like something I would enjoy. But I've never been happier to say I WAS SO WRONG.

This traveling story had it all — scary moments alone, big decisions, cool friends and cafes, and most of all, wonderful wonderful boys. Which, as we all know, is one of the most fun parts of a cute romance like this one.

So Pippa's by herself in Italy, and she decides she's not going to this art program her parents signed her up for. Which, kind of made me mad. Okay, a lot made me mad. I loved my art history courses and studying them in Italy would have been such a wonderful opportunity. I get that she was trying to get back at her parents, but she could have done it in a less expensive, smarter way. And she claimed she liked photography, not art. However, I feel like to like one and be good at one, it's important to understand composition and light, and to do that, studying classics makes sense. Urgh. But she stayed in Rome because plot. I did love that she was following her best friend Morgan's journal she made, which gave her tasks to do and suggestions for her next adventure. So that's what drove most of her decision-making, which was a super cool plot point. The book was pretty predictable as far as the plot goes, but it's always kind of that way in books like these. There was a bit at the end that I wasn't expecting, but it didn't blow me away of make me audibly gasp.

What made this book good was the characters she met along the way. Chiara was this crazy interesting local she met in a cafe after having decided to forego her art class, and she kind of helps lead her along the way, and ends up helping her find some places in Italy that were on her to-visit list, but she really wouldn't have had any clue how to get or stay there without a local. Bruno was her cousin (I wanted to call him Fabio the whole time, in my head, that's what his name was), who was a smooth-talking, sexy Italian rockstar. Okay, he wasn't really a rockstar, but to the women in the book, he may as well have been. Darren was an American she met her first day and kept running into, and he was actually participating in an archaeology program. He was very cute and very funny (totally pictured Darren Criss while reading), and you can definitely tell where my alliances are. I mean, the book's pretty obvious, but that doesn't mean I didn't swoon over the boys.

And this really has nothing to do with anything, but the fact that Darren hated cats made me love him so much more, and he perfectly sums up why:
"Because of the creep factor. They're unpredictable and always have the same facial expression so you can never tell what they're thinking. Are they going to rub against your leg or slash your face open?"

This book is perfect as a last-hurrah to the summer that is rapidly leaving us. It's light, it's fun, and if you want a book with lovable boys and beautiful sights, this one is it.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The History of Happy Book Lovers

I realized today that my blog has been around since 2009 (WOAH), but it started long before that, and I wanted to share the brief biography of Happy Book Lovers. Here we go.

My freshman year of high school was a little scary at first. I went to a private elementary school and moved over to the public high school, resulting in me knowing exactly ONE girl. We were both attending public instead of private, so I asked her what electives she was taking so we could at least have a few classes together. One of which was theatre, which is what I ended up becoming super involved in throughout high school. (Side note, my little school in southern Indiana? We were ranked #2 in the nation while I was there. We were very serious about our performances)

I spent a lot of time with these people (rehearsals from 3 p.m. until midnight does that, plus classes during the school day), and as a result, met my best friends there. One of my friends and I decided (still freshman year, 2007) to start a MYSPACE page talking about books we love. That's how the social media worked then. We called it "Happy Book Lovers" because, at the time, it was basically Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen books. Which made us extremely happy.
The page was bright orange with little red and yellow stars all over the background, and I'm 100% sure it was positively hideous. But we loved it. We passed books around all the time, got 3 or 4 more girls to join, and we made a little book club. My Mediator series has all kinds of cute notes penciled in and hearts by passages with Jesse de Silva (my first ever book love) and reminders to finish the math homework. I treasure those paperbacks.

My sophomore year (I was 16 at this point) I flew to NYC ALONE (I still have no idea what my parents were thinking) to attend a journalism conference. There, I met someone who blogged. On an actual blog. And he told me all about book blogging and reviewing and what ARCs were, and he introduced me to this really cool site Harper Teen ran at the time (I think it was called Harper FirstLooks?), who just shipped out pounds of ARCs to pretty much anyone who wanted them. Because blogging was still so new, hardly anyone had started doing it, so I was getting tons of books early on without very many readers.

I'm aware that I don't have a giant following, and that's always been a mystery to me, but I think it's because I got started so much earlier than a lot of people. I'm pretty sure Blogger was still in a beta-tester when I started. The screen was all weird and blocky, and when I switched to blogger, my background was purple and my words were pastel green. Yikes.
Because I started so early, I was already in kind of a rut when this whole community really took off, I was starting college and trying to juggle class work and this, and I missed a lot of the building that the community did. I was extremely sad to see Harper's program go because I felt like I had to start from scratch with publishers. But for those of you who've been around from the get go, and to the new followers--YOU GUYS ARE WONDERFUL AND I LOVE YOU.

This community is wonderful to be a part of, and there's not a day that goes by that I regret joining the book blogging community. So thanks, y'all, for helping Happy Book Lovers grow--and eventually become not so ugly and orange.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Topics Time: Sports

Welcome to Topics Time, where I give you a few recommendations based on a particular topic for the week, including new releases and some older backlisted books you can find for cheap or at your library if you're on a budget. This week's discussion? Sports!

*Important Update* Okay, it's not that important. I'm not one who usually stresses about blog posts. Which makes no sense considering my personality. But, I've decided doing two features weekly is a LOT, and I've just started two new part-time jobs, so I'm going to switch every other week between Topics Time and Friday Book Drinks. Next week, there will be a drink post!

Eventually, I'll probably want to break some up into specific sports, but I haven't read that many of one single athletic activity yet, so for now, here's a generic suggestion for the reader who's looking for high school athletes or a lot of people involved with a sport in their town.

1. On the Fence by Kasie West
This was one of my favorite reads earlier this year, and it still holds up. This is about a girl (super similar to me and how my family is) raised by a single dad and a lot of brothers and all their friends. So she grew up a major tomboy, but when she gets another speeding ticket, she's forced to get a job, which happens to be at a rather girly boutique. On top of all this, she's getting closer to one of the guys (who happens to live next door) she's been friends with for years. Oh, and they all play sports all the time. Soccer, football, track, you name it. They're all involved with different things, and it plays a prominent role in the book. I've got a longer review of it if you want more detail.

2. Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler
This was one I adored, and it still sticks with me even though I read it more than a year ago! Hudson makes seriously awesome cupcakes at her mom's diner, but that's not all. She used to be a figure skater, too. So one day, she's out on the ice and literally is mauled over by Josh, one of the stars of the school's hockey team. He invites her to practice with them to help them work on their skating (because they kind of suck), and she ends up befriending the team. It's a somewhat predictable storyline, but there are so many interesting factors that it doesn't matter. I feel like I could perfectly picture this world in my head, and these are the kind of people I would want to be friends with.

3. Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally
Okay, so I haven't actually read this one, but a ton of people I totally trust when it comes to reviews have raved about it, which is why it makes the list and why it's on top of my must-buy-next list. I already relate to this book before I've even read it because Annie hates running. She hates everything about it. But she's doing it because she can't stop thinking of the "what-ifs" about her ex-boyfriend who died suddenly in a car crash. So she's trying to train for the marathon he planned to run, setting out on a physically and mentally straining course. This sounds wonderful and like everything I need to get the motivation to get running again, even though it's the worst ever. Ann Perkins sums it up best.

4. Boy Toy by Barry Lyga
This is the most "manly" of all the books if you're looking for something a little less focused on the fluffy stuff. It's a contemporary mystery sort of book, following Josh, who's had something happen in the past that leaves the reader literally screaming at the book to know what it is. He's preparing for college and dealing with his baseball career and his agonizingly tough coach who won't let up. Of course, there are some girls that get in the way and muss things up (one from the past who's really irritating him and one who brings all the memories of what happened with her). Lyga's also got a knack for having really interesting, strange, and quirky characters show up and exist in his story, which are always fun to read about.

Have you read any of these, or are you new to the world of YA sports? Are there any topics you'd like to see featured? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hear the Bells Ring: The Chapel Wars Review

The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Pages: 300
Keywords: weddings, family, rivalry
Format Read: eARC via NetGalley
Other books reviewed: Going Vintage
Goodreads | Book Depository
Sixteen-year-old Holly wants to remember her Grandpa forever, but she'd rather forget what he left her in his will: his wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip. Whatever happened to gold watches, savings bonds, or some normal inheritance? 
And then there's Grandpa's letter. Not only is Holly running the business with her recently divorced parents, but she needs to make some serious money--fast. Grandpa also insists Holly reach out to Dax, the grandson of her family's mortal enemy and owner of the cheesy chapel next door. No matter how cute Dax is, Holly needs to stay focused: on her group of guy friends, her disjointed family, work, school and... Dax. No wait, not Dax. 
Holly's chapel represents everything she's ever loved in her past. Dax might be everything she could ever love in the future. But as for right now, there's a wedding chapel to save.
Vegas, wedding chapels, and a family feud? Count me in. I was excited about this book from (virtual) page 1, and Leavitt definitely delivered a smart, cute, and quirky book about first love and what it truly means to get married.

Holly is left in charge of her grandfather's chapel, and basically, she has no clue what to do. I mean, she has some semblance, but because PLOT, she's got to figure a lot of things out for herself. Fortunately, she's a numbers girl. Which I thought was super cool. Since I'm an English and art person, it was really interesting to read about a character who functioned largely off of equations and formulas. She even calculates percentages of the likelihood that people who are married in Vegas will stay together. You know, just for fun.

On top of handling a close family member's death, she's also coping with her parents' divorce, an angsty middle-school brother, a distant college sister, and a long-standing family fight with a neighboring chapel, all while trying to actually run the chapel and earn enough money to keep it open. Oh, and school was a thing, too. I was so impressed with Holly's involvement in everything, and Leavitt's story didn't make the whole thing unrealistic. Holly struggled with keeping everything straight and on track, as she should, but she was still a teenager, and she still became emotional and reckless at times. I love that she was flawed, but trying so hard not to be.
This romance thing that happened with Dax wasn't her first go at boys, which I also appreciated. She had been on dates, done some stuff with boys, and had moved on. Like high school girls do. It wasn't the end of the world for her when something didn't work out, which isn't written about enough. Dating was a normal thing, and it wasn't glorified or made to be something it wasn't.

Of course, one of the main plot points was Dax and his stance on the family fight. I liked him okay. He wasn't one of my favorite guys that's ever appeared in books, but I didn't loathe him. But maybe that's what made him such a good character, now that I think about it. He was a realistic teenage boy. He made mistakes, he made gestures too soon and too late, and he wasn't always right (but he was sometimes, I'll give him that. I promise I'm not picking on teenage guys). Together, Holly and Dax were perfect representations of stupid, smart, funny, weird teenagers while having a really cool city and business to run around in.

Holly's friend group (all guys, plus her best friend's girl friend) was equally awesome, and the situation between her best friend and his girlfriend is one I LOVE and will talk about a lot with anyone who's read the book. I don't want to give anything away because reasons, but man, I adored Leavitt for spinning the story the way she did. Super realistic and a lot of what I think about certain things. (Okay, that's really vague, but you'll know what I mean if you've read it. I think)

Overall, this was such a fun light-hearted read for being a book about a girl dealing with her grandfather's death. I could not get enough of the Vegas wedding chapel plot, and it made me seriously consider impulsively looking up more things about Vegas wedding chapels because they all sound so incredibly interesting. You never really think about the people who run them when you think of them.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Royal Competition: The One Review

*Public Service Announcement*
This is a review of the third book, so some of the summary stuff and my review will contain spoilers of the first two. It won't contain spoilers for this book, but I wanted to warn you in case you had never read the first books.

The One by Kiera Cass
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 323
Keywords: royalty, dystopia, love
Format Read: library book
Books Reviewed by Author: The Selection & The Elite
Goodreads | Book Depository
The Selection changed America Singer's life in ways she never could have imagined. Since she entered the competition to become the next princess of IllĂ©a, America has struggled with her feelings for her first love, Aspen—and her growing attraction to Prince Maxon. Now she's made her choice . . . and she's prepared to fight for the future she wants.
For any of you that were following my updates on Twitter, you were well aware that I was having a hard time with this one. Basically I just didn't want to start it because I didn't want the series to be over. I was so insanely attached to everything that was happening in these books that I desperately wanted to cling to this last book. I tried to read it slowly. I tried to take breaks. But the inevitable happened. I finished it in one night.

What struck me most about the first book was the world Cass set up. It was so insanely detailed and believable, and I had no trouble understanding what had happened to this society. By this book, what was focused on most were the characters. Everyone had their own lives going on, and Cass didn't forget about minor characters when it came to the plot. It felt so real because she didn't neglect the side people, and she realized they would still have things going on, too. America's maids had their own problems that were held back for a while, making those super compelling, and I was dying to know what happened. America's other competitors (coughcoughCELESTE) became so much more interesting, even more so than they already were.

And this book is where the plot really picks up. The second book revolved mostly around the Selection process, and this one, being that there were only four girls left, was all about the rebels and what was going on outside the castle walls. So there was a lot more action and suspense and the right amount of me going "WHAT" to keep it moving at such a quick pace, obviously I was not able to resist and put the book down.

Basically I have nothing more to say other than that, described by the lovely Andi @ Andi's ABCs, as her book crack. That's really what this is. I can't think of a series more perfect for binge-reading (and a little crying) than this one.

*Update* Kiera Cass announced recently that two more full-length Selection Series novels will be following, set in a different character's point of view. Who's excited? THIS GIRL.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Serve the Punch, Y'all: Rebel Belle

Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins
Release Date: April 8, 2014
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Pages: 345
Keywords: paranormal, high school, popularity
Format Read: library book
Goodreads | Book Depository
Harper Price, peerless Southern belle, was born ready for a Homecoming tiara. But after a strange run-in at the dance imbues her with incredible abilities, Harper's destiny takes a turn for the seriously weird. She becomes a Paladin, one of an ancient line of guardians with agility, super strength and lethal fighting instincts.
Just when life can't get any more disastrously crazy, Harper finds out who she's charged to protect: David Stark, school reporter, subject of a mysterious prophecy and possibly Harper's least favorite person. But things get complicated when Harper starts falling for him—and discovers that David's own fate could very well be to destroy Earth.
If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I really steer clear of paranormal stuff. Namely, the whole vampire/werewolf craze. So I knew this was coming out, and the knife automatically made me think it was something along those lines (though now as I'm thinking about it, I have NO IDEA why). And you'll also know I don't read a book's summary before I dive right in. But I heard so so many good things about this one, I knew I was going to end up reading it.

Turns out, I loved it. I had only a few problems that I moved past pretty quickly, which I'll talk about toward the end of this review.

The dialogue was so fresh and witty and funny — Harper was such a real teen, and I found myself laughing at a lot of her narration and responses to other people's questions and statements. There was a point in the book when she first learns about her powers when she's thinking to herself, "Seriously? I got superpowers and I can't even fly or be invisible?" Okay, so that's not a direct quote, but the whole passage was so funny when she was trying to figure out exactly what she could and couldn't do.

I also loved the set in general. It was set at a traditional-type school (that's what we call them here, they're private but not associated with any religion, so they're like preparatory schools) in the South, and there were mansions and stuck-up families and dresses and a Cotillion, which the whole story sort of was based around. It's a coming-out party, which is old-fashioned, but the South is still about them. At least in some areas. There was so much detail and care taken to make sure the world was established and so the reader had a very clear idea of what the neighborhood looks like and who the people in it were.

What I was (only a little) sad about was the relationship level. I feel like Harper doesn't have enough reason in the beginning to hate David as much as she does. I mean, once he does this mean thing, then it makes more sense, but before that I cannot understand her hatred, especially when her friends and other people start talking about their past school days. I also really liked Ryan, and I was confused at his relationship with Harper. They've been dating for forever, but at the very start of the book, all of the sudden, they start having problems. I just wanted it to be a little more gradual to be believable.

But all in all, I was so hooked with this one and could not get enough. I loved the plot — the ideas, thankfully, were more original than vampire or werewolf — and ended up being so interesting and so funny that I just couldn't put the book down. And, I discovered once I got to the end, there will (or better be, otherwise I'm raising hell) be a second one, so I can't wait!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Flash Giveaway: Get Them Now

That's right. I just posted over on Twitter that I was giving away books to followers. I've had these ARCs for a while, and I never know what to do with ARCs except give them to people. So I've decided to thank my followers by giving them to you! Here's how it works:

1. You must have a US address. I'll be mailing out a lot of books and just don't have the funding to do international. I'm super sorry, but I still love you guys a lot! (Maybe I'll do an everywhere-but-America SWAG giveaway or something soon :) )

2. Comment below with one or two (to keep it fair. I don't want to mail them all to one person) books you would like and an email address so I can get your shipping info, and leave in the comments how you follow the blog. You must be a follower to be eligible. You can be a new or old follower. Doesn't matter :)

3. Whoever comments first has it, so once it's in the comments somewhere, that book is gone. I know I don't have a ton of followers, so this will last until all the books are gone!

And here are the books you can get! Go! Follow! Comment! YAY!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Topics Time: Boarding School

Welcome to Topics Time, where I give you a few recommendations based on a particular topic for the week, including new releases and some older backlisted books you can find for cheap or at your library if you're on a budget. This week's discussion? Boarding School!

Thanks to Sarah, who wanted to know about some books set in boarding schools that I would give to people to read!

I could give you something really obvious like Anna and the French Kiss, but I'm hoping by now most people have read that (and if not PLEASE GO NOW READ IT). So I'm going to pick some great ones that are maybe a little less high profile.

1. A Really Awesome Mess by Brendan Halpin and Trish Cook
What I was most impressed with about this book is how it dealt with serious topics and real issues teens have without being preachy or hitting you over the head that it's about kids dealing with depression and anger and anxiety (among other things). It takes place at a "reform" school where teens deal with issues they've been having along with attending classes so as not to fall behind in their school work. There's also a lot of humor woven into the story, including a really awesome pig-kidnapping scene at a fair. I've got a full review of it if you want to read more about this one.

2. Winger by Andrew Smith
I know I said I would try and get less high profile books, but this one is so phenomenal, I had to put it on the list. This is without a doubt one of my favorite books I've read. It follows Ryan Dean West (I still can't get over how much I love his name) and his quests at his private boarding school. He's on the rugby team, he has some kick ass friends, and he pees in a gatorade bottle and gives it to his nemesis. Enough said, right? To add on, it's got some really awesome illustrations and comics periodically in the book, and they are so funny. I felt so many emotions and experienced hysterical laughter crying (that was one emotion happening all at once). I've got a longer review of it, and I highly recommend you purchase this one because I love having it sit on my shelf.

3. Taste Test by Kelly Fiore
I've recommended this one a few times via Twitter or Tumblr, but here's me saying again that this book was extremely cute. I reviewed it a while ago, but even though I read it more than a year ago, it still sticks out in my mind as such a fun book. This one is a cooking reality competition for teens, and it's a yearlong (? I think?) program where the kids stay in deluxe apartments while attending cooking classes and other seminars in between televised competitions. And obviously there's some spicy (see what I did there?) romance scenes which make the book that much more lovable.

4. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
This is one of those "I read this before I blogged" series in that I don't have any posts for them, but they will forever be one of my favorites, and I hold a special place for the characters (one, in particular) in my heart. This is for the historical fiction, magical realism lover, and this trilogy is beautiful. It's full of complex characters, emotions, and fantastical elements. I don't really want to give much about the plot away, but it revolves around Gemma, the main character, attending a Victorian boarding school and coping with the prophetic visions she's having. These books are beautiful, and be prepared for emotions to be unleashed. I actually read the third one in high school, and my best friend warned me not to read the last half in class, and of course I ignored her, which led to me openly sobbing in my honors english class. My (extremely hot) teacher had to come to my desk and ask if I was going to be okay. Oops. :)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Straight On Til Morning: Tiger Lily Review

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Release Date: July 3, 2012
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 292
Keywords: fairytale, love, family
Format Read: library book
Book Depository | Goodreads
Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn't believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.
Peter is unlike anyone she's ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland's inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything—her family, her future—to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she's always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.
With enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it's the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who's everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart.
This book isn't really about action or suspense or intense pillaging through Neverland. It is about people and grief and love, and it is about dealing with situations that are less than pleasant.

The story is told from Tink's point of view as she narrates Tiger Lily's life. Tiger Lily is an outcast, a different, dark-skinned, messy-haired girl who doesn't follow the rules and doesn't listen to what her town is telling her. She lives with Tik Tok, an old man in charge of medicines and healing in the village, and he also does the marriages and blessings in the town.

She steps up to save the Englishman that washes ashore, whom all the villagers are afraid of catching aging from. They don't want to get older as he is. They want to stay the ages they are in Neverland.
My heart broke for the way Tik Tok was treated by Phillip, the Englishman, once he recovered and began to change life in the village. He was forced to become something he wasn't, to mold to who the man wanted him to be, not who he truly was.

But what struck me most was the characterization of Tiger Lily. She was beautifully described and developed, and I have never loved a character in the Peter Pan story more than her (and Tink) at this point in the story. She was patient and silent, and when she finally found the Lost Boys, she didn't reject them like the village thought she should. She was caring and open and gave them a chance, and she found a home. Anderson's depiction of this process was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time because I knew what was coming. And I just wanted to help Tiger Lily because she felt so real to me.

If you're looking for a book filled with swashbuckling adventures and lots of action, this isn't it. This book is prosaic, beautiful, and thoughtful. It's about finding home when you don't think you have one, dealing with the consequences of pressure and religion and beliefs, and friendship and what it means to truly trust and love someone.

And it's got the most beautiful and wonderful and perfect dedication of all time. (Which, by the way, Epic Reads liked and commented on the Instagram post and I was trying super hard not to freak out as I fangirled)

And I'm going to end with some of the quotes that I loved from the book. Enjoy, and make sure to go out and get this book. Pure adoration.
"'Actually, I never get sad. It's a waste of time, don't you think?'
Tiger Lily didn't answer. She was impressed by the idea of deciding not to be sad. His words made him seem very strong. Impervious."
"I didn't know why she seemed so sad and happy at the same time. To love someone was not what she had expected. It was like falling from somewhere high up and breaking in half, and only one person having the secret to the puzzle of putting her back together."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Magic Sports are the Best Sports: The Magicians Review

That's right! It's time for a grown-up post about an adult book! It took me a while to read (a lot longer than I initially thought), but that's not because it wasn't good. It was so good. But there was so much that was happening, and it's a really long book, so I had to pace myself while also reading some YA stuff in between it.
And I'm making it a goal of mine to read more grown-up books because I do enjoy them, I just get in a nice little cozy corner of YA happiness that I forget I have a ton of other stuff I do actually want to read (I swear I'm going to read Moby Dick and Slaughterhouse-Five one day... one day).

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Release Date: August 11, 2009
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 409
Keywords: magic, college, coming-of-age
Format Read: library book
Goodreads | Book Depository
Quentin Coldwater is brillant but miserable. He's a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he's still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless. 
Everything changes when Quentin 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 practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he though it would.
Then, after graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real.
It took me an ungodly amount of time to read this book, but once I made it to about page 270, I could not put it down and promptly finished the rest of it in one night.
I just felt as though so much was happening, and I didn't want to miss any of it, so I had to take breaks to let my mind think about everything that was going on, so it took me a bit to get through this, but not because it wasn't good.

I loved the premise. As a Harry Potter generation kid (I got the first one from my first-grade teacher as a present. I read a LOT. Like, I was Hermione when I was tiny), this was my (and I imagine every other child's) dream to realize that Hogwarts or some sort of magic school existed. This was particularly exciting because it was a college, so the kids were older, more capable, and also not going through puberty at the same time they're trying to handle all this sorcery.

And this magic is powerful. Like, it's got ancient roots and they think wands are silly, and the students have specialties they discover and get sorted into groups based on where their true talents lie. Quentin gets placed with the Physical kids in his third (? I think? May be fourth) year at Brakebills, and he develops a bond with the other students there. The friendships in this book were phenomenal. They were real and messy and crossed boundaries sometimes. People fought and made up and had personalities, and it was so refreshing to see such a real set of kids trying to figure out how to be adults and how to deal with issues and sexuality and school and real-world problems on their own. While magic isn't really something we deal with everyday, this is such a great book to turn to for college students trying to find out who they truly are.

As far as the story line goes, this was all about action. I particularly enjoyed the portions where the students were still at Brakebills. The world was so detailed and so elaborate. One of my favorites had to be welters, a sporting game that seemed like part-Candyland, part-chess, and mostly capture the flag. It involved squares they had to steal from other teams, and there was a lot of running around and magical manipulation involved with it.

The characters were woven so tightly together and developed so well that I remembered them all (Josh was one of my favorites. He was a Physical kid with Quentin who didn't really have control over his magic but became super powerful every once in a while when something worked). But, even with that, there were points that took me completely by surprise, and I found myself reading the same several sentences to make sure I read it right and that something like that actually happened.

I've checked out the second book in this series, and I may finish it a little quicker (the words were so small in the first one, but the second seems to be fewer pages and bigger words, so that's a good sign), but I'm excited to see what comes next in this thrilling magical adventure.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Friday Book Drinks: Sweet Tunes

This Friday, look waaaaay back (I mean seriously way back) to 2009 when I first started this blog! I wanted to find a true backlisted under-celebrated book to feature for today, and with the exit of summer, what better to pick than a winter book?
(Okay, I realize it's not even close to winter, but I really loved this book, so just go with it)

Angela Morrison's Sing Me to Sleep was one of the first ARCs I ever received as a reviewer, and I can still remember how much I loved it when I first read it. You can tell it was a while ago because of how short my review is — they've gotten a bit lengthier nowadays because I really just love to ramble about books I love.

I chose to pair Sing Me to Sleep with a Winter White Cosmo, recipe courtesy of the Clever Carrot.
Not only is it a wintery drink, but it's also one that singers could drink without it burning too badly or coating their throats. Darker alcohols tend to do that, and this one would be lighter on the vocal chords, which is why it's perfect to go alongside this musical read.

This recipe makes one drink, perfect for a night in by yourself sipping your classy wintery drink:
3 oz. citron vodka  
1 oz. white cranberry juice
1/2 oz. cointreau 
1 oz. fresh lime juice
Mix the ingredients together (shake them if you've got a shaker and strain, but mixing in the glass will do just fine), and you can garnish with mint sprigs and sugar covered cranberries. And there you go! You've got your snowy, cold drink to go with a snowy, cold book!

So grab your snuggie and get reading!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Reshelved (4)

This is the fourth installment of books I didn't finish. I don't like to do full posts because it's not fair to the book for me to not like it and review it if I didn't finish it. So these just weren't for me, but I still want to give them publicity because maybe you all read them and thought differently or they sound spectacular to you. Let's discuss in the comments what you thought about these if you've read them, or why they sound good to you!

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Pages: 240
Keywords: poetry, contemporary, boarding school
Format Read: eARC via NetGalley
DNF at: 40%
Goodreads | Book Depository

When high school senior Paul Wagoner walks into his school library with a stolen gun, he threatens his girlfriend Emily Beam, then takes his own life. In the wake of the tragedy, an angry and guilt-ridden Emily is shipped off to boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she encounters a ghostly presence who shares her name. The spirit of Emily Dickinson and two quirky girls offer helping hands, but it is up to Emily to heal her own damaged self. 

Why I Put It Down:
Poetry isn't for me. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I just don't enjoy it. This book was told in verse and in prose, in that the main character writes poetry, and the reader sees it directly on the page. I felt like this method chopped up the story and made it difficult to stay focused on any one thing that was happening at the time. This book is marketed as New Adult, and I was very excited to read it since it didn't seem to be focused on only sex, but instead on the fact that the character was a bit older. Sadly, it didn't deliver for me. The book was also in third-person present tense, which distances the reader from the character. It was very difficult to connect or really feel like I was into the plot or reading experience because everything was so choppy and distant. A plus for the book, though, is the cover. I'm really a fan of it, and I think it's so pretty, though I'm not sure what it has to do with the book.

Picture Me by Lori Weber
Release Date: March 1, 2014
Publisher: James Lorimer & Co.
Pages: 159
Keywords: bullying, high school, popularity
Format Read: eARC via NetGalley
DNF at: 10%
Goodreads | Book Depository
When a well-meaning English teacher has overweight student Krista read aloud a poem about body image titled "Barbie Doll" in class, she ignites a simmering bullying event based on Krista's appearance. Krista's best friend, and witness to the event, Tessa, is suspended for fighting to defend her friend. The girl who bullies Krista seems unaffected by the incident at school and more concerned with what an older guy thinks of her. But as the three characters' paths intersect, their inner lives are revealed. Each emerges as a much more complicated individual than their simple bully, target, and witness labels.

Why I Put It Down:
I realize that 10% is not much to judge a book by, and I normally try and make it at least a quarter-way through before I give up on a book. But I wasn't going to with this one. This book switches between three characters in a sort of diary format, but it's in the present tense. To me, this is especially odd because if I'm writing in a diary, I'd be writing about things that happened that day, so they would be in the past. In addition, each bit was only about a page or page and a half long, so I didn't feel like I was getting to know any of the girls. At all. I read about three sections from each of them and still felt disjointed and confused on what was happening and who I was reading about. All the girls (including the bully, the bullied, and the watcher) seemed extremely superficial, and I couldn't tell that anyone was supposed to be improving or growing. Also the English teacher was mean. I can't imagine a teacher making a student stand up and read a poem, let alone standing for when another girl laughed and made jokes. Seems like a teacher shouldn't do that.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Why I Hate Starred Reviews

I post all my reviews (snippets of them, anyway) on Goodreads, and yes, I do mark the stars. But I hate doing it.
I hate picking a number for a book.
I will, but I never do on here (well, I used to back in like 2011, but I stopped).

To me, books are unique entities that don't really have the same scale as other books. Lots of books are better than others, and some literary fiction I read is definitely more thought-provoking than some of the YA books that I read. But that doesn't mean that I like them any less or that they're written worse than any other books.

There are poorly written books, but I'm not afraid to give those bad ratings. What I don't like doing is giving YA books I love and I think deserve a high rating (I recently read the Selection series) a lower star score simply because they're not The Great Gatsby or something similar.

I rate books on several things, the most important being my level of enjoyment. If a book is well-written with developed characters, a believable world, and an interesting conflict, chances are I will enjoy it a lot more than a book without those qualities.
As I've been writing this I am realizing it's a lot of the same topics as to why I argue for YA. Just because it's not literary fiction doesn't mean it's not good and thought-provoking and interesting.

And it's why I don't like stars for reviews. 5 stars can be given for so many reasons, and I'll do it, but I don't do it by comparing. Each book is its own self, and I judge accordingly.
I really love Hannah's method at So Obsessed With where she says she's "so obsessed" or "so okay with it," or similar phrases. These are more open and less restrictive than stars, which I love.

Fight against the stars!

What about you guys? Do you do starred reviews on your posts (somewhere that doesn't have an explicit star system and is one that you just like to use)? Am I crazy in not liking to use a rating system?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Dorms & Cafeterias: Fangirl Review

I know, I know, you can yell at me later. Yes, this is the first time I've read this. Oops.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Release Date: September 10, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Pages: 445
Keywords: roommates, college, writing
Format Read: Hardcover from publisher
Goodreads | Book Depository
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan...
But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?
Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
Along the way, I stuck in little notes all throughout the book so I wouldn't forget what I wanted to say. This is not something I usually do. I normally make all my notes at the end and type them up into the post draft. But not this time. There were too many wonderful little details I wanted to note along the way because they were just so great. Below I'm sharing some of what I wrote on post-its.

Reagan is without a doubt one of the funniest, most realistic, and relatable characters in a book.
(Reagan is Cath's roommate, and she couldn't be more of the polar opposite of Cath, and I adore that she tells Cath how sad she is for her because she's so boring, and then she drags her to the dining hall to make fun of other people. My kind of girl.) Also, she's not a skinny girl, and while skinny's not bad (I'm a huge advocate for people being loving of literally any body type. People are all born differently), it was so wonderful to see a character that I could not only relate to personality-wise, but who was also confident with her own size, and even considered sexy while being full-figured. That's not something we, especially as young adult women, see every day.
"'I feel sorry for you, and I'm going to be your friend.'
'I don't want to be your friend," Cath said as sternly as she could. 'I like that we're not friends.'
'Me too,' Reagan said. 'I'm sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic.'"
I also marked a point in the book with the word "drunk" used as a verb which made me spit water out my nose. As in, "Cath hadn't eaten lunch at Selleck since Wren drunked at her." Best use of that word ever.

I felt so emotionally connected to Cath, and in the beginning she was so reluctant to write (let alone do anything else) outside her comfort bubble. Even in class, she was so hesitant to write about anything that wasn't Simon Snow. I just felt for her, and I wanted to jump in the book and be her writing partner so I could help her at least branch out and do something a little different.

And I even got into the Simon Snow stories, and this is a quote from one of the excerpts that really stuck with me:
"And sometimes you held somebody's hand just to prove that you were still alive, and that another human being was there to testify to that fact."
There were just so many different things brought up in this book that I was astounded by. The girls' struggle to take care of their dad when they left and his own issues, Cath's dealing with anxiety and learning to grow on her own and meet new people, culture surrounding women and their safety in bars and night scenes (the girls are approached scarily by a shady fellow once, and Cath needing to be ready to call 911 and holding her finger over the button as she sprinted back to her dorm room at night. Every page I turned there was something new and real and it was full of things I feel like average people deal with every day. I know I do. This just put Rowell on a whole new level for me.

I also want to talk about how frightened I was that I was so similar to beginning of book Cath.
1. I was VERY against drinking in high school (a teammate killed another student while driving under the influence, and as a result, I boycotted it), and my freshman year in college was a little terrifying. There was alcohol everywhere, and I never once set foot into a party. TERRIFIED. (Clearly, it's not that way now. I mean, I do a feature where I pair books with drinks. But still.)

2. Friday night nothing plans. That's right. Even by senior year, I reveled in the fact that I could go to my best friend's house in my pajamas and stay on the couch ALL WEEKEND. Seriously. We went to the grocery on Saturdays, but that was it.

3. Walking across campus at night. Even now, I know all I want to do is live in NYC, but I'm terrified for night time. I'm so paranoid, even on my teeny tiny liberal arts campus, I called my mom to walk to my apartment, just to be on the phone with someone. I wish I was a little more confident to be able to walk by myself.

I know this was a super long review, and basically the gist is how relatable this whole book is. It's real and honest and heartwarming, and it makes me actually believe in happy stories again. I realize that sounds dumb, but after reading so many happy-ending romance stories, it's like, no one really thinks things like this can be real. But this one does. It's so genuine, and that's what's so wonderful about it.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Book Drinks: Goin' to the Chapel

I flew through Lindsey Leavitt's Chapel Wars, and I thought it was such a cute book. I mean, Vegas wedding chapels plus feuding families over said chapels? Coolest story line ever.

There's this point in the book when Holly (the MC) and her friends (a bunch of guys) are hanging out at Holly's best friend Sam's house watching the game and helping Holly with signs, envelopes, and other marketing stuff for her chapel. Porter, one of the guys, finds a bottle of Kaluha in a cabinet.
Turns out, it's an old bottle, and Sam's dad was storing leftover old alcohol in there all mixed together, planning on throwing it out, but Porter takes a swig before Sam can tell him this. EW.

This scene inspired me to pick a Kaluha drink for today, something I'm sure Porter would have much rather tasted than a conglomeration of stale mixed drinks. So today we're going to go with a classic White Russian to spruce up Porter's tastes in alcohol.

 A White Russian is super easy to make and traditionally looks like the glass on the right, but I think it tastes nasty that way, so I mix mine all together like the glass on the left. But I'll give you the option for either.
All you'll need is:
2 oz. vodka
1 oz. Kaluha
1 oz. light cream or milk
Put ice in your glass, and pour in the vodka, then the Kaluha. The Kaluha will naturally sink because it's heavier, so you'll get a layered effect. Then top it off with the milk or cream, and it will naturally sit on top. There's no need to stir because your alcohol is supposed to be at the bottom, but it's much better tasting if you do (in my humble opinion).

My review should be up in the next week or so (spoiler alert--I loved it!) for The Chapel Wars, but until then, kick back with a White Russian, and enjoy your weekend!