July Wrap-Up!

july wrap up

I can’t believe July is over! Where did it go? I officially have TEN DAYS of summer vacation left. AHHHHH!!! I’m not ready for junior year! (Who is?)

In Life

This month was good. I finished up the ballet class I had been taking at a local community college to get high school PE credit out of the way. I got an A, preserving my GPA and making it so that I never have to take PE at high school again. YAY! I miss all of the awesome people I met, and though it weirds me out to say it, I actually miss getting up at 7 every morning to do 2-3 hours of ballet a day. It was a great way to stay in shape over summer, and I got to learn the basics of ballet from an amazing teacher. I know I won’t have the time or the resources to do both ballet and fencing during the school year, which means that I probably won’t do any ballet for at least a year (if I ever go back to it at all).

In Reading and Reviewing

Remember that long weekend of reading I had last month? Well, this month I finally caught up on writing all of the reviews for those books. I can’t believe I fell so behind. Most of those reviews will be published in August…a full two months after I read the books. Whoops. I’m just glad I took detailed notes after each book so that I knew what to write. (*high fives my June self*)

This month, I didn’t get a lot of reading done. I only read four books, mainly because none of the books I had on my shelf appealed to me. I kept being in the mood for some inexplicable other book that didn’t exist, but I never made it to a bookstore to try to find a book that would grab me.

I did enjoy the books I pushed myself to read. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (review here) was a powerful and creepy read, but the “classic” writing style made it take me longer to read it. I then read the blood-chilling ARC The Dead House by Dawn. A very conflicted review of it will be coming next month. Needing something that wasn’t horror-filled, I read another ARC, Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, which I enjoyed. To give myself a break from heavy paranormal and fantasy books, I picked up Aces Up by, which ended up disappointing me, but was fun to read for an afternoon. I’m now rereading Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke, wondering if I will enjoy it as much as I did the first time.

In Blogging

Despite being so behind on reviews, this month was a good month for me in regards to posting regularly. I had 16 posts, which shakes out to one every other day and holds me to my summer goal of posting at least three times a week.

I posted five reviews this month, covering a lot of different genres. In the YA fantasy world, I reviewed Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, which was fun to read but lacked originality. For contemporary YA stories I reviewed The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler (which I LOVED) and P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han (which was a light summer read, but nothing special). Firefight by Brandon Sanderson took care of the scifi/dystopian genre, and The Picture of Dorian Gray rounded out this month’s reviews as a classic. Though I usually avoid classics, I genuinely enjoyed this one.

As a random addition, I reviewed season eight of Doctor Who, talking about my newfound love of Clara as a companion and the greatness that is Capaldi as Twelve.

I took part in three TTTs: Top Ten Hyped Books I’ve Never Read, Top Ten Books that Celebrate Diversity, and Top Ten Characters Who Are Fellow Book Nerds. In other bookish posts, I took part in the Would You Rather Book Tag and I recounted my amazing time at SDCC in a book haul post. A pleasant surprise, I received the Blogger Recognition Award from Hidden Staircase! (Thanks again!)

In Writing

This was a good month for me in writing (in that I actually worked on my WIP). I added 12,000 words to my novel, bringing the total up to 77,000 words. I can feel myself working up to the ending, and I am ready to finally finish the second draft of this project.

I published two poems: You Never Left and Tomorrow Me. For a Chuck Wendig Challenge, I took a day to talk about what it is that drives me to write. Putting my thoughts down on paper helped motivate me to write, so thanks, Chuck!

I also committed myself to a few personal writing goals. I want to write at least 10,000 words a month, and I want to finish this draft by the end of 2015. I can fail the first goal a few months and still be able to meet the second, as I don’t expect this draft to be longer than 100,000 words. Since I started writing this draft in December of 2014, if I meet those goals, it will have only taken me one year to write. I know that that isn’t exactly the best timetable, but I think it will have been the fastest I ever finish a project. Factoring in all of the time I devote to high school, I will be extremely proud of myself if I can pull this off.

So there was my July! How was your month? What books did you read? What books should I read next? (I’m in a slump, guys! I need recommendations!)


Book Review: Poison Study (Poison Study #1) by Maria V. Snyder

While I was reading this book, I could not put it down, but the ending left me unsatisfied.

3.5/5 stars

cover poison study

Amazon Description

About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She’ll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace–and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.

And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly’s Dust and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.

As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can’t control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren’t so clear—

My Review

The premise of this story was interesting. The food taster isn’t exactly a common position for a YA protagonist, and I was intrigued to see what the author did with it. A friend of mine was kind enough to lend me the book, and I dove into the story.

Yelena was a strong protagonist for the story. Headstrong at times, brave but not stupid, Yelena was refreshingly down-to-earth; she never came up with wildly impossible escape plans that so many other captured heroines tend to devote themselves to.

At the beginning of the story, Yelena is in jail awaiting execution for the murder of the son of her adoptive father. The backstory that led her to this extreme act is revealed in small chunks throughout the story, and when it is finally laid bare, it is extremely dark. I usually hate putting trigger warnings on books, but this one needs one (physical and sexual abuse). She clearly carries emotional (and physical) scars from the time before the book begins, but her voice is not dominated by PTSD. Knowing the full expanse of the trauma she endured, Yelena probably should have been more damaged, but I understood how her character developed past her childhood horrors into the strong protagonist the reader meets.

Poison Study is great for fans of court intrigue. The subplots wove together into a suspenseful story of not knowing who to trust or who to kill. The side characters involved in these plots were well-painted, and there were a few of them that I genuinely couldn’t decide if they were good or evil. I liked the characters Yelena befriended, especially the guards who helped her train. They added a lightness and joviality to the plot that Poison Study needed.

The romance was subtle in the beginning of the book, but built and built through the story in a pleasingly natural way. I can’t say that I ever needed the couple to get together–the love interest was flat for me. I appreciated the realistic way their relationship developed, but I was never grabbed by it. Yelena’s affection for the love interest (I was surprised by who it ended up being, so this is purposefully vague) was more “tell” than “show”; she would think to herself “I have a crush on him,” but the reader wasn’t party to any crush-like thoughts.

The most original part of Poison Study was the world building. A fantasy book, Poison Study’s social situation is nearly dystopian, with a strict Commander who overthrew the royal family and dictated a life of state-mandated professions and strict uniform regulations. Ixia, the country the Commander rules, is divided into military districts and governed by a universal code of laws.

In the beginning, I liked this world building. It was so unique and interesting, especially with Yelena at the center of the Commander’s palace, charged with the job of keeping him alive. However, the dystopian nature of the setting made me assume that the Commander would eventually be overthrown. My assumption directly conflicted with the plot, leaving me confused and conflicted. Looking back, I can see that there were scenes that were supposed to make me like the Commander, but they never affected me. It was only in the last chapters that it dawned on me that the focus of the series would be keeping the Commander safe, and by then I had spent an entire novel disliking and distrusting the character.

Poison Study was supposed to be a fantasy book, but it missed the mark for me. The magical elements were vague and unsatisfying. I like it when I can clearly understand how a series’ magic works and what it can do, but I never understood either of those things. The magical characters were cookie-cutter stereotypes for the genre, and none of the conflicts it presented were unique or particularly gripping.

What is confusing about this book is that while I was reading it, I could not put it down. It was addictive and entertaining. But when I sat down to think about the story, I realized that there was nothing special about the book. It was a good plot, but I didn’t get anything new from it. If you aren’t a very picky reader and you just want to be entertained for a few hours, this book is for you. If you crave originality and depth from your novels, Poison Study will probably disappoint. The next book, Magic Study, promises to be more dramatic and fantasy-y, but I don’t think I’ll read it unless someone puts it in my hands.

Top Ten Characters Who Are Fellow Book Nerds

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week, they post a new Top Ten topic and other bloggers respond with their own lists. I take part in this meme when I have something to say for the topic and I remember what day it is.

This list was strangely hard for me to create. I could only come up with seven. There were a few other characters that I considered but couldn’t quite remember if they fit or not. C’est la vie…

1. Gansey from The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

cove raven boys

Gansey is the ultimate scholar character, while still  being a lovable teenage boy. I fell in love with him the moment Stiefvater described his book-covered loft.

2. Elend from the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

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book 1

Elend goes to balls and sits in the corner and reads–freaking adorable.

3. Liz from the Gallagher Girl series by Ally Carter

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The resident book nerd/hacker/inventor for this eccentric group of girl spies. Without her, the six books would have gone very differently, even if she can’t kick ass like the others.

4. Eugenides from the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

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He lives in a library.  What more do I have to say?

5. and 6. Celaena and Dorian from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas

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The two of them passing books back and forth was an adorable way for their relationship to progress and one of the main reasons that I love Dorian as a love interest. It also made Celaena a more rounded character–which is always good.

7. Hermione from the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

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How can Hermione not be on this list? She’s the ultimate book nerd, and we all love her for it.

Have you read any of these books? Who made your lists?

Have a great Tuesday!

Book Review: Firefight (Reckoners #2) by Brandon Sanderson

My love of Brandon Sanderson only continues to grow.

5/5 stars

cover firefight

My spoiler-free review of book one, Steelheart, can be found here.

Amazon Description

Newcago is free.

They told David it was impossible, that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet Steelheart–invincible, immortal, unconquerable–is dead. And he died by David’s hand.

Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life simpler. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And no one in Newcago can give him answers.

Babylon Restored, the city formerly known as the borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic Regalia, Babylon Restored is flooded and miserable, but David is sure it’s the path that will lead him to what he needs to find. Entering a city oppressed by a High Epic despot is risky, but David’s willing to take the gamble. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic–Firefight. And now he will go on a quest darker and even more dangerous than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.

My Review

This was an amazing “second book”–it avoided the pit falls that sequels often experience. It continued the plot of the first book without copying it; new elements fit with the original story but also made it clear that the second book could stand on its own.

I loved Babylon Restored. It is an oceanic version of New York, with a healthy dose of nonsensical, semi-magic elements (such as the fact that all spray paint glows in the dark). The new setting helped to develop the series and keep it from being a one-trick pony–Babylon Restored challenged the Reckoners with new dangers. The resulting fight scenes were just as heart-racing and action-packed as the ones in the previous book, but they were also new and unexpected, because of the difficulties of fighting in a city dominated by water.

Firefight introduces a cast of new characters, as well as keeps a few of the original characters from Steelheart. They meet a new Reckoners cell, which helped to move the plot along and fulfill the promise that had been made in book one: as soon as I knew there were other cells, I wanted to eventually meet one of them, and I was happy when this happened in the second book of the series. However, the new Reckoners’ characters were somewhat flat for me, and I never fell in love with any of them.

David’s character continued to develop, growing more fully into his role as a strong and endearing protagonist. He’s still the reckless, determined, awkward, and moderately bloodthirsty character I loved in Steelheart, but I could also tell that he had grown and that his values had changed. A world without Steelheart left vengeful David feeling lost, and enjoyed seeing him refocus his energies on larger and more meaningful goals. His new fame as Steelslayer also exposed an interesting side of the dweeby, socially inept guy who began the series. But he still sucks at metaphors, which might be my favorite of his character traits.

Prof continued to be one of the most interesting characters in the series. His relationship with David grew more strained in this book, which I actually liked. Both characters were able to develop their own unique quirks when David stopped “worshiping” Prof. I liked the dual father/son and general/soldier relationships the two shared, as well as the growing difference of opinions as to what the Reckoners should do about Epics.

The characters in this book don’t all agree about the course of action that the Reckoners are taking (even the Reckoners themselves). I liked that discord and differences of opinion were included–it added a dose of realism that is often missing from “kill the Big Bad and everything will be okay” plots. The ethical dilemmas surrounding taking down Epics who rule “civilized” cities such as Newcago and Babylon Restored were interesting and conflicting, and I appreciated that the debate was included in this book. I also liked the discussions of the laid-back, “whatever happens will happen” lifestyle that Babylon Restored residents adopted and its role in the perpetuation of tyranny.

The plot of Firefight is solid, well-paced, and full of Sanderson-brand stunning reveals. I will say that I never found the new villain, Regalia, to be all that scary. She wasn’t quite evil enough for me to take her as seriously as I had taken Steelheart, but I liked her backstory with the Reckoners. The subplot surrounding Megan/Firefight was interesting and presented appropriate conflicts, but I never really believed Megan was evil. It didn’t work with the story, or with David’s affection for her. In the next book, I might be proven completely wrong about this, and look like a freaking idiot, but in this book, I felt like any attempt to make Megan evil was transparent.

All in all, I would strongly recommend reading Firefight if you’ve read Steelheart, and I can’t wait to continue the series (why do I have to wait until February 2016 for Calamity?!). The Reckoners series is a powerful combination of action-movie fight scenes, sci-fi elements, endearing characters, and suspenseful plots.

Also! I now have a copy of this book SIGNED. In person! It was so great to meet Brandon Sanderson, and to get one of my favorite books by him signed. AHHH *still fangirling*


Why Do I Write?

This week’s Flash Fiction Contest is not about fiction. Author and fountain of writing advice Chuck Wendig has challenged us this week to write 1000 words about what drives us to write. 

I’ve been writing forever. I was writing novels in fourth grade, cringing and rewriting them in fifth grade. Sharing chapters with my friends in middle school and wishing I hadn’t in the first months of high school. I don’t have any memory of choosing to write–it just happened. Someone put a laptop in front of me, I got a crazy idea about fairies and dragons, and everything else enfolded from there.

My first novel was called After We Waited for Ever, and I thought the title was the cleverest pun in the world. To be honest, I’m still really proud of it, and the story that it created. I stopped writing it when it became clear that it was no longer the story I needed to write, but I still remember those characters.

Looking back on my writing career since I started high school, it can charitably be described as stop-and-start. I’ve been working on my current WIP (Devil May Care–another title I’m rather fond of) since freshman year. My writing productivity is lackluster. Inertia is my byword. Everything gets in the way, and on bad days, the urge to write feels more like a guilt trip than a friendly reminder.

But even when I’m not writing, because of school’s stress or summer’s laziness, I always have an itch to sit down and write. I always open the Word Document again, put my hands back on the keyboard, and find my characters’ voices again.

I cannot imagine a world in which I don’t identify as a writer. I have my characters inside of me, my themes and plots always buzzing around in my mind. I keep a notebook by the side of my bed to jot down late night inspirations. I leave myself electronic sticky notes on my phone and my laptop’s desktop with plot notes and reminders to write. My Devil May Care (secret) Pinterest board is one of my most commonly used boards. I always come back to my story, even if it takes a few months without it to remember why I need it.

When I’m writing, I know I’m a writer. There is no feeling like hitting a groove and letting the words tumble out of you and onto the paper. Writing is the best outlet for emotion I know, the best therapy money can buy, the best escape I can find. To write fiction is to play a game of cat and mouse with the ideas trapped inside of you–and I crave the satisfaction of winning.

I write to meet the people inside of me. The rebellious girl, the flirtatious guy, the bully, the power-hungry ruler, the scared teenager, the fighter, the best friend, the older brother, the ex. To watch people fight and fall in love and do stupid things and find friendship and rise to the challenge of being themselves.

I write to figure out what I think about the world, to have the voices inside of me debate the issues of politics and feminism and the American school system on paper.

I write to explore the things that terrify me and challenge the assumptions that ground me.

I write because how else would I know what I’m thinking?

I write because I can’t stop reading.

I write because when I’m falling asleep, my thoughts trip on themselves and become poetry. I write because words can’t stop rearranging themselves in my mind.

I write because if I get the words in the right order, sometimes people shut up and listen.

I write because people tell me I’m good at it. I write because writing a novel seems like something that could get me into college.

I write because I want someone someday to read my books and understand something about themselves that they’d never realized before.

I write because it is the hardest thing that I’ve ever tried to do.

I write because I am a writer, and I’m not ready to give up.

Top Ten Books that Celebrate Diversity

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week, they post a new Top Ten topic and other bloggers respond with their own lists. I take part in this meme when I have something to say for the topic and I remember what day it is.

I am getting really bad at posting these on Tuesday…

I have to admit something: I am not a diverse reader. Or at least, I am not a purposefully diverse reader. I’ve never gone out and searched for books that feature diversity. I buy books because of the plots they have, not necessarily who the characters are, but that unfortunately leaves me with a bookshelf dominated by straight, white protagonists.

I want to read books that have diverse characters but that are about something more than just what makes the character diverse. I wish there were more diversity-focused fantasy books. Basically, I am a white girl wishing she reading more diversely, so if you have recommendations, please send them my way.

1. Every Day by David Levithan

cover every day

I loved the simplicity with this book discussed the nature of sexuality and gender identity. The main character, A, wakes up in a different body every day, with the powers that be making no distinction between genders. As a character essentially removed from the idea of gender, A’s falling in love with a normal girl effortlessly challenges the idea that “gay” love is any different from “straight” love.

2. The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

cover the summer of chasing mermaids

Featuring an ethnic protagonist whose culture heavily influences her personality, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids separates itself from the contemporary pack with a plainspoken discussion of gender identity, trauma and healing, socioeconomic divides, and the meaning of voice.

3. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

cover beauty queens

This book has everything. In terms of books I’ve read, this book “wins” diversity for me. It has a separate plot that stands on its own but perfectly showcases (and celebrates) diversity of all stripes.

4. Freaks Like Us by Susan Vaught

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Featuring a schizophrenic protagonist, this novel humanizes mental illness while telling a sweet and compelling story.

5. Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig

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This book celebrates diversity in a slightly different way: by focusing on hate crimes. Atlanta, the badass protagonist, takes a stand against racial supremacy and homophobia (as well as animal cruelty) in this gritty and humorous read.

6. Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

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I haven’t read this book yet, but my sister told me to put it on the list. Historical fiction set in Ethiopia with Europe on the brink of WWII, the story focuses on the racial tensions of blacks and whites mingling during Mussolini’s occupation.

7. Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

cover five flavors of dumb

With a deaf protagonist taking over management of a high school band, this book tackles the social perceptions of disabled people from page one. A hilarious story that proves stories don’t have to have the perfect ending you would expect, Five Flavors of Dumb holds a special place in my heart.

8. More Than This by Patrick Ness

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A hauntingly unique exploration of death and reality, More Than This has a gay protagonist and back-up characters that bring racial and body image issues into the touching plot.

9. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Steifvater

Fantasy stories set in an urban world, The Raven Cycle brings together the pampered son of the uber rich with the scholarship student, the recovering abuse victim from a broken home, and feisty, ragtag girl protagonist who refuses to comply with society’s rules for young women. Later books deal with LGBT themes and issues of social classes.

10. For Darkness Shows the Stars and Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

Companion fantasy/dystopian novels, both of these books deal with societies with heavily entrenched class systems and characters trying to bridge the gaps created by them. They also explore mental illness, focusing on a fictional sickness called Reduction that bears similarities to autism.

What do you think? Have you read any of these books? Do you want to read them now?

Seeing these books that I enjoyed, do you have any others that you think I’d like? Please comment!

Book Review: P.S. I Still Love You (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #2) by Jenny Han

Continuing the lighthearted, playful story of Lara Jean’s tumultuous love life, P.S. I Still Love You is a complex  story of friendship and awkward budding romance, though there was something missing that kept the book from being a favorite.

3.5/5 stars

cover ps I still love you

Amazon Description

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.

She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.

When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

My Review

Everything about this book feels real. It is the story of Lara Jean’s awkward life. Unfortunately, real life isn’t always breathtaking.

I love that this book has a complex plot. It deals with themes of friendship, family, and self-discovery–not just romance. I appreciated that there was less family drama in this book than in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, especially that Margot was less bitchy. The family drama in book one were easily my least favorite part of the plot, and its being toned down in book two made PS I Still Love You a smoother read for me.

The family drama refocused on Lara Jean’s dad (instead of Margot) and his children trying to find him a date (their mom died when the Song girls were young). This subplot started out weird for me, but ended up being sweet; I was rooting for the ship to sail (I don’t want to use names because it is a bit of a reveal) along with the sisters.

I also had a realization about Lara Jean in this book: her being annoying at times actually makes her a unique protagonist. In the first book (and in the second book), Lara Jean annoyed me with her personality. She’s just not my kind of person; our reactions to certain situations are extremely different, she puts up with some stuff I wouldn’t, and flips out at some things that don’t really bother me.

But halfway into PS I Still Love You, I realized that her personality–while frustrating–was also endearing. And, at least, if I don’t like her, that is something new for me, since I usually like the protagonists of books I read. In the end, I think I kind of love Lara Jean, for the same reasons that I originally hated her. She’s really, really one-of-a-kind, and she has a crystal clear personality. I know who she is, and that is something that doesn’t happen often with contemporary leads. She feels like a person who could exist in real life–so props to Jenny Han for writing her.

The romance is less unique. I liked Lara Jean and Peter as a couple, even if they were kind of screwed up. This book has a love triangle, though it is less dominant than it was in the first book, and it involves a different guy (more on him later in the review). Once again, the love triangle worked as a part of the plot. I didn’t hate it, it provided lots of hilariously awkward scenes, and I liked its resolution.

There is nothing amazing about Lara Jean and Peter’s romance, except for the realism. They are not the kind of couple that gets together and instantly works. They both have baggage, and neither of them are “good” at being significant others. Peter does some things that end up being obnoxious, but I forgave him for it, because Lara Jean was messing up their relationship also, and because it was great to read a Chicklit book with a truly fallible (but lovable) love interest. Still, the romance fell flat in terms of dramatic moments or emotional scenes. The romance is light, funny, and in some ways doomed, but it never grabbed me.

That is a problem the entire book had. Did I like the plot? Yep. Did I think the story was cute and refreshingly realistic? Yes. But there were no heart-string-plucking moments, no scenes that brought tears or made me gasp. Looking back on the story, I don’t know what the plot’s arc was supposed to be; there was no clear rise or fall to the action. Stories don’t have to have the “exposition to rising action to climax to resolution” plot arc, but they have to have something that grabs me and keeps me reading. Instead of having a je ne sais pas, this book is missing one. I liked the premise, the characters, and all of the plot lines, but I never fell in love with the book.

I still recommend reading this book. It fixes a lot of issues I had with the first book, and it gives the reader a deeper understanding of the characters. PS I Still Love You maintains the light and playfully awkward tone of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, so if you loved that in the first book, I would definitely tell you to pick up the second one. I can’t tell if there will be a third book (honestly the series would be okay either way), but I would read it if it were released.

A quick thought on the love triangle (contains spoilers)

I liked John–he was an interesting character–but he was forever in the friendzone for me. Lara Jean needed a male friend, and she got one, but I never wanted him to (or believed he would) become her love interest. I also never believed Peter would actually cheat on Lara Jean, or that his relationship with Genevieve was anything other than platonic (on his part). Peter wasn’t trying to be malicious or hurt Lara Jean–he was just painfully clueless. For me, that came across as forgivable realism (though if it happened to me in real life I’d be unbelievably pissed) instead of a disqualification from the race to be Lara Jean’s boy friend.

Book Review: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

I went into this book thinking I wouldn’t like it, but I was SO WRONG. This book is a new favorite, surprising me with its complexity.

4.5/5 stars

cover the summer of chasing mermaids

Amazon Description

The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.

Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: an ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.

Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother, Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.

When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them…

My Review

The strength of this book came largely from the protagonist, Elyse. I fell in love with her from the first page, and I never stopped feeling for her or wanting to help her heal. I was fascinated by her inability to talk and its effect on the story. A character who literally cannot speak presented a powerful and unique lens to view a story through. My heart broke every time Elyse had some long explanation to say, but kept it inside because she could not convey her lengthy thoughts. I spent a large portion of this book on the brink of tears (though I never actually cried), and most of the times I teared up, it was because of how deeply I empathized with Elyse.

It was not just Elyse’s voicelessness that made her endearing, however. I liked and understood her personality. Her shyness was familiar to me, and the strong sense of loss that dominated her (after she left her homeland to spend the summer in the US) was heart-wrenching without being annoyingly broody or overpowering. I liked that Elyse was an ethnic protagonist (I cannot remember the last time I read a contemporary book that didn’t have a white lead), and the elements of her culture that Elyse brought with her improved and deepened the story.

I loved the motif of Elyse’s poetry that Ockler wove throughout the story. It was a simple way to prove that Elyse did have a clear voice and that she wanted to use it. (On a side note, I loved the hand writing fonts they used to convey her poetry.) The image of Elyse spilling her heart out onto the walls of the abandoned boat she found was beautiful and sad–and provided one of the best Cute Meet scenes ever.

My biggest concern about The Summer of Chasing Mermaids before I read it was the PTSD/damage that Elyse’s character faced. As a rule, stories dominated by mentally wonky characters don’t work for me, and I was afraid that Elyse’s PTSD would dominate the story. It didn’t. Elyse was just damaged enough for it to be realistic, but she still had a personality separate from her trauma. The healing process Elyse underwent over the course of the book was simple and subtle, but complete enough to be inspiring–without ever feeling cheesy, preachy, or sudden. There was no miracle cure, and she never really looked for one, but by the last page of the book, Elyse had clearly grown past the accident that robbed her of her “destiny.”

The main plot of the book surrounds Christian and Elyse fixing his boat in the hopes of winning the regatta–and a bet Christian’s father made that impacts the future of the entire city. (I’m purposefully being vague, guys.) The “boat plot” did a fantastic job of creating a skeleton to carry the rest of the subplots, and gave the book a clear rise toward the climax that left me unable to put the book down (literally–I read this book in essentially one sitting).

The romance between Christian and Elyse was gorgeous and sweet. I love them as a couple. Their transition from strangers to friends to significant others was paced well and felt realistic. Christian was a likable love interest who clearly had his own character; he was not just a hot body for Elyse to fall for. He had depth that many YA males lack–which presented a problem. He was introduced as a playboy who only had flings and never cared about the girls he slept with–but I never bought it. From the early scenes with him, it was clear that Christian was a good, complex guy, who would be good for Elyse. Of course, I was glad that the love interest wasn’t a jerk, but it was unnecessary for Ockler to try to pass him off as the bad boy if none of his actions would ever reflect it.

The other characters added necessary components to the story, but tended to come off flat. One part of the book that suffered because of this was the concept of Elyse’s five sisters. The reader never “met” any of them directly, and Elyse’s twin only appeared in the story for flashbacks and short scenes. I ended up not caring about her sisters, even though that was supposed to be a large portion of Elyse’s character and childhood.

The friends did a good job being friendly to Elyse, but I never felt like I met them. They were just shell of characters who existed to create a friend group and help Elyse heal. Their flatness did not kill the book, but I would have appreciated some suggestions of depth from them.

I hated most of the parents in this book, which was the point. All of the parental figures were believable–and that was what made me so angry. Most of them were horrible, greedy people who used their children as bargaining chips. The discussion of parental control of teenagers’ lives was relatable to the extreme, and I appreciated that Ockler created characters that I know exist in the world today (and that I wish my friends didn’t have to deal with). The juxtaposition of the sons’ friendship and the fathers’ rivalry created emotional conflicts that helped to ensure that The Summer of Chasing Mermaids was more than just a romance.

I was surprised by the social commentary this book. The discussion of gender roles (which tied in gorgeously to the title) was honest and simple, but it made this book memorable. The gender identity subplot tied in with the other plot lines, ensuring that it didn’t feel superfluous or disconnected. It was part of the story, and it got the point across successfully without monopolizing the entire plot.

Connecting to the title, the mermaid motif was a subtle but charming part of the plot. I liked how it connected subplots and added whimsy to the story. I can’t say I was a fan of the moments when the mermaid motif became almost paranormal, but that was because of personal issues with magical elements cropping up in contemporary stories, not because the scenes hurt the book–they didn’t. I will say that the melodramatic prologue was absolutely unnecessary and only served to confuse me. If you’re thinking about picking this book up, just skip the first few pages. The plot circles back around to them anyway, so you aren’t (in my opinion, but feel free to challenge me in the comment section) missing anything.

I would recommend this book to people who are skeptical of YA Chicklit. My sister (who has famously given up on contemporary YA) read this book and really enjoyed it, possibly more than me. The depth and power of this book put it in its own league, far above the simple romance-driven plots normally found in this genre. 

The Blogger Recognition Award!

Thank you so much to Hidden Staircase for nominating me for this award (originally created by Eve at Edge of Night–thanks as well)! She blogs about mystery books and you guys should go check her site out! It is always such an honor to receive these awards from fellow bloggers! 🙂 Let’s get to it.

blog recog award

Here are the rules:

  • Select 15 other blogs you want to give the award to.

  • Write a post to show off your award! Give a brief story of how your blog got started, and give a piece or two of advice to new bloggers.

  • Thank whoever nominated you, and provide a link to their blog. Attach the award to the post. List who you’ve nominated in the post.

  • Comment on each blog and let them know you’ve nominated them. Provide a link to the award post you created.

  • Provide a link to the original post on Edge of Night. That way, anyone can find the original guidelines and post if needed, and we can keep it from mutating and becoming confusing!

My Story

I started this blog in April of 2014, when I was a freshman in high school. My sister had started a blog a few months earlier to showcase her sewing, and she had enjoyed it. (By the way, go check her blog out! She makes costumes and ready-to-wear clothing, and they are super cool.) I decided to jump on the bandwagon and try out a blog focusing on reading and writing.

I never “planned” on being a blogger. If you asked me at the beginning of freshman year if wanted to start a blog, it was so far off my radar that I wouldn’t have even known how to respond–it was never something I even thought about doing. That is, until the day I came up with a name for a blog and hopped on WordPress to create it. I’ve been blogging ever since.

Blogging is simultaneously a stress reliever and a stressor. I usually try to have three posts a week (though in a hectic week at school I might drop down to two). Writing blog posts is refreshingly different from schoolwork, so it gives my brain a break, but when I’m short on time, even giving myself a break it stresses me out. It ends up being a positive presence in my life on balance, however.

My Advice

Advice? Umm…I’m not sure I’m actually qualified for this, but here goes nothing:

  1. Have a personality. I’ve noticed that the posts of mine that get the most traffic and likes tend to be posts in which I let my inner sarcastic fangirl loose. Sometimes with book reviews or TTT posts, I find myself being boring–just getting the facts across–but it always helps to let your own voice spruce up your posts.
  2. Give yourself some “easy” posts. Especially if you plan to keep yourself to a goal of writing a a certain number of posts per week, having “easy” posts that you can write each week without too much work makes posting regularly simpler. I do the TTT meme every week, because I can write it in advance, it doesn’t take too long, and it lacks the pressure of other posts (such as book reviews which require, well, reading books).
  3. Don’t be afraid to be a part of the community. Blogging isn’t just about putting your own story out there, it’s about interacting with fellow bloggers. The book blogging community (and other blogging niches, I would assumed) is supportive and friendly, so don’t be afraid to comment on other people’s posts or reach out to other bloggers. In my experience, there isn’t a VIP room for bloggers–we’re all in this together, no matter how long you’ve been blogging.
  4. Make sure you’re having fun. Sometimes, blogging just won’t fit into my schedule for the week. If I find myself overwhelmed even taking the time to look at my blog’s dashboard, I know that I should back away from blogging for the week. Blogging is a great outlet and stress reliever, but only if you make sure that it stays a hobby instead of a tedious obligation.

My Nominations

Check out these amazing and wonderful blogs!

(If you already received this award, I’m sorry, and you are under no obligation to do it again.)

Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Breaking news: I picked up a “classic” willingly–and I really enjoyed it! Though it was clearly written around the turn of the twentieth century, The Picture of Dorian Gray’s gothic and haunting plot has a timeless quality that ended up appealing to my very modern tastes.

4/5 stars

Arkham cover D final
I’m in love with this cover, by the way

Amazon Description

In this celebrated work, his only novel, Wilde forged a devastating portrait of the effects of evil and debauchery on a young aesthete in late-19th-century England. Combining elements of the Gothic horror novel and decadent French fiction, the book centers on a striking premise: As Dorian Gray sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait grows day by day into a hideous record of evil, which he must keep hidden from the world. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde’s most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind.

My Review

I was sucked in by the premise of this book: a guy gets a picture painted of him, and the portrait ages instead of him. Meanwhile, English society ignores his sinful nature because of his ridiculous good looks and ageless quality. I was ready to read it but hesitant of it being a “classic,” but my mom said she thought I would enjoy it anyway, so I picked it up.

I’m glad I decided to read it.

The characters in this book are fascinating. It is hard to say who exactly is the main character, because in the beginning, most of the narration is from the viewpoint of Lord Henry, the proverbial devil on young Dorian Gray’s shoulder. I loved and hated Lord Henry simultaneously. His dialogue was quick-paced and rhythmic, but I’m fairly certain that everything he ever said contradicted itself.

Had I read this book for school, I would have hated how little sense Henry’s grand declarations about art and human nature made, because I would have been forced to try to make sense of his views. Reading this book outside of the school setting, I was able to simply let the ridiculous senselessness of his speeches wash over me, and I ended up loving his presence in the book. Technically, Lord Henry is a horrible person, but his jovial character and amusing speech pattern made me unable to hate him.

About a third of the way into the novel, the narration refocuses on the title character, Dorian Gray. Passionate to the point of melodrama, half charming angel and half sinister devil, I was fascinated by Dorian. He definitely did not start out evil, though just as assuredly, he ended up evil. By the end of the book, you are trapped inside the head of a madman, but he never fully loses the whimsical and flighty innocence that drew Lord Henry to him.

There are too many side characters to count, let alone keep track of. I read this book slowly, over the course of a few weeks (for no good reason, really), so I’m sure that I missed times when characters came back, thinking them to be new people altogether. I can’t say that this really matters, because the side characters mostly serve as symbols of proper English society; their importance comes from their ignorant obsession with Dorian and their own shallow moralities, rather than who they are as individuals.

The important side characters–Basil Howard, Sibyl Vane, James Vane, Alan Campbell–were portrayed simply but well, so that I understood who they were and what they each wanted from Dorian. None of them lingered in the story long enough to develop complex characters, but their flatness never hindered the book.

I loved the plot surrounding the portrait of Dorian. It’s significance came less from showing Dorian’s age–though it did keep him from aging in reality–but from showing his sin’s effects on his character. This gave the book a chilling and creepy tone, and by the end of the book, I was exactly as enthralled and horrified by the picture as Dorian himself.

From the standpoint of literary analysis (because I couldn’t turn off the AP English student in my mind while I read this), the picture was an annotater’s dream. It was a mirror acting as a conscience, but it was doomed to fail, because none of the ruin actually affected Dorian. Guilt about his sins clawed at him and obsessed him at times, but he kept barreling down his road of corruption, in part because the painting enabled him to do so while staying in society’s graces. I loved the paradoxical nature of the portrait’s effect on Dorian, and the plot that resulted was intriguing and surprisingly gripping.

My only complaint about this book comes from the pacing. Any scene with dialogue was readable, pulling me along faster and faster into the plot. Then, a chapter break would happen, and suddenly I would be stalled in the land of page-long paragraphs musing about random settings or events, laden with allusions that went over my head and bored me until the sentences ran together. Then the action of the chapter would draw me in, and I would commit to the story again, until the next chapter break slammed me into a wall of heavy imagery and mind-numbingly long sentences.

Seriously, just because you can use semicolons to connect half a dozen somewhat related sentences into one, doesn’t mean you should, Oscar Wilde.

Still, the writing in this book is gorgeous. There are so many amazingly quotable lines–I tried to pick a few to put into this review, but there were too many to choose from. The dialogue (especially if Lord Henry was involved) was my favorite part of the book, and the banter between characters was entertaining enough to challenge some of my modern favorites.

From a modern perspective, this book is an intriguing insight into the struggle of being gay in proper English society. Honestly, I’d be willing to bet that the three main characters (Henry, Dorian, and Basil) as well as a few side characters (I’m looking at you Alan Campbell) were gay, though in the story nothing remotely homosexual actually occurs between them (that the reader is shown). There is something equal parts sad and captivating about being inside these characters’ minds–where they are drawn to and fascinated by the other male characters–while simultaneously seeing their actions–which are all focused on marrying, loving, and having affairs with women.

Also from a modern perspective, there is some pretty serious sexism in this book. I was able to laugh at it–Lord Henry’s sexist remarks about women are ridiculous–but if sweeping declarations about the female temperament being weak and nonintellectual make you want to throw things across the room, this book might not be for you.

“She is very clever, too clever for a woman. She lacks the indefinable charm of weakness.”

Despite the social situations of this book being outdated, the story itself is similar to its title character: there is something timeless about this book. The characters’ complex moral struggles, the bantering and amusing dialogue, and the undeniably creepy tone appealed to me as a modern reader, and though I knew that this book was over a century old, I feel that it would fit right in to my bookshelves.