.july wrap-up.

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Happy August! Not to be cliche, but I seriously can’t believe it’s August. I honestly can’t wait for autumn, my favorite season. Knowing the South, though, we’ll get about five seconds of true fall weather sandwiched between long stretches of heat and ice. I’m super excited for fall, though, because of the pile of books I’ve set aside for the chilly weather. Summer, as you’ve probably figured out, is for the light and fluffy reads. Fall is for the paranormal and odd ones.

Here’s what I read in July:

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

My success with Stephanie Perkins continues! This is the second installment in her series which started with Anna and the French Kiss. Lola is not quite a continuation of the same story as Anna, but they exist in the same world with the same characters. That means that yes, the handsome and witty Etienne St. Clair makes an appearance! Ooh la la.

Lola Nolan lives in San Francisco with her two dads, and has a fairly normal life of school, designing costumes, and going to her rocker boyfriend’s shows. Her life becomes complicated, however, when her old almost-boyfriend Cricket Bell returns and moves in next door. Lola must deal with her feelings toward Cricket, as well as her feelings toward her boyfriend Max. This book was just as charming and and lively as Anna and I am currently torn between which one I enjoyed better. The romance was very sweet and realistic, much like the rest of the book. These books are very easy and light, yet not forgettable. I enjoyed this book so much and am thrilled to finish out the trilogy. Four stars.

A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

More than anything else, this book reminds me of Tumblr. Tumblr is OBSESSED with this book for some reason. I was assigned to read it in tenth grade English, but for one reason or another, never got around to reading it entirely. In July I decided to bite the bullet and figure out what attracts people to this classic.

I admit that the environment and “feel” of the time is evident in Fitzgerald’s writing. It’s glittering and fast-paced and decadent, which is what I think he was going for. To a point, that was the main reason I was sticking with it. However, I didn’t find the plot or characters interesting or memorable. Page after page, I kept wondering when my interest would be piqued and I’d really find that point to latch onto the story. That never happened. Seems I’m in the minority with this one, though. I just wasn’t impressed and don’t consider it “the great American novel” by any stretch of the imagination. Three stars.

A book your mom loves: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

My mom has been trying to get me to read this book for years, but it honestly kept slipping my mind. As a South Carolina resident and fond visitor of Savannah, this book is pretty much required reading. I opened it having little idea of what kind of book it was. Even now, having finished it, I find it a little hard to categorize as a book. I also am struggling a little to map out my thoughts of it.

It’s easiest to think of this book as two halves (though not perfectly proportionate halves). One half is a travelogue, in which the author moves to Savannah and encounters the weird and wonderful residents (including a stinking-rich antiques dealer, a drag queen, and a voodoo priestess). This half of the book was my favorite, probably because it was introduced first and was fairly fast-paced and interesting. Then the author introduces the murder mystery aspect of the story, which is the actual focus of the story. The problem for me, though, is that the murder mystery storyline took too long to happen, and it was pretty anticlimactic for me. The book is still worth a read for its irreverent characters and dishy, shimmering writing. Three stars.

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Remember when I said that I couldn’t decide whether I liked Anna and the French Kiss or Lola and the Boy Next Door best? That was before I read the third installment of the series, and now there is no question. Isla blew MY FREAKING MIND.

Like I said, Perkins’ series is not a linear story, but it contains the same characters at the same time in the same world. This one focuses on Isla Martin, who attends the same school Anna Oliphant goes to in Paris. Since she entered the school three years ago, Isla has had a huge crush on Josh, her classmate and son of a US senator. By a twist of fate, the two become friends and eventually a couple. I know, I’m making it sound incredibly generic, but this one really has the simplest story of the three. But I so, so loved it. The characters were incredibly lovable and well-written (including Kurt, Isla’s best friend with high-functioning autism–yay for inclusion!). I also completely loved the romance and the drama. I’d recommend reading the first two, of course, but this one was definitely the crowning jewel of the trilogy. Five stars!

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison

I was on vacation on Siesta Key while I read this, and following Isla with this was a match made in heaven. When I was finished squee-ing with delight at Isla, I transitioned to this book and immediately starting giggling hysterically.

This book was a lot of fun. It’s the diary of Georgia Nicolson, British neurotic teen obsessed with making out (“snogging”). It reminds me of The Princess Diaries, but where that has a more solid storyline, Angus is purely about the laughs. Georgia is incredibly witty and likable. I enjoyed this book, but I don’t know if I enjoyed it enough to continue the series, which spans out to ten books. As funny as the book was, I don’t know if it warrants nine more books of essentially the same story. My TBR (to-be-read) list is currently at over 700 books, so I can’t really justify adding the rest of this series on top of that! Three stars.

A book with a love triangle: Matched by Ally Condie

For as many YA books I own that I haven’t read, I pretty much had my pick of ones with love triangles. Since this one has been collecting dust for a while, I decided to pick it up. The description of it pretty much only talks about the love triangle, but there’s a bit more to the story than that.

Cassia Reyes lives in a dystopian society in which everything is chosen for her, including who she marries. She is Matched with her best friend, Xander…but what seems like a fluke, she is Matched with Ky, another boy in her community. That isn’t the whole focus of the story, but it’s the main “gimmick,” if you will. Despite the negative ratings on Goodreads, I really enjoyed this book. I found the dystopia resonant of The Giver, but it wasn’t annoyingly similar (cough, cough, Divergent). It had several really good emotional scenes as well. I felt the excitement start to dwindle the further along I got, though. The romance was also a touch forced. Still, I will probably continue the trilogy. Four stars.

What did you read in July? I’d love to know.

Kellyn xoxo

.june wrap-up.

Happy July, my sweet sunfish. I hope your summer reading is in full swing. Despite my stiff office dwelling 40 hours a week, I am still exploiting the art of escapism with books, books, and more books. Halfway through the year, and I can say that I have had much success with my chosen tomes. No one-star books as of yet (fingers crossed that this continues).

Here’s what I read in June.

The One by Kiera Cass

Oh, boy. This is the third (but NOT final) installment of The Selection series. I still liken it to a cross between The Hunger Games and The Bachelor (much to the chagrin of an angry Pinterest user who told me I was wrong about that). It’s very light and fluffy with only hints of totally non-threatening dystopia danger. As you can tell from the cover, it’s really centered on the romance and the drama.

The competition to win the heart of Prince Maxon is slowly coming to a close. We are still following the Crown Princess of Frustrating Trope Heroines, none other than America Singer. Yes, those who aren’t reading the series, that is her real name. If you’re reading the series, then you won’t be shocked at the final outcome of the Selection. In all honesty, I picked this up just to get it over with. For the most part, it was what I expected. There were twists and exciting scenes that kept me hooked to see what happened next, but still a lot of the same-old. Lots of YA tropes, forced dialogue, irritating characters (ASPEN). While these are far from cerebral, Cass’ books are pretty fun and light for the YA reader. I must admit this one was probably my favorite of the three. Accordingly, three stars.

A book with more than 500 pages: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I thought that the Divergent trilogy would be the trilogy I’d read this year, as per the 2015 reading challenge. Unfortunately, after reading Insurgent, that is not going to be the case. While I found Divergent…well, diverting, Insurgent was flat and had an air of disinterest. Let me briefly pull out a Hunger Games comparison. The first installment of that series, like Divergent, was thrilling and inviting. However, while Catching Fire is definitely the crown jewel of the series, Insurgent was the complete opposite. It was the fizzled-out remains of Divergent‘s spirit.

Though the story is set in a nation divided, shrouded in secrecy and deception, weapons and security guards, it isn’t the least bit exciting. The focus, mainly, is on Tris and Four’s relationship, which grows precarious for some reason. I assume it’s to add drama that isn’t needed, given the drama-filled environment already provided. There’s also a slew of nondescript, four-letter-name side characters who add nothing to the story. I found Insurgent dull, dialogue-heavy, and full of what I consider filler. My stint with the trilogy is hereby terminated. Two stars.

A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

What a treat! Talk about a shift in protagonist character in comparison to The One. America Singer is frustrating, selfish, and all-around unsavory. Anna Oliphant, however, is vibrant and funny and takes this book to the next level. The protagonist of a story can either make or break the novel, and Anna as the star makes this book TOPS.

The novel tells of a girl sent from Atlanta (side note: there is a real lack of Southerners in YA fiction) to a Paris boarding school for Americans. There she makes the acquaintance of several charming and colorful students, including the wry and dashing Etienne St. Clair. Truly the shining star of the book are its characters, its writing, and its romance, which never came across as forced or even cheesy. If a person were only to read YA books like The One or City of Bones, he/she would miss the spirit and charisma that is so present in Anna, and his/her perception of YA literature would be pretty skewed. This book was awesome and I plan to continue reading Perkins’ work. Four stars.

A popular author’s first book: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Two years ago, I read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides and thought it was amazing. That, paired with having seen The Virgin Suicides film and enjoying it, made me think I’d really enjoy this book. I have to say I really enjoyed it. Eugenides is such a skilled writer and world builder, and I was as engrossed in this book as I was in Middlesex.

The Virgin Suicides tells of the Lisbon family: a controlling mother, a weak father, and five daughters. The youngest commits suicide, causing a ripple in the family and in the neighborhood. The story is told by a group of young boys who are obsessed with the Lisbon girls, who become gradually more oppressed by their mother, and follow their movements throughout a period of years. The story reads dreamlike, keeping itself shrouded in soft mystery until the rather shocking end. The reader finds themselves fascinated by the Lisbon girls too, who are delicate and womanly and wise. I really enjoyed this novel and will continue to explore other works by Eugenides. Four stars.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Though it’s an exceedingly rare occurrence, I’ve been wrong before. For example, when I started this book, I didn’t think I’d like it, or even finish it. Sticking with it, however, proved to be a pleasant surprise. At first it seemed like too much of a doppelganger of Ella Enchanted, one of my all-time childhood favorites. While it is very similar, it ended up being an awesome YA fairy tale in its own right.

The Goose Girl tells of a young princess named Ani, who is betrayed by her staff of guards and is forced into hiding as a peasant, as her staff passes off one of their own as the princess in a faraway kingdom. Ani finds work as a goose girl and meets a band of rustic allies who help her reclaim her throne. The story was full of twists, excitement, and even some amazing romance and friendship. Fans of Ella Enchanted and other similar fantasy books will really enjoy this. Four stars.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

This book has been on my Goodreads TBR list for about three years, added when it was really in its heyday. I decided to finally bite the bullet and pick it up in June. The cover really is cute, and it’s gotten pretty stellar reviews online.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is unique in that it almost solely relies on memos, emails, and transcripts to tell its story. It is probably the only book I’ve read that jumps around wildly and actually benefits from this style. Any other book using this style would feel crowded and confused. The story centers around Bee, the daughter of an eccentric architect, Bernadette Fox. She is something of a legend, having received a MacArthur grant and routinely pissing off the other private school mothers. Prior to a family trip to Antarctica, Bernadette goes missing. Bee uses artifacts like newsletters and emails to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance, and also learns a lot about the other people around her. This novel was quite funny and smart, with colorful characters and dialogue. Four stars.

A play: The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler

Like Tampa, this is a book that would only result in embarrassment if caught with it in a professional setting. It’s easy to read quickly and then stash away quickly, though. Basically, this is a collection of interviews Ensler had with various women about their vaginas, often humorous but always fantastical and almost New-Age preachy-poetic. It gives the reader a feel for other women’s experiences and feelings about their anatomy, menstruation, and sex. However, in all honesty it’s not something I’ll read again. I’m not anywhere near prudish; it was just the odd poetry of it that didn’t land it a perfect score with me. Three stars.

I would love to hear what you read in the comments below.

Kellyn xoxo

.may wrap-up.

  

 


Welcome to June, my sweet readers. I’m writing this after spending a sunny afternoon by the pool with–what else?–a book. I told you last time that May would be more active reading-wise, and I managed to keep that promise, despite starting a Big Fancy Job (!) and having the worst cold of my life. It was also my birth month!

Here’s what I read in May:

A book set in a different country: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

The novel revolves around the appearance of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Islam’s tightening grip on women’s lives. It uses a dual narrative, describing two women entering adulthood at different points in time in Afghanistan. One woman, Mariam, grows up a social pariah due to the nature of her birth and eventually is sold into a controlling and terrifying marriage. Another younger woman, Laila, grows up privileged in another area of the country but is adopted as a second wife to this man, due to a terrible wartime tragedy.

I found the novel’s merits lie in its developed characters and its emotional resonance. Seriously–this book gets SAD; tears were shed for sure. The atmosphere was also very well-written; I really enjoyed reading about a land that most people only know from television (the author has spent quite a lot of time in Afghanistan). The abusive husband character, Rasheed, lacked the same development that the other main characters had. I thought the reasons for his nastiness could have been explored more. Other than that, I found the book to be absolutely stellar and a must-read for those interested in Afghan culture, as well as female relationships. Four stars.

A book that was originally written in a different language: Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

I finished this in a night and immediately wanted to turn back to page 1. Having previously seen the French film based on this book, I found that they were quite similar and equally enjoyable. This novel tells the story of a young woman named Clementine who struggles with her feelings towards women. She falls in love with a woman named Emma who sports a fluorescent mop of blue hair (her hair is the only feature in the novel that is in color). The story is told over a period of many years, starting when Clementine is still in high school and ending in adulthood.

I have been getting more interested in lesbian fiction lately, and I found that this was a great place to start. Both the art and the story are beautiful and fluid, reading like an epic love story spanning years and years of two women’s lives. Five stars.

(I’m not your mother, but this book contains situations of a carnal nature. Use discretion as necessary).

A book set in high school: Princess in the Spotlight by Meg Cabot

Like I said above, I came down with the worst cold of my life in May. That means two weeks of coughing, balled-up tissue, Flonase, and general misery. Now who wants some hefty, deep-thinking book when they’re sprawled on the couch in days-old pajamas? I grabbed for Princess in the Spotlight and was treated with musings from one of my all-time favorite book heroines.

This is the second book book in the series (do I even need to tell you the plot of these books?), focusing on Mia Thermopolis growing more used to her title as Princess of Genovia. She appears on a nationwide TV show to give an interview, and even has a secret admirer! Ooh la la. A secret admirer, even in my weakened state, I figured out a mile off. Oh well; that’s why I wanted to read it while I was sick. The series is quick and easily digestible, yet hilarious and great fun to read. I particularly enjoyed this one and gave it five stars.

A book written by someone under 30: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

This was definitely the standout book for the month of May. Among the top ten best-selling books of all time, the diary sets itself up for very high expectations and, though it was not written to entertain, it far exceeded those expectations for me. Anne’s style is precocious and often wry, a true delight to read. She observes her surroundings and recounts her experiences with a sly passion, yet her youth and inexperience is also present in her writing. Anne offers insight that surpasses the ability of most adults.

I feel that it’s not necessary to give a plot summation, because most people know already Anne’s story. However, her diary offers a deeper look into the isolated lives of these people in hiding from 1942 to 1944. It is an absolute must-read. Five stars.

A book by a female author: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I mentioned that I started a Grownup Office Job for the summer in the NUCLEAR INDUSTRY (!!!). Though nowadays I’m finding ways to break up the day, starting out I had very little to do. Because escapism is an effective tool, I picked up Wild in order to fill my time. It is the popular story of a woman’s trek across the Pacific Crest Trail (which is 2,663 miles long) after her mother’s untimely death and her own divorce from her husband. I’m about as outdoorsy as [insert joke here], but I really enjoyed the descriptions of the ever-changing terrain Strayed encountered. She is an incredibly skilled writer, effortlessly changing the subject from one thing to another with the reader following right along behind. Her story is often a tragic one, but her story of her hike carrying a backpack bigger than her is inspirational and insightful. It’s a great one to take with you on an airplane or to the beach. Four stars.

A funny book: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Speaking of beach reading, the last book I read in May was read at Folly Beach in Charleston, SC. A few chapters into this one, I was reminded of Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Lawson, however, writes in much more of a manic, tangential style. Her recounts of her childhood in 1970s rural Texas with a taxidermist father are downright odd and side-splittingly hilarious. I adore stories about people’s families–the stranger the better–and these were my favorite part of the book.

However, I got burned out rather quickly in the later portions of the book when Lawson discusses her adult years. Her chattery, off-the-wall voice gets a bit tiresome and hard to follow. However, for the most part the book was very funny and entertaining. Four stars.

What did you read in May?

Kellyn xoxo

.april wrap-up.

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Welcome to May, friends. I hope you had a lovely, book-filled April. On the other side of your screen is a girl run ragged from her last semester as a junior in college. Between memorizing names of retinal cells and interpreting graphs of behavioral therapy, fun reading sort of fell by the wayside. Believe you me, I would much rather have been reading than studying/stressing over final exams. I’m thrilled to announce, though, that I’m finished with my spring semester and am practically giggling with excitement. I have put aside many books specifically for the warmer months (does anyone else do that?), so my reading rate will soon be back on par.

So, here’s all TWO books I read in April.

A book with a number in the title: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

I was blown away by this book. Only a few pages in, it hits you over the head with its dark and brutally honest tones, and spirals you into a morbid mystery along with the narrator, Clay Jensen. He receives a package of cassette tapes made by Hannah Baker, his classmate who committed suicide. The tapes detail the thirteen reasons that led Hannah to kill herself. The best thing about this book is the dual narration: Clay and his reactions to the tapes, and Hannah narrating the tapes. The reader is dropped into the story the moment Clay receives the tapes, and we travel and deduce with him as he listens to each one, figuring out his role in Hannah’s actions. It’s in the same vein as Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, dealing with heavy topics like sexual assault, bullying, and suicide without being an after-school special. It’s written brilliantly and is as much a great mystery as a tragedy, and often a dark comedy. Five stars.

A book at the bottom of your to-read list: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This book has been on my TBR for literally years. I remember buying this when my favorite discount bookstore first opened, and it has sat on my shelf ever since. Picking it up, I was pretty hyped; the cover is gorgeous, right? I feel like the book hypes itself up a lot. The prologue reads like a movie trailer, getting you excited for the action to come. The problem is, a lot of the book felt like that. It felt like the author put more energy in the suspense of the story than telling the story. There’s a rule for writing that goes “show, don’t tell,” and I think that this book fails in that regard. The story revolves around two young magicians in Victorian London who are being trained for some sort of duel. I say “some sort” because the duel is not explained very well, nor is much of anything in this book. The characters all felt flat and detached, and it was hard to get to know any of them, because the story moved around and was unfocused. The setting and overall feel of the writing was quite effective, though–sparkling, dreamy, and dizzying. On other criteria, though, The Night Circus did not work for me. Two stars.

What did you read in April? I’d love to hear it in the comments.

Kellyn xoxo

.march wrap-up.

 

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Hi, everybody. I hope where you are the weather isn’t too bad; here it’s slowly getting gorgeous. I’m thrilled we made it through the winter with no power outages or black ice. From here on out it’s green, green, green as far as the eye can see. Everybody should just move to the South, honestly. You get to stay home for an inch of snow; it’s honestly great.

As my spirits began to lift (seasonal affective disorder is for real), so have my choices for books. I felt very drawn to green covers in March, maybe because of the Irish festivities or maybe the hints of lush vegetation all around me.

Here’s what I read in March:

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A book based entirely on its cover: The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

What do you think of when you look at this cover? A girl-about-town, an ingenue snappily dressed, quirky, sharp-witted, with many suitors and connections? That’s the heroine of this book: Sally Jay Gorce. This is the story of her whirlwind tour through Paris a la Edith Wharton, eating croque-monsieurs and evening gowns in the daytime. Think 1950s Carrie Bradshaw/Holly Golightly/Bridget Jones/etc etc.

I enjoyed this book once I accepted it for what it is: an unmapped-out, stream of consciousness journey with a flawed and honest young woman in Europe. You can’t go into this book expecting an intricate plot or groundbreaking character development. You can, however, expect the highs and lows that come from a coming-of-age tale set in a lush and passionate city. Some parts get fairly dull, others are vibrant and funny. Eventually I gave it three stars. I recommend this to anyone who wants to get lost in a fast-paced setting with a likable heroine.

A book that became a movie: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Ahhhhh. It’s nice to read dialogue and character development of youths that’s natural, emotional, and completely unpretentious (looking at you, John Green). I’ve read Wintergirls by this author, which beautifully handles the topic of eating disorders in teenagers. Speak is no different. It deals with ninth-grader Melinda who enters high school a pariah, due to a blurry memory of that past summer involving many of her classmates and one boy in particular. Throughout the book it becomes clear what happened to cause the entire school to shun Melinda, and the tragic toll it takes on her.

I think Speak is a splendid example of depression manifesting in a protagonist without the story becoming dull. Each character is real: flawed but not archetypal or cut-out. I think this book is a must-read for those who enjoy YA.

Where the Lilies Bloom by Vera & Bill Cleaver

Here’s another book I was asked to read for my adolescent literature class. The back cover offers a vague description: four children in the Smokies trying to cut out a living after losing their parents. I was quite pleased with the book. At just under 200 pages, the reader is swept up into the sprawling landscape of Appalachia and its plant life. It’s also a heartfelt, often tragic look into poverty, the meaning of family, and the importance of promises. If you want a strong female protagonist that you’ve never heard of, give this a try. I gave it four stars.

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

The graphic novel trend continues. This was one that I was really excited to dive into, and I was NOT disappointed. This is the story of Anda, a teenaged girl who joins an online community (similar to World of Warcraft) called Coarsegold. Everything is going well until she encounters a blatant infraction of the community’s rules: the illegal collecting and selling of in-game items. Once our protagonist discovers the truth behind this player’s actions, she questions her morals and her previous ideas about what is right and wrong. Unexpectedly, the story deals with economics and business, but it’s not boring AT ALL.

I loved everything about this book, the biggest thing being the art. Everything is so round and bouncy and colorful and friendly. The aesthestic of the Coarsegold world was awesome, too. I’m not a big gamer, but it made me wish I were! I also enjoyed the plot. I think both children and adults could learn something from this story. The only thing I didn’t like was how short it was; it took me less than an hour to read. I gave it five easy, easy stars. Perfect introduction to someone who is new to the graphic novel world.

 

What did you read in March? I’d love to know.

 

Kellyn xoxo

.february wrap-up.

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Hi, friends! How was February, the longest/shortest month of the year? You’re talking to a woman on the edge. Am I the only person whose favorite season is always the one not currently being experienced? Any other time of the year, I would have sworn winter was my favorite season. Winter is Christmas, thick knits, tall rubber boots, blankets, willfully refusing to shave. Now, I’ve discovered, it is also seasonal affective disorder, bulky layers, dry skin.

Can you fault me? Summer in my neck of the woods can be positively hellish. Right now, though, I’d take a sunburn over wind burn.

I now understand the phrase from CS Lewis: always winter and never Christmas. Horrible prospect.

The only thing that can ease my sun-starved soul are–what else?–books. February was a pretty good reading month; not one book under 4 stars. I also couldn’t help but divert a little from my reading challenge list; winter makes you do crazy things.

Here’s what I read this month:

The_Absolutely_True_Diary_of_a_Part-Time_Indian The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This was the second assigned book in my adolescent literature class. It didn’t wow me quite as much as Stargirl did, but it was still quite good. It tells the story of Junior, a Native American boy living on the Spokane reservation in Washington. To say the least, his life on the rez is awful. His parents are drunks, his neighbors pick on him and beat him up, and his school is trying to “kill the Indians.” Junior eventually sets out for a better education outside the rez, to the dismay of his best friend Rowdy, at a school where he is the only Native American.

I think the drawings (Junior is an aspiring cartoonist) really make the story. They are absolutely HILARIOUS. Otherwise this is a darkly comic coming-of-age tale about diversity, family, community, basketball, and…boners. This was a little more “boyish” than I would normally like, but like I said, it’s very funny despite some of the depressing stuff. Four easy stars.

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Divergent by Veronica Roth

Chalk this up to a thirst for teen dystopia. I certainly don’t think this is better than The Hunger Games, but there’s something so addictive about it. It’s the story of a girl named Beatrice who lives in a world where everyone’s place in society is decided by a government-engineered simulation. Those who don’t fit the mold for any faction are known as Divergent. In order to go under the radar, Beatrice (who of course is Divergent) joins the Dauntless faction, who are known for wearing all black, getting tattoos, and jumping off of moving trains. Most of the story is her and her fellow initiates training to become for-real Dauntless. It’s like if the pre-arena part of The Hunger Games was really, really stretched out.

This was a very fast-paced story, which was a blessing, considering how I struggled through City of Bones last month. We find out all about the Test and the fact that Beatrice is Divergent within twenty pages of the book. It was also exciting to follow the training of the Dauntless inductees, which mainly involved hand-to-hand combat and general dangerous living. The character development was good in this book, especially involving Tris and Al. There were quite a few “background” characters to keep up with, yet I could tell one from the other after a few pages. I’m not in a huge hurry to pick up Insurgent, but I definitely will continue the series. Four stars.

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A book of short stories: A Good Man Is Hard To Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor

Short stories are wonderful, especially for the hurried reader. You can feel like you’ve traversed through a whole world of characters and setting in half the time a novel would take. And if you don’t feel great about the world of that particular story, another one is only about twenty pages away. I think a person could learn to like short stories if he or she were given a copy of this book. O’Connor is a master of short stories, as well as the Southern Gothic medium. All the stories have a touch of the ugly, the bleak, the dirty. The characters are broken and grotesque, and while the settings have a down-home flavor, there’s a sense of foreign terror all around.

I didn’t love all the stories in this book equally, but I at least got some enjoyment out of each one. You can check out my individual ratings for each of the ten stories here. Altogether, though, I gave the book four stars. I really enjoyed it and would recommend O’Connor to anyone who loves the Southern Gothic genre.

holes

Holes by Louis Sachar (guys…enough mispronunciation. It’s SACK-er!)

This is my pick of best book in February. I could sing this book’s praises forever and ever. I’m assuming most of you have read or at least heard of it, but if you haven’t, I can only say that you should pick it up as soon as possible. At least see the movie. Pretty decent adaptation of the book, considering (looking at you, The Giver).

Holes is the story of a very unlucky kid named Stanley Yelnats who, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, is sent to Camp Green Lake to serve a jail sentence for stealing a pair of shoes. Here he must dig a hole in the dry desert sand each day, to “build character.” As these stories often go, there’s something secret going on at Camp Green Lake, and it all has to do with Stanley and his ancestors, who are the reason he seems to be so unlucky.

This is one of my all-time favorite young adult novels–definitely in the top 5. It’s a darkly humorous story with great, believable characters. It has fairly short chapters, making it easily digestible in a day or two. Pick it up if you like YA, period.

friends with boysA graphic novel: Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

Having enjoyed V for Vendetta last year, I’ve decided to make an effort to read more graphic novels this year. This was a pleasant start! Friends with Boys is very much a middle-grade story, starring Maggie and her three older brothers. She’s going to high school for the first time, having been homeschooled previously. Obviously this is a big worry for her. And there’s the whole I’m-being-haunted-by-a-widow’s-ghost thing…

The best thing about Friends with Boys was the artwork. It was very lively and full of expression, yet still true to life. The characters are all very humorous and sweet; I loved Maggie and her brothers and the way they communicated. However, there’s a big problem with this book: there’s very little conflict. There’s a subplot about a ghost and an old artifact from the museum being stolen, but it was introduced and resolved so quickly that it seemed pointless. I really hope a sequel will be in the works soon, because these characters are too sweet and funny to waste. Four stars.

aliceA banned book: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

I had quite a pick with this category. I’m sure half of the books I own are banned somewhere in the US. We all know the story: Alice follows a rabbit down a hole, questions absolutely nothing, oddity ensues.

I have to say I enjoyed the first installment much more than the second. The first was giddy and humorous and nonsensical, in a good way. The second was…whoa. Jumbled and tedious and nonsensical in a decidedly BAD way. To pull out a tired comparison, Through the Looking-Glass was mostly a bad acid trip throughout.

I’m glad I read them, though. They ARE classics, right? And I can understand why. I got mostly enjoyment out of them both, although I had to sit back and rub my eyes more times with the second. Four stars. Read sober.

All in all, a very good reading month. Have you read any of these books? I’d love to hear how your reading endeavors went in February.

xoxo,

Kellyn

.january wrap-up.

Welcome to 2015, friends. Welcome to exciting prospects and goals for the upcoming months, if you’re the resolution-making sort. :)

Last year, though I wouldn’t consider it a resolution so much as a fun project, I read 53 books of all shapes and sizes. If you’ll allow me just a second of gloating, that’s one book for each week of 2014, plus one! I can’t help but be proud that this goal worked out so well, as I’d never attempted such a feat in years prior. Though I’ve been a reader as long as I can remember, it wasn’t until 2014 that I began to really examine what I was reading, as well as keep a detailed log of what I was reading (available on Goodreads).

I decided to up the ante in 2015 by not only pushing the goal up by 10 books (60 books in 2015), but I’m also following a checklist of different genres or types of books. Here’s the list if you’re interested:

reading challenge

 

Along with this reading goal, I’ve decided that blogging each month about what I read would be fun and also give me the opportunity to narrow down my thoughts about each book. Connecting with others via blogging and opening up a dialogue for readers never hurt either!

Here’s what I read in January:

A nonfiction book: I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame by Brene Brown

Following the sort-of tradition of last year, I started 2015 with a nonfiction choice. Brene Brown is famous particularly for her TED talks about shame and courage. Her books are growing more of a following as well. This book outlines real-life experiences women have that elicit feelings of shame (which, I learned, is different and more intense than guilt and embarrassment). If nothing else, Brown offers an opportunity for the reader to connect to the women’s shame stories and find reassurance that their feelings are validated. However, I was expecting the book to also provide more accessible strategies in dealing with feelings of shame, and there were none. This shortcoming is why I docked a star off my Goodreads rating. However, I think the book is worth a read for the opportunity for connection, as well as for Brown’s scientific information about the subject of shame softened by her Southern wit.

A book with a one-word title: Tampa by Alissa Nutting (NSFW!)

If there was a category on my 2015 challenge checklist called “a book you would be embarrassed to be seen holding in public,” Tampa would be it. Goodreads users have called this a reverse Lolita (an adult woman involved with a pubescent boy), but I don’t believe that’s accurate. Celeste Price, unlike Humbert Humbert, does not at any point try to convince the reader of her innocent intentions. Her actions are strictly lustful, rather than romantic. It’s a fascinating, addictive dive into a beautiful trophy-wife-by-day’s hunt for the perfect partner: a fourteen-year-old boy in her classroom. The book might make a few readers squeamish, given the subject matter and the candid, unemotional way Celeste describes her own actions and desires. It’s completely exceptional, yet disturbing and cold and detached. I gave it five stars. For those over 18, but use your own discretion.

A book you can finish in a day: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

This is my pick for my favorite book in January. I was commissioned to read Stargirl for my adolescent literature class this semester. Never did an assigned reading go over better. I finished the book in one day and immediately scampered out to the local bookstore for the sequel, Love, Stargirl. This is a fantastic story about bullying, acceptance, and being oneself, and not once does it veer into sappy, after-school special territory. Everyone that has ever been in public school should read this book. Five stars.

A book from your childhood: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

It is my firm opinion that you haven’t fully experienced children’s literature until you’ve read a Roald Dahl book. While this isn’t necessarily my favorite of his, it’s a sheer delight that will have even adults cracking up. It’s hilarious and cheerful without being too cloying–Dahl always incorporates wry, dark humor into his stories that keeps his stories from veering into Pollyanna territory. Five stars.

A book with magic: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Sad to say, at three stars, this was the most disappointing book I read in January. It was also the longest. Good gracious, was it long! I’m not the kind of person to shy away from a long book (I’ve read Gone with the Wind more than once), but City of Bones could easily have been about 100 pages shorter. I found it was often very slow-paced and depended too much on dialogue, and I got either bored or lost at times. I loved the almost constant adventure, and the action sequences were well-written, but when the story slowed down, it REALLY slowed down. There was a real lack of character development as well. Finally (and I know at this point it sounds like I hated the book–I didn’t), a LOT of the happenings were very, very predictable. I may make a whole separate blog entry on this book, just to organize my thoughts on it. Multiple people have told me that the series picks up in the second or third book (which I think is another flaw), but we’ll have to see.

All in all, I can’t say I had a bad reading month. Here’s hoping that February produces such great reactions!

What are y’all reading lately? I’d love to know in the comments. Also, those of you following along on the reading challenge above, what did you mark off the list in January?

I’m off to pick my next book,

Kellyn