Saturday, February 28, 2015

Best Books of February


In February 2015, I read 7 books. Here is a recap of my favorites from the month.


Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell


A coming-of-age tale of fanfiction, family and first love. 
Cath is a Simon Snow fan. 
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan... 
But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. 
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. 
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. 
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. 
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? 
Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? 
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Review: I just want to know if Cath finished her fanfic and if she killed Baz. I know there’s going to be some sort of sequel to Fangirl, but I want to know now. I’m not that patient.

Fangirl is about Cath’s freshman year at college. It’s her first time away from home, her first time living without her twin sister, and the first time that boys are truly interested in her. Cath feels alone and overwhelmed. One thing that connects her to her pre-college life is her obsession with fanfiction and the Simon Snow book series. However, she may be forced to give that up.

This is the best book I’ve read so far this year. The characters and the relationships between them are well-developed and realistic. Cath is the most relatable character that I’ve read in a long time. I think a lot of people can see some part of themselves in her. She’s insecure, awkward, funny, stubborn, determined, and trying to figure out what she wants in life. It’s hard not to root for her.

The dialogue is amazing. There are a few literal LOL moments. I loved the back-and-forth between Cath, Levi, and Reagan. The characters have very distinct personalities that really come out during conversations.

Usually, I have a lot of issues with the romances in YA books. There are way too many abusive relationships that are presented as healthy and normal. This isn’t a problem in Fangirl. I actually like the relationships in this book. Levi is slightly too clingy for my tastes, but he treats women (and everybody else) nicely. He apologizes when he screws up. He’s not overly jealous. He respects his girlfriend’s privacy and doesn’t pressure her into doing anything that she doesn’t want to do. And, best of all, he’s not an airbrushed supermodel. He’s a realistic-looking person. You don’t know how happy this makes me.

I know that a lot of readers criticize Fangirl for misrepresenting the people who are involved in fandoms. I’ve never cared enough about anything to participate in a fandom, and I’ve never written fanfiction. I have no idea if Cath is a realistic fangirl or not. She seems pretty realistic to me.

My criticism is about Cath’s mind-blowing stupidity in her fiction-writing class. She turns in fanfiction for one of her assignments, and then she’s confused when she gets an F. I have a hard time believing that Cath is this stupid. The point of fiction-writing class is to learn how to write fiction. If you’re borrowing another author’s characters, setting, magic system, world building, etc., then you’re missing out on a lot of learning. In fiction class, you’re supposed to come up with these things yourself. Of course the professor is going to get irritated if you use material from another author. “Borrowing” is basically cheating.

Also, Cath knows that she isn’t allowed to make money from her fanfiction, but she seems stunned when the professor calls her work “plagiarism.” Fanfiction is plagiarism. That’s why Cath isn’t allowed to make money from it. She shouldn’t be so shocked to hear somebody call her work what it is. She should also know that universities don’t allow plagiarism.

Other than Cath’s stupidity, I enjoyed this book. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it. Now I’m tempted to start reading fanfiction.


Stargirl – Jerry Spinelli


From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, hallways hum “Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. Until they are not. Leo urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her—normal.

Review: I loved Stargirl as a kid, and I still love it as an adult. I also think it has one of the best covers I've ever seen on a book. It's simple, memorable, and attention-grabbing. Very cool.

The main character, Stargirl, is a little unusual. She cheers for both teams during basketball games, attends the funerals of strangers, brings her pet rat everywhere, and likes to wear costumes. At first, the students at her new high school find her behavior funny, but soon she starts to get on their nerves. Stargirl and her boyfriend, Leo, become social outcasts. Leo has a much harder time coping with this than Stargirl. They can either change themselves in the hopes of making friends, or they can stay outcasts for the rest of high school.

Stargirl fits the manic pixie dream girl trope, and some of her behavior pushes the boundaries of believability, but I think she's actually more realistic than most characters who fit the trope. First, only one boy (Leo) lusts after her, and even he is often unhappy with their relationship. Almost everybody in Stargirl's life finds her insufferably annoying. Like many manic pixie dream girls, she's loud, unpredictable, and embarrassing. In real life, a manic pixie wouldn't be a "dream girl." She'd be irritating, like Stargirl. So, I believe that Stargirl is the most realistic version of the trope I've ever seen.

Every character in this book is slightly cliché, and that doesn't bother me at all. There is so much more to this story than just the characters.

Stargirl gives readers a lot to think about without being too preachy. That's what I love about it. It's about nonconformity and the confidence to be yourself. It's about acceptance, love, kindness, and understanding. Most importantly, it asks the question, What would you give up in order to fit in?


~*~
All The Things = 9 books.

I’m currently reading (re-reading actually) = Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood


Friday, February 27, 2015

FF Friday: Books On Fire? Yes, Please


Feature & Follow is a weekly blog hop hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.

This week’s question: “Your house is burning down and you have time to select three books you own to take with you. What three books do you take?”

Answer: Is it considered cheating if I take the Kindle? There are more than three books on there.

If my house was burning down, the books would not be high on my priority list. I probably wouldn’t take any of them. Actually, most of my books are used paperbacks, so I’d want them to burn. Then I’d have an excuse to get nicer copies of my favorites.

Or, since I always have unread books sitting around, I’d grab three that I haven’t read yet. I might feel bad if the books burned before I got a chance to read them.

What about you? What three books would you take?

~*~

The follow part: If you are a book blogger and you leave a link to your blog in the comments below, I will follow you on Bloglovin’. I’d love it if you also followed me.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Review: Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell


A coming-of-age tale of fanfiction, family and first love.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan...

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Review: I just want to know if Cath finished her fanfic and if she killed Baz. I know there’s going to be some sort of sequel to Fangirl, but I want to know now. I’m not that patient.

Fangirl is about Cath’s freshman year at college. It’s her first time away from home, her first time living without her twin sister, and the first time that boys are truly interested in her. Cath feels alone and overwhelmed. One thing that connects her to her pre-college life is her obsession with fanfiction and the Simon Snow book series. However, she may be forced to give that up.

This is the best book I’ve read so far this year. The characters and the relationships between them are well-developed and realistic. Cath is the most relatable character that I’ve read in a long time. I think a lot of people can see some part of themselves in her. She’s insecure, awkward, funny, stubborn, determined, and trying to figure out what she wants in life. It’s hard not to root for her.

The dialogue is amazing. There are a few literal LOL moments. I loved the back-and-forth between Cath, Levi, and Reagan. The characters have very distinct personalities that really come out during conversations.

Usually, I have a lot of issues with the romances in YA books. There are way too many abusive relationships that are presented as healthy and normal. This isn’t a problem in Fangirl. I actually like the relationships in this book. Levi is slightly too clingy for my tastes, but he treats women (and everybody else) nicely. He apologizes when he screws up. He’s not overly jealous. He respects his girlfriend’s privacy and doesn’t pressure her into doing anything that she doesn’t want to do. And, best of all, he’s not an airbrushed supermodel. He’s a realistic-looking person. You don’t know how happy this makes me.

I know that a lot of readers criticize Fangirl for misrepresenting the people who are involved in fandoms. I’ve never cared enough about anything to participate in a fandom, and I’ve never written fanfiction. I have no idea if Cath is a realistic fangirl or not. She seems pretty realistic to me.

My criticism is about Cath’s mind-blowing stupidity in her fiction-writing class. She turns in fanfiction for one of her assignments, and then she’s confused when she gets an F. I have a hard time believing that Cath is this stupid. The point of fiction-writing class is to learn how to write fiction. If you’re borrowing another author’s characters, setting, magic system, world building, etc., then you’re missing out on a lot of learning. In fiction class, you’re supposed to come up with these things yourself. Of course the professor is going to get irritated if you use material from another author. “Borrowing” is basically cheating.

Also, Cath knows that she isn’t allowed to make money from her fanfiction, but she seems stunned when the professor calls her work “plagiarism.” Fanfiction is plagiarism. That’s why Cath isn’t allowed to make money from it. She shouldn’t be so shocked to hear somebody call her work what it is. She should also know that universities don’t allow plagiarism.

Other than Cath’s stupidity, I enjoyed this book. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it. Now I’m tempted to start reading fanfiction.




Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Heroines


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten favorite heroines from books, TV, or movies.


This list was difficult for me. I don’t watch many TV shows or movies, and most of the books I read are contemporaries. They don’t have characters that I’d consider “heroines.” I might have a few unusual choices because I had to think really hard to come up with ten.


My Top Ten Favorite Heroines


1. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) – This is one of those girls who you just shouldn’t mess with.

2. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter) – She’s intelligent, and she punched Malfoy. That’s awesome.

3. Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter) – She isn’t afraid to be herself. That takes a lot of courage.

4. Lyra Silvertongue Belacqua (His Dark Materials) – Lyra is just a kid, but she knows what needs to be done, and she gets it done.

5. Lisa Simpson (The Simpsons) – She has big goals and stands up for what she believes. Also, she has to live with Homer as a father. That can’t be easy.



6. Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) – This character helped shape the way that modern heroines are written. I thought she deserved a spot on the list.

7. Annabeth Chase (Percy Jackson) – She has a lot of flaws, but she’s brave, loyal, and doesn’t have any trouble keeping up with the boys.

8. Merida (Brave) – I wanted one movie heroine on this list. Merida knows what she wants in life, and she isn’t afraid to defy ancient beliefs to get it.

9. Coraline (Coraline) – She’s probably not one of the greatest heroines of all time, but I was impressed with how she never let fear stop her.

10. All of the women on Bob’s Burgers (Bob’s Burgers) – The characters are feminists, sex-positive, and not sitcom stereotypes. The video below can explain it better than I can. (If the video actually works. If it doesn’t, here’s the Youtube link.)



Monday, February 23, 2015

Review: The Raft – S.A. Bodeen

The Raft – S.A. Bodeen


Robie is an experienced traveler. She’s taken the flight from Honolulu to the Midway Atoll, a group of Pacific islands where her parents live, many times. When she has to get to Midway in a hurry after a visit with her aunt in Hawaii, she gets on the next cargo flight at the last minute. She knows the pilot, but on this flight, there’s a new co-pilot named Max. All systems are go until a storm hits during the flight. The only passenger, Robie doesn’t panic until the engine suddenly cuts out and Max shouts at her to put on a life jacket. They are over miles of Pacific Ocean. She sees Max struggle with a raft.

And then . . . she’s in the water. Fighting for her life. Max pulls her onto the raft, and that’s when the real terror begins. They have no water. Their only food is a bag of Skittles. There are sharks. There is an island. But there’s no sign of help on the way.

Review: Survival stories are one of my favorite genres, and I haven’t read one in years, so I knew that I needed this book as soon as I saw the cover.

The narrator, Robie, is on a cargo flight from Hawaii to Midway Atoll when her plane crashes into the ocean. Robie and the co-pilot, Max, are the only survivors. All they have is a yellow raft, a few supplies, and the garbage that they pull out of the ocean.

This novel goes fast. The action begins quickly and doesn’t let up. I started reading, and then suddenly I was halfway through the book, and then suddenly it was over. If you’re looking for something that you can read in a few hours, I’d recommend this one.

I did have some issues with the story. Robie is a very bland narrator. I never really got a sense of her personality. All I know about her is that she’s extremely incompetent at everything, thinks she knows better than everyone else, and gives up easily. Those are interesting character traits, but I would have enjoyed her story more if I’d known her better. I had a hard time caring about what happened to her because she never felt real to me.

There is a twist ending. I don’t want to spoil it, but I didn’t think it was much of a twist. I kind of suspected that it was coming. This same twist has also been done several times in other books and movies, so I wasn’t surprised when it did happen.

Even with my criticisms, I enjoyed The Raft. It’s a quick read and an entertaining way to spend a few hours. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Review: Stargirl – Jerry Spinelli

Stargirl – Jerry Spinelli


From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, hallways hum “Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. Until they are not. Leo urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her—normal.

Review: I loved Stargirl as a kid, and I still love it as an adult. I also think it has one of the best covers I've ever seen on a book. It's simple, memorable, and attention-grabbing. Very cool.

The main character, Stargirl, is a little unusual. She cheers for both teams during basketball games, attends the funerals of strangers, brings her pet rat everywhere, and likes to wear costumes. At first, the students at her new high school find her behavior funny, but soon she starts to get on their nerves. Stargirl and her boyfriend, Leo, become social outcasts. Leo has a much harder time coping with this than Stargirl. They can either change themselves in the hopes of making friends, or they can stay outcasts for the rest of high school.

Stargirl fits the manic pixie dream girl trope, and some of her behavior pushes the boundaries of believability, but I think she's actually more realistic than most characters who fit the trope. First, only one boy (Leo) lusts after her, and even he is often unhappy with their relationship. Almost everybody in Stargirl's life finds her insufferably annoying. Like many manic pixie dream girls, she's loud, unpredictable, and embarrassing. In real life, a manic pixie wouldn't be a "dream girl." She'd be irritating, like Stargirl. So, I believe that Stargirl is the most realistic version of the trope I've ever seen.

Every character in this book is slightly cliché, and that doesn't bother me at all. There is so much more to this story than just the characters.

Stargirl gives readers a lot to think about without being too preachy. That's what I love about it. It's about nonconformity and the confidence to be yourself. It's about acceptance, love, kindness, and understanding. Most importantly, it asks the question, What would you give up in order to fit in?


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Review: Twisted – Laurie Halse Anderson

Twisted – Laurie Halse Anderson


High school senior Tyler Miller used to be the kind of guy who faded into the background—average student, average looks, average dysfunctional family. But since he got busted for doing graffiti on the school, and spent the summer doing outdoor work to pay for it, he stands out like you wouldn’t believe. His new physique attracts the attention of queen bee Bethany Milbury, who just so happens to be his father’s boss’s daughter, the sister of his biggest enemy—and Tyler’s secret crush. And that sets off a string of events and changes that have Tyler questioning his place in the school, in his family, and in the world. 
In Twisted, the acclaimed Laurie Halse Anderson tackles a very controversial subject: what it means to be a man today. Fans and new readers alike will be captured by Tyler’s pitch perfect, funny voice, the surprising narrative arc, and the thoughtful moral dilemmas that are at the heart of all of the author’s award-winning, widely read work.

Review: I saw this book at B&N and bought it without knowing anything about it. I didn’t even read the back cover. All I knew was that I liked this author’s other books, so I thought I’d give this one a try. I was not disappointed.

After a summer of doing landscaping work, Tyler’s new muscles attract the attention of Bethany, the most popular girl in school. At first, he’s thrilled, but after he gets blamed for posting naked pictures of Bethany on the Internet, his life starts to spin out of control. Twisted is intense and very realistic.

Even without reading the back cover, it quickly became obvious where this story was heading. The foreshadowing and the references to death/murder/suicide are strong. This made the plot a little too predictable for my tastes. I also had a hard time connecting with Tyler. He has a good sense of humor, but he doesn’t seem as deep as the other narrators in Laurie Halse Anderson’s books.

I did love the author’s approach to the naked-picture scandal. These scandals impact more than just the person in the pictures. Tyler is just as much a victim as Bethany. He is harassed, threatened, falsely accused, and treated like a criminal until his innocence is proven. When we hear stories about teens posting naked pictures on the Internet, we don’t think about everybody who is involved. Victims like Tyler are often ignored. Focusing on Tyler instead of on Bethany is a unique approach to a familiar story.

I didn’t like Twisted as much as I like Speak, but it did give me a lot to think about.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Problems


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten bookish problems.


My Bookish Problems


1. My Friends Are Imaginary: Sometimes I spend more time with imaginary people than real ones.

2. All The Best Boys Are Fictional: Most real boys just can’t compare to the ones in books.



3. Amazon Free Shipping: Amazon gives you free shipping if you spend a certain amount of money. Sometimes I buy an extra book just to get the free shipping, even though paying the shipping might be cheaper than buying the extra book.

4. Book-Related Injuries: Have you ever held a hardcover book open for hours? When you finally set it down, your hands are stuck like they’re still holding the book. That’s not cool.

5. Book Hauls: My most recent book haul hasn’t even arrived yet, and I already have the next one planned . . . and the one after that.

6. Mystery Stains: I usually buy used books because they’re cheaper, but the mystery stains on those books are distressing. There’s nothing like turning a page, seeing a creepy stain, and going, “Eww! What the hell is that? I really hope I didn’t touch it.”

7. Series: I read a book that I really like. It turns out to be book #1 in a series. Now I need to get the next one in the series, but it takes a year for book #2 to come out. By the time it’s out, I’ve forgotten what happened in book #1.

8. When Nobody Understands: Have you ever loved or hated a book so much that you just had to tell people about it? But, when you start telling them, they get that glazed-over look in their eyes, and you know that they’re not really paying attention. They’re just politely waiting for you to stop talking.

9. Movie Tie-In Covers: I hate them. I don’t want a movie poster on the front of my book. It looks way too commercial. I hate it even more when the only edition of a book I can find/afford is the one with the movie cover.

10. Neglecting Everything: One day I made plans to write essays, work out, and go to bed early. Instead, I sat on my butt all day and read Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl until I thought my eyes would start bleeding.



Monday, February 16, 2015

Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan


Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption.

Review: This collection of linked short stories centers on Benny, a record executive, and his assistant, Sasha.

The writing is poetic, and it’s worth reading just for that, but the stories themselves are . . . "meh." They all melted together in my mind because they felt very repetitive: music, drug use, sex, un-relatable characters, repeat for 300 pages. I think I would have liked this book a lot more if it had been shorter.

My favorite story is the one that’s told in PowerPoint slides. It’s creative, and it works well. I also think the author did a nice job of finding unique ways to link the stories together. I enjoyed discovering the connections between them.

I guess I’m baffled about why this won a Pulitzer. Maybe I missed something. It’s definitely not the worst short story collection I’ve ever read, but I got a little bored with it.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Likes/Dislikes In Book Romances


I realize that Top Ten Tuesdays are supposed to be posted on Tuesday, but I’m going to be a rebel and post mine on Valentine’s Day (because I have nothing better to do).


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Last Tuesday’s topic was ten things I like/dislike about romances in books. So, here we go:

Likes

1.  Teamwork, Trust, And Competence: I love it when both partners in a romance are equal and working together to solve a problem. I love it even more when they don’t have to save each other constantly. I want them to be able to save themselves.

2. Ugly Folks In Love: Okay, the characters don’t have to be ugly, but realistic is great. Not everybody is a supermodel with an always-wonderful personality. I like flaws.

3.  LGBTQ Characters: I’m happy that this genre is becoming more mainstream, especially in YA. It’s good for the world.

4. Believability: Some characters in fictional relationships seem so incompatible that I don’t understand how they’re in love. I want to know what the characters see in each other. I want them to have some pre-love history together.

5. Badass Girlfriends: No damsels in distress. Seriously, some fictional girls can barely stand upright without their boyfriends around to help.



Dislikes

1. The Word “Perfect”: I hate when this word is used to describe a character's appearance. Love interests are called “Perfect” way too often in romances. The word is nonspecific. It means different things to different people. When an author uses this word, it’s like he/she is leaving a blank for the reader to fill in themselves. I’m too lazy for that. It’s the author’s job to tell me what “Perfect” looks like.

2. Abuse Masquerading As Love: It’s not love if your partner spies on you, damages your property, physically restrains you, prevents you from seeing your friends, forces you to lie, or threatens to harm someone. That’s abuse. I have seen male characters do all of these things in YA lit. When the girl claims that her boyfriend is just being “Cute and overprotective,” I want to set the book on fire. Abuse masquerading as love drives me to pyromania.

3. Any Romance That Compares Itself To Romeo & Juliet: You know how that play ends, right? That isn’t love. That’s infatuation and insanity.

4. Insta-love: I have a feeling that this will be on everybody’s list. Love at first sight just doesn’t work in books. Whenever I see it, I’m like, “Keep your pants on, woman, you met him five pages ago.”

5. Obsessiveness: You can go a whole chapter without seeing your love interest. I promise you won’t die. Well, unless you’re one of those damsels in distress. Then you’ll probably die. 

  



Friday, February 13, 2015

Review: How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines – Thomas C. Foster

How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines – Thomas C. Foster


What does it mean when a fictional hero takes a journey? Shares a meal? Gets drenched in a sudden rain shower? Often, there is much more going on in a novel or poem than is readily visible on the surface—a symbol, maybe, that remains elusive, or an unexpected twist on a character—and there's that sneaking suspicion that the deeper meaning of a literary text keeps escaping you. 
In this practical and amusing guide to literature, Thomas C. Foster shows how easy and gratifying it is to unlock those hidden truths, and to discover a world where a road leads to a quest; a shared meal may signify a communion; and rain, whether cleansing or destructive, is never just rain. Ranging from major themes to literary models, narrative devices, and form, How to Read Literature Like a Professor is the perfect companion for making your reading experience more enriching, satisfying, and fun.

Review: I think "Lively and Entertaining" is a bit of an overstatement, but this is one of the most readable books about literary analysis I've come across. Most of them are so boring that they're nearly impossible to get through. I had no trouble getting through this, and my reading list is now a little longer. The author mentions a few books that sound very interesting.

If you already have an English degree (or several), then you probably won't learn anything from this book. If you read a lot and think deeply about what you read, then you probably won't learn anything from this book. It only provides a very basic overview of irony and the most common symbols in literature. Some of the symbols that the author discusses are so obvious that they didn't need explaining. Most readers would be intelligent enough to figure them out for themselves.

I was hoping that this book would have a little more depth and be a little less western-centric. The author ignores half of the world. What about the irony and symbols in Eastern literature? I want to know about those.

I would recommend this book to high school students and anyone who hasn't taken literature classes. Those people would get the most benefit from it.



Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Review: Coraline – Neil Gaiman

Coraline – Neil Gaiman


Coraline's often wondered what's behind the locked door in the drawing room. It reveals only a brick wall when she finally opens it, but when she tries again later, a passageway mysteriously appears. Coraline is surprised to find a flat decorated exactly like her own, but strangely different. And when she finds her "other" parents in this alternate world, they are much more interesting despite their creepy black button eyes. When they make it clear, however, that they want to make her theirs forever, Coraline begins a nightmarish game to rescue her real parents and three children imprisoned in a mirror. With only a bored-through stone and an aloof cat to help, Coraline confronts this harrowing task of escaping these monstrous creatures. 
Gaiman has delivered a wonderfully chilling novel, subtle yet intense on many levels. The line between pleasant and horrible is often blurred until what's what becomes suddenly clear, and like Coraline, we resist leaving this strange world until we're hooked. Unnerving drawings also cast a dark shadow over the book's eerie atmosphere, which is only heightened by simple, hair-raising text. Coraline is otherworldly storytelling at its best.

Review: One rainy day, a girl named Coraline gets so bored that she decides to find out what's behind the locked door in the drawing room. She discovers an apartment that looks exactly like the one where she lives, but the similarities are only surface deep. Coraline ends up on a fast-paced adventure with a bunch of creepy creatures.

If I had read this book as a kid, it might have been one of my favorite books ever. I loved Alice in Wonderland, and this reminded me of a modernized, urbanized version of Alice. I can see why so many kids are crazy about Coraline.

This is a short book, only about 160 pages, so it's a quick read for adults. The story is a little scary, but I think most kids could handle it.

If I had to find something to criticize, it would be the writing. It's very simplistic, and there is a lot of repetition of names, actions, and feelings. Repetition is fine if it's purposeful, but this didn't seem purposeful to me. There are two paragraphs in a row where every sentence starts with "She." I know that this is a kids' book, and the writing should be clear and simple, but I also know that this author is capable of better writing than what's in this book.

The plot and characters are amazing. Coraline is brave, quirky, and very likable. The world is unique and imaginative. I really appreciate that the author doesn't talk down to his readers. The plot is complex, but he trusts that kids are smart enough to "get it." This is a very fun book. I loved it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Review: What is the What – Dave Eggers

What is the What – Dave Eggers


New York Times Notable Book
New York Times Bestseller 
What Is the What is the epic novel based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng who, along with thousands of other children—the so-called Lost Boys—was forced to leave his village in Sudan at the age of seven and trek hundreds of miles by foot, pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals, crossing the deserts of three countries to find freedom. When he finally is resettled in the United States, he finds a life full of promise, but also heartache and myriad new challenges. Moving, suspenseful, and unexpectedly funny, What Is the What is an astonishing novel that illuminates the lives of millions through one extraordinary man.


Review: I feel like a jerk for not loving this book. I also seem to be in the minority, so maybe you shouldn’t trust my opinion.

What is the What tells the (maybe true, maybe fictional) story of a Sudanese refugee who spent his childhood struggling to survive in various African refugee camps. As an adult, he comes to the United States and attempts to create a life for himself, but it’s far from easy. This book is listed as fiction and biography. It’s a novelization of a real person’s life, so it’s impossible to know what’s true and what isn’t.

Even though I didn’t love this book, it is definitely worth reading. The story is brutal. It helps explain the situation in Sudan and makes it more relatable for people who are living thousands of miles away from the conflict. It’s hard not to feel bad for the narrator, Valentino Achak Deng. The events that he (possibly?) lived through are truly terrifying and disturbing. It’s amazing what people can survive. This book shows humanity at its best and its worst.

Valentino’s story is devastating and inspiring, but I didn’t like how it was told. Most of the book is very slow and bogged down with somewhat-irrelevant details. Reading it was a slog. It took me about 200 pages before I really got interested in the story. The middle of the book is gripping, and I flew through it, but I got bored again at the end. With about 100 pages left, I was wondering when it was going to end. I had to force myself to finish it. I would have loved this novel if it were shorter and faster-paced.

The profits from What is the What go to a charity that helps people in Sudan. The book is worth buying just for that.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Follow my blog with Bloglovin



You can now follow this blog with Bloglovin’. The button is on the left, or you could click the title of this post.

Friday, February 6, 2015

2015 Book Haul #1

I went to Barns & Noble a few weeks ago, and here’s what I got. Stargirl is the only one of these books that I’ve read before, but I was 13 when I read it, so I don’t remember it very well. I got Fangirl and If I Stay because other bloggers are raving about them, and I’m curious. I picked up The Raft and The Impossible Knife Of Memory just because I thought the covers were pretty. Yep, I judge books by their covers.

I’ll post reviews when I read these. For now, we have Goodreads summaries.


Stargirl – Jerry Spinelli



From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, hallways hum “Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. Until they are not. Leo urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her—normal.

The Raft – S.A. Bodeen



Robie is an experienced traveler. She’s taken the flight from Honolulu to the Midway Atoll, a group of Pacific islands where her parents live, many times. When she has to get to Midway in a hurry after a visit with her aunt in Hawaii, she gets on the next cargo flight at the last minute. She knows the pilot, but on this flight, there’s a new co-pilot named Max. All systems are go until a storm hits during the flight. The only passenger, Robie doesn’t panic until the engine suddenly cuts out and Max shouts at her to put on a life jacket. They are over miles of Pacific Ocean. She sees Max struggle with a raft.

And then . . . she’s in the water. Fighting for her life. Max pulls her onto the raft, and that’s when the real terror begins. They have no water. Their only food is a bag of Skittles. There are sharks. There is an island. But there’s no sign of help on the way.

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell



Cath is a Simon Snow fan. 
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan... 
But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. 
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. 
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. 
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. 
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? 
Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? 
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

The Impossible Knife Of Memory – Laurie Halse Anderson




For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own. 
Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

If I Stay – Gayle Forman


On a day that started like any other, Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, admiring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. In an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left. It is the most important decision she'll ever make.

Simultaneously tragic and hopeful, this is a romantic, riveting, and ultimately uplifting story about memory, music, living, dying, loving.
 








Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Changes!


If you’ve been to my blog before, you’ve probably noticed that it now looks different. I’m in the process of making some big changes.

First, the blog is now (hopefully) better designed and easier to read. Some of my old posts may still have strange spacing and a small font. The browser I was using didn’t play nicely with Blogger, and that wreaked some havoc.

Second, the blog will now focus more on book reviews. I love reading and writing reviews, and I want to share more of mine with you. If you’re a book reviewer, I’d also love links to yours.

Third, I’m going to attempt to post more often. Two to four times a month doesn’t feel like enough. I’m going to try to post 2-4 times a week, but I don’t know how well that’s going to work. We’ll have to wait and see.

Fourth, I’m going to get better and more consistent at labeling my posts, so things should be easier to find.

Finally, no more posting schedule. I’m going to post whenever I have something to post. I hope this will lead to more frequent posting.

Thank you for reading my blog. I really appreciate your support.  

Monday, February 2, 2015

Project For Awesome 2014 Winners


The 2014 P4A winners have been announced. All of these charities will receive a portion of the money that was raised. I’m very happy that so many literacy-related charities won this year. Here’s a list of all the winners:

Partners in Health – A global organization that works to improve the health of poor and marginalized people. 

Save the Children – Works to improve the health and safety of children all over the world. 

Not Forgotten – Partners with local ministries to help abandoned children in Peru. 

The Harry Potter Alliance – Harry Potter fans who find creative solutions to protect the environment and stop poverty and genocide. 

The Office of Letters and Light / NaNoWriMo – Organizes events that get children and adults excited about writing. 

The Thirst Project – Builds wells and provides safe drinking water for people all over the world. 

This Star Won’t Go Out – Gives financial assistance to the families of children with cancer. 

Doctors Without Borders – Provides medical aid to people in nearly 70 countries. 

Days for Girls International – Helps women and girls gain access to quality feminine hygiene products.

She’s the First (American) – Sponsors girls’ education with the goal of creating first-generation graduates and future global leaders. 

Pencils for Kids – Provides educational programs, classroom supplies, schools, and libraries for communities in need. 

Ultimate Peace – Uses sports and games to build bridges of friendship, trust, and leadership between young people who live in communities divided by conflict. 

We Need Diverse Books – Promotes diversification efforts in children’s literature and works to increase visibility of diverse books and authors. 

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Dedicated to preventing suicide. 

The Book Truck – Provides free books to teens in dropout recovery high schools and foster care facilities in Los Angeles. 

To Write Love On Her Arms – Assists people who are struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. 

Donate Life – Works to increase awareness of organ, eye, and tissue donation. 

Garczyńska’s Foundation – Helps poor children in Poland. 

Books for Africa – Distributes books to students in Africa. 

Stella’s Circle – Offers employment, counseling, and education programs to help people find and maintain employment. 

Water.org – Provides safe drinking water and sanitation systems for people all over the world. 

The Sound of Hope – Helps children break the cycle of poverty. 

Thank you to everyone who participated in P4A 2014.