Sunday, March 31, 2019

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne

I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying Sally Thorne's The Hating Game. It had that sexy back and forth, love-hate thing going. It wasn't perfect, but it was a lot of fun, plus nicely steamy and romantic. So it comes as little surprise that I would be excited for Thorne's newest book, 99 Percent Mine. The sad reality is that I'm not that into this book.

Our heroine is Darcy Bennett, bartender and former award-winning photographer. Darcy is one of those rebellious young ladies who acts first and thinks second, someone who tends to leave the country when things are going badly. She is madly in love with Tom Valeska, her twin brother Jamie's best friend. Darcy and Tom never seemed to get their timing right- he told her he loved her, she flew to Europe for the first time. Now, he is engaged to a perfect woman named Megan, and Darcy is alone with her candy and her casual flings.

The twins are about to renovate their grandmother's old house so they can put it up for sale. Tom is just starting his own construction business, and they hire him to take on the job. Darcy plans to pitch in, despite her heart condition. When Tom finally admits that he is no longer engaged, she comes on a bit too strong, to put it delicately.

When it seems like they will never be anything more than friends, it suddenly changes. He's really jealous and overprotective when she's around his crew. They go out for drinks, one thing leads to another, and it seems like Darcy finally has Tom 100 percent. That's the perfect time for Jamie to show up.

99 Percent Mine isn't bad, but it's not as good as I wanted it to be. I don't really like any of the characters, except maybe Patty the dog. But I also don't hate them. A lot of the romance seems a little unearned, or maybe I just don't get how it moves from point A to point B, which probably explains a lot about my actual love life. Overall, it's well-written and sort of sweet. I'm always a sucker for a happy ending.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich

"We start with stars in our eyes/We start believing that we belong/But every sun doesn't rise/And no one tells you where you went wrong..."

Fresh off my obsession with the musical Hamilton, I decided to check out the show Dear Evan Hansen. As I am a poor woman who doesn't live anywhere near Broadway, I did this by listening to the soundtrack. It's sad and amazing and so emotional. When I received the Dear Evan Hansen novelization from Pajiba Krampus Exchange, I was excited for more insight into a show that I've only heard in song form (And once I decided I wanted to know what the song "Words Fail" looked like on stage and looked it up on YouTube and it was a mistake, I cried, it was traumatizing).

Dear Evan Hansen is a story based upon a lie. Evan is a normal kid, a little overlooked and a lot anxious. His mom is a nurse and enrolled in night classes, so she doesn't have a lot of time to spend with him, but she tries. She tries a little too hard sometimes, but Evan can be hard on her. Evan's dad lives far away and is busy with his new wife and a new son on the way. Evan is starting his junior year of high school with zero expectations and a newly broken arm from his internship at the local park- he climbed a tree and fell out of the tree.

Evan's therapist gives him an assignment to write letters to himself as a way to get to know his mindset. They always start "Dear Evan Hansen." One day, Evan is printing out a letter at school to take to his appointment when Connor Murphy takes it from him. Connor is an angry young man, and a bit of a burnout. In the letter, Evan mentioned Connor's sister Zoe, Evan's crush, and thought Evan was trying to make fun of him. Connor runs off with the letter, and Evan panics. He doesn't know what Connor plans to do with the letter, but he knows it won't be good.

All that worry was for nothing, because the next day is normal. Connor isn't even at school, and neither is Zoe. They don't show up for several days, and then Evan gets called into the principal's office. Connor and Zoe's parents want to tell him in person that Connor killed himself. They found Evan's letter on him, a letter addressed "Dear Evan Hansen" that concludes with "Your best friend." Evan tries to tell them that Connor wasn't his friend, that he was the one who wrote the letter. They don't listen, especially when they see Connor's name on his cast.

Evan still wants to clear the whole thing up, but he eventually sees that by continuing he can give the Murphys some comfort. He asks his (family) friend Jared to help write some emails that establish Evan and Connor's secret friendship. He makes up a story where they were at an old apple orchard when Evan broke his arm, that Connor was the one who found him after he fell. Soon, overachiever Alana urges Evan to start the Connor Project, a website in Connor's memory. They plan a fundraiser to reopen the orchard as a memorial.

Evan's life ends up improving quite a bit because of the lie. He starts dating Zoe. He doesn't need his anxiety meds any more. The Murphys even offer to pay for his college tuition, though Evan's mom refuses. In fact, she is surprised to hear about Evan and Connor's friendship. Evan has been lying to so many people for so long that it just can't last, and won't end well, no matter how good his intentions were.

I really enjoyed the novelization of Dear Evan Hansen, though I thought it might be unnecessary. I've heard the songs, so I thought I knew basically the whole story, but there was more the songs don't tell you- more story, plus some insights from Connor's ghost. I very much hope to actually see the entire show live someday. This book was almost as good as seeing the show, and made me cry almost as much too.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Umbrella Academy Volume 1: The Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way, Gabriel Ba, Dave Stewart, Nate Piekos, and Tony Ong

I became interested in reading this series after watching the trailer for the upcoming Netflix series. It looks very fun and Wes Anderson-esquely quirky. So, I figured it was a good excuse to read the graphic novels first.

In a mysterious worldwide event, forty-seven women, most of whom had not shown signs of pregnancy, gave birth. Of these children, millionaire inventor Reginald Hargreeves, AKA the Monocle, managed to track down and adopt seven. His reason for collecting the children? "To save the world." The children are gifted with powers that they use to fight villains and save the day, though it seems that their upbringing leaves something to be desired. Twenty years after saving the world from a murderous Eiffel Tower controlled by zombie robot Gustave Eiffel, the Umbrella Academy returns home for their father's funeral.

The Academy consists of:
Number 1, Spaceboy, AKA Luther, is basically the leader and has powers of strength. He spends most of his time in outer space with his robots. The Monocle forced him to have his head attached to the body of a gorilla after an accident (I'm not sure when that happened- it wasn't in the books, I read it online). He has a thing for Allison, but thinks she wouldn't love him because of the gorilla body.

Number 2, the Kraken, AKA Diego, tends to fight with Number 1 and is sort of abrasive in general. He spends his time underwater and can hold his breath a long time. He does have a thing for Vanya.

Number 3, the Rumor, AKA Allison has powers of manipulation. We learn that she was married and has a daughter.

Number 4, the Séance, AKA Klaus can communicate with the dead, possess people, levitate, and move objects with his mind. He is very goth and kind of dramatic.

Number 5, AKA the Boy, disappeared after the Eiffel Tower incident. He emerges at the funeral looking the same age he was back then, claiming to have travelled through time and seen the end of the world. He took a very long time to figure out how to make his way to the past to warn them, and though he aged normally in the future, when he returned to the past he was ten years old again. He is very fast and very violent.

Number 6, the Horror, AKA Ben, passed away at some point...or did he?

Number 7, AKA Vanya, is the only child without powers. Because of this, she was treated differently from her siblings, not special. As an adult, she wrote a memoir about growing up like this, My Life as 00.007. She is a talented violinist and is asked to play with a Orchestra Verdammtem. At first she turns them down, but after a disastrous meeting with her siblings, she changes her mind. Vanya is turned into the White Violin, who can kill with a single note, and will be used to bring about the end of the world.

I liked The Umbrella Academy, but I can't help feeling as though I'm missing parts of the story. It feels a little like this was an established series that expects you to have some prior knowledge coming in, but it's actually a new thing. There's still a third volume coming out later this year that might improve things, and I'm definitely going to check out the show next month.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

“Love is scary: it changes; it can go away. That's the part of the risk. I don't want to be scared anymore...”

I admit it: I watched the Netflix movie before I read the book. I have a weakness for teen rom-com cheesy goodness, the waiting lists at the library were massive, and I really wanted to know what all the Buzzfeed stories were about. Of course, I absolutely loved the movie. Lara Jean was adorable, Peter Kavinsky was adorable, they got up to adorable shenanigans and developed an adorable romance. I almost didn't want to read the book, but I figured it would be a good chance to compare and contrast, and also fill out another square in my Cannonball Bingo card.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before is about Lara Jean Song Covey, who is the middle sister, a dreamer, and a romantic. Her older sister Margot has stepped into a mother role since their mom died years ago. She takes care of everyone and keeps everything running. Margot is about to go to school in Scotland, so Lara Jean will have to step up to take care of their father and the youngest sister, Kitty. Kitty is sassy, fights with Lara Jean a lot, and obsessed with getting a dog.

Lara Jean has a habit of writing letters to the boys she has crushes on. She has a hatbox with five letters in it, none of which are meant to be read. Then someone sends the letters. Lara Jean only finds out when she is confronted by Peter Kavinsky, one of the coolest boys at school, who was just broken up with by Lara Jean's former friend Gen. She had a crush on him back in middle school, and he was her first kiss.

Peter and Lara Jean agree to pretend they are dating. Peter wants to make Gen jealous and get her back. Lara Jean is using Peter to show that she is over her crush on another letter recipient: Josh. Josh is the boy next door, and also Margot's boyfriend, recently ex-boyfriend. So, yeah, it's one of those complicated faking it things where the lines become blurred and then emotions become real, etc.

I preferred the movie over the book version. The characters were more likeable, especially Kitty and Peter. Peter especially seemed kind of not great in the books, whereas he was a lovable little muffin in the movie. It was nice to have a book and movie starring a half-Korean heroine. It was sweet how their father tried to cook Korean food to celebrate his daughters' heritage (Even though he wasn't great at it). I'm probably going to have to buy P.S. I Still Love You because those waiting lists are still a bit much for me, but I am interested in seeing what comes next in the series before the next movie comes out.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

“Imagine going about your day knowing someone’s carrying you in their mind. That has to be the best part of being in love- the feeling of having a home in some else’s brain...”

I loved Simon Vs. the Homosapiens Agenda and The Upside of Unrequited, so of course I wanted to read Albertalli's newest book. Leah on the Offbeat is more of a direct sequel to Simon, as Upside focused on different characters on the very outskirts of the universe. Here, Simon's friend Leah deals with high school drama of her own.

Leah knows who she is; she's fat, she's a Slytherin, she's a drummer. She's a little self conscious about not being as rich as her classmates, as she was raised by her single mother. What she hasn't told any of her friends, including Simon, is that she is bisexual. It changes her feelings towards Abby in the previous book. Where it seemed that she didn't like the new girl because of a crush on mutual friend Nick, Leah had actually been struggling with an attraction to Abby.

It turns out that those feelings haven't gone away. What's worse is that it makes every interaction with Abby awkward. Not that it matters if Leah likes Abby because Abby is dating Nick and Abby is straight. But Abby and Leah are going to the same college, and Abby wants Leah to go with her for a campus visit. Then she breaks up with Nick because she doesn't want a long distance relationship. Also, it turns out that Abby might not be as straight as she thought she was.

I love the characters in Albertalli's books. In general, teenagers make me nervous and frightened, but these kids are so sweet and funny. I want to help them with their homework and give them hugs and bake them cookies and help them with their complicated love lives (Although, at least they have love lives...maybe they can help with mine!) Leah on the Offbeat is another excellent book and I'm excited to read more from Albertalli.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

I believe I have stated this before on here, but I'm not much of a Romance girl. There seems to be a stereotype of women loving their little mass market paperbacks of billionaires seducing young ingenues or Fabio with an open shirt kissing a woman with a heaving bosom. Of course, not all women are into these things, and if they are, that's their business and they aren't hurting anyone, so who cares? But I digress...romance isn't my thing, which is why I surprised myself by enjoying the Cannonball Read recommended The Hating Game last year. This year, I was intrigued by the new release, The Kiss Quotient, so I decided to give it a try.

The Kiss Quotient is about econometrician Stella. She is really good with math and great at her job. Of course, because she is a single woman of advanced age (She is 30 years old, the hag! #eyeroll), her parents are hounding her to marry a nice man and have some babies. Unfortunately, the situation is a bit complicated because Stella has Asperger's and is very awkward in social situations. When her douchebag coworker (Who her parents think would make a great match, which: ew) suggests that she could land a boyfriend by learning to be better at sex, she thinks he might be on to something. Stella decides to hire an escort to practice her skills.

Michael is said hooker with a heart of gold. He turns tricks to pay off his mother's medical bills, but his true passion is fashion design. When Michael meets Stella, he immediately falls in love with her. He doesn't understand how such a beautiful, sweet young lady would need to hire someone like him. During their bedroom time, he starts to realize that she has had some bad encounters in the past. Her other paramours didn't care that she was tense and scared. Michael takes it slowly, gets her to relax and open up. They don't actually have sex, but it is a very positive encounter.

Stella wants to hire Michael again. He has a strict policy against repeating clients, but she threatens to hire another escort, and Michael worries about her. After some more sex practice, she decides what she needs is to hire him as a pretend boyfriend. She will pay him $10,000 to be her boyfriend for a month. After that, she will be able to snag a real boyfriend. Of course, by now Stella really wants Michael but thinks that he couldn't possibly want her. Michael in turn wants Stella but thinks she couldn't possibly want him.

I'm a little torn because I liked The Kiss Quotient, it's a pretty sweet romance. But there is a LOT of sex. So. Much. Sex. It's a bit much for someone more used to YA books and fade to black sex encounters, especially given how graphic it is. Here's a question for more experienced romance readers: do men always come off creepy when doing dirty talk/sex lessons? Because Michael's bedroom instruction sounded a little condescending to me. Also, is it normal for him to call her vagina a sex? Is that a thing? Part of me does wish that Stella wasn't described as tiny, pretty, perfect body. Some love for a taller, lumpier girl with Asperger's would have been nice. It still gets extra points for switching up traditional gender roles, the whole reverse Pretty Woman thing. All in all, I recommend The Kiss Quotient, but prepare yourself for some very intense reading that could possibly embarrass you in public.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

"It's a cruel, cruel world. And the people are the worst part..."

Dread Nation invites its readers to imagine an alternate history of the United States. During the terrible years of the Civil War the dead began to rise. They feasted upon the living changing them into zombies, or shamblers, as they prefer here. The war was set aside to focus on the more pressing threat. The slaves were set free, but still weren't given much freedom. Young black men and women were sent to special schools to be trained to fight the undead, as they were thought to have special immunities to the virus.

Our main character, Jane, is attending such a school. The goal is to graduate and be hired as an attendant, protecting your white charge from shamblers and suitors alike. Jane is good at killing shamblers, but not so good with etiquette. Her rival, Katherine (Jane calls her Kate to annoy her), is good at both. The girls attend a lecture at a nearby university that ends in chaos and they end up saving the Mayor's wife. Their heroics lead to an invitation to dinner at the Mayor's house.

There have been a lot of suspicious disappearances near the school. One family, the Spencer's, had been caring for Lilly, the sister of Jane's former paramour Jackson (Red Jack). Some late night snooping leads them to the revelation that the Mayor and his Survivalist party had something to do with the disappearances. They use the dinner invitation as a chance to find out the truth. Jane sees a folder for someplace called Summerland...then she gets caught.

As punishment, Jane, Jackson, and poor Katherine are all thrown on a train and sent west. To add insult to injury, Jane's least favorite teacher gives her a bunch of letters from her mother right before putting her on the train. Jane had been writing faithfully and thought she'd never gotten a response. Now she has two goals: get out of Summerland and make her way back to Rose Hill to see if her mother is alive.

It's easier said than done. Summerland was created as a safe haven against the shamblers. It's surrounded by a massive, impenetrable wall. Unfortunately, it's also controlled by an awful sheriff and his even worse preacher father. Black residents must patrol the wall and make sure no shamblers climb it. They get little to no food and useless weapons to perform this job, and the sheriff is quick to hand out brutal punishments to anyone who steps out of line, as Jane finds out firsthand.

The only bright spot is that Jane manages to convince everyone that light-skinned, fair-haired Katherine is white. She hopes that makes up for dragging her into Jane's mess. Katherine also turns out to be the key to defeating the sheriff: he has a crush on her. With the help of the local inventor and a kindly brothel owner, they set a plan in place. What they don't expect is that Summerland isn't as safe as they thought, and the walls can't keep the dead out forever.

In her intro page, Ireland writes:

"Dread Nation is a book about the American Dream. It's about who gets to lay claim to their humanity and who is seen as little more than a tool that is used to achieve the goals of others. It's about loving a place that doesn't love you back, no matter how much you might be willing to bleed and die for it. It's about understanding that, maybe, the things we're told and the things other people believe aren't enough to keep us safe. And that, for some of us, an equal chance was never even an option..."
It's sort of funny that a young adult novel about zombies set during the Civil War sounds so topical.