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.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

And Then You're Dead by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty

And Then You're Dead was very appealing to me. Each chapter focuses on a specific way a human can and has died, but it cranks everything up to 11. I learned so many fun facts to tell people when I'm invited to parties. Although the fact that I'm interested in this book is probably why nobody invites me to parties.

The chapters detail the many ways you can die, from being sucked out an airplane window (You actually can't get sucked all the way out, you'd just make it halfway and then flop violently against the plane) to being a literal Cookie Monster. Honestly, there are quite a few chapters where you get reduced to atoms (or worse) and I can't really follow the transformation very well. Overall, the sciencey parts aren't too hard to follow though.

So, what fun things did I learn? Well, I learned that banana peels really are the slipperiest fruit. In fact, they are slipperier than the fluid that lubricates human joints. Also, do you know that the number of calories in food is calculated by exploding said food and then measuring the amount of energy it gives off? It's also exciting to know the best way to survive if your elevator cable snaps, and your best chances of survival if a shark bites you. I'm not telling you here,'ll have to invite me to your party.

And Then You're Dead was a fun bit of popular science. It's both educational and made me laugh a couple of times, which you wouldn't expect given the subject matter. I can't wait to show off my new knowledge the next time someone accidentally invites me to a party, or if some apocalyptic event happens, go on a date. Nothing says romance like talking about death.

Thank you to Ms. Amanda/alwaysanswerb for sending me this book for our CBR Book Exchange! I loved getting something so different to read.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Doom Patrol Vol. 1: Brick by Brick by Gerard Way, Nick Derington, and Tamra Bonvillain

"The world is hard and unforgiving, it can change you. Because we're made up of all the things that happen to us. The good things fill your heart. But the bad things, and what we choose to do with them, really make us who we are..."

Okay, so this was a weird one and I'm not sure I grasped everything that went down. I'm not at all familiar with Doom Patrol, so I don't have any prior knowledge coming into this. I liked My Chemical Romance, so the Gerard Way factor was a positive, and it did look intriguingly weird.

Casey is a semi-weird ambulance driver. She lives with her cat Lotion (Which is like both the best and worst name at the same time somehow). Then, one night, a strange new dispatcher sends Casey and her partner to help someone. The person isn't there, but they witness a robot man getting run over by a truck. Casey takes the robot parts back to her apartment. Soon after, her roommate gets exploded by a singing telegraph girl, who becomes Casey's new roommate. Then things get weirder...

The new dispatcher is actually not a dispatcher, but Danny. Who is Danny? Well, Danny is technically a where. Dannyland is this place where a bunch of people live who are also Danny and Danny is also technically in the back of Casey's ambulance. It's complicated. Also, Casey is a comic book character in Dannyland and Danny brought her to life and sent her into the real world. Now, it needs her help because these creepy dudes, the Vectra, want to use Danny to generate more people so they can turn them into meat for their alien/robot/whatever fast food restaurants. (I know, so cliche, right?) Danny needs Casey to gather the Doom Patrol!

The other members of Doom Patrol are the robot man, who is called...Robot Man, Pilot Larry Trainor, who is possessed by a negative spirit and turns into Negative Man, Flex Mentallo, a strongman who Casey meets in Dannyland, and Jane, who is busy forming a cult because one of her personalities has taken over. Oh, there are also these little asides featuring Niles Caulder, AKA the Chief, who originally founded the Doom Patrol. Thank you to the DC Wiki for filling in some of my blanks. Anyways, from what I understood, it was pretty good. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

"The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely..."

It's hard to believe that The Fault in Our Stars came out five years ago! I didn't even realize how much I missed John Green until I started Turtles All the Way Down. Maybe I never mentioned this before, but I love John Green. All of his books are fantastic, as you can see from my reviews of: The Fault in Our Stars, An Abundance of Katherines, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and Paper Towns (I have also read Looking for Alaska-actually, that was my first John Green, but I haven't written a review.) I think I say this with every book, but Turtles All the Way Down is the best one yet.

The main story focuses on Aza Holmes. Her best friend Daisy decides that they should team up to find missing local billionaire Russell Pickett after he flees his home to avoid embezzlement charges. There is a $100,000 reward for any information leading to his capture. Daisy wants them to get that reward, and the first step in the plan is for Aza to reconnect with her old friend, Pickett's son, Davis.

Aza and Davis reconnect so well that they begin dating. The entire time, Aza keeps looking for his father, even after Davis gives them money to stop investigating. She made a promise to his preteen brother that she would find their father, and she intends to keep that promise.

The less dominant, but always present, part of the story is Aza's mental illness. She suffers from anxiety and OCD. Her disease causes her to obsess over getting Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, a type of bacterial infection. These intrusive thoughts lead her to constantly opening a callus on her finger, forcing the blood out, changing the Band-Aid, then repeating the whole thing over again.

Rather than romanticizing her mental illness, Green shows how Aza's disease hinders her detective work. He also touches a bit on the subject of drug treatment. Aza is often called out for not taking her prescribed medications. She claims that they make her less like herself. At his lecture, Green stated that he fully believes in medication to treat mental illness, that they can and do help sick people live their lives. In fact, Aza skipping her meds is part of what leads her into a downward spiral. 

What I also liked about Turtles All the Way Down is how the story focuses on Aza. I keep thinking how if it was told from Davis' perspective, it might have been a lot like Green's previous male-narrated stories. She might have been cast as the manic pixie dream girl (Though to be fair, I'm rethinking that term). It's a book that shows one girl's struggles with mental illness. Personally, I have struggled with anxiety and depression, and could definitely relate with Aza. I definitely understand the desire to have a normal brain instead of a malfunctioning one. It's a meaningful story told with Green's signature style and wit, and I loved it.

Here's a picture of my own personal copy of Turtles All the Way Down with all of my favorite parts/quotes marked:
Also, I had the opportunity to attend John Green's promotional tour in October. You can read about it here.