The Raven Boys | Review

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The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

I’m not really sure about this book. I’m both intrigued and bored at the same time.

There’s a weird energy in the town of Henrietta, Virginia. Blue is the daughter of a psychic who has been forewarned that if she kisses her soul mate, he’ll die. Gansey is an eccentric rich kid who loves almost-broken things and has an obsession with discovering a the answers to an ancient legend. His friends, the makeup of the Raven Boys, are Adam, Noah, and Ronan, each with his own troubles and need to find the answer to Gansey’s mystery. The Raven Boys and Blue come together and awaken secret supernatural elements of their town.

The characters (at least the main ones), I liked. They each had specific wants and needs, and after the initial who’s-who with all the boy names floating about, each boy emerged as his own unique character. I didn’t love all of Blue’s family members, because they tended to run together a bit more, and they had a lot of secrets they weren’t sharing. Despite having a name like Blue, Blue didn’t really stand out all that much. She dressed weirdly and decorated her room with odd assortments, but I didn’t really see that in how she interacted with others, particularly the Raven Boys. When she was around them, it felt like she was a prop, or all their energy just suffocated hers (which was supposed to be super powerful, so… awkward?).

I liked the intrigue and the descriptions. I could see the changing seasons in Cabeswater very clearly, and I kept reading, wanting to know what would happen.

raven_boys_by_judilda-d7ttmrdExcept I didn’t always want to. This book took me a lot longer to read than it should have, but paranormal/ghost stories aren’t really my thing. Like I said, the characters and the intrigue were enjoyable, but the plot wasn’t. I didn’t care about Gansey’s search for Glendower or the ley line, which, as the center of the plot, is kind of a big deal. The mystery surrounding Noah was enjoyable, but then felt too contrived and weird, and I don’t feel like there was enough foreshadowing, though I may have just missed it.

I wanted to know what would happen to Gansey and Blue, what Ronan discovered about his father, and if Adam would step out of Gansey’s shadow, but the search for a long-missing Welsh king? Eh. It didn’t seem worth the risk of death.

There are three other books scheduled in the Raven Cycle (the next two, Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue, are already out, and the final book, The Raven King, is scheduled for release in September). I haven’t decided yet if I’ll read them or not, though curiosity will probably win out over annoyance.

Growing up through the characters of Glee

3-26-GleeCast100thepisodeAfter watching all six seasons of glee, my connection to different characters has changed. When the show started, I was 22 and living in LA, trying to make my film dreams come true. At that point, I related a little bit to many of the main characters: I wasn’t as bossy as Rachel, as shy as Kurt, as confident as Mercedes, as insecure as Tina, or as smooth as Artie; but I had a dream, I was chasing that dream, and was a bit of an outsider. 

Living in LA, I wasn’t as successful as Rachel was in New York, but I wasn’t as dumb either. I worked my butt off, found minor success working in the television industry (enough to make me a the inside scoop for my mom when watching American Idol), but my dream job didn’t just land in my lap.

Then I grew up a little, and that dream changed. I moved back from LA and got my teaching degree, and I started to see a little more Will Schuester in my life. I wanted to impact the lives of students, to teach and mentor them, while clinging to my old dreams a bit. I was afraid of letting go.

glee-movin-out-billy-joel-sam-blaine-season-5-2013-600x450Now, just days past the end of the show, and with knowledge of where the characters are at the age of 25, I now most closely resemble Sam. I’m 27 and I teach the high school journalism program at the very high school I graduated from. I teach next to my former broadcasting teacher and every once in awhile facebook stalk my old LA friends. But like Sam, I did try to live my dream. Sam went to NY to become a model, and he gave a good go at it before realizing it wasn’t for him, and neither was NY. I moved to LA and worked in TV for two years before realizing I wasn’t happy and it wasn’t for me either. I’m no Rachel Berry. I gave up my big dream for smaller ones. For different ones. Not everyone is destined to make it big.

But I don’t want to be Sam. I don’t want to be stuck teaching at the same high school I went to for years and years. I love it now, but the world calls me. But I don’t want to be Rachel or Mercedes or Kurt or Blaine or Artie or Tina or Mr Schu either. Because I don’t want fame and fortune and all my dreams to come true so easily and so young. I don’t want to be the principal. I’m proud of who I am and what I’ve done, of the disappointment and the letdowns, but I’m not finished yet. And Sam is just another stopping point on my journey. 

I want to be me. 

Importance of Music to Girls | Review

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The Importance of Music to Girls by Lavinia Greenlaw

This book is a love letter to music and childhood, and how the two are so intersected. Lavinia is a 60s English baby, and her story is one of the changing musical genres, how music helped form and transform her life as it went through the different stages.

While I appreciate the concept and the ode to the recklessness of youth and growing up, I didn’t love this. I don’t know if it was because I was not in the right mood to read it, or that I was rushing through it, or if those things were affected by the book itself. I found myself skimming entire sections of the book, and I didn’t particularly care for Lavinia either. Not because she wasn’t likable or realistic, because obviously, she is, just because I didn’t feel like I really connected with her.

1405924145Ana-Females-covering-males-Text-by-Brodie-580x726Each chapter was short, introduced with a high brow quote that somehow related to it, and spoke about a particular moment or song or theme. But it didn’t seem to really flow all that well for me. Why the quotes from Dickens, Hardy, Shakespeare and not song lyrics? It seemed to me she was just trying to prove herself well-read despite her lack of care towards school and her poor grades, or to make deeper connections about the state of music and it’s importance. I didn’t think they were needed and it tore me away from her own narrative.

While I agree that music is important, Greenlaw almost insults the casual listener, particularly girls, who aren’t obsessed with music. It’s almost like she’s trying to make herself seem edgier and forward-thinking because of her love and passion for music. Numerous times she makes shocked statements like “Sophie and Julia each had a few records but they didn’t get upset or excited about bands,” because record stores were teeming with males and girls weren’t supposed to feel so strongly, especially about music.

Music helps shape the lives of many of us, and I totally get where Greenlaw is coming from, and the brief history of music in England in the 60s and 70s was interesting and a cultural lesson, but it didn’t intrigue me. Give me some Beatles and “Let it Be.”

Eleanor & Park | Review

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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

What a lovely, beautiful little story about being young and different and in love.

Eleanor and Park is the love story of an alternative Asian boy, Park, and a poor redhead, Eleanor. Neither one really feels like they fit in with the world around them, and at first, ignore one another, something close to animosity between them. As time passes, however, feelings warm up and Park eventually pushes past Eleanor’s cold, hard exterior.

At home, Eleanor has to deal with an abusive stepfather, four younger siblings, and a weak mother. She’d already been kicked out of the house once and forgotten about, and the story begins with her return to the family. Her house is small, her family poor, and her stepfather an utter and complete asshole. Park is the light in her life.

Screen-Shot-2014-04-02-at-6.43.49-PMThe characters are easy and real. They didn’t feel forced, and their relationship is natural. This isn’t a YA romance or fantasy where they fall in love immediately. It takes time, the progression slow and not forced.

The book is written with dual perspectives, flipping back and forth between the two main characters. Sometimes when this is done, it seems forced, but here it flowed really well, and the breaks made sense. At times, all one of the characters might say is a simple sentence or phrase before it flips back to the other, because that’s all they needed to say. While the writing style didn’t change much between the characters, it was nice to see what each character was thinking and going through, even if they did sound somewhat similar.

This isn’t just a love story, though; it’s also a story about accepting yourself and others; it’s a story about a girl in a bad situation; it’s a story about growing up.

Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line | Review

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Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

First, let me start out by saying I love Veronica Mars. I didn’t watch it when it was originally on, but I own it on DVD and really enjoyed the movie (I’m just bummed I missed out on the kickstarter!). So when I heard there was a book series that picks up after the movie, I was immediately sold. AND, when I heard the first book in that series was narrated by Veronica herself, Kristen Bell, it was a given that’s how I would consume Book One.

And consume it I did. The audiobook is eight hours long, which isn’t too bad, but I sped through it in a few weeks rather than the entire month, which is how long it usually takes me to finish audiobooks. I forwent the radio in the car (even in the morning, and I love morning radio talk shows!) and when I blow dried my hair, and I couldn’t get enough.

The book is prototypical Veronica, except now that she’s a full time PI and an adult, it deals with full-blown investigations worthy of a detective novel that used to take Veronica an entire season to figure out rather than the short and easy problems students were having.

The plot is set around spring break in Neptune, when a college girl goes missing. The always incompetent Sheriff Lam botches the investigation and the media, and Veronica gets hired to solve the mystery.

Veronica-MarsIt’s a typical detective investigation novel, with twists and turns and red herrings all over the place, but the thing I love the most about Veronica Mars isn’t the “mystery of the week,” which is enjoying, but I come to Veronica for Veronica herself. She’s spunky, smart, salty, arrogant, and broken, and I love her.

But I also love all the characters in Veronica Mars. If Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights is my TV husband, Keith Mars is my TV dad. The banter between the two is quippy, funny, and full of the love they have for one another. Keith’s concerns for Veronica are legitimate concerns, and yet I could feel Veronica’s struggles as if they were my own.

It doesn’t hurt that Veronica and I are very close in age (aka, the same age), so it’s easy to relate to Veronica and the personal struggles she’s going through. I’m not as cool or as snarky as she is, but I wish I was. I also don’t have the mommy issues or the boyfriend issues she has, but that I’m thankful for.

I also love all Veronica’s friends: Wallace, Mac, Logan, and Dick, and it was fun listening to Kristen Bell imitate her colleagues, which she pretty well. Overall, Bell did a really good job narrating (but, I mean, she also narrated V Mars and Gossip Girl, and was Anna in Frozen, so her narrating chops are well tuned) and listening to her as Veronica was just the icing on the cake.

I’m not sure how this book would stand up for readers not already in love with the characters and Neptune, but the story was intriguing, and I enjoyed being back in Veronica’s world a bit longer.

I am sad to note that the second audiobook in the series, Mr. Kiss and Tell, is NOT narrated by Kristen Bell, and as I can’t imagine Veronica Mars without Ms. Bell, I’ll be reading the paper version instead.

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments 1) | Review

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City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments 1) by Cassandra Clare

I did it. Finally. I started The Mortal Instruments, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy it.

Clary (though I hate that name) thinks she’s a normal, everyday human being, but when she sees something unexpected and horrific at a club, her world starts to unravel before her eyes, and she must search through her forgotten past to discover who she really is and how she can save those she loves.

Put like that, it reads just like every other YA novel these days. And in some regards, it is. There’s a YA formula for a reason: it works.

The fact this book came out in 2007 and I just read it in 2015 probably taints my perspective on this series as well, as I would have been a lot closer to the characters’ ages in ’07 (I would’ve been 20) as opposed to now, when I’m 27 and have read a lot more similar-sounding stories since. That being said, here are my thoughts:

I enjoyed the Supernatural elements of the book (though I don’t watch the show), with the Shadowhunters and the demons and the Downworlders; I liked the concept that “all the stories are true,” which means beings like vampires, werewolves, faeries, mermaids, etc exist. I even enjoyed the slight political-class drama between the Shadownhunters and the Downworlders, though some of the backstory was slightly confusing.

745410I also really liked Jace and Luke. Clary wasn’t particularly my favorite, though it was nice to have a heroine who wasn’t automatically an amazing fighter, though her skills with the runes did come super fast to her at an advanced level, which I’m not sure I totally buy. Jace, however, is brooding, funny, admittedly narcissistic, and broken – just the way I like my book heroes – and Luke reminds me so much of Lupin (and not just for the obvious reason), and I do love Lupin.

What I didn’t enjoy was that I felt Clare tried to make the backstory and the history of the Shadowhunters too complex, and parts of it were confusing. I also thought that some of the twists were tired and expected, and the relationships wrapped up too neatly at the end. These are teenagers, after all, teenagers can be flighty, sure, but they also hold grudges and aren’t always so quick to forgive. I also wanted more from Alec. It’s rare for there to be a LGBTQ character in a series such as this, and I wanted him to have more to do, more to deal with, and I thought it was a cliche for him to take that out on Clary,.

But that just points to another of my issues with this, and that’s the characterization. Other than Jace and Luke, and perhaps Valentine and Simon, I didn’t really feel like I got to know the characters. It wasn’t until halfway through that I realized Clary had red hair, and Isabelle and Alec were just kind of there to fill space most of the time. Other characters were in place purely for plot points, and Simon’s devotion to Clary didn’t really seem to waver, even after she broke his heart and then continued to use him (and the whole Jace-Simon-Clary thing was just laughable and so teenage, ugh).

Also, I’m not in love with the whole twist at the end regarding Clary and Jace. It’s a bit weird for me, and I know that’s the point, but… Jace is more of Han to me than Luke, and this is all a bit too Luke and Leia. And Jace seemed to get over that shocker a bit faster than I would have anticipated, especially since he went all psycho-brainwashed only days before.

The plot, once it got going, went, and was a fun read. I like unraveling mysteries when reading, and even though I predicted it, it was still fun to uncover.

Even though I didn’t love it, I liked it enough that I flew through it in a manner of days (and being almost 500 pages and a super busy week at work, that’s impressive for me), and I’m curious enough to continue on with the series and see where the story unfolds.

Stardust | Review

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Stardust by Neil Gaiman

It’s magical, it’s mystical, it’s wandering, it’s beautiful, it’s mysterious, and it’s wonderful.

Stardust is the story of a young man, part of the normal world and part of the faerie world, who travels into the faerie world in order to retrieve a star and prove his love. What he finds is a world of magic, deception, and love.

The way I imagine this book is if the entrance to Narnia weren’t in a wardrobe, but a passage through a wall, visible to all townsfolk, but unattainable and mysterious and cloaked in woodland. The occupants of both worlds come together only once every nine years, for a market of mystery and delight, but otherwise there are guards at the wall, ensuring no one passes through. Except Tristran, who leaves in hopes of redeeming his worthiness and love for a woman he only thinks he loves, and returns knowing what love truly is.

I also saw a lot of Tom Bombadil in Stardust, the way the trees talk and move and have a mind of their own, and how the long passage is riddled with helpful travelers and narrow escapes.

stardustIn some ways, I also saw Stardust as a more magical, hopeful version of Neverwhere. Both male protagonists are somewhat of a nothing in the beginning, but travels through the “other” worlds and companionships with strong female characters, changes them. Tristran irritated me much less so than Richard, however, and the star was a delightful character on her own, perhaps my favorite. I even enjoyed the witch-queen, as horrid as she was at times.

Just as it was in Neverwhere, at times, Stardust was slow, the plot cumbersome and the imaginings of trees and wearily traveling taxing on my brain. But the way the story came together, the way the characters interweaved, and the nervousness of the plot made up for those moments, and the book ended on a high note of lyricism, hope, and beauty.

Cinder | Review

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer

CInderella with cyborgs is the best way to describe the first book in the Lunar Chronicles, because that’s exactly what it is, and exactly why I was hesitant to read it. That, and the hype surrounding it. But I gave it a chance, and ended up really enjoying it.

Cinder is a sixteen-year-old cyborg in New Beijing. She doesn’t remember her past, just that she woke up at eleven as a cyborg and a new adopted family. Kai is a Prince of the Eastern Commonwealth who must take up his father’s reign as Emperor much sooner than he anticipated, with the threat of war hanging over his head. There’s a plague ravaging Earth as well, and an evil space Queen with plans of her own.

If you know the story of Cinderella, a tale with 6th century Asian roots, you know the basic premise of Cinder: Outcast-but-secretly-princess lives with mean mother-figure and sisters, forced to do their bidding in order to live. Prince falls in love with sooty girl, her past unbeknownst to him. Major events take place at a ball.

Except Cinder leaves the reader on a cliffhanger and doesn’t end with the happily ever after (I’m assuming that will come at the end of Book 4?).

The Lunar Chronicles are a quartet of fairytale retellings, with books focusing on Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White, and each girl will have her own struggles, but they must unite over their shared interest: their hatred and desire to bring down the evil Queen Levana.

cinder_fan_art_by_mirapau-d4ucq4iMy favorite thing about Cinder was the characters. I liked that Kai wasn’t a perfect leader immediately. He made mistakes, he had awkward moments, and he didn’t seem older than he was. Cinder was sarcastic and smart and brave. And Iko was amazing, and I want my very own Android complete with Iko setting.

My only complaint was that at times it did seem to drag, though I don’t know if it was because I already knew (guessed) what would happen so I wasn’t speeding through, because it had a slow pace, or because I was just extremely tired from work. And as much as I loved Cinder, sometimes I found her slightly annoying (just tell him already, stop reveling in your own misery, etc) and selfish, but she ended up redeeming herself.

I was worried all the people telling me I’d love this book would tarnish my reading and my pleasure of this book, but Cinder didn’t disappoint. It was easy to read, easy to picture (it had a nice East-West blend going on), and fun to read. Yes, we all saw it coming that Cinder is in fact Selena, but that’s not the point. The point is watching Cinder learn it, watching those around her learn it, and watching what happens because of it.

Congratulations world, you were right. The Lunar Chronicles are a delight.

Choose Your Own Autobiography | Review

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Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris, aka Doogie Houser, aka Barney Simpson, aka the de facto host of the Tonys, is a charismatic, funny, magical, entertainer of a man, and his memoir/autobiography was no different.

Rather than write his story in the traditional memoir-style, Harris chose to evoke the style of his favorite childhood books: Choose Your Own Adventure. For those who don’t know, these books offered a simple premise, and the reader followed different paths to create their own story. Some would turn out to be the obviously wrong, resulting in your early demise, whereas others took awhile before the mistake was realized, and you frantically flipped the pages, looking for where you went wrong. The fun part, is that it’s written in second person: YOU are doing this, YOU are doing that, YOU are hosting the Tonys and starring in HIMYM.

I listened to the audiobook of this, as it was narrated by Neil Patrick Harris himself. Because of the format, the Choose Your Own parts of the book were limited and adapted to meet the needs of the listener, so I heard the entire story, untimely demises and all, in a hodgepodge kind of order that still felt right.

The tales go back to Harris’ childhood, where he lived a fairly normal life, idolizing his older brother and loving his supportive parents. He shares his love of magic and how he became the President of the elite Magic Castle in Hollywood. He talks about his start in acting and goes through most of his acting jobs all the way up to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, his 2014 Tony award-winning performance. He also recounts his story of realizing, accepting, and embracing his homosexuality, and his partnership with David Burtka and eventual parenthood via surrogacy.

4243824-3482981410-936fuAll the while, Harris remains elegant, classy, and charming. He does share some of his exploits and adventures with men, tame drugs, and certain celebrities, but he does so in a “well, this happened” kind of way, rather than malicious or over-the-top.

Interspersed throughout are magic tricks Harris walks you through (never revealing the secret, of course, in true magician form), as well as drink and food recipes he and David created. It feels like Harris has let you in on a secret, and let you into his life like an old friend.

And that’s how this is. The book is read as YOU, and it helps you appreciate Harris, what he went through, and how he came out on top. It’s a clever premise, and a tricky one, for a celebrity memoir, but Harris makes it work with his charm and sillyness. I loved listening to all the ways YOU (as Harris), inexplicably die, randomly interwoven throughout the narrative.

It’s fun and whimsical, and for fans of Neil Patrick Harris, a treat.