Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda | Review

SimonVS_quote_NEW

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Who says coming out stories have to be big, dark, dramatic ordeals?

Simon and Blue are gay, but no one knows that about them yet, except each other, and they don’t actually know who the other is. Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a contemporary novel not so much about Simon realizing he’s gay and coming to terms with it, but coming out and falling in love. He’s not struggling with why does he like boys, and he’s not afraid of his parents disowning him, he just hasn’t figured out the right timing, and he doesn’t want to make it a big deal.

He and Blue discovered one another through a tumblr “secrets” blog used by students in their high school. Simon was moved by Blue’s words, and the two started an email correspondence, slowly falling for one another without even knowing the other’s name. In a way, they got to know each other from the “inside out,” but in suspense every day at school, wondering who the other was.

This isn’t like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe because unlike Ari, Simon knows he’s gay, and he’s actually pretty okay with who he is. But that doesn’t make it any less wonderful.

simonvsposterrodilThis book is also about Simon and his relationships with his friends, Leah, Abby, and Nick. And his relationships with his family, which, I want to point out, are really fantastic. He has very supportive and loving parents (yay! Good parents in YA!) and his sisters are awesome. Like, I want to be friends with his sisters. Or to be sisters with his sisters. His friends are there for him, and their bonds are easy, except when they’re not.

The mystery is who is Blue? and it’s fun to try and figure it out while reading, and to watch Simon try to figure it out as well. It’s slightly predictable, but that doesn’t make it any less cute when it’s finally revealed.

I’m not much of one for contemporaries, but I really liked this one. Did it hold up a little stronger because I started reading it the same day that America finally make gay marriage legal? Maybe. Would it stand up just as strong if it were a story about a boy and girl, rather than a boy and a boy? Maybe not. But it was cute, modern (I LOVED the facebook scavenger hunt his family played!), and a little perfect.

Now, it might have been a little *too* perfect at times, I mean, not everything works out so nicely with a big shiny bow, but sometimes that’s exactly what you want when you’re reading: a happy ending.

It’s cute, funny, will cause all the giddiness, and heart-warming.

The DUFF | Review

The-Duff-Book-Cover-530x800

The Duff by Kody Keplinger

The DUFF stands for the Designated Ugly Fat Friend, and Bianca has just realized that’s what she is.

Bianca is used to the attention her pretty friends receive, and often sits on the sidelines while they do typical teenager things, like dancing at the Nest, an underage bar most of the students frequent.

Wesley is the playboy flirt, who is not discriminatory in who he sleeps with; he likes the company, the attention, and the lack of commitment.

When things start going rough in Bianca’s life, she turns to Wesley, a boy she hates, to help her forget it all.

The Duff is a young adult contemporary novel that rings true to the age. When reading it, I felt like I was back in high school again, and could easily relate to both Bianca and her friends. The dialogue, friendships, and situations were realistic and relatable, which I really appreciated.

TheDuff-Graphic1I also enjoyed the characterization, and how the story didn’t focus on the super pretty character, but the more average one. Bianca is also not your typical YA virgin, and sex is not seen as something that should be held on a pedestal, but the author investigates the different reasons, types, and purposes of sex. Not that it’s an erotic novel, but sex plays a big part in the relationship of Bianca and Wesley, and is important to the development of the characters. For readers who believe in the purity of sex, or are opposed to casual sex, this novel might not be the best choice, as it does have a more casual approach to the topic, but in today’s times, it is quite relevant (despite how I feel about that personally).

I didn’t always buy the relationship Bianca had with her friends; she’s kind of a bitch, and they seem way too bubbly to want to hang out with her, but friendships grow from various places, particularly in high school, so I went with hit. The way Bianca treats her friends, however, is upsetting and annoying. Rather than opening up to them, a pair who seems very trustworthy and willing to listen, she lies and avoids them, causing rifts and drama. That being said, they didn’t seem to care all that much about her feelings either, as they constantly dragged her out to the Nest, a place she seemed absolutely miserable.

The message of the story, how everyone feels like the Duff, how name calling and shaming is just a way to put down a part of yourself, and how there are different types of beauty and connection, was also really appreciated.

In typical YA fashion, there was a love triangle, but it wasn’t your typical one. Instead of rooting for the good, perfect guy, the reader roots for the jerk, who maybe has more layers than just the one he’s projecting.

While it’s not the most groundbreaking or exceptional read, it was enjoyable, somewhat-light, and fun, and for a teenage writer, not a bad debut novel.

Eternity’s Wheel (InterWorld #3) | Review

23015940

Eternity’s Wheel (InterWorld #3) by Neil Gaiman, Michael Reaves, and Mallory Reaves

The final installment of the InterWorld trilogy sees the dreaded FrostNight wiping out all the universes and Joe(y) Harker doing his best to try and stop it.

The end of the second book left the reader on a cliffhanger, with Joe captured by HEX and Binary, the two evil groups working together to ensure the success of FrostNight. Eternity’s Wheel picks up with Joe deposited on his home planet, where he was abandoned to die as it was erased.

With the Harkers split up and the former InterWorld on the run, Joe and his small band of friends/recruits must figure out a way to stop FrostNight and rescue their friends. Throughout the course of the novel, Joe starts to gain more respect than he had in the previous installments, and he slowly takes over as a leader, which was nice to see.

Being the third book in the series (and a middle-grade one at that), it has the unfortunate task of summarizing the previous two books for readers, but I thought the way it was handled was creative and effective. It didn’t feel like I was being weighted down with information I already knew, it was very need-to-know and a helpful reminder of where we left off, but for young or new readers, it gave them enough to be able to understand the circumstances.

The story is still very serial-like, with Joe escaping one situation only to be trapped in another, but it’s entertaining and a fun read, even if some of the escapes are a bit too convenient. I mean, how many times is Joe going to be trapped only to escape at the last minute? The series isn’t afraid to kill characters, however, and this installment is no exception.

The characters are still one of the strongest assets of this series; I love all the different versions of Joe, though I did miss a lot of those familiar characters in this installment.

Minor Spoiler:

Throughout reading, I kept predicting that Joe was a younger version of the Old Man (as in, the same person, just in different timelines), and this book puts a lot more details in place of how that could be true, but also tries to explain it away at the same time. Could this be some sort of time looping thing, but the timeline is now changed because of FrostNight? Why else would the Old Man end out his days on Joe’s world? The book leaves this open ended, but for the younger reader this was intended for, it’s not clear enough.

The ending suggests that life goes on for the Harkers of InterWorld, with new villains to defeat and more Walkers to recruit. Not a bad series for tween/teen fans of sci-fi.

InterWorld review
The Silver Dream review

Longbourn | Review

17380041

Longbourn by Jo Baker

It’s the story of Pride and Prejudice, but from the servants’ perspectives instead. Anytime someone in the original story receives a letter, asks for tea, or needs a carriage, the servants in Longbourn make those events happen.

But Longbourn is more than just Sarah, Mr. and Mrs. Hill, and the newly-named young housemaid Polly, making dinners and fetching items for the Bennets, watching on as the same events transpire. Darcy is barely mentioned, and Sarah, closest in age and confidence to Jane and Lizzie, never hears of Lizzie’s love for Darcy, or of any of their interactions.

Longbourn instead focuses on the lives of the “downstairs” folk. The story kicks off when a new footman with a shady past, James, shows up and begins working at the estate. Sarah doesn’t trust him, and is upset that he barely looks at or acknowledges her.

The story tells of the hardships endured by the servant class, especially in a time of war, and does a nice job showing the differences between the classes. While the Bennet girls stress over new ribbons and shoe roses, Sarah’s dress is shabby, and her only hope for a new one is when the girls give her their hand-me-downs. She is stuck in a dead-end life, full of nothing but work, and the Hills dream of what they could do with 100 pounds, much less the 10,000 Wickham is promised.

There are a lot of descriptions about how disgusting life was back then as well, and while I appreciated Sarah’s agonizing over the mud on Elizabeth’s dress and shoes because it tied in nicely with the original novel and painted an interesting portrait, I get it. It was gross. There weren’t tampons, everything smelled badly, lice ran rampage, and having a baby was probably the grossest thing to ever have to deal with.

Longbourn talks about sacrifice, about living the best life you’re given, and fighting for love, no matter the cost.

1013-bks-Johnson-blog427I loved the concept of this book; I liked reading about some of my favorite Austen characters from the perspective of someone who was there, but not really involved in the original story, someone who lived behind the scenes. It was fun to hear the plot told through hushed whispers and while dressing the elder Bennet sisters.

I would’ve liked to see more of this, however. I wanted to see how these events affected the household, more than just how Sarah was smitten with Bingley’s footman. This was slightly down with Wickham and, in a way, Mr. Collins, but, Darcy and Bingley fan that I am, I wanted to know more about what the servants thought of them, too.

Sarah, however, got on my nerves. For someone who was orphaned at an early age and then adopted into a good life of steady work and pay, she is very ungrateful and naive, and despite having grown up in her role, seems to forget her role in the household. Why would the Bennets care about a servant who ran off, other than to be annoyed at the broken contract but relieved they didn’t have to pay the man? While this is ridiculous practice in today’s time, at the time of the novel, it was very commonplace, and Sarah should know better.

I also wasn’t a fan of Mrs. Hill’s backstory. I felt that some of the characterization was forced to make the story fit, but it changed the original characters too much, and they only seemed like shadows of their original selves. I didn’t see the love between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet that was present in the original story, much less Mr. Bennet’s humor, and Lizzie’s character seemed drastically changed by the end, with the implication that her marriage to Darcy quelled some of her more rebellious, free tendencies. Must we all conform when married?

The first two parts of the story were intriguing (re: James’ backstory, which was compelling), but the third part strayed from the canon characterizations, which turned me off.

Everything, Everything | Review

18692431

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

The only thing Madeline knows is inside her house. She has a very rare disease where anything could trigger her, so she lives in a bubble. Her house is vacuum sealed, with filtered air and an hour long decontamination process for the rare visitor. She doesn’t know the outside, and her life is small, until Oliver moves in next door.

I loved the concept of this book; how can two people fall in love when one can never leave, when they can never actually be in the same place together? How does one enter into a carefully-manufactured bubble?

It’s a relatively short book, with quick chapters, cute illustrations (done by Yoon’s husband), and an interesting concept. There were chapters solely made up of emails between the two characters, IMs, graphics, etc, which were really cute and added to the aesthetic and youthful nature of the book.

I've read many books involvingI also really appreciated the message of this book: live your life; don’t let your fear get in the way; love is great and wonderful but can also be terrible and destructive; experience life.

Overall I liked the characters as well; I enjoyed Madeline’s growth and Carla is my homegirl. Olly, I liked, but didn’t feel was as fleshed out as much. Sure, he has a backstory, but he just wasn’t really doing it for me.

Now for the things I didn’t love.

The plot. It all felt a little too convenient, too easy, too impossible. I felt like the plot twist at the end was a bit contrived, and would’ve liked to see how the story would have evolved had it stayed on the original path. The ending made it too easy, and I felt a lot was left unresolved.

I also wasn’t a big fan of the love story and recklessness of the pair. I get wanting to live, to be independent, to experience life, but I just didn’t buy it, I didn’t buy them.

I think teenagers will love this because of the unique story and the rebelliousness so many of them feel, but as an adult reader, the story didn’t live up to its potential.

2/5 stars

*ARC received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe | Review

220px-Aristotle_and_Dante_Discover_the_Secrets_of_the_Universe_cover

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

What a beautiful, poetic little story.

Aristotle is a conflicted teenage boy who’s struggling with understanding himself, his parents, and his brother. He’s never had a friend, but isn’t like the other boys; he think they’re dumb and can’t relate. Then he meets Dante, and suddenly he has a friend.

This is a story of love, friendship, loyalty, teenage identity, and what it means to grow up.

I loved the characters; Ari and Dante are both really well developed and complex, and they definitely push and complement one another. Ari isn’t your typical boy, and I really enjoyed hearing his internal struggles and getting into his head. Some of the fights and conversations he has with Dante and his parents are very realistic (though somewhat annoying because I’m too old for that kind of banal drama).

This book is more focused on character development than plot development, which I really enjoyed. Even though the book is from Ari’s POV, everyone in the book grows and matures and his relationships with those people evolve in such a beautiful, natural way.

discovering_the_secrets_of_the_universe_by_andiree-d7p4zdlI also really, really loved the parents in this novel. I had a rant video on my booktube channel about how parent relationships in YA novels are usually lacking (video here if you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uPcQNs4BXU), but in this novel, the parents are very much present, dynamic, and there for their children (and the other boy as well!). I was so impressed and happy to see it not only done, but done well.

This book is also a really great diverse read; it has LGBTQ+ elements, and both characters are Mexican-Americans (in the late 1980s).

I didn’t absolutely love the writing; part of it I did because it felt really poetic, but other times I just felt like details were repeated over and over again. And as much as I was hardcore loving the main love story, I also didn’t fully believe it; what are the odds these two find each other, especially in that time and place, and as much as I loved Ari’s growth as a character and his development of his feelings and understanding himself, I wasn’t totally sold that he was.

Overall, I liked the book a lot; it was quick and fun and I loved the characters and the message, but I wasn’t in absolute love with it. 

I Am Malala | Review

imgres

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
with Christina Lamb

The cover tells the basic story: “The girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban,” but there is so much more to it than that.

I Am Malala not only tells the story of one girl’s bravery to stand up for her belief in the right to an education, but of the Pakistani people’s history and oppression, of how the angry and underappreciated can become the evil, how easy and dangerous it is to interpret religion and use it against others.

Malala was only a teenager when two members of the Taliban jumped onto her school bus and shot her in the head. The Taliban claimed it was because Malala embraced Western customs and not the Muslim way; in reality it was because she had a voice and wasn’t afraid to stand up for the right to an education.

Malala wouldn’t have been “Malala” without the influence of her father, a man passionate for education, who instilled those values in his daughter as well. Under his guidance, she learned to stand up for her beliefs and rights, and how to speak and fight for herself. She followed his lead and has since become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and the first from Pakistan.

635485334367647704-1mobileI Am Malala is a beautiful and rich story of how war affected the town of Swat, Pakistan, and the family of Malala. It goes into the history of Pakistan, the customs of Islam, and the introduction of the Taliban. It isn’t afraid to talk negatively about the West; to accuse America of wrongdoing, and it helps paint the world Post-9/11 from the perspective of Pakistan. Just like Nazi’s influenced post-WWI Germany and took over the weak and were able to sweep people along; so has the Taliban in the Middle East. This section shows how important education truly is as well; the uneducated and illiterate don’t know to think critically, to relate events to others of history, or to question authority, and with a country like Pakistan, where 50 million adults are illiterate, it’s easy to see how these events could occur.

It was really interesting to read about the culture of Swat, Muslims, and Pakistan as a whole. Though there was a lot of history and backstory, I found it enlightening and intriguing as a whole.

Though some of the minor details seemed unimportant; she mentions her friendship with Moniba a lot, but usually randomly, and with comments along the lines of “we quarreled and she said she wasn’t my friend anymore,” which I suppose were to help remind the audience the age of Malala at the time of the incident, and paint her in a realistic light, but they almost seemed out of place and unnecessary.

If nothing else, this book made me realize how lucky I am to have grown up in America, where I can wear what I want and be what I want, and have access to so much at my fingertips. I don’t have to fight to go to school; running water has never been a problem; I’m allowed to believe what I want.

Malala is a wonderful speaker and storyteller, and her story is a powerful one. I can’t wait to see where she ends up in the future, and how she will continue to influence the world around her.

Someday, Someday, Maybe | Review

16071745

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Someday, Someday, Maybe is Gilmore Girls actress Lauren Graham’s debut novel about a mid-twenties girl in 90s New York who has set a deadline for herself, by which time she needs to be “successful” as an actress.

Graham used many of her own experiences as a struggling actress in New York in the 90s, but in a cute, well-crafted way.

Franny, named after Salinger’s Franny and Zooey and exhibiting many of the same characteristics (a point made in the novel), is not the average bimbo actress trying to make money and be the face of a perfume; she wants to work in theater, she’s intelligent and funny, and she’s not a twig, she only wants to look like one.

She’s lacking in confidence, both in her looks and her talent, yet when she is put on the spot, she oozes with it. You can’t help but root for her to land a gig and be successful.

Lauren-Graham-041713Since this is chick lit, there’s an obvious love triangle, but Graham is very tongue in cheek with it, as Franny and the right-for-her “friend” go to a chick flick matinee and have a discussion afterwards regarding love triangles. Frannie is upset by the movie because she sees her own life reflected back on her, and spouts off about how love triangles aren’t believable because they’re not real, that love shouldn’t just come in triangles but other shapes as well. It’s at this point her “friend” reveals that a love triangle is just a way to show different sides of a character and make an internal dilemma dramatic. I agree wholeheartedly with both points of view in this argument (I’ve made that same Shape argument myself, though I wasn’t in a love shape at the time), and I found the whole situation ironic and enlightening at the same time.

I could hear Graham’s voice when reading this (and only after finishing did I learn she narrates the audiobook! So disappointed!), and the snippy comebacks and klutzy situations had me chuckling.

The structure of the novel was also enjoyable, as it had Franny’s ever-present Filofax pages inserted as a method of catching the reader up on weeks of events or the emotions of Franny, and many chapters started with her voicemail messages, a true sign of the times.

I picked up this novel for a few reasons. One being it was written by Lauren Graham, whom I love on Gilmore Girls and Parenthood; I find her incredibly funny, witty, and beautiful and was interested in reading her writing. Two being it sounded similar to my own experience post-college, trying to make it in the Film world, albeit in LA rather than NY. I love stories set in and around the “industry” and I could appreciate a lot of what Franny was going through. I wasn’t trying to be an actress, but the struggle is the same.

Sure, it’s chick lit, it’s predictable and isn’t groundbreaking in any way, but it’s fun, funny, and an enjoyable read.