Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Geography of You and Me

I hesitate to say The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith is “not your typical YA love story” because, in a lot of ways, it kind of is.  Two teenagers meet by chance and immediately fall in love, more of less.  Their relationship faces certain obstacles which serve to bring them closer to each other.  It’s light and breezy and overall a fun read.

The difference is that the main characters, Lucy and Owen, spend most of the book apart from one another.  The story focuses on their individual stories as they travel and grow.

The traveling is what made me fall in love with this book.  The two started in New York City (*heart eyes*) and then traveled in opposite directions.  Owen went west, ending up in Seattle and Lucy moved to London after traveling through most of Western Europe.  Since the story focused on their individual travels, it showed off their individual development.  When they came together in the end, it felt more like a beginning than an ending.

Instead of the relationship carrying the story and being used to develop the characters, the characters develop on their own and give the relationship an emotional weight that is deeply rooted in the individuals.  Despite lacking a base setting, between the characters and the writing, the reader is never lost.

It’s an easy read, and it leaves the reader with a warm-fuzzy feeling, but it also makes you think about the world as a whole and travel as a life-changing phenomenon.  You become invested in the characters and their development.  The relationship is secondary, only important because it makes them happy, but it’s still well-done.  It’s definitely in my top 10 as far as YA goes…but god, does it make me want to travel again…

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2016 Year in Review

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Six of Crows

A couple weeks ago, a friend (who doesn’t usually talk books with me) sent me a Snap.  “Have you read Six of Crows?  I think you’d really like it!”

I made a note of it but, because I wasn’t buying books at the moment and won’t read books I don’t own, I figured it would be a while.  Then a different friend let me choose a Blind Date with a Book for my Christmas present.  Based on a very vague description, I chose Six of Crows.

“I thought you’d end up with that one,” she said.  “I think you’ll really like it.”

A third friend got really excited when I put a picture of the book’s maps on my SnapChat story.  This book came highly recommended…and it absolutely lived up to the hype.

The description for my blind date was “felt like watching Leverage.”  To me, it was a mix between Leverage and Firefly.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is a fast-paced heist story.  These characters are on a Mission and every action either brings them closer or further from their goal.  With all the twists and turns, the reader is constantly desperate to find what happens next.  It’s an exciting plot, but the best part is the characters and their found-family dynamic.

You can pick your own favorite…but if it’s not Inej, you’re wrong. The Wraith is the glue that holds the team together.  Everyone loves Inej.

But they’re ALL wonderful.  Kaz is a beautiful train wreck, Wylan and Jesper are adorable, Nina gets to be a different kind of strong than Inej, though just as powerful, and Matthias grows so much and so realistically over the course of the story.

Between the plot and the characters, the story is unique and fascinating, but it’s the writing that elevates it all.  Bardugo describes this sci-fi universe with enough detail that it presents a vivid picture.  The action is described so clearly that it’s like we’re there.  She looks into each character’s mind so clearly that the reader can understand the motivations even they may not recognize yet.

By the end of the book you will be sucked into the action, but also so in love with the characters that you feel like you’ve gone on a trip with your new best friends.  It’s so good that I’m going to actually buy the sequel as soon as Christmas is over.  It’s amazing.

Don’t let the “YA” label fool you.  If you like sci-fi and adventure, this is the story for you.  And who doesn’t like adventure?

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2016 and Beyond

I am sick.  Ugh.

I would probably feel better today if I hadn’t overdone it yesterday, but my NYU application is in and I saw a friend who I haven’t seen in a while.  Still, today I cancelled my hair appointment, didn’t see Rogue One (sad face), and stayed in bed.  Hopefully I will feel better tomorrow.

I thought, since I was stuck at home, this would be a good time for end of year reflections.  Let’s be honest: a lot of 2016 really fucking sucked.  But SOME good did come out of the year, so here are five things I accomplished plus some of my goals for 2017.

Accomplishment #1: I submitted my first grad school application and am almost done with the second.

Goal #1: To move to New York City by this time next year, whether I get into grad school or not.

Accomplishment #2: Have read 46 books and counting.

Goal #2: Empty my TBR shelf by reading all the books I can and getting rid of others.  (My friend read 120 books or something this year, so I’m sure it can be done.)

Accomplishment #3: Saved $5000 for my road trip.

Goal #3: Pay off all credit cards and save $5000 for a trip to Japan.

Accomplishment #4: Crossed off Route 66 road trip from my bucket list.

Goal #4: Visit New Orleans and leave the country at least once (Japan if Katie is living there, Italy or Scotland on the off-chance she’s not.  Or in addition, if I can manage…)

Accomplishment #5: Finished draft 4 of the Robin Hood novel and sent it to readers for an opinion.

Goal #5: Get something published professionally AND get through draft 1 of the second part of the Robin Hood novel.

I feel like I have a PLAN now…but that’s how I felt last year and the thing imploded.  And despite all the bad, I managed to do some good in my life.

Still: here’s to a better 2017 for all of us.  Fingers crossed.

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Nightmares!

Actors who write fiction are my pet peeve.  As a rule, they use their names to sell books and put no effort into storytelling or just have no talent for it.  Fortunately, with every rule there are exceptions.   Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller is one of them.  I loved this book.

It’s hard to decide where to start on this one because it just worked all around.  It was the cleverest story I’ve read in a while.

Charlie lives in a spooky mansion in a little town with his dad, brother, and stepmom, and he accidentally opens a portal to the Netherworld.  The Netherworld is separated into “Terror-tories” where each person’s nightmares live.  To close the portal and keep the nightmares from taking over the Waking World, Charlie has to pass through his friends’ terror-tories and face his fears in his own.  Fortunately, he’s got a clown named Dabney and a gorgon named Meduso to help him out…and of course, his life-long best friends.

This book was written for middle school readers and was clear and easy to read.  And yet, Segel and Miller never seemed to speak down to their audience.  They honestly addressed issues like friendship, fear, grief, and even mental illness.  The story examined the underlying reasons for what the characters feared.  And it showed the dangers of letting those fears overrun your life.

It’s the first book in a series, but it’s also a self-contained story that can stand alone.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it and no one else has ever heard of it.  I don’t blame you if you’re skeptical of actors writing books, but take a chance on this one.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

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5 Places to Eat in Chapel Hill

Every time I go to Chapel Hill, I say I’m going to try something new.  Instead I always revisit the places I loved as a student.  Don’t get me wrong: I want to try new places…but these are just so damn good.  Here’s my top 5.(Note: Those who know me will be surprised that Alpine didn’t make the cut, but it’s actually a chain which doesn’t count for these purposes.)

5. Top of the Hill: I’ve only eaten there a few times because it’s incredibly expensive.  It is worth it though, as it’s gourmet-levels of delicious.  The best part though is the view from the balcony, especially at night.  Beautiful.

4. Linda’s: Linda’s is more like a bar that serves food than a restaurant, but the food is really good.  Their claim to fame is the Sweet Potato tots.  Also, it’s an incredibly chill atmosphere.

3. Sugarland: This is not a place for meal, but if you want ice cream, cupcakes, or a really good chocolate martini, this is the place for you.  SO GOOD.

2. Spanky’s: This is a Chapel Hill classic with pub-style food.  Great wings, burgers, and ribs, but they also have things like duck sliders and bourbon bread pudding for the adventurous.  And of course, you can always watch a Carolina game here.

1. Sutton’s: This is it folks.  If you are only going to be in Chapel Hill for one day, this is the place to go.  Whether you’re there for breakfast or lunch, it’s going to be delicious.  The best though? The burger!

Honorable mention to He’s Not Here, which doesn’t serve food (as far as I know) but is the best place on Franklin to drink.

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Sword of the Rightful King

Jane Yolen has written over 200 books and Sword of the Rightful King is proof that one should not do that.

I have so many complaints about this one that I’m going to put them in a list so I don’t need to bother with transitions.

  1. The story didn’t truly start for at least a hundred pages.  Even once it had, she stretched certain parts needlessly.  Basically, the book was too long for the story.
  2. The story may have started a hundred pages in, but it didn’t get interesting until two hundred.
  3. Yolen spent most of those pages with Gawaine, who all but disappears as soon as he arrives in Camelot.  His basically used to introduce his mother, Morgause.
  4. Morgause is only one of two women who are developed as characters in this story.  She’s evil.  And the other woman is pretending to be a boy named Gawen and isn’t revealed as a woman until the end (though it is “foreshadowed,” so there’s that I guess).
  5. One of the “hints” that Gawen is actually Guinevere is a scene were she and Lancelot lock eyes.  And then, until the end of the book…NOTHING HAPPENS BETWEEN THEM.  I understand it’s part of the original legend, but why introduce it if it’s not a plot point?
  6. When it is revealed that she’s a woman, Arthur just says, “Oh, you’re actually a girl?  Cool.  Marry me.”  WTF?
  7. There’s a single hint that he cares for her before that.  Otherwise, Yolen keeps telling the reader that Gawen is one of Arthur’s top advisors but doesn’t show her advising him…unless following Merlinnus’s script counts as giving advice.  The same is true of Agravaine: we are constantly told that his loyalties have changed, but it’s never very convincing.
  8. Merlinnus is completely unlikable.  “Unlikable” can work for a character if it works for the story but, come on…it’s Merlin!
  9. In the end, Morgause disappears after one foiled scheme, which seems out of character at best.  She does curse Gawen before she goes, but nothing actually comes of that.  Merlinnus says he’ll “take care of everything,” but it’s so vague, there’s no confirmation he even knows about the curse, let alone how to stop it.  And if he did…why not show us how he does it? Breaking a curse is always interesting!
  10. This isn’t Yolen’s fault, but…THE BLURB!  It’s misleading to start, and then completely spoils the final twist…which would have been the best part if it was set up properly.

After The Bell JarI wanted something light and easy to read.  I expected the trade-off would be that it wasn’t as satisfying, but I had no idea it would be THIS bad.  My advice?  Skip this book and watch Merlin if you need a Camelot fix.  It’s on Netflix and everyone in it is gorgeous, just fyi.

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I spent most of the day avoiding my grad school applications and rearranging my room instead.  Now it’s almost 11 and I’m exhausted.  I spent so much time avoid writing for my application, that I forgot I needed to write for this thing.

I put the PRO in procrastination, y’all.

I tend to procrastinate because something makes me anxious.  Grad school applications are causing it because it feels more High-Stakes than anything I’ve done in years.  But, during all the physical labor today, something occurred to me: yes, this is a huge opportunity and, no, I don’t know WHAT I’ll do if I don’t get into grad school right now, but…I will do something.  I will figure it out because I always do.  This is a risk and I do need to put the work in for it, but not getting in isn’t the end of the world.  I’ll try something else.

There you go: that’s my insightful observation of the week.  Didn’t take long, did it?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll let you know about the application process, review some of the movies/shows I’ve been watching lately, and fill you in on my latest annual Chapel Hill trip.  In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of work to do.

Enjoy your holidays, and make sure you take care of yourself this season!

 

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The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is not for the faint of heart.

This post is going to contain spoilers, and I also feel I should warn you (in case you don’t know what the book is about) that there will be discussion of depression and suicide.  Here goes.

Growing up, I was constantly told (please don’t ask why) that the way you boil a frog is by putting it in a pot of lukewarm water and slowly turning up the heat.  By the time it realizes how much trouble it’s in, it’s too late to do anything about it.  I thought about that a lot as I finished The Bell Jar.

It starts as the kind of novel I hate: a meandering journey through somebody’s life that doesn’t seem to be going to any place in particular.  Even then, though, I couldn’t hate it because Plath’s writing was so beautifully and masterfully done.  The book is so well-written that it takes a while to realize the author has you by the throat.

There are signs, even in the book’s bright beginnings, that Esther suffers from depression.  But it doesn’t seem like a “problem” at first.  It’s just a thing about her.  By the time she (and the reader) realize how serious it is, she is already contemplating suicide and is sent to a doctor.

When I read The Virgin Suicidesits perspective was designed to give the reader some distance from the depression itself.  Plath gives us no such relief.  Her first person voice puts you directly into Esther’s head.  The imagery and descriptions give a clear picture of how her mind works and how it changes over time.  By the end, you are horrified both by how easy it seems to slip into madness and how little anyone actually understands or helps her.

Plath grabs you by the throat.  Her words wrap themselves around your head.  I can’t say I loved this book, but I am amazed by what Plath accomplished here and I know it will stay with me.  I’m still shaking over it.  That’s how good she was at her job.  Though I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, this book deserves its spot in the Literary Canon and is worth reading…if you can stomach it.

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