3.5 stars. Jam is sent to a boarding school for troubled teens after her boyfriend, Reeve, dies. One of her classes is Special Topics in English, a st3.5 stars. Jam is sent to a boarding school for troubled teens after her boyfriend, Reeve, dies. One of her classes is Special Topics in English, a strange semester-long class for only five students that the teacher handpicks. Neither Jam nor any of the other students know why they've been selected for the class, but all of them are dealing with some sort of trauma. In the class, they read The Bell Jar and are given journals to write about their feelings. When they begin to write, however, each student is transported to an alternate world they call Belzhar. For Jam, Reeve is alive in Belzhar and they get to spend time together once again. For all the comfort that Belzhar offers, letting Jam escape from reality, nothing new can happen in Belzhar. And as she continues to write in her journal and visit Reeve in Belzhar, Jam realizes that she'll soon reach the end of the journal and doesn't know what will happen after that.
I didn't find the writing in here particularly powerful, but I did enjoy the story. I enjoyed the friendship that grew between the students in Special Topics in English and how they all slowly began to rely on each other for help recovering from their problems. The way Belzhar was presented really intrigued me too. The fact that what happened in Belzhar was limited to what had happened in real life gave the fantasy world interesting parameters and limited the sort of comfort that Jam and the others could obtain from it. Still, the ability to have the world be the way it used to be held understandable appeal.
Jam wasn't my favorite character, but her motivations were understandable and I liked the fact that she grew throughout the book. I never really got a sense of how deeply she cared about Reeve, despite the fact that she told the reader this; it just didn't seem to be shown to the reader nearly as much as it was told. I would have liked a little more emotion and depth to Jam; I thought some of the other students were a lot more sympathetic. For all the things that this book encompassed, it would have been greatly enhanced had there been more depth and complexity to it. Everything seemed to be addressed on the surface only.
I did enjoy the plot of this book, however, and I think the author raised interesting questions - although Jam's choice of whether she'd want to permanently stay in Belzhar with Reeve or return to the real world never felt like an actual choice to me. It seemed perfectly obvious what she'd do. The ending to Jam's story was interesting, albeit resolved in a much simpler way than I think it should have been.
It seems like this book has received very mixed reviews, which I understand. I enjoyed parts of this book a lot and was interested to find out what happened, but it did seem uneven overall with both the writing and the pacing. ...more
It's often difficult to rate a collection of short stories, since there seem to always be ones that are quite good and others that don't resonate at aIt's often difficult to rate a collection of short stories, since there seem to always be ones that are quite good and others that don't resonate at all. It's probably slight more difficult in this case, since the author died before this compilation was put together and therefore could not edit these nor make her own selections of what to include.
Like everyone else, I heard of this book from the news coverage of the author's "Opposite of Loneliness" essay, published for her college graduation. This book includes that, as well as a number of short fiction stories plus some non-fiction essays. I expected to enjoy the non-fiction selections more, since that's what the "Opposite of Loneliness" was, but I ended up liking more of the fiction ones.
Although the stories were not edited again before publication, as noted above, they were quite polished. It's obvious that the author would have had quite a nice writing career ahead of her. Sentences were strung together beautifully, emotions well articulated, and there was such attention to detail that I couldn't help falling inside the heads of the narrators. I was really impressed at how gorgeous most of the writing was, as I imagine much of it was polished over and over again until the words fit together just right.
Most of the short fiction was longer than I expected, which was quite a good thing, since it allowed time to really get inside the story and deeply care about the characters. The opening two stories had a lot of heart in them, and I loved the descriptions of the various emotions each main character went through, one as she dealt with the death of someone she wasn't quite dating and the other as a college student came home for winter break. Another story I enjoyed a lot was about a girl debating if her actor boyfriend was cheating on her, plus another story about a woman with a newly adopted baby in her hometown for Christmas, thinking about an old boyfriend. There was a really nice variety in the topics and personalities portrayed in the fiction, and each definitely had its own feel to it. I do think that each story wrapped up a little too smoothly at the very end, with a few paragraphs sort of summarizing the narrator's thoughts about everything they'd just experienced. This ending technique was used for most of the stories and didn't really ring true to me. I was willing to overlook it on most of the stories, however, since I enjoyed the bulk of the tale; I just never thought the endings were quite satisfactory.
Most of the non-fiction essays fell flat for me. There were two that I enjoyed - one was about the author's celiac disease and her mom's determination to make everything gluten-free for her; the other was the final inclusion about how people seem to be overly concerned about what they should have done and not focused on the present. Some of the other essays I had to skim because they just didn't interest me at all; one, about an exterminator, was the worst selection in the book and didn't even seem to fit, much less be readable.
Despite the unevenness of the works in here, I definitely enjoyed the book overall and found it a worthwhile read. The writing made up for a lot of the issues I had with some of the stories, and the selections that were good were good enough to make me overlook the not-so-stellar ones. Although this wasn't a perfect book by any means, the stories that were good were very good and the emotions that the author captured in words lingered with me. ...more
I just finished this book yesterday and I've already forgotten much of it, which is probably a good indicator how I felt about this book. Told with thI just finished this book yesterday and I've already forgotten much of it, which is probably a good indicator how I felt about this book. Told with three alternating narrators, this is the story of Rebecca, a teen who moves from London to the small and creepy town of Winterfold. There, she makes one friend, Ferelith, who's odd and a bit creepy and might be human or might be something else. The two of them explore the town together, even though Ferelith already knows everything about it. There's also a third narrator who ruminates, in an old diary, about life in 1798. I'm not quite sure what else to say about the plot except that it was barely existent.
There were one or two bits in here that I enjoyed. There was one sentence about Rebecca exploring the town and how it took her 20 minutes, so she tells herself to not be a big city snob and so she explores it again and it takes her 25 minutes. That was cute and the only part I actually remember in any detail. The majority of the book was just such a mess that I didn't enjoy it, nor did I always even understand what I was reading. On the plus side, it was a short book so it didn't take long to speed through it.
The narration jumps around from Rebecca, Ferelith, and the 1798 diary. I could easily distinguish between the girls' narratives and the one in 1798, not only because the 1798 diary entries all started with a date but because the actually writing was much different (and, to me, much less enjoyable). On the other hand, the narrative jumped from Rebecca to Ferelith without warning and seemingly without purpose. The jumps were so sudden and awkward that I was constantly confused whose head I was supposed to be in or how I was viewing a scene. The transitions were extremely clumsy. I didn't think the multiple narrators worked at all, nor were they even necessary.
Meanwhile, the plot.... well, there wasn't much of it past Rebecca trying to figure out Ferelith, their friendship, and the town. I constantly felt like I was reading without it going anywhere. Additionally, much of the writing seemed very clunky and kept me unconvinced that I was actually reading about people. I just felt like I was being told about a story I didn't really care that much about. I wish I had gotten more into the characters or the setting. Instead, I just felt bored. There were a lot of parts I ended up skimming due to it seeming to go nowhere. I kept waiting for something big to happen and on a couple of occasions there was a scene that intrigued me, only to quickly disappoint when the build up didn't continue. I finished the book very unsatisfied - not just because I spent the time reading a book I didn't like, but also because the story itself wrapped up with lots of plot holes. Very disappointing. ...more
Every time I read something by Monica McInerney, I'm reminded of why I enjoy her novels so much: she has this amazing ability to really capture the emEvery time I read something by Monica McInerney, I'm reminded of why I enjoy her novels so much: she has this amazing ability to really capture the emotions of family, friendships, and just plain life. This is a collection of her short stories and novellas, and while none of the stories featured in here were as deep or complex as her full novels typically are, I still really liked it all!
I'd read one of the selections in here before (Sweet Charity), but the rest of the stories were new to me. Some were better than others, but all were sweet and charming. There was a story about a caterer, one about a group of friends who decide to diet together, and a very short one about judging people's appearances, among others. They all left me wanting more without making me disappointed that the story itself was so short.
The best one in here was Odd One Out, which is also available as a novella on its own. That had the most character development and despite its short length (albeit much longer than any of the other selections!), I really felt for all the characters, getting swept away with their plights.
This was a great collection of stories overall but really just made me want to read more of her novels, since her novels always give me plenty of time in the fictional world, with all the characters. I wouldn't recommend this as the first book to read by this author, but if you've read and enjoyed her other novels, then this won't disappoint!...more
This book had a fairly loose plot, but it's basically the story of Peter, the only boy in a Chinese American family. His father expects him to be a maThis book had a fairly loose plot, but it's basically the story of Peter, the only boy in a Chinese American family. His father expects him to be a man and has extremely high hopes and standards for him, but what Peter really wants is to be a girl. The story covers a few decades of his life, showing scene snippets here and there, and just kind of shows how his life unfolds.
The writing in here was very polished. The author's bio notes that she has a MFA, and this writing degree shows. Clearly she spent a lot of time honing the words to this story and making it easy and quick to read.
The main problem with this book, however, is that while the writing is very polished, it never actually tells an interesting story. The scenes were so short and jumped around that I never got a good grasp of any of the characters and really didn't care about them. There was absolutely no emotional connection to anyone or anything in here. Near the beginning of the book, Peter tells the reader that in elementary school, when he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, all he wanted to be was a mommy. This was basically the only indication throughout the book that he was struggling with conflicted feelings. Everything else was so detached, so superficial, that I never actually believed he felt anything. It was difficult for me to care about his plight when it barely seemed like Peter had any feelings for much of the story.
In lieu of developing Peter's emotional journey, much of the book detailed experiences that Peter's family members had. These scenes weren't necessarily related to Peter's own story, or any sort of general plot, but seemed to exist only to fill the pages and show the reader more dynamics and perspectives inside of Peter's family. A few scenes were maybe interesting here and there, but they were completely unnecessary and ultimately forgettable because they didn't truly fit with the main theme of Peter's internal gender struggle.
A lot of characters were introduced, featured in a few scenes, and then disappeared. No reason was given for their disappearance from the page, but I guess it was to show how people sometimes just disappear from your life. If this was indeed the purpose, it didn't make an impact. The story was incredibly fragmented and quite dull. It was also a fairly quick read, due in part to its fairly short length. It's too bad the book wasn't expanded to include more emotional scenes and less filler material. Regardless of how polished the writing is, if a book doesn't tell much of a story, it seems pointless.
I feel like the author set out to tell the story of a girl born in a boy's body and the difficult journey this caused. Unfortunately, this book barely skimmed the surface of this theme and only seemed to details blips in the life of a family that I never quite got a handle on. Not terrible, but incredibly underwhelming. ...more
I hadn't heard of this book before it won the 2015 Morris Award, but that win was enough to make me (and probably lots of others) check it out. Told iI hadn't heard of this book before it won the 2015 Morris Award, but that win was enough to make me (and probably lots of others) check it out. Told in diary format, this is the story of Gabi as she navigates her senior year of high school and all the drama she has to deal with from friends and family.
I can see why this book has won awards and received so much critical acclaim. It's well written and celebrates the fact that the main character is Mexican America; there's been a big push for diversity in YA lately, and this definitely fits that bill! Gabi is an independent thinker who doesn't follow the crowd, and the friendships portrayed in this book are really nice. In a lot of ways, it really showcases how strong friendships help get you through tough situations and how there are mixed messages in life yet we all have the ability to be better than that. Very feminist-driven, although that word isn't specifically used.
At the same time, I felt like there were so many issues crammed into this book that, at times, it became less about the characters and more about the issues. There was teen pregnancy, gay rights, rape, meth, drugs, religion, abortion, weight and body issues... The list went on and on. Because there were so many issues tackled in here, they were all only briefly touched upon instead of delved into in much depth. In a way, this was nice, since it kept the book from being dragged down by any single weighty issue. On the other hand, the lengthly list of issues made me feel like I was possibly reading an after school TV movie special. That's not to say that there aren't people who truly do deal with all these things; there are. I just thought it was a bit much in a single book. Obviously, others disagree.
I think this book would be best suited for hispanic teens, especially since Gabi's identity as a Mexican-American is a frequent topic in here. Spanish phrases are also intermixed with English ones, so a general knowledge of Spanish would certainly be a plus in reading this. ...more
Gordon Korman's books are usually humorous and entertaining and this was no exception! Donovan is a troublemaker who accidentally gets sent to the gifGordon Korman's books are usually humorous and entertaining and this was no exception! Donovan is a troublemaker who accidentally gets sent to the gifted academy in town. He realizes he doesn't belong there (the other students and teachers realize this as well), but Donovan is determined to stay there as long as possible because being at the academy allows him to "hide out" and escape punishment that could be waiting for him at his old school due to his latest prank.
The story was told alternately from Donovan's perspective and the perspective of someone else around him, either one of the gifted students or one of the teachers. While neither the plot nor the characters were particularly deep, the story itself was a lot of fun. Donovan stands out at the academy for how normal he is, since most of the gifted students are SO gifted that they don't know how to be normal themselves. I liked the interaction between Donovan and everyone else, and how they all kind of came together to realize that they all needed a balance in their lives between overthinking things and actually doing things, without thinking.
As an adult, there are definitely a few plot holes, but for a kid this would be a great read! This is exactly the type of book that would have made me laugh as a kid. Fun story, quick pace, likable characters, and a nice resolve to all the problems in here. Cute read....more
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, since it's based on a historical event (i.e., the disappearance of a New York jI enjoyed this book quite a bit. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, since it's based on a historical event (i.e., the disappearance of a New York judge, Joseph Crater, in 1930 and the subsequent fallout. Since that case was never actually solved, this is completely fiction, reimagining the disappearance as seen through the eyes of three women in his life: his wife, Stella; his mistress, Ritzi; and his maid, Maria. The narration jumps around between the three women, showing the aftermath of his disappearance and the scrutiny they all faced, giving occasional flashbacks to show their relationships with Crater and how his actions affected them.
I got sucked into the story from the very beginning. The depiction of the 1930's was nicely done, and I really liked the small (but important!) distinctions between the lives of the three women. All were surprisingly sympathetic despite their very different personalities and backstories. Stella was the cheated-on wife, having enough indifference toward her husband that she puts up with it, yet also with enough smarts to keep herself together and her way of life intact. Ritzi was a showgirl using Crater for her own means, smart yet exploited from her own decisions. And then there was Maria, a religious woman married to the detective investigating Crater's disappearance, trying to stay under the radar and keep out of trouble.
The story was told well. I liked the details included about the city at the time and the depiction of the various places (nice hotels, Coney Island, speakeasies...) where scenes were set. The mystery aspect of this was quite interesting as well, as it was sort of implied that a gangster was behind the disappearance... yet no actual evidence ever surfaced. Of course, this is referring only to the fictional disappearance in this novel and not the actual judge's disappearance, since that was never solved. I found the end satisfying as well, if a little quick to wrap up.
Quite an enjoyable read, and one that was different from other books I've read recently. There was a lot to like about this - the characters, the details, the setting, and the way the author captured a true event and turned it into a story (with some made-up characters and details!) that was not fully fact, but also not complete fiction. For those who enjoy mysteries and historical pieces (especially those set in the 1930's), this is a perfect read!...more
There has been so much buzz around this book, so of course I had to check it out. This is the story of two teens, (Theodore) Finch and Violet, who meeThere has been so much buzz around this book, so of course I had to check it out. This is the story of two teens, (Theodore) Finch and Violet, who meet at the top of the bell tower at their school and realize they were both flirting with the idea of jumping. Finch decides it's his mission to "save" Violet, who's filled with guilt about surviving a fatal car accident, and the two of them pair up for a school project that has them traveling to interesting spots all over Indiana. They slowly become friends, and Violet gradually realizes how much she cares about Finch, who's dealing with his own mental struggles and refuses to let anyone help.
This was a very well-written book. The author did a nice job with the dual narratives, and I enjoyed getting into the heads of the two main characters. Of them, I much preferred Violet to Finch. Violet came across as very complex, struggling with her feelings about the car accident and, months later, unable to cope with the grief she feels. I really liked how dynamic her character was, as she realized she was often granted excuses for not fully participating in classes or doing work because of her "extraordinary circumstances", yet milking this as much as she could due to not wanting to deal with reality. I easily sympathized with her. Finch, on the other hand, was harder to like - or, really, even understand. His goal was to help Violet, and he came across as very charming in his interactions with her. At the same time, his refusal to deal with his own problems, even though he continually referenced them, and his insistence on continually changing his outlook, attitude, and personality was grating. Certainly there are people like this in the world; I just didn't love him as a character. The majority of the other characters, however, weren't fully drawn and instead were just names in the book without full-fleshed personalities.
The friendship between Violet and Finch was depicted nicely. I liked the way the two of them were drawn together through certain circumstances. Their friendship moved forward at an understandable pace, and I really enjoyed the way they kept their friendship private (mainly on Violet's end, since she was aware of the reputation Finch had and didn't want to publicly be associated with him) yet gradually realized how much they each depended on the other. Eventually, their friendship turned to romance, which seemed to progress way quicker than I thought was particularly believable. Then again, I think the author wanted to cram the full emotions of a relationship in this book, which would explain why their relationship was on such a speedy trajectory.
What I'm conflicted about, in regard to this book, is mainly the ending. By that, I don't mean the very last page but the whole last part of the book. I appreciated what the author was obviously trying to do, making this book so heavily focused on mental health and suicide, but I felt like the end was almost manipulative in the way it tried to make me feel. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn't the biggest fan of Finch's character; it grated on me the way he kept talking about wanting to be there for Violet and help her improve herself, yet he refused to do anything to improve himself for her. Thus, I didn't fully buy the part of the ending where he's thinking of her on occasion (on his own terms) and letting her know, yet also being so incredibly selfish as to not talk to her when she needs him. I really failed to find a ton of sympathy for his character. Thus, for me, the parts of the book that I think were supposed to be sad simply fell flat.
While there were definitely things about this book that I enjoyed, and I did appreciate what issues the author tackles in here, I finished it confused and unsure what I was feeling. The way the book progressed, the Violet/Finch dynamic and relationship felt almost too contrived, and I didn't feel much emotion at the end - it wasn't a tear jerker by any means. On the other hand, this was well-written and I feel like others might be able to really relate to the story in parts where it just frustrated me. Also, I did really enjoy the descriptions of the various sights they visited around Indiana. ...more
This seems to be the book of the moment right now, as I can't escape ads for it and everyone seems to have heard of it! Of course I had to jump on theThis seems to be the book of the moment right now, as I can't escape ads for it and everyone seems to have heard of it! Of course I had to jump on the band wagon and read it, just to see for myself if it was worth the hype.
It's told in three perspectives, jumping around in time. Rachel is an alcoholic who's lost her job but still commutes to "work" each day so her roommate won't know. The train passes a neighborhood where a couple lives; although Rachel doesn't know them, she watches them and feels jealous because they seem to have the sort of marriage that she used to have. Then one day the wife she's been watching, Megan, disappears - and Rachel feels like she's seen something during her commute that the police will want to know. Soon, Rachel's completely involved herself in the investigation and isn't sure what she can trust anymore, including herself.
Although none of the characters in here were particularly likable, I was definitely intrigued by the story. Rachel was an interesting narrator (although this is told in three perspectives, Rachel is definitely the main character). She's an alcoholic and makes one poor choice after another. She can't trust her own memories because she suffers from blackouts due to her drinking, and no one else seems to trust her memories either. It made her an interesting main character, since the world viewed through her eyes may or may not be reality. It was also frustrating, since her problems all stemmed from, and continued because of, her own poor decisions.
The mystery in here kept me hooked. I wanted to know what really happened to Megan and whether Rachel really was a valuable player, as she wanted to be (and thought she was!), or if Rachel was just a completely crazy rubbernecker. I think what made this dynamic so interesting is that there are a lot of people like Rachel, people who want to be involved in something so bad that they find a way to insert themselves in the middle of it, whether they have a legitimate reason to be there or not. It was frustrating to read about, yet my own desire to stay involved as a reader kept me reading!
Aside from the unlikable characters, which didn't drag the story down but definitely kept me from rooting for a particular person, the only other complaint I had is that some of the scenes were written so vaguely that I wasn't fully sure what was happening. There were a couple of times when names weren't given and I had to guess who was being referred to by "he" or "she" (many of these strategic decisions by the author, I'm sure), or there were scenes that seemed to jumped back and forth in time without giving me enough of a transition to fully understand what happened. While I understand why the author put the book together in this way, it didn't make for the most straightforward reading experience.
Overall, I did enjoy this book quite a bit. I liked the mystery and was not disappointed in the ending. The whodunit wasn't obvious to me until late in the book, and even then I wondered if there'd be another twist, so I definitely enjoyed the mystery. The writing was nice, and it kept moving forward at a rate that made me rapidly turn pages. ...more
I have yet to read a book by Kasie West that is anything other than completely engrossing. This was no exception! Charlie's grown up with a single dadI have yet to read a book by Kasie West that is anything other than completely engrossing. This was no exception! Charlie's grown up with a single dad and three older brothers, plus a next-door neighbor who's always around and feels like a fourth brother, so she doesn't quite know how to fit in with other girls. Over the summer, she's forced to get a job to pay for a speeding ticket and begins to think of her life at the shop as her "other" life, since she's not the same person when there and actually starts to make some girl friends and even participates in makeup lessons. Meanwhile, she's dealing with insomnia due to recurring nightmares and ends up in her backyard in the middle of the night, talking to her neighbor, Braden, through the fence and slowly feeling like she might be falling in love with him.
This was such a great book overall! I continually wanted to keep reading and not put the book down because I had to find out what happened next. The characters are definitely what made the book so stellar. Charlie made an excellent main character. Although I didn't always fully understand her need to keep her family in the dark about certain parts of her life, I did sympathize with her and could see how the dynamics of her home life had affected her. She was a tomboy and knew it, but wasn't completely put-off about hanging out with other girls, just unsure about her own ability to fit in with stereotypical "girl stuff". I liked the fact that her personality wasn't static or one-dimensional and the ways in which she grew throughout the book. It kind of reminded me of Catching Jordan because of the main character's tomboy nature, but this was a far superior book and actually had likable characters, depth, and growth - things I only wish the other had featured!
Friendships and family relationships featured strongly in here. The female friendships that developed between Charlie and girls she meets through her job were so well done. I loved the dynamic between Charlie and her friend Amber, in particular, because of how different the two were, yet how well they got along anyway. It was exactly how friendships sometimes work in real life! The relationships between Charlie and her brothers and dad were nicely done as well. There was definitely a protective feeling that everyone had about Charlie, and it was done just perfectly, not with a heavy hand at all. Everyone felt like actual people, not just characters in a book.
And then, of course, there was the romance. Charlie and her neighbor, Braden, had known each other for years, yet the romance developed slowly between them due to them gradually beginning to learn even more about the other and realizing that the other was there when needed. There were so many late-night, unable-to-sleep conversations between the two of them that drew them together, and it made for a very strong start to their relationship. There was no insta-love, nor was there a sudden realization that they'd been pining over each other for years; it was just something that developed and changed their friendship.
At the beginning of the book, I wasn't sure I'd enjoy this as much as the author's previous books, but a few chapters in and I was hooked! It flowed along so well and the characters kept me interested. I loved the way the author took a simple plot and turned it into something this good, just from the writing and the characters. I'm excited for her next book!...more
Short story collections are usually hit and miss, but this was a really nice collection overall (albeit with a few "misses", as all collections seem tShort story collections are usually hit and miss, but this was a really nice collection overall (albeit with a few "misses", as all collections seem to have). The majority of the stories were really sweet, very entertaining, and definitely wonderful reads during the month of December, since all are holiday-themed in one way or another. Also, I was quite pleased to find that the majority of the stories were ones that I really liked. I feel like the best way to read a collection like this is with a short break in between each story, giving me time to savor the end of one story/world before diving into the next, especially since the authors all had such different writing styles and the stories themselves varied so much. Here's my breakdown of all twelve included stories:
Midnights by Rainbow Rowell 5 stars. The inclusion of a story by Rainbow Rowell is, admittedly, one of the main reasons I was so eager to read this book and it did not disappoint. I loved this story about a girl and the many New Years spent with friends. There were so many emotions in here and she did an amazing job showing, in such a short story, the way friendships and people changed from high school to college. Loved this and thought it was an absolutely perfect start for the book!
The Lady and the Fox by Kelly Link 1 star, if that. I'd never heard of the author before, so I had no idea what to expect, but this story was definitely the biggest "miss" in this book. It was confusing, uninteresting, and just plain weird. The entire plot and characters felt forced and made no sense, with some weird magic included that was never really explained. Also, what a weird choice to have this story second in here, following the strongest story of the bunch, instead of buried in the middle somewhere; it made me worried for what else was to come!
Angels in the Snow by Matt de la Pena 4 stars. I'd heard of this author but never read anything by him before, although I'm sure I'll pick up one of his books now. It took place inside a nice apartment building, where a college student was cat-sitting for his boss and getting to know the only other person in the complex who was around for the holidays. The narration was fantastic and actually made me giggle a few times. So much to enjoy about this one!
Polaris is Where You'll Find Me by Jenny Han 4 stars. This was a sweet, slightly incomplete, story about a girl who was "adopted" by Santa and has grown up surrounded by elves at the North Pole. The story felt less than complete to me because of how ambivalent it was at the end and the uncertainty about the future, but I really liked the concept and the way it played out. It seemed almost magical despite not having any "real" magic to it (except the concept of Santa and elves, etc). A nice story, even if the end seemed to just happen instead of offering any real closure.
It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins 4 stars. A cute story about a girl and a guy working at the Christmas tree lot next to her apartment, as she spontaneously buys a tree and he helps her get it set up, which involves a lot of apartment cleaning. I liked the dynamic between the two and thought the set up was cute but not cutesy, if that makes sense. Not the most memorable story (a day later, I don't remember a ton of specifics), but it was a nice inclusion.
Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan 4 stars. Cute story about a guy who gets talked into dressing up as Santa to help his boyfriend's younger sister still believe in Santa for one more year. I really liked the family dynamic in this and the fact that the main character was trying so hard to do the right thing for the boyfriend and his family, even if it was something crazy.
Krampuslauf by Holly Black 5 stars. I loved this story following a group of friends from a public high school who decide to host a party to bust their friend's boyfriend, who goes to a private school and has another girlfriend there. The friendship in here was excellent and I loved the blend of realism with a hint of magic. The characters all felt real and I totally pictured everything in here coming to life. Very different from other stories in here, but it felt perfect to me.
What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth by Gayle Forman 4 stars. Overlooking its terrible title, the story was cute, about a Jewish girl from Brooklyn attending college in the middle of America and how awkwardly she fits in. I liked that the religion in here was muted and simply a backdrop to the two main characters getting to know each other, instead of it being the driving force behind the entire story. Lots of cute moments with the main characters making assumptions about the other and realizing that they're not the only ones who feel like they don't fit in.
Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus by Myra McEntire 3 stars. Another awful title but decent story, featuring a guy doing community service to help put together a church's nativity play. I liked the conversations between the main characters, but the hijinks about the play weren't very interesting and so the story was duller than I'd have liked. Cute idea and it had its moments, but not my favorite.
Welcome to Christmas, CA by Kiersten White 5 stars. Not perfect but an incredibly sweet story about a girl living in a small town and waitressing at a diner that just got a new chef with a knack of making the perfect dishes for customers. I loved the dynamic between the girl and the chef, and there was a very sweet plot involving the girl's family relationships as well. The diner's food bringing out the best in people was such a fun theme and made the place seem magical. There was a small subplot involving the girl's coworker that seemed to be resolved way too quickly and easily, but on the whole, this story was incredibly strong.
Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter 5 stars. I loved the blend of mystery and holiday in this story, with a girl switching plane tickets with someone else at the airport and ending up hiding in a small town with the family that the other girl was supposed to meet. It was fun to have the main character hiding a secret, keeping me guessing what she was trying to avoid, and I loved the family she stayed with and how welcoming they were.
The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer by Laini Taylor Didn't finish. I know there are so many people who absolutely love this author, but I just can't get into her writing. This story was no exception. I started reading this and my eyes quickly glazed over. I just couldn't focus on it and so I couldn't finish the story. I wouldn't call this bad, but I just don't enjoy her writing style and it doesn't resonate with me....more
3.5 stars. Continuing where Slated left off, Kyla is still confused about her past and why she's able to occasionally remember stuff despite having be3.5 stars. Continuing where Slated left off, Kyla is still confused about her past and why she's able to occasionally remember stuff despite having been "slated" - her mind wiped clean and all memories erased - for a crime she can't remember committing. She's still struggling to fit in with the new family she's been assigned to, reeling from the disappearance of a friend, and back in touch with people from her life before being slated, people who she wants to help overthrow the system but isn't sure how far she's willing to go to do so.
This is very obviously the middle book of a trilogy, without a firm plot that's contained solely within this book; the story in here begins in the first book and will obviously end in the next book. It's always disappointing to me when a book is not self-contained and that's a frequent problem with series or trilogies. Overlooking that, I didn't find this book nearly as exciting as I wanted. I liked the mystery of why Kyla might have been slated and who might be good/bad and why she's different from others who've been slated, in that she's able to remember some stuff. Unfortunately, when there were answers (or partial answers) to these questions, I didn't find them fully satisfying. It wasn't just the fact that everything hadn't yet been revealed, since I assume there will be more reveals in the final book; the problem was that the parts that were revealed in here seemed almost cheesy and made things more complicated than they needed to be.
I thought the pacing in here was slow, although this might be partially due to the fact that Kyla had frequent flashbacks, remembering stuff from the time before she was slated. I didn't particularly care about any of these scenes. I ended up skimming much of this because they didn't seem to add anything to the story despite her memories being the key to figuring everything out. Also, I think some of these flashbacks were supposed to establish more personality and depth to Kyla and it didn't really achieve that, at least not for me.
Kyla was an okay main character. I understand that her personality was wiped and she's basically been brainwashed through the slating process, but she did irritate me at times with her willingness to trust certain people and hesitation to trust others. The supporting characters were okay as well. None of them really stood out as stellar, but at the same time, there were a number of different personalities and the author did a good job keeping everyone as individuals instead of lumping personalities together. Perhaps I just never warmed up to them fully for my own reasons. I'm not really sure.
While I didn't love this book, I also didn't dislike it. It's just one of those books I'm ambivalent about. I'll probably read the next book eventually, just to see how it all ends, but it's not something I feel like I need to read immediately....more