Sunday, January 7, 2018

New Release Book Review: Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down
Title: Turtles All the Way Down
Author: John Green
Publication Date: October 10, 2017
Genre: Realistic fiction
Pages: 286
Age Rating: Readers over 13
My Opinion: 7/10

Hi, Readers!

       Happy New Year!  I hope everybody got to unwrap lots of new books over the holidays.  I know I sure did, and I'm super excited to read them.  One of the best parts about winter break is getting the opportunity to snuggle under a blanket with some hot chocolate and enjoy a good book (which is what I'm doing right now).  One of my best friends had loaned me John Green's newest novel, Turtles All the Way Down, a couple of months ago, and I finally got around to finishing it this afternoon.  Although I had a lot of trouble getting into the story at first (hence the two months it took me to read the entire thing), I ended up feeling satisfied by the end.

       Aza Holmes is a high schooler who struggles with a number of mental issues such as OCD and anxiety.  She spends her days locked away in the spiral of her own mind, escaping only when dragged out by her best friend, Daisy.  When the father of Aza's old camp friend and now unbelievably wealthy neighbor, Davis, suddenly goes missing, Aza and Daisy decide to search for some clues.  Under these unusual circumstances, Aza is reconnected with Davis, and the two of them attempt to navigate this difficult time in their lives together.  John Green's beautiful prose weave together Aza and Davis's relationship with the struggles of being a teenager and the intense labyrinth of Aza's mind to create a story of hardship and friendship.

Aza's perspective on "Turtles all the way down"
       As you may know from some of my previous blog posts, John Green is one of my favorite authors of all time.  He has such a strong voice as a writer and never fails to capture unique perspectives perfectly.  His books are filled with powerful one-liners that always stick with me for weeks after reading them.  To be completely honest, though, I felt that Green may have tried a little bit too hard on this one.  He hadn't released a novel in a while, and I felt that some of the universal revelations in Turtles were a tad bit forced.  For instance, after including an anecdote explaining the title, Green went back and referenced the title yet again, unnecessarily, a few pages later.  In addition, although Aza's mental struggles are the main focus of the novel, Green falls back on the same description words often, such as "thought spirals."  I wish that a few different perspectives on the mental illness could have been included.

       I definitely enjoyed the second half of the novel more than the first.  One of my favorite scenes came near the end of the novel, when Aza and Daisy attend an underground art show.  Although Aza feels like she doesn't change as a person throughout the course of the novel, she definitely learns the importance of friendship and loyalty.  I wish that the end of the book had been different, but I did not feel like anything was missing in the conclusion.

       Turtles opened my eyes to the perspective of people suffering from mental illnesses, and for that reason I would recommend it to a friend.  It's a pretty heavy topic and is much more serious than the books I usually enjoy reading, but I learned a lot and I'm glad I finished it.

Happy reading, and stay warm!

P.S. Just wanted to share - my Creative Writing professor from last semester is in the same Fantasy Soccer league as John Green! How cool is that?!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Book Review: Me Earl and the Dying Girl

Me Earl and the Dying Girl
Title: Me Earl and the Dying Girl
Author: Jesse Andrews
Publication Date: March 1, 2012
Genre: Realistic fiction
Pages: 295
Age Rating: Readers over 13
My Opinion: 9/10

Hi, Readers,

       Sometimes life throws us curveballs.  If you read my last post, you would have easily been able to tell how excited I was to get back to reading and blogging.  Well, unfortunately my aspirations were briefly put on hold due to a minor concussion.  Thankfully, my noggin is almost fully healed, and I was able to finish reading Me Earl and the Dying Girl with only minimal headaches.  Woohoo!

       The "Me" in Me Earl and the Dying Girl is Greg Gaines, a senior in high school who is trying his best to fly under the radar.  He's doing a pretty good job of it, too.  Aside from making home videos with his friend Earl, Greg really doesn't do much of anything. His strategy of solitude is thrown to the wayside when his mom forces him to reconnect with Rachel, a childhood friend who just found out she has cancer.  Understandably, Greg and Rachel have no idea how to interact with one another.  Their encounters together are initially so extremely awkward and uncomfortable that they end up bonding in a strange and twisted way.  After a brief, accidental stint with marijuana caused by one of Greg's high school teachers (crazy, right?), Greg brings Earl to meet Rachel.  The three of them attempt to face the ups and downs of high school, all while dealing with the underlying threat of Rachel's cancer.

Greg and Rachel in the film
Greg and Rachel in the film
       My absolute favorite part about the novel is Jesse Andrews' use of humor in his writing.  Greg Gaines is arguably the funniest narrator I've ever come across in any YA novel.  Andrews perfectly captures the voice of a confused yet spunky senior in high school who is trying to find his way.  I read most of Me Earl and the Dying Girl right before going to bed, and I often found myself cracking up into my pillow.  Greg is one of those narrators that you can't get enough of.  The strongest aspect of his humor is the sheer randomness of his jokes - they come out of nowhere and are shamelessly deadpanned.  Best of all, Greg knows he's crazy and often references his own strange sense of humor in a self-deprecating manner, which makes everything ten times funnier.

       The novel's characters are also a highlight.  Aside from Greg, my favorite character would have to be the teacher, Mr. McCarthy.  His obsession with facts creates for an interesting dialogue because it forces Greg to view the world in black and white at times.  Plus, the scene involving Mr. McCarthy's pho soup is arguably the funniest of the entire novel.  Each character is developed through a series of anecdotal flashbacks instead of through solely description.

TFIOS       Third, I enjoyed Andrews' use of various writing styles.  Of course, the vast majority of the book is standard, with dialogue and description.  However, Andrews' sometimes switches things up by including segments such as dialogue written in the form of movie scripts, long lists of bullets, and random flashbacks.  The movie scripts reflect Greg's film making and serve as an excellent device to draw readers in to the moment and utilize effective dialogue.

       I have to say, the reason I gave Andrews' novel a 9 out of 10 was because of the ending.  Without giving anything away, the only thing I can say is that I wasn't completely satisfied.  I felt that everything was wrapped up a little too quickly and could have used more development.  However, I would still definitely recommend it because the humor makes up for the lackluster conclusion.
       Me Earl and the Dying Girl lends itself to comparison to The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, solely based on the premise of an unlikely friendship involving a teen battling cancer.  However, the main differentiator between the two YA novels would have to be Andrews' humor.  Andrews makes it quite clear that he's not looking to make a social commentary or create a sob story, and he more accurately portrays real life.

       After finishing the book, I am excited to watch the movie version of Me Earl and the Dying Girl.  The film was entered into the Sundance Film Festival, so fingers crossed that it lives up to my expectations.  

Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

My Book Buying Journey: A Brief Stream of Consciousness

Hi, Readers!

       If any of you have gone to a bookstore, you've probably experienced something similar to how I felt walking into Barnes & Noble the other week.  I've decided to document my book-choosing experience below in the form of a stream of consciousness narrative.  So if you were ever wondering how my crazy mind works, enjoy this unfiltered, unedited, absolutely ridiculous story of my book buying journey.

Adventure time at Barnes & Noble!
       The day before I went back to college for the semester, I received an offer I could not resist.  My mom told me that if I accompanied her to the grocery store, she would let me use her Barnes & Noble gift card to buy a new pleasure book to bring to school.  I immediately exited out of my Netflix account, jumped off my comfy bed, and ran to the car.  Anything for a new book!  As I was walking from the grocery store to Barnes & Noble, I realized that I had not purchased a book in quite some time.  It's a different feeling to check a novel out from the library because if it's bad, you can just stop reading and return it.  But if I was going to spend *real money* on this book, it had better be a good one, that's for sure.

       I started feeling a lot of pressure as I walked into the bookstore.  A look of panic flashed across my face as I wondered whether Young Adult novels would be found in the Children's section or the Adult section.  I didn't want to be caught amidst the colorful rows of picture books - what if somebody saw me?!  At the same time, the glossy hardcovers of the adult section still intimidated me too much to casually stroll through the formidable aisles.  I tentatively decided to scope out the store with a quick walk through and managed to spot a few familiar titles in the row across from the Adult Fiction.  Phew.

Me when I first entered the bookstore

       Then, I was faced with my next dilemma.  What genre was I looking for?  Of course, my go-to has always been fantasy.  But lately I haven't been getting as invested in novels that are so unrealistic that I have trouble relating to them.  Even dystopia has been seeming a little far-out.  I decided to start with the simple "YA Fiction" section.

       Whoever said "You can't judge a book by its cover" sure is right.  Who knew that every single YA novel in the book store would have a super flashy cover that told absolutely nothing about its contents?  I felt as though I was looking at a wall of graffiti - every single cover tried to stand out more than its neighbors.  I knew to steer clear of covers featuring beachy scenes with romantic couples because I wasn't looking to read anything cliche or gushy.  I also knew to avoid anything too dark and spooky because I wanted something more lighthearted.

       I also discovered that titles say absolutely nothing about books.  They are so generic!  Many of them seemed to be random idioms that, I'm sure after actually reading the book, would have some seemingly profound meaning to them.

       Because I was going to be spending money, even though it wasn't my own, I felt an unbelievable amount of pressure to choose an amazing book.  But my problem was, I had no idea to tell which books would fall flat and which would rise above the rest!  I tried Googling "Best YA books 2017" but was immediately overwhelmed with a barrage of titles and authors that I didn't recognize.  I decided technology would not be necessary for this decision and went back to scouring the shelves.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, featuring my
college bedroom
       Finally, I ended up in the section near the John Green books.  I like John Green.  He's a cool dude.  Seriously, though, I've loved every single John Green book I've read, so I figured that, by the transitive property (or something math related - I haven't taken a math course in two years!) I would enjoy the books they put near his books in the store.

       My eyes were naturally drawn to the brightest colored rectangle.  I guess I'm a sucker for neon, and the cover designers Will Staehle and Chad W. Beckerman created an aesthetically pleasing cover.  Then, I was struck by the title of the book - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (by Jesse Andrews).  Catchy rhyme scheme, am I right?

       But what reaaaally put me over the edge was when I turned the book over to read the back cover and saw the word Sundance.  The Sundance Film Festival has produced some of my all time favorite movies.  I'm always struck by the beauty of the cinematography in Sundance films as well as their utterly unique plot lines.  The fact that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl had a movie version that was shown at Sundance convinced me to snatch the book right off the shelf and march it to the checkout counter.  This way, even if the book stunk, I would have a great movie to watch regardless.  Plus, in theory, everybody says that "the book is always better than the movie."  If I know for a fact that the movie will be fantastic because it was shown at Sundance, then the book must be even better.  Therefore, it will be AMAZING!
The real reason I bought the book - Sundance!

       Long story short, my trip to Barnes & Noble led to the realization that I made the process of purchasing a book much more complicated than it needed to be.  Fingers crossed that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is actually good.  Be expecting a review of the novel coming up soon.  Plus, another realization that I just had while writing this post was that blogging is a great procrastination technique.  Boy, stream of consciousness writing is enlightening.  Have you ever had an interesting book buying journey?  Please share in the comments below!

Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Reading *Reinspirations*

Hi, Readers!

       Long time, no see.  It's time for a heart to heart.  Yes, I know it's been a while since my last post.  Just under a year, to be exact.  Over my past two years at college, I've grown both intellectually and emotionally... blah blah blah.  Excuses, am I right?  Well, I came to the realization a couple of days ago that my interests have shifted.  Instead of picking up a good book and reading before bed, which I've always loved doing, I've strayed towards other hobbies such as the bottomless pit of Netflix.  Well, as the saying goes, new year, new me!

       This year, I want to get back to the basics and rekindle my love of literature while blogging along the way.  I'm not taking any reading-based English classes this semester, so I'll (hopefully) have plenty of time to read some great YA books on my own.  I strive to further develop my voice as a blogger and a writer, so expect some sassy reviews coming up.  Also, I aspire to connect more with other bloggers and check out some different book review blogs.  If you have a post that you think I'd find interesting, please drop me the link in a comment!  I hope that you enjoy and connect to my future posts and that you share them with your fellow book lovers.

       I'll be the first to admit that it's sooooo easy to get wrapped up in day to day life and not read a pleasure book for months on end.  From becoming obsessed with the latest binge-watching television craze to signing up for endless exercise classes to making time for friends and family, it sure is difficult to leave time for reading.  Here are a few of the ideas that I've come up with to *reinspire* myself to read.

  1. Ask friends for book recommendations
    Wolf by Wolf
    My latest recommendation

    I always love talking to my friends and teammates about current pop culture, from hip Spotify playlists to film releases to Netflix shows.  Why not add books to the mix?  Reading a novel recommended to you by a friend not only gives you enjoyment but also a fantastic conversation topic.  Finishing the suggested title gives you the perfect excuse to go on a coffee or lunch date and discuss themes.  For those readers over 21, consider turning your discussion into an evening complete with wine and a movie viewing of the title.  Plus, it'll make your friend feel warm and fuzzy that you took their recommendation.

    My friend Kim just told me about Wolf by Wolf, a historical fiction/dystopian thriller by Ryan Graudin.  She even let me borrow her hardcover copy while on vacation.  Once I finish reading it, I'll be sure to report back to her so we can pour over the controversial plot line and intense characters.  I can't wait!

  2. Check out the latest pop culture craze

    What do series such as Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games have in common?  They all hit it big time and became pop culture phenomena.  Although novels like these may seem unoriginal, they all became popular for a reason - they catch the interest of readers.  Don't get wrapped up in that hipster facade and become afraid to read a "cliche" YA novel just because everyone else is reading it too.  Odds are, you'll end up enjoying it and you can become wrapped up in the world of fandoms and fan fiction.

    Pop culture crazes
    A few pop culture crazes

  3. Find your reading spot
    My lunchtime read
    A tasty lunch date with my book

    In order to focus on a good book, you need to find the perfect reading spot.  The ideal reading spot is quite like a prime piece of real estate - difficult to come by, but worth the investment.  Qualifications include minimal distractions, ample lighting, and comfort.  Personal recommendations include the beach, your bed, or a coffee shop.

    Just this afternoon, I brought The New Rules of Marketing and PR, an informative business guide by David Meerman Scott, to a nearby lunch joint.  I enjoyed a delicious salad and iced coffee while learning about inbound marketing methodology.  Let's be honest, reading anything for school isn't exactly fun.  But getting out of the house and finding the perfect reading spot, complete with tasty snacks, improved my reading experience exponentially.

  4. Go out and buy a book

    Absolutely nothing against libraries here.  They're great.  Who doesn't love free books?  But if you're stuck in a reading rut, going out and buying a book is the perfect way to become *reinspired*.  Physically spending money on a book might make you want to read it more because you're already financially invested.  Then you can force yourself to carry the book around with you until you eventually read it.

    Of course, buying a book may not be an option for everyone.  I can personally attest that the budget of a college student doesn't always allow for shopping sprees.  For those of us tight on funds, I recommend checking out used book stores and library book sales.  You can walk out with a receipt and a shopping bag for a fraction of the cost.  Another perk of buying a book every once in a while is that you can start to build up a personal library.

       I'd love to hear how you *reinspire* yourself to read after a long literature drought.  Please feel free to share any thoughts and ideas below to help me with my own personal reading reinspiration.  Best of luck to all of the younger readers out there with the start of a new school year.

Happy reading!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Book Review: Symptoms of Being Human

Symptoms of Being Human
Title: Symptoms of Being Human
Author: Jeff Garvin
Publication Date: February 2, 2015
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: Realistic fiction
Pages: 352
Age Rating: Readers over 13
My Opinion: 8/10

Hi, Readers!

       After finishing my summer job, I have had a couple of weeks at home to relax before heading back to school.  Ever since I've gotten home, I've been a reading machine!  I've read more pleasure books in these past two weeks than I did the entire school year.  One novel that I found particularly intriguing was Symptoms of Being Human, by Jeff Garvin.  It focuses on a subject that I was entirely unaware and uneducated about - being gender fluid.

       Having a congressman for a father does not make life easy for Riley, and switching to a new school allows for a fresh start with new classmates.  Although it takes a few days, Riley finds a couple of quirky friends that are accepting and welcoming.  However, other classmates - football players and their girlfriends - act particularly menacing towards Riley.  Why is this?  They attempt to determine Riley's gender in a negative manner.  When Riley's therapist suggests starting an anonymous blog to share thoughts and feelings, Riley decides to give it a try and finds it extremely helpful.  However, Riley's true identity gets out and animosity begins to spread.  Riley has to decide whether to become brave enough to take a stand for gender fluidity or to sink back into the shadows.

       Wow, I have to say, writing that novel summary was much harder than most.  This is because I attempted to write the entire thing without using gender pronouns referring to Riley, as Garvin does throughout the entirety of the novel.  It is much harder than it looks, and my summary seems to dramatically overuse Riley's name in place of any pronouns.  Somehow, Garvin manages to write all 352 pages without saying she/he as pertaining to Riley's gender, and the result is phenominal.  At times, I found myself wondering if Riley was truly a boy or a girl.  But then I discovered that was the point of the novel.  It doesn't matter what gender Riley was born as because that is not what Riley identifies with.

Whatever., by S.J. Goslee
       I certainly learned a lot about the topic of gender fluidity.  I was vastly uninformed, and I feel that Garvin handled the heavy concept of gender identity with respect and awareness.  I also recently finished reading the novel, Whatever., by S.J. Goslee, which is about a teen named Mike who discovers he is gay.  Although the novels are uncomparable as pertaining to characters and writing styles (and no offense to Goslee - your novel was hilarious), I can honestly say that I think Garvin was more respectful than Goslee in his approach of the subject.  By taking care to write an accurate, and more importantly, serious, plot line, Garvin spreads information about gender fluidity.

       Frankly speaking, I'm glad I decided to pick Symptoms of Being Human off the shelf of new novels at the public library.  It wasn't one of the typical comedic or fantasy novels that I typically gravitate towards, and I knew that solely based on reading the inside cover.  I wasn't sure how I would feel about the gender identity discussions, and I didn't feel in my comfort zone , but I learned a lot and my eyes were opened.  I'm glad I gave it a shot, and I recommend you do the same.

Happy reading, and best of luck to everyone in the new school year!