Jul 18, 2016

You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

Title: You Know Me Well
Authors: Nina LaCour and David Levithan
Genre: Young Adult, LGBT
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is, until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other—and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

Told in alternating points of view by Nina LaCour and David Levithan, You Know Me Well is a story about navigating the joys and heartaches of first love, one truth at a time.
I was so excited to read this book, and when it came in the mail it automatically went to the top of my to-read pile. Both authors have written books that I'm a fan of, and the summary sounded like something that I'd love. I'm not ashamed to say that I read it all in one day, even if I did ignore all of my other responsibilities in the process.

Kate and Mark are two gay high schoolers during Pride week. They're both trying to figure out relationships with people they're close to, both romantically and platonically (and sometimes a bit of both). At the beginning of the week Mark and Kate are only acquaintances, but by the end they're something else entirely.

I liked this book, but it felt like it was missing something. I'm not sure what, exactly, but it didn't seem entirely complete. I feel like there should have been more, even though I can't really articulate what "more" is.

Maybe I'm left wanting because the book only shows one week in their lives (from one Saturday to the next). After finishing it I still want to know more, especially about Mark. The end of the book provided a pretty good idea of what Kate's life would look like moving forward, but there wasn't much about Mark's. There's value to this, of course. It shows that even with everything that's happened it's really only been a week in their lives, and that they're both young and still have time to figure things out. I'm a fan of certainty, though, and Mark's story definitely did not end with that.

I also wasn't the biggest fan of Kate and her love interest's, Violet's, relationship. Don't get me wrong, I thought it was cute and I loved reading about it, but it felt very unrealistic. At the beginning of the book Kate is in love with a Violet, a girl that she's never spoken to, and for some reason they still both pursue the relationship, even though all they know about each other is what they've seen each other's Instagram. It doesn't seem to me like it would actually work out, or like either girl would be as invested in the other as they are shown to be.

It was a good story overall, though, despite the aspects that I wasn't a fan of. Each character had an interesting, unique personality, and even with their flaws there wasn't anyone that I could really dislike. It's not the best book I've ever read, but I'm still glad that I was able to read it.

My rating: 3/5 badly drawn books

Jul 16, 2016

How To Survive Camp Nanowrimo

For the past two years I’ve done the July session of Camp Nanowrimo, and this year I’m actually on track to achieving my word count goal. I thought I’d share the three rules I’ve followed that have gotten me this far, and hopefully they can help you too.

1. Make sure that you have everything you need.

There are only two things that you really need for Camp Nanowrimo. The first necessity is, of course, a good writing playlist. I have a few playlists on Spotify filled with music that I enjoy listening to but that I can easily tune out. Instrumental music works really well for this, but I’m guilty of listening to other music, too. You should use whatever works the best for you!

The second thing that you need is time scheduled for working on your project. I know that every night between midnight and five in the morning I’m going to get my writing for the day done. My time frame allows for all of the time I’ll inevitably waste on the internet before I actually start to write, so you might only need an hour or so. Having a solid period of writing time when you won’t be interrupted makes it so much easier to get things done.

2. Don't be afraid of unplanned ideas.

If you try to stick to your notes or your outline religiously, it’ll probably be a lot harder to keep writing. Sometimes stories take unexpected turns as you’re writing them, and that’s okay! Go with it and see where it takes you! If it doesn’t turn out as well as what you’d originally planned for, you can always go back and rewrite it. Chances are, if you’re feeling like your story should go in another direction, that’s how it’ll be best anyways.

3. Give yourself a break!

I can’t tell you how many days I’ve gone without writing a single word. The lack of progress can get a bit daunting, but it’s very possible to make up for it. I’m supposed to be writing about 800 words a day, but a few 1500 word days have helped me to stay on track even after slacking off for a few days. Don’t beat yourself up for not writing, because that just makes going back to your work even more stressful that it already is! Let yourself have bad days, and then congratulate yourself for the days that you get twice as much done.

Following these tips should definitely help you win Camp Nanowrimo. Still, I’m writing this post when I should be working on my project, so maybe I’m not the best person to take advice from!

Are you doing Camp Nanowrimo this month? What are you working on?

Jul 11, 2016

Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins

Title: Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories
Editor: Stephanie Perkins
Authors: Leigh Bardugo, Francesca Lia Block, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Brandy Colbert, Tim Federle, Lev Grossman, Nina LaCour, Stephanie Perkins, Veronica Roth, Jon Skovron, Jennifer E. Smith
Genre: Young Adult
Publication Date: May 17, 2016
Maybe it's the long, lazy days, or maybe it's the heat making everyone a little bit crazy. Whatever the reason, summer is the perfect time for love to bloom. Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories, written by twelve bestselling young adult writers and edited by the international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins, will have you dreaming of sunset strolls by the lake. So set out your beach chair and grab your sunglasses. You have twelve reasons this summer to soak up the sun and fall in love.
Firstly, I want to point your attention to the cover of this book. Click on it. Make it bigger. If that isn’t enough to get you to read it, I don’t know what is, because it’s pretty damn gorgeous.

Unfortunately, the cover was probably my favorite part of this book.
Each story is written by a different author, and each author is pretty recognizable, so I thought there would be at least one that I really liked. Sadly, I was left disappointed. There were stories that I enjoyed more than others, of course, (namely “The End of Love” by Nina LaCour, “In Ninety Minutes, Turn North” by Stephanie Perkins, and “A Thousand Ways This Could All Go Wrong” by Jennifer E. Smith), but none stood out to me as special or particularly memorable.
What this book is good for, however, is summer vacationing. Each story is (fairly) light and easy to get through, and, as evidenced by the title, each is centered around a summer romance. It’s the perfect book to bring to the beach or to read beside the swimming pool. I also love to bring anthologies with me while travelling just because I know I’ll be reading in quick bursts, and short stories are perfect for this.
After reading this book, I’m not left with much to say about it. It was a good one to start off my summer with, though, and I feel much more ready to get back into reading now.
This is a really short review, but that in itself is pretty telling of how I feel about this book. I’m not left with much to say after reading it. It was a good book to start off my summer with, though, and I feel much more ready to get back into reading now. It’s good, but it’s nothing to write home about.

My rating: 3.5/5 badly drawn books

Jul 2, 2016

I'm Back!

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. A little over a month, actually, which is much longer than I ever wanted to be away from this blog! I left with no warning, so I’ll try to explain it a bit more now.

I’ve mentioned that I’m mentally ill, and because of this I became very overwhelmed by the middle of May. I had finals to prepare for in early June, and I had tons of work to make up before the year ended. Just the thought of reading a book each week and putting together a review was exhausting, and so I did what I did best; I ran away for a bit.

Why have I not been back on since the school year ended? Well, the week after school got out I think that all I did was sleep. I’ve been “recovering” from the year, and I just haven’t feel ready to add another task to my to-do list every week.

I”ve missed this, though! I am more than ready to be back, and I’ve remade my to-read list in preparation. I’ve got five books in the pile at the moment, but goodness knows that it will grow.

Not much has been happening since I posted last. I took my finals, which I did alright on, although not as well as I did last year. I don’t really care, though - I was just ready for the year to be over!

I went on vacation for a bit, and I got a lot of my own writing done then. I think I’ve written more in the past three weeks than I had in the six months before that, so that was pretty satisfying.

I’m in a better spot than I was when I last posted, so hopefully there will be no more month-long absences! A new review will be up next Monday (the 11th), and I’ll officially be posting again.

Thank you to everyone who has stuck around while I was gone. I’m really excited to be back again!

May 9, 2016

Gifted by J.A. George

Title: Gifted
Author: J.A. George
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publication Date: April 13, 2016
There is no chosen one in this story.

Avery Gray was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and happened to make a decision that altered her future forever. It happens to all of us every day.

Avery is a size twelve university student with a penchant for dry humour, and she's as normal as they come. One rainy afternoon, Avery had to make a choice: go through the alleyway or around it. Two possible options. One would have had her future continue on as planned, the other would ensure that her future never remained the same again. She unknowingly went with the latter.

Change can be good. It can bring new opportunities, new friends and a life you never thought possible. Change can be bad. It can bring you people determined to burn your city to the ground.

It all depends on the decisions you make.
I received a .epub file of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I really wanted to like this book. The premise sounded interesting, and parts of it were very original and unique. Unfortunately, I wasn't too impressed overall.

I'll start with the basics. There were multiple spelling and grammar errors, and while they didn't necessarily take away from the story, I definitely noticed them and it made it a bit of a choppy read. The pacing also wasn't great. The first half of the book felt much too long, and then the end felt rushed. There are going to be four books in this series, so maybe the next one will be better because all of the introductions have been taken care of.

I think that I was expected to be attached to the characters by the end of the book, and I wanted to be, but their personalities weren't shown enough for me to connect with them. At times it was hard for me to remember which character was which, and after reading the book I still don't know much more about some of them other than how they dress.

Avery's relationships with these characters aren't done justice either. She goes from meeting them to being friends with them very abruptly. In the timespan of the book it makes sense, but we never read about them growing closer, so it's a bit of a shock when they appear again in later chapters acting like they're best friends.

There was a romance plot that was present throughout the book, but it wasn't anything extraordinary. I was never really rooting for them to get together, and I didn't really care how they ended up relationship-wise. (I'm totally biased on this front, though. It's no secret that I'm not ever that excited about male/female couples in books - I've ranted about it before.)

Finally we get to a more positive note, and it's why I rated the book as highly as I did. The idea of being "gifted" has been used time and time again, but George was able to write something new. I was a bit wary at first, but the world she created was fun and magical and put together well enough that it didn't seem too outlandish. 

My overall impression of this book is that it wasn't bad, per se, but it wasn't great either. There were actually only two things that really pissed me off. Both are due to own preferences, so they probably won't even matter to you. 

The first was that a male character directly called a female character a bitch. At least to me, it feels like a very derogatory term when men say it, more than just an insult. I don't want to get crazy feminist on you though, and I know it's just me reading into things too much. (If you're interested, this slam poem describes my feelings on the word in a much better way than I have here.)

The other thing I wasn't thrilled about was that the word queer was used as a synonym for abnormal. Obviously I know that's what that it originally meant, but at this point in time it's very clear that it often means something entirely different. I know that many people reclaim the word for themselves, and I support that 100%, but the fact that it was (and still can be) used as a slur shouldn't be ignored. Using it in this context seemed like a poor choice of wording.

Geez. This has gotten much longer than I intended it to be and I feel like I'm coming off as preachy, so that must mean it's time to wrap this up. Long story short: if you've got nothing else to read, you may as well start this book. I'm really hoping that the rest of the series will be stronger, because I'm definitely interested in it.

My rating: 2/5 badly drawn books

May 2, 2016

Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate

Title: Seven Ways We Lie
Author: Riley Redgate
Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, LGBT
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Paloma High School is ordinary by anyone’s standards. It’s got the same cliques, the same prejudices, the same suspect cafeteria food. And like every high school, every student has something to hide—whether it’s Kat, the thespian who conceals her trust issues onstage; or Valentine, the neurotic genius who’s planted the seed of a school scandal.

When that scandal bubbles over, and rumors of a teacher-student affair surface, everyone starts hunting for someone to blame. For the unlikely allies at the heart of it all, the collision of their seven ordinary-seeming lives results in extraordinary change.
I know that I give too many five star reviews, but I really think that this book deserves it, so hear me out. 

Seven Ways We Lie captured the complexity of being a person really well. Each character was very different from the rest, and there was a unique and clear voice when reading their chapters. It didn't underestimate the mindspace of a teenager, but it didn't overestimate it either. There were definitely bad choices that were made that an adult probably could have avoided, but it made the book feel real.

Plus, I loved the writing itself - if I shared every quote that I underlined with you guys I'd be sued for plagiarism. It's the style of writing that makes the book this amazing to me. The plot is good, too, but it isn't 5 stars good, you know what I mean? I can definitely see why someone else would rate it lower. If I hadn't fallen in love with Redgate's writing the book probably would have gotten about a 3 or a 4 from me.

I do have to warn you all, though, that it features a relationship between a student and a teacher, and one in which the student is a minor. I know that can be upsetting for some people, and even though it's stated in the summary I just wanted to be clear.

It's a book that I can already tell will be special to me. It's definitely earned a spot on my shelf instead of being put into a box in my basement, like most of my new purchases are. I look forward to see what Redgate writes in the future, and I'll be sure to read whatever she puts out next. (Sidenote - she wrote this while in college! I can barely balance high school and blogging, let alone writing an entire book. It's insane.)

So, in summary: I loved this book. So much. But you might not, and I would completely understand why.

My rating: 5/5 badly drawn books

Apr 25, 2016

A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls edited by Jessica Spotswood

Title: A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls
Editor: Jessica Spotswood
Authors: J. Anderson Coats, Andrea Cremer, Y. S. Lee, Katherine Longshore, Marie Lu, Kekla Magoon, Marissa Meyer, Saundra Mitchell, Beth Revis, Caroline Tung Richmond, Lindsay Smith, Jessica Spotswood, Robin Talley, Leslye Walton, Elizabeth Wein
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
From an impressive sisterhood of YA writers comes an edge-of-your-seat anthology of historical fiction and fantasy featuring a diverse array of daring heroines.

Criss-cross America — on dogsleds and ships, stagecoaches and trains — from pirate ships off the coast of the Carolinas to the peace, love, and protests of 1960s Chicago. Join fifteen of today’s most talented writers of young adult literature on a thrill ride through history with American girls charting their own course. They are monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They're making their own way in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals. And they all have a story to tell.
I like stories about girls. I like stories with lots of diversity. It was pretty obvious that I was going to like this book.

I mean, I didn't love each and every story in it. With different authors there obviously were different writing styles and storylines that I favored, but I can't think of any story that I didn't enjoy reading. There were some that I would read a whole novel about and some where I didn't mind when they ended, but there were none that I wouldn't read again.

I dog-eared the pages where my favorite stories started, and it got to the point that I had to stop myself if I didn't want to mark every story. I ended up with four pages folded down; the first pages of "El Destinos" by Leslye Walton, "The Red Raven Ball" by Caroline Tung Richmond, "The Legendary Garrett Girls" by Y. S. Lee, and of "Hard Times" by Katherine Longshore.

As written in Spotswood's introduction, "women—especially queer women, women of color, and women with disabilities—have too often been erased from history." This book does a good job providing stories of what might have happened for girls who want see themselves represented. While it's not a solution, and the problem can never be solved, it was a valuable find for someone who likes history (and seeing herself represented in it) as much as I do.

Over the past few weeks I've been pretty busy and being able to read this book in multiple sittings (a story at a time) was the only thing that made it possible for me to read it at all. No story was too long, and I always looked forward to reading the next one. On that note, I'd definitely recommend this book for something like finals week. While I didn't save it until then, being able to reward myself with a story after each study session would have definitely been helpful.

Overall each story was very engaging and it was nice to see stories that were all about women. If that's your cup of tea, then this is a good book for you.

My rating: 4.5/5 badly drawn books

Apr 21, 2016

Girls Like Girls - Just Not in Books

I had originally planned to write an entirely different post for today, but I changed my mind when I went to the bookstore on Tuesday. I had enough money saved from my birthday to purchase two books, and my mother offered to buy me a third, so I was (understandably) pretty happy.

I looked through the young adult section for a good half hour, and I only ended up leaving with two books. Both look good, but I’m not incredibly excited to read either one.

My biggest problem is that even when a book seems to have an interesting plot, I rarely find one without a male/female romance. It’s not like I have anything against that, but when it’s focused on in just about every book you read and you can’t identify with it it gets tiring.

I like books about girls who like girls. Even if they’re boring, even if they aren’t written well, and even if they’re otherwise terrible, I keep them on my bookshelf because they’re so hard to find. I tend to rate them better in reviews and on Goodreads, and they’re the books that I tend to read over and over again. Am I biased? Absolutely. It’s hard not to be when every piece of representation feels like a gift that should be treasured.

In a way, I wish that LGBT wasn’t a genre. “Straight kids who spend the whole book trapped in a cycle of will-they-won’t-they (spoiler alert: they will)” isn’t a genre, so why should it be any different between two girls? I know that it’s a little ridiculous and it’s obviously not realistic, but it still frustrates me.

And, of course, I’m only addressing LGB diversity. I’m white and I’m cisgender, so I obviously can’t speak to the experiences of trans people and people of color, but if it’s hard even for me I can’t imagine how hard it must be for others.

I appreciate each and every author who writes about wlw (women-loving women). What you’re doing is groundbreaking, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Finding a book where two girls are allowed to kiss makes my day, and I’m lucky enough not to face severe homophobia. I can’t imagine how much it impacts girls who are in less fortunate situations than I am.

I’m not sure if I want to be an author when I’m older, but in a way it sort of feels like a duty. If I write a story in which two princesses get a happily ever after, I might be able to assure someone that liking girls is normal and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I feel like I owe it to the girls who come after me, to show them that “lesbian” isn’t a bad word and that their feelings towards girls are valid. I know that it would have helped me when I was younger.

So, to the authors who write badass girls falling in love with each other: thank you.

To the rest of the world: we need to do better.

Apr 11, 2016

Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

Title: Vivian Apple at the End of the World
Author: Katie Coyle
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian Fiction
Publication Date: January 3, 2015
Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed "Rapture," all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn't know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn't looking for a savior. She's looking for the truth.
I'll be perfectly honest here - I only bought this book because I had five dollars left on an iTunes giftcard and its iBook was on sale. It wasn't bad, especially for what I paid, but it wasn't particularly good either. It didn't have anything new that I hadn't read in other books, and I don't really have much else to say about it.

I read this book all in one sitting, and there wasn't ever a point where I wanted to slow down and savor it. I haven't read many dystopian novels that aren't science fiction, so that was definitely interesting, but that's probably one of its most notable qualities.

One thing that I was impressed with was that The Mysterious Love Interest wasn't as big a part of the plot as I was afraid he would be. Vivian stayed her own person, separate from whatever boys she was interested in, which was refreshing. It was also nice to see that although Vivian and her friend Harp had very different attitudes towards boys, neither were shamed for the choices that they made. I wish I could say I liked more than that about this book, but I honestly can't think of anything else

I did have a few problems with it, however. For example, there are a few characters that are pretty abruptly introduced into the book and who just as quickly leave. Their purpose doesn't seem to be much more than to move the plot along. They don't entirely have fully formed personalities, and they don't seem to leave a lasting impact on Vivian. It's no secret that characterization is my favorite part of any book, so I was very disappointed in that regard.

While this isn't necessarily another problem, one of the only named characters to die in the book was a man who was gay and non-white. It didn't seem too out of place in the story, but it can be tiring to see your representation killed off time and time again, so I thought that I'd mention it as a bit of a disclaimer.

Will I read the sequel? Maybe, if I'm looking for another light and thoughtless read or it's as cheap as the first one was. It wasn't a book that will stick with me long term or one that made me think particularly hard, but I don't feel like I wasted my time reading it, either.

My rating: 2/5 badly drawn books

Apr 4, 2016

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

Title: The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
Author: Phaedra Patrick
Genre: Adult, Realistic Fiction
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life. He gets out of bed at precisely 7:30 a.m., just as he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. He dresses in the same gray slacks and mustard sweater vest, waters his fern, Frederica, and heads out to his garden. 

But on the one-year anniversary of Miriam's death, something changes. Sorting through Miriam's possessions, Arthur finds an exquisite gold charm bracelet he's never seen before. What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey that takes Arthur from London to Paris and as far as India in an epic quest to find out the truth about his wife's secret life before they met--a journey that leads him to find hope, healing and self-discovery in the most unexpected places. 

Featuring an unforgettable cast of characters with big hearts and irresistible flaws, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a curiously charming debut and a joyous celebration of life's infinite possibilities.
I received an advance uncorrected proof of this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway. This does not affect my review in any way.

When I started reading this book I wasn't very sure that I'd like it. It isn't a young adult book, for one thing. I also thought that it could leave me feeling sad, and while I think books that are able to leave an emotional impact are very important, I'm not really at a point where I enjoy reading books that are downers. Luckily, I was proven wrong.

I usually read books all in one go or in only a few sittings. This week was busy for me, though, so I read the first half chapter by chapter, I really liked reading it that way, and even after my midterms were over I would only read a few chapters before I went to sleep. I wanted to prolong the experience of reading to it, and I definitely think that it helped me to enjoy it more.

Even though it's a novel, at points the feeling it gave off reminded me of a children's book, and not in a bad way. In particular, this book felt very much like a bedtime story to me. It had enough suspense to keep me reading but not enough that I couldn't put the book down or that it was too emotionally tiring. Overall the atmosphere in the book was very homey and calming, which I enjoyed immensely. Mood-wise I've had a pretty bad week, and this was a comforting book to read before I went to bed each night. Throughout the entire story there was a feeling of hopefulness, no matter how upsetting things got, and it's what made the story really special.

Apart from the vibe of the book, the thing that I liked the most was how Patrick characterized Arthur. I feel like we have a tendency to infantilize the elderly, but Arthur felt like a whole human, and his experiences and his past weren't overlooked to create the image of a cute old man. This didn't apply solely to Arthur, either. Each character that Patrick introduced had their own histories that clearly shaped them as people, and I was interested in everyone she introduced, no matter how big of a part they had to play in the story.

I really loved this book, mainly due to its atmosphere. It's being released on May 3rd, and I'd definitely suggest that you find yourself a copy.

My rating: 5/5 badly drawn books