The Upside of Unrequited

Hello everyone!

It’s a stiflingly hot summer day here in Maryland, a.k.a. the perfect day to hide out inside with lots of ice water and books and YouTube (until the dog needs a walk, of course). And one of the books that I’ve really enjoyed diving into recently has been The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli.

I’ve been meaning to read Albertalli’s award-winning debut Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda for ages now, but while my library didn’t have it in stock, it did have The Upside of Unrequited, published just a few months ago in April 2017. And oh my goodness, am I glad I checked it out.

The book is narrated by Molly Peskin-Suso, a crafty, chubby seventeen year old twin living in Takoma Park, Maryland, who has had twenty-six crushes already in her short life. Molly is a true romantic, falling fast and hard, but she’s always, always careful. After all, she has to be, right?

Molly’s twin Cassie, however, doesn’t tend to get lovestruck at all–that is until she falls hard for Mina, a girl she and Molly meet at a concert one night. As they begin their own relationship, Mina and Cassie become determined to set Molly up with Mina’s friend Will–something the ever-cautious Molly is not exactly thrilled about, as cute as he is. And then there’s Reid, Molly’s nerdy, funny, Lord of the Rings-loving coworker. It’s all shaping up to be an extremely interesting start to the summer, to say the least. Now Molly just has to figure out how to navigate it.

One of the things that really drew me into The Upside of Unrequited (and made it way too hard to put down) was Molly’s voice. It took me a couple of chapters to truly get a sense of her character, but after that, I was hooked. There’s no question that Molly is shy and introverted, and she finds it extremely difficult to have as much confidence as her twin sister–in her body, around other people, etc. But one of the best things about The Upside of Unrequited was getting to watch Molly gain that confidence, in her own way. Everyone has their insecurities, and while Molly of course has her fair share, she is also a very well-written, strong character with tons of development. I loved that her gaining of confidence was not linked to any boy liking her, but rather, her learning to like herself more, and consciously deciding to take more risks and try to step out of her comfort zone a little. Plus, Molly’s narration is just so perfectly her–from her love of arts and crafts, to her trepidation over her and Cassie’s changing relationship, to her talent for baking. I have never read a book that made me crave cookie dough so much in my life.

It was also really refreshing to read a book featuring a teenage main character who takes anxiety medication, without it being a huge deal. With how stigmatized mental health issues still are, there was something about reading about Molly’s anxiety as just another facet of her character that made my heart happy. While there’s obviously no problem with books that focus more on a character’s mental health, I like that there are also books showing that it doesn’t have to be a big deal, or that medication doesn’t have to be a big deal. Plus, speaking as someone who has also dealt with her fair share of anxiety, it was comforting to read about a character who goes through the same anxious thought-loops, even if it was just one part of the book. It made me only enjoy and relate to Molly’s character more.

Of course, I couldn’t help but fall in love with many of the other characters, too, especially Molly’s family. While Cassie is of course very different from Molly, despite their shared DNA, and I didn’t relate to her nearly as much, she obviously loves Molly just as much Molly loves her, and fiercely at that. She is just as unsure about the shifts in their sisterhood as Molly is, but I loved the way Albertalli portrayed those shifts (growing apart, being nervous about growing apart, etc.) in a way that felt very real and genuine. I also enjoyed the way she showed Cassie’s side of things, too, even though the book is narrated by Molly.

The rest of their family is no less lovable. Their moms, Patty and Nadine, are both funny, supportive, and so enjoyable to read about, not to mention that the twins’ baby brother sounds way too cute to be legal. Many of Molly’s and Cassie’s friends are also unique, well written characters that only made the book richer, especially their best friends Abby and Olivia. However, I think the one I was most fond of (and this is a hard decision) was ultimately Reid, Molly’s adorable, dorky coworker whose fascination with Queen Elizabeth the First was both hilarious and relatable (to an extent). It’s not hard to see why Molly likes him so much, and it makes the reader love him, too.

However, arguably the thing that made me love this book the most was how genuine and real everything in it felt. Molly’s voice is so perfectly that of a seventeen year old girl still figuring out who she is and what she wants, and all the other characters feel just as authentic. This is especially true with how rich and realistic the cast of characters is in its diversity–Molly and her family are Jewish, one of her moms and her little brother are black, Mina is Asian and pansexual, the list goes on. This is the kind of diversity that should be everywhere in books these days, and while it’s sad that it isn’t, it’s great to read a book that actually shows that inclusiveness. Plus, there’s a certain sort of thrill in reading a book set not very far from your own home (I knew exactly what kind of Metro poles Molly was talking about!).

All in all, The Upside of Unrequited is an excellently written story about growing up and coming into one’s own that I absolutely loved reading, even when I probably should have been sleeping. It’s a perfect book to get lost in, and I wanted to hang out with Molly in its pages forever. Now I just hope that my library finally has Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda back in stock.

Thanks for reading everyone, and have a great rest of your weekend!

Nora

Four Favorite Comfort Reads

Hi everyone! So, I think it’s almost universally acknowledged that Summer 2016 hasn’t been the best it could be. I’ve almost given up even looking at news that isn’t books- or Nationals-related, and I’m seriously considering living under a rock until at least the end of November. 2016 hasn’t been very kind to the world so far.

It’s time like these when I often just want something fun to read–still good, still incredibly well-written, but the kind of book I can just fall into and hopefully come out of feeling a little better. Books for when the real world just doesn’t seem so inviting (although they still pack quite the emotional punch). And so, without further ado, here are four of my favorite comfort reads, the ones I want to turn to again and again.

1. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a book that I loved so much the first go-round that I had to resist the urge to just reread it right away as soon as I was done. Lara Jean’s world of love letters, romance, and cookie-baking drew me in right away, and watching her banter with her sort-of-boyfriend-sort-of-not Peter K only makes it more fun. It features sisterly love in a way that I couldn’t get enough of, and the sequel, P.S. I Still Love You, is just as good. It’s a wonderful read to just fall into and enjoy, especially when the front page of the New York Times seems like a bit too much. But be warned: There’s a strong chance it could inspire you to bake to excess, so handle with caution.

2. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Many of the books (and shows, and movies) I most like to dive into when I need to take my mind off of things are mysteries. I love the challenge and plot-twists of figuring out who did what, especially when it draws me into a whole new world. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and its sequels have an added advantage in that they also feature Flavia de Luce, arguably my favorite protagonist of any mystery ever. She’s eleven, an extremely skilled chemist with a strong interest in poisons, and precocious as all get-out to boot. I absolutely adore her, and watching her track down the story behind the dead man she finds in the garden of her English estate completely captivated me. It’s a great series to just get swept up in, poisons, murders, and all.

3. Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

However, as much as I love mysteries, there’s always going to be a special place in my heart reserved solely for fantasies (or just Tamora Pierce, to be honest). Many of my first favorite books were fantasies, and one of my first loves of that genre was  Alanna: The First Adventure, the first book in the Song of the Lioness series. Tamora Pierce spins magic and mayhem out of words, and while the books certainly have their fair share of loss and sadness, reading them, to me, always feels a little like coming home. It comes complete with plot twists and sword fights and romance, not to mention all the magic! (And the completely unabashed feminism, hallelujah.) I’m not sure that I could actually think of a fantasy I’d recommend more, although Ella Enchanted is certainly in the running. In any case, if I ever need to distract myself from the rest of the world for awhile, Alanna is one of the first things that pops into my head.

4. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

It took me ages to finally get around to reading Anna and the French Kiss, but I fell in love with it in a way that makes me want to return to it whenever I need to forget about stuff and just spend some quality time with a really good book. Anna’s story of transferring to a high school all the way across the Atlantic, becoming best friends with history-obsessed Étienne St. Clair, and trying to navigate the murky waters of friendship and love totally sucked me in, and then refused to let go. I fell in love with hilarious, film-loving Anna, and all of the other characters felt just as real and genuine. And the setting only makes diving into Anna’s world more fun–I could have happily read about her adventures in Paris for days.

I love books like these because they have the power to pull you into another world completely, spinning you away into these fun, exciting stories when the real world is just a bit too much. They are full of excellent plots, well-written characters, and magic both figurative and literal, and I loved falling into each and every one of them. The world kinda sucks sometimes, but at least there are books like these to help us along. Also chocolate 🙂

Hope you all have a great rest of the weekend, and take care!

–Nora

Quote of the Day: “Keep reading. It’s one of the most marvelous adventures that anyone can have.” –Lloyd Alexander

My Favorite Books of 2015

Oh my god, it’s winter break. So much sleep. So much reading. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Now that the year is drawing to a close, it seems only right to tally up some of the best books I read this year and decide which ones were my absolute favorites, and oh my goodness were there some really amazing ones. To make it a little bit easier, I’ve split them up by genre this time around.

Fantasy

I really gravitated towards contemporaries this year, meaning that I also really stepped back from fantasy for awhile, which is a little strange considering fantasy books are a large part of what made me fall in love with reading and start this blog in the first place. (Hence the first review being about The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.) But that does not at all mean that I don’t still adore great fantasy books, and oh my god were there some fantastic ones.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa TahirAn Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes was the first fantasy I read after a looong stretch of mostly reading contemporaries, and it was the best re-introduction into the genre I could have asked for. This story of two very different characters living under the rule of the brutal Martial Empire–Laia, a slave girl, and Elias, an extremely accomplished soldier–is absolutely captivating, filled with complex characters and a plot that makes you feel like you’re constantly holding your breath as you turn the pages. There’s magic, an amazing setting, and some of the highest stakes I’ve ever read about, and it is fantastic. This is the kind of book I want to throw into people’s faces just so they’ll read it and can freak out about it with me. Especially Helene, because oh my god Helene. (I also went to a book event featuring Ms. Tahir at Politics and Prose in D.C., and she is absolutely lovely, not to mention hilarious.) (Full review here.)

The Wrath and the DawnThe Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

The Wrath and the Dawn is another fantasy that grabbed me, pulled me in, and refused to let go. Renée Ahdieh’s retelling of One Thousand and One Nights is so full of talent and skill that it still makes my head spin, and its story of Shahrzad and Khalid swept me up and made it near-impossible to put the book down for even a second. Shahrzad and Khalid are both so amazing and complex, not to mention all the other characters, and I fell in love with them so completely that I think I’m still recovering. Ahdieh’s writing is downright gorgeous, and she paints the world of Khorasan so masterfully that it only absorbed me even more. I loved so many things about this book–the plot, the characters, and especially the friendship between Shahrzad and her handmaiden Despina, because yes to awesome female friendship in books. Not to mention the romance, which made me fall in love so completely that it’s arguably the best ship I read about all year. This book made me forget lunch, guys. It’s so good. (Full review here.)

White is for Witching by Helen OyeyemiWhite is for Witching 2

White is for Witching is the most recent fantasy I read, and it’s also one of the most interesting things I picked up all year, nightmares and fairy tales mixed with the very real dangers of the world into a captivating cocktail. Helen Oyeyemi’s tale about Miranda Silver, and the lives of the Silver women who came before her, is something like labyrinth, weaving together what is real and what is not, what is light and what is dark, and and what the reader can and cannot trust. She writes in a way that draws the reader in and then doesn’t let them go, and uses the magic and darkness of her story to also touch on the very real issues of our world. Miranda and the other characters are drawn in a way that makes them feel real and human, despite the supernatural voices that haunt their lives, and the narration is done in such an interesting way that I was caught almost from the beginning. It’s the kind of story that you just can’t look away from, and I loved being swept up in it. (Full review here.)

Contemporary

This year led to me realizing that contemporary is one of my favorite genres in pretty much ever–I love reading about characters in high school, going to work, carrying out their lives in the very same times we live in. While there likely isn’t going to be any pixie dust or dragons, contemporaries can have some amazing stories, and falling headlong into some of them this year led to a lot of great discoveries.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao 2The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

If I had to name one book I read this year that was closest to my favorite, it would be The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz. I’d been meaning to read this book for ages, and when I received it as a present at the start of the summer, it wasn’t long before I finally tried it. Junot Díaz writes in a way that I fell in love with, and I adored learning about Oscar’s life and those of the people around him, especially the unnamed narrator that we finally meet more than halfway through the book. He narrates in a voice that draws the reader in and makes it incredibly hard to escape, and the characters are all so human and flawed that by the end I felt as if I really knew them. The plot covers generations of Oscar’s family, taking the reader from his home in New Jersey to the Dominican Republic and back again, and it’s filled with conflict, romance, and tons and tons of stories. I loved it so much that I bought the short story collections Drown and This Is How You Lose Her right afterward, which were just as amazing, and my only regret is that I sped through them so quickly that now I don’t have anything else new from Díaz to read. Let the rereading commence.

Purple Hibiscus 2Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus is another contemporary I read this year that I became completely absorbed in and absolutely loved. I’d never read anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie before, and her first novel was more than enough to convince me to read anything else by her that I can get my hands on. Purple Hibiscus focuses on the lives of Kambili and Jaja, two children living in the household of their fanatically religious father, and Adichie tells the story of their growth and education (particularly while visiting their aunt’s family in Nsukka) in a way that makes it all seem so real and vibrant that I was totally drawn in. She paints the picture of Kambili’s family’s lives in a way that makes the reader feel as if they actually know them, and each of the characters is incredibly real, with their own complex emotions and desires. I loved getting to read about all their conflicts, both internal and external, and part of me wishes that the book had gone on much longer just so I could have read more.

To All the Boys I've Loved BeforeTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is one of the many great books of 2014 that I missed out on, but I absolutely adored falling into it this past spring. The story of Lara Jean Song and her hidden (and then not-so-hidden) love letters totally drew me in, full of cookie-baking, fake dating, and sisterly love. I loved getting to know these characters, especially Lara Jean and Peter K, and it was so much fun to see the way they bounced off each other and interacted. Han’s writing and Lara Jean’s narration was as addicting as the cookies Lara Jean bakes, and I loved reading about her family’s interactions and her friendship with her sisters. This is the kind of book that I started reading and just couldn’t stop, and when everything was mixed together–the characters, the details, the romance–it made my little reader heart so very happy 🙂 Not to mention more than a little hungry.

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih AlameddineAn Unnecssary Woman

An Unnecessary Woman follows a plot that is just about as far away from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before as possible, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it just as much. Rabih Alameddine’s story of a 72-year-old woman working as a translator in her book-filled apartment in modern Beirut was incredibly hard to put down, especially because of the amazing narration of Aaliya, the main character. Aaliya’s voice is one that I fell completely in love with, telling her own stories and those of other characters in a way that made her almost irresistible. She has the best way of putting things, full of wry and cutting remarks, and describes them in a way that made my weakness for amazing descriptions all the more apparent. She paints a picture of Beirut that made it seem so real I could almost reach out and touch it, a city wracked by the Lebanese Civil War and home to everything she loves. I loved seeing everything through Aaliya’s eyes, and the other characters were just as much fun to read about, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, and always interesting. What made it even better was Aaliya’s deep and abiding love of books, written in a way that made it seem as if it was almost a living thing, radiating from the pages. It’s yet another one of my weaknesses, and for that I adored the book all the more.

Historical Fiction

When I came to this category, I realized that I read very little historical fiction this year, which is a definite lamentable fact. Historical fiction can be so extremely well done (see: Ann Rinaldi), and I’m not entirely sure how I ended up reading so little of it these past 12 months. Hopefully I’ll get to some really amazing reads in 2016, but for now, there is one book that totally bowled me over in a way that only the best books can.

The Valley of AmazementThe Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

I finished The Valley of Amazement about two days ago, and I think a part of me is still reeling. It’s the first Amy Tan book I’ve ever read (I know I’m disappointed too), and after finishing it late at night it took me forever to finally fall asleep, because oh my god feelings everywhere. Tan tells the story of Violet Minturn, a young girl growing up in her mother’s courtesan house in Shanghai during the early 20th century. But when a web of lies ends with Violet being forced to become a virgin courtesan, it sends her on an entirely different track in life, one that Tan captures with so much mastery it left me wondering what to do with myself after I was finished. Tan’s writing is amazing, and the story of Violet’s life, interspersed with those of the myriad of other characters, made it near-impossible to put the book down. Each of the characters is original and flawed, and by the end I felt as if they had actually existed, wondering what happened to them after the pages were closed. The writing itself only drew me in more, capturing the expansiveness of the story and switching capably between different points of view. It tackles feelings of love, hate, and abandonment, and I loved it so much that my only problem now is moving on from it and picking which of Tan’s books to read next.

Nonfiction

Like historical fiction, nonfiction is not a genre that I focused on very much this year, despite my newfound love of historical musicals about Alexander Hamilton (seriously, don’t get me started because I could ramble on about Hamilton for literally hours without pausing) (>resists the urge to start singing<). But of course, there is one book that stands out as one of my favorite nonfiction books of the year, and also ever.

March: Book Two by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate March--Book TwoPowell

I adored the first book in Congressman John Lewis’s March series for many reasons–the illustrations, how vibrantly it tells the story of his childhood, the look it gives into the Civil Rights Movement. And I was just as captivated by March: Book Two, if not more so. It’s true that it’s very different from the first book–it’s more violent, more mature, and it gives a much deeper look into the people of the movement and the challenges they faced. Lewis writes unapologetically about these challenges, describing in detail the vicious brutality with which the protests were met, as well as the conflict within the movement itself. Powell’s illustrations only make the book more absorbing and striking, stark black-and-white images accompanying each of Lewis’s words. It brings the racism and brutal history of our country–one built on the genocide and exploitation of black people–to terrifying life, in a way that made me more furious than any other book this year. It’s the kind of book that I want everyone to read, especially in times when the racism of the United States is still alive and well and affecting people in a million ways. It tells a story that’s wholly human and that needs to be told, and if there’s one book people read from this list, I hope it’s this one. (Full review here.)

And that’s about it for my favorite books of 2015. I’m hoping I’ll find myself reading many more in the next year, and hopefully (>crosses fingers<) writing about them as much as I can. It’s true that I didn’t read as much as I would have liked to this year, but many of the books I did get to were absolutely fantastic, and I can’t recommend them enough. And now I’m going to go make Christmas cookies, because it doesn’t need to be the actual holiday to use copious amounts of decorative sugar.

Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season, and Happy New Year!

–Nora

P.S. I feel like it says something that the little blurbs I write for books are now just about as long as the first reviews on the blog. A master of brevity I am not.

The Wrath and the Dawn

Hi everyone! Recently I realized that there is one thing that I forgot about summer–how easy it can make it to read more of a book in one day than you usually would in a whole week. And, you know, do barely anything else.

See, I planned to do things when I was reading this book, I swear. Maybe bake a batch of cookies, go for a run, do some more of that summer homework that’s sitting on my desk. Nice, productive things! But then after breakfast I thought, “I’ll just read a little more of The Wrath and the Dawn, maybe a couple chapters. Then I’ll do stuff.” And. Well. Honestly, I’m a little surprised I stopped long enough to make lunch.

This book (written by the wonderful Renée Ahdieh) is absolutely amazing, not to mention one of the best books I’ve read all year. It’s addictive, it draws you in and it makes you exclaim aloud as you’re reading because it is that good. I was totally bowled over, in so many ways. But now I’m just getting ahead of myself.

The Wrath and the Dawn tells the story of Shahrzad al-Khayzuran, the newest bride of Khalid al-Rashid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan. A boy-king known across the kingdom as a murderous madman who takes a new bride every night only to have her hanged by a silk cord at dawn. But Shahrzad does not intend to meet that same fate–she intends to exact revenge on her new husband, in retribution for the loss of her best friend, Shiva. And she refuses to fail.

Shahrzad keeps herself alive night by night, enchanting the boy-king with tails of sailors and thieves and men with blue beards, not to mention her own razor-sharp wit. But as her time in the palace lengthens, Shahrzad becomes aware of two things: That the story of Khalid and his crimes is much more complicated than she ever imagined, and that she may or may not be falling in love with her captor. Which presents a serious problem.

One of the things I absolutely adored about The Wrath and the Dawn was Shahrzad herself. Shahrzad is the star of this book, running through almost every chapter with her fierce intelligence and determination not to lose the game she and Khalid are playing. She’s brave and daring, but still human and flawed, and always ready with some biting remark, whether it be for Khalid, the Captain of the Guard, or anyone else. (Seriously, I could not get enough of her wit.) I wish I had half the guts she does, but more than that, I wish the book had gone on for at least several more chapters just so I could read more about her. Shahrzad is amazing.

And oh, Khalid. Khalid is quite possibly the most cryptic, complicated character in the whole book, but he’s also one of my favorites. He’s cold, and often distant, constantly hiding his emotions behind a blank mask, and with a quick temper to boot. But I loved watching him grow closer to Shahrzad, as well as getting to learn more about him as the story went on. He’s tortured, and more than a little terrifying, but he’s also one of the things that makes this book so incredibly hard to put down.

But Shahrzad and Khalid are by no means the only characters I fell in love with while reading. I couldn’t get enough of those around them, especially Jalal and Despina (the Captain of the Guard and Shahrzad’s handmaiden). Jalal is playful and flirtatious (not to mention endlessly clever and cocky), but also caring and so, so much fun to read about. And Despina, I absolutely loved Despina. She may be Shahrzad’s handmaiden, but she’s also not inclined to put up with anything she doesn’t want to, and is most likely the only person in the history of Khorasan to refer to the queen as the “Brat Calipha.” Despina and Shahrzad have one of the best book friendships I have ever read about, and I could watch them banter and interact forever. My love for their friendship reaches astronomical levels.

While I adored the characters in this book, the plot also reeled me in and kept me there until the very last page, hence my almost forgetting to eat lunch. Shahrzad’s world is full of danger and suspicion, as well as the very real possibility that every dawn could bring her death. But it is also full of mystery, and I couldn’t wait to find out what was really going on. It’s suspenseful and secretive, and I was on the edge of my seat almost the whole time, dying to know what would happen next but also dreading the moment when it would be over.

But one of the things that most stands out for me regarding this book is the romance. I absolutely fell in love with the chemistry between Shahrzad and Khalid, and I shipped it so much by the end of the book that I’m pretty sure there was a tiny Nora in my head flailing because THIS SHIP. It’s dark and complicated and messy but I loved being able to watch these two characters falling in love, learning to respect each other and their ideas. They’re both such strong characters on their own, and seeing them together made my reader heart do a little tap dance of shippery. It’s one of the main reasons this book left me feeling like I had the biggest book hangover ever after I was done.

But I also loved reading about the world of the book, as well as the characters, from the palace of Khorasan to the streets of Shahrzad’s city. Ahdieh gives us a world that is rich and sumptuous, painting it with a wealth of beautiful details without ever dumping too much information at once. The descriptions are wonderful, from the clothes to the food, and I felt like I could really see the palace and the world around it. It makes me remember why I love fantasies, and I want to find a way to teleport to Khorasan as soon as possible, if only to see it in person.

The book also drew me in with the absolutely gorgeous writing. Ahdieh writes with such talent and wit that I wanted the pages to go on forever, if only so I could see more. She paints Shahrzad and Khalid’s world in a way that makes it so incredibly hard to put the book down, and the dialogue both made me laugh and catch my breath. The writing is awesome, and I can’t wait (cantwaitcantwaitcantwait) to see more of it.

When I say that I loved The Wrath and the Dawn, I mean I loved The Wrath and the Dawn. It’s dark and sumptuous and imaginative, and it’s one of those books that I wanted to go on forever because it was just so good. It utterly absorbed me, and it made me feel so much, from breaking my heart to wanting to jump around with excitement because this book guys, this book! From the plot to the characters to the writing itself, I fell completely in love with it, and I’m going to be counting down the days until I can get my hands on the sequel. It’s really, really good.

Hope you’re all enjoying your summers!

–Nora

Bookish Quote of the Day: “For nothing, not the sun, not the rain, not even the brightest star in the darkest sky, could compare to the wonder of you.” —The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

Lies We Tell Ourselves

Hi everyone! Whoa it has been a while. Things got a little crazy at school once AP tests hit, but at long last they are over! I finished a book for the first time in ages and it was lovely. And speaking of books, I do have quite a bit of reviews to catch up on. So let’s get to it, shall we?

As you can probably see, the book of the day is Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley. This book was so good it made my post about my favorite books of 2014, and with plenty of reason. It’s high time it had a review all of its own.

Sarah Dunbar and Linda Hairston have never met before, but that’s about to change. Sarah, a high school senior, is one of a group of African American students integrating Jefferson High School in 1959. Linda, a white senior also attending the school, is the daughter of one of Davisburg’s most prominent segregationists. For obvious reasons, the girls do not get along. But when they’re forced to work on a school project together, they find themselves developing feelings for the one person they never wanted to have feelings for.

One of the reasons I loved this book so much was that I didn’t want to put it down. Talley times the plot so well that there was always something that kept me turning the pages, wanting to know what happened next. I had to find out where the characters were heading, what would happen to Sarah and Linda and everyone else. And I still wanted to know what would happen, even after I read the last page and the covers were closed. I was still so invested in the characters and their lives.

The characters are another reason I enjoyed this book so much. Sarah and Linda are both very different, with very different backgrounds, but they’re also somewhat alike. Sarah is well behaved, the constant good girl, but she’s also tough and brave in a way that I loved. Linda is smart but totally misled by her father and the constant racism around her, her views warped by that ugly vortex. As the girls argue and battle, they both learn things from each other, in a way that feels very real and genuine. There’s so much more to each of them than meets the eye. Watching them grow closer and fall for each other was something I loved reading about, and part of me wants to go back and experience it all over again. The side characters are terrific as well, and Sarah’s friends Chuck and Ennis just make the story better, as does Sarah’s friend Judy.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is not a light book by any means, but it is also a great one. It encompasses many things–from racism to fear to accepting yourself–but Talley handles it all in a way that only makes it harder to put the book down. It’s the kind of book I finished and immediately wanted more of, and I can’t wait to read what Talley publishes next. Part of me is still hoping for a sequel. 🙂

Have a great week!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “We always had plenty to say, even if we were shouting it. Even when she was wrong, there was a certain pleasure in correcting her. In seeing the way her face creased when she tried to think of how to answer me.

Talking to her came naturally. Like breathing.” —Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Belzhar

Hi everyone! February is slowly but surely drawing to a close, and I am just waiting for it to be March. Or, more accurately, for it to be spring. Green leaves! Longer days! Sunshine! Warmth.

>ahem<

Anyway, as you can probably see, the book of the day is Belzhar, by Meg Wolitzer, which I have been looking forward to reading for quite some time (not least of all because of that cool cover).

Belzhar tells the story of Jam Gallahue, a girl who, for a while, had a pretty good life. She had friends, did fairly well in school, etc. But then her boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield, dies. And Jam falls apart.

At a loss as to what to do, Jam’s parents finally send her to the Wooden Barn, a boarding school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent” teens. There, Jam is placed in a class called Special Topics in English, where she is one of only five students and they read only one writer for the whole semester. This semester, that writer is Sylvia Plath. As the students delve deeper into Plath’s writing, and begin keeping journals as part of the class, they’re transported to a world where each of them can regain what they have lost. They decide to call this world “Belzhar.” Only, what happens when the journals fill up?

There are so many good things about Belzhar. The characters were unique and compelling, and I especially loved the other kids in Jam’s class, like Marc and Casey. The plot was interesting, and the writing is great. I really liked how real Wolitzer made Jam’s feelings, from her love for Reeve to her grief after his death. This book gets intense, but Wolitzer manages that very well, and I was so invested in what was going on.

And then there was the plot twist.

Usually, I’m a pretty big fan of plot twists–I love when a book just completely blindsides you and smacks you with something you never saw coming, something that changes everything and makes the book even better. And while I was certainly blindsided by the plot twist in Belzhar, I was mostly left asking one question: “Why???”

I liked Belzhar so much up until that point, but after that one part, I just couldn’t like it in the same way, nor could I like Jam. The frustrating thing is that the plot twist felt so needless, and I couldn’t understand why it was there. It turned everything completely on its head, but the book was excellent without that. Jam’s struggles were immediately much less compelling, as was her character. I honestly thought I must have read something wrong, because it didn’t make any sense to me.

For a good part of the book, Belzhar is excellent. The characters are real, the plot is good, and I enjoyed the way Wolitzer wove Sylvia Plath’s writing into her characters’ lives. I feel like I can’t classify the book as either good or bad, because it’s almost like two separate stories in one–one of which I loved, one of which frustrated me to absolutely no end.

For now, though, rather than agonize over my severely mixed feelings, I think I’m going to get a cup of cocoa and mess around on the Internet. Because why not?

Stay warm everybody!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “I was sent here because of a boy. His name was Reeve Maxfield, and I loved him and then he died, and almost a year passed and no one knew what to do with me.” –Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Love Stories: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hi everyone! So I am a bit of a hopeless romantic. I live for things like beautiful romantic gestures and cute couples and sweet love poetry. And since today is Valentine’s Day, it seems like as appropriate a time as any to post some of my favorite romances and love stories. So, let’s get to it, shall we?

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars is about many things, but it is primarily about the friendship and romance between Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster. I love Hazel and Augustus as individual characters, but I love them just as much as a couple. They’re both intelligent and flawed, and their relationship is full of nerdiness and banter and the kind of conversations that you just love to read about, about everything from An Imperial Affliction to scrambled eggs. They care deeply for each other, and I loved reading about the “third space” they entered when they talked on the phone, or how Hazel can hear his smile when he talks. They’re one of my favorite fictional couples ever. But please don’t even think of mentioning that last page because NO. >grabs tissues< (Review here.)

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

So to balance out the tears and heartache and asdfghjkl served up by TFiOS, I offer you Pride and Prejudice, which has to be one of the best love stories in literature. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are without a doubt one of my favorite pairings of all time. He’s prideful and awkward, she’s playful and reluctant to let go of first impressions. But they’re both so quickwitted and clever, and they complement each other in the best way possible. They argue and they engage in battles of wits and, despite their differences in society and class, there’s respect between them. I could listen to them banter for ages. And the walk they take in Chapter 58 made me want to bounce up and down with happiness.

3. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

This book fills me with so many feelings that I’m still not sure I can be coherent about it, despite finishing it months ago. Two Boys Kissing isn’t exactly a love story about one couple–it’s about multiple couples, or former couples, or people who are simply single. It’s about Tariq, and Harry, and Craig, and Cooper, and Avery, and a host of other characters. Some of them are in love, some of them are in like, some used to be in love but aren’t anymore. But each of the boys is completely his own, and they’re each written in a way that makes me want to read this book again and again. Also, the writing. I will never be able to stop gushing about this writing. David Levithan writes such beautiful sentences that I want to dive into this book and never come out. It’s so good. (Review here.)

4. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I didn’t read Anna and the French Kiss for the longest time, but I am so glad I picked it up. Despite the excitement of it all, Anna Oliphant is a little bit terrified to be going to boarding school in Paris. But then she starts to make friends, one of which happens to be Étienne St. Clair, a short history nerd with absolutely amazing hair. It’s so much fun to watch Anna and Étienne’s relationship develop over time, through misunderstandings and jokes and the best series of holiday emails I have ever read. I love so many things about this book and their relationship that it would take me forever to list them all. Anna! Movies! Cuteness! Paris! It’s such a wonderful read, not to mention the fact that Stephanie Perkins writes some of the best characters ever. I may need to write a full review because I have so many feelings about it. I wanted to live in Paris with Anna forever.

5. My True Love Gave to Me ed. Stephanie Perkins

I remember reading about this book ages ago and immediately freaking out because it sounds like what dreams are made of. A holiday story anthology? Edited by Stephanie Perkins? With an absolutely perfect illustrated cover? It sounded wonderful. It was wonderful. (I literally finished it this morning, so I’m a little late, but oh well.) There are stories from a host of talented authors–Holly Black, David Levithan, Kelly Link. While not all of the stories were my cup of tea, there were quite a few that I adored. Stephanie Perkins’s has all the cuteness and romance that she does so well, Matt de la Peña’s made me decide that he is definitely becoming one of my favorite authors, and Laini Taylor’s was so magical and fantastic I never wanted it to end. I could go on. Each of these stories is so unique and original, and I may very well reread it when the holidays roll around again. Besides, that cover!

6. Love poetry

As much as I enjoy love stories, I adore love poetry just as much, if not more. Poetry can capture emotions like that so well–heartache, happiness, longing. There are so many love poems that I reread again and again, but some of my favorites are “A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns, “Zodiac” by Elizabeth Alexander, and “A Glimpse” by Walt Whitman. And many, many more, but by the time I was done writing about them it wouldn’t even be Valentine’s Day. (And I know Poetry Speaks Who I Am isn’t strictly love poetry, but it does have quite a few in it.)

Love stories are some of my favorite stories, and I’m not really sure why. Part of it might just be the magic of watching two people fall head over heels for each other, as they meet that one person and everything starts to click. It’s so much fun to read about characters who are wholeheartedly in love and want each other to be happy.

Loving is good. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “The right person at the right time can open all the windows and unlock all the doors.” —Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

P.S. There are many more great quotes from Two Boys Kissing here.