May Wrap-Up–Summer is Here!!!

may wrap up

I have three days of school left. THREE DAYS GUYS. I’m so ready for summer. I’m shaking over here.

May was a good month, I guess. I honestly can’t remember much of it; I think I’m in shock. School is taking one last swing at me before it ends. My first AP exam, finals, lots of end of the year projects, yearbook signing–I’ve been busy.  But there was some good news: I found out that I am going to be the Arts and Entertainment editor for my school newspaper! I’m really excited to take on the role.

In terms of this blog, I could definitely feel my hectic schedule getting in the way of my blogging. I only had 14 posts this month, while I had been close to 20 posts in recent months. Still, I managed to keep reading and blogging despite the craziness, so that’s something.

Most of my posts this month were book reviews. I reviewed six books this month (all links lead to my reviews). After reading some fantasy-esque books (For Darkness Shows the Stars and Graceling), I got into the mood for cutesy romance and read a strong of contemporary romances. My favorite that I read was Since You’ve Been Gone, followed by my childhood revisit All-American Girl and the book I still have mixed-feelings about, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. Getting back into the fantasy genre, I just finished The Burning Sky, and I will write a review for it sometime in the next week (it was pretty darn good, I have to say).

In English class, I finished To Kill A Mockingbird (though we started it all the way back in March!!!) and read the extremely powerful memoir that is Elie Wiesel’s Night. I’ll post a review for Night when I can get my thoughts in order about the beating my emotions just took at the hands of some of the most poetic writing I have ever read. And to honor the end of my AP European History saga, I ranted about the horrible textbook that I endured.

In terms of other blog posts, this month was not my best. I took part in two complementary Top Ten Tuesdays: Top Reasons I Won’t Read A Book and Top Ten Things That I Look for in Books. I also discussed the virtues of different types of bookstores and rambled for a bit about the challenges (I imagine) translators face when translating novels. I got some new books–though I haven’t started reading them yet.

In terms of writing, this month was straight-up awful. I published one poem on this blog, and I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t one of my better ones. I didn’t touch my WIP (which I also didn’t touch last month…). I really am itching to write, but school keeps dragging me away. (THREE MORE DAYS, PEOPLE!)

At this point, I’m trying to be optimistic about summer. I’ll have a post in the coming days about my goals for this summer (one of which will needless to say be to WRITE). I hope you are all having a great beginning of summer, and for those of you with finals to deal with–GOOD LUCK.

Book Review: All-American Girl by Meg Cabot

This was my third time reading this book, but my first time reading it since I was much younger. I saw the book in a different light, but I still enjoyed it.

3.5/5 stars

cover all american girl

Amazon description

Top ten reasons Samantha Madison is in deep trouble

10. Her big sister is the most popular girl in school

9. Her little sister is a certified genius

8. She’s in love with her big sister’s boyfriend

7. She got caught selling celebrity portraits in school

6. And now she’s being forced to take art classes

5. She’s just saved the president of the United States from an assassination attempt

4. So the whole world thinks she is a hero

3. Even though Sam knows she is far, far from being a hero

2. And now she’s been appointed teen ambassador to the UN

And the number-one reason Sam’s life is over?

1.The president’s son just might be in love with her

My Review

I’m on a contemporary romance binge right now, and lacking new books to read, I went back to a book that I used to love, All-American Girl. I noticed right away that it is written for a younger audience, but reading it as a slightly older person, I was able to get more of the message Meg Cabot was saying.

Sam is a good protagonist, full of voice and easy to connect to. Her personality is slightly obsessive, which leads her to see people as either idols (Gwen Stefani), soul mates (her sister’s boyfriend Jack), or the devil incarnate (her art teacher Susan Boone). While this emphasizes her youth, it also makes her voice entertaining to read.

The plot of his book is very simple: Sam saves the president’s life and instantly becomes a national hero. And craziness ensues. It’s well paced and appropriately hilarious. It’s a light read, but it will keep you reading.

The larger plot of the book deals with Sam’s budding “frission” with David (the first son) and her obsession with Jack (her sister’s BF). Sam’s personality makes it so that even as the reader can see David and her falling in love, she’s still focused on Jack. As the book progresses, it also turns out that Jack is pretty obnoxious to Sam. It’s frustrating to watch as a reader, but it conveys a powerful message about crushes blinding people to the truth.

The other characters, including Sam’s sister, her best friend, and Jack, were somewhat flat. They added to the story in a one-dimensional way. I would have liked more depth from them, because I think it could have made this book a lot more unique.

My favorite part of this book is all the lists Meg Cabot puts throughout. They are funny and help to move the plot through more boring moments, but most of all they add a well-needed dose of humor and levity to the story. I love that Meg Cabot does things like this is all of her books–things that make them just a little more unique.

There is a sequel to this book, but I’ve never read it. I like the ending of the book as it stands, and I don’t want to change the picture I have in my mind of the couple. Adding another book to the series seems kind of unnecessary.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a younger-oriented chicklit with a lot of humor, if not a lot of depth.

Book Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

This book managed to do something that I had basically deemed impossible: it pulled off a love triangle. Without making me hate the book.

3.5/5 stars

cover to all the boys ive loved before

Amazon description

What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them…all at once?

Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

My Review

It is rare for me to pick up a book with a plot that promises so much Chicklit awkwardness. I’m glad that I “risked it” and picked this book up, though, because it was not nearly as overly dramatic and cringe-worthy as it could have been.

I have to say, the opening pages are not that great. I had read the Amazon preview a few times before I actually bought the book, because the quirky and humorous tone the book’s blurb suggested just isn’t there in the first chapter. Still, the writing gets better after the letters are mailed (which happened farther into the book than I had expected), and once the plot really gets going, I stopped paying attention to whether the writing was amazing or not.

Lara Jean writes love letters when she is ready to get over a crush. She spills out all of her feelings for a guy, puts it in an envelope, hides it in her hatbox, and stops being in love with the guy. The letters are never supposed to be mailed, and how they got mailed is actually a mystery for most of the book (which I liked).

*slight spoiler alert ahead…really it is just stuff that happens in the first chapters but I can’t talk about the book without mentioning these plot developments*

Though five letters get sent, there are only two boys who the book focuses on: Josh and Peter. Josh is the boyfriend of Lara Jean’s older sister, Margot, who just went off to college (and dumped Josh). With Margot out of the picture, old feelings Lara Jean had for Josh start to bubble to the surface, ones that get more complicated when he reads her letter. Peter is a childhood friend who grew up to be a jock and who just broke up with his longtime girlfriend Genevieve. Out of this mess of relationships, Lara Jean and Peter decide to fake being a couple. Lara Jean uses it as cover to get Josh to stop asking questions about the letter, and Peter uses it as a way to piss off his girlfriend, who cheated on him (and who he clearly still loves).

As cheesy as this plot sounds, it actually worked. There was the right amount of socially awkward scenes, balanced by some sweet moments between Lara Jean and Peter. I liked that both Peter and Josh hated the other guy; their warnings about the other guy made it harder for me as a reader to decide which guy I though Lara Jean should end up with. Yes, this book is dominated by the love triangle, but it wasn’t unbearable, and this book renewed my faith in the plot device.

The other plot line running surrounds Lara Jean’s family. There are three sisters: Margot, Lara Jean, and Kitty. After their mom died years ago, Margot took over as the leader of the household, since their dad is an OBGYN and does not spend a ton of time at home. The book begins with Margot going off to college, leaving Lara Jean to take her place, even though Lara Jean really does not have a personality tailored for this kind of responsibility. On top of the romantic drama in Lara Jean’s life, she has to deal with keeping her family on track, as well as pressures from Margot to be the amazing student junior year that will get her into a “good” college.

Honestly, I hated Margot. I’m not sure if Jenny Han intended for me to hate her, or if I was just bringing my own personal experiences (and my friends’ experiences) into my reading experience, but I never liked Margot. I hated that she left Lara Jean all alone and then expected her to be the perfect head of household as well as the perfect student. She was just so…judgey.

Their dad was also not my cup of tea. I understand that he was a doctor who had to work lots of weird hours and who had never learned how to lead his family (since he had his wife, and then Margot), but still, his absenteeism and his willingness to let Lara Jean deal with all of the scheduling, cooking, and organizing for the entire family bothered me. The family dynamic was presented as mostly healthy and loving, but it reminded me of a dynamic one of my friends lives every day that is absolutely the opposite, and I just could not handle the positive spin all of the characters seemed to have on their lifestyle.

Though the family plot line did help demonstrate Lara Jean’s character growth throughout the book, it really only served to annoy me as I was reading. Probably, someone coming from a different high school experience or someone lacking my issues with this type of family dynamic would not have the issues I had with this part of the book. Still, if this part had been different, I think this book could have earned at least one more star in my rating.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a chicklit read that has an entertaining, but sweet romance. Though I liked the ending of the book and felt like it could have been a standalone book, I am excited to read the sequel, PS I Still Love You. It just came out this week!

What I’ve Learned In French Class

I had the speaking portion of my second year French final yesterday and it went…okay? Maybe a horror story, maybe not–I haven’t seen my grade yet. Let’s just say that I talk fast when I’m nervous.

Anyway, taking French for the last two years has changed me as a reader and a writer. Having to learn a new language and pay attention to the way they string words together really made me stop and look at English and its own mechanics. You don’t appreciate English’s pronouns until you’ve learned French pronouns. You don’t realize how strange some of our expressions are until you have to learn ones from a different culture. You don’t realize how evil the cross-over between languages is until you get a vocabulary sheet with “passer un examen” on it, which means “to take a test”–not to pass one. And then as you struggle through the “si clause” on your homework, you take a moment to think about the French students learning English and trying to figure out how to write “she had been having” or trying to understand why it’s not gooses, it’s geese.

Not amazingly original thoughts, sure. But I have a lot of down-time in French class, so these are the thoughts I have.

And then in English class, we’re reading Night by Elie Wiesel, translated from the original French. I can’t help but wonder what I’m missing because I’m not reading it in French. And then I’m wondering what the books I read that were written in English would be like to read if they were translated into say…French.

See? We have a theme going here.

The written word is one of the most important pillars of modern society–regardless of language or culture. And translation has to be a part of the modern global culture. But something will always be lost when the words change–right?

Before I go any farther, I’d like to make it clear that I’m a white So-Cal girl whose knowledge of other languages is entirely encompassed by my two years of high school French. I’ve never read anything more than basic poems and children’s books in other languages. So sorry if I step on toes, but this is an idea that has been rattling around in my head for a while and I’ve decided to turn it into a blog post.

Disclaimer, over. Back to the idea that the phrase “lost in translation” does not just apply to miscommunications in romance novels. Especially in the modern age of technology lingo and contemporary slang, I wonder how a translator would transfer these from language to language. Some of my favorite scenes from contemporary books are made that much better because of their modern and familiar “teenage” diction. (The Girl Con scene in Beauty Queens by Libba Bray jumps into my mind, for one.) The rhythm of the banter in dialogue scenes, the way that the use of certain words just makes scenes funnier because of their connotations, those phrases that are so cliche that you just have to use them–how do you translate that when it relies so heavily on the language it was first written in? My biggest worry–when I take time to worry about the books I love being translated–is that something could be irrevocably lost from these books when the unique linguistic diction is translated.

I mean, what is the French version of the Valley Girl “OMG, so like…”? And when French readers read that phrase, do they immediately read it in a high-pitched ditzy voice? These are the questions that I need answers to.

Google Translate is famously bad. And I’ve learned long ago that word-for-word translations are mythic objects, like unicorns. (Did anyone else ever do the thing as a kid where you would look at warning labels that were printed in different languages side-by-side and you would count like four words in on each and go “Oh, so the word for ‘don’t’ in French is ‘la'”? Because I used to do this, and on basically day two of French class I realized how hopeless this method of “translation” is.) There are professional translators for books, and software and companies designed to deal with the problems I’ve imagined. There are even companies like Smartling that specifically focus on translating websites for businesses. And then there is the (rather extreme) method of simply learning a language and getting comfortable enough with it that you can read books yourself, and cut out the middle man (though I doubt I will ever achieve this).

So what have I learned in French class? I’ve learned that language is complicated, but that its nuances are important. I’ve realized that I love that I feel comfortable with the English language. I get pride from linking words together in new and creative ways–I want to explore the English language. I want more than a textbook understanding of English. And I’ve realized that studying other languages makes me pay more attention to my own, probably in the end making me a better writer.

And I’ve learned to not just gloss over the second byline on books that lists who the translator was. That person is pretty darn important, and did a really impressive thing. They fused two languages together and did their best to preserve the entirety of the story–not just the ideas conveyed by the funny bits and the strangely touching scenes. They had a hand in building the story that you read.

Merci, Madame.

Book Review: Graceling by Kristen Cashore

This was my…fourth (I think) time reading this book. And it was still totally amazing.

5/5 stars

cover graceling

Goodreads Description

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight – she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po’s friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace – or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away.

My Review

This book is a classic for me. My favorite assassin book, hands down. And I’ve read about a lot of assassins.

Katsa has had a hard life. Everyone in the castle fears her because of her Grace, and because of how the king Randa uses her Grace. She is his strongarm, sent to torture or kill people who disobey his rule. Katsa has begun to think of herself as a monster, and her only outlet to use her powers for the greater good is through a network of spies called the Council. She set up the Council as a way to counter the abuses of the seven kings of the seven kingdoms and to keep peace.

It is on a mission for the council that she first encounters Po, a Graced fighter. Po is looking for his grandfather, who Katsa just rescued. Po then follows her to Randa’s court…and plot ensues.

Seriously, the pacing of this book is perfect. Katsa and Po’s relationship evolves from distrust to friendship in just the right amount of time. Each event of the plot hurdles you into the next one, but it doesn’t feel like things are happening unrealistically quickly. It’s just…perfect. (Can you tell I like this book a lot?)

The fantasy element of this book is simplistic, but it works. People are randomly born Graced, with eyes two different colors and a random talent. Sometimes Graces are valuable, like being amazing at archery or hand fighting, and sometimes they are useless, like talking backwards or being able to swim very well. There isn’t any other magic in the world, just a medieval-esque setting. Still, it reads like a fantasy book.

The search for Po’s grandfather leads Katsa and Po across the continent, where they stumble into a far larger conspiracy. This leads the book to have a slightly fragmented feeling between the first half’s plot and the second half’s. The first half is undeniably happier, and a lot of authors would have skipped the second half entirely, but without the second part, the plot would not have been nearly as impressive.

The romance between Katsa and Po develops well. I love Katsa’s reaction when she realizes that she loves Po; it forces her to confront parts of her personality she has never faced before. They are one of my favorite literary couples; they compliment each other so well.

Katsa grows throughout the entire book, never changing so drastically that it becomes unbelievable, but changing enough that the reader can connect to her. Po’s influence can clearly be seen, but it is still clear that she is the one taking the steps toward being a better person. She has a bit of a feminist streak, which I love.

I would recommend this book to fans of assassin books who love great writing, sweet romance, and a complex plot that raises the YA fantasy bar.

A Discussion of Bookstores

I have never been one of those girls that loves to go shopping. Going to the mall is synonymous with headaches and bad pop remixes rather than a great way to spend the day. I like having new clothes, but I don’t really enjoy the process of finding clothes to buy.

But bookstores–I love bookstores. I could spend hours in a bookstore, finding new books to read.

But nowadays there are a lot of places you can go to buy books. So I decided to take a little while and discuss the various merits of the different types of bookstores. Keep in mind that unless I say otherwise, I’m just talking about the YA sections of these book stores.

Big Commercial Bookstores (eg Barnes and Noble)

At first glance, these seem like the best place to go for book shopping. They usually have a wide selection and lots of new releases, and (at least for me) there are a lot of locations nearby other places I might find myself, making it easier to pop in and get something new to read.

My only problem with this type of book store is that they just feel…commercial. I’ve never been one to read really popular books, and these bookstores seem to specialize in “popular” books. (I’m not trying to be a hipster, it’s just that they never seem to be as good as people say they are.) Also, it just feels like more of the books I see at stores like Barnes and Noble have cliche and overdone plots than I do at smaller, local book sellers. I go to bookstores to find new books, not to have books with covers (or plots) that I’ve seen everywhere already.

Smaller, Local Bookstores

There are two great local bookstores in my area. Both of them are smaller than the massive Barnes and Nobles I go to, which means they have a smaller selection, especially of YA books. One of them is actually a children’s book store, though by now they sell books for all age ranges. They have less turnover than the larger book stores, but their selection also tends to lack the plasticy-corporate feeling that bigger stores suffer from. I love the atmosphere in these smaller bookstores–it really feels like the employees know their store and love books–but the smaller selection can be annoying when I’m dying to read something super new.

Amazon.com

Honestly, I end up ordering most of my books off of Amazon. This is mainly because I have been given so many Amazon gift cards in my lifetime that I don’t actually pay for books out-of-pocket anymore. However, I hate trying to find books to read from Amazon. Their “recommended” section invariably contains books I’ve already read (ones that I ordered from amazon…you’d think they could update their programming) or books that (like the ones from Barnes an Noble) just look to cliche or overly dramatic for me to ever read. Generally, if I buy a book off of Amazon, it is a sequel to a book I already own, or it is a book that I saw in a store but didn’t have money to buy it with in person. Shipping isn’t really an issue with Amazon because I have Amazon Prime, and sometimes if I preorder books, I’ll actually get them a day before they come out, which is cool. Still, as a way of finding new books to read, Amazon is probably the worst.

Used Book Stores

I actually got the idea for writing this post when I went to a Used/Vintage book store last weekend. I love the atmosphere of used book stores, but I find myself being a very different type of reader when I go into them. For instance, last weekend, I walked out of the store with a nonfiction book on Napoleon invading Egypt, a copy of Bullfinch’s myths and tales, and a book about ancient Egypt. It’s not that I am not going to read these books–I definitely am–it’s just that I would not have bought them from any other type of bookseller. Since used book stores generally don’t have a YA section (or if you’re like me and you just manage to not see the part of the store that has paperbacks until you’ve paid and you’re leaving), I usually end up buying historical nonfiction books. I like that these stores push me to buy different books, but in terms of places I’ll go looking if I need something light to read for fun, used bookstores are not for me.


What about you? Where do you buy your books? Do you agree with what I’ve said about each type of bookstore?

 

Top Ten Things that I Look for in Books

top ten tuesday

 Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week, they post a new Top Ten topic and other bloggers respond with their own lists. I take part in this meme when I have something to say for the topic and I remember what day it is.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, so I decided to do a counter to a recent Top Ten of mine: Top Ten Reasons I Won’t Read a Book. This time, I want to focus on reasons I will read a book. And yes, I know it’s Wednesday, but I’m just going to pretend I posted this on the right day.

  1. A new type of magic. One of my absolute favorite things to read about is magic, but I don’t want to read about magic that I’ve read about before. I love it when authors create entirely new ways that magic works and rules that govern it. Perfect examples include Harry Potter and Mistborn.
  2. A unique twist on a cliche genre (I’m looking at you dystopian). I hate to write off genres as a whole, so I’m always willing to read dystopian or paranormal books that look like they take a tired genre and inject new life into it. Good examples include Vampire Academy and Across a Star-Swept Sea.
  3. The promise of awesome friendships. Friendships are one of my favorite things to read about; I love watching groups of people form and then go on to do amazing things together. Some of my favorite examples are the Gallagher Girls series and Beauty Queens.
  4. An author I love. This one is obvious. We all have auto-buy authors, the authors we just trust to write amazing books over and over again. Mine include Libba Bray, Patrick Ness, and Maggie Stiefvater. And if Megan Whalen Turner ever wrote another book, I’d buy that book so fast you don’t even know.
  5. The promise of adorable romance. As you can probably tell, I’m a sucker for adorable romances. Of course, the best source for these is the contemporary romances, but sometimes I pick up a fantasy novel and just die because of the two people I can tell will end up together. You know?
  6. Assassins or thieves. Yep, basically if assassins or thieves are involved, I’m buying your book. Unless your book looks really cheesy or cliche, that is. But even then, if it looks cute or funny, I might buy it anyway. Best examples include the Queen’s Thief series, the Heist Society series, and Graceling.
  7. A plot based in fairytales or mythology–but with a fresh twist. I can’t handle any more cliche spinoffs from the Percy Jackson series, whether those are written by Rick Riordan or someone else. Still, I love mythology and fairytales, so if those get reimagined (in a cool way) in a YA style, I’m in.
  8. A unique setting or fascinating world-building. This one goes along with the one about magic, but expands it to include anything that involves unique worlds–unique cultures, religions, governments, social structures, and magic, of course. I don’t care about plot anywhere near as much as the world it is set in–mainly because the world it is set in will decide if the plot is interesting, more often than not. Some of the best examples of this are Steelheart, the Gemma Doyle series, and The Scorpio Races.
  9. A powerful first page. If I’m in a bookstore–or sometimes on Amazon–I will always read the first page to see if I like the writing style. Sometimes, you just know that a book will be amazing. Code Name Verity is the ultimate example of this. Read the first page–the first line–and I dare you not to read the rest of the book in one sitting.
  10. A lack of tired, tropey, stereotypical plot devices that are clear from five words into the summary on the dusk jacket. Basically, I like new things. I like reading things I haven’t read before. Because of this, books that have plots/characters/worlds that I’ve read before are beyond boring. I can’t tell you how many books I pick up in book stores that I put back before I’ve even read the entire plot summary because I can already tell that I have read it before.