Make Fun Of Yourself

18115294This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

If you were ever a dweeb, a nerd, a geek, an outcast, or a teacher’s pet, and you struck out swinging in the popularity contest, then THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE is for you. I never struck out swinging, because I wasn’t even invited to the baseball diamond, and I probably wasn’t even in the same zip code. I didn’t raise my hand, or climb the social ladder, or attempt to end my life, but I do know rather well what it feels like to hover outside the norm. Hell, I’ve taken up residence in that state and built a house on a cement foundation, to the point that I need fictional authenticity and an optimism filled IV just to make it through reality. Luckily, I have a treasure trove filled with books and music and movies and pixie dust to fill my world from one moment to the next.

Elise Dembowski might have discovered music at the same time she discovered pessimism, but I don’t think it’s fair to judge her as a teenager filled with negativity. Frankly, being a teenager sucks. Being filled with hormones and testosterone and awkwardness and secret codes and tile-filled hallways and compact classrooms and having doubts about the rest of your life is not exactly a world where the pixie dust flows freely. And when you struggle to fit in, because you don’t know the secret handshake, or you’re ahead of your time, or you have a knack for saying and doing the wrong thing, life sucks just a little bit more. The cool kids ensure you know just where you stand, and most of the time it’s with your head hung low and hovering over the rim of a toilet bowl.

It’s a good thing Al Gore didn’t invent the Internet until I had come along in years, and Facebook and social networking weren’t around when it all went down on the playground. I’d like to think I could have handled the cyberbullying and negativity and trolls and gnomes in my younger years, but the truth is I don’t know if I was as strong then as I am now. Inner strength and thick skin aren’t gifts; they’re earned through hard work and maturity and offering up the second cheek when the first one just won’t do.

When you can make fun of yourself, it’s hard for anyone else to rattle your chain, and when you smile and whistle and wink and just walk on by…well, that’s the greatest revenge of all. That, my friends, is both long-lasting and gratifying.

If you want to read a much more articulate and fulfilling review, you should check out what Emily May has to offer the world. I hope her story moves you as much as it did me. As for me, I’ll put my iTunes on repeat and see what pops up next.

A Few Pairs Of Boy Shorts

22663193The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I guess I’m a sucker for happy endings. I like it when life works out in a neat little package wrapped in red ribbon and blue paper, and I find the warm, gooey center filled with sugar and jam. But sometimes life kicks you in the ass, staples your forehead to the living room carpet, and then swipes your lunch money.

While it would have been easy to call this novel cheesy, and then add a bit of sap and honey for good measure, I don’t feel as though that truly sums up THE BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING. Of course, if that’s how you would like to view it, and then move on with your life, I can understand where you are coming from, and respect your decision. But I do think you have to dig a little deeper on this one, and pull out your backhoe (that you just happen to have lying around) instead of your shovel.

When I did this, I discovered a world where Ezra Faulkner had a big head on his shoulders, and brushed off all the folks who could have helped him make a difference. But then his leg was shattered in a tragic accident, and he was forced to reinvent himself. Rather than crying over his iPhone, and watching House reruns, he got his shit together, and took the racket off his shoulder. And I respected and admired his decision.

Cassidy Thorpe might have more than a few pairs of boy shorts and button down shirts in her possession, but she’s beautiful on the inside and out, even if she has a slightly different perception of herself in the bathroom mirror. And, yes, I may have looked at her with a bit more than just fond affection.

I sucked this novel up through a straw in three days’ time, and the teenager inside of me (and all of us) was more than happy with my decision. The romance was beautiful and thrilling, even if it kicked me in the pants at the end, the dialogue was intriguing and spot-on, the pace proved to be both intriguing and interesting and just about right, and the characters were just odd and awkward enough to help me reminisce my high school years.

If you’d like to rediscover your teenage self, then you might want to take a peek behind the curtain, and see what this particular book has in store for you. You might just be glad you did.

Feel Nothing And Everything

19747310Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Nothing beats young love. Nothing. That first kiss, the newness of it, the way your tongue combines with hers, and you’re ready to scream and run through the halls, pounding on lockers as you make your way to the principal’s office, and you’re convinced there’s no such thing in the world, no words to describe this wonderful, penetrating sensation. No one else has experienced what you’re feeling right now, at this particular moment, instant really, when two worlds collide, and your heart stops for a second, and then another, and you feel so much, so much that it hurts, and maybe you’re ready to burst, from this goodness and wonderfulness. You’re fucking ecstatic, filled with hope and pride, and you’re like a freight train ready to collide. ELEANOR & PARK made me feel all of that in 336 pages, and probably a hell of a lot more. It took me about a day to process all of my emotions, and this sticky goodness that attached itself to my beating heart, and it’ll probably take me a few more days to come back to reality.

When the novel first started, it wasn’t a match made in heaven. In fact, I didn’t like Eleanor, and Park wasn’t much better. Even the first time they sat together on the bus, it was more out of pity than any real emotional connection. As for the back and forth perspective, I’ll admit I wasn’t all that into it at first either. It seemed too quick and fleeting at times, and then it all seemed to fall perfectly into place, like the stars and moon and heaven aligned. Like this novel, and my life, and maybe the constellations aligned to bring us together, and the dialogue proved quicker and sharper than I could have possibly hoped, and the story sped up like a locomotive, and my mind went into overdrive, as the pages flew by. And I read the whole damn thing in one day. That ought to tell you something right there, because normally I spread my novels out over at least a couple of days. Sometimes longer.

And then we reached the climax and finale. That ending: I feel like my life just ended.

I feel nothing and everything at the same time. Like the best relationship of my life just ended, and I had no say in the matter, and now I need a box of antidepressants and maybe an entire bar of chocolate and an ice cream cone. Like I can’t stop feeling, like the whole world is filled with this energy that I’ve harnessed for myself, and that I can’t contain it even if I wanted to. But I don’t want to contain it. I don’t want any of it to stop or end, because I might never feel this way again. It spans excited and happy, pain and sorrow, sadness and anger, empty and raw. When will this emotional roller-coaster end?

Downright Fun

20448958Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

If God wants to punish some poor bastard, I mean really punish him till he’s ready to poke out his own eyeballs, swallow a .44 Magnum, slit his own wrists, or end his own life in front of a city bus, he should force him to come back to earth as a teenage girl. In less than a month, you’d read about the extravagant deaths of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer and even Hannibal Lector. Yeah, and those sonsofbitches never stood a chance either.

But the true beauty in this novel, aside from the sudden death experience, is all the voices inside the heads of the characters. I happen to hear a voice of my own (my muse), and no, I’m not crazy. But sometimes it feels like I am, so I can’t even imagine what it must be like to walk around LA and hear the voices of poodles and porn stars and strippers and businessmen and models and actors and who the fuck knows what else. If I could end my life in Santa Monica or on the Redondo Beach pier, it’s an offer I’d probably consider, just to make all those bastards shut up. So, yes, one voice is more than enough.

Not all writers can pull off first person plural (in fact I can’t recall another book I’ve read off the top of my head that uses this particular device), but Sarah Mlynowski pulls it off to perfection in DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. Even when she drifts a bit into first person, you’re more than ready to go along for the ride. So while you may not want to think about this story, or have it stuck in your head, in the end, it just does.

Other than Cooper and Olivia, I wouldn’t say any of the characters are particularly loveable. In less deft hands, this could be a detriment to the story, as a number of characters spring off the pages clamoring for attention, but I found myself in a happy state of ignorant oblivion, where the pie was sweet even if the characters always weren’t.

This novel is sassy and flirtatious and coy and just downright fun all rolled up into one blast from the first page to the last.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Old High School Locker

22367943We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

You might find this story exhilarating and entertaining, like an old friend whispering over your right shoulder, or then again you might not. You might find it moving and breathtaking, and it might caress you like the wind whispering against your face. You might remember the combination to your old high school locker and attempt to visit it in a moment of nostalgia, before the local authorities come to arrest you, and take you up to the big house on the hill—the one overlooking the water through a set of bars that will keep you contained for the next twenty-four hours. Or then again, you might remain unmoved and curse the heavens at this story of sisters who were seventeen months apart. The closeness these sisters shared, and the bond that held them together might as well have been superglue, even if it ended up a bit chipped around the edges.

I’d say it’s nearly impossible not to feel some sort of emotion upon the completion of WE ARE THE GOLDENS, but that would be mere conjecture and projection, and I want you to live your own life. Make your own mistakes, and dream the impossible dream…even if it blows up in your face faster than an M-80 and leaves you scarred from the nose down. For these chances and mistakes lead to opportunities and promises and hopes that might fill your body to its breaking point with desire and adrenaline, or then again, maybe you’d prefer to remain anonymous and stand behind the curtain, and let someone else make all the mistakes.

What I can tell you, though, is this tale moved me. I was inserted and transported to the heart of this story, and I found the little voice whispering behind my right ear and talking to me like an old friend who had just plopped down beside me on the sofa. And as I hugged my Kindle against my chest and read page after page, I couldn’t stop the movement as it rumbled through my body and poured out of my pores, and astonished me at its sheer bravado when all I had asked was to be entertained for a few short hours of my life.

Second tense never sounded so intense and mature, even if Nell was only fifteen years old. And her sister Layla with her golden locks and skimpy frocks made all the heads of the high school boys turn. Her fair share of golden hair made me smile with pleasure and glee, and at seventeen years she was the perfect one, or so it would initially seem. But this tale has more depth and despair than its adolescence would lead you to believe.

But you’ll have to find out yourself if this is a story you want to read, because all I can say is that it moved yesterday and made me particularly happy to have discovered it. With a gleam in my eye, and my eyes pointed to the sky, I reached the end of this piece. But the ending of this youthful lass, as it came to pass, left me with more questions than answers. So it can be said with the slightest hint of dread that I would have liked a slightly more definitive conclusion than the slightly open-ended one I was offered, even as I know when I have met life’s strife I often have more questions than answers.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Shallow Pools And Emotional Depths

16068341The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

I am in awe of this book. I want to put it up on a pedestal and stare at it for hours. I want to buy a copy for everyone that I know, so that they can read it and love it as much as I do. I want to plaster this review and project it toward the heavens, so that every single bastard I don’t know can buy a copy for himself, his 2.5 kids, his two car garage, and maybe even his dog or cat. This book is that fucking good. It’s the best book I’ve read this year. No question. But will all of those people along with all of their brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and grandmas and grandpas feel the same way about THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE that I do. Probably not. And that makes me sad. Like my stomach has sunk to the floor, and I might not be able to pick it back up again sad. And it makes me sad that I probably won’t be able to convince enough people to buy this novel, because I won’t adequately be able to project my feelings over the course of this review and I feel like I need to take a writing course just so I can properly convey my true love for this novel.

And it does feel like true love. When I reached the end, the butterflies in my stomach were floating around, and I wanted to sing and dance, but I also wanted to stomp and shout and cry, because I had reached the end and this world was over and all the feelings I had felt and the wonderfulness that consumed me would have to be set aside as I moved on to the next book and entered an entirely different world. But it won’t be the same, and I know I won’t feel the same way about the next book that I feel about this one, and it’s not really even fair to compare the two, because this book knocked me on my butt and flipped me down the stairs.

THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE ought to be required reading at every high school across the country, and across other countries, too, like China and India and Pakistan. Because the problems in our high school—the popularity contests, the hazing, the nerds and geeks, queens and outcasts and sluts, and the jocks and the cheerleaders—aren’t just confined to our high schools. So…every single bastard in every single high school around the world ought to read this fucking novel. And if it doesn’t make you stop and think about yourself, whether it’s for a minute or an hour or even the rest of your life, you might just have a major malfunction in your line of coding.

I mean, just over the course of this novel, we have Elaine and Kelsie, Josh and Brandon, and a bunch of other bastards who just follow along with the crowd, because it’s the easy thing to do. Because it might affect their status or their well-being if they actually lent a hand to someone else for once in their miserable lives. Because they aren’t strong enough to say, “No, that’s not right.” Because let’s be honest, people can be real shitheels, and it’s always easier and more fun to poke a finger at someone else than take a good hard look at yourself. So instead of self-reflection, you’re going to take the easy way out (again) and blame the poor bastard that’s already been kicked in the teeth a time or two, because well, she probably deserved it anyway. But, hey, that’s life…and high school.

Frankly, I’m glad I was Kurt in high school. The one that people just virtually ignored, because if I have to step on everyone to make my way to the top, then frankly, I don’t want to be there. Because it’s not worth it.

But this novel was so worth it. Like totally. What it had—strong characters, true to high school individuals, realistic dialogue, reflection (past) and present, multiple viewpoints, shallow pools and emotional depth, plot triggers and passion, a condensed story where every word mattered, a small town feel and atmosphere, and a journey that truly kept me on the edge of my seat—in less than 210 pages.

If I were smarter, I would have read it in one sitting. But I’ve never claimed to know what the hell I’m doing. Luckily for me (and you) Jennifer Mathieu does, and I have a feeling she’ll be around for a very long time.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Lacked Cohesion And Passion

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Well, it could have been better, and it could have been worse, but I certainly found myself a bit out of sorts…as I reached the end of this tale, and I exclaimed “Oh my!” with my head pointed up toward the sky. Instead of a pause, INSURGENT jumped right in, and picked up right where DIVERGENT left off at the end. It lacked some of the cohesion and passion that held the first tale together, and still left us wondering what was ever outside of the fence. And that kept the peace at bay, even as the factions came out to play.

Tris and Four attempted to even the score with strong dedication to the task at hand, each voice ringing louder than the sound of a band. The tale sped by with ease, because there was plenty of white space in between…the pages. I flipped through my Kindle, even as I lacked a smile on my face, as I tried to keep myself abreast of this place. It may have been Chicago, or it might have been Indiana, or possibly even Alabama. With white smocks and tan and loud voices of the land carrying me higher to a place where the blood runs dry.

Veronica’s heart may not have been in it, or maybe this was her plan all along, since her debut novel did much better than a song, and it still rings true for the ages, even as tigers roar in their cages, and slurp back meat with a mere slip of the tongue, and I can merely hope that we include everyone. It could have been good, or it could have been all for naught, I just hope that I don’t end up caught…in this made-up land where evil comes with a gun.

Sure, it was easy to see why folks might have been on board with this one. But I hopped off the train somewhere along the way (before I reached the fence), and then another train came along and ran me over. So, yeah, it was a fun ride, this one, and I’ll certainly read the conclusion, to see how this dystopian world ends, but I’ve reached a stage of lesser enjoyment, when I had hoped the engineer could have found another gear.

Enjoy The After-Party

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

My wife told me I flew through this series. By most accounts, I wouldn’t consider myself a speed reader, but I can certainly dedicate the time to read a good book, or in this case, a great series. And after finishing The Hunger Games trilogy, I can honestly say this series has it all. The characters, the setting, action scenes galore, great dialogue, and we lived in Katniss’s head for the entire three-book ordeal. What a fresh, wonderful character who wouldn’t take crap from anyone. *BEGIN SPOILER* She stood her ground through two Hunger Games, and she walked away a stronger, better person, despite the obstacles the Head Gamemakers tossed in her path. *END SPOILER*

This was a great read. Did it live up to the precedent of the two tales before it? Probably not. But it’s hard to compare greatness. Can I see where readers may have been a bit disappointed after the first two mind-bending reads? Sure. But, again, greatness is a fleeting endeavor. It’s like popularity. One minute you have it, the next minute it’s moved on to someone else, as it develops a big grin and laughs in your face.

To her credit, Suzanne Collins knows how to write a great novel, and to do it three times over is no small feat. Each book stood on its own, and each one was a slightly different type of story, but in the end, readers saw the complete Panem picture, and it’s a photo worthy of more than just a passing glance.

Maybe I missed the party, the band, the cake, the toasts, and the dancing, but I still feel like there’s music playing in the background. Why? Because as I write this, MOCKINGJAY occupies slot #7 of the Amazon Kindle eBooks Bestseller List. I don’t know about you, but I plan to enjoy the after-party, “and may the odds be ever in your favor.”

Rare Phenomenon

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My Rating: 5/5 Stars

I can’t decide if I like THE HUNGER GAMES better than CATCHING FIRE or vice versa. For the movie industry, it’s rare when a sequel lives up to the hype of the original. But fortunately for readers, this is a lot more common in the book industry. Even still, it’s a rare phenomenon to have two different stories and two excellent books. Sure, the same characters are back, and sure, this is all part of the trilogy that Suzanne Collins had envisioned. But to tell two different stories takes a rare talent with a firm grasp on her genre and a firm direction for the story.

THE HUNGER GAMES certainly has more action inside the arena, and we only catch nuggets of information about the history of the games, along with the history of Panem. CATCHING FIRE fills in some of those missing details, and it has more action outside of the arena. A nice contrast, and if you enjoyed the first one, you certainly need to pick up the second one. Once again, Katniss Everdeen shines in all of her independent glory, but she’s a year older and a year wiser, and she manages to show the reader fine glimpses of her compassion as well. While we may not know everything about the secondary characters, since we’re only seeing Panem through her eyes, we don’t have to. And once again the suspense builds to a rip-roaring crescendo.

If you like dystopian fiction, and you enjoyed the characters and the storyline of the first read, then you’d better race to the bookstore to pick up Book Two.

Sucked Into The Kiddie Pool

7723926 by
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

While the party may have ended, the band has packed up their instruments and is boarding their bus back to Panem, the streamers have been torn down by the kiddos, and everything that could have been said about THE HUNGER GAMES has probably already been said, I still feel the need to review it. Why? Because I’ve never been very good at marching in step with the rest of the crowd. Plus, as I write this, THE HUNGER GAMES occupies #9 of the Amazon Kindle eBooks Bestseller List for only the 840th day.

So how did Suzanne Collins create this international party with a rabid group of followers? By writing a damn good novel, and despite catering to the YA crowd, she held nothing back with the violence, as she dropped it across the blood spattered pages. As for her main character Katniss Everdeen, she is the real hero of this story, and she’s the glue that holds this entire novel together. Without being inside of her head every second of this novel, the entire structure on which it is built would fall apart. You can claim that this should have been written in third person, and that it would have added suspense, as well as rounded out the other characters. But it would have changed the focus of the novel entirely, and it would have lacked immediacy. In order for first person to work successfully, a novel needs a strong, well-defined main character. Check and check.

She does a great job with world-building, and I was sucked right into the kiddie pool with the surroundings, circumstances, characters, districts, and everything else that she so expertly articulated. So what if the love triangle is overdone? Without it, the story would have lacked heart. Besides, if you really want to talk plot, there are only seven basic plots, according to Cristopher Booker. Sure, this number ends up being a bit arbitrary, but it’s not like authors have an unlimited number of plots to choose from. So what it really boils down to is execution. Over and over again this book proves its point with Katniss, the quick flip of the pages (or push of the button for us Kindle users), the action scenes, how far we get into Katniss’s head, and the world-building. If you haven’t already hopped on THE HUNGER GAMES phenomenon, you better board the bus now, or you’re liable to miss out on the after-party.