“Real World” (Bend or Break Book 5) – Amy Jo Cousins

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Five years after “Off Campus” Tom and Reese find themselves navigating rocky territory once again. Tom is shutting down when news of his father’s prison release hits the papers. Reese is seeking affection elsewhere while Tom shuts him out. The two are playing a dangerous game and there’s no telling if this time they’ll be able to come back from all the tension.

Okay I have to say this sequel felt very rushed. It was a short book (novella length really) but it also felt too quick. Like a hurried epilogue. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it. I liked the drama and the tension and I loved the ending. I just wanted more. I wanted something deeper, more polished, more cohesive. I was just really eager for a lengthy… anything, fluff, angst… I don’t even know what I wanted more of. I think this book definitely could’ve used some improvement but it was really enjoyable all around.

I love that we got to see Reese’s life this time. Be inside his thoughts. I love how much growth they had made as individuals and as a couple. I love love loved that they were still struggling with their anxieties and that they weren’t magically cured because they were together (because as anyone with any mental illness knows that’s not how it works). So I loved that they were still working and making progress together. I loved their their relationship was fraught with valid tensions.

Overall I think I just wanted something a little more polished but it was still good!

Happy Reading!

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“Off Campus” (Bend or Break Book 1) – Amy Cousins

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Tom just wants to finish out his college education with his head down. Focus on his studies, ignore the world. He doesn’t expect when he comes back to school in the fall he’d be saddled with a roommate, but he doesn’t let it deter him. Head down. Don’t engage.

Reese made sure he wouldn’t have to have a roommate this semester, so when Tom shows up it throws him through a loop. Doing his best to deal with the unfortunate circumstances he tentatively pries into Tom’s life to learn something about this guy he’s forced to room with.

Barriers get crossed as they navigate this new world. Friends? Enemies?  More? Cousins writes a tale of passion, intrigue, and heart as these boys figure out who they are and where they’re going – whether together or separate.

I have to say what I really enjoyed about this book was how each of the characters were struggling. Tom’s particular brand of problems didn’t leave me feeling too much sympathy for him as he kept beating himself up over things out of his control. However, it was a really realistic portrayal of anxiety and how it can manipulate the mind into sabotaging itself and situations. Tom’s isolation stems more from a psychological block than the exterior events of the book (though they are triggered by that it’s a deeper issue).  Reese’s anxiety’s lie in external triggers and his depression and panic disorders manifest themselves in a very sincere representation to those events. Together they try and work through their issues and I love that it’s not easy. I love that they’re not one demential.

The book went very quickly. It was easy to read. Despite there being so many events and deep subject matter it wasn’t very plot heavy. It left me wanting more and wanting to know more about their characters and their live. I really wanted Reese’s point of view (the book is told from Tom’s perspective). I loved the side characters (Cash and Steph) but I felt their characters could have been a bit more present (in particular Cash). They definitely felt like plot devices with how they spontaneously showed up. I understand that the book (and it’s scenes therefore) were about Tom and Reese but I feel the supporting roles could have been slightly more involved. At one point Tom goes to visit Cash and I didn’t realize they had even still been speaking.

For my few small complaints though I really did enjoy this book. And hey, it’s free on kindle and I ended up buying the sequel so that should say a lot.

Happy Reading!

“Stranger Than Fanfiction” Chris Colfer

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Topher, Sam, Joey, and Mo just graduated high school and are going on a cross country road trip before college. When they jokingly invite their favorite actor from their favorite TV show to come with them they can’t believe it when he actually shows up! Drama follows the young actor, paparazzi, reports, the vicious online media. As the unlikely quintet heads across country to explore the country it becomes clear they’re not the only ones keeping secrets. Told in Colfer’s brilliant and unique voice this tale brings forth the struggles of feeling alone, isolated, and confused even when surrounded by people.

This book is wonderful, let me open with that. And before I say anything else I must say Mr. Colfer, should you ever happen to stumble upon this I want to say I do apologize if you feel even one tenth the way Cash does. People are crazy. Fans are even crazier. You are entitled to privacy, to your own life, and to peace and quiet. You are also not your character and I am sorry that not everyone knows that or understands it. (Also thank you for throwing Supernatural into the story at the end). I also love the term “Truth-shaming” not sure if you coined it or not but it’s a good one.

Anyway, back to the book. I really enjoyed this book. I love road trip stories. I love friends revealing their secrets to friends stories. I love coming-of-age-ish stories. I love celebrity stories. So basically this had all the things I love! I love Colfer’s character development and I love the way he makes a seemingly simple plot take on so much more than it could seem. I loved each of the characters but it did a little bit seem like he was trying to meet a quota of representation. It was good though, we need more representation in novels. I do however have to say I called the ending, but that didn’t make it any less emotional. Colfer does a really good job of making you feel things. I listened to the audiobook and it was read by Colfer which only added to the perfection I think. He is after all a storyteller and it shows.

The novel was compelling and a fast read (or listen in my case). I think it was simultaneously a love letter to fans and a bit of a reprimand. It’s a reminder than celebrities are human and we shouldn’t be so intrusive, with them or with people in our own lives.

I also really love the way Colfer makes even dark things comedic, he has a gift for dark comedy and I would be excited if he explored that; like in his novel “Struck By Lighting”. He’s a very readable author. My only complaint is that he killed the raccoon, which are in my top 10 favorite animals.

I think this is another hit from Colfer and its worth checking out.

Happy Reading!

“Bernie Sanders Guide To Political Revolution” – Bernie Sanders

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Literally a guide to political revolution. The plot is in the title.

If you know anything about Bernie Sanders, which I’m presuming anyone who is over the age of safe side 18 does, you know that he is very invested in completely revamping the entire political system. He not only wants change, but a complete revolution. Healthcare for all, for the rich to be held accountable for their actions, for equality and justice. This independent senator from Vermont stirs a lot of pots and isn’t afraid to say exactly what he thinks is wrong with literally everything. He’s kind of the cranky grandpa at dinner… which is 90% of the reason I love him.

This book was a literal guide… it outlines the problems he feels need to be addressed and then it solved them. It outlined what we as individuals can do to make the world better and to change/shake up the system. It was a very quick read and very informative. Lots of data and statistics. I’m still waiting to read “Our Revolution” which is on waitlist from the library as I feel that will be more personable and kind of more what I’m looking for. Don’t get me wrong I love the guide, but I like to connect with the person more than the politics. So this is a great book for a how-to-guide (as the title states).

After reading Clinton’s book I was on a political kick (really it all started with Obama). I wanted to somehow feel that inspiration and the determination that I felt those days in the primaries, and then on the campaign trail. I wanted to feel the hope of being able to change things, of being able to keep the country moving progressively upward. I wanted to feel these people I had come to look up to and love speaking to me again, talking about change, hope, and the future. This book does that in a very technical informative way. It’s a by the book (pardon the pun) outline for how we can keep progressing even with less than favorable people in positions of power.

The guide was empowering, informative, and inspiring, like Bernie himself. He is a truly wonderful leader and I believe we need more of his idealism in our lives.

Happy reading!

“What Happened” – Hillary Rodham Clinton

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“What do we do now I said? There was only one answer: Keep Going.” – Hillary Rodham Clinton

Like a lot of American’s after the 2016 Election results I was devastated. I’m not going to pretend I was always for Hillary, campaigning, donating, and support Bernie Sanders for the DNC in the primaries I made it my soul mission to get him elected. When that didn’t work out I did change tactics. I’m not one of the idealists who wrote Bernie in, or who stayed home on Election day because “they’re both terrible”. I love Bernie, I think Senator Sanders would have been an amazing president. I don’t consider myself a “flip flopper” because Sanders and Clinton held a lot of the same believes. To paraphrase Clinton: Sanders ideas were lofty and idealistic, hers were planted in reality. I also however understand the reality that our democracy is horribly flawed. The fact is despite how many independents we have on the ballet we live in a two-party system. When the choices were Hillary or Donald my choice was made. I watched the debates, I read the news (cross checking for facts and accuracy and not just believing anything I heard). I did my best to understand Trumps policies and ideas. What it came down to, and what it’s always come down to for me, is basic human decency. I honestly don’t believe Clinton is as bad as everyone makes her out to be. I learned her history, her policies, her political background. She is thoughtful, calm, rational, and thinks through situations. We need that kind of level-headedness in a leader. I wasn’t for her because she’s a woman; I was for her because she was the most qualified candidate. I contributed to her campaign, I debated with people about her policies (and Trumps), I was not silent. So when we wound up where we did last November I was devastated. When Barack Obama was elected for the first time I cried. I was so proud of our country. We had overcome years of racism and oppression and now an African American was our Commander in Chief. A progressive man who believed in basic human rights for all citizens, who believed in healthcare and talking out issues. When Trump was elected I cried for very different reasons. Would my friend lose her healthcare? Would my LGBTQ friends never be able to get married? Would we all get murdered by people who were able to buy guns without background checks? Would we get bombed by another foreign power because Trump pissed them off on Twitter? I was, as many others were: terrified, disappointed, scared, and defeated. Reading Clintons book a lot of those issues came up for me again and I teared up a few times.

The book is long, Clinton is not succinct, she goes through the history of the election, the factors that lead to the way the race was run, and the aftermath of the outcome. I’m not gonna lie some parts were really boring. I had to look up some of the statements she made because I wasn’t sure if they were opinion or fact and I wanted to be sure. I bristled when she criticized Sanders, I laughed when she talked about rueful side-eyes she shared with others at the inauguration. She even went a little bit into the details of Bill’s presidency and opened herself up to the criticism of his time in office. It was a very emotional book and (to use Clintons words) humanizing. I agree with her, it sucks that she has to make herself seem more human; that people don’t just believe she’s capable of emotions. It kind of does show that women have it rough, if we’re too emotional we’re “unfit” because of it, but if we’re too stoic we’re “cold and robotic”… it’s really hard to win with that kind of constant struggle.

In the book Clinton also outlines some of her policy ideas which would have been amazing if implemented. She talks about her faith, The Clinton Foundation, policies (Climate Change, Economy, Russia, NRA, Planned Parenthood) and yes her emails. BUT HER EMAILS. Clinton is charming, open, and likable; and this book broadcasts all of her best traits. I also felt really inspired and motivated after reading it. Yes, things didn’t go as planned, and yes it’s hard to lose to someone who openly assaults women and lies on a daily basis about… everything. But we can keep going and we will. We are strong. We are resilient. And we are a force to be reckoned with. Hillary talks about Pantsuit Nation and the Stronger Together tagline that became a way of life. It feels powerful to be part of something so positive and inspiring.

I was disappointed in my country on Election Day 2016. I’ve had a mounting disdain ever since. This helped me to break through it. Reading Obama’s book late last year helped too; but this was a great way to start off the new year. Knowing Clinton felt what all of us were thinking, and her actually saying it was a relief. Knowing you can lose so unexpectedly and feeling so defeated and still recover and continue being kind and generous and continuing to persevere? That’s inspiring. We need more hope and more inspiration in this country (and in the world) and I’m hoping we can all live our lives a little better because those small changes make a world of difference. (Also I hope to one day see Hillary in the wild).

“In the words of Secretary Clinton: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance in the world to pursue your dreams.” To add to her wise words, let me say, never doubt that you’re durable. You are valuable. You are rare and unique. Let yourself be flawed. Go proudly and confidently into the world with your blinding hues to show everyone who’s boss and break every glass ceiling that still remains.” – Tala Nashawati, Wellsley College Graduation Speech

“Once and For All” – Sarah Dessen

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In Dessen’s latest novel we follow the life of Louna Barrett as she takes on the last summer before college working for her mothers Wedding Planning company. Louna is a bit jaded and more than a little heartbroken after what happened before. She keeps her mind focused on the tasks at hand and chugs along. Her best friend encouraging as always trying to get Louna “back out there”, her mother giving her support and love in her own special way… and then there’s Ambrose. Ladies man and all around pain in the butt. Ambrose wasn’t supposed to be a factor in her summer. He was the son of a client and that was it; when he starts working at the company Louna has to spend a lot more time with him, and her sanity and calm exterior quickly deteriorates. How can she spend a whole summer looking after this guy? Fall can’t come fast enough.

I really enjoyed this book. I’ve read literally every one of Dessen’s books and I always enjoy the way she takes seemingly every day life and makes compelling stories out of it. A friend of mine says that’s my writing style as well and I feel it’s a great compliment. This story went a bit further (though I love, love, love that Colby was in it even though it wasn’t set there). Dessen has dealt with challenging issues before (Eating disorders, death, heart break) but this one I felt hit closer to the collective conscious of the American people. At this troubled time in our society I felt this one brought that extra layer of reality to the novel. At first it’s easy to go “Okay Louna, what do you know about love, you’re 17. Get over it.” but as you learn what happened and as you explore the deeper feelings there your heart breaks with Louna’s. This novel isn’t about Louna and Ambrose. It’s not about a bitter or dramatic young girl. It’s about the very real tragedy of loss.

It is my opinion that there should be more books that deal with real issues like this and in this way; dealing with the aftermath and with the consequences. It’s emotional and depressing but it needs to happen. People need to wake up and be aware and think deeper and more critically. That sounds like a Herculean task but it’s not. Incorporating these kind of powerful prose into young readers lives is so important for our nation to grow and evolve. I applaud authors like Dessen who write real, honest, hard pieces like this.

I say it’s one of Dessen’s better books. While “Lock and Key” will always hold a special place in my heart (and really her entire library is phenomenal) I was not disappointed with her newest addition. Dessen wrote recently that she wasn’t sure she had anything left in her after “Saint Anything” then produced this. I hope Dessen has more in her in the future.

Happy Reading!

“Turtles All The Way Down” – John Green

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“Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.” – John Green Website 2017

As with most John Green books I don’t even know where to begin to sing my praise. I quote Green’s website on the summary because the story has too much going on for me to try and summarize it without going through the entire book; so I’ll leave the summary to Green and his team.

This book was particularly challenging for me because I have this friend, she’s one of my absolute best friends in the whole stupid world, and I felt like I must be reading her life as I read this book. I read each panic attack, each OCD spiral, each depressing thought and my heart just broke, for Aza, for my friend, for Green, for everyone who has to battle their own head. every. day. I felt Aza and Daisy were two of the most relatable characters and I was so happy/sad to be able to have these characters in a book published by a major author. It was normalizing, it was comforting, it was gut wrenching. The raw emotion and the beautiful openness that Green writes with is always poignant and this one really hit the mark with the pure beauty and terror that is the world and humanity.

I liked the plot, however unlikely a scenario. I loved the way Aza interacted with her world, it felt familiar and comforting. I loved the exuberance of Daisy, the determination, the stamina, the pure passion, and hope. I loved the realism of Davis, the fear and the honesty.

The entire basis of the title is one of the most perhaps obvious but also inspiring aspects of the whole book. Turtles all the way down, as explained in the book is the theory that the world is being held up on a Turtles back, and what is that turtle standing on? another turtle, so what is that turtle standing on? … another turtle, you see it’s Turtles All The Way Down. – I love this philosophy. I love the idea of an endless spiral of unanswerable questions. The vastness of not knowing. The true expanse of the unknowable. It’s one of my favorite philosophies and I could talk about it all day to be honest. To connect it to Aza was beautiful and perfect. I love the tightening gyre imagery; as Green wrote about the feeling of shrinking and tightening in on oneself I could feel the anxiety and the tension building. I was living Aza’s panic attacks with her and it hurt and it was so well written and I just wanted to hug Aza and Green and the whole damn world. But I love the hope of the spiral winding up, opening, widening, loosening. I loved the poetry and beauty in this, and that it all connected to Turtles. It was absolutely lovely and heartbreaking.

I still haven’t been shook in my assertion that “Paper Towns” is my favorite John Green book but this book was wonderful and Green is amazing. I highly recommend this book to anyone who feels helpless, hopeless, or trapped in their own bodies. I recommend it to anyone looking for adventure, and that elusive more. I recommend it to anyone with emotions. It’s just a really good book.

The real question though is can Chewbacca love? Let’s discuss.

Happy (?) Reading!