literature

10 (Mostly YA) Books That Changed My Life.

If you’ve been following my blog for even a little while, then you know at least two things about me: I studied English at university and I am the kind of person who will happily lose sleep over characters and plot twists. You see, I’m a lit lover through and through. As such, I owe a lot of what I know and love to the lessens that I’ve learned from printed lines on bound pages, the stories that changed my life.

On that note, here’s to literary game-changers and the marvelous people who create them.

Thank you!

——

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

By the time I graduated from kindergarten in 2000, I was a voracious reader and everybody knew it. But, somehow, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which I didn’t read until 2001, feels like the book that started it all for me. It was the book that made me delve into fantasy and science fiction, the book that gave me a fan community to become immersed in, and the book that taught me how to do life. But, more than anything else, this was the book that led to a series of books that transformed my generation and made us all believe in magic.

Each of Rowling’s characters taught me something about people and the lives we all must lead. In Hermione, I learned that intelligence, loyalty, bravery, feminism, and drive can take you far. In Severus, I learned that everyone can change, some causes are worth living and dying for, and a good person is not necessarily a nice person. In Dumbledore, I learned that pursuing the “greater good” sounds lovely in theory but, people will get hurt along the way (i.e. Ariana and Harry). And, in Harry, I learned that love can change everything.

The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

I haven’t been able to shut up about The Bar Code Tattoo since I ordered it through a Scholastic sale in 2004 when I was 10 years old. I even read a bit from it in a YouTube video because it was “the first book I could get my hands on.” (I totally didn’t edit out the time it took me to find that book in particular…) I have quite literally been blabbing about this book for years—I even got a tweet back from the author after I mentioned the renewed relevance of the “big brother is watching you” plot line in modern-day America.

Ultimately, in the primary character, Kayla (hey, that’s 71% of my first name), I learned to seek the truth with determination and work to create the life I wish to lead. However, as my introduction to dystopian fiction, Weyn is also responsible for teaching me to be aware of the world I live in, to question how today’s decisions will affect tomorrow’s conditions, and to discover my own identity instead of letting my community define me.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

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Uglies is a story with many layers. Mostly obviously, there is snazzy technology à la science fiction and a dystopian world with Big Brother government, which is fascinating and terrifying all at once. Underneath all of that though, there is an ongoing discussion of the big problems that plague humans regardless of time and space: personal identity, individual freedom, and conceptions of beauty. You know how English teachers and professors always tell students to “unpack” or “bleed” the text? I could write a 20+ page paper “unpacking” this story. This tale never comes up empty.

Westerfeld said (through the character of David) that “what you do, the way you think, makes you beautiful,” and that statement resonates with me more every day of my life, particularly as I begin to bridge the gap between being a student and a professional. Whenever I question who I am or what I’m doing, I remember that I’m no different from Uglies and the characters within it—there is a whole world inside of me just waiting to be unpacked.

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

I grew up with a mother who studied psychology. What this means is that I’ve spent my entire life listening to impromptu psych lectures, as well as having all of my choices and ideas psychoanalyzed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly been interesting—as a child it was awe-inspiring because, well, my mother is undeniably a brilliant woman—but, I didn’t truly understand the concept of psychology until I read I Am the Cheese (and The Chocolate War immediately thereafter) around the beginning of middle school.

The psychological journey of Adam (aka Paul) led me to consider the core differences between people and how our experiences can define the past, present, and the future equally. In Cormier’s story (stories, really) I found perspective. As a result, in Adam’s pursuit of his father, I also became closer to my own mother, gaining a better understanding not just of why she would study psychology, but also why she considered her psychology-related knowledge and experiences to be eternally relevant.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

In only 383 pages of print, Dessen tackled familial relationships, eating disorders, sexual assault, anger management, high school dynamics, friendship, and so much more. Then, to make the story all the more important, Dessen showcased the metaphorical power of silence and the human inability to quiet the heart. The story doesn’t rely on a grand setting, a large character collection, or even sublime escapades; instead, the author just conveyed what it means to not think or judge, and instead “just listen” to what your heart is saying.

Music wasn’t precisely the point of this book yet, somehow, this book intrinsically altered my relationship with music. Music was just the tipping point of the lessons this book taught though. Through Annabel, I learned that secrets are heavy to hold, truths can be hard to share, and people are not necessarily the “characters” they portray to the rest of the world. Through Owen, I learned that music can be an escape or a channel, depending on which you need, and the truth should be shared, even if you have to “rephrase and redirect” to get your meaning across.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

For most of my sophomore year of high school, I spent every spare second I had in the library or reading a novel in an empty classroom. I carried a veritable library of ARCs in my backpack and I talked publishing with my journalism teacher (who became my yearbook supervisor). In the midst of that odd situation, I discovered the then-newly-published novel Paper Towns by John Green. I loved that book like it bled and breathed, but mostly I loved the world it opened me up to in its fleeting references: Walt Whitman’s poetic skill and the utterly intoxicating “Song of Myself.”

Whitman spent 400 poems trying to define and describe life before ultimately coming to the conclusion that people are large and “contain multitudes.”  In the sage conclusions of a long-dead man and in that time of intense personal growth, Whitman’s words enabled me to be comfortable with being a bit “odd,” living life like a “dance” when the “fit” of change was “whirling me fast.” Not to mention, it was Whitman’s poetic encouragement to explore one’s self that led me to create a blog called “mylifeinverse” or “my life in verse,” despite the fact that I don’t generally write poetry.

The Confessions of St. Augustine by St. Augustine

In this single book, often touted as a building block of the Christian faith, St. Augustine managed to make absolutely everything in life—every experience, every thought, every desire—seem like a mortal sin. More than any other book I’ve ever read, Confessions pissed me off and made me wish for a time machine so that I could go back to ancient times and deliver a punch in the face to the author. It was simply infuriating to see an author turn life overall into something so thoroughly ugly in the name of defending religion and ethics.

Despite all of that, St. Augustine’s Confessions taught me about the manipulative power of religions (not that all religions are manipulative), the diversity of moral and ethical systems, the tedium of entirely introspective and self-deprecatory works, and the ability of authors to make readers feel like they’re being castigated. That being said, this is the only book I have ever thrown away—quite literally, it went into the trash bin—and I don’t even feel guilty about it.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Susan Cain rose to fame as a self-proclaimed “public introvert” who utilized her incredibly astute observations about her own nature to tell the world (in a TED talk) about the superpowers of introverts and bring about positive vibes regarding the more “quiet” portion of the population. Where the majority of self-help and introspective self-analytical literature characterize introversion as something one must compensate for by adopting the seemingly superior characteristics of extroverts, Cain successfully presented introverts and extroverts as separate but equal.

As a young woman just finishing up my undergraduate degree and an undeniable introvert, Quiet spoke to my experiences with and worries about existing in a predominantly extrovert-positive world. I wouldn’t be nearly as confident about the very real and very necessary role I can fill in a work environment—particularly in the extrovert-oriented career field I’m aiming for—if I had not read this book at precisely the time that I did.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Just like The Bar Code Tattoo trilogy and Uglies trilogy, Divergent is the first novel in a dystopian trilogy with a badass female main character and slightly less important, but amusing and often game-changing, minor male characters. There are certainly strong feelings of girl power in Tris’ gradual and hard-fought transformation from the meek and compliant person others want her to be to the curious and brave person she truly is “on the inside.” And, well, what 21-year-old young woman doesn’t need a bit more girl power in her life?

Throughout my life I’ve always been told to “be myself” and “live for me” but, it wasn’t until I read Divergent that I began to understand that who you are can change, whether through sheer force of will or evolutionary circumstances, and you’re no less you for changing. Tris made me excited to transform from what I was as a child and a teenager, by upbringing or some sort of default, and become who I want to be. In that character I found the courage to make myself new while always remembering the past.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

If someone wrote a story about my first year of university, it would read much like Cath’s tale of college confusion, without the lovely (yet delightfully and realistically flawed) boy, twin sister, and supportive roommate. In essence, my first year of university, during which I lived on campus for a semester, was a roller coaster of success and failure, topped with discomfort regarding my degree choice and a complete inability to engage with people my age. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience until I reevaluated the situation, charted a new course, and started (sort of) fresh…just like Cath.

Rainbow Rowell provided me with someone who was comfortingly familiar, who struggled and learned to carry on in the same ways that I did as a new university student. This darling author and her characters validated my love of fan culture and fanfiction, reassuring me that fanfiction is real fiction and there is a beautiful community filled with wonderful people who enjoy being fans just as much as I do. Even more importantly, Cath taught me that, in being my awkward and untraditional self, I’m not losing out on anything but instead finding my own, different adventures.

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If you’re feeling talkative, comment below with the books (YA or otherwise) that have changed your life!

Zac & Mia by A. J. Betts: A Book Review.

I’ve read a lot of books about sick people–fiction, nonfiction, the grey space in between–but, I’ve also witnessed sickness. I’ve heard lungs catch and breathes stop. I’ve felt the weakness of atrophying muscles. I’ve seen the red of a central line being removed. You see, sickness is a monster and, for all the knowledge you can have about it, it is facing it first-hand or alongside another that makes the ultimate impact.

When I was selected through Netgalley to read and review Zac & Mia by A. J. Betts, I was prepared for a watered-down version of sickness. Authors often seem too wary of the “delicate and impressionable” minds of young adults to do stories of sickness any justice, and the stories and their readers suffer because of it. In short, I was expecting a pretty inaccurate and mildly insulting portrayal; however, I’m happy to admit that that was not what I found during my reading.

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Within the pages of Zac & Mia, I found something painful and broken, yet altogether believable. It would seem that, despite its packaging as a young adult novel and my own fears of encountering the usual “sick-lit” cliches, this book presents something that someone who knows sickness can read without scoffing. It is undeniably the work of someone who has been touched by sickness, so perhaps it is fitting then that I read all 306 pages of this book while visiting my own mother at UF Health Shands Hospital.

To set the scene, imagine the methodical clicking of a morphine pump, the white-noise hum of a television with the volume turned down low, the low hissing of air blowing through an old grate. Imagine the sharp scent of alcohol and sanitizers, the deceptive flickering of shadows gliding by the bottom of the door, the feel of worn leather sticking to your legs. Imagine bruised skin, shallow breathes, weary eyes, weak limbs, rough speech, painful movements, nurses’ interruptions, doctors’ sighs, and my mothers’ chronic inability to remain conscious.

If nothing else, the stage was set.

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Zac is the quintessential good guy from a farm town who had the bad luck of getting stuck with myeloid leukemia. He knows his odds–55% chance of living five years without relapse–and he knows the odds of his fellow cancer ward residents. What Zac doesn’t know if how to truly communicate with the only other person in the ward who is his age–a moody teenage girl named Mia.

Mia is the ultimate city girl, used to parties, formals, and hundreds of facebook friends; however, she doesn’t know how to deal with osteosarcoma, and she is not so keen to try when ignoring her condition and treatment seems to be going so well. If she’d just listen, she would realize that she has the best odds of them all–90% even on her worst day. But, how can numbers matter when you feel otherwise?

The collision course that Zac and Mia set out upon after their initial meeting is essentially a “slice of life” portrayal of living with and after sickness. There is chemistry and romance, but this is not a love story. There is sickness and poor health, but this is not a scientific depiction. There is hope and, at its heart, this is a brilliant story of survival, desire, and courage. However, the beauty and uniqueness of this story is truly in the details.

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It’s in the uncomfortable and awkward questions that nurses must ask and family will overhear. It’s in the tests that must be done and redone in fear of and preparation for recurrence. It’s in the fragile hope of a mother who does word puzzles by her son’s bedside and brings new patients’ family members’ a cup of tea. It’s in the complicated request of a mother to a doctor to save her girl in spite of everything. It’s in the comfort of an answering knock on the other side of a beige wall. It’s in the fear of impending doom and the struggle to find the will to fight.

It’s in the honesty with which Betts describes sickness. As someone who has watched over their mother from childhood, someone who has acted as a nurse and a doctor and a friend and a daughter, this book resonated in a way that many “sick-lit” novels do not and perhaps cannot. Despite the fact that I am not sick and my mother’s sickness seemingly involves everything except cancer, I found my kindred in Zac, Mia, and their creator. There was a familiarity in the story that was simultaneously upsetting and comforting.

On a scale of one to five, I award this book four stars because it was realistic, honest, and it approached sickness with a level of understanding that I can only compare to the works of Lurlene McDaniel. I could not, in good faith, award this book five stars because (*spoiler alert*) the number of time jumps quickly became annoying and mildly detracted from the movement of the plot, rather than speeding or propelling it along (*spoiler over*). Overall, I felt that it was a well-executed story that delved into sensitive subjects with care and compassion.

I do not agree with the comparisons to John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars or Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park because I feel like that is comparing apples to oranges. Green’s and Rowell’s works are amazing and I enjoyed reading them, truly; however, neither had the sheer authenticity and realism of this book. Perhaps that is something only someone who has been repeatedly touched by sickness can understand and appreciate though, and I do not know that the untouched will recognize or feel its resonance quite so clearly.

I would recommend Zac & Mia to anyone over the age of 14 who is interested in a truthful (yet still fictional) story that does not sugarcoat or glaze over the realities of sickness, mortality, and navigating life’s many plot twists. There are some mentions of topics of a sexual nature and the blunt discussion of death is nothing to dismiss, so I would be wary of allowing younger readers to delve into this novel unless their maturity level is particularly high for their age.

Anyone interested in learning more about A. J. Betts, her experience as a long-term hospital English teacher, her other literary works, and her guiding principles in life, should check out her facebook page, twitterwebsite, TEDx talk (“Why I Collect Shopping Lists”), this radio interview, and this article about “sick-lit.” Although I don’t know her personally, Betts seems like a wonderful person and I cannot wait to see what else she may write in the future. Cheers, readers!

(Disclaimer: I received this book through NetGalley’s Feed Your Readers program for Professional Readers in exchange for an honest review. The review I submitted to Netgalley has been posted here, verbatim.) 

Accepting My Inner Hermione Granger.

From the very first time I picked up a Harry Potter book, I related to and adored the character of Hermione Granger. She’s intelligent, driven, focused, and dedicated, yet she is also awkward in social situations, fearful of failure, obsessive in her projects, and annoying in her relentless rule-following.

It seems that, for every reason she is likable, she is insufferable. There is a definite yin and yang within her personality. Just as she is someone you think you could be or already are, she is someone you wouldn’t necessarily want to know. Through these contradictions and complexities, Hermione became a stabilizer among characters like proud blood-traitor Ronald Weasley and fearless boy-who-lived Harry Potter.

In essence, Rowling wrote Hermione so profoundly that an intangible character became a finite human being that many of us can see ourselves in.

 

However, despite my genuine love of all things Hermione and continual defense of her necessity in the overall plot, I never before realized how thoroughly I connect with one particular aspect of her personality and practices: her incessant desire to learn, to know, and to understand.

While the boys wonder about the name “Nicholas Flamel,” Hermione pursues his record through the ancient tomes and dusty pages of a library that contains information well beyond her year.

When the pink toad known as Dolores Umbridge removes any trace of learning from Defense Against the Dark Arts curriculum, paving the way for the Dark Lord Voldemort, Hermione incites a desire to learn among her peers and, as a result, a full-fledged rebellion.

After horcrux-deluded Ron abandons she and Harry, Hermione reads and re-reads the only books available to her–Albus Dumbledore’s biography and The Tales of Beedle the Bard–until the next step on the quest becomes apparent.

Greater knowledge, man, it’s worth pursuing. Hermione proves it.

Academia and learning were where Hermione succeeded above all others. (We will just ignore the “Harry and the Half-Blood Prince’s perfectly annotated book” incidents.) Books and cleverness are dominant aspects of who she is and everyone knows it.

At every turn, it was Hermione’s intellect that helped herself, the boys, and her other classmates on their way, no matter how much they grumbled about her studying and hand-raising. Her intelligence and logic were as valuable as Harry’s heroism and Ron’s loyalty, if not more so in certain situations.

The truth of the matter though, is that while Hermione wanted to learn, she also desperately needed to learn. She was a young woman who woke up one day to a new world that, while beautiful and complex, did not wholeheartedly want her to exist within it. As such, Hermione sought to empower herself in the ways that seemed most natural to her: studying and learning.

It wasn’t until last week, amid responding to an email from my new graduate studies advisor, that I realized that I have sought to empower myself in the same ways. Apparently, without realizing it, I’ve become, or quite possibly have always been, a Hermione Granger.

Of course, as moments of clarity are want to be, the whole situation felt a bit absurd at first. If you’ve ever been fitted for glasses and experienced the sudden realization that the world looks different from what your eyes alone have allowed you to see up to that point, then you understand my meaning. It’s the experience of finally seeing the clear image that has always existed before your own blurry eyes.

You see, I’m still on an extended RV trip with my family and I just wanted to have the “graduate advising hold” removed from my account so that I could register for classes later this year. But, being more than 2,000 miles from home means I’m not exactly available to do the whole “don a pretty dress, worry over finding a parking space, search out the office that I’ve somehow never noticed before, smile big, and make small talk” routine with an advisor.

Luckily, the advisor for my graduate program was kind enough to run me through the routine via email, minus all of the typical rigmarole. He began by covering all of the simple yet important details that I will probably forget and relearn at least twice before the semester starts. Then he set in with the questions. What is my educational background? What about professional? Why did I choose this program? Have I taken undergraduate statistics? Am I prepared for graduate school?

Oh. Oh goodness. There is a special kind of anxiety that is reserved for instances of simply not knowing quite how to answer questions. It’s awful and terribly disconcerting to say the very least.

I then found myself writing what quickly became less of an email and more of an unintentionally egotistical essay filled with “buts.”

Yes, I attended these universities, but I attended them in this order. I took these classes, but I studied these subjects in-depth as “a bit of light reading.” I feel this way, but I also feel like this. As I struggled to explain why a person with a B.A. in English would want to delve into criminal justice, why I had already begun to do so, a “but” slid into every too-long-and-too-detailed paragraph. For every stated fact there was some seemingly necessary addendum.

At the same time, every statement about myself felt absurd. I know that graduating two years early and studying extra subjects for fun sound like lies of the kiss-up, trying-to-impress variety. I know that purposely picking a foreign topic to study at the graduate level sounds incredibly ridiculous. Despite knowing those things, both notions are true in terms of who I am and what I’ve done.

Still, who is going to buy my truth when it smells strongly of baloney?

I had to question the entire situation. What do you do when the truth sounds like a series of lies, and you don’t want to lie to make the truth sound truthful? The only conclusion I’ve come to is that you just stop. You stop worrying. You throw caution to the wind. You let the admissions counselor judge you, critique you, and come to some half-arsed conclusion if it makes him feel good. You give up on appealing to others and fitting yourself into expectations, preconceived ideas. Maybe, just maybe, you realize the truth.

You realize that you’re a Hermione Granger, and that’s completely okay. Okay?

It’s perfectly fine to be something that sounds false as long as it isn’t actually. The truth is what matters, plain and simple, not how the truth sounds. Who you are and what you do are worthwhile and essential to a balanced world. There must be a Hermione for every Harry, Ron, Neville, Seamus, Luna, Severus, Minerva, Dumbledore, and so on and so forth.

It’s alright to be the brains, the student, the autodidact. Having knowledge is half the journey to understanding. Just don’t forget that there will always be something you don’t know or understand, and that is why you must keep trying, keep living. Learn, grow, and know as much as you like. Dismiss the “tone of surprise.”

Ron (by way of the wonderful HP Queen Jo) once commented on Hermione, saying her philosophy was “when in doubt, go to the library.” I’m come to realize that I believe and do the same thing because, as a much older man, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, once said, “the scholar and the world” are together in “the love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books.”

If you’re like me, if you’re a Hermione, embrace it. You’ll be glad you did.

Without further adieu, if you ever have to explain who you are, narrowing your whole being into one measly message, do not feel ashamed, fraudulent, or confused. All the words you’ve read will be insufficient to describe you. You’re just a Hermione Granger–one of a large community of insufferable know-it-alls–and there is nothing “just” or “merely” about any of us.

(“Hermione Reads Before Bed” by Lorena Garcia, fan artist)

 

Courting Classic Literature.


(Source: La liseuse by Jean-Jacques Henner)

Hark, something is afoot. Wilt ye lend me thine ear? Oh, do not fret–tis not a matter of great weight, but tis a fullsome subject worthy of note. Friend, I shall address classic literature, of which time hath wrought much to discuss. I beseech thee: trow thine language, reflect upon what thou hast read…

Now that you’re having violent flashbacks to reading Romeo and Juliet in school and scrambling for No Fear Shakespeare, I’ll cease speaking like I have a time machine. (Although, I wish I did have a time machine; I would give the Doctor a run for his timelord money.)

ANYWAYS…

In case it wasn’t clear in mixed-period English, I’ve been delving into classic literature lately. Alright, alright, I saw that flinch; please, just give me a chance to explain.

I studied English and I’m an unrepentant book fiend, but with all of that said, I still didn’t get classic lit until about six months ago. So, after my TAMUCT courses forced me to read enough of it to fill a small library and the lightbulb finally flicked on, I got a bit excited.

Don’t misunderstand: before college I read a few classics. I fangirled over On the Road, loved watching my senior English teacher act out Hamlet, and used a bisexual flag to represent Whitman for “book in a bag.” But, I didn’t stop hiding in the young-adult lit section and learn to love the classics until college.

After all the old English fear, I can now quote Austen and my bookshelves are a bit beyond burgeoning. That’s what brings us to this post.

You see, as a relatively new classic lit lover, I feel that I need to declare my love, rom-com style. Since holding a boombox outside my love’s window is logistically impossible, this blog post is my declaration…and also my encouragement of everyone to be a bit more, shall we say, polyamorous with the lit they love.

Give me just a couple minutes and maybe you’ll want to disappear into Austenland or wish you could befriend a dead poet…

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In general, there are two objections to classic lit: it is hard to read and it is boring/irrelevant. Well…

It may be difficult at first to get used to older language and styles, but there is a lot buried within all of those thee’s and thou’s.

For starters, Shakespeare has some of the most blatantly sexual and legitimately amusing scenes that I’ve ever read (*cough* Shakespeare, Sonnet 151 *cough*). Plus, Shakespeare has so many brilliant insults and dismissals.Wouldn’t you feel smooth if you called someone a “scurvy companion” (Henry IV, Part 2) or said someone’s “abilities were too infant-like for doing much alone” (Coriolanus)?

Plus, if Eric in Boy Meets World can act out Shakespeare, the least you can do is read some of it!

Let’s also not forget the great moments within other works like Don Quixote and A Modest Proposal though. I mean, Jonathan Swift responded to poverty by sarcastically suggesting that people sell and consume small children…what’s not to enjoy?

But, in the end, if the language is a problem, annotated editions are your friend.

As far as objections to the old-fashioned or “boring” plots in classic lit go, I have to say that is merely a false impression of the genre.

The Great Gatsby is about love, money, and the Jazz Age, with a storyline full of excessive partying, maudlin observations, and tragic deaths.

1984 deals with omnipresent government control, personal freedom, and the past, or essentially being tired of pretending that everything is peachy keen.

The Canterbury Tales follows a group of people headed to the same place for different reasons. Think of it as an old Love, Actually (2003) or Valentine’s Day (2010).

And, let’s not even get that far into The Odyssey. It has war, creatures, and heroism. Plus, most people don’t even realize that dozens of the most popular video games, shows, and movies were based upon it.

Precisely what part of all of that sounded uninteresting and irrelevant? Nothing, it is all amazing! Those books/collections are all amazing!

In essence,

No matter what you’ve previously been told, classic lit is enjoyable, relevant, and quite entertaining. Books transcend time and those within the classic lit genre are no exception. That’s precisely why I’m courting classic lit and calling you all to do the same.

If the Doctor offered to take you to another planet, wouldn’t you go? Of course!

Books are

So, why not take a trip by cracking open a new, old one?

——

Have I convinced you yet? Well, if anyone decides to venture into the classic lit world, or has already discovered it (you sir or madam, are a smart duck), let me know. Perhaps we can have a chat and start a ship war–I’m happily sailing Katherine/Petruchio, Emma Woodhouse/Mr. George Knightley, and Fanny/Edmund. Or, we can just have virtual tea and become Goodreads friends, it’s your choice.

Regardless, best of luck in the world of literature and always remember:

Note:

The introductory paragraph of literary torture–I mean, fun–via mixed-period English was brought to you by this delightful little resource: I Bequeath Thee.

Also, the inspiration for this post and my newfound appreciation of classic literature was this wonderful little lit-nerd tidbit: Disgruntled English Major.

My YA Life in Book Titles Survey

Hello dearies! University has really been eating up my time, but I wanted to post another survey that I found over at The Perpetual Page Turner. Essentially, you think about who you were as a teenager and answer the questions in book titles of books you’ve read. Its really fun to do, especially if you have shelves of books or a Goodreads page to scroll through. Enjoy!

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You

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  • How would you describe your 16 year old self: Bright Purple: Color Me Confused
  • When You Looked Into The Mirror What Did You See: Uglies
  • Your 16 year old self’s outlook on life/motto: Can’t Get There From Here < I was totally a “glass half full” kind of chick. >
  • How You Think People Would Describe Your Personality: Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd 
  • Describe An Insecurity In High School: The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things
  • Describe Your Worst Trait As A Teen: Bad Connection < I was awful with people my own age. I’d babble about fanfiction, forums, and books, while everyone just stared…okay, maybe only some people stared. >
  • Describe the contents of your diary/journal: Freaks and Revelations
  • Your biggest Fear: Pushing the Limits < It sounds silly now, but I was terrified of doing too much, being too much, and going too far. Like, in anything and everything. >
  • You excelled at: How Not to Be Popular < Not a complaint, just a fact that I quite liked. >
  • You were always concerned about: The Rise and Fall of a Tenth Grade Social Climber < Please, someone, explain the social hierarchy of high school. I understood it about as well as a German listening to a Russian talk about tea. >
  • You Thought Your Life Was: Elsewhere <It was always about the future, yo! >

Love Life

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  • How would you sum up your high school love life: Along for the Ride < I was very much the “what in the world is going on” type. >
  • Describe your most serious boyfriend from high school: Empty
  • Describe your first kiss: Notes on a Near-Life Experience < It was one of those things where it kinda happened and it was kinda awful, so let’s just pretend it totally didn’t happen. >
  • Your philosophy on dating/love: Something Like Fate
  • Describe Your Worst Break Up: So Yesterday < Why relive a bad moment, I’m so over it haha. >

 

Family

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  • Your relationship with your mom as a teen: Allegiant < She was/is very much the “come to your defense without provocation” type. >
  • Your relationship with your dad as a teen: Just Ask < He was/is very much the “silent but supportive” type. >
  • Your relationship with a sibling: Far From You < He dropped off the map around the time I realized card stock was way cooler than construction paper, and that baking was better than cutting play food out of paper, so he’s missing out, man! I’m a genius with card stock and baking now. >
  • What you thought about your parents rules/parenting style: The Unwritten Rule

 

Friends

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  • Describe you and your best friend at 16: What Happened to Goodbye
  • Your Social Status: Dreamland < I was the listener or therapist among my friends, so I spent a lot of time trouncing about in my and other people’s heads. >
  • Describe Your Group Of Friends: Extras < Island of misfit toys, anyone? >

 

School

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  • Your Perception Of High School Upon Entering: Soul Harvest < Yeah, I wasn’t a fan. >
  • Your relationship with academics: Perfect Chemistry < Academia, I was good at…the other people participating in academia, not so much. >
  • Your Weekends Were: Ballads of Suburbia
  • If Your High School Life Was A Movie It would be called: I Am the Wallpaper < I was incredibly happy to be a wallflower socially and a teacher’s pet otherwise. >
  • A Class You Wish High School Would Have Offered: The Truth About Forever < Philosophy! >
  • Your Senior Year Was: My Most Excellent Year
  • Describe prom: It’s Kind of a Funny Story < Friends, annoying people, way too many seniors bringing freshman dates, and cinnamon twists. >
  • When High School Ended It Was: The Call of the Wild < College, baby! >

 

The Future

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  • How You Felt About The Prospect of College: Becoming Me
  • How You Thought Your Life Would Be At 20 (insert whatever age you are now): Come Alive < I was a bit over zealous and optimistic about how different life would be at this point. >

 

Your Life Now

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  • Describe Your Love Life: Fangirl < I’m in love with characters, places, and whole fandoms…my actual love life is radio silence. >
  • Describe The State Of Your Friendship With Your High School BFF: Chain Reaction < This refers to multiple people, so we’re all just adjusting in the fallout of growing up. >
  • Your Relationship With Your Parents Now: Every Day < Like most relationships, it’s one day at a time and a lot of conscious choices. >
  • Your Thoughts On Your High School Reunion (either if you had it or if it’s upcoming): The Time Machine < I’m not so sure how I feel about a reunion yet. I’m still in the “it’s over!” stage. >
  • Biggest Lesson You Learned In High School: Cracked Up to Be < Basically, in my experience, if you stop worrying about everything high school was supposed to be, and just experience it as it comes, then high school is a lot better. >
  • One Thing You WISHED You Had Learned: The Rules of Survival < It really frustrates me how much  schools fail to teach students when it comes to skills and everyday adult tasks. I was lucky with my parents’ practical teaching, but a lot of people weren’t. >
  • Advice You Wish You Could Have Given Your Teen Self: Chill: Stress-Reducing Techniques for a More Balanced, Peaceful You < Simmer down now, young one. >
  • Something You Could Learn From Your 16 Year Old Self: Honey, Baby, Sweetheart < For the love of all that is literary, I really need to remember to be nice and semi-affectionate to new and old people instead of just the people I’ve known forever. >

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Let me know some of your answers in the comments!

A to Z Bookish Survey.

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I recently came across a version of THIS reader survey by The Perpetual Page Turner while reading a blog tour post on THIS site about MY FORMER TEACHER‘s new novel. It seemed like a really fun and simple blog topic, so I thought I would give it a try. I hope you enjoy my answers and feel free to answer it yourself!

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Author you’ve read the most books from:

Back in eighth and ninth grade, when I was a weepy little 13-year-old, I loved novels that took readers and sent them on emotional roller coasters, so I read just about every novel Lurlene McDaniel had ever written. Note: my bookish masochism has not gone away. McDaniel, publish more, please?

Best sequel ever:

Do not let the reviews of this woman’s works fool you, Override by Heather Anastasiu, is a perfect follow-up to Glitch. In some ways, I would even say that it is a better book than the first because it really steps up the action and makes readers settle in for the long haul.

Currently reading:

The last semester of my undergrad degree has officially begun and coursework is eating my life. So, I’m currently reading The Art of Democracy: A Concise History of Popular Culture in the United States by Jim Cullen.

Drink of choice while reading:

Agua, eau, wasser, uisce! In other words, water.

E-reader or physical book:

I definitely prefer reading a physical book. I mean, you completely miss out on the old and new book smells if you use an e-reader.

Fictional character you probably would have actually dated in high school:

Without a doubt, I would have dated David from Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy. He’s adventurous and natural, but also intuitive and contemplative. What’s not to like?

Glad you gave this book a chance:

The Christy Miller Collection (and the companion trilogy, Christy and Todd: College Years) by Robin Jones Gunn was really an example of me taking a chance on a book. At the time I read it, I was fresh out of Catholic school, and even though I didn’t detest religion, I was really reluctant to allow any more discussion of it into my life. When I finally picked up Christy Miller’s story, I just couldn’t put it down again. Christy and Todd are such addictive characters and

Hidden gem book:

I haven’t actually seen this book mentioned much in the blogosphere and it definitely should be. Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin is a truly incredible story of two teenagers finding their own ways amid the sexual revolution of the 1980s. When you consider that the story is inspired by the true story of interactions between Matthew Boger and Timothy Zaal it simply becomes all the more extraordinary. I have yet to see another book that speaks about the effects of hate crimes, prejudice, and discrimination in such a vivid and beautiful way.

Important moment in your reading life:

Reading Just Listen by Sarah Dessen for the first time way back in my freshman year of high school was a big thing for me. I think I needed that book as much as it needed me.

Just finished:

Someone, please, read Reached by Ally Condie. I need to fangirl with someone!

Kinds of books you won’t read:

I will read almost anything from self-help books to science fiction, but I just cannot stand nature photography books. I get so restless paging through books that are just filled with pictures! There’s nothing wrong with photography and I love physical photo albums, but I have no patience for books filled with sunrises and landscapes.

Longest book you’ve read:

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. 1,463 pages of awesome.

Major book hangover because of:

The Mortal Instruments: City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare. How am I suppose to deal with an ending like that? Gah! I needed the next book at least 5 hours ago.

Number of bookcases you own:

Technically I have 1 bookcase and 1 entertainment center for books in my room, but my books are actually spread all over the house. At least if a book thief ever pops in, they can’t get to them all in one fell swoop!

One book you have read multiple times:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. I may have, kind of, sort of, seriously, read that book more than 20 times since it was published. I may have also read “The Prince’s Tale” alone at least double that amount.

Preferred place to read:

I actually love reading somewhere that isn’t quiet or peaceful, like the living room with my family, a hospital cafeteria, or a park. But, at the same time, I don’t want anyone to actually talk to me while I’m reading. Sorry!

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read:

“In the absence of real thunder, he’s making his own” (Ally Condie, Matched).

Reading regret:

I wish I hadn’t let college courses get in the way of my book reviewing. 21 course hours this semester and frequent book reviewing is totally possible, right? RIGHT?

Series you started and need to finish (all books are out in series):

Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz

Three of your all-time favorite books:

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (It’s technically a poetry collection, but, I’m going to be stubborn, claim it as a book, and stick my tongue out at anyone who disagrees.)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

Unapologetic fangirl for:

Divergent by Veronica Roth…err, well, actually, the whole of the Divergent trilogy and the accompanying short stories. Dauntless for the win!

Very excited for this release more than all the others:

I am indescribably excited for the release of Allegiant by Veronica Roth. I need to know what is outside of the fence!

Worst bookish habit:

I’m awful about not noticing the world while I’m reading! If I’m reading a good book, I’m pretty sure an earthquake, hurricane, and sharknado could happen, and the only think I might do is grip my book tighter so it wouldn’t get pulled away.

X marks the spot–start at the top left of your book shelf and pick the 27th book:

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier is the 27th book on my shelf, but it is much higher on my favorites list! Cormier does an excellent job of delving into the world of psychology, while still writing the book at a level that can be understood by almost any age group.

Your latest book purchase:

The History and Theory of Rhetoric by James Herrick. Okay, so maybe it was a textbook purchase, but I’m having a “first day of school mental hangover,” so my memory is unwilling to go any further back to remember my last fun reading purchase.

Zzz-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):

Requiem by Lauren Oliver. I could not handle the feels, so sleep was not allowed to come between the conclusion of that trilogy and I.

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If any of you do the survey as well, I would love to read what you write. Post the linkage in the comments. Cheers!

Over 15 In Under An Hour: Book Reviews.

In an ode to what this blog use to be, as well as the ridiculous number of books I have read over the past couple weeks, I am going to be doing 16 quick book reviews in as little time as possible. 1, 2, 3, go!

Every Day by David Levithan

5 out of 5

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Told from the viewpoint of A, a gender nonspecific soul or entity that lives in another body every day, David Levithan unfolds a tale that proves how vital memories to existence, the ways in which uncertainty and constant fluidity can affect the psyche, and the complexity of human relationships. The book is well written, simple to follow, and truly causes the reader to question the importance we place upon arbitrary events and ideas each day. I cannot find words that can truly describes the depth of human emotion that this book portrays and brings out in the reader.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

5 out of 5

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If you have been on the Internet the past few years, and most particularly on Tumblr, then you know that hearing about this book (the first of a series) has been unavoidable. Personally, I avoided reading it for quite some time simply because the fans grated on my nerves. However, now that I have read it, I entirely understand the excitement over every word Cassandra Clare has written. In City of Bones, Clare develops a world in which vampires, werewolves, demon hunters, fay, warlocks, and so many more creatures exist in plain sight, yet without anyone outside of the world itself truly being able to see. The primary character, Clary, has been part of this world since birth but she has not seen it until now. City of Bones follows Clary’s discovery of this second world that envelops her more obvious and mundane one, and how those two worlds will come to be intertwined. Overall, the book is well written, holds a storyline that is absolutely enthralling, and leaves you wanting more.

Matched by Ally Condie

5 out of 5

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In the Society, mathematics and science decide almost everything. Who you marry, what work you do, where you live, and even who will be your family and friends. Once those things are established, the Society follows your every movement and decision, breaking you down into a statistics and tracking you through their findings. When main character Cassia has her Matching ceremony, where she is to learn who she will marry, something goes wrong (or rather right) and more than one face appears as her match. This leads Cassia to question her character as well as that of others, as well as to progressively rebel against the rigid structure of the society. This book suggests an interesting yet not unheard of idea of a society in which emotions are rejected as having been the downfall of previous societies. I score this book so highly simply because, for an overdone plot line, it truly felt like a new idea while reading. The character of Cassia is complex, like most people, and that makes her very relatable. As well, there is Cassia’s absolutely human quality of self-doubt and confusion that is often missing in other young adult novels. I cannot wait to read the next book in this series.

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen

4 out of 5

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I have a bit of a soft spot for books set in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and this book hit me right in that spot. Quite honestly, the novel gets off to a slow start and I considered putting it down before I had even really begun; however, if you truly allow your mind the freedom of immersing yourself in the upper class of early nineteenth century New York City and all that that lifestyle included, you begin to enjoy it more than ever. The Luxe opens with the funeral of Elizabeth Holland before jumping backward to explain how such an event came to take place. Through this tale, Godbersen addresses the standards and behaviors of upper class society, the idea of familial loyalty, and frequent the necessity of lies in order to live life well. While I will not yet commit to reading the second book in the series as the plot line moved along at a snails place, I might find myself drawn to it simply to enjoy the setting once again.

Everneath by Brodi Ashton

5 out of 5

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Nikki Beckett has spent a century in the Everneath; however, to the people she use to know on the Surface, only 6 months have passed.  In a modern retelling of the Greek myths surrounding Persephone and Hades, Brodi Ashton successfully translates myth into reality and leaves readers in rapt anticipation of the promised continuation of the trilogy. The characters are generally believable and complex as humans always are, and the overall plot calls to mind questions of where the line between fact and fiction actually lies within myths and fairy tales. Even as the plot becomes more complicated and the dark side to each character becomes apparent, readers will surely find themselves wishing that they could be part of the action.

Where the Truth Lies by Jessica Warman

3 out of 5

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Boarding school. Young love and lust. Poor grades. Unexplained night terrors. At first glance, this novel seems to be the perfect setup for the average young adult love story, and in the first half of the novel, it fulfills that cliché to a T. However, after quite a bit of typical romance and teenager confusion, the plot truly takes off and questions begin to develop about the main character, Emily Meckler’s, life views, plans, and overall background. I was entirely disappointed in Warman’s inability to tie all aspects of the plot together in order to make a cohesive book; however, the plot did keep me interested enough to read until the last page. I would not recommend the book unless you want a slow and possibly bad introduction to the world of young adult mystery novels.

Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas

4 out of 5

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Written in free/blank verse and spanning over 200 pages, Because I Am Furniture broached the topics of obvious child abuse as well as abuse by way of absolute neglect. The main character, Anke, is the youngest of three children and lives with her mother and father. Anke’s father is physically and sexually abusive to both her older brother and older sister; however, he does not even seem to notice her own existence. Throughout the book, Anke deals with the emotions surrounding her abuse by way of neglect and struggles with the knowledge that she recognizes her father’s crimes but feels that she can do nothing to prevent them. Although I am not usually a fan of blank verse novels, simply because they tend to ramble on, I enjoyed this book and appreciated its abrupt and to the point writing style. Chaltas was definitely not afraid to write exactly what she meant rather than hiding all meaning beneath veils of pointless imagery and metaphors. I cannot see myself reading it again, but if you are prepared for an emotional journey and unafraid to face the darker aspects of being human, I would wholeheartedly suggest it as a quick read.

Incarnate by Jodi Meadows

5 out of 5

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Ana lives in a world where everyone is a reincarnation of a soul that has existed for thousands of years. That is, everyone except her. When Ana was born, her soul was entirely new, and the soul that should have been reincarnated into her body simply ceased to exist. To some, that makes her a No Soul, and to others a New Soul. This book follows Ana as she attempts to unravel the mystery behind her own existence with a little help from a kind old soul known to her as Sam. The aspect that intrigued me most about this book was that I have never seen something written about reincarnation that was so believable. From the very first page you want Ana to find some assurance of her existence and you want to defend her against every evil that crosses her path. Your heart truly beat and bleeds for Ana. I get attached to characters, but this sort of attachment was on a whole other level and I will stick by her until Meadows brings the trilogy to the very end.

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

5 out of 5

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Okay, I have to retract what I just said. I got attached to McGarry’s characters of Echo and Noah as well. Essentially, Echo was involved in a family tragedy her sophomore year of high school. After she returns to school with both mental and physical scars of a tragedy that she cannot fully remember, her old relationships and friendships become either seriously stressed or entirely disintegrate. Echo is desperate to remember the event that her mind was so desperate to forget. At the same time, the character of Noah has been dealing with his own issues. Freshman year his parents were killed in a home fire and, as a result, he and his two younger brothers have been living in foster care. Most significantly, they are in separate foster care and Noah is desperate to reunite the only family he knows. As both Echo and Noah navigate their lives in the aftermath of terrible tragedy, they grow together and learn to rely on each other. Unlike many books in the genre, these two face problems from every angle and it led some realism to the overall relationship. The plot itself was no far stretch from real life and thus made it easier to emotionally connect to these characters that life had so fiercely attempted to break. I am not one to cry easily or frequently and this book made me do exactly that. There are sexual references, some cursing, and other such teenage and life instances, so I would not recommend this book to people who are not mature enough to face those realities.

Guitar Notes by Mary Amato

5 out of 5

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No matter how much I try not to, I cannot help but compare this book and it’s style to that of every John Green book I have ever read. Told from the alternating views of Lyla and Tripp, it is a heartwarming tale of the unlikely union between two different types of musicians. Lyla is a tightly wound cellist who plays by the rules and does as she is told. Tripp is an unstructured guitarist who makes his own rules and feels rather than learns. When the two come to share a music practice room in their high school, a friendship grows between them that is music all its own. Overall, the plot line moved along fluidly and I found few grammatical or plot related errors. The main characters are dynamic, relatable, and likeable, and I honestly wish that I knew them in real life. It is not a heavy or complicated read, nor is it going to drastically change your views, but it will definitely call your attention to aspects of life that you had simply grown apathetic to and forgotten to notice. Also, as a plus, Amato quite literally included guitar notes in the back pages of Guitar Notes…play on!

Glitch by Heather Anastasiu

5 out of 5

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I know that I am going to sound pretentious in this review and I just cannot help, so why should I try? Glitch is a book that seems to have been written straight from the depths of my mind, and quite honestly shares a remarkable number of similarities to my own novel that hides amongst the folders on my Macbook. In short, Zoe lives in a technological and mechanical world known as the Community. In the Community, all emotions have been rejected and society is driven by implanted chips which break down life into simple and harmless tasks. Every day is the same and every one is the same. When Zoe’s chip begins to glitch and she gets a glimpse of how world is without the rose-colored glasses of the Link network, Zoe becomes curious about the rest of world and how different life could be. In addition to this mental clarity, Zoe also learns that her glitch is due to her own mental development of telekinetic powers. Zoe struggles to control these newfound powers and remain in the only society she knows, all well longing for something more. I will not say much about this book simply because I could go on about it for hours; however, I will say that I found the plot line to be wonderful albeit the pace was rather slow. Regardless of the pace I stayed up all night turning pages and have not regretted that loss of sleep at all. I cannot wait for the second book and the resolution to a well placed but purely evil cliffhanger. Kudos to Anastasiu for keeping me waiting.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

5 out of 5

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After finally reading this piece, I wish that I could slap every person who told me that it was precisely like Twilight. Okay, the plot does involve wolves who shape shift into humans, but the similarities end there. Shiver is the story of girl named Grace who was attacked by wolves year before but retains no fear of them. In fact, Grace believes that there is more to them than meets the eye and she even calls the wolf with the yellow eyes her own. When Grace finally comes to meet the boy, Sam, who exists with the yellow eyed wolf, her life is changed forever and she is ushered into a world and life that she never would have dreamed about. Overall, I found the romance between Grace and Sam to be incredibly endearing and a topic of which I do not believe I will tire. While I can understand how this novel would not appeal to some, as paranormal romance novels often do not, I would urge readers to give it a shot. It is a prime example of well written paranormal novels that go beyond clichés and actually navigate a suspenseful plot.

MacKinnon Curse Trilogy by J.A. Templeton

4 out of 5

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The MacKinnon family is legend in this Scottish town and even the newest residents, an American family that includes main character Riley Williams, cannot avoid being affected by the MacKinnon’s tale. After living through an accident that killed her mother-the event which led the family to movie across the globe-Riley has developed the ability to interact with ghosts. Within moments of moving to Scotland, Riley meets Ian MacKinnon, the ghost who use to inhabit the castle near her own residence. As the tale develops over three books and a novella, Riley comes to terms with her ability to talk to ghosts as well as the event which led to the ability. I generally do not expect much from ebooks, particularly when the first in the series is free, but I was pleasantly surprised by Templeton’s writing abilities. While the storyline sounds as though it would follow the cliché “ghostly interactions and becoming a median” plot line, it is executed in such a way that it feels new. Not only does the plot involve “helping ghosts move into the light” but also a stalker ghost set out for blood, the concept of reincarnation, and the simple confusion of being the new girl in not just the new school but also new country. I hope that Templeton continues writing and perhaps expands even further upon Riley’s character and the MacKinnon curse. I would not recommend the book to anyone who is easily triggered by mentions of self harm or violence, or those whose sensibilities deny the possible existence of ghosts and the like.

Lovely by Alison Liddelle

4 out of 5

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Oops, I just realized that I already reviewed this book. Link –> Lovely by Alison Liddelle

Alright, darlings, my fingers might fall off so that is all for now. I hope that I have helped you find a few new books to add to your reading list and I would love any suggestions for my own reading list in the comments below or by email. Have fun reading!