Book Review: The Selection

The Selection by Kiera CassWhen I picked up The Selection by Kiera Cass (336 pages), it was exactly what I needed at the time: something fluffy and light. Plus, look at that cover with the pretty, pretty dresses. Yep. Just what I needed.

Basic plot: the prince is having a contest (run reality TV style) to find his next bride. Sort of like Cinderella crossed with The Bachelor. The POV character, America, is chosen, but she has a boyfriend back home so she is none too happy about it–except being one of the selected means her family gets compensated and it changes their lives.

What I Liked

– I loved the romance between America and Maxon. I loved how they get to know each other and find ways to break rules within the game to spend more and more time together. Mostly, I liked that they build a friendship (especially because America insists she could never, ever love Maxon what with her true love Aspen back home) and create an alliance to keep her in the game.

– America’s sister is pretty great.

– America’s relationship with her maids.

– Maxon. What a great dude. Swoonworthy BECAUSE he is so kind and thoughtful and open to learning what his subjects experience.

– I loved the set up of how/why America was chosen. Totally believable.

What I Didn’t Like

–  I don’t get why this has to be a dystopian thing. Just…why? I think the conceit of the novel (a contest to pick the prince’s next bride) works on its own without the other extraneous rebels and blah blah stuff I care nothing about. I mean, sure, okay, the caste system sets up the whole dumb Aspen pride thing and that Maxon cares about the people. Fine. The backdrop of the war shows why diplomacy in picking the next bride counts. Fine, but not really necessary. Politics are politics, yes? But there was a whole lot of other stuff that just made me roll my eyes and took me out of enjoying the fact that THE PRINCE USES A REALITY TV CONTEST TO PICK HIS BRIDE. Doesn’t that already have high enough stakes? Isn’t that enough?

I would’ve liked the book more without the other stuff is what I’m saying. Because it’s about a prince that uses a reality TV contest to pick his bride.

– Aspen is THE WORST. Ugh. The fact that he’s even a viable love interest makes me want to set things on fire. Am I supposed to be torn between Aspen and Maxon? Because no. No contest. None whatsoever.

– Her name is America Singer. Is her middle name Liberty or did I just make that up? Because, wow, cheesy. And I love a good corny name, but still. (Did I mention her family are all performers? I like that it’s a callback to when people’s last names and professions matched, though. So maybe file that under Goofy Things about the Novel.)

– Seriously, though, Aspen sucks so hard.


– Like, I am genuinely concerned that teen girls out there may think he’s awesome and that depresses me. Because he is the worst. In case that wasn’t clear.

In conclusion: A fun romance with an interesting premise. Too bad about the distracting dystopian elements, though.


Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Like so many things Henry had wanted in life—like his father, his marriage, his life—it had arrived a little damaged. Imperfect. But he didn’t care, this was all he’d wanted. Something to hope for, and he’d found it. It didn’t matter what condition it was in.

bittersweethotelI joined a book club! Did I mention I joined a book club? Anyway, yes, I joined a book club and their selection for March (March! Can you tell I’m a little behind on reviews?) was Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, the story of a Chinese boy and his Japanese best (girl) friend during WWII.

What I Liked

– The characters are so great. Henry, Keiko, Sheldon, Mrs. Beatty, Henry’s dad, Henry’s mom, Ethel. SO GREAT.

– Do I have to pick a favorite character? I can’t. Mrs. Beatty owns my heart, though.

– I loved the relationship between Henry and his father. It was heartbreaking, yes, but I understood both of their positions, and the tension was so palpable and real. I also loved that Ford doesn’t really condemn either. I mean, okay, we’re on Henry’s side, but I get why the father is the way he is. And as much as I want him to let go of his old prejudices and outlook, I see why he can’t or is unwilling to.

– Henry’s mom, oh man. The way she has to play the mediator and obey her husband while not turning her back on her son. Oy.


– Since this is a story about first love, I have to admit that Keiko and Henry’s relationship is SO ADORABLE. At first, Henry read a little young to me, but then I remembered that he’s 12/13 during much of his developing relationship with Keiko, so, of course he’s young. Duh. Everything between them is so great. The adventures they go on, the experiences they share. Keiko’s frustration with Henry’s unwillingness to rock the boat, Henry’s confusion and embarrassment when she doesn’t seem to understand his position. AH SO GREAT.

– Also, I really, really loved that Keiko wanted Henry to maintain his relationship with his father. Her basic position is “Yes, he’s ridiculous. Yes, he’s antiquated. BUT HE’S YOUR DAD.” It just really spoke to the differences the two of them had in their relationships with their parents. I found it quite authentic. (Henry’s response, of course, is “Yeah, but you don’t understand what he’s like because you don’t have to live with him.”)

– Awesome first kiss. And that’s all I’ll say about that because spoilers.

– I also quite liked the juxtaposition of the discovery of first love (Henry and Keiko) with the reality of forever love (Henry and Ethel).

– So what I’m saying is A+ relationships and characters.

What I Didn’t Like

– All of that said, this story is told mostly in flashbacks with present day (1986) Henry remembering his youth. While I’m fine with the flashbacks as a device, I found that the WWII bits were much more developed in terms of relationships than the 1986 bits. For example, Henry has a strained relationship with his son. I know because he keeps telling me. But I never get from their interactions that this relationship is so strained. It’s all tell and no show.

– Henry’s son is pretty bland overall. His fiancée is great, though.

– Keiko’s father was just a touch too perfect. (Although he does sound like he’s super fly, and I approve of that 100%. I can just see him rocking a fedora, creased pants, and a button-down.) I understand that most of what we learn about him is through Keiko’s point of view, but, seriously, this is an actual thing she says about her parents:

“And they’re Americans first. They don’t see you as the enemy. They see you as a person.”

And I was just like, “Oh, is that how Americans are?” Because I so was not buying that. I don’t think I would’ve minded so much if her parents were just that way–you know, seeing Henry as a person and not the enemy–but the idea that that’s the way Americans think in 1940-whatever was just a bit too much for me.

Keiko’s dad does seem like a pretty cool dude but this idealistic portrayal of Americans and American thinking made me roll my eyes.

– Perhaps because the story is told from Henry’s point of view, the Japanese internment camps are presented a little bit more positively than I would have liked. I wanted a bit more of just how much they sucked, but, again, Henry’s POV, so they mostly suck because he’s away from his friend.

Ford does present enough information so that the reader can see they suck in other ways (Keiko’s family lives in one room, they move to Idaho [!!!], the humiliation of walking through the streets of Seattle, her father can no longer practice law, etc.), but Henry is just like “Keiko’s so far awaaaay.” Which I get it, I do. I’m just noting.

– I’m not so sure Henry’s son would be part of an online grief support group in the mid-1980s. Or that he’d look up Keiko on the internet. Small, but distracting details.

In conclusion: A sweet and heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful story with awesome characters and complicated relationships.

Source: Library

Top Ten Books Before the Blog

Clearly, coming up with a list of just ten books I loved before I started this blog was well nigh impossible. I could easily list over thirty. So I decided to eliminate childhood favorites or books I have done nostalgia posts on. I have no complicated algorithms or anything. I picked books I know I talked up all the time before or books that I remember loving with my whole heart.

Top Ten Tuesday

1. Monster by Walter Dean Myers: Is there a book I recommended more than this one? Probably not. First of all, it’s a master class in plotting, suspense, form, and character. If you want to discuss unreliable narrators, you have to talk about Steve because, wow, we can not trust anything he writes at all. No, that’s not true. I think we can trust the emotional aspect of his experience. The fear, the confusion, the regret? All real. His version of events? Maybe not.

2. Big Mouth and Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates: Okay, if there’s a book I recommended more than Monster, it’s definitely this YA novel by Oates. I saw so much of myself in both Ursula and Matt. This book found its way into my heart and never let go. I haven’t reread it in a while, and I’m realizing that I’m way overdue.

3. Assata by Assata Shakur: I have mentioned this book before. It’s one of the books I read in college that seriously changed my life. It changed how I looked at the criminal justice; it exposed me to a part of the Civil Rights Movement I had been unaware of. The whole trajectory of things I studied in school changed. Love her, love this book, love the teacher that exposed me to both.

4. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley: I read this book when I was in a serious reading slump. Almost 900 pages, it is a behemoth of a book. And you know what? I started it and couldn’t stop. I had absolutely no idea what was going on most of the time I was reading, and I still couldn’t put it down. So immensely readable, so completely engrossing. I still couldn’t tell you what happened in the book (aside from retelling of Arthurian legend from the women’s points of view blah blah). Well, I could tell you that I hated Gwenhwyfar, and that I will never forget the sex scene with Morgan Le Fay and Arthur. Oh! Or the threesome with Gwen, Lancelot, and Arthur. Okay, so fine, I could remember some things. The main thing, though, is that I carried this book on the Metro with me to and from work and read it at every opportunity I could. SO AMAZING. Even if I had no idea what was happening half the time.

5. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen: Not my first Dessen, but probably the one I related to the most. Remy spoke to me with her jaded sensibilities and outlook on love. I loved the relationships between Remy and her friends, I enjoyed her interactions with Dex, and the writing is so good. One of my favorite Sarah Dessen novels and another book I forced on my students.

6. Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher: What is there to say about Whale Talk? First, it has one of my favorite character names ever (T.J. Jones = The Tao Jones = The Tao “TJ” Jones). Second, I love every single thing about the way the plot is resolved. Every single thing. I love, love, love talking about the ending with people who hate it or are devastated by it because SERIOUSLY it is the best, most complete ending. I do have some issues with the treatment of Carly in the narrative, but this book is amazing. My students love it, I love it, the librarians love it. A+.

7. True Notebooks by Mark Salzman: This book is about two of my favorite things: the power of teaching and the power of writing. This book hit me in the gut, especially because my closest cousin was in jail when I was reading it, and so much of the different boys’ experiences really resonated with me and reminded me SO MUCH of him. Not only that but Salzman’s disappointment with his students when they act out or act up are so universal to the teaching experience even though the stakes here are so high. The journeys some of the young men take are so heartbreaking, but, yes, they need a voice. And he gives them a chance to be heard. So good.

8. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner: True story: this is the only Faulkner novel I have ever read. It is also probably the only one I will read (the other ones are really long). I love the structure of this piece; I love the narrative. I love, love the different issues Faulkner deals with in the family. And I love that the mother speaks from beyond. Are you kidding me? I also love that Suzan-Lori Parks wrote Getting Mother’s Body, which pays homage to it (and is also a fun read).

9. Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty: I just love, love the structure and form of this book. I love that it’s told in letters and post-it notes. I love that it’s about losing a best friend and finding a new best friend. Another one I need to reread, definitely. I have read Moriarty’s other novels in this universe, and I think they pale in comparison to this one. Love.

10. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang: The way the three narratives in this novel come together blows my mind. The plot is fantastic, the illustrations are stellar, and the message is one of the best ever about identity and assimilation. I love the relationship between Jin and Wei-Chin so much. Also, Jin with that perm will never stop being funny. Ever. EVER.

Book Review: The Reece Malcolm List

The Reece Malcolm List by Amy SpaldingFull disclosure: I am friends with the author.

Full FULL disclosure: Reading The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding was a very strange experience for me. For one thing, I do not personally know a lot of published authors. And I also do not personally know a lot of published authors that I met before they were published and/or consider my friends. I mean, Amy showed me around L.A. We had burgers together! I rode in her cute little VW Beetle! And we went to an awesome used bookstore! She sent my daughter an autographed copy of one of her (my daughter’s) favorite books because, you know, that author just happened to be doing a reading where she was!

So what I’m saying is: Amy is a cool person. Which made reading her book kind of scary for me. Because what if I didn’t like it? What if I started it and the book was not that great? WHAT THEN?

I don’t think I’ve ever worried so much about reading a book before.

Anyway, lucky me, the book is great. Great characters, great setting, great relationships. The dialogue is authentic and Spalding avoids many of the traps that so much contemporary fiction falls into. Yes, there’s a boy, but he doesn’t spark a great change in main character Devan or send her on a path to discovery. Yes, there are two boys, but it’s not a love triangle: it’s just high school. You know, you like a boy who maybe likes you but he’s dating somebody else so you start making out with the boy who’s there and showing interest. There’s no make or break do or die choice that changes everything. There’s just making out with and dating cute, available boys. (A choice that I can get behind, btw.)

The biggest compliment I can give this book, though, is that every time I opened it, I felt as if I were transported to a different place. The story takes place in L.A., which I have been to and know isn’t some magical superglossy locale. But the language of the book made me feel as though I were in a very special place that only these characters inhabited. That sort of rendered setting is like a breath of fresh air to me. There are few books I have read and few authors I know that have that ability.

And then, of course, there is Reece Malcolm. She is complicated and fierce. Like Devan, I am as enamored by her as I am terrified. Which in a story about a girl meeting and getting to know her long-lost mother is kind of a big deal. And it works.

Let’s not forget that the book’s major conceit is that Devan adds to a list of things she knows/learns about her mother. And I love lists. A lot. Probably more than is healthy.

So what I’m saying is the book worked for me.

I’ll spare you all the discussion of my stress about actually writing the review. Cripes.

In conclusion: I shouldn’t have worried about reading this book OR writing a review. It’s so delightful. As is its author.

Source: Library

(True story: my daughter asked me why I didn’t buy a copy, but the truth is that I requested my library buy a copy and they bought TWO copies, so it worked out even better. Plus also, I am going to buy a copy for my daughter who loves musical theater [like main character Devan] and, obvs, thinks Amy is the bees’ knees.)


Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I Would Crush On

This week’s topic is characters I would crush on if I were also a fictional character. I decided to keep it fair and do half literary boyfriends and half literary girlfriends. Links go to my reviews or author pages.

I. Book Boyfriends: Keeping in mind that this list is probably a lie because most of these are YA characters, and, when I was a teen, I usually had crushes on the wrong guys.

What Peeta looks like in my head

1. Matt Miller (Angry Management by Chris Crutcher): He is such a great kid. He does the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Period. I find that an incredibly important quality. Which is why I love him.

2. Peeta (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins): Peeeeeta. He bakes bread! He sounds like he gives great hugs. He’s clever and smart, and he’s tall and blond and strong. (I always picture him as looking like Bright from Everwood, btw.) I know people don’t like Peeta, and I really don’t understand it. I mean, I kind of get it after the third book, but I don’t understand how people don’t love first book Peeta. He is adorable.

3. Michael Moscovitz (The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot): Ahhh, Michael Moscovitz is my number one book boyfriend. He is freaking brilliant, he likes the awkward girl, and he smells great. And he leaves to prototype a robot arm to prove himself worthy of her. I mean, COME ON. ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

4. Neville Longbottom (Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling): Neville is just the best. He is brave and smart. He works hard to overcome his fears, and then he explodes into a self-actualized man of badassery. Neville!

5. Leo Valdez (Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan): My love of Leo has been welldocumented here. Basically, he needs a hug. Also, he is funny and clever and loyal.

So, hmm. Clever and loyal and smart seem to be the repeating terms here. Also, not one sporty guy among them. Like I said, not true to my teenage self. However, as a grown woman, these are the ones I love. Though, to be fair to me, I probably would have had a crush on Leo or Peeta as a teen if they were real, so. Also props to Michael for being the kind of guy who would probably kind of dig me. Maybe.

II. Book Girlfriends: I have a definite type when it comes to book girlfriends. I like ‘em kind of, well, ditzy. With the exception of Tina, most of these girls are completely guileless and unaffected. They are also super sweet and just…awesome. I don’t know how to explain it. I love them. Also, it probably doesn’t hurt that they’re gorgeous. Just saying.

6. Tina Hakim Baba (The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot): I love Tina Hakim Baba so much. SO MUCH. I wish there were words that could express the love I have for her, but, basically, she is the best. She’s super sweet, she’s not ashamed of the things she enjoys, she’s brilliant, and all she ever wanted was a friend. Tina! I love you! (Okay, and honestly, I want her to be my best friend, but I feel any list would be incomplete without her.)

7. Meghan (Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockhart): She’s so sweet. A little clueless, yes, But super sweet. She loves with her whole heart, and, again, just wants a friend.

8. Lulu (Airhead series by Meg Cabot): I loved her the most in the first book when she told Em how vulnerable boys and their feelings are. Again, loyal, sweet, and smarter than she looks.

9. Chrissy Everstar (My Fair Godmother series by Janette Rallison): Okay, I don’t even know why Chrissy is on this list because she’s a mess, and she would ruin my life. But I guess I would have fun on the ride, yes? All girlfriends can’t be wife material.

10. Vivica the Supermodel (The Boy Series by Meg Cabot): Vivica was my first book girlfriend. She speaks in all caps, which would be annoying in anyone else but is oddly endearing in her. She is super sweet, though! And she loves her friends!

So, yes. It seems my criteria for book girlfriends = super sweet and in need of a friend. Also, I think all of them (except for Lulu and Tina) are blond. Make of that what you will.

I find it kind of ironic that all of my literary girlfriends are the exact type of girl I get mad at the guy for picking on TV because of my own issues with being the not-as-cute-friend of the girl all the boys like. Apparently, if I were a boy (or a lesbian), those are the girls I would pick. Come on, self. Where are the brash, sarcastic, slightly closed off girls on my list? Sigh.

Who’s on your list?