Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fiction Friction (#21): Spoilers!

These posts are meant to bring about some conversation, discussion, and perhaps even a debate. These discussion posts can occur at varying days of the week, mostly depending upon what's scheduled on the blog and what I feel like discussing.

(Slightly off topic, but show of hands, who read that title in River's voice? :P )

Spoilers have always been an interesting topic for me to discuss with others because I love spoilers. I live for them. I constantly go out of my way to spoil something for myself. [Edit: Due to recent drama, I want to clarify that I never spoil things for other people unless they ask me to. I know most people hate spoilers, and I'd never do that to someone who doesn't want to know. And if any of my posts contain spoilers, I always include spoiler tags so that people know.] Sometimes I regret it; most of the time, I do it shamelessly. I think it all started when I started reading Nancy Drew as a child. I always skipped to the end to see who was the culprit, often even before reading the first page. Maybe it became a habit, maybe I had always destined to love spoilers. But I never minded. I liked doing it, and I began to do that with all the books I read. Then, when I became a fangirl, I started doing the same with TV shows. I would search up spoilers/episode summaries if I didn't get to watch an episode/show live. When I was younger, I never thought it wasn't normal. I knew it wasn't necessarily a common thing, but I didn't know that people would find it wrong or whatnot.

But now I know better. People are so utterly against spoilers. I understand, I do, and sometimes, I'm glad I wasn't spoiled about something. I think that The Fault in Our Stars would have been very different and I wouldn't have experienced it the same way had I known about [***spoilers if you're really that paranoid and/or honestly don't know, but come on***] Augustus dying. But those are a few cases out of many for me. Take, for instance, Allegiant. I haven't read it yet, but I know that whole big spoiler thing, and I don't mind. 

For me, books, movies, TV shows, etc are more about the journey, about the stuff in between. Yes, as I mentioned, there are some spoilers/plot twists I'm glad I didn't hear about and some that I regretted/was sad about knowing before its time, but I'm usually okay with it. Just because you know how something ends doesn't mean that you can't fully experience the rest of it. It doesn't mean you can't still get all the feels when something big/bad happens. 

But now, at what point do I want to know vs. when I'm glad I didn't know beforehand? It's a really fine line for me and one I can only really judge afterward. With TFiOS, I read it soon after it came out and didn't feel the urge to skip to the end. That urge has gotten a lot worse lately, but there are also books like We Were Liars and Every Last Word where I was just so caught up in the story that I didn't really think about skipping ahead. And for both of those, boy am I glad I wasn't spoiled. I think that maybe sometimes, I like spoilers because they're something, a point in a book/tv show/movie/etc, that I can look forward to if I ever get bored or tired or whatever. I don't know how that twist happens, what caused it/led up to it, and so I continue reading because I want to know or because I want to know the effects of it. 

I know, however, that the majority of people hate spoilers and avoid it like it was the Plague or something. Some people just can't understand how people could like, even love, spoilers. They think that it takes away from the experience or detracts from what the creator intended. I don't know. I don't agree with that. 

How do you feel about spoilers? If you hate them/don't like them, why?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Review: Those Girls by Lauren Saft (ARC)

Those Girls by Lauren Saft
Publisher: Poppy
Release Date: June 9th, 2015
Junior year, the suburbs of Philadelphia. Alex, Mollie and Veronica are those girls: they're the best of friends and the party girls of the school. But how well does everybody know them--and really, how well do they know one another? Alex is secretly in love with the boy next door and has joined a band--without telling anyone. Mollie suffers from a popular (and possibly sociopathic) boyfriend, as well as a serious mean streak. And Veronica just wants to be loved--literally, figuratively, physically....she's not particular. Will this be the year that bonds them forever....or tears them apart for good?

Lauren Saft masterfully conveys what goes on in the mind of a teenage girl, and her debut novel is raw, honest, hilarious, and thought-provoking, with a healthy dose of heart.

"To say that I enjoyed it wouldn't be entirely correct but to say that I didn't wouldn't be either. I think this book is important, and I think it's important to see some characters whose morals we can't/won't/will never agree with."

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from NOVL. This didn't affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for it.

I was really struggling with this book when I started reading it. I started it maybe two months before its release date, thinking that that would be more than enough time. Unfortunately, I didn't even finish half of it before its release date. The reason I was struggling was that I struggled to care about the characters. The three main characters were just such seemingly terrible people. I really only semi cared about one of their story lines, but even then, it was often weak. But then I read Grace @ Words Like Silver's post/discussion about morality in YA, tying it directly to Those Girls. And it really made me think and made me think about the book, the characters, and its importance.

As I mentioned, I really didn't like the characters and only really semi liked one for the first quarter of the novel. The girls were just horrible. To everyone. Including one another. They tore people down, used words and talked about things that I hate to read, hate to hear, etc, they seemed to have such petty problems that they brought on themselves. They drank too much, partied too much, everything too much. And I hated that because it reminded me of everything I hated about high school. It reminded me of those girls. Which is the whole point, I guess. But I was tired of it all. I was nearing graduation, when I could finally leave these people, start over, get out.

But as I made myself continue on, wanting to be able to properly take part in Grace's discussion, my opinion started changing. I still hated a lot of the things they said and did, but I started to understand the girls a little bit better. I could see Alex's insecurity within myself. I could see her missing opportunities, taking things the wrong way, and I realized that maybe I had been a bit like that too. She was the one that I identified with and cared about most in the book. I was really rooting for her. Molly, whom everyone seems to characterize as the meanest, didn't come across as mean to me as she seems to have to other people. I could see how she said things to protect herself. I hated seeing her struggle to get out of a horrible relationship. I hated seeing how much she needed someone and how much she thought she was all alone. She started to grow on me, and I came to root for her too. Veronica is the only one of the three girls I still couldn't come to like by the end. Yes, perhaps I did come to feel bad for her, but ugh, almost everything about her bothered me. Even with all of her own struggles, she's like the epitome of all those girls I couldn't stand in high school.

I find it interesting that so many people DNFed this because they couldn't find this story believable. They couldn't believe that girls would tear one another down this much. They couldn't stand that these girls were being so mean to one another--their supposed best friends! They couldn't take all the partying and the drinking and the drugs. But you know what? As much as I hate those things too, it's actually not that far of a stretch. It's actually pretty close to reality, pretty close to what those girls do. And it's funny because most of the reviewers saying the above things are adults; I think many high schoolers would agree with me. It's not that uncommon. It's not too extreme. It happens. It's reality, and it's a reality for many of those girls, or so I assume, never having been one of them. So I think it's important to not discount this book right away on those counts. I also think that that's where Grace's post on morality really came into focus for me. Just because we don't agree, just because we can't see ourselves doing all of that, doesn't mean it's not real and doesn't mean that they should be censored from the books that are published.

I definitely don't agree with the blurb that this book has "a healthy dose of heart," but I do think this book is important. Despite it being anti everything I believe in, at least on the surface, I did come to understand the girls a bit better. I could see some of my own struggles within theirs, although they aren't very similar in its causes. I saw my own insecurities and fears. I saw that maybe I had gone about things the wrong way too. I saw that the girls tearing one another down behind one another's back wasn't all that different from some of my friends. Some reviewers say they don't understand the girls backstabbing one another, and I could understand. So many of their problems stemmed from the fact that they didn't listen to one another, didn't talk to one another. They were too caught up in their own problems. But I don't know, I think many of us are like this. I think many of us don't stop to think about how we communicate with others, with our friends, too. The book made me think about how I communicate with the people I know, especially my friends. I can't imagine how many arguments and fights and horrible times could have been avoided if maybe we all stopped being so insecure and so caught up in our own head and problems and worries and started talking. The girls had so many of the same fears and insecurities but didn't realize. They didn't speak up. And I found that I identified with many of the thoughts they had about their friends and about themselves. It rang true to me. And it's both scary and important. It's important because it made me think about all of those girls that I hated, all of those girls I hated without really getting to know. Not that they would have likely wanted to get to know me and not that we had anything in common, but I think that maybe I started to see that there's more to them. It's not like I didn't think about it before, but between this book and graduation, I just stopped caring. I stopped caring about how different those girls are. I stopped caring about their partying and drinking and drugs. I stopped caring about what they thought of me. Because we all have our own problems, and it does me no good to be so caught up with them. Because I think I secretly cared more than I thought I did. Not in that I cared about them per say but in that we feed these people's popularity, and in the end, it doesn't even matter to those of us on the outside. And I think that showing their experiences are important to us too because it's important to understand them as people too. It's important to not judge them so quickly. It's important to realize that they're not anything more or less than we are. You don't have to agree with what they do to understand them on a more complex level. People aren't just their actions.

When I realized this and started to actually care about the issues and started rooting for certain characters, I found myself wanting to read more and more of the book. I wanted to know what was going to happen to the girls next. I wanted to see if everything I was hoping for would fall into place as it does with most books. And then that one thing happened, and I just felt so mad and disappointed, not only in the characters but also in the author, because I thought that the story could have ended nicely, could have ended well. I thought that the book should have ended well. And what happened also brought into question everything I had begun to think about Alex and Molly, and I just couldn't deal with what they did. Because I could excuse a lot of other stuff, but what they did was inexcusable. It's illegal and totally wrong and stupid. And if the girls just talked to each other, if Alex hadn't been so scared, if Alex had voiced her fear and her opinion on not actually wanting to do it, if Veronica and Alex just admitted stuff, if Molly had told her friends how lonely she felt, maybe things would have turned out differently. And then the ending left me feeling so conflicted. At the moment I finished the book, I couldn't believe the book just ended like that and ended on such a bad/good note. It was a good moment but still bad circumstances. And I wanted a happy ending. But I've come to realize that I love that Saft chose to end the book how she did because it shows that we have to deal with the consequences of our actions. And more than that, it shows how sometimes we stick with the people who hurt us most because there's too much history, there's too much insecurity, and there's also too much complexity--because the people who hurt us most can sometimes also be the ones we feel we need most. This was so important to me once I realized this because it summarized so much of my own experience in middle/high school. I stuck with some friends that I probably shouldn't have, that caused more harm than good for me mentally and emotionally, but I couldn't walk away, even after something bad happened (though nowhere near as bad or illegal as in Those Girls).

So when I finished the book, I had a hard time putting together my thoughts and rating the book. To say that I enjoyed it wouldn't be entirely correct but to say that I didn't wouldn't be either. I think this book is important, and I think it's important to see some characters whose morals we can't/won't/will never agree with. Because despite what some may think, such people exist and are out there, and I think we can learn from understanding their experiences and because I think this book showed me how similar we can be, even if not in the ways we can immediately identify. We're all human after all. The book does a great job of showing the thoughts of the three girls, giving us insight into how bad things start and spiral. The book rang true to me, and the truth--the reality--hidden in it surprised me in a good way.

This book certainly isn't for everyone. I understand all the people who DNF'd the book. I almost did too. But now I'm glad I read the book, if only because it really made me think, more so than I could have ever thought I would with this book.
Those Girls: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Lauren Saft: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr

Friday, August 7, 2015

Flashback Friday (#9): Review: Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

This is a more irregular feature. Flashback Friday is where I review, or possibly discuss, an old TV show, movie, book, or album. So what's considered old? Anything that was not released within the past year and a half. By years, I mean calendar year (so for this year, June 2014-December 2015 would NOT be old).

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 4th, 2010
Amy Curry is not looking forward to her summer. Her mother decided to move across the country and now it's Amy's responsibility to get their car from California to Connecticut. The only problem is, since her father died in a car accident, she isn't ready to get behind the wheel. Enter Roger. An old family friend, he also has to make the cross-country trip - and has plenty of baggage of his own. The road home may be unfamiliar - especially with their friendship venturing into uncharted territory - but together, Amy and Roger will figure out how to map their way.
I've heard great things about this book since I first started blogging, but I kept putting off reading it. I'm so glad I finally picked it up, though. If you haven't seen on my social media or didn't see my most recent Fiction Friction post, I've been in a huge slump, and I've been having a hard time finishing anything, but I did manage to finally finish Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, which I enjoyed.

I usually enjoy road trip books or any books with traveling in them in general, but I don't read too many of them because there aren't many I know of or can get my hands on. So I knew I had to read this when I saw it at the library. It lived up to my expectations and even went beyond it. I was expecting a cute, light summer read, and it delivered, but I wasn't expecting how dark it was also going to be and how deep it got, though never enough to bring down the entire tone/feel of the book. I would still say it's a quick, light read, but it definitely has its share of the darker topics.

Amy is struggling to cope with her grief, and she's struggling to open up and admit it/talk to someone about it. She's closed herself off, blaming herself for everything. She found herself distancing herself from her mom, her brother, her friends, everyone. It was so rewarding to see her change throughout the book, slowly opening up to Roger and to others around her. It was slow, as it should be, and it was the kind of change that happened subtley. Many times, it wasn't until after a moment and after thinking back on Amy earlier in the book that I realized how much had changed.

Along with that change, we saw a change in their relationship and the way they interacted. Amy starts to realize that she notices all the little things and the little habits Roger has. It's not difficult to predict that they would get together in the end, but seeing her struggle to work out her feelings, especially when he was still preoccupied with his ex-girlfriend, was really valuable. Even though the book only takes place over the span of a few days, it feels like much longer, and it feels very much like their relationship evolves slowly.

Roger is also a very well-written and well-rounded character. We see his struggles as well, but we also see him trying to help Amy. The other characters along the way are also interesting and for the most part still have a back story and are not just one-dimensional plot devices. Even though they're used to move the plot along, there's more to them as characters.

Matson also does a great job at balancing the tough stuff and lighter topics. With a book like this, I expected a quick, breezy, fun, light read. While I would still characterize the book overall in this way, the book was surprisingly dark at times. Matson doesn't shy away from dealing with Amy's grief. She doesn't just breeze over it. She explores it, along with Amy's brother's situation, her situation with being away from her mother, and more. There are times when it almost doesn't feel like you're reading such a cute, fun road trip book.

But there were also so many cute moments that I loved. They were just as well written, and they were earned moments, if that makes sense. I enjoyed the little snippets of pictures, receipts, etc, and I especially loved the playlists. It was such a treat to find bands and songs I love but aren't super popular on the playlists.

One of the few small things I had problems with, perhaps more from my slump than anything, was that this is a slow-moving book. The book only takes place over a few days, but it feels like so much longer. Now, I would usually be okay with that, but I also felt like this made the book drag in certain places. With a book like this, it's hard to create a really big, exciting, new climax, and the novel didn't do that. There were ups and downs and there were definitely some conflicts, but as a whole, there wasn't something that particularly made me want to keep reading the way I normally would want to. I felt like there were portions that could have led to bigger things blowing up but perhaps because of the nature of their trip and the short time span, it just didn't happen. For someone in a slump, it meant that more than once, I had to make myself continue reading, even when there wasn't a big pull for me to do so.

The second tiny thing that I wish had been explored more was Amy's relationship with her past friends. I know it wasn't meant to be a big focus because it was supposed to be about Amy moving forward and moving beyond, but I think there were portions that were also about finding the "old" Amy. In being able to move beyond her grief, she was able to start to be herself again, but I found that the story line with her old friend (Julia?) was never fully fleshed out. Maybe it didn't need to be--she moved on from that time of her life and she was moving anyway, but it could have added another layer to her road to recovery, at least in my opinion. Otherwise, what was the point?

Overall, this book was a really nice surprise, though I went into it expecting just as much. The book was a lot deeper than I thought it would be, and it definitely added to my wanderlust. It helped a little with my slump, but mostly I was just glad that I was able to finish the book without too much of a struggle. Perhaps if I weren't reading this during a huge slump, I would have given it a 5, but alas.
Amy and Roger's Epic Detour: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Morgan Matson: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Review: The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein (ARC)

The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release Date: June 2nd, 2015
In the beautiful, barren landscape of the Far North, under the ever-present midnight sun, Frances and Yasha are surprised to find refuge in each other. Their lives have been upended--Frances has fled heartbreak and claustrophobic Manhattan for an isolated artist colony; Yasha arrives from Brooklyn to fulfill his beloved father's last wish: to be buried “at the top of the world.” They have come to learn how to be alone.

But in Lofoten, an archipelago of six tiny islands in the Norwegian Sea, ninety-five miles north of the Arctic Circle, they form a bond that fortifies them against the turmoil of their distant homes, offering solace amidst great uncertainty. With nimble and sure-footed prose, Dinerstein reveals that no matter how far we travel to claim our own territory, it is ultimately love that gives us our place in the world.
"I just got the sense that the plot and characters weren't entirely developed but was looked over because of the (still) gorgeous writing."

I basically knew nothing about this going into it. I was just interested because of the awesome cover. The first thing I noticed when I started reading was Dinerstein's writing, and it remained one of the highlights of the novel. She writes in such a soothing, calm, and poetic/lyrical manner. The words seem to flow together, and the visual descriptions are such a treat. I felt like I could picture Lofoten and all the areas in the book well, with the exception of, surprisingly, Brooklyn.

I really enjoyed the first half of this book. It felt so refreshing and just nice to read such lyrical, "pretty" writing. However, once that started to fade and become less of a draw in, the book began to disappoint me.

The characters seemed interesting at first/at first glance, but I felt as though I hardly got to know them. Some of the characters didn't feel their age, namely the main characters, Yasha and Frances. Their romance felt stilted and awkward and forced, only made worse by the fact that the writing seemed to convey that they were much further apart in age than they actually were. And while I appreciated the easy mentions of sex and other mature subjects, it honestly just made me feel awkward and weird, more because of execution and situation than anything, but nevertheless uncomfortable to read.

In addition, although I enjoyed the exploration of family and broken families, I didn't find the conflicts, or plot in general, very compelling. At first, they interested me, more because they were areas that had so much potential to be expanded upon than anything, but that soon faded as well. I found that the book began to get repetitive, and once I could start to see the direction of the plot, it didn't hold my interest anymore. There wasn't a huge climax or really a huge conflict. There were relationships that I thought would be explored more and Dinerstein could have done that well, but she just left it. Even though there was a fairly large cast of characters, it didn't really ever feel that way. And so the book started to drag--a lot--and there wasn't much that made me want to keep reading. It was mostly just the thought of her lyrical writing and the thought that I was almost at the end. The ending, too, however, left much to be desired. While I enjoyed it more than the bulk of the last half of the book, I also thought that it tried to do too much, sum up too much, all at once.

By the end, I didn't feel as though most of the characters had much depth--most of Yasha's character arc centered around his father, his mother, and his feelings for Frances, while most of Frances' character arc centered around her parents and her sister/her sister's wedding. I just got the sense that the plot and characters weren't entirely developed but was looked over because of the (still) gorgeous writing. But this book certainly didn't help my slump and only made it harder for me to push through and finish the book.
The Sunlit Night: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Rebecca Dinerstein: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Monday, August 3, 2015

Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: May 12th, 2015
Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren't the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona's powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.
I had heard amazing things about this graphic novel, so I decided that I just had to check it out from the library. I am so, so glad I did. This thoroughly surprised me but in the best way possible. I knew almost nothing about the book or plot beforehand, but I'm kind of glad I went into it without knowing because it helped to heighten the reading experience.

When I first started, I was a bit skeptical because I felt the writing was a bit too forced and just didn't sound natural, but as the book progressed, the dialog improved a lot, until a few pages in, the writing felt seamless and smooth. The artwork was gorgeous and unique; it's very easy to pick out her style in this. I love how Nimona isn't a skinny, good girl. She's spunky and curvy--though it's not ever something that's pointed out--and she doesn't just do what she's told. Yes, she's reckless and makes mistakes, but that's human.

The whole frenemies thing was actually quite funny to watch, although there were some portions that didn't make sense to me. Lord Blackheart takes an incoming call from the director of the Institution but doesn't question why the director would be calling him and talking to him in such a way. I mean, if you're the supposed villain the Institution is going after, why would they suddenly give you a call and discuss matters with you? Perhaps his relationship with the Institution was different than I perceived, but it was hard to tell with what we were given.

I really enjoyed seeing the relationships between the characters change and grow, and I really liked the message of showing what you mean and doing rather than just saying. Saying something doesn't prove that you mean it. Going through the actions and doing it say a lot about you, your values, and your intentions. The conflict evolves over the course of the story, alongside the characters and relationships, and it's done in a well thought out way. It's not too much, and it's not too little. The character development was a surprise and done exceptionally well, given the space for it.

It's the same with the action. There's a lot of action, but it's also very balanced with plot and character development. The action moves both the plot and character development along and vice versa. There's a mix of funny moments and sad/serious moments, making the graphic novel still very enjoyable throughout. I loved the epilogue and thought it ended the book perfectly and on an open but also resolved note, which is basically the perfect ending.

But getting to the more fangirly part, can we just talk about the whole Nimona "twist" thing? So it wasn't completely unpredictable, but I (obviously) didn't know the extent of it. But you know what I love most? That even with all of that darkness, she's also just a human being, a girl. Everything we learn about her earlier in the book still holds true. We see why she is the way she is, and we see different sides of her. She's a multi-faceted, kick-ass character, and I love it. She's not perfect, and she has moments of weakness, but she's a great example of a strong character, in my opinion. She goes after what she seeks, but she also learns from her recklessness and from her mistakes. She doesn't let people tell her what to do, but she's eventually open to change, and she realizes that she doesn't have all the answers and isn't always the smartest and most clever. She's kick-ass and can hold her own, but she's also vulnerable and has emotions. I just LOVE her so much.
Noelle Stevenson: Website | Tumblr | Twitter
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