Title: School Spirits
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Release Date: May 14, 2013
Fifteen-year-old Izzy Brannick was trained to fight monsters. For centuries, her family has hunted magical creatures. But when Izzy’s older sister vanishes without a trace while on a job, Izzy’s mom decides they need to take a break.
Izzy and her mom move to a new town, but they soon discover it’s not as normal as it appears. A series of hauntings has been plaguing the local high school, and Izzy is determined to prove her worth and investigate. But assuming the guise of an average teenager is easier said than done. For a tough girl who’s always been on her own, it’s strange to suddenly make friends and maybe even have a crush.
Can Izzy trust her new friends to help find the secret behind the hauntings before more people get hurt?—via Goodreads
Sometimes I just want to read a well-plotted book about a girl who is sort of like Buffy, you know?
Luckily Rachel Hawkins writes books.
School Spirits, a spin-off of Hawkins’s Hex Hall series centers around the youngest of the Brannick girls, Izzy who is briefly in the Hex Hall books. As the Brannick women dwindle in numbers, Izzy’s mom decides to move to a small town in Alabama (I think it’s Alabama. Could be Mississippi. But I’m pretty sure it’s Alabama). And for the first time, Izzy will go to a real school.
Enter Mary Evans High School. MEHS, y’all. I laughed out loud every time I read MEHS in this book. Hawkins, you are a funny lady and I like you.
My girl crush on the author aside, School Spirits is a lot of fun. Izzy gets to navigate the tropes of public school for the first time, including the daunting task of choosing her friends wisely, hunting a ghost, trying to decide if the boy you like likes you back, and solving a mystery. And while that might sound like something you’ve read before, I assure you that School Spirits will keep you on your toes and will have you turning the pages in an obsessive, feverish way that might make your friends and family worry for your sanity.
Your sanity is fine. You can glare at them and shush them and give off the general aura of GO AWAY until you are finished with School Spirits. Because you’ll want to read this book in one sitting. For real.
Author: Lauren Miller
Release Date: May 14, 2013
Abby Barnes had a plan. The Plan. She’d go to Northwestern, major in journalism, and land a job at a national newspaper, all before she turned twenty-two. But one tiny choice—taking a drama class her senior year of high school—changed all that. Now, on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, Abby is stuck on a Hollywood movie set, miles from where she wants to be, wishing she could rewind her life. The next morning, she’s in a dorm room at Yale, with no memory of how she got there. Overnight, it’s as if her past has been rewritten.
With the help of Caitlin, her science-savvy BFF, Abby discovers that this new reality is the result of a cosmic collision of parallel universes that has Abby living an alternate version of her life. And not only that: Abby’s life changes every time her parallel self makes a new choice. Meanwhile, her parallel is living out Abby’s senior year of high school and falling for someone Abby’s never even met.
As she struggles to navigate her ever-shifting existence, forced to live out the consequences of a path she didn’t choose, Abby must let go of the Plan and learn to focus on the present, without losing sight of who she is, the boy who might just be her soul mate, and the destiny that’s finally within reach.—via Goodreads
Sometimes you read a book and you want to love it and hug it and be it’s best friend.
That’s how I feel about Parallel.
But. BUT. I have to be honest. I read this book ON ACCIDENT. (By accident? I always say “on accident” and I feel like that’s probably not grammatically correct and something I say because I grew up in the South. I don’t know.) I was supposed to lead this group discussion thing with a high school students about the book Partials. But when I went to download Partials, I couldn’t remember the exact name and was too lazy to look it up to double check, but knew it started with a “p,” and I saw Parallel and was like, “That is clearly the book.” So I read it. And loved it.
But it was the wrong book. I was the worst discussion leader ever because I would just agree with whatever the kids said because I read the wrong book.
Except it was so right.
Because Parallel, y’all. Parallel is sososo good.
It has wibbly-wobbly time and SCIENCE (We know that I love a good science book) and hot boys and college (COLLEGE!) and lots of awesomeness and WTF-ery. It can be a bit of a mind-bender and it definitely keeps the reader engaged because—get this—the things you think you know about characters and their storylines can change. Which is just so cool. So the character dynamics are constantly shifting, as is the setting, and the year. So while there’s lots going on that you do need to pay attention to, the book never feels like it’s testing you or making you do all the work to figure out the next piece of the puzzle. You just sit back and go along for the time-bending ride.
Overall, Parallel is a fresh, innovative piece of storytelling that deftly weaves parallel universes, changing character relationships, and science together in a fascinating, frustrating, fantastic way.
*Full disclosure: I work for the General Books division of HarperCollins Publishers. This review was not solicited by anyone at HarperCollins Publishers or HarperTeen, and I receive no monetary gain or any other benefit for this review. I wrote it because I loved the book and wanted to share it with others.
Title: The Downfall of a Good Girl
Author: Kimberly Lang
Publisher: Harlequin KISS
Release Date: February 2013
Southern debutante Vivienne LaBlanc can’t believe bad-boy rock star Connor Mansfield is back in town for the New Orleans annual Saints and Sinners pageant. He has a reputation as wicked as his devilish smile, and Vivi has no intention of becoming one of his latest groupies! He once crushed her high school heart, so playing the saint to Connor’s sinner should be easy. But how can Vivi get those less-than-angelic thoughts out of her head-especially when Connor’s so good at tempting her to be bad?—via Goodreads
Sometimes what you really need is solid I-hate-you-but-I-love-you love story.
The Downfall of a Good Girl falls solidly into that category and definitely doesn’t disappoint.
Though it’s a fun, flirty story about two people who knew each other when, only to be reunited after both having very public personas—Vivienne, a Miss America runner up; Connor, a rock star with a bad reputation—there is a shocking level of depth to this story. As the characters compete in the New Orleans Saints and Sinners pageant, a charity event to raise money for Hurricane Katrina clean-up in which two New Orleans natives compete to raise the most money in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras, they find themselves drawn toward each other in a way that shocks them both, but they are also facing what life brings in your late 20s. They’re both trying to come to terms with their age, and with what life means when you’re possibly considered a washed-up beauty queen and a bad boy musician whose life in the public eye might have changed the way his fans feel about his music.
As Vivienne and Connor navigate not only their charity event, their past, their personal lives, and their careers, they also find that their feelings and relationships are the aspects of their lives that have been most neglected. Luckily for them both, they’re in the mood to fix that.
Overall, this is a really fun, quick read set in New Orleans. The setting is so evocative it will have you trying to book a flight so you can have beignets at Cafe du Monde, the romance is hot, but not so porny that you’re praying no one is reading over your shoulder on the train, and story is surpremely satisfying. If you’re looking for a quick read set in the South with a rocker who wears leather, The Downfall of a Good Girl will do the trick.
I’m having one of those days where I feel inconsequential.
I’m 26. I live in New York. I have an apartment and can pay my bills and have a job that typically doesn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out.
And yet. I feel like I’ve done so little. That I expected I’d do more with my life than what I’m currently doing.
And when I get restless I start looking for other things to do.
(Mind you, this is in addition to attempting to write books/find an agent/have meaningful friendships.)
When I’m in these moods I’m all of a sudden like, “I should go back to school! I’ll take graphic design classes or maybe website design, or how about getting my teaching license? I’d make a bomb-ass teacher!”
And then I realize that I just used the word “bomb-ass” and question every decision I’ve ever made.
Title: In the Shadow of Blackbirds
Author: Cat Winters
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: April 2, 2013
In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?—from Goodreads
This book is so many things: atmospheric, tense, suspenseful, heartbreaking, but also, uplifting, pro-feminist, a dash steampunk, and just, overall, really really good.
What’s more, the book is set in 1918, a year full of things that, in hindsight, seemed dystopian, almost post-apocalyptic, which is terrifying when you remember that everything that Cat Winters describes actually was happening in 1918—World War I was raging on, the Spanish flu was killing the young people the war wasn’t, Spiritualism was sweeping the nation (and a lot of parts of Europe), science was doing it’s best to advance so as to help with the war effort, and a paranoid xenophobia gripped the majority of Americans. Winters does an incredible job of balancing all of these factors and peppers the story with enough of each that you really understand just how strange a year, and time, it was.
The main character, Mary Shelley is wonderfully odd—as a protagonist, she doesn’t really seem weird because everything is told from her point of view, but when she interacts with other characters, it becomes clear that this girl is definitely not normal for her time—she’s curious, smart, observant, determined, and brave. She’s in love with science and electricity and has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and truth. However, her story isn’t really a happy one. As mirrors the time, Mary Shelley’s life is full of tragedy, sorrow, and loss. In a way she’s conditioned to it, and though she’s learned from her losses to be strong, she still feels the weight of loss, which is evident when she realizes she’s being haunted by the ghost of her childhood crush.
Overall, In the Shadow of Blackbirds is a beautifully haunting story about a girl and a ghost, but also about a time and place in American history that is haunting in and of itself.
We were supposed to sign a lease yesterday.
Big, bright, shockingly clean 1BR apartment in Brooklyn with no history of bedbugs. Directly across the street from the subway. The current tenants are moving to L.A. and were told by their landlord to find someone to take over their lease.
Enter me and The Boyfriend.
We meet with the current tenants, clearly love the place (and the tenants. It’s really too bad they’re moving to L.A.), and tell them we love and we’ll take it. They say great, wonderful, huzzah, we’ll let our landlord know and put you guys in touch.
So we get in touch with the landlord. We send him the extensive identity verification and credit reports and proofs of employment. We pass that portion and we set a date to sit down and sign the lease. We tell friends and family members that we’re moving to Brooklyn, buy a piece of furniture that we know will look great in the place, and start talking about the dinner party we’ll host in the new apartment.
And then yesterday happened.
The landlord calls me and says, “You know, I’ve been thinking it over and I’d rather have tenants who can stay for the entire year. Can you sign a year-long lease?”
Normally, people looking for housing in NY would jump at this opportunity. Unfortunately, The Boyfriend works in a job that kind of takes him all over the world and we currently don’t know where he’s going next, so we don’t feel comfortable signing a year-long lease knowing that perhaps we’ll be breaking that lease. We’re honest people like that.
So I tell the landlord that we’re really looking for something shorter-term, that the four month lease takeover is perfect, but we could do six months. He tells me no, he needs someone to do a year-long lease and that he’ll destroy all of the copies of our identify verification blah blah blah. And that’s that.
That leaves me sitting in my office, freaking out. I thought we had an apartment. We were done. We had a place. We let my current landlord know we’d be leaving and in fact, she’s showing the place today. So I text The Boyfriend to let him know we won’t be signing the lease and he reacts about the same way I do, except with more expletives. He gives himself time to cool off and then calls the landlord. He offers more money per month, says we’ll do six months no problem, uses lawyer-ese on him, but alas. It’s no use.
While The Boyfriend is doing all of that, my boss is telling me about the new organization system she’d like me to put into place. It completely contradicts the last organization system she asked me to put in place and is tangential to the system she asked for prior to that. I’m trying not to cry in her office as she explains exactly how I don’t have her best interests in mind and how she is never able to do her job because I can’t keep her properly organized.
So I’m reorganizing and searching Craigslit and trying not to have a serious panic attack all at the same time.
Because here’s the kicker—finding an unfurnished, shorter-term, 1BR apartment in/around New York is damn near impossible. We don’t want roommates. We have furniture, we don’t need a furnished place and we don’t want the extra expense of putting the stuff that we probably like more than the furnished place’s stuff in storage.
I know I shouldn’t complain about this. People have it far worse. The fact that I have a place and a job and a boyfriend and furniture should be a blessing. And it is. I’m very grateful for my life.
But I’d be more grateful if I were able to sign that lease. Searching for an apartment is a bitch.
Title: Going Vintage
Author: Lindsay Leavitt
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s
Release Date: March 26, 2013
When Mallory’s boyfriend, Jeremy, cheats on her with an online girlfriend, Mallory decides the best way to de-Jeremy her life is to de-modernize things too. Inspired by a list of goals her grandmother made in1962, Mallory swears off technology and returns to a simpler time (when boyfriends couldn’t cheat with computer avatars). The List:
1. Run for pep club secretary
2. Host a fancy dinner party/soiree
3. Sew a dress for Homecoming
4. Find a steady
5. Do something dangerous
But simple proves to be crazy-complicated, and the details of the past begin to change Mallory’s present. Add in a too-busy grandmother, a sassy sister, and the cute pep-club president–who just happens to be her ex’s cousin–and soon Mallory begins to wonder if going vintage is going too far.—via Goodreads
I’ll be honest, I really loved the angst and hurt of being on the wrong end of an emotional relationship part of this book better than the whole “going vintage” part of this book.
Though I really understand the main character, Mallory’s, urge to just quit technology for a day or two (or seven), I found that part of the book a little bit cowardly. I completely get the urge to make the thing that is causing you issues to go away, but cleary that isn’t truly the answer. But I guess that’s what grownig up and learning lessons and moving on is all about—learning how to deal with the crap life throws at you.
Which in this case is having your boyfriend cheating on you, but in an emotional way. In my opinion, emotional relationships are far more hurtful than physical ones. And in this day and age when it’s so so easy to ”meet” someone who lives miles and miles away, striking up a friendship with them seems harmless. It seems innocent but then all of a sudden you’re spending all of your time emailing/texting/logged into a game just so you can spend more time with this person you’ve never met in the real world. (Obviously emotional relationships can be with people you actually know too, but that doesn’t really come up in this book.) I love that the author chose an emotional relationship to be the thing that breaks Mallory and makes her think that going tech-free is the way to be. (Ugh, sorry. Bad rhyme.)
But my very favorite thing about Going Vintage is the relationship Mallory has with her family. Her family is tight-knit, and though they have their (technology-based) issues throughout the book, I really enjoyed the scenes between Mallory and her sister, and with their grandmother—whose journal inspired Mallory’s technology. But more than just the individual relationships, each of which have their own struggles, I liked that the family was going through a tough time financially, but was still banding together rather than letting the problem pull them apart.
Overall, this is a cute, fun book that pinpoints exactly how hurtful emotional relationships can be, highlights the pros and cons of technology, and enforces the importance of communication in every type of relationship.