Book Review: What If It’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli

A few years after its publication, I finally got around to reading What If It’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli. After reading it, I realized why it took me so long to get to it.

What If It’s Us tells, in alternating POVs, the story of the ultimate meet-cute. Ben and Arthur run into each other at a post office in New York. Ben is mailing things back to his ex-boyfriend and Arthur followed him into the post office, because he thought Ben was cute…duh. Sparks fly. A flash mob starts. They lose track of each other and spend the rest of the book trying to find each other. Cute right?

Ehh.

I love me some teen drama, but this was almost too much drama. I felt like no one in the book had any fun ever. But that is just me! I appreciated all of the Broadway allusions and the meet-cute was super cute, but I just wasn’t a huge fan of the book in general.

Also, I wish that the book alternated fonts with POVs. Sometimes, I lost track of whose POV it was supposed to be.

Maybe I am not the target audience for it and that is okay. Check it out because it might be for you!

Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Once again, I picked up a book thanks to a list. This time it was a list of Queer YA Books, from Buzzfeed. So much love for Buzzfeed Lists. The premise looked great and I am a big fan of the author. I saw them speak at Book Con in 2015 and just had to devour everything they write.

In Dark and Deepest Red, McLemore deftly wove magical realism, contemporary fiction, and historical fiction. The novel followed the POVs of three characters connected by family, by Romani culture, and by the dancing plague of the 1500s. Two characters were modern teens and the other, a teen from the 16th century.

I do not say this often, but I loved, loved, loved this book.

I was drawn in the magical worlds, the magical words, the culture, the history, the diversity of love.

I cried. I squealed. I sighed.

I’ll probably think about this one for awhile.

That being said, if magical realism is not your thing or if you, like some of my wonderful bookish friends, cannot get through historical fiction, this may not be your thing. But, if you are like me, and love a little magical realism with a little historical fiction, this book is for you.

Review: The Hypnotist By Lars Kepler

I found The Hypnotist on a list…as I do….of thrillers that kept readers on the edge of their seats. While I have been reading a lot and writing a lot about “guilty pleasure” reads and YA books, I have not been reading too many mysteries. And, I love a mystery. The first chapter books I remember reading were Nancy Drews. My mother and grandmother were always reading mysteries. It’s a family thing.

Any ways, this book is un-put-down-able. In my opinion. Seldom do I find a book that can surprise me and capture my attention. I don’t want to say too much, but, the book follows Detective Joona Linna as he tries to solve the murder of a family; a murder that was witnessed by one child, who lies in a coma. He turns to a disgraced hypno-therapist to help him question the surviving boy. What results is a fast-paced and, at times, anxiety producing story.


I devoured this rather lengthy mystery/thriller in record time. It was fascinating, horrifying, and never predictable. I kept trying to solve one layer and then, another layer of another case was exposed. What a ride.

I will say….Don’t read this one alone, at night.

On Graphic Novels

Now that it is summer time, I fill the void of a highly scheduled teacher life, with a highly scheduled personal life. It is how a Type A person like me survives.

There is time for reading, for walking, for lifting, for watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race, for socializing safely, for writing, and for taking professional development classes. Currently, I am enrolled in two classes. One is on using graphic novels in the classroom and the other is on using reading to support socio-emotional growth. As a teacher and a reader, I approach courses with the same mindset: ‘Okay, how do I use these concepts in my classroom and don’t those books sound fun to read and review?” Are those thoughts at odds? I think not.

As a reader, one who revels in reader response theory, I want to enjoy what I am reading and feel all of the feelings that come with it. As a teacher, I am often asked to put that aside and think about literary devices and standardized testing. However, I find that my students are the most engaged when I do both. I give them something to enjoy, that we can also talk about, analyze, and write about.

One of my courses has gone into great detail about how graphic novels are misconstrued as not challenging texts. Is this another situation where something fun (like romance novels) is not considered academically worthy? Perhaps. I love recommending graphic novels to reluctant readers and I love reading graphic novels. I love being immersed in the complex world that each author and illustrator creates. The colors and style can help to set the tone, sometimes even faster and more effectively than straight text.

The following is a discussion post that I submitted for the course to answer a question about how to use graphic novels in the classroom. I share it because my thoughts about how to use them as a teacher reflect how I see them as a reader:

As a sixth grade teacher, I am fortunate to have some creative freedom and to teach a population of students that are still excited about school and learning ( a devastating but true sentiment.). They want to have fun and from what I can see, graphic novels would be academically valuable and fun resources. I read that graphic novels can provide a rich and challenging reading experience, even though they have less text than a traditional novel.  Students in my class could use a graphic novel to discover character traits and types of conflict, without being bogged down in the comprehension of a difficult text (especially my students with language disabilities or my english language learners.).  I am also excited by an idea in “In Defense of Graphic Novels” to use graphic novels for complex analytical tasks.  The article says, “Eric S. Rabkin discusses how he uses graphic novels to focus his class’s attention on how narrative time unfolds. He explains that he will have “students in turn focus on a single frame of a graphic narrative, speak aloud whatever they see and whatever they infer, including their reflective and proleptic understandings of how the frame fits into the flow of the larger narrative” (Hansen 2012.)  One of our standards in sixth grade is to discuss how a scene in a book affects the plot or overall theme.  We do this with episodes in The Phantom Tollbooth, a novel with some pictures, and the exercise is fairly simple.  Doing the Rabkin exercise with a frame of a graphic novel, would allow for more complex thinking from our students, as they infer actions. traits, themes, etc from text and complex illustrations. And of course, graphic novels are inherently more fun.  They seem, to students, to be not school work, because they have pictures and are related to comic books.  When students see pictures, they often connect them to their own sources of entertainment (like cartoons, movies, comics, and video games.). Completing school assignments using a medium that they consider fun will encourage and excite students.  Sixth graders want to have fun in school and using graphic novels can bring that fun, with valuable learning experiences. 

As I wrote this, I realized that I could substitute “Students” for “I or me.” I am always more engaged in something when it seems fun, vibrant, or interesting. Graphic novels never cease to pull me into a story and are often the first things that I recommend to my struggling or reluctant readers.

How do you feel about graphic novels? Do you have any favorites?

“Guilty Pleasure” Review- Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore

Apparently, I am doing a lot of “guilty pleasure” reading this summer. Well…in between my YA reads and my anti-racist reading. Here is one that I liked. Didn’t love.

Am I hard to please? Well, no, but I have read over 3000 books in my 32 years and it is hard to really surprise me with a plot. I almost feel like I have read it all before. That means I hardly ever really “love” a book, but I usually still “like” it.

Please read my previous and future reviews with that in mind.

Bringing Down the Duke

Bringing Down the Duke, to frequent readers of historical romance, has a familiar plot. Beautiful, but too intelligent to land a husband, Annabelle Archer (love an alliterative name) crosses paths with handsome but cold and aloof Sebastian Devereux, Duke of Montgomery while she is handing out fliers in support of women’s suffrage. After that, you. know what happens.

This one was fun and steamy. I loved the build up of tension and the back drop of the British women’s suffrage movement. That was a new one. It is great when a main heroine asserts her intelligence, but loved to see her using it to affect change for a larger group of people, rather than just her own place in society.

What kept me from loving it was this: I’m not a huge fan of the “woman getting a fever from being out in the cold so they have to stay at the aloof, heartless, handsome aristocrat’s manor” trope. But it’s always a pretty convenient way to advance a romantic plot. Come on. I get it, but I would have loved something more.

With that being said, I did enjoy my experience reading it last night and I will absolutely pick up Evie Dunmore’s next one.

“Guilty Pleasure” Review: Not That Kind of Guy by Andie J. Christopher

A review with no shame. Get ready.

Not that Kind of Guy

If Peter and Lara Jean or Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds made you swoon, this might be the book for you.

Not That Kind of Guy follows hard working attorney Bridget. Fresh off a break-up with the only serious boyfriend she ever had, she is saddled with handsome and wealthy intern Matt.

I found it to be hot and kind of cute.

The premise, intern/boss forbidden lust to drunken Vegas mistake to fake relationship had, had all of the fun romance tropes. I liked both characters and loved her family.

I just kind of wish there was a little more build up of tension between the two of them. They work together for three months and we learn this because the book flashes forward and we are told that three months of meaningful looks and tension have happened.

I, for one, would have enjoyed being frustrated about that with them.

That all being said, I did not love it, but I liked it. Pick it up and make your own judgement.

On Re-Reads

I think I talked about it in my post on trilogies, but I am a big re-reader.

I love delving into a book or series every few years to revisit favorite characters and favorite relationships, to see how my reading experience changes as I do, or to remind myself of previous books in a series before I tackle the newest one.

When the stay-at-home order for COVID-19 was put in place in Mass, I immediately began re-reading some of my favorite series. To be fair, I prefer reading paper books and the library was closed, so I had to re-read what I already owned.

The whole experience got me thinking about why I re-read and which books I tend to re-read. I find that I often turn to books that helped shaped my teenage years and books that contain my favorite “book boyfriends.” As a 32 year-old reader, I hold no more naivety about the idealism of fictional relationships, but that doesn’t mean I cannot read them anymore.

Books that I have re-read over the years:
1. The Ringmaster’s Secret by Carolyn Keene (my favorite of the Nancy Drew books)
2. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (I read this book for the first time in 2000 and I have read it every few years since. One year, when I was in my early twenties, I hated it. It has been with me for a long time)
3. Meg Cabot’s Heather Wells series (Ex-pop star works at a college dorm and solves murders with a hunky PI. Yes please. The first one is called Size 12 is Not Fat and I was one then,)
4. Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries Series (such fun teen angst)
5. Phillip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series
6. Deanna Rayburn’s Veronica Speedwell Series
7. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
8. Emma by Jane Austen
9. The Collected Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
10. Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series
11. Harry Potter (up until this year)
12. Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery (until after Anne and Gilbert get married and Anne’s character changes completely)
13. The Murder of Roget Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
14. All of Dan Brown’s books (they are fun and I don’t care what you think)

I’m sure there are many that I am forgetting, but no matter what, re-reading is an important part of my literary life. Sometimes I crave the comfort of a story that I know the ending of. Sometimes I need to swoon over a hero. Sometimes I have to see how a text has aged and how I have aged with it.

Why do you re-read? What do you find yourself re-reading? I would love to know!

“Guilty Pleasure” Book Project

Last week, I engaged in a Twitter discourse with followers of Epic Reads about the term “guilty pleasure” and how it applies to reading. Many fellow Tweeters expressed a similar sentiment to mine.

As I have mentioned before, almost ad nauseam, I find the term to be outdated and sexist. It mostly applies to female readers and books where the plot focuses on romance. Sometimes the book is humorous. Sometimes the book has a murder. Sometimes the book is vaguely historical. No matter the actual plot or setting, a “guilty pleasure” read usually has a steamy romance and a happy ending. Sign me up!

Readers have to hide their delight in these often predictable books. The couple meets, has some tension, has some smutty moments around page 150, has some sort of conflict, and then gets together in the end. So what if the text that brought them together would not be taught in an upperclassmen literature seminar? The idea that only highbrow novels are worthy of reading and worthy of discussing is elitist and foolish.

“Guilty pleasure” reads often provide socio-emotional and empathy training for readers without them even realizing it. These books give us an escape. These novels make us want to actually pick up and finish a book, instead of scrolling mindlessly on our phone. These books have value, even if they cost six dollars at the grocery store instead of twenty dollars at a book store.

So here it is. The newest addition to my blog: The “Guilty Pleasures” Book Project. As I review and think about books, I am going to update a new page on my blog that brings all of these reads together. Please recommend and comment so that we can start to reclaim the term and read things we enjoy without shame.

Because a love of reading is a love of reading, no matter what you choose to read.

“Guilty Pleasure” Review: The Dare by Elle Kennedy

Yes, I am still using the term.

But, am I learning that it is not a mark of shame for its reader? Also yes.

Two nights ago, I binge read The Dare by Elle Kennedy. I do not care what you think of her books or her writing style. Well, I do, but I refuse to be shamed because I enjoy them. Her books make me laugh. Her books make me swoon (a little and a lot…mostly a lot.). And, most importantly, they are something that I read because of my best friend. She shares new ones with me. She shares her favorite lines with me. We share our lol-worthy or swoon-worthy moments. As she would say: “Real friends share smutty books with each other.”

I think that is a beautiful sentiment.

This latest smutty-book-share follows elementary education major, sorority sister, curvier than she would like, college student Taylor. Very early on in the book, Taylor is dared by her arch-nemesis to seduce the hot new hockey player Conor, a tall order considering the lack of confidence that Taylor has in her body. Of course, high-jinx and smut ensue.

Not going to lie, this one is heavier on the smut, with a little bit of fun and feelings. It has the always great “fake dating” trope and fairly realistic heroine (who wants to be a teacher!)

My only gripe is that I wish Taylor had a bit more to her personality than her body image issues. As someone with a lot of hang-ups of her own, I like to think that I am more than that and I don’t need some handsome hockey player to convince me otherwise. So I found her relatable, but I thought we could have seen a little bit more of what she could be.

But complex characterization is not why you pick up an Elle Kennedy.

And I always do.

And I always enjoy it.

Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Last week, I made my way through the National Book Award Finalist book Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

This book gave me a lot to think about and a lot to Google as I read.

Pachinko follows four generations of a Korean family. It shows their love, their poverty, their ambition, and their family dynamics. Some of the family employment centers around yakuza owned Pachinko parlors. I knew nothing about these and gladly jumped into the internet rabbit hole to learn about them.

This book was beautiful and heartbreaking, giving the reader insight into the plight of Koreans in Japan. The narrative style was not my favorite. Chapters were long and the big life moments like falling in love, birth, and death were glossed over in time jumps.

Maybe that makes sense. Maybe the author was making a point that the characters could not take the time to dwell on any emotion. I would have loved to dwell on so many of them. When I read, I usually am swept up in the character’s emotions. They become my own. They urge me to finish a book, so that I can resolve the emotions. With this book, it was not the point, leaving me with my own unresolved emotions. Again, perhaps that is the point.

Pick it up and see for yourself!