In Which I Over Share About My Lack of Friends | The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

Following my recent re-read of Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, I decided to check out another book from my teenager days– the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares. To be completely honest, I only sort of vaguely remember this book despite its popularity and despite the movie, which of course I saw. I don’t have any specific memory related to this book, not like Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging at least, but I know I admired the depiction of a strong friendship, and wished I had a Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bridget in my life.


sisterhood-of-the-traveling-pantsThe Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

Released: September 2001
Publisher: Delacorte
Add to Goodreads
★★★★☆

From Baja California to Greece, from film-making to soccer – as Carmen, Tibby, Lena and Bridget endure their first summer apart they are secure in the knowledge that their friendship is constant – and the symbol of it is only a parcel-delivery away.


I felt something strange while reading the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I don’t know if “regret” is the right word, but I think it was something close to that. I’ve never been a social butterfly. In high school, I hung out with friends during my school days and my color guard performances, but aside from that I kept myself pretty secluded mostly communicating with friends through livejournal and AIM (AOL Instant Messenger for you youngsters out there). We rarely had slumber parties. We rarely went to the movies or the beach or the mall together. In hindsight, I feel like I missed out on creating a strong bond, a strong friendship. I was very much a Tibby Rollins, cynical and sarcastic, but without the Carmen, Lena, and Bridget to balance her.

At first I thought, if I could go back and do things differently… but then I wondered why go back in time when I still have so much future ahead of me? Because, as embarrassing as it is to admit, even at the age of 28, I still find myself living vicariously through Carmen and Tibby and Lena and Bridget. [This is about the time where I realize that I need to create one of those “Thirty before Thirty”lists and put “make real friends” at the very top.]

The four girls are hardly perfect. Sometimes they become so preoccupied by events that are going on in their own lives– discovering that a parent is about to get remarried, making a new friend only to find out she is suffering from a terminal illness, allowing oneself to become vulnerable to someone else for the first time, becoming intimate with someone before they were actually ready– that they say things that they later regret or they don’t see that another friend is working through something painful too. But, their friendship is so strong that it doesn’t take long before one of them can take a step back and forgive one another or realize that they are needed by a friend to console and to comfort and to help realign the world.

Another strange thing happened during my reread of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants— I cried. Specifically when Bailey is in the hospital and Tibby realizes just how big of an impact this little girl had on not just Tibby but the people the duo had met that summer. I never cry when I read books, but I swear, adulthood has turned me into a weepy wimp.

the-sisterhood-of-the-traveling-pants-2-movie-poster

Naturally, I had to immediately rent the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movie. It didn’t have quite the same effect as the book because I think their friendship seemed stronger in the book. But, I still spent the last twenty minutes of the film weeping (truly, adulthood has ruined me).

If you’re looking for a contemporary novel focusing on friendship, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a must read!

Have you ever read the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? What are some of your favorite books that portray a strong and positive female friendship?

#TBT | Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison is so old that I remember seeing it at my elementary book fair…nearly twenty years ago. I also remember wanting to buy the book, but I was too embarrassed because the word “thong” was in the title, so I picked up something more prudent instead. It wouldn’t be for another two years before I had the courage to pluck Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal snogging from the shelf at a Barnes & Noble bookstore.

On the ride home, I read excerpts out loud to my mom about Georgia Nicholson dressing up as a green olive for a costume party followed by excerpts about Georgia accidentally shaving off one of her eyebrows, which made her look really surprised in one eye. My mom nearly had to pull the car over because she laughed so hard her eyes filled with tears.

During a recent library visit, I spied this book on a shelf, and I wondered if it was still as funny after all of these years. I’m not much of a reader, unless it’s Harry Potter, but I could resist. I brought this book home…and devoured it in one sitting.


angusthongsandfullfrontalsnoggingbookcoverAngus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison

Released: January 1999
Publisher: Harper Teen
Add to Goodreads
★★★★☆

There are six things very wrong with my life:

1. I have one of those under-the-skin spots that will never come to a head but lurk in a red way for the next two years.

2. It is on my nose

3. I have a three-year-old sister who may have peed somewhere in my room.

4. In fourteen days the summer hols will be over and then it will be back to Stalag 14 and Oberfuhrer Frau Simpson and her bunch of sadistic teachers.

5. I am very ugly and need to go into an ugly home.

6. I went to a party dressed as a stuffed olive.
In this wildly funny journal of a year in the life of Georgia Nicolson, British author Louise Rennison has perfectly captured the soaring joys and bottomless angst of being a teenager. In the spirit of Bridget Jones’s Diary, this fresh, irreverent, and simply hilarious book will leave you laughing out loud. As Georgia would say, it’s “Fabbity fab fab!”


Indeed, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging is still hilarious, in the laugh-out-loud sort of way, after all of these years. It’s also entirely possible that Georgia Nicholson is one of my absolute favorite characters ever written. Okay, so she is sometimes selfish and a total snot to her friend, but she is also brave and vibrant, and she goes after what she wants (whether it’s Robbie the Sex God or Dave the Laugh or Masimo). Plus, Georgia has such a strong and memorable voice.

angus-thongs

After finishing the book, I immediately settled down to watch the movie adaptation on Netflix. If my memory serves me, the film is actually an adaptation of the first two novels in the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series. It was such a fun little movie, and I just loafed on the couch wearing a cheesy grin and giggling. Although, Robbie was not how I pictured him. The movie version of Robbie the Sex God had such a feminine sounding voice, which was really weird.

Also, I don’t recall if I thought about this as a teenager, but I certainly did during my recent re-read– I was kind of disturbed by the relationship between Georgia and Robbie. In the book, Georgia is only 14 but Robbie is just about to turn 18, and I found that to be totally creepy. (The film closed the age gap, so it didn’t bother me as much.)

Have you ever read Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging? Have kids these days heard of this series? (I mean, I have to suspect that they have because my teeny tiny local library has the series…)

A Solid Dose of Nostalgia | The Mermaids of Lake Michigan by Suzanne Kamata

I’m calling it right now– The Mermaids of Lake Michigan by Suzanne Kamata will be one of the top five books I read during 2017.


the-mermaids-of-lake-michigan-book-coverThe Mermaids of Lake Michigan by Suzanne Kamata

Released: February 14, 2017
Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing
Add to Goodreads
★★★★☆
Amazon|BAM|B&N

Elise Faulkner is more at home in the waters of her beloved Lake Michigan than on land where her beauty queen mom is always on her back about her lack of a social life; her sister is dating the boy of her dreams; her favorite penpal–the one who wrote about mermaids in Ghana–has gotten married and ended their correspondence; and no one’s allowed to talk about her glamorous great-grandmother, the deep-sea wreck diver. Elise is biding her time with books until she can flee. But then crazy Chiara Hanover pops into her life, as does Miguel, a mysterious carnival worker whose dark future has been predicted by a gypsy.


Here’s the thing– the synopsis you’ll read on goodreads or the back of the book won’t do The Mermaids of Lake Michigan by Suzanne Kamata justice. The synopsis seems almost flippant with its talk of beauty queens and carnival workers and deep-sea wreck divers and mermaids (of course), but there is so much more gravity to this novel.

The Mermaids of Lake Michigan is a stunningly-written and poetic coming-of-age novel that takes place in the small, sea-side town of Grand Haven, Michigan during the 1970s. Life for Elisa Faulkner seems cookie-cutter-esque until she meets the Chiara Hanover, her neighbor’s vibrant and carefree granddaughter. They’re a bit of an odd couple at first, but Chiara breathes life back into Elise. It’s the small things at first– like influencing Elise to chop of her long locks and changing her wardrobe. Then it grows to skipping school and stealing away to the smoky clubs in Chicago with fake IDs to succumb to infectious, jazzy music. Along the way, Elise meets a young Romani man at a carnival, and he sweeps her off her feet with talk of destiny.

Every once in a while, readers also catch a glimpse of Elise’s childhood and her relationship with her mother. At times, readers see a pathetic vision of a mother trying to fit into the dress she wore when she was the winner of her local beauty pageant. They see her distant and depressed when she learns she is pregnant for a third time. They see her hiding a greyhound bus ticket that promised to take her far away from the family she helped build. And, it’s these visions that drive Elise to be impulsive– to follow her heart all the way from Michigan to Columbia, South Carolina. There she hopes to find love and destiny, but instead she finds longing and despair.

I knocked a star off my rating because I didn’t realize this novel took place in the 1970s for the first several chapters. Also for its use of the word “gypsy”, which is a racial slur, and its associated stereotypes.


I received a copy of this novel for free in exchange for an honest review as part of TLC Book Tours.

TLC Book Tours

My New Library Still Rubber Stamps the Due Dates On All of the Books

I think the thing that surprised me most about my local library was how many people were there. Then again, in a village of about 3,000 people, what else is there to do on a Saturday morning in the middle of January? This particular Saturday was “balmy”– overcast and nearly 50 degrees. I would have pried open windows, as Michiganders are wont to do during brief spells of unseasonably warm weather, but all of my windows are missing screens. So…I decided to walk to the library instead, which happens to be a short zig-zag away from my house. I mean, it probably took me a whole minute to walk there.

Now, the library I used to visit in the capital city was a big, brand new building with high ceilings, couches, and a fireplace, and you could easily maneuver the stacks without bumping into anyone. My new library is a small brick building tucked beside the fire department. The front lawn is decorated with some awkward scarecrow made out of white fence pieces and a blow-up snowman that looks tacky now that Christmas is a month behind us. Inside is cozy though, perhaps a little dark in some corners, and almost over-stuffed with books, if such a thing were possible. Patrons included a man with a scraggly beard playing on the computers, an elderly woman, who has traced her ancestry back to the 1400s so far, and a middle-aged woman, who had just won $40 on a scratch-off lottery ticket, and the first thing she thought to do with the money was pay her library fine so she could borrow books again.

Even though the selection of books isn’t nearly as vast as my old library, I still managed to spend an hour perusing the stacks. This weekend’s library loot includes:

  • Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison — I read this over ten years ago when I was still in high school; I wonder if it’s still as funny as I remember.
  • Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel — a sci-fi novel told in interviews, journal entries, transcripts, and news articles. I’ve not had any luck with epistolary novels lately, but we’ll see if this one is different.
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz — because it’s about time I catch up with the rest of the book blogosphere!
  • Dead Until Dark: Sookie Stackhouse #1 by Charlain Harris — because it’s about time I catch up with the rest of the world!
  • the Mental Floss History of the World by Erik Sass and Steve Wiegand — because I’m a nerd.

If you’re a library-goer, what are some of your favorite things about your library?

The Best of 2016

Yet another year passes, and I didn’t reach my goal of reading 52 books. How can I call myself a book blogger if I cannot even achieve such a minuscule goal? Surely there is a quota that must be met for this sort of thing. Still, I read some pretty incredible books this year. These books take the cake!

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson — I knew this hilarious travel narrative by one of my favorite writers would top the list before I even started reading.

Open Road Summer by Emery Lord — This novel started out as a two-star read but shifted into a four-star read that changed my perspective on YA Contemporary novels.

The Sisters of Versailles and The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie — If you would have told me I was going to read and love this steamy romp through the palace of Versailles, I wouldn’t have believed you, but Sally Christie’s wit and storytelling abilities are irresistible. The final novel in this series, The Enemies of Versailles, is being released this year, and I cannot wait to read it!

The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson — I still can’t find the words to accurately praise this novel. It is my absolute favorite read of 2016 though.

The Art of Holding on and Letting Go by Kristin Bartley Lenz — This was a beautifully written novel about coping with grief and the healing powers of nature and rock climbing, and Lenz captured the essence of Michigan so perfectly (perhaps because she is a Michigander!).

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern — Halpern captures the voice of a fifteen year old girl so vividly in this hilarious contemporary novel about family, friendship, and Dungeons & Dragons.

Pique Tea Crystals — It’s a toss-up between their Earl Grey and their Mint Sencha, but Pique Tea Crystals is perfect for brewing a cup of iced tea on the go.

Lemon Soleil Tea from Adagio Teas — The bright and lemony black tea was, without a doubt, my absolute favorite tea to sip on in 2016!

Reading Nook Blend by Plume Deluxe — Just as the name of the tea suggests, this floral scented tea is perfect for keeping cozy while reading.

Charcoal-baked Anxi Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea from Tea Vivre — This is another dreamy, floral-flavored tea that makes me wish Springtime were right around the corner.

Thai Chai Tea from Adagio Teas — this spicy and creamy blend of black tea, cinnamon bark, ginger root, dried coconut, cardamom, and lemon grass kept me warm this Autumn.

What were some of your favorite Books & Tea in 2016?

An Indie Pub Novel with Potential | Eve Brenner: Zombie Girl by A. Giacomi

I’m going to start this post with an instant mood killer: This is not the review I wanted to write. I wanted to love this novel. I really did. And here’s the thing, at the very root of it, Eve Brenner: Zombie Girl by A. Giacomi is a good story. It’s action packed, it’s thrilling, it’s not your usual zombie fare. Unfortunately… the execution of the story was unpolished, and that affected my ability to fully enjoy this novel.


eve-brennerEve Brenner: Zombie Girl by A. Giacomi

Released: January 2015
Publisher: CHBB Publishing
★★☆☆☆
Add to Goodreads

Eve used to be an ordinary girl, from an ordinary town, with ordinary dreams, but her dreams rapidly turn into nightmares when one grave mistake leaves her a little less than human and a lot less average.

Eve’s not quite the same girl she used to be. She desperately clings to her humanity as new desires, new abilities, and new urges take over with each passing day.

Eve Brenner: Zombie Girl is a tale that takes you on an emotional and terrifying journey as Eve struggles to cope with her new life and find a cure for her strange illness before time runs out. She desperately clings to her humanity as she tries to control the monster she knows is lurking inside her.

Turns out living was the easy part.


Eve Brenner: Zombie Girl is New Adult without the smut

I’m reluctant to pick up New Adult fiction because so much of it seems to be about young adults discovering their sexuality. And while I believe there is value in that topic, there is so much more to being 18/19/20 than sex. Eve Brenner: Zombie Girl breaks the NA mold; it takes place in a college setting but it focuses more on friendship and family relationships instead of bombarding readers with sex or romance, and I appreciate that.

This is not your typical zombie fare

First, “patient zero” is a few thousand years old. Sealed away in a sarcophagus in Egypt is not a mummy but a zombie that has been infected by the Azrael Virus. During an anthropological dig, Eve Brenner comes face-to-face with the ancient Egyptian zombie and becomes infected herself. However, instead of becoming mindless, Eve Brenner is very much lucid– she just has preternatural strength and healing abilities, and of course she has an insatiable appetite for braaaaaaaains, which makes attending college and maintaining friendships so much more challenging.

Second, instead of running for their lives, Eve’s friends, Cam and Alex, stay true to their friendship. It’s not always easy though considering Eve could snap at any moment and devour the pair like a couple of steaks. Oh, and of course there was that time when Eve may or may not have accidentally and impulsively eaten Cam’s abusive father. I mean, how do you break that kind of news to someone?

Unfortunately, there seemed to be some inconsistencies surrounding the zombie transformation throughout the course of the novel. Sometimes Eve’s victims are full-fledged mindless zombies, and other times they were capable of making conscious decisions, including raising an army of undead college kids. It’s not really addressed why the Azrael Virus affects victims differently though.

There is also a red stone that was mentioned a few times in the story; it might hold some mysterious power, but nobody knows what it does…yet. Based on how the story ended, I imagine it plays a larger role in the second novel in the saga, although I actually found the red stone to be conflicting with the rest of the story. So much of this novel is rooted in science fiction and then out of nowhere there is this random fantasy element?

This felt like a second draft

When I think of Eve Brenner: Zombie Girl, my immediate thought is, “this book has a lot of potential”. I found the story to be genuinely compelling and exciting, but the storytelling was unpolished and probably could have benefited from another round of critiques and revisions. For example, the story is told from three different perspectives, but their voices are all the same (which is weird considering two of our narrators are female and one of our narrators is male). But even more frustrating was that the setting was so vague!

For a brief time, this story takes place during an anthropological dig in Egypt, which is freaking awesome! But…I don’t know what the dig site looked like. I didn’t get to see the students and professors at work. I didn’t even know what they were searching for! I couldn’t feel the arid climate or blazing sun. I was left wondering what the ancient pyramids looked like against the backdrop of the modern city of Cairo (or wherever they were).  Then, Eve Brenner and Co. arrive back at college, but as far as I can tell, the only students on campus aside from Eve, Cam, and Alex are Cam’s roommate, Mark, and the crazy RA, Claire. There is no hustle-and-bustle of campus life, which should have added so much tension to this story considering Eve’s insatiable appetite.

This story wasn’t realistic

This is obviously a work of fiction– of science fiction– so “realistic” is kind of an odd word to use in conjunction with a story about zombies. My concern with realism has less to do with zombies (I’m on board with zombies!), and more to do with the reactions of the characters.

  • Eve Brenner is an underclassman who convinced one of her professors to allow her to participate in a “high profile” anthropological dig in Egypt even though the trip was reserved for upperclassmen. Not only that, but she convinces him to allow her to bring along two of her friends, who (from what I can tell) don’t study anthropology. Universities are so competitive that I have an easier time believing in a zombie apocalypse over an underclassman and her two BFFs convincing a respected professor to allow them to join on a “high profile” dig.
  • Eve Brenner may or may not have eaten Cam’s father in a fit of zombie rage, and it takes about three weeks for Cam to get over it. I don’t care how cute the living dead girl is, nor do I care how abusive your father is, you don’t just get over the fact that your friend may or may not have eaten a family member. Actually, this whole scene was so traumatic that Cam probably should have dropped out of school and sought counseling, but he ends up adjusting to everything quite well.
  • Apparently Dr. August, the professor that allowed Eve and her BFFs to join on the dig, is not only an anthropologist but an experienced immunologist as well. How he found the time to dig in Egypt and find the cure to the common cold, I have no idea. (Okay, he didn’t cure the common cold, but he did study the H1N1 virus extensively). Regardless, this is the logic behind him studying the Azrael Virus and the Ancient Egyptians, I guess. SO MUCH NOPE.
  • Finally, CSIS (Canada’s equivalent to the U.S.’s CIA, I think) discovers the zombie outbreak (not sure how…). They show up on campus and proceed to break every protocol ever by threatening Eve Brenner and Co. with guns and basically torturing Eve’s friend. Common’! Even the Cigarette Smoking Man has more bureaucratic red tape to cut through than this.

Despite my issues with Eve Brenner: Zombie Girl by A. Giacomi, I do recognize it as an imaginative and thrilling story. It was also a unique twist on the zombie story, where instead of being a hungry villain, they do have a conscious and they can be a hero. In the next installation, Eve Brenner teams up with the very team that threatened her and her friends, CSIS, to discover the truth behind the Azrael Virus. Intriguing!

I received a copy of this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review.

A Modern Adaptation of a Gothic Classic | The Turning by Francine Prose

I am a slow reader. I mean, a slooooooooooow reader. I am also a distracted reader, so the fact that I even maintain a book blog is kind of a feat. Truly! I read about how other bloggers devour entire libraries in a year, and in five years, I could count the number of books I’ve read in a single day on one hand (The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, the Wrap-up List by Steven Arnston, Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern, Ghouls, Ghouls, Ghouls by Victoria Laurie). Well, I’m happy to say, I have one more book to add to this list. Er…sort of happy, anyway.


the-turning-coverThe Turning by Francine Prose

Released: September 2015
Publisher: Harper Teen
★★☆☆☆
Add to Goodreads

Jack is spending the summer on a private island far from modern conveniences. No Wi-Fi, no cell service, no one else on the island but a housekeeper and the two very peculiar children in his care. The first time Jack sees the huge black mansion atop a windswept hill, he senses something cold, something more sinister than even the dark house itself.

Soon, he feels terribly isolated and alone. Yet he is not alone. The house has visitors—peering in the windows, staring from across the shore. But why doesn’t anyone else see them . . . and what do they want? As secrets are revealed and darker truths surface, Jack desperately struggles to maintain a grip on reality. He knows what he sees, and he isn’t crazy. . . . Or is he?

From nationally acclaimed author Francine Prose comes a mind-bending story that will leave you realizing how subtle the lines that separate reality, imagination, and insanity really are.


The first thing you should know about the Turning by Francine Prose is that it is an adaptation of the gothic novella, The Turning of the Screw by Henry James (this was assigned reading in high school, but of course I read Sparknotes instead). The second thing you should know is The Turning is an epistolary novel told through an exchange of letters between Jack and his girlfriend. The third thing you should know is the Turning has an absolutely promising first half…and then it all falls apart (sort of like Jack’s sanity).

What makes the first half of the novel so intriguing is the low-key creepy factor. Like the fact that Jack can’t shake the feeling that he’s being watched. Or the children, whose behavior is just ever slightly abnormal, hid a photograph of the last baby sitter with her face scratched out, and this somehow makes the children scarier than Regan from The Exorcist. Or the feeling that their other caretaker isn’t being 100% honest about the island, the house, or the children.

Eventually, the isolation of the island starts to drive Jack mad though. He becomes paranoid and accuses his girlfriend of cheating on him, which is annoying. Then he starts seeing the ghost of a young woman, and he falls in love with her. Aside from his madness being too over the top for me, I just didn’t buy into it. I mean, the story takes place in 21st century America, so that kind of isolation is far-fetched.

Still, I managed to read this book in one sitting, so I feel like that says something, right? Or else it just means that 250 pages is just short enough that even a distracted reader like me can make it to the ending.

Spoil This Books For Me, Please? | And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich

There was a time when I would actively seek out books with “unique formatting”. They could have been epistolary novels or verse novels. They could have been novels with doodles or comics throughout. They could have even been books that simply had font face and size changes throughout the course of the novel. Granted, this was mostly during my Scholastic Book Fair days, but still…there was a time when I found these kinds of books to be extra fun and engaging.

Unfortunately, I recently discovered my love for books with unique formatting did not transcend time, and I proceeded to thrust myself into a reading slump when I unintentionally attempted to read four such novels back-to-back. First, there was The Turning by Francine Prose, which I actually finished, but more on that later. Then there was Escape from Asylym by Madeleine Roux, which held my attention for about twenty pages but only because of the creepy photographs. Then there was Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente, whose formatting caught me off guard but I want to give a second chance when I’m more mentally prepared. And finally, there was And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich…


and-the-trees-crept-inAnd the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich

Released: September 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
DNF
Add to Goodreads

When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the manor is cursed. The endless creaking of the house at night and the eerie stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too—questions that Silla can’t ignore: Why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer? Who is the beautiful boy who’s appeared from the woods? And who is the tall man with no eyes who Nori plays with in the basement at night… a man no one else can see?


Everyone has been reading and raving about The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich, but my library didn’t have a copy, so I picked up And the Trees Crept In instead. And actually, And the Trees Crept In was rated pretty highly on Goodreads, so I still felt as though I had picked a winner. Unfortunately, I found myself going mad from the formatting. Between several pages of prose (beautifully written, I might add), there are “handwritten” letters from Silla and Nori as well as bad poetry than holds hidden messages if you read the poem as a whole followed by just reading the words with the bold font face.

As for the story…I don’t even know how I feel about it. Part of me recognizes that there were scenes that were legitimately terrifying. I mean, they were so terrifying that I felt uncomfortable and had goosebumps, and I appreciate that. But, the novel was also kind of redundant, which makes me think this novel would have been more successful as a short story (without all of the flashy, gimicky, distracting formatting).

Also…half the time, I had no idea what was going on! Part of it was because I had no context of what was going on in the world. I had no idea when this novel was taking place. I mean, the setting was modern, so I’m not entirely sure why there was so much isolation. And I think there was some kind of war going on? But I don’t know why. And London was abandoned? So was the town that was closest to the haunted mansion? Again, I don’t know why. And then, there is this boy that comes to visit Silla and Nori, and he always brings apples, but I have no idea where he’s coming from or where he finds the apples, and for some reason, Silla doesn’t question it. So…I gave up on the novel half way through because I was getting board and nothing made sense.

I hear that the ending is absolutely mind-blowing though, and it wraps up everything that readers like myself dislike about this novel quite nicely. If you would like to spoil this novel for me, I’m all ears, because I’m actively searching through Goodreads to find a spoiler for the ending.  

I Don’t Deserve These Books!

Yesterday was a particularly perfect Autumn day that had me jonesing for some spooky literature, so I escaped to the library for a little while and returned home with more books than I am capable of reading in a three-week period (as usual). I probably…definitely should not have indulged in a library visit since I’m already kind of behind on reading the books with review deadlines, but I couldn’t resist.

spooky-books-16

Library loot includes:

  • Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente (which isn’t supposed to be spooky, but I’ve been wanting to read it for nearly a year and I’ve never found it in either the library or book stores until now)
  • The Turning by Francine Prose
  • As I Descend by Robin Talley
  • And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich
  • The Watchman of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
  • Escape from Asylum by Madeleine Roux
  • Prom Dates from Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore
  • What a Ghoul Wants by Victoria Laurie

Have you read any of these books?

the-turning

I made the mistake of starting to read the Turning by Francine Prose in the evening, and once the sun finally set, I started to get almost uncomfortably scared. Not scared enough to stop reading, but scared enough that I knew I wouldn’t be going to bed anytime soon because I’d be hyper-alert to all the things that go bump in the night (even though I know those things are definitely just my cat). To make matters worse, Jon fell asleep early, so it was just me sitting alone in the living room. And even though we live in a small apartment and Jon was only 15 steps away from me, and almost all the lights were on, I still managed to scare myself into thinking that something was lurking outside the sliding glass door in the pitch black night staring in at me (because that happened in the book). Nevermind that we live on the third floor, so you know, that’s almost impossible (unless the climbed the tree…which they could have…).

What was the last scary story you read that gave you the heebie-jeebies?

#OHTHEFEELS | The Art of Holding On and Letting Go by Kristin Bartley Lenz

I used to devour YA Contemporary novels, but the older I become, the harder I am to impress by this once beloved genre. I’ve really struggled over the course of my five years of book blogging to read and enjoy YA Contemporary novels, and at one point, I would have been more than happy to avoid the genre entirely. But, I have to admit, this has been a redeeming year; I’ve read a handful of excellent Contemporaries, and I read another novel that just might be making it into my top ten books this year– the Art of Holding On and Letting Go by Kristin Bartley Lenz. Beautifully written and atmospheric, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go is an equally intense and introspective novel about love and loss and finding one’s home in this world. (P.S. There are some spoilers below this line, so read at your own risk).


the art of holding on and letting go book coverThe Art of Holding on and Letting Go by Kristin Bartley Lenz

Released: September 12, 2016
Publisher: Elephant Rock Books
Add to Goodreads
★★★★☆

Competitive climber Cara Jenkins feels most at home high off the ground, clinging to a rock wall by her fingertips. She’s enjoyed a roaming life with her mountaineering parents, making the natural world her jungle gym, the writings of Annie Dillard and Henry David Thoreau her textbooks. But when tragedy strikes on an Ecuadoran mountaintop, Cara’s nomadic lifestyle comes to an abrupt halt.

Starting over at her grandparents’ home in suburban Detroit, Cara embarks on a year of discovery, uncovering unknown strengths, friendships, and first love. Cara’s journey illustrates the transformative power of nature, love and loss, and discovering that home can be far from where you started.


I was hooked right away

The novel opens a world away from my own– not just because main character, Cara Jenkins, is in Ecuador, where Lenz captures the sights and sounds and smells so well– but also because the story opens amid a junior rock climbing competition. I had no idea such events even existed.

The tension is palpable as Cara mentally prepares for her climb. She’s trying to block out the fact that her famous, mountaineering family is ascending one of the most treacherous peeks in South America instead of supporting her at the competition. She’s also trying not to feel overwhelmed next to friends (who are also her competitors), who are using the event as a publicity stunt to gain fame and sponsors. She just wants to escape for a moment with her thermos of hot tea to think about rock wall she is about to climb.

Then, once Cara’s world was knocked off-kilter during the competition, there was no going back for me.

#OHTHEFEELS

This book dealt with some pretty complex ideas, which I didn’t expect. I mean, it’s been several weeks since I finished reading The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, and I still do not know how I feel about Cara’s parents shipping her to the suburbs of Detroit, while they remain abroad to grieve the loss of Uncle Max. My immediate reaction was that Cara’s parents were selfish! Selfish that they would force Cara away from home for the sake of normalcy. Selfish for making Cara deal with the grief and loss all on her own. Selfish for making her worry about their safety as they cope in the only way they know how– by climbing even more dangerous mountains. I couldn’t help but think, “How could they just abandon her like that?!”

But I know…I know it is not that simple. Everyone copes with loss in their own ways, and Lenz explores that idea throughout The Art of Holding On and Letting Go.

I found myself invested in all of the characters

Lenz writes a rich cast of characters, and I found myself rooting for all of them. Like goth girl, Kaitlyn, who was one of the first to welcome Cara to school (even though goth girls are supposed to be mean and intimidating [or at least that’s what everyone thought of me back in the day] and even though she has a deformed hand that tends to make ignorant people uncomfortable). Or, like punk kid, Nick, who is a really sensitive young man and is determined to see Cara climb again and sweep Kaitlyn off her feet. Then there is Jake, an eighth-grader from the sketchy parts of Pontiac, who found refuge in rock climbing and basketball; it’s so unsuspecting, but this youngster plays a pivotal role in challenging Cara to climb again. Even Cara’s grandmother wiggled her way into my heart once I realized her curmudgeonly and critical personality was one rooted in fear and anxiety regarding the people she loved.

Readers have the opportunity to follow the transformation of each character–primary and secondary– which I think is a rare treat. Portraying so much character growth in just a couple hundred pages could have easily become cumbersome. But, Lenz knows her characters so well that she makes writing well-rounded characters seem like a breeze.


The Art of Holding on and Letting Go is a novel you need in your life. It’s an excellent debut filled with beautiful prose and compelling characters. But what impressed me the most was Cara’s passion for rock climbing. First, I’ve never read a novel about rock climbing before, so I found it to be especially fascinating. It became this obstacle that was both literal and metaphoric, which was kind of perfect, really. Second, reading about rock climbing is invigorating! After finishing the novel, I probably spent an hour searching for hiking trails around the mid-Michigan area because I wanted to reconnect with nature like Cara did. (Mind you, I haven’t actually thrust myself back into nature yet, but it’s also been unnaturally hot this summer. My preference has been not to move very much because I can’t handle this kind of weather.)

(P.S. You can totally tell Kristin Bartley Lenz is from Michigan. She wrote that the 45 degree Springtime weather was “balmy”, which is exactly how I describe the weather when the snow starts to melt.)

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for free in exchange for an honest review.