Tackle the TBR

Tackle the TBR

Alternate title for this post: This is all Terri’s fault.

No, really. So Terri at Reading by Starlight made a post about her TBR and it convinced me(it didn’t take much effort) to make a concentrated effort on knocking out some books on my physical TBR(as in, books I already own but haven’t read).

So I began by counting books. Then my ebooks. Then my ARCs. The numbers were slightly terrifying. Ready for this?

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Behold the TBR spreadsheet. I’ve drawn helpful arrows to the cell that is holding the current total of my books I own but haven’t read. I’m hoping this also helps with ebooks because I so often forget about them. Out of sight, out of mind.

When I made the spreadsheet it was actually at 185, so you know, progress(Edit: except a day after drafting this post I found half a shelf I hadn’t added yet, so that is actually back to 186). This number frightens me, and I’ve GOT to do something about it, so I’m working on tackling my TBR.

I’m not setting any super stringent goals because I’ve already learn I can’t follow those sort of strict guidelines. However, when I thought of the phrase “tackle the TBR”, it made me think of football(because tackles, obviously). So I’ve decided for every ten books I read from this list, I get a “first down”, aka some kind of reward. Bribing myself has always worked wonders in the past. The only thing I’m not rewarding myself with is books, but there’s still lots of options. When I reach ten books, I might let myself watch a TV show I’ve been wanting to watch or buy a bookish(but not a book) item.

I did highlight some books that I wanted to keep “on deck”, but it’s a pretty loose list and I’m not considering myself bound to it if something catches my eye outside that group. It’s just sort of a reminder to myself about the books I’ve been meaning to read soon.

Ideally I’d like to get the TBR to under 100 by the end of the year, which is feasible at my reading speed but not exactly setting myself up for success. It’d be close. Even if I don’t reach that, though, I’d like to think I can put a big dent in this spreadsheet.

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Book Review: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Book Review: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

 by Becky Albertalli

simon vs the homo sapiens agenda

 Original Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Obtained Via: Advanced Reader’s copy given by the publisher through Edelweiss. This in no way influenced my opinion of the book.
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Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

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Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a delightful book. I knew as soon as I started reading that I didn’t want it to end. Somehow this relatively short book managed to contain an adorable romance, some realistic but not over-the-top treatment of serious issues, and a ton of heart. Simon instantly became one of my favorite first person narrators. He’s funny, has great taste in music and sweets(I cannot look at a copy of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda without wanting Oreos now!), and is completely charismatic.

When Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda starts, Simon has already been exchanging emails with Blue for awhile, but the entire situation becomes more intense when his emails to Blue are discovered by a classmate. Simon has to navigate being blackmailed, friend drama, his crush on Blue(who’s identity is still secret to Simon), all while keeping that part of himself hidden from his friends, family, and classmates. Despite some of the struggles that come along with that, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda never feels depressing. Even when Simon has to deal with serious issues, at heart the story of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is the story between Simon and Blue.

It’s just not his email crush on Blue, but several aspects of his life that Simon ends up examining over the course of the book. Many YA books deal with self-discovery, but Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda takes that a step further and gets into the idea of identity. Simon still has some of that exploration, but much of the book is not him coming to terms with himself, but the steps after. His sexual identity is part of that, certainly, but it’s only a piece of the big picture.

“I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.”

There’s just something that seems profoundly universal about that, and I think everyone who reads Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda will resonate with that idea. It’s one thing to know yourself–it’s another to, as Simon says, “have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again”, even when it stems from the most mundane things.

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a short book, but manages to cram so much into every scene. Some deal with his emails with blue, some with Martin’s blackmail, others into the dynamic of his friend group, and then others into his family. Throughout it all, there’s a great sense of humor that just permeates the entire book, thanks to the narrative voice. I found myself getting choked up at times(and not just because of Simon–there are several characters who have interesting story lines), pumping my fist into the air during a conversation about sexist language, and laughing. Seriously, there was a lot of laughing, and I don’t laugh easy. Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a very modern book(which might make it feel dated down the line), and in this case it absolutely worked.

“As a side note, don’t you think everyone should have to come out? Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it should be this big awkward thing whether you’re straight, gay, bi, or whatever.”

Of course, at the heart of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is the romance. It takes a lot to make a romance that happens mainly through written correspondence believable, especially since Simon and Blue don’t know each other at first. In just a few email conversations, though, I was on board. Simon and Blue’s emails range from the mundane(preferences of sweets) to the serious(coming out to family) to the flirty, often in just a few paragraphs. A large chunk of the book is Simon trying to figure out who Blue is, since Simon knows Blue goes to the same school. There are several suspects, all who seem believable, and by the end of the book I was anticipating the reveal of Blue’s identity as much as Simon was(totally called it, by the way, and gave myself a gold star for that one).

I had high hopes for Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and the book managed to knock them all out of the park. I was expecting to love it, but I had no idea how endearing I would find this contemporary romance. While pretty much every aspect of this book was great, the MVP sticker goes to the character of Simon, who is one of my favorite main characters in a long time.

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Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is one of my favorite reads of the year. I know I’ll be revisiting this book several times in the future. 5/5 cupcakes.

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The Sunday Wrap-Up{77}

The Sunday Wrap-Up{77}

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My Week

 My week was pretty low-key. I felt like I got a lot of things done, but at this point I pretty much say that every week and it’s boring. I was glad that March ended, though. I don’t tend to like March very much, beside it finally becoming spring, and I much prefer April and May for my spring months. Plus, this March seemed to just drag on!

Of course, today is Easter, which is generally one of my favorite weekends of the year as I typically observe Lent, though I admit that fell by the wayside a little this year. Since most of my time is spent job searching & the days tend to look the same, it’s tough to keep up with a calendar, and I was caught by surprise. Anyway, all that to say, today is Easter.

On Book Blog Bake

Well, first, I’ve tweaked Book.Blog.Bake. a little. Nothing major, but I updated the background image and tweaked some of the graphics I generally use in my reviews. It just needed a little spring cleaning. I also updated my about page, which is good because apparently I haven’t updated it all year. Also, I updated my gravatar image so now the picture you see of me is only a year old as opposed to six years old! Because I am not eighteen anymore. Anyway, here’s what I posted:

Monday I reviewed Make it Count by Megan Erickson.
Tuesday I shared 10 books I recently added to my TBR.
Wednesday I wrapped up the ever-dragging month of March.
Thursday I shared my first post in a new feature, Where to Start. This week I talked about good contemporary YA books for beginners.
Friday I reviewed Lies I Told by Michelle Zink.

Favorite 5

How I Make My Bookish Rounds Post @ Christina Reads YA

I always love Christina’s bookish round posts. They’re super informative and helpful with keeping up-to-date in the bookish community, so this glimpse behind the curtain was eye-opening. It’s quite the endeavor!

Discussion: The Challenges of Reviewing Through a Feminist Lens @ Feminist Talk Books

I think about the questions raised in this post quite a lot, and it’s definitely worth the read.

Bookish Thoughts: My Love of Villains @ Oh, the Books!

I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older I love villains more. Maybe it’s so often because they show the gray area of a book world’s morality?

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 All the Rage by Courtney Summers(I will never be able to stop talking about this book, I think)
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E Reichert
Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge
Normal by Graeme Cameron
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

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 All the Rage by Courtney Summers

 Question of the Week:

 Do you celebrate Easter? If so, what did you do? And if you don’t, do you still enjoy Easter candy/what’s your favorite kind? I love Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs. I don’t know what it is about them, but they’re 2x as good as the regular peanut butter cups. I think it’s the ratio of chocolate to peanut butter.

 

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Book Review: Lies I Told by Michelle Zink

Book Review: Lies I Told by Michelle Zink

Lies I Told

by Michelle Zink

Lies I Told

Expected Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Length: 352 pages
Obtained Via: I was given an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my final opinion of the work.
Publisher: HarperTeen

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What if, after spending a lifetime deceiving everyone around you, you discovered the biggest lies were the ones you’ve told yourself?

Grace Fontaine has everything: beauty, money, confidence, and the perfect family.

But it’s all a lie.

Grace has been adopted into a family of thieves who con affluent people out of money, jewelry, art, and anything else of value. Grace has never had any difficulty pulling off a job, but when things start to go wrong on the Fontaines’ biggest heist yet, Grace finds herself breaking more and more of the rules designed to keep her from getting caught…including the most important one of all: never fall for your mark.

Perfect for fans of Ally Carter, Cecily von Ziegesar, and Gail Carriger, this thrilling, high-stakes novel deftly explores the roles of identity and loyalty while offering a window into the world of the rich and fabulous.

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Lies I Told is an entertaining book, but it’s not one I’m going to remember reading at the end of the year–or most likely, the end of this week. Lies I Told starts with Grace and her conman family. As a product of the system, Grace’s adoptive parents have given her the only family she’s ever known–including the family trade of running cons. Grace is a pro. She knows how to easily adapt to situations, how to change her identity, how to blend in when needed and also how to stand out. Along with her adopted brother, Parker, her family sends her on a mission to get close to their new target in a wealthy California locale.

But this isn’t just any job for Grace–it’s the biggest one they’ve ever tried to pull off, has the highest stakes, and even though Grace originally got close to Logan, one of the marks, as part of the con, she’s beginning to develop real feelings for him–and he has feelings for her as well.

The highlight of the book is Grace’s personal struggle between the job she’s always done and the boy she’s getting close to. While this type of conflict is nothing new in YA, Lies I Told uses it to explore Grace’s morality. She’s been in the family so long that it’s hard for Grace to get a real sense of right and wrong, and it’s only when she starts to get close to Logan that she really begins to humanize her past targets. Parker also acts a second voice to Grace’s new doubts.

The romance between Grace and Logan is sweet and realistic, if a little two-dimensional. They become sanctuaries for each other, and that alone made me root for their romance even though I found Logan’s characterization a little lacking on the side of him being a little too much of the perfect YA romantic interest.

However, I found my interest in Lies I Told waxing and waning. The beginning was great, the last few chapters were fast-paced and thrilling, but the middle got incredibly muddled at times. There were several chapters of Grace doing very little other than having internal freak-outs and that got tiring. Other than her relationship with Logan, there wasn’t much to read for in those chapters.

And the ending, while finally picking the thrill factor back up, was incredibly weird. Either the version I read(the ARC)didn’t have a complete ending, OR it appears there may be a sequel, though it hasn’t been announced yet(I wrote this review several months ago. (I’ve learned since that there will be a sequel, but I still think this book feels pretty unfinished even with that information). The final chapter felt like the set-up for a sequel and not a proper ending in its own right. Mostly, I felt this book was pretty up and down. It was a fun read, but nothing spectacular.

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Lies I Told was a pleasant enough way to spend a few hours, but by no means a book that will stick with me. There were a few parts I really liked–the romance, some of the mysteries, but also some I was more iffy on–Logan’s characterization and the pacing. 3/5 cupcakes.

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Where to Start?: Contemporary YA edition(1)

Where to Start?: Contemporary YA edition(1)

Where to Start

Welcome to my new feature, Where to Start? A few years ago, I had read pretty much ZERO contemporary or sci-fi YA, and I wanted to start but it was tough deciding which books to start with. Skip forward in time a few years, and I’ve read a LOT of those genres plus several others, and the idea for Where to Start? was born. Periodically I’ll feature a list of books I think are good starting points for those who might be new to certain genres/category/themes, but WANT to read those kind of books. And since this was inspired by my venturing into contemporary YA, I thought it only fitting to start with that.

The Contemporary YA Edition

1. Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz

What’s it about in a sentence: Zach is an 18-year-old alcoholic in rehab trying to remember how he got there and what to do next.
I’d recommend it to new contemporary readers because. . .: Saenz’s writing is always beautiful without being very figurative or heavy. I also would recommend it because I don’t think the subject matter–a teen in rehab–is one that a lot of readers would recognize a contemporary YA might tackle. It shows just how vast the genre can be, I think.

 

2. Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

What it’s about in a sentence: Charlotte, a boarding school student, gets drawn into the world of Julia Buchanan and her rich, political family with their own dark secrets.
I’d recommend it to new contemporary readers because:
It’s a loose retelling of a classic(Brideshead Revisited–you totally don’t have to have read it to understand this novel), and it has a pretty classic feel with the boarding school, the main character has more narrative distance than usual, and there’s sort of a Great Gatsby-esque vibe.

 

3. Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

What it’s about in a sentence: Simon’s been chatting it up anonymously with his classmate, a boy who’s going under the name Blue, but Simon’s secret identity is threatened when another classmate finds out and starts blackmailing him.
I’d recommend it to new contemporary readers because:
It’s very cute, it avoids a lot of the problems some people have with contemporary YA(missing parent syndrome, the protagonist only having one friend, etc.) and the main character has a distinct voice.

 

4. Smart Girls Get What They Want by Sarah Strohmeyer

What it’s about in a sentence: Main character, Gigi, and her friends are all “smart girls”, but they’re start wondering if maybe they’re missing out on something, so they make a pact to all do something challenging.
I’d recommend it to new contemporary readers because:
It doesn’t follow the predictable formula you think it will & it’s interesting to see a contemporary novel focused on a group of friends rather than just one. Gigi is the main character, but her two friends get a LOT of page time.

 

5. The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

What it’s about in a sentence: Caymen is the daughter of a doll shop owner who starts falling for a rich boy who comes into the shop one day, even though Caymen has vowed to stay away from the wealthy.
I’d recommend it to new contemporary readers because:
It’s a quick read and the romance has a bit of a classic feel–two people who misunderstand each other, etc. Plus, the main character is witty & fun to read.

 

6. This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

What it’s about in a sentence: Elise’s unpopular, mostly friendless, and completely unhappy, but she starts on a journey of self-discovery when she discovers a night club and starts learning how to become a DJ.
I’d recommend it to new contemporary readers because:
It’s full of beautiful lessons that don’t hit you over the head, Elise grows SO much over the course of the novel, and it does some interesting things with the romance.

7. Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

What it’s about in a sentence: Reagan accompanies her music star best friend on her tour, but things don’t go as planned with fellow music star Matt Finch joins the tour.
I’d recommend it to new contemporary readers because:
A great female friendship like YEAH. The romance is great, too, and I think it’s impossible not to fall in love with Matt Finch.

 

8. Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

What it’s about in a sentence: Tabitha joins an online community called life by committee, which is a site where people spill their secrets and then get an assignment related to said secret, and it complicates her life.
I’d recommend it to new contemporary readers because:
It has a great portrait of messy, flawed people, and it’s compulsively readable in a way I find common in genre fiction, but less so in contemporary novels.

 

9. When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney

What it’s about in a sentence: Danny’s mother recently passed away from cancer, and he ends up going to Tokyo to take care of property his mother had in Japan.
I’d recommend it to new contemporary readers because:
A good portion of this book takes place in Japan & it’s a book about grief that’s really more about the initial steps after grief(“grief books” are good & necessary too, but I think it’s rarer to get books about this step of the process).

 

10. My Best Friend, Maybe by Caela Carter

What it’s about in a sentence: Colette and Sadie haven’t been friends for years, but when Sadie tells Colette she needs her to go with her to Greece for a family wedding, Colette ends up agreeing–and has to decide if there’s still a friendship worth salvaging.
I’d recommend it to new contemporary readers because:
It’s incredibly unique in setting & diversity, and while the bare-bones plot(friend break-up + possible reconciliation) isn’t that uncommon, Carter does a lot of interesting things with it.

 

11. Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

What it’s about in a sentence: Regina was part of the popular, mean girl group until something happened at a party that made her former best friend mistrust her, and now she’s the one who is getting ostracized and bullied.
I’d recommend it to new contemporary readers because:
It’s a familiar kind of story(think Mean Girls) told in a way that makes you look at it differently.

 

12. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

What it’s about in a sentence: Lennie’s struggling the summer after her sister dies, which encompasses a whole bag of issues–boys, grief, and life.
I’d recommend it to new contemporary readers because:
A YA contemporary education is not complete without a Jandy Nelson book, and while I like I’ll Give You the Sun more, I think The Sky is Everywhere is better for someone new to the genre. It’s true and heartbreaking and beautifully written.

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