Unofficial, Last Minute Darkest Minds Read Along

Monday, April 30, 2018

Hello everybody! You may have seen that yesterday I tweeted asking if anyone was interested in reading The Darkest Minds with me soon. There seemed to be a few people interested (like four people) and I also know of a few people who want to read it (*cough*LaLa*cough*). So I just decided that I would throw together this really laid-back, last minute read along!

Okay, so I literally just decided to do this today and this is my plan at this point in time...

May will be reading The Darkest Minds, as well as:

1. The exclusive Liam short story that is featured in the new cover paperback of The Darkest Minds.
2. The IN TIME novella.
3. Liam's Story (the preorder incentive for Passenger, but I do believe that it was made widely available for everyone now).

So, the schedule, should you choose to follow one, is:

May 1st - 7th:

Chapters 1-10
(~162 pages)

May 8th - 14th:

Chapters 11-20
(~162 pages)

May 15th - 21st:

Chapters 21-31
(~162 pages)

May 22nd - 31st:

IN TIME
(~93 pages)

Exclusive Liam Short Story
(??)

Preorder Incentive Liam Story
(??)

You obviously don't have to follow this schedule. You are totally free to read at your own pace. I just thought it would be fun for people who like to discuss what they read with others. So I might also see if there is any interest in like, group DMs on Twitter or something.

///

So then in June we would be reading Never Fade and I'm thinking that the schedule will be:

June 1st - 7th:

Chapters 1-10
(~185 pages)

June 8th - 14th:

Chapters 11-20
(~133 pages)

June 15th - 21st:

Chapters 21 - 32
(~187 pages)

June 22nd - 30th:

SPARKS RISE
(~116 pages)

Exclusive Vida Short Story
(??)

///

In July we would be reading In the Afterlight, with a schedule of:

July 1st - 7th:

Chapters 1-9
(~192 pages)

July 8th - 14th:

Chapters 10-18
(~192 pages)

July 15th - 21st:

Chapters 19-27
(~149 pages)

July 22nd - 29th:

BEYOND THE NIGHT
(~183 pages)

Exclusive Clancy Short Story
(??)

///

Then we will be at the release of THE DARKEST LEGACY!!! I don't know how many chapters will be in this one so I don't have a schedule at this time. I know I probably will not be following a schedule because I am going to DEVOUR it before anyone can spoil it for me. But when I have the appropriate information, I will add it here for anyone who wishes to continue on in a similar fashion to the other books.

///

I am also thinking that I will be doing a giveaway. I am not 100% sure what it's going to be at this point. I was thinking the forthcoming box set of the new cover paperbacks and a hardcover of The Darkest Legacy. But I don't know yet. I am not set on that. I know that whatever I will do will be open internationally, I just don't know if the prize will be so elaborate. We shall see.

///

So, there's that if anyone is interested in reading along with me. I think it turns out to be about 20-30 pages per day! I hope that's doable!

So basically, this is what I'll be doing for the next few months. I hope that you'll join me!

If you have any suggestions to make this more fun (if anyone even joins), I am definitely open to ideas!

Will you be joining me?!

Review // Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn


Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: January 5th, 2016
Rating: 2 Stars
Source: Gift
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 320

Summary (from Goodreads):

Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time- the kind Mercedes never had herself.

Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy- so far. Her absentee mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn- or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.

When Mercedes’ perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her reputation and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, FIRSTS is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.

So, I think that this is going to be a book that I like less and less the more that I write in my review. I tentatively gave it a three stars on Goodreads because I really don't know what to think. I really didn't like it in the beginning, but maybe the characters and the story started to grow on me.

I am probably going to do more ranting than reviewing and will DEFINITELY not try to avoid spoilers.

I feel like there should be trigger warnings on this book for sexual assault and bulimia.

WHAT I THINK THIS BOOK DID RIGHT:

Mercedes seems to be super confident in the bedroom and with her body. You know, rockin' herself some sexy lingerie and gettin' her freak on. She seems to know what she likes and she won't let these boys do things to her that she doesn't like. I appreciated that about her.

Mercedes always practices safe sex. No glove, no love.

This book introduces a new girl at school who kind of makes Mercedes question her sexuality. And I mean, I guess I could be wrong, but it might be refreshing for some people to be able to see someone kind of questioning if they're into girls?

WHAT I THINK THIS BOOK DID WRONG:

Okay, so basically Mercedes is a sex coach. Her first time was terrible and she wants to make sure that other girls have a magical first time. So she goes around doing random girls 'favors' by taking their boyfriends' virginities and coaching them on how the whole night should go.

I literally don't know why I thought I would like this. I knew that that was what this book was about. But I guess I thought it would be somehow different.

Some things I don't understand:

1. I don't recall if the book said if she had any sexual partners (or how many she had) between her awful first time (that I found to basically be sexual assault) and when she started doing this sex coaching thing, but where did she get all this experience from to be able to coach these boys (if it turns out she had some partners between the two things, disregard this point)?

2. Why does she assume that the things she likes in bed will be the same things that these other girls will like? I don't think sexual preferences are universal. Let them experiment together.

3. Why does she assume that a girl's first time won't be special if her boyfriend has no experience? They're both nervous about their first time. Why does she think it won't be perfect for them to explore this new experience together?

4. I really just don't understand why she feels the need to interject herself into other people's sex lives? I don't remember exactly why she started doing this, but I think she overheard some girls talking in the bathroom about how one of them was thinking about having sex with her boyfriend for the first time and so she goes out and finds the boyfriend in question and tells him she can help him. Mind your own business, girl!

5. SERIOUSLY, why does this girl think that everyone's first time will be awful if she doesn't do something about it?!

And while, I think that this book does send some good messages about safe sex, there was one thing that stood out to me to be a bad message. I don't exactly remember what page or what exactly was said because I no longer have the book to look it up, but I think it was on page 5. Mercedes is with this boy and is coaching him on what he should do and at one point she asks him what he would do at that particular point. He said that he would ask if he could touch her breasts and she told him he should never ask if something is okay. Or something along those lines.

That is a bad message. It's always okay to ask if something you want to do to another person is okay. I mean, for goodness sake, this is going to be their first time. Why would you not ask if certain things are okay? I think that was the point that I realized this book was not going to be for me.

There are not really any decent friendships in this book either. Mercedes' best friend is Angela, but it's basically one of those friendships that is only for convenience. Like, I'll call you if I need something from you. They never hang out. Then there's the new girl, Faye. But that friendship isn't even really a good one, Mercedes is questioning whether there's something more there, it's not just a buddy-buddy friendship. 

Then there's Zach, who is Mercedes' 'Wednesday friend'. Like he comes over to her house at lunch every Wednesday and they have sex. She has no interest in him as a person. He kind of wants to be something more with her, but she is not down for that. And like, cool for having no strings attached sex. You do you. But I think that you need to stop and find a new Wednesday friend if it starts to seem like you're stringing your current one along.

And then of course, word gets out about what Mercedes has been doing with all these boys. But I don't really think that the reaction when she's found out is unfair. Like, she slept with 15 boys IN THE SAME SCHOOL that all had girlfriends. Like, have sex with whoever you want, however often you want, but like to purposely have sex with only boys that are in relationships? No. I think those girls have every right to be mad at her. I think they should definitely be mad at their boyfriends too, but we don't get to see what happens in depth in all of those relationships.

And at one point, she even started to realize that what she was doing was never really about the girls she was supposedly helping. She kind of started to think something was up when she started getting boys who were clearly not virgins or who she didn't even know who their girlfriends were. And that just makes this even less okay to me. It's an entire book about people ACTIVELY CHEATING on their girlfriends. With a girl who KNOWS that's what's happening.

I mean, sure these boys are nervous, I think there's even a passage in the book about boys being expected to like, just automatically be good at it or know what they're doing or whatever. But their girlfriends are nervous too. Why can't they just get used to this new activity TOGETHER?! Doesn't that make it even more special!?!?!

BUT ALSO, the boy (Angela's boyfriend, I don't remember his name) who had someone put a CAMERA in Mercedes' room (WHO IS UNDER 18) to record her having sex with all these high school boys (WHICH SOME ARE PROBABLY ALSO UNDER 18) in order to blackmail her into having sex with him, he should be in jail for distributing child pornography or something like that. He was over 18. He put a camera in her room and released the tapes to everyone in their school because he was butt hurt that she wouldn't let him give her the D because she knew Angela wasn't ready to have sex and she didn't want her best friend's boyfriend to cheat on her with her.

OH YEAH, there are several occasions where Mercedes makes like.. bulimia jokes. NOT COOL.

OTHER THOUGHTS:

As I got further into this book, I did start to like it a little bit more. I think it was as I got to know Mercedes better as a character. She has a crappy home life. Her dad left the family. Her mom is always out partying, like wishing she was a kid again instead of having to raise a kid. Mercedes definitely does not have a good support system.

This book makes it obvious from the beginning that something bad happened in her past. Basically when she was like 13, she had an older boyfriend (like older high school student, not like super creepy older, but also still probably too old) who like talked her into having sex with him because that's what boyfriends and girlfriends do. I don't think she even really wanted to do it, but she wanted to keep him happy or something, I don't remember. And then he dropped her like a hot potato. And she ended getting pregnant from it and he like places all the blame on her or something. I don't really remember. I don't know that it was actually NOT consensual, but I don't feel like she was totally wanting to do that. I just don't remember and I can't look it up now!!

But yeah, basically as I got to know some of the characters more, I started to like it a bit more. And as like, Mercedes started to let some of these people in her life get closer to her, I started to like her more.

Overall, I think that this book was definitely a miss for me. I think that it has some good points, safe sex, empowered girls, etc. But I just feel like the bad overpowered the good.

Just remember kids, it's always good to ask if something you're doing is okay.

And that boy who released what was basically Mercedes' sex tape should be in jail and put on the registry.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I think I got a little heated.


Blog Tour // From the Earth to the Shadows by Amanda Hocking

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


ABOUT THE BOOK


From the Earth to the Shadows by Amanda Hocking
Valkyrie #2
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication Date: April 24th, 2018
Pages: 336

Summary:

The epic conclusion to the thrilling Valkyrie duology by New York Times bestselling YA author Amanda Hocking, From the Earth to the Shadows.

While dealing with dark revelations about her life and her world, Malin finds herself with new allies--and new enemies. Her quest for the truth leads her to places she never thought possible, and she's never been one to shy away from a fight. But for all her strength and determination, will it be enough to save the world before it's too late?


BUY LINKS


EXCERPT

ONE

The air that fogged around me was thick enough that I could taste it—earthy and wet, with a trace of salt. It stuck to my skin, which was already slick with sweat, and that only seemed to attract more insects. They buzzed around me, leaving burning little bites in my flesh. I wanted to swat them off, but I couldn’t. I had to stay perfectly still, or the Kalanoro would spot me too soon.

The oversaturation of green in the jungles of Panama had been a strange adjustment from the smog and bright lights of the city. Out here, it was an endless emerald sea: the plants and trees, the rivers, were all varying shades of green—even the sky was blotted out by a thick canopy of leaves.

This wasn’t where I wanted to be, crouched motionless in the mud with a giant millipede crawling over my foot. Not when Asher was still gone, held captive in Kurnugia by the underworld goddess Ereshkigal and her mad centaur boyfriend, Gugalanna. Not when the fate of the world felt heavy on my shoulders, with Ereshkigal attempting an uprising that would unleash the underworld on earth.

It had only been three days since I’d gone to the Gates of Kurnugia, along with Oona, Quinn, Asher, and Atlas to aid me. I’d wanted to avenge my mother—and I had killed the draugr that had killed her—but all of that may have set off a chain of events that would bring about the end of days.

And I had lost the guy I … well, not loved. Not yet. But I cared about him. All I wanted to do was rescue him. But I couldn’t. There was too much at stake. I couldn’t let my heart get the best of me. I had to hold it together, and follow my orders.

After Gugalanna had pulled Asher down into the underworld where I could not follow, the rest of us had gone to Caana City in Belize. It was the safest city near the Gates of Kurnugia, and Oona needed medical intervention to survive. She was on the mend now, and that’s why I had left her behind, with Quinn and Atlas.

I didn’t want to risk losing them the way I had Asher, and I was on a special assignment, coming directly from the Valkyries’ highest authority—Odin.

Odin had found me outside of the hospital where Oona was being treated. I had never met him before, and, like most of the Vanir gods, he changed his appearance to suit his needs, so I hadn’t recognized him.

He towered over me in his tailored suit, with his left eyelid withered shut. He had a deep rumble of a voice, with a softly lilting accent, and a grim expression. His large raven, Muninn, had been watching over me, but when I tried to press him for a reason why, he had told me that there wasn’t time to explain.

“I need you to go deep into the heart of the jungle, where no man dares to live,” Odin explained, as we had stood in the eerily silent parking lot in Caana City. “You must retrieve something for me.”

“Why can’t you retrieve it yourself?” I asked bluntly. I wasn’t being rude, but the reality was that Odin was a powerful god, and I was just a young mortal Valkyrie-in-training. He had far more knowledge and power than I could ever hope to have.

“I’m not allowed to meddle in the affairs of humans or any of the other earthly beings,” Odin clarified.

“But…” I trailed off, gathering the courage to ask, “What is this you’re doing now, then? Isn’t directing me to get something for you the same as meddling?”

A sly smile played on his lips, and he replied, “There are a few loopholes, and I think it’s best if I take advantage of one now. If you want to save your friend, and everyone else that matters to you, you need to act quickly.”

“What is it that you need me to get?” I asked, since I didn’t seem to have a choice.

“The Valhallan cloak,” he explained. “It was stolen centuries ago by a trickster god—I honestly can’t remember which one anymore—and he hid it with the Kalanoro of Panama.”

“The Kalanoro?” I groaned reflexively. Having dealt with them before, I already knew how horrible they were.

If piranhas lived on land, they would behave a lot like the Kalanoro. They were small primate-like creatures, standing no more than two feet tall, and they vaguely resembled the aye-aye lemur. The biggest differences were that the Kalanoro were tailless, since they lived mostly on the ground, and they had razor-sharp claws on their elongated fingers and a mouth of jagged teeth they used to tear apart the flesh of their prey.

“What is the Valhallan cloak, and how will I find it?” I asked Odin.

“You’ll know when you see it. It’s an oversized cloak, but the fabric looks like the heavens. The rumors are that the Kalanoro were attracted to the magic of the cloak, though they didn’t understand it, so they took it back to their cave,” Odin elaborated. “They apparently have been guarding it like a treasure.”

“So I have to go into the treacherous jungle, find the man-eating Kalanoro, and steal their favorite possession?” I asked dryly. “No problem.”

Which was how I ended up in the jungle, alone, in the heart of Kalanoro country—at least, that’s what the nearest locals had purported. In front of me, on the other side of a very shallow but rapidly moving stream, was the mouth of a cave. The cave I hoped was the home of the Kalanoro, but I was waiting to see one for official confirmation.

Sweat slid down my temples, and a large dragonfly flew overhead. The trees around me were a cacophony of sounds—monkeys and frogs and birds and insects of all kinds, talking to one another, warning of danger, and shouting out mating calls.

Back in the city, beings and creatures of all kinds lived among each other, but there were rules. The jungle was not bound by any laws. I was not welcome, and I was not safe here.

I heard the crunch of a branch—too loud and too close to be another insect. I turned my head slowly toward the sound, and I saw movement in the bushes right beside me. Tall dark quills, poking out above the leaves, and I tried to remember if the Kalanoro had any quill-like fur.

I didn’t have to wonder for very long because a head poked out of the bushes, appearing to grin at me through a mouthful of jagged fangs and a face like an alien hyena. The leathery green skin, mottled with darker speckles, blended in perfectly with the surroundings, with a mohawk-like row of sharp quills running down its back.

It wasn’t a Kalanoro—it was something much worse. I found myself face-to-face with a Chupacabra.

TWO

The Chupacabra—much like dolphins, dogs, and quokkas—had the uncanny ability to appear to be smiling. Unlike those contemporaries, there was nothing adorable or friendly about this Chupacabra’s smile. It was all serrated teeth, with bits of rotten meat stuck between them, and a black tongue lolling around his mouth.

“You don’t want do this,” I told the beast softly, even though he probably didn’t understand English.

I kept my gaze locked on the Chupacabra, but my hand was at my hip, slowly unsheathing my sword Sigrún. The name came from my ancestors, as had the blade itself. It had been passed down from Valkyrie to daughter for centuries.

Sigrún was a thick blade made of dark purple crystal, so dark it appeared black, but it would glow bright brilliant purple when I was working. It was short and angled, like it had been broken off in battle. Maybe it had—the full history of my blade was unknown to me.

But the handle was a black utilitarian replacement. It had been my mother’s gift to me on my eighteenth birthday. Her final gift to me, well over a year ago.

The Chupacabra stared at me with oversized teardrop-shaped eyes and took a step closer to me, letting out a soft rumble of a growl.

Valkyries weren’t supposed to kill anyone or anything they were not specifically ordered to kill. The one exception was self-defense. Since I was on an unsanctioned mission into territory I had no business being in, this would all get very messy if I had to kill a Chupacabra.

But the hard truth was that I was beyond worrying about my career as a Valkyrie. I would do whatever I needed to do.

When the Chupacabra lunged at me, I drew my sword without hesitation. Since this wasn’t an official “job,” my blade didn’t glow purple, but it sliced through the leathery hide as easily as I knew it would.

I didn’t want to kill the creature if I didn’t have to—after all, he was merely going about his life in the jungle. So my first blow was only a warning that left him with a painful but shallow cut across his shoulder.

He let out an enraged howl, causing birds to take flight and all sorts of smaller animals to go rushing deeper into the underbrush. From the corner of my eye, I spotted several Kalanoro darting across the stream back toward their cave. They had been watching me.

The Chupacabra had stepped back from me, but by the determined grin on his face I didn’t think he was ready to give up yet. He circled around me, and I turned with him, stepping carefully to keep from slipping in the mud.

“This is stupid,” I said, reasoning with the animal. “We should both go our separate ways, and you can go back to eating … well, I think you mostly eat the Kalanoro and birds.”

Apparently growing tired of my attempts at talking, the Chupacabra snarled and jumped at me again. I dodged out of the way, but he kicked off of the tree behind and instantly dove at me. I didn’t move quick enough this time, and he knocked me to the ground.

Fortunately, I fell on my back, with one of his feet pinning me and his claws digging into my shoulder. I put one hand around his long, slender throat, barely managing to hold him back as he gnashed his teeth.

With one of my arms pinned, he was too strong for me, and I wouldn’t be able to throw him off. As his thick saliva dripped down onto me, I knew there was only one thing I could do if I wanted to survive.

I drove my sword up through his breastbone, using all my might. He howled in pain, but only for a second, before falling silent and slumping forward onto me. I crawled out from underneath him, now covered in mud and his thick green blood, along with my own fresh red blood springing from the wounds on my bare arms and shoulder.

In the mouth of the cave across from me, two dozen or so beady little green eyes glowed. The Kalanoro were crouched down, watching me. So much for the element of surprise.

My hair had come free from the braid I’d been wearing, and it stuck to my forehead. I reached up to brush it back, and the Kalanoro let out a squawk of surprise, and one darted off into the woods.

That’s when I realized the Kalanoro were afraid of me. I glanced over at the Chupacabra—the Kalanoro’s number-one predator, and I had left it dead and bleeding into the stream. They were right to fear me.

I tested my new hypothesis and stepped closer to the mouth of the cave, and the Kalanoro screeched and scattered. Most of them ran into the woods, but a few went deeper into the cave. My fight with the Chupacabra had left them far more skittish than I had anticipated, and I doubted that I would need my sword for them, so I sheathed Sigrún.

I unhooked my asp baton from my hip and pulled my flashlight out from my gear bag. I took a deep breath and walked toward the cave, hoping that this wasn’t a trap where they would all pounce and devour me the second I stepped inside.

As I walked into the cave, I heard them chittering and scurrying, but it reminded me more of a rat infestation than man-eating primates. Once my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, I shone the flashlight around the narrow cavern. The beam of light flashed on a few pairs of eyes, but they quickly disappeared into the darkness.

The entrance of the cave stood well over eight feet, but as I walked, the ceiling height dropped considerably. Very soon I had to crouch down to venture farther.

The ground was slick with Kalanoro droppings and bat guano, and it smelled like a musty cellar that doubled as a litter box. Tiny bones of partially digested meals crunched underneath the heavy soles of my boots.

My flashlight glinted on something, and I crouched down to inspect it. It was an old pocket watch, the face broken and the gears rusted, but it had once definitely belonged to a human. Near the watch was another trinket—an old walkie-talkie.

That’s when I realized it was a trail of treasures, piling up more as I went deeper into the cave. Old car parts, a titanium hip replacement, and even what appeared to be a wedding band. The Kalanoro apparently loved hoarding shiny things.

On the ground a few feet ahead of me, I spotted something particularly sparkly. It looked like stars, shimmering and glowing from a puddle on the floor. By now I had to crawl on my knees, since the ceiling was so low.

As I reached for those stars, a Kalanoro leapt out from the darkness. Its rows of teeth dug painfully into my right arm, and I beat it back with my asp baton. It took three hits before it finally let go and ran off screaming.

I grabbed at the stars, picking up a satiny fabric. The way it glimmered, it looked exactly like the night sky, and I now understood what Odin meant by looking “like the heavens.” This had to be the Valhallan cloak. I hurriedly shoved it into my gear bag. The Kalanoro couldn’t be happy about me stealing their treasure, so I had to get out fast.

I raced out of the cave and gulped down the fresh air. Around me, the trees had changed their tune, from the normal song of the jungle to something far more shrill and angry. I could hear the Kalanoro growling and screeching at each other, sounding like high-pitched howler monkeys. They were enraged, and they were chasing after me.

It was a ten-kilometer hike downhill, through thick forests, to the nearest village. There I would be able to clean up and catch the hyperbus back to Caana City. Back to meet Odin. The Kalanoro were now alerting the entire jungle to my presence, and even as I hurried ahead, deftly moving through the trees, I could hear them following me.

I ran down the hill, skittering through the mud and branches, swatting back giant bugs and the occasional surprised snake. My legs ached and my lungs burned but I pressed on, running as fast as I could. I had to make it to the town before dark, because I doubted the Kalanoro would let me out alive.

Copyright © 2018 by Amanda Hocking in From the Earth to the Shadows and reprinted with permission from Wednesday Books.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR





Amanda Hocking is the author of over twenty young adult novels, including the New York Times bestselling Trylle Trilogy and Kanin Chronicles. Her love of pop culture and all things paranormal influence her writing. She spends her time in Minnesota, taking care of her menagerie of pets and working on her next book.






SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS


Twitter // @Amanda_Hocking

Facebook // @AmandaHockingFans


Have you read this series? What did you think of it?

Review // Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Monday, April 23, 2018


Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Creekwood #1
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: April 7th, 2015
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Source: Purchase
Format: Paperback
Pages: 303

Summary (from Goodreads):

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.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda was probably not a book that I was ever really going to pick up. I find that contemporary books are really hit or miss for me and since the misses usually stand out more to me than the hits, I keep telling myself I just don't like contemporary. And I especially just don't tend to like fluffier contemporary books.

But since there is a movie coming out for this book that I really want to see, I figured I had better read that first. I am SO glad that I did! I adored this book so much more than I ever would have expected to! It was cute and funny and I don't think that I've ever grinned so much while reading a book!

Simon Spier is a junior in high school and he is gay and not out yet. He has been emailing another anonymous boy from his school who is also gay and not out yet. Neither of them knows who the other is and things are going well in that department until Simon forgets to sign out of his email on a school computer. A boy named Martin stumbles across Simon's emails with Blue and threatens to out him to everyone if he won't try to hook Martin up with his friend Abby.

So this book has a little bit of a mystery element in it, in the fact that you don't know who Blue is. I knew who Blue was because I have never tried to avoid spoilers for this book because I didn't think that I was ever going to read it. But I liked reading their emails and then watching the character I knew to be Blue and I feel like if you are one to read relatively closely, you could guess who Blue is. I never would have been able to guess it if I didn't already know, but I liked how all the little hints pointed right to him. Also, their emails and budding romance were SO CUTE and them together IRL was too!

I enjoyed Simon as a character so much. He was funny and a good friend. And I liked how with the threat of being outed by Martin, he was more worried about Blue being found out than himself. I liked his relationship with his family. I liked his friends and all the relationships he had with them. I felt like he handled everything he was dealing with in this book so well. The blackmail, having to hang out with said blackmailer, coming out to his friends and family.

I pretty much liked all of the characters. Becky Albertalli even made me like Martin for a little bit! Not sure how I felt about half liking him. The only character I had a little bit of a problem with might have been Leah. I don't know, I mean, I did kind of like her and I DO want to read Leah on the Offbeat, but I found her to be a little bit unpleasant at times.

I didn't like the fact that she was unpleasant toward Abby just over boy trouble. When I first read this book, I couldn't put my finger on what it was that I didn't like about her. Then I saw someone else review this book and they mentioned that they couldn't stand the girl hate coming from Leah and I kind of agree. Leah seems to have something against Abby because the boy that she likes, likes Abby. And I just feel like this book could have been better without the girl hate.

Overall, I truly did adore this book. I loved the relationships and the characters and just how incredibly CUTE this book was. I never in my life would have thought I would nearly 5 star a fluffy contemporary book, but here we are. Now, this movie needs to hurry up and come to the theater in my town! Or hurry up and come out on DVD because I REALLY want to watch it!

Have you read this one yet (probably because I'm pretty sure I'm late to the game)? What did you think of it? Are you excited for Leah on the Offbeat?

Guest Post // Nine Video Games Readers Will Love by Gwen C. Katz

Sunday, April 22, 2018

When I'm not writing, I'm a big fan of indie video games, and I've always thought there should be more overlap between the book community and the video game community. After all, video games are just another form of storytelling, and many modern video games, especially on the indie side, feature well-developed plots, memorable characters, and immersive worlds. But the video game community has done little to convince readers that it's worth their time, and the major titles that get the most attention are usually the same dull first-person shooters about grizzled old soldiers that turned off the book community in the first place. Plus, a new video game can cost $60, require a $400 console, and take twenty hours to finish. No wonder so many readers have no interest in games.

So I've put together my own list of recommendations for anyone who loves books and is interested in getting into video games. In order to make this list available to the widest audience possible, regardless of skill level, budget, or time constraints, the games generally share the following traits: a) short length, b) low cost and wide availability, c) moderate difficulty, and most importantly, d) excellent storytelling. I hope every reader will find something here that catches their interest.

Photopia

Genre: Interactive Fiction

Year: 1998


You know text adventures. They're those goofy-frustrating games from the 80's full of "you were eaten by a grue" and "you can't get ye flask" that vanished as soon as graphics cards were invented. Right? Wrong! It turns out that not only are text adventures still around, but they've developed into their own art form as interactive, high-concept short stories. There's a thriving (if extremely insular) interactive fiction community devoted to making and playing these games (you can play my own surreal historical game The House of Fear here).

Interactive fiction is very literary, so it's a natural entry point for fans of non-interactive fiction, and one of the best games to start with is Photopia. This beautiful, heartbreaking story alternates between slice-of-life and a fantasy bedtime story told to a little girl, using the different colors of the spectrum as inspiration for different settings: red is the surface of Mars, blue is beneath the sea, and so on. It's a meditative experience, and one that's over far too quickly.

Photopia is free to play online.

Portal

Genre: First Person

Year: 2007


If I was going to include just one AAA game on this list, it had to be Portal. It made a huge splash when it burst onto the scene. An all-female cast! A weapon that isn't a weapon! But it wasn't just a fad. Many gamers still list Portal among their favorites. This is by far the most challenging game on this list, but it's got a nice slow learning curve, and I think even a beginner can complete this one without assistance, given enough patience.

You are in a research facility, and a deadpan AI named GLaDOS (Genuine Lifeform and Disk Operating System) is guiding you through a series of puzzles designed to test the newly invented portal gun, which can create holes through space-time. GLaDOS promises you cake when you finish all the tests. But as you progress and notice how suspiciously empty the facility is—as well as signs that someone before you escaped the testing procedure—it becomes apparent that the cake is a lie.

This game is a masterclass of minimal storytelling. The whole thing takes place inside one building with no explanation as to who you are or how you got there, dropping only the slightest tantalizing hints about what happened. (The sequel, Portal 2, has a much broader scope, yet is a lesser achievement.) There are only two characters, one of whom never talks and the other of whom doesn't appear in person until the final scene. Plus, Portal is the funniest game you're ever likely to play, packed with dark humor that makes GLaDOS into one of the all-time great video game characters. Check out Portal for yourself and you'll discover that the hype is not overstated.

Portal is available on Steam.

Thomas Was Alone

Genre: Platformer

Year: 2012


Childhood experiences with Mario left platformers synonymous with frustration in my mind, but Thomas Was Alone radically reinvents the platformer as a vehicle for deep exploration of character. You guide a collection of colored rectangles through a geometric environment, accompanied by narration that explains who the different rectangles are and what they're experiencing. The hopeful, bittersweet story that unfolds explores artificial intelligence, friendship, self-sacrifice, and the nature of personhood.

It's astonishing how much personality this game imbues into a set of characters who are literally featureless. These rectangles are distinctly British, and their oh-so-human foibles, like condescension and self-aggrandizement, make their personalities all the more endearing—and their final choice all the more powerful.

Don't be fooled by its minimalist graphics and simple puzzles—every aspect of Thomas Was Alone is lovingly crafted, from the smoothly implemented controls to the soothing, audiobook-style narrator. You'll fall in love with Thomas, Chris, John, Claire, Laura, James, and Sarah, and you just might cry at the end.

Thomas Was Alone is available on Steam.

Gone Home

Genre: First Person

Year: 2013


You arrive at the creepy mansion on the hill at midnight during a storm, only to discover...a sweet story of teenage first love?

Gone Home defies expectations in the best possible way. It's a horror-style exploration game with no horror, a Myst-style puzzler with no puzzles, a first-person game where the point-of-view character is not the protagonist, and a romance between teen girls in an industry where neither girls nor LGBT people are valued.

You're the college-age sister who returns home from backpacking in Europe to find the house empty. As you wander around looking at things to try to piece together where everyone is, your teenage sister's diary entries play, narrating her arrival at a new school, her desire to become a writer, and her friendship with and budding attraction to the school's punk-rock cool girl. Interwoven with this are the side stories of your mom, a forest ranger, and dad, a writer of pulpy thrillers who every author will immediately relate to. The teen voice is incredibly authentic, and the sweet story is told with refreshing sincerity. Gone Home is the perfect game for YA readers, or for just about anyone.


Kentucky Route Zero

Genre: Adventure

Year: 2013


"Steinbeckian" is the word that immediately comes to mind the moment this game opens with an old delivery truck pulled up outside a novelty gas station so the driver can ask the blind station attendant for directions. The driver is informed that, to get to that address, he'll have to take a mysterious underground highway known as the Zero. The rest of the story follows his journey to find and navigate the Zero and the collection of strange, broken people he meets along the way.

But the plot isn't the star attraction here: It's the lyrical storytelling, the magical realist Americana visuals, the bluegrass soundtrack, and the deep, wistful emotions. The game uses a mixture of deliberately primitive 3D scenes and pure text scenes, with a black and white vector map connecting them all. There are loads of Easter eggs on the map, so be sure to explore.

The crafting of this game is absolutely flawless. Every line, image, and interaction builds perfectly on everything else to create a perfect image of the mix of determination and quiet despair that characterizes the lives of the American precariat. The characters and their problems are all too familiar: The antique shop deliveryman making his last trip before the store closes; the young doctor forced to shill for a pharmaceutical company to pay his school debts. The picture is bleak, but it's softened by the beauty of the storytelling and the feeling of shared humanity. The final chapter hasn't been released yet, so we don't know how it ends, but I have no doubt it will leave me as speechless as the rest did.

Kentucky Route Zero is available from Good Old Games. The final chapter is expected sometime this year.

Papers, Please

Genre: Sim

Year: 2013


Man, 2013 was a good year. In this 8-bit simulator, you've been assigned to work at a border checkpoint in a fictional eastern bloc country in the 1980s. You must stop smugglers, criminals, and terrorists from crossing the border, armed only with a set of increasingly complex entry requirements.

Oh man, this game will get into your head, and it's not just the increasing pressure of trying to process enough paperwork to earn a living wage and keep your family from starving. Will you turn away the man carrying contraband medicine, or the person whose sex doesn't match their passport? Will you do missions for a morally ambiguous resistance group? Will you place more people under arrest when the border guard offers you a cut of his wages? Why is it easier to empathize with the not-too-bright drug smuggler than with the countless law-abiding citizens who struggle to keep up with the constant rule changes?

Papers, Please is complex, it's psychological, and it will make you rethink your basic ideas of right and wrong, all in a game where your only choices are "approve" and "reject."

Papers, Please is available from Good Old Games.

Oxenfree

Genre: Adventure

Year: 2016


It's summer, and you and your high school friends take the ferry to an island that used to be a naval base and is now a state park, planning on a night of drinking and teenage misbehavior. But when your radio starts picking up bizarre signals, it turns out that the ghosts of the past aren't as quiet as they should be.

Oxenfree is an immersive, high-stakes supernatural thriller with a time-travel element and plenty of moments of outright terror. At the same time, the characters are well-rounded, their dialogue is realistic, and their relationships are just as compelling as the main plot. The protagonist and her new stepbrother are two of the lead characters, a relationship you don't often see but one that many real-life teenagers will resonate with.

A lot of modern adventure games have your in-game choices affect how the non-player characters react to you, but I've never seen a game implement the mechanic as thoroughly as Oxenfree. The radio mechanic is also unique and interesting; tuning the radio to different frequencies can either reveal clues or trigger different events. The gameplay leaves something to be desired, but the edge-of-your-seat story will definitely have you playing this one all the way through. And then maybe playing it again.

But not too late at night.


Tacoma

Genre: First Person

Year: 2017


The makers of Gone Home are back with an even more ambitious follow-up. You play a contractor sent to recover an artificial intelligence from an abandoned space station owned by a large multiplanet corporation. You are strictly forbidden from looking around the station or investigating what happened to the crew. But the station's VR recording system has left snippets of the crew's life for you to find. It looks like someone is trying to tell you something.

The diverse cast that inhabits the space station is immensely relatable, and you'll easily get sucked into their daily life as they deal with problems like keeping in touch with faraway family and saving up to go back to school. Their world, where everyone lives precariously indebted to megacorporations who pay them in loyalty points and record their every move, is simultaneously crushingly dystopian and all too realistic. There's a quiet heroism to the characters' ability to live normal lives amid the pressures of this system, and the way they rally in the face of disaster will have you rooting for them.

Oh, and don't forget to look for the cat.


Night in the Woods

Genre: Adventure

Year: 2017


A college dropout returns to her hometown with the goal of resuming her aimless life, only to find that it isn't the way she remembers. Stores have closed, her friends have changed, and people are going missing.

This is one of those horror games that hits way too close to home. It insightfully captures the witty-cynical attitude of a generation that has watched their future be systematically stolen from them, young people who act like teenagers a little too long because they have nothing to look forward to except a job at the convenience store. It's almost a relief when a dismembered arm appears, providing the hope of a villain more concrete than structural economic disadvantage.

But don't let all that make Night in the Woods sound like a drag. The lackadaisical cast injects a lot of humor into the story, from a neighbor's not-quite-Pulitzer-quality poetry ("I got mad one time/It was online") to your mom's supply of books about children raised by eels. The unusual gameplay combines the basic adventure-game mechanics with bits of platformers, roguelikes, and Guitar Hero. It's impossible not to get sucked into the characters' lives, and the message about the connections we build and the meaning we find in the face seemingly inexorable loss resonates far beyond one game.

Night in the Woods is available from Good Old Games.

What are your favorite video games? What video games do you think the book community would enjoy?

A side note from Cyra - You should most definitely read Gwen's book AMONG THE RED STARS! It's so good!!

Goodreads
My Review


World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.

Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines. 

As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.

Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.
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