The Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly Backes

Book: The Princesses of Iowa
Author: M. Molly Backes
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release date: May 8, 2012
Source: Bought signed copy from author

 

Summary from Goodreads:

What does it mean to do wrong, when no one punishes you? A smart and unflinching look at friendship, the nature of entitlement, and growing up in the heartland.

Paige Sheridan has the perfect life. She’s pretty, rich, and popular, and her spot on the homecoming court is practically guaranteed. But when a night of partying ends in an it-could-have-been-so-much worse crash, everything changes. Her best friends start ignoring her, her boyfriend grows cold and distant, and her once-adoring younger sister now views her with contempt. The only bright spot is her creative writing class, led by a charismatic new teacher who encourages students to be true to themselves. But who is Paige, if not the homecoming princess everyone expects her to be? In this arresting and witty debut, a girl who was once high-school royalty must face a truth that money and status can’t fix, and choose between living the privileged life of a princess, or owning up to her mistakes and giving up everything she once held dear.

My Big Fat Disclaimer 

In the interest of fairness, (and maybe only a teensy bit of pride [but totally the Mama Bear pride and not the gross look-at-me pride]) I should disclose that I know the author, M. Molly Backes. Over the past few years she has been my teacher, critique partner, and friend. While this does not prevent me from stating my honest opinions on the quality of her book, I am probably in a position to like it as a person familiar with her personality and writing style. With that all out in the open, let’s move on.

Shit just got real…

Go back up and read the first bolded line of the summary above. I’ll wait.

Back now? Good. I point it out (for the lazy set: “What does it mean to do wrong, when no one punishes you?”) because I think understanding this theme from the outset greatly impacts your enjoyment of the book. This is not a story about fluffy bunnies and sparkly unicorns and beautiful rainbows (even though, in my mind, that cover is just asking for a rainbow). This is a story about real things that can, and do, happen to teenagers.

The situations in this book punched me in the gut. I dare you to read the prologue and not connect deeply with at least some portion of it. Molly Backes is a master of Getting It. She wrote a character, Paige Sheridan, who is struggling to understand consequences, or the completely unjust and unfair LACK of them, that accompanies the life of a high school student, in a way that was believable and thought-provoking. Backes peeled back the superficial layers and forced Paige, and us as readers, to acknowledge the ugly sides of human behavior and the ease with which cruelty and convenience can influence even the best of intentions.

Life is not fair. Things don’t always end up the way we want them to. And I love that Backes portrayed this so truthfully in her narrative. Not everyone agrees with me.

“Issue” is such a loaded word…

Is this an issue book? It deals with the impact of a drunk driving accident on a group of girls. It illustrates common teen situations of homophobia, bullying, partying, and sex. But I didn’t see it as an issue book. It wasn’t pointing out the perils of drunk driving and why teens should avoid it. Were there severe consequences from the accident? Yes. One girl was seriously injured. But that wasn’t the point of the story. Nor was the point of the story to show us how destructive homophobia can be on a community, or how teen girls should handle their drunk boyfriends trying to rape them. The drinking and the sex and the gay slurs just happened to be a part of Paige’s life, and all of these things impact her growth from a narcissistic princess into a contemplative writer. This is Paige’s story and journey, not an issue book passing judgment on the behavior of its teen characters.

I appreciated that Backes didn’t gloss over any aspect of Paige’s life. She has a manipulative best friend, a weak-willed boyfriend, and a self-absorbed mother. Her friends drink too much, Paige cares too much about what people think, and everyone in this book is capable of bad decisions. The beauty of this book is the subtlety with which each character’s growth is illustrated. There is not one cathartic event that pulls everyone together. Instead, there are a series of events that impact different characters in unique ways, setting all of them on a different trajectory. 

Sisters, man…

One of the best devices I noticed to show a subtle change was the name Paige used for her sister. In the first half of the book, Paige’s younger sister Miranda repeatedly has to remind everyone that she prefers to be called Mirror. As with many flights of fancy with young people, she is ignored. Paige refers to her always as Miranda, since that’s her name, and she thinks calling her Mirror is dumb.

I don’t know when exactly the shift occurred, but toward the end of the book I noticed that Paige was consistently calling her sister Mirror. While finding acceptance of herself, Paige began to understand that something as simple as a name change was also an important way for her sister to find her own identity. Though Paige may not have given herself a unique nickname, I think she subconsciously realized that Mirror did so because she wanted to be taken seriously, much like how Paige now wanted to be viewed as more than just a vapid princess. And she finds common ground, as well as a fresh starting point in their relationship, by using her sister’s preferred name and therefore validating Mirror’s perspective and identity. As someone with a younger sister, I really connected with this concept.

What I’m saying is…

I’m no expert in contemporary YA fiction, but this one spoke to me on so many levels. It’s a book that will make you think, which is always a good thing. It sheds some light on the power of cliques and group thinking that can take over a teen’s life without them even realizing it. Backes finds a way to validate experiences without passing judgment, and without needing to find a lesson in every difficult event that her characters encounter. Life doesn’t always hand us teachable moments, nor do we find answers in the immediate aftermath of major events. It’s how we process our experiences into making the choices that feel right to us that truly matters.

 

 

 

 

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

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Bout of Books 5.0 – Wrap Up

Bout of Books Read-a-Thon

 
I survived Bout of Books 5.0! It was a great week of reading for me and I’m so glad I decided to participate. For those not in-the-know, here is the official Bout of Books blurb:
 

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 13th and runs through Sunday, August 19th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 5.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. -From the Bout of Books 5.0 team

 
Time devoted to reading: I managed to meet my goal of reading 3 hours each weekday, but fell far short of my planned 6 hours on Saturday and Sunday. It was a lot harder to avoid errands than I thought it would be!
 
I managed to:
  • Read 3 books (and get halfway through another and a good start on a fifth)
  • Finish 3 library books
  • Finish one Austen book (and start another)
  • Update Twitter every day
  • Participate in 2 Twitter chats and 3 challenges

Books I read:

  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  • The Yard by Alex Grecian – not finished
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – not finished

Total pages read: 750

Challenges completed: 

This was probably my most successful Bout of Books, if only because it got me back in the reading groove and connecting with bloggers again. I had a lot of fun, read way more this week than in any previous week this year, and am just happy to be enjoying my reading life. Thank you Amanda and Kelly and all the challenge hosts for a great Bout of Books 5.0!

 

 

 

 

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Book: Persuasion (A Modern Library E-Book)
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Random House
Originally published: 1818
Source: Borrowed ebook from library
 
Summary from Goodreads: Called a ‘perfect novel’ by Harold Bloom, Persuasion was written while Jane Austen was in failing health. She died soon after its completion, and it was published in an edition with Northanger Abbey in 1818. 

In the novel, Anne Elliot, the heroine Austen called ‘almost too good for me,’ has let herself be persuaded not to marry Frederick Wentworth, a fine and attractive man without means. Eight years later, Captain Wentworth returns from the Napoleonic Wars with a triumphant naval career behind him, a substantial fortune to his name, and an eagerness to wed. Austen explores the complexities of human relationships as they change over time. ‘She is a prose Shakespeare,’ Thomas Macaulay wrote of Austen in 1842. ‘She has given us a multitude of characters, all, in a certain sense, commonplace. Yet they are all as perfectly discriminated from each other as if they were the most eccentric of human beings.’

Persuasion is the last work of one of the greatest of novelists, the end of a quiet career pursued in anonymity in rural England that produced novels which continue to give pleasure to millions of readers throughout the world.

I think this is my first official, completed Austen book. I’ve seen my fair share of the movies, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one from start to finish until now. Tragic, no? I remedied this thanks to the Austen in August event hosted by Roof Beam Reader. It’s always difficult for me to read classics unless I have a good reason to do so, and blog events are a great motivator. 

I knew nothing about Persuasion prior to this event, but all of the participants and other bloggers (Ruby!) commenting that it was their favorite Austen made me wonder what all of the fuss was about. I mean…beating the alliterative P and S titles? It must be pretty good. I had it loaded on my Kindle before August even started.

The beginning was a bit slow. I confess to re-reading large chunks of the first chapters while getting lulled to sleep by my morning commute. Jane is not the person to get me fired up in the morning, I guess. I did very much like Anne, however, and as long as she wasn’t spending time with her horrible father and older sister, things perked up.

Mrs. Charles Musgrove…

Anne’s younger sister, Mary, is a total gas. Can I say that? Is “hoot” better? No? Okay, well, she’s hilarious then. Obnoxious and insufferable, but still fun because for the most part she’s harmless. She has an ego the size of Jupiter and feels entitled to more than she is probably due. Anne manages her fairly well, and Mary’s poor husband Charles certainly tries, but I love Mary’s histrionic style and need to be in the middle of everything.

Anne spends a large portion of the beginning of this tale at Mary’s house, where she gets pulled into the extended Musgrove family (Mary’s in-laws). Anne is a welcome addition, and much preferred over Mary to Charles’ sisters, Louisa and Henrietta, as well as pretty much anyone who has ever met Mary. Poor Mary. For those that don’t know, Anne’s family is living beyond their means, so they set off to Bath and rent their house to the Crofts.

Oh Captain, my Captain…

The important part of this is that Mrs. Croft’s brother is the good Captain Wentworth, Anne’s heartbroken former love. They were set to be married until Anne’s good family friend (and stand-in for her deceased mother) Lady Russell persuaded her that it was a poor match. Then Wentworth goes off to the navy and makes a bazillion dollars and shows up to visit his sister eight years later. You can practically see him and Anne awkwardly shuffling their feet while being forced into the same rooms again after all this time.

Over the course of the book, Wentworth tries to find a new bride out of one of the Musgrove girls, Anne joins her father and sister in Bath, and Wentworth keeps popping up on the scene because of their many mutual friends. He does incredibly nice things and is generally thoughtful and kind and still a big dreamboat as far as Anne is concerned. She starts to think that maybe she should follow her heart after all.

True love at last…

I flew through the last half of this book. I was dying to know when they would get together (because they have to get together!!) and how. There are all of these obstacles (Mr. Elliot, Louisa, different locations) and Anne seems uncertain about the Captain’s feelings, so you’re never really sure if they’ll work things out. By the time Wentworth finally slips Anne a secret love note, my heart was pounding in my chest and upon reading his sweet and poetic words I promptly shed a tear. 

SWOON!

Wentworth does such a good job hiding his feelings that I felt immense relief when Anne gets that letter. It’s the final confirmation after an entire novel of events that he does, in fact, love her despite everything. Up until that point, we see him courting Louisa and avoiding Anne and we’re stuck wondering “Does he or doesn’t he?” But he DOES! Yes! The romance between these two sells the story alone, but the funny social antics on display and the surprising twists and turns of the plot make this a thoroughly enjoyable read. I loved it. 

Have you read Persuasion? What did you think of Mary Musgrove? Were you convinced Wentworth was in love with Anne all along? 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Bout of Books 5.0 – Goals and Updates

Bout of Books Read-a-Thon

 
Bout of Books 5.0 is here! I’ll be participating here and on Twitter (@loganturner). For those not in-the-know, here is the official Bout of Books blurb:
 

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 13th and runs through Sunday, August 19th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 5.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. -From the Bout of Books 5.0 team

 
Time devoted to reading: I’m going to try and read 3 hours every weekday and 6 hours each weekend day.
 
My goals for participation:
  • Read seven books
  • Finish four of my library books
  • Knock out two Austen books
  • Read ten books from my backlog of comics
  • Update Twitter at least three times per day
  • Participate in one Twitter chat and three challenges (view the Official Schedule)

Books to read:

  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – in progress
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  • The Yard by Alex Grecian – in progress
  • Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  • Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill (or another UF/PNR fun book)

Updates:

8/13
Number of pages Iâ??ve read today: 145
Total number of pages Iâ??ve read: 145
Books read: Finished Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns); started The Yard

8/14
Number of pages Iâ??ve read today: 117
Total number of pages Iâ??ve read: 262
Books read: Still reading The Yard; started Northanger Abbey

8/15
Number of pages Iâ??ve read today: 144
Total number of pages Iâ??ve read: 406
Books read: Finished Northanger Abbey; still reading The Yard
Challenges completed: 2

8/16
Number of pages Iâ??ve read today: 94
Total number of pages Iâ??ve read: 500
Books read: Started The Westing Game; still reading The Yard

8/17
Number of pages Iâ??ve read today: 94
Total number of pages Iâ??ve read: 594
Books read: Finished The Westing Game; started Pride and Prejudice

8/18
Number of pages Iâ??ve read today: 54
Total number of pages Iâ??ve read: 648
Books read: Still reading The Yard and Pride and Prejudice
Challenges completed: 1

8/19
Number of pages I’ve read today: 102
Total number of pages I’ve read: 750
Books read: Still reading The Yard and Pride and Prejudice

Discussion: The Selection by Kiera Cass

Book: The Selection
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: April 24, 2012
Source: Borrowed ebook from library
 
Summary from Goodreads: For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself- and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

I’m trying something different today. Instead of straight-up reviewing this book, I want to open it up for discussion. I’d like to try focusing less on dissecting a book and more on analyzing my experience of reading it. Please join me in the comments!

**As this is a discussion, please be aware that there will be some slight spoilers!**

Let me start by saying this – I liked this book. But I recognize that this book has a capital-H-History, particularly on Goodreads. I was not expecting to like this one because of some of the reviews I read by people who I find to be trustworthy.

Yet. It’s YA! It’s dystopian! It has a Bachelor-like competition! What could there possibly be not to like? So when I saw it available through the library, I figured I’d go for it.

And I liked it. Really liked it, in fact. The writing was breezy, the characters were interesting, the competition was heating up…so I started to wonder what the big deal was with this book. I texted my sister, who also loves a good YA dystopian, and asked if she could read it if I bought her a copy. She could, and she did. Hooray for discussion! We texted about it for a while (much like we had with Divergent), and I started to realize that though I recognized many of the book’s flaws, I still liked the book. Thus the need for a discussion post.

The love story

Putting aside the bad names, I found America and Maxon to have good chemistry. A good love interest will carry me pretty far through a series (Twilight, I’m looking at you, kid), and I found the scenes with America and Prince Maxon to be delightful and full of the intense awkwardness of teen love. It’s that kind of realism that I connect with as an avid YA reader, and it took me back to thoughts of my own first kisses and first dates.

My sister didn’t find the America and Maxon love story believable, however. It irritated her that America could act like the horrible wench that undoubtedly makes it on The Bachelor every year, and yet we (and Maxon) were expected to not want her to get kicked off. She treats Maxon like dirt, is still in love with Aspen back home, and is staying in the competition for the food and money. She’s in it for all the wrong reasons, but Maxon agrees to keep her around. In my sister’s view, this makes America unlikeable and Maxon a fool.

I, however, appreciated that America was up front with Maxon. On The Bachelor, we only ever despise the girls keeping secrets about former boyfriends or illicit affairs with producers or who are in it for the wrong reasons but keep playing the game. America’s not hiding anything – she admits she has feelings for an old boyfriend at home, and that she needs to stay to help out her starving family. That Maxon lets her stay, while also hoping to win her heart anyway, is a nice gesture. America is more real with him than any of the other contestants, so why not let her stay? In my view, Maxon was simply grasping at anything that had substance over superficiality. Does that really make him a fool?

Root, root, root for the…

My two major complaints with the book were that A) the world history didn’t make a lot of sense and was thrown in without much context; and B) that there was no conclusion to the story. I would have liked more information on the growing conflict outside the palace walls (and sometimes within the palace walls). What do the rebels want? Who do we, as readers, want to win? I needed a cause to root for, other than just hoping that the poorer castes get a better life. I also really, really wanted to see the competition through to the end. I felt the ending of this book did not have a natural or satisfying conclusion.

So yes, there were some problems, but I still found America and her situation to be a cool way to explore young love. It’s fun to watch these strangers try to navigate their forced camaraderie, and discover that they both care about their country and doing what’s right. I want to see what happens next, and how America deals with her feelings for Aspen and her growing feelings for Maxon.

Have you read this book? Did you find the love story believable? If you haven’t read it, do you plan to? Let’s talk!

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

The State of Things

This post should really be titled “The State of Things, in which I try to explain the level of crazy that has become my life.” In an effort to balance the many demands on my time these last few months, blogging has fallen to the wayside. Today, I’ll tell you why.

First and foremost in my priorities, but probably highest on the list of Nobody Else Cares, is that since the end of May I have been completing a group weight loss program at my gym with Dear Old Husband. For two hours on both Tuesday and Thursday nights, we (along with 4 others) have been working out, setting goals, and learning nutrition with a team of personal trainers, a wellcoach, and a registered dietitian. It’s a 12 week program, and it ends next week. This is simultaneously relieving and terrifying.

Because this was a pricey program (as all things that are good for you tend to be, amirite?), it has taken a lot of my focus. When I’m not “in class” on those Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’m typically at the gym anyway. I’m trying to figure out the best way to balance the need to work out with needing to, you know, have a life, but as a person who tends to get a wee bit obsessed with whatever is my current focus du jour, it’s difficult.

The second time drain, which is probably off the Nobody Else Cares list, but climbing the Oh That’s Nice But We Still Don’t Care That Much list is the fact that I’m also training for the Chicago Triathlon at the end of the month. This will be my second time doing Chicago, but my sixth(!!) triathlon total. So I’m spending even more hours in the gym and at the beach working on my swimming, biking, and running.

Combine these things with the fact that I’d rather spend my time writing my novel and not necessarily reviews, and it all adds up to one seriously neglected blog. I’ve become dissatisfied with my reviews and the rigid format I’ve set up for myself with their structure. I haven’t been reading much this year, and some of the books I do read are not ones the readers of this blog would be most interested in. 

I’ve played with the idea of turning this into more of a writing blog, but I don’t have a whole lot to say as it gets completed other than, “I’m working on it.” Heh. And I do love to talk about books, so maybe I just shouldn’t review them, in the typical sense. During the Outlander read-along, Laura and Carrie and I had a conversation about how we like discussing books more than reviewing them. That’s something I’m going to try, starting this week. Look for a more discussion-oriented post on The Selection  by Kiera Cass. We’ll see how it goes.

And now on to FUN things. Last Thursday was my birthday, and I bought lots of good presents for myself with gift cards:

I have wanted to read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel for a really long time, and I’ve been curious about Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches, especially since the sequel came out and everyone’s again talking about how amazing it is. Railsea by China Miéville caught my eye right away, but after I learned it had illustrations, that spurred me to buy the hardcover.

Surprise, surprise – a fitness book! I bought Run Faster to help with my running, as I move from focusing on the triathlon to the two 5K races I signed up for in September, followed by a 15K in November, with the big goal of finishing the Disney’s Princess Half Marathon in Orlando next February. I also bought a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way to help with my creativity and writing, but it was on my nightstand and husband was still sleeping while I took these pictures, thus the lack of photo.

And because buying books usually leads to wanting to read more books, I also picked up some library books:

I grabbed all of the Austen I could find on my branch’s shelves for Roof Beam Reader’s Austen in August event: Northanger Abbey, Pride & Prejudice, and Emma.

I LOVE the hilarious and multi-talented Mindy Kaling. If you don’t know her (writer and actress for The Office, small movie roles), you soon will, as she’s getting her own show this fall (The Mindy Project). This has been on my to-read list for far too long. I also picked up Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide, because I love nonfiction, particularly if it has a psychology focus.

Finally, I picked up two books on hold I’ve been dying to read: Agent 6, the third in a BRILLIANT spy thriller/murder mystery series set in Cold War Soviet Russia by Tom Rob Smith, and The Yard by Alex Grecian, a Victorian detective novel. 

Oh, and for a bit of levity, I leave you with this awesome pack of bookmarks I picked up from the sale bin at Blick Art Supply over the weekend:

These should help me think up bookish points to discuss, no?