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The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

In the first review I wrote for this, it got really spoilery.  More spoilery than any other review I’ve done, I think.  Since a lot of people don’t like spoilers, I wanted to write a second review where I don’t specifically discuss major plot points, so this is it.  If you’re interested in my more spoilery discussion of this book, I will be posting it later.  

Even though this doesn’t have the same major spoilers that the other one has, I do say how some characters die.  I never mention names, but, if even that much detail is enough to bother you, I would recommend not reading this.  

 

So that happened.  I have a lot of weird feelings about this book, but I can’t find a name for any of them.  I kind of feel similar to how I felt after reading Rooms by Lauren Oliver.  But there was no gore in that one, and there was in this one, so there might be a little more general discomfort after reading this.  

I’ve had this book ever since it came out.  Every couple months for the past two years I’ve looked at it sitting on my shelf, sad and unread, and I’ll say that I’ll read it soon.  And I did try to pick it up a few times.  Probably every six months or so, I would try to read it again, but it never really grabbed me.  Every time I’ve tried to read it, I haven’t gotten more than fifty pages into it.  Sometimes not even that.  The last time I tried to read it I got four pages in before I stopped.  I’m not even exaggerating.  The bookmark was still there.  This year I’ve been trying to read more, so I thought that maybe this would be the year I finally read it.  It’s been two years.  The time has come to actually finish it.  So I did.  

This book has none of the qualities of a page turner.  Whenever I would put it down, I wouldn’t really feel any need to pick it up again.  Generally, I don’t like when there are cliffhangers at the end of chapters that are there just to make you keep reading, but honestly maybe that would have been a good thing in this book.  The last line of each chapter seemed almost final, which didn’t help the fact that I already didn’t feel much motivation to finish this.  I was curious, but I could have easily put the book down for a long period of time and not really missed it.  Obviously not every book is going to be a page turner that you want to read in one sitting, but I want whatever I read to make me want to read more.  This didn’t do that.  

I had some suspicions about a plot twist in the beginning, but I dismissed them thinking that that kind of plot twist would be to predictable.  It turned out that I was right about it.  I had more suspicions about a plot twist later in the book, but again I dismissed them because obviously that won’t happen.  It happened.  

Some of it was just a misunderstanding where I thought they meant some words figuratively instead of literally.  I’m not going to go into it much because I don’t want to spoil anything, but, if you’re going to read this, they mean things very literally.  You should know that.  Even though the first plot twist did irritate me, and I think that kind of plot twist is kind of overdone, I see why it was there, and I honestly don’t see any other way that they could have gotten to the ending without having this there, so I can’t complain.  

There are some books in which trying to figure out what happened and who did what before it’s said in the book is part of what makes the book enjoyable.  I don’t think this is one of those books.  Maybe it was supposed to be and I entirely missed it? Or maybe the author went a little overboard on the foreshadowing?  I don’t know.  Plot twists are great and all, but they are best handled by masters who can lead you down a merry path and then completely blindside you with an unexpected plot twist.  

I didn’t feel particularly connected to any of the main characters.  There were some sad bits that made me a little bit emotional, but I don’t know if it was actually me being attached to the character, or me just not wanting that specific thing to happen to that character.  Some books are written in such a way that even if you don’t relate to the characters you can still kind of connect with them or almost relate to them, but this isn’t one of those books.  

This book was very sad.  I guess I should have expected it from the beginning, but I didn’t.  I was surprised by how sad it ended up being.  The part at the end was pretty vague then everything got real, and I just can’t.  Like I said before, I wasn’t incredibly attached to any of the characters, but the way it was written was disturbing.  One of the girls fell off her chair and hit her head.  It describes exactly how her skull is cracked open and how she’s bleeding.  When another character dies, it describes the gash on the back of her head as “soft” and “gooey” which, in my opinion, just seems like too much.  

I think I said before in a review that I’m indifferent to gore.  Normally, if it’s just small amounts of gore, and there’s no violence towards animals, I can handle it, no problem.  But this book was different.  The descriptions in this book weren’t too terribly graphic, but I was still uncomfortable.  This book was disturbing.  The way the gore was written made my skin crawl.  There was more gore than just what I mentioned, and it was just as horrible as the rest, but I’ve tried to forget that.  

This book also made me feel anxious.  I read about a hundred pages of it in a sitting, and then I had to put it down.  It’s possible that this was something else, but, since I felt really stressed right after reading it, I think at least part of it was the book.  I do want my books to make me feel things, but not these things.  If you have anxiety, I would not recommend this book.  

It’s possible that I would have liked this book more if I didn’t read it right after reading Paper Valentine.  I loved Paper Valentine, and this just can’t compare to it.  I wanted to make sure that I didn’t get into a reading slump, which I do sometimes after reading something I really loved, so I picked this book up the same night I finished Paper Valentine.  That might have been a mistake.  I, at least, should have waited a day before picking this up.  I just really didn’t want to get into a reading slump because, the last time I did, I barely read for six months.  

There are a few things I did like about the book.  

In the chapters from Amber’s perspective, the title of the chapter would be the first couple words in the chapter.  In Violet’s chapters, the title of the chapter would be the last couple words from the chapter.  I don’t know why, but I thought that was cool.  

I also really like the cover.  I know I shouldn’t judge it by the cover, but come on-just look at it, it’s beautiful.  If you haven’t seen it, look it up.  Do it.  

My final rating is two and a half out of five stars.  I wanted to like it, but I just found it lacking.  However, if you liked Rooms, you’ll probably like this.  

Slasher Boys and Monster Girls Playlist

I realized five minutes ago that I was supposed to post this an hour ago, and I haven’t even finished writing half of it.  I was too busy listening to Radiohead bootlegs to write this post in time.  Which honestly isn’t surprising.  Anyway, here’s the playlist.  

 

“The Birds of Azalea Street” by Nova Ren Suma

I spent a lot of time thinking about what I should do for this story.  I didn’t feel any connection to any of the characters, and I don’t think that I could pick a song that reminded me of any character.  So the song I ended up choosing is “Drive It Like You Stole It” by The Glitch Mob.  This song doesn’t have any words, so I didn’t have to think about whether or not the meaning of the song went with the meaning of the story.  Even though this is electronic music that could probably be considered dance music, and electronic dance music doesn’t really go with the feel of the story, this is probably my favorite lyricless electronic song, so I’m putting it in the playlist anyway.  

Alternatively, if you would like something that does have words, I would pick “Isle of Flightless Birds” by Twenty One Pilots.  Because birds.  I don’t have a better reason.  Even though I love this song, the only reason I picked it is because the title has something to do with birds.  Just listen to the other song.  

 

“In the Forest Dark and Deep” by Carrie Ryan

I loved this story so much, and it deserves a song that fits it perfectly.  But I don’t know if that exists.  The song I’m going with is “Dangerous Animals” by Arctic Monkeys.  Because there’s an animal.  And it’s dangerous.  Is that a spoiler?  I don’t think so.  

 

“Emmeline” by Cat Winters

“Ghost” by Halsey.  This one’s fairly self explanatory, if you’ve read the story.  Also, Halsey is one of my favorite electronica artists so I’m not going to pass up an opportunity to recommend one of her songs.  

 

“Verse Chorus Verse” by Leigh Bardugo

“Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle” by Nirvana.  This is the song that the story was inspired by, and it’s just a good song.  

 

“Hide and Seek” by Megan Shepherd

“Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap.  Because it has the same name.  And if you’re familiar with the “Mmm whatcha say” meme I think that would probably be the most appropriate meme for this story?  

My reasoning for picking one of the songs for this playlist is because of a meme.  I regret nothing.  

 

“The Dark, Scary Parts and All” by Danielle Paige

The song I chose for this short story is “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” by Radiohead.  You shouldn’t have expected anything else from me.  If you read my review of this story, you know exactly why I picked this song, and in my opinion there really isn’t another song that would fit with it.  

 

“The Flicker, The Fingers, The Beat, The Sigh” by April Genevieve Tucholke

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division.  It’s not a perfect fit, but it fits.  Also it’s Joy Division.  

 

“Fat Girl With A Knife” by Jonathan Maberry

The song I’m picking for this story is “Dig Down” by Muse.  I originally had this song in mind for a different story just because I couldn’t think of any other song for that story, but I think it’s a better fit for this one.  

 

“Sleepless” by Jay Kristoff

The song for this story is “Eyes On Fire” by Blue Foundation.  I know that this song is about drugs.  I’m choosing to ignore that for the moment.  If, instead, you think of this song as being about a murderer, it would fit with this story very well.  Also the sound of that bass at 2:10, listen to it specifically.  That couple second part is my favorite part of the entire song.  

 

“M” by Stefan Bachmann

“Animus Vox” by The Glitch Mob.  This one was tricky, but I think this works.

 

“The Girl Without a Face” by Marie Lu

“Monsters” by Matchbook Romance.  This song just makes sense for this story.  

 

“A Girl Who Dreamed of Snow” by McCormick Templeman

“Glowing Eyes” by Twenty One Pilots.  There were glowing eyes right?  There was some kind of monster, and I like this song.  

 

“Stitches” by A. G. Howard

“Monster” by Paramore.  Because why not.  

 

“On the I-5” by Kendare Blake

“Possum Kingdom” by Toadies.  Because there’s death in both of them.  

 

So that’s my playlist for Slasher Boys and Monster Girls.  It’s not the best, but to be fair it was written months after I read the book, and it was written while I was running on not nearly enough sleep.  

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys edited by April Genevieve Tucholke

There may be small spoilers?  I tried to be fairly spoiler free but I’m not sure how I did.  If something’s going to be particularly spoilery, I’ll put a warning before it.  

 

“The Birds of Azalea Street” by Nova Ren Suma

 

(Pretty big spoilers)

This story was interesting, but I don’t know if it was the right story to start the collection.  It was a well-written story, but it just felt kind of lacking.  I wanted more information about the girl/creature/bird thing, and there just wasn’t any.  Maybe the author did this because the story was told in a personal narrative, and the narrator didn’t know?  Or maybe she just didn’t have anything else to say about it?  Maybe the focus was supposed to be more on the creepy neighbor than on the bird girl?  The neighbor was creepy.  Creepier than the bird girl.  But when I started reading this I went in expecting supernatural horror so a creepy guy didn’t really do it for me as much.  At the end of the story, the girls find out that their creepy neighbor has pictures of them sitting in hammocks and if the wind blew one of their skirts up a little the neighbor took a picture of that.  That’s obviously really creepy, and if something like that happened to me or to someone I know, I would be very freaked out.  But, like I said, I went in expecting supernatural monsters, and he was a very human monster.  

Towards the end, I started to wonder if the girl was maybe the Morrigan?  It seemed like that was possibly where the author was going, but then there was nothing else about her and she just flew away or something.  Perhaps the lack of development was to keep the page number low, but it seemed to leave the story lacking.  I would have read more pages for better explanations.  

Three out of five stars.  

 

“In the Forest Dark and Deep” by Carrie Ryan

 

This story was amazing.  If you’ve ever wanted to read a really twisted, bloody version of Alice in Wonderland THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT TO READ.  After reading the first story, I didn’t have very high hopes for the rest of this collection, but OH MY GOD.  It gives me chills just thinking about it.  It didn’t go at all the way I expected it to, and it really freaked me out, but in the best way.  The end was entirely unexpected, but it worked with the story.  So often twist endings are surprising but don’t fit.  This was surprising and fit perfectly.  I’m not going to say too much about this one because I don’t want to give anything away, but WOW.  

Five out of five stars.  

 

“Emmeline” by Cat Winters

 

(There’s a spoiler after the rating, but I mark it)

The plot in this one was predictable-it’s been done before and done better.  I think even The Ghost Whisperer covered it.  I didn’t hate it, but it was very predictable, and, because of that, the ending seemed anticlimactic.  I thought that since these stories are all supposed to be terrifying horror that there might be some kind of twist ending; however, it ended exactly how I expected it to, and I was left wanting more.  

Two out of five stars.  

(Spoiler:  I was wondering if, instead of the girl being dead, the guy would be dead, and he would kill the girl?   That would be a somewhat believable twist ending.  I could live with that ending and be happy.  But it didn’t end that way.  Also, I kind of didn’t like how she told him she was dead the whole time and then turned out to be dead?  Because that’s been done before-and better-in other books.)  

 

“Verse Chorus Verse” by Leigh Bardugo

 

Whenever I read this story I thought it was interesting.  A couple days later when I went to write the review, I actually had to go read the first couple lines of the story so I could remember what it was about.  In other reviews, people have mentioned that they aren’t sure if they “got” the ending, and I have to agree with them.  It could have been so good if it was less vague.  If the music industry had ended up being the monster as a commentary on pop music, that would have been awesome.  I hate the pop music industry.  I want to read a story that seems like it’s going to be a horror story and then is actually about how the people making pop music are the real monsters.  I make music and I love horror, so I thought I was going to love this, but in the end it was kind of meh.  

Three out of five stars.  

 

“Hide and Seek” by Megan Shepherd

 

This one freaked me out much more than I expected it to, but I did have to go back and reread the first line so I could remember what it was about because for some reason it didn’t really stick with me the way some other stories have.  Once I reread the first line, though, the author’s description of the soul collector came right back to me.  I think I will be thinking about that for a while.  Her descriptions are really vivid and haunting.  

Four out of five stars.  

 

“The Dark, Scary Parts and All” by Danielle Paige

 

(Maybe vague spoilers here?)

This story was okay.  I think that maybe the author also should have mentioned that the story was inspired by Greek mythology because of the whole Persephone thing they had going on.  I didn’t really notice anything that reminded me of Frankenstein, which is supposed to be one of the inspirations for it, but whatever.  

In some parts, Marnie seemed a little bit “I’m not like other girls,” which is way overused in young adult books and drives me insane, but whatever, that’s not my biggest complaint.  Bear with me.  

My biggest complaint is that Marnie’s favorite song is “Wonderwall” (I know, it has so little to do with the plot but these things bother me).  Who even listens to “Wonderwall”?  Out of all of the amazing alternative songs from the ‘90s, her favorite song is “Wonderwall”?  You know what else came out the same year as “Wonderwall”?  Radiohead’s album The Bends.  You know what song would be better to put in the story?  Literally anything off of The Bends, there isn’t a bad song on that album.  I looked it up what “Wonderwall” means (When I say I looked it up I mean that I read two comments on what people thought the song meant, but they were highly rated comments so whatever.), and according to what I read, “Wonderwall” is about “unselfish love” or the butterflies you get in your stomach when you see your crush (*eye roll*).  So I guess it could be a cute date song if you’re into it?  But I don’t think that it’s really fitting for the story.  What about “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” by Radiohead?  That song’s about staring the devil in the eyes and knowing that, no matter what you do, he’s going to win (this has the interview that explains the meaning of the song:  https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/news/general_music_news/thom_yorke_explains_dark_meaning_to_street_spirit.html).  Doesn’t that seem way more fitting for a short story about a guy who’s some kind of monster?  A guy who actually said that he was the son of satan (or a devil, I can’t remember)?  I know that Radiohead isn’t always going to be the right music for every situation, even if I try to make it be, but in this situation, “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” would have been so much better!  

Maybe the author chose “Wonderwall” because it’s a well known ‘90s song? But lots of songs are well known, and that doesn’t necessarily make them good.  Maybe she wanted Marnie to be relatable, or she wanted people to recognize the music that she listened to?  But I’ve literally never heard anyone say that their favorite song was “Wonderwall”.  Even the people who like Oasis.  Also, it’s fun to hear of a song you’ve never heard of in a story and then be able to go look it up.  At least for me.  One of my favorite short stories, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” from Zombies VS. Unicorns was full of music references and part of the fun of reading it was finding the references and listening to those songs while reading.  

Three out of five, because it was interesting but “WONDERWALL”?  REALLY?  End rant.

 

“The Flicker, The Fingers, The Beat, The Sigh” by April Genevieve Tucholke

 

This one was disturbingly real.  I really liked this one because it didn’t need a supernatural creature, or even a psycho killer, to make it creepy.  There wasn’t blood or gore, and there wasn’t really a moment when everything became super dramatic, but I think it’s better that way.  This was all about freaking yourself out with what you do.  Everything horrible was something they actually did and the psychological ramifications of their actions.  

Five out of five stars.  

 

“Fat Girl With A Knife” by Jonathan Maberry

 

I really liked this one.  Some reviewers are saying that it wasn’t that original, but it’s a zombie story, so there aren’t that many directions you can go with that.  I liked that Dahlia wasn’t the stereotypical short, thin girl who is the main character in almost every YA novel.  I liked that her lack of thin girl street cred is what saw her through.  A thin girl just would not have cut it in this story.  Pun intended.  I also liked that she was just really chill about the apocalypse.  She didn’t have an emotional breakdown or anything, she just handled it. It was awesome.  

Five out of five stars.  

 

“Sleepless” by Jay Kristoff

 

I wasn’t sure about this one at first but, about halfway through it, I got really into it.  I accidentally read the last couple lines before I finished the story, so I knew kind of how it ended.  But there were enough unexpected plot twists that, even knowing what I did about the ending, I was still surprised and on the edge of my seat while reading it.  

Four and a half out of five stars.  

 

“M” by Stefan Bachmann

 

I liked some of this author’s other work, so I was expecting to like this story, but for some reason I didn’t like it as much as some of the others.  Yes, the children singing songs about murder is creepy, but I found this kind of lacking.  The main character is blind, so I guess that makes it creepier because she can’t see what’s going on?  But I didn’t feel like that added enough creepiness and I wasn’t really freaked out by this one at all.  

I don’t really know what to rate this.  Two and a half out of five stars, I guess?  I really wanted to like it.  

 

“The Girl Without a Face” by Marie Lu

 

In the first half of this story not much happened, and then, in the second half, A LOT happened.  Also, I kind of feel like the main character (I’m blanking on his name) deserved whatever he got because after that flashback I hated him.  Also, did he do that thing with the deer or not?  Tell me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that was ever fully explained.  

Two stars?  Because creepy closets are always cool to read about, but I didn’t feel bad for him at all.  I actually think he deserved everything he got.  

 

“A Girl Who Dreamed of Snow” by McCormick Templeman

 

I didn’t love this one.  I feel like maybe I missed something?  Maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention?  I don’t know, but it definitely wasn’t the best in the collection.  

Two out of five stars.  

 

“Stitches” by A. G. Howard

 

This one was really bloody and gross.  This is another one that was based on Frankenstein, and it was very, very obvious.  I read Frankenstein a few years ago and I didn’t like it.  I never like things that are really gory, so it’s not really surprising that I didn’t like this story that much.  The ending was kind of weird, the characters were hard to connect with, the gore was far too descriptive, and, in my opinion, it didn’t add anything good to the story.  

One out of five stars.  

 

“On the I-5” by Kendare Blake

 

(Not so vague spoilers in this one)

Again, maybe I missed something?  It was interesting, but I still have questions which leave me kind of confused.  This story was shorter than others, so maybe it’s just that there wasn’t enough space in the story to go into as much detail as some of the other stories went into?  I don’t know.  It was interesting, but I think it could have been longer, and, like I said, I still have a lot of questions.  Why was the girl doing what she did?  Why was she there in the first place?  What happened to the other girl?  Why did she kill that guy?  I guess that’s sort of explained but not enough for me.  Whatever.  

Two out of five stars.  
I averaged all of my ratings and ended up getting less than I expected to get.  The final number was less than I wanted to rate it, so I’m going to pretend that number doesn’t exist and I’m rating it 3.75 out of five stars.  I’m giving it a higher rating because, even though there were stories I didn’t like so much, the ones I did like, I loved, and they are good enough for me to hand out more stars.  

Short Girls in Young Adult Fiction

Recently, I’ve noticed that a lot of girls in young adult fiction are described as being really short.  The authors also always seems to make a point of repeatedly mentioning how short they are.  

I want to say that I don’t have a problem with this at all, but I do.  Of course, authors are free to describe their characters however they like.  And clearly, short people are people too.  But, let’s face it, short girls are short which means they are below the average height.  There are a lot more girls who are average height or taller than there are girls who are way below average height.  That means that the preponderance of short girl main characters does not reflect the real world.    

First some background.  I’m a girl who’s five feet four and a half inches tall, which is slightly taller than the average height of an American woman (the average height is 63.8 inches), so while I’m not tall, I’m not short either.  My mom is five feet one inch, my dad is five feet eight inches, and my fully grown little sister is four feet ten inches.  Compared to the rest of my family, I’m pretty tall-no one else is even average height.  I also normally look taller because I always wear combat boots with thick soles and they tend to add about an inch to my height.  

Even though I do wear shoes that make me look taller, I’m insecure about my height.  I grew up looking at my mom and my sister, who are both short with small bone structures, and I always wanted to look like them because that’s what looks normal and pretty to me.  Also, since my entire family is below average height except me, I’ve gotten many stupid comments about how I’m so tall.  I’ve literally been called freakishly tall several times.  One time a guy was actually flirting with me by telling me that I’m so tall, so much taller than him, he didn’t know how I was so tall.  When I tried to tell him that I was shorter than him he just repeated that I was so tall.  I was actually several inches shorter than him.  He also told me I’d look prettier without my acne, so obviously he’s just a jerk, BUT I’M GETTING AWAY FROM MY POINT.  

Ever since I was ten, and was suddenly taller than my mom, people have felt the need to comment about how I’m so freakishly tall.  It’s made me feel like being short is obviously more desirable and more attractive than being tall. Since I’m not short, I’m obviously less attractive and less desirable.  Even though I don’t want to be valued only for my attractiveness, it would be really nice to not feel insecure just because I’m about an inch above average.  

So, back to my point, when I read all these books about girls who are so tiny and so adorable because of their tininess, it makes me feel a little weird about my height.  These short, fictional girls are always described as beautiful, and it seems like part of that beauty is in the fact that they are short.  

There are sometimes taller characters who have wider shoulders, but they’re frequently villains or just horrible people.  This does nothing to help tall girls or girls with wide shoulders who are insecure about it.  I guess people think that maybe being tiny makes a character seem more innocent?  Which is ridiculous, by the way.  (Believe me, I live with short females.  They can be a contrary and difficult lot.)  And why not make a villain who is really short and has huge, round eyes and has everything that people stereotype as innocent?  That way no one suspects them of being villains.  Lots of animated movies pull this off to rave reviews, think Hoodwinked or The Secret Life of Pets.

Young adult books are basically body shaming girls for not being five feet tall and supermodel thin with a tiny bone structure.  I kind of don’t want to say this because I feel like I’m being confrontational, but I think it needs to be said.  There are so many girls reading these books yet so few have the body type that the majority of the main female characters have.  There need to be characters with other body types because, if there’s just the one type, people who don’t have that type might start to feel insecure.  I’m not blaming books for my insecurities (if I had to blame anything I would blame society’s stereotypes of beauty).  I’m also not demanding that every description of a main character’s appearance be vague so that every girl can see herself in this person.  It actually really irritates me when people do that.  I just think it would be nice to have some characters who are an average height or maybe some female main characters who are even six feet tall because there are girls who are six feet tall.  I don’t think I’ve read a single book with a female protagonist who’s that height, though.    

The one book I can think of that doesn’t have exclusively short girls is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  In the book, Reagan was tall and had wide shoulders.  She wasn’t the stereotypical supermodel thin that’s frequently seen in young adult books, either.  Even though I didn’t love Fangirl, I really loved that it was mentioned that Reagan had that body type because that’s the same body type I have.  She’s also described as being very attractive and desirable EVEN THOUGH she’s not short and thin with a tiny bone structure.  

I don’t really have a conclusion for this because this was all written well after midnight while listening to Radiohead at an unhealthy volume while I was half awake.  Going into this, I didn’t really have a goal or a point I was trying to make, I just wanted to talk about this.  So… yeah.  Short girls in young adult fiction.  In the light of day, though, it strikes me that these days there is so much emphasis on books where the main character is going through some emotional situation, and there is an effort to make sure everyone has an emotional double in these books.  Yet there are still physical stereotypes.  We need better character development in young adult fiction, at least when it comes to physical descriptions.

On a side note, I googled what the most attractive height for a woman is and apparently a lot of guys say five feet six inches, so… yeah.  Not five feet tall like young adult novels would have you believe.  Just thought that was kind of interesting.  I don’t think I’ll tell my family, though.  

On another side note, I was doing some googling about average heights in different countries, and, according to the website I was looking at, my height would be totally normal if I lived in Ireland or England.  Maybe if I move there I’ll stop feeling insecure.  

They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire

Spoilers with feminist rant.  

 

I can’t even.  

I got this book because it had been on my “to read” list for a while.  I wanted to read some kind of murder mystery thing, and this was the first one I hit on.  I should have kept looking.  

This book is incredibly sexist.  I wouldn’t expect so much sexism towards women from a book written by a woman.  This was horrible.  Here’s the premise, every year at Kenzie’s school, boys make a list of the ten hottest girls literally called “The Hottie List”.  Cringing yet?  This list is normally picked by the guys in the school, but this time there’s special help from an assassin, though nobody knows he is an assassin until the very end.  This assassin is, wait for it, an adult man.  That’s right, an adult male is helping make the list of hot, teen, underage girls.  So I guess this book is sort of murder and pedophilia?  The assassin uses teenage girls, specifically those on the list over the years, as practice victims for his “accident” murders because that is his MO, not a murder, an accident.  In the past it was more random and infrequent, this year would be different with every girl targeted.  Because that’s how professional assassins work, they get sloppy and kill masses of innocent teens for practice.  Why use teenage girls?  Because, according to him, it’s easy to get teenage girls to do what you want them to.  This is a book for teenage girls, and it’s literally making fun of teenage girls.  

Anyway, once a girl gets on the list, she becomes wildly popular and she can go to all the parties.  Shallow jocks who only care about dating pretty girls will probably ask them out.  Some people will stop calling them by their names, instead only referring to them as the number they are on the list.  Objectifying much?  Does anyone really want to be a number?  Would that make anyone feel special and cool?  Let’s face it, this is just objectification, and it is not okay.  

For the entire book Kenzie talks about how there’s no reason she should be on the list because she’s not beautiful.  Instead, she’s smart and speaks Latin.  *OBVIOUSLY* there’s no way a woman could be smart AND beautiful! OMG they have to pick one.  (*Sarcasm*)  Did the author base all of her character development on really bad Lifetime movie stereotypes?

Speaking of being smart, Kenzie reminds the reader that she’s basically a genius on every page of the book.  She seems to be basing this off of the fact that she can translate a few Latin phrases, so obviously that makes her SO MUCH SMARTER THAN EVERYONE ELSE IN THE BOOK.  Her best friend Molly, who isn’t a genius, was the one who figured out some of the stuff in the obstacle course in the end but it wasn’t in Latin, so . . .  Yet, we are to believe that this smart girl, who doesn’t want to be on “the list”, thinks about and talks about the list all the time.  Smart enough to do Latin apparently doesn’t mean smart enough to not wish to be objectified.  That’s all women really want, isn’t it?

Weirdly enough, I think the author might be trying to make Kenzie a strong female character?  But not a strong female character because she’s well written, more of the Tumblr strong female character.  ‘Cause you know, she speaks Latin and stabbed a guy in the knee, and, you knew it was coming, she’s not like other girls.  She lets Josh (I think that’s his name) call her Fifth throughout the entire book and doesn’t make him stop.  She doesn’t love being called Fifth, but she never makes him stop.  If some guy tried to call me a number based on how pretty he thought I was, I would refuse to speak to him.  It’s like the author wanted to make a strong female character, but she didn’t really know how, so, instead of actually making a well developed, interesting character, she just made her stab people and fight assassins.  I’m sorry, but fighting people and speaking Latin isn’t enough to make someone a strong female character.  Not even in the Tumblr way.  If she wanted to make a strong female character, she shouldn’t have made a character who was mostly okay with being called a number.  A strong female character would not have thought so much about the list.  A strong female character would have been developed for her internal dialogue, not for stabbing people and not being like other girls.  

And now for the picky details that just rubbed salt in the wound of my lost time reading this book.

First, in this book there are text messages that will show up on someone’s phone from an unknown number and then, ten minutes later, disappear.  This isn’t possible.  I actually talked to a professional computer programmer who tells me that there is no way to put some kind of code or something in a text so it would self destruct.  Even if her phone was running out of space, it wouldn’t delete brand new messages.  It would probably just give her a warning that it was running out of space.  

Second, there was an unrealistic lack of swearing in this book.  At one point Kenzie actually comes face to face with the man who helped plan her brother’s murder, and she just says something like, “God damned you when you killed my brother.”  This isn’t really even a swear.  It’s just her stating what she thinks God has done.  If I came face to face with someone who had murdered someone I cared about I would have a lot more to say, and there would be a lot more profanity.  And this is coming from someone who doesn’t normally swear.  

Third, when the girls are all having one of their special Sisters of the List meetings (I wish I was kidding.  They’re literally called that.), they said that maybe people were dying because it was the thirtieth year of the list.  They speculated that maybe the murders mean something inane and vapid.  They obviously don’t jump to the conclusion that there are actually a bunch of assassins who are practicing murder on teenage girls, but honestly who would.  That’s ridiculous.  Anyway, what’s the big deal with the thirtieth year?  If it was the thirteenth year that would make more sense because ooh, thirteen is an unlucky number, but the thirtieth year doesn’t seem that special.  Unless this is some sort of stupid comment about women and aging?  And why not?  Let’s just offend and objectify all the women.  But I digress.

I guess Kenzie’s love interest was okay, even though he was very cliched.  Levi was the “bad guy” who turned out to have a heart of gold.  At first, this irritated me because oh my god this again, but by the end he was the only guy in the book that didn’t make me want to scream.  Really, if Levi was in another book, nearly any other book, I probably would have hated him, too.  But, quite frankly, the rest of the book left me thinking that even the cliched bad boy turned good was alright in light of how horrible the rest of the book was.  

The ending was unexpected?  But not in a normal kind of unexpected way where you could figure it out sooner if you really tried, which is the hallmark of all modern mystery writing.  If you don’t give clues in the text, you aren’t playing fair with your reader.  This is how mystery novels work.  Ask Doyle or Poe or Christie.  The ending in this terrible excuse for a mystery involved Josh’s father’s admission, out of nowhere, of being a complete creeper and murderer.  Apparently, Josh’s father faked his own death years ago (and killed his wife while he was at because no witnesses, right?)  He then goes on to reveal that he’s been killing the girls on the list one by one and making it look like accidents because he’s part of a secret group of assassins.  I don’t think there are any hints that this is what’s going to happen earlier in the book AT ALL.  Part of the fun of reading a murder mystery is trying to figure it out before the main character does, and in this book it’s just not possible.  I can’t say it gets weirder, because it really can’t.  However, in the last chapter of the book people from the FBI come to talk to Kenzie, Molly, Levi, and Josh because they think that there are a lot more assassins in the world, and the FBI wants their help to find them.  Obviously Kenzie would be so much help because she can speak Latin, and it’s not like anyone else can do that.  (Well, maybe just the assassins and that’s why they need Kenzie so very much!)  How brilliant of the FBI to figure out that there are more assassins in the world.  Gee, I never would have guessed.  It’s like the author made up assassins all by herself and now she gets to populate the world with them!  But, never fear, a bunch of teens will save the day because they are smart and some of them are even pretty!

One star out of five, but that’s being really generous.  

Paper Valentine Playlist

I love music and books, so why not mix the two and make book themed playlists?  I loved this book, and it specifically mentioned one of my favorite songs, so this seems like a good book to start this whole playlist thing with.  

Vague spoilers in some of the explanations of why I picked each song, but I will mark those so you won’t accidentally read something you didn’t want to.  

 

“Fake Plastic Trees” – Radiohead

Obviously this has to be the first song in the playlist.  It was specifically mentioned in the book, and it’s a beautiful song.  There are so many amazing things about this song that I can’t really decide on a favorite, but I think my favorite thing might be the bass.  I’m a bassist, so obviously I’m going to love the bass, but I especially love the bass in this song.  The bass in this song is very gentle and subtle, and it doesn’t distract from the acoustic guitar and the vocals.  Not that the bass in other Radiohead songs distracts from other parts of the songs.  I’m just saying that in this song the bass sounds SO GOOD.  

 

“Love At First Sight” – The Brobecks

Vague Spoilers.  

I know that Finny and Hannah didn’t have love at first sight, and they actually knew each other for a long time before they fell in love.  But I’m a sad person who hasn’t fallen in love, and, because of that, I tend not to listen to songs about love.  There are a few love songs that I like, but for the most part I listen to songs about emotions I can relate to, and those emotions are not romantic love, so…  

This is a very sweet love song.  It’s honestly probably my third favorite from this album, so it’s not like I just picked a random love song and threw it in here because I don’t know that many love songs.  Even though I’m a cynical pessimist who doesn’t entirely believe that I could ever have a relationship, I love this song.  It’s beautiful and sweet, and it’s just a wonderful love song, even if you’re not in love with someone.  

Also, I’m in love with the vocals in this song.  They aren’t the stereotypical vocals from an alternative band.  They are so much better.  I can’t.  

 

“The Only Exception” – Paramore

Spoilers again.  

Because Finny and Hannah are so cute together…  And I really want to have a fitting love song for them.  This isn’t really a perfect fit either, but it’s also a good love song.  

 

“Tear In My Heart” – Twenty One Pilots

I’m going to stop it with the love songs after this one.  I feel like, out of all the love songs I’ve picked, this is probably the most fitting?  It’s another cute love song, and it’s the most fitting song that I’ll find in my music collection.  I could probably find some Arctic Monkeys song that worked, but I said I was going to stop it with the love songs, and I can’t think of a good Arctic Monkeys love song off the top of my head.  

 

“Hard Times” – Paramore

I feel like this is a song that could have been playing in a store when Hannah was at the mall, or something she could have heard from an open window of a passing car.  Lyrically, it may not be a perfect fit, but I still think it’s worth including.  Even though this wasn’t a happy book-people died, bad things happened-they got through the hard times, and it had a good ending.  The best part of the ending is that it wasn’t a forced happy ending, like some young adult books have these days.  It was a realistic believable happy ending.  

 

“Death Deserves A Name” – Can’t Swim

There’s a lot of death and sadness in this book, so I think this song works well with it.  I think the kind of echoing sound of the guitar at the beginning is nicely haunting, which I think is good for this book since there are so many ghosts.  I could also see Lillian singing this, sadly, while wandering around Hannah’s room.  (I had a different song in mind for Lillian, but I decided to use it for a different playlist and I don’t want too many repeats in my playlists so I decided to go with this one instead.)  

 

“I Wanna Be Yours” – Arctic Monkeys

Remember when I said I was going to stop it with the love songs?  I lied.  But this one is actually going to be the last one.  I said that there was probably an Arctic Monkeys song that would fit better than the other ones on this list, but at the time I couldn’t think of any.  I thought of one.  This is another sweet love song, and, out of all of the ones I picked, I think that this one is the best.  

 

“Daydreaming” – Radiohead

I didn’t pick this one because of the lyrics.  I picked this one because I think the sound goes well with the book.  This song is somewhat haunting and beautiful, and I think Paper Valentine could be described the same way.  Also, half of this playlist is love songs, and the main focus of this book is not the romance, so I wanted the last song of the playlist to not be a cute love song.  And I think the rest of the playlist is too happy, so it has to end on a sad song.  And every good playlist begins and ends with Radiohead.  

 

I was going to do something online where you could click on a link and listen to the entire playlist, but I tried two different websites for this and neither of them worked the way I wanted them to, so instead, if I know of a live version that I particularly like for any of the songs on the playlist, I’ll link them at the end.  

 

This is a live version of “Fake Plastic Trees” that I really like – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsMmJjWe0hM

The music video is also cool and I would recommend checking it out if you haven’t already.  

 

This post is really late going up, and, off the top of my head, I can’t think of any memorable live versions I’ve seen of the other songs on this playlist.  I’m sure that if you looked for live versions of “Daydreaming” they’d be amazing because all Radiohead live performances are.  I know that there are some good live performances of “I Wanna Be Yours” because I watched MANY of them while I was learning the bass line from it, but it’s really late and I don’t feel like looking for more things on Youtube right now.  If I find a live version I especially like, I’ll put it in the comments.  

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

I have a lot of feelings.  I nearly cried three times while reading this.  Three.  It’s not uncommon for me to cry because of books.  It’s actually very common for me to cry because of books.  But, so far this year, I haven’t done that much book-related crying.  I don’t actually know if I’ve done any book related crying so far this year.  So I was not expecting to almost do so much crying because of this book.  

I completely fell in love with Brenna Yovanoff’s writing after I read The Curiosities a few months ago.  I fell in love with her writing so much that I ordered literally all of her books online.  

It took me a while to actually pick one of her books up, though.  But last week I got a bad cold and I wanted to read something.  This book happened to be beside me so I started reading it.  I hadn’t picked it up before because, even though I was pretty sure I was going to like it, I didn’t immediately love the description on the back of the book, and I got distracted by other books with more interesting descriptions.  

I wish I had picked it up the day it came in the mail.  

This is probably the best book I’ve read all year.  

I love how the characters are written.  Their emotions were written in a way that was easy to relate to even if you haven’t felt or gone through the same things.  I haven’t gone through any of the things that Hannah’s gone through, but she was still someone that I could kind of relate to.  Maybe not on as much of a personal level as I would relate to someone who’s been through the exact same things I’ve been through, but the characters all feel like they could be old friends or people you know.  Like any friendship, it takes a little time to get entirely used to them, but, once you’ve read a few chapters, you feel like you know them.  They feel like very real people that you could run into while you were out somewhere.  I want to be able to meet these characters, talk to them, and be friends with them, but they’re fictional so that’s not possible!  The struggle is real!  

I really liked the atmosphere of this book.  It was creepy without using any of the things that a normal horror or thriller book would use.  There was no rolling fog that made it hard to see, there were no power outages that made it so that they couldn’t call for help.  This had none of the horror cliches that I’ve encountered recently.  Most of what I’ve read this year has been teen horror, and it was really refreshing to read a creepy book that was completely unlike anything I’ve read all year.  This book maintains a nice level of creepy with just a few small details, none of which are cliches.  The fact that the main character’s dead, best friend followed her constantly was really enough to maintain a spooky atmosphere.  And they were constantly finding dead girls with creepy paper Valentines on their bodies, so that did a lot to help with the creepy level.  It wasn’t the scariest book I’ve read all year, but I didn’t expect that it would be.  It would have been horrible if the author had forced it to be really creepy in a stereotypical way because it would have lost its impact.  

A lot of the teen horror I’ve read recently leaves the end of each chapter with a cliffhanger, so you want to read more, and you won’t put the book down.  This didn’t end each chapter on a cliffhanger, but I still wanted to know what happened next, and I still read most of it in one day.  It’s such an interesting book that you won’t want to put it down.  So if you’re planning on reading it, I recommend taking an afternoon and reading the entire thing in a sitting.  Just find a nice chair, make some tea, and don’t put the book down until you’ve finished it.  

I really like how the words flowed.  It would be a really good book to read out loud.  The words were almost poetic, but it didn’t seem forced like some books do when they’re trying to sound poetic.  It seemed very natural.  Even though I don’t read books out loud, because I hate the sound of my voice, the poetic quality of the words made it really nice to read.  

There’s one thing that I really loved about it, which isn’t a huge deal, and is mostly just me being a fangirl, but I’m bringing it up anyway.  In the part where Hannah’s at the mall, Lillian is wondering around near some fake plants and she’s singing “Fake Plastic Trees” by Radiohead.  Radiohead is my favorite band.  The only other book I remember reading that specifically mentions them is Pretty Little Liars.  It’s possible that there are mentions that I didn’t notice in other books that I’ve read, but I think I would remember them.  You never see Radiohead references in young adult books.  I’ve seen Joy Division references and references to The Smiths, but Radiohead doesn’t seem to be as popular with teens these days.  Which is unfortunate because they’re amazing.  

I’m going to stop with the obsessing over music now because if I start talking about Radiohead I won’t stop talking about Radiohead, so…  Anyway, it made me very happy because I love that band and that song in particular is one of my favorites.  

I was a little worried towards the end of the book because for a while it seemed like there were too many pages and not enough stuff that had to happen.  Then it seemed like there were too few pages and too much stuff that had to happen, but it all worked out so nicely in the end.  While I was reading it, I was thinking that I wished it was longer.  It’s only three hundred four pages long, but I wanted it to go on on forever.  Now I’m actually really happy with the length of the book because everything worked out so well.  

Five out of five stars!  I loved this book more than words can properly express, and I will be picking up the other books I have from this author very, very soon.  

Book recommendations – books that make me happy

Right now the world is a dark, depressing place.  Here are a few books that make me happy because maybe they would make you happy, and we all need a little more happiness right now.  

The Slanted Life of Emily Dickinson: America’s Favorite Recluse Just Got a Life! by Rosanna Bruno

Even though I know that this isn’t one of my favorite books, or something that I’m going to come back to every year, I wanted to include it on the list.  Last week I wanted to read and review two books, and then I started reading a five hundred fifty-one page book which has been taking way longer to read than I had expected it to.  There was no way I was going to be able to read or review two books, and I was getting kind of sulky about it.  Then I picked this up and read it in an hour.  Even though this book isn’t one that I can do a whole 1,000+ word review for, it did make me feel a little better about how much reading I had been doing.  

Also, Emily Dickinson has been one of my favorite poets for years.  Out of all the authors I’ve read, she has had the most influence on how I write poetry, so it’s cool to read about her.  

On a completely unrelated side note, this book is so pretty!  The cover is a lovely lavender color, which is such a nice thing compared to most of the books on my shelf which have boring black, gray, or blue covers.  And the cover is one of those covers that feels soft and nice, and I love it.  The world needs more soft, lavender books.  

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

I’ve read this book so many times that I’ve lost count.  I’ve read it at least once a year every year since it came out, but it’s probably closer to every nine months or so.  If I’m having a lot of anxiety, or I’m just feeling particularly bad that day, I’ll just reread this and feel better.  It’s relatable and funny, and even though I’ve read it many times, it still hasn’t gotten old.  

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson

This book actually made me laugh.  And not the kind of laugh where I just exhale through my nose a little more forcefully than normal.  Actually laughing.  Laughing so much that I had to stop reading it in the waiting room at the dentist because the other people there were giving me weird looks.  

By the way, if you do decide to read this, and you should, make sure to get the paperback version because it has an extra chapter.  

The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater

If you’re looking for something fictional, try The Raven Boys.  It’s a little slow to start, and the first book is a little heavy with backstory, but it’s worth reading.  The characters are amazing, the story is beautiful, and it’s very quotable, so if you like quoting books, you’ll love this.  Out of the entire series, The Dream Thieves is probably my favorite, but that’s because it’s very Ronan centered and I love Ronan.  

One thing I would say about reading these books is that I wouldn’t recommend reading an entire book in one sitting.  I did this with the last book because I was desperate to know what happened.  I got it the day it came out and I couldn’t not read the entire thing.  Even though at the time I regretted nothing, a year later I don’t remember that much of it.  There are a handful of scenes that I remember pretty well, the rest is a blur.  I also cried for the last forty pages, so be prepared to be very emotional while reading these.  

The Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente

If you’re looking for more lovely fiction, try this.  Even though it’s written for middle grade readers, it’s still something that can be enjoyed by people of any age.  I read the first book back when it came out and I loved it.  I’ve read it more recently, and I still loved it just as much.  The words are just so beautiful it’s almost more like poetry and it’s so nice to read.  

So, yeah.  Books that make me happy.  I hope you can read them and get the same enjoyment I’ve gotten from them.  

The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy

There are probably vague spoilers scattered throughout this entire thing, and one slightly more spoilery thing towards the end.  It probably won’t ruin it for you, but if you’re picky about spoilers, I wouldn’t read it.  

This book feels like a Lifetime movie.  Honestly, it would probably make a pretty good Lifetime movie, and I would probably watch it if I was bored.  But going into this book, I wasn’t expecting a Lifetime movie.  No, I was expecting a horror novel, and that’s not what I got.  

I wouldn’t say that this book was too long (I’ve read longer and I don’t shy away from a long book), but I did feel like it was kind of long for the amount of story it was telling, if that makes sense.  There were some parts where there wasn’t much happening, but that didn’t keep the author from writing many pages about the nothing that was happening.  If this had been a Lifetime movie, it would have been over in about an hour and a half, and there wouldn’t have been any parts where the plot got slow.  I normally prefer books to movies, especially when it’s a Lifetime movie, but, in this case, I think it might have been better that way.  

My other complaint about the plot is that there are two main parts of the plot-Stella trying to find Jeanie’s killer, and Stella deciding who to date-and I found the second part of the plot to be kind of irritating.  If I was in Stella’s situation, the last thing on my mind would be dating.  But in this, it’s apparently so important to decide if she should date the jock who likes her (but probably only because she’s popular) or the guy she’s known forever who has loved her forever (*eye roll*) that the conundrum takes up nearly half the book.  I don’t even know what to say.  She could be murdered, and there are police outside her home all the time, but she doesn’t worry about that.  She worries about who to date.  I just don’t get it.  I wasn’t looking for something with cheesy romance, I was looking for something with terrifying horror.  I was going to say something about how maybe in some books there can be romance and horror, just not this one, but I don’t know if there actually can be a good mix of horror and romance.  There are no psychological thriller romances.  The closest you’re going to get is a paranormal romance, but those aren’t even scary, the only paranormal thing is normally a hot vampire.  When you think you’re about to die, you’re not going to be thinking about how cute some guy is.  You’re going to be thinking about how you’re trying to survive.  

For some reason the author felt the need to mention Zoey’s above-average cup size, and then very soon after mention that she hooks up with many guys, almost as if the two go hand in hand.  The author doesn’t mention the cup size of any other character in the book, just Zoey.  She doesn’t discuss the size of any of the guys bits and pieces either.  I can’t even.  I’ve run into people who are jerks to anyone with a cup size above a B, and they suck.  You know the sort, any girl with large breasts is easy and apparently grew the breasts through sheer force of will just to improve her chances in the guy market.  (I’ve been hearing these horrible things since I was twelve, sometimes directed at me, and I really have no patience with them.)  Why would the author want to put a horrible stereotype in her book?  Also, chances are the girls reading this book don’t care what cup size the characters are (and really it is only used here to establish her appearance and to prove her promiscuity).  The only people I can see really caring are creepy guys.  I doubt anyone would want to write a book with extra stuff just to appeal to the creepy guys except other creepy guys.  

Also, if the author’s intentions were just to describe the character more, she failed.  I’m sorry, but if you can’t write a good description of a character without throwing in irrelevant details like cup size, you’re a bad writer.  I feel really bad saying this, but I do mean it.  And it is a horrible stereotype.  Well-endowed girls are no more promiscuous than less well endowed girls.  This is just something teens use to hurt each other.  Why would an adult put this in the book not as an insult hurled by one character at another but instead as a serious description of a character.  I can see using it as insult.  That would be true to teen conversation and interaction, but to use it as a description is really out of line.  

I went into this book expecting there to be a supernatural creature.  Probably with huge sharp teeth and claws-something along the lines of the monster from Stranger Things.  But there wasn’t one.  On the front of the book it says “If you look for monsters you’ll find them” and I took that very literally and expected monster monsters.  Perhaps it’s my fault for taking it so literally, but for most of the book it seemed like there would have been something supernatural.  About a hundred pages from the end, I started to wonder if maybe it wasn’t actually a monster and it was instead a horrible human.  I was right.  I have a lot of thoughts about this.  I did want a supernatural creature, but I guess this ending is more realistic.  Maybe the book is trying to reflect the times that we live in, where the horrible things in the world aren’t caused by supernatural beings, but instead terrible people?  If that’s the case, I would feel really bad criticizing it for this, but I do feel like there was at least a little bit of false advertising.  Also, if the goal was to reflect what’s going on in the world, I probably wouldn’t want to read the book.  It sounds weird, but hear me out.  I read to escape from the real world and to distract myself from my endless anxiety.  I don’t want to read something that’s trying to mirror what’s causing me anxiety.  I have no way of knowing for sure if this was the author’s goal or not, I could be entirely wrong, it’s just a theory I’m rambling about.  

The last little detail I want to talk about is kind of weird, but whatever.  Has anyone else noticed that in a lot of YA paranormal books like this the main character’s dad is always a lawyer or in some form of law?  Stella’s dad was a lawyer.  In the Mara Dyer trilogy, Mara’s father is a lawyer.  In the Twilight series, Bella’s dad was a cop.  Do authors do this so that that parent has to be at work for a long time and the main character can go mess around with paranormal stuff?  Or is it just the first thing that everyone thinks of?  As trained lawyers, shouldn’t they catch on to what their daughters are doing?  I don’t know.  It’s something I’m going to keep looking for.  

I debated giving this book a higher rating because I haven’t been very generous with ratings so far this year, but I think I’m going to give it two stars.  That’s probably higher than what I would have given it if I had given all the other books I read this year high ratings.  

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