Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

17453983I know it’s terrible to judge a book but its cover, but I’ll be the first to admit… sometimes I do. If I see a cover that I find attractive, I am more likely to pick it up and read the back of the book or the jacket for more info. And if I don’t like the cover? I skip it. This works well for me. Because the kinds of covers I skip over tend to be the formulaic supernatural thriller series young adult novels.

Yawn. I feel like if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.

The other kinds of books I skip over are books that appear to be a part of a series. I’m not opposed to a series or trilogy, but that is the popular thing right now, and it is so overdone if you ask me. What happened to a great book standing by itself? I don’t want to get sucked in and have to keep buying the next book and the next book.

Stephanie Perkins’ book Anna and the French Kiss is a weird combination of these two things. I was a) drawn to the cover and b) not thrilled by the fact that (judging by the covers) the book was part of a what appeared to be a trilogy (Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla and the Happily Ever After being the other two books). But oh, those covers.

Bold, bright colors.

Titles that paralleled each other in structure.

Cover writing in a crisp, white, sans serif font (oh, I love a good sans serif).

The cover sold me.

And then the book sold me on reading the other two (which I found out are only loosely a “series” with the other two; there’s some character crossover, but it’s minor and each story can stand alone without the others, so that scores Perkins some bonus points).

Anyhow. On with the review. Anna has a great life at home in Atlanta: a guy who’s almost her boyfriend, a job she really likes, a best friend she really loves. And then her famous father decides that Anna should spend the year in Paris at SOAP, the School for Americans in Paris. Just like that, she’s taken from her known world to the unknown. But she makes friends. Meredith, her neighbor, takes her in and she befriends all of the kids in Meredith’s group: Rashmi, Josh, and St. Clair. Very, very attractive St. Clair. St. Clair who’s got a girlfriend. How will Anna’s story unfold during these nine months in Paris?

Ok, first up, I’ve just got to say that one of the things I didn’t like about the book was how unreal it felt for Anna’s dad to send her to school in Paris. Anna’s mom appears to have primary physical custody because the dad is a famous author who travels a lot, so it’s a little absurd that she would just willy-nilly agree to allow Anna to go to study abroad for the year. That really irritated me.

But that aside, I enjoyed this book a lot. It’s a total summer-at-the-beach-or-pool read, the kind of book you devour in a few hours because you’re anxiously turning the page to find out what happens with Anna and St. Clair. It’s the kind of book that makes you wish that you attended a boarding school in Paris when you were a teenager (or even in college). It’s a fun, light read, and sometimes you just need one of those. And it’s not horrible the way a lot of “fun, light reads” are. The characters have some kind of depth and are likable and not totally gross.

I will say that this novel is definitely chick lit for teenagers or adult women looking for an escape from reality for a bit. But that doesn’t make it bad. Sometimes you just need that, and I’d rather read some compelling chick lit with characters I enjoy than some crappy fan fiction-based “romance” novels. Give me Anna any day!

And now, it’s back to powering through the last 200 pages of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

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#boutofbooks Spell It Out Challenge

So far I haven’t participated in any #boutofbooks challenges — I’ve had a really busy week, and my focus was on reading reading reading! But it’s 12:01 on Saturday morning and my commitments today are pretty minimum, so I thought it would be fun to take up the Spell It Out Challenge hosted by Kimberly Faye Reads.

I am going to be spelling out my twitter and instragram username: @kristaonpurpose! (This was surprisingly difficult because I have a bunch of books in storage and the only ones I could find that start with a k are from the Babysitters Club series!)

IMG_6775k — Kristy at Bat by Ann M. Martin
r — Roots by Alex Haley
i — I Will Carry You by Angie Smith
s — Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
t — The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
a — All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
o — On Mystic Lake by Kristin Hannah
n — Night Road by Kristin Hannah
p — Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
u — Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes
r — Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
p — Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
o — On Writing by Stephen King
s — Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle
e — The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

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Book Review: Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes

untilyouremineListen. Sometimes you just think you’re going to not like a book and then you’re reading it and it’s almost 1 am in the morning on a day you have to wake up at 6 and you know you’re not going to sleep all that well anyway but the book! The freakin’ book!

That is Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes.

I think I was really nervous about it because as a blogger for Blogging for BooksI’ve read and reviewed two of their books previously: The Martian by Andy Weir and The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger. Loved the first, totally did not like the second. And of course it’s easier to remember the dislike than the like.

All that said, Until You’re Mine is the story of Claudia Morgan-Brown, a social worker with two wonderful stepsons, a husband in the British Navy, and a baby girl on the way. Her life is pretty much a dream come true, and because her husband is gone so much for work and because she wants to keep her job as a social worker after the baby is born, Claudia hires a live-in nanny, Zoe Harper, to care for her sons and soon-to-be daughter. Her references are impeccable. She’s trained. She’s experienced. Her boys love Zoe and she jumps right in to her job. Yet there is something that leaves Claudia unsettled about Zoe, and it definitely doesn’t help that two pregnant women are viscously attacked and left for dead.

This novel is told in multiple perspectives, mainly Zoe and Claudia (first person) and the detectives on the case of pregnant women who are attacked (third person). This is a totally awesome technique because it amped up the suspense part, especially during Zoe and Claudia’s sections. It added so much tension as we heard Claudia’s thoughts on Zoe and Zoe’s thoughts on Claudia and the detectives as they piece together the bits and pieces of the crime… and as you waited for all of these random pieces to intersect.

Samantha Hayes is a very strong writer. She had a good mix of narrative and dialogue, of description and suspenseful action. This novel could have gone horribly wrong if not balanced well, and Hayes hits the nail on its head as she weaves together all of these twisty worlds and people.

Speaking of twisty worlds… I have got to say, for a novel that’s just a hair over 350 pages, I could not believe how many crazy plot twists were revealed/came together at the end — and done so well. Again, this could have gone wrong and felt too contrived, but because of the careful groundwork laid throughout the book, especially the sections told from the points-of-view of Claudia and Zoe, it works so well that you cannot help but be shocked. At one point, I was reading in my car waiting for a friend to meet me for dinner and I reached the end of a chapter, reveling something I didn’t see coming, and I honestly wanted to stay in the car and keep reading because it was such a good twist. (Whatever you do, do not accidentally read the last line of the book as you look for the total number of pages because you will get a feeling about some, but not all, of the twists and figure them out! If you do this, however, don’t worry, because there are lots of things that will still surprise you!)

My only criticisms of the book are relatively minor. First of all, I fell like the entire story with the detectives’ daughter Grace was only there to move their plot along, and it didn’t really mesh well with the rest of the story. It felt like a burden to read those parts and it didn’t really fit in to the story overall. I think Adam and Lorraine’s story could have done well without Grace.

My other criticism is that while I think Hayes is a fabulous writer, the writing as a whole felt too tight, like she was trying too hard to craft something that bordered on literary. I would have liked to see her relax a little. Not relax the detail and tightness of the plot itself, because those were perfect, but just the words and syntax and structure in general to give it a little more fluidity.

All in all, this was a solid, satisfying read and I will be reading more from Hayes in the future!

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher’s Blogging for Books in return for a fair and unbiased review. I wasn’t asked to give a positive review, just an honest one!

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Book Review: The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

thedivorcepapers18142403I love books with funky narratives, alternating POVs, and I’m a sucker for a book with an unusual format. All of these things piqued my interest about Susan Rieger’s debut novel The Divorce Papers. Its jacket describes it as “[a] rich, layered novel told entirely through personal correspondence, office memos, emails, articles, handwritten notes, and legal documents.” Sign me up!

This is the story of 29-year-old Sophie, a criminal lawyer who gets roped into working on a divorce case. That really is the basis of the novel; we see the divorce unfold through the various documents mentioned above. I thought this would be a fun and quirky read, and in some places it is, but overall Rieger does not have the skill or voice as a writer to execute an epistolary novel.

While I think the idea of this book is fun and relatively unique, there are some problems. Namely Sophie. Sophie is a totally unlikeable, whinny woman that I would not want to be my friend, let alone my lawyer. She sends completely inappropriate emails and memos of a personal nature (spilling her guts about her parents’ divorce more than a decade before) to her boss — emails that are rather flirtatious, especially when you learn that she has a crush on DG (as she calls him). What’s worse is that her boss doesn’t seem to want to stop her from sending these emails. At one point, he tells her that a memo she wrote is unprofessional, but his criticism is related to not its contents but its structure — she rambles, he says, and that is true for the bulk of Sophie’s correspondence. It rambles and doesn’t seem to have a point — and when she finally gets there, you’re exhausted from waiting for her to wrap it up already.

Which leads me to my next criticism. I could not stand reading the emails between Sophie and her life-long friend Maggie. Although Maggie was the only one who told Sophie to grow up and grow a pair, I just could not read those emails without my eyes drifting. Granted, this is a novel set in 1999, where email was a novelty and not many people had cell phones, and texting definitely wasn’t a form of communication. But oh my gosh. NO ONE WRITES EMAILS LIKE THAT. My biggest problem with the length of the emails — and many other documents in this book, court documents withstanding — is that they were trying too hard to be literary. They weren’t written in everyday nomenclature. If I am going to read an epistolary novel, I expect it to be realistic, not full of prose that is being forced through a “literary” sieve.

This is a book that tries to rely too much on popular culture, with references to books, movies, and theatre that the majority of readers aren’t going to get. I am a smart, well-read, educated woman and I have to say, reading these references and trying to figure out them when I didn’t know was distracting very irritating. Sometimes inserting these references, even if the audience doesn’t get them, can work. I give you Gilmore Girls as an outstanding example of this. However, in the case of Gilmore Girls, you have two women just being themselves, their likeable selves. In The Divorce Papers, all we have is Sophie making repeated references to her French mother, her English father, her bad boyfriends, with all of these book and movie references that aim at making Sophie appear cultured but fail terribly in hitting their mark.

One thing that I found super irritating, and I don’t know why, is that it appears that this novel takes place in the made up state of Narragansett. Narragansett is a real city in Rhode Island, but here it’s its own state. I take it back, I think I know why it bothers me so much. The author went through law school and has taught law at two different colleges. Would it have been so difficult to do research into actual divorce laws of an actual state? I feel like making up a state and its own divorce laws is both a) a lot more work than researching real divorce laws in real states and b) lazy writing because she was too lazy to do (a). Other states are mentioned frequently: New York. New Jersey. Massachusetts. Why not use one of those?

My overall impression? I am channeling my inner Sophie when I say that this is a novel that tries way, way too hard to be avant-garde and fails miserably.

You can read an excerpt of The Divorce Papers here.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher’s Blogging for Books in return for a fair and unbiased review. I wasn’t asked to give a positive review, just an honest one!

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Book Reivew: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir You know those books you walk past about fifty times while you’re at the bookstore, reading the inside cover multiple times and even walking around with it for a while before putting it back? That’s exactly how my relationship with Andy Weir’s The Martian began. I love the premise: Mark Watney is stuck on Mars. He landed with his crew six days before the book begins, but unfortunately a giant dust storms takes him out before he can get the heck off Mars in an emergency departure. He is sure he will die there – because lets face it, Mars isn’t exactly the most hospitable of environments. His crewmates and NASA presume that he is dead. Left with a limited — very limited — supply of food, water, air, and time, The Martian is a fun, compulsive read that keeps you up, reading “just one more chapter” because you have to find out what happens to Mark Watney. The reason I kept going back and forth about reading the was because awesome premise aside, I could see so many potential pitfalls. Like the giant elephant in the room… er, in the book: Mark is on Mars. Alone. Zero other people. And something told me that could be a very good way to write a very bad book.

The first large chunk of The Martian is exactly what I thought — Mark is alone on Mars (I think that is a well-established fact at this point) but my reading eyes and heart are so very happy to report that it was not the trainwreck I feared it would be. During this time, Mark makes a plan, explores how he ended up on Mars alone, and breaks down a lot of really boring scientific words and math into narration that is surprisingly interesting and engaging — and for you fellow non-sciencey people, incredibly understandable. I had to reread a few places but for the most part the science and the math clicked as I read.

Mark’s narration is also broken up with chunks of events taking place back at home at dear old NASA and with the crew mates who believe Mark to be dead. While I enjoy Mark’s entries into his log the most, I do think the parts of the book that deal with external characters are a really nice and refreshing break with what could otherwise be a long of repetitious stuff happening on Mars.

One thing I think is really important to point out here is that I really, really like Mark. He is the kind of person who, if he existed in real life, would have friends but a lot of people would think of him as a little bit of an arrogant jerk. I think that’s what made me like him so much. He seemed totally really and really funny. I never would have thought that a book about being stranded on Mars and left to die in the barren wasteland of a far-away planet could be hilarious, but there were so many times during Mark’s entries that I legitimately laughed out loud.

I’m not a quick reader, but I finished this book in a couple of days. In fact, when it was done, I thought, “Wow… what a short book!” But looking back I see it’s 300+ pages. I just couldn’t stop reading it. If anything this is where my main conflict and “criticism” come in. On one hand, I wish the story were longer, because there’s a lot of time where we read entries from Mark with massive amounts of time between them. But on the other hand, a lot of what happens is very repetitious, and reading more of that could get boring very quickly. I would have loved to see a little more of the NASA side of things — how the crew was selected, how the mental health of all of crew members post-accident were being monitored (this is mentioned a little but not in tons of detail), etc.

I hear this is being made into a movie and I have to say, I can’t wait to see it. I’ve already recommended this book to several of my friends because I enjoyed it so much.

One cool fact about The Martian: Andy Weir wrote this book and originally published it online for free. His readers wanted an ebook, so he formatted it for the Kindle and sold it on Amazon for 99¢, the lowest he could list it for, before it was picked up by Crown Publishing. I think that is really awesome and a giant plug for self-publishing – and the quality of the writing itself!

You can read an excerpt of The Martian for free here.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher’s Blogging for Books in return for a fair and unbiased review. I wasn’t asked to give a positive review, just an honest one!

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#boutofbooks update post

boutofbooks

Here is where I’ll be updating my reading post. Each day, I’ll add in the previous day’s information, always putting the newest information at the top. (I’ll make it easy for you to get to the older updates, don’t you worry!)

Goals
Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday
Sunday

Sunday

Number of books read: 6
Number of books finished today: 0
Total number of books finished: 4
Number of pages read: 250
Total number of pages I read: 1,489
Number of hours read: 2 hours 30 minutes (but I ended up not keeping track of time at the end so I read more than that!)
Total number of hours read: 19 hours 5 minutes (but I probably ended up reading around 21 hours total)
Name the book(s): Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
What else I did: I took two naps because I stupidly stayed up for 29 hours. I spent 52 minutes on the phone with dumb Expedia making them fix a major flight issue that was their fault. Read. I’d really wanted to finish, but I was really happy with that I did!
Money raised for my charity: $49.50
Goals met: I was a little ambitious with my goals and really didn’t meet many of them – but I am so happy with how this week went! My biggest goal was to finishing reading Long Walk to Freedom – and I did! I also read two books for my #bscchallenge, and I was happy with that, too. Life kept happening and I needed to be flexible so that’s exactly what I did. I look forward to doing this again in August.

Saturday

Number of books read: 6
Number of books finished today: 1
Total number of books finished: 4
Number of pages read: 190
Total number of pages I read: 1,239
Number of hours read: 1 hours 50 minutes
Total number of hours read: 16 hours 35 minutes
Name the book(s): One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf; Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
What else I did: I can’t even tell you. I think I went to Ventura.
Money raised for my charity: $49.50

Friday

Number of books read: 5
Number of books finished today: 0
Total number of books finished: 3
Number of pages read: 415
Total number of pages I read: 1,049
Number of hours read: 3 hours 50 minutes
Total number of hours read: 14 hours 45 minutes
Name the book(s): Dawn and the Impossible Three (for #bscchallenge); One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf
What else I did: Work. Grocery shop. Took a nap after work.
Money raised for my charity: $44.50

Thursday

Number of books read: 4
Number of books finished today: 1
Total number of books finished: 2
Number of pages read: 121
Total number of pages I read: 634
Number of hours read: 2 hours 45 minutes
Total number of hours read: 10 hours 55 minutes
Name the book(s): Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
What else I did: Work. Sweat. Complain about the heat. Dave Ramsey class. Sweat some more.
Money raised for my charity: $32.50

Wednesday

Number of books read: 4
Number of books finished today: 0
Total number of books finished: 1
Number of pages read: 171
Total number of pages I read: 513
Number of hours read: 3 hours 5 minutes
Total number of hours read: 8 hours 10 minutes
Name the book(s): Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela and Dawn and the Impossible Three by Ann M. Martin (for the #bscchallenge)
What else I did: Work. Sweat. Complain about the heat. Hide out at a deserted Starbucks (too hot for people to go out, I guess!). Sweat some more. Take a cold bath.
Money raised for my charity: $25.50

Tuesday

Number of books read: 3
Number of books finished today: 1
Total number of books finished: 1
Number of pages read: 226
Total number of pages I read: 342
Number of hours read: 2 hours 20 minutes
Total number of hours read: 5 hours 5 minutes
Name the book(s): Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, Discipleshift by Jim Putnam and Bobby Harrington, and Mary Anne Saves the Day by Ann M. Martin (for the #bscchallenge)
What else I did: Work. Bible study in the early morning. Class (I’m a TA for a class at my church on Tuesday nights). Accountability group. Overall I was pleasantly surprised at how much reading I was able to fit in!
Money raised for my charity: $22.50

Monday

Number of books read: 1
Number of books finished today: 0
Total number of books finished: 0
Number of pages read: 116
Total number of pages I read: 116
Number of hours read: 2 hours 45 minutes
Total number of hours read: 2 hours, 45 minutes
Name the book(s): Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
What else I did: Work! I also ended up spending a considerable amount of time last night (like, two hours!) wrapping books to be shipped for Paperback Swap. I planned on staying up a little later but by the time I reached a natural stopping point I was so tired that I accepted the stopping point as my cue to go to sleep. I had originally planned to read for five hours, but you know what? Life happens AND I still managed to read 116 pages of a book I haven’t picked up in months. I say it was a highly successful day!
Money raised for my charity: $5

Time Devoted to Reading

I will be reading all week, but with a really heavy push on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the hardest for me, but I’ll make extra time on Tuesday (90 minute lunch!) and Thursday as well.

My Goals

  • Read 5 hours M/W/F; read 3 hours T/TH; read 8 hours (or more!) on Sa/Su for a total of at least 37 hours, I know I’ll push myself to do more!)
  • Catch up on my GoodReads Challenge (currently 4 books behind)
  • Read/finish three adult books (2/3)
    • One of these will be finishing A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela; the rest are up in the air
  • Read/finish six Baby-Sitters Club books, including one Super Special (2/6)

 Books to Read

  • A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
  • Six Baby-Sitters Club series books (2/6)
  • Two other adult books (1/2)
    • One fiction
    • One non-fiction

Here’s some more info about Bout of Books read-a-thon:

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, May 12th and runs through Sunday, May 18th 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 10.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog.

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#boutofbooks spell it out challenge

I am doing the Spell It Out challenge, hosted by Kimbery Faye Reads. Check out the other fun entries, and as always… happy #boutofbooks-ing!

I blog about life and God over at kristaonpurpose.com, so I’ll be spelling out kristaonpurpose with book titles. Happy reading to each of you stopping by – and tell me if you’ve read any of the books on my list, especially the few I’ve marked as to be read!

Kitchen House, The by Kathleen Grissom*
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
If I Stay by Gayle Forman*
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
The Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle
Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus*
Nanny Diaries, The by Emma McLaughlin
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
Under the Dome
by Stephen King
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
Power of One, The by Bryce Courtenay
One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf
Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
Emma by Jane Austen

*to-be-read books

Comment here and I’ll check out your list, too!

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