The Perfect Game by J. Sterling

Cassie Andrews is junior at Fullton State College studying photography. Jack Carter is also a junior at Fullton State and a star baseball player with major league prospects. Jack is your typical cocky jock who has a reputation for sleeping his way around campus. When Cassie meets Jack at a frat party, she refuses to be taken in by his charm. Jack, who is used to getting his way with women, is intrigued and makes it his mission to get Cassie to give him the time of day. What neither of them knows is that they are both damaged - harboring wounds inflicted upon them by their own broken families. Against her better judgement, Cassie finds herself drawn to Jack and Jack seems equally smitten. He seems eager to prove to Cassie that he can pass the "guy test," a set of rules that Cassie lays out. Four simple rules - Don't lie, Don't cheat, Don't make promises you can't keep, and Don't say things you don't mean. They embark on a passionate romance as Cassie tries to trust Jack and Jack tries to not screw it up, like he always does. With just four simple rules you would think that wouldn't be so hard, right? As challenges arise and mistakes happen, Cassie and Jack have to make sure their ghosts from the past don't tear them apart.

I loved this book and Jack Carter has joined the ranks of my favorite fucked up male leads. Those of you who are fans of Christian Grey will enjoy Jack, even if he is Christian's less wealthy, less damaged, but still equally gorgeous cousin. He is yet another example of the bad boy that we girls all want to tame and transform with our love. I will warn my fellow cohorts who are not sports enthusiasts there is a lot of references to baseball in this book. It didn't bother me, as I am a big fan of America's past time, but it might bother some. Don't let that you off from the book however. While this is billed as YA Fiction, it is certainly for a more mature audience as there are a few scintillating sex scenes thrown in for the reader's enjoyment. It's nowhere near as raunchy as 50 Shades, but still equally enjoyable. Another book to add to my guilty pleasure shelf :)

Every Day by David Levithan

Every day A wakes up in a different body, to a different life. It has been this way for A for as long as A can remember. A never knows who he will wake up as or where he will wake up (Note: I use "he" as a loose term here as A does not identify as either male or female). He has woken up as a male, as a female, as a drug addict, as an athlete. The only consistency is that all of his host are same age as A.

A's hosts (for lack of a better word) are for the most part oblivious to his possession, which never lasts more than 24 hours. A is able to "access" the memories of his host, which allows him to get through a day in their life, but he does not have access to their emotions or feelings. When he leaves their body, they are left with the memories of what they did that day, but have no memory of A's possession.

A has accepted his fate and lives by simple guidelines: Don't get too attached, avoid being noticed, and do not interfere. All that changes for A when he wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin's girlfriend, Rhiannon. For the first time, A wants nothing more than to wake up every day in the same body so that he can see Rhiannon again. As A and Rhiannon fall for each other, they must struggle to find a way around their biggest obstacle: how do you love someone who changes everyday?

When I first read the synopsis of this book I was immediately intrigued by the idea of the story. It was a very quick read and I enjoyed the story very much. It raises some interesting questions about love and our perception of each other. How do you love someone who appears different to you every day? I think that we would all like to think that when it comes to love, the physical doesn't matter, but it does. So I can completely understand Rhiannon's struggle. How can you love someone fully when you have no mental construct of the person, no way to really define them? How do you reconcile that person in your mind when every day they appear in a different form? How does your mind wrap around that idea? And if the person never knows where they are going to wake up, how do you depend on that person? What if love isn't always enough?

My only problem with the book was that it felt unfinished, or underdeveloped might be the better word.

The next part of my review may contain some spoilers, so proceed with caution.


The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer

I decided to re-read the Twilight Saga again (I've lost count on how many times I have read this series...I think this might have been the 10th time??) as the final movie installment arrives in theaters in just a few short weeks. I often get asked why I re-read some books over and over, especially when there are so many other books out there to read. Some books just feel like coming home. They are like your favorite sweater, your favorite coffee mug, your favorite spot on the couch. Some books are just a part of your soul. While I would not put this series in the category of books that have had a profound effect on how I view the world, it is certainly a series that has become a favorite escape of mine. Every time I read the series I find myself lost in the magical world of Forks, caught up in the lives of the characters, and completely oblivious to reality (even if it is only for a few hours at a time), which is really all I ever ask of a good book.

For those of you who are not familiar with series, the first book of the series, Twilight, is about Bella Swan, your average teenager, who exiles herself to Forks, Washington to live with her father after her mother remarries. Forks is a small town in Washington known for its almost constant cloud cover and rain. It is in Forks that Bella meets the Cullens, most notably Edward Cullen, a family that is clearly more than average. Bella and Edward find themselves drawn to each other, despite Edward's attempts to stay away, and Bella soon discovers the Cullens' dark secret - they are vampires. This realization draws Bella into a world that she never knew existed, bringing with it the joy of first love and dire consequences.

I originally came across this series in 2008 when the movie was released. Prior to seeing the trailers for the movie I had never heard of Edward Cullen or Bella Swan, and I had no idea who Stephenie Meyer was. I remember seeing the trailers for the movie and have to admit, despite my love of vampires, my interested was not piqued. It was a friend who suggested that I pick up the series. She couldn't believe, being the vampire lover I was, that I had not seen the movie, or read the book. She had read the books and was a huge fan of the series, and she proceeded to tell me about the books and insisted that I go home and give them a chance. It was her description of the characters and the story that finally turned me onto the series. I went home and sat down on my computer, and used one of my Amazon.com gift cards (a fabulous gift for any book lover by the way) to order the entire series.

While I waited for the books to arrive, I just happened to be bored one Sunday afternoon and decided to head to the theaters to see the movie. It was towards the end of the movie's run in theaters - it was only showing on one screen and there were only like 3 showings to choose from. I have to admit, that while I didn't hate the movie, it certainly wasn't a cinematic masterpiece. I should stop and point out that I rarely enjoy a movie adaptation of a book as much as I love the book, and Twilight was no exception. I left the theater loving the idea of the story and praying that the books turned out to be less of a disappointment. When Twilight finally arrived at my house, I pulled it out of the box and instantly started reading. Once I began to read, I couldn't stop! I loved the story and loved Stephenie Meyer's writing style. I was instantly transported into the Twilight world and didn't want to leave. I actually read the entire series that weekend.

To think that I almost missed out entirely! I do not think that had I only seen the movie that I would have taken the time to read the books. As usual, the books are far better than the movies. In fact, I don't think one can really fully appreciate the movies without having read the books. I have seen all of the Twilight movies and I know that I would not have the same connection to them without reading the books. There are so many little things that make these characters so special that do not come across on the big screen.

For me, Edward is really what draws me to Twilight. He is the epitome of what I love in a vampire - a vampire with a soul, trying desperately to overcome his nature and be better, not realizing that he already is better for even trying. He is the perfect fantasy vampire, even though the vampire lore in this series is somewhat "softer" than other series that I have read. As with most vampire stories, there is the element of transformative love that I am a complete sucker for. I do have to say that I am not a fan of Bella in this series. While Edward is certainly a literary crush for me, Bella does not rank amongst the best female literary characters for me. I could not see myself being friends with Bella like I would be with say Elizabeth Bennett. I often find Bella obnoxious and too whiny. I am fervently hoping that Stephenie Meyer will one day finish Midnight Sun, as I would much rather read the story through the perspective of Edward than Bella.

The series continues with New Moon. Bella's world is shattered after her ill-fated 18th birthday party where a papercut results in Jasper trying to kill her. Edward, who already questions the safety of his presence in Bella's life, decides to remove himself from Bella's life in an attempt to give her the human life he thinks she deserves. Bella is devastated and turns to her friend Jacob Black for comfort. As Bella and Jacob's relationship gets more and more complicated, Bella discovers that Jacob has a secret of his own - he's a werewolf. Nevertheless, Bella finds herself no safer after Edward's departure as Victoria has returned to seek revenge against Bella for James' death. A series of misunderstandings leads to Bella racing to Italy to save Edward and brings her face to face with the Volturi  an ancient group of vampires tasked with keeping the existence of vampires a secret from humans.

As an ardent member of Team Edward, New Moon is my least favorite book out of the series. This stems only from the fact that Edward is absent for half of the book, and has nothing to do with the writing or characters. When I read New Moon I often find myself counting the pages until his return. The first time I read the book, I was utterly dismayed at Edward's departure and became irrationally angry with Stephenie Meyer. I continued reading it only because I knew that the story could not end this way. Bella could not end up with Jacob. I even had thoughts of writing a strongly worded letter to Stephenie if Edward did not reappear...

Don't get me wrong, I like Jacob, and I could easily see how Bella (or anyone for that matter) could easily fall for him. He is a warm, caring character - a perfect match for Bella. However, when compared to Edward and Bella's love, there's just no contest for me. Edward and Bella belong together. For me, New Moon was just one more step to reaffirming the inevitable - that Edward and Bella belonged together. I feel like it had to play out like this to dispel any thoughts of another possibility for Bella, to serve as yet another confirmation of the truth.

In Eclipse, Bella faces a series of new challenges. The Cullens, including Edward, are back and Bella must deal with the complications this creates with her Quileute friends and werewolves. Some new menace is ravaging Seattle and it appears to be the work of a newborn army. Who is behind the army and what their purpose is remains a mystery, but the Cullens, fearing an intervention from the Volturi, find themselves preparing to intercede.

I always found the cover art for the Twilight books interesting, and Eclipse might be my favorite one. According to Stephenie Meyer, the red ribbon symbolizes Bella's final struggle - choosing between Edward and Jacob, mortality and immortality. The threads of her life were unraveled in New Moon, and now she must choose to break the final thread - holding her to life before - or breaking the final thread and embarking on a new life altogether.

Eclipse is a close second behind Twilight as my favorite book in the series - and it is probably my favorite movie out the films. I love the action! I'm always slightly annoyed to have to re-live Bella's struggle with choosing between Edward and Jacob, because for me, her decision had already been made. This just seems like beating a dead horse, but again, I can understand why it is necessary. How the inevitability of their relationship would force all other options to be eliminated before they could truly be together forever.

The series concludes with Breaking Dawn. Bella, having made her final choice, and Edward marry and embark on their new life together, never imagining that their lives are about to take a turn that neither of them could imagine. When Bella becomes pregnant, she finds herself again fighting for her life and the life of her baby. The birth of Bella's daughter finally results in the long awaited transformation of Bella into an immortal, and also brings with it immeasurable joy and the possibility of impending doom which could result in the destruction of the Cullens once and for all.

Out of all the books in the Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn is the one that I have the most conflicting emotions about. As the culmination of the series, I had high expectations for it. For me, Breaking Dawn is the greatest departure from reality. It requires a greater "leap" into the world of fantasy than the other books in the series. I felt like even though the previous three books are fiction, they still had elements that grounded them in reality. However, most of that goes out the proverbial window in Breaking Dawn. There are several elements of the story that require one to turn off the rational part of your brain and simply accept them as fact - such  as the fact that Edward, an undead vampire, having the ability to create  live offspring - in order for the story to work.

You have to be willing to make that jump with Stephenie if you are going to accept and appreciate Breaking Dawn. I have to admit that the first time I read Breaking Dawn, during the marathon weekend when I read the whole series, the departure from reality didn't bother me so much because I was already so lost in the world of Twilight. However, after subsequent readings, I found myself questioning the story more, and it started to ruin it for me...until I turned off the rational part of my brain.

For those of you who have not read this series, but have seen the movies, remember you should never judge a book by its movie. While I enjoy the Twilight movies and they certainly have improved as the fan base and budgets have increased, they are still nowhere near as good as the books. As per usual, the movies take artistic licenses to ramp up the action and keep movie audiences entertained. Some of these changes I liked, others not so much. I still much prefer the version my imagination creates in my head as I read the novels. If you like Young Adult Fiction and vampires, give this series a chance if you haven't already. 


The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Charlie is a wallflower. He does his best to blend in and not stand out. The Perks of Being a Wallflower chronicles Charlie's freshman year of high school as he tries to make friends, figure out the world around him and his place in it. The story is told through letters that Charlie addresses to "Dear Friend."

The book deals with a myriad of issues faced by teens: first dates, family dramas, friendship, sex, drugs, love, homosexuality. Charlie is an endearing character who is both incredibly smart and naive at the same time. The characters in the story are dysfunctional and flawed, which I think makes them very relatable. The subject matter of the book was somewhat heavy - issues of suicide, rape, abuse, abortion, incest, some fairly hardcore drug use, mental illness were all present - but I feel like it is probably a fairly accurate description of what teenagers encounter today, unfortunately. The book had some poignant quotes, which now appear on E-cards and Pinterest, but the truth is I still don't know how I feel about this book.

On one hand, I gave it 3 stars because I really did enjoyed reading the book. It was a quick read - I read it in an afternoon. There were certainly things that I could relate to in the story - namely the family dramas and self-esteem issues experienced by the female characters. The letter writing structure was unique and I liked how it was personal and unrestricted. The reader was privy to Charlie's unfiltered stream of consciousness, which can be absent in a more straight-forward narrative. It kills me that we never find out who "Dear Friend" is or if they ever receive the letters Charlie writes.

However, the book did have some flaws. Charlie for one was so naive at times that it was hard to believe he was 15 years old. He came across as somewhat whiny and was somewhat of a cry baby. I often found myself wondering if maybe he wasn't Autistic because of his inability to read the emotions and social situations going on around him. Another pet peeve was that throughout the book Charlie writes about how his English teacher, Bill, gives him additional books to read and has him write essays. Charlie often says that Bill says he is getting to be a better writer with each new assignment, however this improvement is not reflected in Charlie's letter writing...

The books Bill has him read are meant I think to teach Charlie lessons, but it doesn't appear that Charlie picks up any new insights. His growth as a character is somewhat limited and stifled. Throughout the book, Charlie struggles to "participate" in the events around him, rather than simply sit back and observe. I can relate to this. My childhood made me grow up much faster than I was supposed to, and I can think back on several times in high school when I watched my friends do some frankly stupid things, but wishing at the same time that I was able to live in the moment like them. I often found myself observing rather than participating. There are some moments in the book when Charlie was able to let go and fully embrace the moment, but they were fleeting and few and far between. Again, I had hoped that his character would grow more than it did.

At times I found myself overwhelmed with the number of issues "dealt with" in the book. I put "dealt with" in quotes because while the characters encountered these issues, I feel like many of these issues were not analyzed or address on any meaningful level. Often they were simply events that happened in the story. This is where I think that having the story told through Charlie's letter writing might have been a hinderance. I found that when heavy issues came up, Charlie's own character flaws prevented him from providing any real insight into these issues. Sometimes I felt that the issues were included simply to include them - almost for shock value. It's terrible to say, but maybe when this book was first published all of this would have been more shocking, but today I feel like we are all so much more cynical and jaded and it felt more superfluous  rather than shocking. I think many of the events in the story would have been more meaningful if there were fewer and if the author had Charlie take more time to explore his feelings and the feelings of the other characters about the experience.

I think all of us can relate to this story in some way and I definitely think that this book is worth the read. It will probably be more meaningful to an actual teenager (as opposed to someone like me, who is in their 20's), but anyone who experienced high school can probably getting something out of it.   


22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

22 Britannia Road is about a family trying to put itself back together after World War II. Silvana and Janusz find themselves caught up in a whirlwind love affair, resulting in a pregnancy and marriage. A few short months later, their son Aurek arrives and Janusz leaves to fight for Poland. Silvana and Aurek are forced to leave Warsaw when the German Army comes and are forced to survive in the woods, where they encounter strangers who are helping hands and see indescribable horrors. Meanwhile Janusz's military unit is bombarded by the Germans and he flees to France. The book chronicles their lives as they fight to survive the war and their eventual reunion. After being reunited, Silvana and Janusz must come to terms with the past and struggle to create a new life in a new country.

I have to say that I was underwhelmed by this book, but I can't put my finger on exactly why that is. The book was well written and the story certainly contained some twists that I did not expect. I think the author did an excellent job of portraying the changing effects of war and how these families were torn apart. It's amazing that anything can be rebuilt after such destruction.The experiences of the characters during the war were certainly compelling.

I think, for me, there was something lacking in the emotions of the story. The characters often felt stiff and I feel like there was so much more potential there. These characters really could have shined. The war clearly changed them and they had their own world of pain and secrets. I kept waiting for them to come alive, but for me they didn't. They lacked a real feeling of humanity, of relatability. I was not able to form an emotional connection with these characters and it left me disappointed and wanting. The book is well written, but it is not a story that I will probably remember a month from now.