Book Review: If I’m Being Honest

if i'm being honestIf I’m Being Honest
by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
Young Adult / Shakespeare Retelling / Romance
359 pages
Published April 2019

So I either forgot or failed to notice that this book was written by the same pair of authors that wrote Always Never Yours, a book revolving around a stage production of Romeo and Juliet with a main character based on Rosaline. I LOVED that book, and I don’t think this one would have languished on my shelves as long as it did if I’d realized the connection! (They have two more books coming out, Time of Our Lives in 2020 and an unnamed book in 2021!) The plots of the books are completely unconnected, but the two main characters in Always Never Yours did make a cameo in the end of If I’m Being Honest!

So. This book! I got STRONG 10 Things I Hate About You vibes off this book, and I loved that movie, so that alone should tell you what I thought of this book! I’m just a sucker for Shakespeare in any form, though. What I like about these authors is they don’t really retell the plays – they take one character out of the play and tell a story about HER. In Always Never Yours, it was Rosaline. In If I’m Being Honest, it’s Katherine/Kate. I’m eager to see who Time of Our Lives will be based on!

heinous bitch
So Cameron, our heroine, is a bitch, but as the reader we see her home life and the things she’s struggling with and WHY she is the way she is, so I was rooting for her the whole way. Her otherwise absentee father pays for an expensive private school, so there’s a lot of student politics and status-waving going on. When Cameron yells at another student at a party, her crush sees and is turned off by it, so Cameron decides that in order to win him back, she needs to make him see that she’s a good person. How to do that? Fix the things she’s broken. She starts with apologies, but has to up her game to actual ACTIONS when the apologies aren’t enough.

Through the course of the book, she finds herself actually making friends with the people she’d wronged, and falling for Brendan, who reminds me strongly of – well:

(oh man, I REALLY need to watch this movie again.)

Oh! And Brendan has Celiac’s Disease, which doesn’t play a big part in the present-day plotline of the book, but is a HUGE part of why he’s an outcast.

I like Cameron and Brendan a lot, and this book was another great read from this pair of authors.

From the cover of If I’m Being Honest:

Cameron Bright is gorgeous, popular, and – according to 99% of Beaumont Prep’s student body – a bitch. That doesn’t bother Cameron, who knows how important it is to be honest. But when her crush, Andrew, sees Cameron’s cruelty up close, it’s a major turn-off, and suddenly Cameron’s consumed with winning him back. So she devises a plan: she’ll “tame” herself like Shakespeare’s illustrious shrew, Katherine, and make amends with everyone she’s wronged. If she can reverse her reputation as a mean girl, Andrew will have to take notice.

Cameron’s apology tour begins with Brendan Rosenfeld, the guy whose social life she single-handedly destroyed in the sixth grade. But earning his forgiveness requires befriending the school’s geeky crowd – which isn’t as easy as it looks. Soon, though, Cameron begins to see that her new friends bring out the best in her, especially Brendan, who views her honesty as an asset. Now Cameron’s left wondering if maybe she doesn’t have to compromise who she is for the kind of love she deserves.

Book Review: P.S. I Still Love You

ps i still love youP.S. I Still Love You
by Jenny Han
Young Adult/Romance
339 pages
Published 2015

PS I Still Love You is a continuation of Lara Jean’s story from To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. It really is a seamless continuation – it picks up almost immediately where the first ends, in the holidays, with Lara Jean pining over Peter.

I didn’t like this one as much as the first – the sisters are still here, but Lara Jean doesn’t spend as much time worrying over her dynamic with her sisters as she did in the first book. This second book is all about Peter, his ex, and what’s going on at school. That’s fine – obviously the story needs to evolve and move, but the sisters were such a huge part of the charm of the first book that I really miss them in this one.

A second boy is introduced in this book – John – and to be honest, I like him more than Peter. I know Peter and Lara Jean are really set up as THE couple in this series, but – John’s so nice. And Peter’s so oblivious.

There’s one more book – Always and Forever, Lara Jean – and while I’m sure it won’t happen, I’m holding out hope that John will come back in book #3 and win Lara Jean over. I really, really liked him.

From the cover of P.S. I Still Love You:

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.

They were just pretending. Until they weren’t. And now Lara Jean has to learn what it’s like to be in a real relationship and not just a make-believe one.

But when another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him suddenly return too.

Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lara Jean is about to find out that falling in love is the easy part.

Book Review: Educated

educated memoirEducated: a Memoir
by Tara Westover
334 pages
Published 2018

I blurbed this on my Friday 56, but I actually read it a couple weeks ago. I had to take enough time to distance myself from the text before I could formulate my reaction into words. More than once, I had to set this book down and walk away because something hit me so hard I couldn’t continue. A phrase, a quote, or a chapter title would jump out and sucker-punch me.

Tara’s family was much more extremist than mine; though we were homeschooled until 8th grade (with public school after that), we had actual books and tests. Oregon actually has yearly required standardized tests for homeschoolers, so in that respect I was years ahead of Tara. (Though my science and history education were still very poor – I thought dinosaurs and humans existed at the same time until I was in my twenties.) We had birth certificates, and saw doctors regularly. We lived in town. But my family is conservative Christian, and learning that there are viewpoints outside that caused similar emotions to what Tara goes through. Educating myself out of bigotry, at the cost of a relationship with my family – THAT is what I have in common with this author.

Tara had a pretty horrific childhood. There were a lot of severe injuries among her family members that really should have been seen by a doctor, and never were. Her father’s bullheadedness (and undiagnosed bipolar disorder) probably led to several of the family’s injuries. Her father was more neglectful than abusive, though. It was one of Tara’s older brothers that was abusive.

Between her family, her isolation, her lack of education, and her poverty, Tara overcame so many issues to get into university. It’s really astounding. The pushback from her family is sadly unsurprising. What she’s done with her life is something to be proud of, not ashamed of.

And what I really mean by that is that I’m proud of my life and my beliefs, even if my family doesn’t understand them or me.

There are so many parts of this book that speak directly to me, from quotes like

Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.

to the part where she devours the classic books of feminism in grad school because until that point, feminism had always been a bad thing. I’ve done that. I grew up on Rush Limbaugh yelling about feminazis. To realize that was wrong, and read the books of the first and second wave, is an awakening I know all too intimately.

I checked this book out from the library, but I’m going to buy my own copy. This is a book I need to keep around to remind me that I’m not alone in this journey – someone else has been through it too.

From the cover of Educated:

Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head for the hills” bag. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged metal in her father’s junkyard.

Her father distrusted the medical establishment, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when an older brother became violent.

When another brother got himself into college and came back with news of the world beyond the mountain, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. She taught herself enough mathematics, grammar, and science to take the ACT and was admitted to Brigham Young University. There, she studied psychology, politics, philosophy, and history, learning for the first time about pivotal world events like the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes from severing ties with those closest to you. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

Book Review: All’s Faire in Middle School

All's Faire in Middle SchoolAll’s Faire in Middle School
by Victoria Jamieson
Graphic Novel
248 pages
Published 2017

For those who didn’t know, I work at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, helping a friend of mine sell leather masks (and other leather goods). Throughout the year, I actually get to help her make them, including stitching the codpieces we sell at the Fair. So when I learned about this graphic novel set at a Renaissance Festival, I knew I had to grab it. I worked Labor Day Monday at Fair, so I popped over to the Fair’s bookshop, Page After Page, and picked up the book. (They even remembered I’d asked about the book over the summer to make sure they were going to carry it!)

Once I recovered from the heat and humidity at Fair on Monday, I cracked this book open and fell into it. It’s set at the Florida Ren Faire, and it captures the spirit of Rennies and the festival very, very well. One of my favorite parts was when Imogene announced she was going to middle school, and all the adults around her reply with variations of “MIDDLE SCHOOL SUCKED.” Imogene asks “Aren’t adults supposed to encourage kids to go to school?” and her dad replies “You got the wrong kind of adults, kid.” Oh, Rennies. There are D&D games, and thrift stores, and going to the store in garb, and speaking in accents while doing normal mundane things – yeah. This is a book about Rennies, alright.

I was a little disappointed in the adults not understanding the kind of pressure Imogene was under as the new girl at school. They all commiserated with middle school sucking, but didn’t give Imogene any slack for it, and in a couple of cases dismissed how important things were to her.

I loved seeing her go from school to Fair, and seeing the different environments contrasted. The art style is great. Each chapter begins with a page illustrated like a medieval manuscript, and a paragraph written like an epic story. “After months of preparations, including but not limited to careful outfit selection and triple-checking of school supplies, young Imogene is ready to embark on her journey into the Great Unknown. Like all explorers before her, our heroine has only one thought on her mind….”

I really loved this book. It would make a great gift for any kid headed to middle school who loves Ren Faires. (Or Rennie parents!)

From the cover of All’s Faire in Middle School:

Growing up with parents who work at the Renaissance Faire, Imogene has always been sure of who she is: a brave and noble knight. But now, after being homeschooled her whole life, she is about to embark on the epic adventure of . . . middle school!

Imogene will quickly discover that in real life there aren’t always clear-cut heroes and villains like there were at the Faire. How will she find her place (and new friends) in this strange and complicated land?

Top Ten Tuesday – Education Freebie

We’re going back into the school year – the first day of my husband’s last semester of university actually starts today! So the topic this Tuesday is an education-related freebie. I’m going with ten books that I’ve used, am using, or am planning to use, to further my own personal education. I was homeschooled until eighth grade in a conservative Christian setting, so my science and history backgrounds were never very strong. I’ve been trying to overcome that most of my adult life.

educated memoirTo start things off, I really want to read Educated, a memoir by Tara Westover. The description makes it sound like I’ll identify with it a lot. We weren’t rural, we lived in town, and my parents wanted us educated, but certainly not to the public school system’s standards. (Though I was lucky enough to live in a state that demanded standardized yearly testing for homeschoolers, so I wasn’t as bad off as Tara.) I have a hold on this book at my library, but so does everyone else!

a short history of nearly everythingAmong the books I have used in the years since is Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. It’s mostly a history of science – discoveries, inventions, famous scientists – it’s fascinating. I checked it out from a library twice before finally buying my own copy. It’s long, and it took me some time to work through, but there was so much that I didn’t know. And Bryson has a knack for explaining things in a down-to-earth way that keeps my interest.

power faith and fantasyWhen my husband started prepping to be deployed to Afghanistan, I picked up Power, Faith, and Fantasy: American in the Middle East 1776 to the Present. It’s nearly 1000 pages, but it’s a pretty thorough history of our involvement with the region. I did realize after reading it that its author, Michael B. Oren, is a Zionist Jew, meaning he’s biased towards Israel, so that’s something to keep in mind while reading his takes on the region. Growing up the way I did, I now try to be aware of what biases authors may have and how that can affect the books they write.

Another, more basic book that helped my self-education was a simple high school biology textbook! Biology: Principles & Explorations opened my eyes to a whole new world I hadn’t understood at all. I was able to find a workbook for it on Amazon, and worked through, a chapter at a time, discussing concepts with my much more scientifically literate husband. Similarly, I have Geosystems and its associated workbook that I started to work through. I need to get back into that one.

reading womenMy education on Feminism began with Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed my Life. The author talks about all the classic Feminist texts she read, giving me a jumping off point to find other books to read. I owe a lot to this one just for showing me what I didn’t know! I have since collected several of the texts she mentions, and have branched out further to read more intersectionally.

In History, I have a history book of the U.S. just called “America.” I set myself a challenge to read it this year, reading three chapters a month – and have failed miserably at it as I haven’t touched the book. And it’s August. Whoops.

great speeches of our timeIn political history, a book that enthralled me for a while was Great Speeches of Our Time, collected by Hywel Williams. I really like it because it gives context for the speeches and a little bit of background on each speaker, then the text of the speech. And these are amazing speeches from a wide variety of speakers.

A book that sits on the line between politics and history is Semper Fi: The Definitive Illustrated History of the U.S. Marines. This was another one I read while my husband was in the Marines; I was trying to understand the history and culture semper fiof what we’d joined. While it is a history of a specific branch of the Armed Forces, it’s also a history of the wars the US has been involved in.

I’m not sure which book to pick for my last book on this list; I have a habit of picking up textbooks for subjects I’m interested in – I have several on Counseling and psychology, a couple more on basic sciences, an intro to sociology, and a Spanish course (Plazas) with a variety of workbooks. (And a bookful of CDs! It was an excellent package I found used!)

tearsI think actually for my tenth pick here I’ll go with Tears We Cannot Stop. Of the books I’ve read on racism so far, it’s the one that hit the hardest. And, like Reading Women, it suggested many more titles to explore the issues further.

Not all of these are school-related, exactly, but each of these that I’ve read has been educational. I never want to stop learning. That’s part of why I read!