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The Hobbes Debate: Is “Calvin and Hobbes” ‘ Stuffed Protagonist Real?

Who else here loves Calvin and Hobbes?

I do. I began the series in fourth grade. One of my earliest memories, though not the first, is reading a collection during fourth grade silent reading time. I was trying my very hardest not to burst out laughing when Calvin flooded the bathroom and had to go find buckets, attracting the attention of his parents.

Watterson had said that Calvin sees what it real to him and that everyone else saw what was real to them. So wouldn’t that mean that Hobbes is fake? After all, something can’t be real to just one person, right?

Yet, most of the strip revolves around Hobbes being a talking, thinking character. What’s really real here?

Evidence for Being Real

*There is a moment in the very beginning of the strip where Calvin goes to check his tiger trap, which he sets with a tuna fish sandwich. Hobbes then gets trapped, and that’s presumably how they meet.

*There are many instances that can’t happen without Hobbes being real.

-Calvin gets pummeled when he walks in the front door constantly. His mom acknowledges how dirty he gets, but it would be difficult to do so on his own.

-Likewise, Hobbes always hits Calvin with snowballs and we, and other characters, often see that he was hit.

-Hobbes eats a sandwich at the bus stop, and when Calvin gets on the bus, he realizes how light his lunchbox is. Could Calvin have gotten hungry and just used his imagination to show that he regretted eating lunch way too early? Perhaps, but that seems like a lot of work.

-At Susie Derkins’ birthday party, Calvin isn’t aware that someone cut Susie’s cake too early. It’s then that Hobbes informs him that the cake is chocolate.

-One of the most famous instances that vouches for Hobbes’ existence is a scene where Calvin gets tied to a chair and can’t get out. He would never have been able to tie himself up like that. It’s also highly unlikely that Calvin has a friend who conveniently disappears and likely jumps out the window whenever Calvin’s parents come to investigate what their son is up to.

-Calvin has Hobbes take a photo of him while sneezing. Judging by Calvin’s position and the fact that both his hands are in the image, he wouldn’t have been able to do it himself.

-In G.R.O.S.S. club meetings that require a password, Hobbes throws down a rope ladder for Calvin to climb. Calvin wouldn’t be able to climb up himself without the ladder being tossed down to him.

-While playing hide and seek at one point, Calvin sits and waits for a long time for Hobbes to find him. Turns out that Hobbes found an opportunity to go read Calvin’s comic books. He is in Calvin’s room when Calvin goes to find him from outside. So how did he get there? (ARGUMENT: Calvin’s mom could have taken him in, but then again, why would she have done so before Calvin was done outside?)

-Calvin puts Crisco in his hair for school picture day to give it a “fancy” style, but Mom makes him comb it out. At the bus stop, Hobbes styles it to make Calvin look like “Astro Boy.” People notice Calvin’s wacky new hairdo, especially Susie.

*Hobbes tends to be a bit more logical than Calvin. So would Calvin actually be able to think from Hobbes’ perspective sometimes? It might be difficult.

*Scenes from Calvin’s imagination would be hard to pull off. When he builds his duplicator and uses it to produce a “good” version of himself, we can see him hiding in his room and being thrilled about not going to school after the duplicate leaves the house. It’s very plausible his cardboard box technology was real, because it would be unlikely that Calvin could change his hairstyle that quickly in between scenes (the “good Calvin” had it combed. Calvin meets Susie very soon after the duplicate gave her a Valentine and he then has spiky hair.) If he can duplicate himself, why can’t he have a talking tiger buddy?

*To add to the above, we can see that Hobbes has unique thoughts even when Calvin isn’t in the picture. When Calvin goes to recite a poem about Hobbes, he then leaves the room. We can see Hobbes thinking (with Calvin gone): “This is why I try to sleep through most of the afternoon.”

*If Calvin didn’t want mustaches drawn on the superheroes in his comics, why are they there?

Evidence for Not Being Real

*The most important one is that Hobbes is stuffed whenever someone else…a parent, Susie, etc. is around. Nobody has ever seen Hobbes move or have been confused when they hear someone else in their house speak. Even in photos, Calvin’s parents see him as stuffed. Calvin knows that Hobbes is about to pounce on him walking through the front door in one strip, so Calvin whips out his camera and snaps a photo. To his dad, and the reader, Hobbes is a stuffed tiger that has been tossed in the air. But as anyone who follows a religion will tell you…just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not real.

*Would Hobbes, who often appears stuffed, really be wandering around in suburban woods when Calvin built his tiger trap?

*Although Hobbes is more logical and mature than Calvin, it’s possible that he could just be Calvin’s conscience. We know that Calvin has a good side once in a while and thinks deeply about issues, too. They share the same opinions on many big issues…except maybe what qualifies as being on Santa’s good list.

*Susie clearly isn’t aware that Hobbes is a live, talking being when she runs into them during an argument. When the two were up in the tree house having an argument, Susie asks Calvin, “Who are you talking to up there?” implying that nobody else is speaking.

*Hobbes doesn’t seem able to move around himself. When Calvin tries to run to the Yukon, he runs back home leaving Hobbes in the woods. Hobbes tells Calvin he walked back himself, but it is revealed to the reader that Dad went out and got him.

*It’s easy to believe in most cases that Hobbes is imaginary, like all our former stuffed pals. They play Monopoly and read comics together, things that a kid could easily do “with” a stuffed animal or imaginary friend.

*A final theory is that Calvin could be suffering from multiple personality disorder with Hobbes as another manifestation of himself.

Here’s my theory: Hobbes is, in fact, a real tiger. He simply reverts back to his stuffed self whenever anyone else is nearby or within earshot. Simply arguing that “most of the events are in Calvin’s imagination” makes the strip redundant, since it is, after all, a comic strip. Considering the talking cats, dogs, and inanimate objects we’ve seen in comics, it’s not hard to believe that Hobbes is real too. I personally feel that this view makes the strip so much more interesting!

In making my list, I also noticed something interesting: most of the “evidence” against Hobbes is theory-based or based on what is easiest to believe, rather than stemming from actual happenings in the strip. There is a lack of concrete evidence. Hmm…A lot of evidence also suggests that Hobbes isn’t real to anyone else, making my theory work.

Sometimes, imagination is important. And this time, I choose to believe that something implausible is real. That’s part of the magic of reading.

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The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide

The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide
Genre: Nonfiction/self help
Pages: 249
Published: 2017
Hogwarts House Recommendation: I would say Slytherin because of the ambitious nature (or perhaps Gryffindor because it takes a lot to put yourself out there), but really this doesn’t have a house. It’s open to anyone who likes acting.

When Jenna Fischer first moved to L.A., she, like many people, had dreams of making it big. And like many people, she found it to be much more of a challenge. Still, eight years later, she found herself moving on from the days of crummy apartments and Actor’s Pizza (aka bread with sauce and a cheese slice on it) to getting a great role on The Office.

Here, Jenna shares her expertise with others looking to make it big. From getting good training to getting in the union and actually getting on TV, nothing in the business is easy…but Jenna is here to make things a little easier by telling you how to get started. She’ll tell you about how to get a great headshot and how to manage your career…with help, of course. And she shares moments from her own journey as well, passing along her pearls of wisdom to new actors.

I wasn’t expecting to hear an autobiography of Jenna Fisher’s life when picking up this story (heads up: that’s not what this book is). I did read the memoirs of Mindy Kaling and Rainn Wilson, but those were straight up autobiographies. If you’re looking for Jenna’s life story, this isn’t the right place. I myself picked it up because I was interested in hearing more about the industry.

In The Actor’s Life, Jenna takes you through her personal career journey and gives you some suggestions as to how to start work. Whether or not you “make it” is up to you; she’s only here to give you a general idea and tips on how to start. The basic journey goes something like this: get training, move to one of three cities, get professional headshots, go on auditions while working day jobs, get into the union (usually by doing commercials or working as an extra, though there are exceptions), get an agent and/or manager, continue going on auditions, work on a project, look for work again. However, there is also a lot of luck involved. Jenna certainly doesn’t brush past this hard fact and even admits to often being in the right place at the right time. She may have gotten the role of Pam because the casting directors wanted absolutely no famous names.

It’s certainly a personal look at a career in acting. Maybe this is because Jenna herself is not an A-list actor, but it seems hard to think that your average Joe is going to pick this up and became a famous movie star from this book (but you never know). The steps she takes you through actually seem very doable, workload notwithstanding. And yes, it is a lot of work. It’s a lot of flexible part-time day jobs so you can barely afford to pay your rent while going on auditions. While a lot of the tips here seem like common sense, others are not. I especially liked the advice she gives about headshots and picking 5 adjectives that you want to sell- ones that helped her get the role of Pam. Jenna also shares her rookie mistakes which will make you think, I can’t believe a professional actress tried to do those things! But Office fans will also find things to like here in her chapter of how things work on a TV set. And yes, it is possible to develop a strong dislike for mint chocolate chip cake when you eat a lot of it during a certain scene! What I did like in general, though, was how she presented the material. It wasn’t threatening or overly harsh, but it wasn’t sunshine and rainbows everyone-can-do-this! either.

There are also common misconceptions addressed. First of all: not all actors are celebrities. Many aren’t. It seems funny to think about, but this is true. Many actors will not become famous and rich, and Jenna advises us to avoid the business if that is your sole focus. Also, just because you make it big doesn’t mean you won’t struggle to look for work. I’d originally thought that too: when you got famous or did well, I always just assumed that work would come to you. Finally, acting is far from glamorous. Jenna never straight-up says this, but look at the chapter on TV set life and you’ll see what I mean. We’re talking waking up at 5 AM or earlier to work 12-16 hour days. Okay, not for me. It is, however, a really interesting look at how television works.

Of course, no two actors share an experience. That’s why Jenna interviews four of her acting friends, each with different experiences, and includes them in the back. One actor friend took 40 years to truly make it on stage, while another took three. Others had breaks in between—a casual reminder that work is not guaranteed as an actor even if you’re very famous. It’s basically like freelancing. Speaking of which, another disclaimer: there aren’t a lot of actual testimonials from really super famous actors. Instead, what we get are celebrity quotes that are well mixed-in to whatever Jenna is talking about at that moment. That isn’t necessarily to say that you won’t become rich and famous after taking Jenna’s advice, but a word of warning: not everyone makes it. That’s why one piece of advice that Jenna and her friends give is to cultivate every aspect of your life, not just the acting parts.

Whether you are looking to go pro, pursue acting as a hobby, liked the acting chapters in Wilson’s or Kaling’s books, or are just curious about the industry, The Actor’s Life is a unique guide that really hasn’t been done in this way before (written by a professional actor known in pop culture). I enjoyed it; if you are interested in learning more, pick it up. And if you do want to go pro, this book actually makes it seem sort of doable.

4 stars

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Stories of My Childhood: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

What is the book about?

For those who don’t yet know, a well-known candymaker has gone off the grid for a long time, but is reopening his factory to a lucky few. If you find a golden ticket in your chocolate bar, you’ve won a tour of the factory. The winners include greedy Augustus, spoiled Veruca, gum-chewer Violet, and TV fan Mike, but there’s also Charlie. Charlie comes from a poor family and doesn’t have much, but he’s about to get more than he ever dreamed.

How did I discover it?

Picture this. It’s 2005. You’re at your classroom library having just finished your independent reading book. You need a new choice. Choices are primarily:

*dated-feeling novels about kids living in super-rural America
*starring Chosen Ones in fantasy-based Middle Eastern environments
*starring kids who had wacky (but not wacky enough to be exciting or outlandish; more wacky in a “nontraditional” sense) relatives
*escapist classics like Anne of Green Gables, again in rural areas
*tales about kids traveling to Europe to find themselves or visit wacky (“nontraditional”) relatives, again usually rural (Rural settings were the “missing dad” trope of the 90s/early 2000s…they were EVERYWHERE.)
*kids living with strict grandparents, also often probably in rural areas

This was my problem. Kids today should thank their lucky stars that they have the book choices they do. And I had some good, modern-feeling series too…Junie B Jones, Abby Hayes, etc. But when it came to actual classroom choices, stories were more stuffy. While many of these books are fine, reading started to become the same thing over and over again. And then you come across Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Suddenly you’re not in the farm fields of the USA, but in a wacky factory. The kids are interesting rather than somewhat flawed do-gooders of my fifth grade books.

What do I like about the book?

If you’ve never read a Roald Dahl book, you should! His narration style is unlike any other. It’s very conversational and includes a lot of entertaining comments. It’s just a fun, exciting read that doesn’t try to impress you with prose. Dahl does not talk down to his readers and adults will find things to like too.

And it’s just a fun adventure. For the first time in a while, I was excited for reading time to see what would happen next and see what surprises were around the corner. [I liked James and the Giant Peach for many of the same reasons (my first grade teacher read it to us), but I haven’t read that book in so long that I’m not touching on it this series.] The characters were well-drawn, and I loved the grandparents. Finally, a kooky relative that wasn’t gruff or out of touch! Yes, I do like Grandpa Joe. Fight me.

The enjoyment also is in the reading of the prose. Reading detailed descriptions of the factory. Listening to Grandpa Joe talk about the wacky Prince Pondicherry. And there’s a good lesson to top it off. Granted, readers know what’s coming, but it’s presented in a really interesting way.

Digging deeper into the fandom

There is actually some really good fan fiction for the novel out there. In high school, I came across a particularly good one where each character was driving home in a taxi and describes their interactions with the driver. If I come across it again, I’ll post it here.

You might also find yourself torn between the two films and this has sparked debate. I personally like the original from the 70s. People complain that the original deviates too much, but I’d argue that the Depp version deviates even more (I find that most differences in the original are pretty minor and the things that they do change work very well with the movie).

Another way I see the fandom popping up is through Grandpa Joe hate groups on social media. The premise is that Grandpa is this lazy guy who pretends to be unable to get up until he gets chocolate or wins a golden ticket. But I’m inclined to disagree!

Favorite memory involving the books

Honestly, just reading it during silent reading time at school. Sometimes my best friend and I would poke each other and show the other a funny line or scene. I remember doing that here too. One particular day was a photo retake day for me, and I was miffed that I’d have to miss reading time to go retake my photo. As I said, it was a book that was different and that I really looked forward to reading.

My thoughts about the book now

It’s just an enjoyable today as it is now. Because the author doesn’t really talk down to people, these nostalgic stories have staying power.

Check out more books from my childhood:

Pig William
Go Dog Go
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (+ series)
The Adventures of Captain Underpants (+ series)

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One Perfect Lie: Lisa Scottoline

One Perfect Lie
Genre: Domestic thriller
Pages: 351
Published: 2017
Hogwarts House Recommendation: Gryffindor

In a small town, there is a threat looming that nobody knows about, especially three members of the the high school baseball team in a quiet Pennsylvania suburb.

Susan loves supporting her son Raz in his role as starting pitcher, but worries about how he is coping with the loss of his father. Mindy, the wife of a surgeon, has a comfortable life but isn’t aware of the things that her husband and son Evan are keeping from her. And Heather is proud of her son Jordan but worries about his relationships with other boys on the team.

Then there’s Chris. A newcomer to town, he’s taking on the roles of history teacher and baseball coach. He looks like the perfect addition, but everything about him is a lie. He’s only here to use some of the baseball players as a pawn in a bigger plan. So what is he really trying to accomplish? And how far will he go to get what he wants?

I initially picked up this book because it looked like there were lots of interesting conflicts to pick from. It’s really hard to put THIS MUCH in a book and have it fit together and flow, but for the most part Scottoline succeeds in doing so.

You’d think this would be about baseball. It’s not a baseball book; if you’re hoping for one you may be disappointed. Readers should go in with an open mind. Instead, there are genuinely surprising twists and plot turns where you don’t expect them (very well pulled off might I add), leading to a book that changes currents. In fact, the book can arguably be split into three sections or themes. The first section focuses on school relations, the second is about parent-child relationships and secrets, and the third actually gets somewhat legal and semi-political. By an amateur writer this could become a trainwreck, but Scottoline somehow found a way to merge these ideas together cleanly. The plot itself was very intricate and well-thought out. It’s clear that she knew the material she was dealing with. And it never slowed down. Stakes are raised early on when Chris arrives at the high school to start a teaching position.

The characters were interesting and Scottoline writes them and their dialogue well. From the teachers to the students, everyone had a personality. I especially found myself emotionally invested in Chris and was disappointed that he was just involved in some sort of plot. Surprisingly, I liked him in the teaching and coaching role. As he became a beloved coach to the players and ended up actually caring about them, I found myself hoping that the situation would work out. He was by far the most interesting character. This universe also seems pretty authentic, from the roles of mothers to the high school interactions to the farming. Scottoline is extraordinarily good at creating detail to bring a place to life. Whether it’s hints of a character’s social class, a place to live, or even a scene in a classroom, she can place you right in the setting she has set up.

The one characterization I did take issue with was Abe’s. Allow me to go back to a guide I wrote for a previous book I reviewed this year:

HOW TO WRITE GAY CHARACTERS
BY FICTIONISTAS UNITE

1. Follow the exact same character-creating process you use for straight people. 
2. Make them attracted to people of the same gender.

I bring this up because Abe is a complete caricature. He is flamboyant. He is outgoing. He uses terms like “chichi.” He loves fashion. He is basically the exact same gay side character I saw in the novel for which I wrote my how-to. How in this day and age are we still writing gay people as cardboard cutouts? It was so stereotypical my eyes were rolling. I liked the guy, but he’s the same gay guy we see everywhere. Come on, writers of America. I don’t take points off for this because it’s so minor in the book, but still. Can this stop?

Back to the plot. In addition to the kids’ lives, there are their parents’ stories as well. In these cases, I like to give the book a chance and see where they’re heading, especially in stories like this where you don’t know quite how everything connects right away. But I did find that by the end some of the parents’ stories really weren’t necessary and were maybe put in to throw the reader off the trail. The book does spend too much time on Heather’s personal problems, and I think Susan’s parts could have been eliminated entirely. Their stories also leave some loose ends untied. Heather seems like she is trying to hide from others but this is never explained. Neither are Susan’s sons’ troubles with stealing. Perhaps there was going to be more that just got left out of the book? So maybe there was too much packed into the novel.

Still, they don’t linger on the parents lives for quite as long. The action certainly makes up for this; looming terror is around every corner. I didn’t really know where things were going, but that wasn’t a bad thing. I was instead impressed at how things came together. It’s more than just suburban baseball; this is a story that garners national attention, so it’s pretty fast paced. And there’s always enough going on because of the various points of view of the kids and their families. Of course, dealing with missing fathers is just one of those issues which mercifully isn’t lingered on too long. But there are also things like competition, sexting scandals, and that play a role in the situation and a role in the boys’ lives.

I was mostly disappointed in how the ending was handled…not in how things ended, but how it was written. I’ve said before how I don’t like how so many authors feel the need to include people falling in love in their novels when the book doesn’t need a love story. Here, there is a considerable amount of time spent exploring the “romance” between Heather and Chris. These characters spend a grand total of maybe fifteen/twenty minutes together in the book. I understand that the book was hinting at how Chris was missing having a normal life, but the book almost forgets about the conflict at hand entirely to focus on their feelings for each other once the big plot point is settled. They just weren’t interesting enough because they’re still pretty much strangers. It didn’t warrant a lot of time, especially considering all else that was going on. SPOILER PARAGRAPH BELOW……

The characters’ behavior also struck me as weird in the last chapters. Near the end, Chris actually calls Heather to apologize for lying, and Heather is actually mad at him despite the fact that it was his job to lie…and despite the fact that these people should not be anywhere close to a point in their “relationship” where they’re talking on the phone. And then there’s her anger at his “lying.” Is Heather just that immature? It was a very chick lit-ty last chapter which I thought was disappointing. The author should have spent more time on the parents’ reactions, trial highlights, and how things turned out for the kids rather than manufactured romantic drama that felt rather forced. Speaking of which, we actually barely saw the kids’ reactions and how things affected them. I would much rather have seen an ending focused on the baseball team considering that’s who the book was trying to focus on.

***end of spoilers

This forced romance wasn’t Storyteller bad, but it wasn’t necessary all the same.

Despite some little issues with the writing that really don’t take up that much time, One Perfect Lie is a great thrill ride for readers looking for high-intensity stakes. With plotlines that are well thought out and drama that rarely stops, it’s an exciting adventure that might leave you wondering what’s really going on in those nice houses. (Especially if you’re me; I’m pretty sure the book takes place 30-ish minutes from my own house.) But it’s more than that: the characters make for an exciting tale you won’t forget. This was a fun one.

4.5 stars

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Should Christians Read Thrillers?

I recently came across a blog post where the blogger wondered if some certain Christian books could qualify as Christian. The books had some edgy themes that the faith doesn’t really encourage.

I used to think the same way. I avoided all these types of books, thinking they wouldn’t be very clean entertainment. But are they as bad as they sound? With recurring themes such as cheating, killing one another, and keeping secrets and lies, it doesn’t sound that way.

I find that most people read thrillers to be surprised. They like the heart-pounding suspense or solving a mystery. To sum up, we read these books for the excitement, or an escape.

First off, the main characters don’t always condone the behavior. Granted, not all characters are good people. But how many of us are perfect? We’ve all done things that we shouldn’t. I feel, too, that not only are the characters avoiding the people that display this behavior, but the readers aren’t supporting it either. They’re holding their breath, hoping that the good people win in the end. Heck, even the Bible has many moments it doesn’t encourage. Just because Judas betrays Jesus doesn’t mean the Bible condones cheating. Something being written about doesn’t mean the author agreeing with it. Actually, a lot of the thrillers I’ve read recently serve as warnings against the behaviors displayed. I’ll often finish the book feeling grateful for the life I currently have.

These type of books also often deal with larger issues. You warns against social media use. Obsession warns us how envy can tear lives apart. Never Let You Go deals with relationships. In fact, many of the ones I’ve read deal with abusive relationships in some degree. This is a very real issue, and in many thrillers, readers can go along and root for the characters to go on and have a better life. It really opens your eyes to the issues and what these women content with. So the overall message is not necessarily harmful. Nobody here is rooting for the bad guy. That was how I originally thought of these types of books.

Still, there are times when us Christians need to watch what we read and continue holding themselves to that moral standard. This may be up to you. Do Christian readers find themselves sympathizing with or rooting for the villain, like Joe Goldberg of You fame? Do they find themselves thinking about how exhilarating cheating on a marriage could be after reading about the exciting affair a side character committed? Maybe it’s time to take a break from these types of novels. For me, I personally draw the line at murder mysteries, particularly the light-hearted ones. Murder is a thing that really happens to people and I don’t like to make light of that. Whereas with thrillers, we sympathize with the main character (usually) and we hold our breaths, hoping that everything turns out for the best–and we’re stunned when it doesn’t. Ultimately, that’s what I want anyway.

Of course, not all characters are likable and that’s a different story. Take Pekkanen’s The Perfect Neighbors, where several have dirty secrets to hide. I didn’t feel like I wanted any of them to win. Same with A Simple Favor...nobody was likable and all deserved what was coming to them. I didn’t enjoy those books as much. As long as the reader can separate good from bad, and realize that maybe that the characters aren’t role models, there isn’t a problem. However, I feel like those books aren’t as enjoyable anyway. There need to be some well-intentioned characters for me to like a book, but that isn’t always obvious before I delve into one. It’s very easy to accidentally pick up a racy book when that content isn’t advertised, like I did with Kiss Quotient. It happens.

I think that if Christians are looking for a good, wholesome book where the character is perfect, they will never finish that quest. You might as well give up reading altogether. But that’s because we’re all flawed. And isn’t that why we read: to go on a journey with a flawed character and watch them change over time? We can hope, anyway. I think that if readers are reading for the sake of trying to figure out a mystery, or just to be excited, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, in some cases we should still be watchful of content and be alert to books that are making light of serious issues. That to me is where the problem occurs.

Christianity has become so much more about judging others’ behavior than it is about God and faith and I think that needs to change. It might start with books.

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Best Day Ever: Kaira Rouda

Best Day Ever: Kaira Rouda
Genre: Thriller/suspense
Published: 2018
Pages: 334 (probably more like 290 given it starts on 11 and has page breaks)
Hogwarts House Recommendation: Slytherin

Paul and Mia are heading to their idyllic lake house to spend their “best day ever” together. To Paul, this house represents everything he has in life: a wife, two boys, an impressive job, and a great life that everyone envies. In fact, Paul has big plans up his sleeve for this weekend, ones that could change the course of his life–and Mia’s– forever. But it doesn’t help that the neighbors keep getting in the way, and it’s not long before they find themselves asking: how much can they trust the other, really?

I usually don’t consult Goodreads before writing a review, but this time I accidentally saw someone I follow talk about it. They gave it one star, noting that nothing happens until halfway through. I’ve docked many points for these types of things, particularly in a recent novella I read where nothing happened until the last ten pages. But this book is right up my alley so I picked it up anyway.

The premise is that these two happy-looking, wealthy people are heading away to their lake house for a relaxing weekend but there are secrets. And cheating. Sound familiar? Sure. But this time, it is a little different. I can’t say too much without giving things away, but the twists are different than you might expect despite falling into trope territory early.

So does nothing happen throughout the first half? Kind of. Maybe. But a lot of the information provided here is important to the story, and as Paul’s narration keeps going you see him first as somewhat of a regular guy (I did imagine him to be an extreme right-winger), and then someone more sinister. Is he lying to himself? His wife? There is definitely suspense that keeps you wondering what is going to happen, so I wouldn’t say that nothing happens for the first 50% of the book at all. I liked the conversational tone, too. Paul has a lot to say about his hometown and his life and it’s like you’re talking to a friend…though I wouldn’t really call Paul that, even at the beginning. Readers are supposed to go in thinking that Paul isn’t necessarily the bad guy I think, but that was never my impression. From the beginning I didn’t find him especially likable. He is a massive hypocrite. He loves his money. Clearly something is wrong here and I think that many readers will eventually realize what exactly it is.

I didn’t care for Mia, either. But as time went on, some of the reasoning for her is explained and as Paul reveals more information to us over time, which also helps to keep the narrative flowing. You don’t know what’s coming next, but it’s not like the tidbits he drops are so random that the book doesn’t make sense. They make sense and paint a picture of the guy Paul actually is. I actually found myself falling for some of his judgments (for example, he talks about Mia’s father like he is the bad guy and I thought the same for a while). Besides, I always liked the idea of a story that takes place within a day, so the “flashbacks” and Paul’s choices of conversation didn’t detract from the storyline. It fleshed it out a bit.

The unreliable character aspect actually goes both ways. Paul is for obvious reasons, but then there is Mia. We know that Paul isn’t telling us everything, but neither is Mia really. So who do we choose to believe?

Now some readers might be expecting a big confrontation between Paul and Mia, but this is where the book gets clever. Instead of lots of arguing and violence and who knows what as a climactic response (though there is some), Paul essentially gets tricked. It’s a different, more psychological twist than what we’re used to seeing and I thought it was very interesting. Most of the plot twists are details unveiled by Paul as the story goes on, rather than shocks that unfurl halfway through or near the end. I can’t believe I didn’t see it coming, but that’s when I knew that Mia was a different character than I thought. I did find Paul’s motivations to be a bit jumbled near the end when he goes back to town and does all his activities, and even in his ultimate plan. I’m pretty sure I know the motive for his plan with Mia, but I’m also not 100% sure. I also would have liked to have had his past (with his pets, parents and brother) explained a bit more; there are hints as to what Paul did but explanations are never given. The book itself wraps up in an almost-satisfying way. I don’t mean that as a bad thing; I mean that not everyone in life gets the justice that they were expecting and the same is true in Best Day Ever. So I have to give Rouda props.

Best Day Ever is definitely a solid addition to the genre. It’s not always fast paced, but the suspense is there throughout the whole novel. If you’re looking for something in this genre that’s just a little different than you might expect, give it a try. Fans of Behind Closed Doors will like this, too.

4 stars

reviews

You Know You Want This: Kristen Roupenian

You Know You Want This: Kristen Roupenian
Genre: Fiction (short story/chick lit/general)
Published: 2019
Pages: 225
Hogwarts House Recommendations: Gryffindor, Slytherin, perhaps a touch of Ravenclaw?



I’m going to abandon the usual format today and first just tell you about each story individually. The premise is that these twelve stories explore the power and desires between men and women, plus the effects these ideas can have on our lives.

Bad Boy: Two women (at least I took them to be women, I don’t know why I can’t remember suddenly) let their friend stay with them over a bad breakup but begin to dislike his interactions with his ex-girlfriend and punish him for it. This is a short powerful story with a shocking twist that will get you thinking about how woman can do bad things, too. A little explicit for me but an interesting dark tale. 4 stars

Look at Your Game, Girl A twelve-year-old girl bonds with an older guy over music in the park but questions his motives when he asks her to meet at midnight. Could it be the serial killer everyone is talking about? I liked this one, though the ending fell a bit flat as nothing really happens. The twelve-year-olds act eighteen most of the time as well, so that took away from the shock of the age gap somewhat. 4.5 stars

Sardines A ten-year-old wants one thing for her birthday party: to play Sardines with her friends. Then she makes a birthday wish that takes the game to more sinister levels, particularly for her mother who is dreading seeing her ex-husband’s girlfriend at the party. I wanted to like this idea; young kids can often do terrible things. Unfortunately, it got too bizarre too quickly and it made the story lose a lot of credibility. If a short story is this kind of magical realism it needs to establish that aspect just a little earlier. I was worried the ending would be predictable, but honestly, I would have preferred the one I had in mind. Finally, it seems to keep hinting at suspense that never seems to happen. Reading the last page again, I can kind of see the point, but….eh, it still doesn’t do it for me. 2 stars

The Night Runner A Peace Corps volunteer teaching at a school in Kenya struggles with a badly behaved class, but things escalate when a so-called night runner disturbs him all night and leaves fecal matter outside the doorstep. This story was…fine. Nothing great, not bad, and I thought this ending was definitely predictable. 3 stars

The Mirror, the Bucket, and the Old Thigh Bone A princess is being asked to choose a suitor to marry but can’t quite find what she’s looking for until a stranger appears in her bedchamber. But the stranger isn’t quite what they seem, and although the princess does marry a duke, will it be enough to satisfy her? This is a tale worthy of further reading and exploration, as well as a warning against vanity. One of its great strengths is the way it reads like a fairy tale, and I wonder if younger readers who don’t mind darker tones wouldn’t like this as well. You don’t see that often these days. I personally would have loved to dissect this one in my college fairy tale course. Alas, it wasn’t published yet. 5 stars

Cat Person Supposedly the story that launched Roupenian’s career, Cat Person is the story of a college girl getting with an older man. And, well, that’s pretty much it. It showcases the struggles of a young woman struggling with what she wants verses her expectations, and the guy’s thoughts take a turn as well. There’s not much to it, and it surprised me that this was the one that took off. (The book jacket suggests that content and timing played a role. Maybe a #MeToo type of thing?) It showcases the scenarios quite well, but not a standout for me personally. Maybe it needs to be read some more. 3 stars

The Good Guy If you’re confused about the “good guy” concept, this story might explain it to you. It follows a guy named Ted and shows us flashbacks of his romantic life…his pining for one girl while getting into relationship with another. To preserve his reputation, he neglects to break up with the girl he doesn’t like while yearning for the other. What follows is a string of heartbreak for everyone. This was pretty well done, and aside from some more explicit sex scenes which weren’t for me (but not altogether distasteful; at least they were important for the narrative) I recommend it. 4.5 stars

The Boy in the Pool At a young age, three girls fall in love with a young hunky movie star in a corny horror porn film (though nothing about this story is really that explicit). Years later at one of their bachelorette parties, another friend of theirs pulls out all the stops by inviting him there. Again, I liked the concept of women meeting a childhood crush, but the story falls flat in that it goes nowhere. It just ends. There is some potential in that the organizer and the bride-to-be have fallen out of touch while the third member has not, but this isn’t really explored either. This was a missed opportunity in my mind. 3 stars

Scarred One woman checks out a book of spells and conjures a man in her basement. She is hoping for her heart’s desire, and occasionally requires the man in her spell casting.This is one of the more disturbing tales, as even as she believes they will spend their lives together, she may have misunderstood what the spellbook was trying to get at. Ladies and gentlemen: beware of sketchy witchcraft. I certainly wouldn’t do it myself, but the story has a strong point that’s not to be missed. 5 stars

The Matchbox Sign David tries as best he can to support his wife Laura as she has an unexplainable itch that is taking over her life. With subtle commentary on believing women, this story has more of a message that the surface might indicate. This story doesn’t sound great, but the ending will ruin you. 4 stars

Death Wish A young man looking around on Tinder invites a new find to his hotel room, who asks him to punch her and then kick her for her fantasy. The narrator grapples what to do with it, which is an interesting thought process. Again, though, the story doesn’t really go anywhere. 3 stars

Biter Ellie fantasizes about biting her new coworker. She hasn’t bitten since preschool, but wonders if this time she can get away with it. I don’t know why I like this one, or why I think it’s funny, cute, and weird all at the same time. It also leaves open whether or not Ellie is the good person in this gender war or not, which was interesting. And a satisfying ending to boot. 5 stars

Side note: I claim to not like sexual stories, so as you can imagine I was kicking myself as soon as I started this book and wondered if I would DNF. Not that it was the book’s fault this time around; there are hints of it in the summary and reviews. It actually wasn’t as sexual as I’d imagined it to be; in fact, probably less so than the novels I read or tried to read earlier in 2019. The Good Guy definitely had most of it, and a bit in Cat Person, Death Wish, and of course in Bad Boy, but at least there was a purpose and it wasn’t always all-out, unnecessarily pornographic like in Obsession or The Kiss Quotient. I also assumed that there would be a considerable amount of feminist undertones, considering the title and nature of the stories. There are, but not to the extent I thought. Believing women and sexual assault are themes that appear briefly, though I wasn’t sure if I was imagining them at times.

Now as for the stories, there were some I loved and some, not so much. I only really was disappointed with Sardines, while others were more “meh.” The endings were super hit-or-miss, which was strange. Stories either went nowhere, took a nonsensical turn for shock value, or really hit me hard or were just plain satisfying, like the final story. And that helped some of them along. It’s really hard to rate for those reasons. I think this number makes sense, but take it with a grain of salt. You may also like some stories better than others for their meanings. Either way, I’m glad to see more short stories and would love to see more in mainstream production, either by this author or someone else. They are a great way to showcase life as it is, and as such they often do a good job.

3.5 stars

articles

Stories of My Childhood: Pig William

What is the book about?

This is a colorful, comic-style book that chronicles the adventures of a pig named William as he tries to get ready for a day at the school picnic. William is slow, takes his time in the morning, and likes to do things his own way, including making a big mess in the bathtub. These quirks drive his many housemates crazy! So when William misses the bus, it comes as no surprise to anyone. But when it starts to rain, he may just have won the day after all.

How did I discover it?

Pig William was a childhood library item that we’ve owned since the beginning of time. I’m pretty sure we read it over and over again when I was being toilet-trained, and it’s also partially how I learned to read. I loved it so much that I actually discovered a companion book, Pigs in Hiding, at the local library that quickly became a favorite library book. (Didn’t you always have those couple of books that you always had to check out time after time?)

What do I love about the book?

Quite simply, I love how colorful it is. There is lots of detail in the pages that often speak for themselves. The pigs do lots of silly things in the background, particularly William. It’s not a text-heavy book, nor is there truly narration. The book consists of comic-book style images with speech bubbles and readers watch the character interact with one another.

This is not a preachy kids’ book at all. It’s just perky and fun. Plus, cute pigs!

Digging deeper into the fandom

This author wrote my first series books. As I mentioned above, I found a book by the same author I loved just as much at the local library, Pigs in Hiding. This one had a house of pigs playing a massive game of hide and seek, and it’s only when the lead pig sets out food in the kitchen that everyone comes out and promptly loses the game. It’s my favorite scene in the book–pigs coming out EVERYWHERE, crowding the kitchen, and many saying the name of a food like “strawberries!” “donuts!” “cheese!” Etc. Like Pig William, quirky adventures line the pages. Readers also get the enjoyment of looking for hidden pigs.

Favorite memory involving the books

William recites a poem while feeding his fish, Pinky. It goes something like this:

Pinky, pinky, little and dinky, eating Big Fish Chow. Poor Pinky; too big for the sinky, must play in the bathtub now.

Mom and I composed a rhyme to this poem which I obviously can’t type out on paper. There was another weird one where we’d refer to ponytails as “Pig Williams.” As in… “hey Mom, can you give my hair a Pig William?” I have no idea where this trend came from, nor what it a ponytail and a fictional pig had in common. Yet we used that term for years.

How did the books inspire me?

I can’t say that they really inspired me any, though it might have inspired my love of escapist books.

My thoughts on the books now

Pig William is an underrated book and there are barely any copies available on Amazon. This is a shame. The series (there’s a third one about Christmas pigs I’ve never read) deserve more attention. It could even be considered a great introduction to graphic novels.

Check out other posts on books from my childhood:

Go Dog Go
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (+ series)
The Adventures of Captain Underpants (+ series)

reviews

Looker; Laura Sims

Looker; Laura Sims
Genre: Suspense/noir (more on this below)
Published: 2019
Pages: 180
Hogwarts House Recommendation: Slytherin

Official Summary

In this taut and thrilling debut, an unraveling woman, unhappily childless and recently separated, becomes fixated on her neighbor-the actress. The unnamed narrator can’t help noticing with a wry irony that, though she and the actress live just a few doors apart, a chasm of professional success and personal fulfillment lies between them. The actress, a celebrity with her face on the side of every bus, shares a gleaming brownstone with her handsome husband and their three adorable children, while the narrator, working in a dead-end job, lives in a run-down, three-story walk-up with her ex-husband’s cat.


When an interaction with the actress at the annual block party takes a disastrous turn, what began as an innocent preoccupation spirals quickly, and lethally, into a frightening and irretrievable madness. Searing and darkly witty, Looker is enormously entertaining–at once a propulsive Hitchcockian thriller and a fearlessly original portrayal of the perils of envy.

My Summary

With a tough separation and the inability to carry children, an unnamed narrator finds herself alone and judged harshly by the neighbors. She does what she can to stay afloat, from beginning a flirtationship with a student where she teaches to watching a famous neighbor of hers and avoiding the judgmental ones, like Mrs. H. But as things begin to take a turn for the worst, the narrator slips deeper into despair. Fantasizing about the famous next-door neighbor probably doesn’t help, nor does sinking deeper into a new relationship.


You’ll notice I did something different and included two summaries. That’s because this little book I was promised was quite different from the book I actually got. Oddly, this is the third time this year the summaries have mislead me somewhat significantly. This was a marketing misfire in that the actress is a very minor part of the story, and it resulted in a bit of a disappointing book, unfortunately. You’ll notice my summary is pretty unfocused and lacks the actress.

Our MC, who is nameless, is supposed to be unlikable to show us how envy can ruin lives. So is the actress she envies, which was an interesting touch. She really is not. In fact, she’s almost a sympathetic character. I feel like it’s like this: Imagine you’re sitting down to watch Jim Carrey’s Grinch movie. You’re excited to see such an exciting villain come to life. To see him truly unravel. But when it comes down to it, the Grinch has really done nothing wrong. In fact, everyone around him is such a greedy, horrible—well, grinch, I guess—that you start to realize that he is almost justified in his actions. You have this poor young Grinch wanting to make friends, but everyone is so cruel and condescending and over the top that that’s clearly not happening.

It’s the same idea in this novel. And the actress plays such a minor role (no pun intended) in the story that it’s hard to ever see the narrator unravel to begin with. And wow, what a horrible judgmental community she is stuck with! Almost every woman she meets has a rude remark for her about not having children; even her husband presumably leaves her for it. It was a little unrealistic. Twenty pages in, it’s feeling more like a feminist treatise on how childless women are treated, something I really wasn’t expecting in a story that’s supposed to be about the obsession with an actress. (She also goes on anti-men rants, which really didn’t belong.) I get that something had to happen for the MC’s life to come apart, but geez. If you want to write about women’s issues, more power to you, but there was too much of a focus on them in the beginning and then they never make an appearance again. The topic is presented in such an in-your-face way that it didn’t make sense. It should have been a different book.

Then we press on and the book switches gears from feminism to the MC’s affairs. Reeling from her impending divorce, she turns to a student for comfort. Together, they enter a weird relationship with predictable consequences. I’m still not sure what that has to do with the themes of the book and her obsession of the actress. Instances of the narrator watching the actress are there, but they’re not hugely prevalent. Most of the actress’ scenes are those of the MC watching and just thinking about her. Sometimes the scenarios she devises are interesting, but when almost literally nothing happens or comes of it, it’s pointless.

So where is the obsession with the actress in all this? Finally, in the last 25%, the book mostly…mostly…focuses on the actress. Mostly in side scenes in the background. To be fair, I did enjoy some of the MC’s observations on her life and how she imagined themselves sharing life together. I just wish there was a lot more, especially in the first half. I should also mention that none of these loose ends get tied up. So….I guess the boring subplots just went nowhere.

To sum up, side plots were necessary to show the MC’s current life, but there was way too much of a focus on them. And speaking of the MC, she is…standard. We have seen her in many places before. To give you an idea: her hobby of choice is drinking wine, she spends most of her time alone, and…that’s really about it, but the problem again is that she doesn’t have much of a personality. I did like the writing style of the novel, poetic and noir-ish. Nor was she unrelatable; I can definitely feel her need to be liked and her desire to be friends with someone interesting and that was where the book hit home for me. But other characters don’t make any sense, particularly a neighbor who seems to read the MC’s thoughts (not sure how she knew that the MC was watching the actress??) and then does a 360 personality change by the end of the story.

Now for the mysterious genre category. Looker is marketed as a thriller, and that’s barely true. This was not thrilling, save for about thirty seconds at the end. There was a touch of suspense with lots of dark, psychological tones, sure. But it’s not a thriller. In fact, this was almost my 2nd DNF of the year. Why? Well, the first 75% is watching our MC miss her husband. She daydreams. She cleans the bathroom. She thinks. There is a LOT of “thinking” to be done here, which doesn’t really add up to a riveting story. And it kept going. And going. We are literally just watching her be depressed for many pages and almost nothing of note happens until near the end of the book. It was one of the dullest novels I’ve read in a while. (That “disastrous” turn at the block party between her and the actress doesn’t seem to happen.) There are ten pages of thrilling action–count em, ten. And these pages aren’t very big. There’s another freaky scene, too, but it doesn’t last long. To be honest, those pages were interesting. But was it worth reading 170 pages of humdrum tasks like cleaning the house and thinking to get to those ten pages? I’m not sure.

This novel’s problem was that it was 170 pages of filler (well, 150, I guess, because background was needed). This author just couldn’t seem to find a focus. Still, to give the book credit, the ending wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be and it was an interesting finale. There just needed to be more leading to it. However, readers who like dark undertones and a film noir aesthetic, and don’t mind a book that simply exists to set a mood might appreciate it a little more. It wasn’t for me and quite honestly, it was pretty dull. So I personally can’t recommend this.

2 stars

reviews

Zeta or Omega?; Kate Harmon

Zeta or Omega? by Kate Harmon
Genre: Young Adult/Chick Lit
Published: 2008
Hogwarts House Recommendation: Hufflepuff

Not eligible for 2019 Book Awards

It’s late summer and Florida and a new school year at Latimer University is just beginning. And three girls are about to have the time of their lives…maybe.

VERONICA: Wants to escape her snobby parents once and for all in Boston. She wants to discover who she really is without the designer labels or the fancy family name. She’s already disappointed her parents by not choosing Harvard, so what has she got to lose? Maybe a sorority will give her the family she truly needs.

LORA-LEIGH: Would much rather be beginning her fashion career at FIT, thank you very much…except for that her father is making her attend the local university first. She is dying to get out of there and is only going through sorority rush because her mom wants her to join Tri-Omega, her own sorority.

JENNA: At Latimer on a band scholarship, Jenna doesn’t really care about rushing either, but her roommate is excited about it, so she’ll join in. But even if she does get some wonderful sisters, will her diabetes get in the way? Or will everyone see her as “Sick Jenna” like they did in high school?

When the three girls meet during recruitment, they become close friends and ultimately enjoy going through the process. But what happens at the end of recruitment? Will they find themselves separated? Or will they even get into a sorority at all?

Arguably, this is not the book we’ve been waiting for. It’s been out for over ten years. So why do I ask this? Well, because other stories I’ve read about Greek life weren’t very, um, promising. One of them, The Alpha Bet, was a lot of rotten girl drama. Another, YOLO (an otherwise good book) featured hazing practices of the 70s and 80s in a modern environment and mostly trashy partying. This was a refreshing take on sorority life without the Hollywood cliches. Consider Zeta or Omega the YA version of Liane Moriarty…before Moriarty was even writing. You have the three girls whose lives intertwine with a dash of emotion and even a slight hint of suspense. It sounded fun, and when combined with that fabulous cover, I knew I had to pick it up. This was seven (!!!!!!!!!!!) years ago at my local library. Excuse me while I go consider that one for a moment….

Fair warning: this is an escapist book. If you don’t like those, this may not be for you. Translation: it’s lots of fluff. But is that a bad thing? No. In fact, it’s more accurate to the college experience that way. It shows the process of rushing a sorority and I almost wonder if this book was written purely because the author had good memories or because she wanted to show girls what it was really like.

The book itself is something totally new. It’s a YA book about college students, which we desperately need. There are no missing fathers (yahoo!), but there are some difficult parental relationships, particularly with Roni. There are no love triangles; in fact, there’s barely any serious romantic drama at all. Golfer Tiger and star football player DeShawn are the two most prominent male characters and yes, they are pretty much dream guys who are a little too perfect. (I liked how there was an interracial romance included without the author making a fuss about it. It just was.) Actually, I’m just now realizing that all 3 love interests were athletes so maybe a little more variety could have been present, but whatever.) But the main characters are not perfect. There are no chosen ones or “standard” MCs with one best friend and categorized as lower middle class. These things win points for me right away. It’s also very diverse, with the exception of the MCs. Most importantly, it doesn’t stick to movie cliches like hazing and partying. The sorority members seem to care deeply about one another and there is a sense of sisterhood simmering in the pages. I’ll admit: I got teared up at this one, especially during rituals and as everyone is accepted into their sorority of choice. I was not expecting to, thinking that the love would get a little corny. Okay, so maybe it does a little, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a feel-good feeling.

College life is also presented as an improvement. Harmon gives many examples of things like , “her friends acted like this in high school, but in college, everyone was much more accepting!” It can be a little preachy, but there’s an interesting reason for this: Zeta or Omega has a very easy reading level. Save for some inappropriate material, a fourth-grader could easy read this and the way the sentence structure is, it might have even appealed more to them. Because of that, middle schoolers will find themselves enjoying the books as well. Because of the material, though, I recommend eighth grade and up. There are the beginning of boy relationships, roommate spats and more, and all sorts of little things that will give high school readers a taste of college. It follows three girls’ lives but does it very well.

The character development is phenomenal, especially over the course of the series. (If you plan on reading Zeta or Omega be sure that you’re invested in the rest of the series and maybe even have Book 2 at the ready.) You’d never know that Roni started out somewhat reserved, or that Lora-Leigh once stayed in touch with her high school BFF if you’ve only read Book 3. It may seem like Harmon is forgetting about details that she drops throughout the novel by not coming back to them, but in reality, things change. You may not be able to find that cute guy on a college campus again right away, and you may drift away from high school friends. Side characters evolve, too. I’m thinking in particular of Jenna’s roommate. I also love the personalities of the three leading ladies. They’re not cardboard cutouts, but they’re all authentic in their own way. We watch as they break away from their parents (Roni), open their minds to new ideas (Lora-Leigh with sororities), and realize that they can trust their new friends and even some cute new boys (Jenna). I especially felt for Roni whose parents barely even seemed to love her; they were too busy showcasing her as part of their fancy family.

Now this is a fluffy novel, so is it a little predictable? Yes. You know what’s going to happen right off the bat, especially knowing there are two novels ahead. Does everything go a little too perfectly? Yes. Everyone meets and hits it off with a love interest immediately, for example. But is it an entertaining read? Very much so. It’s a nice break from the catfights and drama often found in YA. I did find that a sorority filled with rich girls was a bit of a stretch. Omega Omega Omega, Lora-Leigh’s mom’s sorority, is full of women who love money and even do credit checks on Roni’s parents. They are also said to “rule the campus.” I didn’t really feel the need for a cliched popular group of girls, especially in a college setting. Nor did I like that Roni fit the almost perfect, pretty, rich girl stereotype. But to the book’s credit, that’s pretty much the only stereotype present. Though of course, the Zeta Zeta Tau girls are all nice, unique, and different.

Finally, the ending, too, is somewhat sudden and it just stops. This book assumes that you are going to continue the series. I recommend doing so because, not only does book 2 pick off where the first one ends, but also because this first book only covers recruitment. Readers will definitely want to learn more about sorority life and will be wondering what’s next.

This should not be a five-star novel, but then again, books don’t have to be classic literature to be enjoyed. I don’t see why girly novels tend to get lower ratings just because they’re not deep; reading is supposed to be fun, right? I recommend Zeta or Omega to students who are considering rushing, or teens looking for an easy, fun, lighthearted beach read. It’s criminally underrated and if you’re looking for some fun and real characters, pick it up. Be sure to also pick up The New Sisters and The Formal. Of course, I was also the target audience…people who like deep, philosophical, non-chick lit (or who just are anti-Greek) will be better off elsewhere. But for what it is, I give Harmon a round of applause.

4 stars

RUNDOWNS OF THE FOLLOWING BOOKS

The New Sisters: Jenna, Lora-Leigh, and Roni have been accepted into ZZT and with that comes new member meetings and all of the activities. Jenna, a member of the marching band, suddenly worries that she can’t handle all the stress and activities. Lora-Leigh, on the other hand, is suddenly a big fan…but her mom is more than a little unhappy she didn’t choose Tri Omega. This book is even richer than the first. Loose plotlines from the first book are expanded upon and readers get a peek into true college life. 5/5 stars

The Formal:As the second semester gets under way, the girls are knee-deep in sorority life as regular members. Roni is put in charge of planning the formal, but not a lot seems to be going right. Meanwhile, Jenna and Lora-Leigh are experiencing relationship problems of their own as Jenna wonders whether to take the next step with Tiger and as DeShawn considers leaving Latimer. A rich, solid conclusion with one complaint…I wish the series went past freshman year. 5/5