Review: Internet Famous

There’s a reason this blog went quiet for a while. You see, I was in a directionless rut, not really reading, not really crafting, just work, home, half-heartedly try to do something relaxing, sleep. Rinse and repeat. And if I wasn’t crafting, and I wasn’t reading–the two things that run deeper through my core of self than any professional affiliation–well, then who was I?

It never quite got to existential levels, but it did leave me in a funk.

It passed, gradually. A small project here, a modular hexagon for my scrap crochet afghan there, pick up a book and read the first few chapters… Gradually, I started coming back around to myself.

Reading mojo took a bit longer to get back. I tried different genres, started lots of books without finishing them, and stared at my checked-out library book shelf at home, just not “feeling” any of them. Until I brought home Danika Stone’s Internet Famous.

I adored All the Feels (as previously squeed over here), and this one promised to deliver more of the things I’ve come to expect from Stone–fandom, a sweet romance, and general nerd positivity–so I sat down to read.

internet famousFor the first time in months, I picked up a book that grabbed me and didn’t let go. This story follows Madi, a high school student enrolled in online coursework and maintaining a popular blog that serves as both community and revenue. Through that community, she has a supportive group of online friends who help her deal with her life, which is complicated by a mother who isn’t around much and a younger sister with special needs that tend to consume a lot of energy and focus at home. Through this community, Madi finds flirtation and romance with cute French exchange student Laurent… and a troll whose tactics escalate and get more personal as she and Laurent’s online flirtation takes off.

While Internet Famous does stand alone from All the Feels, there are some fun little peripheral nods to its predecessor, enough to wink to returning readers without requiring background knowledge for newcomers. And it does have several things in common with Feels, namely the significant role of fandom, internet community, and sweet, nerdy love stories, fitting together nicely thematically.

This one deals more with the downside of anonymity in those communities, but that is not at the expense of the genuine friendships and relationships that develop out of that community. A cautionary tale this is not, and as someone whose network of friends includes people from fan communities over a decade old, I appreciated the balanced depiction. Madi’s online friends feel as real and sometimes flawed (oh, Brian…) and supportive as any fandom community currently in existence.

The romance in Internet Famous was charming. Danika Stone writes lovely, genuinely sweet nerd book boyfriends. Laurent’s long-distance “dates” with Madi via messaging apps and photos gave me what I’m certain was a dopey grin on my face as I read. The relationship feels like one that grows out of friendship and blossoms into something deeper, which is apparently one of my bits of romance catnip. There were a few cheesy moments, but they read as a delightful homage to the ’80s teen movies Madi reviewed on her blog, and I ate it right up. This heart of the story is what kept me reading and what I apparently needed to break my reading drought.

If I have a criticism of the book, it’s that the villains are pretty thin. I don’t expect them to be as fully rounded as the protagonists, but the rule-stickler teacher whose rigidity helps the bully make Madi’s life difficult particularly stretches believability. I’ll give that a pass, though, as the seemingly oblivious adults in Madi’s life step up where it counts. I got my happy ending out of it, which is exactly why I picked up this book and exactly why it was so satisfying.

I’ll still keep coming back to Stone’s writing for the sweet, nerd-positive romances I adore.

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Changing Things Up

There’s nothing more dulling than the same-old, same-old. It’s good to shake things up. No, I’m not doing anything radically different on this here blog (other than hopefully getting back to, er, updating it again.

I’m talking about my book club.

When I started my current job almost two years ago, I inherited a book club. A flagging book club, but a book club nonetheless, and it has become one of my favorite parts of my job. Oh, and it’s not flagging anymore. Continue reading

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Not Quite Failing. Ish.

Remember how I was all about using this for accountability on my reading goals, how I was going to get regular content out of it all? *sigh* Yeah, me too. I blame the fumes of “thank goodness 2016 is over” for that youthful optimism.

The good news is that in spite of “blog regularly” being a fail, my own personal diversifying challenge is still holding up.

#ownvoices – I went the YA path for this one since my work YA/juvenile reading challenge was still underway, reading Diverse Energies, a collection of short dystopian stories with an emphasis on diversity in both authorship and setting. I went into it warily, not because short story collections are hit or miss (it’s a feature of the genre that I’m aware of), but because after the end of the Divergent trilogy, I threw the book across the room, lamented the hours I lost to it, and declared YA dystopian lit DEAD to me. Dead and buried. Deep as I could go. But this collection… well, it didn’t give me a hankering to read about another simplistically divided society with a (typically white) Chosen Teen to save it, but I enjoyed it, which is an acceptable enough outcome. Standout stories to me were the ones from Malinda Lo and Ken Liu, both very different in tone and content, but good enough to make me seek more of them out, and I went on to read Lo’s Ash per a friend’s recommendation and loved it, so hey, bonus points.

New or forthcoming – This title was a newly released one, Ellen Klages’ Passing Strangeone of Tor.com’s novella line. This story sucked me right in, but it wasn’t quite the story I expected. It opens with a compelling framework, that of an older woman retrieving a hidden and valuable painting from a hidden tunnel hearkening back to Prohibition days before quietly dying. And then we get to the heart of the story, which seems like a love story against the backdrop of 1940s San Francisco, following a core of several women, including Helen, the woman from the introduction and Haskel, the painter of the valuable work. There’s an initial whisper of a hint of magic, but it fades away, leaving a story that feels more like historical fiction as Haskel meets and falls in love with the lovely Emily, a singer from the local club, known, among other things, for being “a haven for women who loved each other could meet in public without fear or the shame of sidelong glances from ‘nice’ ladies.” Things are going lovely, for the most part, until someone from Haskel’s past shows up, and disaster threatens to unravel everything.

passing strangeAbout two thirds of the way through, I looked up from the book in surprise, wondering why it was classified as a fantasy since I hadn’t really seen much magic. Oh, it had been hinted at in a couple places, crept into the occasional conversation, usually contrasted against science in the process, both otherwise quietly unacknowledged. And then everything came together. I had been lost in the atmosphere and the air of forbiddenness foreshadowed in the reference to Prohibition in the introduction, that I had forgotten there was supposed to be magic. I’m not sure if that’s a matter of narrative unevenness, or simply a testament to the author’s compelling homage to San Francisco and the people who found sanctuary there. If you like immersive atmosphere in your fiction, give this one a try because it has that in spades, and if like me, that gorgeous cover piqued your interest, definitely pick it up because… I’m not going to spoil anything, but it’s a marvelous reveal when you realize what’s happening.

Different genre – I thought at first this might be a bit of a cheat to count Mixed Vegetablessince manga is really more of a form than a genre, but it’s really a story that isn’t in my typical wheelhouse to begin with, so we’ll count it. Look, I’m a reader of romance, and it’s my go-to when things get heavy and I want the assurance of a happy ending, but even then, I like a bit of angst burning in the background. So this story was, overall, much fluffier than I normally would gravitate toward, plus, well, cooking has generally been a chore to get through for me, not a creative process with its own merits, so the foodie angle of this romance was a tough sell to begin with. I tried a volume, and it was cute, but nothing that overwhelmingly drew me in. I’m not the reader for it, but the next time I see someone with an armful of romances and foodie-themed reads, I know the perfect thing to hand them.

And that was February in expanding my reading horizons. March was a near miss with a reading slump and crafting slump and, really, overall lapse in anything remotely resembling productivity, but I’ll have that post soon. Spoiler: even though I barely got any reading done (relative to my usual reading pace), I still managed to meet my goals, and I’ve got a theory on that I’ll talk a bit more about…

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(Maybe not actual bunnies)

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Project Intentional Reading: January Checkin

As I mentioned, my goals this year include monthly requirements intended to diversify my reading. January is done, and it was a resounding success.

#OwnVoices

The first category I dove into was #OwnVoices, that is, stories written about characters of some minority background, by authors of that background. January’s Own Voices read fulfilled both my own reading goal and a work challenge.if-i-was-your-girl

Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl is a young adult novel following protagonist Amanda Hardy as she adjusts to a new school, makes friends, and falls in love. She’s also transgender. Now, I tend to like YA problem novels, filled with angst and feels… and this… wasn’t. It was a sweet story of friendship and first love that didn’t ignore the threats facing trans women, but it also didn’t focus on the angst. I was pleasantly surprised by this, heartened that a book like this exists for teens who may previously have not seen their experiences reflected in novels, or perhaps worse, only seen them cast in the light of tragedy.

 

 

New or Forthcoming

when-dimple-met-rishiBookRiot lists are dangerous for my to-read list, and this list of “Faces of Color on 2017 YA Books” made my to-read pile explode. From this list, I was able to get Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi, courtesy of Eidelweiss. It doesn’t come out until May 30 of this year, but I can’t wait to squee over it with other readers when it does. The story deals with a topic that I haven’t seen much in YA lit—that of two Indian-American teens whose parents try to throw them together in an arranged marriage. Needless to say, this does not go over well with heroine Dimple, who faces uphill battle enough being taken seriously as an aspiring STEM professional without her overbearing mother focusing on her marriageability; Rishi is more open to the suggestion, old-fashioned and romantic without being conservative. The “arranged marriage” conceit may raise some eyebrows, but Dimple’s consternation at it will quickly draw in sympathy, and the day-to-day concerns of their shared summer program project are familiar ground for the genre. I did find myself wishing the secondary characters had been a bit better developed, but on the whole, this book left me smiling.

Non-typical Genre

true-gritOf all the categories, this one had me dragging my feet the worst, and really, it was my own fault, locking myself into what exact book it had to be. My library’s winter reading program theme this year is books-to-movies, so I decided to read Charles Portis’s True Grit for both the program and this category, since westerns are emphatically Not In My Wheelhouse. I’d started listening to the audio book a few years ago and got maybe halfway done, so this was going to be the year I did it, I vowed. And… it was pretty good. I don’t really like westerns, but I do love stories with fierce female protagonists, and Mattie Ross has moxie in spades. Her droll, driven voice made this revenge quest quite enjoyable, and I’m glad I got back around to it.

 

That was month one of my personal reading challenge done. February is well under way, though again, I find myself flying through #OwnVoices and New/Forthcoming categories and balking at atypical genre, so I think that area needs a bit more effort on my part.

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Nothing Like Learning to Get the Wheels Spinning

I have been remiss in actually including yarny, fibery content on this blog, haven’t I? Let’s remedy that.

I begin with two important framing revelations.

Point the first: Learning tends to come easily to me. More specifically, book learning comes easily. It took me years and one master’s degree to figure out that I was confusing being very good at something with really enjoying it. I was that student who wrote one-draft papers the night before they were due and largely earned As. Which is to say, I have not generally had to work at my academic successes like other students, and this ripples over to other learning experiences sometimes.

Point the second: Physical activities that require coordinating multiple limbs don’t tend to come easily to me. (Oh, hush, you, with the 12-year-old snickers. That’s not what I meant, but I couldn’t figure a better way to sum up a tendency that transcends inability at sports.) A few years ago, I took a belly dancing class. Loved it. The first couple classes went well. We learned a lot of the basic moves, broken down one at a time. A shoulder shimmy here, a step and hip thrust there. I felt sexy and had fun. Then the instructor told us we’d be working on a basic choreography by the end of the course. And it was like everything left my brain. I knew how to travel up a row and which foot went where, but the minute I had to coordinate that with an alternating shoulder shimmy or a gyration, I got lost, quickly falling out of formation and nearly stumbling into the woman behind me. Miss Grace I am not.

So this explains a lot of my trepidation about learning to spin on my new wheel. I am a poor student, easily frustrated when I can’t flawlessly pick something up, and for heaven’s sake, I have a double treadle spinning wheel that requires using two feet and both hands. I couldn’t even drive a stick shift.

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On reading challenges

Every year, I eyeball the various reading challenge lists that go around. They should absolutely be my catnip since I live a life surrounded by books. Fundamentally, I think they serve a valuable purpose in providing a structured framework for people who want to read outside their normal boundaries. And can I say, for the record, that Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge for 2017 is woke, and I love it?! But I’m not doing it, or any other pre-specified challenge this year. Not exactly.

I work in a library. I am surrounded by books every day, and to the lament of my to-read list, new books that I want to read constantly cross my path, so my to-reads are in a constant state of flux. I’m also notoriously stubborn, and the moment a task feels like homework, I’m checked out (yes, librarian pun intentional. You’re welcome). Because of these things, I’ve determined three flexible categories intended to serve my own specific needs.

With a to-read goal in 2017 of 110 books, averaging about 8 books a month, I have figured out that three “challenge” categories a month will give me structure, built-in-deadlines, and enough room to read whatever else crosses my path without feeling like my reading is dictated by external parameters.

  1. Read at least one book per month of #OwnVoices, because we need diverse books. I am uniquely positioned to signal boost great books or underappreciated books from underrepresented perspectives, but I’m not doing anyone any favors if I’m not aware of what’s out there. My Twitter feed is a great way to follow the conversation, but I can do so much more if I’ve read things and can sell them that way. I also want to be conscientious about how I talk  about these titles, too. I don’t want to fall into the trap of making diversity sound like something that should be consumed, like vegetables, because it’s good for you–I want to signal boost stories because they’re beautiful, heartpounding magical journeys with the strength of family love at the heart of it, or sweet YA stories of friendship and first romantic love.
  2. Read at least one new or forthcoming book a month. I actually did much better last year than I’ve done in the past, but this is also an area that needs conscientious work since it’s so easy to get caught up in, well, getting caught up with all the things that have already been published that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. I was finally able to participate in LibraryReads‘ year-end best of list last year, and I’d like to do so again this year, with the hope of helping bring more attention to the speculative fiction that I adore. I also have a veritable cache of delicious books waiting on my Kindle from Netgalley and Eidelweiss, but e-books are a format that is not my primary way of consuming books, so I need a bit of a nudge there. This also includes reading more of the “it books” that take library hold lists by storm, just to better know what the fuss is about.
  3. Finally, I vow to read at least one book a month that is not in my usual reading genres because it’s important for a librarian to be widely read, and I tend to read deep in several genres without branching out much, left to my own devices. I’m trying to decide if it’s cheating to allow myself to use book club books for this category since they’re titles I’ve already committed to reading and what I choose for them is rarely what I would choose for myself. I think, in the spirit of this challenge, it would be cheating, but I’m leaving myself a little wiggle room in the event of the occasional hectic month.

And that’s what I’ve got. I’ve knocked out two categories this month already and the only thing holding me back from the third is waiting for my library’s adult winter reading challenge to start since the book I want to read is on theme but can’t be read before January 15. I’m going to try and do end-of-month reading wrap-ups, both to keep me accountable and, honestly, to have ready-made blog content. Here goes, 2017.

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2016 in Review

By many accounts, 2016 seemed like the year that wouldn’t end. The phrase “dumpster fire” comes up frequently in relation to it. And it certainly wasn’t without its share of awfulness. It becomes very easy, though, to overlay the big arc of things over personal triumphs. But when one of my friends issued a challenge to list off good things that we’d experienced last year, I realized I had a growing list of accomplishments and things to celebrate.

The biggest one, the first thing I’m likely to boast about when given half a chance, is completing NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. It took about another 20 days and another 20k words past the end of November, but I completed my first long piece of writing in… ever, really.

I don’t know that I would have done that if not for the spark to revisit writing that was kindled with attending WorldCon and a local sci fi con in 2016 and chatting with different authors, sitting in on panels with so much speculative food for thought. My to-read list grew, but more than that, I’ve realized there is a conversation to a genre, one that I’d like a seat at eventually.

I still have so much to learn with the craft of writing, but I know one thing already: it can’t edge out my time for other crafts. The ability to make yarny things is important to me, and in spite of my crafting grinding to a near halt in November with drafting a novel, I still managed to make a ridiculous number of shawls and burn through about 15,000 yards of yarn, after revising my goal up from 10,000 in September. I didn’t get around to really learning to use the spinning wheel my dear husband gave me for our anniversary, but that’s right at the top of the list for this year.

One of my annual goals is to read 100 books, something I managed to first achieve in library school, of all places. I guess grad school can unlock reading superpowers. I’m sure that goal will creep upward with time, but for now, it’s a comfortable, achievable goal that I’ve met for the last three years running. Pretty proud of that one. I was able to participate in Library Reads top 10 books of the year for the first time, having made a goal to better keep up with current publications. I plan on a few end-of-year reading retrospective posts, too. Soon. I’ve got some more librarian- and personal-development-oriented goals in mind for next year, which I’ll also share.

Oh. Yeah. Library school. I finally finished that. I think it’s testament to the self-actualization and branching out of personal goals that this year has brought that it’s consistently something that falls mid-list of achievements rather than first. Am I officially using it yet? No. But I’ve got my eye out for opportunities, and while my dream job at my former library system didn’t pan out, there will be other opportunities. And hey, people rarely get the dream job right out the gate. One thing that is awesome about my current job? One of my long-distance friends is now my coworker, and that’s pretty cool.

Friends, as always, remain awesome. This was a year full of plenty of gaming, both board games and roleplaying games, and good friends to enjoy them all with. We rang in 2016 with friends and rang it out with friends over a tabletop game, pausing long enough to take note of the arrival of 2017 before going on to win against a villain bent on destroying the world. Not too shabby.

I suppose this retrospective begets a question of “what’s next?” I’ll hold that up as a teaser for a future post. For now, happy new-ish year!

How about you? What did you accomplish this year that you’re proud of?

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Here’s to a better 2017. *fingers crossed*

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Rumors of my Demise…

My  best bloggish intentions always seem to fall by the wayside. Sometimes I have no excuses, simply failing to regularly review what I’ve been up to. Other times, things like, oh, grad school get in the way.

And sometimes, other large undertakings get in the way. Good undertakings, the sorts of things one tried for years ago and failed, but somehow here, now, the planets lined up right, and I jumped for it.

I’m writing a Thing. It feels pretentious to call it a Novel yet because it’s a heaping draft of messiness at present, but I dove into NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year for the first time in seven years.

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I didn’t write about it here because I wasn’t sure I’d do it. In fact, right up to October 31st, I wasn’t sure about committing to it. I hadn’t drafted an outline yet, hadn’t read enough craft books yet, hadn’t really prepared much of anything. If I waited for an outline, I’d lose the momentum of November and its accompanying deadline of 50,000 words in one month, and maybe there’d be next year, but by another year, I’d be even rustier at writing and possibly more reluctant to get back on the bike. However, what I had in mind had a pretty straightforward plot structure, and if there was ever something I could reasonably “pants” my approach, this would be it. So on the evening of October 31, I dashed out some notes for myself, and on November 1, I dove in.

I tried this once before, but it was a bad year. I was teaching and still on a semester schedule, and aspects of my life were falling apart around me. The month started out grandly, with writing being a much-needed escape, but it meandered around, and I chased myself into a corner with a plot that wasn’t driving toward a real conclusion, giving it up at about 32k words. I discovered that file recently, and it’s every bit the hot mess I remembered it being, though there are nuggets I think I could rework into something more cohesive another time.

This year has been the first November in over a decade now that I have been off of the semester schedule between grad school, teaching, and more grad school. Life’s calm these days, not thrown into upheaval by school or learning a new job. If there was a time that I had a decent shot, this would be it.

And readers, I’ve made it.

Technically, a NaNoWriMo win is 50k words. I’m there already, well ahead of November 30. The biggest hurdle to writing is ass-in-chair time, and I’ve been putting that time in every day this month, even with an election that went in an alarming direction, even around a work schedule that includes working some evenings (my prime writing time). My yarn crafting has suffered a bit in the process, but I’m crafting something else in a different medium, so I guess that’s a small cost to pay.

It turns out hitting 50k is easier than finishing a novel, because 50k has come and gone, and I’ve still got story to go especially since some of the early word count material is stuff that would’ve been background sussed out in pre-writing if I’d done it “properly” and will probably be whacked out mercilessly in revision. That’s neither here nor there, though. I’ve won the month, if not the novel yet. But I’m feeling pretty good about my chances now, and I’m requiring myself to write every single day until it’s done, which should be before the year’s end. I know there will be plenty of editing ahead of me before it’s any good, but I’ve taken a big first step.

I’m writing one of the sorts of story I want to see more of. There are other, bigger stories I want to write too, but I’m not ready for those yet. And I won’t be ready for them if I never start somewhere. So this is my somewhere. One word at a time.

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Belated Thoughts on WorldCon

If there’s a phrase that encompasses my overall sense of self these days, I think it’s growing pains. I have a big-girl librarian degree now, but being a paraprofessional means I’m not technically using it. I’m happy enough in my current gig that I don’t have the frantic sense of needing to get to the next phase with a desperate hunger yet, but the occasional offhand comment about paras from peers further along the career track puts me right back in my place, whether the slight was intended or not. But this isn’t a post about imposter syndrome; it’s about finding other spaces to belong and grow.

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[Insert profound metaphor about growing where you’re planted here]


It’s a restless sort of place, this growing pains spot, and in the absence of the whole finish-the-MLIS life goal, I’m finally seeking out other ways to develop my skills and interests and hobbies. And I’ve realized there’s a synergy to some of them, a discovery I made watching a panel at WorldCon this year.

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Review: All the Feels

Summer 2002 was significant to me for being the year Seether’s Disclaimer came out and waiting for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to come out. I spent hours upon hours listening to that album and diving full in to the fandom life; Livejournal and Fiction Alley were lifelines to this homeschooled and very socially sheltered then-teen. I wrote fan fiction, reviewed it, and made friends through it, some of whom are still part of my life today. I know the joys and anguish of fandom firsthand, the anticipation of a new installment and the disappointment when things didn’t quite go as you hoped they would.

So I’m pretty comfortable saying that Danika Stone’s All the Feels really gets the fandom allthefeelslife. Protagonist Liv is heartbroken when Spartan, the hero of her favorite sci fi franchise, is cruelly killed off in the most recent movie. After grieving with her friends and denying it through AU (alternate universe) fanfiction, and with the prompting of a fortune cookie fortune, she decides to do something about it. With the help of her best friend, the debonair and typically steampunk-clad Xander, Liv launches a series of fan videos suggesting that Spartan lives, in hopes of creating a grassroots movement to bring back Spartan. Life is not all fandom, though, and through this, she struggles to balance school and fandom and dating and all the stress of being a college freshman.

Honestly, I could probably review this story with one word: SQUEE! I think I smiled my way through the whole story, rooting for Liv and Xander and nodding in agreement at the sense of community depicted in fandom. Nerdom has become, one might almost say, mainstream in recent years with the popularity of Big Bang Theory and new Marvel blockbusters every few months, but I haven’t seen fandom depicted this well since Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (another squee-worthy book I adored). Fandom isn’t for everyone, and Stone could have shied away from how encompassing it can be—on the one hand, it is a large portion of Liv’s social life, but on the other, she can and does let it consume her life to the detriment of academics, forming one of the important conflicts of the story.

And I have to give a shout-out to the relationships in this book as well. At the beginning of the book, Xander does have a girlfriend, Arden, who could easily be painted negatively. And she isn’t. Arden is largely peripheral as it becomes clear that she and Xander are not long for coupledom, but she’s fundamentally nice, even helping set Liv up on blind dates after a crush on a classmate ends in disappointment. The depiction of women not tearing down other women is important, and feminist, and I love when that happens in stories, especially romances. The eventual romantic relationship of Liv and Xander grows very slowly and naturally out of friendship, which is a romance trope I appreciate. (And yes, ladies, there are cute nerds out there with dashing social graces—I married one of them… #sorrynotsorry)

Overall, I loved All the Feels, but I did have a couple issues with it. It seemed to straddle the line between young adult and new adult; my library at least classified it as YA, and the way the story scales back the intensity of a few certain scenes suggests YA marketing, but I think this was much richer as a new adult story, and I wish it could have more fully inhabited that space. I want to see a wider variety of new adult stories beyond hook-up stories, and if they’re nerd-positive in addition, even better. One scene I really enjoyed was the blind-date sequence initiated after Liv’s crush on classmate Hank ends in disappointment—because she never really dated when she was younger, Liv’s expectations of romance were dashed at the first disappointment, but Xander and Arden help her to learn the dating process as a series of meetings better meant to help her determine what she does want for herself. Hell, some adults still haven’t learned that skill; it’s an important one, and it was handled with the right amount of awkwardness and humor that rang true to life. I want more of this sort of storytelling, please, publishers; perhaps I’ll have to start writing some of it myself.

Hand a copy of this to anyone you know who secretly or not-so-secretly ever wrote fanfiction. Gift it to the Browncoat in your life still mad about only getting one season of Firefly. Hand it to your wistful romantic of a friend. Give it to the new college grad who is still puzzling through what it means to be an adult. And if any of these criteria fit you, then get thee to a library or bookstore and snag a copy for yourself.

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