Eliza and Her Monsters, by Fracesca Zappia

“I don't want to be the girl who freezes when confronted with new friends, or the outside world, or the smallest shred of intimacy. I don't want to be alone in a room all the time. I don't want to feel alone in a room all the time, even when there are other people around.”

31931941Title: Eliza and Her Monsters
Author: Francesca Zappia
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance
Greenwillow Books
Release Date: May 30th, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition
Source: Library
Rating: 5 Stars

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.

Wow.... I can honestly say that I have never encountered a book that resonated with me so deeply. Eliza and Her Monsters is a true gem in the steadily growing wasteland that is YA literature. 

Zappia managed to tell the story of a young girl suffering from depression/anxiety in the most raw, relatable way. I suffered heavily from social anxiety, depression, and panic attacks for the majority of my life and to see something I deal with every single day (though not necessarily to such an extreme) portrayed so realistically, is such a breath of fresh air. And the author didn't feel the need to explain her behavior away either. There were no meaningless platitudes like "Oh, well it gets better!" or "You just have to put your mind to it!" or even worse, "It's all in your head". It took Eliza months of struggle to come to terms with her anxiety, and even then, she still has times where she regresses. She lashes out, pushes people away, isolates herself from the ones she loves, and even contemplates suicide. Zappia does not shy away from portraying the ugly side of mental disorders and for this, I am so grateful.

As for the plot itself, this book will forever be right up there with Fangirl in terms of nostalgia for me. Eliza is the creator of a wildly popular web comic, Monstrous Sea, and her love interest, Wallace, writes the most popular fanfiction in the fandom. Let me tell you, this was my shit in high school. My best friend and I used to RPG our own Zelda characters (good times).

I read fanfiction. 
I collected merch.
I attended cons. 

To an extent, I did all the things these characters do and that's why I loved them so much. Reading about Eliza and Wallace was like looking back in time. To some degree, I even understood Eliza's struggle in trying to produce the best work you possibly can, while simultaneously pleasing everyone around you. Fans can be vultures and I feel for well known authors and artists who are constantly hounded to push out new material, regardless of what may be going on in their personal lives.

“Creating art is a lonely task, which is why we introverts revel in it, but when we have fans looming over us, it becomes loneliness of a different sort. We become cage animals watched by zoo-goers, expected to perform lest the crowd grow bored or angry. It's not always bad. Sometimes we do well, and the cage feels more like a pedestal.”

My sophomore year, I wrote a fairly popular Naruto fanfic (don't judge), which lasted for two years. I had a modest following with a handful of really persistent fans. My grandma was diagnosed with cancer and passed away when I was seventeen. I lost the motivation to continue and eventually deleted the story. People were pissed and even eight years later, I will log in to my old email on a whim and still see messages asking if I ever plan on bringing it back. Like Eliza, I learned that just because you create something, doesn't mean you owe it to anyone but yourself to finish what you started. You can quit or push through, but ultimately you have to choose to do it for yourself. 

I could honestly keep going on about this book, but this review is beginning to drag on, so I will simply end it here. If her future works are anything like Eliza and Her Monsters, I cannot wait to see what Zappia has in store for us.

Side Effects May Vary, by Julie Murphy

What if you'd been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?"

15728577Title: Side Effects May Vary
Author: Julie Murphy
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance
HarperCollins/ Balzer+Bray
Release Date: March 18th, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Source: Amazon
Rating: 4 Stars

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, who she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that's as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch-nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger). But just when Alice's scores are settled, she goes into remission.

Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she's said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she caused irreparable damage to the people around her—and to the one person who matters most?

It comes as no surprise to me that so many people hated this book. After all, the protagonist is awful. She's scheming, manipulative, and all around just a terrible little bitch.

... And I loved it.

Honestly, say what you want about Alice's characterization, but I thought it was absolute perfection. I mean, let's be real for a second: if I was in her shoes, I probably would have done the same thing. Call me a bitch, but it's true. If I knew I had an "expiration date", I would do all of the petty things I never had the guts to do while I was healthy. And believe me, I have a laundry list.

I also know what it's like to want to distance yourself from those around you when your time is limited, because I've experienced it by proxy. I had a best friend growing up that was terminally ill. Every time he would slip back into that uncertain, unhealthy stage, he would sabotage. Everyone and everything. Once he fell into that place where living wasn't a guarantee (and that happened quite a few times), he didn't care. It was easier to push everyone away than to try and maintain relationships with people who would only hurt once he was gone.

 “My whole body finally connected the dots, and I realized that even if we were never together, she’d ruined me and I’d never feel that way about anyone again.”

Alice and Harvey's relationship, while painful and toxic, was completely realistic and almost too much for me to read. I empathized with Harvey's point-of-view because I've been in his shoes. I've been that person for someone, which simultaneously made this book so amazing and so terrible. Many people say Harvey is a pushover, but I saw it differently. When you love someone, regardless of how awful they become, you would still give them your heart, even if it meant you had to bleed to death in the process.

So I completely understand why Alice and Harvey made the decisions they did throughout Side Effects May Vary. I certainly didn't like them, but I understood them, which made all the difference while reading this book.

Vessel, by Sarah Beth Durst

“You do not say no to the girl with the deities.”

VesselTitle: Vessel
Author: Sarah Beth Durst
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry 

Release Date: September 11, 2012 
Format: Hardback
Source: Barnes and Noble
Rating: 3 Stars

Liyana has trained her entire life to be the vessel of a goddess. She will dance and summon her tribe's deity, who will inhabit Liyana's body and use magic to bring rain to the desert. But when the dance ends, Liyana is still there. Her tribe is furious--and sure that it is Liyana's fault. Abandoned by her tribe, Liyana expects to die in the desert. Until a boy walks out of the dust in search of her.

Korbyn is a god inside his vessel, and a trickster god at that. He tells Liyana that five other gods are missing, and they set off across the desert in search of the other vessels. The desert tribes cannot survive without the magic of their gods. But the journey is dangerous, even with a god’s help. And not everyone is willing to believe the trickster god’s tale.

The closer she grows to Korbyn, the less Liyana wants to disappear to make way for her goddess. But she has no choice--she must die for her tribe to live. Unless a trickster god can help her to trick fate--or a human girl can muster some magic of her own.

Vessel  had the potential to be an exceptionally good read. It really, really did. And while I still think it is a beautifully written standalone, there were many places where it just fell flat for me. 

Durst does a fantastic job at painting a truly vivid picture of living a harsh nomadic life in the desert. As I was reading, I would get the clearest picture of the glass dragons streaking across the sky or the way the bells woven into Liyana's braids would chime as she danced. There are very few authors who have been able to bring their descriptions to life in such a way and I applaud Durst for her ability to get her point across without being overly flowery or poetic. 

The plot itself was highly original, but fizzled out with no direction or well-developed characters to push it forward. I'm not going to lie, the pacing of the book dragged, to the point where I almost DNF-ed. There was very little to keep my interest until the last 100 pages or so, and even then I was quite unimpressed by the 'resolution' we were finally given. The majority of the book is spent travelling across the desert and convincing the vessels from each clan to join Korbyn and Liyana in saving the kidnapped gods. The lengthy descriptions of riding across the desert on horseback were uneventful and entirely unnecessary, if you ask me. 

 “Imagine that it's sugar," Korbyn said. 'You're riding across candy.'
"Salt can never be sugar," Fennik said.
"We should talk about the definition of the word 'imagine'.” 

In fact, the only redeeming quality to the unexplored plotline would be the trickster god, Korbyn. With a sense of humor as sharp as a tack and a wicked streak a mile wide, he reminded me very much of his Norse counterpart, Loki. He managed to keep the dull moments between the action interesting with his jokes and fables (all of which were fascinating in themselves).

The rest of the bunch, Liyana included, felt one dimensional to me. We are given this group of what could have been such a diverse cast of characters, but unfortunately, they all felt like carbon copies of one another. You would think someone who has been told they must die in order for their god/goddess to live would do something other than mildly question their situation once and then ultimately accept their fate with what essentially equates to an emotional shrug, right? 

It isn't until Liyana falls for Korbyn that she even remotely begins to question her existence and whether or not she actually wants to sacrifice herself for her goddess, Bayla. This definitely rubbed me the wrong way because she should have chose to live for her own self and not because some cute boy bats his pretty browns at her. 

Honestly, I'm not sure how I feel about Vessel. On one hand, the descriptions and the fables woven into the story were enough to keep my interest until the end. However, the one-dimensional characters and stagnant plot were ultimately what prompted me to give such a lukewarm rating. 

So Why Am I Here?

That's the million dollar question.

Once upon a time, I promised myself that I would never start a blog. I, like so many others, was under the impression that I had nothing interesting in my life worth writing about, let alone having other people read. 

When faced with the prospect of blogging, most people I know would typically respond in the same fashion;

'What is a blog? Why would anyone care?'    

That's a good question. Why would anyone care? I don't run a business, I'm not particularly crafty or have a kooky love for all things vintage, so why would anyone want to listen to what I have to say?

And after some time as an active reviewer at Goodreads and reader of the blogging community, it finally hit me: I had been going about it all wrong.

Blogging isn't about the follower count or widespread recognition. It's about sharing the things you love with others who love it just as much as you do! It's about making lasting connections with people who you would have never met otherwise.

So with these things in mind, I set out to create a space for myself where I could document my life and my passions in a way that will (hopefully!) motivate and inspire others. (In this case, it's my love for the written word!)

I challenge you to join me on this endeavor. Tell me, what were your reasons for starting a blog? Are they similar to mine?