Book Review: My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper

My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 9, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Meet Ellie, the best-intentioned redhead next door. You’ll laugh right alongside her as she shares tales of her childhood in St. Louis, whether directing and also starring in her family holiday pageant, washing her dad’s car with a Brillo pad, failing to become friends with a plump squirrel in her backyard, eating her feelings while watching PG-13 movies, or becoming a “sports monster” who ends up warming the bench of her Division 1 field hockey team in college.

You’ll learn how she found her comedic calling in the world of improv, became a wife, mother and New Yorker, and landed the role of a bridesmaid (while simultaneously being a bridesmaid) in Bridesmaids. You’ll get to know and love the comic, upbeat, perpetually polite actress playing Erin Hannon on The Office, and the exuberant, pink-pants-wearing star of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

If you’ve ever been curious about what happens behind the scenes of your favorite shows, what it really takes to be a soul cycle “warrior,” how to recover if you accidentally fall on Doris Kearns Goodwin or tell Tina Fey on meeting her for the first time that she has “great hair—really strong and thick,” this is your chance to find out. But it’s also a laugh-out-loud primer on how to keep a positive outlook in a world gone mad and how not to give up on your dreams. Ellie “dives fully into each role—as actor, comedian, writer, and also wife and new mom—with an electric dedication, by which one learns to reframe the picture, and if not exactly become a glass-half-full sort of person, at least become able to appreciate them” (Vogue.com).

I’m a big fan of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (I actually dressed up as Kimmy for Halloween), so I was curious about Ellie Kemper’s memoir as soon as I saw it in my library. And, after reading it, I really like her. She comes across as a really down-to-earth, genuinely nice person who hasn’t been corrupted by having a super popular show on Netflix.

But being a really down-to-earth, genuinely nice person doesn’t necessarily make for an interesting memoir. Now, don’t get me wrong, Ellie is funny. The way that she tells the stories of what’s happened to her over the years is hilarious. She can take a normal day and make it funny, and that’s great.

But does it need a whole book? I’m not so sure.

On the one hand, I was happy to read a memoir that didn’t involve anything dark. Like, literally anything at all. Ellie projects a very upbeat, sunny personality in everything that she does, and her book is no different. The parts of her life that she’s chosen to share in this book are just as cute and quirky as you might expect. But, on the other hand, reading one cute, quirky story after another gets a little tedious. Can anyone’s life really be that perfect?

Overall, My Squirrel Days is well-written, it’s a refreshingly positive memoir, and it’s very, very reminiscent of Kimmy Schmidt. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but everything was so happy and so quirky and so perfect that I don’t think it’ll leave a lasting impression on me.

I’d recommend this if you’re a big Ellie Kemper fan, but if you’re not? You can probably skip this one.


Have you read My Squirrel Days? Do you like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?
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ARC Review: Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi

Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Source: ARC from BookCon

After a year of college, Pablo is working at his local twenty-four-hour deli, selling overpriced snacks to brownstone yuppies. He’s dodging calls from the student loan office and he has no idea what his next move is.

Leanna Smart’s life so far has been nothing but success. Age eight: Disney Mouseketeer; Age fifteen: first #1 single on the US pop chart; Age seventeen, *tenth* #1 single; and now, at Age nineteen…life is a queasy blur of private planes, weird hotel rooms, and strangers asking for selfies on the street.

When Leanna and Pab randomly meet at 4:00 a.m. in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn, they both know they can’t be together forever. So, they keep things on the down-low and off Instagram for as long as they can. But it takes about three seconds before the world finds out… 

In case you weren’t already aware, Mary H.K. Choi’s Emergency Contact is one of my favorite books. From the characters to the message to the excellent texting, I loved everything about it. Permanent Record was at the top of my most anticipated list for 2019, and I was lucky enough to get an ARC while at BookCon.

This book was not Emergency Contact, Part Two. Part of the blame is on me for thinking it would be. But instead of loving this book, I was really, really disappointed in it. So disappointed that I’m really just sad thinking about it. I won’t get into any spoilers in this review, but here are some bullet point reasons why I didn’t like this book:

  • The slang. In Emergency Contact, Penny and Sam talked like actual teenagers. In Permanent Record, the amount of slang Pab and Lee use is almost embarrassing. Nobody talks like that. Nobody.
  • The lack of responsibility. I get that it’s one of the main conflicts of the book, but I could not get over how literally every single one of Pablo’s problems could be solved if he’d just take some responsibility for his actions. You can’t ignore your problems until they go away, Pablo!! Life doesn’t work like that!!
  • I didn’t really see a point to it? I slogged through all 417 pages of this book only to get a non-ending. That’s not even mentioning how bored I was the entire time I was reading this book.

Am I mad that I took the time to read this book? I guess not. Did I enjoy it even a little bit? No. I’m just disappointed, but since I loved Emergency Contact so much, I’m still planning to read whatever Mary H.K. Choi publishes next.


Have you read Permanent Record? Is it on your TBR?
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Book Review: Lumberjanes, Vol. 3 by Noelle Stevenson

Lumberjanes, Vol. 3 by Noelle Stevenson
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Source: Borrowed

IF YOU GOT IT, HAUNT IT!

Trying to take advantage of the first quiet day at camp in a while, Mal and Molly’s date takes a bizarre turn with the appearance of the Bear Woman! Back at camp, Jo, April, and Ripley must stay on their toes as they try and earn every badge possible, which ends up being a lot harder than any of them ever planned.

This New York Times bestselling series continues with Lumberjanes #9, “If You Got It, Haunt It Badge;” #10, “Abscence Make the Heart Grow Fondant Badge;” #11, “Go Ball-istic Badge;” and #12, “Oldie but Goodie Badge.”

Collects Lumberjanes No. 9-12.

I’m a little sad to say that the third volume of Lumberjanes turned out to be my least favorite of the series. It’s still good and fun, hence the three stars, but it wasn’t nearly as good or as fun as the first two volumes.

The major issue I had with this volume was the abrupt change in art style. While I really enjoyed the art in the first two volumes, this one has a different illustrator and it shows. The characters look very different and it almost felt like I was reading fanfiction of Lumberjanes rather than a real Lumberjanes collection.

Still, I enjoy the feminist message, I enjoy the wacky hijinks that these hardcore lady types get themselves into, and the little romance that’s developing made me smile. I will eventually pick up the next volume in this series, but I’m not rushing to find it.


Have you read Lumberjanes? Is it on your TBR?
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Book Review: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Doll Bones by Holly Black
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Source: Borrowed

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice.

But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . .

I’ve read a few of Holly Black’s books now and I think that I can safely say that I really enjoy her writing style. Her books are always really readable (or, in this case, listenable? is that a word? I’m a linguist and I just made it one) and Doll Bones is no exception. I found this book while scrolling through my library’s Overdrive and figured it would be the perfect book to listen to during Spooky Season.

I was pleasantly surprised that Doll Bones is about more than just, you know, the doll bones. More than anything else, it’s a coming-of-age story about Zach, who, along with his friends, loves crafting stories featuring his action figures, until his father decides he’s too old to play like that and throws out all of Zach’s toys. While Zach’s flat-out refusal to communicate with his friends about why exactly he wouldn’t be playing anymore was frustrating, I had to keep reminding myself that he’s literally twelve years old. I couldn’t expect him to act like an adult, and I don’t know many twelve year old boys who are tuned into their feelings enough to openly discuss them with their friends. (That said, I admittedly don’t know many twelve-year-olds in general.) There’s some really good commentary on what it means to grow up and how scary it can be.

Then there’s the actual spooky story about a bone doll made out of the bones of a little girl who was murdered under mysterious circumstances. A number of things happen that could be real or imagined, and it’s never really clarified, which just makes things spookier.

One small critique is that I don’t think the romance was even remotely necessary and I was a little bit disappointed to see it even factor in to the plot. I guess a few people had paired off when I was twelve years old, but it definitely wasn’t a big part of my middle school life. More than anything, I think that particular plot felt a little forced.

Overall, I think this was a really well-written middle grade book! As an adult, there were a few things that rubbed me the wrong way, but I really can’t hold that against the book since I’m far from its intended audience.

Previously: The Cruel PrinceThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown


Have you read Doll Bones? Can you recommend any spooky MG books?
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Book Review: Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Source: Purchased

Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends.

Every autumn, all through high school, they’ve worked together at the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world. (Not many people know that the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world is in Omaha, Nebraska, but it definitely is.) They say good-bye every Halloween, and they’re reunited every September 1.

But this Halloween is different—Josiah and Deja are finally seniors, and this is their last season at the pumpkin patch. Their last shift together. Their last good-bye.

Josiah’s ready to spend the whole night feeling melancholy about it. Deja isn’t ready to let him. She’s got a plan: What if—instead of moping and the usual slinging lima beans down at the Succotash Hut—they went out with a bang? They could see all the sights! Taste all the snacks! And Josiah could finally talk to that cute girl he’s been mooning over for three years . . .

What if their last shift was an adventure?

In case you weren’t aware, I am a huge Rainbow Rowell fan. I’ve previously reviewed Fangirl, Carry On, Attachments, Eleanor & Park, and Landline on this blog. Pumpkinheads was one of my more anticipated books of the year. I’ve been a little wrapped up in my move, though, so I didn’t even realize that it had already released until I found my preorder in my mailbox. I read the whole thing that same night.

Here’s the thing. This is definitely a Rainbow book. The characters are cute. The story is cute. The pumpkin patch is cute. The art is cute. Everything about it is cute. I want to go to this pumpkin patch. I want to eat literally everything in this book and go on every ride. But if everything was so great, why am I only giving it three stars?

The biggest reason for my rating is the fact that I predicted the entirety of the plot on about page three. The plot is very simple, which isn’t always a bad thing, but I just wanted a bit more from this book. I feel like I can’t say anything about the plot because one sentence could give it all away.

I might not have adored this book as much as I’d expected to, but it was still a fun read! Now the countdown to Wayward Son begins…


Have you read Pumpkinheads? Is it on your TBR?
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Book Review: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 1, 2012
Source: Purchased

PLACES, EVERYONE!

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she can’t really sing. Instead she’s the set designer for the drama department stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!

Drama is one of those books that I’ve seen floating around the bookish universe a lot. I see it on blogs, I see it on Goodreads, and I see it on lists of frequently challenged books. When I found it at my library’s used bookstore for only $2, I figured I didn’t have much to lose by buying it. I read it over the course of about 45 minutes and while it was fine, I didn’t love it.

To be fair, I don’t read a ton of middle grade books, and especially middle grade graphic novels. I appreciated a lot of the themes in this book — being comfortable with yourself, the normalization of pre-teen gay and bisexual characters, and following your passions. As someone who did tech crew for several plays and musicals in high school, I enjoyed the fact that much of this book takes place behind-the-scenes at a middle school production.

That said… this book was just so dramatic. And I guess that’s to be expected. I mean, the title of the book is literally Drama. While I had expected play-related drama, I hadn’t expected so much romantic drama. The main character, Callie, is absolutely fixated on finding herself a boyfriend. She falls for multiple boys over the course of this 238-page book. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but I expected that this story would be more about the play than about this seventh grader attempting to get a boyfriend.

Another thing that didn’t sit quite right with me was the insinuation that romantic relationships should be a big part of middle school. Time to get personal for a second — I didn’t go on my first date until I was sixteen years old, and I didn’t get into my first actual relationship until I was eighteen. One of the characters in this book is referred to as a “late bloomer” because, at twelve years old, he’s never had a girlfriend. Is that really considered abnormal now? I had to keep reminding myself that these characters are supposed to be pre-teens, because their romantic entanglements (and the responsibilities they’re given for the play!!) make them feel more like high school upperclassmen.

Overall, this book was a lot of fun to read, but the sheer amount of romantic drama kept me from rating it any higher than three stars.


Have you read Drama? Is it on your TBR?
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Book Review: Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by Lev A.C. Rosen

Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by Lev A.C. Rosen
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 30, 2018
Source: Borrowed

My first time getting it in the butt was kind of weird. I think it’s going to be weird for everyone’s first time, though.

Meet Jack Rothman. He’s seventeen and loves partying, makeup and boys – sometimes all at the same time. His sex life makes him the hot topic for the high school gossip machine. But who cares? Like Jack always says, ‘it could be worse’.

He doesn’t actually expect that to come true.

But after Jack starts writing an online sex advice column, the mysterious love letters he’s been getting take a turn for the creepy. Jack’s secret admirer knows everything: where he’s hanging out, who he’s sleeping with, who his mum is dating. They claim they love Jack, but not his unashamedly queer lifestyle. They need him to curb his sexuality, or they’ll force him.

As the pressure mounts, Jack must unmask his stalker before their obsession becomes genuinely dangerous…

This book has been on my radar since I first saw it on Netgalley (and was sadly declined). I was drawn to it because I love the idea of a sex positive YA book, especially one featuring a character like Jack, a gay boy who unapologetically loves makeup, shopping, and sex. When I saw it at my library, I had to check it out and see what it was like.

I ended up having some really, really conflicted feelings about this one.

Like I said, I love the concept. I love that YA books are moving in a more sex positive direction, and I think this book was a very good idea. I think that the advice Jack gave throughout the book was great (although I have to suspend a lot of disbelief to think that a teenager would know enough about sex to reasonably give such wide-ranging advice), and it reminded me a lot of a more risque version of the advice column in Ask Me Anything.

The discussion of consent, coming out, asexuality, healthy relationships… all of that was great. The fact that Jack and his friends smoke cigarettes, frequently get black out drunk, and hook up with random strangers on Grindr (despite being actual teenagers)? Not so great. Of course, I don’t want to censor life for the target demographic of this book. I’m not deluding myself into thinking that many teenagers aren’t going out and doing these exact things. But there’s never any consequence for these behaviors. Jack doesn’t get in trouble for smoking inside the school. (What?) Aside from a mini-lecture from his mother, there’s very little said about the alcohol. There’s never a discussion about the possible repercussions of lying about your age on a hook up app. Jack has a lot of sex with a lot of different people and good for him, but it felt like all of this was inserted into the book to scream, “HEY, LOOK AT JACK! HE’S ONE OF THE COOL KIDS!”

Now, aside from that, one of the other things I wanted to mention was the mystery, or, really, the lack of it. The thing is, throughout the book, Jack occasionally gets these ominous notes from a stalker. They start out fine, along the lines of “I think you’re cute” and slowly progress into some really creepy, threatening stuff. Jack gets freaked out by it, but he never really does anything aside from worry, so what’s the point? I found the principal’s reaction troubling, to say the least, and the way everything ended left a lot to be desired. If this were just a book about the sex column without this weird stalker plot, I think I would have enjoyed it more.

All in all, I think that this book had a great concept, but I’m not entirely on board with the execution. I appreciate the open and honest Q&A about sex and think it’ll help a lot of teens, but the constant partying and constant sex made me, an adult, feel weird. If the characters were even a couple years older, this would have been less of an issue, I think.


Have you read Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts)? Is it on your TBR?
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