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It’s happened: I’ve become old and jaded and grumpy. Hm – maybe not quite, but definitely tired.

My reading tastes have changed, and changed most dramatically over the course of the past year or so. I used to gravitate toward Chinese novels like 一生一世,美人骨 by 墨宝非宝, Japanese novels like 東京レイヴンズ by あざの 耕平 and 心霊探偵八雲 by 神永学 and 魔法科高校の劣等生 by 佐島 勤, and English books a la Mythos Academy by Jennifer Estep and Penryn & the End of Days by Susan Ee and Death Sworn by Leah Cypess. Grand books in the largest of senses, on the biggest of stages, saving the world from one large tragedy or another, be it publicly or silently. Teenage superhero novels, if you will, with a dash of romance.

I still enjoy those types of novels. But lately, more and more, I’ve found myself gravitating toward another kind of read, and noticed this especially when I attempted to clean up my to-read list on Goodreads. Recently, it’s been Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally and The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand; 你是我的荣耀 by 顾漫 and 我不喜歡這世界, 我只喜歡你 by 喬一; 魔女の宅急便 by 角野 栄子 and 窓際のトットちゃん by 黒柳 徹子. Recently, it’s become quieter books – in a sense – books about saving yourself. I’ve gravitated toward character-driven stories, about learning about yourself, about growing up, and about growing old. (It probably has roots in the changes and experiences in my own life, but I’m hardly about to start playing armchair psychologist.)

In an attempt to tackle my ever-ballooning to-read list, I tried blowing through a couple reads over the past few weeks, but found that some of the books I would’ve been so excited and in love with three, four, five years ago, when I first purchased/received them, no longer struck the same chords. It’s… a little strange? A little sad. A little nostalgic, even. Not to mention, I’ve tumbled ass-first out of the typical YA age bracket, and some of the books have, inevitably, begun to feel a little less relatable, and a little less “for me” – because they aren’t quite, not directly, not anymore.

(I wish we could make the NA bracket A Thing.)

But, there will always be books, and more books, and entire sections and genres of books to explore. A shift in reading tastes is nothing groundbreaking, really, and hardly profound. It was just interesting to have shifted like so, slowly, without noticing, and then to have suddenly, via cleaning up my to-read list on Goodreads, turned around and looked back the way I came – and noticed. Woah.

Breathe, Annie, Breathe (Hundred Oaks) by Miranda Kenneally
Published July 15th 2014 by Sourcebooks Fire
Source: Auction
Rating: ★★★★★

The finish line is only the beginning.…

Annie hates running. No matter how far she jogs, she can’t escape the guilt that if she hadn’t broken up with Kyle, he might still be alive. So to honor his memory, she starts preparing for the marathon he intended to race.

But the training is even more grueling than Annie could have imagined. Despite her coaching, she’s at war with her body, her mind-and her heart. With every mile that athletic Jeremiah cheers her on, she grows more conflicted. She wants to run into his arms…and sprint in the opposite direction. For Annie, opening up to love again may be even more of a challenge than crossing the finish line.

This! Book!!

The Hundred Oaks series is one of my long-time favorites, and I thiiink, judging from the books I’ve read and the synopsis for the ones I haven’t (but will! but absolutely will!!), I might relate the most to Annie. I like Annie’s sense of humor – a little wry, a little dry, a little self-depreciating. I like how she’s hesitant, but trying. And Jeremiah was swoony-cute and charming and I loved how fluffy and supportive their relationship was? Also how they didn’t get together right away; it took time, a lot of time, but it was still them, every step of the way, and the process was really cute to read. I also really enjoyed how the spotlight was shared with Annie’s other relationships as well – with her friends, her ex-friends-turned-friends, her mother, Kyle’s family, etc.

And it was! Melodrama-free! No one gave her shit when they saw her with Jeremiah; it really was all about Annie – healing, mending relationships, accepting, moving on. Breathe, Annie, Breathe is heartwarming at it’s core, and I want the best for alllll of the characters.

On my fourth night in the dorms, I decide to buy earplugs. I love Vanessa because she’s so nice, but God, having a roommate can be annoying. It could be worse, I guess. I could have Iggy and her mandolin. But even if Vanessa were silent, I’d still have the crazy screaming people in the hallways to contend with. Two guys got into an argument because one drank the other’s Snapple. A couple broke up in the common room because he cheated with the girl who runs the projector in his film class. Our neighbors live for blasting electroclash music. Kelsey and Iggy got into a fight because Kelsey didn’t clean her hair out of the shower drain.

Freshman year, and I lived in a triple dorm room. The beds were lofted, with desks and a tiny, tiny closet wedged below them, but even then, the room was so small that they had to be packed tightly, side-by-side, with juuuuust enough room between each loft bed so that someone could squeeze through. Plus, our neighbors were the hardcore gamer type, and would sleep when the sun rose, then wake up a mere few hours later, and spend all their waking time gaming, and blasting their music for every hearing ear in the city. My rooming situation is a lot better now, and I’ve never been one for the Greek scene, but the way university is portrayed here is super relatable.

It’s also really cool to see cameos from previous Hundred Oaks books’ characters (Jordan! Sam Henry! Matt! Kate!).

“As a kid, I had the worst mile time ever. Our gym teacher made us run the mile a few times a year for something called the Presidential Fitness Test. I’d huff and puff and wonder why the hell President Bush cared how fast I could run laps around the playground. I always came in dead last.”

Breathe, Annie, Breathe is heartwarming and fluffy and cute, and there were so many relatable bits for me, both as a university student and a runner – I really, really enjoyed it!

轻易放火 by 墨宝非宝
Published June 1st 2014 by 湖南少年儿童出版社
Source: Webnovel
Rating: ★★★½☆

Jia He is a worker-bee screenwriter in China, a profession that really does not get much for recognition but suits her personality of not liking to be in the spotlight. One day, she gets a call and finds out who will be the leading actor of her latest script—Yi Wenze, her longtime idol since her teenage days. Jia He is the screenwriter on-location for this project. So, she is there, trying best to maintain her composure and contain her starstruck giddiness in front of her idol. In the process, she happily discovers, some time later, that she has become friends with her idol. Aaaah! Already a dream come true, right? Her time with this project comes to an end, and she bids farewell and returns home, thinking that if some day she runs into Yi Wenze again, they are acquainted enough that they can nod their heads in friendly greeting to one another. But then, soon after, she gets a phone call, and the name that shows up on her caller ID is… Yi Wenze.

And so, this is a story of how a little screenwriter is pursued by her idol, the one who had been in all her teenage dreams, how she goes from being idol’s diehard fan, to idol’s friend, to idol’s girlfriend, to idol’s fiancee, to idol’s… Hehehehe.

Sugary-sweet and adorable! The leading couple is cotton-candy cute, and I really appreciate the lack of melodrama (and JY’s reaction to any hint of it), but also, I feel like they jumped the gun on a lot of things, while other elements of the story ended up feeling incomplete.

老婆,你好! by 月下蝶影
Published November 4th 2014 by Createspace
Source: Webnovel
Rating: ★★½☆☆

He was confused, so he asked, “I have a car, a house, good-looks and money. What am I lacking in?”

She replied, “All those attributes are what men use to lure mistresses. So, which of those attributes is a good characteristic?”

Ashamed, he reflected, “I am loyal to one and I can host and cook. I can make the bed and accompany you when you wish to go out.”

She replied bitterly, “I shall, reluctantly, accept you then.”

Good men would not let the women they love fight with the mistress but get rid of them on their own.

I feel like I should’ve really enjoyed this? I really liked the leads individually, as well as the main secondary characters. I really liked how this novel turned so many of my least-favorite tropes completely on their heads. But the leads, while great individually, didn’t seem to have much chemistry, and I still really, really don’t understand why WC started chasing her in the first place, let alone why he persisted for so long (I refuse to believe the epilogue reason exists because that’s the Dumbest Thing). The book was slow-paced, which isn’t always bad, but the ending, with an abrupt, out-of-character proposal, and a rushed parade of scenes that quickly pushed them to their “traditional,” happy ending, dashed a lot of my expectations.

Defending Taylor
(Hundred Oaks) by Miranda Kenneally
Published July 5th 2016 by Sourcebooks Fire
Source: Auction
Rating: ★★½☆☆

There are no mistakes in love.

Captain of the soccer team, president of the Debate Club, contender for valedictorian: Taylor’s always pushed herself to be perfect. After all, that’s what is expected of a senator’s daughter. But one impulsive decision-one lie to cover for her boyfriend-and Taylor’s kicked out of private school. Everything she’s worked so hard for is gone, and now she’s starting over at Hundred Oaks High.

Soccer has always been Taylor’s escape from the pressures of school and family, but it’s hard to fit in and play on a team that used to be her rival. The only person who seems to understand all that she’s going through is her older brother’s best friend, Ezra. Taylor’s had a crush on him for as long as she can remember. But it’s hard to trust after having been betrayed. Will Taylor repeat her past mistakes or can she score a fresh start?

The romance was cute; I liked Taylor’s family, especially her siblings; it had all the elements of a Hundred Oaks book. But. Taylor was a hot mess and she had sO many opportunities to confess, and at the beginning it made sense, but toward the middle, it was flat out frustrating to read.

Things I Can’t Forget (Hundred Oaks) by Miranda Kenneally
Published March 1st 2013 by Sourcebooks Fire
Source: Auction
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Kate has always been the good girl. Too good, according to some people at school—although they have no idea the guilty secret she carries. But this summer, everything is different…

This summer she’s a counselor at Cumberland Creek summer camp, and she wants to put the past behind her. This summer Matt is back as a counselor too. He’s the first guy she ever kissed, and he’s gone from a geeky songwriter who loved The Hardy Boys to a buff lifeguard who loves to flirt – with her.

Kate used to think the world was black and white, right and wrong. Turns out, life isn’t that easy…

I’ve read Catching Jordan, Stealing Parker, and Racing Savannah, albeit a little out of series-order and a while ago, but I remember really enjoying the series for it’s fluffy yet realistic romance and sports elements. Things I Can’t Forget is my first peek back into the series after a good few years, and it’s definitely missing some of those elements I remember.

First up, a disclaimer: I’m not too good with religious books, and books that deal with heavily religious themes. Things I Can’t Forget lays it on thick, with the constant “will Brother John approve of this?” “am I living a good Christian life?” and, the golden “I hate it when Christians don’t act Christian-like” every paragraph or so. It made the first half a bit of a struggle to wade through, but I can appreciate how the author chooses to develop a character like that, and goes all out in doing so, instead of shying around Kate’s struggles, or ending it with a quick, fantastical, 180 position-reversal.

Kate’s relationships, both with Emily and Parker, were aspects I really, really loved, and the way the author took her time to explore all the ups, downs, and bends in both relationships made it feel all the more real and meaningful. (Also, Parker and Will were really fucking cute.) (Also, Jordan cameo!!!)

“King Crab Kate” and “Miniature Poodle Matt” is a cute exchange; “King Crab Kate” and “Miniature Poodle Matt” are really, really cute.

Also, back in high school, I worked at a local summer camp over my summer breaks, and covered both Chemistry (pet bottle rockets!!) and Art Director (clay chia pets and cork-board-pom-pom coasters!!!), and it was really fun to see bits and pieces of my experiences reflected here as well. Especially Brad’s thing about “I prefer working with the younger kids. Puberty scares me” and “I’d much rather deal with snakes and bears than kids going through puberty. Seems easier” – hard same. Middle and upper elementary kids are a terrifying, terrifying lot.

The ending, though, felt rushed and abrupt – all these dangling plot threads are tied up in just a small handful of pages, and it feels oddly hollow and lacking, like you had this huge cast of characters, each starkly different and unique from the other, and then at the end they were just kinda smushed together and patted on the head and then! It’s over!!

So all in all, Things I Can’t Forget was hardly set up to be a story I’d enjoy, but it’s a Miranda Kenneally book, and though it wasn’t my favorite Hundred Oaks book by any means, the supporting characters and the characters’ relationships managed to make up quite a bit.