Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: Sixteen Things I Thought Were True by Janet Gurtler


Title: Sixteen Things I Thought Were True
Author: Janet Gurtler
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release date: March 4th 2014
Pages: 283
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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Heart attacks happen to other people #thingsIthoughtweretrue
When Morgan's mom gets sick, it's hard not to panic. Without her mother, she would have no one—until she finds out the dad who walked out on her as a baby isn't as far away as she thought...
Adam is a stuck-up, uptight jerk #thingsIthoughtweretrue
Not that they have a summer job together, Morgan's getting to know the real Adam, and he's actually pretty sweet...in a nerdy-hot kind of way. He even offers to go with her to find her dad. Road trip, anyone?
5000 Twitter followers are all the friends I need #thingsIthoughtweretrue
With Adam in the back seat, a hyper chatterbox named Amy behind the wheel, and plenty of Cheetos to fuel their trip, Morgan feels ready for anything. She's not expecting a flat tire, a missed ferry, a fake girlfriend...and that these two people she barely knew before the summer started will become the people she can't imagine living without.
My rating:  3 out of 5 stars

I love Janet Gurtler's writing, so I was really excited to read her newest novel. As always, I loved Janet Gurtler's easy-to-read, fun writing style, which made the book worthwhile for me. Sadly, though, some parts of the story had flaws that I couldn't look past, making 16 Things I Thought Were True only an okay read for me.

I think the problem with Sixteen Things I Thought Were True is that there's just too much going on - I don't even know where to start. There's Morgan's mother's heart condition, Morgan's attempt to establish a relationship with her father, the road trip,  the romance with Adam, Morgan trying to deal with the aftermath of her online humiliation and the falling-out with her ex-best friend Lexi, and towards the end there's a huge plot twist with that adds another big conflict. Each storyline on its own had a lot of potential, but because there is so much going on, none of them could be explored in enough depth.

The storyline I enjoyed the most is the one concerning Morgan's family issues. I really liked getting to see Morgan try to establish some sort of relationship with the father she's never met and try to work things out with her mother. I wish Janet Gurtler had gotten rid of some of the other storylines in order to focus more on this one: it had a lot of potential, and I wish Morgan's emotions regarding her family had been developed more.

To be honest, one storyline I think could have gotten cut is the one concerning Morgan's online humiliation and her falling-out with Lexi. I do think that her humiliation provides a necessary background for her estrangement with her peers, but the whole thing just seemed kind of dumb to me. It bothered me how Morgan acts like she made a huge mistake by dancing around in guy's underwear, but honestly, what's the big deal? There's nothing wrong with that. Yes, I get that having it end up online is humiliating, but that doesn't mean that the dancing itself is doing anything wrong. The falling-out with her ex-best friend Lexi, the one who put that embarrassing video up online, also seemed kind of unnecessary - it's just kind of added on and never really explored in any detail, and we never find out why Lexi stopped being friends with Morgan.

The characters are okay. Morgan isn't exactly easy to like, but she grew on me over the course of the novel. The rest of the characters, though, are definitely lacking depth, again because of the too-much-going-on thing. Especially Adam is underdeveloped, and I never felt like we really got to know him, which kind of ruined the whole romance storyline. All of the characters have interesting backgrounds that I would have loved to explore more, but because there's so much going on in these 300 pages, I couldn't really get to know any of them.

That's really what it comes down to - there's just too much going on. I really liked the family storyline and the road trip, but they fall short because of all the other stuff that's going on at the same time. I think Janet Gurtler just tried to pack too much into these 300 pages. Especially the plot twist towards the end is too much, and at that point, it just got kind of ridiculous. Sixteen Things I Thought Were True had a lot of potential, but I couldn't really enjoy it because of the lack of depth in any singular storyline. I do still love Janet Gurtler's writing, though, so I'm looking forward to seeing if I like her next book better.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Sparks by S.J. Adams

Title: Sparks: The Epic, Completely True Blue, (Almost) Holy Quest of Debbie
Author: S. J. Adams
Publisher: Flux
Release date: January 1st 2011
Pages: 256
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 13
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Since sixth grade, Debbie Woodlawn has nursed a secret, heart-searing crush on her best friend, Lisa. But all those years of pretending to enjoy Full House reruns and abstinence rallies with Lisa go down the drain when her friend hooks up with Norman, the most boring guy at school. This earth-shattering event makes Debbie decide to do the unthinkable: confess her love to Lisa. And she has to do it tonight--before Lisa and Norman go past "the point of no return." So Debbie embarks on a quest to find Lisa. Guiding the quest are fellow students/detention hall crashers Emma and Tim, the founding (and only) members of the wacky Church of Blue. Three chases, three declarations of love, two heartbreaks, a break-in, and five dollars worth of gas later, Debbie has been fully initiated into Bluedaism--but is there time left to stop Lisa and Norman from going too far?
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Since I hadn't heard anything about Sparks before picking it up, and the whole Bluedaism and Quest and all of that sounded really weird and out-there, my expectations for Sparks were not exactly high. Luckily, those low expectations made it even better when I ended up loving the book! The randomness of the plot that threw me off at first ended up being refreshing and entertaining - I'm so glad I gave this book a chance!

The characters are what make this story so good. Debbie is an endearing character - she's a bit clueless and naive, but lovable nonetheless, and she's definitely easy to relate to. Emma and Tim are characters that I know will stay with me; they are quirky and unique, and I really appreciated their openness and honesty. The only character that is slightly underdeveloped is Lisa: our view of her changes towards the end, and I wish that had been explored in a little more depth.

All that stuff about Bluedaism threw me off at first, reading the description, but I ended up loving it. This "religion" that Emma and Tim have created is so much fun to read about. They have come up with some ridiculous tasks, which made this quest hilarious and entertaining, and it made me want to know all about their previous quests and adventures, too.

One thing that does need to be said, though, is that the whole made-up religion thing is kind of problematic. I personally didn't mind because I'm not a very religious person, but if you are, you might find parts of this story kind of offensive. Especially calling their religion Bluedaism and painting a statue of Buddha - a symbol of another religion - and appropriating it for their own purpose is disrespectful and problematic. I still really enjoyed the story, but just... be aware.

I was really surprised with how much I loved Sparks, a novel that has been pretty much completely overlooked in the YA blogosphere. With lovable characters, a hilarious plot, and a heartwarming message, Sparks is a novel I really enjoyed. You should definitely give it a try!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

My New Treasures #34


My New Treasures is a semi-regular feature here at Paperback Treasures to showcase all the books I received over the previous week (or however long it's been since I've last done one of these). It was inspired by Stacking the Shelves, hosted by Tynga's Reviews.

From Edelweiss:



Damaged by Amy Reed

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz

What books did you get this week?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Double Review: Leaving Paradise & Return to Paradise by Simone Elkeles

Leaving Paradise & Return to Paradise by Simone Elkeles
Publisher: Flux
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: BEA 2014
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Description for Leaving Paradise
Nothing has been the same since Caleb Becker left a party drunk, got behind the wheel, and hit Maggie Armstrong. Even after months of painful physical therapy, Maggie walks with a limp. Her social life is nil and a scholarship to study abroad—her chance to escape everyone and their pitying stares—has been canceled.
After a year in juvenile jail, Caleb’s free . . . if freedom means endless nagging from a transition coach and the prying eyes of the entire town. Coming home should feel good, but his family and ex-girlfriend seem like strangers.
Caleb and Maggie are outsiders, pigeon-holed as "criminal" and "freak." Then the truth emerges about what really happened the night of the accident and, once again, everything changes. It’s a bleak and tortuous journey for Caleb and Maggie, yet they end up finding comfort and strength from a surprising source: each other.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Because I read the two books back-to-back and because my feelings about Leaving Paradise and Return to Paradise are pretty much the same (and because I'm lazy), I'm just going to review both of them in one post. I loved Simone Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry series, so I was really excited to read these two books. And even though I didn't like Leaving Paradise and Return to Paradise quite as much as the Perfect Chemistry series because of some smaller issues with the plot and characters, I did really enjoy this series!

Leaving Paradise starts out with an intriguing set-up, and I really liked the plot. Both Caleb and Maggie got on my nerves in the beginning, but once you find out the truth about what happened, their thoughts are a lot more justified, and both of their situations are fascinating to think about. I do think that their relationship developed a little too fast in the beginning - they seemed to kind of just randomly start liking each other - but the development of their relationship later on is realistic and fun to read about. There are parts of their relationship that were too cheesy for me, but that was to be expected. All of this pretty much goes for Return to Paradise as well: the plots of the two novels are very similar and the conflicts remain the same, making the two books together a little drawn out.

The secondary characters are not nearly as good as our narrators. Throughout both novels, there are hints at the stories of Caleb and Maggie's friends and families, but none of them are explored in any depth. This makes all of the secondary characters flat personifications of just one characteristic each. I wish we had gotten some more insight into both Caleb and Maggie's relationships with other people, but the novels solely focus on their relationship with each other, neglecting to develop any depth for the secondary characters. Especially Leah's character, I think, should have definitely been explored more, because that would have made the plot a lot more believable.

I would also like to point out that, just like in the Perfect Chemistry books, logic does not seem to be the strong suit of Simone Elkeles's writing.There's various examples, and one that bothered me the most is that Maggie is supposed to go to Spain for a semester in high school, but once she opts out of that, she goes abroad for her freshman year of college instead, with the same program. These are two completely separate things, so having it be the same program just doesn't make sense. (Not to mention that going abroad for all of your freshman year of college isn't really a thing that happens, either.) While I'm no expert on the American justice system, Simone Elkeles seems to have taken some creative liberty with that as well: I find it highly unlikely that Caleb's transition counselor from juvie can just decide that, instead of having to go to jail, Caleb can just participate in this random summer trip with him. (The whole idea of the trip seemed very arbitrary to me.) I know that some people can just see past things like that, but it bothers me when authors just manipulate the way life works and sacrifice logic to justify their plots.

I know my review sounds really negative, but I didn't not like these books. There were various issues I had with the novels, but overall, they're still enjoyable reads. If you're looking for depth, look elsewhere, but I can definitely recommend Leaving Paradise and Return to Paradise if you're looking for some fun, quick reads with some cute romance!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: Guitar Notes by Mary Amato

Title: Guitar Notes
Author: Mary Amato
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Release date: January 1st 2012
Pages: 272
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: Bought
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Tripp, who plays guitar only for himself, and Lyla, a cellist whose talent has already made her famous but not happy, form an unlikely friendship when they are forced to share a practice room at their high school.
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Guitar Notes sounded like a cute read, but it just didn't work for me. Part of it isn't really the book's fault - maybe I'm just too old for lower YA, and Guitar Notes is a prime example for immature characters that I can't relate to anymore. But even asides from the age thing, the writing is very simplistic, the characters are underdeveloped, and the story - except for one unfortunate plot twist - is pretty boring, so I just couldn't find anything to like about Guitar Notes.

The characters are the main problem. Both Tripp and Lyla represent stereotypes, and there's not much more to them than the description already gives away. The secondary characters are just as one-dimensional and unrealistically bland. Tripp and Lyla are ridiculously melodramatic, and I just couldn't take their whining, although again, this might be because of our age difference.

The relationship between Tripp and Lyla is nothing special either - it's the friendship-version of insta-love. The notes they left each other got personal way too soon to be realistic, and it seemed like they just randomly started being best friends. One thing I did appreciate is that the relationship between Lyla and Tripp stays platonic throughout the novel. I kept fearing the moment their friendship would turn into romance because they seemed so young that reading about their romance would have made me feel like a pedophile, so I'm glad Mary Amato kept their relationship platonic.

Towards the end of the novel, there is a plot twist that made the whole book a million times worse. I don't want to give anything away, but something really serious happens that does not fit at all with the light and happy tone of the rest of the story. This is something that would have merited a novel all on its own, or at least should have been treated as a major part of the plot, but it just kind of happens and then it's resolved and ten pages later, the story is done. Since it's never really explored in any depth, this plot twist didn't add anything to the story but just added to the lack of depth.

I don't know what else to say; Guitar Notes just wasn't for me. It could have been a cute, fun read, but with underdeveloped characters, melodramatic writing, and a boring-until-it-turns-unnecessarily-dramatic plot, I couldn't find anything to like about it. Guitar Notes might be an okay read for younger YA readers, but I personally can't recommend it.

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