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.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: The Rivals by Daisy Whitney

Title: The Rivals
Author: Daisy Whitney
Publisher: Little, Brown for Young Readers
Release date: February 6th 2012
Pages: 352
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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When Alex Patrick was assaulted by another student last year, her elite boarding school wouldn't do anything about it. This year Alex is head of the Mockingbirds, a secret society of students who police and protect the student body. While she desperately wants to live up to the legacy that's been given to her, she's now dealing with a case unlike any the Mockingbirds have seen before.
It isn't rape. It isn't bullying. It isn't hate speech. A far-reaching prescription drug ring has sprung up, and students are using the drugs to cheat. But how do you try a case with no obvious victim? Especially when the facts don't add up, and each new clue drives a wedge between Alex and the people she loves most: her friends, her boyfriend, and her fellow Mockingbirds.
As Alex unravels the layers of deceit within the school, the administration, and even the student body the Mockingbirds protect, her struggle to navigate the murky waters of vigilante justice may reveal more about herself than she ever expected.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It's been a while since I read The Mockingbirds, but I still remember absolutely loving it. To be honest, I wasn't sure that kind of story needed a sequel - I didn't know if Daisy Whitney could come up with another plot concerning the Mockingbirds as strong as the one in the first novel. And while I do think that The Rivals is lacking a bit of the driving force that Alex's struggle for justice after her rape provided for The Mockingbirds, I did really enjoy this sequel!

The whole cheating/drug ring plot seemed kind of strange to me at first. I'm still not sure I entirely get the premise - the debate team is using ADHD medication to win their debates? How is that supposed to work? When people abuse Adderall - or Annie, as it's called in The Rivals - it's to help them focus on getting work done, and I don't really see how that helps the debate team. But even if the premise didn't make all that much sense to me, I did really enjoy the mystery that evolves around it. There are various plot twists in The Rivals that will keep you on your toes - I didn't see half of them coming!

I especially loved the way The Rivals changed the way you think about everything we learned in The Mockingbirds, how it challenges what you thought was right and wrong. Just like Alex, you ask yourself how far you're allowed to go in the name of (what you consider) justice, whether it's more important to trust the people close to you or to do your "job" of questioning everything, and so on. The lines between right and wrong are a lot more blurred in The Rivals than they were in The Mockingbirds, and I loved reading about Alex trying to figure out what would be the right thing to do.

Within the context of this case, it was interesting to see how Alex's relationships with those around her evolved. I still loved Alex's character, and the cast of secondary characters is fully developed and complex, just like in the first book. I especially liked Alex's relationship with Martin - too often, sequels create too much unnecessary drama between the couples that are established in the first book, so I'm glad that Alex's relationship with Martin progresses in such a natural way in The Rivals

Part of what makes these two books so powerful together, I think, is how in The Rivals, we get to see Alex still struggling to come to terms with her rape from The Mockingbirds. Daisy Whitney handled the issue of rape with as much grace and delicacy as she did in the first book; the scenes where Alex sees her rapist on campus and the scenes where she and Martin are trying to figure out how to have a "normal" relationship after what happened to Alex are some of the most powerful scenes in the novel, for me. The only thing that bothered me about this topic is how Alex's rape is continuously referred to as date-rape, just because I don't like how that term makes acquaintance-rape seem somehow less than the dark-alley rape many people still associate with the term.

The Rivals is everything a good sequel should be, and more. It's a complex and layered story that complicates everything we learned in The Mockingbirds. With fully developed characters, a captivating writing style, and a complex and fascinating plot, I can't recommend this series enough! I can't wait to read more from Daisy Whitney!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Giveaway: Signed ARC of Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

I'm giving away a signed ARC of Miranda Kenneally's Breathe, Annie, Breathe! I absolutely loved this one (my review), and you definitely want this book in your life. Here's what it's about:

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally
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.

Giveaway rules:

- Open to US residents only. (Sorry!)
- Must be 13 or older to enter.
- Open for one week; giveaway ends July 25th at midnight.
- The winner will be contacted by e-mail. He/she has 48 hours to respond, or a new winner will be chosen.
- I am not responsible for items lost or damaged in the mail.

To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Good luck!!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

Title: Breathe, Annie, Breathe (Hundred Oaks #5)
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release date: July 15th 2014
Pages: 320
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: BEA 2014
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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.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Before I start swooning about how amazing this book is, I need to go on a quick rant about the design's inconsistency with the rest of the series. There's the title that sticks out, but that didn't bother me too much because Things I Can't Forget already ruined the "Something-ing Main Character" title thing. But... the cover. I love the green of all the previous Hundred Oaks books; why does this one have to be blue? Yes, it's a really pretty cover, and it's a million times better than the original one, but still... why, Sourcebooks, why?? And I'm so glad I got an ARC of this because (asides from the obvious reason) it's coming out in hardcover, when all the previous books are paperbacks. Just... nothing matches the rest of the series. Don't you know I need my books to match, Sourcebooks!?

Okay. Anyways. The actual book, of course, is amazing. It's a bit darker than the previous ones in the series, considering a lot of it deals with Annie grieving the death of her boyfriend. But that darkness is perfectly balanced with hope and romance, providing a really great set-up for a strong, character-driven story. I love how respectfully Miranda Kenneally managed to balance writing such a steamy romance while still honoring Kyle's memory. I think this might actually be my new favorite book in the series - all of the Hundred Oaks books are about relationships overcoming obstacles, but the obstacles in Breathe, Annie, Breathe felt the most real, making me love Annie and Jeremiah together even more.

Annie's voice is what makes this book so great. I absolutely loved her, identified with her, and sympathized with her. Generally, characters with commitment issues frustrate me because, in the world of romance stories, I cannot understand why you can't get over it and be with this person who is obviously perfect for you. But in Annie's case, I totally understood - her conflicted feelings of guilt for betraying Kyle and longing for Jeremiah are so well done, and I felt for her and understood her at every point in the novel. Annie is now one my favorite Hundred Oaks girls. Jeremiah is a great character, too. I personally wouldn't love him in real life - his chivalry and protectiveness would bring out the angry feminist in me, and I wouldn't be able to see past the benevolent sexism - but I could definitely see how he's perfect for Annie. He is a very complex character (more complex than most of the previous Hundred Oaks boys - not that I didn't love them, too), and I loved reading about his issues and how they affect Annie and Jeremiah's relationship, too. 

Even though I am pretty much the opposite of athletic, I loved getting insights into the world of running in Breathe, Annie, Breathe. I loved how sports played into the previous stories in the Hundred Oaks series, but if I'm completely honest, the actual sports parts kind of bored me because I just can't get myself to care about football or baseball. Marathon running, though, was a fascinating world to explore. I would consider myself a pre-running Annie - the girl who came in last when they made us run a mile in high school PE - so it was really inspiring to see how she, despite this, managed to run a marathon, with so much hard work and training. It was fascinating to see both the highs and the lows, and how much effort and commitment really goes into this kind of thing.

As always, I also loved the cameos. I have a horrible memory, so I have to admit it took me a while to realize that Annie's trainer/Jermemiah's brother Matt is the same Matt from Things I Can't Forget. But not even my horrible memory can forget about Jordan Woods and Sam Henry, the characters that first made me love Miranda Kenneally's writing, so it was great to see them again in Breathe, Annie, Breathe. (Even if it was really weird to see Jordan be called Coach Woods all the time.) And getting to see Savannah again was great, too!

Also, college! Breathe, Annie Breathe, begins at the very end of senior and spans the summer, but the last third or so of the novel is set at college. YA books set at college pretty much automatically make me happy, just because there are so few of them.

I think that sums up everything I loved about Breathe, Annie Breathe, even though I'm probably forgetting about something - so many things to love! It's no secret I love Miranda Kenneally's Hundred Oaks series - all of them are exceptionally well-done romances - so to say this one might be my new favorite is a big deal. If you haven't read any of these books, I really don't know what you're doing with your life. Go read them right now!!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review: How My Summer Went Up in Flames by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski

Title: How My Summer Went Up in Flames
Author: Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
Publisher: SimonPulse
Release date: May 7th 2013
Pages: 307
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: Bought
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Rosie’s always been impulsive. She didn’t intend to set her cheating ex-boyfriend’s car on fire. And she never thought her attempts to make amends could be considered stalking. So when she’s served with a temporary restraining order on the first day of summer vacation, she’s heartbroken—and furious.
To put distance between Rosie and her ex, Rosie’s parents send her on a cross-country road trip with responsible, reliable neighbor Matty and his two friends. Forget freedom of the road, Rosie wants to hitchhike home and win back her ex. But her determination starts to dwindle with each passing mile. Because Rosie’s spark of anger? It may have just ignited a romance with someone new…
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I think whether or not you will like How My Summer Went Up in Flames depends a lot on you opinion of our main character Rosie. I've read reviews by people who love her and by people who couldn't stand Rosie because of her impulsiveness and her lack of understanding of how serious her situation is. I didn't really mind her disregard for consequences and her irrational ways all that much - she's relatably flawed, and I love having a different type of contemporary YA narrator for once.

But there are still some things that bothered me about Rosie, most importantly her expressions on issues of gender. There's some serious slut-shaming going on in Rosie's opinions and depictions of her breakup with Joey. She talks about sex as if it's something that she would never do, and condemns Joey's new girlfriend - and her friend Avery - for having done it, which is not okay. Her views of gender roles bothered me so much - she keeps making offensive comments about femininity, and lets her whole life revolve around guys, having no ambitions for herself. (She liked saying "Joey's wife" when people would ask her what she wants to be later on.) This is never really addressed as a problem, which frustrated me throughout the novel. The same goes for issue's of class - from the way Rosie, her family, and the guys' families treat money, they all have to have quite a lot of it, and that's never really mentioned in the novel. Instead, they're the ones who are "normal," in comparison to their ultra-rich friend Avery, which results in scenes like Rosie being surprised they are taking a limousine to the club and commenting that her family only uses limousines on prom or to get to the airport. The never-addressed privilege that is so obvious in scenes like those perpetuates really problematic depictions of class and privilege, and it bothered me throughout Rosie's story.

Since we're already on the topic of problematic depictions of privilege and oppression, let's talk about the whitewashing of this cover. Rosie's mother is from Ecuador and her father is Italian, so she is described to have a dark complexion. She also refers to herself as curvy throughout the novel. So of course the cover model had to be... a skinny white girl. Just... ugh. So many problems.

Despite all these issues that my feminist/social-activist self had with the novel, there are still some parts of the story that I really enjoyed. I always love road trips, and this one is no exception - I loved reading about all their stops and adventures. Rosie's interactions with the guys are entertaining too, and I especially loved Matty. I'm not a huge fan of the romance because I don't think it's necessary for the story, but as far as unnecessary, predictable romance goes, this one is at least kind of cute.

How My Summer Went Up in Flames was an okay read for me. It's a quick, entertaining book, and there are plenty of things I enjoyed about it. Looking deeper, though, there are issues that I couldn't ignore, meaning I couldn't absolutely love this book. How My Summer Went Up in Flames is a cute, fun summer read, but nothing more.
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