Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Title: Saint Anything
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Release date: May 5th 2015
Pages: 417
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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Peyton, Sydney's charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion's share of their parents' attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton's increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?
Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I've been reading Sarah Dessen since I was a pre-teen, and I still haven't stopped loving her. Her books always follow the same formula - and with any other author, I would consider that a bad thing and call it an overused trope. But Sarah Dessen does this type of story so well that I don't even care: her characters are always unique and lovable, and I could read her stories over and over again. Saint Anything has proven yet again why Sarah Dessen is one of my all-time favorite authors.

Sydney is a typical Sarah Dessen protagonist, and I loved her. She's pretty "ordinary" - introverted and quiet, like most YA heroines. But Sarah Dessen's writing style and strong character-driven stories make every single character come to life, and it's so easy to connect with Sydney. Layla is the quirky friend who, along with the rest of her family, changes Sydney's life - again, could be an overdone trope, but it's so well-written that it works; this is just what Sarah Dessen does.Layla is more than a trope, she's a passionate, outgoing character who fiercely cares about Sydney and french fries. 

And of course, there's Mac. I absolutely loved how slowly the romance develops - Sydney becomes friends with the entire family first, and then slowly develops a crush on Mac. Even when the romance takes off in the second half, it's not the main focus; it's just one part of Sydney's story, which I loved. Mac is the unassuming kind of perfect: he really sees Sydney, and their chemistry is more than intense. I was swooning and rooting for them for the entire novel, wishing they would just get together already but also appreciating the slow burn of their relationship.

Even though Mac was the main attraction for me, the secondary characters are great, too. I loved Eric and Irv, the other entertaining members of their friend group, and Mrs. Catham, Layla and Mac's mom, who gives Sydney some great insights. And Mr. Catham, who owns the pizza shop where large parts of the story are set - don't read this book on an empty stomach! Then there's Sydney's own family: her parents aren't as easy to love, but their dynamics are fascinating nonetheless. I especially loved seeing Sydney's relationship with Payton develop over the course of the novel; I just wish we would have gotten to see a face-to-face interaction at some point. But the way it is makes sense with the whole story, and I loved the development in their family dynamics at the end. The only story that I think was wrapped up a little too nicely is the one with Ames...

Saint Anything is such an adorable story. Just looking at the cover makes me happy because it reminds of Saint Anything (the one in the book) and the carousel. Every little detail of this story and this writing are perfect, the way it always is in Sarah Dessen's book. I don't even know what else to say - I'm just a hopeless Sarah Dessen fangirl and I will read anything she writes.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Your Voice Is All I Hear Spotlight: Excerpt & Giveaway

Today we have Leah Scheier here for a spotlight of her upcoming book, Your Voice is All I Hear!

Your Voice Is All I Hear will be released September 1st. Here's what it's all about:


Your Voice Is All I Hear by Leah Scheier
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Everything about Jonah is unexpected. On the first day of school, he sits next to April, when he could have chosen to sit with the popular girl. He turns down an invitation to join the school team and declares he'd rather paint. He encourages April to develop her musical talent and shrugs off the bullies that torment them.
April isn't surprised to find herself falling for Jonah. The unexpected part is when he falls for her too.
But the giddy happiness of their first romance begins to fade when Jonah's unpredictability begins to take a darker turn. April understands that her boyfriend is haunted by a painful memory, but his sudden mood swings worry her. She can't explain his growing fear of cellphones, electric keyboards, and of sounds that no one else can hear. Still, no matter what happens, April is sure that she'll always stand by him.
Until Jonah finally breaks and is committed to a psychiatric ward.
Until schizophrenia changes everything.
Though everyone urges her to let him go, April stays true to Jonah. But as the boy she adores begins to disappear in front of her, she has to face her worst fear: that her love may not be enough to save him.

Here is an excerpt from the novel:

I KNOW MY WAY AROUND THE MENTAL HOSPITAL. I doubt most of the girls in my neighborhood could claim that, even though many of us lived just a few minutes from its leafy, sterile grounds, and some of us picnicked on the lawn outside its gate during summer break.

By the end of tenth grade, I knew Shady Grove Hospital better than I knew my school. I knew that the security guard’s name was Carla and that she’d worked at her depressing post since the place was built. I knew the quiet path behind the topiary garden where I could wait until visiting hours began and she let me in. I’d memorized the shape and color of his shadow behind the dark-red curtains, and I knew where I had to stand so he could see me from his eleventh-story window. From that distant spot, I could even guess how well the medicine was working for him that day; I could tell what kind of visit it would be by counting the paces of his shadow.

I had the place mapped out, his daily routine memorized, the doctors’ names and call schedule, every pointless detail carefully recorded in his special little book. He’d given me those notes as if they were classified secrets, the papers wrapped in strips of hospital linen sealed together with bubble gum, long wads of partially chewed Wrigley’s tied into a crisscrossed mesh. That tat- tered spiral notebook was crammed with data he’d gathered over months: patients’ names and histories, nurses’ phone numbers, the cleaning crew’s shift hours. I would never know how these bits of information came together for him or how he even found them out. But somewhere in these random nothings, he’d put together a story for me, a clue of how to get to him, a coded message that, for some reason, he believed only I could read. I was the one he trusted, the only one who had not betrayed him. I was the one he loved, the only one who believed him, even when his own mother had locked him up and thrown away the key.

And now, nearly three months after they’d taken him away, I was finally ready. I was going to march up to the security window, look into the tired guard’s blurry eyes, state my name and the name of the patient I was visiting, and hear the buzz and click of the locked gate sliding open. I was going to walk down the white- tiled hallway, knock on his doctor’s office door, slam his secret notebook on her desk, and make her read it, make her understand what he was hiding, make her see what only I had seen.

I was finally going to do it. I was going to betray him.

Giveaway

Sourcebooks is giving away five copies of Your Voice Is All I Hear! This giveaway is open until September 20th. Enter using the form below. Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, August 07, 2015

Review: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Title: Everything Leads to You
Author: Nina LaCour
Publisher: Dutton BYR
Release date: May 15th 2014
Pages: 307
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world.
Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic…. She’s beautiful. And she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I already had high expectations for Everything Leads to You based on my love for Nina LaCour's debut, Hold Still, but Everything Leads to You was so much better than I could have imagined. With unique, diverse characters, poignant writing, a fascinating setting, and an engrossing story, Everything Leads to You is absolute perfection.

Emi is a very realistic character. I wanted to smack her for some of her stupid decisions, but I also completely understood her reasoning. I don't really know how to describe her, not because she's bland but rather because she's so dynamic and life-like that it's hard to capture in a couple of sentences. In some ways, she feels older than most YA MCs - the book starts right before graduation and is mostly set over the summer after, and high school is never a focus. But despite her impressive career, there are times the seventeen-year-old in her definitely comes out, and I love how Nina LaCour plays with that. Even though Emi is the narrator and protagonist, a lot of Everything Leads to You is Ava's story. Maybe even more so than Emi, Ava is a very unique character with a fascinating background story. I've read other reviews saying they found the mystery surrounding Ava too predictable, but that wasn't a problem for me because I never expected this to be some kind of thriller-esque mystery; yes, the actual revelations are predictable, but the focus is on the emotional reactions rather than the revelations themselves. The emotions are what carry this story. I loved the relationship between Emi and Ava - it develops slowly and authentically, and while I wish I could have seen them together for longer, I appreciate how Nina LaCour took her time to explore their identities and their platonic friendship before turning it into anything more than that. The secondary characters are amazing as well - I loved Emi's relationship with her best friend Charlotte and with her parents, and I appreciate what Toby, Jamal, and Morgan brought to the story.

Even though writing-wise, the characters are what's most impressive, my favorite part was probably reading about the world of movies. We learn so much about Emi's job - a job I didn't even know existed. It was fascinating to see how much work goes into set design, how much time Emi spends trying to find the perfect props; Emi's passion is infectious. Emi's view of movies is jaded - the Collapse of the Fantasy of knowing what really goes on behind the scenes - but her love for movies still shines through, a combination I loved and that worked really well to help Nina LaCour make her bigger points about the story.

This review wouldn't be complete without mentioning how happy I am about the level of diversity in this novel. Everything Leads to You is a book about a biracial lesbian that doesn't focus on either her race or her sexuality, which by itself is kind of a miracle. Emi being gay is never the main focus; this just happens to be a love story about two girls. This is exactly the kind of representation we need. Even though the novel is never focused just on Emi's sexuality, many issues that affect LGBTQ youth - like issues with parents or with homophobic friends, or the massive numbers LGBTQ homeless teens - are addressed as elements of the plot. The characters are racially diverse, and to top it all off, Emi's mother is a professor of gender studies and black studies. Basically, this book is just scoring diversity points all across the board.

Despite all the praise, I don't think I've accurately captured what's so amazing about this novel. It's the voice, the spirit of it all, that makes it such an absorbing read, equal parts fun and thought-provoking. Nina LaCour's writing is amazing; I don't know what else to say but to tell you to read this book. Everything Leads to You is one I know will stay with me for a long time. 

Saturday, August 01, 2015

New Releases August 2015

New releases:


Naked by Stacey Trombley: August 1st
What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi: August 4th
Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi Alsaid: August 4th
Not After Everything by Michelle Levy: August 4th


The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick: August 18th
A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz: August 18th
Another Day by David Levithan: August 25th

New in paperback:


Pointe by Brandy Colbert: August 4th
Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan: August 4th
Random by Tom Leveen: August 11th

What releases are you most excited about this month?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Golden by Jessi Kirby

Title: Golden
Author: Jessi Kirby
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BYR
Release date: May 14th 2013
Pages: 278
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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Seventeen-year-old Parker Frost has never taken the road less traveled. Valedictorian and quintessential good girl, she’s about to graduate high school without ever having kissed her crush or broken the rules. So when fate drops a clue in her lap—one that might be the key to unraveling a town mystery—she decides to take a chance.
Julianna Farnetti and Shane Cruz are remembered as the golden couple of Summit Lakes High—perfect in every way, meant to be together forever. But Julianna’s journal tells a different story—one of doubts about Shane and a forbidden romance with an older, artistic guy. These are the secrets that were swept away with her the night that Shane’s jeep plunged into an icy river, leaving behind a grieving town and no bodies to bury.
Reading Julianna’s journal gives Parker the courage to start to really live—and it also gives her reasons to question what really happened the night of the accident. Armed with clues from the past, Parker enlists the help of her best friend, Kat, and Trevor, her longtime crush, to track down some leads. The mystery ends up taking Parker places that she never could have imagined. And she soon finds that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Jessi Kirby has impressed me yet again, with another beautifully written contemporary. Jessi Kibry's books are usually unassuming in the best way, the kind of books where you can't put your finger on what exactly makes them so good. Her writing effortlessly makes you get lost in a new world, and I loved getting lost in Parker's and Julianna's stories.

Jessi Kirby's writing is gorgeous, and it's always what carries her novels. Her writing style is emotional, honest, and poignant. It's rich in lines that will make you want to stop and think, while at the same wanting to never stop reading. At times, I was thinking that the writing was too good, too beautiful, considering this is supposed to be a journal, but then I decided that I don't care as long as I get to keep reading these gorgeous words.

Parker is a strong main character. She does fit into the standard YA MC trope of the quiet, studious girl that needs to get out of her shell, but she's so well-written that I think it works. She's easy to relate to and feel for, with a strong voice and impressive character growth over the course of the novel. Even though we don't get to read from her perspective for very long, I also grew to love Julianna through the pages of her journal. I also loved Kat, the spunky best friend, and Trevor, the slow-burn love interest done just right. I just wish we could have gotten some more insights into Parker's parents' characters, especially towards the end.

The mystery is okay. In the beginning, it's very intriguing, and I like how it starts out with this facade of perfection that slowly comes crumbling down. I really liked what the mystery meant to Parker - her emotional investment in it rings true, and it works really well with her personal development. The actual mystery, though, isn't too impressive, in my opinion. The main points are fairly predictable, and I kept hoping there would be more to it, but... there wasn't. The motivations behind what happened ten years ago aren't strong enough to justify what happened, in my opinion, making this seem more like a device to develop Parker's character, rather than an independently strong storyline.

But that's okay - Parker's character development is enough to carry the story. If you're in it for the mystery, there's definitely stronger YA mysteries out there, but if you're looking for a strong contemporary with some mystery elements, Golden is perfect for you. Jessi Kirby continues to impress me with her breathtakingly beautiful writing and effortless ability to write characters and worlds you're immediately immersed in. I can't recommend her books enough!
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