Monday, May 25, 2015

Review: The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi

Title: The Night We Said Yes
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: June 16th 2015
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: Edelweiss - I received a free advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
Before Matt, Ella had a plan. Get over a no-good ex-boyfriend. Graduate from high school without any more distractions. Move away from Orlando, Florida, where she’s lived her entire life.
But Matt—the cute, shy, bespectacled bass player who just moved to town—was never part of that plan.
And neither was attending a party that was crashed by the cops just minutes after they arrived. Or spending an entire night saying “yes” to every crazy, fun thing they could think of.
Then Matt abruptly left town, and he broke not only Ella’s heart but those of their best friends, too. So when he shows up a year later with a plan of his own—to relive the night that brought them together—Ella isn’t sure whether Matt’s worth a second chance. Or if re-creating the past can help them create a different future.
In alternating then and now chapters, debut author Lauren Gibaldi crafts a charming, romantic story of first loves, lifelong friendships, uncovered secrets, and, ultimately, finding out how to be brave.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I love books set in just night - they have so much possibility as to what could happen, and there's just a special kind of energy to them. The Night We Said Yes, though, is set over the course of two nights - and somehow, I loved one night but didn't really like the story of the other. So this novel turned out to only be an okay read for me.

On the first night - the chapters marked as 'then' - I loved the romance between Matt and Ella. You could argue that it's kind of insta-love-y, but I think it's well-done and kind of works, considering the story is just set over the course of this night. Despite having just met, they immediately click and have great chemistry. I loved seeing their relationship evolve over the course of that night; it's the kind of story where you can't help but root for the two of them to end up together.

The second night - the 'now' chapters -  don't really live up to the first one, though. The whole storyline of Matt's disappearance and how he's apologizing now just didn't really work for me. Matt's reason for disappearing sounds kind of contrived, and I don't think it really makes sense or justifies why he never contacted anyone. I'm not even sure why, but I just didn't care about Matt's and Ella's relationship as much during the second night - I couldn't get myself to care about whether or not they ended up together. I thought it was kind of strange how the story, towards the end, just kind of ignores the fact that Ella is moving away. The story is very much focused on teenage love, ignoring the practicalities surrounding it.

The Night We Said Yes is a very standard YA contemporary in many ways. That's not necessarily a bad thing - I obviously love contemps - but it uses a lot of the tropes I've gotten kind of sick of. Ella is a very typical protagonist: relatable, quiet, and kind of melodramatic about boys. During the first night, she's moping about her ex-boyfriend Nick, and during the second night, she's moping about Matt, which makes her seem a little needy and reliant on boys for self-validation. Of course the shy girl is the protagonist, rather than her more outgoing best friend, in this case Meg. I loved Meg, and her on-and-off-again relationship Jake would have been refreshing to focus on. The parents of the main characters never make an experience, and it's a book entirely about upper-middle class white people. None of this necessarily makes The Night We Said Yes a bad book, but they're all things I've gotten kind of tired of seeing.

If you still like these standard contemporary YA tropes, give The Night We Said Yes a try - it's really not a bad book; I'm just looking for something more unique and new. The romance during the first part is cute and enjoyable, even if the later developments in the relationship didn't really work for me. All in all, The Night We Said Yes was a very average read for me.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Review: Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton

Title: Tiny Pretty Things
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: May 26th 2015
Pages: 338
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Edelweiss - I received a free advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette's desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.  
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I wasn't really sure what to expect from Tiny Pretty Things. I've read a couple of books focusing on dance or other art forms, and I really enjoyed them even though they're so far out of my own world. But Tiny Pretty Things seemed to focus more on the competitive, backstabbing side of this world, and I wouldn't know how I would feel about that because I haven't been into books with unnecessary drama like that anymore lately. But Tiny Pretty Things took my surprise - I ended up loving it so much more than I thought I would! It's a fast-paced, thrilling read that I never wanted to end.

The three main characters are what make Tiny Pretty Things so great - all three of them are complex, unique and impressively well-written. Gigi is the only one of the three you're really supposed to like - the sweet and innocent underdog the reader is supposed to root for. I did really like her, but to be honest, I loved the sections from Bette's and June's POVs even more! Both of them are complete psychopaths and do some despicable things over the course of the novel, and you really should hate them for it. But, in some dark and twisted way, I felt for them and understood where they were coming from. Reading from their POVs was refreshing and so much fun!

The secondary characters aren't quite as fully developed as Bette, June, and Gigi. For the other girls, I didn't mind that - the reader gets some insights into their stories, but Bette, June, and Gigi are the main focus. I do wish, though, that the male characters were a little more complex - I never really understood Alec, or what Gigi saw in him, and Henry and Jayhe were kind of confusing in their decision-making. But really, the main characters are so great that I didn't even notice these flaws most of the time.

Speaking of characters - Tiny Pretty Things gets major brownie points for diversity! Gigi is one of only two black girls at the school, and June is half-Korean, half-white, not really part of either "group." Their struggles with being non-white in a business that very much favors whiteness is subtly woven into the story. Homosexuality and this addressed much in the same way. I really appreciated how these issues are an important part of the story without needing the book to be "about" them.

I loved being immersed in the world of dance while reading Tiny Pretty Things. Like I said, it's something I know nothing about, but it's written in a way that made an outsider like me understand what was going on while still maintaining the authentic voices of the ballerinas. It was fascinating to read about the pressure these girls are under, and to see the dark side of this world, too, with June's eating disorder and Bette's prescription drug addiction.

My only issue with Tiny Pretty Things was the ending, really. Is this going to be a series? The ending very much felt like there is going to have to be a sequel because basically nothing is resolved. I was kind of upset it ends so abruptly, without really revealing what had happened in the end. But as long as there's going to be a sequel, it makes sense.

For those of you who have read Pretty Little Liars - do you remember those little snippets at the beginning that are written from A's perspective? You're reading from the perspective of the bad guy, but that somehow makes it even more thrilling. That's what basically all of Tiny Pretty Things felt like. With complex and unique characters and intriguing world you can't help but get sucked into, Tiny Pretty Things is a fast-paced, drama-filled novel that I couldn't put down.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Author Interview with Juliana Stone (Some Kind of Normal Blog Tour)

Today we have Juliana Stone here for an author interview! This interview is part of the blog tour for her newest release, Some Kind of Normal.

1.Without spoiling anything, could you tell us what was your favorite scene to write in Some Kind of Normal?
Ah, that’s easy! (kinda because I’ve got two!) The scene at the drive-in really hit home to me, when Everly is surrounded by hundreds of kids but has never felt more alone. I remember feeling like that.
2. If you had to pair up your main character Lucy with any other character from any other YA book (either romantically or as a friend), who would it be and why?
I think Caleb from Simone Elkeles’s book Leaving Paradise. They both have secrets and trauma and are involved with girls who have the same. They could totally support each other I think.
3. What comes easier for you - dialogue or description?
Dialogue hands down. I love writing dialogue and spend half of my time at home talking as I write! My daughter thinks I’m sorta crazy but that’s okay!
4. How do you go about naming your characters?
Funny thing is, I can’t start writing a book until I have the perfect name for a character. I usually envision my character and go from there. I have found that there are certain names I tend to use more than once and then have to go back! (Jake is one!)
5. For any aspiring writers out there - what's the best writing advice you've ever received?
Write from your heart. Never give up. Know that the journey is long and not for the faint of heart. Honestly, writing is the hardest job I’ve ever had but also the most worthwhile!

Make sure to check out all the other stops of the blog tour, and keep your eye out for Some Kind of Normal, which was released May 5th. Here's what it's all about:

Some Kind of Normal by Juliana Stone
SFor Trevor normal was fast guitar licks, catching game-winning passes and partying all night. Until a car accident leaves Trevor with no band, no teammates and no chance of graduating. It's kinda hard to ace your finals when you've been in a coma. The last thing he needs is stuck-up Everly Jenkins as his new tutor—those beautiful blue eyes catching every last flaw.
For Everly normal was a perfect family around the dinner table, playing piano at Sunday service and sunning by the pool. Until she discovers her whole life is a lie. Now the perfect pastor's daughter is hiding a life-changing secret, one that is slowly tearing her family apart. And spending the summer with notorious flirt Trevor Lewis means her darkest secret could be exposed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Review: All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Title: All the Rage
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Release date: April 14th 2015
Pages: 321
Genre: Young Adult contemporary mystery
Source: NetGalley - I received a free advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear. 
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I was more excited about All the Rage than I can remember being about a book in a while. Courtney Summers is one of my favorite authors, and I was so happy when I saw her next book would be addressing rape culture. And even though I had ridiculously high expectations, All the Rage didn't just meet them; it exceeded them! All the Rage is a powerful story that is sure to stay with me for a long time. 

All the Rage actually turned out to be kind of different from what I expected. I assumed it would be about how Romy was raped and about the immediate aftermath of her accusing the town's golden boy of raping her. But the real story doesn't start until much later than that; it's set after the town has already shunned her, which plays into the main story. And while I wish we would have seen a little bit more of the immediate aftermath, I absolutely loved the main story and how it all ties together, so I understand why Courtney Summers decided to start the story here. The description doesn't even really do it justice; I can't explain the story because it's so intriciate. Basically, it's just about a lot of messed up stuff that happens to Romy, and it all kind of ties back into how she was raped and how poorly the whole town reacted. This story is unlike anything I've ever read before, and it totally works.

I was surprised by how much All the Rage turned out to focus on the mystery. It's a little predictable - I didn't know exactly what happened or who did it, but the relation between the rape and the disappearance were kind of obvious. But that didn't make it any less gripping: Romy's emotional investment in figuring out what happened made me desperately need to know what exactly happened. It's excellently done, how the mystery ties into what is going on with Romy emotionally.

But really, Romy's emotional journey is the main focus of the novel. Victim-blaming and not believing victims happens everywhere, but Romy's situation is just horrifyingly bad - the guy who raped her is the sheriff's son, so when she tries to report it to the rapist's dad, it goes about as well as could be expected, especially since she's already ostricized in her small town. Romy's experiences are extraordinarily well-written; she is so broken and her raw emotions are palpable for the reader. You really feel for her and her suffering makes you see how deep the trauma of rape really goes, and how messed up our culture is for accepting it. 

The secondary storylines are expertly done as well. I loved the backstory of Romy's family, which brings up another set of important issues (alcoholism and disability). Romy's mom and stepdad are great characters, and I really appreciated the great relationship Romy has with both of them. Romy also works at a diner, and I loved the work dynamics and characters we meet there as well. 

I especially loved Romy's relationship with Leon, the love interest. When the main character is a survivor of sexual assault, romantic relationships are very hard to write, and I've read multiple books with unrealistic or inconsiderate romance storylines for survivors of sexual assault, which basically ruined the books for me. Romy's relationship with Leon, though, is extremely well-written. Leon is a great character and I absolutely loved how caring and understanding he is towards Romy. But of course, things don't go smoothly between them; Romy's struggle with opening herself up to a romantic relationship after what she has been through is portrayed with impressive honesty and complexity. I also loved that the topic of race is considered in the novel - Leon is black, while the rest of the cast is from an exclusively white small town. The black-male/white-female dynamic is explored in a meaningful and thought-provoking way, even if it is only discussed a couple of times throughout the novel. 

This whole story meant so much to me personally, I can't even put it in words. This is a powerful, important story that I know will stay with me for a while. Other than Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, I can't think of a novel that so accurately and poignantly portrays the aftermath of rape and our culture's disturbing views on it. All the Rage is brilliant, gripping and raw; it's my new favorite Courtney Summers novel, and one of my favorite books in general. I urge everyone to read it; this is an important story, and Romy's voice is one that needs to be heard. 

Friday, May 08, 2015

Review: Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu

Title: Making Pretty
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release date: May 12th 2015
Pages: 368
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Edelweiss - I received a free advance eGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review - thanks!
Montana and her sister, Arizona, are named after the mountainous states their mother left them for. But Montana is a New York City girl through and through, and as the city heats up, she’s stepping into the most intense summer of her life. Her father is distracted by yet another divorce, and she’s growing apart from her sister. Then she meets wild, bold Karissa, who encourages Montana to live in technicolor and chase new experiences. But the more of her own secrets Karissa reveals, the more Montana has to wonder if Karissa’s someone she can really trust.
In the midst of her uncertainty, Montana finds a beautiful distraction in Bernardo. He’s serious and spontaneous, and he looks at Montana in the way she wants to be seen. For the first time, Montana understands how you can become both lost and found in somebody else. But when that love becomes everything, where does it leave the rest of her imperfect life?
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I've loved both OCD Love Story and Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, but the description of Making Pretty sounded kind of vague, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Luckily, I ended up enjoying it just as much as Corey Ann Haydu's previous novels! I understand now why the description is vague, because the whole novel isn't really about one thing in particular (or at least not something you could give away on the back cover) - but it totally works. Corey Ann Haydu has impressed me yet again!

Corey Ann Haydu really knows how to write a voice that will draw you in - I loved reading Montana's story! Montana is relatable and I felt for her, but what I loved most is that she's different from most contemporary YA heroines. She's so complex that I can't really describe her or classify her as a type - which I think is a good thing. She makes some pretty bad decisions, but she's unique, and I loved her for it.

The secondary characters are equally complex and unique. Karissa is probably the most intriguing character - she is seriously messed up, and I wish we had gotten to see more of where she's coming from, especially when things got bad towards the end. I loved Montana's relationship with her sister, Arizona, too - I always love sister stories, and this relationship is definitely complex and well-written. Montana and Arizona's father is a great character, too - he's the villain of the story, in a way, but there's so much more to him than that. I just wish we had gotten to hear more of him about why he stays with this new wife through everything she does, because I never understood what he saw in her. Then there's Bernardo, whom I really liked, too - their relationship is a little bit insta-love-y, but I didn't mind because that's addressed as an issue throughout the novel.

I feel like a lot of people will take issue with the ending because it's very open, and you could say that nothing has really been resolved, which is true. But I didn't really mind - I think this kind of ending works better with the story than one that is unrealistically optimistic. The novel is more about the journey and about Montana's character growth over the course of the story, so I kind of liked that the choices are left up to her at the end.

I can't really put my finger on why exactly I liked this book so much - which seems to be a common theme with me and Corey Ann Haydu's books. There isn't one thing about Making Pretty that I absolutely loved, but the writing and voice are so engrossing that I didn't want to stop reading, and that's what matters most, in my opinion. I don't know if this is my favorite book by Corey Ann Haydu because they're hard to compare, but I did really enjoy it!
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