Sunday, January 25, 2015

Review: Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer

Title: Rival
Author: Sara Bennett Wealer
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: February 15th 2011
Pages: 336
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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Meet Brooke: Popular, powerful and hating every minute of it, she’s the “It” girl at Douglas High in Lake Champion, Minnesota. Her real ambition? Using her operatic mezzo as a ticket back to NYC, where her family lived before her dad ran off with an up and coming male movie star.
Now meet Kathryn: An overachieving soprano with an underachieving savings account, she’s been a leper ever since Brooke punched her at a party junior year. For Kath, music is the key to a much-needed college scholarship.
The stage is set for a high-stakes duet between the two seniors as they prepare for the prestigious Blackmore competition. Brooke and Kathryn work toward the Blackmore with eyes not just on first prize but on one another, each still stinging from a past that started with friendship and ended in betrayal. With competition day nearing, Brooke dreams of escaping the in-crowd for life as a professional singer, but her scheming BFF Chloe has other plans. And when Kathryn gets an unlikely invitation to Homecoming, she suspects Brooke of trying to sabotage her with one last public humiliation.
As pressures mount, Brooke starts to sense that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had. But Kathryn has a decision to make. Can she forgive? Or are some rivalries for life?

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Rival had been on my TBR list for years before I finally picked it up. I had always had a good feeling about it but never got around to it - but now I know that good feeling was justified! From the very first page on, I loved Sara Bennet Wealer's writing, which carries the novel throughout.

What makes this novel so great are the characters. At first I was a little confused about the switches in POV along with the switches between junior and senior year, but you get used to it relatively quickly: it works because Brooke and Kathryn have very distinct voices. I loved both of these characters, although I would have to say I liked Brooke more. Kathryn is the one I thought I would relate to more, but she frustrated me a bit towards the end. Brooke, on the other hand, really surprised me; her character is complex and layered, and her insecurities are very relatable. Both characters are very realistic, and I loved seeing their relationship develop over the course of the novel. I especially appreciated how the novel focuses on the two characters as individuals, rather than letting any romantic storylines take center stage.

I know nothing about opera singing, but I really loved reading about it in Rival - this is such an interesting world to be immersed in! I've read plenty of books about artistic main characters, but this world was new to me, and I loved seeing how this world works. Both characters' passion for music really shines through in this novel.

The only part I didn't like quite as much is the popularity element of the novel. That whole thing is kind of melodramatic: it's so overdone how ridiculously "popular" and "powerful" Brooke's older brothers are, so powerful that they could ruin Kathryn's college experience because they have connections everywhere, and so on - all of that kind of annoyed me, to be honest. I didn't even really understand why Brooke is so popular, when she doesn't really care about any of the things her friends care about or seem to put any effort into it. The stuff Brooke's friends do to Kathryn are kind of childish, and I just liked the music part of the rivalry a lot more than the melodramatic popularity element.

But even when I got annoyed by parts of the novel, I couldn't stop reading: Sara Bennett Wealer's writing really got me emotionally invested in these characters and their story. I absolutely loved these characters, and even though I don't think it's a novel that will stay with me for too long, it's one I'd definitely recommend reading.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bookish Anticipation #45

Bookish Anticipation is a feature I do every once in a while to spotlight future releases I'm excited for. It was inspired by Breaking the Spine's Waiting on Wednesday. You can check out more of my Bookish Anticipation posts here.

The Devil You Know by Trish Doller
Release date: June 2nd 2015
Eighteen-year-old Arcadia wants adventure. Living in a tiny Florida town with her dad and four-year-old brother, Cadie spends most of her time working, going to school, and taking care of her family. So when she meets two handsome cousins at a campfire party, she finally has a chance for fun. They invite her and friend to join them on a road trip, and it's just the risk she's been craving-the opportunity to escape. But what starts out as a fun, sexy journey quickly becomes dangerous when she discovers that one of them is not at all who he claims to be. One of them has deadly intentions.

Get Dirty (Don't Get Mad #2) by Gretchen McNeil
Release date: June 16th 2015
The members of Don’t Get Mad aren’t just mad anymore . . . they’re afraid. And with Margot in a coma and Bree stuck in juvie, it’s up to Olivia and Kitty to try to catch their deadly tormentor. But just as the girls are about to go on the offensive, Ed the Head reveals a shocking secret that turns all their theories upside down. The killer could be anyone, and this time he—or she—is out for more than just revenge.
The girls desperately try to discover the killer’s identity as their personal lives are falling apart: Donté is pulling away from Kitty and seems to be hiding a secret of his own, Bree is under house arrest, and Olivia’s mother is on an emotional downward spiral. The killer is closing in, the threats are becoming more personal, and when the police refuse to listen, the girls have no choice but to confront their anonymous friend . . . or die trying.

Invincible by Amy Reed
Release date: April 28th 2015
Evie is living on borrowed time. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer several months ago and told that by now she'd be dead. Evie is grateful for every extra day she gets, but she knows that soon this disease will kill her. Until, miraculously, she may have a second chance to live.
All Evie had wanted was her life back, but now that she has it, she feels like there's no place for her in it--at least, not for the girl she is now. Her friends and her parents still see her as Cancer Girl, and her boyfriend's constant, doting attention is suddenly nothing short of suffocating.
Then Evie meets Marcus. She knows that he's trouble, but she can't help falling for him. Being near him makes her feel truly, fully alive. It's better than a drug. His kiss makes her feel invincible--but she may be at the beginning of the biggest free fall of her life.
The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler 
Release date: June 2nd 2015
The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse D’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.
Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: an ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.
Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother, Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.
When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them…

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
Release date: June 16th 2015
Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can't turn off.
Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn't help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she'd be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam's weekly visits to her psychiatrist.
Caroline introduces Sam to the Poet's Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more "normal" than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
Release date: June 16th 2015
The Leteo Institute's revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto -- miracle cure-alls don't tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can't forget how he's grown up poor or how his friends aren't always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it's not enough.
Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn't mind Aaron's obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn't mind talking about Aaron's past. But Aaron's newfound happiness isn't welcome on his block. Since he's can't stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

What releases are you anticipating this week? 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Review: Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

Title: Playlist for the Dead
Author: Michelle Falkoff
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: January 27th 2015
Pages: 288
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Edelweiss - I received a free eGalley of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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A teenage boy tries to understand his best friend's suicide by listening to the playlist of songs he left behind in this smart, voice-driven debut novel.
Here's what Sam knows: There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, his best friend, Hayden, was dead. And all he left Sam was a playlist of songs, and a suicide note: For Sam—listen and you'll understand.
As he listens to song after song, Sam tries to face up to what happened the night Hayden killed himself. But it's only by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him that he will finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Playlist for the Dead was a very "meh" kind of book. There's nothing I want to rant about, but nothing I really loved about it, either. The novel has potential, but it was a very underwhelming read for me that I don't really have an opinion about one way or the other.

Sam and Hayden, albeit a bit stereotypical, are fully-realized characters. They're trying a bit too hard to be alternative for my tastes - complaining about how bad top 40 music is does not make you a more interesting or sophisticated person - but I did feel for them. Sam and Hayden are sympathetic characters in their issues at school, and I felt for Sam throughout his struggle with losing Hayden. 

I also really like the message that the novel sends. While it seems a bit forced how every single storyline and character exemplifies this, I did appreciate the message of how people are complex and not always what they seem. The novel calls to consider that there are always multiple sides to a story, which works really well with what Sam learns over the course of the novel.

The actual, story, though, is lacking in parts. I found the whole thing kind of formulaic and repetitive, how Sam goes to one person to hear part of the story, and how conveniently it all ties together. In between hearing parts of the story from different people (without really having to figure anything out himself), there's a romance storyline that I liked at first but takes a really random path later on. I didn't have a real issue with any of these things, but nothing stood out as very original or surprising, either.

The whole mystery element is kind of strange. It started out interesting and if it was going somewhere, but then it just kind of... doesn't. I felt like the danger wasn't immediate enough to actually justify any sort of suspense. The possibly-supernatural elements don't really go anywhere either, and are just kind of explained away at the end, and the way the mystery resolve is very underwhelming and felt like a bit of a cop-out. That made some of the mysterious events seem kind of pointless, as if they were just added for suspense without really contributing anything to the story.

Judging from the title and description, I figured music would play an important role in figuring out what happened the night Hayden killed himself. The whole music aspect has a lot of potential, and it does take up a large part of the story; I like how every chapter is titled after a song on the playlist, and how its significance to Sam's and Hayden's relationship is always explained. But as for being part of the mystery or driving the storyline in any way, it was very underwhelming. We're led to believe these songs will reveal something about Hayden's decision, but then it just kind of doesn't. Even though I liked the musical aspect, that made the whole thing kind of pointless and disappointing, since the title makes it out to be so important.

I also had some issues in regards to portrayal of gender. Sam and Hayden have a very stereotypical nerd-view of women, in the sense that they are exotic creatures that they never really interact with; girls aren't really seen as people with real interests that you could have real conversations with. Astrid breaks that mold because she's a fully-realized character, but it still bothered me that Sam would only consider a romantic relationship with her as worthy and couldn't be just friends with her. Even worse are Hayden's romantic endeavors, in which romance is portrayed as the only meaningful relationship that could make life worth living. This was never really discussed, which bothered me throughout the novel.

I did like the characters and message that Playlist for the Dead sends, but the novel wastes a lot of potential on by introducing so many storylines that don't really go end up going anywhere. The solutions presented by the novel are very underwhelming, making the whole mystery element kind of pointless. While I did feel for the characters, the novel didn't evoke as many emotions in me as one with a topic this important could. Overall, this is an okay read, but I think there are better YA books about the same topic.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Review: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Title: Two Boys Kissing
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf BYR
Release date: August 27th 2013
Pages: 196
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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New York Times bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.
While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Two Boys Kissing is only my second non-collaborative David Levithan book, but I'm quickly realizing that I need to read all of them. I thought nothing could be as great as Every Day, but now I can't decide which one I liked better; they're both impressively unique and thought-provoking. I'm finally beginning to understand why David Levithan is such a big name in YA.

To be honest, Two Boys Kissing took me a while to get into, and that's because of the unusual narration. I didn't know that this was going to be narrated by a Greek Chorus of gay men who have died of AIDS, but since it's in the description, I'm going to assume I'm not spoiling it for anyone. It took me the first couple of chapter-like units of the book to understand who was talking to us, and even after that, it was kind of strange, but I got into after a while. I don't usually like omniscient narrators, and this Greek Chorus can see into everyone's heads, but somehow, it works; the transitions make it flow really nicely, rather than seeming like random thoughts from random people. This form of narration makes the novel kind of preachy at times, but I didn't mind that much either; since the preachiness is coming from the Greek Chorus of people who obviously have strong opinions about homophobia, etc., rather than the author, it's justified, in a way (even though I'm sure David Levithan would agree with them). I know some people complained that this narration made them feel less close to the characters, and that's accurate, but I didn't mind that, because one individual character isn't the point; this is their collective story. After I got into it, I really enjoyed getting little glimpses into their lives, and I think this unusual form of narration is what really made the novel stand out. 

Even though this is more of a collective than an individual story, the characters are very well-developed. Some are more developed than others: I especially loved Harry and Craig and Cooper, while I didn't feel as much of a connection with the other two couples, Neil and Patrick and Ryan and Avery. Harry and Craig's parts were my favorite simply because I love this idea: it was fascinating to read about all the little things that go into making such a long kiss work, and I just love reading about random records like that. But Neil and Patrick do get bonus points for the adorable scene in the YA section of a bookstore references to other YA books and characters who read YA make me ridiculously happy.

But even more so than these individual stories, David Levithan's writing is what makes Two Boys Kissing such an exceptional novel. Just like in Every Day, there are so many quotes in Two Boys Kissing that I totally would have dog-eared if that wouldn't give me a book nerd heart attack. There are so many thoughtprovoking sentences and paragraphs you just have to read over and over because they are so powerful in their truthfulness. David Levithan's words carry so much emotion, and I cried multiple times over the course of this story, but this novel is really more hopeful and inspirational than it is sad.

If you haven't read a David Levithan book, you need to go change that right now. He has the best, most creative set-ups, and powerful, thoughtprovoking writing that will stay with you long after you've turned the last page. I can't recommend Two Boys Kissing enough.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday #35: 2014 Releases I Meant to Read But Didn't Get to

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish with a different topic for a top-ten list each week. You can find out more about it here.

This week's topic is: Top Ten 2014 Releases I Meant to Read But Didn't Get to

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern
Inland by Kat Rosenberg
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
In Deep by Terra Elan McVoy
Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

What 2014 releases did you miss out on reading this past year?
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