Sunday, December 28, 2014

Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
Publisher: Knopf
Release date: January 6th 2015
Pages: 384
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: NetGalley - I received a free advance eGalley of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister's recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it's unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the "natural wonders" of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It's only with Violet that Finch can be himself-a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who's not such a freak after all. And it's only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet's world grows, Finch's begins to shrink.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

All the Bright Places is a quiet kind of gem. I didn't notice how great it was until I was almost through with it; but it really is heartbreaking, moving story. I had heard good things about it, but I was not prepared for how great this novel really is. I'm convinced that this will be one of the big hits of dark, moving contemporaries in 2015. 

Honestly, this novel took a while to grow on me. In the beginning, the pacing is kind of slow, and it doesn't really pick up until about halfway through. But looking back now, I don't even know if that's necessarily a bad thing - it totally works for the story. That's how I felt about the writing, too: it's really sparse, and Jennifer Niven does that thing where she'll start ever chapter with two sentences just telling you where and when this scene is set, which I'm nota huge fan of. But again, it works: the sparse writing really lets the characters' honest voices shine. So if you're not in love with the novel right away, please stick with it; it totally works once you make it through the beginning.

The characters are complex and realistic. I absolutely loved Violet and related to her 100 percent. I had a bit of a harder time with Finch, even though he's the more unique of the two characters - it was just really hard for me to get a clear picture of him, because his behavior is so confusing and contradictory. But since that's kind of the point, he's still a very well-written character; I personally just connected more with Violet. The relationship between the two of them is perfect in its imperfections; I love how realistic the portrayal is. The romance develops really slowly, making you hope for the two of them to get together long before they actually do, which is just the way I like it. The secondary characters are fully realized, too - I loved finding out more about the other kids at school, and there's some complicated family storylines as well.

I can't put my finger on what exactly makes this book so great; it's really just the feelings it conveys. It covers a looong span of time, which is different from what I'm used to and gives the novel a slightly more adult feel, but it really makes you feel the heartbreak as well as the hopefulness because you get to witness the whole progression of the story. Messy would be the perfect word to describe the events of All the Bright Places, especially the second half: I was surprised by how dark it gets halfway through, but I really liked it. That plot twist is kind of a bold move because I don't know how other readers will feel about it, but I for one loved the way the story unfolded and definitely preferred it over an unrealistic happy ending. In some parts, I felt like the novel was trying a bit too hard to be deep and emotional, like with all the Virginia Wolf quotes and fancy language; I don't think all of that was necessary because the story itself is already so emotional, it doesn't need any additions. But in general, I loved how heartbreaking and emotional this novel is.

If you enjoy quiet, emotional contemporaries, you definitely need to keep your eyes out for this one. It might take a while to grow on you, but it's worth it: All the Bright Places is a heartbreaking but hopeful, emotional and honest story with characters that will stay with you. I can't recommend it enough!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday #33: Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing

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 Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing

Dangerous Boys by Abigail Haas

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Golden by Jessi Kirby

In Deep by Terra Elan McVoy

Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt

The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

What books would you like Santa to bring you?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Review: Dead Girls Don't Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf

Title: Dead Girls Don't Lie
Author: Jennifer Shaw Wolf
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Release date: September 17th 2013
Pages: 352
Genre: Young Adult contemporary mystery
Source: Bought
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Rachel died at two a.m . . . Three hours after Skyler kissed me for the first time. Forty-five minutes after she sent me her last text.
Jaycee and Rachel were best friends. But that was before. . .before that terrible night at the old house. Before Rachel shut Jaycee out. Before Jaycee chose Skyler over Rachel. Then Rachel is found dead. The police blame a growing gang problem in their small town, but Jaycee is sure it has to do with that night at the old house. Rachel’s text is the first clue—starting Jaycee on a search that leads to a shocking secret. Rachel’s death was no random crime, and Jaycee must figure out who to trust before she can expose the truth. 
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Dead Girls Don't Lie is one of those books where I can't really think of anything to say other than, "Ehh. It was okay." I guess I enjoyed reading it, but I wouldn't be sad to have missed out on it. The premise sounded promising, and I don't have any huge complaints, but there also wasn't anything that would make me really love this story.

I know a lot of people complained about the main character, saying she was too naïve, but that didn't really bother me because it's realistic: the story acknowledges that she's naïve, and I know we'd all like to think we'd be smarter in a situation like this, but I'm pretty sure I'd be oblivious too, so I can't really fault Jaycee for that. But while that didn't really bother me, I wasn't a huge fan of Jaycee, either; not because there's anything wrong with her, but because she's just kind of boring. She's the stereotypical good girl that does no wrong and goes to church every week (the religion aspect was a bit much for me, too). She was okay, but I just wish there had been something more to her.

The mystery was pretty good, but for some reason, I didn't get as into it as I usually do with murder mysteries. I think part of that is because Jaycee doesn't actually find out anything at all; she's really not much of a detective. Things just kind of happen to her, and people tell her what happened. While there is definitely an element of danger, it didn't feel as real as in mysteries where the main character was actually actively figuring things out.

I still don't know how to feel about the solution. I had kind of already figured it out early on, but then I thought that would be too obvious... but it did turn out to be true. I thought the revelation wasn't a hundred percent in accordance to the way the person who did it was acting throughout the novel, even if it is explained at the end. The solution is also kind of drawn out: we find out who did it, but then it takes a whiiile for Jaycee to really understand what happened and for anything to be resolved, and the final action scene seemed kind of staged. I think this ending was an interesting solution, but the psychology behind it was too complex and not actually explored enough for this to work.

In the beginning of the novel, the story tries really hard to be about race. I think this was a good attempt, but it wasn't done thoroughly enough, and the way Jennifer Shaw Wolf went about it just made me feel kind of icky. The novel is set in a small, white town that has some Mexican immigrants, and there's a lot of racism towards these "outsiders." So of course, when Rachel gets murdered, everyone assumes it was one of those Mexican gangbangers, and Jaycee tries to relieve some of those racial tensions. But as much as it's trying to criticize the Mexican gangbanger stereotype, the story doesn't really do all that much to disprove it: honestly, the portrayal of the Mexican characters is pretty stereotypical, along with the bad Spanglish dialogue that was so obviously written by a white person. It also made me feel really weird how Jaycee is supposed to be the one "good" white person, as if she should get brownie points for crossing to the other side of the river and talking to the Mexicans. The whole topic just kind of goes away towards the end, without any more exploration. Really, it was a nice try, but it just doesn't go in-depth enough to really do anything. 

That's basically all I have to say about Dead Girls Don't Lie; it's an okay novel all around. If the story sounds interesting to you, go for it - there's nothing horribly bad about it. But there was also nothing that would make me really love it. All in all, it was just a very underwhelming read. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday #32: Favorite Books of 2014

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 Books of 2014

Here are my ten favorite books I read in 2014, in no particular order:

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

This was my first read of 2014, but I still knew it would be on my list of favorites. It touched me in a very personal way, and I had all of the feels. If you're looking for an emotional read, Love Letters to the Dead is definitely the way to go! 

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

All books in Miranda Kenneally's Hundred Oaks series are exceptionally well-done romances, but I think this one might be my new favorite. It's a bit darker than the previous ones, but it's still a romance at heart, and I loved everything about it.

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

I'll Give You the Sun is too complex for me to even try to explain why it's so great. It took me a while to get through it, but it's worth it - it's just the kind of story you need time to process. In my review I compared it to Jellicoe Road, so I think that pretty much explains it all.

In Honor by Jessi Kirby

I know I'm really late to this party, but I just hadn't gotten around to reading In Honor up until this year, which was obviously a mistake. Jessi Kirby's writing is perfect and exactly what I look for in books.

Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown's previous books were only okay for me, but she totally won me over with this one. Torn Away is such a heart-wrenching, honest story, and I loved everything about it.

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

This is another one that I'm way late reading, and I have no idea why I waited so long. Everyone who pushed me to read Dangerous Girls was absolutely right - it's one of the best YA mysteries I've ever read. 

Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang

Falling Into Place is written in a really unusual way, in non-chronological order and with a really random narrator, but somehow, it works. The writing is effortlessly beautiful and heart-wrenching, so if you're looking for a moving, more literary read, this one is for you.

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

I love all of Morgan Matson's books, and I was so happy she wrote a book focused on friendship rather than romance because we need more of those. The characters are amazing, and it's so much fun to read, even during the more serious parts.

Tease by Amanda Maciel

Tease is such a unique concept, and I loved reading the bullying story from the other side. It's tough to read and made me really angry at times, but it's also eye-opening and a really important story to be told.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I was really late getting on the Rainbow Rowell train, but it was worth it - everyone who fangirled about her (see what I did there?) was absolutely right; her writing is amazing. Fangil is still my favorite of her novels because I connected so much with Cath, and because I was so happy to read a YA book set in college!

What were your favorite books of 2014?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Review: Break by Hannah Moskowitz

Title: Break
Author: Hannah Moskowitz
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: August 25th 2009
Pages: 262
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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Jonah is on a mission to break every bone in his body. Everyone knows that broken bones grow back stronger than they were before. And Jonah wants to be stronger—needs to be stronger—because everything around him is falling apart. Breaking, and then healing, is Jonah’s only way to cope with the stresses of home, girls, and the world on his shoulders.
When Jonah's self-destructive spiral accelerates and he hits rock bottom, will he find true strength or surrender to his breaking point?
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I loved Hannah Moskowitz's newer releases, but for some reason I'd been holding off on reading her debut. Both because just generally, it can be kind of disappointing to have seen what a writer can do now, and then go back to their possibly-not-as-strong debut, and just because of the subject matter - I like darker YA books, but the whole bone-breaking thing just seemed a bit too disturbing. But I never should have doubted Hannah Moskowitz - while it's not going to be my favorite of her books (that's Gone, Gone, Gone), I did really enjoy Break.

The whole bone-breaking thing seemed kind of absurd at first, but within the context of the novel, it totally makes sense. It's painful to read about at times, but Hannah Moskowitz's writing makes it so compelling you can't even think about putting the book down. And of course, the bone-breaking storyline isn't all that Break is about. This seems to be a pattern for Hannah Moskowitz's books: they're usually marketed for one plot, but then turn out to be so much more. And if you thought Jonah breaking his own bones was intense, it's got nothing on the rest of this novel.

More so than the bone-breaking, Jonah's family is the main focus of the novel. (Although, of course, that wouldn't have made for a particularly intriguing back cover.) The family set-up is the most unique I've read about in a long time. I don't even want to talk about it much because I think it works best when you discover the intricacies of the family dynamics on your own. Jesse and Jonah have an incredibly complex brother-brother relationship, proving once again that Hannah Moskowitz is the best at writing sibling relationships. I wish the relationship between the parents had been explored a bit more, but all in all, the whole family is fully-developed and impressively layered.

My only complaint would be the ending, which felt rushed to me. I understand that Hannah Moskowitz wanted to end with the first step towards healing, but it left so many questions unanswered. And not just the what-will-happen-next kind of questions (which would be to be expected), but also simple questions about the plot, like what was all of that with the volunteer that helped Jonah? What's going on with Charlotte? I get why Hannah Moskowitz chose to end the novel this way, but I really wanted these questions to be explored more.

While you can tell that Hannah Moskowitz's writing isn't quite as developed yet as it is in some of her later novels, Break is a really impressive debut. If you're looking for a dark, disturbing but ultimately hopeful novel with intriguing characters and complex relationships, Break is the novel for you!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bookish Anticipation #44

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.

99 Days by Katie Cotugno
Release date: April 21st 2015
Day 1: Julia Donnelly eggs my house my first night back in Star Lake, and that’s how I know everyone still remembers everything—how I destroyed my relationship with Patrick the night everything happened with his brother, Gabe. How I wrecked their whole family. Now I’m serving out my summer like a jail sentence: Just ninety-nine days till I can leave for college, and be done.
Day 4: A nasty note on my windshield makes it clear Julia isn’t finished. I’m expecting a fight when someone taps me on the shoulder, but it’s just Gabe, home from college and actually happy to see me. “For what it’s worth, Molly Barlow,” he says, “I’m really glad you’re back.”
Day 12: Gabe got me to come to this party, and I’m actually having fun. I think he’s about to kiss me—and that’s when I see Patrick. My Patrick, who’s supposed to be clear across the country. My Patrick, who’s never going to forgive me.
The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West
Release date: May 5th 2015
When Gia Montgomery's boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she has to think fast. After all, she'd been telling her friends about him for months now. This was supposed to be the night she proved he existed. So when she sees a cute guy waiting to pick up his sister, she enlists his help. The task is simple: be her fill-in boyfriend— two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. After that, she can win back the real Bradley.
The problem is that days after prom, it's not the real Bradley she's thinking about, but the stand-in. The one whose name she doesn't even know. But tracking him down doesn't mean they're done faking a relationship. Gia owes him a favor and his sister intends to see that he collects: his ex-girlfriend's graduation party — three hours, zero commitment, a few white lies.
Just when Gia begins to wonder if she could turn her fake boyfriend into a real one, Bradley comes waltzing back into her life, exposing her lie, and threatening to destroy her friendships and her new-found relationship.

Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu
Release date: May 12th 2015
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?

Even When You Lie to Me by Jessica Alcott
Release date: June 9th 2015
Charlie, a senior, isn't looking forward to her last year of high school. Another year of living in the shadow of her best friend, Lila. Another year of hiding behind the covers of her favorite novels. Another year of navigating her tense relationship with her perfectionist mom.
But everything changes when she meets her new English teacher. Mr. Drummond is smart. Irreverent. Funny. Hot. Everyone loves him. And Charlie thinks he's the only one who gets her.
She also thinks she might not be the only one with a crush.

Gone Too Far by Natalie D. Richards
Release date: January 15th 2015
Piper Woods can't wait for the purgatory of senior year to end. She skirts the fringes of high school like a pro until the morning she finds a notebook with mutilated photographs and a list of student sins. She's sure the book is too gruesome to be true, until pretty, popular Stella dies after a sex-tape goes viral. Everyone's sure it's suicide, but Piper remembers Stella's name from the book and begins to suspect something much worse.
Drowning in secrets she doesn't want to keep, Piper's fears are confirmed when she receives an anonymous text message daring her to make things right. All she needs to do is choose a name, the name of someone who deserves to be punished...

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Release date: May 5th 2015
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.

What releases are you anticipating this week? 

Monday, December 08, 2014

Review: The Secrets of Lily Graves by Sarah Strohmeyer

Title: The Secrets of Lily Graves
Author: Sarah Strohmeyer
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release date: May 6th 2014
Pages: 298
Genre: Young Adult contemporary mystery
Source: Bought
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Growing up in a house of female morticians, Lily Graves knows all about buried secrets. She knows that perfect senior-class president Erin Donohue isn’t what she seems. She knows why Erin’s ex-boyfriend, hot football player Matt Houser, broke up with her. And she also knows that, even though she says she and Matt are just friends, there is something brewing between them—something Erin definitely did not like.
But secrets, even ones that are long buried, have a way of returning to haunt their keeper.
So when Erin is found dead the day after attacking Lily in a jealous rage, Lily's and Matt’s safe little lives, and the lives of everyone in their town of Potsdam, begin to unravel. And their relationship—which grew from innocent after-school tutoring sessions to late-night clandestine rendezvous—makes them both suspects.
As her world crumbles around her, Lily must figure out the difference between truth and deception, genuine love and a web of lies. And she must do it quickly, before the killer claims another victim.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I'd never read a Sarah Strohmeyer book before, but I'd heard they were a ton of fun, and that's exactly what I got from The Secrets of Lily Graves. I've read a lot of bad reviews of this one, complaining that the story is unoriginal and predictable, and I can totally see where those reviewers are coming from. But... I just didn't care. This novel was so much fun to read that I didn't care about the little things and just flew right through it, and that's all that really mattered to me.

I really enjoy mysteries, and because I haven't read a ton of them, I think I'm pretty easy to please when it comes to mystery storylines - I don't care if they're not the best thought-out, but I love these fun YA mysteries. I liked the mystery in The Secrets of Lily Graves, and I didn't see the resolution coming at all; others thought it was predictable, but I for one was on my toes throughout the novel. Looking back, the murderer isn't the most creative choice, but I didn't see it coming, and I thought it was suspenseful throughout.

My favorite part of The Secrets of Lily Graves was, by far, the setting of the funeral home. I've read one other book about the daughter of funeral home owners, but I felt like I learned a lot more about the business in this one. I know it's kind of morbid, but I found the little details we learn about her family's work fascinating! I especially liked reading about her aunt's work of getting the bodies ready to be displayed - I never knew how much of a science that was! 

The characters in this novel are pretty good. Although she's a very typical YA heroine, I really liked Lily; she has a very strong voice that I really enjoyed. Her whole family is great: I loved reading about her mom, her badass aunt, and her grandma, who are all involved in the morticians' business. One element of the family that is underdeveloped, though, is Lily's father: we learn that he's dead, but that's all, and I wish that had been explored more. Then there's Matt, the love interest. He's okay - he has some redeeming qualities, but he's still a very cookie-cutter, stereotypical popular jock who's secretly nice and falls for the outcast girl. Sara, Lily's best/only friend, is a really unique and interesting character, too. The only issue I had with her is that her name is Sara, almost like the author's name, which I just thought was kind of strange...

That's pretty much all I have to say about The Secrets of Lily Graves. No, it's not going to be a book that impacts my life or that will stay on my mind forever, but it was a fun (if somewhat generic), quick read, and I really enjoyed it. If you're looking for something quick and fun that doesn't require a lot of thinking, you should definitely give The Secrets of Lily Graves a try.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Review: The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

Title: The Lucy Variations
Author: Sara Zarr
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Release date: January 1st 2013
Pages: 336
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
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Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. Now, at sixteen, it's over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. But without music in her life, Lucy's not sure who she is, or who she wants to be. Then she meets Will, her brother's new piano teacher, who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy find her way back to piano-not for an audience, but on her own terms.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

It's no secret I love Sara Zarr. She is one of my favorite writers, and Sweethearts is one of my all-time favorite books. And while I definitely saw some of the things I loved about Sara Zarr's previous books in this one, I just didn't connect with The Lucy Variations as much as I wanted to.

Honestly, a large part of why I didn't connect with The Lucy Variations as much as I did with Sara Zarr's previous books is the third-person narration. Sara Zarr is a master at creating relatable protagonists whose heads you enjoy being in, and I just don't think it worked as well in the third person as it does in the first-person narrations she has previously used. I liked Lucy's character, but it was a lot harder to connect with her than it was for me to care about Sara Zarr's previous main characters. Somehow, the third-person POV made some parts of the narrative just sound kind of awkward: parts sounded more like the narrator was summarizing events, rather than actually showing us what was happening. And since Sara Zarr's writing is what I usually like best about her books, I had a hard time with The Lucy Variations, where I didn't find the writing to be quite as strong.

Another issue I had was the pacing - it was really hard for me to get invested in the plot. This might just have been because I started the book at a busy time in the semester, so I couldn't read through it all as fast as I usually do, but I just didn't have that need to pick up the book whenever I could. I know this is a character-driven story, but the plot was so slow that I just got kind of bored at times. I think the pacing could have been more balanced over the course of the novel: very little happens for the first 250 pages or so, and then all the action towards the ending feels rushed in comparison.

The secondary characters are okay. I thought the family set-up was really interesting, with the pressure originating from an overbearing grandparent rather than parent. But at times, Lucy's family just felt a bit too one-dimensional, and it felt like they just kept saying the same things over and over again.

One thing I did really enjoy is Lucy's relationship with Will - not because I wanted them to be together, but because I thought that this added an interesting dynamic to Lucy's character. I also really enjoyed the ending, and I appreciate that Sara Zarr went with an empowered, independent development for Lucy's character, rather than going to standard romantic route.

I feel like most of my review is negative, but I did enjoy The Lucy Variations - I really liked the idea, and Sara Zarr does handle the development of Lucy's character arc over the course of the story really well. But because I had such high expectations from Sara Zarr, one of my favorite writers, I was disappointed that The Lucy Variations didn't quite live up to some of her earlier novels.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday #31: Books I'm Looking Forward to in 2015

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 Books I'm Looking Forward to in 2015

Because there will be another topic about 2015 debuts a couple of weeks from now, I'm only listing books by authors I've read before in this list.

Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu
Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby
All the Rage by Courtney Summers
Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt
Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
I Was Here by Gayle Forman
The Devil You Know by Trish Doller
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

What 2015 releases are you most excited for?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bookish Anticipation #43

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.

Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt
Release date: May 19th 2015
Penelope Landlow has grown up with the knowledge that almost anything can be bought or sold—including body parts. She’s the daughter of one of the three crime families that control the black market for organ transplants.
Penelope’s surrounded by all the suffocating privilege and protection her family can provide, but they can't protect her from the autoimmune disorder that causes her to bruise so easily.
And in her family's line of work no one can be safe forever.
All Penelope has ever wanted is freedom and independence. But when she’s caught in the crossfire as rival families scramble for prominence, she learns that her wishes come with casualties, that betrayal hurts worse than bruises, that love is a risk worth taking . . . and maybe she’s not as fragile as everyone thinks.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
Release date: March 24th 2015
The Walls Around Us is a ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries.
We hear Amber’s story and Violet’s, and through them Orianna’s, first from one angle, then from another, until gradually we begin to get the whole picture—which is not necessarily the one that either Amber or Violet wants us to see.
Finding Paris by Joy Preble
Release date: April 21st 2015
Sisters Leo and Paris Hollings have only ever had each other to rely on. They can’t trust their mother, who hops from city to city and from guy to guy, or their gambler stepfather, who’s moved them all to Las Vegas. It’s just the two of them: Paris, who’s always been the dreamer, and Leo, who has a real future in mind—going to Stanford, becoming a doctor, falling in love.
But Leo isn’t going anywhere yet… until Paris ditches her at the Heartbreak Hotel Diner, where moments before they had been talking with physics student Max Sullivan. Outside, Leo finds a cryptic note from Paris—a clue. Is it some kind of game? Where is Paris, and why has she disappeared?
When Leo reluctantly accepts Max’s offer of help, the two find themselves following a string of clues through Vegas and beyond. But the search for the truth is a not a straight line. And neither is the path to secrets Leo and Max hold tightly.

Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby
Release date: April 21st 2015
When Quinn Sullivan meets the recipient of her boyfriend’s donated heart, the two form an unexpected connection.
After Quinn loses her boyfriend, Trent, in an accident their junior year, she reaches out to the recipients of his donated organs in hopes of picking up the pieces of her now-unrecognizable life. She hears back from some of them, but the person who received Trent’s heart has remained silent. The essence of a person, she has always believed, is in the heart. If she finds Trent’s, then maybe she can have peace once and for all.
Risking everything in order to finally lay her memories to rest, Quinn goes outside the system to track down nineteen-year-old Colton Thomas—a guy whose life has been forever changed by this priceless gift. But what starts as an accidental run-in quickly develops into more, sparking an undeniable attraction. She doesn't want to give in to it—especially since he has no idea how they're connected—but their time together has made Quinn feel alive again. No matter how hard she’s falling for Colton, each beat of his heart reminds her of all she’s lost…and all that remains at stake.

Everything That Makes You by Moriah McStay
Release date: March 17th 2015
One girl. Two stories. Meet Fiona Doyle. The thick ridges of scar tissue on her face are from an accident twelve years ago. Fiona has notebooks full of songs she’s written about her frustrations, her dreams, and about her massive crush on beautiful uber-jock Trent McKinnon. If she can’t even find the courage to look Trent straight in his beautiful blue eyes, she sure isn’t brave enough to play or sing any of her songs in public. But something’s changing in Fiona. She can’t be defined by her scars anymore.
And what if there hadn’t been an accident? Meet Fi Doyle. Fi is the top-rated female high school lacrosse player in the state, heading straight to Northwestern on a full ride. She’s got more important things to deal with than her best friend Trent McKinnon, who’s been different ever since the kiss. When her luck goes south, even lacrosse can’t define her anymore. When you’ve always been the best at something, one dumb move can screw everything up. Can Fi fight back?

All the Rage by Courtney Summers
Release date: April 14th 2015
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. 

What releases are you anticipating this week? 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Review: Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

Title: Dangerous Girls
Author: Abigail Haas
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: July 16th 2013
Pages: 388
Genre: Young Adult contemporary mystery
Source: Bought
It's Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives. But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations.
As Anna sets out to find her friend's killer; she discovers hard truths about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.
As she awaits the judge's decree, it becomes clear that everyone around her thinks she is not just guilty, but dangerous. When the truth comes out, it is more shocking than one could ever imagine...
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I had heard amazing things about Dangerous Girls from so many people. Everyone I know who has read this book had been telling me I absolutely had to read it, that it was one of the best YA murder mysteries out there. And despite these very high expectations, I was not disappointed; it really is one of the best YA mysteries I've read. It's shocking, thrilling, and impossible to put down. I don't even know what to say about the books because it's probably best to go into it knowing nothing more than what the back cover tells you. So in order to make sure I don't spoil anything, this review will minimize plot discussion and maximize fangirling all over the place.

The whole story is captivating. I rarely read during the semester, and when I do, it usually takes me weeks to finish a book. But Dangerous Girls, I read in a day. Really, don't start this book if you have anything important going on anytime soon because you will literally be unable to put this book down. There's just something about Abigail Haas's (aka Abby McDonald's) writing that made me want to keep reading forever. The suspense is ridiculously high throughout, and there were times when I was literally holding my breath along with Anna.

The structure of the triple(-ish) narrative is incredibly well-crafted. Chapters alternate between the friends' vacation, the trial/Anna in prison, and Anna's past before this vacation. Each of these storyines is fascinating; the trial is suspenseful for obvious reasons, and the other two narratives are equally full of tension because they present you with new information about the characters and theories about what might have happened. These storylines are multi-layered and intertwine perfectly; I can't give any more information without spoiling things, but the order in which information is revealed through these storylines is perfect.

Anna is a very complex character. I felt for her throughout the novel; the idea of your best friend dying, and then being accused of murdering her and being held in prison for it sounds absolutely horrifying. Her desperation, and the power of the obsessed investigator, made me question the legal system and its methods; the whole process is so interesting to think about. None of the other characters are as fleshed-out as Anna, but they are definitely strong enough for the reader to develop alliances and to find potential suspects.

And that ending. It usually bothers me when books advertise that an ending is "more shocking than one could ever imagine" because, really, what could be that shocking? Well, Dangerous Girls answered that question for me, because it really was that surprising. I had my theories, but they all turned out to be wrong - I was so shocked at the end that I had to read the last scenes multiple times to actually understand and believe what happened. It's surprising, but it also makes a lot of sense, and the way this resolution is set up is kind of genius. I do wish we had gotten some more information towards the end about how all of it happened, but in a way I also appreciate the shock factor and the way the ending leaves it up to you to figure out how exactly this could have worked.

I don't want to say anything else for fear of spoiling it; this is the kind of book where you're just going to have to trust the people raving about it and read it for yourself to see. Compelling and impossible to put down, Dangerous Girls  is the kind of book that will make you question every detail. It's the best YA mystery I've read in a while, and I can't recommend it enough!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Review: The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle

Title: The Edge of Falling
Author: Rebecca Serle
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: March 18th 2014
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
Growing up in privileged, Manhattan social circles, Caggie’s life should be perfect, and it almost was until the day that her younger sister drowned when Caggie was supposed to be watching her. Stricken by grief, Caggie pulls away from her friends and family, only to have everyone misinterpret a crucial moment when she supposedly saves a fellow classmate from suicide. Now she’s famous for something she didn’t do and everyone lauds her as a hero. But inside she still blames herself for the death of her sister and continues to pull away from everything in her life, best friend and perfect boyfriend included. Then Caggie meets Astor, the new boy at school, about whom rumours are swirling and known facts are few. In Astor she finds someone who just might understand her pain, because he has an inner pain of his own. But the more Caggie pulls away from her former life to be with Astor, the more she realises that his pain might be darker, and deeper, than anything she’s ever felt. His pain might be enough to end his life…and Caggie’s as well.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Like the rest of the blogosphere, I loved Rebecca Serle's debut, When You Were Mine, so I was very excited for another novel by the author. And luckily, Rebecca Serle did not disappoint - her writing is amazing, and I loved The Edge of Falling just as much as When You Were Mine!

I loved Caggie's voice throughout the story. She speaks very directly to the reader, which I'm not usually a fan of, since it can easily turn preachy or be used as a cop-out to give way too much backstory when it's not needed, etc. But Rebecca Serle totally made it work; scenes that could have been boring were somehow fascinating because Caggie's voice drew me in so completely. Caggie's voice feels so real and honest, and it presents the story in an entertaining and captivating way. Even though she makes some bad decisions, I felt for Caggie throughout the story. Her grief is heartfelt and honest, and I understood her even at her worst.

The secondary characters are good, too, for the most part. Caggie's parents' withdrawal and absence is kind of the point and an important part of the story, but I still wish we had gotten a bit more insight into their characters. While we do get to know Hayley, Caggie's little sister for whose death she blames herself, very well, I wish she hadn't been idealized quite as much, even if it makes sense for the way Caggie is grieving. I did really like Peter, Caggie's older brother, as well as her best friend Claire. (Can Claire get her own story, please? Her life sounds like the kind of intense I'd love to read about.) There's also a love triangle in The Edge of Falling, but before you run away screaming - this one actually works! This one feels very authentic and makes sense within the story. The relationships with both guys are very well-done, even though I wish the developments between Caggie and Astor hadn't come quite as quickly and had been explored in more depth.

I also loved the NYC setting. This felt a bit like a guilty pleasure, since The Edge of Falling is very much about the elite upper class society of New York, reminding me of the Gossip Girl series, and all those other rich-white-people stories I loved when I was 12. And even though I now realize that over-representation of the upper class in fiction, as well as The Edge of Falling's failure to discuss the issue of class in any meaningful way, is problematic, I couldn't help but love Caggie's descriptions of her life in the city. It might just be because I have some kind of weird obsession with New York City, but I loved how perfectly Caggie's voice captures the feel of the city. I especially loved Caggie's game of walking around in the city, and just going in the direction where the walk sign is on whenever she gets to an intersection and seeing where it brought her - I really want to try this one day.

One issue I had with The Edge of Falling is the lack of suspense. I don't really mind that it's predictable, because (in my opinion) a character-driven about overcoming grief doesn't really need unpredictable plot twists to be a good novel. But Caggie has some secrets about what happened when she "saved" her classmate who was trying to kill herself that could have easily been revealed in a surprising way towards the end. While we don't find out the details of what exactly happened that night until close to the end, it's mentioned in passing many times before than, so there is no element of surprise. Again, I don't think this story necessarily needs a plot twist like that, but since we already have this secret, I wish it had been utilized more to create a surprising revelation at some point in the novel.

I absolutely loved The Edge of Falling. Rebecca Serle perfectly balances beautiful writing that makes you stop and think with intriguing, relatable characters that move the story along. The Edge of Falling is an entertaining yet thought-provoking read that I definitely recommend. I can't wait to read more by this author!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Review: Some Boys by Patty Blount

Title: Some Boys
Author: Patty Blount
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release date: August 5th 2014
Pages: 339
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
Add to Goodreads | Purchase from Amazon
Some boys go too far. Some boys will break your heart. But one boy can make you whole.
When Grace meets Ian she's afraid. Afraid he'll reject her like the rest of the school, like her own family. After she accuses the town golden boy of rape, everyone turns against Grace. They call her a slut and a liar. But...Ian doesn't. He's funny and kind with secrets of his own.
But how do you trust the best friend of the boy who raped you? How do you believe in love?
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This is a really hard book to review. I really, really wanted to love it, because this is such an important topic and there aren't enough YA books out about it. And I do think that Grace's story is an important one that needs to be told. The rest of it, though, I didn't care for too much. Ian did not work as a love interest because he displays some very problematic opinions and not enough character growth

Grace's story, by itself, is what I really liked about Some Boys. Reading about how deeply this rape has affected her, and how terribly the community is reacting to it, was my favorite part (even if that sounds bad). Not because I enjoyed it, of course, but because I think this is a really important story to tell so that people can maybe understand what this is like. Grace's feelings are so well-developed, and I felt for her throughout the novel. She is so strong, and even though it gets a bit preachy at times, her opinions are very important to read about.

Whenever Ian was talking about what happened to Grace, or about rape or gender roles or anything like that, I just wanted to slap him. He has ridiculously problematic opinions. He judges girls so, so much - whenever a girls hooks up with one of his friends, he judges them for being easy and talks about how he doesn't understand why girls let guys do things like that. His double standards are just ridiculous, and his slut-shaming is just out-of-control. One of the lines that pissed me off the most was when he's thinking about the way Grace dresses and the way that makes guys not respect her. He goes, "Why do girls not get that there's a fine line between looking good and asking for it? [...] It's like the people who leave their doors unlocked and then cry when they're robbed. Why are girls not smart about this?" These ideas just made Ian a completely unappealing love interest for me.

I know I should have expected him to have these opinions at the beginning of the novel, since him growing from these problematic ideas to understand what happened to Grace is kind of the point of the novel. But... Ian barely changed over the course of the novel. The only reason Ian finally decides to believe Grace is because he finds a video on Zac's phone that proves that Grace was telling the truth. Because he sees that Grace had told Zac no and that Zac forced himself on Grace anyways, he believes that it's rape. But the thing is, even without that information.... it would have still been rape. He knew that Grace was drunk enough to have passed out while it happened. The fact that whether or not she fought him or not is irrelevant and that it was rape either way is never even addressed, and for a book attempting to raise awareness about this issue, that's a major flaw.

The whole ending is just really cheesy. After the coach sees the video and kicks Zac off the team, everyone hears that it was "actually" rape and comes crawling back to Grace. And Grace accepts her friends back with no questions asked about how they abandoned her and how horrible they had been to her. All those reunion scenes are cheesy and disappointing because it shows how no one actually learned anything from this experience.

The focus on the romance, rather than Grace overcoming this trauma on her own, didn't sit right with me. Maybe it's just because I didn't like Ian, but I didn't really care whether or not they ended up together; I only care whether or not Grace would be okay. I also wish that there had been more of a focus on Grace struggling to be intimate again after what happened to her; Ian and Grace kiss for the first time only a month and a half after Grace had been raped, and it's never even mentioned that that could have been another traumatizing experience for her. 

I'm still not sure what to make of Some Boys. In a way, it was an important read for me, and I loved being inside Grace's head. But on the grand scale, I don't think the novel does enough to work against rape culture and the gender roles that permit it. Ian - and the rest of the town - don't really learn enough from what happened to Grace to really change anything, and Ian's problematic views of gender roles are barely addressed. Grace herself displays some problematic views, too, when she slut-shames her stepmom and her ex-friends, and that's never addressed, either. It was a good attempt, but there was too much telling and not enough showing, and the novel ended up falling flat for me.
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