Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review: Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn

Title: Complicit
Author: Stephanie Kuehn
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Release date: June 24th 2014
Pages: 256
Genre: Young Adult contemporary mystery
Source: NetGalley - I received a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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Two years ago, fifteen-year-old Jamie Henry breathed a sigh of relief when a judge sentenced his older sister to juvenile detention for burning down their neighbor's fancy horse barn. The whole town did. Because Crazy Cate Henry used to be a nice girl. Until she did a lot of bad things. Like drinking. And stealing. And lying. Like playing weird mind games in the woods with other children. Like making sure she always got her way. Or else.
But today Cate got out. And now she’s coming back for Jamie.
Because more than anything, Cate Henry needs her little brother to know this one simple truth: she’s not the crazy one and never has been.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I really hate how much of the plot this synopsis gives away. It was even worse before; luckily, they took away the very last sentence that basically spoiled the very ending of Complicit. (After I had already read it, of course, but maybe this way at least other readers won't know quite as much about the ending.) I get why the publicists would want to have that in the description, since there's not much intrigue if you don't give away that Kate might not be the "crazy" one (oh, how I hate that word... But since the book uses it, I guess I'll use it too...). But it still bothers me that readers already know the biggest plot twist - that isn't really revealed until there's only, like, 10 pages left - before even starting the novel; that took away a lot of the suspense for me.

But despite already knowing how it would all turn out, I still really enjoyed the mystery in Complicit. I rationally, I knew how it was going to turn out, but I was still in denial, somehow, because I kept hoping it wouldn't be true, kept thinking of alternate things that could have happened because the reality is just too horrible to handle. I guess, in that sense, I kind of felt like the narrator himself. Even though I knew what had happened, I kept trying to figure out how exactly it all fit together. That kept me flipping the pages, desperate for the resolution, even if, rationally, I already knew what was coming.

I loved the mystery, but I'm not sure what to make of the characters or the emotional aspect of the story. I know I would have felt for Jamie if I hadn't had the book spoiled for me from the beginning on, but knowing what I knew, it was hard to work up any sympathy for him. But even if I didn't like him, per se, he was still an intriguing character that I enjoyed reading about. The secondary characters are fascinating too, because they've all been through a lot. I wish we'd gotten some more insight into some of these secondary characters, but I understand that would have been hard with the format of the story.

One thing I didn't get was the ending. Not the revelation at the end, since I already knew that was coming, but the very last scene. Just... what? I'm so confused about the implications of that scene.

Even though I already knew way too much about the plot just from reading the synopsis, Complicit is a novel I really enjoyed. Fast-paced and intriguing, Complicit is a psychological thriller I definitely recommend. Just don't read anything else about it beforehand.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Review: The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle

Title: The Infinite Moment of Us
Author: Lauren Myracle
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release date: August 20th 2013
Pages: 316
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: Bought
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For as long as she can remember, Wren Gray’s goal has been to please her parents. But as high school graduation nears, so does an uncomfortable realization: Pleasing her parents once overlapped with pleasing herself, but now . . . not so much. Wren needs to honor her own desires, but how can she if she doesn’t even know what they are?
Charlie Parker, on the other hand, is painfully aware of his heart’s desire. A gentle boy with a troubled past, Charlie has loved Wren since the day he first saw her. But a girl like Wren would never fall for a guy like Charlie—at least not the sort of guy Charlie believes himself to be.
And yet certain things are written in the stars. And in the summer after high school, Wren and Charlie’s souls will collide. But souls are complicated, as are the bodies that house them . . .
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I loved Lauren Myracle's Shine, so I had high expectations for The Infinite Moment of Us. I really liked the set-up, and both Wren's and Charlie's stories had a lot of potential. But I had a lot of issues with the romance, which sadly ended up being the main focus of the novel, so I was really disappointed by The Infinite Moment of Us.

The Infinite Moment of Us started out great. I immediately liked Wren's story and reading about her standing up to her parents; her plans to go to Guatemala sounded amazing, and
I really just wanted to see her fulfill her dreams. Charlie's story had a lot of potential, too, and I wanted to explore his difficult past further.

Sadly, once Charlie and Wren meet, things start to go downhill. Their romance is very insta-love-y. I guess that makes sense, since they've both been admiring each other from afar, so of course when they find out their feelings are reciprocated, things would go kind of fast. But while they've been admiring each other from afar, they don't actually know each other at all, so I think it still counts as insta-love when they develop such strong feelings for each other so quickly.

The drama between Charlie and Wren is so completely unnecessary, and the melodrama frustrated me to no end. Wren keeps complaining that Charlie cares more about his foster family than he does about her and has no sympathy for the fact that he has to take care of his disabled brother. In turn, I had very little sympathy for her. The dynamics of their relationship are so entirely stereotypical and just... bad.

***This paragraph includes spoilers.***
What frustrated me most is the ending. I understand that this is a romance and that there needs to be a happy ending with Wren and Charlie ending up together. But I really hate that it ended with Charlie sacrificing his dreams to go with Wren. Both Charlie and Wren have dreams that they've had to work hard for and that I think are important for them to realize, and seeing one of them give those up in order to continue a three-month relationship just bothered me so much. It's not that I'm opposed to any kind of happy ending for the two - I would have been fine with an ending that lets Charlie and Wren try to make it work long-distance, or seeing them go their separate ways and then having a cheesy epilogue where they do end up together. But seeing them sacrifice their dreams for each other just didn't sit right with me.

I really liked the set-up of this novel, and the individual characters and stories had a lot of potential. The romance, though, ruined it for me: it's stereotypical and melodramatic. If the focus had been more on Wren and Charlie's individual stories rather than the romance, The Infinite Moment of Us could have been a good read, but this way, it just didn't work for me.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Review: My Beautiful Failure by Janet Ruth Young

Title: My Beautiful Failure
Author: Janet Ruth Young
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release date: November 13th 2012
Pages: 320
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
The haunting account of a teen boy who volunteers at a suicide hotline---and falls for a troubled caller.
Billy is a sophomore in high school, and twice a week, he volunteers at Listeners, a suicide hotline. Jenney is an “incoming,” a caller, a girl on the brink.
As her life spirals out of control, Jenney’s calls become more desperate, more frequent. Billy, struggling with a deteriorating relationship with his depressed father, is the only one who understands. Through her pain, he sees hope. Through her tears, he feels her heart. And through her despair, he finds love. But is that enough?
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I was really excited for My Beautiful Failure: the idea sounded unique and intriguing. A love story between a suicide hotline volunteer and a caller sounded problematic, yes, but I assumed that those problems would be addressed in the novel. Sadly, though, that isn't the case: I had a lot of issues with the way Billy handles the situation, and the way that the story never really addresses how problematic this whole thing is. The rest of the story didn't work for me, either, making My Beautiful Failure a very disappointing read for me.

Let's start with the Billy-and-Jenney relationship. A romantic involvement between someone who volunteers at a suicide and one of the callers is problematic for obvious reasons, like the uneven power dynamics and the confidentiality and anonymity of the program - just, so many problems. And I guess it's a valid question to ask why I would read this book in the first place if I was so opposed to this relationship, but I had assumed that the novel would address these issues. Billy's superiors do, at first, mention that the volunteers should pretend not to remember the caller if they call multiple times, and that they should never talk about themselves. But once Billy is by himself, he completely ignores these rules and starts talking to Jenney in ways that are most definitely not appropriate in his position. He unloads his own personal problems on Jenny, which is selfish and wrong on so many levels. If Jenney had been the one to come on to Billy and Billy had tried but just couldn't resist or deny his feelings for Jenney, I feel like his decisions would have been more forgivable, but Billy is always the one to initiate any sort of further relationship between them, so I couldn't justify his actions at all. The ending sort of implies that what Billy did was wrong, but the reasons for this are never really discussed, and Billy never admits to having made mistakes, which I found very problematic.

Even asides from his relationship with Jenney, the way Billy acts at the hotline program really bothered me. The reason he wants to volunteer is because he wants to "save" people, and he is disappointed when he starts to feel like he's not saving anyone because most of his callers aren't actually suicidal and just need someone to talk. He keeps saying he hopes he will get a "Likely" - someone likely to kill themselves - soon, which bothered me so, so much. How can wanting to feel like a savior and a hero be worth wanting someone to attempt to kill themselves!? Just, no. The way he keeps just chatting with Jenney (talking about his own problems just as much as hers) while ignoring other people's calls - calls that might be actual cries for help - kept frustrating me, especially because it's never addressed as an issue.

Since I obviously had issues with the suicide-hotline storyline, I had hoped we would get to know Billy and Jenney outside of this context as well. I had assumed that My Beautiful Failure would be written from both points-of-view, but we only get to see Billy's side of the story, and only hear about Jenney from what she tells him on the phone. This would be fine, if Billy's story had been good, but sadly, it didn't work for me either. I don't feel like we ever really get to know Billy as a person: the only thing aside from his role at the hotline that we get to read about is his relationship with his father. This storyline had a lot of potential in the beginning but sadly fell flat. It is discussed that his father might have bipolar disorder and in the beginning, Billy is trying to help him, but then, the storyline just... stops, and we find out nothing more about what happens to his father. Since his father is what inspired Billy to volunteer in the first place, having no resolution to that storyline made the whole story kind of pointless, for me.

Despite the original and intriguing plot idea, My Beautiful Failure did not work for me. The central storyline and the main character's actions are very problematic, and the only other storyline is simply abandoned towards the end of the novel. The portrayal of mental illness, depression, and therapist/patient relations are very problematic. I know a lot of other readers really enjoyed My Beautiful Failure, but these problematic messages make it impossible for me to recommend the novel.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review: #scandal by Sarah Ockler

Title:  #scandal
Author: Sarah Ockler
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: June 17th 2014
Pages: 368
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Edelweiss - I received a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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Lucy’s learned some important lessons from tabloid darling Jayla Heart’s all-too-public blunders: Avoid the spotlight, don’t feed the Internet trolls, and keep your secrets secret. The policy has served Lucy well all through high school, so when her best friend Ellie gets sick before prom and begs her to step in as Cole’s date, she accepts with a smile, silencing about ten different reservations. Like the one where she’d rather stay home shredding online zombies. And the one where she hates playing dress-up. And especially the one where she’s been secretly in love with Cole since the dawn of time.
When Cole surprises her at the after party with a kiss under the stars, it’s everything Lucy has ever dreamed of… and the biggest BFF deal-breaker ever. Despite Cole’s lingering sweetness, Lucy knows they’ll have to ’fess up to Ellie. But before they get the chance, Lucy’s own Facebook profile mysteriously explodes with compromising pics of her and Cole, along with tons of other students’ party indiscretions. Tagged. Liked. And furiously viral.
By Monday morning, Lucy’s been branded a slut, a backstabber, and a narc, mired in a tabloid-worthy scandal just weeks before graduation.
Lucy’s been battling undead masses online long enough to know there’s only one way to survive a disaster of this magnitude: Stand up and fight. Game plan? Uncover and expose the Facebook hacker, win back her best friend’s trust, and graduate with a clean slate.
There’s just one snag—Cole. Turns out Lucy’s not the only one who’s been harboring unrequited love...
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I hate having to write this review. I'm a huge fan of Sarah Ockler's previous books, so I had high expectations for #scandal. Sadly, though, #scandal did not live up to my expectations: I was disappointed with almost everything about it. I really hate having to write a negative review for an author I love so much, but #scandal just didn't work for me.

I think the problem is that there is just too much going on in #scandal. All the individual aspects of #scandal had a lot of potential, but there's just so many different storylinse and so many secondary characters that none of them turn out fully developed. It was really hard not to lose track, and at some point, I couldn't get myself to care anymore.

The cyber bullying is supposed to be the main part of the story, but I don't think it's handled appropriately at all. There is too much drama and fluff for such a serious issue: #scandal reminded me more of Gossip Girl than of anything with a serious message. The mystery surrounding the #scandal didn't impress me: Lucy spends most of the novel trying to figure out two mysteries: who uploaded the pictures of her and Cole to Facebook, and who is behind the Miss Demeanor site. The first mystery, I figured out relatively early on, but the second one did manage to surprise me. It wasn't really the outcome of these mysteries that bothered me, though, but rather the fact that Lucy focused on them so much. Rather than figuring out who publicized her kiss with Cole, I wanted to see Lucy address the kiss itself, to see her apologize to Ellie and figure out what to do about the love triangle. It frustrated me how much Lucy focused on what everyone else thought, rather than trying to fix her relationships with the people that she actually cares about.

I usually love Sarah Ockler's characters, but the ones in #scandal just didn't impress me. Lucy, to me, seemed kind of boring: we are told that she is a zombie-slaying badass, but we are never shown anything that would make her stand out, so she stayed a very bland character, for me. Cole's character is ridiculously underdeveloped: the whole story revolves around Lucy's hidden feelings for Cole, but we never get to see what's so special about him. He's actually absent for most of the novel, and just randomly appears every once in a while. Other than a couple of melodramatic declarations of love for each other, we don't get to see Lucy and Clare interact very much. Without really understanding Cole's character or their relationship, I couldn't justify all of this drama surrounding them. Ellie is just as underdeveloped: we are told that she and Lucy are best friends, but don't find out much about her character or their friendship either. Again, this made it hard for me to understand all this drama surrounding Lucy's betrayal.

Absent parents are something I don't even comment on anymore most of the time because they're so common in YA, but in #scandal, it was just ridiculous. They were on vacation the entire time this was going on, and Lucy was home alone with her sister. I actually really liked reading about Lucy's relationship with her sister, but, like everything else, this storyline wasn't fully developed, either. And I just found it very unrealistic that no one know that the celebrity Jayla Heart is Lucy's sister - if she's the pride of the town, how come no one has tried to figure out what family she belongs to? That whole concept just didn't make sense to me.

#scandal had a lot of potential, but with so much going on, basically everything about it fell flat. I'm really disappointed, since like I said, I loved all of Sarah Ockler's previous work. I really hope her next book will be as strong as her previous ones, rather than another melodramatic, underdeveloped mess like #scandal.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bout of Books Wrap Up!

Bout of Books

Today was the last day of Bout of Books 10.0! 

I read these 4 books this week:
  • Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown
  • How My Summer Went Up in Flames by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
  • The Rivals by Daisy Whitney
  • Guitar Notes by Mary Amato
That means I didn't exactly reach my goal of reading 7 books this week. I don't have an excuse - since I just finished finals, I really didn't have anything important to do. But I did spend a lot of time with friends and doing lots of things and just having a really good week, so I'm not sad I didn't read more than I did, and I'm happy with having read 4 books! (I am mad at myself for forgetting about the second Twitter chat, though.)

If you took part in Bout of Books, what did you think? Did you reach your goals?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Review: The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Title: The Sea of Tranquility
Author: Katja Millay
Publisher: Atria Books
Release date: September 5th 2012
Pages: 448
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: Bought
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Full of rage and without a purpose, former pianist Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone discovering her past and to make the boy who took everything from her pay.
All 17 year-old Josh Bennett wants is to build furniture and be left alone, and everyone allows it because it’s easier to pretend he doesn’t exist. When your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.
Everyone except Nastya, a hot mess of a girl who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. The more he gets to know her, the more of a mystery she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he may ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding or if he even wants to.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Looking The Sea of Tranquility up on Goodreads after finishing it, I can see that it's gotten quite a bit of hype, but somehow, I had managed to miss all of that. And that's a good thing - I had absolutely no expectations going in, which means that I was pleasantly surprised to love it this much!

The Sea of Tranquility is a very emotional read: both Nastya and Josh have been through some terrible, terrible things. They are very compelling characters, and even though I didn't always agree with or liked them, I did always feel for them. To be honest, I liked Josh's story a little bit more than Nastya's, so I was a little disappointed by how much of the novel focused on Nastya. Nevertheless, both stories are heartbreakingly honest portrayals of the pain they've been through, and I really enjoyed them (even if "enjoy" doesn't really seem like the right word here). Even though I loed Nastya and Josh, my favorite character would have to be Drew: he seemed like the typical scumbag, but he really surprised me and turned out to be so much more.

With stories like these, I usually enjoy the characters' individual stories, but I often have issues with the romance. Luckily, though, I did like the romance in The Sea of Tranquility! It started out a little too predictable, with the standard randomly-running-into-each-other-everywhere type of scenes, but it got better once they're already friends. I really appreciated the slow development of their relationship, as well as the fact that the novel also focused on family and friendship instead of idealizing the romance as the only thing that matters. The only thing that bothered me about Nastya and Josh is how he keeps calling her Sunshine because blegh. No.

***These next two paragraphs include spoilers.***
I can't really talk about my issues with this novel without spoiling the story, so... you have been warned. There were a couple of scenes that bothered me in The Sea of Tranquility. The worst one was probably the scene in which Nastya talks to her attacker and finds out his motivations. I understand how this might add to the story, by showing that every person is multi-dimensional and more than meets the eye and whatnot, but I still wish we had never found out. Hearing the attacker's sob story seems like it's trying to evoke sympathy for him, which comes dangerously close to victim blaming. Yes, it sucks that his brother killed himself, but that still in no way justifies what he did to Nastya. An attack like that is not something that just happens because we're all hurting; it is still a deliberate act of violence, and portraying it as anything else is deeply problematic.

***Still spoilers!***
Another scene that bothered me was almost-rape at a party. I really didn't see the point of this attack in the story. What really frustrated me, though, is how it's never really addressed. Nastya says that she's seen worse, and yes, I guess you could say that her first attack was "worse," but that doesn't mean that what Kevin did was okay, and that it should go unpunished. In the same way, it bothered me how much Nastya idealizes her virginity, saying that this is the only thing that her attacker hasn't "ruined." I understand that this is a self-blaming type of thing, and since it's coming from Nastya, it's sort of okay, but I still didn't like the message it sent within the novel. The dismissal of Kevin's attack and the way that Nastya portrays loss of virginity as something that "ruins" a person transmit a very problematic message about rape and sexual assault.

Despite my problems with the message and the portrayal of violence and sexual assault, I really did enjoy this story. With unique characters and evocative writing, The Sea of Tranquility is a novel that will make you cry and laugh, and I loved it. Just please don't let the problematic depictions of sexual assault and perpetrator/victim dynamics go unnoticed.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bookish Anticipation #36

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.

Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

Release date: July 29th 2014
Five strangers. Countless adventures.One epic way to get lost.
Four teens across the country have only one thing in common: a girl named LEILA. She crashes into their lives in her absurdly red car at the moment they need someone the most.
There's HUDSON, a small-town mechanic who is willing to throw away his dreams for true love. And BREE, a runaway who seizes every Tuesday—and a few stolen goods along the way. ELLIOT believes in happy endings…until his own life goes off-script. And SONIA worries that when she lost her boyfriend, she also lost the ability to love.
Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia find a friend in Leila. And when Leila leaves them, their lives are forever changed. But it is during Leila's own 4,268-mile journey that she discovers the most important truth— sometimes, what you need most is right where you started. And maybe the only way to find what you're looking for is to get lost along the way.

The Half Life of Molly Pierce by Katrina Leno

Release date: July 8th 2014
You take it for granted. Waking up. Going to school, talking to your friends. Watching a show on television or reading a book or going out to lunch.
You take for granted going to sleep at night, getting up the next day, and remembering everything that happened to you before you closed your eyes.
You live and you remember. Me, I live and I forget. But now—now I am remembering.

For all of her seventeen years, Molly feels like she’s missed bits and pieces of her life. Now, she’s figuring out why. Now, she’s remembering her own secrets. And in doing so, Molly uncovers the separate life she seems to have led…and the love that she can’t let go.

On the Fence by Kasie West

Release date: July 1st 2014
Charlie Reynolds can outrun, outscore, and outwit every boy she knows. But when it comes to being a girl, Charlie doesn't know the first thing about anything. So when she starts working at a chichi boutique to pay off a speeding ticket, she finds herself in a strange new world. To cope with the stress of her new reality, Charlie takes to spending nights chatting with her neighbor Braden through the fence between their yards. As she grows to depend on their nightly Fence Chats, she realizes she's got a bigger problem than speeding tickets-she's falling for Braden. She knows what it means to go for the win, but if spilling her secret means losing him for good, the stakes just got too high.

Inland by Kat Rosenfield

Release date: June 12th 2014
Callie Morgan has long lived choked by the failure of her own lungs, the result of an elusive pulmonary illness that has plagued her since childhood. A childhood marked early by the drowning death of her mother—a death to which Callie was the sole witness. Her father has moved them inland, away from the memories of the California coast her mother loved so much and toward promises of recovery—and the escape of denial—in arid, landlocked air.
But after years of running away, the promise of a life-changing job for her father brings Callie and him back to the coast, to Florida, where Callie’s symptoms miraculously disappear. For once, life seems delightfully normal. But the ocean’s edge offers more than healing air … it holds a magnetic pull, drawing Callie closer and closer to the chilly, watery embrace that claimed her mother. Returned to the ocean, Callie comes of age and comes into a family destiny that holds generations of secrets and very few happy endings.

Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Release date: July 24th 2014
Devorah is a consummate good girl who has never challenged the ways of her strict Hasidic upbringing.
Jaxon is a fun-loving, book-smart nerd who has never been comfortable around girls (unless you count his four younger sisters).
They've spent their entire lives in Brooklyn, on opposite sides of the same street. Their paths never crossed . . . until one day, they did.
When a hurricane strikes the Northeast, the pair becomes stranded in an elevator together, where fate leaves them no choice but to make an otherwise risky connection.
Though their relation is strictly forbidden, Devorah and Jax arrange secret meetings and risk everything to be together. But how far can they go? Just how much are they willing to give up?

In Deep by Terra Elan McVoy

Release date: July 8th 2014
Swim. Push. Breathe. Swim.
Nothing else matters to Brynn as she trains her body and mind to win. Not her mediocre grades and lack of real friends at school. Not the gnawing grief over her fallen hero father. Not the strained relationship with her absent mother and clueless stepdad. In the turquoise water, swimming is an escape and her ticket to somewhere—anywhere—else. And nothing will get in her way of claiming victory.
But when the competitive streak follows Brynn out of the pool in a wickedly seductive cat-and-mouse game between herself, her wild best friend, and a hot new college swimmer, Brynn’s single-mindedness gets her in over her head, with much more than a trophy to lose.

Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Release date: August 5th 2014
Emily Bell has it all. She's in love with a boy named Sam Border, and his little brother has become part of her family. This summer is destined to be the best time of their lives--until a charismatic new girl in town sets her sights on Sam. Now Emily finds herself questioning the loyalty of the person she thought she could trust most.
But the biggest threat to her happiness is someone she never saw coming. Sam's criminally insane father, whom everyone thought they'd finally left behind, is planning a jailbreak. And he knows exactly where to find Emily and his sons when he escapes...and takes his revenge.

The Merciless by Danielle Vega

Release date: June 12th 2014
Brooklyn Stevens sits in a pool of her own blood, tied up and gagged. No one outside of these dank basement walls knows she’s here. No one can hear her scream.
Sofia Flores knows she shouldn’t have gotten involved. When she befriended Riley, Grace, and Alexis on her first day at school, she admired them, with their perfect hair and their good-girl ways. They said they wanted to save Brooklyn. They wanted to help her. Sofia didn’t realize they believed Brooklyn was possessed.
Now, Riley and the girls are performing an exorcism on Brooklyn—but their idea of an exorcism is closer to torture than salvation. All Sofia wants is to get out of this house. But there is no way out. Sofia can’t go against the other girls . . . unless she wants to be next. . . .

What are you looking forward to this week? 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Bout of Books 10.0

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 12th and runs through Sunday, May 18th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 10.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team
Bout of Books 10.0 is here!!! I'm so happy there's a readathon going on right after my finals - I have my last exam today, so after that I will have nothing to do but READ. 

I'm hoping to read these 7 books for Bout of Books:

  • Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown
  • The Rivals by Daisy Whitney
  • Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles
  • Guitar Notes by Mary Amato
  • #16thingsithoughtweretrue by Janet Gurtler
  • How My Summer Went Up in Flames by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
  • Catch a Falling Star by Kim Culbertson (ebook - not pictured)
Books read:

1. Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown
2. How My Summer Went Up in Flames by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
3. The Rivals by Daisy Whitney
4. Guitar Notes by Mary Amato

I will be updating this post with my progress, and I will also be updating on Twitter.

Are you participating in the read-a-thon? What are you planning on reading?

Friday, May 09, 2014

Review: My Last Kiss by Bethany Neal

Title: My Last Kiss
Author: Bethany Neal
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Release date: June 10th 2014
Pages: 368
Genre: Young Adult mystery, romance
Source: NetGalley - I received a free advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
Add to Goodreads | Purchase from Amazon
Cassidy Haines remembers her first kiss vividly. It was on the old covered bridge the summer before her freshman year with her boyfriend of three years, Ethan Keys. But her last kiss—the one she shared with someone at her seventeenth birthday party the night she died—is a blur. Cassidy is trapped in the living world, not only mourning the loss of her human body, but left with the grim suspicion that her untimely death wasn’t a suicide as everyone assumes. She can’t remember anything from the weeks leading up to her birthday and she’s worried that she may have betrayed her boyfriend. If Cassidy is to uncover the truth about that fateful night and make amends with the only boy she’ll ever love, she must face her past and all the decisions she made—good and bad—that led to her last kiss. 
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars 

I love the premise for My Last Kiss; it sounded mysterious and intriguing, so I was really excited to read it. Sadly, though, I ended up having a lot of issues with the novel, and I just couldn't connect with the story, making My Last Kiss a disappointing read for me.

I never really connected with any of the characters. Cassidy bothered me from the beginning on: she's selfish, whiny, and keeps blaming others for the mistakes she's made. Other than those qualities, I don't feel like we ever really got to know her - I really know nothing about the person she was before she died, her personality or her interests. The other characters aren't any better. Madison had some potential, and I would have liked to understand her motivations more, but her struggles are very underdeveloped: to me, there wasn't really any point to finding out what she's been going through when we see no further development of it over the course of the novel. The portrayal of Caleb's character also bothered me: he's reduced to being a pothead - which, according to the other characters in the novel, makes him a horrible person - and we find out nothing about his background or personality. All the characters just seemed very underdeveloped, which made both the mystery and the relationships in this novel kind of weak.

The first half of the novel is, in a word, boring. I debated DNFing for a loong time, because the story just didn't seem to be going anywhere. The first half really just consists of Cassidy watching over Ethan and her friend Aimee trying to figure out what really happened to her, but it didn't seem to really have a point and the story didn't seem to be moving forward. It also bothered me how Cassidy's existence as a ghost that no one but Ethan can see is just sort of assumed. Yes, Cassidy repeatedly talks about how weird it is to be a ghost, to be able to walk through walls, etc., but the deeper meaning behind it is never really addressed. Ethan never really seems to think it's weird that he can talk to his dead girlfriend, and they never seem to wonder why she's still on this earth. (Until the very end, when we get the cheesy, cliched explanation.) Ethan's and Cassidy's relationship bothered me in general: after her death, their relationship is idealized and everything is fine between them, when the issues they had before Cassidy died are what started all of this in the first place.

The second half of the novel is definitely more interesting than the first. The resolution at the end is surprising - I hadn't guessed who the killer was - so I guess that's something the story has going for it. But I still didn't really like it; the reason I didn't guess the killer's identity is not that the author concealed it so well, but rather that none of the suspects are properly developed. I didn't really buy into the complicated story of what happened to Cassidy because we didn't get enough of a backstory or character development for it to work. It didn't seem like a real solving of the mystery, but rather just a ton of drama within the last 30 pages, drama that could have been spread over the course of the novel to make the first half less boring and the second half less melodramatic.

Despite its great potential, I just couldn't get myself to like this novel. With underdeveloped, annoying characters, a boring, pointless first half, and a melodramatic, unjustified solution to the mystery, My Last Kiss really was just disappointing all around, for me.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Review: Then You Were Gone by Lauren Strasnick

Title: Then You Were Gone
Author: Lauren Strasnick
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: January 8th 2013
Pages: 224
Genre: Young Adult contemporary mystery
Source: Bought
Two years ago, Adrienne’s best friend, Dakota, walked out of her life. One week ago, she left Adrienne a desperate, muffled voicemail. Adrienne never called back.
Now Dakota is missing, and all that remains is a string of broken hearts, a flurry of rumors, and a suicide note.
Adrienne can’t stop obsessing over what might have happened if she’d answered Dakota’s call. And she’s growing more convinced each day that Dakota is still alive.
Maybe finding and saving Dakota is the only way Adrienne can save herself.
Or maybe it’s too late for them both.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I read Lauren Strasnick's Nothing Like You a while ago and had conflicting feelings about it: I really liked the idea, but I couldn't connect to the writing style. Still, I gave Then You Were Gone a try because the story sounded so good. However, my feelings about Then You Were Gone were pretty much the same as what I thought about Nothing Like You: I loved the plot and the idea, but the writing style didn't work for me and kept me from really connecting with the characters.

I loved the mystery in Then You Were Gone; I loved trying to figure out what could have happened to Dakota and how it relates to Adrienne. And even though I'm usually disappointed by the endings to mysteries like these - too often, they're too unrealistically-happy for me - I loved the resolution to this one: it's the perfect balance of realistic and hopeful, and it works really well for the story.

Like I said, though, the writing kept me from enjoying anything deeper than the mystery plot. Lauren Strasnick's writing is very sparse and relies heavily on dialogue. It feels wrong to criticize that because there are many novels in which I have enjoyed a more sparse writing style because it leaves more of the interpretation up to the reader, but with a story that relies so much on emotions, I wanted the writing to be a lot more fleshed-out. I understand why the author would choose to write so sparsely about Adrienne's emotions - to show her disconnect with herself and whatnot - but it still kept me from really connecting with the story.

The characters had a lot of potential. I really enjoyed the dynamics of Adrienne's and Dakota's past friendship and now non-relationship; both of them are fascinating characters. But 'fascinating' is pretty much where my appreciation of the characters stops; because the sparse writing style made me feel so distant from the story, I never gained enough insight into the characters or their motivations to really get to know them.

Really, that's all there is to it: Lauren Strasnick's writing just isn't my cup of tea. I really liked the idea and the plot, but the writing kept me from ever really connecting with the characters and the emotional side of the story. If you like sparse writing, you should give this one a try, but I think I might be giving up on Lauren Strasnick's writing.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Review: The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Title: The Truth About Alice
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release date: June 3rd 2014
Pages: 208
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: NetGalley - I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
Add to Goodreads | Purchase from Amazon
Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party. When Healy High star quarterback, Brandon Fitzsimmons, dies in a car crash, it was because he was sexting with Alice. Ask anybody. Rumor has it Alice Franklin is a slut. It's written all over the "slut stall" in the girls' bathroom: "Alice had sex in exchange for math test answers" and "Alice got an abortion last semester." After Brandon dies, the rumors start to spiral out of control. In this remarkable debut novel, four Healy High students tell all they "know" about Alice--and in doing so reveal their own secrets and motivations, painting a raw look at the realities of teen life. But exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there's only one person to ask: Alice herself.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I was really excited for this book; slut-shaming is an issue I feel strongly about, so the story sounded right up my alley. And I did really enjoy it; if The Truth About Alice is supposed to be a portrayal of how horrible people are to each other, then it definitely succeeded. But even though I appreciated its message, I still didn't love the novel: to me, the characters are underdeveloped and the story doesn't really go anywhere. That's why The Truth About Alice was only an okay read for me.

The characters are okay. Even though I'm not usually a fan of having so many different first-person narrators, I did like the concept of hearing Alice's story from different perspectives. I appreciated that Jennifer Mathieu actually managed to make the different characters' voices distinct. But I still don't think the characters are fully developed: there's Elaine, the most popular girl in school; Kelsie, Alice's ex-brest friend; Josh, the popular guy; and Kurt, the loser that befriends Alice when everyone else abandons her. They never really break out of these stereotypical molds, and we never get to find out anything about them as people. All of these characters' actions frustrated me throughout the novel, but I understand that them being horrible people is the point. Kurt, though, is supposed to be this great person for befriending Alice in her time of need, but I couldn't get myself to like him, either. If the only reason he starts talking to Alice is his romantic interest in her, this ruins any kind of genuine interest in helping her he might have, and it bothered me that this is never really addressed.

The description makes it seem like we first get to read about Alice from everyone else's perspective and will then get to hear her story from her own point of view so we can find out the "truth" about Alice. We do have a final chapter from Alice's point of view, but I didn't really see the point: there's no revelation, we find out nothing we didn't already know. Asides from the relationship between Alice and Kurt, there is no development over the course of the novel, so the story didn't really seem to be going anywhere, for me.

***This paragraph includes mild spoilers!***
It also bothered me how much of the message relies on the fact that the rumors aren't true, that Alice didn't actually sleep with Brandon and Tommy and wasn't sexting Brandon the night he died. I understand that the novel is supposed to show how harmful it is to make up rumors about people and how rumors and bullying completely exaggerate what Alice has done. But this reduced the message to anti-bullying, rather than anti-slut-shaming, a message that I think would have been important for this novel. Because even if Alice had slept with two guys at that party, that's none of anybody's business. And even if she had been sexting Brandon, it would have still been his fault that he crashed because he was drunk-driving and checking his phone. The anti-bullying message is really well-done, but at the cost of sacrificing defending female sexuality in a way I'd been hoping this novel would.

I know my review sounds very negative, but I really did enjoy The Truth About Alice, despite my problems with the characters and the message. The characters are too one-dimensional for me, and I wish the novel had a stronger anti-slut-shaming message, rather than just anti-bullying. But I did still enjoy the premise of the story, and if you're looking for a YA book that authentically portrays bullying, you should definitely give The Truth About Alice a try. 

Thursday, May 01, 2014

New Releases May 2014

New releases:

Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan: May 1st 2014
Boys Like You by Juliana Stone: May 1st 2014

The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt: May 6th 2014
Buzz Kill by Beth Fantaskey: May 6th 2014

Torn Away by Jennifer Brown: May 6th 2014
The Secrets of Lily Graves by Sarah Strohmeyer: May 6th 2014

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson: May 6th 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: May 13th 2014
Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu: May 13th 2014

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour: May 15th 2014
Take Me On by Katie McGerry: May 20th 2014

Now & Forever by Susane Colasanti: May 20th 2014

The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes: May 20th 2014

Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff: May 27th 2014

New in paperback:

Love & Leftovers by Sarah Tregay: May 13th 2014
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan: May 12th 2014

Personal Effects by EM Kokie: May 13th 2014
All I Need by Susane Colasanti: May 15th 2014

The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler: May 20th 2014
Golden by Jessi Kirby: May 6th 2014

Over You by Amy Reed: May 6th 2014
Five Summers by Una LaMarche: May 6th 2014

Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles: May 6th 2014
The Wrap-Up List by Steven Arntson: May 13th 2014 

What May releases are you most excited about?
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