Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: Sixteen Things I Thought Were True by Janet Gurtler

Title: Sixteen Things I Thought Were True
Author: Janet Gurtler
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release date: March 4th 2014
Pages: 283
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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Heart attacks happen to other people #thingsIthoughtweretrue
When Morgan's mom gets sick, it's hard not to panic. Without her mother, she would have no one—until she finds out the dad who walked out on her as a baby isn't as far away as she thought...
Adam is a stuck-up, uptight jerk #thingsIthoughtweretrue
Not that they have a summer job together, Morgan's getting to know the real Adam, and he's actually pretty a nerdy-hot kind of way. He even offers to go with her to find her dad. Road trip, anyone?
5000 Twitter followers are all the friends I need #thingsIthoughtweretrue
With Adam in the back seat, a hyper chatterbox named Amy behind the wheel, and plenty of Cheetos to fuel their trip, Morgan feels ready for anything. She's not expecting a flat tire, a missed ferry, a fake girlfriend...and that these two people she barely knew before the summer started will become the people she can't imagine living without.
My rating:  3 out of 5 stars

I love Janet Gurtler's writing, so I was really excited to read her newest novel. As always, I loved Janet Gurtler's easy-to-read, fun writing style, which made the book worthwhile for me. Sadly, though, some parts of the story had flaws that I couldn't look past, making 16 Things I Thought Were True only an okay read for me.

I think the problem with Sixteen Things I Thought Were True is that there's just too much going on - I don't even know where to start. There's Morgan's mother's heart condition, Morgan's attempt to establish a relationship with her father, the road trip,  the romance with Adam, Morgan trying to deal with the aftermath of her online humiliation and the falling-out with her ex-best friend Lexi, and towards the end there's a huge plot twist with that adds another big conflict. Each storyline on its own had a lot of potential, but because there is so much going on, none of them could be explored in enough depth.

The storyline I enjoyed the most is the one concerning Morgan's family issues. I really liked getting to see Morgan try to establish some sort of relationship with the father she's never met and try to work things out with her mother. I wish Janet Gurtler had gotten rid of some of the other storylines in order to focus more on this one: it had a lot of potential, and I wish Morgan's emotions regarding her family had been developed more.

To be honest, one storyline I think could have gotten cut is the one concerning Morgan's online humiliation and her falling-out with Lexi. I do think that her humiliation provides a necessary background for her estrangement with her peers, but the whole thing just seemed kind of dumb to me. It bothered me how Morgan acts like she made a huge mistake by dancing around in guy's underwear, but honestly, what's the big deal? There's nothing wrong with that. Yes, I get that having it end up online is humiliating, but that doesn't mean that the dancing itself is doing anything wrong. The falling-out with her ex-best friend Lexi, the one who put that embarrassing video up online, also seemed kind of unnecessary - it's just kind of added on and never really explored in any detail, and we never find out why Lexi stopped being friends with Morgan.

The characters are okay. Morgan isn't exactly easy to like, but she grew on me over the course of the novel. The rest of the characters, though, are definitely lacking depth, again because of the too-much-going-on thing. Especially Adam is underdeveloped, and I never felt like we really got to know him, which kind of ruined the whole romance storyline. All of the characters have interesting backgrounds that I would have loved to explore more, but because there's so much going on in these 300 pages, I couldn't really get to know any of them.

That's really what it comes down to - there's just too much going on. I really liked the family storyline and the road trip, but they fall short because of all the other stuff that's going on at the same time. I think Janet Gurtler just tried to pack too much into these 300 pages. Especially the plot twist towards the end is too much, and at that point, it just got kind of ridiculous. Sixteen Things I Thought Were True had a lot of potential, but I couldn't really enjoy it because of the lack of depth in any singular storyline. I do still love Janet Gurtler's writing, though, so I'm looking forward to seeing if I like her next book better.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Sparks by S.J. Adams

Title: Sparks: The Epic, Completely True Blue, (Almost) Holy Quest of Debbie
Author: S. J. Adams
Publisher: Flux
Release date: January 1st 2011
Pages: 256
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 13
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Since sixth grade, Debbie Woodlawn has nursed a secret, heart-searing crush on her best friend, Lisa. But all those years of pretending to enjoy Full House reruns and abstinence rallies with Lisa go down the drain when her friend hooks up with Norman, the most boring guy at school. This earth-shattering event makes Debbie decide to do the unthinkable: confess her love to Lisa. And she has to do it tonight--before Lisa and Norman go past "the point of no return." So Debbie embarks on a quest to find Lisa. Guiding the quest are fellow students/detention hall crashers Emma and Tim, the founding (and only) members of the wacky Church of Blue. Three chases, three declarations of love, two heartbreaks, a break-in, and five dollars worth of gas later, Debbie has been fully initiated into Bluedaism--but is there time left to stop Lisa and Norman from going too far?
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Since I hadn't heard anything about Sparks before picking it up, and the whole Bluedaism and Quest and all of that sounded really weird and out-there, my expectations for Sparks were not exactly high. Luckily, those low expectations made it even better when I ended up loving the book! The randomness of the plot that threw me off at first ended up being refreshing and entertaining - I'm so glad I gave this book a chance!

The characters are what make this story so good. Debbie is an endearing character - she's a bit clueless and naive, but lovable nonetheless, and she's definitely easy to relate to. Emma and Tim are characters that I know will stay with me; they are quirky and unique, and I really appreciated their openness and honesty. The only character that is slightly underdeveloped is Lisa: our view of her changes towards the end, and I wish that had been explored in a little more depth.

All that stuff about Bluedaism threw me off at first, reading the description, but I ended up loving it. This "religion" that Emma and Tim have created is so much fun to read about. They have come up with some ridiculous tasks, which made this quest hilarious and entertaining, and it made me want to know all about their previous quests and adventures, too.

One thing that does need to be said, though, is that the whole made-up religion thing is kind of problematic. I personally didn't mind because I'm not a very religious person, but if you are, you might find parts of this story kind of offensive. Especially calling their religion Bluedaism and painting a statue of Buddha - a symbol of another religion - and appropriating it for their own purpose is disrespectful and problematic. I still really enjoyed the story, but just... be aware.

I was really surprised with how much I loved Sparks, a novel that has been pretty much completely overlooked in the YA blogosphere. With lovable characters, a hilarious plot, and a heartwarming message, Sparks is a novel I really enjoyed. You should definitely give it a try!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

My New Treasures #34

My New Treasures is a semi-regular feature here at Paperback Treasures to showcase all the books I received over the previous week (or however long it's been since I've last done one of these). It was inspired by Stacking the Shelves, hosted by Tynga's Reviews.

From Edelweiss:

Damaged by Amy Reed

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz

What books did you get this week?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Double Review: Leaving Paradise & Return to Paradise by Simone Elkeles

Leaving Paradise & Return to Paradise by Simone Elkeles
Publisher: Flux
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: BEA 2014
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Description for Leaving Paradise
Nothing has been the same since Caleb Becker left a party drunk, got behind the wheel, and hit Maggie Armstrong. Even after months of painful physical therapy, Maggie walks with a limp. Her social life is nil and a scholarship to study abroad—her chance to escape everyone and their pitying stares—has been canceled.
After a year in juvenile jail, Caleb’s free . . . if freedom means endless nagging from a transition coach and the prying eyes of the entire town. Coming home should feel good, but his family and ex-girlfriend seem like strangers.
Caleb and Maggie are outsiders, pigeon-holed as "criminal" and "freak." Then the truth emerges about what really happened the night of the accident and, once again, everything changes. It’s a bleak and tortuous journey for Caleb and Maggie, yet they end up finding comfort and strength from a surprising source: each other.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Because I read the two books back-to-back and because my feelings about Leaving Paradise and Return to Paradise are pretty much the same (and because I'm lazy), I'm just going to review both of them in one post. I loved Simone Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry series, so I was really excited to read these two books. And even though I didn't like Leaving Paradise and Return to Paradise quite as much as the Perfect Chemistry series because of some smaller issues with the plot and characters, I did really enjoy this series!

Leaving Paradise starts out with an intriguing set-up, and I really liked the plot. Both Caleb and Maggie got on my nerves in the beginning, but once you find out the truth about what happened, their thoughts are a lot more justified, and both of their situations are fascinating to think about. I do think that their relationship developed a little too fast in the beginning - they seemed to kind of just randomly start liking each other - but the development of their relationship later on is realistic and fun to read about. There are parts of their relationship that were too cheesy for me, but that was to be expected. All of this pretty much goes for Return to Paradise as well: the plots of the two novels are very similar and the conflicts remain the same, making the two books together a little drawn out.

The secondary characters are not nearly as good as our narrators. Throughout both novels, there are hints at the stories of Caleb and Maggie's friends and families, but none of them are explored in any depth. This makes all of the secondary characters flat personifications of just one characteristic each. I wish we had gotten some more insight into both Caleb and Maggie's relationships with other people, but the novels solely focus on their relationship with each other, neglecting to develop any depth for the secondary characters. Especially Leah's character, I think, should have definitely been explored more, because that would have made the plot a lot more believable.

I would also like to point out that, just like in the Perfect Chemistry books, logic does not seem to be the strong suit of Simone Elkeles's writing.There's various examples, and one that bothered me the most is that Maggie is supposed to go to Spain for a semester in high school, but once she opts out of that, she goes abroad for her freshman year of college instead, with the same program. These are two completely separate things, so having it be the same program just doesn't make sense. (Not to mention that going abroad for all of your freshman year of college isn't really a thing that happens, either.) While I'm no expert on the American justice system, Simone Elkeles seems to have taken some creative liberty with that as well: I find it highly unlikely that Caleb's transition counselor from juvie can just decide that, instead of having to go to jail, Caleb can just participate in this random summer trip with him. (The whole idea of the trip seemed very arbitrary to me.) I know that some people can just see past things like that, but it bothers me when authors just manipulate the way life works and sacrifice logic to justify their plots.

I know my review sounds really negative, but I didn't not like these books. There were various issues I had with the novels, but overall, they're still enjoyable reads. If you're looking for depth, look elsewhere, but I can definitely recommend Leaving Paradise and Return to Paradise if you're looking for some fun, quick reads with some cute romance!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: Guitar Notes by Mary Amato

Title: Guitar Notes
Author: Mary Amato
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Release date: January 1st 2012
Pages: 272
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: Bought
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Tripp, who plays guitar only for himself, and Lyla, a cellist whose talent has already made her famous but not happy, form an unlikely friendship when they are forced to share a practice room at their high school.
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Guitar Notes sounded like a cute read, but it just didn't work for me. Part of it isn't really the book's fault - maybe I'm just too old for lower YA, and Guitar Notes is a prime example for immature characters that I can't relate to anymore. But even asides from the age thing, the writing is very simplistic, the characters are underdeveloped, and the story - except for one unfortunate plot twist - is pretty boring, so I just couldn't find anything to like about Guitar Notes.

The characters are the main problem. Both Tripp and Lyla represent stereotypes, and there's not much more to them than the description already gives away. The secondary characters are just as one-dimensional and unrealistically bland. Tripp and Lyla are ridiculously melodramatic, and I just couldn't take their whining, although again, this might be because of our age difference.

The relationship between Tripp and Lyla is nothing special either - it's the friendship-version of insta-love. The notes they left each other got personal way too soon to be realistic, and it seemed like they just randomly started being best friends. One thing I did appreciate is that the relationship between Lyla and Tripp stays platonic throughout the novel. I kept fearing the moment their friendship would turn into romance because they seemed so young that reading about their romance would have made me feel like a pedophile, so I'm glad Mary Amato kept their relationship platonic.

Towards the end of the novel, there is a plot twist that made the whole book a million times worse. I don't want to give anything away, but something really serious happens that does not fit at all with the light and happy tone of the rest of the story. This is something that would have merited a novel all on its own, or at least should have been treated as a major part of the plot, but it just kind of happens and then it's resolved and ten pages later, the story is done. Since it's never really explored in any depth, this plot twist didn't add anything to the story but just added to the lack of depth.

I don't know what else to say; Guitar Notes just wasn't for me. It could have been a cute, fun read, but with underdeveloped characters, melodramatic writing, and a boring-until-it-turns-unnecessarily-dramatic plot, I couldn't find anything to like about it. Guitar Notes might be an okay read for younger YA readers, but I personally can't recommend it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: The Rivals by Daisy Whitney

Title: The Rivals
Author: Daisy Whitney
Publisher: Little, Brown for Young Readers
Release date: February 6th 2012
Pages: 352
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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When Alex Patrick was assaulted by another student last year, her elite boarding school wouldn't do anything about it. This year Alex is head of the Mockingbirds, a secret society of students who police and protect the student body. While she desperately wants to live up to the legacy that's been given to her, she's now dealing with a case unlike any the Mockingbirds have seen before.
It isn't rape. It isn't bullying. It isn't hate speech. A far-reaching prescription drug ring has sprung up, and students are using the drugs to cheat. But how do you try a case with no obvious victim? Especially when the facts don't add up, and each new clue drives a wedge between Alex and the people she loves most: her friends, her boyfriend, and her fellow Mockingbirds.
As Alex unravels the layers of deceit within the school, the administration, and even the student body the Mockingbirds protect, her struggle to navigate the murky waters of vigilante justice may reveal more about herself than she ever expected.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It's been a while since I read The Mockingbirds, but I still remember absolutely loving it. To be honest, I wasn't sure that kind of story needed a sequel - I didn't know if Daisy Whitney could come up with another plot concerning the Mockingbirds as strong as the one in the first novel. And while I do think that The Rivals is lacking a bit of the driving force that Alex's struggle for justice after her rape provided for The Mockingbirds, I did really enjoy this sequel!

The whole cheating/drug ring plot seemed kind of strange to me at first. I'm still not sure I entirely get the premise - the debate team is using ADHD medication to win their debates? How is that supposed to work? When people abuse Adderall - or Annie, as it's called in The Rivals - it's to help them focus on getting work done, and I don't really see how that helps the debate team. But even if the premise didn't make all that much sense to me, I did really enjoy the mystery that evolves around it. There are various plot twists in The Rivals that will keep you on your toes - I didn't see half of them coming!

I especially loved the way The Rivals changed the way you think about everything we learned in The Mockingbirds, how it challenges what you thought was right and wrong. Just like Alex, you ask yourself how far you're allowed to go in the name of (what you consider) justice, whether it's more important to trust the people close to you or to do your "job" of questioning everything, and so on. The lines between right and wrong are a lot more blurred in The Rivals than they were in The Mockingbirds, and I loved reading about Alex trying to figure out what would be the right thing to do.

Within the context of this case, it was interesting to see how Alex's relationships with those around her evolved. I still loved Alex's character, and the cast of secondary characters is fully developed and complex, just like in the first book. I especially liked Alex's relationship with Martin - too often, sequels create too much unnecessary drama between the couples that are established in the first book, so I'm glad that Alex's relationship with Martin progresses in such a natural way in The Rivals

Part of what makes these two books so powerful together, I think, is how in The Rivals, we get to see Alex still struggling to come to terms with her rape from The Mockingbirds. Daisy Whitney handled the issue of rape with as much grace and delicacy as she did in the first book; the scenes where Alex sees her rapist on campus and the scenes where she and Martin are trying to figure out how to have a "normal" relationship after what happened to Alex are some of the most powerful scenes in the novel, for me. The only thing that bothered me about this topic is how Alex's rape is continuously referred to as date-rape, just because I don't like how that term makes acquaintance-rape seem somehow less than the dark-alley rape many people still associate with the term.

The Rivals is everything a good sequel should be, and more. It's a complex and layered story that complicates everything we learned in The Mockingbirds. With fully developed characters, a captivating writing style, and a complex and fascinating plot, I can't recommend this series enough! I can't wait to read more from Daisy Whitney!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Giveaway: Signed ARC of Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

I'm giving away a signed ARC of Miranda Kenneally's Breathe, Annie, Breathe! I absolutely loved this one (my review), and you definitely want this book in your life. Here's what it's about:

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally
Annie hates running. No matter how far she jogs, she can’t escape the guilt that if she hadn’t broken up with Kyle, he might still be alive. So to honor his memory, she starts preparing for the marathon he intended to race.
But the training is even more grueling than Annie could have imagined. Despite her coaching, she’s at war with her body, her mind—and her heart. With every mile that athletic Jeremiah cheers her on, she grows more conflicted. She wants to run into his arms…and sprint in the opposite direction. For Annie, opening up to love again may be even more of a challenge than crossing the finish line.

Giveaway rules:

- Open to US residents only. (Sorry!)
- Must be 13 or older to enter.
- Open for one week; giveaway ends July 25th at midnight.
- The winner will be contacted by e-mail. He/she has 48 hours to respond, or a new winner will be chosen.
- I am not responsible for items lost or damaged in the mail.

To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Good luck!!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

Title: Breathe, Annie, Breathe (Hundred Oaks #5)
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release date: July 15th 2014
Pages: 320
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: BEA 2014
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Annie hates running. No matter how far she jogs, she can’t escape the guilt that if she hadn’t broken up with Kyle, he might still be alive. So to honor his memory, she starts preparing for the marathon he intended to race.
But the training is even more grueling than Annie could have imagined. Despite her coaching, she’s at war with her body, her mind—and her heart. With every mile that athletic Jeremiah cheers her on, she grows more conflicted. She wants to run into his arms…and sprint in the opposite direction. For Annie, opening up to love again may be even more of a challenge than crossing the finish line.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Before I start swooning about how amazing this book is, I need to go on a quick rant about the design's inconsistency with the rest of the series. There's the title that sticks out, but that didn't bother me too much because Things I Can't Forget already ruined the "Something-ing Main Character" title thing. But... the cover. I love the green of all the previous Hundred Oaks books; why does this one have to be blue? Yes, it's a really pretty cover, and it's a million times better than the original one, but still... why, Sourcebooks, why?? And I'm so glad I got an ARC of this because (asides from the obvious reason) it's coming out in hardcover, when all the previous books are paperbacks. Just... nothing matches the rest of the series. Don't you know I need my books to match, Sourcebooks!?

Okay. Anyways. The actual book, of course, is amazing. It's a bit darker than the previous ones in the series, considering a lot of it deals with Annie grieving the death of her boyfriend. But that darkness is perfectly balanced with hope and romance, providing a really great set-up for a strong, character-driven story. I love how respectfully Miranda Kenneally managed to balance writing such a steamy romance while still honoring Kyle's memory. I think this might actually be my new favorite book in the series - all of the Hundred Oaks books are about relationships overcoming obstacles, but the obstacles in Breathe, Annie, Breathe felt the most real, making me love Annie and Jeremiah together even more.

Annie's voice is what makes this book so great. I absolutely loved her, identified with her, and sympathized with her. Generally, characters with commitment issues frustrate me because, in the world of romance stories, I cannot understand why you can't get over it and be with this person who is obviously perfect for you. But in Annie's case, I totally understood - her conflicted feelings of guilt for betraying Kyle and longing for Jeremiah are so well done, and I felt for her and understood her at every point in the novel. Annie is now one my favorite Hundred Oaks girls. Jeremiah is a great character, too. I personally wouldn't love him in real life - his chivalry and protectiveness would bring out the angry feminist in me, and I wouldn't be able to see past the benevolent sexism - but I could definitely see how he's perfect for Annie. He is a very complex character (more complex than most of the previous Hundred Oaks boys - not that I didn't love them, too), and I loved reading about his issues and how they affect Annie and Jeremiah's relationship, too. 

Even though I am pretty much the opposite of athletic, I loved getting insights into the world of running in Breathe, Annie, Breathe. I loved how sports played into the previous stories in the Hundred Oaks series, but if I'm completely honest, the actual sports parts kind of bored me because I just can't get myself to care about football or baseball. Marathon running, though, was a fascinating world to explore. I would consider myself a pre-running Annie - the girl who came in last when they made us run a mile in high school PE - so it was really inspiring to see how she, despite this, managed to run a marathon, with so much hard work and training. It was fascinating to see both the highs and the lows, and how much effort and commitment really goes into this kind of thing.

As always, I also loved the cameos. I have a horrible memory, so I have to admit it took me a while to realize that Annie's trainer/Jermemiah's brother Matt is the same Matt from Things I Can't Forget. But not even my horrible memory can forget about Jordan Woods and Sam Henry, the characters that first made me love Miranda Kenneally's writing, so it was great to see them again in Breathe, Annie, Breathe. (Even if it was really weird to see Jordan be called Coach Woods all the time.) And getting to see Savannah again was great, too!

Also, college! Breathe, Annie Breathe, begins at the very end of senior and spans the summer, but the last third or so of the novel is set at college. YA books set at college pretty much automatically make me happy, just because there are so few of them.

I think that sums up everything I loved about Breathe, Annie Breathe, even though I'm probably forgetting about something - so many things to love! It's no secret I love Miranda Kenneally's Hundred Oaks series - all of them are exceptionally well-done romances - so to say this one might be my new favorite is a big deal. If you haven't read any of these books, I really don't know what you're doing with your life. Go read them right now!!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review: How My Summer Went Up in Flames by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski

Title: How My Summer Went Up in Flames
Author: Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
Publisher: SimonPulse
Release date: May 7th 2013
Pages: 307
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: Bought
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Rosie’s always been impulsive. She didn’t intend to set her cheating ex-boyfriend’s car on fire. And she never thought her attempts to make amends could be considered stalking. So when she’s served with a temporary restraining order on the first day of summer vacation, she’s heartbroken—and furious.
To put distance between Rosie and her ex, Rosie’s parents send her on a cross-country road trip with responsible, reliable neighbor Matty and his two friends. Forget freedom of the road, Rosie wants to hitchhike home and win back her ex. But her determination starts to dwindle with each passing mile. Because Rosie’s spark of anger? It may have just ignited a romance with someone new…
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I think whether or not you will like How My Summer Went Up in Flames depends a lot on you opinion of our main character Rosie. I've read reviews by people who love her and by people who couldn't stand Rosie because of her impulsiveness and her lack of understanding of how serious her situation is. I didn't really mind her disregard for consequences and her irrational ways all that much - she's relatably flawed, and I love having a different type of contemporary YA narrator for once.

But there are still some things that bothered me about Rosie, most importantly her expressions on issues of gender. There's some serious slut-shaming going on in Rosie's opinions and depictions of her breakup with Joey. She talks about sex as if it's something that she would never do, and condemns Joey's new girlfriend - and her friend Avery - for having done it, which is not okay. Her views of gender roles bothered me so much - she keeps making offensive comments about femininity, and lets her whole life revolve around guys, having no ambitions for herself. (She liked saying "Joey's wife" when people would ask her what she wants to be later on.) This is never really addressed as a problem, which frustrated me throughout the novel. The same goes for issue's of class - from the way Rosie, her family, and the guys' families treat money, they all have to have quite a lot of it, and that's never really mentioned in the novel. Instead, they're the ones who are "normal," in comparison to their ultra-rich friend Avery, which results in scenes like Rosie being surprised they are taking a limousine to the club and commenting that her family only uses limousines on prom or to get to the airport. The never-addressed privilege that is so obvious in scenes like those perpetuates really problematic depictions of class and privilege, and it bothered me throughout Rosie's story.

Since we're already on the topic of problematic depictions of privilege and oppression, let's talk about the whitewashing of this cover. Rosie's mother is from Ecuador and her father is Italian, so she is described to have a dark complexion. She also refers to herself as curvy throughout the novel. So of course the cover model had to be... a skinny white girl. Just... ugh. So many problems.

Despite all these issues that my feminist/social-activist self had with the novel, there are still some parts of the story that I really enjoyed. I always love road trips, and this one is no exception - I loved reading about all their stops and adventures. Rosie's interactions with the guys are entertaining too, and I especially loved Matty. I'm not a huge fan of the romance because I don't think it's necessary for the story, but as far as unnecessary, predictable romance goes, this one is at least kind of cute.

How My Summer Went Up in Flames was an okay read for me. It's a quick, entertaining book, and there are plenty of things I enjoyed about it. Looking deeper, though, there are issues that I couldn't ignore, meaning I couldn't absolutely love this book. How My Summer Went Up in Flames is a cute, fun summer read, but nothing more.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown

Title: Perfect Escape
Author: Jennifer Brown
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Release date: July 10th 2012
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought 
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Kendra has always felt overshadowed by her older brother, Grayson, whose OCD forces him to live a life of carefully coordinated routines. The only way Kendra can stand out next to Grayson is to be perfect, and she has perfection down to an art -- until a cheating scandal threatens her flawless reputation. Behind the wheel of her car, with Grayson asleep beside her, Kendra decides to drive away from it all -- with enough distance, maybe she'll be able to figure everything out. But eventually, Kendra must stop running and come to terms with herself, her brother, and her past. With undeniable grace and humor, acclaimed author Jennifer Brown explores OCD, the pressure for perfection, and the emotional highs and lows of a complex sibling relationship.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This book sounded perfect for me. I love reading both about road trips and about sibling relationships (rather than romance, for once!), and I was excited to see how Jennifer Brown would handle the topic of mental illness. Sadly, Perfect Escape didn't quite live up to my admittedly high expectations - there were plenty of parts that I enjoyed, but for such a character-driven novel, I don't think the character growth was strong enough, making this only an okay read for me.

I never really connected with Kendra. She just seemed very whiny and melodramatic, and I couldn't understand her reasoning. There's a lot of telling and not a lot of showing, making Kendra a somewhat underdeveloped character. It especially bothered me that we don't find out about the full extent of the cheating ordeal until the very ending -  the revelation is underwhelming, but finding out about it earlier might have made it easier for the reader to understand why Kendra chose to run away. I get that we're not supposed to like Kendra at the beginning and that the point is to see her grow over the course of the novel, but the character growth is not strong enough to carry the story. What she discovers about herself and her relationship with Grayson is not developed enough and without further exploration, it didn't feel real to me. Since Perfect Escape is laid out to be a very character-driven story, this lack of character depth really impacted my enjoyment of the novel. 

I also wasn't impressed with the Zoe-storyline. Once Kendra "kidnaps" her sleeping brother and leaves for their impromptu road trip, she has to figure out where they're going and decides they're going to visit their old friend Zoe in California. Zoe's family moved away because her parents didn't want her interacting with mentally-ill Grayson three years ago, but Kendra harbors hope that they will be reunited happily if they only make it to her new house. What happens in regard to Zoe is entirely predictable and underdeveloped, and I didn't really see the point in it at all.

I did really enjoy the individual storylines, though. I'm impressed by the way Jennifer Brown handled the issue of OCD. Having read Corey Ann Haydu's OCD Love Story just a couple of weeks ago,  I was excited to read another author's take on the topic. Perfect Escape added an interesting perspective, since we get to read about the mental disorder from someone close to the the person who has OCD, rather than the person himself. The portrayal of OCD and the way it affects both Grayson's and Kendra's lives is honest and eye-opening.

The roadtrip storyline is good, too. Kendra and Grayson's road trip has a different feel to it from most road trips I've read, just because the OCD adds a whole new dimension to this type of story. As always with road trip stories, I enjoyed all the random places they discover and people they meet along the way. Rena - the girl they pick up along the way - is a fascinating character, and I wish we had gotten to know even more about her life.

But despite my enjoyment of these secondary storylines and smaller parts of the novel, I couldn't actually love it. There isn't a whole lot of action, which I'm usually fine with because I love character-driven stories, but because the character growth is so underdeveloped, that wasn't enough to carry the story. The ending is very abrupt and nothing much has really changed, making it hard for me to see the point of the whole story. I love the set-up of Perfect Escape, but the writing and character development aren't strong enough to make this novel live up to my expectations.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Bookish Anticipation #38

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.

Damsel Distressed by Kelsey Mackie
Release date: October 14th 2014
Hot girls get the fairy tales. No one cares about the stepsisters' story. Those girls don't get a sweet little ending; they get a lifetime of longing.
Imogen Keegen has never had a happily ever after–in fact, she doesn’t think they are possible. Ever since her mother’s death seven years ago, Imogen has pulled herself in and out of therapy, struggled with an “emotionally disturbed” special ed. label, and loathed her perma-plus-sized status.
When Imogen’s new stepsister, the evil and gorgeous Ella Cinder, moves in down the hall, Imogen begins losing grip on the pieces she’s been trying to hold together. The only things that gave her solace–the theatre, cheese fries, and her best friend, Grant–aren’t enough to save her from her pain this time.
While Imogen is enjoying her moment in the spotlight after the high school musical, the journal pages containing her darkest thoughts get put on display. Now, Imogen must resign herself to be crushed under the ever-increasing weight of her pain, or finally accept the starring role in her own life story.
And maybe even find herself a happily ever after.

Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot
Release date: October 14th 2014
When Julia Buchanan enrolls at St. Anne’s at the beginning of junior year, Charlotte Ryder already knows all about the former senator’s daughter. Most people do... or think they do.
Charlotte certainly never expects she’ll be Julia’s friend. But almost immediately, she is drawn into the larger than-life-new girl’s world—a world of midnight rendezvous, dazzling parties, palatial vacation homes, and fizzy champagne cocktails. And then Charlotte meets, and begins falling for, Julia’s handsome older brother, Sebastian.
But behind her self-assured smiles and toasts to the future, Charlotte soon realizes that Julia is still suffering from a tragedy. A tragedy that the Buchanan family has kept hidden … until now.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonksy
Release date: November 4th 2014
Alone at home, twelve-year-old Grayson Sender glows, immersed in beautiful thoughts and dreams. But at school, Grayson grasps at shadows, determined to fly under the radar. Because Grayson has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body.
The weight of this secret is crushing, but leaving it behind would mean facing ridicule, scorn, and rejection. Despite these dangers, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Strengthened by an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher who gives her a chance to step into the spotlight, Grayson might finally have the tools to let her inner light shine.

Trust Me, I'm Lying by Mary Elizabeth Summer
Release date: October 14th 2014
Julep Dupree tells lies. A lot of them. She’s a con artist, a master of disguise, and a sophomore at Chicago’s swanky St. Agatha High, where her father, an old-school grifter with a weakness for the ponies, sends her to so she can learn to mingle with the upper crust. For extra spending money Julep doesn’t rely on her dad—she runs petty scams for her classmates while dodging the dean of students and maintaining an A+ (okay, A-) average.
But when she comes home one day to a ransacked apartment and her father gone, Julep’s carefully laid plans for an expenses-paid golden ticket to Yale start to unravel. Even with help from St. Agatha’s resident Prince Charming, Tyler Richland, and her loyal hacker sidekick, Sam, Julep struggles to trace her dad’s trail of clues through a maze of creepy stalkers, hit attempts, family secrets, and worse, the threat of foster care. With everything she has at stake, Julep’s in way over her head . . . but that’s not going to stop her from using every trick in the book to find her dad before his mark finds her. Because that would be criminal.

Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez
Release date: October 7th 2014
Valentina Cruz no longer exists.
One moment, she was wrapped in Emilio’s arms, melting into his kiss. The next, she was witnessing the unthinkable: a murder in cold blood, ordered by her father and carried out by her boyfriend. When Emilio pulled the trigger, Valentina disappeared. She made a split-second decision to shed her identity and flee her life of privilege, leaving the glittering parties and sultry nightlife of Miami far behind.
She doesn’t know how to explain to herself what she saw. All she knows now is that nothing she believed about her family, her heart, or Emilio’s love, was real.
She can change her name and deny her past, but Valentina can’t run from the truth. The lines between right and wrong, and trust and betrayal, will be blurred beyond recognition as she untangles the deceptions of the two men she once loved and races to find her own truth.

No Place to Fall by Jaye Robin Brown
Release date: December 9th 2014
Amber Vaughn is a good girl. She sings solos at church, babysits her nephew after school, and spends every Friday night hanging out at her best friend Devon’s house. It’s only when Amber goes exploring in the woods near her home, singing camp songs with the hikers she meets on the Appalachian Trail, that she feels free—and when the bigger world feels just a little bit more in reach.
When Amber learns about an audition at the North Carolina School of the Arts, she decides that her dream—to sing on bigger stages—could also be her ticket to a new life. Devon’s older (and unavailable) brother, Will, helps Amber prepare for her one chance to try out for the hypercompetitive arts school. But the more time Will and Amber spend together, the more complicated their relationship becomes . . . and Amber starts to wonder if she’s such a good girl, after all.
Then, in an afternoon, the bottom drops out of her family’s world—and Amber is faced with an impossible choice between her promise as an artist and the people she loves. Amber always thought she knew what a good girl would do. But between “right” and “wrong,” there’s a whole world of possibilities.

What releases are you anticipating this week? 

Monday, July 07, 2014

Review: Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

Title: Let's Get Lost
Author: Adi Alsaid
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release date: July 29th 2014
Pages: 352
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
Add to Goodreads | Purchase from Amazon
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.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

After the tons of buzz for Adi Alsaid's book at BEA, I was super excited about Let's Get Lost, and luckily it didn't disappoint! I loved Adi Alsaid's writing style - it's the perfect balance of funny and poignant, making this a novel that is both entertaining and heartbreaking.

The novel is separated into five parts, each focusing on a different character, and I did not enjoy them all equally. My favorite parts were Bree's and Sonia's - both of them get into ridiculous situations with Leila, and they are hilarious to read about. Underneath all of these entertaining scenes lies stellar character development for both Bree and Sonia: both of their background stories are heartbreaking and made me feel for them throughout their parts. To me, these two sections are the funniest but also convey a very strong message.

Hudson's and Elliot's sections are the two that I took issue with. I did really enjoy these parts - they, too, have great humor and poignancy - but they both have problematic themes. Hudson's story adheres a bit too closely to the manic pixie dream girl trope: Hudson is the good guy with issues, and along comes this "whirlwind of a girl" who is so different from anyone else he knows and helps him discover himself. The manic pixie dream girl (aka Leila) works as a plot tool - and therefore an object - without really having a personality of her own. Looking back after I've finished the novel, and knowing what I know now about Leila, it makes sense that we wouldn't find out much about Leila, but while reading Hudson's section, the set-up didn't sit right with me, just because this trope is very problematic in terms of women's representation and it just frustrates me every time I see it.

In Elliot's story, too, my issues are gender-related. This section takes place after Elliot has confessed his love for his friend and she has turned him down, and the whole story revolves around Eliot trying, again and again, to win her over, after she has said no. It's the classic "friendzone"  story, which automatically made me dislike Eliot for his sense of entitlement to women. The way he does not respect her no and continues to attempt to win her over is deeply problematic and perpetuates rape culture, ideas of male entitlement, and traditional gender roles within the "courting"  process. His behavior is simply not okay, and that made it hard for me to enjoy Elliot's story, even though his section, too, had some very entertaining parts.

The last part of the novel is about Leila, and it's another section that I loved. After finding out about Leila's background, I wanted to go back and reread everything, just to see how much better I could understand Leila's behavior now that I know what she's going through. Her story is heartbreaking but hopeful, and I loved it. The only part I took issue with is the ending, because that just seemed unnecessary and unrealistic to me.

I know the negative parts of this review almost outweigh the positive ones, but that's really just because once I get started on a feminist rant, there's no going back. Despite these issues, I really loved Let's Get Lost. I loved getting insight into each of these people's lives that are connected in such a random way, and even though we only get to read about them for such a short time, all the characters have depth and are very memorable. If you like roadtrip books, there's no way you won't love Let's Get Lost because these adventures are more ridiculous and entertaining than any other roadtrip book I've read. With the perfect balance of humorous, random road trip adventures and the honest exploration of these characters'  inspiring struggles, Let's Get Lost is the perfect summer read. I can't wait to see what Adi Alsaid writes next!

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Title: The Impossible Knife of Memory
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Release date: January 7th 2014
Pages: 391
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought 
For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own. Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over?
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

We all know Laurie Halse Anderson is a literary genius, so of course I was excited to read her newest book. The cover is gorgeous, so that helped too. And while I didn't love The Impossible Knife of Memory as much as I've loved some of Laurie Halse Anderson's previous books, I did really enjoy it. The Impossible Knife of Memory is another dark, hard-hitting, character-driven driven novel, and I loved it.

I love how family-centered the plot of The Impossible Knife of Memory is - seeing Hayley struggle in her relationship with her dad is heartbreaking. I could see how some people might complain that the depiction of Andy's PTSD isn't layered enough, but I honestly didn't mind - the novel is more about Hayley figuring out how to deal with her father, rather than her father dealing with his PTSD. I really enjoyed reading about Hayley's relationship with her dad, and the rest of their family history too. I also love how we get insights into the families of Finn and of Hayley's best friend (whose name I can't remember even though she is awesome). 

The other main storyline is the romance. As always, I didn't love the romance quite as much as I loved the main storyline, but I did really enjoy it. I don't want to call it insta-love because Finn and Hayley's relationship develops very slowly and realistically over the course of the novel, but it is insta-something - I found it really strange how Finn immediately liked Hayley and started to "pursue" her as soon as she got there. Their bantering is cute, but I still don't see how it initially got started. Later on, though, I really liked reading about Hayley and Finn's connection.

Laurie Halse Anderson established herself as one of the best YA writers a long time ago, so of course her writing was amazing in her newest novel as well. She just has a way with words that makes everything so much more emotional and honest. There really isn't all that much going on in The Impossible Knife of Memory, but I never minded - it's still a captivating read because of her way with words. 

If you've never read a Laurie Halse Anderson novel, I don't know what you're doing with your life - you really, really need to. The Impossible Knife of Memory is another beautifully written, honest, and powerful novel, and I can't recommend it enough! 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Review: What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Title: What I Thought Was True
Author: Huntley Fitzpatrick
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Release date: April 15th 2014
Pages: 416
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: Bought
Add to Goodreads | Purchase from Amazon
From the author of My Life Next Door comes a swoony summertime romance full of expectation and regret, humor and hard questions.
Gwen Castle's Biggest Mistake Ever, Cassidy Somers, is slumming it as a yard boy on her Nantucket-esque island this summer. He's a rich kid from across the bridge in Stony Bay, and she hails from a family of fishermen and housecleaners who keep the island's summer people happy. Gwen worries a life of cleaning houses will be her fate too, but just when it looks like she'll never escape her past—or the island—Gwen's dad gives her some shocking advice. Sparks fly and secret histories unspool as Gwen spends a gorgeous, restless summer struggling to resolve what she thought was true—about the place she lives, the people she loves, and even herself—with what really is.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Huntley Fitzpatrick's debut, My Life Next Door, was one of my favorite books of last year, so I was beyond excited when I heard she had another book coming out, and set on the same summer island, too. And while I didn't love What I Thought Was True quite as much as My Life Next Door, I still really enjoyed Huntley Fitzpatrick's sophomore novel.

I absolutely loved our main character Gwen. I've read a couple of reviews that weren't happy with Gwen and her decision-making, but I found her to be  realistic and relatable, and I felt for her throughout the novel. I'm always happy when we get a variation from the stereotypical shy, good-girl character, so I really appreciated that Gwen had a bit of a history when it comes to guys. I wish that aspect had been explored more, though; her reputation and the slut-shaming affected Gwen a lot at the beginning of the novel but weren't really mentioned anymore later on. Also, I wish Cass's and her irresponsibility during their earlier hookup hadn't been glossed over like it was, because the whole sex-with-a-random-person-without-a-condom-is-okay-as-long-as-you're-on-birth-control thing didn't sit right with me.

The family storyline was probably my favorite part of the novel. I love that Gwen comes from a working-class background where money actually is an issue, unlike so many YA contemporaries. And the parents play a pretty important rule in the story, too! I really enjoyed the family atmosphere, Gwen's relationship with her cousin Nic, and of course her little brother Em. And while she's not technically part of the family, I loved reading about Gwen's best friend Viv too. I really appreciated that the romance didn't always take center stage and that we got to read about Gwen's other relationships and the stories of other people as well.

The romance, sadly, was the only storyline I didn't love. The set-up, with the flashbacks to Cass's and Gwen's earlier hookup, in between the story today, didn't really work for me. I never got a clear sense of what their relationship was like before that first time, which made me kind of suspicious of Cass's claims that he had had feelings for Gwen all along. But maybe I just didn't get it because it took me a looong time to get through What I Thought Was True. (I don't know why I thought starting a book right before finals was a good idea.) But because I never really got a sense of their past involvement, the story now seemed a little too insta-love-y to me: I didn't really feel the chemistry between them, they developed too strong feelings for each other within such a short period of time, and their relationship seemed a little too perfect (except for the obligatory drama right before the ending, of course). The whole second half of the novel seemed a little rushed to me: the pace at the beginning is very slow, and towards the end, there's a million things happening at once, so I wish that been balanced a little better.

Despite my problems with the romance, I really enjoyed What I Thought Was True. Huntley Fitzpatrick's writing is great, and I loved the summer feeling she conveyed throughout this novel. I can't wait t read more by this author!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

New Releases July 2014

New releases:

The Dare by Hannah Jayne: July 1st
On the Fence by Kaesie West: July 1st

In Deep by Terra Elan McVoy: July 8th
The Half Life of Molly Pierce by Katrina Leno: July 8th

Landline by Rainbow Rowell: July 8th 2014
Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally: July 15th

Like No Other by Una LaMarche: July 24th
Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid: July 29th


Dead Ends by Erin Jade Lange: July 3rd
45 Pounds (More or Less) by Kelly Barson: July 3rd

Return to Me by Justina Chen: July 15th
OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu: July 22nd
Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson: July 31st

What July releases are you most excited for?
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