Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Title: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel
Author: Sara Farizan
Publisher: Algonquin
Release date: October 7th 2014
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: NetGalley - I received a free eGalley of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Just like with Sara Farizan's debut, If You Could Be Mine, I absolutely loved the idea for Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, and I believe that both books are important stories to tell. But sadly, also just like with If You Could Be Mine, I had some issues with the execution and some details about the story. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel wasn't a personal favorite, but I did enjoy parts of it, and I most definitely think it's a really important book to have been published.

Leila's character had a lot of potential, but I think Sara Farizan could have done more with her. I understand that her sexuality is the main focus of the novel, but just being gay doesn't make up a whole person. There are other aspects of her life that we get to see - like her Iranian heritage, and her interest in theater - but the focus is still definitely on her being gay. I wanted to know more about Leila, not about her sexuality, her heritage, or her interests, but just about her as a person.

The story started out great, but it lost focus after a while. I understand that that's kind of the point - there isn't supposed to be any one most important storyline, since this is just Leila's coming-of-age - but I still wish the different storylines hadn't gone off in such random directions. My favorite storyline is probably the theater one - I really enjoyed getting to see Leila in this setting. My least favorite one, though, would have to be the romance: the romance, and the happy ending, seem kind of forced, and I don't think the love interest's character or Leila's relationship with her are strong enough to carry the story.

Just like in If You Could Be Mine, the secondary characters were probably what I enjoyed most about Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel. I really appreciated how Leila has such a diverse group of friends, meaning from different parts of the stereotypical high school groups. I didn't like all of them, but you're not supposed to, and I loved that all of them are intriguing in their own way. 

I had a couple of really small issues that don't even really warrant a paragraph on their own, so I'm just going to randomly list them. For some reason, a couple of Leila's friends are always referred to with their first and last name, which seemed really random. Also, if you have big boobs, buying bras at Forever 21 is not a thing that can happen. (Unless I've been going to the wrong Forever 21s.) And I took issue with some of Leila's opinions: in some ways, her coming out translated to now openly objectifying women, which is not cool.

Sorry that this review is so all over the place; I really don't know how to come up with anything coherent to say about this book. I really enjoyed the idea and some parts of the novel, but others are just very underdeveloped. Like I said, it's not going to be a personal favorite, but I do think that this is a very important book, so if you enjoy LGBT stories, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is definitely a book you should give a try.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Review: Bleed Like Me by Christa Desir

Title: Bleed Like Me
Author: Christa Desir
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: October 7th 2014
Pages: 288
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: NetGalley - I received a free advance eGalley of this bookfrom the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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Seventeen-year-old Amelia Gannon (just "Gannon" to her friends) is invisible to almost everyone in her life. To her parents, to her teachers--even her best friend, who is more interested in bumming cigarettes than bonding. Some days the only way Gannon knows she is real is by carving bloody lines into the flesh of her stomach.
Then she meets Michael Brooks, and for the first time, she feels like she is being seen to the core of her being. Obnoxious, controlling, damaged, and addictive, he inserts himself into her life until all her scars are exposed. Each moment together is a passionate, painful relief.
But as the relationship deepens, Gannon starts to feel as if she's standing at the foot of a dam about to burst. She's given up everything and everyone in her life for him, but somehow nothing is enough for Brooks--until he poses the ultimate test.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Bleed Like Me is not an easy read. The terrible situation Amelia is in, and the even worse decisions she makes to try to get out of there, are hard to read about, but the book itself is very well-done. Bleed Like Me is a raw, gritty, and somewhat disturbing read, but it's most definitely worth it.

Especially the relationship between Amelia and Brooks is hard to stomach. I disliked Brooks from the beginning - he won't take Amelia's repeated no for an answer and resorts to stalker-ish methods to get her to go out with him, setting off every single warning bell in my brain. And once they're together, it only gets worse - he is ridiculously possessive and controlling, making this a very destructive relationship. Especially the way she lets him cut her, rather than her cutting herself, is disturbing and upsetting to read about. Amelia is entirely dependent on Brooks, which is just as scary. But even though, from where I stand, I could clearly tell that Brooks would only end up hurting her, I still (at least to some extent) understood Amelia's dependency on him, considering how crappy everything else in her life is. Brooks, too, isn't just a villain - even scarier than his actions is the fact that the horrible things he's been through have made him this way. The whole thing is disturbing and difficult to read about, but exceptionally well-written.

The family storyline is unique, and I really enjoyed it. Well, I don't know if enjoy is the right word - more like, scared me out of ever wanting to have kids. Saying that Amelia's three little brothers are difficult would be a gross understatement - they are nothing but trouble. The complex and difficult family relations are intriguing to read about. I just wish we had gotten a bit more insight into the brothers' characters to make them a bit more realistic and multi-dimensional.

The only real issue I had with this book is the ending. I'm all for open endings, and I agree that tying up every storyline nicely in a happy ending would have been unrealistic for this kind of story. But I still wish we had gotten a bit more information about what happens after - the ending is very abrupt and doesn't really allow us to see how Amelia has grown, which I think would have been important to explore in more depth.

Despite the underdeveloped ending, Bleed Like Me is a book I definitely recommend. It's a disturbing story, but it's an important read just as much as it is a difficult one. If you like dark, raw, gritty books, Bleed Like Me is definitely for you. Now I just need to get my hands on a copy of Christa Desir's debut, Fault Lines!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bookish Anticipation #40

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

The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne
Release date: March 17th 2015
Kate Quinn’s mom died unexpectedly last year, leaving Kate grasping. But when the totally unexpected shows up in her living room, Kate must confront another reality she never thought possible—or thought of at all. Moving in with a politically powerful family she never knew she had, joining a presidential campaign in support of a man she barely knows, and falling for a rebellious boy who may not have the purest motives—this is Kate’s new life. But who is Kate? When what she truly believes flies in the face of the campaign’s talking points, Kate must decide. Does she turn to the family she barely knows, the boy she knows but doesn’t necessarily trust, or face a third, even scarier option?

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver
Release date: March 3rd 2015
Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara's beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it's too late.

The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise by Matthew Crow
Release date: March 3rd 2015
Francis is determined to forge his own way in school and life despite his loony, awkward, broken family...and noticeable lack of friends. Then he is diagnosed with leukemia. It wasn't part of his strategy, but there are moments when he can see the upside. After all, people are nice to you when you're sick.
While in the hospital, Francis meets Amber. She’s outspoken and sarcastic, and Francis falls for her almost immediately. Hard. Together, they take on the other cancer ward patients, overbearing mothers, and treatments with lively wit.
But Francis's recovery is taking a different path from Amber's. He's actually getting better. And although he knew who he was before cancer, before Amber, now he has no idea how to live—or how to let go…

Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes
Release date: March 24th 2015
Max Cantrell has never been a big fan of the truth, so when the opportunity arises to sell lies to his classmates, it sounds like a good way to make a little money and liven up a boring senior year. With the help of his friends Preston and Parvati, Max starts a business providing forged permission slips and cover stories for the students of Vista Palisades High. Liars, Inc. they call it. Suddenly everybody needs something and the cash starts pouring in. Who knew lying could be so lucrative?
When Preston wants his own cover story to go visit a girl he met online, Max doesn’t think twice about hooking him up. Until Preston never comes home. Then the evidence starts to pile up—terrifying clues that lead the cops to Preston’s body. Terrifying clues that point to Max as the murderer.
Can Max find the real killer before he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit? Paula Stokes starts with one single white lie and weaves a twisted tale that will have readers guessing until the explosive final chapters.

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
Release date: March 17th 2015
Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord
Release date: March 31st 2015
It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for a year, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

What releases are you anticipating this week? 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez

Title: Kiss Kill Vanish
Author: Jessica Martinez
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release date: October 7th 2014
Pages: 432
Genre: Young Adult contemporary/mystery
Source: Edelweiss - I received a free eGalley of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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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.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is a hard book to review without spoilers. The description is really vague (it might not seem vague, but there is so much more to the story than you could tell from the description), and I think the mystery of not knowing is really important to enjoy this novel. So I'm going to try to not give anything away, but this means I might have to be pretty vague about some parts, so I apologize in advance.

The mystery had a lot of potential. There is tons of intrigue and secrets, and this whole world is fascinating to read about. Sadly, though, the pacing made it hard to really love the mystery: there are parts that dragged and could have been made a lot shorter, and then there are parts where there is just way too much going on. There are a ton of plot twists, which could have been really good, but because they're one right after the other, I kind of just lost track of what was going on. Especially in the last 100ish pages, things got kind of far-fetched and unrealistic, and Valentina became kind of irrational. This is really unfortunate because I loved all of the ideas - I just wish they had been spread out a little more to make the beginning more fast-paced and the later parts more plausible.

The characters are okay. I don't know I'd say I liked Valentina, but I did like reading about her. In the beginning, at least, it's great to see her figure out how to live by herself, without the wealth and privilege she's always known. Later on, though, she becomes a lot less independent and kind of irrational, like I said, so I didn't like reading about her quite as much anymore. There's also a romance storyline, and I'm not sure what to make of that: I really liked the banter between Valentina and the love interest, but I always just saw them as friends, so it seemed kind of weird to me when they randomly got together at the end.

I know this review doesn't really tell you anything, but that's how I feel about this book - my thoughts are kind of all-over-the-place. The mystery had a lot of potential, but I wish it had been fleshed out a bit more to make for a more plausible, realistic story. I'm not going to go around recommending this to everyone, but I'm not going to discourage you from Kiss Kill Vanish a try, either. It was just kind flat for me.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: Tape by Steven Camden

Title: Tape
Author: Steven Camden
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
Release date: September 23rd 2014
Pages: 363
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
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In 1993, Ryan records a diary on an old tape. He talks about his mother’s death, about his dreams, about his love for a new girl at school who doesn’t even know he exists.
In 2013, Ameliah moves in with her grandmother after her parents die. There, she finds a tape in the spare room. A tape with a boy’s voice on it – a voice she can’t quite hear, but which seems to be speaking to her.
Ryan and Ameliah are connected by more than just a tape.
This is their story.
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I haven't DNFed a book in over a year, but I wanted to DNF Tape multiple times. The reason that I rarely DNF books is that I like reading good books (for obvious reasons) but also like reading bad books because they give me something to complain about (I'm really good at anger). (Someone please tell me I'm not the only person who likes reading bad books so they can complain.) But Tape gave me neither the pure form of enjoyment nor the anger-enjoyment, because I just felt indifferent about it throughout. I couldn't tell if there was anything technically wrong with the story, but for some reason I just couldn't connect with it. The story bored me, and I couldn't get myself to care about any of the characters, so Tape was a hard book for me to get through.

Part of why Tape was so hard for me to read is the writing style. For some reason, the author used dashes instead of quotation marks throughout the whole novel. I know that shouldn't really be a big deal, but it was really hard for me to get used to this, and it also made me feel kind of removed from the story, since the dialogue isn't properly embedded in the narrative. Asides from this smaller issue, the writing is just very simplistic and basic; a lot of it read like it would be better suited for the middle grade audience. (Which would make sense, since with 13-year-old main characters, Tape is right on the border of MG and YA.) But even if it's meant for younger readers, I didn't find the writing to be all that engaging; it just never drew me in.

As for the plot, the problem is that... there is no plot; nothing really happens until the very end. The whole story moves incredibly slowly and just drags so much. 90% of this story is just the main characters complaining about how annoying their families are; I really can't remember anything else that happens in the first 200 pages. Towards the end, there are two plot twists. One of these I found very predictable; we know from the description that there's some kind of connection between Ryan and Ameliah, and it's hinted at throughout, so the way they turn out to be connected is not all that surprising. The other plot twist, regarding a character in Ameliah's life, I hadn't expected, so I guess that was good. But since I didn't really care about the characters, I couldn't get myself to care about this revelation, either.

If a novel is lacking a plot, I'd assume it'd at least have good characters so it can be more of a character-driven story. But... no. I never connected with these characters. Ameliah and Ryan are really similar characters in really similar situations - they're both dealing with a death in the family and adjusting to a new family arrangement, and that's really all that's happening. Their voices are very similar and hard to tell apart, at times. Since Ryan's story is set 20 years before Ameliah's, I had thought their voices would be different and adapted to their respective time periods, but that's not really the case. In Ameliah's world, everyone has cell phones, but that was the only difference I could see; I wanted to see more of a difference in the way they speak and act. I just didn't have any kind of connection with either of the main characters.

The secondary characters are very one-dimensional. I was especially disappointed by Eve's character. Considering she's so central to the whole story, I feel like she should have had some sort of personality, but we never really got to know her. Ryan and Eve's romance should have been hugely epic, since it brings the whole book together, but we only get a couple of short conversations, lots of insta-love, and nothing else. Everything about the romance is cliched, melodramatic, and not very realistic.

I really liked the idea of the tape connecting these two stories with its time-travel-esque features. But that turned out to just be a whole lot of wasted potential. The tape thing could have made this story stand out, but it didn't even turn out to be all that important. These two characters being connected via the tape could have had so many implications for their futures and could have really changed the course of these stories (sorry for being so vague; I don't want to give anything away), but the characters don't really use this connection for anything, which was really disappointing.

Tape really just didn't have any redeeming qualities for me. The plot is non-existent, the characters are flat, and the romance is melodramatic. Maybe Steven Camden's writing just isn't for me; it never drew me in, and I felt removed from the story throughout. Maybe it would be a better fit for younger readers, but even then... I just can't recommend Tape.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Title: Lies We Tell Ourselves
Author: Robin Talley
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release date: September 30th 2014
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult historical
Source: BEA 2014
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In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.
Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.
Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”
Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was ridiculously excited for Lies We Tell Ourselves. A book that tackles racism, sexism, and homophobia all in one sounds like my kind of book. And while I was a little disappointed by the writing and by some smaller elements, I did really like Lies We Tell Ourselves.

My knowledge of US history is limited, but I think that even if I did know more, I probably wouldn't know all that much about how exactly desegregation worked. It's not something you really learn about; you might get the idealized version, but not what the real issues were. That's what makes Lies We Tell Ourselves such an important novel. The racism and the amount of terrible people in this book are ridiculous, and it's kind of hard to read at parts, but it seems authentic, making this a very powerful story.

But Lies We Tell Ourselves is not only about racial issues; it is nuanced in its portrayal of various issues during this time period. Of course, LBGT rights are a big issue in the novel, and it's treated with respect, authenticity, and nuance. Women's rights aren't quite as obviously addressed, but the main characters do question their gender roles in subtle and meaningful ways over the course of the novel. I love how Robin Talley weaved these important issues together seamlessly in Lies We Tell Ourselves.

The characters are pretty good. They're not quite as fully developed as I'd hoped, but they are definitely intriguing characters. Sarah, of course, is someone the reader sympathizes with; she is courageous and strong, but also very vulnerable. Linda is not the easiest character to like, but I did feel for her; it shines through that these problematic values are what she's been taught all her life, and it was fascinating to see her begin to question what she has always thought to be true. Her progression happens in a very natural way, which I really appreciated.

Despite all these great things, there was still something... missing. You could very much tell that this is a debut novel. While it fits the voices in some cases, the writing is a bit too simplistic for my tastes, and I wish the characters had been a just a little bit more complex. The plot is quite predictable, and while I don't think this story calls for any intense plot twists, I would have liked to see some more surprising character development. I can't really pinpoint what my issue with the writing is; I just wish it had been a bit more emotional, thought-provoking, hard-hitting... just more.

Even if the writing isn't quite as great as I'd hoped, I still really enjoyed Lies We Tell Ourselves. It's educational but it's also a great story. Lies We Tell Ourselves is a powerful, important novel, and I definitely recommend it!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday #30: Authors I've Only Read One Book From But NEED to Read More

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

This week's topic is: Top Ten Authors I've Only Read One Book From But NEED to Read More

I only have seven for this list, but here goes...

Nina LaCour

Nina LaCour's debut, Hold Still, is one of my all-time favorites; her writing is incredible. And yet, somehow... I still haven't read The Disenchantments or Everything Leads to You. I really need to make that happen.

Justina Chen

I loved Justina Chen's writing in North of Beautiful... but still haven't gotten around to reading any of her other books.

Trish Doller

I remember being completely obsessed with Trish Doller's debut, Something Like Normal - it was one of my most anticipated releases, and it was still better than I'd expected. And Trish Doller is awesome on Twitter, too, so I really should read her sophomore novel. One day...

Libba Bray

The only Libba Bray book I've read is Beauty Queens, which I liked, but which everyone says is her worst one. So I should really read some of her other books...

Natalie Standiford

How to Say Goodbye in Robot spoke to me in a very personal way, and I still think about it to this day. (Which is a big deal, because I usually forget what happened in a book like a week after I finish it.) I really need to read some more of her books, even if they probably won't live up to how much I loved How to Say Goodbye in Robot.

Sarah Mlynowski

Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have) is the only Sara Mlynowski book I've read, but I absolutely loved it; it was hilarious, the perfect feel-good read. I think I need some more Sarah Mlynowski in my life...

Melissa Walker

I loved Melissa Walker's Unbreak My Heart, and I've heard great things about her other books, so I really need to get on that...

Have you read any of these authors' books? Which ones do I NEED to read?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: The Fine Art of Pretending by Rachel Harris

Title: The Fine Art of Pretending
Author: Rachel Harris
Publisher: Spencer Hill Contemporary
Release date: September 30th 2014
Pages: 256
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: BEA 2014
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According to the guys at Fairfield Academy, there are two types of girls: the kind you hook up with, and the kind you're friends with. Seventeen-year-old Alyssa Reed is the second type. And she hates it. With just one year left to change her rank, she devises a plan to become the first type by homecoming, and she sets her sights on the perfect date—Justin Carter, Fairfield Academy’s biggest hottie and most notorious player.
With 57 days until the dance, Aly launches Operation Sex Appeal and sheds her tomboy image. The only thing left is for Justin actually to notice her. Enter best friend Brandon Taylor, the school’s second biggest hottie, and now Aly’s pretend boyfriend. With his help, elevating from “funny friend” to “tempting vixen” is only a matter of time.
But when everything goes according to plan, the inevitable “break up” leaves their friendship in shambles, and Aly and Brandon with feelings they can’t explain. And the fake couple discovers pretending can sometimes cost you the one thing you never expected to want.
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

The cover of The Fine Art of Pretending is adorable, and when they're well done, this type of story can be really cute. Sadly, The Fine Art of Pretending doesn't belong in the "well done" category, in my opinion - the characters are frustrating, and the plot drags on with unnecessary drama about nothing. The Fine Art of Pretending just didn't work for me.

Aly rubbed me the wrong way from the first page on, since the novel starts with her plan to give herself a total makeover of appearance and personality, in order to get guys to like her. I know this was to be expected from the description, but I had somehow assumed she was making these changes for herself, rather than for male attention. But... no. The whole thing is about getting guys to like her. Her entire self-worth is based on male perceptions of her, which is problematic in so many ways. When she finds out that the guys at her school have organized girls into two groups - Casuals (girls to hook up with) and Commitments (girls to have relationships with) - she is only concerned with wanting to become a Casual, rather than being outraged at how offensive and objectifying this distinction is. Yes, I understand that Aly isn't supposed to be entirely likeable at the beginning of the novel, since the plot is about her character growth. But this character growth focuses on her learning she is really a Commitment and shouldn't try to be a Casual, rather than dismantling this ridiculous binary. The depiction of femininity within these two groups is highly stereotypical and demeaning to both "categories" of females. It also bothered me how the only way for Aly to become okay with being a Commitment is realizing that this is something guys do like - rather than becoming comfortable with herself regardless of male perceptions of her. The problems with the depiction of gender roles and definitions of femininity in this novel are just endless.

Brandon isn't much better. His views of gender are also highly problematic, but I think my feminist rant has gone on long enough, so I'll talk about my issues with his character, regardless of gender stuff, instead. Honestly, I just don't think his story was strong enough. The main obstacle standing in the way of Aly and Brandon being together, once they've realized they have feelings for each other, is that Brandon believes relationships always end and therefore aren't worth it, which he learned from seeing his mother grieve the death of his father. This idea has a lot of potential, but it isn't developed enough to actually make me feel for him. We never find out anything about his dad, other than that he died, or his mom, other than that she's grieving; they're very, very one-dimensional characters. We also never really get to see Brandon grieve his father, other than making those statements about how he learned that relationships only cause pain. If we had really gotten insight into how grief has affected his family, I could have sympathized with Brandon and understood his reluctance to start a relationship, but because the storyline is so underdeveloped, it seemed kind of contrived and constructed only to have Aly and Brandon face some kind of obstacle.

Most of the secondary characters are just personifications of stereotypes. I really wanted to get to know Aly's girl friends, but the only time they play a role is when Aly needs someone to discuss her guy troubles with; I don't think they ever have a conservation that doesn't revolve around one of their relationships with a guy. All the other characters are just the stereotypical popular high school kids who don't get real personalities. And what is up with all of these one-week relationships everyone is having?? The only other character we get a little bit of insight to is Justin, but his story is oversimplified, too.

I can't really think of a nicer way to put this; I just didn't like this book all that much. There are many books out there who do the friendship-turning-into-romance storyline a lot better than The Fine Art of Pretending does. This story is melodramatic, stereotypical, and highly problematic regarding perceptions of femininity. I just couldn't enjoy it in any way.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Title: Afterworlds
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: September 23rd 2014
Pages: 608
Genre: Young Adult paranormal/contemporary
Source: BEA
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Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she's made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings…
Told in alternating chapters is Darcy's novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the 'Afterworld' to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved - and terrifying - stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is kind of a hard book to review, since there's two separate stories that are still somehow intertwined. So I guess I'll just start with Darcy's story. Darcy's story is the reason I was so excited for this book - since I love everything related to books and publishing, I thought reading about it would be great. And I did love that part - I loved getting to read about Darcy trying to improve her story, the editorial comments she gets, how she tries to figure out what the ending of her books should be, etc. There is so much bookish stuff in Afterworlds - Darcy goes to BEA, she's part of the fictionalized version of the Class of 2014 debut authors, she goes on tour with a popular YA author who also makes online videos (aka a fictionalized version of John Green), and on and on and on. I especially loved the discussions of whether or not Darcy's use of Hinduism to create this paranormal world is cultural appropriation - that's something I think about a lot, and the discussion in Afterworlds is nuanced and thought-provoking. All of this bookishness made me so happy and made me feel so connected to Darcy, since this is the world I live in/want to live in, too. 

Of course, when you read about something that's so close to you and that you know so much about, you're also going to have your fair share of complaints about how realistically it's portrayed. The whole scenario of a debut author getting a $150,000 deal for her first book and the unwritten sequel is definitely rare, but it's necessary to make the story work, and I guess it works, since the characters themselves keep pointing out how lucky Darcy is. But the deal is made even more unrealistic when you consider that she simply wrote a rough draft, sent it to an agent, and had a book deal 17 days later - in my experience interning at a literary agency (and, you know, having common sense) these types of things tend to take waaaay longer. I also wasn't a huge fan of the portrayal of Darcy's agent - she lets Darcy stay in her apartment when she first comes to NYC, which in itself is... well, not necessarily unrealistic, but again, rare. Darcy describes this apartment, along with everything else her agent owns, as really fancy and expensive. She talks about how unfair it is that her agent is so rich and does the math of how, if an agent makes 15% of each client's advance and royalties, and they have about 35 clients, they'll make a ton of money. But she doesn't seem to consider that most of those clients, unlike her, probably won't get $300,000 worth of advances within the first couple of years. That whole part kind of bothered me.

Asides from the publishing-related stuff, Darcy's story is only okay. I felt kind of ambivalent towards Darcy. I felt for her, but she also frustrated me to no end, because she is incredibly naive and irresponsible, blowing through her money ridiculously fast and generally just not knowing how to be an adult. I'm also not sure how I feel about the romance - Darcy starts a relationship with a fellow author, who happens to be 23, 5 years older than Darcy. Just looking at the numbers, the age difference doesn't bother me, but considering that Imogen has been in the publishing world so much longer, their relationship is somewhat student/teacher-y, which creates for an imbalanced relationship that I wasn't sure how to feel about. Imogen by herself is a complex and intriguing character, but I didn't love her and Darcy together all that much.

Then there's Lizzie's story. I wasn't sure if Lizzie's story would be right for me, since I don't read all that much paranormal, but I loved this premise. It's very unique, and it reads like real life, seamlessly connecting the world we know with paranormal aspects. The whole concept is intriguing, original, and suspenseful, and I loved reading about it. But just like with Darcy's story, I didn't love everything about it: again, I found the romance to be just okay. It's very predictable and kind of forced - of course Lizzie would fall in love with the psychopomp (ghost guide) who saved her. He has an interesting story, but him and Lizzie don't have all that much chemistry. I was also kind of disappointed by the ending: I wanted the stakes to be higher, wanted Lizzie to have to make a bigger decision. Especially since so much of Darcy's story is about deciding how to end Lizzie's story, I found the ending she ended up going with kind of underwhelming, since nothing really happens. It makes sense, since there's supposed to be a sequel, but still.

Even though I had issues with both Darcy's and Lizzie's stories, I still really enjoyed them. Scott Westerfeld's writing is great, letting me get through the whole novel pretty quickly, despite it being a 600-page-long monster of a book. I loved reading about the world of books and publishing from Darcy's point of view, and I really enjoyed Lizzie's unique and suspenseful story, too. I definitely recommend Afterworlds, for fans of both contemporary and paranormal.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Title: Since You've Been Gone
Author: Morgan Matson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release date: May 6th 2014
Pages: 449
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
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The Pre-Sloane Emily didn't go to parties, she barely talked to guys, she didn't do anything crazy. Enter Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—the one who yanks you out of your shell.But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just... disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list. On it, thirteen Sloane-selected-definitely-bizarre-tasks that Emily would never try... unless they could lead back to her best friend. Apple Picking at Night? Ok, easy enough.Dance until Dawn? Sure. Why not? Kiss a Stranger? Wait... what?
Getting through Sloane’s list would mean a lot of firsts. But Emily has this whole unexpected summer ahead of her, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected) to check things off. Who knows what she’ll find?
Go Skinny Dipping? Um...
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It's no secret I love Morgan Matson - both Amy  & Roger's Epic Detour and Second Chance Summer are on my list of all-time favorites. Since You've Been Gone is a bit different from Morgan's first two books: those two were about grief, and what I loved most was the honest, heart-wrenching but hopeful emotion. Since You've Been Gone is not sad and emotional in the same way, but it definitely made me feel something - this book just made me so, so happy. You know that amazing feeling you get when you read a really good book that speaks to you in all the right ways, a feeling we sadly still don't have a word for? Since You've Been Gone is pure that-nameless-feeling.

The whole idea of the list was so much fun! Honestly, the stuff on this list is kind of dumb - I wouldn't have had a problem doing any of these, really, and if you're looking for real teenage rebellion... Yeah, no, not the case here. But Emily's character makes it work. Because the character development is so well done and Emily felt like a real person to me, I could totally understand why these things were a big deal for her. I loved reading about Emily stepping out of her comfort zone to complete this random list.

I always appreciate when book focus on friendship rather than romance, and I love how friendship drives the story in Since You've Been Gone. Sloane and Emily's friendship is portrayed in all its honest complexity: Morgan Matson doesn't resort to the cliched manipulative friendship that Sloane and Emily's characters could have easily fit, but she also doesn't gloss over their issues. She has created a perfect balance of valuing what it means to have a best friend and also exploring the problems of relying on another person so completely by showing how Emily struggles to figure out who she is without Sloane. I loved this honest portrayal of such a complex, realistic friendship.

But Sloane and Emily are not the only great friendship in this novel. As she steps out of her shell, Emily befriends Frank, Collins, and Dawn, all of whom I loved. They each have their own story that I loved reading about, and they complement Emily perfectly.

Because I loved this focus on friendship, I kept hoping there wouldn't be a romance storyline. But when there did end up being romance, I absolutely did not mind because it fits the story so naturally. Frank is not your typical YA love interest - he's nerdy and imperfect - and I loved him. Frank and Emily are adorable together, and I love how naturally and honestly this relationship develops. But even though I didn't mind that Since You've Been Gone has a romance storyline, it did bother me a bit how much the ending focuses on the romance - instead of just Emily and Frank, I wanted to read about Sloane, and I wanted to know what happens between Emily and Collins and Dawn. 

Morgan Matson's writing is so endearing that I don't think I could not love anything she writes. With engaging writing, complex characters, and a fun set-up, Since You've Been Gone is the kind of book that shows me why I love reading. If you haven't read anything by Morgan Matson, you really, really need to. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Review: Rooms by Lauren Oliver

Title: Rooms
Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: Ecco
Release date: September 23rd 2014
Pages: 320
Genre: adult paranormal
Source: BEA 2014
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Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance.
But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.
The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I really don't know what to make of Rooms. I feel bad criticizing the novel in any way because it might just not be for me; adult paranormal is pretty much as far away from my comfort zone (aka contemporary YA) that you can get, and I only read it because it has Lauren Oliver's name on it, to be honest. I really liked the premise and concept behind Rooms, and the story is definitely intriguing. But for some reason, I never really connected with it; I could appreciate that it's well-written and expertly plotted, but there wasn't anything I could absolutely love about it.

I enjoyed Minna's, Caroline's, and Trenton's parts of the narratives. They're not exactly sympathetic characters, but they're definitely intriguing. They each have a very distinct voice that painted clear pictures of each character. All three of them have issues and are some seriously messed-up characters, but they work. They're very well-written, and yet, I couldn't love them quite as much as I wanted to. I'm not one to complain about unlikable characters or pretend I only want to read about the kinds of people I would want to be friends with, because that would be boring. But even though it's not necessary for me to like the characters, it is necessary to make me somehow emotionally invested in them, and that wasn't really the case: I found it hard to get myself to really care about their stories or what happens to them. Like I said, rationally I could appreciate how well-crafted they are, but on a more personal level, I couldn't love them or root for them the way I wanted to.

I'm not sure what to make of Alice and Sandra's stories. Honestly, the problem is that I couldn't tell them apart - and I don't know if that's the book's fault for not being clear enough or my fault for not being attentive enough in my reading. Alice and Sandra have very different personalities now, so whenever they are talking to each other (i.e. bickering), they are very easy to tell apart. But when they were telling us about their lives and how they ended up here, I found it really hard to keep their stories straight, for some reason. This might just be because I wasn't paying enough attention, but either way it made it really hard to get to know or fully understand either character.

I think Rooms could also be categorized as mystery, because you don't find out what is really going on until the very end. There is a ton of plot twists that explain how the various stories tie in together. These revelations are (at least in part) surprising and intriguing, but it bothered me that so many of them take place at the very end of the novel. While of course it makes sense to not want to reveal anything earlier than that, this meant that the implications of these plot twists are not explored in an emotionally satisfying way, which significantly decreased their impact, for me.

Lauren Oliver's writing is exquisite, as always, so on a purely aesthetic level, I did enjoy Rooms. But I wasn't personally invested in the story in any way, and the plot twists aren't explored enough to get me to love the story. I do recommend Rooms for the intriguing premise and the beautiful writing style, but I won't be calling it a personal favorite. 

Saturday, September 06, 2014

My New Treasures #36

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.


The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Some Boys by Patty Blount
The Secrets of Lily Graves by Sarah Strohmeyer
When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney
Break by Hannah Moskowitz
Rival by Sara Wealer
Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

For review:

Friday, September 05, 2014

Review: Get Even by Gretchen McNeil

Title: Get Even (Don't Get Mad #1)
Author: Gretchen McNeil
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Release date: September 16th 2014
Pages: 291
Genre: Young Adult mystery
Source: BEA 2014
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Bree, Olivia, Kitty, and Margot have nothing in common—at least that’s what they’d like the students and administrators of their elite private school to think. The girls have different goals, different friends, and different lives, but they share one very big secret: They’re all members of Don’t Get Mad, a secret society that anonymously takes revenge on the school’s bullies, mean girls, and tyrannical teachers.
When their latest target ends up dead with a blood-soaked “DGM” card in his hands, the girls realize that they’re not as anonymous as they thought—and that someone now wants revenge on them. Soon the clues are piling up, the police are closing in . . . and everyone has something to lose.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Get Even is such a fun read! With a suspenseful mystery along with plenty of drama, Get Even reminded me a lot of the Pretty Little Liars series, as well as Jenny Han's an Siobhan Vivian's Burn for Burn series. Just like those two series, Get Even is not the most deep and meaningful read, but it's definitely suspenseful and entertaining, and it keeps the pages turning.

I love contemporary YA mysteries, and since there aren't a ton of them out there, I'm always really excited about one coming out. So of course, the mystery is what I liked best about Get Even. The whole atmosphere is very creepy and suspenseful. Having four main characters, each with their own friends and social circle, makes for a large cast of characters and potential suspects, which makes it a little hard to keep track and make up your mind about who you think might be the killer. But in a way, I liked how this made everyone a suspect; I (like the main characters) felt like I couldn't trust anyone, which heightened the suspense even more. All of the characters have intriguing investigations going on that I really enjoyed. There are a couple of details that I didn't find entirely logical, but that might just be because we don't actually know yet what happened.

The characters are pretty good. I'll admit I had some trouble remembering who's who in the beginning (partly because the POV switches so often, rather than dedicating a whole chapter to each character), but I figured it out after a while. No, none of them are all that complex, but with 4 main characters and a plot-driven story, I really don't see how they could be. They're complex enough to be relatable, and that's all that matters, in my opinion: I understood each girl's motivations and felt for all of them in different ways, even if I didn't develop a deep connection with any of them.

My only real complaint is the ending... because there is no ending. I get that this is going to be a series, and cliffhangers blah blah blah... It's fine to end on a cliffhanger, but we essentially find out nothing about what happened. And I NEED TO KNOW, OKAY!?? And now we'll have to wait almost a year for Get Dirty, and we probably won't find out who's behind all of this until the last book in the series... URGH.

Despite the cruelly non-revealing ending, I really enjoyed Get Even. It's a quick read with a suspenseful mystery and entertaining drama, friendship, and romance. If you liked the Pretty Little Liars or Burn for Burn series, you should definitely give this one a try!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Review: I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Title: I'll Give You the Sun
Author: Jandy Nelson
Publisher: Dial BYR
Release date: September 16th 2014
Pages: 384
Genre: Young Adult contemporary/magical realism
Source: BEA 2014
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Jude and her brother, Noah, are incredibly close twins. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude surfs and cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and divisive ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as an unpredictable new mentor. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world. .
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I'll Give You the Sun is so good that I don't even want to write a review for it. The only other book I've felt this way about is Jellicoe Road - I figured I could never do that book justice in a review, so I just... didn't. I feel the same way about I'll Give You the Sun, but since it's an ARC, I kind of have to write a review. Even though I don't think my words could ever explain the perfection that is this book.

I'll admit that it took me a while to get into I'll Give You the Sun. I thought that was because the pacing is kind of slow, but honestly, it's just because I don't usually read books as literary as this one. I'm used to flying through books in a day or two (at least now, during the summer). But I'll Give You the Sun is not the kind of book you can read in one sitting. It took me almost a week to get through I'll Give You the Sun because it's the kind of book that you can only read small parts of at once because you need to stop and marvel at the beauty of the writing and think about the story and life and everything. This is not my regular kind of read, but it stands out in the best way possible.

I went into this story expecting it to be contemporary, but that's not entirely accurate. I guess magical realism comes closest to what you could classify I'll Give You the Sun as, even though I'm not sure that's exactly right, either - it's never really revealed whether the ghosts and the magic are real or just perceived. That wouldn't usually be my kind of thing, but it totally works; the fact that the twins' mother's ghost affects their lives feels completely natural. The magical realism is integrated seamlessly into the story, and Jandy Nelson totally makes it work.

I loved the characters in I'll Give You the Sun. Both Noah and Jude have made mistakes, and they've done some pretty bad things to each other and to the rest of the family. But their feelings about these mistakes are so honest and complex and relatable that it totally works. Both of them are very different from myself, but I understood them and felt for these characters so much. They're more than characters to me; they feel like real people. I don't know how else to explain them; Noah and Jude are simply amazing characters.

The plot is not one that I would usually love. The two stories - Noah's from when they were 13 and Jude's from now, when they're 16 - work together in so many intricate ways. It would have been easy for these relations to come across as contrived and unrealistic coincidences, but somehow, Jandy Nelson makes them work. I was surprised by every revelation, yet they felt completely natural. Maybe it's because of the magical realism, but I never doubted whether any of the plot twists were realistic. These two intertwined stories are so complex and impressive, and I loved it.

I'll Give You the Sun is absolute perfection. I was expecting greatness from the author of The Sky Is Everywhere (one of my all-time favorites), but this was even better than expected. I feel like none of what I've said really shows great I'll Give You the Sun is, and but you absolutely have to read it. I'll Give You the Sun is a beautifully honest, complex, thought-provoking story. If Jandy Nelson's next book is just as great, I will gladly wait another four years, like we did after The Sky Is Everywhere. (Who am I kidding!? GIVE ME MORE NOW.)

Monday, September 01, 2014

New Releases September 2014

New releases:

No One Needs to Know by Amanda Grace: September 8th
Kiss of Broken Glass by Madeleine Kuderick: September 9th

Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang: September 9th
Wildlife by Fiona Wood: September 16th

Ashes to Ashes (Burn for Burn #3) by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian: September 16th
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: September 16th

Get Even by Gretchen McNeil: September 16th
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer: September 30th

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley: September 30th
The Fine Art of Pretending by Rachel Harris: September 30th

New in paperback:

Meet Me at the River by Nina de Gramont: September 2nd
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein: September 2nd

Reality Boy by AS King: September 2nd
Leap of Faith by Jamie Blair: September 9th

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan: September 9th
Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts: September 16th

The Paradox of Vertical Flight by Emil Ostrovski: September 23rd
The Vow by Jessica Martinez: September 30th

What September releases are you most excited for?

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