Friday, October 31, 2014

Review: Clean by Amy Reed

Title: Clean
Author: Amy Reed
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: May 8th 2012
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Traded the BEA Blogger Picnic - thank you to whoever brought this!
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Olivia, Kelly, Christopher, Jason, and Eva have one thing in common: They’re addicts. Addicts who have hit rock bottom and been stuck together in rehab to face their problems, face sobriety, and face themselves. None of them wants to be there. None of them wants to confront the truths about their pasts. And they certainly don’t want to share their darkest secrets and most desperate fears with a room of strangers. But they’ll all have to deal with themselves—and one another—if they want to learn how to live. Because when you get that high, there’s nowhere to go but down, down, down.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I went into this one with low expectations because I didn't think a rehab story could work if it's written from five different POVs. This kind of story only works if you can really get to know a character and their motivations and really understand the process they go through during recovery, and I didn't think it would be possible to get to know five characters that well in 300 pages. But Amy Reed proved me wrong - I have no idea how, but Clean totally works!

All five of these narrators are amazing characters. I don't know how Amy Reed did it, but I totally felt like I knew and understood each one of them. With multiple narrators, it is easy to let them turn into stereotypes or cliches, but that is most definitely not the case in Clean. Kelly, Christopher, Olivia, Jason, and Eva are individuals and they each have a unique and intriguing story to tell,and they've all been through some pretty bad stuff. I can't even pick a favorite character because I felt for and connected with each one in a different way. Their issues are so real, but so is their recovery: the transformation these characters undergo over the course of this short novel is incredible, but in a very realistic way.

The focus is most definitely on these five characters, but the secondary characters are complex and interesting as well. I loved the little glimpses we got into the lives of the other patients, as well as the family members of the main characters - I despised some and felt for others, but they're all well-written characters. I also loved Shirley,the teen's counselor - I don't know how realistic she is as a counselor, but I loved the way she talked to the teens and called them out on their privilege and bs.

It took me a while to get used to the format, but once I got into it, I really loved it. Parts of this novel is written in regular narrative from the POVs of the five MCs, but in between we have the scripts of their group therapy sessions and we have the character's answers to questionnaires and their personal essays. All of these methods were interesting ways to get to know the characters; they cut out any unnecessary commentary and made me feel like I was right inside the characters' heads.

Really, I loved everything about Clean. No, you don't get quite as much of the emotional journey you would get following just one character, but that's fine, because that's not what Clean is supposed to be. Clean tells the story of five very different but similarly troubled teens, and it's a fascinating reading experience. With incredible, honest writing and complex, realistic characters, Clean is an important and powerful story that I definitely recommend.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Review: How We Fall by Kate Brauning

Title: How We Fall
Author: Kate Brauning
Publisher: Merit Press
Release date: November 3rd 2014
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance/mystery
Source: BEA 2014
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Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle's sleepy farming town, she's been flirting way too much--and with her own cousin, Marcus.
Her friendship with him has turned into something she can't control, and he's the reason Jackie lost track of her best friend, Ellie, who left one knows where. Now Ellie has been missing for months, and the police, fearing the worst, are searching for her body. Swamped with guilt and the knowledge that acting on her love for Marcus would tear their families apart, Jackie pushes her cousin away. The plan is to fall out of love, and, just as she hoped he would, Marcus falls for the new girl in town. But something isn't right about this stranger, and Jackie's suspicions about the new girl's secrets only drive the wedge deeper between Jackie and Marcus--and deepens Jackie's despair.
Then Marcus is forced to pay the price for someone else's lies as the mystery around Ellie's disappearance starts to become horribly clear. Jackie has to face terrible choices. Can she leave her first love behind, and can she go on living with the fact that she failed her best friend?
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I really liked the romance in How We Fall. I loved Tabitha Suzuma's Forbidden, a romance between brother and sister, so the whole cousins thing didn't really faze me. I absolutely loved Jackie and Marcus together; Jackie is a compelling character that I definitely related to, and Marcus is a dynamic love interest. The two of them have great chemistry, and I loved seeing them together for the first part of the novel. Honestly, though, I enjoyed the part after they had broken up even more; what happens after a break-up (or even just a break) is so rarely explored in YA that I loved seeing it here. Their issues are intriguing to read about, and I loved seeing them struggle with their emotions. 

The mystery surrounding Ellie's disappearance was the part I was most excited for, since I love contemporary YA mysteries that incorporate an emotional aspect as well. But sadly, this storyline didn't turn out to be as great as I'd hoped. Honestly, it just didn't get enough attention, since the focus remains on the romance. I don't think Jackie's feelings about Ellie's disappearance are fleshed out enough; she'll mention Ellie and talk about her for a paragraph or too, but then she'll just go back to talking about Marcus, and even during the important scenes of the mystery, Jackie and Marcus still manage to talk about their relationship rather than what's at stake. I know the romance is the main storyline, but Jackie's lack of palpable grief for Ellie bothered me. We know almost nothing about Ellie, and to justify this mystery storyline, their past would have had to be a lot more fleshed out. As for the mystery, I really liked the early parts; Kate Brauning expertly creates suspense when Jackie notices the first clues. But the resolution and the action-filled scene towards the end felt kind of lackluster to me; they're not bad, they're just predictable and not very original. It's also a bit too coincidental how the mystery ties into Jackie's and Marcus's lives. 

***This paragraph contains spoilers.***
The ending really bothered me. I know I'm weird for not liking happy endings, and I should have gotten used to books ending this way by now. I don't really know why; maybe because How We Fall addresses the problems Jackie and Marcus have once they break up so well, but I had hoped this would be different from the typical, oversimplified happy ending. I have no problem with the two of them getting together, since of course that's what the whole book is about. But considering how much time Jackie and Marcus spend discussing how people might react, I had hoped we would actually get to see some of that. Instead, we just get to see them decide to really be together, without any exploration of how that's going to work. The whole issue of them potentially breaking up and having the most awkward exes set-up of all time just kind of disappears. Will and Claire ending up together felt really forced, too, and just added to the issue of tying things up to neatly. I get that I'm in the minority here and a lot of readers will like this optimistic ending, but I just don't think it does justice to this story.

The writing is... okay. I really liked Jackie's voice, and the writing is strong for the most part. But How We Fall still very much reads like a first novel, with some clunky wordings that made me cringe. It also bothered me how much it flits back and forth between different storylines; sometimes, Jackie's thought process just doesn't seem very realistic.

With aspects I loved and parts I found underwhelming, How We Fall was an okay read for me. I did enjoy it, and I'll keep my eye out for whatever Kate Brauning writes next, but I'm not going out of my way to recommend How We Fall, either. It's an entertaining read, but it's not going on my list of favorites or anything.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Title: Side Effects May Vary
Author: Julie Murphy
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release date: March 18th 2014
Pages: 330
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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What if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?
When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.
Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most?
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Side Effects May Vary is told in alternating chapters from Alice's and Harey's points-of-view, and they also alternate between then - when Alice is diagnosed and seems to be losing the battle against cancer - and now, after she's gone into remission. And the reason I had such conflicting feelings about this book is that I loved the now part of the story, but found the then pretty underwhelming, which is why I still can't make up my mind about this book.

I absolutely loved the now part of the story. Everyone has read the girl-dying-from-cancer story before, but the idea of going into remission and figuring out how to live again is unique and refreshing. Especially because Alice's bucket list when she was first diagnosed is not just your typical experiences-I-need-to-have-before-I-die type of thing but also consisted of getting back at people who had wronged her and generally not caring about the consequences of any of her actions. So even though you would assume a cancer patient would be ecstatic at hearing they're in remission, it makes sense that Alice would have a hard time dealing with the repercussions of what she did when she assumed she wouldn't be around to face the consequences.

The relationship between Alice and Harvey is the main focus of Side Effects May Vary. I know a lot of people took issue with this relationship because Alice is not exactly a good person when it comes to Harvey. But I strongly believe that a character does not have to be likable for a book to be good, and Alice is undoubtedly a well-written character. Yes, Alice's disregard for Harvey's feelings, and her inability to make up her mind about what exactly she wants from him are infuriating. But Alice's issues are realistic and really well-done; even though what she's doing is horrible, I understood her, at least to some extent. Julie Murphy's writing is beautiful and evocative when it comes to Alice's and Harvey's feelings for one another. Both Alice's and Harvey's stories are fascinating, and even if it's frustrating to read about, their relationship is well-written, complex and nuanced, and I loved it. I found the ending a bit disappointing because I wanted more of a resolution, but I still thought it fit the story well.

I get that, in a way, the then part of the story is necessary for the now part to work. But it still didn't work for me. I'm sorry, but I just couldn't get myself to care about this part of the story. It moves really slowly, and since such large parts of the beginning of the novel are about then, I found Side Effects May Vary very hard to get into. The remission part is what makes this book unique, so I wish the focus had been more or less exclusively on that, rather than dwelling on the time when Alice thought she was dying. The teenager-dying-from-cancer story has been done a million times before, and the descriptions of what Alice is going through aren't well-done enough to really stand out. Especially knowing the outcome, the story didn't evoke the feels that this kind of story usually would. The then scenes are very average; with an idea that had so much potential, I found those parts to be underwhelming, and they took away from my enjoyment of the novel.

So... yeah. Very different feelings about the two parts of this story. It took me a looong time to really get into the story because the beginning is dominated by the underwhelming flashbacks. But I did love the complex relationship portrayed in the now part of the story. So I do recommend Side Effects May Vary, if you think you can handle the slow parts.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

Title: Life by Committee
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release date: May 13th 2014 
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
Tabitha might be the only girl in the history of the world who actually gets less popular when she gets hot. But her so-called friends say she’s changed, and they’ve dropped her flat.
Now Tab has no one to tell about the best and worst thing that has ever happened to her: Joe, who spills his most intimate secrets to her in their nightly online chats. Joe, whose touch is so electric, it makes Tab wonder if she could survive an actual kiss. Joe, who has Tabitha brimming with the restless energy of falling in love. Joe, who is someone else’s boyfriend.
Just when Tab is afraid she’ll burst from keeping the secret of Joe inside, she finds Life by Committee. The rules of LBC are simple: tell a secret, receive an assignment. Complete the assignment to keep your secret safe.
Tab likes it that the assignments push her to her limits, empowering her to live boldly and go further than she’d ever go on her own.
But in the name of truth and bravery, how far is too far to go?
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I loved Corey Ann Haydu's debut, OCD Love Story, and there has been so much buzz for this one, so I had high expectations for Life by Committee. And luckily, those expectations were met completely! Life by Committee is an absorbing and thought-provoking read, and I absolutely loved it.

Tabitha is what I loved most about Life by Committee. I could see how others might object to some of her decisions, but I for one loved her. I could definitely relate to her struggles, and her honesty is what I loved most about Tabitha. She is so open about what she's going through, and... I don't even know how to explain it; there's just something about Tabitha's voice that spoke to me in a very personal way.

The whole idea of the Life by Committee site is so intriguing. I found my feelings about the site mirroring Tabitha's: I was sucked into it just as much as she was, I felt the thrill of completing the assignments, and I wanted Tabitha to keep going and going, even when the assignments get a bit too intense. I absolutely loved the plot twist about the site's members because I totally did not see that coming. (Although there's a small detail about the twist that didn't add up, in my opinion.)

Tabitha's real-life issues are just as fascinating as the website. The romance is dumb and it was obvious to the reader throughout that Joe is an idiot, but it was necessary for this to work, and it felt realistic. The family set-up is very unique, and I loved reading about it, even if I wish there had been a bit more development of that storyline at the end. My favorite part, though, was the strong theme of friendship: the drama between Tabitha and her ex-friends brought up some interesting issues, and I loved reading about her relationship with Elisa, as well as the other friendship that is hinted at towards the end. These different storylines intertwined in masterful ways to create a story that I absolutely loved.

The ending, to be honest, was a bit cheesy. Am I the only one who kept picturing the ending of Mean Girls throughout that entire scene? It totally works in Mean Girls because it's Mean Girls, but I'm not sure it works here. Even though I appreciated the message, the scene felt a bit forced and melodramatic, and I kind of wish there had been a more subtle way to resolve all of this.

Despite the slight melodrama, I absolutely loved Life by Committee. With a strong, honest voice and a story that is both entertaining and thought-provoking, Life by Committee is everything I'd hoped it would be, and more. Tabitha's character spoke to me in a very personal way, so I can't judge how well that would work for other readers, but I still definitely recommend it for the unique and intriguing story.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Review: Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Title: Gracefully Grayson
Author: Ami Polonsky
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release date: November 4th 2014
Pages: 208
Genre: middle grade contemporary
Source: NetGalley - I received a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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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.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Gracefully Grayson is such an important book. Without being preachy, Gracefully Grayson sends a powerful message while still telling an engaging story. Ami Polonsky handles the topic at hand gracefully (get it?), and I absolutely loved it.

Generally, I prefer books with bigger stories about characters who just happen to be LGBT over books that focus mainly on the character's LGBT identity, because it's so important to show that not only straight, cisgender white people can have adventures and have stories that deserve to be told. But Gracefully Grayson sort of blurs the line between the two: yes, Grayson's gender expression and identity are the most important subject, but there are plenty of other storylines that tie into this theme in one way or another. And while stories about characters who happen to be gay/lesbian/bisexual/etc. should definitely be a thing by now, I (sadly) don't know if our society is ready for the same thing with a transgender character. Since a transgender identity is (again, sadly) still so controversial, it makes sense for the experience to be so overwhelming for this to be the focus of Grayson's story.

Ami Polonsky handles Grayson's experience with the utmost respect and honesty. Gracefully Grayson is not an in-depth exploration of why Grayson would like to be a girl - a preference for girls' clothes is the only indicator we really get to see - but I didn't mind because Grayson absolutely does not have to justify his feelings to anyone. The focus is more on the effects of this identity; this is simply Grayson's story. I also appreciated that sexuality is not brought into any of this, since it's important to show that gender identity and sexual orientation don't have to be related, and I'm glad the focus remained solely on Grayson's gender expression.

It's hard to separate the issue of gender expression from the rest of the novel, since it affects pretty much everything in Grayson's life, but I loved all of the other storylines as well. The cast of characters is great, showing a wide variety of reactions to Grayson's experience. I loved seeing Grayson find friends and be who he wants to be in theater, and while of course I didn't agree with them, it's interesting and realistic to see how Grayson's aunt and uncle (with whom she lives) try to deal with all of this. I especially loved the ending, which is optimistic and hopeful without being unrealistically happy.

With beautiful writing and a strong, relatable main character, Gracefully Grayson is an honest, moving, powerful story that I loved. I definitely recommend giving Grayson the chance to tell her story to you as well.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Review: Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy

Title: Criminal
Author: Terra Elan McVoy
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: May 7th 2013
Pages: 288
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
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Nikki’s life is far from perfect, but at least she has Dee. Her friends tell her that Dee is no good, but Nikki can’t imagine herself without him. He’s hot, he’s dangerous, he has her initials tattooed over his heart, and she loves him more than anything. There’s nothing Nikki wouldn’t do for Dee. Absolutely nothing.
So when Dee pulls Nikki into a crime – a crime that ends in murder – Nikki tells herself that it’s all for true love. Nothing can break them apart. Not the police. Not the arrest that lands Nikki in jail. Not even the investigators who want her to testify against him.
But what if Dee had motives that Nikki knew nothing about?
Nikki’s love for Dee is supposed to be unconditional…but even true love has a limit. And Nikki just might have reached hers.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Criminal turned out to be really different than I'd expected. I had assumed the story would start with Nikki being happy with Dee, show how he gradually pulls her into this darker stuff, and then escalate with the murder. I figured the novel would end with Nikki finally giving up Dee and going to the police. But that's not how Criminal is set up. The story starts with the murder and deals mainly with the aftermath. This set-up has its pros and cons: it made me feel Nikki's despair, and it let us see what happens later on, but it also made it a bit harder to understand why Nikki won't give Dee up, since we never get to see the two of them together before things went so wrong. 

It isn't easy to be in Nikki's head. Seeing her continue to defend Dee, to abandon herself and everyone around her to do exactly what Dee tells her, to basically wreck everything for her obsession with Dee... it gets frustrating. But Nikki's character is so well done that I sympathized with her despite her flaws. Her life leading up to this point has been rough, to say the least, and it's easy to understand why she would cling on to Dee, when so many other people have abandoned her. Being inside Nikki's head is harrowing, emotional, and sometimes painful, but I loved it. The cast of secondary characters isn't too complex or lovable (except for Bird, of course), but they do add a lot to the story.

Like I said earlier, the downfall of starting this story with the crime is that we don't get to know what Dee and Nikki were like before things went so wrong. In any story about an unhealthy relationship, I think it's important to show both the problematic parts and the good moments so that the reader can understand why the victim loves their partner so much and won't give them up. And that was missing in Criminal. Throughout the novel, I felt nothing but hatred towards Dee, what he puts Nikki through and how he treats her. I wish we had gotten some more insight into Dee as a person, to find out about his background and understand how he came to be this monster of a person. Of course it's important to show that his actions are completely unacceptable, but I still wish his character had been more complex so we could have understood him and his relationship with Nikki a bit better.

The prison setting is really well done. I can't judge how realistic it is (and don't want to!), but it definitely felt real. I loved reading about all those details that you don't really hear about, and it was great to see how Nikki's relationships with the other inmates develop.

Criminal is very different from Terra Elan McVoy's previous books. I loved her light, entertaining reads, but she does this darker story really well too. Criminal is a unique, gritty novel, and while it's a hard read, it's definitely worth it. I can't wait to read Terra Elan McVoy's newest, In Deep!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bookish Anticipation #41

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 Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes
Release date: February 17th 2015
Ever since the night of the incident with Luke Willis, the preacher’s son, sophomore Hallelujah Calhoun has been silent. When the rumors swirled around school, she was silent. When her parents grounded her, she was silent. When her friends abandoned her … silent.
Now, six months later, on a youth group retreat in the Smoky Mountains, Hallie still can’t find a voice to answer the taunting. Shame and embarrassment haunt her, while Luke keeps coming up with new ways to humiliate her. Not even meeting Rachel, an outgoing newcomer who isn’t aware of her past, can pull Hallie out of her shell. Being on the defensive for so long has left her raw, and she doesn’t know who to trust.
On a group hike, the incessant bullying pushes Hallie to her limit. When Hallie, Rachel, and Hallie’s former friend Jonah get separated from the rest of the group, the situation quickly turns dire. Stranded in the wilderness, the three have no choice but to band together.
With past betrayals and harrowing obstacles in their way, Hallie fears they’ll never reach safety. Could speaking up about the night that changed everything close the distance between being lost and found? Or has she traveled too far to come back?

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Release date: March 3rd 2015
Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?
Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.
As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

I Am Her Revenge by Meredith Moore
Release date: April 7th 2015
She can be anyone you want her to be.
Vivian was raised with one purpose in life: to exact revenge on behalf of her mother. Manipulative and cruel, Mother has deprived Vivian not only of a childhood, but of an original identity. With an endless arsenal of enticing personalities at her disposal, Vivian is a veritable weapon of deception.
And she can destroy anyone.
When it’s time to strike, she enrolls in a boarding school on the English moors, where she will zero in on her target: sweet and innocent Ben, the son of the man who broke Mother’s heart twenty years ago.
Anyone…except for the woman who created her.
With every secret she uncovers, Vivian comes one step closer to learning who she really is. But the more she learns about herself, the more dangerous this cat and mouse game becomes. Because Mother will stop at nothing to make sure the truth dies with her.

Lies I Told by Michelle Zink
Release date: April 7th 2015
What if, after spending a lifetime deceiving everyone around you, you discovered the biggest lies were the ones you've told yourself?
Grace Fontaine has everything: beauty, money, confidence, and the perfect family.
But it’s all a lie.
Grace has been adopted into a family of thieves who con affluent people out of money, jewelry, art, and anything else of value. Grace has never had any difficulty pulling off a job, but when things start to go wrong on the Fontaines' biggest heist yet, Grace finds herself breaking more and more of the rules designed to keep her from getting caught...including the most important one of all: never fall for your mark.

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff
Release date: January 27th 2015
A teenage boy tries to understand his best friend's suicide by listening to the playlist of songs he left behind in this smart, voice-driven debut novel.
Here's what Sam knows: There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, his best friend, Hayden, was dead. And all he left Sam was a playlist of songs, and a suicide note: For Sam—listen and you'll understand.
As he listens to song after song, Sam tries to face up to what happened the night Hayden killed himself. But it's only by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him that he will finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.

Solitaire by Alice Oseman
Release date: March 30th 2015
My name is Tori Spring. I like to sleep and I like to blog. Last year – before all that stuff with Charlie and before I had to face the harsh realities of A-Levels and university applications and the fact that one day I really will have to start talking to people – I had friends. Things were very different, I guess, but that's all over now.
Now there's Solitaire. And Michael Holden.
I don't know what Solitaire are trying to do, and I don't care about Michael Holden.
I really don't.

What releases are you anticipating this week? 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Review: Get Happy by Mary Armato

Title: Get Happy
Author: Mary Amato
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Release date: October 28th 2014
Pages: 256
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: NetGalley - I received a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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In this poignant, realistic, contemporary YA by a state master list star, perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Gayle Forman, a young songwriter builds a substitute family with her friends in place of the broken family she grew up with.
A hip high school girl who loves music, writes songs, and is desperate for a ukelele, learns to her shock that her father did not abandon her years ago and has been trying to keep in touch. She begins to investigate him, only to discover that he has a new life with a new family, including the perfect stepdaughter, a girl who Minerva despises.
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Get Happy is a super-short read. It's only 256 pages, and the spacing makes it even shorter than that sounds. To add to that, we have Minerva's song lyrics at the end of most chapters, and the last of those 256 pages has those lyrics again, this time with the musical chords. So the good news is, it only took me like two and a half hours to read Get Happy. But the bad news, sadly, is that this short length means that nothing really happens, and nothing is as complex as I would like, making this a very underwhelming read for me.

The main storyline is the one about Minerva's family; her search for her father and the discoveries about her mother and all of their past. That storyline isn't bad... it's just nothing new; it's a very basic story that I've read a million times before. I found Minerva's reactions to all of this to be kind of melodramatic, to be honest; it might be just because I've read so many similar stories, or because Minerva reads so young (younger than the 16 she's supposed to be), but I didn't find what happened to be big enough to warrant such extreme reactions. I just don't think this is enough to carry the story. And with the strong focus on all of this, I found the developments towards the ending to be lacking: we never get to see what happens between her father and stepsister.

Minerva and her best friend Fin work at Get Happy, where they dress up as mermaids, pirates, etc. to entertain kids at birthday parties. That whole idea is cute, and some of those scenes are pretty entertaining. It's a bit contrived how the two of them, as well as the two other characters, Cassie and Hayes, always ride together and have to entertain parties at the exact same times, but it serves the purpose of showing how they all interact. This cast of characters has potential, but they're not complex enough to seem real, and nothing really happens between them either.

I'm not really sure what to say about Get Happy. It's not bad, and I didn't have many issues with it. But the thing is... nothing really happens. These storylines aren't enough to make for an engaging plot; they would have made a good background to set up a real story to focus on, but there is no such story. I know not every novel has to have a strong plot, but even as a character-driven novel, Get Happy didn't work for me; I didn't think the main character was complex enough or develops enough over the course of the story to make Get Happy work. Get Happy is targeted more towards the younger part of YA, so maybe it's just not for me, but I just found it very underwhelming.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Review: Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by AS King

Title: Glory O'Brien's History of the Future
Author: AS King
Publisher: Little Brown BYR
Release date: October 14th 2014
Pages: 320
Genre: Young Adult
Source: BEA 2014
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Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities--but not for Glory, who has no plan for what's next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she's never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way...until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person's infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions--and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying: A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women's rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she'll do anything to make sure this one doesn't come to pass.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was ridiculously excited for this book. I would read anything with AS King's name on it, but the fact that the novel addresses feminism meant I knew I had to read this immediately. And luckily, Glory O'Brien's History of the Future doesn't disappoint - it made both booknerd-Hannah and feminist-Hannah happy, which is not an easy task. This is an important story, and I loved it.

Glory O'Brien is an amazing character. She's been through a lot, and she has a lot of issues to work out: her pain and her struggles are palpable throughout the story. She's easy to relate to, and I definitely felt for her. AS King really has a knack for writing messed-up characters in such an honest, realistic, and relatable way, and she's done it again in Glory O'Brien's History of the Future.

The secondary characters are well-written, too, even though there's a pretty small cast. I loved Glory's family storyline: her dad is another character I couldn't help but feel for, and I'm glad AS King focused so much on Glory's relationship with him. Even though she died long before this story starts, Glory's mother plays an important part as well; I loved getting to know her through her pictures and writing. Then there's Ellie, who is the most intriguing best-friend character I've read in a while; her background may seem kind of random, but it adds a lot to the story, and I love how their families' histories are connected. And of course, he's a love interest; even though the romance is only hinted at and never takes center stage, he is a fascinating character as well.

The whole seeing-people's-history-and-future-because-she-drank-a-bat thing is very strange, and I didn't know how I would feel about it going into the story. I still don't quite understand how exactly that works: how it's decided what parts of the history or future she can see, whose history and future she can see, and how exactly she saw these things. But because it's such a strange phenomenon within the story as well, and Glory doesn't understand these things either, it sort of worked. My only issue with it is that it seemed a bit too convenient that she almost always saw things related to the Second Civil War, rather than things in the more immediate future or just random, irrelevant details.

I'm a bit on the fence about the story of how the future unfolds in Glory's vision. The set-up is fascinating, and it definitely would have made for a great dystopian novel. But to me, it wasn't quite enough of a story: I know that's hard with this format, but I wanted more details on how, exactly, all of this happened; I wanted more details in the book Glory writes, even though I know Glory doesn't actually know any more details either. Then again, the story isn't necessarily about how all of this unfolds, even if there's a strong moral related to these events. It's just about Glory, really, and although it frustrated me we couldn't get to see more of the action in the future, I also appreciated to just get to see Glory evolve over the course of the novel.

And of course, the novel gets major brownie points because feminism. I don't think I've read a single YA book other than this one where the main character openly calls herself a feminist. I love love love how her whole family is all about feminism, and how Glory calls people out on their gender role bs. But being who I am, I did have a couple of issues with Glory's feminism. She constantly slut-shames her best friend Ellie, and she has a somewhat sex-negative attitude that I don't agree with, like when she tells Ellie not to show as much cleavage and when she immediately assumes that women in sexually explicit media have no self-worth. But I understand that that's part of the story, and nobody's perfect. And in terms of feminism, Glory O'Brien is so much better than the books I usually read that I can't even complain.

I did have some issues with the logic behind Glory's transmissions, and I wish the story of how this world gets so messed up had been explored more. Nonetheless, I really really loved this book: with powerful writing, complex characters, and a unique story (and references to feminism that made me happy), Glory O'Brien's History of the Future is a book you shouldn't miss. 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Review: Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

Title: Open Road Summer
Author: Emery Lord
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Release date: April 15th 2014
Pages: 352
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: Bought
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After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence. This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. 
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I had a gut feeling that this book would be great, and I'm so happy it turned out to be true! The setting could have been really cheesy, but it totally works. A summer on a tour bus is reads like a road trip on... some drug that makes everything more intense. (Sorry. I should work on my metaphors.) I absolutely loved getting insights into the world of fame and music - Open Road Summer has the drama and the glamour from those books-about-rich-people series  that I loved in middle school, but it also has the depth and insightfulness I love today. I loved getting to read lyrics from Lee's and Matt's songs - those made their music feel so much more real. I just loved everything about this set-up!

Asides from this original set-up, the characters are what makes this book so special. I know Reagan is not the kind of narrator that will resonate with every reader, but that's exactly why I loved her. She's not your standard contemporary YA girl; she has a history of messing up and getting in trouble, and she's tough as nails. She's put walls up around herself, which is why I loved being inside her head and getting to see behind those walls. Her issues are real, and I loved the character growth of working through them.

The only problem I had with Reagan is her girl-on-girl hating. She constantly talks about how she's not like other girls, and she talks shit about every female character other than herself and Dee. And of course most of this criticism is focused on physical appearance. The slut-shaming and criticism of pretty much every outfit mentioned is not cool. I get that this is part of Reagan's strong personality and the result of her abandonment issues and whatnot, so it didn't bother me quite as much as it usually would. But no matter what the circumstances, this sort of attitude perpetuates harmful ideas about femininity and conveys a very problematic message.

One of my favorite elements (yes, another one) was Reagan's friendship with Dee. Their friendship is strong and supportive, but it's also not perfect - I loved reading about the ups and downs in their relationship, but seeing how they're always there for each other when it really counts. The element of fame provides a unique spin on the theme of friendship, and it was fascinating to see how these different lifestyles affect their relationship but never break the strong bond these two have.

Then there's the romance with Matt. Their initial attraction is strong, and they have great chemistry. Towards the middle, I had some issues with the way their relationship develops - because of the walls Reagan has built around herself, she rejects Matt again and again, but he continues to pursue her. Because we are inside Reagan's head and see that she's only rejecting him because of her own issues, it seems like this is okay. But really, pushing someone again and again after they have said no multiple times is anything but okay. The way that Matt says he won't give up until he gets Reagan is creepy and entitled. Within the context of Reagan's emotional barriers, this makes sense, but again, it still conveys a problematic message. Anyways, once Reagan "gives in" to Matt (blegh), I really liked their relationship - I loved reading about the two of them opening up, and their chemistry is great.

One more thing. What is up with that cover? Yes, it's really pretty, but it makes NO sense with the story. The book is set on a tour bus, not on a bike trip in a grassy field. It's a cute cover, and it caught my eye, so I guess it did the job... I just wish it actually represented this story.

In case I didn't make this clear - I absolutely loved Open Road Summer. With a unique set-up, a strong main character, and a great theme of friendship, Open Road Summer is one of my favorite reads of the summer. I loved Emery Lord's engaging writing, and I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!

Monday, October 06, 2014

The Best of Me Giveaway

To celebrate the release of the movie version of The Best of Me, Relativity Media is giving away two copies of the movie tie-in edition of the book!

This is what The Best of Me is all about:

Based on the bestselling novel by acclaimed author Nicholas Sparks, The Best of Me tells the story of Dawson and Amanda, two former high school sweethearts who find themselves reunited after 20 years apart, when they return to their small town for the funeral of a beloved friend. Their bittersweet reunion reignites the love they've never forgotten, but soon they discover the forces that drove them apart twenty years ago live on, posing even more serious threats today. Spanning decades, this epic love story captures the enduring power of our first true love, and the wrenching choices we face when confronted with elusive second chances.
The Best of Me stars James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan, Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato. In theaters October 17.

And make sure to check out the trailer:

You can like the movie's Facebook page here.

Giveaway rules:
- Must be 13 or older to enter.
- Open to US only.
- Open for one week; giveaway ends October 13th at midnight. The winner will be contacted by e-mail. They will have 48 hours to respond, or a new winner will be chosen.
- I am not responsible for items lost or damaged in the mail.

Enter using the Rafflecopter form below. Good luck!!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, October 03, 2014

Review: The Jewel by Amy Ewing

Title: The Jewel (The Lone City #1)
Author: Amy Ewing
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: September 2nd 2014
Pages: 358
Genre: Young Adult dystopian
Source: BEA 2014
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The Jewel means wealth. The Jewel means beauty. The Jewel means royalty. But for girls like Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Not just any kind of servitude. Violet, born and raised in the Marsh, has been trained as a surrogate for the royalty—because in the Jewel the only thing more important than opulence is offspring.
Purchased at the surrogacy auction by the Duchess of the Lake and greeted with a slap to the face, Violet (now known only as #197) quickly learns of the brutal truths that lie beneath the Jewel’s glittering facade: the cruelty, backstabbing, and hidden violence that have become the royal way of life.
Violet must accept the ugly realities of her existence... and try to stay alive. But then a forbidden romance erupts between Violet and a handsome gentleman hired as a companion to the Duchess’s petulant niece. Though his presence makes life in the Jewel a bit brighter, the consequences of their illicit relationship will cost them both more than they bargained for.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I wasn't sure what to expect from The Jewel. It was pitched as The Handmaid's Tale meets The Selection, which I thought was a really strange combination - the first makes me think of a thought-provoking story and feminist message, while the latter was kind of objectively horrible but still really entertaining. The Jewel ended up being more The Selection and less The Handmaid's Tale, but that's not necessarily a bad thing - the worldbuilding and morals aren't as strong as they could be, but it was definitely an entertaining read.

The concept is pretty standard for dystopian YA, but I thought it worked, although that might just be because I haven't read too many dystopians. The set-up is pretty basic, but what really made this world stand out to me (other than being dominated by women, which I'll talk about later) are the Auguries. I'm not usually a fan of fantasy elements creeping into another genre, and if I'd known about them in advance, I probably wouldn't have read the book, because anything paranormal usually just isn't my thing. But in The Jewel... it totally works. Somehow, the magical powers of the surrogates are woven seamlessly into this world, and they were fascinating to read about.

Asides from the Auguries, though, the worldbuilding does need some work. There is no explanation of how the world got to this point, which is kind of important when you're writing a dystopian set in a world so completely different from our own, I would think. Along with that goes my complaint that the whole idea of the female-dominated society is not explored enough. I absolutely love the idea of exploring what would happen if the women, instead of the men, like in The Handmaid's Tale, were in charge of buying these surrogates to carry their children. The gender dynamics in The Jewel is definitely interesting, because royal women are the ones who rule this world (or country, or city, or wherever we are), but other women are literally sold as objects. This background could have provided such a great way to explore gender roles and their implications, but that just doesn't really happen; we just don't get enough insight into how this world works on a larger scale and how it came to be this way.

The characters also could have been more complex. Violet is an okay character, but her feelings could have been explored in more depth. The Duchess is an intriguing character, and I hope we will get to see more of her in the next book. Ash is a very underdeveloped character; he is such a disappointing love interest. I understand that Violet is lonely and that he is the only one who really sees her as a person, but still, I just couldn't handle the amount of insta-love. Ash barely has a personality, and the two of them don't have enough chemistry. This is especially problematic because Violet's love for Ash is supposed to be one of her bigger motivations in the novel, and such a meh love interest did not seem worth risking so much over.

That being said, I did really enjoy The Jewel, even if I can't really pinpoint why, exactly. There was just something addicting about the story. I wanted it to keep on going and going, and was so disappointed it ended so quickly. The writing is simplistic, but asides from the underdeveloped characters and worldbuilding, I didn't mind, because it worked to tell this story; it was simply a fun read.

I know my review sounds very negative, and stylistically, I had a lot of issues with The Jewel. But, to be honest, just like with The Selection, I didn't really care - both are fun reads, and nothing more, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm kind of sad the aspect of the female-dominated society isn't explored more, but other than that, The Jewel is an entertaining read. Don't go into this looking for anything more, but if you just want to be entertained, The Jewel is perfect escapist reading!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

New Releases October 2014

New releases:

Bleed Like Me by Christa Desir: October 7th
Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez: October 7th

The Perfectionists by Sara Shepard: October 7th
They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire: October 7th

Damsel Distressed by Kelsey Mackie: October 14th
Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot: October 14th

Trust Me, I'm Lying by Mary Elizabeth Summer: October 14th
Damaged by Amy Reed: October 14th

Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle: October 21st
Get Happy by Mary Amato: October 28th

What October releases are you most excited about?
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