Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday #38: Favorite Books of 2015

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

This week's topic is: Top Ten Books I Read in 2015

Technically, this was the topic for two weeks ago, but I haven't done one of these in forever (or, you know, posted at all... sorry!!), and I wanted to do a top books of 2015 post, so here goes.

These are my top books of the year, in the order I read them. The links will take you to my reviews.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby
All the Rage by Courtney Summers

The Devil You Know by Trish Doller
Paperweight by Meg Haston
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Another Day by David Levithan

Monday, December 28, 2015

Review: Another Day by David Levithan

Title: Another Day (Every Day #2)
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf BYR
Release date: August 25th 2015
Pages: 327
Genre: Young Adult contemporary/fantasy
Source: Bought
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Every day is the same for Rhiannon. She has accepted her life, convinced herself that she deserves her distant, temperamental boyfriend, Justin, even established guidelines by which to live: Don’t be too needy. Avoid upsetting him. Never get your hopes up.

Until the morning everything changes. Justin seems to see her, to want to be with her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn’t remember the next morning. Confused, depressed, and desperate for another day as great as that one, Rhiannon starts questioning everything. Then, one day, a stranger tells her that the Justin she spent that day with, the one who made her feel like a real person…wasn’t Justin at all.

In this enthralling companion to his New York Times bestseller Every Day, David Levithan tells Rhiannon’s side of the story as she seeks to discover the truth about love and how it can change you.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was super excited when I heard there would be a sequel to Every Day (which I absolutely loved), but when I found out it would be a companion novel retelling the story from Rhiannon's point of view, I wasn't sure what to think - I wanted to find out what happens after Every Day, not just read the same story again. It would have been very easy for Another Day to be boring and redundant, considering we all know already exactly what's going to happen. But luckily, it turned out to be the opposite!

I guess in this case, my bad memory worked in my favor - I read Every Day a couple of years ago and didn't really remember the details of the plot. That meant that, even though I had read the story before, I didn't really know where Another Day was going; I would remember already reading about something once it happened, but it wasn't like I already knew every little thing that would happen.

But even if I had a better memory or hadn't waited as long between reading the two books, I think I would have enjoyed Another Day just as much. I just loved reading this story from Rhiannon's perspective and getting to know Rhiannon better. Especially the parts where Rhiannon goes back and forth between wanting to make it work with A and realizing that she can't were an intriguing addition to the story: how she deals with all of this is honest and realistic. I especially liked how, even though she's in love with A's soul, she struggles to accept him in every body; this touches on issues like sexual orientation and what we're actually attracted to. Even though she wants to accept every form of A, she has an easier time when A is in a male body, and a body that she would usually be attracted to. This is a really honest portrayal of how while gender and sexual orientation are social constructs that shouldn't matter, they are so ingrained in us that it's really hard to completely let go of them. I really liked how David Levithan combines this important message with this honest portrayal of how hard it is to let go of these constraints in our society.

The only thing I had criticized about Every Day was that A's feelings for Rhiannon felt a little too insta-love-y for me, and that stays the same in Another Day. But because we get to see Rhiannon waver so much, it made a little more sense to me: A falls for Rhiannon immediately because she's the only person he's ever known for more than a day, while Rhiannon's feelings develop more like the feelings of a real person. Still, I thought it was a little overdone how A immediately seeks out to find Rhiannon in bodies other than Justin's.

If you loved Every Day, you will probably love Another Day just as much. While it doesn't add anything new to the story in terms of plot (it leaves us with the same heartbreaking ending), it provides a new perspective and new insights into the story. Another Day is just as beautifully written, evocative, emotional and insightful as Every Day, and I absolutely love both of these novels.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Review: Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid

Title: Never Always Sometimes
Author: Adi Alsaid
Publisher: HarlequinTeen
Release date: August 4th 2015
Pages: 320
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: HarlequinTeen provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they’d never, ever do in high school.

Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never dye your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he’s broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It’s either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.

Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they’ve actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I loved Adi Alsaid's writing style in his debut, Let's Get Lost, so I was really excited to read another one of his novels. But sadly, Never Always Sometimes doesn't quite live up to Let's Get Lost's greatness - while Alsaid's writing still carries the novel, his sophomore novel lacks the original premise and unique characters I loved in Let's Get Lost.

Even though Dave and Julia pride themselves on not being high school cliches, that's pretty much exactly what they are: they are the stereotypical too-smart-for-high-school outsiders. I understand that this was probably an intentional move on Alsaid's part, but that doesn't make them any less cliched, especially because this is such an overdone trope in contemporary YA. 

Dave's character frustrated me from the beginning on. The entire first part is just Dave pining away for Julia; all he talks about is how great Julia is and how much he loves her and how hard it is to keep his love a secret. It just got really annoying after a while.

Julia is pretty much the definition of a manic pixie dream girl, and again, I understand that this is probably intentional and that Alsaid is playing with the trope. I just don't think it works - there's nothing new to Julia that would work against the MPDG trope. I didn't understand her emotions; she's just this overly quirky girl who is always barefoot, and we never even find out why. I was hoping we would get more insights into her character in the part that she narrates, and I did enjoy finding out about her family life. But other than that, she remains a personality-less trope with no deeper explorations of what makes her so quirky and different. And the whole thing about her pretty much harassing a teacher.... that's just not okay.

Dave and Julia's friendship is fun to read about, in parts; some of their witty dialogue can be entertaining. But for the most part, I felt like it was trying too hard to be John-Green-esque, with the whole unrealistically-smart teenager thing, and this just doesn't work as well when anyone but John Green tries to do it. I wish their whole friendship hadn't been reduced to this type of dialogue; we don't even get to find out how they became friends or how Dave's feelings for Julia developed. 

The secondary characters had some potential. I actually liked Gretchen, the other part of the book's obligatory love triangle, more than Dave and Julia; she seems like less of a stereotype to me. But she still sort of felt like an outsider to the story, considering she's such an important part of the novel but doesn't get to narrate her parts the way Dave and Julia do. I also liked reading about Dave's and Julia's families because both are really interesting set-ups, I just wish their stories had been elaborated on a little more at the end - I especially wanted to see what would happen with Dave's brother, Brett.

Like I said, I did really enjoy Alsaid's writing. Like in Let's Get Lost, the writing flows really nicely and is light entertaining for the most part. This is interspersed with some deeper insights that actually make the reader think. However, I just don't think these insights work as well in Never Always Sometimes as they did in Let's Get Lost because the story isn't strong enough to carry such deep messages.

All in all, Never Always Sometimes is a very okay book. It's not bad, it just doesn't stand out within the contemporary YA genre. For a book that wants to tackle cliches, it doesn't actually complexify them all that much. While Alsaid's poignant writing style ensured I wanted to finish the novel, the story and the characters bored me, for the most part. To be honest, there are plenty of better best-friends-maybe-falling-in-love YA books out there, and I wouldn't particularly recommend this one. I'll still keep my eye out for what Alsaid publishes next, though, because I do really enjoy his writing style.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Author Interview & Giveaway with Marie Marquardt (Dream Things True Blog Tour)

Today we have Marie Marquardt here for an author interview! This interview is part of the blog tour for Dream Things True

1. Without spoiling anything, could you tell us what was your favorite scene to write in Dream Things True?
I loved writing one of the earliest scenes, when my protagonist, Alma, meets her love interest, Evan. They fall for each other almost immediately, which is one reason the story is compared to Romeo and Juliet. It was a really fun set of emotions to write. They feel instantly connected, but they also realize how complicated it will be for them to relate, on many levels. Alma knows it will be almost impossible to get permission from her strict dad to hang out with Evan. This is sort-of baffling for Evan, whose family has very different rules and expectations.
2. If you had to pair up your main character Alma from Dream Things True with any other character from any other YA book (either romantically or as a friend), who would it be and why?
Oh, it would break my heart into a thousand tiny pieces if I had to put Alma with another boy, romantically! But I think she’d have a great time hanging out (just as friends) with Étienne St. Clair, from Anna and the French Kiss. Alma dreams of exploring the world, and is drawn to people who have big life experiences. I’m not sure how well Evan and St. Clair would get along, but Evan is full of surprises.
3. What comes easier for you - dialogue or description?
Dialogue, for sure. I often have to revise and re-write dialogue many times, but when I’m writing the first draft of a story, the dialogue pours right out of me. Then I go back and add the descriptive elements.
4. How do you go about naming your characters?
Haphazardly! I tend to steal the names from people I know, or from people I barely know, but just happen to be hanging around when a new character pops into my mind. Alma is an exception – It’s an old fashioned name, but I love that it means “soul”. I also chose the name for Alma’s aunt (Tia Pera) because “Pera” is short for “Esperanza”, which means “hope”. I love that name.
5. For any aspiring writers out there - what's the best writing advice you've ever received?
If you love to write, keep writing! If you want to be a traditionally published author, you’ll have to keep writing through the rejections. They will come. The best way to deal with them is to absorb any good advice they may offer and then sit back down at the keyboard and put words on the page.

Make sure to check out all the other stops of the blog tour, and keep your eye out for Dream Things True, which came out September 1st! This is what the book is all about:

Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt
Evan, a soccer star and the nephew of a conservative Southern Senator, has never wanted for much -- except a functional family. Alma has lived in Georgia since she was two-years-old, excels in school, and has a large, warm Mexican family. Never mind their differences, the two fall in love, and they fall hard. But when ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) begins raids on their town, Alma knows that she needs to tell Evan her secret. There's too much at stake. But how to tell her country-club boyfriend that she’s an undocumented immigrant? That her whole family and most of her friends live in the country without permission. What follows is a beautiful, nuanced, well-paced exploration of the complications of immigration, young love, defying one’s family, and facing a tangled bureaucracy that threatens to completely upend two young lives.

St. Martin's Griffin is giving away one finished copy of Dream Things True!

Giveaway rules:
- Must be 13 or older to enter.
- Open to US and Canada only.
- Open for one week; giveaway ends September 23rd 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!!!

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Title: Saint Anything
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Release date: May 5th 2015
Pages: 417
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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Peyton, Sydney's charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion's share of their parents' attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton's increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?
Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I've been reading Sarah Dessen since I was a pre-teen, and I still haven't stopped loving her. Her books always follow the same formula - and with any other author, I would consider that a bad thing and call it an overused trope. But Sarah Dessen does this type of story so well that I don't even care: her characters are always unique and lovable, and I could read her stories over and over again. Saint Anything has proven yet again why Sarah Dessen is one of my all-time favorite authors.

Sydney is a typical Sarah Dessen protagonist, and I loved her. She's pretty "ordinary" - introverted and quiet, like most YA heroines. But Sarah Dessen's writing style and strong character-driven stories make every single character come to life, and it's so easy to connect with Sydney. Layla is the quirky friend who, along with the rest of her family, changes Sydney's life - again, could be an overdone trope, but it's so well-written that it works; this is just what Sarah Dessen does.Layla is more than a trope, she's a passionate, outgoing character who fiercely cares about Sydney and french fries. 

And of course, there's Mac. I absolutely loved how slowly the romance develops - Sydney becomes friends with the entire family first, and then slowly develops a crush on Mac. Even when the romance takes off in the second half, it's not the main focus; it's just one part of Sydney's story, which I loved. Mac is the unassuming kind of perfect: he really sees Sydney, and their chemistry is more than intense. I was swooning and rooting for them for the entire novel, wishing they would just get together already but also appreciating the slow burn of their relationship.

Even though Mac was the main attraction for me, the secondary characters are great, too. I loved Eric and Irv, the other entertaining members of their friend group, and Mrs. Catham, Layla and Mac's mom, who gives Sydney some great insights. And Mr. Catham, who owns the pizza shop where large parts of the story are set - don't read this book on an empty stomach! Then there's Sydney's own family: her parents aren't as easy to love, but their dynamics are fascinating nonetheless. I especially loved seeing Sydney's relationship with Payton develop over the course of the novel; I just wish we would have gotten to see a face-to-face interaction at some point. But the way it is makes sense with the whole story, and I loved the development in their family dynamics at the end. The only story that I think was wrapped up a little too nicely is the one with Ames...

Saint Anything is such an adorable story. Just looking at the cover makes me happy because it reminds of Saint Anything (the one in the book) and the carousel. Every little detail of this story and this writing are perfect, the way it always is in Sarah Dessen's book. I don't even know what else to say - I'm just a hopeless Sarah Dessen fangirl and I will read anything she writes.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Your Voice Is All I Hear Spotlight: Excerpt & Giveaway

Today we have Leah Scheier here for a spotlight of her upcoming book, Your Voice is All I Hear!

Your Voice Is All I Hear will be released September 1st. Here's what it's all about:

Your Voice Is All I Hear by Leah Scheier
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Everything about Jonah is unexpected. On the first day of school, he sits next to April, when he could have chosen to sit with the popular girl. He turns down an invitation to join the school team and declares he'd rather paint. He encourages April to develop her musical talent and shrugs off the bullies that torment them.
April isn't surprised to find herself falling for Jonah. The unexpected part is when he falls for her too.
But the giddy happiness of their first romance begins to fade when Jonah's unpredictability begins to take a darker turn. April understands that her boyfriend is haunted by a painful memory, but his sudden mood swings worry her. She can't explain his growing fear of cellphones, electric keyboards, and of sounds that no one else can hear. Still, no matter what happens, April is sure that she'll always stand by him.
Until Jonah finally breaks and is committed to a psychiatric ward.
Until schizophrenia changes everything.
Though everyone urges her to let him go, April stays true to Jonah. But as the boy she adores begins to disappear in front of her, she has to face her worst fear: that her love may not be enough to save him.

Here is an excerpt from the novel:

I KNOW MY WAY AROUND THE MENTAL HOSPITAL. I doubt most of the girls in my neighborhood could claim that, even though many of us lived just a few minutes from its leafy, sterile grounds, and some of us picnicked on the lawn outside its gate during summer break.

By the end of tenth grade, I knew Shady Grove Hospital better than I knew my school. I knew that the security guard’s name was Carla and that she’d worked at her depressing post since the place was built. I knew the quiet path behind the topiary garden where I could wait until visiting hours began and she let me in. I’d memorized the shape and color of his shadow behind the dark-red curtains, and I knew where I had to stand so he could see me from his eleventh-story window. From that distant spot, I could even guess how well the medicine was working for him that day; I could tell what kind of visit it would be by counting the paces of his shadow.

I had the place mapped out, his daily routine memorized, the doctors’ names and call schedule, every pointless detail carefully recorded in his special little book. He’d given me those notes as if they were classified secrets, the papers wrapped in strips of hospital linen sealed together with bubble gum, long wads of partially chewed Wrigley’s tied into a crisscrossed mesh. That tat- tered spiral notebook was crammed with data he’d gathered over months: patients’ names and histories, nurses’ phone numbers, the cleaning crew’s shift hours. I would never know how these bits of information came together for him or how he even found them out. But somewhere in these random nothings, he’d put together a story for me, a clue of how to get to him, a coded message that, for some reason, he believed only I could read. I was the one he trusted, the only one who had not betrayed him. I was the one he loved, the only one who believed him, even when his own mother had locked him up and thrown away the key.

And now, nearly three months after they’d taken him away, I was finally ready. I was going to march up to the security window, look into the tired guard’s blurry eyes, state my name and the name of the patient I was visiting, and hear the buzz and click of the locked gate sliding open. I was going to walk down the white- tiled hallway, knock on his doctor’s office door, slam his secret notebook on her desk, and make her read it, make her understand what he was hiding, make her see what only I had seen.

I was finally going to do it. I was going to betray him.


Sourcebooks is giving away five copies of Your Voice Is All I Hear! This giveaway is open until September 20th. Enter using the form below. Good luck!

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Friday, August 07, 2015

Review: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Title: Everything Leads to You
Author: Nina LaCour
Publisher: Dutton BYR
Release date: May 15th 2014
Pages: 307
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world.
Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic…. She’s beautiful. And she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I already had high expectations for Everything Leads to You based on my love for Nina LaCour's debut, Hold Still, but Everything Leads to You was so much better than I could have imagined. With unique, diverse characters, poignant writing, a fascinating setting, and an engrossing story, Everything Leads to You is absolute perfection.

Emi is a very realistic character. I wanted to smack her for some of her stupid decisions, but I also completely understood her reasoning. I don't really know how to describe her, not because she's bland but rather because she's so dynamic and life-like that it's hard to capture in a couple of sentences. In some ways, she feels older than most YA MCs - the book starts right before graduation and is mostly set over the summer after, and high school is never a focus. But despite her impressive career, there are times the seventeen-year-old in her definitely comes out, and I love how Nina LaCour plays with that. Even though Emi is the narrator and protagonist, a lot of Everything Leads to You is Ava's story. Maybe even more so than Emi, Ava is a very unique character with a fascinating background story. I've read other reviews saying they found the mystery surrounding Ava too predictable, but that wasn't a problem for me because I never expected this to be some kind of thriller-esque mystery; yes, the actual revelations are predictable, but the focus is on the emotional reactions rather than the revelations themselves. The emotions are what carry this story. I loved the relationship between Emi and Ava - it develops slowly and authentically, and while I wish I could have seen them together for longer, I appreciate how Nina LaCour took her time to explore their identities and their platonic friendship before turning it into anything more than that. The secondary characters are amazing as well - I loved Emi's relationship with her best friend Charlotte and with her parents, and I appreciate what Toby, Jamal, and Morgan brought to the story.

Even though writing-wise, the characters are what's most impressive, my favorite part was probably reading about the world of movies. We learn so much about Emi's job - a job I didn't even know existed. It was fascinating to see how much work goes into set design, how much time Emi spends trying to find the perfect props; Emi's passion is infectious. Emi's view of movies is jaded - the Collapse of the Fantasy of knowing what really goes on behind the scenes - but her love for movies still shines through, a combination I loved and that worked really well to help Nina LaCour make her bigger points about the story.

This review wouldn't be complete without mentioning how happy I am about the level of diversity in this novel. Everything Leads to You is a book about a biracial lesbian that doesn't focus on either her race or her sexuality, which by itself is kind of a miracle. Emi being gay is never the main focus; this just happens to be a love story about two girls. This is exactly the kind of representation we need. Even though the novel is never focused just on Emi's sexuality, many issues that affect LGBTQ youth - like issues with parents or with homophobic friends, or the massive numbers LGBTQ homeless teens - are addressed as elements of the plot. The characters are racially diverse, and to top it all off, Emi's mother is a professor of gender studies and black studies. Basically, this book is just scoring diversity points all across the board.

Despite all the praise, I don't think I've accurately captured what's so amazing about this novel. It's the voice, the spirit of it all, that makes it such an absorbing read, equal parts fun and thought-provoking. Nina LaCour's writing is amazing; I don't know what else to say but to tell you to read this book. Everything Leads to You is one I know will stay with me for a long time. 

Saturday, August 01, 2015

New Releases August 2015

New releases:

Naked by Stacey Trombley: August 1st
What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi: August 4th
Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi Alsaid: August 4th
Not After Everything by Michelle Levy: August 4th

The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick: August 18th
A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz: August 18th
Another Day by David Levithan: August 25th

New in paperback:

Pointe by Brandy Colbert: August 4th
Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan: August 4th
Random by Tom Leveen: August 11th

What releases are you most excited about this month?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Golden by Jessi Kirby

Title: Golden
Author: Jessi Kirby
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BYR
Release date: May 14th 2013
Pages: 278
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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Seventeen-year-old Parker Frost has never taken the road less traveled. Valedictorian and quintessential good girl, she’s about to graduate high school without ever having kissed her crush or broken the rules. So when fate drops a clue in her lap—one that might be the key to unraveling a town mystery—she decides to take a chance.
Julianna Farnetti and Shane Cruz are remembered as the golden couple of Summit Lakes High—perfect in every way, meant to be together forever. But Julianna’s journal tells a different story—one of doubts about Shane and a forbidden romance with an older, artistic guy. These are the secrets that were swept away with her the night that Shane’s jeep plunged into an icy river, leaving behind a grieving town and no bodies to bury.
Reading Julianna’s journal gives Parker the courage to start to really live—and it also gives her reasons to question what really happened the night of the accident. Armed with clues from the past, Parker enlists the help of her best friend, Kat, and Trevor, her longtime crush, to track down some leads. The mystery ends up taking Parker places that she never could have imagined. And she soon finds that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Jessi Kirby has impressed me yet again, with another beautifully written contemporary. Jessi Kibry's books are usually unassuming in the best way, the kind of books where you can't put your finger on what exactly makes them so good. Her writing effortlessly makes you get lost in a new world, and I loved getting lost in Parker's and Julianna's stories.

Jessi Kirby's writing is gorgeous, and it's always what carries her novels. Her writing style is emotional, honest, and poignant. It's rich in lines that will make you want to stop and think, while at the same wanting to never stop reading. At times, I was thinking that the writing was too good, too beautiful, considering this is supposed to be a journal, but then I decided that I don't care as long as I get to keep reading these gorgeous words.

Parker is a strong main character. She does fit into the standard YA MC trope of the quiet, studious girl that needs to get out of her shell, but she's so well-written that I think it works. She's easy to relate to and feel for, with a strong voice and impressive character growth over the course of the novel. Even though we don't get to read from her perspective for very long, I also grew to love Julianna through the pages of her journal. I also loved Kat, the spunky best friend, and Trevor, the slow-burn love interest done just right. I just wish we could have gotten some more insights into Parker's parents' characters, especially towards the end.

The mystery is okay. In the beginning, it's very intriguing, and I like how it starts out with this facade of perfection that slowly comes crumbling down. I really liked what the mystery meant to Parker - her emotional investment in it rings true, and it works really well with her personal development. The actual mystery, though, isn't too impressive, in my opinion. The main points are fairly predictable, and I kept hoping there would be more to it, but... there wasn't. The motivations behind what happened ten years ago aren't strong enough to justify what happened, in my opinion, making this seem more like a device to develop Parker's character, rather than an independently strong storyline.

But that's okay - Parker's character development is enough to carry the story. If you're in it for the mystery, there's definitely stronger YA mysteries out there, but if you're looking for a strong contemporary with some mystery elements, Golden is perfect for you. Jessi Kirby continues to impress me with her breathtakingly beautiful writing and effortless ability to write characters and worlds you're immediately immersed in. I can't recommend her books enough!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Title: Where the Stars Still Shine
Author: Trish Doller
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's
Release date: September 24th 2013
Pages: 352
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She's never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love--even with someone who seems an improbable choice--is more than just a possibility.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I read most of Where the Stars Still Shine on the subway - which I would not recommend, because it's kind of a miracle I never missed my stop, considering immersed I was in this story. Trish Doller is amazing at writing incredibly absorbing novels with complex, unique character, and Where the Stars Still Shine is no exception.

The whole set-up of Where the Stars Still Shine is original and intriguing: it takes what some might consider to be a happy ending - a girl "rescued" after being kidnapped and kept away from her family for most of her life - and questions what happens after. What it must be like to return to a "normal" life after living on the run for so long and meeting your family whom you don't remember is such a fascinating idea.

The set-up makes for a main character who is incredibly fascinating to read about. I loved  Callie; she is so different from any other YA character (or any character) I've read about. She doesn't know how to let people in or how to let someone care for her - doesn't know how to be a daughter to someone who cares, how to be a friend, or how to have a romantic relationship that isn't based on someone using her. I felt for Callie and grew to love her so much over the course of this novel. Callie must have been such a hard character to write, and even though of course I can't really judge, her struggles seemed very realistic. Even when her choices are frustrating, it totally works, and just adds to the depth of her character.

I absolutely loved the romance in Where the Stars Still Shine. Alex is older, an usual love interest for YA, which works perfectly for this story. He has his own issues, which are also intriguing, even if they're not explored in as much depth as Callie's. Callie and Alex have amazing chemistry, and an inspiringly respectful way of treating each other. But even though the swoon factor is strong, romance is definitely not the only important relationship in this novel. I also loved Callie's relationship with her cousin/self-assigned best friend Kat, her dad Greg, an the rest of her family. I loved how all of these relationships combined showed Callie that she is worthy of love and capable of having meaningful relationships. And then, of course, there's Callie's relationship with her mother, which isn't as easy to love, but just as well-done. Callie's ambivalent feelings towards her mother and her inner struggle are portrayed with honesty and raw emotion, and I especially loved how Callie's feelings develop over the course of the novel.

I thought for a while about whether I should talk about this or if it's too spoilery, but since Trish talks about this in promotional posts, I'm assuming it's okay to talk about the issue of sexual abuse in this novel. How this issue is treated is actually one of the most impressive things about this book, in my opinion. Callie's past experiences with sexual abuse and how it affects her life today is portrayed in heartbreaking honesty. I loved how Trish Doller discusses the impact of Callie's past experiences on her relationships today, since survivors of sexual assault or abuse (re-)gaining a healthy relationship to sex is something that isn't talked about much. It's interwoven in Callie's relationship with Alex in subtle and important ways. I also love how this plays into Callie's relationship with her mother. Even if it weren't such a great story all-around, this book would be worth reading just for its respectful and raw emotional portrayal of this issue.

The only issue I have with Where the Stars Still Shine is that the ending seems a little rushed and melodramatic, everything with Callie's mom and Alex coming crashing down at the same time. Specifically, I'm talking about a very Hollywood-y hospital scene that, in my opinion, is too melodramatic to discuss the story in the depth it deserves. The ending-ending - what comes after this scene - is good again, it's just in this climax that the novel loses some of its plausibility, for me.

With this book, Trish Doller has manifested her position as one of my favorite contemporary YA authors. With a unique story, lyrical writing, and characters I won't soon forget, Where the Stars Still Shine was a book whose world I didn't want to leave. I can't wait for even more Trish Doller books.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bookish Anticipation #51

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.

Violent Ends by Shaun Hutchinson
Release date: September 1st 2015
It took only twenty-two minutes for Kirby Matheson to exit his car, march onto school grounds, enter the gymnasium, and open fire, killing six and injuring five others.
But this isn't a story about the shooting itself. This isn't about recounting that one unforgettable day.
This is about Kirby and how one boy—who had friends, enjoyed reading, played saxophone in the band, and had never been in trouble before—became a monster capable of entering his school with a loaded gun and firing on his classmates.
Each chapter is told from a different victim's viewpoint, giving insight into who Kirby was and who he'd become. Some are sweet, some are dark; some are seemingly unrelated, about fights or first kisses or late-night parties.
This is a book of perspectives—with one character and one event drawing them all together—from the minds of some of YA's most recognizable names.

My Secret to Tell by Natalie D. Richards
Release date: October 6th 2015
Emmie's had a crush on her best friend's brother forever. Deacon is the town bad boy who's always in trouble, but she sees his soft side when he volunteers with her at the local animal shelter. She doesn't think he's dangerous…until he shows up in her bedroom with blood on his hands.
Deacon's father has been violently assaulted and Deacon is suspect number one. Emmie's smart enough to know how this looks, but she also knows Deacon's biggest secret—he's paralyzed by the sight of blood. She's sure he didn't do this. Or did he? Because even Deacon's own sister thinks he's guilty…

Very in Pieces by Megan Frazer Blakemore
Release date: September 29th 2015
Very Sales-Woodruff is done being a good girl. Done being the only responsible one in a family that’s unraveling. Done being the obliging girlfriend in a relationship that’s sinking. Done saying no to what she wants—like Dominic, her rebellious classmate.
With her mom’s drinking, her dad’s extended absences from home, and her younger sister, Ramona, running wild, the path Very has always seen for herself doesn’t seem to matter anymore. At the same time, Very’s grandmother, a poet known less for her work and more for her exploits with the likes of Andy Warhol and Arthur Miller, is slipping away.
If everything else can fall to pieces, why can’t she?

Future Perfect by Jen Larsen
Release date: October 6th 2015
Every year on her birthday, Ashley Perkins gets a card from her grandmother—a card that always contains a promise: lose enough weight, and I will buy your happiness.
Ashley doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the way she looks, but no amount of arguing can persuade her grandmother that “fat” isn’t a dirty word—that Ashley is happy with her life, and her body, as it is.
But Ashley wasn’t counting on having her dreams served up on a silver platter at her latest birthday party. She falters when Grandmother offers the one thing she’s always wanted: tuition to attend Harvard University—in exchange for undergoing weight loss surgery.
As Ashley grapples with the choice that little white card has given her, she feels pressured by her friends, her family, even administrators at school. But what’s a girl to do when the reflection in her mirror seems to bother everyone but her?
Through her indecisions and doubts, Ashley’s story is a liberating one—a tale of one girl, who knows that weight is just a number, and that no one is completely perfect.

One by Sarah Crossan
Release date: September 15th 2015
Tippi and Grace share everything—clothes, friends... even their body. Writing in free verse, Sarah Crossan tells the sensitive and moving story of conjoined twin sisters, which will find fans in readers of Gayle Forman, Jodi Picoult, and Jandy Nelson.
Tippi and Grace. Grace and Tippi. For them, it’s normal to step into the same skirt. To hook their arms around each other for balance. To fall asleep listening to the other breathing. To share. And to keep some things private. The two sixteen-year-old girls have two heads, two hearts, and each has two arms, but at the belly, they join. And they are happy, never wanting to risk the dangerous separation surgery.
But the girls’ body is beginning to fight against them. And soon they will have to face the impossible choice they have avoided for their entire lives.

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu 
Release date: September 29th 2015
Silly is used to feeling left out. Her three older sisters think she’s too little for most things—especially when it comes to dealing with their mother’s unpredictable moods and outbursts. But for Silly, that’s normal. She hardly remembers a time when Mom wasn’t drinking.
This summer, Silly is more alone than ever, and it feels like everyone around her is keeping secrets. Mom is sick all the time, Dad acts like everything’s fine when clearly it isn’t, and Silly’s sisters keep whispering and sneaking away to their rooms together, returning with signs that something mysterious is afoot, and giggling about jokes that Silly doesn’t understand.
When Silly is brought into her sisters’ world, the truth is more exciting than she ever imagined. The sisters have discovered a magical place that gives them what they truly need: an escape from the complications of their home life. But there are dark truths there, too. Silly hopes the magic will be the secret to saving their family, but she’s soon forced to wonder if it just might tear them apart.
What releases are you anticipating this week? 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: Paperweight by Meg Haston

Title: Paperweight
Author: Meg Haston
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: July 7th 2015
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Edelweiss - I received a free advance eGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
Add to Goodreads | Puchase from Amazon
Seventeen-year-old Stevie is trapped. In her life. In her body. And now in an eating-disorder treatment center on the dusty outskirts of the New Mexico desert.
Life in the center is regimented and intrusive, a nightmare come true. Nurses and therapists watch Stevie at mealtime, accompany her to the bathroom, and challenge her to eat the foods she’s worked so hard to avoid.
Her dad has signed her up for sixty days of treatment. But what no one knows is that Stevie doesn't plan to stay that long. There are only twenty-seven days until the anniversary of her brother Josh’s death—the death she caused. And if Stevie gets her way, there are only twenty-seven days until she too will end her life.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I've read a lot of books about eating disorders, but Paperweight blew me away like no other since Laurie Halse Anderson's masterpiece Wintergirls. With a complex main character who experiences tremendous growth and a richly layered story of self-acceptance, Meg Haston's YA debut has me very impressed.

It's fascinating to be inside Stevie's mind. I've read some other reviews saying they didn't like Stevie and found it hard to connect to her, and while I can see where they're coming from - obviously, she doesn't always make the best choices, and she's very reluctant to heal - I absolutely loved her. Her actions can definitely be frustrating, but she's such a realistic character, and with her motivations laid out in such depth and honesty, it was hard not to feel for her. Her eating disorder, as well as her other issues, are explored in harrowing honesty, making you go back and forth between wanting what's best for Stevie but also understanding how her inner demons fight so hard against just that. 

The whole set-up of the treatment center was intriguing - it's fascinating to read about how they go about 'fixing' something so all-encompassing and seemingly unsurmountable, and to see the effects of therapy in Stevie's thinking processes. I especially loved Stevie's relationship with her therapist Anna - so many books I've read portray therapists as either completely useless or as an underdeveloped, unrealistic solution to the main character's problems. Anna is neither of those things - she develops a great, witty rapport with Stevie and helps her in just the right ways, but Stevie's inner strength is still what ultimately save her, rather than any outside forces. 

I also loved the other girls in the treatment center and the relationships they formed with Stevie, especially Ashley. Their relationships are a fascinating combination of competition and friendship - they're all evaluating each other and comparing their bodies, and the anorexics feel superior to the bulimics, but they also build some very strong bonds. I really liked seeing the spectrum of eating disorders, and the girls' different reasons for developing them.

I'm not sure how I felt about the storylines concerning Stevie's issues other than her eating disorder. I really liked reading about the family dynamics, even though I wish there had been more of a confrontation between Stevie and her mom. How Stevie's brother's death relates to her eating disorder, though, was kind of strange: currently, her goal is to starve herself to death as punishment for having killed her brother. But Stevie's eating disorder developed long before her brother's death, and we get some glimpses into how that relates to her mother, but I still wished we had gotten to see more of how all of this first started. Stevie's relationship with Eden is fascinating, too, but I felt like it was lacking some kind of final conflict or resolution. I did appreciate, though, that there is no romance, other than the destructive sort-of relationship with Eden - rather than some romantic interest swooping in and saving Stevie, she really does save herself.

Paperweight was a hard novel to read, but it was most definitely worth it. It reads like a very personal, intimate story, but one that needs to be told. With a gripping voice and an intriguing main character who undergoes realistic character growth, Paperweight offers harrowing insights into eating disorders and depression. For anyone who enjoys darker YA novels, this one is a must!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Review: Between Us and the Moon by Rebecca Maizel

Title: Between Us and the Moon
Author: Rebecca Maizel
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: June 30th 2015
Pages: 384
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: Edelweiss - I received a free advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
Add to Goodreads | Purchase from Amazon
Ever since Sarah was born, she’s lived in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Scarlett. But this summer on Cape Cod, she’s determined to finally grow up. Then she meets gorgeous college boy Andrew. He sees her as the girl she wants to be. A girl who’s older than she is. A girl like Scarlett.
Before she knows what’s happened, one little lie has transformed into something real. And by the end of August, she might have to choose between falling in love, and finding herself.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Between Us and the Moon took me a long time to get into. For the first 100 pages or so, I was sure I was going to hate this book, and I even considered DNF'ing it because it was so frustrating to read. But I'm so glad I didn't - over the course of the story, the book got so much better, and I ended up really liking it!

The reason the beginning is so frustrating is really just the main character Sarah. She is ridiculously immature in the beginning, and I know that makes sense, considering she's fifteen, but she makes some really stupid decisions. I get that she wants to be different after what her ex-boyfriend and her family tell her, but the way she goes about it is almost painful to read. How she steals her sister's clothes and says really stupid stuff because she thinks it will get people to like her is pitifully desperate. I know this is intentional, that she needed to be like this for the character growth over the course of the novel to work, and I did like Sarah towards the end. But that doesn't make the beginning any less frustrating to read.

And, of course, there's the lying to Andrew. At first it made sense, when Andrew was just someone she met once and wanted to impress as part of her turning-into-Scarlett scheme. But I started to get annoyed when their relationship progressed and she went on so long without telling him, not even considering how her actions might impact him. It's not like she tried and it was always a bad time or something; she had plenty of opportunities to tell Andrew the truth and just... doesn't. Since this goes on for so long, I was frustrated with Sarah about this for most of the novel.

I did love the character growth Sarah undergoes over the course of the novel; it's realistically done and well-written. I loved Andrew, his backstory and how he treats Sarah, but I appreciated how romance is not the main focus, letting Sarah's own story of personal development take center stage.

I was pleasantly surprised by the ending - I thought this would be a very predictable story, but I really appreciated the realistic, unusual way to end this novel. I just wish Sarah's family had played more of a role in the ending - her issues with her family are an important part of the novel, and I loved everything about Gran and the development of Sarah's relationship with Scarlett. But I wish we could have seen Sarah's relationship with her parents evolve more towards the end. 

Between Us and the Moon was a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, with the amount of times I wanted to slap Sarah and the times I wanted to hug her. I'm very glad I didn't give up on this book in the beginning because the development Sarah undergoes is very worth it. I recommend Between Us and the Moon if you're looking for a contemporary YA with well-written character development, as long as you can handle how incredibly frustrating Sarah is in the beginning. 

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Author Interview with Miranda Kenneally (Jesse's Girl Blog Tour)

Today we have Miranda Kenneally here for an author interview! This interview is part of the blog tour for Jesse's Girl

1. A lot of the previous Hundred Oaks books have been focused on some kind of sport - what made you want to write about music in Jesse's Girl instead?
I just love music and wanted to write about it. ! I grew up singing and performing, and was in my high school's show choir. I still (poorly) sing along to the radio.
2. I've loved all of your books, but I think Breathe, Annie, Breathe was my favorite (so far!). I know I'm horrible for asking this and making you choose, but which one of your books is your personal favorite? Or which one is most important to you, personally?
Thank you! Breathe, Annie, Breathe is the book I'm proudest of in terms of my writing, while Catching Jordan and Jesse's Girl were the most fun to work on.
3. If you had to set up Maya with another main character from your previous books, which one do you think she could be BFFs with and why?
I think Maya would get along great with Savannah. Both girls are sassy, stand up for themselves, know how to have fun, and love kissing (but who doesn't? *wink*).
4. Without spoiling anything, could you tell us what was your favorite scene to write in Jesse's Girl?
Probably the scene where Jesse takes Maya to his favorite spot: his secret fishing hole where his great-grandfather used to bring him as a little boy. Maya decides to shove Jesse into the water, and much chasing him around in his underwear ensues.
5. How do you go about naming your characters?
Generally I first see if the perfect name pops into my mind. If not, I consult BabyNames.com ;-)

Make sure to check out all the other stops of the blog tour, and keep your eye out for Jesse's Girl, which comes out today! You can check out my review here. This is what the book is all about:

Jesse's Girl by Miranda Kenneally
Everyone at Hundred Oaks High knows that career mentoring day is a joke. So when Maya Henry said she wanted to be a rock star, she never imagined she’d get to shadow *the* Jesse Scott, Nashville’s teen idol.
But spending the day with Jesse is far from a dream come true. He’s as gorgeous as his music, but seeing all that he’s accomplished is just a reminder of everything Maya’s lost: her trust, her boyfriend, their band, and any chance to play the music she craves. Not to mention that Jesse’s pushy and opinionated. He made it on his own, and he thinks Maya’s playing back up to other people’s dreams. Does she have what it takes to follow her heart—and go solo?
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