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.
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