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Monday, September 29, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Were Hard For Me To Read

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely ladies at The Broke and the Bookish

Top Ten Books That Were Hard For Me To Read

Because Tough Subjects:
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Telley
Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott

Because Military:
Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
In Honor by Jessi Kirby
Personal Effects by EM Kokie

Because Life Stuff That I Won't Get Into:
Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang
Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard
Just One Day & Just One Year by Gayle Forman

Because I Can't See Through My Tears:
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Honorable Mention
Because it wasn't (well…it kind of was Because Life Stuff That I Won't Get Into), but now it most certainly will be:
It's Kind of A Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

What books were hard for you to read?
Leave your link and I'll hop by!

Review: Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang (ARC)

Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang
Greenwillow Books (an imprint of Harper), 304 pages
US Release Date: September 9, 2014
Format/Source: ARC, via Harper at ALA - thank you!

On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road. 

Why? Why did Liz Emerson decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Vividly told by an unexpected and surprising narrator, this heartbreaking and nonlinear novel pieces together the short and devastating life of Meridian High’s most popular junior girl. Mass, acceleration, momentum, force—Liz didn’t understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she doesn’t understand it now. How do we impact one another? How do our actions reverberate? What does it mean to be a friend? To love someone? To be a daughter? Or a mother? Is life truly more than cause and effect? Amy Zhang’s haunting and universal story will appeal to fans of Lauren Oliver, Gayle Forman, and Jay Asher.
--------------------------------Goodreads Summary
Notable Quote
She wanted to know how Galileo and Newton and Einstein discovered the things they discovered. She wanted to know how they could have lived in the exact same world as everyone else but see things that no one else did.
There was so, so much hype about this book that it was one of the few I was on the hunt for when I was at ALA. I stalked the Harper Booth and bothered every rep I could find to see if they had a signing or giveaway set up (Hi Martha!), and I may have squealed a bit when I finally got it in my hands. Maybe.

And I wish I could say I loved it as hard and as fiercely as everyone else seemed to. I’m not saying I didn’t like it—no, I actually liked it quite a bit. Even loved some parts. And I definitely get why so many wept and clutched at this book. But it just didn’t for me, and I’m a bit sad about it.

The thing I have, have, HAVE to talk about is the structure of this book. Sometimes non-linear storylines completely blow it and make everything confusing, but this one just worked. It fit so well into the style, into the feeling of the story, into the erratic, depressed nature of Liz Emerson. I loved the chapter titles, how it was a timeline without being a timeline and still actually, literally, being a timeline. It was lovely and my absolute favourite element to Falling Into Place.

The narrator was also a pleasant surprise. I’m not going to ruin who it is, but it was a fantastic device from the storyteller and reader view. It was smart, and completely sensible.

I really don’t like Liz Emerson. She is the type of bitch we all hated in high school, one of those untouchables who seems to get away with everything while being the cause of it, too. But I liked her as a character. She was full and faulted and heartbreakingly aware of how terrible of a person she had been. Her and her friends, Julia and Kennie, are a perfect portrayal of High School Royalty, the clique with it all that we wanted to tear into. Even though they were despicable, the writing of them was not, and I liked that.

Falling Into Place is so absolutely sad, the more we learn about Liz and her psyche and what is causing her to slide on the ice and wrap her car around a tree. There’s this heartbreaking feeling of vacancy and voids and hopelessness that permeates everything, and it just tugs at you and sucks you into this story. I hate Liz (as evident), but I felt so much for her. The writing is so poetic in it’s style, and it gets you straight through the soul into the core of your feelings. I’m not going to admit just how close this novel hits home for me (that’s a whole different story of my own), but there are parts that made me speechless and breathless in despair.

So what was it exactly that made me not like it as much as others? I honestly have no clue. I didn’t cry. I didn’t have to put the book down, and I didn’t read it in one sitting. But I cannot give any real reason why that is! So I’ve decided that this book is, in fact, pretty damn brilliant. It just wasn’t for me personally, and I won’t hold that against Amy Zhang or Falling Into Place. You should read this. I think everyone needs to read this, to experience the fantastic writing and structure and story. To know Liz, and maybe not like her, but to feel her story.

As a side note, I met Amy at ALA, and she was wonderful and sweet and deserves every bit of praise she’s getting for this debut. High school?! I cannot wait to see what this girl has in store for us.
4 stars

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Telley (ARC)

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Telley
Harlequin Teen, 384 pages
US Release Date: September 30, 2014
Format/Source: ARC via Around the World Tours - thank you!

In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town's most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept separate but equal.

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.
--------------------------Goodreads Summary
Notable Quotes
I don't know how to tell her I just don't have the energy to keep up with my old friends anymore. That my life isn't big enough to deal with all the awful things and still fit in everything that used to be important to me, too.
&
I don't know what I'm supposed to believe anymore. I want to follow the teachings of the Lord, but I don't know how. It's so complicated. Why would God give me these feelings if they're wrong?
This is probably one of the tougher books I’ve ever had to review, simply because it’s such an important one. I don’t want to really “critique” anything, because the subject matter is so intense and so relevant I don’t want to risk deterring anyone from reading it.

I’m not going to lie, some of this was hard to read. This history is such a hard truth to face, and I’ll admit some of it was hard for me to swallow. But the book does it well, with enough detail to make an impact but not over-the-top for shock value. I’m very glad nothing was horrifically extreme, and am incredibly impressed at the way Telley was able to pull off showing what was real but still reminding the reader there was definitely worse. And not in a guilt-inducing way, but as an element to the story.

One of my concerns was that this story was tackling both racism and sexual orientation—those are two HUGE issues, and can go very wrong, very fast. But I was pleasantly surprised at how seamlessly they blended together and really worked together to make the story. It’s handled well, with equal amount of importance and time given to both. I definitely feel like this was a bold statement that draws on parallels, but…that’s a different conversation.

One of the most interesting parts of this novel was seeing how the parents influenced their kids and the resulting actions and words. It’s definitely a battle of generations, and it was another pleasant surprise to have it portrayed so well. It really added a deeper element of family and nature versus nurture, and was probably one of my favourite parts.

As a story itself, I was fairly impressed with how it all came together. The characters are unique but relatable, and I loved the friendships and family relationships. I don’t think there’s much deviation from a plotline that we could guess, but at the same time, I don’t really think a book like this should. The fight scene towards the end that seemed to be a turning point was perhaps the only thing that really startled me, but it was a good thing in the end.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is such an important book, one to make a reader think and feel and incite action. It’s fairly obvious that I’m a fan of this book, in every way. It’s the perfect way to bring this history and these messages to the YA crowd.
4 stars

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Review: A Blind Spot For Boys by Justina Chen (ARC)

A Blind Spot For Boys by Justina Chen
Little, Brown BYR, 336 pages
US Release Date: August 12, 2014
Format/Source: ARC via Around the World Tours - thank you!

Shana has always had a blind spot for boys. Can she trust the one who's right in front of her?

Sixteen-year-old Shana Wilde is officially on a Boy Moratorium. After a devastating breakup, she decides it's time to end the plague of Mr. Wrong, Wrong, and More Wrong.

Enter Quattro, the undeniably cute lacrosse player who slams into Shana one morning in Seattle. Sparks don't just fly; they ignite. And so does Shana's interest. Right as she's about to rethink her ban on boys, she receives crushing news: Her dad is going blind. Quattro is quickly forgotten, and Shana and her parents vow to make the most of the time her father has left to see. So they travel to Machu Picchu, and as they begin their trek, they run into none other than Quattro himself. But even as the trip unites them, Quattro pulls away mysteriously... Love and loss, humor and heartbreak collide in this new novel from acclaimed author Justina Chen.
---------------------------Goodreads Summary
Notable Quote
"…I was holding out for true love. Anything less than that just seemed to make sex meaningless. And I, for one, did not want to be meaningless to anybody."
While I don’t think A Blind Spot For Boys is the most original or best contemporary novel out there, this is one of the highest compliments I can give a book: A Blind Spot For Boys made me consider my life and the relationships in my life and how I approach them; and it made me take action in bettering and purging some negativity. And there isn’t much more praise I can give a book that strikes me so deeply and affects me so much that I actually alter my own real life because of it.

A Blind Spot For Boys is a strange mix of being cliché and original. I’ve not really seen a book take on the tragedy of a parent losing his vision, and I thought it was a refreshing (for lack of a better word) spin on the family woes. That was an element that really made me consider how lucky myself and family is, and I started to project wondering how I would feel if that was happening to someone I love.

But then the insta-attraction of how she met Quattro, and how he kept popping up, and how he was just so imperfectly perfect. Or that Shana was just that hot girl who couldn’t help flirting…it made her a little hard for me to like. And I’m not saying there aren’t people like that—I’ve been told on occasion I’m like that—but there was an arrogance in her that I wasn’t fond of. And then he kept popping up at just the right time…it was a bit predictable.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, though. I really loved Quattro, and I liked him and Shana together. I didn’t buy into their Boy/Girl Moratoriums, but it’s a fun element nonetheless. I thought the development of their friendship into a maybe-relationship was at a great, realistic pace, and I supported a lot of it.

I was a little back-and-forth about Shana not being able to let go of a 6-week relationship. On one hand, I understand—at that age, anyone who you care for who cares for you back for a day is The World to you, and it takes heartbreak nine times over to get it when it goes away. But the more we discover about this relationship, the less I liked it—I found very little for her to cling to. I’m not saying we’re all sane in love (at 16 or 60), but as a reader, I needed something to connect to and understand why it was so hard for her to let go. And I never got that.

However, my favourite element was definitely all the other hikers on the trip—even the crappy gamer husband. They definitely saved this story from falling into just a cliché contemporary book about two people finding each other and getting past their past. Each of the secondary characters were so unique and fun, I couldn’t help but adore them. And when they were all interacting together…it was so great, and I felt like I was right there struggling up the trails with them. My heart jumped, my face couldn’t stop smiling, I felt like I had their backpacks and burdens on my back.

And I have to admit, the family element was a nice surprise. Not that it was there, since it’s pretty obvious it will be—but the struggle of watching a parent couple keep it together and face a new tragedy together. And her brothers, who are a small part but no less important…it was nice to see a functional family that had their own problems. Not to the extent of calling them dysfunctional, but the average struggles exacerbated by an unusual circumstance. It reminds me a lot of my own family, and it was good to see it in a young adult novel.

A Blind Spot For Boys could have lost me and a lot of readers to a cliché, but its original elements really stand out and make this book so much more than it seems. And while I won’t list it among my favourites, I will say there are parts that really yanked at my heart and made me rethink my own life against it. And that’s as high a compliment I can give.

3.5 stars

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend by Katie Finn (ARC)

Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things To Mend (Broken Hearts & Revenge #1) by Katie Finn
Feiwel & Friends (an imprint of MacTeen), 339 pages
US Release Date: May 13, 2014
Format/Source: ARC via Around the World Tours - thank you!

Hot sun. Blue waves. New romances. Old secrets.

Gemma had her summer all planned out, but it takes a sharp turn when she gets dumped and finds herself back in the Hamptons after a five-year absence.

Being there puts her at risk of bumping into Hallie, her former best friends (that is, before Gemma ruined her life). But people don't hold grudges forever. Do they?

Gemma intends on making amends, but a small case of mistaken identity causes the people she knew years ago—including Hallie and her dreamy brother, Josh—to believe she's someone else. As though the summer wasn't complicated enough already.

Filled with summer sun, boys, and friendships gone sour, Katie Finn's first novel in the Broken Hearts and Revenge series sizzles and delights.
------------------------Goodreads Summary
Is it weird to call a book that has Broken Hearts in the title sweet? Because this book kind of is. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some heartbreak and revenge and redemption and contempt and guilt and penance, too…but there’s also this strange level of sweetness in the characters and some of the plotlines, too. And that I quite enjoyed.

I’m not going to lie here: I considered DNF-ing this book. It’s not that it was bad…it’s just that I wasn’t too enthralled in it either. I was never “omg I can’t put this book down” riveted, and that made it a little hard for me to get through in the beginning. Especially since mine was a touring ARC so I was on a deadline, and I had other things to do…it just seemed like I could skip through some of it.

I am glad I stuck with it though. Sure, I guessed a lot of it (some seemed quite obvious), but there were small scenes or nuances that really made this book worthwhile. It never really got to breakneck speeds or heart-may-give-out emotion, but there were real moments that got me.

One of the best things to know before reading this book is that it is part of a series! I’m not sure how I missed that, but I have a tendency to read acknowledgements before the book (I have no idea why)—and luckily I saw in the back a little page about the next title. So, that was REALLY good to know why, elsewise I’d’ve been pretty damn pissed getting towards the end. There is absolutely no real closure at the end, and it would have made me lose it if I’d not have known.

But that no real closure thing? It’s probably one of the better parts of this novel! I mean, I had a few guesses, but…there’s a reveal, and oh MAN. Even though I had a thought, the writing of it is still so damn gripping. I was outraged, I wanted to just…oooooh boy. I’m just glad I was reading this in bed so I could punch my pillow a few times. Because damn.

Let’s talk characters, real quick: I quite liked the ones in here. I thought Gemma was a little flat at times, she doesn’t have much beyond knowing why she wronged and wanted to right it. She did improve throughout the story though, and I think she’ll just grow and better herself as the series moves on. Hallie was ok, though she’s a bit predictable to me. I love love LOVED Josh. Oh man, he is a fantastic love interest, and I am most certainly interested in him. Each of the secondary characters were pretty good too, though very obviously secondary. They had their few traits, and that was that throughout the story.

I was impressed with the “why” of what Gemma had done. There are few things short of violence that I could imagine to be really regretful of when you’re a child, and this one actually made a lot of sense.  In terms of creativity, Katie Finn has it in spades.

I also have to talk about the writing as a whole. For those who don’t know, Katie Finn is the pseudonym of a very loved contemporary YA author. I’m not going to say who (you can find out pretty easily), but there is a pretty good distinction between her “normal” and her pseudonym. I definitely prefer her books as the other, but there is something charming and fun to this book as well. Aside from the point of all this being making good and revenge, this is a pretty great summer read, one I’d love to bring with me to the beach and settle in for the long haul.

Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things To Mend was a little slow going for me, but ultimately I enjoyed it quite a bit. The plot is wonderfully written and creative; and even though a smidgen predictable, it’s still a lot of fun to go through. And if anything, read this to know Josh. Just remember that I knew him first!!

3.5 Stars

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Review: Just Like the Movies by Kelly Fiore (ARC)

Just Like the Movies by Kelly Fiore
Bloomsbury-Walker BFYR, 300 Pages
US Release Date: July 22, 2014
Format/Source: ARC via Around the World Tours - thank you!

Pretty and popular track star Marijke Monti is confident about almost everything – she’s got great friends, a great family, and she’s on her way to the State Track Championship. In fact, the only thing Marijke isn’t confident about is her relationship with Tommy Lawson. 

Lily Spencer has spent her entire high school career preparing for the future – she’s participated in every extracurricular activity and volunteer committee she could. But, at home, she watches her mother go on date after date with dud-dudes, still searching for “the one.” Lily realizes that she’s about to graduate and still hasn’t even had a boyfriend. 

While they live on each other’s periphery at school, Lily and Marijke never seemed to have much in common; but, after a coincidental meeting at the movie theater, Lily gets an idea – why can’t life be like a movie? Why can’t they set up their perfect romantic situations, just in time for their senior prom, using movie techniques?

Once the girls come up with the perfect plans, they commit themselves to being secret cohorts and, just like in the movies, drama ensues.
----------------------------Goodreads Summary
I can always count on Bloomsbury to give me a good book. As soon as I hear about one they’re publishing, it’s almost guaranteed to be on my TBR—and almost always a fantastic novel, anyway. Just like the Movies made me worry, just a smidge, because it sounds kind of cheesy, you know? But it really delivered, and I loved it just as much as the others from this publisher.

I’m not going to tell you this is a deep book, one that makes you think and ponder—but you shouldn’t really pick up a book about emulating and recreating romantic movie scenes if you’re really looking for that. It’s a bit fluffy, a lot romantic and fun with just the right amount of surprise and tenderness to really make it a solid contemporary.

Marijke’s boyfriend was probably one of my favourite characters. I was not really a fan of him as a person (if he were real. You know what I mean), but his role in the book, his own character development and how honest and true he was…that was one of the better parts. Someone like him is definitely stereotyped in contemporary YA, and he was a nice surprise.

Is it just predictable if I compare this to a chick flick? Too obvious of a comparison? I don’t even care, I just did it! This is really the perfect chick flick of a book; two girls who have nothing in common find common ground with an outlandish (but actually doable) solution, and make it happen. And what results is funny, a little scary, something to make your heart beat and skip and generally get twisted and tossed around. Some of it is predictable, I’m happy to report that some of it is not—but it’s also endearing and heartwarming and you just root for both Lily and Marijke to find what they’re looking for.

Just like the Movies may not be the hard-hitting, life-altering novel of the lifetime, but it’s a really fun tale with some surprising insights and a great story of surprise friendship and true love. And sometimes, that’s just what we’re looking for.
4 stars