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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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Review: Free To Fall by Lauren Miller (ARC)

Free To Fall by Lauren Miller
Harper Teen, 469 pages
US Release Date: May 13, 2014
Format/Source: Print ARC via Around the World Tours - thank you!

What if there was an app that told you what song to listen to, what coffee to order, who to date, even what to do with your life—an app that could ensure your complete and utter happiness? What if you never had to fail or make a wrong choice?

What if you never had to fall?

Fast-forward to a time when Apple and Google have been replaced by Gnosis, a monolith corporation that has developed the most life-changing technology to ever hit the market: Lux, an app that flawlessly optimizes decision making for the best personal results. Just like everyone else, sixteen-year-old Rory Vaughn knows the key to a happy, healthy life is following what Lux recommends. When she’s accepted to the elite boarding school Theden Academy, her future happiness seems all the more assured. But once on campus, something feels wrong beneath the polished surface of her prestigious dream school. Then she meets North, a handsome townie who doesn’t use Lux, and begins to fall for him and his outsider way of life. Soon, Rory is going against Lux’s recommendations, listening instead to the inner voice that everyone has been taught to ignore — a choice that leads her to uncover a truth neither she nor the world ever saw coming.
-------------------------Goodreads Summary
Notable Quote
How many sunsets would it take to remind him of what was true?
I’m always astounded by Lauren Miller’s writing. I think it’s fairly obvious she’s a screenwriter, because there’s so much depth and story to her books. There’s a shocking amount of thought and intelligence woven into each plot, and I read every single one like I’m watching Inception or something.

One of the reasons I wanted to read this book is because of the premise and how it’s one of those futures that doesn’t seem too far away—it’s likely and almost probable. Ignoring the politics to make it happen, I completely see all our technology merging into one, similar to Gnosis, and having this crazy ridiculous influence in our life—like Lux. How many of us already turn to social media for ideas, opinions, help, advice? Who never looks up directions because you just plug into into your phone or GPS and it tells us the distance and time? All of this happens in Free to Fall, and I can completely seeing it happen to us in real life.

Aside from the social commentary, Free To Fall was a fantastic story, filled with some great friendships, hot boys (wooooo!), and a great mix of intrigue and drama and comedy—there’s even a secret society!! How could you say no to a book with a secret society?!

Like I mentioned, there are a lot of layers to this plot. Like…a lot. A. LOT. And sometimes I felt slightly lost or like it was a little convoluted, especially as it’s all revealed how they relate or influence the other, so definitely read carefully guys. But it’s all completely worth it, to know and learn of this compelling story.

I feel like I’m making this seem like a really serious book, and it isn’t entirely. There’s a lot of fun, too. There are some great friendships, lovely coffee shop meetings, and even a fun masked ball! No matter how much happens in this book, it’s still set in high school, and encompasses all the drama and angst of those years, too.

So, I have to talk about the boys and the ending. No spoilers, of course…but I thought both were a bit predictable and wrapped up too nicely---but I don’t really mean it in a bad way. I’m glad all turned out the way they did, that everything came to the conclusion it did, because somehow it all just fit. It was a nice commentary on life and slowing down and having the freedom of choice and failing and falling. And those are lessons I think we all need a reminder of.

4 stars

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review: The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder (ARC)

The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder
Razorbill (an imprint of Penguin), 304 pages
US Release Date: April 10, 2014
Format/Source: ARC from author - thank you Wendy!!

Loyalty. Envy. Obligation. Dreams. Disappointment. Fear. Negligence. Coping. Elation. Lust. Nature. Freedom. Heartbreak. Insouciance. Audacity. Gluttony. Belief. God. Karma. Knowing what you want (there is probably a French word for it). Saying Yes. Destiny. Truth. Devotion. Forgiveness. Life. Happiness (ever after).

Hannah and Zoe haven’t had much in their lives, but they’ve always had each other. So when Zoe tells Hannah she needs to get out of their down-and-out New Jersey town, they pile into Hannah’s beat-up old Le Mans and head west, putting everything—their deadbeat parents, their disappointing love lives, their inevitable enrollment at community college—behind them.

As they chase storms and make new friends, Zoe tells Hannah she wants more for her. She wants her to live bigger, dream grander, aim higher. And so Zoe begins teaching Hannah all about life’s intangible things, concepts sadly missing from her existence—things like audacity, insouciance, karma, and even happiness.

An unforgettable read from the acclaimed author of The Probability of Miracles, The Museum of Intangible Things sparkles with the humor and heartbreak of true friendship and first love.
------------------------------Goodreads Summary
Notable Quote
“Perfect should never be a goal. Perfect just happens if you let it…Perfect happens only if you get out of its way."
So I can’t really give away what my favourite part of The Museum of Intangible Things is since it’s a little spoiler-y, but let me just say…there are small details that really got to me here. In the writing, in the design (physically in the book and in the words), in the concept, in the presentation of this story. I feel like there were little glimmers amongst everything, and it was lovely.

Things I can talk about: the concept of this book is so stunning. The idea of living the intangible words, even the echo of it with Zoe and her brother Noah who has to be taught feelings (one of his lines got me so hard: “I cannot tell you how I am.”)…there’s something so subtle and powerful in those ideas. Each chapter focuses on certain intangibles, and I found myself really digging into my life and my own thoughts when each one came up. It was an astounding read to take me into my own head and life at the same time I wanted to be in Zoe and Hannah’s.

The actual plot of this story is pretty interesting, sort of outside the norm of a road trip…it’s not really searching for something, but chasing, and you definitely got that feeling throughout everything. The tone, the pacing, everything kind of gets more frenetic as it goes on, and it sweeps the reader into it all.  For some reason, it made me think of Nobody But Us by Kristen Halbrook…nothing is quite similar, but it’s the same feeling as I read it.

I liked the friendship between Zoe and Hannah, though I definitely felt it was a bit uneven. It’s built into their personalities for Hannah to give consistently while Zoe takes constantly, but I wasn’t too much a fan of that. Felt a little strange, both as characters and as a reader. And while I’ve never seen the movie Thelma and Louise, I have seen the uh…important part(s)…and for some reason that just kept popping into my head. Especially towards the end, as Zoe becomes increasingly unstable and erratic.

Even though there are parts of this book that really got to me, I was still left a bit underwhelmed. It’s similar to how I felt with her debut novel, The Probability of Miracles—things feel a little forced, a little unnatural and a little too convenient. Part of the reason may have been Danny, because I wasn’t quite a fan of him in general and especially not as he became more and more involved into the story. He came across as pompous to me, even when he was being sweet or nice, and I didn’t like it.

However, the concept of The Museum of Intangible Things and the details of its execution within the novel really did save this. I was so blown away by the usage of intangibles and feelings that I am definitely willing to overlook some of the lackluster parts. If nothing else, read this for the reflection it will cause.

3.5 Stars

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas (ARC)

Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas
Harper Teen, 336 Pages
US Release Date: March 11, 2014
Format/Source: ARC via Around the World Tours - thank you!

Despite what her name might suggest, Heart has zero interest in complicated romance. So when her brilliant plan to go to prom with a group of friends is disrupted by two surprise invites, Heart knows there's only one drama-free solution: flip a coin.

Heads: The jock. He might spend all night staring at his ex or throw up in the limo, but how bad can her brother's best friend really be?

Tails: The theater geek...with a secret. What could be better than a guy who shares all Heart's interests--even if he wants to share all his feelings?

Heart's simple coin flip has somehow given her the chance to live out both dates. But where her prom night ends up might be the most surprising thing of all…
-------------------------------Goodreads summary
Notable Quote
Fate is only a comfort if you actually believe in it.
There are few things in the world I love more than a solid contemporary YA novel, and Ask Again Later definitely fulfilled everything I wanted. I knew I’d love it from the premise alone, and then it just turned into something better than expected.

The Heads/Tails split of parallel narratives was so much fun, and I love that it read like a dual narrative (we all know I love me some of those!). It was such a fun way to flip back and forth.

The characters were definitely the best part. They’re all so much fun and funny and I loved the chemistry between every single character. They felt like natural people, like they were really any of the people I knew in high school and I just happened to be reading about them. Even Heart and her brother Phil were interesting and a pretty great representation of a sibling relationship. They kind of reminded me of my brother and I together (though I suspect he and I are close than Phil and Heart are). It was a refreshing mix to see sibling involved in each other’s lives, and that there were different type of relationships throughout the book.

Both Ryan and Troy were such great prom dates! I was completely on Heart’s side when she couldn’t decide who to say yes to, but that she knew she would say yes to both; how could you not with the stories of them both?! It was creative and funny and real and a great premise to Prom.

The No Prom-A Drama crew were probably my favourite parts to this entire story. I not only wish they were all my friends, but it definitely reminded me of my own prom experience. I made a point to go with all friends and made sure to go with a guy who was only a friend—we made it clearly established that he and I were going only as friends, to have a good time and not have the stress or obligation of friends-to-more and weird date-like jitters. And this Prom-A Crew? Totally something I would have been down for. They were all so much fun and personable and loud, and I liked that they were all still friends with Heart and supported her in both scenarios.

I have to say that some of this is predictable in that the more you read, you can figure out who is going to become important and what will happen and that Heart will finally learn to listen to her heart (see what I did there!?)…but it’s so much fun getting there that I didn’t even care I’d guessed it from 15 pages in.

Possibly related to that: I love Schroeder. The nickname and everything.

I was also so in love with all the crazy situations Heart found herself in, how many things spilled on her or went wrong or she got hurt…this entire book was filled with hilariously awesome faux pas and predicaments, and it was seriously so much fun. There was never a moment (or page) I wasn’t laughing or hoping or enjoying the scenario.

Ask Again Later really is contemporary bliss, filled with fun moments and fantastically interesting characters. There’s heart and emotion and love, and you really get to know these characters and love them. If Ask Again Later asked me to the prom, I’d definitely say yes because it was such a good time.

4.5 stars