Friday, April 25, 2014

Early Review: Only Everything by Kieran Scott

Only Everything (True Love #1)
Author: Kieran Scott (website | twitter)
Source/Format: eARC provided by publisher on Edelweiss (thank you!)
Expected publication: May 6th 2014
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

High school romance is tough—even for a bona fide love goddess. Can Cupid succeed as a mortal matchmaker?

When Eros (aka Cupid) is expelled from Olympus for defying Zeus after falling in love with Orion, she is banished to what she believes to be hell. We call it New Jersey. If she ever wants to go back to the comforts of her old life, she will have to find love for three couples—without using her powers.

Eros, now calling herself True, immediately identifies her first project in Charlie and believes finding him love will be a piece of cake. Charlie is new at school and eager to break out of his old image of band geek, so it’s lucky for him when he falls in with the right crowd on his first day. But music is still his passion. That is, until he meets Katrina...

Katrina is floundering after the death of her father and takes refuge with a boy who, while not entirely supportive, will be there when she needs him, unlike her mother. Too bad True thinks any girl Charlie talks to is perfect for him. Can she get out of her own way and help Charlie and Katrina connect, or will she be stuck in New Jersey forever?


Review: 


Kieran Scott is one of my Jedi Masters of YA - she's been writing YA since before we really called it that (and since *I* was a YA...yikes, I'm old), she edited Sweet Valley books, and no one does YA contemporary romance quite like her (Some of you may know her as Kate Brian - this woman is a writing machine!). So it's no surprise that when I saw she had this new YA contemp coming out, I jumped at the chance to review it.

Ok, truth? I jumped at it more for Kieran than for the premise, which seemed a little silly to me - I mean, come on, a Greek goddess descends down to earth to be matchmaker so she can save her own true love? It sounded a little out there to me. But I'm the first to admit it when I'm wrong - and I was pretty wrong about Only Everything. This is book is full-on Kieran Scott, combining sweet, stomach-fluttering moments with darker themes of abuse and neglect, punctuated with zany cluelessness and learning-one's-lesson.

Most of the learning comes from True, one of the three narrators of the book, and our resident goddess, also known as Eros or Cupid. No, she's not a fat baby cherub, she's a teenage girl who lives on Olympus, a lower goddess whose mother is Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. True's job is finding people to match together using her soul-reading skills, and shooting them with arrows. Except that she's fallen for a mortal, and her dad, God of War Ares, and their king, the mighty Zeus, are not pleased with her. To punish her, Zeus sends True to earth - to New Jersey -  and gives her a limited amount of time to match three couples. The kicker? She has no powers - she's just a human now who has to use her brains to match the couples.

The hilarity and learning comes from the fact that True has always had it super easy - she's never really had to work for anything, so to be a human, in a fallible human body (what the heck is a hangover? Oops...) is really hard for her. She starts off quite entitled and as the book goes on, really learns a lot about how strong she is and what she can do. Scott did a decent job balancing True's whininess with humour and glimpses of how kind she can be. I think I could have hated True a lot more had it not been for her honest, sincere belief in love and its curative powers.

Speaking of love, True starts out by attempting to match up another "new kid" in school, Charlie, who is our second narrator. Charlie's a sweet guy who loves drumming and has always been teased or beaten up at school. Now, coming to New Jersey, he accidentally falls in with the "cool" crowd and ends up doing a lot of stuff that he maybe doesn't really care about to impress people, including his jock father. It's a predictable storyline, but it's well done. Again, I think in the wrong author's hands, Charlie could have been totally one-note, but Scott's delicate balance of characters and moments made him adorable. 

Katrina, the third narrator, had the darkest story, and it's the one that got me the most. Kat has recently lost her father in the car accident, and it's turned her life upside down. She's tanked her sophomore year, has burnout friends, and is dating a guy who totally doesn't appreciate her. The latter relationship is the worst, and it touches on some of the classic signs of abuse. I don't want to give anything away, but I think a lot of girls will relate to Kat and her relationship. It's a bit of a journey to the end with her, and it's a good one.

Even though Only Everything was very enjoyable and I liked the characters, there were a few things that brought it down for me. The first was the introduction of a deux ex machina type character who helped some of the others find their way - it was kind of an obvious ploy, and it made the rest of the book a little too predictable. I liked the character a lot (definitely my favourite), but I wished he hadn't been SO much the reason why certain characters got their act together. It cheapened the triumph at the end a little.

In the same vein, the ending of the book felt a little rushed to me, and everything was resolved a little too quickly. I wanted more of an arc for the characters, and I was a bit disappointed that a lot of it was resolved without a lot of hard work.

Thirdly, because I liked Katrina and Charlie a lot better than I liked True, I found True's flashbacks to her past life a bit dry. I found myself wishing that I could get back to Katrina's head, which seemed like a way more interesting place than True's woe-is-me arc. It's a testament to Scott's writing that I didn't put the book down because of that.

Speaking of writing, Scott is, as I said, a YA master. Everything felt easy, fun, and effortless - she writes with a clear voice for each narrator, and there was never a moment where I was pulled out of the story because of her writing. Because of that, Only Everything is a fast, fun read, one you can devour quickly, and then look forward to the sequels (but not die waiting!).

Bonuses: 


Photo: TheSurrealArtist
Magical Foreshadowing: There are definitely a few threads that were left to tie up in the next books, and one of them has to do with True's abilities - again, don't want to give anything away, but that was one of the coolest parts of the book for me, and it will definitely keep me reading.

Greek Mythology: There's a cast of characters in the Greek god/goddess world for any aficionado - I've never been super into Greek mythology, but Scott made the gods and goddesses easy to follow and a fun part of the story.





The Final Word: 


Only Everything was a fun read, but it left me wanting a little bit. I thought we could have gotten deeper into Katrina and Charlie's stories, but it ended up feeling a bit fluffy instead. Still, I liked the characters, and the concept, along with the trio of narrators, made it a unique read. Definitely a beach read, but one with a lot of heart.

ONLY EVERYTHING comes out May 6th! Will you be picking it up? Is this your kind of summer read? Do you like books with Greek mythology? Are you a contemps girl like me, or do you need even more of the weird and wonderful in your life? Let me know in the comments!


Want to win an April 2014 new release? Sign up here!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: A Blind Spot for Boys by Justina Chen

"Waiting On Wednesday" is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that book bloggers are eagerly anticipating.

This week's can't-wait-for-it release is by an author whose older release made me cry:

A Blind Spot for Boys
Author: Justina Chen 
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Expected publication: August 12th 2014 

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.

My best book buddy Sarah introduced me to North of Beautiful, which was a gorgeous, heart-rending story about a broken family made whole through a trip to China. I loved how much the trip changed the main character and her mom, and I loved the romance that threaded through it. I haven't read any of Justina's books since, but since this one seems to have a similar concept to NoB, I'm really excited to see what Justina can do with it. 

Also, can we talk about Machu Picchu? 

Source: Peru-machu-picchu.com
I'm DESPERATE to go...and if I can't go in real life, reading about it is the next best thing!

Are you into books about travel, grief and healing? Does A BLIND SPOT FOR BOYS sound like your kind of book? Have you been to Machu Picchu or any other places in South America? What are you waiting for this week? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Early Review: Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Prisoner of Night and Fog
Author: Anne Blankman (website | twitter)
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Source/Format: ARC from Harper Collins Canada in exchange for an honest review (thank you!)
Expected publication: April 22, 2014 (tomorrow!)
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her "uncle" Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf's, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.

And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can't stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can't help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she's been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she's always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she's ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.


Review:


Sometimes, you read for enjoyment and to escape. And then sometimes, you read because you know a book is good for you and it's important for you to read it. Prisoner of Night and Fog is definitely one of the latter books. That's not to say it isn't enjoyable - it is, in some parts. But for me, PoNaF was definitely a serious, thriller of a book that you learn from - it wasn't always fun, but I *am* glad I read it.

The plot clicks along pretty quickly - there were a few moments that lagged a bit in the middle but for the most part, the action rose and fell quickly and kept me very compelled. Blankman effortlessly weaves Gretchen's story, her father's death, and her encounters with Hitler and the rest of the top brass in the National Socialist party into the story. That was the most impressive and interesting feat of this book - that I really believed that this could have happened.

For me, this book was driven more by plot than by my interest in the actual characters - Gretchen seemed a very typical YA heroine - a little naive at first, slowly discovering that she's different from everyone around her and she's been doing everything wrong by believing in the National Socialist party (sorry, was that a spoiler? You knew she was going to figure out that the Nazis weren't good people, right?). Daniel, the Jewish reporter who first informs her that her father's death might not be as it seemed, again, seemed like a very typical YA guy - brave, intrepid, and immediately interested in Gretchen. Their love story was solid but not one where I was heavily interested in seeing them together.

That said, I didn't feel that lack of investment in the love story or in the the typical-ness of the main characters as much as it might have done in another book because the secondary characters were numerous and well-drawn. Reinhard, Gretchen's brother, is particularly fascinating, as were Blankman's depictions of those in Hitler's inner circle and Hitler himself. Blankman's Hitler is a man shrouded in secrecy, charismatic and seemingly benevolent, with a lot of quirks that make him an extraordinary character to read. Every encounter Gretchen had with him made me both disgusted and fascinated.

I think the hardest part of this book for me to swallow was that occasionally, I felt like Gretchen made some choices to trust certain people that I immediately thought were not trustworthy. I thought Blankman did a good, but not great job making Gretchen's desire to believe in people authentic and understandable - most of the time, I believed and understood Gretchen's choices. There were just occasional moments, like when Gretchen goes to her best friend to tell her that Hitler isn't what he seems, and Hitler and his associates are in the back room, where I was kind of taken out of the story because it seemed so obvious that Gretchen should know better than to speak to her friend there.

In some ways, though, the fact that I had such an emotional response to a lot of Gretchen's actions (Tiff during reading: "Get out of the room, Gretchen! Run, Gretchen! Look behind you!") is a testament to how invested I was in this story. I stayed up quite late reading the last hundred pages of this book, desperate to find out if Gretchen and Daniel would be okay. It's a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat to the end...or at least until the sequel (don't worry, it's not a cliffhanger)!

Bonuses: 


Historical Psychology: One of the coolest parts of the novels was the way Freudian psychoanalysis was included. Don't stop reading yet - what was cool was the way that Blankman wove Gretchen's family's story into facts we know about Hitler, and how Gretchen is imparted with psychological knowledge. Freud has mostly been debunked now, but it is absolutely fascinating to see psychoanalysis of him and his followers - it's historically accurate and just really, really cool. I'm being so vague here because I don't want to spoil anythign, but trust me, this is one of the things that really set this book apart for me as "not a typical YA novel."

The Final Word


Prisoner of Night and Fog is a well-researched, strongly written portrayal of the early days of Hitler's rise to power, woven very successfully into a YA thriller. Is it compelling? Yes. Is it a book I will want to read over and over? Probably not - a little too harrowing for my liking. But it's definitely a book worth reading and thinking about - it's one that would probably be fantastic in a classroom discussion of Hitler and the Holocaust, and will definitely stay with me for its intriguing portrayal of Hitler.

PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG comes out tomorrow, April 22nd! Will you be picking it up? Are you interested in historical novels or historical YA? How about Hitler and the Holocaust? Is this too academic for you, or did I get you with the thriller tag? =p Let me know in the comments!

Do you want to win PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG or another April 2014 new release? Sign up here!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Early Review: The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik

The Last Best Kiss
Author: Claire LaZebnik (twitter | website)
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source/Format: eARC from publisher on Edelweiss (thank you!)
Expected publication date: April 22, 2014 
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Anna Eliot is tired of worrying about what other people think. After all, that was how she lost the only guy she ever really liked, Finn Westbrook.

Now, three years after she broke his heart, the one who got away is back in her life.

All Anna wants is a chance to relive their last kiss again (and again and again). But Finn obviously hasn’t forgotten how she treated him, and he’s made it clear he has no interest in having anything to do with her.

Anna keeps trying to persuade herself that she doesn’t care about Finn either, but even though they’ve both changed since they first met, deep down she knows he’s the guy for her. Now if only she can get him to believe that, too....

With her signature wit and expertly authentic teen voice, Claire LaZebnik (the author of fan favorites Epic Fail and The Trouble with Flirting) once again breathes new life into a perennially popular love story. Fans of Polly Shulman, Maureen Johnson, and, of course, Jane Austen will love this irresistibly funny and romantic tale of first loves and second chances.


Review:


I love Austen retellings - I've read and reviewed a few Persuasion ones on this blog, and I would say that The Last Best Kiss is the probably the most realistic one that I've read - in both good and bad ways. It's a contemp that really feels like a slice of life - it is incredibly realistic in voice and character, and it occasionally gets a little bit boring, like real life does sometimes.

If you've read Persuasion, you'll recognize the story and its elements in Claire LaZebnik's version. I'm glad to say that those elements are woven quite seamlessly into this version of the story. Anna's father and older sister are very similar to their Austen counterparts (read: yuck!), and the friends that Anne Elliot has in Austen's version are expanded to become Anna's friend group.

Anna and Finn are cute characters, but I confess that I never felt an overwhelming connection to them. Despite the self-discovery that I mention in the bonuses section later, I never really fully latched on to the romance - the characters just felt a little shallow.

Maybe that's because this is a book focuses not just on the love story, but on high school friendship dynamics and the "typical" stuff that a high school senior deals with: college applications, SATs, counselling, prom - it's all here, and done in a very true-to-life way - almost too true to life. I saw myself so much in their obsessing about college, doing everything to get in, trying to get the best possible grades, study techniques for SATs...for me, these moments were equal parts relateable and squirmy. They reminded me just how annoying and tunnel-visioned I was about college...and I'm not sure those are feelings I want to relive.

Still, I must applaud LaZebnik for absolutely nailing the senior high school experience and the friend dynamic. To me, the dialogue between all of the characters was pretty much spot-on for the conversations I had in high school, and the voices were really authentic.

I also applaud her for being able to juggle that many characters while keeping the flow of the story going. The central conflict of Anna and Finn was done realistically, but slowed down a bit in the lead-up to the climax. For me, that slow down was realistic, because it was just the characters living their lives, but it was also kind of hard to take - I kept thinking to myself, "Was I really this BORING and lacking in personality in high school?" It's not that the characters have no personality, it's that they're so focused on their goals that single-mindedness became their personalities.

It's hard for me to separate my own life experiences from how I felt about this book - it felt so true to my own life, but it also made me really, really relieved that I'm not in that place anymore. Whether you like The Last Best Kiss or not will depend on where you are in life, and how much you like being reminded of the good and bad parts of high school.

Bonuses: 

Articulate Self-Discovery/Hindsight: There are a few moments of quotable brilliance here - moments that really brought home that high school experience and how I thought about and felt things in high school, and I kinda wish that the book wasn't so obvious about them being MOMENTS. In some ways, they almost feel too articulate to be anything but hindsight? Anyway, quotes:

"I love John Green as much as the next gay teen. But the whole manic-pixie-dream-girl thing? It gets a little annoying in real life." 
-The Last Best Kiss, Claire LaZebnik

"It's hard to be different when you're still trying to figure out who you even are."

-The Last Best Kiss, Claire LaZebnik


"We both realized we'd been pushing ourselves to do crazier and crazier things because we thought that would make life more intense and interesting. But if you don't let yourself feel what's actually going on at any given moment - if you're always looking for the next rush - you get numb and stop feeling anything."

-The Last Best Kiss, Claire LaZebnik


Nerdy Hot Boys: What I really liked about Finn as the hero is that he was a TOTAL nerd - yeah, between the time when he was a freshman and a senior, he got better clothes and filled out a bit, but he was still exactly the same nerdy guy that Anna fell for at the beginning. He never compromised on his wide-eyed enthusiasm for the natural world and trying to share it with everyone, and in the end, it's that that made him a better match for Anna than anything else.

Art That's Unafraid of Being "Scary": Anna is an artist, and one of the things she battles are assumptions that because her art is a bit creepy and dark, it somehow makes her a dark person or mentally disturbed, and it's definitely not true. This sounds like a pretty simplistic issue, and one that's ridiculous in this day and age, but I have friends who were told similar things in high school about writing, art, music - anything creative - so I'm really glad it was mentioned in the book.

The Final Word: 


I was talking this one over with my husband, and I called this the Robert Altman version of a high school Persuasion retelling - Altman was a movie director who was known for slice-of-life films, making movies that told stories in as realistic - and often boring - a way as possible. The Last Best Kiss was that for me - completely realistic in a lot of ways, but also a little cringeworthy. It's a solid Austen retelling and a cute contemporary, but it's probably not one that I'll be picking up again.

Are you excited for THE LAST BEST KISS? Have you read Claire LaZebnik's other high school retellings Epic Fail and The Trouble with Flirting? Do you like books that feel a little too true to life? What are your favourite Austen retellings? Hit the comments and let me know!

Do you want to win THE LAST BEST KISS or another April 2014 new release? Sign up here!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: No Place to Fall by Jaye Robin Brown

"Waiting On Wednesday" is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that book bloggers are eagerly anticipating.

This week's can't-wait-for-it release is a debut author's book that hits VERY close to home: 

No Place to Fall
Author: Jaye Robin Brown 
Publisher: Harper Teen
Expected publication: December 9, 2014

Amber Vaughn is a good girl. She sings solos at church, babysits her nephew after school, and spends every Friday night hanging out at her best friend Devon’s house. It’s only when Amber goes exploring in the woods near her home, singing camp songs with the hikers she meets on the Appalachian Trail, that she feels free—and when the bigger world feels just a little bit more in reach.

When Amber learns about an audition at the North Carolina School of the Arts, she decides that her dream—to sing on bigger stages—could also be her ticket to a new life. Devon’s older (and unavailable) brother, Will, helps Amber prepare for her one chance to try out for the hypercompetitive arts school. But the more time Will and Amber spend together, the more complicated their relationship becomes . . . and Amber starts to wonder if she’s such a good girl, after all.

Then, in an afternoon, the bottom drops out of her family’s world—and Amber is faced with an impossible choice between her promise as an artist and the people she loves. Amber always thought she knew what a good girl would do. But between “right” and “wrong,” there’s a whole world of possibilities.

If there were ever a book that sounded like it was ripped out of the story of my life, it would probably be this one - like Amber, I was a churchgoer in high school, I sang in a lot of choirs, and I was a SERIOUSLY nerdy good girl. I was also looking to go into music after high school...but some stuff happened with my family and I had to make a choice between going to the school I wanted to go to or going to a school I hadn't even considered going to before. 

No regrets, I went to the latter school, and I think it was meant to be - I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have made a very good professional musician (for one thing, I lack the talent to be one!), and I love keeping music as my hobby. But suffice to say, this book is me in a nutshell. And I'm curious to see what similarities and differences there are here.

That was probably more than you needed to know about me! As a more general thing, I LOVE books about musicians and people who are auditioning for things - it's inspiring, and this one sounds like a self-discovery journey that I want to be a part of. 

Does NO PLACE TO FALL have similarities to your life? Is this the kind of contemporary book you crave, ones that really relate to your life? Do you like music books? What book are you waiting for this week? Sound off in the comments!
Want to win a book published this month? I'm giving away an April new release - come sign up for a chance to win!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

GIVEAWAY CONTEST: Win an April 2014 YA, New Adult or MG New Release!


Happy mid-April, guys! Is it actually feeling like spring where you are? Here in Toronto, it's still pretty up and down with the cold...so to make it all better, I'm giving away an April 2014 new release!

You know the drill, any young adult, middle grade, or new adult book released this month is up for grabs. There are SO MANY good ones this month! In the interest of not making myself crazy, though, I'm only posting covers for the ones I'm super interested in reading, but feel free to comment with your choices!



Look out for my review soon! | My review

My review | Look out for my review soon!










Rules:

  • Giveaway open internationally provided you can receive shipments from The Book Depository.
  • You're welcome to choose a book I didn't mention here as long as it's an April 2014 new release.
  • I will not be responsible for lost or damaged packages from The Book Depository. 





Monday, April 14, 2014

Early Review: Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Since You've Been Gone
Author: Morgan Matson (twitter | website)
Source/Format: ARC won from Goodreads First Reads program (thank you SO much!)
Expected publication date: May 6, 2014
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Pre-Sloane Emily didn't go to parties, she barely talked to guys, she didn't do anything crazy. Enter Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—the one who yanks you out of your shell.But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just... disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list. On it, thirteen Sloane-selected-definitely-bizarre-tasks that Emily would never try... unless they could lead back to her best friend. Apple Picking at Night? Ok, easy enough.Dance until Dawn? Sure. Why not? Kiss a Stranger? Wait... what?

Getting through Sloane’s list would mean a lot of firsts. But Emily has this whole unexpected summer ahead of her, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected) to check things off. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go Skinny Dipping? Um...


Review:


Since You've Been Gone was my most anticipated contemporary YA of this spring - I LOVED Morgan Matson's first novel, Amy & Roger's Epic Detour. I loved it so much that she inspired me to start writing my own novel...which is currently sitting dustily on my computer. ANYWAY.

Because Matson has previously written about loss, I wasn't sure what to expect from this book about the loss of a friendship - one that the protagonist, Emily, feels deeply. Emily is a kind of shy, timid teenager when we first meet her - she's a girl who only gets noticed when she's around her wild best friend, Sloane.

Because of Sloane, Emily has done a lot of things she never thought she could do - she's gone to parties, she's made out with guys, and she's had the kind of best friend that a lot of us only dream of - one who she can call or text at any moment with a silly idea, and one she can always count on to deliver her "best night ever." But now that Sloane has disappeared for the summer, Emily feels completely bereft. This was a little hard for me to connect with because I've never had a friendship that wound so tightly into my existence.

The thing is, Matson writes the book so that you DO believe that Emily would feel this badly about Sloane leaving. The more I got into Emily's character, the more I understood - it's like she's in mourning for Sloane, and she doesn't know who or what to do with herself because so much of her is about Sloane. The only thing she can do is follow a list of crazy tasks that Sloane has left for her (Hug a Jamie. The backless dress - and somewhere to wear it. Kiss a stranger...etc), and hopefully, Sloane will come back and everything will go back to being how it used to be.

As a reader, you know where this is going. Everything is not going to be the same, and Emily will have to grow and change because of it. But despite that slightly obvious concept, Matson never lost me as a reader. I never felt like I was reading a single cliche because of how beautifully and cleverly she unfolds the story, through both her words and the plotting. Each chapter in Since You've Been Gone is titled with one of the tasks that Sloane has given Emily, and within each chapter, there's usually a flashback to a time when Emily is hanging out with Sloane. These flashbacks illuminate Sloane and Emily's character and why Emily is being assigned that task.

But they also illuminate how much Emily has built Sloane up into a magical, ideal best friend. The more I read about Sloane, the more I thought, "Manic Pixie Dream Girl alert!"- that is, a character who is so charming and the perfect romantic foil who shows up at the precise right moment for no other reason than to push the main character along his/her path. What's interesting with this version of the MPDG conceit is that Sloane is that person for another girl, and their relationship is not romantic. Moreover, the more you find out about Sloane and Emily through flashbacks, the more you realize that Sloane is only an MPDG to Emily - she might not be that in reality.

This is one of the masterful, deceptive strokes of this beautiful book - that it is not only a sweet summer romance and a journey of self-discovery - but that it's also a book that deals so realistically with friendship and how we relate to people. I felt like the story was unique because of that friendship - losing oneself in one's friends is something that happens often, but isn't explored much in YA.

I'm making this review sound very serious, but Since You've Been Gone is actually a lot of fun - and funny! The list of tasks that Sloane leaves for Emily makes for a lot of daring moments, and that, plus Emily's new friends and acquaintances that she meets during the summer, creates hilarious and meaningful moments that had me squealing in delight.

Since You've Been Gone had me from page one. I read in huge, giant chunks with not a lot of time in between because it was SO delightful. I couldn't stop reading or thinking about the book - it felt like Morgan Matson reached in and squeezed my heart after every single chapter. This is one of those books where you almost don't want it to end because you're enjoying it so much - but at the same time, you can't wait for it to end so you can read it all over again.

Bonuses:


Kick-Arse Secondary Characters: I love EVERYONE in this book. Every single secondary character is a gem, from Emily's parents, the playwrights, to her little daredevil brother Beckett, to Dawn, the pizza delivery girl to Collins, the doofy best friend of Emily's love interest, Frank (more on him in a second). I even love Emily's sort of ex, Gideon, the quiet guy who wants to be more, but was only a convenience to Emily. I'm just listing people at this point, but know this: Matson never takes the easy way out with any of these characters. They all have real personality quirks, and even if they only show up for a few seconds, they are beautifully imagined and surprising every time.

Frank is like Colin Hanks in Orange County...sorta?
The Love Interest Who Is Not the Typical Hot Boy: FRANK PORTER, be mine! Ok, first of all - how often is the love interest in a book a class president? Frank is a super-focused dude who goes after causes...but he's not the most popular, hot guy, and he's definitely not  a guy who's nerdy. Basically, he's just a really good leader who just kind of wants to be a normal guy. His relationship with Emily is so evenly-paced, and so well-developed...this is the opposite of insta-love, guys, and I LOVED it.

Knock-Me-Over-On-My-Ass Writing: Morgan Matson writes beautiful prose. It's a rare writer who can use SAT words, name-drop playwrights in an eloquent way, and still write in the very authentic voice of a teenager. It's an even rarer author who can take a book with what I consider to be a very simple concept, and make it into such a meaningful story. What Matson has is finesse - the ability to not only write the words clearly and succinctly, but to round out each sentence, each chapter, and each moment so that the words kind of curl around your heart like a blanket and leave you feeling hugged. Here are some examples:

     "But that was my best friend, the kind of girl your eyes went to in a crowd. While she was beautiful - wavy hair, bright blue eyes, perfect skin dotted with freckles - this didn't fully explain it. It was like she knew a secret, a good one, and if you got close enough, maybe she'd tell you, too." 
- Since You've Been Gone, Morgan Matson


     "I closed my eyes only to open them once more, and make sure it was all still there - the riot of stars above me, this whole other world existing just out of reach."
- Since You've Been Gone, Morgan Matson



The Final Word:


One of my biggest wishlist items for YA is more about friendships - and friendships dealt with realistically. Since You've Been Gone delivers on that, and then some. This is a book about taking chances on friendship, about letting go and holding on, and about carving your own path in life. It's a book with adorable romances and moments that can only happen when you're a teen. And it's a book about bravery and strength. This is a book that any girl - and some boys, I'm sure - can relate to. I'm inspired by Emily, and I know that I will definitely learning from - and re-reading Since You've Been Gone several times in the future.

Are you excited for SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE? Have you read any of Morgan Matson's other novels, Amy & Roger's Epic Detour or Second Chance Summer? Are you a summer book or a bucket list girl/guy? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Jessica Darling's It List #2: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Friends, Foes & Faux Friends by Megan McCafferty

"Waiting On Wednesday" is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that book bloggers are eagerly anticipating.

This week's WoW pick is the continuation of the prequel to one of my most beloved YA series (whew! That's a lot of qualifiers!): 

Jessica Darling's It List 2: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Friends, Foes & Faux Friends (Jessica Darling's It List #2)
Author: Megan McCafferty 
Publisher: Poppy
Expected publication date: September 23, 2014

Jessica Darling is getting the hang of seventh grade -- finally! While her old BFF, Bridget, is busy talking (nonstop) about her new boyfriend, Burke, Jessica tries to fit in with her new friends, Sara, Manda, and Hope. The IT List instructions from her sister, Bethany, and an epic slumber party may help Jessica secure her spot in the cool clique, but does she even want it?

Megan McCafferty's It List series introduces readers to Jessica Darling, an unabashedly brainy seventh grader who stays true to herself, even if it means being (totally not) cool.

I honestly can't believe that this time two years ago, I hadn't read any Jessica Darling. WHAT WAS I THINKING? If you are a YA contemp fan, this series is, like, the series to end all series. Now, Megan McCafferty is putting out the second book in her middle-grade prequel to Jessica Darling. The first book was such a lovely, honest portrayal of a kid who really doesn't realize just how smart or weird she is. It also featured all of our favourite characters from the original series...and shows how they met and became friends. Needless to say, I was all over that shizzle. 

Book two sounds like it delves deeper into the idea of being "cool" and into how Jessica and Hope get closer. I'm really excited for this one because I was TOTALLY not cool in middle school or high school, and I think Megan McCafferty really gets that dynamic of being cool vs. being yourself. 

Are you excited for JESSICA DARLING'S IT LIST #2? Did you read IT LIST #1? Have you read the Jessica Darling series at all (if you haven't, you MUST READ IT NOW)? Were you cool in high school/middle school and do you still have the scars from it? What are you waiting for this week? 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Early Review: Great by Sara Benincasa

Great
Author: Sara Benincasa (website | twitter)
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source/Format: eARC provided by publisher on Edelweiss 
Expected publication date: April 8, 2014 (tomorrow!)
My rating: 3.25 stars out of 5 stars

In Sara Benincasa's contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby, a teenage girl becomes entangled in the drama of a Hamptons social circle, only to be implicated in a tragedy that shakes the summer community.

Everyone loves a good scandal.

Naomi Rye usually dreads spending the summer with her socialite mother in East Hampton. This year is no different. She sticks out like a sore thumb among the teenagers who have been summering (a verb only the very rich use) together for years. But Naomi finds herself captivated by her mysterious next-door neighbor, Jacinta. Jacinta has her own reason for drawing close to Naomi-to meet the beautiful and untouchable Delilah Fairweather. But Jacinta's carefully constructed world is hiding something huge, a secret that could undo everything. And Naomi must decide how far she is willing to be pulled into this web of lies and deception before she is unable to escape.

Based on a beloved classic and steeped in Sara Benincasa's darkly comic voice, Great has all the drama, glitz, and romance with a terrific modern (and scandalous) twist to enthrall readers.


Review: 


I've read The Great Gatsby quite a few times, so I'm coming at this knowing a lot about the source material. Because of that, this review is kind of different, and I'm breaking it down to the good, in-between, and not-so-good parts of this novel.

The Good: 


The writing, the setting, the mood: All of these things felt so much like the feeling of The Great Gatsby. The lavish parties. The lustre of the Hamptons, always with a dark current of tension and not quite right-ness. Benincasa nailed the mood of the original, and for me, that's the most important part of any writing by Fitzgerald (but especially Gatsby).

The relationship between Jacinta and Delilah: As dumb as this sounds for someone who has a masters in English with a concentration in modern fiction (meaning I read and studied Fitzgerald a LOT), the way that Benincasa approached the main relationship made my understanding of The Great Gatsby that much stronger. I really felt like I understood Gatsby and Daisy a lot more because of their counterparts, Jacinta and Delilah. In a lot of ways (and without spoilers), the reasons for their relationship and the way it's set up made WAY more sense in this book than it did in the original.

The uncliched LGBTQ-ness: One of the biggest surprises of the book for me (I hadn't read a synopsis) was the gender-swapping of Gatsby for Jacinta. As soon as I figured that out, I realized that the book would probably involve a girl-girl relationship (in fact, it involves two lesbian relationships). What I liked about this relationship was that the book wasn't focused on fact that it was a lesbian relationship - there was no coming out or fanfare about it. It simply was, and the characters reacted accordingly and appropriately.

The ending: The ending deviates from the original quite a bit, and I liked it a lot. I don't want to spoil anything, but suffice to say, it's a bit open-ended and it REALLY suits the material. I loved it. Reminded me of Cruel Intentions (click on the link if you don't mind having an idea of the ending...but that's all I'll say about it!).

The In-Between: 


The characters: While I thought Benincasa did an admirable job with making most of the characters feel authentic, I did not like the characters. But then...I don't know if I liked the characters in The Great Gatsby either. I like the original for it's stunning writing and mood - but I'm pretty sure that I hate the characters and I'm supposed to. In both the original and this retelling, pretty much everyone is a vapid, snobby socialite, people who play at life and can get out of anything because of daddy or mommy. And yet, they have this lustre that only comes with living that charmed life...in Great, I felt the same way, so I guess Benincasa did a good job making her characters just as unlikeable.

The Not-So-Good


The disconnect: The main character, Naomi, is supposed to be the everyman through which we enter the story. But for me, she felt a little shallow. She's honest about the fact that she starts out hating the Hamptons society and then as she slips further in, she realizes what it is to be accepted and gets a little wrapped up in it. That seems natural. But somehow, I never really got her, and as the only eyes that we see through, I think I needed to care about her more than I did.

The retelling: This, to me, was the biggest issue in this book: it just felt like TOO much of a retelling and not enough of a unique story. I guess I like my retellings to be more adaptation than straight retelling? Everything in The Great Gatsby, from the "eyes" to the heat of the day that ends in a car crash, to the green light, to the lavish parties...it all lined up just a little too perfectly in GREAT. I was left with a feeling that I'd just read,  a 2010 synopsis of The Great Gatsby, not that I'd just read a great book.

Bonuses: 


Gossip Girl Fashion: Jacinta is a fashion and party blogger, so it's obvious from the beginning that we're going to get some crazy outfits - and I loved it. Benincasa did a great job describing the outfits and, as a former fashion blogger, they always seemed right for her character and for that scene. And yeah, there's totally a white party in the book.

The Final Word: 


GREAT was an enjoyable read. It definitely felt a little too similar to The Great Gatsby for me, but it completely captured the mood and setting of Fitzgerald's original. I think this would be a great classroom read as a compare-and-contrast, and it's definitely interesting as an LGBTQ read that doesn't involve cliches. This is one for people who like unlikeable characters and a little big of tension and darkness in their reads.

GREAT comes out tomorrow. Are you interested in reading it? Have you read The Great Gatsby? How do you feel about dark YA or unlikeable characters? Are you into classic literature retellings? Hit the comments and let me know!


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

"Waiting On Wednesday" is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that book bloggers are eagerly anticipating.

This week's WoW pick is the second in a very popular series:

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Expected publication date: September 16th 2014

The riveting follow-up to the New York Times bestselling The 5th Wave, hailed by Justin Cronin as “wildly entertaining.”

How do you rid the Earth of seven billion humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.

Surviving the first four waves was nearly impossible. Now Cassie Sullivan finds herself in a new world, a world in which the fundamental trust that binds us together is gone. As the 5th Wave rolls across the landscape, Cassie, Ben, and Ringer are forced to confront the Others’ ultimate goal: the extermination of the human race.

Cassie and her friends haven’t seen the depths to which the Others will sink, nor have the Others seen the heights to which humanity will rise, in the ultimate battle between life and death, hope and despair, love and hate.


I never got a chance to write a review of The 5th Wave but I do have to say that it was one of the most stressful and terrifying books about the future that I've read in the last few years. It's not what I consider a fun read, but it is a DAMN good one, and nothing will stop me from reading book #2. I need to know what happens to kick-butt Cassie, Evan, and the crazy people who are trying to kill off humanity. September can't come soon enough!

Have you read The 5th Wave? Are you waiting insanely for The Infinite Sea like I am? What are you waiting for this week? Let me know in the comments!