Tuesday, June 16, 2015

5 stars: Between Us and the Moon by Rebecca Maizel

"Ever since Sarah was born, she’s lived in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Scarlett. But this summer on Cape Cod, she’s determined to finally grow up. Then she meets gorgeous college boy Andrew. He sees her as the girl she wants to be. A girl who’s older than she is. A girl like Scarlett.

Before she knows what’s happened, one little lie has transformed into something real. And by the end of August, she might have to choose between falling in love, and finding herself.

Fans of Jenny Han and Stephanie Perkins are destined to fall for this story about how life and love are impossible to predict."

Expected publication: June 30, 2015 by Harper Teen. I received a digital ARC of this story.

There are some really good books that I would have completely missed had it not been for my friend Sarah. She gave this one five stars on Goodreads, and I know she has good taste. I completely skipped over this book on Edelweiss because of the cover, I think. I'm not normally drawn to realistic romances with romantic covers. Honestly, if I hadn't read the summary on Edelweiss after seeing Sarah's rating, I may not have read it at all. I'm so glad Sarah and I are friends, because this is a book I would hate to have missed out on.

What the other summary included is that the teenage protagonist Sarah goes on vacation and lies to a man she meets, and says that she is 18. Now that is what hooked me, because who didn't do that as a teen? There are fun directions for that to go, and not many ever happen in real life. 

Maizel had a lot of fun with this story line and tried to make most things you wanted to see happen, happen. I kept gasping and saying "oh no!" or "uh oh!" while reading this, and my husband kept wanting to know what was going on with me. You'll be on the edge of your seat, and you will experience second-hand embarrassment from time to time. 

As someone who loves a flawed male lead, I have to say that Andrew is pretty much perfect. One problem with perfect leading men is that they can be boring, which is why there are few, but Andrew isn't boring, and that could also be due to his past, which is a bit tragic. 

I did have a couple small issues with the book, but I want to be clear that I read an advance reader's copy, so my issues may not be in the final edit. I felt like there needed to be smoother transitions between many scenes, and whenever the scenery changed. I kept getting confused and had to reread, because I couldn't tell if I completely missed a transition. Like how did the characters suddenly get to this place? Wait, it's suddenly a different hour? Something that irked me is that Sarah is taller and more filled-out than her sister, but they wear the same clothing size, "Even though she's skinny, I'm tall, so we happen to wear a similar size." No, you don't! Now if she was tall and skinny, and you were short and rounder, then maybe you would wear a similar size. 

I have not given a book a five out of five star rating since 2013, so congratulations Between Us and the Moon! This was a beautiful coming of age story filled with depth. I loved every moment of Sarah's journey.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

4 stars: Alive by Chandler Baker

"Stella Cross's heart is poisoned.

After years on the transplant waiting list, she's running out of hope that she'll ever see her eighteenth birthday. Then, miraculously, Stella receives the transplant she needs to survive.

Determined to embrace everything she came so close to losing, Stella throws herself into her new life. But her recovery is marred by strange side effects: Nightmares. Hallucinations. A recurring pain that flares every day at the exact same moment. Then Stella meets Levi Zin, the new boy on everyone's radar at her Seattle prep school. Stella has never felt more drawn to anyone in her life, and soon she and Levi are inseparable.

Stella is convinced that Levi is her soul mate. Why else would she literally ache for him when they are apart?

After all, the heart never lies...does it?"

Expected publication: June 9th, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion. I received a digital ARC of this story. 

55% of the people who read Young Adult books are adults. Since that is the case, I will make the assumption that the majority of the people reading this review are adults like me. Remember relaxing during the summer and curling up with a Christopher Pike thriller? Reading this book made me so nostalgic, because it brought back those wonderful memories. This is a spooky thriller laced with romance and some gore.  

This is Baker's debut novel, so I'm overly impressed with the writing. Her descriptive narration made this an immersive experience; you could see, taste, feel, smell, and hear everything,

"Inside, the hallway smells as damp and musky as the outdoors. My shoes squeal against the linoleum. My locker's close enough to the open door that the early fall breeze plays with my hair."

Things really start to take off when we meet the mysterious Levi Zin. More nostalgia, because I couldn't help picturing JD from Heathers. He dresses similarly and you can tell there's something a bit sinister, even if it's that he's way too over-protective of Stella. 

This was not by any means a story with a lot of depth or with an important message, but it's an awfully good book for a cozy stormy night.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

3 stars: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller

"Eighteen-year-old Arcadia wants adventure. Living in a tiny Florida town with her dad and four-year-old brother, Cadie spends most of her time working, going to school, and taking care of her family. So when she meets two handsome cousins at a campfire party, she finally has a chance for fun. They invite her and friend to join them on a road trip, and it's just the risk she's been craving-the opportunity to escape. But what starts out as a fun, sexy journey quickly becomes dangerous when she discovers that one of them is not at all who he claims to be. One of them has deadly intentions.

A road trip fling turns terrifying in this contemporary story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats."

Expected publication: June 2nd, 2015. I read an ARC of this story.

I loved the plot description for this one, and I wanted to read it immediately. This was one where if an ARC wasn't available for it (and there wasn't one until recently), I was going to buy it the day it came out. Imagine my excitement when an ARC became available.

Unfortunately, I wasn't a big fan.  The pacing was off. I didn't like how it was revealed who the killer was, and I didn't think that the motivation was strong enough. I also didn't feel connected to any of the characters. I did however like the writing itself; there were passages that I highlighted. 

It sounded like a really smooth pickup line, but it causes an unexpected sadness to catch in my chest and the stars turn into a Van Gogh sky as my eyes sting with tears.

I guess the story just wasn't what I thought it was going to be, and because of that, others might like it a lot more since they might not have certain expectations. Nobody reveals their cards right away, whereas I thought we would know sooner after meeting the two men what was going. I mean the reader knows, but the protagonist does not.

Many books are great but then have a weak or terrible ending. THIS book actually has an ending that I liked, and I think that is why I gave it three stars!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Summary of a book based on the cover: Saint Anything

If you want to read my actual review of this book, then click this link. This is me telling an alternate summary of the book by using the cover alone.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23009402-saint-anythingWhile wandering through the woods, Sydney, Mac and Layla come across an old, rusty, abandoned carousel. It suddenly lights up and begins to spin. There sitting on a horse is the caretaker of the ride, named Ames. He tells the teens that they can walk away with their lives intact if they can answer a riddle: What is hot, filled with fire and waiting for Sydney's brother Peyton? While the answer is obvious, Sydney refuses to answer, because she doesn't like the answer. With no answer, the teens then experience a night of terror that no horror movie could ever live up to.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

3 stars: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

"Peyton, Sydney's charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion's share of their parents' attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton's increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time."

Expected publication: May 5th, 2015 by Viking Juvenile. I read an ARC of this story. 

I had to read an ARC of this book, because Sarah Dessen is so popular, and I had never read any of her books. Reviews said that this was her best book in a very long time. This book made me think of restaurants whose reputations are out of this world, and it takes a while to get a reservation there, but then the food turns out to be unseasoned, and you wonder why people like it so much. Is it just because of the reputation?

Two weeks after starting the book, I was only halfway through and I made a note "No pacing. Slow. Nothing is happening. No plot." In the same note, I mentioned that a romance started budding out of NOWHERE. Yeah, you could guess it was going to happen, but there was no build-up.

Here's the most aggravating thing; there were many chances for interesting things to happen. It was written in such a way that a few times you would think "Ooooh it's getting good now! I need to know what happens!" and then NOTHING interesting happened. Like real life pretty much. So much more could have happened with the Ames story line. Especially since Layla never forgets a face and she had been acting strange around him since the start. Did something get edited out?

What's really interesting is that Sydney even mentions how stagnant her life is and how she never takes action, 72% of the way in. So OK, even she acknowledges it, and it appears Dessen is aware that nothing happens in this book, but that doesn't make it better. 92% of the way in, she says "For so long, I'd been waiting for something to happen, a change to come" and I wrote in my notes "Me too. Me too."

Why does every character constantly blush? I think I've blushed about 20 times in my whole life?

As far as realistic contemporary novels go, My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick and Between Us and the Moon by Rebecca Maizel are far better.

I give this three stars because she's not a bad writer, and the book isn't badly written, and it obviously does appeal to many people. It's just not for me. At all. If you like very realistic fiction that showcases the monotony of every day life, then this is for you!

After reading this, I decided to give her another shot and I read That Summer, which was possibly worse, and just as boring, so I don't think this book by her was just a fluke for me.

5 stars: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

"In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.

But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape."

Published in 2011 by Random House NY. I listened to the audiobook format.

This is not a young adult book, but it's definitely a crossover book since it could be one.

You know those books that you read where afterward you're thinking "I don't want to leave the world of this book. I don't know how I'll read something else after." That's this book for me.

I listened to the audiobook, which Wil Wheaton narrates, and he did a fantastic job.

The plot description of the book does not interest me. I don't care about video games. I didn't care too much about the references in the book (OK, I loved the Heathers references). You guys, it doesn't matter. I never would have guessed that this would be the book for me, even though I like '80s pop culture. It's just so so so well-written.

This book has it all. The world building... oh my god the world building. Better than Harry Potter. The pacing is fantastic, and there is tension galore. You can't help but get invested in the characters, and everything that happens makes you cheer them on or sit at the edge of your seat biting your nails wondering what's going to happen to them next. There's a lot of suspense. The stakes are always high! There's great character development.

This is one HELL of a debut from Cline. I dear say that it's one of the top two best books I have ever read. I have in my possession an ARC of his upcoming book Armada, which also doesn't seem like a book I would enjoy, but I NEED to read it. Just not right now. I need to let Ready Player One soak in some more.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

4 stars: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses series, #1) by Sarah J. Maas

"When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever." 

Expected Publication: May 5, 2015 by Bloomsbury Children's. I received a digital ARC of this story.

I began reading this one right after reading Karen Marie Moning's Fever series (I HIGHLY recommend reading this), which is also about the fae in our world, but it's very action-packed and is a breeze to read. Perhaps that is why this book was slow for me during the first 70% of the story. While slow, I still liked the premise and the writing. It was as if I was watching a movie with beautiful scenes where the colors are vivid and pop out of the screen.

The writing style reminded me of Megan Shepherd's The Madman's Daughter. Part of that could be because of the mention of various "beasts" and the fact that many of the fae wear animal-faced masquerade masks, so they resemble the characters in TMD in a way. The writing also reminded me of Moning's, because there were many similarities between this book and the Fever series, which perhaps could be chalked up to the folklore surrounding fae, which I don't know much about. I honestly did wonder if Maas was influenced by Moning though. Also, both authors tend to say what will happen right before it happens, they both provide visual descriptions of things occurring in the book after the scene has started (bad for those who visualize everything in their head as they read), and they tell instead of show sometimes. This is really just nitpicking, because I liked the book and the Fever series.

One key to good writing is to provide good character development via quotations. In too many books, I wonder why the male lead is so quickly attracted to the protagonist, when she's either boring or average. This time, we're given a very good answer,

"Because your human joy fascinates me-the way you experience things, in your life span, so wildly and deeply and all at once, is... entrancing. I'm drawn to it, even when I know I shouldn't be, even when I try not to be."

The last part of the book really caught my attention. The characters introduced at that point were the most developed and interesting, like the queen. I adored the anti-hero Rhys, and it's because of him that I simply must read the next book in the series. I wish I could explain why I love him so much, but I don't want to provide spoilers. Most reviewers are Team Tamlin, but I'm Team Rhys. Honestly, I think that for me, he made this book a winner. So much so that I want to read the second book NOW.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

3 stars: The Cage (The Cage series, #1) by Megan Shepherd

"When Cora Mason wakes in a desert, she doesn't know where she is or who put her there. As she explores, she finds an impossible mix of environments—tundra next to desert, farm next to jungle, and a strangely empty town cobbled together from different cultures—all watched over by eerie black windows. And she isn't alone.

Four other teenagers have also been taken: a beautiful model, a tattooed smuggler, a secretive genius, and an army brat who seems to know too much about Cora's past. None of them have a clue as to what happened, and all of them have secrets. As the unlikely group struggles for leadership, they slowly start to trust each other. But when their mysterious jailer—a handsome young guard called Cassian—appears, they realize that their captivity is more terrifying than they could ever imagine: Their captors aren't from Earth. And they have taken the five teenagers for an otherworldly zoo—where the exhibits are humans.

As a forbidden attraction develops between Cora and Cassian, she realizes that her best chance of escape might be in the arms of her own jailer—though that would mean leaving the others behind. Can Cora manage to save herself and her companions? And if so . . . what world lies beyond the walls of their cage?"

Expected publication: May 26th 2015 by Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. I received a digital ARC of this story from the publisher.

This is from the same author who brought us The Madman's Daughter trilogy (you can read my review here). While the first book of that series was so not my cup of tea, I could not deny that it was well-written and would become a classic read in English classes at some point. It was because of that fact that I was eager to begin this new series based on the captivating synopsis. Unfortunately, the book really let me down.

The concept was unique and original, just like the series before it, so it had a lot of potential. It started off with a bang too; I mean we got right into the action and I was immediately immersed in the world of the story and I needed to know what was going on. There was so much potential at this point, and this was the first book to capture my attention this whole year (I'm writing this on December 31, 2014). In fact it was the only book I read cover to cover this year, so it has that going for it, considering that last year I read over 80 books. 

So where did it go wrong?

The characters were never developed. We were told information about them, but I never felt like I actually knew them. Show me, don't tell me. This book is written using first person narratives of all of those held captive in the zoo-like place. Since we are in their shoes and seeing the world through their eyes, shouldn't we feel like we know them? They remained hollow. Even the protagonist. What's bad about that is that we are told how special she is and how baffling she is to the aliens. WHY? Again, show me, don't tell me. Oddly enough, the character who I thought was the most developed was Cassian, who was the one character who never got a first person narrative. Although, I realized later that this wasn't true and he was as hollow as the rest of the characters....

Why was that? The book is written in such a way that you never can believe anything that you're reading. From almost the beginning, characters are telling you to doubt everything that's going on. And continually, you find out that things aren't true that we've been led to believe. Only, we haven't actually been led to believe anything, because ten minutes later, we're told it's not true. This isn't even a spoiler, so don't worry. Please don't tell me it's not true; you can show me, but don't tell me. Let me figure it out for myself and let it be gradual. This was done way too many times. How about once or twice in the whole book? I was never shocked, amazed or captivated by anything, because I wasn't ever surprised to learn that anything was not what it seemed. And frankly, I just didn't care either after a while.

 I think what's really maddening about this book is that it really could have been so much better. I wonder if there were beta readers. The revelations for the reader could have been so much better. There was no suspense and it was because of this that the pacing really suffered as well. The pacing got really saggy for about half the book. The story wasn't advancing and I felt like we kept going back to the drawing board. While beta readers may not have improved the writing as far as the characters are concerned, they could have had the order of some events tweaked (like what is supposed to be the twist as the end, but is revealed in the wrong order of events--SHOW ME, DON'T TELL ME AND THEN TRY TO SHOW ME. DON'T TELL ME ANYTHING--do I really have to start screaming it?) and they could have offered the advice to show and not tell. When it comes down to it, that was what prevented it from really being as good as it could have been.

So why did I give it a three star rating? Well, it was very original and it doesn't remind me of other stories. I can already tell that it will stay with me for a while, because it is memorable. Plus, it's the only book I finished this year, so it has to get points for keeping me that enthralled.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

4.5 stars: Confess by Colleen Hoover

"Auburn Reed has her entire life mapped out. Her goals are in sight and there’s no room for mistakes. But when she walks into a Dallas art studio in search of a job, she doesn’t expect to find a deep attraction to the enigmatic artist who works there, Owen Gentry.

For once, Auburn takes a risk and puts her heart in control, only to discover Owen is keeping major secrets from coming out. The magnitude of his past threatens to destroy everything important to Auburn, and the only way to get her life back on track is to cut Owen out of it.

The last thing Owen wants is to lose Auburn, but he can’t seem to convince her that truth is sometimes as subjective as art. All he would have to do to save their relationship is confess. But in this case, the confession could be much more destructive than the actual sin…"

Published March 10, 2015 by Atria Books. I read this book in Kindle format.

4.5 stars.

I adore Colleen Hoover. Slammed was awesome and was one of kind because of the slam poetry written in the book, and it actually made me enjoy something I never thought I would. The thing that makes Confess special is the art work (the male lead is a painter).

This story reminded me a bit of Hopeless since both books involve a prior connection between the two characters and secrets.

There was something very atmospheric about this storytelling. I didn't just picture Owen's character, I could feel everything around him, like how heavy his thoughts were and just the feel and look of where he lived and worked. Those scenes were my favorite, and I can still see and feel his warehouse in my mind. 

Something I would have liked to have seen was less of Owen narrating, or maybe he could start narrating later in the story. I wanted him to be a bigger mystery maybe? I'm not quite sure.

I thought that it was beautiful how Owen's secret tied into the whole book. 

I'm going to sound annoying for a moment by saying that "I got feels," or whatever the kids say now, while reading this story.