Sunday, October 6, 2013

5 stars: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

"From the author of the New York Times bestseller Eleanor & Park

A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love. 

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?"

Published September 10th 2013 by St. Martin's Press. I received a digital ARC of this story from the publisher.

This was such a sweet story! At the same time though, it was very realistic and a bit gritty. The characters are all well-developed and more realistic than most. Cath, the main character, grows a lot as a person during her first year of college.

While this is an incredibly sweet story that made me cry at the end (such a perfect and wonderful ending--one of my favorites ever), there were definitely tough moments. I could really relate to Cath during them though, and those moments are some of the highlights of the story. For instance, when Cath got to college, she had a hard time fitting in-no, she didn't even really try. There's a scene where she's eating in the bathroom and crying. I'm sure I've been there before. What makes it extra difficult is that her twin sister is at the same college, so she shouldn't be having these difficulties, but her sister is using college as a time to try new things and meet new people. This leaves Cath lonely and upset that her sister has abandoned her and has a new best friend. Plus her sister drinks now and goes out all the time. Cath can't relate anymore, and all she does is stay in her dorm room writing Slash Fanfic. I swear I've been there. Not the fanfic part, but feeling lonely and like I can't fit in, and feeling like a shut-in. The most gritty part of the book is Cath's bipolar father who ends up extra manic with his empty nest and winds up in the hospital. Yep, I've been Cath in that situation before. Also, there's her mother who doesn't want any part of that title and who doesn't live up to any of those responsibilities... plus she asks to be called by her first name instead of "mom." Oh, another thing I can relate to (my mom's great, not talking about her)!

The characters all have very distinct personalities and mannerisms. One thing that really struck me was that while in most stories, boys or girls are described as hot or beautiful or whatever, those descriptions aren't really used here. The main character and her love interest are not conventionally hot. Normally it's not a big deal if the main character isn't, but it's not often that we see a leading man who looks average or has some pre-mature balding going on (like Levi in this story). I thought that was really cool. It just makes it all the more realistic.

Another thing that I found cool is that Cath is this uber-nerd who writes and reads, but Levi doesn't read at all. In fact, he admits to having never finished a book in his life. Working in a library, I can tell you that I get patrons who admit to never reading or to finding that one book (Fifty Shades of Grey is a popular one) that has made them a reader. Again, realistic. I really liked that Rowell didn't harp on that too much or criticize him much for that. Mainly because, what if this is the book that is going to make someone a reader? Yet another thing for a reader to relate to. This isn't seen as a huge flaw to Cath either, which I really love. I know people who don't read, and one of them is one of the smartest people that I have ever met, and she's awesome, and I wouldn't dare hold this against her in a million years. I don't want to get preachy, but I just can't stand these Internet memes that bash people for not reading. Again, maybe they just haven't found the right book yet or they have other issues. Either way, I think it's wrong to judge.

Cath's world was pretty much turned upside-down during the first semester of college, which I know I could relate to. The beautiful thing about this book is how things fall into place and she is able to rise from the ashes like a phoenix and all that jazz. It's empowering and really just very beautiful and heart-warming. 

One of my favorite things about this book is that it's New Adult, but doesn't read like any of the current ones out there. You guys, this is what New Adult is supposed to be! It's a coming of age story that isn't erotica, it's not only centered around a love story, and it's not as formulaic as those other stories. It pretty much reads like a YA story, which is what NA should be-YA situations but with an older protagonist! 

Rowell is one of my new favorite authors. I just checked out Attachments and Eleanor and Park from the library!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

5 stars: My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

"'One thing my mother never knew, and would disapprove of most of all, was that I watched the Garretts. All the time.'

The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, messy, affectionate. And every day from her rooftop perch, Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs up next to her and changes everything.

As the two fall fiercely for each other, stumbling through the awkwardness and awesomeness of first love, Jase's family embraces Samantha - even as she keeps him a secret from her own. Then something unthinkable happens, and the bottom drops out of Samantha's world. She's suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?

A transporting debut about family, friendship, first romance, and how to be true to one person you love without betraying another."

Published June 14th 2012 by Dial Books For Young Readers. 

I'm a little speechless. Thank you, Sarah, for recommending this book to me! I just want to put this book into the hands of every teen and all fans of YA. It's incredibly well-written, and after finishing it (which didn't take long since I couldn't put it down), I immediately checked to see what else this author has written. I got a pleasant surprise! YOU GUYS, I don't like books that come in a series, but I'm thrilled that there will be another book that takes place in this beautiful world that Fitzpatrick created, with these amazingly vibrant and lovable characters.

There are many, many characters in this book... hell, Jase alone has seven siblings and all play a part in this book. The thing is, it's very easy to differentiate between all the characters, and you're never left scratching your head thinking "that name is familiar, who is that again?" Every character has a strong and individual personality. There's George, a precocious 4 year old who is afraid of everything he hears about (black holes, oxygen bubbles in syringes, etc), and Andy, a very girly 14 year old who makes every statement she says seem like a question because of her upwards inflections, and Patsy, a toddler who belts out the words "pooooooooooop" and "boob!" I could go on and on. I fell in love with almost every character--except for two who you are meant to dislike, and it works. The character development is phenomenal and other characters besides the main one have their own journeys that make them grow as people.

One reason why I want every teen to read this is because of some of those journeys. This book covers many "controversial" subjects, like drug use, alcoholism, premarital sex (and no, it's not shown as a bad thing, yay!), etc. We get a good look at these battles, like quitting, or deciding whether to have sex or not and the importance of using condoms and so on. In this story, we see characters make bad choices, and we see consequences, but we also see lessons learned and them moving on from their mistakes. Something I really liked was that nothing was shown as being too easy. Like one character who has to give up some of his addictions; he has to go to 90 AA meetings in 90 days, and it's not like he is cured or anything. He still misses the bad stuff. That seems realistic.

Another great thing about this book that makes it so appropriate for teens is that we get a glimpse into which yard is actually greener. Lots of characters envied others, but it turned out that those people had their own battles too, and that no one was better off than any other person. People looked down upon Jase's family, because his parents had eight children. "There's such a thing as birth control." "The reason why you don't have money is because you have so many kids." People saw them as trash. Well, they actually were happy people, because they were a very tight-knit family with tons of love to go around. This book teaches us not to make judgments about others--good or bad ones.

My Life Next Door had me laughing out loud and crying. I kept exclaiming "I love this book!" while reading it. I just wish I could give it 10 stars!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

4 stars: Find Me (Find Me series, #1) by Romily Bernard

"'Find Me.'

These are the words written on Tessa Waye’s diary. The diary that ends up with Wick Tate. But Tessa’s just been found . . . dead.

Wick has the right computer-hacking skills for the job, but little interest in this perverse game of hide-and-seek. Until her sister Lily is the next target.

Then Griff, trailer-park boy next door and fellow hacker, shows up, intent on helping Wick. Is a happy ending possible with the threat of Wick’s deadbeat dad returning, the detective hunting him sniffing around Wick instead, and a killer taunting her at every step?

Foster child. Daughter of a felon. Loner hacker girl. Wick has a bad attitude and sarcasm to spare.

But she’s going to find this killer no matter what.

Because it just got personal."

Published September 24th 2013 by HarperTeen. I received a digital ARC of this story from the publisher.

This book was definitely a win! It had interesting characters, a really good mystery to solve, and a few different story lines. Basically, I was never bored (well, I was once, but I'll get to that).

If I had to sum up the book in one word, it would be "engaging," so this is a pretty easy read. Plus, you want to keep reading, because you want to know to know who killed Tessa. That mystery just gets more and more interesting as the book progresses. I will say that I found it predictable, but the journey was still fun, and I liked all the buildup. I'm not sure if we were even supposed to be surprised by who the killer was. Again, it really is about the storytelling and what led to how Wick found out who it was, and less about who it was, I think.

I really liked Griff. I'm just going to call that part a love story, even if that's not quite what it is. It was easy to look forward to her scenes with him. What confused me though was why he was so interested in her. I mean she really does her best to push him away, and she's just not that likable, but he still pursues her. Almost to the point of stalking. I've discussed this type of story line with a friend (I don't know if she wants to be called out, so I won't) and I agree with her assessment: this doesn't happen in real life, and girls just wish it would. It's pure fantasy for a guy you like to still pursue you even though he knows all of your faults and you push him away. These two do have similar pasts, so I'm guessing that it's only because he can relate to her better than others.

I mentioned that there was one part of the book that I was not into. This could just be a personal tastes thing, but I hate chase scenes. You know, where there's a big bad and someone is running from it or is chasing it herself. Those scenes need to be short in order for me to be engaged. We're talking like 2 pages long. Unfortunately, that was not the case here. Not to say that it took up half the book or anything, but that it just went on too long for me and I had to put down the book and then push myself to finish it later.

I really enjoyed reading this, and I look forward to finding another book which manages to keep me as engaged (it could take a little while).