Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bookish Anticipation #43

Bookish Anticipation is a feature I do every once in a while to spotlight future releases I'm excited for. It was inspired by Breaking the Spine's Waiting on Wednesday. You can check out more of my Bookish Anticipation posts here.

Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt
Release date: May 19th 2015
Penelope Landlow has grown up with the knowledge that almost anything can be bought or sold—including body parts. She’s the daughter of one of the three crime families that control the black market for organ transplants.
Penelope’s surrounded by all the suffocating privilege and protection her family can provide, but they can't protect her from the autoimmune disorder that causes her to bruise so easily.
And in her family's line of work no one can be safe forever.
All Penelope has ever wanted is freedom and independence. But when she’s caught in the crossfire as rival families scramble for prominence, she learns that her wishes come with casualties, that betrayal hurts worse than bruises, that love is a risk worth taking . . . and maybe she’s not as fragile as everyone thinks.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
Release date: March 24th 2015
The Walls Around Us is a ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries.
We hear Amber’s story and Violet’s, and through them Orianna’s, first from one angle, then from another, until gradually we begin to get the whole picture—which is not necessarily the one that either Amber or Violet wants us to see.
Finding Paris by Joy Preble
Release date: April 21st 2015
Sisters Leo and Paris Hollings have only ever had each other to rely on. They can’t trust their mother, who hops from city to city and from guy to guy, or their gambler stepfather, who’s moved them all to Las Vegas. It’s just the two of them: Paris, who’s always been the dreamer, and Leo, who has a real future in mind—going to Stanford, becoming a doctor, falling in love.
But Leo isn’t going anywhere yet… until Paris ditches her at the Heartbreak Hotel Diner, where moments before they had been talking with physics student Max Sullivan. Outside, Leo finds a cryptic note from Paris—a clue. Is it some kind of game? Where is Paris, and why has she disappeared?
When Leo reluctantly accepts Max’s offer of help, the two find themselves following a string of clues through Vegas and beyond. But the search for the truth is a not a straight line. And neither is the path to secrets Leo and Max hold tightly.

Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby
Release date: April 21st 2015
When Quinn Sullivan meets the recipient of her boyfriend’s donated heart, the two form an unexpected connection.
After Quinn loses her boyfriend, Trent, in an accident their junior year, she reaches out to the recipients of his donated organs in hopes of picking up the pieces of her now-unrecognizable life. She hears back from some of them, but the person who received Trent’s heart has remained silent. The essence of a person, she has always believed, is in the heart. If she finds Trent’s, then maybe she can have peace once and for all.
Risking everything in order to finally lay her memories to rest, Quinn goes outside the system to track down nineteen-year-old Colton Thomas—a guy whose life has been forever changed by this priceless gift. But what starts as an accidental run-in quickly develops into more, sparking an undeniable attraction. She doesn't want to give in to it—especially since he has no idea how they're connected—but their time together has made Quinn feel alive again. No matter how hard she’s falling for Colton, each beat of his heart reminds her of all she’s lost…and all that remains at stake.

Everything That Makes You by Moriah McStay
Release date: March 17th 2015
One girl. Two stories. Meet Fiona Doyle. The thick ridges of scar tissue on her face are from an accident twelve years ago. Fiona has notebooks full of songs she’s written about her frustrations, her dreams, and about her massive crush on beautiful uber-jock Trent McKinnon. If she can’t even find the courage to look Trent straight in his beautiful blue eyes, she sure isn’t brave enough to play or sing any of her songs in public. But something’s changing in Fiona. She can’t be defined by her scars anymore.
And what if there hadn’t been an accident? Meet Fi Doyle. Fi is the top-rated female high school lacrosse player in the state, heading straight to Northwestern on a full ride. She’s got more important things to deal with than her best friend Trent McKinnon, who’s been different ever since the kiss. When her luck goes south, even lacrosse can’t define her anymore. When you’ve always been the best at something, one dumb move can screw everything up. Can Fi fight back?

All the Rage by Courtney Summers
Release date: April 14th 2015
The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous.But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear. 

What releases are you anticipating this week? 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Review: Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

Title: Dangerous Girls
Author: Abigail Haas
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: July 16th 2013
Pages: 388
Genre: Young Adult contemporary mystery
Source: Bought
It's Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives. But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations.
As Anna sets out to find her friend's killer; she discovers hard truths about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.
As she awaits the judge's decree, it becomes clear that everyone around her thinks she is not just guilty, but dangerous. When the truth comes out, it is more shocking than one could ever imagine...
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I had heard amazing things about Dangerous Girls from so many people. Everyone I know who has read this book had been telling me I absolutely had to read it, that it was one of the best YA murder mysteries out there. And despite these very high expectations, I was not disappointed; it really is one of the best YA mysteries I've read. It's shocking, thrilling, and impossible to put down. I don't even know what to say about the books because it's probably best to go into it knowing nothing more than what the back cover tells you. So in order to make sure I don't spoil anything, this review will minimize plot discussion and maximize fangirling all over the place.

The whole story is captivating. I rarely read during the semester, and when I do, it usually takes me weeks to finish a book. But Dangerous Girls, I read in a day. Really, don't start this book if you have anything important going on anytime soon because you will literally be unable to put this book down. There's just something about Abigail Haas's (aka Abby McDonald's) writing that made me want to keep reading forever. The suspense is ridiculously high throughout, and there were times when I was literally holding my breath along with Anna.

The structure of the triple(-ish) narrative is incredibly well-crafted. Chapters alternate between the friends' vacation, the trial/Anna in prison, and Anna's past before this vacation. Each of these storyines is fascinating; the trial is suspenseful for obvious reasons, and the other two narratives are equally full of tension because they present you with new information about the characters and theories about what might have happened. These storylines are multi-layered and intertwine perfectly; I can't give any more information without spoiling things, but the order in which information is revealed through these storylines is perfect.

Anna is a very complex character. I felt for her throughout the novel; the idea of your best friend dying, and then being accused of murdering her and being held in prison for it sounds absolutely horrifying. Her desperation, and the power of the obsessed investigator, made me question the legal system and its methods; the whole process is so interesting to think about. None of the other characters are as fleshed-out as Anna, but they are definitely strong enough for the reader to develop alliances and to find potential suspects.

And that ending. It usually bothers me when books advertise that an ending is "more shocking than one could ever imagine" because, really, what could be that shocking? Well, Dangerous Girls answered that question for me, because it really was that surprising. I had my theories, but they all turned out to be wrong - I was so shocked at the end that I had to read the last scenes multiple times to actually understand and believe what happened. It's surprising, but it also makes a lot of sense, and the way this resolution is set up is kind of genius. I do wish we had gotten some more information towards the end about how all of it happened, but in a way I also appreciate the shock factor and the way the ending leaves it up to you to figure out how exactly this could have worked.

I don't want to say anything else for fear of spoiling it; this is the kind of book where you're just going to have to trust the people raving about it and read it for yourself to see. Compelling and impossible to put down, Dangerous Girls  is the kind of book that will make you question every detail. It's the best YA mystery I've read in a while, and I can't recommend it enough!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Review: The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle

Title: The Edge of Falling
Author: Rebecca Serle
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: March 18th 2014
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
Growing up in privileged, Manhattan social circles, Caggie’s life should be perfect, and it almost was until the day that her younger sister drowned when Caggie was supposed to be watching her. Stricken by grief, Caggie pulls away from her friends and family, only to have everyone misinterpret a crucial moment when she supposedly saves a fellow classmate from suicide. Now she’s famous for something she didn’t do and everyone lauds her as a hero. But inside she still blames herself for the death of her sister and continues to pull away from everything in her life, best friend and perfect boyfriend included. Then Caggie meets Astor, the new boy at school, about whom rumours are swirling and known facts are few. In Astor she finds someone who just might understand her pain, because he has an inner pain of his own. But the more Caggie pulls away from her former life to be with Astor, the more she realises that his pain might be darker, and deeper, than anything she’s ever felt. His pain might be enough to end his life…and Caggie’s as well.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Like the rest of the blogosphere, I loved Rebecca Serle's debut, When You Were Mine, so I was very excited for another novel by the author. And luckily, Rebecca Serle did not disappoint - her writing is amazing, and I loved The Edge of Falling just as much as When You Were Mine!

I loved Caggie's voice throughout the story. She speaks very directly to the reader, which I'm not usually a fan of, since it can easily turn preachy or be used as a cop-out to give way too much backstory when it's not needed, etc. But Rebecca Serle totally made it work; scenes that could have been boring were somehow fascinating because Caggie's voice drew me in so completely. Caggie's voice feels so real and honest, and it presents the story in an entertaining and captivating way. Even though she makes some bad decisions, I felt for Caggie throughout the story. Her grief is heartfelt and honest, and I understood her even at her worst.

The secondary characters are good, too, for the most part. Caggie's parents' withdrawal and absence is kind of the point and an important part of the story, but I still wish we had gotten a bit more insight into their characters. While we do get to know Hayley, Caggie's little sister for whose death she blames herself, very well, I wish she hadn't been idealized quite as much, even if it makes sense for the way Caggie is grieving. I did really like Peter, Caggie's older brother, as well as her best friend Claire. (Can Claire get her own story, please? Her life sounds like the kind of intense I'd love to read about.) There's also a love triangle in The Edge of Falling, but before you run away screaming - this one actually works! This one feels very authentic and makes sense within the story. The relationships with both guys are very well-done, even though I wish the developments between Caggie and Astor hadn't come quite as quickly and had been explored in more depth.

I also loved the NYC setting. This felt a bit like a guilty pleasure, since The Edge of Falling is very much about the elite upper class society of New York, reminding me of the Gossip Girl series, and all those other rich-white-people stories I loved when I was 12. And even though I now realize that over-representation of the upper class in fiction, as well as The Edge of Falling's failure to discuss the issue of class in any meaningful way, is problematic, I couldn't help but love Caggie's descriptions of her life in the city. It might just be because I have some kind of weird obsession with New York City, but I loved how perfectly Caggie's voice captures the feel of the city. I especially loved Caggie's game of walking around in the city, and just going in the direction where the walk sign is on whenever she gets to an intersection and seeing where it brought her - I really want to try this one day.

One issue I had with The Edge of Falling is the lack of suspense. I don't really mind that it's predictable, because (in my opinion) a character-driven about overcoming grief doesn't really need unpredictable plot twists to be a good novel. But Caggie has some secrets about what happened when she "saved" her classmate who was trying to kill herself that could have easily been revealed in a surprising way towards the end. While we don't find out the details of what exactly happened that night until close to the end, it's mentioned in passing many times before than, so there is no element of surprise. Again, I don't think this story necessarily needs a plot twist like that, but since we already have this secret, I wish it had been utilized more to create a surprising revelation at some point in the novel.

I absolutely loved The Edge of Falling. Rebecca Serle perfectly balances beautiful writing that makes you stop and think with intriguing, relatable characters that move the story along. The Edge of Falling is an entertaining yet thought-provoking read that I definitely recommend. I can't wait to read more by this author!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Review: Some Boys by Patty Blount

Title: Some Boys
Author: Patty Blount
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release date: August 5th 2014
Pages: 339
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
Add to Goodreads | Purchase from Amazon
Some boys go too far. Some boys will break your heart. But one boy can make you whole.
When Grace meets Ian she's afraid. Afraid he'll reject her like the rest of the school, like her own family. After she accuses the town golden boy of rape, everyone turns against Grace. They call her a slut and a liar. But...Ian doesn't. He's funny and kind with secrets of his own.
But how do you trust the best friend of the boy who raped you? How do you believe in love?
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This is a really hard book to review. I really, really wanted to love it, because this is such an important topic and there aren't enough YA books out about it. And I do think that Grace's story is an important one that needs to be told. The rest of it, though, I didn't care for too much. Ian did not work as a love interest because he displays some very problematic opinions and not enough character growth

Grace's story, by itself, is what I really liked about Some Boys. Reading about how deeply this rape has affected her, and how terribly the community is reacting to it, was my favorite part (even if that sounds bad). Not because I enjoyed it, of course, but because I think this is a really important story to tell so that people can maybe understand what this is like. Grace's feelings are so well-developed, and I felt for her throughout the novel. She is so strong, and even though it gets a bit preachy at times, her opinions are very important to read about.

Whenever Ian was talking about what happened to Grace, or about rape or gender roles or anything like that, I just wanted to slap him. He has ridiculously problematic opinions. He judges girls so, so much - whenever a girls hooks up with one of his friends, he judges them for being easy and talks about how he doesn't understand why girls let guys do things like that. His double standards are just ridiculous, and his slut-shaming is just out-of-control. One of the lines that pissed me off the most was when he's thinking about the way Grace dresses and the way that makes guys not respect her. He goes, "Why do girls not get that there's a fine line between looking good and asking for it? [...] It's like the people who leave their doors unlocked and then cry when they're robbed. Why are girls not smart about this?" These ideas just made Ian a completely unappealing love interest for me.

I know I should have expected him to have these opinions at the beginning of the novel, since him growing from these problematic ideas to understand what happened to Grace is kind of the point of the novel. But... Ian barely changed over the course of the novel. The only reason Ian finally decides to believe Grace is because he finds a video on Zac's phone that proves that Grace was telling the truth. Because he sees that Grace had told Zac no and that Zac forced himself on Grace anyways, he believes that it's rape. But the thing is, even without that information.... it would have still been rape. He knew that Grace was drunk enough to have passed out while it happened. The fact that whether or not she fought him or not is irrelevant and that it was rape either way is never even addressed, and for a book attempting to raise awareness about this issue, that's a major flaw.

The whole ending is just really cheesy. After the coach sees the video and kicks Zac off the team, everyone hears that it was "actually" rape and comes crawling back to Grace. And Grace accepts her friends back with no questions asked about how they abandoned her and how horrible they had been to her. All those reunion scenes are cheesy and disappointing because it shows how no one actually learned anything from this experience.

The focus on the romance, rather than Grace overcoming this trauma on her own, didn't sit right with me. Maybe it's just because I didn't like Ian, but I didn't really care whether or not they ended up together; I only care whether or not Grace would be okay. I also wish that there had been more of a focus on Grace struggling to be intimate again after what happened to her; Ian and Grace kiss for the first time only a month and a half after Grace had been raped, and it's never even mentioned that that could have been another traumatizing experience for her. 

I'm still not sure what to make of Some Boys. In a way, it was an important read for me, and I loved being inside Grace's head. But on the grand scale, I don't think the novel does enough to work against rape culture and the gender roles that permit it. Ian - and the rest of the town - don't really learn enough from what happened to Grace to really change anything, and Ian's problematic views of gender roles are barely addressed. Grace herself displays some problematic views, too, when she slut-shames her stepmom and her ex-friends, and that's never addressed, either. It was a good attempt, but there was too much telling and not enough showing, and the novel ended up falling flat for me.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: Tease by Amanda Maciel

Title: Tease
Author: Amanda Maciel
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release date: April 29th 2014
Pages: 328
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
Add to Goodreads | Purchase from Amazon
Emma Putnam is dead, and it's all Sara Wharton's fault.
At least, that's what everyone seems to think. Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma's shocking suicide. Now Sara is the one who's ostracized, already guilty according to her peers, the community, and the media.
During the summer before her senior year, in between meetings with lawyers and a court-recommended therapist, Sara is forced to reflect on the events that brought her to this moment—and ultimately consider her role in an undeniable tragedy. And she'll have to find a way to move forward, even when it feels like her own life is over.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I absolutely love the premise of Tease. I've read plenty of stories about bullying, but I've never read anything that explores the bully's character in such depth. The whole idea of facing criminal charges for the bullying that contributed to a classmate's suicide is intriguing and thought-provoking, and I loved getting to see how this affects everyone involved. It was fascinating to read a story like this from the bully's point of view, and I loved (almost) everything about it!

I'll admit that large parts of this novel had me in a feminist rage - the slut-shaming in this book is out of control. The reason that Brielle and Sara (and in turn, all the other girls at their school) tease Emma is because she's what they consider a slut, i.e. she's (allegedly) slept (or at least gone out with) a number of guys. Literally all of the harassment is based on this tiny thing that is absolutely none of anyone's business. Emma hangs out with (and maybe hooks up with) a lot of guys and doesn't have any girl friends (because they shun her for being a "slut"), so obviously she's a horrible person. Sara has a deep-seated hatred for Emma because she's "going after" her boyfriend, and it's the classic case of blaming the "Other Woman" rather than holding the guy accountable for his actions. I could go on about this, but I'll just leave it at telling you that this was really frustrating to read about. But despite all of this anger, it totally works: it's not like the novel condones Sara's behavior, and it's definitely portrayed as problematic. We get to see the very real, tragic effects of bullying and slut-shaming, and it makes for a powerful, important story.

The novel alternates between the past, when Sara and Brielle are making Emma's life miserable, and the present, when Sara is preparing for her trial and dealing with the aftermath of her actions. The two parts of the story are equally compelling: it's fascinating, in a disturbing kind of way, to see how teasing Emma escalates into so much more, and I really liked trying to understand Sara's reasoning. The aftermath is equally intriguing because you get to see how Sara's understanding of what happened evolves over time, and the juxtaposition of these two storylines really showcases Sara's growth over the course of the novel.

Sara is a character you go into the novel wanting to hate, and I definitely disagreed with her on pretty much everything. But Amanda Maciel also makes it really easy to understand where she is coming from. Her desire to fit in and to have Brielle like her is presented in a way that absolutely made me feel for her, especially knowing that, if it meant being one of the cool kids, it would have been pretty easy to get younger-me to go along with lots of things, too. I'd like to think I wouldn't have let it get this far, but really, it's not like Sara wanted Emma to kill herself, either. And while it's obviously bs that Sara blames Emma for everything and lets Dylan off scot-free, I could still understand that she is hurt and struggling. Of course the novel is biased, and Sara is probably not the most reliable narrator, and that definitely affects your view of these characters. We only see Emma through Sara's eyes, and only in this context, while we sympathize with Sara when we see her interacting with her brothers and struggling with her relationship with her father. I really don't know how I feel about any of these characters, and I think that means Amanda Maciel succeeded in writing a very thought-provoking novel.

Being the nitpicking, anti-slut-shaming feminist that I am, I do have a couple of things to criticize about Tease. Like I said, Sara grows a lot over the course of the novel, and the ultimate message is definitely a good one. But I still had some issues with it. For example, when Sara apologizes at the end, most of her regrets are focused on  making assumptions about Emma without knowing whether or not they're true. Even if she did sleep with all those guys, that does not make her a bad person or worthy of this kind of (or any kind of) harassment. I understand the impulse to hate the girl that your boyfriend cheated on you with, but it bothers me so, so much when people blame the "Other Woman" rather than the cheating boyfriend. It is not other girls' responsibility to not flirt with your boyfriend; it is your boyfriend's responsibility to not act on this attraction if he is in a monogamous relationship. I get that flirting with a guy who has a girlfriend is not the most morally sound thing to do, but it is most definitely worse for the guy to respond to this attention; the one who is in a relationship is at fault, not the "Other Woman." Dylan is the one who made a commitment to Sara, not Emma, yet Emma gets all of the blame.

Of course, this would be fine if it were only the case in the beginning, since the novel doesn't condone Sara's behavior in any way. I just wish this had been addressed more towards the end. At the very end, Sara talks about how Brielle wasn't a good friend because she never liked Dylan, but... wasn't she right? I mean, Sara, he used you and cheated on you and generally treated you like crap. (Even if he was better to Emma than Sara and Brielle were.) I'm sure that, if I asked Amanda Maciel about it, she would agree and not condone Dylan's behavior, I just wish it had been emphasized more towards the end that the cheating was his fault, not Emma's. (Although of course I understand that this is told form Sara's very subjective point-of-view, and even though she grows over the course of the novel, she's not perfect.) I also wish Sara's and Dylan's sexual relationship, as well as Brielle's history, had been addressed in more detail (but I can't really talk about that without spoiling things).

Sorry for writing a review that is probably twice as long as the ones I usually write. But Tease is such a thought-provoking read that I just had more to say than I usually do. It's not perfect, but I do think it sends a very important message, and it's definitely an original contribution to discussions of bullying and slut-shaming. With engaging writing and controversial but sympathetic characters, Tease is a thought-provoking, powerful story. I definitely recommend picking it up.
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