Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: The Rivals by Daisy Whitney

Title: The Rivals
Author: Daisy Whitney
Publisher: Little, Brown for Young Readers
Release date: February 6th 2012
Pages: 352
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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When Alex Patrick was assaulted by another student last year, her elite boarding school wouldn't do anything about it. This year Alex is head of the Mockingbirds, a secret society of students who police and protect the student body. While she desperately wants to live up to the legacy that's been given to her, she's now dealing with a case unlike any the Mockingbirds have seen before.
It isn't rape. It isn't bullying. It isn't hate speech. A far-reaching prescription drug ring has sprung up, and students are using the drugs to cheat. But how do you try a case with no obvious victim? Especially when the facts don't add up, and each new clue drives a wedge between Alex and the people she loves most: her friends, her boyfriend, and her fellow Mockingbirds.
As Alex unravels the layers of deceit within the school, the administration, and even the student body the Mockingbirds protect, her struggle to navigate the murky waters of vigilante justice may reveal more about herself than she ever expected.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It's been a while since I read The Mockingbirds, but I still remember absolutely loving it. To be honest, I wasn't sure that kind of story needed a sequel - I didn't know if Daisy Whitney could come up with another plot concerning the Mockingbirds as strong as the one in the first novel. And while I do think that The Rivals is lacking a bit of the driving force that Alex's struggle for justice after her rape provided for The Mockingbirds, I did really enjoy this sequel!

The whole cheating/drug ring plot seemed kind of strange to me at first. I'm still not sure I entirely get the premise - the debate team is using ADHD medication to win their debates? How is that supposed to work? When people abuse Adderall - or Annie, as it's called in The Rivals - it's to help them focus on getting work done, and I don't really see how that helps the debate team. But even if the premise didn't make all that much sense to me, I did really enjoy the mystery that evolves around it. There are various plot twists in The Rivals that will keep you on your toes - I didn't see half of them coming!

I especially loved the way The Rivals changed the way you think about everything we learned in The Mockingbirds, how it challenges what you thought was right and wrong. Just like Alex, you ask yourself how far you're allowed to go in the name of (what you consider) justice, whether it's more important to trust the people close to you or to do your "job" of questioning everything, and so on. The lines between right and wrong are a lot more blurred in The Rivals than they were in The Mockingbirds, and I loved reading about Alex trying to figure out what would be the right thing to do.

Within the context of this case, it was interesting to see how Alex's relationships with those around her evolved. I still loved Alex's character, and the cast of secondary characters is fully developed and complex, just like in the first book. I especially liked Alex's relationship with Martin - too often, sequels create too much unnecessary drama between the couples that are established in the first book, so I'm glad that Alex's relationship with Martin progresses in such a natural way in The Rivals

Part of what makes these two books so powerful together, I think, is how in The Rivals, we get to see Alex still struggling to come to terms with her rape from The Mockingbirds. Daisy Whitney handled the issue of rape with as much grace and delicacy as she did in the first book; the scenes where Alex sees her rapist on campus and the scenes where she and Martin are trying to figure out how to have a "normal" relationship after what happened to Alex are some of the most powerful scenes in the novel, for me. The only thing that bothered me about this topic is how Alex's rape is continuously referred to as date-rape, just because I don't like how that term makes acquaintance-rape seem somehow less than the dark-alley rape many people still associate with the term.

The Rivals is everything a good sequel should be, and more. It's a complex and layered story that complicates everything we learned in The Mockingbirds. With fully developed characters, a captivating writing style, and a complex and fascinating plot, I can't recommend this series enough! I can't wait to read more from Daisy Whitney!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Giveaway: Signed ARC of Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

I'm giving away a signed ARC of Miranda Kenneally's Breathe, Annie, Breathe! I absolutely loved this one (my review), and you definitely want this book in your life. Here's what it's about:

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally
Annie hates running. No matter how far she jogs, she can’t escape the guilt that if she hadn’t broken up with Kyle, he might still be alive. So to honor his memory, she starts preparing for the marathon he intended to race.
But the training is even more grueling than Annie could have imagined. Despite her coaching, she’s at war with her body, her mind—and her heart. With every mile that athletic Jeremiah cheers her on, she grows more conflicted. She wants to run into his arms…and sprint in the opposite direction. For Annie, opening up to love again may be even more of a challenge than crossing the finish line.

Giveaway rules:

- Open to US residents only. (Sorry!)
- Must be 13 or older to enter.
- Open for one week; giveaway ends July 25th at midnight.
- The winner will be contacted by e-mail. He/she has 48 hours to respond, or a new winner will be chosen.
- I am not responsible for items lost or damaged in the mail.

To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Good luck!!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

Title: Breathe, Annie, Breathe (Hundred Oaks #5)
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release date: July 15th 2014
Pages: 320
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: BEA 2014
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Annie hates running. No matter how far she jogs, she can’t escape the guilt that if she hadn’t broken up with Kyle, he might still be alive. So to honor his memory, she starts preparing for the marathon he intended to race.
But the training is even more grueling than Annie could have imagined. Despite her coaching, she’s at war with her body, her mind—and her heart. With every mile that athletic Jeremiah cheers her on, she grows more conflicted. She wants to run into his arms…and sprint in the opposite direction. For Annie, opening up to love again may be even more of a challenge than crossing the finish line.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Before I start swooning about how amazing this book is, I need to go on a quick rant about the design's inconsistency with the rest of the series. There's the title that sticks out, but that didn't bother me too much because Things I Can't Forget already ruined the "Something-ing Main Character" title thing. But... the cover. I love the green of all the previous Hundred Oaks books; why does this one have to be blue? Yes, it's a really pretty cover, and it's a million times better than the original one, but still... why, Sourcebooks, why?? And I'm so glad I got an ARC of this because (asides from the obvious reason) it's coming out in hardcover, when all the previous books are paperbacks. Just... nothing matches the rest of the series. Don't you know I need my books to match, Sourcebooks!?

Okay. Anyways. The actual book, of course, is amazing. It's a bit darker than the previous ones in the series, considering a lot of it deals with Annie grieving the death of her boyfriend. But that darkness is perfectly balanced with hope and romance, providing a really great set-up for a strong, character-driven story. I love how respectfully Miranda Kenneally managed to balance writing such a steamy romance while still honoring Kyle's memory. I think this might actually be my new favorite book in the series - all of the Hundred Oaks books are about relationships overcoming obstacles, but the obstacles in Breathe, Annie, Breathe felt the most real, making me love Annie and Jeremiah together even more.

Annie's voice is what makes this book so great. I absolutely loved her, identified with her, and sympathized with her. Generally, characters with commitment issues frustrate me because, in the world of romance stories, I cannot understand why you can't get over it and be with this person who is obviously perfect for you. But in Annie's case, I totally understood - her conflicted feelings of guilt for betraying Kyle and longing for Jeremiah are so well done, and I felt for her and understood her at every point in the novel. Annie is now one my favorite Hundred Oaks girls. Jeremiah is a great character, too. I personally wouldn't love him in real life - his chivalry and protectiveness would bring out the angry feminist in me, and I wouldn't be able to see past the benevolent sexism - but I could definitely see how he's perfect for Annie. He is a very complex character (more complex than most of the previous Hundred Oaks boys - not that I didn't love them, too), and I loved reading about his issues and how they affect Annie and Jeremiah's relationship, too. 

Even though I am pretty much the opposite of athletic, I loved getting insights into the world of running in Breathe, Annie, Breathe. I loved how sports played into the previous stories in the Hundred Oaks series, but if I'm completely honest, the actual sports parts kind of bored me because I just can't get myself to care about football or baseball. Marathon running, though, was a fascinating world to explore. I would consider myself a pre-running Annie - the girl who came in last when they made us run a mile in high school PE - so it was really inspiring to see how she, despite this, managed to run a marathon, with so much hard work and training. It was fascinating to see both the highs and the lows, and how much effort and commitment really goes into this kind of thing.

As always, I also loved the cameos. I have a horrible memory, so I have to admit it took me a while to realize that Annie's trainer/Jermemiah's brother Matt is the same Matt from Things I Can't Forget. But not even my horrible memory can forget about Jordan Woods and Sam Henry, the characters that first made me love Miranda Kenneally's writing, so it was great to see them again in Breathe, Annie, Breathe. (Even if it was really weird to see Jordan be called Coach Woods all the time.) And getting to see Savannah again was great, too!

Also, college! Breathe, Annie Breathe, begins at the very end of senior and spans the summer, but the last third or so of the novel is set at college. YA books set at college pretty much automatically make me happy, just because there are so few of them.

I think that sums up everything I loved about Breathe, Annie Breathe, even though I'm probably forgetting about something - so many things to love! It's no secret I love Miranda Kenneally's Hundred Oaks series - all of them are exceptionally well-done romances - so to say this one might be my new favorite is a big deal. If you haven't read any of these books, I really don't know what you're doing with your life. Go read them right now!!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review: How My Summer Went Up in Flames by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski

Title: How My Summer Went Up in Flames
Author: Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
Publisher: SimonPulse
Release date: May 7th 2013
Pages: 307
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: Bought
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Rosie’s always been impulsive. She didn’t intend to set her cheating ex-boyfriend’s car on fire. And she never thought her attempts to make amends could be considered stalking. So when she’s served with a temporary restraining order on the first day of summer vacation, she’s heartbroken—and furious.
To put distance between Rosie and her ex, Rosie’s parents send her on a cross-country road trip with responsible, reliable neighbor Matty and his two friends. Forget freedom of the road, Rosie wants to hitchhike home and win back her ex. But her determination starts to dwindle with each passing mile. Because Rosie’s spark of anger? It may have just ignited a romance with someone new…
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I think whether or not you will like How My Summer Went Up in Flames depends a lot on you opinion of our main character Rosie. I've read reviews by people who love her and by people who couldn't stand Rosie because of her impulsiveness and her lack of understanding of how serious her situation is. I didn't really mind her disregard for consequences and her irrational ways all that much - she's relatably flawed, and I love having a different type of contemporary YA narrator for once.

But there are still some things that bothered me about Rosie, most importantly her expressions on issues of gender. There's some serious slut-shaming going on in Rosie's opinions and depictions of her breakup with Joey. She talks about sex as if it's something that she would never do, and condemns Joey's new girlfriend - and her friend Avery - for having done it, which is not okay. Her views of gender roles bothered me so much - she keeps making offensive comments about femininity, and lets her whole life revolve around guys, having no ambitions for herself. (She liked saying "Joey's wife" when people would ask her what she wants to be later on.) This is never really addressed as a problem, which frustrated me throughout the novel. The same goes for issue's of class - from the way Rosie, her family, and the guys' families treat money, they all have to have quite a lot of it, and that's never really mentioned in the novel. Instead, they're the ones who are "normal," in comparison to their ultra-rich friend Avery, which results in scenes like Rosie being surprised they are taking a limousine to the club and commenting that her family only uses limousines on prom or to get to the airport. The never-addressed privilege that is so obvious in scenes like those perpetuates really problematic depictions of class and privilege, and it bothered me throughout Rosie's story.

Since we're already on the topic of problematic depictions of privilege and oppression, let's talk about the whitewashing of this cover. Rosie's mother is from Ecuador and her father is Italian, so she is described to have a dark complexion. She also refers to herself as curvy throughout the novel. So of course the cover model had to be... a skinny white girl. Just... ugh. So many problems.

Despite all these issues that my feminist/social-activist self had with the novel, there are still some parts of the story that I really enjoyed. I always love road trips, and this one is no exception - I loved reading about all their stops and adventures. Rosie's interactions with the guys are entertaining too, and I especially loved Matty. I'm not a huge fan of the romance because I don't think it's necessary for the story, but as far as unnecessary, predictable romance goes, this one is at least kind of cute.

How My Summer Went Up in Flames was an okay read for me. It's a quick, entertaining book, and there are plenty of things I enjoyed about it. Looking deeper, though, there are issues that I couldn't ignore, meaning I couldn't absolutely love this book. How My Summer Went Up in Flames is a cute, fun summer read, but nothing more.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown

Title: Perfect Escape
Author: Jennifer Brown
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Release date: July 10th 2012
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought 
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Kendra has always felt overshadowed by her older brother, Grayson, whose OCD forces him to live a life of carefully coordinated routines. The only way Kendra can stand out next to Grayson is to be perfect, and she has perfection down to an art -- until a cheating scandal threatens her flawless reputation. Behind the wheel of her car, with Grayson asleep beside her, Kendra decides to drive away from it all -- with enough distance, maybe she'll be able to figure everything out. But eventually, Kendra must stop running and come to terms with herself, her brother, and her past. With undeniable grace and humor, acclaimed author Jennifer Brown explores OCD, the pressure for perfection, and the emotional highs and lows of a complex sibling relationship.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This book sounded perfect for me. I love reading both about road trips and about sibling relationships (rather than romance, for once!), and I was excited to see how Jennifer Brown would handle the topic of mental illness. Sadly, Perfect Escape didn't quite live up to my admittedly high expectations - there were plenty of parts that I enjoyed, but for such a character-driven novel, I don't think the character growth was strong enough, making this only an okay read for me.

I never really connected with Kendra. She just seemed very whiny and melodramatic, and I couldn't understand her reasoning. There's a lot of telling and not a lot of showing, making Kendra a somewhat underdeveloped character. It especially bothered me that we don't find out about the full extent of the cheating ordeal until the very ending -  the revelation is underwhelming, but finding out about it earlier might have made it easier for the reader to understand why Kendra chose to run away. I get that we're not supposed to like Kendra at the beginning and that the point is to see her grow over the course of the novel, but the character growth is not strong enough to carry the story. What she discovers about herself and her relationship with Grayson is not developed enough and without further exploration, it didn't feel real to me. Since Perfect Escape is laid out to be a very character-driven story, this lack of character depth really impacted my enjoyment of the novel. 

I also wasn't impressed with the Zoe-storyline. Once Kendra "kidnaps" her sleeping brother and leaves for their impromptu road trip, she has to figure out where they're going and decides they're going to visit their old friend Zoe in California. Zoe's family moved away because her parents didn't want her interacting with mentally-ill Grayson three years ago, but Kendra harbors hope that they will be reunited happily if they only make it to her new house. What happens in regard to Zoe is entirely predictable and underdeveloped, and I didn't really see the point in it at all.

I did really enjoy the individual storylines, though. I'm impressed by the way Jennifer Brown handled the issue of OCD. Having read Corey Ann Haydu's OCD Love Story just a couple of weeks ago,  I was excited to read another author's take on the topic. Perfect Escape added an interesting perspective, since we get to read about the mental disorder from someone close to the the person who has OCD, rather than the person himself. The portrayal of OCD and the way it affects both Grayson's and Kendra's lives is honest and eye-opening.

The roadtrip storyline is good, too. Kendra and Grayson's road trip has a different feel to it from most road trips I've read, just because the OCD adds a whole new dimension to this type of story. As always with road trip stories, I enjoyed all the random places they discover and people they meet along the way. Rena - the girl they pick up along the way - is a fascinating character, and I wish we had gotten to know even more about her life.

But despite my enjoyment of these secondary storylines and smaller parts of the novel, I couldn't actually love it. There isn't a whole lot of action, which I'm usually fine with because I love character-driven stories, but because the character growth is so underdeveloped, that wasn't enough to carry the story. The ending is very abrupt and nothing much has really changed, making it hard for me to see the point of the whole story. I love the set-up of Perfect Escape, but the writing and character development aren't strong enough to make this novel live up to my expectations.
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