Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review: Every Day

Every Day, by David Levithan. The GoodReads summary:
Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.

There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.
I finished this book a while ago, but I just realized I never wrote a review for it. I blame it on having exactly zero free time at this point in my life. Usually, I write my reviews right after I finish a book, because I tend to have a really short memory for remembering the specifics of what I thought about it, so if this review is kinda vague, that’s why.

But anyway, this is the first book I read that was completely by David Levithan. I’ve read two of the books he co-authored with Rachel Cohn (“Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares” and “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist”), and I liked both of those a lot. Still, I had pretty low expectations for this book going into it. Probably you know by now of my unfair yet unshakable prejudice against books by male authors.

But I actually thought “Every Day” wasn’t bad—it ended up being much better than I expected. Which is not to say that I didn’t have any issues with it, because I did. It just surprised me with how readable it was and well the story flowed. Considering the main character is in a different body and a different life every day, I was impressed with how cohesive the plot was. The main character was pretty likeable, despite being a bit of a know-it-all. I thought it was a unique plot device that the MC is genderless—it made for some interesting explorations into what the substance of relationships really is. Still, in my head the MC came off as a boy. I’m not entirely sure why—probably just because the author is male so the narrative voice came off as more male to me.

Pretty much the whole plot revolves around the MC falling in love and trying to make it work despite being in a different body every day. So of course I was super curious about how the book would end and how it would all work out. Generally, I thought the ending was well done and realistic, though there was one aspect of it that had me feeling indignant on Rhiannon's behalf and that spoiled the ending a bit for me.

Overall, a much better book than I was expecting. Maybe it’s because my expectations were so low to start with, but I ended up enjoying the book for the most part.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review: Pivot Point

Pivot Point, by Kasie West. The GoodReads summary:
Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not.

In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through . . . and who she can’t live without.
Okay, this is going to be short. Basically, I wasn’t wowed by the first three-fourths of the book, but it was just barely interesting enough for me to keep reading. Similarly, I found Addie, the main character, annoying at times but never annoying enough to make me quit the book. I liked the idea of seeing two possible futures and enjoyed that general aspect of the book, but some of the other plot points I thought lacked development. The last fourth of the book is where the book got legitimately good. That’s where the two futures started overlapping more and where the pace finally picked up. That last chunk saved the book for me.

Rating: 3 / 5

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review: The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It

The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It, by Lisa Shanahan. The GoodReads summary:
In my family, when anyone rides the wave of their emotions, we say they're chucking a birkett. When the emotion drives out all common sense, we say they're chucking a big one. The telltale signs are: flaming cheeks, shortness of breath, bulging eyes, and a prolonged illogical outburst.

Gemma Stone is convinced that it's always unseemly to chuck a birkett and that it's actually insane to chuck one in front of a complete stranger. But that was before she fell for a boy who barely knows she exists, before she auditioned for the school play, before she met the family of freaks her sister Debbie is marrying into, before the unpredictable Raven De Head took an interest in her, and before she realized that at the right time and for the right reason, a birkett could be a beautiful thing.
I have Lan to thank for recommending this book, because I doubt I ever would’ve found it otherwise. I don’t know what they have down in the water in Australia, but I swear Aussie authors never disappoint.

This is a younger YA—I think Gemma is around 14—so the story is perhaps a little simpler than many older YAs, but the simplicity didn’t detract from its depth. This actually is one of those rare YA contemps that successfully manages to balance funny with touching, light with serious. It had me smiling constantly and near tears twice. I just really appreciated how the author could keep things entertaining while still giving the book heft.

I thought the setup of the book was pretty refreshing. I feel like in some YA contemps, the story can get bogged down in the everyday details of the MC’s life. But in this book, we only really get to see Gemma and her life as relates to her sister’s wedding, her experiences trying out for the school play, and her relationship with Raven and the rest of the De Head family. Other aspects of her life don’t really come into play. To me, it felt more like a series of vignettes than a comprehensive chronological narrative. But that wasn’t a bad thing at all. I enjoyed the snapshots of Gemma’s life and felt like the structure kept the story focused on the important things.

I adored Gemma, but I thought the book had a well-rounded cast of secondary characters as well. The author doesn’t spend very much time describing them, but you get a solid sense of who they are and what they’re like from how they interact with each other. Pretty much any scene that had Gemma’s parents or the De Head brothers had me eager for more.

Overall, this was just one of those books that reminds me why I love contemporary YAs. It was light and funny but always weighed down by the right balance of more serious issues. It was well-written to boot, and who doesn’t love some virtually incomprehensible Aussie slang every once in a while?

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, June 17, 2013

Review: Dark Triumph

Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2), by Robin LaFevers. The GoodReads summary:
Sybella's duty as Death's assassin in 15th-century France forces her return home to the personal hell that she had finally escaped. Love and romance, history and magic, vengeance and salvation converge in this thrilling sequel to Grave Mercy.

Sybella arrives at the convent’s doorstep half mad with grief and despair. Those that serve Death are only too happy to offer her refuge—but at a price. The convent views Sybella, naturally skilled in the arts of both death and seduction, as one of their most dangerous weapons. But those assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to a life that nearly drove her mad. And while Sybella is a weapon of justice wrought by the god of Death himself, He must give her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?
All I can say upon finishing this book is . . . YES! It was just so freaking good. In fact, probably my favorite YA of the year so far. It’s been long enough since I read the first book (“Grave Mercy”) that I can’t honestly remember too much about that one—I liked it A LOT, I know, but I don’t remember enough to pinpoint exactly how “Dark Triumph” compares. But I’m pretty sure that I like “Dark Triumph” even more than “Grave Mercy,” just because I don’t see how the ridiculous giddiness that I felt when I finished this second book could be beat.

One thing I’m sure of: “Dark Triumph” is a much darker book than “Grave Mercy.” I remember “Grave Mercy” being more about political intrigue, but the scope of “Dark Triumph” is much more personal. Ismae in the first book doesn’t really have a personal investment in all the scheming and dealing going on in that book, at least at first, but for Sybella in this second book, everything that goes on is deeply personal. She’s fighting demons of her past that have once again become demons of her present. And those demons just keep getting worse. And ickier. Seriously. From the beginning, I knew that Sybella’s family life was horrible, but it just kept getting worse and worse until I didn’t know how she survived it.

But as it got increasingly terrible, my respect for Sybella grew. Pretty much from the start of the book, I felt more of a connection with Sybella than I had with Ismae. I don’t know why really—Sybella is not exactly a warm and loving person. With her past, there’s not really any way she could be. But I loved her strength and her ability to not let her crappy circumstances distract her from her goals, and I appreciated that despite all she’s been through, she’s still kind in her own way. It would be so easy—and understandable—for her to just give up, but she never does. And that unfailing core of strength when it would be easier and more convenient to be weak won me over pretty dang quick.

And now let’s just take a minute and talk about Beast. Or really, as I say in my head every time, BEAST!!! I vaguely remember him from the first book, and I know I liked him there, but oh my gosh he grabbed my heart in this one. I think I was a goner from the point where he chucked the sword at that guy’s head. He’s just so perfect for Sybella. He’s strong enough to handle the weight of Sybella’s past and optimistic enough to want to do so. And he respects her strengths and skills as well and doesn’t pull any alpha-male crap, despite obviously being very much an alpha male.

Overall, a fantastic book and a fantastic second book, which is even rarer. You don’t necessarily need to have read “Grave Mercy” to understand what’s going on in this one, but I recommend doing so—I definitely found myself wishing, especially towards the beginning, that I had reread “Grave Mercy” so I could remember what all was happening. Anyway, I obviously loved this book. There was one small-ish thing that kept me from giving it 5 stars, but other than that, I think this book deserves a very strong 4.5.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: Out of the Easy

Out of the Easy, by Ruta Sepetys. The GoodReads summary:
It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer.

She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.
So Ruta Sepetys’s first book, “Between Shades of Gray,” is one of those books that I feel pretty much everyone should read. It’s about Stalin’s purges of the Baltic States during the 1940s, which is a topic I don’t think many people are aware of. Plus the story and writing are totally engrossing. So that’s why I picked up Sepetys’s second book, “Out of the Easy.” Like the first book, this second book has a nontraditional YA setting, but this time it’s 1950s New Orleans and our heroine is 17-year-old Josie, the daughter of a prostitute. For some reason, based on the book’s summary, I was expecting this book to be more of a mystery, with Josie working to solve the murder. But it’s not really like that at all. The focus of the book is on Josie’s attempts to get out of New Orleans and the uphill battle she has to fight to even get the slightest chance of doing so.

One of the things I really appreciated about Josie is that although she’s trying so hard to rise above her circumstances to make more of her life, she doesn’t look down on or feel embarrassed by the people in the life that she’s trying to escape. She remains close to the brothel madam who essentially brought her up and the cab driver who’s her surrogate father. She doesn’t ever start thinking she’s better than them just because she doesn’t want their life, and I respected that.

But here’s the thing: although this book was solid and generally well done, I felt like it was missing that spark that takes a book from “solid” to something special. I’m not even sure what that spark that I wanted would’ve been. Maybe a more vibrant portrait of what New Orleans was like in the 1950s. Maybe more chemistry between Josie and the cute auto mechanic. Maybe more time spent on the murder mystery aspect. Maybe not quite so easy of an ending. Maybe all of those things, or maybe something completely different that I can’t quite put my finger on. All I know is that I felt like this book was lacking a heart—something to take an adequate story and bring it to life in a way that I could feel invested in.

Overall, an interesting book with a unique setting and main character. Despite my criticisms above, I did enjoy the book and felt that it was worth my time—I just didn’t feel that level of connection I need to really love a book.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, June 10, 2013

Review: Peaches

Peaches, by Jodi Lynn Anderson. The GoodReads summary:
Three Georgia peaches are in for one juicy summer . . .

. . . but Birdie would rather eat Thin Mints and sulk in the AC.

Leeda would prefer to sneak off with her boyfriend, Rex.

And Murphy just wants to cause a little mischief.

Together these three very different girls will discover the secret to finding the right boy, making the truest friends, and picking the perfect Georgia peach.
In some ways, this book reminds me of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. Not in the details, but in the general themes of female friendship, first loves, and life-shaping summers. And I was totally fine with that similarity. After all, I enjoyed the Sisterhood series plenty (at least, the three books of it that I read). But I think I actually ended up liking “Peaches” a bit more.

In so many YAs, friendship takes a backseat to the romantic storyline, and the YAs that do have strong friendships often center around girls who have been friends for years. So I found it refreshing that Birdie, Leeda, and Murphy don’t particularly like each other at the start of the book, but as they spend more time in the orchard together, their friendship tentatively but steadily grows. And can I just get an amen for solid female friendships that don’t fall by the wayside the second a cute boy comes along? Seriously.

Birdie, Leeda, and Murphy couldn’t be more different from each other, but I loved that after the initial rocky start, the three girls learn to see each other for who they really are and accept each other, flaws and all. Each girl struggles with different things, but it was easy for me to find something in each girl to relate to. Even Murphy, with whom I don’t have much in common, held an equal part of my heart as Birdie and Leeda did.

I don’t know what it is about Jodi Lynn Anderson’s writing style, but from the get go, the book was consummately readable. Have you ever read a book where the way it was written just felt like coming home? That how this book was for me. Pretty much from the first page, I clicked with Anderson’s storytelling style, and it made the book feel so comfortable, you know? There wasn’t anything showy or flashy about the writing—it was just subtle and relaxed and somehow captured summer for me.

Overall, a great summer read about friendship and growing up. I fully intend on reading the rest of the series, because although “Peaches” ends with some closure, I can’t help wanting to spend more time with Birdie, Leeda, and Murphy.

Rating: 4 / 5
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