Review: Starry Eyes by Jen Bennett

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

In this romantic dramedy from the author of Alex, Approximately, a teen girl’s way-too-ordinary life is driven off the beaten path when she’s abandoned in the wilderness with her worst adversary—the boy who broke her heart.

Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best friends-turned-best enemies Zorie and Lennon have made an art of avoiding each other. It doesn’t hurt that their families are the modern day, Californian version of the Montagues and Capulets.

But when a group camping trip goes south, Zorie and Lennon find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Alone. Together.

What could go wrong?

With no one but each other for company, Zorie and Lennon have no choice but to hash out their issues via witty jabs and insults as they try to make their way to safety. But fighting each other while also fighting off the forces of nature makes getting out of the woods in one piece less and less likely.

And as the two travel deeper into Northern California’s rugged backcountry, secrets and hidden feelings surface. But can Zorie and Lennon’s rekindled connection survive out in the real world? Or was it just a result of the fresh forest air and the magic of the twinkling stars?

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

Starry Eyes will be available April 3, 2018. 

This is my second book by Jenn Bennett and I found it just as addicting as I did Alex, Approximately. It was a quick, easy read that kept me glued to the pages.

Ok, so let me get the things that didn’t sit great with me out of the way. There was some mocking of religion, which I never appreciate. There was much more adult content than I appreciate in a young adult novel. I found Zorie and Lennon to both be a little more on the immature side, so the adult stuff made me feel just that much more uncomfortable. BUT, there wasn’t really anything graphic, so there’s that. Lennon is described as kind of a goth, but other than wearing some black and being into some horror stuff he didn’t really fit the bill. It almost felt like Bennett was trying a little hard to make the characters “diverse” in a way that didn’t really impact the character or story that much.

I did end up really liking Zorie and Lennon. Their miscommunication for a good portion of the book drove me insane, but they finally got over that and I shipped it. They had some good banter, which I enjoyed – Lennon, especially. I identified with Zorie’s anxiety and her need to plan things and appreciated her growth throughout the story. Another thing I related to were the things Zorie finds out about her father. Whether you’re a teenager or in your 30s, finding out those things about a parent has many of the same emotions and thoughts. Several books I’ve read lately have had this particular theme and I am finding them so cathartic right now.

The events in the synopsis do not happen until almost half-way through the book. Usually that really annoys me, but I found I didn’t mind it here. I thought the character development leading up to that was really well done and was essential for what would happen next. I also really enjoyed the setting, which is another unusual thing for me. I normally don’t care much about description or anything outdoors, but I really enjoyed the imagery of the wilderness and the stars. It never felt over the top or too much. It really set the scene well and I enjoyed it.

Overall, I really enjoyed Starry Eyes. I loved the setting, the character growth, and how relatable I found many things about Zorie to be. I found the writing to be really addicting, too. Even though it wasn’t really fast paced at all, I didn’t want to put it down. I definitely recommend this one to YA Contemporary fans. I know it’s one that I will re-read in the future.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

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Review: More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

*While this book exists in the same universe as Letters to the Lost, it is a standalone title.*

Rev Fletcher is battling the demons of his past. But with loving adoptive parents by his side, he’s managed to keep them at bay…until he gets a letter from his abusive father and the trauma of his childhood comes hurtling back.

Emma Blue spends her time perfecting the computer game she built from scratch, rather than facing her parents’ crumbling marriage. She can solve any problem with the right code, but when an online troll’s harassment escalates, she’s truly afraid.

When Rev and Emma meet, they both long to lift the burden of their secrets and bond instantly over their shared turmoil. But when their situations turn dangerous, their trust in each other will be tested in ways they never expected. This must-read story will once again have readers falling for Brigid Kemmerer’s emotional storytelling.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

More Than We Can Tell will be available March 6, 2018. 

My favorite thing about Letters to the Lost was the friendship between Declan and Rev and I was very excited to hear that Rev was going to get his own book. I’m happy to report that I enjoyed More Than We Can Tell even more than I did Letters to the Lost.

As I said, I love Rev and Declan’s friendship. No matter what happens they are always there for each other. Even when they don’t agree or have an argument, they work through it and I love it. While I would’ve really liked for the whole book to be filled with the two of them, I was satisfied with the amount of page time we got. I liked that there was some follow up with some of the things Declan dealt with in his book, as well.

This book was Drama, Drama, Drama right from the start. Sexual harassment, divorcing parents, abuse, feeling alone, bullying. I thought it was dealt with very well for the most part, but there was just so much. I felt like Emma especially made a lot of small things much more dramatic than she had to. She was hard to like at times because she was such a little brat to her parents and her best friend and even to Rev at times and the things she said were so uncalled for. She did show some growth by the end of the book, but I feel like she still has a ways to go.

While I adore Rev, he did frustrate me several times in the book. If he would’ve just talked to his parents or to Declan sooner then he would’ve had a little less turmoil. However, I tried to remember that he is just a teenager and he was doing the best he could and he did eventually talk to them. (Plus, I’m not really one who can judge somebody for their lack of ability to communicate.) I loved the relationship between Rev and his parents, as well. So often in YA the parents are either missing or awful (and there was some of that in this book, too), but Rev’s adoptive parents were wonderful.

Though I thought the immediate intensity of Rev and Emma’s relationship was a little unrealistic, I did like them together. There were several super cute moments between them that I enjoyed, but I also really enjoyed how they helped each other emotionally. Their romance didn’t “fix” each other, but offered support to each other and I liked that.

Overall, I enjoyed More Than We Can Tell. I’m a fan of Kemmerer’s writing and I flew through this book. I loved getting to see Rev and Declan again. Even though I thought the drama was a little over the top at times, I thought there were some good, relatable lessons. I think fans of Letters to the Lost will not want to miss this one, though you don’t have to have read it to enjoy this.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Pretending to be Erica by Michelle Painchaud

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Seventeen-year-old Violet’s entire life has revolved around one thing: becoming Erica Silverman, an heiress kidnapped at age five and never seen again.

Violet’s father, the best con man in Las Vegas, has a plan, chilling in its very specific precision. Violet shares a blood type with Erica; soon, thanks to surgery and blackmail, she has the same face, body, and DNA. She knows every detail of the Silvermans’ lives, as well as the PTSD she will have to fake around them. And then, when the time is right, she “reappears”—Erica Silverman, brought home by some kind of miracle.

But she is also Violet, and she has a job: Stay long enough to steal the Silverman Painting, an Old Master legendary in the Vegas crime world. Walking a razor’s edge, calculating every decision, not sure sometimes who she is or what she is doing it for, Violet is an unforgettable heroine, and Pretending to be Erica is a killer debut.

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Pretending to be Erica  has been one of my most anticipated books of 2015. However, when the reviews started to post they weren’t too great, so I tried to go into it with some caution. While I didn’t hate it or anything, it definitely still left me disappointed.

I thought this book was going to be a lot more Heist-y than it was. I wanted that and lots of psychological games between Violet and all the people she’s trying to fool. The premise started out good. Sal, a master con man, adopted Violet out of foster care at a young age and taught her how to be a con man, too. Their end goal is to position her as the missing Erica Silverman, going so far as to get plastic surgery, to steal a priceless painting. However, Violet as Erica just left me a little disappointed.

Violet is supposed to have become Erica, but obviously she’s still herself. Violet is very different than who Erica is supposed to be and throughout the book her every reaction is told in twofold. It’s all,  “Erica responds this way while Violet responds this way”. It got old pretty fast and it also reminded me a lot of the whole “inner goddess” thing used in the 50 Shades books (which is the farthest thing from a compliment that I could give). Instead of psychological games, we spend a good deal of time with Erica’s inner monologue about how guilty she feels and what an unfortunate childhood she had.

I liked the supporting cast of characters. Not because they were particularly likable individually, but they were a diverse bunch and all brought different sides of Violet out. The romance was cute and it was firmly a subplot and didn’t take over the story, which I appreciated.

Overall, Pretending to be Erica was just ok for me. It wasn’t what I was expecting it to be at all, which was disappointing, but for what it was, it wasn’t too bad. While the ending isn’t without consequences, which I liked, it was pretty open ended, which I didn’t really appreciate. While I don’t think this book is for everyone, I think readers who are into characters who spend most of their time in introspection would probably like it.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars
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It’s Not Me, It’s You: Breaking up with the New Adult genre

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If I had no exposure to the New Adult genre and had to guess what it is, I would suspect something like this: Recent college graduate (or high school graduate if the character did not go to college), who is trying to figure out The Real World – getting a full-time job, finding a place to live, having to pay all your own bills, understanding health insurance and 401(k)s – all while juggling friends and family and romance and etc. I would guess the setting to be mostly in the workplace. I could also almost think that it could be about college freshmen, who are “new adults” by the fact that they are leaving home for probably the first time. However, though my college days are far behind me, I feel pretty confident in saying that the average college freshmen are (very) slightly more mature high schoolers. Even senior year of college can be seen more as a part of childhood than adulthood. But, I digress. (And please, these are generalizations, don’t get offended if you are – or were – mature and adult like in your college years.)

After reading several New Adult books, this is how I would define the genre: Young Adult stories with adult sex scenes.

Now I know that several New Adult authors dispute that definition. (I tried to search for some exact quotes from them, but since nothing came up on the first result page of any of my searches, I gave up. I’m sure you can find some if you really want to.) However, I don’t buy it. Most of the books that I’ve read had been about new college students who lose their virginity – graphically. Or fall in love and realize that sex can be meaningful – and graphic. Some have even had actual plot lines that did not center on sex, but was still inundated with multiple graphic scenes. Honestly, most of these books are bordering on erotica. And very few have ever mentioned majors, future careers, or paying an electric bill.

Now, if you like this, that’s fine. Read your horny little hearts out!! I’m not trying to demean other people’s tastes in books. I have just come to the realization that this genre is not enjoyable for me and thus, I think I need to give it up.

Does that mean I’ll never read another New Adult book? Probably not. (What is a break-up without a backslide?) For example, The Return is a book by Jennifer Armentrout that I have been looking forward to since The Covenant series ended. Seth was one of my favorite characters and I was happy to hear he was getting his own spin-off. However, while The Covenant series was YA, JLA has said that Seth is old enough for The Return to be NA. I’m DREADING that all this means is that the sex scenes will be much more graphic than they were in the preceding Young Adult series and the writing will be exactly the same. Here’s your chance, Armentrout, to disprove my New Adult theory! Please do!

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And ughhhhh. That cover. Really???????????????????

What do you think? Do you read New Adult? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment?

Review: All the Truth that’s in Me by Julie Berry

All the Truth That's in Me

Synopsis from Good Reads:

Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared from their small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago, only Judith returned, permanently mutilated, reviled and ignored by those who were once her friends and family. Unable to speak, Judith lives like a ghost in her own home, silently pouring out her thoughts to the boy who’s owned her heart as long as she can remember—even if he doesn’t know it—her childhood friend, Lucas. But when Roswell Station is attacked, long-buried secrets come to light, and Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice, even if it means changing her world, and the lives around her, forever. This startlingly original novel will shock and disturb you; it will fill you with Judith’s passion and longing; and its mysteries will keep you feverishly turning the pages until the very last.

This book isn’t really at all what I thought it would be. Based on the cover I thought it would be modern, but it’s historical fiction (though the year is never mentioned). Also since the name of the town is Roswell Station, I latched onto “Roswell” and figured it would have something to do with aliens. However, there are no supernatural/fantasy elements to the story.

I enjoyed Berry’s writing style, though it took a bit to get used to. It’s written in Judith’s 1st person POV, as if she is talking to her childhood friend/crush/love Lucas. I’m not sure if this is technically 2nd person POV or not. Lucas is always the “you” she is referring to and I always think of 2nd person using an impersonal “you” to a general audience. The story is broken up into four “books”, each “book” divided into several mini “chapters” that are often not more than a page. The timeline shifts between past and present without notice, but always with reason. All of this helped the story to seem fast-paced, even though there wasn’t often a lot going on.

I liked our main character, Judith, even though I didn’t always understand her. Despite all that she’s been through and all she’s still being put through by the town and her mother, she still has hope for the life she’s always wanted and she still works hard to help provide for her mother and brother, which is a pretty thankless job.

I liked Lucas, Judith’s love interest, as well. They grew up together as friends so their relationship is real and not the “insta-love” that often plagues YA. He’s hard-working and kind and protective. There is a fairly large cast of secondary characters in the eclectic townsfolk. Some were likable and some were really not. I especially ended up liking Judith’s new friend Maria, mostly because I ended up being completely wrong about her.

Overall, I really enjoyed All the Truth that’s in Me. It was different than anything I’ve read before. The writing and the story were unique and the characters were strong. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that this is a standalone and not part of a series, which is part of my 2014 Bookish Resolutions.

Rating (out of 5)
Plot: 4
Characters: 4
Readability: 4
Enjoyability: 4
Overall Average: 4 stars

Hush by Stacey R. Campbell – 3 stars (out of 5)

*I received a copy of this title from NetGalley. It does not impact my review.*

Hush - A Lakeview Novel (Book 1)

Synopsis from Good Reads:

For small-town girl Blakely Henry, any hope of finding her biological parents died when she stopped believing in fairy tales and Disney princesses. That is, until she spots her boarding school’s new British exchange student, Max Ryder, staring at her. Why would a boy who looks like he stepped out of the pages of a magazine be looking at her? Because Max knows something Blakely doesn’t.

Following the tragic demise of one of Europe’s most beloved royal families, Max has stumbled upon information he thinks may lead to a lost royal heir, and now he is on a quest halfway around the world to see if he’s right.

Sworn to secrecy by his university professor and the headmaster of Lakeview Academy, Max is admitted into an exchange program with the sole purpose of finding out the truth. But will his personal feelings for Blakely get in the way?
When a stolen email surfaces, Blakely and her friends’ lives are threatened, and Max starts to question what he is really after.

From the exclusive rolling lawns of Canada’s most prestigious boarding school to the University of Saint Andrews’ hallowed grounds, Blakely’s quiet, unassuming life is turned upside down. Is she really who she thinks she is? Can she survive long enough to help Max unearth the truth?

My Thoughts:

-I think that my favorite thing about Hush is the story behind it. Campbell wrote it for her oldest daughter when she went to  boarding school. Blakely, the main character, is named after and loosely based on her. There will  be two more books in this series, each based on Campbell’s other daughters. How completely sweet is that?

-While this is a YA book and there is some more mature language and themes throughout the story, I felt like it was written for the very young end of the YA spectrum. The dialogue and some of the minor plot points seemed more adolescent than Young Adult and since I am well past Young Adult age, I found that I didn’t enjoy the book quite as much. However, I think a younger reader would probably enjoy it.

-The characters were mostly likable. I enjoyed the friendships between Blakely and her classmates, as well as her close relationship with her parents and sister. However, I found them a little un-relatable – they were all Beautiful and Popular and had no problems whatsoever. Blakely was also a little entitled, but I guess she can be since she is actually a Princess. Max was probably my favorite character, but he was a pretty stereotypical teen guy and I would’ve liked to have seem him fleshed out a little more.

-Overall, I found Hush to be a cute, enjoyable story. I would recommend it to the younger readers of YA fiction.

Mind Games by Kiersten White – 4 stars (out of 5)

Mind Games (Mind Games, #1)

Synopsis from Good Reads:

Fia was born with flawless instincts. Her first impulse, her gut feeling, is always exactly right. Her sister, Annie, is blind to the world around her—except when her mind is gripped by strange visions of the future.

Trapped in a school that uses girls with extraordinary powers as tools for corporate espionage, Annie and Fia are forced to choose over and over between using their abilities in twisted, unthinkable ways…or risking each other’s lives by refusing to obey.

In a stunning departure from her New York Times bestselling Paranormalcy trilogy, Kiersten White delivers a slick, edgy, heartstoppingly intense psychological thriller about two sisters determined to protect each other—no matter the cost.

Thoughts:

Mind Games is told through 1st person POV between sisters Fia and Annie. I’m a big fan of multiple first person POV and I felt it was done well here. Fia and Annie have two distinctive voices. I’ve read some reviews that hated Fia’s “stream of consciousness” pov, but I liked it. It reminded me a lot of Tahereh Mafi’s style in the Shatter Me series (which I love).

-The story is told in alternating POV and time. For example. there is a chapter told from Fia’s pov in the present, then in a flashback, then Annie’s pov in the present, then in a flashback. I really enjoy this style. Maybe because it reminds me of Lost (before it wasted 6 years of my life. Seriously, the end of Lost was horrible! I still get upset just thinking about it). I found the flashbacks informative and enjoyed reading them as if they were in real time instead of one of the characters explaining it in the present. I think this style also keeps the story from ever feeling too slow.

-I found both Fia and Annie to be likable characters and were pretty well developed. However, I felt like the secondary characters could have been fleshed out a little bit more, as well as the stories surrounding them. What is James really up to? Why does Eden not leave the school if she has the choice? How will Adam’s work really effect Fia, Annie, and others like them?

-Overall, I really enjoyed Mind Games. It was a quick and easy read and I was actually disappointed that it was over so soon. I’m definitely looking forward to the next in the series, due out in February 2014.