Monthly Archives: June 2015

Summer Contemporary Fling – 99 Days by Katie Cotugno

22836575Title: 99 Days

Author: Katie Cotugno

Rating:  ★★ / ★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Day 1: Julia Donnelly eggs my house my first night back in Star Lake, and that’s how I know everyone still remembers everything—how I destroyed my relationship with Patrick the night everything happened with his brother, Gabe. How I wrecked their whole family. Now I’m serving out my summer like a jail sentence: Just ninety-nine days till I can leave for college, and be done.

Day 4: A nasty note on my windshield makes it clear Julia isn’t finished. I’m expecting a fight when someone taps me on the shoulder, but it’s just Gabe, home from college and actually happy to see me. “For what it’s worth, Molly Barlow,” he says, “I’m really glad you’re back.”

Day 12: Gabe got me to come to this party, and I’m actually having fun. I think he’s about to kiss me—and that’s when I see Patrick. My Patrick, who’s supposed to be clear across the country. My Patrick, who’s never going to forgive me.

Huge thank you to Balzer + Bray and Edelweiss for this ARC!

River’s Review:

I… did not like this book. I found it incredibly frustrating and almost put it down a couple of times. I did like how it tackled double standards though, and for that I gave it two stars.

Molly Barlow is a selfish girl who keeps making the same mistakes over and over again. I HATED how every time she would do something that she KNEW was wrong she’d always brush it off as ‘I couldn’t help myself’ or ‘I couldn’t stop myself’. Uh, yes, you can. Nobody was FORCING you, EVER.

This book is about a girl who broke her boyfriend’s heart by sleeping with his brother. Molly was dating Patrick forEVER, but when they broke up (the DAY they broke up, wtf) she slept with his older brother. And then kept it a secret for a year until Molly’s mother (who’s a best selling novelist) wrote a book using Molly’s secret (wtf at her mom!) and then did an interview for People Magazine (again WTF!!! I’d be SO PISSED if that was my mom). Everyone in town found out about it and Molly ran away to boarding school. When she comes back for the summer she’s ostracized and slut shamed for what she did.

And that’s where I got super annoyed. I don’t understand how sleeping with Gabe, the older brother, ONCE = being a dirty whore. I could have understood that reaction a bit more (not agreed with, but understood) if she’d been sleeping with him for THE ENTIRE YEAR while still dating Patrick, but it was ONE time and they were BROKEN UP. So yes, I can see how the family would be hurt (Molly has been very close with the two brothers and their sister), and the brother’s pissed off, but I don’t know why the entire fucking TOWN decided that she was a dirty slut.

I also didn’t care for any of the characters. Tess and Imogen were really good friends and I felt so bad for them both when Molly kept treating them like crap and in the end really hurt Tess. I was a bit upset with Imogen at first when Molly came back to town, but when we find out what kind of stuff Imogen had been dealing with and how Molly had just dropped her, then I felt bad for her.

I really disliked Patrick and Gabe. They were both douhebags and while I did like that Gabe was willing to take a chance and befriend Molly at the beginning of the summer, and how he kept trying to include her, I didn’t really care for either brother and in the end when we find out more about why they both were going after her, well, that was just really shitty of them both. And ugh, Patrick pissed me off so much. And as much as everyone wants to point at Molly for being a cheater, she technically wasn’t until much later in the book. And she wasn’t the only one.

Like I said though, I did applaud this book for challenging the double standard. So often the female in the relationship is condemned and shunned for cheating and the male’s involvement is shrugged off as ‘well, men!’. Gabe often pointed out that it took the two of them to do what they’d done, and same goes for Patrick later on in the book. I did cheer for Molly when she addressed the issue, but it was hard to cheer for her beyond much else.

Overall I just didn’t connect with anyone in this book, and while I usually enjoy messy stories where ugly pretty people get their just deserts, I never really found anyone who I felt got what they deserved, and I hated not having anyone to cheer for at all in this entire book.

Sam’s Review:

While a lot of the reviews say this book will either be a love or hate affair, I found myself somewhat indifferent. I adored Cotugno’s debut, How to Love, so of course 99 Days shot up to be an anticipated read. I don’t think this book is bad, but it’s quite middling and somewhat problematic.

I really didn’t enjoy how Molly being a cheater automatically made her “slut” in the eyes of everyone in the community. It seemed a little ridiculous at times, and I mean I can’t blame her feeling like a “slut” if that’s how people are portraying her, but it gets to be a little suffocating at times. I had a hard time with Molly, because sometimes I found I was able to empathize with her, especially when she was trying to make her life more positive, but she repeatedly makes the same mistake over and over again, and it takes her so long to learn from those mistakes, and that can be frustrating for a reader who wants to cheer her on.

Molly is selfish, and her lack of regret is problematic for me. Especially in how she hurts both Tess and Imogen, and yet her character and personality — it felt very real to me in the way that Cotugno knows how to flesh out her characters. Some people, like Molly, just don’t get it, and I think there are parts of that novel where Cotugno is trying to portray this idea that not everyone figures stuff out or sometimes even tries. They aren’t good people, but when I think of where Molly comes from, having her dirty laundry aired in her mother’s best-selling novel, I sort of see why she behaves like she’s stuck.

Frankly, I hate both the male love interests, which shouldn’t be surprising because I hated the one in How to Love. But again, for me, I hate Gabe and Patrick because it comes from the fact that they feel real, like real people I wouldn’t like even in real life. Gabe is just full of himself and a tool, while Patrick is a firecracker who just can’t see beyond himself. And that’s just it, these characters are selfish, mean, but they are people you may have encountered in your lives. I applaud Cotugno’s writing because I’ve always enjoyed the fact that her characters can be appalling and problematic, but they are real people who just happen to be unlike-able.

And here’s the thing, yes cheating is a taboo subject, but it does happen, and it shouldn’t be the end of someone’s world because they’ve done it. I think what frustrates me at times is this idea that when someone is a cheater, they are always a cheater, and I don’t think that’s entirely true. People make mistakes, they are human, it’s what you learn from the experience. It may take Molly the entire story to learn from her mistakes and even fix some of her relationships, but she’s still a young person learning to be someone. It’s why even when I was angry and frustrated with her, I could still empathize. I’ve met people like her in my life, and yes they are imperfect — but aren’t we all?

At the end of the day, 99 Days is a frustrating read, but I appreciate the kinds of lessons that Cotugno was trying to infuse into the story about some people never getting it. The ending works so perfectly because Molly is called out once more, and yet she knows she’s leaving for college and she gets that chance to potentially have a fresh start. Sometimes you have to let people learn the hard way, which is what I got from this novel. I still would recommend How to Love over this novel any day, but I admit I did want more from 99 Days and I just didn’t get it in the end.

ARC Review – Sweaterweather: & Other Short Stories by Sara Varon

25332015Title: Sweaterweather: & Other Short Stories

Author: Sara Varon

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: Sweaterweather is about a turtle, a rabbit, and other sweet creatures on a snowy journey. It contains short comics and lots of other delightful things, such as paper dolls, postcards, and stamps. Sweaterweather is being released in June just in time to save those longing for the cold from a long hot Summer!

Huge thank you to First Second and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Reading a Sara Varon graphic novel is like putting on a warm sweater. It’s comfortable, familiar, and makes you feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. In this new collection of short comics, we see Sara’s humble beginnings as a graphic novelist, and how her style has changed from the early years to now.

There’s definitely some gems in this collection. We get to see the beginnings of Dog and Robot, cooking adventures with friends, tea time comics for a cold winter, and of course, my favourite, paper dolls. I have a weird love of paper dolls and when they appear in a book my first temptation is to cut the pages out and make them (though this was an egalley, and I don’t think I’d do it to a finished copy even if the temptation was there).

And really that’s just it — these stories are meant to be shared. They are cute, funny, and heart-warming, and sometimes that’s all you truly need from a graphic novel, book, movie, etc. Sometimes you want to read what is comfortable, and what fits like a good sweater. While you won’t be able to get your hands on this until 2016, it’s worth the wait, and if you’re curious about Sara Varon, check out her other graphic novels, they are all wonderful!

Note: This graphic novel does not release until February 2nd 2016. This was an early galley provided to me by publishers.

Cultural Accuracy in YA

Lately there has been a big push for more diversity in YA. Non-white main characters, non-American (non-Western) settings, LGBQTI characters, and so on. With that comes the challenge of writing not only diversely, but accurately. Often non gay or non POC authors get flack for not writing their gay or POC characters stereotypical and cliche. And I’m glad that this stuff is being addressed. It’s important that diversity isn’t used as a gimmick.

I take issue with books set in Asia that are not accurate. I’ve run across a few ‘white girl goes to ::insertAsiancountryHERE::’ novels that have thrown me into a rage. It’s a topic that I feel very close to, and I’ve decided to write about it here. I polled twitter and facebook and people are interested, so here we go.

179542_10100696192142385_2114367399_nBefore we get too far I want to say that while I am addressing accuracy in books set in Asia, Japan specifically, I am not an expert on Japan and Asia. I do feel that I am qualified to speak about this topic though because I lived in Japan for seven years. I did one year of study abroad in Tokyo while living with two host families and then after graduation I worked in Japan for another six years. I lived in Tokyo, Saitama, and Ibaraki. I worked for three different English teaching companies. I did my taxes in Japanese. I went to the hospital in Japanese. I got married to a Japanese man and have an extended family still in Japan. I might not still be living in Japan, but I have life experience there (I almost died twice!) Oh, and I have a minor in East Asian Studies. So that’s as far as my “authority” goes.

Japan is a beautiful country, Japanese is a difficult language, and the culture is very different 268770_10100219200966525_3845584_nfrom Western culture. One of the biggest issues I have with some of the YA books set in Japan is that the MC usually acclimates way too quickly. She (so far I’ve only read one book with a male MC) picks up the language in no time and never suffers from culture shock. In Ink, by Amanda Sun, our MC, Katie, moves to Japan to live with her aunt after her mother’s death. Not only is Katie dealing with grieving, she’s suddenly dumped in a new country. And yet she does FINE. We’re lead to believe that the dialogues are all in Japanese (which just was so confusing because it’s all written in English, hence it is a translation of the Japanese being spoken) and there is no way that Katie has mastered Japanese that quickly. In the book she often comments on her poor Kanji skills, but then she’s seen writing emails to her friends in Japanese. And with little trouble. There are a few times when we see her struggling, but her language skills (while not shown in actual Japanese) are pretty flawless. From my own experiences learning Japanese in class and learning Japanese on the street are two different things. When I moved to Japan for study abroad I had studied Japanese for three years in college. When I got there I thought I was the shit and would be able to communicate no problem. Instead I had a horrible time. I struggled so much. I even gave up after awhile. I did have friends that flourished and became very good at Japanese in a short period of time, but even then they weren’t fluent quiet yet. So unless Katie had some amazing secret language genius that the author didn’t let us in on, that was just totally unbelievable to me.

I also take issue with the lack of culture shock most MCs face. In both Ink and Katie M. Stout’s Hello, I Love You! (which was set in South Korea, so I can’t comment much on the Korean culture in this one) the MCs seem to have no trouble leaving their troubled pasts behind and flourishing in these new, unfamiliar places. Katie almost seems to forget about her mother and the most “culture shock” I saw her have was when she couldn’t eat karage (a type of fried chicken using sesame oil) for lunch and had to eat PB&J. Later on this is used to show Katie’s “growth” as she leaves her American-ness behind to embrace her Japanese self or something. It really bothered me that she never had any true culture shock. And not ‘oh this is a weird thing in Japan’ (that is not real culture shock), but the debilitating anxiety that comes before having to go use the ATM or send a package at the post office or get your hair cut. The feeling that it’s probably safer to stay inside where you don’t have to face something in a foreign language. Culture shock that myself and many of my friends faced when first living in Japan. Hello, I Love You‘s MC, Grace,  never even had jet lag, let alone culture shock. This is such a real thing and should be explored! I know that it probably takes away from what the author wanted the story to be about (romance in a foreign land) but it’s just not accurate at all.

574635_10100599906679225_1114244541_nMy number on biggest rage inducing trope in these books is the ‘white girl can’t use chopsticks’ stereotype. But Molly!, you cry, I’m a white girl and I can’t use chopsticks! I’ve tried! Well guess what, you weren’t taught properly. And if you were taught properly, you could do it. It’s NOT hard. And it makes me so mad that people think it is. And it makes me RAGEFULL when this is used to show growth. It’s not growth. When you learn how to use a fork does that show that you’ve really made strides as a person and have really come to accept the land around you? No. (Guess what, Japanese people can use forks! And spoons! And knives!) Also, being judgmental about food. I get that in a lot of these books the MC doesn’t want to go to whatever country they’re going to. They didn’t choose, and I did. But they should still try. I don’t understand the judgement. I recently read Holly Smale’s Geek Girl: Model Misfit. This book takes place in Japan, and it’s probably one of the best YA books set in Japan that I’ve read to date. The MC wants to go to Japan, has some interest, but she’s there as a tourist. She’s not expected to act like someone who’s living there, trying to assimilate. And I loved how fun it was to see Japan the way I saw it when I first went there. And that first time EVERYTHING IS AWESOME feeling isn’t in either Ink or Hello, I Love You! You might think it shouldn’t be in either of those books because both of the MCs are in Japan and Korea following some heavy issues, but I do feel like they should have experience some of that initial I’M HERE euphoria. That’s NATURAL of traveling anywhere (and, also, a stage of real culture shock!). I loved Geek Girl’s wide eyed fun view of Japan. And I loved how freaking accurate all of it was! (some of the Japanese romanizations weren’t 100%, but other than that, so good). I also loved that there was no judging of the food (or anything really).

The best book I’ve read that was set in Asia has to be Listen,
22477286Slowly, by Thaniha Lai. I don’t know much about Vietnam, but this book is about a young girl who’s, I believe, 3rd generation Vietnamese. She has no connection to the country other than it’s where her parents and grandmother are from. She knows maybe five words of Vietnamese, and has no interest in her heritage. She then has to go spend the summer there with her grandmother and the MC suffers culture shock, acceptance, and immersion. She also reconnects with her grandmother and starts to accept and show interest in her heritage. Now, this book doesn’t have a white MC (she is very American/ Western tho), so maybe that’s part of it, but also I believe the author has real experience in Vietnam or with Vietnamese culture. And I feel that therein lies the problem with a lot of these books. While they are researched, they aren’t lived. When I find out that an author didn’t truly LIVE (not stay, not visit, LIVE) in the country they’re writing about (and they claim they did) I can see how it falls into stereotypes and inaccuracies. With Ink I felt like I was reading a manga. With Hello, I Love You I felt like I was reading a Kdrama. When your source material is already fiction it’s difficult to construct your own accurate fiction.

Anyways, these are just a few thoughts I have on this topic (I have more!) and in no way is this post intended to attack the books and authors mentioned. I believe that the authors tried their best, but at the same time could have done better to keep things more accurate. I am not critiquing the stories or the writing, only the inaccurate portrayals of what it’s like to be a foreigner (specifically a western female) living abroad in an Asian country.

295113_10100599907248085_553024258_nFeel free to leave me your thoughts in the comments and let’s have a dissuasion! Also, I’m interested in hearing about if you have any experience with books set in countries that you have experience in! For example, I’ve had a few British friends have trouble with Anna and the French Kiss! I’d love to know more about the inaccuracies that take place in books set in other countries as well!

ARC Review – Between Us and the Moon by Rebecca Maizel

23367392Title: Between Us and the Moon

Author: Rebecca Maizel

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Ever since Sarah was born, she’s lived in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Scarlett. But this summer on Cape Cod, she’s determined to finally grow up. Then she meets gorgeous college boy Andrew. He sees her as the girl she wants to be. A girl who’s older than she is. A girl like Scarlett.

Before she knows what’s happened, one little lie has transformed into something real. And by the end of August, she might have to choose between falling in love, and finding herself.

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me an advanced copy of this!

River’s Review:

Sadness. This book did not jive with me at all. I did not hate it, but I did not like any of the characters and really did not like the MC’s actions at all.

This book is about a girl who lives in her charismatic sister’s shadow. Sarah, who goes by the nickname ‘Bean’ is a quiet girl who lives for the stars. She studies them and is tracking a comet as a project for her scholarship application. She goes to a fancy school that her parents can’t really afford (her dad is a scientist who… doesn’t have a very stable ‘job’ and her mother got laid off) so she’s trying hard to get this scholarship. The older sister, Scarlet, is going to Julliard and every summer the family spends time with Aunt Nancy, a well-off great-aunt of Sarah’s. Nancy supports their family financially so they feel obliged to basically do whatever she says.

After some heartbreak at the start of the book Sarah decides that this summer is going to be different. She’s turning sixteen and she’s going to be more like Scarlet. So when Scarlet goes to NYC for a month Sarah decides to conduct the ‘Scarlet Experiment’ to see if she can be more like Scarlet and basically, make friends and attract guys.

So Sarah dons Scarlet’s clothes and heads down to the beach. She meets a guy and tries to act like her sister, but kinda sucks at it. Incidentally the guy she meets, Andrew, likes her for her, and they start to talk. He thinks her fascination with the stars is amazing and he thinks she is pretty. Only thing is… Sarah is only 15 (going on 16) and Andrew is 19 (going on 20). So what does Sarah do? She lies to him about her age and says that she’s going to college in the fall. Only this lie doesn’t work out too well for her because he goes to BU and oh she says she’s going to MIT…and the two schools are across the river from each other.

Sarah then spends the rest of the summer falling in love with Andrew. She keeps wearing her sister’s clothes and sneaking out but her family never notices. They think she’s just looking at the stars or in her room studying. They pay no attention to her. I felt bad for her, and totally understood how it felt to be in the shadow of a sibling and how frustrating it can be to change and not have those around you either see it or accept it. THAT part of the story I liked.

I did not like that Sarah and Andrew’s relationship was built on a lie. And that she was being so selfish and jeopardizing his future. This is the part that did the book in for me. She was so caught up in him ‘seeing her’ that every time she tried to tell him the truth she just never did. And she doesn’t. Until the very end. And I was so happy with his reaction because it was so realistic. I did not expect that end and I was glad for it. Until the ‘one year later’ part. Because no.

I also didn’t like how irresponsible Sarah was being. I was not against her changing and growing up, but there were a few times I wanted to be like WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! Especially when it came to the scholarship that she was applying for. (which, btw, we NEVER find out if she gets it and that bugged me SO much because it was SUCH an essential part, at least the comet was, and I felt like that was a part of it).

The writing is also a little awkward at times. I found myself re-reading lines trying to figure out what it was trying to say. And I’m torn about how sex was handled in this book. I am NOT against sex in YA, and think that it’s very important. But this was a bit more explicit than what I’m used to when it comes to YA. It was very detailed and there was no fade to black. I was impressed with the author’s boldness, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen oral sex in YA before. So bravo but at the same time, hmmm.

Overall I feel like you can find books like this that handle the situation better. And if you’re just looking for a fun summertime beach contemporary then check out Sarah Dessen.

ARC Review – Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

13132816Title: Emmy & Oliver

Author: Robin Benway

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Emmy just wants to be in charge of her own life. She wants to stay out late, surf her favorite beach—go anywhere without her parents’ relentless worrying. But Emmy’s parents can’t seem to let her grow up—not since the day Oliver disappeared.

Oliver needs a moment to figure out his heart. He’d thought, all these years, that his dad was the good guy. He never knew that it was his father who kidnapped him and kept him on the run. Discovering it, and finding himself returned to his old hometown, all at once, has his heart racing and his thoughts swirling.

Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. In Emmy’s soul, despite the space and time between them, their connection has never been severed. But is their story still written in the stars? Or are their hearts like the pieces of two different puzzles—impossible to fit together?

Huge thank you to Harper Teen for allowing us to read this book!

River’s Review:

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me an advanced copy of this book for review

I’m not sure I can do this book justice with a review but I will try. First off Robin Benway is one of my favorite authors. I read AKA last year and fell in LOVE with her writing. I love the humor, the dialog, the relationships and the seriousness that she can write and pack all into one book. I love the way she writes friendships and romantic relationships and families.

Emmy & Oliver was one of my most anticipated books of 2015 and it is now one of my favorite books of all time. I was so scared to read it because I had hyped it up so much to MYSELF that I was worried that I wasn’t going to be as in love with it as I WANTED to be (this happened with one of Benway’s other books,The Secrets of April, May, and June. The only book of her’s that I didn’t give 5 stars to) but I was. And this book is more than good. It is literal perfection.

We all know the story of this book. It’s simple really. A boy gets snatched away by his father at the age of seven. Ten years later he is found. And he comes home. Only it is not the homecoming that everyone expects. Because Oliver wasn’t taken against his will. He wasn’t held at gun point every day and told that if he didn’t stay put that he’d die. He was living with his father, growing up. Sure there were a few weird things going on, and he was devastated about some of the lies that his father told him (that he didn’t know were lies until later on), but he had a life, a home, and he was happy.

See, Oliver didn’t even know that he’d been kidnapped until ten years later when he gets found. So when he comes home it’s hard. And he struggles. And Emmy is there to help him. She’s essentially been waiting for him for ten years. And when he comes back it’s not like he expected, nothing like she expected, nothing like anyone expected.

Now I’ve never been kidnapped, but I have ‘left’ and I think anyone who’e ever ‘left’ and then ‘come back’ (for me it was leaving the country for seven years) you can understand just an ounce of how hard it must be to come back from what Oliver had come back from. For me things were different, people were different, but they expected me to be the same. And I expected that of them too. We forget how much we grow and change over time. And Oliver’s family and friends had trouble with that.

Along with Oliver’s story we have Emmy who struggles with her extremely overprotective parents. Emmy and Oliver lived next door to each other and when he was taken her parents were there to support Oliver’s mother. And they then lived through the entire horrible ordeal with her and basically channeled their anger and fear into protecting their only daughter… and thus gave her very strict curfews, controlled her plans for college and always told her what to do. They were really good parents, and I loved Emmy’s relationship with them, but they were a bit overbearing. And this does come to a head because Emmy loves to surf (something her parents would freak out about if they knew she was doing it) and often lies to her parents to do what she loves.

I also loved the more subtle stories woven in with Drew (who struggles with his family not 100% accepting that he’s gay) and Caro (who struggles with not being noticed in her huge family of six kids at all) and their friendship with Emmy and then Oliver when he comes back. I loved the interactions between these four and it made me super nostalgic for high school and parties (siighhhh I really am getting old!).

And the romance. I loved it so much. It was slow build and then explosions and just gave me ALL. THE. FEELS.

I really hope that my review doesn’t overhype this book for others but for real you just need to read this book, especially if you are a Robin Benway fan. This book does not disappoint and now I am really sad that it’s over!!!

Sam’s Review:

So, Emmy & Oliver. I have to admit, I was really nervous going into this one having seen a lot of the reviews be all over the place. However, then I asked myself, “Sam, why are you worried? You know Robin Benway books mean fun, crazy, good times.”

Sadly, that sentiment is not true of Emmy & Oliver, as this is a book that will punch you hard in the feels, and then repeatedly take a few more punches in hopes that it will drill it’s emotional turmoil into your soul. I digress, but I loved this book and am completely reminded of why I think Robin Benway is a strong writer in the young adult world.

If there is something Benway excels in the most, it’s crafting relationships amongst her characters. Especially, friendships. In this story Emmy has two partners-in-crime, both who get an intense amount of development considering they are secondary characters, and their stories are equally as wonderful as that of the main plot that drives the novel. I thought Caroline and Drew’s stories wonderfully tied is, from Drew’s family not accepting that he’s gay, or Caroline feeling invisible because of her large family, it parallels so well to Emmy & Oliver’s stories.

This novel really is about the level of disconnect that parents often have with their children. This idea that they know better, or what is best, and you see this constantly throughout with the four teens that Benway focuses one. Each with their own struggles of identity, desire for approval, or just even trying to get their parents to comprehend their wants and desires, Benway does an amazing job at putting the reader at the forefront of these problems and she doesn’t provide an easy solution for them either.

Oliver by far gets it the hardest, and it’s why he’s such a fascinating character. He’s someone who was kidnapped at a young age, and didn’t entirely understand what was happening around him. His struggles are so real and he tries so hard to assimilate himself into a world where he once belong. Couple that with the fact that his mother confiding in Emmy’s family, and you see that Oliver’s disappearance begins to directly affect Emmy’s life — her parents becoming overprotective, strict and difficult. They are a pair though, and Benway does a great job of showing the reader how life was before the kidnapping and after, and how Emmy and Oliver truly are a part of each other’s lives. They have this intense, symbiotic relationship, and even after ten years though it’s difficult for Oliver, Emmy becomes a pillar of strength, and roles reverse and so forth.

Robin Benway does an amazing job of keep readers engaged withEmmy & Oliver. I may have read it at a slow pace, but it was one of those books I found myself devouring word for word because I was invested in these characters and their hardships. I’ve sadly never dealt with the issues they have faced (I grew up in a fairly open family). I feel like this is Robin Benway’s best novel yet, and if you are a fan or her work or you just want an emotional connection with, this is a perfect read.

Summer Contemporary Fling – Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

15826648Title: Where the Stars Still Shine

Author: Trish Doller

Rating:  ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She’s never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love–even with someone who seems an improbable choice–is more than just a possibility.

River’s Review:

I think this book was slightly over-hyped for me. While I did enjoy it, there were things that I didn’t really like and other parts that were just okay.

As most of you know, I am a HUGE fan of Robin Benway and her most recent book, Emmy & Oliver is a fav of mine (porb in my top 10 for 2015). So I was a little worried that I was going to compare this book to that book and kinda braced myself for it. I was really worried that I was going to feel like E&O was a rip-off of this. Thankfully I DID NOT. They are two totally different books with a similar concept (child abducted by a parent and stolen away for years only to be found and returned “home”). And this made me happy. (Even though I vastly preferred E&O)

In this book Callie KNOWS that her mother has basically stolen her. She twists Callie’s image of her father, and forces Callie to run around the country with her as they move from place to place whenever Callie’s mother feels like it. We aren’t sure until a bit later why her mother is doing this (she has borderline personality disorder and doesn’t take care of herself properly) and I just felt so bad for Callie. She loves her mother, but she doesn’t love the life they lead. Callie doesn’t go to school and spends her days wandering around whatever town they’re in: she goes to the library, walks the streets, hooks up with guys, hangs out at the laundromat. She’s not happy, but she does want to keep her mom happy.

One night while moving to a new state they get pulled over by the police and everything falls apart. Callie’s father, Greg, is called in from Florida and he takes her back to her childhood home, to a family she knows nothing about. And it’s not just any family, it’s a huge Greek family who wants to spend time with her. But she isn’t interested in them.

I loved the family aspect of this book. I loved how hard Greg tried to be her father and how he just didn’t know what to do with her. Callie did not try though, but that was to be expected. She’d left her mother and the only life she’d ever known and was just expected to participate and be the daughter and granddaughter and best friend that everyone had always imagined she would be. She’s cold and mean at times and I liked that she always realized when she was being that way and tried to make amends.

The romance was just… meh for me. It happened way too quickly and while I don’t mind sex in YA, this was very messy and complicated sex. I did like that, but at the same time I wish that Callie’s relationship with Alex wasn’t founded on sex. I didn’t like the way that they met and were instantly drawn to each other. It wasn’t instalove, but attraction, and I get it, but I didn’t really like it. Callie has always used sex as a way to escape and she’s always felt dirty afterwards. She’s also dealing with some trauma caused by an old boyfriend of her mother’s. So when I say that the sex is complicated, it is. And while I liked Alex and what he brought to the table in terms of helping Callie deal, I really didn’t like that they’d rush onto his boat during her freaking LUNCH BREAK FROM WORK to do it. Like come on.

I thought that the topic of child abuse (of the sexual nature) was an interesting one and I was so happy when Callie finally started to talk about her abuse. I wish that she would have talked to her father about it, but I can see how that would be difficult. I guess I would have loved it if she’d spoken to her step-mother about it and had a bonding moment. I did like that she finally confronted her mother about it and her mother’s true colors shone brightly. I know that the mother needed help, and that she wasn’t willing to help herself, but I wish that Callie would have come to the conclusion that she deserved better much sooner.

Overall this wasn’t a bad book, and there are plenty of people out there who are IN LOVE with it, but it wasn’t 100% for me. I loved the setting, the family dynamics, and how Callie began to work through her troubles. But the romance was dead in the water and pulled my rating down a bit.

Sam’s Review:

I feel like I am going to echoing a lot of what my co-blogger said in this review. I’ve never read Trish Doller, but she is hugely popular with some of my friends that I trust, so it I was book I grabbed also immaculately when it released back in 2013. While I loved the majority of the story, I think this book might have been over-hyped for me and the romance was something I was looking forward to and admittedly, it didn’t work for me.

I actually really enjoyed Callie as a heroine for the most part. Her voice was easy to fall into, her story of being stolen and living her life feeling like a no one — it really broke my heart. When she is forced to go live with a father whom she hasn’t seen in several years, you can’t blame her for a lack of excitement. I loved her blended family though, as you could see how hard Greg and Phoebe were always trying, always wanting her to feel like Callie matters. Part of me wanted to smack her because she has it so good, and yet I understand why at first she was so desperate to pull away — Callie doesn’t know any better. Still, she is loved by these people, and quite unconditionally.

When the book revolved around Callie’s family, her past and her self-identity, that was when the book and I truly connected. I wanted to know more about her upbringing, her unfortunate molestation, and when you put all the pieces together, it’s no wonder why she struggles to have self-worth. She at first doesn’t want to improve her life, and it’s no wonder why her initial relationship with Alex is sex-based. However, Alex didn’t work for me one bit.

For the most part he felt like a very flat love interest. Callie’s cousin Kat makes him out to be this super sleazy, somewhat suspicious guy, but he doesn’t have much of a personality to speak of, and what is there just wasn’t my type. I think what bothered me is how long he allowed the relationship to purely be sex based, and how he didn’t seem to understand when Callie didn’t want to do something. I mean, I love the idea of how messy their relationship is (Alex is related to Phoebe soooo that isn’t good for a starts!), but it’s founded and grounded on sex, and Callie spends so much of the novel using sex to validate her self worth to this guy and while I am sure this happens, it made me cringe at times because Alex didn’t have a lot of personality to work with. Eventually Alex gets better and wants to help Callie, but their relationship for the majority of the book is make-outs, sex, lather, rinse, repeat. I need more than this, admittedly. I just wish I had a connection to him because I feel like I should have been able to root for him and Callie, but instead I felt this weird suspicion about him that just never allowed me to connect.

I also didn’t like how Callie’s abuse was ignored for good chunk in the middle of the book. It seems so important in the beginning and in the ending, but there’s moments where you almost feel like it should be impacting her more than it’s portrayed? I feel like if someone is suffering from sexual abuse, that it would be something constant, always there, lingering, and it wouldn’t make relationships of any kind simple. I think how Doller concludes the novel and resolves what happens to Callie is exceptionally done, and I loved the ending, especially when Callie confronts the person who stole a large part of her self-worth. The resolution was completely worth getting to.

I think Where the Stars Still Shine is a very enjoyable contemporary read from start to finish> Even though I had some problems with it, when the book focused on Callie and her family, I was completely hooked. Doller’s writing is so beautiful and thoughtful, and I am definitely going to check her other books out. I think if I had gone into this one blind without the hype, I might of had a different perspective, but overall I found it to be a good page-turner in the end.

A Bookish Update of Sorts

IMG_1240Look at all my babies! I mean um Hi! I know I haven’t posted in a million years (Sammy is the best! I’d make the hands up emoji on here if I could). I’m TRYING. I know, I say that every time. But life has just been so busy! And now it’s summer and I’m really enjoying my new job and Husband is in Super Research Mode, so I’ve been Reading All the Time. And not blogging enough. So this is my attempt to update y’all on my bookish endeavors as of late!

If you follow me on twitter you know that I’ve been really into book trading the past few months! I’m one of those people who wants to have ALL the copies of her favorites, even the ARCs. Those are just so hard to get sometimes and they just feel so special to me when it’s a fav. So I’ve been collecting my favs from the past two years and I’ve gotten SO many amazing things! It’s also a little addicting… so I think I need to stop after this next trade…  (which is what I say every time…)

BUT the trading did lead to something good… The First Boston Book Swap! Hosted by myself and The Mackenzi Lee (Author of This Monstrous Thing, out in September) (that was a shameless plug) (It was a shitty choice!) (no it wasn’t!) (somebody get me an ARC!!!) basically we’re getting a bunch of Boston Book People together and we’re going to swap all our books for newer cooler ones! I’ll make sure to take some photos and post about it because I’m sure it will prove to be the Best Party Ever. And will hopefully happen again in the near-future!

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As I mentioned, Husband is in Serious Research Mode so I’ve been reading a lot. Sometimes he doesn’t come home until really late, other times he leaves for his lab really early, and when we do spend time together it’s usually in silence while I basically eat books and he scribbled math stuff on a paper. It’s fun, it works, we’re some type of weird power couple (maybe). But I’ve read like fifteen books so far this month and I STILL HAVE ONE WEEK TO GO! So far my fav book of the month has been Devoted… which opened up lots of issues and gave me all kinds of panic attacks and just made me think SO MUCH.

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I also got this beauty from Sammy for my birthday (yes I’m still accepting presents!) and I read it over the weekend (in two sittings) and now I’m on some weird fantasy kick (maybe too much contemporary?) and I really want a kick-ass sci-fi but alas I don’t have one on my shelf.

And finally today I had an epiphany while I was filing confidential documents at work. I was thinking about my (someday) novel and I finally have a pitch for it! It’s ALL THE RAGE meets Anna & the French Kiss… in Japan! No White Girls Allowed! I’m THISCLOSE to working on it but not quite sure if I’m at A Place where I can do so. We will see!

 

The Devoted & Delicate Monsters Blog Tour – Q&A with Stephanie Kuehn & Jennifer Mathieu

Raincoast invited River and I to join in on the Delicate Monsters and Devoted blog tour. Each member of the tour was given an opportunity to ask each author a question related to their novels. I am honoured to share what information I’ve learned from both Stephanie Kuehn and Jennifer Mathieu. Without further ado, let’s see what they had to say about their works, shall we?


23014725Delicate Monsters, by Stephanie Kuehn

Published June 9th 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Review / Add to Goodreads

Preamble: If you read my review above, then you are aware of how smitten I was with Delicate Monsters. It’s an eerie novel that keeps you guessing and shows you just how messed up people can really be. I’d love to see this book as movie some day, because I feel like a director would have a complete field day. Now, one with the question!

Sam: The title of your book, Delicate Monsters is quite the oxymoron. Can you tell us a bit about your choice of title in regards to the story?

Stephanie Kuehn: Well, it’s a reference to Baudelaire’s line about “ce monstre délicat,” in Les
Fleurs du Mal. But the phrase also captures both the monstrousness and genuine humanity
of the characters in the story.

About Stephanie Kuehn:

Stephanie Kuehn holds degrees in linguistics and sport psychology, and is currently working toward a5762535 doctorate in clinical psychology. Her debut young adult novel, CHARM & STRANGE, was the winner of the 2014 William C. Morris Award, and her second novel for teens, COMPLICIT, was named to YALSA’s 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults list. Stephanie was also awarded the 2015 PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship for her forthcoming novel, THE PRAGMATIST, and her most recent book, DELICATE MONSTERS, has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Stephanie lives in Northern California with her husband, their three children, and a joyful abundance of pets.


22718682Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

Published June 2nd 2015 by Roaring Brook Press

Review / Add to Goodreads

Preamble: Devoted was such a wonderful and refreshing read for me. It taught me about a perspective I never considered and showed me a lifestyle I don’t think I could have ever grown up in. Rachel’s Christian upbringing is one that leaves quite the impression, but also teaches a valuable lesson in being sympathetic to others.

Sam: Devoted looks at issues of being confined by beliefs. Can you explain where the inspiration for the novel came from? Why do you feel Rachel’s story is so important to tell?

Jennifer Mathieu:  Well, the inspiration for the novel came from my interest in the TLC reality
show 19 Kids and Counting. I started watching it because I was curious about how a family with nineteen  kids lives life day to day. When I realized the family had a very obvious and specific
way of living their faith, I started doing all this research into the Quiverfull movement, which is sometimes called the Christian Patriarchy movement.  I managed to meet some women who had been raised in this lifestyle and shared their stories with me.

I feel Rachel’s story is important to tell because in extreme faith traditions, women and
girls often have their voices silenced. I felt by telling Rachel’s story, I was giving
a voice to many of the young women who have been raised Quiverfull and want to share
their experiences, which are often quite painful. I also feel Rachel’s story is
important to tell because all of us – no matter how we are raised – ask ourselves the Big
Questions. I hope Rachel’s drive to figure out who she is and what she believes in
motivates readers to live authentic lives themselves.

About Jennifer Mathieu: 

I’m an English teacher, writer, wife, and mom who writes books for and about young adults. My debut6549106 novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE, was published by Roaring Brook Press on June 3, and my second book, DEVOTED, will be out June 2, 2015.

My favorite things include chocolate, pepperoni pizza, and this super hilarious 1980s sitcom about four retired women called The Golden Girls. I can basically quote every episode.

I live with my husband, son, one rescue dog, one fat cat, and another cat that is even fatter than the fat cat.


We hope you enjoyed reading what Stephanie and Jennifer had to say about their novels. Delicate Monsters and Devoted are both out now and can be purchased at your favourite book retail outlet. To see the duo answer more questions, check out the rest of the tour schedule below!

blogtour

ARC Review – Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn

23014725Title: Delicate Monsters

Author: Stephanie Kuehn

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When nearly killing a classmate gets seventeen-year-old Sadie Su kicked out of her third boarding school in four years, she returns to her family’s California vineyard estate. Here, she’s meant to stay out of trouble. Here, she’s meant to do a lot of things. But it’s hard. She’s bored. And when Sadie’s bored, the only thing she likes is trouble.

Emerson Tate’s a poor boy living in a rich town, with his widowed mother and strange, haunted little brother. All he wants his senior year is to play basketball and make something happen with the girl of his dreams. That’s why Emerson’s not happy Sadie’s back. An old childhood friend, she knows his worst secrets. The things he longs to forget. The things she won’t ever let him.

Haunted is a good word for fifteen-year-old Miles Tate. Miles can see the future, after all. And he knows his vision of tragic violence at his school will come true, because his visions always do. That’s what he tells the new girl in town. The one who listens to him. The one who recognizes the darkness in his past.

But can Miles stop the violence? Or has the future already been written? Maybe tragedy is his destiny. Maybe it’s all of theirs.

Huge thank you to Raincoast Books/St. Martin’s Grffin for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Can this book be a movie? I feel like it needs to be a movie.

When I started Delicate Monsters, I didn’t entirely know what I was getting myself into. The synopsis made it seem like it could have been a mystery/thriller, but it really is one of those scary realistic novels that is meant to paint a horrific picture. Sadie, Emerson, Miles, they are all awful people, driven through awful means, and getting off in strange ways.

What I love about Stephanie Kuehn’s writing is how disjointed and frazzled it feels (more so in this book than her others). The style provides a dreadful feeling throughout, making you ponder what is exactly happening. It almost feels like the reader is being dragged against their will, but they aren’t able to shield themselves away from the violence that takes place in the story. Even the ending feels like it refuses to be tied up into a neat bow.

And I loved the whole experience because of it. These people are ugly, scary, and they make you question how they feel absolutely nothing. Emerson has moments where he feels sadness, remorse, guilt, but it’s coupled with this bizarre behaviour that is often present on his face. Miles is afraid, nervous, and he’s the easiest to sympathize with, but as the novel progresses, you realize more and more how screwed up he is.

Finally, there’s Sadie. Sadie is probably the scariest of the three, if only because she’s honest in her malicious intentions. Reading her sections felt like I was being put into the mind of a sociopath, and overall, her intentions towards other, making them feel pain, fear, she’s just terrifying.

But in all seriousness, Delicate Monsters is a book that will mess with your mind. I read this book in two sittings because the narrative ties were so engrossing. I had to know more, I had to keep going, and boy was I exhausted after finishing this novel. Stephanie Kuehn presents us with such terrifying people, it’s no wonder why she classifies them as monsters.

ARC Review – Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roat

23287163Title: Between the Notes

Author: Sharon Huss Roat

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When Ivy Emerson’s family loses their house—complete with her beloved piano—the fear of what’s to come seizes her like a bad case of stage fright. Only this isn’t one of her single, terrifying performances. It’s her life. And it isn’t pretty.

Ivy is forced to move with her family out of their affluent neighborhood to Lakeside, also known as “the wrong side of the tracks.” Hiding the truth from her friends—and the cute new guy in school, who may have secrets of his own—seems like a good idea at first. But when a bad boy next door threatens to ruin everything, Ivy’s carefully crafted lies begin to unravel . . . and there is no way to stop them.

Huge thank you to Harper Teen for sending me an ARC of this!

River’s Review:

ALL. THE. FEELS.

Wow this book snuck up on me. The first 100 pages or so were okay (around 3-star territory) but then about halfway I was REALLY in love with this book and didn’t want to put it down! You know you’re hooked on an unputdownable book when you’re halfway through the workday and all you want to do is go home and read! That’s how I felt about this book.

Ivy Emerson’s family is rich. Her dad has a large company, she lives in a gated mansion on the “right” side of town and is part of the elite crowd at school. Then one day it all falls down around here when she finds out that her dad’s company is NOT doing well and that they’re losing their house and most of their possessions. Ivy’s family needs to use what money they have left to keep surviving and to pay for her little brother’s therapy. So the family of five moves to the “wrong” side of town, into an apartment that is roughly the size of her parent’s old master bedroom.

Ivy’s new home is next door to Lennie, the school’s resident bad boy who apparently sells drugs. Ivy hates him from the start and she refuses to believe that the situation they’re in will be permanent. She forces her best friend to keep quiet about the fact that Ivy’s family is now poor and she goes to great lengths to hide her now home and situation. Only she can’t hie from Lennie because they go to school together.

Enter James, the new boy at school. He’s got the looks, a BMW and apparently a good taste in literature. Ivy and James spend a lot of time getting to know each other while Ivy tries to hid what her family is going through. At the same time Lennie is trying to befriend her, and she does her best to avoid him. When James finally does find out about Ivy’s family he doesn’t care, but later she friends out that James is actually very wealthy and due to some miscommunication he bails on her and goes back to his family (who he was running away from because he was sick of people only seeing him for his money).

Ivy’s secret does eventually get out and the way that she handles it just seems to real. She’s embarrassed and scared and sad. She doesn’t know who to turn to when people start to turn their backs on her. But she makes new friends, get close to an old friend, and starts to warm up to Lennie.

I loved all of Ivy’s interactions with Lennie, and I wish there had been more. I also loved how he tied back to a very important part of her stage fright and even helps her get over it when she finally plays the piano and sings in front of a crowd. I really loved the way that she misjudged him and admitted that she was wrong. I also loved the themes of friendship, how sometimes you’re just suck with the friends you have based on circumstance and how like cling to like. I was so happy when Ivy broke away from her group and did what she wanted, spent time with who she wanted, and stopped judging. And the family was so sweet. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her parents to struggle the way there were. And it shed such a sad picture on what the American lower-middle and lower class looks like.

Ivy’s piano playing and musical ability was woven so seamlessly into this. I loved how she used music to help herself understand her situation and how as she grew, her music grew, and what she allowed herself to do with the music also grew.

And finally the end. THE END! That’s what bumped it up to a full five stars. Because it gave me ALL. THE. FEELS. I love it when two characters come together and are just so right and the moment is perfect and then there’s swooning and yes. It was perfection.

Make sure to check this book out guys. It’s a hidden gem.