Monthly Archives: January 2016

Blog Tour – Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn (Review and Q&A)

I read this book at the end of December, and it was a book that when I had completed it, it kept creeping into my thoughts. This book offers a lot of powerful and interesting messages that often get ignored. Raincoast has once again asked us to be a part of a blog tour, and River and I are here to give our thoughts on Firsts. This book definitely is one that will make you think, as it offers some insight into double standards.

23480844Title: Firsts

Author: Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Rating: ★★★★ / ★★★

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time- the kind Mercedes never had herself.

Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy- so far. Her absentee mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn- or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.

Huge thank you to Raincoast / St. Martin’s Griffin for these ARCs!

Sam’s Review (4 Stars):

Back when I went to the #TeensRead event in September, this book was discussed in quite amount of detail about it being “more than meets the eye.” Since I’ve finished it, it’s still a book that replays in my mind because the topics that it discusses are really important, and it’s hard to ignore why they need to be brought into the forefront.

This is a book about double standards, particularly when it comes to sex. It’s about boys who enlist in a young woman to help them be better in bed so that they can give their girlfriends the best first time ever. They are cheaters, and if cheating a topic that makes you uncomfortable (as it does me), then this book is going to be a rough ride (no pun intended) for you as a reader. When Mercedes is found out to have been offering such services, she is the one who takes the blame, not the guys. Why? Because women always suffer in the double standard when it comes to sex, and that means they have to be the one to suffer the consequences and the fallout because a lot of these men can’t man up into doing the right thing.

I loved Mercy’s voice, and that’s really what has stayed with me. On one hand, she knows that she is sexual empowered and desires to be in control of her sexual encounters (especially when you learn why this is the case). I loved her refreshing honesty when it came to sex, and her tips to a lot of the men were wonderfully valid. Her voice was something I couldn’t get out of my head, especially when people find out what her services entailed. I felt for her, I did. Especially when she wants to protect her friendship with Angela, someone who loves her as is. Mercy loses nearly everything in this story, and yet she knows she can’t hide from the voices attacking her, or the blackmail that threatens her. She’s stronger than she gives herself credit for throughout the story, and I loved her friendship with Faye and Zach, because with them, she has extra support and strength, even if it wasn’t easy to obtain.

I also loved the double-standard presented between Mercedes and Kim, especially considering how absent of a parent Kim is, and her desire to be young the way her daughter is. It’s horrifically problematic, but I loved the way in which both characters attempt a face-off and somewhat come together on their own terms.

I think the hardest part of this book for me was that it feels older in tone than what is actually on the page. I totally get that sex is a thing that keeps happening younger and younger, but Mercedes read at times like an experienced belle, wise beyond her years. It was a bit strange at first, but it grew on me.

This book offers so many powerful moments that are both awful, sad, compelling, and it’s compulsively readable. Even if you find the content hard to stomach, it’s one of those books that is so well-written that it keeps you wanting to understand more and more about the double-standards and how Mercedes will carry on. I felt for her, and I think that’s why I loved this book as much as I did.

River’s Review (3 Stars):

I knew going into this book I was probably going to have some issues with it. It sounded way too NA for me (and I really dislike most NA). And I honestly think that this would have been a much stronger book with an older cast of characters.

But, you say, why can’t a teen have an active sex life?! That’s… not why I feel like these characters should have been older. I feel like they should have been older because Mercedes read as older than she was. And yes, she had issues and an absent mom who wanted to be twenty and not an actual mom and blah blah blah but for real, this girl had way too much confidence when it came to sex. And we find out that when she starts this “First time” service she’s not even that experienced herself! So where does all of this knowledge and confidence come from? That’s what I didn’t feel was very real. She was dressing up in sexy nighties and “teaching” these guys but… who taught her? Cuz nobody really did.

And sadly a lot of the WOOHOO GIRL POWER was lost on me because I spent so much time screaming BUT HOW. I DID like that she was so sexual empowered! I did like that she was confident with her body! I did like that she took care of herself! There was a very strong message about girls and sex in this book, one that books like The DUFF (another book that was a low rating for me because the MC just didn’t work for me) are also participating in.

I do think that this message is important. I do think that the double standards should be addressed. I see so many people saying BUT HOW COULD SHE CHEAT WITH ALL THOSE BOYS. Guess what. SHE didn’t cheat… THEY did. Mercedes was single THE ENTIRE TIME SHE WAS SLEEPING WITH THOSE BOYS. THEY were the ones in relationships. And who takes the brunt of it when everything falls apart? The female.

I can see why people love this book and I agree with a lot of the good stuff being said. But I really think that a college background would have worked better for me. (Unless I’m showing my age and 95% of teens are losing it in high school? :old lady voice: When I was in school… yeah.)

Q&A With Laurie Elizabeth Flynn!

98167541. Firsts was all about “first times.” Why was this such an important topic for you
to explore?

There are so many firsts in a teen’s life, and the first time having sex is one of
them. I wanted to explore the expectations surrounding sex and the loss of virginity for
both teen girls and teen boys. There is so much pressure on both sides—boys are
expected to be born ready, and girls are expected to wait for the right person, who
probably takes the form of a long-term boyfriend. Society hammers standards into sex and
paints a picture of how it “should” be in our heads. But the truth is, there are so
many ways a first time can go. It’s rarely ever perfect. For some, it’s romantic and
memorable. For others, it’s awkward and clumsy. Some people want to wait. Others want
to get it over with. Some talk with their friends and others keep it to themselves. It
was important to me to show several different first times and express that it’s not the
same for everyone.

2. What makes Firsts a unique novel in the YA spectrum? What do you think makes it an
important read for young adults?

I think Firsts is unique because it’s told from an unlikely perspective—not only a
girl having sex with multiple partners, but a girl sleeping with other people’s
boyfriends. She’s a girl who might seem easy to hate, but I wanted to show all of her
dimensions. I wanted to show who she really is and tell her story. This is important for
young adults because teens make mistakes. Adults make mistakes. We all make decisions,
and they’re not always the right ones. I think it’s necessary that we can find flawed
characters between the pages of books. I made a lot of mistakes growing up, and seeing
myself reflected in book characters always made me feel better, even though they were
fictional and my problems were real.

We hope you enjoyed our reviews and the Q&A with Laurie. We wish Laurie tons of success with Firsts! Craving more content about Laurie’s debut? Make sure to check out the other stops on this blog tour! And once again huge thank you to Laurie and Raincoast for all their help and insight, as we love doing this!



ARC Review – Shade Me (Nikki Kill #1) by Jennifer Brown

25773842Title: Shade Me

Author: Jennifer Brown

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Nikki Kill does not see the world like everyone else. In her eyes, happiness is pink, sadness is a mixture of brown and green, and lies are gray. Thanks to a rare phenomenon called synesthesia, Nikki’s senses overlap, in a way that both comforts and overwhelms her.

Always an outsider, just one ‘D’ shy of flunking out, Nikki’s life is on the fast track to nowhere until the night a mysterious call lights her phone up bright orange—the color of emergencies. It’s the local hospital. They need Nikki to identify a Jane Doe who is barely hanging on to life after a horrible attack.

The victim is Peyton Hollis, a popular girl from Nikki’s school who Nikki hardly knows. One thing is clear: Someone wants Peyton dead. But why? And why was Nikki’s cell the only number in Peyton’s phone?

Huge thank you to Katherine Tegen Books / Harper Collins Canada for the ARC!

River’s Review:

I am SO disappointed. I wanted to love this book so badly and alas it wasn’t meant to be. It had EVERYTHING going for it for me: synesthesia, kick-ass fighter girl, intriguing mystery… but sadly none of that really worked out well.

First I have to say that I felt like this story would have possibly worked better with a much older cast of characters. Possibly out of college 20-somethings. Ultimately I just felt like it was being forced into being a YA when it really should have been an adult (or even NA) mystery-thriller.

Anyways, Nikki Kill, our kick-ass MC, has synesthesia. If you don’t know what that is, it’s when your sense get kinda mixed up. Some people can see colors when they look at numbers or letters. When I was younger I was able to taste smells (like foods wold taste like the smell of something… I kinda outgrew it) so I always love reading books that deal with synesthesia. Nikki’s was the kind where she looks at numbers and letters and can see colors. She could also see colors connected to emotions. This… didn’t really work for me. It seemed a little too magical at times… like she was able to “predict” things by looking at people and seeing colors. idk. It just really felt a little far fetched at times. Then later on we find out that there’s another person running around with synesthesia who can apparently see the same colors ad Nikki does? I’m… pretty sure it doesn’t work that way. I don’t think that two people with synesthesia can experience things exactly the SAME WAY.

The mystery in this book was also not as mysterious as I’d originally thought it would be and hoped for. Everything felt so thinly connected and some of the conclusions that Nikki would jump to and have actually BE RIGHT just seemed to random and far fetched and just like really??? When we get to the BIG REVEAL I was just rolling my eyes so hard. And like every time Nikki would find a clue she was always like I KNOW BLAH BLAH BLAH with so much damn confidence that I was like ‘really? How do you KNOW?’ it was just really annoying.

The love interest was dumb too. I hated how quickly things went and how there was no development and suddenly there was ~love~. Just… Nikki was supposed to be this cold hearted bitch loaner chick and despite having no friends she has guys falling all over her. And wtf was up with the creepy detective? He kept following her around and wanting to take care of her and there was so much weird sexual tension and just… ew. I don’t care that she was 18 and legal, that dude had to at least be late 20s early 30s!

And the pretend to be a prostitute to get information crap… just again more no. More this is way too old for its characters.

Ugh so much ugh. Around page 350 I just wanted to put it down but kept going with the hope that something shocking was going to happen and it just never did.

Sam’s Review:

If I could describe Shade Me in two words, it would be ‘hot mess.’ The premise of this book is what drew me to it, and if I’m being honest, I spent a lot of this book so razzled and confused as to what the author was eventually trying to get at. Was this a noir? A thriller? An urban fantasy novel? Contemporary? It blends a variety of genres in terms of its presentation, but doesn’t excel at any of them.

I loved the concept of synesthesia, and that was what drew me to the story. However, I felt so confused in its usage during the novel. There were so many moments where I totally understood what Brown was using it for, and other moments where I was like “Okay… what?” and that really bugged me. I felt like I couldn’t connect to Nikki or how she saw the world, no matter how hard I tried as I read the book. It didn’t help that Nikki is such a bland character who just makes poor decisions (which is cool, she’s a teen, it’s allowed), but they are decisions where they are just odd or made me uncomfortable? There’s one scene in particular and as I was reading it on my way home from work that just made me go “WHO DOES THAT?!” to the point where I texted my co-blogger said response.

I think if the characters had been presented a bit older, like they were in college, I think aspects of this novel would have worked so much better. Horribly, I just didn’t like any of the characters, their motives felt shallow, and the plot just comes across to messy at times. A lot of the connections are hanging by tiny threads, and it’s just frustrating given how interesting the premise is.

It’s like wasted potential, especially given that we are told one think about NIkki’s emotions (how she is unfeeling) and yet she feels so much. Yet, there were times I admit, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I think with it being such a hot mess, part of me needed to see where this story was going to go. To be fair, I actually genuinely enjoyed the last forty pages or so, as I was completely engaged, and it was a solid, if predictable ending.

While this is my first Jennifer Brown novel, Shade Me has not deterred me from reading her back catalogue. I wish this had been a much more cohesive novel, instead of the confusing mess that it is. I think this novel will appeal to some readers, just don’t go into it thinking you’re getting a straight-laced thriller, because it just fumbles at any sort of genre convention it attempts to replicate. This isn’t a bad novel, but I admit, I think I hyped it up way more in my head, and was left sorely disappointed.

ARC Review – Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

22692740Title: Symptoms of Being Human

Author:  Jeff Garvin

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is . . . Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender-fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review!

River’s Review:

I was really excited for this book when I first heard about it. I hadn’t heard about someone being gender fluid until I was listening to a podcast last year and one of the discussions was on gender fluidity. I thought it was very interesting and I was even able to think of a few people in my life who might have even been gender fluid.

I grew up in conservative, rural gun country. Questioning your gender would never even be thought of there. Queer people were not out. Dressing and looking different were a guaranteed way to get yourself picked on. I don’t live there anymore, but I am always scared for the future of the kids who are growing up there. Will they be able to express themselves the way they want? Or will they be crushed down and boxed in?

I think books like this are important because kids who do live in places like that need a way to know that there IS a world outside of places like that. I was lucky to have the internet as a teen and I learned that there WERE places where people thought outside the box, dressed differently and expressed themselves. I am a much different (and far less conservative) person now that I’ve lived outside of it all.

I liked the writing in this book, I liked the characters, but it was a bit predictable. As an important story I give it five stars. As a novel, I give i three. I knew “who done it” from the second it was done. I thought things were too convenient and that Riley’s blog popularity skyrocketed a little too fast. I would have liked to have seen Riley as more of a blogger and less of a sensation. And I think that if we’re talking about all these difficult topics that the ending events shouldn’t have been so vague. I’m not sure if it was to play it safe or just because this wasn’t a book about assault, but I would have liked more clear language.

Overall this is a great book and I hope that it makes it into the right hands.

ARC Review – The Word for Yes by Claire Needell

25613939Title:  The Word for Yes

Author: Claire Needell

Rating: ★

Synopsis: After their parents’ divorce, Jan, Erika, and Melanie have to get used to the new world order: a father who’s moved to another continent and a mother who throws herself into moving on. Jan, off at her first semester of college, has plenty to worry about, including an outspoken roommate who’s kind of “out there” and an increasingly depressed and troubled long-distance boyfriend. Her younger sisters, left at home in New York City, and dealing with all the pressures of life in high school, aren’t exactly close. Erika is serious and feels awkward and uncomfortable in crowds, though her beauty tends to attract attention. Melanie is socially savvy and just wants to go out—to concerts, to parties, wherever—with her friends. The gap between all three girls widens as each day passes.

Then, at a party full of blurred lines and blurred memories, everything changes. Starting that night, where there should be words, there is only angry, scared silence. And in the aftermath, Jan, Erika, and Melanie will have to work hard to reconnect and help one another heal. 
At once touching and raw, Claire Needell’s first novel is an honest look at the love and conflicts among sisters and friends, and how these relationships can hold us together—and tear us apart.

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this for review!

River’s Review:

I really don’t like to write negative reviews, so I’ll keep this short. I didn’t like this. I didn’t connect with any of the characters. I thought Jan was blah, Erika was annoying and Melanie was blah. The mother didn’t seem to care that much AT ALL that her daughter had been raped. The actual subject for rape was like 40 pages of this entire thing. It was so glossed over that I just thought it was wrong for this book to be a book about rape and rape culture.

The dialogue in this was horrific. Nobody talks this way, not even adults. Sometimes I would re-read the dialogue and just wonder wtf.

I was so looking forward to this, books about rape and rape culture are so important. But sadly this doesn’t add anything to the current canon of books dealing with this very important topic.

ARC Review – Other Broken Things by C. Desir

23257336Title:  Other Broken Things

Author:  C. Desir

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Nat’s not an alcoholic. She doesn’t have a problem. Everybody parties, everybody does stupid things, like get in their car when they can barely see. Still, with six months of court-ordered AA meetings required, her days of vodka-filled water bottles are over. Unfortunately her old friends want the party girl or nothing. Even her up-for-anything ex seems more interested in rehashing the past than actually helping Nat.

But then a recovering alcoholic named Joe inserts himself into Nat’s life and things start looking up. Joe is funny, smart, and calls her out in a way no one ever has. He’s also older. A lot older. Nat’s connection to Joe is overwhelming but so are her attempts to fit back into her old world, all while battling the constant urge to crack a bottle and blur that one thing she’s been desperate to forget.

Now in order to make a different kind of life, Natalie must pull together her broken parts and learn to fight for herself.

Huge thank you to Simon Teen Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I’ve heard C. Desir is one of those authors whom I should be looking into for tough issue books, as they all deal with a variety of topics and unique teen voices. Other Broken Thingsis definitely a tough read, but it might be one of those books that could have been a tad longer to flesh a few things out.

Natalie is a difficult protagonist to enjoy. She spends a lot of the book pushing the other characters, as well as the reader as far away from her as possible. This aspect is done really well since she’s an alcoholic refusing help from others, but it makes it hard for the reader to really get a sense of who she is because of how she is able to push the reader away. The hardest part to read how much others wanted to provide her will tools and help and she just recklessly kept pushing it aside. I found that heartbreaking to read about, and when it came to her parts I could sympathize a lot as someone who has dealt with people in need of rehabilitation because of alcohol and drugs. A lot of what Natalie’s parents go through are things I saw first hand, so I understood the pain they were feeling.

But I admit, I wanted a bit more from this book and I think that is why it dampened my enjoyment a bit. So much happens so fast to Natalie that in a lot of ways the reader is forced to accept it, but isn’t given time to process it. Perhaps that’s the point of the novel in a lot of ways, but Natalie jumps from so many different things in such a short span (from drinking to boxing to insert mad spoiler here). I think worse off, was that I predicted the big reveal and that sometimes bothers me. The writing was good though as I stated above, Natalie was hard to get into the mind of when it already seemed like she was closed off to the reader.

Perhaps this was the wrong book to start with in my exploration of C. Desir’s books, but I admit I enjoyed this one. Part of me was expecting to love it because the concept and approach were what I was looking for in a gritty contemporary read, and this book gave me that to a large extent. I definitely want to check out her previous two books now, and I do think this book carries some powerful weight when it comes to understanding those who want to become recovering alcoholics. There’s definitely some strong insight, and that’s the parts I loved about this book the most.

Book Chat – Because It’s All About Them ARCs, ‘Bout Them ARCs…

CYH99ndUQAA4_4dIn 2015, I went a little ARC crazy. It was too the point where there were large periods in my reading where I read nothing but, even if I wasn’t in the mood for them. ARCs are an interesting thing in that they can make us feel a variety of things: excitement over having something you wanted early, jealousy when we see something someone else has, and tired because sometimes there’s just so many of them. It’s a crazy roller-coaster of emotions, and something that isn’t always easy to rectify.

The picture above is my current pile, with old ARCs that I’ve received from friends in the back, and all upcoming 2016 titles in the front. As you can see, I have about sixteen titles to read, four which are January releases (end of January mind you), then the rest are from February to April. That’s a lot to read! But I am also one of those people who has a long commute to work, so I always tend to read my ARCs then because I have that uninterrupted amount of time that I can just read and relax. But still, sometimes I think I overreach what I am capable of, and this year I need to be a lot better about not going to crazy and taking on too much more than I can actually handle.

The other issue with ARCs, as wonderful as they are, is that you tend to forfeit reading your own books that you own for them. This means your TBR gets a little larger, and you don’t feel like you’re making as much progress either. I hate that feeling, especially because I don’t like the idea of quantifying reading, even though it’s something I unconsciously do. The Shelf of Shame in my house is a real thing, and it’s something every year I try to work through and bring down more and more.

In 2016, I plan to work on reducing my TBR more. I feel like this is every person’s goal, but for me, I want to just enjoy reading as much as I can, and reading what I want to read. I love receiving and reviewing ARCs, but I also don’t want them to be the thing that dominates my reading time. How do you combat this problem of wanting to read your own books but also feeling obligated to read what you’ve requested? I am huge on schedules and I’m generally really good at following them, but I’d love to hear some tips on how you manage your TBR, and more specifically how you manage the time between ARCs and personal books.

ARC Review – Thicker Than Water by Kelly Fiore

18711172Title:  Thicker Than Water

Author: Kelly Fiore

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Cecelia Price killed her brother. At least, that’s what the police and the district attorney are saying. And although Cecelia is now locked up and forced into treatment, she knows the real story is much more complicated.

Cyrus wasn’t always the drug-addled monster he’d become. He was a successful athlete, but when an injury forced him off the soccer field and onto pain medication, his life became a blur of anger, addiction, and violence. All CeCe could do was stand by and watch, until she realized one effective way to take away her brother’s drugs while earning the money she needed for college: selling the pills.

Soon, CeCe becomes part drug dealer, part honor student. But even when all she wants is to make things right, she learns that sometimes the best intentions lead to the worst possible outcome.

Thicker than Water is an unforgettable dark, harrowing look into the disturbing truth of drug addiction and the desperate love of a sister watching her brother deteriorate before her eyes.

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

River’s Review:

Wowwwww this book is heavy. If you have issues with drugs and addiction, please be careful when you approach this book then because it could be very triggering.

This is the story of a family who’s dealing with addiction and denial. Cece’s family started to fall apart when her mother died of cancer. Cece has a really difficult time with her, but her family moves forward and on. Her father remarries and buys a farm where he tries to start his own business. Her brother, Cyrus, is a star soccer player, but then he hurts his knee and can’t play anymore. Cyrus feels like his life is ruined and he quickly comes to abuse his pain medication and becomes an addict. His addiction spirals out of control and he’s soon stealing from his father, acting violent towards Cece, and creating a wedge between all of the family members.

Money is a big problem for Cece’s family because her father’s farm dream isn’t turning out so well. And with Cyrus stealing what little money they do have they’re facing a lot of financial problems. Cece can’t even pay her school lab fees. She wanted to get a job, but was told to focus on school so she could make something of herself in the future… but that’s hard to do when she can’t afford her lab fees, let alone collage.

Cece can see what’s happening around her, but nobody seems to really are. They live in denial, and she finally gets fed up with it and says fuck it and starts to sell her brother’s pills to make some cash to put towards college. She’s quickly manipulated by a few boys from her school who get her to start stealing more of the pills and eventually they get her to even get her own prescription.

This story is told in alternating past and present sections. In the past we see how things happened, how the present came to be. The present takes place in a behavior therapy center inside of a juvenile detention center. Cece believes that she killed her brother, that her hand played the role of his death, and she all but turns herself in to the police. She’s put on trial and in the present sections of the book we see her working through therapy and preparing for her trial with her public defender. Cece is a very unwilling participant in her recovery and doesn’t see herself as anything but guilty.

The writing in this book was really good, and I flew through it in one sitting. I loved the dialogue and often found myself skipping ahead to read what people were saying and then having to drag myself back to read what was happening. There’s A LOT of tension in this book and you can really feel it.

I guess the only thing that I couldn’t come to grips with was why Cyrus had been recommended to the doctor that was giving him the drugs in the first place. It’s so obvious that he’s not a very good doctor (he is a real doctor, but he basically worked around the law as much as possible to earn money off people’s addictions; a “legal dealer”.) I just felt like any responsible parent (especially one that was always strapped for cash) would have been a bit more upset about having to shell out $215 a doctor visit for someone who was obviously not helping make their child better. But I guess with the father dealing with his own issues he’s blind to it. I just wanted to know why the COACH thought it was the right place to send him in the first place…

Overall this is a very raw, emotional book and if you like stuff like that, you’ll want to pick it up.