Google+ YA Romantics: March 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

Fool for Books Giveaway Hop

Welcome to my stop on the Fool for Books Giveaway Hop!

Tomorrow is April Fool's Day, but every day is a day to be a fool for books!  

Maybe you're on a book buying ban? Maybe you're number 1,999 on the library request list for a book you're dying to read? I'm here to help! 

My winner can choose any book up to $15 on either Amazon (if they are a US resident) or The Book Depository (if they live outside the US.)

Here are a few suggestions:

Winner's Curse Cress Veronica Mars Fangirl

To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter below :)

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Extra! Extra! Spring into reading!

Extra! Extra!

Extra! Extra! is my weekend post featuring brand new additions to my TBR pile as well as a summary of what's new on the blog.

This weekend I'm linking to Stacking the Shelves @ Tynga's Reviews or to Sunday Post hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. 


YA author Emmy Laybourne was my Freebie Friday guest, and she's offering up a big package of goodies in celebration of her new release.

Last day of March Hot Off the Presses is Sunday, March 31. Get those entries in.

On Monday I'm participating in the Fool For Books Giveaway Hop! Stop by and check it out...


Just one this week, as I'm trying to get through a huge TBR spring review queue:

by Holly Schindler
(August 26, 2014/Harper Teen)

I loved the author's prior book, Playing Hurt, so I just grabbed this without even looking at the synopsis. But -- yay! -- it's a thriller, and I'm very excited.


The Fool for Books Giveaway Hop, a new Hot Off the Presses with the first of the April books, a review of the charming and wonderful Open Road Summer, a new Trending Thursday post.... hope you'll stop by!

Say hi in comments and let me know what's new with you! Leave me a link so I can visit you back :)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Peek Inside the Fierce Reads Tour AND Pre-Order Giveaway from YA author Emmy Laybourne

Today I'm welcoming YA author Emmy Laybourne to the blog. Emmy is the author of  Monument 14 and Sky on Fire. In May, the next book in this post-apocalyptic trilogy, Savage Drift, will be released.

I was part of the official Sky on Fire blog tour, and when Emmy asked me if I wanted to be part of this one, I was happy to say yes. Take it away, Emmy!

Hitting the List

Hi everyone, I'm Emmy Laybourne, author of the MONUMENT 14 trilogy and I'd like to tell you a little story.

On the first Fierce Reads tour, I was in a van with Marissa Meyer, Leigh Bardugo, Anna Banks and Jennifer Bosworth. We were somewhere outside Seattle, I believe, when Leigh started making funny, sort of strangling sounds while checking her email in the seat behind me. I turned around. She was hiding her face in her hands.

“Leigh, what happened?!” I asked.

“I hit the list!” she said. “Shadow and Bones is a New York Times Bestseller!” *

We cheered! But to tell you the truth, before that moment, things hadn’t been going so smoothly for us in terms of group dynamics. We were four debut novelists, with Marissa along to try to show us the ropes, each anxious about her performance on her first tour, and somehow we hadn’t quite gelled. Well, baby, we gelled when Leigh hit the list. Somehow, being with Leigh at that precious, sensitive moment put us all squarely on her side. We popped the cork on a large bottle of bubbly that night and crowed about her achievement at all the tour stops.

On the second Fierce Reads tour, about half-way through, we were all checking into the magnificent Wynn hotel in Las Vegas. Jessica Brody was ahead of me, with a reception clerk. Leigh was behind me in line, I think, and Anna was ahead of me, too. Only when I looked at Anna, I saw she had burst into tears. The reception clerk was trying to give her an awkward hug across the marble counter. I dropped my bag and hustled over.

“Oh my god, Anna! Are you okay?” I asked.

“I hit the list!” she told me through her tears.**

Again – joy from her tour-mates and a big, frosty bottle of champagne! Of course, by this time, on our second tour, we were all pretty much soul-sisters.

Now… this will be the third year I go on tour. And it’s for the last book in the MONUMENT 14 series. Friends, wouldn’t it be a good story if I was out on tour with my sweet tour-mates and I got the word?! It would be a nice story. That’s all I’m saying. Rule of threes, people. I know, I know in my heart of hearts, that they would be as happy for me as I was for them.

The thing about hitting the list is that I’ll only have one chance - the first week the book comes out. Why’s this? It’s because the New York Times Book Review enters all the pre-orders as sales for that first week. This is why so many of us authors and publishers are eager for you to pre-order titles in your favorite series. If I can pre-sell, oh, say 15,000 copies of the book (zoinks!) I might have a shot. So – there’s the backstory on the pre-order campaign I'm running.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little peek behind the curtains of the Fierce Reads tours. And hey, whether I hit the list with this book or not, I remain endlessly thankful to have the chance to write for a living!

 * Note: this is my loosey-goosey memory of what she said!

** Another Note: also loosey-goosey.

 Thanks again to YA Romantics for having me over!

Monument 14: Savage Drift
by Emmy Laybourne
To be published by Feiwel and Friends
on May 6, 2014

The stunningly fierce conclusion to Emmy Laybourne's Monument 14 trilogy.

 The survivors of the Monument 14 have finally made it to the safety of a Canadian refugee camp. Dean and Alex are cautiously starting to hope that a happy ending might be possible.

But for Josie, separated from the group and trapped in a brutal prison camp for exposed Type Os, things have gone from bad to worse. Traumatized by her experiences, she has given up all hope of rescue or safety.

Meanwhile, scared by the government's unusual interest in her pregnancy, Astrid (with her two protectors, Dean and Jake in tow) joins Niko on his desperate quest to be reunited with his lost love Josie.

Author Emmy Laybourne reaches new heights of tension and romance in this action-packed conclusion to the Monument 14 trilogy.
Emmy is running a Bonus Content Giveaway for people who pre-order her book! Click on this link to go to her website and get your short story!

To help spread word about the campaign, here is an ADDITIONAL giveaway! Enter this rafflecopter to have your choice of two prizes. You can either win a Mega Swag pack or a signed paperback of both MONUMENT 14 and SKY ON FIRE.

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Here’s the full rundown for this blog tour. Come hang out on another stop, learn more and get additional chances to enter the giveaway!

Saturday, March 22 Jean Book Nerd: Official tour kickoff!

Sunday, March 23 Chick Loves Lit: Why Max Skolnik? Emmy discusses why she picked Max as a subject for the Exclusive Bonus Short Story.

Monday, March 24 Book Referees: Sneak peek from SAVAGE DRIFT

Tuesday, March 25 Reading Teen: Exclusive interview - Learn what superpower I’d pick 

Wednesday, March 26  The Hiding Spot: An intimate interview with Emmy where she reveals something revealing

Thursday, March 27 Book Nerd: Killer Cover Art – see the process behind the cover for this Exclusive short story!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Trending Thursday: It's Not Easy Being (John) Green

There's been a lot of talk recently about the "John Green Effect" and so-called GreenLit, which is defined by the New York Times Book Review as "realistic stories told by a funny, self-aware teenage narrator. These novels tend to have sharp dialogue, defective authority figures, occasional boozing, unrequited crushes and one or more heartbreaking twists."

Okay, yes. But writing books like that -- blending the humor with the pathos with the snappy banter -- is not as easy as it looks. 

But it is eas(ier) to have a John Green-style cover. In fact, one of my commenters on last week's Trending Thursday remarked on the Green cover effect. I've noticed it too. Take a look:

The Fault in Our Stars Ask Again Later

pic name pic name

Rainbow Rowell is another author who writes wildly popular, quirky-charming realistic fiction. There are also a lot of Rainbow Rowell-inspired covers:

pic name pic name

And then there are what I think of as the chair covers...

pic name pic name pic name

To me, the John Green lookalike covers are a little too close to the original, but I really like the trend of hand-drawn cover images. What are your thoughts? Tell me in comments!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hot Off the Presses: New YA Releasing March 25-31

Hot Off the Presses -- brand new YA releases!

Welcome to Hot Off the Presses!  

Tuesday is book release day, so every Tuesday I tell you about all the great new YA books you can grab in the week to come. If you're a reviewer, you can also link your blog or Goodreads reviews of any YA book publishing in the current month so we can all check them out!

Last week of the March giveaway! This month's winner can pick any book up to $15 on either Amazon (for US winner) or The Book Depository (for international winner.) Enter by linking your reviews, commenting on other people's linked reviews, or tweeting :)  

Hot Off the Presses aims to include every traditionally published YA. You are also welcome to link your reviews of YA books that were self-pubbed this month. Some titles may have different release dates outside the US.
Storm by DJ MacHale Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano Winter Horses by Philip Kerr

Storm (SYLO #2) by D. J. MacHale (Razorbill)
Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano (Kathy Dawson)
The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr (Knopf)

Wanderers by Laurence Klavan and Susan Kim Silver by Chris Wooding Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Wanderers (Wasteland #2) by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan (Harper)
Silver by Chris Wooding (Scholastics0
Cracks in the Kingdom (Colors of Madeleine #2) by Jaclyn Moriarty (Arthur Levine)

Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner pic name Drama Queens in the House by Julie Williams

The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner (Algonquin)
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender (Candlewick)
Drama Queens in the House by Julie Williams (Roaring Brook)

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Compare and Contrast: Far From You by Tess Sharpe and Great by Sara Benincasa

Welcome to another edition of Compare and Contrast, in which I choose two books with a similar premise or theme and review them both. If you like one, you might also like the other :)

I'm going to spoiler-protect the common thread between these two books because in one of them, I think that discovering the element myself was an important part of the reading process, and of confronting my own preconceptions about the kind of story I was expecting in a YA book. If you want to read the spoiler, just highlight the rest of this line. Both of these books had LGBT themes and bisexual characters.There's another connection between the two books, which is only a spoiler for Great if you haven't read The Great Gatsby.the tragic death of a character close to the narrator.

Far From You
by Tess Sharpe

To be published by Disney-Hyperion
on April 8, 2014

Source: Thanks to Disney for allowing me to read an e-galley for review purposes.

Synopsis from Goodreads: Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice. The first time, she's fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that'll take years to kick. The second time, she's seventeen, and it's no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina's murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery. After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina's brother won't speak to her, her parents fear she'll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina's murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared.
My take:  I went into Far From You expecting a standard YA mystery in the I Know What You Did Last Summer mold, but I got something far more unexpected.  The mystery behind Mina's death was slightly less interesting than I hoped, mainly because (highlight for spoiler) the culprit was such a minor character that I when his/her identity was revealed, I could hardly remember who s/he was (end spoiler). As a lifelong mystery fan, I (mildly) object.

However, I can completely overlook that because there were also things about this book that were much, much more interesting than I expected. Sophie, for one. I was gripped by the story of her accident, her ensuing painkiller addiction and her rocky recovery.

I was also so touched by the story of Mina and Sophie and their close relationship. I'm not always a fan of a narrative with a lot of time jumping, but in this case it was necessary so that the reader could get a sense of Mina as a person and of her history with Sophie before her untimely death. By the end of the book, both she and Sophie seemed completely vivid and real to me and Mina's death felt all the more heartbreaking.  If you're looking for a book that's not the typical contemporary YA, something that's both unique and moving, give this one a try.

by Sara Benincasa
To be published by Harper Teen
on April 8, 2014

Source: Thanks to Harper for allowing me to read an e-galley of this book for review purposes.

Synopsis from Goodreads: Everyone loves a good scandal.
Naomi Rye usually dreads spending the summer with her socialite mother in East Hampton. This year is no different. She sticks out like a sore thumb among the teenagers who have been summering (a verb only the very rich use) together for years. But Naomi finds herself captivated by her mysterious next-door neighbor, Jacinta. Jacinta has her own reason for drawing close to Naomi-to meet the beautiful and untouchable Delilah Fairweather. But Jacinta's carefully constructed world is hiding something huge, a secret that could undo everything. And Naomi must decide how far she is willing to be pulled into this web of lies and deception before she is unable to escape.
My take: It takes moxie to tackle a retelling of a book that just about defines "Great American novel." Great definitely has its strengths, like the clever gender-switching of many of The Great Gatsby's original characters, but in the end, teen angst in the Hamptons can never compete with the exquisitely-drawn blend of hope and despair that underlies the original story.

Part of my pleasure at reading a retelling is checking out the choices the author made. At first, I was worried. Nick Carraway has become ... Naomi Rye? As in caraway seeds and rye bread? After that, I was expecting Jordan Bakery and Tom and Daisy Baguette to stroll onto the page. (No, that did not happen. Fortunately.) I also wasn't crazy about the choice to turn war-weary Nick into a bland goth girl from the Midwest and Jay Gatsby into a quirky fashion blogger with a trust fund.

That said, there were definitely some things about Great that I really liked -- namely, turning Daisy and Gatsby's ill-fated love story into a fragile, furtive romantic relationship between two teenage girls. I thought that the relationship between Naomi and Delilah hit just the right note of doomed longing and, to me, felt true to the original story.

I'm not sure if people unfamiliar with The Great Gatsby will enjoy this as much as those who have, but if you haven't read the original, what are you waiting for? And if you have, give this a try and see what you think.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Freebie Friday: Winner's Choice of April ARCs

Happy Friday!

I'm out of town this weekend, so Freebie Friday will be longer and better than ever!
My winner can choose two books from the stack below and I'll be accepting entries until midnight on Tuesday, March 25.

The Summer of Letting Go -- read my review here!
Pretty Sly
Great -- I'll be reviewing this Great Gatsby retelling on Monday!
Love Letters to the Dead -- read my review here!

I'm very sorry that this week's drawing is US only but if you live outside the US, you can enter Hot Off the Presses here.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Trending Thursday: Trendspotting in Some Recent Buzz Books

Welcome to Trending Thursday, a weekly post in which I pick a trend and we discuss.

Today I'm looking at a few of the 2014 YA BEA Buzz Books to see how they might fit into -- or create -- YA trends. 

The Jewel
by Amy Ewing
(HarperTeen, September 2014)
Synopsis, adapted from Goodreads: The Jewel means royalty. But for girls like Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Violet, born and raised in the Marsh, has been trained as a surrogate for the royalty––because in the Jewel the only thing more important than opulence is offspring. Purchased at the surrogacy auction by the Duchess of the Lake and greeted with a slap to the face, Violet (now known only as #197) quickly learns of the brutal truths that lie beneath the Jewel’s glittering facade: the cruelty, backstabbing, and hidden violence that have become the royal way of life.  Violet must accept the ugly realities of her existence . . . and try to stay alive. But then a forbidden romance erupts between Violet and a handsome gentleman hired as a companion to the Duchess’s petulant niece. Though his presence makes life in the Jewel a bit brighter, the consequences of their illicit relationship will cost them both more than they bargained for.
 Trends:  Royal Romance -- Many girls love their princess stories, and Royal Romance has had a fairly constant presence in YA, with books like Princess Diaries, The Selection, Throne of Glass, and Cinder I looked a bit at this trend in a prior Trending Thursday post on (Almost) Famous Romance.  Thus far this year in that category, we've seen All That Glows Royally Lost and The Ring and the Crown.

Surrogate/Doppleganger -- plots in which the protagonist has to play the part of an more elite or powerful person have been a growing trend recently in books like The Lost Girl, Tandem, Pawn, and The Ring and the Crown.

The Walled City
by Ryan Graudin
(Little, Brown BFYR, November 2014)
Synopsis from Goodreads: There are three rules in the Walled City: Run fast. Trust no one. Always carry your knife. Right now, my life depends completely on the first. Run, run, run. Jin, Mei Yee, and Dai all live in the Walled City, a lawless labyrinth run by crime lords and overrun by street gangs. Teens there run drugs or work in brothels—or, like Jin, hide under the radar. But when Dai offers Jin a chance to find her lost sister, Mei Yee, she begins a breathtaking race against the clock to escape the Walled City itself.
Trends: Crime Lords as villains have recently played a part in books like The Bone Season and Avalon. There have also been plenty of YA books about mafias of various kinds, books like the Birthright series and the Curseworker series.

Books With Rules. Okay, this is partly tongue-in-cheek, but I feel like I've seen a lot of blurbs with rules in them recently -- in books like Dear Killer, The Project Paper Doll books and NIL. I think this has to be because Rules are Made to be Broken, right?

This book also features The Ticking Clock, a staple of thrillers, and a technique that has been recently used in YA books like NIL, Unraveling, Countdown and Fire and Flood.

And before we move on, can I just comment on the cover, which features my favorite new cover trend, Head in Profile -- a trend we discussed a couple weeks back.

Lies We Tell Ourselves
by Robin Talley
(Harlequin, September 2014)

Synopsis from Goodreads: In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever. Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily. Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”
Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Trends: I'm hoping this one is a trend-setter -- books that tackle race issues head-on seem too rare recently in YA. Plus, in my opinion, YA always needs more books about female friendship.

There's another upcoming book that deals with race issues and is set in the 1950s, Girl in Reverse by Barbara Stuber (Margaret K. McElderry, May 2014).

What do you think? I'm definitely in for all these three :)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Salvage and The Ring and The Crown

 photo MiniReviews_zps77a64c62.jpg

Welcome to Mini-Reviews, in which I give you my short take on a few upcoming releases.

by Alexandra Duncan
To be published on April 1
by Greenwillow Books

Source: Thanks to Greenwillow for allowing me to read an e-ARC for review purposes.
Mini-synopsis, adapted from Goodreads: Ava, a teenage girl living aboard the male-dominated deep space merchant ship Parastrata, faces betrayal, banishment, and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean.
My mini-take:  Like These Broken Stars, Salvage is one of those books that seems like it's going to take place on a spaceship, but doesn't for long. The first ten chapters or so take place aboard the Parastrata, a space merchant ship that houses an oppressive, patriarchal little community, complete with arranged polygamous marriage. I wasn't really sure I was up for reading 500 pages of that, but then -- BAM! - a few chapters in, our heroine is banished and the interesting part of the book begins. 

Salvage is a beautifully written coming-of-age story set first in space, then on an floating island of flotsam in the Pacific, then in a futuristic Mumbai. Alone and undereducated, Ava will have to make her way in an unfamiliar world, deal with her shame at being cast out by her community, unravel some family secrets, and learn that she can be strong and also accept help from others. This book is long and while it's not fast-paced or filled with action, I was never bored. There are some truly heartrending moments along Ava's journey of self-discovery, and the narrative had a beguiling, almost dreamy quality.

The blurb compares it to Across the Universe and A Handmaid's Tale. I don't really see the former at all, except for the spaceship setting, though I can see the latter, as the book does have a strong feminist bent. The book that it reminded me most of was Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. Both books featured intelligent, inventive futuristic worlds and beautiful writing.

The Ring and the Crown
by Melissa de la Cruz
To be published on April 1
by Disney-Hyperion

Source: Thanks to Disney-Hyperion for allowing me to read an e-ARC for review purposes.
Mini-synopsis adapted from Goodreads: Princess Marie-Victoria, heir to the Lily Throne, and Aelwyn Myrddn, bastard daughter of the Mage of England, grew up together. But who will rule, and who will serve? Quiet and gentle, Marie has never lived up to the ambitions of her mother, Queen Eleanor the Second, Supreme Ruler of the Franco-British Empire. With the help of her Head Merlin, Emrys, Eleanor has maintained her stranglehold on the world's only source of magic. She rules the most powerful empire the world has ever seen.  But even with the aid of Emrys' magic, Eleanor's extended lifespan is nearing its end. The princess must marry and produce an heir or the Empire will be vulnerable to its greatest enemy, Prussia. The two kingdoms must unite to end the war, and the only solution is a match between Marie and Prince Leopold VII, heir to the Prussian throne. But Marie has always loved Gill, her childhood friend and soldier of the Queen's Guard. The court intrigue and hunger for power in Lenoran England run deeper than anyone could imagine. In the end, there is only rule that matters in Eleanor's court: trust no one.
My Mini-Take: The Ring and the Crown is an addictive alt-history paranormal soap opera. Think Downton Abbey + Gossip Girl + King Arthur. Secret romances and royal pageantry abound, and the narrative has a fun, chatty feel.  The alt-history premise is very cool. My European history is a touch shaky, but the way I understood it, England defeated France at the time of the Hundred Years War using magic -- the powers of Merlin beat out those of Joan of Arc -- resulting in an early twentieth-century world in which the Franco-British empire holds onto its power through supernatural means. This worldbuilding is done with a light, deft touch -- don't be afraid if you're not a big historical fiction reader -- but it all made sense to me.

The Ring and the Crown features a large cast of characters, each quickly sketched and each madly in love with the most inconvenient person possible.  Like Downton Abbey, the plotting in this book is brisk to the point of breakneck. On the positive side, you're never bored. On the negative, there isn't a lot of time for reflection or character development.

I found this one pretty fun -- a great antidote if you've been reading a lot of slow or serious books. If you love breathlessly narrated, multi-character historical soapfests like the Luxe series or Downton Abbey, you should definitely check this out!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hot Off the Presses: New YA Releasing March 18-24

Hot Off the Presses -- brand new YA releases!

Welcome to Hot Off the Presses!  

Tuesday is book release day, so every Tuesday I tell you about all the great new YA books you can grab in the week to come. If you're a reviewer, you can also link your blog or Goodreads reviews of any YA book publishing in the current month so we can all check them out!

March giveaway! This month's winner can pick any book up to $15 on either Amazon (for US winner) or The Book Depository (for international winner.) Enter by linking your reviews, commenting on other people's linked reviews, or tweeting :)  

Hot Off the Presses aims to include every traditionally published YA. You are also welcome to link your reviews of YA books that were self-pubbed this month. Some titles may have different release dates outside the US.

Quiet week this week!

Starling Slanted Worlds by Catherine Fisher Elusion
Starling (Secrets of the Eternal Rose #3) by Fiona Paul (Philomel)
Slanted Worlds (Chronoptika #2) by Catherine Fisher (Dial)
Elusion by Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam (Katherine Tegen)

Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy Edge of Falling by Rebecca Searle Pretty sly by Elisa Ludwig
Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy (Balzer + Bray)
The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Searle (Simon Pulse)
Pretty Sly (Pretty Crooked #2) by Elisa Ludwig (Katherine Tegen)

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Compare and Contrast: The Summer of Letting Go vs Love Letters To the Dead

Welcome to my second Compare and Contrast, in which I pick two books with similar elements or themes and compare them. 

Today I'm looking at two books that take place in the aftermath of the death of the protagonist's sibling. This is a familiar theme in YA, and I have a Goodreads shelf devoted to loss of a sibling books. If you can think of any that I missed, please let me know in comments!

First up:

The Summer of Letting Go
by Gae Polisner
To be published on March 25, 2014
by Algonquin Books

Source: giveaway at ALA.
Synopsis from Goodreads: Summer has begun, the beach beckons and Francesca Schnell is going nowhere. Four years ago, Francesca's little brother, Simon, drowned, and Francesca is the one who should have been watching. Now Francesca is about to turn sixteen, but guilt keeps her stuck in the past. Meanwhile, her best friend, Lisette, is moving on most recently with the boy Francesca wants but can t have. At loose ends, Francesca trails her father, who may be having an affair, to the local country club. There she meets four-year-old Frankie Sky, a little boy who bears an almost eerie resemblance to Simon, and Francesca begins to wonder if it is possible Frankie could be his reincarnation. Knowing Frankie leads Francesca to places she thought she'd never dare to go and it begins to seem possible to forgive herself, grow up, and even fall in love, whether or not she solves the riddle of Frankie Sky.
My take: I really enjoyed The Pull of Gravity by this author, and was very excited to read The Summer of Letting Go. Yes, this is a "grief book," but also a beautiful coming-of-age-story with just a touch of mysticism. This story had an ageless and timeless feel, and does a masterful job of blending sadness and hope. Francesca's family is still reeling after the death of her little brother, Simon. Her mother buries herself in work for a foundation she started in her son's honor, while Francesca's father seems distant and absent. Meanwhile, Francesca is hired to babysit Frankie Sky, a four year-old boy whose father was recently killed in combat. She can't believe that Frankie's mother actually trusts her to watch Frankie after what happened to Simon. And she begins to think that Frankie might be the reincarnation of her dead brother. To make matters even more confusing, Francesca feels tremendous guilt over the fact that she's in love with her best friend's boyfriend. This is somewhat ironic, because she is also convinced that her father is having an affair.

All these plot elements -- loss, betrayal, first love, guilt, and hope -- are beautifully woven together against the backdrop of a summer at the beach. Frankie Sky is an adorable imp in the Junie B. Jones mold, using mixed-up syntax and bad grammar to hilarious effect. While the whole parental affair plot could have easily come off as cheesy or melodramatic, it was executed with a subtlety and sense of ambiguity that left me very impressed. If you're a fan of authors like Jessi Kirby, you should definitely give this book a try.

Love Letters to the Dead
by Ava Dellaira
To be published by FSG Books for Young Readers
on April 1, 2014.

Source: requested from the publisher for review.
Synopsis from Goodreads: It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more; though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was; lovely and amazing and deeply flawed; can she begin to discover her own path.
My take:  I am not usually a fan of epistolary fiction and, yes, the title of this book should have clued me into the fact that this book falls into that category. There were definitely things that I liked about Love Letters to the Dead. The writing is lovely and I thought the story offered up a wrenchingly sad portrayal of a girl who's seeking a fresh start after the death of her sister. When Laurel was narrating her own life in the letters, I liked the story a lot.

That said, books told through letters always feel unsatisfying on a certain level. To me, most if not all epistolary books suffer from awkward exposition (there are things that narrators need to tell us that seem out of place in a letter) and a lack a sense of immediacy or urgency. The lack of urgency isn't an issue in the book, because Laurel's sister is already dead, but the awkward exposition issue did rear its head for me. Laurel began many of her letters by telling the addressee about their own life in the second person, as if they were receiving some kind of after-lifetime achievement award. ("Dear Kurt Cobain, You were the center of attention in your family, but your parents divorced when you were eight...") This gave the book a weird "Hollywood Biography" feeling and kept pulling me out of the story.  Then, I was under the impression that all the letter recipients died young, like Kurt Cobain, but that wasn't the case. I couldn't figure out why some of the recipients were chosen other than that they forwarded the plot in some way, which felt a little forced.

Even thought it wasn't a perfect fit for me as a reader, Love Letters to the Dead definitely had a lot of strengths. f you love epistolary fiction, literary writing, and love and loss stories, you should definitely check it out.

Have you read either of these? What did you think?
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