Google+ YA Romantics: October 2016

Monday, October 31, 2016

Just Finished Reading: The Best Possible Answer

The Best Possible Answer 
by E. Katherine Kottsras

To be published by St. Martin's Griffin
on November 1, 2016

Source: eARC for review

Synopsis from Goodreads: AP Exams – check
SAT test – check
College Application – check
Date the wrong guy and ruin everything you’ve spent your whole life working for– check
Ultra-high-achiever Viviana Rabinovich-Lowe has always had a plan—and no room to be anything less than perfect. But her quest for perfection comes to a screeching halt when her boyfriend leaks racy pictures of her to the entire school. Making matters worse, her parents are getting divorced and now her perfect family is falling apart. For the first time, Viv feels like a complete and utter failure.Then she gets a job working at the community pool, where she meets a new group of friends who know nothing about her past. That includes Evan, a gorgeous guy who makes her want to do something she never thought she’d do again: trust. For the first time in her life, Viv realizes she can finally be whoever she wants. But who is that? While she tries to figure it out, she learns something they never covered in her AP courses: that it’s okay to be less than perfect, because it’s our imperfections that make us who we are. 

My take: This book definitely had its moments, but also had a whole lot of plot elements and for me they didn't all work together.

It's the summer before Viviana's senior year, and she's got a plan: spend the summer at an engineering academy, SAT prepping, etc. But her crippling anxiety attacks start getting in the way. Her shifting relationships with her absent, high-achieving father and her best friend, who likes the same guy that Viviana's falling for, have her seriously off-balance.  As Viviana's plans start to crumble, she begins to question her goals, and who she wants to be.

It seems to me that would be plenty of plot for a book (and the chapter headings modeled after standardized testing were clever and funny). But then there was a WHOLE lot of other stuff. First, there was backstory about Viviana sending naked pictures of herself to an ex, backstory that was used as a reason for Viviana's anxiety attacks. I didn't really think this added anything to the story. Plus, it was sort of perplexing to me. Because it happened before the book begins, the reader isn't really sure exactly what happened or why. At the start of the book, Viviana seems like such a responsible, level-headed person, with her endless college to-do list, that taking nude pictures of herself and sending them to a guy seemed really out of character, and the book didn't really explain why she did this. Much later in the book she says something bizarre, like "when when I love, I love with all my heart" (and naked pictures, apparently.) This incident was also used to explain trust issues she had with the new guy, but for me that just muddled the issue that Viviana knows she's falling for a guy she knows her best friend Sammi is crushing on. Uncool!

Another big part of the plot has to do with Viviana's parents. Her mother has health issues, and her father is sort of inexplicably off in Singapore. Without spoilers, I think that another option to pull the plots together would have been if this storyline stayed and the SAT stuff went. By the end of the book, I was beginning to see that Viviana was not the level-headed person she pretended to be, that she and her father were people who liked to act very logical and then secretly go off the rails.  Viviana with her nude pictures with one guy and then sneaking around with the guy her best friend likes rather than speaking up and saying that she likes him too. I think if Viviana's discovery of her father's secrets had made her reconsider some of her own choices, THAT would have been a cohesive plot (minus the anxiety and college stuff). But to me, all of these elements didn't really work together: college, sexting, anxiety, best friend romance drama, parent drama, family secrets. Plus there was this whole subplot about an eccentric professor that was interesting, but again, I think it might have belonged in a different book.

My favorite cover of the week, though!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Just Finished Reading: You in Five Acts

You in Five Acts
by Una LaMarche

To be published by Razorbill
on November 1, 2016

Synopsis from Goodreads: At a prestigious New York City performing arts school, five friends connect over one dream of stardom. But for Joy, Diego, Liv, Ethan and Dave, that dream falters under the pressure of second-semester, Senior year. Ambitions shift and change, new emotions rush to the surface, and a sense of urgency pulses between them: Their time together is running out. Diego hopes to get out of the friend zone. Liv wants to escape, losing herself in fantasies of the new guy. Ethan conspires to turn his muse into his girlfriend. Dave pines for the drama queen. And if Joy doesn’t open her eyes, she could lose the love that’s been in front of her all along.

My take:  Overall, I really enjoyed You in Five Acts.  It's a combination of a Fame-inspired story (a group of high school seniors who attend an insanely competitive NYC arts school and are preparing for their "senior showcase") and an issue book.

The book's narrative structure is a bit experimental and may not be for every reader. As the title would suggest, the book is narrated by five different characters. Normally, that's about three too many narrators for me, but I still thought it worked. Here's the unusual part: each character narrates in first person, but his/her narration is telling the story to another of the characters (a "you") so there's an unusual blend of "I" and "you" in each section. It took me few pages to figure who out the "you" was in each character's narration but then I had it down.

I'm old, but do I spend a lot of time around teenagers, and I think that the author must too. Often I feel that YA characters either sound older ("I'm saving the whole world") or younger than the kids I know. The characters in this book felt vivid and real to me - the way they spoke, their worries, how they interacted with each other. There's Joy and Diego, both dancers. There's Liv and Dave, aspiring actors. And there's Ethan, a writer/director. I also liked that the diversity in this book felt organic and natural to the story. Joy is African-American, a ballerina who worries that her dark skin and strong physique don't measure up to the Balanchine ideal. Dave is a former child star who's family has fallen on hard times and is trying to recapture his former success. Liv is Jewish-Puerto-Rican and gets hooked on prescription pills to manage the insane pressures of a budding acting career.

The one thing about the book that I had a an issue with was the ending. I can't say too much without spoiling (and there's a fuller explanation, hidden by spoiler tags in my Goodreads review.) The book definitely hints at the general idea of what's coming, so I wasn't completely surprised, but to me it didn't entirely fit the story. There was an afterward that tried to quickly tie up some questions and loose ends, but that kind of made it worse for me that the book seemed to gloss over the huge and important issues that the ending raised.

But all in all, a great choice for those readers who like contemporary YA on the grittier side. Fans of performing arts themes should also definitely check it out!

And I'll be giving an ARC away on Friday, so stay tuned if you want to read this :)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Hot Off the Presses: New YA Releasing October 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 buy in the week to come.

LAST CHANCE to enter the October giveaway! Each month's winner can pick any book up to $15 on either Amazon (for US winner) or The Book Depository (for international winner.)

Hot Off the Presses aims to include every traditionally published YA book. Please let me know about books that came out this week that I might have missed! Some titles may have different release dates outside the US.

Click on the photos to get to each book's Goodreads page!

This week has robots and bionic women,  red blood and beating hearts...

Stranger Game Bionic Empire Decayed A Darkly Beating Heart
The Stranger Game by Cylin Busby (Balzer + Bray)
Bionic by Suzanne Weyn (Scholastic)
Empire Decayed (Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, vol. 2) by Daniel Kraus (Simon & Schuster)
A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith (Roaring Brook)

Pushing Perfect The Baby Secret Diary of Lydia Bennett
Pushing Perfect by Michelle Falkoff (Harper)
The Baby by Lisa Drakeford (Chicken House)
The Secret Diary of Lydia Bennet by Natasha Farrant (Chicken House)

Glitter It's Not Me It's You Illusion
Glitter by Aprilynne Pike (Random House)
It's Not Me It's You by Stephanie Kate Strohm (Point)
Illusion (Heirs of Watson Island #3) by Martina Boone (Simon Pulse)

Blood Red Snow White Boy Robot How To Keep a Boy From Kissing You

Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook)
Boy Robot by Simon Curtis (Simon Pulse)
How to Keep a Boy From Kissing You by Tara Ellington (Thomas Dunne)

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Just Finished Reading: The Stranger Game

The Stranger Game
by Cylin Busby

To be published on October 25, 2016
by Balzer + Bray

Source: eARC for review

Synopsis from Goodreads: When Nico Walker's older sister mysteriously disappears, her parents, family, and friends are devastated. But Nico can never admit what she herself feels: relief at finally being free of Sarah's daily cruelties. Then the best and worst thing happens: four years later, after dozens of false leads, Sarah is found. But this girl is much changed from the one Nico knew. She's thin and drawn, where Sarah had been golden and athletic; timid and unsure, instead of brash and competitive; and strangest of all, sweet and kind, when she had once been mean and abusive. Sarah's retrograde amnesia has caused her to forget almost everything about her life, from small things like the plots of her favorite books and her tennis game to the more critical—where she's been the last four years and what happened at the park on the fateful day she vanished. Despite the happy ending, the dark details of that day continue to haunt Nico, and it becomes clear that more than one person knows the true story of what happened to Sarah. . . .

My take: Really enjoyed this one,  even though, weirdly, this is the third YA book I've read in the last few months that's about an abducted child who's returned to his or her family. The Stranger Game was more of a psychological thriller, like Lost and Foundthan a character-driven issue book, like Afterward.

Nico's sister Sarah has been missing for four years and her family is shattered. Then one day, the family receives a call from Florida: Sarah has been found. Nico and her parents fly down to pick Sarah up. After false hope and false fear, all their hopes are realized: the girl is Sarah. Definitely. Sarah's parents are beyond happy and work hard getting Sarah re-integrated into her old life. Everything's finally the way it used to be ... or is it? Is Sarah's family just seeing what they want to see?

The Stranger Game was very well-crafted and suspenseful. I liked the way the alternating perspectives of Nico and Sarah were used to add suspense and to slowly reveal the story of Sarah's missing four years. Some readers may guess the ending. I didn't. (spoiler) I thought the idea that Nico was responsible for Sarah's disappearance was too obvious, but I guess it wasn't! (end spoiler) But I enjoyed the journey of this one. I liked the writing style and the story structure. Will definitely check out this author's future books!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Just Finished Reading: I'm Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl

I'm Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl
by Gretchen McNeil

Published by Balzer + Bray
on October 18, 2016

Source: eARC for review

Synopsis from Goodreads: Beatrice Maria Estrella Giovannini has life all figured out. She's starting senior year at the top of her class, she’s a shoo-in for a scholarship to M.I.T., and she’s got a new boyfriend she’s crazy about. The only problem: All through high school Bea and her best friends Spencer and Gabe have been the targets of horrific bullying. So Bea uses her math skills to come up with The Formula, a 100% mathematically guaranteed path to social happiness in high school. Now Gabe is on his way to becoming Student Body President, and Spencer is finally getting his art noticed. But when her boyfriend Jesse dumps her for Toile, the quirky new girl at school, Bea realizes it's time to use The Formula for herself. She'll be reinvented as the eccentric and lovable Trixie—a quintessential manic pixie dream girl—in order to win Jesse back and beat new-girl Toile at her own game. Unfortunately, being a manic pixie dream girl isn't all it's cracked up to be, and “Trixie” is causing unexpected consequences for her friends. As The Formula begins to break down, can Bea find a way to reclaim her true identity and fix everything she's messed up? Or will the casualties of her manic pixie experiment go far deeper than she could possibly imagine?
My take:  I've read all of Gretchen McNeil's books and there are always aspects of them that I enjoy. She has a lively, funny writing style and is always switching up genres.

I'm Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl had its appealing points, but also some things I didn't enjoy. At times, this book felt to me like a bunch of classic movies (Mean Girls, Election, Garden State, Clueless, Revenge of the Nerds...) thrown into a blender.

There were two main plot strands: 1) a romantic "win the guy back" plot, and 2) a plot about Beatrice trying to win a college scholarship by developing a mathematical formula by which high school nerds can reinvent themselves. At times the two plots worked together, as when Beatrice reinvented herself as  MPDG "Trixie" to win her guy back, but at other times I thought these two plots moved on parallel tracks.

Beatrice was, for the most part, hard for me to relate to. Yes, she's smart and good at math, which is great, but she's also not the nicest person around. She schemes and she plots. She's bossy and egotistical and judgmental. She has no female friends, which is always a red flag for me in real life. At times, she treats the people she cares about like pawns. I have nothing against complex female characters or even borderline unlikeable ones, but I'm not sure these kinds of characters work well in a rom com. (Unrelated aside: just watched My Best Friend's Wedding, in which Julia Roberts plays a character very similar to Beatrice. I like the movie, but the people I was watching with were horrified and thought it was up there with the worst rom coms of all time.)

The romance also had its problematic elements. As the story starts, Beatrice is madly in love with Jesse. I guess the blah-ness of their love connection made sense in the end, but I felt that too much of the story was about her trying to get him back. I didn't get what she saw in Jesse or why she wanted him back after he dumped her. (To be fair, I'm really not a fan of the "winning back the guy who dumped you" plots because ... why? Why do you want to grovel and connive and get back a guy who didn't appreciate you? Find a better guy!)  Plus, sticking with the "I love Jesse/I hate Toile" plot for so long meant that s much more interesting and appealing romantic plot got smashed into the last few pages.

I also didn't love the fact that all the characters in this book start off as stereotypes (the math nerd, the popular girl, the gay best friend, the slutty divorcee, the cheating ex-husband, and, of course, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.) Yes, all of these characters do finally break out of their stereotypes, but that happened at about the 90% mark on my kindle. Plus, I felt that the book's message on self-acceptance was all over the place. You should be yourself. But if your family moves a lot, it's okay to reinvent yourself. If you reinvent yourself, you might be elected class president (I seriously doubt that). Or you might make everyone hate you and lose all your friends.

By the end, "Trixie" learns her lesson about being nice and being herself and getting the (right) guy. But getting there was a bit of a bumpy ride! For this type of story, I would have preferred a more satisfying romance and a main character I could root fo.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hot Off the Presses: New YA Releasing Oct 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 buy in the week to come.

WHAT - two holiday books? I'm not ready for that -- yet....

Enter the October giveaway! Each month's winner can pick any book up to $15 on either Amazon (for US winner) or The Book Depository (for international winner.)

Hot Off the Presses aims to include every traditionally published YA book. Please let me know about books that came out this week that I might have missed! Some titles may have different release dates outside the US.

Click on the photos to get to each book's Goodreads page!

Gemina What Light Twelve days of Dash and Lily
Gemina (Illuminae #2) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Knopf)
What Light by Jay Asher (Razorbill)
The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (Knopf)

I'm Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl Kiss Cam No Holding Back
I'm Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl by Gretchen McNeil (Balzer + Bray)
Kiss Cam by Kiara London (Swoon)
No Holding Back by Kate Evangelista (Swoon)

Rose and Thorn Royal Tour Shutter
Rose & Thorn (Ash and Bramble #2) by Sarah Prineas (Harper)
Royal Tour (The Potion Diaries #2) by Amy Alward (Simon & Schuster)
Shutter by Laurie Faria Stolarz (Disney)

Messenger Life Uploaded Cloudwish
The Messenger by Carol Lynch Williams (Simon & Schuster)
Life Uploaded by Sierra Furtado (Gallery)
Cloudwish by Fiona Wood (Poppy)

Saving Red Tattoo Atlas The Rains

Saving Red by Sonya Sones (Harper)
Tattoo Atlas by Tim Floreen (Simon Pulse)
The Rains by Gregg Hurwitz (Tor)

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Freebie Friday: Gritty Suspense

Welcome to Freebie Friday. Can you believe we're just about halfway through October already?

Today I have THREE gritty, suspenseful contemporaries to give away, and my winner can choose up to two. US/Canada addresses only - sorry :(

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Just Finished Reading: The Row by J.R. Johansson

The Row
by J.R. Johansson

Published on October 11, 2016
by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Source: ARC for review

Synopsis from Goodreads: A death sentence. A family torn apart. One girl’s hunt for the truth. Seventeen-year-old Riley Beckett is no stranger to prison. Her father is a convicted serial killer on death row who has always maintained that he was falsely accused. Riley has never missed a single visit with her father. She wholeheartedly believes that he is innocent. Then, a month before the execution date, Riley’s world is rocked when, in an attempt to help her move on, her father secretly confesses to her that he actually did carry out the murders. He takes it back almost immediately, but she cannot forget what he’s told her. Determined to uncover the truth for her own sake, she discovers something that will forever change everything she’s believed about the family she loves.

My take:  Before I stared reviewing YA, I read a lot of thrillers, mysteries and true crime.  So while I thought The Row would be right up my alley, I ended up having mixed feelings about it. That's possibly because I've read so many adult Silence of the Lambs-type books, in which an FBI agent/police officer/psychologist sets out to delve into the mind of a serial killer. I feel that these adult-oriented books offer more psychological complexity than this book did.

The main character in The Row is Riley, a girl whose father sits on death row after being convicted for killing several women. Riley's dad is running out of appeals, and she's trying not to run out of hope. When her father makes an unexpected statement to her during a visit, she's shocked and sets out to try to find out the truth about the crimes her father is accused of committing.

What I liked:

  • I liked Riley, though I thought her distinct voice (this takes place in Texas) seemed to flatten out as the book went on.
  • I liked that the book kept me guessing. I had several theories about the identity of the killer. I was partly right, but I thought the book did a good job of raising a lot of questions.
  • I thought Riley's relationship with her father (she visits him in prison) was interesting and well-portrayed. Also loved her relationship with her father's lawyer.

What I didn't love:

  • The romance in the book didn't really work for me. The fact that Riley ends up in a relationship with the son of the chief of police seemed a little too contrived. Then I thought he'd have more of a role in the book, but he seemed sort of like a hanger-on.
  • I thought that the book could have delved more into the (abnormal!) psychology of many of the characters. 

All that said, this book has a good amount of suspense and is a compelling read. While I wished for a little more, I can see from my Goodreads feed that this has wowed a lot of readers, so if appeals to you, give it a try. I'll be offering an ARC up for Freebie Friday this week!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hot Off the Presses: New YA Releasing Oct 11-17

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 buy in the week to come.

NEW October giveaway! Each month's winner can pick any book up to $15 on either Amazon (for US winner) or The Book Depository (for international winner.)

Hot Off the Presses aims to include every traditionally published YA book. Please let me know about books that came out this week that I might have missed! Some titles may have different release dates outside the US.

Click on the photos to get to each book's Goodreads page!

Still Life With Tornado Midnight Star The Row Black Widow: Blood Vengeance
Still Life With Tornado by A.S. King (Dutton)
The Midnight Star (Young Elites #3) by Marie Lu (Putnam)
The Row by J.R. Johansson (FSG)
Black Widow: Red Vengeance by Margaret Stohl (Marvel)

Weight of Zero Movie Version Catalyst
The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati (Delacorte)
The Movie Version by Emma Wunsch (Amulet)
The Catalyst by Helena Coggan (Candlewick)

Every Hidden Thing In Case You Missed It Iron Cast
Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel (Simon & Schuster)
In Case You Missed It by Sarah Darer Littman (Scholastic)
Iron Cast by Destiny Soria (Amulet)

Be Good Be Real Be Crazy Beast Bound by Blood and Sand
Be Good Be Real Be Crazy by Chelsey Philpott (Harper)
Beast by Brie Spangler (Knopf)
Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen (Delacorte)

Snow Summer My Unscripted Life Speed of Life Delphi Effect
Snow Summer by Kit Peel (Groundworld)
My Unscripted Life by Lauren Morrill (Delacorte)
Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly (HMH)
The Delphi Effect by Rysa Walker (Skyscape)

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