Book Review: The Good Sister

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Title: The Good Sister
Author: Jamie Kain
Release Date: 10/07/14
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

The Good Sister was one of my most pleasant surprises of 2014. Obviously I found the idea of the story interesting, otherwise I wouldn’t have picked it up, but I never expected to as taken in by the story as I was and to count it among one of my favorite books of 2014. Before I picked up the book the whole hippie family and the dead-sister perspective gave me pause, but the way that Jamie Kain handled those two parts of the story, and the rest of the story, was so impressive, especially for a debut author.

The official description of this book is kind of awful and misleading and really sells the story short. At the beginning of the story Sarah, the “good” sister is dead and no one quite knows what happened. Sarah had been sick for much of her teenage life with cancer, but she was finally healthy and everyone thought she was going to live a healthy, successful life as the golden child. Her death is tough on her entire family, her former hippie parents are now divorced and have pretty much sold out and did a 180-degree turn to fancy, corporate lives, but Sarah’s death is especially hard on her two sisters, Rachel and Asha. Hands down the biggest surprise of the book was how the sisters just didn’t get along. Sarah and Asha had been close, Asha had given Sarah a bone marrow transfusion years before and that experience bonded them, but they had grown apart towards the end of Sarah’s life. Rachel is difficult, as Rachel, Asha, and Sarah all acknowledge, and she never really bonded or got along with either of sisters. The story is told from the perspectives of all three sisters, Sarah from beyond the grave, and is really about fixing the sisters as individuals and their entire family.

Rachel was probably the most complicated character in the book, and there were lots of complicated characters, and also maybe the most damaged, and again there were lots of damaged characters here. Rachel graduated high school a semester early and now she walks at a coffee shop in their hometown outside of San Francisco. Sadly Rachel spends most of her time searching for attention she never got from her parents or from her sisters and to find it she looks to guys, more often than not guys she shouldn’t be dating including Sarah’s former boyfriend, a guy Asha thinks is a drug dealer, and a Buddhist monk. It’s when Rachel meets the Buddhist monk, a guy just a few years older than she is, that she starts to think she can change her life. Rachel was with Sarah the day she died and she blames herself for Sarah’s death. When she meets the monk she tries to seduce him, but he is steadfast in his celibacy and really just tries to show Rachel that she deserves happiness and is worthy of allowing good people to love and care about her.

Asha was another complicated and damaged character. She’s the youngest sister, still in high school, and even though she says and does thing beyond her years she’s still very much a child. Asha often skips school, spends her nights sleeping in a local park, and abuses drugs and alcohol. At the start of the book she’s trying to seduce her guy best friend’s older brother, but after her best friend gets angry at her about his brother she begins to think her best friend might have feelings for her. Even though her actions are often those of someone older her thought processes and her reaction to thinks were fairly young and I often wanted to just wrap Asha up and take care of her.

The sister that worried me the most going in was Sarah, I don’t normally read books from the perspective of dead characters, but I was immediately struck by how normal Sarah seemed. The way the story is told Sarah also doesn’t quite know what happened to lead her to her death so she’s uncovering the story the same way that Asha and Rachel are uncovering the story. Towards the end of the book Sarah’s voice did get a little cheesy and dramatic, but for the most part I was impressed by it.

If I had one criticism of the book it would be that Jamie Kain tried to do too much. It’s a very full, complicated, layered story and there were times things didn’t feel fleshed out enough or moments when a new character or situation would just appear, like Rachel’s drug dealer boyfriend who literally isn’t mentioned for more than half the book and then is suddenly in two or so scenes. In the acknowledgments, which were at the beginning of the book (which I hate) Kain talked about how she worked on the book for a while and had so many ideas she had to narrow down and sometimes the story really felt like that was the case.

Bottom Line: The Good Sister is one of my favorite books of 2014 and certainly one of the most impressive debuts I’ve read. The characters are flawed and the situations are complicated, but Jamie Kain handles both of those beautifully. I wanted to keep living in the Kinsey sisters’ world, it was so interesting and well done and I just felt like I knew the sisters and loved and cared about them, faults and all. This is a must-read that I hope more people will be picking up.

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley (thank you!). All opinions are my own. 

One Year Ago: Waiting on Wednesday: Heartbeat


Top 10 Tuesday: New Series I Want To Start

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Top 10 Tuesday is a meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. You can see all the topics here.

I can’t believe I came up with ten series I want to start. I’m also kind of scared I came up with ten series to read.

theyoungelites

1. The Young Elites by Marie Lu

buryingwater

2. Burying Water by K.A. Tucker

legend

3. Legend by Marie Lu

theartoffalling

4. Oceanside High by Jenny Koczorowski

theboyfrendlist

5. Ruby Oliver by E. Lockhart

canton

6. Canton by Viv Daniels

delirium

7. Delirium by Lauren Oliver

confessions

8. Confessions by Louise Rozett

sharkbait

9. Grab Your Pole by Jenn Cooksey

pictureperfect

10. Picturing Perfect by Alessandra Thomas

One Year Ago: Book Review: Letters to Nowhere


Book Review: Whatever Life Throws at You

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Title: Whatever Life Throws at You
Author: Julie Cross
Release Date: 10/07/14
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I have to talk about this book in two separate ways because I read Julie Cross’s Letters to Nowhere. I liked Letters to Nowhere and I liked Whatever Life Throws at you, but, sadly, when consider them together I end up not really respecting either book because they are, in so, so, so many ways, a very similar story.

Both stories have to deal with the world of professional sports: Letters to Nowhere gymnastics and Whatever Life Throws at you baseball. The main adult character in each one is a professional coach, Jordan’s dad in Letters to Nowhere and Annie’s dad in Whatever Life Throws at you. The difference is that Jordan’s dad acts as the mentor to Karen, the main character in Letters to Nowhere, and Annie’s dad acts as the mentor to Jason, the love interest in Whatever Life Throws at You, but is that really a difference? There are also complicated parental relationships in both books, Karen’s parents have just passed away which starts the Letter to Nowhere story and in Whatever Life Throws at You Annie’s mother has abandoned the family and Jason’s mother has completely written him off. Also the images on both covers are very similar.

As I was reading Whatever Life Throws at You I noticed all of that and it bothered me, but I was willing to overlook it because it wasn’t like a carbon copy, it was just similar, and still, it was well done and I enjoyed it, but then something happened that blew my mind. I don’t want to say too much about it because it happens very close to the end of Letters to Nowhere, but the setup for the moment when the romantic relationship between the main characters is EXACTLY THE SAME in both books. EXACTLY! It plays out differently because it happens more in the middle or last third or so of Whatever Life Throws at You, but it was insane. Mind blowing in the worst possible way.

If I had to give Whatever Life Throws at You a rating just on its own as if I never read Letters to Nowhere it would probably be 3.5 or 4 stars, I did really enjoy the story, but I enjoy Julie Cross’s writing and I enjoyed Letters to Nowhere so it makes sense that I would like another similar book that she wrote.

(I wanted to write about how the two books are different, but at the moment I’m having a difficult time thinking of the differences.)

Obviously the main characters are different. Jordan is the athlete and Annie is the daughter of the coach who’s interested in the the athlete. Jordan couldn’t be farther from a normal teen, but Annie is really just a normal girl, who’s been thrust into the world of professional sports, who worries about moving, making new friends, and school. Julie Cross does a great job of handling the complicated family situations in this book with both the blood families in the story (Annie’s, Jason’s, Annie’s friend’s, and the team’s publicist’s) and the family dynamics that develop between the players and staff of the baseball team.

The romance in the story was also outstanding. In both of the Julie Cross books I’ve read she does an excellent job of developing the characters as people and then slowing building up to a romance between the characters. Even though Jason was a few years older it was still a really honest, refreshing romance that had the highs and lows of a normal relationship.

Oh! I thought of something else that drove me crazy. The story is obviously about baseball and there’s a fair amount of baseball in the book, but I don’t think it would drive anyone who’s not a fan or not interested in baseball crazy. I really liked how rather than telling us the name of everyone on the team Cross referred to some of them just by their position (“short stop,” “third base,” etc.). Towards the end of the book I was thinking how Cross did a pretty good job with the baseball sections but then, right at the end, the Royals (props to Cross for picking the Royals as the team in the story, they are now in the middle of their first post-season run in a while) are playing a game in Yankee stadium and the Yankees bat in the top of the inning and the Royals bat in the bottom. Now maybe this will be changed in the final book (I read an ARC), but this little thing, which is such a basic baseball thing, drove me totally crazy especially because when the Yankees are up and when Jason has to pitch are so important to that moment in the story.

Bottom Line: On its own Whatever Life Throws at You is an solid book, it has interesting characters, a strong romance, and a compelling storyline, but having read one of Cross’s other books, Letters to Nowhere, the similarities are just too great to ignore. Both feature the world of a professional sports, a father in a mentor position, complicated family situations, and, most disturbing, the same setup for the pivotal moment in both romances. If you haven’t read Letters to Nowhere read this and enjoy it, but if you have be prepared to be underwhelmed.

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

One Year Ago: Waiting on Wednesday: Side Effects May Vary


Book Review: Even in Paradise

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eveninparadise

Title: Even in Paradise
Author: Chelsey Philpot
Release Date: 10/14/14
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

If I had to sum up Even in Paradise in one line it would be to say that it’s a more pedestrian, less beautifully written version of We Were Liars. That might sound weird, but the entire time I was reading I kept thinking of We Were Liars which has its fans, and I respected, but it was a little too literary and high-brow for my to really connect with the story, as beautiful as the writing was. I didn’t think Even in Paradise was perfect, it has its issues, but if I had to pick between We Were Liars and Even in Paradise I would go with Even in Paradise in a heartbeat. Let’s talk about why.

1. Chelsey Philpot goes the more cliche route and chooses to tell the story of the wealthy, powerful Buchanan family through the eyes of an outsider, the middle class Charlotte who’s a classmate of Julia Buchanan, the wild, free, mysterious Buchanan daughter who recently started at Charlotte’s school after a terrible accident that resulted in the death of her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. Charlotte and Julia quickly become obsessed with each other and the rest of their friends all fall away. Even though it was the more typical take on the story it was easy to see why the pretty plain Charlotte was drawn to the glamorous Julia.

2. As much as the fact the Charlotte was a normal girl made the story relatable it also made the story more cliched. The way that Julia’s family took Charlotte under their wing felt authentic, but there was always the feeling that they invited Charlotte into the fold and they could just as easily push her out. The Buchanan’s world was obviously a novelty to Charlotte, but, maybe because it wasn’t like she set out to be a part of their world, she never felt too much like the poor outsider. However, the Buchanans were obviously a thinly-veiled Kennedy family and sometimes they ventured into being caricatures.

3. The romance definitely left something to be desired. At first I wondered if the story was going to head towards a romance between Charlotte and Julia, but Charlotte ended up having a relationship with Julia’s brother. Because the story never dove too deeply into characters other than Charlotte and Julia (and even then it wasn’t very deep) I never quite understood the relationship between Charlotte and Julia’s brother. There was no chemistry and their moments together were few and far between.

4. All of that said it was still an entertaining (quick) book that I would say is worth taking to the beach or reading on a plane. Even though the writing lacked the beauty of We Were Liars it was still perfectly well written. The highlight of the book was Charlotte, who could have been a wide-eyed outsider taken in by a fancy, wealthy family, but Charlotte always had her own sense of self. I never quite knew what Charlotte was going to do, which made sense and really worked for the story.

Bottom Line: I’m not saying this is a book to run out and read immediately, but if you enjoy stories about old New England families and stories of outsiders in situations they don’t belong this is worth giving a try. It does sometimes fall into cliche territory and the romance wasn’t the best, but the story was interesting and the main character is especially strong.

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss (thank you!). All opinions are my own. 

One Year Ago: Book Review: The Vow


Book Review: Kiss Kill Vanish

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Title: Kiss Kill Vanish
Author: Jessica Martinez
Release Date: 10/07/14
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

If you haven’t read a Jessica Martinez book you are seriously missing out. I loved Virtuosity, I enjoyed The Vow, and Kiss Kill Vanish was just something else entirely. In a lot of ways  If you haven’t read one of Martinez’s book go read one now (after you finish my review, of course).

When I first started Kiss Kill Vanish I was 100% sure I wasn’t a fan. The beginning of the story immediately starts with Valentina/Jane’s life in Montreal, a really sad life working as a model for this creepy artist and living in what’s pretty much a closet in a crappy apartment. She’s on the run from her old life in Miami and it quickly comes out that she saw her father, who she always thought was a wealthy art dealer, and her boyfriend, one of her father’s employees, kill a man on her father’s yacht. After she witnessed the murder she immediately fled to Montreal to try to distance herself from her old life.

In Montreal Valentina goes by Jane and is pretty much just trying to find a way to make enough money to leave freezing, lonely Montreal and make a permanent escape to somewhere like Spain. When the story starts she’s already met a young artist who hires her to be his muse and who she thinks is a poser and a loser. Her life in Montreal, putting up with this guy she hates, having no money for food or a blanket, and have no friends is a far cry from her previously glamourous life in Miami where she had million-dollar art works hanging in her house, lots of money to spend, and went to parties all the time.

There were several things about the story and Valentina that seemed so odd at first, and I think were part of why I didn’t get into the story immediately, but, after I thought about them made sense. Valentina has a much older sense about her, she’s only 17 during the book, but she could easily be much older, probably because of the way she was raised. For someone who grew up in such privilege her survival skills really impressed me. But, I was kind of baffled by the fact that after witnessing her father order her boyfriend to murder someone that she wasn’t more curious about what was going on. I came to the conclusion that she must have been in shock and in the middle of some serious denial otherwise how could she not put all of it together or at least try to put all of it together through Googling or something?

I’m struggling with other things to say about this story because so much happens and changes so quickly over the story that I don’t want to spoil anything. Even though I was skeptical at first, probably 15% of the way in something happened that really surprised me and pretty much just sucked me in completely. I had inklings of the way things in the story would happen and some of them were right, but there were other things (especially a BIG thing towards the end that I did not see coming but was BRILLIANT) that just blew my mind and made me have so much (even more than I originally had) respect for Martinez.

You know how sometimes you read a book and you finish and it’s just kind of over? Well this is a book that in the five or so days since I finished it had just stayed with me. I almost want to go back and re-read it because there are so many layers and moving parts to the story that I’m sure there are things I missed. It would also be interesting to read the whole thing knowing how it ends. Also, the way Martinez handles romance is so amazing. Her romances are different and push the normal limits, but they’re also really subtle and real feeling.

All that good stuff said there was one major thing about the story that drove me crazy. Martinez used this kind of countdown storytelling device where a chapter or new section would pick up with Valentina waiting for something to happen or waiting for it to be time to do something so it would start with eight minutes left and then spend the next eight minutes in Valentina’s head as she waited around. It was a good way to show the emptiness and desperation of Valentina’s life, but I just wanted to shake her and tell her to get out of her own head and shut up and leave and be early! Also, no spoilers, but I wish there had been more closure with her father and boyfriend at the end. There’s closure with other parts of the story, but not having the closure for those relationships made it feel like something was missing.

Bottom Line: I loved Kiss Kill Vanish maybe even more than I loved Martinez’s other books because I struggled with the beginning, but then Martinez sucked me in, got me hooked, and made me respect her even more. Not only is this a really interesting well done story about a fantastic character in a tough situation, it’s also a great thriller/mystery full of intelligent twists and turns. If I had to compare Jessica Martinez to another YA author it would be Gayle Forman, that’s how much I like her, so if you haven’t read one of her books go to it ASAP because you’re in for a treat.

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss (thank you!). All opinions are my own.

One Year Ago: Book Review: Parallel


Book Review: Not in the Script

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Title: Not in the Script
Author: Amy Finnegan
Release Date: 10/07/14
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Let’s just say that I enjoyed reading Not in the Script, but if you want a better version of this normal-people-in-Hollywood story you should definitely check out Tammara Webber’s Between the Lines series. That said, Not in the Script has a lot of redeeming qualities, but it also has its fair share of issues. I’m going to break it down a little differently than I normally do.

First, Emma, the main female character, was a joy to read about. Amy Finnegan managed to strike the perfect balance between Taylor-Swift-like huge Hollywood star known for her talent and romantic entanglements and also normal girl. Emma is a really talented actress who is super famous, like can’t go out in public she’s so famous, but in pretty much every scene of the book she seemed really down to earth, but also not sickeningly sweet.

Second, Jake, the main male character, had the same great, relaxed personality that Emma did, but somehow he was a more difficult character to know. Jake is a former model who has only recently broke into acting and the show that he and Emma are starring in is his first major job. Jake is eager to prove himself as more than a pretty face, he really just wants to make enough money to go to college and pay to take care of his mom who recently had a stroke. All of that makes Jake a pretty admirable guy who’s easy to like, but he also just seemed very generic. Even though the story is told from the perspective of Jake and Emma their voices are really similar and I often questioned the authenticity of Jake’s voice.

Third, the look at the Hollywood side of the story was really fun. Emma and Jake have recently signed on to a new TV show that’s filming in Tucson, Arizona. Even though the story took place outside of Hollywood there were still interesting behind-the-scenes looks at the process of making the TV show like the first table read, time spent in hair and makeup, and talk of long days and what really goes into filming one little scene. There are also trips to Hollywood and things like a media tour to really drive home the Hollywood idea. Also, I’ve never been to Tucson, but I am a long-time reader of a fitness blogger who lives in Tucson and lots of the places mentioned in the book are places she talks about on her blog so it seemed pretty authentic to me.

Fourth, there were sadly some things about the writing that bugged me or rubbed me the wrong way. There were many cases of showing rather than telling throughout the story, but especially at the end of chapters. There were probably five or more chapters that would have been so much better if they had ended just one sentence earlier. I got what happened, I’m sure pretty much anyone capable of reading the book understands what happened so really there’s no need to provide another sentence of explanation. There were also some moments, and I wish I had made better notes about them, where Jake made strange comments about Emma’s body and eating habits. The one I very clearly remember was him talking about how nice it was to be able to fit both hands fully around her waist. Not only did the comments seem a little creepy/unhealthy, they also just weren’t things I could really picture a guy saying (see point number two above).

Fifth, the part of the story where I thought Amy Finnegan really excelled was at building relationships. The romantic relationship, and friendship, between Emma and Jake was great, but she also did a great job at handling the other relationships in the story. Emma and Jake work primarily with two other actors, a diva girl and a kind of slightly washed up bad boy. The friendships/frenemy-ships work really well and each of those secondary characters really brought something to the story. Emma’s relationship with her parents was also really strong and even though she had some battles with her mother, who’s also her publicist, it was nice to see mostly normal parents as the parents of a Hollywood star. Throughout the story Emma’s relationship with her childhood best friend never quiet clicked, but I was pleasantly surprised by how that relationship ended up playing out and I came away respecting Amy Finnegan for what she did with it.

Bottom Line: Not in the Script is a fun, quick book about young Hollywood stars. It has some issues with characterization and the story telling, but it still provides a great behind-the-scenes look at the making of a TV show and an interesting look at the show’s young cast. I wouldn’t say to run out and read it ASAP, but if you’re looking for light and fun and you like Hollywood stories it’s worth giving a try.

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley (thank you!). All opinions are my own.

One Year Ago: Book Review: Mostly Good Girls


Not Waiting on Wednesday

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First thing’s first, this is a post about how crappy I am at picking good books, not a post about the Waiting on Wednesday meme which is a great meme that I always enjoyed participating in and from which I still enjoy reading posts by other people.

Nearly two years ago (crazy!) when I started this blog I used to do a Waiting on Wednesday post practically every week. I stopped towards the end of last year, picked it up again briefly at the beginning of 2014, but haven’t done one in a while. I stopped mostly because I had other posts I wanted to do, but also because I just felt like I wasn’t that great at picking books that, once I read them, ended up being a book I actually felt was worth waiting for.

For a while now I’ve wanted to go back and look at how I actually ended up rating the books I read for Waiting on Wednesday posts and when I finally did it this is the breakdown of how I ended up rating them:

5 stars: 7%
– Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi (WoW post) (review)
– Noggin by John Corey Whaley (WoW post) (review)
– Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (WoW post) (review)

4 stars: 31%
– All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill (WoW post) (review)
– All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry (WoW post) (review)
– Fault Line by Crista Desir (WoW post) (review)
– Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott (WoW post) (review)
– The Lucy Variations by Sarah Zarr (WoW post) (review)
– A Mad Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller (WoW post) (review)
– Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover (WoW post) (review)
– On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Robin Palmer (WoW post) (review)
– The Program by Suzanne Young (WoW post) (review)
– Rebel by Amy Tintera (WoW post) (review)
– The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos (WoW post) (review)
– Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy (WoW post) (review)
– This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready (WoW) (review)

3 stars: 24%
– The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider (WoW post) (review)
– Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt (WoW post) (review)
– Crash Into You by Katie McGarry (WoW post) (review)
– My Best Friend, Maybe by Caela Carter (WoW post) (review)
– No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale (WoW post) (review)
– The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine (WoW post) (review)
– Split Second by Kasie West (WoW post) (review)
– The Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miler (WoW post) (review)
– Until it Hurts to Stop by Jennifer R. Hubbard (WoW post) (review)
– Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller (WoW post) (review)

2 stars: 16%
– Biggest Flirts by Jennifer Echols (WoW post) (review)
– Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend (WoW post) (review)
– Free to Fall by Lauren Miller (WoW post) (I never wrote a review for this, but I would give it 2 stars)
– Leap of Faith by Jamie Blair (WoW post) (review)
– New Money by Lorraine Zago (WoW post) (I never wrote a review for this, but I would give it 2 stars)
– Since Last Summer by Joanna Philbin (WoW post) (review)
– Truly, Madly, Deadly by Hannah Jayne (WoW post) (review)

1 star: 7%
– Deceived by Julie Anne Lindsay (WoW post) (review)
– This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith (WoW post) (review)
– Unremembered by Jessica Brody (WoW post) (review)

DNF: 5%
– Pointe by Brandy Colbert (WoW post)
– Premeditated by Josin McQueen (WoW post)

Didn’t Attempt: 7%
– Hurt by Tabitha Suzema (WoW post)
– Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young (WoW post)
– Meet Me at the River by Nina da Gramont (WoW post)

Some thoughts:

– Out of the 42 books I featured in Waiting on Wednesday posts I’m really proud I’ve read or attempted to read 39 of them.

– In the end I ended up being better at picking books that I originally thought. I rated the majority of these books 3+ stars which is pretty good and the 4-star rating was my highest percent.

– However, it isn’t great that I have a one-in-three chance of picking a book that I would rate 2-stars or less and that I have the same likelihood of picking a 5-star book as I do a 1-star book.

– Even after looking at all of this I’m not exactly sure how I could improve. When I think of how I felt going into the 2-star, 1-star, and DNF books I really was excited to read them and expected to like them and, in theory, I still think most of them sound pretty good.

– Right now I’m pretty happy not doing Waiting on Wednesday posts, although I will admit that as I have less and less time to read I do sometimes think bringing back a regular post that doesn’t require me to read anything is a good idea. But for the time being I think I’ll keep the meme in my back pocket and focus on filling this space with other types of posts for now.

One Year Ago: Book Review: Meant to Be


Top 10 Tuesday: Books For Readers Who Like Character-Driven Novels

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Top 10 Tuesday is a meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. You can see all the topics here.

Oddly enough it’s only been this year that I’ve realized what a character-driven novel is. I guess I’ve always known what it is, but I never realized if I was reading one or not. Coming into making this list I could think of only three character-driven novels that I’ve read, two of which I would recommend (and are on this list). The rest of the list took some digging through Goodreads. And, since I’ve determined I don’t read many character-driven novels, I fully acknowledge some of these might be a stretch.

perfectlygoodwhiteboy

1. Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian

queenofkentucky

2. The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker

lookingforalibrandi

3. Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

whatithought

4. What I Thought was True by Huntley Fizpatrick

tyrants

5. The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson

andwestay

6. And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

bittersweet

7. Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler

realityboy

8. Reality Boy by A.S. King

bitterandsweet

9. The Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Robin Palmer

someday

10. Someday, Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham

One Year Ago: Top 10 Tuesday: Disappointing Series Enders


Book Review: Bleed Like Me

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Title: Bleed Like Me
Author: Crista Desir
Release Date: 10/07/14
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

To say I was excited about Bleed Like Me is a bit of an understatement, I thought Desir’s Fault Line was completely brilliant, but, even with my love of Fault Line I went into Bleed Like Me with tempered expectations. The idea of a “Sid and Nancy” relationship for teens didn’t do anything for me and while I find cutters and the idea of cutting to be really psychologically interesting, it’s also not something I was really seeking out in a book.

Most of the time I think I’m fairly good at separating myself from characters and realizing that they’re their own people who make their own decisions, but I struggled with that in Bleed Like Me and that definitely colored my opinion of the book. The thing about Bleed Like Me is that everything felt like just a push too far. Gannon, the main character has a truly terrible life. Her parents were fine parents for a long time, but several years before the book starts they adopted three boys from Central America and the boys are complete and utter nightmares. They obviously had a tough upbringing on the streets, but their misbehavior, malice, and ungratefulness was so horrifying that I never bought into it and eventually it became more of a caricature.

Once the brothers come into the picture Gannon’s parents need to spend all of their energy on the boys and Gannon, and her parents’ relationship, suffers as a result. When the book starts Gannon doesn’t have much in her life, she hates being home because of her brothers’ behavioral issues and the way it wears at her parents, she’s a mediocre student, and she has no real friends. The only good thing in her life is her job at the local hardware store. The store’s owner is kind of like a gruff father figure and her co-worker, a fellow high school student, obviously cares about Gannon. Bleed Like Me wasn’t this kind of book, but I still found myself wishing that there had been more about her job at the hardware store and her relationship with the owner and her coworker.

When Gannon meets Brooks she is ripe to fall under the influence of a charming, bossy boy who pays her quite a bit of attention. Brooks is where I had the most difficult time distancing my thoughts about the book and its characters from my own personal feelings and opinions. I had expected Brooks to be more charming and slick, but he turns out to be just as much as a mess as Gannon and I just didn’t understand his appeal. Brooks comes from his own complicated background and I never was able to really grasp if he was intentionally manipulative (which is what I expected) or if he was just as lost as Gannon and didn’t really understand what he was doing. In the end I didn’t really think it mattered so much, the truth is probably somewhere in between, but I still never really got a grasp on Brooks as a character and as much as I tried to put myself in Gannon’s shoes I just couldn’t understand, even with how terrible the rest of her life was, the appeal of Brooks and how much she gave up for Brooks because, as he was at the time, he was no prize.

The biggest surprise of Bleed Like Me was how little the act of cutting and Gannon’s issues around being a cutter played into the story. I’m certainly not going to say I wanted more cutting in the story, but, given what the unique and compelling way Desir handled sexual assault in Fault Line I was looking forward to seeing how she handled the problem of cutting, something that has affected/still affects many people I know. But the way the story played out the cutting was maybe not even a secondary story, but a tertiary or quaternary story. When the cutting did come into the story, which really was probably only a handful of times, the connection to the rest of Gannon’s life never materialized and I found myself having to connect a lot of the dots to figure out how she ended up being a cutter.

A lot of this has been critical, but I still think Desir is a brilliant writer. She is truly not afraid to go to dark places and tackle tough topics and she handles both of those things, for the most part, really beautifully. Even though I often felt like, combined, many of the things Gannon does and experiences felt a tad over the top, many of the things Desir writes about here are pressing problems to a lot of teenagers and families out there. Kids with behavioral problems, absentee parents, parents with marital problems, feeling like an outsider, toxic relationships, drug use, and cutting are all problems many teenagers and families will sadly experience in one way or another and I love that there’s an author out there writing so honestly and bravely about these topics. Whether it’s a good or bad thing the story of Bleed Like Me was also never predictable and I appreciated that I had no clue how the story was ultimately going to play out.

Bottom Line: I would love to say that Bleed Like Me had the same impact on me as Fault Line, but it just didn’t. Whether it’s because of my own bias or because of the over-the-top nature of the story the emotional connection to the story just wasn’t there. I still admire Desir’s writing and her ability to handle sensitive subjects, but I wish she had handled this one a little differently.

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss. All opinions are my own.

One Year Ago: Book Review: Just One Year


Pub Date: Fall

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pubdate

Welcome to my third installment of Pub Date (and the 12th installment overall)! Obviously I had to go with a pumpkin beer for this fall theme and I am so lucky to live near a craft brewery that makes the best pumpkin beer I’ve ever tried (and I’ve tried a lot).

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I don’t know what it is about Crooked Ladder’s Outta My Vine Pumpkin Ale but it is just freaking delicious. It’s the perfect blend of all the fall flavors (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.), pumpkin, and the normal ale flavors. At the restaurant next door to the brewery they will do the “rim job” of cinnamon sugar around the glass, but sadly they don’t do that at the brewery. I am a little obsessed with the beer and I’ve visited the brewery every week for some and I’ve been a frequent purchaser of growlers (it’s literally like three doors down from my gym so it’s super dangerous).

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Finding a book to go along with this selection proved more difficult. I really wanted a book that summed up fall and something like apple picking and changing leaves and homecoming and football and I just drew a complete blank. As I was looking through Goodreads, desperately wishing I had shelves by season, I realized that Truly is the perfect choice. It’s an adult book, but I think it would very easily appeal to fans of YA romances with strong, quirky female main characters. Even though one of my issues with the book is that it takes place in NYC over Labor Day weekend and the city is supposedly chilly (never happens), it’s still a very fall-like book. There’s beer, football, harvesting of gardens and beehives, cuddling, good food, and Wisconsin. Plus Ruthie Knox just all around rocks (in my mind that kind of rhymes).

And make sure you check out my other pub dates for this month:

Brittany
Estelle
Andi

And happy 63rd birthday to my dad, a man who sadly likes beers like Corona and Rolling Rock (this is a beer-judging zone).

One Year Ago: Book Review: Stir Me Up