arc review

ARC Review: The Hearts We Sold

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Title: The Hearts We Sold
Author: Emily Lloyd-Jones
Publication Date: August 8, 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown/Hachette
Format: ARC*
Goodreads

“When Dee Moreno makes a deal with a devil–her heart in exchange for an escape from a disastrous home life–she finds her trade may be more than she bargained for. And becoming “heartless” is only the beginning. What lies ahead is a nightmare far bigger, far more monstrous than anything she ever could have imagined.

With reality turned on its head, Dee has only a group of other deal-making teens to keep her grounded, including the charming but secretive James Lancer. And as something like love grows between them amidst an otherworldly ordeal, Dee begins to wonder: can she give James her heart when it’s no longer hers to give?”

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The Hearts We Sold has a truly unique and fascinating premise, and I was so excited to pick up what promised to be a Faustian tale of epic proportions. Demons have made themselves know to the world, and offer to trade a person’s desire in exchange for a piece of that person. Prosthetic limbs mark those who have made deals for all to see, and our protagonist Dee finds herself in need of a deal. While her motivations (and ultimately what she makes a deal for) seemed a bit underwhelming, the real excitement begins once Dee leases her heart away for two years. Dee becomes a “heartless” and becomes involved with a troop of others with a world-saving task assigned by their Daemon.

Dee comes from a home that shows a more nuanced side to abusive families, and I liked the way that was portrayed. On the whole, however, Dee was a likable enough but fairly vanilla protagonist who didn’t leave a lasting impression. I did love the heartless gang and their missions, and would have preferred to see even more of that explored.

The Hearts We Sold, rather unfortunately, falls into the trappings of most paranormal romance stories, and that made everything else that was great about this book suffer. The love interest (because of course there’s a love interest, these teenagers have given up their HEARTS WE MUST HAVE ANGST) felt like an amalgamation of standard boy tropes, and I ultimately didn’t buy this romance. I would have enjoyed this book so much more without a forced romantic subplot. That being said, there’s a relationship between two female side characters, one of whom is trans, and that coupling worked much better in my opinion.

I definitely wanted more world building from this story – again, that tantalizing premise! This book needed more backstory, more information about the demons and the people who make deals with them. Generally, I just wanted a bit more foundation than is provided. This book is marketed for fans of Holly Black and Leigh Bardugo, but in my opinion The Hearts We Sold doesn’t quite go far enough to earn that comparison. It did, however, make me think about whether I’d ever make a deal with a demon, and what I’d trade.

Rating: 3.25 stars (yeah it’s a silly rating I know but that’s what we’re going with)

 

*I received this ARC from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review.

arc review

Ramona Blue

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Title: Ramona Blue
Author: Julie Murphy
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Publisher: Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins
Format: eARC*

“Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.”

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It’s been a week since I finished Ramona Blue, and I still don’t have words for this book. I’ve put off writing this review because I don’t know how to explain that this book has stolen a piece of my heart. I loved Ramona Blue in a way that I haven’t truly loved a book in quite some time. And not because it was magical, or lush, or clever. Because it was true.

This book portrays an experience rarely seen in literature, much less YA contemporary. Ramona Blue is set in the Gulf Coast, a part of the deep South that is completely unique and unto itself in terms of culture and lifestyle. I was born and raised a short drive from Ramona’s fictional town (in Louisiana instead of Ramona’s Mississippi), and my childhood was spent traveling to places Ramona frequents in this book: Biloxi, Gulfport, New Orleans, Baton Rouge. Reading this book was like reading about home, from Eulogy’s Mardi Gras parades to the experience of being a small town devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Ramona’s story resonated so deeply with me, because in many ways it’s my story too. There were so many moments where it felt as though Julie Murphy had plucked memories from my brain and written them out onto the pages.

At only seventeen, Ramona is used to putting herself last. The money she’s saved up, dreaming about moving away from Eulogy, will now be sacrificed to support her pregnant older sister. She lives in a cramped trailer with her family, and in so many ways Ramona is suffocated. Her sense of obligation to her family means her dreams get pushed aside. Thankfully Ramona ultimately realizes that she doesn’t have to give up on her own ambitions, but getting to that point isn’t easy.

Ramona is a teenager with the weight of the world – and her family – on her shoulders. Part of her journey in this book is continually figuring out who she is. Until the summer of this novel, Ramona has only ever been attracted to girls, and considers herself a lesbian. But reuniting with Freddie and realizing she’s developing feelings for him throws Ramona’s self of self (or at least, sexual identity) into question. I think Julie Murphy did an excellent job portraying that self-examination, and provides some much needed and very positive bisexual representation. This is about a girl figuring out who she is and who she’s attracted to. Ramona doesn’t suddenly stop liking girls just because she also likes Freddie.

Ultimately, I loved Ramona so fiercely, and Julie Murphy for writing this book. Ramona has secured a spot as one of my all-time favorite characters, and a spot in my heart. Ramona Blue is a contemporary story that’s all heart, and not to be missed. Sadly I can’t make any of the stops on the book tour to say it in person, but…Julie Murphy, if by some chance you’re reading this: thank you.

Rating: 4.5 stars

arc review

ARC Review: The Upside of Unrequited

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Title: The Upside of Unrequited
Author: Becky Albertalli
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Format: eARC*

“Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.

Right?”

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I finally read Becky Albertalli’s cult favorite debut novel Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda right before diving into The Upside of Unrequited, and I officially get the hype for this other. I also definitely recommend reading Simon first, since Upside is a companion sequel and characters from Simon pop up in this new story.

I expected to enjoy The Upside of Unrequited, but I didn’t expect to identify so strongly with Molly’s experience. Becky Albertalli perfectly verbalizes how it feels to be “behind” everyone else in terms of relationships and sexual experience, especially when you’re overweight. There’s a scene in which Molly mentions how aware she is of her stomach rolling over her waistband, and how wide her thighs look, while she’s sitting beside a cute boy. That scene, and so many nuanced ones like it, brought tears to my eyes because of how strongly I related to them. I can’t remember the last time I truly saw myself reflected in a character like this.

I loved the diversity infused throughout the cast of characters. Molly is biracial and Jewish, and medicated for her mental illnesses. She has two moms who finally get married over the course of the novel, because The Upside of Unrequited is set against the backdrop of the legalization of gay marriage in the United States. The family dynamic was excellent, and I enjoyed seeing how each member of Molly’s family interacts with one another, and how they all have special, individual bonds. Albertalli also highlights the ways that relationships, especially familial ones, change over time. Molly and Cassie’s relationship goes through a huge period of upheaval in this book, and both girls have to come to terms with what that means.

However, I did find many characters grating, including Molly in part but mainly Cassie. In the beginning, she came across like such a fierce character that I fully expected to adore her, but that went rapidly downhill. Although I may not have enjoyed Cassie personally, I still understood where her character is coming from…even if I didn’t like the way she handled things.

There are so many honest, if awkward, conversations throughout the course of this novel, and I loved seeing those represented. One of my favorite aspects of Albertalli’s novels is that sense of honesty, that she writes believable people in believable situations, and there is such truth in her stories. If Becky Albertalli isn’t on your radar, that needs to change ASAP!

Rating: 4 stars

*I received an eARC of this book from the publisher, via Edelweiss, in exchange for a free and honest review.

arc review

Review: Geekerella

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Title: Geekerella
Author: Ashley Poston
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Publisher: Quirk Books
Format: eARC*

“Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom. Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad’s old costume), Elle’s determined to win…unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons—before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but the Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.”

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Geekerella is a fandom-inspired Cinderella retelling about Elle and her love of a scifi show called Starfield. While I was intrigued by the premise, unfortunately this fell short for me. A major reason why I find Cinderella retellings unsuccessful is that the evil stepmother and stepsisters rarely, if ever, come across as believable. That was certainly the case with Geekerella, and Elle’s stepmom and sisters are cruel for literally no reason. As a reader, I honestly hate this “evil just because” trope and find it to be a result of lazy writing.

Another issue that I had with this Cinderella reimagining is that it’s a little too on the nose, therefore making the entire story feel unbearably derivative. Despite the modern day setting and fandom details, this ultimately didn’t feel original enough. The only unique aspect of Geekerella is fandom, which I appreciated as a link between Elle and her late father, but otherwise I felt lukewarm about. This was especially true for the scenes that take place at the con itself, since they lacked the excitement and spark that make cons so fun in real life.

It was interesting to get Darien’s POV alternating with Elle’s, because his story approaches Starfield and fandom from a different perspective. However, in the overall scheme of things I didn’t feel like his voice added that much. Basically, this was just an incredibly disappointing read.

Geekerella combined two things that I rarely find to be pulled off well – retellings and the fandom experience – so maybe I was never going to love this. That being said, I think Geekerella focused too much on closely copying the original instead of becoming something new onto itself. If you’re still intrigued to pick this up, I’d recommend saving your money and checking it out from the library instead.

Rating: 2 stars

*I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

arc review

Alex, Approximately | Five Reasons to Read

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“In this delightfully charming teen spin on You’ve Got Mail, the one guy Bailey Rydell can’t stand is actually the boy of her dreams—she just doesn’t know it yet.

Classic movie buff Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online by “Alex.” Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.

Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new arch-nemesis. But life is whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever-it-is she’s starting to feel for Porter.

And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.

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Happy Book Birthday to Alex, Approximately! I absolutely adored this YA contemporary of epic romantic comedy proportions, so I’m sharing five reasons why you should read Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett.

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  1. It’s a You’ve Got Mail retelling. That’s right, one of the most iconic ‘90s romcoms, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, gets the YA treatment and Jenn Bennett totally pulls it off. Bennett updates the plot and characters in a way that feels fresh and modern, while still remaining true to this tell of hate to love with unknown identities.
  1. The romance is next-level swoon worthy. Bailey and Porter have one of my top requirements for a ship: witty banter with a healthy side of hate to love dynamics. I also loved that they manage to stump one another every now and then, but the scenes in which they volley quips back and forth were cute and clever. The development of their relationship felt realistic and not rushed, and the reader gets to see them progress over the course of an entire summer – no instalove here.
  1. Best summer job in YA…ever? Bailey, Porter, and Bailey’s best friend Grace all work at this odd mansion-turned-museum that is, in a word, freaking weird. But the museum felt like a character onto itself, in all of its strange and quirky glory. Scenes between Bailey, Grace, and Porter in the “Hotbox” ticket booth were some of my favorites. I’ve read plenty of YA contemporaries in which our protagonists work at a camp, or some other standard summer job, but the museum in Alex, Approximately takes the cake.
  1. It’s sex positive. We can have an entire conversation about the representation of sex in YA books another today (because oh boy could I write an essay on that topic), but suffice it to say that I’m hyper aware of when books are expressly sex positive or negative. Alex, Approximately is sex positive in all the best ways. There are open, honest conversations about (and portrayals of) sex, masturbation, and female pleasure. I think this kind of representation is extremely important, and Jenn Bennett did an excellent job of incorporating this aspect of Bailey and Porter’s relationship into the overall story.
  1. I love a good family dynamic. It’s no secret that I hate the ways YA commonly deals with parents: they are either nonexistent or uninvolved for the most part. Thankfully, Alex, Approximately has some truly amazing families. Bailey’s dad is earnest and obsessed with Settlers of Catan, and he was such a joy to read. Porter’s family has a surfing legacy, and I loved seeing their dynamics in their shop and home. Even though these characters are also dealing with their own issues, I really enjoyed spending time with the different families in this novel.

Well, those are five reasons why I think you should read Alex, Approximately when it comes out on April 4 from Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster! If you need even more reasons to, check out my video review below.

Let me know what ‘90s romantic comedy you think should get its own retelling in the comments!

*I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for a free and honest review.

 

arc review

ARC Review: Defy the Stars

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Title: Defy the Stars
Author: Claudia Gray
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown/Hachette
Format: ARC*

“She’s a soldier.

Noemi Vidal is seventeen years old and sworn to protect her planet, Genesis. She’s willing to risk anything–including her own life. To their enemies on Earth, she’s a rebel.

He’s a machine.

Abandoned in space for years, utterly alone, Abel has advanced programming that’s begun to evolve. He wants only to protect his creator, and to be free. To the people of Genesis, he’s an abomination.

Noemi and Abel are enemies in an interstellar war, forced by chance to work together as they embark on a daring journey through the stars. Their efforts would end the fighting for good, but they’re not without sacrifice. The stakes are even higher than either of them first realized, and the more time they spend together, the more they’re forced to question everything they’d been taught was true.”

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While Defy the Stars sounds like a high stakes joy ride through space, and it is, this book is also about so much more than Firefly-inspired intergalactic shenanigans. Claudia Gray’s latest novel is fundamentally about the relationship between humans and robots, and questions what it means to be human, and to have a soul. Defy the Stars also takes a critical, theoretical look at space colonization, and what happens when Earth is dying and has to find other planets for humanity to call home. This far-flung attempt at colonization causes the ongoing war between Earth and the planet Genesis, Noemi’s home.

Noemi is a soldier prepared for a mass suicide mission to dismantle Earth’s main access gate to Genesis in order to stall for time against future attacks. She’s ready to die for her home, and is willing to do anything to prevent Earth from ruining Genesis. I admittedly felt lukewarm about Noemi over the course of this novel, largely because I felt like her personality and characterization were a bit erratic. Abel, the other, AI protagonist, is by far my favorite part of Defy the Stars. He is hilariously passive aggressive and sassy, and his character development over the course of this book was incredible. Abel definitely came across as the standout character, and seeing him grapple with these new “developments” was wonderful. However, in terms of the romance (that you know, you just know was bound to happen) between them, I felt meh at best. In fact, I think I might have enjoyed this novel more if there was no romance at all.

Visiting each of the different planets in the Loop was another favorite part of Defy the Stars, and it provides the reader with a great foundation of the world and the dynamics on each planet. I’m sure this will come in handy in the sequel, but it was also just interesting to collect those little nuggets of world building along the way.

While Claudia Gray creates an interesting perspective in Defy the Stars with Noemi’s faith, this book is still comprised of the same recycled scifi themes and tropes we’ve all seen before – Earth needs a new planet, a tense human/robot dynamic, and the evil of corporations and people who refuse to grow old and die like the rest of us. Unfortunately, I found the overall story to feel a bit…done. I knew pretty much exactly how this would play out as soon as the major conflict was presented. Also, if you follow me on Goodreads then you’ll know I had a major problem with one aspect of the writing: the use of present tense. I’ve read plenty of books written in present tense, but for some reason it bothered me so much in Defy the Stars. This is something that I recognize is purely my personal preference, but apparently I’m one of those people who has strong opinions on present v. past tense. Who knew.

I did, however, love the ending. It may not be satisfying to some, but I felt like it was the best possible way to finish out this first book, and I’m now very intrigued to read the sequel. I feel like the black sheep compared to other early reviews, but although I enjoyed Defy the Stars, it wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped, and definitely didn’t feel new. I’d still recommend this novel if you’re into scifi, especially if you’re new to the genre. Claudia Gray does an excellent job of creating fraught and philosophical human/mech dynamics, while calling into question the very idea of what makes us human. A good balance of space travel shenanigans and self-discovery, Defy the Stars is definitely worth checking out on April 4th.

Rating: 3.5 stars

*I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review. Thanks again to Little, Brown/Hachette!

arc review

ARC Review: Get It Together, Delilah!

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Title: Get It Together, Delilah!
Author: Erin Gough
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Format: eARC*

“Seventeen-year-old Delilah Green wouldn’t have chosen to do her last year of school this way, but she figures it’s working fine. While her dad goes on a trip to fix his broken heart after her mom left him for another man, Del manages the family cafe. Easy, she thinks. But what about homework? Or the nasty posse of mean girls making her life hell? Or her best friend who won’t stop guilt-tripping her? Or her other best friend who might go to jail for love if Del doesn’t do something? But really, who cares about any of that when all Del can think about is beautiful Rosa who dances every night across the street. . . . Until one day Rosa comes in the cafe door. And if Rosa starts thinking about Del, too, then how in the name of caramel milkshakes will Del get the rest of it together?”

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Get It Together, Delilah! was my first Aussie YA contemporary, to the best of my memory. I wish these stories were more readily available/commonly published in the US, and I was really excited to pick up this novel after hearing some positive early buzz. As the blurb explains, our main character Del is left in charge of her family’s café while her dad goes off to find himself. This very basic premise requires you to majorly suspend belief – what parent leaves their child alone for weeks and weeks, and barely checks in with her, much less the adult he left in charge (who is subsequently deported, by the way)? Normally I’m capable of suspending belief to an almost ridiculous degree – really, I can trick myself into believing anything for 300 pages – but for some reason this was beyond me.

I’ve never read a YA book in which the protagonist leaves school, so that was interesting to see portrayed. Del is viciously bullied at school (kids are freaking cruel, my god), and nearly every authority figure in this story is incompetent at best. However, that ties into another issue I had with this book: the characters are all over the place. Look, I know that people aren’t one-dimensional and that we all contain multitudes, sure, but these characters were just too much. I know this was done with the intention of making them feel like real people who have to deal with many, often conflicting, parts of their lives at the same time, but oh boy…I ended up feeling completely indifferent to everyone.

Delilah, our dear protagonist, is trying to keep everything together against some fairly intimidating obstacles. However, it must be said that Del is annoying af, y’all. There were so many times when I wanted to shake her for making such awful choices, or generally being The Worst. I ended up just wishing her dad would come home and put both of us out of our misery. I think that a major problem with this novel is that there’s simply too much going on. There’s Del trying to run the café, her romance woes, Charlie’s potential jail time, her guilt-tripping friends, her absentee parents – it was reading overload.

All that being said, I found the romance (infatuation might be a better word?) between Del and Rosa very cute. We’ve all been in Del’s shoes before, pining after someone from afar and treating every single interaction like a major life event. That made Del so much more relatable in my eyes. Get It Together, Delilah! was cute and a fun read, but neither the story nor Del were especially engaging.

Rating: 3 stars

*I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review. Thanks again to Chronicle Books!