Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

SUMMARY: What if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.

Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most?

Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality


OPINION:

Reviewing a book that captures a huge part of your heart and mind, that hits all your right buttons, that speaks on so many levels to you, is sometimes impossible to do. How do you really convey everything amazing about this book, without being able to give needed details due to spoilers? That's where I'm at with this one. I feel like I should say, I know Julie. But that in no way influences my intense love of this book. Honestly, I'd almost wish we weren't friends so maybe people would believe me that much more when I say this is one of those books you must read. No matter what. (But I love Julie, thus the almost).

But this book. I connected so hard to Alice. I love this prickly girl who flat out gets revenge on people because she thinks she's dying, and she's angry, and hey she won't be around to handle the fall out. No, she's not a nice person in a lot of ways. But she goes through so much growth. I love the girl she becomes, the change in how she views the world. And, oh, god, the sweetness and connection between her and Harvey. I can see why readers might not like Alice. She does some awful things. But I rooted hard for her. And if I'm being totally honest, I saw part of myself in her. I think whether people want to admit it or not, everyone at least imagines what it'd be like to do what you want, regardless of the consequences. Then there's Alice, who really does it. I admire that. Even if it's in part because she won't have to handle the fallout. But I also just admire how take life by the horns she is, how determined she is. There is an immense strength in this girl, and I can't help but love her.

And Harvey. Oh, sweet, sweet Harvey. I love this boy. To pieces. He is so stunningly different than a lot of guys in YA. At the start, he and Alice haven't talked in way too long, despite the friendship that used to be between them. There is such palpable pain there, and it drew me right in. Then comes Alice's diagnosis, and he's back in her life. He knows she's using him, but he doesn't care. And maybe to some that makes him weak, but to me, it just melted me for this boy, this person who cares about someone so much they take the time they can get, do what they can to help that person in what is likely their final months. Yes, she treats him really crappy at times, and yet, I could never hate her for it, or hate him for taking it. Something about these two, both apart and together, enamored me and broke me. For all the ways he's possibly weak, he's got this huge strength, and a breaking point of his own. He challenges Alice, and he challenges himself. And these two just... break me. There's no other word for it. Harvey is amazing. He's that solid thing you can fall back on, yet he's also that thing that will let you fall when it's best for you int he end.

The pure brilliance of this book to me is not only the stunning concept, but how amazingly its executed. Told in dual POV between Harvey and Alice, but also in a nonlinear fashion, with the past mixed into the present on both sides. It's a style that I sometimes can't wrap my head around trying to do, and Julie does it so, so, so well. I followed the overall storyline so well, adding these pieces of the past to the here and now, combining the stories and constantly feeling my emotions shift and change. The voice is distinct and easy to fall into. Everything about this book sang to me. From the not so easy to swallow choices Alice makes to the raw yet sweet friendship and romance to the roller coaster of emotions throughout.

I'm calling it now. This is my best book of 2014.

Details:
Source: ARC received from author in exchange for an honest review
Age Level: 14 and up
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Balzer + Bray 
Publication Date: March 18, 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014

Book Review: Third Degree by Julie Cross

SUMMARY: I used to be “Isabel Jenkins, child prodigy.” As lame as that sounds, at least it was an identity. But now I’m not sure what I am. I just failed the most important exam of my life—the emotional readiness test required to get into a medical residency program—and it turns out my parents can’t stand each other. Now I’m trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces of my life, and that means re-enrolling as a college freshman, but this time I’m shutting the books and majoring in being eighteen.

But so far, my roommate hates me and I’m not into the party scene. The only good thing about school has been getting to know my insanely hot RA. Marshall Collins makes me wonder about everything I missed while I was growing up too fast. Pretty soon we’re hanging out constantly, but for the first time, I find myself wanting more than a no-strings-attached physical relationship. And the lesson I really need is one Marsh definitely can’t teach me: love. Because I’m going to be alone forever if I don’t learn fast.

OPINION: This book was so dang cute, and hilarious. Isabel cracked me up so much, from the often cut and dry way she saw things, and even her trying to learn sarcasm - and spout it back out - just had such an endearing element for me. As utterly brilliant as she is, it's clear how much basic socializing she's missed out on, and how awkward and rash she can come off as. There is such a well done mix between this intelligent, driven girl and someone who doesn't always see past the next step - and therefore can't see how their current actions might have effects further down. With that, there is a really great character arc, this huge moment of growth for her throughout this, built on that but not only reliant upon it.

And Marshall. Oh, melty sigh. He is so perfect for Isabel, willing to handle her weirdness, her out of sync personality, but also falling for her pretty dang quickly. He is charming and funny, sweet and sensitive, that perfect blend of kind of cocky but mostly just genuinely kind. He teaches Isabel about so much, and my favorite thing about them is how it isn't really only bedroom based. Though there is certainly heat between them, neither one jumps right into bed, and there is definitely an overall slow burn between them. There is a lot of sexual tension to this one, but I found it more sweet than sexy, which only made me love it more.

Despite Isabel being a child prodigy, and having her MD at just eighteen, there are so many relatable things about her and her story, this girl who has so much to learn and even if sometimes she's a bit petulant, overall, she just wants to work things out and better herself. Her interactions with Justin cracked me up, the guy who is essentially her nemesis on intern rotation, and the other prodigy who ends up getting a residency while she doesn't. He antagonizes her so often, and she reciprocates, but there is still just this great element between them that lured me in. And going from a physical only, otherwise annoyed beyond belief with each other relationship with Justin to what becomes so much more with Marshall really only made Marshall shine even more.

There are a few plots woven throughout this one, but the character arcs shine the most for me. Isabel goes through such a solidly done, tremendous change, and Marshall even goes through his own changes, and the pair together is a new favorite of mine. The pacing is great, and this is a book I read straight through in a sitting. With a wit throughout the writing and a great voice that is so very Isabel, this one has so much going for it and absolutely delivered.

Details:
Source: Netgalley
Pages: 240 (ebook)
Publisher: Flirt (Random House)
Publication Date: March 25, 2014

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Character Interview and ARC Contest: Gray from Frozen by Erin Bowman

I'm so excited to have Gray from Erin Bowman's (amazing and painful) series Taken and the upcoming Frozen here today! These are some of my favorite books, and I mostly want to kidnap Gray, wrap him in bubble wrap, and hide him from Erin for all the things she puts him through. And if you thought Taken had some punches, wait till you read Frozen. Because. Wow. And ouch.

So let's get to it!


Describe yourself in four words.

This feels like a test...

I'm pretty stubborn. And impulsive. A good shot with a bow and a loyal brother.

Oh, look, I've already failed and gone over. But come on, four words? How can anyone be summed up in four words?


What is your biggest fear?

Losing my brother. I know I act like he's a pain--always playing the parent between us, nagging me left and right--but he's my second half. When he was Heisted, it was like I misplaced a piece of myself, like I was slowly coming undone. Then I got him back and realized I never wanted to go through that again. I don't know how to be without Blaine. I'm lost without him.


So.. you've found yourself in a bit of a tight spot caught between Bree and Emma. I'm going to keep my (very strong) feelings to myself, but what's the hardest thing for you in having a connection to each of them?

This is one of those questions where I'm going to sit here smiling and pretending you didn't ask me something so personal, and you're going to move on to the next topic without batting an eye.

(Kari's insert - I am totally batting eyes here. Darn you, Gray.)


Considering the title of book 2 is Frozen, what's worse for you: Freezing, or being too hot?

Heat's not so bad. It usually lets up when the sun goes down, and on a really sweltering day you can always ditch layers. But extreme cold? There is nothing worse than being unable to get warm, shivering no matter how much clothing you pull on. When you can't feel your toes and a deep breath burns like fire, hibernating animals start looking a lot smarter than humans.


Are you glad Emma followed you over the Wall, after all that happened afterwards, or do you think she would've been better off to stay?

She definitely would have been safer if she stayed behind. But that's not what you're asking, is it?

Here's the thing--It doesn't matter what I think now. Emma followed me because she wanted answers, and now she has them. Now she sees that staying in Claysoot would be the same as living in a locked cell. It's a prison, that place we called home. I'm glad she's out, even after everything. I'm going to get them all out.


What was your first kiss like?

I was twelve. Rosie Santersen dared me to shoot one of Blaine's arrows over the Wall. I told her no, he'd be furious. Then she said she'd kiss me if I did it. So I went and fetched my bow. Blaine was furious. He had me make five new arrows to replace the lost one, but it was worth it.


Boxers or briefs?

Like, boxes and crates? Debriefing sessions during a meeting? I don't know what you're asking me.

(Kari's other insert, I'm choosing to believe this means he goes commando.)


Finally, I have to ask. If you could get back at Erin for all the torture she is putting you through, what would be the first thing you do?

I think I'll hold off on saying anything just yet. Maybe Erin has a happy--or even semi-happy--ending in store for me. I'd hate to give her a reason to upend that.

That said, if something horrible does happen, I hear she hates clowns...


So there you guys have it. If you haven't met Gray before, I hope this entices you to get his book! He's a favorite of mine, that's for sure! And he kind of breaks me. Or maybe that's Erin. Because she's really kind of mean? (In a good way, I think?) (Okay, my heart is still bleeding but whatever.)

And for those of you who have read the first book and are as eager for the next one as I was, I've got an ARC of Frozen up for grabs to one lucky winner! This is US Only, and just fill out the Rafflecopter below to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, February 17, 2014

YA Review: Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt

SUMMARY: When Jonah is forced to move from Hamilton to Cross Pointe for the second half of his senior year, "miserable" doesn't even begin to cover it. He feels like the doggy-bag from his mother's first marriage and everything else about her new life—with a new husband, new home and a new baby—is an upgrade. The people at Cross Pointe High School are pretentious and privileged—and worst of all is Brighton Waterford, the embodiment of all things superficial and popular. Jonah’s girlfriend, Carly, is his last tie to what feels real... until she breaks up with him.

For Brighton, every day is a gauntlet of demands and expectations. Since her father died, she’s relied on one coping method: smile big and pretend to be fine. It may have kept her family together, but she has no clue how to handle how she's really feeling. Today is the anniversary of his death and cracks are beginning to show. The last thing she needs is the new kid telling her how much he dislikes her for no reason she can understand. She's determined to change his mind, and when they're stuck together for the night, she finally gets her chance.

Jonah hates her at 3p.m., but how will he feel at 3 a.m.?

One night can change how you see the world. One night can change how you see yourself.


OPINION:

I loved Schdmit's debut, Send Me a Sign, not only for the strong voice and solid writing, but the incredibly realistic characters, and Bright Before Sunrise delivers just as well. Jonah and Brighton are so easy to understand and relate to, so easy to root for, even when they are on opposite ends of an issue. There is something so effortless at the way Schmidt's characters appear on the page, and she's an auto-buy author for me as a result.

Jonah and Brighton are enemies of a sort to start. Jonah's the new kid at this ritzy school, with no desire to fit in or be part of clubs/events. He just wants to get back to his old town and see his girlfriend. He wants to get away from his mom and new stepdad, and he doesn't know how to handle his mom's decision to have another baby. Brighton is the most popular girl in school, nice, caring, pretty, and that person everyone wants to know and be friends with. But she's still in constant pain over her father's death and now, the day before a memorial for her father, she's determined to get Jonah's participation in a school volunteer thing to be able to have 100% participation, an achievement her father had years ago. This is what starts the enemies type element, and what comes after is so, so wonderfully done.

I loved Jonah's character so much. This sweet, kind boy who now, is bitter, frustrated, and, after his girlfriend breaks up with him at the start of the book, lonely and a bit broken. He doesn't know where he fits in life anymore, he's quit baseball, and he's an outsider in his own family. A girl like Brighton, someone who seemingly has everything, who's the rich, popular girl, is the last person he wants to be around. Jonah is snarky and a bit standoffish to start, but there's truly just something about him that I really connected to. There is so much to like about him, though, despite how grumpy he might seem at the beginning, and I melted so hard for him multiple times.

And Brighton. She's such a multifaceted character, this girl who has taken on so much and does it with grace, yet is carrying so much pain due to her father's death. It's not even a super recent death, but it's still effecting her constantly all the same. I loved her by herself, and I loved with her Jonah, watching her soften him up and watching her own walls slowly be taken down.

This book is a romance, but I would say the stronger story line is two people in bad places fixing themselves and fixing each other. It certainly ends on a sweet and romantic note, but especially considering it takes place only over the course of one night, it's a softer side of romance. And despite being only over one night's course, I so wholeheartedly believed the changes these two went through, the connection the formed, and the depth of their budding relationship. I'll always believe that sometimes that right person comes along at exactly the right moment, and forget logic and everything else, it's truly just right in that moment and bridges something to strong to carry on - and this is what happens with these two.

The voices are spot on for each, distinct and easy to differentiate. The story is one that is seemingly slow, it's two people going through stuff during one night, clinging to what happens in the darkness before a new day rises and things might be set back to "normal". And yet, this is one I read in one sitting, I couldn't put it down or get enough of these two characters. They're characters I connected to so strongly and emotionally. This is everything I love in YA contemporary, and even if it sometimes did feel a bit slow, it still just utterly captivated me.

Details:
Source: Netgalley
Grade Level: 7 and up
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Publication Date: February 18, 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

YA Book Review: Split Second by Kasie West

SUMMARY: Addie has always been able to see the future when faced with a choice, but that doesn't make her present any easier. Her boyfriend used her. Her best friend betrayed her. So when Addie's dad invites her to spend her winter break with him in the Norm world, she jumps at the chance. There she meets the handsome and achingly familiar Trevor. He's a virtual stranger to her, so why does her heart do a funny flip every time she sees him? But after witnessing secrets that were supposed to stay hidden, Trevor quickly seems more suspicious of Addie than interested in her. She wants to change that.

Laila, her best friend, has a secret of her own: she can restore Addie's memories . . . once she learns how. But there are powerful people who don't want this to happen. Desperate, Laila tries to manipulate Connor, a brooding bad boy from school—but he seems to be the only boy in the Compound immune to her charms. And the only one who can help her.

In the suspenseful sequel to Pivot Point, Addie tries desperately to retrieve her lost memories and piece together a world she thought she knew before she loses the love she nearly forgot.


OPINION:

I adored Pivot Point. So much. Sneaking pages when I should've been doing other stuff level of love. And I have to admit, the ending left me aching. I understood it. I believed it. But my heart had a few choice words for Kasie.

So finally, when I got to read Split Second, my heart did a happy dance. Then I actually, you know, read the book. And so, so, so awesome. Kasie has this uncanny ability for wit and humor infused throughout her books, this utterly amazing voice that just draws me right in, and her books always stand out in my mind as a result. I loved Addie in PP, but was so excited to get Laila's POV blended in this time around. And for all the ways Addie stood out and had this distinct voice and style, Laila stood out just as much. I never got confused on who was narrating, and I rooted so much for both girls.

I also love how their friendship was such a forerunning element of this book, even with their individual romances in there too. And that is just one of the many ways this book stands out so much to me. Yes, Laila betrayed Addie in a way, and yes, there are some big things they have to go through. But the trials they endure just make me believe in their friendship even more strongly. Even more, I truly love the sense of rightness that exists even with Addie's lost memories, these things that end up happening despite happening in a previous line for her in the past, and how she goes through all that.

And Trevor. Oh. Trevor. Right alongside her knack for wit, Kasie also has a talent for writing honest and real guy characters, who are just so dang sweet, even if a little bit flawed and not always in the right. Trevor slayed me in PP, and he only melted my heart even more this time around. I love his story, the things he's been through, and I loved the guy he's become as a result that we saw in PP. Now that's brought back in, reintroduced and, in a surprisingly solid fashion, built on even more. Even having known him already, I had no problems watching Addie get to know him again, seeing the things they connect over and everything else.

There is so much to utterly love about this book. While it probably can be read as a stand alone, considering how awesome the duology is, and how well the books play into each other, I recommend reading the first. Plus, if you're anything like me, you won't be able to get enough of Kasie's writing anyhow. The pacing is stellar, the plot has wonderful twists and turns, and the characters shine.

Details:
Source: ARC
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: February 11, 2014

Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: Vengeance by Megan Miranda

SUMMARY: Nobody really believes in a curse. Until you know the people who disappear. Too much coincidence, you look for reason. Too much death, you grasp for something to blame. Carson pulled Delaney out and he died on the side of the road with her mouth pressed to his. Her air in his body. Troy. She told the cops it was suicide. Didn't matter. The lake released her and grabbed another. But when Decker's father dies in a pool of spilled water on their kitchen floor, all Decker can feel is a slow burning rage. Because he knows that Delaney knew that his dad was going to die. She knew and backed out of his house and never said a word. Falcon Lake still has a hold on them both, and Decker can't forgive Delaney until he knows why.

OPINION: DECKER. Oh. Decker. Full disclosure, I ended Fracture with a serious love/hate feeling going on for Decker. I wanted to kick him as much as I wanted to hug him. So the wait for this book was a whole lot of constant cries of 'DECKER!' to Megan. And finally. Finally I got to read his story.

And he really sort of broke me. It's clear in Fracture he's got a lot going on. He messes up. He's confused. He tries so hard. He's solid. He's this whole mix of things, and Vengeance only opens the door into him so much more. This book is everything I love so much about YA. A boy who is such a mess, who knows that maybe part of what he feels is out of line but he can't help it still, who wants things to get better and be easier but doesn't really know how for that to happen. A boy who is going through some really awful things at home. A boy who has such intense anger and grief, geared towards his best friend and the girl he's fallen for.

Yeah. Talk about a messy situation. I ached so hard for him during this book. I was so emotionally vested I couldn't walk away. And pretty much just didn't sleep to see what would happen. And this is truly one of those books that I feel is a stunning portrayal of how perspective dictates reader perception and feelings. Decker treats Delaney pretty badly for some parts of this book, and yet I never blamed him or disliked him for it. Having known her so well in Fracture (and let's be honest, his treatment of her there, too, is part of why I wanted to kick him), I certainly didn't dislike her. I felt awful for her. And yet, I couldn't really turn my back on Decker either. And if this was in Delaney's perspective, I'm not sure I would be as solidly behind Decker. And in that, I think Megan's raw talent genuinely shines.

No, Decker isn't perfect. Yes, he does some messed up things. But he's hurting, and that emotional atmosphere is so infused throughout this book, I couldn't help but be sucked right under with him. He goes through such tremendous changes in this books, things built on changes from Fracture but delved into so much more. And Delaney, for all the hurts she endures, still pulls me in as well, this girl who has faced some pretty crazy things and yet somehow fights through it. I love her and Decker as friends, and I certainly ship them so hard romantically. They are a pair I feel just fit so well together, even if Decker has to figure some things out on his own first. Everything about this book appealed to me, and add in the thriller element I've come to adore Megan for, and the well done pacing, and this book is a knockout in every way.

Details:
Source: ARC borrowed
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Walker Children's
Publication Date: February 4, 2014