9/27/14

The Things You Kiss Goodbye

Author: Leslie Connor 
Pages: 368 
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Bettina Vasilis can hardly believe it when basketball star Brady Cullen asks her out, and she just about faints when her strict father actually approves of him.

But when school starts up again, Brady changes. What happened to the sweet boy she fell in love with? Then she meets a smoldering guy in his twenties, and this “cowboy” is everything Brady is not—gentle, caring, and interested in getting to know the real Bettina.

Bettina knows that breaking up with Brady would mean giving up her freedom—and that it would be inappropriate for anything to happen between her and Cowboy. Still, she can’t help that she longs for the scent of his auto shop whenever she’s anywhere else.

When tragedy strikes, Bettina must tell her family the truth—and kiss goodbye the things she thought she knew about herself and the men in her life.



My Summary: Bettina has grown up in a strict Greek household where her father's word is law and nothing is permitted unless he says it is. Forced to give up dance and with no friends in sight, Bettina turns to her art and Brady Cullen - a boy who seems like everything she's ever wanted and more.

But a few months into the relationship, Bettina begins to notice a change. Gone is the sweet, gentle boy she fell in love with, and in his place is an impatient and abusive boy whose idea of a joke is pulling too hard on his girlfriend's braid. Caught between breaking up with Brady and sacrificing her freedom, Bettina decides to ignore his insults, jabs, and the pain. 

She finds a safe haven: a classic car restoration shop. The owner - known only to her as Cowboy - is everything Brady isn't, and Bettina quickly realizes that love doesn't have to hurt. 

My Thoughts:I seriously did not expect this novel to as dark as it did. 

When I began reading, I figured that it would be a sweet novel about struggling against strict parents in order to become yourself. I had no idea where the story was headed, but I'm very glad that I picked it up when I did. 

Bettina was a very likable character, and extremely easy to relate to. I cringed every time she mentioned her boyfriend's abusive behaviour, and reading her thoughts on the abuse she was suffering was tough. I liked that the author didn't set Brady up as this horrible, villain-like entity, choosing instead to show him as a multi-faceted character. I felt like it really helped the reader understand the ways that people can enter into abusive relationships without knowing what's in store, and the reasons that some people might have for not leaving right when the abuse begins. Leslie Connor did a great job addressing the many forms of abuse (emotional and physical, romantic and familial). 

She also did a great job of ripping my heart out and stomping on it, but that's the price you pay when you pick up a great novel. 

The writing was engaging and easy to get into. I flew through this novel in a little over three hours, refusing to stop until I found out how Bettina's story ended. It was worth every minute.

Final Thoughts: I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys edgier contemporary literature. 

I'll Give You the Sun

Author: Jandy Nelson 
Pages: 384 
Publisher: Dial 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.



My Summary: Noah and Jude have never spent more than a few moments apart. They are every stereotype you could possibly have about twins embodied: they share thoughts, dreams, and talents. Both are budding artists at the age of 13 - Noah a painter, and Jude a sculptor. But the twins know things are changing in their lives, and their art begins to take a backseat to first loves and heartbreak. 

Fast forward two years and Noah and Jude are shadows of their former selves. Radiant Jude has hidden herself away, donning over-sized sweaters and skullcaps to erase any trace of her golden hair and her past. Noah has stopped drawing and is almost unrecognizable to even his twin. Could it just be time and their mother's untimely death changing them, or is it something else? And can they recover from the wounds they've inflicted on each other?  

My Thoughts: Oh man. I should've known that this novel would hit me where it hurt, but - I'm ashamed to admit this - I underestimated Jandy Nelson's power to kick my emotions into high gear. Having read and adored The Sky is Everywhere, I really shouldn't be surprised. 

The writing was perfect as expected, and I never expected to get so attached to two characters. Noah and Jude were so different, while simultaneously being so similar. Getting to know them was an incredible experience. Their story was moving, heartbreaking, and so full of that special kind of grief that has everything to do with regret and the future you thought you had being pulled out from right underneath your feet. The secondary characters were just as dynamic as Noah and Jude, and I can't imagine any better way to tell their story. 

Jandy Nelson is truly a master of all things written. I loved every second of this novel, and I can't wait for her next.  

Final Thoughts: I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys edgier contemporary literature and isn't afraid to cry gross ugly tears while reading.

Unmade

Author: Sarah Rees Brennan 
Pages: 400 
Publisher: Random House 
Format: Paperback 
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Kami has lost the boy she loves, is tied to a boy she does not, and faces an enemy more powerful than ever before. With Jared missing for months and presumed dead, Kami must rely on her new magical link with Ash for the strength to face the evil spreading through her town. 

Rob Lynburn is now the master of Sorry-in-the-Vale, and he demands a death. Kami will use every tool at her disposal to stop him. Together with Rusty, Angela, and Holly, she uncovers a secret that might be the key to saving the town. But with knowledge comes responsibility—and a painful choice. A choice that will risk not only Kami’s life, but also the lives of those she loves most.



It's so incredibly difficult to review the last novel in a series, because I'm always so paranoid that I'll give away huge plot twists or character fates. But I will continue on, if only to be able to tell myself that I at least tried to convince everyone reading this to get themselves to a bookstore ASAP and pick up all three books in Sarah Rees Brennan's The Lyburn Legacy trilogy. 

This series is everything I love about YA packed into three four-hundred page books. They're smart, funny, and full of my favourite kinds of angsty relationship drama. They will make you laugh and cry in equal volume, and you will gladly turn back to the beginning when you're done and start all over again. I've read the first two books three times each, and I already know my rereads of Unmade will number at least twice that many. It was that good. Sarah Rees Brennan's writing is an incredible mix of sarcasm, breathtaking description and imagery, and relationship dynamics that will keep your eyes glued to the page. 

There's not much else I can say without giving anything away, so please take my word for it and delve into this amazing series. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Final Thoughts: I recommend this trilogy to anyone who enjoys paranormal YA and is looking for something equal parts funny and heartbreaking. 

9/21/14

Anna

Author: Meghan Riley 
Pages: 374 
Publisher: Createspace 
Format: Paperback 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): To the outside world, Anna appears to be an ordinary high school senior...

Anna has a lot of questions. Should she pursue her desire to leave home for college and live out her dream of becoming a physicist? Or should she stay home and help care for her family, which has struggled ever since her father died in Afghanistan? Is her crush, Steve, really interested in her, or is he only using the highly intelligent Anna to try and boost his grades in school? 

These questions, plus the ordinary trials and tribulations of high school, distract Anna from noticing some very... strange things that are beginning to happen to her. 

For as long as Anna can remember, she has had a haphazard smattering of freckles on her arm. But these freckles are starting to change, and cause a series of unnerving hallucinations and odd side effects that only Anna seems to notice. When a strange shadow man starts to haunt her nights, she decides to go on a hunt for the truth to discover, once and for all, what is happening to her. 

The hallucinations continue growing stronger, however, and each new visit by the shadow man appears to become more and more threatening. Eventually, Anna realizes that she can no longer hide from her friends and family what is happening to her. But as she shares her secret with those closest to her, Anna never imagines that her very life, and the lives of those she loves, will be put in jeopardy. 

Who, or what, is Anna?



Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. 

My Summary: Anna is just a normal high school student: she has a crush, she does well in school, loves astronomy, hates her brother's drama ... all in all, your average teenager.

Or is she? When the freckles on her arm start to change, her whole life is thrown into chaos. Her freckles - which seem to be in the exact shape of the constellation known as the Pleiades - appear to be changing and moving, causing hallucinations and waking nightmares.

Is it all in her head, or is Anna really receiving visits from a shadowy stranger at night? Could she be more connected to the stars than she thought?

My Thoughts: This novel was really not what I thought it was going to be (based on the synopsis) but it was incredibly enjoyable all the same. 

I really enjoyed the writing itself - Meghan Riley definitely knows her way around a sentence. The author's use of imagery was masterful, and I really liked the way the writing pulled you in from the start. 

Anna herself was an extremely likable character. She faces all the typical issues most teens face, but with the added bonus of a mystery surrounding the freckles on her arm and a dark figure that seems to be appearing to her. The mystery element was very well done, and I'm definitely gonna keep my eye out for books two and three of the trilogy. 

Final Thoughts: I recommend this novel to fans of contemporary YA who don't mind a litttle sci-fi and paranormal thrown into the mix. Check it out!

The Shadow of the Wind

Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon 
Pages: 487 
Publisher: Penguin 
Format: Paperback 
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Juli├ín Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets--an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.





My Summary: Following the death of his mother, Daniel's father reveals an ancient secret: a library hidden in the depths of Barcelona, known to a choice few as "The Cemetery of Forgotten Books". As a new member, Daniel is tasked with picking one novel from the library that he must swear to protect and guard for the rest of his life. Daniel chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax - a tiny,  seemingly unassuming novel that sets him off on an adventure encompassing fifty years of mystery, intrigue, and suspicion. 

Someone is set on destroying every single copy of Julian Carax's work, and it seems as if nothing will stop them. 

My Thoughts: I may be a little late to this party, but oh my goodness this book was AMAZING. I adored every second I spent delving into the twisted world of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and 1950s Barcelona. 

I loved the darker, grittier side of Barcelona we got to see through Daniel's eyes, The entire novel had a very gothic feel which fit perfectly with the story Zafon was spinning for the reader. The darker atmosphere made for an even more engaging, gripping read. Every word was reminiscent of prose; you can feel the author's love of words spilling from the page.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a master storyteller. He weaved this entire thing together so seamlessly that by the end, I had no idea whose story I was reading: Julian Carax's or Daniel's. I loved the parallels drawn between Julian and Daniel, and the way that Barcelona itself seemed to be included in the varied cast of characters. The whole novel was magic. 

Final Thoughts: I definitely wholeheartedly recommend this novel to fans of gothic literature - especially those who enjoyed novels like The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

9/10/14

Let's Get Lost

Author: Adi Alsaid 
Pages: 352 
Publisher: Harlequin 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Five strangers. Countless adventures. One epic way to get lost.

Four teens across the country have only one thing in common: a girl named LEILA. She crashes into their lives in her absurdly red car at the moment they need someone the most. 

There's HUDSON, a small-town mechanic who is willing to throw away his dreams for true love. And BREE, a runaway who seizes every Tuesday—and a few stolen goods along the way. ELLIOT believes in happy endings…until his own life goes off-script. And SONIA worries that when she lost her boyfriend, she also lost the ability to love. 


Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia find a friend in Leila. And when Leila leaves them, their lives are forever changed. But it is during Leila's own 4,268-mile journey that she discovers the most important truth— sometimes, what you need most is right where you started. And maybe the only way to find what you're looking for is to get lost along the way.



My Summary: Four strangers scattered across the United States find themselves on hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking adventures when a girl named Leila appears in their lives, ready to help anyone who needs a ride.

My Thoughts: This novel was a quick, fun end-of-summer read. I really liked the author's writing style, as well as the multi-narrative setup. I liked that although Leila was the "main character", we got to experience the story first through every other point of view - it kept me flipping pages, wanting to solve the mystery behind the girl with the red car.

This book made a great summer read. I loved the road-trip aspect, and the way the setting always subtly played into the character's story. All in all, a great read for someone looking for something light and fun to end the summer with.

Final Thoughts: I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys contemporary lit - especially novels about road-trips. 

9/6/14

There Will Come a Time

Author: Carrie Arcos 
Pages: 315 
Publisher: Simon Pulse 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads):Mark knows grief. Ever since the accident that killed his twin sister, Grace, the only time he feels at peace is when he visits the bridge on which she died. Comfort is fleeting, but it’s almost within reach when he’s standing on the wrong side of the suicide bars. Almost.

Grace’s best friend, Hanna, says she understands what he’s going through. But she doesn’t. She can’t. It’s not just the enormity of his loss. As her twin, Mark should have known Grace as well as he knows himself. Yet when he reads her journal, it’s as if he didn’t know her at all. 


As a way to remember Grace, Hanna convinces Mark to complete Grace’s bucket list from her journal. Mark’s sadness, anger, and his growing feelings for Hanna threaten to overwhelm him. But Mark can’t back out. He made a promise to honor Grace—and it’s his one chance to set things right.



My Summary: Six months after his twin sister's death, Mark can't seem to find his way out from the grief that has blanketed his entire life. He can't sleep, can't relax, and can't forget: his sister is gone, and he is not.

The only place he finds solace is the bridge where Grace died, but he can't find it in him to jump. 

All seems lost until Mark and Grace's best friend Hanna receive a package containing Grace's journal. Inside, a list: Five Things to Do Before The End of the Year. Together they decide to complete this list, and with the help of Hanna, Mark tries to understand his grief and work through it, honouring his sister's memory in the process.

My Thoughts: I always find that novels about survivor's guilt hit me really hard. There were moments while reading this novel that tears were free-flowing (I am not ashamed to admit this). Mark's grief is so utterly overwhelming at times - he lost his twin, his sister, and his best friend all at once. And he was the one driving, so he should've been the one who died. It was his fault, right? Thoughts like these fill Mark's head, causing him to push away everything good left in his life. There were times where I wanted to shake Mark for being so horrible to the people who love him, but I understood what was fueling his behaviour. 

The writing was very well done and never dragged. I found myself glued to the pages, unwilling to look up from the book until I learned if they'd completed Grace's list or not. Grace herself almost felt like a real-live character - I kind of wish we'd gotten to meet her before the accident.   

Final Thoughts: I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys edgier contemporary lit with a hint of romance.

9/3/14

Isla and the Happily Ever After

Author: Stephanie Perkins 
Pages: 339 
Publisher: Dutton 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever.











My Summary: Isla never thought anything would ever happen between her and her crush of more than three years, but one chance meeting in a cafe over the summer sends Isla and Josh down a path towards love.

But sometimes love isn't enough to keep two people together, and over the course of a school year Isla and Josh learn just how much it takes to be the best version of yourself, and how to make it to forever with the person you love. 

My Thoughts: Stephanie Perkins is one of those rare authors who can transfix and captivate her readers from the very first sentence. Like almost every blogger I know, I pre-ordered Isla and waited anxiously for the release date. Flipping it open for the first time, I knew without any doubt that Stephanie Perkins had written an amazing conclusion for the characters that we all know and love. A few hours - and a healthy dose of emotional turmoil - later, I found myself at the end. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, though admittedly, I did a bit of both while reading. 

Perkin's characters are so real. It's incredible how realistic and true-to-life they are, and how attached you get to them is a testament to her talent. And although she writes love stories, Perkins never shies away from the things that can hurt us in a relationship: friends not liking who we're with, jealousy, separation, significant others not getting along with our families, and the things we say to each other that - though meant well - can cut deep.  

The writing, as per usual, flowed smoothly and read beautifully. And the appearance of some old favourite characters really was the cherry on top of a wonderful novel.

Final Thoughts: If you haven't already added Isla to your to-be-read list, I definitely recommend you do it now. Preferably right this second.