Blazed by Jason Myers ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: June 17, 2014
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: divorce, broken hearts, San Francisco, music
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)
Warning: Blazed contains drug use, sex, and manipulative parents.
Summary: When armed with oxy and music, Jamie’s life is smooth sailing. Mostly. When his mom’s actions go a step too far, he’s sent to live with his estranged father in San Francisco for a week. Little by little, the stories his mom has told him about everything start to unravel and he finds himself in the midst of yet another complicated situation. Will he stay in San Fran? Is this his chance at a fresh start?
This is the second book I’ve read by Jason Myers and I have one question:
Why are we not talking about him anymore?
Everyone talks about wanting authentic and diverse books in their lives and well, here is another one of them that seemed to fly under the radar during release week. (Cue the sigh.)
Jamie, the main character of Blazed, is like meeting Holden Caulfield in present day. He’s passionate, he hates fake people, and he has many many observations when it comes to the world. Unlike Caulfield, Jamie depends on Oxy to get through the rough times and is also a musical genius. He can thank his mother for both of these things. She’s a retired ballet dancer who drinks and drugs herself so hard that she has no recollection of anything that happened the previous night. Jamie has learned to take care of their household, save his mom from crappy bars and shitty guys, and despite all of that, remains completely devoted and sure of his mother’s love for him.
As a reader, I was like: wake up, Jamie. Obviously, she was a terrible influence and putting unnecessary stress on the life of her teenage son. But, on the other hand, when he mentioned “the good days”: how she respected his art and encouraged him to listen to all this great music. She wanted him to do well. So the love was there even if everything about it was completely messy.
And it got even messier. When his mom takes things too far (even for her), Jamie is shipped off to San Francisco to live with a dad he has never gotten to know. In fact, all he knows about him are the stories his mom has relayed to him over the years and (I know you will be shocked) they are all super negative. It’s not surprising Jamie doesn’t warm to him, even when his dad tries so hard to make him feel comfortable and at home in SF. I don’t blame Jamie. He has felt tossed aside and forgotten for so long (he’s 14) and believes that his father ruined his mom. But, slowly very slowly, the truth begins to come out.
I loved Jamie’s time in San Francisco. For the first time, he was meeting people who truly cared about him and who totally inspired him. And for someone who loved music like he did (love doesn’t feel like a strong enough word here), Jamie was literally living in his dream world. But the drugs are aplenty in this new world too, causing a breakdown — totally different than the one that occurred at home. The big difference: there are consequences and truths that come to the surface, threatening to change life as Jamie knows it.
Is Jamie ready for that kind of change? He’s falling in love with the beautiful, musical, honest Dominique. He’s bonding and making music with new guys. He has a stepsister who looks out for him as much as he looks out for her. Can he be clean because he wants to and not because his girlfriend wants him to be? Can he and his dad maintain this talking honestly man-to-man thing?
The whole time I was reading Blazed, I was waiting for the shit to hit the fan. And that has to be a lot of shit because things were not looking that great as it was. Myers sucked me into the life of a young kid, forced to act like an adult, and constantly thrown into his mother’s delusions. Even as he adopted his mother’s addictive personality, Jamie was so utterly charming and you couldn’t help but root for him. I had no idea how the book would end. If I would be heartbroken or proud. It’s safe to say… I’m still not sure because there are definitely two sides to every story and we all have reasons for making certain decisions.
Blazed was dark, eye-opening, full of appreciation for art and individualism. It was fast-paced for its page count, and full of so many emotional up and downs. But it was the raw honesty of the main character that kept me hooked. I’m still thinking about him.
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Exile (Exile #1) by Kevin Emerson (twitter | website)
Publication Date: April 29, 2014
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: music promotion, bands, fame
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss (Thank you!)
Summary: After being burned by her ex-boyfriend once he was signed to a major record label (thanks to Summer’s skills/help/knowledge/hard work), she’s on the hunt for a new band and a new beginning. She doesn’t anticipate that this will lead her to Caleb, whom she falls for, or that they’ll be on the search to solve a big mystery.
Summer is a local band promoter. She’s got sneaky ways of figuring out how to get her bands into the hippest venues and is a social media connoisseur. In fact, she’s so good that the last band she was managing got signed to a major record label. Oh yeah…her boyfriend was in that band. And guess what happened when they got signed? He said sayanara to Summer and left her behind with the memories of his lies and deceptions. Aside from the heartbreak she’s suffering through, Summer is most frustrated that none of her heard work is paying off for her. Shouldn’t she get some sort of credit for all the gigs she got them and the fan base she helped develop?
But it’s time for Summer to move on.
She connects with Caleb, who has recently had a major falling out with his own band. Taking him on is risky. Why are the people he spend forever making music with suddenly so anti-Caleb? Despite the warning signs, Summer is intrigued and helps him find new band members. Between Summer’s band promotion and Caleb’s songwriting, these two (oh so stereotypically) begin to fall for each other…which is exactly what Summer didn’t want to happen. Again.
Caleb, however, also has some major music industry connections that could propel his new band forward. Summer’s torn between wanting to respect Caleb’s wishes and doing what could really jumpstart their career. He wants to earn his fame on his own merit.
Exile is a fun, quick read that pulled me in simply because I’m a music lover. I thoroughly enjoyed the inside peek into what it might be like to manage a band and how burned Summer felt when she was cast aside when possibility came knocking on her former band’s door. I loved that Summer had to learn that you can’t help who you fall in love with, even if you’re trying your damnedest to guard your heart. The goose-chase to finding out what Caleb’s big news was and seeing how he would deal with each tidbit of information was really great, and I hope that readers connect with his strong desire to work hard and earn what they’re hoping for. (He really didn’t want to be given any handouts.)
Maybe my biggest point of conflict was connecting with Summer. There are hints at this double-life she’s living — the music promoter versus the good-student who might go to law school to please her father. There’s a lot of depth that can be explored there and I wish it hadn’t felt like as much of a side story. Realistically, I think it would have caused more of a struggle for Summer as she tried to perfectly balance all the plates she was juggling.
Final thought: Exile is the first book in a series. I’m terrible at keeping up with series these days. There’s something pretty refreshing about reading a book from start to finish and not waiting for more. I wish that had been the case for Exile.
PS: If you want to listen to a few of the songs from Exile, check them out on Kevin Emerson’s website and listen here.
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Extra bonus: I created a playlist of some songs I’m loving this summer. Enjoy!
After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: marriage, family, independence
Format read: Finished copy from publisher. (Thank you!)
Also reviewed: Forever Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Summary: After six years of marriage, Ryan and Lauren decide to take a major break when neither are happy anymore. For an entire year, they will live their lives independent of one another — with absolutely not contact. Told from Lauren’s POV, she struggles with this joint decision. How will time apart ensure a happy marriage in the future? She has no idea.
When we first meet Lauren and Ryan, they are fighting over something silly: where they parked their car at a baseball game. For some, this is an annoyance that is easy to shake off but for these two, it was only part of something bigger. I think it’s impossible to be married to someone so long, friends with someone so long, RELATED to someone so long that the little things don’t get to you and you find yourself arguing over the mundane or taking something a little too personally. It’s too easy to take the people we know will always be there for granted. Sure, we can treat them like a mini-punching bag sometimes because they are never going to leave us. But what happens when that behavior is circling all the time and you are only happy when you are sleeping or find a moment to yourself?
I thought it was brave when Lauren and Ryan decided to take a sabbatical from one another. An unconventional way to “fix” things for sure but a decision they were able to come to together. Live apart for a year, cut off contact completely and see where they are after it’s all finished. For some reason I thought Lauren would do something drastic like go on a wild trip and take time off from her job but she surprised me because she stayed put. She went to work at the alumni department of a college, had lunch with her best friend (Mila), hung out with her sister (Rachel), and enjoyed time alone with her dog. After going through the motions of a life void of Ryan for awhile, she did start living… but in a very normal kind of way.
This is what I’ve come to expect from Reid and I love it. The actions of her characters (even when they are shitty) are as realistic as they come. Lauren seesaws with her feelings about Ryan, about marriage, and what love really means. For this one year, she goes back to her roots and finds the Lauren she might have lost along the way. She spends time with her amazingly hilarious and diverse family — dramatic but well-meaning grandma, a single mom, her sister who doesn’t feel the need to get married, and a younger brother who is always surprising her. It also goes to show how much one person’s marriage affects a group of people. Everyone in Lauren’s family was mourning the loss of Ryan in their own way, but it never affected their support of her. Reid was so great at sharing the funny, quirky side of this family (+ her friends); their involvement added the perfect balance to what could have been a super depressing book.
As much as I love TV spoilers, I never feel that urge to skip to the end of a book. It’s all about the journey, right? But Reid tempted me. I needed to know that Lauren and Ryan’s year apart would bring them closer together in the end. I needed that happily ever after (or whatever)! But I didn’t succumb to the temptation. (I’m actually pretty proud of myself.) Again, Reid has a way of writing about regular folk that makes me never want to let her characters go. I laughed, I cried, and, since I’ve finished, felt the need to recommend it to just about everyone I know. Reid creates characters who are relatable, complicated, and oh-so memorable.
Happiness doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone, and I think Reid conquers the messy, thoughtful path that gets us to that realization so genuinely.
I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
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Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: road trip, strangers, vignettes, connections
Format read: ARC Paperback provided by Harlequin Teen. (Thanks!)
Summary: Leila’s road trip to see the Northern Lights is peppered with chance meetings with strangers.
Road trip picks are super popular among the YA reading crowd. And how can blame them? New sights, new people, the open road! Out of all the ones I’ve had the pleasure of reading, Adi Alsaid’s Let’s Get Lost is definitely the most unique take on the road trip I’ve experienced. Not only in story structure (5 very separate stories strung together by the presence of one girl) but in tone, too. It read older and I almost pictured the characters aged more in their mid-twenties than their teens. This was more of a bonus than a detriment because the story is all about how people come into our lives for (sometimes) short periods of time and evoke change. See? It’s super universal and I liked that a lot.
Let’s dive in. Leila, the common denominator in all of these stories, is driving her red car through the United States with a main goal of reaching the Northern Lights. She’s very mysterious. She reveals very little to each of the characters, keeping info about herself super basic, but she is kindhearted, a good listener, and so open to adventure on the open road. Not everyone is going to bump into total strangers and want to befriend them, and offer to help them in some super challenging times. Leila was like this super fairy godmother.
There’s Hudson (a mechanic the night before a huge school interview), Bree (a free spirited runaway), Elliot (dealing with the aftermath of telling his best friend how he feels about her, and finally — my favorite — Sonia (struggling with moving forward in a heartbreaking situation). I’ll admit, it’s a little evil that Hudson and Leila hit it off romantically in the first section of the book because I spent the next few stories waiting for a glimpse of him! But that’s just not how the book worked. Despite my own anxiousness about it, the formatting worked because the meaningful yet fleeting moments were emphasized by Leila waving good-bye to the people she met and moving on.
Let’s Get Lost is a book you want to take your time with (especially because it takes a majority of the book to piece together all we want to know about Leila). I could picture readers throwing it in their beach bag, picking it up repeatedly during travel breaks, or maybe enjoying it like I did, sandals off and sitting in a great park. It makes you think about the significant impacts that people have had in your life, whether you still talk to them or not. You just never know how one act of kindness or honesty can make you look at life in a different way or change your path.
Best of all, this book revved me up for another adventure! I want to road trip again soon.
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Since I listened to We Were Liars by E. Lockhart as an audiobook, it seemed fitting to share a little bit about it with you via a vlog. Just in case you’re at work, though, I’ll highlight a few things I loved and you can also check out Estelle’s amazing review. She said it was worth it. I took her advice and absolutely haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
Attention, Attention vlog for We Were Liars:
Sidenote: I say Cate in the vlog instead of Cadence or Cady. I spelled her name weird in my notes and realized my mistake after I finished uploading the vlog. My apologies!
And guys? It’s been WEEKS since I listened to the audiobook. Weeks. I have even tried to start another since then, thinking maybe I was really going to be able to get into the rhythm of walking and listening. Whelp, I’m still walking, but I’m listening to iHeartRadio or music instead of books. Why? I just wish We Were Liars would keep going on and on and on.
Everything about it — the mystery, Cadence’s brokenness and inability to remember what happened to her, the will they/won’t they relationship between her and Gat — it all sucked me in. Their family is very, very wealthy. But when Cadence’s grandmother passes away, there’s this HUGE game of tug-of-war fighting over her belongings between the aunt’s and Cady’s mom. They’re materialistic and so self-absorbed. You’ll feel sickened over how hungry they are to possess more more more. But then I think I also loved We Were Liars because of the huge amount of self-reflection I did.
Though I don’t have their money (and probably won’t ever own my own island), am I selfish and deranged when it comes to what I can possess? Sadly I think that answer was yes as I thought about the too-many nail polishes I own and the amount of make-up I willingly add to my shopping cart because I need to try it. We may be on completely different societal levels, but I did a whole lot of thinking and didn’t always like what I thought about myself.
And then there’s the whole mystery aspect. SOMETHING has happened. Cadence lost her memory. She’s completely blacked it out and no one will tell her what was done. I was driving when I listened to this portion of the book and really should have pulled over because I am sure my eyes were as big as saucers. I thought for sure I’d pieced enough of the story to not be completely shocked, but alas, I was flabbergasted. (Cheers to you, E. Lockhart, for keeping the suspense level so incredibly high.)
Much of that suspense circulates around whether Cadence and Gat will stop dancing around one another and finally get together. One moment you think they’re perfect for each other and the next, you’re thinking he’s a player. I swear I’m not one for those kinds of knee-jerk reaction relationships; the back and forth usually drives me crazy, but with the way that the story is told, you’re not quite sure what’s happening so it doesn’t feel right to make a final decision until things are all said and done.
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