Another Little Piece of My Heart by Tracey Martin ( web | tweet )
Published 12/1/2013 from Harlequin Teen
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: music, summer after high school, breakups
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)
Summary: Despite the strength of her feelings for budding musician Jared, Claire decides to break up with him to make things less stressful for her dying mom. She’s totally devastated but thinks it is the right thing to do. Devastation turns to anger when a song based on their breakup skyrockets Jared to stardom. And what are the chances that on a family summer trip to New Hampshire she bumps smack dab into Jared and a million feelings come rushing back? Pretty good.
I stayed up until 3 a.m. finishing this book.
I think that sentence says it all but here are a few more details about this reading experience. It sounded a bit like Audrey Wait, but unlike Robin Benway’s super funny book, the main character Claire is a musician herself and music is something that her and ex-boyfriend/current rock star always had in common. So not only does she lose Jared when she breaks up with him because her parents never seem to accept him and she’s done dealing with their constant jabs, but when the money for her college is suddenly all gone, Claire doesn’t have much to look forward to when she graduates and Jared seems to be getting everything.
I didn’t love that Claire broke up with Jared because of what her parents wanted, but teenagers make those kind of mistakes so I get it. In the aftermath of her mother’s death, her dad’s poor financial choices, and not letting anyone find out she is the girl in Jared’s song, she takes life into her own hands during a summer vacation to New Hampshire. She gets a job in a grocery store even though her father thinks its beneath her, and she starts to set plans in motion for making her own music dreams come true.
Of course, of course, of course, Jared ends up being in New Hampshire too and with her cousin totally into him, she cannot seem to get him out of her head and out of her sight. The tension here is great because Jared and Claire barely speak to each other but every now and then there’s a little moment where the air was buzzing and I just wanted them to make out already and talk about what happened.
Martin really develops Claire and her background well, and I love how we get bits and pieces of Jared and Claire’s relationship. I wanted them so badly to work it out because their time together was so ultra functional (what?! in a YA?) and they just always had a blast together. My one complaint was the ending: it wrapped up way too fast and all that tension fizzled so quickly. But I still had such a fun time reading it; my exhaustion the next day was completely worth it!
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Anything to Have You by Paige Harbison ( web | tweet)
Published January 28, 2014 by Harlequin Teen
Target audience: Young adult (FYI: drugs, alcohol, and sex)
Keywords: friendship, high school senior year
Format read: ARC provided by Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)
Summary: Best friends Natalie and Brooke couldn’t be more different. While Natalie would rather watch movies and cook on a Friday night, Brooke loves to be the center attention at every party. Things change for both of of them after Brooke drags Natalie to a party and old feelings resurface and life as they know it will never be the same again.
Opposites totally attract, and I could see why Natalie and Brooke were such close friends. Brooke’s enthusiasm for everything was super addictive, and Natalie’s thoughtful nature helped to keep her friend grounded. But one party starts to unravel this friendship when Natalie wakes up near Brooke’s long-time boyfriend, Aiden, and she has absolutely no idea what happened between the two of them. Silence and many unanswered questions slowly crack the foundation of Natalie and Brooke’s relationship and the consequences are bigger than either of them thought.
It’s super intense, especially when Natalie starts to remember how she was into Aiden first. She feels totally helpless when it comes to her feelings and has no idea who to turn to.
Harbison utilizes dual POV and I gave a little scream when the book went from Natalie’s story to Brooke’s. I really liked Natalie! Unfortunately, Brooke’s portions of the book were not as well-developed as Natalie’s and I could not hear her as a unique voice. So many of the scenes we had already read are flipped to Brooke’s experiences in them and I’m not entirely sure that was always necessary. It was also very difficult to empathize with a character who would not take responsibility for her own actions, and I did not agree one bit with the blame she placed on others. (I most definitely didn’t agree with those characters accepting this responsibility either.)
Anything to Have You was super fast-paced and I was able to read the whole thing in a few hours. I wish there has been more of a spotlight on certain scenes (especially toward the end) and less of a neat ending. It didn’t justify all the action we had experienced in the book. Plus, the title. I’m still not understanding what it has to do with the book or the friendship between these girls. I wouldn’t have minded a longer novel with a bit more fleshing out because Harbison’s dialogue is so refreshing and spot-on and the intricacies of female friendships are so discussion worthy.
Despite the weaker points, I’m glad I tired out Harbison’s work; I’m ready to dive into her backlist!
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Disclaimer: This review may include some spoilers if you have not read Also Known As. Proceed with caution.
Going Rogue by Robin Benway [ website | twitter ]
Book 2 in the Also Known As series.
Publication Date: January 14, 2014
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: teenage spy, adventure, relationships with family and friends, romance
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Summary: With spy life pushed to the wayside, Maggie has been a regular high school student hanging out with her best friend, Roux, and her boyfriend, Jesse. But she’s starting to miss the unpredictability and excitement of spy life. When the Collective starts to turn on its own members, Maggie is forced to keep secrets from her closest friends after her parents are accused of stealing two valuable gold coins. Can she prove her parents are innocent without losing what she loves most about her new life and the security of her old one?
It’s not every day you are hanging out with one of your closest friends, they mention a situation, and you are dying to interject about a book you are reading with a teenage spy in a similar situation. It sounds kind of silly, right? But with Going Rogue, even though the premise is a little out there, the themes are so relative. And that makes Robin Benway a total genius and me, a total fan.
First things first: I’m not normally a stickler about this but you should definitely check out Also Known As before reading Going Rogue. There is a quick recap early in the second book, and experiencing the first book is so much better than reading the cliffnotes version. Believe me. Plus you risk the chance of not getting the entire impact of reuniting with these characters and that would just be a total shame.
Back to the book: Without much action in the spy portion of her life, Maggie has spent a substantial amount of time being a normal high school student. (Not that Maggie is ever just normal. She’s quirky as hell and I adore her.) Her relationship with her boyfriend, Jesse, is super solid. (They are so cute in love.) And being able to let loose with her best friend, Roux (pronounced Roo), has been awesome as well. But the grass is always greener and Maggie is missing the spy life a bit. Before she knows it, the Collective (the organization her and her family have always worked for) has turned on her parents, accusing them of stealing irreplaceable gold coins. In order to keep Jesse, Roux, and her parents safe, Maggie (under the leadership of close friend/sort-of uncle: the charming Angelo) keeps the details of this investigation under wraps and hopes to get her parents out of this giant mess.
Seems stressful, isn’t it?
Maggie is clearly torn. She loves and trusts her friends, and of course, would do anything for her supportive parents but she can’t imagine putting them at risk. But the secrets cause hurt feelings, missed dinner dates, and a lot of tension between Maggie and those she holds dear. Can she ever be a normal girl and a spy? Will she always have to choose? And when will her parents accept her ability to make sensible (yet dangerous) decisions? Benway is able to take a super secret mission and make everyone’s feelings and reactions so true to feelings and reactions in our own lives.
While the adventures of Going Rogue are filled with intrigue (and danger!), the book truly shines when it comes to the characters and their relationships with one another. Even without the Collective being compromised, it’s obvious that these people from two different worlds have formed their own eclectic family. And what’s even better is that Benway has supplied each supporting character with an individual backstory and stand out personality. This kind of intimate connection between reader and supporting character is so rare in the young adult genre, and I applaud Benway’s attention to detail and talent for creating fictional characters that feel like close friends.
She’s also inspired me with a brand new theory about Angelo. In my review of AKA, I mentioned how his character of reminiscent of Michael Caine in Miss Congeniality but I’ve changed my mind. After seeing his in action in book 2, from his sacrifice to his advice to the great care he takes of Maggie, her family, and her friends, I was feeling real Dumbledore vibes. Angelo’s a little mysterious and very wise like Dumbledore was; everyone looks to him as a guide in the story. Though he certainly uses the word “love” more than Dumbledore ever did and leaves more notes, knowing Angelo was around always gave me comfort and hope that the trials would turn out okay. Most importantly, he always put others before himself.
I know sequels don’t always live up to their predecessors but that was not the case with Going Rogue. It was just as fun and bursting with personality and a great balance of suspenseful and LOL-worthy moments — a perfect way to kick off a new year of reading!
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Cress by Marissa Meyer (website | twitter)
Other Books Written by This Author: Cinder (Book #1) | Scarlet (Book #2)
Publication Date: February 4, 2014
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: dystopia, fairy tale retelling, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel
Format Read: ARC borrowed from Sasha (Thank you!)
Summary: In the third book of the Lunar Chronicles series, we’re introduced to Cress, a young girl trapped in a satellite somewhere between Earth and Luna. She finds herself obsessed with the whereabouts of Cinder, whom the whole world is searching for, and conflicted over whether to report their location or join Cinder’s team to finally escape her solidarity.
[I've tried to be completely spoiler-free, but since this is the third book in the series,
proceed with caution JUST IN CASE.]
What? What’s that? I read another book in a series? Heck yeah! If you’ve been following along with my reviews of Marissa’s Lunar Chronicle Series, you’re well aware that I love, love, love the genius and brilliance that is this series.
Cress continued to further prove how incredible Marissa’s writing is — how she’s been able to weave together all of these fairy tales into one intricate story just …blows my mind. To briefly recap, in Cinder the story begins with a Cinderella retelling with Linh Cinder, a girl with engineered body parts that label her has a cyborg. Her story intermingles with Little Red Riding Hood’s (Scarlet) in the next book, Scarlet. And in Cress, we meet Marissa’s version of Rapunzel, Cress. Would you ever guess that these ladies would be together in one book? Me neither. But lemme tell ya: it just works. Perfectly.
As the cast continues to grow larger, so does the world and our knowledge of what’s going on and how order will be restored, hopefully. Cress becomes such an essential player; she’s this brilliant, young girl who has been rotating in between Luna and Earth in a satellite. Yes, stranded and alone. She’s a very curious girl who becomes incredibly obsessed with Cinder and her whereabouts, especially as she and her team’s location is unknown and everyone is on the lookout for them. Only Cress has the skills necessary to find them. But she’s torn between sharing the information and reaching out to Cinder. What’s a girl to do when she’s trapped between the Earth and the Moon?
Cress moves rapidly — there’s no lull in the action. There’s constantly something you’re anticipating happening, but you’re not quite sure when things are going to fall apart. I was most surprised by how well all the characters are pieced together; I know I probably sound like a broken record, but thank goodness for Sasha because she helped me keep everyone in line. I really began to second guess myself a few times because I thought, “There’s just no way Meyer could have worked things out so intricately,” but alas, SHE DID.
Cress is filled with so many meaty details that keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time: What’s happening with Prince Kai? Will Cinder reveal the truth about herself? What detestable things does Queen Levana have in store? Who should you trust? What’s Cress’s motive?
There’s so much I want to say about Cress, as if you and I were having a heart-to-heart after we’ve both read the book, but I can’t ruin any surprises. I do hope that after you’ve finished reading, you’re as impressed with where the story has gone and as anxious to see how everything ends in the final book, Winter, as I am.
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Ashes to Ashes by Melissa Walker ( web | twitter )
Publication Date: December 23, 2013
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books (Harper)
Target audience: Young adult, Paranormal
Keywords: afterlife, purgatory, young death
Format read: ARC borrowed from Jamie! (Thanks!)
Summary: A terrible car accident sends Callie to Prism (a purgatory before she can reach heaven), where she is trained to bring peace to her nearest and dearest: her father (already a widow), her best friend, Carson, and her boyfriend, Nick. Being so close to these people and not being able to BE with them is difficult, especially as she starts to piece together details of her life she never realized existed before. And then there is her spirit guide, Thatcher, who she feels immediately connected to. As he tries to teach her the proper way to bring peace to those left on Earth, she is distracted by others in the Prism who want to break all the rules.
As a huge fan of Melissa Walker’s contemporary young adult novels, I was super intrigued when I heard she was releasing a paranormal as her next book. For starters, the cover is gorgeous and second, I love when authors I adore take a leap into a new genre, especially when it’s not my go-to genre. It gives me a chance to try something new as well.
It’s true that the “afterlife” novel kind of upsets me, and I’ve steered clear of them until I read The Catastrophic History of You and Me a few months ago. It’s sad to think of a character who is dead, and has no hopes of returning to her regular living life. It probably depresses me more than anything, but I was super swept up in Jess Rothenberg‘s vision for the afterlife (unlimited pizza, reclaiming of prized possessions from the past, etc.) and I found myself really enjoying the story, knowing the main character was making a second life for herself.
Melissa’s version of the afterlife (this in-between before heaven) is called Prism, and I’ll be honest it’s sort of a lonely place. Callie is immediately heartbroken to discover her deceased mother is not waiting there for her with open arms. (She missed her crossing over.) In Prism, Callie’s main priority is granting peace to those she left behind, and when she is not haunting Earth doing that, she is to spend time alone in her “space” (which looks a lot like her bedroom back home), where she is not allowed to invite anyone in to spend time with her. I liked the idea of returning to friends and family and helping them move forward, but the rest of it felt so stark and gray.
The one bright light for Callie is Thatcher, assigned to help her with her duties back on Earth. When Callie died, she was deeply in love with Nick, but it seems as soon as she runs into Thatcher, she immediately forgets about Nick and is fixated on this looming figure in Prism. He’s not very sensitive to Callie and her grieving, and he’s not exactly forthcoming with any of details of his own life. But still, something draws her to him. While his attitude toward her makes sense later on, I still didn’t buy Callie moving on so quickly from Nick to Thatcher and I could have used more meat in this situation because I simply wasn’t convinced.
To top it all off, Callie is also lured by the other kids in Prism. The ones who want to stay young forever, and believe they know exactly how to continue their life on Earth after death. This part of the story was a bit too black or white for me; I half expected a Sharks vs. Jets musical dance off with Callie caught in the middle. Thatcher tried to warn her away from “the enemy” but Callie couldn’t help but be curious. I didn’t blame her. Prism seemed kind of boring.
Something about these intertwining plot lines didn’t entirely click for me. Was it a structural issue? Too much emphasis on one thing and not on the other? I’m not sure. Plus Callie’s voice felt so much older than it should, and I had to remind myself many times that she was only a teenager. As I moved toward the ending there were many developments I guessed correctly but I was left to wonder how things could possibly wrap up in book 2 when so much material was spent on one thing. (Am I being too mysterious?)
Despite the challenges I had with Ashes to Ashes, Melissa’s world building was definitely creative (bonus: Charleston setting!) and I also loved how she interjected slight changes in people’s pronunciation of certain words (i.e. Prism vs. prison), indicating their deeper feelings. Still, I wish there had been less insta-love, and more of the genuineness I’ve come to appreciate in Walker’s books. I have no idea where Book 2 will take these characters, but I’m still willing to invest my time to follow along.
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Other RBR reviews of Walker’s books: Lovestruck Summer | Unbreak My Heart | Small Town Sinners
Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: parental death, grief, step-parents
Format read: ARC paperback reviewed at BEA in May 2013.
Summary: When her pregnant mom dies suddenly from a stroke, Emma is completely distraught, and even more so when her stepfather, Dan, decides to have her mother’s body kept alive by machines in an effort to help their unborn baby survive. She completely shuts everyone and everything out of her life except Olivia (her best friend) and surprisingly, Caleb — a boy from school known for his rebellious acts.
“I think at a certain point you can choose to sort of fall from this or you can choose to rise.” – Lea Michele
I hope you don’t think it’s hokey that I’m using that quote to start off this review. But it just so happened Michele was making her first TV interview appearance a few days after I finished Heartbeat and everything she was saying aligned so well with the heavy subject matter tackled in Heartbeat: grief and what we do afterward.
Heartbeat begins shortly after Emma’s mom dies and Emma hasn’t gotten to that point that Michele talks about. Instead Emma’s life as she knows it — ruled by school deadlines and grades and the future — has taken a sudden nosedive into an abyss of not caring. Not caring about school, not caring about college prospects, and most definitely not caring about her step-father, Dan.
As far as non-biological parents go, it’s obvious from Emma’s memories and hurt feelings that Dan was a perfectly attentive and super loving father (she is so lucky). These good moments seem to disappear the minute Dan makes a very difficult decision without asking her opinion. In order to keep Emma’s unborn sibling alive, Dan chooses to keep her mother’s body hooked up to machines to ensure a better chance of survival for this child.
Can you imagine seeing your dead mother every single day, working enough to keep a baby alive but not quite enough to wake up and speak to you again? For Emma, it’s like part of the greiving process is put on hold because the small tiny possibility that her mom could wake up still pops up. So she’s angry at Dan — angry because she doesn’t think he knows how her mom really felt about anything and angry because of this baby that will never know his mother.
Scott’s book largely consists of Emma’s internalizations because most of her actions have become routine: make it through school, see Mom, ignore Dan, be comforted by her best friend, Olivia. Rinse and repeat. Misunderstood bad boy, Caleb, shakes things up when he shows up volunteering at the hospital. Emma is drawn to him, and it’s their budding friendship and his ability to relate to what she is going through that gives her something to think about other than her mother. Exactly the first tiny step she needs.
Emma’s journey of moving ahead and moving on is not smooth. Not even close. She is fixated on so many small details, probably trying to find a way to make such a non-sensical thing like death make sense. While understandable, I felt this was frustrating as a reader. It was like I knew what she was thinking before she thought it; even once she hit certain ephiphanies, Emma continued to go back and forth with her feelings. There were so many times I wanted Dan to rush in and pull rank; an adult really needed to. She was a struggling child, and blatantly disrespected Dan and her mom’s marriage on multiple occasions.
One thing I did appreciate was Emma’s friendship with Olivia (who hated all techy things; I loved this detail). I think Scott did a realistic job of portraying two girls who suddenly have very different lives. How do you give comfort to a friend when you haven’t experienced the same kind of heartbreak? How can you share your own problems when they seem so trivial compared to Emma’s situation? Emma and Olivia had a little bit of work, a bit of a struggle, and it was a conflict that felt so true to life.
None of the characters in Heartbeat are perfect, and while that portrayal felt spot-on (because who really knows how they are going to act until they are forced into this terrible situation), I wish I hadn’t felt quite so disconnected from Emma. The book is extremely fast-paced because the chapters are so compact, but Emma’s growth through the story didn’t progress quite the way I thought it should. I was never expecting her to be 100% okay but the “breakthrough” came very late in the story, and it felt off.
I do think Heartbeat is a very discussion worthy novel because of all the shades of gray it presents. Was Dan right in his decision? Is Emma being selfish? How do you figure out what the deceased wanted without second guessing yourself? There’s so much that’s intriging here and the chemistry between Emma and Caleb is great but, in the end, Heartbeat just didn’t have the emotional impact I was expecting.
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