Estelle: Truth or Dare by Jacqueline Green

Truth or Dare by Jacqueline GreenTruth or Dare by Jacqueline Green ( twitter | web )
Part of a series.
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 416
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: high school, town curse, secrets, truth or dare
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary:  Three girls — Sydney, Tenley, and Caitlin — are targeted in a dangerous take of truth or dare, which threatens to unveil their darkest secrets unless they follow suit. In the meantime, Tenley is back in town for the first time in years and wondering if she will fit in like she used to, Caitlin is running for class president and still feeling side effects from her kidnapping, and Sydney maintains her loner existence, hoping to study photography in college next year and deciphering the behavior of her “boyfriend.” With the Fall Festival approaching and the anniversary of “The Lost Girls” curse at Echo Bay, anything can happen.

At one point, I didn’t think I would finish Truth or Dare. But it was sort of like a game of Clue, I just had to figure out who was stalking these girls, making them do outrageous things to prevent their deepest, darkest secrets from being exploited. So I kept reading, I got completely sucked in, and I stayed up until almost 2 a.m. to finish.

And I felt major disappointment.

While Green’s writing is pretty strong (especially when it comes to characterization and navigating these tangled plotlines), I felt like Truth or Dare tricked me. Big time. In 400 pages, there was no reason why the ending had to feel rushed, totally lacking emotion, and left me with a cliffhanger.

THE KING OF ALL CLIFFHANGERS.

This is why I rarely invest my time with a series. It has to be getting RAVE reviews from my most-trusted friends for me to pick it up because I refuse to pay for three books just because. I prefer books in a series to hold on to some of its secrets but for them to also feel complete on their own. I don’t want to feel pushed into reading book two for any reason except I want to continue on a journey with these characters. I should never feel like I lost 400 pages of my reading time to be left with not one single resolution.

With three characters like Sydney, Caitlin, and Tenley, there is no shortage of storyline though. Sydney does not come from a well-to-do family like many in Echo Bay and works hard, using photography as a de-stresser, and figuring out what the guy of her dreams (Guinness) really wants from her. Caitlin and Tenley are old best friends, reunited and starting their senior year together. There are some growing pains because Caitlin has a new close friend (Emerson) and Tenley’s not sure where she stands. But she’s super confident and ready to take the school by storm, yet again. She’s always been known for her killer parties and crazy games of truth or dare, which is how our story get its start. With her squeaky clean reputation, Caitlin is involved in every activity imaginable and hoping to win class president, all the while dealing with flashbacks from her kidnapping, unsure that the right man was framed for the act.

Whew! It’s a mouthful, isn’t it?

Super drama (think Gossip Girl), everyone suspecting the other, and the giant mask a town “curse”… life for these three turns into an even bigger mess than it was initially. It’s pretty terrifying to think that someone knows details about your life that you have never ever shared with anyone.

(One thing I was curious about: how Green would handle new step-siblings with an obvious attraction to each other? Go figure that I found that interesting and hated that a smaller character was sleeping around with the family member of one of our main girls.)

In the thick of Truth or Dare, I felt just as glued to growing mystery and suspense as I did reading R.L. Stine books (Goosebumps and his other thrillers) back in the day. I was slowly going through the cast of characters trying to figure out the culprit before I hit the last page, but, alas, I feel like I ended the book with less knowledge than I had when I started. And the worst part? Less of a desire to find out the particulars.

Cue the big, old sigh.

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Estelle: The Julian Game by Adele Griffin

The Julian Game by Adele GriffinThe Julian Game by Adele Griffin ( website | tweet )
Publication Date: August 26, 2010
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Pages: 200
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: bullying, online identity, popularity
Format read: Borrowed from library.

Summary: A new girl on scholarship at an all-girls school doesn’t mean instant popularity. But Raye wants it, no matter what she has to do, and getting together with dreamy Julian wouldn’t hurt either.

I’m jumping on the Adele Griffin bandwagon, folks.

Because this gal can pack complexity into 200 pages like no other author I have read.

SHOUT IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS: LESS IS MORE!

This is not a mind-blowing premise either. New girl wants to be popular. Ignores real friendship to latch on to superficial ones, and along the way hopes all of her efforts will pay off. New girl also likes popular, adorable boy from neighboring school and hopes she can make that happen. And that’s just the beginning.

When Raye and Ella (the popular one) team up to “take down” Julian (because Ella is mad at him) using a fake Facebook profile, Raye thinks she can one up Ella and befriend Julian without any repercussions.

She should have known better.

Two thoughts really stand out to me in this book. 1) How we can use technology to deceive others. Even if we are being genuine to who we are, we never can truly know what’s going on with the other side of the screen. Even the smallest thing can give you the wrong impression of someone, and maybe without even knowing it we are cushioning and forumlating our own online identities all the time. And 2) what about those nice guys who think they are nice guys, kind of act like nice guys, but are really not nice guys? Aren’t we tricked by people like this all the time? Personally, I think they are totally delusional but I like how familiar this kind of character feels to me.

Griffin’s writing style is so punchy, completely fast-paced, and grounded. She has her character voices down, she doesn’t overshare with the reader, and, my favorite of all, her words are witty, hard hitting, and honest. Her supporting characters are pretty fantastic as well: Tal is Raye’s bestie who is pretty patient and supportive, and even though I really wanted to hate Ella, I was surprisingly entertained by her sometimes and could also see that flicker of HUMAN flashing somewhere in her body. Supporting characters do not have to be caricatures and villains do not have to be typically mean. Griffin is a generous writer and gives everyone substance. (Even Raye’s dad’s girlfriend.)

So what price would you pay for popularity? And what happens when people are not what they seem?

The Julian Game is worth the ride.

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Estelle: Ex-Mas by Kate Brian

Ex-Mas by Kate BrianEx-Mas by Kate Brian ( @ Twitter )Sparklejollytwinklejingley Holiday Winter Book Reviews
Note: Kate Brian is the pseudonym of author Kieran Scott. Familar? 🙂
Publication Date: October 6, 2009
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 224
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Christmas, popularity, exes, siblings, road trip
Format read: Bought used online.

Summary: Lila has been prepping to through the biggest winter break party forever, in hopes of securing her position as the most popular in the high school hierarchy. But when her parents catch on about about the party from her noisy little brother, her plans go down the drain. As if her brother didn’t ruin her life enough already, he disappears with his best friend and the only person who can help her is the ex-boyfriend she’s pretty much written off completely.

At first sight, I really disliked Lila. All she cared about was showing everyone just how popular she was, so proud of how she ditched her uber-curly hair, her love of singing, and ratty wardrobe for all the beautiful things. I was pretty much muttering to myself how this book was doomed if Lila didn’t buck up a little bit. A whole 200 pages of her queen bee personality was going to send me over the edge, even if it was a holiday-themed book.

But in an almost Scrooge-like twist, we got to see the true Lila, even if it took a few detours to get there. Thanks to the crazy antics of her brother and his best friend, who also happened to be the brother of her ex-boyfriend, Beau. Beau la la. (Get it?) A Loner musician type with muscles! Way back when, Lila and Beau were best friends who fell in love. Unfortunately, their relationship took a nosedive when Lila’s reputation to be the coolest, awesomest gal in town started to take precedence over everything. She started dating an upperclassman turned college boy, landed a best friend in the popular crowd, and said goodbye to everything Beau meant to her.

In a Pacey and Joey-like scenario, two people who want nothing to do with each other are forced in a car together, looking for their brothers, two kids who would do anything to save Santa Claus — even run away from home. Though Lila and Beau make a pretty terrible team in the beginning, there’s still a hint of something between them… and it’s a whole lot of fun and havoc watching it all pan out.

Just like the Let it Snow short story collection did for me last year, Ex-Mas was adorable and funny and got me rightfully pumped for the magic and romance of the holidays. And despite its fluffy nature, it still does a great job of tying up loose ends and working through all the minor plotlines. A bonus!

And if Santa made all dreams come true… this book would be on its way to being a feature flick on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas! Someone get on it! (And I guess if that doesn’t happen… I’ll just have to re-read it again next year.)

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Sparklejollytwinklejingley Holiday Winter Book Reviews Song Pick

I have two for this Ex-Mas… I always liked Bette Midler’s version of Winter Wonderland because she bases it in L.A. + also for a fun romantic Christmas song, I’m obsessed with Huckapoo’s Wild Christmas and have been for about 10 years now. (Ignore the Miley Cyrus montage.)