To Be Perfectly Honest

Title: To Be Perfectly Honest
Author: Sonya Sones
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Pages: 496
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Purchased
Rating: 4/5

Her friends
have a joke about her:
How can you tell if Colette is lying?

Her mouth is open.

Fifteen-year-old Colette is addicted to lying. Her shrink says this is because she’s got a very bad case of Daughter-of-a-famous-movie-star Disorder—so she lies to escape out from under her mother’s massive shadow. But Colette doesn’t see it that way. She says she lies because it’s the most fun she can have with her clothes on. Not that she’s had that much fun with her clothes off. At least not yet, anyway…

When her mother drags her away from Hollywood to spend the entire summer on location in a boring little town in the middle of nowhere, Colette is less than thrilled. But then she meets a sexy biker named Connor. He’s older, gorgeous, funny, and totally into her. So what if she lies to him about her age, and about who her mother is? I mean, she has to keep her mother’s identity a secret from him. If he finds out who she really is, he’ll forget all about Colette, and start panting and drooling and asking her for her mother’s autograph. Just like everyone always does.

But what Colette doesn’t know is that Connor is keeping a secret of his own…

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To Be Perfectly Honest was a thoroughly enjoyable read from one of my favorite childhood authors. One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies was probably the first novel I read written in verse, and I still think Ellen Hopkins has nothing on Sonya Sones. I’ve read and loved all Sones’ books, and To Be Perfectly Honest did not disappoint.

I love books with unreliable narrators, and Colette fits that description to a T. I had fun guessing when she was lying or not, and she definitely kept me on my toes throughout the story, all the way until the very last page. I felt like I’ve never read a character like Colette before, so Sones’ latest novel was truly a breath of fresh air for me.

I enjoyed everything about Colette’s messed-up life (no, I promise I’m not a sadist) from her insane lies to her adorable little brother, who was featured a lot more in this book than most younger siblings in YA. I felt Sonya Sones did an excellent job making Colette’s larger-than-life story believable and relateable. Even though Colette tells some outrageous lies, you can’t help but root for her and want the best for her.

To Be Perfectly Honest is a super fun read that you’ll rip through in no time despite the length. I hope other readers will fall in love with Colette’s funny, sarcastic voice as much as I did, and that Sonya Sones gets the hype for it that she deserves.

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Afterparty

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Title: Afterparty
Author: Ann Redisch Stampler
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: December 31, 2013
Pages: 384
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

Emma is tired of being good. Always the dutiful daughter to an overprotective father, she is the antithesis of her mother — whose name her dad won’t even say out loud. That’s why meeting Siobhan is the best thing that ever happened to her…and the most dangerous. Because Siobhan is fun and alluring and experienced and lives on the edge. In other words, she’s everything Emma is not.

And it may be more than Emma can handle.

Because as intoxicating as her secret life may be, when Emma begins to make her own decisions, Siobhan starts to unravel. It’s more than just Dylan, the boy who comes between them. Their high-stakes pacts are spinning out of control. Elaborate lies become second nature. Loyalties and boundaries are blurred. And it all comes to a head at the infamous Afterparty, where debauchery rages and an intense, inescapable confrontation ends in a plummet from the rooftop…

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I wasn’t sure what to rate this book. I like Stampler’s writing style quite a lot, but too many other things fell short.

I am so sick of the good-girl-gone-bad story. I get it. Repressed suburban girls need to have a little fun sometimes. Characters like Emma are getting really cliche and overused in YA, though I will admit Emma did have some unique things behind her story.

Stampler also did a good job showing just how controlling Emma’s father was. A lot of times in this type of story, the parents don’t seem to live up to how bad the teen narrator makes them out to be. I think the clincher with the parent in this book was how he didn’t even allow Emma to keep the real name that her drug-addicted mother gave her.

Another thing I can acknowledge was the unpredictability of the story, at least in terms of the ending. When you first start the book, it seems like it’s going to go in one direction, but then does something different and twisty than what you originally think it’s going to be.

That said, too much of it was same-old same-old for me. Repressed good girl, charismatic best friend who everyone loves, a downward spiral into partying and sex, etc. On the note of partying, I also had a really hard time believing a lot of those scenarios in Stampler’s novel. I just couldn’t imagine parties that crazy and that glamorous really happening. Admittedly, I’ve never been a partier, so my views on this subject should be taken with a grain of salt, but I found myself rolling my eyes at a lot of the melodrama.

This is a weird book for me because I liked the writing, just not the characters or the story. Still, I am convinced that I could love other books by this writer based on the writing style alone, so I’m definitely adding Where it Began to my ever-growing TBR list.

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Blog Blitz Review: Being Sloane Jacobs

This review is for the Being Sloane Jacobs blog blitz. The book comes out on January 7, so check it out!

Title: Being Sloane Jacobs
Author: Lauren Morrill
Publisher: Delacorte
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

Meet Sloane Emily Jacobs: a seriously stressed-out figure-skater from Washington, D.C., who choked during junior nationals and isn’t sure she’s ready for a comeback. What she does know is that she’d give anything to escape the mass of misery that is her life.

Now meet Sloane Devon Jacobs, a spunky ice hockey player from Philly who’s been suspended from her team for too many aggressive hip checks. Her punishment? Hockey camp, now, when she’s playing the worst she’s ever played. If she messes up? Her life will be over.

When the two Sloanes meet by chance in Montreal and decide to trade places for the summer, each girl thinks she’s the lucky one: no strangers to judge or laugh at Sloane Emily, no scouts expecting Sloane Devon to be a hero. But it didn’t occur to Sloane E. that while avoiding sequins and axels she might meet a hockey hottie—and Sloane D. never expected to run into a familiar (and very good-looking) face from home. It’s not long before the Sloanes discover that convincing people you’re someone else might be more difficult than being yourself.

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Being Sloane Jacobs is a fun, cute take on what it means to find yourself. Lauren Morrill’s fresh, light voice made me really enjoy this story though I wasn’t sure about it at first. I don’t usually go for books about athletes, but Morrill made me fall for both of the Sloanes anyway.

Something in particular that stood out to me about this novel was the expert way in which Morrill showed each Sloane’s passion for their respective sport. Instead of being really technical and focusing on the game like some other sports books I read, Morrill focused on how ice skating and hockey kept her characters ticking. Rather than being something that kept me from liking the story, the character’s passions for their sports actually helped draw me into the story.

Another thing I liked about the book was watching each Sloane grow. To be honest, I did see more growth in Sloane Emily than Sloane Devon, but that didn’t bother me too much. I liked watching Sloane Emily gain more confidence through hockey, and also found her side of the story a bit more believable than Sloane Devon’s. I could see the transition to figure skating to hockey happening because it paralleled Sloane Emily’s growth into a stronger person. I thought Sloane Devon’s figure skating career seemed less plausible because of her injury, personality, and the time frame of the story, but that was probably the only thing I didn’t like about the book.

I also found myself rooting for both of the romances. I think I myself would have gone for Nando, but I felt Matt was equally charming. I liked that the romances didn’t overwhelm the story as well.

Another thing I noticed about this story is that it brings up a lot of interesting, serious issues: infidelity, alcoholism, the pressure of family expectations, what happens when you your passion becomes something that hurts you, and classicism. Though all of these things appear in the novel, none are discussed in enough depth to be overwhelming. Morrill did a great job of keeping her book fun without making it too fluffy.

Fans of contemporary romance who want something a little different will love this book and wish for a sequel after finishing the last page.

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Two Boys Kissing

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Title: Two Boys Kissing
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Pages: 208
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Purchased
Rating: 3/5

New York Times  bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.

While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.

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To be honest, I still can’t figure out how I feel about this book, despite having read it weeks ago. There were definitely a lot of cool things about it, but there were also some things that kept me from connecting with it as much as I thought I would.

Let’s start with the good:

First things first: no one can ever accuse David Levithan of not being creative or original. The Lover’s Dictionary probably tops his most-creative-novels list, having told the story of a couple through dictionary entries, but Two Boys Kissing is certainly not far behind. For this book, Levithan chose to narrate the story through a Greek chorus made up of gay men who had died from AIDS. I can honestly say I’ve never come across a book written this way for young adults, and it was definitely an experience to read it.

Secondly, Two Boys Kissing acts as a diverse celebration of what it means to be a gay man (I will come to that distinction later). Levithan presents a variety of stories about gay teens, some intertwining, some not, and gives voice to many different experiences faced by gay and transgender youth today. There was a wide range of experiences on the happy-sad spectrum, and I felt Levithan handled each story with grace without overwhelming the reader.

That said, I did feel like the book was sometimes a little heavy handed in the way it tackled issues faced by gay teens. The Greek chorus really added to that feeling at times for me, and sometimes that part of the narration was just too much and made me want to shout, “Enough already, we get it!”

I was also a little put off by how male-centric the novel was. There were a few female characters, but they only played very minor roles and were mostly the mothers of the teens whose stories were being told. I think what bothered me about the lack of female LGBT characters was that I felt like Levithan was separating the experiences of gay men from other LGBT people a bit too much, even though other genders have had very similar experiences to gay men. Basically, the focus on queer men made me feel invisible as a female pansexual reader. I realize that exploring the experiences of multiple genders may not have been Levithan’s focus with this book, but a lot of the issues faced by the characters, including suicidal thoughts and AIDS, apply to non-male queer people as well.

Finally, I just didn’t feel as emotionally connected to the book as I had anticipated. I think that did have a lot to do with feeling invisible, but I also tend not to like books written in the third-person quite as much, even this very unique third-person.

I would definitely recommend this to queer men and their families due to the breadth of experiences Levithan covers. I think this book could be very important to gay teens as an affirmation, celebration, and recognition of their experiences, despite the somewhat narrow gender lens. Two Boys Kissing continues to mark Levithan as a master writer, and though I was somewhat disappointed by this book, I will be eagerly awaiting his next release.

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Prophecy

Title: Prophecy (The Dragon King Chronicles #1)
Author: Ellen Oh
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: January 2, 2013
Pages: 312
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Library
Rating: 4/5

The greatest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms… is a girl with yellow eyes.

Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope…

Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.

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Confession: I only read this book because I was autoapproved for the sequel on Edelweiss. Prophecy wasn’t anywhere on my original list for the Debut Author Challenge this year, and to be honest I barely gave it a thought because it was fantasy. I haven’t read fantasy probably since I was in middle school. I think I felt like I’d kind of outgrown it.

That said, Prophecy was exactly what I needed to help me through my slump from a few weeks ago. I haven’t read anything like it in so long, and it was a perfect breath of fresh air for me from all the contemporary and dystopian YA I’ve been reading. It’s also made me more interested in finding some other fantasy to spice up my TBR list.

There wasn’t a single thing that I disliked about this book, other than that sometimes I felt like the writing was meant for a slightly younger young adult than I. Kira was the perfect badass heroine, complete with fighting skills and mysterious yellow eyes. I was really drawn in by her story of being an outsider, even though the people she feels separate from and who torment her are the very ones she’s trying to protect. Kira is both tough and loving, and her personal growth throughout the story kept me hooked the whole time.

I also loved the world Oh created. I enjoyed the inclusion of the Korean language since it was something I’ve never seen in fantasy before. I also liked the idea of the seven kingdoms, and the discussion of politics between them. I used to get kind of lost with fantasy politics, but I felt the way Oh wrote about them in Prophecy really added to the story. She used them to create a full, rich world that was unlike any I’ve read about recently.

Add in some demons and a prophecy, and you’ve got the perfect fantasy book for me. I know prophecies are kind of overdone in fantasy, but it’s always been an element I like in that genre, because I like figuring out who’s who in the prophecy. I also really like books involving demon hunting and such, so that was another major plus for me in this novel.

Prophecy is perfect for readers of fantasy who want something a little different and for fans of Daughter of Smoke & Bone, a book with with a heroine just as badass as Kira.

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These Broken Stars

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Title: These Broken Stars
Author: Amie Kaufman & Meghan Spooner
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date: December 10, 2013
Pages: 374
Genre: SciFi
Source: School Library Journal Summer Virtual Conference
Rating: 3/5

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I can’t tell if I’m mood reviewing or not because I feel like I’ve been writing so many negative reviews in the past couple weeks, but I just haven’t liked that many things I’ve been reading lately. These Broken Stars is another book that didn’t do anything for me, except make me feel mildly irritated.

I think my problem with this book was more with the characters than the plot. The idea of a space ship crashing on a strange planet where the characters start hearing mysterious whispers and seeing things sounding like an entertaining read, but Tarver and Lilac totally killed it for me.

I know that from Tarver’s perspective Lilac is supposed to be annoying, but I didn’t like her in her own chapters either. Besides being kind of whiny, she bored me even when she started hallucinating. I think my dislike of her stems from my growing vexation with the poor little rich/suburban/valedictorian/goodie-two-shoes girls that seem to be exploding in YA. I couldn’t bring myself to feel sorry for her though her father was obviously an evil bastard because I didn’t connect to her at all. Her one saving grace was her intelligence, which proved useful throughout the book and she wasn’t afraid to show in front of Tarver, even when she realized she was falling for him.

Tarver didn’t appeal to me in the least. To me, he seemed even more judgmental of Lilac than Lilac was of him. They spend the majority of the book making ridiculous assumptions about each other that just seemed really silly to me. I liked Tarver a lot better when he talked about his family and his cottage, because he seemed more realistic to me in a way Lilac simply wasn’t. I also wished I had gotten to know more about his experiences at war, since he had his whole rags-to-war-hero image. There was a little bit of that, but to me that was one of the most interesting parts of the story aside from the voices.

For me, it was just really hard to get past not only one, but two protagonists who I didn’t like to enjoy the story. Sci-fi isn’t usually my thing, particularly space books, but I liked learning the politics of all the planets and about colonization in space (although that might be because I just finished a course in post-colonial literature, haha) and was certainly intrigued by what was going on on Lilac and Tarver’s planet.

Basically, These Broken Stars failed to live up to the immense hype it’s been getting. I think the authors had a lot of cool plot ideas and great world building, but I needed the story to be told by different characters.

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P. S. as a side note, I will say I was very happy to see a girl-in-a-dress cover that was actually relevant to the story.

Picture Me Gone

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Title: Picture Me Gone
Author: Meg Rosoff
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Publication Date: October 3, 2013
Pages: 256
Genre: Contemporary
Source: School Library Journal Summer Virtual Conference
Rating: 3/5

Mila has an exceptional talent for reading a room—sensing hidden facts and unspoken emotions from clues that others overlook. So when her father’s best friend, Matthew, goes missing from his upstate New York home, Mila and her beloved father travel from London to find him. She collects information about Matthew from his belongings, from his wife and baby, from the dog he left behind and from the ghosts of his past—slowly piecing together the story everyone else has missed. But just when she’s closest to solving the mystery, a shocking betrayal calls into question her trust in the one person she thought she could read best.

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Sadly, Meg Rosoff is proving to be another one-hit-wonder author for me. I loved How I Live Now so much that it’s impossible for me not to compare her other books to it, and so far, nothing has measured up. Just in Case was okay, but Picture Me Gone was just plain weird.

Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for it or something, but I felt like I didn’t get Meg Rosoff’s 2013 release. I felt it was very slow and kind of just meandered around with no real plot or point. The writing was good, I guess, but the story and characters didn’t really do anything for me. I’m also not a fan of this new trend in YA of including illustrations or photos. I felt the images in the book didn’t add anything new to the story and didn’t need to be there.

For one thing, it took me forever to figure out that Mila was only twelve. She came off sounding about fifty years old to me, though of course there were some “adult things” she didn’t understand. I know she was played up as being really precocious and insightful, but the fact that she was twelve made me not really believe it. I think Mila’s talents and maturity could have been expressed in a way more appropriate to her age, but as it is, the novel makes her sound beyond a young adult.

I also found myself uninterested in the plot. I kept waiting for something to happen, but not much did. I felt awkward reading about another family’s problems for some reason, even though they were fictional, because I felt like Mila and her father were looking into things they shouldn’t necessarily be looking into. I wanted more about Mila, who ended up seeming like a vehicle to tell someone else’s story more than like her own character.

The one thing that kept this book from being a two heart read for me was the interaction near the end of the book between Mila and Matthew when she realizes he was planning on killing himself. It intrigued me that Mila could see this though she’d just met Matthew while Gil, her father and Matthew’s best friend, could not. Reading how she processed that realization was one of the books more powerful moments, so I was at least somewhat glad I’d decided to stick with it.

All in all though, Picture Me Gone was another Rosoff novel that failed to live up to the emotional depth and pure amazingness of How I Live Now.

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