Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: The Unexpected Everything

The Unexpected Everything
By Morgan Matson
Published May 3, 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Reviewed from e-ARC

Andie's summer plans were set - she'd be off to a pre-med course, have a summer romance, and keep in touch with her friends. But then, her politician father is embroiled in a scandal and her recommendation for the pre-med session is withdrawn. Now, Andie finds herself sharing a house with her father for the first time in years and with no job during what is arguably the most important summer of her pre-college career. Is there any way this summer can be redeemed?

Though I've only read one of Matson's previous titles, I always want to read them. I really enjoyed my first experience reading her and I've looked forward to replicating it. When I spotted this one available for review, I snatched it up, eager to read a contemporary novel instead of yet another fantasy.

The good: Matson does romance well. This is a very sweet romance, but also a very realistic one. Andie's previous relationships have been extremely casual and she has no reason to suspect that this summer's will be any different. As a result, the hesitancy and tumult of emotions she feels when it does start to take a different path felt very genuine. Similarly, Matson does a great job with the rest of the relationships in the novel. The friendships between Andie and her three female friends really made me miss my own high school girlfriends. It's a very specific kind of love that young women share during their high school years and Matson does a great job capturing it. One caveat: I did have to do a significant amount of eye-rolling at how stunningly attractive Andie and all her friends are. Can't we just have some plain ladies once in a while?

The relationship between Andie and her father is also very realistically portrayed. While I've no idea what it might be like to be the daughter of a mostly absent politician, I do know what it's like to feel that your parents' choices have intruded on your ability to make choices of your own. I thought her confusion of feelings at the unexpected presence of her father in her life was also very believable and I enjoyed watching them trying to navigate each other.

Finally, I really appreciated that not everything turns out sunshine and roses in the end. While, for the most part, Andie gets her various happy endings, there is one storyline that isn't tied up in a nice little bow. That, once again, felt very realistic to me - high school is rough and not everything is going to turn out like you want it to. There is enough happiness for those invested in Andie's HEA, but I appreciated that there was still a bit of conflict as well.

The bad: this book is LONG. Over 500 pages. What's the last contemporary novel you read of that length? I can't name one, particularly not one for teens. With about 150 pages left, I started to wonder what else could possibly happen in this book. I think it could have done with some trimming and been just as fulfilling a story as it is.

Overall, a very enjoyable and sweet summer read. Recommended for romance fans. Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Review: Illuminae

Illuminae (Illuminae Files, book one)
By Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Published 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Kady thought her biggest problem would be breaking up with Ezra. Then their planet was attacked. Now, the two are separated and dealing with a ship run by a possibly insane computer program, an outbreak of a deadly virus, and, of course, their complicated feelings for each other. Can they figure them out and survive?

I think by now everyone knows that I don't like space. Yes, I'm appreciative of the fact that I live in space and am thankful for our planet and gravity and all that business. But science fiction stories set in space are just not my jam. That being said, there have been a handful I've enjoyed, including Kaufman's previously co-authored series. Couple that with a beyond glowing recommendation from my friend Amy (a space story fiend, but I digress) and my husband's need for a new book and I found myself reading this one.

For the most part, I enjoyed this. There is a lot happening here, but it's all fascinating and never gets muddled up. It's told in the epistolary format which, like novels in verse, is my kryptonite - I can hardly resist. My only problem with the way this is told is that, as this is a science fiction book, it's taking place in a world completely foreign to the one I live in. As such, it's a bit difficult to get oriented in this world through the interviews, schematics, and chat logs that comprise the story. That being said, though, I think you get enough of a sense of the world to know that there are some not great things happening and our main characters are unfortunately caught in the middle of them.

I thought both stories - that of the malfunctioning computer system and the virus that is turning people murderous - were really interesting and believable. Both were given equally page time and both had potentially disastrous consequences if left unchallenged. My husband kept asking me what I thought of the book and my only response was (and continues to be) "This is why we shouldn't be messing with artificial intelligence."

While overall I enjoyed the book, some parts of it were less successful for me. More specifically, I didn't buy into the romance AT ALL, which is actually pretty important because it is the driving force for a lot of the choices Kady makes. Perhaps it's because the romance has already happened and ended before the book even begins, or perhaps it's also a victim of the format in which the story is told. For whatever reason, I didn't believe it. Additionally, the ending was way too pat for me. With all the craziness happening throughout the 500+ pages of this novel, it seemed extremely unlikely that the book would end the way it did.

I'll be interested in seeing where the story goes from here, particularly as it seems book two will focus on a new set of characters. Definitely recommend this one to your science fiction and action fans.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Review: Ask Me How I Got Here

Ask Me How I Got Here
By Christine Heppermann
Published May 3, 2016 by Greenwillow Books
Reviewed from e-ARC

Addie's pretty much had her life figured out. But one careless night with her boyfriend finds her pregnant. Now, nothing will be quite the same.

I was pretty excited to see this one available for review pre-publication. I loved Poisoned Apples and had already started hearing good things about this one. I'm an avowed lover of novels in verse, so I fully expected to be over the moon for this one, too.

While I enjoyed this, I didn't love it like I had imagined I would. I appreciate the hell out of the story. Addie gets pregnant and decides to have an abortion. Her parents support her, as does her boyfriend. But Addie cannot deny that something inside her has changed, so she quits cross-country running and breaks up with her boyfriend. She doesn't think her abortion is the end of her life or means she's broken, or any of the other typical narratives associated with the topic. But it has changed her and she seeks to uncover just what that change really means.

One of the changes Addie is exploring has to do with her friendship with a former teammate, one who is away at college now. Addie begins to wonder if that friendship might actually be something else, something she has never acknowledged until now. Unfortunately, this is where the book fell down for me. I am glad that Addie is questioning her identity and trying to decide what feels right for her, but I felt that this part of the story was not as well-developed as it deserved to be. Additionally, the ending of the book felt extremely abrupt - I was enjoying the story and wanted it to keep going, expanding on the topics that were just emerging, and then it ended. I guess it's good to leave your readers wanting more?

Overall, another great read from Heppermann. Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Review: Down with the Shine

Down with the Shine
By Kate Karyus Quinn
Published April 26, 2016 by HarperTeen
Reviewed from e-ARC

Lennie has had a rough life and has never really looked forward to inheriting her family's moonshine tradition. In the aftermath of her best friend's murder, she decides she needs to live life more fully, so she sneaks some of that moonshine to a party. She shares it with everyone she sees, making a traditional toast each time. But when she wakes the next morning, she learns that the family legacy is much more than just making the moonshine - and she finds herself wishing she hadn't made so many toasts the night before.

I read Quinn's previous novel, Don't You Forget About Me and felt a bit conflicted about it. When I spotted her latest available in galley form, I figured I'd give her another shot. It sounded like my kind of weird.

I wasn't wrong - I very much enjoyed this one. It is a strange journey, but also quite amusing and, at times, heartfelt. It was a very quick read and had me laughing at loud in parts. The focus is definitely on the plot and less on the characters, which I think is part of what makes this a quick read. It is dark and funny - two of my favorite things - so really, it would have been pretty hard for me to not enjoy this one. That being said, I can see that this has a very specific appeal - in fact, I can think of several people who, despite loving YA, humor, or darker stories would not enjoy this one. That being said, I tend to think that teens really go in for black comedy, so I hope it finds its audience. As a bonus, I thought the ending was very clever and really worked with the book as a whole. I definitely recommend this one if you like your funny on the dark side.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Review: Their Fractured Light

Their Fractured Light (Starbound, book three)
By Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Published 2015 by Disney-Hyperion

Potential spoilers ahead. Read my reviews of books one and two.

Gideon is a pretty fearless hacker. Sofia is a con artist with a grudge. When these two criminals are forced to work together, they discover something in common - they both want to take down LaRoux Industries. But this is easier said than done - LaRoux is one of the most powerful forces in the galaxy. They'll have to team up with some old allies if they ever hope to succeed.

After having read and enjoyed books one and two and wanting to actually finish up some series that I've started and then forgotten about, I happily checked out this third and final book. Unfortunately, it took me quite some time to finish - I got about halfway through before having to return it to the library. But, I've finally finished, so I suppose I should share some thoughts.

Unfortunately and unexpectedly, I didn't love this one as much as the previous two. While I struggled with aspects of the romance in book one, I very thoroughly enjoyed book two and was anxiously awaiting this title. I think I had a much more difficult time with the new main characters and their story in this volume - it just didn't grab me the same way the previous characters and plots had. I spent most of the first part of the book waiting to get to the part where this one would tie into the other two and the whole bigger conspiracy plot would come into play. Then, when that finally did happen, I just didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I didn't love the big gigantic twist the plot takes and the ending - honestly, it's been a couple weeks since I finished this and I can't really remember what happened.

Overall, I found this a pretty disappointing end to a series I had unexpectedly enjoyed. After the strength of book two, this was especially a let-down.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Review: Wolf Hollow

Wolf Hollow
By Lauren Wolk
Published May 3, 2016 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Reviewed from e-ARC

Annabelle lives a quiet life until the day Betty walks into her life. Betty is a bully, and has chosen Annabelle as the object of her torment. While it's not pleasant, Annabelle thinks she can manage. But then, Betty sets her sights on Toby, a reclusive and odd veteran who has always been kind to Annabelle. As the situation quickly escalates, Annabelle learns to find her voice.

Nearly all of the reviews I've seen for this one include nothing but praise. For better or worse, this review is not that. Objectively, I can see that this is a finely written coming of age tale. But, as someone reading this book for pleasure, I just didn't like it. My first problem with this is that it's narrated by an older Annabelle telling the story of this pivotal moment in her life. While I think this can be a powerful narrative device, I always find it an odd choice in books marketed to a younger audience. Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel like this puts a distance between the reader and the narrator and makes a book that might already be a tough sell - historical fiction, bordering on didactic plot, slowly paced - an even more difficult one.

As I said, it's a well-written piece of literature, but sometimes I wonder also at the choice of a prose-heavy story in a book for young readers. In my experience as a youth librarian, it is a small portion of a young audience that is going to value a lushly written story over one that is action-packed.

Perhaps my biggest personal stumbling block comes simply because of my stage in life. Of course, I remember what it's like to be a kid and be afraid of speaking up on the side of right; certainly, I was an extremely shy kid and hated having to speak to authority figures. However, I couldn't help but think that if Annabelle had only told her parents when Betty's bullying first began, the subsequent tragedies might have been avoided. From what we're given in the text, Annabelle has a very close relationship with her parents, so her hesitancy at speaking to them from the onset struck me as a bit odd. Once again, this may have more to do with my reading this as an adult, but it was something that bothered me throughout the entire reading.

Overall, I didn't enjoy this one, and will have a hard time selling it to my readers. Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Netgalley.

Monday, May 2, 2016

April Check-In

Time to see what I've read this month!

Early-chapter: 0

Middle-grade: 5

Teen: 6

Adult: 3

Picture books: 35

Library books: 40

Books owned: 9

Read Harder Challenge: 11/24

Non-fiction goal: 8/25

Series goal: 2/5

Short stories/Novellas: 16

Overall, a pretty middle of the road month for me. I'm focusing my audiobook choices on finishing up the Read Harder challenge right now, mostly because I really want to try to read more of the books in the house. I've decided there's no way I'm moving them all again, so I either read them while I have them or I end up getting rid of them unread. I'm aiming for the former, but we'll see how it goes. I feel like my series goal might fall by the wayside here, but we'll see what happens.