Waiting on Wednesday: The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin

Expected Release Date: August 12, 2014

Two-time National Book Award finalist Adele Griffin offers an ingenious fictional take on the “oral history” celebrity bio that defined a bestselling genre: Edie, American Girl by Jean Stein and George Plimpton. In presenting herself as interviewer and curator of memories, Adele paints the portrait of a tragic young celebrity who allegedly committed suicide—presented in a series of brief first-person recollections—that ultimately results in the solving of a murder.

Adele’s words: “From the moment she burst into the downtown art scene, seventeen-year-old Addison Stone was someone to watch. Her trademark subversive street art and her violent drowning left her fans and critics craving to know more about this brilliant wild-child who shone so bright and was gone too soon. By means of more than one hundred interviews with those who knew her best—including close friends, family, teachers, mentors, art dealers, boyfriends, and critics—I have retraced the tumultuous path of Addison’s life, with research that sheds new evidence on what really happened the night of July 28, 2013. With photo inserts and previously unpublished supplemental material.”

(summary via Goodreads)

I haven’t read an Adele Griffin book that I haven’t loved, so this one is high on my list of books to get as soon as they come out.  It took me several times to read the summary of the book and understand it.  I have to say, I think it’s already sort of brilliant: a fake oral history of a young girl, told by the people around her?  Amazing.  Totally unique and I’m already hooked.  I can’t wait!

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Why Can’t I Be You by Allie Larkin

Jenny Shaw’s boyfriend has just broken up with her and she’s alone in a hotel for a work conference when someone shouts “Jessie!” from across the lobby.  Impulsively, she answers, and ends up pretending to be a girl who seems to be much more fabulous than the real Jenny.  As she gets further embroiled in the lives of strangers, she realizes it’s going to be harder than she thought to extricate herself.

Definitely a rom-com put to paper, this sweet little novel hits all the romantic comedy sweet spots and should have no trouble attracting adoring readers and fans.  While the premise itself is a little far-fetched, especially when one factors in social media, online presences, and the like, it’s easy enough to let some of that go and become enveloped in Larkin’s vivid settings and memorable characters.

Jenny as a narrator is both likable and sort of frustratingly indecisive.  Not every reader will understand why she does what she does in this novel, but her motivations seem authentic enough to make it believable for a character like this to behave in the manner she does.  The novel’s most interesting bits revolve around her friendships with several of the women she meets as “Jessie,” and the ruminations on female friendship are thought-provoking and moving.

Of course, there’s also romance here, but it’s handled with a light touch, which works well in its favor.  As Jenny becomes Jessie to this group of strangers, she finds herself drawn to Fish, a boy who loved the real Jessie all through high school.  What happens next is predictable but ultimately fairly satisfying.  The friendships are what make this novel work.  Witty dialogue and a whip-fast pace make this a page-turner and fast read.  It’s frothy and fun.

Why Can’t I Be You by Allie Larkin. Plume: 2013. Library copy.


Waiting on Wednesday: Magnolia by Kristi COok

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Magnolia by Kristi Cook

Expected Release Date: August 5, 2014

In Magnolia Branch, Mississippi, the Cafferty and Marsden families are southern royalty. Neighbors since the Civil War, the families have shared vacations, holidays, backyard barbecues, and the overwhelming desire to unite their two clans by marriage. So when a baby boy and girl were born to the families at the same time, the perfect opportunity seemed to have finally arrived.

Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden have no intention of giving in to their parents’ wishes. They’re only seventeen, for goodness’ sake, not to mention that one little problem: They hate each other! Jemma can’t stand Ryder’s nauseating golden-boy persona, and Ryder would like nothing better than to pretend stubborn Jemma doesn’t exist.

But when a violent storm ravages Magnolia Branch, it unearths Jemma’s and Ryder’s true feelings for each other as the two discover that the line between love and hate may be thin enough to risk crossing over.

(summary via Goodreads)

I’ve been reading a lot of pretty heavy stuff lately, so this one seems like a fairly good antidote, if you ignore the straight-up terrifying notion of an arranged marriage between two TEENAGERS in CONTEMPORARY AMERICA.  Which, I guess, is what the book is asking readers to do, since I think we all know where this one is going.  I don’t expect a lot of surprises out of this one, but I do expect a southern-fried romance, and it looks like it’s going to deliver on that front.  I don’t mind a little steamy read during the steamy hot days of summer.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Tease by Amanda Maciel

When Emma Putnam commits suicide, a community is up in arms.  Everyone seems to think that it’s the fault of several teens who bullied Emma relentlessly.  Sara Wharton is one of those teens.  Along with her best friend Brielle and a few other classmates, the group is awaiting trial for their role in the death of the sixteen-year-old.  Completely ostracized from everyone in town and ordered to stay away from Brielle, Sara reflects on what has happened in the days leading up to the trial.

Amanda Maciel’s ambitious debut succeeds on a lot of levels.  Creating a story and characters loosely based on real events, she crafts a novel that is achingly real, ultimately heartbreaking, and pretty unforgettable.  By choosing to have Sara, one of the bullies, narrate the story, Maciel’s approach to the subject matter is different than many other authors.  It’s a risk, because there are many readers out there who won’t like Sara.

And while that shouldn’t matter, because since WHEN do readers have to “like” the narrator, it will to some.  But what Maciel does is elevate Sara from a stock character and make her a deeply flawed protagonist who is also very real.  For the most part, at least.  Both Sara and the character of Carmichael are fairly well done, as are brief moments with Sara’s family–in particular, her younger brothers.

Less successful characters include Brielle, who is clearly supposed to be the Queen Bee Mean Girl.  While there’s a moment or two where Maciel hints at something underneath Brielle’s surface, it feels like too little to get on board with her.

There’s lots of stuff for readers to chew on and discuss here.  Not merely about issues like bullying and suicide, the book raises questions about who is complicit when a suicide like this occurs, what other factors play into something this horrific, and how one can move on after something like this happens.  Readers are going to want to talk about this one, and it will be great for discussion.

Which is why it’s so disappointing when Maciel’s ending makes everything a little too convenient, too easy, and more than a little inauthentic.  It undermines all of the groundwork that Maciel worked so hard to put in place.  It’s too bad, because it takes what could have been a knockout of a book to one that is merely pretty good.

Tease by Amanda Maciel. Balzer & Bray: 2014. ILL’d through library.

Book Review: Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs

Gloria is spending her entire summer before her senior year at a camp for gifted and talented kids.  She’s not sure what to expect, but she’s pretty excited, and is looking forward to a summer of learning and distractions from the recent loss of her beloved grandmother.  What Gloria ends up experiencing is more than she could ever have imagined.  Between the mysterious clues her technophobic Professor X leaves for the students to a new group of forever friends, Gloria is in for a summer she’ll never forget.

This sweet, mostly thoughtful debut novel by Sarah Combs will hit a sweet spot for some readers.  Earnest and uneven (sometimes distractingly so), this novel hints at Combs’s talents but doesn’t fully realize them.  That being said, it’s likely to find an audience all the same.

Part of the novel’s charm is in its prose.  Combs fills her novel with memorable, pretty prose.  The novel is as much a love story to the state of Kentucky as it is a coming-of-age tale for Gloria.  These bits are standouts, and readers who love a good sentence are likely to be wooed by these descriptive bits.  There’s a lot of southern charm here, and this might even be more of a hit depending on the geographic location of the reader.

But there are parts that don’t work, too.  Combs’s packs her novel so full of issues that it feels daunting and overwhelming. At times, there are too many issues on the plate: racism, death, sexuality, family, religion, etc.  All of this overwhelms the things that work–the exploration of new friendships, the bottle-effect a sleep-away camp can have on its inhabitants, etc.

Also frustrating is Gloria’s characterization, which can feel uneven at times.  Although it’s clear that Combs means for Gloria to be judgmental, she’s so over-the-top judgmental and immature at times that it’s hard to reconcile those aspects of her personality with her more mature ones (her extensive bibliography of classic literature references, for one).  While this reader realizes that most humans have this kind of complexity, it often doesn’t feel intentional so much as choppy.

That being said, there’s a readership for this one, and Combs is an author to watch.  Her prose alone makes sure of that.

Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs.  Candlewick: 2014. Library copy.

Book Review: Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff

A guy and a girl collide–quite physically–at 2:30am in the streets of St. Paul, Minnesota.  Lesh wears black, likes metal and videogames.  Svetlana is a crafter who embroiders things, listens to music that is best described as quirky, and is into RPGs.  The two should theoretically never speak to one another again, but that’s not what happens.  Once they’re in each other’s lives, they’re in them.  The two start talking at school, and it isn’t long before they realize that there’s something real between them, awkward as it may be.

In terms of books about awkward teens, this one is very real, sometimes to an uncomfortable degree.  Brezenoff’s latest offering pulls no punches in letting readers know that these teens are totally real–and totally awkward.  Try to ignore comparisons to some of the big names this novel is being compared to, because this is a story all its own.

What’s great about Brezenoff’s novel is that the book works on multiple levels, and it’s up to the reader to decide which one(s) to focus on.  There’s tons here for readers to take a look at: ruminations about MMORPGs, gaming, geekdom, self-identity, growing up, falling in love, etc.  All of it is handled with care, understanding, and total respect for the characters.

It’s also really funny.  Brezenoff’s ability to get into the heads of both characters (Lesh and Svetlana take turns narrating the book, and both are distinctive and wonderful) makes them all the more real for readers.  They both have flaws but remain inherently likable, and it’s likely that readers will root for their romance.  Props to Brezenoff for never allowing the romance to overpower the rest of the story, nor letting it become overly-saccharine.

At times, the gamer-speak can be a little wearying, especially for readers who aren’t enmeshed in the world(s) of gaming and RPGs, but it never completely overtakes the narrative.  There’s some interesting stuff here about gender politics and gaming, but it takes a backseat to the characters and their stories, which is pretty much perfect.

This is a great read for fans of contemporary YA who like their teens real, a little awkward, and a lot geeky.  Recommended.

Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff.  Balzer + Bray: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review.

Waiting on Wednesday: On the Fence by Kasie West

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

On the Fence by Kasie West

Expected Release Date: July 1, 2014

She’s a tomboy. He’s the boy next door…

Charlie Reynolds can outrun, outscore, and outwit every boy she knows. But when it comes to being a girl, Charlie doesn’t know the first thing about anything. So when she starts working at a chichi boutique to pay off a speeding ticket, she finds herself in a strange new world. To cope with the stress of her new reality, Charlie takes to spending nights chatting with her neighbor Braden through the fence between their yards. As she grows to depend on their nightly Fence Chats, she realizes she’s got a bigger problem than speeding tickets-she’s falling for Braden. She knows what it means to go for the win, but if spilling her secret means losing him for good, the stakes just got too high.

Fun, original, and endearing, On the Fence is a romantic comedy about finding yourself and finding love where you least expect.

(summary via Goodreads)

Kasie West’s romances are exactly that: romances.  They’re funny, smart, sexy, and totally escapist fiction.  I loved The Distance Between Us and fully expect to love this one, too.  It’s perfect summer reading, and I can’t wait to read this one.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern

Amy was born with cerebral palsy and can’t walk without a walker or talk without a computer voice box.  She can’t even completely control her facial expressions.  All of these things have largely alienated her from her peers.  When she decides to hire student helpers for her last year of high school, her mother is reluctant, but Amy is persistent.  She wants Matthew, a student at the school who is struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, to be one of her helpers.  As the two become enmeshed in each other’s lives, a deep friendship forms, and the two of them wonder if they could ever be more.

Let’s get this out of the way: Cammie McGovern’s debut is garnering comparisons to John Green and Rainbow Rowell, but this is a novel that doesn’t need those comparisons.  This one stands well enough on its own.  Comparisons like that only do it a disservice, and may actually alienate readers who might otherwise read and love it.  McGovern’s debut is smart, heartfelt, and absolutely original.  One of the best books of the year, this is a must-read for fans of contemporary YA.

Both Amy and Matthew are remarkably well-drawn characters.  Amy is smart, funny, and fiercely independence, despite the physical limitations imposed on her body.  Her realization that she’s been kept at a distance from her peers for the entirety of her schooling forces her to confront the fact that she needs to learn how to relate to people her own age, and her attempts to do so feeling achingly authentic.

Matthew’s obsessive-compulsive disorder is also sensitively written, and his personality as a kid who cares but lacks direction feels very realistic.  The two have an immense chemistry that leaps off the page, and their rapport is guaranteed to hook readers early on.  Neither character is defined by their diagnosis, and this means that the characters are full, real people.  What McGovern does so well is create real suspense between the two characters as they tentatively search out what their relationship could mean.

The normalization of each character’s disability makes this book a standout when it comes to inclusion lit.  The romance, the wit, and the excellent characterization of the book’s leads make this one a must-have for the summer.  Although the book is slightly over-plotted and some of the secondary characters could be fleshed out a bit more, these are easy nitpicks to overlook.  Buy this one.  Highly recommended.
Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern. HarperTeen: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review via Edelweiss.

Book Review: Far From You by Tess Sharpe

Because of a car accident when she was fourteen, Sophie Winters lives in constant, crippling pain.  Not long after the accident, she got hooked on Oxy, and it’s years before she manages to kick the addiction.  Then her friend Mina is murdered right in front of her, and the killer plants pills on Sophie to make it look like a drug deal gone very wrong.  After a stint in rehab (not her choice, especially because this time she really was clean), she’s home again, struggling to deal with the fact that her best friend–the person she loved more than anyone–is gone.  Determined to solve Mina’s murder and force everyone to confront the truth, Sophie embarks on unraveling the mystery in front of her, while also dealing with the fact that it will force her to reveal Mina’s biggest secret of all.

Tess Sharpe’s debut is a knockout of a novel, and it’s likely to make some best-of lists when the year winds to a close.  Fully realized characters, a compelling plot and narrator, and a strong grip on the prose makes this novel one readers will want to seek out.

Sharpe’s novel features an authentic, deeply flawed protagonist.  Sophie is a complex character, and she’s not overly concerned with whether or not people like her.  She is concerned with the truth, and her abrasiveness often reveals that.  Wracked with grief, regret, and loss, Sophie struggles with Mina’s death not only because she witnessed her best friend murdered in cold blood, but because the two were in love–and this realization has deep ramifications for Sophie’s world.

Also notable is the deft way that Sharpe renders the supporting characters in the story.  There are no simple characters here.  Each person in the story is full of flaws and motivations that make them feel like whole people.  Complex relationships and all-to-human reactions to the events of the book make it that much more compelling.

The book alternates between events past and present, and while this structure works very well here, the mystery often takes a backseat to Sophie’s interpersonal struggles.  This works just fine, but readers looking solely for a hard-boiled mystery won’t find that here.  Even so, the writing is strong enough to hook even the most jaded reader.

Highly recommended.

Far From You by Tess Sharpe. Indigo: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review via Netgalley.


Book Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Lara Jean Song writes letters to the boys she falls in love with.  They’re kind of love letters, but she usually waits until she’s fallen out of love with the boy to write them a letter.  Instead of sending them, she keeps them in a hatbox her mother gave her before she died.  In the letters, Lara Jean tells the boys everything she wants to say but never would, and she takes comfort in the fact that they are private.  But then the letters get mailed, and Lara Jean’s world spins out of control in the aftermath.

Jenny Han’s latest offering is that kind of perfect read that can be devoured in a single sitting.  Part romance, part coming-of-age, and part love-story to the bond of sisters, this is a remarkable and remarkably welcome addition to the contemporary YA world.  The novel’s planned sequel means readers won’t get complete closure when the book ends, but for the most part makes for a satisfying conclusion.

Lara Jean’s voice is incredibly young, and while that might be initially jarring for readers used to savvier, much more sophisticated teen voices, it actually ends up working quite well.  She’s a girl who loves her family and prefers to spend her time at home, knitting and baking.  Her relationships with her two sisters are done extremely well, especially when it comes to her interactions with her younger sister, Kitty.

While some of the secondary characters could definitely be given more depth (Josh barely works as a love interest because he’s about as exciting as plain oatmeal), the book’s compelling story arc and authentic narrator in Lara Jean make it easy to ignore the character shortcomings.  Readers who love their romances light will enjoy this one.

Highly recommended.  Fans of Sarah Dessen and Stephanie Perkins will find something to love here, if they haven’t already devoured Han’s Summer series.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. Simon & Shuster: 2014. Purchased copy.