Waiting on Wednesday: For the Record by Charlotte Huang

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:

For the Record by Charlotte Huang

Expected Release Date: November 10, 2015

Chelsea thought she knew what being a rock star was like . . . until she became one. After losing a TV talent show, she slid back into small-town anonymity. But one phone call changed everything
Now she’s the lead singer of the band Melbourne, performing in sold-out clubs every night and living on a bus with three gorgeous and talented guys. The bummer is that the band barely tolerates her. And when teen hearthrob Lucas Rivers take an interest in her, Chelsea is suddenly famous, bringing Melbourne to the next level—not that they’re happy about that. Her feelings for Beckett, Melbourne’s bassist, are making life even more complicated.
Chelsea only has the summer tour to make the band—and their fans—love her. If she doesn’t, she’ll be back in Michigan for senior year, dying a slow death. The paparazzi, the haters, the grueling schedule . . . Chelsea believed she could handle it. But what if she can’t?

(summary via Goodreads)

I just read Ali Novak’s The Heartbreakers and really liked it, so it’s no wonder that I might also want to check out this musical-inspired novel featuring a female lead singer.  It sounds cute and whimsical, which I could use a good dose of, and who doesn’t mind something a little lighter every now and then?

What are you waiting on this week?

Waiting on Wednesday: The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow

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 Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow

Expected Release Date: October 13, 2015

Winnie Flynn doesn’t believe in ghosts. (Though she wouldn’t mind a visit from her mom, explaining why she took her own life.) When her mysterious aunt Maggie, a high-profile TV producer, recruits Winnie to spend a summer working as a production assistant on her current reality hit, Fantastic, Fearsome, she suddenly finds herself in the one place her mother would never go: New Jersey.

New Jersey’s famous Devil makes perfect fodder for Maggie’s show. But as the filming progresses, Winnie sees and hears things that make her think that the Devil might not be totally fake after all. Things that involve her and her family. Things about her mother’s death that might explain why she’s never met Aunt Maggie until now.

Winnie soon discovers her family’s history is deeply entwined with the Devil’s. If she’s going to make it out of the Pine Barrens alive, she might have to start believing in what her aunt is telling her. And, find out what she isn’t.

(summary via Goodreads)

This seems to be my kind of book.  Dark, smart, and mysterious.  It’s told as an ongoing letter to a friend and includes illustrations, which is also  something that I find very intriguing.  Early buzz is good, and since I’ve been on a darker-YA kick lately, this seems like it might really help scratch that itch.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger

Sonny and Amy are best friends.  Because of some family drama, Sonny’s been secretly living at Amy’s house.  Ryder, the new kid at Hamilton High, has a huge and obvious thing for Amy, but he represents everything she hates, including a snobby outlook.  When Ryder emails Amy and asks her out, Sonny thinks it’s a great opportunity to prank him.  But then she ends up talking to him online all night, and realizes that he’s kind of awesome.  The only problem is, he thinks he was talking to Amy.  Unable to come clean but also unable to stop chatting with him, Sonny gets further and further from the truth while her feelings for Ryder intensify.

Hailed as a companion novel to The DUFF, this novel by Kody Keplinger is set in the same world as her other contemporary offerings and even features appearances by the main characters of The DUFF.  Keplinger has an ear for dialogue and offers a plot heavy on the chemistry and crazy with the mistaken identities.  The result is a mostly pleasant romp through some teen mistakes, but it doesn’t have as much of the charm that some of her previous novels possess.

Even so, Keplinger crafts teen characters that are believable and authentic.  Her ability to write believable teen dialogue helps immensely as well.  She sells the somewhat silly plot by creating characters who make realistic mistakes and a plot that moves at a whip-fast pace.  There are genuinely funny moments here, as well as heartfelt ones, and there’s immense teen appeal.

Also notable is the focus on the female friendship between Sonny and Amy.  This relationship seems to control much of the book’s narrative, and it’s refreshing to see two girls who genuinely love each other and love spending time together.  Sonny’s budding romance with Ryder takes a backseat to the development of this friendship, and readers looking for complicated female friendships should be satisfied by the portrayal here.

On the whole, this will work for fans of Keplinger’s work.  There’s a lot here to like, and readers who were clamoring for more Bianca and Wesley will get at least a little fix, as the two make several appearances throughout the book.  This is a strong addition to collections that already house Keplinger’s other works.

Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger. Scholastic: 2015. Library copy.

Book Review: The Heartbreakers by Ali Novak

Stella knows her sister Cara loves the boy band The Heartbreakers, even though Stella herself can’t stand their music.  Cara’s cancer is back, and there’s nothing Stella won’t do for her sister.  She and her brother Drew take a road trip to Chicago to attend a signing for the band in order to gift Cara with their autographs for her 18th birthday.  On the way there, Stella flirts with a cute boy in a Starbucks and is shocked to later find out that the boy in question is Oliver Perry from the very band her sister is obsessed with.  Stella’s life is turned upside down when she and Drew end up spending a crazy night hanging out with the band and she realizes that there might be something there between her and Oliver.

This fun, romantic novel got its start as a serialized story on Wattpad, and there are times when that’s very clear in the plotting.  However, Novak has managed to turn the story into a compulsively readable, sweet little piece of escapism.  Readers will have to suspend disbelief, as much of the story hinges on a series of extremely improbable events, but on the whole the story is charming enough to distract readers from the probability of such an adventure.

What Novak excels at especially is creating tension between her romantic leads.  She manages to have both Stella and Oliver walk a thin line where they’re on the same page in one moment and at complete ends in another.  Their interactions feel mostly natural and the chemistry is palpable.  Other characters aren’t as developed, and the inclusion of so many boys in the band serves as more of a confusing distraction than anything that furthers the plot or its characters.  Uneven characterization aside, the novel reads at a whip-fast pace.

Definitely the embodiment of a summer read, this should find legions of fans looking for a great story about boy bands.  It’s escapist fiction at its best, and is likely to entertain and delight young teens especially.  Novak provides a wholly satisfying ending while also leaving enough room for a sequel (it seems almost certain).  Predictable and pleasant, this is a great option for reluctant readers.

The Heartbreakers by Ali Novak. Sourcebooks: 2015. Electronic galley accepted for review via Netgalley.

Book Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Madeline Whittier has been sick her entire life.  Born with a rare disease that makes her allergic to basically everything, she spends all her time in her sterile house, sealed off from the rest of the world.  She spends her time reading, attending school through online classes, and playing games with her doctor mother.  Her only other friend is her nurse, Carla.  When a new family moves in next door, Madeline watches with fascination as their family dramas play out rather publicly.  She catches the attention of their teenage son, Olly, and the two eventually begin an email friendship.  It isn’t long before Maddie is in love and considering the risks of giving up the safety of her entire world for a chance at freedom with Olly, even if it means risking her life.

Nicola Yoon’s debut novel is a beautiful exploration of love in all its forms.  This gorgeously written novel is enhanced by pieces of art drawn by Yoon’s husband.  Bits of the novel are written in text conversations and lists, helping add dimension to Maddie as a character.  The novel is paced well and absolutely flies by.

The character of Maddie is particularly well drawn.  She’s a good kid, and she’s very bright, limited only by her disease, which keeps her from fully experiencing the world.  She’s witty and well-read and full of thoughtful observations, and she really shines when she starts communicating with Olly, who offers her a chance to really display her humor.  The other characters in the novel are also well-drawn, and Yoon allows the relationships to be authentically complex.  There are no easy answers here, and the story is the richer for it.

The novel is wholly absorbing, and many readers will read it in a sitting or two.  This is a unique situation, and Yoon stays in firm control of the narrative throughout.  There’s plenty of romance and heart to this one, and readers will devour it.  It’s a wholly satisfying read.  Yoon is an author to watch.

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon. Delacorte Books for Young Readers: 2015. Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.

Book Review: Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian

Will Caynes has a fairly complicated life.  Thanks to his divorced parents, he spends his time shuffling between the city and the suburbs of Minneapolis.  His father is drinking again while sort of aimlessly renovating his old house, and his mom has a new family in the suburbs and seems to think that buying things is the same thing as parenting.  When Will meets Brandy, a sophomore girl he finds surprisingly easy to talk to, he can’t believe his luck.  The two start to see each other, but there’s a complication: Will and his best friend Angus, who is openly gay, have been hooking up on the sly.  Will is attracted to both of them, and he cares for them both, too.  So what does that make him?

Carrie Mesrobian’s latest offering for teens is a knockout of a novel.  Mesrobian is a master at capturing the authenticity of being a teenager, and in her latest offering, that is on full display.  With Cut Both Ways, Mesrobian offers her teen readers a thoughtful, nuanced look at bisexuality while also delivering a super complex, smart novel about growing up and facing life’s hardest truths. This is a phenomenal book that deserves a place on library shelves all over the country.

The novel is fearless in its exploration of complicated, messy topics.  It approaches the subjects of sex and sexual identity without shame, and is unapologetic in its frankness.  Although Will never actually uses the word “bisexual” to describe himself, it is clear he is struggling with his sexuality and what it means, not only to him but to the people he cares about.  Mesrobian allows for the teens in her novel to have authentic sexual experiences and writes about these interactions in ways that are funny, moving, and sometimes a little awkward.  It is clear that she has enormous respect for both her characters and her teen readers.

Although the novel has several very dramatic moments, Mesrobian keeps such tight control of her narrative that these events never feel overly-sensationalized.  Will’s narration has just the right of emotional distance to help readers understand how worn out he is by playing the middleman in his parents’ divorce, and this same apathy plays out in his relationships with both Brandy and Angus.  This is an intense read, but it’s also intensely satisfying.

Highly, highly recommended.  One of the best books of the year. A must-read for older teens who like their YA realistic and complex.

Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian. HarperCollins: 2015. Electronic galley accepted for review via Edelweiss.

Book Review: From Where I Watch You by Shannon Grogan

Kara McKinley is committed to becoming a professional baker.  Her cookies are already at the professional level, and she uses her mom’s restaurant kitchen to practice her craft.  There’s a national competition that seems to be her way out of Seattle, but in order to get there, Kara needs her mom’s permission, something she is not willing to give since Kara’s older sister died in a drowning accident away from home at college.  Kara’s whole life has changed since Kellan’s death, and baking is her only escape.  But her life holds a lot of secrets, one of the darkest of which is that she’s being stalked.  As the mysterious notes escalate in their frequency and threats, Kara grapples with the fact that her life might be over before she even really gets a chance to let it begin.

Shannon Grogan’s debut is a tense, beautifully written thriller that is guaranteed to hook readers from the start and not let them go until the book’s breathless, suspenseful conclusion.  In this thriller, Grogan successfully captures the fast-paced necessity of “whodunnit” while also writing prose that is resonant, characters that are realistic, and a heroine who is authentic, a little broken, and someone readers will root for.

Told from Kara’s perspective, the book shifts back and forth in time to help readers get a sense of who Kara was as a child, as well as what her relationship was with her dead sister, Kellan.  Spoiler alert: like most relationships between sisters, it was a thorny, complicated one.  Allowing readers access to Kellan through Kara’s eyes as a child helps illustrate Kara’s complex feelings about Kellan’s death, and the slow reveal of the thing that finally divided the two of them is very well done.

The escalating threats of the notes from Kara’s stalker are the thing that helps propel the story forward, but Grogan also uses Kara’s desperation to escape Seattle–and the fact that Kara has pinned all her hopes and dreams on winning a cookie contest–to build even more tension.  The plotting is tight and the pacing is pitch-perfect.  There isn’t a flabby moment to this book, and the narrative succeeds all the more because of it.

This is a must-have on library shelves, and it’s perfect for readers who like their YA fiction dark and mysterious.  This is a standout of a debut, and Grogan is an author to watch.  Highly recommended.

From Where I Watch You by Shannon Grogan.  Soho Teen: 2015. Library copy.