Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: The Way It Hurts by Patty Blount


The Way It Hurts by Patty Blount
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: August 1, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

There may be two sides to every story, but sometimes there's only one way to set things right...

Music is Elijah's life. His band plays loud and hard, and he'll do anything to get them a big break. He needs that success to help take care of his sister, who has special needs. So he'd rather be practicing when his friends drag him to a musical in the next town...until the lead starts to sing.

Kristen dreams of a career on stage like her grandmother's. She knows she needs an edge to get into a competitive theater program―and being the star in her high school musical isn't going to cut it. The applause and the attention only encourage her to work harder.

Elijah can't take his eyes off of Kristen's performance, and his swooning face is captured on camera and posted with an out-of-context comment. It goes viral. Suddenly, Elijah and Kristen are in a new spotlight as the online backlash spins out of control. And the consequences are bigger than they both could have ever imagined because these threats don't stay online...they follow them into real life.

What I Liked:

To say that I'm not a huge fan of YA contemporary would be a gross understatement, especially when it comes to what I call "tough-issue YA contemporary. When I decided to try one of Patty Blount's books a few years ago, I had no expectations. It was an early read, and I wasn't too sure I would enjoy the story, but I was curious about. That book was TMI, which I ended up really liking. I went on to read Some Boys, which I loved, and Nothing Left to Burn, which I reread recently and honestly I love that book now even more than I did two years ago. I may say that I don't typically like tough-issue YA contemporary, but I can always count on this author to write really good contemporary, with relevant issues that teen deal with in this time, and a sweet romance to make me smile.

In The Way It Hurts, there is Elijah, lead singer and bass guitarist of the band Ride Out, which he and two friends created when they were in eighth grade. It's a heavy metal type of band, whose music receives a lot of criticism - especially from Kristen Cartwright, a theater girl who can sing, dance, and act like she's on Broadway. But Kristen needs an edge to get into great programs. And Elijah and the band need exposure and popularity - fast. Elijah and Kristen may not agree on music preferences, but they both agree that it would be a smart move for Kristen to join the band. And she does. But at what cost? With the rising popularity of the band and the increasing number of creepy and threatening social media posts Kristen receives, maybe becoming famous isn't what Kristen wants. Especially when things catch up to her in real life.

I usually don't go after books with the "rock star" types because I don't always connect with that protagonist. But from the start, I fell for Elijah. He has a bad-boy reputation and a dangerous image, which he wants. It helps the band and he knows all about perception and illusion. Elijah isn't a punk who likes to scream into a microphone. He is creative, dedicated, and very intelligent, proving over and over that he knows his music inside and out. He is also extremely loyal and very sweet, especially with his younger sister Anna, who is autistic.

Kristen was an interesting character to watch grow with the story. At first I wasn't a big fan of hers because she seemed a tiny but judgmental and snobby (and she was!). But at the same time, I could see why she was that way. She is proud of her upbringing and her talent, and she has goals and dreams that she is determined to realize. Kristen is a headstrong and tough girl, and she handles all kinds of obstacles that are thrown her way. I really felt for her as the story went on - she didn't deserve all of the horrible things that were directed to her on social media.

That is one of the best and strongest aspects of this book - the effects of social media. Everything starts with a tweet with a specific hashtag which takes off. Suddenly it's Ride Out and a new girl named Kristen, Eli vs. Kristen. Girls hit on Eli and throw themselves at Eli, but Kristen gets disgusting tweets and nasty comments. Isn't this so true of society and fame today? Men are praised and let off the hook for many things, but when are subject to even more scrutiny and criticism, and they are expected to cater and stoop down and bend to the will of others. Blount does an amazing job of hitting on so many issues with society today, involving social media and in general. 

The character development of both protagonists is well-written. Kristen is a little stuck-up in the beginning, but by the end, she is more open-minded and realizes how wrong she was about Eli, the band, and their music. Eli has a bit of a chip on his shoulder at first, and he judges Kristen too, but by the end, he lets go of some things, and he starts to see things how Kristen saw them. I liked seeing these characters mature into better (still flawed) people.

I also appreciated the inclusion of a character on the spectrum! Anna (Eli's sister) is a big part of this story, even if she isn't a protagonist. I loved how calm and patient Eli was with Anna - almost all of their interactions are so sweet. And when Kristen meets Anna for the first time - I adored that scene!

Another secondary character that I loved was Etta, Kristen's flamboyant grandmother. She's so interesting and a little eccentric and I thought she was great! Etta is a huge source of support for Kristen, and she is also a big fan of Kristen/Eli, which I thought was funny.

You probably already guessed it, but there is a romance, involving Eli and Kristen. They seem like an unlikely pair on paper, but they are great together! They bicker, they fuss, they get very angry with each other, they hurt each other, they understand each other. Don't misunderstand - this isn't a toxic relationship. It's a very real one though - it starts as a terse partnership for the band, and then it moves into friendship, and then a romantic relationship. I liked the progression of the romance. I would have loved to see more Eli/Kristen scenes, but that's okay. No love triangle, no cheating!

The conflict of the book lies with the band involving Kristen, Kristen and the social media issues, Eli and Kristen's relationship, and Anna too. There is so much going on in this story (though not in an overwhelming way), and it all comes together in the climax. You'll have to read the book to see what happens! I liked the ending very much and really appreciated the epilogue. A great way to end the book!

What I Did Not Like:

Ehh, super major. I did mention that I would have loved more Eli/Kristen scenes, in terms of the romance. You know what I mean. But that's okay! This is a slow-burn romance, and I do like those.

I also would have looooved to know how some of those recurring social media jerks were, and the writer of the article. It seemed kind of significant, who the author would turn out to be, or who that one person on Twitter was (Mikey). But maybe these things weren't actually important. I just like to know.

Would I Recommend It:

I think any teenager/young adult should read this book (or any of Patty Blount's books). The effects of social media are so important to understand, especially the consequences of posting this or that. You don't have to be a YA contemporary fan to enjoy this book. You don't have to be a teen either - we adults could learn a thing or two from this story!

Rating:

4 stars. This book has a little bit of everything for everyone! Like music in books? Check. Like romance? Check. Like bad boys? Check. Like confident heroines? Check. Like issues in the story dealing with social media? Check. Like supportive families who love each other? Check. So many aspects of this book really worked, and the book overall was extremely solid and a very good read. I highly recommend it!


Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Swoon Thursday (#235): The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones


- From the book you’re currently reading, or one you just finished, tell us what made you SWOON. What got your heart pounding, your skin tingling, and your stomach fluttering

- Try to make the swoon excerpt 140 characters (or less), if you are going to tweet about it. Use the hashtag #YABOUND when tweeting


This week, my swoon is from The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones!


"Can I try something?" she asked. The words spoken aloud helped drown out her inner voice.

James looked at her. His face was serious when he answered, "Anything."

Her fingers fumbled for his shoulder, and she angled him toward her. He looked confusedly at her, but then Dee rose on the tips of her toes. She grabbed his jacket in her fist.

When she kissed him, his mouth tasted of rainwater, fresh and sharp, and the heat of his mouth was a startling contrast to the chill along her skin. He made a soft sound of surprise, but then a groan rose in his chest.

This was nothing like their first kiss - all hesitancy and fumbling attraction. It was raw and needy, a desperate desire for reassurance before stepping off a ledge into the unknown. His left hand, the one not holding the umbrella, found the small of her back and pulled her closer. He felt sturdy, warm, and solid. She tried to draw some of his wild courage into herself, and he responded in kind, his lips moving hungrily against hers. It was heady, this knowledge that he wanted her, that he had seen all of her broken edges and still thought her desirable. 

- ARC, page 277




I loved this book! It's strange and intriguing - and there is a swoony romance. Win!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Blog Tour and Giveaway: Because You Love to Hate Me


Welcome to the blog tour for Because You Love to Hate Me, an amazing anthology edited by the one and only Ameriie. I've read this anthology and I absolutely loved it. I'm so excited to interview the author one of my favorite stories of the anthology (and one of my favorite authors in general) - Renée Ahdieh! Alongside Renée is her paired booktuber, Christine Riccio, who is so talented and enthusiastic. Check it out!


The Interview:

Alyssa: Hi ladies! Thank you so much for joining me today! I am a huge fan of both of you and your work, and I’m honored to have this opportunity. =) My first question – what made you decide to take part in this anthology?

Renée: Thank you so much for hosting this! It’s an honor for us, too. I knew I wanted to be part of this anthology the second Ameriie mentioned villains. I’m a huge fan of compelling villains, and I loved the idea of them taking on the central role in these short stories.

Christine: It just sounded like a really cool project that hadn’t been done before! I’ve never been asked to collaborate on a published work and a lot of great people were going to be involved! It was super exciting.

Alyssa: What inspired your specific prompt/story?

Renée: Christine sent me all these amazing prompts for the story. It was incredibly difficult trying to select just one, but I was definitely on a Star Wars kick when I made the decision. Actually, who am I kidding? I’m always on a Star Wars kick.

Christine: I mean I only wrote the prompt for the actual story. I was inspired there by Mr Kylo Ren from the new Star Wars film. My “essay,” per se, was inspired by those pieces you see in magazines like: 10 Signs Your Boyfriend is Cheating!!

Alyssa: Pitch the story to readers! For fans of ____, if you liked____ try [your story], ____ meets ____, etc.

Renée: For fans of Star Wars, if you hate to love Kylo Ren, definitely try this dark anti-hero story.

Christine: For fans of ANYTHING EVER, if you liked THAT ONE STORY YOU LOVE try [your story], RENEE’S BRAIN meets CHRISTINE’S PROMPT AND SHORT ESSAY.

Alyssa: HA! Love it. :D If you could co-write a story (whether short story, novella, or full-length novel) with one of the other contributing writers of Because You Love to Hate Me, who would you choose?

Renée: I’m a huge fan of Cindy Pon and Nicola Yoon. I’d love to write anything with either of them.

Christine: Oh my gosh that’s so hard! I admire so many of these authors, but I feel like you have to really know the person you’re co-writing with and so I’d probably join forces with my pal Jesse George.

Alyssa: Thank you, ladies! Congratulations on the publication!


Follow Renée Ahdieh:


Follow Christina Riccio:



About the Book:


Because You Love to Hate Me, edited by Ameriie
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: July 11, 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

In this unique YA anthology, thirteen acclaimed, bestselling authors team up with thirteen influential BookTubers to reimagine fairy tales from the oft-misunderstood villains' points of view.

These fractured, unconventional spins on classics like "Medusa," Sherlock Holmes, and "Jack and the Beanstalk" provide a behind-the-curtain look at villains' acts of vengeance, defiance, and rage--and the pain, heartbreak, and sorrow that spurned them on. No fairy tale will ever seem quite the same again!

Featuring writing from . . .

Authors: Renée Ahdieh, Ameriie, Soman Chainani, Susan Dennard, Sarah Enni, Marissa Meyer, Cindy Pon, Victoria Schwab, Samantha Shannon, Adam Silvera, Andrew Smith, April Genevieve Tucholke, and Nicola Yoon

BookTubers: Benjamin Alderson (Benjaminoftomes), Sasha Alsberg (abookutopia), Whitney Atkinson (WhittyNovels), Tina Burke (ChristinaReadsYA blog and TheLushables), Catriona Feeney (LittleBookOwl), Jesse George (JessetheReader), Zoë Herdt (readbyzoe), Samantha Lane (Thoughts on Tomes), Sophia Lee (thebookbasement), Raeleen Lemay (padfootandprongs07), Regan Perusse (PeruseProject), Christine Riccio (polandbananasBOOKS), and Steph Sinclair & Kat Kennedy (Cuddlebuggery blog and channel).



The Giveaway:

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Waiting on Wednesday (#239): Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre


"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.


This week, I'm featuring:


Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre
Book One of The Honors series
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: February 13, 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Zara Cole has been in and out of New Detroit’s rehab facilities for treatment of her antisocial disorder. There’s no adjusting Zara’s attitude, though. A painful past has made her stronger than most, which is why she chose life in the Zone instead moving with her family to Mars. In her eyes, living inside a dome isn’t much better than a prison cell.

Still, when Zara commits a crime that has her running scared, jail might be exactly where she’s headed. Instead Zara is recruited into the Honors, an elite team of humans selected by the Leviathan–a race of sentient alien ships—to explore the outer reaches of the universe as their passengers.

Zara seizes the chance to flee Earth’s dangers, but when she meets Nadim, the alien ship she’s assigned to along with fellow Honor Beatriz, Zara starts to feel at home for the first time, along with a devotion she’s never experienced before. Yet nothing—not her Honors training or her street smarts—could have prepared her for the dark, dangerous truths that lurk behind the glitter of starlight.

Honor Among Thieves is the first book in a daring new sci-fi series by bestselling authors Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre.



This sounds amazing! I love science fiction and I've loved many of each author's books, so I'm sure this co-written one won't disappoint. The gorgeous cover does not hurt one bit!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Blog Tour Review and Giveaway: The Hunting Grounds by Katee Robert


Welcome to the blog tour for The Hunting Grounds by Katee Robert! This is the companion sequel to The Devil's Daughter, a book I read earlier this year and really enjoyed. If you're into romantic suspense, be sure to check out this series! In this post, I've got a review of The Hunting Grounds, an excerpt, and a giveaway.


My Review:


The Hunting Grounds by Katee Robert
Book Two of the Hidden Sins series
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Publication Date: July 25, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

For two FBI agents with a past, love becomes a matter of life and death in the new Hidden Sins novel from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Katee Robert.

Maggie Gaines used to be an FBI agent—top of her class and one of the bright, up-and-coming stars—until she spectacularly fell apart during her first high-profile case. That was eight years ago. Now she’s a ranger at Glacier National Park, and she’s found some measure of peace. But when the body of a murdered woman is discovered, she must finally put the past behind her and work with the one man she thought she’d never see again.

For months, Vic Sutherland has been hunting a killer who’s been targeting unsuspecting hikers in national parks—and now the predator has come to Glacier. Vic knows the case will bring him face-to-face with his former partner, yet nothing can prepare him for seeing Maggie again after all these years, or for the memories of passion it stirs in both of them.

As the investigation brings them closer together—and closer to the killer—Maggie and Vic fear they have only each other to trust. But even that might not be enough to make it out of Glacier alive.

What I Liked:

I'd not read too many romantic suspense novels before this year, and it never really seemed like it would be my thing. I get creeped out and freaked out easily, and suspense novels tend to get scary and creepy pretty quickly. But with Katee Robert writing this series, I knew I wasn't going to pass. Yet again, Robert has written an excellent chilling romantic suspense that is just as good as (if not better than) her previous novel, The Devil's Daughter.

Vic Sutherland was introduced in The Devil's Daughter as a secondary character. In this book, he takes front row and center when he is called to investigate a gruesome murder at Glacier National Park. This happens to be the Park at which his former partner at the FBI works. Maggie Gaines left the FBI less than a year after joining, and she hasn't looked back. Seven years at the Park has made it feel like home. But one murder, and then another, and another, and another, has made the Park feel tainted and unsafe. Vic and Maggie were former partners once, and they'll have to work together to track down the deadly hunter who shows no signs of stopping the killing.

This book has me shuddering a little! I get freaked out fairly easily but still, I have to say that Robert definitely sets the tone of this book. It is chilling and eerie, and I honestly can't say I ever want to go to a National Park to hike. Visit, yes, but not hike. The atmosphere of this book is perfect for a suspense/mystery novel.

It is clear that Robert has done her research! Everything from Glacier National Park geography to a park ranger's duties to the BAU of the FBI... this book may be fiction but Robert made the story incredibly authentic. Her efforts showed and I appreciated how much detail she thought to include.

I don't want to go into too much detail about the murders and the case, but I will say that Robert had me guessing who the unsub was until the very end. This is pretty rare for me - I tend to discern these things somewhat early on - so it goes to show how well Robert set up the case. Every time I thought I knew who it was, Robert threw a curveball in the plot.

That being sad, I was completely hooked on this story. I couldn't stop reading and stayed up late in the dark hours of the night, trying to finish this book. That didn't help with me feeling freaked out, by the way. Never read these types of books at night!

I adored the two main characters! Vic seems robotic and calm and collected and never really shows outward emotion, but he is a complicated and tough guy. I like how overprotective he is, and how much of a control freak he is. I understand the type. He and Maggie are good together. Maggie is less controlled and has to reign in her temper at times. She is a little more anxious compared to Vic (well, anyone is, because he sometimes comes across as a block of ice), but I like this about her. They are like foils, opposites, and yet their minds work similarly.

This isn't really a second-chance romance since they never dated or had any sort of romantic relationship. However, Maggie had a huge crush on Vic when they were partners. Vic was married at the time, so they were not going to happen. But fast-forward to the present - Vic has been divorced for five years, and Maggie has never really stopped having feelings for him. Vic knows he wants something with Maggie and he goes after that something. The two of them take a leap and I like where things go. Their romance is sweet and tender, and not too messy, though you'd think it would be a messy romance. I like how open and honest they are with each other.

There is one sex scene and it is adult-rated (though it's not as explicit as scenes in Robert's other books). I like the chemistry between Vic and Maggie and definitely appreciated the presence of the romance.

I was intrigued, hooked, and clueless until the very end! The ending is a big reveal and it should surprise anyone reading this book (in terms of the identity of the unsub). There are so many hints throughout the book but it's easy to look past all of them. Hindsight is 20/20, of course. Robert wraps up almost everything, though she hints at concrete things for Vic and Maggie. I would love to read an epilogue to this story, featuring the pair!

What I Did Not Like: 

That last thing I mentioned would probably be the only thing I would note here. I wanted a more concrete ending for Vic and Maggie - yes, they have the whole future ahead of them, but I wanted more specific details! An epilogue to show where they ended up together would be so nice. I adore them as a couple!

Would I Recommend It:

If you like romantic suspense, I highly recommend this novel (and The Devil's Daughter). This book is slightly different compared to the first one because the case isn't as personal to either protagonist (Vic or Maggie) as the case was in The Devil's Daughter. I found this to be a great thing. Be warned, this is a chilling story (in my opinion)! And it is definitely adult fiction.

Rating:

4 stars. Is there nothing Robert can't write? I love her sexy contemporary romance novels, and her darker contemporary romance novels, and now I find myself enjoying her romantic suspense (a subgenre I never really pictured myself enjoying). I need to try her paranormal romance!


Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!


About the Author:


New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Katee Robert learned to tell her stories at her grandpa’s knee. Her 2015 title, The Marriage Contract, was a RITA finalist, and RT Book Reviews named it 'a compulsively readable book with just the right amount of suspense and tension." When not writing sexy contemporary and romantic suspense, she spends her time playing imaginary games with her children, driving her husband batty with what-if questions, and planning for the inevitable zombie apocalypse.



Praise for The Hidden Sins Series

“…a captivating read, made all the more rewarding when good triumphs.” —Washington Post 

“Robert shows off her impressive versatility in this fast-paced and inventive new Hidden Sins series. The small-town setting is a masterful blend of quaint and oppressive, which ratchets the menace and thrill factor. The protagonists carry the full weight of their pasts with them, making their growing relationship as compelling as the mystery element in The Devil’s Daughter. With plenty of twists and betrayals, this is a book that is sure to earn Robert a wealth of new fans.” —RT Book Reviews


Check out The Devil's Daughter:

(Click on the cover for more information.)


The Excerpt:

Vic’s gaze fell on his phone. Maggie’s number was now in the contacts folder. It would be easy to dial it, just to check on her. 

Except it was late, and she hadn’t asked for him to babysit her. 

He’d gone years without seeing her, and now that they were in the same general area, it was like they were two magnets that could barely resist the pull. He wanted to hear her voice, to sit her down and share a meal that wasn’t military issue, to actually talk

His phone rang, which startled him so much he almost dropped it. Vic stared at the screen for several precious seconds, wondering if he was more tired than he’d thought, because it sure as fuck looked like Maggie was calling him. 

“Sutherland.” 

“It’s me.” 

He sat on the edge of the bed, suddenly painfully aware that he wore only a towel. It shouldn’t matter. She couldn’t see him, didn’t know what he was or wasn’t wearing, but it did matter. “Hey, Maggie.” 

“I have to apologize.” He could almost feel her soft sigh. “You were right, and I was acting like a stubborn kid. This whole thing—the murders in the park and having to deal with my past and you—has got me all twisted up.”

Maybe it was the events of the last two days, but he was so goddamn tired of doing the noble thing. He never put himself or his personal shit before a case. Not once. 
He’d never wanted to before. 

“I twist you up?” 

“As if you didn’t know. I had something of a crush on you when we were partners—which I’m sure you knew after I threw myself at you—and apparently I didn’t outgrow it as much as I thought.” 

The dimness of the room evoked an intimacy he didn’t deserve. Was Maggie sitting in her bedroom in low light, too? He liked the picture that made. “You have nothing to apologize for.” 

“I’ve been making an ass of myself since you stepped off that helicopter.” She shifted, the sound painfully loud in the near silence. “And I’m doing it again, apparently. My whole point was that I’m sorry and I’ll be professional from now on. You don’t have to worry about any breakdowns or hissy fits.”
If he was smart, he’d take her apology for what it was and allow it to move them back to solid ground. There were lives on the line and a condensed timeline that was only going to get more condensed with each body that popped up. 

But when Vic spoke, he didn’t move them back to firm ground. He threw them right over the edge of the cliff. “Fuck being professional. I want you, Maggie. Not the former FBI agent. Not the park ranger. I want you.”

Copyright © 2017 Katee Robert


The Giveaway:

Enter to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card and eBook copies of The Devil's Daughter (Hidden Sins #1) from Katee Robert!

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: Just Friends by Tiffany Pitcock


Just Friends by Tiffany Pitcock
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: August 1, 2017
Rating: 1 star
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

A new spin on the classic smart-girl-and-bad-boy setup, this witty contemporary romance shows how easily a friendship – even one built on an elaborate lie – can become so much more.

Jenny meets Chance for the very first time when she is assigned as his partner in their Junior Oral Communications class. But after they rescue a doomed assignment with one clever lie, the whole school is suddenly convinced that Little-Miss-Really-Likes-Having-A’s and the most scandalous heartbreaker in school have been best friends forever. It’s amazing how quickly a lie can grow―especially when you really, really want it to be the truth.

With Jenny, Chance can live the normal life he’s always kind of wanted. And with Chance, Jenny can have the exciting teen experiences that TV shows and movies have always promised. Through it all, they hold on to the fact that they are “just friends.” But that might be the biggest lie of all.

Debut author Tiffany Pitcock delivers a spot-on depiction of first love and the high school rumor mill in Just Friends, chosen by readers like you for Macmillan's young adult imprint Swoon Reads.

What I Liked:

This is one of those times in which I feel so bad for giving the book a poor rating. I am not a YA contemporary fan but I thought for sure that I would enjoy this book. I love the bad boy/good girl trope, and I love the friends-to-lovers trope. You all know me and romance - I adore romance - and with those two romance tropes in this book, I thought this would be a great book for me. This was not the case.

The book started off just fine though. Jenny and Chance were never friends or acquaintances, but they are classmates. On the first day of the new school year, Jenny and Chance are paired in an icebreaker assignment, to interview each other about one thing they did over the summer and share the interviews to the class. Chance comes up with the brilliant idea to pretend that he and Jenny have been childhood friends since they were little. It works! Suddenly everyone thinks they have been best friends (even though they never acted like they even knew each other before that day). It almost makes sense - the most charming, popular, wanted boy in cool, friends with the quiet, innocent, nerdy, unpopular girl. But both Jenny and Chance start to develop feelings for each other - and they hide those feelings, because they each think the other doesn't feel the same way. What follows is a story of heartbreak and comfort, with humor and a little bit of swoon.

I liked Chance, though I wasn't really understanding how he is classified as a "bad boy" (I'll explore that thought below). He is going through a lot at home, and my heart hurt for him. The adults in his life are terrible people. It's no wonder he held on to his and Jenny's fake (turned real) best friends status. He needed comfort in his lonely world, despite being such a popular and well-liked guy. He has a reputation for being popular with the ladies, but he is honest and upfront about things. Except telling Jenny how he feels about her.

Jenny... I liked her at first, but grew to dislike her a little. Which then made me feel conflicted because she didn't technically do anything "wrong". More on that below. I liked Jenny when she was sweet and naive - not when she was trying to fool herself of this or that.

The ending was a happily-ever-after for Chance and Jenny, which I loved.

What I Did Not Like:

Honestly I think most people who enjoy YA contemporary will love this book (maybe). I didn't, and that's fine, but I don't think my dislike of the book will be a general thing. 

My biggest issue was the romance, and Jenny (well, that's two issues). I hated the romance. Jenny and Chance are literally "just friends" or the entire book (until the very last few pages). Now, this wouldn't be so bad except for two things: (1) they fall for each other early on (and want to be with the other), and (2) Jenny starts dating someone else.

You're probably like, whaaaaaat????

Let me explain (and be aware, you might consider these spoilers). Jenny realizes that she has a crush on her new best friend fairly early on. They actually kiss - Jenny has never kissed anyone, and Chance dared her to kiss him. After the kiss, the next day, Jenny starts dating someone else. But even just before the kiss, Jenny knows she likes Chance a lot. After the kiss, she really wants to be with him. For Chance, after the kiss, he realizes that he wants to ask Jenny out and be together. And yet, the next day, Jenny blows a thing out of proportion, and agrees to go on a date with this other guy. A guy that she doesn't really like.

This is when I started to hate Jenny. She has never kissed a boy (until that dare with Chance), or went on a date, or had sex, etc. So when Drake asks her on a date, she says yes. And she goes on more dates with him. And eventually has sex with him (it seems like multiple times - they are boyfriend/girlfriend and very serious, for much of the second half of the book). Nothing is particularly wrong with this EXCEPT that Jenny is deluding herself. She is so stuck on trying to have the perfect relationship, be the perfect girlfriend, and check all of these boxes to say that she has done them. She thinks she cares about Drake but she doesn't. She's with him but thinking of Chance. She is Drake's girlfriend but she wants Chance, leans on Chance, thinks about Chance.

Do you see why I hated this book, the romance, and Jenny? I hate people who fool themselves. I hate people who want this one thing so badly, they don't care who they hurt in the process (in this case, both Chance and Drake). It's not like Jenny is trying to hurt anyone on purpose - she is too naive to realize that (1) Chance is in love with her, and (2) she is fooling herself into thinking that she must be in a relationship with Drake.

It's so fake. And I couldn't stand it.

I hated seeing Chance pine from a distance. And yet he was always there for Jenny, every step of the way. Jenny is an awful girlfriend and an even worse friend. Chance has so many negativity going on at home, and Jenny often puts his problems last. Again, she is so focused on checking off this box and that box. She is a terrible friend to Chance. And a terrible girlfriend, for constantly thinking about another boy, and for (unknowingly) stringing Drake along.

Also? I don't condone Jenny hitting Chance. Violence (whether girl-on-guy, guy-on-girl, guy-on-guy, girl-on-girl) really isn't something to promote. Chance gets into a legit fight with Drake and seriously? That was so cliche and disgusting. Can we not. I went through four years of high school and a grand total of fourteen years of public school, and I never saw any two people fighting over a girl (or guy). Can. We. Not.

So. Love triangle, emotional cheating (on Jenny's part), messy drama (when Drake and Jenny break up). Don't misunderstand - Jenny never cheats on Drake with Chance. Chance never cheats on anybody because he never dates Jenny or anyone in this book (he goes out with a lot of girls, but he never dates, until the very end with Jenny). Jenny likes to judge Chance for all of his "relationships" with all of the girls, but she has no right. If she had wanted to be with him so badly, she should have spoken up. She should have asked him out. She should have told him how she felt. Instead, she misunderstood one thing, ran away like a coward, and wasted months of time with a boy she didn't like, and felt pressured to have sex with. That part drove me crazy! She was so stingy about her virginity in the beginning of the book, and then when she and Drake have a big argument, she throws her virginity out of the window in order to convince him that she wants him. Spoiler alert: she wants the idea of him (a boyfriend). What a waste.

Look, y'all. I don't really care if the heroine has sex with 5453454 guys. (Well, I would care if she is having sex with them WHILE dating the hero.) Sex positivity is a good thing, in YA and in general. I'm not a fan of heroines who throw away their virginity or have sex for a stupid reason or use sex to manipulate someone. I'm not a fan of the fact that Jenny deliberately started (seriously) dating someone when she was totally in love with Chance and thought about being with him, while she was with the other guy. That's wrong.

I mentioned how I wasn't really sure how Chance fit the "bad boy" trope -- I mean, I guess the "bad" aspect of him is that he sleeps around a lot? Is that really a "bad" thing? I'm not saying we should give him a medal or something, but when I think of a "bad boy" in YA, I think of smoking, drinking, tattoos, motorcycles, gangs, maybe even drugs and petty theft. (Don't get me wrong; tattoos aren't really a bad thing. But they are definitely illegal for anyone under eighteen.)

The more I think about this book, the less I like it.

Would I Recommend It:

I don't recommend this book. I started off with a 2-star rating, and then bumped it down to 1 star. This isn't a contemporary novel for me and even though I am not a huge fan of YA contemporary, I could list you at least a dozen better YA contemporary novels with solid, healthy, good romances worth reading. This book was not one in which I could root for the heroine. The hero, yes, I couldn't blame him for very much. (I know there may be people coming after me to say, "boys are never blamed for anything!". Trust me. This one's on Jenny.)

Rating:

1 star. Too many issues with the romance for me. And I started to dislike Jenny and her ridiculous decisions. Yes, I know, Jenny is a teenager and teenagers make stupid decision. Y'all, I'm 22, and even if I had read this book three, or four, or five years ago, my opinion wouldn't have changed. I so wanted to love this book, and I feel bad for rating it as low as I am, but it is what it is.


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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones


The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 8, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

When Dee Moreno makes a deal with a demon—her heart in exchange for an escape from a disastrous home life—she finds the trade may have been more than she bargained for. And becoming “heartless” is only the beginning. What lies ahead is a nightmare far bigger, far more monstrous than anything she could have ever imagined.

With reality turned on its head, Dee has only a group of other deal-making teens to keep her grounded, including the charming but secretive James Lancer. And as something grows between them amid an otherworldy ordeal, Dee begins to wonder: Can she give someone her heart when it’s no longer hers to give?

What I Liked:

Truth be told, I didn't know much about The Hearts We Sold before picking up the book to read it. I've read Illusive and Deceptive by this author and enjoyed both books, so when I saw that she had a new book publishing in 2017, I didn't need to read the synopsis to decide if I wanted to read the book. Fast-forward over a year later and I've now discovered what this book is about - after having read it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a fantasy/sci-fi type of novel, dealing with angels and demons (well, demons). I wasn't surprised that I loved the book!

Dee Moreno has known about demons existing among humans for most of her life. People trade an a body part (arm, leg, hand, mouth, etc.) for something they desperately want. In Dee's case, she wants money, to pay for boarding school, since budget cuts have taken away her merit-based scholarship. She wants to stay in the boarding school because her home life is terrible, and she is desperate to stay away from home and at the boarding school - desperate enough to make a deal with a demon. Her heart and two years of service to the demon, in exchange for money. She gets a lot of money, but as it would turn out, the demon has her and several other "heartless" teens doing some seriously dangerous work. They are tasked with closing voids, like holes in the framework of the universe, from one world to another. One thing is for certain, when it comes to the demon and his bargains: you get what you ask for. 

I picked up this book, with absolutely no expectations and no knowledge of the story, and I then proceeded to read the entire thing in one sitting, stopping only to rearrange myself in my bed because I knew I wasn't going anywhere until I finished reading the book. It was that engrossing! It's one of those books that you simply cannot stop reading. There are many books from which you have to take a break, or you can leave it for days and come back. This was not one of those books. This demanded my attention and I wasn't saying no.

The author sets the scene incrementally, bit by bit, slowly revealing the setting, the characters, the conflict. I liked how she did this; at first you're confused because you don't know anything about anything and yet you are thrown into the story with no backstory or paragraphs of world-building. But the more you read, the more intrigued you are, and the more you want to know. 

This book had a magical realism feel to it, even though I think it is being marketed as something else (fantasy/paranormal, maybe). The existence of demons is so normal and everyone knows about them. Making deals with demons is nothing new, and Dee isn't The Chosen One who is able to see them or something. The unreal is part of the real - demons, disappearance of limbs, and the other ends of the bargains made. I love magical realism so I was all about this type of story. The world-building is well-written and so unique; like I said before, I love how Lloyd-Jones incrementally reveals and sets things up. 

Dee is such an easy character to like and root for. She seems like a lonely, detached teen, but as the story goes on, we see that she is so strong and brave. She is full of fear, yet she faces anything. She makes the deal with the demon knowing the dangers of doing so. She knew nothing about having to work with other heartless teens to close voids, yet she faced the danger every time. Dee is a smart, determined, strong girl who needed to give herself more credit. 

It broke my heart, to see her interact with her awful parents. They were never physically abusive, but both were pretty neglectful and not nice to her. Her father especially - and her mother was too weak-willed to really challenge him. Dee's terrible home life made her seem like an even stronger person - she worked hard to get into that elite boarding school, so she could have a better life away from her toxic parents.

The supernatural aspect of this story is really cool. I personally have never read anything quite like this story. The Faustian demon bargaining thing was neat - exchanging body parts for a wish/request. In Dee's case (and James's and Cora's and Cal's and Riley's), it was the heart. All of them are still functioning humans, but their bodies aren't as alive anymore. Two years without their heart, two years serving the demon, and then they get their heart back. But why are they closing voids? What are the creatures in the voids? What is the demon not telling them about the voids?

The secondary characters of the story are very likable and well-rounded. James, Cora, and Cal make up the original trio of the demon's troop. James is a charming, talented artist who dresses like a hobo but has incredible artistic talent. Cora is the no-nonsense "mom" of the group, whose bargain is almost up. Cal is the genius of the group. I adored James the most - he is sweet and compassionate and always trying to lighten the mood and make everyone laugh. Riley joins the team after the halfway point - she is tough and very kickbutt. I liked Gremma, Dee's roommate at the boarding school. She is a little strange but a whole lot of awesome - very blunt and tough and someone you'd want on your side of a fight.

There is a romance and it is so sweet! James and Dee fall for each other fairly naturally, and it's cute to watch. They end up spending a lot of time together outside of the heartless group, and James sees parts of Dee's life that she'd never shown anyone. The gradual progression of trust and then romance is so important, and very sweet. They are lots of tender and swoony moments between these two!

Worth noting is wealth of diversity in this story. Dee is half Latina; Gremma is gay; Riley is trans; Cora is African-American. There was a lot of great representation in this book, and it didn't feel like the author was forcing diversity in my face.

The big conflict is revealed towards the climax, and it does end up being a save-the-world type of climax. I won't say too much about it, but I will say that the ending was a little bittersweet. It was a very uplifting and wrapped-up ending, but there was an aspect of the ending that made me unbearably sad. And yet, I also felt somewhat content about it. I know that probably doesn't make sense, but the ending was good, in a bittersweet way.

The Hearts We Sold was thrilling, intriguing, and impossible to put down. I've not read anything like it and I'm glad, because this book was unique and fantastic. A wonderful standalone novel by an excellent and talented author!

What I Did Not Like:

The only reason this book isn't getting five stars is because of that one part of the ending that made me sad. It's a good sad because the ending makes sense and part of me expected something similar to happen. But it's still a bit sad. The ending overall is good though.

Would I Recommend It:

I mentioned above that this story had a magical realism feel to it. If you like magical realism, or fantasy/paranormal stories (I guess this could also be considered fantasy/sci-fi), this is one to try. Also, it's a standalone so there is low commitment (i.e. no waiting for additional sequels)! Trust me when I say that love it or hate it, you won't want to stop reading this book. (Hopefully you love it though.)

Rating:

4.5 stars -> rounded down to 4 stars only because (insert spoilers about the ending here). I loved this story, the characters, the swoony romance between James and Dee, and I'll be rereading this one when I need a good book to pull me out of a slump. Or simply because I want to reread a good book. Clear some shelf space, friends!


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