Sunday, July 29, 2018

SAM & ILSA'S LAST HURRAH by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way shaped or forms my opinions of the novel. Thank you Penguin Random House and the wonderfully generous people at Underlined for the opportunity.

AUTHOR: Rachel Cohn -- Website | Twitter
               David Levithan -- Website | Twitter
PUBLISHED: April 10, 2018 by Knopf Books For Young Readers (Penguin Random House)
GENRE: Young Adult Contemporary
PAGES: 211
Find it on Goodreads

The New York Times Bestselling duo behind Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily return with twins out to throw the party of a lifetime—or at least the best party of high school!

Siblings Sam and Ilsa Kehlmann have spent most of their high school years throwing parties for their friends—and now they’ve prepared their final blowout, just before graduation.

The rules are simple: each twin gets to invite three guests, and the other twin doesn’t know who’s coming until the partiers show up at the door. With Sam and Ilsa, the sibling revelry is always tempered with a large dose of sibling rivalry, and tonight is no exception.

One night. One apartment. Eight people. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, we all know the answer is plenty. But plenty also goes right, as well…in rather surprising ways.

I know I'm in the minority of YA bloggers and fans in general when I say that I've never read a book by David Levithan before. His books are ubiquitous in this genre. And I also know I'm in the minority when I say I also never read Nick & Norah or Dash & Lily. These books are wildly popular as well.

This book came to me via Underlined, Penguin Random House's community for YA readers. I didn't get to go to BEA this year because my cancer has had a very strong recurrence and I can't travel right now because I'm sicker than I've ever been and we are struggling to find a chemo that works that my liver isn't being poisoned by. I contacted them in hopes of obtaining a few of the ARCs I was missing and not only did they send me those books, they sent me a GIANT box filled with hardcover titles and book swag -- a tote bag, a pouch for it, a t-shirt, the movie Everything, Everything (based on the YA book by Nicola Yoon), Kindle external battery chargers, and more.

I had just finished reading Sadie by Courtney Summers and wanted something light to read as kind of a palette cleanser and this seemed like a good, fun choice. It was exactly what I wanted and it also made me a little nostalgic and emotional. It gave me all kinds of feels. And I was surprised by how much I instantly liked it, because I caught a few of the reviews on Goodreads and they were mostly negative, even though many of them loved Cohn and Levithan's previous cooperative projects.

I found the reviews to be way too harsh. I LOVED this book. It was a creative story with fully developed characters, which I think is an accomplishment given that the premise of the entire book takes place over one night and in one location. I got a very good idea of all the characters and who they were -- and they are all the guests at a party hosted by twins Sam & Ilsa, who are throwing one of their famed dinner parties in their grandmother Czarina's home in Manhattan, which she is selling so she can move to Paris. Most of the characters are also graduating imminently and many of them haven't really sewn up what it is they're going to do once they leave high school.

I don't know how much you remember about being a senior in high school, but I remember feeling like I was a fully-formed, responsible adult, capable of making any and all decisions without much input from anyone. I was way too headstrong and I thought I was more mature than I actually was -- after all, I'm 32 now and I still don't feel like a fully-formed, responsible adult. How could I possibly have been one at 18? This book reminded me of all those feelings I had and all these crazy notions I had, even though the most adult thing I could do was vote, and otherwise, I was really just a baby.

I thought Ilsa's voice was particularly strong and she had a very realistic teen voice and edge, without  being whiny. Sometimes, contemporary YA narrators are super whiny. I didn't feel that way about Ilsa at all, or Sam for that matter. Sam & Ilsa are, as I mentioned, twins. And I know that it's pretty typical for one twin to be the "big" sibling or "Twin A" and the other to be a little more reserved. It's very clear that Ilsa is Twin A here.

I also love any book set in New York City automatically a little more than other books. I've spent a lot of time in the city in the past few years and I consider myself a New Yorker in my soul. The first time I stepped out of Penn Station and onto the streets of New York, I immediately found what I've been looking for my whole life. So even though this book took place in a fictitious building, I still loved it.

Of all the characters, the persons that annoyed me the most was KK. But I think that's kind of the point. You're supposed to feel like she's super annoying. She has her moments of brilliance and she's got an interested personality dynamic, but in general she kind of gets under your skin in am irritating way. I'm a big fan of the show Chasing Life, which was on Freeform, but it got canceled. Anyhow, there's a character on this show named Ford, and she is kind of who I imagine KK to be like. She's super rich, she's got a major attitude problem, she can bug the crap out of you and be compelling, all at the same time. And she thinks she's an authority on everything. So I had a very clear vision of her.

I really felt the dialogue was perfect and appropriate for teens at this phase in their life. There wasn't a lot of what I call "Dawson's Creeking", where they use a lot of big words and overly mature dialogue that even adults don't use. This felt right for their ages and the pace of the novel was also really great. It moved along quickly.

At one point the guests all have this really great conversation about lifeboats and how people can be your lifeboats -- the only thing keeping you afloat, especially if you have no idea what direction to go in your life and you feel like you're just ... there. With no sense of where you are headed or what the next step is. Sam, a musician who desperately wanted to go to Berklee in Boston and had his dreams snatched when he melted down a bit during his interview, is using lots of his friends as lifeboats. And he has no real concept of what's next for him. Everyone is moving on. And his only lifeboat left will be Ilsa and, as he points out, "she leaks ... when I weight too heavily on her." And he discusses needing more lifeboats.

Let's be real here: We all do this. We all have people who are our touchstones, our anchors during the storm, people to reassure you, people to remind you of who you are. And at different points in our lives, we need those people more than other times. Sometimes, it's smooth sailing and you don't need a port in the storm. Sometimes, we need lots, or we need a lot from one person. There's something to be said for being independent, of course, but realistically people need other people. And I don't buy into that whole concept that you are the only person you can depend on. That kind of thinking isolates you, can lead to depression and anxiety, and just isn't realistic. There is no shame in needing other people. But at this particular point in Sam's life, he needs to figure out how to be his own boat a little.

As I mentioned, I felt that the cast of characters were really well established. I also could totally see them on some sort Bravo TV show reunion type of thing, like Watch What Happens with Andy Cohen. They'd get great ratings! At one point, Li and Ilsa are talking in private and this exchange happens, which I just love:

Ilsa: "I was born with bitchheart. Sam got all the good DNA."
Li: "Maybe bitchheart isn't so terrible? It will make you a survivor."

Also during another conversation later, Li and Ilsa talk about medication for Ilsa's anxiety and she says she's afraid it will change her. I personally am bi-polar type II and I was really afraid that taking meds would change who I am. I liked how real and vulnerable that moment was. But Li is open with her and tells her about her experience and how the medications just give her a lift and help her to be her true self with less anxiety, which is the real gift of psychiatric medications. There's such a stigma out there and I think it was great that it was talked about here.

There were also a lot of moments where they talked about the great change that they were all experiencing. Johan, though, has already been through this and is a little more seasoned. He talks about fulfilling his dream of moving to New York and how he got there. I loved this quote so much, because I relate to that desperation to move to New York.

Johan: "I always had the destination in mind -- the question was, how would I pay for the ticket? I don't mean literally -- although I guess there it's there literally, too. But I mean it more like, what's the thing that's going to get you from where you're stuck to where you want to be? And don't get me wrong, when I say stuck, I don't mean that that my parents were mean or my friends were lame. I loved them all. But I loved the idea of setting off, the idea of New York even more. And I realized my ticket was music. Even when I was twelve, thirteen, I knew it was my ticket. Not that I loved it more than my family or my friends -- but I knew that of all the things I loved in my life, it was the one thing that could travel with me."

The book ends on an epilogue chapter that takes us ten years into the future. I won't share all the details of that because I think it's better left discovered, but I will say that I loved it and it did make me cry a little. It did just remind me of how fleeting that period of life is and how I felt like I was more grown-up than I was.

All in all, I thought that this book really perfectly captured that time period in a person's life and dealt with authentic emotions, worries, fear of the unknown, heartbreak, so, so well. It was also a great quick read and even though I got a little emotional at the end, the book ends on a great high note. I'm just super sentimental lately.

I would definitely recommend this book -- but if books about teenagers and that are written in that authentic voice bug you, don't say you weren't warned.

If you happen to be older and you want something that will make you feel those feelings of nostalgia and also just read a really great story with some truly unique characters that are well-thought out and is a fun fast read, then you'll really love this.

But if you ARE a teenager, this is a great read -- it will prepare you for this time in your life and maybe you'll take the opportunity to remember how young you are and how you will only experience your senior year once and that when you're young is the time to take a few risks and see where life takes you. But it will also remind you that you aren't as grown up as you think you are yet.

Monday, July 16, 2018

ALL THE RAGE by Courtney Summers

AUTHOR: Courtney Summers -- Website | Twitter
PUBLISHED: April 14, 2015 by St. Martin's Griffin
GENRE: Young Adult Contemporary, Thriller
PAGES: 321
Find it on Goodreads

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear. 
With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women after an act of sexual violence, forcing us to ask ourselves: In a culture that refuses to protect its young girls, how can they survive? 

I grew up just outside of Detroit. Only about thirty minutes from the heart of the city, but less than five minutes from one of the border lines, yet I also lived in one of the whitest cities in America. This isn't allegory. It's fact.

The school that I went to wasn't of this vast landscape of wealth and business. It was a little-almost-forgotten corner of the suburban sprawl. It butted up to another similar corner of another city, then to another corner of a city that was quite a ways more like the Detroit you've come to know on the TV.

Had my parents bought house two doors to the right of where we now live, we would've gone to the same ginormous (I love that that is officially an Oxford-English dictionary world) school district they went to, where graduating classes boasted anywhere from 400-800 people and where a few of my friends who went there had to contest to making friends with people all over the building, because they wanted to, but because the school was so expansive, you'd never make it to your assigned locker in advance, so you had to make friends you could share with that were near your different classes. One of my friends had FOUR lockers.

Meanwhile, my locker had ventured across the middle school and high school buildings my entire time there, but I was ALWAYS between the same two people, one of which happened to love to just bathe himself in cologne between every class.

There were lots of things afforded to us as small school students that I KNOW I wouldn't have had the chance at had the situation been reversed. I was a big fish in a small pond and I milked that old adage for every cent it was worth.

But there was a price to pay. Living in a little community like that opens you up to all kinds of criticism and doesn't allow for a whole lot of privacy. I was a book smart person, at least when my anxiety wasn't clinging to my brain. And everyone knew my business or thought they knew my business or thought it was their job to know my business.

It's part of what happens when you're best friends with the town's Golden Boy, too. A Golden Boy full of mysteries and always a line to get him, like taking a number at the deli counter.

In short, I grew up in a community a lot like our main character Romy's. And I had been sexually assaulted the eighth grade. A problem that -- according to most parents and students -- wouldn't have happened if I'd just given that boy a hug like he'd wanted. Of course they weren't there when he cornered me during my independent art study period and felt me up. They weren't there when he hunted me through the hallways and I hid in bathrooms and stood on the seats so he couldn't see which stall I was in. It wasn't until someone I thought was a friend saw -- a Golden Boy if there ever was one -- and told my cheerleading coach that the school finally believed me and got the cops involved.

Unluckily, many years after I graduated from that small school, with the small hallways, the small people, and the small minds, I was raped and sodomized. He kept going when it hurt and I said "no," and "stop," and "please." I won't say who, but I think you can guess. My Golden Boy. My knight in shining armor. He abused me, mentally and physically. Because he'd started grooming me to believe I wasn't good enough to be loved by anyone else. And I knew once he did it that even if I had picture perfect evidence that he did it, I could never charge him. Because no one took me seriously the first time. Why would they take me seriously the second time, when it was someone with much higher standing in the community?

They wouldn't. Why?

Because "boys will be boys."

Mostly, Romy just wants to outlive it all and be left alone. I know that feeling.

I realize that this has been less than a review and more my story. But that's why books like All the Rage are important. Because they give real people a story that resonates with them, that they can relate to, and that can help them realize they are not the only ones.

All the Rage is the story of so many girls.

And in this political day and age when the rights of women and girls are up for debate and when the "boys will be boys" motto seems even more prevalent, especially when you have a president who brags about going around and grabbing pussies (just "locker room talk," of course, no big deal) these stories are all the more important, no matter when or where they happened!

I firmly believe with all my heart and soul that during some of the time that we pay our lawmakers for working -- our representatives, our senators, our cabinet, our Supreme Court, and yes, even our president, if he can understand all the big words -- should go towards a mandatory reading of All the Rage. There are women on Capitol Hill who will identify with this story. There are more women still who will champion it -- and some men, too. Because even though it is a work of fiction, we all know that stories like this do indeed happen. I believe some politicians will, if they let themselves, have their eyes opened. I believe it should be required reading for high schoolers. And maybe, just maybe, a few more people will stop seeing our president as the Golden Boy.

I wept while reading All the Rage, which is a testament to how accurately I felt and how much I saw myself in some of Romy's feelings, thoughts, and stories. And I weep knowing that we live in a culture where our young girls need to have these types of books to turn to to know that they are not alone. That said, I can't give it anything less than five hearts.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

THE FATES DIVIDE (Carve the Mark #2) by Veronica Roth

AUTHOR: Veronica Roth -- Website | Instagram
PUBLISHED: April 10, 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books (Harper Collins)
GENRE: Young Adult, Sci-Fi
PAGES: 450
BUY IT: Books-A-Million | Barnes and Noble | Amazon
(The Books-A-Million AND Barnes and Noble links take you to AUTOGRAPHED COPIES!)
Find it on Goodreads

Fate brought them together. Now it will divide them.

The lives of Cyra Noavek and Akos Kereseth are ruled by their fates, spoken by the oracles at their births. The fates, once determined, are inescapable.

Akos is in love with Cyra, in spite of his fate: He will die in service to Cyra’s family. And when Cyra’s father, Lazmet Noavek—a soulless tyrant, thought to be dead—reclaims the Shotet throne, Akos believes his end is closer than ever.

As Lazmet ignites a barbaric war, Cyra and Akos are desperate to stop him at any cost. For Cyra, that could mean taking the life of the man who may—or may not—be her father. For Akos, it could mean giving his own. In a stunning twist, the two will discover how fate defines their lives in ways most unexpected.

With the addition of two powerful new voices, Veronica Roth's sequel to Carve the Mark is a chorus of hope, humor, faith, and resilience.

I went into reading The Fates Divide with two thoughts.

My first thought was that either Akos or Cyra was going to die, just like (SPOILER ALERT) Tris dies in Allegiant and it was going to break my heart and give me the world's worst book book hangover and I wouldn't trust books again for months and would always assume the worst. This is exactly what happened when I finished Allegiant, FYI. Another FYI: I still gave it four stars because it was an incredibly well written book and it made me feel such strong emotion. In fact, if I was re-reviewing it today, I would give it five stars because it was a book that had the power to feel grief so vividly and experience such heartbreak for fictional characters. I also made it one of my Top 13 of 2013.

My second thought was that I know a thing or two about oracles. I'm a HUGE fan of Rick Riordan's books, and anything that involves Percy Jackson inevitably includes oracles. And sometimes an oracle's prophecy isn't always what it seems. In fact, the face value is often not the whole story. It was my strong feeling that the title was exactly what I felt in my gut -- that in some way either Akos or Cyra, maybe both, had somehow already lived through their prophecy.

My alternative thought was that if they hadn't somehow already lived their prophecy, their fate, that the oracles predictions for them weren't as deathly as they seemed.

I mean Akos believed his fate to be this "The third child of the family Kereseth will die in service to the family Noavek." Akos and Cyra walked on eggshells and took even extra preventatives to escape this when the simple fact was he could've gone on serving his Cyra Noavek for dozens and dozens of years before dying of old age while still serving Cyra. That's just one simple way he could've died in service to the family Noavek, something no one ever bothers to consider, given what they know.

Cyra's prophesied fate was that "The second child of the family Noavek will cross the divide." What I'm about to say is a little spoilery for Carve the Mark, but if you're here reading this review, I assume that you've already read CTM, so you know, proceed at your own risk.

Ryzek forced Cyra to use her currentgift -- causing pain by touch -- on Akos and it both drained her physically and changed her currentgift thoroughly, in such a way that it was like she died. I went into The Fates Divide believing that in some way, this may have canceled out someone's fate and I was beginning to suspect that Cyra's fate was not what we were led to believe.

One concern I had for the book was that when I was reading reviews for Carve the Mark, I noticed a lot of negative reviews and a lot of people complaining about a "slow start" or too much to get into. Clearly, they don't understand that as with all things in life, but especially books, sometimes the greatest things take time. And I thought that might affect The Fates Divide.

This is where things are about to get really spoilery, so if you don't want to be spoiled, don't continue ...

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

SADIE by Courtney Summers

This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way shaped or formed my opinions of the novel. Thank you Wednesday Books for the opportunity.

AUTHOR: Courtney Summers -- Website | Twitter
TO BE PUBLISHED: September 4, 2018 by Wednesday Books (St. Martins/MacMillan)
GENRE: Young Adult Contemporary, Thriller
PAGES: 320
Find it on Goodreads

A gripping novel about the depth of a sister's love; poised to be the next book you won't be able to stop talking about.

A missing girl on a journey of revenge and a Serial-like podcast following the clues she's left behind. 

Sadie hasn't had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she's been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water. 

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie's entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister's killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie's story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie's journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it's too late.

Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie is propulsive and harrowing and will keep you riveted until the last page.

In April, my mom and I had the privilege of going to a Veronica Roth event where we got to hear her speak and then meet her. One of the questions someone had for her was "What are you reading right now?" The first book that came to her mind was Sadie by Courtney Summers. She said she absolutely couldn't put it down. I trust recommendations from authors I love so much. If they recommend something and I love their writing, I figure I'll LOVE their favorites. So naturally, Sadie jumped to the top of my list.

I was lucky enough to get a copy of Sadie, which chronicles the story of the titular character as she goes on a road trip to track down who killed her younger sister, Mattie. The book is split between chapters by Sadie, and chapters by West McCray, who is trying to solve the mystery of Sadie and Mattie via a special program meant to capitalize on the success of the "Serial" podcast for a fictional radio station in New York City.

As I've mentioned before, my goal this year is to find and read books that remind me of nothing I've ever read before. Sadie fits the bill -- it's unlike anything I've read and it was easily the fastest I've read a book all year. It took me just a little under 24 hours and every single minute was well spent. I couldn't believe how fast the book was slipping away as I devoured it. I wanted there to be more of it and I both dreaded and equally -- I wanted answers, yet I didn't want the book to end.

This is where things start to enter the spoiler realm, so if you don't want to be spoiled, stop reading here ...

CARVE THE MARK (Carve the Mark #1) by Veronica Roth

AUTHOR: Veronica Roth -- Website
PUBLISHED: January 17, 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books (Harper Collins)
GENRE: Young Adult, Sci-Fi
PAGES: 468
Find it on Goodreads

In a galaxy powered by the current, everyone has a gift.

Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people. Cyra’s currentgift gives her pain and power—something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies. But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother’s hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.

Akos is the son of a farmer and an oracle from the frozen nation-planet of Thuvhe. Protected by his unusual currentgift, Akos is generous in spirit, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get his brother out alive—no matter what the cost.

Then Akos is thrust into Cyra's world, and the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. Will they help each other to survive, or will they destroy one another?

Carve the Mark is Veronica Roth's stunning portrayal of the power of friendship—and love—in a galaxy filled with unexpected gifts.

By nature, I am a stubborn person. Therefore, I can hold a grudge forever. And I thought I could never forgive Veronica Roth for what she did to Tris. So I decided I would never read anything by her again.

But then the opportunity to go to signing with her and hear her speak and learn about her newest book came up and my mom REALLY wanted to go. So I decided I would put down my grudge for the night and go have an exciting experience with my mom.

But when it came time to get my books signed and meet Veronica herself, I had to tell her: "I'm still not over Tris and Allegiant. I'm still processing that." And she totally understood and met me with: "I get it, you're still mourning and working through it. A lot of people are." And I decided in that moment that the fact that I was still worked up about a book that came out in 2013 was really a testament to her skills as a writer. She created a book that I'm STILL thinking about, even now. And it also made me have TONS of extra respect for her as a writer to be real with her readers about that and get it.

That night when we got home, I started Carve the Mark -- and though I did struggle a little with getting attached to the characters and my fear that one of the two leading characters would die, I became completely entranced by this novel.

If you go on Goodreads, you'll see a LOT of DNFs (did not finish) and some negative reviews. Here's the truth: It starts kind of slow. But that's because Roth does a terrific job at world building and growing her characters over the course of the novel. But if you really commit to it and decide to push through, you'll be handsomely rewarded because this book is absolutely amazing.

This is where things start to get a little spoilery, so if you don't want to be spoiled, don't read past here.