Sunday, September 27, 2015

Review: "Slashed" by Tracy Wolff

Do nice guys always finish last? In the new Extreme Risk novel from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Tracy Wolff, a burnt-out underdog and a vulnerable tomboy defy the pressure to be perfect and go after what they really want. Bighearted and easygoing, Luc Jennings is falling behind in a family of serious overachievers. While he may be decent enough at snowboarding to turn pro and rack up some sponsors, he’s never topped any podiums—unlike his friends Z, Ash, and Cam. Luc’s always been head over heels for Cam Bradley, but she’s never seen him as anything more than a friend. Now, after years of coming in second, Luc can’t take it anymore—especially if it means watching Cam chase another guy. Cam hangs out almost exclusively with dudes, and that’s fine by her. She’d much rather be shredding at the Olympics than primping in the mirror. Cam’s wildest dreams have a way of coming true—except when it comes to getting her longtime crush and best friend, Z Michaels, to notice her. Then her mother suddenly shows up after being gone for, like, ever, and Cam’s whole world comes crashing down. Desperate for a place to lay low, she turns to the one person who’s always had her back.

Thank you to Loveswept Publishing for the free copy via Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

I like this series, I really do! "Slashed" is the third in the "Extreme Risk" series by Tracy Wolff, and the thing is, every one of these books falls firmly into the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am category. Quick, fun, easy, a rockin' good time while it lasts, they're great!  In fact, I like to use this type of book as a sort of palate cleanser after something a little more serious or lengthy, which is exactly what I needed after my last read.

But...yeah, there is a "but".  But, there are also some elements that could be improved in order for me to give higher than a 3 star rating.  For example, background info on the characters could stand to be a lot more in depth.  I wanted to know how Cam and Luc became friends.  It seems like they went to elementary school together, but so what?  I attended elementary school with lots of boys, but I was never best friends with any of them.  Was it because they all boarded at the same hill?  I assume so, but none of that past history was ever shown.  I was just supposed to believe that Cam and Luc were best friends because the author told me so, but I was never shown anything to really back it up, make me believe that this was true.

Then there were Cam and Luc's families.  Cam's mother left when Cam was very young, leaving behind a husband and seven kids (really?! Seven?!  Why seven?) then reappears at the beginning of this book.  Why?  I didn't ever really find out.  Where did she go, what did she do for a living?  And why did Cam's dad and six brothers (again, really?!  Why six?) all expect Cam to forgive her mom and just carry on like nothing happened?  Again, no reason given.  A couple of lines of explanation would have sufficed.  

Luc's family situation was also kind of weirdly thrown in to the plot.  Luc's self-esteem is pretty much non-existent.  He counts himself as the low man on the totem pole in relation to his friends and everyone else, and I think I'm supposed to believe that at least part of this problem is due to his music prodigy twin sister.  Luc's mom up and left him to bring his sister to New York to further her music career, but this is really only delved into once in the book, and I just wasn't buying it.  And what about his father?  Nary a mention.

So yeah, holes, holes, and more holes.  Although I'm able to ignore these little annoyances for the most part, I still can't help but feel that "Slashed" would be so much better with a bit more attention to detail.

My rating:

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Review: "Gone Too Far" by Natalie Richards

Keeping secrets ruined her life. But the truth might just kill her. Piper Woods can't wait for the purgatory of senior year to end. She skirts the fringes of high school like a pro until the morning she finds a notebook with mutilated photographs and a list of student sins. She's sure the book is too gruesome to be true, until pretty, popular Stella dies after a sex-tape goes viral. Everyone's sure it's suicide, but Piper remembers Stella's name from the book and begins to suspect something much worse. Drowning in secrets she doesn't want to keep, Piper's fears are confirmed when she receives an anonymous text message daring her to make things right. All she needs to do is choose a name, the name of someone who deserves to be punished...
Thank you to Sourcebooks Fire via Netgalley for the free review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Did I like this book?

I initially requested this book because I'd been hearing some buzz about it through the blogosphere, but I wasn't really expecting much.  To say my expectations were exceeded is a bit of an understatement as I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this book!

I was easily able to relate to Piper.  She's not part of the cool, popular crowd, but she has her own group of friends and a passion for photography.  In short, someone I would probably be friends with.  She could also be judgemental, especially when it came to Nick and his crowd, but I found that to be a realistic aspect of her personality.

Piper gets involved, kind of by accident, in trying to solve the mystery around a classmate's suicide.  Piper is not sure that Stella meant to step in front of that train - was she pushed?  I was fully absorbed in this storyline, making guesses about what really happened to Stella, trying to figure out who wrote the notebook and who was texting Piper, and then whether or not any of these things were connected to the other.  The plot was quite twisty-turny,which I really appreciated.  I had my suspicions, as did Piper, but nothing really turned out as I had envisioned, which was great!

Will you like this book?

I would certainly recommend this book to anyone wanting a bit of action and whodunnit mystery added to their typical contemporary YA fare.  I thought the writing was solid and the plot was well-paced.  So yeah, if the synopsis grabs your attention, definitely give this one a go!

Will I read more by this author?

As I said before, I was pleasantly surprised by "Gone Too Far", so I am uber eager to try another title by Natalie D. Richards!  

My rating:

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Review: "Jesse's Girl" by Miranda Kenneally

Everyone at Hundred Oaks High knows that career mentoring day is a joke. So when Maya Henry said she wanted to be a rock star, she never imagined she’d get to shadow *the* Jesse Scott, Nashville’s teen idol. But spending the day with Jesse is far from a dream come true. He’s as gorgeous as his music, but seeing all that he’s accomplished is just a reminder of everything Maya’s lost: her trust, her boyfriend, their band, and any chance to play the music she craves. Not to mention that Jesse’s pushy and opinionated. He made it on his own, and he thinks Maya’s playing back up to other people’s dreams. Does she have what it takes to follow her heart—and go solo?

My thanks to Sourcebooks Fire via Netgalley for the free review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Did I like this book?

I seriously loved this book!  It was exactly what I needed at this moment - the spunky characters, music industry setting, romance, all were perfection in my eyes.  Nothing was overdone or too cheesy, either, which is something I was scared would happen when I read the synopsis.  I should not have doubted Kenneally's writing, however, as she pulled it off without a hitch!

Maya, wow, this girl is just so cool!  I loved her sense of style, her sass, her confidence, and her vulnerability.  She is an all around, fabulous character, and I almost want to say role model, but can a fictional character be a role model?  Not sure, but whatever.  She makes mistakes, and she's not always comfortable with her choices, but she always tries to stay true to herself.  

Then there's Jesse.  Hmmm, this guy will rub you the wrong way in the beginning, as he did Maya, but have no fear, he will be redeemed!  I couldn't help but fall for him, he's just that awesome!

Will you like this book?

Damn rights!  This is one of my favourite books of the year, so if you like Contemporary YA, I don't see why you wouldn't like it - it's got everything we love about this genre, plus that extra something that makes Kenneally's books so special!  Dare I call it "magic"?  So yeah, highly recommended, go buy it right now, tell them Roxy sent you - you won't get any money off, and people might look at you funny, but what the hell, right?

Will I read more by this author?

Well, if you couldn't tell by now, the answer is yes!  "Breathe, Annie, Breathe" was fabulous, too, so Miranda Kineally has now been bumped up to the top of my "Auto-Buy" list.  (Since I've only just created said list at this very moment, it is quite exclusive!)

My rating:

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Review: "The Secrets We Keep" by Trisha Leaver

A girl takes over her twin sister's identity in this emotionally charged page-turner about the complicated bond between sisters. Ella and Maddy Lawton are identical twins. Ella has spent her high school years living in popular Maddy's shadows, but she has never been envious of Maddy. In fact, she's chosen the quiet, safe confines of her sketchbook over the constant battle for attention that has defined Maddy's world. When—after a heated argument—Maddy and Ella get into a tragic accident that leaves her sister dead, Ella wakes up in the hospital surrounded by loved ones who believe she is Maddy. Feeling responsible for Maddy's death and everyone's grief, Ella makes a split-second decision to pretend to be Maddy. Soon, Ella realizes that Maddy's life was full of secrets. Caught in a web of lies, Ella is faced with two options—confess her deception or live her sister's life.

Thank you to Macmillan Children's Publishing Group via Netgalley for the free review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Did I like this book?

Meh.  I didn't love this book, or even like  it as much as I expected to.  The main character, Ella, fully got under my skin, and not in a good way.  I'd compare her to a splinter, but really she's more like an underground zit that you can feel building pressure - it friggen hurts but you can't do anything about it because you can barely see it, and you just have to wait until the right time to make it explode.  Then again, sometimes those are the ones that cause you pain and anguish and then simply disappear without the satisfaction of a monumental eruption.  

Ella happens to be the latter, unfortunately.  She irritated and bothered me, and at times I didn't even realize what the problem was - why don't I like this girl, I'd think to myself - and then the book fizzled to a close and I was left completely underwhelmed.  Probably my main problem with Ella is that we are supposed to believe that she is intelligent, but everything she says, does, and thinks contradicts that.  Why would anyone with half a brain believe that her identical twin was "the pretty one"?  Ella doesn't say that Madison was better dressed, or more outgoing, but that she was always "the pretty one".  Hello, you are identical twins!  That means you look exactly the same, so how can one be prettier than the other?  

Ella thinks everyone is against her.  In her mind, her sister's friends all hate her, her parents love her sister more, and even her best friend's girlfriend is jealous of her.  This "woe is me" attitude got really tiring, especially when it wasn't even warranted.  

The other characters were a bit underdeveloped.  Alex, Madison's boyfriend, was like a cardboard cutout boy.  Ella couldn't stand Alex before the accident, but once Ella took over Maddy's identity, he was a perfect gentleman.  He was so nice, it was almost sickening!  Then Jenna - she was the stereotypical mean girl, but she was so awful that it wasn't believable.  Ella's parents didn't seem authentic to me, either.  They kept telling Ella that the accident wasn't her fault, but I kept thinking, yeah, it kind of is her fault.  Ella was the one driving the car, and Ella was the one who crashed the car into a tree, so even though she didn't mean for it to happen, it was still her fault.  How could her parents not feel just the least bit angry, or resentful?  Never once did I feel like I was reading about real people, and so I was never really drawn into Ella's plight.  Josh was probably my favourite character, and the only one who was remotely likeable, but even he wasn't enough to save this book for me.

I did, however, feel drawn in enough by the plot to keep reading until the end, so in that respect, the author was successful.  I really wanted to find out what Maddy had gotten into, why she was so upset on the night of her death.  While this plot point was resolved, it seemed a little lackluster for me. 

Will you like this book?

I'm tempted to say skip this one.  There are so many good contemporary YA books out there combining mystery and suspense, but this isn't one of the top ones I've read.  

Will I read more by this author?

At this point, I'd say it's doubtful.  The writing felt mediocre, and that combined with characters I felt next to nothing for is not enough for me to want to try again.  

My rating:  2.5 stars

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Review: "Wildlife" by Fiona Wood

Life? It’s simple: be true to yourself. The tricky part is finding out exactly who you are… In the holidays before the dreaded term at Crowthorne Grammar’s outdoor education camp two things out of the ordinary happened. A picture of me was plastered all over a twenty-metre billboard. And I kissed Ben Capaldi. Boarding for a term in the wilderness, sixteen-year-old Sibylla expects the gruesome outdoor education program – but friendship complications, and love that goes wrong? They’re extra-curricula. Enter Lou from Six Impossible Things – the reluctant new girl for this term in the great outdoors. Fragile behind an implacable mask, she is grieving a death that occurred almost a year ago. Despite herself, Lou becomes intrigued by the unfolding drama between her housemates Sibylla and Holly, and has to decide whether to end her self-imposed detachment and join the fray. And as Sibylla confronts a tangle of betrayal, she needs to renegotiate everything she thought she knew about surviving in the wild. A story about first love, friendship and NOT fitting in.

Thank you to Little, Brown Books via Netgalley for the free review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Did I like this book?
Something about this book got me right in the gut!  I don't know if it was the characters, the writing, the Australian camp setting, or what, but yeah, Wood had me in her grip nearly from the first page.  (I say "nearly" because it took a bit for me to figure out the style and the fact that there were two different narrators - at first I thought there was only one and I was totally confused!).  

There's kind of a lot going on in this book, so I won't bore you with a synopsis or descriptions of all the interpersonal relationships, but I will say this:  the characters here feel real.  The more YA books I read, the more I think that writing authentic characters must be extremely difficult, because hardly anyone can do it right.  After reading "Wildlife", I'm convinced that Fiona Wood does it right!  Even though Sibylla frustrated me at times, I still loved her.  She reminded me a lot of one of my friends in junior high.  Lou was fabulous - it was so cool to be able to see the group dynamics from an impartial bystander, and it was also great to see her eventually open up a bit and get more invested with some of her classmates.  I hated Holly with a passion, and I wanted to kick Ben's ass!  And Michael?  I just wanted to give him a big hug and keep him safe.  But my point is that I don't always feel such intense feelings about characters when I'm reading, and it takes a pretty special book to make me get so emotionally involved.

Will you like this book?

Anybody looking for a more realistic Contemporary YA read should love this book!

Will I read more by this author?

Absolutely!  I've heard great things about "Six Impossible Things", so I've already added that to my list of books to be read in the near future.  

My rating:

Monday, September 7, 2015

Book vs. Movie: "Still Alice" by Lisa Genova

I just finished watching "Still Alice" on Netflix for date night with my husband, and while I thought the movie was good and Julianne Moore's acting was fantastic, overall the book comes out on top in my mind.  Amazingly, my hubby agrees!  Here are three reasons why I think the book version of "Still Alice" beats out the movie version:

1.  There was a lot more information in the book.  

Movies usually leave a lot of stuff out, and I suppose it's a time issue.  Still, there are many things/scenes from the book that left a big impact on me, and I wonder if those were originally filmed and then cut for time.   For instance, I remember laughing while reading the section in the book where Alice wanted to get changed for a run, and tried to put a pair of panties on as a bra.  She laughed at herself, but her husband got all upset.  Well, there was a scene in the movie where Alice/Julianne opened a drawer to pick out an outfit for her run, and I thought, "Oh, this is where she's going to get a pair of panties stuck on her head!"  But then...nothing.  I thought that was a missed opportunity on behalf of the filmmakers, and that was just one instance I noticed.

2.  Two of Alice's children, Anna and Tom, were very underdeveloped.

When Alice tells her children that there is a test to determine whether they are a carrier of the gene for Alice's particular type of Alzheimer's, each of the three children have a decision to make.  This really struck a chord with me while reading the book.  What would I do in their shoes?  

In comparison, the movie seemed to just brush over this whole conflict.  Anna called Alice and they had a brief conversation about what Anna and her brother and sister had decided to do, but that was it.  I think if I didn't have the previous background from the book, I would have missed the whole importance of that conversation.  Fail, once again, for the movie version.

3.  Kristen Stewart's acting.

I'm not a hater.  Really, I'm not.  I thought Kristen did a great job as Lydia, except for in the scene when she was up on stage acting in a play.  It was seriously painful to watch!  Even my husband commented, and he really likes her normally.  I think she would have been more suited to a contemporary, modern production rather than a historical play, in my honest opinion.

So if you love books, my advice is to go out and read "Still Alice" if you haven't already.  It's one of my top favourite books of all, and certainly an important book if you have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer's or another type of dementia.  However, if you hate to read, then go watch the movie.  I won't say you'll like it, because it is a rather sad story, but again, it's an important topic that everyone needs to know more about.