Review: The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

hereandnowTHE HERE AND NOW
Ann Brashares
Delacorte Press
Publication Date: April 8, 2014

From the back cover:

Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.

From Ann Brashares, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, The Here and Now is thrilling, exhilarating, haunting, and heartbreaking—and a must-read novel of the year.

I’ve never read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Okay. There. Admission made. I picked up The Here and Now because–TIME TRAVEL!!! I’ve always been fascinated with the idea and this one sounded not only interesting, but also like a high stakes thriller, which was a definite plus.

WHAT I LIKED:

Ann Brashares has a lyrical writing style that’s very easy to fall into. She keeps you turning the pages and before you know it, you’re halfway through and you suddenly can’t put the book down.

I really liked the character of Prenna. She’s strong and courageous and loyal and not afraid to question the rules her “society” has placed on her. She has a wonderful bond with Ethan that both thrills her and frightens her. She doesn’t want to put him in danger, and yet, when the truth starts unraveling, he’s the only one she can trust. Though their relationship doesn’t really grow, they start out in love and end up in love, the romantic subplot is a sweet and enjoyable addition to the book.

Ann Brashares does a good job of setting up the backstory of the time-traveling, a world full of destruction and blood plagues, a society desperate to find a way to save it before it’s too late. I thought this was a unique approach and Ms. Brashares added plenty of twists and turns that kept me invested in the story.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK FOR ME:

While I enjoyed the world that Ms. Brashares created, I also found the whole “global warming/climate change/people are destroying the world” message to be a little heavy handed at times. It seemed to much like an agenda, and that detracted from the story for me.

Plus, while I really liked the character of Ethan, there were times when his actions became too far fetched for the story. He was good at everything. Need a ‘spy’ proficient in planting trackers and lasering out window glass? He’s your guy. Need a hacker capable of setting up secure servers? Yep, he’s your guy. Need a scientist capable of figuring everything out at the perfect moment? Well…you guessed it, he’s your guy.

I would have liked to see him have some flaws. Come to think of it, I’d like to have seen both him and Prenna have more weaknesses and face more setbacks. Everything seemed way too easier for them.

FINAL VERDICT:

Ann Brashares’ voice saved this one for me. Despite the flaws in the story, I still found myself racing through the pages to find out what would happen. I’d recommend The Here and Now to anyone who loves science and time-travel and thrillers and doesn’t mind having to suspend disbelief to enjoy a story.

 

 

 

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Review: The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt

TCW_leavittTHE CHAPEL WARS
Lindsey Leavitt
Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: May 6, 2014

From the back cover:

Sixteen-year-old Holly wants to remember her Grandpa forever, but she’d rather forget what he left her in his will: his wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip. Whatever happened to gold watches, savings bonds, or some normal inheritance?

And then there’s Grandpa’s letter. Not only is Holly running the business with her recently divorced parents, but she needs to make some serious money—fast. Grandpa also insists Holly reach out to Dax, the grandson of her family’s mortal enemy and owner of the cheesy chapel next door. No matter how cute Dax is, Holly needs to stay focused: on her group of guy friends, her disjointed family, work, school and… Dax. No wait, not Dax.

Holly’s chapel represents everything she’s ever loved in her past. Dax might be everything she could ever love in the future. But as for right now, there’s a wedding chapel to save.

I think the best way to describe THE CHAPEL WARS is cute. There is so much cuteness in this book that you’d think it would suffer from it, but somehow it doesn’t. Because beneath the layers of cute there’s a real lesson on grief that will resonate with anyone who’s experienced a great loss in their life.

Holly basically grew up in the wedding chapel, so losing it would be like losing her grandpa all over again. Problem is, no one knew how much financial trouble the business was in, and no one knows how to fix it. Which leaves Holly to step in and save the day.

Although I enjoyed watching Holly go from clueless teenager to budding businesswoman, there were times I wondered why her parents didn’t step in and take a greater role. It made them seem a bit dysfunctional. Maybe that was the point, as the family relationship does grow and evolve throughout the book, but there were times when it felt a bit frustrating.

And then there’s Dax, the boy from the wedding chapel next door, who is sometimes a bit difficult to like. Holly, of course, has no such trouble, falling for him almost instantly. While I realize page count limits come in to play, I would have liked to see a bit more development between them. As it was, I never fully understood what Holly saw in Dax, except for maybe a kindred spirit dealing with grief.

The Vegas wedding chapel setting is full of over-the-top glitz and fake Elvis (because a Vegas chapel would NOT be complete without one…or two!), which, I think, is really where the strength and uniqueness of the book lies. Lindsey Leavitt brings cheesy wedding chapels to life in a big way, and then tempers them with some real and poignant moments that keep the reader turning the pages.

I would recommend THE CHAPEL WARS to anyone who likes light contemporary YA romance with quirky characters and tons of cute.

 

Review: Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

ORS_elordOPEN ROAD SUMMER
Emery Lord
Walker Books
Publication Date: April 15, 2014

From the back cover:

After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own.

Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence.

This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.

I picked up OPEN ROAD SUMMER because the premise combined road trips and country music, both of which I love. I didn’t have a whole of expectation for the book. I’d hoped to find a fun story with a cute romance, and OPEN ROAD SUMMER delivered on that score. It also delivers on unique, layered characters and wonderful emotional depth.

Reagan is an extremely flawed heroine, which I found refreshing, even when she wasn’t all that likeable. She’s made mistakes and throughout the book, she makes a whole lot more, but mistakes are a part of growing up (heck, they’re even a part of adulthood!) and so all of Reagan’s faults just make the story that much more real. Matt is the perfect counterpart for her to fall in love with, a boy with hidden depths and vulnerabilities that show through his weathered rock-star armor. The ups and downs of their romance provide a great backdrop to the real gem of OPEN ROAD SUMMER, and that is, the friendship between Reagan and Dee (Lilah).

It’s rare to find a book that centers so much on the relationship between friends and Emery Lord manages to capture Reagan and Dee’s friendship perfectly. They laugh, they cry, they fight like only life-long friends can, and it is through their friendship that readers really see the healing for the hurts in both Reagan and Dee’s pasts.

OPEN ROAD SUMMER is a wonderful debut by Emery Lord. I’m looking forward to see future releases from this bright new talent!

 

Review: #16thingsithoughtweretrue by Janet Gurtler

16things#16thingsithoughtweretrue
Janet Gurtler
Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: March 4, 2014

From the back cover:

Heart attacks happen to other people #thingsIthoughtweretrue

When Morgan’s mom gets sick, it’s hard not to panic. Without her mother, she would have no one—until she finds out the dad who walked out on her as a baby isn’t as far away as she thought…

Adam is a stuck-up, uptight jerk #thingsIthoughtweretrue

Now that they have a summer job together, Morgan’s getting to know the real Adam, and he’s actually pretty sweet…in a nerdy-hot kind of way. He even offers to go with her to find her dad. Road trip, anyone?

5000 Twitter followers are all the friends I need #thingsIthoughtweretrue

With Adam in the back seat, a hyper chatterbox named Amy behind the wheel, and plenty of Cheetos to fuel their trip, Morgan feels ready for anything. She’s not expecting a flat tire, a missed ferry, a fake girlfriend…and that these two people she barely knew before the summer started will become the people she can’t imagine living without.

I really enjoyed Janet Gurtler’s I’M NOT HER, a story about a girl struggling to cope after her sister is suddenly diagnosed with cancer, so when I heard of Ms. Gurtler’s newest, #16thingsithoughtweretrue, I was expecting the same emotional, heartfelt read. Unfortunately, this one left me flat.

I suppose part of the reason is that I had a hard time believing that the most pressing matter Morgan would have in her life is to get 5,000 followers on her Twitter account. It seems extremely shallow, especially with all the other events happening in her life. Events that should have made me sympathize with her, but somehow didn’t. Because it all felt so dispassionate.

I love road trip books, but the plot lacked road trip adventure with a capital “A”, and I never really believed that Morgan would become fast best friends with a girl she just met (Amy) and then that girl, along with a love interest for Morgan, would just up and decide to go find Morgan’s dad. To make matters worse, Ms. Gurtler throws in a typical curve ball (I say typical because she threw in one very similar to it in I’M NOT HER) almost as a way of manipulating readers to feel something. Unfortunately, all it did was make me feel angry.

I’m sure tons of readers will love #16thingsithoughtweretrue, but I’m sorry to say, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

 

Review: Another Little Piece of My Heart by Tracey Martin

anotherlittlepieceANOTHER LITTLE PIECE OF MY HEART
Tracey Martin
Harlequin Teen (Digital)
Publication Date: December 1, 2013

From the back cover:

What if your devastating break-up became this summer’s hit single? In this rock-and-roll retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, music can either bring you together or tear you apart.

At her dying mother’s request, Claire dumps Jared, the only boy she’s ever loved. Left with a broken family and a broken heart, Claire is furious when she discovers that her biggest regret became Jared’s big break. While Jared is catapulted into rock-star status, another piece of Claire’s heart crumbles every time his song plays on the radio.

The summer after her senior year, it’s been months since the big break-up, and Claire is just trying to keep her head down and make it through a tense trip to the beach with her family. But when Jared shows up, and old feelings reignite, can Claire and Jared let go of the past? Or will they be stuck singing the same old refrain?

I guess this is where I admit that I’ve never read Jane Austen’s PERSUASION, so I have know idea whether this rock-and-roll retelling does the classic justice. I can, however, tell you that ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE OF MY HEART is an angsty, emotional roller coaster ride with a lot of heart and depth that will keep you turning the pages from beginning to end.

I have loved music ever since I was a little girl, so any book that centers around music as this one does is guaranteed to be a winner for me. But Tracey Martin manages to write a beautiful story of second chances. The narrative is filled with voice, voice, and more voice. We really do view the world through Claire’s eyes as she struggles to come back to life after her mother’s death and all the changes that have turned her world upside-down.

Tracey Martin weaves love and loss and heartbreak and reconciliation together in a unique and timeless way, making ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE OF MY HEART a must-read for anyone who loves an epic romance.

Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt

brightbeforesunriseBRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE
Tiffany Schmidt
Walker Childrens
Publication Date: February 18, 2014

From the back cover:

When Jonah is forced to move from Hamilton to Cross Pointe for the second half of his senior year, “miserable” doesn’t even begin to cover it. He feels like the doggy-bag from his mother’s first marriage and everything else about her new life—with a new husband, new home and a new baby—is an upgrade. The people at Cross Pointe High School are pretentious and privileged—and worst of all is Brighton Waterford, the embodiment of all things superficial and popular. Jonah’s girlfriend, Carly, is his last tie to what feels real… until she breaks up with him.

For Brighton, every day is a gauntlet of demands and expectations. Since her father died, she’s relied on one coping method: smile big and pretend to be fine. It may have kept her family together, but she has no clue how to handle how she’s really feeling. Today is the anniversary of his death and cracks are beginning to show. The last thing she needs is the new kid telling her how much he dislikes her for no reason she can understand. She’s determined to change his mind, and when they’re stuck together for the night, she finally gets her chance.

Jonah hates her at 3p.m., but how will he feel at 3 a.m.?

One night can change how you see the world. One night can change how you see yourself.

I was drawn to the twenty-four hour premise of BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE. I loved the idea of two people being thrown together over the course of one night and how it changed not only their perceptions of each other but also of themselves. I’ve made no secret of the fact that realistic, contemporary YA romances are my absolute favorite genre. Add in the dual POV of this book and the way Tiffany Schmidt counts down the hours through the eyes of both Brighton and Josh, and I couldn’t help but love almost everything about BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE.

Brighton is so well drawn, a girl still wading through a sea of grief over her father’s death, trying to figure out who she’s supposed to be now that her “compass” is gone. On the outside, she’s flawless, but inside, she’s falling apart. Enter Jonah, a boy that looks so different on the exterior, but the more readers (and Brighton) get to know him, the more we realize, he’s every bit as broken as Brighton. Jonah can be difficult to like sometimes. He’s a bit of a jerk to Brighton for a big chunk of the book but I felt his motivations were clear enough that I could overlook his attitude problem.

Tiffany Schmidt does a fantastic job of peeling back the layers of both Brighton and Jonah. Every scene reveals something new and brings them closer together. The love story is a very sweet element of the book, however, if I had one quibble to make it would be that I had a hard time believing Jonah could go from being completely in love with his girlfriend to breaking up with her to suddenly falling for Brighton. There are hints of subtext that Jonah and his girlfriend had been on the rocks for a while, but I would have like to seen more…disillusionment…feelings that they’ve been growing apart and not right for each other anymore. Especially on Jonah’s part. Because it almost started to feel more like he was going after Brighton on the rebound and not because he was genuinely falling for her.

Perhaps, the best part of this book doesn’t stem from the love story, even though it is both touching and charming, but from the way both Brighton and Jonah grow as characters just by seeing themselves through someone else’s eyes. My favorite kinds of books are the ones that are not only entertaining but have meaning as well. BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE manages to impart genuine life lessons about overcoming grief, dealing with change, and standing up for who you truly are.

BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE is wonderful and heartfelt, a story of loss, love and identity that manages to be both serious and funny. Highly recommended!

Review: Forever by Karen Ann Hopkins

foreverFOREVER (Temptation Book #3)
Karen Ann Hopkins
Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: January 28, 2014

From the back cover:

All I want is my happily-ever-after.

That’s all I’ve wanted since meeting Noah Miller.

From the day we met, the world has tried to keep Noah and me from being together, but now that I’m carrying his child, no one will be able to tear us apart. Or so I hope. But Noah and I have made some mistakes along the way, and the consequences are impacting the people we love. Worse, there’s a storm on the horizon, and it’s sure to cause serious devastation.

If we can get through this, we’ll finally be Rose and Noah; a family, forever.

But first we have to survive the road ahead. And happily-ever-after is a long way off.

FOREVER can be summed up in one word: melodrama. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and given the fact that I’ve had to read all three books in this series even though each one piled on more drama than the last, it’s clear that Karen Ann Hopkins excels at the kind of ’emotional manipulation’ that really grabs the reader. The problem I had with FOREVER was that most of the drama comes from crazy external forces (accidents, fire, tornadoes–oh, my!) and it all began to feel like nothing more than plot devices to keep Noah and Rose apart until the very last second. Which made them all seem over the top and unnecessary in my opinion.

I was happy to see Noah finally grows up in this book, however, after all his selfishness in the last two books, I felt his about-face came on too quickly for me to really believe in it. And Rose kind of flounders around, almost as if hoping someone will make the tough choices about her future for her. I was much more invested in Noah’s family and even Rose’s brother Sam, all of whom are well drawn, sympathetic, wonderfully likeable characters who are willing to stand by those they love, no matter the consequences. And I absolutely loved the little side-story of Sarah (Noah’s sister) and Micah. I started spinning dreams of a full length tale in my head — until Karen Ann Hopkins went and broadsided me with the unthinkable. See (’emotional manipulation’ above).

And yet, even given all that, I really did enjoy seeing Noah and Rose get their happy-ever-after. There’s something about the entire trilogy that feels real and engrossing, and while the first book remains my favorite, the series is worth a read for those that love a good high drama, emotional story.