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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Just Finished Reading: I'm Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl

I'm Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl
by Gretchen McNeil

Published by Balzer + Bray
on October 18, 2016

Source: eARC for review

Synopsis from Goodreads: Beatrice Maria Estrella Giovannini has life all figured out. She's starting senior year at the top of her class, she’s a shoo-in for a scholarship to M.I.T., and she’s got a new boyfriend she’s crazy about. The only problem: All through high school Bea and her best friends Spencer and Gabe have been the targets of horrific bullying. So Bea uses her math skills to come up with The Formula, a 100% mathematically guaranteed path to social happiness in high school. Now Gabe is on his way to becoming Student Body President, and Spencer is finally getting his art noticed. But when her boyfriend Jesse dumps her for Toile, the quirky new girl at school, Bea realizes it's time to use The Formula for herself. She'll be reinvented as the eccentric and lovable Trixie—a quintessential manic pixie dream girl—in order to win Jesse back and beat new-girl Toile at her own game. Unfortunately, being a manic pixie dream girl isn't all it's cracked up to be, and “Trixie” is causing unexpected consequences for her friends. As The Formula begins to break down, can Bea find a way to reclaim her true identity and fix everything she's messed up? Or will the casualties of her manic pixie experiment go far deeper than she could possibly imagine?
My take:  I've read all of Gretchen McNeil's books and there are always aspects of them that I enjoy. She has a lively, funny writing style and is always switching up genres.

I'm Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl had its appealing points, but also some things I didn't enjoy. At times, this book felt to me like a bunch of classic movies (Mean Girls, Election, Garden State, Clueless, Revenge of the Nerds...) thrown into a blender.

There were two main plot strands: 1) a romantic "win the guy back" plot, and 2) a plot about Beatrice trying to win a college scholarship by developing a mathematical formula by which high school nerds can reinvent themselves. At times the two plots worked together, as when Beatrice reinvented herself as  MPDG "Trixie" to win her guy back, but at other times I thought these two plots moved on parallel tracks.

Beatrice was, for the most part, hard for me to relate to. Yes, she's smart and good at math, which is great, but she's also not the nicest person around. She schemes and she plots. She's bossy and egotistical and judgmental. She has no female friends, which is always a red flag for me in real life. At times, she treats the people she cares about like pawns. I have nothing against complex female characters or even borderline unlikeable ones, but I'm not sure these kinds of characters work well in a rom com. (Unrelated aside: just watched My Best Friend's Wedding, in which Julia Roberts plays a character very similar to Beatrice. I like the movie, but the people I was watching with were horrified and thought it was up there with the worst rom coms of all time.)

The romance also had its problematic elements. As the story starts, Beatrice is madly in love with Jesse. I guess the blah-ness of their love connection made sense in the end, but I felt that too much of the story was about her trying to get him back. I didn't get what she saw in Jesse or why she wanted him back after he dumped her. (To be fair, I'm really not a fan of the "winning back the guy who dumped you" plots because ... why? Why do you want to grovel and connive and get back a guy who didn't appreciate you? Find a better guy!)  Plus, sticking with the "I love Jesse/I hate Toile" plot for so long meant that s much more interesting and appealing romantic plot got smashed into the last few pages.

I also didn't love the fact that all the characters in this book start off as stereotypes (the math nerd, the popular girl, the gay best friend, the slutty divorcee, the cheating ex-husband, and, of course, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.) Yes, all of these characters do finally break out of their stereotypes, but that happened at about the 90% mark on my kindle. Plus, I felt that the book's message on self-acceptance was all over the place. You should be yourself. But if your family moves a lot, it's okay to reinvent yourself. If you reinvent yourself, you might be elected class president (I seriously doubt that). Or you might make everyone hate you and lose all your friends.

By the end, "Trixie" learns her lesson about being nice and being herself and getting the (right) guy. But getting there was a bit of a bumpy ride! For this type of story, I would have preferred a more satisfying romance and a main character I could root fo.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hot Off the Presses: New YA Releasing Oct 18-24

Hot Off the Presses -- brand new YA releases!

Welcome to Hot Off the Presses!  

Tuesday is book release day, so every Tuesday I tell you about all the great new YA books you can buy in the week to come.

WHAT - two holiday books? I'm not ready for that -- yet....

Enter the October giveaway! Each month's winner can pick any book up to $15 on either Amazon (for US winner) or The Book Depository (for international winner.)

Hot Off the Presses aims to include every traditionally published YA book. Please let me know about books that came out this week that I might have missed! Some titles may have different release dates outside the US.

Click on the photos to get to each book's Goodreads page!

Gemina What Light Twelve days of Dash and Lily
Gemina (Illuminae #2) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Knopf)
What Light by Jay Asher (Razorbill)
The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (Knopf)

I'm Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl Kiss Cam No Holding Back
I'm Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl by Gretchen McNeil (Balzer + Bray)
Kiss Cam by Kiara London (Swoon)
No Holding Back by Kate Evangelista (Swoon)

Rose and Thorn Royal Tour Shutter
Rose & Thorn (Ash and Bramble #2) by Sarah Prineas (Harper)
Royal Tour (The Potion Diaries #2) by Amy Alward (Simon & Schuster)
Shutter by Laurie Faria Stolarz (Disney)

Messenger Life Uploaded Cloudwish
The Messenger by Carol Lynch Williams (Simon & Schuster)
Life Uploaded by Sierra Furtado (Gallery)
Cloudwish by Fiona Wood (Poppy)

Saving Red Tattoo Atlas The Rains

Saving Red by Sonya Sones (Harper)
Tattoo Atlas by Tim Floreen (Simon Pulse)
The Rains by Gregg Hurwitz (Tor)

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Freebie Friday: Gritty Suspense

Welcome to Freebie Friday. Can you believe we're just about halfway through October already?

Today I have THREE gritty, suspenseful contemporaries to give away, and my winner can choose up to two. US/Canada addresses only - sorry :(

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Just Finished Reading: The Row by J.R. Johansson

The Row
by J.R. Johansson

Published on October 11, 2016
by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Source: ARC for review

Synopsis from Goodreads: A death sentence. A family torn apart. One girl’s hunt for the truth. Seventeen-year-old Riley Beckett is no stranger to prison. Her father is a convicted serial killer on death row who has always maintained that he was falsely accused. Riley has never missed a single visit with her father. She wholeheartedly believes that he is innocent. Then, a month before the execution date, Riley’s world is rocked when, in an attempt to help her move on, her father secretly confesses to her that he actually did carry out the murders. He takes it back almost immediately, but she cannot forget what he’s told her. Determined to uncover the truth for her own sake, she discovers something that will forever change everything she’s believed about the family she loves.

My take:  Before I stared reviewing YA, I read a lot of thrillers, mysteries and true crime.  So while I thought The Row would be right up my alley, I ended up having mixed feelings about it. That's possibly because I've read so many adult Silence of the Lambs-type books, in which an FBI agent/police officer/psychologist sets out to delve into the mind of a serial killer. I feel that these adult-oriented books offer more psychological complexity than this book did.

The main character in The Row is Riley, a girl whose father sits on death row after being convicted for killing several women. Riley's dad is running out of appeals, and she's trying not to run out of hope. When her father makes an unexpected statement to her during a visit, she's shocked and sets out to try to find out the truth about the crimes her father is accused of committing.

What I liked:

  • I liked Riley, though I thought her distinct voice (this takes place in Texas) seemed to flatten out as the book went on.
  • I liked that the book kept me guessing. I had several theories about the identity of the killer. I was partly right, but I thought the book did a good job of raising a lot of questions.
  • I thought Riley's relationship with her father (she visits him in prison) was interesting and well-portrayed. Also loved her relationship with her father's lawyer.

What I didn't love:

  • The romance in the book didn't really work for me. The fact that Riley ends up in a relationship with the son of the chief of police seemed a little too contrived. Then I thought he'd have more of a role in the book, but he seemed sort of like a hanger-on.
  • I thought that the book could have delved more into the (abnormal!) psychology of many of the characters. 

All that said, this book has a good amount of suspense and is a compelling read. While I wished for a little more, I can see from my Goodreads feed that this has wowed a lot of readers, so if appeals to you, give it a try. I'll be offering an ARC up for Freebie Friday this week!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hot Off the Presses: New YA Releasing Oct 11-17

Hot Off the Presses -- brand new YA releases!

Welcome to Hot Off the Presses!  

Tuesday is book release day, so every Tuesday I tell you about all the great new YA books you can buy in the week to come.

NEW October giveaway! Each month's winner can pick any book up to $15 on either Amazon (for US winner) or The Book Depository (for international winner.)

Hot Off the Presses aims to include every traditionally published YA book. Please let me know about books that came out this week that I might have missed! Some titles may have different release dates outside the US.

Click on the photos to get to each book's Goodreads page!

Still Life With Tornado Midnight Star The Row Black Widow: Blood Vengeance
Still Life With Tornado by A.S. King (Dutton)
The Midnight Star (Young Elites #3) by Marie Lu (Putnam)
The Row by J.R. Johansson (FSG)
Black Widow: Red Vengeance by Margaret Stohl (Marvel)

Weight of Zero Movie Version Catalyst
The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati (Delacorte)
The Movie Version by Emma Wunsch (Amulet)
The Catalyst by Helena Coggan (Candlewick)

Every Hidden Thing In Case You Missed It Iron Cast
Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel (Simon & Schuster)
In Case You Missed It by Sarah Darer Littman (Scholastic)
Iron Cast by Destiny Soria (Amulet)

Be Good Be Real Be Crazy Beast Bound by Blood and Sand
Be Good Be Real Be Crazy by Chelsey Philpott (Harper)
Beast by Brie Spangler (Knopf)
Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen (Delacorte)

Snow Summer My Unscripted Life Speed of Life Delphi Effect
Snow Summer by Kit Peel (Groundworld)
My Unscripted Life by Lauren Morrill (Delacorte)
Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly (HMH)
The Delphi Effect by Rysa Walker (Skyscape)

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Just Finished Reading: One Was Lost by Natalie Richards

One Was Lost
by Natalie Richards

Published by Sourcebooks
on October 4, 2016

Source: eARC for review

Synopsis from Goodreads: Murder, justice, and revenge were so not a part of the plan when Sera set out on her senior camping trip. After all, hiking through the woods is supposed to be safe and uneventful.Then one morning the group wakes up groggy, confused, and with words scrawled on their wrists: Damaged. Deceptive. Dangerous. Darling. Their supplies? Destroyed. Half their group? Gone. Their chaperone? Unconscious. Worst of all, they find four dolls acting out a murder—dolls dressed just like them. Suddenly it's clear; they're being hunted. And with the only positive word on her wrist, Sera falls under suspicion…

My take: I'm a fan of Natalie Richards's books -- I think my favorite was Six Months Later.  While I liked most things about One Was Lost, I did have a few quibbles. On the positive side, I think that the suspense created in this story was really well-done. One Was Lost is the story of a group of high school students on an outdoor hiking and camping trip. When the weather turns bad, the group is split in two by a surging river. They set up camp and regroup ... but then creepy, unexplained things start to happen. Is a killer stalking the group? Or is the killer one of them?

I was definitely gripped by the story and felt like I was right along there with the students, wet and cold and scared. There's an inherent challenge in a thriller to keep up the pace and the suspense and that can sometimes hinder character development. I thought that was the case here. We get a few character traits for each person (divorced parents, tall, adopted) but the story didn't have time to really   let the characters grow. I think it might have been more effective to give main character Sera some kind of backstory that made her more vulnerable to what was happening. We did get a romance backstory between Sera and one of the guys, and I felt that worked for the most part.

I think the main negative of the book for me was that, when I got to the end, I didn't feel like much of the explanation was plausible. It was a little out there and to me it didn't make a lot of sense. (And any time that a scary book or movie features creepy little dolls that are supposed to be the characters, I just want to laugh. Pretty Little Liars,  I'm looking at you...)

I also thought the hiking group suffers from a very unlucky amount of bad luck (not only bad weather, which happens, but these healthy, prime-of-their-lives teenagers tripped and fell a little too often to be believable to me.)

If you like books that really keep you guessing, I'd definitely try One Was Lost. I'm a stickler for plausibility and you may not be as bothered by the ending as I was. Or, if you haven't yet read a Natalie Richards book, try Six Months Later!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Freebie Friday Interview and Giveaway: Transcendent

by Katelyn Detweiler

Published on October 4, 2016
by Viking BFYR

Synopsis from Goodreads: When terrorists bomb Disney World, seventeen-year-old Iris Spero is as horrified as anyone else. Then a stranger shows up on her stoop in Brooklyn, revealing a secret about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Iris’s birth, and throwing her entire identity into question. Everything she thought she knew about her parents, and about herself, is a lie. Suddenly, the press is confronting Iris with the wild notion that she might be “special.” More than just special: she could be the miracle the world now so desperately needs. Families all across the grieving nation are pinning their hopes on Iris like she is some kind of saint or savior. She’s no longer sure whom she can trust—except for Zane, a homeless boy who long ago abandoned any kind of hope. She knows she can’t possibly be the glorified person everyone wants her to be… but she also can’t go back to being safe and anonymous. When nobody knows her but they all want a piece of her, who is Iris Spero now? And how can she—one teenage girl—possibly heal a broken world?

Today, I'm welcoming author Katelyn Detweiler to the blog to answer a few questions about her  brand new book and its companion book.

Jen: IMMACULATE, your first book, was set years before TRANSCENDENT and features some of the same characters. Was it always your plan to write this second book? How would you describe the connection between these two stories?

Katelyn: I think I decided about halfway through my first draft of IMMACULATE that I wanted to write a second book—that I wanted to tell the story of the baby born at the end, set in the future during her own teenage years. That there should be more (much more!) to the story than any one book could do on its own. At the same time, I wanted each story to be complete and standalone. You can read the books in either order; chronologically, IMMACULATE takes place before TRANSCENDENT, but one could also read TRANSCENDENT first and then turn to IMMACULATE as a prequel. (I happen to love prequels!)

Jen: I agree! I haven't (yet) read IMMACULATE but I never felt confused -- you did a great job catching the reader up on the backstory. Next question: I love books with religious themes, but each time I review one I’m reminded that some readers are wary of them.  What drew you to write this type of story and how did you decide how to approach it as a writer?

Katelyn: Yes, it’s true—there are definitely some wary readers out there! They assume that, because of these themes, the book is “religious.” That there’s a message I’m trying to preach. But I don’t see it as being this kind of book, not at all, especially because I personally don’t consider myself to be a “religious” person. Spiritual, definitely. I like to think that there’s something more, something bigger than our everyday existence, even if I don’t necessarily follow any one organized path. And that’s why I was drawn to this story—this big “what if” that asks readers to step outside the black and white facts of science to embrace something that maybe can’t be explained, but still exists nonetheless. I mean… I personally love the idea of a miracle being possible. (Who wouldn’t want that?!)

Jen: I didn't find your book preachy at all, and I love the idea that miracles are possible! I have one last question for you. Many YA characters learn they have special powers or a magical backstory, but it’s rare to see that type of character in a book that isn’t fantasy, paranormal or sci-fi. And I think many writers feel that everything in their story world must be logical and fully explained. Can you talk a little bit about the interplay of the real vs. the inexplicable in your work?

Katelyn: This is such a great question. I love reading stories that are contemporary with just a slight twist of magic or impossibility, something that forces a suspension of disbelief. I knew from the beginning that this wouldn’t be a story with demons and angels and hellfire. This would be a story in a world exactly like ours, with a protagonist exactly like you, or your best friend—someone you know, someone you can connect with, believe in, root for. I ultimately leave it up to readers to decide: is there or isn’t there something extraordinary going on? Besides the mysterious circumstances surrounding Iris’s birth, are there other touches of magic happening? I love as a writer to leave certain things up in the air. Too much explanation can get in the way of our imaginations!

Jen: Thanks so much for answering my questions! I look forward to reading IMMACULATE!

This Friday, I'm giving away a hardcover of Transcendent. US mailing addresses only. Enter in the Rafflecopter!

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