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Friday, February 27, 2015

Freebie Friday: ARC/Book Grab Bag

Happy Friday!

This is the time of year that I clean out in preparation for a huge community book drive that collects children's and YA books for underfunded city schools. So I'm looking at a giant pile of books!

I found a lot of good stuff, and this week's winner can choose from a stack of ARCs (2015 and earlier) and some finished copies...

Due to shipping costs, this is US only, but if you live outside the US, you can enter Hot Off the Presses!  Last chance to enter the February giveaway, which ends on Monday.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book I Overlooked: Book of Ivy by Amy Engel

I have a pretty good idea of the kinds of books I like. I try to step out of my comfort zone, but there's never enough time and so many books.

But every so often, I start to hear about a book I overlooked. One that I decided wasn't for me ... until I began to read rave reviews. So of course I had to investigate:

The Book of Ivy (Book of Ivy #1)
by Amy Engel
Published by Entangled Teen
on November 11, 2014

Synopsis from Goodreads: After a brutal nuclear war, the United States was left decimated. A small group of survivors eventually banded together, but only after more conflict over which family would govern the new nation. The Westfalls lost. Fifty years later, peace and control are maintained by marrying the daughters of the losing side to the sons of the winning group in a yearly ritual. This year, it is my turn.  My name is Ivy Westfall, and my mission is simple: to kill the president’s son—my soon-to-be husband—and restore the Westfall family to power.  But Bishop Lattimer is either a very skilled actor or he’s not the cruel, heartless boy my family warned me to expect. He might even be the one person in this world who truly understands me. But there is no escape from my fate. I am the only one who can restore the Westfall legacy. Because Bishop must die. And I must be the one to kill him…

Why did I pass this one up? Dystopian YA and I are taking a break, for the most part. So when I read this, I thought ... eh. Matched. Been there, read that.

What I thought: While this book isn't perfect, I thought that its good points were really very good. If you're a stickler for lots of detailed dystopian world building, you may be a little dissatisfied. The scene setting is pretty much limited to the information in the synopsis above, and the post-nuclear US seems pretty similar to our world. There aren't much in the way of developed secondary characters, with the exception of the president, who had some interesting potential, and Ivy's boss.

But let's be honest: the appeal of this book is ALL about Ivy and Bishop and their slow burn romance, something that had me turning the pages like crazy. The two of them are forced into an arranged marriage that felt more retro-chaste than futuristic, but that resulted in a lot of romantic tension. (It also reminded me a little of my secret guilty reality TV pleasure, 90 Day Fiance. Shhh.) There was something completely touching and completely spellbinding about the way these two warily formed a sort-of relationship. I loved the way the book acknowledged the weirdness of their situation while at the same time working it for all it was worth.

Just when Ivy and Bishop were getting a little bit cozy, disaster struck. Of course. And this being dystopian YA, there's a cliffhanger ending. And a second book comes out in fall 2015. But I'm not worried; I've read a few of these kinds of stories and can pretty much predict how things will turn out in the end. I'll definitely be checking the second book out!

Have you read this? Let me know what you thought in comments!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Never Never by Colleen Hoover and Tarryn Fisher: A Spoilery Discussion

Never Never
by Colleen Hoover and Tarry Fisher
Published by Hoover Ink
on January 7, 2015

Source: bought

Synopsis from Goodreads: Best friends since they could walk. In love since the age of fourteen.
Complete strangers since this morning. He'll do anything to remember. She'll do anything to forget. 

My take: One of the great things about reading a book that has already been out for six weeks is that other people have read it and I don't have to worry as much about spoilers.

So ... you have been warned. The following review/discussion will have spoilers. But since this story is a great big WTF so far and none of us have much idea what's going on anyway, you can actually read this and nothing will really be spoiled.

Never Never is a novella, a 159 page teaser. It's an amnesia book and also a sort of backwards love story. So far.

As the story opens, two teenagers are struggling to remember who they are and what's going on. They discover they're -- sort of -- a couple, a boy and a girl who've known each other for years and are in a relationship. Of sorts.

Amnesia. I've devoted posts and posts to why amnesia books don't always work for me. A character who's a blank slate with no sense of self can be difficult to connect to. Plus, amnesia has become a pretty common plot device in YA.

This book is a little different because it's about a couple with amnesia. Neither Charlie nor Silas can remember much. Together, they're trying to piece things together. They don't really like what they are finding out about themselves, and are wondering if they can fall in love again.

The most interesting thing to me about this book is how divided the reviews were on my Goodreads feed. People either loved the book or were left sort of cold. And I can see both sides. While I didn't really like or connect with these characters, I was intrigued by their plight.

Let's go over some of the clues. If I left something significant out, please let me know in comments and I'll add it in:

Both Charlie and Silas have amnesia
They are in a relationship but each has cheated on the other
Charlie and Silas each have a tattoo that represents the other
Silas' bed has blood in it, with a bloody handprint that matches Charlie's hand
Charlie finds her clothes in the washer
Charlie and Silas' fathers were in business together and were accused of conspiracy and fraud
Charlie's dad ended up in prison
Silas' dad says Charlie stole files from his office
Charlie's mom is bitter and hates Silas and his family
Something or someone is making them repeatedly forget what they know.


Why were they so in love and then cheated on each other?Whose blood was in Silas' bed?
Who/what is making Charlie and Silas forget and why?
How did Charlie's father end up in prison and Silas' father go free?

Theories? Tell me in comments what you think.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hot Off the Presses: New YA Releasing February 24-March 2

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. If you're a reviewer, you can also link your blog or Goodreads reviews of any YA book publishing in the current month so we can all check them out!

LAST chance to enter the February giveaway! This month's winner can pick any book up to $15 on either Amazon (for US winner) or The Book Depository (for international winner.) Enter by linking your February YA reviews or by commenting on other people's linked reviews.

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 the book's Goodreads page!

Salt & Stone Red Queen ZOM-B Bride
Salt & Stone by Victoria Scott (Scholastic)
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (Harper)
Zom-B Bride by Darren Shan (Little, Brown)

Quake Unchanged Wicked Thing
Quake (Pulse #3) by Patrick Carman (Katherine Tegen)
Unchanged by Jessica Brody (FSG)
A Wicked Thing (Wicked Thing #1) by Rhiannon Thomas (Harper)

Stone in the Sky Mark of the Thief Unleashed
A Stone in the Sky by Cecil Castellucci (Roaring Brook)
Mark of the Thief (Mark of the Thief #1) by Jennifer Nielsen (Scholastic)
Unleashed (Uninvited #2) by Sophie Jordan (Harper)

Remember The Cipher Feral Pride
Remember by Eileen Cook (Simon Pulse)
The Cipher by John C. Ford (Viking)
Feral Pride by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick)

Sin Eater's Daughter Dove Arising No Parking at the End Times
Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury (Scholastic)
Dove Arising by Karen Bao (Viking)
No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss (Greenwillow)

Third Twin Dreamfire When My Heart Was Wicked
The Third Twin by C. J. Omololu (Delacorte)
Dreamfire by Kit Alloway (St. Martin's)
When My Heart Was Wicked by Tricia Stirling (Scholastic)

Kalahari Breakout Haunted
Kalahari (Corpus #3) by Jessica Khoury (Razorbill)
Breakout by Kevin Emerson (Crown)
Haunted (Arnaud Legacy #1) by Lynn Carthage (K-Teen)

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Just Finished Reading: My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp

My Best Everything
by Sarah Tomp
To be published on March 3, 2014
by Little, Brown BFYR

Source: e-galley for review

Synopsis from Goodreads: Luisa “Lulu” Mendez has just finished her final year of high school in a small Virginia town, determined to move on and leave her job at the local junkyard behind. So when her father loses her college tuition money, Lulu needs a new ticket out. Desperate for funds, she cooks up the (definitely illegal) plan to make and sell moonshine with her friends, Roni and Bucky. Quickly realizing they’re out of their depth, Lulu turns to Mason: a local boy who’s always seemed like a dead end. As Mason guides Lulu through the secret world of moonshine, it looks like her plan might actually work. But can she leave town before she loses everything – including her heart?

My take: My Best Everything is a quirky, moving coming of age story that takes place in a small town, a kind of story I'm always drawn to. It has some narrative aspects that could be hit or miss for some readers, but I found it compelling and different.

Lulu's just graduated from high school and is more than ready to leave her small town and head to California, where she hopes to study science. But when her father confesses that he's lost her college fund in a bad investment, Lulu's devastated. The last thing she wants is to get stuck in her "hillbilly" town, working at Sal's Salvage. So she comes up with an idea: she'll use her science knowledge and an old still named Aunt Jezebel to make and sell moonshine as a way to pay her college tuition.

You could take this concept and write it so many different ways: as a thriller, as a dark tragicomedy like Breaking Bad, as a morality tale. So how to describe the way My Best Everything feels? It's character-driven and atmospheric. It's told in an (almost) second person narration, with Lulu addressing a now-absent other character she refers to as "you," telling the story as if she's looking back from the past. I usually struggle with epistolary stories, but I wouldn't say this strictly falls into that category.  I also thought the technique worked well in a coming of age story (as an older and wiser Lulu looks back on her more naive self) and it also added a sense of mystery about why "you" wasn't around for her to talk to directly. (I was pretty sure I figured it out ... and I was wrong.)

My Best Everything had a lot of story elements I love. I'm a huge fan of a good small town setting and colorful small town characters. I liked the writing a lot. I also really liked Lulu. She's the kind of girl I can relate to: a smart girl stuck in a small town, a "good" girl who wants to explore the boundaries of being "good" and even trample over them -- all for a worthy cause. I thought all the characters were really well-written, from Lulu and her friend Roni to Reva's parents and various other town residents. All in all, this was a big hit for me.

If you enjoy coming-of-age stories and are in the mood for something a little different, I'd definitely recommend giving this one a try!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Freebie Friday February 20

Happy Friday! I have three great reading choices for my winner to choose from -- this will be US only...


... if you live outside the US you can enter Hot Off the Presses and enter to win a book of your choice.

Salt & Stone Dove Arising Sin Eater's Daughter

Salt & Stone by Victoria Scott (ARC)
Dove Arising by Karen Bao (hardcover)
The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury (ARC)

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Just Finished Reading: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
Published on January 13, 2015
by Riverhead Books
Synopsis from Goodreads: Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
Note: this is an adult book, but one that I think has huge crossover appeal to YA readers. There are some adult themes and situations.

My take: Thrillers and mysteries are some of my favorite kinds of books, and I think they're diabolically hard to write. You have to think backwards and forwards, figuring out what happened, and then carefully piece together clues that the protagonist (and the reader!) can find and puzzle over. I also feel strongly that you have to make the ending guessable.

As thrillers go, I thought The Girl on the Train was excellent. It offers a page-turning plot, characters that slowly reveal themselves to the reader, and some really interesting themes.

Rachel's lost her job but still takes the train to and from London as if she still had a purpose. She also has got a bit of a drinking problem. As she sits on the train, drinking and sad, she wistfully watches a couple whose deck backs onto the train tracks. They seem so happy together. Then one day, she sees something shocking on the deck, something she can't get out of her mind. Soon she'll be inserting herself into the lives of others with unexpected and unintended results.

I think one of my favorite aspects of the story is the way it explores our instinct to assume and to judge others on very limited information. First there are the assumptions that Rachel makes about her happy couple. Then, there are the assumptions the reader makes about Rachel and her drinking and erratic behavior. The book does this again and again-- introduces a character or situation, lets you make your assumptions, and then slowly pulls back the lens to show you more context or other extenuating circumstances. As a result, my opinion of different characters was constantly changing. The number of suspects in the crime is relatively small, and by about two-thirds of the way through, I thought I had figured out what happened. I was right, but that in no way spoiled my enjoyment of the story.

Highly recommended for fans of thriller and mysteries!

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