Book Review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen (ARC)

Saint Anything by Sarah DessenAuthor:  Sarah Dessen

Genre: Young adult, contemporary

Publisher: Viking Juvenile

Publication Date: May 5, 2015

432 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

Shout out to Kelly from Live, Love, Read for letting me borrow this ARC!

I’ve been a fan of Sarah Dessen since I was in high school and after having read Saint Anything, I’ve now read all of her books. Because this was written by Sarah Dessen, it is, of course, very enjoyable, but it’s not my favorite Dessen book by far.

I think the main reason I didn’t enjoy it as much is because it’s…loud? It’s loud about what it’s trying to say, and the reason I’ve enjoyed so many of her other books (especially Just Listen and The Truth about Forever– my favorite Dessens) is because they are quiet and earnest in the message that’s coming across, whether it’s about friendship, family, love, or growing up. Personally, I saw a lot of the story coming, especially the part revolving around the creepy older family-friend. It’s obvious, and I think that’s what I didn’t like about it. I definitely think this is one of those it’s-not-you-it’s-ME things because I know several people who’ve loved Saint Anything.

HOWEVER, it’s still Sarah Dessen and its pages are still full of her wonderful, easy-going writing. Dessen has this amazing knack of writing absolutely perfect conversations between friends about every day nonsense. Like I always do, I LOVED the friendship storyline in the book, especially the one between Sydney, our main character, and Layla, the French-fry-obsessed girl she meets at her new school. Plus, Sarah Dessen is always able to make me fall for the boy even when he is practically ordinary (in the best way). I also thought it was interesting to see the dichotomy between Sydney’s rather uptight family and Layla’s (the Chathams) somewhat crazy, loud, and wonderfully fun family. (Quick note to say I think the storyline with Sydney’s super-controlling, over the top mom went on WAY too long)

The bottom line: So – did I like this one or not? I did. Of course I did. I always enjoy Sarah Dessen’s writing and characters. I was just a little disappointed in how obvious it was. Despite my personal opinions about Saint Anything’s shortcomings, I still think A LOT of people will fall head over heels for this one. Some people prefer books that are straight-forward and apparent with their message. That’s this one. No matter what, I will read EVERYTHING Sarah Dessen writes. Forever.

Rating: 6 – good, but not great

ARC Review: Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen

A dark, sort-of retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Cat Hellisen’s Beastkeeper is gorgeous and wonderful.
Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen

Author:  Cat Hellisen
Genre: MG, Fantasy, Retelling
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: February 3, 2015
208 pages, Hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

NOTE: I was provided with an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Henry Holt and Co. for letting me read this!

One freezing cold night, Sarah’s mother leaves her and her father. Her father starts to change – he’s lazy, wild, strange, and yes, his hair is out of control. Beastkeeper is said to be a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and it is, but also isn’t. There’s more than one beast, for instance, and Sarah might become one of them. There’s more than one prince, two witches, no rose, no servants. But the main difference is that love doesn’t break the curse – it stimulates it. Beastkeeper is more its own fairy tale than a retelling of another.

It’s been a few days since I finished Beastkeeper and I still can’t stop thinking about how beautifully written it is. It’s simple but descriptive, subtle but not. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

Sarah…wondered what flavor silence was, and if it grew hard and brittle if you threw it away, or if people sometimes stepped on wads of discarded silence and it stuck to the soles of their shoes and made their footfalls softer.” – Location 50, ARC

My favorite thing about the character is the uncertainty of whether they are good or evil – no one is all the way on one side. The characters make choices that end up trapping them or other to their fate. One character’s choice, which is decidedly unwise, and it sets off the chain of events. But other characters react and it continues the chain.

I will say that it took a little too long for Sarah to find out about the curse and to believe in magic. Beastkeeper is a short book, and it took at least a quarter of it for her to accept her fate and to decide she believed. One other thing that was weird was the romance. Sarah is thirteen yet she falls in love and enacts the curse. There’s really no chemistry (especially since he’s kind of a jerk and very obviously thinks of her as a child) or much of a hint that she sees him as anything else as a friend. It was sudden and strange.

The bottom line: Despite these two reservations I listed at the end, I really enjoyed Beastkeeper. The writing was gorgeous and the story was interesting, magical, and dark. Weird romance aside, this one is great.

Rating: 8 – Freaking fantastic

DNF Review – Tear You Apart by Sarah Cross (ARC)

Tear You Apart by Sarah Cross is a Snow White retelling that was really intriguing at first, but I just couldn’t finish it. Reasons below.

Tear You Apart by Sarah CrossAuthor:  Sarah Cross

Genre: YA, fantasy, fairy tales, retellings

Publisher: Egmont USA

Publication Date: January 27, 2015

384 pages, hardcover

NOTE: I was provided with an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Egmont USA for letting me read this.

Tear You Apart is set in a strange town called Beau Rivage that is full of the Cursed – people who’ve had curses places on them by malevolent fairies, each curse repeated over and over. So you have past Snow Whites and Cinderellas and Sleepy Beauties. It’s a seriously cool concept and I was really intrigued by it. Viv is a Snow White; she knows that her stepmother Regina (WHYYYY would you give her the same name as the OuaT queen??) will eventually order her best friend Henley (given the Huntsman curse) to kill her. I LOVED Beau Rivage, overflowing with curses and princesses and evil stepmothers. It reminded me of Storybrooke from Once Upon a Time, which was a plus. I could have really loved the fairy tale retellings but I couldn’t finish.

But there were a lot of things I didn’t like:

– The absolutely volatile relationship between Viv and Henley. Viv is jaded and horrible and she toys with Henley’s heart and if he were to want to kill her, she’d definitely be the reason why. She pushes him away for something he might do but then turns right around and cuddles with him. She got on my last nerve and is a big reason I stopped reading.

– I liked Henley at first – he was just trying to love Viv – but his obsession with her was creepy and weird.

– The darkness given to the story was really cool. BUT why does that have to come with abusive, clichéd relationships (can you say love triangle?)?? The characters are shallow and unlikeable on top of that. Strange that Tear You Apart has great world building and horrible characters.

I ended up taking a break from this book 50% of the way through to read something else in the hopes I’d want to finish it after. When I finished that book, I had no desire to pick Tear You Apart back up. And that right there is the reason I had to DNF this one at 50%. We all know that hardly ever happens for me, so I’m really sad about this. It’s also my first DNF review on the blog. I wanted to love this one so much, but I couldn’t do it.

I’m pretty sure I know what happens at the end anyway.

The bottom line: DNF’ed a 50%. I can definitely see some people liking this one. The retelling is interesting and Beau Rivage is a cool place. I just couldn’t get past the relationships and the MC.

ARC Review: Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly

Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn't Fly

Author: Stephen Graham Jones and Paul Tremblay

Genre: Young adult, fantasy

Publisher: Chizine Publications

Publication Date: November 11, 2014

250 pages

NOTE: I was provided with an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Chizine Publications for letting me read this.

Mary is a normal teenager, but her life gets flip turned upside down when, at her young cousin’s birthday party, a teenage boy climbs up into a tree and takes off – floating away in the wind. When most of the other kids in town start to float as well, including her little brother, things start to get weird. Her brother Terry gets kidnapped and the government puts a quarantine on her town. How is Mary supposed to figure it all out when she’s completely grounded and everyone and everything else is up in the air?

This book just kind of fell flat for me, which is weird since everyone in the book is floating in the air. I think I had higher expectations for this book than I realized: that title, that cover, the synopsis. It sounded so cool, and the book has a lot of potential, but the book just didn’t match up.

I thought that it moved way too fast. This book happens over the course of, like, one day…? I think. It all just kind of blurs together into this one big lump.

As for Mary, I’m not sure how I feel about her. We are told that she has these anxiety problems, but we never really get to experience them before she apparently evolves into someone who is able to take charge to go on a mission to save her brother. I wish we’d been able to see her with her anxiety first. However, one thing I do like about Mary is that she doesn’t really fit in with the story (which did make it hard to connect with her at first). I think that’s the point of her character though: to show how absurd everything that’s happening is. She sticks out, and because she can’t fly, she’s grounded unlike the other characters. This helped make the fantasy aspect of the story feel like it could actually happen.

As for the other characters…meh. They were interesting, but other than the crazy, Bible-bashing cult of relatives Mary has, none of them were particularly memorable. Well, except for the villain. The writing about him actually made my skin crawl, so that’s a plus – not that I like my skin to crawl, but obviously he was creepy enough to get a physical reaction from me.

The bottom line: I suppose I did enjoy this book, and obviously I was intrigued enough to finish. I just don’t know if this’ll be one I remember.

Rating: 5 – take it or leave it

ARC Review: Get Happy by Mary Amato

A sweet, fun, emotional read from Mary Amato (author of Guitar Notes), Get Happy made me…well, happy.

Get HappyAuthor: Mary Amato

Genre: Contemporary, YA

Publisher: Egmont USA

Publication Date: October 28, 2014

256 pages, hardcover

NOTE: I was provided with an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Egmont USA for letting me read this.

Get Happy is about high-school girl Minerva just wants to buy a ukulele and play songs while hanging out with her friends. In the novel, she learns that her father didn’t abandon her like her mother told her, and so she begins to investigate him. As Goodreads says, she “builds a substitute family with her friends in place of the broken family she grew up with.”

I’m not going to lie, I’m also a little iffy with books I get approved for on Netgalley. They can be hit or miss with me. It was also said to be for fans of Sarah Dessen (hit) and Gayle Forman (miss), so I was worried, but I shouldn’t have been. This one was a HIT. I’m really impressed with Amato’s writing and with this book.

Get Happy is a coming of age story for Minerva; we see her grow up and into herself as she navigates her first job, finding out her father is not who she thought he was, and fights with her mother. Realistic fiction has a tendency to feel decidedly not real, but not this book. Minerva’s feelings and actions all felt real and genuine, and because of this, I was really able to connect with Minerva and feel for her when it all went to hell. There was one part where something horrible happens (which I will not spoil) that I actually felt like I’d been punched in the gut. That’s a great author that can make me have such a reaction.

Minerva wasn’t the only great character either. Her best friend Fin is so full of life and a ton of fun. New friend Hayes is developed well too. Even the girl we don’t like is fully developed, so we actually do feel annoyed when she shows up. No characters were wasted or useless. I also liked that the parents in the book weren’t just in the background; they care about and protect their children. Even if they don’t always do the right thing, they’re still there.

The bottom line: Get Happy feels like a fun, light, easy read but it has some pretty deep feelings to get through. I really enjoyed it and am happy that I was able to read it.  Recommended for anyone who likes good contemporary, realistic fiction.

Rating: 7.5/10

ARC Review: Oh Yeah, Audrey! by Tucker Shaw

Oh Yeah, Audrey! by Tucker Shaw has a cute premise but the execution fails to impress.

Oh Yeah, Audrey!Author: Tucker Shaw

Genre: Young adult, contemporary

Publisher: Amulet Books

Publication Date: October 14, 2014

256 pages

NOTE: I was provided with an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Amulet Books for letting me read this.

Oh Yeah, Audrey! is about Gemma Beasley, a 16-year-old obsessed with Audrey Hepburn and her character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly. Gemma and her two internet best friends, Brian and Trina, started the Tumblr blog of the same name as the book, and they have planned to meet up for the first time in NYC for a special showing of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But after meeting up with everyone, she’s swept off her feet by a cute boy with a lot of money.

This book is a ridiculously fast read; I read it in just a few hours. It was okay, but I wouldn’t say it was great…maybe not even good. It felt really unrealistic: everything in the book was constructed to move the story, and the characters, along to teach them something about themselves and life. The decisions that Gemma made were because the author wrote her making the decisions; Gemma herself didn’t make them. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but when I read a book, I want it to seem like the character is doing the things. I don’t want to be pushed out of the story because it is so obvious it’s a work of fiction.

As for the writing: the descriptions felt really superficial and the character had no real depth to them. On the other hand, there were some good descriptions though:

“She doesn’t hold back her opinion. Like two opposite people in one. But I like them both and, besides, who isn’t at least two opposite people in one? Sometimes I feel like four or five people during the course of the day.” *

But then there were some bad descriptions too. I was surprised to find out that this was not a debut novel.

Gemma comes across as seriously immature, which I’m not sure was the point or not. The end of the novel does have more of a quiet emotional moment that did help the novel in my opinion. I wish that more of the novel were like that. Gemma has recently lost her mother, but this doesn’t really resonate in the book. Rather, Gemma (or the author) brings it up when she wants sympathy.

The bottom line: This was a really cute idea that just fell a little flat for me in its execution. I think bigger fans of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (not saying I’m not a fan; just saying super fangirls like Gemma) will enjoy the correlation to the movie and references to Audrey Hepburn. Not a memorable book for me.

Rating: 5 – take it or leave it

*Quotes taken from an advance copy of the book. Note that they might change in the final edition.

ARC Review: Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

Of Monsters and MadnessAuthor: Jessica Verday
Genre: Historical fiction, retelling, paranormal, young adult
Publisher: Egmont
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
288 pages

Check out the synopsis on Goodreads.

NOTE: I was provided with an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Egmont for letting me read this.


What I thought:

I’m a big fan of Edgar Allan Poe so when I saw that this book was a retelling of Annabel Lee, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I enjoyed what Verday with Poe; I’m okay when an author takes creative liberties with an author’s work or life as long as it is laid out. What she did with Poe was very interesting though at times it was quite obvious.

1820s Philadelphia was the perfect setting for the book as it gave Of Monsters and Madness a decidedly creepy feel. There is a dark, Gothic feel to the book, which felt just right for an Edgar Allan Poe retelling. I was really looking forward to an author’s take on Annabel as, in the poem, we don’t know her except through Poe’s eyes. Her mother has recently died and she moves from Siam (Thailand) to Philadelphia to live with her father. She wants to be a doctor, which is not a proper role for a woman at that time. You would think she would be strong willed and brave and fierce, but really, she was boring, in my opinion. Something that irritated me was Annabel’s thoughts: the book is set in her perspective but occasionally we would get her thoughts in italics. The book is set in her perspective! Those are her thoughts, which made the parts in italics rather repetitive and unnecessary.

The book’s pacing is quite slow. It follows an almost day-by-day timeline for Annabel’s first weeks in Philadelphia, and of course, every day is not exciting. There were three or four scenes that I found truly exciting and creepy. I also found that the big secret was pretty obvious early on, though that didn’t stop me from wanting to keep reading and see how it played out.

There is not as much horror or creepiness as one would expect from a retelling of anything Edgar Allan Poe has written. If you are offended by creative liberties in regards to an author’s work or life, I probably wouldn’t recommend this one to you. Overall, the book didn’t really impress me though I won’t say that I hated it. I was obviously intrigued enough to keep reading. The ending was kind of abrupt though, so maybe there’ll be a sequel?

I want to share a few lines that I thought were wonderful and unbelievably romantic. Annabel’s love interest comes to her and this happens:

“You have haunted my dreams. My waking hours. Every moment in between,” he says.
I stare up at him, lost in the darkness of his eyes. He lowers his mouth to mine, and just before he steals away my breath again, he echoes my thoughts. “I am lost in you.”

Ooooweee. If someone said that to me, I’d be gone.

The bottom line: If you are looking for the gothic, horrific, creepy awesomeness that is Edgar Allan Poe, this may not be for you. If you are looking for a quick, strange take on Annabel Lee and Poe, you might want to check this out – particularly around Halloween. This book came so close to being what I wanted, but each time it fell short.

Rating: 5 – take it or leave it

Reading next: The Shadow Prince and Mortal Enchantment by Stacey O’Neale

ARC Review: Virgin by Radhika Sanghani

VirginTitle: Virgin

Author: Radhika Sanghani

Genre: Contemporary, new adult

Publisher: Berkley

Publication Date: August 5, 2014

Kindle edition: 304 pages

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Netgalley

NOTE: I was provided with an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Berkley for letting me read this.

Let’s start with a brief synopsis from Goodreads:

Okay, I admit it…I didn’t do it.
This is normal, right?  I mean, just because everyone I know has talked like they’ve already done it doesn’t mean that they’re telling the truth…right?
It’s not like I’m asking for that much. I don’t need the perfect guy. I don’t need candlelight or roses. Honestly, I don’t even need a real bed.
The guys I know complain that girls are always looking for Mr. Right—do I have to wear a sign that says I’m only looking for Mr. Right Now?
Sooooo…anyone out there want sex? Anyone? Hello? Just for fun?
I am not going to die a virgin. One way or another I am going to make this happen.
Hey, what have I got to lose? Besides the obvious.

What I thought:

*PARENTAL ADVISORY ADVISED for this review. It may be unsuitable for young readers.*

If you couldn’t tell from that synopsis, this book is clever, laugh-out-loud funny, and well, actually quite meaningful and honest. This book is an authentic and evocative portrayal of what it’s like growing up in a society so obsessed with sex and whether or not you’ve had it. It’s about relationships and yes, sex, including all the parts of sex that you don’t normally discuss with people – well, personally, I’ve never discussed the state of my [WARNING: might be something icky you don’t want to read] pubes with my friends. I think, just like the blog that two of the  main characters start, this book can be a bit of a go-to for teenage girls who don’t get to talk about this stuff or have a lot of questions about all things sex. I do think some people will not want to read a book that gets as graphic as this, so I will say that you should avoid it if you don’t want to read about a girl learning how to give a BJ (via YouTube instructional video) or whether or not she should shave her pubes. I was fine with most of it, but there was one part that was a little too gross for me. Ellie, the main character, goes into a lot of detail about the fact that she’s a virgin, and we get her SUPER awkward stories about what she has done. However, she once says that she is [possibly inappropriate for young readers] “definitely going to give him access to my untouched hymen tonight.” GROSS. That phrasing was unnecessary, I think.

On the other hand, Ellie is honest about her sex life (or lack thereof). Her thoughts on sex and pubes and everything else felt so true and relatable. Again, I don’t usually discuss these types of things, but what girl hasn’t thought about all of this? She’s pretty self-deprecating in the beginning and not accepting of her own virginity (though no one else seems to really care that much), but she grows a lot in the book. The book is also written conversationally, so it was like the reader was discussing everything with Ellie (graphic or romantic or otherwise) like we were chatting over a beer at a pub.

Two things that irritated me: Ellie and her friend Emma start a blog about vaginas. A vagina blog. So they call it a vlog. Now if you’re someone who likes YouTube or the internet, you know a vlog is actually a video blog (like TheVlogBrothers or Tyler Oakley or Danisnotonfire). Every single time the word vlog was mentioned in this book, I had to remind myself it wasn’t a video blog. That got annoying. The author is young; she should’ve known what a vlog was. I just think a different word should’ve been used. Also, Ellie worries about whether she’ll get “Magna Cum Laude” or “Summa Cum Laude” with her degree. This may not bother everyone, but this book is set in London; in the UK, these types of designations are not given (I checked with my Scottish friend). Again, this won’t bother everyone, but it got on my nerves. It was probably the publisher trying to help Americans understand, but they left in things like a “First” degree (actually written as 1st in the UK usually) and “revising” (which means studying). I know these two things were small, but they irritated me so I wanted to mention them.

The bottom line: Virgin is a highly entertaining, funny, relatable, honest read. I think it will be good for teenage girls who have questions about sex or virgins who want to know more or really anyone who is or wants to be sexually active. It’s a very enjoyable read.

Rating: 8 – freaking fantastic

Reading next: Struck by Lightning by Chris Colfer

Book Review: Coin Heist by Elisa Ludwig

Coin HeistTitle: Coin Heist

Author: Elisa Ludwig

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Mystery

Publisher: Adaptive Studios

Publication Date: June 10, 2014

eBook: 225 pages

Stand alone or series: Standalone

How did I get this book: NetGalley

NOTE:I was provided with an e-ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Adaptive Studios for letting me read this.

This book is available as an eBook on Amazon HERE. It will be released on June 10th.

Let’s start with a brief synopsis:

The last place you’d expect to find a team of criminals is at a prestigious Philadelphia prep school. But on a class trip to the U.S. Mint – which prints a million new coins every 30 minutes – an overlooked security flaw becomes far too tempting for a small group of students to ignore.

United by dire circumstances, these unlikely allies – the slacker, the nerd, the athlete, and the “perfect” student – band together to attempt the impossible: rob the U.S. Mint. The diverse crew is forced to confront their true beliefs about each other and themselves as they do the wrong thing for the right reasons.

Elisa Ludwig’s Coin Heist is a fun, suspenseful, and compelling thriller, told from the revolving perspectives of four teens, each with their own motive for committing a crime that could change all of their lives for the better—if they can pull it off.

What I thought:

The Netgalley page for this title promised this book was “The Breakfast Club meets Ocean’s Eleven”, which is why I requested it. I LOVE both of those movies, so a book that was a combination of both? Sign me up!

Other than the fact that Coin Heist mentions Ocean’s Twelve at one point, I wouldn’t say this book is anything like it. I was bored throughout the whole thing. Honestly, the only reason I finished it was because I kind of felt obligated to as I received it for free.

Alice, Jason, Benny, and Dakota are four kids who go to the same private high school but they aren’t friends. They run in different circles, but after the school loses most of its money, they team up to rob a US mint. The novel switches between each of their perspectives with every chapter; I know this was an attempt to hear the story from these characters’ points of view and to find out why they were agreeing to do something like this, but none of the voices were unique. Each chapter felt like it was being told by the same character. When I read a book that changes perspectives, I expect to be able to know which character is narrating without the author having to tell me. I couldn’t tell in this book. Their voices were not original or unique, which made for a pretty bland experience for me. None of their emotions were true and I couldn’t relate to them at all. Their emotions were all flat and were described kind of clinically, and I just didn’t feel any of them. I could tell that the author tried to make them distinctive occasionally: Alice is the brain and a few times she comments on what’s happening through “social math” (describing life events and situations through math); Benny is Hispanic and once or twice he uses a Spanish word in his inner monologue instead of an English one. But neither of these things happened enough. Benny only does this about two times in the whole novel, and Alice’s “social math” isn’t really explained or used enough to make sense. I think that if these had been expanded upon, it could have made their voices really unique.

And then there’s the plot. Wait, what plot? This book is about a coin heist, right? Nothing actually happens until more than 75% of the way through! I was just bored. I will say that it was a really light read and I read it really quickly, so that was a plus. But other than that, I didn’t like this book. I thought the idea behind the book was super cool, and I was excited for it, but it just didn’t live up.

The bottom line:

This book was bland and boring, and it was pretty close to being a DNF for me several times. The characters’ perspectives were not distinct and the plot was practically non-existent.

Rating:  3 – Horrible; why am I reading this?

Reading next: The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder