Review: Extraordinary Means

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Title: Extraordinary Means

Author: Robyn Schneider

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Publication date: May 26, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I picked this book up purely because the cover font and color scheme was gorgeous. I am a shallow person when it comes to book covers catching my eye. The fact that this was somewhat alternate-universe and slightly speculative, along with being a YA romantic dark comedy of sorts was secondary. But I’m glad that’s what it ended up being about!

As always, a brief summary from the author’s website:

At seventeen, overachieving Lane finds himself at Latham House, a sanatorium for teens suffering from an incurable strain of tuberculosis. Part hospital and part boarding school, Latham is a place of endless rules and confusing rituals, where it’s easier to fail breakfast than it is to flunk French.

There, Lane encounters a girl he knew years ago. Instead of the shy loner he remembers, Sadie has transformed. At Latham, she is sarcastic, fearless, and utterly compelling. Her friends, a group of eccentric troublemakers, fascinate Lane, who has never stepped out of bounds his whole life. And as he gradually becomes one of them, Sadie shows him their secrets: how to steal internet, how to sneak into town, and how to disable the med sensors they must wear at all times.

But there are consequences to having secrets, particularly at Latham House. And as Lane and Sadie begin to fall in love and their group begins to fall sicker, their insular world threatens to come crashing down. Told in alternating points of view, Extraordinary Means is a darkly funny story about doomed friendships, first love, and the rare miracle of second chances.

At Latham, there’s some of the camaraderie and shenanigans you’d expect from a typical teen summer camp or boarding school, but it’s constantly in the shadow of the fact that everyone will either a) get well and go home, leaving their friends forever or b) die. So, you know, not really a win-win situation. And it’s an unusual situation to describe. I’ve read some reviewers describe Extraordinary Means as somewhat like Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. While the latter is definitely different because it’s about a boarding school where the students are being raised in order to harvest their organs, I agree that there’s still a similarity. The students are all living on borrowed time, and they know that whatever relationships they build will inevitably fall apart, and not by choice.

But at the same time, this book is special because of it’s strong comedic aspect. When the blurb says that the book is “darkly funny,” it’s not kidding. I laughed out loud almost constantly throughout, from Lane and Sadie’s narration more than from anything that happened in the narrative plot-wise. But then I’d stop and be like, “Um, these kids have terminal diseases. Some of these things that are cracking me up are actually really morbid. Should I really be laughing so hard?” The answer I came to was, yes. It’s okay to laugh. Because if you take away the humor, you’re taking away any chance they have at living somewhat normal lives. And the characters make it clear that some of the humor is theirs, but some of it is also a coping mechanism.

Some of the actions of the characters are definitely… nonsensical. For example, in one scene, Lane and Sadie sneak out to a county carnival. Obviously they want to live their lives, but also, to risk spreading their disease? I don’t think anyone would really be cruel enough to do this. Also, there’s a constant black market of alcohol and other banned items, and the teens end up partying like there’s no tomorrow. Kind of stupid, especially when you’re dying of a lung disease. I don’t know. Some parts just didn’t make sense to me.

But overall, while there were some lapses in logical judgment and while I saw almost every “plot twist” and dramatic event that happened (there’s not much in this book that will surprise you, probably), I enjoyed it. Like I said before, it’s warped sense of comedy was weirdly engaging. I found almost all of the main characters to be relatable in some way, and in the end, I was satisfied with my reading experience. So if you like comedies, romances, or books about dying teens (which seem to be more and more common these days…), you may want to give this one a try.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

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Review: My Last Kiss

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Title: My Last Kiss

Author: Bethany Neal

Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Publication Date: June 10, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

This cover caught my eye on the new releases shelf at Barnes and Noble – and the summary grabbed my attention, too. I was looking forward to a good murder mystery, especially because the person solving the mystery was doing so posthumously.

A quick summary of My Last Kiss from the author’s website:

Cassidy Haines remembers her first kiss vividly. It was on the old covered bridge the summer before her freshman year with her boyfriend of three years, Ethan Keys. But her last kiss—the one she shared with someone at her seventeenth birthday party the night she died—is a blur. Cassidy is trapped in the living world, not only mourning the loss of her human body, but left with the grim suspicion that her untimely death wasn’t a suicide as everyone assumes. She can’t remember anything from the weeks leading up to her birthday and she’s worried that she may have betrayed her boyfriend.

If Cassidy is to uncover the truth about that fateful night and make amends with the only boy she’ll ever love, she must face her past and all the decisions she made—good and bad—that led to her last kiss.

A book where the protagonist is a ghost trying to figure out how she died – it was intriguing. Only her boyfriend, Ethan, can see her as a ghost – something that isn’t really explained. But I can’t quibble with logic when ghosts don’t even exist in the first place.

What I liked about the book was the shifting between the present – where Cassidy is a ghost – and the past, mostly focused on the night that she died. I was fully pulled into the mystery and was constantly trying to figure out how she did die. Was it an accident? Who was she with? Did someone push her? And in the end, the answer surprised me. So the book was very well done in that respect.

What I didn’t like so much was that Cassidy herself wasn’t an interesting character. There was nothing that made her stand out, other than the fact that I felt bad that she was dead. She just wasn’t sympathetic other than that. There was also an obnoxious love triangle between Ethan, Cassidy, and stoner Caleb, which was necessary for plot reasons but – come on. I’m so done with love triangles.

If you want an immersive mystery with fabulous minor characters and don’t care if there’s a love triangle and a semi-boring protagonist, do give this one a read.

3 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: My Faire Lady

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Title: My Faire Lady

Author: Laura Wettersten

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: June 3, 2014.

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

As someone whose fondest memory of middle school was a field trip to a Renaissance Faire, this book immediately caught my attention. From just my impression of the cover, I hoped to get something light and fun, and that was exactly what Wettersten delivered.

A quick summary from the author’s website:

Rowena Duncan is a thoroughly modern girl with big plans for her summer—until she catches her boyfriend making out with another girl. Heartbroken, she applies to an out-of-town job posting and finds herself somewhere she never expected: the Renaissance Faire.

As a face-painter doubling as a serving wench, Ro is thrown headfirst into a vibrant community of artists and performers. She feels like a fish out of water until Will, a quick-witted whip cracker, takes her under his wing. Then there’s Christian, a blue-eyed stunt jouster who makes Ro weak in the knees. Soon, it’s not just her gown that’s tripping her up.

Trading in the internet and electricity for stars and campfires was supposed to make life simpler, but Ro is finding that love is the ultimate complication. Can she let the past make way for her future?

Reading this book was like eating a never-ending stick of cotton candy. It was light and fluffy all the way through, with plenty of laughs and plenty of fun. All of the characters seemed like caricatures of real characters – whether it be Christian, the picture-perfect knight, or Ro’s overbearing parents, who are enthusiastic about her face-painting endeavors because they think the experience will make a great college entrance essay. Usually, over-the-top characters annoy me, but these were well done and thoroughly entertaining for the most part.

The plot is predictable, so if you only read books with plot twists and mysteries around every turn, this definitely isn’t the novel for you. But as predictable as it was, there was something comforting in it. I really loved knowing where the book was headed but also enjoying the journey to get there.

I loved the take on living the Ren Faire life, and the drama between the workers there made me keep turning the pages. Ro is a distinctly lovable character, and while she, too, is somewhat over-the-top, her narrative voice is engaging and bright, and softens in just the right places. If you like a good romantic comedy, My Faire Lady comes highly recommended.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: Now and Forever

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Title: Now and Forever

Author: Susane  Colasanti

Publisher: Viking Juvenile

Publication Date: May 20, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

This was the first book I’ve read by Colasanti, and from what I’d heard of her work, I was very excited to try it out. Unfortunately, it came up rather short.

A brief summary from the author’s website:

What if your boyfriend was the world’s biggest rock star?

Sterling is crazy in love with Ethan. Not only is he the sweetest boy she’s ever met, but he’s an incredibly talented guitarist, singer, and songwriter. And since forever, he’s believed he has what it takes to be a star.

When Ethan becomes an overnight sensation, he’s thrown head-first into the glam world of celebrity—and so is Sterling. Before she knows it, she’s attending red-carpet premieres, getting free designer clothes, and flying around the country to attend Ethan’s monumental sold-out concerts.

It’s a dream come true…but whose dream is Sterling living? And what do you do when forever comes to an end?

I don’t actually have much to say about this book, and that’s because it didn’t really leave a lasting impression.

The characters were complex, for the most part, especially Sterling. I managed to find plenty of ways to connect with and empathize with her plight. I also did enjoy how the book started off before Ethan became famous, so I got to see the entirety of Sterling and Ethan’s relationship both when they were a normal couple and also after they were catapulted into the spotlight.

But.

The novel, in general, was both forgettable and predictable. I guessed how the book would end almost before I even started. Okay, slight exaggeration. I could still see the ending from miles away. And because I knew what was going to happen, it became more of a waiting game for me to see when it would.

So Now and Forever didn’t leave a lasting impression. Still, at least it didn’t leave a lasting negative impression. It was pleasant enough to read, and for that reason I’m giving it:

3 stars out of 5.

Tara

Review: The Waiting Room

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Title: The Waiting Room

Author: Alysha Kaye

Publisher: Self-published

Publication date: July 1, 2014

Author’s twitter / Author’s blog / Author’s website

Alysha Kaye is an author and English teacher from Texas who provided me with a copy of her upcoming book in exchange for an honest review. As an English teacher myself, I felt an obligation to support her in her novelistic endeavor – plus, her book sounded amazing. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on The Waiting Room, which turned out to be an absolute delight to read.

First, a brief summary from the author’s website:

Jude and Nina are the epitome of that whole raw, unflinching love thing that most people are jealous of. That is, until Jude dies and wakes up in The Waiting Room, surrounded by other souls who are all waiting to pass over into their next life. But unlike those souls, Jude’s name is never called by the mysterious “receptionist”. He waits, watching Nina out of giant windows. He’s waiting for her. What is this place? How long will he wait? And what will happen when and if Nina does join him? The Waiting Room is a story of not just love, but of faith, predestination, and philosophy, friendship and self-actualization, of waiting.

My first reaction was that this book reminded me a lot of one of my other favorite books about a non-traditional yet mythical afterlife, Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere. While The Waiting Room isn’t a young adult novel, it still has the same whimsicality and airiness of Elsewhere. The tone is comedic and entertaining, although the novel has some serious issues at its heart. Throughout the book, Jude and Nina struggle with how to maintain their relationship and have faith that they’ll always be able to find each other again, even though they have no idea what makes them so special that they are allowed to wait for each other in the Waiting Room before every round of reincarnation. It should be a heart-wrenching story by all accounts, and at times it is, but the lightness of the tone and the comedic interludes help create a fine balance.

I liked how, when they were reincarnated, they could end up not only wherever but whenever. I liked how not everyone went through that particular waiting room – it would make sense, in a world where every deceased individual passes through the waiting area, that they wouldn’t all fit in one. I liked how suddenly characters I grow to love were ripped from the story – which really nailed the point that life is short and time is precious. I liked how the tone, throughout, was casual – like the characters narrating were sitting next to me and telling me their story.

One thing I found awkward was the change in perspectives. At first, the book is only told from Jude’s perspective, but after a while, it switches to third person briefly. Later, it shifts to be mostly from Nina’s perspective, though occasionally it jumps back to Jude’s. I can understand why certain characters needed to be the primary perspective for certain parts of the book, but it was slightly off-putting until I got used to it. I think the other thing that could have been improved upon was that I wanted more showing and less telling. Some parts of the novel were very dialogue-heavy or very exposition-heavy. Kaye’s story is deftly woven and her imagery is vivid and imaginative, and I wanted more of that.

I think my final comment is that The Waiting Room built characters that I cared about. I cared about not only Jude and Nina but supporting characters as well. I even cared about the Waiting Room itself and was glad to see how it changed and grew throughout the book. Fantasy lovers, romance lovers, lovers of a thoughtful story – all of these readers will enjoy The Waiting Room. I wish the book success and I hope to read more by Alysha Kaye in the future.

The Waiting Room will be available on Amazon on July 1. Be sure to visit Kaye’s website to learn more.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: Everything Leads to You

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Title: Everything Leads to You

Author: Nina LaCour

Publisher: Dutton Books (an imprint of Penguin Group)

Publication Date: May 15, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

After reading Nina LaCour’s The Disenchantments, and after being incredibly attracted to the cover of Everything Leads to You (because really, whoever designed the font should win an award), I couldn’t wait to start reading this. My expectations, I am pleased to say, were met ten times over.

This is the summary from the book jacket:

“I want you to do something with the place. Something epic.”

After being entrusted with her brother’s Los Angeles apartment for the summer as a graduation gift, Emi Price isn’t sure how to fulfill his one condition: that something great take place there while he’s gone. Emi may be a talented young production designer, already beginning to thrive in the competitive film industry, but she still feels like an average teen, floundering when it comes to romance.

But when she and her best friend, Charlotte, discover a mysterious letter at the estate sale of a Hollywood film legend, Emi must move beyond the walls of her carefully crafted world to chase down the loose ends of a movie icon’s hidden life, leading her to uncover a decades’ old secret and the potential for something truly epic: love.

First of all, Emi being a production designer completely took me by storm. I’ve never read a book where a character had that particular career, and it was cool getting an inside look into who designs sets and why that is important to them. In all actuality, I’d never even thought about how someone has to design the set. I guess I always figured they just picked a house and filmed there. So in that respect, the book made me think about film in a new way, and it gave an intriguing dynamic to the protagonist that I haven’t seen before.

Another aspect of the book that I adored was the inclusion of girl/girl relationships. Emi’s sexuality is never made a big deal of. It’s just there. She talks about how she likes kissing girls, and her romantic entanglements throughout the book seem normalized, which is just what some young adult readers might need in their lives – to be able to read about couples who have normal, couple-y problems and who also happen to be girls. This is how queer lit should be done, really.

I also loved the character who, arguably, becomes the protagonist of the book halfway through. I can’t say anything about her because that would spoil too many plot points, but just know that you’ll fall in love with her. I certainly did.

Throughout the novel, everything seemed to fall into place. The plot happened naturally, and so did each character’s growth and development. Events flowed together well and finally came to a conclusion that felt right. But in the end, it was not only the fantastic plot and the characters that won me over but also the fact that this novel was beautifully written. LaCour’s lyrical prose style is something I greatly admire, and her words really brought this story to life and to light. Help me, I’m swooning.

I highly recommend this book to people who want to read about a mystery, a romance, and adventure, or anywhere in between.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: Love and Other Foreign Words

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Title: Love and Other Foreign Words

Author: Erin McCahan

Publisher: Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group

Publication date: May 1, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I checked this book out from my local library yesterday after I noticed it displayed on the “New in YA” shelf. I’m actually surprised that it’s such a new book, as books usually don’t trickle down to my branch of the library until they’re months old. But I picked it up and found that it was a nice, easy read for a rainy afternoon like today.

A summary of the book, from McCahan’s website:

Sixteen-year-old Josie lives her life in translation. She speaks High School, College, Friends, Boyfriends, Break-ups, and even the language of Beautiful Girls. But none of these is her native tongue–the only people who speak that are her best friend Stu and her sister Kate. So when Kate gets engaged to an epically insufferable guy, how can Josie see it as anything but the mistake of a lifetime? Kate is determined to bend Josie to her will for the wedding; Josie is determined to break Kate and her fiancé up. As battles are waged over secrets and semantics, Josie is forced to examine her feelings for the boyfriend who says he loves her, the sister she loves but doesn’t always like, and the best friend who hasn’t said a word—at least not in a language Josie understands.

What I liked about this book was that the main relationship was between Josie and her sister Kate. In fact, their entire family dynamic, even the antagonism between Josie and Kate’s obnoxious fiancé, Geoff, is supremely entertaining. When I read the title Love and Other Foreign Words, I assumed that the focus of the book would be romantic love. I was pleasantly surprised to find that instead, the intricacies of familial love and sisterly love took the center stage. I think these types of love are often overlooked, so I was happy because of this development.

What I didn’t like about the book was that the romantic relationship between Josie and her significant other at the end (no spoilers, so I won’t mention the name) was obvious and super, super cliché. I also felt like most of the other characters outside of Josie’s family and her best friend, Stu, fell flat. Her entire group of friends – Jen, Ellie, Sophie, whatever their names were – were all one-dimensional and interchangeable. I think that the minor characters in a book are just as important as the main characters, and the minor characters in this book were a disappointment. 

A side note: one other thing that was slightly off-putting was the quote on McCahan’s website saying the book is “Perfect for fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.” This isn’t the author’s fault, and doesn’t impact my rating of the book, but I’m sick of John Green (and as of late, Rainbow Rowell) being held up as the standard of YA literature, something to aspire to, a buzz-name to immediately garner attention. Yes, I think people who like John Green books would like this book, because it is quirky and comedic and intends to be meaningful. But the implication that anything with John Green’s name associated with it will sell is getting tired. End side note.

Overall, Love and Other Foreign Words was fairly funny, and as a quick read, it was enjoyable. It’s not a book that I would recommend to my friends, but if you want to read about types of love beyond the romantic, or if you simply want a good laugh and some fun fluff, give it a try.

3 out of 5 stars.

Tara