Posts Tagged: YA – romance

{Review} Dare You To by Katie McGarry

September 26, 2013 Review 4

 

dare you to cover

//  BOOK INFO  //

Title: Dare You To
Author: Katie McGarry
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: May 28, 2013
Source: NetGalley *received in exchange for an honest review
Pages: 456
Genres: YA — contemporary, romance

If anyone knew the truth about Beth Risk’s home life, they’d send her mother to jail and seventeen-year-old Beth who knows where. So she protects her mom at all costs. Until the day her uncle swoops in and forces Beth to choose between her mom’s freedom and her own happiness. That’s how Beth finds herself living with an aunt who doesn’t want her and going to a school that doesn’t understand her. At all. Except for the one guy who shouldn’t get her, but does….

Ryan Stone is the town golden boy, a popular baseball star jock-with secrets he can’t tell anyone. Not even the friends he shares everything with, including the constant dares to do crazy things. The craziest? Asking out the Skater girl who couldn’t be less interested in him.

But what begins as a dare becomes an intense attraction neither Ryan nor Beth expected. Suddenly, the boy with the flawless image risks his dreams-and his life-for the girl he loves, and the girl who won’t let anyone get too close is daring herself to want it all….

//  INTERESTED?  //


//  COVER TALK  //

I like how the cover is similar to Pushing the Limits.  Love the font and the title down the side. Only criticism is that I think the kissing in the rain scene actually happens in a field?

//  EXPECTATIONS  //

I thought I LOVED Pushing the Limits: the writing, the characters, the plot, the romance. BUT I HADN’T READ Dare You To!! I was honestly concerned about how McGarry was going to replicate the intensity after I finished Pushing the Limits. Of course I wanted MORE but at the same time, I had my doubts. After finishing Dare You To I now know NEVER TO DOUBT KATIE MCGARRY. She made a fool out of me, y’all!

//  MY THOUGHTS  // 

Dare You To has what I’m calling McGarry’s signatures: beautiful writing, engaging characters, an intense romance, and a plot that has you flipping pages endlessly! Very rarely do I ever have the true feeling of not wanting to put a book down, but that was the case with this book. I read it in about 3 very long sittings and I never wanted it to end! I was also a bit unsure about delving into Beth’s story as I wasn’t super interested in her character in Pushing the Limits, and I was confused that it wasn’t going to be her story with Isaiah. But what did I say before? DON’T DOUBT KATIE MCGARRY!

Beth honestly broke my heart. Her mom, home life and backstory made my heart hurt, my stomach nauseous and I feared what would happen to her. I loved how she gradually evolved and opened up to those around her, like her childhood friend Lacy, uncle Scott and love interest Ryan. I wasn’t a huge fan of Ryan at first: he seemed like a bit of cocky jock, but I’m glad to say that there is SO much more to him than first meets the eye. He is one of the most complexly written male YA characters I’ve seen! I really appreciated that as much as he was sexy and an athlete, that he was also kind, and caring, and he wasn’t solely focused on sports. He was a very well rounded character! Plus, I mean, I even loved the parts about baseball, and as someone who can hardly stand to watch sports, that’s saying something, haha!

The next part may be a bit spoiler-y so you may want to skip to the next paragraph if you haven’t read the book. One thing I REALLY appreciated was this book was pretty sex-positive, and showed great examples of gaining proper consent! In one scene, Ryan and his friends are at a field party and he notices a girl off to the side being corned by a very drunk and creepy football player. He recognizes that the girl is uncomfortable and doesn’t want to be kissed or groped, and so he steps in, telling the dude to back off and leave the girl alone. Not something you see in books a lot, but a great example of NOT being a bystander to sexual harassment (or potentially, assault). In another scene, one of Ryan’s best friends takes him to the supermarket to buy condoms, even though he himself isn’t sexually active. I LOVED how it was guys talking about safe sex and being responsible! Lastly, Ryan refuses to have sex with Beth when she is drunk (I can’t remember if he was too… I don’t think so?) because he recognizes she can’t make an informed decision and that he would be taking advantage of her. I mean, not that people should be praised for NOT raping someone, but I think it is important to have these kind of decisions play out on YA fiction and have representations of what informed, full consent looks like as a way to battle rape culture!

If I had any criticisms, I would say that the one thing that sort of grated my nerves was Ryan’s constant description of Beth’s curvy body and the clothes she wore, mostly because it was always something very similar such as hip-hugging jeans and a t-shirt that showed a little skin. I DID appreciate how there weren’t any strange and overly used nicknames, like Noah calling Echo his siren all the time. But this is a very small criticism in the grand scheme of the book.

Just like with Pushing the Limits, I didn’t want Beth and Ryan’s story to end! But of course, it had a great ending as well! I’m almost nervous now to proclaim that Dare You To is my favourite McGarry story because I bet that the next one, Crash Into You, will come along and just blow me away, haha! If you love or are looking for a well written, intense contemporary book with a hot romance (even if that isn’t usually your thing, like me!) then I cannot recommend McGarry’s books enough, and in particular Dare You To. This is definitely one I will be purchasing and re-reading and recommending to all my friends!

// Share your thoughts… Leave a Comment! //

Have you read Pushing the Limits or Dare You To? If so, which one did you like best? If not, are these books on your TBR list? Any recommendations for similar books?


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{Review} Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

August 26, 2013 Review 11

 

16068905//  BOOK INFO  //

Title: Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: September 10, 2013
Source: NetGalley *received in exchange for an honest review
Pages: 405
Genres: Young Adult – contemporary, romance

A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

//  INTERESTED?  //


//  COVER TALK  //

I LOVE how all of Rainbow Rowell’s books have really cute illustrated covers. It makes them really stick out. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this cover: the design, the colors, everything! It reflects the book’s contents very well, which is always important. 

//  EXPECTATIONS  //

When I first got my hands on the much anticipated Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell I was over-the-moon excited! I had read and loved Eleanor & Park, which left me with a serious book hangover. I was also really intrigued by the fanfiction aspect, as I used to be pretty involved in reading FF and was also a paid beta reader and promoter for a popular Buffy fanfic years ago. However, since I was SO excited upon receiving Fangirl I decided to wait a few weeks to read it in order to help manage my expectations and I was really glad I did because otherwise I think I would have been extremely disappointed.

//  MY THOUGHTS  // 

Fangirl has a LOT going on plot-wise. I’m going to be very general in an attempt to avoid spoiling anything but there is family drama, adjusting to college, mental health and addiction issues, first love, ethical academic issues and probably something else I am forgetting. Are all these completely realistic, even at one time? TOTALLY! In fact I experienced the first three things intensely my first year of university. My problem with it in Fangirl, however, was that each plot seemed to be underdeveloped, some even unnecessary, and most were wrapped up a little too tidy for my liking. Oh and this also doesn’t include Cath’s obsession with her Simon Snow fanfiction and all that it encompassed!

As for the fanfiction aspect, it also fell a little flat for me. The Simon Snow series read too much like Harry Potter (I totally understand that this might have been an intentional comparison or allusion, as I know Rowell is a big HP fan) and I just couldn’t get into it. As a result, I really didn’t like the bits from Simon Snow series and Cath’s fan fiction interspersed between chapters as it pulled me away from the main story. I almost wanted to skip over them, but didn’t in case they provided further insight into what was going on in Cath’s life, although none really seemed to do this, or if it did, it did so in a way that it didn’t really enhance the story. I did enjoy some of the musings about fanfiction, the community and what it can mean to people, and I did tear up when the final Simon Snow book came out due to HP7 midnight release flashbacks.

For the most part, I really liked the characters, and I think this is what redeemed the book for me, because many of them seemed very relatable. Cath was a complex character, full of contradictions: she preached not being judgmental, but was so herself, and she was insecure but also thought she was better than others at times. She was a very anxious, socially awkward character who both loved and hated her first year of university. Through all of this I could totally relate. Minus most of the drama, I basically WAS Cath for the first few years of university: insecure and shy, wanting to quit 4 out of the 8 months and at times, I was even depressed. So I honestly just wanted to hug her a lot and help her through it all! I also really liked Cath & Wren’s father, and Cath’s roommate Reagan, who was funny and took Cath under her wing. Unfortunately, I found Wren pretty unlikable and I was hot and cold with Levi..

Part of the reason I loved Eleanor & Park was Rowell’s enchanting and witty writing. There were definitely some great moments in Fangirl, such as Cath ranting about literary manic pixie dream girls and their Volvos. However, again, the writing just didn’t completely come together. There were some awkward phrasings and it didn’t flow as nicely as I’d have hoped. I was reading from an ARC, so some of these may be fixed by the time it goes to the printers, but unless substantial amounts are rewritten or heavily edited then I think it will likely have the same effect.

All in all, I think I have to say that I was disappointed in Fangirl, and it pains me to do so because I really wanted to love it. While some may argue that is hard to live up to a runaway hit like Eleanor and Park, I think that there are substantial enough issues that this would have been disappointing had it been released ahead of E&P. That said, I feel like this might be one of those books where people still connect with it and love it despite its problems. As for me, I’m still looking forward to any forthcoming books from Rainbow Rowell and will be picking up her adult book, Attachments next.

// Share your thoughts… Leave a Comment!

//

Have you read Fangirl? What did you think? Did you find Wren unlikeable? If not, is it on your TBR list? What was your first year of university or college like? Do you read fanfiction?


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{Review} If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

August 15, 2013 Review 2

Farizan_IfYouCouldBeMine_REV.indd

//  BOOK INFO  //

Title: If You Could Be Mine
Author:  Sara Farizan
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: August 20, 2013
Source: Netgalley *received in exchange for an honest review
Pages: 256
Genres: YA – LGBT, Contemporary, Romance

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self?

//  INTERESTED?  //


//  COVER TALK  //

I love this cover! It’s beautiful in an understated way, and really does reflect the story of two girls in love that have to be careful due to their country’s laws.

//  EXPECTATIONS  //

When I first heard of this book I was so on board with it! Lesbian relationship between two women of color that is ALSO YA and set in a country other than Canada, US, or the UK?! COUNT ME IN. I automatically followed the author on Twitter, tweeted about it, and then when it went up on NetGalley, hit request ASAP.

//  MY THOUGHTS  // 

If You Could Be Mine is one book that is receiving a lot of buzz lately, due to the book’s diversity. The novel is set in current day Iran, where being homosexual can be a death sentence.  We are introduced to a young teenager, Sahar, who is in love with her best friend, Nasrin. However, Nasrin’s family has just arranged their daughter’s marriage to a well off doctor, unknowingly putting a time limit on the two girl’s relationship. Heartbroken, Sahar is determined to find a way for her to be with Nasrin forever. Through her gay cousin Ali’s attempts to draw her eyes away for Nasrin, she meets others in the LGBT community, including Parvin, a transgendered woman who has transitioned from male to female through state-endorsed sex reassignment surgery. Sahar sees having such surgery as her one chance to finally be with Nasrin legally, this time, as a man, and so she begins her journey.

The thing I enjoyed most about If You Could Be Mine was the setting and learning about Iranian culture. I liked how Sahar introduced us to life in Iran, while questioning some of the customs and how the law has interpreted the Qur’an. This seemed very realistic as we have seen in many of the Arab Spring uprisings that oppressive governments that use religion to rule are now meeting resistance from youth who are becoming more critical of these practices!

However, the setting and diversity of the characters was the only thing that really held my attention, as If You Could Be Mine fell flat for me. There was a lot of potential, but no follow through. I definitely think the story could have used more fine tuning and character development. It just read as if it wasn’t finished!

One of the big issues was that I wasn’t drawn in by Sahar and Nasrin, or their relationship. The two characters seemed younger at times than they were. Nasrin in particular was a bit annoying, and I didn’t feel any chemistry between the two of them. It always felt like Sahar took the relationship more seriously, like Nasrin was just stringing her along. So while I didn’t want anything to happen to these two girls, I wasn’t necessarily cheering for them to them to end up together. I guess my main issue was that 1/2 the book could have been dealt with if Sahar had just TALKED to Nasrin and told her about her plans to have the surgery. She just kept assuming that Nasrin would be fine with it, that she would call off the wedding and that everything would work out in the end!

Fortunately there were some characters that were interesting and engaging, like Ali, Sahar’s gay cousin and all of his antics. I also liked learning about Sahar’s father, and his struggle with depression after her mother died. It was in caring for her father that we come to learn more about Sahar and it felt like the only truly complete storyline that also had character depth.

I question too the explanation of trans bodies and identities. Sahar makes the decision very quickly after meeting Pavrin that she wants to undergo sex reassignment surgery, and while she has to attend meetings with other trans youth she mostly is focused on how quickly she can have the surgery. The actual topic of living as a transgendered person before and after surgery wasn’t explained in a lot of detail. While there was some concern expressed by the trans character, Parvin, about how serious a decision it was to undergo sex reassignment surgery Sahar, for the most part, shrugged it off. Having prior knowledge about these issues, it made sense to me, but I wonder how youth who haven’t been exposed to LGBTQ+ issues will understand it, and what they will take away from this book.

Lastly: the writing. I think, had the writing been really beautiful and lush, it could have saved the book.  However, the writing was very simple, and while there were a few good sentences here and there, overall it wasn’t anything special.

If You Could Be Mine had A LOT of potential: an interesting storyline, numerous diverse characters to work with, and a setting that is fairly unique to YA books. The problem with this book is not the idea, but how it was executed. Empty characters, a rushed plot and lackluster writing did If You Could Be Mine no favours, sadly. While it is great that this book offered up so much diversity, what is the use of celebrating diversity in YA if it isn’t quality work?

 
// Share your thoughts… Leave a Comment! //

Have you read If You Could Be Mine? If so, how did you like it? If not, is it on your TBR list? Did you know about Iran’s laws regarding homosexuality & transgendered people? Any recommendations for LGBT YA that takes place in a country other than US/Canada/UK?


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Review: Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan

January 16, 2013 Review 12


Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares

by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan

Published: October 2010
Format & Source: Paperback (bought)
Pages: 260
Genre(s): YA, contemporary, romance

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favourite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.


— Cover Critique —

I love this cover – I think it is fun, interesting and reflects the setting of the book perfectly: Christmastime in NYC! I do like this cover as well, but I kind of like the fact that we don’t get to see Dash and Lily on the original hardback’s cover.

— Expectations —

I’d read a lot of great reviews, which led to me buying it for a Christmas read, so I had medium to high expectations. Fortunately, none of my fellow reviewers let me down & I’m really glad I decided to purchase the book!

— Review —

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares is my third David Levithan book so far (I’ve also read Boy Meets Boy and Love is the Higher Law), and my new favourite (and I’ll be checking out more of Rachel Cohn’s books too!). I recently read Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares in the days leading up to Christmas, and it was the perfect holiday story! I think the book captures the hope and magic of the Christmas season, while telling a fun story set in iconic New York City with wonderful and loveable characters.

The setting? Perfect. The characters? Perfect, but not tooo perfect so as to make us hate them. They were perfect in that they were complex, and funny, and great. At first I was worried that Lily was going to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who was to be used to move Dash’s story forward but thankfully that wasn’t so. I believe Lily even acknowledges this concern, then the authors proceed to smash this notion to pieces by creating such a well developed character. Both Dash and Lily showed growth throughout the story and grew up along the way. I loved Lily’s hope, passion for feminism, and her inherent goodness, and how realistic her insecurities were. I’d love to be her friend! As for Dash, I loved his humour, his passion for words, and his overall geekiness. As much as I loved the main characters, there was still enough love to go around, thankfully, because the side characters were amazing too, and really well formed. They each had their own distinct personality and I think it really shows Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s skill as writers that they could create such a big cast of characters that worked so well with the story – it never felt overcrowded or confusing.

As for the plot, I really enjoyed it. It was fun and smart, and worked to help push the characters outside their comfort zones and create growth. However, I did find that the last 100 pages or so felt a bit different than the rest of the book. At this point the book of dares is not in play as much, but I don’t think that was it. It just didn’t feel as funny or lively… but maybe it was needed. The ending though was perfect in my opinion!

I can’t believe I waited so long to read this one, after hearing all the I think reading this one around the holidays will be a new tradition of mine!

 

rating 4.5



Have you read Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares? If so, what did you think of it? What is your favourite book set at Christmas/a winter holiday? Let me know in the comments!

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Review: Huntress by Malinda Lo

September 23, 2012 Review 8


Huntress
Malinda Lo
Published: April 2011
Format: Paperback
Pages: 384
Genre(s):
YA, fantasy, romance, LGBTQ
Goodreads | Amazon| Book Depository


Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

— Cover Critique —
I really like the cover – it is quite rare to have an Asian model on YA covers so it is great that the cover hasn’t been whitewashed, as this is something that has happened with other books before. I love the snowy background, hints of purple, blue and grey in the backdrop! Also, by the young woman’s stance you can tell she is determined, strong and a fighter!
 

— Expectations —

Earlier this year I read Ash by Malinda Lo, and I really enjoyed it, so I thought I’d give Huntress a try. I was very lucky, and won a signed copy during Christa’s YA Pride event at Hooked on Books, so I was even more excited to dig into Huntress.


— Review —

Huntress is a prequel of sorts to Ash, although it is noted that this story takes place many centuries earlier and that there are some cultural differences (Huntress is more Chinese-inspired). While I can see the similarities between Ash and Huntress, I found it easier to read the book as if the two weren’t loosely connected. With that said, I think overall I enjoyed Ash a bit more, but Malinda Lo was again able to write a beautiful book, with strong lesbian female characters, so I can’t complain too much!
 
Huntress tells the story of Kaede and Taisin, two young women who depart on a journey of upmost importance, to journey to meet with the Fairy Queen in order to discover what has caused the natural balance to be so disturbed over the past few years. The Kingdom is relying on these two women and their small party, as they cannot survive through many more months, let alone years, of failed crops, and an almost perpetual winter. Taisin has had an unsettling vision, however, and she is worried about what she saw and felt – Kaede leaving her, and a most painful breaking of her heart. How will this influence their journey, and will it ultimately come true?
 
The book starts out with this retrospective scene of Taisin’s vision of Kaede leaving her, which I loved. It was beautifully written and it started out the story with such emotion! I think it gave a great glimpse to the book overall, as it is beautifully written and is centered around these two young women falling in love. Just as in Ash the romance between the two female characters is introduced so naturally and without over explanation or celebration, just acceptance, which I love! The romance between Taisin and Kaede is timid, slow-building and sweet. You couldn’t help but root for Kaede to recognize her feelings for Taisin!

Like I said, the book is beautiful overall – from the cover to the illustrated map, dividers and of course, the writing. I would often just stop and stare at the pages, or go back and flip through to the map and examine it. Here’s a glimpse into the beauty of this book:

 
Huntress
 
I even bookmarked some passages, and I particularly enjoyed the exchange near the beginning between Kaede and the Mistress of the Academy, as it had a feminist feel to it, the discussion of female agency as Kaede is stuck between her father choosing her future (marriage for political gain) or the Academy telling her she will accept the quest that has been put before her. Kaede speaks out, saying:

I have been here for almost six years. Not the best student, but I have paid attention. And the one thing that has always made sense to me is the teaching that every individual has the right to make choices about their lives. Every minute of every day, we make choices. Why would you take that away from me now?”… From across the table, Sister Yuna said softly, “She is right. She deserves to choose her own path.”. (20)

However, as much as I enjoyed the writing, the diversity of the characters and the romance between Kaede and Taisin, I encountered a few of the same problems I had with Ash. It is at times hard to connect with the characters because of the third person narrative that shifts between the two characters. I would have liked to experience their emotions as they experienced them! In addition, the story has a very slow pace for the most part. For more than 240 pages the characters are setting out on their journey, riding their horses and camping. While they do encounter challenges along the way, it did seem a little too drawn out. A girl can only take so many descriptions of the woods and horseback riding, haha! Despite these two drawbacks, I did enjoy the magical elements that the Xi (fey) brought to the story, and there were some rather exciting scenes, such as when a huge pack of mystical wolves attacks the camp.
 
Overall, while I enjoyed Ash a bit more than Huntress, it is a story that can still be appreciated for its unique story, strong female characters, and beautiful writing. While reading it often reminded me of Graceling by Kristin Cashore (and not just because of all the horseback riding scenes, I swear!), so if you loved that one, I’d recommend this one to you.
 

rating 3.5


This post has been part of the A More Diverse Universe blog tour, which celebrates books by authors of color WITH characters of color. Be sure to check out the schedule of reviews going up this week to help support diversity in speculative fiction!

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