No traveling pants, but still a good read | The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares [ARC]

The Whole Thing TogetherRay and Sasha are more or less part of the same family. They grew up in the same house, with the same sisters, in the same bedroom…but they’ve never met. A long time ago, Ray’s mom used to be married to Sasha’s dad. A nasty divorce and two remarriages later, Ray and Sasha were born. 17 years later, theirĀ worlds are about to collide for the first time.

Okay, so I know that Brashares has written more things thanĀ JUSTĀ The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but I honestly haven’t read anything else by her. I remembered really like that series though, so I decided to give this one a shot since it had a really intriguing premise to me. Right away, I really enjoyed the writing. The narration and dialogue all flowed together really well and the writing made the book very easy to read. The plot wasn’t super predictable, but there also wasn’t much that happened that was super surprising. This book is more about the characters anyway.

Family dynamics are very interesting. I’m going to say that it’s impossible for a family to be completely drama-free and the family in this book is definitely not an exception. The narration rotates between the five kids: the original three sisters (Emma, Quinn, and Mattie) and the new kids (Ray and Sasha). That, at times, got confusing for me. I was reading a digital ARC and sometimes there wasn’t a clear indicator that the book was changing narrators–I hope that’s something that is fixed or different in the physical book. That being said, if the narrators had very different tones or voices, this wouldn’t have been so confusing. Unfortunately, all of the narrators pretty much sound alike. It was very difficult to tell them apart just from the language. The only signals we get are from context.

The good thing about having so many narrators, though, is that I really felt like I got to know each of the siblings on a pretty deep level. If there had just been one or two narrators, we would have only gotten to know the other characters on a superficial level from our narrator’s perspective. I enjoyed getting to know how characters were perceived but then also having the internal viewpoint for each of them. I expected to not like at least one of the siblings, but I honestly really came to care for each of them in separate ways. Obviously they each had some less desirable traits, but I was willing to overlook them because I felt like I knew each of them on a deeper level so those things didn’t matter.

The only kind of negative thing that really stood out to me was that Jaime’s family seemed a little random. They had a ton of drama as well, but then they’re not really explored at all. I would have either liked more exploration there, or less description of it.

After reading (and pretty much loving) this book, I was surprised to see that there were many negative reviews for this book on Goodreads. One reviewer in particular (who admits to being a straight, white, female) thought that this book displayed “blatant sexism, body-shaming of all sorts, stereotyping, and some racism”. While I could see her points, I just wanted to give my two cents on some of those things. I’m also straight and female, but I’m only a quarter white so I might have a slightly different perspective.

“Blatant Sexism”. The reviewer points out a section of the book where one of our main characters, Ray, is looking at another character’s body–specifically her chest. The reviewer’s response: “This is a direct example of the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude that results in the normalization of rape and sexual assault. What could Ray do? Well I’ll tell you–he could have not looked down at Sasha’s dress, and kept his eyes to himself…” I see her point and I’m not at all trivializing the normalization of rape and sexual assault that is happening. However, I was listening to an interesting podcast the other day. It was a rerun forĀ This American Life (great podcast if you’re not already a subscriber). It was an episode completely about testosterone (listen here). In one of the sections the reporter was interviewing a transgender man about his transition. As part of theĀ transition, he had to be injected with a very high dosage of testosterone. It was really interesting to hear him talk about how he thought about women pre-transition (and testosterone) versus post. There was a stark difference. Obviously, we all have agency and can make our own choices, right? However, as a woman, I felt that my eyes were opened to this chemical thing that happens in boys that doesn’t happen in girls that I really had no idea about. It seems apparent to me that it’s not just a moral or ethical thing, but that natural chemicals and hormones are coming into play as well. I guess what my point is, is that even though I agree that Ray shouldn’t have been looking at Sasha’s chest, IĀ don’t feel that this interaction was necessarily out of place. I was uncomfortable when I read it too, but I’m not necessarily angry at Brashares for including it–I feel like I get it.

“Some Racism”. The reviewer describes her frustration that an Indian American man (actually he was raised in Canada)Ā is stereotypically a “tech genius”. Just as an aside here, I thought he was in finance, but I could have gotten that wrong. Another reviewer criticized the fact that this same character, Robert, was really trying to downplay the fact that he was Indian and wanted nothing more than to be just like all the white men out there. I can see why that’s bothersome, but I feel like we need to look at the overall context here. He was adopted by white parents and it sounded like he was raised in a white community. So from that perspective, it makes sense that he might not identify as being Indian–he wasn’t raised that way. In addition, it can be frustrating for people to make assumptions about you based on your physical appearance (I speak from personal experience here). I can understand why Robert would want to be “as white as possible” (for lack of a better term) since that’s more or less what he identifies as.

Those are just some of my thoughts about the negative comments that have been made about this book. I think a lot of the problems that people have with this book just need to be viewed in the appropriate context instead of being taken out and examined under a microscope. I, personally, was not offended by the book as a woman or as a person of color–in fact, I actually really enjoyed it! I’ll allow you to judge for yourself, but I don’t think these negative reviews should be enough to keep you from reading it if you would have picked it up otherwise.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Heavy
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate (some drinking and some underage smoking)
Sexual Content: Moderate (nothing explicit).

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Somebody stop me from reading more books from this publisher | Incriminating Dating by Rebekah L Purdy [ARC]

Incriminating DatingAyla wants to make a difference at her school and the only real way to do that is by becoming class president. Unfortunately, that means running against the resident popular, mean girl who has been class president pretty much since Kindergarten. When Ayla catches golden boy Luke Pressler defacing public property, she sees her opportunity to get in with the popular crowd. If she blackmails Luke and his friends to support her, she could actually win this election. Unfortunately, what began as simply business threatens to become more as she starts to develop actual feelings for Luke. Ayla knows it’s stupid because he would never feel the same way about her, right?

I know I’ve talked about this before on here, but WHY DO I KEEP READING BOOKS FROM THIS PUBLISHER. They always have promising premises, but then they never payoff. I just need to learn my lesson and STAY AWAY. Seriously, next time I’m going to read one of these please, somebody stop me.

I liked Luke as a character but Ayla was just too much. I found her overbearing, judgmental, and more than a little self-righteous. To be honest, I’m not totally sure what Luke sees in her, but whatever. Luke had a surprisingly in-depth backstory and I feel like it was given enough screen time to really get to know who he is. Without giving anything away, I do question the plausibility of some things that happen towards the end…but maybe it’s a really big town.

The plot is predictably infuriating. Lack of communication leads to all kinds of drama, etc., etc. Also, characters really need to learn how to passcode protect their phones. That’s pretty much all I have to say about the plot. It’s all just very blah. The antagonist throughout the whole thing is a girl named Jenna Lee who is the cardboard mean girl that makes her way into most of these books. We get nothing from her as far as motivations go–she’s just mean for no reason. So that doesn’t really help to drive the plot forward much or make it more interesting.

Overall, I would not recommend this book. There are plenty of other “blackmailed into dating” books to read if you’re interested in that trope. I’d say give this one a hard PASS.

Overall Rating: 2
Language: Heavy
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cyberbullying in a strange, future New York | The Takedown by Corrie Wang [ARC]

The TakedownKyle is a queen bee. She and her three best friends are the most popular girls in school. On top of that, she’s also on track to be school valedictorian and is working to get into all of her top choices for college. But all of that comes crashing down when a video is leaked of her having sex with her English teacher. Except…it’s not her. As the video goes viral, Kyle watches everything she’s built come crashing down. Nobody believes that it’s not her in the video, so it’s up to Kyle to prove that somebody’s out to get her.

This book first came to my attention because one of my favorite authors (Ryan Graudin) has been raving about it. Unfortunately, I found it to be pretty disappointing. First off, the setting is this really strange, future New York but it’s not really apparent that we’re in the future until a few chapters in. Was it necessary for the book to be set in the future? I don’t really think so. It just made it confusing because I had to learn about a completely new set of technology, social media, etc. And the way they talk was also really strange. It’s like…they would swear, but without the vowels? It was just super weird–I don’t actually think the English language is going to evolve like that.

Kyle, the main character, is not likable. I didn’t feel sympathy towards her or bad for her in any way. She just wasn’t likable and she didn’t really experience any growth. So if that was the goal, then the author definitely accomplished that. But if it wasn’t, then I think she needs to rethink how sheĀ writes her characters in the future. Kyle was just really entitled and selfish the whole book. She’s so focused on “me me me me me me” that she doesn’t notice anything that the people around her are doing. Her life is crashing down and she feels like everyone around her needs to be worrying about that as much, if not MORE, than she is.

The secondary characters were just okay. I didn’t really like any of them more than I liked Kyle. I also didn’t like that her brother was also named Kyle. The author gave a reason for that and I understand why it was “necessary” for the plot, but…just no. Figure out another way to accomplish that plot point because having a brother and a sister both named Kyle is just too weird and confusing.

The plot was also just okay. I’ve read a lot of books that are supposed to be a type of mystery, but there’s no way for the reader to solve it on their own. I’d like to read a book where the reader can take an active role in solving the mystery along with the characters. As it is, most books that involve a mystery just expect readers to sit back and enjoy the ride. This book was no different. Sure, there were clues. But in the end, there was really no way for the reader to decide who the “bad guy” was with any certainty. We just don’t get all of the facts until the very end. We’re left trailing the main character instead of working alongside them.

Overall, I was disappointed by this book. There were too many elements that just weren’t working for me. That being said, this book does have a rating of 4.03 on Goodreads, so take my review with a grain of salt I guess. I didn’t like it very much, but you might still enjoy it.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: Heavy. Nothing very explicit, but this book is all about a sex tape so it’s talked about a lot.

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A book that proves fans of YouTubers are the worst | At First Blush by Beth Ellyn Summer [ARC]

25613996Lacey (known on YouTube as LaceyBlushes) is passionate about two things: makeup and her subscribers. When she lands a coveted summer internship at a top fashion magazine, she welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with fellow YouTubers and expand her audience. There’s also the added bonus of working closely with the subject of the magazine’s August cover story–ex-boy band member Tyler Lance. Unfortunately, working at the magazine isn’t all that she expected and Lacey will have to decide who she really is: Lacey or LaceyBlushes?

I was not expecting much from this book but it totally blew me away! I am a full-blown convert to the YA Celeb Romance genre and this book totally delivered on that front. I liked the main characters quite a bit right from the start. Lacey seems like a really sweet girl and I love how she’s always thinking about her fans and subscribers. Tyler is a good character as well though we don’t really get to know him on as deep a level as we get to know Lacey since the book is in her POV. Their relationship was mostly good, but I didn’t feel that it was developed from Tyler’s side at all. He likes her almost right away but it’s never really explained why. Lacey’s a sweet girl and all, but how did she grab his attention? What drew him to her? He can have literally any girl he wants, so why did he choose Lacey? That’s not a knock on her, I just felt like I needed that additional information to fully believe their relationship.

The secondary characters were fine but were definitely secondary. Lacey’s fellow YouTubers helped to flesh out the story and made her time at the magazine more interesting. I really liked the make-up girl that Lacey ended up working with sometimes…I feel like her name was maybe Reagan? But I don’t remember. Sorry. Anyway, she was cool. Most of the secondary characters including the ones listed plus Lacey’s parents, Cynth, and Tyler’s bandmates all seemed pretty one-note, but that wasn’t too big of a deal since Tyler and Lacey really were the main focus of the book.

Plotwise, I saw some things coming and the main story line wasn’t anything mind-blowingly original. I thought that it was awesome how supportive Lacey’s parents were with her YouTubing, but the part of the plot that involved them at the end was a little much. It just didn’t feel all the way thought out or incorporated with the rest of the story. Then there was all the drama with Cynth too–I didn’t really like that. I didn’t feel that Cynth and Lacey’s relationship was that well developed in the first place, so then the drama just felt like too much when it happened.

Overall, I thought this book was really cute and fun! It made me a lot more interested in watching makeup tutorials on YouTube. On another note, I also had the realization that viewers, followers, subscribers, etc. are the worst. When Lacey starts doing things that her subscribers don’t like, they turn on her SO FAST. Even though this is just a story, that kind of thing definitely happens in real life all the time. I mean, just because a YouTuber chooses to put some of their life on the internet for our viewing pleasure does not give us the right to try to dictate how they choose to actually live. Do people realize that? Anyway…rant over. I just felt really sick about some of the people on the internet these days after reading this book. With that being said, this book is awesome and I definitely recommend it if you need something cute and light to read.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: None
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

March Wrap-Up/April TBR

Wrap-Up & TBR
March

ARCs
Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge ā€“ Read, and reviewed
These Ruthless Deeds by Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas ā€“Ā ReadĀ and reviewed
Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik ā€“Ā ReadĀ and reviewed
At First Blush by Beth Ellyn Summer –Ā Read, review coming
Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer – ReadĀ and reviewed
Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray ā€“Ā ReadĀ and reviewed
The Takedown by Corrie Wang –Ā Read, review coming
Incriminating Dating by Rebekah L Purdy – Currently Reading

Other
When We Collided by Emery Lord – ReadĀ and reviewed
Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger – Currently Reading
The Crown by Kiera Cass ā€“Ā Read and reviewed
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen ā€“Ā Read

This month I finished reading 10 books.

April

ARCs
The Castaways by Jessika Fleck
The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy
The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares
Girl Out of Water by Sarah Silverman
A Million Junes by Emily Henry
Say No to the Bro by Kat Helgeson
Seeking Mansfield by Kate Watson
The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Other
Aversion by Kenechi Udogu

How was your month? What was your favorite read from March and what are you looking forward to reading in April?

What do they call a road trip in space? | Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray [ARC]

Defy the StarsNoemi is determined to save the planet Genesis even if it means sacrificing her own life to do so. But when she finds out there might be another way to save her home planet, she’s willing to travel all around the galaxy to make it happen. In this scenario, the only sacrifice would be a mech that she found aboard an abandoned ship. She’d almost feel bad about it, but mechs aren’t human and don’t have opinions or feelingsĀ anyway, right?

I’m starting to think that sci-fi might not be my genre. I either find it really confusing or the explanations of the technology is too boring. I just have a hard time when there’s all this future technology that I don’t really understand. On top of that, this book has multiple WORLDS that I need to try to understand. It’s not easy, I’ll tell you that. I felt like I got a pretty good handle on Earth (obviously), Genesis, and Kismet, but then Stronghold and Cray are toss-ups. I have no idea which world is which. Overall, I wish that there had been a little more world(s) building. Gray had such a huge opportunity to create these awesome new planets, but in the end I feel like I didn’t really get a sense of “there-ness” for any of them. They might as well have been all one planet. Also, I wish the characters had actually gone to Kismet instead of just landing on its moon. That almost felt like a cop-out to me. Like the author didn’t really want to go into all the detail that Kismet would require so she just said, “Here, I’ll have them go to this more boring place instead.”

Noemi was okay as a character. I didn’t hate her, but I didn’t love her either. I don’t really feel like we got to know her that well. We get some of her background, but it’s more telling rather than showing. I didn’tĀ feel anything about her history. Like, I felt bad that she’d lost her whole family, but it didn’t feel like something tragic in her backstory even though it was. Does that even make sense? I did like the religious aspect of her character though, it gave her a little more depth. Abel was a little more interesting. There were times when you could almost forget that he’s a mech (basically a robot) but at the same time, you never really could. There were times throughout the book when his abilities were a little too convenient. Oh, the characters are in a bind? Luckily Abel can do this thing and get them out of it! I mean…everything that he did was plausible with who his character was, but still…too convenient. And I thought all the details about how he’s programmed to be really good at sex was weird and unnecessary to ANY aspect of the plot. Honestly, it just made me feel super uncomfortable every time he brought it up. Secondary characters were alright. They were really just there to help the main characters keep the plot moving.

The relationship between Abel and Noemi just seemed so obvious and contrived. Like…of COURSE they’re going to fall in love. Never mind that Abel is NOT HUMAN. Here’s the thing. I always have a really hard time when a human girl falls in love with an alien, a being who is technically hundreds of years older than her, or robots. Basically anything that isn’t really human. It just feels so weird to me! Like…we wouldn’t have a YA book where a human girl falls in love with a dog, right? So what makes these other non-human love interests okay? In my opinion, nothing. Nothing makes it okay. I’m still creeped out. WHY COULDN’T THEY HAVE JUST BEEN FRIENDS???

Overall, I thought this book was just okay. It was really slow for me to get into, but once I was about halfway through the pace really started to speed up and I finished the last half fairly quickly. It looks like this is going to be a series though and I just don’t see myself having the motivation to pick up the next book even though I wouldn’t necessarily mind finding out what happens next. But if you’re already into sci-fi, then I think you might like this book.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: None
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: Moderate. No actual sexual encounters, but it is mentioned openly at times.

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A book about grief and growing up too early | Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer [ARC]

Letters to the LostThe accident happened months ago, but to Juliet, it feels like it was just yesterday. Her mom took an earlier flight home as a surprise because Juliet begged her to. Now she’s dead. Hit and run. So Juliet writes her letters. Of course, she knows that her mom will never read them, but it feels good sometimes to put those emotions down on paper. When Declan finds one of Juliet’s letters at the cemetery where he’s doing community service, he can’t help but respond. They become pen pals of sorts and under the cover of anonymity they can admit things that they never had the courage to admit before.

I did not expect this book. It was deep and meaningful and was a really intense look at grief from all kinds of different angles. All of the characters in this book are flawed and the author doesn’t shy away from the ugly parts of their lives or personalities. Juliet and Declan are both kind of angry people, but I didn’t find that I minded like I have with characters from other books. Mostly I just felt sad for both characters. They’ve both had these huge events in their lives that completely change how they interact with the rest of the world. I wouldn’t say that either of them are particularly likable, but I still felt for them and I think that’s a sign of really well developed characters.

The cast of secondary characters was also amazing. I loved both Rev and Rowan, but especially Rev and I’m very excited that he’ll be getting his own bookĀ coming out next year. They were a great support system for the two main characters and honestly just seem like really good people. At the same time, they had their own flaws that we don’t really have time to get into in this book–but they’re there. I also just want to give a shoutout to the fact that Rev is an unashamed Christian and isn’t portrayed as a complete freak. Then there are the adult characters. Frank, Juliet’s dad, Declan’s mom and step-dad, Rev’s parents, Mrs. Hillard, and Mr. Gerardi. A lot of times YA books portray adults as the enemies or like they just don’t understand or completely absent. There is a little bit of that in this book, but there are also a lot of times when adults are present and they are every bit as flawed as our teenage protagonists. Despite those flaws a lot of the adult characters are also super enabling. I especially loved the interactions that Declan had with Frank and Mrs. Hillard. It’s not always an us vs them thing when it comes to teens and adults–sometimes adults are on your side! So I give a big thank you to the author for illustrating that. I also loved Juliet’s gradual appreciation for her father.

There is a bit of a plot that runs as a constant thread throughout the book, but it’s definitely not the focus–we’re much more focused on the development of our main characters. I think my overall takeaway from this book is that we really shouldn’t judge other people before getting to know them. I think this is most apparent in the judgments that Rowan and Brandon make about Declan and Rev. Rowan and Brandon are nice, good people, but they don’t take the time to try to get to know either Declan or Rev. They only listen to the things they’ve heard about Declan and Rev is guilty by association and because he dresses strangely. How many of us are exactly like Rowan and Brandon? Let’s get to know and love the Declans and Revs of the world.

Overall, I thought this book was really great. While there were someĀ overusedĀ elements (the “evil stepparent” for one), I also thought that the author included several refreshing elements. I think this book will, deservedly, stand apart from other books in the YA category.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: Moderate. Some brief descriptions of child abuse.
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate. Mostly due to one scene at the end of the book–not graphic.

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.