Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills [Review]

Famous in a Small TownSophie’s marching band has been invited to march at the Rose Parade. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they’re going to be able to raise enough money to actually get there. That’s when Sophie comes up with a genius idea–if she can get hometown celebrity Megan Pleasant to come to a local festival, they might just be able to raise enough funds to make the trip. Sophie enlists her friends and newcomer August in this mission to get Megan Pleasant to come home at last.

TL;DR – Characters feel like characters rather than real people and the main character’s kind of taken for granted, but still a really enjoyable read.

Order: Hardcover | Paperback | eBook

I absolutely tear through these books. Emma Mills is really good at writing characters that are enjoyable to read. Even though her characters are a little¬†too witty almost all of the time, I still find myself enjoying the banter. You kind of just have to accept that these are obviously characters–not real people. One thing I liked about this book is that Sophie already has an established group of friends. I’ve noticed a trend in YA Contemporary where the main character is kind of this misfit and/or a really introverted girl who gets absorbed into this quirky friend group and is handed a love interest. I thought Sophie’s group of friends was interesting and I felt that their shared history gave the group depth.

On the other hand, there were a lot of times when I felt like Sophie was being completely taken advantage of and the rest of the group was acting really selfishly. Sophie cares so much for other people–ESPECIALLY HER FRIENDS–and I felt like she was repeatedly getting trampled on (figuratively speaking). I mean, how hard is it for her friends to care about the Megan Pleasant thing for TWO SECONDS just because it’s important to Sophie?!? TWO SECONDS. I just wish they’d been more supportive of Sophie.

The plot takes some interesting turns, but I don’t want to spoil anything. I’ll just say that one of the twists had me bawling and the other seemed…a little bit of a stretch. How everything played out just seemed a bit questionable and maybe a tad too convenient?

Overall, I liked this book as much as Mills’ other ones and will definitely continue to pick up her stuff. I had some minor issues with it, but nothing that really prevented me from enjoying it.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Heavy

Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate

 

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A country music love story | You’d Be Mine by Erin Hahn [ARC]

You'd Be MineAnnie Mathers is country royalty. Her parents were both popular country singers and songwriters, but due to their tragic deaths, Annie is wary of following them into the spotlight. Clay Coolidge is currently country music’s hottest up-and-coming bad boy and when he asks Annie to join him on tour, she reluctantly accepts. As the tour and the summer progresses, Annie will have to decide just how far she wants to follow in her parent’s footsteps and whether her journey might have the same ending.

TL;DR – Flawed main characters have a surprising amount of depth. The author did a great job of creating emotion when I wasn’t expecting it.

Preorder: eBook | Hardcover

First, I’m just going to say that I really don’t like this cover. When I saw it on my Netgalley list I was like, “Man, why did I request¬†this?” But then I read the synopsis and remembered. I’m always down for a good celebrity romance book, but I was actually really surprised by how into this book I was. I could not put it down! As a new mom, I don’t really have time to read for hours at a time and I don’t always feel like picking up a book when I’ve got a spare 15 minutes, but I just kept coming back to this book. I wanted to know what would happen, but I also just really liked the characters–especially Annie.

The overall plot is nothing special, but I thought Annie’s conflict was really compelling. She kept seeing herself and Clay as an echo of her parents and she (obviously) didn’t want to end up like them. I thought she was realistically hesitant about getting into a relationship with Clay.¬† Hahn also did a good job creating this tragic backstory for Clay without it being too much. Secondary characters were pretty good, but they didn’t have a ton of depth. They were mostly around to support the main characters, but they were still enjoyable.

I also liked that for once we’re given a Christian character in YA who isn’t holier than thou or super prude–Annie is just normal! She mentions her faith a few times, but it isn’t overdone and this isn’t a Christian fic book. I also loved how Annie told Fitz that she doesn’t drink and he was super respectful of that. He just said, “I won’t ask again”. I love that!

I did have a few issues with the book, but they were super minor compared to everything else. First, I couldn’t tell if the author is a fan of country music or not? It mostly reads like a love letter to country, but every once in a while I felt like there was a little dig at the genre. Second, books about/with music are always hard for me because inevitably we get some lyrics, but there’s no melody so it just feels like something’s missing–I’m not getting the full effect. And sometimes I just really want to hear these songs! Lastly, when Annie writes and sings her song “You’d be Mine”, I feel like the first half of it is obviously about her parents while the second half is about her and Clay. But the characters only ever focus on the Clay section–I wish that Annie and the other characters had discussed that this is the first song she’s writing about her parents. It just felt really significant but it’s literally never addressed.

Overall, I was very surprised by how deep this book was. I thought it would be a light, summery celebrity romance, but there was so much more emotion than that. Hahn does a fantastic job exploring grief and how different people choose to deal with it. There were several parts in the book where I legit cried and I just wasn’t expecting that from this book. It was very close to a five star book for me, but not quite.

Overall Rating: 4.5
Language: Heavy
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Heavy
Sexual Content: Moderate

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

Why is it so hard to just pick a genre? | Sawkill Girls by Claire LeGrand

Sawkill GirlsGirls have been disappearing from Sawkill for decades, but no one seems to find this suspicious. Except for Zoey. Her best friend Thora disappeared last year and everyone seems to have forgotten. Zoey is positive that Val’s family has something to do with it, but nobody believes her. Marion is new to the island after her father had a tragically fatal accident. She and her sister have no idea that girls have been going missing–and that they might be next.

TL;DR – Ultimately disappointing. I felt like the book was trying to fit into too many genres at once. Overall, it felt like it was trying too hard and lost what it was trying to be.

This book started off delightfully mysterious and creepy with a hint of magical realism and I was so into it. Magical realism is a genre that I tend to really enjoy. I like the subtlety and wonder of it. Several things happen that are completely unsettling and I was ready to figure out what the heck was going on. But then the plot took this turn and there were secret organizations and it turned into this weird amalgamation of sci fi and fantasy and horror. It lost all subtlety and I felt like it cheapened the whole plot.

The characters were fine. I didn’t feel particularly connected to any of them. We have three narrators in Marion, Zoey, and Val, but I honestly wouldn’t have been super heartbroken if any of them hadn’t made it. Secondary characters were okay. Nobody was super developed. I thought Grayson was an exceptionally poor character, though. He literally served no purpose except to conveniently move the plot forward. We need someone to decipher a dead language? Conveniently, Grayson can do it! We need a boat? Grayson’s family has one!

I think a lot of readers will appreciate that all three of our main characters are queer. I appreciate the diversity too, but I’m not sure how it really plays into who the characters are and how they act. It felt like it was just kind of thrown in there so the author could claim diversity? I don’t know, maybe other people feel differently about that.

Overall, I was extremely disappointed by this book. I wanted it to be subtly creepy, but instead I feel like it tried to go too far and do too much and it lost me. I think the author should have stuck to a more subtle magical realism (like Bone Gap).

Overall Rating: 2
Language: Heavy
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Heavy

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Sawkill Girls review

This is for the true crime podcast lovers | Sadie by Courtney Summers

SadieSadie will not stop until she finds the man who killed her sister. With Mattie gone, she has nothing good left in her life and nothing left to live for. As Sadie follows the killer’s trail she’ll have to confront her own demons and figure out what it means to get justice for her sister.

Hardcover | eBook | Audio

TL;DR – Trigger warnings galore, but will satisfy anybody who is already a fan of true crime podcasts.

This book was so much harder to read than I thought it would be. I put it on my TBR because of the podcast element and really didn’t know what I was in for. The majority of the book is from Sadie’s perspective, but there’s also a “podcast” running throughout hosted by a man named West McCray. You can actually download the podcast and listen to it with the book. I imagine that the audio for this book would be phenomenal because of the mixed media element. But anyway, like I was saying, beyond the podcast stuff, I didn’t really know what to expect. Trigger warnings for sexual abuse, abandonment, pedophilia, and honestly, probably more.

Now that that’s out of the way, while I liked the podcast element and thought it was fun, it definitely read like fiction. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but you can tell when a podcast is fiction and when it’s not. It’s the language that’s used and the way sentences are put together. The interviews just don’t sound as authentic. That was the case with this, but it probably wouldn’t bother anyone who doesn’t listen to nonfiction podcasts regularly.

I thought this book was really well written. Plotwise, I think it could have read like Sadie was on this ultimate, messed-up roadtrip, but it doesn’t. Summers does a great job presenting clues for Sadie to follow in an organic way that doesn’t feel forced or convenient. While Sadie isn’t necessarily a¬†likable character, I find that she’s still sympathetic to me. One of the main things I felt throughout this book was an overwhelming sadness. As a mom (and as a person in general), I feel so sad for kids who don’t have a functional family and who don’t have their every day needs met. I feel so sad for kids who don’t have a loving parent or guardian who tell them every day how loved and wanted they are. I feel so sad for kids who don’t feel safe in their own homes–in their own ROOMS. And it makes me so mad to think that there are sick people out there who are preying on kids and who make them feel like there’s no one who will help them.

Overall, this book is a hard one to read and I don’t recommend it lightly. I think if you’re going to read this book, you should know what you’re in for. I really only had one issue and it was just that the reason Mattie was killed doesn’t really make sense to me. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but the guy came back to town and I don’t feel like that really matches his M.O. Was he looking for Mattie or was it spur of the moment? Did Mattie somehow contact him? Anyway, that was really the only sticking point for me. In the end, it’s a powerful book that still has me thinking about it even though I read it weeks ago.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Heavy
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Heavy
Sexual Content: Heavy

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, their¬†worlds are about to collide for the first time.

Okay, so I know that Brashares has written more things than¬†JUST¬†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 for¬†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 the¬†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, I¬†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)¬†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.

Deaf Graffiti Artist Hates Everyone | You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner [ARC]

You're Welcome, UniverseJulia was only trying to defend her best friend and if somebody also appreciated her awesome graf, then so be it. Unfortunately, that same best friend ratted her out to the school administration and Julia is expelled from her deaf school and forced to go to a normal public school. Now she’s trying to avoid her new interpreter, Casey, while lying low so her moms don’t find out that she’s trying to plan a graffiti masterpiece for the underpass. When someone starts tagging her work, Julia becomes obsessed with figuring out who this new graffiti artist thinks they are.

So many feelings about this book… First I’ll say that the writing was fast-paced and punchy which made the flow really fun to read. I also thought that the insight into deaf life was really interesting. I liked that the author didn’t feel the need to say “signed” every time somebody said something. Characters just had normal conversations, but since they were deaf I imagined them signing without the author having to tell me explicitly that that’s what they were doing. I also liked the illustrations included throughout the book and the emoticons that Julia used were a fun touch as well.

That’s about all the positive things I have to say about this book unfortunately. Julia reminded me a lot of Parker from Eric Lindstrom’s Not If I See You First. They were both just so angry as characters. I didn’t really understand where all of Julia’s anger came from. She was very quick to judge other characters and overall I thought she was very selfish with almost no development throughout the story. I mean, she calls her new best friend YP (short for Yoga Pants) throughout the whole book. We literally never learn her name.¬†A couple times Julia just refers to her as “Pants”. Is this for real? That’s so demeaning! And her friend is apparently just okay with this? No thanks.

Julia’s relationship with her old best friend, Sydney, is strange from the start. Julia apparently feels really protective of her. So much so that she graffitis the school. But then her friend rats her out and Julia goes from protective to hating her best friend’s guts. That just doesn’t feel like a genuine relationship at all and only seemed to serve as a way to kick off the story and get the plot going.

My last issue is about the distribution of diversity in this story. I’m all for diversity in YA, but we have this one character who has a disability, is a minority, and also has two moms. It just seems a bit much for one person? I’m not saying that one person can’t have this many diverse characteristics, and the author more or less incorporated each one into the character’s previous development, but it just seems like all of the diversity is concentrated around Julia. She’s surrounded by white characters (with the exception being one of her moms) and even though Sydney is technically also deaf, she has Cochlear Implants so she’s basically a “hearie” according to Julia. It just would have felt more real if the diversity was spread out a little bit more. Share the love!

Lastly, the plot was just kind of there. It was a little confusing and not the most compelling, but it was alright. I didn’t really understand why YP’s ex-boyfriend got so much screen time, but whatever. I would have liked to have had her issues explored a bit more. She had an eating disorder, but then overcame it. But now she’s getting bullied and she has this weird relationship with her ex. But Julia’s so focused on herself that we never get to see what’s going on with YP or figure out why her dad bakes so much. The last thing I have to say about the plot is that the conflict between Julia and YP towards the end felt forced.

Overall, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book. The main character is just too angry and I felt so bothered every time I saw the letters “YP” on the page. I think it’s great that the author is trying to write a book with a deaf main character, but I would recommend Song of Summer by Laura Lee Anderson over this one (my review here).

Overall Rating: 2
Language: Heavy
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: Moderate. There’s one scene in particular (not too explicit) that came out of nowhere and literally had no impact on moving the plot forward.

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