If I hear the term “swimcest” one more time… | Coming Up for Air by Miranda Kenneally [ARC]

Coming Up for AirFor years, the only things that Maggie has thought about are swimming, school, and food. She doesn’t have time for boys if she wants to get into one of the top swimming colleges–she has to concentrate on shaving seconds off of her race times. After a disastrous college visit, however, Maggie begins to rethink her “no boys” policy. The last thing she wants is to get to college and be completely inexperienced in the boy department. But how is she supposed to make time for boys with her busy swimming schedule?

The premise of this story is so cringe to me. Our main character doesn’t want to go to college inexperienced, so she turns to her best guy friend to help her get some “experience”. I feel so awkward just typing that sentence. And they kept using this term “swimcest” to describe two people on the same swim team dating…so cringe. For the record, it’s not the worst thing in the world to go to college without having kissed someone–I would know. (P.S. I turned out fine. I’m even married now! Funny how that happens). That’s kind of my main issue with this book I guess… I feel like it promotes an incorrect message that everyone going into their freshman year of college has had sex. This is so far from the truth! Do we really want teenage girls reading this book to feel defective if they haven’t had much experience with boys? Or feel pressured to get some kind of experience before college? That’s definitely NOT the message I’d want my daughters to receive. Every girl is on her own time table and that’s OKAY.

With all that in mind, I really think it’s about time that I cut this series loose. Looking at my Goodreads, I’ve realized that I haven’t given any of these books over three stars. Yikes. I think the only reason I keep reading these books is because I like finding the easter eggs–but that’s definitely not a good enough reason to keep reading.

But anyway, on to the actual book. I thought Maggie was completely immature in almost all of her interactions with other people. Perhaps I shouldn’t judge her so harshly since she’s only in high school, but I found myself rolling my eyes at her. A lot. Levi was a weird character who was nice enough, but didn’t have a ton of depth in my opinion. And then I guess there were other characters? But they were seriously so inconsequential that I can’t remember any of them.

The plot was completely predictable and had a ton of manufactured drama. That’s pretty much all I have to say about that.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this book. I wouldn’t recommend this series. While I appreciate seeing female main characters in prominent sports roles, that doesn’t outweigh all of the negatives that have accumulated from each of the books throughout the years.

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

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

I never went to summer camp, but now I wish I had | Trusting You and Other Lies by Nicole Williams [ARC]

Trusting You and Other LiesPhoenix doesn’t trust her parents anymore. Ever since she found the foreclosure notice on her father’s desk, she knows that the only people she can rely on are herself and her little brother Harry. That’s what makes this summer so unbearable. Instead of spending her last summer before senior year at the beach with her friends, Phoenix is going to be in the middle of nowhere Arizona at a family summer camp. Even though she’s trying to look at the silver lining (she won’t run into her cheating ex-boyfriend and working as a counselor will help her to save up for a car) Phoenix is counting down the days before she can get back home and away from her family.

Man, this book seriously packs all the summer feels. Even though our main character is pretty down on it, it makes summer camp seem like the most fun thing. Hiking, river rafting, and rock climbing? Sign me up. For real. Overall, I thought the setting of this book was fantastic though some things didn’t really make sense to me. For example, the campers are supposed to come in and out in 2 or 4 week cycles. But then that’s never mentioned again for the rest of the book. I know that Phoenix and her family are there for the whole summer along with the rest of the camp staff, but shouldn’t there have been a scene or two where new campers are arriving or old campers are leaving? Another thing is that it feels like this book would have made more sense if the characters were a little older, just as far as the summer camp setting goes. Is Ben really just employing teenagers to be camp counselors to adults? It just seems like it would make more sense for the counselors to be in their 20s. But anyway, that’s such a nit-picky thing that it doesn’t matter.

Phoenix was a pretty likable main character. I thought her relationship with Harry was great (I always love the big sister/little brother relationships in YA). Her relationship with her parents was obviously strained and there were times when I really didn’t like how she spoke to them. She doesn’t trust them anymore because they “lied” to her, but that’s not really something that’s majorly explored. The only thing I can figure is that they didn’t tell her that they were having financial trouble. She keeps saying how they haven’t really been parents for the last two years, but what else happened that kept them from acting like parents? Also, at the beginning of the book, Phoenix’s mom gets mad that Phoenix didn’t tell her that she’d been thinking about going to Northwestern. Phoenix protests that it wasn’t a lie, she just didn’t tell her everything. But that’s the entire basis of why Phoenix is mad at her parents in the first place and is why she gets mad at Callum later in the book. So yeah…even though I liked Phoenix, there were several times when she was completely contradictory. Another instance is when she’s telling Harry that once somebody lies to her, they lose her trust forever. But then she turns around and is upset that Callum won’t give her another chance even though she lied to him about the permission slip?

Despite my issues with Phoenix’s character, I still liked her and the book as a whole. Callum was a nice enough love interest and seemed like a real person. I wish we’d gotten to go more in-depth with his character, though. It seems like there was really a lot more there that could have been explored. My favorite character was probably Harry. It was awesome to see him come out of his shell and develop throughout the book.

Overall, I would recommend this book as a fairly light summer read. If you like books set in a summer camp, then this is definitely for you.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Moderate. Two characters talk about sexual history, but nothing explicit is described.

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.

The book to read if you ever wanted to learn more about autism | Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik [ARC]

Things I Should Have KnownChloe doesn’t have what anybody would call an “ideal situation”. Sure she’s pretty popular at school, but her dad died a few years ago and her mom married a total tool. On top of that, she has an autistic older sister to worry about. Her friends are supportive, but don’t really get it–not that she expects them to. When Chloe tries to set her sister up on a couple of dates, Chloe begins to see one of her classmates in a completely different light. She starts to think that maybe there is someone who can understand her after all.

This book was truly great. The author has a child who is autistic and I felt that that really shows in the book. It feels real and authentic and I learned a lot more about how to interact with people who are on the autism spectrum. This is the kind of diversity in characters that I can appreciate. The author has first-hand experience with autism and can portray it in a way that somebody without that first-hand knowledge never could in my opinion.

Chloe and David are both just really great characters. The love that they have for their siblings is obvious throughout the book. They’re definitely flawed, but I can’t help but feel that they’re still better people than I am. They have normal lives, but at the same time, their worlds kind of revolve around their siblings. Chloe and David make me want to be a better person when I’m around those with disabilities for sure. Their relationship with each other felt real and progressed at a natural pace. I thought they really balanced each other out. As far as secondary characters go, I felt that both sets of parents could have been developed a little more. More depth was shown at the end of the book, but it almost felt like too little, too late. James and Sarah were both really flat characters as well and didn’t contribute much of importance to the story.

One criticism that I have is with Chloe’s relationship with her step-dad. It just seemed so obvious to me. For once I would like to read a book where the main character looses a parent that they had a good relationship with, but then they also love their step-parent as well. Does that ever happen in real life? Does it even exist? Or am I just wishing for a unicorn here? It just feels like a really cheap way to add drama.

Ethan and Ivy were also great characters. I felt like they really showed how differently autism can manifest itself. Not all people with autism act the same way or have the same triggers. Also, I thought the author did a great job of showing that even their loved ones get fed up with them sometimes. People who have autism don’t necessarily need to be babied–they just need to be treated like normal people. The LGBT aspect of it was interesting as well. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I think the author brings up an important topic here.

Overall, I thought this book was fantastic. I’ve really liked LaZebnik’s books in the past and while this one was different, it didn’t disappoint. I definitely look forward to reading anything else that she comes out with.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
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.

Hang on while I plan my trip to Tokyo real quick | Seven Days of You by Cecelia Vinesse [ARC]

Seven Days of YouSophia has always known that her days in Tokyo were numbered. Her mom is a professor at Rutgers University who has been on an extended sabbatical for the last four years. Sophia’s about to leave the only friends she’s ever known, the only place that has ever really felt like home, and the boy that she’s been crushing on basically since she got to Tokyo. Then she hears that Jamie’s coming back to town and she can’t wait to leave just so she doesn’t have to face him. Unfortunately, he’s set to fly in a whole week before she leaves. Now there are T-Minus seven days until New Jersey but only seven minutes until she has to see Jamie again and Sophia is panicking.

This book totally surprised me in a mostly good way. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. First of all, I need to fly to Tokyo as soon as possible and eat all the food. ALL THE FOOD. Different foods were mentioned so frequently in this book and I was repeatedly looking up what they were and everything looked delicious. That being said, we don’t really get that big of a glimpse of Tokyo beyond the food and the weather. I would have liked a little more in that department to really set the right tone and atmosphere. Every once in a while Sophia would say, “I’ll really miss this [insert architecture feature/landmark]” and then that was about it. It almost felt like the author had never actually been to Tokyo though I’m sure that’s not the case. Another thing that didn’t really help in this area is that basically all of our characters are white (except for Mika and her family I think). Even random people on the street I kept picturing as being white–we might as well have been in the United States (but maybe that’s more my imagination’s fault than the author’s).

The characters were messy and had depth but even so, they were less than realistic. I mean, maybe that’s how ex-pat teens in Tokyo live? That’s the only explanation I can think of. We see a fair amount of Sophia’s mom, but most of their exchanges are through text and we mostly just get descriptions of Mika, David, and Jamie’s parents. The lack of parental supervision really bothered me. They’re all staying out until four in the morning, traipsing all around Tokyo, and doing a lot of underage drinking and while we’re told that some parents care, nothing is done about it. Seriously. Nobody gets grounded once?

I thought this book was interesting from the perspective that we’re coming into the lives of these characters at a time when everything is changing. There’s a lot of backstory and emotions that we’re just kind of thrown into when the story starts. Somehow it works though. I felt like I got a handle on who the characters were pretty quickly. A secondary character that especially intrigued me was Sophia’s sister, Alison. I thought their relationship was very interesting. As someone who has a not-super-close relationship and completely different personalities from her sister, I felt that I could relate to their dynamic in some ways. I liked that we could see Alison’s protective side coming out and in the end it was definitely apparent that they both care for each other.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. While the romance did happen quickly, I could buy it because of the history between the characters. I felt that Sophia was a very real and likable character and I loved that she’s super into Physics (hooray for a portrayal of a smart girl being normal!). On the other hand, there was too much swearing and underage drinking throughout the book for my taste and I wish that the adults hadn’t been villainized.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Heavy
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: Heavy. A lot of underage drinking.
Sexual Content: Moderate, nothing explicit.

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

The Prince & Me except not as good | There’s Something About Nik by Sara Hantz [ARC]

There's Something About NikPrince Niklas of Lutgenstadt just wants a chance at living a normal life. As second in line for the throne he doesn’t expect normal treatment all the time, but he just wants to try it for at least a year. His parents reluctantly allow him to enroll in a boarding school in New Hampshire for his junior year of high school where he meets Amber. Last year, Amber was fighting cancer and reeling from the discovery that her boyfriend was cheating on her while she was recovering from treatments in the hospital. This year, Amber plans to focus on applying for a prestigious photography internship by making this year completely boy-free. Then she meets Nik Gustafsson who is as arrogant as he is attractive.

I thought this book started out okay. As characters I wasn’t a big fan of Nik, but I did like Amber quite a bit. I think my deal with Nik is that he seemed unrealistically clueless. I mean, I’ve never been rich, but is it so completely crazy that you have to take your own suitcase to your new dorm room? Then Nik and Amber meet and we’re switching off between narrators and things just started to feel…inconsistent. That’s always a big issue for me–especially in books coming from this publisher. I mean, does no one read these books all the way through to look for that kind of thing before they get published? If not, I am available for hire.

First of the inconsistencies: during his sections, Nik is always hyper-aware and concerned about spilling his secret. But then during Amber’s sections he (seemingly nonchalantly) drops that he’s got servants at home and MULTIPLE DRIVERS to take him wherever he wants to go. Someone who is actively trying to keep their identity secret would not say stuff like that. A second inconsistency that really stood out to me was regarding Amber. She’s supposedly SUPER close to her family but we never once see her brother even though they go to the same boarding school. She tries to explain that away by saying that he’s only in ninth grade so they never see each other, but if her family is so close wouldn’t they eat together or hang out sometimes? And then all this stuff is happening to her and Amber never once even THINKS about calling her parents. Instead, she just turns to Lauren for all life advice. I’ve had roommates that are super close with their parents and let me tell you, they talk to their parents every single day (sometimes multiple times a day) and they tell their parents everything that is happening to them. I understand that, as a reader, we don’t see every aspect of these characters’ lives, but it seems like calling her mom would be a very natural reaction for Amber to have after everything hits the fan.

But anyway, the book is moving along and like I said earlier, I’m not a huge fan of Nik but I like Amber pretty good. Then the big dramatic scene happens and things get really intense between them and Amber’s reaction was just…not good. She compares Nik hiding his true identity from her to her ex-boyfriend Wade cheating on her while she was fighting cancer. She literally says that what Nik did was worse than what Wade did. WHAT??? I mean, of course Nik didn’t tell her who he really was! I don’t feel like he was obligated to tell her even if they’d been dating for two whole weeks. Anyway, the book goes on to place all of the blame squarely on Nik’s shoulders and I just don’t agree with that. Even though I liked Amber better as a character, everything was pretty much her fault and she never owns up to it.

Overall, this book started out pretty good, but then crashed and burned at the end in my opinion. I tend to like the trope where a commoner meets and falls in love with a member of some royal family, but I just felt this one was poorly executed. If you’re looking for something similar, I would recommend reading The Heir and the Spare by Emily Albright instead (while still not GREAT, it was at least better than this one).

Overall Rating: 2
Language: Mild
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: Mild, some kissing

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