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.

”Perfect” Girl Realizes That Being Perfect is Boring (The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen)

The Truth About ForeverMacy is fine, just fine. That’s what she’s been telling everyone since her dad died. While this doesn’t always feel true, Macy wants everyone around her to believe it and her boyfriend Jason makes things a little bit easier. Jason is perfect. He’s organized, smart, and most of all he makes Macy feel normal–not like that girl whose dad died. But Jason is going to “Brain Camp” and Macy knows that she has a long summer ahead of her until she meets the Wish Catering crew. They take Macy in and make her feel normal even if she’s not always perfect.

This is my absolute favorite Sarah Dessen book of all time. I feel like I relate to Macy in a lot of ways. There have been times in the past when I’ve disagreed with some of the choices that Dessen’s protagonists are making, but I really feel like I get Macy. Her decisions make sense to me. Deep down she’s just a really good girl who is genuinely trying to help others around her–especially her mother. She’s realistically flawed and most of all, she’s someone who you can cheer for.

I love the cast of secondary characters in this book and the relationships that they have with each other. The Wish crew is absolutely perfect in every way. Delia, Kristy, Monica, Bert, and Wes have a really fun dynamic and I love that Delia has taken a “mother” role with all of them. Every scene where Wish is working a job is fun to read. Disasters are happening all over the place, but it never feels overwhelmingly chaotic–the reader knows that things are going to work out.

Macy’s family has a really interesting dynamic as well. I like Caroline a lot as a character because I feel like she’s really brave. By renovating the beach house, she’s doing something that the other members of the family don’t have the courage to do. She’s noticed that the family has splintered a bit since her father died and the beach house is her way of bringing the family back together and saving those relationships. I also like that she’s forgiving. It’s not in her to hold grudges.

Wes and Macy’s relationship is just a friendship for most of the book, which I liked. I liked that they really go to know each other well by playing truth before anything remotely romantic happened between them. Wes was definitely my first hardcore book crush. His sculptures sound amazing and I’d really like to see a picture of them or something. Like a lot of Dessen’s other romantic leads, he’s a really good guy. I always appreciate that our main character ends up with a good guy and I like that Wes had a slightly troubled past, but realized he wasn’t heading down the right path and got on the right one.

Overall, this book makes a great beach read while also having depth. Dessen is really good at exploring relationships and this book is no exception. I really only have one critique that holds true for her other books as well. I feel like teenage drinking is handled really casually. Characters are always going to parties and drinking beer–even the “good” characters. I wish Dessen didn’t portray that as so normal because I actually don’t think underage drinking is a good thing. That’s really the only problem I have though. Go read her books!

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Moderate
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild

Politician’s Daughter Walks Dogs For a Summer (The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson)

The Unexpected EverythingAndie has her whole summer planned out. She’ll be leaving her three best friends to attend a summer program at Johns Hopkins for aspiring medical students. However, when some bad news comes out about her father’s campaign, the summer she had planned fades away before her eyes. Now she’s stuck walking dogs and trying to get used to having her father home so much. When she meets Clark, she thinks she’ll be able to do her usual three week relationship and then have the rest of the summer to hookup with other guys. She doesn’t expect that Clark will actually want to get to know her and she doesn’t expect that she might actually want to get to know him too.

I have loved every single Morgan Matson book and this one was no exception. She always creates a wonderful cast of characters for us to fall in love with and I also appreciate when she weaves in the family element as well. For the first time (that I can remember at least), Matson also includes cameos of past characters. We see Emily a couple of times as well as Dawn, Frank, and the other friend…I think his name was Collins? We also get to see Taylor and her siblings (and their dog). I love when authors do that. It’s like a fun little Easter Egg for their readers.

Out of all of Matson’s main characters I think I like Andie the least–that’s not to say that I don’t like her, but I didn’t feel like I could connect with her as well. She makes some decisions throughout the book that I just don’t agree with or understand all the way, but she’s still realistic as a character. I did love Andie’s group of friends though. They all felt like individuals (even Toby and Bri) and I especially loved Palmer. She seems like the best best friend you get ever ask for! I didn’t like that some drama happens to the group (I like it better when friend groups can just be friends and the drama happens in other aspects of the plot). But in the end, I could see how the evolution of this group might be more realistic than other portrayals.

Andie’s relationship with her dad was also really well-done I thought. I appreciated that her dad was trying, you know? A lot of times YA parents don’t really acknowledge any faults in their parenting until the end of the book (and that’s the book’s resolution). I liked that Andie’s dad understood pretty quickly that he hadn’t been doing so great in the parenting arena and took steps to remedy it right away. I really enjoyed watching as Andie and her dad rebuilt the friendship that they used to have when her mom was still alive.

This book has a few very fun quirks. This is the first book I’ve read where a character is a dog walker so that was kind of interesting to learn about. It’s a lot more complicated than one might think and I thought it was fun that each dog obviously had a personality as well. I also loved that Toby could only text using emojis. It was fun to try to interpret what she was saying and I found myself texting my husband just using emojis at times too (not really on purpose, but kinda). The scavenger hunt was also really fun. Honestly, I wished that the scavenger hunt was longer (maybe a multi-day thing) and took up more of the book, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with the plot, so I get why it doesn’t. Also that might be too reminiscent of Since You’ve Been Gone.

Overall, I thought this was a really great summer book. If you love Matson’s other books, you’ll definitely like this one as well.

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