Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Published: April 11th, 2017
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly's totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie's new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she'll get her first kiss and she'll get her twin back.

There's only one problem: Molly's coworker, Reid. He's a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there's absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.

Right?

Milka's Thoughts:

I loved Becky Albertalli's debut Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, so it came as a no surprise to me that I loved her follow-up The Upside of Unrequited too, but I must admit I would never have dared to believe I would love this novel THIS much.

After the brilliance of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli had big shoes to fill with her second novel. Simon has become quite of a phenomenon with awards and movie in the making, so obviously there are a lot of expectations towards Albertalli's second novel. The Upside of Unrequited is a very different kind of book, but there are the same warmth and humor present as in Simon. All in all, The Upside of Unrequited managed to usurp my expectations and make me fall in love with Albertalli's writing and characters once again.

Molly has had a crush of a lot of different guys, but she has never acted on those crushes. She feels like she does not fit in and that maybe not everyone is not meant to fall in love. Maybe there are people who will never find a person who happens to be crushing on them too. When Molly's twin Cassie meets Mina and falls head over heels in love with her, Molly is once again made to question the dynamics of relationships. Molly is happy for Cassie, but at the same time, she cannot help to feel like she is missing on something.

This is one of those books I really wish I would have had in my life when I was a teenager. Though Molly and I are very different, we also share a lot of things. I am also a fat girl and I was always the one watching from the sidelines while my friends had relationships. But while I never really wanted a boyfriend, Molly wants one. And that is completely okay! When Cassie and Mina get it to their minds that Molly should hook up with Will, one of Mina's friends, Molly starts to get hopeful. Could the kind of flirty, ridiculously attractive hipster guy see something in her? And more importantly, could she see something in him. While Will seems like a viable option, Molly also starts to get more and more into spending time with Reid, her co-worker, who seems like totally not her type, but who also is someone Molly cannot stop thinking about.

Reid is pretty much perfection and I loved the moments between him and Molly. But while I am a huge fan of romantic storylines, what really made me fall in love with The Upside of Unrequited are the family dynamics the novel portrays. The relationship between Molly and Cassie is loving, but also complicated and not always exactly what they want it to be. I loved the scenes with Molly, Cassie and their mothers Patty and Nadine, and I now feel like Albertalli should totally right a book about how Patty and Nadine fell in love.

I am not Jewish and know very little about the Jewish culture, but I can only imagine how important a book like this is for the young (and older) Jewish girls out there who must see themselves very rarely portrayed in books like this.

Representation of fat bodies is always problematic and way too often hurtful. Luckily, Albertalli approaches the topic with grace and is able to create a character with thoughts that I, a fat girl myself, was able to relate with. The struggle Molly goes through with her body from time to time and the thoughts she has where something teenage-me definitely also had. I was happy to see that at the end of the day, Molly's body really has nothing to do with her capability to find happiness -- she does not have to change her body to be accepted, but rather just has to find a way to see that she is gorgeous and worthy of good things just as she is.

I really loved this book and I cannot wait to see what Albertalli comes up with next!

Five snowflakes


Friday, March 17, 2017

Review: Arena by Holly Jennings

Arena (Arena, #1)Arena by Holly Jennings
Publisher: Ace
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Purchase: Amazon
Every week, Kali Ling fights to the death on national TV. She's died hundreds of times. And it never gets easier...

The RAGE tournaments the Virtual Gaming League's elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a fight to the digital death. Every kill is broadcast to millions. Every player leads a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.

And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.

Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world until one of her teammates overdoses. Now she s stuck trying to work with a hostile new teammate who s far more distracting than he should be.

Between internal tensions and external pressures, Kali is on the brink of breaking. To change her life, she ll need to change the game. And the only way to revolutionize an industry as shadowy as the VGL is to fight from the inside
 
My Thoughts:
What I liked:
1. I am in total awe of the world that Jennings has created.  Not only is it completely realistic, it is something that could very well happen in our near future.  Virtual Reality gaming is huge right now and I can definitely see our world taking this kind of turn with gaming.

2. I loved how the author left no holes in her plot.  She even went as far as explaining how sports athletes failed to work in VRG and I really loved how she changed the face of a gamers.  When you think of gamers you probably think overweight, but with Jennings world gamers have to become their character or they won't survive the arena.  So cool!!  It makes you think that this might truly be a way to overcome those gaming obesity issues.

3. The characters were amazing!  I loved Kali and it was intriguing to see her heritage come into the story.  I thought that whole storyline was done quite beautifully and I found myself wanting to learn more about Chinese culture.

4. I have to give the author major props for the romance.  It was a very slow build and it really fit within the story.  I enjoyed getting to know the characters before the were an item and it was nice to see a friendship blossom before anything else.

5. I also thought the way drugs were portrayed in the story was done well.  Drugs are and will always be an issue for athletes and I thought the author did a great job showing the darker side of her story. 

6.  I was very surprised this turned out to be more of a contemporary novel. Yes there is gaming and all this fun futuristic stuff, but at it's core I felt like this was a contemporary novel.  And you know what I really enjoyed it. I think this is how I need my contemporary stories.

What I didn't like:
1. There isn't much that I didn't like about this story.  The only thing that really stands out is the ending.  I liked all but one part and since it is a spoiler I won't say much.  I will just say that I understand why the author chose to have her characters go where they went, I just wish there had been a different path.  So not so much as a dislike just a "Aw man".  I will say there is a sequel that I am definitely picking up next so hopefully that issue will be resolved.

As you can see I really enjoyed this book and I can't wait to dive into the sequel.  Holly Jennings tells a masterful story that totally captivated me and made me want to plug in for more!

4.5 snowflakes






Monday, March 13, 2017

Review: The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

The Education of Margot SanchezThe Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: February 21st, 2017
Purchase: Amazon
Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.


THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:

Mami, for destroying my social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
This supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father's credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot
Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

My Thoughts:
If you know me or read my reviews you know I am not a contemp fan for the most part, but when The Education of Margot Sanchez came my way I thought it sounded good and I thought why not.  Well there were things I liked, but unfortunately this story just fell flat with me.

Side note:I'm going to write this review a tad different.  For awhile I am going to go with lists!  I'm changing things up since I feel the blogger blues approaching again and I am hoping this helps...

Things I liked:
-I enjoyed reading about diverse characters.  I haven't read many books that have diversity so I knew when this one came up I should definitely pick it up.  I will fully admit that I am not knowledgeable about other cultures or races except for the bare basics so I can't really say if these characters were portrayed right or not.  All I can say is that I enjoyed reading a story from a different point of view than the norm.

-I liked that this story wasn't just about Margot finding herself.  Yes, that's a big part, but the bigger part is her family and I liked the darker tones of the story.

-I didn't figure out the twist until way later in the story and I loved that. Call me stupid, but things didn't click and it was a nice change of pace.  I wasn't even looking in that direction so I have to give the author props for concealing that little story line.

Things I didn't like:
-This is pitched as Pretty in Pink, but I didn't get that comparison at all.  Yes, there's a divide between rich and poor, but that's as far as the likeness to the movie goes. 

-Margot!  I kept waiting for her to redeem herself at the end and she kind of does, but I wanted more from that ending than what was given. 

-The story was incredibly slow until the ending where everything blew up.  I would have liked to have seen more from the fall out and future of the characters.

-The sex scene wasn't done right at all in my opinion.  I didn't want more from the actual scene, but it would have been nice to see Margot feel some type of emotion towards what happened.  It was all over rather quickly and after the chapter ended nothing is brought up about the aftermath.  It just felt incomplete.

So those are my likes and dislikes.  I keep sitting her trying to think of more, but nothing is coming to mind and I think it's because this book didn't leave a lasting impression on me.  I wish it had because I think it had potential, but that's the way it is.  I am still giving this book 3 stars because the author did manage to surprise me, the writing was pretty good, and well I did kind of like it.

3 snowflakes





Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Review: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: April 4th, 2017
In this delightfully charming teen spin on You’ve Got Mail, the one guy Bailey Rydell can’t stand is actually the boy of her dreams—she just doesn’t know it yet.

Classic movie buff Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online by “Alex.” Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.

Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new arch-nemesis. But life is whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever-it-is she’s starting to feel for Porter.

And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.

My thoughts:

"Teen spin on You've Got Mail" were the only words I needed to get extremely excited about Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett and the fact that I loved her previous YA novel The Anatomical Shape of a Heart added to my excitement.

Bailey, also known by her nickname Mink, has been chatting online with a fellow film geek called "Alex" for a good few months. Despite the fact that she does not really know that much about "Alex", she feels like he could be someone she could really connect with, not only online but in "real life".

Bailey knows where "Alex" lives, though, and when she moves from the East Coast to California to live with her father, she is not quite sure how to tell "Alex" that she is now a resident of the same town that he comes from. Rather than speaking up and telling the truth, Bailey decides to put all the info that she has about "Alex" together in an attempt to figure out his identity.

The move to California comes with a lot of changes, with one of them being a new summer job at a museum called The Cavern Palace. While the job comes with perks, like making a new friend called Grace, Bailey is struggling to find a way to deal with her annoying co-worker Porter. Sure, Porter is extremely attractive and charming but it also seems like he is determined to make Bailey's life difficult.

Despite her annoyance with Porter, Bailey feels a pull towards him. As the two spend more time together, Bailey realizes that Porter is much more than a handsome, slightly cocky surfer, and as she learns more about him, she starts to ignore "Alex" in order to spend more time with Porter. It also seems like "Alex" is not that interested no longer, which makes Bailey wonder what happened between the two.

If you have seen You've Got Mail, the basics of this story won't be a surprise to you, and basically, the synopsis itself tells you that Porter is actually Alex. Despite the fact that you know this major plot point from the first page onwards, this book is full of wonderful surprises. And reading through how they find out each other's identities is one the best parts of this novel.

Bailey is such a great main character. While reading this novel, I had written down to my notes that she is "realistically and wonderfully flawed." What I mean by this is that she feels extremely real. She is young and inexperienced in many ways, and while she does mistakes, those mistakes teach her something and she grows through them. I loved reading about her reactions to kind of feelings she has not felt before because I felt like the way Bennett writes about first crushes and perhaps even first love felt extremely realistic and touching.

I liked Porter as a character too, though there is a part to him that I wasn't so sure about -- since I don't want to spoil the novel for you, I will let you make your own conclusions about what I  mean (if you read this novel, you probably will figure it out since this side of him is something Bailey worries about too). While at first I was kind of scared that he would be some California surfer cliche, I was pleased to notice that he is much more than he seems.

The chemistry between Bailey and Porter is written very well, and at many points I was able to feel the kind of tension and chemistry between them that is present between the characters in You've Got Mail. If you are a fan of swoon-worthy novels, you definitely need to check this one out!

I am always a big fan of realistic, well-written daughter-father relationships and I loved the way Bennett writes about the interaction between Bailey and her father. The relationship is based on mutual trust, and while they might not see eye to eye on everything, Bennett is able to create a feeling of love between the two.

One thing I must mention before I finish this review is how awesomely sex positive this novel is. I know some readers might not be fans of this aspect of the novel, but I absolutely loved seeing positive, realistic portrayal of female masturbation and the kind of sexual awakening that Bailey goes through. There are no super explicit scenes involving sex, BUT even mentioning something like female masturbation is something you don't see very often in young adult novels.

All in all, Alex, Approximately is a brilliant, entertaining young adult novel that I found extremely hard time to put down once I started it.

5 Snowflakes



Monday, February 27, 2017

Game of Shadows by Erika Lewis

Game of ShadowsGame of Shadows by Erika Lewis
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: February 28th, 2017
Purchase: Amazon
Ethan Makkai thought that seeing ghosts was the worst of his problems. Between his ethereal gift and life with a single mother hell-bent on watching his every move, he feels imprisoned. When Ethan sees a chance to escape, to leave the house by himself for the first time in his life, he seizes it, unaware that this first taste of freedom will cost him everything.

Ethan is thrown into a strange and eerie world, like nothing he's ever seen. He's assaulted by dive-bombing birds and rescued by a stranger who claims to be his bodyguard. His apartment is trashed, and his mother is kidnapped to a place Ethan never knew existed—a hidden continent called Tara.

Travelling to Tara in search of his mother, Ethan discovers that everything he knows about his life is a lie. His mother is royalty. His father is not dead. His destiny is likely to get him killed.

Confronted by a vicious sorcerer determined to destroy the Makkai family, Ethan must garner strength from his gift and embrace his destiny if he’s going to save his mother and all the people of Tara, including the beautiful girl he’s fallen for.

My Thoughts:
Game of Shadows was so much fun!!  I loved the adventure and I thoroughly enjoyed the rich Celtic mythology!

Ethan has grown up sheltered.  His mom will not let him out of her site and as you can imagine this is quite embarrassing for a fourteen year old boy.  All he wants is freedom so when an opportunity pops up to walk to school alone he takes it.  He never imagined his life would turn upside down from that one walk, but it does and Ethan's life is changed from that moment on.

I really enjoyed this story.  I thought Erika Lewis did a great job at pacing the story and the build up was incredible.  Right from the start the story starts out with adventure and I got totally lost in all of it.  My favorite part about the story though was the mythology.  I have missed reading books that contain mythology and a touch of paranormal so this was right up my alley.  Lewis did a great job weaving in her magic with the Celtic magic and it all really worked.  I did get a tad lost when the backstory was being discussed and I honestly think it is just me.  I tend to gloss over details unfortunately and well you can't do that with fantasy novels.  After I went back and reread the parts that confused me I did get a better grasp and Lewis does work her way through everything by the end so I did eventually get it all. It is a complicated story, but one definitely worth figuring out.

The characters were also really fascinating.  My favorite of course was Lily, but Ethan was great too.  They were a great pair and complimented each other very nicely.  I also really liked that the author had adults thrown into the mix.  She let Ethan take the lead, but it was nice to see he had adult back up when he needed it.  His story line with his mom and Runyun was great and I honestly can't wait to see where that line goes.

I even liked the romance.  SHOCKER!  It was very well done and made me laugh quite a few times, because the author managed to capture love at fourteen brilliantly.  It isn't perfect and it shouldn't be at that age.  Lewis through in so many hilarious moments that fit the character and his age and I appreciated the effort. 

I honestly had no issues to complain about with this story.  I did figure out one twist early on, but I don't think it was that big of a deal.  And actually that twist didn't go as far as I thought it would so there was still a bit of surprise with it.  All in all this was a fun story that totally captured my attention.  I read it in two sittings because I just couldn't put it down. I am definitely eager for the sequel!  Game of Shadows ends on a cliff hanger so beware, but it's a good cliffhanger that brings Ethan's story full circle. I loved that the author went in this direction and I can't wait to see the fall out!

5 snowflakes