Easy by Tammara Webber

July 9, 2012 Leave a comment

There are many professionally-edited books that do not have the fluid language or the immediacy of Tammara Webber’s Easy.  That this self-published author was able to create a book whose plot, diction, and even captivating cover image are far better than those of churned out by traditional publishing houses may be the most hopeful sign for proponents of self-publishing I’ve yet seen.

I don’t necessary believe that the internet should be plastered with trigger warnings everywhere, but I think it’s fair to warn readers that the concept of sexual assault, despite not even being mentioned in the book description I read online, is central to the plot of this book.  It does not come anywhere close to being as graphic or disturbing as some other books whose press makes no mention of their inclusion of this topic (*cough* Girl with the Dragon Tattoo *cough*), but I feel it’s logical to let people know that a book that only outright promises college romance actually contains several depicted and discussed sexual assaults.  Like any book that deals so directly with a touchy subject, I’m sure Easy will have its critics.  Those who may think that the book did not portray the correct response to such incidents, didn’t portray it realistically, put its heroine through too little or too much drama related to it.  In all, however, I think it portrayed it in a very balanced way.  The book showed that women do have power: the power to lessen the likelihood that they will be victims, the power to bring their attackers to justice, and the power to protect each other.  It also showed how men can be supportive of women going through these situations: they can educate women, they can support the women in the decisions they make (including whether or not to go to the police), they can treat women with respect.  The book deals with the reality that not all attackers will be brought to justice, that not all victims are able to move on quickly, and that not everyone is willing to listen to victims.

The main plot of the story centers around a college girl, Jacqueline, who gets past the twin traumas of the opening chapter–a breakup with her pompous high school boyfriend and an assault by a friend of a friend–with the help of a tattooed “bad boy” named Lucas.  At first she’s just attracted to him because he’s different and because her friends insist that she needs to go through a “bad boy phase,” but as she finds out more about him, their relationship grows more complicated.

One aspect (aside from the pretty cover and appealing price point) that drew me to this book was its categorization as New Adult/Mature Young Adult.  I’m not really sure why there haven’t been more books written about college age individuals (both those in college and those high school graduates who are doing other things) or why publishers seem to think there’s no market for this kind of fiction.  Why are gross-out humor movies the only kind of narrative about college our society is willing to tell?  I think this book is pretty realistic in its portrayal of some key aspects of college life: how central Greek life can be to some college campuses, the way that high school personalities and relationships change during college, the way that personal lives and the necessity of having three part time jobs can get in the way of doing the best in classes.

There are a few minor criticisms that I have about the writing.  One is that, while there are many tight descriptions, the college itself is never described well. Perhaps, because of the touchy subject matter, Webber didn’t want to seem like she was calling out a particular college on events that may happen on its campus, but it would have helped to be a little more grounded, like knowing the name of the college or its location.  This vagueness was contrasted by pointing out real college names and locations when talking about where friends studied.  I also think that the dialogue from the pompous Kennedy was a little over the top, even for someone as pompous as he actually was.  His reason for breaking up with Jaqueline was so lame that I feel like even a pompous jerk who felt that way would try to come up with something a little less lame.

And, finally, my favorite part about this book?  Lucas.  He’s giving Sam Roth (of Maggie Steifvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy) a run for his money as the best emo, artistic, sweet, fictional YA boyfriend with a tortured past.  He also share’s Sam’s only flaw: he is so perfect that he’s sure to leave girls with unrealistic expectations lamenting why they can’t find someone like that in real life.

I picked up this book for a light read, intrigued by the romance, but was left with a lot more to think about than I had expected.  I liked that it didn’t tell a clichéd love triangle story, or a story that centered completely on how broken a girl can be when dumped or assaulted.  It showed a strong young woman moving past these tragedies to chase her dreams and to have a healthy relationship.  It tells a complete and satisfying plot arc, but, like any great piece of art, leaves you wanting more.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Past Perfect by Leila Sales

July 1, 2012 Leave a comment

I liked her first book, so picking up the second made a lot of sense. Plus I’ve just been in the mood to read a lot of YA recently…

Past Perfect

First, and perhaps foremost, I really love the setup here. The villages which exist, and the way the kids all have summer jobs, and how that’s grown up into such a big deal and they have this whole micro culture around who works where, and how their feud with the other village happens, it’s all brilliant. I like things that are outside the norm like this – it feels so normal when reading it, but it’s not that normal compared to usual settings. It was quite well-done.

The plot, some of it I could see coming a mile away, because of course if there’s a feud between camps there will be kids who start falling for each other across camp lines, and bits of it I wish had been a little bit different. But I don’t think it was too cliched; it still felt interesting. The details of how things worked out made it interesting; the characters were definitely not caricatures.

I am definitely interested in seeing what Leila Sales will do next.

Where I got the book: bought it

Categories: reviews, young adult Tags:

When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle

June 24, 2012 Leave a comment

I think I’ve read funny guest posts from this author on various blogging sites, which made me recognize her name, but I really picked up this book because it was a retelling of Romeo and Juliet from a different character’s perspective, and I love retellings and switchings of perspective, so I felt like this book was tailor-made for me.

When You Were Mine

Specifically, this book is from the perspective of the girl Romeo leaves at the very beginning of the play, if you’re familiar with that. I don’t think you have to be particularly familiar with the details of Romeo and Juliet; I would consider myself somewhat familiar but it’s not anywhere close to my favorite Shakespeare play and so I don’t have minor details memorized, nor did I look any up before reading this. I think a good retelling should have enough explanation built into the story that a reader totally unfamiliar with the original can get through it fine. It’s also good to drop in some things which will be richer for readers with knowledge of the original.

Since this is not only a retelling but also a switching of perspective, bringing a very minor character into the forefront of the story and pushing the main characters into the background, there’s a lot of scenes and characters missing from R&J. I confess I looked for them a little bit, but by the end of the novel I’d mostly trained myself out of looking super closely for them and instead enjoyed the story which did exist.

Rose naturally finds Rob and Juliet’s romance a bit creepy because she thought she was destined to be with Rob instead and Juliet is her somewhat-hated cousin. I really identified with Rose on that because I always found R&J more creepy and ill-advised than seriously romantic in the original play. This is a book about Rose discovering things about herself and getting over people who have hurt her (both Rob and Juliet fall into this category for a variety of reasons), and being herself with her own friends and her own interests. It’s very much about personal growth, and the romance Rose does encounter is sweet but secondary to the rest of the plot. As a retelling I think there’s often a creeping sense of possible horror (or elation… depending on the original story) because the reader knows what will happen. In this book it’s somewhat muted because Rose does have her own story here.

I liked this book but it wasn’t a home run. I would read another book by this author, though.

Where I got the book: bought it

Categories: reviews, young adult Tags:

Beguiling the Beauty by Sherry Thomas

June 20, 2012 Leave a comment

This is the start of a new trilogy. There are some minor references back to other previous books, which I appreciated because I love that sort of thing, but I don’t think there’s much missing if a reader hasn’t read those books.

Beguiling the Beauty

I loved this book. I kept stopping when I was reading so I could clap my hands gleefully like a small child given her favorite present. It was seriously that great, for me. Part of that is that it hit a lot of tropes I love and would read about in every story ever if I could. But they were actually woven together very well; sometimes when trying to fit in a lot of tropes, an author might just drop them in haphazardly. The various bits in this case flowed like they were made for each other. None of it felt forced.

One thing in particular I loved, which isn’t as much a trope, is that both hero and heroine did some rash and really kind of horrible things in the heat of the moment, and both later felt guilty about it, were proven wrong, and had to admit their wrongdoing and apologize. I felt like this lent the story some actual balanced personal growth on both sides of the relationship, and I do really like equal relationships.

There was a bit of setup for future books; I also really like that sort of thing, I find that a bit of drawing out of tension makes it all the more delicious, but I know some people do not.

Where I got the book: bought it

Categories: reviews, romance Tags:

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

June 17, 2012 Leave a comment

How to Save a Life

Sara Zarr really knows how to write characters who are doing the best they can do in horrible situations in ways that really make you feel for them. Even when they’re directly opposed to each other and you should be picking a side, you can’t because they’re both so compelling.

In this case there are almost three sides – Jill, Mandy, and Robin all end up in various stages of opposition to each other at different points. I felt for all of them. They all had very good reasons for thinking what they thought and doing what they did and I loved all of them and I wanted them all to succeed, but what they want, it’s not necessarily going to line up so that they can all succeed.

It makes for really compelling reading.

I also like how Sara Zarr isn’t apologetic about things, and she doesn’t gloss over them. They are what they are. It’s not always nice but it is true and therefore it’s powerful. There won’t necessarily be a happily wrapped up ending. Things might kind of work out, but they also might not – there are loose threads hanging, people who don’t get what they want and aren’t happy and won’t be happy. There’s no magic waving wand. There’s just people.

Where I got the book: bought it

Categories: reviews, young adult Tags:

Black Heart by Holly Black

June 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Third in a trilogy; the other two (White Cat and Red Glove) were quite enjoyable in an intriguing world.

Black Heart

So, this book sees Cassel in even deeper trouble, and he tries to get out of it and gets sucked in and sucked in, over and over. After awhile he comes to the conclusion that this is how it will be; if he wants to be who he is, and he seems to want it, he’s going to have this fight a lot. And at that point I sort of figured, this book might not end happily, but it did. Actually I would consider it a pretty un-ambiguously happy ending, all things considered.

Not everybody ends up happy. Some bad things happen in multiple different ways. But the main characters end up where they should, I think, and it almost felt too good to be true.

Overall I like this series. It’s got an interesting magical setup, lots of good ways to use it, and lots of moral ambiguity for the characters and the plot. Some hard questions come up and there really aren’t easy answers, but they were handled well. I don’t think Holly Black shies away from showing the ugly sides of things.

Where I got the book: bought it

Categories: fantasy, reviews, young adult Tags:

The Liar Society by Lisa and Laura Roecker

June 10, 2012 Leave a comment

The Liar Society

I don’t know what to think about this book.

Well, first of all, I love secret societies. I mean, I like them from the inside mostly, but it’s also fun to go find out about them from the outside. So the whole mysterious invitations to things and code words and secret old school traditions were excellent, a little bit creepy and a little bit awesome at the same time.

I was also really interested in the parts where it seemed like our heroine, Kate, was maybe going crazy from grief. Her best friend died (before the story started), but she gets some emails from her, and then thinks she sees her around campus, and basically becomes obsessed with her. It’s very heart-rending and felt real.

The relationships between actual people, and the other people involved in the story, felt weird. I didn’t like Kate’s parents. I thought both the boys she conspires with were strange. They were the options she had for working on the conspiracy, which makes sense, but just because they’re helping her out with the investigation doesn’t mean she has to get romantically involved with them. I didn’t like the other girls, either.

Also, and maybe this is because I didn’t like so many of the characters, it felt unfinished, like there should be a sequel, or more chapters or something. I usually am a big fan of ambiguous endings, or of endings where the main character walks away from whatever is on offer to do her own thing, but instead it felt off.

So basically I have very mixed feelings about this book.

Where I got the book: bought it