Compare This! Perfect Chemistry vs. Pushing the Limits

Hey everyone!  So I was trying to come up with a topic for this one and I figured some of you were heading back to school just like me.  (I just started my 5th year teaching!)  One way or another, I ended up on contemporary romances where seeming opposites fall in love in large part because of school.  Who doesn’t love a back to school love story?  Because of their covers, I like to call this the Battle of the Near Make-Outs.

Let’s dive in!  Please don’t get lost in the chemistry.  (*ba-dum-chiss*  Get it??  Chemistry??  Oh, am I pushing the limits of your pun tolerance?  …I’ll shut up now.)

(Fun Fact: these two books have exactly the same rating of 4.07 on Goodreads.  I just saw this.)

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

VS.

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

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Perfect Chemistry

Synopsis: Perfect cheerleader Brittany Ellis’s life begins to unravel the second she walks into chemistry on the first day of her senior year.  Her lab partner is Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town.  Alex took a bet that he could lure Brittany into his life, thinking nothing of it.  But the more he gets to know Brittany and sees she’s a real person behind the “perfect” mask, the more he realizes taking that bet was probably the dumbest mistake of his life.

Pros:

  • I vastly enjoyed the multicultural aspect of this book.  Brittany is pretty typically white, I’ll admit, so it’s Alejandro (Alex) Fuentes who brings the color.  And I thought this book did a nice job of highlighting his culture and those difference between him and Brittany.
  • The emotions of this story are raw.  Both Brittany and Alex have their struggles that they desperately want to hide.  And having been a perfectionist like Brittany in school, I can attest to how realistic her struggles are.  (Having never been part of a gang, I can’t speak for Alex’s, but they certainly felt 100% real as I was reading.)
  • I liked that these two were so very different and yet they found common ground with each other.  There’s just something about that trope that I keep coming back to.
  • The title is pun-tastic.  They meet in chemistry and they have perfect chemistry?  #LoveIt

Cons:

  • Like many romance stories where opposites attract, it plays into a number of cliches.  So there are moments of predictability.
  • It’s been a while since I’ve last reread this, but there is the potential that pieces of the portrayal of Alex’s Latino community may be…um, a little stereotypical now.  I’m just going off what I remember of the story (and who knows how accurate that truly is anymore), but I remember a scene or two that may not exactly be flattering.  And whether that was just Alex and his friends or could be read as Latinos as a whole, I don’t remember.

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Pushing the Limits

Synopsis: No one knows what happened to Echo the night she went from popular girl to the freak with scars on her arms.  Even Echo doesn’t completely remember–she just wants life to go back to normal.  But when the leather-wearing, girl-user Noah Hutchins takes an interest in Echo, her world shifts in ways she never imagined.  They should have nothing in common, and yet…

Pros:

  • The things that Noah and Echo go through are painfully real.  They go through things that teens are actually going through.  It’s not sanitized–it shows you the bad and the ugly about life that many actually experience.
  • The characters are deeply flawed, but in a lovable way.  You realize very quickly that their flaws make them beautiful.  And they aren’t interested in fixing those flaws so much as they are making life better for them.  It’s a great philosophy to have.
  • Even minor characters feel completely fleshed out.  You kind of know what makes everyone tick, rather than just the biggest characters.  That kind of development is pretty rare.
  • More than just being romance, it also has a great amount of suspense and mystery.  You’re going to get sucked in quickly.

Cons:

  • Ok, yes, being a romance book about two people who seemingly have nothing in common plays into a lot of your cliches.  I mean, it’s going to happen.  There are parts that are going to be predictable.
  • There are times when this book really should be rated M for Mature.  I read this as 22 and even then, I had a hard time stomaching some of the action.  I’m not even talking sex (which isn’t even in the book)–I’m talking abuse, violence, neglect, etc.  It’s real, it’s dark, and you kind of have to be in the right mood for it.

 

My Winner: Perfect Chemistry

Why?  I remember being blown away by this book in high school.  Like, to the point where I named my first Kindle Alejandro after Alex.  (That’s not even a joke–I really did that.  I like to give my Kindles literary names.)  Having had the same personality type as Brittany, it was so easy for me to fall into her story.  And I really loved watching Alex turn from villain (you’ll understand why when you know the terms of the bet) to hero was so endearing.  I just loved every minute of it.  Simone Elkeles has a way of writing simple, tender moments that feel so real.  Something as simple as holding hands feels like so much more.

As always, this is not to say that Pushing the Limits is not worth your time.  It’s totally a great read.  But as one must have a winner, there must also be a loser.

What do you think?  Do you prefer one over the other?  Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!

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Caleb + Kate

Image result for caleb + kateFirst Lines: “Love is like death’s cold grip crushing the beats from an innocent heart.”  A ripple of muted laughter rolls through the girls around me, and I bite my lip to keep from joining them.

Y’all, I have a confession to make.  This book was on my to-read list on Goodreads since April 2010.  That’s nearly a full year before I started this blog.  Back then, I hadn’t even graduated high school yet.  Kids born in that particular month are probably starting 3rd grade right now.  I mean, Holy Hephaestus Batman, I probably should have gotten around to it before now.  Ugh, moving on.

As heiress to the Monrovi Inn hotel chain and one of the most popular girls in the junior class, Kate Monrovi has everything.  Money, friends, a life laid out in front of her.  And yet, Kate’s bored with life…until she locks eyes with Caleb at prom.  Caleb’s new to Kate’s prep school, and it’s obvious he doesn’t belong.  In fact, Caleb’s father works as a maintenance man at the hotel.  And while Caleb knows better than to spend time with the boss’s daughter, he can’t seem to pull himself away from her.  When their parents demand that they stay away from each other, they learn of a fight that happened between their families fifty years ago.  It’s a story Kate can’t comprehend, but one Caleb has lived with his whole life.  The world is pushing against them…can Kate and Caleb fight back?

So I was initially drawn to this book because it was a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet.  But also part of why it took me so long to read this is because it’s also labeled as Christian lit, a genre I generally try to steer clear of.  But I went for it anyway.

My real problem with this book was that it was utterly forgettable. There really wasn’t anything about it--at all–that I’ll probably remember about it in another year. The characters are relatively bland, the action is bland, and there isn’t a whole lot of any kind of emotion coming from the story.

Ok, like, the biggest crux of this story–and every Romeo and Juliet story, really–is supposed to be the family feud. Initially, I got behind this one. It wasn’t just a family feud so much as it was a social class difference (Kate’s parents own the hotel where Caleb and his father work) and a bit of a culture clash (Caleb and his family are Hawaiian, Kate and her family are white). With those differences, I was actually starting to get into the story.

But then like, the big family feud sort of just fizzles out. No one feels like they’re feuding anymore and it just sort of disappears. It was kind of a let down.

And all of the emotion of an epic love story I was expecting? Not there. I mean yes, they love each other and all that rah-rah, but none of that emotion translated from the page to my heart. It was more like the characters looked at each other and were like, “Oh, I think I love you,” rather than feeling butterflies in their stomach or the ache of being apart. That kind of thing. I suppose you could say it was more tell than show.

I was also disappointed in the characters. Things started out interestingly, what with Kate coming from an ultra-rich family and Caleb being the new kid in school, driving a motorcycle and being half covered in tattoos (which were explained as being part of his Hawaiian culture, so that made it ok…and that seemed like an odd thing to say). Anyway, they started off so very different and even though I knew they’d find their common ground, it was very sudden that all of their differences didn’t matter at all. Even Romeo and Juliet struggled more.

I want to touch briefly on the Christian lit aspect of this story. It wasn’t as prevalent as I thought it would be. It’s totally there, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the whole story. There were times where I felt it got a bit awkward when someone would reference Kate’s Christianity (“You’re a Christian, you have to forgive him,” with the implication being that the other person didn’t have to/was a worse person), but that was moderately rare.

I wish it was better. There was a lot of potential here, but I didn’t feel like it was executed as well as it could have been.

Dramatically Ever After (Ever After, #2)

Image result for dramatically ever afterFirst Lines: My last word echoed just slightly in the bathroom-turned-recording studio and, when I looked up, Phoebe and Grace were looking at me with identical expressions of awe.

I am always game for a cute contemporary romance, so when this series caught my eye a few weeks ago, I continued the love with this second installment.

Senior year is shaping up to not be the dreamy, amazing year Em Katsaros wanted it to be.  With her leading man five thousand miles away in Germany and her dad getting laid off his job, Em is struggling.  Especially since her dreams of becoming a famous actress will die if she can’t get a scholarship to study acting in college.  In the hopes of turning things around, Em enters a speech contest and wins a spot for herself at the US Youth Change Council national round.  She’ll spend a week in Boston and, if she wins, come home with a huge scholarship.  Everything’s great until Em’s nemesis, the egotistical and stuck-up class president Kris Lambert, is also going.  Weirdly, Kris is being nice in Boston.  But Em knows this game–lull the enemy into comfort and then strike.  So Em decides to beat him at his own game and ups her flirting and niceness.  Only, soon it’s hard to remember what’s acting and what’s real.

So far, I’m finding this series rather adorable.

While it’s solidly YA contemporary romance and packed full of fun cliches, there’s something about each of these books that has felt new, in its own way.

In this book, Em is entering into a speech competition for a scholarship she desperately needs to prove to her parents that the arts are what she wants to study–not getting a safety job in accounting or business or whatever other idea they come up with. She’s dramatic and confident on stage. But off stage, she’s self-conscious and afraid. She’s something of a perfectionist, and when she gets stressed, she micromanages the lives of those around her to feel in control.

In other words, Em is very flawed. But I did like seeing some of her better qualities. Her passion for history, her desire to help others in small scale ways, her ability to fight for what she believes in. She was kind of awesome, and not in small part because she is so flawed.

The story itself sometimes gets a little slow, simply because most of it is focused on Em’s fears about the competition, college, Kris, etc. But it was still a cute story.

There are also some really interesting themes in this, particularly about who we are and who we want to be.  This is a Youth Change Council, after all.  The whole contest is about how people can change the world, in one way or another.  So there’s a lot there about humanitarian work, government, art, etc.

Oh, and the history!  Em is a huge history buff, like me, and being in Boston is #NerdParadise for the both of us.  It was so cool to see her reacting to the history around her in the same way I wanted to.

I just found this book to be adorable and I can’t stop saying that over and over.

Top Ten Cutest Couple Covers

I have been on a bit of a lovey-dovey kick lately (not that you’d probably know that from what I’ve been reading lately…) and I was just finding some funny trends in the covers I was looking at.  So I decided, why not do a top ten about covers?  We all love good ones, so I went hunting and found the cutest couples to ever grace YA covers.

You’re welcome.

Top Ten Cutest Couple Covers

1. Last Year’s Mistake by Gina Ciocci

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2. P.S. I Like You by Kasie West

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3. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

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4. The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

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5. All I Need by Susane Colasanti

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6. Crash Into You by Katie McGarry

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7. Dare You To by Katie McGarry

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8. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

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9. Forget You by Jennifer Echols

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10. Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

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Last Year’s Mistake

Image result for last year's mistakeFirst Lines: The first day of senior year, he came back.  I should have known it wasn’t over.  Nothing ever is.

Hey guys!  So, as I’m sure most of you can relate, I have a super long to-read list where a bunch of books that I really wanted to read eventually sort of get forgotten about.  This was one of those.  But when I saw it at the library, I figured this was as good a time as any to knock another off that long list.

The summer before their freshman year of high school, Kelsey and David were best friends.  Inseparable.  Until the night a misunderstanding happened and Kelsey became the school joke, crumbling everything at school including her friendship with David.  When Kelsey’s parents mention moving, Kelsey can’t wait to start fresh somewhere new.  But David wasn’t ready to let her go.  Now it’s senior year and Kelsey has a new group of friends in a new state and a hot boyfriend she loves.  Everything’s going perfectly, until David’s family moves to the same town and starts at Kelsey’s school.  Soon, old feelings resurface and threaten Kelsey’s new happiness.  But the more time Kelsey spends with David, the more she realizes maybe she’s not over him either.

This was cute. It was a little heavier than I was expecting at times, but it was still cute.

I liked Kelsey and I definitely liked David. He was sweetness. Kelsey is a little bit of a hot mess, hidden underneath a glamour of makeup and nice clothes. When she last saw David, she was a completely different girl than she is now. She’s a bit broken inside without really knowing why. It was interesting to follow her journey.

As I mentioned above, this tended to be a little heavier than I thought it would be. There were mistakes all over the place, some with very serious consequences. There were also other heavy life topics that came up. Let’s just say Kelsey spends a lot of time crying in the book. But…it all worked. It didn’t feel overly melodramatic (it’s high school, so obviously there was some melodrama), and it had heart. Sometimes in unexpected places.

My one complaint though is that it didn’t have much of a conclusion. I felt like there were still some things that didn’t satisfactorily get wrapped up. And I personally don’t like when the falling action and resolution are basically simultaneous and only last about half a page. Call it a personal preference but I think it’s lazy.

Still, I’m interested to see more by this author.

Romeo Redeemed (Juliet Immortal, #2)

Image result for romeo redeemedFirst Lines: We reach the lonely hilltop just as the sun sets over Verona.  Golden light bleeds to a crimson stain that spreads across the city, dipping into every secret place, marking every shadow.  Just as her blood seeped from her chest…spread out to coat the stones of the tomb.  Cold, mute stones.  They will keep my terrible secret.  Juliet is dead, and her blood is on my hands.

After being pleasantly surprised by the previous book in the duology, I had to give this a go.  Besides, who doesn’t love when Romeo and Juliet involves immortals, good vs. evil, and more insta-love?

*Slight Chance of Series Spoilers Ahead*

Because of his actions, Romeo is doomed to spend the rest of eternity stuck inside a rotting corpse.  But when given the chance to redeem himself, he jumps at the chance, even though it’s not going to be easy.  He needs to travel back in time and save the life of Ariel Dragland.  Unbeknownst to Ariel, she’s incredibly important to both the Ambassadors of Light and the Mercenaries, the two powers of good and evil.  Romeo must make her fall in love and believe in love–all before her darker tendencies make her a target for the Mercenaries.  While it all starts as a lie, Romeo soon finds himself drawn to Ariel for real.  Soon, he’ll do what is needed to protect her.  But when Ariel is lead to believe that their love is a lie, her darker tendencies will put them both at risk and may end what they’ve started.

Hmm. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t like this as much as the first book, but at least I think I can articulate why.

First of all, I thought it was nice to see Romeo’s side of the story. I liked seeing what was different, how things were flipped to fit his telling. He’s still a tortured, conflicted soul, but it was fun to get into his headspace for a change.

The trouble with this story started quickly enough for me. Because Romeo’s trying to save a girl that didn’t survive the first book, we’re basically in a parallel universe. There are variations to the characters, to the plot, etc., from what we learned about in the first book. I’ve never been a fan of parallel universe stories. I like linear timelines. I like knowing that what I know about the story is true, not that it will be different in this world. It’s a little thing, but it bothers me.

Look, I understand why changes needed to be made. In many respects, this is the same story as Juliet Immortal. Same characters, some of the same/similar events. If they weren’t changed, this would be incredibly boring. But as it was, I was still kind of bored by the whole thing.

And obviously, the characters are incredibly impulsive. In order for two people to fall in love in 3 days, yeah, they’d both have to be pretty impulsive. It actually gets a little annoying that they don’t think anything through before they do it.  I’m a planner and pretty much not impulsive at all.  So yeah, it irritated me.

Actually, what I ended up really liking were the very few scenes that happened in 1304 Verona, when the story jumped back in time. Those ended up being far more fascinating than anything else this story had to offer.

So yeah, it may not have been perfect. It wasn’t even always interesting. But I can still appreciate how she put her own spin on this classic tale and reinvented it. I did enjoy that.

Juliet Immortal (Juliet Immortal, #1)

Image result for juliet immortalFirst Lines: Tonight, he could have come through the door–the castello is quiet, even the servants asleep in their beds, and Nurse would have let him in–but he chooses the window, climbing through the tangle of night flowers, carrying petals in on his clothes.

When I did that Best Retold Fairy Tales post last week, I was reminded of my respect for Stacey Jay.  And I was reminded that she still had books I hadn’t read.  Since I’m a big Shakespeare fan and a lover of all things weird, I thought this sounded perfect.

Juliet Capulet didn’t take her own life.  She was murdered by the one person she thought she loved, that was her soulmate: Romeo Montague.  He killed her to ensure his immortality.  What Romeo didn’t plan on was that Juliet would become immortal as well–and his sworn enemy as a member of the Ambassadors of Light.  For seven hundred years, Juliet has fought to keep the love of soulmates pure, to keep them from falling to the darkness that destroyed her life.  Meanwhile, Romeo is trying to destroy these soulmates.  But now things are different.  Juliet has her own forbidden new love and Romeo will destroy their happiness.

There’s something about Stacey Jay’s writing that always engages me. No matter what she’s writing, I find myself drawn into the stories quickly and the action just keeps on coming. It’s fantastic.

In this story, the tale of Romeo and Juliet isn’t quite what Shakespeare wrote it as. Romeo killed Juliet to make himself immortal–and Juliet took a vow to be the eternal light to his darkness. They, along with others, are always drawn to soulmates. Juliet is supposed to get them to fall in love with each other while Romeo is supposed to turn them against each other with promises of eternal life if they kill their soulmate. It’s an interesting premise and plays out better than it probably sounds.

Both Romeo and Juliet are far more complex than you originally think them to be. Juliet isn’t the naive young girl she was in Verona. She’s bitter now, vengeful. But she desperately wants to keep soulmates together to give them the love she thought she had before it was ripped away. Romeo comes across as twisted and vicious, but throughout the story you see that he may not be as evil as he portrays himself to be.

And the plot was pretty exciting! I kept reading a chapter or so then getting pulled back in because something else happened that I wasn’t expecting. There are very few dull moments in this book.  There’s quite a bit of backstabbing and betrayal, there are characters of questionable allegiance, there’s world building (with the immortal groups), and there are some actual fight scenes.  It really was constantly interesting.

I will also say that there is a “twist” in this book that, if you’re very familiar with Shakespeare’s play, isn’t as surprising as it may be otherwise.  With a couple of brief hints, I pretty much had that one pegged.  Still, I liked that it was inventive enough to go there.  That sounds completely cryptic and good luck deciphering what I mean by that.

Stacey Jay is completely underrated as a writer. While this story did play into many cliches, it was still so fun to read.