The Hearts We Sold

Image result for the hearts we soldFirst Lines: A demon was knitting outside the hospital.

I was going to put more about the first lines down, but I think this one is attention-getting.  It certainly got mine.  Now this was something I picked up on a whim at the library.  The title caught my attention and when I read the jacket and learned there were demons, I was in.

In Dee’s world, demons are a  part of life.  They offer deals in exchange for body parts.  When Dee makes a deal with a demon–her heart in exchange for escape from an awful home life–Dee suddenly learns the true cost of dealing with a demon.  And it’s much worse than she ever could have anticipated.  With her whole world turned upside-down, the only people who help keep Dee grounded are other deal-making teens in her same position, including the charming James Lancer.  Between the nightmares coming to life and the realities of her new life, Dee wonders if she can give her heart to someone when it isn’t hers to give.

WHERE HAS THIS BOOK BEEN HIDING?  If it had not been for the chance encounter at the library, I probably never would’ve read this.

And boy, was it worth it. Dee is a quiet girl, just trying to survive at her boarding school when she finds out her scholarship is disappearing…and that would send her back to the home she’s desperate to leave. So she sells her heart to a demon to make sure that doesn’t happen.  It gave her an inner fortitude that it didn’t initially look like she had.  And I liked that.

This book was powerful. (I’ll admit, it took a little while to get that ball rolling, though.) There are so many angles that this story comes from. Sometimes it’s fantasy. Sometimes sci-fi. Sometimes contemporary romance. It’s all over the place, but everything’s woven together so well that you really don’t even mind.

From the beginning, it caught my attention. Then after the story got going, it felt like it was slowing down a bit. But by the middle of the book, I was so in. The plot is really interesting and will keep you on your toes. Even when I sort of knew what was coming, there were elements of it that I didn’t see.

The characters are really interesting as well. From Dee, the quiet and always fearful one to James, the artistic bohemian with a sense of humor to Gremma, Dee’s frightening but caring roommate and Daemon, the demon that Dee worked for who actually had some depth to him. The characters are why I kept reading.

But let’s not lie. This whole demons plot thing was excellent. It was interesting and the world building surrounding it was well done. I was invested in it and the consequences that came with even one foul step. It was just great.

Like I said earlier, this book is also powerful. It looks at themes of what it means to live, what makes a life worth living, and how far we’ll go to survive. It was really great.

The book wasn’t perfect (there are a few plot holes that never got properly explained, in my opinion), but it was so entertaining.

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The Host

Image result for the host stephenie meyerFirst Lines: The Healer’s name was Fords Deep Waters.  Because he was a soul, by nature he was all things good: compassionate, patient, honest, virtuous and full of love.  Anxiety was an unusual emotion for Fords Deep Waters.  Irritation was even rarer.

You know, rereading this book (for something like the 4th or 5th time) was actually what got me back into blogging.  When I realized I’d never done a review on this, I kind of got the itch to come back.  Not exclusively for this book, but it was what got the ball rolling.

This book came out 10 years ago last month.  (Now doesn’t that make some of you feel a little older?)  I feel like now that we’re well past the Twilight years, we can actually start talking about Stephenie Meyer as a legitimate author rather than simply rolling our eyes against her/defending her with everything we have (depending on which side you’re on).

If you’ve never read this book, it’s the story of Wanderer, one of many parasitic souls that have taken over the bodies of humans and created a better world on Earth.  But Melanie Stryder, Wanderer’s host, refuses to fade away like she’s supposed to.  Wanderer can hear her, feel her inside their brain.  Melanie was part of a dwindling number of humans without these souls and it’s up to Wanderer to find out if Mel knew anything about others who also hadn’t been taken over.  But everything changes as Wanderer gets to see memories of the man Melanie loves and the little brother Melanie nearly died trying to protect.  This love becomes part of Wanderer and makes Melanie an ally.  And so begins their journey to find what was left of Melanie’s life before Wanderer.

I don’t totally feel like I did that summary justice, but I feel like there’s way too much I can spoil if I give you a legitimate summary of what happens.  And spoiling it is the last thing I want to do.

You can have your opinions on how well written/trashy the Twilight series is, but Meyer’s writing in this book is what keeps me coming back to it.  Even though it’s set on Earth, there’s a lot of world building that needs to be done because it’s a utopian/dystopian world.  Things are different.  And I feel like that world building is incredibly successful.

But what really keeps me invested in this book even after all this time is the emotion.  I picked this book back up shortly after my breakup.  Why this book, you ask?  Because I wanted a character who understood being alone.  Wanderer spends a good portion of this book either feeling alone or different from everyone else, but she’s brave enough to venture out a little at a time and make friends, try new things.  And when she’s not brave enough, there are a few people who help her.

The emotions she’s feeling are just so realistic.  Sometimes it’s because of the descriptions because Wanderer doesn’t always have words for the emotions she’s feeling and she improvises.  (Once, she refers to jealousy as something bitter, like a bad aftertaste.  I don’t remember the original wording except that ‘bitter’ was used.)  And because Wanderer doesn’t always have the right words, it means we get so much more of the descriptions through her actions.  Information about how she’s shaking or how she picks up on someone else’s tone of voice or how she feels a fluttering hope.  It’s just exquisitely well written.

I also keep coming back for the characters.  You guys know that I typically have a problem with love triangles, but this one is different.  (And I don’t think the movie does it any justice, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie and I may be wrong.)  It’s kind of weird to have a triangle that’s actually not a triangle because technically 4 beings are involved, but 2 live in the same body.  It’s just fascinating to watch how that unfolds.

But I really do love it.  The writing is clever, much cleverer than people usually give it credit for.  They see it as simply this alien love story thing, but it’s so much more than that.  There are themes of prejudice and the harm it causes.  There are themes of forgiveness and survival.  Themes of sacrifice and loss.  There are so many layers to this story that I could spend a day breaking it down.

If you haven’t read this yet, I recommend you at least look into it.  The first 100 pages or so can be pretty slow, is what I tell everyone, but the payoff by the end is great.

How To Keep Rolling After a Fall

Image result for how to keep rolling after a fallFirst Lines: As I park in the lot of the Harborview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, I realize that, for the first time ever, I’m actually excited to be there.

As you just saw a couple of days ago, I like reading books about diversity.  Well, with this one, I went in a slightly different direction.  This one was going to focus on disabilities (hence the wheelchair on the cover and the pun with “rolling”) and I wanted to see how it played out.

Nikki’s life has turned upside down.  A party was thrown at her house.  Incriminating pictures were posted to her Facebook page with the victim nearly committing suicide in the aftermath.  A cyber bullying investigation ensued, and Nikki’s parents won’t talk to her, she lost her friends, and she had to change schools.  It doesn’t matter that Nikki wasn’t the one to post the pictures.  With everything destroyed, Nikki feels like she deserves the hatred she’s getting from every person she meets–though nothing can equal the hatred she feels for herself.  But when Nikki meets Pax, a spirited wheelchair-rugby player who understands how one mistake can change your life, she sees that maybe people deserve a second change…that everyone deserves to be loved.

I usually find that I like SwoonReads’s books because, if they are the right ones, they can hit in just the right ways.

This was the kind of book that I knew was going to make me think differently. I’ve never really read anything that actually looks at people in wheelchairs. I knew Nikki’s cyber bullying incident was going to be similar to other stories, but Pax’s disability…that was going to be fairly new. And it really did force me to look at things I take for granted in a different way. I really appreciated that.

I thought this was a bittersweet story about how to move on after something terrible. It doesn’t sugarcoat it and say that everything’s going to be perfect. Not all the negativity is gone at the end. There are still broken pieces that haven’t healed, and I liked the honesty there.

There are a number of characters in this story, but all of them tended to feel pretty flat except for Nikki and Pax. Not that there’s inherently anything wrong with that, but I wish I had seen a little more out of the other characters.

But I liked the focus on these two. I liked that they both had their own struggles and that even though they’re both trying to be better, they keep making bad decisions on accident. It was realistic. Even when we think we’re being better, sometimes we’re blind to how we impact others. We can try and try and still make mistakes. This is why I like YA. It doesn’t make the story depressing and hopeless; it just makes it honest. We can still learn from every mistake.

In the name of honesty, I will say that I’ve read quite a bit of criticism about this book because of its portrayal of Pax.  Those who have more experience with the real issues surrounding disabilities thought that what I called an honest look at disabilities was actually way too personal and none of Nikki’s business.  I mean, this story talks about catheters and bedsores and the kinds of things we don’t normally think about if it’s not part of our daily life.  Many readers didn’t think Pax should’ve had to share some of that information with a girl he’d only known for a short time.  And while I can see where they’re coming from for sure, I think the author did this intentionally to show the realities of life for Pax.  It wasn’t a sympathy ploy; it was about educating in story format.  And sure, maybe she got a few things wrong (I don’t know), but it made me stop and think.  And that’s the point.

At times, this can be a very harsh read with a lot of negative emotions coming out.  But it can also be very sweet.

When Dimple Met Rishi

Image result for when dimple met rishiFirst Lines: Dimple couldn’t stop smiling.  It was like two invisible puppeteers, standing stage left and stage right, were yanking on strings to lift up the corners of her mouth.  Okay, or maybe something less creepy.

I really like seeing diversity in books.  I like being exposed to other cultures.  So a couple of years ago when I first heard about this, I made sure it put it on my to-read list.

Dimple has her life figured out.  Go to college, become a web/app designer, maybe get married after she has a career.  Only, her mother wants Dimple to find her “Ideal Indian Husband” like now.  Dimple’s only 18–there’s time for that later!  Rishi is a hopeless romantic who dreams of the day he’ll meet his soulmate.  So when his parents tell him that his future wife is attending a summer program for web development, he signs up.  The only problem is he’ll need to woo her, but he’s completely game for that.  Rishi loves his culture’s traditions and the fact that his parents have chosen this girl for him as a good match.  So what happens when these two personalities meet?

I thought the storyline was cute. It’s pretty much what you expect: a cute YA love story that follows the plot structure of most romantic comedies. It doesn’t bring a whole lot that’s new to the game except Indian culture and a healthy dose of feminism. And a little about how racism impacts Indians as well, but that’s only in a couple of scenes.

I liked the characters, though the seemed fairly static. Dimple can be sassy at times, but it’s the quieter Rishi who really struck me. Rishi may have seemed like the less venomous of the two, but if you get under Rishi’s skin…look out. And I thought that was a really cool quality to convey about a character who was normally so sweet and sensitive.

The one fairly major drawback this story had was that it strayed away from the original plot. Dimple is at Insomnia Con, a 6 week program where soon-to-be-college-freshmen compete to create a new app that will be developed further into an actual app on the market. Dimple is incredibly excited about this at the beginning of the book and it’s all she talks about. But by the middle of the book, we’re basically never hearing about the app or the coding she proclaims to love so much. I’m not sure why this was, but I was sad to have gotten away from that. I think girls need more role models like Dimple, who are into computer science and coding, and it felt like the book fell a little short on that front.

If we’re going to compare this to a movie, it’s pretty much When Harry Met Sally, which happens to be one of my favorites.  And while this book wasn’t quite one of my favorites, I enjoyed reading it.

The Upside of Unrequited

5139zwihtyl-_sx329_bo1204203200_First Lines: I’m on the toilet at the 9:30 Club, and I’m wondering how mermaids pee.  This isn’t random.  There’s a mermaid Barbie attached to the door of the bathroom here.  Which is a pretty odd choice for a bathroom mascot.  If that’s even a thing.

Hey guys!  So I got this as an ARC ages ago and forgot I had it…(oops?)…but I did manage to finish it around the time it came out!  (It released yesterday.)  At least I’m timely!  Anyway, I had to give this book a try.

Molly knows all about crushes and unrequited love, since she’s had twenty-six crushes throughout her life.  And it doesn’t matter how many times her twin sister Cassie tells her to get out there because Molly can’t stand the idea of being rejected.  Fat girls never win the guy in movies.  When a cute girl comes into Cassie’s life, Molly finds herself suddenly alone and dealing with her sister’s love life.  Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend brings with her a cute hipster boy.  If Molly can win him over, he could be her first kiss.  The only problem is Reid, Molly’s chubby Tolkein-superfan coworker.  Because there’s no way Reid could be cuter than the hipster…right?

I was up and down with this book. There are some very intelligent observations in this book about family, relationships, and friends. I appreciated those. I also really liked its portrayal of love in all its forms. (We have lesbian parents, another couple involving one female who is gay and one female who is pansexual, and straight couples too.) I didn’t feel like it was trying to make a big flashy point like, “LOOK! WE HAVE A GAY COUPLE HERE! PRAISE ME FOR ADDING GAY CHARACTERS!” It felt more natural. No one questioned why anyone was gay or straight or anything else. It was just their normal.

I also liked the portrayal of those uncomfortable feelings, like being a third wheel or having an unconventional, politically-incorrect, probably racist grandmother making uncomfortable comments in front of other people. (As cringe-y as she was, I did like Grandma Betty.)  And the truths about dealing with misogyny, weight, social pressures, etc.  This book covered a lot of ground.

I liked that the main characters included so many diverse types. Molly is, by her own admission, a big girl. She has two moms, one white and one black. Her twin sister is gay. Molly’s friends include total nerds and hipsters. So it was cool to see how some of this played out throughout the story.  And, of course, I love people who are unapologetic nerds.  The ones who like what they like and everyone else can take it or leave it.  There are a few of those in this story too.

But there were also things I didn’t like. I didn’t like the constant (and I mean constant) profanity. And boy, do they get creative with it. I think every other page had some form of profanity on it. Yes, I know people curse, but this was prolific.

I also thought a lot of the dialogue was unnecessarily vulgar and forced. I have lived a quarter of a century and I have never had 60% of the conversations Molly and her friends have about female bodies, boys, sex, etc. Nor have I heard most of those conversations at any point. At first it felt fine, like it was a little bit of a shock factor but whatever. But the longer it kept going on, the more it sounded like that attention-grabbing student who blurts out dirty comments in order to get the class to pay attention to them. It was more annoying than anything.

It just all came across as kind of eh to me. I keep picking it up and then losing interest. Not that it wasn’t good in a lot of ways, but it just didn’t keep my attention.  But given its high rating on Goodreads, it’s working for a lot of people.  Just not me.

The Summer After You and Me

9781492619031First Lines: I open the window shade in my third-story attic bedroom anticipating my usual–somewhat obstructed–ocean view and instead get an eyeful of Connor Malloy, sans shirt, on the roof of his parents’ bungalow.  Better than a mocha latte with two shots of espresso and whipped cream, as far as early-morning eye-openers and guilty pleasures go.

This is one of those books that keeps haunting me before I’ve even read it.  It crops up everywhere!  It kept popping up at the library, in my Black Friday deals, everywhere!  But it was one of those where I wanted to make sure I was in the right mood for it.  The dead of winter was it.

Eh, I’m just going to copy Goodreads on this one too: Sunbathing, surfing, eating funnel cake on the boardwalk—Lucy loves living on the Jersey Shore. For her, it’s not just the perfect summer escape, it is home. And as a local girl, she knows not to get attached to the tourists. They breeze in over Memorial Day weekend, crowding the shore and stealing moonlit kisses, only to pack up their beach umbrellas and empty promises on Labor Day. Lucy wants more from love than a fleeting romance, even if that means keeping her distance from her summertime neighbor and crush, Connor.

Then Superstorm Sandy tears apart her barrier island, briefly bringing together a local girl like herself and a vacationer like Connor. Except nothing is the same in the wake of the storm. And day after day, week after week, Lucy is left to pick up the pieces of her broken heart and broken home. Now with Memorial Day approaching and Connor returning, will it be a summer of fresh starts or second chances?

This was pretty much what I expected it to be: melodramatic and cute.  Which was, frankly, kind of perfect while dealing with a stressful week.  I didn’t have to think too hard to follow along.

Lucy is a strong girl.  She’s pretty independent and wants to go after her dreams, but she’s not exactly all that great with relationships of any kind–family, friends, or dating.  That’s what creates most of the drama here, as she struggles with dating her best friend, crushing on her neighbor, and fighting with her twin brother.

I thought the way the story unraveled was kind of cool.  Most of it is in the present, but it does jump back every now and then to the summer before.  It didn’t happen so frequently to be annoying, which was good.  It was only a couple of times, really.  Just enough to give you information about what happened with Connor.  Also the writing style was fluid and easy to read, something that I appreciated because I could get through this quickly.

It’s just kind of a cute romance.  Don’t look for anything too deep here, because you’re not going to find it, even about Superstorm Sandy.  (Lucy does talk about it and remembers what happened, but it’s still somewhat glossed over.)

Serious question time: Since this is based around an actual event (even if it was only 33-4 years ago), does that make it a historical fiction?  It always gets weird when it’s something that happened in your lifetime.

First & Then

first-then-emma-mills-e1443225180204First Lines: My college essay was title “School Lunches, TS High, and Me,” and it was every bit as terrible as you’d expect.

I was so excited to find this at the library.  (Then again, I’m typically excited just to GET to the library.)  I feel like I never get to read new releases, but I was determined to read this.

If Devon had to describe herself in one word, it would be Average.  Nothing really makes her stand out from the crowd.  She doesn’t have any definite plans for life after high school, she loves Friday nights and football, and she crushes on her best friend Cas.  See?  Average.  But all of that changes when her cousin Foster comes to live with her family.  Foster, an unrepentant social outcast with a surprising talent for football, is going to make Devon stand out whether she likes it or not.  And she does not like it, especially when standing out gains her the attention of Ezra, the star football running back who is suddenly showing up constantly in Devon’s life.

I wasn’t 100% sold on this book when I started it because I was afraid it was going to be too love-triangley.  I mean, Devon likes Cas, but it seems like Devon also likes this Ezra.  So maybe not your typical love triangle, but a love triangle nonetheless.

Actually, it works really well.  It’s really relatable.  Devon is in love with her best friend, who doesn’t feel the same way back.  (Devon’s constant sarcasm is definitely another selling point for me.)  And Foster’s also relatable as this boy whose life has turned to utter crap and yet he still manages to retain this optimistic outlook on life.

The plot was also interesting.  The love angle takes up surprisingly little of the story.  A lot of it is Devon trying to break out of mediocrity.  For example, she does want to go to college–but she doesn’t know how to make herself stand out.  She’s got average grades, no extracurriculars whatsoever, and hasn’t done anything extraordinary with her life.  And this was a surprising direction for the story, especially when you factor in Ezra who is Extraordinary with a capital-E.  So I was pleasantly surprised by that.

There is a lot of profanity in this book.  I mean, there was one tirade with an impressive number of f-bombs, but there’s a lot of general profanity.  (Oh gosh, I just had a How I Met Your Mother moment…*salutes* General Profanity.)  Anywho, it’s kind of Devon’s character.  So if that bothers you, maybe you think about steering away from this one.

On an enjoyment scale, this book scores high.  It’s a lot of fluff, but it’s cute.  And there’s a lot about comparing boys/love now to boys/love in the days of Jane Austen.  So that adds another layer to the cuteness.  But if you really start to look at the finer points of the story, like minor characters that crop up out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly, it starts to break down a little.  Still, I enjoyed reading it.