Mini Reviews: VIRTUALLY YOURS & WILD AND CROOKED

Mini Reviews:  VIRTUALLY YOURS & WILD AND CROOKEDVirtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash
three-half-stars
on June 4, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Modern love plus online anonymity is a recipe for romantic disaster in this lighthearted new romance from the author of The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love

How bad can one little virtual lie be?

NYU freshman Mariam Vakilian hasn’t dated anyone in five months, not since her high school sweetheart Caleb broke up with her. So, when she decides to take advantage of an expiring coupon and try out a new virtual reality dating service, it’s sort of a big deal.

It’s an even bigger deal when it chooses as one of her three matches none other than Caleb himself. That has to be a sign, right?

Except that her other match, Jeremy, just happens to be her new best friend IRL.

Mariam’s heart is telling her one thing, but the app is telling her another. So, which should she trust? Is all fair in modern love?

Review:

Sarvenaz Tash’s Virtually Yours is a delightful and lighthearted read that is sure to please romance fans.  It follows Mariam Vakilian, who is a freshman at NYU.  Right before leaving for college, Mariam and her long-time boyfriend Caleb broke up and now Mariam finds herself struggling to move on and date new people.  When she receives a coupon from a new virtual reality dating service called HEAVR, she decides to give it a go. Maybe it will give her the kickstart she needs to get over Caleb. HEAVR throws a monkey wrench into Mariam’s plan, however, when one of her top three matches ends up being Caleb of all people.  Mariam is torn because as much as she knows she should move on, surely this must be a sign that she and Caleb were meant to be together, right?

Mariam was my absolute favorite part of Virtually Yours.  She’s incredibly relatable because she’s so perfectly imperfect.  She’s a sweet girl, one I could easily see myself making friends with if I was at NYU, She’s also that friend that you love so much, but at the same time, find yourself wanting to scream at because she doesn’t think and ends up doing cringy things.  Or maybe she’s me.  Haven’t we all made bad decisions at times even when our hearts are in the right place?  Anyway, I just loved Mariam, flaws and all.  I especially loved her journey because at the beginning of the story, she’s clinging to her past so tightly that she can’t even see what’s right in front of her face.  It was fun to watch her “wake up” so to speak.  For that reason, I’d consider Virtually Yours equal parts rom-com, coming of age story.

My biggest issue with Virtually Yours is that I found the HEAVR match results to be unrealistic.  I mean, seriously, if you select ‘Worldwide’ in terms of who you’re willing to be matched with, what are the odds that out of all the people in the world using that service, two out of your top three matches end up being people you know? That just really annoyed me and had me considering not finishing the book, but I finally let it go and ended up enjoying the rest of the story.  I was also not a fan of the catfishing in the novel.  I understood why it was there but could have done without it.

If you’re looking for a quick and easy read that will leave you with a smile on your face, give Virtually Yours a try. You won’t regret it!  3.5 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews:  VIRTUALLY YOURS & WILD AND CROOKEDWild and Crooked by Leah Thomas
Also by this author: When Light Left Us
four-stars
Published by Bloomsbury YA on June 4, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 448
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Critically-acclaimed author Leah Thomas blends a small-town setting with the secrets of a long-ago crime, in a compelling novel about breaking free from the past.

In Samsboro, Kentucky, Kalyn Spence's name is inseparable from the brutal murder her father committed when he was a teenager. Forced to return to town, Kalyn must attend school under a pseudonym . . . or face the lingering anger of Samsboro's citizens, who refuse to forget the crime.

Gus Peake has never had the luxury of redefining himself. A Samsboro native, he's either known as the "disabled kid" because of his cerebral palsy, or as the kid whose dad was murdered. Gus just wants to be known as himself.

When Gus meets Kalyn, her frankness is refreshing, and they form a deep friendship. Until their families' pasts emerge. And when the accepted version of the truth is questioned, Kalyn and Gus are caught in the center of a national uproar. Can they break free from a legacy of inherited lies and chart their own paths forward?.

Review:

Leah Thomas’ latest novel Wild and Crooked is a story about family, friendship, and not letting mistakes from the past dictate your present and future.  The story follows two small town teens, Gus Peake and Kalyn Spence.  Gus has lived in Samsboro, Kentucky all his life and is known either as that “disabled kid” because of his cerebral palsy or as that kid whose dad was murdered.  Kalyn Spence has just returned to Samsboro and is going to school under an assumed name because her father is the one in jail for murdering Gus’ dad and the Spence name is therefore infamous in Samsboro.  Gus and Kalyn run into each other one day and a fast friendship ensues.  The only problem is that Kalyn has no idea Gus’ dad is who her father is accused of murdering, and Gus has no idea that Kalyn is the daughter of his dad’s accused murderer.  When they each finally learn the truth, it’s a tough pill to swallow and one that will test the bonds of their newfound friendship.

I adored both Gus and Kalyn, Gus because he’s just such a sweetheart.  He just wants so badly to be defined by something other than his disability or by his family’s tragedy.  Gus is immediately drawn to Kalyn, not because she’s the pretty new girl at school, but instead because when they meet, she immediately treats him like she would any other kid at school.  For Gus, Kalyn is like a breath of fresh air because she sees the person behind the disability.  Kalyn is drawn to Gus for similar reasons. She has basically reinvented herself and is acting like the perfect little southern belle every day at school.  It’s draining after a while, and when Kalyn realizes Gus can basically see right through her act, he becomes a refuge for her where she can be herself.  I really loved watching their friendship grow over the course of the book and was really rooting for them to be able to withstand whatever life threw at them.

Even though Wild and Crooked is over 400 pages long, I devoured it in just over a day and I attribute that to Leah Thomas’ masterful way of weaving together a moving story of friendship with the gripping story of what really happened between Gus and Kalyn’s fathers all those years ago.  The anger and prejudice of the Samsboro town folk was palpable once they realized who Kalyn was, and even though she clearly had nothing to do with the murder, in their eyes, she’s guilty by association.  I thought Thomas did a brilliant job of realistically capturing their mob-like mentality.  Thomas also had me simultaneously cheering on this blossoming friendship and sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to find out the truth about the murder.

If you’re looking for a compelling story about friendship and overcoming the past, I highly recommend Wild and Crooked. 4 STARS

three-half-stars

About Leah Thomas

Leah Thomas once wrote from a house in the woods, and now an apartment more or less by the sea (well, less). Her debut novel BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER MEET ME was a 2016 Morris Award finalist, and its sequel, NOWHERE NEAR YOU, is out now from Bloomsbury. Her third YA science fiction novel, WHEN LIGHT LEFT US, hits shelves in early 2018.

A graduate of Clarion 2010, her short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Black Static, Ideomancer, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye, among others. She’s mostly a dork and always feels uncomfortable about author bios. If she’s not writing, she’s likely teaching or cosplaying. Follow her on instagram (@fellowhermit), or on tumblr (cuttoothom).

About Sarvenaz Tash

Sarvenaz Tash is the author of The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love (an Amazon Best Book of the Year, YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant YA Readers), Virtually Yours, Three Day Summer and The Mapmaker and the Ghost. She was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up on Long Island, NY. She received her BFA in Film and Television from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, which means she got to spend most of college running around and making movies (it was a lot of fun). She has dabbled in all sorts of writing including screenwriting, Emmy-award winning copywriting, and professional tweeting for the likes of Bravo and MTV. Sarvenaz currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her family.

Early Mini Reviews: SPECTACLE and THE SISTERHOOD

Early Mini Reviews: SPECTACLE and THE SISTERHOODSpectacle by Jodie Lynn Zdrok
Published by Tor Teen on February 12, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A YA murder mystery in which a young reporter must use her supernatural visions to help track down a killer targeting the young women of Paris.

Paris, 1887.

Sixteen-year-old Nathalie Baudin writes the daily morgue column for Le Petit Journal. Her job is to summarize each day's new arrivals, a task she finds both fascinating and routine. That is, until the day she has a vision of the newest body, a young woman, being murdered--from the perspective of the murderer himself.

When the body of another woman is retrieved from the Seine days later, Paris begins to buzz with rumors that this victim may not be the last. Nathalie's search for answers sends her down a long, twisty road involving her mentally ill aunt, a brilliant but deluded scientist, and eventually into the Parisian Catacombs. As the killer continues to haunt the streets of Paris, it becomes clear that Nathalie's strange new ability may make her the only one who can discover the killer's identity--and she'll have to do it before she becomes a target herself.

Review:

Jodie Lynn Zdrok’s debut novel Spectacle is a book I really wanted to love.  It’s a YA murder mystery set in Paris during the 1880s, and it features a female protagonist, Nathalie, who is a newspaper reporter and who also happens to have supernatural visions that could come in handy when it becomes clear a killer is on the loose in her city, targeting young women.  It sounds great, doesn’t it?

And there are quite a few things I did enjoy about it.  I liked that the novel reads as part thriller, part historical fiction, and that it even has a little supernatural twist.  I thought the author did an especially nice job of capturing 1880s Paris and of filling her murder mystery with lots of creepy twists and turns, many of which kept me guessing until the very end, and I was also very intrigued with the idea of the main character being a teenage girl who writes the daily morgue report for the local newspaper.

My struggles with the book, unfortunately, were many as well.  The pacing felt very slow at times and Nathalie felt rather underdeveloped even though she had several subplots swirling around her. While I felt like some of the subplots helped show how Nathalie ended up working where she’s working, unfortunately, they didn’t offer me anything else to make me feel much of a connection to her.  I also found her incredibly frustrating in that she knew full well there was a murderer on the loose who was targeting young women but yet was constantly out walking about the city by herself and at one point even makes a trip down into the Catacombs.

The ending also felt rather awkward. I think it was meant to be open-ended, but the way it just trailed off, it just felt like pages were missing. Between that, the lack of connection I felt to the main character, the slow pacing, and the fact that I predicted who one of the murder victims would be as soon as the character was introduced, I ended up pretty disappointed.  Hopefully other readers will have a better experience with this since it does have such an interesting and unique premise.  2.5 STARS

 

 

Early Mini Reviews: SPECTACLE and THE SISTERHOODThe Sisterhood by A.J. Grainger
on February 12, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Seventeen-year-old Lil’s heart was broken when her sister Mella disappeared. There’s been no trace or sighting of her since she vanished, so when Lil sees a girl lying in the road near her house she thinks for a heart-stopping moment that it’s Mella.

The girl is injured and disorientated and Lil has no choice but to take her home, even though she knows something’s not right. The girl claims she’s from a peaceful community called The Sisterhood of the Light, but why then does she have strange marks down her arms, and what—or who—is she running from?

Review:

A.J. Grainger’s The Sisterhood is a dark and twisty tale that centers around two sisters, Lil and Mella, and the fallout that takes place when Mella runs away from home after a fight with Lil.  Lil feels responsible and is heartsick about it, especially after months and months go by without a single sighting of Mella anywhere.  When Lil stumbles across a girl lying unconscious and injured in the road not far from her house, she decides that she needs to do everything she can to help the girl.  When the girl, whose name is Alice, regains consciousness, she confides in Lil that she is from The Sisterhood of the Light, which she claims is a peaceful and nurturing community.  Lil is suspicious, especially considering Alice was clearly running away from this group when she was injured and because she has what appear to be burn marks all over her arm. Lil decides to dig deeper – who is this Sisterhood, where are they located considering she’s never heard of them until finding Alice, could any of this tie in to what happened to Mella?

I found this story to be absolutely riveting.  The mystery of where Mella was had already grabbed my attention, but then from the moment Lil stumbled across Alice unconscious and bleeding in the road, I couldn’t put the book down because I just had to know what happened to her.  Then when Alice wakes up and starts going on and on about what sounded like a cult, I was totally hooked and ended up devouring the book in a single afternoon.

The story is told primarily from Lil’s perspective, alternating occasionally with some wild and sometimes creepy chapters from inside The Sisterhood, which I thought was a very effective way to have the story unfold.  Lil is a very likeable and complex character and the author does a wonderful job of showing all the conflicting emotions going through her head as she is desperately missing her sister, while also trying to put on a brave face for her mom, who is also just falling apart because of Mella’s disappearance.  Lil feels like she failed Mella, and now she’s determined to help Alice as a way to do what she didn’t do for her own sister.  Some of Lil’s choices end up being a little questionable and not well thought out, but those flawed choices made her feel all the more real and relatable.

With its mysteries of what has happened to Mella and Alice, its creepy cult-like group, and its emotional impact as poor Lil puts herself through the wringer worrying about her sister, The Sisterhood is a captivating read from start to finish.  I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.  4 STARS

About A.J. Grainger

A. J. Grainger was born in Reading, where she went to the same school as Jane Austen but not at the same time. She now lives in London with her husband and works as a children’s books editor. She loves writing and editing because it means she gets to talk about books all day. She likes novels with plenty of twists and turns that keep you guessing right up until the end. She is also a total sucker for love stories.

A. J. keeps a blog at www.ajgrainger.com, where she talks about books, writing, editing, making things and procrastinating.

About Jodie Lynn Zdrok

Jodie Lynn Zdrok holds two MAs in European History and an MBA. In addition to being an author, she’s a marketing professional, a freelancer, and an unapologetic Boston sports fan. She enjoys traveling, being a foodie, doing sprint triathlons, and enabling cats. Spectacle is her debut.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SAVE THE DATE & NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SAVE THE DATE & NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FORSave the Date by Morgan Matson
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on June 5, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 417
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait—for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster—all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect.

The only problem? The weekend is shaping up to be an absolute disaster.

There’s the unexpected dog with a penchant for howling, house alarm that won’t stop going off, and a papergirl with a grudge.

There are the relatives who aren’t speaking, the (awful) girl her favorite brother brought home unannounced, and a missing tuxedo.

Not to mention the neighbor who seems to be bent on sabotage and a storm that is bent on drenching everything. The justice of the peace is missing. The band will only play covers. The guests are all crazy. And the wedding planner’s nephew is unexpectedly, distractingly…cute.

Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future.

Review:

Prior to reading Save the Date, I had never read a novel from Morgan Matson before.  I had always heard great things about her books though so when I was recently looking for a fun summer read and saw this book’s hilarious cover, I knew this was the book I had been looking for.  Everything about that cover just screams fun!  And let me tell you, this book seriously delivered too.  I devoured it in just over a day and was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

Save the Date follows the Grant family and is set over the course of the three days leading up to daughter Linnie’s wedding.  And wow, what a three days it is!  Seriously, everything that can possibly go wrong with the wedding preparations goes wrong and then some.  The wedding hijinks had me literally laughing out loud and oh so grateful that my own wedding went so much more smoothly than poor Linnie’s.  In addition to the wedding chaos and its ensuing hilarity, however, Save the Date has a heartwarming focus on family that I adored even more than the humor.  The Grant family is what I would call perfectly imperfect and Matson does a beautiful job making each family member so loveable, flaws and all.  I was able to relate to each of them easily, especially Charlie, the youngest Grant.  It is from Charlie’s perspective that we watch the story unfold and it’s such an interesting perspective because she has always seen her family as picture perfect and practically worshipped the ground they all walked on.  Now that she’s older and watching her family reunite for Linnie’s wedding, she has to come to the somewhat painful realization that no one is perfect, not even the family that she idolizes.  It really makes her rethink her own identity and choices in life, and I loved that the novel had that coming of age theme included to really add some depth to the overall narrative.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced read that will make you laugh out loud but also shed a tear or two at a flawed but loving family coming together as a team when it counts, I’d highly recommend Morgan Matson’s Save the Date.  As I said, this is my first Morgan Matson read, but I can guarantee it won’t be my last!  4.5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SAVE THE DATE & NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FORNot the Girls You're Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi
three-half-stars
Published by Feiwel & Friends on June 19, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Lulu Saad doesn't need your advice, thank you very much. She's got her three best friends and nothing can stop her from conquering the known world. Sure, for half a minute she thought she’d nearly drowned a cute guy at a party, but he was totally faking it. And fine, yes, she caused a scene during Ramadan. It's all under control. Ish.

Except maybe this time she’s done a little more damage than she realizes. And if Lulu can't find her way out of this mess soon, she'll have to do more than repair friendships, family alliances, and wet clothing. She'll have to go looking for herself.

Review:

I’m a complete sucker for books that center around female friendships, so as soon as I heard that Aminah Mae Safi’s Not the Girls You’re Looking For features Lulu Saad and her best girl friends, I knew I had to read it.  While I did love getting to know Lulu and her friends and watching them go through their ups and downs, I have to say that overall, this was just a good read for me, not a great one.

I thought the author did a brilliant job of accurately portraying the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to friendship dynamics.  I also liked that even though these girls clearly loved each other and would have each other’s backs no matter what, it’s definitely not all sunshine and roses for them.  Some of their fights really took me back to my own high school days and made me think back to my core group of friends back then and all of the ups and downs that we managed to make it through.  Safi perfectly captures all of those messy high school relationships that we’ve all experienced and it made the book so relatable (almost too relatable at times, lol).

Along similar lines, I was also a huge fan of the portrayal of Lulu’s family, both immediate and extended.  Lulu’s family on her father’s side is Muslim and I loved seeing that side of the family interact, both with each other and with Lulu’s mother, who is not Muslim.  The awkwardness is palpable as Lulu is caught in between and then gets herself into hot water when she disrespects one of her relatives.  I have a thing for messy family dynamics so Lulu’s family was a highlight for me.

So, what didn’t I like?  There were a few times in this book where it just felt like I was following Lulu around waiting and hoping for something exciting to happen.  Thankfully, exciting things eventually did start to happen, but for a few chapters there, my attention was starting to wander.  I was also a little disappointed because I found what I think was supposed to be a huge plot twist regarding Emma way too predictable.  I still loved the plot twist and her friends’ reactions to it; I just wish I hadn’t guessed it so early on.  All of that said, however, I still think this is a wonderful read, especially if you’re into realistic and sometimes messy portrayals of families and female friendships.  3.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Aminah Mae Safi

Aminah Mae Safi is a Muslim-American writer who explores art, fiction, feminism, and film. She loves Sofia Coppola movies, Bollywood endings, and the Fast and Furious franchise. She’s the winner of the We Need Diverse Books short story contest. Originally raised in Texas, she now lives in Los Angeles, California, with her partner, a cat bent on world domination, and another cat who’s just here for the snacks. NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR is her first novel.

About Morgan Matson

Morgan Matson was born in New York City and grew up there and in Greenwich, Connecticut. She attended Occidental College as a theater major, but halfway through, switched her focus to writing and never looked back. She received an MFA in Writing for Children from the New School, and then a second MFA in Screenwriting from USC.

She is the New York Times bestselling author of five books, all published by Simon & Schuster.

She currently lives in Los Angeles with her rescue terrier, Murphy, in a house with blue floors that’s overflowing with books.