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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Just Finished Reading ... Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini

Trial by Fire (Worldwalker Trilogy #1)
by Josephine Angelini
To be published on September 2, 2014
by Feiwel and Friends

Source: ARC sent by the publisher for review

Synopsis from Goodreads: This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying many of the experiences that other teenagers take for granted...which is why she is determined to enjoy her first (and perhaps only) high-school party. But Lily's life never goes according to plan, and after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class Lily wishes she could just disappear. Suddenly Lily is in a different Salem - one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruellest of all the Crucibles is Lillian -- Lily's identical other self in this alternate universe. This new version of her world is terrifyingly sensual, and Lily is soon overwhelmed by new experiences. Lily realizes that what makes her weak at home is exactly what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. It also puts her life in danger. Thrown into a world she doesn't understand, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can't hope to shoulder alone, and a love she never expected. But how can Lily be the saviour of this world when she is literally her own worst enemy?

My take:  I really enjoyed Josie Angelini's first trilogy -- the Starcrossed series published by Harper Teen. While the first book in that series opened with some very familiar PNR (paranormal romance) tropes -- an awkward girl encounters a mysterious boy who seems to violently hate her; he has a large, equally mysterious family; and the two learn that they absolutely can't be together -- as the trilogy moved away from this familiar set-up, I came to appreciate its imaginative, mythology-based story world and unexpected humor.

As I read the opening chapters of Trial by Fire, I must confess to feeling a bit of PNR deja-vu. Lily Proctor is -- wait for it! -- awkward and out of place. Her severe allergies make it hard for her to live a normal life.  When she attends her first high school party, trouble ensues and she wakes up in a strange version of her hometown of Salem -- one she doesn't recognize -- and is faced by, among other people, a young man who looks at her with unadulterated hatred.

At that point I thought the book would be time travel, with Lily sent back to seventeenth-century Salem.  (I hadn't read the synopsis before starting.) But no-- the story is far more interesting and unexpected. As the synopsis above indicates, this is an alternate universe(s) book. Lily has been sent to an alternate Salem, where she meets her alternate self in that universe. (I'm not an expert on quantum physics, but I think I remember from Back to the Future that doing this makes the world explode or something, though Doctor Who seems to have no problem with it...)

As I kept reading, I really fell in love with Trial by Fire. While many first books in trilogies choose action over world-building, this book features some of the most imaginative and interesting worldbuilding I've read in YA in 2014. I also loved the way that the magic in the book is grounded in science. (I'm no scientist, so I can't attest to the workability of the magic, but I was impressed by its creativity and thoroughness.) Finally, I was charmed by the book's humor. The Starcrossed series showed me that Angelini has a wacky and unexpected sense of humor, and that shines through in this book. Yes, Lily is in danger much of the time, but her attempts to explain her world to the residents of alternate Salem resulted in some truly funny moments.

The one thing about this book that made me a little uneasy was the romance. The love triangle was my least favorite part of the Starcrossed trilogy, and alt-universe books always open up the possibility of some very messy romantic situations. That's the case here. With two Lilys, a love interest who only exists in alt-Salem, and tqo versions of guy friend-who-could-be-more, there's the potential for a lot of romantic angst. (Then again, there are also enough people to get most everyone paired off.)

Overall, I loved Trial by Fire, which has gone on my list of Favorites of 2014. It has a little something for everyone: romance, danger, science, humor. It's a book that I had a hard time putting down, and I book that I highly recommend picking up!

Have you read this one or are you excited to? I'm on vacation this week, so if you leave a comment, I will do my best to respond and return it when I'm back :)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Clear Your Shelves Giveaway Hop!

Welcome to my stop on the Clear Your Shelf Giveaway Hop, a giveaway in which I can clear off my shelves and clutter up yours...  Sorry/notsorry :)

Since I am giving away books that I own, this giveaway is US only. But if you are international, you can enter Hot Off the Presses!   Also, US and international residents can enter to win a copy of Isla and the Happily Ever After here, through August 25!

Here are the books that my Clear the Shelves winner can choose from. I tried to pick a little of everything: fantasy, realistic YA,  and historical fiction. I've read and enjoyed all these!

What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Brazen by Katherine Longshore
The Falconer by Elizabeth May
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

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Hot Off the Presses: New YA Releasing August 19-25

Hot Off the Presses -- brand new YA releases!

Welcome to Hot Off the Presses!  

Tuesday is book release day, so every Tuesday I tell you about all the great new YA books you can buy in the week to come. If you're a reviewer, you can also link your blog or Goodreads reviews of any YA book publishing in the current month so we can all check them out!
Enter my August giveaway! This month's winner can pick any book up to $15 on either Amazon (for US winner) or The Book Depository (for international winner.) Enter by linking your reviews, commenting on other people's linked reviews, or tweeting :)  

Hot Off the Presses aims to include every traditionally published YA. You are also welcome to link your reviews of YA books that were self-pubbed this month. Some titles may have different release dates outside the US.

Where are all the books this week? If I missed something, please let me know! But never fear, next week's going to be crazy...

Looking for Jack Kerouac Starlight's Edge False Future
Looking for Jack Kerouac by Barbara Shoup (Lacewing)
Starlight's Edge (Timedance #2) by Susan Waggoner (Henry Holt)
False Future (False Memory #3) by Dan Krokos (Disney Hyperion)

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Just Finished Reading ... Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes

Anatomy of a Misfit
by Andrea Portes
To be published by Harper Teen
on September 2, 2014

Source: e-ARC from the publisher for review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: Outside, Anika Dragomir is all lip gloss and blond hair—the third most popular girl in school. Inside, she’s a freak: a mix of dark thoughts, diabolical plots, and, if local chatter is to be believed, vampire DNA (after all, her father is Romanian). But she keeps it under wraps to maintain her social position. One step out of line and Becky Vilhauer, first most popular girl in school, will make her life hell. So when former loner Logan McDonough shows up one September hotter, smarter, and more mysterious than ever, Anika knows she can’t get involved. It would be insane to throw away her social safety for a nerd. So what if that nerd is now a black-leather-jacket-wearing dreamboat, and his loner status is clearly the result of his troubled home life? Who cares if the right girl could help him with all that, maybe even save him from it? Who needs him when Jared Kline, the bad boy every girl dreams of, is asking her on dates? Who?
My take:  It's always interesting when I finish a book and then jump on Goodreads and see that some of my Goodreads friends have a very different opinion of the book. I cut and pasted some reviews and came up with this wordle:

Don't be fooled by the sweet Eleanor and Park-style pastel cover -- to me, this is a different kind of book. It has a way snarkier voice. Yes, it features some slut-shaming and homophobic remarks made by some of the characters -- more on that later. Yes, some of the characters are based in stereotype. And it features a YA trope that I'm getting pretty tired of:

Mean girls. 

But I still liked Anatomy of a Misfit. (And I'm now convinced that there is someone working in acquisitions at HarperTeen who has a huge weakness for snarky vampire stories, with bonus points for retro settings: Exhibit A.  Exhibit B.  Exhibit C. (And this book would be Exhibit D.))

But ... back to the book. Maybe you're put off by some of the words in the wordle. Here are the points I would like to make about this book:

Yes, Anika has a strong, snarky voice.  Strong voices tend to provoke strong reader opinions, and Anika's voice may be to your liking ... or not.  She's a bit of an acquired taste, but I rather liked her. As a character, Anika had a sly, subversive quality that, while it made her a somewhat atypical YA heroine, also made her an unpredictable one. Yes, she is one of the mean girls, but she also takes every opportunity to thwart them.

Like Eleanor and Park, this book is historical fiction. It took me a while to figure this out. But eventually I realized that the book had no references to cell phones or social media. That all the pop culture references were from the 70s and 80s. And that the girls spent time after school watching MTV. Ergo, I think this book is set in the mid-80s to mid-90s, which does help to explain some remarks by characters that reviewers (rightfully) called out as slut-shaming or homophobic.  I'm a kid of the 80s, and if memory serves, many people at the time of this story had never heard the term "slut-shaming" and felt free to call things or people "gay" or "queer" as an insult. I'm so glad that we're now aware of and trying to combat these types of derogatory comments, but I'd also argue that, for the purposes of this book, this kind of talk was also historically accurate.

Now ... to the mean girls trope. Yes, it's getting to be a pretty tired one, especially in YA, but the book does both expected and unexpected things with it. On the positive side, like the recently published Tease, this book looks at popular girls from the point of view of one. Anika is one of the underlings to the school's Queen Bee, and doesn't feel her position is secure. All it would take is one tiny mistake -- like falling in love with the wrong boy -- to topple her off her position on the social ladder. (Actually, as the synopsis above reveals, she becomes involved with two wrong boys. Which does feel a bit triangle-y, butalso sort of works in the story.) 

The one thing about the book that I felt hit a wrong note was the ending. No, not the (highlight for spoiler) tragedy at the end, which I began to expect in some form , (end spoiler) but the scene (highlight for spoiler) at the funeral, where Anika confronts Becky in front of half the town. (end spoiler) Not only did this feel completely unrealistic to me, I'd just seen a very similar scene in a movie. In this movie, that scene worked. In this book, it just didn't ring true and, for me, took away from the impact of the ending. 

I think Anatomy of a Misfit will be one of those books that inspires strong reactions -- both positive and negative -- among YA readers. While it's not the kind of book I can say I absolutely loved,  I did enjoy the time I spent reading it.

Have you read this, or do you have any thoughts? I'm on vacation this week, but I promise to get caught up on comments as soon as I'm back :)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Freebie Friday: Kicking Off A Week of Giveaways!

Happy Friday!  

On an exciting note, I will finally be taking some vacation time this summer. So this Freebie Friday and next week's will last until Monday, August 25.

In addition, I will be participating in the Clear Your Shelf Giveaway Hop. That post will go up on Tuesday and also last a week.

Today's giveaway:

Isla and the Happily Ever After
by Stephanie Perkins

This giveaway is open internationally. If winner lives in the US, they'll receive a hardcover. If winner lives outside the US, they'll receive a paperback ordered from The Book Depository.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Just Finished Reading ... Isla and the Happily Ever After

Isla and the Happily Ever After
by Stephanie Perkins
To be published by Dutton
on August 14, 2014

Source: bought

Synopsis from Goodreads: From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever.

My take: First off, while I think these new covers are beautiful, I realized that I also kind of miss the old ones, because I'd get to see what Isla and Josh look like! Then, as I read that very short synopsis above, I realize that Isla and the Happily Ever After is a bit different from the prior two companion books. While Anna and the French Kiss chronicled Anna's amusing fish-out-of-water struggles to adapt to Paris, and Lola and the Boy Next Door featured Lola's spirited squabbles with her dads over her wrong-for-her boyfriend and her slow realization that the right-for-her boy might be closer than she thinks, Isla and the Happily Ever After is really more of a straightforward relationship story. Yes, it was romantic, but in a different way than I expected.

Isla and Josh are classmates at an American school in Paris and Isla has long been crushing on Josh from afar. As the story opens, she runs into him in a New York cafe and, drugged up on painkillers, pretty much throws herself at him. After that, the two head back to school in Paris. Isla becomes her normal, reserved self, and goes back to pining after Josh. (At first I couldn't figure out why he doesn't make a move, but that is explained.)

I must admit that I was a little surprised at first at Isla's ... ordinariness, for lack for a better word.  Isla is not adorably awkward like Anna. She's not bold and eccentric like Lola. Her red hair is probably most vivid and remarkable thing about her. But then I decided that it's nice once in a while to have a romantic heroine who isn't fantastically talented or stunningly charismatic -- just a regular person. And it was nice that Isla didn't have the requisite adorable younger sibling -- her younger sister was hilariously obnoxious.

Speaking of flawed characters, I also liked the fact that the two main characters in this book were likable yet very imperfect. Josh is rebellious and privileged and prickly. Isla is, at times, very insecure and jealous, even a little manipulative. But this made these two and their miscommunications and misunderstandings feel more like a real relationship between two eighteen year-olds.

If you're hoping there are cameos from past characters -- yes, there are cameos!! I liked the fact that they didn't take over the whole book, but still added something very special.  If you've loved the travelogue aspect of past books, you will definitely not be disappointed either -- three very magical cities are featured in a way that will make you want to pack your suitcase and head to the airport.

While Anna and the French Kiss is still favorite of these books, and Cricket will always be my favorite of the guys, I think fans of these stories will find Isla and the Happily Ever After to be a charming end to this threesome of companion books.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hot Off the Presses: New YA Releasing August 12-18

Hot Off the Presses -- brand new YA releases!

Welcome to Hot Off the Presses!  

Tuesday is book release day, so every Tuesday I tell you about all the great new YA books you can buy in the week to come. If you're a reviewer, you can also link your blog or Goodreads reviews of any YA book publishing in the current month so we can all check them out!
NEW August giveaway! This month's winner can pick any book up to $15 on either Amazon (for US winner) or The Book Depository (for international winner.) Enter by linking your reviews, commenting on other people's linked reviews, or tweeting :)  

Hot Off the Presses aims to include every traditionally published YA. You are also welcome to link your reviews of YA books that were self-pubbed this month. Some titles may have different release dates outside the US.

This is a quiet week, but a good one!

Isla and the Happily Ever After Random The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone Between the Spark and the Burn
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins (Dutton)
Random by Tom Leveen (Simon Pulse)
The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin (Soho) 
Between the Spark and the Burn by April Genevieve Tucholke (Dial)

Sisters' Fate A Blind Spot for Boys Fiendish Dangerous Boys
Sisters' Fate (Cahill Witch Chronicles #3) by Jessica Spotswood (Putnam)
Blind Spot for Boys by Justina Chen (Little, Brown)
Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff (Razorbill)
Dangerous Boys by Abigail Haas (Simon & Schuster)

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