Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

Title: This Is What Happy Looks Like 
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Headline
Length: 416 pages
Original Publishing Date: April 2nd, 2013
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: Bought from Barnes & Noble
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.

Then Graham finds out that Ellie's Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs?

Main characters: 3.5/5

Graham gave a personable aspect to celebrities. I loved that Smith depicted him as a normal person and showed the everyday struggles that he had to deal with. It made him a realistic and sympathetic main character.

Ellie was so incredibly down-to-earth. I think that's probably the best way to describe her in one phrase. She was so grounded in everyday life, had a good head on her shoulders, and was entirely practical- in the best way possible. I think her personality meshed with Graham's because Graham could often be up in the clouds- drawing or thinking or acting.

Some problems with Ellie and Graham: it took me a long time to get a great sense of how Graham and Ellie interacted together. Although Smith included some of their emails in the prologue, we didn't get a true idea of how they meshed or the chemistry between them. This made their romance have an "instalove" feel, even though I don't think it actually was.

Another big problem? I didn't feel integrally connected to their characters. I was rooting for them sure, but I wasn't passionately involved in their story. I think part of this may have been the predictability of the story, which caused me to feel like there was less of a stake in their romance.

Secondary characters: 3/5

This is another books that has very few secondary characters. The biggest secondary character was Quinn, Ellie's best friend. I like that Quinn is described as opposite of Ellie, and the mix-up that ensues with her and Graham. Quinn also has her own stuff going on in her life, which means that we don't see her a lot. Quinn had the possibility of being a great best friend character, but specific plot points made her fall short of her potential as a developed character. These plot points added conflict and dynamics to Ellie and Quinn's relationship, but made it difficult to understand Quinn further.

Ellie's mom played a big role in the novel and I liked that. Even though she and Ellie get along well, they still disagree over some things and we see some conflict between the two. This conflict allowed us to get to know both Ellie and her mom better, and their conflict advanced the story and allowed them to grow as individuals.

All of this being said? I was disappointed with the number and depth of secondary characters. Because there were few major secondary characters, I wanted to be emotionally attached to them and understand them fully and I really didn't get that.

Writing style: 3/5

You may remember that I struggled at bit with Jennifer E. Smith's writing style in The Statistical Probability of Falling in Love. I enjoyed the writing in This is What Happy Looks Like far more. The pacing, to start, was faster for me than Probability, even though it was longer.

The writing was simple and utilitarian for most of the novel, but there were parts where Smith just shone as hit you with some beautiful sentences. Those run-on sentences were still present, but they were less noticeable than in Probability. Overall, my experience with Smith's writing style was still just ok. It didn't particularly stand out to me, and there were definitely still aspects that didn't click with me.

Plot: 3/5 
The first thing I need to point out about the plot is that it is predictable. This isn't always a bad thing though, because even though Smith draws on cliches that we are all familiar with, I still felt myself falling into their relationship. The novel focuses on Ellie and Graham as individuals and as a couple, but I also loved that it dealt with family and identity.

But let's talk about the mechanics of the plot structure. I mentioned earlier that I wished there had been more interaction with Ellie and Graham before they met in person. We are led to believe that they have so much in common, but it didn't come through in the writing. Graham also has this "gut reaction" to Ellie (or not Ellie) that I think came off as a little ridiculous given that they had never met in person. Finally, I struggled with the middle section when Ellie blows off Graham. I didn't understand why and the fact that Graham forgave her so quickly seemed unrealistic to me.

Ending: 3/5

Smith tries to make the ending of the novel very literary and meaningful, and I'm still a little torn on the extent to which it accomplished its goal.

On the one hand, the writing is absolutely gorgeous and I love that the ending leaves some options open: just as Graham and Ellie don't know what the future will hold, neither do we. That being said, I felt like the end just tried too hard. Like it was attempting to make a light, fun romance into some big mysterious meaning of life.

Best scene: When Graham realizes that Quinn is not Ellie.... Oops....

Reminded Me Of: You've Got Mail 

Positives: Realistic main characters, the simple elegance of the writing style, the way it ended

Negatives: No intense connection to main characters, small and underdeveloped secondary cast, predictable plot, the description/writing style of the ending (the overdramatic descriptions)

Cover: It's perfect. Following in the same style as The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, it features hand-drawn yellow features on a black and white background. The yellow goes perfectly with the "happy" theme and I LOVE the font, again.

Verdict:  A fun and light summer read that doesn't stand out much from the crowd

Rating:  5.0 / 10 (3 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Title: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Genre: YA Paranormal Mystery
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Length: 466 pages
Original Publishing Date: September 27th, 2011
Series: Mara Dyer #1
Where I got it: Bought at Barnes & Noble
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads:  
Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.
It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.

There is.

She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love.

She’s wrong.

Main characters: 4.5/5

Mara was a solid main character. Although she was lost and confused, she didn't whine or cry or curl up into a little ball. Her reactions were realistic and believable without being over-the-top or annoying. Mara had a little spunk (read: snark) that made her likable and I loved her passion for drawing.

Noah was a cliche wrapped in a cliche. He was the typical hot, arrogant, millionaire British manwhore. I've seen it before and I'll see it again. In fact, I groaned when I realized he had an accent. I wish that Hodkin had taken a bit of a more unique approach to the love interest. That being said, I loved Noah's tenacity and determination to woo Mara. When his soft side started showing, I really began to like him more.

Together, Mara and Noah had everything you're looking for in a couple: the sass, the chemistry, the mushy stuff and the determination. Plus the way that they started dating was too perfect. I did feel like they feel into a dating rhythm too quickly- they had barely met and suddenly they were the "perfect couple in love". Where was that awkward first date and the conversations that went with?

Secondary characters: 4/5

I really liked how Hodkin included Mara's siblings to a significant extent: they weren't just in the background or used for a specific purpose, they really dictated who Mara was as a person. I also thought it was unique that Mara's brothers were the "perfect" boys and Mara was the "troublesome" girl. What a great role reversal!

And Jamie... Jamie. What a character. Hodkin didn't introduce him as "black, Jewish and Bi" (at least until after you got to know him). Instead, she let his actions and words and appearance speak for itself as if you were meeting him for the first time too. It was refreshing not to read labels right off the bat.

I felt like Mara's parents fell a little flat. Hodkin did such a good job integrating Mara's siblings into the story, and Mara's parents could have been the same, but instead they were pegged as the bad guys because they were concerned about Mara's behavior and mental wellness.

I had a little bit of a problem with Anna and Aiden. The were depicted as pure evil, and while I know they were some of the main antagonists, I wanted to see more characterization. Even the most awful bullies are people too.

Writing style: 3.5/5

Overall, I'd have to categorize Hodkin's writing style as not great, but pretty good. The writing was rather functional and utilitarian; there wasn't a whole lot of brilliant prose. That being said, it's the kind of writing that's easy to read and compelling. One thing I noticed was a lot of short sentences and fragments. This allowed the writing to move quickly, without getting bogged down in run-on and complex sentences. I also supremely enjoyed the flashbacks. The pacing was excellent for the most part: I was absolutely enthralled in the story. However, every once in a while it began to drag, especially toward the middle/end of the book.

Plot: 3.5/5 
Dat mystery doe. No seriously, the mystery and intrigue in this novel were out of this world. And it was so spooky, I'm surprised I didn't end up having nightmares. Hodkin did an amazing job at keeping me guessing at what the "paranormal activity" was. The flashbacks did an excellent job at piquing my interest and keeping me focused on Mara's past and present equally. I do want to point out that some of the plot points themselves were predictable and disappointing. While I liked the background plot, I had hoped that the mystery surrounding Mara wouldn't turn out the way it did and that it wouldn't concern Noah the way that it did as well. Also, the ending got a little convoluted and confusing. I'm a little concerned about how this plot paragraph turned out because I thought that the plot was one of the things that I loved and it turns out that it actually has some of my biggest issues. But I think that's just how I feel about this one. The plot makes it, and the plot has some huge flaws.

Ending: 4.5/5

The cliffie is so real!!! As you may know, I absolutely hate books that end on a pure cliffhanger. However, this cliffhanger was too good and too shocking not to love. Also, I normally don't have that crazy urge to read the next book right away, and I TOTALLY had that with The Evolution of Mara Dyer. So even though I don't normally like cliffhangers, I liked this one.

Best scene: The Spanish oral exam

Reminded Me Of: Beautiful Creatures meets The Liar Society

Positives: Strong and realistic main characters, unique and memorable secondary characters, mysterious and intriguing plot, the cliffhanger ending

Negatives: Some quick/instalove romance aspects, some secondary characterizations needed more work, some minor pacing issues, predictable plot points, confusing ending

Cover: Haunting, mysterious and beautiful.

Verdict:  A fascinating and mysterious debut from Michelle Hodkin!

Rating:  8.0 / 10 (5 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Analyze This: Genre & Ratings

I've been having some struggles here lately in dealing with different genres and keeping a consistent rating process throughout.

One of the easiest ways for me to evaluate what I read has always been through a straight-forward process. Thus, my review format makes it easiest for me all around to come up with a rating that I feel is most representative, and it gives me an idea (currently and in the future) of which aspects of the novel I liked and which I didn't. Sometimes I won't even know what I think about a book when I finish until I take the time to pick it apart and just start writing or talking to someone, and as I'm doing that then somewhere along the way my opinions just roar right into view and suddenly I know exactly how I felt about that book.

I usually don't have any problems with this way of reviewing books. If a couple things end up off at the end, I usually just re-evaluate my subcategories and adjust accordingly. Sometimes I'll "curve" a review one way or the other. For instance, a book might score just "ok" in all categories but for some reason I'll have ended up liking more than the final score represents. It might be the overall feeling of the book or a level of excitement or enthusiasm that certain parts didn't catch. But this is few and far between and usually only a few decimal points raised or lowered.

But I've been finding lately that I'm struggling with the rating between, say, a fantasy novel and a realistic/contemporary romance novel. For characters and writing style, sure, the rating is relatively consistent. But what about plot? How do you rate something on plot? I've noticed myself writing in some of the romance novels "Not much happened by means of plot", but what do I mean by that?

I think I mean that the conflict in realistic novels is often more internal or character driven than external. So what does that mean for plot? It doesn't mean that nothing happens, just that it happens differently than a paranormal or fantasy novel. Does a realistic fiction deserve a lower plot score than a fantasy or epic novel simply because there aren't as many twists and plot devices and "stuff"? It definitely shouldn't. That doesn't mean that it doesn't end up happening.

In general, I like both genres, I just think that each needs to be judged on its peers and with its own expectations. A realistic novel isn't going to have as much "stuff" happen necessarily as a plot-driven fantasy novel, but that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy it.

So, the brainstorming keeps on with this one. Will I have to adjust my rating scale someday? Maybe, but for now I'll just keep in mind that each genre is different and I need to be judging the books based on themselves, not something entirely different.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday Summary

What I Did

  • You may have noticed less posts happening around here. That's because of a few reasons. 1) I've been busy balancing both of my jobs 2) I'm not in a huge blogging mood right now 3) It's sorority recruitment season and I have a bit of a hobby tracking down information about nationwide recruitment. Hopefully in a few weeks I can pick up the posts that I'm making around here, because I'm still reading listening to a ton of books. Essentially, I'm in a rut but the upswing is coming soon! 
  • It was my birthday last week! Woo!

What I Read

  • Fuse by Julianna Baggott
  • The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon

On the Blog

  • On Monday I analyzed switching characters in series
  • On Wednesday, I reviewed The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Title: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Poppy/Little Brown
Length: 236 pages
Original Publishing Date: January 2nd, 2012
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: Bought from Barnes & Noble
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan's life. Having missed her flight, she's stuck at JFK airport and late to her father's second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon-to-be stepmother Hadley's never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport's cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he's British, and he's sitting in her row.

A long night on the plane passes in the blink of an eye, and Hadley and Oliver lose track of each other in the airport chaos upon arrival. Can fate intervene to bring them together once more?

Quirks of timing play out in this romantic and cinematic novel about family connections, second chances, and first loves. Set over a twenty-four-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver's story will make you believe that true love finds you when you're least expecting it. 

Main characters: 2/5

I really struggled with the main characters in The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Both of them seemed to lack any sort of personality and at the end of the book, I was left wondering who these characters really were.

The main point I got from Hadley was that she was a girl with father issues. Her feelings about the situation were realistic and accurate, but I couldn't get a solid read on her as a character and thus didn't feel any connection to her.

Oliver had all the makings of a swoon-y love interest, but he fell flat. I knew him as the British Yalie and thus I imagined him as a nerdy yet cute guy who was sort of quirky. But other than his witty banter with Hadley and his own father issues, I didn't know anything about him, nor did he seem to have much personality. And did we ever figure out what he actually studying??

Secondary characters: 4/5

Here's the thing about Andrew, Hadley's dad: I may not have liked the message that Smith tried to attach to him (that leaving a marriage is okay if you find your "true love"), but I liked how Smith portrayed him as a rounded character with flaws and strengths. Just because someone makes a mistake doesn't necessarily make them a bad person and I like how Hadley learns to accept her dad again, as well as Charlotte.

I also liked Hadley's mom, because she was working through her own struggles and growing as well. She understood that holding such contempt against your family is painful, and encouraged Hadley to travel to London for her dad's wedding. But Hadley also encouraged her mom to grow as well and move past her divorce.

Other than Hadley's parents, there weren't a lot of secondary characters, which I suppose made sense. Despite the limited size of the secondary cast, both were more rounded and deep than the main characters.

Writing style: 2.5/5

I'm torn on the writing style. Smith's writing could be absolutely beautiful, however the pacing was also incredibly slow. I think in some way's it's possibly an effect of the writing style; the long run-on sentences, the internal dialogue, the difficult punctuation with interjections in the middle of these run-on sentences, and more.

Even though the book was short, and I read it quickly, the actual reading went slowly because I had to sift through this dense writing. Some of the paragraphs were internal dialogue, but that internal dialogue didn't help me get to know the characters, so it was slow-going with no payoff.

Plot: 3.5/5 
I loved the concept and the integration of fate into the overarching theme, including the fact that it all happened within 24 hours. Even if it may be a little far-fetched (how come it's never happened to me??), the conversation and development between Hadley and Oliver was realistic, including some awkward parts that fit just right.

Overall, there weren't a lot of plot points- not a lot happened. The things that did happen were predictable and I saw them coming, including the "twist". The title was a little misleading though!

Ending: 3/5

Again, I saw it coming from a long way away. However, I like how not all the ends were perfectly tied up, and there was some uncertainty about the future, because that's realistic and that's what actually happens in life.

Best scene: The customs line scene

Reminded Me Of: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Positives: Beautiful descriptions, multi-faceted secondary cast of characters, cool concept, realistic ending, those awkward moments

Negatives: Forgettable and undeveloped main characters, slow pacing, predictable

Cover:  I really like this cover: The handwritten font is beautiful and the black and white background makes the red aspects really pop.

Verdict:  A fun summer read, but The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight lacks a few important aspects that would have made it shine. 

Rating:  6.0 / 10 (3 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Analyze This: Switching Characters in Series

So, you know how in some series, the main character in each book is different?

For instance, in The Forest of Hands and Teeth series by Carrie Ryan, the first book follows Mary, the second book follows Gabry and the third book follows Annah. Maddy says the Abhorsen series is a bit like this too, and she also noted The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper. Also, The Chronicles of Narnia.

What do you think of series like this?

I've been thinking about it a bit and I don't think I like it.

When I read a series, I get pretty emotionally invested in the characters. Sure, I like the world that the author provides. But, the characters make a series. Thus, I get pretty frustrated when a conflict is not complete (either a character's personal conflict or a conflict that includes many people/a world) and the next book suddenly decides to focus on a different character.

But here's another question: what about multiple series that take place in the same world, but with different characters? For instance, Tamora Pierce's series all take place in the same world. Each quartet (or duo) focuses on a different main character, but we still see that character appear again in future series.

For me, the difference is that the original main character's storyline has been concluded. I'm no longer left wondering what happened to them, so when I see them again in the future series, it's just like an update.

And then there's companion books. These books simply focus a different character from the same world, just like Tamora Pierce's books do. Anna and the French Kiss is an example of this, or the Pushing the Limits series. These are fine for me too, because again, the main conflict of the character and the story has been concluded.

But if I get a different character for every book? For the most part, I am left feeling jipped that I didn't get to experience the rest of the conflict with that character that I had grown so attached to. 

What do you think? Am I just crazy? Do you like series that switch characters with each new sequel? Can you think of an example where it worked?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Maddy's Review: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Title: Perfect Chemistry
Author: Simone Elkeles
Genre: Contemporary YA
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Length: 357 pages
Original Publishing Date: December 23rd, 2008
Series: Perfect Chemistry #1
Where I got it: Borrowed from Audrey
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
A fresh, urban twist on the classic tale of star-crossed lovers.
When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created 'perfect' life is about to unravel before her eyes. She's forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she's worked so hard for: her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect.
Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more.
In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep Brittany and Alex apart.

Main characters: 3/5

Even though Brittany and Alex came from two different situations which I don’t have anything in common with, they were very sympathetic characters, and they seemed very real. I liked how they were both hiding behind stereotypes that other people wanted them to be, but they were aware of who they were. At times they could be incredibly frustrating, especially Alex, who would be cute and romantic one second, and then he would be completely thick-headed the next. Their connection felt real, and it did seem like their differences could be overcome so they could fall in love. However, I did think that Alex’s behavior surrounding “the bet” became uncharacteristic at the end. It seems a little strange that someone so in love with someone could disregard them so completely, even while he stuck close to his family.

Secondary characters: 2/5

I wish the secondary characters like Isabel, Paco, Shelley, and all of Brittany’s friends had more of the book dedicated to them. I don’t want to criticize a book for what it didn’t do, but I think that in a book about being more than your stereotype or what everyone expects you to be, it would have been interesting to see what their backstories were. They also had a lot of plotlines that felt like they were started but never really finished, especially with Isabel and Paco. I know this is part of a trilogy and that they might be expanded upon in later books, but I wish it could have happened in this book. I thought Shelley’s storyline was wrapped up too neatly, especially for the amount of time that Brittany spent worrying about her. I wish even the teachers could have been a bit more fleshed-out. I think this book could have easily had another 200 pages and I’d still read it to learn more about these secondary characters.

Writing style: 3/5

I liked how there was a definite difference between Brittany and Alex’s point of views. Their alternating chapters felt like different enough voices that you could really tell the difference in their struggles. Some of the slang felt stilted, like the amount of times that teenagers would say “bod” as in “killer bod”. Other than that, it was very evocative writing that really made me care about these two characters.

Plot: 3/5 

The plot was a bit ridiculous at times, but the story was very enthralling. I was entertained from beginning to end, even if it was a bit cheesy. One thing that I just couldn’t get behind was how all of Alex and Brittany’s physical encounters were from Alex’s point of view. It was interesting to hear his side, but he made a lot of assumptions about Brittany, and it would have been interesting to hear her side of things. Sometimes it didn’t feel entirely consensual just because Brittany’s voice was shut out of those scenes. Anyway, again, I’m not trying to criticize this book on what it could have done, but Brittany’s voice in these scenes felt disturbingly absent.

Ending: 2/5

The ending was a little much for me. I really like cliffhanger endings, or at least endings that are a little ambiguous, or that end in the middle of the action. I felt like this was wrapped up a little too neatly for my tastes. I guess I like thinking about the fate of the characters after I’ve finished the book, but I felt like I couldn’t do that with how this book ended. I know I’ve defended the Harry Potter Epilogue to anyone who will listen, but this time I really understood the power of the epilogue in making something feel final. It was what I wanted to happen, in the end, but I wish there was a little left to the imagination.

Best scene: When Alex and Brittany go to a wedding

Reminded Me Of: A Lifetime movie

Positives: Brittany and Alex’s commonalities, Brittany and Shelley’s relationship, the accurate portrayal of high school cliques

The “Bet” plotline, the too-neat ending, the one-sided physical encounters

I like the minimalist style of the cover; although, I did take one look at it when Audrey lent it to me, and I asked if it was a drug book because the cover reminded me of “Crank” by Ellen Hopkins. (It’s not. Kind of.)

An entertaining read that I wish would have been longer.

Rating:  4.8 / 10 (3 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Review: My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Title: My Life Next Door
Author: Huntley Fitzpatrick
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Length: 394 pages 
Original Publishing Date: June 14th, 2012
Series: My Life Next Door #1
Where I got it: Bought from Barnes & Noble
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, messy, affectionate. And every day from her rooftop perch, Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs up next to her and changes everything.

As the two fall fiercely for each other, stumbling through the awkwardness and awesomeness of first love, Jase's family embraces Samantha - even as she keeps him a secret from her own. Then something unthinkable happens, and the bottom drops out of Samantha's world. She's suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?

A transporting debut about family, friendship, first romance, and how to be true to one person you love without betraying another.

Main characters: 4.5/5

Wow, these two main characters were pretty magical together

Samantha is reserved, put-together, and "perfect" at the beginning of the novel. Luckily, she meets Jase pretty quickly, but her change is gradual and realistic. She still retains these qualities even as she opens up to the Garrett family. Everything about Samantha felt real. Her emotions, her conflicting feelings, and her loyalties all served to make me understand and connect with Samantha. Even though Fitzpatrick didn't delve deeply into Samantha's hopes and dreams for the future as much as I would have preferred, I still felt this deep connection to her. I understood that swimming was her escape, and that she loved looking at the stars. These little things all made me fall in love with her. 

And Jase... *swoon*. I'm not normally big into "book boyfriends" (I know, you can throw tomatoes at me now), but I adored Jase. He was sweet, down-to-earth, and loyal to his friends and family. I loved watching him interact with his siblings and put in long hours at the hardware store to support his family. My one negative with him? He was almost too perfect. Where was his growth? Why is he so understanding and nice all the time? These are serious questions!

And the two of them together? So cute! I loved that they had a couple small bumps along the way (and one big one, obviously). The little conflicts were realistic and the way they grew because of them set each up perfectly for the big drama. I honestly don't know what more I would have asked for from these two.

Secondary characters: 4/5

I LOVED the Garretts: their loud, crazy, messy life with eight children, who each had their own endearing qualities. Especially George... how perfect is he? They are the perfect contrast to the Reed's and I love how the interactions with each others' families make Jase and Samantha grow.

Tim and Nan, the twins. I'm kind of on the fence here. I think it's interesting how they are twins and how Nan is Samantha's best friends because they follow an opposite arc. Tim really intrigued me in his search for bettering himself and even though he was frustrating at the beginning, I think he ended up being such a key character for Samantha to confess to. Nan, on the other hand, was something else. She started out so interesting and then sort of plummeted. I wanted some sort of resolution to their friendship.

Samantha's mom, Grace. What can I say about her? It was interesting to see her interactions with Samantha. Difficult as it was to feel any sympathy for her, I think Fitzpatrick did a great job of leading us through the incident and trying to get into Samantha's mind.

I wish Jase had had a best friend! We never get to see any of his friends, only his family, and I got to wondering if he had any friends or if he just hung out with his fam the entire time. Sort of a missing character there, I thought.

Writing style: 4/5

I really liked Fitzpatrick's writing style. It was simple, elegant and yet down-to-earth. She didn't try to make her language super flowery, yet there were some beautiful passages nonetheless. The pacing, for the most part, was good. The book was long but it moved fairly quickly. As enjoyable a read it was, I felt that some of the middle sections could have been shortened to reach the main conflict. The dialogue was realistic and meaningful.

My only other critique would be that sometimes the scenes would end quickly at the bottom of one page and a new one would start up on the next. I would be jolted out of one scene and be a little lost before I realized I was in a new one.

Plot: 4.5/5 
The thing about contemporary romances is that not a lot happens. That's just the nature of these types of books. Two people fall in love and deal with conflicts and drama. That being said, when I rate, I try to compare contemporary books to themselves, rather than to thrillers.  

My Life Next Door had a lot going for it. It's conflicts were incredibly realistic, and even when they weren't (that sounds like I contradicted myself, but it makes sense in my head), the emotions and thoughts that went with it were. Fitzpatrick sets up a lot of minor conflicts and plot points that are blended together beautifully.

Ending: 3/5

I kind of struggled with the ending. In a lot of ways, it's realistic and what needed to be concluded was taken care of. In a lot of other ways though, there were some unresolved issues that I think needed to be dealt with. Even if it was just to say that the problems would stay unresolved, I wish that Fitzpatrick had addressed them even briefly.

Best scene: Any scene with George. What a cutie!

Reminded Me Of: You Against Me by Jenny Downham

Positives: Samantha's realistic growth and development, writing style, realistic plot and conflicts, realistic and unforgettable secondary characters, all the feels

Negatives: Jase's perfection and lack of growth, lack of resolution for some major plot points, some long, slower parts in the middle, weird scene changes

Cover: Yeah, I love it. I like the font, I like the background (can that be my backyard?), I like the couple... I like everything.

Verdict:  The perfect summer read, My Life Next Door, is not just your shallow YA romance. 

Rating:  8.0 / 10 (5 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Analyze This: Cheap Reads

I am a tightwad. I do not like spending a lot of money on things (with a few notable exceptions). Even though my passion for reading is overwhelming, this still applies to books. I hate spending money on books that I could get for much less or free in a couple years. Because of this, I've come up with a few excellent strategies to find said books for cheap, which means that my bookshelves runneth over often.

  1. I share with friends

  2. When we were in school, Maddy would borrow ARCs from me and I would pillage through her room and borrow dozens of books from her. An easy way to save money!
  3. I borrow from the library

  4. Easy enough, right? Well here's a confession... I'm not actually allowed to borrow from the library any more. They cut me off because I had more than $50 in late fees. Well, that's a lot of money! I should pay them back some day, but I sort of figured in my mind that volunteering there for four years sort of makes up for it. Regardless, I have come into possession of my mom's library card and discovered that my library is connected to a digital library service where I can check out ebooks and audiobooks online. The best part? The books auto-return so I never get late fees!
  5. I shop at garage sales

  6. Believe it or not, a lot of people ditch their old books at garage sales, and sometimes you can come across great finds! Also, if it's the end of the day, people will start giving stuff away for free so that they don't have to take the time to dispose of it later. I've gotten a couple giant boxes of books for free this way.
  7. I shop at library sales

  8. There was this giant library sale in Eugene where the books were $.50 or $1... what a deal! They often had newer books as well. I haven't found anything the same in my hometown, but I'm sure I'll stumble across something soon!
  9. I shop at Goodwill

  10. I find tons of great finds at goodwill for about $2-3. I've found some really recent novels as well as some of the classics that I'm always looking to add to my collection!
What about you guys? Where do you go to buy your books cheap?