Review: Fireworks – Katie Cotugno

Review: Fireworks – Katie CotugnoFireworks by Katie Cotugno
Published by Balzer + Bray
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Amazon, Goodreads

It was always meant to be Olivia. She’s the talented one, the one who’s been training to be a star her whole life. Her best friend, Dana, is the levelheaded one, always on the sidelines, cheering Olivia on.

But everything changes when Dana tags along with Olivia to Orlando for the weekend, where superproducer Guy Monroe is holding auditions for a new singing group, and Dana is discovered too. Dana, who’s never sung more than Olivia’s backup. Dana, who wasn’t even looking for fame. Next thing she knows, she and Olivia are training to be pop stars, and Dana is falling for Alex, the earnest, endlessly talented boy who’s destined to be the next big thing.

It should be a dream come true, but as the days of grueling practice and constant competition take their toll, things between Olivia and Dana start to shift . . . and there’s only room at the top for one girl. For Olivia, it’s her chance at her dream. For Dana, it’s a chance to escape a future that seems to be closing in on her. And for these lifelong best friends, it’s the adventure of a lifetime—if they can make it through.

Set in evocative 1990s Orlando, Fireworks brings to life the complexity of friendship, the excitement of first love, and the feeling of being on the verge of greatness.

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sometimes you pick up a book and you just don’t know how it is going to go for you. You’ve read books by the author and enjoyed one and was conflicted on the other. You like the premise but know it has the potential to go in a different direction than you expect. Because of these things you are almost scared to pick up the book. This was me with Fireworks. I was worried how I would feel about it. I was scared I wouldn’t love it. I was scared I would be disappointed or conflicted. Instead I got one of my favorite books of the year. Simply put…it was freaking fantastic.

There was so much I loved about Fireworks. The setting, the characters, the romance, the friendship, the plot, the writing. I loved it all and I loved it all because it meshed flawlessly together. As soon as I started reading and realized these girls would technically be my age now, I was sucked in. Then I got the the ‘boy band’ part and I was transported to the 90s. Then I got to the romance and I swooned. And finally I got to the heartache of strained friendships and I bawled. The book was magical in its beautiful woven parts and made me a fan for life.

I really can’t even find the words to tell you how genuinely in love I am with Fireworks. It was a book that just got me. I felt a connection to it and I just can’t explain why. It wasn’t what I expected yet it was what I wanted and more. Another must read in 2017.

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Mini Reviews #1

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Mini Reviews #1All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Published by Knopf
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
Amazon, Goodreads

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him. 

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death. 

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. 

This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review

I’m the black sheep of the group with All the Bright Places. I know many many people loved this book, but I just couldn’t connect to it myself. I don’t know what it was but I didn’t cry or feel even the tiniest bit emotionally invested in Theodore and Violet’s story which made me sad. Honestly I kept having this feeling as I read that I would have loved Theodore and Violet in another book. There was something off putting to me about the humor added to a book that really was a very serious subject and because of that I never got myself fully invested in the lives of these characters. I guess I can see why people would love it, maybe, but sadly I wasn’t one of those people.

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Mini Reviews #1Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Published by Viking Juvenile
Format: ARC
Source: Borrowed
Amazon, Goodreads

Peyton, Sydney's charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion's share of their parents' attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton's increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.

Review

I struggled with Saint Anything. After I finished I initially gave it 3.5 stars but the more I let the book settle and marinate I realized that I didn’t like it really. I mean I liked parts of it but as I started to think about it the parts I didn’t like really started to gnaw at me and they became the focus of the book more than what I did like. Honestly I hated the parents, was mildly in like with Sydney and okay about Mac. I didn’t see the chemistry between Sydney and Mac the more I thought about it and I HATED the part with Sydney’s brother’s friend that was beyond creepy. The way the whole situation was handled with him really left a bad taste in my mouth which made it hard as a Dessen fan to really like this one which made me sad. I wish I could talk about the things I did enjoy but sadly I just can’t. This just wasn’t a book for me.

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Mini Reviews #1Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Published by Balzer + Bray
Format: ARC
Source: Borrowed
Amazon, Goodreads

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

Review

Another book that I was the black sheep on. I don’t know if this was one of those books that is too hyped so when I read it is fell flatter than expected or if it was just a book that I wasn’t impressed with. Honestly I can see what people love about it. Simon and Blue’s emails are awesome and I LOVED the last 40 pages of the book. But I felt I was constantly waiting for the wow moment that made everyone fall in love. And truthfully I never got it. Like I said the last 40 pages were awesome, but I wanted more of that awesome. I wanted to know what happened after and I wanted Martin to have to face consequences for his actions but I never got that. In the end I liked it but I didn’t love it.

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Mini Reviews #1Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Published by Balzer + Bray
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Amazon, Goodreads

The romance of Beauty and the Beast meets the adventure of Graceling in a dazzling fantasy novel about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

For fans of bestselling An Ember in the Ashes and A Court of Thorns and Roses, this gorgeously written debut infuses the classic fairy tale with glittering magic, a feisty heroine, and a romance sure to take your breath away.

Betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom, Nyx has always known that her fate was to marry him, kill him, and free her people from his tyranny. But on her seventeenth birthday when she moves into his castle high on the kingdom's mountaintop, nothing is what she expected—particularly her charming and beguiling new husband. Nyx knows she must save her homeland at all costs, yet she can't resist the pull of her sworn enemy—who's gotten in her way by stealing her heart.

Review

I think I had one problem reading this book which made me not love it as much as I expected. That problem is A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. The reason that was a problem was because I read that first and I’m insanely in love with that book because of that I kept comparing Cruel Beauty to it which I know is not fair, but I couldn’t help it. Instead of getting wrapped up in the story of the Gentle Lord and Nyx I kept thinking about Maas’s world as it made reading this one hard. I mean don’t get me wrong they are different books, but they are based off of the same fairytale. I did like Nyx and the Gentle Lord’s relationship so that made reading the book easy. And even though I figured out what was happening really really early, I enjoyed the back story too. I guess when it comes down to it, it is a “It’s not you, it’s me” kind of problem. But I would definitely say to try this one. And I’m looking forward to Crimson Bound too as I like how Hodge writes stories.

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Review: Tease – Amanda Maciel

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Title: Tease [Amazon]
Author: Amanda Maciel [Twitter]
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: Contemporary
Source/Type: Edelweiss/Digital ARC
Stars: 4 of 5

Publisher Description:
Emma Putnam is dead, and it’s all Sara Wharton’s fault. At least, that’s what everyone seems to think. Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma’s shocking suicide. Now Sara is the one who’s ostracized, already guilty according to her peers, the community, and the media. In the summer before her senior year, in between meetings with lawyers and a court-recommended therapist, Sara is forced to reflect on the events that brought her to this moment—and ultimately consider her own role in an undeniable tragedy. And she’ll have to find a way to move forward, even when it feels like her own life is over.

My Thoughts:
I was skeptical going into this one. I had seen there were some not so good reviews and that worried me. But on the flip side there were some high reviews too. Basically I was confused. Since I knew I wanted to read Tease for a long time I decided to ignore the bad and go for it. I’m glad I did because it ended up being a strong book from a voice you don’t get to hear often, the voice of a bully.

Tease is told from the voice of Sara, a girl accused of bullying a classmate to the point that the classmate committed suicide. Having been charged in connection with Emma’s death Sara spends her summer with lawyers and therapists and summer school recalling everything that lead up to Emma’s suicide and the role she played in it. The book is told from the perspective of two different timelines which shows where Sara was and where she is now and where she can go after dealing with the consequences of being a bully.

To me the title of this book has two meanings. Whether that was on purpose or not I don’t know but it worked. Tease can actually mean two things. One is a slang term usually used to describe girls in the sexual nature and the other is the real definition of when you poke fun at someone. Both descriptions of the word truly fit this book in just about every way. In the past timeline, when Emma was still alive, Sara and her best friend Brielle constantly called Emma mean names like slut and whore and Emma retaliated by calling Sara a tease. It was one of the main reasons Sara and Brielle were after Emma. And in the present timeline Sara uses tease to try to explain away her actions trying to say they were just joking with her. It was a really a great dichotomy.

When I was in high school bullying was just that, teasing. Everything was dulled down because we didn’t have the resources like kids do now. There was no Facebook or Twitter or any other social media that helped enable teasing to the level of bullying it’s at now. People like Sara and Brielle don’t think about what their words can do, not just in real life but in the ‘anonymity’ of the web. These girls thought they were untouchable and that they were fixing a wrong.

Which brings me to Sara herself. She was a character that was hard to like but also hard to not feel bad for. There is no denying that was was wrong. She was mean and deliberately acted Emma. She went out of her way to hurt this girl in any way she could. Was she pushed into it by her friend Brielle? Sure. But she made the decision to be a bully and no justification would change that. Why I felt bad for her? She was really a scared girl that just wanted to be liked and a part of a group. She was desperate to belong and to belong she fell into a situation she shouldn’t have put herself in. It broke my heart while making me mad. Like in all good books though it was nice to watch Sara on this journey and to see if she could grow, learn and change.

Tease is a book that people should give a chance. Readers are going to have trouble with the narrator and that’s the point. It’s a story about what’s real and relevant to the world right now. It’s about consequences and the aftermath of a tragedy you’ve played a part in. It’s a book that should be read and discussed. It’s a book I’m glad I read.

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Review: Side Effects May Vary – Julie Murphy

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Title: Side Effects May Vary [Amazon]
Author: Julie Murphy [website]
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Genre:  Contemporary
Source/Type: Edelweiss/Digital ARC
Stars: 4 of 5 (I think.)

Publisher Description:
What if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.

Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most?

My Thoughts:
I finished this book sometime before writing this review and to be honest I’m still not sure how I feel about. I didn’t hate the book. In fact I really, really enjoyed it. Great story, great writing and great characters, for the most part. I guess this is where my problem is. There were two main voices in Side Effects May Vary, Harvey and Alice. And for as much as I loved Harvey, I had the hardest time even liking Alice. I desperately wanted to, but she would not cooperate with me in anyway, well mostly. I’m sure this was Murphy’s plan, to not make her likable, but it has caused some conflict on my part in terms of feelings.

Side Effects May Vary is about high school students Alice and Harvey. They have been friends just about their whole lives. They grew-up together and grew apart together. Since high school started they have barely spoken yet secretly yearn to be close once again. Well secretly for Alice, but right out there for Harvey as he is insanely in love with her. After a year of barely speaking Alice finds out she has cancer and there is only one person she wants by her side, Harvey. You see, Alice has a list of things to do, revenges to take, good deeds to accomplish, undefined feelings for Harvey to deal with. And as it looks like Alice’s life is closer to an end she gets even closer to Harvey. But when the unthinkable happens and she goes into remission, Alice is left with the repercussion for everything she felt and said and did. She may have her life back, but when all is said and done, will she still have her best friend.

The book is told through 2 different voices(Alice/Harvey), in 2 different spans of time(now/then). As a reader you get to see what led to where Alice and Harvey are in terms of their relationship/friendship and what is happening to destroy them in the present. Having both voices and a jumping timeline isn’t as hard to follow as you may think. It was actually a great choice on the author’s part in my opinion. Being able to understand what is going in in both Harvey and Alice’s heads was important in this story. And seeing how things drastically changed was too. I actually really loved that part of the book as I got to know both teens better as the circumstances of their lives changed. But this was also the problem for me as I got to know both characters.

I understood Alice’s motivations and reasoning for why she acted the way she did. She was flat out scared and I got that. People do and say horrible things when they are afraid of living their lives and in Alice’s case, an unexpected chance to actually have a life. She had made peace with what was supposed to be her end. She did the things she wanted to do before she had to say goodbye. But what I didn’t like was her methods. She was mean and hateful and selfish. She used people when she felt like it and had little remorse for things she had done, to those she hurt. And the way she treated Harvey just about killed me.  He was the sweetest boy that wore his heart on his sleeve, his feelings for Alice out there, for everyone to see. He let Alice use him and treat him like dirt and then come back for more because he loved her and knew she was better than she acted. It broke my heart how she had the power to destroy him and used it when she could. But I also loved how they were when they were together and Alice let her walls down. I guess that’s the part that makes this hard because Alice wasn’t a bad person. She just closed herself off from her feelings and came across that way.

Basically Side Effects May Vary is a book I won’t easily forget since I can’t seem to iron out my feelings. Usually when I have trouble liking a main character I just don’t enjoy the book, but that isn’t the case with this one because I actually really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it to others to read. It was a great story of change and second chances and being afraid. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to clearly explain my feelings on this book, but I’m so happy that I got to read it.

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Review: The Promise of Amazing – Robin Constantine

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Title: The Promise of Amazing [Amazon]
Author: Robin Constantine [website]
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre:  Contemporary
Source/Type: Borrowed/Paperback ARC
Stars: 3.75 of 5

Publisher Description:
Wren Caswell is average. Ranked in the middle of her class at Sacred Heart, she’s not popular, but not a social misfit. Wren is the quiet, “good” girl who’s always done what she’s supposed to—only now in her junior year, this passive strategy is backfiring. She wants to change, but doesn’t know how.

Grayson Barrett was the king of St. Gabe’s. Star of the lacrosse team, top of his class, on a fast track to a brilliant future—until he was expelled for being a “term paper pimp.” Now Gray is in a downward spiral and needs to change, but doesn’t know how.

One fateful night their paths cross when Wren, working at her family’s Arthurian-themed catering hall, performs the Heimlich on Gray as he chokes on a cocktail weenie, saving his life literally and figuratively. What follows is the complicated, awkward, hilarious, and tender tale of two teens shedding their pasts, figuring out who they are—and falling in love.

My Thoughts:
The number one part of this book that I liked was hands down Wren and Gray. They were seriously adorable and lovable and just plain fun to read. But even with the two of them there were parts of this story I just did not like and mostly it was Gray’s “former” friends and the nonsense at the end of the book.  I think without those two things I would have found The Promise of Amazing as it states in the title, amazing. Instead it was a book that turned out to be a little more than okay.

The Promise of Amazing is the story of Wren, a quiet, good girl, that is basically invisible. She has been so passive her whole life that she basically isn’t even living her own life. She does what she is supposed to and that’s that. Then there is Grayson, a popular kid that is all about trouble. He used to rule his school and when he got expelled everything changed.  And Gray and Wren meant due to a life altering circumstance, they are on a course they never expected with a future they never imagined.

Seriously, I really 100% loved Wren and Gray. They were basically all sorts of awesome and enjoyable. It was the other things that surrounded them that brought this book down some. I felt like a lot of the outside stuff wasn’t needed so I had trouble with it. Gray didn’t need the somewhat awful, but maybe not really stepfather and Wren didn’t need to have the over the top at times family. It was background noise that took up too much time in the story. Instead of spending more time on Wren and Gray getting to know each other and fall in love with one another, I had to see Gray with his stepfather.  I also wasn’t a fan of the backstory that got Gray expelled from school and the impact it ended up having on his relationship with Wren. It almost came off as silly when it really was something much more serious.

Basically I enjoyed the main characters a lot but just wish I could have moved them into a different, more fitting story about the two of them.  The book was enjoyable enough and a fast read, but just feel a little flat for the love category. I would still say to pick it up and give it a chance as there really are some magical parts and Wren and Gray are too adorable for words when they are together.

Side note: Doesn’t the girl on the cover remind you of Willa Holland?

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