Review: Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott

Review: Heartbeat by Elizabeth ScottHeartbeat by Elizabeth Scott
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA on 2014-03-01
Pages: 256
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Life. Death. And...Love?

Emma would give anything to talk to her mother one last time. Tell her about her slipping grades, her anger with her stepfather, and the boy with the bad reputation who might be the only one Emma can be herself with.

But Emma can't tell her mother anything. Because her mother is brain-dead and being kept alive by machines for the baby growing inside her.

Meeting bad-boy Caleb Harrison wouldn't have interested Old Emma. But New Emma-the one who exists in a fog of grief, who no longer cares about school, whose only social outlet is her best friend Olivia-New Emma is startled by the connection she and Caleb forge.

Feeling her own heart beat again wakes Emma from the grief that has grayed her existence. Is there hope for life after death-and maybe, for love?

Thoughts: There aren’t many books I’d give the “For fans of The Fault in Our Stars” label to. Actually, before Heartbeat, there were exactly zero. But while reading this fantastically emotional book, I couldn’t help but remember my experience reading TFIOS. This isn’t a cancer book, but it is a book about love, loss and happiness… rather key themes of TFIOS, as well.

Heartbeat is one of those books that hits a little bit too close to home. A girl loses her mother but is forced to keep seeing her everyday. When she loses her mother, she loses the rest of her family too. And while that is all hideous, what’s worst is the shock of it all. Her life changes in less than a second. There was no time for goodbye, no time to prepare.

That she finds someone to love during this tragedy may seem unrealistic, but it is a bond forged with a shared understanding of loss. It felt real and it also felt healthy – so I wholeheartedly approved. Perhaps they weren’t a swoon-worthy couple, but hey. It’s hard to be charming when you are sobbing.

Speaking of which: add Heartbeat to the “Made Me Cry” pile. And, for the record, they weren’t tears of joy. Sometimes life really sucks for fictional characters, and us real-life characters are allowed to cry about it.

That said, I wasn’t quite as enchanted with Heartbeat as I was with Scott’s Stealing Heaven. While Scott is certainly an expert at packing a big punch into a little book, Heartbeat was just a tad too short for its content. At times, I felt like Scott was trying to jump to the next plot point without a proper emotional transition… it was a bit jarring at times, but didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the book.

Bottom line? Elizabeth Scott is a fantastic author and Heartbeat is another gem in her treasure-chest of novels.

Review: Fade by Lisa McMann

Review: Fade by Lisa McMannFade by Lisa McMann
Series: Dream Catcher #2
Published by Simon Pulse
Pages: 248
Genres: Contemporary YA, Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Wake, Gone

SOME NIGHTMARES NEVER END.

For Janie and Cabel, real life is getting tougher than the dreams. They're just trying to carve out a little (secret) time together, but no such luck.

Disturbing things are happening at Fieldridge High, yet nobody's talking. When Janie taps into a classmate's violent nightmares, the case finally breaks open -- but nothing goes as planned. Not even close. Janie's in way over her head, and Cabe's shocking behavior has grave consequences for them both.

Worse yet, Janie learns the truth about herself and her ability -- and it's bleak. Seriously, brutally bleak. Not only is her fate as a dream catcher sealed, but what's to come is way darker than she'd feared....

Thoughts: To start with, I was slightly skeptical about the premise of this book. Janie and the police department are working off only the vaguest of hints… I just couldn’t imagine real-world police officers investigating so much effort following them up.

Of course, they turn out to be true, but hey – that’s just because it’s a book.

Anyhow, once I got over that aspect, Fade was quite enjoyable. Although it didn’t have quite the same magic as Wake, Lisa McMann’s writing is undeniably addictive. I read this whole book on-and-off during a single day. McMann is a concise, poetic and – well – rather brilliant writer.

McMann’s books may have a fantasy element to them, but they are undeniably “realistic fiction”. They are gritty and portray a far-too-real version of life. Relationships are hard. People are horrid. Men will rape you. Mothers will hate you. You aren’t safe. You’ll never be safe. Welcome to the real world.

Surprisingly, I rather enjoyed that aspect of Fade. I feel like a lot of YA tries to make the world a slightly shinier version of itself – which is certainly enjoyable for a bit of escapism – but every once and a while we need something to remind us of how terrible everything is. I mean, this isn’t quite Ellen Hopkins‘ level of misery, but it is a cousin of some sort. But while I like gritty realism, I also think a bit of mild optimism is in order. Wake had that; Fade does not. I missed that… I think Gone is going to be the darkest of the three books.

I was also not enraptured with the main characters (Janie and Cabe) in this installment of the Wake series. While I appreciated their role in the story and pitied the pain they were suffering, I didn’t actually care about them. Probably because they were so wrapped up in their problems… The only character I truly adored was Captain Fran Komisky. We saw very little of her in Wake, so Fade was her chance to shine. She’s a lovely mother figure and also a total badass. *draws hearts* Can’t wait to read more from her.

It’s also probably worth noting that Fade is starting to show its age: a few of the tech references – TiVo and tiny phones that *gasp* go online – stuck out. Unbelievable, but a lot has changed in the 4+ years since this was published.

Bottom line? A solid second novel by a wonderful author. If you are looking for a lyrical YA series to get sucked into, pick up these books!

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Published by Penguin Random House
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

Thoughts: Everything there is to say about John Green has already been said. He’s one of those authors that (almost) everyone adores. He makes writing and reading YA fiction something an adult can be proud of, while simultaneously appealing to every teenager ever. It’s kind of ridiculous.

So, yeah, The Fault in Our Stars was amazing. Brilliant. Gorgeous. And, well, every other adjective along those lines. But if I hadn’t been sent it for review, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. Because, honestly, it’s a teenage cancer book. As if life weren’t miserable enough already.

I thought I’d list a few reasons for you to read this book in spite of the scary, depressing cancer. Reasons I would have liked to have known, for those of you who haven’t wanted to pick it up:

  • It is a book about a book. This is one of those tropes usually seen in lit-fic, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it in The Fault in Our Stars. I love a good book about characters seeking out an author or obsessing about a sequel/ending that doesn’t exist. The Fault in Our Stars was rather like Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind… only, er, good. 
  • It’s funny. It probably shouldn’t be funny, but it is. The characters are snarky, witty and quick with their comebacks… I loved how their minds worked and highlighted every other line to add to my own repertoire of comments.
  • It is THE cancer book. It’s the only one you ever need to read. Once you’ve read it, the obligation to read anything similar is gone. And despite the cancerous misery, it is also rather life affirming. So… it’s probably as good as cancer books get.
  • You’ll finally understand all the friggin’ references. Alas, not reading this book has become like not reading The Hunger Games. Okay? Okay.

Bottom line? Yes, this book is emotionally manipulative. Yes, it will make you laugh. Yes, it will make you cry. So… just read it already so we can all stop talking about how much we loved it.

Review: Crash Into You by Katie McGarry

Review: Crash Into You by Katie McGarryCrash Into You by Katie McGarry
Series: Pushing the Limits #3
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA
Pages: 474
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Dare You To

From acclaimed author Katie McGarry comes an explosive new tale of a good girl with a reckless streak, a street-smart guy with nothing to lose, and a romance forged in the fast lane

The girl with straight As, designer clothes and the perfect life-that's who people expect Rachel Young to be. So the private-school junior keeps secrets from her wealthy parents and overbearing brothers...and she's just added two more to the list. One involves racing strangers down dark country roads in her Mustang GT. The other? Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Walker-a guy she has no business even talking to. But when the foster kid with the tattoos and intense gray eyes comes to her rescue, she can't get him out of her mind.

Isaiah has secrets, too. About where he lives, and how he really feels about Rachel. The last thing he needs is to get tangled up with a rich girl who wants to slum it on the south side for kicks-no matter how angelic she might look.

But when their shared love of street racing puts both their lives in jeopardy, they have six weeks to come up with a way out. Six weeks to discover just how far they'll go to save each other.

Thoughts: Despite my adoration of Dare You To (review), I was once again skeptical about Crash Into You. I hadn’t been much of a fan of Isaiah’s based off of his (what seemed to me) possessive, bordering-on-stalker behaviour in Dare You To. I just really couldn’t imagine liking any story he had to tell.

Of course, as seems to be the case with Katie McGarry’s books, I was to be proved wrong.

Crash Into You tipped this series from 4.5 star arena into the 5 star Hall of Fame. I don’t give out too many 5 stars (I gave out exactly zero last year), as a book not only needs to be brilliant while I am reading it, it also needs to be a book I think about once I’ve put it down. Looking back on my other 5 star books, that’s what really sets them apart: emotion. Crash Into You had me dreaming about its characters; it had me savoring every word for fear the book might end; it had me wanting to shout and swear through the pages. It isn’t just intellectually good; it’s emotionally satisfying as well.

On to the specifics: as it turns out, Isaiah isn’t the controlling jerkface I thought he was. OK, so maybe he’s a wee bit controlling… but only in that “I am trying not to get you killed” sort of way. Fortunately, Rachel was there to tell him when enough was enough. While she’s not the in-your-face badass that Beth was, she has a quiet strength to her and she hates having people push her around. In short: she’s exactly what that boy needs.

But while she is strong in a way, Rachel is suffocating. Under the thumb of a stifling family and victim of a crippling panic disorder, she can’t be herself. Isaiah provides support that allows Rachel to flourish – in a healthy, not-co-dependent, “this is exactly what a relationship is supposed to be” sort of way.

Crash into You also featured some fantastic background characters. Namely: drug-dealer/best-BFF-ever Abby, Rachel’s twin brother Ethan, and I-have-a-need-for-speed Logan. I’d read any of their books in a heartbeat (hence my disappointment upon finding out that the next in the series will be about Rachel’s asshole brother West… though I am sure I’ll learn to love him by the end).

I also have to raise my hat to this book’s plot. While novels that require the characters to deal with “inner demons” are great reads (Dare You To was one of them), I love it when there’s a real Big Bad in play. Perhaps that’s my genre fiction side showing, but I think it makes for a better novel. Crash Into You’s Big Bad was deliciously menacing; his threats added a lovely extra dimension of tension to the book.

In my Dare You To review, I went on for quite a while about it being an “issue” book. Let me just confirm: Crash Into You is just as much of an “issue” book as its predecessor. It addresses child abandonment, panic disorders, the effect of sibling death on a family, the psychosis of rich people, etc. etc. Just as in Dare You To, this book is a flawless combination of romance and issues. Only this time, the characterization is even stronger.

Bottom line? I am in love with this series. Completely and utterly in love. This book just goes to show that reading outside of your comfort zone can be a very, very good thing.

Review: Dare You To by Katie McGarry

Review: Dare You To by Katie McGarryDare You To by Katie McGarry
Series: Pushing the Limits #2
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA on May 28th 2013
Pages: 456
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Crash Into You

If anyone knew the truth about Beth Risk's home life, they'd send her mother to jail and seventeen-year-old Beth who knows where. So she protects her mom at all costs. Until the day her uncle swoops in and forces Beth to choose between her mom's freedom and her own happiness. That's how Beth finds herself living with an aunt who doesn't want her and going to a school that doesn't understand her. At all. Except for the one guy who shouldn't get her, but does....

Ryan Stone is the town golden boy, a popular baseball star jock-with secrets he can't tell anyone. Not even the friends he shares everything with, including the constant dares to do crazy things. The craziest? Asking out the Skater girl who couldn't be less interested in him.

But what begins as a dare becomes an intense attraction neither Ryan nor Beth expected. Suddenly, the boy with the flawless image risks his dreams-and his life-for the girl he loves, and the girl who won't let anyone get too close is daring herself to want it all...

Thoughts: I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Dare You To. At first, I thought it would be too New Adult-y. 60 pages in, I thought it would be too misogynistic. But 100 pages in? I was completely sold. Dare You To pushed all my buttons and established – in a single book – a solid, believable relationship I could root for.

Simone Elkeles’ disastrous Chain Reaction (review) and her glorious Rules of Attraction (review) both lacked one thing: believability. They featured a heightened version of reality, in which even the worst scenarios were picture perfect. I bring this up because Dare You To was the exact opposite. It is gritty and dark and as close to reality as a romantic book can get. Thank goodness for that because the subjects it deals with – homophobia, parental abuse, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, sexual abuse – they are all deserving of a realistic setting. These aren’t subjects you can just brush off.

But while Dare You To is a coming of age novel and an issue novel, it still manages to remain a romance. Surprising, since most authors end up having to make a choice. Either you are Elizabeth Scott and Sarah Dessen, or you are Simone Elkeles and Stephanie Perkins. Katie McGarry somehow manages to merge both those worlds.

That’s not to say Dare You To is the perfect book: I wasn’t the biggest fan of the heroine Beth, though I did understand where she was coming from. To my surprise, I did grow rather attached to Ryan – and I could get 1000000% behind a book about his gay, jock brother – but I didn’t get those overwhelming I-am-thinking-about-them-on-the-bus feelings for him that I get for some characters.

Fortunately, this lack of extra connection didn’t stop me for adoring what Dare You To was: a romance that covers real teen issues without glossing over the harsh realities of life. I loved that and I loved it.

Bottom line? I was surprised by Dare You To, and I hope you will be to. Give it a go if you are looking to be swallowed into a world of well-handled teen angst.

My Goodreads updates for your amusement:

Dare You To Updates

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