Monday, August 18, 2014

Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

For Macallan and Levi, it was friends at first sight. Everyone says guys and girls can’t be just friends, but these two are. They hang out after school, share tons of inside jokes, their families are super close, and Levi even starts dating one of Macallan’s friends. They are platonic and happy that way.

Eventually they realize they’re best friends — which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t keep getting in each other’s way. Guys won’t ask Macallan out because they think she’s with Levi, and Levi spends too much time joking around with Macallan, and maybe not enough time with his date. They can’t help but wonder . . . are they more than friends or are they better off without making it even more complicated?

From romantic comedy superstar Elizabeth Eulberg comes a fresh, fun examination of a question for the ages: Can guys and girls ever really be just friends? Or are they always one fight away from not speaking again — and one kiss away from true love?

My first Elizabeth Eulberg completely charmed and captivated me -- which has me wondering how I have managed to not discover her earlier?

Better Off Friends was completely winsome and breezy with perfectly pitched emotion and depth. It was hard not to fall for these two -- I settled in, snuggled up and just grinned and swooned and sighed my way through this. I think a standout for me is definitely the honesty and realism presented in the pages. It felt true-to-life and without guile. It was fresh without any gimmicky attempt to amp up emotions which allowed the characters and plot to breathe and stand on it's own.

I loved that this book spans about five years (presented in alternating POVs -- often refelcting on the same event, which was really captivating). It gave so much realness and depth to all the main characters (and their friends and families) and to the ups and downs of Macallan and Levi's relationship. Also, I just loved hanging out with these guys and watching them and their lives over 5 years (so cool, seeing all the changes and hanging out in anticipation for the goodness to come)

I loved the chapters set in Ireland (just an FYI).

This is perfect for a rainy day weekend, or a chilled-out beach read. It's been a few weeks since finishing this and it still resonates with me (in a happy-making, smiley way). It is so much what I love about the contemporary YA genre (best friends, crushes, childhood memories, classic coming of age themes, families, self-doubt and identity) all in one addictive, sweet, swoony, achey and fun read. The effortless style drew me in and the characters kept me there. I am whole-heartedly recommending this to all fans of contemporary YA -- especially those of you out there who are in need of a refreshing, charming and effortlessly captivating read (complete with depth and so much contemporary YA goodness).

Have you read Elizabeth Eulberg? 
Any faves from her backlist that I should prioritise getting to?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes

Soccer star Lainey Mitchell is gearing up to spend an epic summer with her amazing boyfriend, Jason, when he suddenly breaks up with her—no reasons, no warning, and in public no less! Lainey is more than crushed, but with help from her friend Bianca, she resolves to do whatever it takes to get Jason back.

And that’s when the girls stumble across a copy of The Art of War. With just one glance, they're sure they can use the book to lure Jason back into Lainey’s arms. So Lainey channels her inner warlord, recruiting spies to gather intel and persuading her coworker Micah to pose as her new boyfriend to make Jason jealous. After a few "dates", it looks like her plan is going to work! But now her relationship with Micah is starting to feel like more than just a game.

What's a girl to do when what she wants is totally different from what she needs? How do you figure out the person you're meant to be with if you're still figuring out the person you're meant to be?

I coveted The Art of Lainey for a while. I was after a contemporary YA with plenty of swoon and fun and easy/predictable drama that did not require much of me but to go along for the ride. Also -- it did not escape my notice that this title was getting consistently favourable reviews from trusted sources. 

Here's what you should know:

Swoon -- definitely, yes and yes

Drama -- high school style (although set over the summer break) with one of those toxic best friends that really bug me (why can't the protag see through all that and move on?) (but also features another best friend who is one of the best kinds...)

Predictability -- the blurb gives it away a little, you know where it's headed, but you don't know the details along the ride. It's a fun predictability where you will be rooting, swooning and holding your breath for the slow burn pay-off. Also -- some of the popular-style crew were pretty shallow and one dimensional. Are people really like that? 

The MC -- Lainey is a little hard to take at the beginning (persevere!). Definitely her character arc: snobby, insecure and self-indulgently shallow -- she wrestles with teenage immaturity and identity-- reminiscent of teens I know, haha -- but she comes out all right, guys ;)

Fun -- so many dates and cool scenarios, a cool cafe setting, and breaking free of a whole peer group and discovering something so much cooler instead.

Micah -- I already mentioned the swoon. I am mentioning it again because it was my main covetous motivation and this contemp YA brought the goods, and I was one smiley, happy reader. 

The gang -- I love when assorted misfits end up gathering and getting all BFF through time with these awesome in-jokes and grin-worthy banter and fun. So, there's that :)

The verdict -- This was a good fun read with a hot YA guy to crush on. It was exactly what I ordered. And I am most definitely looking out for more Paula Stokes :)

The Art of Lainey @ goodreads

Saturday, August 2, 2014

#scandal by Sarah Ockler

Lucy’s learned some important lessons from tabloid darling Jayla Heart’s all-too-public blunders: Avoid the spotlight, don’t feed the Internet trolls, and keep your secrets secret. The policy has served Lucy well all through high school, so when her best friend Ellie gets sick before prom and begs her to step in as Cole’s date, she accepts with a smile, silencing about ten different reservations. Like the one where she’d rather stay home shredding online zombies. And the one where she hates playing dress-up. And especially the one where she’s been secretly in love with Cole since the dawn of time.

When Cole surprises her at the after party with a kiss under the stars, it’s everything Lucy has ever dreamed of… and the biggest BFF deal-breaker ever. Despite Cole’s lingering sweetness, Lucy knows they’ll have to ’fess up to Ellie. But before they get the chance, Lucy’s own Facebook profile mysteriously explodes with compromising pics of her and Cole, along with tons of other students’ party indiscretions. Tagged. Liked. And furiously viral.

By Monday morning, Lucy’s been branded a slut, a backstabber, and a narc, mired in a tabloid-worthy scandal just weeks before graduation. 

Lucy’s been battling undead masses online long enough to know there’s only one way to survive a disaster of this magnitude: Stand up and fight. Game plan? Uncover and expose the Facebook hacker, win back her best friend’s trust, and graduate with a clean slate.

There’s just one snag—Cole. Turns out Lucy’s not the only one who’s been harboring unrequited love...

For a girl whose first reading love is contemporary YA, Sarah Ockler is one of my fave authors for consistently delivering my kind of swoony and compelling reads. 

Straight out I'll admit, if this blurb had not been accompanied by Ockler's name I would have passed #scandal by. I have limited interest in online scandals, social networking dramas, cyber bulling, etc even while knowing it's an important issue that should be represented in fiction for this generation. But I do have major interest in Sarah Ockler and unrequited love. So cue major excitement because if anyone can get me converted to a tabloid-y internet troll-type story, Ockler would be the one.

#scandal opened straight with action at a swirling prom night and after party where characters dance in and out of the scene laying clues and foundations for the inciting event: the forbidden kiss. It's a doozy of an opener, atmospheric and energetic -- Ockler embraces Lacy's voice (wry, authentic and slightly snarky in a nerdy way. Also, endearingly vulnerable and hopeful). It felt like Ockler had a blast writing this -- with witty asides and tabloid newsletters interspersed throughout. It's voice-y and clever and somehow spirited (despite our protagonists quiet misgivings -- there's a spark in the air).

The plot follows a truly-awful trajectory of gut-wrenching shaming and a mass trolling fall-out where a small scandal snowballs into your worst nightmare. This is interspersed with Veronica Mars style sleuthing with a  budding gang of new-to-Lucy crew trying to work out who is behind the attacks. There's a painful best friend fall-out -- and, sadly, despite the truly awesome prom night kiss -- not much time to explore her relationship with Cole. 

The pacing is great -- constantly upping the ante with the bullying -- nothing is easy for Lucy. Things go from bad to worse. I felt so, so bad for her. The mystery is sound and the forming of a new rag-tag type group was definitely a highlight for me. However, it was not a me book.  I don't like watching teens behaving badly online and witnessing the stomach-churning, relentless despair and overwhelming horror the victims endure. It really is distressing. Also, I missed the Ockler swoon. Cole was cute, sure, and had potential to be serious book-crush contender but he was largely absent for major portions of the book. I also missed seeing their relationship develop from crush, to slow burn to anticipation and realisation due to the book opening with the love already established on both sides.

I think if this premise is your kind of thing you should check it out, for sure. I like seeing authors try out new genres and twists on their usual MO but this one just didn't resonate with me like Ockler's previous books. Still -- #scandal grabbed me and I charged through it, butterflies in my tummy and all, within 48 hours. 

#scandal @ goodreads

Other inkcrush Ockler reviews:
The Book of Broken Hearts
Fixing Delilah

Thanks to Simon Pulse and Edelwiess for the egalley

Friday, August 1, 2014

Trouble by Non Pratt

In this dazzling debut novel, a pregnant teen learns the meaning of friendship—from the boy who pretends to be her baby’s father.

When the entire high school finds out that Hannah Shepard is pregnant via her ex-best friend, she has a full-on meltdown in her backyard. The one witness (besides the rest of the world): Aaron Tyler, a transfer student and the only boy who doesn’t seem to want to get into Hannah’s pants. Confused and scared, Hannah needs someone to be on her side. Wishing to make up for his own past mistakes, Aaron does the unthinkable and offers to pretend to be the father of Hannah’s unborn baby. Even more unbelievable, Hannah hears herself saying “yes.”

Told in alternating perspectives between Hannah and Aaron, Trouble is the story of two teenagers helping each other to move forward in the wake of tragedy and devastating choices. As you read about their year of loss, regret, and hope, you’ll remember your first, real best friend—and how they were like a first love.

While Trouble is written in an effortlessly engaging style I wasn't sure whether this UK YA would be my thing despite it having 5 star ratings from trusted friends. Look, it opens with a dose of partying, alcohol, random sexytimes, attitude and angst, and some school mean girl undertones. I have definitely outgrown these themes (they have never been my-kind-of-thing in YA) but Hannah's voice was so refreshing that despite everything I continued on. And I'm glad I did. 

I was hooked on voice from the start -- but, IMO, the first 50-80 pages are the weakest. Things really gained momentum after a tenuous start and it soon became clear that this book is completely non-cliche, full of genuine heart, 3D characters and a plot that sails along unexpectedly (whatever you assume this teen pregnancy book is about, it isn't).

I love how Trouble is told in alternating POV -- like the plot, it is unconventional -- happily switching between Hannah and Aaron mid-scene, flipping back and forth in short bursts or sometimes holding one POV for extended lengths of time.

Also it would be criminal for me not to mention the swoon (in an unexpected and unpredictable way).

So many threads come together spectacularly in the last quarter of the book -- at this point the book really hits it's stride and the emotion and gut-punches are real and beautiful and balanced with ache and belonging and horror and hope.  And the ending was just fantastic (although I could happily have gone on reading what happens next...)

I liked this a lot -- it was engaging and a read I found myself heading back to, consuming it in a couple of days. I am impressed with this debut and have a feeling Non Pratt could easily become a fave YA author of mine. A shaky start for me that built in awesomeness to a spectacular ending. So watching out for what Pratt has next.

Thanks to Trinja, Mands and Emily (both awarding Trouble 5 shining stars and fave reads of the year) for bringing this book to my attention :)

*If we're talking stars: I'd say 3 stars for the first half and 4.5 stars for the second half.

Trouble @ goodreads