Monday, August 29, 2016

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: May 3, 2016
Source of my copy: publisher
Series: standalone
When Harry Met Sally for YA romance readers. This opposites-attract love story is perfect for fans of Huntley Fitzpatrick, Stephanie Perkins, and Jenny Han.

June wants high school to end and real life to begin. Oliver is soaking up senior year’s glory days. They could have coasted through high school, knowing about—but not really knowing—each other.

Except that their moms have arranged for Oliver to drive June to school. Every. Single. Day.

Suddenly these two opposites are fighting about music, life . . . pretty much everything. But love is unpredictable. When promises—and hearts—get broken, Oliver and June must figure out what really matters. And then fight for it.

Two high school kids (one a popular jock, the other a non-joiner) forced to interact everyday and eventually fall for each other? Shuffle, Repeat had my name all over it. I knew after reading the synopsis that Shuffle, Repeat was my kind of contemporary YA book and that I'll really enjoy it. Yep, I was absolutely right.

Shuffle, Repeat reads like if you combine novels written by Jennifer E. Smith and Huntley Fitzpatrick--a light contemporary with a significant romance plot that doesn't tackle any heavy topics but still has substance. My favorite kind of contemporary YA read.

The story is that June Rafferty and Oliver Flagg have known each other all throughout their lives. Not are their moms best friends, they've also gone to the same school since elementary. The summer before their senior year June and her mom moves to a new house that is closer to Oliver's house but a longer distance away from their high school. Oliver's mom basically "voluntold" him to pick up June (who doesn't drive) every morning and drive her to school with him. Oliver, being the nice guy that he is, doesn't really mind but June felt awkward with the arrangement. It doesn't help that they have different outlooks about the high school experience. Oliver thinks high school, especially their senior year, is one of the most significant part of their life. He was all about taking part of high school traditions and making memories. June was the opposite and thinks anything that happened in high school will not amount to much in the grand scheme of life, that real life begins after graduation. Oh, and besides that, they have different tastes in music. June loves screamo bands while Oliver loves 80s power ballads. So, they come up with a competition of sorts where every time one of them comes up with proof or example that supports their stance on high school memories, they get to pick and add a song to add to their morning car ride playlist.

That's essentially the premise of the story and I ate this book up! June and Oliver were great! I absolutely loved Oliver's character. He's basically this happy, friendly, athletically handsome, popular guy. He gets along with everyone and generally has a positive attitude. As for June, while she's not at the bottom of the popularity ladder, she has her core group of friends and rarely does she interact with others outside of her circle. She's kind of judge-y and she kind of has this attitude that she's above all the silly high school traditions that Oliver thrives in. But, I liked her anyway. She wasn't horrible but she does have these preconceived ideas about people at her school, especially the popular kids. 

Shuffle, Repeat took place during June and Oliver's entire senior year, from the first day of school to the summer after graduation. I really liked how June's character and her and Oliver's relationship kind of evolved in the year the story took place. I loved watching them become (reluctant on June's part) friends and then eventually becoming more. June and Oliver were both in a pre-page one relationship with other people and continue to be for a significant amount of time in the book, and I was wondered how that was going to be worked out without resorting to some kind of cheating drama (fyi, there was zero cheating in this book in terms of the two main characters) because we know that June and Oliver was endgame. I thought the author did a great job resolving June and Oliver's previous romantic relationships organically, without resorting to any big cliched drama. Then, we got the swoon-y prom romantic confrontation scene that I'm a sucker for in high school romcom movies.

I really, really enjoyed Shuffle, Repeat. It has everything I love in a contemporary YA read. I didn't have any issues with it--it was fun, no-stress read. I really enjoyed the writing, the characters (besides June and Oliver, this book has great secondary characters--I especially liked June's best friend Shaun), and the romance. There's also good representation here of LGBTQ characters and is sex positive. The only reason why I didn't give it the full five star rating was because it didn't leave with a holy-cow-this-is-amazing! feel after I finished it like Tell Me Three Things by Julie Bauxbaum did. But I did really, really like it. I'll definitely be on the look out for future books by Jen Klein, especially if they're in the same vein as Shuffle, Repeat. If you like light, romantic YA contemporary, I recommend you pick up Shuffle, Repeat. And, if you're like me and like to read fun contemporary YAs to get out of a reading slump, Shuffle, Repeat is a good one to add to your list.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

E-ARC: 338 pages
Publisher: Rennie Road Books
Release Date: July 12, 2016
Source of my copy: author
Series: True North #2
She’s the only one who ever loved him—and the only one he can never have.

Jude lost everything one spring day when he crashed his car into an apple tree on the side of the road. A man is dead, and there's no way he can ever right that wrong. He’d steer clear of Colebury, Vermont forever if he could. But an ex-con in recovery for his drug addiction can’t find a job just anywhere.

For Sophie Haines, coming face to face with the man who broke her heart is gut-wrenching. Suddenly, he’s everywhere she turns. It’s hard not to stare at how much he’s changed. The bad boy who used to love her didn’t have big biceps and sun-kissed hair. And he’d never turn up volunteer in the church kitchen.

She knows it’s foolish to yearn for the man who returned all the heartsick letters she wrote him in prison. But the looks he sends her now speak volumes.

No one wants to see Sophie and Jude back together, least of all Sophie's police chief father. But it's a small town. And forbidden love is a law unto itself.

I just read five new adult and romance novels in a row, and Steadfast remains the uppermost in my mind. Not because it's my most recent read, but because it's purely wonderful. It's definitely one of my favorite romance this year.

I'm not going to reiterate Steadfast's plot because the synopsis did a pretty good job of that. I went into this book pretty blind, only knowing what was given in the synopsis, and from what I know about Jude from Bittersweet

I admit was a little nervous because Jude was a different kind of hero. I've come across other romance heroes that were ex-cons before, but all of those heroes went to jail because they were wrongly accused, took the fall for someone, or did something horrible in order to save a loved one. Jude went to jail because he's a drug addict who crashed his car and the guy in the passenger seat died. Have you ever read a romance novel where the hero is a legit recovering addict? I haven't. And the author didn't sugarcoat the fact that he is one either. 

Steadfast alternates between Jude and Sophie. Every time we switch to Jude's POV it tells us his craving meter and there were times when it's high and Jude struggled to control his cravings. I felt for him so much.  

I loved Jude--Sophie was amazing too and I loved her as well, but Jude's character was just so refreshing, you know? He's not out there physically fighting bad guys, instead his biggest fight is within himself and that is a lot harder. He's a different kind of hero, the kind that you don't see a lot in romance novels. I have to give Sarina Bowen props for giving us a hero like Jude.

I liked Bittersweet--it was a really fun read and I learned a lot about apples and the struggles of small family farms (read my full review), but Steadfast blew it out of the water. Was everything tied up too neatly in the end (not Jude's addiction, but everything else)? Maybe. But after all the struggled Jude and Sophie went through, they deserved all the happiness they got so I'm not taking away any stars for that. Can Zach's book, Keepsake, top Steadfast? I don't know, because it's friggin' amazing. But Sarina Bowen, I've come to realize, is a phenomenal author so I wouldn't be surprised.

I am recommending Steadfast to everybody! If you haven't read Bittersweet, it's okay. Steadfast stands pretty well on its own. Or, you can read Steadfast and then go back and read Bittersweet so you won't miss out on Griff and Audrey and their friends' backstory. I know my review is pretty vague, but I think it's best to go into this book pretty blind. Just know that Jude was brilliant, Sophie was great and the sweetest, the (second chance) romance between them was real and lovely with steamy to satisfy any romance reader, and just an all-around excellent read.

Okay, just a couple more things...

Anybody else shipping Mae Shipley with that pierced, tattooed lawyer guy who helped Jude and Sophie out at the end of Steadfast? Mae needs her own book!

Zara needs to her own book too! I really, really want to know who the father of her baby is. My crackpot theory is it's one of the Shipley cousins.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Dial Books
Release Date: August 23, 2016
Source of my copy: publisher
Series: none
Skip O’Rourke is dragged into one last con . . . but he doesn’t know the con’s on him in this funny, page-turning debut YA for fans of Winger and Ocean’s Eleven. 

Cameron Smith attends an elite boarding school and has just been accepted to Princeton University alongside his beautiful girlfriend, Claire. Life for Cameron would be perfect, except that Cameron Smith is actually Skip O’Rourke, and Skip O’Rourke ran away from his grifter family four years ago…along with $100,000 of their “earnings” (because starting a new life is not cheap). But when his uncle Wonderful tracks him down, Skip’s given an ultimatum: come back to the family for one last con, or say good-bye to life as Cameron. “One last con” is easier said than done when Skip’s family is just as merciless (and just as manipulative) as they’ve always been, and everyone around him is lying. Skip may have given up on crime, but there’s one lesson he hasn’t forgotten: always know your mark. And if you don’t know who your mark is . . . it’s probably you. Witty and irresistibly readable, this standout debut will always keep you guessing.

Intrigued by the comical cover, title and synopsis, I picked up Thieving Weasels by Billy Taylor with the expectation of a quick, humorous read to color my weekend. However, when I finished it, a week had passed, and I was left feeling curious and perplexed, not because I didn't enjoy it, but because it left me wondering about all its complexity juxtaposed with all its humor. Now, as I reflect on it, I cannot exactly say it was one of my best reads this summer, but I can say I have much respect for it and am giving it
While the casual and comedic voice of the main character Cameron Smith charmed me in the beginning of Thieving Weasels, I grew more and more curious by it as I delved deeper and deeper into the story. From the very first page, I was taken by Cam as he introduced himself in the first several pages as a regular teenage boy who grew up with very little but has worked very hard to have the success he has today. In those several pages, I got no sense of a crooked past with a crooked family that the synopsis so greatly spoke of that, gullible as I am, I almost thought it had Cam, and evidently the entire book, completely wrong. Surely, I thought, this book is too lighthearted to have such drama in it. But as I turned page after page, learning more and more about Cam and his world through his eyes, I was proven very wrong. I saw that there was actually a lot to Cam, so much that not even the his own family, his sweet girlfriend or even his own self could fully comprehend and understand him, and that complexity totally perplexed as well as fascinated me because it was so unexpected just judging from the light tone and tickling humor of the book. As I was reading, I was constantly wondering about the juxtaposition of light humor and heavy topical themes in Thieving Weasels, and my wonderment was what kept me reading, even at times when I felt a little bored by and disconnected to the world of Cam. It was this kind of keep-at-arm's-length approach to the topical themes of dishonesty, betrayal, insecurity, and self-discovery--just to name a few--was what really made Thieving Weasels an interesting and enjoyable read.

However, on the other hand, the entire time I was reading, I honestly felt discomforted by the narration of Cam and his character overall. I mean, overall, I like Cam. He's smart, intuitive--especially with his family--caring, honest, and, of course, funny. Considering his upbringing, he could've turned out to be a terrible, awful, no-good person, and many times throughout the book, he could have lowered himself to that standard, but somehow he didn't, and I highly respect him for that. Yet, throughout Thieving Weasels, I was worried for him because he seemed to be constantly making light of things and events that were actually very serious. I guess that was the intention of the novel, but I kept waiting for his character to blossom or bloom with an epiphany of understanding and total clarity of who he is and who he wants to be, but at the end of the book, I didn't see or feel any of that; he still seemed unsure about himself and his future. Maybe I wasn't reading close enough and/or I was distracted by all the jokes in Thieving Weasels, not to mention its under-300 page count, but I wish I got more from Cam's character, more closure than what was given on that very last page. I grew to like Cam, and I hoped for the very best for him throughout Thieving Weasels, but his development as a character kept me wondering.

To anyone in the mood for a short yet thoughtful read, I recommend Thieving Weasels because its humorous and profound premise will keep you interested in the book from the very first page to the very last. It may not have been my favorite read of this summer, but it has the potential of being quite the gem for others. So don't pass up this novel when you see it out in your local bookstores. Its story is choke full of secrets--Cameron Smith--Skip O'Rourke?--will tell you as much.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: December 23, 2014
Source of my copy: bought
Series: Starcrossed #1
When Cassie Taylor met Ethan Holt at acting school, sparks flew. She was the good girl actress. He was the bad boy about campus. But one fated casting choice for Romeo and Juliet changed it all. Like the characters they were playing, Cassie and Ethan's romance seemed destined. Until he broke her heart and betrayed her trust. Now the A-list heartthrob is back in her life and turning her world around. One touch at a time.

Cast as romantic leads once again, they're forced to confront raw memories of the heartbreaking lows and pulse-pounding highs of their secret college affair. But they'll also discover that people who rub each other the wrong way often make the best sparks.

I buddy read Bad Romeo with Reg and Kim. It was my second buddy read with them and it was great time even though the book ended up being a dud for all of us.

Okay, so I had such high expectations going into the book because of the high ratings on Goodreads and friends, whose opinion I trust, love it. I Instagramed and tweeted about picking it up for our buddy read and the author was super nice (she even sent me signed bookmarks all the way from Australia where she's from). And Bad Romeo started okay. I was into it for the most part and I expected it to get better. Unfortunately, the opposite happened and things went downhill.
Basically, Bad Romeo is about this couple, Cassie and Ethan, both actors, who had a bad break up but were reunited when they were both cast opposite each other in a new Broadway play. The present chapters alternates with chapters set in the past and we see how they met and eventually become a couple.

Sadly, I couldn't connect to either Cassie and Ethan--past Ethan, especially. I just found him to be too much of a jealous asshole. Ethan of the past was EVERYTHING I hate in a love interest: he was hot and cold towards Cassie, he's jealous (the I-don't-want-you-but-you-can't-be-with-anyone-else type--he'd get jealous after seeing Cassie talk to a guy and not speak to her for a week), he had a mysterious reason why he avoids relationships and his asshole behavior towards Cassie (but the reason when revealed was weak and did not excuse his behavior). Here's just one example: there was this scene where they went to study at Cassie's place. Cassie left the room to answer a phone call and Ethan looked in her backpack for their textbooks, he comes across Cassie's diary and reads it, got really upset about what he read, and then blames Cassie for leaving it around for him to read (but she didn't because it was in her backpack). That just made me go WTF?! Then, at a later scene we learn why he got really upset about Cassie not keeping her diary under lock and key, but it just made me roll my eyes.

Present time Ethan was better, but his past self just bothered me a lot. I pretty much hated that angsty guy. He annoyed the crap out of me. In the present, Cassie and Ethan's attitude were reversed. Ethan wanted to make amends while Cassie was the one pushing Ethan away.

Cassie wasn't as bad as Ethan, but she had her eye rolling moments. I did find it refreshing how open she was about how she lusts for Ethan and how much she wanted to jump his bones--she was the sexual aggressor in the novel, which was funny because she's the virgin and he's the "experienced" one.

There was nothing about this couple that made me root for them to get back together, or to get together in the first place. However, as much as I disliked the main characters, I thought the writing was really good. It was very readable and there was always something going on--no dull moments. I was able to push through to the end despite my negative feelings for Cassie and Ethan.

I know Broken Juliet is part two of their story, but I don't know if I'll pick it up anytime soon. I do want to get to Wicked Heart though, which is about Ethan's sister. I heard Wicked Heart is better than Bad Romeo and Broken Juliet so I have high hopes for it. Unfortunately, I have to read Broken Juliet first to get to it. I don't know if I can take more Cassie and Ethan angst. Sigh.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: Everafter Romance
Release Date: July 5, 2016
Source of my copy: BookSparks
Series: Imperfect Love #1
Marry the girl I’ve had a crush on my whole life? Check.

Inherit a hundred-billion-dollar company? Check.

Produce an heir… Wait, what?

I have ninety days to knock up my brand-new fake wife. There’s only one problem—she hates my guts.

And in the fine print of the contract? The requirement that we produce an heir.

She can’t stand to be in the same room with me. Says she’ll never be in my bed.

But I’ve never backed down from a challenge and I’m not about to start now.

Mark my words—I’ll have her begging for me, and it won’t take ninety days.

On the heels of her smash hit and New York Times bestselling SCREWED series, Kendall Ryan brings you HITCHED, a romantic comedy that delivers heart and heat. A NYC playboy turned business mogul has ninety days to win over the woman he's always desired in order to save his father's company. One tiny problem: She hates his guts.

I loved the premise of Hitched: two people who grew up disliking each other now have to marry to save their fathers' company. This is my jam! I'm a sucker for the enemies-to-lovers and the arranged marriage trope--put them together and it's a guarantee I'll pick up the book. The synopsis promised a fun rom-com read with my favorite tropes and with a one-click-worthy cover (those lips!), I had pretty high expectations going into this one.

Yeah, so, Hitched didn't quite lived up to my expectations. 

Okay, I didn't hate it, but I kept waiting for the fun and banter (like in a Julie James or like in a Jill Shalvis contemporary novel) to happen and it didn't quite get there.

The characters didn't feel special. We have our workaholic heroine Olivia who hasn't been out with a guy since breaking up with her douchebag ex-boyfriend because she's always working. Then, we have our manwhore hero Noah who fucks everything female that moves but has a heart of gold, forming a close platonic, almost mother-son relationship with the mailroom clerk at his father's company. I've already read these characters before in other contemporary romance novels. There was nothing to really set them apart. There were some unrealistic situations and eye-rolling cheesy dialogue. Olivia's choices drove the plot forward, but there were times when her choices felt disjointed to her character.

Basically, Noah's and Olivia's fathers own a marketing firm and their families were really close. Noah and Olivia grew up together and they've always been kind of attracted to each other. But Noah's father died of cancer recently and the company is this close to bankruptcy. But, Noah and Olivia's fathers always hoped that their children will get married someday so they put together a contract that says for Noah and Olivia to inherit and take over the company (and, hence, save it), they have to marry and produce an heir (although the heir part didn't really come up until the last chapter).

Noah was all for the arranged marriage. Olivia wasn't so sure and told Noah that he has to prove to her that he'll be good husband material. She's extremely attracted to Noah (just a glimpse of him leaves her panties soaked--yep, lots of wet panties in this book), but she didn't think he'll be able to commit because of he's a huge player. But her dad gifts them a new one-bedroom apartment, she quickly gives up her old apartment, moves out, and moves in with Noah. I thought Olivia's quick capitulation felt contrived just so that Olivia and Noah will have to share a room and so to bring about the sexytimes. Then, they have a bet that Noah will have her begging him to have sex with him within four days, lots of heavy petting and make-out sessions that never ends in sex because Olivia didn't want Noah to win their bet.

I also never understood why Olivia disliked Noah so much to begin with. She mentioned his manwhorishness a lot--is that the reason why? Noah, in his chapters (Hitched is written in alternating chapters between Noah and Olivia) mentioned an instance when they were teens when he and Olivia were about to have sex, but he stopped it. According to him, ever since then Olivia had been cold towards him. However, Olivia never discussed that event as a reason why she disliked him. Hopefully, more about their past will be revealed in Volume 2.

And for two people trying to save a failing company, I never felt their urgency to do just that. Olivia spent the book waffling whether to marry Noah or not, even though she's a panty-soaked mess every time he's in the room. I mean, if being married is the only way to save the company and they can't get out of the contract anyway, wouldn't they just get married right away and then try to figure out how to work together as business partners and husband and wife, especially since they lived together for half the book anyway? Why fight it?

I don't know... Yes, marriage is seriously and Olivia supposedly wanted romance and a big wedding, not a business arrangement, but she's also described as a workaholic whose sole focus is company. I mean, she didn't even try to work out different ways to save the company, or to figure out a way to get out of the marriage contract.

Reading through this review, it sounded like I hated the book but I really didn't. I obviously had issues with the characters, but I also see the potential of the story and the characters. Hitched: Volume One is a shaky beginning but I really like the premise and I'm still curious to see what will happen next to Noah and Olivia, especially after the abrupt ending. I'm giving this volume a neutral rating of 2.75 stars (I'm rounding it up to 3 since I don't have a .75 star).
I liked Hitched: Volume One enough to keep going with the rest of the volumes and I'm actually excited to see the whole arc of the story. I have high hopes for Volumes 2 and 3--here's hoping the story will finish strong!

Monday, August 1, 2016

ARC: 451 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Source of my copy: publisher
Series: standalone
Sixteen-year-old Ellison Sparks is having a serious case of the Mondays. She gets a ticket for running a red light, she manages to take the world’s worst school picture, she bombs softball try-outs and her class election speech (note to self: never trust a cheerleader when she swears there are no nuts in her bake-sale banana bread), and to top it all off, Tristan, her gorgeous rocker boyfriend suddenly dumps her. For no good reason!

As far as Mondays go, it doesn’t get much worse than this. And Ellie is positive that if she could just do it all over again, she would get it right. So when she wakes up the next morning to find she’s reliving the exact same day, she knows what she has to do: stop her boyfriend from breaking up with her. But it seems no matter how many do-overs she gets or how hard Ellie tries to repair her relationship, Tristan always seems bent set on ending it. Will Ellie ever figure out how to fix this broken day? Or will she be stuck in this nightmare of a Monday forever?

From the author 52 Reasons to Hate My Father and The Unremembered trilogy comes a hilarious and heartwarming story about second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances. Because sometimes it takes a whole week of Mondays to figure out what you really want.

***WARNING: Review contains some major gushing.***

I'm just going to come right out and say it: I LOVED A Week of Mondays. It was just as I expected it would be: light, fluffy, and easy-to-read. Yet, it surprised me; I didn't expect it to be so relatable and so un-put-down-able with its likable main character and interesting plot. Even now, as I'm thinking about it, I'm smiling. I'm giving it
I related very much to the main character Ellie Sparks. Ambitious and idealistic, Ellie was the me who wanted to do everything to please everyone, even if it was at the expense of herself. There was nothing she believed she couldn't do, including turning around a Monday that seemed bound to be terrible, so as I watched her go through one awful Monday after another, cringing (and laughing) at her every mishap, I empathized with her completely and rooted for her constantly. The decisions she made, I made with her, and the lessons she learned, I learned with her. My relation to Ellie really made A Week of Mondays enjoyable for me.

Also, Ellie was a friend I would've love to have in real life. I really liked her quirkiness and endless optimism. I smile at the thought of all her mood-changing playlists, all of which consisted of music from the 60s, and I laugh at the reminder of all her humorous trains of thoughts, one of my favorites being:
"Oh, flub. The election speech. I have to do it again!
This is officially my worst nightmare. The universe is punishing me. But for what? Not studying for my history test?
Really, Universe? I'm the best you could do? You couldn't find anyone more devious to torture?"
I was never bored with Ellie, and I never once felt tired or irritated with her story, and now, she is a heroine I will always remember.

As for the plot, it being built around the idea of a day repeated several times was interesting in and of itself. I found it really unique and its execution very well done. With such a premise, there had to be some amount of repetition, which, going into the book, I was afraid was going to make the story drag, but Jessica Brody did a nice job of handling it while still keeping the narrative moving and interesting. Once more, she has impressed me with her colorful story ideas that, coupled with her easy-to-follow writing style and her tongue-in-cheek humor, had me hooked to A Week of Mondays from the very first page.

Overall, A Week of Mondays was a fantastic read with a great main character and a very unique plot. For all its charm, I'd highly recommend it to anyone who needs a pick-me-up from their reading slump or just a quick and easy read to catch up on their TBR list. Also, if you've liked Jessica Brody's previous books, such as The Karma Club and My Life Undecided (which I loved as well), you will definitely like A Week of Mondays because it is another quirky winner. Ellie Sparks's story will make you glad the Universe isn't torturing you with your worst Monday yet will make you wonder if that awful Monday can be turned around after all.

Our blog was part of the Thank God It's Monday blog tour for A Week of Mondays. Check out Jessica Brody's post introducing A Week of Mondays and her inspiration for the novel and my sister's Best and Worst Mondays post.