Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Review: Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho (ARC)

Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho
Viking Juvenile (an imprint of Penguin), 366 pages
US Release Date: October 9, 2014
Format/Source: ARC via Around the World Tours - thank you!

What if you live for the moment when life goes off the rails—and then one day there’s no one left to help you get it back on track?

Althea Carter and Oliver McKinley have been best friends since they were six; she’s the fist-fighting instigator to his peacemaker, the artist whose vision balances his scientific bent. Now, as their junior year of high school comes to a close, Althea has begun to want something more than just best-friendship. Oliver, for his part, simply wants life to go back to normal, but when he wakes up one morning with no memory of the past three weeks, he can’t deny any longer that something is seriously wrong with him. And then Althea makes the worst bad decision ever, and her relationship with Oliver is shattered. He leaves town for a clinical study in New York, resolving to repair whatever is broken in his brain, while she gets into her battered Camry and drives up the coast after him, determined to make up for what she’s done.

Their journey will take them from the rooftops, keg parties, and all-ages shows of their North Carolina hometown to the pool halls, punk houses, and hospitals of New York City before they once more stand together and face their chances. Set in the DIY, mix tape, and zine culture of the mid-1990s, Cristina Moracho’s whip-smart debut is an achingly real story about identity, illness, and love—and why bad decisions sometimes feel so good.
------------------------Goodreads Summary
Notable Quote
"I'm not running away," she says. "I'm walking away."
I didn’t know what to think going into Althea & Oliver. I’d never heard of it until it popped up on the ARC Tour site I go onto, and because I am a sucker for all things duality and all things contemporary, I went for it. I mean, it seems pretty freakin’ interesting: a disease where you sleep for weeks, months at a time? That in itself is interesting, but then to get the best friends’ viewpoint in it too, and it seems she wants more? I tried to put myself into Althea’s place, and I knew I had to read it. (Because I would not be able to handle it. I have problems going a weekend without my best guy friend.)

At the beginning of the ARC is a letter from the editor that calls this book “a work of literature with teenagers in it, rather than a ‘YA novel’” and I was at first a little offended. You can’t tell me If I Stay isn’t literature. You can’t tell me The Fault in Our Stars isn’t a thing of beauty, that Wanderlove isn’t every bit the work of words and wonder it sounds like it is.

But I get it. I so, so get it.

Althea & Oliver explores so many elements, from teenager things to new adult to young adult to adult things. The before and after, the friendship, the idea of wanting more, the knowing and needing of more and less. The family of friends, a dysfunctional family, a chosen family and a given family. Of making mistakes, horrible, terrible, absolutely shattering mistakes; to the realization and the attempt at fixing or repairing them. And then the failure, and the not-quite-a-failure-but-may-as-well-be.

I have to admit that I didn’t think Althea and Oliver were quite as opposite as they were made out to be. Althea is supposed to be the crazy artiste, the off-the-wall, on-the-cusp kinda girl; and Oliver is the steady, the rock, the grounded. But I don’t actually believe that—yes, I could see how she seems to be the revolving around his axis, but there’s a bit more to each of them, a bit more of the other in them. Althea definitely takes the more obvious route of being crazy and out of control, but Oliver has it on the internal.

Honestly, I’m finding it a bit hard to write a cohesive review for this book, because I have so many thoughts and feelings about it and for it and for them and how much I want to hug them. I’m a bit scattered—but it’s actually pretty representative of this book. There’s so much chaos and unknown and scattered thoughts and feelings throughout. I was so caught up with it, so taken along and invested in the ride I’m having a hard time pulling myself back from it.

I have to say that the plot, the movement…it’s perfect. How the story is built, you really understand who they are and who they are together. I felt like I knew their friendship so well, even though I’ve got nothing like theirs. I liked how it all fit together, how it all fell apart, how it all scrabbled and scraped to get back together, and how it all kind of floundered and figured itself in the end. It’s perfect.

And the ‘almost’ and the ‘favourite’ really got me. Oh god, did it get me.

Althea & Oliver may not be quite what it led me to believe, but I’m actually pretty happy about that because I’ve found a book that feels like it’s a little part of me, like it understood some of the hardest, more difficult aspects of my emotions and fears and feelings. It is a lesson that even in the screw-ups, even in the chaos and broken perfections, we can find enough to get us on the pathway back.

4.5 stars

Monday, December 29, 2014

Review: Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff (ARC)

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff
HarperTeen, 288 pages
Expected US Release Date: January 27, 2015
Format/Source: ARC via Around the World Tours - thank you!

A teenage boy tries to understand his best friend's suicide by listening to the playlist of songs he left behind in this smart, voice-driven debut novel.

Here's what Sam knows: There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, his best friend, Hayden, was dead. And all he left Sam was a playlist of songs, and a suicide note: For Sam—listen and you'll understand.

As he listens to song after song, Sam tries to face up to what happened the night Hayden killed himself. But it's only by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him that he will finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.

Part mystery, part love story, and part coming-of-age tale in the vein of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Tim Tharp’s The Spectacular Now, Playlist for the Dead is an honest and gut-wrenching first novel about loss, rage, what it feels like to outgrow a friendship that's always defined you—and the struggle to redefine yourself. But above all, it's about finding hope when hope seems like the hardest thing to find.
----------------------------Goodreads summary
Notable Quote
“Different strategies, same problems.”
So, I’m going to say this, and it may be mean, but I don’t intend it as mean as it will come out: saying this compares to The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky was a terrible disservice. It made me expect too much, it made me think a certain development, a certain style, a certain self-exploration was going to happen—and unfortunately, it didn’t. It didn’t even come close.

Without the comparison, Playlist For the Dead was pretty good. I liked the little bits of mystery, how we’re trying to figure out what really happened to Hayden and why he did what he did. I enjoyed the music from the playlist too, it helped set a tone and a mood as long as I knew the song. And I admit that I only knew about 40% of them, so I think I definitely missed a few things about it…but it was enjoyable as it was.

I think my main complaint about this book is how anti-climactic it was. I didn’t think the breaks in action were really appropriate, nor did it follow through with the impact it was built up to be. None of the reveals really shocked me, none of the characters or the parts they played really came out of left field. I won’t go as far as to say it’s predictable, but…it was fairly obvious the direction things would go, and I found I was able to guess almost 100% correctly every time.

Weirdly, I kind of like how violent this story got. I don’t endorse violence! Do not think I am condoning going after someone with a bat, or anything remotely close to that! But I appreciated that this book went there, because that is an unfortunate reality to life, especially when it comes to an unfairness of someone taking his life and trying to understand why. Playlist For the Dead faced the helplessness of being left behind, the rage and anger at wanting to understand without being given all the pieces to do so. And I think that was a great thing to tackle, because not many books will.

Perhaps what I attached to most relates to the quote I chose to highlight: “Different strategies, same problems.” It’s a really clever way of summing up so much of this story. Two sides to everything. Different takes on the same thing. So many varying viewpoints and opinions and stories that culminate to the same thing, but take incredibly different paths to get there. It’s kind of a nice way to explain away a lack of depth to a lot of the characters, why sometimes the story is a bit chaotic. But it’s also a clever way of being a little more introspective than it seems.

Playlist For the Dead had a few disappointments for me, but still resonated in its message and the overall takeaway. I appreciated how head on it faced such a tough, sensitive subject—I just wish it had been done a teeny, tiny bit better.
3.5 stars

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Holiday Giveaway: A Box of YA Books! (US only)

If you saw this tweet, you know what this is about :) I'm participating in a Secret Santa, and the box I bought for my #TBTBSanta was too small for all the goodies! Solution? Have a giveaway to fill the box, of course!

ONE (1) lucky winner will win a box of YA books!

Most of the books will be ARCs from 2014 or earlier, a few finished copies, and I'll even toss in one or two 2015 ARCs I picked up via Comic-con and/or ALA! The ones I can definitely tell you included are:


My True Love Gave To Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins (finished hardcover, pictured)
Great by Sara Benincasa (ARC)
Zodiac by Romina Russell (a 2015 ARC!)

….but that's just the beginning :)

US Only
(sorry INT!)
Ends December 23, 2014

Please do not leave your email in my comment section.
Enter through the rafflecopter below, and all my usual giveaway policy rules apply.
Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
May the odds be ever in your favour!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Feature & Follow Friday (18)

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee's View, meant to spotlight blogs and allows bloggers to link up and meet other fabulous bookish friends and share the Following love!

This week's spotlight blogs are Mo_Books and Books Are My Life!

And the question of the week is:
Do you decide in advance what you read for the coming week/month? Why or why not?

Yes and no. (Confusing, I know) Since I do touring ARCs via Around the World Tours, I do have to plan out what to read and when if I know a book is coming or one has arrived. Luckily, I'm all about reading multiple books at once and have no problem with it, so if one pops up I wasn't expecting (either from the publisher, from tour sites, or NetGalley), I can roll with it pretty well.

That all said, I've abandoned this many times, too. It all really depends on the my mood and what I can stomach in terms of genres. Sometimes too many contemporaries in a row skew my reviews, or I start comparing too much if I read 4 dystopians in a row. I usually make a small stack of the ones I know I definitely want to get to in the coming weeks--but I know I'll probably stray far and fast.

If you're wondering, these are some of the books I hope to read this month!

What's your reading plan? Do you keep to it?
Leave me your link and I'll hop by!
And of course I'd love to return a follow if you are kind enough to follow me :)
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