Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review of Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

Open Road Summer
After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence. This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.

(Summary from GoodReads) 

I originally overlooked Open Road Summer because it didn’t look like anything special to me, but I wound up requesting it on NetGalley because everyone was raving about it and I love a good summer read.  I loved reading about Dee and Reagan’s friendship, and enjoyed the fact that Lord had turned Dee into a Taylor Swift kind of character.  At times I connected a little too much with Reagan, and a few celebrity aspects of the story bored me, so I didn’t quite love this one the way some bloggers did.

The strongest part of Open Road Summer is the setting.  I could envision precisely where Reagan lived and what every place she visited.  Lord’s prose didn’t knock me over with glee, but it had some standout passages that were worth writing down.

Reagan’s personal life up until her decision to tour with Lilah has been difficult.  Her parents haven’t been the most reliable people, and she’s made some difficult choices personally and romantically.  She’s guarded and very protective of the people she loves, and could be super judgmental of other girls.  A few times I found myself cringing if Reagan said something particularly judgey or mean because it felt like Lord took the qualities I see in myself that I least like and put them in her character.  Other readers may find seeing themselves in Reagan this less off-putting and uncomfortable then I did.

Lilah and Reagan had a great friendship, and it was interesting to see how Lilah’s celebrity affected their relationship.  Lord focused on some celebrity drama and I didn’t care for that aspect of the story.  It felt like Lord copied a real life situation, but didn’t weave it adeptly into the story enough to make it feel genuine or interesting.

Everyone and their pet pig is freaking out over Matt Finch.  Objectively, I saw his appeal—he’s an attractive, sweet, sharp-witted guitar player who is determined to stand by Reagan even when she gets a little too stubborn.  However, I am fussy about love interests, and for me he didn't bring anything especially new or noteworthy to the table.  Don't get me wrong--the romance was still enjoyable--but for me it was more about Reagan and how she grew by the end of the story.

My problems with Open Road Summer are small, and ultimately personal and subjective, but they were enough to stop me from totally loving this book.  Lord is definitely a skilled writer, and I’ll be keeping an eye out to see if her future books are a better fit for me.  I know some people are less fussy than I am, so I’d be quick to pass this on to anyone who loves a good summer romance with a healthy dose of music and friendship.

Disclosure: I received an electronic galley of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Other reviews:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Book Haul (65) and What Are You Reading?

For review:
Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Broken Hearts, Broken Fences, and Other Things to Mend by Katie Finn
My Last Kiss by Bethany Neil
The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Matthieu
Hungry by A.J. Swain
The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
The Rule of Three by Eric Walters
Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage by Bob Pfulfgelder and Steve Hockensmith
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: The Graphic Novel by Ransom Riggs and Cassandra Jean
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
The Unbound by Victoria Schwab
Cress by Marissa Meyer
The Kingdom of Little Wounds Susann Cockal
Unite Me by Tahereh Mafi
Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy
The Pet War by Allan Woodrow
The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
Me Since You by Laura Weiss
Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt
The Program by Suzanne Young
Panic by Lauren Oliver
Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson
Pointe by Brandy Colbert
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
I Survived Hurricane Katrina, 2005 by Lauren Tarshis
The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg
Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
The Smartest Kids In the World And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley
Open Road Summer by Emery Lord
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
Currently reading:
Burning by Elana K. Arnold
Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
Taken by Erin Bowman
What I plan to read:
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: The Graphic Novel by Ransom Riggs and Cassandra Jean
The Castle Behind the Thorns by Merrie Haskell
Soulless: The Manga, Volume One by Gail Carriger
Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review of Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

Better off Friends  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?

(Summary from GoodReads)

The premises behind Elizabeth Eulberg’s books always sound fun to me, and Better Off Friends was no exception.  At one point I heard it pitched as When Harry Met Sally, which is always a solid bet because that’s one of my favorite movies.  Macallan and Levi’s story was definitely adorable, but it felt too long to me.

Better Off Friends is told from alternating perspectives.  Levi is a big fan of sports, and Macallan enjoys cooking, so be aware that if you pick up this book, it will make you hungry.  Even when Levi and Macallan first met they reminded me of an old married couple.

That said, I found the ending of Eulberg’s story predictable.  Levi and Maccallan go through a lot of rough patches and back and forth before their story ended, and it didn’t all feel necessary.  I read an ARC of this book and was thinking a few scenes could have been edited out.

I also wasn’t sold on the prose here.  At times it felt like there was more telling instead of showing.  I wish Eulberg had more faith in my ability to infer what was happening.

Eulberg’s latest was cute, but not entirely satisfactory for me.  Conceptually it was great, but parts of the execution needed polishing.  Levi and Macallan meet in middle school, so I feel like this will be a great read for teens in seventh through tenth grade. It just wasn’t a great fit for me.

Disclosure: I received a digital galley of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Other reviews:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

#WednesdayYA April Selection

In case you guys didn't know, my birthday was yesterday!  Woohoo!  Here's a gratuitous picture of me celebrating my birthday as a small child:

Naturally, this means that I got to pick our #WednesdayYA pick.  I picked something I'm pretty sure Misty will love because it's by one of her favorite authors. I own all of the books this author has written, but I'm extra excited about this one because I've heard so many good things.

Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?

Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising.

(Summary from GoodReads)

I have really high hopes for this one, and Casey who comes to our chats, has already read this one and loved it.  Our Twitter chat will be back on schedule this month on the second to last Wednesday of the month, which on this month will be on the 23rd.  Meanwhile, feel free to share Instagram pics, thoughts on Twitter, reviews, or anything else you'd like.  Misty and I look forward to discussing this with you!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review and Giveaway of Pointe by Brandy Colbert

Because today is my birthday, I've decided to review an upcoming release I loved, and give a copy away to one lucky blog reader.

Theo is better now.

She's eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor.

Donovan isn't talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn't do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she's been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.

(Summary from GoodReads)

Pointe is one of the best books I've read in 2014 so far and is a book that made me incredibly proud to be an avid read of young adult fiction. It's the type of book that you'll read in a sitting or two and take so much away from.  Colbert tackles a lot of tough subject matter in her debut, yet it never feels like too much.   

Theo is not a conventionally likable character, and a lot of people may consider not finishing this book because of that.  Some of the choices she makes about who spends her time with are a little painful to read about, but the thought process Theo went through in order to make her decisions always felt genuine to me.  If you pick up this book, it needs to be read to the very end, because it's largely about Theo's emotional and sexual development.  The reader watches Theo learn to make her own decisions and the best part is that even though Colbert gives us a concrete ending to the story, it’s clear that Theo’s story isn’t over.

Colbert nails her prose and her atmosphere throughout this entire story.  I was really impressed by how ballet was woven into the story as a whole.  It was the perfect reminder that Theo had a life outside of the bad things that happened to her, but also that those bad things could permeate so deeply.  Throughout the story, we see how Theo interacts with Ruthie, who’s a weird mixture of competition and friend, and their relationship was handled perfectly.  It was just the right balance of mean girls, awkwardness, and compassion.  Other details are nicely woven in that make this more genuine—Theo and her friends smoke pot, and that’s just that. It’s something real teenagers do, and it was nice to see Colbert address every day aspects of teenage life in a way that felt non-judgmental.

Pointe had me weepy eyed and thinking "Damn" just about the entire time I was reading. It is an important book, yet not didactic. It's a story that I hope lots of people read and discuss over and over again.  Colbert has given us an exceptional debut that will inspire passionate feelings and discussion while leaving us all yearning for more from her.

Disclosure: I borrowed an ARC of this book from a friend and plan to buy a hardcover soon.


I like spreading the love, so I've decided to give one hardcover of Pointe away to one of you.  Here are the rules:
*One winner will receive a hardcover of Pointe by Brandy Colbert.  The winner will receive his or her copy of the book by April 17th.
*Open to U.S. readers only.
*Entries will close next Tuesday April 8th at 11:59 p.m. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Reading Imbalance and My Struggles with My TBR

I’m finally going to vocalize some feelings about my TBR pile that I have been struggling with a long time now.  A post that DahliaAdler shared yesterday inspired me.  Before I go too far, major thanks to Estelle who helped me by providing constructive criticism as I wrote this. 

I’ve loved books for my entire life, and I’ve been a book blogger since 2010.  As you all know, I was able to start being a Youth Librarian full-time in 2013.  The fall of 2012 is also when I got my iPad, which I use as my e-reader.  I hadn’t used any kind of e-reader before, and only got a smart phone earlier that summer.  

You may remember I completed graduate school in August of 2012.  Because I was earning my MLIS with a focus of Children’s and Youth Services, I read a lot of children’s and young adult literature for assignments.  After graduating, it felt so nice to pick up whatever I wanted, even though I knew my Resources for YA class helped me fill in some major reading gaps.

We all know that when you finish a book you’re reading, deciding what to pick up next is one of the toughest choices to make.  These days it feels like I have three personas bickering over what I read: Blogger Liz, Librarian Liz, and Inner Liz.  Before I can debrief you on what each one of these Lizes has to say, let’s start off with my basic reading information.

Some statistics:
Every year since GoodReads invented the yearly reading challenges, I have set up a challenge each year on the site, and I keep track of how many books I read. I typically wind up reading about 100 books a year.  I don’t count picture books toward this goal, but because I order books for my library and do weekly storytimes with kids up to age twelve, I read a lot of picture books, as well as shorter juvenile non-fiction.  Items I count towards my reading goal include:
*Novels written for any audience
*Adult non-fiction
*Juvenile non-fiction longer than 32 pages
*Graphic novels of any length
*Illustrated books such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Why We Broke Up

I read primarily young adult novels.  In 2013, five of the 106 books I read were intended for adults, and they were all really different from one another.  I believe I read 38 books written for middle graders and younger. Here are some of the reading goals I’m trying to meet in 2014:
*Read at least one middle grade or early chapter book a month starting in 2014
*Read at least one adult non-fiction book each year
*Read a longer juvenile non-fiction.

Some of you are probably asking yourselves why I only read around 100 books a year.  A lot of bloggers and librarians are able to read much more than I am.  Truthfully, I don’t think it’s ever fair to compare the number of books that any two readers consume.

Because I already blogged and started working in a library, I decided I needed to have hobbies that don’t include books.  I really enjoy cooking and baking in my free time, not to mention generally consuming free food, and I do more of that now.  Vitamin D and being outside when it’s nice are also things I enjoy, so in 2013 I did something I’d been wanting to do for years and got a nice road bike which I like to take on 60-70 mile rides in the summer.  I ride in groups, so when you include time for lunch and socialization, this takes all day. Also when it’s humid and I’m riding a hilly route, it’s so exhausting.   Let’s say I spend five hours on a 70 mile day out between riding and stopping for food.  When I get home I feel like a sundried tomato.  I often have a little bit of a burn, feel worn out from being in the heat, and am guzzling water like crazy.  I may polish off the last few chapters of a book, but I’m more likely to fall asleep clutching one and crawling into bed at 9 p.m.


One really important detail about my reading is that I often read in the bathtub, and sometimes it’s the only chance I get to read all day. I’m pretty careful, and generally the books don’t get too wet. ARCs are a popular bathtub choice for me, because I don’t usually keep them unless they are signed.  I never bring my iPad into the tub because I love it far too much.

 A lot of people reading this may not hold this misconception, but aside from flipping through things at work and storytimes, I don’t get paid to sit around read as a librarian.  If I did, I would get yelled at for doing that instead of planning programs or weeding. I am, however, expected to keep up with literature in my field so I can perform well at work, which means doing it on my own time.  While my director and board members don’t outright say this to me, I know it’s true, and I know it’s what other youth librarians expect. And I’m not complaining! I love reading, and it’s the nature of the job, but it’s a point that needs to be made. (I wonder if certain positions at publishing companies find this to be true as well.)

And generally? I’m a slow reader. I try to take my time and really enjoy whatever it is I’m in the middle of. I often stop to reread sentences if I’m worried I didn’t take something in. I may also pause to flag a passage I loved or text a friend about a certain scene.


So now that you see how my reading time is broken up logistically, let’s talk about what happens when I actually go to pick up a book.  Our three Lizes will come back into play here.  Let’s start with Inner Liz.

Inner Liz:
Inner Liz is the Liz that wants to read a book even though it may not be something that I should be reading.  Earlier in March, inner I tackled Pointe by Brandy Colbert and The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.  I borrowed Pointe from a friend and I purchased The Sky Is Everywhere when it first came out.  I was initially drawn to these books not only because the storylines held some appeal for her, but because I had heard nothing but positive things about these titles.  They were both physical copies, and I was absolutely aching to read both of them.  I LOVED both of these books—they’ll probably be on my favorites list for the year.  Part of me almost feels guilty for reading something that wasn’t for review, but on the other hand, how can I feel bad about reading something I absolutely adored?  It’s the books that absolutely stand out and find themselves a permanent place in my heart that make me want to keep reading and discover more books that will be special to me.

Inner Liz is also the one that talked to Misty and got our #WednesdayYA book club going. While we don’t necessarily read books that we’ve gotten for review, I’ve found that gathering a group of readers online, reading a book together, and discussing it is incredibly fulfilling and happy-making.  It reminds me that blogging is so awesome because it allows us all to talk about our love of bookish things, and sometimes things that have nothing to do with books.

Blogger Liz:
Blogger Liz works with a few publishers who regularly send physical copies, such as Macmillan and Quirk Books, and for that I am grateful.  I’m also fortunate enough to receive books through NetGalley and Edelweiss, and am even whitelisted in a few cases. I often try to ensure that roughly one in every three books I read is a review book, if not more.  Because I read in the bathtub but don’t use my iPad there, this can mean that electronic galleys sometimes get read more slowly than physical books do.  I have an issue with not planning well enough and galleys expiring—I’ve gotten a little better, but there’s so much I want to read, and it’s hard to admit to yourself that you cannot read everything you want.  If I accept a book for review on NetGalley but don’t get to it, I will often try to track it down after its release by buying a physical copy or an ebook, or trying to get a copy from my library.  I absolutely love purchasing books, for myself, but I only have so much money to do so. I want to support the industry, but I also have other financial priorities, like car and loan payments. 

You know how I was talking about Inner Liz earlier? I am fortunate enough to receive many titles that I am just DYING to read for review, and that thrills me to death.    Sometimes I’ll really want to read something, though, and I don’t get it for review. And that’s not a complaint!  Publishers are like every other person and organization out there: their resources are limited, and that’s okay.

Also, keep in mind that I work in small town, rural Iowa.  We don’t have a big teen area, and we don’t have a van system for interlibrary loan the way that some libraries do.  This means two things: one is that I feel bad requesting items for our teen area, because I don’t want to step on the toes of the person who does our teen ordering.  The other is that we mail interlibrary loan books back and forth, and in order to cover postage, I have to pay $2 if I want something from another library.  A lot of libraries are also reluctant to loan out newer titles because they want to have them for their patrons, which is totally reasonable.

With all of this said, I do my very best to read all of the physical copies I receive, and almost prefer them because they don’t expire.  I know postage is expensive, though, as is the print costs of galleys.  I’m only trying to explain why it’s easier for me to read them given my habits.

Librarian Liz:
Librarian Liz works with all youth ages zero to eighteen at the library. I order all of our items for children ages zero through twelve, and currently create and lead all programming for them.  My director and I collaborate to provide programs for our teens, and they are loads of fun to work with. I never order for our teen collection—a staff member who does not help with programming does that.  I also spend a minimum of three hours every week staffing either our circulation or reference desks, which means that I help patrons of every age, including teens, with reference and readers’ advisory.

I know that I have a big responsibility to my young patrons.  I can be a vital tool in helping them to become lifelong lovers of reading and learning. It is vitally important that I read books that are intended for them so that I know what to suggest when a patron needs a recommendation. 

Of course, I have a long list of middle grades I want to read, but that list may not be the first thing I turn to when I want something to read.  Sometimes I will deliberately go for a book in a genre that I don’t read as much, like adventure.  That way when I have a kid in the library who wants an adventure story, I have an idea of what to suggest.  I also pick up things that I think will be a hit with my patrons—I know a lot of people who like animal stories, so I read The Pet War earlier this year to recommend to patrons who are looing for that kind of book. 

There are times when it feels like I pick books that I read for the children instead of me, and I definitely do this for teens sometimes as well.  Obviously I am not completely averse to reading these types of books—after all, I did select my own career, and there are a lot of children’s books that I love.  It’s really a matter of not being able to read more.  While I’m a little sad that books that Inner Liz may get put on the back burner, I also want to serve my patrons well. I want to have time for everything, but as you can see, it’s hard for that to be possible.  Instead, I think about the times where I’ve handed someone a book I thought they’d enjoy and they absolutely flipped out over it. It makes it all worthwhile.


So what does this all mean?  There are books that I feel like I have to read, and books I really want to read.  Books I should read are either for blogging or librarianship, and in the case of blogging, sometimes if I mess up it can be hard to get my hands on a copy of the book I should be reading.  In terms of librarianship, I definitely want to be well versed in what the kids are reading, and know the books I recommend to children. Sometimes it’s just hard to choose the middle grade I’m excited about because the kids love it over the YA book that I’m DYING to read.

I often wish that I had more reading time.  Maybe if I didn’t work out, maybe if I didn’t blog, maybe, maybe, maybe.  Maybe if I could figure out a way to get by without sleep.  Maybe if I was a faster reader—I do keep hoping this one will change. We’ll see.

I ultimately have a place in a couple of different communities, and I try to balance them all. It’s tough.  I worry that doing too much of one thing will leave me feeling insufficient in a particular area.

I don’t have one answer to this.  For now, I keep juggling books I read for blogging and librarian purposes.  And I can’t forget Inner Liz—I need mindblowing books that I read just because I want to read them in order to keep me happy. That, after all, is what sustains my love of reading and helps keep my momentum going.  If I every find a formula that makes me feel like I’m doing all of these things just right, you guys will be the first to know.


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