Google+ YA Romantics: February 2014

Friday, February 28, 2014

Freebie Friday: Half Bad

Happy Friday!

Today's freebie is a copy of Half Bad by Sally Green, the book that Lauren and I joint-reviewed on Wednesday. If you missed that, you can check it out here. It gives all the details on the book.

This giveaway is open internationally!  If my winner lives in the US, s/he will receive a hardcopy mailed on Monday (or as soon as I receive the winner's mailing address.) If winner is international, I'll order them a paperback from The Book Depository.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Trending Thursday: Heads Up!

Welcome to my latest installment of Trending Thursday. In this weekly post, I pick a trend and we discuss. Today I'm inspired by the cover of a book I read recently. If you didn't see the Half and Half post on Half Bad that Lauren and I did yesterday, you can check it out here.

Half Bad
by Sally Green
To be published on March 4 by Viking Juvenile

I love the cover of Half Bad, which was designed by Tim Green of Faceout Studio.  It's simple but striking, and it also references many of the themes and elements of the book. The black and white text represents the Black and White Witches in the story. The face appears to be made up of swirling blood -- main character Nathan is a Half-Blood -- half White Witch, half Black.

So I thought this week would be a good time to talk about Heads on YA Covers.

 Headless YA Covers have been a Thing for a while now. My theory is that cover designers or marketing people want to let the reader picture the character any way they want, but I agree that, when seen together, all the headless covers begin to seem a little creepy.

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Note: I loved all these books and must point out that all these authors published subsequent books that did not have headless covers.

Then we have Big Heads:

Huge Faces have been a Thing in YA covers for a while now.  I'm such not a fan of the faces that stare at me vacantly like a model on the cover of a beauty magazine. I thought the original cover of Delirium was beautiful, with the face peeking through the cut-out letters and was much less of a fan of the new cover, with a generic huge face. Unconnected complaint: why do magazines put celebrities on the cover and then make them look unrecognizable?

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The trend I like -- and one that I think is Getting Hotter?

Heads in Profile, like the cover of Half Bad. My favorite recent Heads in Profile covers are those that play with the outlines of the profile in interesting ways, like these:

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Tell me in comments: what are your thoughts on heads on YA covers? No head? Giant Head? Sideways Head? Feel free to disagree with me:)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Half-Bad: a Half-and-Half Review with Lauren @ Love Is Not a Triangle

My blogger friend Lauren from Love is Not a Triangle and I discovered that we were both reading Half Bad by Sally Green. We started having a long Twitter DM conversation and decided to adapt that into a joint review. Or, more precisely, a Half-and-Half Review...

Here on my blog, Lauren and I will discuss our general feelings about the book. After that, hop over to Love Is Not a Triangle and read our discussion about characters, romance, and (of course) the Love Triangle Factor of this book.

Half Bad
by Sally Green
To be published on March 4, 2014
by Viking Juvenile

Synopsis from Goodreads: In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and fifteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his sixteenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?

JEN: According to my ARC, this was the buzz book of the 2013 Bologna Children's Book Fair. What did you think overall?

LAUREN: Overall I found the book to be very readable. I got through it fast, and wanted to keep picking it up again whenever I was interrupted. However, this felt sort of prequel like to me. The point being to get Nathan to age 17 (he starts at 11 or 12).

JEN: Yes -- prequel is a good word. I enjoyed the book, but wrote in my notes that it felt like a set-up book. I'm intrigued but also left with questions as to what kind of story this series will tell.  I think all the hype didn't help - my expectations were really high.

LAUREN: I agree. I read this book with a constant sense of wondering where it was going, and the feeling never really left me even at the end. However, I still enjoyed the story and will pick up the sequel. But like you, I’m a little worried about the hype monster in relation to this series.

JEN: I just hope there is more plot to come than is hinted at in this first book. It seemed to me that there was one major story question set up by the end, and it wasn't the aspect of the story I was most excited about.  It seemed that the major question the book sets up is: (highlight for spoilers) will Nathan kill his father? And by the end of the book, the cliffhanger seemed to be: what will happen to Annalise? (end spoilers) As we discuss in part two of this review, neither you or I are very invested in that last question. Overall, I was intrigued, but wished the stakes had felt even higher.

LAUREN: I agree, the two big elements of anticipation which we are left with at the end of this book weren’t the parts of the story that I found most compelling. I’m a little more interested in a third element (highlight for spoiler) finding Gabriel. (end spoiler) But that’s not something that can carry an entire second book. I just like that character.


JEN: I was a little confused about the whole White Witch/Black Witch rivalry. There was the Cain and Abel story that Mary told Nathan -- the one about the good and evil twins -- but I still didn't understand what sustained the hatred between the White and Black witches to the present day.

LAUREN: Yeah. I know. The Black/White divide is historically in a lot of witch mythology. But I agree. Not much actual difference in the characters we saw in this book. They have different eyes, and Black Witches are more arrogant and less social, but that's so intangible (Hunters are described as arrogant too). It’s also not always supported in the people we meet. We encounter so many awful White Witches that I'm having trouble believing in their goodness. But maybe that's the point?

JEN: I guess. I'm a big fan of moral ambiguity in books, but when all the characters seem equally evil, I feel myself becoming more emotionally detached.

LAUREN: Definitely. I’m always interested in a good nature/nurture debate, and there’s a bit of that in this book. As well as the question of whether these White Witches are making Nathan bad by the way their treating him. But, I’m not sure I’ve actually visibly seen a difference between the White and Black witches to get why they’re different.

JEN: Agreed. I hope that we get more clarity on this in the next book.


JEN: This book was compared by the publisher to the works of Patrick Ness and Marcus Zusak, but I'm also feeling the influence of J. K. Rowling. I think we both felt that the Harry Potter influences were very strong.

LAUREN: Yes. We have a boy who’s one of a kind and a prophecy telling us he’ll kill the bad guy, but this time he’s the child of the bad guy. Magical artifacts (the Fairborne). Mysterious parental deaths. An unfriendly high council that produces ridiculous edicts. Anytime the word half-blood was mentioned, I thought of Harry Potter. Oh and a magical drainpipe!

JEN: Don't forget Diagon -- I mean Cobalt -- Alley, which is invisible to humans! We have a story world where witches co-exist with humans. We have Fains instead of Muggles. We have at least one character who seems to have animagus-like powers. We have a boy who's locked in a cage instead of being relegated to a cupboard under the stairs. It's the same type of story world as Harry Potter, albeit a darker one.  I have only read one Patrick Ness book -- what did you think about that comparison?

LAUREN:  I always have a big issue with the “official” publisher comparisons in general. I can see the comparison to Patrick Ness, though – he likes these boy protagonists who suffer endlessly and grow from it. I kept being told at ALA that this was like a contemporary coming of age story but with some magical elements thrown in, which I guess I can see as well.

JEN: Given the long time span that this book covers, I think "coming of age" is an apt description. And I think we both can't wait to see where things go.

Be sure to go to Lauren's blog, Love Is Not a Triangle, to read the rest of our discussion, in which we dish about Half Bad's characters and the romance factor.

If you've already read Half Bad, or don't mind spoilers, Lauren and I had an additional discussion on what we hope might transpire in the next book.  If you want to peek, just click the button below. And if you want to chat spoilers in comments please mark your comment as spoilery. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hot Off the Presses: New YA Releasing February 28-March 3

Hot Off the Presses -- brand new YA releases!

Welcome to Hot Off the Presses!  

Every Tuesday, I tell you about all the great new YA books you can grab in the week to come. If you're a reviewer, you can also link your blog or Goodreads reviews of any YA book publishing in the current month so we can all check them out!

LAST week to enter the February giveaway! The winner can pick any book up to $15 on either Amazon (for US winner) or The Book Depository (for international winner.) Enter by linking your reviews, commenting on other people's linked reviews, or tweeting :)  

Hot Off the Presses aims to include every traditionally published YA. You are also welcome to link your reviews of YA books that were self-pubbed this month.  Some titles may have different release dates outside the US.

The Well's End by Seth Fishman Boy on the Edge by Frank Erlings Tin Star by Cecil Castelluci

The Well's End by Seth Fishman (Putnam)
Boy on the Edge by Fredrik Erlings (Candlewick)
Tin Star by Cecil Castelluci (Roaring Brook)

Faking Normal by Courtney Stevens White Hot Kiss by Jennifer Armentrout Grandmaster by David Klass

Faking Normal by Courtney Stevens (Harper)
White Hot Kiss by Jennifer Armentrout (Harlequin Teen)
Grandmaster by David Klass (FSG)

Killer Frost by Jennifer Estep Unforgotten by Jessica Brody Tremor by Patrick Carman

Killer Frost by Jennifer Estep (Kensington)
Unforgotten (Unremembered #2) by Jessica Brody (FSG)
Tremor (Pulse #2) by Patrick Carman (Harper)

Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg Year of Mistaken Discoveries by Eileen Cook Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick

Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg (Point)
Year of Mistaken Discoveries by Eileen Cook (Simon Pulse)
Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick (Razorbill)

Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott The Hit by Melvin Burgess My Life with the Walter Boys by Ali Novak

Fire & Flood (Fire & Flood #1) by Victoria Scott (Scholastic)
The Hit by Melvin Burgess (Chicken House)
My Life With the Walter Boys by Ali Novak (Sourcebooks)

Secret Diamond Sisters by Michelle Madow Threatened by Eliot Schrefer Summer I Found You by Jolene Perry

The Secret Diamond Sisters by Michelle Madow (Harlequin Teen)
Threatened by Eliot Schrefer (Scholastic)
The Summer I Found You by Jolene Perry (Albert Whitman Teen)

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Ask Again Later and Don't Even Think About It

Today's Mini-Reviews will compare and contrast two YA comic paranormal books scheduled to release on March 11:

Don't Even Think About It
by Sarah Mlynowski
To be published on March 11, 2014
by Random House

Synopsis (adapted from Goodreads:) We weren't always like this. We used to be average New York City high school sophomores. Until our homeroom went for flu shots. We were prepared for some side effects. Maybe a headache. Maybe a sore arm. We definitely didn't expect to get telepathic powers. But suddenly we could hear what everyone was thinking. Our friends. Our parents. Our crushes. We always know what's coming. Some of us will thrive. Some of us will crack. None of us will ever be the same. So stop obsessing about your ex. We're always listening.

Ask Again Later
by Liz Czukas
To be published on March 11, 2014
by Harper Teen

Synopsis (adapted from Goodreads:) Despite what her name might suggest, Heart has zero interest in complicated romance. So when her brilliant plan to go to prom with a group of friends is disrupted by two surprise invites, Heart knows there's only one drama-free solution: flip a coin. Heads: The jock. He might spend all night staring at his ex or throw up in the limo, but how bad can her brother's best friend really be? Tails: The theater geek...with a secret. What could be better than a guy who shares all Heart's interests--even if he wants to share all his feelings? Heart's simple coin flip has somehow given her the chance to live out both dates. But where her prom night ends up might be the most surprising thing of all...

So first I must spend a second proclaiming my love for the comic paranormal category. When I was a kid, this was one of my favorite books ever:

Freaky Friday
Originally published in 1972 by Harper

This was the cover of my original book (which my mom has thrown away!) with drawings by Edward Gorey.  This book was so ahead of the trends -- the body swapping trope has been huge from the 1980s through the present in films like The Change Up, Big, or 13 Going on 30. It also provides a hilarious take on the parent-child relationship. And if you haven't seen the 2003 movie of Freaky Friday with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, it's a must-watch.

Neither Don't Even Think About It nor Ask Again Later involves body swapping. But they both do what Freaky Friday did so well: use paranormal elements to explore different aspects of the teen experience. Here's my take on each.

As the synopsis suggests, Don't Even Think About It follows a group of kids who get flu shots at school, and suddenly develop mind-reading capabilites. Being able to read minds would be cool, right? Well, not so much. Secrets are inadvertently spilled, loyalties strained, and ethics tested.

I liked the fact that Don't Even Think About It had an unusual narrative style, though I see on Goodreads that some readers took issue with it. The book is told in a sort of multiple first person, from a "we" POV instead of an "I." Yes, it took a little while to get used to, but I thought it was a creative risk that really paid off. I also really appreciated the fact that the paranormal stuff had an explanation. Every time I had a question about how the whole mind-reading thing worked, the book was right there to answer it. However, since there were a lot of characters, there wasn't as much time for character development, and the romance tended toward the high school drama sort.

Book Report Card for Don't Even Think About It

Paranormal Effects:
Narrative Style: A-
Character Development: B+
Plotting: A
Romance: B

Total GPA: 3.6

Ask Again Later is parallel universe lite. Heart La Cour planned to go to prom with a group of friends who've made a No Drama Prom-a (their phrase, not mine) pact. No dates, no drama. But before she knows it, Heart has been asked to prom by not one but two guys. What to do? Well, she doesn't really like either guy, so the answer is obvious. But Heart is sort of softhearted, so she can't say no to either one. When a third guy (he annoys her, she calls him Schroeder, but they are clearly crazy about each other) suggests she flip a coin to decide, she does. Well, she flips a Chuck E. Cheese token, and then is mysteriously able to see the outcome of each date.

After that, each chapter flips back and forth between heads and tails, giving updates on the status of each equally disastrous prom date, which include things like duct tape, a goody bag with condoms, kidnapping, and more. Though some of this was comical, I did get pretty impatient in the middle part of the book. Clearly Heart belonged with Schroeder, and I just wanted them to get together already. Her ability to see forward into the future was just sort of there. Was she imagining things? Was the C.E.C. token magical? I'm not really sure. But in the end, the romance I was waiting for came through.

Book Report Card for Ask Again Later

Paranormal Effects: B
Narrative Style: A
Character Development: A-
Plotting: B+
Romance: A

Total GPA: 3.6

I enjoyed both of these, and think that each is a welcome addition to the comic paranormal genre. If you're a scientific type who expects explanations for paranormal phenomena, you might be happier with Don't Even Think About It. If it's romance you're after, then I'd recommend Ask Again Later. If you love this genre, then why not read both?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Freebie Friday: Fire & Flood and Secret Diamond Sisters

Happy Friday!

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Earlier this week I did mini-reviews of Fire and Flood and The Secret Diamond Sisters. If you missed those reviews, you can see them here.

For today's Freebie Friday, I'm giving away both ARCs! Because I like to keep things easy on Freebie Friday, I'll just do one Rafflecopter. If you only want one of the book, there will be a space to let me know that so that I can pick a second winner.

So sorry, but this is open to US residents only. If you live outside the U.S., you can hop over and enter Hot Off the Presses here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Trending Thursday: Sound-a-Like Contemporary Titles

Welcome to this week's installment of Trending Thursday, a weekly post in which I trendspot and we discuss. Cover trends, character name trends, premise trends, blogging trends -- anything goes!

Today's post is about titles. Recently I reviewed a book I enjoyed, but when I sat down to write the review ... I couldn't remember the title. I knew that it had a bunch of pronouns and prepositions. Was t You Without Me? Me After You? What was the name of that book?

This title suffered from a very common syndrome: VTS (Vague Title Syndrome.)  

VTS seems to be an epidemic in contemporary fiction, which is one of my favorite genres. I'm not picking on ANY of these titles in and of themselves. But after a while, many of them start to sound alike... 

First, the You and Me Titles:

Between You and Me -- yes, there are two!

Then there are the Lost and Found Titles

Next, the IF Titles:

Not all contemporaries have vague titles. Here are some that I love. Why? They're specific. No pronouns. They give me an idea of what to expect ... or make me curious.

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
What a great title -- evocative and descriptive...

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King
I love a title that makes me ask: why?

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Another title that makes me ask questions. Where? Why?

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
An early book by Jennifer E. Smith, You Are Here, had a case of VCTS. But her more recent books have great titles. Yes, they are long, and I usually end up abbreviating them to stuff like SPoLaFS, but I think they're catchy!

The Chapel Wars
by Lindsey Leavitt
Here's a title I love from an upcoming book -- and I adore the cover too.

As I point out in comments, many genres have sound-a-like title issues. What about all the one-word dystopian titles? Hmmm... idea for another post.  What are your thoughts about titles? Tell me in comments :)

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