2017 Debut Author Challenge

In 2017, I set three different goals for myself. First, to read 125 books overall.  Second, to complete the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge.  Third, to read twelve books by debut authors.

I’m still hard at work on my goal of 125 books and I have a couple prompts left for #mmdreading, but my 2017 debut author challenge is officially complete!

The debuts I’ve read in 2017, so far, are:

You Don’t Know My Name by Kristen Orlando
Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde
You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera
The Inevitable Collision of Birdie & Bash by Candace Ganger
Kissing Max Holden by Katy Upperman
The Big F by Maggie Ann Martin
I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn & Allison Raskin
The Temptation of Adam by Dave Connis
27 Hours by Tristina Wright

While I’ll no longer be actively seeking out debut authors of 2017 (now I need to focus on shrinking my TBR), I’m sure I’ll be reading more.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s challenge.

Advertisements

ARC review: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright

27 Hours by Tristina Wright
Series: The Nightside Saga #1
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Source: ARC via Netgalley

Rumor Mora fears two things: hellhounds too strong for him to kill, and failure. Jude Welton has two dreams: for humans to stop killing monsters, and for his strange abilities to vanish.

But in no reality should a boy raised to love monsters fall for a boy raised to kill them.

Nyx Llorca keeps two secrets: the moon speaks to her, and she’s in love with Dahlia, her best friend. Braeden Tennant wants two things: to get out from his mother’s shadow, and to unlearn Epsilon’s darkest secret.

They’ll both have to commit treason to find the truth.

During one twenty-seven-hour night, if they can’t stop the war between the colonies and the monsters from becoming a war of extinction, the things they wish for will never come true, and the things they fear will be all that’s left.

27 Hours is a sweeping, thrilling story featuring a stellar cast of queer teenagers battling to save their homes and possibly every human on Sahara as the clock ticks down to zero.

Centuries in the future, the colonization of a distant moon has led to war with the chimera, an indigenous species.  The chimera see the humans as parasitic invaders while the colonists believe that the chimera are a violent, bloodthirsty, savage race of monsters.  A small group of teenagers may be the only ones who have what it takes to bring the war to an end.

Enough people have gone over the plot and the writing style, so I don’t really feel like I need to do that in my review.  I’ve also seen a ton of conflicting reviews of this book, so how about an interview-style review?

Was this the best book of 2017?
No.

Was this the worst book of 2017, like OMG how did it get published?
Also no.

Is this basically Tumblr: The Novel?
Yes, most definitely.

Is there a really diverse cast of characters?
In some ways, yes.  In other ways, not really.  All of the major characters are LGBT.  There are also a number of POC, but the various cultures from Earth have kind of blended together in this futuristic society, so race doesn’t play a big role in the book.

Was it sometimes a struggle to keep reading this book?
Yes, but I think that’s mostly related to other things going on in my life.  It’s no fault of the book.

Did I consider DNFing?
No, I was too invested in Rumor/Jude.

Would I read the sequel?
Maybe?  I’m honestly not sure that a sequel is really necessary.

Was there sometimes too much going on?
Yes, for sure.  Sometimes I’d get distracted while reading and have no idea what was going on.  After going back and re-reading, I’d find that approximately eighteen things had happened over the last two pages.  The pacing could be off sometimes, but it wasn’t a bad book.

Why did I give this book four stars?
Because three wasn’t enough and five was too many.  I’m not even being sassy – that’s my subjective opinion.  I appreciate what Wright tried to do here and while I don’t think that she’s written the next Hunger Games or Harry Potter, I think she’s written a book that will resonate with a lot of kids and may be some much-needed representation for teenagers who identify as gay, bisexual, transgender, or asexual.

I received a free ARC of 27 Hours from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for my honest review.

ARC review: The Temptation of Adam by Dave Connis

⭐ Goodreads ⭐ Amazon ⭐

Adam Hawthorne is fine, except when he’s not.  After his mother walked out on and took his sister with her, Adam’s father focused all of his energy on getting her back.  Adam focused all of his energy on porn.  Because it distracted him.  Because it made him feel numb.  Now, newly suspended from school and with a porn addiction that’s out of control, Adam has been ordered to meet with his nemesis, Mr. Cratcher, every morning for counseling.

Elderly chemistry teacher Colin Cratcher leads an addiction support group dubbed the “Knights of Vice.”  His kids meet a few times each week to check in and hold each other accountable for their actions.  Through the KOV, Adam finally begins to reconnect with the outside world, realize he has a problem, and move toward recovery.

As with many other YA books I’ve read this summer, I found out about The Temptation of Adam through the 2017 Debut Author Challenge.  It was on Netgalley – as a Read Now, no less – and I decided to dive in the same night that I downloaded it.  Aside from the basics – that it’s about a teenage boy trying to overcome a porn addiction – I didn’t know too much about the book going in.

YA books that tackle “issues” have taken center stage recently.  It’s not uncommon to read about YA characters who have problems with drugs, alcohol, or even sex.  But a YA character dealing with a porn addiction? That’s a new one for me.  Initially, I wondered if Connis would be able to pull off a book about a porn addiction while still keeping it at a YA level.

Overall, he succeeded.  I think, especially in today’s world, that the topic of porn addiction is an important one for teens.  I’m not that old, but when I was Adam’s age, we didn’t walk around with smartphones in our pockets.  You couldn’t whip out your phone and Google “free porn” – and if you could, you’d easily pay $100 for the privilege of briefly viewing a pixelated image on your two-inch screen.  Today’s kids have the world at their fingertips.  I can easily imagine Adam’s story happening in any high school.

Adam’s love interest, Dez, is a girl addicted to addiction.  She constantly flits between vices: drugs, alcohol, theft, and yes, even porn.  I applaud Connis for including a female with a porn addiction (however temporary it may have been) and for having said female character call Adam out when he said that girls don’t watch porn.

In general, though, Dez’s character bothered me.  When she’s accused by the KOV as being a “manic pixie dream girl,” she vehemently rejects the label.  But the thing is, she is a manic pixie dream girl.  I couldn’t tell whether this was intentional or not, but simply having your character reject a label doesn’t make it incorrect when their entire personality says otherwise.

While the first half (give or take) of the book revolves around Adam’s counseling sessions with Mr. Cratcher, his meetings with the KOV, and heart-to-hearts with his family, the second half oddly switches gears as Mr. Cratcher is hospitalized and the kids decide to take a road trip to uncover part of his life story.

Now, first of all, am I really supposed to believe that these kids who come to love Mr. Cratcher like a grandpa would take a spontaneous road trip when they know he might not survive?  Second, what set of parents lets a group of troubled teens take an unsupervised trip from Seattle to Nashville?  Third, have any of the doctors in this fictional hospital ever heard of HIPAA?  Because, just FYI, a doctor cannot walk out to the waiting room and tell a bunch of random kids about a patient’s medical history and previous treatments.  That’s a $100,000 fine minimum.  Just saying.

Another question I have is regarding Mr. Cratcher’s credentials.  Adam is accused (wrongfully, in my opinion) of a rather serious crime.  This is what results in his suspension.  I’m still unclear on what qualifies Mr. Cratcher to counsel him rather than, say, a licensed therapist or actual doctor.  Also, if there was such a heavy accusation, I’m unclear on why the police weren’t involved.  That’s not to say that Mr. Cratcher fails to get through to him, but it surprised me that this was even an option.

Now, I read an advance, uncorrected copy of this book, so take this paragraph with a grain of salt.  This might change in the final copy.  I’m not going to get into spelling or grammar mistakes.  Those will obviously be taken care of prior to actual publication.  I will say that, for me, there were two glaring errors.  First was Christmas. It happens twice, once at home and again in Nashville.  The second is Adam’s claim that his sister Addy is fluent in Spanish, which is backed up by her saying the absolutely nonsensical and ungrammatical “Tu tengo grande cojones,” which made me physically shudder.

But moving on from the negatives, there’s a line in twenty one pilots’ Fall Away that gets me every time:

I’m dying and I’m trying
But believe me I’m fine
But I’m lying
I’m so very far from fine

I think this line, and all the emotion behind it, perfectly encapsulate Adam’s struggle with his addiction.  Adam repeatedly tells himself that he’s fine. That he could stop at any time. That’s it’s not like he couldn’t function if he didn’t have porn.  That it’s just something to pass the time.  But deep down, he knows that’s a lie. He’s drowning in his addiction and he doesn’t even know how to begin to fight it.

And I, I can feel the pull begin
Feel my conscience wearing thin
And my skin
It will start
To break up and fall apart

Every time that Adam tries to stop watching porn, he’s drawn back in.  He’ll be doing fine, but an argument or another stressor in his life will send him running for the comfort until he feels like he might actually die if he doesn’t fulfill his urge.  I don’t often connect books to songs, but these fit so well together.

Anyway, The Temptation of Adam is a solid YA debut.  I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I expected to, and at times it feels a little off, but it holds an important message and I wouldn’t be surprised if Connis went on to do great things.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

I received a free ARC of The Temptation of Adam from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for my honest opinion.

ARC review: I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn & Allison Raskin

Goodreads ⭐ Amazon ⭐

BFFs Ava and Gen are headed off to college.  While Ava is staying in California, Gen is headed off to Boston to attend a small liberal arts school.  Through emails and text messages, we watch Ava and Gen grow up and learn to live without each others’ constant presence.

Now, apparently, Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin are YouTubers.  Apparently, they promote their own channel in this book.  I’d never heard of them (or their channel) prior to reading this book, so that just went totally over my head.  I will, however, get into the nitty gritty of what I liked and disliked about this debut.

My first thoughts, upon starting this book, were that Ava and Gen are probably very realistic eighteen-year-olds, but they were both borderline intolerable for me.  Both of them were judgmental and annoying and reminded me that I’m not eighteen years old anymore.  I hope I wasn’t like that when I was their age, but I probably was.  I do not want to go back to look at my old Livejournal because I’ll probably die of embarrassment.

Ava is dealing with her mental illness while being away from home and away from her best friend.  She suffers from OCD, anxiety, depression, and possibly other conditions – we never hear about her actual diagnosis, only fleeting mentions of her conversations with therapists or symptoms she exhibited at a party or in class.  In an attempt to make friends at college, Ava joins a sorority.  Soon after, she begins her first real relationship with a goofy frat boy.

In Boston, Gen is coming to terms with her sexuality.  After living a (mostly) heterosexual life in California, she realizes that she’s also really into women and embraces her new-found bisexuality with open arms.  This was really great, but I wonder if the authors took this a bit too far.  (More on that later.)  Aside from her sexuality, Gen doesn’t really get her own storyline.  Everything that happens to her is at least tangentially tied to her sexuality.

Ava and Gen are total opposites that somehow work as best friends.  While Ava is very cautious and overthinks everything (much like me), Gen is very reckless in all aspects of her life. I thought that this would make me like Gen less, but I actually preferred her over Ava for the first half of the book or so.  Unfortunately, in the second half of the book, Gen really disappointed me.  Although it was great when she gently called Ava out on being problematic, I thought she became a little unreasonable as the book continued.  Suddenly, Ava wasn’t even allowed to ask questions because Gen would freak out at anything other than blind, unwavering support.

Ava constantly had to apologize to Gen, even when (at least in my opinion) she’d done nothing wrong.  You should be able to comment on your best friend’s life. You should be able to tell her she’s making a mess of things before she does something that she can’t take back. You should be able to ask her questions about her life without her cutting off all communication like a petulant child. I’m sorry, but the relationship between Ava and Gen was not a healthy one, and it had nothing to do with Ava’s mental illness.

It’s so hard to talk about this without digging into some spoilers, but let me try.  When Ava expresses some concern about the people that Gen is choosing to involve herself with, Gen jumps down her throat.  “YOU’RE NOT GAY, YOU WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND!” she screams (via email or text) when Ava’s concern is nothing to do with the gender of the person Gen’s seeing, but more to do with the implications of the relationship.  And even when Ava’s right, she has to apologize before Gen will talk to her again.

So, Gen comes out to Ava via email as she tells her about her recent sexual exploits.  Shortly after, Gen begins to have sex with basically everyone she meets.  By her own admission, she’s attracted to everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, personality… anything. Gen is very quick to call Ava out when she references a common stereotype or says something mildly offensive, but I worry that Gen’s character falls into common bisexual tropes.

Bi doesn’t have to mean promiscuous.  It doesn’t mean that the character should be attracted to literally every person they meet.  It shouldn’t mean that the character is solely interested in hookups without any commitment whatsoever.  It doesn’t have to mean that the character destroys the rest of their life in search of their next conquest.  Gen actually cuts off contact with Ava when Ava expresses (very reasonable) concerns about Gen’s behavior.  Ava is painted as the villain who just doesn’t understand when Gen is obviously spiraling out of control.

I appreciate what the authors tried to do with representation.  In a lot of areas, they succeeded.  There are gay, bisexual, and trans characters that actually play major roles in the story.  There are characters of different races and ethnicities, just as there would be on any normal college campus.  Ava’s mental illness representation was great because it was just another part of her and not something that was a huge deal.  I just wish that Gen’s sexual experimentation had been handled better, because, as a grown woman, I could only think of the danger she was putting herself in by going home with strange men and women.

I guess, in the end, I appreciate with the authors were trying to do. For me, the book was a miss.  For someone closer to the characters’ age, it might be more of a hit.  Life has sure changed since I started college.  That much is for sure.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

I received a free ARC of I Hate Everyone But You from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review.

ARC review: The Big F by Maggie Ann Martin

Goodreads ⭐ Amazon ⭐

Dani Cavanaugh’s mom has planned out her whole future for her.  As a college psychic, her mom works with high school seniors to help them find the ideal program and school for their interests.  For Dani, a major in communications at Ohio State was the plan.  Not in the plan was Dani failing her senior year English class and getting her OSU admission revoked. Dani’s determined to get her life back on track, so she enrolls at her local community college with plans to transfer to OSU next semester.  But what happens when she realizes that her big life plan might not be what she wants anymore?

I first found out about this book through That Artsy Reader Girl’s 2017 Debut Author Challenge.  Imagine my surprise when I found it on Netgalley and then was actually approved for an ARC!  This turned out to be one of my favorite debuts of 2017.

If I’m totally honest, I wasn’t so sure about it when I first started reading.  It took awhile for me to really get sucked in by the writing, and my natural status as #1 problem solver kept trying to kick in for Dani.  I found myself thinking, “What kind of high school teacher fails a kid based on one paper? I’m sure she could have contested that.”  I thought, “What kind of parents don’t care about what their daughter actually wants?  Why are they more concerned about her lying than about the fact that she felt like she couldn’t tell them about her admission being revoked?”  I also thought, “This is a good warning as to why you shouldn’t declare your major before you even start college.”  But then I told myself to turn my brain off and just enjoy this book.  And I did.

Initially, Dani is upset about her plans changing.  She’d been accepted to Ohio State, a well-respected Big Ten university, and was now walking into the admissions office of Denton Community College with her tail between her legs.  But it turns out that DCC is a really good fit for her.  She makes friends.  Her classes are tough but enjoyable.  She even reconnects with her old neighbor and the two start dating.

Dani really takes her future into her own hands.  She gets herself a job at the college bookstore so that she can save up money for her inevitable transfer.  (I am super jealous because I would have loved to work at my university’s book store.)  She finds herself an internship in a field that she loves.  She grows as a person and becomes more responsible and more mature.

There are two main conflicts in this book.  The first is between Dani and her mother. Because Dani’s mother, for as famous of a psychic as she is supposed to be, does not understand her daughter at all.  She wants her daughter to be someone that she’s not, and it frustrated me immensely.  Her mother even grounds her.  Grounds her.  I was, in general, pretty respectful of my mother while growing up, but I think I would have laughed in her face if she’d tried to ground me while I was in college.  Dani is an adult.  She is allowed to have her own opinions and make her own mistakes.  I really disliked Dani’s mother for failing to realize that.

The second main conflict is between Dani and Luke, her childhood neighbor that she begins dating at the beginning of the book.  Growing up, Dani had a huge crush on Luke.  He was her best friend’s older brother and she swooned over him at every chance.  Now, they’re both grown up and taking advantage of the fact that they’re allowed to be alone and kiss each other and nobody can stop them.  But, the thing is, we never really feel any chemistry between them.  Aside from their first kiss, they just kind of coexist on the page.  Dani has a thousand times more chemistry with Porter, her coworker and Luke’s roommate, than she ever had with Luke.  But much like Ohio State had always been Dani’s dream, so has dating Luke.  Dani has to reconcile the fact that sometimes your dreams don’t turn out the way you want them to.  That sometimes dreams can change, and that’s normal and okay.

I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.  Maggie Ann Martin definitely did justice to the genre, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

I received a free ARC of The Big F from Macmillan/Swoon Reads via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

Goodreads   Amazon

Margot was thrilled when her parents enrolled her in Somerset Prep, an elite upper-class high school.  All she wanted was to fall in with the right crowd, and after changing nearly everything about herself, she befriended the popular and wealthy Serena and Camille.  But keeping up with Serena and Camille proved difficult, and Margot resorted to stealing her father’s credit card so that she could continue to look the part.

This was supposed to be Margot’s summer.  She’d planned to spend it in the Hamptons with her new friends, chatting up cute guys and working on her tan.  But when her father finds out about the credit card, he sentences her to a summer of free labor in his supermarket, where Margot meets a cute community activist with a troubled past.  Moises wouldn’t fit in with the image Margot has so carefully cultivated at Somerset, but she feels a true connection with him.  Can she reconcile the two halves of her life?

I read this book solely for my 2017 Debut Author Challenge.  I’d fallen pretty far behind in my goal of 12 debuts this year, so I went through Overdrive and checked every currently available debut I could find.  This is my favorite of the bunch so far.

I was immediately struck by how unlikable Margot is.  She is the very definition of an unsympathetic heroine, and Rivera does an amazing job of making her feel real.  Margot is infuriating.  She’s shallow and spoiled and petty.  She thinks that she deserves the world simply by virtue of existing.  Her nickname is “Princesa,” for goodness’ sake!  But despite all of this, I did not hate her.  She felt like a real teenage girl.  This is how you do an unsympathetic heroine right.

I really liked how Margot grew as a person, both as a result of her interactions with Moises and just as a natural part of getting older.  I could feel her frustration with keeping up her different personas and was rooting for her to just be herself.  I could’ve done with a bit more of it, but let’s be honest.  This girl is still in high school.  The growth she went through over the course of the ten weeks of this book is pretty great.

The issues that Lilliam Rivera deals with in this book are also pretty heavy for YA.  She doesn’t shy away from conversations about race, drug use, gentrification, classism, sexism, or extramarital affairs.  These all feel like natural pieces of the plot and are never preachy or out of place.  Kudos to Rivera for weaving all of these themes together pretty seamlessly.

As for negatives, there are two main conflicts in this book.  The first is that someone is stealing from the family’s supermarket.  The second is some drama with one of the cashiers and a mystery man.  I had quickly figured out the identity of both the thief and the mystery man, so the dramatic reveals seemed a little anticlimactic to me.

I would have also liked a chapter or two of Margot back at Somerset to get a sense of whether what she learned over the summer stuck with her.  Was she able to stand up to Serena and Camille?  What ever happened with her and Nick after that night on the beach?  Did she ever get to join the fashion club like she so wanted to do?  The ending with Margot and Moises was fairly open-ended, and I was fine with that, but I would have liked just a bit more resolution of some of the other plot threads.

Overall, this was a strong debut, and I have no doubt that Rivera is going places.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

Book review: You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

Goodreads   Amazon

When someone writes a cruel insult about Julia’s best friend on the wall of the Kingston School for the Deaf, Julia retaliates by covering it with some beautiful graffiti.  She never expected Jordyn to snitch, but she did, and Julia finds herself expelled and forced into a mainstream school.  As the new girl, with an interpreter, no less, Julia struggles to fit in.  Her only enjoyment is her art, and she becomes bolder and bolder as she tags the city after dark.  Her artwork gets her noticed by her fellow artists, and it’s not long before she finds herself in a turf war.

I’m going to try to start with some positives in this review. One thing that I’ve noticed recently is the diversity in YA lit.  This is the second book I’ve read this week featuring a character with two moms, and I think that’s great.  In addition to being Deaf and having two moms, Julia is a person of color.  This is such a far cry from the YA of my childhood and I love it.

Unfortunately, that’s about all that I loved about this book.

Julia is the worst.  I don’t need my YA heroines to be little angels, but it certainly helps when they have at least some redeeming qualities.  I hated Julia with a such a fiery, burning passion that I had to talk myself out of DNFing on multiple occasions!

Julia is selfish.  She’s bratty.  She is angry at everyone and everything and there’s really no reason for it because she literally brings everything on herself.  She’s disrespectful to her moms, she’s disrespectful to her teachers, she’s disrespectful to her interpreter, and she’s disrespectful to her friends.  She justifies her behavior by saying that she’s been burned in the past.  I might be in my late 20′s, but I remember being a teenager.  I remember the dramatics and the heavy sighs when things went even a little wrong.  I remember being a bit bratty sometimes.  But this?  This is so over-the-top that I could not take Julia seriously.  She was a child.

I get that the author was in a bit of a tough place here.  With a character like Julia, someone who’s Deaf and Indian with two moms, she was in definite danger of making her into a symbol of some kind.  And Julia didn’t have to be perfect.  She didn’t have to be a role model or a saint.  But Julia couldn’t comprehend why her moms didn’t want her going out at night and breaking the law.  Like maybe they were just mad that she likes art.  I couldn’t connect with Julia at all, because she was, as I said, the actual worst.

And so judgmental.  Julia was always judging people.  Donovan couldn’t be an artist because he’s cute and cute people can’t be smart.  YP couldn’t be an artist because she’s blond and bubbly.   At one point, she actually says that Jordyn liked her because she didn’t judge, but at the time she’s saying that, she is literally judging Jordyn for how many boys she’s dated. I mean, I couldn’t make this up. Jordyn might be a villain in this story, but there’s no reason to slut-shame her because of it.

Throughout the book, all I could think was that Julia needed some serious help.  She goes around basically trying to ruin her life by burning bridges, skipping class, lying to her parents, and alienating her interpreter.  I’m not denying that Julia had some unfortunate things happen to her.  And sure, she’s definitely right to cut off contact with Jordyn. But she was so over-the-top dramatic about YP, and the scene with her and Donovan in the car made me so uncomfortable.  This is not the way anybody should be acting.

I’m surprised not to see anything about The Banksy Ordeal™ in reviews.  I wrote this huge rant about it in my Kindle notes, but I don’t want to subject you those ramblings, so let me summarize. Am I seriously supposed to believe that this actually happened?  Was Julia perhaps dreaming, or maybe high on spray paint fumes?  I mean, what the heck.  What kind of plot point is that?

Most of what I felt while reading this book was anger.  I appreciate what Gardner was aiming for, but this book was just not for me.

Final rating: ★☆☆☆☆