Book Review: The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik

Book Review: The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik

The Last Best Kiss

by Claire LaZebnik

Last Best Kiss

Expected Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen

Obtained Via: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review via Edelweiss from the publisher. I was not compensated for this review, and this is no way affects my opinion of the book.
Format Read In: E-ARC
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the story morning glory

Anna Eliot is tired of worrying about what other people think. After all, that was how she lost the only guy she ever really liked, Finn Westbrook.

Now, three years after she broke his heart, the one who got away is back in her life.

All Anna wants is a chance to relive their last kiss again (and again and again). But Finn obviously hasn’t forgotten how she treated him, and he’s made it clear he has no interest in having anything to do with her.

Anna keeps trying to persuade herself that she doesn’t care about Finn either, but even though they’ve both changed since they first met, deep down she knows he’s the guy for her. Now if only she can get him to believe that, too….

With her signature wit and expertly authentic teen voice, Claire LaZebnik (the author of fan favorites Epic Fail and The Trouble with Flirting) once again breathes new life into a perennially popular love story. Fans of Polly Shulman, Maureen Johnson, and, of course, Jane Austen will love this irresistibly funny and romantic tale of first loves and second chances.

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I love Claire LaZebnik’s Jane Austen retellings. Despite the fact each of Jane Austen’s works has been retold in countless ways, LaZebnik’s always manages to feel fresh, and The Last Best Kiss is no exception. In fact, I like it much better than Epic Fail, the Pride & Prejudice retelling, and just as much as The Trouble with Flirting, the Mansfield Park retelling. The Last Best Kiss is a Persuasion retelling, which I haven’t read, but I was still totally engaged with the story. Perhaps it would have had another layer of meaning if I knew the original story better, but even so, The Last Best Kiss completely stands on its own.

Even though The Last Best Kiss is still a pretty breezy contemporary read overall, I think I liked it so much because it’s a little more serious than the other retellings, and LaZebnik also pushed the boundaries a little bit. Nothing major, but it really made a difference, at least for me. One of Anna’s sisters comes out as gay and has a girlfriend, and one of her friends gets stoned and does something stupid and dangerous, and for awhile the book gets really serious because of those two things. However, despite the quite serious themes, The Last Best Kiss never feels heavy or depressing, though it does sometimes feel sad.

It’s hard to like Anna at the beginning. Like the summary says, when Anna’s in the 9th grade she denies any connection to Finn, even though she really likes him. We get to see more of this than I was expecting, actually, and in the first chapter I just kept shaking my head at all the dumb decisions Anna was making, but it was definitely needed for the premise. Once the story jumped forward to the present in which Anna and her friends are seniors, she became much more likable. In many ways, Anna was an ordinary teenager, but I think her ability to reflect and realized her own mistakes was important and also a big part of The Last Best Kiss.

And can we talk about Finn? First, I loved that it’s emphasized he’s not the most handsome teenager ever. Hooray for normal-looking people! Of course, when he comes back his build has filled out and he’s grown several inches, but I never got the impression that I was suppose to think he was drop-dead gorgeous. Finn is easily excited about nature and is naturally curious about the world around him. He’s so eager to show Anna–and anyone else who wants–what he’s discovered and learned. He’s completely adorable and charming. In many ways, he reminds me of Oliver from Going Vintage.

Of course, a major theme of The Last Best Kiss is second chances: If they should be given & how. I really liked the exploration of this theme. It could have felt cheesy or cliche, but it never did, because Anna and Finn behaved like real people. I could see the intense and vulnerable conversations Anna and Finn had in The Last Best Kiss happening in real life.

In the end, though, The Last Best Kiss was just adorable. It was a tad more serious than LaZebnik’s other retellings, and it was always happy or cute, but on the whole it was just an adorable story. I was rooting for Finn and Anna so much, and had huge smiles whenever there was a scene when they were talking about landscapes or nature or anything else under the sun.

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This might be my favorite of LaZebnik’s Austen retellings! The Last Best Kiss took some risks, which I definitely cheered on, and also dealt with more serious issues, but it never felt depressing or like a “heavy” read. The love story was adorable and I was rooting for Anna and Finn–especially Finn–the entire time. 4/5 cupcakes.

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The Sunday Wrap-Up{57}

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My Week

 Busy, busy week(I feel I start all of my weekly wrap-ups with that now, but March and April have been super busy months!). I only worked four days this week, though, and I’ll have a three day work week next week. My back injury from last week has healed(HOORAY), but I woke up Thursday morning sick, so it’s hard to celebrate. I think it’s just allergies, but that doesn’t help much in the moment.

A great thing that happened, however, was that I signed a lease on my apartment! I’ve talked about before how my current lease was up mid-May and I was struggling to find a place to live in my budget. I’m moving into an apartment complex some of my friends live in, so I have a general idea of the apartments. They’re a bit on the older side, but I’ve heard nothing but GREAT things about the management, which is hard to come by in this area.

On Book Blog Bake

Monday I reviewed Split Second by Kasie West.
Wednesday I reviewed Great by Sara Benincasa.
Thursday I talked about Full Fathom Five and supporting authors.
Friday I reviewed Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman, which is my FAVORITE debut novel of the year so far. Open Road Summer comes close, but really guys, I will book push Prisoner of Night and Fog so hard.

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Something Real by Heather Demetrosis(5 stars)
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

booksboughtreceived

None!

Favorite 5

I’ve been busy traveling home to see my family, so I haven’t kept up with the blogosphere well this week. Just one link today!

Do the Endings of Books/Series Affect Your Overall Opinion? @ The Book Addict’s Guide

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Book Review: Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Book Review: Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Prisoner of Night and Fog

 by Anne Blankman

Prisoner of Night and Fog

 Expected Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Length: 416 pages
Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Obtained Via: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is no way influenced my final opinion of the book.
Format Read In: E-ARC
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the story morning glory

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.

And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

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Historical novels tend to be hit-or-miss with me. The ones I enjoyed I tend to really love, but it often takes me too long to get into a novel full of historical details. I can happily say Prisoner of Night and Fog is one of the best historical books I’ve ever read. The glimpse into WWII pre-Nazi Germany was frightening and compelling.

First, let me say how much I love the time Blankman decided to set Prisoner of Night and Fog. It takes place in a Germany in which Hitler is rapidly gaining political power, but not quite there yet. His victory seems all but decided, but at this point, there’s still a lingering of a question mark, a few other groups of people who could take power if luck fell for them the right way. The reader really gets to follow Hitler through Gretchen’s eyes. It must be difficult to write a figure as historical and as hated as Hitler in a realistic way, but Blankman accomplishes it beautifully. It’s easy to see how Gretchen can be so charmed by Hitler himself, this man who has doted on her family for years and has provided constant support, until Gretchen slowly unravels the truth surrounding her father’s death.

 The addition of Gretchen’s brother was brilliant. Her brother is a textbook case of a psychopath(which, by the way, I feel the need to warn that this leads to some unpleasant things in the book). As Gretchen becomes afraid of Hitler, she begins to wonder if he is also a psychopath. But Gretchen’s brother and Hitler are not the same, and I loved the contrast Blankman set up. Yes, the Hitler Gretchen knows portrays many of the same signs as her brother. But there’s more subtlety in his character–he may not care, but he still feels loneliness, craves companionship, etc. Throughout Prisoner of Night and Fog, Gretchen continues to learn more about the man she thought she knew.

One of my favorite aspects of Prisoner of Night and Fog was the relationship between Gretchen and Daniel. Yes, at a point in the book it does become romantic, but even before that, I just love how they challenged each other to expand their perception of the world and country and what was truly going on. For most of the book, Daniel is the one giving Gretchen information, since he knows more due to his job as a reporter, but Gretchen definitely comes to be able to fend for herself. She does some stupid things and some fearless things, but her motive always tug at my heart–to figure out exactly how her dad died. Was he truly the Nazi martyr as she’s always been told? And the big push that Gretchen needs for that is to be introduced to Daniel.

The final thing that impressed me so much about Prisoner of Night and Fog was the level of historical detail. While Prisoner of Night and Fog is fiction, Blankman clearly worked within the parameters of history as closely as possible. Her author’s note at the end specified what was fact and what she added, and the attention to detail can be seen all the way through the novel. It never felt overwhelming, but it was clearly there. It felt like a story in Germany–the setting was so detailed and vivid. I’m such a character-driven reader that setting rarely matters too much to me, but this was just so impressive I could help but to notice.

It’s strange–when I think back on it, you would think Prisoner of Night and Fog would be a slow, character-driven story. While it’s definitely character driven, it never felt slow, even though the most important scenes were often the quiet ones–when Gretchen was talking to someone or simply observing. Despite this, though, I felt like I couldn’t put the book down. I needed to know what happened next.

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I literally have nothing but praise to say for this debut historical novel. The attention to detail, the way the characters interact, and the story were so compelling I could not put this book down, even though it wasn’t an action-packed story. It completely captivated me and it is without a doubt one of my favorite historical novels I’ve ever read. 5/5 cupcakes.

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On Full Fathom Five and Supporting Authors

On Full Fathom Five and Supporting Authors

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I’m not sure what compelled me to do it, but after seeing Dorothy Must Die jump onto the bestseller’s list, I found myself perusing twitter to see what people were saying about the book in relation to it coming from Full Fathom Five, James Frey’s packaging company.I blame the insomnia I had that kept me awake from 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM this morning. I’m not going to get into explaining book packaging and Full Fathom Five because others have done that better, but for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, here are some helpful links and posts others have created:

For the most part, people seem to agree on a few things when it comes to book packagers:

  • Book packaging, as an idea, is not ethically wrong(though plenty of people don’t like the idea behind book packaging and lose enthusiasm for those books, I have yet to see anyone who thinks it’s just an ethically wrong business practice). I find the concept of book packaging fascinating and hope to explore it more in a future post.
  • However, James Frey’s book packaging company is ethically wrong because of the terrible contracts that authors have to sign and their lousy earning( A little about the contract).
  • This leads to some people boycotting books coming from James Frey’s packaging company and the decision to not buy or  to read those books.

Now, personally, I’ve decided not to buy Full Fathom Five books. I hardly ever use the word “boycott”, but technically that’s what it is. If I’m going to give a book any sort of publicity or pay for a book, I’d rather do it with books that are NOT Full Fathom Five books. I understand why other people might not boycott, though. I don’t boycott every company I disagree with. For one, I don’t have the time to find every. single. company. that treats their employees unfairly, that use unfair labor practices, that donates to organizations I disagree with. If a company like that is brought to my attention, I’ll often choose an alternative if it’s available, but I don’t go around boycotting everything I could.

The reason I bring this up is because I totally understand why someone might not boycott Full Fathom Five. What you do with your free time and your money is really none of my business(provided it’s legal). I mean, I can do everything I can to bring unfair practices to other people’s attention and encourage them to seek alternatives, but in the end, it’s up to you and that’s completely fine. I’m not really into judging what other people want to do with their time and money. I don’t really like many of Wal-Mart’s policies but I still sometimes shop there if it’s convenient.

I wanted to talk about this though because when I was scrolling twitter on this topic, I kept seeing a theme pop up(it also pops up in some of the comments of the posts above) that goes something like this:

I don’t like Full Fathom Five’s policies, but I don’t think it’s fair to boycott because then you’re not supporting the author either.

Something about this argument just doesn’t sit right with me, and here’s why:

1. I already don’t support every author anyway. No one does.

As a group, I support authors . I want to BE an author someday, and I think authors are amazing! I know how powerful stories and books can be, and I am constantly in awe at how creative certain authors are. I support them.

But individually? I don’t support every author, at least not when we’re equating “supporting” with “reading or buying”. Because I will never buy every book in the world or read every book, not even every book that appeals to me. I have to be selective with what I read/buy because I am mortal and not a billionaire.

So because I have finite money and time, I have to pick which authors to support. In that case, I’d rather not buy/read books packaged by Full Fathom Five.

2. Would I really be supporting the author by buying the book?

To me, this argument is a little like saying “I dislike when companies don’t sell fair trade chocolate, but at least I’m helping them keep some kind of job, even if it’s not the fairest”. Buying Full Fathom Five books doesn’t really support the author as much as it tells James Frey that his terrible contracts and money-making ideas are working.

3. Books, in this situation, are not just books.

In general, I don’t really have a hard time separating an author’s personal life from a work of art. However, the climate surrounding a work of art is a different matter. Enjoying art is one thing, but I don’t want to do it at the exploitation of the creator, which is what I believe Full Fathom Five does.

In the End:

I think choosing whether to boycott something or not is a personal decision, so I definitely get it. Like I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of things I don’t boycott even when I disagree. I still shop at Wal-Mart sometimes. I still sometimes buy from companies who have terrible business practices. I’ve read Orson Scott Card’s books(well, just Ender’s Game).  You can’t boycott everything, and I totally get why someone might decide to not boycott Full Fathom Five books. It’s really up to you, but I did want to offer some thoughts on the idea that by boycotting in this particular case, you’re not supporting the actual author. And clearly, several of Full Fathom Five’s books, like I Am Number Four and Dorothy Must Die, are doing well. It’s not so much for me that I think my lack of reading these books is any sort of indicator to the company, but about how I personally feel and how much I want to support authors and the industry.

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Book Review: Great by Sara Benincasa

Book Review: Great by Sara Benincasa

Great

by Sara Benincasa

Great

Expected Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Length: 272 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen

Obtained Via: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review via Edelweiss from the publisher. I was not compensated for this review, and this is no way affects my opinion of the book.
Format Read In: E-ARC
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the story morning glory

 

In Sara Benincasa’s contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby, a teenage girl becomes entangled in the drama of a Hamptons social circle, only to be implicated in a tragedy that shakes the summer community.

Everyone loves a good scandal.

Naomi Rye usually dreads spending the summer with her socialite mother in East Hampton. This year is no different. She sticks out like a sore thumb among the teenagers who have been summering (a verb only the very rich use) together for years. But Naomi finds herself captivated by her mysterious next-door neighbor, Jacinta. Jacinta has her own reason for drawing close to Naomi-to meet the beautiful and untouchable Delilah Fairweather. But Jacinta’s carefully constructed world is hiding something huge, a secret that could undo everything. And Naomi must decide how far she is willing to be pulled into this web of lies and deception before she is unable to escape.

Based on a beloved classic and steeped in Sara Benincasa’s darkly comic voice, Great has all the drama, glitz, and romance with a terrific modern (and scandalous) twist to enthrall readers.

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I feel I should start this review by saying that Great absolutely worked for me, and I don’t expect it to work for many readers. Why? Well, as a Great Gatsby retelling, the characterization stays pretty close to the original. And if you don’t know what that means, basically 95% of the characters in Great are people you would want to punch in the face. If you like sympathetic or likable characters, Great is not the book for you. If you’re interested in a modern retelling with a stunning atmosphere, and a sense that something is going to go wrong any moment, well then, you might want to pick this book up.

As a retelling, Great stays pretty close to the original in terms of basic plot. I knew something awful was going to happen, but the entire time I was holding my breath, hoping I was wrong and that maybe Great could have a happier ending than it’s source material. Naomi provides an outsider perspective to the Hamtpon socialites she finds herself hanging with that summer. She meets Jacinta at the start and becomes friends. Jacinta is. . . Jay Gatsby, which made the gender flips quite interesting. Daisy becomes Delilah, and Naomi is the person they need to help them reconnect, which she does without even knowing.

Throughout the entire time of Great, you really get that Naomi is an outsider in this world that the other inhibit all the time, and you wonder what Jacinta’s hiding. Even knowing the original source material(though reading this reminded me I really need to brush up on my Gatsby knowledge), I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, wondering what it would be this time. It becomes evident early on that Teddy, Delilah’s boyfriend, isn’t going to let Jacinta off the hook so easily. He plays around with the truth until everyone suffers for it.

Much like the original story, there’s a whole discussion surrounding class, social privilege, and in this incarnation, gender and sexuality issues waiting to be explored. If I had a complaint with Great, it might be that the book didn’t dive into these issues nearly enough. I would have liked to see more consideration of the changes Benincasa made to the characters.

“We’re all snobs, honey,” She said. “I just say it’s how I was raised.”
“It’s not how I was raised,” I said.
“Sure,” Olivia said. “You’re here, at this fabulous party, with all these fabulous people, all of us looking fabulous in white, drinking the same wine and eating the same food, listening to the same hired band in the same backyard of the same mansion–and you’re different?” She laughed a nasty little laugh. “Sure you are.”

(Quote taken from Advanced Reader’s Copy and should be checked against final publication). The questions raised in this quote–Is Naomi a much a snob as the rest of them are? could have been explored more in the book, but I think, ultimately, in many ways it was. At the end of the book, we see everyone deal with a problem in different ways, and it’s clear Naomi’s reaction is the one most of us would have. The other characters in the book, used to skirting around rules and playing their privilege cards in their favor, have a different idea of how to deal with it.

And then there’s Jacinta, who is just endlessly fascinating. She builds a certain life, and all around her everyone tries to tear it down, and even though this is a retelling, I was on the edge of my seat wondering how she would react in the end. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say it was fitting considering her character–and not just as the Gatsby character, but the characteristics Benincasa gave her.

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All in all, Great was a fitting modern retelling set in the Hamptons. Naomi’s outsider perspective was done really well–the entire time, she perches on a ledge being being an outsider and getting swept up in this world. But Jacinta as the Gatsby character was completely fascinating, and every time she was on the page I wondered what she was going to do next. Considering the changes Benincasa made, I did think Great missed an opportunity to explore some of that social commentary more, but it’s definitely there if you want to dig below the surface. 4/5 cupcakes.

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