Review: Leaving Paradise-Simone Elkeles

2/5 Stars

Leaving Paradise (Leaving Paradise, #1)-Simone Elkeles

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I want to scream at him for leaving me. I want to run up to him and forget being sane. Let us live in the streets together. As long as we’re a team, nothing can bring us lower than we were apart.

Plot: Maggie and Caleb use to be friends, but that was before he drunkenly smashed into her with his car and left her for dead. After her hit and run, Maggie suffered through over a year of surgeries that left her with a permanent limp and hideous red scars. Maggie’s life will never be what it was before the accident, she’s a freak and a cripple to her peers and she’ll never be able to wear shorts or a dress again. Caleb’s poor decision landed him in jail. He’ll never get the last year of his life back and all because of an accident. He knows he shouldn’t blame Maggie for his lost year but he does. When Caleb and Maggie see each other again, fury escalates into tears and promises of eternal hatred. Maggie will never forgive him for what he’s done and he can’t help but give into the urge to verbally hurt Maggie because of his stint in jail. Caleb is welcomed back into their high school with open arms by the popular crowd that Maggie use to be part of and now Maggie is just someone to laugh at. Maggie feels incredibly alone and she wants her old life back more than ever. She resents Caleb for his easy return to his past, a past that she can’t get back. When Maggie gets a job helping old Mrs. Reynolds in order to get money for a trip to Spain, she is surprised to come face to face with Caleb, who is hired by Mrs. Reynolds to work off his community service. At first Maggie and Caleb ignore each other but after getting trapped in the attic, things start to change. Maggie doesn’t know why she’s drawn to Caleb after all he’s done and Caleb, even though he’s got his beautiful ex to hook up with, can’t stop thinking about Maggie. This is a story of forgiveness, of starting over, and giving in to love.

PROS:

  • Maggie is a strong character, although she doesn’t really seem like one at first. In the beginning she doesn’t try as hard as she should, she lets her anger over the accident consume her and many people would think that this is just something she needs to get over and move on with her life. It’s Maggie’s anger that makes her powerful. When she’s mad she let’s out her most truthful, heartfelt, and deeply desperate thoughts about her self-image, her insecurities, and her unhappiness with the hand she’d been dealt after the accident. She deserves to be angry and to yell, to not forgive. In seconds her entire future was altered by someone else’s idiotic choice. It’s completely unfair and she should scream about it. She can’t play tennis anymore, she can’t even wear girl clothes. It’s tragic when she goes dress shopping and can’t wear cute cocktail dresses because of her scars. While Maggie does forgive too quickly, it is through her anger that she learns to love and gains the ability to make the most of her life, to try harder, and to not give up on her dreams despite her disability.
  • Mrs. Reynolds is a brutally honest, funny, kind woman with a lovely past. She’s not afraid to insert her opinion and force people to face their problems.

CONS:

  • There was no build up towards their love, at least on the part of Caleb. Maggie had a childhood crush on Caleb that only simmered because of her conflicted emotions over the fact that he left her to die after the hit and run. It makes sense that Maggie, once she started being okay with herself would let Caleb back into her heart because it was an accident and her love helps her forgive him. Caleb is racked with guilt over Maggie’s torment but he says harsh, hurtful things to her that earn him a spot as the biggest jerk in the book and suddenly he’s head over heels for her? It makes zero sense. There should have been more interactions, more time, and more signs of Caleb’s attraction. It was lacking in the foundational gradual heightened sexual attraction and spiritual connection that blossoms into love.
  • The insults to Maggie were beyond mean, they were scathing, heartbreaking taunts that were so painful that I cringed, each and every time shocked at the cruelty.
  • The change in Maggie’s peers was startlingly quick. One moment they’re concerned, pitying her for her broken body and the next they have their claws out ready to attack. Because Caleb is out of jail her injuries are forgotten and she’s belittled for playing the victim when she was victimized and poor Caleb’s life was ruined because Maggie was being selfish? WHAT?! This was all sorts of messed up and isolating,making nearly every character unlikable.
  • Caleb is an ass. Besides some fleeting compassion for Maggie, he spent most of the book trying to forget she exists, hooking up with his ex on the side who is now dating his best friend when he knows Maggie can see him from her window. He completely disregards other people’s pain and thinks (for the most part) only about himself and if he does think about the wellness of other people it’s only to benefit himself. He’s absolutely selfish and definitely not the heroic, sexy male protagonist that he is played up to be.
  • It’s unrealistic and unimaginable that Maggie would forgive Caleb so quickly. Her life was destroyed by his stupid decision to get wasted and drive and she forgets that almost instantly because they’re both suffering?!
  • Leah has got to be the most pathetic, sorry excuse for a best friend ever.
  • The ending was predictable.

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Keep reading,

-BB

Review: Perfect Chemistry-Simone Elkeles

4.5/5 Stars

Perfect Chemistry (Perfect Chemistry, #1)-Simone Elkeles

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“I don’t know why or when I started falling for you, Alex. But I did. Ever since I almost ran over your motorcycle that first day of school I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what it would be like if you and I got together. And that kiss…God, I swear I never experienced anything like that in my life. It did mean something. If the solar system didn’t tilt then, it never will.”

It always baffles me when-after I’ve just finished a book and my head is swimming with all sorts of feels-I go on Goodreads to put in my rating and am faced with the complete opposite reaction by the masses. This has only happened a handful of times but it really pains me when something I love so much is underappreciated. In several reviews Perfect Chemistry is slammed by readers for a variety of reasons. Those of you who have read my 15 Day Book Blogger Challenge entires know that I walk into books without reading the back covers. I never know what I’m getting into and every read is a surprise. It’s kind of a rush and always leaves me eager for discovery. You also know that I pick books based on whether or not their covers appeal to me. Call me shallow, it’s just what I do. The cover suggests a couple who obviously care for one another, not in a predatory or overly lustful way. I was drawn in and wanted to know more about their unique love. Therefore, I didn’t go into this book with any expectations of morals or any inkling that it would be about gang violence or even that it was a play on Romeo and Juliet. Hell, I didn’t know that until I read the synopsis afterwords on Goodreads. I went in knowing nothing and was absolutely swept up into this seemingly clichéd love story of the good girl and the bad boy. Perfect Chemistry is so much more than a love story, it’s about breaking free from stereotypes and preconceived expectations, about dealing with circumstances that are thrust upon you and having to make horrible, heartbreakingly difficult decisions but being better for your scars. It’s about life, and what one is willing to sacrifice for true happiness. It’s raw, it’s edgy, it’s beautifully broken, and surprisingly deep for a YA novel. I think there’s something so inherently real about Perfect Chemistry that nearly anyone can identify with elements of the book. Check it out, maybe you’ll find something you didn’t even know you were looking for in the simply written, brutally honest pages of Brittany and Alex’s fight for love about circumstance.

*** If swearing or somewhat graphically sexual reads are offensive to you, this is NOT the book for you.

Plot: Brittany Ellis is a teen beauty queen; she’s co-captain of the cheerleading squad, obscenely rich, gets good grades and has a pristine reputation. As if that weren’t enough to make her the most popular girl in school she has the perfect boyfriend, star of the school’s football team, Colin. They’re known as the golden couple and Brittany is all about maintaining her flawless image. To the outside world this is who Brittany is and who she wants every to believe her to be. Inside, Brittany is far from perfect and nothing like the girl she presents to the world. She’s compassionate, flawed, a little insecure, and just as confused by her conflicted emotions as the average high school student. Alex Fuentes is a legendary bad ass. Known for his membership in the Blood Latinos gang, most students are terrified of him and what he’s capable of. Because of this most people who aren’t associated with the BL avoid him at all costs. He’s got tattoos, scars, and gang paraphernalia that only increase his dangerous image. But like Brittany, Alex is hiding who he really is. All Alex wants is to escape the Blood Latinos. After his father was murdered in front of him when he was a young boy, he swore to himself that his brothers would never be part of gang life. Alex only “jumped in” to save his brothers from the obligations of joining the BL. All Alex wants is to be normal, to go off to college and leave his past behind but he knows it’s impossible, because no one survives leaving the BL and he couldn’t subject his family to the risks that come with being marked a traitor. The first day back to school as a Senior, Brittany nearly runs Alex over on his motorcycle. She’s never been more scared in her life than when he comes up to her BMW. Brittany and her best friend Sierra, quickly get out of the car and streamline it to the doors only to be barred entrance. Alex confronts Brittany, and Brittany replies with a sarcastic, icy comment. So far she’s survived her encounter with Alex, but when she is partnered with him in chemistry later that day and with no hopes of changing partners, her life slowly starts to spiral out of control. Alex strikes every nerve in Brittany’s body and is constantly getting her in trouble. What Brittany can’t shake is her mounting attraction to this bad boy who can seemingly see the girl that’s hiding beneath her façade. Alex is consumed by his need to be with Brittany. They come from two different backgrounds, more like two different planets, and everyone is against them but will Brittany and Alex be able to resist their Perfect Chemistry?

PROS:

  • I’ve never really read about gang culture before, especially Latino gang culture. I think for those of us who are not directly involved or live in an area where this is very present, we know they’re out there and we make assumptions, we hear rumors, we might even spread them but there’s no real insight into what it’s like. Most of what I’ve learned about gang culture is through shows like Law and Order or CSI. It’s obvious that the author did her research both into gang culture and into the Mexican gang community specifically. The slang, the mannerisms, the codes, how they mark their turf, what is expected from these young people by the elder gang members, how they’re recruited, and the dangers for both the member and their family is extremely detailed. There’s a genuine energy that consumes the reader, sucking them into the horrifying lives of these Blood Latinos, and latching on. What Perfect Chemistry really gifted me was perspective.
  • Often people look at gang members and think, they chose that life, they must be violent, deceitful, terrible people. You don’t usually see that impossible choices behind gang membership. Blood Latinos was a great name for this gang because it really brought home the fact that these gang members, while not directly related to one another are connected by blood. The blood of former members, the blood spilt, their own and others to prove themselves, and the blood spilt by those with a past connection to the gang. Because Alex’s father was in the BL’s he had to join to protect his family, because in gang world, one family member in spreads to protection for the whole family. This is not to say that Alex’s brothers wouldn’t also face recruitment but they don’t have the pressure Alex did as the eldest male. Alex gives up his hopes and dreams, his goal to escape gang affiliation and go to college, to break free from the cycle of drug deals and violence, to save his brothers from that fate.
  • Alex is cocky, forward, mouth-wateringly sexy, aggressive, loyal, honest, muscular, he has a motorcycle, a great sense of humor, is a playful pervert, and is compassionate despite his position in the Blood Latinos. While he can let his ego and bad ass façade cover up these traits underneath we know Alex isn’t a softy but he has a big heart.
  • Alex’s and Brittany’s love is dynamite. It’s a fiery explosion of heat, temptation, and blisteringly hot attraction. Their playful, taunting banter, their flirtatious, mock hate for one another, their insults sound like come ons that’s how obviously addictive their personalities are to one another. It’s spicy, it’s saucy, their love draws you in and won’t let you go. Their love isn’t about compromise but trust, letting the other person see beneath the front they put up to protect themselves from an uncertain future. The harder the fight it, the more it pulls them together, hungry for more. Be prepared to fan yourself during some of the make out scenes, their chemistry is undeniable and dangerous enough to stir up buried feelings in any girl’s heart.
  • Disability is not something you often see in YA and I’m so excited and inspired by the authors who have recently decided to tackle traumatic topics like rape, abuse, and drug addiction. Brittany’s sister Shelley is 20 years old and mentally challenged. (Minor rant here: I cannot even begin to get into how infuriating terms like mentally challenged are but baring that in mind others are far worse. Rant for another day). She’s disabled, unable to walk or communicate in full words. The way Brittany is with her sister will melt your heart.
  • Brittany is a warrior. Despite her choice to make everyone thing that she is the epitome of an air headed blonde goddess, underneath Brittany struggles to stay sane and be true to the self she lets no one else see. Brittany feels like her mother, an overbearing, OCD, anxiety driven woman, focuses all her energy on Brittany’s outer appearance, and seeming normal because her sister is not. Brittany keeps herself hidden away and gives in to stereotypes to protect her dreams for the future. To be close to her sister, to escape her parents, and the confining expectations of Hugh school. When Brittany finally realizes what she wants she fights like hell to get it and keep it, no matter what her peers think. She’s incredibly brave.

CONS:

  • Some of the Spanish slang was lost to me. The insinuations were there to give you a hint of what was going on but whether the insults were really harsh or just dirty…no clue. Major guessing game for me.
  • The other high school characters are overtly clichéd and very predictable.

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Happy reading,

-BB