Mini Reviews: Secret Lives Edition

October 17, 2013 2013, julie berry, leila sales, malinda lo, realistic fiction, sarah mccarry, sci fi or futuristic, Wendy 80

Today’s mini reviews feature characters who are hiding big secrets. These girls are protecting revelations that would completely change the way everyone around them would perceive them, and it’s interesting to see how differently each author unravels her heroine’s inner life.

Title: This Song Will Save Your Life
Author: Leila Sales
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Release Date: September 17th, 2013
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Age Group: YA
Source: ARC provided by the publisher

Unlike many of my fellow readers, I am pretty wary of books that have music as a central theme, because I don’t always connect with the way it’s integrated into the story. So the fact that I read this book in about an hour and a half should tell you how much I liked this one!

Written in humorous, casually offbeat way, This Song Will Save Your Life got under my skin before I even knew what was happening. Although the tone is very different, this book reminded me a lot of White Lines (minus the drugs!) with Elise’s secret night life, where she starts DJing at a local club. She’s a natural at reading the mood of a crowd, and it’s in this unlikely place that she finds escape from her loneliness as well as the real, no-shit bullying she endures daily at her school. I felt so much for Elise’s quiet desperation, as well as her tentative happiness in finding new friends. I even understood her relationship with Char, the carelessly attractive DJ who shows her the ropes but has a complicated relationship with girls. Sometimes people come into your life for a reason, and I think Char is a hugely important part of Elise coming to see herself in a new way.

Things aren’t always the way they seem in the dark, both in terms of allure and power, as well as in shyness and fear. I love that the book shows how we often only know what someone is willing to show us, and it’s that theme, as well as the humor and truthful, emotional beats of this story, that makes this my favorite contemporary book of the year thus far.

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Title: All the Truth That’s In Me
Author: Julie Berry
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Release Date: September 26th, 2013
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Age Group: YA
Source: ARC provided by the publisher

There are about 100 reasons why this book wouldn’t normally work for me. The story is related in fragments, often consisting of no more than half a page. The timeline is fluid, shifting between past and present. It’s told in flipping SECOND PERSON NARRATIVE. But it works, it works beautifully. 

Judith disappeared 4 years ago along with her best friend, who turned up dead. Now Judith has returned, mutilated and mute, with secrets she cannot share even with Lucas, the boy she’s loved her whole life.

Between Judith’s suppressed feelings, the willful cruelty of her mother and the other Puritan townfolk, and the stern, self-righteous accusations, All the Truth That’s in Me has the clawing desperation and madness of The Crucible, but with a thoroughly original framework and storytelling style of its own. If the idea of second person narrative frightens you off, don’t let it. I swear to you I am the last person who would normally ever enjoy a story-telling technique like this, but because of the strength of the writing and characterizations, it’s something you can easily adjust to, and in fact, cannot imagine being told any other way. I loved it, and I hope the author intends to write more fiction for young adults.

Strongly recommended for mature YA readers. 


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Title: All Our Pretty Songs
Author: Sarah McCarry
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Release Date: July 30th, 2013
Publisher: St. Martins Griffin
Age Group: YA
Source: ARC provided by the publisher

I enjoyed the first third of this book so much. The writing is gorgeous and compelling, and the odd relationship between the two girls, as well as their individual relationships with Jack, was intriguing to say the least. (I was also fascinated by how the girls’ relationship paralleled their mothers’.) I’m not sure where this book lost me, but it’s probably at the point when story became a more driving factor and supernatural elements are more heavily featured, and the slightness of the plot became more obvious.

Despite the stylishness of the prose, there just wasn’t enough substance here for me. With such lovely writing, I’d definitely try out another one of this author’s books in the future (outside of this series), but it’s with the hope that there will be quite a bit more structure.


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15986094Title:  Inheritance (Adaptation #2)
Author: Malinda Lo
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Little Brown BFYR
Age Group: YA
Source: finished copy provided by the publisher

Fair warning: this review contains spoilers for the first book. Inheritance picks up shortly after the events of Adaptation, in which Reese and David were genetically altered with alien DNA. Now they’re caught up in struggle between the US government, the aliens, and a mysterious agency with its own agenda, even as the two of them have to adjust to their new realities.

While the plot of both books is entertaining, I wouldn’t necessarily call them gripping or edge-of-your-seat exciting. I think the series’ greatest strength is in its unusual heroine Reese, who isn’t a typical butt-kicking protagonist; she’s actually quite hesitant in many ways, and has to find her footing after she’s thrust into extraordinary circumstances. And just as she starts to get to know David, she realizes she’s also attracted to Amber, a beautiful girl who isn’t telling her everything she knows.

I appreciated the books’ exploration of both sexuality and feeling, as well as the author’s bold choices in resolving this unusual love triangle. I’d recommend this series based on how thoughtfully the author managed that angle alone; it’ll probably get some flack from those who are more traditionally minded, but the fact is, people do make these kinds of life choices. And it’s interesting to me that a YA book has the guts to address that.


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80 Responses to “Mini Reviews: Secret Lives Edition”

  1. readingdate

    I liked This Song so much too! Glad to see your 4.5 review :) I recently bought All the Truth and now I’m even more excited to read it.

  2. Traci @ The Reading Geek

    Great reviews! I loved This Song Saved My Life! It was definitely one of my favorite books of the year. I didn’t expect to love it so much when I first picked it up, but then I just couldn’t put it down. All the Truth That’s In Me is on my shelf and I’m definitely moving it up in my pile now. It sounds great! I haven’t heard much about All Our Pretty Songs but it sounds interesting. I also haven’t read Adaptation yet but I love it on my to read list.

  3. kelpeterson

    I saw the author at a recent Fierce Reads event and thought “This Song Will Save Your Life” sounded pretty interesting. I was a little wary, not having read much contemporary ya of late, but your review has convinced me. To the library!

  4. starryeyedjen

    Okay, I am now CONVINCED that I must make time for This Song and All the Truth. Even if I’m not the biggest fan of second person. :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Yesssss! What are you even doing here? Get right on that, Miss Jen! They are fantastic and I know you won’t be sorry you read them.

  5. Bonnie R

    I’m so glad you enjoyed This Song Will Save Your Life. It’s definitely one of my favorite contemporary books of the year too. (But How to Love beat it out for the #1 spot.)
    The summary of All the Truth That’s In Me is shocking.. permanently mutilated? Gosh. But 4.5 stars from you has me intrigued. :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Yay! I remember seeing your positive rating and thinking that boded well for me, since I know you’re picky about contemporary YA, too. I need to read How to Love–I put it off since Tonya reviewed it for the blog, but everyone else’s raves makes me determined to read it before the end of the year. You just never know if it’ll make that Best of 2013 list. ;)

      And I would LOVE to hear what you think of TRUTH. I should not have loved it, but I did.

  6. Evie Seo

    I so need to read all these. ALL OF THEM! I am so excited for This Song Will Save Your Life, I can’t even.. aaah! I am just like you, Wendy, I’m always wary of music-themed books, even tho I’ve only had amazing experiences so far.
    And oh boy, Malinda Lo’s books are just so fun. I love them. I need to catch up on her latest one for sure! Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh my gosh, Evie, YES! You would love TSWSYL for sure, and I think you’ll appreciate how music is integrated into this book.

      And I love that you are such a fellow scifi fan. :) Thanks for stopping by, lovely.

  7. Barbara E.

    None of these books were even on my radar, but I’m glad I read the reviews because several of them have really caught my interest and I’ll be checking them out, especially Adaptation and Inheritance.

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m glad we brought these to your attention, Barbara! I hope you enjoy them. I think the Adaptation series is really interesting; the scifi part of the plot is pretty straightforward, but I liked the nuances in Reese’s relationships. Another plus is that I think the series is done, so you won’t have to wait!

  8. Ashley @ Book Labyrinth

    I absolutely loved ‘This Song…’! I’m not a huge music fan, but I find I really like music themed books when I can feel the passion that the author (or at the very least the character) has for music, and that was definitely the case here. I really liked how layered the characters were, and just most everything about it. =)

    • Wendy Darling

      Yay! Yes, you can feel the characters’ (and author’s, presumably) passion for music in TSWSYL, and I really liked just about all the characters, too. I hate it when I finish reading a book and I can’t remember it a few days later, but Elise and her parents and her friends are all ones I’ll remember for a long time.

  9. Sarah Johnson

    Great reviews, Wendy! This Song Will Save Your Life and All The Truth That’s In Me sound so good and I love seeing positive on those two because I’m so anxious to get my hands on a copy of them.

    Second narrative makes me iffy, but I recently read a book with second narrative and instead of it annoying me I enjoyed. Maybe second narrative is warming up to me.:)

    • Wendy Darling

      Thanks Sarah! I know you’ll love TSWSYL, and I hope TRUTH isn’t too weird for you, hah. And you just never know–there are certain things I hate, but in the hands of a gifted author, anything is possible!

  10. Bookworm1858

    I’ve read the first two and definitely have to agree about TSWSYL-it was so so good and I wasn’t expecting quite that level since I was more neutral on her first two books. I tend to prefer dance to music books (unless the MC plays a string instrument or the piano) but this is probably one of my favorites of the category ever.

    • Wendy Darling

      This Song was an incredible surprise, wasn’t it? I’ve read a number of great contemporary books this year, including SEX & VIOLENCE by Carrie Mesrobian, but this one just really spoke to me. I’m glad you enjoyed it, too.

  11. Jen Ryland/YA Romantics

    I completely agree with you (which is often the case) that reading about music and art themes in books never really grabs me as much as experiencing the real thing. But since TSWSYL was also about self-discovery, secrets, finding a passion, etc., I absolutely loved it.
    I’m very wary of second person, but you have convinced me to read ATTTIM.
    Love these mini-reviews, too :)

    • Wendy Darling

      It IS scary how often we agree, Jen! I love that.

      It’s always funny to me when I see people raving over the use of certain themes in books, like music or dance or theater–like you, I enjoy the real thing a lot, and it’s rare that books center around them in a way that I enjoy. But never say never! And yes, it definitely passes the test that I like to put on “message” books, too–that is, if that soapbox theme was removed, is it still a good book? The answer for this, for the music, is definitely yes. :)

      And yay–I am so glad you’re going to give TRUTH a chance!

  12. Krazzyme(Young Readers)

    Oh now I’m interested in ‘this song… ‘ it sounds pretty great and you gave it a 4.5 . Not too sure about Truth … I I or you didn’t think second person was daunting but the blurb itself doesn’t call to me that much . Great reviews Wendy ;)

  13. Tanja - Tanychy

    I have heard of all but the last one. I love the sound of All the Truth that’s in Me and I’m going to read that one for sure. I wasn’t sure about This Song Will Save Your Life but now it’ll be my must read too! Amazing reviews Wendy :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Awesome, I’m glad you’re going to give TRUTH a shot, Tanja! It’s a weird book, but it deserves an audience. And I cannot imagine that anyone would dislike SONG, it’s that good!

  14. Rachel @ Unforgettable Books

    So many lovely reviews on one page. I love books centering on secrets and the struggles they cause. The lesson of only seeing what someone chooses to show is a powerful one. Like the sounds of a bisexual love triangle and a unsure tough protagonist. I often dislike second person too, I definitely want to read the work that uses it well.

    • Wendy Darling

      Aw, thanks Rachel. Yeah, I love SEKRITS, too–aren’t we all hiding them? And in books they get to pay off in a big way, hah.

      And yeah, the bisexual triangle is fascinating. I really appreciate the author’s portraying that in YA, and I appreciate the publisher for taking the chance on an unusual protagonist.

  15. Sunny Duvall

    Absolutely love these reviews! I’ve heard amazing things about #1 and I’m even more impressed and interested that you had read it so quickly. I don’t think I’d be able to handle #2 because of the second person narrative, but you have me intrigued because you said it was pulled off oh-so well. I haven’t heard of others, but now my TBR list has expanded. :)

    • Wendy Darling

      I totally breezed through THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE, Sunny–I ate my sandwich on the beach and then just tore right through that book in one sitting, I enjoyed it so much. :) Maybe check out TRUTH sometime at the library, eh?

  16. Savannah Bookswithbite

    Awesome reviews! Chayse loved This Song will change your life! I need to get on the ball and read it as well. The other stories sound great too. Too many books and not enough time to read them all.

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh Savy, you will love TSWSYL, too! It’s one of those books that just puts you in a good mood. Even though it does deal with some more serious stuff, the tone of the book is very readable and funny. I hear you on the too many books, too little time thing, though.

  17. Melanie

    This Song Will Save Your Life: OMG I neeed this book. I’m actually really pissed because I ordered this book online a while ago and it was shipped out with a bunch of books which I recieved on Monday yet I still have not gotten this one. Ugh. Oh wells, sometimes waiting for books that I can’t wait for is exciting…sometimes

    All The Truth That’s In Me: Yes! I agree, this could have been so horrid but in the end, everything that could had been terrible turned out to be the best parts of it.

    All Our Pretty Songs: Pretty title, pretty cover, such a shame it wasn’t a ‘pretty story’.

    Brilliant reviews, Wendy! <33

    • Wendy Darling

      MEL, you totally need This Song Will Save Your Life! I hope your copy arrives soon, waiting for book packages is the worst.

      And yay, I’m so glad you loved TRUTH as well. If you told me the basic bare bones about this story beforehand (structure and style-wise, I mean), I would have been very wary, but I’m happy I was ignorant when I requested it and when I started it, because I would have missed out on something really special.

  18. Jeann @ Happy Indulgence

    Fantastic reviews, I’ve only read good things about This Song Will Save Your Life. I haven’t heard about The Crucible in a while, I had to read it during high school and you are right – All the Truth definitely does remind me of that book! Some great reviews here, thanks for sharing.

    Jeann @ Happy Indulgence

    • Wendy Darling

      I actually cannot imagine anyone giving TSWSYL a negative review. I mean, I’m sure it’s probably happened, but I still think it’d be hard to find people who dislike it. It’s just so well-written, even though the story is pretty straightforward.

      I LOVE The Crucible, so I don’t make that comparison lightly. I’m glad you thought it was appropriate!

  19. Lexxie Lin

    Oh, I just had to add This Song Will Save Your Life to my TBR, it sounds like a fragile but beautiful story, and I want to find out more about this heroine who has trouble in school but not at the disco.

    The Truth in Me sounds really sad, so if I read that, I will have to be in a strong mood :)

    Great reviews as always, Wendy. I hope you’ll have a fantastic Friday and a wonderful weekend.

    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    • Wendy Darling

      YES. Yes, please read TSWSYL–it’s a must for anyone who enjoys contemporary YA. I love how you describe Elise as a girl who has trouble in school but not at the disco too, hee hee.

      TRUTH isn’t really that sad–there’s a lot of emotion in it that’s wild and desperate, but it’s not somber or disheartening, really. You just kind of have to read it to find out what I mean, it’s hard to describe.

      Hope you have the loveliest of weekends, too, Lexxie!

  20. Andrea @The Bookish Babes

    So many reviews! I’ve had my eye on TSWSYL, and am even more anxious now. I didn’t realize Inheritance was out. I’m especially curious about how Amber and Reese’s relationship develops. Thanks for the reviews, Wendy!

    • Wendy Darling

      Hah, well–I’ve fallen behind with reviews and figured I’d better start getting my butt in gear. I hope you like Inheritance, Andrea–I confess I was mostly interested in seeing how the Amber/Reese relationship worked out, hah. I gotta say, I think there was more of a spark there than there was with Reese and David. :P

  21. Joyous Reads

    These books are on my radar and I’m glad that at least two of these are rightfully must-reads. Great reviews as always, Miss Wendy. :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh yes, the first two are definitely must-reads, Joy–I fervently hope you love them as much as I did! TRUTH is weird, but I think you might enjoy it.

  22. Pili

    Great review! I absolutely adored This Book Will Save Your Life, and I’m not usually a big fan of contemporaries, but wow, this book is brilliant!

    I still need to read Inheritance and All The Truth That’s In Me so I’m glad to hear they got good reviews!

    • Wendy Darling

      Contemporaries are hit or miss for me too, but TSWSYL (I have to sound it out every time I use the acronym, hah) really surprised me with the depth beneath its humor. I love contemporaries that are just like that–interesting characters, with nothing hugely dramatic that happens, and yet are so compelling to rad.

      I hope you enjoy the other two books when you get to them, too!

  23. Michelle

    Lovely reviews Wendy! I’m hearing more and more about All the Truth That’s In Me, so I think it definitely needs to go on my TBR list. Also, 2nd person does kinda scare me, but this book is working for so many people I will definitely give it a go!

    • Wendy Darling

      TRUTH is a crazy book, Michelle, and I didn’t expect to like it but it turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read this year. I really hope you’ll give it a chance! I like that not everything goes the way you expect it to, in terms of both the story and the romance.

  24. Maji Bookshelf

    My sister read This Song Will Save Your Life and really enjoyed it! I haven’t read a good book that’s centered around music so now I want to read it even more. I also have All The Truth That’s in Me in my TBR and I’m DYING to read it!

    Great mini reviews,
    – Juhina @ Maji Bookshelf

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m glad your sister enjoyed it! I hear there’s a playlist that the author did for the book, too; I didn’t get the disc from Macmillan, but I’m curious now what was on it.

      DO give TRUTH a chance. It’s should not be good, but it is.

  25. Leanna (Daisy Chain Book Reviews)

    ^ Deleted comment from Elle was me – logged into another email account.

    Great reviews, Wendy! I read the first chapter of All Our Pretty Songs a couple weeks back and fell in love with the writing. I found it so beautiful! So, I’m sad to hear that the story didn’t live up to the writing. I have my own copy of the book now, so it’ll be interesting to see how our thoughts compare when I get to reading it.

    I’m really looking forward to reading This Song Will Save Your Life – I’ve heard a lot of good things about that one.

    • Wendy Darling

      I was so sure I was going to love All Our Pretty Songs as well–I kept thinking all the other ratings must have been delusional, but it ended up feeling very slight, imo. But I’m looking forward to seeing what you think, Leanna, you just never know–maybe it’ll end up resonating mroe with you!

      DEFINITELY read TSWSYL. Such a great book.

    • Wendy Darling

      Believe me, I’m sad about that, too. :( I kind of wish the story had gone through a couple more drafts and been further developed before we saw it. Maybe you’ll enjoy it more than I did, though.

  26. Candace

    This Song Will Save Your Life is one I recently got and am DYING to read. Your review has me SO excited! All the Truth in Me was a super powerful read for me, though I wasn’t in love with how it was delivered. Strangely I got use to it or something because it didn’t impact how much I enjoyed it too much.
    All Our Pretty Songs sounds good, so it’s too bad it didn’t deliver a bit more. I haven’t read Adaptation, so I’m skipping that review. All wonderful reviews though!

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh my gosh, Candace, you will love THIS SONG! It’s so, so good.

      I got used to the writing style in TRUTH, too, and I didn’t expect to. I’d love to see her write another YA book, since I think she’s mostly written adult books until now.

  27. Mary @ BookSwarm

    I absolutely adored This Song Will Save Your Life — and was surprised that I loved it so much. Ditto on the music thing. You just never know. I’ve got All the Truth that’s In Me on my shelf but I’m wary, despite the good reviews! I don’t know about it or the other two! Maybe…maybe.

    • Wendy Darling

      I know, who knew?! It’s an indication of how strong the characterizations were and how compelling the writing was. I should read her first book, which got great reviews from friends–I was a bit worried about that since the Ren Fair setting seemed like it might go a bit quirky for my taste, but after seeing the way she handled this, I’m much more hopeful. Love her writing style.

  28. Julie@My5monkeys

    I love your mini reviews and I read the Truth and this song and adored them more than I should. I need to read the other books :) I adore malinda and I should read the next book in the series.
    I wish I had this song will save your life in high school. I could so relate to it .

    • Wendy Darling

      More than you should? No way! I loved them both too, although in very different ways. I hope you like INHERITANCE too, Julie. I liked it, but I came to the conclusion that as a whole, the characters and the unusual relationships were the most outstanding parts of the books for me. Enjoyable reads, though.

  29. Keertana

    Wendy, I am SO GLAD you loved both Sales’ and Berry’s novels – they’re two of my faves from this year! I connected with them both on such a personal level and thought they were beautifully written. It’s a shame these latter two reads weren’t as fulfilling for you, though. Still, fantastic mini-reviews, dear!(:

  30. Mel@Thedailyprophecy

    I wasn’t planning to read This song will save your life in the beginning, but I’m starting to warm up for it. I think I’ll really like the concept of it, despite the fact that I’m not such a fan of music incorporated in books. I’m interested to see the mystery in Truth that’s me.

    • Wendy Darling

      See, I’m with you, Mel–I don’t really relate when people get excited about music in books (although I love music, and I love books, it’s not like peanut butter + chocolate for me), but I LOVED how it was done here. It does not feel forced, and it’s really nicely integrated into the story. I hope you enjoy it if you get around to it!

  31. Karen

    I’m glad you liked This Song Will Save Your Life. It really resonated with me and my high school experience.

    Interesting about the Truth That’s in Me. I have it but it’s not my kind of book so I was going to pass until your review. Thanks Wendy!

    • Wendy Darling

      I loved TSWSYL, and I totally did not expect to. I loved Elise’s secret night life, and I totally related to her feelings of being isolated and helpless. I like that Macmillan didn’t play up that part in the marketing materials, either, because that would have made it sound like a much angstier book than it is.

      I’m very curious to see if you’ll enjoy TRUTH as well. I never would have picked it up if I’d known about the second person narrative, so I’m glad I had a copy in my hands.

  32. Carina Olsen

    Awesome reviews Wendy :D Glad you mostly loved them all. <3 Oh, I really, really loved All the Truth That's In Me and This Song Will Save Your Life :) Happy you did too :) Thank you for sharing your amazing reviews. <3 I haven't read the other two books, but they sound good :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Yeah, I did like them all, but with lots of variation. ;) I’m glad you loved the first two books, too! They both really surprised me.

  33. boricuanbookworms

    This Song Will Save Your Life and All the Truth That’s In Me are both on my TBR list! I’m glad to know that you enjoyed them. I didn’t enjoy All Our Pretty Songs much, mostly because of all the descriptions. And also, I couldn’t really connect to the main character.

    Great reviews!

    -Marianne @ Boricuan Bookworms

    • Wendy Darling

      EXCELLENT! I’m happy to hear you have the first two on your TBR list, Marianne, they are well worth your time. And hah, I actually did like the writing in Pretty Songs, but the story didn’t really go anywhere–and you’re right, the main character was hard to get to know. It’s kind of crazy to me that that’s a series. o.O

  34. DaydreamerN

    I have been wanting to read all of these myself for a while. I have read some pretty mixed reviews on a lot of them though. Really great reviews!!

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh, I hope you give at least the first two a try sometime, Daydreamer, they’re among my favorites published this year. Definitely understand the middling reactions on the latter two, if that’s what you were referring to.

  35. Liviania

    Great reviews! I have several of these on my TBR. I can’t decide whether to read ALL OUR PRETTY SONGS or not – people seem so mixed on it!

    • Wendy Darling

      Thanks Liviana! Pretty Songs is hard to describe–I saw some of those same ratings you did, I’m sure, and as I read the beginning chapters I was so sure I was going to be the lone reader who loved the book, because it starts off with such compelling writing. But I ended up not loving it either–I wish I had. :(