Showing posts with label YA Realistic Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label YA Realistic Fiction. Show all posts

Friday, January 29, 2021

Book Review: You Have a Match by Emma Lord

Pages: 320
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: January 12, 2021
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "From the beloved author of Tweet Cute comes Emma Lord's You Have a Match, a hilarious and heartfelt novel of romance, sisterhood, and friendship...  When Abby signs up for a DNA service, it’s mainly to give her friend and secret love interest, Leo, a nudge. After all, she knows who she is already: Avid photographer. Injury-prone tree climber. Best friend to Leo and Connie…although ever since the B.E.I. (Big Embarrassing Incident) with Leo, things have been awkward on that front.  But she didn’t know she’s a younger sister.  When the DNA service reveals Abby has a secret sister, shimmery-haired Instagram star Savannah Tully, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same planet, never mind the same parents — especially considering Savannah, queen of green smoothies, is only a year and a half older than Abby herself.  The logical course of action? Meet up at summer camp (obviously) and figure out why Abby’s parents gave Savvy up for adoption. But there are complications: Savvy is a rigid rule-follower and total narc. Leo is the camp’s co-chef, putting Abby's growing feelings for him on blast. And her parents have a secret that threatens to unravel everything.  But part of life is showing up, leaning in, and learning to fit all your awkward pieces together. Because sometimes, the hardest things can also be the best ones."


Abby's best friend, Leo, participates in a DNA service, like Ancestry, with the hopes to find out more about his birth parents as he is adopted.  He convinces Abby to do it as well.  Abby assumes she will find out boring things like how Irish she is, etc, but what she finds out changes her life forever.  According to her DNA results, Abby has a older sister she never in a 100% (not half!) sister!  This sister is Savannah, or Savvy, who lives not far away in another Seattle suburb. Although she is only a year and a half older than Abby, she is very different. She is pretty much an Instagram star with a huge following and is the polar opposite of Abby. How could they come from the same parents? The two girls decide a course of action in order to learn more about each other; they decide to meet up at summer camp.  To complicate things further, Leo, her best friend and crush, works at this camp and after their awkward moment things haven't been as easy  as before.  Savvy and Abby have a whole summer to figure out their complicated story and there's much more in store for Abby.  Emma Lord's You Have a Match is a sweet coming of age tale that focuses on friendship, family, social media, and the beauty of figuring out all those important, yet complicated moments in a person's life. 

Both Abby and Savvy are interesting character in You Have a Match.  They are opposites, but sisters nonetheless and this made me think of The Parent Trap, especially with the summer camp setting.  I enjoyed Savvy's type A personality and rule following antics, whereas Abby isn't even sure of the rules right off the bat and is chewing gum at camp. It's a no-no!  I also really enjoyed Abby's best friend-turned-love interest, Leo. He also has an adoption story as he was adopted from the Philippines. I do wish Lord would have paid a bit more attention to Leo's story, because I think it is a worthwhile one and much needed in YA literature this day in age.  Nonetheless, his adorable romance with Abby was well done and very cute--perfect for camp and summer love.

The best part for me was the setting of summer camp in You Have a Match. Summer camp is the    quintessential location for learning more about yourself, making new friends, having a summer romances, and all that a coming-of-age summer brings. Lord's descriptions of camp and the Pacific Northwest were really great and something I most definitely enjoyed.

While I didn't love You Have a Match as much as I had hoped, it was still a cute and heartwarming YA novel that I enjoyed cuddling up with this winter.  So, are you a fan of Emma Lord?  Have you read Have a Match? Do you enjoy stories set at summer camp? Let me know in the comments below. 


Friday, October 9, 2020

Blog Tour: The Code for Love and Heartbreak

Today I am very happy to be a part of the official blog tour for The Code for Love and Heartbreak by Jillian Cantor.  You guys know I am a big time Janeite and love all things Jane Austen, so when I heard Jillian Cantor's new book is a contemporary retelling of Emma, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. I love the idea of a modern Emma with a matchmaking app! Thanks to Ink Yard Press, I am able to share with you guys an excerpt from the novel, which just came out this week!


About the Book:

Goodreads says, "In this contemporary romcom retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma by USA TODAY bestselling author Jillian Cantor, there’s nothing more complex—or unpredictable—than love.

When math genius Emma and her coding club co-president, George, are tasked with brainstorming a new project, The Code for Love is born.

George disapproves of Emma’s idea of creating a matchmaking app, accusing her of meddling in people’s lives. But all the happy new couples at school are proof that the app works. At least at first.

Emma’s code is flawless. So why is it that perfectly matched couples start breaking up, the wrong people keep falling for each other, and Emma’s own feelings defy any algorithm?"


To learn more about Jillian Cantor, you can visit her website, connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.   You can also buy the book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or IndieBound.  

Excerpt From the Novel:

 I’ve always loved numbers a whole lot more than I love people. For one thing, I can make numbers behave any way I want them to. No arguments, no questions. I write a line of code, and my computer performs a specific and very regulated task. Numbers don’t play games or hide behind some nuance I’ve missed. I write an equation, then formulate a definitive and absolutely correct answer.

And maybe most importantly, numbers never leave me. I tell this to Izzy as she’s sitting on her suitcase, trying to force it closed, having just packed the last of her closet before leaving for her freshman year at UCLA, which is exactly 2,764 miles from our house in Highbury, New Jersey. A number which seems insurmountable, and which makes me think that after this day, Izzy’s last one at home until Christmas break, we’ll be more like two strangers floating across a continent from one another than sisters.

 “Numbers,” I say to Izzy now, “are much better than people.”

 “You’re such a nerd, Em,” Izzy says, but she stops what she’s doing and squeezes my arm affectionately, before finally getting the suitcase to zip. She’s a nerd, too, but not for numbers like me—for books. Izzy is running 2,764 miles away from New Jersey to read, to major in English at UCLA. Which is ridiculous, given she could’ve done the same at Rutgers, or the College of New Jersey, or almost any one of the other sixty-two colleges in our state, any of which would’ve been within driving distance so we could’ve seen each other on weekends. Izzy says she’s going to California for the sunshine, but Dad and I both know the real reason is that her boyfriend, John, decided to go to UCLA to study film. Izzy chose John over me, and that part stings the most.

“I can’t believe you’re actually going,” I say, and not for the first time. I’ve been saying this to Izzy all summer, hoping she might change her mind. But now that her suitcase is zipped, it feels like she’s really leaving, and my eyes start to well up. I do love numbers more than people. Most people.

 Izzy and I are only seventeen months apart, and our mom died when we were both toddlers. Dad works a lot, and Izzy and I have barely been apart for more than a night in as long as I can remember, much less months.

 She stops messing with her suitcase now, walks over to where I’m sitting on her bed and puts her arm around me. I lean my head on her shoulder, and breathe in the comforting scent of her strawberry shampoo, one last time. “I’m going to miss you, too, Em,” she says. “But you’re going to have a great senior year.” She says it emphatically, her voice filled with enthusiasm that I don’t believe or even understand.

“You really could stay,” I say. “You got into two colleges in New Jersey.” This has been my argument to her all summer. I keep thinking if I say it enough she really will change her mind. But even as I say it, I know it’s probably too late for her to change anything for fall semester now, no matter how much I might want her to. And she just looks back at me with worry all over her face.

“Em, you know I can’t.”

“Can’t or won’t?” I wipe my nose with the back of my hand, pulling away from her.

She leaves me on her bed, and goes back to her suitcase. She shifts it around, props it upright and then looks back at me. “You know what you need?” she says, breathing hard from managing the weight of her entire life, crammed inside this giant suitcase. “To get out there this year. Be more social. Get some friends. Maybe even a boyfriend.”

 “A boyfriend?” I half laugh, half sniffle at the ridiculousness of it.

“If you keep busy, you won’t even notice I’m gone.” She speaks quickly, excitedly. There’s nothing Izzy likes more than a good plan, but this sounds terrible to me. “Christmas will be here before you know it—” she’s still talking “—then next year, you’ll be off to college, too.”

 Maybe that would be true for her, if I were the one leaving, and if she were staying here. If I were the older one, leaving for California first, Izzy would stay here, spend the year with John and barely even notice my absence. Which is what I guess she’s about to do at UCLA. But I’ve always needed Izzy much more than she’s needed me.

“I hate being social. And I don’t want a boyfriend,” I say. “And anyway, you know what the boys are like at our high school. No thanks.” Mostly, they’re intimidated by me and my penchant for math, and I find their intimidation so annoying that I can barely even stand to have a conversation with them, much less a date. And the few that aren’t? Well, the one that isn’t—George—is my equal and co-president of coding club. He also happens to be John’s younger brother. We’re something like friends, George and I. Or maybe not, because we don’t really hang out outside of family stuff, school or coding club, and I guess in a way we’re supposed to be rivals. One of us will for certain be valedictorian of our class this year. The other will be salutatorian. And knowing George, he’s going to be more than a little bit annoyed when he’s staring at my back during graduation.

“You love numbers so much and you’re so good at coding,” Izzy says now with a flip of her blond curls over her shoulder. She wheels the suitcase toward her bedroom door and stops and looks back at me. “You could always code yourself a boyfriend.” She shrugs, then laughs a little, trying to make this moment lighter.

I don’t even crack a smile. “That’s a really ridiculous thing to say,” I tell her. “Thank God you’re going to be an English major.”

 But later, after it all fell apart, I would blame her. I’d say that it was all Izzy’s fault, that she started the unraveling of everything with her one stupid offhand comment on the morning that she left me.

Excerpted from The Code For Love and Heartbreak by Jillian Cantor Copyright © Jillian Cantor. Published by Inkyard Press.

So, what do you guys think?  Are you a fan of Austen retellings? Is The Code for Love and Heartbreak on your TBR list? Let me know in the comments below. 


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Book Review: Majesty by Katharine McGee

Pages: 374
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date:  September 1, 2020
Publisher: Random House 
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: American Royals
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Goodreads says,"Power is intoxicating. Like first love, it can leave you breathless. Princess Beatrice was born with it. Princess Samantha was born with less. Some, like Nina Gonzalez, are pulled into it. And a few will claw their way in. Ahem, we're looking at you Daphne Deighton.  As America adjusts to the idea of a queen on the throne, Beatrice grapples with everything she lost when she gained the ultimate crown. Samantha is busy living up to her "party princess" persona...and maybe adding a party prince by her side. Nina is trying to avoid the palace--and Prince Jefferson--at all costs. And a dangerous secret threatens to undo all of Daphne's carefully laid "marry Prince Jefferson" plans.  A new reign has begun..."



Majesty picks up where American Royals left off; Beatrice is planning a royal wedding and preparing to follow in her father's footsteps as the Queen.  Is America ready for its first Queen though? To make things a bit "easier" for all involved, she is going to marry the Duke of Boston's son, Teddy Eaton.   He is pretty great, but she isn't in love with him, not like she was with Connor.  But she knows deep down that their relationship can never be; he was her bodyguard! So, she throws herself into her royal duties.  Then there's her sister, Samantha, who has got a lot of drama surrounding her love life in this sequel as well as Sam's best friend, Nina.  Of course there's more from Daphne, who is still planning on winning over Beatrice's brother, Prince Jeff.  She will go to great lengths to get what she wants as we learned in American Royals.  If you are looking for a fun escape this fall, definitely give this series a try.  Majesty by Katharine McGee was such a fun follow-up and didn't disappoint.

McGee is able to juggle all the different points of view in Majesty very well. However, I found myself mostly interested in Beatrice's story.  Beatrice is trying to get over her first love, Connor; however, as the story progresses, she finds herself having real feelings for Teddy. I mean how could she not? He seems pretty great. Even I somehow ended up rooting for their relationship! 

Nina and Samantha's story in Majesty wasn't as compelling as the first book.  Nina is crushing on a new love interest (which is really complicated) and Samantha is deliciously dramatic in Majesty. She wants to make her ex jealous by dating someone new, so she and her new love interest have an arrangement.  Even though this is a common trope, I will admit this part of the novel was a lot of fun!

Then of course there's more from Daphne, the character I just love to hate. She is back at it with her sights set on Prince Jeff. We know from American Royals that she will do just about anything (even her parents' encourage this) to get what she wants. So cue all the scheming!

I love McGee's premise for this series. Imagine George Washington ended up as our crowned king; it's fun to explore this alternate universe and Majesty was a great escape from our current political climate.  If you enjoy all things Royal, I urge you to check out this delightful series.

Are you a fan of the American Royals series? If so, did you read Majesty yet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.



Thursday, March 19, 2020

Book Review: American Royals by Katharine McGee

Pages: 448
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: September 3, 2019
Publisher: Random House
Source: Library
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "What if America had a royal family?   When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne.  As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America's first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling.  Nobody cares about the spare except when she's breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn't care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her.  And then there's Samantha's twin, Prince Jefferson. If he'd been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart."

Imagine an America that has a Royal Family and a monarchy made up of George Washington's descendants. An interesting concept, yes? Now imagine the usual drama that occurs within a Royal Family - there's gossip, romance, secrets, court intrigue, and more.  Princess Beatrice is next in line to rule and will be the first queen.  Her two younger siblings, Princess Samantha and Prince Jefferson, are also in line for the throne, but they know that Beatrice will do well; after all, America loves her! Since Samantha and Jefferson don't have the pressure that Beatrice has, they can live a little more dangerously than Beatrice who must act perfectly at every occasion.  Beatrice is feeling the pressure to date and find an appropriate match even though her heart belongs to a commoner.  This obviously creates some problems for the Royal Family not to mention Samantha and Jefferson's wild antics. If you love stories filled with gossip and about Royals, you will enjoy American Royals by Katharine McGee, which is the first installment in the series.

Beatrice is the sort of character that you can feel for in American Royals.  She doesn't have much choice in things and has always been responsible as she is next in line to the throne after her father. This is obviously a large burden to bear. Her life has been all about that for years and the idea of doing what her heart desires is a foreign concept to her.  Her parents remind her that she needs to find a good match for America and find someone to help support her when she is Queen.  They introduce her to many suitable and Royal Americans, but no one has captured her heart quite like her bodyguard.  Clearly, this is a major problem in American Royals.

Samantha and Jefferson are twins and since they aren't being groomed to rule, they have more leeway than Beatrice. They take a glamorous trip during their gap year before college and run away from bodyguards on a daily basis. You get the idea.  Samantha is best friends with a Nina, a commoner, and she has become very close with the Royal Family.  Maybe a bit too close, especially when Nina and Jefferson have some chemistry. This can't end well, right?  Then there's Jefferson whom the American public love to swoon over.  Think Prince William (Duke of Cambridge) in the early 90s.  The public is always interested in who he is dating as he is much sought after, but his ex-girlfriend won't easily let him go. She tries to manipulate him at every turn in American Royals and is hiding some major secrets.

American Royals is a soapy escape and reminiscent of Gossip Girl and the British Royal Family. I loved the idea of an American Royal Family and it definitely was a fun concept to explore.  McGee throws some major surprises in American Royals and because of this, I will definitely be picking up book two, Majesty, which comes out this September.  

What do you guys think? Did you read American Royals? Do you enjoy stories about the Royals? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.   

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Book Review: The Map From Here to There by Emery Lord

Pages: 368
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: January 7, 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: Open Road Summer,
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 

Goodreads says, "It's senior year, and Paige Hancock is finally living her best life. She has a fun summer job, great friends, and a super charming boyfriend who totally gets her. But senior year also means big decisions. Weighing "the rest of her life," Paige feels her anxiety begin to pervade every decision she makes. Everything is exactly how she always wanted it to be--how can she leave it all behind next year? In her head, she knows there is so much more to experience after high school. But in her heart, is it so terrible to want everything to stay the same forever?  Emery Lord's award-winning storytelling shines with lovable characters and heartfelt exploration of life's most important questions."

Fans of The Start of Me and You will remember Paige Hancock and her swoon-worthy relationship with Max.  Now it's senior year and Paige has spent her summer in New York City focusing on screenwriting, which is her passion.  However, with senior year comes changes and big choices that have to be made.  Paige has to figure out where she wants to go to college, all while wondering where Max is going to go and the future of their relationship.  Of course, she is worried about how going off to college will impact her relationship with him as well as her close-knit group of friends.  Her adorable group of friends made a senior year bucket list, but despite all of the fun they had, there's still the ominous cloud of separation that hangs over her head.  Emery Lord truly captures how exciting senior year can be, but also how terrifying it can be to leave your comfort zone in The Map From Here to There.

If you are an avid reader of my blog, you know how much I loved The Start of Me and You. It was one of my favorite books of 2015.  I adored Paige an her group of supportive friends, which you don't often see in young adult literature. I still adored them in The Map From Here to There, especially as they go through the many changes that senior year brings. I also appreciated that they were a diverse group and not just the usual group of girls that you encounter in YA.  Also, I love that Paige is such a well-rounded character. She is smart, she is loyal, but she also deals with many issues that young adults deal with today: anxiety, fears regarding the future, family issues, and more. I think many young adults can relate to Paige and appreciate her journey. 

I really loved Max in The Start of Me and You.  He was just ok for me in this sequel. As much as I liked Max in the first novel, I found myself not wanting Paige to be tied down to Max as she goes off to college.  Nonetheless, as far as YA boyfriends go, he is a good one.  I also appreciate that Lord gave Max a few of his own issues to tackle in senior year, which made it feel even more realistic.

What I love most about Lord's writing is her ability to make her characters and their situations very realistic. The Map From Here to There explores so many of the issues that many us had senior year of high school and she brings it to life well. I wish I could have read this novel back when I was in high school. I think it would have really spoke to me and help me navigate the waters of change that senior year inevitably brings.

If you are a fan of The Start of Me and You, you should definitely pick up this sequel, The Map From Here to There, to see how things ends for Paige.  While I didn't love this as much as the first novel, I still appreciated Paige's journey and I think many young adults will too. 

Are you a fan of Emery Lord's novels? Let me know what you think in the comments below.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Book Review: 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston

Pages: 336
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: October 1, 2019
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Sophie wants one thing for Christmas-a little freedom from her overprotective parents. So when they decide to spend Christmas in South Louisiana with her very pregnant older sister, Sophie is looking forward to some much needed private (read: make-out) time with her long-term boyfriend, Griffin. Except it turns out that Griffin wants a little freedom from their relationship. Cue devastation.  Heartbroken, Sophie flees to her grandparents' house, where the rest of her boisterous extended family is gathered for the holiday. That's when her nonna devises a (not so) brilliant plan: Over the next ten days, Sophie will be set up on ten different blind dates by different family members. Like her sweet cousin Sara, who sets her up with a hot guy at an exclusive underground party. Or her crazy aunt Patrice, who signs Sophie up for a lead role in a living nativity. With a boy who barely reaches her shoulder. And a screaming baby.  When Griffin turns up unexpectedly and begs for a second chance, Sophie feels more confused than ever. Because maybe, just maybe, she's started to have feelings for someone else . . . Someone who is definitely not available.  This is going to be the worst Christmas break ever... or is it?"

Sophie imagined a really wonderful Christmas break, but when she overhears her boyfriend, Griffin, saying he needs a break from their relationship, things start to fall apart.  To make matters worse, Sophie's parents are spending Christmas with Sophie's older sister, who is pregnant and not doing well at all.  In turn, Sophie is spending the holidays with her grandmother and extended family.  Her beloved grandmother, Nonna, finds out that Sophie and Griffin are over and she sees how upset Sophie is.  Sophie's Nonna has devised a plan that while Sophie is there on Christmas break each family member will set her up with a nice boy to go out with.  What could go wrong, right? She might even meet someone nice! Or maybe things will go disastrously wrong. 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston is the perfect holiday read; it's just like snuggling up with your favorite Hallmark Christmas movie.

Sophie is a delightful character in 10 Blind Dates. I loved her relationship with her grandmother and enjoyed every second of her holiday at her house.  Each extended family member was very entertaining and I loved the relationship she shared with them all, even annoying Aunt Patrice.  What was most heartwarming was the relationship with her Nonna.  I love when YA novels have characters that appreciate and spend time with their grandparents and in this case, I enjoyed every aspect of Sophie's relationship with her Nonna.  I also especially appreciated her many references to Italian-American culture; if you are Italian, you will love this as well.

All the fun (and not so fun) dates that Sophie went on added to the Christmas spirit of 10 Blind Dates. The date with the live nativity scene had me cringing and laughing out loud.  When all is said and done, Sophie needs to decide what is right for her and if Griffin is someone she still even wants.  While figuring all this out, Sophie is reconnecting with family, especially her cousins, and the holidays is the perfect time for this.

10 Blind Dates is such a fun holiday read and one that is reminiscent of a feel-good Christmas movie.  I didn't mind the overly saccharine parts though as this was exactly the kind of read that I was looking for.  So, if you love a cute Christmas tale filled with family, romance, and fun, you must check out 10 Blind Dates this holiday season.  I hear the producers of To All The Boys I Loved Before picked up the film rights to this novel already; I can't wait to see it on my TV screen!

Friday, September 6, 2019

Book Review: Start Here by Trish Doller

Pages: 352
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: August 13, 2019
Publisher: Simon Pulse 
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: Something Like Normal
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Two teens go on a life-changing sailing trip as they deal with the grief of losing their best friend in this heartwrenching, hopeful novel from the author of Something Like Normal and In a Perfect World.  Willa and Taylor were supposed to spend the summer after high school sailing from Ohio to Key West with their best friend, Finley. But Finley died before graduation, leaving them with a twenty-five-foot sailboat, a list of clues leading them to destinations along the way, and a friendship that’s hanging by a thread.  Now, Willa and Taylor have two months and two thousand miles to discover how life works without Finley—and to decide if their own friendship is worth saving.  From acclaimed author Trish Doller comes a poignant tale of forgiveness, grief, and the brilliant discoveries we make within ourselves when we least expect it.

Finley was the glue that kept Willa and Taylor's friendship together.  Now that Finley is gone (she unfortunately died from cancer), Willa and Taylor's relationship isn't great. In fact, it's downright stressful.  However, one of Finley's last wishes was for the girls to sail the Great Loop, which is the waterway from Ohio to Key West.  That's the perfect adventure before college, right? Except now without Finley, how will Willa and Taylor make it work?  They can't just blow off their plans though because not only did they make a promise to Finley, she also made a list of clues to help them while on their trip.  While on this trip, both girls have to face important issues within their own lives as well as the hardship of facing life without Finley.  Both girls will discover so much about themselves while on this life changing trip in Start Here by Trish Doller.

One thing Doller does well is depict how tumultuous a three person friendship can be, especially when it comes to girls. It's tough at times and I think Doller really captures the ups and downs of this tricky relationship.  Once Finley passes on, they are left with a strained relationship that requires much work on both girls' parts.  Finley's death broke my heart, but I love that she planned this trip for her friends and her memory lives on through their adventure.

Both Willa and Taylor were realistic characters facing issues that many teens face daily in Start Here. Willa had issues with her mother as well as many questions surrounding her future. Which path should she take? Which college should she attend? Did she make the right choice? Willa is also of mixed race, so I liked that she had to face issues surrounding that as well.  Taylor, on the other hand, had issues surrounding her sexuality as well how to move on with her life without Finley. I think Doller depicts this very realistically.  She tackles tough emotions, but does it well.

My favorite aspect of the novel was the trip in Start Here.  Doller describes each port so very well and I loved all their adventures.  If you love a road trip book, you will appreciate the voyage in this novel. The descriptions of the sailing, the anxiety of possible storms, the different ports, and the different people they meet along the way were done memorably.  Overall, I enjoyed the girls' journeys both mentally and physically.

My only issue was that Start Here was a little bit darker than I like for a beach read; nonetheless, I still enjoyed the story. So, if you are looking for a YA read that takes on tough issues all while the characters partake in an unforgettable journey, give Start Here a try. 

Are you a fan of Trish Doller's novels? Do you love a good "road trip" novel? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Book Review: The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

Pages: 400
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: June 4, 2019
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Emma Saylor doesn’t remember a lot about her mother, who died when she was ten. But she does remember the stories her mom told her about the big lake that went on forever, with cold, clear water and mossy trees at the edges.  Now it’s just Emma and her dad, and life is good, if a little predictable…until Emma is unexpectedly sent to spend the summer with her mother’s family—her grandmother and cousins she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl.  When Emma arrives at North Lake, she realizes there are actually two very different communities there. Her mother grew up in working class North Lake, while her dad spent summers in the wealthier Lake North resort. The more time Emma spends there, the more it starts to feel like she is divided into two people as well. To her father, she is Emma. But to her new family, she is Saylor, the name her mother always called her.  Then there’s Roo, the boy who was her very best friend when she was little. Roo holds the key to her family’s history, and slowly, he helps her put the pieces together about her past. It’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of North Lake—and Saylor finds herself falling under Roo’s spell as well.  For Saylor, it’s like a whole new world is opening up to her. But when it’s time to go back home, which side of her will win out?"

Emma Saylor hasn't lived an easy life by any means despite the fact that she lives in a nice house in a good neighborhood and has many friends.  She lost her mother to addiction and her father has been busy with his career as a dentist.  Also, her Nana has helped raise her, but Emma still suffers from anxiety.  Her father has remarried and is planning on taking a honeymoon this summer.  Emma is ok with this as she will be staying at her best friend's house. But things happen and plans change and now Emma finds herself with no place to go during her dad's honeymoon.  Her Nana suggests she stay with her mother's family who lives in a resort town by North Lake.  Emma hasn't been back there since she was four years old, so this would give her an opportunity to reconnect with family, but it's, well, awkward.  Her mother's family run a motel by the lake and she has a ton of cousins, but she hasn't connected with them in years.  So, Emma agrees to go, because she doesn't want to be the reason her father can't go on a honeymoon. While she is there, Emma learns more about her past, her mother, and finds herself loving a family she never knew she had.  Sarah Dessen's The Rest of the Story tackles that one important summer in a teenager's life. It's going down as one of my favorite Dessen novels.

Emma Saylor is a memorable character and one that I think many people can relate to in The Rest of the Story.  My heart went out to her as she had a lot to deal with regarding her mother and addiction.  Even though she lives in an expensive neighborhood and in a luxurious house, she still has problems that haunt her. When she is uprooted from her cushy life to North Lake, which is a working-class neighborhood, I thought she would struggle. But she takes to family life and working at the motel easily. Once acclimated she really blossomed. I could appreciate Emma's experience as an only child and then having the opportunity to spend time with a larger extended family. I think Dessen captured the dynamics of that very well and the fact that Emma had to be reacquainted with many people from her childhood.

While there, Emma Saylor is reunited with Roo, one of her friends from childhood.  Roo's father was also good friends with Emma's mother, so there was that history too. I absolutely loved their relationship.  I loved the back story, the friendship, and how it evolved and how good Roo is. So often in YA lit, we encounter bad guys or guys who are jerks. It's so nice to come across Roo who is a down to Earth good guy.  He is definitely swoon-worthy in The Rest of the Story.

The dynamics of North Lake and Lake North (the richer resort town) are also well done. It think every lake or beach community has this type of hierarchy and Dessen captures it very well. I enjoyed Emma going on the many adventures by the lake with her cousins and friends.  It was the perfect summertime setting.

There's something that Dessen does very well that no other YA author that I have come across can do. She captures the easy summertime life as a teenager; she lets the story evolve organically. It's not that a whole lot happened in the first half of the book, but she develops the characters to the point where I feel like I know them and could be friends with them. The Rest of the Story is a quiet story that truly resonates and it's going down as not only one of my favorite books of the summer, but also one of my favorite Sarah Dessen novels and if you know me that is saying a lot.

Can we all agree that Sarah Dessen can do no wrong? If you want a summertime read that is memorable, heartwarming and real, pick up The Rest of the Story this summer.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Book Review: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

 Pages: 432
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: April 16, 2019
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: Starry Eyes
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.  Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.  In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.  To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel."
Birdie has lived a very sheltered life on Bainbridge Island, outside of Seattle. Not only was she homeschooled, but she was raised by her grandparents after her mother's untimely death.  Recently, her grandmother has passed away, so that leaves just her and her grandfather and the occasional visit from Aunt Mona, her mother's best friend.  Also, Birdie loves to visit the Moonlight Diner and while there she meets and has a romantic encounter with a guy named Daniel.  She flees after their hookup thinking she never will see him again. Until she does.  Birdie, who took a summer job at a historic hotel in Seattle, is working with her one-time hookup, Daniel. Cue the awkward music, especially since Birdie literally ran off after their romantic night.  Birdie is also a mystery book aficionado and Daniel knows this, so he suggest they try to crack the case of famous (yet elusive) Raymond Drake, a bestselling author who is known to stay at their hotel, but keeps his identity a secret.  Will Birdie and Daniel crack this case and in turn, will Daniel break down the walls surrounding Birdie's heart? Jenn Bennett writes quirky, yet adorable, characters better than most YA author out there and in Serious Moonlight she doesn't disappoint.

Birdie is the sort of character that you root for, but you know she is painfully awkward.  Her obsession with mysteries is so endearing though. She often "investigates" people in her own life and loves solving puzzling situations in Serious Moonlight.  Her emotional issues, such as with abandonment, the death of her mother, etc, are all handled realistically and very well. There's no stigma to any of it and Bennett really keeps the romance in Serious Moonlight very sex-positive, which I appreciate. We need more of that in YA literature.  Birdie also has a health issue that is handled very well and I think young adults can appreciate this as well as relate to such a nuanced and complex character.

Her relationship with Daniel is oh-so-adorable in Serious Moonlight. Daniel isn't the too cool jock plays football; he is your regular next door neighbor type of guy with a strong nerdy streak. I just adored him and his interest in magic.  I thought his family life and what his Japanese-American parents also went through was handled very well and I appreciated Bennett addressing such serious issues as internment camps.  It all added to Daniel's complexity, which makes him a much more well-rounded and appealing character.

And that's what Bennett does so very well. Her characters are deep, fleshed out, and multi-faceted.  They shine like diamonds and jump off the page; they aren't caricatures in the very least. I think Bennett, along with John Green, does this the best when it comes to writing complex, quirky and smart young adults. Also, it should be noted that Bennett wrote a fantastic adult character--Aunt Mona! I adored her and seriously want to hangout with her now.

Even though Serious Moonlight has a mystery in it regarding the famous author at the hotel, it also deals with emotional issues, romance, and even health issues.  I liked that it was so much more than your run of the mill YA romance.

While I didn't like it as much as Starry Eyes, it still was an entertaining read and one that kept me flipping the pages. I was sad to say goodbye to Birdie at the end of Serious Moonlight.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Book Review: Only a Breath Apart by Katie McGarry

Pages: 365
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
Pub. Date: January 22, 2018
Publisher: Tor Teen
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: Pushing the Limits 
and Dare You To
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 

Goodreads says, "Jesse Lachlin is cursed.   So the town folklore says, but while Jesse’s had his fair share of tragedy, the only curse he believes is in his grandmother’s will: in order to inherit his family farm he must win the approval of his childhood best friend, the girl he froze out his freshman year, Scarlett Copeland.  Scarlett Copeland is psychic.  Glory Gardner tells Scarlett she has hidden psychic abilities, but Scarlett thinks Glory is delusional. What is real is Scarlett’s father’s irrational fears, controlling attitude, and the dark secrets at home. Scarlett may have a way to escape, but there’s a hitch: she’ll have to rely on the one person she used to trust, the same boy who broke her heart, Jesse Lachlin.  Each midnight meeting pushes Jesse and Scarlett to confront their secrets and their feelings for each other. But as love blooms, the curse rears its ugly head…"

Jesse Lachlin grew up believing that his family is cursed. His mother told him that he would be ok as long as he never leaves the Lachlin land and she made him promise to always stay.  Jessie grew up spending his days with Scarlett, a young girl whose property abuts his land, and although they are drastically different, he has always remained best friends with her. That is until high school and their big falling out.  Things have changed since they were spending their days in the woods and playing among the trees. Scarlett has become an "ice queen" and part of the affluent group of high school students whereas Jessie is the polar opposite and struggles to get by.  They haven't spoken in years and their paths definitely don't cross.  Then Jesse's grandmother dies and leaves the family land to him but there's one catch.  He must win over the approval and trust of various people including Scarlett whom he hasn't spoken to in years. Scarlett's life isn't what you would expect though.  Her father is a complete control freak and keeps a tight leash on her.  She wants to go away to college, but he won't let; plus, he is not a nice guy and is downright abusive.  Things aren't aways as they seem and Jesse realizes this as he starts to reconnect with her.  Katie McGarry's gritty YA novel, Only a Breath Apart, is a quick read that truly captures the beauty in opposites attract and also it's a story about forgiveness.

Scarlett, at first glance, seems to have it all in Only a Breath Apart. A gorgeous house, perfect parents, and an adorable little sister, but as you dig deeper you see that she is truly held prisoner in her own life. Her dad is extremely overbearing and his mother allows various forms of abuse in the house.  Her mother makes excuses for her father, which I find it be infuriating.  It's not just the physical abuse that he inflicts on Scarlett's mother, but there's also emotional abuse to the rest of the family members. His tight leash on Scarlett, his guilt trips, and his overbearing nature made me feel like I was suffocating as I read her parts of the novel. I can't imagine living with someone like that day in and day out.  The depictions of this kind of abuse truly broke my heart and I think it's a good reminder of how we truly don't know what people are hiding.  They may appear to have it all from the outside, but that isn't always the case deep down.

Jesse is another character I immediately liked in Only a Breath Apart His back story will also break your heart, but I loved his strong relationship with his grandmother and his ability to stay focused on his goals.  His small group of friends and his cousin, despite their reputations, always have his back and that was nice to see.

I loved Jesse and Scarlett's relationship, which was obviously rooted in friendship since they have been friends since they were children. I loved to watch it blossom despite their being in two separate groups in school and I also adored how they helped each other overcome various obstacles in their lives.

Be forewarned though. Only a Breath Apart is a gritty YA read that isn't for the faint of heart or the younger YA readers. As I mentioned, there's various forms of abuse, so you must be ready for it. In fact, the scenes with Scarlett and her father gave me some anxiety, but if you can get past that, there's much more to this story than a Southern romance.  I liked how it focused on forgiveness (both towards others and yourself) as well as doing what is best for oneself.

If you like your YA novels on the darker side, definitely check out Katie McGarry's. Have you read any of her novels? Let me know which one is your favorite.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Book Review: Little White Lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Pages: 400
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: November 6, 2018
Publisher: Freeform
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Eighteen-year-old auto mechanic Sawyer Taft did not expect her estranged grandmother to show up at her apartment door and offer her a six-figure contract to participate in debutante season. And she definitely never imagined she would accept. But when she realizes that immersing herself in her grandmother's "society" might mean discovering the answer to the biggest mystery of her life-her father's identity-she signs on the dotted line and braces herself for a year of makeovers, big dresses, bigger egos, and a whole lot of bless your heart. The one thing she doesn't expect to find is friendship, but as she's drawn into a group of debutantes with scandalous, dangerous secrets of their own, Sawyer quickly discovers that her family isn't the only mainstay of high society with skeletons in their closet. There are people in her grandmother's glittering world who are not what they appear, and no one wants Sawyer poking her nose into the past. As she navigates the twisted relationships between her new friends and their powerful parents, Sawyer's search for the truth about her own origins is just the beginning.  Set in the world of debutante balls, grand estates and rolling green hills, Little White Lies combines a charming setting, a classic fish-out-of-water story, and the sort of layered mystery only author Jennifer Lynn Barnes can pull off."

Sawyer's grandmother, Lillian Taft, shows up out of the blue and makes Sawyer and offer she can't refuse.   Sawyer could earn a ton of money and all she would have to do is participate in the debutante season down south where her mother is from.  This obviously doesn't sound like a normal family dynamic as Sawyer's mom has been estranged from her grandmother for years.  So, yeah, she needs the money, but there is something else she might find out that is equally important.....the identity of her father.  While down south, Sawyer realizes maybe things aren't as dire as her mother portrayed them to be.  Maybe the people aren't entirely bad as she definitely starts to enjoy spending time with her cousin, Lily.  The more she spends time with the debutantes, the more she uncovers dark secrets that hide behind a perfectly made up face and flawless social graces. Jennifer Lynn Barnes' Little White Lies is a fun romp through southern well-to-do society that isn't quite as it seems.

Sawyer is a mechanic and down to earth girl when her grandmother swoops in and offers her half a million dollars to be a debutante. She is obviously the total opposite of a traditional debutante or at least what Sawyer thinks they should be.  I appreciated her fish-out-of-water story and was rooting for her from he beginning, especially when it came to her finding out who her biological father is.

My favorite aspect of Little White Lies is the southern setting, the debutantes, and the southern culture. I liked following along as Sawyer navigated the dangerous seas of the south and learning how to play their games as she goes.  I also appreciated her reconnecting with her family and especially her cousin, Lily. 

There's a mystery in the center of this novel's core and I won't give too much away, but it involves a major scandal, a blog, and a missing girl. So, as you can see, there's a lot going on in Little White Lies as it's not just about an aspiring debutante trying to mend things with her estranged family. 

Despite the story's slow start, I thought it was fun, especially if you like a mystery with a lot of secrets, drama, and a southern setting.  I think fans of Pretty Little Liars will enjoy this book. Also, be sure to check out my giveaway to win your own ARC of Little White Lies.

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