Book Talk: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Book Talk: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan MatsonSince You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson
Publisher/Year: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers- May 6, 2014
Genres: Contemporary YA
Format: ARC
Source: From Author
Other Books From Author: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour, Second Chance Summer
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I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way swayed my opinion. Pinky swear!

 

 

 

 

book synopsis When Sloane came into Emily’s life, it’s like she became a new, more daring person and did things she wouldn’t normally do with Sloane by her side — though she still wasn’t quite up to Sloane’s speed. Just as the most perfect and epic summer is about to start for the two girls, Sloane just disappears. She doesn’t leave any explanation — not even when, a few days later, a Sloane-made list that Emily has experienced before shows up in the mail with 13 tasks for Emily to do — things Emily wouldn’t do on her own. Emily hopes that by doing the things on the list she’ll be reunited with Sloane or given some sort of clue as to where she went so she sets out to tackle the list full of firsts, scary things, embarrassing things, random things and more — things that lead her to meeting people along the way who end up helping her complete the list!

 

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Morgan Matson is one of my favorite authors ever. Her books always just strike the right chord within me and I connect emotionally and always just love the story, the writing and the characters. Since You’ve Been Gone, I’m happy to report, kept that trend alive…but in a different way for me. Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour and Second Chance Summer were really, really personal for me because they dealt a lot with grief and loss. There was that personal connection there for me. This one there wasn’t that same HUGELY personal element (though I connected quite a bit in ways) but it proved my love for Morgan Matson’s books even more fiercely because DAMN can she write a story that sucks me in, makes me love the characters, makes me swoon and gives me all sorts of emotions. Since You’ve Been Gone, like her other books, just does it all for me. That perfect feeling of getting lost in a great book.

So let’s talk:

1. I’m used to Morgan Matson’s books making me cry (okay SOB FEROCIOUSLY in the case of Second Chance Summer) but Since You’ve Been Gone just made me grin like a fool — allegedly…according to Will who apparently watches me while I read but I’m too absorbed to notice. Okay, he’s right though. My face hurt from grinning so much. This book gave me happy feels and I did some happy crying at times. I could produce for you a whole LIST of these moments that made my heart happy or made me giggle. This book is sweet, heartfelt and a wonderful story about friendship and really finding yourself. I just felt giddy the whole time I was reading it. And the relationship between Emily and Frank made my heart melt like an ice cream on a hot day…just a sticky sweet puddle of heart eyed feelings. Ooh the friendship and then the tension.

2. I love lists and I loved watching Emily deal with Sloane’s list: I was so pissed at Sloane for leaving Emily with no explanation..just this list. Like YOU HAVE SOME SPLAINING TO DO, Sloane. WHERE ARE YOU? I half wanted Emily to crumple the list up but obviously I was happy she was going to tackle the list because I was so interested in what some of them meant and HOW she would do some of them (skinny dipping, kiss a stranger, steal something). It was a super fun premise and I felt like each thing on the list helped me to get to know Emily AND Sloane even more. Obviously watching Emily go out of her comfort zone with this list was a given, which I’ll talk about below, but I felt like I got to know Sloane in learning where some of these list items came from and WHY she put them on her. I’m a bucket list enthusiast so I was excited about this premise.

3. I loved experiencing Emily figure out who she was apart from Sloane: I don’t know about you but I’ve had the experience of being in relationships (friendships/romantic/otherwise) where I don’t know who I am apart from the person and it’s only when I’m forced to confront that absence that I start to realize how strongly my identity was in those people. Doing these things on Sloane’s list helped her to start to figure out who she was without Sloane there. Sloane had been such an integral part in her past couple years and Sloane was the driving force of their fun and excitement. I loved watching Emily be brave, in the small and big moments, and start to figure out who she was while tackling this list. Even though at first she was doing this list in hopes it would help her find Sloane, she began to do it for herself. Her growth was wonderful to watch and she honestly kind of inspired me.

4. I loved the focus on friendship: Without Sloane, Emily really didn’t have any other friends so I loved watching her meet some new people like Dawn, Frank and Matthew. I just loved them so much and loved how they ended up helping her with the list and it really became less about this THING she was doing for Sloane but for herself and with these new friends. I also really loved how this experience really gave her perspective on her friendship with Sloane and really added even more depth to it when she eventually figured out what happened with Sloane. All these friendship feels made me miss that feeling of making new friends — those friends who end up being your partners in crime, the ones you tell all your secrets to, etc.

5. Morgan Matson gives me an experience: I could say this about her other books but I think maybe I felt like it with this one even more. She makes me feel like I am really involved in the story with the details she gives and how she takes her time in the best way possible to get you to feel it and to KNOW the characters. She just doesn’t paint me a picture of the scene and of the feelings but she makes me feel and experience everything. I feel like I’m there in the midst of it all. I feel the pain of missing Sloane, the fear of doing the things on the list, the thrill of the moment they skinny dipped,the awkwardness of making new friends and seeing Emily’s ex boyfriend. I couldn’t contain my reactions and feelings at times — the laughs escaped, the happy tears fell, the tension constricted my heart and the love just flowed.

6. FRANK FRANK FRANK. That’s all. Also, that boy has excellent taste in music. Okay, so maybe that’s not all. So often in YA I see these boys who are not in fact teenage boys but like supposed to be hot, hunky man candy with all the right moves and words. Frank made me swoon like a school girl in love but he was not perfect or mysterious or anything. He was a teenage boy who was smart and had so many facets to who he was. He felt like somebody I would have REALLY fallen for. And I loved the friendship that he and Emily built. MY HEART. I would like to guarantee a Frank for my nieces and if I ever have daughters (I mean, unless they aren’t into boys). WEAK IN THE KNEES FOR FRANK!

7. Be happy, fans of Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour…the music playlists are back!! And they are so, so good though Morgan said they are a little different in the final copy!

book reviewsI LOVED IT. Morgan Matson just keeps solidifying herself as one of my favorite authors. My heart wants to seize up with happiness over Since You’ve Been Gone. It was a most anticipated book for 2014 and it did NOT disappoint. If you love contemporary YA, read it and then go read her other books if you haven’t!

 

 

 

short book review

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Let’s Talk: Have you read this one? What did you think of it?


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Book Talk: If I Lie by Corrine Jackson

Book Talk: If I Lie by Corrine JacksonIf I Lie by Corrine Jackson
Publisher/Year: Simon Pulse- August 2012
Genres: Contemporary YA
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Other Books From Author: The Sense Thieves series
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book synopsis When Quinn is caught kissing someone who isn’t her boyfriend Carey, a Marine who is beloved in her military town, she is pretty much cast out and shamed. Her friends have turned on her. Her own father can’t look at her. Nobody even tried to get her side of the story. Quinn knows that she could free herself from this by telling a secret but she wants to stay loyal to Carey who promises her that he’ll sort it out…until he goes MIA while in Afghanistan and can’t help clear things up.

 

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Wow. Wow. Wow. I started this unassuming and slim little book that I grabbed from the library and finished a couple hours later with tears streaming down my face — and the ending was NOT the first time that book made me cry. Another underrated contemporary YA to love and shout about from the rooftops. SERIOUSLY. I am finger waggling and all right now. Go get this book if you love contemporary YA. I thought it would be a good and quick read but I underestimated If I Lie entirely — it was really special and the kind of novel that just embeds itself in you from page 1.

1. I initially thought this story was going to be more about the secret that Quinn was keeping: I figured we’d be waiting with bated breath for it to be revealed. I had my guess of what the secret before I started and I was right because we were told on like page 25. That entirely shifted how I thought this novel would go down and made me pretty curious to see how it would all play out. The story is more about how Quinn is dealing with the aftermath of getting caught kissing someone else and not letting it define her while protecting Carey’s secret. We see her getting relentlessly bullied by people who used to be friends, shunned around town and even in her own home by her dad and struggling so hard with whether to clear her name or keep the secret — all while dealing with the emotions of Carey being declared MIA while he is deployed.

2. My heart ached for Quinn: So much of me just wanted to scream “HELP YOURSELF. Tell them!” when I was watching how awful things were for her but I really did get WHY Quinn chose to keep the secret and it made me admire her more. To watch her get relentlessly bullied and shut out by all her friends and the whole town really was just so hard as a reader because I knew the whole story. Her own dad is even treating her differently. Nobody even tried to hear her side. Quinn is just so, so alone and then, just when she thinks it all dies down a bit, the news of Carey being MIA happens and everyone is just so angry at her even more. There was just so much going on — the burden of the secret, her love for Carey and her fear for him, her feelings towards the boy she kissed, the bullying, her absent mother and her father who seemed to resent her for what she’d done and the sins of her mother– and I didn’t know how Quinn kept it together. I was really, really proud of her in the end. I can’t even convey that without spoilers.

3. Oh the emotions! GAH: Throughout this novel the tears flowed like unpredictable red hot lava. I was so surprised because I just didn’t see this being a really emotional novel. It’s not a real long book but every page just conveyed things perfectly that it just hit me real hard. There were sad tears but also kind of tender, heartwarming tears. There was just a lot of emotions coming from everywhere but they crept up on me so subtly. There were some moments with people that just hit me emotionally and then the ENDING. Oh god. I was just a sobbing mess at many different points for many different reasons. I cry a lot with movies and shows but it takes a really powerful book to make me SOB while reading. (I mean, there’s still quite a handful of books that have made me cry). It was just all so powerfully conveyed that I really took all of it hard FOR Quinn.

4. George: YEP. I’m not saying anything more. Just one of my new favorite characters.

5. There was so much to this story and I really appreciated it. It wasn’t just one dimensional but rather there were all sorts of little threads but not in an overwhelming way and it didn’t feel crowded considering it’s a small-ish book. I was amazed at how quickly I cared and how the story just flowed together perfectly and balanced the many elements with an undeniable finesse– family issues, romance, friendships, the secret.

book reviewsIf I Lie by Corrine Jackson is honestly one of my new favorite contemporary YA books. It was an evocative and powerful read that I will treasure for a long time to come. I loved that this story wasn’t just about a cheating scandal but SO MUCH MORE. It’s very layered and very realistic and just about as genuine and complex as they come. Quinn self discovery and channeling of her strength was one of my favorite parts. And George. You have to meet George. So read this one, it will be worth your while! Can’t wait to see what Corrine Jackson does next!

 

 

 

short book reviewIf I Lie by Corrine Jackson

You May Also Like: Something Like Normal by Trish Doller // Speechless by Hannah Harrington

 

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Book Talk: Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

Book Talk: Dangerous Girls by Abigail HaasDangerous Girls by Abigail Haas
Publisher/Year: Simon Pulse- July 2013
Genres: Contemporary YA, YA Mystery
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Other Books From Author: She's written many books under the name Abby McDonald such as-- Sophomore Switch, The Anti-Prom and Getting Over Garrett Delaney.

 
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book synopsis Anna and her group of friends are having the time of their lives on Spring Break in Aruba partying and living at the beach. When her best friend is brutally murdered in the house they are staying at, Anna finds herself quickly being at the center of a murder trial in a foreign country by a prosecutor who seems to have it out for her immediately and friends and a boyfriend who have basically all but abandoned her. Everyone — the media, friends, — seems to think she did it. She knows the truth and learns more as the trial progresses and everything hinders on the verdict that determines whether she is imprisoned or free and whether Elise’s killer gets away.

 

good books to readYou would have thought somebody put a gun to my head and said, “READ THIS BOOK AS FAST AS YOU CAN OR ALL YOUR BOOKS DIE” with how quickly I devoured this one. I started it and finished it in 3 1/2 hours flat with one break to eat. BEGRUDGINGLY. How can one eat when they need to keep reading such a page turner!!? Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas was the kind of page turner that will give you paper cuts from frantically turning the pages to satiate your need to know WHO KILLED ELISE AND HOW WAS ANNA GOING TO PROVE HER INNOCENCE.

So let’s talk about why I was cursing my brain and hands for not working together to read this even faster. And I’m going to try to be suuuuper vague because I think it’s best to go into this knowing the barest of essentials which I’ll give to you.

1. The premise: Okay, so the story is right off the bat going to remind you of the Amanda Knox story. I mean, I feel like I was eyes glued to that case and watching all the coverage and speculating on what happened. It also is going to remind you of the Natalee Holloway story that happened when I was a freshman in college and which prompted my mom to freak out and she made me PROMISE I would not go spring breaking. So Dangerous Girls is this mishmash of the two of them with some parallels but with its own tragedy to tell. The group of friends are in Aruba on Spring break and the narrators best friend is found brutally murdered. An investigation is done and she’s being accused, along with her boyfriend, and she finds herself in an Aruba jail being held until the trial. It’s just the kind of premise grabs you from the beginning because of the prominence of these cases and does not let you go until the very last page as you watch this story unfold where a girl’s best friend has been murdered and she’s prime suspect number one.

2. The suspense/mystery: Ah the way this story was told was just so perfect. All the tension and the suspense was palpable and the author just knew how to make you decide you couldn’t stop reading for even one minute. The world ceased to exist to me because I was so planted in the story. We flip back and forth from the past to the present and it’s one of those seamless transitions where you are eager to learn about the back story in the girls’ friendship, their trip to Aruba and the present day where Anna is facing the trial and trying to prove her innocence. Anna’s account of everything was engrossing. I constantly was changing my mind of who I thought it was and it was really easy to have a couple of scenarios in my head for the couple people who were my prime suspects. I kept flip flopping my theories and my distrust and I LOVED IT. If you don’t at all want to know my reaction to the end, skip the next two sentences. I kind of had an inkling of who the true killer was but I had shoved that theory aside so I was SHOCKED at the end but not shocked when it was revealed. There were some THINGS that made me think it but I was like still like WHAT THE WHAT THE WHAAAAT with the reveal and then that final paragraph.

3. The interesting commentary about media coverage & also the legal process in these situations: I know if this was a real case I would have been one of those glued to the tv watching it unfold. Analyzing the characters every move. I mean, in the book we see just how easy it was for the case to happen and then the media frenzy to unleash their campaign against her and paint her as a cold blooded killer before the trial even begun. They analyzed her background, her demeanor, took pictures of her that made her look like she wasn’t affected by this, etc. They took all these things and spun this story. It was interesting to watch this fictional thing to happen but KNOW this is so how it really is. It becomes a soap opera. Everyone has an opinion and an angle and every little thing is scrutinized and taken out of context. It was fascinating to see how media really plays into these stories. I’ve watched it happen and been one of those glued to the coverage. I also found the way the legal process plays out in a foreign country to be fascinating. I know that was one of those things about the Amanda Knox case that fascinated me but I was really so interested by this in Dangerous Girls.

book reviews

If you like books that you are going to devour from page 1 because of the twisty suspense and mystery, get yourself a copy. This book surprised me! Shocked the pants RIGHT OFF ME. (Don’t worry, I put them back on. OR DID I?) You’ll constantly be guessing who did it and pointing the finger at everyone. I loved the premise and the way the story was told — it was this constant mounting anxiety while I was reading where it all was just so, so palpable  — every betrayal and accusation and feeling of hope for Anna and GAH EVERYTHING. It was a nail biter FO SHO and kept me guessing and completely kicked my brain’s ass at times.

 

 

short book reviewdangerous-girls-abigail-haas

 

Let’s Talk: Have you read this one? What did you think of it? Did you guess?? (If you talk spoilers please label them but I’m DYING to talk about it bc HOLY CRAP!)


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Book Talk: Side Effects May Vary By Julie Murphy

Book Talk: Side Effects May Vary By Julie MurphySide Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy
Publisher/Year: Balzer & Bray- March 18, 2014
Genres: Contemporary YA
Format: ARC
Source: For Review
Other Books From Author: None! Debut!
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I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way swayed my opinion. Pinky swear!

 

 

 

 

book synopsis

Alice is diagnosed with leukemia and the prognosis is not at all good. She knows she is going to die and she begins living knowing that — things like telling people how she feels, getting revenge, etc. Then she’s given a clean bill of health and is left with the prospect of learning how to LIVE again when she thought she was going to die AND realizes that she has to face the consequences of all the things she did/said when she thought she was going to die soon.

good books to readI’ve been sitting on this post for a while. I finished having VERY complicated feelings — I like that because yay thinking– and I really had to process it all. Typically when I finish a book I can easily say, “I liked it! I loved it! Or EHHH not for me.” or something to this affect. But with Side Effects May Vary? I just wasn’t able to pin down my feelings for this one right away like I can with most books. And the more I sat on my feelings…I think the more I really liked it. It was like how sometimes when you make a chili or a stew and the next day it tastes even better…the spices and the flavors really got a chance to shine. That’s how this book felt for me once I let it sink in.

What worked:

1. I loved how DIFFERENT this “cancer story” was: Typically most of the books that I have encountered deal with somebody being diagnosed with cancer or something to that affect. The alternating chapter DID show her dealing with the diagnosis but the main thrust of the story is about how everything changed when, after being so close to dying, she gets a clean bill of health and has to deal with all the repercussions of what she did and said — things like revenge plots and also things she said to people that she can’t take back now that she’s not dying. She has to deal with all that. It makes it all very interesting because, despite what I assumed it was about, this wasn’t a story about a girl trying to complete this super meaningful bucket list or even trying to make these profound life changes after almost dying but rather she was just trying to come to terms with what to do now that she lived. How does she start planning for a future she didn’t think she would have? It didn’t always make her likeable or sympathetic but the struggle was real to me and, by the end, her story hit me really hard.

2. Honestly Alice is going to be a tough pill to swallow for some people but I didn’t HATE her: Don’t get me wrong. Girl sucks a lot (seriously, she’s manipulative and mean and downright awful most of the time) and honestly her redemption is kind of miniscule for most of the book. But for some reason I understood her in ways even though I didn’t like her for much of it. I mean, she THINKS she is going to DIE. She’s so close to dying. There’s almost like this new perspective one would have at that and she knows that there aren’t consequences to what she’s saying/doing. I can’t imagine the reality shift that happens when you are so close to death but then you are given a clean bill of health. Her road to redemption is a long, arduous road and it’s messy and we barely get to see ANY of it, just really the start to it, but I really felt for her in her long road to figuring out how to live again when she was resigned to dying. We don’t get to see the happy neat bow, but in my head, I see her story playing out to where she really does take a lot of meaning from her experience once she fully comes to terms with it.

What didn’t:

1. The timeline of the story was one thing that detracted from my reading experience for sure: It was so jumpy. It was Alice and Harvey in alternating perspectives but not only that there was past and present switches for both. So it might be something like Alice Present, Harvey Past, Alice Past, Harvey Present and it was just really hard for me to get planted into the story. It may not be a problem for others but I kept getting frustrated by it because I was being pulled out of it. It made sense in that we needed to know the backstory and how it lead to everything in the now but it didn’t flow well for me and I often got frustrated trying to keep it all straight.

2. For a good majority of the novel I felt really nothing emotionally: I’m a pretty emotional reader and I felt like this should have elicited something from me pretty early on but it took quite a bit for it to…but when it did it did. There was just this wall that just kept me at an emotional distance to a lot of what was going on until I got further on. It may have been the fact that the characters were hard to really get a good sense of because the perspective change. It could have been because Alice herself was hard to like and therefore I kept trying and trying to find ways to connect with her. I eventually DID but it took a long, long while. It could have also been because I loved Harvey in theory but I become frustrated by trying to see what made him LOVE her so much that he would continually take her crap. There was supposed to be something so incredibly special about her, as we see from Harvey’s devotion, but even in the “past” chapters I couldn’t SEE what it was that made him so over the moon about her. But, like I said, I eventually did eventually break down that barrier and had a huge emotional surge/point of connection/reason to care.

 

book reviewsBottom line, I STILL can’t quite simply put into words what I feel about this one. I’ve tried. It’s a complicated book and you have to be okay with the fact that Alice is REALLY quite awful and hard to like. I personally don’t have to like the character of a book to like the book but I can wholly admit she is a tough pill to swallow and she’s angry and honestly treats people like crap a lot of the time and sometimes it is SO hard to want to care for her in any way— but for some reason I found her so complicated and intriguing and I loved the messiness of the story. In how hard it might be to start living again when you thought you were dying and everything you did/said because you thought there would be no consequences to them, because you were DYING, are now things you have to be held accountable for. I appreciated the freshness and uniqueness of the story even if half the time I felt frustrated and angry. I love that it made me think a ton. This book is going to be so polarizing among readers and I’m interested in seeing the dialogue on both side.
short book review

Julie Murphy Side Effects May Vary

Let’s Talk: Have you read this one? What did you think of it? Tell me your thoughts on Alice! Did her personality impact how you read this one?


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Book Talk: How To Love by Katie Cotugno

Book Talk: How To Love by Katie CotugnoHow To Love by Katie Cotugno
Publisher/Year: Balzer & Bray- October 2013
Genres: Contemporary YA
Format: Hardcover
Source: For Review
Other Books From Author: None, this was her debut! What an amazing debut it was. More please?
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I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way swayed my opinion. Pinky swear!

 

 

 

 

book synopsis Reena has been in love Sawyer for as long as she can remember as their parents were friends before they were even born. They’ve never been anything more than childhood playmates until one night, when she least expects it, when something happens between them and they find themselves in love — a very messy and imperfect love that is beyond complicated. A story that becomes more complicated when Reena finds herself pregnant and Sawyer has left town. Fast forward a couple years and Reena has had her daughter and is settled into her life now — going to community college, dating and living with her parents. Things are going well, for the most part, until Sawyer shows up in town unexpected. Reena resolves to stay away from him but the pull that has always been there threatens to crumble her resolve.

 

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I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH. One one hand I’m furious with myself for waiting this long to read it but on the other hand I needed this book right now. You may have known I was in a bit of a “THIS IS SO NOT ME” reading year so far in 2014 and I really just needed a book to blow me away. How To Love by Katie Cotugno did the trick — along with another book that I will be talking about soon!

Why was it so awesome?

1. It completely destroyed my thought of “Ehh this is a novel about teen pregnancy” pretty early on: First, this book was SO much more than that. If you looked at this book like “oh god this is going to be a teen pregnancy issue-y book or like a rerun of Teen Mom”…NO..Just NO. It’s a complicated story about love, second chances and forgiveness. Reena may have a baby but this book is so much more than the cliched teen pregnancy stories I’ve come across.

2. I haven’t compulsively read a book like this in a while: I was seriously reading every moment I could — on my phone when I had a few seconds and I even woke up at 5:30 am so I could read it. I think it’s partly in the way it’s told in addition to the fact I was so into the story. It alternate between “Before” and “After”. The Before shows her and Sawyer’s past and really who she was before she got pregnant. The “After” is a couple years later when Sawyer comes back into town and we see she’s already settled into life as a mom. The unraveling of their story was just so gripping and Katie Cotugno gets you BAD with the ending of each chapter. I was RAVENOUS for more. She’d end, let’s say, the BEFORE chapter on a note where I was tempted to just skip the AFTER chapter because I HAD to know what happened next (and vice versa — each one was equally compelling). There are so few books that hook me so bad that after EACH chapter I can’t imagine putting it down. That’s a problem when life demands you still must exist outside of those pages!

3. Reena & Sawyer were two incredibly REAL characters & drew me into their story: These are characters that are going to piss you off probably at times, they are flawed, they are real and they don’t always make the right choice. I LOVED THAT. I don’t know if it’s an unpopular opinion but I LOVED SAWYER. I didn’t always LIKE him and the things he did but I felt the chemistry between them and that there was more to Sawyer. Sometimes I was so frustrated but I felt like I could feel Reena’s resolve not to give into Sawyer but, like Reena, I felt it all crumble. I just loved being tangled in Reena and Sawyer’s messy and complex love story. It was breathtaking at times, I cried, I fumed but I just felt what it was like to be young again and thinking with your heart and sometimes making those mistakes to learn and grow. I also really loved their individual growth — that aspect of the story was just important to me as their love story. They got second chances, opportunities for forgiveness and to come to terms with the past. Also, as a sidenote, I LOVED their banter.

book reviewsHow To Love by Katie Cotugno is a book that shot a line straight to my heart from the beginning and I was so thoroughly enchanted with Reena and Sawyer’s messy yet utterly romantic story that I kept sneaking in moments whenever I could and even set an alarm for 5:30am so I could squeeze in more time. It was beautiful, heartbreaking at times and made my heart just feel so full as I watched these wonderfully flawed characters unravel before me and build themselves back up. I mega loved this book and highly recommend it. Don’t be turned off by the thought that it might be a cliched “teenage pregnancy issues” book because that is NOT at all what this book is.

short book review

HOw To Love Katie Cotugno

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Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens | Book Review

Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens | Book ReviewFaking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens
Publisher/Year: HarperCollin's Childrens- February 25, 2014
Genres: Contemporary YA
Format: ARC
Source: For Review
Other Books From Author: None this is her debut!
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I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way swayed my opinion. Pinky swear!

 

 

 

book synopsis When Alexi is raped over the summer she keeps it to herself and deals with her pain by hiding in her closet and harming herself by scratching huge gashes into her neck and compulsively counting the vent grates. When her mom’s best friend dies her son Bodee, who is also Alexi’s quiet and mysterious classmate who dies his hair with Kool Aid, comes and lives with them. They recognize pain and hurt in each other and keep the secrets both are keeping while trying to help each other move forward.

good books to readGAH this is so hard to pinpoint my feelings as to why I did not click with this one. But pretty much the whole time I was reading I was like, “Self. Put this down. You do not like it.” But since I struggle with putting books down and wanted it confirmed WHO the rapist was and who Captain Lyric was, despite being pretty sure I knew BOTH, my eyes kept trucking it page by page. It’s hard because it’s a very important topic — a girl is raped and her virginity is taken from her and she’s been keeping quiet about it but struggles with it every day and has to SEE her rapist regularly. She blames herself and has started harming herself. It’s an important story to be told for sure and I thought the story itself was great and the discussion that could come from this book is fantastic. PLUS there are a SLEW of 5 star reviews on Goodreads from people I trust. I SEE obvious difference in feelings and I’m just wondering what disconnect happened for me??

I think the first thing that made me just not click with this one was the writing. I do not know what it was about this but it was grating every nerve in my body. I just would stop after certain sentences and just feel annoyed. Things like, “he’s only a garnish to Collie’s caviar” or “things between us are still messy like pumpkin guts.” The writing and the main character’s voice just was not my thing apparently. I have no way to try and describe WHY it didn’t gel with me but I only know the feeling I got when I was reading. (Am I the only one this happens to?) No doubt Courtney C. Stevens is a skilled writer and brings much depth to a story but there was just something in it that didn’t work for me.

The other issue was the relationship between Bodee and Alexi. I liked it to some degree, in theory, and thought it was sweet. I appreciated the relationship between them, both the friendship and the budding romance, and how it slowly grew and there were some very sweet moments and I didn’t feel like their relationship overshadowed the rest of the story. I liked how he helped her work through things and she was there for him as well but it just seems like he came waltzing into her life, in the midst of his own tragedy, and saved the day! It just rubbed me the wrong way and felt very convenient that he seemed to know her so well immediately despite the fact they barely knew each other and in such a short time frame?

The other thing is that when I read books and the author makes me feel like characters are alive, I can SEE them. That might sound weird but they just FORM for me. I feel them. I see them. But there are times when I read that I FEEL like “yeah, they are fictional characters” and this was one of those time. They didn’t live and breath for me like they should have considering the very raw emotions captured from the characters who were going through such painful things.

This was a minor thing but captures some of the things that came together for this not to be my thing. I didn’t like the fact that within two weeks, after HE just went through a traumatic experience losing his mom in a brutal manner, he says, “At least I found you” after she says she’s sorry he lost his mom. I just…didn’t get it. There would have been nothing I could have found, a leprechaun with a pot of money or Adam Levine in my bed, that would have made me feel that way when I lost my mom. This is the kind of stuff that just made me disconnect from this. I know they are teens and FEELINGS come easy but it just took me out of the book.

But, like I said, I had to keep reading to figure out for sure who hurt Alexi and who the mysterious Captain Lyrics was so it hooked me there. I was right on both accounts. I should have probably just flipped to the end to find out but I hoped I would have finally, at some point, connected with this book because there was an important conversation going on within the pages and characters who should have resonated with me more. Obviously I FELT for the main character but too many things took me out and distracted me for me to be truly impacted.

I feel bad about this book not really working for me because it was an important story and it so SEEMS like a book that I would have LOVED but it just didn’t click with me at all. So here are some other reviews of people, whom I trust, who it worked better for so I highly suggest you check them out to get a better picture:

Keertana’s review in which she saysI am, rarely, impressed by Contemporary YA, but this novel is worth every penny. I hardly need to say it, but if I do, then pre-order this one at once – it’s going to be a definite favorite this year.”

Jen’s review in which she says,With one of the most realistic storylines and a slow-burning relationship transition from friendship to romance, Faking Normal impressed me to no bounds”

 

book reviewsIt’s hard to pinpoint so much of why this book didn’t work for me though I’ve tried to give you some bits and pieces as to why it didn’t. I seem to be WAY in the minority with this one and I hate that all the raw emotions that everyone else felt while reading this just didn’t happen to me. I hate that I didn’t FEEL these characters. But sadly I didn’t. It’s just that feeling I got when reading. It just didn’t do anything for me and I felt more annoyed than NOT while reading. I was so often taken out of the reading experience to care. Also, and such a side note, but the author seems like SUCH a sweetheart and that makes me feel even worse about this somehow. I watched one of her videos after reading this book and desperately wished I loved her book. :(

short book reviewCourtney J. Stevens Faking Normal

books you may also like

Live Through This by Mindi Scott, Fault Line by Christa Desir, What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton

for-fans-of-bookBooks tackling tough topics such as rape, victim blaming and self harm | gritty contemporary YA stories| books with close knit families & healthy friendships

Let’s Talk: Did you read this one? Heard of it? If you read it and it worked better for you let’s talk! I want to know what I was missing and would love to hear your thoughts on what I’ve said! Did ANYBODY feel similarly to me because I feel like I really missed out on a WOW story considering other reactions.


The Perpetual Page-Turner

 

Hate List by Jennifer Brown | Book Review

Hate List by Jennifer Brown | Book ReviewHate List by Jennifer Brown
Publisher/Year: Little Brown Books For Young Readers- 2009
Genres: Contemporary YA
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
Other Books From Author: Bitter End, Thousand Words, Perfect Escape
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thestory
Valerie and her boyfriend Nick are a bit of outcasts at their school and they’d been writing a hate list full of people and things they hated in order to vent about it. Until one day five months ago, when Nick used that hate list as a target list in a deadly school shooting in the cafeteria. While Valerie tried to stop him as the event unfolded, and even saved a girl’s life, she’s been blamed for being just as much a part of this as Nick because she helped write the list. As the school year begins, Valerie is forced to go back to school with the peers who think she is guilty and the memories of what happened all while she tries to reconcile her role in all of this, the strained relationships between friends/family and the complicated feelings she has towards Nick.

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This is my second Jennifer Brown book, the first being Thousand Words, and I do declare that Jennifer Brown is one the best when it comes to tackling tough, relevant issues in YA especially after reading Hate List. They are incredibly realistic, feel genuine and not at ALL preachy. There’s always room to think with her books and I LOVE that about them. I thought Hate List was better for me personally between the two I’ve read so far and that mostly is because I really found a strong connection to Valerie and I found myself just absorbed wholly into this story as it was super powerful and incredibly evocative.

I read this book at a strange time though personally as this story mirrored a situation going on with my nephew and his girlfriend. He is going through an angry phase and his girl friend is a very, very angry girl and there was a list written similar to this. Luckily, this situation has been taken care of but it made the predicament in the book all the more real. You look at something like a “hate list” and you have to wonder — is this just kids being angry but harmless or is it something more? In this day you can’t really look the other way.

That’s the sort of situation Valerie, the MC, found herself in. She and her boyfriend were writing this hate list as a way to vent about the people that were mean to them/that they couldn’t stand but it took on a whole new meaning for her boyfriend. What she thought was relatively innocent ended up not being so much and she had to deal with that in the aftermath — deal with that she contributed to this. This is where Hate List really soared. Jennifer Brown made me FEEL so conflicted about Valerie’s role and also understand why Valerie herself feels so conflicted as to what her role is in all of this. Is she a hero? Is she just as much to blame as her boyfriend who did the shooting?

I just can’t get over how realistic this book felt — how Valerie felt about going back to school, how her peers treated her, how even though people were changed it went back to normal in ways, how she still had so much love for Nick even after what he did, how it impacted her family (also: her dad is douche), how she felt conflicted about her role, the guilt she had etc. Sometimes with “issue-y” books, which I do love, I have the problem where I don’t feel like the characters are real and genuine and the issue itself takes precedence of the story but Hate List by Jennifer Brown did NOT have that problem. I loved how round the characters felt — even Nick. I LOVED her psychologist. I just wanted to hug him.

final

This story isn’t about a school shooting but rather the aftermath of the event on the shooter’s girlfriend, Valerie, who unknowingly had a had in it. It balances the glimpses from that day and the past with the very present reality. It’s a GREAT book — very powerful, emotional (yeah I cried), makes you feel conflicted at times and is very thought provoking. If you like books that tackle tough, relevant issues — definitely pick this up! I loved the way the story was told and I was so immersed in Valerie’s unique story.

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Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Let’s Talk: Have you read this one? Heard of it? What did you think if you’ve read it? Have you read any other Jennifer Brown novels? Have you read any books that tackle school shootings in any capacity? I think this was my first one!

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What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton | Book Review

What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton | Book ReviewWhat Happens Next by Colleen Clayton
Publisher/Year: Little Brown Books For Young Readers, Poppy- October 2012
Genres: Contemporary YA
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed
Other Books From Author: None currently!

Thanks Estelle for letting me borrow this!

*There are some trigger warnings with this one that I'd be happy to discuss further if you are hesitant*
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Cassidy, known to everyone as Sid, is on a ski club trip with her two best friends when she meets a charming guy who invites her to his house for a party. She sneaks out to go to the party, without her friends who didn’t approve, and finds her way to his house. The next thing she knows is that she has woken up in this house and can’t remember anything from the night and quickly realizes that this guy stole something from her that she can’t get back. Reeling from the aftermath of this incident, she comes home and decides to stay silent about what happened. She withdrawals from her friends, starts running a lot, drops her advanced classes and takes the only available activity for credits at that time in the A/V room with Corey — a guy she knows to be a complete stoner. An unexpected friendship, and maybe even more, blossoms between them that makes her feel alive again as she tries to ignore what happened to her.

Wow! What a recommendation from Estelle! What Happens Next is definitely a book I’m surprised more people haven’t read! It was incredibly powerful and highly affective though not entirely perfect, in my eyes, with how some of the things were dealt with. It deals with a heartbreaking scenario that happens way more than we probably even know — Sid wakes up remembering nothing that happened after hanging out with a guy she met on the slopes until she realizes one thing that did happen — something she could never get back. What Happens Next deals with the aftermath of that and how she copes with this secret silently. She acts different towards people in her life and pushes them away, starts running A LOT and drops her college prep classes but, on the surface, she still very much is the same Sid. I felt like the portrayal of her dealing with this (and NOT dealing with it) and all the hurt she harbored was very realistic — she tried to push it away and ignore it but eventually she had to deal with it. I just wanted to hug her so much and kept silently pleading with her to tell someone.

The thing that made me LOVE this book was Sid herself. She is a great character that I felt like just leapt off the page. She was hilarious and strong yet I could feel those insecurities she had. I feel like, before I started this book, I thought it was going to be a really dark, serious book and, while it tackled such a topic, there was so much lightness and vibrancy in this novel because of who Sid is and the hope you could feel even in the aftermath of this horrible event. She had so much resiliency in her and you could feel it but I also could feel those gut dropping moments when you’ve almost forget it happened because you are happy and it comes rushing back. The character of Sid was written perfectly and makes this novel stick with me. Her pain was as real as her.

Also, I really need to point out 2 things — I loved the great family portrayed in this and I loved the friendship of Corey. Corey is one guy I didn’t expect to swoon over and TOTALLY did. His friendship was so important, I think, to anchor her at least a little bit and their romance came as one of those slow burn, I-TOTALLY-BELIEVE-THIS kind of romances. I loved how his relationship factored in but it didn’t overshadow Sid’s growth — she did the hard work but had great support.

I will say I was a little disappointed with how one of the issues was tackled/wrapped up. There were a lot of things that happened as a result of what happened that night and a number of, on the verge of overwhelming, threads that emerged and one of those centered around an eating disorder. It wasn’t developed a lot, like I said there was a lot going on, and I just felt this nagging sense when I finished that I didn’t completely love how it seemed like she just STOPPED doing it. Just a minor issue in my mind while reading but worthy of note because I just felt like it wasn’t super developed at all.

At first I wasn’t sure if I liked how neatly things seemed to wrap up but ultimately I decided that I know this story is just a small piece of this event and wasn’t about the healing aspect but rather the admittance that it occurred and coming to terms with what happened so the healing can begin.

I bawled through the last few pages of What Happens Next — this emotional surge that had been building up from the beginning to the end overtook me and the dam was able to burst forth with my tears. It tackles a really difficult subject brilliantly and Sid is a character who shines. Really, really shines. In the midst of a story that could, at first glance, seem to be a complete downer there is resiliency and strength in a character who is so vibrant and funny you can’t not care and flawless slowburn romance that will light your heart on fire but not distract you from Sid’s journey to come to terms with what happened so healing can come.

What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton book review

 

Let’s Talk: Have you read this one? Heard of it? What did you think of it if you have read it? Did you LOVE Sid like I did?? How did you feel about Corey and Sid? How did you feel about how the subject was portrayed? Also, I’d love for some other recommendations for books that tackle date rape/rape well.

Where The Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller | Book Review

Where The Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller | Book ReviewWhere The Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller
Publisher/Year: Bloomsbury USA Childrens- September 24, 2013
Genres: Contemporary YA
Format: ARC
Source: For Review
Other Books From Author: Something Like Normal
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I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way swayed my opinion. Pinky swear!

 

 

 

Callie has been on the run with her mom for ten years when her mom picked up and left her dad. She doesn’t remember much of her dad and only knows what her mom tells her. Life with her mom hasn’t been at all normal — she never went to a real school, she wanders around whenever she wants, she takes care of herself and she and her mom pick up and leave whenever things go south with one of her mom’s men. When they hit the road again, this time Callie’s mom is arrested for her kidnapping and Callie is sent to live with her dad and his new family. Callie is thrust back into this town she doesn’t remember, a dad she barely knows and a big Greek family she never got to know and she struggles to fit into it all, have a relationship with her dad and let herself love.

I read Where The Stars Still Shine in August and I’ve really struggled to put pen to paper when it comes to this story because it was literally flawless for me. You know I loved Something Like Normal when I read it back in February and I declared Trish Doller a new favorite contemporary author based on that book alone and Where the Stars Still Shine really solidifies that for me. Trish deserves more recognition and if you EVER listen to me when it comes to a great contemporary YA book…PLEASE let it be this one! PLEAAASE!

I knew I was in trouble immediately when early on I started to cry and my emotions didn’t stop there. I kept crying so much that I had to keep dunking myself underwater at the pool so nobody could notice all the tears streaming down my face. Callie’s life is ROUGH and you learn early on that her mom’s irresponsibility and flighty behavior has really affected her. It was so hard to read about her life and everything she’s had to go through and all the things her mom said about her dad. The most EMOTIONAL part for me was definitely when she was reunited with her father and then all the triumphs and missteps in them trying to have a relationship.

The biggest part of the book for me, even though the romance was quite lovely, is all about family. We see Callie’s relationship with her mom at first and her mom is someone you want to hate for everything she’s put Callie through — the lies, choosing men over her and just being altogether irresponsible. Callie’s dad? One of my new favorite parents in YA! There were so many touching moments that included him and I definitely cried a lot on his behalf also. It was so emotional and the way Trish wrote him really made you love him.

Aside from him there was Callie’s cousin and her huge Greek family and I just really began to love these characters so much and wanted Callie to feel accepted and like she was a part of this family. The family aspect of this novel was written perfectly as Trish really contrasts Callie’s life with her mom with this new family. It’s SO easy to see where Callie struggles but as a reader you just want her so badly to accept their love even though you UNDERSTAND her issues.

Callie is a memorable character that I just wanted to hug. I loved her relationships with so many people in this novel — familial and romance. I felt her journey and growth was admirable and I didn’t want the pages to end at all. I wanted to be sure she would be ok because that girl has been through a lot. Her whole journey from the time she set foot in the car with her dad felt believable and I could GET why she had a hard time feeling like she fit into this new life with her dad and his new family after ten years of being with her mom.

Everything about this book was flawless for me. I literally can’t think of one thing about it that could have been better. Trish Doller wrote a story that made my heart explode into pieces so small they shouldn’t have been able to been able to be put back together — but somehow she managed to put them back together with a moving story of family, second chances, love and facing your future despite your past. If you like amazing character development that feels incredibly real and makes you feel emotions so fiercely, pick this book up. The plot was immediately interesting to me and the characters just took it and ran and I didn’t want to pull myself out of the story because I was so immersed in it. Such a COMPLETE story that reminds me of why I love reading!

Where The Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

 

Let’s Talk: Have you read Where the Stars Still Shine? Heard of it? What did you think of it if you’ve read it? Agree/disagree with me?

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales | Book Review

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales | Book ReviewThis Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Publisher/Year: Farrer Straus and Giroux- September 17, 2013
Genres: Contemporary YA
Format: ARC
Pages: 288
Source: For Review
Other Books From Author: Mostly Good Girls, Past Perfect,
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I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way swayed my opinion. Pinky swear!

 

 


Elise has always been on the outside and gotten picked on and endures school with no friends. She makes one last attempt to create a new Elise and try to fit in but it fails in the worst way and she thinks she just can’t bear it anymore. After she hits an ultimate low, she wanders off to walk one night and ends up in front of a warehouse where a secret party is happening and she meets people who welcome her in and accept her rather than looking at her the way her classmates do. Once inside she falls in love with the rush of the music and finds herself enthralled with DJing. As she falls more in love with DJing and feels like somebody, things at school seems to get even worse as her past sticks with her.

This Song Will Save Your Life was actually a bit of a surprise for me. It sounded like a fun contemporary novel that I would LIKE but I didn’t expect it to really make the kind of impression that it did and hit me square in the heart. I’m DEFINITELY going to be checking out Leila Sales others books if this is what I have to look forward to because she writes a damn good story with characters that feel familiar yet feel so unique. Its spirit pulses from the pages, right through to your veins and reverberates in your soul — a feeling reminiscent of any great concert or night out dancing where your ears are still buzzing and the music still pounds within you.

The official synopsis does not even prepare you for how heartbreaking Elise’s story is in terms of how she gets made fun of and bullied. She was genuinely different and I felt so bad for her for the shame she felt in that. I remember that feeling of needing to blend in during high school and it makes me ragey now to think about how much of my self I hid. It was heartbreaking to see how she was treated and to know just how lonely she was. I don’t want to say too much about the specifics but your heart will BREAK for Elise (and you’ll want to hulksmash some people)  and what she has to endure but you will root for her as she begins to be okay with the things that make her different and find people who help her embrace who she is.

I’m not going to lie. Leila Sales had her work cut out for her to convince me that “teenage DJ” wasn’t going to be super corny. I will tell you that she successfully proved me wrong and I felt like I was walking into the club with Elise for the first time and feeling so excited every step of the way. I could feel the energy and I loved how the setting was written perfectly. Music has been amazingly lifesaving in my own life and I could just FEEL how it was invigorating to her and stirred something inside her. I was a little nervous at points in the book to think this story was going to follow the trend of romance being what redeems or saves someone but Leila stayed true to the title and Elise truly is one of the most kickass characters ever.

ALSO TO NOTE…the supporting characters are MY FAVORITE EVER. Seriously. I loved so many of them that I could write 5 more paragraphs but I WON’T…just please go open this book and meet them.

 

Absolutely LOVED this book. I expected I would LIKE it but I didn’t expect that I would feel so strongly about it and that it would have been such a touching read for me. I loved Elise’s story and the uniqueness of the setting and plot. Teenage DJ could have been a corny concept but Leila Sales nails it. Heartbreaking at times, honest and inspiring in that you don’t necessarily have to CHANGE to find yourself but you just have to see those perceived weaknesses or quirks as your strength and learn to be comfortable in your skin. The power of music and TRUE friendships that don’t try to change you also really resonated with me.


This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

 

Let’s Talk: Did you read this one?? What did you think of it — similar thoughts to mine or different? I’d love to hear them either way! Did you think the whole Char & Elise thing was going to be cliched “he saves me” storyline at certain points? Who was your fave minor character? I rather loved Mel and obviously Vicky!!

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