Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKS

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKSA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch
four-stars
Published by Atria Books on July 15, 2014
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 337
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.

Review:

Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove follows the story of, you guessed it, a man by the name of Ove.  Ove is the quintessential grumpy old man in pretty much every way.  I actually couldn’t stand him for the first few chapters of the book.  He’s set in his ways, incredibly opinionated, and can be downright mean and rude at times.  What we also learn about him early on, however, is there’s a lot more going on with Ove than just your average grumpiness.  Ove is suffering from depression and having thoughts of suicide because his beloved wife has passed away and he’s just completely lost without her.  I felt much more sympathetic to Ove after learning this news and found myself wanting to know more about him.

My favorite part of the story therefore is how the author presents us with such a complete portrait of Ove. In addition to chapters that take us through Ove’s present circumstances, the author also includes chapters that feature life-shaping events from Ove’s past.  The more I learned about Ove, both past and present, the more lovable I found him.  I especially enjoyed the chapters that focused on how Ove met his wife.  This grumpy old man was actually downright adorable as he awkwardly pursued the girl of his dreams.

The secondary characters also added a lot of depth to the story.  The author does a wonderful job fleshing them out and making them feel like people you might actually run into in your own neighborhood. I was an especially big fan of Ove’s new neighbors.  They’re loud, kind of obnoxious, and basically introduce themselves to Ove by nearly mowing his house over with their moving trailer.  This family, especially the wife and her two daughters, are determined to make Ove an extended part of their family, whether he likes it or not, and they are always inserting themselves into his days, shaking up his entire routine.  They bring a lot of comedy and a lot of heart to the story, and they also bring their own brand of chaos to Ove’s way too orderly existence and I loved every minute of it!

If you want an utterly charming read that focuses on family, unexpected friendships, and the evolution of a grumpy old man into a not-quite-so-grumpy old man, then definitely give A Man Called Ove a try.  The humor and sarcasm is sure to make you laugh, and the overriding heartfelt message of compassion will bring a tear to your eyes.  4 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKSA Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 6, 2016
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex

He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn't understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.

Meet eight-year-old Sam. Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him the world is a puzzle he can't solve on his own.

When Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other . . . When life starts to tear one family apart, can they put themselves back together, one piece at a time?

A Boy Made of Blocks is a beautiful, funny and heartwarming story of family and love inspired by the author's own experiences with his son.

Review:

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I first started reading A Boy Made of Blocks, but what I got was a beautiful, heartfelt story of Alex Rowe, a man who has somehow taken a wrong turn in life and lost his connection to both his wife and their 8-year old autistic son, Sam.  The novel follows Alex’s journey as he is determined to figure out where he went wrong and how he can turn things around so that he can get his family and his life back.

I have to admit that it did take me a while to warm up to Alex.  I couldn’t understand how he couldn’t see what he was doing wrong, that he was either treating everything to do with Sam as a chore or even worse, was ignoring it all together, saying that he was busy at work, and leaving the brunt of raising Sam on his wife.  I kind of wanted to throttle him and tell him to grow up and stop being so selfish.  The more I got to know Alex, however, the more I realized how much he truly did love his son and that he just needed to find a way to connect with him on a real level so that everything else would sort its way out.  And even though I was initially annoyed at Alex for having gotten himself into such a self-inflicted mess with his family in the first place, I grew to admire his effort and determination to right his wrong.  No matter how many missteps and wrong moves he makes, he never gives up on trying to reconnect with Sam.

I thought the author did an especially beautiful job of portraying the vulnerability of a child who has autism, the strain that trying to raise such a child can put on a marriage, and the overall determination of parents to do whatever it takes to make sure their child feels safe and secure and has every opportunity to live a happy and successful life.  Sam was also absolutely precious and I was moved to tears watching his own emotional growth as he and his Dad begin to reconnect in a meaningful way.

A Boy Made of Blocks was an emotional and moving read for me.  I think my favorite quote from the book best sums it up:  “Life is an adventure, not a walk.  That’s why it’s difficult.”  Alex and Sam’s adventure is one you won’t want to miss.  4 STARS

FTC Disclosure: I received A Boy Made of Blocks for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

four-stars

About Fredrik Backman

Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove (soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, as well as two novellas, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and The Deal of a Lifetime. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children.

About Keith Stuart

Keith Stuart is an author and journalist. His heartwarming debut novel, A Boy Made of Blocks, was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick and a major bestseller, and was inspired by Keith’s real-life relationship with his autistic son. Keith has written for publications including Empire, Red and Esquire, and is the former games editor of the Guardian. He lives with his wife and two sons in Frome, Somerset.

Review: LITTLE BIG LOVE by Katy Regan

Review:  LITTLE BIG LOVE by Katy ReganLittle Big Love by Katy Regan
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on June 5, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

I requested Katy Regan’s Little Big Love from Netgalley primarily because the book’s synopsis describes it as About a Boy meets ParenthoodParenthood is one of my all-time favorite family-centric dramas and I loved it because every episode took me through a full range of emotions because I became so invested in the Braverman family:  joy, sadness, anger, frustration, love, regret – you name it, I felt it. Seeing Little Big Love compared to Parenthood therefore made it a must-read for me.  The comparison is apt too because the characters in Little Big Love captured my heart in much the same way the Bravermans did in Parenthood.

Little Big Love follows Zac Hutchinson, a 10-year old boy who is on a mission to find the his father, whom he has never met.  Zac knows he has a dad because, of course, everyone does, but all Zac knows about his is that according to his mom and grandparents, Zac’s dad “did a runner” as soon as Zac was born and never came back.  Zac has therefore spent his entire life without a dad and is obsessed with what it would be like to have one.  The older he gets, the more convinced he is that if his dad could just meet him once, he’d want to stick around.  Then, one fateful night when his mom, in a drunken state, confesses to Zac that she still loves his dad, Zac, with the help of his best friend Teagan, sets his “Find Dad Mission” into motion. Now he wants to find his dad, not just for himself, because he also thinks it would finally make his mom happy again.

Zac.  10-year-old Zac was, by far, my favorite character in this story.  He’s such a sweetheart, always thinking of others, and just the type of kid who wouldn’t hurt a fly.  It broke my heart to watch him obsess so much about not having a Dad in his life, especially once I realized how many secrets about his father his mom and grandparents were keeping from him.  For reasons that weren’t revealed until much later, it was as if all mention of Zac’s father had been banned from their household so Zac literally knew nothing about his dad, aside from his name.  Zac was also an incredibly sympathetic character because he’s being bullied at school because of his weight and because he doesn’t stick up for himself.  The kids are just so evil and relentless, and I cried for Zac several times as I was reading.  Regan really got me in the feels when it came to Zac.

Teagan.  Teagan is Zac’s classmate and best friend, and she is the spunkiest little firecracker there ever was.  She is Zac’s biggest supporter, which makes me love her all the more knowing how low Zac’s self-esteem is because of his weight and because of the constant bullying.  Teagan is also a breath of fresh air, frequently using comical expressions like “He just needs a rocket up his bum!” to bring some levity and humor into what is otherwise a pretty heavy story.  My favorite thing about Teagan is her enthusiastic support of Zac’s mission to find his dad.  She spends a lot of time watching crime and detective shows so that she can share helpful tips on how Zac should conduct his investigation and gather evidence that will help locate his dad.  It’s just adorable!

3 Points of View.  While the children were my favorite characters in Little Big Love and Zac’s chapters were my favorites because that have that honesty and tell-it-like-it-is bluntness that only an innocent child can bring, I also appreciated that the story was presented not just from Zac’s perspective, but also from the perspectives of Zac’s mom, Juliet, and Zac’s grandfather, Mick. Juliet is a single mom who is struggling to make ends meet and who is also dealing with her own self-esteem and weight issues.  All she wants is what’s best for Zac but sometimes finds herself questioning her life’s choices.  Mick, Zac’s granddad brings us the perspective of a recovering alcoholic who loves his family more than life itself, but who is weighted down by secrets that if revealed, could cost him everyone he loves.  I loved all of the layers that Regan adds to the story by using these three completely different perspectives.

Realistic Issues and Big Themes.  As I mentioned earlier, at times, Little Big Love was a heavy read.  It deals with some issues and themes that really got to me on an emotional level.  They’re issues that many families will face and perhaps they got to me all the more since I have a son Zac’s age.

There is of course the family drama with these secrets that they’re keeping and how those secrets are just weighing everyone down. But then there’s also alcoholism, bullying, loss and grief, and mental health/low self-esteem issues as well.  This whole family has been through so much, and as I said with Parenthood, I became so invested in them that their stories – the good and the bad – just really had me so emotional at times.  Bless little Teagan and her “rocket up the bum” jokes to lighten the mood and keep things from getting too heavy, lol.

Even though I really enjoyed Little Big Love overall, I did occasionally struggle with the pacing, especially in the beginning.  I adored all of Zac’s chapters and just flew through them, but I’ll admit that I struggled to get into Juliet’s story and even Mick’s at first.  I was a little put off by the secrets they were keeping because I just didn’t see where any good could possibly come from what they were doing.  Ultimately though, they won me over because it became clear that they both loved Zac more than anything else in this world and that they were beating themselves up about their choices just as much, if not even more, than I was beating them up.

Katy Regan’s Little Big Love is a moving story about a flawed but beautiful family and the things they’re willing to do to protect both themselves and the ones they love.  They don’t always make the best choices, but their hearts are in the right place, even if their heads aren’t.  I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys books that feature endearing characters, especially lovable children, as well as messy but realistic family situations.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

About a Boy meets Parenthood in this smart, big-hearted love story about a family for whom everything changed one night, a decade ago, and the young boy who unites them all.

Told through the eyes of Zac, Juliet, and grandfather Mick, Little Big Love is a layered, heartfelt, utterly satisfying story about family, love, and the secrets that can define who we are.

four-stars

About Katy Regan

Katy Regan was born and brought up in the northern seaside town of Morecambe. Her claim to fame – aside from being possibly the only person in the world to get expelled from primary school – is that at the age of 16 she went to stage school in Surrey with Posh Spice. She worked at 19 magazine for two years before joining Marie Claire in 2002. ‘Highlights’ in that position included spending ten days in the buff on a nudist resort and becoming a footballer’s wife for a week — all in the name of investigative journalism. In 2004 at the height of her career as the office roving reporter singleton, she fell accidentally pregnant by her best mate (who just remained a friend). Seeing the creative possibilities in this unconventional situation, her editor commissioned her to write a column – And then there were three! which proved so successful it ran for two years and inspired many a reader to write in to Katy with their life story. She has now taken her loyal following to her blog – The State She’s In – on the Marie Claire website. She lives in south London and shares care of her son Fergus with his dad who lives across the road.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for FAR FROM THE TREE and HUNTING PRINCE DRACULA

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for FAR FROM THE TREE and HUNTING PRINCE DRACULAFar from the Tree by Robin Benway
five-stars
Published by HarperTeen on October 3, 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 374
Also in this series: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1)
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

Review:

Robin Benway’s Far From the Tree is an incredibly moving and engaging read that grabbed hold of all of my emotions and didn’t let go until long after I reached the final page.  It made me laugh, it made me cry, and sometimes it just really made me sad and frustrated.  Why? Because Far From the Tree isn’t just a book about family.  It also touches on some important social issues that really resonate, such as teen pregnancy and the stigma that seems to follow the teen mom but not the teen dad; the many fears that plague both kids who have been adopted as well as those who are stuck in the foster care system; the impact addiction can have on a family; and so many more.

Far From the Tree follows three teenagers, Grace, Mia, and Joaquin, who are related by blood, but who have never met because their mother gave each of them up soon after they were born.  Grace and Mia were both adopted as babies, but Joaquin was never adopted and has spent his entire life drifting in and out of foster homes.  Grace has lived most of her life knowing that she was adopted, but until a heart-to-heart conversation with her parents, she had no idea that she also had two siblings out there in the world.  She sets out to find them and it’s just such an incredible moment to watch the three of them connect and gradually start to bond with each other, gradually sharing more and more about themselves, including most importantly, fears, whether rational or irrational, that have plagued them for most of their lives.

It’s incredibly easy to fall in love with all three siblings because Benway does such a wonderful job making each interaction feel authentic as she poignantly captures the awkwardness and all of the emotions that Grace, Mia, and Joaquin experience as they realize they’re not as alone as they each thought they were.  If you’re looking for a beautifully written contemporary novel that explores what it truly means to be a family, look no further than Robin Benway’s Far From the Tree.  5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for FAR FROM THE TREE and HUNTING PRINCE DRACULAHunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco
Also by this author: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1)
four-stars
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper #2
on September 19, 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 434
Also in this series: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1)
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Following the grief and horror of her discovery of Jack the Ripper's true identity, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has no choice but to flee London and its memories. Together with the arrogant yet charming Thomas Cresswell, she journeys to the dark heart of Romania, home to one of Europe's best schools of forensic medicine...and to another notorious killer, Vlad the Impaler, whose thirst for blood became legend.

But her life's dream is soon tainted by blood-soaked discoveries in the halls of the school's forbidding castle, and Audrey Rose is compelled to investigate the strangely familiar murders. What she finds brings all her terrifying fears to life once again.

Review:

Hunting Prince Dracula is the second installment in Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series.  I loved the first book in this series so much and I’m happy to report that the second book is just as good, if not better, than the first!

Audrey Rose and Thomas Cresswell were just as fabulous this time around, as they traveled together to Romania to study forensic medicine.  Their witty and flirtatious banter fills the pages and serves as a fantastic counterpoint to the dark atmosphere and the danger that they of course find themselves enmeshed in once they enter the school, which turns out to be a super creepy castle.  I don’t want to give away any details about the mystery itself but there’s blood, bodies, bats, stakes through the heart, and oh so much more, including the threat that perhaps the infamous Vlad the Impaler has returned from beyond the grave.

 While the overall formula for Hunting Prince Dracula is quite similar to that of the first book – there’s a mystery to be solved and Thomas and Audrey Rose get on each other’s nerves as they set out to solve it – what took the second book to a different level for me was the emotional turmoil that Audrey Rose experiences as a result of some of the things she learned about her family at the end of the first book.  It’s a thread that follows her throughout Hunting Prince Dracula and it adds some welcome depth to her character, although I of course already loved Audrey Rose because she’s so ahead of her time and is such a feminist.  I love watching her verbally filet anyone who tries to tell her she shouldn’t be at the school studying forensics.  She just has such a feisty, take no prisoners attitude and I love it (as does Thomas)!  I can’t wait to get my hands on the third book in the series to see what’s in store for Thomas and Audrey Rose next!  4 STARS

five-stars

About Kerri Maniscalco

Kerri Maniscalco grew up in a semi-haunted house outside NYC where her fascination with gothic settings began. In her spare time she reads everything she can get her hands on, cooks all kinds of food with her family and friends, and drinks entirely too much tea while discussing life’s finer points with her cats.

Her first novel in this series, Stalking Jack the Ripper, debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. It incorporates her love of forensic science and unsolved history.

About Robin Benway

Robin Benway is a National Book Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of six novels for young adults, including Audrey, Wait!, the AKA series, and Emmy & Oliver. Her books have received numerous awards and recognition, including a 2008 Blue Ribbon Award from the Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books, 2009’s ALA Best Books for Young Adults, and 2014’s ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults. In addition, her novels have received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly, and have been published in more than twenty countries. Her most recent title, Emmy & Oliver, was published in 2015 by Harper Teen, and was named one of the best books of summer by the Los Angeles Times, the Houston Chronicle, and Publishers Weekly. Her latest book, Far From the Tree, won the 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and was published on October 3, 2017 by Harper Teen.

Robin grew up in Orange County, California, attended NYU, where she was the 1997 recipient of the Seth Barkas Prize for Creative Writing, and is a graduate of UCLA. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she spends her time hanging out with her dog, Hudson, making coffee, and procrastinating on writing.

Review: From Twinkle, With Love

Review:  From Twinkle, With LoveFrom Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon
Also by this author: When Dimple Met Rishi
three-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on May 22, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Sandhya Menon’s From Twinkle, with Love is a light and romantic YA contemporary that is sure to delight fans of her first book When Dimple Met Rishi.  It follows high school student Twinkle Mehra, who is an inspiring filmmaker but also a bit of a wallflower who is really working on trying to find her voice.  She wants to use her passion for filmmaking to tell stories to the world but feels like she really needs to work on building herself up so that the world will listen to her.  When fellow film buff, cutie Sahil Roy suggests that they work on a film project together for an upcoming school festival, Twinkle jumps at the opportunity. This could be the big break she has been looking for, to finally share her filmmaking vision with more than just her five YouTube subscribers.  If she does this project, hundreds, maybe even thousands of people will finally see her work.  An added bonus for Twinkle is that working with Sahil could get her closer to her longtime crush, Sahil’s twin brother, Neil, who in her mind, she has scripted out a picture perfect future with.

As Twinkle and Sahil get to know each other better, however, Twinkle starts to unexpectedly have feelings for Sahil.  He’s cute, sweet, and everything she could possibly want in a boyfriend…except that Sahil’s not the boy she has been fantasizing about.  He’s not the popular brother who could be the key to Twinkle climbing the social ladder and reinserting herself into former bff Maddie’s new circle of rich friends.  Will Twinkle follow her heart to Sahil or will her desire to be noticed by the popular kids stand in the way of her chance at real love?

Twinkle: I’ll admit that Twinkle was a bit of a mixed bag for me, although I did like her overall.  I loved her intelligence and her passion for filmmaking and that she has all of these stories that she wants to tell.  Where I struggled a little more with Twinkle was when it came to the relationships in her life, whether it’s friendships, love interests, and especially her family.  Twinkle is messy and complicated in these areas, which I liked in the sense that it made her come across as very realistic, but at the same time, it also made her, at times, come across as a bit juvenile.  I lost track of how many times I thought “Girl, you have some serious growing up to do.”  I did feel sympathy for her most of the time, especially when her best friend Maddie basically ditches her for some new rich friends who aren’t even remotely nice to Twinkle.  Watching that relationship fall apart was pretty painful, but even more painful, was watching Twinkle desperately cling to it and obsess over how she was going to get Maddie back.

One of the things I liked the most about Twinkle though was watching her finally find her voice.  She starts off as somewhat meek, thinking things but never saying them. But as she grows into her role as a film director while working with Sahil and her classmates on the film project, she really comes into her own and finds her voice.  This, too, is messy because she goes off the rails a bit before she finds the right balance, but again, that just made it feel all the more realistic.

Sahil:  I think Sahil could give Rishi a serious run for his money in the precious and adorable department.  I’m sure the title character of this book was the one who was supposed to steal my heart but instead, it was Sahil all the way.  Sahil is so kind, patient, and selfless, and he’s also a little reserved and sad at times because he lives in the shadow of his superstar twin brother Neil. And like Twinkle, Sahil has a passion for films.  I thought it was so sweet when he worked up the nerve to ask her to work on a film with him for the school festival, especially after learning that Sahil has had a mad crush on Twinkle since they were both 11 years old.  And my heart just ached for him knowing how he felt about Twinkle, while at the same time, knowing that she’s busy scheming how to get his brother to notice her.  I spent a lot of the novel worrying that Twinkle was going to accidentally squish Sahil’s heart into a million pieces.

Unique Structure:  One of my favorite aspects of From Twinkle, with Love is the way Menon presents most of the story through Twinkle’s journal entries.  I thought it was just brilliant that instead of just randomly writing entries in her journals, she actually addresses them to her favorite female directors such as Sofia Coppola and Ava Duvernay. As someone who has always wanted to keep a journal but consistently failed at it miserably, I couldn’t help but wish I had thought of doing something like this.  And there’s more…While most of the story is presented from Twinkle’s perspective, we do get a little of it from Sahil’s perspective as well in a combination of bro-texts to his two bffs and some not-so-anonymous posts to his blog about his love for “Sparkle.” You know, because no one would EVER figure out that Sparkle is Twinkle, lol.  (Have I mentioned that Sahil is the absolute most precious and adorable part of this entire book?  Because yeah, he totally is!)

Groundlings vs Silk Feathered Hat Wearers:  I think this is going to be one of those things that really annoyed me but won’t bother most people, but the constant use of this comparison throughout the novel really drove me crazy after a while.  At first I thought it was clever when Twinkle started writing about Shakespearean theater and comparing herself to the groundlings (those with little money who would go to see the plays but stood on the ground at the theater because they couldn’t afford to purchase a seat) vs. the Silk Feathered Hat Wearing types who could afford the seats and who pranced around in fancy clothing acting important.  Twinkle’s dream is to use her filmmaking talents to rise up from “Groundling” status so that she is no longer invisible to those of higher social status.  While I didn’t necessarily have an issue with Twinkle’s dream, it drove me batty that literally every time she talked or wrote about the dream, she mentioned the actual terms ‘Groundlings’ and ‘Silk Feathered Hat Wearers.’ It went from feeling clever to feeling repetitive.

Too Many Love Interests:  I actually think the story would have been a stronger read for me with less focus on boys and more focus on filmmaking.  There were just too many potential love interests floating around – Sahil and Twinkle, or is it Neil and Twinkle, or no, wait, is it the anonymous email-writing secret admirer and Twinkle?  For someone like me who isn’t that much of a romance reader, this was just too much for me.

One final area where I struggled a little is that Twinkle seemed very young and immature at times.  She mentions in the first journal entry that she is sixteen but there were times when I thought she came across as much younger than that, more like 14.  Thankfully she did start to show some growth and maturity as I moved through the book, but it threw me a little in the early goings and made it a little harder to connect with Twinkle than I would have hoped.  I think maybe my expectations were just misplaced because Dimple and Rishi seemed so much older and more mature in Menon’s first book.

From Twinkle, with Love explores a lot of themes that readers are sure to find relatable – love, friendship, family, finding one’s voice, and following one’s dreams. While I didn’t find it quite as captivating a story as I did When Dimple Met Rishi, I still thought it was a solidly entertaining read and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of contemporary fiction.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories she wants to tell and universes she wants to explore, if only the world would listen. So when fellow film geek Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is all over it. The chance to publicly showcase her voice as a director? Dream come true. The fact that it gets her closer to her longtime crush, Neil Roy—a.k.a. Sahil’s twin brother? Dream come true x 2.

When mystery man “N” begins emailing her, Twinkle is sure it’s Neil, finally ready to begin their happily-ever-after. The only slightly inconvenient problem is that, in the course of movie-making, she’s fallen madly in love with the irresistibly adorkable Sahil.

Twinkle soon realizes that resistance is futile: The romance she’s got is not the one she’s scripted. But will it be enough?

Told through the letters Twinkle writes to her favorite female filmmakers, From Twinkle, with Love navigates big truths about friendship, family, and the unexpected places love can find you.

three-half-stars

About Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI and the upcoming FROM TWINKLE, WITH LOVE. She currently lives in Colorado, where she’s on a mission to (gently) coerce her family to watch all 3,221 Bollywood movies she claims as her favorite.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LEAH ON THE OFFBEAT and I HAVE LOST MY WAY

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LEAH ON THE OFFBEAT and I HAVE LOST MY WAYLeah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
Also by this author: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
four-half-stars
Series: Creekwood #2
Published by HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray on April 24, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 339
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Review:

Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is one of my favorite reads from the past few years.  Simon and his fabulous group of friends just made me smile the entire time I read that book so when it was announced that Albertalli was doing a follow up book called Leah on the Offbeat about Simon’s best friend, Leah, I couldn’t pass up the chance to read it.  I don’t even know where to start aside from to say that I absolutely adored everything about Leah on the Offbeat, especially the main character herself.  How do I love Leah Burke?  Let me count the ways!  I love her snark, her sarcasm, her badass drummer girl persona, that she’ll let an F bomb drop without batting an eye, and most of all, I love that she is so much more than all of the things I just listed.  She is a teenage ball of angst just like most of the rest of us were when we were in high school.

It was just so wonderful to visit Creekside High again and see Simon and the gang as they are going through their senior year and getting ready for college.  I know it’s been ages since I was a senior but Albertalli so vividly portrayed all of the quintessential senior activities – like senior prom and applying to colleges and stressing while you waited to here if you got into your first choice, and of course constantly thinking about how this is the last time you’re going to hang out with your best friends before everything changes, etc. – that I felt like I was right back in high school myself. Her dialogue is fantastically spot-on, and I especially loved how many Harry Potter references she had sprinkled throughout the book.

Albertalli also does a fantastic job of realistically portraying all of the relationship turmoil that inevitably happens in high school and the impact it can have on even the most solid of friend groups.  I think many people will find Leah’s predicament relatable as she feels stuck in the middle watching couples in her friend group break up and not knowing what to do about it.  The angst that she experiences as she realizes she is attracted to one of them is also very relatable, not to mention the added stress that she is bisexual but has yet to come out to any of her friends, even though at least two of them are openly gay themselves.  Leah’s life is just a big ball of awkwardness beneath that cool drummer girl persona.

One of my favorite qualities about Albertalli’s books is that on the surface, they feel like light, fluffy, feel good stories, but at the same time, they’re also filled with meaningful messages about family, friendships, and love.  This is the third book by Albertalli I’ve read and I look forward to reading many more from her. 4.5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LEAH ON THE OFFBEAT and I HAVE LOST MY WAYI Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman
four-half-stars
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers on March 27, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 258
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A powerful story of empathy and friendship from the #1 New York Times Bestselling author of If I Stay.

Around the time that Freya loses her voice while recording her debut album, Harun is making plans to run away from everyone he has ever loved, and Nathaniel is arriving in New York City with a backpack, a desperate plan, and nothing left to lose. When a fateful accident draws these three strangers together, their secrets start to unravel as they begin to understand that the way out of their own loss might just lie in help­ing the others out of theirs.

An emotionally cathartic story of losing love, finding love, and discovering the person you are meant to be, I Have Lost My Way is best­selling author Gayle Forman at her finest.

Review:

Set in New York City, Gayle Forman’s I Have Lost My Way is a poignant story that follows three young people – Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel – each of whom has lost their way in life and needs help getting back on track.  Freya is an almost famous singer but has mysteriously and unexpectedly lost her singing voice right in the middle of recording her debut album and doesn’t know what will become of her or her career if it doesn’t come back.  Harun is a gay Muslim who is desperately trying to figure out how to come out to his parents.  He is sure his family will react badly, but he also knows if he doesn’t come out soon, he is in danger of losing James, the love of his life.  Nathaniel is a young man who has come to New York with nothing but a backpack.  All we know when we meet him is that he seems confused and disoriented upon his arrival to the city, keeps calling a phone number and listening to a message from his father, and that he also appears to be starving.  Nathaniel definitely appears to be lost, both physically and in other ways, but it doesn’t become clear until much later in the story just how lost he really is.  An accident of fate brings these three lost souls together and as they slowly bond with one another, they realize that perhaps helping each other is a way for them to find themselves again.

I Have Lost My Way is a relatively short book but it packs a huge emotional punch, particularly if, like me, you’re a fan of character-driven stories.  Forman presents her story from the perspectives of Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel so that we are able to dive deep into their minds and see firsthand just how lost and alone all three of them are feeling.  I also loved the way the book was structured in the sense that even though the story itself only spans the course of a single day, through the use of flashbacks throughout the novel, Forman is able to really flesh out each of these characters and give Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel each a rich history as we explore their complicated relationships with various family members and other loved ones and how exactly they found themselves in the emotional states that they’re in when we meet them.  Those flashbacks allowed me to quickly become very invested in the well beings of all three characters even though I only really met them for one day.

I Have Lost My Way was also a captivating read for me because it explored so many themes that we can all relate to.  It touches on love, loss, family, loneliness, the healing power of friendship, and acceptance.  If you’re looking for a beautifully written and moving read, I would highly recommend this book.  The only reason it’s not a 5 star read for me is that there is a romance involved between two of these characters and I think the story would have been even more powerful without that as it was a little distracting.  Still an incredible read though.  4.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Becky Albertalli

Becky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction. Her debut novel, SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, released from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins on April 7th, 2015.

About Gayle Forman

Award-winning author and journalist Gayle Forman has written several bestselling novels for young adults, including the Just One Series, I Was Here, Where She Went and the #1 New York Times bestseller If I Stay, which has been translated into more than 40 languages and in 2014 was adapted into a major motion picture.

Gayle published Leave Me, her first novel starring adults in 2016 and her latest novel, I Have Lost My Way, came out in March of 2018.

Gayle lives with her husband and daughters in Brooklyn.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for I STOP SOMEWHERE and GEEKERELLA

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for I STOP SOMEWHERE and GEEKERELLAI Stop Somewhere by T.E. Carter
five-stars
Published by Feiwel & Friends on February 27, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Ellie Frias disappeared long before she vanished.

Tormented throughout middle school, Ellie begins her freshman year with a new look: she doesn't need to be popular; she just needs to blend in with the wallpaper.

But when the unthinkable happens, Ellie finds herself trapped after a brutal assault. She wasn't the first victim, and now she watches it happen again and again. She tries to hold on to her happier memories in order to get past the cold days, waiting for someone to find her.

The problem is, no one searches for a girl they never noticed in the first place.

Review:

T.E. Carter’s I Stop Somewhere is a stark, raw, and heart wrenching story about a teenager named Ellie Frias, who finds herself trapped after a brutal assault.  Not only is Ellie unable to escape, she is forced to watch many other girls be victimized as she was because her attackers are serial rapists.  As she waits for someone to find her, Ellie resorts to using her memories as a way to cope with not only what she has gone through, but what she is forced to witness each time her attackers find a new victim.

What I found so interesting about this book is that even though there’s clearly a crime, there’s no mystery here to solve.  Because we’re seeing everything unfold through the eyes of the victim, we know exactly who the perpetrators are.  The only questions here are will they be punished for their crimes and will the victims get justice, which is where the crux of Carter’s narrative lies.  I Stop Somewhere points out some ugly truths about rape culture and misogyny, victim blaming in particular, and it also exposes how wealth and privilege mean more to some than making sure justice is served.

The most powerful aspect of I Stop Somewhere, however, is actually not its exploration of these dark themes.  Instead, it’s the look inside of Ellie’s mind that we are given.  As we watch the events of the present unfold through Ellie’s eyes, we also take an intimate look at her life as she reflects on all of her hopes and dreams, regrets, as well as any and all choices that she has made throughout her life that have led to her current situation.  I found myself in tears a few times while reading Ellie’s thoughts because all she wanted was to be loved. It’s a heartbreaking look at just how fragile and vulnerable a teenage girl’s esteem can be and how there are monsters out there who prey on that vulnerability.

I Stop Somewhere is, by no means, an easy book to read. There were times when I had to set it aside because it just had me too upset to continue. I went back and forth between being heartbroken about everything that happened to Ellie and being absolutely furious about how law enforcement and the justice system were treating the victims.  It’s an emotional draining read at times, but one that I would highly recommend.  5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for I STOP SOMEWHERE and GEEKERELLAGeekerella by Ashley Poston
four-stars
Series: Starfield #1
Published by Quirk Books on April 4, 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic science-fiction series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck and her dad's old costume, Elle's determined to win - unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons - before he was famous. Now they're nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he has ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake - until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

Part-romance, part-love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

Review:

As you can probably surmise from the title, Ashley Poston’s Geekerella is a retelling of the classic Cinderella fairytale.  What I loved most about this story is that although it clearly retained lots of awesome shout-outs to the original tale –  the evil stepmother and stepsisters, the pumpkin coach, the dance, the slipper, and so much more – it was still a completely unique, fun, and quirky contemporary tale in its own right.

I liked the spin the author put on the Cinderella tale here because not only do we get Cinderella’s side of the story, as we would expect, but Poston also delivers Prince Charming’s side of the story as well.  Our Cinderella in this story is a teenager named Elle.  Her parents are dead so she is living with her stepmother and stepsisters.  Elle is a geek at heart and a diehard fan of the cult classic sci-fi show Starfield.  When she learns there is going to be a cosplay contest as part of a promotion for a new Starfield movie, Elle can’t resist entering, especially since the prize is a trip to the fan convention, ExcelsiCon (that her father founded).  Our Prince Charming in Geekerella is Darien, a popular actor who has been cast to play the lead in the new Starfield movie.  We learn that even though he’s a teen heartthrob and has fangirls practically throwing themselves at his feet, he’s also a super geek and diehard Starfield fan as well.  Playing the lead in this film is a dream come true for him.

Even though I’m not a big romance reader, I thought the budding romance in Geekerella was super cute. I thought it was hilarious that Elle absolutely hated Darien’s guts in the beginning and thought he was the worst possible choice to play the lead in the movie.  Darien kind of brings this on himself because he has kept his fanboy life a secret, but it’s great fun watching their relationship unfold and develop from that initial misunderstanding.

My absolute favorite part of the book though was the way the author writes about the Starfield fandom.  She does such an amazing job that I was practically convinced that there really was such a fandom.  And I wanted there to be such a fandom – I wanted to watch the TV show, get dressed up and go to the ExcelsiCon.  I thought she just did such a brilliant job capturing the excitement of being a part of a fandom, particularly her descriptions of the cosplaying and going to cons.  If you’re looking for a book that will bring out your own inner geek, definitely consider reading Geekerella.  It’s one of the cutest and quirkiest retellings I’ve read in a long time.  4 STARS

five-stars

About Ashley Poston

ASHLEY POSTON loves dread pirates, moving castles, and starry night skies. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a B.A. in How to Kick Butt Without Even Trying (aka English), and solidified her love for storytelling. When not proclaiming her undying love for movie star studs and emotionally compromised robots, she’s in search for her next great adventure. She lives in South Carolina with her bossy cat, and they are firm believers that we’re all a bunch of weirdos looking at other weirdos, asking for their usernames.

Sometimes, you can catch her lurking around in coffee shops where she reads copious amounts of fanfic, watches way too much anime, and plays a lot of video games. Oh, and she writes books, too. Sometimes. When the stars are in position.

For rights inquiries, please contact Holly Root of Root Literary.

About T.E. Carter

TE Carter was born in New England and has lived in New England for pretty much her entire life. Throughout her career, she’s done a lot of things, although her passion has always been writing. When she’s not writing, she can generally be found reading classic literature, playing Xbox, organizing her comic collection, or binge watching baking competitions. She continues to live in New England with her husband and their two cats.

Review: THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL

Review:  THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEELThe Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo
three-half-stars
on May 8, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Maurene Goo’s The Way You Make Me Feel is a fun and lighthearted book that is filled with my favorite three F words:  friendship, family, and food.  The story follows Clara Shin, a teenager who thrives on her reputation at school as the class clown.  Clara lives to disrupt school and pull pranks on unsuspecting people like uptight class goody two shoes, Rose Carver.  Rose and Clara loathe each other, and Clara loves every opportunity that presents itself to get under Rose’s skin, which leads her to devise a prank that is so outrageous, it’s sure to push Rose over the edge.  Clara’s prank not only goes terribly wrong, but it also manages to land both she and Rose in hot water with the school administration, and with their parents of course.  The principal initially plans to suspend both girls from school, but Clara’s dad comes up with an even better punishment:  he proposes that Clara and Rose work together all summer aboard his food truck and that the wages they earn can be used to pay for the damage done to the school by Clara’s prank and the aftermath caused by Rose’s reaction to it.

What could possibly go wrong?  But that said, maybe something could actually go right…

Clara and I got off to a rough start because I wasn’t a fan of her fondness for pranks and disruptions.  I immediately worried that this might end up being an issue for me since I’m the type of reader who really needs to like or somehow relate to the main character.  I’ll expand more on my issues with Clara in the ‘Dislikes’ section of my review, but for now I’ll just say that I was able to move past them fairly quickly so that I could enjoy the story and by the end, I really liked Clara.

Why the change?  Mainly because she grows so much as a person throughout the story.  I quickly realized that most of Clara’s clowning around was her way of protecting herself.  She is afraid to open herself up to others for fear of getting hurt and so she wears her humor like a suit of armor, keeping all but a select few at a safe distance.  She walks around acting like she doesn’t care about anything because it’s just easier that way.  Realizing this about Clara made it much easier to connect with her, mainly because I wanted her to take a chance and open herself up to something real, whether it be friendship, romance, or a bit of both.  It probably sounds cliché but I wanted her to not just laugh, but to live, laugh and love, which brings me to the fabulous relationships in this book.

The relationships in this book were what really made the book for me.  When Clara is initially forced to work with Rose all summer long, she thinks it’s going to be an absolute nightmare because they can’t stand each other.  What they realize over the course of their summer together, however, is that maybe they aren’t as different as they thought they were.  If you’re into the idea of enemies becoming friends, this is a relationship that will certainly appeal to you.  Even though I truly thought Rose and Clara were going to kill each other early on in the book, I soon found myself really looking forward to their scenes together as they friendship started to take off. It was so cute, since it became clear that neither of them had had this kind of friendship before.  In that sense, it was a journey of discovery for both Clara and Rose.

On a similar note is Clara’s relationship with Hamlet.  Hamlet is absolutely precious.  He’s a Chinese American teen who works at a coffee cart at one of the spots where Clara’s dad likes to park his food truck.  Hamlet is clearly enamored with Clara as soon as he meets her, and he’s so sweet and cute and funny, that he starts to work his way into Clara’s heart, no matter how determined she is to keep that armor of hers in place.  It was just so cute to watch their relationship grow.  Even though I’m not a romantic at all, I wanted Hamlet to get the girl so badly I couldn’t stand it, lol.

In addition to her budding relationships with Rose and Hamlet, I was also an especially huge fan of Clara’s relationship with her dad, Adrian.  Adrian isn’t perfect by any means.  He makes mistakes like all parents do and he realizes he has probably been a little lax in the way he disciplined Clara over the years, but he’s still just such a great dad.  I loved that he came up with the idea of making her work on his food truck all summer and even though she was livid at the beginning, it was fun to watch them work together and to see Clara learn to appreciate just how hard her Dad is working to try to make all of their dreams come true.

I also really appreciated all of the sacrifices that he made in his own life in order to always be there for Clara.  And the more we learned about just how much he really did for Clara, the more I adored him.  He really makes up for the fact that Clara’s mother is basically a dud of a parent.  Seriously, what kind of a person just abandons their family because they’d rather be a social media influencer and live the posh life.  (As I’m sure you can guess, I was not a fan of Clara’s mom, especially since I have a feeling that she’s the reason why Clara felt like she needed to protect herself from getting hurt).

The Food:  This might sound silly, but one of my favorite parts about The Way You Make Me Feel was the newfound appreciation it gave me for food trucks.  I guess it’s because we don’t have many here and the ones we do have are basic, but I had no idea what truly incredible meals you could get from a food truck.  Goo’s vivid descriptions of the Korean-Brazilian dishes that Clara’s dad served from his truck had my mouth watering every time he or the girls cooked and made me wish that his KoBra truck was a real thing so that I could stop by and try his delicious, spicy concoctions.

I have to admit that even though I ended up really liking Clara overall, I found her class clown routine in the opening pages of the novel to be so obnoxious and juvenile that I almost didn’t continue reading.  It’s probably a personality thing with me because when I was in high school, I never found the class clowns to be very funny either. It always seemed like they were trying too hard to be funny and that was the same vibe I got from Clara.  The humor just felt forced.  Thankfully, once she began serving her “sentence” working on her dad’s food truck, Clara toned down the class clown bit and became a much more enjoyable character for me.  She was still funny but the humor felt a lot more natural than her juvenile pranks did.

 

Even though I had some issues with Clara in the beginning, she really grew on me and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Way You Make Me Feel to anyone who enjoys lighthearted stories about friendship, family, and first loves. If you’re looking for a great summer/beach read, give The Way You Make Me Feel a chance.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From the author of I Believe in a Thing Called Love, a laugh-out-loud story of love, new friendships, and one unique food truck.

Clara Shin lives for pranks and disruption. When she takes one joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck, the KoBra, alongside her uptight classmate Rose Carver. Not the carefree summer Clara had imagined. But maybe Rose isn’t so bad. Maybe the boy named Hamlet (yes, Hamlet) crushing on her is pretty cute. Maybe Clara actually feels invested in her dad’s business. What if taking this summer seriously means that Clara has to leave her old self behind?

With Maurene Goo’s signature warmth and humor, The Way You Make Me Feel is a relatable story of falling in love and finding yourself in the places you’d never thought to look.

three-half-stars

About Maurene Goo

Maurene Goo grew up in a Los Angeles suburb surrounded by floral wallpaper and piles of books. She studied communication at UC San Diego and then later received a Masters in publishing, writing, and literature at Emerson College. Before publishing her first book, Since You Asked, she worked in both textbook and art book publishing. She also has very strong feelings about tacos and houseplants and lives in Los Angeles.

REVIEW: YOU THINK IT, I’LL SAY IT

REVIEW:  YOU THINK IT, I’LL SAY ITYou Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
Also by this author: Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice
four-stars
Published by Transworld Digital on May 3, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

I’m normally not the biggest fan of short stories.  Whenever I read one, I always think of it as a teaser for a full-fledged novel that I’d rather be reading.  Just when I’m starting to get to know and become invested in character, boom, the story’s over.  I’m a big fan of Curtis Sittenfeld’s writing, however, so when I heard she had written You Think It, I’ll Say It, a collection of ten short stories, I decided to give them a try, figuring that if any writer out there could change my mind about short stories, it would be Sittenfeld.

 

What appealed to me the most as I was reading each of these stories is the same thing that always appeals to me when I read anything from Curtis Sittenfeld and that’s the way she is able to get inside of a character’s head and convey everything they’re thinking in such a way that I then can’t get her characters out of my head.  They just always leave me with so much to think about, and all 10 main characters in this collection did exactly that.  Sittenfeld presents each of these characters’ stories from their individual perspectives so that we’re getting an ongoing internal dialogue from each main character as we’re watching the events of the stories play out.  In doing so, Sittenfeld is able to weave several important messages and themes throughout all ten stories so as to make it a cohesive collection.

These themes, in addition to the characters themselves, are what truly kept me engaged.  The central theme of the collection is basically that we’re all human and we all mess up, especially when it comes to our relationships with other equally fallible humans.  All of Sittenfeld’s characters tend to make assumptions about people, maybe based on how they look or how they act, and more often than not, their assumptions end up being not only wrong, but also flat-out unfair.  Her characters are also prone to misinterpreting signals they think other people are giving off, which leads to awkward and embarrassing situations.  There were times when I found myself judging them as well, but then a few pages later, I’d think “I could see myself doing the same thing this character has done, so maybe I’ll just shut up and not judge them.”  In that sense, even though Sittenfeld soundly criticizes these characters for their erroneous snap judgments, she also makes them sympathetic and relatable.  I liked that balance, which she is able to successfully strike with each story.

I also liked that the stories all felt very modern and timely and were filled with Sittenfeld’s trademark insightful social commentary and satire.  There’s mention of the Trump administration in at least one of them, gender inequality factors in at times, there is at least one story that focuses on LGBTQ issues, and one that focuses on the challenges of being a working mother.

I won’t go through all ten stories in detail, but I will say that I don’t think there’s a weak story in the entire collection.  I definitely had my favorites though, including ‘The Prairie Wife,” where an unhappy housewife, Kirsten, is obsessed with Lucy, a popular celebrity.  Kirsten recognizes Lucy, a Martha Stewart-type who is now married with two children and living a conservative lifestyle, as someone she worked with, and had a sexual relationship with, at a summer camp many years ago.  Everything about Lucy’s life infuriates Kirsten because she thinks Lucy  is now living a lie and Kirsten dreams of using the knowledge she has about her to destroy her.  This was such an intense and riveting story  and I absolutely loved the unexpected twist at the end.

Another favorite was “The World Has Many Butterflies,” which contains the title of the actual short story collection, “You Think It, I’ll Say It” in it.  It turns out “You Think It, I’ll Say It” is the name of a gossip-driven game that two people – Graham and Julie – play every time they see each other.  Julie misinterprets why Graham has started playing this game with her and all kinds of awkwardness ensues.  I felt secondhand embarrassment for Julie while I was reading this one!

 

My only issue with this collection was exactly what I feared it might be, that I would become invested enough in the main character from each story, that I would want to hear more from them.  Each story is well-crafted and conveys an interesting and relevant theme, but I couldn’t help but think by the end that I would rather have 10 novels from Sittenfeld about these characters than these brief, although beautiful, snippets.  I’m going to classify that as a “me” problem though. It has nothing to do with the stories themselves or with Sittenfeld’s writing.  She is just such a gifted storyteller that I’ll always want more.

 

While I can’t say that Curtis Sittenfeld has completely changed my mind about short stories overall, I would still highly recommend this very solid collection of stories to anyone who is interested in reading stories filled with messy and unforgettable characters as well as insightful social commentary about how people read and misread each other.  I’d recommend this collection both to those who are new to Curtis Sittenfeld and to those who are long-time fans.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A suburban mother of two fantasizes about the downfall of an old friend whose wholesome lifestyle empire may or may not be built on a lie. A high-powered lawyer honeymooning with her husband is caught off guard by the appearance of the girl who tormented her in high school. A shy Ivy League student learns the truth about a classmate’s seemingly enviable life.

Curtis Sittenfeld has established a reputation as a sharp chronicler of the modern age who humanizes her subjects even as she skewers them. Now, with this first collection of short fiction, her “astonishing gift for creating characters that take up residence in readers’ heads” (The Washington Post) is showcased like never before. Throughout the ten stories in You Think It, I’ll Say It, Sittenfeld upends assumptions about class, relationships, and gender roles in a nation that feels both adrift and viscerally divided.

With moving insight and uncanny precision, Curtis Sittenfeld pinpoints the questionable decisions, missed connections, and sometimes extraordinary coincidences that make up a life. Indeed, she writes what we’re all thinking—if only we could express it with the wit of a master satirist, the storytelling gifts of an old-fashioned raconteur, and the vision of an American original.

four-stars

About Curtis Sittenfeld

CURTIS SITTENFELD is the bestselling author of five novels: Prep, The Man of My Dreams, American Wife, Sisterland, and Eligible. Her first story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, will be published in 2018. Her books have been selected by The New York Times, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and People for their “Ten Best Books of the Year” lists, optioned for television and film, and translated into thirty languages. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and Esquire, and her non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times, Time, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Slate, and on “This American Life.” A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Curtis has interviewed Michelle Obama for Time; appeared as a guest on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” CBS’s “Early Show,” and PBS’s Newshour; and twice been a strangely easy “Jeopardy!” answer.

Review: GIRL MADE OF STARS by Ashley Herring Blake

Review:  GIRL MADE OF STARS by Ashley Herring BlakeGirl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
Also by this author: How to Make a Wish
five-stars
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on May 15, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Ashley Herring Blake is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.  She has such a gift for handling very difficult topics with sensitivity and grace.  I didn’t think she could top How to Make a Wish, which was one of my favorite reads last year, but she has outdone herself with her beautifully written and heartbreaking latest, Girl Made of Stars. 

It’s not just a well-crafted story either. Girl Made of Stars is also an incredibly relevant and timely story, hitting the shelves in the midst of the #MeToo movement on social media that is calling out sexual predators and finally holding them accountable for their actions.

Girl Made of Stars follows the journey of Mara, high school student and founder of the feminist school publication, Empower.  Mara has very strong convictions about giving a voice to those who wouldn’t normally have one, but when she finds herself caught in the middle of an impossible situation, her whole belief system is turned on its head and she doesn’t know what to do.

Her twin brother Owen is accused of rape by his girlfriend, Hannah, who also happens to be one of Mara’s best friends.  Mara doesn’t want to believe that her beloved brother could be capable of such a heinous act, but Mara also doesn’t believe that Hannah would lie about such a thing so she just feels so lost and confused.

It also doesn’t help Mara’s state of mind that her own personal life feels like such a mess.  She and Charlie, her best friend since they were kids, tried to take their relationship in a romantic direction and things didn’t go well.  Now everything is awkward between them and Mara doesn’t know what to do about that either.

Girl Made of Stars follows Mara as she tries to make sense of all of the things that are happening in her life and as she tries to confront demons from her own past that are holding her back.

 

This is one of those books where I feel like I’m going to ramble and ramble and never quite do justice to just what a gorgeous and well-crafted story it really is.

One of the standout moments of the book is how the author sets the stage.  The book opens with Mara and her twin brother Owen lying outside on a flat roof, gazing up at the stars, and reciting a story they made up when they were kids about some of the constellations.  It’s this perfect portrait of innocence and because it seems so innocent and pure, it’s all the more shocking and hard to believe that just a few pages later, Mara’s brother will be accused of rape.  Those two images are just so jarring and hard to reconcile.

I also loved that the story comes to us from Mara’s perspective.  That way we don’t actually see the rape but instead, we learn of it the same way Mara does and have to make up our minds using the same evidence Mara does.

Speaking of Mara, I thought she was just such a loveable main character.  I love that she founded a feminist publication and used it to stand up for what she believed in.  I also spent those early pages ooh’ing and ahh’ing about how sweet her relationship with her sibling was so I became super invested in her once I read what her brother was being accused of because I knew it would tear her up inside.  Mara has to face some tough facts in this story and I was right there with her every step of the way as she begins to watch her brother more closely at school and with his friends.  She begins to see the possibility that just because he’s her brother and she loves him more than life, there is still the possibility that he could be guilty of what he’s accused of doing.

And then to complicate what Mara is feeling even further, there’s Hannah to consider.  Hannah is precious and I loved her just as much as I loved Mara. Hannah is this kind, free-spirited, hippie type and she is absolutely adorable.  That and she’s also head over heels in love with Owen.  When we first meet them at a party, it’s almost nauseating how cute they are with each other.  Her obvious love for Owen makes it all the more shocking that she later accuses him of forcing himself on her.  At the same time, though, it lends that much more credibility to her story.  If she loves him so much, what would be her motivation to accuse him of something so awful?   It becomes so easy to see why Mara is so lost and confused and it made me all the more sympathetic to her as she tries to decide where her loyalties should lie.

In addition to the story of Hannah and Owen, which dominates much of the book, I also really liked the Mara/Charlie storyline that threaded its way through the narrative.  I loved Charlie right away.  Charlie is gender queer and is still trying to figure out exactly what that means, but uses music as a way to work through it.  I kind of wanted to knock Mara upside the head for nearly messing up her relationship with Charlie and really wanted her to figure things out so that she could have at least one good thing happening in her life.

Have Your Tissues Handy.  This is a book where I felt so invested in all of the characters that I ended up in tears several times while I was reading.  I shed tears for Hannah, not just because of what happened to her but also because of how she was treated by Owen’s friends and others when she returned to school.  Blake effectively exposes the ugliness and unfairness of victim blaming and Hannah’s experience serves as a stark and heartbreaking reminder of why so few rape victims come forward and report the crimes.

I didn’t just cry for Hannah though.  I also cried for Mara as well.  I cried for the impossible situation that she finds herself in, torn between her best friend and her brother.  Not only is Mara’s whole world torn apart because she’s caught in the middle, but the whole experience serves as a trigger for Mara, reminding her of a traumatic event from her own past that has haunted her for years.

And lastly, I shed tears for the relationship between Mara and her brother.  Bottom line, whether Owen is innocent or guilty, their relationship is forever changed.   Those twins who would lie outside, look up at the stars, and make up stories about them are no more.  The innocence is lost and there’s no way to get it back.  Will they ever be close again?  Where do they go from here?  It’s heartbreaking to see that Mara could lose the person she has been closest to all her life.

 

I love when a book is so good that I have to leave this section blank.

 

I’ve been somewhat stingy with 5 star ratings this year, but I say without hesitation, that Girl Made of Stars is a 5-star read all the way.  It’s a heart-wrenching read that tackles difficult subjects with sensitivity and understanding. I guarantee it will move you.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

“I need Owen to explain this. Because yes, I do know that Owen would never do that, but I also know Hannah would never lie about something like that.”

Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn’t help that things have been strained with her ex and best friend since childhood, Charlie.

As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.

five-stars

About Ashley Herring Blake

Ashley Herring Blake is a reader, writer, and mom to two boisterous boys. She holds a Master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and watching Buffy over and over again on Netflix with her friends. She’s the author of the young adult novels SUFFER LOVE and HOW TO MAKE A WISH.

Review: STARRY EYES by Jenn Bennett

Review:  STARRY EYES by Jenn BennettStarry Eyes by Jenn Bennett
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on April 3, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Starry Eyes is a young adult contemporary novel that follows teens Zorie and Lennon.  Zorie and Lennon used to be best friends but, because of something that happened at the homecoming dance, they are now sworn enemies and do everything they can to avoid one another at all costs.  I had never read a book by Jean Bennett before and knew absolutely nothing about these characters, but as soon as I read that in the synopsis, I was dying to know what happened at that dance to drive them apart.

I then read further down the synopsis and saw that these enemies somehow not only end up on a camping trip together, but somehow they end up stranded in the wilderness together.  It sounded like a recipe for disaster, but also a recipe for a fantastic read!

As if the mystery of what happened between Zorie and Lennon and whether or not they would kill each other on this camping trip wasn’t compelling enough, the synopsis goes on to describe their parents as modern day versions of the Montagues and Capulets from Romeo and Juliet.  That right there was more than enough to have me dying to read this book.  I mean, seriously…bffs who now hate each other and who have families who are also feuding?  Does that not just scream “READ ME”?  Well, it did for me anyway…

And I loved every page of it.  Jenn Bennett delivers a moving story filled with characters that I fell in love with.  Even though on the surface, Starry Eyes is a book about a camping trip gone wrong, it’s also about family, love, friendship, loyalty, betrayal, and so much more.  It captured all of my emotions and was just everything I hoped it would be.

 

Zorie.  I just loved everything about Zorie.  I found her addiction to planning and organization, along with her sense of humor and her fondness for astronomy, so endearing. I also found her incredibly relatable at times, especially when she first encounters Lennon.  They’re enemies at this point and she would rather do just about anything than have to come face-to-face with him.  Haven’t we all been in that position before?  Equally relatable was her questionable taste in romantic interests.  Zorie has a crush on a guy named Brett, and I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I’m just going to say this guy is just the worst.  I couldn’t figure out what in the world she saw in him. But again, haven’t we all been there at some point?  I think what I liked most about Zorie, however, was how much she matured throughout the story.  Again, no spoilers, but between what happened with Lennon and what has been going on within her own family, Zorie has a lot of issues that she is dealing with and I think she shows tremendous growth as we move through the story, In many ways, it’s actually a coming of age story for her.

Lennon.  Even though I thought going in that I would side with either Zorie or Lennon, I found myself equally attached to both of them.  Lennon is just this cool guy.  He’s a little dark and emo at times, but he loves reptiles and he loves camping and nature so he’s a pretty well rounded and interesting individual.  He really won me over though in an early scene where he’s working in a pet shop and showing reptiles to a young child.  He was just so great with the child that it warmed my heart and made me all the more curious about what happened between him and Zorie.  I mean, how could you not want to be friends or even more than friends with such a great guy!

Zorie and Lennon together.  Yes, you read that correctly! Even though I almost always whine and moan  when there is a romance in a book, I adored watching Zorie and Lennon together as they attempted to rebuild their relationship.  Their chemistry felt real because they already had so much history together, and I loved how authentic the awkwardness felt when they first start trying to talk to each other again, and because I liked them both so much, I just really wanted them to have a second chance, either as friend or hopefully as more than friends since they seemed so perfect together.

Great secondary characters.  Bennett does a fantastic job with most of the parents in this story.  I loved Lennon’s moms and their Toys in the Attic sex shop.  They were hilarious and also two of the best parents I’ve come across in books in a long time. I especially love how protective they are of Zorie, even though they’re supposed to be feuding with Zorie’s dad.  Zorie’s stepmom is wonderful too.  The bond she has with Zorie was lovely, especially since they aren’t related by blood.  Zorie’s dad is a different story in that I loathed him, but I will say he was not a flat character either.

Glamping.  I confess that I completely related to Zorie’s aversion to going camping because I don’t do the outdoors either, especially the whole sleeping in a tent with nothing but some canvas between you and whatever else it out there in the wild, lol. That said, however, I could totally get down with glamping.  It sounded fabulous, especially the wonderful sleeping accommodations, the showers, the chef, and the cocktail hours.  Sign me up!

I could literally go on and on about what I loved, but you get the idea…

 

Aside from wanting Brett to get eaten by a bear, I didn’t really have any issues with this book.

 

This may have been my first Jenn Bennett read, but it will most certainly not be my last.  If you’re looking for a heartwarming read about family, friendship, and first loves, I’d highly recommend Starry Eyes. 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best friends-turned-best enemies Zorie and Lennon have made an art of avoiding each other. It doesn’t hurt that their families are the modern day, Californian version of the Montagues and Capulets.

But when a group camping trip goes south, Zorie and Lennon find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Alone. Together.

What could go wrong?

With no one but each other for company, Zorie and Lennon have no choice but to hash out their issues via witty jabs and insults as they try to make their way to safety. But fighting each other while also fighting off the forces of nature makes getting out of the woods in one piece less and less likely.

And as the two travel deeper into Northern California’s rugged backcountry, secrets and hidden feelings surface. But can Zorie and Lennon’s rekindled connection survive out in the real world? Or was it just a result of the fresh forest air and the magic of the twinkling stars?

four-half-stars

About Jenn Bennett

Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of young adult contemporary romance books, including: Alex, Approximately; The Anatomical Shape of a Heart; and Starry Eyes. She also writes romance and urban fantasy for adults (the Roaring Twenties and Arcadia Bell series). Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award, garnered two Reviewers’ Choice awards and a Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews, and been included on Publishers Weekly Best Books annual list. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs.