In The Academie, Susanne Dunlap has taken real people (and a few imagined characters) and married real events and imagined events - this story is loosIn The Academie, Susanne Dunlap has taken real people (and a few imagined characters) and married real events and imagined events - this story is loosely based on actual history. What we have is an American girl that arrives at a French boarding school to find that two of her fellow students are closely connected to Napoleon Bonaparte - one is his sister, one is his stepdaughter - during a time of big political tension in France. As the girls become friends and as the American girl learns the refined ways of French society, there are shenanigans, there are some major politics, there is some romance, and there is plenty of drama.
The main players are:
Eliza - daughter of future US President James Monroe
Hortense - stepdaughter of Napoleon
Caroline - sister of Napoleon
Madeline - mixed-race actress at a local theater, not a student at the school
There are three alternating points-of-view telling the narrative - Eliza, Hortense, and Madeline. Caroline is the only one not telling the story, but she is a key player in it.
Okay, so here's the deal: overall I liked the story, but there are things that I liked and things that were merely okay.
Setting. I liked the boarding school feel in the beginning of the book, and I wish it would have carried more seamlessly throughout the entire novel. Because the second part of the book feels so differently than the first part and because there plenty of long scenes that took part elsewhere, I feel a little hesitant to call this a "boarding-school book" although I'm sure others would still categorize it this way.
Characterization. I like all of the characters, I genuinely like them - even the ones that are supposed to be less likable were enjoyable to me. However, there are so many of them that it was tough for me to get to know them as well as I like to. Also, there were instances where the author would call some of the characters by first name, and then sometimes use the last name for the same character - this was confusing to me and it took quite a bit of flipping back and forth (which sadly was not the most fun on an ereader).
Romance. I get that the young girls during this time were already thinking ahead to marriage, I do. And I get that they often had to consider marrying according to what was best for their family, I do. But there were so many romances in this story because there were so many girls! There was some effort in keeping up with who loved who - and there was also some I guess I like him more than I thought and I misread his intentions, doggone it. I kept having to remind myself that the romance portion of the story was likely in keeping with the maturity level of the girls and with the time period in history. Honestly, though, with this particular set of flat-ish characters, the romances felt a little flat too.
History. I love historical fiction and I absolutely LOVE history. Even so, I was not up-to-speed enough on the history of this time and place with regard to everything mentioned in this story. I stopped to research some of the phrases used and a couple of the people mentioned in the book, and the reading was a little easier after that. A brief explanation of these phrases (or use of context?) or indication of who these people were would have been so helpful! But the biggest thing that would have helped me regarding the historical part of this book would have been if the Author's Note had been included BEFORE the book rather than at the end. That way, I would have learned which parts were real and not real, etc. and this would have honestly made the book a little more enjoyable for me.
The Academie by Susanne Dunlap, I think, fits best with a younger-young adult reading crowd. I say this because I think that my young girls would love this one because they would buy into all of it without question, where I was questioning things [and having to suspend my belief that 14-year-old girls would do some of the political things that these girls did]. At any rate, this was a fun read, but honestly not my very favorite YA historical fiction. I would recommend The Academie by Susanne Dunlap to a younger-YA reading crowd, to readers that enjoy French Revolutionary historical fiction, and to readers that enjoy a boarding school setting....more
I had THE BEST time reading this book, cover to cover. I mean, I loved it.
In the beginning of the book, Evie and her smartphone are like one entity.I had THE BEST time reading this book, cover to cover. I mean, I loved it.
In the beginning of the book, Evie and her smartphone are like one entity. She arrives dreadfully late for a very special wedding because she can't put her phone down. She has a wardrobe + phone mishap because she has no pockets and she wants to literally have it on her person so she doesn't miss any calls or emails (big project at work!). She has big, huge problems at work because of Internet use.
There are more Internet things, oh Evie. Oh, Evie.
Evie realizes that she has a problem with the Internet when she spends a fair amount of time Googling her ex-boyfriend and his new wife. There are reasons for this, sure, but it's a new low for Evie. It's the last in a series of bad events that makes Evie realize that she needs to quit the Internet and she needs to do it now. It isn't healthy, it isn't helping her life, and she has to stop. So she does, cold turkey. No more email, no more Facebook or Twitter, no more Instagram.
The results are amazing for her.
Not everyone thinks so, though. People are confused and baffled, actually. While people are supportive to begin with, they wonder why she would want to give up such an easy means of communication. Everything on the Internet is so easy! OH BUT Evie feels so free without the weight of "likes" and "hearts" and photos of weddings and babies and status updates and emails and phone notifications every few seconds -- While Evie is out in the world living, away from screens of any type, her friends and family begin to get annoyed with an inability to reach her anytime they want. It causes a few problems here and there, but it totally changes Evie's life.
The Evie in the beginning of Love and Miss Communication is an eye-opener. I personally am nowhere near that attached to my phone or the Internet, thank goodness. But Evie reminded me of so many people! I think that as readers, we are supposed to be a teensy bit annoyed with Evie's Internet habits in the beginning, and I think that this is the point: that people are so stuck to the Internet these days, so stuck to their smartphones, that we often miss big things. I was not annoyed with her, but I wondered when she would get a life! Evie missed a huge, massive, important part of a wedding and arrived late because she didn't put down her phone in order to arrive on time - the couple thought highly enough of her to have her make a speech at their reception, and she couldn't stop with the phone long enough to arrive on time? Yeah, that's how Evie is at the beginning. And there are a few little instances like this for Evie. Her character is set-up so perfectly at the beginning of this story. It's easy to see how she is ruled by social media and email. That being said, it is so easy to cheer for her when she makes her decision to stop it all.
I love that Evie reached a point where this type of lifestyle betrayed her. Don't get me wrong - I don't want bad things to happen to characters, but it was only then that we were able to see the real Evie come out. And I loved her! Evie is a trained lawyer - an excellent one - and was heading for partnership at a great firm in New York City. After losing her job (over the Internet) and taking some time off before re-applying to more firms (not easy to re-apply without the Internet to submit resumes, see), Evie is able to explore her interests more fully. We are able to read about the Evie that enjoys this and that, and we can read about her strengths and weakness, her hopes and fears. Had the Internet/phone debacle not happened with Evie, none of this change would have occurred. I love this.
I love that she is firm in her resolve to be without email and the Internet. I think her friends are a little bit amused by this to begin with, but as Evie continues to stick with her plan, they become annoyed - it is inconvenient to them to have to make calls, to not be able to send Evites to events, to not receive replies back when they send group emails. There are some tense moments between the friends when Evie misses some events because she isn't checking her emails - engagement announcements, baby announcements, BIG things. It makes Evie think: important things life events such as these - why are they being announced over the Internet? And still, no Internet for her.
Through this time off from work and the Internet, Evie experiences a sort of "adult coming-of-age" or coming-of-adult-age, which is interesting I think because she it felt to me like she was growing up and finding herself for a second time. GOSH I LOVED THIS. I love the way Evie finds herself. She begins to see the way her family has viewed her - a busy career woman, phone stuck to her hand, never time for anyone, living a huge life in NYC, unapproachable - and she rectifies some things. She spends some precious time with her grandmother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer early in the book. Evie falls in love (without the Internet's help). The relationship progresses (without the Internet's help). She makes big decisions (without the Internet's help). She also realizes that there were things that she used the Internet for, and it was awfully handy at times.
The romance in this book is lovely. Evie finds a man that she falls for organically, and this is really something special for her. Before, she would have Googled him and researched him, because that's what people that use online dating sites do. But Evie found this man by getting out there and meeting him face-to-face, so getting to know him was also done face-to-face. I LOVED IT. There were bumps in the road, sure, because she brought a little bit of baggage, but part of Evie's "adult coming-of-age" (is that even a thing?) is watching her learn to work it out without immediately emailing her friends for advice.
I could talk about this book for ages and I wish I could discuss it with my friends. Friends, read this one please! Let's discuss.
I loved this story. I loved the way Evie tuned the Internet out of her life. I saw a little bit of myself in Evie (not the overuse of online things, but the way she turned it off, and the way it annoyed people in her life, and the way she stuck to it anyway). I love the way Evie began to find herself again and to really like herself. This book was a great outside read for me, so great for sunshine and warm weather. It made me happy. I couldn't put it down. I recommend Love and Miss Communication by Elyssa Friedland for readers that enjoy women's fiction/chicklit-type stories and books about women that find themselves.
As Sweet by Emmy Laybourne begins, Laurel is boarding a cruise-til-you-lose ship to meet up with her BFF Viv. Viv is obsessed with the quick weight loAs Sweet by Emmy Laybourne begins, Laurel is boarding a cruise-til-you-lose ship to meet up with her BFF Viv. Viv is obsessed with the quick weight loss that is promised by the new diet supplement Solu, just like nearly everyone else on board the ship. Despite the fact that she does not feel the need to lose weight, Laurel has agreed to accompany Viv on this trip. Almost immediately after boarding, Laurel develops horrible nausea and becomes seasick. She is unable to hold any food or drink down, which means that she isn't taking in anything containing the Solu supplement. Viv is more than happy to eat her share plus Laurel's missed shares too - you know, so they won't go to waste. Not too long after beginning the supplement, Viv begins to act a little strange, and so do the rest of the people on board.
The common denominator among the people with the strange behavior is the diet supplement. Laurel becomes wary of it, which is no big deal to her because she never felt like she needed it anyway. She learns that there is another person on board that isn't taking the supplement: cruise host, Tom.
Tom is a former child-star. It is common knowledge that he was overweight when he was on television in his younger years. Since that time, though, he has had a great exercise routine that works along with a healthy diet and a personal trainer, and he looks and feels great. Like Laurel, Tom does not feel like he needs the assistance of Solu to keep his body weight in check. As the behavior of the other passengers becomes more and more strange (and dangerous) Tom and Laurel band together to support one another, then keep one another safe, then try to get help for themselves and others.
Also, they fall in love.
Things get really crazy.
Okay, so when I first started this book, I thought the pacing and the plot were interesting and I was invested. I liked the characters - the juxtaposition of Laurel and Viv, their friendship, their differences, all of that. They are opposites, which makes for interesting reading. I liked how Laurel handled herself even as she was a bit of a loner on board (aka comfortable with herself) compared to the rest of the passengers. I understood that she became seasick (plausible, right?) and I think that was a great reason to have her not partake of the Solu supplement. I liked that Viv was so eager to lose the extra weight that she took her own portions + Laurel's portions. These were things that I could easily visualize in my head as I read.
I also liked Tom and his story arc: the way his publicity team worked around him, the way he was told what to do vs. him making his own decisions. The one area he felt like he had some control was his exercise and diet, and I love the way that Tom maintained these things in a healthy way. I loved seeing Tom deal with how the public treated him because he was a celebrity child-star vs. the other celebrities on board the ship.
As Tom and Laurel began to cross paths, more than once, and then their relationship progressed fairly quickly - I had a little bit of trouble buying into that. I am not opposed to insta-attraction/insta-love and I've read/seen stories (like this one) where love-under-stress works, but in this case it did not feel like something organic and seamless to me. I liked Laurel and I liked Tom, but I didn't really care for them together as a couple. If I could have changed one thing about the story, I would probably wish for these two to work together as two passengers working toward the same goal rather than as love interests.
There is a place in the book where you have to press your "suspension of belief" button in order to proceed because things get a little crazy in the end. There are some big twists and turns, for one. And what happens is a little far-fetched - it pulls this story out of the YA-contemporary category. If you can suspend your beliefs: go for it, enjoy the ride, because it is fun to read a story like this every now and then. I think there is an underlying message here that the author is trying to make with the unhealthy dieting and fads, and I get it. I get it. It isn't preachy, though, so no worries there.
Conversely, I can see where readers could potentially dismiss this story because of the way it trends toward the end - I get that too, because it is a little bit out there. I think writing something like this is risky, though, and I love seeing an author take a chance like this - particularly when there is a positive message in there (here, the message being hidden in Tom's ability to diet and exercise successfully without fad diets/supplements).
Ultimately, Sweet by Emmy Laybourne is a quick read, one that kept me turning pages, and one that kept me guessing until literally the very last page. I was surprised more than once, and then I was surprised again at the end. I recommend this book for fans of fast-paced young adult stories that are action-driven and suspenseful.
I sat down with The Riverman by Aaron Starmer early in the morning yesterday, thinking I would read a few pages and take my time with it - sometimes II sat down with The Riverman by Aaron Starmer early in the morning yesterday, thinking I would read a few pages and take my time with it - sometimes I like to read middle grade books slowly, you see. They feel so luxurious sometimes, the books written for the younger ages, being able to lose my mind in a story intended for a child. Anyway, this is not what happened to me. I was pulled into these pages immediately and I just could not let go - I read the entire story in one sitting.
The story centers around three children, twelve-ish in age:
*Alistair, the narrator and best friend to Charlie, known widely as a boy who can keep secrets; asked by Fiona to pen her autobiography because she needs a "witness with an imagination" *Charlie, the less-than-cool gamer-boy that Alistair merely tolerates and maybe feels sorry for, just a little *Fiona, the maybe-quirky, maybe-aloof girl from down the way; the one that rides her bike by Alistair's house with heavy-metal music playing from her small radio; the one with the slightly messed-up nose; the one that isn't quite popular, but manages to be noticed; the one that Charlie used to play with when they were younger
Alistair is taken aback somewhat when Fiona makes her request and as she begins to tell her tale, his imagination begins to spin and take over. Not necessarily to quote Fiona, but:
There is a portal in Fiona's basement that allows her to travel to another land called Aquavania where anything she imagines comes to life. There are many different magical worlds within Aquavania with many different creatures, and Fiona has friends there that are real children from all over the real world. Lately, though, something had has been happening - rumor has it that The Riverman has been stealing the souls of children in Aquavania and when they go missing there, they also become missing in the Solid World.
As Fiona tells of friends going missing in both Aquavania and the Solid World (aka the real world), Alistair begins to wonder if maybe there is more to Fiona's story.
He listens and takes down the story as Fiona feverishly tries to figure out where her missing friends are and also to track down the shady character known as The Riverman. While Fiona is working things out and relaying her story so people will know her tale in case The Riverman comes for her next, Alistair begins playing detective too...except Alistair's imagination, which Fiona prized in the beginning, begins to grows and grow and it takes him to places other than where Fiona is looking.
This is kind of a big deal.
Fiona and Alistair are soon looking for the same things, the same people, wanting to save the same things -- but they're both looking in very different directions. One is looking in all of the right places and one is looking in all of the wrong places.
I could spend time talking about characterization here and how I wish I had done a better job of keeping up with the secondary characters, but the truth is that I read this book so quickly - I couldn't take the story in fast enough - it's no wonder that I had a little bit of trouble with some of the minor cast. No big deal. I'll pay more attention on future rereads, I PROMISE. I did really love one secondary cast member quite a bit, Kyle, brother to Charlie. A misfit with a bad reputation in the community, Kyle had a good heart, I think, but had a difficult time breaking out of a mold that people had placed on him for certain reasons, and he was the "bad boy" character of the book. I do think that Kyle wins as my favorite character in this book. My least favorite? Charlie. I never really liked that kid, from the beginning, up until the end. There was something about him that just rubbed me wrong - lazy, opportunistic, that sort of thing. I found myself wishing him away at certain parts of the story, but by the time I got to the end, I found myself curious about how his role in the trio of friends and in the story arc would play out in future installments in this trilogy.
I will say that after I finished reading The Riverman, more than anything, I felt a mixture of WHAT ON EARTH DID I JUST READ?, THIS IS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING, MORE MORE MORE! and WHO CAN I PUSH THIS BOOK ON SO I CAN DISCUSS IT, WHO? part of my reaction probably comes from the fact that I kept forgetting that this is a middle grade book - certainly the characters are young, act young, and have a young feel to them, but there are some non-middle grade things that happen in the book, I think, and I'm not sure that my youngest middle-grader would be ready for those themes just yet even though he falls into the recommended age. Another part of my wide-eyed and excited reaction comes from the layering of this story, how very discussable it is, and the blend of world-building and fantasy that is present here. Also, the big reveal near the end - I didn't see it coming, I didn't even have a clue. Gosh, I love it. I sat in my reading chair and took a few deep breaths because WHAT, WHAT. This is middle grade that made me feel this way, and I'm a big kid. It's fantastic.
I don't really know that I've done justice to this story, because there is too much to give away and still so much more for me to find out. I will be rereading this one, certainly. Ultimately, this book felt to me like both a tribute to imagination and also a warning about it, as well as an ode to being on that precious line between still-a-kid and not-a-kid-anymore. Aging and maturity level, the way we think as we begin to mature, these things are silently in this story. There is so much in here, actually, that I saw as an adult and I'm curious about what a middle grader would actually pull from this story. Would it be as layered? Would it mean so much and represent the same things? I do not know, but DANG IT this is some good stuff right here. High fives to you, Mr. Starmer. I am quite charmed by this one....more
When you glance at the great cover and at the synopsis, Where The Road Takes Me by Jay McLean appears to be a road-trip book, yesssss. Impulsively, I
When you glance at the great cover and at the synopsis, Where The Road Takes Me by Jay McLean appears to be a road-trip book, yesssss. Impulsively, I grabbed the book and the audiobook to take a read + listen. Aside from the cover and road trip theme, I also was woo'd by the North Carolina setting and the prospect of one of my favorite audiobook narrators reading the book aloud to me. I felt optimistic, as I should.
As I read + listened, I felt like this book was organically broken into two parts. There felt like an obvious "before the road trip" part and a "once the road trip started" part.
Before the road trip:
It felt like the build-up to the road trip was slow. In fact, it was a while before I remember mention of going on The Road. Chloe and Blake met under unusual circumstances, at an unusual time, and had an unusual beginning to their relationship. I think that they tried to begin as friends-first before their relationship progressed, I really do. This is important because Blake began the book with a girlfriend - and he kept that girlfriend for a while into the book. However, he did a poor job of being a boyfriend, and this is something that just kept popping up as noticeable to me as I was reading. Chloe also recognized it and mentioned it to him over and over...but I'm not sure that she respected that boundary between Blake and his girlfriend, to be honest. And I know that Blake didn't respect his girlfriend enough to either chill his friendship with Chloe - or - to break it off with girlfriend Hannah. This is love triangle territory and while I am not anti-triangle, I don't love them when I don't feel they are necessary - I didn't see the necessity here. So, Blake was kind of on my ick-list for a little while...and Chloe was too. (To be fair, girlfriend Hannah saw what was going on and was also free to dump Blake. But.)
Back to Chloe and Blake...I guess the heart wants what it wants? The two do end up pursuing each other over much of the beginning of the book. The "before the road trip" also consists of establishing that Chloe wants to leave immediately after graduation to go out on The Road - she tries not to get too close to anyone, holds people at arms length, she has her reasons. I certainly respect this about her, having felt this way before and leaving directly from my graduation to move to my new place that I already had set up in another town, away from my childhood home. At the same time, Blake is trying so hard to make his own plan for after graduation. He has a couple of big prospects for his future, but he can't figure out which path he wants to take.
So here we have Chloe and Blake with two opposite ways of looking at how their post-graduation days are going to go. And whether or not I liked how it went down, I watched the two falling for one another and I love the way the book went from there.
Once the road trip started:
Here is where I really began to enjoy the story - after they were on the road for just a bit. I'm not sure if both Chloe and Blake needed to get away from their respective environments to really shine as individuals and as a couple, but they really began to. They were two people in love, going place to place, experiencing life and the freedom of the road - I loved it. Both were learning from one another. Both were taking risks. Both were being young people. It was great. Then a thing happened that I did predict early on in the book, and it turned the happy-and-free tone of the second part of the book into something different, more serious. And this final portion of the book is what I really loved. It was my favorite part of the whole story. This is where the two characters grew the most as people, individuals and as a couple, and they learned the most about life and making plans.
The cast of characters outside of Chloe and Blake? LOVED THEM. The secondary cast is really outstanding. They're supportive and loving and they actually take up plenty of space in the story. I wouldn't mind knowing more about...all of them. Chloe comes from a loving foster family and has several precious younger siblings. Blake has a strict military father and a loving ex-alcoholic author for a mother that is wonderful. Their friends: incredible and diverse with unique circumstances and tragedies and hardships of their own. (Would LOVE backstories for Clayton and Josh, Jay!)
Overall, I liked this story. The parts that appealed to me came through and this worked for one of those quick, fun romance reads that I love so much. I think that were I to wish for any differences, I would wish that the beginning portion of the book had a quicker transition into The Road portion, and that the love triangle-ish parts were less dramatic or maybe even not there. I'm not sure that I saw their significance and I'm certain that some anti-triangle readers would not pick this book when there is really a great story that takes place out on The Road.
This is my first work by Jay McLean, but I have several more on my Kindle at the moment, I believe. Where The Road Takes Me is not a perfect read as far as my own reading preferences (many tropes here but I didn't mind so much), but it is enjoyable and I did devour it in a short time. I loved that I chose a Kindle + audiobook read for this one because the audiobook was great. Alternating points-of-view for Chloe and Blake, being that they have two completely different sets of opinions and thought processes throughout the story - it just worked here. I loved it.
I recommend Where The Road Takes Me by Jay McLean for readers that enjoy road trip books and books that include romance with some issues.
Audiobook Notes: The audiobook format of Where The Road Takes Me by Jay McLean is published by Brilliance Audio and is 8 hours and 51 minutes, Unabridged. It is narrated by Nick Podehl and Laura Hamilton who did a great job reading the alternating points-of-view of Blake and Chloe. Nick Podehl is one of my all-time favorites and was the draw for the audiobook format for me - I loved Laura Hamilton's work as well here. I would recommend this audiobook for a first read or rereads. ...more
I am certain that I will never ever get tired of the marriage-for-convenience plot in the frontier-type historical fiction stories that I read. I thinI am certain that I will never ever get tired of the marriage-for-convenience plot in the frontier-type historical fiction stories that I read. I think that Love Comes Softly was probably the very first story of this type that I read, back when I was very young. I borrowed this book off of the shelf of my grandmother, from her precious book collection - and this is when my love affair for Janette Oke's stories began.
The story begins as Marty is mourning her recently-deceased husband. As a newlywed, this is certainly hard, but it is compounded by the fact that the two were headed west in a covered wagon to homestead, starting their new life together. Now alone in their wagon and carrying his child, she is heartbroken at the prospect that their new life has been cut short before it could barely begin. Marty is approached by Clark with a proposal: pardon me for being so forward, I realizes that you are in an awful predicament, miss, but I needs a mother for my young daughter, Missie. Clark's wife died some time earlier and the task of raising an infant has now grown into raising a toddler, and this with farming his sprawling land has become more difficult. With no better options and a begrudging heart, Marty accepts his offer and the two are married right away.
Clark promises Marty that she needs only to be a mother to Missie and maybe also cook and keep the house. No need to worry about the other marriage duties - see, it is clear that he is mourning his recently deceased wife too. The two tiptoe around one another in the early days as Marty learns how to keep house and as she gets to know Missie. Marty makes plenty of mistakes, but Clark has patience and grace with her every step, helping her more than she ever expected. Marty does not forget Clark's promise to pay her way back to her parents' home on the first train come spring, if she so chooses, and she keeps this tucked away safely in the back of her mind. This is only temporary, she tells herself. But as she adjusts to life around the place, she falls in love with the child, and as her own child grows in her belly, Marty begins to feel more and more at home in this new place and with Clark. The two go through the many good times of life and also through some of the bad times...together, as a family...and it is JUST MARVELOUS to watch this family come together and weave strong ties. Marty considers maybe staying in this place that she has grown to love.
I love Clark. Right from his first scene on the pages, I love him. I love his goodness and kindness. He has an unshakable, quiet faith that fills the pages. He is one of the most patient characters that I've ever read in my life. It must have taken a huge toll on him to ask Marty to come into the home that belonged to his previous wife, a woman he dearly loved, and to take care of his child like that, particularly when Marty was prickly and in the throes of grief -- but he did it because he knew that he needed the help, that Missie needed the help, and also that Marty needed the help. The sacrifices that Clark made for Marty were many, even as Marty was not able to be as grateful for them in the beginning as she probably could have been (grief, remember) and it made me love Clark even more. He was a gentle leader for Marty with his faith, and this I loved as well - no pushing with Clark, with anything. Gentleness, goodness, kindness.
I love Marty, too. I felt so much compassion for her in the beginning of the story, after losing her husband. Marty did not begin the story as a Believer, so she was grieving in a different way than Clark and she was puzzled by his faith, but she watched him and she learned from him. I loved her inner dialogue as she tried to figure him out, his prayers, his reading of Scripture. She was only mildly prickly toward Clark, which was good, because she realized that he was a gentleman even though she was so upset. Marty was strong and knew what she needed to do, even when she felt her lowest - she dug her heels in, raised her sleeves, and got to work. This kept her head clear and kept her going. I love reading about how Marty learned to keep house, about her making clothes, about her planting a garden. Part of this book is her coming-of-age, in a way, on the homestead, under what I would consider stressful times -- but with a gentle partner in Clark.
By the end of this book, every time I read it, I'm all smiles and super-eager to continue with the next story. I love the entire series, but Love Comes Softly is probably my favorite because of Clark's patience and how the two eventually found their way out of convenience and into love. ...more
I chose to read The Summers by Iva-Marie Palmer because I love summer romances and because I wantedRead my full review HERE at Into the Hall of Books.
I chose to read The Summers by Iva-Marie Palmer because I love summer romances and because I wanted something nice and easy to read + listen to while I'm reading a couple of lengthier, more difficult stories -- good choice, because it delivered.
Kate Sommers has been coming to Cape Cod for summer vacation along with her sisters and parents for years...but this changes when her mother dies. After three years of not returning to their beach house, they do return for a purpose - Kate's sister is getting married and has chosen the beach as her venue. It's tough for them to return without their mother, but they each turn their grieving energies into an activity and push through while they plan for sister Eliza's wedding. Kate takes a job working for a published author while she also falls in love. But is this a summer romance? Or is this a romance that will last beyond summer vacation?
The Summers is never a heavy book despite the sadness in learning that Kate's mother has died - this is something we learn early, in the first chapter if I remember correctly. The sisters arrive at the beach house before their father (who is having a more difficult time with his grief) - they go in together and just...face the place, all of the memories, the fact that this year, she isn't coming the house with them. I did not feel sad; I felt uplifted by their sister relationship, because great ones are always attractive in stories. Another thing that these sisters face early-on is the condolences of friends and neighbors and people that they've known for ages - remember most of these people haven't seen them in about three years. These are the people with the serious we're-so-sorry faces and the ones that want to say something but never quite know what to say. I love that rather than avoid these times and people altogether, the sisters decide to go to a summer-kickoff party and deal with these moments all at once.
It isn't long after their return that Kate has found an old crush madly re-ignited - Ryan Landry. Ryan is her older sister Eliza's past summer fling - she used to date Ryan during the summers, multiple summers, so he was always off-limits to Kate. But now Eliza is getting married, so certainly she shouldn't care if Kate likes Ryan, right? When Kate finds out that Ryan feels the same, they begin secretly dating - Kate doesn't want Eliza to find out right away. Ryan agrees for a while, and things go really well and the two have a great summer romance. Their secret is bound to come out soon enough...but how?
Okay, so here is what I love: I love the sibling bonds between Kate and her sisters and between some of the other characters in the story. I love the way Kate and her sisters rally behind their father when he isn't as far along in his grieving process as they are - they understand his need to not be at their vacation home as much as they are - this is sweet. I love that there is an understanding that their mother has died but that this book isn't a grieving book - this is a summer romance and the book stays true to that while also keeping Kate's mom's memory alive and well throughout the story, never too heavy, never too sad. I love the romance between Kate and Ryan - it feels true to me, very fresh and new and experimental and sweet. Their interaction is clunky at times, but young love always is no matter what television and romance novels say, and I LOVE THIS. SO MUCH. And I love that there is a realistic portrayal of the intensity of their feelings toward one another. Love this romance aspect.
About the relationship being a secret: I have some feelings about that, but I'm not sure what they are. I understand Kate's initial hesitancy because this guy used to be her sister's summer boyfriend, but hey Kate, if you have a question about things, talk to your sister who has obviously moved on from Ryan! I think it is a big lesson for Kate that Ryan's feelings are hurt by wanting to keep him a secret, and a very realistic one. AND I really like Ryan as a character and love interest, so maybe that's why I do not love the secret-aspect of the story. HOWEVER, the way everything finally unfolds doesn't feel very dramatic or too tension-filled or angsty, so this keeps the story flowing and manages to keep Kate likable for me - I think she was acts like a young person does, and young people do things that are, in hindsight, not always the best or the smartest of decisions. So, secret relationships? Sometimes needed, sometimes not, relative to individual stories - is this how I feel? Maybe. Probably. In this situation, I would love to sit down and have a little talk with Kate about how she went about things. Moving on...
The Summers wrapped up kind-of quickly, and I find myself wondering how things are working out for these two. I wouldn't have minded a little more. I wouldn't mind more stories about this family, either! I like them. All-in-all, I enjoyed this quick, fun, summer read. I recommend The Summers by Iva-Marie Palmer for people that enjoy summer romances and great sibling relationships. This was an easy story to become immersed in and I think it would be fun for a pool read or a beach read or perhaps something between heavier stories.
Audiobook Notes: The audiobook format of The Summers by Iva-Marie Palmer is published by Brilliance Audio and is 7 hours and 16 minutes, Unabridged. It is narrated by Whitney Dykhouse who did a pretty good job with reading Kate with all of her uncertainties and overbearing moments and swooning over Ryan, with all of her insecurities and vulnerabilities and shared-sister time. Given that the end of the book was rushed, I found myself rewinding the audiobook and listening to the last chapter three times to really grasp the ending of the book before I decided to just read the last chapter without the audio accompaniment. So...this was not my very favorite audiobook ever, but it was produced and read well, and I would still recommend it for first reads or rereads....more
So this was a reread for me, and I liked the book even more this time around - in fact, my rating is higher this time than when I read this about twoSo this was a reread for me, and I liked the book even more this time around - in fact, my rating is higher this time than when I read this about two years ago. I chose to read Me Before You again for a couple of reasons (I discuss them here.) and it felt like I read it more slowly this time, rather than my quicker read from before. Even though I knew the ending already, I still felt everything that I felt the first time that I read. Somewhere, I think I also hoped that this reread could possibly change the book's outcome - does that make sense? It did not, and I cried again, and I still love this book. Still a favorite.
With a great setting and an enjoyable cast, the Heart of the Rockies Series seems to be off to a great start. I loved No Better Man, featuring BryceWith a great setting and an enjoyable cast, the Heart of the Rockies Series seems to be off to a great start. I loved No Better Man, featuring Bryce Walker and Avery King.
Bryce is about to lose the family land. The ranch is in debt and has fallen into disrepair after he was away for a few years following an accident for which he carries tremendous guilt and shame. Bryce has trouble seeing the bright side of things in the recent past and works nonstop to earn back what was lost while he was away. He doesn't want to lose the land, which is his family's legacy, but the bank and potential investors are watching as the date nears for him to turn over tons of money that he doesn't have.
Avery has just been humiliated publicly by her ex-boyfriend after she refused his proposal. She has been sent to the ranch to assess the land and make an offer, and she believes that she can make the deal. However, when she arrives, she is surprised to see that Bryce is not entertaining offers. She is also surprised by his temperament, which is gruff and unreasonably grumpy. Determined to figure out the connection to the land, to change his mind (and complete the task her father has assigned her), and to see what is going on with Bryce, Avery begins investigating. The more she finds out, the more she likes both the ranch and Bryce.
The longer she stays, the less she wants to leave. The longer she is around Bryce, the more she likes him. The more Bryce is around Avery, the more he feels again for the first time in years.
Bryce and Avery have an instant attraction, which I can get behind. I love good chemistry and these two have it. I love the connection that Bryce has with his ranch, with his community and his friends there, and with his mother. Bryce is sexy because he likes to work with his hands, he has the support of people that have loved him through his tougher times, and he loves his mother without being too attached. When the story begins, he has already made some progress in working through his issues, but he still has some work to do. I'm glad when he allows himself the room to do this and I enjoyed reading how he fell for Avery through this process. It was not easy for him to open himself up to her, so I was happy for him when he finally found happiness.
Avery has always been successful, I think in part because she wants to make her father proud. After her mother died, this became more difficult because her father retreated into himself a bit. Avery her never fully spread her wings and she has always sort of catered to her father, but I'm not sure that it ever occurred to her that she was not completely happy until she made it out to the ranch. I loved seeing her in this environment, in a slower-paced life. She embraced the community and Bryce's friends, partly because she loved it out there and partly because they're such great people that they befriended her right away. I loved the way she was able to look beyond her career objective to see the heart of the ranch, and the heart of Bryce and his mother - why the land was important to them - and she used this information to help her determine how she wanted to move forward with her own life. Watching other people with a sense of community and love made her want to have the same. It took guts and determination for Avery to step out and make some big life changes, but she did, and good for her.
In the process of all of these changes - Avery changing her life goals and the path she was taking and Bryce opening his heart to love again - these two quickly fell in love. While their falling seemed fast, it took a little while for the two to get it together and come up with a workable relationship.
I love the setting and I enjoyed the secondary cast as much as I love this romance. I'm looking forward to continuing with the series to read about Bryce's friends (and Avery's too, hopefully).
Bryce is a quiet hero and I like that. His strength is not diminished and he is not weak. I love his development over the story, and I love that it was tough for him. Avery is not quiet at all, but I love that she learned to live a quieter life. Her development is enjoyable as well. I recommend No Better Man by Sara Richardson for readers that enjoy romance stories with happy endings, small town romances, and books with great friendships. ...more
I initially brushed this book aside because of the cover. Please don't do that. Take every ideCheck out my full review HERE at Into the Hall of Books.
I initially brushed this book aside because of the cover. Please don't do that. Take every idea you have about this image and shove it to the side. Because nope, this is not a romance novel or erotica or anything like that. I'm not sure how long I would have waited to pick this one up before it was recommended to me by Megan and it isn't anything like I expected. It's far, far better.
I've read Mud Vein twice now and I'm itching to read it again. My mind quotes these characters and this author often back to myself, which tells me it's time to pick the book back up soon (I'm actually rereading another one of her books right now.) I've become quite the fan of this author based on this book and am pretty astounded at the high ratings that her books consistently bring in (I've read them all, I think, and they're all dang good.) I digress.
Reading Mud Vein was more like an experience to me than just reading a book. I can't pinpoint the exact reasons why. Maybe because the story resonated with me so deeply? Maybe because the story stuck so well? Maybe because I almost constantly want to read it again? I don't know. What I do know is that main character Senna Richards appeals to me in all of the ways that she is: snappy and snarky, fierce and independent, quiet but also loud, introverted. There is no judgment for her here. We all have those darker places in us, I think, even though they may be tucked away in our small corners where it isn't always noticeable. Senna wore these parts of herself like a badge of honor and perhaps this is a small part of why I'm so drawn to her story. Maybe I see some of myself in her darker places.
Mud Vein opens with Senna in a precarious position - she has been kidnapped on her birthday, she has been placed in a house in the middle of nowhere, and Isaac Asterholder is there with her. Who knows about her past with Isaac? Who even knows about that? Senna and Isaac have no idea why this has happened to them and no clue who may have done it. Senna is whip-smart, though, and she realizes right away that every little part of every little thing around her is a clue - everything she sees, everything, is part of a larger puzzle. She and Isaac spend days and weeks and months trying to figure out what the pieces add up to, what the completed puzzle will reveal. They also try to figure out how to escape.
Worth noting is that the kidnapper has left them food and other provisions like firewood and medical equipment. Eventually, though, things begin to run out. As Senna and Isaac become hungry, and as they become cold without firewood, stress causes tension, which makes a difficult situation more difficult. By this point, I was white-knuckled as I held my Kindle and pacing the floor as the audiobook narrator read to me. Even as I tried, I couldn't figure things out, I couldn't quite anticipate what would happen next. While I was holding my breath for the safe return of these two, I also felt like I was floating on the clouds that are Tarryn Fisher's lovely phrases because she can certainly write beautiful words through tense, dark, heartbreaking times.
Reading this story both times has been A THING for me. I feel this story in my bones because it is a great one, first of all. Because of Senna's life, because of the things that have shaped her and made her the way she is, because I want more for her. This is what Isaac wants for her too. It takes a while to find out exactly the nature of the relationship between Senna and Isaac: the entire picture is painted slowly, the information is released in bits and pieces here and there throughout the narrative. Alternating time structure between present and past, I suppose you could say. I like this because I think it encourages me to identify with and fall harder for both Senna and Isaac, and I can only imagine that the entire idea is for readers to love these characters as much as the author does. And my, my how it works because by the time I had figured out the complete story, I was so. emotionally. invested. But back to Senna, there is something cool about reading parts of her past while also reading her present, because it is like watching two totally different women unfold in two different ways. I will say that I feel like the Senna at the end of the book is not the same as the Senna that begins the book, sure this indicates character development and all, but there is a far larger theme to this story than just character development. I'll let you figure out what that is.
And Isaac? Yes, he is great. I love every single scene that includes him. And just like with Senna, reading his part in the story is like reading his character unfold in two ways, past-Isaac and present-Isaac. Two different men, a different Isaac at the end than at the beginning. This is how it feels for me. Overall, Isaac is a kind and nurturing person; he is the light to Senna's dark, the quiet to her loud.
So what did I take away from this story? Senna, with her broken past, is forced to be a survivor while facing her present and future. She's forced to confront things like love and the truth, which are contrary to her dark places. I felt things while I read this, yes yes I did. I am thankful for this story and I'm not sure that I've read any others quite like it. I recommend Mud Vein by Tarryn Fisher to readers that enjoy stories that challenge them and make them think and to readers that allow for heartbreak and emotion. It's so good.
Audiobook Notes: The audiobook format of Mud Vein by Tarryn Fisher is published by Audible Studios and is 10 hours and 23 minutes, Unabridged. It is narrated by Simone Lewis who IS Senna Richards, perfectly. Her reading, her tone of voice, her inflection, timing, pauses, everything - just perfect for Senna Richards. I've listened to this audiobook twice now and I've loved it both times. I would not hesitate to recommend it for both first reads or rereads. Fantastic. ...more
I one-clicked Last To Know by Micalea Smeltzer for my Kindle because this book happened to be freeRead my full review HERE at Into the Hall of Books.
I one-clicked Last To Know by Micalea Smeltzer for my Kindle because this book happened to be free when I was browsing and sounded like a fun story - first love, summer love, adventures, music. Willow Creek's Drummer, Maddox Wade, runs into the lovely-and-introverted Emma Burke one day after performing a show. He is drawn to her because she is beautiful but also because she has no idea who he is. While the rest of the country seems to be head-over-heels crazy over Willow Creek's emerging success, Emma prefers to listen to classical music and read. Maddox loves that he can sit and talk to her and just be himself, and Emma finds that the attraction is mutual. The two strike up a sweet, slow relationship that I found enjoyable to read.
Maddox does not disclose that he is famous. As time passes, it becomes harder and harder to tell her because she has no idea who he is - she doesn't listen to Willow Creek or any radio-music for that matter. Maddox knows he needs to tell her, but he also knows that she loves him for who he is, not his fame.
Maddox promises Emma an adventurous summer. He plans fun things to do, he encourages her to try new things like zip-lining, etc. She has a blast spending time with him and finds herself slowly falling for him. He has some odd behaviors here and there, like the way he seems to wear his hat pulled down low over his eyes when when in public and the way he seems to sometimes want to say something, but backs out at the last minute - Emma thinks that he may be keeping a secret, but she chooses to trust him, thinking that if there is something that she needs to know he will tell her.
The relationship grows, the two fall in love, it is lovely. I love the things about Emma that are uniquely her: the way she just doesn't care about television and social media, the way she is bookish but not overly-so like some written characters, the way that she still has that youthful naivete that comes with being on the very line between young person and womanhood. I love that she is both confident and a little insecure, but not too much. And Maddox: I loved that he is still a young person too, and acts like it. He respects his parents, but still acts like a teenage boy - his banter and joking around are on point, I think. He is respectful to Emma, which is super-swoony to me. And he has weaknesses and vulnerabilities that he allows Emma and his close friends to see - I love this about male characters, particularly when they are strong characters. We all make mistakes.
As readers, we know it is inevitable: the secret is going to come out - but how will it happen? How will Emma find out that her boyfriend is famous? How will she find out that YES INDEED he has been keeping a secret? And what are his reasons for that, exactly? Can she forgive him? Will they get their happily-ever-after?
I figured out before Emma did that Maddox was in the band Willow Creek. Of course, she was hurt by this secret. BUT! As with most of these stories involving the keeping-my-identity-a-secret-because-I'm-famous storyline, Maddox had a reason for keeping his secret -- the intentions are there and good, but the execution just didn't go well. Often in stories like this, I can get frustrated when it is time to forgive-or-forget, but in this case I didn't. Why? Because the secondary cast that I had already become attached to stepped up to the plate and were great friends to both Maddox and Emma, and they gave great support and advice. I liked the secondary cast even more in the last pages of the book. I'm looking forward to reading more about them in the coming installments of this series.
Overall, Last To Know was a quick, fun read for me. I loved the sweet, summer romance and I loved that it involved these exact leading characters because I loved exactly how they were written. I've seen this book categorized as a young adult book and while I would agree, I think it is also safe to say that it isn't a young-young adult book. I'm excited to see what is up ahead in the next book, Never Too Late, which focuses on Mathias Wade (lead singer of Willow Creek + twin brother to Maddox) because his character seems to be almost the opposite of Maddox plus the backstory to his romance looks interesting! It's so fun that an impulse one-click for my Kindle has turned into a new series for me to enjoy - so excited that I decided to download Last To Know and give it a try. ...more
The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu is riveting. It's one of those in-your-face YA contemporaRead my full review HERE at Into the Hall of Books.
The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu is riveting. It's one of those in-your-face YA contemporaries that grabbed me by the shirt collar and didn't let go until I was completely finished with the book, and even now - days after I've shut the book - I'm still thinking about this story. What this author has done is taken a hard and fast approach to gossip by showing the ripple effect of rumors, how rumors can change the lives of their subject over time, and how they can also change the lives of the ones that spread them. This book is crazy-good.
There are six characters that make appearances in the story: Alice, Brandon, Josh, Elaine, Kelsie, and Kurt. In this group of people, there are popular people and unpopular people - some would do anything to hold onto the popularity that they have now, including walk away from a best friend that needs them now more than ever before. In this group of people, there are people that are comfortable with their sexuality and people that are struggling with sexuality, virgins and non-virgins, and people that are not really ready to pursue a sexual relationship at this point in their lives. Some of them feel pressured sexually, some do not. In this group of people, there are some that seem to give no thought whatsoever to the fact that words can crush the human spirit, so they use them flippantly and without caution. Sadly, there are some in this mix think about whether or not gossip is a bad idea, but they still do it, and there are also some that rise above it. This is a mixed group of young people, but they are all tied together by the one person at the center of the vicious rumors: Alice Franklin.
The two big rumors that started the whole thing -- that Alice slept with two guys at one party and that Alice was sending inappropriate text messages to Brandon when he died in a car accident -- those are bad enough, but the way these rumors spread and multiply is just horrific. The way that this story illustrates HOW this happens, the thought processes that these characters have, the way these people rationalized why they spread this gossip, it is just hard to read - hard, because at some point in our lives, we all are at the icky end of gossip and it never feels good. This is a vicious gossip, though, and the bullying toward Alice is basically nonstop once it starts. But it is also fascinating, really, because it is SO VERY REAL. This is real life, and it is what happens every day to people and by people, and even though this book is a YA contemporary book, this is very much a HUMAN problem, not necessarily a young adult problem. It was easy to imagine this as a situation happening to people that I know or have heard about because it felt so realistic and true.
I love what Jennifer Mathieu did here. I love the way she structured this story: four POV's telling the story of these six people, centering it around Alice. Did Alice do these things or not? Or how much of this stuff is true? As a reader, I was captivated by these pages, and it felt so strange to me. I wanted to know how things would turn out for Alice, because she was going through some sad changes as the entire school began to turn against her -- after all, she was totallyyyy responsible for the death of Healy High's greatest quarterback e-varrrr. But I was also so very mesmerized by the thoughts of these other students, these people that were stuck on talking about Alice! They spent such an unbelievable amount of time thinking about her and talking about her to one another and in their own inner dialogue - their insecurity was astounding, and it felt sad and pathetic. But I think it was also so very accurate based on my own high school experience, which is why I think this book is so incredible.
I have to admit to wondering about some of Alice's behaviors - I wanted her to take more action against the people that were bullying her...but I had to remind myself that unless I've been in that situation, I have no idea what I would do. I had to stop judging Alice early in the story because she went through so much as a character.
ALSO: there is a heartwarming plotline involving Alice and one of the other characters. Very quirky interactions, very slow and intentional, very fun. I held my breath throughout this character's point-of-view, all the way until the end, because I wanted good resolution for these two.
GOSH, this is such a great book. Young girls NEED to be reading this book - and young boys too, because this book has young boy characters. It has no gender. Parents need to be reading this book, for obvious reasons. Teachers and school administration need to be reading this book so they can look out for the behaviors and changes that occurred with these students. Basically, anyone that has anything to do with young people could benefit from reading a book about bullying, don't you think?
I recommend The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu to everyone. Every. One. I realize that issues contemporaries aren't the type of book that everyone likes to read, but I'm not sure that everyone has that luxury - if we are in positions to work with young people and have young people in our lives, we need to be reading amazing work like this. Outside of that, this book is just a flat-out incredible story, and I love the way that this author did it. I was brought to my knees and I have her next book, Devoted, on my nightstand. I honestly don't know why I waited so long to pick this one up, but I'm so glad I did. ...more
Shooting for the Stars by Sarina Bowen starts out on a day that is a big one for Stella - she wins a pretty big competition for freestyle snowboarders. She's happy with her friend Bear and brother Hank by her side to see her win, she wants to celebrate. Her pro-snowboarder brother Hank has to leave immediately after her competition to compete in his own event, which leaves Stella alone with Bear...who has had probably the worst day in his entire career. Hank has asked Bear to keep an eye on his little sister - Bear has agreed. With Hank gone, Bear and Stella are free to have fun and talk and let loose a little bit, which means that they both can explore the feelings that they have for one another. Things are going really, really well for them until they get a devastating phone call saying that Hank has been badly injured during his pro-competition.
Immediately, things change. Immediately the two go to Hank's side. But it is a really long time before they talk about what happened. And hearts are broken.
I think it is so interesting to read books and see movies with that guy-code-thing that says little sisters are off limits. This is an underlying theme with Bear and Stella. They both have had a thing for one another for their entire lives - it started out as a crush and it runs pretty deep now, but Bear isn't able to do much about it because he doesn't want to jeopardize his friendship with Hank. Stella, being the fiercely independent gal that she is, thinks that sucks.
Stella comes from an influential family, but she isn't concerned about that. She is a great athlete, a tough competitor. She is shielded from things by her parents, though, and this really ticks her off. They want to protect her from...everything. They really suffocate her, and she is very much a free spirit. I have to admit that Stella's behaviors annoy me a little every now and then, not only in this one book, I saw this in her in the other parts of this series. It isn't really because of who she is -- it's because she feels so squashed that she is reactionary, but I can't say that I blame her. She wants room to breathe a little and be herself and experience life without confines. And she completely knows what she is doing when her mood is a little off. I GET THAT. So, I really like her, but she does things that make me squish my nose up every now and then.
Bear, though - oh, this guy. Bear has always had it harder than his friends. His family life was tougher than Hank's probably was, but he was able to get by with hard work and also because his friends were supportive. Bear has an appreciation for hard work, for everything really. He loves deeply and is loyal, sometimes to a fault. He is innovative and creative and hardworking, particularly when he has to make some big career decisions for himself and his friends, and he is serious in this book because he has to be. I really want good things for him because I like him so doggone much.
Bear and Stella almost drove me crazy with their super-slow burn romance, but not really. I actually really, really loved it. They were just-under-the-surface for a while here and there because they were stubborn about their feelings for each other, but I loved this about their story. These two had the hardest time communicating, and Bear's added guilt about loving his friend's little sister made for a story that I fell in love with. I loved their love, is that dorky? These are the type of characters that I want to squish together and make them kiss, which are some of my favorites, because when they finally do -- I felt fireworks and explosions in my heart.
I love the way other characters from the Gravity Series show up in this story. I also loved the way snowboarding was shown from a filmmaking perspective - that's really cool! I've heard of these action films, but I've never seen them and I've certainly never read anything that spoke of this side of this sport before - I loved it.
This is a series of standalone books - I've read them out of order, which is okay. I don't feel lost at all with characters or events or anything like that. I recommend Shooting for the Stars (and the rest of this series) by Sarina Bowen to readers that enjoy contemporary romance and stories/series involving athletes and sports. This author is auto-read for me, her stories are delicious, and I'm almost sad that I only have one book to go in this series (but not really because these are reread status for sure)....more
I think what I loved the most about Life By Committee was the fact that it felt so much like part oRead my full review HERE at Into the Hall of Books.
I think what I loved the most about Life By Committee was the fact that it felt so much like part of my high school experience, minus the big scene at the end (thankfully!). Even though Tabby was not the most likable character that I've ever read, I did love her, and I think that's because I felt compassion for her. Let me explain what I mean exactly:
1. Tabby has changed. Tabby's teenage body is changing. She is experimenting with new clothing styles and caring more about how she looks. Her clothing is accentuating her features, sure, and others are noticing, sure - this is sort of a problem for Tabby. Her ex-BFF has begun to pull her aside and offer snide, unsolicited "advice" about how she should look and what others are saying about her - her teachers have also done this. Tabby's friends are snubbing her because they're jealous, and Tabby is grieving the loss of these relationships. She doesn't understand why people can be so mean - and honestly, this is something that I have never figured out myself, even as an adult.
2. Tabby likes Joe - a lot. The problem with this is that Joe has a girlfriend, and this is very public knowledge. Joe and Sasha are one of the it-couples around school. Tabby and Joe are spending lots of time having these really great online chat sessions on the side, though, and Joe makes Tabby's heart flutter wildly. Joe is dreamy, Joe is popular, Joe says the right things. But Joe is also aloof, emotionally distant at times, and not even considering breaking up with his actual girlfriend. Tabby could use someone trustworthy to talk to about this, but remember that her friends have abandoned her and her parents are entirely other issue that I'll get to in a second. The Tabby + Joe thing could very easily BLOW UP if not handled with care.
3. Tabby finds a secret website community: Life By Committee. Of course Tabby checks it out. Of course she becomes a part of LBC. With a giant, gaping hole in her life in the shape of friends and family, Tabby finds solace in the anonymous people there, the ones that patiently listen to her secrets and problems. There are rules that go along with being a part of LBC: when you share a secret, you then get advice (aka an assignment), and you have a certain amount of time to complete it, or -- well, maybe your secret isn't safe anymore. Tabby feels comfort in the advice offered to her. She also becomes attached to some of the other members and even wonders if she could possibly know some of them in real life. Soon, Tabby seems to care more about the attention and interaction of LBC than real, honest interaction, and this is another problem in and of itself.
Life By Committee by Corey Ann Haydu is such a different, great book. In some ways, it felt like being back in high school with some of these characters and situations. I loved the sometimes-unlikable-Tabby, but I also felt almost-protective over her; she did some things that made me cringe but I always rooted for her and wanted the very best for her. If I knew Tabby only in real life, I don't know if I would have felt this same way. I love the wake-up-call that this book gave me both times that I've read it: there is more to a person than appearance plus we never really know what people are going through until we take the time to get to know them. Tabby is much more than tight shirts and short skirts, more than someone that fell for another girl's boyfriend. In the story, the LBC community helped Tabby grow some as a person (so yes there is character development) but ultimately I think that it was something much better than the LBC community that helped her to be the person she is at the end of the book.
I love that Tabby still has growing and improving to do when the story ends. That's how life is! One short moment in time does not define all of the growing and changing we have to do as individuals. At the end of this story, there is resolution to the specific time period of this story, but Tabby's story of growth and change is not over.
That's high school and the teenage years. I LOVED IT.
Regarding Tabby's thing with Joe: so tricky, because nobody likes a cheater. I don't necessarily think it is wrong to find yourself with a crush on someone else if they have a girlfriend/boyfriend. But that isn't exactly what happens here, and Tabby doesn't help her case any with what's going on with Joe. AND PLEASE, let's not give Joe a get-out-of-jail-free card. What an excellently-written character, here. Joe's actions, unlikable as they are, are very important to the story because they support and spur-on so much of what Tabby says and does, which ultimately progresses to the big ending. I cannot say that I like Joe very much, but I CAN say that I have known people just like him, and I'm so interested in WHY behavior like Joe's exists. This guy contributed to making things hard for Tabby. Boo to him, but he certainly helped tell this story.
Regarding Tabby's parents: they don't suck and they aren't really the 'unavailable' type. The author has given this character parents that are present, but that have some very specific life circumstances that they need to handle. So interesting, and this is a real-life thing: good parents that become a little preoccupied at times, perhaps needing to recheck their priorities. Tabby knows she is lucky to have her particular parents, but she also realizes that this is one of the times in her life that she needs them and they're wrapped up in other things. I loved the 'Tabby + her parents' part of the story, gosh I LOVED it. This subplot is so rich, and I appreciate the way that it was written so, so much.
Life By Committee by Corey Ann Haydu is a really great cross-section of a small part of Tabby's life. It's neat that Tabby is the type of character examined here, because WOW the perspective we get to see by looking at her thoughts and online communications vs. JUST her appearance? Awesome. Fantastic book, so much to think about here. Great, great character that caused me to think, not once but twice! It's great to read about characters that aren't cookie-cutter, that aren't always perfect and likable, because THESE are the real-life stories that are actually the people that are going to school with us and that may be our kids one day, that we may be teaching in our classrooms, that we may be seeing walking down our sidewalks. This is my first book by Corey Ann Haydu. NO WAY, no way will it be my last.
I recommend Life By Committee by Corey Ann Haydu to readers that enjoy young adult contemporary with real-life issues, with tricky situations, with character development. Great coming-of-age story here, very discussable. Loved it. I will definitely read it again, and YES I want my young girls to read this one day soon, absolutely. ...more
Falling From The Sky features Doctor Callie Anders and Snowboarder Hank Lazarus. When the book openRead my full review HERE at Into the Hall of Books.
Falling From The Sky features Doctor Callie Anders and Snowboarder Hank Lazarus. When the book opens, Callie is with her friends at a big snowboarding event up in Vermont when tragedy strikes. Hank "Hazardous" Lazarus is injured while performing a snowboarding jump. Callie is assigned to his case and sees him regularly while he is an inpatient in the hospital. Hank is broken over his injury - now wheelchair bound, no longer able to do the thing he loves most. Callie knows that it is unethical to have feelings for a patient so she maintains her distance although she cannot deny that there is something attractive about Hank. They have a great doctor-patient relationship, great rapport, and mutual respect. When Hank is discharged, life goes on, but they still think of one another.
Then Hank's affluent family makes a proposal to the small hospital: they will fund a major study that could help Hank and other patients like him. Patients that are paralyzed could possibly gain some mobility back with this therapy, and they would like to bring that therapy to their area in hopes, of course, that Hank will benefit from it. The catch? Hank wants Callie to run the study. Callie knows she probably shouldn't because of her attraction to him, but Hank refuses to participate unless she also does, so she agrees.
The study helps everyone, right? She isn't doing it just so she can see Hank? No, no way!
Up until the accident, Hank dates beautiful women, he always has parties and events to attend, very sure of himself and his place in the world. After his accident, his girlfriend breaks up with him plus he now has some limitations on what he can do. He loses some big corporate sponsorships because of his inability to snowboard and he falls into a depression. So, sure, Hank is dealing with some coping issues and some anger, and he has a hard time for a little while. While he is dealing with these things, his house is remodeled into a wheelchair-accessible home and he purchases and modifies a sportscar that he is able to drive comfortably, but he does these things with the assumptions that he will enjoy them alone. Who wants to love a man that isn't even whole, a man stuck in a wheelchair? Even though Hank is always happy to see Callie at therapy, he is reluctant to actually go to therapy because he realizes that he may not walk again.
Callie, on the other hand, is opposite of Hank. She prefers to stick to the rules, she is a people-pleaser - she can't afford to lose what she already has. She's worked hard for everything and money has never been easy to come by. When Callie meets Hank, she sees past his money and fame and his accident, and my gosh how he loves that about her. She is also able to see past his depressed "funk" - she not only treats him as a physician would but she treats him as a friend. This is one reason that Hank trusts her, and this helps their relationship move from doctor-patient to slowly, slowly more than that.
Callie is stubborn throughout this process, she is slow to admit what she knows is true - her true feelings - she has so much at risk, see. But I like her stubbornness. When mixed with Hank's stubbornness (which is totally different), it is so much fun. They complement each other well both as friends and more than friends. I loved watching Callie loosen up over the course of the book, with Hank's help plus a friend or two, but I have to say that it is Hank's character and story that really won me over. Hank is a super-strong character that showed weakness and vulnerability, he couldn't help it, and watching him build his self-esteem and his stamina and his motivation was very cool. I loved his thought processes, the highs and even the lows. I loved being inside the head of this character because I've never had this particular reading experience before. (One of Sarina Bowen's characters in her other series is in a wheelchair, but she is further along in the grief and acceptance part, further along after her accident, so this really is a different reading experience.) Hank ends up with a great ending. I love experiencing his HEA and his return to the mountain.
Okay, so here's the deal about Falling From The Sky by Sarina Bowen: There is so much more than romance in this book. There is an athlete that falls from the heights of his career, loses "everything" and gains it back. There is a man that has to rewrite his definition of what it means to be a man. There is a woman that has to step back and decide exactly what she wants out of life, because maybe she is spending too much time trying to run from a life that she might love. I'm amazed at the things I learned about wheelchair-bound folks while reading this book - I'm a nurse for crying out loud and I learned more about someone with this type of injury from reading this book than I have in my entire career! What I mean is that this book is so realistic and I got so caught up in it that I had the hardest time putting it down. My eyes were burning from reading for so long without breaks and I just want to know these people. They seem like great people and boatloads of fun.
Don't be fooled by me talking about this accident - this character is hilarious, he has great banter and cracks great jokes. This book isn't a heavy read at all. Equal parts romance and issues = THESE are my favorite types of romances, the ones that feel like they could be just any person that I meet out in town with a story that could be very real. I recommend Falling From The Sky by Sarina Bowen to everyone, but especially readers that enjoy adult/new adult contemporary romance that feature athletes and issues. This author is one of my favorites, you guys, so if you trust my recommendations I would love for you to read her stories. ...more
I'm not sure that words on a blog are adequate to express how much I love Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark. It just isn't a good-enough representation. What I can tell you is that I've read it straight-thru once, then I picked it back up and almost-read-the-entire-thing again an additional two times. So, a total of three times in a period of just a few weeks. And I'm going to read it again so I can underline and mark up my new second copy. You guys, you guys.
You can see from the summary (above) that what happens before the book begins is one of those things that makes you wrinkle up your nose and grimace, so awkward: her mom + his dad, an affair, both die together in a car accident. Now Juliette + her dad and Abram + his mom are living in the same neighborhood, trying to cope, while running into each other every now and then. OH! And Abram has a real, honest crush on Juliette that he has had for ages, from before the dreaded event-that-changed-everything. They don't speak, but they're aware of one another. Well, they don't speak, until THEY DO. When they run into each other at CVS, of all places. Because they both need to get their prescriptions filled. Life is hard, see, when you go through hard things. Sometimes you have to go pick up your meds. At CVS. At the same time. Even when the whole entire point is to not be seen. Funny how life works sometimes, though, when people cross paths. It's exactly what these two needed.
This book! This book! Why did it mean so much to me? WHY!
1. The Characters. Abram is easy to love with his awkwardness and Paxil-induced sleepiness, his love for Taco Bell, television shows about whales, and popcorn snacks. Juliette is a little bit harder to love, sometimes dangerously close to unlikable, but OH MY how she is perfect for exactly this story. She is addicted to running and maybe even Adderall, and she sadly has low self-esteem. She has a hard time seeing her worth and her beauty, while that is just about all Abram sees. Abram is laid-back; Juliette is a bit of a control freak. They are such a quirky pair but they complement each other so well. They could not complement each other any better, really. But it's not only the characters that I loved.
2. The Situation. Well, I didn't love the fact that Abram and Juliette each lost a parent in a car accident during an affair. That's sad! What I loved about this situation is that it is a plausible one. The fallout experienced by each family: the discomfort and embarrassment they endured around one another and out in the community is something that felt so very real. It changed them as people and it changed how they interacted with one another. It left doubts in their minds about life and love, and these things are so palpable and important in real life. How can I not love this as a reader? I easily saw this as a real thing, the way this played out, which is so interesting because some of what I'm talking about happened before the book even began! Also, I can imagine that I could know these families in my own life. I think that how Abram and Juliette responded to everything - both before the story began and during the duration of the book - was authentic and gosh I just loved that. This felt like a hard situation, but one that was made better by these people joining forces and becoming friends during a chance-meeting at CVS. I love real-life-happens stories, and this felt like one. But it's also not only the situation that I loved.
3. The Romance. Abram and Juliette are the entire point of this story, which means that we are scrutinizing their relationship throughout its lifespan. Seriously the romance isn't really everything because their story begins before romantic feelings. The story is bigger than the romance alone but it is there, and it is doled out perfectly. I love this. I love that Abram has the crush on Juliette before the book begins, and I even love that he thought the accident-that-changed-everything ruined any chance that he had with Juliette. This is what made the crazy chance run-in at CVS such a BIG HUGE DEAL when ordinarily it wouldn't be, and that's when the really awkward friendship began. It was so hard for these two to take the step, do the hard thing, and talk to one another - their families were crushed and bruised by the big disastrous event...yet they did it anyway, followed by the story, the story, the one-liners, really great writing by this author, some great scenes, sigh sigh, aaaannndd scene. LOVE LOVE LOVE. But it's also not only the romance that I loved.
The structure is alternating points-of-view between Abram and Juliette, short little pieces of their interactions and inner dialogue (I laughed so often!). I loved the way I could see both perspectives on the same thing, events, etc. because these two are really completely different, total opposites. BUT THAT'S OKAY. Sometimes life and love and everything like it happen that way - sometimes people that are totally different come together for friendship or love, and it just works. Abram was so easy to me, so easy to read, I just adored pretty much everything about him. Loved his relationship with his mother and his aunt. Such a patient young guy, but I know from my own experiences that a life that throws unexpected curveballs can sometimes bring out the calmer, quieter traits and qualities in people. Juliette was a little tougher to me, but only because she's really a tough cookie. I understand it! She's been through something awful, and she's left with a ton of unresolved feelings about it, and she has no one that she can talk to because -- she's almost a caretaker for her father, who is also reeling from the fallout. Again, a life with unexpected curveballs can often bring out the other side of a person - I know this too. Grief is hard! So I can see where Juliette comes from and I have some patience for her character, not as much as Abram, but enough to see that these two help each other out and YES, that's what friends do - support one another. They really GET one another, and I loved how the author infused humor into this book to bring that out. (I peeped on some of Author Jay Clark's profile info - there is so much of the author in this book, which I love.)
For this to be such an unconventional little story, it's such a huge story. It's a huge dose of happy, which is something I personally need in my life. I need a book that I can grab off of my shelves and smile, guaranteed. I love that I can laugh out loud at so many great one-liners that are tucked-away in there. I love that I now have a second-copy so that I can underline and highlight and star favorite passages, because YES I WILL BE DOING THAT ASAP. For me, this book is a big, big deal, and it is for a combination of reasons. YA contemporary can be real-life-happens stories with slowly-developing romance that doesn't fit into one particular mold, and it can be awesome. World, I present to you Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark.
I recommend Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark to readers that enjoy young adult contemporary with romance, quirky characters, and books about sometimes-tricky real-life issues. There is a road trip, for those of you that love those. And you could probably even sit this book in an addiction or mental awareness/grief category for the readers that enjoy those types of stories. ...more
I just love Melissa C. Walker's stories. I've been excited to read Ashes to Ashes since it was giftRead my full review HERE at Into the Hall of Books.
I just love Melissa C. Walker's stories. I've been excited to read Ashes to Ashes since it was gifted to me, not only because I love this author but because I was curious about how she would transition from contemporary young adult stories to paranormal.
Callie lives with her Dad in Charleston, South Carolina. She loves her Dad, but their relationship is a teensy bit strained as they were never able to make a great connection her mother died. She has an amazing best friend that she absolutely adores, and she loves her boyfriend Nick. Callie is on her way to see Nick one day when she is involved in a tragic car accident - Callie ends up in Prism, which is an in-between place between earth and eternal afterlife. Since Callie is now a ghost, she is paired with a guide, Thatcher, who will help her haunt her friends and family. This sounds kind of awful, but what it means is that she actually helps bring them comfort which helps them move toward accepting her death and moving on with their lives in a healthy way; in this way she can also move on to her own peaceful eternity in what appears to be the book's version of Heaven, called Solus.
So Callie takes to haunting her friends and father, slowly, appropriately, with the help of Thatcher...and then she befriends the wrong crowd while she's in Prism, which sets things on a bad course. She is attracted to these people because they remind her of herself, always looking to have a good time and seeming to enjoy (after)life. They teach her some haunting techniques that Thatcher has already warned her against, they show her some fun places, everything they do is fun. Callie doesn't listen to Thatcher when he advises her to stay away from these ghosts, she doesn't listen when he tells her not to do the haunting that they teach her, she doesn't listen to him on several different counts. She actually breaks quite a few of his rules, with Thatcher coming to her rescue time and time again. It seems like she's almost constantly toying with the grieving processes of the people she loves and risking her entry into Solus. When Callie was living, she was a risk-taker and rule-breaker, always pushing the limits on things to get an adrenaline rush. This was not my favorite characteristic of hers while she was living, but it was a part of who she was, so it did not come as a shock to me that she would push and bend the rules over and over while she was in Prism and place others around her at risk. Callie does not have the best track record on thinking through things. She is impulsive, but it is not in the way that I usually love about characters.
SO...her attraction to trouble didn't surprise me. Callie's impulsiveness blinds her to some of what these new "friends" of hers have planned for her, and it is Thatcher to the rescue again when these poltergeists stir up trouble that she cannot get out of alone. These particular ghosts, the poltergeists, have an interesting backstory and while they're the bad guys and I didn't particularly love them - I do have to admit that they did add much to the story and I think their placement there is needed.
Callie does end up mellowing out by the end of the book, which is twisty by the way! After everything she goes through in Prism working to help her friends and her father to accept her death, and realizing that some of her methods of doing so weren't the correct way - the process chilled her out a bit, which is SO GOOD. The Callie at the end of the book is calmer, not the same risk-taker, just different. Some of this is probably attributed to the romance, I would have to guess.
See, before Callie dies, she is crazy about her boyfriend Nick. After she dies, Nick is one of her main concerns - she is constantly wanting to check in on him, to be near him. He isn't coping well back on earth and she wants to soothe him with her presence, to haunt him into being okay. I love her care for him and her attentiveness to his well-being. Thatcher helps her, but now that Callie has moved into Prism because she isn't alive anymore, she knows that she can't be with Nick...this leaves room for a natural development of feelings for Thatcher. Thatcher feels similarly, he cannot help it, but he does try to hold his feelings back for a time. So here we have this sticky love triangle with one girl that loves and grieves for a living boy back on earth and yet is also falling hard for a ghost-boy in Prism. I always wonder about these love triangles, how they will play out in future installments - obviously someone has to be the losing guy, but there is the whole paranormal vs. living situation playing out here. Interesting to see how this one will end. (Personally, I do like both Nick and Thatcher - I do not have more feelings toward one than the other!)
Also note: this book has a fantastic friendship between Callie and her best friend. I love this. Writing great friendships is something that this author does very well.
I liked Ashes to Ashes by Melissa C. Walker. I am an instant-read fan of her books, so this makes me happy. It is fun reading a non-contemporary story written by an author that I love, so fun to see how she branches out. It's easy to see the contemporary-ness in there, but this is definitely paranormal. I absolutely love the Charleston setting, so charming to this Southern girl, and I also love the way the author places an underlying spirituality in the story without making it a book about religion. This author has a knack for being able to do this perfectly, and I adore that about her. I recommend Ashes to Ashes by Melissa C. Walker to readers that enjoy young adult stories involving ghosts and great friendships. ...more