For a teen, 90s, Christian version of Dawson's Creek, this book was surprisingly entertaining. I was feeling ill one night and decided that I needed t...moreFor a teen, 90s, Christian version of Dawson's Creek, this book was surprisingly entertaining. I was feeling ill one night and decided that I needed to read something that wouldn't need a lot of concentration, and this definitely fit the bill. Although some situations were contrived and there were some clichéd characters, this book was also quite touching in places and some of the characters contained a good dose of realism. I'm sure that I would have loved these books when I was a young teen, and they would have been a whole lot healthier than Sweet Valley High. I'm quite tempted to read the next book in the series, since it's only £0.77 on Kindle... 3.5*(less)
Wavering between a 3 and a 3.5 for this one. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected, but there were some storylines that I enjoyed less than others....moreWavering between a 3 and a 3.5 for this one. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected, but there were some storylines that I enjoyed less than others. I think it's always been this way with the Sisterhood books. I really liked Carmen's storyline and Tibby's was approached well, but Lena's just didn't interest me that much (she's always been like that, and I always wished she just talked to Kostos about her feelings rather than just sitting around worrying about everything) and Bee's was just a struggle for me to read because of the subject matter. I think I would have appreciated Bee's a lot more as a teenager, but not Lena's so much. I'll write a full review and rate this properly once I've made up my mind about my thoughts on this one. Right now I'm thinking 3.5*?(less)
GENRE: YOUNG ADULT/ROMANCE PUBLISHER: HARPERTEEN PUBLICATION DATE: AUGUST 1, 2011 RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5 – EXCELLENT
When Elise Benton’s mother gets a job o...moreGENRE: YOUNG ADULT/ROMANCE PUBLISHER: HARPERTEEN PUBLICATION DATE: AUGUST 1, 2011 RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5 – EXCELLENT
When Elise Benton’s mother gets a job offer from a prestigious private school in Los Angeles, the entire family gets uprooted. Elise and her sisters couldn’t be more out of place at Coral Tree Prep where they’re surrounded by the children of famous celebrities, and the green minivan that their mother makes them drive doesn’t make fitting in much easier. Juliana is fortunate enough to snag the attention of the attractive, yet surprisingly down-to-earth, Chase. Elise finds herself being dragged along to social events in order to make Chase’s buddy, Derek Edwards, feel like less of a third wheel, but Elise and Derek don’t exactly hit it off. Derek is the son of one of Hollywood’s most famous acting couples, and he’s constantly paranoid that people are only interested in him because of his fame. Elise couldn’t care less, but his attitude puts her off, particularly when he kicks up a fuss over her friendship with Webster Grant. She just wants Derek to leave her alone so that she can choose her own friends at Coral Tree, but this guy just won’t let up. To make matters worse, her mother, the principal, keeps disciplining Chase’s annoying younger sister, and Elise’s own sister, Layla, is meddling in affairs that a fourteen year old should know nothing about. Is Elise’s time at Coral Prep going to be an epic fail?
Here’s a rather amusing anecdote: Claire LaZebnik was the first “grown up” author that I read as a teenager. I read Same As It Never Was (or Olivia’s Sister, as it’s titled in the UK) when I was thirteen and had exhausted my library’s supply of Sweet Valley University and Point Horror novels. I recall really enjoying her novel, but my library sadly never got any more of her books. I’ve now finally made it out of my teen years (I turned twenty in September) and apparently, Claire has started to write Young Adult fiction! It seemed appropriate that I do a reversal of my initial experience with Claire’s work and take a dip into her foray into teenage fiction. Plus, this book was incredibly cheap on Kindle and it was advertised as being a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – how could a penny-pinching English Literature student resist a deal like that?
As shocking as it may sound coming from an English major and a romance reader, I actually only read Pride and Prejudice for the first time last year. The story wasn’t entirely fresh in my mind, however, so I had to occasionally keep looking up the character names on Wikipedia, as I was curious to see who Webster Grant and Chelsea were modelled after. Epic Fail didn’t exactly follow Austen’s original to the letter, and missed out the character of Mr Collins almost altogether, but I don’t think it could have made a compelling high school novel while accurately mimicking Pride and Prejudice. I’m not a massive Austen fan, but I have enjoyed most of her novels, and I would consider Epic Fail to be an original and successful adaptation. But I’d also say that one of Epic Fail’s best characteristics is that it can be read without any prior knowledge of Austen. It isn’t riddled with links to Pride and Prejudice that would alienate a potential reader, so jump right in if that’s what’s been holding you back.
As I came close to finishing this novel, I was very tempted to give it full marks. The only thing that holds me back marks is that Layla’s storyline felt very unfinished, and I couldn’t help but wonder what was going to happen to her, Weston and Campbell. It stopped me from completely enjoying the incredibly sweet concluding scene with Elise and Derek. I'm holding out for the hope that this means there will be a sequel about Layla. I’m particularly interested to see whether Claire follows up some of the secondary characters in this novel, especially Derek’s sister Georgia, who was introduced towards the end of the book. Even if Elise and Derek weren’t to feature in a later novel, I’d still be interested in reading it as I think some of the tertiary characters had real potential.
However, I do have to complain about the title. It has no relation to the story whatsoever, other than that Elise herself makes two or three mentions to something being an “epic fail”. I get the feeling that the publisher wanted to use what they thought was typical teen lingo in order to get the attention of their target market. But from what I’ve see of reviews, many teen readers have also bemoaned the fact that this phrase has very little to do with the story.
Epic Fail was an incredibly cute, fun, touching read. I was cautious about reading a teenage romance as I never had much of a love life as a teen. I devoured many Meg Cabot novels and books about the Sweet Valley Twins, which set me up for a bit of a disappointment when I got older, when I realised that it was very unlikely I’d meet a guy in high school who remotely resembled any of my fictional heroes. But I felt that the relationships in Epic Fail, both those between Derek and Elise as well as Chase and Juliana, were very well written. The characters acted their age, unlike some teen protagonists who either seem younger or older than they’re meant to be, and it was encouraging to see the mistakes that occur through the inevitable teenage miscommunications. Despite all the wonders of texting, emailing and vid-chatting (which even I’d never heard of), these characters still managed many a misunderstanding, which echoed my own teen years all too well. I’d like to think that Epic Fail accurately reflected the behaviour of teenagers, which should be appreciated by teens and adults alike. I really hope that there’s a sequel in the works, or maybe even another modern Austen adaptation.
Disclaimer: There are a few instances of bad language. While there are brief instances of smoking and use of alcohol and drugs, all of the principal characters are disapproving of such behaviour. There are some vague hints at how far one character's relationship is going physically, but nothing descriptive and what is considered “far” is up to the reader’s interpretation. A secondary character is revealed to have been taking photographs of girls in various states of undress, but this topic is dealt with very sensitively. (less)
GENRE: YOUNG ADULT PUBLISHER: HARPERTEEN PUBLICATION DATE: JUNE 05, 2012 RATING: 4 OUT OF 5 – VERY GOOD
PROS: Good character development; “fish out of wa...moreGENRE: YOUNG ADULT PUBLISHER: HARPERTEEN PUBLICATION DATE: JUNE 05, 2012 RATING: 4 OUT OF 5 – VERY GOOD
PROS: Good character development; “fish out of water” coming of age story; total escapism
CONS: Open ending might disappoint some readers; not quite as compelling as her first novel
Kitsy Kidd has never been on a plane and doesn’t own a passport, but she’s spending this summer in New York City, attending a program at a prestigious art school. She’s always dreamed of becoming an artist, but the closest she’s got in the little town of Broken Spoke, Texas is doing her friends’ make-up before prom. This summer offers her the chance of a lifetime, but New York has plenty of temptations that often seem far more appealing than remaining safely within the walls of her art school and working on her pottery and drawings. Before she knows it, Kitsy’s wearing her friend Corinne’s outfits, attending parties with an aspiring actress and hanging out at the band practice of a boy who seems to appreciate art the way she does. At times, it’s easy to forget Broken Spoke, the stresses of her unconventional family and the stability of her boyfriend, Hands, even when she’s not immersed in her artwork. When she returns home after four weeks, will she still be the same Kitsy? Will she be able to look at Broken Spoke through the eyes of an enlightened New Yorker and still see the beauty in the small town she’s been running away from?
Kitsy Kidd was the enthusiastic, peppy cheerleader who befriended stuck-up Corinne in Gwendolyn’s debut novel, Where I Belong. I was a little sceptical of reading a book about Kitsy as, while she was nice, she didn’t seem to have a lot of depth in Where I Belong. But after the first few chapters of Kitsy’s story, I had to admit that I’d misjudged her and that there was far more to her than the pom-poms suggested. The hints that had been dropped about Kitsy’s family life in Where I Belong were expanded on, and it was heart-wrenching at times to see how Kitsy stretched herself between school, art, cheerleading, her boyfriend, holding down a part-time job and looking after her younger brother, all because her mother wasn’t terribly reliable. I was rooting for Kitsy to enjoying being a teenager during her time in New York, and although I enjoyed her character development, I didn’t want her to grow too much; it seemed like she’d already had to do too much growing up in Broken Spoke.
Like Corinne in Where I Belong, Kitsy is a total “fish out of water” in her situation. She’s come from a small town where she knows everyone to New York City. The complete reversal of Corinne’s situation was a lot of fun to read, and I could relate to Kitsy better that Corinne as I have a similar upbringing. I grew up in a village which has exactly two shops, and our school is so small that once you reach the age of eight, you have to get a bus to the next town. Moving to St Andrews was a culture shock to me, and it “only” has a population of 16,000, so I’m pretty sure I’d be just as bewildered as Kitsy was in Manhattan. And since I’ve never visited New York (or been outside Europe, for that matter) I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of all the places Kitsy visited. Gwendolyn really made Kitsy’s explorations of the city come to life, especially her trips to MOMA. Even if you’re not an artist or an art historian, I’m sure you’ll find it fun being inside Kitsy’s head and seeing how she interprets art. I can’t say I’m such a fan of modern art as Kitsy is, but both her visits to MOMA and her art classes piqued my interest. Perhaps those who grew up in New York might not be so interested in the descriptions of Central Park or Kitsy’s adventures on the subway, but I have a feeling that seeing the city through Kitsy’s eyes, rather than those of someone who grew up in a city, would make for an interesting read, even for a native New Yorker. Since I used to fantasise about visiting New York as a child – because that’s where my favourite author (and Gwendolyn’s!), Ann M. Martin, lived – A Long Way from You was blissful escapism.
While I thoroughly enjoyed A Long Way from You and will definitely be adding Gwendolyn to my list of “comfort read” authors, I was torn over the ending and the way Kitsy’s relationship with Hands was dealt with. Like Where I Belong, this novel had a fairly open ending. In a way, I appreciated that Gwendolyn doesn’t go down the route of neatly tying everything up in a bow, with the boy of your dreams tossed in for good measure. The endings to both her books have emphasised that your story does not end when you’re a teenager, and you still have a lot of growing up to do. As someone who read far too many romance novels as a teenager and had unrealistic expectations of meeting my perfect guy when I was fifteen, I could have done with some of Gwendolyn’s books back then. But as a romantic at heart, I did really like Hands, and I like to think that he and Kitsy stayed together despite their different dreams. Some readers might interpret their relationship differently, which is the good thing about the lack of conclusion to this book. I’m one of those people who like things to be tied up neatly, so I’m torn between wanting Kitsy to have her perfect ending and not wanting teenagers to have unrealistic expectations of high school and relationships.
Gwendolyn’s second novel is definitely a bit deeper than her first, dealing with a dysfunctional family and a teenager who has taken too much on in life and needs to escape for the summer and explore who she is. I didn’t find it quite as compelling as Where I Belong, but I definitely enjoyed it. Kitsy is an endearing character, and even if you’re familiar with Manhattan, you’re sure to enjoy seeing it through Kitsy’s eyes. While I felt quite torn over the open ending, I’m sure everyone will imagine the continuation of Kitsy’s life differently, and as such, take something different out of their experience of reading A Long Way from You. I still can’t decide if this novel had a specific message, and every time I think about it I come up with a different lesson. I’m not sure whether Gwendolyn’s next novel will follow up another reoccurring character from her first two books, or whether she’ll introduce someone entirely new, but either way, I’ll definitely be reading it.
Disclaimer: There were a few instances of underage drinking in this book, but Kitsy was very responsible with what she drank. A few of her friends smoked, but she did not partake. There are suggestions that one of the reasons that Kitsy’s mother is neglectful is because she drinks too much, but this situation is dealt with very tastefully. There is one brief illusion to a sexual situation between two secondary characters, but nothing graphic.
GENRE: YOUNG ADULT PUBLISHER: HARPERTEEN PUBLICATION DATE: FEBRUARY 8, 2011 RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5 – EXCELLENT
PROS: Protagonist goes through a realistic tr...moreGENRE: YOUNG ADULT PUBLISHER: HARPERTEEN PUBLICATION DATE: FEBRUARY 8, 2011 RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5 – EXCELLENT
PROS: Protagonist goes through a realistic transformation and endears herself to the reader; novel has some hilarious moments in it; realistic open ending to the novel
CONS: Moral of the story is presented in a rather cheesy manner; questionable presentation of body image
Corrinne Corcoran returns from another successful shopping trip at Barney’s to hear the worst possible news from her parents: not only has her father lost his job, but the family’s entire savings have been embezzled. Her father has been fortunate enough to get another, less well-paid job, but it’s in Dubai and he can’t take the family with him. So Corrinne, her mother and her brother are being shipped off to their grandparents’ house in the tiny town of Broken Spoke, Texas. No more shopping sprees, no more credit cards, no elite boarding school and definitely no chances of hooking up with hot, rich upperclassmen. Instead, Corrinne will be spending her days in a town where there’s only two places to eat and nowhere to shop, where Rodeo Queens still reign and everyone cares about whether or not the high school football team wins the championship. As Corrinne adapts to sharing her bedroom with her mother, getting driving lessons from her estranged Grandpa and eating mountains of carb-filled pancakes every morning she slowly comes to appreciate some aspects of life in Broken Spoke. Kitsy, the perky cheerleader, becomes her friend and she hits it off with a hot wannabe rocker, Rider, when she starts working at the stables. But when Corrinne's old best friend, Waverly, plans a trip to Broken Spoke, Corrinne is forced to evaluate how much she truly enjoys her new life, and whether she wants to take any part of it with her when she eventually returns to her old life in New York.
I am honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed Gwendolyn’s debut novel. I usually preface my reviews of Young Adult books by saying something along the lines of “I'm not a teenager anymore, and I don’t normally enjoy teenage novels, so I may not be the best person to be reviewing this book”, but now I have to admit that, okay, maybe I have become a fan of Young Adult fiction. It’s been a long time since I used to eat up the latest Meg Cabot novel as soon as it was released, and maybe it was due to an overdose of teenage fiction that I swore off it when I was sixteen, but Where I Belong has seriously convinced me to give this genre another try.
This is yet another case of me being suckered in with a pretty cover. I saw that this book was selling for £1.99 on Kindle and decided to download a sample in case the book lived up to its gorgeous cover. I’m currently working my way through Oliver Twist and a surprisingly depressing Amish novel and definitely needed a light read, so when I found myself relaxing as I read the sample for Where I Belong I decided to take a chance on it. And I’m really glad I did. This book had me grinning away at the antics of Corrinne and her new friends in Texas. It was just what I needed at this time in my life.
I did find myself wondering whether or not I would have appreciated this book so much as a teenager. I’ve read some reviews from younger readers who got fed up with Corrinne’s ignorance and self-centred nature. But one of my favourite books as a teen was Legally Blonde purely because I found Elle's actions so hilarious, so considering that, I reckon that I would have enjoyed this book just as much as a teen. There were a few times when I found Corinne's comments a bit annoying - namely the remarks about her dress size (a fair few below mine, and I’m by no means fat) and her initial hatred of all foods that she deemed fattening (I am the Baking Queen in our house and addicted to pinning recipes on Pinterest) but other than that, I found her a very endearing character. For all her talks of drinking wine and staying out all night, she was still very innocent and naive. Sure, she knew her way around New York and could keep up with the “in” trends far better than anyone I know, but she didn’t truly understand how friendships and relationships and families worked until she moved to Texas. I enjoyed watching her character grow, and until she did mature, she was just utterly hilarious to read about. I never thought I’d enjoy reading about a rich, privileged teenage girl from Manhattan, but it happened!
Unlike some readers, I liked the open ending of the book. Perhaps some people would have liked more of a romantic conclusion, a confirmation that Corrinne was going to end up with the right guy and live happily ever after. But I found it quite nice that while Corrinne had grown as a character and developed over the course of the novel, the end of the book wasn’t the end of her growth. She’s still a teenager, after all. It’d be interesting to read the companion book about Kitsy and discover what happens to Corrinne after Broken Spoke.
I only have a couple of real gripes with this book. One of them was the scene in which Corrinne’s grandmother and mother recounted how they’d come to deal with their differences and reconcile with each other. I found it really cheesy and it didn’t seem at all realistic. Perhaps if they’d let their comments drip out little by little it would have worked, but it basically came across almost like a speech or a sermon, as if Corrinne was finally being told the big message of the entire book. The scene could have been a lot subtler and still made its point.
I also found some of the comments about dress sizes a bit disconcerting. If I remember rightly, Corrinne is a size 4 at the start of the novel, and she comments at the end of the book that she’s dropped a dress size due to all the work she’s been doing at the stables. I know that there are some women who are naturally stick-thin, but I didn’t like the idea of Corrinne’s weight loss coinciding with her finding contentment. To some readers, this might give the wrong impression and suggest that Corrinne’s happiness was linked to her unnecessary weight loss. In fact, I don’t think it’s entirely natural for someone of Corrinne's age to be dropping sizes. Teenagers are constantly growing, and it would be more realistic for Corrinne to go up a size. I don’t know many women who stayed a size 2 after they hit puberty, so Corrinne’s dress size isn’t exactly representative of most teenage bodies.
Aside from the slightly cheesy scene with Corrinne’s mother and grandmother and the questionable presentations of body image, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I've now joined the ranks of grown women who read Young Adult novels, and will definitely be seeking out more books in a similar vein to Where I Belong. If Gwendolyn can make me enjoy reading about a stuck-up teenage fashionista then I have high hopes for her next book, A Long Way from You, which is about the adorable Kitsy attending art school. If you’re tempted by this beautiful cover and not typically a reader of Young Adult novels, I would encourage you to give this book a try. Where I Belong is the perfect relaxing, feel-good read...and it may even make a Young Adult convert of you! If you’re already a fan of Young Adult fiction then I can’t see how you could be disappointed by this wonderful story.
Disclaimer: There was one instance of swearing in this novel and a couple of suggestions that Waverly was engaging in a sexual relationship. There were several instances of underage drinking, although Corrinne never seemed to have more than one drink at a time. (less)
This was a fairly entertaining book, but it was very, very short. I know it was advertised as a short story but even for a short story it felt lacking...moreThis was a fairly entertaining book, but it was very, very short. I know it was advertised as a short story but even for a short story it felt lacking in length and substance. I liked the concept, but due to the shortness and some awkward pacing I can't give it anything more than 2*. I got this book for free and as much as I hate to say it, I really wouldn't have paid for this story. (less)