Take Me On by Katie McGarry (twitter | website)
Previously Reviewed: Pushing the Limits // Dare You To // Crash Into You
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin TEEN
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: mixed martial arts, job loss, family injuries, fighting and kickboxing
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Netgalley. (Thank you!)
Summary: After swearing she’d never date a fighter again, Haley finds herself in a “relationship” with West, the new guy at school, as she teaches him to become a mix martial arts fighter. She must teach him how to fight or else she puts her cousin and brother’s lives at risk of ongoing, life-threatening fights with her ex-boyfriend.
Take Me On by Katie McGarry was full of all the elements I felt were strengths in Pushing the Limits — great witty banter between Haley and West, real life complications and issues, an interesting setting (a gym with a lot of emphasis on kickboxing and mixed martial arts), and fantastic burning chemistry.
But there were also some setbacks for me, too. It took quite a long time for me to feel like the story was progressing because the tension and constant back and forth dance between Haley and West’s emotions took quite a long time to level out. I desperately wanted them to make a decision. Could Haley accept that West was nothing like her ex-boyfriend and revoke her decision to never date another fighter? Could West settle down and stop feeling like the world was against him?
Haley’s ex brought out the absolute worst side of her and turned her kickboxing passion into something she wanted nothing to do with. Her deteriorating home life leaves Haley constantly feeling like a lesser version of herself. She walks on eggshells around her uncle who disrespects women (and people in general) in the most awful ways. She’s witnessing her father spiral out of control while desperately wanting him to get his act together and protect her. Even one of her closest friends, her grandfather, doesn’t know exactly what Haley’s gone through; she’s completely secluded herself and withdrawn.
West’s home life is the exact opposite of Haley’s by comparison — he has everything money can buy, lives in a sprawling mansion, and attends one of the best private schools. But when you look beyond all the shiny material things, you see that West’s mother is just as detached as Haley’s father, that his father’s expectations are unnecessarily high, and his sister is in the hospital for something he blames himself for.
Seeing these two broken individuals come together as they figure out how to heal and move past their struggles was probably my favorite part of Take Me On. I loved the symbolism behind the fighting that Haley was teaching West to do (and hoped that she would find worth in herself and start fighting for herself, too). Sometimes I felt like the story was dragging along more slowly than would have been ideal, making the whole book feel a little bit too lengthy. I can understand how in a real-world setting, people with West and Haley’s struggles wouldn’t immediately be able to bypass them and embrace the love being extended to them.
Haley and West’s story was an enjoyable experience that took me into another world and really made my day-to-day issues seem meager by comparison. Katie McGarry did a great job branching out to explore this new fighting dynamic and continues to impress with her ability to heal two broken characters.
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One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva ( web )
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux (Macmillan Kids)
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Armenian culture, LGBT, summer school, NYC, family
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley
Summary: When Alek’s parents spring summer school attendance on him so he can stay on the honors track next year, he’s totally bummed to be missing out on camp, hanging out with his best friend (the boisterous Becky!), and the big family vacation. But things get interesting when Ethan, a notorious bad boy/skater kid, shows up in Alek’s algebra class and the two hit it off.
I don’t know if it’s possible for me to convey just how adorable One Man Guy is. But I’m going to try.
Alek is 14 and forced into summer school because his parents want him to stay on the honors track next year at school. He’s not a bad student. He’s had a hard time transitioning from middle school to high school, and can’t seem to get the hang of things. So instead of a summer of freedom & a family vacation, he’s stuck taking classes and doing homework.
If it hadn’t been for his parents’ meddling, he never would have ended up in algebra with Ethan, a kid with a reputation for being a troublemaker and slacker, but who also just saved his ass a few days ago when one of Ethan’s jerk friends tries to pick a fight with Alek. Alek is curious about Ethan, and it’s not until a particularly gutsy move on his part that the two spark a friendship.
Okay. One thing I really liked about One Man Guy is that Alek wasn’t someone who was soul searching about his sexuality. He mentions having girlfriends, and while he is pretty riveted with Ethan, he doesn’t know try to figure out what he means. He just goes with it. Letting go and defying his parents with secret trips to NYC gives him new insight into his feelings and what his relationship with Ethan really means to him.
Everything about Ethan and Alek’s transition from friendship to relationship felt natural. Ethan needed a dose of Alek’s responsibility and, in turn, Alek benefited from Ethan’s sense of adventure. Even if it went against everything his very strict parents trust him to do. But it was kind of fun to see Alek let loose and fall in love with Ethan AND New York City. (Um, their dates were adorable.)
Another great detail of the book was Alek’s family. They are Armenian, and his parents are very quick to dismiss “the silly Americans” who think baking from scratch means using a mix. His mom is also the kind of lady who will need to know all the details of the water served at your restaurant before she agrees to have that water. I loved their dialogue and how all of their personalities popped off the pages. There was this struggle to embrace old school ideals and assimilate to this day in this world. Alek thinks his parents are mostly unreasonable, and for a 14 year old kid, I could see that being true. It’s a whole other layer of pressure to be perfect at yet another thing. (Alek can never compete with his “angelic” older brother either.)
While One Man Guy felt a bit preachy at times and has a good amount of expository passages (a shame because the dialogue was so fresh), I loved watching Alek have this turning point summer. He learned a ton about himself, the people around him, and even got a brand new wardrobe. (I couldn’t help but mention this — I love shopping and mini-makeovers!) It’s also nice to see that while One Man Guy is a book about sexuality that there are so many other plotlines that come into play here. Also a quick shout out to Alek’s best friend, Becky, who loves classic films (and is a supportive and outgoing gal). So fun!
Did I mention this a debut from Barakiva? Can’t wait to see what he does next!
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Threatened by Eliot Schrefer [ website | tweet ]
Publication Date: February 25, 2014
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Africa, orphan, adventure, companionship, chimpanzees, tragedy
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)
Summary: Luc is intrigued by the Professor when he first bumps into him at work. Despite a “misunderstanding”, he takes Luc under his wing as he hopes to study chimps in their natural habitat — the jungle.
At the end of 2014, I fell unexpectedly in love with Eliot Schrefer’s Endangered about a young girl on the run with a bonobo when a violent attack occurs in the Congo. Endangered challenged me; I was instantly out of my comfort zone, knowing next to nothing about the Congo, not even knowing how to pronounce bonobos, much less know what they look like. I didn’t think it was possible to connect so emotionally to a book about a girl, an animal, and a war. But I did. The story was about motherhood, bravery, and connection that went beyond human or animal.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Threatened turned out to be a totally different book. I mean, it couldn’t BE the same book so this is really a positive thing because once again Schrefer placed me into an unknown environment with absolutely no idea how it would all end.
One difference? Urgency. A attack is a pretty huge driving force in any book and without it, Threatened read a little slower. Main character Luc is an orphan, living with a guy I could only picture as Fagin from Oliver!. This “gentleman” is not a saint who cares for lost boys but instead takes whatever money they have, keeps track of their “debt”, and allows them to live in the barest of conditions. Miraculously, Luc makes his exit with the help of a visiting professor. Even though Luc tries to steal for him, “Prof” pays off his debt and takes him on as his assistant as he studies chimps in the jungle.
For the first time in a long time, Luc has someone who is investing in him. Teaching, talking, observing. Luc feels possibility in his kinship with Prof, and starts to look beyond the life he thought he knew before. (How his family died, the legend of the “mock man” a.k.a. the chimps.) When it seems like he couldn’t be tested any more, something happens that changes the course of the story and his past threatens to hurt him once again.
Slowly but surely his companions become two chimps: Mango and Drummer. Their relationships are tentative and, sometimes, frustrating but their time in the jungle, learning to survive, brings them closer together and once again, the line between human and animal are blurred as this connection between them is fused.
As Luc assimilates to life in the jungle, I wondered if this would be his life for good. I wondered if he would have the opportunity to befriend other humans. Can the chimps who so obviously care for him make up for the family he lost? Schrefer convinces me, time and time again, that if we are patient, kind, and compassionate that any of these relationships are a possibility. I am amazed how much he can convey between Luc and the chimps because, as you may have guessed, no dialogue is spoken. Just movements, action, and Luc’s thoughts.
If you are looking to try something completely new and connect to this genre in a whole new way, I can’t recommend Schrefer’s books enough. He is a writer who opens me up to brand new ideas and forces me to really listen to the world beyond the city I live in and the world I think I know.
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The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt (twitter | website)
Previously Reviewed: Sean Griswold’s Head // Going Vintage
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: family rivalries, loss of a grandparent, secret romance
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thank you!)
Summary: Not only does Holly inherit her grandfather’s wedding chapel in Las Vegas when he passes away, but she continues the rivalry with the chapel across the parking lot and becomes responsible for saving the chapel when she realizes how much debt they’re in.
So you know when you think something is a really awesome concept, but then there’s just a little bit of spark that’s lacking to make it perfect? Essentially, that’s what I walked away from The Chapel Wars feeling. Set in Las Vegas, Holly’s grandfather passes away and she inherits his the wedding chapel he’s lovingly owned and operated. While others (particularly the one across the parking lot) have sold out to commercialize weddings and take theatrics to the extreme, Holly’s grandfather stayed true to his vision of weddings by trying to appeal to the elegant Las Vegas bride. What Holly and her family didn’t realize was the debt her grandfather was in and the race Holly must enter to keep them afloat, all while secretly falling in love with the competition’s grandson and facing an imminent deadline.
The chapel is passed down to Holly because she’s a go-getter who is obsessed with numbers. She’s a problem solver; if anyone’s going to save the chapel, it will be her. Her father is a little spacey and her mother lacks the passion. Holly really struggles with everyone taking her seriously and finding a balance between modernizing the chapel and falling into the money-trap that is Vegas by offering themed weddings and Elvis. The owner of the chapel across the parking lot had a long-withstanding war with her grandfather, and he’d like nothing more than to see Holly’s chapel crash and burn. But his grandson, Dax, enters the picture right around the time of Holly’s grandpa’s funeral. And Holly has a letter she’s been instructed to give him.
Dax and Holly have an instant attraction, but she feels like she’s cheating on her family if she pursues a relationship with him. Thus begins this whirlwind courtship that involves lots of sneaking around, secret dates, and stolen kisses between the chapels. As much as I enjoy seeing characters overcome obstacles, the relationship with Dax and Holly often felt rushed and a little forced. Coupled with the pacing feeling a little off and and an imbalance between the focus on the relationship, chapel, and Holly’s family problems, I always felt intrigued by what the outcome might be, but I didn’t feel invested. (I felt so distanced from Holly that at times I even felt myself not remembering her name.)
I applaud Leavitt for trying to give us more than just a slice of the pie by including multiple aspects of Holly’s life, but some details felt like nibbles when I really wanted to dissect the entire slice. Holly felt distant and difficult to connect to; she’s a very unemotional character who had a lot of barriers that, while intended to keep Dax at a distance, negatively impacted how attached I was to her. When Holly finally begins to loosen up and release some of her tension, her quick judgments felt out-of-character and that really made me feel like her actions were being manipulated for the intention of moving the story along.
If you’re looking to read your first book by Leavitt, I definitely recommend you begin with Sean Griswold’s Head; both Estelle and I have nothing but good things to say for it!
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Oh hey there! Since it’s a freebie week, I thought I would jump in today and BE CREATIVE. I recruited my husband to help me think of a topic. Options ranged from BOOKS WITH MUPPET REFERENCES and BOOKS THAT COULDN’T FIT INTO ANY OTHER TOP 10 LIST. But I settled on this one because it’s true — sharing the blog with Magan means not reviewing every book I read, which is great. I do make the time to read the books she loved + reviewed, reread old favorites, check out other books, etc. There’s no real rhyme or reason to what I pick to review. I make sure I absolutely HAVE SOMETHING I WANT TO SAY and then I just go from there. But sometimes, there just isn’t time or space or whatever reason.
Here’s where today’s list comes in. I hope something catches your eye!
1-2. Time Between Us series by Tamara Ireland Stone
For awhile, I had quite the aversion to books that were not contemporary. I know it was just fear of the unknown, and gosh, I am so glad I let go of all of that and checked out this series after seeing Tamara at a reading. The music references, the romance, the family aspect… this series kept me up WAY late.
3. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth
An intense story where the main character is forced to change who she is. I read this at the end of the 2012 and remember sitting on my couch, completely riveted but all the emotions and intense characters. The book is very long but spans a ton of time, and is worth picking up. (When is Emily writing another book?)
4. The Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Daria Snadowsky
I reviewed Snadowsky’s second book, THE ANATOMY OF A SINGLE GIRL, having no idea that it was a companion to this book. A few things were spoiled sure, but I loved reading about Dom’s senior year, her first time falling in love, and her (difficult because of high pressure) relationship with her supportive parents as she sets forth to make big decisions like picking a college and choosing to live away from home or not. It was definitely authentic to my own senior year experiences.
5. Alienated by Melissa Launders
I know… Estelle and a book about aliens? What is happening?! It’s true, folks. I totally loved this one. The chemistry between the two characters is great, I loved Cara’s tenacity and loyalty, and the world that Melissa dreamed up was so so so fantastic. I read it, immediately lent it to my coworker, and put it on my shopping list. I also cannot WAIT for book 2.
6. Past Perfect by Leila Sales
The LOVELY Hannah from So Obsessed With gifted me this one for my birthday + I read it pretty soon after I got it. Whenever someone is looking for a great book about BEST FRIENDS … this is one of my recommendations. Hands down. The relationship between the main character and her best friend is not perfect (in the best way). This is why it felt so real, and why I couldn’t put it down. (Plus there’s a swoony romance and an interesting setting — historical village!)
7. Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
Um, I have to scream about this book from the rooftops. I am so ashamed that I haven’t. Ugh. Terrible, Estelle. Terrible. This book made me laugh, it made me cry, and I just wanted to hug it. (Instead, I just passed it to my mom to read.) A main character who is battling abusive parents, his runaway sister, and falling in love at school. It was so charming and so realistic. Read it. Now. (I am thinking about ways to plug this book in the future… right now.)
8. Uses for Boys by Erica Lorriane Scheidt
I know this book left a lot of readers up in arms over it. WHAT DID IT ALL MEAN? But I thought it was heartbreakingly beautiful and the writing was so poetic — I wanted to just fall into it. Yes, the main character does latch on to guys. She does. But, like everyone in the world, she was trying to find HER home HER happy place in many unfortunate situations. I read it in close to one sitting and wow, it totally blew me away.
9. Kiss the Morning Star by Elissa Janine Hoole
A road trip, best friends, self-discovery. A very unique take on all three of these things; so gorgeously written and so well-done. I bought a copy for Magan right after I finished. (I think I borrowed mine from the library.) I think that should tell you all you need to know right there.
10. Freefall by Mindi Scott
Thanks to the awesome Ginger for bringing Mindi Scott into my life; both of her books are fantastic but I’m spotlighting Freefall today. I remember devouring this story of a boy dealing with the death of his best friend and slowly trying to change what is expected of him within his family and his town. Mindi does a great job of dissecting the more difficult situations in life, and she really wowed me with this one.
Okay! A quick recap:
A few thoughts… do you share reviews for every book that you read? How do you decide?
Any that you want to recommend to me?? I’d love to hear them!
Thanks for stopping in! Happy Tuesday!