The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos ( web | twitter )
Publication Date: January 21, 2014
Publisher: Egmont USA
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: set in 70s/80s, horrific accident, bullying, friendship, male POV, music, bands
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)
Summary: When Harry was 8 years old, a few boys tie him to a tree during a thunderstorm and he is severely burned when lightning strikes and the tree catches on fire. For most of his childhood and teenage life, he is a loner until a popular kid named Johnny butts in on some bullies bothering him. Later, they form a band, make new friends, and actually go on tour. The story of The Scar Boys is actually Harry’s personal essay for a college. Spoiler: he goes over the recommended 250 words.
If you know my reading preferences, you know I love a story told from a male POV. I also love reading books set in another decade. The Scar Boys takes place over the 70s and 80s from the time that Harry is horrifically injured by a lightning bolt at 8 years old until the time he is in high school, on the road with his band (Scar Boys) and telling the entire story in a personal college essay.
The detail that struck me most about this book is Harry. He doesn’t mope, he doesn’t sit around feeling sorry for himself because he’s different from all the kids around him, he just is. It’s not to say he’s unaffected. Harry knows people look at him strangely, he’s aware that his dad doesn’t treat him as a father should, and it’s not until some assholes come up to him in school that things start to take a turn in his life.
Suddenly, he is best friends with Johnny. Hanging out all the time, jogging together, and even going to parties. Then totally on a whim (and as a way to get over a girl) Johnny suggests they start a band. Johnny and Harry totally immerse themselves in every kind of music available, find other members, write original songs and I was shocked to see — the band becomes pretty successful. Gigs at CGBG’s? Huge deal! So when the idea of touring for the summer materializes (an idea that Johnny takes credit for), a majority of the book becomes about prepping for the tour and all the little conflicts and successes that come along with it.
I loved how Harry gained confidence through music. Even though he was definitely experiencing growth, he still had a ways to go. I had no idea if he could trust Johnny because Johnny seemed like the kind of guy who only felt good when he put others down. He didn’t always play by the rules. This was conflicting for Harry because even though Johnny didn’t act like a good guy a lot of the time… he was the catalyst for Harry’s happiness. He helped Harry find music.
The Scar Boys has absolutely no airs about it. It’s simply the story of a kid coming into his own, facing unique challenges and putting his life into motion. Harry’s narration (especially his observations) reminded me a little of the Jean Shepard narration for A Christmas Story or Daniel Stern’s narration of The Wonder Years. He had already lived the story as he was telling it, but he was able to accurately express his insecurities, the choices he made, and how music became a lifesaver.
This was a really enjoyable debut! Most of all I loved how Harry’s journey to move forward after the lightning strike felt refreshing and new. It never felt forced or over-dramatized, and at points, it was almost like he didn’t realize he hadn’t dealt with the big picture yet and BOOM, there was more work to do.
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Scarlet (Scarlet #1) by A.C. Gaughen (website | twitter)
Publication Date: February 14, 2012
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: Robin Hood retelling, female thief
Format Read: eBook purchased for my Kindle.
Summary: Scarlet, a female thief on Robin Hood’s team, is on the run from her past. Letting few people in, she’d rather hide than have to face the memories that haunt her…that is, until one of them suddenly appears in Nottinghamshire.
Robin Hood isn’t a character I’ve read much about in my YA adventures. When Katie over at Mundie Moms suggested I read Scarlet, I added it to my to-read list on Goodreads. One day I was browsing through that long, long list and realized I just HAD to have something different…which led me to immediately purchase Scarlet for my kindle. (Sidenote: thank goodness for technology and instant gratification, right?)
Scarlet is the story of a young female thief on Robin Hood’s team; she’s quite the mystery as no one really knows her story. Where did she come from? Why? What’s she hiding? A scar on her face indicates something in her past went brutally wrong, but she’s not about to share those details with just anyone. Oh, and did I mention that only the three men on Robin Hood’s team know that she’s a girl? Everyone else things she’s just a scrawny (albeit very talented) thief.
Robin Hood, or Rob as Scarlet likes to refer to him, is one of the kindest guys around. His heart is wrapped up in protecting the people of Nottinghamshire. They’re being taxed like crazy and barely making ends meet. Feeling like he can make a difference, Rob takes it upon himself to collect the money the people need. Only… a new Thief Taker comes to town, Lord Gisbourne. He’s on the hunt for Robin Hood and is determined to take down anyone who may know of his whereabouts.
This is where things get a bit juicy. Lord Gisbourne comes to town. Everyone’s lives are in even greater danger. Scarlet begins acting all jumpy and weird. Some feelings emerge (don’t even try to get me to admit who has feelings for who — I won’t do it!) and the intensity of the story escalates like no man’s business. Intriguing, yes?
Scarlet was such a nice change of pace and I’m so incredibly anxious for Lady Thief by A.C. Gaughen, expected to be in local bookstores on February 11, 2014. The way things pretty much intensified beyond my wildest dreams at the end of Scarlet has me on pins and needles…
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I don’t know about you but when it’s 8 degrees outside and you have to wear about 12 layers to walk a few blocks, all you want is summer. (Sun, and all things hot…) All I want to do is imagine cute clothes, ice cream cones, and long walks in the sunshine. At least for now, we can all escape the winter doldrums with a good book. Am I right?
Let’s talk about Nantucket Blue. Debut writer Leila Howland blew me away with her tale of a Cricket’s unexpected summer spent in Nantucket after a best friend break up and huge changes back at home. From vibrant supporting characters to a whoa-whoa-whoa electric romantic interest and trying to figure out why her best friendship no longer exists, Nantucket Blue remains one of my top YA discoveries. And the setting! Nantucket. I promise you will feel warm and cozy in no time (and probably ready to book a plane ticket too).
While there’s no better way to channel summer then by picking up Nantucket Blue, how about we do a little shopping too? It was a blast to piece together this themed gift pack because nautical is one of my favorite themes in decor, clothing, whatever. If it’s nautical I probably love it. Hope you enjoy this glimpse into the book, as we await the warmer weather and, most importantly, the highly anticipated follow-up to Nantucket Blue: Nantucket Red.
1. I think it’s obvious from most of this mood board that I’ve gone pretty nautical with my picks. I cannot help it! When I think of Nantucket, I think of boats and dressing neat and preppy. How cute is this scarf from the Gap?
2. Kate Spade has the cutest spring line right now featuring everything nautical. It was so hard for me to narrow it down but since Cricket spends most of her summer on the go… how could I not go with this over-sized pouch. You can use these for your electronic devices but lately I’ve been packing jewelry and important papers in them.
3. When I talked to Magan about this gift pack, she was like CRICKET SHOULD BRING SOMETHING TO NANTUCKET TO MAKE HER FEEL AT HOME. Okay, she didn’t scream it but I loved the idea. A pillow is easy to pack, and the saying is pretty indicative of most of Cricket’s moves in Nantucket Blue. (Paper Presentation)
4. Here’s another Magan inspired pick. When Fossil sent out an email about their newest line of watches, we were both drooling over this mint green one. And Cricket needs it. To make it to her stops over the summer — working at the hotel, interning, and catching time with her romantic interest.
5. I’m always looking for the best way to transport all my belongings for a short weekend away. Since Cricket is gone for most of the summer, I think this Kate Spade Saturday Weekender Bag is the way to go. The zippered shoe compartment is a great feature.
6. And last but certainly not least… this dress is inspired by one of my favorite moments in Nantucket Blue. And one I could totally relate to. It may not be an exact replica of what actually transpires (or ends up in Cricket’s closet) but it’s colorful, it’s youthful, and I think rightfully represents the happier parts of this very different kind of summer for our main character. (Guys, I was not kidding about the splurge. This dress is $348 from Anthropologie. A girl can dream…)
Don’t forget to pick up a copy of Nantucket Blue, too!
Stay cozy, friends!
Recipe for a Happy Life by Brenda Janowitz ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: July 2, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Target audience: adult
Keywords: summer in the Hamptons, mothers/daughters, moving forward
Format read: ARC eBook provided by author. (Thank you!)
Summary: After a mini-disaster, Hannah, a lawyer in NYC, escapes to the Hamptons for the summer to spend time with her grandmother and figure things out.
When it’s starting to get super frigid outside, there’s nothing like reading a book about the summertime.
Recipe for a Happy Life contains so many of the details I love to read about: the Hamptons, complicated grandmother/mother/ daughter relationships, and a perfect pinch of romance to spice things up.
Hannah is at her wit’s end when her boyfriend’s mother accuses her of trying to kill her boyfriend (it was a mistake! he’s alive!) and runs off to the comfort of her grandmother. Never being close with her always on the go, legendary photographer mother, Hannah finds comfort in her glamorous and generous grandmother (who has been married multiple times) and though she never feels like she can live up to her grandmother’s expectations, she is happy to be in her presence. (Even if this means attending parties she doesn’t want to go to and being dressed up in expensive clothes.)
As you can probably guess, Hannah’s hope for a “no drama” few months in the Hamptons is anything but. When she bumps into Nate, a guy she went to law school with and pretty much loathes, she can’t seem to get rid of him and soon realizes, maybe she doesn’t really want to. Then there’s her mother’s visit, countless frosty interactions and a hidden family secret that comes to the surface and threatens to break bonds just as more bad news comes crashing down.
It may seem like a lot (and it is, for one summer) but Janowitz balances all of the unfortunate news with some vibrant supporting characters like the charming Nate, rock star Jaime, and teenaged Hunter who injects a certain amount of innocence and comedy into these pages. I swear, his character is so memorable and I loved how Hunter and Hannah formed an unlikely (but much needed for both) bond during this summer. Janowitz’s attention to her secondary characters truly made Recipe for a Happy Life stand out amongst other beachy dramas.
This book was practically burning a hole in my bag. Every time I had to put it down, I couldn’t wait for the next free moment when I could pick it up again. All of the life-altering events that occur during Hannah’s summer seem so necessary to her growth as a person and also assisted her in letting go of old prejudices she had held onto for years. By the end of the book, she is more independent, more understanding of her family, and also has a clearer focus on what she wants for the future.
I am officially a Brenda Janowitz fan!
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When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
Publisher: Simon Teen/Atheneum Books
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Brooklyn, family, friendship, loyalty
Format read: ARC from BEA Simon Teen Blogger Party. (Thanks!)
Summary: Life in Brooklyn for Ali and his family hasn’t been easy. He attempts to steer clear of the bad stuff and just enjoy time with his neighbors, Noodles and Needles, work for and train with the old veteran down the street, and watch out for his little sister while his mom works two jobs. But when the boys are “invited” to a big party in their neighborhood, the summer takes a turn…
I’ve been eagerly anticipating When I Was The Greatest since May, and it did not disappoint. Not a bit. But I will say this… even after I read the summary and heard the author speak (so well, I might add) the story snuck up on me and affected me in ways I was not expecting.
Let’s start with Ali. I loved this kid. There was something so earnest about him, and I loved his observations about all sorts of factors in his life: his neighborhood (the dichotomy of the crowd that lived there), the status of his parents’ relationship (they didn’t live together), his 11-going-on-50 sister (adorable), and most importantly, his friendship with two brothers, Noodles and Needles, and their relationship with one another.
You see Needles has Tourette syndrome and even though Noodles won’t let anyone mess with his brother, he has no problem messing with him on his own. Ali has a strong sense of right and wrong, and knows that Noodles does not treat his brother the way he should. But he’s not exactly sure how to handle it. Instead, he minds his own business and subtly watches Needles’ back when Noodles is rough on him.
Much of When I Was the Greatest is an introduction to Ali’s Brooklyn block, how his relationship with his friends began, the story of his parents, and snapshots of moments that transpire through the summer. Until. The Party. You know… The Party. Ali, Noodles, and Needles kind of sort of get themselves invited to an off-limits infamous gathering where they plan to wear the best clothes, have the best hair, and fit in just for a few minutes so they can say they experienced one of MoMo’s exclusive events. Can you see their puffed up chests now?
Absolutely nothing good can come out of this, right? Especially since the plan is totally, utterly built on lies. But nothing prepared me for what happened. I think part of it was because it wasn’t so much the event that shocked me but what happened afterwards and the total breakdown of brotherhood and friendship, and ultimately, loyalty. (And how about the surprising sacrifices people make for one another?)
I cried. There I said it. I cried. And again, it came totally out of nowhere and it wasn’t even after a moment I anticipated.
That right there is some stand-out writing. Reynolds makes this urban setting come alive with its niches and diverse characters, and gives us the opportunity to get to know a teenager who cares deeply for his family and his friends and believes people should treat each other fairly and with respect. Ali may act older than he is, and even more with it than he is, but he does have a certain vulnerability and a great amount of strength. That parallel, that dimension made him so incredibly real to me.
Reynolds’ writing is smooth and incredibly effective (in a little over 200 pages, too). Plus it was refreshing to have a book that illustrated the big wide world we have out there — this grand melting pot of people — which, unfortunately, is such a rarity in young adult fiction these days. But back to When I Was The Greatest. It’s exactly what I love so much about reading: great characters, actions and themes that make me want to discuss every detail with someone immediately, and most importantly, feelings that linger.
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