Geek Girl (#1) by Holly Smale [twitter • website]
Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Harper Teen
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: teenage modeling career, best friend drama, strong family ties
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)
Summary: Harriet Manners doesn’t fit in. She’s a geek. She can spout of random knowledge, but when it comes to standing up for herself and knowing how to talk to her peers, she’s lost. On a class trip, she’s discovered by a modeling agency, and she hopes it will change her life for the better. (But imagine the hurt since this has been her best friend’s dream since she was a small child.)
• • •
If there’s one thing Harriet knows for sure, it’s that she’s different from her classmates and she doesn’t really fit in. This becomes blatantly obvious when someone sharpies “GEEK” on her backpack. For a 15 year old girl, it sucks to stand out and be different. Harriet’s proud of her knowledge, but she just wants to know when all of bullying will end and she’ll find her place in the world.
She’s got an oddball dad, an obsessive stepmom, and an extremely loyal best friend. Well, loyal until Harriet is offered the chance of a lifetime and steals her best friend’s dreams right out from under her feet. Harriet is “discovered” in a shopping mall to become the hottest new teen couture model. Though she knows this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and her friend has every right to be mad, she’s also desperate to stop being such a dork and to have this great defining moment in her life.
Harriet is silly and smart and will make you laugh out loud. Her dad is obnoxious, bordering on goofball (as I think most 15 year olds feel their fathers are). And while stepmoms seem to not always have the best reputations, I saw this one as a shining example (though I wasn’t at first convinced of it because she can be pretty demanding). There’s friendship and loyalty, strong family ties, and incredible relatable moments that bring back memories of when there was nothing you wanted more than to fit in.
Geek Girl is definitely on the younger side of my young adult reading, but it was also kind of nice to mix it up. (I do wish some of the silly language from her modeling agent would have toned down throughout the book; his constant pet names felt excessive.) At its heart, this was a simple story about a smart teenage girl just trying to make it through, and I am really looking forward to seeing Harriet grow up a bit as the series continues on.
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The Marriage Charm by Linda Lael Miller ( web | tweet )
The Brides of Bliss County; Book 2
Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Target audience: Adult romance
Keywords: friendship, old love, cowboys, small towns
Format read: ARC provided by Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Summary: Melody and Spence have a second chance if they are willing to take it.
I really like that this romance series revolves around three best friends who are looking out for each other when it comes to finding happily ever after. Some of my favorite parts of this book was when Melody was freaking out about her feelings for her first love, Spence, and sent out a call to her girls for some honesty and comfort. They were always there to provide it and make a little fun of her too. (Humor is so necessary during these rough times.)
Melody and Spence have a history. After making a fool of herself with him once long ago, she doesn’t want to risk putting herself through that a second time. But have the years between them made it possible for a second go round to be an actual possibility? That’s what these two people are trying to figure out. Sure their chemistry is oh so good but can they learn to trust each other again?
I’ve noticed a lot of romance novels can drag out these kinds of stories so I was impressed with how tightly written this one was… even with a bit of a mystery side plot thrown in. After a tough few weeks, it was so nice to lose myself in this love story between a great couple and between a lovely group of pals. (Other bonuses: three cats and it is really funny when the main character talks to herself.)
Another Miller winner and another love letter to quirky small town living! (I really want to visit a ranch.)
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Big thanks to the lovely people at Little Bird Publicity who are offering up a copy of THE MARRIAGE CHARM to one lucky U.S. reader! Good luck!
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Disneylanders by Kate Abbott ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: May 12, 2013
Publisher: Orchard Hill
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Disneyland, starting high school, growing up, romance
Format read: Paperback provided by author. (Thank you!)
Summary: Casey is on her annual trip to Disneyland with her parents the summer before high school. This year at her favorite place feels a little bit different after conflicts with her best friend all year, and her nervousness about starting a new school with new people. Her trip starts to look up when she meets Bert, another Disney enthusiast on vacation with his sister and grandma.
Let’s be real. Vacationing with your family is never easy. Most of the time, it’s super fun and all. But there are little fights and annoyances here and there, right? Especially when you are a teenager.
Disneylanders by Kate Abbott does such a realistic job of capturing these precious family quirks in this YA novel, I almost felt like they were pages right out of my own journal from when I was 14. My mom telling me I’m moody when I’m just trying to drive home some kind of point and make them realize I’m not a little kid anymore. Sound familar?
I didn’t like being 14 so much. I had a lot of the same insecurities as Casey. Am I dressing right? What if I don’t make new friends? Why is everyone cooler than me? Will my parents ever stop being so overprotective? And like Casey, going to a Disney theme park gave me some kind of relief every summer. Life was put on pause and I could be in my own little bubble, thinking my own little thoughts and processing the past few months without returning to the real world for awhile.
A mishap with a little girl, a Sharpie marker, and Casey’s pants introduces her to Bert, a fellow Disney fan, who is super cute, 2 years older, and really nice. Casey and Bert hit it off and decide to spend a lot of their vacation together, exploring the parks. It’s so adorable how shy she is with him but how excited she is too. (It reminded me of the first time a boy held my hand; it was also in a theme park and you would have thought it was the biggest event in the world.) Bert is sweet and totally level-headed, dealing with a bit of family drama himself. It’s nice that they have each other as sounding boards because an unbiased opinion sometimes helps you see the light.
While some of the book might sound a little young (it is early high school), I didn’t mind it so much. Abbott creates some awesome irony with Casey spending her time in a world of fantasy and being forced to deal with some not-so plesant grown up things. I really liked that. Plus, the Disney park history references didn’t hurt too much either. For those of you who aren’t Disney geeks, don’t worry. There aren’t so many that they distract from the core of the story.
Disneylanders is a charming and well-rounded story that will have you rooting for Casey, aching for a Disney trip, and feeling all sorts of magic. I can’t recommend it enough.
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Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle ( web | tweet )
Published January 6, 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: family secrets, cult, road trip, best friendship
Format read: ARC from Publisher. (Thanks!)
Summary: When Viv discovers her parents have disappeared in the Rapture, she sets off on a road trip with her best friend and a boy she just met to figure out the truth about the evangelical Church of America.
It’s not every day I pick up a book about the upcoming apocalypse, but a starred review in Publishers Weekly made me so curious and I am mighty glad I gave this book a whirl.
A possible Rapture has been threatened for awhile and no one in Vivian’s town really believes it’s going to happen until it does. After a party, Viv goes home to find two holes in her ceiling and her two parents missing. It seems all over the country loved ones have disappeared, Believers of the evangelical Church of America, and the end of the world is scheduled to arrive soon rather than later.
Before their disappearance, Vivian was continually harassed by her parents to receive her baptism and join them as Believers. They joined later in their life, and once they did, their relationship with Viv changed along with it. Vivian held out, determined to act like the best kid she could even if she wouldn’t officially become a Believer. Soon most of her close friends have converted and abandoned her. Although, the one positive, is meeting Harp, dealing with her own uber-evangelical parents, and they bond instantly.
Thank [insert name of higher power here] because the friendship between Viv and Harp is one of my favorite things about this book. In fact, I believe it’s the foundation of this story. Even though they are both so different — Harp is the more outgoing one, and Viv always following her lead — they compliment each other even in the most difficult of times. They give each other space, they pat each other on the back, and more than anything, they accept each other for who they are — warts and all. If you are facing the end of the world, I can’t imagine spending it with someone better than that.
Despite a false move on Viv’s part after the initial rapture, a road trip is organized when they realize certain strange clues are leading them to California and perhaps, some answers. Joining in is Peter, a boy Viv unsuccessfully tried to nab at a party the night before the Rapture and an “information guy” with connections to the church. Don’t worry. He’s trustworthy and an acceptable object of Viv’s affection. More than being a possible love interest, Peter proves to be a solid and understanding friend. In other words, perfect for a quest like this one.
As you can imagine, the road trip puts them in contact with many surprising (and dangerous) people and places but the most effective piece of the puzzle for me was the loneliness and not only because they had no idea who was alive and who was dead but because they were teenagers navigating this post-Rapture world alone. Viv had a lot of trouble dealing with this, and I didn’t blame her. Even though evidence was saying the adults had disappeared and many had gone off their rockers, she still believed in the authority of an adult and wanted to put her trust in them despite her history of getting burned. This parallel to growing up in general was a great one.
Despite the short page count, Coyle’s lush writing and intricate details made this book feel like an epic adventure — in a way that made me so anxious to get down to the bottom of the Church of America (clever usage of social media and consumerism that reminded me a lot of the underrated Bumped series by Megan McCafferty) and find out if Viv and her friends had the power to change their fates. The story continues in September 2015, and I’m so looking forward to it.
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We all occasionally read books with main characters that we just don’t connect with. Right? Maybe it’s that they’re really judgmental or they’ve done incomprehensible things that we would never do. But…what about those times we don’t particularly like the main character, but meanwhile we’re internally cringing because that person is just like me?
I vowed to get caught up on Miranda Kinneally’s work in my 2014 End of Year Book Survey. It’s something Estelle’s been asking me to do (and that I also really want to do). I picked up Things I Can’t Forget, the third book in the Hundred Oaks series, to begin where I left off after reading Catching Jordan and Stealing Parker. Kate is a good girl; she’s obedient, respectful, goes to church regularly (and enjoys it), and the majority of things are very black and white for her. They’re either right or they’re wrong.
When a situation arises with her best friend, Emily, Kate’s world is turned upside down. She believes she’s committed a great sin and doesn’t know how to reconcile what she’s done. Emily has made a 180 degree turn and doesn’t share the same beliefs as Kate anymore, causing them to drift miles apart because they can’t agree.
But then Kate meets Matt, a co-counselor at the summer camp where she’s working. And Matt is wonderful — he’s a Christian and very kind, nice, respectable. As they begin dating, all of these barriers and walls Kate had up about what was right and wrong and her shoulds and should-nots for dating fly out the window. There’s so much she wants to do and experience with Matt, but the guilt is such a burden. Where does she draw the line with her relationship? Where do they stop? Should she just back away entirely?
And is she a hypocrite because of the things she’s told Emily not to do? Suddenly her black and white is overtaken by a lot of gray area.
Phew. Writing that all out kind of feels like I’ve shared a little piece of senior year in high school me. I began dating Dustyn during my Sophomore year. I’d kissed guys and had major crushes, but I didn’t have a relationship that escalated quite as quickly as mine did with him. I was just beginning to grasp Christianity and trying to balance this new relationship. I won’t get into the explicit details of our relationship, but I went through a huge ordeal with my best friend about boundaries. She warned me that things were moving too fast. I felt judged and criticized.
I felt the need to step back from her, from Dustyn, from everything. I didn’t know how to figure out what was acceptable. Like Matt, Dustyn shared my same beliefs, but we were so caught up in each other that it became really hard to know where to draw the line.
Dustyn + Me, circa 2012
Confession: as we packed up our house and moved this past summer, I ran across a handwritten letter I wrote to Dustyn during calculus class one day my senior year. (Oh, the days of physical love notes.) I wrote about my fears and how quickly we were becoming attached to each other. How I didn’t want to have any regrets. How I thought we were moving too fast. It was so incredibly embarrassing to read all these years later and I so, so much wanted to toss it into the trash. But I kept it. And I’m well aware that one day, Everett, my daughter, might stumble across it.
But you see — Kate was a character who had a lot of life lessons to learn. She needed to see that sometimes things aren’t as black and white as we want them to be. She had to learn about physical relationships, her friendships, accepting gay people, and understanding her faith better. Kate started in a place where there were a bunch of rules and yeses and nos. She grew to understand that sometimes things don’t fit inside the boxes we create for them, and at the root of it, everything comes back to love. Maybe, just maybe, someone is doing something we’re not okay with and wouldn’t personally do (until we are exactly there in that same position ourselves), but each person is responsible for his or her own actions and it’s not up to us to change them. It’s not up to us to make them see things our way.
It’s up to us to be their friend, their listening ear.
So even if my daughter finds my embarrassing, cheesy love note, my hope is that she’ll see that I struggled. My sincere hope is that she’ll have someone to talk to about all of these things, and that maybe she’ll find comfort in discussing them with me. At the root of it all, I want to continue to grow and mold and shape my beliefs. I think that’s a big part of what life’s about: challenging what we know, fleshing it all out, and not remaining stagnant.
While it was really difficult to come face-to-face with teenage Magan while reading Things I Can’t Forget, it made me realize just how far I’ve come. And maybe I sucked a little bit back then — was too quick to judge, blurred the lines when it came to me overstepping boundaries, and had difficulty accepting things I really didn’t know much about — but hopefully I’ll continue to mature and be proud of where I’m headed.
Which books have you read that felt like they were telling your story?
Love, Lucy by April Lindner [google+ • website]
Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: European travel, college, becoming your own person
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)
Summary: Lucy is on the vacation of her dreams, traveling around Europe. But it comes with a steep price. In exchange for her trip, her father demands that she forget about becoming an actress, attend college and study to become a business major. (Blah.) While in Europe, Lucy meets a boy her heart can’t forget even when she’s back home in the thick of her semester.
I’m not one for making grand book comparisons, but I really want to capture your attention so I’m tossing that aside to tell you that if you enjoyed Just One Day and Just One Year, I think you’re in for another special treat if you decide to check out Love, Lucy.
Do I have your attention now? Okay, good.
Lucy is an actress. She comes alive on stage. But her father thinks she needs something solid to fall back on because there are tons of mediocre actresses who don’t make it in the real world. He stubbornly believes she should forget about acting, go to college, and major in business. After a failed audition, Lucy bargains away her future by accepting a trip to Europe for agreeing to her father’s plans.
Lucy marvels over the sights and history of each location with an acquaintance, Charlene, whom her parents have paid to travel along with Lucy. (This part was a little bit odd to me. Charlene is older, but not by much, and as nice and wholesome as Lucy is — why didn’t she go with any of her actual BFFs?) Love, Lucy begins at nearly the end of Charlene and Lucy’s travels, just as they’re arriving in Florence, Lucy’s most anticipated location. The girls are nearly at their wit’s end with one another though — Charlene’s abrasive attitude has put a damper on Lucy’s bright, peppy outlook. As they need some space from one another, Lucy bumps into a guy who works at their hostel, Jesse, who doubles as a street performer.
They bumble and meander their way through a few sites and make plans to meet up the next day (much to Charlene’s great displeasure.) Thus begins their great European love story…
Until Lucy’s plane departs and they’re thousands of miles from one another with nothing but email addresses to keep them connected. Lucy’s flung back into the reality of college and doing something she doesn’t want to. Though she dislikes her studies, she develops strong friendships with her roommates and tries to move on from Jesse when she meets Shane, a nice, intelligent, kind guy. She and Jesse try to remain in contact, but it’s difficult for Lucy to imagine him moving on and it becomes difficult to be honest with him about Shane. Their emails lessen and Lucy is in this self-realization state of trying to go after what she really wants (being in the Rent production her college is holding auditions for) and not moving too fast with Shane (when her heart still yearns for the boy she met in Florence).
Love, Lucy is filled with friendships (great ones!), cute boys, descriptive travel scenes, and the good ol’ message of going after what you want, standing up for yourself, and not letting other people write your life’s story. (Note: while I may have used JOD and JOY to get your attention, Love, Lucy stands on its own and takes you on a unique, lovely journey.)
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