book cover for geek girl by holly smale

Geek Girl (#1) by Holly Smale • Magan Reviews

Holly Smale's Geek GirlGeek Girl (#1) by Holly Smale [twitter • website]
Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 384
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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book cover for 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen

Why in 5: 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen

book cover for 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen

17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen (twitter | website)
Publication Date: June 17, 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 352
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: best friendships, dating and kissing, depression
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Netgalley. (Thank you!)

Summary: With a ton of responsibility weighing on her shoulders because of a depressing family situation, Claire turns to her best friend Megan for support. When new-boy Luke enters the picture, he threatens to rip Megan and Claire’s friendship apart by forcing the girls to choose friendship or love.

Note: 17 First Kisses is full of complicated, messy relationships, mistakes, and heartbreak. With so many thoughts running through my mind after finishing, I decided I needed to break this down Estelle-style and do a “Why in 5” post.

1. The beauty of 17 First Kisses is that it’s focused on things that are so realistic and hones in on the complexity of relationships and life. Claire’s home life is less than desirable; her family went through a situation that was new to me in the YA world. It’s left her mother severely can’t-get-out-of-bed depressed and her father has also checked out and disengaged. Claire becomes the glue that holds everything together, but ultimately this means she’s the third parent in her family. That’s a lot of responsibility for her to carry.

2. Without the support of her best friend, Megan, Claire would be treading through her difficult home life all alone. Megan is the person Claire turns to when she needs someone to talk to. The friendships felt extremely authentic. (Even the supporting friendship between Megan and her childhood friend, Sam, who was a nice balance to the catty situations the girls sometimes wound up in. He was calm, steady, and level-headed throughout.) Megan and Claire both screw up. They’re both responsible for hurting one another. In terms of teenage decisions, I felt they were spot on — they’re sometimes too selfish and don’t think things through, but ultimately, I was pleased that their friendship always, always pulled them back together (even after the worst of situations). What two friends have never suffered from saying or doing something awful that hurt?

3. Speaking of hurt, let’s just cut right to the chase and talk about boy trouble. Luke enters the picture as someone new, charming, and automatically draws the attention of both Claire and Megan. His interests perfectly parallel Claire’s, but Megan is the striking, gorgeous, popular girl all the guys fawn over. Though the girls make a pact to stay away from him, he’s persuasive and… how could they stay away?

4. I admit that when I learned we were going to learn about all of Claire’s 17 kisses, it seemed like she’d done an awful lot of kissing. Allen, however, uses a great storytelling tactic and progressively pieces everything together with flashbacks to those middle school spin-the-bottle days. It just worked. Now, I’m not condoning that all of Claire’s kisses were worthwhile (ahem, the band members), but every flashback gives us the opportunity to learn more about Megan and Claire’s friendship, family life, and really gives us the full picture.

5. The ending wasn’t tied in a perfect bow. There’s room left for interpretation and growth and the more time I spend away from 17 First Kisses after finishing, I realize this is exactly what Claire needed. After all the drama and change that occurs throughout the course of the book, she needs some time to heal, become her own person, and not have everything figured out as she leaves for college.

♥

Final thoughts: I’ve seen a few negative reviews for this book, but felt so intrigued by the story as I was reading it. Don’t be deterred by the sometimes messy friendship or the bad decisions the characters make. To me, they were realistic depictions of everyday life. Things aren’t always so perfect, and I was so glad to have felt differently than the reviews I read prior to beginning the book.

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Estelle: Fire with Fire by S. Vivian & J. Han

Fire with Fire by Jenny Han and Siobhan VivianFire with Fire by Siobhan Vivian & Jenny Han
Book 2 of the Burn for Burn series. (Magan’s review of Burn for Burn)
Publication Date: 8/13/2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 528
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: revenge, friendship, secrets, paranormal
Format read: Paperback ARC from Simon Blogger Party. (Thanks!)

Summary: After their revenge plot spirals out of control, Lillia, Kat, and Mary must tip toe around the aftermath in hopes of not getting found out. But even the night at homecoming doesn’t change the people who need an attitude adjustment, and this time the girls decide to make everything a bit more personal.

Truth be told, I felt a bit lukewarm about Burn for Burn. Sure, I gobbled it up but after that cliffhanger, I wasn’t sure if I would want to pick up Fire with Fire. But I heard from some trusted sources that the second book was so much better than the first so I gave in.

And you know what? I am so glad I gave it a shot. I was really impressed with Fire for Fire. Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian did a great job of giving so much more dimension to the main three characters and what I liked most of all is that the second batch of revenge seemed to include more feelings. Not that Lillia pretending to like Reeve is better or worse than drugging someone’s drink but I just understood it better? If that makes sense.

The connection between Lillia, Kat, and Mary also felt more real this time around. I found myself yearning for them to have time together or even to just come out of the friendship closet already and admit they were friends. It was really nice to watch them lean on each other, and push “revenge” aside to just have fun with each other.

One thing that tends to bother me about young adult fiction is when the bad guy is just a bad guy. There is no gray there. But Han and Vivian had me actually feeling for Rennie and Reeve at certain parts, much to my own chagrin. It would be so much easier just to hate them and send them evil stares! But I couldn’t, and this development made Fire with Fire that much more intense for me, and real. (I have also NEVER been so conflicted over what love connections I wanted to see unfold. Chapter after chapter, I kept changing my mind.)

In Burn for Burn, it was never too clear what the paranormal spurts were all about. This element of the book was folded in a lot more subtly this time around even though there is a total air of mystery clinging to it. I cannot wait to see how Vivian and Han explain all of this in book 3. It is going to be epic.

And one last thing? If I wanted someone in my corner, to fight for me, nothing held back, that person would undeniably be Kat. She was so fiery and passionate in this book, and I felt fiercely attached to her and also inspired to be that kind of a friend. (Though Lillia matches her with loyalty points.)

The wait for book 3 is going to be killer… Rather Be Reading Buy It Icon

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book review of Confessions of an Angry Girl

Magan: Confessions of an Angry Girl by Louise Rozett

book review of Confessions of an Angry Girl

Confessions of an Angry Girl  by Louise Rozett (website | twitter)
Series: Confessions #1
Publication Date: August 28, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 266
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: loss of a parent, first year of high school, comical and angry MC
Format read: Purchased digital version for my kindle.

Summary: Rose’s father died right before her freshman year of high school; she’d like nothing more than to wallow in her sadness, but somehow she keeps doing things that make her noticeable to the popular crowd (so not good).

Rose is pissed off. Her father died and he absolutely shouldn’t have. She’s entering her freshman year of high school and she’s overwhelmed with anger and frustration. Her therapist mom uses her “therapy voice” all the time and can’t be real about how she’s feeling. They don’t talk about her dad. At all. Her brother has flown the coop and gone to college, but conveniently, he’s finding ways of disconnecting from the family by dating a new girl and not coming home for family holidays. Popping up unexpectedly at school is Jamie Forta, the boy Rose has secretly (or maybe not so secretly) been crushing on from afar for years. Rose likes him. They kiss. Except they shouldn’t have. And maybe Jamie didn’t just decide to start hanging around Rose; maybe he was persuaded to?

Complicated doesn’t even begin to describe Rose’s freshman year. She’s trying to find her way and fly under the radar, but just can’t seem to get her footing. Her (non-existent) popularity further plummets when her honest, do-what’s-right-self makes her a target. Even though she wants nothing more than to be unseen, Rose just can’t seem to escape center stage. In many, many ways, Confessions of an Angry Girl reminded me of my good pal Ruby Oliver. In no way were the stories alike, but I think Ruby and Rose would have been quite the duo. Rose was full of spunkiness and blatant honesty. She made no apologies for being sad and needing to deal with her grief. Everything she said and felt was so real and honest to me, even if she (like Ruby) said some hilariously off-the-wall things that gave the impression she had no control over her mouth sometimes. Rose is a very imperfect girl who is simply trying to manage all the change that’s happening in her life.

Rose is trying, desperately, to deal with her grief, but she’s also afraid she’s going to forget her dad. She’s in the midst of losing touch with her best friend Tracy, who wants to make a name for herself in high school and is itching to be a cheerleader. (Rose is even more unsettled by Tracy’s constant contemplation over whether or not she should lose her virginity to her boyfriend, Matt. Personally, Rose thinks he’s a d-bag who just wants to sleep with her.) And then there’s her “relationship” with Jamie. She wants to be with him, but doesn’t understand what’s happening with Regina. Are they really together?

Confessions of an Angry Girl  was an unexpected delight — I breezed through the pages and connected instantaneously with Rose. She’s a little down on life (and sometimes herself), but she’s got a lot of insight and fight in her to push through all the bad. Even though Rose’s story stems from the loss of her father, I felt meeting her was very uplifting and delightful. The story does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, which I absolutely wasn’t certain was necessary, but I suppose you’ll have to wait and see what I thought about Confessions of an Almost Girlfriend soon. (I know — what a tease!)

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Estelle: Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann BrasharesSisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: June 14, 2011
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 349
Target audience: Mature YA/adult
Keywords: friendship, marriage, secrets, traveling pants
Format read: Paperback I bought.

Summary: A return to the friendship of Lena, Carmen, Tibby, and Bridget — four girls connected by their long history together and also a pair of pants that seemed to magically fit all of them for a few summers in a row. So what has happened now that all of them have become true grown ups?

I bought this book on a whim this past week because I was looking for some inspiration for writing a matron of honor speech. While I didn’t use any quotes from the book like I was originally planning to, it felt so fitting to spend some free time revisiting four friendships that really shaped my childhood as I prepped for the wedding of my best friend — a gal I’ve known since I was 5 years old. (Ironically my best friend has my original copy from when I lent it to her.)

I, first, read Sisterhood Everlasting when it was initially released in 2011. I remember I was totally frozen in place on my couch in our old house reading and reading until I got through the whole thing in one night. I just had to see how it ended. I’m happy to say that book was just as addicting the second time around, even if it is surprisingly sad.

Even though the girls (who I thought of as the next-gen Baby-Sitters Club) went through a fair share of drama through high school and college, I always thought the book boasted about the positivity of female friendships. So to experience such a change in Sisterhood Everlasting where the girls are all living in separate places, not getting together very frequently,  Tibby totally MIA, and dating people the others don’t approve of — as a dedicated fan of the series, you feel genuinely gutted.

“Growing up is hard on friendships,” Carmen says in the very beginning.

I know with too much experience how true this statement can be but part of me was hoping for the happily ever after scenario for these four. But Brashares has the opportunity to showcase some top notch writing because of this choice — the grown up thoughts (Is this who I really want to marry? Am I really happy in this job? Why do things not feel like they used to?), the small nods to the past, and even the gorgeous imagery (I need to get to Greece) — that she wasn’t always able to use when writing for a younger audience. Like the girls, her writing most definitely matured.

With Carmen an actress in NYC, Lena teaching in Rhode Island, Bee unable to settle down in California, and Tibby off in Australia — the girls are unable to find the common ground they once had with each other (even after the pants went missing). When Tibby surprises them with a reunion in Greece, the three feel this is what they really need until they arrive in Greece and things totally spiral out of control. When the girls go their separate ways once again, it feels like all hope is lost until each of them embark on their own journey undoubtably leading them to answer the same question: can they regain what they had and move forward together?

While I didn’t always agree with Brashares’ characterizations (I don’t think Carmen could ever be a size zero or tone down her Latina pride; Lena just seemed way TOO sad and isolated), I do think she did well when it came to capturing the spirits of these characters we love and showing just how much time can change us — to the point where we might not even recognize ourselves. It’s tough to see on the page, but almost necessary, because there are so many factors that come into play when it comes to friendships, too many distractions, and at some point, friendship takes a little bit more of a push than it has to when you were kids hanging out in the same neighborhood every day.

Whether you remember reading the Sisterhood series way back when or you are looking for a book about female friendships that run deep, Sisterhood Everlasting provides a roller coaster of heartbreaking, sweet, and honest moments as so many realizations are made. For me, it was so nice to spend 300 more pages reuniting with some of my favorite girls with the added reassurance that fighting for friendships is so important.

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Book Cover for Winger by Andrew Smith

Magan: Winger by Andrew Smith

Book Cover for Winger by Andrew Smith

Winger by Andrew Smith (Website | Twitter)
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 448
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: boarding school, rugby, male POV, friendship, love, bullying
Format read: ARC received from S&S (Thank you!)

Summary: Ryan Dean, a 14-year-old rugby-playing high school junior, is determined to make something of himself instead of just being the skinny kid. And he hopes that his friendship with Annie will blossom into more if she can look past their two-year age difference.

I have to be honest. I’ve kind of felt like Debbie Downer around here on the blog. Why? Well, I’ve read a few “meh” books lately that have really just left me feeling a little let down. I’ve been needing something well-written and addictive. A five-star book.

Well, friends, I found it.

Winger by Andrew Smith was all of that and more for me. The story is about a boy, Ryan Dean, who attends a boarding school. He’s a fourteen-year-old junior. Yep, that’s right — he’s smart and was able to skip ahead a few grades. His best friend is sixteen-year-old Annie, and he’s also extremely in love with her. (Will she ever go for the younger guy?!) At the end of last year, Ryan Dean was caught doing something that was against the rules. That means he’s exiled to O-Hall, away from his best friends JP and Seanie, to live with his Rugby teammate, Chas, who is an extreme bully. And somehow, Ryan Dean has decided that junior year will be the year he quits being a skinny nobody. How will things play out for him when his friendships get complicated, he finds himself in trouble (again), and Annie refers to him as a “little boy”?

In a nutshell, that’s all the information I feel you should have going into Winger. So, so, so many things happen, but it wouldn’t have the same effect if I blabbered on and on and ruined all the surprises for you. This was my first Andrew Smith book, and now I feel like an addict who needs to devour absolutely everything else he’s written. He taps into the mind of Ryan Dean so well — he’s funny and a little perverted, but very self-aware and insecure, too. Shamefully, I was a bit nervous about reading from a 14-year-old boy’s perspective. I’m a girl who likes the older, more mature YA books. Never fear! His age didn’t turn out to be a problem for me at all. In fact, I sometimes had to remind myself he was so young.

And for those of you that appreciate books that told in a completely original way, I think you’ll love what you find in Winger. Ryan Dean’s voice will suck you in, but the drawings and illustrations (!!!) done by Sam Bosma add a little something extra to the story that pushed my love for Winger over the edge. Their inclusion seemed so fitting and necessary. I can’t imagine the story without the comics or the bar graphs.

I really try not to make too many book comparisons, but I say the following because I have so much respect for Andrew Smith and Stephen Chbosky. Winger, in many, many ways, reminded me of Perks of Being a Wallflower. Please don’t think I’m saying the stories are the same (because they’re not), but they both consist of characters that you embrace and want to protect, friendships that feel so full and authentic, character growth that makes you proud, moments that simultaneously make you want to laugh out loud and cringe, and the desire for there to be many, many more pages so the story can continue once you’ve reached the end. Winger is an amazing coming-of-age story that made me wish I knew all of the characters in real life and all of the emotions I felt while reading (and watching) Perks came flooding back to me.

Really, friends, you all MUST read this book. Have a friend do a read-along with you because you’ll NEED that person to talk to when you’ve reached the last page. If you need me to be that person, I absolutely will be. Now go… order Winger already so you can meet one of my favorite male MCs ever.

(And hallelujah! My reading drought is over!)

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