Tag Archive | contemporary

Review: Keeping you a secret by Julie Anne Peters

272315Title: Keeping you a secret

Author: Julie Ann Peters

Series: standalone

Genres: young adult, romance, contemporary, LGBT fiction

Format: paperback

Length: 250 pages

My rating: 4.5 stars

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

With a steady boyfriend, the position of Student Council President, and a chance to go to an Ivy League college, high school life is just fine for Holland Jaeger. At least it seems to be. But when Cece Goddard comes to school, everything changes. Cece and Holland have undeniable feelings for each other, but how will others react to their developing relationship? This moving love story between two girls is a worthy successor to Nancy Garden’s classic young adult coming out novel, Annie on My Mind. With her characteristic humor and breezy style, Peters has captured the compelling emotions of young love.

REVIEW:

Julie Ann Peters books have been on my radar for quite some time now and I can’t believe I waited this long to read one! Keeping you a secret was a wonderful experience for me, and I’m now putting all her past/future books on my TBR list. It had all the things I love about a great contemporary YA read. Let’s see.

1. Super likeable main character. I pretty much loved Holland from page one. Her voice sucked me in immediately and I ended up reading the whole book in one sitting. She’s just so real and easy to relate to. Not just for LGBT teens, but for everyone. She’s strong and funny and she grows so much by the end. One of my favourite quotes from the very beginning of the book shows exactly why I liked her:

The guy with the serious orange spike and nostril ring was in my calc class. Winslow Demming. I remembered him from computer science sophomore year, except back then Winslow was a geek. Brilliant, though. And sweet. Another reminder why people shouldn’t be judged on appearance.

2. A romance to root for. Cece was really cool, and these two made me go ‘awwwwwww’ a lot. My only complaint with the book would also be the romance though. It was just a tiny bit too fast for me. I wouldn’t call it insta love (which I still hate) but I wouldn’t have minded some more time getting to know Cece before Holland started falling so hard for her.

3. Supporting characters who stole my heart. Mostly Holland’s ‘weird’ stepsister. I use the term weird loosely here because it’s really subjective, and I’m the last person to call ANYONE weird. Let’s just say she doesn’t fit in with the ‘cool crowd’ in high school. Which of course meant I was going to like her from the start. Same goes for Winslow. You can never have enough quirky characters in one book in my opinion.

4. Characters I loved to hate. Holland’s mother. She was pretty much the worst kind of parent even before she had to deal with Holland’s sexuality, but her reaction to that really sealed the deal for me. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but you’ll see. In the meantime, here’s a quote that sums her up nicely:

“You could’ve been finishing these instead of whatever that is.” She pointed to my tablet, which was open at the bottom of my bed. Had I left it open? “Why in the world are you taking art? What a waste of time.”

5. Characters I was conflicted about. Seth, Holland’s boyfriend. To say my opinion changed about this guy every other page would be an understatement. On one hand, it was obvious he genuinely cared about Holland and you can’t help but feel at least a little sorry for him considering everything that happens. On the other hand, he just got on my nerves a lot. He was pushy, and pressuring a girl about sex is NEVER OK. And pressuring her to go the same college as you so you can maybe end up together in the distant future? Yeah… I don’t think so.

6. A not too neat ending. As much as I like an uplifting/happy ending, in books like this it’s just too unrealistic to expect everyone is magically going to be OK with everything by the end and we’ll all get along nicely. In this case, the ending doesn’t tie everything up but it did leave me satisfied.

Overall I really really loved this book, and I’m so looking forward to more Julie Ann Peters. I highly recommend this to everyone who’s looking for a great contemporary read. Luna is next on my TBR, please tell me it’s just as good.

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Review: If I stay by Gayle Forman – She’s running the show

4374400Title: If I stay

Author: Gayle Forman

Series: If I stay #1

Genres: young adult, romance, contemporary

Format: audiobook

Length: 5 hrs 4 min

Narrator: Kirsten Potter

My rating: 4 stars

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck…

A sophisticated, layered, and heart-achingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make, and the ultimate choice Mia commands.

REVIEW:

If I stay is one of those books I’ve been putting off forever for no good reason and with the movie version coming out this year it was way past time to read it. It’s one of those generally beloved YA books everyone keeps raving about, so my expectations were pretty high, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Mia is a great character, one I couldn’t help but feel for. What happens to her and her family is truly heartbreaking, and an unwelcome reminder that everyone and everything you care about can be ripped away in a matter of seconds. Her journey from her initial confusion after the accident to the moment she realizes she has the power to decide her own future had me ‘glued to the page’ and rooting for her all the way to the end.

“And it’s while contemplating this that I think about what the nurse said. She’s running the show. And suddenly I understand what Gramps was really asking Gran. He had listened to that nurse, too. He got it before I did.
If I stay. If I live. It’s up to me.”

Her previous life, her relationship with her family and her boyfriend, Adam are described through flashbacks. I felt like the author did a good job of presenting both sides of Mia’s dilemma: all the reasons that made her want to give up on life (her parents and little brother gone) and all the reasons worth staying for (her grandparents, Adam, a possible future at Juilliard). I especially loved these flashbacks, to be honest it was kind of nice to see a functional family dynamic for once. Also, major bonus points for music as an underlying theme. Mia’s passion for playing the cello, and classical music in general shines through, and I could relate.
The ending is fairly predictable of course, but it doesn’t take away anything from the overall reading experience. This book is a great emotional read, and I honestly recommend it to everyone. There’s also a sequel, Where she went which takes place a few years later and it’s told from Adam’s POV, I will be reading hopefully soon.

Narration:

The audio version of this book is pretty great, complete with cello music (Mia plays the cello), I listened to it in one sitting.

Review: The impossible knife of memory by Laurie Halse Anderson – Zombies and freaks

18079527Title: The impossible knife of memory

Authors Laurie Halse Anderson

Series: standalone

Genres: young adult, romance, contemporary

Format: audiobook

Length: 9 hrs 12 min

Narrator: Julia Whelan, Luke Daniels

My rating: 5 stars

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

REVIEW:

Laurie Halse Anderson books are an absolute must read for me, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The book opens with Hayley and her dad moving back to her dad’s childhood home, and after years of ‘homeschooling’ (I use the term loosely, you’ll see why) she finally goes to a public school for the first time. Here’s the thing about Hayley: she’s NOT for everyone. Anyone who’s read previous books from this author already knows that her main characters aren’t exactly on the ‘sunny side’ (see Speak, Twisted or The catalyst) and this book is no exception. Hayley starts off with the following ‘lovely’ statement:

A quick lesson.
There are two kinds of people in this world:
1. zombies
2. freaks.
Only two. Anyone who tells you different is lying. That person is a lying zombie. Do not listen to zombies. Run for your freaking life.
Another lesson: everyone is born a freak.

She’s rude, judgemental and distrusting. She’s stubborn, cynical and jaded. She sees the world in a way only broken people do. Her inner voice is something like this:

“Maybe that was why I want to slap so many of the zombies; they had no idea how freaking lucky they were. Lucky and ignorant, happy little rich kids who believed in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy and thought that life was supposed to be fair.”
“Looking out the window, I wondered how many of those kids had parents who were losing it, or parents who were gone, taken off without a forwarding address, or parents who had buried themselves alive, who could argue and chop wood and make asses of themselves without being fully conscious.”

If this doesn’t sound like something you can relate to or at least empathize with, then this book isn’t for you. I feel the need to say this, because the few bad reviews I did read about this book, all centered around the same thing: how awful Hayley is. And I don’t think that’s true at all. But you need to understand how much a person’s, especially a child’s behaviour and general outlook on life changes when they have to be the grown up in the family. She had an awful lot to deal with pretty much her whole life, and she’s doing her best. I dare you to be perfect and not have a few hangups of your own in a situation like this. That’s not to say I didn’t feel the need to shake her at times, and scream at her to accept help already, but I could definitely empathize.  And then there’s Finn. He’s pushy and at times annoying (sounds dreamy, right?) but I liked him. You have to be pushy and annoying to get through to Hayley. He’s also kind of a nerd, but no complaints here. 🙂
If I have any pet peeves about this book, that would be the ending. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it felt just a tiny bit rushed for me. Things wrapped up a little too fast. But maybe that’s just me.
Overall, I loved this book and eagerly anticipate the next Laurie Halse Anderson. In the meantime, working up the courage to finally read Wintergirls so I can cry some more.

Narration:

The audiobook version of this book is amazing,  Julia Whelan is a personal favourite of mine, and Luke Daniels is a nice addition, voicing Hayley’s dad’s flashbacks about the war.

Review: Splintered by A.G. Howard – Riding the banana train

12558285Title: Splintered

Author: A.G. Howard

Series: Splintered #1

Genres: young adult, fantasy, romance, contemporary

Format: audiobook

Length: 12hrs 42min

Narrator: Rebecca Gibel

My rating: 4 stars

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now. When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

REVIEW:

In high school, I wasn’t a fan of the original Alice in Wonderland story. I remember having to read it in English class to improve my – at the time – truly awful language skills, but I just couldn’t get into it. It was weird and kind of creepy in a way I couldn’t appreciate at the time. That experience had me overlook this book for quite a while despite so many people’s recommendations, until now. I just didn’t think this story was for me. Once again, I’m proven wrong.
Splintered is a truly fresh twist on the original tale, just the right mix of creepiness (this book REALLY didn’t help my paralyzing fear of insects), romance (I may have melted a time or two…) and humor.
Alyssa is a great heroine. She’s smart and tough with a few insecurities. Her fear of ending up like her mother is quite valid, but she doesn’t let it control her. She’s not afraid to do what needs to be done, but doesn’t come across as stupid or irresponsible. Her love for the people she cares about drives her every action, giving her the courage to succeed. Which brings me to the love interests. There’s two of them, of course, because we just can’t have a fantasy book without the compulsory love triangle these days, right? For future reference: I HATE LOVE TRIANGLES. I REALLY REALLY HATE LOVE TRIANGLES. They create unnecessary drama and take up space that could be filled with far better things. And in the end it leaves a portion of the readers hugely disappointed. But since it’s an inevitable part of most YA series these days I guess I’ll just have to deal. Splintered has the kind of love triangle that was a no brainer for me. I’m not even a little bit torn over which guy I would choose. Jeb is great. Not perfect, but my definition of a good guy. He makes some questionable decisions but he’s dependable and hard-working. He’s there for Alyssa even when she’s doing her best to push him away. He’s making something of himself. Morpheus? Ugh. He represents the kind of dark/mysterious/supposedly-sexy guy I don’t find the least bit appealing. He’s selfish and untrustworthy. He’s only semi-decent when he’s alone with Alyssa. He’s bad news. That puts him on my fictional-hot-guys-I-wouldn’t-go-anywhere-near list right next to Warner from Shatter me. And it doesn’t help that he’s basically a giant insect. Unfortunately for me, I strongly suspect I’m on the wrong team here.
The supporting characters only make fleeting appearances in both the real world and in Wonderland. We see glimpses of Alyssa’s family and her best friend Jen, as well as Jeb’s awful girlfriend (like I said, questionable decisions). In Wonderland we meet all the familiar faces from the original story like the White Rabbit or the Mad Hatter with a few interesting twist on them. The ending ties things up nicely with the possibility of a sequel that we already know is coming. Alyssa made a temporary choice regarding her love life here, but the triangle is far from over. *sigh*
Overall, Splintered is a fast-paced and very enjoyable read. I’m excited to see what Unhinged has in store for us.

Quotes:

“From a distance, we look like we’re riding fireflies across the northern lights, sweeping in and out of one another’s glowing jet streams.”
“Can’t leave you in charge of the place looking like a circus clown reject. What if a hot guy comes in?”
“Some people have no business attending a dignified tea. Gawking as if I belong in a zoo, when they’re the ones who have all the manners and fashion sense of a monkey.”

Narration:

The audio version of this book is a real treat. Rebecca Gibel does a truly fantastic job of bringing each and every character to life, giving distinct and sometimes hilarious (looking at you Humphrey) voices to all of them.

 

 

Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Love will tear us apart

eleanor & parkTitle: Eleanor & Park

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Series: standalone

Genres: young adult, romance, contemporary

Format: audiobook

Length: 8hrs 59min

Narrator: Rebecca Lowman, Sunil Malhotra

My rating: 4.5 stars

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD

REVIEW:

After finishing and absolutely loving Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl earlier this year, the bar was set pretty high for Eleanor & Park. I’ve had this book for a while, but kept putting it off, worried it simply wasn’t going to live up to my crazy expectations. WRONG. This book is every bit as amazing everyone says it is (except those people in Minnesota I’m pretending don’t exist).
Eleanor & Park tells the story of two high school misfits falling in love. Eleanor is the new girl who doesn’t fit in (that’s putting it mildly) and as a result she’s everyone’s favourite punching bag. Park is better off, but tries to fly under the radar as much as possible regardless. Truth be told, the book isn’t heavy on plot. It’s not particularly fast-paced. There are no crazy twists and turns that will make your head spin. But that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. It certainly didn’t make me any less eager to find out what happens next, and keep going until the very end.
I absolutely adored both main characters. They were wonderful, their stories, both separately and together, sucked me in from the very first page. I’ve especially felt for Eleanor, her struggles at home and at school were heartbreaking. Their relationship unfolded nicely without feeling rushed or dragged out. The 80s setting was a nice touch, and the lack of cell phones made for some hilarious scenes. The music nerd in me really enjoyed the bonding over their shared love of music (Park’s mixed tapes were totally adorable) and I even knew most of the songs/artists mentioned which I wasn’t expecting. Wasn’t so lucky with the comic book references though, those were totally lost on me.
The side characters were a mixed bunch, my favourites were Park’s parents. It took some time to warm up to them, but I totally loved both by the end. Eleanor’s parents are a whole different story. Her stepfather, Richie, is abusive and clearly meant to be the villain of the story (along with the bullies in school). Not the first abusive relative I’ve come across in YA, and not the worst. Which leads me to my only problem with this book. ELEANOR’S MOTHER. I’ve read reviews where people felt sorry for her, or wanted to comfort her. NOT ME. I’m sorry, call me unsympathetic, or heartless, but NO. JUST NO. Letting her husband throw out her teenage daughter on the street just because she’s not agreeable??? SERIOUSLY??? What kind of mother does that??? And even after she can come home at the beginning of the book, her mom makes excuses for him EVERY TIME. She makes Eleanor feel like there’s something wrong with her, like she’s not trying hard enough to put on a smile and pretend everything’s fine. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU WOMAN??? You should NEVER EVER make your children feel like there’s something wrong with them. NEVER. Some of the things she said made me seriously angry.

“We’re a family, Eleanor. All of us. Richie, too. And I’m sorry that makes you so unhappy. I’m sorry that things aren’t perfect here all the time for you… But this is our life now. You can’t keep throwing tantrums about it, you can’t keep trying to undermine this family – I won’t let you.”
“I have to think of everyone,” her mom said. “Do you understand? I have to think of myself. In a few years, you’ll be on your own, but Richie is my husband.”

And before someone thinks I’m drawing from personal experience here, I’m not. My parents love me to pieces, and I’m lucky to have them. I just feel very strongly about all parents doing their best for their children, and the fact that she never once stood up for her own really bothered me. OK, rant over. Sorry.
Regardless of this, Eleanor & Park is a great read no one should miss out on. Looking forward to more from Rainbow Rowell, no more hesitation.

Quotes:

“She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”
“Fine,” his dad said from under the sink. “Just don’t get anybody pregnant.”
“You’re not the Han Solo in this relationship, you know.”
“Eleanor was trying really hard not to be overawed by Park’s driving skills, but every time he changed lanes or checked the rearview mirror, she caught herself swooning.”

Narration:

Both narrators did an excellent job, especially loved Park’s mom’s Korean accent. 🙂