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The Boy Recession – Flynn Meaney

5 Oct

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Released: Aug 7th, 2012
Genre: YA contemp
Review copy from publisher

It’s all about supply and demand when a high school deals with the sudden exodus of male students.

The boy recession has hit Julius P. Heil High, and the remaining boys find that their stock is on the rise: With little competition, even the most unlikely guys have a good chance at making the team and getting the girl. Guitar-strumming, class-skipping Hunter Fahrenbach never wanted to be a hot commodity, but the popular girls can’t help but notice his unconventional good looks. With a little work, he might even by boyfriend material.

But for down-to-earth Kelly Robbins, the boy recession is causing all sorts of problems. She has secretly liked her good friend Hunter for a while now, but how can she stand out in a crowd of overzealous Spandexers?

As if dating wasn’t hard enough without a four-to-one ratio!

From publisher’s website

This book was CUTE. And FUNNY. But also WEIRD. Three of my favourite things. And they work so well together when they’re done right. And in The Boy Recession? They are done amazingly.

So much fun this book was. So much. Kelly and Hunter are such different characters from one another but they just meshed. And they are REAL. I love real characters. You know the kind.  Imperfect, often stumbling over their words, making mistakes. Cringe-worthy mistakes. Which, IMHO are the best kind when it comes to characters in books.

And the whole lack of boy situation? So funny and horrible and awkward. Yes, I know I’m using a lot of descriptive words here. I can’t help it. Sometimes I love a book but have a hard time saying why. When I try to explain, full sentences don’t come out. Only descriptive words. Seriously, ask the hubs. He often gets explanation in just a string of descriptive words.

Know those funny, feel good teen movies with just a bit of edge? The ones that do it right? (I’m looking at you, Easy A.) That’s what Boy Recession reminded me of.  Which is all kinds of good in my books.

In Leah’s Wake – Terri Giuliano Long

20 Sep

Publisher: Laughing Moon Publishing
Released: Feb 28th, 2010
Genre: Adult fiction
Review copy from author

The Tylers have a perfect life—beautiful home, established careers, two sweet and talented daughters. Their eldest daughter, Leah, an exceptional soccer player, is on track for a prestigious. Their youngest, Justine, more responsible than seems possible for her 12 years, just wants her sister’s approval. With Leah nearing the end of high school and Justine a seemingly together kid, the parents are set to enjoy a peaceful life…until everything goes wrong.

As Leah’s parents fight to save their daughter from a world of drugs, sex, and wild parties, their divided approach drives their daughter out of their home and a wedge into their marriage. Meanwhile, twelve-year-old Justine observes her sister’s rebellion from the shadows of their fragmented family—leaving her to question whether anyone loves her and if God even knows she exists.

Can this family survive in Leah’s wake? What happens when love just isn’t enough?

From the author’s website.

This book was one emotional roller coaster of a ride. This family is so fragmented and broken that at times it was awkward to read about. But the good kind of awkward, you know? The kind that most of us can identify with.

I really appreciated the fact that this was a true family drama. The author lets us see things from all perspectives and while there’s a lot of blame from different family members, it’s easy to see that the problems, the issues involve everybody. There really isn’t one person to blame.

With that being said, Leah is at the centre of most of the drama and problems with the family. But I didn’t feel that Leah was written in such a way that I was always thinking “Sheesh, teens!” There were often times that I felt a lot of empathy for Leah, even when she was wandering down a bad path and when she was being, well, obnoxious.  She was a well-rounded character, as were all the characters.

In Leah’s Wake surprised me. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but what I got was a well-told story of relationships and families. I think anyone who enjoys a book where things get messy and the characters aren’t perfect will enjoy it. I did.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen – Susin Nielsen

18 Sep

Publisher: Tundra Books
Released: Sept 11th, 2012
Genre: YA contemp
Review copy from publisher

Thirteen-year-old Henry’s happy, ordinary life comes to an abrupt halt when his older brother, Jesse, picks up their father’s hunting rifle and leaves the house one morning. What follows shatters Henry’s family, who are forced to resume their lives in a new city, where no one knows their past. When Henry’s therapist suggests he keep a journal, at first he is resistant. But soon he confides in it at all hours of the day and night.

In spite of Henry’s desire to “fly under the radar,” he eventually befriends a number of oddball characters, both at school and in his modest apartment building. And even though they know nothing about his past – at least, not yet – they help him navigate the waters of life after “IT.”

From Susin Nielsen’s website.

It’s no secret that I absolutely fell in love with Susin Nielsen’s writing in Word Nerd and that love just grew with Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom. Despite the fact that The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen is darker and deals with a more serious subject matter than the first two books, I absolutely, positively LOVED IT. I devoured it in one sitting and when I was finished, I just felt like a better person for having read it.

OMG this book broke my heart. Just smashed it to little pieces. But it also made my heart swell with love at places. I wanted to jump through the pages and give Henry a big hug and buy him an ice cream. He was such a sweet, awkward, lovable character that I just wanted to do something to make his pain stop. Nielsen wrote him in such a caring yet straightforward manner that he never felt pathetic or whiny to me. He just seemed like a kid who was going through some serious crap and trying to handle it the best way that he could.

I’m not going to say a whole lot about “IT” except that her telling of what happened, the way she presented it, was just amazing. It’s hard to take a situation like that and write about it in a way that doesn’t come across as sensational or crude. But through Henry, Nielsen explains what happened in a way that was both heartbreaking and understated. Perfection.

As always, there’s a slew of wonderfully weird secondary characters in The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen. I loved them all so much that it would be impossible to pick my favorite.  And even thought they were secondary, they each had a huge part in helping Henry to deal with what happened.

I loved this book so much that I could probably go on and on and on about all the wonderful things that sucked me in and made me sad when I got to the last page. But about all, I loved Henry’s voice. Nielsen wrote him so honestly that it hurt my soul at times, to witness how he was feeling and what he was going through.

Henry’s is a tough story to read and I can only imagine how hard it was to write it. But it’s one that really needs to be heard. And honestly, I couldn’t have pictured anyone but Nielsen telling it.

Grow Up – Ben Brooks

17 Aug

Publisher: House of Anansi Press
Released:  May 12, 2012
Genre: YA contemp
Review copy from publisher

YouTube suicides, possible pregnancies, drug comedowns, and getting straight As — meet Jasper: a seventeen-year-old with his hands full. Weekdays are packed with visits to the psychologist, mounting parental pressure to achieve in school, scouring the Internet for porn, and trying to figure out whether his stepfather murdered his ex-wife. Weekends are focused on finding the next party, the best drugs, and sex — preferably with Georgia Treely — but really with anyone he can get.

From House of Anansi Press website.

First of all, the fact that the author is nineteen is INSANE! This is the first book by a teen that I’ve not only been able to get through, but that I absolutely loved.

This book is wrong on so many levels, which is what makes it absolutely amazing. I mean, Jasper is a seriously f-cked up dude. I would not want to sit next to him on a bus, in a class or anywhere for that matter. The inner workings of this kid’s brain makes me once again thankful for my decision not to have kids. But despite this fact I couldn’t get enough of him. He was so brilliantly written that I was FASCINATED with him from the first line.

If you have any issue with sex or drug use in books, stay away. Far, far away. Cuz Grow Up has plenty of both.  But neither came off as being sensational or thrown in for shock factor. Sex and drugs are just such an integral part of Jasper’s life.

This book is set in Britain, so some of the grammar and such took a bit of getting used to. But there was tea drinking in almost every scene, which made me love it all the more. :)

While there were a couple of different plots in Grow Up, this was definitely a character driven book. And with Jasper being such a different, strong, weird character, it set the perfect tone.

If you like your YA contempt very real, very gritty, and at times very screwed up, then I can’t recommend Grow Up enough.

Purity – Jackson Pearce

18 Jul

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Released: April 24, 2012
Genre: YA contemp
Review copy from publisher

A novel about love, loss, and sex — but not necessarily in that order.

Before her mother died, Shelby promised three things: to listen to her father, to love as much as possible, and to live without restraint. Those Promises become harder to keep when Shelby’s father joins the planning committee for the Princess Ball, an annual dance that ends with a ceremonial vow to live pure lives — in other words, no “bad behavior,” no breaking the rules, and definitely no sex.

Torn between Promises One and Three, Shelby makes a decision — to exploit a loophole and lose her virginity before taking the vow. But somewhere between failed hookup attempts and helping her dad plan the ball, Shelby starts to understand what her mother really meant, what her father really needs, and who really has the right to her purity.

From Little, Brown and Company website

I don’t know why, but when I first read the blurb, I was expecting a fairly light, funny book. You know lots of jokes, tongue in cheek dialogue.  Yeah, not so much. What I got instead was a riveting story of dealing with loss, impossible promises, relationships in transition and growing into your own skin. In short, what I got was an amazing read.

I think my favorite part of Shelby’s story was her relationship with her father. While my teen years are far behind me, I remember the struggle between wanting to please my dad and the desire to be my own person. These two didn’t always mesh, and they definitely don’t for Shelby. I think that most readers will be able to sympathize with Shelby and her dad as they try to figure out their relationship as she grows up.

And then there’s Shelby’s relationship with her mother. Despite the fact that her mother has passed away, she’s a strong presence throughout the book.  After all, it’s Shelby’s promises to her that have guided Shelby’s life since her mother died.

Shelby’s attempts to lose her virginity are awkward and heartbreaking.  While the situation could have easily spiraled into the ridiculous, Pearce’s writing keeps things real. She also writes Shelby’s story in a way that it doesn’t enter over-dramatic or whiny territory.

I just loved the tone of this book and how it evoked so many feelings in me when I was reading it. I always find it hard to explain how and why a book made me feel a certain way. But I finished Purity, and felt content. And weepy. Always a good sign when I finished a book.

The Heart is Not a Size – Beth Kephart

5 Jun

Publisher: HarperCollins Canada
Released: March 22th, 2010
Genre: YA contemp
Review copy from publisher

Georgia knows what it means to keep secrets. She knows how to ignore things. She knows that some things are better left unsaid. . . . Or are they?

When Georgia and her best friend, Riley, travel along with nine other suburban Pennsylvania kids to Anapra, a squatters’ village in the heat-flattened border city of Juarez, Mexico, secrets seem to percolate and threaten both a friendship and a life. Certainties unravel. Reality changes. And Georgia is left to figure out who she is outside the world she’s always known.

From HarperCollins Canada website.

It’s weird. The first time I picked up The Heart is Not a Size, I only got a few pages in before I set it down. People had gushed about it, but I wasn’t feeling it. But it was for review and I always try to read review books (in a timely manner, when I can). So after letting it sit on my shelves for over a year, I decided to give it another try. And read it in one night. I dunno, I must have been in a mood the first time I tried.

I’m not a very visual person. When I read a book, I don’t often picture it in my head. Strange, but true. But sometimes when I read a book, I can imagine it as a movie, almost scene by scene. And that’s what this book was like for me. I could picture it as the type of coming of age movie that I would watch over and over again.

This is a story about friendship and how we sometimes struggle to do the right thing for a friend and it ends up blowing up in our faces. I loved that the book centered on Georgia and Riley’s friendship. That it wasn’t all about the boys and the romance. Sure, there may have been hints of romance, but it wasn’t a completely integral part of the story. It wasn’t the point of the book.

I think female readers in particular will be able to identify with The Heart is Not a Size. I am a fair distance from the age of Georgia and Riley but their friendship and story had me thinking of some of the friendships I had when I was a teen and how important they are to who I am now.

So I’m definitely glad I gave it another go. And I’m happy that the lovely peeps at HarperCollins Canada sent along a review copy.

Summer Lovin’ Blog Tour -While He was Away – Karen Schreck

6 May

One year—he’ll be gone for one year and then we’ll be together again and everything will be back to the way it should be.
The day David left, I felt like my heart was breaking. Sure, any long–distance relationship is tough, but David was going to war—to fight, to protect, to put his life in danger. We can get through this, though. We’ll talk, we’ll email, we won’t let anything come between us.
I can be on army girlfriend for one year. But will my sweet, soulful, funny David be the same person when he comes home? Will I? And what if he doesn’t come home at all…?

I don’t often do this in reviews, but I HAVE to take a second to talk about the cover for While He was Away. I don’t know if it’s the gorgeous pink coloring of the sky, the fact that they’re holding hands or my strong desire to have those wedge shoes, but this cover caught my attention majorly. When the book arrived I was in the middle of reading another book, but kept going over to my desk to glance at it. I just I think it’s amazing.

And the inside of the book was just as fantastic and captivating as the cover. I felt a pretty strong connection to Penna from the beginning and didn’t wander too far from my box of Kleenex throughout the whole book. See, here’s something that some of you might not know: my husband doesn’t live with me full time. He works in another province for two week stints then comes home for six days. So while he isn’t a soldier and doesn’t leave for a year at a time, I could still empathize with what she was going through, all the emotions she was feeling before David left and after. And let me tell you, Schreck nailed that perfectly. PERFECTLY. Hence the Kleenex.

The blurb doesn’t give much away, so I don’t want to either, but I do want to let you guys know that there’s a lot more to this book than just Penna and David’s long-distance relationship. Penna has some serious family shit going down, and while it’s traumatic and stressful, it also helps keep her mind off of David (as much as that’s possible). I loved the layering of Penna’s stories and how everything was connected.

I was expecting a bit of a gooshy, romantic read and I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the novel. I read it in one sitting and was moved by the beauty of the prose and the details of the story. Anyone who is a fan of YA contemp should absolutely run out and buy While He was Away, as should anyone who’s interested in the genre. Actually, all of you should go buy it. It was that good.

Thanks bunches and bunches to Source Books for the review copy.

Emily for Real – Sylvia Gunnery

26 Apr

If it’s just him, I cut a clean diagonal right across the middle, letting one half fall dead on the bed and throwing the other half on top of the pile. If it’s a picture of him with me, I carefully slice him off, and for some reason I save the piece with me in it. After a while, there’s a pile of Brian corpses lying there staring at nothing, and the pages of my album are all patched up with slices and triangles and scraps of pictures of me.

In every one of these sliced-up pictures, I look stranded.

Seventeen-year-old Emily’s world crumbles when her boy friend dumps her, and when she thinks her life can’t possibly get any worse, a series of secrets are revealed that threaten to tear her beloved family apart. Emily’s heart has been broken into a hundred pieces and she feels like there is no one to turn to, until an unexpected friendship blossoms with a troubled classmate named Leo. Sometimes moody but always supportive, Leo is Emily’s rock in an ocean of confusion and disbelief.

But Leo doesn’t have an easy life either. He struggles to be both mother and father to his little sister while his mom battles her alcohol addiction. His deadbeat dad darts in and out of the picture, and Leo would rather he stay away, permanently. The two friends lean on each other, and in the end discover the inner strength to face whatever life throws at them.

I don’t think I can quite capture my love for the relationship between Emily and Leo. I found it absolutely refreshing to read about a friendship between a boy and girl that stays just that: a friendship. When I was a teen, most of my best friends were boys, so I really identified with it. It was so realistic and honest and I just loved it. I also loved how they were both pretty messed up and damaged and didn’t really like each other at first, but slowly became close and trusted each other.

While I loved their relationship, I was a bit overwhelmed with Emily’s family secrets. The revelations, to me, seemed a bit forced and really came at a pretty fast pace. I realize that it’s possible for family stuff to go down that way, but I just felt that it was a bit rushed. But despite this, I really loved Emily for Real and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA contemp with strong themes of friendship.

Thanks to Pajama Press for the review copy. :)

will grayson, will grayson – John Green & David Levithan

29 Feb

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, Will Grayson crosses paths with . . . Will Grayson. Two teens with the same name, running in two very different circles, suddenly find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, and culminating in epic turns-of-heart and the most fabulous musical ever to grace the high school stage. Told in alternating voices from two YA superstars, this collaborative novel features a double helping of the heart and humor that have won them both legions of fans.

I just, I can’t, I mean, it’s, well, GAH!!!!!!!! I have no frigging idea what to say about this book. Can I just say it’s unbelivably awesome and leave it at that? Because the level of love I have for will grayson, will grayson leaves me pretty much mushy-brained and speechless.

This is one of the most honest, uniquest books I’ve read in a long time.I mean, some pretty out there stuff happens, but it all makes sense in the context of the main story. The character portrayals were so realistic it was awkward at times.

Yes, the story is about two guys named Will Grayson, but it’s Tiny Cooper, a secondary character and best bud to one of the Will’s that steals the show and takes the book from awesome to amazingly awesome. I just loved him. I mean, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to know him or be his friend, but I loved him none the less.

The two Wills meeting, their lives intersecting like that was just, well, neat. Yup, neat. I love when random characters in a book or movie all of a sudden are connected. I mean, really, isn’t that how life goes a lot of the time?

This was a loud, obnoxious, hilarious, awkward book. I’m just filled with so much love for it I’m about to bust.

Fixing Delilah – Sarah Ockler

30 Jan

Things in Delilah Hannaford’s life have a tendency to fall apart.

She used to be a good student, but she can’t seem to keep it together anymore. Her “boyfriend” isn’t much of a boyfriend. And her mother refuses to discuss the fight that divided their family eight years ago. Falling apart, it seems, is a Hannaford tradition.

Over a summer of new friendships, unexpected romance, and moments that test the complex bonds between mothers and daughters, Delilah must face her family’s painful past. Can even her most shattered relationships be pieced together again?

Rich with emotion, Sarah Ockler delivers a powerful story of family, love, and self-discovery.

If you’ve read my review of Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer, then you know that I loved that book beyond. So I was super excited to get Fixing Delilah for review from the folks at Little Brown and Company.

I really loved this book. It’s one of those reads that left me sighing in contentment when I finished it. I loved the mix of coming of age, mystery and romance.  Ockler included just the right amount of each so that the book was well-balanced.

This is a book about family, for sure. Delilah and her mom have such a real and dysfunctional relationship that it was heartbreaking. It wasn’t the dysfuction that broke my heart, though. It was those small moments of connection that neither mother nor daughter felt that they could deepen that makes it an emotional – and believable –  relationship. I get tired when there’s issues between kids and parents and it’s all negative. You could see that these two really cared for each other, they had just lost the ability to really show it.

There was a twist towards the end (which I LOVED) but it wasn’t the twist I was expecting (which I loved EVEN MORE). It added a new layer to the story, which was great.

I love Ockler’s writing. She can get sentimental without being too mushy about it and her way of describing relationships and letting us watch them unfold is brilliant. She’s one of my favorite YA contemp authors, for sure.

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