[529]: Some Kind of Normal by Juliana Stone

Sourcebooks Fire | Net Galley
May 5th, 2015
New Adult Romance
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

I have  read a few of Ms. Stone’s books. There was even a time when I went on a bender and read a couple of her series back to back to back. For the most part, she writes some pretty fantastic romantic tropes; with characters that linger in the back of your mind long after you’re done. Some Kind of Normal, while acceptable enough by this genre’s standards, lacked the addictive quality her other books have, in my opinion. Most importantly, it felt like she held herself back that it deterred me from fully enjoying this book. While that may be understandable considering the genre she was writing from, I found it difficult to separate what I’ve come to know from her adult books to her latest attempt at New Adult.

It wasn’t all that bad, mind you. I do like that Everly didn’t suffer some form of physical/psychological trauma in the past – which is a glaring characteristic of a character in NA books. I can’t say the same for Trevor though. But the truth of the matter is, New Adult books are formulaic. You can pretty much expect the things that happened to happen. And while most NA go full bore on the intimate scenes, I can tell that she held herself in check. This one doesn’t even have any. So perhaps, I’m jumping the gun by labelling this one a New Adult book.

They do have their own issues though. Trevor suffered a brain trauma from an accident that hinders him from playing the guitar like he used to. Which is a big deal for him because Music is his life. Without it, his dream of following his best friend to New York to play is pretty much out of the question. Everly, on the other hand, is evidently dealing with some family problems. Her father is hiding a secret that she accidentally stumbled upon. So she knows her parents’ marriage is on the rocks. On top of that, she got saddled with tutoring a jock for the summer.

Trevor is a pretty charming fellow; while Everly has the reputation as the ice queen in school. It’s both a curse and a blessing being the pastor’s daughter. It doesn’t take long for their relationship to develop. It’s not that big of a deal, though. I encountered some characterization problems, but not too terribly. In the end, I feel like if you read one NA book, you’ve read them all.

This book is about a couple of people who had to learn to accept what their own “normal” should be. While it may seem like an uphill climb, it’s not entirely impossible. Juliana Stone perfectly captured the essence of what it’s like for a person to accept their lot in life no matter how hard it may seem at first. Sometimes, it takes another person dealing with some hard realities of their own to guide you along the way.

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Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Dutton | Hardcover, 339 pages
Publication Date: August 14th, 2014
Young Adult | Contemporary Romance
Series: Anna and the French Kiss, #3
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss series ends with this lovely book. I fell in love with her characters and her stories, that the thought of saying goodbye induces a mild ache in my chest. Some people rate on a book’s literary merits, I rate based on enjoyment. All three books from this series have received the 5-star rating from me. A clear indication that no matter their flaws, I couldn’t have cared any less.  Much like Kasie West, Ms. Perkins can write contemporary like it’s nobody else’s business. I can guarantee you that when I pick up her book, it’s going to be read in one sitting.

Isla couldn’t come fast enough. With a couple of years between her and Lola, the anticipation was at a fever pitch. It was a bit scary, knowing that the wait I had to endure can only be compensated by a brilliant read.  But as soon as I was introduced to Isla and Josh, all anxieties just faded away. As usual, Stephanie seems to know exactly what her readers want. It’s the romance that we all wish we had when we were kids. When we fantasized about being filthy rich with little to no supervision from the parental units. When we crushed on a boy that didn’t even know we exist, until we did. It comes complete with the angst of not knowing what the other feels and to be eaten up inside by the tempest of our own. Admit it, we were drama queens when it comes to love when we were teenagers. Stephanie Perkins just wrote it down for us word for word. Le sigh.

She makes it so easy to fall in love with her characters and the setting. She describes everything in such a beautiful way that her readers are either transported, or liable to book their next trip to wherever the setting was. It happened in San Francisco (Lola), and it happened twice in Paris (Anna and Isla). It’s quite an experience seeing a city through her eyes. So much poetry and so much emotions. She does the same with her stories and characters; they are so alive.

I am going to miss waiting for her books. I know she had a difficult time with Isla but I’m glad she didn’t let the pressure of publishing for the sake of publishing get to her. I’m glad she waited until this book was perfect for her fans. Because it was just that: absolutely perfect!

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Morsels [14]: On the Fence and The Bridge from Me to You

Harper Teen | Paperback, 296 pages
Publication Date: July 1st, 2014
Young Adult | Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Having been raised in a house full of boys, Charlie wouldn’t know the first thing about a concealer or a foundation. So when her latest traffic violation forced her to get a job, working as a cosmetics model in a clothing store made her feel like a bull in a ceramics shop.

She is more comfortable hanging out with her brothers and their next door neighbour, Braden. She would rather win a disgusting dare than be called a chicken; and the idea of dating any boys would be close to impossible considering the list of boys she couldn’t date is a mile-long. At least she can depend on her nighttime chat over the fence with Braden. In him, she could confide about things she can’t talk about in broad daylight. And certainly not in front of her brothers – who will not be happy knowing that lately, her feelings for Braden have become less than brotherly.

Short and sweet, On the Fence is the type of book that you should read in the middle of your zombies or vampires reading romp. But I suggest you don’t start this book at night, because I can almost guarantee that you would not sleep a wink. Scary, it is not. However, you would not be able to put this down. Kasie is terrible for that.

There is nothing else to say about this book, really. Because if you’ve read one contemporary romance from this author, you know that she’s money.  It’s a shot of syrupy goodness with a side order of cute, fluffy puppies.

Point | Hardcover, 333 pages
Publication Date: July 29th, 2014
Young Adult | Romance
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

It is with a heartfelt apologies that I could not find anything remarkably good about this book. It was mind and heart numbing. I believe that when a book couldn’t incite any semblance of emotions from its readers, then it goes without saying that the book failed. It is unfortunate, because I adore Lisa. She’s the lady who got me reading verse novels. I’ve always felt such a connection with her characters when I read her novels regardless of the sparse words. This one, however, is an exception.

To be honest, Lauren and Colby lacked any emotional substance. Even when they were in the grips of their angst, I couldn’t empathize. My general impression is it’s reminiscent of reading a Christian fiction: very clean, and unfortunately, very bland.

This book, at the least, is meant to make you feel good and hopeful that you’ll get through whatever difficulties that may come your way.


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Faking Normal by Courteney C. Stevens

HarperCollins | Hardback, 336 pages
February 25th, 2014
Young Adult | Fiction
Rating: 1 out of 5 Stars

“The power of Bodee is in the way he reads me, sees through me, and then understands the truth behind the facade. No one can ride tragedy like a pro surfer while I drown.” – Chapter 9, page 95

Alexi and Bodee has absolutely nothing in common; they walk the halls barely acknowledging each other, and they exist in the opposing sides of the social hierarchy. But when Bodee’s mother died in the hands of his father, their relationship changed from not having one into something where they became each other’s panacea. Alexi seems to be the only one who could reach him in his perpetual quiet existence, while Bodee seems to be the only one who knows when Alexi’s need to retreat from the world becomes too impossible to ignore. Hand in hand, Alexi and Bodee will find a way to face each other’s demons.

Alexi can’t hide from her what had happened to her in the summer; not even in the closet where she harms herself. But if there’s one thing that makes her forget, it’s the messages she receives from a mysterious boy in fourth period. Messages that come from song lyrics that seem to reflect how she felt, and what she needed at any given time. I like this element of Alexi’s story. The mystery surrounding the lyrics writer gave me a break from gnashing my teeth to powdered form. If I can forget how one particular aspect of story made me so hopping mad, I  say this book would’ve been a solid four stars. But I can’t. Even now, merely a week after I read this book, it still makes me mad to think about it.

I really hate it when a relevant issue gets lost in the background noise of the story: the dating rituals of teenagers. Alexi’s inability to say, no. Alexi’s sister’s and friends’ seemingly petty, vapid, more often poisonous treatment of her, and the way they dismissed her just irritated me to no end. There was a couple of times when I stopped and breathed for minutes just to get through this book. Otherwise, kindling would’ve been in its future. There is also one instance when she was [spoiler] almost raped by a boy [spoiler] and was thankfully stopped, but told those who saw that it was all a mistake. Are you fucking kidding me? Oh and the kicker? Bodee just took her word for it like it was no big, when he saw what happened! Ugh.

As much as I should’ve been more sympathetic, I really couldn’t with a Mary Sue character. And Alexi was a big pushover. I get it, you know? I get that she’s physically, emotionally, and mentally traumatized but in light of what had happened to her, the carefree attitude she had with the boys around her, and ultimately how she let everyone ran roughshod over her, just didn’t make any sense. I don’t know about you, but if I’d been in a situation that became the root cause of my trauma, I would be wary of being in the same situation again.

How do I really feel about the book? Well, I say, I think there’s a good chance that you will probably have a much more pleasant time reading this than I did. There is an issue here that the author handled poorly, in my opinion. I feel that with all the insipidity that happened in the background, I was distracted by how much it angered me. I do like the kinship between Alexi and Bodee, and the mystery of “Captain Lyrics” was a nice touch. Over all, the book’s intended meaning got buried amongst the trivialities of high school life. Unfortunate, really.



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Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Simon & Schuster | ARC, 448 pages
May 6th, 2014
Young Adult | Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

“I don’t think you have to do something so big to be brave. And it’s the little things that are harder anyway.” – Chapter 9, page 322

Painfully introverted Emily woke up one morning to find her best friend Sloane gone; leaving a list of tasks or clues that she’d hoped would lead to her whereabouts. For the last few months, Sloane has been responsible for bringing her out of her shell. She was her courage, and the buffer to the world where she felt the need to hide from. Now that she’s gone, accomplishing the list seems like an insurmountable task. Especially if it would include some things that she could never do without Sloane’s prodding. But this summer is the summer that Emily will shed her protective skin. She will learn what it means to face her fears, and do the things that typically makes her uncomfortable.

As fate would have it, she will also find a group of people that she could consider as friends. But most importantly, she will solve the mystery of who she truly is.  Morgan Matson’s new offering combines the meaning of true friendship and love in a story of self-discovery prompted by a list. Emily may have lost her best friend, but she found herself in the process.

It was difficult to watch Emily shrivel in the face of the things that she feared at first: talking to people, being in a crowd. She froze when she was talked to, and stutters when she’s able to form a response. However, readers will find an instant connection to her and her fears. I, myself, find it hard to walk up to a stranger and strike up a conversation, much as Emily would rather shrink into an unnoticeable size so as not to be seen. I liked the slow transformation that she’s gone through as she was ticking things off her list. Slowly, she doesn’t even realize that she’s peeling off layers of herself.

I was a little on the fence with Sloane. Throughout the story, we are shown a glimpse of their past. I couldn’t decide if Sloane was being an over-bearing friend who pushed Emily to her limits, or a friend on a mission to help her shed her timidity. In the end, I saw both in Sloane, and consequently, the means to an end.

As usual, this YA novel would not be complete without the use of one tired trope: present but barely there parents. At this point, I think I should just expect it.  Regardless, this book’s saving grace really is the story of friendship between characters, which Ms. Matson wrote with so much flourish. Even Frank and Collins. Frank is the token love interest, but was unavailable through the majority of the novel. He was with someone, who was also conveniently away. Collins and Dawn provided some comical relief, but enriched the novel with their own personalities.

In summary, I enjoyed this book quite immensely. Perfect summer read, perfect story of friendship. I enjoyed Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour, but have yet to read Second Chance Summer. I have a feeling Morgan Matson has found a niche in contemporary romance.



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What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick

DIAL BOOKS | Hardcover, 407 pages
April 15th, 2014
Young Adult | Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

“That we’re like picnic baskets. Useful, even kind of nice to have when it’s hot and you’re hungry. But who wants a picnic when summer’s over?” – Chapter 22, page 238

That sentiment is pretty much why I’m wary of reading summer romances; it’s the inevitability of an ending, the distance and the work involved in keeping the relationship going once the summer is over. While there was an ambiguous implication to what the future holds for these kids, there’s an obstacle that was equally challenging. It’s the old story of rich boy and poor girl; her uncertain future against his destined lot in life. Their places in the society, and the unspoken taboo that they’re not supposed to be together.

Gwen Castle has lived on the island all her life; borne out of a poor family, all she’s ever known is the need to work and help out. Cassidy Somers is the boy across the bridge from a wealthy family; while their paths wouldn’t normally cross, they’ve known each other long enough to be in each other’s periphery. But something happened between them in the Spring; something that Gwen hasn’t really told anyone. She knows she would work hard to keep out of his way, but when she finds out he’s taken the job as the island’s yard boy as punishment from his father, her world just got smaller.

Much of the not-so-good reviews for this book conveyed of a disappointment with the revelation of Gwen and Cass’ past. Some say, the author made a mountain of a molehill. I would like to disagree. I’m faced with a problem of whether or not I should divulge. It’s hard to dispute this because it is a major component in the plot, and would essentially be a huge spoiler for those who hasn’t read it yet. Just know that I understand why Gwen reacted the way she did, and can see why she hid that secret. I’d imagined I would’ve done the same myself; especially if Cass has been that unattainable guy that I’ve coveted all my young life. I think her issue stems more from embarrassment than anything. Especially when she’s trying to dispel a notorious reputation. Because of her tendency to make bad decisions in the past, and the overall outlook for girls like her in their small community, she was trying to break out of a mould.

Ms. Fitzpatrick has a propensity for realism; and it’s even more pronounced in this book. Gwen’s life exhausted me; she worked tirelessly, and without complaints. The love and care she has for her family – especially to her younger brother was so precious. The author also has a gift for portraying a closely-knitted family, which is something of a novelty in this genre. Gwen’s is definitely not nuclear, but it’s wonderful just the same. Is it also weird that I want to say there is something sexy about these kids? Am I allowed to say that? Because, really, Gwen and Cass has that sensuality about them.

There are secondary characters here that enriched this novel; some of them quirky, some frustrated me, and some of them made this story even more incredible.

What I Thought was True is a story about two people who wanted to break free from expectations. It is also about family, and how people would come and go in your life, but they’re the ones who will stick by your side. Ms. Fitzpatrick knows how to build a romance from the rubble of a shady past; awkward at first, honest in general, and sweet nonetheless.

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sàenz

Simon & Schuster | Hardcover, 359 pages
Young Adult | LGBT Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

“Something happened inside me as I looked out into the vast universe. Through that telescope, the world was closer and larger than I’d ever imagined. And it was all so beautiful and overwhelming and – I don’t know – it made me aware that there was something inside of me that mattered.” – Chapter 10, page 42

At a tender age of fourteen, Aristotle would set out his path to discover the secrets of his universe. He has questions he wants answered. He wants to know why his parents insist on erasing his brother’s presence in their lives when he’s still alive. He wants to know why he much preferred the company of his thoughts than actual people. He wants to know why Dante could be so full of curious energy and wonder when his endless questions seem to tire him out. Most of all, he wants to know why he’s so angry.

Meeting Dante might just be the catalyst that would take him on a journey to discover the secrets that have plagued him at such a young age. But it’s not going to be without trials.

What is not to love about this book? Captivating characters, engrossing tale of family, friendship and love. It is every bit as beautiful, tender, and fiercely honest. Some books are truly intimidating to review, and for all its accolades and acclaims, Aristotle and Dante has left me floundering for words. At the same time, it’s that type of book where you want to do everything you could to proclaim its greatness. I just want to shove this book to everyone I know because reading it is such an experience. Depending on what you take away from it, the book would make you feel like your heart was fuller than when you started reading.

The most unforgettable relationships are those forged in friendship first; Ari and Dante truly had that. While Dante was not very shy in admitting he liked kissing boys over girls, Ari didn’t really  come right out and say it. In fact, his parents sort of forced him out of the closet. Truth is, I was a little jarred by this. I’ve never heard of parents telling their son he’s gay instead of the son telling them he’s gay. In that sense, I thought it was a bit of a reach. But then again, if anybody knows Ari, it’s his parents. Ari has done a couple of pretty heroic stuff for Dante, so I guess I can understand why they thought Ari’s love for Dante is more than brotherly.

And yeah, you’re not going to cry. Your eyes will remain generally dry, but oh my goodness. Ari and Dante will make you feel like you have the fattest heart in the entire universe. The writing! As a fledgling poet, Benjamin incites jealousy of words; beautifully poetic, wonderfully hypnotic. There is a lyrical quality that makes me feel like I can hear a hymn as I read. But it’s so gentle, and not too obvious. You’ll have to sit there and savour its taste in your tongue.


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Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts

Harper Trophy Canada | Paperback, 307 pages
Young Adult | Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

“I’m not scared, I’m more…pissed off. You’re supposed to do something in the world, like have kids or grow a forest. I haven’t done anything like that. What’s the point of me, other than leaving behind a messed-up family?” – Chapter 39, page 303

Teenagers are not supposed to think about their distant future; they’re only supposed to think about proms, pimples, and crushes as they navigate the mazes of a complicated high school life. Zac and Mia has it bad. Very, very bad. While Zac continues to battle leukaemia, Mia lost her leg to her own war with cancer. They have one common enemy, and very little of anything else to speak of. While Mia hides her sickness to the world, Zac had fully embraced the cards that he had been dealt. There is a great divide between the two, but would somehow find a common ground to stand on.

So much of Mia’s anger stems from the fact that she has no choice in her treatment as she is a minor. She was rebellious, cantankerous, and just plain…angry. Zac, however, has been a seasoned veteran with his fight. It also helps that his family is so supportive and loving during his battle; while Mia’s mom was at a loss as to how to help her own daughter.

I am a huge fan of Australian contemporary fiction, but I’m afraid this one didn’t quite meet my expectations. There was a certain factual manner of the characters that led to my detachment with whatever was happening at certain points in the story. This book should move readers, and not incite apathy. It is unfortunate that I couldn’t feel anything at all. I was also unable to sympathize with Mia, as her hatred for the world became the focal point of her characterization. She pushed people away, instead of basking in the glow of their love. I guess you can say she didn’t know how to feel; she didn’t know how to react.

Zac on the other hand, is a loveable, admirable character. There was nothing he wanted more than to rid of his disease, but as leukaemia is the type of cancer that comes back incessantly, his fight was never-ending. Zac’s positivity, however, never wavered.

There is one staunch lesson you can learn from this book: the value of friendship. It’s finding the greatest person who, no matter the distance, will always have you in their thoughts. The one person who will continue to care for you regardless of how badly you treated them. Zac is that person for Mia. Over all, it is a sweet story about a couple of people who found something in each other despite their differences. It is about learning to accept things as they come and living the best of the situation as it presents itself. I really wish I’d love this more than I did, but in the end, the story just lack that emotional impact expected from such a topic.


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Ink is Thicker than Water by Amy Spalding

Ink is Thicker than Water by Amy Spalding
Entangled Teen | Paperback, 285 pages
Published: December 3rd, 2013
Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Quick Story:

Mediocre teen Kellie Brooks has no illusions as to where she stands in her lot in life. She’s content going through her high school tenure with average grades, using very little effort to apply herself. She leaves the brilliance and overachieving to her older sister.

One upheaval after another disturbs her unassuming existence, however. First, her sister found her biological mother, which led her to realize exactly how she fits (or doesn’t) with her adopted family. Then the boy-man she almost had sex with comes strolling back in her life with a few secrets of his own. She’s losing her best friend, and her world is changing fast.

My Thoughts:

So this is your typical contemporary romance novel where the heroine is about to discover herself and her place in the world. Her family is bit queer and pleasantly so. I love the tattoo artist step dad who knows his place in everybody’s lives. I love the hippie mom who’s not at all loopy but very much involved in her kids’ lives. I love the family dynamics, which sadly is about the only thing memorable about this novel.

Kellie Brooks is pretty flat, to be honest. She’s got very little personality to speak of, as are the rest of the characters in this book. It was either that or that I just didn’t find it in me to reach them at a level where I could summon some semblance of empathy.

I don’t know what happened to her supposedly best friend or their falling out. She was in her life until she decided she’s becoming too cool for her own good. In which case, I surmised that she’s a lousy excuse for a friend if being cool meant more to her than the years that they’ve spent being friends.

Her sister was unlikeable as well.  She’s a little self-absorbed who thinks that she’s also way too good for Kellie and the family that loved her from day one.

I would talk about Oliver but I’d probably end up ranting so I’m going to leave this review right here. Over all, it’s a fast read but nothing really earth-shattering or even mildly remarkable. If you’re looking for an easy read with the usual elements of a contemporary fiction in this genre, then you’ll probably enjoy this book.

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Golden by Jessi Kirby

Golden by Jessi Kirby
Publication Date: May 14th, 2013
Simon & Schuster | Hardcover, 272 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

It started with a legend of the town’s golden couple. Two kids with a brilliant future perished in the dead of night. Their bodies were never found. Years passed and the town hasn’t forgotten.

Seventeen year-old Parker Frost was the perfect child any parents could ever ask for. She’s got her priorities straight, brilliant grades and a steady head on her shoulders. When a late TA assignment has her mailing students’ journals written ten years ago, she couldn’t believe her eyes when she stumbled upon Julianna Farnett’s – one of the missing kids.

She’s never done anything outside of the rules. So when she decided to finally break one, she goes and steals the journal. As soon as she starts reading, however,  Parker couldn’t help but feel like the missing student was echoing her thoughts. Everyone thinks that her future is set. But they don’t know how fake she feels sometimes. They don’t know how much she wants to break out of the mould that everyone has her in. Her curiosity regarding the missing students escalated into an intense desire to find out what happened. And as she found herself immersed in Julianna’s thoughts, she slowly uncovers the truth. Nothing is as it seems. If there’s one thing she can benefit from her one and only rebellion, it’s to find the courage to face a future of her own choosing.

This book was gorgeous: tender, heartbreaking, and divine. Kirby’s debut (Moonglass) wasn’t really a memorable read for me but this one – this one made me want to start over as soon as I was done reading it. Parker Frost was such a mature character. And while her love story left me a little unfulfilled, Julianna’s story more than made up for it.

The mystery surrounding the death of Julianna and Shane was the focal point of the novel. It was altogether nostalgic, mystifying and suspenseful. The author had me in grips and willing Parker and her posse to solve the mystery hastily. The novel, as a whole, has a wistful tone. It was full of longing and unhappiness but a nonetheless joyful resolution.

Through Julianna’s journal, Parker finds herself; what she really wants to do, and never letting golden opportunities pass her by. I love how she found the gumption to speak out, to act and not let her mother dictate how she should live her life.

Over all, brilliant story with passionate characters and beautiful writing.

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