Monday, June 29, 2015

Lost and Found: Emmy & Oliver

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway
Harper Teen, 2015

*ARC provided by the author - Thank You! This in no way impacted my opinions of this book.*

Emmy and Oliver weren't just next door neighbors when they were kids, they were best friends. But everything changed when they were seven years old and Oliver's father kidnapped him. Overnight their sleepy little town went on high alert, and no one more so than Emmy's parents. But Emmy never forgot her friend - she couldn't even if she wanted to. While the search parties eventually dwindled, their worry didn't. Ten years later, the incredibly early curfews and expectation that she'll attend community college so she'll still live at home have pushed Emmy into secret applications and surfing behind their backs. But then everything changes again when Oliver is found, comes home, and doesn't really remember the girl next door at all, but she's exactly who he needs.

While I've only read one other of Benway's books (her debut, Audrey, Wait!), I completely loved it and was jumping at the chance to get to read this. From the summary alone, I could tell it would be something I'd enjoy: guy and girl friendships, childhood friends, growing pains, finding your own voice - and it was all here. Emmy is a smart girl but she's not perfect, and neither are her life-long friends Caro and Drew. It was refreshing to see what I felt like was a realistic look at teens - in my experience, many of them really are good kids, but that doesn't mean they're perfect. The Triangle (as they call themselves) felt fully formed. Two of my favorite scenes were when Emmy declares "what's wrong with being like other girls?" and when the trio is genuinely trying to understand a directive from their parents but can't follow the muddled grown-up logic at all.

And of course, there's Oliver, another good kid without whom this story wouldn't happen. Benway does a good job letting the audience get to know this boy well before he actually comes back into the picture, and then redefining him again since readers, like Emmy, haven't known the person he's become in the past ten years. While it's understandable that he plays his cards close to his chest, I would have liked to have known a bit more what was going on in his head a la Heather Demetrios' Josh in I'll Meet You There. At times, the story felt a bit rushed or that there was the potential to go a little deeper, however, the story still worked really well. I sympathized with this character and all he's been through, constantly having to be the one to pay the price for something he never asked for.

All in all, this was a solid contemporary story taking on an issue that happens far too often but is rarely discussed, especially in young adult literature. I can especially see this book being a big hit in the hands of Sarah Dessen fans or any reader who likes books that take on a bad situation but can also find the silver lining.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Robin Benway's Website
Robin Benway on Twitter

Friday, June 19, 2015

Video Review - If You Find This Letter

In which I finally get around to recording a video review of Hannah Brencher's memoir If You Find This Letter. Thank you to the publisher for sending me this ARC - this in no way impacted my opinions of this book.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Royal Welcome Back: Royal Wedding

Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot (Princess Diaries #11)
William Morrow and Company, 2015

*ARC Provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter 2015 - Thank you! This in no way impacted my opinion of this book.*

For years, Mia poured her heart and soul into the pages of her diary. What started as a place to sort out her feelings about her mom dating her Algebra teacher became the chronicles of a teenage girl discovering she's the heir to the throne of Genovia all while dealing with all the usual hassles of high school. Now Mia's back, 25 years old and coping with her royal family's latest fiasco. Dad's having a mid-life crisis on the verge of an election, the paparazzi is as annoying as ever because even though she and Michael Moscovitz are as in love as ever, he still hasn't proposed, and Mia feels like even after all those princess lessons from Grandmere, she still has no idea what she's doing. When Michael does pop the question, another scandal is about to burst. Will the two love birds finally get their happily ever after, and is Mia finally ready to rule?

I was lucky enough to get this ARC at ALA Midwinter back in January and swore at the time that I was going to read all the books I got there in the order of their publication dates. But with this, I couldn't help myself (and not just because I got to meet Meg for the 2nd time and she signed my original copy of The Princess Diaries from when I was a tween!). I devoured Mia's latest story in a matter of days. Reentering the world of The Princess Diaries was like reconnecting with an old friend, and just as I have grown so much since the last time I saw her, so has Mia. Yes she still has a flare for the dramatic and her imagination is as active as ever, but she's matured and leveled out in a lot of ways. She's gotten the hang of this princess thing. Her tendency to self-sabotage seems to have faded with time. She's still grounded and caring and sure a little crazy, but who isn't?

While this is technically the 11th book in a series, people who have never read its young adult predecessors will have no trouble picking this story up as a standalone read. Cabot redefines her cast, bring back plenty of old favorites along with some new faces, and like Mia, they're all grown up. It's refreshing to see a story that's actually a pretty realistic representation of what life is like for people in their mid-20s. Friendships aren't as face-to-face as they once were, but that doesn't lessen their bonds. Tough choices must be made, but a good support system makes them a little bit easier. And never underestimate the power of a positive outlook and true love with a great geeky guy. Don't believe me? Diary entries, text message conversations, even a few shopping lists letting us into Mia's mind and prove it.

Meg Cabot is a master of the feel-good stories, giving us quirky protagonists in extraordinary situations you can't help but root for. On a blizzard weekend in January, this was just the pick me up I needed, and I can tell I'll have fun rereading this one in the years to come.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Meg Cabot's Website
Meg Cabot on Twitter
Meg Cabot on Tumblr

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Genovian for a new Generation: From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess

From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot (Middle School Princess #1)
Feiwel and Friends, Expected Release Date: May 5, 2015

*ARC provided by the publisher - thank you! This in no way impacted my opinions on this book.*

Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette Harrison is pretty normal as far as twelve year olds are concerned. Except for her super long name and the fact that she lives with her aunt and uncle's family because her mom died and her dad sends letters but has never met her because he's always working around the world. Sure they don't let her do much of the things her cousins do, but she's happy with her friends, doing math, and practicing drawing so she can someday be an wildlife illustrator. But everything changes one day when the school bully threatens to pound her and the truth comes out: Olivia's dad is the Prince of Genovia, making her Mia's half sister and a princess herself. There's nothing normal about her life now!

I was lucky enough to have grown up with the Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot, and as soon as I found out that this book and another Princess Diaries novel, Royal Wedding, would be coming out this summer, I decided to reread the series. While I wouldn't consider the books that old, I was surprised by the discovery that my adolescence is now far enough away that it's practically historical fiction. This new series will allows for a whole new generation of readers to enter the world of Genovia and the challenges of growing up a modern-day princess. Readers don't have to know Mia's story to love Olivia's, but for those who are familiar with the previous series are in for a treat. It was so fun to see Mia, Grandmere, and Prince Philip from a new point of view.

While the previous novels were young adult, Olivia's story is firmly in the land of middle grade, but don't let her age deter you from reading. She's smart. She's clever. She has a flare for the dramatic (like her sister) but is also incredibly grounded. More than anything, she's a girl who wants to do good and be loved, and her adventure is just getting started. This story is told in her journal entries as well as via text messages, an update from the "old time" practice of writing notes to friends. Another wonderful bonus is that this book has also been illustrated by Cabot herself, letting us see more of Olivia's perspective a bit more literally.

All in all, if you're a fan of cute contemporary stories or know someone who is, pick up this book. In her usual feel-good fashion, Cabot has created another heroine for readers to root for and by her side, growing pains feel a little more bearable.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Meg Cabot's Website
Meg Cabot on Twitter
Meg Cabot on Tumblr


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Someone to Watch Over Me: Saint Anything

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Viking Juvenille, Expected Release Date: May 5, 2015

*ARC provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter - Thank you! This in no way impacted my opinions of this book.*

Sydney has spent her whole life in the shadow of Peyton, the older brother she idolizes. He's always had a way about him, something that's made him the center of everything, even when he started to get in trouble. In fact, he's still sun that their entire family revolves around when he's locked away in jail after his drunk driving left another boy in a wheelchair. Her mom acts as if Peyton was the victim, her father is barely around, and Sydney is wracked with guilt about her brother's actions, her best still never being good enough. But positive changes come into Sydney's life in unlikely places - at a new school where she doesn't know anyone and at a family run pizza place with pies too perfect for words. The Chathams are completely unlike Sydney's own family - loud, loving, and they actually look at and accept her. Someone finally seems to care about where Sydney is and how she's doing.

A voracious reader, I always have at least a book or two I'm working my way through. But that's the thing - sometimes these 200 page books have felt like work. Saint Anything's 448 pages, however, flew by far too quickly. I was completely enraptured in this story. This was one of those books where the rest of the world disappeared around me whenever I was reading it. Though I have never been in the exact same situation as Sydney, I have felt a lot of the same feelings both in my high school years and even as an adult. It's agonizing to have people looking at you for all the wrong reasons, and such a relief when it happens for the right ones.

While many are describing this as Dessen's darkest novel, I don't think I'd agree with that sentiment. In her 12 published books, Dessen has not shied away from serious topics such as abusive relationships, body image, teen pregnancy, loss, and substance abuse. This story isn't an easy one - there's a lot of anger and hurt, but it's honest and realistic and it made me appreciate this book that much more. While it's true that this author has given us plenty of swoonworthy relationships in her books, they've never just been about romance. The same can be said for Saint Anything. Did I fall for Mac, the oldest boy in the Chatham household, just as hard as Sydney? Oh yes. But I was just as in love with the friendships that make up the core of this story, especially Sydney's with Layla Chatham.

All in all, Saint Anything has to be one of my favorite Sarah Dessen books ever, which is saying something since I have such high praise for her other titles as well. Even though the the subject matter can get dark, it is also full of hope and light, and I already can't wait to reread it.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sarah Dessen's Website
Sarah Dessen on Twitter

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Irish Girls About Town, Soulmates

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Irish Girls About Town.

Story: Soulmates
Author: Marian Keyes
Summary: Georgia and Joel are soulmates, always having an amazing, wonderful, awe-inspiring relationship that even when things go south, none of their friends can ever fully understand and definitely can't replicate in their own lives.
Thoughts: Hmmm. This was a thought provoking story for sure, and definitely brought up some emotions that I'm embarrassed to say I could identify with. Doesn't everyone know that one person who things just always work out for, whose star shines a little brighter and you are jealous but at the same time impressed and you can't even be mad at them because they're so nice? Yeah, this story tapped right into that side of me, of all of us.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Write from the Heart: To All the Boys I've Loved Before

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han (To All the Boys I've Loved Before #1)
Simon & Schuster, 2014

There's a hat box under Lara Jean's bed, inside which live the deepest secrets of her heart: letters she's written to each of the boys she has loved. They're not typical love letters, though. They're letters she wrote to fall out of love with them, to spill all of her feelings out onto paper, seal them up, and move on from these crushes she's never admitted to anyone. Lara Jean's life is already undergoing big changes with her big sister heading off to college in Scotland, but things get even more complicated when someone not only discovers her letters, but mails them to the boys they're about. Now she's trying to take care of her dad and little sister along with faking a relationship with Peter - one of her past crushes - in a plan to make each of their current crushes jealous. Only is it really a fake relationship after all?

This was my first time reading a Jenny Han novel, and this world was a lovely, light story to read while on vacation this spring. Over a couple of days, I enjoyed reading about the hijinks and tight corners Lara Jean got herself into, and part of me really admired how she feels things widely and deeply. While the fake relationship plot is something that's certainly been around the block, I loved seeing how some of the various boys responded to getting their letters and how Lara Jean responded in their release. The idea of these almost reverse love letters was clever and cathartic, and fit Lara Jean's sentimental and whimsical personality perfectly.

I'll admit that there were times when I was a bit frustrated with the protagonist since many of the problems she encountered could have been resolved by simply talking to someone or by reigning in her very active imagination that has a flare for the dramatic and romantic. In spite of this, I was still rooting for her, wanting to see her grow up a bit more and see that even though reality isn't as pretty or easy to navigate as her fantasy world, amazing things can still happen even when life gets messy.

If you are a fan of contemporary romance or looking for a book to entertain you for a few hours, pick up To All the Boys I've Loved Before, and keep an eye out for the sequel, P.S. I Still Love You.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Jenny Han's Website
Jenny Han on Twitter