Category Archives: Contemporary

Flat-Out Love (Flat-Out Love #1) – Jessica Park

Flat-Out Love (Flat-Out Love #1) – Jessica ParkTitle: Flat-Out Love (Flat-Out Love #1) by Jessica Park
Publishing Info: May 18, 2011 by Independent
Source: Audible
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // Goodreads
Date Completed: April 29, 2017

Something is seriously off in the Watkins home. And Julie Seagle, college freshman, small-town Ohio transplant, and the newest resident of this Boston house, is determined to get to the bottom of it. When Julie's off-campus housing falls through, her mother's old college roommate, Erin Watkins, invites her to move in. The parents, Erin and Roger, are welcoming, but emotionally distant and academically driven to eccentric extremes. The middle child, Matt, is an MIT tech geek with a sweet side... and the social skills of a spool of USB cable. The youngest, Celeste, is a frighteningly bright but freakishly fastidious 13-year-old who hauls around a life-sized cardboard cutout of her oldest brother almost everywhere she goes.

And there's that oldest brother, Finn: funny, gorgeous, smart, sensitive, almost emotionally available. Geographically? Definitely unavailable. That's because Finn is traveling the world and surfacing only for random Facebook chats, e-mails, and status updates. Before long, through late-night exchanges of disembodied text, he begins to stir something tender and silly and maybe even a little bit sexy in Julie's suddenly lonesome soul.

To Julie, the emotionally scrambled members of the Watkins family add up to something that ... well... doesn't quite add up. Not until she forces a buried secret to the surface, eliciting a dramatic confrontation that threatens to tear the fragile Watkins family apart, does she get her answer.

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I picked up FLAT-OUT LOVE in an Audible sale because Julia Whelan is one of my favorite female audiobook narrators and I had seen a lot of positive reactions from my Goodreads friends. I really didn’t know what it was about before I started but I was pleasantly surprised with its content and tone!

FLAT-OUT LOVE was a wonderful mix of serious and sarcasm. Main character Julie ends up moving in with a family friend (and the family that comes with her) after being scammed on an apartment listing for college and ends up staying there throughout the year. The story revolves around the family that Julie moves in with and their delicate balance of affection and stoicism, most noted by 13-year-old Celeste’s attachment to a cardboard cut-out of her older brother Finn, who is away travelling the world. I won’t rehash the whole plot but essentially Julie brings levity and a fresh outlook on life to this family and really breaks through a point where they were all standing still, holding their breath. I loved Julia’s personality and attitude. She brought a light to that house and so much humor, sarcasm, and high spirits. There were plenty of serious moments, as this book is clearly harboring some deep secret with Celeste’s quirks that no one will talk about, but I thought the balance was really well done. If this had been a strictly serious or tragic book, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much.

Every relationship was really well-crafted. Julie is able to connect with each person in the house on a different level, even if it’s not deeply. Julie shakes things up and yes, breaks a few hearts by making them admit the “bad things”, but ultimately is able to show them that standing still is no way to live if you can’t ever move forward. I don’t really know how I feel about the romance because without spoiling anything, it gets complicated on soooo many levels and there’s a level of trust that was broken with me as a reader that I don’t think I could have personally come back from, but Julie is a forgiving soul and of course she wants to make the relationship work because it is quite sweet in its core.

While FLAT-OUT LOVE was a quick and addicting read for me, I really don’t have any interest in its companions. I tried reading FLAT-OUT CELESTE and her voice was just very difficult for me to at least listen to, though I don’t know about reading, and I don’t have an interest in FLAT-OUT MATT since it’s really just the same story but in parts from Matt’s POV. Julie was the best part of the book and without her, the stories don’t really have a draw for me.

I think FLAT-OUT LOVE is a great contemporary read and good book for those who don’t want to shy away from real life but also appreciate some good humor and lightness in times of darkness.

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Kept Me Hooked On: The nitty gritty. I’ve been shying away from the more rough patches of life and have had a strong preference for the light and fluffy. I’m glad I read FLAT-OUT LOVE and that the balance of light and dark was there.
Left Me Wanting More: Honesty. If the family had been able to just tell Julie what their life-changing situation was, there wouldn’t really be a book… so obviously that’s why there’s a secret there, but I wish everyone had just been a bit more honest. I know they didn’t want to talk about the THING but it seemed silly to keep it from the person who was living in your house.

Addiction Rating
Check it out

I actually really enjoyed this one, which surprised me! I loved Julie’s outgoing, sarcastic, and friendly tone.

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BOOKS LIKE FLAT-OUT LOVE

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    MY LIFE NEXT DOOR

Fireworks – Katie Cotugno

Fireworks – Katie CotugnoTitle: Fireworks by Katie Cotugno
Publishing Info: April 11, 2017 by HarperCollins
Source: Received from the publisher for review purposes
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // Goodreads
Date Completed: June 1, 2017

From Katie Cotugno, bestselling author of 99 Days, comes Fireworks—about a girl who is competing with her best friend to become the new pop star of the moment—and all the drama and romance that comes with it—set in Orlando during the late-'90s boy-and-girl-band craze.

It was always meant to be Olivia. She was the talented one, the one who had been training to be a star her whole life. Her best friend, Dana, was the level-headed one, always on the sidelines, cheering her best friend along.

But everything changes when Dana tags along with Olivia to Orlando for the weekend, where superproducer Guy Monroe is holding auditions for a new singing group, and Dana is discovered too. Dana, who’s never sung more than Olivia’s backup. Dana, who wasn’t even looking for fame. Next thing she knows, she and Olivia are training to be pop stars, and Dana is falling for Alex, the earnest, endlessly talented boy who’s destined to be the next big thing.

It should be a dream come true, but as the days of grueling practice and constant competition take their toll, things between Olivia and Dana start to shift . . . and there’s only room at the top for one girl. For Olivia, it’s her chance at her dream. For Dana, it’s a chance to escape a future that seems to be closing in on her. And for these lifelong best friends, it’s the adventure of a lifetime—if they can make it through.

Set in evocative 1990s Orlando, New York Times bestselling author Katie Cotugno’s Fireworks brings to life the complexity of friendship, the excitement of first love, and the feeling of being on the verge of greatness.

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Heads up, talking about specifics so there will be SPOILERS.

This book wasn’t quiiiite what I thought it would be and that was okay but there were things that just didn’t quite fit. I liked Dana a lot but it never really felt right for her to be a part of this pop star world. I feel like it would have been a little different if there had been an expressed interest in singing before she took Olivia to her audition. It just felt so off of Dana to even enter the world of singing and show business without even wanting any part of it before she got there. Maybe that’s just me as a big choir nerd not understanding how you can jump into this without a passion for music or performing… I have no idea. Not staying that you HAVE to have experience in order to get into the music industry but trying to think about it as someone who was only a part of choir was overwhelming, not to mention voice lessons, dance lessons, and all of the show biz type stuff that you have to do. I don’t know… I just felt like Dana didn’t belong there, which I guess was the point, but it felt wrong to take that opportunity away from someone else just because she wanted to get out of her town. There are so many people who have that DREAM and while she may have been a natural performer, I don’t know… It just didn’t click for me and I actually was not rooting for her to make it in the industry. It really bothered me throughout the whole book and despite the fact that she was actually putting a great effort forth to grow and listen and perform… I still didn’t think that was the right place for her and I knew it the whole time.
Aside from that, let’s not even tap into the fact that four girls are chosen for this girl group and out of four in the whole country, Dana is selected ALONG WITH her best friend, even when she sings Happy Birthday and… that’s it. No other auditioning process? No other callback? No tests to see if she even knows how to read music or if she’s a good dancer or if she doesn’t have an attitude, etc etc etc?? I 100% understand selecting someone for their star quality but people aren’t selected because of that alone. There has to be something else going there to make someone think they can turn that person into a star and that the work is going to be worth it. They flat-out didn’t see enough of Dana to even know that.

The friend thing bothered me too. One of the reasons I loved Open Road Summer so much was the fact that the best friends were supportive and things didn’t get catty. One was the star, one was not, and it wasn’t a competition. I didn’t like that Olivia sort of abandoned her best friend for the other girls because they had more experience and were, for lack of a better word, cooler than Dana was. I didn’t like that this book pitted the two best friends against each other and then Olivia stabbed Dana in the back!!! Ugh UGH UGH. I couldn’t stand that.

I also just had more hope that this was going to have some more 90s/early 2000s type feelings with all of those shows like Making the Band and Popstars. That was what I immediately went to when I heard the girls were going to audition for a girl group and there were some feelings of it there but I would have loved to get a little more of that feel. There wasn’t much of a time era feel aside from music references, which I would have loved to see more of because HELLO 90s, like the best time ever (ha)! There wasn’t that nostalgia that I had hoped for at all.

There were other feelings I got from this book though, in so many ways. I actually felt a lot of Center Stage because of all of the industry moments and things we got to see that happen in closed-door meetings. People get cut from groups, deals are made, people get stabbed in the back, images are created. I also felt some That Thing You Do! and Selena with some of those musical moments about trying to get your music out there and be heard, so that was a fun feeling.

The book was entertaining but I feel like I had a totally different image going in. FIREWORKS is a cute title for it but the cover is pretty misleading for what the book is about (despite the fact that I love it). Things were not really fun and friendly… they were kind of catty. And the fireworks were a small part of the book although related to kind of a big concept. I feel like it made the book seem so much lighter and easy-going and it was intense show business work!

When it comes down to it, I enjoyed the read and it was quick but I can’t quite give it four stars because I didn’t feel like Dana ever fit into this world and it stuck out to me the whole time. I just felt like everyone was forcing her into that role even though SHE knew it wasn’t the right place for her either, even if she did have that star-quality. It made it hard for me to root for her to succeed because I didn’t feel like even she wanted it.

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Kept Me Hooked On: Not-quite-historical-fiction. I love books set in specific eras that aren’t quite historical fiction since they’re still somewhat current (even though the 80s are now 30 years ago and the 90s are 20 years ago!). It’s fun to have that nostalgia while still peeking into a time frame that I was actually alive and enjoying!
Left Me Wanting More: Fun. This book just wasn’t… fun. The girls were mean to each other, there wasn’t a lot of 90s nostalgia, and it all felt a bit dramatic. I just really was hoping for more a light summer read.

Addiction Rating
Get a second opinion

Some people LOVED this book. It just didn’t work for me. I think I went into it thinking it was something else so I guess it depends on what you’re looking for!

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BOOKS LIKE FIREWORKS

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    THE REECE MALCOLM LIST

It Started With Goodbye – Christina June

It Started With Goodbye – Christina JuneTitle: It Started With Goodbye by Christina June
Publishing Info: May 9, 2017 by HarperCollins
Source: Received from the publisher for review purposes
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Retelling
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // Goodreads
Date Completed: April 7, 2017

Sixteen-year-old Tatum Elsea is bracing for the worst summer of her life. After being falsely accused of a crime, she’s stuck under stepmother-imposed house arrest and her BFF’s gone ghost. Tatum fills her newfound free time with community service by day and working at her covert graphic design business at night (which includes trading emails with a cute cello-playing client). When Tatum discovers she’s not the only one in the house keeping secrets, she finds she has the chance to make amends with her family and friends. Equipped with a new perspective, and assisted by her feisty step-abuela-slash-fairy-godmother, Tatum is ready to start fresh and maybe even get her happy ending along the way.

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I was so excited to read IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE, Christina June’s debut novel! I’ve known Christina since we were first both bloggers way back in the day and it was such an honor to be able to read her debut novel and hold a physical copy of her ARC in my hands! I received a copy of IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE from the publisher and it was so neat to read a book written by someone I had met and talked and to watch their journey to become a published author! The fact that I know Christina June does not affect my review in anyway aside from the fact that this was a big reason of why I wanted to read this book!

This book was very quick and easy read and a lovely modern take on Cinderella! Contemporary adaptations of fairy tales are always so interesting because I love seeing how magical things get adapted to a real world. I really loved the nod to the original fairy tale and how Christina June fit the story to a modern-day teenager. There were even some direct references to Cinderella which were so fun to note, along with the general story line that paralleled it.

IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE was a great book about finding yourself and being comfortable in your own skin. It’s hard as a teenager (okay, it’s hard as an adult sometimes too) and it made things even worse for Tatum with a stepmother who always seems to have it out for her and a stepsister who can do no wrong, following in her stepmother’s footsteps. Much like another recent Cinderella contemporary adaptation, GEEKERELLA, the modern take here also focuses on the redemption of the family members and the main character realizing that sometimes there is more behind that “evil” facade than meets the eye.

I actually wish there was more focus on the relationships in the beginning of the book because it was a little slow to start for me despite the fact that this was a very quick read. I wanted to just race through it and I found myself hitting rough patches with the direction of the plot and was hoping for more of a focus on the core relationships instead of branching out to include other acquaintances first. Especially with how short the book was (which I appreciated, actually!), I would have loved a stronger focus on the best friend and romance specifically, along with the family, instead of adding in more minor friends. I wasn’t as interested in the secondary characters and some of their stories seemed to take focus where I would have rather read about Tate, although I know a lot of my friends enjoyed those other friendships.
Also with the split of Tatum from her best friend, she felt sort of solitary throughout the first half of the book and I felt like she didn’t really have anyone to share the story with so secondary characters were forced into the mix. I would have loved to see some more heart-felt dialogue with someone she could share more secrets with and I was really missing that best friend vibe, or even just someone close that she could have talked to in the beginning. The cute little romance didn’t catch me right away, I think because the initial meet-up was crowded with other characters, so the warm-fuzzies got a little bogged down in the character relationships all around.

The family dynamic was the hit of this book for me and I really enjoyed how things progressed with each family member. Tatum establishes new relationships with her stepmom, stepsister, and even her dad, who had really always been in her corner but reached a point in this book where their relationship hit a turning point. With the kids growing up and stepmother Belen often in charge while he is out of town, Tatum’s relationship with her father really began to change and then mature throughout this book. I also really liked that the father-figure was just traveling for work and that was was created his frequent and long absences instead of death. We did have the absence of Tate’s mother but I liked that she wasn’t orphaned for this book!

IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE was an easy and quick read with some really well-founded family concepts. I didn’t quite connect with it like I had hoped but I feel like it’ll do great with the teen crowd (who is really its intended audience) who are going through the same situations with best friend fights, family relationships, and first-time big crushes. The Cinderella adaptation adds a really nice touch to this book and it’s a great pull into the story and motivation to pick it up!

 

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Kept Me Hooked On: Modern adaptations of fairy tales. I was so giddy when I found direct references to the original Cinderella fairy tale! I think this adaptation and concept were spot on and I loved the modern take.
Left Me Wanting More: Relationship focus. I felt like there was a strong focus on the family throughout the whole book but I was missing the best friend and/or crush vibe in the beginning. I think I’m just so used to reading young adult books that are constantly surrounding those two relationships that are so prominent in teenage lives that I come to expect that to the be the focus of every book. They were definitely still featured here but it didn’t feel like the strongest relationship of the book for me, which was okay but a little bit of a surprise for me.

Addiction Rating
Try it!

IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE was a fun and quick read! I loved how the concept fit together and

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    THE SUMMER OF CHASING MERMAIDS

A Good Idea – Cristina Moracho

A Good Idea – Cristina MorachoTitle: A Good Idea by Cristina Moracho
Publishing Info: February 28, 2017 by Penguin
Genres: Young Adult, Mystery/Thriller
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // Goodreads
Date Completed: February 14, 2017
Related Posts: Althea and Oliver

Can the right kind of boy get away with killing the wrong kind of girl?
Fin and Betty’s close friendship survived Fin’s ninth-grade move from their coastal Maine town to Manhattan. Calls, letters, and summer visits continued to bind them together, and in the fall of their senior year, they both applied to NYU, planning to reunite for good as roommates.
Then Betty disappears. Her ex-boyfriend Calder admits to drowning her, but his confession is thrown out, and soon the entire town believes he was coerced and Betty has simply run away. Fin knows the truth, and she returns to Williston for one final summer, determined to get justice for her friend, even if it means putting her loved ones—and herself—at risk.
But Williston is a town full of secrets, where a delicate framework holds everything together, and Fin is not the only one with an agenda. How much is she willing to damage to get her revenge and learn the truth about Betty’s disappearance, which is more complicated than she ever imagined—and infinitely more devastating?

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A GOOD IDEA was interesting from start to finish but my passion for it sort of went in waves. The beginning was interesting but I wasn’t sure where it was going yet. The middle was thrilling and I tore through the book (well, I would have it I wasn’t listening to an audiobook and was forced to read at a level pace). The ending culminated well but got a little out there in regards to how things tied up. I liked the way that the book ended and yet the circumstances as to how the characters resolved the “case” was a little bizarre.

I was excited to pick up A GOOD IDEA because I had loved Cristina Moracho’s debut, ALTHEA & OLIVER. This book was quite different — a mystery/thriller versus realistic fiction — but I do love that both books took place in the 90s. It wasn’t really a “period piece” but I’m guessing that was Moracho’s time as a teen since it’s been revisited twice and I do like that “write what you know” concept in this case. I also enjoy things NOT set in present day because the slight throwback allows for less technology to get in the way. The concept of no cell phones (or at least no smart phones) really breaks that form of constant communication and allows plot to wander instead of technology making things unrealistic. Everyone is not a quick phone call or text away and people don’t have cameras attached to their hips. I appreciate the break from technology and allowing the book to run away with an idea!

This is another book that may aim towards a more mature young adult audience with consistent drug usage, language, and sexual activity. I read a few reviews that felt like these things were overboard but for small town Maine (or small town anywhere) and a lack of technology (not like I know what the 90s were like as a teen), I didn’t think anything was really out of bounds. It wasn’t my personal experience as a teenager but that doesn’t mean it’s unrealistic.

It was interesting to see Finley dig into the past by stirring up questions about her best friend Betty’s murder. Betty “disappeared” and everyone knew she had probably died but without actual evidence, no one really wanted to actually admit it. With a confession in the air (not a spoiler — we know this from the beginning) that didn’t stick, Finley needs to prove that the confessor is actually guilty and that they’re punished for taking her best friend’s life but loyalty gets in the way and made things even more dangerous for Finley. It was really interesting to have an answer from the start and have the characters race through a series of theories and scenarios. Was this confession really what happened? How much more is there to the story? Is it a lie? Is it a cover up for something else? Is Betty even really dead? These are all questions that the characters ask themselves and as the reader, I really started to question everything as well. The obvious answer is presented to the reader at the very beginning, but is it the CORRECT answer?

The ending got a little strange and maybe a bit too dramatic for my tastes. The beginning was pretty realistic, focusing more on the internal struggles of each character that added to the drama and confusion of the overall mystery. The ending got a little too villain-y for me (also not a spoiler because that’s not even in relation to the final answer of the mystery) and it just really sadly turned me off for just a bit. BUT I did like how the very, very end wrapped up and the solid conclusion left me satisfied with the book overall.

Oh, and we also really did find a bathtub in the woods on a hike.

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Kept Me Hooked On: Books set in the 90s. This book wasn’t really about the 90s but I love the concept of being slightly removed from present day. I wouldn’t call the 1990s historical fiction but I enjoy that there’s a little bit of nostalgia and lack of technology. I’d love to see more books set in the 80s and 90s!
Left Me Wanting More: Realistic endings. Things were so gritty and real and then then ending got a little bizarre for me. I mean, it’s a book so I’m not saying it never could have happened but it just didn’t seem like it would happen.

Addiction Rating
Try it!

This was a really interesting book and I really enjoyed the way it was put together! I liked that it was a mystery and yet the answers were there the whole time, and I thought the character development was really great too.

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BOOKS LIKE A GOOD IDEA

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    THIS IS OUR STORY

Geekerella – Ashley Poston

Geekerella – Ashley PostonTitle: Geekerella by Ashley Poston
Publishing Info: April 4, 2017 by Quirk Books
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // Goodreads
Date Completed: January 16, 2017

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad’s old costume), Elle’s determined to win…unless her stepsisters get there first.
Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons—before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?
Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

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GEEKERELLA, as its name implies, is a play on the classic Cinderella story and that’s one of the things that first attracted me to the book! I’m actually not a big Cinderella fan (I like it just fine but it’s not my favorite fairy tale or Disney movie), but throw “geek” in the title of anything and I am there! I also loved the concept of a contemporary adaptation of a fairy tale because I’ve read so few modern, non-fantasy/sci-fi retellings and Ashley Poston really did a great job of pulling this one off!

Firstly, I loved the characters. They were true to the Cinderella archetypes in many ways but also so uniquely themselves. I loved Elle and her geeky past (and present) growing up watching Starfield reruns with her dad. Her dad loved the show so much that he and her mom would cosplay and they started a whole conference for it, which ends up being a big part of the book. I adored THE GEEK’S GUIDE TO UNREQUITED LOVED, half because it had a con in it and it was amazing. Having attended Book Expo (and other book cons) the last handful of years, the concept has grown close to my heart and I loved seeing book characters enjoy the same things! Connected through the con (amongst other things), is Darien, heartthrob actor and… totally normal dude. I LOVED that Darien was this really big teen actor and just wanted to be a normal, geeky guy. He ends up being cast in the Starfield movie and everyone things he’ll screw it up because he’s known for being a totally different character and no one knows his nerdy side. (Which publicists and media people, whoever you are, let us see the geeky side!!! Don’t suppress it!) Anyway… these two are just adorable on their own and I had a hell of a time shipping them throughout this book!

Elle’s family was truly horrible but I did like that there were some gray areas. She does have an evil step-mom and some awful step-sisters but then there are times where readers realize things aren’t just in black and white. Some villains are still villains but others have a story behind their actions or are just along for the ride. GEEKERELLA was a book about everyone getting a chance to be them — whether each character seized that opportunity was up to them but I really appreciated that they all had the chance to stand up for what they believed in and what the loved.

GEEKERELLA is described as “part romance, part love letter to geek culture” and this is 100% true. Every nerd is geeky in their own way and I love that TV fanatics, comic book nerds, book-lovers, and more can appreciate the general nerdiness of this book and see themselves reflected in the characters. It was a positively delightful reading experience and I find myself gushing about it even more as I’m writing the review. It’s a book that sticks with your feels long after the end!

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Kept Me Hooked On: Geek Chic. I created a bookshelf on my Goodreads account called Geek Chic simply for those adorably nerdy books. This is definitely on there.
Left Me Wanting More: On-screen swooning time. Elle and Darien take a while to actually get together and it was kiiiiilling me. I wished we had seen just a bit more of them together before the book ended.

Addiction Rating
Read it!

If you love cute romances and/or geeky books, GEEKERELLA is totally for you! It also was not like A Cinderella Story and yet it was (a contemporary take on Cinderella and the texting, I guess) so I had happy teen memories while reading it too!

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BOOKS LIKE GEEKERELLA

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    THE SUMMER I BECAME A NERD

By Your Side – Kasie West

By Your Side – Kasie WestTitle: By Your Side by Kasie West
Publishing Info: January 31, 2017 by HarperCollins
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // Goodreads
Date Completed: January 16, 2017
Related Posts: Pivot Point (Pivot Point #1), The Distance Between Us, On the Fence, Split Second (Pivot Point #2), The Fill-In Boyfriend, P.S. I Like You

In this irresistible story, Kasie West explores the timeless question of what to do when you fall for the person you least expect. Witty and romantic, this paperback original from a fan favorite is perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins and Morgan Matson.
When Autumn Collins finds herself accidentally locked in the library for an entire weekend, she doesn’t think things could get any worse. But that’s before she realizes that Dax Miller is locked in with her. Autumn doesn’t know much about Dax except that he’s trouble. Between the rumors about the fight he was in (and that brief stint in juvie that followed it) and his reputation as a loner, he’s not exactly the ideal person to be stuck with. Still, she just keeps reminding herself that it is only a matter of time before Jeff, her almost-boyfriend, realizes he left her in the library and comes to rescue her.
Only he doesn’t come. No one does.
Instead it becomes clear that Autumn is going to have to spend the next couple of days living off vending-machine food and making conversation with a boy who clearly wants nothing to do with her. Except there is more to Dax than meets the eye. As he and Autumn first grudgingly, and then not so grudgingly, open up to each other, Autumn is struck by their surprising connection. But can their feelings for each other survive once the weekend is over and Autumn’s old life, and old love interest, threaten to pull her from Dax’s side?

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So it’s been a while since I finished this book before I started writing my review (two months, actually. Oops. Life has been busy, okay!?) and this is one of those books where my feelings about it change the further I get away from it. Some books I end up loving even more after the fact but BY YOUR SIDE sort of sticks out as one that’s fizzling out the more time that passes. When I first finsihed BY YOUR SIDE, it wasn’t a Kasie West favorite but it was cute and fluffy and just what I needed at the time… But the more time I spend away from the book, the more I realize how unrealistic it seemed which is such a shame because although Kasie West’s books are cute and light, they still have a sense of true, honest characters and some wonderfully realistic family and friend situations.

Let’s start with the good stuff. I did love Dax and how he came around to Autumn! I really liked seeing him let someone in and I’m a sucker for that boy-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks vibe. I didn’t totally love his story because I felt like it was maybe a bit too melodramatic for the current context and I thought he could have used a bit more personality… But he was definitely my favorite character of this book. I just love Kasie West’s romances and I always love a good bad-boy type finally opening up and falling for someone. It’s so cliche sometimes but it’s such a heart-warming trope that I’ll never get sick of it (as long as it’s done well). I instantly loved Dax and his whole vibe.

I also enjoyed the way that the book wrapped up. While I didn’t really love the journey to get there, I liked that it ended on a harmonious note and could have been incredibly dramatic. I actually kind of didn’t see that coming and I liked the way that Autumn’s friendships resolved, which is always something I enjoy in Kasie West’s books.

Now for all of the things in the middle that left me wanting…

I didn’t feel as much personality as I have from some of Kasie’s other female leads. While I appreciate how the book highlighted someone with an anxiety disorder, I didn’t really feel like it was realistic. Granted, I don’t personally deal with anxiety to that extent but I know several people who do — both socially/situationally and generalized anxiety — so this just didn’t really feel natural to me. While I appreciated that it was in the book, I’m not sure that it’s the most accurate portrayal. I did like that a plot point wasn’t how she discovered the extent of her anxiety but rather that she hadn’t told her friends about it because she didn’t want to be treated differently. I liked that she wasn’t embarrassed by it but just didn’t want to be treated like she was emotionally fragile, but on the flip side, that’s exactly the kind of things I would tell my friends and that they could support me on. It seems like she doesn’t really have a very good relationship with her friends if she can’t even tell them about her anxiety and panic attacks and they can’t even tell that she’s getting anxious and removing herself from situations.

It’s funny because in my initial reactions upon finishing, I wrote down how much I lvoed this friend group and how much her friends ended up supporting her… but that didn’t really happen until the very end of the book. Her friends left her in a library, didn’t notice she was missing, and hadn’t noticed for years that she gets anxious in certain situations and that’s why she’s leaving. They’re all too self-absorbed to notice, I guess. I did like the way that the book ended with these friendships but looking back, I feel like Autumn was not with the right group of friends. Too many of them seemed like they were not even interested in what Autumn was feeling and I felt like she was forcing her way into this friend group.

And let’s not even talk about how the main characters were locked in a library and neither one was like, “Dream come true!” Come on. You’re appealing to bookworms, here…

It’s weird how time changes your perspective on things. I’m not changing my rating because I did enjoy the book while reading it but I think this was the Kasie West book with the biggest problems and while I love all of her books, this one is at the bottom of my list. It’s a bummer because Kasie is one of my queens of contemporary! I’m hoping for better with the next book that’s coming out so soon!

Oh, and I happened to read it during the actual weekend that the book took place so high five for good timing! It just made it that much more fun.

Autumn // Character obsessions: Her crush, her friends, Dax
Soooo, Autumn. She fell pretty flat for me. She was a decent enough character to read about but she didn’t have nearly as much personality as Kasie West’s usual heroines! I always love Kasie’s strong, spunky, proud females and Autumn was much more subdued and shy to the point where she didn’t even feel comfortable with her friends.

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Kept Me Hooked On: Kasie West. This wasn’t my favorite but I will forever be a fan of her books! BY YOUR SIDE was not nearly as fun as her other works but I still enjoyed it while I was reading it.
Left Me Wanting More: Reality. Kasie West’s books can have deep or serious issues but they usually don’t feel so melodramatic. It wasn’t the anxiety but the way it was handled and portayed, amongst other things. I just really wish it had been a little bit different.

Addiction Rating
Try it

I still enjoyed the book and the less-than-happy thoughts didn’t hit me until later. Some loved it. Others didn’t. It’s worth a try!

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BOOKS LIKE BY YOUR SIDE

(Click the cover to see my review!)

    26 kisses

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil GaimanTitle: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Publishing Info: June 18, 2013 by HarperCollins
Source: Borrowed from Hoopla
Genres: Adult, Magical Realism
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // Goodreads
Date Completed: November 7, 2016
Related Posts: Fortunately, the Milk, Stardust, American Gods, Neverwhere

A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

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Apparently the end of 2016 was filled with Neil Gaiman after listening to two full-length novels and one extra, all on audio. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump and was looking for something comforting and that I knew would be pleasant to listen to and it doesn’t get much better than Neil Gaiman’s stories and his own narration.

I’m really glad that I waited to read/listen to THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE and didn’t pick it up right away. Magical realism is a genre that’s been growing on me over the years and I’ve reached a point where I’ve read a few books within the genre of which I’ve grown quite fond. Usually when I experience a genre clash, it’s all about reading the right books and my latest magical realism reads have just really been clicking. I fear if I had read THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE too soon, the magical experience of everything may have been lost on me and I might not have connected well and I’m so glad that I was really able to appreciate this book!

Alyssa, my friend and master of Gaiman novels, described this one to me as a children’s story for adults, being that the narrator is an adult who is telling the story but it’s about a series of events that happened to him as a child, all around when he was about seven years old, and I think that’s a great way to describe this novel. THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE felt very much like an adult-oriented book and yet it had the younger, children’s mentality due to its time frame and focus. Despite how well I think Neil Gaiman writes for any age, I feel like I tend not to wholly connect to a book that mixes or crosses ages like that. I don’t often like when adult books dip down into a childlike focus and the mix of mentalities can be a bit too much for me sometimes, and that seems to be why I didn’t totally 100% love this story.

I really did enjoy the magic that occurred throughout the book, though! I love magical realism because it doesn’t have to play into stereotypical creatures or situations that are so often found in paranormal or urban fantasy genres and yet it still connects with real life. That slight blur between the narrator’s home life and the magic of the Hempstock family was just delightful and I love the feeling of it being right on the surface. The little beasties and dangerous magical things are that much more frightening in THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE as well because the characters don’t know or understand the rules of their world and often time can’t predict how to control, discourage, or manage them. They’re that much harder to get rid of as well when there’s a limited amount of help and not an entirely fantastical community to offer support.

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE was a quick read and I loved the overall atmosphere and feel. I don’t like stories that dip into the childhood years as much because it’s just not something I connect with as much as I do young adult or adult novels but I still enjoyed it from start to finish. Neil Gaiman always creates the most wonderful atmospheres that have readers completely believing in these worlds and I loved being totally sucked into the story.

AUDIOBOOK IMPRESSIONS

I borrowed this audiobook from Hoopla (bless you, Hoopla) because I was having an audiobook slump and needed a narrator I could trust who was also a male voice. I just wasn’t in the mood for a female voice after striking out a few times. I love when authors narrate their own books because I just feel you really get things EXACTLY the way they intended, especially parts that were songs (and actually sung)! Neil Gaiman has a wonderful narrating voice as well and his audiobooks are just so pleasant to listen to.

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Kept Me Hooked On: Magical Realism. This is still a new-ish genre to me and I’m finding that I’m enjoying these stories more and more!
Left Me Wanting More: Sophistication. The book was actually plenty sophisitcated, I guess, but I just don’t connect to that childlike mentality as much.

Addiction Rating
Read it

If you’re a fan of Gaiman, looking for a good audiobook, or attempting to get into more magical realism, this is a great place to dive in!

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BOOKS LIKE THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE

(Click the cover to see my review!)

BONE GAP    THE RAVEN BOYS