The Upside of Unrequited

5139zwihtyl-_sx329_bo1204203200_First Lines: I’m on the toilet at the 9:30 Club, and I’m wondering how mermaids pee.  This isn’t random.  There’s a mermaid Barbie attached to the door of the bathroom here.  Which is a pretty odd choice for a bathroom mascot.  If that’s even a thing.

Hey guys!  So I got this as an ARC ages ago and forgot I had it…(oops?)…but I did manage to finish it around the time it came out!  (It released yesterday.)  At least I’m timely!  Anyway, I had to give this book a try.

Molly knows all about crushes and unrequited love, since she’s had twenty-six crushes throughout her life.  And it doesn’t matter how many times her twin sister Cassie tells her to get out there because Molly can’t stand the idea of being rejected.  Fat girls never win the guy in movies.  When a cute girl comes into Cassie’s life, Molly finds herself suddenly alone and dealing with her sister’s love life.  Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend brings with her a cute hipster boy.  If Molly can win him over, he could be her first kiss.  The only problem is Reid, Molly’s chubby Tolkein-superfan coworker.  Because there’s no way Reid could be cuter than the hipster…right?

I was up and down with this book. There are some very intelligent observations in this book about family, relationships, and friends. I appreciated those. I also really liked its portrayal of love in all its forms. (We have lesbian parents, another couple involving one female who is gay and one female who is pansexual, and straight couples too.) I didn’t feel like it was trying to make a big flashy point like, “LOOK! WE HAVE A GAY COUPLE HERE! PRAISE ME FOR ADDING GAY CHARACTERS!” It felt more natural. No one questioned why anyone was gay or straight or anything else. It was just their normal.

I also liked the portrayal of those uncomfortable feelings, like being a third wheel or having an unconventional, politically-incorrect, probably racist grandmother making uncomfortable comments in front of other people. (As cringe-y as she was, I did like Grandma Betty.)  And the truths about dealing with misogyny, weight, social pressures, etc.  This book covered a lot of ground.

I liked that the main characters included so many diverse types. Molly is, by her own admission, a big girl. She has two moms, one white and one black. Her twin sister is gay. Molly’s friends include total nerds and hipsters. So it was cool to see how some of this played out throughout the story.  And, of course, I love people who are unapologetic nerds.  The ones who like what they like and everyone else can take it or leave it.  There are a few of those in this story too.

But there were also things I didn’t like. I didn’t like the constant (and I mean constant) profanity. And boy, do they get creative with it. I think every other page had some form of profanity on it. Yes, I know people curse, but this was prolific.

I also thought a lot of the dialogue was unnecessarily vulgar and forced. I have lived a quarter of a century and I have never had 60% of the conversations Molly and her friends have about female bodies, boys, sex, etc. Nor have I heard most of those conversations at any point. At first it felt fine, like it was a little bit of a shock factor but whatever. But the longer it kept going on, the more it sounded like that attention-grabbing student who blurts out dirty comments in order to get the class to pay attention to them. It was more annoying than anything.

It just all came across as kind of eh to me. I keep picking it up and then losing interest. Not that it wasn’t good in a lot of ways, but it just didn’t keep my attention.  But given its high rating on Goodreads, it’s working for a lot of people.  Just not me.


The Summer After You and Me

9781492619031First Lines: I open the window shade in my third-story attic bedroom anticipating my usual–somewhat obstructed–ocean view and instead get an eyeful of Connor Malloy, sans shirt, on the roof of his parents’ bungalow.  Better than a mocha latte with two shots of espresso and whipped cream, as far as early-morning eye-openers and guilty pleasures go.

This is one of those books that keeps haunting me before I’ve even read it.  It crops up everywhere!  It kept popping up at the library, in my Black Friday deals, everywhere!  But it was one of those where I wanted to make sure I was in the right mood for it.  The dead of winter was it.

Eh, I’m just going to copy Goodreads on this one too: Sunbathing, surfing, eating funnel cake on the boardwalk—Lucy loves living on the Jersey Shore. For her, it’s not just the perfect summer escape, it is home. And as a local girl, she knows not to get attached to the tourists. They breeze in over Memorial Day weekend, crowding the shore and stealing moonlit kisses, only to pack up their beach umbrellas and empty promises on Labor Day. Lucy wants more from love than a fleeting romance, even if that means keeping her distance from her summertime neighbor and crush, Connor.

Then Superstorm Sandy tears apart her barrier island, briefly bringing together a local girl like herself and a vacationer like Connor. Except nothing is the same in the wake of the storm. And day after day, week after week, Lucy is left to pick up the pieces of her broken heart and broken home. Now with Memorial Day approaching and Connor returning, will it be a summer of fresh starts or second chances?

This was pretty much what I expected it to be: melodramatic and cute.  Which was, frankly, kind of perfect while dealing with a stressful week.  I didn’t have to think too hard to follow along.

Lucy is a strong girl.  She’s pretty independent and wants to go after her dreams, but she’s not exactly all that great with relationships of any kind–family, friends, or dating.  That’s what creates most of the drama here, as she struggles with dating her best friend, crushing on her neighbor, and fighting with her twin brother.

I thought the way the story unraveled was kind of cool.  Most of it is in the present, but it does jump back every now and then to the summer before.  It didn’t happen so frequently to be annoying, which was good.  It was only a couple of times, really.  Just enough to give you information about what happened with Connor.  Also the writing style was fluid and easy to read, something that I appreciated because I could get through this quickly.

It’s just kind of a cute romance.  Don’t look for anything too deep here, because you’re not going to find it, even about Superstorm Sandy.  (Lucy does talk about it and remembers what happened, but it’s still somewhat glossed over.)

Serious question time: Since this is based around an actual event (even if it was only 33-4 years ago), does that make it a historical fiction?  It always gets weird when it’s something that happened in your lifetime.

First & Then

first-then-emma-mills-e1443225180204First Lines: My college essay was title “School Lunches, TS High, and Me,” and it was every bit as terrible as you’d expect.

I was so excited to find this at the library.  (Then again, I’m typically excited just to GET to the library.)  I feel like I never get to read new releases, but I was determined to read this.

If Devon had to describe herself in one word, it would be Average.  Nothing really makes her stand out from the crowd.  She doesn’t have any definite plans for life after high school, she loves Friday nights and football, and she crushes on her best friend Cas.  See?  Average.  But all of that changes when her cousin Foster comes to live with her family.  Foster, an unrepentant social outcast with a surprising talent for football, is going to make Devon stand out whether she likes it or not.  And she does not like it, especially when standing out gains her the attention of Ezra, the star football running back who is suddenly showing up constantly in Devon’s life.

I wasn’t 100% sold on this book when I started it because I was afraid it was going to be too love-triangley.  I mean, Devon likes Cas, but it seems like Devon also likes this Ezra.  So maybe not your typical love triangle, but a love triangle nonetheless.

Actually, it works really well.  It’s really relatable.  Devon is in love with her best friend, who doesn’t feel the same way back.  (Devon’s constant sarcasm is definitely another selling point for me.)  And Foster’s also relatable as this boy whose life has turned to utter crap and yet he still manages to retain this optimistic outlook on life.

The plot was also interesting.  The love angle takes up surprisingly little of the story.  A lot of it is Devon trying to break out of mediocrity.  For example, she does want to go to college–but she doesn’t know how to make herself stand out.  She’s got average grades, no extracurriculars whatsoever, and hasn’t done anything extraordinary with her life.  And this was a surprising direction for the story, especially when you factor in Ezra who is Extraordinary with a capital-E.  So I was pleasantly surprised by that.

There is a lot of profanity in this book.  I mean, there was one tirade with an impressive number of f-bombs, but there’s a lot of general profanity.  (Oh gosh, I just had a How I Met Your Mother moment…*salutes* General Profanity.)  Anywho, it’s kind of Devon’s character.  So if that bothers you, maybe you think about steering away from this one.

On an enjoyment scale, this book scores high.  It’s a lot of fluff, but it’s cute.  And there’s a lot about comparing boys/love now to boys/love in the days of Jane Austen.  So that adds another layer to the cuteness.  But if you really start to look at the finer points of the story, like minor characters that crop up out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly, it starts to break down a little.  Still, I enjoyed reading it.

Taken By Storm (Taken By Storm, #1)

First Lines: What does it matter if / another jock pinches me / as I walk down the hall to Physics / and high fives Troy, celebrating / like he just scored / the season’s first touchdown?

When I was at the library last, I was half looking for something that just jumped out at me from the shelves.  This was it.  Between the cover and the author (who wrote this beautiful book called Sing Me to Sleep), I figured I had a pretty decent shot at liking it.

Leesie lives by more rules than most teenagers she knows: No kissing.  No sex.  No dating anyone outside the Mormon faith.  But when Michael enters her life, she needs to rethink her rules.  Michael is hurting badly.  A deep-sea diver whose parents just died in a hurricane on their boat, he suddenly finds himself orphaned and away from the diving world he knows.  In him, Leesie sees someone who needs her help.  They fall for each other, even though his heart is in the depths of the ocean and hers is in the salvation above.  Which will win out: their hearts or their beliefs?

The story is told in a slightly unconventional way.  Leesie’s perspective is nearly entirely poems and chat messages.  (This book is a little older, so it uses something like AIM rather than texting to communicate between characters.)  Michael’s is from his diving log, which he uses much like a journal.  It seemed to fit both of their personalities and I felt like it was another way for me to get to know them.

The characters were interesting as well.  Michael is completely wracked with guilt over his parents’ deaths and doesn’t know how to deal with that.  As an outsider, I kept seeing his missteps and wanted to push him back on the right path.  He’s a sympathetic character because he’s hurting and he’s got a kind heart, but he’s also the kind of character who has a short-fused temper.  So sometimes he wasn’t always that sympathetic.  And I think I liked him that way.  I didn’t pity him the whole story.

Leesie is a devote Mormon, which was a little weird for me as I knew absolutely nothing about their actual faith.  (It’s a bit different from the bits of Catholicism and Protestantism I’ve picked up over the years.)  She was sweet and trusting, though sometimes a bit naive and too helpful.  Again, having that as something slightly negative actually made her a more appealing character.  It also helped that she (perhaps unintentionally?) struggled with her faith.  And that’s incredibly relatable.

There is a fair amount of religion in this.  I’m not going to say there’s not.  I’m not a religious person and I’m really finicky about what I’m ok reading, and this passed my test.  Here’s why: even though Leesie tries to convert Michael, she never comes off as preachy.  She comes off more of “This is who I am, this is who I want to be, and I would like to introduce you to this world that means so much to me.”  That kind of attitude I’m fine with.  It’s when you get forceful that I have a problem.

As if it wasn’t already somewhat obvious, it’s a clean romance.  Which does not mean it’s boring.  Far from it.  It takes some expert skill to make a reader melt just from characters holding hands.  I totally melted…and sometimes it was less contact than holding hands!

It was actually a really gripping story, which I wasn’t expecting.  There were times that I was glued to the book trying to figure out what happened next.

The only real negative I had with this book was that sometimes it dipped into the realm of melodrama or the over-dramatic.  It didn’t happen often, but there were times when I nearly laughed going, “Really?  That’s the way the plot’s going to go?”  But hey, lots of books do that.

Overall, a very impressive read.  Just go in with an open mind.

Hello, I Love You

First Lines: Big Brother, I want you to know something: It wasn’t your fault, not any of it.  And I’m so sorry.  Sorry for ditching the family and for shipping off to the other side of the world.

I lucked out, you guys.  I got this in a giveaway almost 2 months before it’s released to the public!  Weeeeee!  (Official release date is June 9, 2015, FYI.)  I was so pumped to read this.  And really, any free book I win is a friend of mine.

Grace needs a break from life.  Life with her record producer father, her famous country music superstar brother, and her mother who blames Grace for her brother’s breakdown is just too much.  So Grace decides to spend her senior year of high school at a boarding school–in South Korea.  This is going to be Grace’s fresh start…but then she learns that her new roommate, Sophie, has close ties to the music industry Grace has been trying so hard to escape.  Sophie’s twin brother, Jason, is a Korean pop (KPOP) superstar.  Grace can’t stand Jason’s ego or his status, but they become reluctant friends for Sophie’s sake.  Only, as the months go by, that friendship doesn’t feel so reluctant.  It feels like it may be…more.  But Grace can’t be with Jason without breaking promises she made to herself.  What’s a girl to do?

The jacket indicated that this would be somewhat similar to Anna and the French Kiss, which I’m all about.  And there are some similarities.  Boarding schools in foreign countries, boys who are adept at acclimating to the country’s customs and a girl who can’t, and that first taste of real independence and love.

I was originally drawn to this because of its setting.  I can’t say I’ve ever read a book set in South Korea, nor have I read a book about KPOP.  Speaking of music, I’m much more like Grace and her brother: I’m a country girl.  To me, KPOP sounds like chipmunks on a sugar rush after being awake for three days.  It’s trippy.  But I love musicians and singers, so I couldn’t turn this down, even if I don’t like Jason’s music.

…That’s really here nor there, is it?  I thought the setting was really impressive.  There was a lot of information woven into the story about Korean customs, food, and language.  It was cool.  I mean, it’s not the kind of book that’s going to teach me everything I need to visit the country, but it was a nice introduction.

The characters were sweet.  Grace is sweet and stubborn, and she has secrets she’ll do just about anything to protect.  Her life hasn’t been as easy as you would think.  Jason and Sophie, as twins, had a lot of things in common, but it was their differences I liked.  Sophie is your typical bubbly BFF who spends most of her time jumping around like an excited golden retriever.  Jason is far more subdued and you really get to see how fame negatively impacts his life.  I thought that was an interesting touch, since so many people are focused on being famous and they never stop to consider the downsides.

The story itself was incredibly enjoyable.  It plays out like your typical rom-com, and that’s not a bad thing.  I love rom-coms.  But I also loved reading about Grace acclimating to South Korea (and she made more than a few mistakes along the way).  The story also tends to tiptoe around Grace’s deep dark secret, which was sort of easy to guess ahead of time.  But that was fine.  I felt like I knew her secret, but I was still waiting for her to tell me.  Like I was trying to gain her trust or something.

One thing that stood out to me is that Grace tends to over-exaggerate to an extent that took me out of the story a few times.  She seemed to be unironic whenever she said a few characters had “a bazillion problems.”  But…from my reading of the story, I saw like less than 5.  It seemed like every word out of someone’s mouth was something that Grace planned to use as ammo later.  I know people do this in real life.  I just didn’t get the impression this was an intentional character flaw of Grace’s.  It felt like a writer’s near-cliche that “well, someone has to have issues, so let’s have Grace say this person has problems.  The audience will believe it.”  It cropped up at the most emotionally tense times and popped me out of the story.  That was unfortunate.

Otherwise, I thought this was a really cute story.  I’ve even gone back and reread a few of the more emotionally charged scenes I enjoyed.

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else

First Lines: I was switched at birth.  Ok, not really.  I just like saying that.  I like how it sounds, how it makes me smile, and how it irritates my mother, who pretends with a laugh to find it amusing.

This was on my to-read list for a few years, and I always wanted to read it.  It sounded cute and fresh and…well, a heck of a lot lighter than all the Holocaust books I’ve been reading lately.

Eighteen-year-old Bronwen must have been switched at birth.  It’s the only way to explain how she’s nothing like her mother, her brother’s small personality complex, and her stepfather’s distance.  Because if Bronwen belongs to another family (a family she has named the Lilywhites), then Bronwen will be ok.  Then she meets Jared Sondervan.  He’s sweet, cute, and has the family Bronwen has always wanted.  She falls in love and when he proposes marriage, she accepts.  But is she really what Jared needs?  If not, what should she do?  What would a Lilywhite do?

I thought the plot of this sounded super unique.  There aren’t many books I’ve come across that deal with high school engagements.  Bronwen is still a senior when she gets engaged.  But the whole tone of the story felt unique in some way.  Maybe it partly had to do with Bronwen’s obsession that she was switched at birth, or it was just her voice.  I can’t tell.  Still, it felt different even though it dealt with the usual themes of family, acceptance, and following your heart.

What was most surprising was how spot-on this was in representing a first love.  It had every step of it, from the overwhelming happiness to the surety that this would last forever to the slowly nagging doubts that maybe this isn’t happily ever after after all.  I loved that.  A lot of books do the break-up and the hopeless pining, but this was different.  Bronwen is trying to do what’s best for herself and for Jared, which may or may not end with a happy ending (I’m not telling!).  It’s like life in that there is no guarantee that things are going to work out in the end.  I enjoyed the story’s honesty in that respect.

But I didn’t necessarily like Bronwen.  As a character in this story, she was just fine.  She fit in with the other weird characters in her family.  She’s just so sure that she isn’t part of her family that she doesn’t even try anymore.  That frustrated me because I am such a family-oriented person.  I didn’t know what to think of her for a long time.

I did love the character quirks, though, in all the characters.  Oh my gosh.  I swear a couple of times that the author must have spied on my family and just changed our names.  I love quirky families.  There was never a dull moment.

It was an interesting story, especially for a debut novel.  While it had a few rough patches, it was cute and hit on less talked-about subjects.

Isla and the Happily Ever After (Anna and the French Kiss, #3)

First Lines: It’s midnight, it’s sweltering, and I might be high on Vicodin, but that guy–that guy right over there–that’s him.  The him.

In place of a Spotlight, I thought I would post my latest review in honor of Valentine’s Day!  (I know, Spotlights are awesome, but aren’t you interested in Isla too?)  You’d think that for as much as I loved Anna and the French Kiss that I’d just be chomping at the bit to read this, but I was a little nervous, given how I liked Lola, but it wasn’t quite what I’d hoped.

Ever since their first year at the School of America in Paris, the ever romantic at heart Isla has had a crush on cartoonist Josh.  After a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer holiday, it seems like romance could be closer than Isla could’ve ever hoped.  But their senior year back in Paris is full of struggles including family issue, uncertainty about college and the future, and the very real possibility of being apart.  Can Isla ever have her happily ever after?

Someone please tell me why I ever doubted Stephanie Perkins to pull through with this.  I mean really, what was I thinking?

The story does start off a little strange, as Isla is pretty loopy on her pain meds (I’ll leave the circumstances a mystery for those who haven’t read it yet).  But strange as it was, it was cute.  Isla and Josh are incredibly awkward around each other, and those pain meds were just the thing to help Isla relax around him.  I loved that they were so awkward with each other.  It was adorable how Isla thought half of the stuff that came out of her mouth was stupid.  It made her and Josh feel relatable, real, and endearing.  I always want to take awkward people under my wing.

And it’s not total fluff.  It does tackle tough subjects.  Both Josh and Isla have family issues to sort through.  Isla doesn’t know what she’s going to do after she graduates, which lots of people deal with all of the time.  And they have to find out if they want a long distance relationship (because let’s face it, those suck) and if their relationship is even worth saving when things go bad.  That’s tough stuff for any age, not just 17.

Something I both liked and disliked about the book was how insecure Isla was.  I didn’t mind it in Isla.  It was sort of endearing how she wasn’t sure about much.  It gave her room to grow.  What I didn’t like so much was how easily that evoked my insecurities.  Talk about a mood buster.  I walked around for the rest of the night feeling just as insecure as Isla.

As a gentle warning to those who might want to read this, it is a bit more mature than I was thinking it was.  There was a lot of language early in the book as well as some…romantic scenes.  Just as a heads up.

I thought the story was cute and romantic while still managing to be touching and serious when it needed to be.