Once and For All

Once and for All

First Lines: Well, this was a first. “Deborah?” I said as I knocked softly, yet still with enough intensity to convey the proper urgency, on the door. “It’s Louna. Can I help you with anything?”

Like many of us here, I really like Sarah Dessen’s writing. But this book was the one that had escaped me for a long time. I’m not totally sure why I didn’t read it when it came out, but I didn’t. And then it just kept getting forgotten and before I knew it, years had gone by. Finally, I had to read it.

Louna’s mom is kind of famous. Natalie Barrett, her mom, is a famed wedding planner who can plan weddings at any venue and make it exactly what the bride wants. And maybe because she watched so many of these happily-ever-afters fall apart months or years after the weddings, Louna is pretty cynical about love. It doesn’t help that her first love ended tragically. So when Louna meets Ambrose, a happy-go-lucky serial dater, she doesn’t want much of anything to do with him. But Ambrose isn’t discouraged, now that he’s found the girl he really wants.

Why did no one warn me this book was going to tear my heart out?

Louna’s mother has a wedding planning business, which has made Louna more than a little cynical about her own love life. I mean, when you see so many weddings fail after a few years, well, it definitely makes it difficult to believe in Happily Ever After. So meeting Ambrose certainly doesn’t change that. He’s a one-night-stand type, a guy who can always find someone for a date even if he was stranded on a desert island. Like, he’s that charming.

I liked Louna and Ambrose. As characters, I liked them individually and as a potential couple. Louna’s cynicism is balanced by Ambrose’s positivity for just about anything. Ambrose certainly gets on Louna’s nerves (and mine at times), but he has a good heart. I did think that their chemistry felt a bit weak, though, and it was sometimes hard to see why exactly Louna wanted to date him. But generally speaking, I really loved the characters.

Like any Dessen novel, it is only partially a love story. It’s also a story that is going to knock you back a few steps. It hit me harder than I was anticipating. There are always serious topics that get juggled in these books, but this one was darker than Dessen has gone in a while. It’s real, though, and very relevant. That’s why it was tough. And I wasn’t expecting this particular twist, so I didn’t have the chance to mentally prep for it.

I really enjoyed this. It’s a solid read with great characters (especially some quirky ones) and a cute look at what it means to be in love

Hearts Made For Breaking

Hearts Made for Breaking

First Lines: Yesterday, my heart was “broken,” which is why today I’m sitting on a glossy but practical daybed with hidden drawers for extra storage. The mattress is firm, the spread is a bright floral pattern, and the throw pillows are wide and comfortable. Yep–IKEA on a Saturday morning. That’s me.

I’m a sucker for love stories. If there’s a moderately interesting plot idea there, I’ll probably read it. I think this comes from the side of my brain that is really fascinated by sociology/psychology, but I will also admit to just really loving the emotions in these stories. I’ve read one of Klein’s other books and this one sounded kind of fun, so I wanted to check it out.

Lark has a foolproof plan for dating in high school: date the guy briefly, let him down gently, stay friends, move on. No hurt feelings. Her BFFs Cooper and Kate think Lark keeps guys at a distance to avoid being hurt–and feeling real love. They challenge her to change up her system, to stay in a relationship long enough for either her or the boy to fall in love. Accepting the dare, Lark sets her sights on the new boy, Ardy, who has been labeled as “undateable.” Lark is curious about him…and then intrigued the more she gets to know him. Before Lark knows it, she might be in love with him–but whose heart will be broken?

So let’s be real, I knew going into this exactly what it was going to be: a simple love story that wasn’t going to win any awards but would probably still be pretty cute.

And that’s pretty much what it was.

Lark has “dated” a lot of guys–or at least she’s made out with them. She always keeps it casual and then finds ways for the guy to break up with her. Voila, no one has a broken heart. But her friends are tired of seeing her do this over and over, so they tell her she needs to find a different kind of guy, date for 3 months, and then have an Epic Breakup. Enter the “Undatable” Ardy Tate.

Ardy is definitely the heart of this story, despite the fact that Lark and her friends spend so much time kind of doubting/trashing him. I thought Ardy was just incredibly sweet and honest and yeah, a little weird, but that made him cute and quirky. The way Lark shines when she’s with him just helps to highlight how awesome he is.

Lark, on the other hand, takes a little getting used to. She spends so much time putting up a perfect façade that very few people every really get to know her. And she’s kind of manipulative, the way she’s dealt with guys before. And she tends to be pretty self-centered, not caring how her words or actions could hurt someone else. But Ardy seems to have had a big effect on her and by the middle of the book, I started to like her more.

There are some good messages in this, which I appreciated and liked. The most obvious of which is that you shouldn’t judge someone before you get to know them, as every judged Ardy based on a few stupid rumors.

The story itself was pretty entertaining. The beginning did take some time to really get going, but by the time I was about halfway through the book, I was reading for long stretches at a time to see how it all continued to play out. I like when that happens.

It’s a pretty average teenage love story, but if that’s your jam, this can be a fun read.

Lucky Caller

Lucky Caller

First Lines: It was Christmas, and Dan was in the middle of proposing to my mom when there was a knock at the door.

So I love me some Emma Mills. She writes some of the most interesting, cute, and meaningful stories that I’ve read in a while. Like, she’s up there with Morgan Matson and Sarah Dessen as far as depth and interest. So this was an easy call to read this. (But was I lucky? Hm…)

Nina is expecting her radio broadcasting class to be an easy A. That’s what everyone says it is, anyway. But when her broadcasting group of four misfits teams up, it quickly becomes clear this is going to be a disaster. They have nothing in common and, even worse, Nina’s estranged childhood best friend, Jamie, is in the group. Cue the horrible awkwardness. The show is a train wreck, internet fandoms could bring them down, and Nina’s home life is in turmoil. Everything is spiraling out of control. But…can everything still turn out ok anyway?

What I always love about Emma Mills’s stories is how real they feel while still being light and funny. Taking place in my home state (in locations that I’m familiar with) is an added bonus I’m starting to find with her work.

In this story, we’re introduced to Nina and Jamie. They grew up together, but as they started high school, they started to drift apart. Now, as seniors in their last semester at school, they’re forced to work together in a radio class as part of a group of four. Each character definitely has a lot of personality and I liked seeing Jamie’s constant vulnerability contrasted with Nina’s closed emotions. It’s not a dynamic I usually see and I really liked the reversal.

The plot is interesting as well. Each group in this radio class needs to produce their own radio broadcast through the school’s radio station. Seeing all four of them grow into their roles in this group was really cool and sweet. Joydeep is hilarious and Sasha is the responsibility that they needed to even Joydeep’s impulses out. The story is also written sometimes as transcripts of radio “links,” or the talking they do between songs. Those were really entertaining as well.

It’s hard to tell right now if this is a super memorable story that I’m going to be thinking about in the future or if it’s just another quick, cute read. I mean, it’s definitely the latter, but I think it has elements of the former as well. There was a brief reference in this book to another of Mills’s books and I immediately caught it…which says something for its memorability. I think this does actually have a lot of depth to it, so it could stand the test of time pretty well.

Sweet. Fun. I laughed a lot reading this and also maybe cried once. It’s good.

Four Days of You and Me

Four Days of You and Me

First Lines: It’s six in the morning and the sun is barely up, but I’m wide awake. Normally I hit snooze four or five times before climbing out of bed. This morning? I didn’t push it once. Today is the annual class field trip, and I am determined to have a real conversation with Jonah.

Miranda Kenneally has been a lock for me for a while now. I can always count on her books being cute while still sometimes being big hitters. (Am I mixing metaphors?) Anyway, I was excited to see what her first foray outside of Hundred Oaks would bring.

Every May 7th, students at Coffee County High School go on a class trip. And each year, Lulu’s and Alex’s relationship gets a little more complicated. From sworn enemies to more than friends after getting locked in an escape room, Lulu can’t seem to give Alex up. Through break ups, make ups, and dating other people, Lulu’s and Alex’s lives keep intersecting. As they journey from a science museum to an amusement park, from New York to London, they might discover that love is the greatest journey of all.

I really enjoyed this book. I love the premise. We get to see Alex and Lulu on the same day every year as they go through high school because their school does a field trip every May. We see their relationship grow and change. We also get snippets of what happens during other parts of the year as well, like Homecoming dances and over the summer. But the bulk of the time is spent on those class trips and that really is where the magic is.

I thought for the most part that Alex and Lulu were very realistic characters. Lulu is an artist, an advocate pushing for the world to be a better place, and a girl who knows how to get what she wants. Alex is goofy, a driven baseball player, and kind-hearted. I thought their relationship was also very realistic, even when things were bad. Maybe especially when things were bad because I’ve been in relationships where those arguments turn stupid and you’re just talking at each other instead of to each other. I feel like it’s very rare that we see that side of relationships in YA, so I appreciated that in this book.

I think maybe some people don’t like this book because it can be a little ridiculous or over the top at times, but I thought that just added to the charm. It’s about as over the top as any rom-com is, with worst-case-scenario things happening to characters for a laugh. It is what it is and I thought it made the book more fun.

I enjoyed this. I mean, you know what you’re getting with a book like this: a cute romance with characters that are sweet but aren’t too complex and you get a few laughs along the way.

Coming Up For Air (Hundred Oaks, #8)

Coming Up for Air by Miranda Kenneally

First Lines: When I’m not in the pool, I’m counting the minutes until I can dive back in, so most of the time my bushy, light-brown hair is wet and reeks of chlorine. This is the story of my life.

After reading a few heavier books in a row (specifically lots of fantasy), I needed a palate cleanser. I needed a simple story with lovable characters and I knew Miranda Kenneally was the way to go. (Also, don’t let the fact that this is the 8th book in a series fool you–they’re more like loosely connected stories that happen to take place in the same town.)

All of Maggie’s focus should be on swimming. As a senior in high school, she’s got a swimming scholarship lined up already, but what she doesn’t have is an Olympic tryout yet. Her best friend, Levi, does, though. He’s her biggest cheerleader, so she’s not mad about that, but it’s just more pressure. When Maggie goes on a college visit, though, she suddenly realizes how much of the “normal” high school experience she’s been missing out on by being in the pool. And it’s time to change that. So, first up is making out with a guy. Unfortunately, the only available guy that she trusts is, well, Levi. On one hand, it’s perfect: they already spend tons of time together and are comfortable with each other. But as Maggie begins falling for her best friend, she needs to decide what’s worth sacrificing to make things work.

Ok, this was cute. I’ve read all the books in this series over the years and I have absolutely adored that they focus so heavily on girls playing different sports, from football to horse racing to running to swimming. I think there’s a real lack of athletic girls in YA contemp, so this series is amazing.

This story is definitely one of the racier books in the series (and I don’t mean that in an athletic way), but it kind of worked? It was done in a way that felt authentic and interesting rather than just explicit. And it found the humor in it, which I think helped a lot too. I really enjoyed the humor. But yeah, maybe don’t hand this to a twelve-year-old?

Maggie and Levi are interesting characters. They’re both so dedicated to their sport and Maggie doesn’t really mind at all that she spends so many hours swimming. She loves it. She just wishes that, like her other friends, she could make out with boys and maybe go to a dance or something sometimes. She’s maybe not as deep of a character as I was hoping, but still cute. And Levi was a good counterbalance to Maggie and a loyal friend. The dynamic between the two was great.

I like Kenneally’s stories because I think they’re relatable and cute and light. And it’s so good to see some of the old characters come back in this book, especially Jordan. 

The Half-Life of Planets

The Half-Life of Planets by Emily Franklin

First Lines: I am not a slut. Evidence exists that is contrary to this statement, but this is what I’m thinking in the hospital bathroom.

Another day, another book where I go, “Great, that’s really the first line I have to talk about?” My knowledge of this book goes way back to 2010. Oh yeah. I saw this on a shelf at a Barnes & Noble, I think and it looked interesting. Years later, I found a copy at a used book sale for super cheap and picked it up, thinking worst case I could take it to school for my classroom library.

Liana wants to be an astrophysicist only slightly more than she wants to kiss boys this summer. When she’s not in the lab looking at stars, she wants to be at parties or fairs or the dock hanging out with people–namely guys. What she doesn’t count on is meeting Hank. Hank’s funny and smart and a lot awkward, but in a cute way. Hank is spending his summer working at a guitar shop in hopes of earning enough money to buy a Fender Jazzmaster. Oh, and Hank has Asperger’s Syndrome. Neither was prepared for how their lives would change.

I loved the idea of showing representation with a main character on the Autism Spectrum. And I certainly wasn’t going to turn down a book about music.

But the execution was…ok, like the whole book was melodramatic to an extreme. I couldn’t even keep my sarcasm out of the book description, if you noticed.

When we first are introduced to Liana, she’s just found a note in her locker that labels her as a “slut.” So that keeps coming up over and over and over and over in the book because she’s now decided to stop kissing boys for the whole summer to prove that she’s not one. (It’s never very clear how this is supposed to help.) Her family virtually never communicates about anything real anymore, which (while realistic in some families) just added to the overall melodrama and miscommunications.

As for Hank…ok, I’ve had many autistic students in my classes over the years on varying ends of the spectrum. While Hank is not on the highest functioning end of the spectrum, he’s definitely closer to that end than the middle. He doesn’t pick up well on social cues, but he generally knows how people are “supposed” to act in a certain moment–he just doesn’t understand why. That part–and his fixation on music–were more or less accurate.

What bothered me the most about Hank is the fact that he is constantly thinking to himself about his physical…reactions…to Liana. I cannot say I have ever been in a teenage boy’s head (nor would I ever want to be), but I showed some of these passages to my boyfriend, who also commented that this was weird. Hank is constantly staring at Liana’s…chest…or commenting on his…desires. Never to Liana. Like I said, he knows enough to know that would make Liana uncomfortable, but as a reader it was highly uncomfortable for me. It’s one of the more explicit YA books I’ve read in a long time.

I actually rather enjoyed the book at the beginning, but it was hard to keep that momentum going when everything felt like a sad soap opera. I mean, the big “plot twist” at the end had me rolling my eyes and thinking about putting the book down–except I only had about 20 pages left.

Such a weird book. I had higher hopes than this.