“Dare You To”—A Book Review

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Dare You To by Katie McGarry (the spin off book from Pushing the Limits) is another mind blowing story. I’m telling you, people, don’t let the raunchy covers fool you. These books are deep.

Beth’s mom is a drunk and her boyfriend beats her (and Beth) at any available opportunity. In a drunken rage, her mom decides to bust out the windows of the no-good-girlfriend-beater-drug-abuser’s car. When the cops arrive, Beth has no choice but to take the blame for it, otherwise her mom will go to jail for violating probation. While in jail, Beth is faced with an ultimatum: Move in with her uncle (newly back in town) and live life on the straight and narrow, or he will turn her mom in to the police for horrors imaginable and her mom will go to jail.

Ryan is as straight-laced as they come. Town golden boy, he is looking at possibly going pro as soon as he graduates high school. On the outside, looking in, his life is perfect. Behind closed doors, his family hides hurtful secrets.

When Ryan first sees Beth, he asks her out on a dare (the one thing Ryan can never refuse…he doesn’t lose). When Beth shows up at school the following week, Ryan can’t help but try to regain the win and score a date with her. Little does he know, there is much more hiding underneath the surface of her skater-girl, emo, looks.

Will Beth help Ryan to finally see want he really wants out of life and give him the courage to go after it? And will Ryan help Beth to see that she isn’t her mom, nor is her mom her responsibility?

Told in alternate narratives from two teens, this story is sure to tug at your heart strings and remind you to be thankful for what you have, and to fight like hell for what you want.

Five out of five stars! Can’t wait for the next book by this fabulous author!

“The Sweet Dead Life”—A Book Review

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The Sweet Dead Life by Joy Preble is a “YA mystery,” but I definitely feel this one is geared more toward middle schoolers (even if it does drop the “F Bomb” a few times).

Jenna’s dad disappeared when she was nine, her brother smokes too much pot, and her mom has basically checked out. But what’s even worse? Jenna is pretty sure that she is dying. She pukes too much, has weird headaches, passes out at random, and has bright green pee.

One fateful night, as Jenna’s brother Casey rushes her to the ER after she collapses, he ends up crashing their tiny Prius. When Jenna finally comes to in the hospital, she discovers two things: 1) Someone has been poisoning her beloved boots that she wears every single day. 2) Her brother looks good. Too good. The stoner gut and greasy hair have miraculously been replaced by rock hard abs and perfect movie star waves. 

With Jenna’s brother sent back to Earth to be her guardian angel, the sibling duo band together to solve not one, but two mysteries: who has been poisoning Jenna (and possibly her mother, too) and what happened to her dad all those years ago? Did he really leave them, or was something more sinister at play?

This book definitely had some great snark, but all in all I feel it was a little lack luster. Perhaps this is because the main character is in eighth grade, but the whole time I just kept thinking what idiots they were. The mystery really wasn’t all that mysterious, and the book read really slow. It took me a week to finish, because I just wasn’t interested :\

I give this tale 2 out of 5 stars.

“Pretty Face”—A Book Review

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Pretty Face by Mary Hogan was a quick read that offered a lot of insight into not only how we view the world, but how the world views us versus how we view ourselves.

Hayley tragically lives in Santa Monica, where blonde, tanned, and toned people are aplenty. Hayley’s mom is constantly hounding her about her weight and what she is eating at every possible second. Thus, to Hayley, bikinis are basically a form a torture.

Living in a place where narcissism is a way of life, Hayley’s jumps at the opportunity when her mom offers her the chance to go to Umbria (a small town in Italy) to stay with a family friend. No more of her mom breathing down her back every time she takes a bite of something and no more guy crushes telling her what a great friend she is. This is a chance for Hayley to get away and reinvent herself. On the plane, she vows that she will eat less than a thousand calories a day and will lose thirty pounds by the time she returns home.

However, when Hayley arrives in Italy, her game plan falters. Emerging herself in a totally different culture, can she learn that sometimes just slowing down and enjoying life can make you a better you?

“I’m on Italian time. Nothing is rushed; everything happens when it’s supposed to.”

Adjusting to Italian traditions like “riposo”, the time between 1-3pm where everything closes down and everyone goes home to enjoy lunch with their family, take a nap, or even make love, and learning to slow down and actually enjoy the taste of food, opposed to just shoveling it in her mouth, Hayley may just learn to love herself. And even better, she may even find a steamy Italian amore.

Using a witty teenage backdrop, this book really opens you eyes to how materialistic Americans are. All we think about is being thin (not necessarily healthy), and pushing that concept of “perfect” onto our children. Everyone in America is constantly “plugged in” and going a million miles a minute, never accomplishing enough. I was reminded that when all you do is berate yourself for having that scoop of ice cream, or scramble around to get a gazillion things done at once, you end up make yourself a pretty miserable person. If we could learn to slow down a little bit, enjoy the scenery, our food, and the company of others, we could be so much happier not only as individuals, but as a society.

And in regards to overweight people “eating their feelings”, I’ve mentioned this issue in another review for the book Butter by Erin Jade Lange, and maybe I’m just an insensitive asshole, but it really pisses me off. If you are hiding what you are eating and how much you are eating, you obviously feel ashamed about it. If you are feeling embarrassed or guilty about the amount of crap food you consume (without even tasting most of it, I might add…just shoveling it in faster than you can breathe), obviously there is something wrong with the situation. For example, in this scene at the beginning of the book, Hayley orders a giant pizza and coke to be consumed by her, and only her, she tries to play it off as if she is ordering for a whole gob of people, only to later hide from curious/disgusted eyes to consume everything.

“Intellectually, I know the counter guy doesn’t care who I am or how many people will be eating this pizza. Emotionally, though, I can’t bear for him to know the truth. I can’t even stand to know the truth myself.”

If you are upset by your appearance, and you know you are partaking in unhealthy habits, then fix it. It is in your power to make positive choices and take control of your life and body. I’m not saying everyone should be a size 4, quite the opposite. Most people are not naturally thin and are not capable of being that thin. Everyone’s body is different. But being healthy (exercising) and choosing healthy eating habits can go a long way. And no, it’s not fair that some people can eat whatever they want, never exercise, and stay rail thin, but that’s life. Get over it.

Sorry for the brief rant! All in all, I give this insightful little tale 4 out of 5 stars!

*Warning: This book will make you want to drink wine, eat amazing food, and book a trip to Italy!

“Everything Beautiful”—A Book Review

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Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell was a quick, semi-thoughtful, read…a perfect book for those summertime lazy days.

Riley’s mom passed away a few years ago from cancer. She and her dad moved to a new town, and not too long after he found Jesus started “seriously” seeing a new woman. The new woman decides (and convinces her dad of the same) that while they go on vacation, Riley should attend Sprit Ranch, a Christian camp—to help Riley find God and straighten out her smart mouth ways.

Naturally, Riley arrives at Spirit Ranch completely hostile and ready to mouth off to every Jesus-loving-freak that attends this ridiculous camp. So, of course, everybody is immediately put off by this chubby violet-haired pessimistic girl and starts with the fat jokes, doing everything possible to exclude her from camp games.

Dylan is back at Sprit Ranch, but this summer is different. Now Dylan is in a wheelchair, legs paralyzed. No longer the hunky athlete he once was, everyone treats him differently too, not knowing exactly how to interact with him any longer. Likewise, Dylan now treats life, and everyone in it, like an inconvenience and a waste of time.

Will Riley and Dylan find camaraderie in each other, being the camp outcasts? Or are both too pissed at life to even try to be anything other than bitter and cynical?

This short, summer read was semi-insightful and thought provoking. While it wasn’t one of those novels that left you thinking about some deep profound message for days afterward, it definitely made me at least go, “hmmm.” It definitely reminds you that regardless of the situation you are entering in, if you go into it with your walls up, people are less likely to befriend you. As scary as it is and as vulnerable as it can make you feel, sometimes you have to lower the barriers just a little bit in order to gain something pretty fantastic in return.

Three out of five stars.  

“Being Henry David”—A Book Review

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Being Henry David by Cal Armistead is a remarkable tale, to say the least! This coming-of-age novel asks the difficult question most of us have trouble answering:  Who am I?

“Hank” is a teenage boy that wakes up at Penn Station with no recollection of who he is or how he got there. He has absolutely no memories from his past—his mind a completely blank slate. Hanks only possessions are the clothes he is wearing, a crumpled up ten dollar bill in his pocket, and a beat up copy of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

“Absolutely nothing in my life is familiar, and it’s like standing on the edge of a cliff every damn minute, rocks crumbling under my feet.”

With the worn out paperback as his only lead, Hank heads out for the most sensible destination, Walden Pond in Concord Massachusetts. Hopefully the serenity and simplicity of “going back to the basics” will help jog his memory of who he is and where he comes from. But the question is, does he really want to know about his past demons?   

“There’s a black beast inside me that doesn’t want me to know stuff. It guards my memory, clawing at my insides and going for my throat if I get too close.”

Finding friends and a sense of safety in the most unlikely places and faces, Henry must learn to face his past and unlock his memories without shattering himself in the process.

All I can say about Being Henry David is “wow”.  I literally could not put this book down. Though provoking and insightful, this novel challenges you to look inside yourself and challenge yourself to face your own demons.

Five out of five stars! I look forward to any future novels from Cal Armistead

“This is W.A.R.”—A Book Review

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This is W.A.R. by Lisa Roecker and Laura Roecker was an intriguing tale about murder and retaliation.

The novel starts off from the prospective a young girl drowning— fighting for her life, but failing.

“Willa Ames-Rowan never gave up and welcomed death. Willa Ames-Rowan simply died.”

All of the members of the Hawthorne Lake Country Club witness the police pulling the lifeless, blue-lipped, body of teenage Will Ames-Rowan from the moonlit waters of the club. Many individuals are interviewed by the police. And even though several people saw club heir, James Gregory, ride off in a motorboat with Willa and return alone, no dare says anything. Because when nothing else will, money speaks volumes.

 “Esteemed members of the Hawthorne Lake Country Club handled the tragedy much like they handled rare bone cancers and childhood diseases with no cure: they threw money at it.”

Four teenage girls are completely outraged that the Captain (the owner of the Hawthorne Lakes Country Club) thinks he can help his grandson get away with murder by paying off everyone involved. Thus, they decided to take matters into their own hands. For these four girls, a safety deposit box containing $75,000 in cash, an overwhelming since of guilt, and a striving need for vengeance translates to three little words. This is war.

Told in alternating narratives, this book gives insight into the lives of the rich, the not-so-rich, and the burden overbearing parents can cause. Though you think you can know someone by their social status, their grades, or their appearance, this definitely isn’t so.

Overall, I would give this book three out of five stars. It wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t horrible either. It kept me intrigued enough to keep reading to see if the girls’ plans would work and if justice would finally be served.

“Pushing the Limits”—A Book Review

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Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry is deceptively deep and raw. From the somewhat raunchy cover and generic summary on the back of the book, I thought this novel would be some cheesy, but entertaining, love story. I was SO wrong. So here’s what the book is really about:

Echo used to be popular. She had all the right friends, impressive extracurricular activities, the perfect sports star boyfriend. But her entire high school status was changed by the tragic events on one life-shattering night. It wasn’t bad enough that she lost her brother due to the war in Afghanistan, but on top of that she now has hideous scars claiming the skin of her arms and has no idea how they got there. Her body has repressed the memories of what took place that night to keep her fragile mind safe.  All she knows is that rumors fly fast in furious in the high school social world and that there is a restraining order in place against her bipolar mother.

Like Echo, Noah used to have it all, the right friends, a fierce and promising future in basketball, and a loving family. But after a fire claimed the lives of his parents and the system took his little brothers away, life doesn’t look so hopeful to Noah. Being unjustly bounced from three different foster homes has caused Noah to feel downtrodden and hopeless. To cope, he smokes copious amounts of weed, hangs out with corrupt foster siblings, and screws any girl willing to ride that train for a night.

With some manipulation on the part of their new guidance counselor/social worker, Echo gets conned into tutoring Noah. The result? Maybe they aren’t so different after all. Both carry scars (physically and emotionally) and both have lost their families (Noah by a jacked up system, Echo due to an unstable mother and a controlling father who thinks a new wife and baby-on-the-way is the way to accomplish normalcy).

 

“My parents died. I got screwed by a system supposedly in place to protect me. Echo…Echo was betrayed by the person who should have laid down her life to protect her.”

 

Told in alternating points of view, this novel shows you that sometimes love means making the choice to do what’s best for someone else instead being selfish and choosing what’s best for you. We all have problems we must face throughout life (some people have problems that prove more difficult than others, but sometimes that’s just the hand that life deals out). This story helped me to remember that sometimes it’s hard to not get so wrapped up in your own head and problems and that unwittingly this can often blind you to the point that you don’t even realize how selfish you are being.

“I missed knowing that someone loved me, I realized I missed loving someone in return.”

I give this surprisingly insightful tale five out of five stars. I will definitely be reading more of Katie McGarry’s books.