“This is What Happy Looks Like”—A Book Review

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This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith is a cute coming-of-age book…sort of. Not quite as awesome as her first novel, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, but still an enjoyable read.

Perchance, two teenagers start swapping emails due to a small typo in the “send to” email address. Knowing nothing about the other originally, other than the fact that they both have a pet and have read Charlotte’s Web, the witty banter flows much too easily.

After a smidge of investigating from context clues gathered, the original sender discovers where his Internet Pen Pal lives. And because he just so happens to be no other than Graham Larkin (teen celebrity heartthrob), he pulls some strings and gets the production of his newest movie moved to small town Main.

Upon discovering that her mystery guy friend is insanely famous, Ellie wasn’t quite sure how to handle the news. Not one drawn to spotlight and drama, Ellie pulls away. But she can’t help how Graham makes her feel…the real Graham (the boy she spent several hours a day writing to), not Graham Larkin the movie star.

Figuring out what we think is important in life and what is truly important can be a hard truth to wrap your head around. A lot of the time, overcoming our own fear and learning to lower our personal self-preserving safety net is a difficult feat, indeed.

A pretty cute coming-of-age novel, with some pretty deep self-examination thrown in (not to mention coming to the realization that the whole world doesn’t revolve around you, no matter who you are, and you have absolutely no way of knowing exactly what other people are thinking, unless you happen to be telepathic), I would say This is What Happy Looks Like was worth the read. Three out of five stars!

 

“All that was left was the boy with a smile that seemed intended only for her”

“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.

“My Secret Ingredient”—A Book Review

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“When you’re a kid everything is a fairy tale, or they lead you to believe that by the books they give you…Then you realize life is, well, screwed up beyond belief.”

 

The Secret Ingredient by Stewart Lewis is a tender coming-of-age tale amidst a very contemporary lifestyle setting.

Olivia has always been a shy, careful teenager. Her mother gave her up for adoption when she was two days old, resulting in her being raised by two amazing dads. Bell owns a restaurant and is like a pal to Olivia, Enrique has always been a very nurturing soul, and her older (also adopted) brother, Jeremy, is always getting himself into crazy messes by following very impractical dreams.

But this is a summer for taking chances and transformations. Olivia meets a psychic on an elevator, who tells her that this is a summer for change. Normally not superstitious at all, Olivia begins to take chances and make changes in her life, finding bits and pieces of herself along the way.

For some reason Olivia suddenly feels an overwhelming lack of a mother in her life and decides to seek out her birth mother at long last. She also begins to see her screwed up, unconventional, mess of a family in a brand new light, causing her appreciation for them grow exponentially. Out of nowhere, a long lost (potential) boyfriend suddenly reappears from out of nowhere, seeking Olivia’s forgiveness and attention. A dear friend is blindsided heart breaking news. And by complete happenstance, Olivia stumbles across an old cookbook from the 1960’s in which a woman co-used as a journal. While following recipes, she also catches glimpses into this woman’s life, making up the rest to fill in the gaps, leading her to make her own bold decisions.

Throughout this soul searching novel, in Olivia’s attempt to find the secret ingredient for her life (for all good cooks’ recipes contain a secret ingredient) she might just discover that it’s been there all along.

I give this heartfelt book four out of five stars.

“Nantucket Blue”—A Book Review

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Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland is the most absolute perfect beach read if you are looking for something a little thought provoking. Fans of Jenny Han’s The Summer I turned Pretty trilogy are sure to love this title.

Cricket Thompson is ready to have the summer of her life in Nantucket, staying with her best friend in the world, Jules. But right before the trip, Jules’ family suffers a tragedy and Cricket finds herself uninvited to stay with them.

But Cricket is determined—determined that Jules needs her this summer more than ever, and determined that this is the summer she will make her long-time crush, Jay, hers. Thus, Cricket gets a job as a maid at an inn on the island…not quite what she had in mind, but better than stuck at home all summer babysitting a snotty kid.

The thing is, life doesn’t always go how you planned it. Jules is dealing with her own sadness and decides not to be Cricket’s friend and is pissed that Cricket showed up in Nantucket.

“It didn’t matter how good my grades were or that I’d made varsity as a freshman; it didn’t matter how carefully, how perfectly, I’d managed my popularity; it didn’t matter that I’d measured an doled out my flirtations like teaspoons of sugar—never too much to be a tease, always enough to be sweet. Jules was able to take my happiness away from me with one swift betrayal. My social life had slid from good to bad like a hockey puck across a rink. It wasn’t fair. I wanted to take her to friend court.”

Now Cricket finds herself stuck on this island for the summer, scrubbing toilets and making beds, and without a best friend. While surrounded by rich hoity-toity islanders, Cricket must learn to lead her own life and stop wishing for things that are outside of her current grasp.

 “I was wishing I were that kind of rich, the kind where people have to respect you, because that’s what money does. It makes people shut up. It means you live in the big house, throw the cool birthday parties, belong to the country club that has its own jokes, its own dances; take awesome vacations, go skiing enough to get really good at it, own the best clothes, get the green dress.”

Ultimately, this is a summer for Cricket to find herself and to find love in the most unexpected place.

“The only opinion that should matter to me was that of the girl in the mirror. For the first time it felt true. It didn’t matter what other people thought of me; it mattered what I thought of me. I’m not sure why it was at that moment that it finally sank in, except that maybe this is how wisdom works sometimes. You hear it, and some extra-smart part of your brain that you don’t even realize you have grabs it. It stays there, hidden away, until it’s needed.”

This novel kept me turning pages from the very start. I simply couldn’t put it down. Five out of five stars for this brilliant debut!

“Unbreak my Heart”—A Book Review

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Unbreak my Heart by Melissa Walker was a fast, but thoughtful summer read.

Clementine is going to be stuck on a sail boat all summer with her parents and older-than-her years little sister, Olive. Normally the thought of losing an entire summer away from civilization (and internet) would make Clem squirm and possibly pitch a total bitch fit. But not this summer—this summer she can’t wait to get away.

At the end of Clementine’s sophomore year, she has no friends. She is in exile. She is a horrible person. She deserves to be completely miserable. Or so she thinks, anyway.

Throughout the progression of this coming-of-age novel, Clementine is battling some serious internal turmoil and self-deprecation. As the novel starts, all you know is that Clem somehow screwed up and now her best friend (since forever) hates her. When they first embark on their month-long sailing trip, Clem constantly locks herself in her small bedroom cabin, crying, listening to sad playlists, writing in her journal, basically just wallowing in self-loathing.

“Just because the tears have mostly dried up, it doesn’t mean I’m better.”

Clementine refuses to tell her family what happened during the school year, keeping her misery completely to herself, and only allowing readers glimpses of what unfolded during her sophomore year.

But as the summer sails on (pun intended), Clementine meets a happy-go-lucky redheaded guy, named James, who is embarking on the same sailing loop with his father. James and Clem end running into each other at almost every dock, and she can’t help but notice how happy James always is…it literally just radiates out of him.

After spending more and more time with James and learning about his not-so-easy past, Clem realizes that life is what you decide to make of it. Yes, sometimes it sucks, but bottling everything up and dwelling on it only makes it worse and makes you and everyone around you miserable. Sometimes you just have to let your feelings out and talk things through…often keeping things in and ruminating over the past make a situation seem a heck of a lot worse than it may actually be.

I give this quick summer read three out of five stars. It’s the perfect book for a lazy day and definitely has some thought provoking moments 🙂

“Second Chance Summer”—A Book Review

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Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson is one of those summer reads that sticks with you for many years to come.

Taylor has never felt “extraordinary,” growing up with a brilliant, scholarly older brother and an adorable younger sister who excels at dance. The one thing Taylor is good at? Running away when the world becomes too difficult to handle.

But this summer, she can’t escape.

Receiving the terrible news that her dad only has a few months left to live, her parents decide to spend one last summer together as a family in the lake house they haven’t been to since Taylor was twelve. That was the year her friendship with Lucy dissolved and she made a mess of things with a boy, Henry Crosby.

Stuck in close quarters with her family, having her childhood best friend live just across the lake, and having Henry live next door, Taylor has nowhere to run. She has no other option but to put on her big girl panties and confront life head on. Most importantly, she finally has to face the fact that her father is sick, and each breath he takes only takes him that much closer to leaving her behind.

“The thing is that people only get hurt—really hurt—when they’re trying to play it safe. That’s when people get injured, when they pull back at the last second because they’re scared. They hurt themselves and other people.”

I highly recommend this heartbreakingly beautiful coming-of-age novel that reminds us about love, hope, and the importance of family and second chances.

Five out of Five stars!

“Sleepaway Girls”—A Book Review

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Sleepaway Girls by Jen Calonita is an adorable and fun summer read!

Sam’s best friend has a boyfriend this summer, and Sam refuses to hang around all summer being the third wheel. So she decides to sign up to be a counselor-in-training at Whispering Pines summer camp in the New York Catskills.

Of course, what summer camp experience would be complete without the camp counselor “queen bee” who likes to give Sam hell, and a super hot crush she just can’t help but flirt with? Sam also makes friends with a group of counselor-in-training girls who label themselves “The Sleepaway Girls.” The girls have a blast all summer sneaking off and documenting their summer experiences to remember for a lifetime.

And then add to the summer experience, Cole: the playful guy who Sam becomes fast friends with.

This book was pretty much your typical mindless summer read, complete with a totally predictable plot, but it was still entertaining. I give it three out of five stars!

“The Symptoms of My Insanity”—A Book Review

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The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf…to be perfectly honest, I’m not totally sure what I thought about it.

This book starts out in the fashion of the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series by Louise Rennison. Thus, I began this novel with the mindset that it was going to be hilarious and have me laughing the whole way through. For example, when the story begins, the main character, Izzy, is in a fitting room at a lingerie store getting fitted for new bras, having already outgrown the ones she got at the start of the school year:

“Mom’s always saying how I look just like dad’s mom, Grandma Rose, when she was sixteen. She dug up and showed me an old picture of her and, she’s right, I do. Which wouldn’t be so bad except that now Grandma Rose is a four-foot-ten-inch-tall, eighty-three-year-old woman with gargantuan breasts that take over her entire bra-less body. Really, I should just bolt out of Lola’s Lingerie right now. What’s the point of spending money on bras when I’m going to end up a short, eighty-three-year-old woman with dangle boobs?”

Funny, right? And you get the impression right away that Izzy’s mom is one of those Stepford Moms that won’t be caught dead without her lip gloss applied and her hair perfect, expecting every girl in school to be perfect models of “young ladies.” So of course, she’s horrified when a rumor goes around school about a girl giving head in one of the bathroom stalls. To which Izzy (as follows with the humor at the start of the book) replies:

“Yes Mom, it’s true. All the girls at school pleasure boys in the bathroom stalls. How else are we supposed to get them to like us?”

But the thing is, I guess I felt like I was mislead into reading this novel. The “funny” wears off quickly and the book takes a dramatic turn. You soon find out that Izzy’s mom has a rare stomach cancer and because of this (and her mom not actually talking to her about her illness), Izzy is a bit of a hypochondriac. Anytime she feels even a little “off,” she automatically jumps to the conclusion that something is horribly wrong with her and that she has one of the diseases that she’s read about on the internet. Izzy’s hypochondria is so bad that several times she mistakes a simple panic attack for some life threatening illness.

“Why am I so dizzy? Why can’t I get in a good breath? I shuffle through what I know. Hypoglycemia? Lyme? Or no—oh, no. Breast lumps metastasizing? If I feel this sick, it has to be in advanced stages. Okay no, just relax, breathe. You can breathe.

Like I said, it stopped being funny pretty early on. There is a lot of school drama and some good heartfelt coming-of-age stuff, but because I felt falsely lead in to reading a comedy that isn’t really a comedy, I found myself not really wanting to read it anymore. I kind of had to make myself finish it.

All in all, I give this book 3 stars. It was a pretty decent book, I was just looking for something that this book was not.

“Twenty Boy Summer”—A Book Review

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Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler is a heart wrenchingly good summertime read.

Anna is headed to Zanzibar Bay with her best friend Frankie for the summer. The wild and daring Frankie is determined for Anna to finally have a summer romance and devises a plan that they meet and hang out with one boy each day.

Anna agrees to go along with Frankie’s crazy plan. But what she doesn’t tell her is that she’s already had a sizzling romance…with Frankie’s older brother Matt, who died a year ago. Matt promised he would tell Frankie about them, but died tragically before he had the chance. So for the past year, Anna has had to keep the dear memories of her and Matt’s steamy romance secret.

“But when you’re in the middle of being in love with someone, you just don’t stop to ask, ‘Matt, listen, if you die before you tell your sister about us, should I tell her?’”

Emotionally raw and honest, this novel deals with grief, tragedy, secrets, betrayal, family, steamy romance, and most importantly, learning how to move on and live again. I give this summer time read five out of five stars!