“That Time I Joined the Circus”—A Book Review

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That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard was a thoughtful tale that makes you take stock of the things around you.

Left with nothing, her father recently dead, her runaway mother being who-knows-where, Lexi is left with nothing but a bus ticket out of New York, a duffle bag’s worth of belongings, and word-of-mouth-hunch that her mother may or may not be with a traveling circus in Florida.

  When Lexi arrives at the Europa Circus in Florida and discovers her mother is not there, she is out of options. She has no money, no food, and no place to sleep. Taking pity on her, the Ringmaster offers Lexi a job, and crew quarters to sleep in.

Having no one in the world to count on or talk to (her old best friends in New York abandoned her), Lexi has no choice but to make the best out of a completely crappy situation. Learning to break out of her shell , Lexi makes true friends, has a shot at love, and learns that the word “home” doesn’t necessarily mean a building or a particular place, but rather, it can mean being with the people you love, no matter where you are geographically.

Told in back and forth present and past tense, this novel really makes you take a look at how you view and live life. Sometimes life is crappy, merely because we don’t have the guts to do anything to change it. And sometimes crappy things just happen, but how you react to it is entirely up to you.

I give this insightful story four out of five stars.

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“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!

“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!

“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!

“The Beautiful Between”—A Book Review

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The Beautiful Between by Alyssa B. Sheinmel is a beautifully told story.

Connelly’s dad died when she was two. Her mom won’t tell her how, and because of the icy response got when she was in third grade, she hasn’t asked again since. And ever since that night, her mom has been distant; the nightly ice cream in bed while watching TV snuggles have stopped. These two women just kind of coexist in the same high-rise apartment in the heart of glamorous NYC, having very little actual interaction with each other.

“My mother and I never fight. I can’t remember any major fights or childhood tantrums. She never assigned me a curfew and I never came home late until the other night, after Brent’s party, and then she didn’t ask where I’d been. We get along fine this way.”

And so, having lived this way since she was a little girl, Connelly developed a way of living that helped her cope with life and with the answers she doesn’t have—answers that don’t seem likely she will ever receive. Connelly views her entire life as a fairytale. After that fateful night, as a curious eight-year-old (when she made the wrong decision to ask her mother how her dad died), she created an imaginary fairy godmother to keep her company and to keep her safe. She lied to the kids at school and told them her parents were divorced to make up for the embarrassing lack of information she had about her dad.

And so, Connelly lives in her fairytale world, seeing high school as fairytale kingdom, where Jeremy Cole is the prince, and she is Rapunzel, locked away in a tower. These imaginary scenarios are how Connelly has gotten along for so long that when Jeremy Cole breaks into her life, offering to tutor her in Physics in exchange for SAT vocab help, she almost doesn’t know how to handle life anymore.

It isn’t until she and Jeremy start to become close friends and she sees the way Jeremy interacts with his close, loving family that Connelly even really starts to question her mother. She begins to truly wonder why she has kept any information regarding her dead father away from her for so long—making Connelly afraid to even ask about him.

“Maybe the witch thought she was protecting Rapunzel, not punishing her. Maybe she thought that if Rapunzel was locked away, no one could ever hurt her. Maybe the witch kept Rapunzel because she loved her, because she was scared that if other people could get to Rapunzel, they would hurt her. And maybe Rapunzel didn’t understand the witch; maybe she was angry at her—but maybe she loved her too.”

Over the semester, Connelly finds an unexpected best friend in the most popular boy in school. At first, she continues her fairytale analogies, wondering why the beloved prince would pay attention to the lowly peasant. But the truth soon reveals itself: Jeremy seeks solace in Connelly’s company and perhaps she is the only one that can help him find comfort.

As the duo spend more and more time together, Connelly finds herself living less in her fantasy world and more in the real world:

 “I’ve always fantasized about something or other before I could fall asleep, played a fairy tale in my head to entertain myself. But I haven’t for a while now.”

Stunningly narrated, this book reminds you how important communication is. Things that go unsaid can eat a person up inside. While fantasies can be great, even though it can be harsh at times, the real world is always a better place for truly living.

I give this quick, but thoughtful, coming-of-age story five out of five stars!

“13 Little Blue Envelopes” –A Book Review

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13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson is a sensational summer read! This quirky novel is sure to bring out the adventurous side in everyone.

One day Ginny, a New Jersey native, gets a letter from her Aunt Peg (who died three months ago) containing $1,000 and instructions for her to buy a backpack and a plane ticket to London, then go to a Chinese restaurant in New York to pick up envelope 2.

The instructions for what to bring along to the UK are as follows:

Rule #1: You may bring only what fits in your backpack. Don’t try to fake it out with a purse or a carry-on.

 Rule #2: You may not bring guidebooks, phrase books, or any kind of foreign language aid. And no journals.

 Rule #3: You cannot bring extra money or credit/debit cards, traveler’s checks, etc. I’ll take care of all that.

Rule #4: No electronic crutches. This means no laptop, no cell phone, no music, and no camera. You can’t call home or communicate with people in the U.S. by Internet or telephone. Postcards and letters are acceptable and encouraged.

Now all Ginny has to do is pick up envelope 2, go to London, and see what kind of adventure her (dead) whirlwind aunt has in store for her over the summer vacation. Of course it was hell trying to convince her parents to let her do this, not to mention that it goes against everything well-organized, practical Ginny stands for. But it’s her aunt, and the promise of these 13 little blue envelopes is the last thing on earth Ginny has of her. Thus, she strikes of for the UK.

The premise of this entire Teen novel is for Ginny to travel around the UK in search of these envelopes that her aunt has left for her. With each new envelope comes a new set of instructions: Places to go, people to find, things to do.

Along her journey, the envelopes send Ginny to England, Scotland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Greece, giving her whacky activities to complete throughout her voyage.

And of course, Ginny meets a peculiar artist along the way that she can’t stop thinking about, and who appears throughout her expedition. To give you a taste of the adorableness of this book, here is a quote from a letter she sends to her best friend back home.

“Keith was HERE. In PARIS. And HE FOUND ME. I know it sounds impossible, but it’s true, and it’s really not that magical of an explanation. But what matters is that we made out in a graveyard and slept on a park bench.”

This entire novel is not only charming, and adventurous, but it also gives you a window to the soul of a young girl dealing with grief for the first time. I cannot say enough good things about this tale. I give it five stars!

*And it does have an open ending, but thankfully she decided to go ahead and write a sequel. The Last Little Blue Envelope is equally awesome! 🙂