“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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“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!

“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.

“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!

“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!