“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.

“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!

“Let The Sky Fall” –A Book Review

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Let The Sky Fall by Shannon Messenger is a pretty good book if you are in the mood for a quick, light read. It received very good reviews, so I decided to check it out. While I wasn’t necessarily disappointed, I wasn’t blown away by this tale, either (get it…“blown away”…because it’s a book about wind).

Vane Westerly was found at the age of seven lying in the aftermath of a horrible tornado. Both of his parents were found dead, and he has been labeled a “miracle.” Vane has zero memories from before he was found, except the image of a beautiful girl with long, dark hair. He has been dreaming about her ever since.

The beautiful girl = Audra. Audra’s father was also killed in the violent tornado that killed both of Vane’s parents. But unlike Vane, Audra remembers everything. Audra and Vane are Sylphs, also known as Windwalkers. They have the ability to speak the languages of the wind, and use that language to command it, even shape it into weapons. Vane’s memory was wiped the day of the storm to keep him safe, and Audra has been tasked with watching over Vane, keeping him off Raiden’s radar.

Raiden and his army, known as the Stormers, are the ones responsible for that deadly tornado ten years ago. You see, Vane and his parents were the last of the Westerlies (Sylphs born from the Western winds), and now only Vane remains. Raiden will stop at nothing to find Vane and force him to teach him the Westerly language, because he wishes to be the most powerful and destructive Sylph. No Sylph has yet to possess the knowledge of all four wind languages—North, South, East, and West, and Raiden intends to be the first.

So far, Vane has been kept off the radar by living with adoptive human parents, but one night in a desperate attempt to keep Vane from bonding to a human girl, Audra calls upon the wind to knock them apart. Now Raiden has their location and will send the Stormers to capture Vane.

With imminent danger on the way, Audra has no choice but to awaken Vane to his true nature and teach him the language of the Easterly, Northerly, and Southerly winds, hoping he will remember the language of his own ancestral Westerly winds, so that he will be the most powerful Sylph and hopefully be able to defeat Raiden.

Of course there is the typical forbidden attraction between Audra and Vane (because she is his guardian and therefore cannot be with him). Drama of Audra’s mother hating her because she blames Audra for killing her father is included, yada yada yada.

Like I said, this book didn’t put me to sleep, and the Sylph lore was new and intriguing. But, on the whole, this novel didn’t exactly get my heart racing. I give it three out of five stars.

 

Quotes:

“I’ve been ordered to make him trust me, but in that moment I’m surprised to realize I want him to trust me.”

“When someone you love dies, part of your dies with them. It’s why you’re never the same after losing someone.”

 “I love you. I know that’s inconvenient for you. But it’s true.”

“The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight”—A Book Review

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The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith is simply a delight! This tale takes place over a twenty-four-hour-hour-period, is fast paced, and nearly impossible to put down.

Hadley is having beyond the worst day. She misses her flight to London, where she is headed to attend her father’s wedding, and she’s never even met the bride! So not only is Hadley already super cranky about having to go to her father’s wedding (when she feels so betrayed by him for being so void in her life and moving to London in the first place), but now she is stuck at the JFK airport, waiting for the next available flight, which will put her arriving in London with not a minute to spare.

While waiting for the next flight, she meets Oliver. He’s British, incredibly cute, and going to college in the U.S. Call it fate, call it happenstance, call it a coincidence, call it whatever you like, but something brought these two together again, putting them sitting next to each other on the long plane ride to the UK.

Over the course of the 7 hour trip, the two strangers get to know one another, talking about everything under the sun, and even divulging things they have never told another soul. Is it completely insane to fall in love with someone you don’t even know? Probably, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

This pulse pounding and heart-wrenching Teen novel with have you believing in the miracle of love and hope again. I guarantee you will be cheering these two young protagonists on, just as I did! I give this quick and fun read four stars!

 

As Hadley and Oliver are departing the plane and are headed to two separate Customs lines:

 “But before she can move any farther she feels a hand on her elbow, and just like that Oliver is beside her again. He looks down at her with his head tilted, his hand still firmly on her arm, and before she has a chance to be nervous, before she even fully realizes what’s happening, she hears him mummer “What the hell,” and then, to her surprise, he bends to kiss her.”

…seriously, people: Le Sigh, and also, Eeeeeap!

 

The New York Times Book Review

“A gorgeous, heartwarming reminder of the power of fate… an endearing and lushly written account of how it feels to fall in love, the unique heartbreak of parental disappointment and what it means to forgive those who’ve hurt us deeply.”

“Eleanor & Park”—A Book Review

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I can only think of one word to describe Eleanor & Park: Amazeballs! Fans of authors such as John Green and Laurie Halse Anderson will simply adore this novel by Rainbow Rowell. This book is extremely raw and kept me engrossed from the start…I simply couldn’t put it down.

Everyone has/is/will experience the traumatic hell that is high school. It is no different in the late 1980s for Eleanor and Park, but they find that through each other they can persevere.

Eleanor is definitely not your average skinny and hip teenager. Being a chunky girl with an insurmountable mop of curly red hair is bad enough, but add to it only having ratty old hand-me-downs and Good Will clothes to wear and you have yourself a target for relentless high school mocking.

Half-Korean, green-eyed, Park doesn’t get picked on, but he doesn’t fit in with the popular crowd either. He gets through his days floating just under the radar. When Park first sees Eleanor on the bus, he avoids her just like everybody else. But unlike his peers, the more Park observes Eleanor, the more intrigued he becomes.

Eventually, Park finds himself sharing his comic books with Eleanor, and overtime, even making mixed tapes for her to listen to (it’s the ‘80s people). While Park lives in the shadow of his tall and athletic younger brother at home, he soon discovers that he is treated like royalty in comparison to Eleanor’s home life.

Emotionally unrefined and still somehow sardonically funny, these two quirky teens are sure to capture your heart and make you remember the hardships of young adulthood, and the intense thrill of first love. You simply HAVE to read this book! I give it Five stars, for sure.

 

Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”—John Green, The New York Times Book Review

 

Amazing Quotes to behold:

“And then there was Ol’ Green Eyes. Whom she was apparently going to tell her whole life story to. Maybe on the way home, she’d tell him that she didn’t have a phone or a washing machine or a toothbrush. That last thing, she was thinking about telling her counselor.”

 “Park’s eyes got wide. Well, sort of wide. Sometimes she wondered if the shape of his eyes affected how he saw things. That was probably the most racist question of all time.”

 “All I do when we’re apart is think about you, and all I do when we’re together is panic. Because every second feels so important. And because I’m so out of control, I can’t help myself. I’m not even mine anymore, I’m yours, and what if you decide that you don’t want me? How could you want me like I want you?”

“Eleanor pressed her cheek into his chest, and Park hugged her. He wished that they could go through life like this. That he could physically put himself between Eleanor and the world.”

“He tried again to remember what he’d thought the first time he saw her. He tried to remember how this had happened—how she went from someone he’d never met to the only one who mattered.”