“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”

“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!

“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!

“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.

“The 5th Wave”—A Book Review

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All I can say about The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey is “wow.”

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Let me start off by saying that I am totally not into aliens and planetary takeovers, etc, but even though this is exactly what this book is about, at the same time, it’s totally not. It’s about humanity and survival.

An alien mother ship looms in the sky, the power has gone out, tsunamis and plagues have hit, the majority of the human population is dead. Only a few remain, and here are the rules:

“The first rule: Trust no one. Which leads to the second rule: The only way to stay alive as long as possible is to stay alone as long as possible.”

Cassie’s mother and father are both dead, and her little brother, Sammy, was taken away by “soldiers.” Cassie made a promise to Sammy when the soldiers took all of the kids away on a yellow school bus…that she would find him and come back for him.

Cassie is alone in the world, fighting to keep her promise despite the fact that she doesn’t even know if Sammy is still alive. For all she knows, she is the last human being on Earth, amongst many who “appear” to be human.

“Using the ratio of infected to clean here at the base, we estimate that one out of every three surviving human beings on Earth is one of them.”

“If the enemy looks just like you, how do you fight him?”

This story takes you to the heart of the only thing that really matters in this f*cked up world—love. After all, love is what makes us human, separates us from “The Others.” Fans of Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds are sure to absolutely love this pulse pounding, harrowing tale.

I give this book five out of five stars!

 

 

“I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but I felt that, when it came to God, there was a broken promise in there somewhere.”

“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!

“The Star Shack”—A Book Review

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If you’re looking for a super quick, mindless summer beach read, The Star Shack by Lila Castle is the book for you.

Pete and Annabelle have been coming to Gingerbread beach (a beach where it rains 95% of the time) with their families since they were kids and have been inseparable since the ripe young age of 12.

The summer before their senior year in high school, things have gone terribly wrong. Pete can put up with the fact that Annabelle is a Yankee’s fan (he’s a Boston Red Sox fan all the way), but the fact that she’s totally obsessed with Astrology and “the stars aligning” is just too much for him to stomach. He just can’t move beyond Annabelle’s New Agey freak stuff any longer.

To get back at Pete, and prove to him that there is a science to reading the stars (after all, it’s been used for centuries) she dares him to open up a business with her, reading the signs for tourist to help them find their “perfect love match” based on their astrological signs. She knows that Pete absolutely cannot refuse a dare.

The book takes place over the course of one summer, told in alternating narratives. It was a quick read, and was mildly entertaining. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone, I didn’t hate it. I give this teen novel two out of five stars.

“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!