Review: Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Everyone knows Abby Turner is in love with her best friend, Cooper Wells. Including Cooper Wells. But despite what people tell her, it doesn’t affect their friendship. And she’s practically over it, anyway. What she really can’t get over is when her boss at the local museum tells her that her paintings lack heart.

Art is Abby’s passion and she hopes her future as well. She is determined to change his mind and earn her way into the upcoming exhibit at the gallery. So along with her family’s help, she compiles “The Heart List,” a series of soulstretching experiences that are sure to make her a deeper person and better artist in six weeks or less. When Cooper decides to complete the list along with her, she realizes this list is expanding her heart in more ways than one. Maybe she needs to start another project.

Love, Life, and the List is about a girl who, in an effort to bring more emotional depth to her art, compiles a list of soul-stretching experiences to complete with her best friend—a boy she also happens to be in love with.

This is the first in a set of three standalone books with crossover characters.

I’m very stingy when it comes to spending my money on books, but if there’s one author I don’t hesitate to buy a book from it’s Kasie West. I know her books will always be super cute and make me happy and Love, Life, and the List did not let me down.

I loved how sarcastic Abby was. I loved the banter she had with pretty much every character in the book, but especially her equally sarcastic grandfather. I also found her mother to be a pretty empathetic character. She’s overly anxious and has some agoraphobic tendencies that I relate to all too well. I liked that the book didn’t just include Abby’s growth, but her family’s as well.

I loved the friendship between Abby and Cooper. There was a little while there when I was actually rooting for them to just stay friends and for no romance to really be involved. But, I don’t feel like it’s a spoiler to say there is a romantic Happily Ever After involved and that it was cute and a little bit cheesy and I loved it. I also liked how Abby made a few more friends in the book with Elliot and Lacey.

I wasn’t really sure what I would think of the list plotline. To be honest, it didn’t seem real interesting to me when I read the synopsis, but I ended up liking it. When she gets turned down for an art show because her paintings lack heart, her boss tells her that some more life experience will get her there eventually. She decides to try and speed up the life experience process by making the list. She also includes tasks inspired by people who have qualities she admires. I actually thought this was a really productive way to try and enrich one’s life. I think a lot of us say we want to try to be a better person, but don’t actually come up with ways to do that. I felt like this was a perfect book to read at the end of the year when we all try to come up with resolutions to do better in the future.

Overall, I really enjoyed Love, Life, and the List. It was so cute and I loved the friendship and the banter. It was everything I expect out of a Kasie West book and I definitely recommend it to fans of hers and Contemporary YA.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

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Review: Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

From the acclaimed author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do comes a breathtaking new novel about a young woman whose fate hinges on the choice she makes after bumping into an old flame; in alternating chapters, we see two possible scenarios unfold—with stunningly different results.

At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Life raises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?

Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.

I received a copy of this title from NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

Maybe in Another Life will be available July 7, 2015

I’ve read a couple of multiple universe stories before and I feel like this one was unique. While the other books I’ve read always had the “real” universe and the “other” universe I didn’t feel like this book had that. Maybe in Another Life focuses more on the possible journeys than on which path is “right”.

Hannah Martin’s life is a bit of a wreck. She is moving (again), has no job, no car, barely any money, and has just broken up with her boyfriend – who she found out was married. She moves back to Los Angeles to stay with her best friend, Gabby, and her husband. On her first night out she sees her high school boyfriend, Ethan, who she’s never really gotten over. As the night progresses she’s given the choice of taking things slow with Ethan and going home with Gabby or staying out and letting Ethan take her home. From there the chapters alternate between what would happen next in each possible “universe”.

It’s hard to discuss what happens in each scenario without revealing some major spoilers. I will say that I thought the synopsis indicated that Ethan was her soul mate no matter the universe, but the majority of one scenario includes another possible “soul mate”, Henry (I’m TOTALLY Team Henry!) There are a lot of good and bad things that happen in each scenario and each leads to similar conclusions, though some of the major players are different.

While reading, it seemed to me that one scenario was the right choice and the other was the wrong choice. Even though some big, horrible things happened in the right one, it just always felt like the best one to me. I liked the development with her family, her friends, and her love interest in one much more than the other one. Except for the last couple of chapters when I started to warm up to the other universe, as well.

I liked that there were similar things that happened in each universe. Like in one chapter there was an example of a pain scale of 1-10 and Hannah’s answer was 6. In the next chapter there was a scale of embarrassment where she answered 6. There were a couple things like that peppered throughout the story, though they were more prevalent at the beginning and the end.

While I didn’t really like Hannah very much at first, she grew on me as the story went on. I felt like her character really developed and grew throughout and finally started making smarter choices. I also really liked her best friend, Gabby. I almost felt like the idea of soul mates wasn’t necessarily about a guy, but about friendship. In each universe Hannah and Gabby are absolutely there for each other and I loved it.

Overall, I did enjoy Maybe in Another Life. I like the idea of multiple universes and I think this book handled it better than others have. One big thing that bothered me, though, is that it was not a definitive ending. I didn’t feel like there was a point where we find out which decision Hannah picked and how she ended up (though after reading some other reviews, others people felt like one ending was suggested as THE ending, but I didn’t get that). Since there was so much discussed about fate and how things happen how they’re supposed to happen, I felt that not having an obvious ending, but two possible different scenarios wasn’t very impactful and is the reason I’m giving this less than 4 stars. Still, if you enjoy multiple storylines/universes and cotemporaries, you would probably enjoy this.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

3.5 stars

Review: The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

I wasn’t a huge fan of Open Road Summer so I wasn’t expecting much from The Start of Me and You. I am quite pleased to say that it definitely surpassed my expectations and I really enjoyed it!

Paige was dating Aaron for about two months when he tragically drowned on a camping trip. While she mourns his loss and has suffered from some PTSD related nightmares, what she really has trouble coping with is The Look. The way people give her pitying looks and identify her only as the girlfriend of the boy who drowned. She’s ready to really start moving on and being happy again. She makes up a list of things she thinks will help her do this and embarks on the new school year determined to make it happen.

My problem with Open Road Summer is that I felt it tried too hard to be deep and meaningful, while still being a cute contemporary. I think that The Start of Me and You does much better at balancing the cute with the Message. The characters were relatable and likable. The problems were never too melodramatic. The romance, as well as the growing friendships, were a slow burn.

One thing this book does really well is the friendships. Paige has a core group of friends – Tessa, Morgan, and Kayleigh – who are all pretty different, but are always there for each other. That doesn’t mean they don’t ever fight, but they always make up. While there was opportunity for great girl drama (my crush has a crush on my best friend, you’re spending more time with your boyfriend than you are with me, etc.), it never went there and I was really grateful it. There were no frenemies here! While the friendship between Ryan and Max isn’t as explored, we know that they are really close, as well. I also liked how Paige’s and Max’s group of friends converged throughout the book.

I also liked that there was an “adult presence” in the book. So many YA books have completely absent or oblivious parents and that always gets on my nerves. Paige has present parents and she has a realistic relationship with them. I also really liked their English teacher, Ms. Pepper. She provided several humorous moments throughout the book.

The relationship between Paige and Max was very cute, as well. They start out a bit uncomfortable, but slowly become friends. It’s several months before Paige even begins to realize that she may like him as more than a friend. I loved their banter and inside jokes. His nickname for her reminded me of Gansey and Blue from The Raven Boys so while they have nothing to do with each other, I think it endeared them to me more.

The underlining message of it all was about overcoming tragedy to live your life and the journey it takes to get there. I think Lord does a good job of weaving this into the other storylines about Paige’s friends and Max and her grandmother. While there were a few times it almost got a little “preachy” about it, I didn’t feel as brow beaten with it as with Lord’s former book. It seemed much more organic and less forced.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Start of Me and You. The characters were likable and the romance was sweet. The writing was often humorous and I found myself smiling a lot while I was reading. I would definitely recommend this to fans of YA Contemporary.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

4 stars

Review: The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

When Gia Montgomery’s boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she has to think fast. After all, she’d been telling her friends about him for months now. This was supposed to be the night she proved he existed. So when she sees a cute guy waiting to pick up his sister, she enlists his help. The task is simple: be her fill-in boyfriend—two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. After that, she can win back the real Bradley.

The problem is that days after prom, it’s not the real Bradley she’s thinking about, but the stand-in. The one whose name she doesn’t even know. But tracking him down doesn’t mean they’re done faking a relationship. Gia owes him a favor and his sister intends to see that he collects: his ex-girlfriend’s graduation party—three hours, zero commitment, a few white lies.

Just when Gia begins to wonder if she could turn her fake boyfriend into a real one, Bradley comes waltzing back into her life, exposing her lie, and threatening to destroy her friendships and her new-found relationship.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I never wanted it to end!

Kasie West is really one of my favorite YA authors. Her characters are relatable, her male leads are sweet, and they act like high school students.

As like most of West’s leading ladies, Gia comes off a little unlikable at first. She’s pretty and popular and kind of shallow. We meet her as she’s being dumped in the parking lot of her senior prom by her college-aged boyfriend. She’s afraid to go into prom alone because her frenemy, Jules, has been trying to convince her other friends that Bradley never existed and Gia was just making him up. (This sounds kind of silly, but I did have a friend in high school who actually used to make up guys and then tell real elaborate stories about how she met them that I later felt stupid for believing.) Though she is upset over being dumped by Bradley, she’s more upset about having to face the possibility that her friends will dump her, so when she sees a guy sitting in his car, she convinces him to pretend to be Bradley and go to prom with her.

Luckily for Gia, Fill-in Bradley (FIB) is an actor and he plays the part well. So well that Gia can’t stop thinking about him. However, he leaves without her ever getting his real name and his sister, Bec, is not a Gia fan and won’t help her get in contact with him again – until she finds out he’s going to his cheating ex-girlfriend’s party and then she enlists Gia to return the fake relationship favor. From there a real friendship forms, not just between Gia and FIB, but Gia and Bec, as well. Adorableness ensues.

If there’s one relationship cliché trope I love, it’s the Fake Relationship. While this book didn’t have quite as much of the fake relationship scenarios I like to read, it still fit the bill. It actually focused way more on the actual relationship between Gia and FIB when they weren’t pretending to be anything else and that’s what really made this book so sweet. FIB isn’t perfect, but I loved him. He was very sweet and caring and funny. I loved the bantery fun between him and Gia. I also liked his relationship with his sister and his mom. Though his dad is mentioned several times as being a good guy, we never actually get to meet him, which disappointed mea little.

As I said above, Gia was a little unlikable at first, but she grows a lot throughout the story and becomes  a lot more likable. I felt her fears of not being good enough for her friends was a relatable and I liked how that part of the storyline played out. Her parents were present, but not great. I wish they would’ve been a little more developed and acted a little more like parents.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Fill-in Boyfriend. It definitely packed the cute that I expect from a Kasie West novel, but it also had some relatable themes on growing up and friendship that were well done. I would recommend it to fans of contemporary YA (especially those that appreciate more “clean” contemporary) and fans of West’s other books.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

4 stars

Review: Whatever Life Throws at You by Julie Cross

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Synopsis from  Good Reads:

Life loves a good curveball…

Seventeen-year-old Annie Lucas’s life is completely upended the moment her dad returns to the major leagues as the new pitching coach for the Kansas City Royals. Now she’s living in Missouri (too cold), attending an all-girls school (no boys), and navigating the strange world of professional sports. But Annie has dreams of her own—most of which involve placing first at every track meet…and one starring the Royals’ super-hot rookie pitcher.

But nineteen-year-old Jason Brody is completely, utterly, and totally off-limits. Besides, her dad would kill them both several times over. Not to mention Brody has something of a past, and his fan club is filled with C-cupped models, not smart-mouthed high school “brats” who can run the pants off every player on the team. Annie has enough on her plate without taking their friendship to the next level. The last thing she should be doing is falling in love.

But baseball isn’t just a game. It’s life. And sometimes, it can break your heart…

WHAT I LIKED

-Annie’s relationship with her dad. Though they had some fights, he was always present and always supportive. He wasn’t perfect, but he was realistic and a good parent.

-Annie’s sense of humor and the banter between her and her friend, Lenny, and also with Brody.

-The behind the scenes look at the baseball industry was an interesting plot line that I haven’t seen in YA before.

-The character development. I really liked all of the main characters – Annie, Brody, Jim, Savannah, Lenny and they all go grow throughout the book.

-The romance is cute. There could have been a bit of an ick factor with the one character being an “adult” major league player and the other being a high school student, but really they’re 19 and 17 and about the same level of maturity, so it wasn’t really bad.

-The ending was sweet and gave good closure for all the characters.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

-This little gem that made me definitely feel too old to be reading YA, “He’s still handsome, even at thirty-six years old.”  It’s the “even” that gets me haha.

-Another YA book that’s a little too graphic, with a somewhat irresponsible view of sex.

-There was a lot of emphasis put on how Annie needed to not cause any “scandals” because she’s the pitching coach’s daughter. Admittedly I don’t really pay attention to baseball, but I couldn’t even name a pitching coach, let alone care what their kids do. That part didn’t really seem realistic at all.

-The relationship between Annie’s parents could have been explored a little bit more.

Overall, Whatever Life Throws at You was a sweet, enjoyable read with strong character development. While parts were a little too mature for what I think YA should be, it’s probably one of the better YA contemporaries I’ve read.

Overall Rating (out of 5) 3.5 Stars

3.5 stars