Review: Listen to Your Heart by Kasie West

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Talking to other people isn’t Kate Bailey’s favorite activity. She’d much rather be out on the lake, soaking up the solitude and sunshine. So when her best friend, Alana, convinces Kate to join their high school’s podcast, Kate is not expecting to be chosen as the host. Now she’ll have to answer calls and give advice on the air? Impossible.

But to Kate’s surprise, she turns out to be pretty good at the hosting gig. Then the podcast gets in a call from an anonymous guy, asking for advice about his unnamed crush. Kate is pretty sure that the caller is gorgeous Diego Martinez, and even surer that the girl in question is Alana. Kate is excited for her friend … until Kate herself starts to develop feelings for Diego. Suddenly, Kate finds that while doling out wisdom to others may be easy, asking for help is tougher than it looks, and following your own advice is even harder.

Kasie West’s adorable story of secrets, love, and friendship is sure to win over hearts everywhere.

I always look forward to new books by Kasie West. They just make me happy and Listen to Your Heart was no exception.

I liked all the characters in this. I found Kate funny and relatable. I loved her and Alana’s friendship. I liked Kate’s relationship with her family, especially her cousin Liza. Her home situation was a little unusual and I wish it would have been a little more explored than it was, though. I felt like there was a lot of potential there that wasn’t really explored, but I did like what we got to see of it. I really liked Diego and even Frank grew on me as the story went on.

I wasn’t sure what I would think of the podcast plotline, since I don’t generally care about podcasts. However, I thought it was really interesting. It wasn’t an overwhelming amount of information, but I felt like I got a good idea of how producing one would work. I wish there were cool classes like that when I was in high school. (Though, I don’t think podcasts were a thing when I was in high school. Dial-up internet was what everyone had back then – if you were lucky enough to have the internet at home at all. I know, I’m ancient.) I liked how it brought Kate out of her shell a bit and gave her more confidence.

As with every Kasie West book, I thought the romance was adorable. It was definitely a slow burn and it made the end result just that much sweeter. I wish there wasn’t so much miscommunication between the characters, but there were still a lot of cute moments, so I can forgive it.

Overall, I really enjoyed Listen to Your Heart. I liked the character and the relationships and the romance. It was a fast read that I finished in a day. I definitely recommend to fans of Kasie West and Contemporary YA.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

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Review: Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

When Quinn Sullivan meets the recipient of her boyfriend’s donated heart, the two form an unexpected connection.

After Quinn loses her boyfriend, Trent, in an accident their junior year, she reaches out to the recipients of his donated organs in hopes of picking up the pieces of her now-unrecognizable life. She hears back from some of them, but the person who received Trent’s heart has remained silent. The essence of a person, she has always believed, is in the heart. If she finds Trent’s, then maybe she can have peace once and for all.

Risking everything in order to finally lay her memories to rest, Quinn goes outside the system to track down nineteen-year-old Colton Thomas—a guy whose life has been forever changed by this priceless gift. But what starts as an accidental run-in quickly develops into more, sparking an undeniable attraction. She doesn’t want to give in to it—especially since he has no idea how they’re connected—but their time together has made Quinn feel alive again. No matter how hard she’s falling for Colton, each beat of his heart reminds her of all she’s lost…and all that remains at stake.

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I’ve been trying to avoid “sick lit” lately, instead preferring lighter contemporary, but I’ve kept seeing this book pop up around the blogosphere and decided I wanted to give it a try. I have to say, though, what really made me want to read it is that it remind me of the movie, Return to Me where a couple falls in love without either of them know she is the recipient of his wife’s heart.

Return to Me - So sweet & funny. I want to be able to sock a guy in the eye on a first date and him still want to be with me lol!

Things We Know by Heart gets right to the point. I was wary of there being chapters upon chapters of nothing but Quinn’s grief before we even meet Colton, but within the first couple of chapters we’ve learned the background and brought up to speed with her plan of just wanting to see Colton, the guy who now has her dead boyfriend, Trent’s, heart. She doesn’t plan to interact with me, but she does. I wouldn’t say their relationship is instalove, but maybe instalike. Though she’s determined to stay away, Colton pursues her to spend more time with him. They start hanging out more and more and her family is very happy to see her living life again after so long. While she still feels guilty about moving on from her relationship with Trent, she also feels guilty for omitting so much of the truth from Colton. Since he seems to be omitting the truth of his own heart surgery from her, she talks herself into letting things go on this way. However, as you can guess, things don’t stay hidden forever.

Despite this book employing one of my least favorite plot devices/tropes ever – the “Somebody has a big  secret they’re afraid to tell and the longer it goes on the harder it is to tell it, until eventually it comes out and could ruin everything (but doesn’t)” – I enjoyed this book. I felt like the characters were genuine and likable and the plot, while a little farfetched, is believable. Though Colton and Quinn liked each other right away, the romance was more of a slow burn, which I like.

I liked the family element to the story. Quinn has a pretty good relationship with her parents, grandmother, and sister. It’s nice to see a strong family in YA, which often casts parents as absent or villainous. Colton is close to his sister, though we don’t actually see too much of her. His parents, however, were absent for the entire story, which seemed a little odd to me.

Added to the beginning of every chapter were quotes about hearts, either clinical or poetic. I liked some of the clinical ones, learning more about heart transplants or the life of a recipient. However, I don’t feel like they really added anything to the story and could have gone without them.

Overall, I enjoyed Things We Know by Heart. It had an interesting premise which I felt was executed well. The characters were likable and the romance between Colton and Quinn was very sweet. I would recommend it to fans of YA contemporary or fans of the movie Return to Me.

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