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: 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: The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Kate Quinn’s mom died last year, leaving Kate parentless and reeling. So when the unexpected shows up in her living room, Kate must confront another reality she never thought possible—or thought of at all. Kate does have a father. He’s a powerful politician. And he’s running for U.S. President. Suddenly, Kate’s moving in with a family she never knew she had, joining a campaign in support of a man she hardly knows, and falling for a rebellious boy who may not have the purest motives. This is Kate’s new life. But who is Kate? When what she truly believes flies in the face of the campaign’s talking points, she must decide. Does she turn to the family she barely knows, the boy she knows but doesn’t necessarily trust, or face a third, even scarier option?

Set against a backdrop of politics, family, and first love, this is a story of personal responsibility, complicated romance, and trying to discover who you are even as everyone tells you who you should be.

To be completely honest, I hated this book for about the first quarter of it. I almost DNF-ed it, but because of all the completely glowing reviews I’ve read on it I decided to keep going. I’m glad I did, as it did definitely get better. However, I still found it a far cry from the perfection I’ve seen it reviewed as.

So why did I dislike it so much to start? There’s mention of Kate’s backstory briefly before diving right in to her finding out who her father is. I didn’t like the way it was handled at all. Kate’s aunt and uncle just completely give over their home to the senator’s campaign staff and aren’t really there for Kate at all. They stay out of the way and leave her to deal with it. Kate also completely drove me nuts. She asked no questions, didn’t stand up for herself, and did exactly as she was told by people she had no reason to trust. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m also very annoyed with how impulsive and whiney and stupid YA heroines can be and Kate steered clear of that, which I like. But it was almost like she had no emotions about it for most of the book. She was excited about the idea of having a family and that was it. She didn’t really deal with the fact that her mother had lied to her her whole life or that her father obviously only wanted her around to redeem his image for the campaign. His wife and his friend kept telling Kate to give him time and that he was “worth it”, but the guy was a complete douche until the final chapters. Kate finally shows some real emotion and he finally stops being such a politician.

Ok, so rant over. Kate eventually became less annoying as the story went on. I liked how her relationship with her step-mother evolved and her relationship with her half brother and sister, though I thought they could have been a little more developed. I loved Andy. He was sweet and understanding and funny. My only complaint with him was there wasn’t enough of him. While I definitely appreciate that this story was based on family and not romance, he really brought humor and a lightness to the story that I missed when he wasn’t around.

The behind-the-scenes look at the campaign was interesting. I thought most of it was pretty well done and I appreciated the new spin on YA. There was lots of opportunities for the story to get really political, but it mostly stayed away from hot-button topics. There’s mention of the senator being pro-choice and pro-gay-rights, to which Kate responds, “but he’s Republican!” and then they don’t bring it up again. The big topic, and the one closest to Kate’s heart, is immigration. This also had the potential to get pretty “preachy”, but I liked that multiple perspectives were given and it was used to help develop Kate’s relationship with her father a little.

Overall, The Wrong Side of Right was an ok read. It was interesting take on YA contemporary that I haven’t read before. While it started out pretty bad for me, it definitely got better. I’m glad that I finished it, but I’m also glad I waited for it to come to the library instead of buying it!

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars

3 stars

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There’s still time to enter my Tax Refund giveaway until May 9th!

Review: Whatever Life Throws at You by Julie Cross

Whatever Life Throws at You

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

Review: My Soul to Take (Soul Screamers #1) by Rachel Vincent

My Soul to Take

Synopsis from Good Reads:

She doesn’t see dead people. She senses when someone near her is about to die. And when that happens, a force beyond her control compels her to scream bloody murder. Literally.

Kaylee just wants to enjoy having caught the attention of the hottest guy in school. But a normal date is hard to come by when Nash seems to know more about her need to scream than she does. And when classmates start dropping dead for no apparent reason, only Kaylee knows who’ll be next.

March has been a pretty slow reading month for me so far and My Soul to Take is the first book that’s inspired me to write a review. The Soul Screamers series is one that’s never been on my radar, but was part of the haul I won in a giveaway recently and I’m glad I gave it a go.

Kaylee is a banshee. A different term is used in the book, but it’s two words and pronounced the same, so I’m going with “banshee”. I haven’t encountered books about banshees before, so it was an interesting new twist for YA paranormal for me. For those unfamiliar, banshees are not-quite-humans who scream (or “sing”) for a soul that is about to be taken. Kaylee sees shadows and feels crushing grief whenever someone around her is about to die. While banshee myth is traditionally women, there are also male banshees and they can’t tell when a person is about to die, but once it’s happened, they can see the soul and can sometimes “redirect” it back into the body. However, doing so means someone else will have to die in the person’s place.

Kaylee has had a few episodes when the need of uncontrollable screaming takes over and her aunt and uncle, who she lives with, explain it away as panic attacks, but Kaylee has always known it’s a little more than that. When she has an “attack” at a club she’s calmed down by hottie-hot-hot Nash. Cue Typical YA Trope where the “Special Girl” who is more beautiful than she realizes falls head-over-heels into insta-love with the Hottest Guy Ever Who Has Never Noticed Her Before. Despite the cliché, I was ok with Kaylee and Nash’s relationship. While Nash has to explain a lot to her, they felt like pretty equal characters, needing to work together to save anyone. I’m still trying to decide if he’s mysterious or shady. There’s a lot that he holds back and by the end of the book I still feel like there’s a lot more about him that we don’t know.

In addition to the two main characters, we also get to know Kaylee’s aunt and uncle, popular cousin, best friend (who is mostly absent due to being grounded), and a reaper who has ties to Nash. I really liked Uncle Brendan and am intrigued by Tod, the reaper (but super annoyed it’s spelled with only one “d”. I don’t know why, but it bugs me).

I felt like the main mystery of the dying girls took backstage to Kaylee finding out about her family heritage of banshees and her romance with Nash. However, the resolution to it took me by surprise and I kind of liked that it wasn’t a typical “happily ever after” ending.

Overall, I enjoyed My Soul To Take and I think it broke me out of my reading rut. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series and would recommend it to people who like YA paranormal.

Rating (out of 5):

3.5 stars

Review: The Return (Titan #1) by Jennifer Armentrout

The Return (Titan, #1)

Synopsis from Good Reads:

The Fates are cackling their bony asses off…

It’s been a year since Seth made the deal with the gods that pledged his life to them. And so far, the jobs they’ve given him have been violent and bloody–which is kind of all right with him. But now Apollo has something else in mind for Seth. He’s got to play protector while keeping his hands and fingers off, and for someone who really has a problem with restraint, this new assignment might be the most challenging yet.

Josie has no idea what this crazy hot guy’s deal might be, but it’s a good bet that his arrival means the new life she started after leaving home is about to be thrown into an Olympian-sized blender turned up to puree. Either Josie is going insane or a nightmare straight out of ancient myth is gunning for her.

But it might be the unlikely attraction simmering between her and the golden-eyed, secret-keeping Seth that may prove to be the most dangerous thing of all.

Because history has once again been flipped to repeat.

Seth was pretty much my favorite thing about the Covenant series, so I was really looking forward to The Return. However, I went into it expecting to be disappointed. The Covenant series is YA and Armentrout announced that this series would be NA. By now we all know how much I hate almost all NA books because most of them are basically just a synonym for erotica. I’m glad to report that I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this book. With the exception of just a couple of overly graphic scenes, there was way more story to this book than most of JLA’s other NA books.

While this is a spin-off of the Covenant series, supposedly you can read it without reading the prior series. However, I would definitely recommend reading the first series before you read this book. There are a lot of references to Alex and Aiden and previous events that are not explained until over half way through this book. It has been awhile since I read the other books and I found myself confused at parts, so I don’t know what it would be like for people who have no prior knowledge of the Covenant world.

I still love Seth and enjoyed being able to see his point of view. I found Josie pretty likable as well. She is the classic JLA heroine, so basically if you like one of them, you like all of them. The story was told in alternating 1st person POV, which was fine, but their voices were pretty similar and there were often times it took me awhile to figure out who’s view we were getting.

Overall, I enjoyed The Return. I was pleasantly surprised that it read more like a YA book than an NA book. I look forward to reading the rest of the series and would recommend this book to those that read the Covenant series.

Rating (out of 5)

3 stars