Review: Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Small-town Wisconsin high school senior Allison Smith loves her life the way it is-spending quality time with her widowed father and her tight-knit circle of friends, including best friend Marian and maybe-more-than-friends Neil. Sure she is stressed out about college applications . . . who wouldn’t be? In a few short months, everything’s going to change, big time.

But when Ally files her applications, they send up a red flag . . . because she’s not Allison Smith. And Ally’s-make that Amanda’s-ordinary life is suddenly blown apart. Was everything before a lie? Who will she be after? And what will she do as now comes crashing down around her?

An exciting new direction for acclaimed author Elizabeth Eulberg, Past Perfect Life is a tense and tender read about secrets and lies, reality and identity, and the ways we put ourselves back together when everything is broken.

Perfect for fans of Far From the Tree, this is the story of one teen’s search for herself amid the confusion of a shattered past and a future far from all she planned.

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

Past Perfect Life will be available July 9, 2019. 

I discovered Elizabeth Eulberg a couple years ago and she quickly became one of my favorite YA Contemporary authors. I really can’t believe that more people aren’t talking about her books. Past Perfect Life was another of her books that I finished in one day.

Ally lives in a small town with her father and her biggest problem is coming up with a decent topic for her college application/scholarship application essay questions. She has a tight-knit group of friends and a great relationship with her father. That is, until her college applications are kicked back for having an invalid social security number. I feel like you can probably already guess what happens based off of the clues in the synopsis, but I kind of find it impossible to review this book without disclosing what happens, so if you really don’t want to know, this is your official ***SPOILER ALERT***. Turns out, Ally Smith is not her real name and her mother didn’t really die when she was three. When her father was afraid of losing partial custody of her, he fled with her and they have been living under false identities ever since.

This isn’t the first YA book I’ve read with this topic, but I thought it was well done. A lot of time is dedicated to Ally’s mental and emotional state around the discovery and then as she tries to adjust to her new life. We also see how it effects the friends she’s forced to leave behind and the new family she never knew existed who have been mourning her loss for the past fifteen years. I really loved Ally’s friends, the extended Gleason family, especially adorable Neil. I also really liked Ally’s step-father. I thought he handled the situation better than anyone else and was overall pretty amazing. I have to say I really didn’t care for Ally’s mother. I know that she’s been through a lot, but I thought she handled everything really poorly, right up until the end, which I thought was just a tad too easy and abrupt. I really could have used an epilogue.

I definitely need to mention Eulberg’s writing. She has such an addictive writing style that compels me to keep reading, even when I had decided I was going to set the book down to do something else. I certainly didn’t mean to finish this book in one day, but that’s exactly what happened because I just had to keep reading.

Overall, I really enjoyed Past Perfect Life. Though it was a heavier read than Eulberg’s other books I’ve read, I thought it was well done. The topic was interesting and Ally’s character development was really well done. I liked the cute romance with Neil and the really addictive writing. I definitely recommend that Contemporary fans check this out, as well as some of Eulberg’s other books.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

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Review: Call it What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

When his dad is caught embezzling funds from half the town, Rob goes from popular lacrosse player to social pariah. Even worse, his father’s failed suicide attempt leaves Rob and his mother responsible for his care.

Everyone thinks of Maegan as a typical overachiever, but she has a secret of her own after the pressure got to her last year. And when her sister comes home from college pregnant, keeping it from her parents might be more than she can handle.

When Rob and Maegan are paired together for a calculus project, they’re both reluctant to let anyone through the walls they’ve built. But when Maegan learns of Rob’s plan to fix the damage caused by his father, it could ruin more than their fragile new friendship…

This captivating, heartfelt novel asks the question: Is it okay to do something wrong for the right reasons?

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

Call it What You Want will be available June 25, 2019. 

When it comes to Brigid Kemmerer books there are two things I’ve come to expect: Male characters I will love and lots of Angst. Call it What You Want delivered on both fronts and I was here for it.

This book had angst for days! I’m not always into that, but it worked for me here. Maegan, who has always been the good girl, is dealing with the fallout from getting caught cheating on the SATs. On top of that, her sister comes home one weekend from college and doesn’t go back – she’s pregnant and refuses to name the father or discuss what she plans to do about it. Rob’s father got caught stealing from his clients and is left as basically a vegetable after a failed suicide attempt. Rob and his mother are left with pretty much nothing but the house and take care of him there.

Both Rob and Maegan are left as social outcasts and end up getting teamed up on a class project. As you might guess, they get to know and then start to fall for each other. I really loved watching their relationship develop. Maegan was really judgey at first, but as she gets to know Rob she realizes how wrong she has been about him. Rob was wonderful. I mean, he was depressed and struggling with a lot, but Kemmerer knows how to write sensitive, sweet, lovable, tortured guys that I will love. I just wanted to reach into the pages and hug him. His emotion was just so real and relatable and while I did like Maegan, Rob is what made this book so special.

I also really enjoyed Rob’s new friend, Owen. He was exactly the friend Rob needed. I liked watching their friendship develop and seeing them both grow as people as they learned things from each other. I also loved the school librarian and how he became such an important person in Rob’s life. One character I didn’t like in the book, though, was Samantha, Maegan’s sister. She was so selfish and acted so immature and she just drove me crazy. She did redeem herself a bit by the end, but it was a bit too little, too late for me.

Overall, I really enjoyed Call it What You Want. I loved, loved, loved Rob. I also enjoyed the romance and the lessons the characters learned along the way. I definitely recommend this one to fans of YA Contemporary.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Storm and Fury (The Harbinger #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Eighteen-year-old Trinity Marrow may be going blind, but she can see and communicate with ghosts and spirits. Her unique gift is part of a secret so dangerous that she’s been in hiding for years in an isolated compound fiercely guarded by Wardens—gargoyle shape-shifters who protect humankind from demons. If the demons discover the truth about Trinity, they’ll devour her, flesh and bone, to enhance their own powers.

When Wardens from another clan arrive with disturbing reports that something out there is killing both demons and Wardens, Trinity’s safe world implodes. Not the least because one of the outsiders is the most annoying and fascinating person she’s ever met. Zayne has secrets of his own that will upend her world yet again—but working together becomes imperative once demons breach the compound and Trinity’s secret comes to light. To save her family and maybe the world, she’ll have to put her trust in Zayne. But all bets are off as a supernatural war is unleashed…

I received copies of this title via NetGalley and via a Goodreads giveaway. It does not impact my review.

Storm and Fury will be available June 11, 2019. 

I really enjoyed this. I must confess, I was never a huge fan of the original The Dark Elements series that this series spun-off from and I thought I would feel similarly about this one. However, it definitely surpassed my expectations.

I thought Trinity was a good main character. She frustrated me a little bit with her impulsiveness and argumentativeness, but she was a pretty classic JLA heroine. One thing that really made her stand out is that she’s dealing with a vision disability – Retinitis pigmentosa. It causes tunnel vision and a host of other vision problems and will most likely end in blindness. JLA has been diagnosed with this in real life and I have to imagine including this in a character was a bit cathartic, but also difficult. There are parts here and there when Trinity says something about it that I have seen JLA say on social media, so you know this character is very personal to her and it made her that much more special to read.

I also liked seeing Zayne again. I was Team Zayne in The Dark Elements series, even though I knew it was never going to happen, so I was happy to see him really start to move on a bit. I liked his banter with Trinity and his protectiveness of her. I also thought we got just the right amount of Roth and Layla. They’re around enough to make fans of the original series happy, while also contributing to the plot in a big way, but they don’t take the focus off of Trinity and Zayne.

At over 500 pages, I did think this book was a little too long, though. There is honestly not that much going on and I think it really could’ve been cut down a bit. However, there is lots of character development and I never felt bored or anything, despite the slow moving plot. There were several reveals saved until the end that I thought were pretty obvious much earlier in the book, but there was one big one that I hadn’t seen coming and I liked that it managed to surprise me.

Other than the length, there was only really one other thing I didn’t care for. I expect a little more mature content from a JLA book, but there is one scene that I thought was a little too explicit for YA. I could see that an argument could be made for this being New Adult instead of Young Adult since Trinity is 18 and Zane is a few years older, but everything else reads very much YA, so it still felt a little inappropriate.

Overall, I really enjoyed Storm and Fury. I thought it improved upon the original series it spun off from. I liked the characters and shipped the romance. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.

Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.

I received a copy of this title via the publisher. It does not impact my review. 

Serious Moonlight will be available April 16, 2019. 

Serious Moonlight may not have ended up being exactly what I thought it was going to be, but it was still the type of enjoyable, quick read I’ve come to expect from Jenn Bennett.

I thought that the mystery and the historic hotel that Birdie and Daniel work at would play larger roles in the story. I expected a little bit of a creepy vibe, as well. However, the book stays firmly Contemporary in tone. Which isn’t a bad thing at all, I was just expecting something a little bit different. The mystery left a lot to be desired for me. I never really understood why they cared that much about it and it wasn’t until the final “twist” that it made sense why one of them was interested. However, it was a good excuse for Birdie and Daniel to spend time together and get to know each other and have fun, bantery conversations that I quite enjoyed. I definitely shipped them together.

The story wasn’t all cute and lightness, though. Deceased parents, unplanned pregnancies, deadbeat dads, Narcolepsy, depression, suicide, isolation, and abandonment issues are all explored. It was kind of a lot to juggle, but Bennett did a pretty good job of it. I especially thought the inclusion of Narcolepsy was really interesting. I’ve never read a book where a character suffered from that and it involves a lot more than just randomly falling asleep, like I thought.

One thing I didn’t like about the book, however, is the irresponsible view on sex. I think that it had the opportunity to really explore the emotional repercussions of casual sex, but it never really went there. The “advice” Birdie gets from the adult in her life is basically not to take things so seriously. In a book meant for adults I could probably ignore it, but for one marketed to teens, I wish there was a better message on the subject.

Overall, I enjoyed Serious Moonlight. While there were a lot of heavier topics to deal with, at it’s heart it was a cute contemporary romance that I shipped. I really liked Birdie and Daniel together. There were many cute moments between them, including one of the coolest first date experiences I’ve ever heard of. I think fans of more serious YA contemporaries will enjoy it.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

Review: Cold Day in the Sun by Sara Biren

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Holland Delviss wants to be known for her talent as a hockey player, not a hockey player who happens to be a girl. But when her school team is selected to be featured and televised as part of HockeyFest, her status as the only girl on the boys’ team makes her the lead story. Not everyone is thrilled with Holland’s new fame, but there’s one person who fiercely supports her, and it’s the last person she expects (and definitely the last person she should be falling for): her bossy team captain, Wes.

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

Cold Day in the Sun will be available March 12, 2019. 

I really enjoyed this book. I’ve really been in the mood for cute contemporary stories lately and Cold Day in the Sun gave me that, plus a little more substance.

Holland is the only girl on the boys varsity hockey team. She’s a great player, but there’s obviously a lot of pressure that comes with her position on the team. A lot of people don’t think she should be allowed to play with the boys and she spends every game trying to prove them wrong. What I thought was an interesting twist on the situation is that there is a girl’s hockey team she could play on. Holland really makes a point of saying her decision isn’t about the girls team not being good enough for her, but that she has always played with her brothers and their friends growing up and she wanted to keep playing with them. While at first I didn’t think it was a good narrative decision for there to be both a boys and girls team, giving Holland a choice really is important to the plot. Other than to satisfy my preconceived ideas, why should she have to justify her decision? Why can’t her explanation be “because I want to”? I liked that this situation challenged my thinking a bit.

Feminism is obviously a strong theme of the story. While it did hit on a lot of important topics, there were a few things that didn’t work for me. Any time someone uses a common, but male-centered expression (like “that takes balls” or “man down”) Holland goes off on them about it. Yes, I understand the reasoning for wanting to correct this kind of rhetoric, but honestly it just comes across a little petty to me. And I don’t think yelling at people when they say it is really the way to get people to change the way they speak.

While there were sexist remarks made about Holland by some people in their community, I loved that her teammates didn’t act like that. None of them seemed to be angry about having a girl on the team, even when she was better than some of them. While a few players were a little over-protective at times, they mostly just treated her like any other player and I liked that. I also really liked her relationship with her brothers and that none of them were threatened by her, either.

And then there is Wes. I absolutely adored him. He is so sweet and I loved how much he supported Holland. Besides hockey, they also share a love for glam metal. I am not really familiar with the music and bands that are mentioned (a lot) so I feel like some of the impact that might have had was a little lost on me, but I did like how they texted each other about it. I absolutely shipped the two of them together and I was glad to see Holland finally wise up when it came to him.

Overall, I really enjoyed Cold Day in the Sun. I liked the characters, the hockey, and the romance – especially Wes. While I didn’t always appreciate the way in which some points were made, I did like that it challenged the way I think about some things and thought it had a good overall message. This was definitely the cute read that I wanted it to be, plus more, and I’m looking forward to reading more from Biren.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: On Thin Ice (Juniper Falls #3) by Julie Cross

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Brooke Parker never expected to find herself in the tiny town of Juniper Falls, Minnesota. Of course, she also never expected to lose her dad. Or for her mom to lose herself. Brooke feels like she’s losing it…until she finds Juniper Falls hockey. Juniper Falls girls’ hockey, that is.

Jake Hammond, current prince of Juniper Falls, captain of the hockey team, and player with the best chance of scoring it big, is on top of the world. Until one hazing ritual gone wrong lands him injured, sitting on the sidelines, and―shocking even to him―finding himself enjoying his “punishment” as assistant coach for the girls’ team.

As Jake and Brooke grow closer, he finds the quiet new girl is hiding a persona full of life, ideas, and experiences bigger and broader than anything he’s ever known. But to Jake, hockey’s never just been a game. It’s his whole life. And leveraging the game for a shot at their future might be more than he can give.

Each book in the Juniper Falls series is STANDALONE:
* Off the Ice
* Breaking the Ice
* On Thin Ice

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

On Thin Ice will be available February 26, 2019. 

I have liked the other books in the Juniper Falls series, but I really loved On Thin Ice. It completely surpassed my expectations and I enjoyed it so much that I already want to re-read it.

I found both Jake and Brooke really likable characters. They both have had rough things happen in their lives and I felt like their reactions made sense for their age and situations. I also really loved them together. Their relationship didn’t have the best start, but I loved how it developed. I also really enjoyed seeing characters from the previous books like Tate, Claire, Fletcher, and Stellers.

I thought the hockey hazing storyline was well done. Over the course of the series we’ve seen how toxic the environment can be and how hockey players are given a lot of slack in the town, but it all really comes to a head here. I was glad to see the behavior was finally addressed and that it was the players themselves that brought it forward. It was a refreshing take on such a serious topic. I do wish that the issues with Brooke’s family were given a little more attention, though. Topics like self-harm and a suicide attempt are brought up and pretty quickly dismissed.

Overall, I just really loved On Thin Ice. I enjoyed the characters, the friendships, the romance, and the addictive writing. I really never wanted to put this one down. I recommend this one to fans of YA Contemporaries.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

For Sophie, small town life has never felt small. With her four best friends–loving, infuriating, and all she could ever ask for–she can weather any storm. But when Sophie’s beloved Acadia High School marching band is selected to march in the upcoming Rose Parade, it’s her job to get them all the way to LA. Her plan? To persuade country singer Megan Pleasant, their Midwestern town’s only claim to fame, to come back to Acadia to headline a fundraising festival.

The only problem is that Megan has very publicly sworn never to return.

What ensues is a journey filled with long-kept secrets, hidden heartbreaks, and revelations that could change everything–along with a possible fifth best friend: a new guy with a magnetic smile and secrets of his own.

Emma Mills books always make me happy and Famous in a Small Town was no exception. It’s been awhile since I smiled so much while reading a book.

As I’ve come to expect from Mills’ books, there are strong themes of friendship and family. I loved Sophie and her group of friends. There is so much effortless banter and I am completely here for it. I think that is one of the reason why I love books by this author so much. They are exactly my sense of humor.

While I loved the group of friends, a few of them – Flora, Dash, and especially Terrence – could’ve been a little more developed for me. Brit was well developed, but she was probably my least favorite person in the story. She was kind of the “wild” friend with a backstory that never really made sense to me. Which brings up another issue that made parts of the book not work for me. Several of the characters have some kind of heavy things happen to them, but none of them were really given enough attention to feel like anything more than a random side plot. A couple of them come kind of completely out of left field and then were never really explained or fully explored. I appreciated what Mills was trying to do with these storylines, but I just don’t think it worked here. I think if she would have picked one and focused on it, it would have worked a little better.

Enough with the negative, though, because I really enjoyed everything else. I loved Sophie and August together and really shipped the romance. I felt like they clicked from their very first scene together and then it just kept getting better. There’s some requisite angst here and there, but it still worked for me. I also really loved August’s brother and his family, who Sophie does a lot of babysitting for.

Overall, I really enjoyed Famous in a Small Town. I love how addictive Mills’ writing is and how even though it doesn’t feel like a lot is actually happening in the story, I never want to stop reading it. I loved the humor, the romance, the friendships, and that beautiful cover and I will be anxiously awaiting Mills’ next book.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars