Categotry Archives: Realistic

My Best Everything

My Best Everything Book Cover My Best Everything
Sarah Tomp
Juvenile Fiction
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
2015-03-03
400

An Appalachian summer walks the line between toxic and intoxicating in this debut novel about first loves, broken hearts, and moonshine. Luisa "Lulu" Mendez has just finished her final year of high school in a small Virginia town, determined to move on and leave her job at the local junkyard behind. So when her father loses her college tuition money, Lulu needs a new ticket out. Desperate for funds, she cooks up the (illegal) plan to make and sell moonshine with her friends. Quickly realizing they're out of their depth, they turn to Mason, a local boy who's always seemed like a dead end. As Mason guides Lulu through the secret world of moonshine, it looks like her plan might actually work. But can she leave town before she loses everything? My Best Everything is Lulu's letter to Mason--but it a love letter, an apology, or a good-bye?

 

Review:

It is going to be really difficult to describe just how much I love “My Best Everything” and what makes it amazing, but I am going to give it a try.

At its heart it is a coming of age story and a romance, and one that uses some of the standard tropes, but somehow manages to turn them around and make them into something completely different.  You have the bad boy, a common staple of romances, but he is not at all typical and by chapter ten you know his story is not what you think it will be.  There is bullying and stereotypes, but they are not the ones usually addressed in books, and it makes the reader think beyond what they would normally define as “bullying”.

The novel is written in the first person, but as a letter to the male protagonist, making the word “you” draw the reader into the experience.  It makes the entire thing more personal and intimate, with the narrator expressing feelings in a direct fashion, skipping flowery language, exposing the very real problems with the relationship, and yet somehow making this the type of  love story you are glad you were given the chance to become a part of.  There’s also the mystery of exactly why the letter is being written in the first place, adding some suspense, as well as reader anxiety, to the reading.

The character development is some of the best I have ever read in this novel’s genre, with traits and backstories being revealed with perfect timing.  All of the characters are flawed, with qualities that make you want to hug them and qualities that make you want to shake some sense into them.  In other words, they are realistic and react to their circumstances in a manner consistent with their personalities.  Additionally, the environment of the Blue Ridge Mountains is written in a way that makes them their own character.  Beautiful and flawed, they evoke feelings of longing and frustration.

I want to make note that the main character, Lulu, is Latino, and that is refreshing.  It is so rare to find diversity in books without it being the central theme of the book that it was a wonderful surprise to have her race being something that just is part of her and not the driving plot of the story.

The characters in “My Best Everything” act realistically, so there is underage drinking, sexual situations, and quite a bit of colorful language.  There is also a relationship with an age difference that may bother some, though the girl is only a couple of months shy of eighteen, so keep that in mind if that is the sort of thing that will decrease your enjoyment of the book.  Also, it’s about making moonshine, so if alcohol bothers you in any way, this is most definitely not the book for you.

As for my opinion, I highly recommend “My Best Everything” for older young adults as well as those who are no longer young.  It’s wonderful and I did not want to leave the characters and world behind.  I will never stop hoping that Sarah Tomp revisits Lulu and Mason at sometime in the future.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Content Warning:

Sexual Content, Language, Violence,  Addiction, Underage Drinking,  Lots of ‘Shine

Paper or Plastic

Paper or Plastic Book Cover Paper or Plastic
Vivi Barnes
Entangled: Teen
February 23, 2015
Paperback
352

Welcome to SmartMart, where crime pays minimum wage...

Busted. Alexis Dubois just got caught shoplifting a cheap tube of lipstick at the local SmartMart. She doesn’t know what’s worse—disappointing her overbearing beauty-pageant-obsessed mother for the zillionth time…or her punishment. Because Lex is forced to spend her summer working at the store, where the only things stranger than the staff are the customers.

Now Lex is stuck in the bizarro world of big-box retail. Coupon cutters, jerk customers, and learning exactly what a “Code B” really is (ew). And for added awkwardness, her new supervisor is the totally cute—and adorably geeky—Noah Grayson. Trying to balance her out-of-control mother, her pitching position on the softball team, and her secret crush on the school geek makes for one crazy summer. But ultimately, could the worst job in the world be the best thing that ever happened to her?

 

Review:

“Paper or Plastic” is exactly what it intends to be: a light ya romance and palate cleanser.  It fulfills its purpose wonderfully.

The characters are engaging and fun, all of them with underlying issues that a revealed throughout the book.  They grow a surprising amount as people given the length and lightness of the plot.  It’s easy to find yourself relating to them in some way and I found myself more invested in their lives more than I expected to be.

The plot is solid and deals with some heavier issues like bullying, Alzheimer’s, and child abuse while somehow managing to keep the tone light and humorous for the most part.  The writing is done in a style that makes it a quick read, and the teenagers speak like actual teenagers, which is something I am always appreciative of when digging in to a ya novel.

I can’t finish the review without noting that the author has very obviously worked at a retail chain of some sort in the past.  The horrors of retail were enough to bring me back nightmares about my days at a grocery chain.  In spite of the nightmares, reading about the customers had me literally laughing out loud.  Well done, Vivi Barnes.

“Paper or Plastic” is obviously meant for the teen market, but there are few things explicit enough for parents of younger teens to worry about.  I recommend it for those looking for a quick romantic read filled with humor and just the right amount of sweetness.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Content Warning:

Mild Sexual Situations, Brief Language, Child Abuse

How (Not) to Fall in Love

How (Not) to Fall in Love Book Cover How (Not) to Fall in Love
Lisa Brown Roberts
Entangled: Teen
February 3, 2015
Hardcover
352

Seventeen-year-old Darcy Covington never had to worry about money or where her next shopping spree was coming from. Even her dog ate gourmet. Then one day, Darcy’s car is repossessed from the parking lot of her elite private school. As her father’s business hit the skids, Dad didn’t just skip town, he bailed on his family.

Fortunately, Darcy’s uncle owns a thrift shop where she can hide out from the world. There’s also Lucas, the wickedly hot fix-it guy she can’t stop crushing on, even if she’s not sure they’ll ever get out of the friend zone.

But it’s here among the colorful characters of her uncle’s world that Darcy begins to see something more in herself...if she has the courage to follow it.

 

Review:

“How (Not) to Fall in Love” is the perfect palate cleanser that mixes romance with deeper issues, making it light but intelligent.  Part romance, part mystery, and part family drama, it covers quite a wide range of subjects.

All of the characters are wonderfully flawed and do not fall prey to stereotypes, even though the other characters try to project them onto those who are different.  They are well-developed and the dialogue is realistic and snarky.  The male love interest is actually a decent guy who sets a good example for the type of relationships girls and boys should expect to have.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case with young adult romances, so I’m always appreciative when it happens.

Mental illness and the effect it has on family members is also tackled and handled in a very sensitive manner.  There are no miracles to make it go away, and the path is not an easy one.  The realistic nature is something many people will be able to relate to, and it will also serve to help educate those without personal experiences.

While there is some adult content, none of it is explicit enough to keep middle readers from being able to read it and appreciate it, and parents can feel at ease with how everything is handled.  This makes it a wonderful choice for romance lovers of almost any age.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Content:

Mild Sexual Situations, Language, Drug Usage

 

The Same Sky

The Same Sky Book Cover The Same Sky
Amanda Eyre Ward
Fiction
Ballantine Books
2015-01-20
288

A childless woman looking to adopt crosses paths with a 13-year-old Honduran girl who has embarked on a dangerous journey into Texas with her brother. By the author of How to Be Lost.

 

Review:

“The Same Sky” is an intense book told in the stark voices of two narrators, a girl from Honduras named Carla, and a woman from America named Alice.  The two stories combine to make a haunting novel that will, hopefully, forever remain in the mind of the reader.

Alice, while she can be somewhat of annoying character, is a good representation of middle-class America.  Her family has its own struggles and deal with the inability to have children.  She and her husband run a small family business and live comfortably within their own bubble until the poverty that surrounds them becomes a part of their lives.  I liked this subplot of the book, as it was a good example of the fact that poverty exists, quite literally, in our own backyards.

The story of Carla is eye-opening and disturbing.  Her life in her village is vividly described, illustrating some of the many reasons people of all ages choose to risk the journey to the United States.  I had no idea the trip is as difficult as it is, and I may have nightmares about it for quite some time.

I highly recommend “The Same Sky”.  It brings a deep understanding to the struggles of others who share our world, and it sheds light on the reasons many illegal immigrant children are arriving at our borders alone.  It is my hope that we can all come together to help others in need with this book in the backs of our minds.  I know it will remain in mine.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Content Warning:

While I do not typically write content warnings for adult books, please be aware that there is rape, child, and drug abuse in this book.

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth Book Cover The Secret Wisdom of the Earth
Christopher Scotton
Fiction
Grand Central Publishing
2015-01-06
480

After witnessing the death of his younger brother in a terrible home accident, 14-year-old Kevin and his grieving mother are sent for the summer to live with Kevin's grandfather. In this peeled-paint coal town deep in Appalachia, Kevin quickly falls in with a half-wild hollow kid named Buzzy Fink who schools him in the mysteries and magnificence of the woods. The events of this fateful summer will affect the entire town of Medgar, Kentucky. Medgar is beset by a massive Mountaintop Removal operation that is blowing up the hills and back filling the hollows. Kevin's grandfather and others in town attempt to rally the citizens against the 'company' and its powerful owner to stop the plunder of their mountain heritage. When Buzzy witnesses the brutal murder of the opposition leader, a sequence is set in play which tests Buzzy and Kevin to their absolute limits in an epic struggle for survival in the Kentucky mountains. Redemptive and emotionally resonant, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is narrated by an adult Kevin looking back on the summer when he sloughed the coverings of a boy and took his first faltering steps as a man among a rich cast of characters and an ambitious effort to reclaim a once great community.

 

Review:

For the first time, I feel like a jerk for giving something three stars as opposed to four, because at its heart “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” is a solid four-star novel.  There are some plot flaws that made me feel the need to dock a star, and they may not bother others, so please research other reviews along with mine to determine if this novel is right for you.

“The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” is a coming-of-age tale in the slice-of-life tradition.  It meanders through the beautiful world of the Kentucky mountains, creating a respect within the reader for the beauty and fragility of nature.  Mixed in are the very real issues of coal mining, poverty, and homophobia.  All are handled in a realistic and unflinchingly honest way.

The main characters of Kevin, Pops, and Buzzy are likable and flawed, making them people whom those from all walks of life can relate.  The supporting characters are all given complex stories and personalities that make you want to sit around at the diner and get to know them better.

Given all of these positives, you may be wondering why the three-star rating.  The problem comes at the end.  While some issues were not resolved, and should not have been, there were others that were not addressed at all, leaving the reader with no closure.  On the opposite end, there was too much closure in the epilogue, with as many personal details crammed in as possible.  It cluttered what would have been such a great book had the ending simply addressed the initial themes as opposed to ignoring them for the minor details.

I don’t regret reading “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth”, but I do have mixed feelings about it.  I can neither recommend nor not recommend this novel.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Content:

I don’t do content warnings for adult books, but do want to warn that there is strong homophobic and racist comments, as well as animal abuse.

Since You’ve Been Gone

Since You've Been Gone Book Cover Since You've Been Gone
Mary Jennifer Payne
Juvenile Fiction
Dundurn PressLtd
2015-01-24
224

On the run from her abusive father, fifteen-year-old Edie Fraser and her mother flee to London, England for a fresh start. But one day, Edie's mom doesn't come home from work. Afraid to phone the police and risk being returned to her father, Edie begins a desperate search for her mother, and finds an unlikely ally along the way.

 

Review:

“Since You’ve Been Gone” was a very difficult book to rate.  It tackles some very difficult subjects, including domestic violence and racism.  To be honest, I had no idea how rampant racism was in Great Britain until reading this novel, and the valuable education alone raised it from two stars to three.  I’d like to thank the author,  Mary Jennifer Payne, for making me more aware.

The problem with the book was not the plot but the pacing.  It all seemed very rushed from one event to the next in a way that did not allow the reader to gain much understanding of each situation.  It would have been much better had there been more details offered, even though it would have significantly increased the length.  A story about such heavy topics deserves to be fully explored.

There were also a large amount of secondary characters that were completely unnecessary.  They presented conflicts that had no resolution in some cases, and in others they just served to muddle the story.  One character in particular did nothing for me but make me have an intense dislike of Edie, the protagonist.

It was not terrible, and I can neither recommend nor say it is to be avoided.

This book is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Content Warning:

Language, Brief Sexual Situations, Violence, Domestic Violence

All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places Book Cover All the Bright Places
Jennifer Niven
Knopf Books for Young Readers
January 6, 2015
Hardcover
400

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

 

Review:

I can summarize my thoughts on “All the Bright Places” by saying that this is a book that anyone in the upper middle grades and up absolutely needs to read, including adults.  It may be one of the most important books written in this decade, and I will be extremely disappointed if I don’t see it start popping up on school reading lists within a year.

The writing, complete with witty dialogue and two distinct narrator voices, is witty and solid.  You feel in the moment along with them, as opposed to reading about their own moment.  The characters are well-developed when they should be and not developed when they should not be.  That sentence makes little sense before you read it, but please keep it in mind when you get to the end.

Jennifer Niven is a brave woman with bold and risky decisions concerning the plot, and all of those decisions come together to form a masterpiece.  I can’t say much else, because the journey is the most important part of “All the Bright Places”, so I do not want to inadvertently spoil even the smallest of moments.  I will say that it is a story that will most likely stay with you for life.

In short, here are three things I know to be true about “All the Bright Places”:

  1. There will be a movie adaptation starring Elle Fanning.
  2. There will be angry posts all over the internet no matter who is chosen to play Theodore Finch, because he will be so loved by fans, and that is the nature of fandom.
  3. It will save lives.  Literally.

Five stars in this instance needs to be rounded up to 500.  Please read it, and please take its messages to heart.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Sexual Situations, Talk of Suicide and Self-Harming

We Should Hang Out Sometime

We Should Hang Out Sometime Book Cover We Should Hang Out Sometime
Josh Sundquist
Juvenile Nonfiction
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
2014-12-23
336

When I was twenty-five years old, it came to my attention that I had never had a girlfriend. At the time, I was actually under the impression that I was in a relationship, so this bit of news came as something of a shock. Why was Josh still single? To find out, he tracked down each of the girls he had tried to date since middle school and asked them straight up: What went wrong? The results of Josh's semiscientific investigation are in your hands. From a disastrous Putt-Putt date involving a backward prosthetic foot, to his introduction to CFD (Close Fast Dancing), and a misguided "grand gesture" at a Miss America pageant, this story is about looking for love-or at least a girlfriend-in all the wrong places. Poignant, relatable, and totally hilarious, this memoir is for anyone who has ever wondered, "Is there something wrong with me?" (Spoiler Alert: the answer is no.)

 

Review:

All I really want to write about “We Should Hang Out Sometime” is a bunch of keyboard slamming with “EVERYONE NEEDS TO READ THIS NOW” at the end of it.  Oh, and a whole bunch of “lols”.   It really is that good, and Josh Sundquist is a master storyteller.

The book is a somewhat scientific exploration of all of the author’s failed relationships and an attempt to find out where, exactly, they went wrong.  He is a Christian homeschooled amputee with a nerdy side, making him atypical in many ways, but I dare anyone not to find parts of the story that they feel do not come straight out of their own lives.  This is where Sundquist’s genius comes in: He can make us all relate to him, and therefore learn from him.  I, by the way, fell (and still do) solidly in the “let me make a flowchart to minimize the pain of rejection during a social interaction” category.  But I digress.

There are a lot of laughs in “We Should Hang Out Sometime”, including some of those uncomfortable “should I be laughing at this?” moments.  My advice is to go with it, because trying to keep it in will hurt.  It isn’t only words.  There are hand-drawn charts graphs that are worthy of being made into posters illustrating many key points.

By the end of the book, the Josh Sundquist has shown remarkable growth as a person and managed to teach us some very good inspirational life lessons.  An excellent, and important, read for middle readers through adults.

So, in closing:  Mr. Sundquist, we should hang out sometime.  (But not in that way.)

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Content Warning:

Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Risk of Urinary Incontinence While Laughing

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock Book Cover Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Matthew Quick
Juvenile Fiction
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
2014-07-01
304

In addition to the P-38, there are four gifts, one for each of my friends. I want to say good-bye to them properly. I want to give them each something to remember me by. To let them know I really cared about them and I'm sorry I couldn't be more than I was--that I couldn't stick around--and that what's going to happen today isn't their fault. Today is Leonard Peacock's birthday. It is also the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather's P-38 pistol. Maybe one day he'll believe that being different is okay, important even. But not today.

 

Review:

If there is any book that is important to read, it is “Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock” by Matthew Quick.

I feel like I could hit a character limit for reviews simply by listing all of the life lessons to be found in the book, but I will try to keep it at a minimum.  It gives excellent insight into the mind of someone who feels they have nothing left to live for, as well as all of the attempts made at reaching out that go unnoticed by most.  However, it also makes it very clear that someone does care, even though Leonard may not know it at the time.  There is another hugely important issue raised that is very seldom touched on and took quite a bit of bravery to tackle as bluntly as it was, but I don’t want to spoil what happens.  Trust me when I say that it will make you think.

The characters are all very quirky and well-written, which is typically the case in anything written by Matthew Quick, and I really appreciated that Leonard is an extremely flawed character.  All too often books for young adults tend to portray a victim of bullying and/or someone with suicidal tendencies as being a perfect human being.  That is not the case here, nor is it the case with any person on earth.  It makes the entire story even more relatable by keeping it realistic.

The writing flows well, and given its subject matter, it is an incredibly quick read.  However, the story will stay in your mind long after “Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock” ends.

Everyone should read “Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock”.  I know that I will think more carefully about those around me and look for signs of distress, and I hope that others will, as well.

 

Content Warning:

Language, Sexual Situations,  Violence, Suicide, Rape

 

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography

Pioneer Girl Book Cover Pioneer Girl
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Biography & Autobiography
2014-09-01

Laura Ingalls Wilder's unedited, and unpublished, draft of her autobiography that was written for an adult audience and eventually served as the foundation for her popular Little House on the Prairie series includes not-safe-for-children tales that feature stark scenes of domestic abuse, love triangles gone awry and a man who lit himself on fire while drunk off whiskey.

 

Review:

As with many readers, much of my early reading involved the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Of course, that world was also brought into our homes through the television series of the same name.  It is not a stretch to say it has been a beloved staple of childhood for generations, including my own.  Therefore, I was thrilled to get an advanced copy “Pioneer Girl:  The Annotated Biography” through the Goodreads First Reads program in exchange for an honest review.

Here comes the honesty: this edition of “Pioneer Girl”  is an absolute must have for all Laura Ingalls Wilder fans, fans of either form of Little House on the Prairie, as well as anyone interested in the history of the great plains.  It is everything I hoped it would be and more.

The annotations are thorough and include little known facts about Mrs. Wilder herself, but also about the daily living of her time.  Photos give a wonderful glimpse into the real people behind the stories and include such additions of schoolyard play in small towns.  Her life comes alive in the minds of readers thanks to the photography and annotations.

Perhaps the biggest draw of “Pioneer Girl” is it was written as more of a diary of memories, skipping back and forth as her mind saw fit, and it was not changed as the Little House on the Prairie books were to add that little zing of which publishers are so fond.  This is her story, stark, detailed, and wonderful, as she meant it to be.

I give “Pioneer Girl:  The Annotated Autobiography” a hundred stars, but the rating system will only allow me to put five of them here.  And don’t forget, this would make an excellent gift for the fans of Little House in the prairie in your life!