Publisher: Speak

The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen (Book Review)

Posted July 2, 2012 by Jana in Book Review, Young Adult Fiction / 8 Comments

The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen (Book Review)The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen
Published by Speak on February 16, 2012
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 380
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
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5 Stars

Pretty in Pink meets Anna and the French Kiss in this charming romantic comedy

Ella is nearly invisible at the Willing School, and that's just fine by her. She's got her friends - the fabulous Frankie and their sweet cohort Sadie. She's got her art - and her idol, the unappreciated 19th-century painter Edward Willing. Still, it's hard being a nobody and having a crush on the biggest somebody in the school: Alex Bainbridge. Especially when he is your French tutor, and lessons have started becoming, well, certainly more interesting than French ever has been before. But can the invisible girl actually end up with a happily ever after with the golden boy, when no one even knows they're dating? And is Ella going to dare to be that girl?

Here we have another cute contemporary romance, and it was just what I needed for a summery day spent reading on my cruise ship’s balcony. Oh, and I was sick. Who else loves reading cute love stories when you’re sick? They are like comfort food. :) Really, all I feel like I can say is that it was adorable! Sometimes I get so swept into a story that I forget I have to review it. Haha. That’s kind of what happened here. So, this review will most likely be short and sweet, just like the book itself! As always, my main points are bolded. :)

1. I went into this book expecting “Pretty in Pink meets Anna and the French Kiss” since, well, that’s what the book said it was. While I certainly would not measure this book up to Anna (because it falls short in comparison), it was a sweet read that I’m glad I took the chance on.

2. I really enjoyed the wacky humor. Ella has this crush on Edward Willing, a painter from the 19th century. Obviously he’s no longer living, but she has a bust of him that she talks to about her life and inner thoughts. And he talks back and gives advice. I found that to be rather weird at first, but the idea kind of grew on me. I ended up enjoying their conversations. Ella also has this hilarious Italian family who all work at their Italian restaurant together. Their conversations and loud personalities kind of reminded me of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

3. Ella is really easy to relate to. She’s got all the normal traits of a high school girl: a meddling family, a few best friends, a crush she is sure will never ever like her back, and some insecurities (especially regarding some severe scars leftover from a boating accident when she was younger). At the same time, though, she shines and gains the attention of that certain unattainable guy.

4. I love Ella’s two best friends, Frankie and Sadie, who go to Willing School with her. They are the misfits of their class, and have bonded together. Frankie is gay, Sadie is rich but has low self esteem, and Ella is there on scholarship. Clearly, they don’t fit in among the elite students (phillites) that surround them. Together, they help instil confidence in Ella, and help her grow as a person. Frankie is extremely flamboyant and confident, always bouncing around and voicing his opinion. Every girl needs a guy like Frankie in her life.

5. Alex is such a sweetie. He’s appointed Ella’s math tutor, and even though he’s a phillite, he is so sweet and caring towards her. They form this really cute relationship. There was no insta-love, just a simple, sweet teenage love story. They have a very real connection.

In short, I loved this book. It was cute, sweet, and light, but at the same time it touched on some of the deeper issues that teenagers face like self worth, body image, and feelings of inadequacy. I enjoyed everything about it, and would definitely recommend it to people who enjoy contemporary YA.

5 Stars

The Summer My Life Began (Book Review & Author Guest Post)

Posted May 16, 2012 by Jana in Book Review, Guest Post, Young Adult Fiction / 2 Comments

The Summer My Life Began (Book Review & Author Guest Post)The Summer My Life Began by Shannon Greenland
Published by Speak on May 10, 2012
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Romance
Pages: 250
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher (Netgalley)
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5 Stars

Elizabeth Margaret--better known as Em--has always known what her life would contain: an internship at her father's firm, a degree from Harvard, and a career as a lawyer. The only problem is, it's not what she wants. So when she gets the opportunity to get away and spend a month with the aunt she never knew, she jumps at the chance. While there, Em learns that her family has some pretty significant secrets. And then there's Cade, the laid-back local surfer boy who seems to be everything Em isn't. Naturally, she can't resist him, and as their romance blossoms, Em feels that for the first time ever, she is really living life on her own terms.

I am on a major contemporary romance kick these days, not to mention book that take place in amazing locations (which is why I asked the author to talk about it in her guest post below my review!). I am SO ready for summer, and traveling, and sitting outside reading in the sun. I’m tired of being cold! This book warmed me inside and out, and had me smiling like an idiot while I read it. As always, my main points are bolded! :)

1. Let me live in this novel. Seriously. Most of it takes place in and around an adorable, picturesque B&B in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. I loved it. Pepper House has a very tropical feel with lots of flowers and warm breezes blowing through the open shutters to ruffle the bed canopies. Sandy beaches, mysterious caves to explore, a quaint little town where everyone knows who you are and what you’re up to, mopeds, waves crashing against craggy cliffs, expensive yachts tied to the dock, and yummy aromas flowing throughout it all, of food and the ocean and the flowers and the soap Mr. Sexy used after his day of surfing. Can I please go!?!

2. The writing is my favorite. I loved the descriptions of everything. Shannon’s writing drapes you in a flowy gauze dress and sits you on a beach towel in the sand, rocking big sunglasses and a smile. If only I could live in this world!

3. I fell in love with the characters. Elizabeth Margaret (or Em) is so much fun. She’s feeling stifled by her parents and her rich life. She has to wear polos and plaid shirts, always act ladylike, and never do anything fun. Does she want to go to Harvard to be a lawyer? No. She secretly wants to be a chef, but she could never tell her parents that. Cooking is not the kind of life Em is to have. Em jumps at the chance to go stay with her aunt Tilly, who I love. I want a cool aunt like her! She’s so sweet, caring, loving, funny and cool to be around. She owns the B&B Em heads off to, which is like a dream of mine. Tilly’s cook, Domino, is the coolest fatherly guy ever. He takes Em under his wing and gives her advice on life, as well as cooking. Frederick, Tilly’s son, is the kind of guy you can confide in without feeling like you need to hide anything. Beth, the “domestic engineer” (maid) is like the big sister you’ve always wanted. And, of course, we have Cade. Ahh… Cade *swoons*. He’s a sexy, slightly broken jack-of-all-trades with a smart, sensitive side and great abs. Oh man. Totally love this guy.

4. The family environment at the B&B is amazing. Everyone loves each other, even though they all carry scars from difficult pasts. Their trials brought them together, though, into this tight make-shift family. I loved reading all their conversations, their silly jabs at each other, their “family” outings, and their past lives. I’d love to insert them into my own family. I can just picture holiday dinners laughing around the table with them. I also like Em’s sister, Gwenny, who stayed back home while Em went off for the summer. You can tell how much she loves her sister. Em’s lucky to have her for support.

5. The story flows naturally from one thing to the other. As we learn more about each person, we figure out exactly how they fit into each other’s lives. I love Em’s character development. She grows so much over her month at Pepper House, and learns about who she is and what she wants with her life. It truly is the summer of a new beginning for her, as well as many of the other characters. The romance is totally believable, and happens naturally. I loved the tension between Cade and Em. And oh my. Their first date is straight out of a fairytale.

6. This book kept me guessing! I had no idea all the cool twists and turns it would take, but I loved every minute of the ride.

7. I love the message of this book. Stepping away from your current life allows you to evaluate and see where you’re headed. It gives you a chance to stop focusing on the mundane events of life and focus only on yourself. Em had a lot of time to think and ponder. She got to taste a new side of her life. She got to cook and play and learn and fall in love. This book teaches us that we can always change. Nothing is ever set in stone. It also reminds us to have fun, which I know I need to be reminded of sometimes.

I can’t stop thinking about how perfect this book was! It was like a much needed vacation. I placed myself right in the middle of it, grabbed the bedroom next to Em’s, and made myself a home in this book. I never liked coming of age novels, but I’m starting to discover the messages you can learn from them. I’d definitely recommend this to people who love contemporary stories, coming of age moments, sweet romance, and trips to gorgeous tropical islands.

 

What Inspired Me to Write The Summer My Life Began
By Shannon Greenland

It’s funny the things that inspire you. When I was a kid growing up in Tennessee it seemed as if the beach was such a faraway place. Even though my family is from Florida and our vacations often centered on trips south, I thought of the beach as sort of a take it or leave it type of place.

Now that I’m older, I can’t think of any place I’d rather be. So when my publisher approached me to step away from my spy series, The Specialists, and write a YA single title, I thought, definitely the beach!

Rather it be the sands of Hawaii, the beaches of Bermuda, the waters of the Bahamas, the shores of South America, or the Florida coasts, my life seems to navigate toward the warmth and yumminess the ocean offers.

In The Summer My Life Began much of what Em experiences are taken straight from my first time surfing, riding a moped along the coast, visiting a Farmer’s Market in the ocean breeze, sailing, and kissing a boy with the waves crashing around me.

The ocean is a romantic, adventurous, dangerous place that Mother Nature has given us to enjoy. And I intend on making use of it! So what’s on the docket for me this summer? I’m trying my hand at paddle boarding on my next Florida visit. I can’t wait!

Find Shannon Here:
Website  |  Goodreads  |  Twitter  |  Facebook

5 Stars

Matched by Ally Condie (Book Review)

Posted February 3, 2012 by Jana in Book Review, Young Adult Fiction / 8 Comments

Matched by Ally Condie (Book Review)Matched by Ally Condie
Series: Matched #1
Published by Speak on November 30, 20120
Genres: Dystopia, Romance, Science Fiction
Pages: 366
Format: Hardcover
Source: Gift
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4 Stars

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

I read this book right when it came out (and reviewed it at The Broke and The Bookish), but have decided to post my review of it on here as well because I’ll be reading and reviewing the sequel, Crossed, as soon as I possibly can! This is a wonderful dystopian book, that really made me think. The people of this world live in a time where everything they do is governed and decided by the Officials of the Society. People are matched up with their spouse, their job, their extra-curricular activities, and even the day they will die. All the literature, music, and art have been paired down to the best 100 pieces of each. The Officials have destroyed everything else. The people are not allowed to write. Everything they do is monitored—even their dreams are recorded. They are only allowed to exercise a certain amount. If they go over that time, or do it too vigorously, they are marked as a person with body image issues. They are only allowed to eat a certain amount of food, which is delivered to them three times a day. Pills control their emotions. Their possessions are regulated. What kind of life would that be? What purpose do the humans even serve anymore? If they go against the rules, they are marked and are no longer a respected part of society. They are pulled out of the Matching Pool, no longer allowed to be married, and are given menial jobs that lead to an early death. Choices are against the law. This is the world Cassia lives in, only she’s not happy about it.

The Officials messed up. A glitch in the system showed Cassia the corruption behind the decisions these Officials made, and now she’s rebelling—hoping that she can somehow beat the system. Sure, the guy chosen for her might be the most ideal, most compatible, and most practical Match for her, but what about the one she’s fallen in love with? Love doesn’t matter anymore.  What if she doesn’t want the job they assigned her? Too bad. She can’t even choose the clothes she wears. The only time she was ever even allowed to wear a color was for her Matching Banquet, where she was assigned a mate while wearing her beautiful green dress (hence the symbolic book cover image of a girl in a green dress, trapped in a glass ball of dictatorship)—a green dress she chose from a catalog of approved choices. Of course, she could not keep this dress. She was sent a small piece of the dress fabric mounted between two pieces of glass after the Banquet was over.  This is the control these Officials have. The people are being drugged to forget things. They are all lost in a world of conformity. They are being brainwashed into thinking this is all ok. Cassia finds a person who remembers the past. He has access to old “destroyed” writings. He knows how to write. He knows the history of humankind, and it’s a whole lot better than what they’re going through now. The more Cassia rebels and learns about the past, the more corruption she notices. She’s also falling deeper and deeper in love—with the wrong person. She’s going to do something about it. She’s going to change her destiny.

I really loved this book. Many of the passages are extremely poetic, and somewhat lyrical. The descriptions of the scenery make you feel as though you were there. The emotions and feelings are easy to understand. The situations are easy to relate to. The characters are real people. I connected so well to the entire storyline. Cassia is a great heroine. She is not the rule-breaking rebel to the extent of Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, but this IS only book one. We might see more rebellion in the future books. She was weak in the beginning, but learned more as the book went on. She grew a backbone! I liked her character development. I really enjoyed the love triangle, which I think ultimately symbolizes rebellion vs. submission. She was told to do one thing, but really wanted the forbidden. It’s a relatable dilemma on many levels. I enjoyed the relationship she had with each of the two boys in this triangle. One was very sweet and innocent—two childhood friends realizing they’re going to get married and exploring the new feelings the Society says they should be developing. The other one was forbidden but equally, if not more, sweet. They snuck around and tried to stifle the underlying tension of wanting, but not being allowed to have. I love this relationship more than the other. It seems more real to me. There could have been a bit more chemistry between them, but I understand that it had to be very hidden in order to protect both of them. With the rebellion I expect to see in the coming books, I expect to see more chemistry as well. All in all, this was a great book, and I really enjoyed it!

Discussion: I love a book that makes me think. At the very beginning I enjoyed the idea of being matched with my ideal man. I wouldn’t have to date a bunch of jerks to find him. He’d just be delivered to me, and we wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not it was going to work out. I would have never been dumped, and I wouldn’t have had to dump anyone! Wonderful! But… then I thought about the what-ifs. What if I fell in love with the wrong person? What if I did not love the guy I was paired with? Then the what-ifs started spiraling out to encompass everything. Part of the wonderfulness of life is that we CAN choose who we marry, what we do for a job, what we read, what we listen to, what we eat, when we eat, what we wear, etc. I think life would be pointless without decisions. It made me grateful for the life I have. Next time a really crummy date goes down in flames, I’ll remind myself that at least I had the opportunity to choose! Haha. So tell me. What do you think about Cassia’s world? Would you enjoy having your entire life planned out for you, or would you fight back too?

4 Stars

Let it Snow, by J. Green, M. Johnson, & L. Myracle (Book Review)

Posted December 20, 2011 by Jana in Book Review, Young Adult Fiction / 10 Comments

Let it Snow, by J. Green, M. Johnson, & L. Myracle (Book Review)Let it Snow: Three Holiday Romances by John Green, Lauren Myracle, Maureen Johnson
Published by Speak on October 2, 2008
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Holiday - Christmas, Romance
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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4 Stars

Sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. Thanks to three of today’s bestselling teen authors—John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle—the magic of the holidays shines on these hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and breathtaking kisses.

I love Christmas romances that aren’t sad. Why do all Christmas books have to be sad? The back of the book always says, “After Mindy’s mother died, her dog got hit by a car, her husband divorced her, and her kid ran away from home… she meets a man at the ER who was severely burned and can’t see. Love blooms, and a Christmas miracle happens.” Haven’t you read that before? Ugh. Christmas is happy! Not sad! The back of this book sounds happy. :) So I decided it was worth a shot, even though I don’t like the idea of short stories. I like to read a book that is one big story. Not three little ones. Needless to say, this book was a gamble. JACKPOT!! Halleluiah! I LOVED IT! Gush, gush, gush. Ok, on to the review. (Clearly I don’t read enough books that cause happiness to gush out of me. I’m not crazy, I promise.) Oh, and wanna know what else is fun? These three stories are all intermingled. I didn’t realize this until I started in on story #2. They all take place on and around Christmas Eve in Gracetown, NC during the biggest blizzard in the last 50 years. Each story discusses different characters, who end up all being connected. I loved all of them, and want to go find everyone at The Waffle House in Gracetown now.

The first story is called The Jubilee Express, by Maureen Johnson. I’d never read anything by her, and pretty much adore her now. Not many authors make me love them in roughly 100 pages, but I’m about to go buy more of her books! Anyway, there’s a girl named Jubilee (she was named after a building in a very expensive Santa village! Hahah!) who finds herself on a train to Florida because her parents decided to be crazy this year. A big snowstorm causes the train to stop in a small town, where she finds some interesting people (and some sweet ones) in the Waffle House. Her Christmas plans end up needing a slight alteration, but I doubt anyone would feel that she suffered as a result! I loved this story. Jubilee is hilarious. The thoughts running through her head had me laughing out loud. I loved the main guy in this story too. He is so sweet and sensitive. I’m not giving away more of the plot, because you just need to read it. That is all.

The second story is called A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle, by John Green. Oh my. It’s hilarious. The main guy, Tobin, has two friends named JP (my favorite character, because he is amazing) and the Duke (Angie). While watching Bond movies, they get a call on Christmas Eve to hightail it to the Waffle House to see 14 stranded cheerleaders from the same train Jubliee was on, hanging out and being cheerleadery. Their journey to this Waffle House (in the middle of a blizzard) is priceless. It includes a lost wheel, some scary twins, a Twister mat sled, and a dangerous beer keg. I died of laughter. And of course, it turns out to be an adorable story. I want to meet JP. The things he says are hilarious, plus he was wearing Tobin’s dad’s baby blue ski suit for the entire story because he thought it would make him look like a hardcore skier, just back from the slopes. Gotta impress those cheerleaders! Oh, good stuff, Mr. John Green.

The last story is called The Patron Saint of Pigs, by Lauren Myracle. This was a very “meh” read for me. Luckily it was the last story, because I don’t think I would have continued with the book if it had been the first.  It’s all about this girl named Addie, who I didn’t care for much, who cheated on her boyfriend a week before Christmas, dumped him, and now wants him back. She spends a lot of time whining about her situation, even though it’s her fault. And she spends a lot of time being mad at him for not responding to her latest apology e-mail with open arms. She CHEATED on him. Why does she expect a happy ending to this? The story also involves a little old lady who thinks she’s an angel, and a quest to acquire a little teacup pig that is to be her friend’s Christmas present. It was just weird, and a pretty weak way to end the book. The first two stories were brilliant, and long-lasting loves for me. This story really fell flat, and pales in comparison. The ending was also pretty cliche and unrealistic. I can look past this story, though, and rate this book 5 stars for the other two. If we factor in my rating for this one, the book would probably get a 3.5.

I definitely see myself re-reading the first two stories a lot. They are so sweet and Christmasy, not to mention a quick dose of the Holiday spirit. I was delighted to find them. Did anyone here love the third story? I’m pretty lenient when it comes to Christmas reads, but I held this one to pretty high standards after the first two. What do you think?

4 Stars