Book Review: The Rest of the Story

The Rest of the Story – Sarah Dessen – Balzer
+Bray – Published 4 June 2019

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Synopsis

Emma Saylor doesn’t remember a lot about her mother, who died when she was ten. But she does remember the stories her mom told her about the big lake that went on forever, with cold, clear water and mossy trees at the edges.

Now it’s just Emma and her dad, and life is good, if a little predictable…until Emma is unexpectedly sent to spend the summer with her mother’s family—her grandmother and cousins she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl.

When Emma arrives at North Lake, she realizes there are actually two very different communities there. Her mother grew up in working class North Lake, while her dad spent summers in the wealthier Lake North resort. The more time Emma spends there, the more it starts to feel like she is divided into two people as well. To her father, she is Emma. But to her new family, she is Saylor, the name her mother always called her.

Then there’s Roo, the boy who was her very best friend when she was little. Roo holds the key to her family’s history, and slowly, he helps her put the pieces together about her past. It’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of North Lake—and Saylor finds herself falling under Roo’s spell as well.

My thoughts

The Rest of the Story is the perfect summer read. Or the perfect book to pick up in winter when you are craving summer days at the beach. I’ve always loved Sarah Dessen’s writing and The Rest of the Story was no different. It’s a great blend of summer romance with deeper themes around family, memories and loss. It’s also funny and has a few teen hijinks that will have you craving ice cream, secret parties, and impromptu proms with loads of fairy lights.

Emma Saylor has only a few memories of her mother. When her plans to stay at a friend’s place while her father honeymoons with his new (really nice) wife, Emma volunteers to go and stay with her mother’s family at North Lake. While she visited as a small child, Emma has no recollection of the lake or her maternal family. Her arrival at her grandmother’s house and family-run motel is bumpy. Emma is the city girl who doesn’t know any of the people she’s surrounded with or the lake traditions. But it isn’t long before she is swept up into the big, loud extended family, volunteering at the motel and sharing stories of the past with the intriguing Roo.

Put your feet up, grab your shades and sink into The Rest of the Story. It’s the perfect way to enjoy this sweet summer story. Emma Saylor—Emma to her dad and everyone, Saylor to her mother and now her mother’s family—is an easy character to like. She’s a good girl, a good daughter, a good friend, makes good decisions and tries not to rock the boat. She’s also genuinely nice, so it’s easy to become immersed in her world. Emma also has anxiety, so travelling to a new place surrounded by unfamiliar faces is a challenge. But she finds that she fits at North Lake, fits with the people there and the relaxed vibe, even if she is fighting with her cousin, dodging the wrath of her other cousin’s girlfriend, or trying to get on the good side of her another cousin (it’s a big family).

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Book Review: Tweet Cute

Tweet Cute – Emma Lord – Wednesday Books- Published 21 January 2020

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Synopsis

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

My thoughts

Tweet Cute is seriously cute. But not in a cringey, saccharine way. It is one of the most genuine, adorable but realistic and heartfelt and, yes, cute books I’ve read in ages-maybe ever. It’s a story about social media, a story about family and the ways in which we fight for them. A story about growing up and trying to decide what to do with your life. It’s a story about the most incredible baking and comfort food. Seriously. Pack snacks. And it’s a story about falling in love, and YA contemporary readers are sure to fall in love with this delightful book.

Pepper is in control of her life. Swim team captain, top grades, and a place amongst the genius students of her fancy New York high school. So what if she feels like she doesn’t really belong, would rather have her family whole again and be living in Nashville, and maybe even have some genuine friends. When her mother insists that she take over their company’s Twitter feed as they launch new stores around the country, Pepper doesn’t expect to have one of her tweets directly challenge a local family-owned deli or for her to have to go head to head with a fellow classmate as he seeks to defend his family’s deli. As Pepper and Jack wage war on Twitter, their paths keep crossing in real life.

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Book Review: Echoes Between Us

Echoes Between Us – Katie McGarry – Tor Teen – Published 14 January 2020

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Synopsis

Veronica sees ghosts. More specifically, her mother’s ghost. The afterimages of blinding migraines caused by the brain tumor that keeps her on the fringes and consumes her whole life haunt her, even as she wonders if it’s something more…

Golden boy Sawyer is handsome and popular, a state champion swimmer, but his adrenaline addiction draws him to Veronica.

A girl with nothing to live for and a boy with everything to lose–can they conquer their demons together?

My thoughts

As a devoted Katie McGarry fan I was a little worried when this book was marketed as a breakout novel and a move into a new genre. I shouldn’t have worried. Echoes Between Us is everything a Katie McGarry novel always is – heartbreaking, emotional, addictive, thrilling and romantic- with ghosts. It’s actually not much different from its companion novel Only A Breath Apart, which introduced a touch of the supernatural to the main story of family complexity and romance. Echoes Between Us encapsulates so many emotions and such important topics around grief, learning difficulties, illness and addiction.

Veronica can see her mother’s ghost. It, along with crippling migraines, is a constant reminder that she has a brain tumour, like the tumour that killed her mother. But she’s not afraid to die. Veronica is curious about the footsteps and rumbles in her own home, the rumours of ghosts that haunt the abandoned TB hospital, the stories of a girl who walks along the stretch of road where she died. When Sawyer moves into the rooms above Veronica’s house, he is sceptical of the warnings he receives about it being haunted. Even more sceptical of Veronica and her band of friends. He’s got bigger troubles, like taking care of his mother and sister, and resisting to urge to get adrenaline highs from cliff jumping. But Sawyer and Veronica are drawn together, and in order to hide a secret, Sawyer agrees to partner with Veronica on her ghost hunting senior project.

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Book Review: It’s My Life

It’s My Life – Stacie Ramey – Sourcebooks Fire – Published 7 January 2020

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Synopsis

Jenna’s never let her cerebral palsy get her down. But when she discovers that her condition was actually caused by an injury at birth, she’s furious with her parents, who withheld the truth. And as they push her to get yet another difficult procedure, Jenna feels her control over her life starting to slip.

Enter Julian, Jenna’s childhood crush. He’s just moved back to town, and he’s struggling in school, so Jenna reaches out to him—anonymously— to help. Soon, their conversations are about so much more than class. She’s falling for him all over again, hard and fast. But would Julian still be interested in her if he knew who she really was? And can she find a way to take back her own narrative before she pushes away everyone she loves?

My thoughts

It’s My Life is a story about growing up, finding your voice and asserting control over your life, while also learning to accept others for the choices they make. Unfortunately, an awkward text-based romance drives what should be a sweet story of first love, but overall It’s My Life is about empowerment and family.

When Jenna discovered that her Cerebral Palsy was caused rather than just happened, it changed how she views her parents, the medical system, her lack of say in the decisions happening about her body, even her body’s limits. When an old friend—and longtime crush— returns to town, Jenna is torn between avoiding the inevitable rejection and a chance to get close to him. She starts chatting with him via text, refusing to reveal her identity. Meanwhile, as her parents discuss yet another surgery, Jenna considers medical emancipation.

I know this is just one girl’s story and every person with Cerebral Palsy and a disability is different, prefers different terms, has a different approach to their abilities, life, etc, but I know that the perspective in this story is a powerful message about abilities and empowerment, control and strength. Jenna, at times, refuses to let her CP stop her. Ice skating? No problem. Sneaking out? If her siblings can, she can too. But on the other hand, how she views herself—as something that boys will not want to date— is negative and destructive. This negativity extends outside her disability and into body image as well.

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Book Review: Throw Like A Girl

Throw Like A Girl – Sarah Henning – Poppy – Published 7 January 2020

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Synopsis

When softball star Liv Rodinsky throws one ill-advised punch during the most important game of the year, she loses her scholarship to her fancy private school, her boyfriend, and her teammates all in one fell swoop. With no other options, Liv is forced to transfer to the nearest public school, Northland, where she’ll have to convince its coach she deserves a spot on the softball team, all while facing both her ex and the teammates of the girl she punched… Every. Single. Day.

Enter Grey, the injured star quarterback with amazing hair and a foolproof plan: if Liv joins the football team as his temporary replacement, he’ll make sure she gets a spot on the softball team in the spring. But it will take more than just a flawless spiral for Liv to find acceptance in Northland’s halls, and behind that charismatic smile, Grey may not be so perfect after all.

My thoughts

Throw Like A Girl is such a feel-good, girl power (but taking nothing away from the guys) kind of book. I love sports books because of the suspense, the blood, sweat and tears, the team camaraderie, the hard work they put in and those glorious moments of triumph. Throw Like A Girl delivers all of that alongside such great displays of friendship, lessons about lying and the consequences of not disclosing the full truth and swoon. worthy. romance. Such a great book and everything I wanted it to be.

Liv Rodinsky is one of her softball team’s stars. That is, until she punches an opposing team member in the face for an offensive slur. Cast from the team, her scholarship and her school, Liv has to start again, this time on the team of the girl she punched. The coach asks her to display team skills, so when the school’s football team quarterback recruits Liv, she takes him up on the offer.

Oh my gosh I loved this book. From Liv’s fierceness and excellent sport skills to her burgeoning relationship with Grey. She makes an excellent narrator- great friend, good daughter and just a genuinely nice person. But she doesn’t take any nonsense and is quick to set people straight.

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Book Review: Every Other Weekend

Every Other Weekend – Abigail Johnson – Inkyard Press – Published 7 January 2020

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Synopsis

Adam Moynihan’s life used to be awesome. Straight As, close friends and a home life so perfect that it could have been a TV show straight out of the 50s. Then his oldest brother died. Now his fun-loving mom cries constantly, he and his remaining brother can’t talk without fighting, and the father he always admired proved himself a coward by moving out when they needed him most.

Jolene Timber’s life is nothing like the movies she loves—not the happy ones anyway. As an aspiring director, she should know, because she’s been reimagining her life as a film ever since she was a kid. With her divorced parents at each other’s throats and using her as a pawn, no amount of mental reediting will give her the love she’s starving for.

Forced to spend every other weekend in the same apartment building, the boy who thinks forgiveness makes him weak and the girl who thinks love is for fools begin an unlikely friendship. The weekends he dreaded and she endured soon become the best part of their lives. But when one’s life begins to mend while the other’s spirals out of control, they realize that falling in love while surrounded by its demise means nothing is ever guaranteed.

My thoughts

It is no secret that Abigail Johnson is one of my all-time favourite authors. And she did not disappoint with her newest release, Every Other Weekend. So many teens are impacted by their parents’ divorces, so I know this will be a relatable novel for many young people. Johnson captures all the devastation, hope, guilt and grief involved in family breakdown. All too real emotions, push and pull romance, heartbreaking family circumstances and authentic voices, this book will be another YA contemporary favourite.

Adam and Jolene. Two teens forced to spend every other weekend at a rundown apartment block due to their parents’ separations. But their family situations couldn’t be more different. Adam knows it won’t be long until his family is back together, if only Adam’s father would realise he should be there for his mother as they all grieve the death of Adam’s eldest brother. Jolene knows her parents are never getting back together and quite frankly she’s okay with that. She hates the melodrama her mother puts on every time she leaves for a weekend stay at her father’s empty apartment – empty except for her father’s way-too-young girlfriend. Adam and Jolene forge a strong friendship over the weekends they share. But will that friendship last if their family circumstances change?

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Book Review: Sick Kids In Love

Sick Kids In Love – Hannah Moskowitz – Entangled:Teen – Published 5 November 2019

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Synopsis

Isabel has one rule: no dating.
It’s easier–
It’s safer–
It’s better–
–for the other person.
She’s got issues. She’s got secrets. She’s got rheumatoid arthritis.
But then she meets another sick kid.
He’s got a chronic illness Isabel’s never heard of, something she can’t even pronounce. He understands what it means to be sick. He understands her more than her healthy friends. He understands her more than her own father who’s a doctor.
He’s gorgeous, fun, and foul-mouthed. And totally into her.
Isabel has one rule: no dating.
It’s complicated–
It’s dangerous–
It’s never felt better–
–to consider breaking that rule for him.

My thoughts

I loved this book. Loved the representation of chronic illness in teenagers, something that usually goes unnoticed in fiction. I love the humour woven throughout the story. I loved the friendship, flawed as it was. I loved the character development, as the characters wrestle with things they should or maybe shouldn’t change about themselves. And I loved the romance. So sweet. So based in a strong friendship. So natural and unforced.

Isabel is ready for her junior year of high school. Her advice column is doing well and she has a great group of—mostly understanding—friends. She spends a lot of time at the hospital, mostly because her father is the lead physician and a workaholic, and also because she has rheumatoid arthritis. When she meets Sasha at the hospital, they connect straight away. He’s funny, awkward, handsome, he shares her Jewish faith and he understands exactly what it means to be sick. But Isabel has a no dating rule. A rule she’s not sure if she want to break.

Isabel and Sasha’s friendship and romance is one of the most genuine relationships I’ve read in ages. In fact, as characters they are genuinely flawed, complex, awkward, realistic characters. They both have a great sense of humour and they bounce off each other really well. I loved how they wanted to just be normal with each other.

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Book Review: A Constellation of Roses

A Constellation of Roses – Miranda Asebedo – HarperTeen – Published 5 November 2019

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Synopsis

Ever since her mother walked out, Trix McCabe has been determined to make it on her own. And with her near-magical gift for pulling valuables off unsuspecting strangers, Trix is confident she has what it takes to survive. Until she’s caught and given a choice: jail time, or go live with her long-lost family in the tiny town of Rocksaw, Kansas.

Trix doesn’t plan to stick around Rocksaw long, but there’s something special about her McCabe relatives that she is drawn to. Her aunt, Mia, bakes pies that seem to cure all ills. Her cousin, Ember, can tell a person’s deepest secret with the touch of a hand. And Trix’s great-aunt takes one look at Trix’s palm and tells her that if she doesn’t put down roots somewhere, she won’t have a future anywhere.

Before long, Trix feels like she might finally belong with this special group of women in this tiny town in Kansas. But when her past comes back to haunt her, she’ll have to decide whether to take a chance on this new life . . . or keep running from the one she’s always known.

My thoughts

A Constellation of Roses is a poignant novel about finding your family and a place to belong. With just a touch of magic, this is a realistic novel that is magical in every other way – from the magic of the scent of good baking, to the love and acceptance of family.

Trix has a gift. She can steal anything without being caught. It helps her to survive, especially since her mother left her and never came back. Living week-to-week in run-down motels, Trix is shocked when the police and then the foster system catch up with her. But nothing can prepare her for being told she has a family, that she has an aunt that she will be going to live with. The McCabe women, Trix’s Aunt, cousin and Great Aunt all have gifts, and for once, Trix may finally have found somewhere she could belong — if she can stop herself from running.

Trix is such an awesome character. So strong and brave, yet so heartbroken underneath all that bluster and confidence. I loved that Trix is a good friend. Loved that she is there for people, even if she doesn’t feel like she belongs. Loved that she makes good decisions and is smart and kind, even if she thinks she is not.

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Book Review: Just Lucky

Just Lucky – Melanie Florence – Second Story Press – Published 17 September 2019 

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Synopsis

Fifteen-year-old Lucky loves her grandparents. True, her grandmother forgets things, like turning the stove off, or Lucky’s name, but her grandfather takes such good care of them that Lucky doesn’t realize how bad things are . . . until she loses her grandfather and is left caring for her grandmother on her own. When her grandma sets the kitchen on fire, Lucky can’t hide what’s happening any longer, and she is sent into foster care. She quickly learns that some families are okay, and some aren’t. And some really, really aren’t. None of them feel like home. And they’re certainly not family.

My thoughts

Just Lucky is a touching story about a girl’s journey through losing the only home and family she has ever known and a series of foster homes as she learns to embrace her new reality.

When Lucky’s grandfather suddenly dies, it’s not long before someone realises that her grandmother is unwell and unable to care for herself or Lucky. As her grandmother is taken to a care facility, Lucky is placed in one foster home after another. Finding somewhere to belong is hard when you’ve already lost your home.

What you see is what you get in Just Lucky. Lucky is a straightforward narrator. Short, sharp chapters divide this book into easy to read chunks. There is lots of dialogue, and minimal extra details. We don’t learn a lot about life for Lucky before the start of the book and events move quickly. It’s a short book and will be perfect and easy to read for reluctant readers.

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Book Review: Impossible Music

Impossible Music – Sean Williams – Clarion Books – Published 2 July 2019 

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Synopsis

Music is Simon’s life—which is why he is devastated when a stroke destroys his hearing. He resists attempts to help him adjust to his new state, refusing to be counselled, refusing to learn sign-language, refusing to have anything to do with Deaf culture. Refusing, that is, until he meets G, a tough-as-nails girl dealing with her own newly-experienced deafness.

My thoughts

If music was your everything, what would you do if you suddenly went deaf? This is the question Sean Williams explores in his gritty, upfront novel, Impossible Music. Questions about family, relationships, facing the future and following your dreams, even when they seem impossible, are the focus of Impossible Music. With a realistic teen male narrator, this book is gripping and compelling.

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