Book Review: The Hideaway

The Hideaway

The Hideaway – Lauren K. Denton – Thomas Nelson – Published 11 April 2017

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Synopsis

When her grandmother’s will wrenches Sara back home from New Orleans, she learns more about Margaret Van Buren in the wake of her death than she ever did in life.

After her last remaining family member dies, Sara Jenkins goes home to The Hideaway, her grandmother Mags’s ramshackle B&B in Sweet Bay, Alabama. She intends to quickly tie up loose ends then return to her busy life and thriving antique shop in New Orleans. Instead, she learns Mags has willed her The Hideaway and charged her with renovating it—no small task considering Mags’s best friends, a motley crew of senior citizens, still live there.

Rather than hurrying back to New Orleans, Sara stays in Sweet Bay and begins the biggest house-rehabbing project of her career. Amid Sheetrock dust, old memories, and a charming contractor, she discovers that slipping back into life at The Hideaway is easier than she expected.

Then she discovers a box Mags left in the attic with clues to a life Sara never imagined for her grandmother. With help from Mags’s friends, Sara begins to piece together the mysterious life of bravery, passion, and choices that changed Mags’s destiny in both marvelous and devastating ways.

When an opportunistic land developer threatens to seize The Hideaway, Sara is forced to make a choice—stay in Sweet Bay and fight for the house and the people she’s grown to love or leave again and return to her successful but solitary life in New Orleans.

My thoughts

The Hideaway is absolutely charming, featuring two intertwined stories of love, self-discovery, and the search for peace.

Deep in the heart of the South is a dilapidated, quirky, and much-loved old home. The Hideaway is a shelter for those who are lost or want to escape society. For Sara, growing up there with her equally quirky grandmother, the Hideaway was embarrassing and as a young adult she quickly escaped to New Orleans to start her own business. Now her grandmother is dead and Sara has been left with the Hideaway, its remaining occupants, and the task of refurbishing the house. But the longer she stays, the harder it is to imagine leaving. She also begins to uncover the secrets her grandmother closely guarded and starts to fall in love with the charming contractor refurbishing what is quickly becoming her home.

This book is written in two sets of alternating chapters. The first from Sara, present day as she returns to her childhood home after the death of her grandmother. The other chapters are written from the perspective of Mags, Sara’s grandmother, dating from the 1960s as Mags escaped an unfaithful husband, learned to love again, stand on her own feet, and never again let someone’s judgement shape who she was.

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Book Review: The Upside of Unrequited

Upside of Unrequited

The Upside of Unrequited – Becky Albertalli – Balzer+Bray – Published 11 April 2017

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Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.

My thoughts

A forthright book about love, falling in love, that crazy feeling of falling in love, family, dating, and relationships.

Molly had has twenty-six crushes and counting. Her twin sister has had many dates, kisses and relationships, even if they only last a short time. But when Molly’s sister falls in love – for real this time – Molly senses that their close relationship is changing. And then there are the two boys – one, the boy her sister would like her to date and the other her geeky, new co-worker who makes her laugh and not totally tongue tied.

I admired Molly’s voice. It is so authentically and uniquely her. Her character is layered and realistic. I liked how there were so many little things that were just a part of who she is. For example, Molly has anxiety. She takes medication for it and she mentions it offhandedly a few times and feels anxious about some things and laughed about a few times anxiety got the better of her, but her anxiety wasn’t a defining feature of her character, especially not in her eyes. The same goes for her weight. She is totally upfront about her weight but she herself is ok with her size. The only thing she worries about is how others view her. She wishes they could be as accepting of her as she is. Again, just another facet that makes up Molly. But the majority of her focus and that of the book’s is on dating and falling in love.

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Book Review: Goodbye Days

goodbye-days

Goodbye Days – Jeff Zentner – Andersen (Aus/UK) (Crown – USA) – Published 6 April 2017 (Aus) 7 March 2017 (USA)

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Synopsis

Can a text message destroy your life?

Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, there could be a criminal investigation into the deaths.

Then Blake’s grandmother asks Carver to remember her grandson with a ‘goodbye day’ together. Carver has his misgivings, but he starts to help the families of his lost friends grieve with their own memorial days, along with Eli’s bereaved girlfriend Jesmyn. But not everyone is willing to forgive. Carver’s own despair and guilt threatens to pull him under into panic and anxiety as he faces punishment for his terrible mistake. Can the goodbye days really help?

My thoughts

Hilarious and heartbreaking, Goodbye Days is a winning combination. Perfection itself.

Goodbye Days is an incredibly poignant and relatable story. How many lives have been affected by the tragic deaths of teenagers – friends, classmates, sons or daughters? How many stories of death and grief are punctuation by questions of why, what if, if only? Guilt and sorrow mixing to form a potent poison. Goodbye Days captures all of that emotion and mixes it with a friendship so strong it can only be called a brotherhood. Mixes it with humour and levity and life so bright it dances in front of your eyes. I was crying one minute and laughing the next.

The day Carver Briggs sent a simple text message irrevocably changed everything. Now his three best friends are dead after a fatal car crash – a crash that may or may not have been caused by Carver’s text message. With a pending criminal investigation and guilt heavy enough to level him, Carver begins to form a new connection with Eli’s girlfriend as they both cope with their grief and he accepts Blake’s grandmother’s request to spend one final day celebrating Blake’s life.

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Book Review: The End of Our Story

The End of Our Story

The End of Our Story – Meg Haston – HarperTeen – Published 4 April 2017

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Synopsis

Bridge and Wil have been entangled in each other’s lives for years. Under the white-hot Florida sun, they went from kids daring each other to swim past the breakers to teenagers stealing kisses between classes. But when Bridge betrayed Wil during their junior year, she shattered his heart and their relationship along with it.

Then Wil’s family suffers a violent loss, and Bridge rushes back to Wil’s side. As they struggle to heal old wounds and start falling for each other all over again, Bridge and Wil discover just how much has changed in the past year. As the fierce current of tragedy threatens to pull them under, they must learn how to swim on their own—or risk drowning together.

My thoughts

The End Of Our Story is a powerful and heartbreaking story of family secrets and relationship breakdown.

I thought The End Of Our Story would be about a traumatic romance. A big break up, getting back together, breaking up again and then maybe, finally sorting out the issues and getting back together again. But the romance in The End Of Our Story is really just a backdrop for the story of family breakdown and social issues. What happens to you when your world shatters and the people you love aren’t who you thought they were?

I was surprised by the turn The End of Our Story took. I liked that it was about more than romance. Family, family breakdown, choosing who you want to be, actions defining who someone is, and doing the ‘right’ thing are all important themes.

Bridge and Wil have been friends since childhood. Love soon followed, but in their second-last year of high school their relationship shattered. A year on, following family tragedy, Bridge knows she needs to be there for Wil, while Wil is still reeling from the events of the previous year.

The book is written in alternating chapters from the perspective of the two main character but from different times. Bridge narrates the current time period, their last year of high school, and Wil narrates from the year previous. From the start of the book, the reader knows that something happened between Bridge and Wil to destroy both their childhood friendship and teenage romance. But the reader isn’t left in suspense for too long before the details of what happened are revealed. I liked that the story of their breakup was revealed early on rather than building suspense to a reveal that could have felt anti-climactic. But Wil and Bridge’s relationship drama is really only a backdrop to Wil’s family story, which is fleshed out through his chapters. Bridge discovers these family secrets for the first time as she reconnects with Wil in their senior year in the wake of Wil’s family tragedy. The big question is what happened on that night that changed everything for Wil. Bridge wants to ask him but doesn’t want to scare him away. You can see I am writing this review almost in code as I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I think it is fair to say this book is much less about romance than it is self-reflection, family breakdown and (I’ll put this in spoiler tags just in case) Continue reading

Book Review: Letters To The Lost

Letters To The Lost

Letters to the Lost – Brigid Kemmerer – Bloomsbury Children’s – Published 6 April 2017

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Synopsis

Juliet Young has always written letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope. 

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past. 

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither of them knows that they’re not actually strangers. When real life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart. This emotional, compulsively-readable romance will sweep everyone off their feet.

My thoughts

Heartbreaking and uplifting, Letters To The Lost is a glorious story of two teens finding each other in the midst of crisis and learning to look past the facades of those around them.

Juliet is supposed to be moving on after the death of her mother. That’s what everyone around her expects. But she can’t stop visiting her mother’s grave or leaving letters for her. Declan is serving his community service sentence mowing lawns at the local cemetery. When he finds a letter at the base of a grave he doesn’t expect the words to hit deep inside. Writing back is impetuous but it sparks a written relationship that might just be the thing to hold him together when the rest of his world threatens to explode.

I wasn’t expecting it, but this book turned into a bit of a “You’ve Got Mail” retelling, but with a whole lot more angst and heartbreak. There have been many, many novels who claim to be the next “You’ve Got Mail” and I don’t think one of them has ever pulled it off like this book does. Letters To The Lost doesn’t boast that similarity, but it takes the best bits of that iconic written relationship – two people writing to each other, one finding out before the other, two opposites attracting and repelling at the same time – and adds deeper layers. I loved it.

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Book Review: But Then I Came Back

but-then-i-came-back

But Then I Came Back – Estelle Laure – HMH Books – Published 4 April 2017

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Synopsis

Eden Jones, a 17-year-old girl, feels lost after surviving a near fatal accident. Unable to connect with her family and friends, Eden forms an unlikely relationship with Joe, a boy who comes to the hospital to visit Jasmine, a friend who may soon be gone forever. Eden is the only person who can get through to Jasmine, but is she brave enough to face a world that’s bigger and more magical than she ever would have allowed?

My thoughts

This companion novel to This Raging Light returns readers to the same cast of loveable characters and the same incredibly lyrical writing, but also brings new possibilities and ideas in a story of facing life, understanding death, and finding hope.

Eden Jones has been in a coma for weeks, but to her it feels like only a small amount of time has passed. She has to come to terms with life as it is now – her best friend dating her brother, no more ballet, smoothies and shakes instead of solid food, and mood swings that drive her crazy. She has questions about what comes After that no one wants to talk about, Oh, and now she can see things that no one else can see. It seems that the only person who might have answers is the girl in the hospital room next to Eden’s – but she’s still in a coma. And then there is Joe, the sole visitor for the girl in the next room over, to whom Eden is inexplicably drawn and yet seems so untouchable.

I don’t know why, but it wasn’t until quarter way through this book that I realised that Lucille was the Lucille from This Raging Light. And that meant Digby was Digby, the brother of her best friend with whom she wasn’t supposed to fall in love. And Eden, now our main character, was Eden the best friend, who slipped, cracked her head and entered a coma in the last section of This Raging Light. It was Wren’s name and a sentence about her cooking dinner that finally triggered my admittedly slow brain to catch up. For some reason I hadn’t pegged this book as a companion novel. And in a way, it doesn’t have to be. It is its own story, complete in its own right, but it is also seamlessly woven into This Raging Light.

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Book Review: Then Came You

Then Came You – Becky Wade – Bradford Sisters Romance #0.5 – Published 7 March 2017

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Synopsis

A leather-bound journal. A single father. A woman in pursuit of freedom.

Garner Bradford, heir to the troubled Bradford Shipping empire, doesn’t know much about babies. But he’s going to have to learn fast because he’s just become a single father to his newborn daughter. As he confesses through his journal entries, he’s not entirely sure how to keep a newborn alive, whether or not he’ll ever patch together his shattered heart, or how to forgive himself for his mistakes.

Career girl Kathleen Burke is wholly uninterested in settling down. She has big dreams, and none of them include Garner and his small hometown in Washington State. Yet she can’t seem to get her handsome boss out of her head or her heart. There’s something extraordinarily tempting about his beautifully sad green eyes. . . .

Told through journal entries, phone conversations, and letters, Then Came You is a unique, heart-stirring romance novella by acclaimed author Becky Wade.

My thoughts

Then Came You is an utterly charming romance told through letter fragments, diary entries, and phone conversations.

Then Came You is the prequel novella to Becky Wade’s new series, Bradford Sisters Romance. At first I was a little confused about how this story fit with the books in the series. Then I realised that this story is set a few decades prior to the first book in the series and Garner, our main male character, is actually the father of the Bradford sisters, around whom the series is based.

The story starts off rather sadly, as Garner makes mistakes and faces much tragedy. We are also introduced to Kathleen, who takes a job at Garner’s family company rather than fulfill her dreams of moving to and working in New York.

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Book Review: The Last Thing You Said

the-last-thing-you-said

The Last Thing You Said – Sara Biren – Amulet Books – Published 4 April 2017

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Synopsis

Last summer, Lucy’s and Ben’s lives changed in an instant. One moment, they were shyly flirting on a lake raft, finally about to admit their feelings to each other after years of yearning. In the next, Trixie—Lucy’s best friend and Ben’s sister—was gone, her heart giving out during a routine swim. And just like that, the idyllic world they knew turned upside down, and the would-be couple drifted apart, swallowed up by their grief. Now it’s a year later in their small lake town, and as the anniversary of Trixie’s death looms, Lucy and Ben’s undeniable connection pulls them back together. They can’t change what happened the day they lost Trixie, but the summer might finally bring them closer to healing—and to each other.

My thoughts

The Last Thing You Said is a heart-wrenching and yet uplifting tale of love, friendship, and the grief felt when all that love and friendship is lost or irreparably damaged. I truly enjoyed sinking into the world that is The Last Thing You Said. The summer days, the smell of sunscreen and ice cream, two best friends who create adventures from the simplest things, and a story of love that was never spoken and had to be hidden away. I warn you, you may need tissues while reading this book, both for sad tears and for happy tears.

Isn’t it strange how book summaries can make things seem simpler than they really are. For example, the summary for The Last Thing You Said goes something like this: ‘once there was a girl named Trixie. She had a brother named Ben and a best friend called Lulu. And together they had the most wonderful time, until Trixie horribly, tragically died. And Ben and Lulu were so desperately sad they didn’t know what to do and so broke away from each other. But this summer they are pulled back together.’ It makes it sounds like a happy summer spent reconnecting with a lost friend; Ben and Lulu reunite after a time apart and everything is ok between them. But the thing is that Ben and Lucy have never really been apart, at least not physically. They go to the same high school and live in the same town, even work at the same place. They just managed to avoid each other since Trixie died and what was beginning to grow between them, something that made them more than friends, more than friends of their sibling, died a horrible death along side their grief and guilt. And so this book, this summer, is about them continually facing each other and not knowing what to do or say, and them continuing to make it worse between them. They fight, they stay silent, they watch from afar. It is far, far more traumatic and heartbreaking than the synopsis makes it sound, and for that this book is far more beautiful and sad and ultimately, in the end, hopeful. Through this summer, Ben and Lucy learn more about themselves, what is worth fighting for, and that it is only themselves who can make the changes they want.

At the start of the book the reader is slowly fed pieces of information about Trixie’s death, the way things were before her death, and why things are the way they are now between Ben and Lucy. I loved the little stories interspersed in this book. Once upon a time there was a girl named Trixie… Lucy and Emily, Trixie’s young cousin, call them Trixies. The stories of their friendship right the way through from kindergarten to high school. It gives this book depth and substance to the backstory, especially Ben and Lucy’s grief. And as the book progresses these little stories are used in other ways to further Ben and Lucy’s story.

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Book Review: Pretty Fierce

Pretty Fierce

Pretty Fierce – Kieran Scott – SourcebooksFire – Published 4 April 2017

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Synopsis

Kaia has been on the run her whole life. The daughter of professional assassins, she knows true danger—and she’ll do anything to survive. After her parents vanished during a job gone bad, Kaia’s spent the last year in hiding, trying to blend in as an ordinary teenager, and there’s no one who makes her feel more normal or more special than her boyfriend, Oliver.

But when she’s jumped by a hit man, and Oliver catches her fighting back, Kaia’s secret is exposed. In a split-second decision, she flees the small town, taking Oliver with her. With professional killers stalking their every move, can Oliver and Kaia protect each other long enough to uncover the mysteries of her past?

My thoughts

Pretty Fierce is a thrilling story, with plenty of action and drama.

It took me a few chapters to situate myself within the story, but the action soon grabbed my attention. But while this book has plenty of dangerous situations, high speed chases and guns to the forehead, it retains a sweetness and playfulness. The title is therefore apt, it is both Fierce and Pretty.

Eighteen months ago, while on a mission with her parents, Kaia and her mother were attacked. Her family was destroyed, her parents were both missing presumed dead, and Kaia put into action the plan that was only to be used if everything went terribly wrong. For the past 18 months, Kaia has been living with her ‘grandparents’, colleagues of her assassin parents. She has the most wonderful boyfriend, Oliver, and she is no longer endlessly plagued by nightmares. But all those fears resurface when she is brutally attacked and Oliver sees her take out her assailant. Now her secrets have been revealed and she isn’t sure Oliver will want to stick by the crazy girl who was raised by assassins.

Kieran Scott says this story was inspired by a dream starring Chris Hemsworth – I knew there was a reason I enjoyed this story. It’s fun, playful and still has all those elements of a high-speed, action blockbuster.

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Book Review: Things I Should Have Known

things-i-should-have-known

Things I Should Have Known – Clarie LaZebnik – HMH Books for Young Readers – Published 28 March 2017

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Synopsis

From the author of Epic Fail comes the story of Chloe Mitchell, a Los Angeles girl on a quest to find love for her autistic sister, Ivy. Ethan, from Ivy’s class, seems like the perfect match. It’s unfortunate that his older brother, David, is one of Chloe’s least favorite people, but Chloe can deal, especially when she realizes that David is just as devoted to Ethan as she is to Ivy. Uncommonly honest and refreshingly funny, this is a story about sisterhood, autism, and first love. Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan, who form a quirky and lovable circle, will steal readers’ hearts and remind us all that it’s okay to be a different kind of normal.

My thoughts

A surprising and delightful story of friendship when you least expect it, learning to better understand your family, and reevaluating expectations and learning to see past them.

Things I Should Have Known is an incredibly easy book to read. One minute I had just started it, the next I was finishing. I didn’t want to put it down. I smiled, laughed, and even had a few ‘awwww’ moments.

Chloe has a good life. Sure, her stepdad is a little controlling, but her boyfriend is perfect, school is easy and she’s popular. When she notices that her older sister, who has autism, doesn’t get out much, she sets out to find her a boyfriend. And top guy on the list is Ethan, who attends the same school as Ivy. But Chloe doesn’t realise that Ethan’s older brother is David, who may not exactly be Chloe’s nemesis but she doesn’t relish spending so much time with him as they observe and guide their siblings through a series of awkward dates. But Chloe discovers she has a lot more in common with David than she realises and spending time with him isn’t so bad, even if their matchmaking isn’t exactly going to plan…

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