Book Review: 180 Seconds

180 Seconds – Jessica Park – Skyscape – Published 25 April 2017

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Synopsis

After a life spent bouncing from one foster home to the next, Allison is determined to keep others at arm’s length. Adopted at sixteen, she knows better than to believe in the permanence of anything. But as she begins her third year in college, she finds it increasingly difficult to disappear into the white noise pouring from her earbuds.

One unsuspecting afternoon, Allison is roped into a social experiment just off campus. Suddenly, she finds herself in front of a crowd, forced to interact with a complete stranger for 180 seconds. Neither she, nor Esben Baylor, the dreamy social media star seated opposite her, is prepared for the outcome.

When time is called, the intensity of the experience overwhelms Allison and Esben in a way that unnerves and electrifies them both. With a push from her oldest friend, Allison embarks on a journey to find out if what she and Esben shared is the real thing—and if she can finally trust in herself, in others, and in love.

My thoughts

Wow. Wow. God save the Queen. God save the Queen wow. Whatever that was I was not expecting that. That!!! That mess of human emotions that was so achingly, amazingly, indulgently perfect. I want to read it again. Indulge and fall in love and feel it all again. I melted and laughed and overheated and cried buckets. This review may not be coherent because of reasons. Many reasons.

Allison is starting her junior years of college. She is happy her roommate never shows and is content to spend her college experience as she always has – hiding in her room, studying and blocking out the world. Her sixteen years in foster care taught her to never expect anything, to protect herself and build the walls around her heart as high and thick as she can. It’s safer to keep everyone out, even her adoptive father. Everyone except her best friend Steffi. And then, Allison finds herself pulled into a social experiment, where she unwittingly spends 180 seconds with (unbeknownst to her) social media celebrity Ebsen Baylor. 180 torturous, amazing, emotional-roller-coaster seconds. Her reaction: run. Steffi encourages her to chase after what could be and to be brave, but Allison isn’t sure if it could ever be worth the risk.

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Book Review: Made You Up

Made You Up – Francesca Zappia – Greenwillow Books – Published 19 May 2015

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Synopsis

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.

My thoughts

Made You Up has been on my to-read list for a while but I only picked it up after reading Fancesca Zappia’s new book Eliza and Her Monsters which is AMAZING!! So I had high expectations for Made You Up. And it certainly lived up to them in terms of writing style and story and characters, obviously it doesn’t have the extra story and accompanying webcomic panels, but it shares the refreshing honest and up-front way of talking about teenage mental health within a totally authentic setting.

Alex is starting at a new high school after an Incident at her last school involving spray paint, the gym floor and the possibility of communists. Alex is hoping that she will be able hide the fact that she has paranoid schizophrenia from her new classmates. But that might be hard when her new principal could be crazy, the school’s scoreboard is haunted and the boy from her childhood, whom she previously thought was a hallucination, might actually be real.

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Book Review: Eliza and Her Monsters

Eliza and Her Monsters – Francesca Zappia – Greenwillow Books – Published 30 May 2017

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Synopsis

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community, and has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.

My thoughts

I’m sharing my review of this book early because it is so amazing I just can’t stop myself from talking about it.

Wow. Wow. Wow! WOW. This book. This book. No words. Actually, so many words, just none of them powerful enough to convey how absolutely perfect and beautiful and amazing and clever this book is. My mantra is simply going to be ‘Read this. Thank me later.’

Some books are so good they blow all other books completely out of the water. How can I give this book five stars when it deserves five billion? This just became my favourite book of the year. Yes, I realise the year is not even halfway through. It’s still my favourite book for the entire year.

Eliza is the creator of the online webcomic Monstrous Sea. Online she is in control, popular, and clever. Outside of the online world she is unpopular, shy, and counts the minutes until she can return to her drawing. Then, she meets a new student to the school. A boy who seems as shy as she is. A boy who is a huge fan of Monstrous Sea. A boy with whom she can finally be honest face-to-face as well as online – just not about her identity as the creator of Monstrous Sea.

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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

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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: Zenn Diagram

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Zenn Diagram – Wendy Brant – Kids Can Press – Published 4 April 2017

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Synopsis

Eva Walker is a seventeen-year-old math genius. And if that doesn’t do wonders for her popularity, there’s another thing that makes it even worse: when she touches another person or anything that belongs to them — from clothes to textbooks to cell phones — she sees a vision of their emotions. She can read a person’s fears and anxieties, their secrets and loves … and what they have yet to learn about calculus. This is helpful for her work as a math tutor, but it means she can never get close to people. Eva avoids touching anyone and everyone. People think it’s because she’s a clean freak — with the emphasis on freak — but it’s all she can do to protect herself from other people’s issues. 

Then one day a new student walks into Eva’s life. His jacket gives off so much emotional trauma that she falls to the floor. Eva is instantly drawn to Zenn, a handsome and soulful artist who also has a troubled home life, and her feelings only grow when she realizes that she can touch Zenn’s skin without having visions. But when she discovers the history that links them, the truth threatens to tear the two apart.

My thoughts

For some reason I knew I would love Zenn Diagram. Something about the synopsis just hit me and I knew I had to read it. Math genius – check. Paranormal abilities – check. Dark, foreboding secrets – check. And yet it surprised me by being even better than I imagined. It was a combination of everything I love in a YA romance.

Eva is a math genius. But she also has another talent she isn’t so open about. When she touches people or their things she gets flashes of their feelings. She calls them fractals because (insert a complicated math explanation that I’ll leave to Eva to explain here). So Eva has learnt to keep her hands to herself. It has limited her social interactions and greatly increased her notoriety as a weirdo. But that’s okay, because Eva has a good family, a great friend and she can use her gift/curse to help find the solution to anyone’s trouble with math. It makes her a good tutor. But Eva lastest student makes her wish for the impossible – an uncomplicated relationship, a chance to touch and be touched, to have someone see her. But one accidental brush against Zenn’s jacket gives Eva the impression that Zenn has dark and haunting secrets.

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Book Review: The Last Thing You Said

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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: Vigilante

Vigilante

Vigilante – Kady Cross – Harlequin Teen – Published 28 March 2017

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Synopsis

It’s senior year, and Hadley and her best friend, Magda, should be starting the year together. Instead, Magda is dead and Hadley is alone. Raped at a party the year before and humiliated, Magda was driven to take her own life and Hadley is forced to see her friend’s attackers in the classroom every day. Devastated, enraged and needing an outlet for her grief, Hadley decides to get a little justice of her own. 

Donning a pink ski mask and fueled by anger, Hadley goes after each of the guys one by one, planning to strip them of their dignity and social status the way they did to Magda. As the legend of the pink-masked Vigilante begins to take on a life of its own, Hadley’s revenge takes a turn for the dangerous. Could her need for vengeance lead her down a path she can’t turn back from?

My thoughts

I have always loved Kady Cross’ series The Steampunk Chronicles, so I was very excited to read Vigilante – a change in genre but a book that sounded incredibly intense and with an interesting way to approach the subjects of sexual assault and a community’s response to rape.

Hadley’s best friend Magda was raped by four classmates. A few months later, Magda is dead, having taken her own life. Hadley is left with a drowning sense of grief and guilt. She has to see the four boys in her classroom everyday as the four of them were never charged. When a sudden opportunity arises, Hadley decides to create some of her own justice and plans to go after each of the boys who hurt her friend. But when a video of her going after the first guy in a pink ski mask goes viral, the Pink Vigilante is born and Hadley’s journey for revenge gets much bigger than she ever imagined.

Let me just say, some of the people of Hadley’s town and school totally deserved everything Hadley dished out to them, and more. Corrupt systems biased by influence and money are no doubt, sadly, very realistic in many cases. But I liked how so many people started to rally behind the Pink Vigilante. But that begs the question, did some people do that because they wanted to stop violence towards women or because it involved violence? This book will spark many important discussions, things that need to be talked about and not shuffled to the dark, hidden corners of our world.

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Book Review: Things I Should Have Known

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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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