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I read Pushing the Limits, the first book in this series, over a year ago, but it didn’t take me long to get reacquainted with the series. I think it actually worked to my advantage to start fresh since I didn’t miss the characters as much from the first book. I quite liked Dare You To, I daresay even more than Pushing the Limits, and read straight on through to Crash into You afterwards.
Dare You To is from the POV of Beth, a side character from Pushing the Limits, as well as a new character named Ryan. Beth has had it rough, taking care of her drug addict mother and trying to fend off the guys her mother brings home. She’s taken on much more than she should and things are at a breaking point. But, she loves her mom and wants to do everything she can to protect her.
Ryan, on the other hand, seems to have had a much easier time of things. He’s a star baseball player but his dad is really micro managing him, and he’s not just about baseball, you know? From the outside, Ryan’s family is keeping up appearances, but from the inside it’s all falling apart. I kind of love that he falls for “bad girl” Beth, and they have a lot to offer each other. Ryan and his friends are into dares, and Beth is his biggest challenge, and surprise, yet.
Beth is prickly and hard to get to know, and when circumstances lead to her moving to a new town to live with her uncle (and former Yankee player) Scott, she’s really out of her comfort zone. Taking care of her mom was such a big load that she doesn’t know how to let go. I felt for Beth, and admired her courageousness, and her strong will. I enjoyed seeing her character develop over the book, as her icy exterior starts to melt away.
It was easy for me to get behind Ryan and Beth as a couple, since I didn’t have Pushing the Limits‘ Beth and Isaiah fresh in my mind. I definitely was ready for Isaiah’s story though, after this book.
There are strong supporting characters in the book, like Beth’s childhood friend that she reconnects with, Lacy. Ryan’s brother Mark is estranged from the family, and he adds an interesting element to the story also.
I listened to the audiobook, performed by Brittany Pressley and Christopher Gebauer. The pair is well suited to play Beth and Ryan, with Ryan sounding like the golden boy, and Beth sounding a little rough around the edges. They were believable in their parts, and with the secondary characters as well. I felt emotionally connected to the story through their performance, and this was an audiobook I didn’t want to stop listening to. Since I enjoyed it, I picked up the next book on audio as well, even though there are different narrators.
Katie McGarry writes a gripping series full of emotion and adrenaline, and she has a knack for writing authentic well-rounded characters. There are several characters I can’t wait for her to explore in future books. I like that she writes about tough issues, and does not shy away from the angst, but at the same time you know she’s going to fix everything she breaks. It took me some time to catch up with this series, but I’m fully on board now.
I love a good dysfunctional family story, and This is Where I Leave You features the ultimate family train wreck. In this book, the Foxman family gathers to remember their recently deceased father Mort. He wants them to sit shiva for a week, and that brings the family under one roof for socializing, reflecting, and fighting. Personalities clash, old wounds reopen, and secrets slip out in this dramedy.
The reason I picked this one up is because of the upcoming movie release. The movie has an all-star cast featuring Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Connie Britton, Dax Shepard, and on and on. I saw the trailer with all these funny people and it sparked my interest in the book. The movie reminds me of those dysfunctional family comedies like Little Miss Sunshine, The Royal Tenenbaum‘s and The Family Stone. And from what I’ve seen so far it looks like the movie is very similar in tone to the book.
The book is written in the dejected Judd Foxman’s POV. His life is turned upside down when he catches his wife in bed with another man, and now he’s grappling with his father’s death and dealing his siblings baggage and other skeletons in the closet. He and his three siblings may all be grown now, but being back at home (with the spouses and kids in tow) brings back some juvenile tendencies.
The tone of the book is darkly comic, and the book’s narrator Judd is wry and bitter. It’s one of those books where the situations get more and more outrageous, and you’re wondering what could possibly happen next to this family. There is an eccentric cast of characters that bring comic relief to what is obviously a sad occasion, and the revelations come on fast and furious.
I listened to the audiobook, performed by Ramon de Ocampo. His delivery is great, and his voice kind of reminded me of Steve Carell, so I was kind of imagining Carell as Judd when I was listening. The narrator has a deadpan style that gels nicely with the book, and de Ocampo delivers an engaging performance. There are a lot of different personalities for de Ocampo to inhabit, and he gets into character without going over the top. A quick listen, overall.
Richelle Mead’s Silver Shadows is the penultimate installment in the Bloodlines series and it’s a game-changer. The Vampire Academy series is one of my favorites but Bloodlines gives it a run for its money. If you’ve followed these characters from Vampire Academy you’ll be gratified to see how they have developed into root-worthy series leads and enjoy all the twists, turns, angst, romance, and humor that Richelle Mead is known for.
This installment brings the biggest challenge to Adrian and Sydney yet. The last book had them riding quite a high so that makes the fall feel that much worse. If you know Mead then you know she puts her characters through the ringer and some of her books can be quite dark, and this is one of those. Sydney and Adrian have to be strong to weather this storm, and of the two of them it’s no surprise that Adrian is the one to fall into bad habits. As the book begins Adrian and Sydney are apart, and Adrian can’t even use spirit dreams to make contact so he’s increasingly frustrated and drawn to self-medicate. He’s come a long way in this series this is true, though his one step forward, two steps back way is trademark Adrian. But have faith, Sydrian fans!
Sydney is facing re-education, basically the thing we’ve feared the most. She’s surrounded by people who reject all her values and who want to tear her down. She has some tricks up her sleeve but is it enough? Her bravery, faith, compassion, and love in the face of such bleak conditions and horrific treatment are awe-inspiring.
The setting takes us away from sunny Palm Springs, and Mead makes the reader feel the darkness and despair that her characters are going through. We meet some new characters that may become important in the final book, plus there are some special guest appearances as well.
I listened to the Silver Shadows audiobook, read by Emily Shaffer and Alden Ford. Like The Fiery Heart, this book is in dual POV with Sydney and Adrian. I think it would be quite tortuous if we didn’t have Adrian’s POV in this one, considering Sydney’s separation from the group. Both performers get to show a lot of range in this book considering all the highs and lows that take place over the almost-11-hour book. Shaffer is a wonderful Sydney, and Ford fits Adrian to a T. I’ve heard that in the VA series audiobooks Adrian was portrayed with an English accent and that is not the case here, and I’m pretty sure that should never have been the case, but correct me if I’m wrong. Ford’s Adrian is cool and confident and distinctly Adrian. While Shaffer’s Sydney is smart, no-nonsense, yet emotional at all the right times. This was an audiobook I did not want to stop listening to.
The conclusion sets up some very exciting (and ominous) stories for the final book! I love that Mead made this installment so surprising and memorable and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
In the third installment of the Throne of Glass series, Heir of Fire, Celaena Sardothien embarks on a life-changing journey. New alliances are formed as tensions run high in the kingdoms.
Though I don’t usually have a lot of luck with fantasy series, I do enjoy this character-driven series quite a lot. Celaena’s a great heroine who has grown a lot over the course of the series. And the stakes keep getting higher for her. With the action moved to unfamiliar territory and Celaena on a new path, this is a transitional phase for her. I did miss Celaena’s interactions with her friends from the first two books, but we do meet a kick-ass new character in exchange so that’s almost a fair trade-off.
The fantasy elements really ramp up in this installment, and we get more acquainted with fae and witches. The action shifts between three separate but related stories in Heir of Fire- Celaena’s journey, the characters left behind in Adarlan (Dorian, Chaol, etc.) and the Blackbeak coven. I have to admit the chapters with the witches went over my head. There is a new character named Manon Blackbeak who seems important but for the life of me I couldn’t keep up with that storyline. I will definitely have to read a Recaptains recap before the next book.
What kept my interest is Celaena’s personal journey and revelations. I liked her alliance with Rowan, the fae prince. The prickly Rowan is a great addition to the series, and I’m curious to see what role he takes going forward.
Back in Adarlan, Chaol and Dorian are quite downcast without Celaena’s company, though it’s not long before they get distracted other pressing matters. Chaol seemed kind of lost in this installment and I hope for more Chaol and Celaena in the next book. A new character causes some trouble for Dorian and Chaol and I’m interested to see how the situation in Adarlan shakes out. Dorian really got to me in this book – lots of character growth there.
The romance is downplayed in this installment compared to Crown of Midnight, but that makes sense considering the journey Celaena is on. The strong friendships that build in Heir of Fire make you (almost) not notice the lack of romance.
This series really shines in audiobook format, with the excellent performance by Elizabeth Evans. She pronounces all those tricky words for you so you don’t have to try to make sense of them on your own. Evans gives a strong and consistent performance here and doesn’t distract for the story. She brings many different types of characters to life and is especially successful with capturing Celaena’s essence. Since Heir of Fire is over 20-hours long, you’ll get your money’s worth of your Audible credit.
This installment is a game changer in a lot of ways with so much to ponder and digest. The slow-burn action pays off in the end and leaves you clamoring for the next book.
Sinner is a book about two supporting characters from Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls series, Cole and Isabel. I will always have a soft spot for this series because of Shiver, one of the first paranormal books I truly loved. But, I never really warmed to Cole and Isabel per se; I was usually waiting for the story to go back to the lead couple Sam and Grace. I’ll have to say though that Sinner shows that Cole and Isabel are quite interesting in their own right! Sinner feels like a totally different story that’s less rooted in werewolf lore and more reality-based. With a new LA locale and a little distance from Forever, Sinner forges its own path.
In Sinner, Cole St. Clair leaves Minnesota for LA to record a new album, while a reality TV crew tags along to document the process. But the Real Reason Cole’s in LA is to be reunited with girl-that-got-away Isabel Culpepper. Isabel is in LA with her family, working in a boutique and going to school. Isabel and Cole are their own worst enemies in terms of getting back together – both are very headstrong and stubborn and masters at hiding their emotions. And just maybe a reality TV setting is not the best backdrop for their reunion.
Cole is trying to put the pieces of his life back together, mending fences, trying to live the straight edge life, and rebuilding his band. His band NARKOTIKA was once larger than life and the reality show gig will help reintroduce him to fans. But the producer of the show has less than noble intentions and would like nothing more than for Cole to trip up live in front of the cameras. How does Isabel fit in with this plan?
Isabel thought she put Cole behind her- but when he marches into her store back from the dead all the old feelings she’s buried come back. Isabel is dealing with some family drama in the House of Ruin and processing her parents’ seemingly inevitable divorce. Adding a werewolf in LA to the equation is all she needs. Didn’t she leave the wolves behind her? She’s not sure what kind of surprise his arrival will bring.
It’s an entertaining ride watching Cole and Isabel get reacquainted and figure out what they want in life. I’m glad Maggie Stiefvater thought to give these two their own story. It’s been ages since I’ve read the Shiver books, but this book is so completely different it doesn’t matter.
Dan Bittner and Emma Galvin narrate the audiobook, reprising their Forever performances. Both narrators give a lot of personality to these larger than life characters. Emma Galvin plays tough very well, and Dan Bittner is a good choice for the gregarious Cole. There are some cool side characters in Sinner; from Cole’s driver friend Leon, to Baby the reality TV producer, to Isabel’s cousin Sofia, and the narrators bring these characters to life as well. Cole also has to participate in some radio interviews to promote himself and the audiobook production gives it an authentic feel. At the end of the audiobook there’s a Maggie Stiefvater bonus track featuring her Sinner book playlist song Taking On The Sun.
This is a different sort of book for Maggie Stiefvater and I like it! It’s more contemporary in feel than paranormal, and more mature as well. You can still recognize Stiefvater’s lovely prose though and it is good to be back with these characters. Fans of the Wolves of Mercy Falls should check out this book, even if some of the details of the trilogy are kind of fuzzy.
Jenny Han’s latest book hits just the right notes for summer reading. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is funny, touching, romantic and fast-paced and the perfect contemporary YA choice for your beach bag. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Lara Jean’s story as she navigates her way through love, friendship and family drama.
The scoop on To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is that Lara Jean is the quiet middle child – overshadowed by perfect know-it-all Margot and precocious younger sister Kitty. Lara Jean is kind of the Jan Brady of the group. The three Song girls lost their mother at a young age, and Margot takes on a mothering type role for the family. When Margot leaves for college, she also breaks it off with boy next-door Josh, someone who happens to be a secret letter recipient. Awkward! With Margot now off in Scotland, Lara Jean has to step up and help her dad by taking on some more responsibility. But first she has to deal with the repercussions of her secret letters that are now no longer a secret!
The delivery of the secret letters puts Lara Jean’s life in an uproar. Sweet family friend Josh is obviously confused to receive a love note from his ex-girlfriend’s sister (even though Josh and Lara Jean kinda liked each other first.) Then, popular, handsome, charismatic Peter Kavinsky receives his letter and that changes the game altogether. Perhaps they can help each other make their objects of affection jealous by staging a fake romance? (Lara Jean still has a crush on Josh and Peter is not quite over his ex) Sounds like a perfect scenario right- what could go wrong?!
Lara Jean has to gain confidence and put herself out there for the first time- no more hiding behind secret letters or her sister Margot. She’s a little shy and awkward which makes her more endearing. But going through these new challenges could give her just the confidence boost she needs.
To all The Boys is a love letter to sisters as well as to first crushes. The sisters are so close since losing their mom and honor her by keeping family traditions alive. The girls are half Korean and their dad makes sure to include Korean meals as one of the ways to remember their mom. Lara Jean’s cultural observations were also insightful.
Narrator Laura Knight Keating is a good fit for this audiobook, and brings out the humor in the story. She sounds age appropriate and differentiates all the characters. Her pacing is good and overall I think she did a solid job overall and I’d listen to her again in the sequel. The audiobook is a Whispersync for Kindle title and it’s quite affordable if you own the kindle edition.
Listen to To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before if you like: Contemporary YA, Anna and the French Kiss, The Summer I Turned Pretty series, and romantic comedies.
This book features two outsiders that form a friendship so I totally get the Eleanor & Park (and The Fault in Our Stars) comparison you see in the official description. If you like those books you will probably like this book as well, though Cammie McGovern forges her own path with her novel.
Amy has cerebral palsy, uses a walker to get around and a voice tablet to communicate. She excels in school in every area except socially, and aims to remedy that in her senior year of high school. She convinces her mom to hire peer aides instead of a professional aide to help her out at school as a way to break the ice and make some friends. She particularly wants Matthew to apply because he’s the only person that really sees her and tells it like it is. Matthew, along with four other students/aides, alternate days with Amy, and before long their connection deepens. Matthew’s OCD tendencies work in his favor to make him an attentive and thorough aide, though Amy wants him to set his sights higher.
Amy and Matthew both have their challenges to overcome, though McGovern shows that they have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. Everyone has their issues, as we see in Amy and Matthew’s friendship circle, and some are just more visible than others.
With the trend being alternating first-person pov, it’s refreshing that McGovern chooses third person pov for Say What You Will. I still was able to connect to both Amy and Matthew, though the third person format also created a barrier that was somehow appropriate to the story. McGovern does a great job of keeping the tension up throughout the novel, through distance, and other twists in the narrative. This is an emotional book that I thought about even when I wasn’t reading it. I still kind of wish McGovern didn’t have to go there with the twist in this novel, though I get that it made sense for the characters to go through this challenge.
Rebecca Lowman (Eleanor & Park) performs the audiobook, furthering the E&P comparison. Lowman’s voice works well for mature YA titles like this, and I like listening to her because her vocal work complements the story and doesn’t detract. I did speed up the audiobook though to about 1.5x since this was a “re-read” for me – the audio quality was still good at that speed so take from that what you will. In the book there are some email and text exchanges between Matthew and Amy so if that is a pet peeve for your audio listening (hearing the email addresses called out several times) you may want to pick up the print edition. I didn’t find it annoying personally.
Listen to Say What You Will if you like: Smart contemporary YA, quirky characters, books that challenge you, and a side of dramarama in your stories.
We Were Liars is about a group of four family friends that call themselves the Liars. They summer with their families every year at an exclusive island off Cape Cod. During the 15th summer everything falls apart, and our unreliable narrator Cadence (Cady) Sinclair Eastman suffers a head injury and selective amnesia. The reader follows a scant trail of breadcrumbs to put it all together, but still, the final act will likely shock you.
It took me some time to warm up to this group of privileged teens. But as the book wore on I got more curious about Cady, her cousins Johnny and Mirren, and her love interest Gat, the outsider, who only see each other in the summer and live separate lives during the school year. Issues of class, race, gender roles, and privilege are on the table among the Liars, and their old-money families are at the mercy of Cady’s grandfather who holds the purse strings.
After the mysterious incident in the 15th summer, Cady returns two years later a different person. She’s dyed her hair black, has memory loss and migraines, and gives away her belongings. And adding to the mystery angle, all the Liars and family members are instructed not to tell Cady what happened two years ago. My mind was going to all kinds of dark places, but I was still way off base.
With the setting and Cady’s foggy headspace there is a dreamy quality to the book that is further enhanced by the dark fairytales that Cady references in the story.
E. Lockhart’s writing is smart and poetic, and the book is cleverly crafted. I did feel detached from the story and the characters at times, but I’m thinking that’s part of the design of the book. Even if you feel a lack of connection to the story at first the mystery has a great payoff in the end that gives you all the feels.
Narrator Ariadne Meyers made Cady’s confused state of mind believable. Her tone of voice is convincing when portraying these blue blood type characters. The pacing was fine and the male and female voices and age ranges were distinct. One reason you might want to go with the print version instead though is to flip back for reference. With a high concept book like this with so many surprises, the audio makes it tricky to go back and re-listen if you need to. However, listening to the story does make it feel more mysterious and chilling and Meyers does a good job selling this story.
Listen to We Were Liars if you like: High concept mystery, literary YA, unreliable narrators, and twisty stories.
Akhil Sharma’s Family Life is a mostly autobiographical novel that tells the story of the Mishra family who immigrate to the US from India in the 70s in pursuit of a better life. Their welcome to the states is short-lived, however. A tragic accident soon occurs that shatters their hopes and dreams.
Family Life is a slim audiobook, but this is not a book I could read in one sitting, personally. The Mishra family story is emotionally draining, and though there are lighter moments sprinkled into the narrative, mainly this book just made me sad.
The story is that the Mishra family is starting to adjust to life in the US, and their eldest son Birju is thriving and accepted to the Bronx High School of Science. A tragic swimming pool accident leaves Birju severely brain damaged, and his younger brother Ajay and his parents are left reeling.
The point of view of Family Life is from Birju’s brother Ajay’s perspective. We follow Ajay from age 8 to 40 and see how his family collapses after the accident. Ajay’s dad turns to alcohol, and his mother devotes her life to caring for Birju. Ajay is kind of left to his own devices in a new country and new school. He has few friends and is bullied, but finds his way through books and writing, and achieves academic success. Though even his success is tinged with sadness, as Birju never got the chance to reach his own goals.
Akhil Sharma packs a punch with this novel, and makes you feel the impact of the family tragedy straight to the gut. Sharma plays with time over the novel, as Ajay starts out a kid trying to find himself, to an academic superstar, to an accomplished adult. It’s somewhat easier to digest this story through Ajay’s eyes, which brings some lightness to the situation. The book touches on race, culture, alcoholism, depression, and family and gives you a lot to think about.
Narrator Vikas Adam conveys Ajay’s character from a high voiced 8-year-old to a serious 40-year-old man, and his emotional ups and downs over the years. The audiobook makes the story feel even more real, as Adam brings Ajay’s parents’ struggles to life. Adam performs the novel with an authentic sounding Indian accent, and makes you feel a connection to the characters. However, even though this audiobook is just under 6 hours long I had to take frequent breaks from listening because the subject is such a downer. I have listened to Vikas Adam before in Katie McGarry’s Crash Into You and look forward to hearing more from him.
What’s the Story? - Julie Murphy’s debut Side Effects May Vary is an unconventional cancer book, with an unpleasant protagonist. What happens when you’re supposed to die, and you even complete your bucket list, but you beat the odds and survive? How do you live with the decisions you made when you thought you were dying?
Petulant Protagonist - Much of your reading experience will depend on how you react to Alice as a character. She is difficult to say the least. She uses her cancer bucket list as a way to exact revenge on her jerk of an ex (Luke) and her adversary (Celeste) that stole him. I don’t mind flawed characters and I appreciate the unconventional approach Murphy takes with Alice’s character- she makes a cancer patient unsympathetic. But personally I thought Alice’s character made this book a chore to read at times.
Time (Clock of the Heart) – Side Effects has a “Now” and “Then” device, that illustrates where we are now (cancer remission), and how we got there with then (living with cancer, bucket list). Time jumps between now and then, introducing pieces of the puzzle to put together throughout the book.
He Said, She Said - In addition to the now and then story structure, Side Effects features dual perspective, with Alice and Harvey (her long-suffering friend/love interest) taking alternate chapters. This was a good choice for this book. Alice and Harvey don’t have the best communication so being in their heads allow us to see where they’re coming from.
Love Story - Alice and Harvey grew up together since their parents are best friends. Harvey loves Alice and she strings him along for much of the book. They are not best friends or boyfriend-girlfriend, but something undefinable that makes for a messy, misunderstood relationship. I can’t say I shipped this pairing and I wanted so much more for good guy Harvey.
Mean Girls - This is probably the first revenge/cancer book I’ve read, and the pranks in this book take a page right out of Carrie.
Ballerina out of Control - Another activity that links Alice and Harvey is ballet. Harvey’s mom runs a dance studio, where Alice danced and Harvey played piano. Alice is a gifted dancer, but isn’t sure if she wants to stick with it. Now that she’s well, can she find her way back to the studio?
Reach for the Stars – Alice and Harvey have some growing to do in this book. Alice has to learn to live now that she has the opportunity, and Harvey also has to decide if he can move on from Alice, or what if any relationship they can have. There is character growth, and it’s realistically portrayed. Nothing is going to come easy for these two or change overnight, and that’s okay.
Listen to this audiobook and call me in the morning -Cassandra Campbell made the voice of Alice a little more palatable. Though Alice’s words and actions are harmful at times, Campbell’s performance is fair to the character and she doesn’t make her sound like a monster. You could feel her emotional struggle and torment in her voice. Kirby Heyborne’s Harvey performance is gentle like the character, and matures over the course of the book. Heyborne is a good choice for nice guy characters, though he is certainly capable of conveying the frustration and intensity of the character as well. Though the performances were satisfying, this is not a book I wanted to listen to all the time, due to the nature of the story.
Golden Boy is an intense and emotional read that centers on Max Walker, an intersex teen. We follow Max’s story through the eyes of the important people in Max’s life: Max’s parents, brother, doctor, and girlfriend, and Max as well. This book provides food for thought about gender roles and identity, and this book really stretched my mind. Max’s story is inspiring, heartbreaking, and thought provoking. If you’re interested in crossover books, gender issues and just great storytelling I think you’ll really respond to Golden Boy.
The multi-POV format works very well in Golden Boy. It’s enlightening to get different reads on Max and see that how people react is not necessarily what you’d expect. The parents (Karen and Steve) provide the history and why they made certain medical and gender choices about Max from the beginning, and where there was conflict between them. Steve’s POV comes in late in the story, and before that we have to rely on only Karen’s side of the story. Max’s younger brother Daniel is quite a character – he says just what he means, and hero worship’s Max. Archie is Max’s doctor and is one of the first in Max’s circle of trust. And Sylvie is Max’s love interest.
This was my first book on intersexuality and it opened my eyes about my own gender assumptions. There are not a lot of fiction or YA books out there that tackle intersexuality and gender issues and Tarttelin expertly addresses these topics and makes me hunger for more.
This book had me so on edge- I was so worried about Max and angry and stressed about the situation. At one point at the end I was afraid I’d throw my iPhone across the room but thankfully it didn’t come to that. I had to put the book down though after a very traumatic incident in the narrative- it was just so vivid and upsetting. But my thoughts kept straying back to Golden Boy and I returned of course to finish this powerful story. Abigail Tarttelin seems like she’s well versed in the intersex topic and makes this book informative and quite gripping. The multi-pov’s work together so beautifully and give the reader such a well-rounded reading experience. Can’t wait to read what Tarttelin writes next.
Audio notes – Yay for full cast audiobooks! This audiobook is perfection- there’s a narrator for each characters’ POV, which fully brings Max’s story to life. The vocal performance of Max in particular is splendidly portrayed. It was just like listening to a play, so well acted and full of emotion. I did speed up the narration a little bit because I was eager to find out what happened and the audio sounds great at 1.25x.If you are inclined to listen to audiobooks, you won’t regret listening to this one.
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