Thursday, August 22, 2013

Grab Your Pole Series by Jenn Cooksey


Previously homeschooled Camie Ramsey is being shoved into the shark-infested waters of public high school, where even helium filled, penguin bespeckled arm floaties likely won’t help keep her inexperienced, fifteen-year-old head above water in that rip current of hormones and emotions. Camie’s worldly wisdom might be severely lacking (i.e., the closest she’s come to being kissed was sitting too close to the TV whilst Jake Ryan leaned in to give Samantha that fateful 16th birthday kiss), but she does understand her only hope for survival is if she’s thrown some kind of “social” life preserver before she sinks like a freaking rock. However, what will her fate be when she endeavors to flag down the only lifeguard on duty, the enormously popular and ridiculously beautiful Tristan Daniels? The most sought after and virtually most unattainable guy in school who not only makes Camie’s heart flatline on a recurring basis, he’s also the one guy who seemingly doesn't know she exists. Feeling like an inept piece of chum that could ultimately be swallowed by Jaws, can Camie get Tristan to rescue her from floundering in the treacherous deep, or is she destined to be Shark Bait?

This series is recommended for mature audiences due to strong language and sexual content.


The description above & the review below will mainly cover Shark Bait as to not spoil anything that happens, but since I read these books back to back to back (well, I read #3 as soon as I could get it downloaded into my kindle...terrible month long wait!) & it is essentially one continuing story (each ending in a way to make you want the next one immediately...especially The Other Fish In the Sea!) I'm going to review & recommend this series as a whole...or at least the part of the series that is currently available.

I won a copy of Shark Bait from a giveaway at Liis' Bookshelf.   I was looking for a new book to read at the time.  Liis told me this one was smart & funny & that I would love it.  She was right on all accounts!  This series surprised me on so many levels.  First, the cover...because we all know we do actually judge books by their cover...right!?  I had been reading mostly college age to adult romances leading up to picking up Shark Bait and based on the cover, I was expecting more of the same.  I didn't read the description prior to starting the book or I would have realized that it was actually set in high school.  This isn't a deal breaker for me.  I like YA books.  Second, the characters...Where the through line of the story follows the "will they/won't they" of Camie & Tristan.  The side characters are as compelling (and sometimes even more so) as the main two.

Jenn Cooksey breaks convention left & right with this series.  Her characters are real.  They curse, they drink, they have sex (or at least think about having sex) other words, they act like a lot of teenagers.  All of these things come together to make a more "mature content" story than a lot of YA novels.  With all of this, she doesn't dodge the tough subjects, but also doesn't bog the story down with a message or lesson as to what is right or wrong.  They make mistakes.  Sometimes they learn from them & sometimes they don't.  

Shark Bait is Camie's story.  We see everything through her innocent eyes.  As we meet The Other Fish In The Sea, the perspective drifts.  What Jenn does with this one was fun.  She switches point of view several times, but doesn't warn you of the change.  You get the chance to be in several of the girls heads, but you have to pay attention to the clues given to figure out who is telling the story.  With Shark Out Of Water, we finally get to see what the boys are thinking.  With the "new fad" of retelling a story through the male POV emerging, I was glad that we got the perspective shifts without revisiting the same story in this series.

While there were moments that felt distinctly high school & made me feel old as I judged the characters for their immature decisions, there were many more that just made me laugh.  Without giving any detail (because, really, what fun would that be?!), I'll list a few of the things I loved....Jillian (Really a brilliant character...though sometimes I doubt that she's actually 12/13), Tristan's Wall of Infamy (Best plot moving device I have seen...maybe ever!), & Buffy (any author that peppers their book with Buffy quotes gets bonus points in my book!).

If you are looking for a fun/clever read, definitely check out this series, but be prepared to buy them all....because once you start, you'll want to keep reading!  And before you know it, you'll be waiting impatiently with the rest of us for GYP #4....just be glad you aren't in the group of of us who had to wait on Shark Out Of Water!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Here Without You (Between The Lines #4) by Tammara Webber


Everyone has secrets.
Some are buried so deep, their existence is forgotten.
But a secret never told can turn into a lie.
And in love, a lie is one thing:

Reid's in love with Dori, though she hasn't told her parents that she's fallen hard for the guy they'd forbidden her to see. Now she's leaving for college, and Reid's promise not to push her to go public is wearing thin, especially when she can't - or won't - return those three important words he wants to hear.

Five years ago, Brooke and Reid were a Thing. That relationship is long gone, detonated amid allegations of cheating - but they still share a secret that would stun everyone they know and alter public perception of them both if it ever comes out. And it's about to do just that.

Here Without You is the fourth, final installment in the Between the Lines series, which includes: Between the Lines, Where You Are, and Good For You.


**SPOILER Warning** While I try my hardest not to include spoilers in my reviews, this is the fourth in the series & it would be hard to say what I love about this book without referencing things that happen earlier in the Between The Lines series.  If you are new to the series, then you might not want to read further.

If you read my Best of 2013...So Far post, you know that I love Tammara Webber. When she announced Here Without You I was excited and a little nervous. Good For You was my favorite of the Between The Lines series.  With that book, she surprised me time & time again.  The biggest surprise was that she made me fall for Reid Alexander. So, hearing that this book was a continuation of Reid's story thrilled me because I couldn't wait to spend more time with him, but I was afraid because any good book has to have conflict & I thought that Reid & Dori had suffered enough.  The last thing they needed in their life was Brooke & her drama resurfacing.

However, I knew there needed to be a fourth book to deal with one major detail. In Between The Lines, we learn that though Reid & Brooke's relationship self-destructed years earlier, part of them lived on in the child they created.  Brooke gave him up for adoption & moved on with her life, but was never able to completely forget him.  Reid, thinking Brooke had cheated on him, never believed the child was his & so never gave him another thought.  By the end of Good For You, both Reid & Brooke had grown & matured (mainly through learning from the consequences of their bad decisions), but they both had a way to go.

When we start Here Without You, we find that very little time has passed since we last saw them, and they all are dealing with secrets. Dori doesn't know how to tell her parents that she is dating Reid;  Reid doesn't know how to tell Dori that he has a child; and Brooke doesn't know how to tell anyone about her decision to find her son.  Each of the characters handles their secrets in their own way, but they all know that no good secret stays hidden long...especially not when your every move is chronicled & critiqued on the internet by "adoring" fans.

Tammara unravels & reveals everything with the complexity & grace that I have come to expect from her.  There are ups & downs & bumps in the road along the way for everyone involved, and more than ever before in this series, Here Without You went beyond being a love story.  It is a story of redemption & growth.  Both Reid & Brooke had to grow up & deal with the choices they made when they were thrust into celebrity at a young age without any real adult supervision.  It's hard to remember at times that they are still only 19 & 20 as they are having to make adult decisions that will change the direction of their lives and their careers, decisions that I'm not sure many people would be able to handle at that age.

The challenge this book faced for me was that it is more Brooke's story than Reid's.  Brooke had her moments in Between The Lines that made me think she might have a glimmer of hope of being a decent person, but Where You Are took all of that away.  We got to see that her conniving, scheming, selfish side is much more prominent & that any moment in which she was acting for someone else's benefit, she usually profited in some way.  So, when we find her alone & hated by everyone in Here Without You, I couldn't find it in myself to feel sorry for her.  She needed to earn my respect as well as the forgiveness of those that she hurt along the way.  Despite this, Tammara does a great job of reminding us that no person is beyond redemption.

I couldn't have asked for a more satisfying conclusion to this series.  While not everything works out perfectly, everything works out as it should.  Good For You is still my favorite of the series, but this one comes in as a close second.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Left Drowning by Jessica Park


What does it take to rise from life’s depths, swim against the current, and breathe?

Weighted down by the loss of her parents, Blythe McGuire struggles to keep her head above water as she trudges through her last year at Matthews College. Then a chance meeting sends Blythe crashing into something she doesn't expect—an undeniable attraction to a dark-haired senior named Chris Shepherd, whose past may be even more complicated than her own. As their relationship deepens, Chris pulls Blythe out of the stupor she’s been in since the night a fire took half her family. She begins to heal, and even, haltingly, to love this guy who helps her find new paths to pleasure and self-discovery. But as Blythe moves into calmer waters, she realizes Chris is the one still strangled by his family’s traumatic history. As dark currents threaten to pull him under, Blythe may be the only person who can keep him from drowning.

This book is recommended for mature audiences due to strong language and sexual content.


Left Drowning was one of the most anticipated books of the summer for me.  I rarely pre-order books, but I adore Flat-Out LoveRelatively Famous and Jessica Park in general so I ordered it as soon as the link went up, and started reading it the day it was released.  I'll admit, this is a lot of pressure for any book to live up to.  While I wasn't sure at first if Left Drowning was up to the challenge because I didn't connect with the story or the characters right away, in the end, I was carried away by this heartbreaking/heartwarming story about overcoming tragedy & learning to breathe again.

When we meet Blythe, she isn't in a good place.  She lost both of her parents as well as the close connection she once had with her brother all in one tragic night, and in an effort to escape reality, she has turned to drinking herself into oblivion as the years pass by.  Just as her life is turned upside down in one bad day, it is as quickly righted enough to see a ray of hope in back-to-back encounters with two very different boys. One offers her friendship (while stealing her coffee!) and the other offers her release (while teaching her how to skip stones).  

I have read several reviews criticizing how instant the connections were between all of the characters, and while it was a little jarring, I think it's fitting with Blythe's character.  She has been feeling lost & alone.  So, the idea of friendship and the potential of love are overwhelmingly attractive to her. As fitting as it may be, it did make it a little hard for me to relate to Blythe.  Her head was such a dark & desperate place, I found it hard to want to spend time there.   

That being said, as a credit to Jessica's writing & character development, I never wanted to stop reading.  I couldn't pull myself away from the world she matter how uncomfortable I may have felt reading it.  Opening this book is like dumping out a 1000 piece puzzle & putting it together without the box to guide you.  It's messy, frustrating & compelling all at the same time.  If you stick with it to the end, you get to see the beautiful picture she created...and oh how beautiful it is!  The conclusion made all of the frustration worthwhile.  

There was a certain percentage point that was all over Facebook within hours of the book's release (and even being printed on T-shirts now!) that I wish I hadn't seen prior to reading the book.  I found myself watching the percentage bar at the bottom of my kindle in anticipation of something big.  It wasn't really a spoiler, but I felt the same way I did watching a season of a TV show in which I knew one of the lead characters was going to die.  I couldn't focus on what was happening because I was too worried about what was going to happen.  I'm not sure if I really started to "enjoy" the book until after that point....when "the worst" had happened & I could just get carried away.  If you've managed to avoid seeing that number...count yourself lucky.  If you haven't, try to forget it...or somehow hide the percentage bar on your reading device!  

Left Drowning is definitely not a light summer read, but I am glad I read it & would recommend it to anyone who can get lost in a good story about hope, healing & faith.  In tone, it is much closer to Colleen Hoover's Hopeless than to Jessica Park's previous work, but there is a time for laughter & a time for tears.  You'll get a little of both in this book.

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham


It’s January 1995, and Franny Banks has just six months left of the three-year deadline she set for herself when she came to New York, dreaming of Broadway and doing “important” work...

Everything is riding on the upcoming showcase for her acting class, where she’ll finally have a chance to perform for people who could actually hire her. And she can’t let herself be distracted by James Franklin, a notorious flirt and the most successful actor in her class, even though he’s suddenly started paying attention. Meanwhile, her bank account is rapidly dwindling, her father wants her to come home, and her agent doesn't return her calls. But for some reason, she keeps believing that she just might get what she came for.

Someday, Someday, Maybe is a story about hopes and dreams, being young in a city, and wanting something deeply, madly, desperately. It’s about finding love, finding yourself, and perhaps most difficult of all in New York City, finding an acting job.


I experienced Someday, Someday, Maybe by audiobook, and I found it to be a rare exception. Typically, I avoid audiobooks read by the author because while they may be great at creating a world, they often (in my opinion) are not as good at bringing it to life vocally. However, when the author is also an actress I enjoy, I give her a chance.  I'm so glad I did with this one.  Lauren Graham is known for her witty, fast dialogue from her TV Series Gilmore Girls & Parenthood.  This carries over into her writing as well as her narration.  

My husband & I have been on a traveling this summer & have started & stopped several audiobooks due to slow pacing & narration that did more to lull us to sleep than keep us alert & focused.  For the narration of Someday, Someday, Maybe, Lauren brought her fast speaking, comic timing which I think added to the book & made it great for a road trip.

The story follows the lead character Franny Banks through a series of ups & downs as she attempts to jump-start her acting career.  Where this is a fictional novel, I'm imagining that personal experience or at least observation came to mind when the story was being written. The scenarios feel like a realistic portrayal of life as an actress.  There are really two narratives, what is actually happening to Franny and the conversations (both neurotic and encouraging) that she has with herself in her head.  I caught myself laughing out loud throughout the book.  You can't help but root for Franny as she chases her dream (and nears her self-imposed deadline for success).

I would recommend this book to anyone who is considering pursuing a career in entertainment, (it'll either inspire you or send you running in the opposite direction toward an easier/more stable life!) or just anyone who is looking for a fun story that gives hope & heart along with the laughs.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Flat-Out Love by Jessica Park


He was tall, at least six feet, with dirty blond hair that hung over his eyes. His T-shirt read Nietzsche Is My Homeboy.
So, that was Matt. Who Julie Seagle likes. A lot. But there is also Finn. Who she flat out loves.

Complicated? Awkward? Completely.

But really, how was this freshly-minted Boston transplant and newbie college freshman supposed to know that she would end up living with the family of an old friend of her mother's? This was all supposed to be temporary. Julie wasn't supposed to be important to the Watkins family, or to fall in love with one of the brothers. Especially the one she's never quite met. But what does that really matter? Finn gets her, like no one ever has before. They have connection.

But here's the thing about love, in all its twisty, bumpy permutations—it always throws you a few curves. And no one ever escapes unscathed.


I looked up Flat-Out Love after reading post after post of glowing recommendations from several blogs I follow.  After reading the Amazon description, I rolled my eyes a little at the thought of yet another story with a love triangle being the main point.  However, after reading a few books with the brooding bad boy/soul-mates at first sight scenarios, I was ready for something a little lighter & decided to give this one a chance. What I found was a story that was so much more than I imagined.

The characters were all well written. For once, I didn't have an obvious pick for who to root for in the love triangle. Both Matt & Finn are wonderful in their own ways, but they almost became secondary to me because who I was rooting for the most was their little sister Celeste. She was so original. Quirky & dysfunctional, but likable in her oddness.  I kept picturing this little girl carrying around a life-sized cardboard boy & laughing. I laughed a lot while reading this book. The online interaction between Julie, Matt & Finn made me wish that I was that witty...or that my friends were.

I figured out the main plot about a third of the way through. At first I was mad...I was enjoying the book so much I wanted it to be more surprising. It's not atypical for me to figure out where books are going these days, but I was sad that I had figured this one out so early. However, as I kept reading, I discovered that the further I got into the story the less it mattered. ME not knowing what was going on wasn't the point. The point was that Julie didn't know what was going on. And then I discovered this quote I had missed just inside the cover:

“It's not what you know-or when you see-that matters. It's about the journey.”

Well, Jessica, I'm glad I went on the journey with you! Thank you for your wonderful characters and this amazing story!

I will resist saying more because I believe that the less you know going into this story, the better.

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

I live in a world without magic or miracles. A place where there are no clairvoyants or shapeshifters, no angels or superhuman boys to save you. A place where people die and music disintegrates and things suck. I am pressed so hard against the earth by the weight of reality that some days I wonder how I am still able to lift my feet to walk.

Two and a half years after an unspeakable tragedy left her a shadow of the girl she once was, Nastya Kashnikov moves to a new town determined to keep her dark past hidden and hold everyone at a distance. But her plans only last so long before she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the one person as isolated as herself: Josh Bennett.

Josh’s story is no secret. Every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. When your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space. Everyone except Nastya who won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But as the undeniable pull between them intensifies, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

The Sea of Tranquility is a rich, intense, and brilliantly imagined story about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the mira­cle of second chances.


I didn't know what to expect when I picked up this book....and after reading it through a second time. I'm still not sure exactly what I think of it. It's not fun or funny. It's not action packed. It's not overly sexy. It's none of the stereotypical things that sell a novel. What it is, is a beautiful story of hope & healing.

We meet two characters who are completely shattered. Nastya has literally been broken....covered in scars & left with a hand that doesn't quite work...and a voice that she chooses not to use. For most of the book, we aren't sure what happened to her other than that she blames a boy...and wants to kill him for killing her....which is more than the other characters know. Josh is emotionally broken. Everyone he has ever loved has died, and he has shut himself off from getting close to anyone else. They've each worked so hard to be invisible, but once they see each other they can't hide anymore.

An additional selling point was that the minor characters were written with depth and realism, specifically Drew, who adds a lighthearted element without it feeling like forced comic relief.

I couldn't put this book down either time that I read it. It seeps into some part of you & holds on. I loved how innocent it was. It wasn't focused on them getting together. It was more about how they find themselves through being seen by the other. It's a beautifully written debut novel, and I can't wait to see what Katja Millay writes next.