Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

It Started with Goodbye by Christina June

Pages: 269

Publisher: Blink

Release Date: May 9, 2017

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis

“Winner of the 2018 Young Adult Virginia Book of the Year

Sixteen-year-old Tatum Elsea is bracing for the worst summer of her life. After being falsely accused of a crime, she’s stuck under stepmother-imposed house arrest and her BFF’s gone ghost. Tatum fills her newfound free time with community service by day and working at her covert graphic design business at night (which includes trading emails with a cute cello-playing client). When Tatum discovers she’s not the only one in the house keeping secrets, she finds she has the chance to make amends with her family and friends. Equipped with a new perspective, and assisted by her feisty step-abuela-slash-fairy-godmother, Tatum is ready to start fresh and maybe even get her happy ending along the way.”

What Did I Think?

While the overall concept of It Started with Goodbye appears to be like other fluffy and sweet contemporaries, this book was so much more than that! The other loose fairytale retellings I’ve read have been in the fantasy genre, and I loved that June was able to create such a fabulous retelling of “Cinderella” through a modern, contemporary lens set in today’s world. The emphasis on Tatum and the relationships she has with the other members of her blended family remained at the forefront, setting the tone for the wonderful coming-of-age story that this book transforms into.

For someone as young as our protagonist, Tatum, she sure does handle all the new changes in her life like a trooper. Unfortunately, Tate was the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when some shizzz went down and has basically been forced into seclusion by her father and overly-controlling stepmother… well, except when she is out on the town doing community service. I greatly appreciated the fact that while Tate wasn’t thrilled with how her summer unfolded, she managed to find some good in what was thrown her way and took the extra time she had to focus on things that she saw value in, like honing her graphic design skills. A part of me got really upset that it took Tate so long to stand up to her stepmother in a constructive way, but given her reserved, quirky personality and her parents’ refusal to listen to her previously, I began to understand why she was so hesitant to handle conflict head-on until she really hit her breaking point. Overall, I found Tatum’s character relatable and the development we see from her very realistic for the age and stage she’s in.

I can’t help but take a moment to comment of how intriguing Tatum’s family is. She is a part of a big blended family (something so many readers can relate to!) and the personalities of each member are vastly different from that of other members. I loved how Tatum’s abuela was so free-spirited and always willing to use logic to help sort out conflict within the family. I also appreciated the fact that she wasn’t afraid to step in on behalf of Tatum when her stepmother and father were way out of line. Tilly sure had a massive attitude on her, I found it interesting to see how she and Tatum got along as sisters, as their personalities were kind of born to clash. I think it would be a hoot to see this family spending time together all at one time — I’ll bring the popcorn!

While the vast majority of the story follows Tatum and her family, there is also a very charming and endearing virtual Prince Charming we totally need to discuss. While under house arrest, Tatum works on a website for her “virtual pen pal” of sorts and they strum up a solid friendship. I enjoyed the fact that like Tatum, Secret Pen Pal was kind of quirky and certainly not what one would consider a mainstream teen. I loved the fact that both Tatum and Mystery Man were able to help and support one another from a distance and seemed to be what the other needed just in the nick of time.

It Started with Goodbye was a very sweet, wholesome, and beautiful read that highlighted the importance of forgiving those who have wronged you and mending relationships that have never quite been whole. It has the perfect blend of humor and hardship, friendship and family, and misunderstanding and learning to understand. The characters were flawed but relatable, the family dynamic was complex but so intriguing, and June’s writing was just stunning to read and totally fit the fairytale whimsicality that frames Tatum’s story. The lessons presented in this book are timeless, and I truly believe that readers of all ages can take at least a tiny morsel of wisdom with them by the end of their reading of It Started with Goodbye.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you’re in the mood to read a contemporary with hilarious dialogue between characters, a strong emphasis on family, and a coming-of-age tale through and through, I highly suggest giving It Started with Goodbye a read!

I’d also recommend this book to fans of Jennifer E. Smith, Miranda Kenneally, and Morgan Matson.

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Alex, Approximately

Pages: 390

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: April 3, 2018

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis

“Classic movie buff Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online by “Alex.” Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.

Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new arch-nemesis. But life is whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever-it-is she’s starting to feel for Porter.

And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.

In this delightfully charming teen spin on You’ve Got Mail, the one guy Bailey Rydell can’t stand is actually the boy of her dreams—she just doesn’t know it yet.

What Did I Think?

One of the things I always love about Jenn Bennett’s books are their unique overall concepts, and that of Alex, Approximately is no exception. I loved that while the setting was in California, there was a small town vibe to it that makes the reader feel like we’re locals. I’m a suckers for playlists, illustrations, and anything else that breaks up the chapters and tells us more about the characters, so seeing the messages between Alex and Bailey via the film fanatics website was so cool to see and even more fun to read. While there were some really heart wrenching moments in the book, they were balanced out well by the quirky characters and their witty senses of humor. I also really appreciated the fact that while Bailey and Porter don’t necessarily have a “traditional” upbringing, the family they do have in their lives are so supportive of each of them and always have their best interests at heart.

I loved our protagonist, Bailey, from the very first chapter. She avoids conflict at all costs (including moving all the way across the country to do just this), has a very distinct sense of humor, and isn’t afraid to get nerdy about all things film. She’s had to come to terms with some pretty traumatic events in her life thus far, but I love how this doesn’t hold her back from taking a chance on new things as she explores her new Cali home. While she starts out reserved and avoids the spotlight, I loved the moments where Bailey came out of her shell and lost her temper at people who tried to walk all over her. Though her character didn’t develop all that much, I think that moving to a different placing, getting her first real job, and finding her voice were realistic steps in her journey to become a more mature young adult, and I could see this change in her by the end.

Porter, our main man, really threw me for a loop. I really REALLY did not want to like him, especially after the little charade he pulled during Bailey’s training day at the museum. But eventually his natural charisma drew me in and I couldn’t help but like and respect him once I got to know a little more about him. I loved the fact that he was always eager to help his family, even when it was inconvenient for him to do so, and how proud he is of his sister’s surfing accomplishments. Like Bailey, he has had to deal with some hardship in life, but I loved the fact that he took those memories and used them as fuel rather than cow-tailing to his fears. Overall, as mad as I got at Porter, my anger never overshadowed how good of a guy he really is at heart!

While there is very little not to love about this book, I couldn’t give it a full five starts for a few reasons. The main reason is that the biggest spoiler on earth is literally on the back of this book in the synopsis: Porter is Alex. GEEZ! That literally took the mystery out of the whole thing, and I was really bummed about it. While the reader surmises pretty quickly that this the case, I wish we would have been left to figure it out on our own rather than being spoiled BY THE AUTHOR HERSELF. Another less upsetting issue I had with this book was that while I loved the fact that there were so many intricate details thrown in, by the end, I just felt like there were loose ends that still needed tying up. This is not to say that the ending wasn’t satisfying (it TOTALLY was), but some things just didn’t feel complete to me. However, don’t let these issues deter you from giving Alex, Approximately a chance because overall, it was a fantastic read!

Alex, Approximately was about as loaded of a contemporary romance as you’ll find, and I loved every moment of untangling all the little details! The characters had such unique backgrounds and personalities, and I enjoyed the fact that the connection that each of these characters have with their families remained at the forefront of the story. The plot was well-paced, and I found myself completely engaged in Bailey’s new Cali adventures from beginning to end. Alex, Approximately was both heartwarming and heartbreaking, funny and cringe-y, and just an overall blast to read.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

Looking for a summery contemporary romance with a strong emphasis on family, friendship, and learning how to overcome your past and reshape your future, this book is for you!

If you’re like me (aka you’ve read her latest works before picking up this gem up) and enjoyed Jenn Bennett’s Starry Eyes and Serious Moonlight, I highly recommend you give Alex, Approximately a read!

I’d also recommend this book to fans of Morgan Matson, Rainbow Rowell, Katie McGarry, and Sarah Dessen.

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

Pages: 440

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Release Date: June 4, 2019

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

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

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

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

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

For Saylor, it’s like a whole new world is opening up to her. But when it’s time to go back home, which side of her will win out?”

What Did I Think?

I’ve read a good many of Sarah Dessen’s books, and they’re usually either a HUGE hit or a big miss for me. Her latest release, The Rest of the Story, falls into the latter category, and dare I say it, there’s a good chance it’s my favorite book of hers yet!

The overall concept of The Rest of the Story appears pretty simplistic at first glance, but is actually super intricate as you delve deeper into the book. I thought that having the lake have “two sides” was super unique and realistic, as I think there are high and lower-end parts of real recreational destinations. The rivalries between the two sides also nicely reflects Emma’s/Saylor’s internal battle of figuring out who exactly she wants to be, which was a really interesting touch that continued to pop up throughout the book in great ways. I really enjoyed that the reader sees both the points of view of locals and tourists, as their perspectives on things are totally different even though they are essentially in the exact same place. As a whole, I thought that while some components of the overall concept were pretty traditional for a summertime contemporary (i.e. the setting), the amount of detail that lay beneath the surface made this book something unlike those I’ve read in the past in the best ways imaginable.

I am so excited to talk to you about these characters because they were so much fun to read about! Let’s start with our main gal, Emma Saylor Payne. I don’t know why exactly this was, but I found myself drawn to her from the very first page. Like me, Emma/Saylor tends to organize and clean things when she gets overwhelmed or anxious (undiagnosed OCD friends, unite!), and also tries to stay out of the limelight in an attempt to please others and avoid conflict. I loved every moment of watching her character figure out who she wanted to be (Emma or Saylor? You’ll have to wait and see for yourself!) and how her time at North Lake seemed to change her for the better. As hard as it may be to believe, Emma/Saylor’s character developed more in 440 short pages than many of the characters I’ve read about in other books developed over four, 440-page books, and did so in a way that was realistic and believable. I had so much fun experiencing Emma/Saylor’s adventures at North Lake with her, as well as watching her learn more about her mother through her time with that side of her family.

While I wish we could have gotten to see more of Roo, I’ve got to take a second to rant about what an awesome catch this guy is! First of all, his nickname comes from his childhood love of kangaroos. How adorable is that? Other than that fun fact, I generally loved everything about Roo’s character. He’s naturally charismatic, hilarious, hardworking, understanding, ridiculously respectful of his elders (even when I totally think he should have opened a can of kick butt on a certain someone who was a total JERK to him for no reason) and deeply invested in the relationships he has with his family and friends. He’s just one of those people that everyone’s naturally drawn to, which I think is rare in a fictional character. I mean, usually you can find at least one flaw, but I literally could not when it came to Roo! Whenever his name would pop up, I was immediately excited to see what he was up to, and when he wasn’t around, I was wishing he was. He balances out Emma/Saylor so well, and I think they both learned a little something from each other: Roo to be more in-tune with how he feels about his dad not being around and to let loose a little bit and have some fun, and Emma to block out what everyone’s been telling her about her mother and instead do some digging on her own to fill in the gaps in her mom’s story. I love both Roo and Emma/Saylor separately, I love them together, I love them any way we get to have them because they are simply superbly written characters with so much depth to them!

If I had to pick just one, the standout of this entire book has to be the supporting characters, including but not limited to Bailey, Jack, Trinity, Gordon, Vincent, Taylor, April, and so many more. Each of them added so much fun to the story’s more serious moments. I literally lived for when the entire gang was together, having a good time! The fact that they took Emma/Saylor under their wing and included her in their summer fun (and work, as well!) was so sweet, and that they were able to recognize that her lack of visiting them in North Lake was not her doing but rather her father’s was really mature of them given their ages. If I had to pick one fictional family/friend group to be a part of (aside from a magical, fantastical one, of course!) it would be this one, hand’s down!

One of the things that hold me back from giving this book five stars is that I felt like there were some elements that were introduced at the beginning that weren’t fully explained by the end or that didn’t reappear until the very end after originally being mentioned. For example, the reader learns that Emma/Saylor likes to organize things when she gets anxious, as establishing in the opening chapter. However, it’s rare that this point is blatantly mentioned again until the very end. I think I would have just liked to have seen these moments a tad bit more developed. I also found a few aspects of the book to be pretty unrealistic, such as why Emma/Saylor’s dad would let her stay with her grandmother on her mom’s side when they don’t know each other at all and him thinking they are bad influences. While these are relatively small issues, they did impact the reading experience and left some things to be desired from my perspective.

The Rest of the Story had everything I always expect in a Sarah Dessen book and more: a strong focus on the family dynamic, a little dash of romance, a main character on the cusp of adulthood whose trying to embrace their new-found independence, and a beautiful summertime setting that is sure to bring a smile to every reader’s face. The pacing was well done with the exception of a few places that were a little too detailed for my liking, and the plot and characters were so compelling that I honestly wished the book was longer or that there was a second one! Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of reading The Rest of the Story, and I think there’s something to be learned from and appreciated by anyone who gives it a chance.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you are looking for a summery, coming-of-age read that’s all about adjusting to change and embracing what’s to come, The Rest of the Story is the perfect read for you!

If Sarah Dessen’s other books are your jam, why haven’t you given this book a read yet? Just kidding, but I highly suggest bumping this book to the top of your ever-growing TBR!

I’d also recommend this book to fans of Morgan Matson, Jessie Kirby, and Jenny Han’s sweet and summery contemporaries.

Young Adult, Contemporary Romance

Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

Amazon.com: Serious Moonlight (9781534425149): Bennett, Jenn: Books

Pages: 426

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: April 16, 2019

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Advanced Reader Copy

Goodreads Synopsis

“After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.

Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that the most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.”

What Did I Think?

This book had it all: a SUPER awkward first (err, second?) encounter, some unauthorized detective work, an octopus named Octavia, and a whole lotta pie-eatin’, and I LOVED IT!

I don’t now how she does it, but Jenn Bennett always manages keep readers on their toes when it comes to the overall concepts she constructs. Serious Moonlight was totally unlike any other contemporary I’ve ever read. While I don’t normally read mysteries or detective stories, I absolutely loved the main plot of this book, which centers around Birdie and Daniel becoming the modern-day versions of Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew as they try to learn more about a reclusive writer they think is staying at the hotel they work the overnight shift at. The majority of the book takes place in and around Seattle, WA (a place I’ve never been to before but felt like I had by the end of the book), and having Birdie take the ferry in and out of the city from the island she lives on was a super creative touch. I also really appreciate the fact that both Birdie and Daniel have such wonderful support systems standing behind them to provide guidance when they need it. Overall, I thought all of these tiny little details worked together to create a super intriguing concept that would appeal to a wide variety of readers.

I saw a lot of myself in Birdie’s character. She’s very connected to her family, and I love the bond she has with her late mother’s (frick frackin’ hilarious) best friend, Mona, who Birdie grew up living with. She also, like me, tends to sweat the small stuff. Throughout the book we see Birdie struggle to work through quite a few things, including her anxiety, another health condition she’s been avoiding dealing with, grief after losing family members, and trying to break out of her introverted shell. While I’m not a huge fan of mysteries myself, I had so much fun learning about Birdie’s love of reading about and solving mysteries. I found myself appreciating the fact that Birdie’s character didn’t have a whole lot of new development, but instead just became more in tune with and honed her true personality over the course of the novel. I will say that it took me a little while to connect with her because the concept of the novel was so complex and took a little bit to establish before the reader really gets to know her, but once I did I really enjoyed Birdie’s character!

As if this book couldn’t get any better, Serious Moonlight also has its own personal magician– Daniel! There was not one thing I didn’t love about his character. He’s sweet, funny, witty, charismatic, and overall, just a great guy. The fact that he has a man bun is also a nice touch, and likely means that yet another fictional character has better hair than I do (le sigh). After he and Birdie reconnect at the Carlisle Hotel (now as work buddies, yayy but AWKWARD!), he’s convinced that their meeting again was an act of fate, which irks Birdie to no end, as she really wants to just sweep the whole situation under a rug. However, I’m totally with Daniel on this one, because I think they balance each other out really well, and let’s face it: they were meant to be from the get-go. Daniel also gets bonus points from me because he knows and is invested in what Birdie is interested in and makes an effort to take her on adventures in Seattle that are geared toward those interests. I’m thinking of one outing in particular and really want to spoil it for you guys, but I’m gonna keep it to myself and let you enjoy the moment yourselves when you give Serious Moonlight a read!

I cannot sing the praises of Serious Moonlight enough! I found Bennett’s storytelling so compelling and the overall concept she created brilliantly unconventional. The pacing of was right on the money, and I enjoyed all the little plot twists that managed to sneak up on me when I least expected them. I couldn’t help but love and relate to all of the characters and their quirks, and I’m hard-pressed to find two people that suit one another better than Birdie and Daniel do. The romance that sparked between these two was constructed in a way that made it so realistic and believable, given all the awkwardness their past experience with one another brought to the table. I enjoyed every moment of reading Serious Moonlight, and I have a feeling it will go down in history as one of my favorite contemporary romances of all time!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

Looking for a book with a truckload of mystery, romance, and some quirky, flawed characters you can’t help but love and relate to? Give Serious Moonlight a try. You won’t regret it, I promise!

If you’ve read Jenn Bennett’s other contemporaries (Starry Eyes and Alex, Approximately), I’m almost 100% sure you’ll fall in love with Serious Moonlight! I’d also recommend Serious Moonlight to fans of Rainbow Rowell, Kasie West, and Jenny Han.

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Until Friday Night by Abbi Glines

Until Friday Night (A Field Party Book 1) by [Abbi Glines]

Pages: 337

Series: Field Party #1

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: August 25, 2015

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“To everyone who knows him, West Ashby has always been that guy: the cocky, popular, way-too-handsome-for-his-own-good football god who led Lawton High to the state championships. But while West may be Big Man on Campus on the outside, on the inside he’s battling the grief that comes with watching his father slowly die of cancer.

Two years ago, Maggie Carleton’s life fell apart when her father murdered her mother. And after she told the police what happened, she stopped speaking and hasn’t spoken since. Even the move to Lawton, Alabama, couldn’t draw Maggie back out. So she stayed quiet, keeping her sorrow and her fractured heart hidden away.

As West’s pain becomes too much to handle, he knows he needs to talk to someone about his father—so in the dark shadows of a post-game party, he opens up to the one girl who he knows won’t tell anyone else.

West expected that talking about his dad would bring some relief, or at least a flood of emotions he couldn’t control. But he never expected the quiet new girl to reply, to reveal a pain even deeper than his own—or for them to form a connection so strong that he couldn’t ever let her go…”

What Did I Think?

Until Friday Night had the perfect blend of traditional contemporary romance and elements that were totally unique to this story. The small town feel of this book made me feel right at home, and given that I live in a little town myself, I could totally relate to the characters’ experiences in living in an area like Lawton — both the good and bad! While it’s not my favorite trope in the world, I enjoyed the whole “good girl meets bad boy” element that was established right from the get-go because it’s a pretty large misconception the reader gets to see unravel right before their eyes. One of the more unique parts of this book’s overall concept concerned Maggie and West’s backgrounds, even though they were super emotional to read about. I also really enjoyed that the chapters alternated between Maggie and West’s POVs, and that Glines ensured that the wording and dialogue stayed true to their characters while flip-flopping speakers.

Maggie’s characterization contained an element I’ve never seen before in YA– she refuses to speak after tragedy strikes her family, and she ends up moving in with her cousin, Brady, and his family to start a new life. Given the trauma she’s experienced, Maggie does her best to say out of the limelight and keeps to herself a lot. Overall, I have mad respect for Maggie, as even though she doesn’t talk, she still manages to strongly communicate her thoughts and feelings to those around her, and it’s clear that she’s so much braver than she looks and feels. By the end, it was so great to see her come out of her shell and to feel comfortable in her own skin and in the presence others. I also really appreciate Glines using Maggie’s character to make the point that a person being over-possessive in a relationship is a total no-go by having Maggie crack down on West when he oversteps.

Let’s talk a little more about West, shall we? His personality and coping mechanisms are the total opposite of Maggie’s– he’s super outgoing, kind of a jerk at times, and distracts himself from the issues he has going on at home by hanging out with people and participating in activities he would be far better off avoiding. The parts of West’s character I was drawn to the most were the way he loves and treats his teammates like family, and how the progression of his opening up to Maggie about his own struggles is done gradually and in a realistic way. The only big issue I really had with West is the way he talks about other girls with his teammates (while it makes the book more realistic because I’ve hear the whole “locker room dude talks” in real life before, I still found the comments totally unacceptable and feel like I need to make that clear in this review). He also had some Alpha-male tendencies, which I didn’t find appealing, but it wasn’t for Maggie, either, so these moments were very limited in number. I’ll be the first to admit that the bad should have outweighed the good in West’s character at times but by the end, I still couldn’t help but have a soft spot in my heart for him.

Until Friday Night was the perfect late summer, early fall read that had just about everything I was looking for. The plot was well-paced, and it was a quick read that had so much packed into 337 short pages. As you can probably tell, there were an awful lot of moving parts, but somehow they all worked together to form one cohesive story that was compelling, emotional, and uplifting all at the same time. If I had to pick one aspect that totally stole my heart, I would have to say that the character development was beautifully constructed for both Maggie and West, and watching their emotional bond with one another blossom as they each worked through their own issues was really special to watch. While there were some issues in this book I really couldn’t overlook, I can’t let them take away from the fact that I really enjoyed my time reading it!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

*NOTE: Given the VERY mature themes in this book (romance, violence, language, and some drinking/partying), I would NOT recommend this book to anyone under the age of 16/17! It’s all about the high school experience and beyond, and words are not minced, so definitely keep this in mind when deciding if you should pick it up or not.*

If you’ve read some of Abbi Glines’ other works and enjoyed the romantic and small town vibes, there’s a really good chance Until Friday Night will be your cup of tea!

Fans of Katie McGarry, Morgan Matson, Jenny Han, and Jenn Bennett would also fall in love with this book.

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Amazon.com: Save the Date (9781481404570): Matson, Morgan: Books

Pages: 417

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Release Date: June 5, 2018

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect.

The only problem? The weekend is shaping up to be an absolute disaster. There’s the unexpected dog with a penchant for howling, house alarm that won’t stop going off, and a papergirl with a grudge.

There are the relatives who aren’t speaking, the (awful) girl her favorite brother brought home unannounced, and a missing tuxedo. Not to mention the neighbor who seems to be bent on sabotage and a storm that is bent on drenching everything. The justice of the peace is missing. The band will only play covers. The guests are all crazy. And the wedding planner’s nephew is unexpectedly, distractedly cute.

Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future.”

What Did I Think?

Let’s jump right into the overall concept of this beauty, shall we? This book was seriously jam-packed with a little bit of everything. I loved how the Grant family dynamic was placed right at the core of this book and how the reader gets to see the Grant’s fraying edges get put back to together (and start to unravel more, at times, too). There were also great coming-of-age aspects of this book, mostly surrounding Charlie and how so many things in her life begin changing at once as she prepares to leave home for college. Aside from the writing itself, I thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations of Charlie’s mom’s comics. I think this added yet another unique touch to a book that already has so many elements that help it stand apart from the crowd.

Charlie’s character really surprised me in a lot of ways. At the beginning of the book, her characterization seemed pretty standard for someone her age (i.e. thinking about college, exploring new relationships, so much teenage angst, etc.). Later on, though, it became clear that Charlie had some seriously drastic character development going on, particularly when it came to the relationships she has with her siblings and parents. It was so interesting to me to see Charlie come to the realization that everyone in the Grant family has their own secrets that she doesn’t know about, regardless of how tight-knit of a family they are. I appreciated that this aspect of her character was very well-developed, rather than Charlie just doing a complete 180 without any kind of doubt or emotional reaction to what she was having to come to terms with once these secrets were exposed. This progression of Charlie’s character development and her reactions to various events going on around her made her that much more lovable and relatable. It also didn’t hurt that when I was reading this book, I was experiencing and working through a lot of the same things Charlie was having to and could totally understand where she was coming from!

Gotta give Bill the credit he deserves, right? I LOVED Bill’s character! It’s clear that he’s hardworking, funny, and just such a sweetheart, even when he’s having to deal with a freaked-out Charlie while they try and find alternatives for things at the wedding that have fallen apart. While it was clear that he and Charlie were feelin’ some type of way about each other, I thought the friendship they were able to form with one another was a connection that would last a lifetime, if nothing else were to happen with these two. Plus, they also make such a dynamite team!

There were so many deep moments that led to great life lessons the reader can take away that I wasn’t expecting from this book. Because of this, I feel like I have to share one of my favorites: Betrayal sure can cut deep, especially when it comes from someone you’re close to. Matson does a brilliant job of highlighting both the pain and anger that comes along with that, but also shows the reader that if you truly care for someone, you shouldn’t let that stop you from trying to mend bridges, especially if you know the person genuinely loves and cares for you. It’s easy to hold a grudge, but the only thing that comes out of that is two hurt people, and why be that way, when you can both take the high road and grant each other forgiveness when it’s deserved? This lesson is so important, yet also quickly forgotten in our day-to-day lives that I just felt a need to share it specifically in this review!

The only issue that’s holding me back from a five-star review is that there were elements of the book that felt unrealistic to me. A really good example of this was the fact that there were so many issues with the wedding preparations that l happened on the exact day of Charlie’s sister’s wedding. Trust me when I say that I’ve seen my fair share of last minute wedding day disasters, but the ones in this book were just too much to be realistic. It’s not that I didn’t find some of them funny/really unfortunate, because I totally did, but it was just TOO MUCH.

Overall, the pacing of Save the Date was nicely done with little lag. I really enjoyed the characters and Charlie’s development totally stole the show for me. I fell in love with the Grant family dynamic, even though all members of the family had their flaws that they had to work through on their own and together as a unit. As a whole, I thought Save the Date was a super cute, fluffy, adorable read that throws some serious curveballs at you when you least expect them, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading it!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

I’m going to start with the obvious first: If you’ve enjoyed Morgan Matson’s previous books, it’s likely you’ll fall in love with Charlie, the rest of the Grant crew, and Bill, so definitely give Save the Date a shot!

Fans of Sarah Dessen, Jenna Evens Welch, Siobhan Vivian, and Kasie West will also likely take a liking to this book.

And, if you’re like me and love a good contemporary with a strong emphasis on family over romance, this may be a great option for you. I also highly recommend this book to anyone who is going through any kind of big change in their life (i.e. heading to college, moving away from home, etc.). I think readers adjusting to brand new things life has to offer will greatly benefit from giving Save the Date a try!

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

Pages: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

Release Date: December 5, 2017

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“When Claudia accidentally eavesdrops on the epic breakup of Paige and Iris, the it-couple at her school, she finds herself in hot water with prickly, difficult Iris. Thrown together against their will in the class production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, along with the goofiest, cutest boy Claudia has ever known, Iris and Claudia are in for an eye-opening senior year.

Smart, funny, and thoroughly, wonderfully flawed, Claudia navigates a world of intense friendships and tentative romance in Foolish Hearts, a YA novel about expanding your horizons, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and accepting–and loving–people for who they really are.

A contemporary young adult novel by Emma Mills about a girl whose high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream leads her to new friends–and maybe even new love. “

What Did I Think?

To sum this book up in a few words: boy band obsession, video gaming with the squad, and a whole lot of life changes being thrown at our characters!

The overall concept of this book is what drew me in from the start (other than the gorgeous cover, that is!). Between touching on building new relationships with people you least expect to connect with, working through the speed bumps that arise between childhood friends as they get older, and acknowledging how challenging adjusting to change can be for people at any stage of life, this book has all the makings of a great coming-of-age story that readers across the board will find relatable. I also love the fact that a school production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was the glue that brought and held the story and its characters together, and overall a total plus since it just so happens to be my favorite Shakespeare play!

One of my favorite elements of this book is the fact that Claudia’s family is present and plays a crucial role in her life. Sure, I love the snippets of romance that are scattered throughout as well, but something about the family dynamic is what really stuck with me long after finishing Foolish Hearts. I also appreciate that the reactions and events that involved Claudia and her family members are presented in a way that’s appropriate for each of their ages and the phase of life they’re in. For example, Claudia and her sister, Julia, are 11 years apart in age. The reader is able to see the differences in their life experiences and reactions to various events while still having the opportunity to appreciate how strong of a bond they have with one another regardless of their difference in age. The same goes for each of the girls’ relationships with their brother. Alex and Claudia’s relationship reminds me a lot of the one I have with my brother: when one of us needs help, the other is always there for the other to lean on, regardless of circumstance. As a whole, it was lovely to see an involved family in a YA contemporary, as usually they are there, but pushed to the side!

I’m always looking for characters that have their own little “things” about them that set them apart from others I’ve read about, and this book was full of unique personalities, particularly in the characters with supporting roles! I absolutely loved Gideon’s quirkiness that he makes no attempt to hide from those around him and how loyal he is to his best friend, Noah. Their relationship seemed almost like a carbon copy of the one Claudia has with Zoe, but contrasts in that the two girls go to different schools, adding in a completely different dynamic from the boys’. I also enjoyed seeing Iris’ character for who she really is as she and Claudia got closer.

While I really wanted to give this book five starts, the pacing was just a little bit off for me, specifically when it came to the explanations of the video game everyone was playing together. They were a little too long for my attention span, given that I’m not much of a gamer. I also wanted to know more about Claudia’s past relationship with Will Sorenson, and why his reasoning for not being with her upset her so much. Something about that just didn’t click for me. I also had some issues with Claudia’s character development. Sure, she needed to backpedal sometimes in order to help her put things in perspective, but I felt like in the end, her character just didn’t come far enough for me to constitute true character development.

Regardless of these issues, I found this book to be a very quick, easy, and enjoyable read that is full of great advice for readers of all ages who are learning to find their own way in this crazy world!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you’re looking for a fantastic coming-of-age tale with THE TINIEST dash of romance thrown into the mix, this book is for you!

I’d also recommend this book to fans of Jenn Bennett, Kasie West, and Miranda Kenneally!

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett

Amazon.com: Starry Eyes (9781481478809): Bennett, Jenn: Books

Pages: 448

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: January 8, 2019

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis

“Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best friends-turned-best enemies Zorie and Lennon have made an art of avoiding each other. It doesn’t hurt that their families are the modern-day Californian version of the Montagues and Capulets.

But when a group camping trip goes south, Zorie and Lennon find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Alone. Together.

What could go wrong?

With no one but each other for company, Zorie and Lennon have no choice but to hash out their issues via witty jabs and insults as they try to make their way to safety. But fighting each other while also fighting off the forces of nature makes getting out of the woods in one piece less and less likely.

And as the two travel deeper into Northern California’s rugged backcountry, secrets and hidden feelings surface. But can Zorie and Lennon’s rekindled connection survive out in the real world? Or was it just a result of the fresh forest air and the magic of the twinkling stars?”

What Did I Think?

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Just a quick heads up, folks: This. Book. Was. Amazing.

Let’s start by talking about the overall concept and set-up of this masterpiece! I thought this book was very unique in a lot of ways, but also included many of the elements that I love in a YA contemporary romance. Given the fact that I’m not exactly “outdoorsy” by nature (no pun intended, errr, okay, maybe it was), I actually found the “how-to guide for surviving in the wilderness” vibe of this book really enlightening! I also thought all the components of the plot, from Zorie’s love of astrology to the “glamping” trip to Lennon’s newest hobby, were very well thought out and made the events of the story that much more believable and realistic. For a contemporary, this book had so many plot twists that I really didn’t see coming, and boy was it refreshing! Though some were good and others made me cringe a little, I was totally invested in each and every event, and each one flowed into the next in a perfectly logical way.

Moving on to our wonderfully diverse set of characters! I love how each of these guys, regardless of if they were front and center or simply in the background, were so well developed and that the reactions they had to different events in the book were so raw and real as opposed to everything feeling staged. It’s clear that every character had their flaws and that there were aspects of themselves that made them stand out from the other characters. I also appreciated how these flaws and disparities were thrown out up front, which allows the reader to see just how far they each developed from beginning to end. I found myself relating to Zorie a lot– we’re both crazy planners who expect everything we lay out in our lives to go a certain way, and when it doesn’t, it’s a little intimidating and scary. We also both don’t know jack about the outdoors (anyone ever heard of a bear canister? Neither have Zorie and I!). While I don’t necessarily think Lennon and I have all that much in common, I still found myself respecting his adventurous side and go-with-the-flow attitude– something I think both Zorie and I could benefit from having more of in our lives!

I can honestly say that I’m not always a fan of the “enemies turned BF/GF” trope that we see so often in YA contemporary romances, so I was really shocked when I fell in love with the relationship we see rekindle between Zorie and Lennon! I think part of the reason I was more than okay with this was because it was mixed in with the whole “best friends turned more than friends” trope, which, judge me if you want, is one of my favorites! And even better is the fact that the book didn’t have an insta-love situation between these two. Rather, it was clearly and thoughtfully developed in a realistic way. It was clear that both Zorie and Lennon continued to care about one another when they weren’t on good terms, and that sometimes all it takes is a little communication (and a little witty and some well-placed digs later) to figure out where both people went astray and how to move forward in rebuilding a relationship.

One of the big takeaway for me was how this book really goes to show the reader that spontaneity in life really isn’t the end of the world, and more times that not, something really great can come out of it! I felt like I was on the same journey as Zorie in the sense that sometimes opportunities arise that aren’t laid out neatly in your very organized agenda, and that taking advantage of those opportunities rather than those you planned isn’t always a bad thing. As Zorie’s stepmother says, “don’t be cautious, be careful,” and sometimes it’s best to let the wind take you where it will, even if this approach is riskier than the one you penciled in.

Now that I’ve written a whole heck of a lot, here are some final thoughts:

I enjoyed every single moment of reading this book. The plot was perfectly paced for me, and I found myself totally engrossed in the story from start to finish. There were a lot of moving parts in this one, and they all managed to work together like a well-oiled machine. Without a doubt, there is something in this book for everyone! I have to admit, though: the chances of me backpacking through the wilderness are now VERY slim. If you don’t understand this random tidbit of info, READ THIS BOOK and you’ll get it (and might just agree with me)!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

Due to some minimal mature content, I would not recommend this book to anyone under the age of 16.

This book is the perfect fix for anyone who’s in the mood for a quick , summery read with a little outdoor adventure thrown in for good measure!

If you’re already a fan of Jenn Bennett, then I highly recommend you read this book! I’d also recommend this book to anyone who’s enjoyed books by Morgan Matson, Huntley Fitzpatrick, and/or Jenny Han!

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Cold Day in the Sun by Sarah Biren

Amazon.com: Cold Day in the Sun (9781419733673): Biren, Sara: Books

Pages: 307

Publisher: ABRAMS (Amulet Books)

Release Date: March 12, 2019

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“Holland Delviss wants to be known for her talent as a hockey player, not a hockey player who happens to be a girl. But when her school team is selected to be featured and televised as part of HockeyFest, her status as the only girl on the boys’ team makes her the lead story. Not everyone is thrilled with Holland’s new fame, but there’s one person who fiercely supports her, and it’s the last person she expects (and definitely the last person she should be falling for): her bossy team captain, Wes.”

What Did I Think?

Ughh, I know right? I really wish I could give this book a higher rating, but there were quite a few issues I just simply couldn’t overlook. That being said, there were a couple of things that I thought worked really well in this book, so this review is not going to be all negative, I promise!

Let’s start by talking about the overall concept. I was intrigued with the fact that Holland was the only girl playing on a boys hockey team and her rock music blog was super interesting to read about. Since I don’t know much about hockey or Minnesota, I went in hoping this book would be able to teach me a little bit about life in this state and the sport itself. While I think the concept of this book is unique in that its setting is in a place I haven’t read about before in YA, there were some aspects of the concept that fell flat. For example, Holland’s school had a girls hockey team and I just didn’t find her reasoning for being on the boys team very compelling. I think she should play for whatever team she wants to, obviously, but I just felt like we needed more to understand why it was so important to her that she be on that specific team. The reader was also just thrown into the world of ice hockey without any real background, and if you’re like me with little knowledge about the sport, there are moments where you may get very confused about what’s going on and when certain terminology was used. As a whole, the concept in theory was a good one, but the execution could have been better.

Character time! For the most part, I really liked Holland. She’s definitely a strong female main character, and I though the fact that she used all the negativity she was receiving from members of the community regarding her position on the hockey team as fuel rather than crumbling under the pressure was really inspiring. On the other hand, the reader still got to see a softer side to Holland when she wasn’t on the ice, and having her use her rock blog as an outlet to share how she really feels when given some of the intense criticism she does was a really clever idea.

While Wes’ kinder side comes out later on in the book, I just wasn’t convinced– it came on too suddenly to be believable, like the flip of a switch. However, by the end, when he was interacting with his family, I like 90% believed that he’s genuinely a kind dude. One of the elements of Wes’ character that I really liked was his loyalty to Holland, even when they weren’t on the best of terms, as well as his constant support of her when she started doubting herself. I would have liked to have seen more about Wes himself, though, rather than him always just being there to help Holland out when she needed it. MUCH more development was definitely needed to make Wes’ character more compelling to the reader.

The whole “insta-love” situation between Wes and Holland just didn’t do it for me. I don’t even think that this was the intent– I think the author was going for more of the “enemies turned BF/GF” trope, but that hardly came across because it only lasted for .5 seconds before Holland’s feelings about Wes changed and vice versa. Ultimately, there was little relationship development between the two characters, which made the romance really hard to buy as realistic. However, I did like how Wes and Holland both connected over music. It seems that was the only thing other than hockey that they could bond over, which is better than nothing!

Time to wrap this up with some final thoughts. As far as pacing goes, I thought it was done relatively well! I didn’t find myself skimming lines, but by the same token, I also didn’t feel all that invested in the story. The characters and their personalities were definitely the highlight of this book for me. I also hate to mention this, but the ending was very unsatisfying. I’m not sure what I was looking for exactly, but at minimum, I certainly expected there to be some type of wrap-up, which ended up being non-existent. To end this thing on a positive note, though: the cover is absolutely stunning!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

*The language in this book got pretty strong at times (particularly at the end), so I’d only recommend this to readers who are mature enough to handle that. I’m 20, and it made me cringe at times. I’d say this book is only suitable for readers age 15/16+.*

Obviously this book was very “ehhh” for me and, in some regards, very disappointing. But everyone has an opinion, so if this book peaks your interest, don’t hesitate to give it a go!

If you’re a big fan of hockey and already familiar with the terrain of Minnesota, it’s likely that you’ll really enjoy this book and be able to relate more to it than I could.

People who enjoy Sarah Dessen’s books may also like some aspects of this book, and if you’re a fan of the insta-love and enemies-turned-lovers tropes, this may be a good fit for you!