Book Review: Boy Most Likely To

Book Review: Boy Most Likely ToThe Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Release Date: August 18th 2015
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 416
Source: NetGalley, Publisher

Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To:
- find the liquor cabinet blindfolded
- need a liver transplant
- drive his car into a house

Alice Garrett was The Girl Most Likely To:
- well, not date her little brother’s baggage-burdened best friend, for starters.

For Tim, it wouldn’t be smart to fall for Alice. For Alice, nothing could be scarier than falling for Tim. But Tim has never been known for making the smart choice, and Alice is starting to wonder if the “smart” choice is always the right one. When these two crash into each other, they crash hard.

Then the unexpected consequences of Tim’s wild days come back to shock him. He finds himself in a situation that isn’t all it appears to be, that he never could have predicted . . . but maybe should have.

And Alice is caught in the middle.

Told in Tim’s and Alice’s distinctive, disarming, entirely compelling voices, this return to the world of My Life Next Door is a story about failing first, trying again, and having to decide whether to risk it all once more

This book is like chocolate that slowly melts in your mouth; the kind you wish would never end. It’s no secret that I loved and adored My Life Next Door and was excited to walk back into that universe. And while I didn’t quite get what I expected, Fitzpatrick delivered a fantastic book and reminded me all over again why I love her writing and these characters.

Before I get much further, let me say that this book does kind of push the YA envelope. Not so much in that it’s inappropriate, because it’s truly not, but the tone and the way it’s written made it feel more like an upper YA pushing into the New Adult region. Tim falls in that definite grey area of life; not really a kid, but not quite an adult yet either. He should be attending his last year of high school, but instead finds himself kicked out of school (yet again), kicked out of his house, and then hit with another big surprise. I often had to remind myself that he was still under 18 due to situation, but there is still plenty that the “typical” teenager will be able to relate to. And while we get dual POV, this is without a doubt Tim’s story.

Tim, under all his bad boy, messed-up exterior, is truly a good guy. He’s been handed a crap sandwich in life and up until this point he hasn’t handled it so well. He lost his himself in drugs and alcohol and no one truly thinks he’ll amount to anything. After all, he is the boy likely to do something stupid. When the book starts, we find that Tim has been clean for several months already, but still has a lot of stuff to straighten out. His father has just given him an ultimatum to get his life back on track in the next 6 months or he’ll find himself cut off completely. Tim has lived so long without anyone thinking positively of him that it’s hard for him to see it either. His “Boy Most Likely To” list broke my heart and just made me want to hug him and tell him it wasn’t true.

Of course, that’s kind of what Alice does. While she is used to seeing him as her younger brother’s screwed up friend, she slowly gets to see another side. She takes the risk allowing him to be “more” and offers him the support he’s been missing in his life. Alice isn’t the one to fix him–only Tim can do that–but she starts to show him all his positives. While their romance is a bit hidden among the other storyline, it’s still an enjoyable one. They work well together and I do wish there had been more of them falling in love/going on dates. I do hope that Fitzpatrick writes another book in this universe because I would love to see them more relaxed and without the heavy burdens they had to handle.  And, of course, it would allow me to see all the Garrett’s again; a family I love and adore maybe a little too much!

Warning: If you don’t want to be spoiled please don’t read on.

View Spoiler »

Final Verdict: Not quite the love story I was expecting, but a great read anyway. I highly recommend it, even if you haven’t read My Life Next Door.

Book Review: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave

Book Review: Survival Strategies of the Almost BraveSurvival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White
Release Date: June 9th 2015
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Pages: 320
Source: NetGalley

Survival Strategy #50: If You Can, Be Brave.

After their mother's recent death, twelve-year-old Liberty and her eight-year-old sister, Billie, are sent to live with their father, who they haven't seen since they were very young. Things are great at first; the girls are so excited to get to know their father – a traveling photographer who rides around in an RV. But soon, the pressure becomes too much for him, and he abandons them at the Jiffy Company Gas Station.

Instead of moping around and being scared, Liberty takes matters into her own hands. On their journey to get home, they encounter a shady, bald-headed gas station attendant, a full-body tattooed trucker, free Continental breakfast, a kid obsessed with Star Wars, a woman who lives with rats, and a host of other situations.

When all seems lost, they get some help from an unlikely source, and end up learning that sometimes you have to get a little bit lost to be found.

There is nothing “almost” brave about Liberty. Without a doubt, she is one brave twelve year old. While internally she is freaking out about being abandoned at a gas station, she mainly keeps it together as she tries to get her and her sister back to the only home they’ve known. Her strategies, while dubious, keep both her and her sister alive and mostly out of harm’s way on their adventure.

As they make their way across the states, you can’t help but cheer them on. Every turn of the page, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the time they’d finally get caught. Maybe they’d finally reach their mother’s friend, Julie, back home. Liberty’s quick thinking gets her and Billie out of many sticky situations. Just as often, though, they find themselves in equally dire circumstances.  Not everything can go according to plan.

I love how the story used flashbacks to fill you in on the missing pieces. It was done in a way that wasn’t confusing and only enhanced the story. I’ll admit that my heart broke several times learning what had landed them in their current predicament. Both Liberty and Billie were so desperate for their father’s love, but he just wasn’t capable of giving it. His mental illness/obsession took over, and he could barely perceive that the girls were there most days. There are glimmers that make it obvious that he wants to be the father they deserve, but he falls short time and time again. I appreciate how White shows how mental illness can take over and entrap a person even as they fight it, and how everyday things quickly become all-consuming and overwhelming.. Mental illnesses are rarely easy for the person or loved ones to deal with, something that White shows with grace.

The only thing that made me hesitate a little was the girls’ fear of the authorities. I could understand avoiding the creepy gas station man, but I never fully understood why they were so scared of the police catching them. Liberty’s fear kept them running and lead to stealing, lying, and many other questionable acts. I got a sense that Liberty was scared they’d be separated, but there was nothing in their past that would cause that nagging fear. If they had been placed in foster care after their mother’s death it would have worked, but it seems like Julie took over care right away. The only other explanation is that her mom said she was responsible for Billie now, but I don’t think that should have driven her to avoid all adult help. Of course, it was a necessity for the plot, but I wish there had been more explanation/backstory to it. I doubt the intended audience will be bugged by this, but it was something that annoyed me a little as an adult.

Final Verdict: A nice, fast-paced middle grade story that has humor, adventure, and a lot of heart.

Book Review: Hooked

Book Review: HookedHooked by Liz Fichera
Release Date: Jan 2013
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 368
Source: NetGalley

Get hooked on a girl named Fred…HE said: Fred Oday is a girl? Puh-leeze. Why is a girl taking my best friend's spot on the boys' varsity golf team?SHE said: Can I seriously do this? Can I join the boys' team? Everyone will hate me—especially Ryan Berenger.HE said: Coach expects me to partner with Fred on the green? That is crazy bad. Fred's got to go—especially now that I can't get her out of my head. So not happening.SHE said: Ryan can be nice, when he's not being a jerk. Like the time he carried my golf bag. But the girl from the rez and the spoiled rich boy from the suburbs? So not happening.But there's no denying that things are happening as the girl with the killer swing takes on the boy with the killer smile…

Short of it: This one started out strong for me, but started to fall apart midway through. I appreciate the tough topics the author tried to tackle, but ultimately ended up being just an okay book for me.

Plot: I appreciate Fichera making the book more about just romance. Racism and gender equality are important issues, but how it was handled didn’t work for me. I understand that Seth was upset at being kicked off the team, but he never had any true passion or skill for golf. I know there’s the additional layer of abuse with his stepfather, but it doesn’t excuse the levels he took his hate for Fred. He didn’t even know her beyond that she took his spot; a spot that she was asked by the coach to take. Granted, perhaps some of the anger could have been subdued by have her “try-out”, but I’m not so sure. His anger should have been directed at the coach, not Fred, but since she was the easy victim she had to bear the brunt of it. And while the pranks started off relatively harmless they get to a point of life and death. While bullying at any level isn’t okay, the lengths to which Seth takes it is absurd. He’s willing to physically harm someone to the point of hospital/death because the coach put her on a High School golf team.

I also don’t like that he never faces any consequences. I’m not saying he should be in jail, but there should have been some sort of punishment to his actions. I appreciate forgiveness/being the better man, but I seriously hope that neither Ryan nor Fred ever go near Seth again.

However, I did enjoy how Fichera made golf seem interesting. It’s the one sport I usually find extremely dull, but I never felt that way during Hooked. I also enjoyed how she weaved in Native American culture into the story. I have no idea if the legends/ceremonies are based in truth or not, but they were a nice addition to the story.

Character:  I’m torn on how I feel about Fred as a character. On one hand, I love how she was willing to be the only girl on an all-boys golf team. She knew it would cause trouble, but she knew it could be the ticket she needed to get into a good college. However, I don’t like how she just took the abuse from the guys. I get not making waves, but at a certain point you have to stand up for yourself. Game after game, she proved her worth and yet it barely earned her any respect from her teammates. They still pulled pranks and gave her the cold shoulder. I wish she had pushed back herself a little instead of playing the damsel in distress card.

I do want to make a side-note that I loved the relationship between Fred and her father. While their home life wasn’t perfect, he tried to make it the best he could for Fred. I love how he built her a putting green in their backyard. And even though he knew it would be tough for her on an all-boys team, he didn’t stop her from following her dreams and tried to support them.

Romance: The romance for this one drove me a bit insane. It was insta-love and I never felt they were building their relationship on something solid. I longed for something more from them, especially because I thought they could be adorable together, but never really got it. Instead, what I got was this back and forth love-hate romance. One misunderstanding would send them spiraling into not speaking to each other for weeks. Fred too often took what she saw as fact without trying to talk to Ryan and find out the truth. I know that new relationships can be fragile, but communication is the only way to make it grow. Fred wouldn’t even listen to him when he tried to explain what was going on. I never felt like the level of trust a relationship needs was ever truly there.

Not that Fred was the only one to blame. Ryan could be a real jerk at times as well. I hate how he didn’t stand up to his friends when they were being bullies and acting way out of line. While he never agreed with what they were saying he didn’t do much to stop it. Even when he does man-up about some issues, he doesn’t really confront his friend about it. I appreciate him taking the blame and apologizing when needed, but I felt like he didn’t confront the true issues until the very end (and even then not really). While the thing he does to help her and her family is a bit cliché, it was ultimately very, very sweet. It was the thing that solidified me liking him even with all his mistakes.

Writing: I can’t say that I really have any complaints about Fichera’s writing. She was able to create a story that kept me interested enough to finish the book despite my issues. In fact, I will most likely pick up the sequel/companion.

Librarian-Mode: Romance is such a huge genre and this would most likely satisfy those looking for that fix. However, I would pair this one with Catching Jordan and Dairy Queen, which have the same theme of girls breaking into a boy’s sports world.


Book Review: My Life Next Door

Book Review: My Life Next DoorMy Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Release Date: June 2012
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 416
Source: NetGalley

The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, numerous, messy, affectionate. And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen-year-old Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs her terrace and changes everything. As the two fall fiercely in love, Jase's family makes Samantha one of their own. Then in an instant, the bottom drops out of her world and she is suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?

Short of it: This is not an action-based book and is a bit slow moving. However, it’s a fantastic book with memorable characters.

Plot: I went into this one thinking it would be a cute beach read. A nice little romance with lots of kissing and falling in love. Instead what I got was so much more. Yes, there was lots of kissing and falling in love, but for me it wasn’t the heart of the novel. In fact, I would say the heart and soul of the book is family. How different families function and how the picture perfect ones are far from perfect or the best.

The plot is rather slow moving, but in a way it was perfect. I love character-driven stories way more than plot-driven ones. However, it does speed up a bit about halfway through when a bombshell is dropped. I won’t spoil anything, but it’s massive. It challenges the boundaries of family and what is right and wrong. Samantha truly struggles with doing the right thing, especially since it means that everything in her world could crumble. It was something that no 17 year old should ever have to decide and my heart went out to her fully. While I’m not sure that ending was 100% believable (are people really that nice?), it stayed in character with how the family acted.

Character:  I liked Samantha a lot. She knew her mother’s opinions of the world were skewed and she wasn’t afraid to jump the tracks, so to speak, when the opportunity came. While I hated that she hide Jase from her mother for a while I also completely understand. It’s hard to come clean with something you know will upset your parents even when you know how wrong they are. Plus, Samantha was kind of painted as the mature, perfect child and I imagine that pressure made it harder. Overall, Samantha is a great character and one easy to relate to.

However, I do have to say the Garrett children are what truly stole the show, especially George and Patsy. Seriously, how could you not love a little girl whose first words were boob and poop? Or a little boy who knows too much trivia (and is often scared by it). I kind of wanted to hug and squish them and made me wish I had kids like them in my life.

Romance: This is what a relationship should be. There was no instant love between Jase and Samantha, but a slow building romance. Yes, it may have been a little weird that he suddenly climbs up to her roof and how she decides to just go over the next day, but oddly enough it worked for me. It was this awkward sweetness that I could see happening in real life. And even though she’s pulled into Jase and his family’s life instantly, there is still a period of getting to know each other and creating a friendship. The fact that the first kiss doesn’t come until 100 pages was perfect. Jase knew that Samantha wouldn’t be an easy girl to catch, but he was willing to give her the time and attention needed to win her over. Sure, there are still a few flaws here and there, but overall their relationship is one of the most down to earth & healthiest I’ve read in a long time.

Writing: This was the only place I had some issues. There were several spots that the wording was quite rough and I had to read them three or four times to make sure I was understanding it correctly. Granted it wasn’t a lot, but the few that happened really pulled me out of the story. However, I was reading an ARC and these areas may have been corrected since then. Overall, Fitzpatrick knows how to write a beautiful story. A fabulous debut and I look forward to what she creates next.

Librarian-Mode: I’ve seen several people say this an Anna and the French Kiss read-a-like, but I’m not sure that it fits. Sure, romance lovers will eat this up, but I think it’s better paired with Sarah Dessen or Elizabeth Scott.


GN Review: Friends with Boys

GN Review: Friends with BoysFriends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
Release Date: Feb 2012
Publisher: First Second
Pages: 224
Source: NetGalley

Maggie McKay is starting her first day of high school. Normally this fact would cause anyone stress, but for Maggie it’s even worse because up until now she has been homeschooled. With only minimum help from her three older brothers, Maggie slowly learns to navigate the halls of her high school, including finding the 9th grade bathrooms, the best lunch spots, and where people make out.

Of course, high school isn’t the only thing that Maggie has to deal with. Her mother has also left the family within the last year. A fact that Maggie blames herself for happening. She believes if she had been just more “girly” and done more things with her mother she would still be around. Throw in a ghost that has haunted her since she was a child and Maggie has more on her plate than most people. It’s no wonder she hesitant to all the changes that are rapidly happening. However, with some help from her new friends, Lucy and Alastair, and even her brothers she’ll realize that change isn’t so bad.

Friends with Boys is a great coming-of-age story. Maggie’s emotions were so raw and real that I could relate to her every step of the way. Although, Maggie isn’t the only one dealing with high school “stuff”. From the bully to those being bullied, Hicks shows how peer-pressure and popularity can affect anyone. I loved how she weaved in Alastair, Lucy, and Daniel’s story flawlessly. It never felt forced, but something that slowly came out as she learned about her new friends. I also loved than a year later, Alastair is still struggling with the guilt and remorse for the things he said and did. Yes, he has come a long way, but he still has miles to go.

While I’m on the subject of characters, I have to talk a little more about Lucy. Hands down she is my favorite character of the bunch. She got this quirky cuteness to her that makes me want to hug her to death or pinch her cheeks or maybe both. On the outside she blasts her uniqueness to everyone with her multiple piercings and funky hair, but it was her personality that won me over. From her excitement about ghosts, to her habit of sticking her foot in her mouth, and her love for her brother she easily took the slot as favorite character. Not to mention the way she waved and sat with Maggie so she wouldn’t be alone in a new school. This girl seriously has so much heart it isn’t even funny.

While I loved the majority of Friends with Boys, there are a couple of small issues I have with it. The big one is the ghost. There is so many questions surrounding her it’s not even funny. Why can Maggie see her? What does she want? Why does she follow her around? Will she ever go away? Not to mention how the graphic novel ends with the ghost looking pitifully sad and floating down a path. Does this mean she’s leaving? I’ve gone through it twice now and I still have no clue. My only hope is that Hicks plans to make this a series and that the answer will become clear in the next issues. However, if this is to be a stand-alone, the ending will bother me for some time.

The other thing that bothered me was really very small and I think it was more of a personal interest. I wanted to know why her mom left. Was it a separation? A divorce? Or did she just up and leave them? Is she still close where they can see her or talk to her? Or has there been no communication at all since she left? The flashbacks made her seem quite loving and I don’t know if I quite buy into the “she sacrificed so much she needed to do something for herself” excuse. Again, I’m really hoping this isn’t a stand-alone and that it’ll be addressed as the story progresses.

The last thing I want to touch on is the art. I really like Hicks style. It’s simplistic most of the time. She doesn’t overload it with meaningless detail that just clutter up panels. The way that emotions travel through the characters is just…wow. I could have ignored the words completely and gotten the jest of the story just through their expressions and movements. There are some panels, ones that deal mainly with setting, that have a lot of detail, but I really enjoy her simplistic style more. Without a doubt I will be keeping my eye on new creations as well as checking out old works by Hicks in the future.