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Review: The Fill-In Boyfriend

thefillinboyfriendTITLE: The Fill-In Boyfriend
AUTHOR: Kasie West
PUBLISHER: HarperTeen
YEAR: 2015
GENRE: YA Contemporary Romance
PAGES: 346
FOUND: my Kindle
TIMES READ: 2 (2015, 2017)
READ: 11/21/17 – 11/23/17
RATING: 4/5 stars

This is my second time reading this book, and I found it adorable both times. But fake dating is one of my favorite tropes. The Fill-In Boyfriend is about Gia who gets dumped in the parking lot at her senior prom. After talking-up her college boyfriend for months, she can’t go in empty-handed. Lucky for her, Hayden saw the whole thing go down and agrees to be Bradley for the night. Things work out well enough–at least her friends believe she has a boyfriend. But Gia didn’t expect to actually like her fake date.

What I liked about this book:

  1. Gia and Hayden being absolutely adorable together. They don’t have much in common–Gia is running for prom queen and Hayden is a big geek–but they click right away. The banter between them is natural and often hilarious. But even knowing each other only hours, Hayden is able to get past Gia’s defenses and glimpse the real her that isn’t trying to impress her friends. I liked that Gia feels she can be herself around Hayden But mostly, it’s just about Gia and Hayden being cute together.
  2. Slow-burn romance. This probably comes up in most of my reviews. Gia does start crushing on Hayden pretty early (but I can’t blame her when he shows up in a tux on the fly), but it takes them the entire book to figure out what they want. And that sets up some angsty moments that I crave because I’m crazy that way. I also like that when they finally did get together, things don’t change. They keep bantering and being silly with each other.
  3. The trope. I’m a sucker for fake dating stories. I don’t know why. They all follow the same basic outline, but I love seeing how each author does things. The Fill-In Boyfriend jumps right into the dating without them even knowing each other before that night. Despite being complete strangers, they have a great time at the prom. If they hadn’t been interrupted, I think they would have gotten even closer. But my favorite part is that the trope got a second run later when Bec sets Gia up to be Hayden’s fake date to save him from himself. There was a lot of angst and jealousy going around that party. I live for this stuff.
  4. I loved that Hayden was an actor which made it easy to slip into his role of Bradley without me worrying half the book that he’d slip up and ruin the cuteness. Plus it was adorable (there’s that word again) how he went all-in while playing Bradley. He didn’t “pretend” to be Bradley, he “became” Bradley. I guess I just love Hayden.

What I didn’t like about the book:

  1. I guess my main complaint was Gia was too cliche with worrying about being popular and impressing her friends. She was always worried about appearances. I get why authors do it–fitting in is a huge motivator for many kids and works well for the fake dating trope because things are all about appearances. I can say that Gia, at least, has some growth. Eventually, she learns that not everyone is who they appear, including herself. She finds Hayden who introduces her to Bec who teaches her to be herself and realizes she’s holding herself back by clinging to her friends even though she’s known for a while that she’s grown apart from them. Her other redeeming quality for me is that she does try to be friends with Jules. She realizes she’s being petty and selfish and really does try. She’s just not good at communicating with Jules. Of course, Jules doesn’t make it easy. But she tries.
  2. Gia’s family drove me nuts. There was supposed to be a contrast between Hayden and Bec’s family with their free-spirit mother and Gia’s more conservative parents, but Gia’s parents were robots with zero emotion. I guess you’re not supposed to like them, but it seemed to take forever before the family broke. And then they did a complete 180 which annoyed me more.

In the end, I know a lot of readers don’t like cliches and tropes and predictable plots, but I want cute and silly. I want things to go horribly wrong with lots of angst, followed by people finally getting their act together and fluffy sunshine and unicorns at the end. If that’s your thing, then The Fill-In Boyfriend is a great pick.

 

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Review: 99 Days by Katie Cotugno

99 Days by Katie Cotugno
99days

Started: 10.1.15; finished: 10.5.15

Goodreads rating: 2/5 stars

my rating: facepalm

pages: 384

found: library

My main thought after reading this book is, “ow, my forehead hurts,” from all the times I facepalmed. Molly has got to be one of the dumbest, unlikable protagonists I’ve ever read bout. I liked the book enough, mostly just to see what moronic move she would make next.

In every situation, she chose the worst possible option available to her, and keeps repeating the same mistakes over and over, never learning until the end. At first, I felt sorry for her, because despite her responsibility in the initial incident, things were really crappy for her. More so than they should have been because no one in town would let her move on from her mistakes (also, they only seemed to punish her for something that took two people to do). As the story went on, though, I wanted to punch her in her face because everything that happens from that point on is on her. She made bad choice after bad choice.

About the best thing that Molly did was to finally stand up for herself against Julia and her idiot friends at the end–something she should have done a long time ago. Also, in the end, I felt a little sympathy towards her as she found out that Gabe’s intentions weren’t all that honest at the beginning of summer and Patrick also had ulterior motives in his feud with Gabe. They were both screwing with her head, and when you are bad at decision making, that spells disaster.

I summarized the book for my fifteen-year-old daughter who facepalmed about as hard as I did. It was a cautionary tale in don’t be a dumbass like Molly Barlow, and when your mom is a writer, don’t tell her your deepest, juiciest secrets, lol. Said to my fifteen-year-old daughter that likes to tell me all of her illicit doings and secrets. Fodder for my next novel, darling, fodder for my next novel.

Review: Epic Fail by Clare LaZebnik

Review of Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik

epicfailStarted: 7.23.15; finished: 7.23.15 (read: 2013, 2014)

Goodreads rating: 4/5 stars

my rating: read again and again

pages: 295

found: in my library

Epic Fail has become one of my favorite soft teen romance novels. I love it for a quick read at the beach or to get me in the mood to write. I’ve read it three times now which is a record for me with any book.

I’ve never actually read Pride and Prejudice (I’m pretty sure I’m the only woman that hasn’t), but I’m a little familiar with the storyline. Maybe it’s because of that, I never got bored with Epic Fail. I didn’t know what to expect, having never read the original, so I was always surprised.

I loved the development of Elise and Derek’s relationship. As an adult, I laugh at all the idiotic things they do, but I understand that from a teen’s perspective, they all make perfect sense at the time. Hearing stories from my own teens… Well, I wish her life was more like Elise’s.

My favorite part was the slow realization that Derek is nothing like Elise expects and very much likes her, but is just as insecure as she is. It’s cute how they orbit each other, getting pushed and pulled from their mutual attraction, their friends, and enemies.

Elise was a bit of a dolt, not believing Derek like her–she was too wrapped up in her judgmental attitude. Juliana was a little too nice. I know a lot of teens, and I don’t think I know one that nice. I know ones that act nice around certain people (like adults), but when they’re out with their friends… not so much. I think it’s mostly because she doesn’t even get mad at her own sisters. She just accepts everything and always smooths over the disagreements everyone else has. I have five kids–three of them are teens–they fight constantly, even the “sweet and nice” one.

That leads me to Layla. If she were my kid I’d want to strangle her. I don’t think any of my kids are as annoying and spoiled. I get that she feels left out and hates sharing a room with her younger sister (who is ten and acts like a baby). My almost thirteen-year-old currently shares a room with her nine-year-old sister and five-year-old brother, and the only issues they have is the brother getting into their things and him needing to go to bed before they do. My nine-year-old acts nothing like Kaitlyn, but she has friends that do–most of them are only-children.

Chelsea also ticked me off–what a selfish, entitled brat, but I found her to be believable. There are kids like that–I’ve seen it among my children’s friends.

Anyway, Epic Fail will always be one of my favorite teen romance novels–my go-to book for a fun afternoon read. Maybe one day I’ll actually write a proper review.

Review: Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles

Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles

 

leavingparadiseStarted: 7/20/15; finished: 7/20/15 (originally read: 2/24/13)

Goodreads rating: 4/5 stars

my rating: worth rereading

pages: 303

found: on my shelf (originally: library)

I picked up this book from the library in 2013. I love a good romance with a lot of teen angst. I know I’m weird that way. I read in a day last time.

Well, we were heading to the coast this week, and I needed something on the light side to read, so I grabbed this off of the shelf, having bought it used to keep in my collection (my Kindle has been taken over by my kids). I almost finished it between the three hour car ride there, a half hour at the beach (before the waves called me) and the three hour ride home. It was done before I went to bed.

What I like about this book is the development of the friendship between Caleb and Maggie. It seemed believable and real, if not odd. How many people make friends with the person that ran them over with their car and ruined their life? I think it worked because there was the basis of a friendship already there, from growing up together. I loved that they were able to talk open, freely, and honestly (well, to a point on Caleb’s part) about the accident. They don’t pussyfut around the topic like everyone else in their lives.

I also loved how Mrs. Reynolds went out of her way to get them past their issues. She knew they were meant to be together. I cried when she died. Especially when Maggie started babbling about the flowers. I just lost it at that point. Then Caleb goes to her house seeking refuge from the one adult he trusted only to find out she had died. It was heartbreaking.

This was one of the few teen books I’ve read that doesn’t end happily with the boy and girl together. I cried again at the end when Caleb refuses to stay. His attitude through the whole book rubbed me the wrong way, but I can excuse it since his situation with his family and friends was pretty messed up. His reactions to situations were annoying, but realistic in a way because teens do stupid things and say stupid things, often just to get a reaction. I know–I have three of them. I can’t imagine being in Maggie or Caleb’s shoes.

All-in-all, I enjoyed this book just as much the second time around. It’s a short book, perfect for a day trip. It might not be the light, fluffy read most people like when sitting on the beach, but it had just the right amount of sarcasm and angst for me.

Review: Nightlights, an anthology from Northwest Writers

nightlightsstarted: 8-2-14; finished: 8-9-14
Goodreads rating: 3/5 stars
my rating: good
pages: 218
found: library

In my attempt to read outside of my comfort zone of teen romance and dystopia (with the occasional mystery series thrown in), I decided to get through some short stories. I chose this book because it’s by writers from the Pacific Northwest where I live. I’m always interested in what locals write and there’s a strong tradition of writing in the area.

This book is a collection of essays and short stories written for the Humanities Washington, a group dedicated to nurturing learning and promoting culture in Washington State. Authors from around the state are asked to write short stories on a particular theme having to do with bedtime stories and the night. The theme changes each year.

The entries were quite diverse in this book, although heavy on personal essay. Some made you think, many were very funny. One of my favorites was a tale about a neighborhood cat that terrorizes one family, sneaking in through their kitty door, eating all of their cats’ food, and scaring the bejeezers out of everyone. It was hilarious.

Another one that I really liked was the last essay in the book—a recollection of a lifetime friendship between the writer and his colleague and how they see the black community. During the events remembered the two stay half the night at a local pub (a monthly ritual) drinking, eating, and discussing writing and life. When last call comes they decide to head over to the IHOP which is open 24/7. When they get there the cops are already on scene, but they go in and order coffee anyway. Not long after the cops leave that a gun-toting thug marches in, gets into an altercation with some patrons, then tries to leave. The patrons catch him before he can get out the door and all hell breaks loose. The author ends up standing on his seat to watch. His friend runs for cover like most of the other patrons.

He examined their different behavior as coming from different upbringing: the author (both men are black) was raised in an upper-middle class neighborhood outside of Chicago. His friend was brought up in an impoverished neighborhood in Pittsburgh. He had much experience with violence, while the author did not.

What I liked best about the story was the peek into the mind of the older generation of writers, the ones that have seen social change through the years and see just how much father they believe we have to go. It was fascinating (as a young-er white female that grew up in an impoverished neighborhood in Chicago and now lives in a small town—although still dealing with poverty—in Washington State).

Some of the stories were kind of slow moving and predictable, but there were a few gems hidden within. I will definitely be looking for more anthologies of short stories in the future.

Review: Proof by David Auburn

proofstarted: 8-2-14; finished: 8-2-14
Goodreads rating: 3/5 stars
my rating: OK
pages: 96
found: library

They say there’s a fine line between genius and insanity.

I’m not usually one to read plays, but I decided to broaden my horizons a few months ago. Proof is an award winning play about a woman dealing with the loss of her mathematician father. The math part plays an important part. After years of caring for her mentally ill father, Catherine finds herself suddenly alone and lost. Her sister shows up to “deal” with things which means she starts bossing Catherine around, decides to sell the house, and forces Catherine to move to New York with her. Hal, one of her father’s ex-students, starts hanging around the house to go through her father’s old journals looking for genius math proofs.

The journals, though, are filled with gibberish. Except for one. The end of the play revolves around that journal and its secrets.

I found this book in the library among the books on mental illness. It caught my eye as it wasn’t a self-help or guide. I’m always interested in the take on mental illness in literature. Although I don’t suffer from schizophrenia (which is probably what Catherine’s father had), I could relate to Catherine’s plight of worrying if she inherited the mind-robbing disease. Having bipolar, I do understand what it’s like to be mentally ill, be worried things will get worse, and not really know where to go or what to do about it. It’s confusing and scary. And it’s inheritable, so I don’t blame Catherine for worrying.

Although the end is a bit predictable, I enjoyed this quick read.

Review: Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson

hellisemptyStarted: 7-19-14; finished: 8-1-14
Goodreads rating: 5/5 stars
my rating: sweet!
pages: 312
found: my shelf

Hell is Empty is the seventh book of the Walt Longmire series about a wise-cracking sheriff in Wyoming. Walt’s been through some crazy adventures over the years, but none as dangerous and insane as in Hell is Empty. The book starts with him and his deputy, Santiago “Sancho” Saizarbitoria, delivering a group of convicted killers to federal custody. Things escalate fast. The convicts escape, killing most of the officers transporting them, then take off into the wilderness. On the mountain during a blizzard without backup, Walt does the only thing he can—which is usually the stupidest thing he can do—he goes after them. Alone. Did I mention stupid? In fact Walt admits that it’s stupid and that if he doesn’t survive his other deputy, Victoria “Vic” Moretti” will kill him personally.

Walt’s adventure tracking the sociopath, Raynaud Shade, into the Cloud Peak Wilderness tests his physical and mental strength. Blizzard, fire, being shot at—through it all, he manages to keep his patented self-deprecating humor that makes Walt such an enjoyable narrator.

In the book, Sancho is reading Dante’s Inferno which becomes a theme. According to the questions and answers at the end of the book, Johnson wove the events of Inferno into the action of Hell is Empty. He mentions in the answer that he wanted to make sure the novel was enjoyable for those that haven’t read Inferno. Well, he succeeded. Even without knowing the classic, I was glued to the pages of the book, wondering what idiotic predicament Walt would get into next. And his actions were beyond idiotic at times. But that’s part of his charm. His stupidity when it comes to risking his own life is well documented within the series. There were so many times I found myself yelling at the book: WHY ARE YOU BEING SO STUPID, WALT! Then I’d turn the page to find out why.

Johnson writes compelling mysteries and thrillers, but his knowledge of Native American lore and the human condition are what really make the books unique. And the humor. Walt’s penchant for sarcasm and witty commentary had me cracking up even during the most intense parts of the book. The Longmire series is well worth the time invested in reading all ten (I think it is) novels. They will keep you on the edge of your seat and laughing out loud.

Review: Junkyard Dogs by Craig Johnson

junkyarddogsStarted: 7/1/14; finished: 7/18/14
Goodreads rating: 4/5 stars
my rating: Heck Yeah!
pages: 306
found: my shelf

Junkyard Dogs is the sixth book in the Walt Longmire series (now a hit TV show on A&E). Walt Longmire is the sheriff of Absaroka County in Wyoming. He’s got nutty locals to deal with along with Indian troubles, a staff that talks back, a confusing relationship with his deputy Victoria “Vic” Moretti, a crazy ex-sheriff shooting up his room at the old folks home, and apparently a murder every couple of months.

Junkyard Dogs follows Walt as he deals with the eccentric Steward family headed by off-his-rocker Geo who opens the book by being dragged off his roof while cleaning the chimney. With kerosine. And he’s the bright one in the family. It’s not long before he winds up dead and Walt gets thrown into a world of junkyards, illegal drugs, and Neo-Nazis.

Walt handles the case with his usual wise-cracking way, following the clues through a deadly tangle of lies and business deals gone bad. If a multiple murder isn’t bad enough he’s got some issues to sort out with his deputies. Vic is buying a house and wants Walt’s help and Sancho—the newest member of the team—is suffering from PTSD after a near-death experience. Henry is busy planning Cady’s (Walt’s daughter) wedding to Vic’s younger brother Michael and Ruby is as sassy as ever. With a cast of zany characters and murder mystery that leaves Walt only a little chewed up, Junkyard Dogs doesn’t disappoint.

I started reading the Longmire series last year after seeing it pop up on a recommended list at Goodreads. It sounded interesting and I was looking for something grown-up to read. I was hooked by the end of page one. I didn’t start watching the show until season two was over (catching some of it in reruns). By then I was on book five. As much as I love the show which is different, but just as witty and entertaining, the books are so much better. Of course now I can only picture Henry looking like Lou Diamond Phillips. I’m sorry it took me this long to get to book six and that it took me so long to finish (school really cuts into recreational reading time).

Craig Johnson is a master at crafting a good mystery with just the right amount of humor. His grasp of Native American culture and small town living adds depths to his books that I don’t often see (probably because I read a lot of lighthearted teen romance novels). Each book gets better and better.

Review: Played by Liz Fichera

Review of Played by Liz Fichera

played  Started:4/6/14 ; finished: 4/7/14

Goodreads rating: 5/5 stars

  my rating: AWWWWW (with extra aww)

  pages: 352

found: netgalley

Last year I read this book, Hooked, that I really loved about a girl named Fred who wins her way onto the boys’ golf team at her high school and eventually wins the heart of her partner, Ryan. At the end was a sneak peak of the next book in the series. This book. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an arc thanks to the people at Harlequin TEEN and netgalley. I was thrilled.

Played is the story of Fred’s friend Sam who has a huge crush on her, and Ryan’s younger sister, Riley, who wants a change in her life. The know of each other in passing because of Ryan and Fred’s relationship. In fact, Sam has already decided he can’t stand Riley simply because she’s Ryan’s sister. The two officially meet on a leadership retreat in the woods. They, of course, get paired for the scavenger hut and that one action leads to a snowball of crazy events that simultaneously drive them together and pull them apart.

Just like with Hooked, I thought the story was sweet and liked that the romantic (or potentially romantic) relationship between Riley and Sam wasn’t the whole focus of the book. The story followed Riley’s attempts at getting Sam and Fred together, which meant breaking up Fred and her brother. Nothing, and I mean nothing, goes to plan. And Riley seems oblivious to the fact that Sam doesn’t want her help or to win Fred over. In fact, as the story goes on it’s obvious his feelings for Fred have changed and no matter what he says, Riley won’t listen until she’s completely screwed everything up—her brother’s relationship, Sam’s life, her life, everything. Both Sam and Riley were a little on the clueless side when it came to feelings and what they wanted. The way they danced around each other without even realizing what they wanted was right in front of them was cute. There was lots of misunderstandings that lead to angst. And did I mention the angst. If you like that kind of thing. Which I do.

From the beginning, whether unwilling partners on the hunt for pine cones or working together on Riley’s plan or figuring out how to be friends, Riley and Sam were adorable together. If you liked Hooked, or just love stories where everything is a disaster until the end when the characters finally realize they already have what they want then this is the book for you.

Book Review: Reality Boy by A.S. King

Review of Reality Boy by A.S. King

realityboyStarted: 11/25/13; finished: 11/30/13

Goodreads rating: 3/5 stars

my rating: OK

pages: 272

found: netgalley.com

 

Reality Boy is the story of Gerald Faust, the youngest of three children that were presented to viewers on the reality show Network Nanny when he was just five years old. Back then he took his anger out on the drywall. And when that didn’t work he crapped on the table. All in front of the cameras.

In his small town he never outgrows his childhood as “The Crapper.” He’s seventeen now but has no friends and is still tormented by his oldest sister, Tasha, who lives in the basement and spends her time banging some guy. When she’s not trying to kill or provoke Gerald. Gerald’s other sister, Lisi, has escaped to college in Scotland. His mother is completely nuts and sees nothing Tasha does as wrong and keeps Gerald in special ed classes even though he’s not “retarded” as she calls him. His dad is a complete push-over and refuses to rock the boat.

Gerald feels completely abandoned by his family and society after they plastered his young indiscretions all over national TV before he could even understand the impact. So he goes about his life: school in the SPED room with the other “undesirables,” work at the arena where he deals with angry costumers and tries not to stare at the pretty girl on checkstand #1, and at the gym where he practices boxing despite being forbidden to get in the ring.

Things start to change the day a random hockey fan gives him a hug and lets him know that not everyone enjoyed watching him be tormented by his family on TV. Then he meets the son of a circus owner who hates his life just as much. And finally talks to the cute girl on checkstand #1 whose name is Hannah and wants to run away from him. But can he really do that? Run away and leave his crazy family behind?

 

For the most part I really liked this book. It was a look inside of a mentally ill teenage boy that has had to endure more than his fair share of issues in his seventeen years. Through flashbacks in the book you get glimpses of the realities of “reality TV,” and how Gerald was literally tortured by his psychopath sister, Tasha, who repeatedly tried to kill him and Lisi all while their mother looked the other way and always took Tasha’s side. Gerald learns very young that his mother doesn’t actually love him because she could never feel more love than she does for her first born and never wanted the other two kids. He lives in a sick and twisted family that made me want to scream. He begs his father to get him out of it but his father does nothing until the very end. It takes him finally running away with Hannah to get through to his father.

Gerald and Hannah’s relationship isn’t in the traditional style of rainbow and roses young adult romance. It’s much more real. The more secrets the two try to hide from each other the more screwed up things get. They fight a lot, they made up. It’s a confusing roller coaster of a ride but they might just be the only two people on the planet that can understand where the other is coming from.

I only gave it three stars mainly because the pacing seemed slow. Parts of the book just dragged on. At first I loved it and just couldn’t stop reading then after a night’s sleep I couldn’t get back into it and by the end I was just wondering when it was going to end.

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