book review: always and forever, lara jean

lara jean.jpg

goodreads summary:

Lara Jean’s letter-writing days aren’t over in this surprise follow-up to the New York Times bestselling To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You.

Lara Jean is having the best senior year a girl could ever hope for. She is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, Peter; her dad’s finally getting remarried to their next door neighbor, Ms. Rothschild; and Margot’s coming home for the summer just in time for the wedding.

But change is looming on the horizon. And while Lara Jean is having fun and keeping busy helping plan her father’s wedding, she can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make. Most pressingly, where she wants to go to college and what that means for her relationship with Peter. She watched her sister Margot go through these growing pains. Now Lara Jean’s the one who’ll be graduating high school and leaving for college and leaving her family—and possibly the boy she loves—behind.

When your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

my thoughts:

my heart is so very full.

i was thrilled when i found out that there was going to be a new (& unfortunately, final) installment in this series. as i sit here writing this review, i am a bundle of emotions; on one hand, i am happy, because this book was everything i wanted it to be and more, but i’m also sad that this was the end of our journey with lara jean & co. but what a delight ending it was! i am a huge jenny han fan, & the to all the boys i’ve loved before trilogy is by far my favorite of hers.  being reunited with lara jean & all of the characters was so bittersweet, because as overjoyed as i was to be reunited with them, i knew that i was slowly saying goodbye to them with each and every turn of a page.

i have to say that although i love & cherish all three books in this series, this one was probably my favorite.  lara jean experienced so much growth throughout this novel, as she had so many challenges to face, and i was rooting for her each and every step of the way.

i was filled with such a sense of warmth & nostalgia throughout the entirety of this book, & overall, this really was, in my opinion, the perfect conclusion to this series. i don’t want to say to too much, so as not to spoil anyone, but i will say that i was completely satisfied when i finished it, and i could not think of a better way for it to have ended.

i am still holding out hope for a spin-off series featuring kitty (hint hint jenny han!) but even if that never happens (sobs) i just want to end this review by expressing my eternal gratitude to jenny han for gracing us with one last chapter in lara jean’s story.

my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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book review: you were here by cori mccarthy

youwerehere

goodreads summary:

Grief turned Jaycee into a daredevil, but can she dare to deal with her past?

On the anniversary of her daredevil brother’s death, Jaycee attempts to break into Jake’s favorite hideout—the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum. Joined by four classmates, each with their own brand of dysfunction, Jaycee discovers a map detailing her brother’s exploration and the unfinished dares he left behind.

As a tribute to Jake, Jaycee vows to complete the dares, no matter how terrifying or dangerous. What she doesn’t bargain on is her eccentric band of friends who challenge her to do the unthinkable: reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.

my thoughts:

you were here was not only my favorite contemporary read of 2016, but it immediately became one of my favorite books ever, period.  it is hard for me to even put into words how much this book means to mean & why.  this was such an emotional and personal read for me, and even just looking at the cover now invokes so much emotion in me.

to put it mildly, this book changed me.  

immediately after reading this book, i reached out to the author & she told me that writing this book was a very cathartic experience for her, & that’s exactly what my reading experience with it was. i have known grief since i was a young girl, & sometimes i am still so consumed by it, to the point where i feel suffocated by it. that’s why books like this, that capture that all encompassing essence of grief so well, speak to me so very loudly.  these type of books bring me so much relief, & i feel like i can breathe again after reading them.

grief is such a strange & unique thing, & this book does an excellent job of showing its many facets, & how all of us an individuals deal with our traumas & losses.  there is no right or wrong way to grieve, just as there is no timeline for how long it is acceptable to grieve for.

this book has multiple characters, all of whom were deeply affected in one way or another by the loss of a daredevil teenager named jake. while it would seem that jaycee, his younger sister, is most traumatized by his death, we learn that the other characters within the story also have deeply rooted emotional scars in relation to his untimely death.  each of these characters had so much depth to them, and to see them all so broken over the loss of one boy really gives such a glimpse into just how much a single loss can change us all in so many different ways.

perhaps one of the best things about this book is the unique & original way in which some of the character’s povs were narrated.  it combines typical storytelling with graphic novel style and art (one of the characters, bishop, is constantly tagging, and his pov is shown through pictures of what he has tagged throughout the story). i have never seen a book written this way, and it was amazing. upon reading the story you will see why it was written this way, and why it makes so much sense. this unique form of storytelling alone is worth picking the book up for.

this is a coming of age story that will shatter you into pieces & stitch you back up little by little just when you’re least expecting it to.  honestly this book is so underrated, & i hope that more people will unearth this hidden gem & find solace in it just as i did.

“that’s what regret does well and grief does better: rips out your energy and leaves you feeling each and every heartbeat.”

my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

book review: fireworks by katie cotugno

fireworks

goodreads synopsis:

From Katie Cotugno, bestselling author of 99 Days, comes Fireworks—about a girl who is competing with her best friend to become the new pop star of the moment—and all the drama and romance that comes with it—set in Orlando during the late-’90s boy-and-girl-band craze.

It was always meant to be Olivia. She was the talented one, the one who had been training to be a star her whole life. Her best friend, Dana, was the level-headed one, always on the sidelines, cheering her best friend along.

But everything changes when Dana tags along with Olivia to Orlando for the weekend, where superproducer Guy Monroe is holding auditions for a new singing group, and Dana is discovered too. Dana, who’s never sung more than Olivia’s backup. Dana, who wasn’t even looking for fame. Next thing she knows, she and Olivia are training to be pop stars, and Dana is falling for Alex, the earnest, endlessly talented boy who’s destined to be the next big thing.

It should be a dream come true, but as the days of grueling practice and constant competition take their toll, things between Olivia and Dana start to shift . . . and there’s only room at the top for one girl. For Olivia, it’s her chance at her dream. For Dana, it’s a chance to escape a future that seems to be closing in on her. And for these lifelong best friends, it’s the adventure of a lifetime—if they can make it through.

Set in evocative 1990s Orlando, New York Times bestselling author Katie Cotugno’s Fireworks brings to life the complexity of friendship, the excitement of first love, and the feeling of being on the verge of greatness.

my thoughts:

well, first off, Katie Cotugno has done it again-she managed to simultaneously leave me annoyed & frustrated while still wanting more. i just finished reading this book earlier today, and i’m still reeling from the way it ended. it’s not the fact that the ending was left open ended, as this is Katie’s usual fashion & something that i’ve grown to expect (& not totally hate) when it comes to her books, but more so about the conclusion that was actually reached in regards to something major happening in the story. even though i saw it coming from a mile away, it still managed to not only sucker punch me right in the face, but left me shaking because i was so angry at one of the characters. (i actually kind of threw the book off my bed with a bit of force if that tells you anything) but even with all that being said, i didn’t actually hate the overall ending (as far as it being left open) because as much as the event that preceded the overall ending frustrated me, the story was very well crafted to make for an enjoyable read.

Katie Contugno is a great YA contemporary story-teller, and one of the things that i always admire when it comes to her books is that, despite how frustrating her characters are, (and believe me, they are frustrating) they are also very multi-dimensional and definitely not without flaw, which makes them feel very real.  I even appreciate her open-ended endings, as they too, help to make the story that much more real and authentic.  rarely in life are things tied up neatly with a bow, and i feel that a story doesn’t always have to be either, even if it’s merely a work of fiction.

fireworks, although irksome at times, was a great coming of age novel about first love, the hardships of chasing dreams, and the ups and downs of friendship. set in the 90’s, this story revolves around Dana (who is the narrator of the story) and Olivia, two life-long best friends, who, despite being from the same place, grew up under very different circumstances. Dana grew up in poverty, with an unsupportive mother who cared more about vodka than her own daughter, and because of these bleak circumstances, Dana had very little hope of ever leaving her hometown and making something of herself. Olivia, meanwhile, always dreamed of being a pop star and had a bright future ahead of her no matter if she managed to make her dreams of stardom a reality or not, as she had a more stable home life than her friend, both financially and in the way of supportive parents. both girls have the chance to make their dreams come true when they audition to join an all-girls singing group (Eden’s Crush, anyone?) and are chosen, alongside two other girls. for Olivia, it’s a chance to finally make her lifelong dream of becoming a pop star come true, while it’s a lucky break for Dana, (who accidentally auditioned) to change her circumstances and escape from the nothing town from which she came, and the bleak future thats in store for her there. although it starts off as an exciting new adventure for the two friends, the stress of the competition, along with jealousy and secrets, starts to take its toll on the girls. throw a boy (a cute boy who also happens to be a member of a boy-band) into the mix of it all, and you have a disaster just waiting to happen. it’s not long into the competition that the girls start to go from being the best of friends to near bitter rivals. i found the ups and downs of their friendship to be portrayed in a very realistic manner, especially considering the grueling and competitive circumstances they were put under. this story also gave an interesting insight into the world of fame, both the glamorous and ugly side of it.

despite the fact that both girls’ were flawed in their own way, and each played a role in the unraveling of their friendship, i felt that Olivia was more at fault than Dana, and at times it was really hard to find anything very likable about her and honestly i found myself siding with Dana for the most part.

although this story is very much about friendship, romance also plays a pretty central role. Dana ends up dating a boy named Alex who not only lives in the same apartment complex that she is staying in, but also happens to be a member of a boy-band.  (O-Town, anyone?) not only was their relationship really cute, but also a perfect depiction of what it’s like to fall in love for the first time.

before ending this review, i would like to issue an ed-trigger warning, as one of the characters (Olivia) has eating issues, and it’s heavily implied that she does in fact suffer from an eating disorder.  this is also one of the things that kept me from giving this book a full five stars.  although Olivia’s eating disorder wasn’t exactly portrayed badly, i do feel that it was glossed over a bit too much and i wish that the author had taken the time to go more in depth about it.  as someone who is working through recovery from an eating disorder and has struggled with food related issues for years, i am very critical about how an author handles it in a book, especially a book that is targeted towards teens. also: i personally did not find it to be extremely triggering, but as each and every one of us is different in what we find to be triggering, i gently urge anybody who is currently suffering from an eating disorder to take caution when reading this book.

overall, this was a solid contemporary that i really enjoyed (it was one that i finished within hours because i couldn’t stop reading, if that tells you anything), and i think that anybody who has an interest in ya contemporaries that focus on the power of friendship (with some romance and a lot of drama thrown in) will definitely take a liking to this book, along with the other books that Katie Cotugno has written.  I bought this book on release day and i’ll definitely be doing the same whenever Katie’s next book is released!

my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️