Book Review: Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Openly StraightBook: Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Published May 2013 by Arthur A Levine Books|253 pages

Where I Got It: the library!

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary- LGBT

You can find Openly Straight on goodreads

Goodreads Summary: 

A funny, honest novel about being out, being proud…and being ready for something else.

Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write. And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with Ben…who doesn’t even know that love is possible.

This witty, smart, coming-out-again story will appeal to gay and straight kids alike as they watch Rafe navigate being different, fitting in, and what it means to be himself.

What I Thought:

I have so many thoughts about Openly Straight that I’m not quite sure where to start!  There a lot of things I really like, but there are also things that were really frustrating.

Like, I can relate to Rafe wanting to start over and not do the whole label thing.  It’s something we can all relate to, because we put labels on ourselves.  Others put their own labels on us.  And it’s annoying and frustrating, because we’re more than whatever people label us as.  It’s something we all have to deal with, and it can be hard when it’s all people see us as.

I really understood where Rafe was coming from- people definitely saw him as the gay kid, and didn’t seem interested in who he was beyond that.  His teachers seemed to constantly want the gay opinion (not my words, by the way, it’s phrased that way in the book at one point).  Everyone around Rafe is super-supportive, to the point where he felt like he had to transfer to all-boys boarding school on the other side of the country.  I don’t blame him at all for wanting to get away from it.

A really great example of what he has to deal with is Halloween one year.  He dresses up as an ’80’s rocker chick for Halloween, and everyone’s either uncomfortable (pretty much all of his classmates) or they see it as a statement (his teachers) while a couple of kids at his school (straight, if anyone’s wondering) did the same type of costume the previous Halloween, and everyone thought it was hilarious.

That was one thing that really stood out to me- the fact that he does it, and an uncomfortable statement, just because he’s gay, and yet, it’s really funny when someone who’s straight does it.  It’s something I never thought about before, and it made me sad that so many of his classmates were uncomortable with his costume.  And that people saw it as a statement, even though he didn’t mean it that way- he just thought it would be a great costume.  It’s amazing how people see a type of costume differently, just because of who’s wearing it, and I can totally see people reacting the way they did.

I knew pretty early on that not telling his new classmates he’s gay was going to backfire, especially when he starting falling for his classmate Ben.  Him hiding it was going to end disastrously, and I’m not surprised that it really messes up his relationship with Ben.  However, I really like the message that hiding even a piece of who you are never ends well, and can cause a lot of pain.  And that replacing one label with another can be just as bad, if not worse, than the one you’re trying to get rid of.

I did find myself really frustrated with Rafe at times.  By the end of the book, I was finding myself really frustrated with how he was so tired of people making a big deal out of the fact that he was gay.  I understand where he’s coming from, but at the same time, I felt like he took so much for granted.  With all of the news recently, with teens killing themselves because of bullying, I really felt like Rafe didn’t realize how lucky he was that he wasn’t bullied and that everyone in his life was supportive.  His parents are really accepting- they even threw him a coming out party!

It did make me think about whether being really supportive has a negative effect.  It’s still better than the alternative, of course, but is it possible to be too supportive?  It certainly is in Rafe’s case.  It did feel like everyone in Colorado was trying too hard to show how supportive they were, and it just made them feel stereotypical and flat.

Still, even though I’m not too fond of Rafe, sometimes, we learn by making mistakes.  And I really feel for him.  He didn’t want to be defined by his sexuality, and yet, that’s all people seem to expect- that it should define him.  You see it more in the flashbacks of his life in Colorado, but I am curious about how it relates to his life at boarding school now  that he’s come out to his new classmates.

Let’s Rate It:

I do have mixed feelings.  There are things I like (don’t be someone you’re not, we all have to deal with labels, regardless of who you are) but those are overshadowed by other things, like how much Rafe seemed to take for granted, how uber-supportive everyone else was, and how predictable certain things were.  I will say that he did seem to appreciate how lucky he is to have the parents he does, and that certain things needed to be predictable in order for him to realize that he needed to be himself- his whole self and not just part of it.  But it still took away from the story a little bit.  I still recommend it, because I did start thinking about things I would never think to think about.  Openly Straight gets 3 stars.

Book Review: Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

Rebel Belle CoverBook: Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

Published April 2014 by Putnam Juvenile|257 pages

Where I Got It: the library!

Genre: YA Paranormal/Re-telling

You can find Rebel Belle on goodreads

Goodreads Summary: 

Harper Price, peerless Southern belle, was born ready for a Homecoming tiara. But after a strange run-in at the dance imbues her with incredible abilities, Harper’s destiny takes a turn for the seriously weird. She becomes a Paladin, one of an ancient line of guardians with agility, super strength and lethal fighting instincts.

Just when life can’t get any more disastrously crazy, Harper finds out who she’s charged to protect: David Stark, school reporter, subject of a mysterious prophecy and possibly Harper’s least favorite person. But things get complicated when Harper starts falling for him–and discovers that David’s own fate could very well be to destroy Earth.

With snappy banter, cotillion dresses, non-stop action and a touch of magic, this new young adult series from bestseller Rachel Hawkins is going to make y’all beg for more.

What I Thought:

I can’t believe it took me so long to read Rebel Belle!  After reading Hex Hall, and hearing Rachel Hawkins speak at a panel at the LA Times Festival Of Books, I really wanted to read it.

It has the same sense of humor and snark that Hex Hall has, but with Paladins and Mages and Oracles.  Which I really like, because how often do you see modern-day Paladins?  I really liked the tie-in to history, and how it’s the same, yet different. I really like the connection between Harper protecting David, and the similarities to a previous Paladin.

I also love that Harper is a southern belle and Homecoming Queen turned Paladin.  It initially seems like an odd combination, but it also works really well, because it’s something you wouldn’t expect.  I like that she initially doesn’t want to do it, but comes  around.  It’s not uncommon in YA to see something like this, but somehow, when Hawkins does it, it makes the character seem more real.

The world she lives in and the hilarity that ensues really reminded me of Hart Of Dixie, which is one of my favorite t.v. shows! If you love Hart Of Dixie, I think you’ll like this book.  But with paranormal goings on, of course.

I liked Harper, especially once she stopped being Little Miss Perfect.  She had her life perfectly planned out, and I liked that she struggled with things not going as planned, and that she seemed more okay with it by the end of the book.  I also liked that she had to work with someone she didn’t like, but eventually warms up to.  Like, a lot.  Granted, it’ll make things awkward, with how the book ends, but I’m also curious about how that will play out in the rest of the series.  I like seeing Harper adapt to new situations but I also understand her wanting to be perfect.  I didn’t completely love her (or the romance…the first one) but she’s still a great character.

Her boyfriend throughout most of the book didn’t work for me, so I’m actually glad they’re not together.  I’m not completely sure about her new romance either, but that works so much better for me.  It seems so much more believable and they have more chemistry than she had with her previous boyfriend.  They do seem better matched, and not just because of everything going on.

Let’s Rate It:

Rebel Belle was so much fun to read!  It’s a really good balance of the slightly serious and the really entertaining sarcasm and hilarity.  Rebel Belle gets 4 stars.

Book Review: Prisoner Of Night And Fog by Anne Blackman

Prisoner Of Night And Fog CoverBook: Prisoner Of Night And Fog by Anne Blackman

Published April 2014 by Balzer + Bray|305 pages

Where I Got It: the Nook store

Series: Prisoner Of Night And Fog #1

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

You can find Prisoner Of Night And Fog on goodreads

Goodreads Summary: 

A gripping historical thriller set in 1930s Munich, Prisoner of Night and Fog is the evocative story of an ordinary girl faced with an extraordinary choice in Hitler’s Germany. Fans of Code Name Verity will love this novel full of romance, danger, and intrigue!

Gretchen Müller grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her uncle Dolf—who has kept her family cherished and protected from that side of society ever since her father sacrificed his life for Dolf’s years ago. Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.

When she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen, who claims that her father was actually murdered by an unknown comrade, Gretchen doesn’t know what to believe. She soon discovers that beyond her sheltered view lies a world full of shadowy secrets and disturbing violence.

As Gretchen’s investigations lead her to question the motives and loyalties of her dearest friends and her closest family, she must determine her own allegiances—even if her choices could get her and Daniel killed.

What I Thought:

Prisoner Of Night And Fog is a book I’ve wanted to read for a while, and I’m glad I finally read it!  I really liked it.

One of the things that I loved about this book, and what I think sets it apart from a lot of 1930’s/WW2 historical fiction, is that it’s about a girl who’s super close to Hitler.  I feel like that’s pretty unique, because it seems like so many books set during this time aren’t from the perspective of a girl who see Hitler as an uncle-type person, and who grew up so close to the Nazi Party.  I really liked seeing his rise to power through Gretchen’s eyes, and how she saw him and what he stood for change so much over the course of the book. Especially as she learned what really happened the day her father died and how she couldn’t turn to him for help after things went horribly wrong with her brother.  I liked that her beliefs changed by the end of the book, and while it seemed like they changed awfully fast, it also made sense for this story.

I also liked how her life and Daniel’s life intersected with history.  It made the history seem so much more real because you felt for these characters and saw what things were like for them.

I didn’t quite feel their romance- we know so much about Gretchen, and it her story we see in this book, but I also felt like I didn’t really get to know Daniel enough to be fully invested.  Still, I liked that he played a role in helping Gretchen challenge her beliefs about the world around her.  I especially like it because it’s set during a time when things were changing so fast in Germany, and things got to what we see in World War 2.

The fact that there’s something very inner circle about this book…it makes it stand out to me, because I feel like it’s not something we see.  It’s a very different perspective, and I really liked that.  Which I think is obvious by now, because I feel like that’s all I can talk about.

I’m actually glad that this is the first in a series, because I want to know what is in store for Gretchen and Daniel, with everything that happened.

I also loved the author’s note and the end, and that Blackman even included a short bibliography.  It’s really great, because she directs to books where you can learn more.  Plus, it felt like she really knew the historical details, and did a lot of research.  It really showed throughout the book.

Let’s Rate It:

I really liked Prisoner Of Night And Fog, especially because I feel like we get a perspective we don’t normally get with Nazi Germany.  I didn’t love the romance, but I’m hoping I warm up to it in the other books, because I feel like there’s a lot of cute and potential in terms of the romance.  Prisoner Of Night And Fog gets 4 stars.

Audio Book Review: The Catastrophic History Of You And Me

The Catastrophic History Of You And Me CoverBook: The Catastrophic History Of You And Me by Jess Rothenberg, narrated by Suzy Jackson

Published February 2012 by Recorded Books|Length: 9 hours, 32 minutes

Where I Got It: audible.com

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

You can find The Catastrophic History Of You And Me on goodreads & Jess Rothenberg on Twitter, Facebook and her website

Goodreads Summary: 

Brie’s life ends at sixteen: Her boyfriend tells her he doesn’t love her, and the news breaks her heart–“literally.” 

But now that she’s D&G (dead and gone), Brie is about to discover that love is way more complicated than she ever imagined. Back in Half Moon Bay, her family has begun to unravel. Her best friend has been keeping a secret about Jacob, the boy Brie loved and lost–and the truth behind his shattering betrayal. And then there’s Patrick, Brie’s mysterious new guide and resident Lost Soul…who just might hold the key to her “forever after.” 

With Patrick’s help, Brie will have to pass through the five stages of grief before she’s ready to move on. But how do you begin again, when your heart is still in pieces?

What I Thought:

I started off really liking The Catastrophic History of You And Me, but as the book went on…I found myself getting really irritated with Brie.  Which turned an enjoyable read into an okay one.

I like the idea of Brie having to go through the 5 stages of grief in order to move on.  I actually found it totally believable that the dead grieve the same way we do.  I really liked the connection between her and Patrick and how it was slowly revealed over the course of the book.

Her journey is an interesting one, and while I understand why Brie acts the way she does, there were points during her journey where I started to lose a lot of sympathy for her.  She did come across as petty and bitter and intent on revenge at times.  And while I understand her actions because the people who she thought cared about her had a lot of secrets and things to work through…there were a couple times where she went too far, and I didn’t find her as sympathetic as I did at the beginning of the book.  It really did change how I felt towards her, and not in a good way.  Still, she did act how you’d expect, and she’s a pretty realistic character.  I think teenage me would have related to her and like her a lot more than adult me.

As for her romance with Patrick…I get their connection, but it was never completely there for me.  It did make the novel slightly more interesting, but it also felt a bit random.  I just wish I got to know Patrick better.

I thought Jackson did a great job narrating and I can totally picture her as Brie.  Brie’s sense of humor and personality really came through in Jackson’s narration.

Let’s Rate It: 

Catastrophic History turned out to be an okay read for me, and it’s because Brie eventually got too irritating for my taste.  I think teenage me would have really liked her but as an adult…not so much.  Still, I think the idea of an afterlife where you have to go through the stages of grief is a really different and unique one.  The Catastrophic History Of You And Me gets 2 stars.

Book Review: Providence

Providence CoverBook: Providence by Lisa Colozza Cocca

Expected Publication is March 18, 2014 by Merit Press|Expected Number Of Pages: 256

Where I Got It: I got an e-ARC from netgalley.com, which hasn’t influenced my review in any way.  Promise!

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

You can find Providence on goodreads & you can find Lisa Colozza Cocca on Twitter, Facebook and her website

Goodreads Summary: 

The eldest of ten children on a dirt-poor farm, Becky trudges through life as a full-time babysitter, trying to avoid her father’s periodic violent rages. When the family’s barn burns down, her father lays the blame on Becky, and her own mother tells her to run for it. Run she does, hopping into an empty freight car. There, in a duffel bag, Becky finds an abandoned baby girl, only hours old. After years of tending to her siblings, sixteen-year-old Becky knows just what a baby needs. This baby needs a mother. With no mother around, Becky decides, at least temporarily, this baby needs her. When Becky hops off the train in a small Georgia town, it’s with baby “Georgia” in her arms. When she meets Rosie, an eccentric thrift-shop owner, who comes to value and love Becky as no one ever has, Becky rashly claims the baby as her own. Not everyone in town is as welcoming as Rosie, though. Many suspect Becky and her baby are not what they seem. Among the doubters is a beautiful, reclusive woman with her own terrible loss and a long history with Rosie. As Becky’s life becomes entangled with the lives of the people in town, including a handsome boy who suspects Becky is hiding something from her past, she finds her secrets more difficult to keep. Becky should grab the baby and run, but her newfound home and job with Rosie have given Becky the family she’s never known. Despite her guilt over leaving her mother alone, she is happy for the first time. But it’s a happiness not meant to last. When the truth comes out, Becky has the biggest decision of her life to make. Should she run away again? Should she stay–and fight? Or lie? What does the future hold for Becky and Georgia? With a greatness of heart and a stubborn insistence on hope found in few novels of any genre, “Providence” proves that home is where you find it, love is an active verb, and family is more than just a word.

What I Thought:

When I first started to read Providence, I wasn’t sure about it- initially, it seemed like something I wouldn’t like.  But as I kept reading,I started to get drawn into Becky’s world.

I felt for Becky, who had to grow up fast.  And finding a newborn on a train, and taking her in, and finding a place that becomes her home…Becky had to grow up even more.  I’m glad Georgia had people who cared for her, and I’m glad Becky found the same.  Something that didn’t set well with me was how Becky’s parents didn’t seem to care that she was gone and that we don’t see them fighting to get Becky back.  Still, it fit with why she left and never went back.  There is a part of me that wanted to see more of Becky’s life with her parents and life at home because I wanted more to see how much her new life contrasted with her old one.

I loved Rosie and how kind she was.  She really did give Becky and Georgia a home and they felt very much like a family. I’m not sure how I feel about Lily, especially with how the book ended.  On the one hand, I’m glad Becky and Georgia did find someone who cared about them and would take them in…but at the same time, I loved how Becky did what she needed to do in order to take care of Georgia.  Becky really did change a lot over the course of the book, and she has a really bright future ahead of her.  Still, it did seem like it was the best decision for everyone.

I will say that I kept picturing the book taking place in the 1950’s.  There’s something very old-timey about the town, and it was hard to imagine it taking place in present time.  Then again, I’ve never lived in a small town like the one Becky came across, so for all I know, small towns have that good-ole-day kind of feel.

Let’s Rate It:

I have a few issues with Providence, but overall, I really liked it!  I liked seeing Becky deal with and overcome some of the things she had happen.  And I like how welcoming people were to Becky.  Providence gets 4 stars.

Book Review: We’ll Always Have Summer

We'll Always Have Summer CoverBook: We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han

Published April 2011 by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers|304 pages

Where I Got It: the Nook store

Series: Summer #3

Genre: YA Contemporary

You can find We’ll Always Have Summer on goodreads & Jenny Han on Twitter, Facebook and her website

Goodreads Summary: 

It’s been two years since Conrad told Belly to go with Jeremiah. She and Jeremiah have been inseparable ever since, even attending the same college– only, their relationship hasn’t exactly been the happily ever after Belly had hoped it would be. And when Jeremiah makes the worst mistake a boy can make, Belly is forced to question what she thought was true love. Does she really have a future with Jeremiah? Has she ever gotten over Conrad? It’s time for Belly to decide, once and for all, who has her heart forever.

What I Thought:

This series has such a special place in my heart now!  I just LOVED We’ll Always Have Summer!

I’ll admit, it’s slightly weird to see Belly in a place that’s not Cousin’s.  Cousin’s really is a special place, and so much has happened there.  But I also liked seeing Belly at college and how she’s really growing up, and how she’s not the same girl as she was when she was 16.  She had such a hard decision to make in We’ll Always Have Summer, but I think anyone who has read the series will be able to figure out who she chooses in the end.

Which is also interesting, because I’ve gone back and forth on who I wanted Belly to be with.  But as much as I liked her with Jeremiah at one point, this book really showed that he and Belly aren’t meant to be, no matter how much he cares about her.  There were things he did that made it feel like he was more in love with the idea of being with Belly than he actually loved her.  I’m sure he did love her, but he just seemed like a completely different Jeremiah in this book.

I just love the relationships we see in this book- the one between Belly and her brother, the one between Belly and her mom, Belly and Conrad…and there is even that part of me that liked Jeremiah and Belly, because I think it took being with Jeremiah and spending time at Cousin’s with Conrad for both Belly and Jeremiah to realize that it wasn’t going to work out.

We’ll Always Have Summer made me want Susannah back SO MUCH!  I couldn’t help but wonder what Susannah would think, and how different things would be if Susannah were still alive.  I love that she left a letter for Belly to read on her wedding day!  Speaking of Susannah…it really does seem like everyone’s made peace with her death.

I also like that we see happened two years after the events of the book, and that we get the resolution we’ve really been waiting for- assuming you wanted things to go that way, of course.  And I’m glad my copy of We’ll Always Have Summer included Conrad’s letters to Belly- I loved reading them!

Let’s Rate It:

I loved We’ll Always Have Summer, and this series makes me feel so nostalgic and wistful.  I’m glad things worked out the way they did, and Cousin’s is such a special place.  We’ll Always Have Summer gets 5 stars.

Book Review: Ignite Me

Ignite Me CoverBook: Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

Published February 2014 by HarperCollins|416 pages

Where I Got It: the Nook store

Series: Shatter Me #3

Genre: YA Paranormal Dystopic

You can find Ignite Me on goodreads & Tahereh Mafi on TwitterFacebook and her website

Goodreads Summary: 

Juliette now knows she may be the only one who can stop the Reestablishment. But to take them down, she’ll need the help of the one person she never thought she could trust: Warner. And as they work together, Juliette will discover that everything she thought she knew – about Warner, her abilities, and even Adam – was wrong.

What I Thought:

I can’t believe it’s all over!  But it’s such a good ending for all of the characters, and I can’t imagine it ending any other way. I really can’t.  

Ignite Me starts where Unravel Me left off, and only a chapter in, we got a moment that had me going “oh my god, what just happened, did Warner really say that, oh my god, how could that possibly happen?”  And I knew at that moment that I needed to not read this book during lunch, because I manage to not yell at my Nook, even though I really wanted to.  And of course, everything turned out okay in regards to that particular revelation.  

I just love Juliette and how much she’s changed and grown as a person since we saw her in Shatter Me.  She’s come to accept her abilities and what she has to do in order change things.  I just love her friendship with Kenji, who is still such a great character.  I’m still not sure how I feel about Adam or Warner, but I will say that Warner has grown on me, and Adam was slightly irritating.  After reading Ignite Me, though, I’m pretty sold on Warner and Juliette.  They really are good for each and bring out the best in each other.  Still, I’m wondering if my neutrality towards Warner and Adam is because I haven’t read the novellas yet.  

The ending!  It fit, but I think part of me was expecting something different.  I like that the book ends with a feeling of hope and that things are going to be different, but at the same time, part of me wanted a glimpse of what things were like after the big battle happened.  

I do miss the strike throughs we saw in the other books, but there is still the repetition of certain words and the interesting placement of some of the text that we saw in Shatter Me and Unravel Me.  I still love that we see Juliette’s thoughts so well, and I still felt like we were experiencing what she was experiencing.  

Let’s Rate It:

Ignite Me is such a good ending to a series that I’ve come to love!  I’m sad to see it come to an end, but I love how much Juliette changed over the course of the series.  Ignite Me gets 5 stars.