Top Ten Reasons I Love Contemporary Romance

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Hey everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve taken part in TTT consistently, but it’s a new month and I have a good feeling about June.

This week’s topic was sort of a freebie: Top Ten Reasons I Love X. In the spirit of summer, I chose contemporary romances. Summer weather just puts me in the mood for a cute romance. For fun, I’ve included pictures of books that fulfilled each of the items on the list. 🙂

1. They make me smile.

cover ten things we did and probably shouldnt have

Let’s be honest: sometimes I need to be captivated by a story that isn’t dark magic and life-and-death situations pushing characters to the brink. Sometimes, I just want to read a cutesy love story with great characters and even better dialogue.

2. They help me recover from darker stories.

cover the distance between us

As I said, I can’t read doom and gloom fantasy novels 24/7, no matter how much I love them. I’d die of heartbreak and stress. Contemporary romances give me a chance to shake off the stress, heartbreak, and darkness from one fantasy series before starting another one.

I’ve also noticed that when I oscillate between fantasy and contemporary books, I have clearer memories of each, because I don’t ever have similar novels back-to-back. This only seems fair to all of the books I read.

3. They make me want to go out and do new things.

cover since youve been gone

Since You’ve Been Gone really did this for me, as did The Summer of Chasing Mermaids. There is nothing like reading about realistic characters going off and having adventures in the real world to make me want to do that for myself. As a fairly introverted person, it takes a lot to get me to want to do new things, and I love that these stories can have this effect on me.

4. Everyone needs some romantic humor at some point.

cover anna and the french kiss

I know I can count on contemporary books for some hilarious dialogue, usually with a lot of cringe-humor flirting. Few things can put a smile on my face faster than an awkward cute meet between two characters…or watching them stumble into love.

5. Two words: swoon-worthy love interests.

cover to all the boys ive loved before

This isn’t specific to contemporary books (I’m looking at you Rowan…and Gansey…), but it is basically a requirement for fluffy romances. And you know what? Sometimes a hot, witty love interest is exactly what I want from my reading experience.

6. I have a soft spot for ridiculous things.

cover the fill in boyfriend

A lot of contemporary romances have somewhat ridiculous premises. Characters get shoved into one-in-a-million circumstances, the boundaries of “possible” get stretched to allow for a cute meet, worst-case scenarios come true with remarkable frequency. It’s ridiculous and improbable…and I love it. I don’t necessarily need my adorable romance to have realistic foundations, not all the time. (Just as long as I believe in the romance that develops)

7. They bring friendship to life.

cover sisterhood of the travelling pants

Again, this isn’t something that is inherently specific to contemporary books, but some of my favorite friendships have come from this genre. There is something about seeing friendships tested by (and survive) real life circumstances that makes them come to life.

8. They can make me cry.

cover love and other unknown variables

A lot of people never cry at books. I am not one of those people. I cry all the time, and crying about a book gives me a special release that I can’t get anywhere else. I love books, even when (especially when) they destroy me—it’s part of the magic. And while I cry at all genres, contemporary books have a high success rate in this area.

9. They talk about the real world.

cover dream things true

I guess this is obvious, but contemporary books inherently talk about the world we live in today. A lot of times, they shy away from social issues and focus more on the romance—and that’s fine. But I love it when books weave swoony romances together with discussions of important societal problems.

10. They are so much more than “cute.”

I know that when I pick up a contemporary book, 99% of the time I’m just looking for a pick-me-up with some witty flirting, but most of the time, these books get the better of me. They talk about social issues and emotional frustrations and fears and joys.

It’s easy to write off these books based on their lovey-dovey covers and ridiculous plots—to be honest, I’ve done this—but it is almost never fair. I don’t think I can list a single book that could be described as “just romance.” Contemporary romances push us to see our own world in a new light, to understand our emotions in a different way, and that is a power that should never be ignored.

What about you? Why do you love contemporary romances?

Do you have any recs? I desperately need more of these books if I’m going to survive my heartbreaking TBR for this summer.

Book Review: Hello, Goodbye, and Everything In Between by Jennifer E. Smith

This book was surprisingly bittersweet–definitely more than the fluffy contemporary read I took it for.

3.5/5 stars

cover hello goodbye and everything in between

Amazon Description

On the night before they leave for college, Clare and Aidan only have one thing left to do: figure out whether they should stay together or break up. Over the course of twelve hours, they retrace the steps of their relationship, trying to find something in their past that might help them decide what their future should be. The night leads them to family and friends, familiar landmarks and unexpected places, hard truths and surprising revelations. But as the clock winds down and morning approaches, so does their inevitable goodbye. The question is, will it be goodbye for now or goodbye forever?

My Review

Looking back on the premise of this book, it shouldn’t have been surprising that this book tugged at my heart-strings. I had assumed that it would be a lighthearted contemporary story, but it ended up being melancholy throughout and even brutally sad at times. That’s not to say that it isn’t an overall positive story–or that it doesn’t have its cute moments, which it does–I was just surprised.

Clare and Aidan have been together for nearly two years by the time they leave for college–Aidan heading for the west coast and Clare for the east coast. They are the ultimate high school couple–never apart, head-over-heels for each other–and neither of them wants to break up, but they also don’t want to ruin their relationship with long-distance.

Though the plot has a simple premise, it allowed for a complicated story. There were lots of flashbacks–effortlessly woven into the narrative–that gave the reader a clear sense of Clare and Aidan’s relationship. The “scavenger hunt” that Clare takes Aidan on brings other characters into the plot and ensures that the story is more than a pragmatic conversation between the two characters. I appreciated the emphasis Jennifer E. Smith put on showcasing the different stresses teens face–parental pressures, strained friendships, and of course, the massive change that is leaving for college.

Even so, this book ends up being 90% focused on Clare and Aidan’s relationship. I was expecting this, so it wasn’t exactly disappointing, but I did feel like the plot was missing something at times to make it more complex. Yes, friendship and parental issues were worked into the plot, but they always seemed to have easy resolutions to “get out of the way” of the main plot.

The characterization of Clare and Aidan was weak, in my opinion. Both of them remained fairly one-dimensional throughout the story. There was a lot of “telling” instead of “showing” as to both of their personalities–Clare being the pragmatic, controlling type, with Aidan being more laid-back and impulsive. For a book that was inherently character-based, I wish that Clare and Aidan had broken the “YA love interest” mold more.

The ending of this book surprised me. Up until the last pages, I wasn’t sure what would happen, and I was extremely emotionally stricken over which option they should choose. On one hand, going to college with a long-distance SO sounds pretty miserable, but on the other hand, they were an adorable couple, something that had been drilled into me by the book’s end. Trying to avoid spoilers, I’ll just say that I loved the ending, and that it was exactly what the book needed.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between was filled with simple but important messages for teens. As a junior starting to think about college, this book was a rude awakening: I hadn’t really considered how emotional leaving for college was going to be. The writing style was just poetic enough to give the story a contemplative feeling, and though the plot had its melodramatic moments, for the most part, it felt realistic.

I would recommend this book to fans of bittersweet and romance-based contemporary books, especially for teens who are about to leave for college.

Can We Get Over Cliche Romance Plots?: An Infographic, Of Sorts

Ok, so it isn’t a secret that I love reading YA contemporary romances. They put a smile on my face between the intensely dark and stressful fantasy/paranormal/etc books I read. I love their awkward/cute set-ups and their guaranteed happy endings.

But I also can’t get over the fact that most “chicklit” books have extremely similar plots. Don’t get me wrong…I enjoy the classic plot, a lot. I just think that the genre could grow past this “exposition ⇒ rising action ⇒ CONFLICT ⇒ make up ⇒ happy ending” model to give me some uniqueness to get excited about.

Also, I like using Photoshop to distract me from homework, and this was fun to make.

Hope this makes you crack a smile. 🙂

Chicklit plot

A bit of housekeeping: The fonts used are KG Flavor and Frames Two, AFL Font Pespaye Nonmetric, and Candara. I also used Love Doodle Brushes Two and Arrow Doodle Brushes (both by coydreamer).

Let’s discuss: Why do contemporary plots seem to follow predictable arcs more than other genres?  Or is that just me?

Do other genres (like fantasy) just hide their cliche plot arcs better behind world-building and fight scenes?

Book Review: The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

This book was everything I wanted it to be: hilarious, cutesy romantic, and just a little tear-inducing near the end.

3.5/5 stars

cover the fill in boyfriend

Amazon Description

When Gia Montgomery’s boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she decides to do the unthinkable…convince the cute guy waiting to pick up his sister to pretend to be her boyfriend for the night. The task is simple: two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies.

The problem is that days after prom, she can’t stop thinking about her fill-in boyfriend. But can Gia turn her fake boyfriend into a real one without exposing her lie and possibly destroying her friendships and her newfound relationship?

Smartly observed and wonderfully romantic, Kasie West’s talent shines in this tale of one girl’s unexpected quest to find love…and possibly herself.

My Review

I liked this book a lot, but it was missing that spark of originality that I look for in books.

Gia was an interesting protagonist. I definitely empathized with her, but I also realized that she was not a great person. At the start of the book, Gia is image-obsessed and shallow, with a bit of a manipulator hidden behind her Nice Girl. Thankfully, she wasn’t superficial and bitchy enough for me to hate her (and thus hate the story), especially because she starts to become self-aware early on in the story.

Gia’s transformation into a humbler, more down-to-earth girl was written well. Did it have it’s cheesy Mean Girls moments? Heck yes. But the social commentary (especially pertaining to our modern reliance on social media for validation) hit home for me more than the stereotypical bitch-to-loyal-friend transition, and it actually made me think about my own values in a slightly different light. I never lost sight of Gia’s character, and she was never completely fixed, but she was knocked down a few pegs, and I admired her for it.

Fill-in Bradely (I’m purposefully not saying his name because there is a cute scene attached to it) was an entertaining love interest. I loved the subtle references to his geeky t-shirts, and most of his dialogue was pretty funny. Making him be an actor was a smart decision, plot-wise, because it added some realism to the idea of him playing Gia’s BF for prom night. His sister, Bec, was everything I’ll ever need from a sassy side-character, and I’d love to read a spin-off about her.

Watching Gia and FIB fall in love was adorable and emotional. Though you never would have expected it on the first page, they were actually a good fit for each other. I really appreciated that fact that both of them had had SOs before, so that there was none of the usual “omg I’ve never held hands with a guy before” nonsense that seems to come with plots like this. The arc of the romantic plot line follows the usual chicklit rise-and-fall, but it still told a sweet story.

The plot was the most under-whelming part of the book. While I loved the romantic plot line with fill-in Bradley–it had me cracking up for the first half of the book, then fighting back tears for the second–the various subplots felt cliche. I never understood why Gia’s friends were so bitchy–or if it was just Gia’s neuroses getting in the way–and the plot line lacked believability. Since Gia’s issues with her friends were what drove her to the crazy fill-in boyfriend scheme in the first place, I felt like the foundation of the entire book was weak.

The family plot line was interesting–I was actually surprised when I realized that Gia’s perfect family life was actually pretty crappy–but the scene with her brother (if you’ve read the book you know what I’m talking about) was totally predictable. I saw it coming a mile away, and I didn’t really care for the way the subplot played out.

The Fill-In Boyfriend is a cute romance that dabbles in social commentary but dives in deep enough to lose the light-hearted mood. For such an entertaining premise, the book was a quick read, and I wish that there had been a few more scenes to break the plot out of the stereotypical YA romance template.

Book Review: Aces Up by Lauren Barnholdt

This book was fun to read…but nothing else. It was a cookie-cutter model of YA Chicklit at its boringest.

2/5 stars

cover aces up

Amazon Description

Seventeen-year-old high school senior Shannon Card needs money. And lots of it. She’s been admitted to Wellesley, but her dad just lost his job, and somehow she has to come up with a year of tuition herself. But Shannon’s dream of making big bucks waitressing at the local casino, the Collosio, disappears faster than a gambler’s lucky streak. Her boss is a tyrant, her coworker is nuts, and her chances of balancing a tray full of drinks while wearing high-heeled shoes are slim to none. Worse, time is running out, and Shannon hasn’t made even half the money she’d hoped.

When Shannon receives a mysterious invitation to join Aces Up, a secret network of highly talented college poker players, at first she thinks No way. She has enough to worry about: keeping her job, winning the coveted math scholarship at school, and tutoring her secret crush, Max. But when Shannon musters up the nerve to kiss Max and he doesn’t react at all, the allure of Aces Up and its sexy eighteen-year-old leader, Cole, is suddenly too powerful to ignore.

Soon Shannon’s caught up in a web of lies and deceit that makes worrying about tuition money or a high school crush seem like kid stuff. Still, when the money’s this good, is the fear of getting caught reason enough to fold?

My Review

I read this book in one sitting. It was a short, fun read, but there was absolutely no substance.

Warning: This review is going to be scathing, and it isn’t because I hated this book in particular. I am just so tired of reading the same contemporary romance plot arc over and over. This book, with a different premise (swap out gambling and replace it with X), is exactly like hundreds of other books that I’ve read. I keep picking up these books wanting to be impressed, wanting to be swept off my feet with a cutesy romance and a plot that explores “real life.” But I’m just wasting my money.

Aces Up had the usual cast of characters for a book like this: the protagonist who overthinks and screws up romance, the hot “boy next door” who the protagonist is trying to get over, the mysterious hot guy she rebounds with, the friends who support her and provide a measuring stick for her mistakes, the parents who she evades but loves unconditionally.

As a protagonist, Shannon really got on my nerves. She was anxious and jumped to wild conclusions; she was always in her head over-analyzing situations. I empathized with her financial aid situation on a basic level, but nothing about her character made me want to meet her in real life. Her overtly “teenage” voice felt stereotypical and gave me no insight into who she really was; the author sacrificed good writing to give her character an “OMG I broke a nail” personality. From a different perspective–and with better writing at its core–Aces Up could have earned at least another star in my rating.

Ahh…the love triangle. You’ve got Max and Cole: good cop, bad cop. It is the love triangle that I’ve seen a million times before: girl falls for hot bad boy because sweet hot guy is taken/friend-zoned/in this case both, bad boy turns out to be–shocker–bad, good guy picks up the pieces. I’m honestly not even spoiling anything–you can tell where the story is going to go from the synopsis. Did I get sucked in to Cole and his (let’s be honest) sexy gambling ring along with Shannon? Of course. But that doesn’t make the plot any more original.

The gambling plot was the most interesting part of this book. It’s the reason I bought the book in the first place (a million years ago, tbh). I love playing cards, and I’ve dabbled in poker, so I thought a YA romance surrounding a casino would be awesome. The poker plot line was fun, and it provided what uniqueness the story possessed. The set-up of the Aces Up club was believable, as was Shannon’s emotions that led her to join it. This plot line got close to discussing something of substance–gambling addiction–but it never fully committed, once again leaving Aces Up as a romance…and nothing else.

Major parts of the plot struck me as unrealistic, chiefly Shannon’s supposed straight-A nature. Nothing in her voiced tied in to or validated her supposed 4.0 or her acceptance to a prestigious college. She’s supposedly a math whiz but an English student at heart, but I never “got” that from her personality. Over the course of the book she does homework, like, twice. Then, during her poker playing days, she literally has zero hours for homework, but manages to only have her grade in one class slip (that we are told about), and we are led to believe that it hasn’t slipped far. (Joey @ Thoughts and Afterthoughts had a post ranting about athletes never working out in books; turns out, my version of this is when smart characters never do homework.)

The sudden-poverty that Shannon’s family faced also felt unrealistic. It seemed like Shannon’s well-off family would have put some money into savings, but suddenly they are selling their boat, having their BMW repossessed, and fearing losing their house. I know that horrible things like this happen in real life, but in the story it felt like the author was overstating the problems just to force her protagonist to do crazier and crazier things. (Then again, I’m sixteen, so talk to me when I’m thirty and I might change my opinion on this portion of the plot.)

Overall, Aces Up is a quick read full of humor and romance, but if you want a unique plot or a story that delves into societal issues–this book is not for you. I don’t regret reading it–honestly, it was a good filler for an afternoon–but I won’t be reading anything else by Lauren Barnholdt, and I will be working harder to select deeper contemporary reads in the future.

Book Review: P.S. I Still Love You (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #2) by Jenny Han

Continuing the lighthearted, playful story of Lara Jean’s tumultuous love life, P.S. I Still Love You is a complex  story of friendship and awkward budding romance, though there was something missing that kept the book from being a favorite.

3.5/5 stars

cover ps I still love you

Amazon Description

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.

She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.

When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

My Review

Everything about this book feels real. It is the story of Lara Jean’s awkward life. Unfortunately, real life isn’t always breathtaking.

I love that this book has a complex plot. It deals with themes of friendship, family, and self-discovery–not just romance. I appreciated that there was less family drama in this book than in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, especially that Margot was less bitchy. The family drama in book one were easily my least favorite part of the plot, and its being toned down in book two made PS I Still Love You a smoother read for me.

The family drama refocused on Lara Jean’s dad (instead of Margot) and his children trying to find him a date (their mom died when the Song girls were young). This subplot started out weird for me, but ended up being sweet; I was rooting for the ship to sail (I don’t want to use names because it is a bit of a reveal) along with the sisters.

I also had a realization about Lara Jean in this book: her being annoying at times actually makes her a unique protagonist. In the first book (and in the second book), Lara Jean annoyed me with her personality. She’s just not my kind of person; our reactions to certain situations are extremely different, she puts up with some stuff I wouldn’t, and flips out at some things that don’t really bother me.

But halfway into PS I Still Love You, I realized that her personality–while frustrating–was also endearing. And, at least, if I don’t like her, that is something new for me, since I usually like the protagonists of books I read. In the end, I think I kind of love Lara Jean, for the same reasons that I originally hated her. She’s really, really one-of-a-kind, and she has a crystal clear personality. I know who she is, and that is something that doesn’t happen often with contemporary leads. She feels like a person who could exist in real life–so props to Jenny Han for writing her.

The romance is less unique. I liked Lara Jean and Peter as a couple, even if they were kind of screwed up. This book has a love triangle, though it is less dominant than it was in the first book, and it involves a different guy (more on him later in the review). Once again, the love triangle worked as a part of the plot. I didn’t hate it, it provided lots of hilariously awkward scenes, and I liked its resolution.

There is nothing amazing about Lara Jean and Peter’s romance, except for the realism. They are not the kind of couple that gets together and instantly works. They both have baggage, and neither of them are “good” at being significant others. Peter does some things that end up being obnoxious, but I forgave him for it, because Lara Jean was messing up their relationship also, and because it was great to read a Chicklit book with a truly fallible (but lovable) love interest. Still, the romance fell flat in terms of dramatic moments or emotional scenes. The romance is light, funny, and in some ways doomed, but it never grabbed me.

That is a problem the entire book had. Did I like the plot? Yep. Did I think the story was cute and refreshingly realistic? Yes. But there were no heart-string-plucking moments, no scenes that brought tears or made me gasp. Looking back on the story, I don’t know what the plot’s arc was supposed to be; there was no clear rise or fall to the action. Stories don’t have to have the “exposition to rising action to climax to resolution” plot arc, but they have to have something that grabs me and keeps me reading. Instead of having a je ne sais pas, this book is missing one. I liked the premise, the characters, and all of the plot lines, but I never fell in love with the book.

I still recommend reading this book. It fixes a lot of issues I had with the first book, and it gives the reader a deeper understanding of the characters. PS I Still Love You maintains the light and playfully awkward tone of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, so if you loved that in the first book, I would definitely tell you to pick up the second one. I can’t tell if there will be a third book (honestly the series would be okay either way), but I would read it if it were released.

A quick thought on the love triangle (contains spoilers)

I liked John–he was an interesting character–but he was forever in the friendzone for me. Lara Jean needed a male friend, and she got one, but I never wanted him to (or believed he would) become her love interest. I also never believed Peter would actually cheat on Lara Jean, or that his relationship with Genevieve was anything other than platonic (on his part). Peter wasn’t trying to be malicious or hurt Lara Jean–he was just painfully clueless. For me, that came across as forgivable realism (though if it happened to me in real life I’d be unbelievably pissed) instead of a disqualification from the race to be Lara Jean’s boy friend.

Book Review: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

I went into this book thinking I wouldn’t like it, but I was SO WRONG. This book is a new favorite, surprising me with its complexity.

4.5/5 stars

cover the summer of chasing mermaids

Amazon Description

The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.

Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: an ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.

Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother, Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.

When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them…

My Review

The strength of this book came largely from the protagonist, Elyse. I fell in love with her from the first page, and I never stopped feeling for her or wanting to help her heal. I was fascinated by her inability to talk and its effect on the story. A character who literally cannot speak presented a powerful and unique lens to view a story through. My heart broke every time Elyse had some long explanation to say, but kept it inside because she could not convey her lengthy thoughts. I spent a large portion of this book on the brink of tears (though I never actually cried), and most of the times I teared up, it was because of how deeply I empathized with Elyse.

It was not just Elyse’s voicelessness that made her endearing, however. I liked and understood her personality. Her shyness was familiar to me, and the strong sense of loss that dominated her (after she left her homeland to spend the summer in the US) was heart-wrenching without being annoyingly broody or overpowering. I liked that Elyse was an ethnic protagonist (I cannot remember the last time I read a contemporary book that didn’t have a white lead), and the elements of her culture that Elyse brought with her improved and deepened the story.

I loved the motif of Elyse’s poetry that Ockler wove throughout the story. It was a simple way to prove that Elyse did have a clear voice and that she wanted to use it. (On a side note, I loved the hand writing fonts they used to convey her poetry.) The image of Elyse spilling her heart out onto the walls of the abandoned boat she found was beautiful and sad–and provided one of the best Cute Meet scenes ever.

My biggest concern about The Summer of Chasing Mermaids before I read it was the PTSD/damage that Elyse’s character faced. As a rule, stories dominated by mentally wonky characters don’t work for me, and I was afraid that Elyse’s PTSD would dominate the story. It didn’t. Elyse was just damaged enough for it to be realistic, but she still had a personality separate from her trauma. The healing process Elyse underwent over the course of the book was simple and subtle, but complete enough to be inspiring–without ever feeling cheesy, preachy, or sudden. There was no miracle cure, and she never really looked for one, but by the last page of the book, Elyse had clearly grown past the accident that robbed her of her “destiny.”

The main plot of the book surrounds Christian and Elyse fixing his boat in the hopes of winning the regatta–and a bet Christian’s father made that impacts the future of the entire city. (I’m purposefully being vague, guys.) The “boat plot” did a fantastic job of creating a skeleton to carry the rest of the subplots, and gave the book a clear rise toward the climax that left me unable to put the book down (literally–I read this book in essentially one sitting).

The romance between Christian and Elyse was gorgeous and sweet. I love them as a couple. Their transition from strangers to friends to significant others was paced well and felt realistic. Christian was a likable love interest who clearly had his own character; he was not just a hot body for Elyse to fall for. He had depth that many YA males lack–which presented a problem. He was introduced as a playboy who only had flings and never cared about the girls he slept with–but I never bought it. From the early scenes with him, it was clear that Christian was a good, complex guy, who would be good for Elyse. Of course, I was glad that the love interest wasn’t a jerk, but it was unnecessary for Ockler to try to pass him off as the bad boy if none of his actions would ever reflect it.

The other characters added necessary components to the story, but tended to come off flat. One part of the book that suffered because of this was the concept of Elyse’s five sisters. The reader never “met” any of them directly, and Elyse’s twin only appeared in the story for flashbacks and short scenes. I ended up not caring about her sisters, even though that was supposed to be a large portion of Elyse’s character and childhood.

The friends did a good job being friendly to Elyse, but I never felt like I met them. They were just shell of characters who existed to create a friend group and help Elyse heal. Their flatness did not kill the book, but I would have appreciated some suggestions of depth from them.

I hated most of the parents in this book, which was the point. All of the parental figures were believable–and that was what made me so angry. Most of them were horrible, greedy people who used their children as bargaining chips. The discussion of parental control of teenagers’ lives was relatable to the extreme, and I appreciated that Ockler created characters that I know exist in the world today (and that I wish my friends didn’t have to deal with). The juxtaposition of the sons’ friendship and the fathers’ rivalry created emotional conflicts that helped to ensure that The Summer of Chasing Mermaids was more than just a romance.

I was surprised by the social commentary this book. The discussion of gender roles (which tied in gorgeously to the title) was honest and simple, but it made this book memorable. The gender identity subplot tied in with the other plot lines, ensuring that it didn’t feel superfluous or disconnected. It was part of the story, and it got the point across successfully without monopolizing the entire plot.

Connecting to the title, the mermaid motif was a subtle but charming part of the plot. I liked how it connected subplots and added whimsy to the story. I can’t say I was a fan of the moments when the mermaid motif became almost paranormal, but that was because of personal issues with magical elements cropping up in contemporary stories, not because the scenes hurt the book–they didn’t. I will say that the melodramatic prologue was absolutely unnecessary and only served to confuse me. If you’re thinking about picking this book up, just skip the first few pages. The plot circles back around to them anyway, so you aren’t (in my opinion, but feel free to challenge me in the comment section) missing anything.

I would recommend this book to people who are skeptical of YA Chicklit. My sister (who has famously given up on contemporary YA) read this book and really enjoyed it, possibly more than me. The depth and power of this book put it in its own league, far above the simple romance-driven plots normally found in this genre. 

Book Review: All-American Girl by Meg Cabot

This was my third time reading this book, but my first time reading it since I was much younger. I saw the book in a different light, but I still enjoyed it.

3.5/5 stars

cover all american girl

Amazon description

Top ten reasons Samantha Madison is in deep trouble

10. Her big sister is the most popular girl in school

9. Her little sister is a certified genius

8. She’s in love with her big sister’s boyfriend

7. She got caught selling celebrity portraits in school

6. And now she’s being forced to take art classes

5. She’s just saved the president of the United States from an assassination attempt

4. So the whole world thinks she is a hero

3. Even though Sam knows she is far, far from being a hero

2. And now she’s been appointed teen ambassador to the UN

And the number-one reason Sam’s life is over?

1.The president’s son just might be in love with her

My Review

I’m on a contemporary romance binge right now, and lacking new books to read, I went back to a book that I used to love, All-American Girl. I noticed right away that it is written for a younger audience, but reading it as a slightly older person, I was able to get more of the message Meg Cabot was saying.

Sam is a good protagonist, full of voice and easy to connect to. Her personality is slightly obsessive, which leads her to see people as either idols (Gwen Stefani), soul mates (her sister’s boyfriend Jack), or the devil incarnate (her art teacher Susan Boone). While this emphasizes her youth, it also makes her voice entertaining to read.

The plot of his book is very simple: Sam saves the president’s life and instantly becomes a national hero. And craziness ensues. It’s well paced and appropriately hilarious. It’s a light read, but it will keep you reading.

The larger plot of the book deals with Sam’s budding “frission” with David (the first son) and her obsession with Jack (her sister’s BF). Sam’s personality makes it so that even as the reader can see David and her falling in love, she’s still focused on Jack. As the book progresses, it also turns out that Jack is pretty obnoxious to Sam. It’s frustrating to watch as a reader, but it conveys a powerful message about crushes blinding people to the truth.

The other characters, including Sam’s sister, her best friend, and Jack, were somewhat flat. They added to the story in a one-dimensional way. I would have liked more depth from them, because I think it could have made this book a lot more unique.

My favorite part of this book is all the lists Meg Cabot puts throughout. They are funny and help to move the plot through more boring moments, but most of all they add a well-needed dose of humor and levity to the story. I love that Meg Cabot does things like this is all of her books–things that make them just a little more unique.

There is a sequel to this book, but I’ve never read it. I like the ending of the book as it stands, and I don’t want to change the picture I have in my mind of the couple. Adding another book to the series seems kind of unnecessary.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a younger-oriented chicklit with a lot of humor, if not a lot of depth.

Book Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

This book managed to do something that I had basically deemed impossible: it pulled off a love triangle. Without making me hate the book.

3.5/5 stars

cover to all the boys ive loved before

Amazon description

What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them…all at once?

Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

My Review

It is rare for me to pick up a book with a plot that promises so much Chicklit awkwardness. I’m glad that I “risked it” and picked this book up, though, because it was not nearly as overly dramatic and cringe-worthy as it could have been.

I have to say, the opening pages are not that great. I had read the Amazon preview a few times before I actually bought the book, because the quirky and humorous tone the book’s blurb suggested just isn’t there in the first chapter. Still, the writing gets better after the letters are mailed (which happened farther into the book than I had expected), and once the plot really gets going, I stopped paying attention to whether the writing was amazing or not.

Lara Jean writes love letters when she is ready to get over a crush. She spills out all of her feelings for a guy, puts it in an envelope, hides it in her hatbox, and stops being in love with the guy. The letters are never supposed to be mailed, and how they got mailed is actually a mystery for most of the book (which I liked).

*slight spoiler alert ahead…really it is just stuff that happens in the first chapters but I can’t talk about the book without mentioning these plot developments*

Though five letters get sent, there are only two boys who the book focuses on: Josh and Peter. Josh is the boyfriend of Lara Jean’s older sister, Margot, who just went off to college (and dumped Josh). With Margot out of the picture, old feelings Lara Jean had for Josh start to bubble to the surface, ones that get more complicated when he reads her letter. Peter is a childhood friend who grew up to be a jock and who just broke up with his longtime girlfriend Genevieve. Out of this mess of relationships, Lara Jean and Peter decide to fake being a couple. Lara Jean uses it as cover to get Josh to stop asking questions about the letter, and Peter uses it as a way to piss off his girlfriend, who cheated on him (and who he clearly still loves).

As cheesy as this plot sounds, it actually worked. There was the right amount of socially awkward scenes, balanced by some sweet moments between Lara Jean and Peter. I liked that both Peter and Josh hated the other guy; their warnings about the other guy made it harder for me as a reader to decide which guy I though Lara Jean should end up with. Yes, this book is dominated by the love triangle, but it wasn’t unbearable, and this book renewed my faith in the plot device.

The other plot line running surrounds Lara Jean’s family. There are three sisters: Margot, Lara Jean, and Kitty. After their mom died years ago, Margot took over as the leader of the household, since their dad is an OBGYN and does not spend a ton of time at home. The book begins with Margot going off to college, leaving Lara Jean to take her place, even though Lara Jean really does not have a personality tailored for this kind of responsibility. On top of the romantic drama in Lara Jean’s life, she has to deal with keeping her family on track, as well as pressures from Margot to be the amazing student junior year that will get her into a “good” college.

Honestly, I hated Margot. I’m not sure if Jenny Han intended for me to hate her, or if I was just bringing my own personal experiences (and my friends’ experiences) into my reading experience, but I never liked Margot. I hated that she left Lara Jean all alone and then expected her to be the perfect head of household as well as the perfect student. She was just so…judgey.

Their dad was also not my cup of tea. I understand that he was a doctor who had to work lots of weird hours and who had never learned how to lead his family (since he had his wife, and then Margot), but still, his absenteeism and his willingness to let Lara Jean deal with all of the scheduling, cooking, and organizing for the entire family bothered me. The family dynamic was presented as mostly healthy and loving, but it reminded me of a dynamic one of my friends lives every day that is absolutely the opposite, and I just could not handle the positive spin all of the characters seemed to have on their lifestyle.

Though the family plot line did help demonstrate Lara Jean’s character growth throughout the book, it really only served to annoy me as I was reading. Probably, someone coming from a different high school experience or someone lacking my issues with this type of family dynamic would not have the issues I had with this part of the book. Still, if this part had been different, I think this book could have earned at least one more star in my rating.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a chicklit read that has an entertaining, but sweet romance. Though I liked the ending of the book and felt like it could have been a standalone book, I am excited to read the sequel, PS I Still Love You. It just came out this week!

Top Ten Books I Read in 2014

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

These books are in no particular order. I only posted one book per author to avoid being repetitive, so there are some books that would be on this list but aren’t.

1. The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn #3)

book 3
book 3

I loved the entire Mistborn trilogy, but I have to hand it to the last book for tying everything together and finishing the series on an incredibly high note.

2. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

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This book redefined historical fiction for me. I literally cannot describe a moment in my life when I have gone from zero-to-sobbing to quickly as when I read this book (if you’ve read it, you know what scene I’m taking about).

3. Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (Raven Cycle #3)

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I love the Raven Cycle so much, and this book just added to the series’ amazingness. Stiefvater’s command of character portrayal is ridiculous.

4. Unbound by Victoria Schwab (The Archived #2)

This book managed to take my least favorite plot tropes (protagonist going insane, Big Bad coming back from “dead,” and protagonist being charged w/ murder) and make them into a book I loved. Major props to Schwab.

4. Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have) by Sarah Mlynowski

cover ten things we did

I always love books that renew my faith in the Chicklit genre. This book blew my (low) expectations to smithereens, delivering an emotionally-raw story of teenage mistakes.

5. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

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I have no idea what I was getting into when my mom suggested I read this book, but it was incredible. Mary’s story was emotionally powerful in a way I never used to think historical fiction could be. Also, now that I’m taking AP European History, I really know a specific part of Henry VIII’s life–so that’s a bonus.

6. The Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich (I can’t choose a specific book)

cover one for the money

These books are addictive. I love Stephanie and her messed up life. The series is hilarious and thought-provoking in equal measures. The romance is dramatic and ever-changing without being annoying.

7. More Than This by Patrick Ness

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Though this book is slow throughout, I could never put it down. Looking back on it, it is one of the most though-provoking and lasting books I read this year. Ness’s subtle writing created a plainspoken book that challenges some of society’s fundamental beliefs.

8. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (book 1)

book 1
book 1

I loved this entire series. It is adorable Chicklit done with incredible skill. If you need a cute romance story in your life, read these books.

9. Grave Mercy by Robin Lafevers (His Fair Assassin #1)

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Romance? Check. Awesome assassin heroines? Check. Me in love? Check.

10. Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

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I’m a huge Rachel Hawkins fan. Everything about this book worked for me, playing off my love for slightly ridiculous plots and awkwardly cute romance.