Summer Days and Summer Nights

A couple of years ago, I read My True Love Gave to Me, a collection of twelve holiday-themed love stories by popular YA authors. It was wonderful. So, when I found out that there would be another anthology, this one devoted to summer romances, I knew I had to read it. I did just that this week.

With authors like Leigh Bardugo, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Tim Federle, Stephanie Perkins, Veronica Roth, and others featured in Summer Days and Summer Nights, I figured that I would be getting some outstanding stories in this book. To a certain extent, I was right. Most of the stories were great. Would I describe all of them as love stories? Not really. Many of them had a certain romantic element in them, but, at least in my opinion, that wasn’t always the central focus of the story, and the whole romance thing worked better in some stories than in others. In a few, it felt kind of forced to me.

That being said, there were some stories that did stand out for me. The first, In Ninety Minutes, Turn North, comes to us from the anthology’s editor, Stephanie Perkins. In this story, we are reintroduced to the characters we first saw in Perkins’ contribution to My True Love Gave to Me, North and Marigold. The two have grown apart, and this tale brings them back together atop Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. This story is charming, funny, heart-breaking, and heart-warming, all at once. I honestly think this is the strongest–and most romantic–of all the stories in this book.

I also enjoyed Libba Bray’s story, Last Stand at the Cinegore. I think that this one is more of a horror story with a bit of romance thrown in. This tale brings us some teenagers, Kevin, Dani, and Dave, working in a horror movie house, and they’re showing a movie that is allegedly cursed. Well, that whole “allegedly” thing is about to be proven to be absolutely true. As it turns out, this movie is a portal to Hell, and Kevin and Dani (with an assist from Dave) have to figure out how to stop the madness this movie is creating while dealing with their own budding romance.

Finally–and this will shock no one–I liked Cassandra Clare’s contribution, Brand New Attraction. It like Bray’s story, is a horror/love story. It focuses on Lulu, a girl trying to keep her father’s dark carnival going. Things are about to go belly up when her Uncle Walter and his stepson, Lucas, come along to–apparently–save the day. But Walter’s plans take the carnival from dark to downright evil, and it’s up to Lulu and Lucas to figure out what’s going on and save the day.

The three stories mentioned above may be my favorites, but most of the others are good in their own right. There’s a nice mix of gay and straight relationships featured, we encounter characters from many different backgrounds, several genres are represented, and nothing is especially graphic. I can honestly say I’m relatively happy with all of the stories…except one. Francesca Lia Block’s story, Sick Pleasure, is, in my opinion, pretty far from a love story. I guess it stays true to its title, though, since it left me feeling kind of sick at the end.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the stories in this anthology. Am I way off base in my feelings on Block’s story? What are your favorites and why? And what do you think makes a good love story? Let me know in the comments!

You Know Me Well

Last night, I finished reading You Know Me Well by David Levithan and Nina LaCour. This beautiful book is, at its heart, a story about first loves, first heartbreaks, and being true to oneself…even if that means stepping away from expectations.

It’s amazing that a person’s life can change almost instantly, but that’s what happens to both Mark and Kate. Before that fateful night in a San Francisco club, these two kids had barely spoken. They’d passed each other in the hall, but that’s where their interaction ended. How could they have known that they would grow so close in the span of one night?

Kate, who is running away from a potentially momentous encounter with a girl she’s loved from afar, arrives at the club not really knowing what she’s doing there or why she needs to escape what she’s wanted for so long. Mark, for his part, is at the club with Ryan, his best friend and the boy he’s loved for what feels like forever. Mark’s beginning to realize, however, that Ryan may not feel the same.

After a freeing but out-of-character bar-top dance, Mark realizes that he knows the girl across the club, and he makes his way over to Kate. Both of them need a friend in that moment, and that moment becomes something that will carry both of them through the days ahead.

The two new friends will go through an odd but eventful night at some rich guy’s mansion. Through Kate’s splash into the San Francisco art scene. Through Kate’s meeting with Violet, the girl who could be The One. Through Mark’s confrontation with Ryan. Through so much more that will change how they see themselves, their relationships, and their futures.


This book fills a void in many library collections. Gay and lesbian teens don’t see a lot of love stories reflecting their experiences, and You Know Me Well definitely delivers on that front. But this book is so much more than a love story for LGBTQ teens. It’s a love story. Full stop. Now, that love isn’t always romantic, but who says it has to be? Yes, large parts of the book deal with romantic love, but it also focuses on love between friends, old and new, and learning to love oneself, faults and all. That’s huge.

Anyone–gay, straight, however one identifies–will be able to relate to the pain, anguish, confusion, and joy presented in this book. Many readers have experienced unrequited love. Many have felt they didn’t deserve good things that happened to them. Many have had to deal with changing friendships and breaking free of the expectations others have for them.

In short, You Know Me Well, is a book that belongs in all library collections that serve young adults. It’s at once heartbreaking and hopeful, and it is sure to resonate with teen readers who can all-too-easily see themselves in these thoroughly relatable characters and situations.

For more information on You Know Me Well and other books by Nina LaCour and David Levithan, visit Nina LaCour’s website, Twitter feed, or Facebook page, and David Levithan’s website, Twitter, or Facebook page.

I truly hope you find this book as wonderful as I do!

Die Once More

Caution! If you haven’t read every story in Amy Plum’s Revenants series–Die for Me, Until I Die, Die for Her (an ebook novella), and If I Should Dieturn back now! I’d hate to ruin this magnificent series for you…but I will.

If you’re still with me, I assume you’re caught up on all things Revenant. Today, I’ll be taking a quick look at the second novella in this series, Die Once More. This story, like Die For Her, is told from Jules’ perspective. It takes place just after the events of If I Should Die, which essentially wrapped up what was happening with the Revenants in Paris.

*For those of you who failed to heed my warning above and are still reading this, Revenants are less creepy versions of zombies. Good Revenants, or bardia, originally died saving another’s life and are reborn to continue that cycle for eternity. Bad Revenants, or numa, gain power through killing others or convincing others to kill themselves. There’s a bit more to it than this simplistic explanation, but this will have to do for now.*

Jules Marchenoir has left everything he loves behind. His country. His best friend, Vincent. And Kate, new Champion of the bardia, his best friend’s girlfriend…and the girl who stole Jules’ heart. It’s just too painful to be in the same city as Kate and Vincent, so Jules crosses the Atlantic and joins up with the Revenants in New York.

Almost immediately, Jules is struck by how the bardia of New York compare to those in Paris. Thought there are many more Revenants here than there were in France, things seem to be very efficient here. That’s thanks largely to Ava Whitefoot, a striking woman who seems to loathe Jules on sight.

Jules knows he’s never met Ava in his many years as a bardia, so he doesn’t understand why she dislikes him so much. Soon, however, both people will have to put any animosity aside as they work to take down the building numa threat in New York. The numa in France may have been defeated, but those in New York are gaining strength every day.

In a story that takes us from the streets of Brooklyn to the boulevards of Paris, Jules and Ava will learn much about what makes each other tick, and they’ll discover that first impressions may just be deceiving.

Will Ava be able to look past Jules’ womanizing reputation and see the man he is trying to become? Will Jules be able to support Ava when she needs it the most? Can these two bardia find a way to become friends–or more–with the numa threat and a new challenge facing them? Read Die Once More to find out!

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I know Die Once More is focused on Jules and his developing relationship with Ava, but I must admit that I would have liked to see a little more action at the end. We’re told that there’s this big battle with the numa, but we don’t see the actual battle. That was kind of disappointing.

Other than that one complaint, I did enjoy this quick read. I liked Jules immensely in the previous stories, so (SPOILERS!) I enjoyed seeing him begin to get over Kate, reunite with his brethren, and find a partner of his own. I also appreciated seeing familiar, loved characters from the original trilogy and how they were faring post-battle. Hopefully, we haven’t seen the last of the bardia (in either Paris or New York).

If you’d like to learn a bit more about this series as a whole, I encourage you to check out my reviews linked above. You may also want to visit Amy Plum’s website.

Au revoir!

My True Love Gave to Me

When I heard the author lineup for My True Love Gave to Me, an anthology of YA holiday stories, I immediately knew that I would have to read what I was sure would be an outstanding collection. With favorite authors like Ally Carter, Gayle Forman, David Levithan, Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, Laini Taylor, and Kiersten White–among others–contributing short stories, I was hooked before I even started reading. And when I didn’t think anything was ever going to get me in the holiday spirit this year (Humbug!), this book managed to fill me with a bit of cheer.

My True Love Gave to Me is a collection of twelve holiday stories that kind of touch on everything: New Year’s, winter solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, and even Krampuslauf (something I’d never heard of before). There’s really something for everyone (except Festivus for the rest of us), and I think this would be a perfect gift for any teen reader…or adult reader who loves YA lit.

Now, I’m not going to go through each and every story here. That would take forever, and, honestly, it would probably spoil a couple of the stories for you. Instead, I’ll briefly highlight a few of my favorite stories from this collection.

My favorite story in the collection comes from the book’s editor herself, Stephanie Perkins. Her story is titled “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown.” This short story, like Perkins’ longer works, introduces readers to a true gem of a guy. North Drummond, like Étienne St. Clair, Cricket Bell, and Josh Wasserstein, is almost too good to be true, but that just makes me–and Marigold, his “love interest”–adore him more. He seems to really “get” Marigold, even though her life is less than traditional. He works to make her world a better one after knowing her only a short while. Every girl should be so lucky. (I’m militantly single, and even I felt my cold heart melting for North.) If you enjoyed Stephanie Perkins’ enchanting novels, you’ll likely feel the same way about this lovely story.

One of my other top picks from this collection was “Midnights” by Rainbow Rowell. (If you follow this blog at all, this should come as no surprise.) This story involves two best friends who seem to just miss being together at midnight each New Year’s Eve. This year, though, things might just be a little different. (Since this is essentially a YA holiday romance anthology, you can probably guess what will happen. Even so, the story is heart-warming and brings on the feels.)

Finally, I have to talk a bit about “Star of Bethlehem” by Ally Carter. This was the only story in the book that actually made me cry. The basic premise is this: Mysterious girl exchanges plane tickets with someone else, pretends to be someone she’s not (in order to hide from her own life), gets found out, and ultimately finds something she never knew she needed. Such a moving story that I had to grab a couple of tissues. There was a romantic element to this one, but, at least for me, this particular story was about the love that can be found with friends, family (not always blood relatives), and people who deeply care about what’s really best for those they love.

Those were just three of the stories that really spoke to me. Truthfully, there’s not a stinker in the bunch, and every story resonated with me in some way.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Krampuslauf, or no holiday at all, this collection is an outstanding, moving, entertaining read for anyone who believes in the power of love…in all of its many forms.

Isla and the Happily Ever After

For the past couple of years, I’ve been impatiently waiting to read Stephanie Perkins’ latest, Isla and the Happily Ever After. Finally–FINALLY–I got my chance this week. My signed copy of the book (along with some lovely swag) arrived last weekend, and I read it during my limited spare time this week. (School resumed for teachers in my district this week, so “limited” is the perfect way to describe my time of late.)

Just like Perkins’ previous books, Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, Isla and the Happily Ever After was outstanding. I loved the characters, how they interacted with each other, how they grew throughout the story, and how they connected with characters in the preceding books. I cannot say enough good things about this book. It was so worth the wait, and part of me wants to find Stephanie Perkins and give her a hug for creating such memorable and lovable characters. (A bigger part of me, though, shies away from human contact, so Ms. Perkins has no worries about random embraces from strangers. At least none from me.)

Isla Martin has been in love with Josh Wasserstein since the start of their freshman year at the School of America in Paris. Fast forward to senior year, and it seems that Isla may finally have a chance at being with the guy who’s always seemed out of her reach.

After a rather odd encounter in Manhattan over the summer, the two finally reunite at school, but Isla can’t get over her nervousness around Josh, and it looks like Josh is trying to keep his distance. Trying…but not succeeding. Isla and Josh are growing closer, and when Isla clears up a misunderstanding that was keeping Josh away, they’re finally able to start the relationship that both of them so desperately want.

Isla and Josh become nearly inseparable, and they want to spend every spare minute together. Sometimes it’s as simple as being in the same room–Josh sketching or working on his graphic novel, Isla studying or reading–but being together is what’s important. They explore their favorite spots in Paris. They learn all the important little things about each other. And during one memorable, romantic weekend, Isla and Josh break all the rules and journey to Barcelona to take in a few sites. It’s this weekend, though, that ultimately tests how strong their love really is.

When Isla and Josh return to Paris, they realize that their impulsive actions have devastating consequences. Josh is taken away from school and Isla, and this heart-breaking separation takes its toll on the couple’s burgeoning relationship.

The more time they spend apart, the more Isla begins to doubt if Josh’s feelings for her are real. She knows she loves him, but what does he really see in her? Why would he want to be with someone who doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life? Is she just a placeholder for his ex-girlfriend and all of his friends that have moved on? Isla just doesn’t know, and her doubts soon lead to an epic confrontation that may destroy any hope of a future with Josh.

Can Isla wade through her doubts and finally learn to trust in Josh’s love? Does Josh even want to be with her after everything they’ve been through and said to each other? Is there any hope of a happily ever after for Isla and Josh? Only one way to find out…

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I love this book so hard. I have zero complaints, and people who know me realize how rare that is. I think every girl (or guy) who reads this will absolutely fall in love with Josh. Many readers will likely identify with Isla and her deep-seated–and often unfounded–insecurities. Everyone will root for Isla and Josh to make it. Adult readers will probably want to go back and relive their teen years in the hopes of finding–or reliving–a love like the one we see between Isla and Josh.

After reading Anna, Lola, and Isla, I have to say that I will read anything that Stephanie Perkins cares to write. (I already follow her blog and Twitter, so I think I’m good to go there.) This lady is a master of YA romance, and I recommend her to every teen and adult reader who likes a good love story. I am eagerly anticipating her next book, and I can’t wait to see what she contributes to the upcoming anthology, My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories.

If you’d like to learn more about the fabulous Stephanie Perkins and her equally fabulous books, check out her website, Twitter, or Tumblr.

*Note: As much as I adore Isla and the Happily Ever After, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a small warning to librarians, teachers, and parents. This is a book for teen and adult readers. Isla and Josh are characters in a serious relationship, and their relationship follows a fairly natural progression. There are a couple of sexual situations, but they are not terribly gratuitous. Even so, I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending this book to middle grade readers.*

Attachments

Well, it’s been quite the week. After an unexpected winter vacation, it was very difficult to get back into the swing of things at work. Add to that a colossally bad mood, and my reading just wasn’t what it should have been this week. Today, though, I think I finally got out of my funk. At the very least, my urge to read returned, and I was able to finish reading Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, who is quickly becoming one of my absolute favorite authors. Now, unlike Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, Attachments can’t really be considered YA fiction. I would classify it simply as realistic, romantic fiction, but even the romance is somewhat understated.

Attachments begins in a newspaper office in 1999. Lincoln O’Neill has been hired as an Internet security officer, which basically means he gets paid to read “flagged” emails. You know what I’m talking about–dirty jokes, sexist remarks, profanity, pornography, etc. (Man, I would rock that job. I’m nosy, but I really don’t like interacting with a lot of people.) Well, with most people aware that Big Brother is watching, Lincoln’s job tends to be rather boring…until he gets sucked into the emails between Beth and Jennifer.

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder spend a lot of company time emailing each other. They talk about their relationships, their jobs, their pasts, and just the day-to-day minutiae of their lives…and Lincoln is enthralled by these conversations. Yes, he should probably send them a warning to stop using company email for personal communication, but he can’t make himself do that. That would mean cutting ties with these two women he’s never met but who make his work hours more that just finding something to occupy his time.

As Lincoln learns more and more about Beth and Jennifer, he also seeks to improve himself. He examines his past relationships, his current living situation (still with his mom), his friendships, and his own health. Why, you ask? Well, a lot of it has to do with his desire to be ready when/if he ever meets Beth. You see, as he’s read about her life, he’s developed feelings for her. And when he finally sees her in passing, those feelings grow stronger. (No, he’s still never actually spoken to her.)

Beth, on the other hand, is dealing with her own stuff. She’s been in a committed relationship for a long time, but she’s starting to realize that it may not be the best thing for her. She is kind of obsessed with an unnamed Cute Guy at work (who happens to be Lincoln). At the same time, she’s got her own issues with family and friends.

Can these two crazy kids find their way to each other? What obstacles will get in their way? If they do get together, is there a way to get past their secret obsessions with each other? (I mean, it would be kind of hard to say, “Honey, before we started dating, I was secretly reading your personal emails to your best friend for months. We’re good, though, right?”) What will happen with Lincoln and Beth? Dive in to Attachments, and find out!

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Like Rowell’s other two books, I thoroughly enjoyed Attachments. The characters felt real to me, and I could see so much of myself and my friends, not just in Lincoln and Beth, but in the motley assortment of supporting characters as well.

Some YA readers may be drawn to this book just because of the author, and, to a certain extent, I think that’s okay. Like I said before, though, this is not a work of YA fiction. It addresses some situations that many teenagers just haven’t had to face yet–workplace politics, what happens to adults after college (moving out vs. moving in with parents), being unhappy with a chosen career path, deciding whether or not to have a baby and what happens when that choice is taken out of a person’s hands, and choosing to end unhealthy relationships. (At least, I hope most teenagers haven’t had to deal with this stuff.) I think this book is best approached by readers who have a bit of life experience and who can truly empathize with and relate to the struggles of the main characters.

This Is What Happy Looks Like

I love snow days. I’m not terribly fond of having to make them up later, but I’d wager most educators get just as excited as their students when the white stuff starts falling. And if you happen to be in the south, it’s a much bigger deal than almost anywhere else in the U.S. Snow has been falling here in Upstate South Carolina since yesterday morning, and estimates indicate that we could see nearly a foot before it’s over. I haven’t seen snow like this since I was eight years old, and, while I have no desire to go out and play in the snow, I am experiencing my own brand of fun while I’m out of school. That fun involves Netflix, sleeping, and, of course, lots of reading.

Yesterday, I finished reading Jennifer E. Smith’s This Is What Happy Looks Like. I had high hopes for this book after reading The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight a couple of years ago, and, to a certain extent, my expectations were met.  This is a love story that throws a few obstacles in the paths of our two main characters, Graham and Ellie. They have to overcome a great deal just to be together, and, even at the end, it’s not exactly clear that things will work out. Some situations in this book are resolved way too neatly, but the romance between Graham and Ellie still feels somewhat tenuous at the book’s conclusion. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Everything begins because of a typo. One teeny mistake, and two young people begin emailing each other, not knowing who they are really talking to. There is a certain freedom in that–a freedom to express things that are too often kept inside. But, as is often the case, this “freedom” can’t last, especially when one person decides to take things to the next level…

Graham Larkin is Hollywood’s latest teen heartthrob. He’s hounded by the paparazzi, he feels alone most of the time, and his manager wants to set him up with his latest costar. All Graham wants to do, though, is find a way to connect to the girl he’s been emailing, Ellie, and his status as a star may just help him do that. He suggests Henley, Maine, as a location for shooting his new film. What he tells no one is that Henley is where Ellie lives. Not even Ellie, a girl he’s never actually met, knows he’s coming. Will she be glad to finally meet him? Will she be awed by his celebrity status? Or will he get a different reaction altogether?

Ellie O’Neill never thought that the guy she’d been emailing could be the one and only Graham Larkin, and she’s totally unprepared when he suddenly shows up in her life. Almost immediately, he sends her entire world into a tailspin. Things aren’t as easy as they were when they were just two teenagers on opposite sides of the country. Now that Graham is in Henley and wants to pursue some kind of relationship, things are getting messy. Her best friend gets upset because Ellie’s been keeping secrets. Ellie’s mom fears the media circus that could surround them all if this relationship with Graham continues. And it seems that Ellie’s mom has good reason for her fears…

Ellie and her mom have been keeping a pretty big secret–a secret that could have a huge impact on the life they’ve built in Maine. Graham doesn’t want to do anything to make Ellie or her mom uncomfortable, but he may not have a choice in the matter.  In Graham’s world, secrets have a way of being revealed no matter what. Are Graham and Ellie strong enough to handle the fallout when their relationship–and Ellie’s secrets–go public?

In their quest for love and happiness, Graham and Ellie will have to decide what’s really important to them. Is it the glitz and glamour of Hollywood? The simplicity of a quiet life in Maine? Or is it being true to themselves and doing whatever they can to make a go of this rather unlikely relationship? I’ll leave that for you to discover…

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This Is What Happy Looks Like is a fun, light read that I think would be fine for middle grade and young adult readers alike. It might be a hard sell for male readers, but it’s an entertaining read no matter what.

Like I said before, it’s a little too neat in places, but the ending kind of leaves things open. This might be a great opportunity for someone to try his/her hand with a bit of fanfiction. How do things play out for Graham and Ellie after the novel is over? I have my own ideas about this, but I’d love to read some other possible endings.

If you’d like more information on this book or others by Jennifer E. Smith, check out the author’s website at http://www.jenniferesmith.com/. Enjoy!