Tag: Balzer + Bray

Review: The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

Posted July 9, 2019 by Rowena in Reviews | 0 Comments

Review: The Rest of the Story by Sarah DessenReviewer: Rowena
The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: June 4, 2019
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Point-of-View: First
Content Warning: View Spoiler »
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 400
Add It: Goodreads
Reading Challenges: Rowena's 2019 GoodReads Challenge
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four-stars

Emma Saylor doesn’t remember a lot about her mother, who died when she was ten. But she does remember the stories her mom told her about the big lake that went on forever, with cold, clear water and mossy trees at the edges.

Now it’s just Emma and her dad, and life is good, if a little predictable…until Emma is unexpectedly sent to spend the summer with her mother’s family—her grandmother and cousins she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl.

When Emma arrives at North Lake, she realizes there are actually two very different communities there. Her mother grew up in working class North Lake, while her dad spent summers in the wealthier Lake North resort. The more time Emma spends there, the more it starts to feel like she is divided into two people as well. To her father, she is Emma. But to her new family, she is Saylor, the name her mother always called her.

Then there’s Roo, the boy who was her very best friend when she was little. Roo holds the key to her family’s history, and slowly, he helps her put the pieces together about her past. It’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of North Lake—and Saylor finds herself falling under Roo’s spell as well.

For Saylor, it’s like a whole new world is opening up to her. But when it’s time to go back home, which side of her will win out?

Sarah Dessen has always written such high-quality stories that I’m not at all surprised that I was engrossed in Saylor’s story from beginning to end. Emma Saylor lost her mother when she was ten years old and with the death of her mother, she lost contact with her mother’s side of the family. She doesn’t remember a lot about her mother’s family since her mother became estranged from them when she was little but she does remember stories her mother used to tell her about the North Lake and the life her mother had there before Saylor was born. When her father remarries and Saylor needs a place to crash while he goes on his honeymoon, she finds herself back in her mother’s world with a whole lot of questions. When we first meet Saylor, she’s Emma but everyone in her mother’s family calls her Saylor, just like her mother did when she was alive. This story is about how Emma became Saylor.

When Saylor gets to North Lake, she finds out that she had a giant family that she doesn’t remember and yet there are pictures floating around that prove that she was, very much, a part of this family. That she spent significant time with these people but she doesn’t remember very much. After years of being part of such a small family that consisted of her, her father and her grandmother and now her step-mother, being smack dab in the middle of so much family is overwhelming but I really loved seeing Emma grow into Saylor and just seeing her come into her own while getting to know the other side of her family.

I loved how she worked through learning about her mother. I loved seeing her develop relationships with people that were strangers to her when she first arrived at North Lake. I loved seeing her grow to care for every single person that she came into contact over the course of her stay there. I loved how by the end of the book, she had strong ties to her mother’s family and I really loved how they taught her how family is sometimes messy but family is family through thick and through thin.

Sarah Dessen never fails to write stories that hit me right in the gut. She writes these emotional journeys for her characters and I’m always right there with them. I enjoyed the love interest in this one a lot more than I did in the last book that I read by her and I’m already looking forward to her next release. Saylor and Roo were an adorable couple and I loved seeing them grow closer and closer each day that Saylor stayed in North Lake. There were times when I got really frustrated with Saylor’s Dad but even that is handled well and I definitely recommend this book to anyone wanting a sweet and emotional contemporary YA with charming characters and a main character that you’ll be cheering on from beginning to end. This book is good, you should read it.

Final Grade

4.25 out of 5

four-stars


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Guest Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Posted September 3, 2015 by Whitley B in Reviews | 0 Comments

2Whitley’s review of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

So, two things as I go into this review:

  • I am so not the target audience for this book.
  • I was grinning uncontrollably through the last 50 pages or so.

But everything before that point, I was just kind of shrugging along with an “okay.”

This book is a light, frothy, cutie-pie little slice-of-life romance about gay teenagers. Which, you know, great! Except every now and then the text would try to “say something” about bullying or coming out and it created this sort of weird dissonance for me. Because it was just too frothy for the heavy stuff it was brushing against, and I really wanted it to commit one way or the other.

Maybe if I had more emotional investment in the subject matter, it would be different. If I were approaching this with a lot of feelz, then the random profound lines would resonate and I’d be oohing and aahing. They were pretty good random lines. However, there were huge chunks of this novel where Simon continually and emphatically insisted that he had no feelings about a thing. He was forcibly outed to his whole school and he went out of his way to tell the reader that the bullying wasn’t so bad and he felt nothing about, right before he ripped into someone. Even before that, with the blackmailing plot, it was pretty lackluster. I just didn’t feel anything when the main character doesn’t care and there’s no tension.

But that’s all pertaining to the blackmailing “plot;” the rest of the book is Simon emailing his not-boyfriend and having teenaged-boy-thoughts, and you know what? It was just plain old cute. Honestly, I could read a whole book that’s just Simon and Blue’s emails. (A short one, but still.) There’s not a lot of tension, it’s just teens being teens and having interpersonal drama, but I really liked Simon’s relationship with his parents and a lot of the things said between them, and…how many ways are there to say “cute”?

In the end, I wouldn’t call this just astounding or say it lives up to the utter hype, but eh, I’m a girl that likes higher stakes in my books, so that’s just me. If you just want some low-key teens who over-use the word adorable, then it’s well worth the ticket price.

Rating: 3 out of 5

This title is available from Balzer + Bray.  You can purchase it here or here in e-format.


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Review: 99 Days by Katie Cotugno

Posted April 13, 2015 by Rowena in Reviews | 0 Comments

99 Days
Rowena’s review of 99 Days by Katie Cotugno.

Day 1: Julia Donnelly eggs my house my first night back in Star Lake, and that’s how I know everyone still remembers everything—how I destroyed my relationship with Patrick the night everything happened with his brother, Gabe. How I wrecked their whole family. Now I’m serving out my summer like a jail sentence: Just ninety-nine days till I can leave for college, and be done.

Day 4: A nasty note on my windshield makes it clear Julia isn’t finished. I’m expecting a fight when someone taps me on the shoulder, but it’s just Gabe, home from college and actually happy to see me. “For what it’s worth, Molly Barlow,” he says, “I’m really glad you’re back.”

Day 12: Gabe got me to come to this party, and I’m actually having fun. I think he’s about to kiss me—and that’s when I see Patrick. My Patrick, who’s supposed to be clear across the country. My Patrick, who’s never going to forgive me.

I’ve never read anything by Katie Cotugno before but this book sounded like it’d be a good read and I’ve read nothing but good things about the author online (on Goodreads mostly) so I went into this read pretty excited to read it. Plus, I really liked the cover so I was sucked right in.

This book follows Molly Barlow as she goes home for the summer before college starts (in 99 days). Molly is returning to the home where she’s an outcast. The outcast that cheated on her boyfriend with his brother. Everything wouldn’t have been such a huge deal if her author mother didn’t write about the whole ordeal in her next book that became a bestseller. Her boyfriend Patrick found out about it through the media and all hell broke loose.

Being back in town hasn’t been much fun for Molly. Her car has been egged, people have pointed and laughed at her and just made her life a living hell so she thought it’d be much easier to wait out the 99 days until she can leave home for college by hiding out in her room and watching documentaries on Netflix. The only person that has been remotely nice to her outside of her mother is her ex-boyfriend’s brother, Gabe. The guy she cheated on Patrick with. When she starts hanging out with Gabe again, she thinks that things aren’t that bad. But then Patrick comes back and things go to shit all over again.

99 days shouldn’t have been too long to keep it together, Molly. But holy cow, it was.

Molly’s character drove me bat shit crazy throughout this entire book. In the beginning, seeing the way that she was treated and feeling bad for the way things went down, I thought that Molly would make better decisions. I thought she would have learned her lesson that you can’t go around playing with people’s emotions but being young and dumb and completely real, Molly didn’t learn a damn thing. Watching history repeat itself when Patrick comes back to town made me so freaking mad.

It started off with so much promise too. Molly was remorseful for her actions. She never wanted to hurt anyone but shit happens and you live and learn, right?

Wrong.

In the end, I didn’t hate Molly but there were times while I was reading that I thought that I would. Parts of the book where I was so freaking frustrated that I would actually growl out loud. I adored Gabe and the way that he was with Molly. The way that he was mad that she got stuck with the blame for what went down that night. I loved that he was open and honest with Molly from the very beginning and when Patrick came back into the picture, it was Gabe that I felt bad for. It was Gabe that my heart felt for.

I know that Molly learned her lesson in the end but I didn’t really like how she was trying to make what happened the second time around on the two brothers fighting. I felt like she was trying to pass the buck and I wanted her to be genuinely sorry for her actions because a tiny part of me didn’t think she was. Her actions hurt so many more people than just Gabe and Patrick. She hurt Tess and Julia and Colleen. She wasn’t completely to blame for everything but I felt like she was trying not to accept her part in the whole mess and I wasn’t a real big fan of that.

I will say that this book was a compelling read. As frustrated as I got, I never thought to put it down. I never wanted to DNF the story. I just wanted Molly to wake up and stop being such a dummy. Eventually, she gets there but it took some time and I was glad that I finished it but still, she drove me nuts and in the end, I was still kind of low-key mad at her.

Grade: 2 out of 5

This book is available from Balzar + Bray. You can purchase it here or here in e-format. This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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Review: Tease by Amanda Maciel

Posted August 20, 2014 by Rowena in Reviews | 2 Comments

Rowena’s review of Tease by Amanda Maciel.

Emma Putnam is dead, and it’s all Sara Wharton’s fault.

At least, that’s what everyone seems to think. Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma’s shocking suicide. Now Sara is the one who’s ostracized, already guilty according to her peers, the community, and the media.

During the summer before her senior year, in between meetings with lawyers and a court-recommended therapist, Sara is forced to reflect on the events that brought her to this moment—and ultimately consider her role in an undeniable tragedy. And she’ll have to find a way to move forward, even when it feels like her own life is over.

In this powerful debut novel inspired by real-life events, Amanda Maciel weaves a narrative of high school life as complex and heartbreaking as it is familiar: a story of everyday jealousies and resentments, misunderstandings and desires. Tease is a thought-provoking must-read that will haunt readers long after the last page.

The minute I read the blurb for this story, I was interested in reading it because it was such a different premise.  All of the bully books that I’ve read to date have been told through the victim’s point of view so to finally get a book from the bully’s perspective? Yeah, I wanted to read it.

And then I started the book, and I stopped wanting to read it.  I had to stop reading the book far too many times because my emotions kept getting the best of me.  This book was not an easy book to read.  It was an extremely hard story to get through because the main character, Sara, one of the bullies who harassed a girl so much that she ended her life, was not a likable character.

She was completely selfish and while that’s understandable, being a teenager and all, it did nothing to make me connect with her at all. There were times when I would put the book down and tell myself that I would not be picking this book back up again but I always made a liar of myself because I wanted to see if Sara would wake up and realize that her actions and her hatefulness led Emma Putnam to do what she did.  And all over what? A freaking boy?  It was hugely disappointing to read chapter after chapter of Sara feeling sorry for herself.  Of reading Sara tell herself over and over again that she did nothing wrong, at the same time that we’re reading about her doing some pretty stupid and hurtful things to another girl.

One of the things that really pissed me off while reading this book was how Sara never really blamed Dylan for anything.  Her anger and resentment was for Emma, and Emma alone. Dylan was her boyfriend, not Emma.  Dylan cheated on Sara, not Emma.  It was a really bitchy thing for Emma to do but still, you don’t hold Emma accountable for Dylan’s actions.  And that’s the thing that pisses me off about teenagers in books like these, and I’ve seen it done in real life. Where the girl is always mad at the girl their boyfriend cheated on them with, but never really the boyfriend.

This is a really hard review to write because on one hand, I didn’t enjoy this book at all but on the other hand, it’s a book that I want my teenage daughter to read because I want her eyes to be opened to the right and wrong way to handle situations.  There are lessons to be taught by reading this book and in that aspect, it’s a book that people with teenage kids should read and a book that they should make their kids read.

Emma wasn’t perfect but she didn’t deserve the treatment that she received.  She didn’t deserve what Sara and her friends did and even though we see that Sara didn’t want to do a lot of what her friends were doing, she never stepped up and told them to stop.  And it is because of that, Emma killed herself.  Because they didn’t stop.  And if you don’t feel right about something, then you speak up and you say, “Stop.” I wish that Sara had been stronger.  The only person who seemed sorry about how everything turned out was Dylan.

I will say that this book has made me mighty curious to have Emma’s story.  To read her story and to see what she was going through, what really happened between her and Dylan.  Between her and Tyler.  I think that would be an interesting story to read.  But as for this book, it’s definitely not an easy story to read and the characters in the book do nothing to make you want to continue reading the book, but the story itself is powerful because it was about a bully dealing with the consequences of their actions.  Some people learned their lesson and some people didn’t. And really, that’s real life for you.

Grade: 2 out of 5

This book is available from Balzar + Bray. You can purchase it here or here in e-format. This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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Review: The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine

Posted June 3, 2014 by Rowena in Reviews | 0 Comments

Rowena’s review of The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine.

Wren Caswell is average. Ranked in the middle of her class at Sacred Heart, she’s not popular, but not a social misfit. Wren is the quiet, “good” girl who’s always done what she’s supposed to—only now in her junior year, this passive strategy is backfiring. She wants to change, but doesn’t know how.

Grayson Barrett was the king of St. Gabe’s. Star of the lacrosse team, top of his class, on a fast track to a brilliant future—until he was expelled for being a “term paper pimp.” Now Gray is in a downward spiral and needs to change, but doesn’t know how.

One fateful night their paths cross when Wren, working at her family’s Arthurian-themed catering hall, performs the Heimlich on Gray as he chokes on a cocktail weenie, saving his life literally and figuratively. What follows is the complicated, awkward, hilarious, and tender tale of two teens shedding their pasts, figuring out who they are—and falling in love.

This book sounded like a cute read and I’m always in the mood for cute so I requested this from Netgalley. As a whole, the story was cute but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would and that was due in large part to how crazy both Wren and Grayson drove me. Grayson with how dumb he was where Luke was concerned and Wren with the whole kissing Luke thing. The back and forth in Wren’s head drove me nuts because what the hell was that all about? I didn’t get it and because of that, I was annoyed with Wren.

So this book follows Wren and Grayson as they deal with where they are in their lives right now and also how they deal with their blossoming love.

Wren meets Grayson at a wedding that he’s attending at her family’s catering hall. He starts choking on some food and she gives him the Heimlich maneuver. She saves his life. Grayson is intrigued by the beauty that saved him. He wants to see her again so he does a little digging and shows up at her school. They don’t go to the same school. Wren goes to the all girls private school and Grayson goes to public school after he got kicked out of the all boys private school for being the term paper pimp.

They’re both smart kids and while I thought they fell in love a little too quickly, they’re teens and things happen quickly for teens, right? So I let that slide. What I really liked about the book is the easy way it read. It wasn’t hard to fall into the book and yeah, both Wren and Grayson made some decisions that made me want to smack them upside their heads but I liked Constantine’s writing style. The words kind of just fell together and painted a picture that was easy to fall into and the characters were charming enough that I cared. It wasn’t the most perfect story but it was still an enjoyable one and I’m not mad that I read it.

Grade: 3 out of 5

This book is available from Balzar + Bray.  You can purchase it here or here in e-format.  This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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