A Short History of the Girl Next Door – Review

“I am completely in love with my best friend from childhood, she has absolutely no idea, and now she’s interested in older, more popular guys. This sounds like a bad movie already.”

A Short History of the Girl Next Door starts with Matt Wainwright catching us up on his lifelong friendship with Tabby, the girl next door, and how he went from being her best friend to being in love with her.

The first half of the book is very funny. This is very typical come of age YA, told from the perspective of a teenage boy. The internal observations and dialogue veer from quite insightful to highly inappropriate. To me, this made Matt feel like a very real adolescent boy.

Instead of being in friends with the beautiful popular girl while he himself is an awkward geek, Matt instead is just a normal freshman jock. He plays basketball, and while he is awkward and strange, Reck writes him in that normal freshman awkwardness that most of us probably remember feeling and being. Which I really liked. Because this isn’t a typical unrequited love story. It is something far better.

We meet his younger brother Murray, an adorable four year old that you can’t help but smile at in nearly every scene. His grandparents and his parents. There is nothing dysfunctional or odd, other than normal quirky human personalities. And Tabby. Who is as much a part of this family as anyone.

It is the second half of this novel that we get hit in the gut with tragedy. An accident shifts everything for Matt, and his story changes into one of grief. How powerful and overwhelming it can be. How it shifts your perspective on everything in life. And how it can be so deep, that it changes who you are.

This isn’t a normal come of age tale. This isn’t a story about a boy loving a girl. This really is a novel about the power of family and love. About how growing up can mean facing some of the hardest things, about how out of control life can be, and what we can do in the face of helplessness.

The thing I like about this novel is that while the point of the plot is grief, Reck doesn’t take the easy road. He doesn’t hold back in how he portrays Matt. Matt makes some really strange decisions. And behaves from the moment of the accident rather badly most of the time. As a mother, and someone far outside of adolescence, seeing these decisions is even a bit more heartbreaking, because you can see what’s happening and understand it. But it is an unflinching dive into those emotions that is so stunning. There is no right way to grieve, and there is no easy answer. These are important lessons and Reck writes them so vividly, it’s impossible not to be moved.

Outside of the grief, there are some fantastic lessons about life written in these pages. One observation that struck me was about locker room talk. We see it, and hear it. We get to read Matt’s reaction to it, how he wishes he reacted, how he actually did react. But, Reck takes us even further and discusses the implications of that talk.

“They’re automatically going to see Tabby differently. Even if it’s just a dumb joke. Every time one of them sees her, that though is going to pop into his head. And he’s going to wonder. I’m doing it right now, and I hate myself for it. Meanwhile, the flawless perception of Branson goes unchanged.”

I mean, can we all just take a moment and stop to really examine the profound truth of that excerpt. And not just the truth behind it, but the fact that it’s in a YA novel, from a teenage male perspective? This is such a phenomenal message.

There is more in these pages. Observations on friendship, family, love, growth, competition and forgiveness. This is a book that should be introduced to teenagers and talked about with them. It isn’t a book of cliche moments and happy endings. Rather it is an honest look at what life can hand us at any given moment. It is about how we recover from the bad decisions we make. How we ask for forgiveness when we hurt the people we love, and how we forgive ourselves.

The Short History of a Girl Next Door is a powerful book. It is one worth taking the journey into, especially if you know or are an adolescent facing grief in any capacity. It is a book that can help you grow and can help you learn. Highly, highly recommend it. Just make sure you have a box if tissues nearby.

Thank you Blogging for Books and Knopf books for sending me a copy to read and review!

Learning To Fall – Review

“As if conjuring my dream, the earth shook.”

The opening line of Learning To Fall reads as an omen. The earth shook and then Brynn’s world shook, leaving her to desperately try to hold on to everything she has ever known and loved.

Learning To Fall is a stunning debut novel that sweeps you into the world of horse show jumping. But to say that this is just a book about show horses is selling this exceptional book short. This book is about finding yourself when life seems determined to rip you apart.

Brynn Seymour is months away from graduating from a national prestigious veterinary program. She is focused on being able to provide a stable life for herself, and more importantly, her family. Horses have been in her blood, but her father’s dreams of winning the illustrious Million Dollar Gold Cup have always felt more like dreams than reality.

The day the earth shook, Brynn lost her father in an accident. With that loss, came the reality that his dreams were built on a far shakier foundation than she ever imagined possible. Now, she struggles to go to school, run the family business and desperately try to keep the ranch from being auctioned off piece by piece.

But the world of show horses is cutthroat, and as her competition begins poaching clients from her, Brynn realizes the only answer is to go after her father’s dreams herself. With the help of champion, Jason Lander, Brynn has to learn to let everything fall away before she can build back up.

“It’s not about losing control, it’s about giving up control. There is a difference.”

Clermont brings this competitive world into such vivid life, you feel as if you are there. Brynn is a very believable and real character. Even if you aren’t fighting to keep your family’s ranch out of debt, I think many women will relate to her. She isn’t just facing the outside pressure of her family’s financial situation. She’s also facing the internal fight over who she is and what direction she wants her life to go in. Show jumping may have been her father’s dream, but Brynn has to examine if it really is her dream as well.

Anyone who loves animals, and particularly horses, will enjoy reading this book. Clermont brings the horses to life as much as she does the people in her writing. Jett is one of my favorite characters, and though he can’t speak, (he is a horse after all), you can feel the warmth of his eyes, the softness of his ears, and the strength of his muscles in every scene he is in. You feel his pain, his calm, his joy. It isn’t just Jett that Clermont does this with, but every horse she mentions. They are as unique and identifiable as any other side character in the book and give the plot a much richer texture.

“Jett stared at me, his liquid eyes spoke of knowing, of understanding, a bond we’d shared for years. He didn’t care about his mane. What mattered was this. This unspoken love. If horses could smile, he’d be smiling now.”

The messages written into the plot are fantastic. Examinations of how fear holds us back in life, forces us to make decisions that continue to drive negativity into our lives. How we can let fear take over our lives completely if we let it. There’s a look at how to be yourself in a world that demands conformity. Of how difficult it is to do the right thing when bending rules and sliding by could yield greater short term results. It’s a much more difficult thing to stay true to yourself and what you believe.

Within these pages is a look at life and loss, love and heartbreak, forgiveness and guilt. This is a book that fully captures the essence of life, and the struggle that we all face in some form or another throughout our lives. We all have to face the idea of who we are versus who we want to be. Who we think we love versus who we really love. What love means, both in familial terms and romantic ones. And what we’re willing to accept, from others, from ourselves.

Learning To Fall is a title that wraps up so many ideas within three little words. Brynn must learn to fall in so many ways. She must learn to fall into the unknown, fall in love, fall off a horse, and simply fall into the current that is life.

“Accidents happen. We try, we stumble, sometimes literally. It’s part of life, to have problems and challenges, to deal with them and move on. We’ll never have no problems. Only new ones.”

This book will transport you. I read it in less than a day, the pages simply flying by. Each character is written to be complex, contributing to the plot but also giving it the same richness that people in our lives gives us. We never live life alone, and decisions or their consequences are rarely made in a vacuum. Clermont captures those layers in these pages. I ended the book feeling as if I were there, cheering, holding my breath, laughing and crying with them.

If you love stories about finding who you are, stories that mimic life in all the difficult and real ways, this book is for you. If you love horses or animals and enjoy a story where the animals are as much a heart of the book as the people, this book is for you. Whether you are familiar with the world of show jumping or not, by the end, you won’t be able to help falling in love with Brynn, Jason and of course, with Jett.

Thank you BookSparks for sending me this book to read and review!

The Bad Dream Notebook – Review

“That’s what Americans are supposed to do. There’s no excuse for hanging on to negative emotions in this country.”

The Bad Dream Notebook is a novel about grief, loss, addiction and recovery. Erica Mason just lost her husband. Her daughter Mona just lost her dad. Chronic back pain turned out to be terminal cancer.

The book starts after John’s death, with Erica doing community service. Except, it isn’t her crimes she’s doing penance for. It’s Mona’s.

From the beginning, we get the sense of grief Erica is under. Her grief is not just for her husband. But for the daughter she lost as well. Mona is alive and kicking, but addiction has taken her away from Erica nonetheless.

“Living with an addicted child is a form of warfare leading almost inevitably to some form of PTSD.”

Its difficult for Erica to simply grieve for John. She feels guilty for the days leading to his death, as most people struggling with long-term illness do. Did she do enough? Did she make the right decisions?

Those emotions alone would be difficult enough to deal with. But you add in her daughter’s spiraling addiction, which triggers it’s own whirlwind of guilt and grief, and Erica is struggling to keep herself together.

“If one more person asked how she was feeling these blank, black days, she fantasized about turning on them like a wild animal, screaming.”

All of these emotions weigh heavily on Erica, and since she struggles to deal with them consciously, her subconscious takes over. In order to make sense of her dreams, she begins to keep a notebook. Sometimes written descriptions, sometimes fast sketches, but she keeps them in order to make sense of them.

We get the book not just through Erica’s memories and perspective, but we also get a few chapters via Mona. The transition from memory to present is a little jarring at times, and I did find myself having to backtrack and reread to figure out the timeline quite a few times. It could have been written that way deliberately, as a way to show the erratic nature of Erica’s mind and how seamlessly she slipped into memory versus staying in the present. If so, it does give us the jarring effect of how living with the stress of illness, both John’s cancer and Mona’s addiction can wreak havoc on everyone in the house.

We get a very really sense of the difficulty in having an addicted child. Erica displays very codependent behaviors. Some of these are surprising given her own experiences with addiction, but perhaps not so surprising. Mona is her only child. After losing her husband, the fear of losing her child and really becoming alone must feel so big and terrifying to Erica.

“That’s my girl. Mona Grey, their, liar, unemployed – unemployable – dropout, skin-and-bones nightmare of a daughter. Who I produced. My fault. My misery. My little girl.”

It’s true that both an addict and the people that surround them need to hit rock bottom before change happens. Dahl takes us through how bad life can get before that bottom is hit. For both Erica and for Mona. Because it isn’t just the addict that addiction impacts. It effects everyone around them. Dahl captures the horror and helplessness that fuels both of their negative spiraling emotions.

The Bad Dream Notebook is a very raw, emotional journey into the pain that many people struggle with every day. At times infuriating, at times heartbreaking, Dahl doesn’t try to sugar coat the emotions or decisions that both Erica and Mona make.

I did like how each chapter gave us a glimpse into some of the dreams that both Erica and Mona had. They are brief and give us more a feel of the nightmares rather than the details, which I really liked, since that’s how most people remember their dreams. In snippets and snapshots.

This book may be difficult for people who have either struggled with addition, or known someone close who has struggled. It may also be hard if you’re going through any kind of grief. But, this is a book that may also help examine your own internal thoughts and feelings. Sometimes reading a similar experience can help us not feel so alone.

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review as part of FRC 2017!

The Reminders – Review

“That’s how it is with people’s brains. There’s only enough room for the most important memories and the rest gets thrown away.”

Joan Lennon Sully is a ten year old girl, normal in every way except one. She was born with a rare ability to remember most days of her life. It isn’t photographic memory where she can recall every little thing. But most memories and days are as easy to recall in her mind as playing a video on YouTube. Her dad is a musician and her mom is a teacher, and to Joan, nothing is more important than writing a song so that the world remembers her the way she remembers the world. That and saving the family studio.

Gavin Winters is a long-time family friend to the Sully family. When tragedy strikes his partner, all Gavin wants to do is burn everything that reminds him of Sydney. So he does. In the backyard. In front of the entire country.

Needing an escape, he flees across the country and finds refuge with the Sully’s. But refuge isn’t exactly what Gavin thought it would be. Because he finds that while he wants nothing more than to forget everything about Sydney, he also can’t stand how much he misses him. So when Joan offers him a bargain, her memories for his song-writing help, an alliance is born.

“And I hardly noticed that somewhere along the line, I had adopted a trusted sidekick.”

I cannot capture how much I loved this novel. It is so sweet and heartfelt and genuine. I was moved to tears multiple times by the raw honesty that Emmich captures in his characters. Parents struggling to find their way, not just as parents but as adults moving through their careers and life. A little girl trying to figure out how to fit in when her ability makes it so hard. And a man, struggling through the pain and heartache of grief, so intense you feel the loss of his partner in every page.

As Gavin relives each Sydney experience through Joan, he also faces a hard truth. What if his quest for more uncovers something he doesn’t want to know? Grief takes us on strange journeys. We want to relive our memories, and hear everything everyone has to say. But at the same time, we want to close that piece of ourselves off, because it’s too painful, too big, too hard.

“He seldom opened his mouth at home and yet he managed to take so much sound with him when he died.”

People in our lives leave so much more than a physical absence when they die. They close the door to possibility. This sentence to me is so bittersweet and beautiful, because it captures that gaping hole and the silent slam of that door. No more will he walk in the room, or answer the phone, or snore. The emptiness isn’t only emotional, it’s visceral and physical and real.

But rather than end up with a novel that is heavy with grief, Emmich added Joan. Her chapters are full of the vibrancy that a ten year child would have. She is smart and capable and so funny.

“I’m learning that when Gavin says something nice, there’s always something else that comes after it, so I think from now on, I need to listen to only the first thing he says and then quickly run out of the room.”

Her sharp observations about what adults do will have you laughing, not just at her, but often at yourself. It is this exact vibrancy that Gavin sees and can’t stay away from. She is his gateway to a view of Sydney no one else can give him, but she is also a window into the world beyond grief. She helps bring him back to life and reminds him that life does go on.

The blend between aching grief and lighthearted tenderness is so well done. Everything is this book is so raw and honest, and yet written in such a way that you find yourself smiling throughout, even in the hardest moments.

My other favorite thing about this book is that it isn’t cynical or bitter. That isn’t to say that Emmich doesn’t dive into some deep topics, or that he shies away from exploring heavy emotion. But it is so well balanced that you don’t feel burdened or bought down by it. After reading several thrillers, this book was exactly what I needed, and I am so happy I got to know Joan and Gavin.

Ok, so I lied, I actually have another favorite thing: the music. Watching the lyrics to the song Gavin and Joan write together was amazing to read. And to get the different perspectives and thoughts on music and how it impacts our lives was so interesting.

Gavin’s struggle is one that is more relatable on the surface, grief has impacted us all on some level in our lives. But even Joan is written so well that her struggles becomes easy to identify with as well. Joan’s memory makes her stand apart, and while people think that she’s special, this ability actually makes her life difficult. She takes memory incredibly personally and gets frustrated that people don’t remember things as vividly as she does, if they remember the event at all. And this is what makes music so important to Joan. The fact that it makes people memorable. It’s long lasting and survives the frailty of people’s memories.

“To win the contest I’ll need a song that make people want to dance or cry. Those are the two strongest feelings music can give you. When people dance they forget and when they cry they remember.”

She is terrified that she’ll be forgotten, and to her, that is the worst fate.

The author, Val Emmich, is actually a musician, and you can feel and hear that throughout the novel. He even wrote the actual song that Gavin and Joan write. If you listen to the audio version, you get to hear it. And no worries! If audio books aren’t your thing, you can find it HERE Listening to the song makes the book come alive in such a beautiful way, I encourage everyone to listen after they’ve finished!

This was easily the most beautiful book I’ve read in 2017. It is tender and loving and so full of life, these adjectives simply can’t do it justice. I really think this is a book that will find it’s way into your heart and you won’t regret reading it!

Thank you so much to Little, Brown for hosting the contest to chat with the author! I won and that interview, along with a chance to win an awesome prize, will be up SOON!!!!!! Stay tuned…..

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined – Review

“This whole trip could have been set up to prove it to me once and for all. Life isn’t fair, and anything is possible.”

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined is a stunning book. It so fully captures the heartbreaking nature of living. The depth and warmth and aching beauty of this book will stay with me for a long, long time.

Ingrid grew up listening to her mother sing. They traveled throughout Europe and her mother always encouraged her to follow her dreams and believe in herself. Until that career came to an unexpected end, and they moved into a smaller, more normal life.

“We believed in hard work, but we also believed in magic.”

Somehow, years later, Ingrid finds herself thrown into a summertime wilderness survival trip, made in a strange negotiation with her mother in order to go to the school of her dreams. The magic her mother believed in, that she taught Ingrid to believe in, had disappeared. To have to prove her determination to follow her dreams, to her own mother, is unbelievable to Ingrid. She treks into the wilderness feeling alone but simmering with an anger that makes her more determined than ever.

I adored Ingrid. Adored her! If I had known her as a teenager, we probably would have been friends. She is smart, and funny, and quirky. But she also has had an artist for a mother. An artist who wasn’t always as stable and reliant and motherly as she needed. As a result, she is a very adult teenager. But still a teenager. She swings between emotions whiplash quick at times. She feels the magic of first love and finding her passion, but also feels the fear children feel when parents behave in odd and unpredictable ways.

It’s hard sometimes to capture the tumultuous nature of adolescence. Or, at least to capture an aspect of it that can be relatable to a wide audience. Not everyone lived an unstable life growing up. Or had emotional issues. Or problems with the law. And often, we find main characters struggling through some sort of extreme in many YA novels.

And don’t get me wrong. Ingrid is struggling through some heavy issues. But the way Young-Ullman draws us into the story, through a series of journal letters, flashes to the past and narration of the current story, we get to know Ingrid before we understand what happened. I really liked that, because especially in a situation like a wilderness survival trip, that is how we get to know people. True, this is more intimate, but it is still a relationship that develops slowly. With each letter, with each flash to the past, you can’t help but feel for Ingrid. She may have grown up in a glamorous setting, in a privileged way, but that doesn’t mean it has been easy for her.

I haven’t specifically been through a trip like Ingrid’s. But I have been through plenty of therapy, group included, and these often included group interaction in activities like ropes courses and problem solving and other similar activities that Pat and Bonnie lead this group through. If the author hadn’t been through some sort of similar experience, I would be shocked because she absolutely nailed it. The frustration, and embarrassment, and fear, and even the close friendships that can develop.

These types of therapies are popular for a variety of reasons. And sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. I happen to agree with Ingrid in many of her assessments and reactions, but not everyone will. However, even if you don’t agree, or haven’t been through any similar activities, I think everyone will relate to Ingrid, on some level. The author did an excellent job of balancing this piece of the novel; however, and the result shows you the good and the bad.

I also loved how the author used Pat and Bonnie to demonstrate the fine line therapies like this can walk. They represent the different theories and approaches that these programs can take. I loved the other participants in these programs. They were all very vivd characters, full of refreshing depth. Writing a variety of at-risk youth in a way that makes them feel well-developed and real isn’t easy, and was done incredibly well. Honestly, everything was solid and realistic.

Everything Beautiful is such a beautiful book. We all struggle through heartbreak and grief in our lives. Sometimes we are young, sometimes we are old, and while each experience is unique to the circumstance, the raw power of those emotions are so similar in us all. We feel Ingrid’s pain, her anger, her stubbornness. We watch as the solitude of this experience forces her to face the things she doesn’t want to face.

Nature has always been a source of centering and a way to find yourself. Getting lost in the balance of nature forces us to face ourselves in the most raw way. I loved how this setting was used to peel away the layers of Ingrid and her own stubborn nature. Sometimes we need extreme measures to face extreme emotions, and this novel captured every detail of this extremeness perfectly.

“In your eyes you look better. Fast rivers and slow forests seem to agree with you.”

Ingrid isn’t cured, or fixed, or healed by the end. Nothing about this novel was cliche or predictable or boring. I felt the entire time that I was experiencing the life of a teenage girl, struggling through a difficult time, and finding some understanding but no real answers. Which I absolutely loved.

By the end, my heart ached for Ingrid. Not in a heartbreaking way, although there is heartbreak on many levels in this book. But heartbreaking in the way growing up always is. Our hearts break a million different tiny ways in our lives, and a handful of big ways. They break and they heal and we are stronger for it.

“Instead I stand under the giant sky counting stars, feeling scared and raw, but at the same time full, fierce, open.”

I highly, highly recommend this book. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began, and flew through it. Ingrid found her way into my heart. Danielle Young-Ullman is an author I will definitely be reading more of!

Thank you to Xpresso Book Tours for sending me this book to read and review in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Girl On Point – Review

“This is a whole new level of hate. This is a Super Bowl stadium full of hate. This is homicidal hate.”

Alex is a High School Senior. She plays basketball for her school and loves sharing the team with her younger sister Jenny. She has a boyfriend, friends, and while her mother is a bit distant with her, her father more than makes up for it. In short, she is very content with her life.

Until everything changes with a single bullet.

At an away game, Alex asks her sister to get her a soda after the game. One trip out of a hundred made before. Jenny goes, and bad luck combined with bad timing results in her getting shot. Alex holds her baby sister in her arms while she dies.

The amount of realism in every level of this book is impressive. Guerriero’s writing is strong, and the story she tells is compelling. Take, for example, the opening scenes. They begin in the midst of a basketball game. I know nearly nothing about basketball. But my lack of knowledge didn’t matter. She didn’t complicate the writing with technical terms that would lose the reader, instead focusing on the actions and thoughts. The feel of the game rather than the play-by-play. I was Alex, so my knowledge didn’t matter. This is difficult to achieve and Guerriero pulled this off flawlessly.

This same sense of realism was done again and again. From capturing the dialogue in a way that made the slang feel real, to describing how depression and grief are all encompassing.

“I push off the bed and get moving, but it does little to help me escape the feelings buried inside me: pain and sadness–two unwanted guests that follow me everywhere I go. To the bathroom. To school. To where I’m crowded by others. Or when I’m alone. They never leave, and I desperately want them to leave. I desperately want Jenny to be alive. But she is gone. And I am here. And here hurts.”

Anyone who has ever faced depression, or crippling grief, can probably relate to this passage. I know I did. It captures the way everything hurts, and nothing helps, and how the total enormity of this is simply overwhelming.

But Girl On Point, doesn’t stop simply with Alex and her quest to heal. Instead, Guerriero takes us down a darker path. Down a path that grief can turn into. Anger. Rage. Hate.

Jenny was taken away and no one can tell them why. The police aren’t making any progress, even though the lead detective has a ‘gut feeling’ about who did it. So when her mother drags them down to the police station to harass the detective over lack of progress, again, Alex decides she needs to take things into her own hands.

Armed with private Facebook profiles on the suspects, she creates her own identity and sets out to infiltrate the group herself.

This was my favorite thing about the novel. Guerriero doesn’t make Alex into an amazing spy. Or a girl who suddenly has all the answers. We know, as the reader, that this is a bad idea. And Guerriero, as the writer, knows we know this. Alex makes mistakes. She plunges into a world she knows nothing about with very little planning or forethought. There are close calls, and flat out missteps, and Alex has to sacrifice who she was to really gain their trust. The result is, Guerriero is able to show us the tragedy in all of their lives.

“It’s strange to be celebrating and dancing with the girls I’m trying to send to prison, but I feel something I haven’t felt in a very long time. I feel alive in the world.”

This quote is one of my favorites, because it shows how confusing life can be. Alex is pretending to be someone else, with people she hates, but she actually starts to come alive being with them. And it isn’t because of getting close enough to send them prison, or solve her sister’s murder. The irony is that even pretending to be a different person, she is more herself with these girls, in this life, than she was before.

The effect of abuse and poverty isn’t overly done, and it isn’t glamorized. It is shown, again, very realistically. You can hear the noisy neighborhoods, the chaos of drinking and drugs, feel the fear of kids as they try to avoid abusive or belligerent adults. The dialogue is spot on, and gives each scene the grit and realism that these characters demand. We start to see that these girls make the only choices that make sense to them. They are simply trying to survive in a world that wouldn’t care if they died.

Alex ends up empathizing with the girls she so desperately wants to hate. And in the stunning final twist, realizes that sometimes the truth is so much more complicated than she could ever have imagined.

The only thing I wasn’t in love with was the ending. I felt that given the complexity of the story and the characters, the ending wrapped up a little too nicely and neatly, for me. That was the one piece of the novel that didn’t feel as gritty and realistic as the rest, and so it stuck out to me. I know, some people enjoy their happy endings, and it did have good messaging written in it, so it wasn’t terrible. But, I really would have liked to have seen more of the consequences, since in life, I highly doubt any of that would have happened as written.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I love books with complicated characters and difficult plot lines. I love it when the line between good and bad is blurred so much it’s hard to see where it is. And Girl On Point nails it.

Girl On Point is available now on Amazon, and is free with Kindle Unlimited. Link is below.

Thank you to the author, Cheryl Guerriero, for sending me a copy of her book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.