JoyrideJoyride by Anna Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book was wonderful. I have to say I wasn’t expecting all that much. I found The Syrena Legacy books to be just okay and didn’t really understand why the third one was written in the first place. But Anna Banks is from my hometown and she went to my high school, so I will always be super excited to read her latest release.

The book takes place in Florida. The town is never specifically mentioned, but it’s obviously a mix of Niceville and the surrounding areas (where the author is from). It was super weird to read about the Goodwill, high school, the skate park (which I live really close to and drive by several times a day!), the local mall, and a popular restaurant described. It was super cool though and almost made the book even more real to me because I could truly see what the author did when she was writing it. Very, very cool.

This isn’t your typical high school romance. It delves deeper than that. Carly is the daughter of illegal immigrants who were deported, leaving her to live with her older brother, Julio. Both children work tirelessly to earn enough money to smuggle their parents and 2 siblings they have never met back over the border. Since she is always working the graveyard shift at a convenience store or studying (so she can get a scholarship) Carly has pretty much been robbed of a childhood. By chance, she meets Arden, a popular attractive schoolmate with issues and secrets of his own, and they become reluctant friends.

I adored this book. I loved how Arden slowly convinced Carly to be his friend and how they very slowly and reluctantly fell in love. The supporting characters were lovely- especially Uncle Cletus/Mr. Shackleford. It was super refreshing to read about a young romance where the characters had real issues that aren’t usually written about. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book about immigration like this before. I loved how Carly struggled to balance her new desire to enjoy and live her own life with her need to support her family and live up to their expectations.

The book was also really unpredictable. I was surprised, multiple times, by the direction it took. I caught myself saying, “No way!” out loud several times while reading. I loved it!

It was so hard not to hate Julio and the rest of Carlotta’s family for the pressure they put on her and the way she was treated, but I did- I hated them. A lot. It was hard, I liked Carly so much that I wanted to like her family. I wanted to be able to see past all their faults and be like they love her. They just want everyone to be together. Unfortunately, as the story progressed, it became more and more clear that they were taking advantage and soon Carly’s only option would be to abandon ship. It’s like when you have a friend with a husband that’s kind of crap, but used to be good to her. They have small children so you want to see it work out, but at some point it’s just too toxic. She’s got to leave him, because even though it’s going to suck and be super sad, it’ll be better for her in the end. Carly’s family situation was truly tragic. She had no quick solutions or really any way to solve the problem. All options were terrible options. No way to fix anything without a lot of heartbreak on the way. Banks did an incredible job bringing this to life. My heart hurt so badly for Carly during any interactions with her family members or when she was being sacrificial for their benefit. I wanted to scoop her up and make it better, but really, there was no way to do so. I am not a wizard.

Every once in a while there was a line or two in this book that made me stop reading, take a deep breath, and say wow. Every once in a while Banks truly blew my mind with the words she wrote.

Also: Arden, what a babe.

Two complaints:
1) I didn’t feel like I ever got a very clear picture of what the characters looked like. Arden has green eyes and Carly’s hair is black, but I could never fully picture them other than that. I wish there had been more descriptive cues so I wouldn’t have had to fill in the blanks myself.
2) The POV switch was painful. Why was Carly’s perspective first person and Arden’s third? Horrible. I hated this. The entire books should have been written in first person. The switch was so awkward. With every switch, I was taken out of the story and had to readjust to get back into it. I cannot stress enough how terrible this switch back and forth was.

Anna, I know you go to Barnes and Noble in Destin and sign copies of books there. I’ll be on the lookout for a signed hardback copy of Joyride on June 2nd because this book is superb.

Whatever Life Throws at You

Whatever Life Throws at YouWhatever Life Throws at You by Julie Cross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Am I going soft? I feel like I’ve been stumbling upon a lot of awesome reads lately! I had really been looking forward to this book. I fell in love with Julie Cross’s writing when I read Third Degree earlier this year and couldn’t wait for her next novel. I’m happy to say that I loved Whatever Life Throws at You even more than Third Degree!

The positive parts of this review will likely be rather short and generic. I find it easy to moan and complain about all of the things I hated about a bad book, but a lot more difficult to gush about a book I loved. I feel like positive reviews are all positive in the same way (Anna Karenina anyone? Ha!). Nonetheless, this book deserves a review because it was awesome!

What I liked:

1. Jason Brody. Duh! He was so dreamy. As far as book boyfriends go, Jason Brody will definitely go on your list. He has a rough past- juvenile criminal record, he’s a high school dropout, his mother has disowned him- but he’s doing his best to be the best man that he can.

2. The positive female friendship between Lenny and Annie. Lenny was an interesting one, but she was loyal. She wasn’t always the most stand up person, in general, but she was on Annie’s side.

3. Annie. I love her character. I hated how she had a tendency to choose inaction instead of actually making a decision or solving a problem. When faced with a dilemma, she’d just do nothing. Or she’d do the “high school” thing and act totally immature and impulsive. Somehow this didn’t seem inconsistent. Quite the opposite, actually. I could kind of predict what Annie’s next move would be while reading. Cross’s characterization was incredibly thorough. I felt like I knew Annie well.

4. The supporting characters! Lenny, Annie’s dad, Savannah, Annie’s grandma, Annie’s mom- all of them were so well written and added a lot to the story. Some of them were amusing, some were supportive, one was awful, but all were well written! I loved all of them!

5. The ending. I loved it. Such a great ending! A little cheesy, but come on, everyone loves a little cheesy every once in a while.

The Peeves:

1. I really hate how Julie Cross makes her characters write Facebook and Twitter statuses in all of her books. It’s like she’s already resigned to the fact that no one will be reading her book in 50 years. In my opinion, books that include references to popular technology are dating themselves. Facebook and Twitter may not be something that people use in 10 years and as a result, someone reading this book in 2024 will probably think it’s a little silly. The thing that aggravates me the most about Cross’s use of social media in her novels is that, for the most part, the references could be completely omitted and the narrative wouldn’t suffer at all. This is especially true for Third Degree- removing the twitter statuses made by the MC would go entirely unnoticed by the reader. In order to omit the Facebook status updates from Whatever Life Throw at You all Cross would have to do is make general references to Brody’s social media presence.

2. You won’t get any slut-shamming from me, but Brody was portrayed as very promiscuous in the beginning of the novel. Annie was aware of his “habits” and found them revolting, but she still had a big crush on him? This was very confusing to me.

3. Brody is his last name. Everyone (including Annie) call him by it throughout the entirety of the book. There’s one time where she refers to him as Jason and it’s in her head. I didn’t like this at all. If his last name was Smith or Williams it wouldn’t have worked, but since Brody is a common male first name as well, the author got away with it.

4. This is probably a silly thing to even bring up, but it’s my review and I can. Cross misuses the word “nauseous” in every novel of hers I’ve read. In her defense though, this is one of those words that is misused so often that the dictionary has been rewritten so that the wrong usage is now the “right” one. (Did you know that “literally” now means “figuratively” ? Seriously. Our population is so stupid that this change was made.)

“Nauseous” means causing nausea or disgust. So for example: the rotten orange was nauseous because it made me feel sick to smell it. NAUSEATED is the word we’re all looking for. You feel nauseated. I feel nauseated. We all feel nauseated, but no one is nauseous unless you haven’t showered for a couple of days.

I know, I know, I’m a complainer, but this is a 5 star read. I definitely recommend it!


AspenAspen by Rebekah Crane

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC kindly provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Anyone who reads my reviews knows that I am a super critical reader/reviewer. I usually call out any annoyance I encounter in my reviews regardless of how minuscule it is. It goes without saying that I don’t give out many 5 star ratings. As a general rule, any books that I give 5 star ratings to must meet 2 of the 3 following criteria:

1. Go on my favorites shelf. check
2. Make me feel the need to purchase a physical copy (I read on Kindle 98% of the time.) check
3. I know I’m going to re-read the book. check

That being said: I don’t have anything bad to say about Aspen. I know… That’s really shocking coming from me, but Aspen is phenomenal.

The best thing about this book is the overall message that it’s okay to be yourself. All of the main characters in this book are apologetically true to themselves. Great example: Ninny.

“Ninny” is what Aspen calls her mother. Ninny was very young and didn’t even know she was pregnant when Aspen was born. Her parents immediately disowned her and she has raised Aspen on her own ever since. Ninny is not what you would consider a traditional parental figure. She smokes a lot of weed, sleeps around, can’t hold down a job, doesn’t clean up after herself, encourages Aspen to have sex, and is just generally irresponsible. BUT Ninny is not painted as a villain in this novel. Aspen and her friends adore her anyway because she’s a good person and she loves them.

I thought this was so unique. A lot novels use the “terrible parent” trope as an excuse to bring their characters conflict and create angst. It’s lazy. My least favorite is the rich, works too much, and doesn’t give a crap that his daughter is different dad. Awful. Ninny is a crappy mom, but she’s a a wonderful, if strange, person. For example:

“My mom taught me how to braid. We used to practice on my dolls. She would say every respectable girl knows how to braid.”

“You never taught me.”

“I couldn’t care less if you’re respectable.” Ninny ties a rubber band around the end of one braid. “I care that you’re you.”

Ninny and her relationships with the other characters is truly my favorite thing about this novel. I love the way the author made it okay for Ninny to be different. She made it okay for Aspen to unconditionally love (and like) her mother even if she didn’t act like a mother most of the time.

The rest of the book was lovely too. It’s never made clear whether or not Aspen is actually beautiful or if Ninny just thinks she is because she’s her mother. But it is made clear that Aspen has out of control blonde hair, she wears bell bottoms, tie dye, and Birkenstocks, and usually has charcoal smeared on her face. I thought this was nice. Aspen is unequivocally herself and she still has great friendships and a love interest despite walking to the beat of her own drum. The author didn’t paint her as the beautiful girl who wears black and too much makeup in order to hide her beauty because she’s soooooooo different and superior. Gag.

I don’t want to get too far into the accident and resulting events part of the book, but I will say that this is very well done. Aspen’s reactions to them and the events that tale place afterwards struck me as very realistic.

Overall, this book was wonderful and I very much recommend that you read it. Now.

Remember When (Remember When #1) by T. Torrest

Remember When is the first book in a new adult trilogy by T. Torrest. The novel is told from the perspective of Layla, a 17 year old high school senior, living in small town New Jersey in the early 1990s. The story details her friendship with Trip Wiley (then Terrence C. Wilmington III, Trip for short) before he was the super-famous actor he is today.

Wow. I don’t even know how to explain how I feel about this book. I loved it so incredibly much. I feel like this:

However, there are 3 reasons why I almost didn’t give it a chance:

1. The synopsis does a terrible job of capturing the essence of the book. It implies the book is light and fluffy and silly. It’s not. It’s funny, and insightful, and heartfelt. It perfectly captures how confusing relationships can be in high school.
2. The title is trite and overdone.
3. The cover design is awful.

I’m almost angry that I don’t feel like these 3 things give the book a fair shake. The content is wonderful, but if you’re judging a book by its cover, you may pass this one by.

The more I think about this book and the more time that passes since I read it, the more I adore it. I was back in high school while turning these pages. I was remembering how terrifying my first love was and how I was so paralyzed by the thought of saying how I felt and losing him or doing the wrong thing and losing him. I believed these characters. I believed in their voices, feelings for each other, their confusion, and their fears. Everything about this felt so real and poignant.

I have never read a book that more succinctly and perfectly captured how confusing relationships can be when you’re so young and inexperienced- the fear and excitement of it all.

I loved Layla to death. Her voice is so finely tuned that I feel like she was my best friend in high school. She was innocent and sweet, while somehow simultaneously being witty and almost-edgy (not quite). She was very real. She was definitely multi-faceted- three-dimensional. The author allowed her to be so many things. She drank, but she made good grades. She was damaged, but she wasn’t drowning. She was cool, but still sometimes so awkward in her thoughts and interactions with Trip that you cringed for her. The development of this character was fascinating and wonderful.

I’m so sad that this is only available in eBook format. Until I own in it paper form, I will live in fear that my eBook copy will somehow get corrupted and the author will remove the book from the internet and I won’t be able to re-download it. This is the kind of book that you keep forever. It’s the kind of book that you re-read every once in a while. It’s the kind of book that you want to loan to everyone. **I FOUND THE PRINT VERSION ON AMAZON! SO RELIEVED!**

Would I recommend this book? Yes, to everyone.