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!

The Fine Art of Pretending

The Fine Art of Pretending (The Fine Art of Pretending, #1)The Fine Art of Pretending by Rachel Harris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book really peeved me. Is that a word? “Peeved?” Oh well, I’m using it. My main issue with it was that it didn’t do a very good job of delivering its message. At all.

Honestly, we’ve all read this book or seen this movie before. The mousy, tomboy wants boys to start paying her attention so she has a makeover and changes everything about herself to get attention. The platonic, male best friend agrees to be her pretend boyfriend in order to further the charade. They fall in love.

The problem with this novel is not that it’s cliche and been done before- I have no issue with this at all- it’s that the book delivers the message that this works. If you change everything about yourself, then boys will like you, that most popular guy in school who is generally considered a giant dick will turn out to be the nicest, most romantic guy ever AND like you! Then, if you’ve changed everything about yourself, your super hot best friend will see you in a completely different light and you will realize you’re in love with him too and not the super hot, popular, former womanizer you thought you liked.

The book even flat out states that the only reason Brandon started to look at Aly in a romantic way is because she started dressing “more like a girl.” (Because girls have to dress and act a certain way to be taken seriously as girls- amiright?! I’m not even going to touch that misogyny.)

It seemed like about 80% through the book, the author realized that she may not have been delivering the message she meant to and started to backtrack. Now Brandon had liked Aly all along, blah, blah, blah. Just be yourself, blah, blah, blah, but a slightly better version of yourself!

If I had a young daughter, I would not allow her to read this book. The message is confusing. Be yourself, but better? At the end of the book, Aly realizes that she should be who she was before, but a slightly more feminine version. Because that’s always better right? Men never ever like tomboys! Aly decides it’s okay to be the “cute, funny friend.” F that noise! The “cute, funny friend?” Are you serious? What a great message that sends for her to see herself like that at the end! I guess she likes herself a little, that’s enough right?

I’m kind of digressing into a rant now, but this really pissed me off. There are almost 7 billion people in the world. There’s someone for everyone! Young women do not need to read a book that encourages them to wear more makeup, shorter skirts, etc- just be yourself! Someone great will like you. It was really disheartening when Aly began her transformation and literally everyone else in the book responded so positively. Now she’s worthy of their time.

I had countless other complaints, but I’ll just briefly touch on the biggest two:

1. The author seems EXTREMELY out of touch. It’s like she’s trying to be a “cool mom.” She’s totally hip and down and knows the lingo. The characters are constantly saying things like “he’s my hookup.” It was entirely cringe worthy. I mean, I’m kind of old, but I’m pretty sure teenagers don’t talk like that.

But let’s say that kids really do talk like this. The inauthentic way the word choices come across isn’t the only issue. The other problem is that I could never quite figure out what the kids meant by “hookup.” No one in this book seems to be having sex. They kiss some, but it’s tame. In general, it seems like if someone is your “hookup” they are your significant other. However the characters seem to make some distinction between “hookup” and boy/girlfriend. I never could quite figure out what exactly the difference was! Maybe I’m the uncool one?

2. The high school mascot is the “hokie.” This has haunted me. I can’t stop thinking about this. Maybe it’s just because we’re a Virginia Tech family, but this killed me. The “hokie” is a made up thing. When Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College changed its name to Virginia Polytechnic Institute they had a contest to see who could create the best cheer. The cheer that won had the word “hokie” in it. This became the nickname for sports teams at VT. The word is literally the product of some student’s imagination and has no meaning. It belongs to Virginia Tech. SOME HIGH SCHOOL IN TEXAS CAN’T JUST TAKE IT! It’s not like an eagle or a tiger. The hokie can’t exist outside of its VT context because it doesn’t mean anything. It only means something to Virginia Tech.

So that’s that. I had high hopes for this novel and it failed to meet them.