Book Review: The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

Gia Montgomery gets dumped by her perfect college boyfriend in the parking lot of her high school prom.  Desperate to show him off to her friends so they won’t think she made him up, she ends up dragging an unsuspecting guy from a nearby truck into the dance and convincing him to pretend to be the now-gone Bradley.  She figures he’s the perfect stop-gap until she can win back her boyfriend.  But then she ends up having a good time with this fill-in guy, and she starts to realize he’s occupying all her brain space.  When the mystery guy’s sister approaches her and asks her to do her brother a favor–pose as his girlfriend at his ex’s graduation party, Gia wonders how far this whole fill-in relationship thing will go.

Kasie West has quickly made a name for herself as an excellent romance writer for teens, and this latest contemporary offering shouldn’t disappoint.  Smart, funny, and full of heart, this is a fast-paced, sweet little read that will have readers ripping through it and sighing with contentment.  It’s perfect for a light read on a summer’s day, and the sweet, chaste romance means it will work for younger teens as well as older ones.

There are things that work very well here.  West’s penchant for truly witty banter is on display here, and it’s fun to read and never feels forced.  There’s genuine chemistry between Gia and the fill-in guy, and her burgeoning friendship with his sister Bec feels authentic and is refreshing when contrasted with her stagnant, toxic friendships with her clique of mean-girls.  West allows Gia to grow in a very realistic way, and readers will be satisfied by her changes throughout the book.

But it’s not a perfect book.  Although West makes an attempt to explore some heavier issues, specifically related to how Gia and her family communicate and share with each other, it comes off in a way that feels overly didactic at moments and forced at others.  There’s some good stuff here, and many readers won’t even see the strings being pulled, but something about it feels forced, probably because these characters are underdeveloped.  The same goes for frenemy Jules, who isn’t given enough backstory to make her motives realistic or sympathetic in the least.

Even so, this is a fun, wholly immersive read that teens will gobble up.  West is an author that should be on shelves because there’s enormous teen appeal here.  This was a lot of fun.

The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West. HarperTeen: 2015.  Library copy.


Book Review: John Belushi is Dead by Kathy Charles

john belushi

Hilda and Benji are loners and best friends because of their shared interest: death.  They troll the streets of Los Angeles to view sites of celebrity murder and suicide.  When the two meet a misanthropic and reclusive old man named Hank, their relationship starts to change.  As Hilda spends more time with Hank, Benji’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic and potentially dangerous.  The more Hilda discovers that there’s more to life than death, the more obsessed Benji becomes with proving her wrong.

Kathy Charles’s John Belushi is Dead is a backlist title that should still be circulating a lot.  It’s outstanding, and it’s one that will resonate with a wide variety of readers.  Compelling, edgy, and mor than a little bit dark, this is great for the older YA set.

Strong prose helps bring to life the characters that populate the book.  Hilda is the narrator and is well drawn.  She’s a complete character with a full backstory that allows readers insight into why she is the way she is (and why she’s so consumed with the concept of death).  But what works so well here is how Charles allows Hilda’s perceptions of the people she knows to filter what the reader knows about what’s happening.  Not everyone is quite what they seem, and while this is certainly a theme explored throughout the novel, it never overpowers the main story.  In fact, it’s used to great effect.

The story is also really smartly done.  Charles uses Los Angeles itself as one of the characters.  An iconic city filled with the world’s most famous stars makes for a compelling backdrop as Hilda figures out some of life’s hardest realities.  The use of the strangeness of the city to help illustrate Hilda and Benji’s feelings of being outsiders is powerful and memorable.

On the whole, this is a gem of a book.  It’s quirky without being cloying, dark without being overwhelmingly bleak, and beautifully complex.  Guaranteed to push some readers out of their comfort zone, it’s also compulsively readable.  Highly recommended.

John Belushi is Dead by Kathy Charles. MTV Books: 2010.  Library copy.

Waiting on Wednesday: The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi

Expected Release Date: June 16, 2015

Before Matt, Ella had a plan. Get over a no-good ex-boyfriend. Graduate from high school without any more distractions. Move away from Orlando, Florida, where she’s lived her entire life.

But Matt—the cute, shy, bespectacled bass player who just moved to town—was never part of that plan.

And neither was attending a party that was crashed by the cops just minutes after they arrived. Or spending an entire night saying “yes” to every crazy, fun thing they could think of.

Then Matt abruptly left town, and he broke not only Ella’s heart but those of their best friends, too. So when he shows up a year later with a plan of his own—to relive the night that brought them together—Ella isn’t sure whether Matt’s worth a second chance. Or if re-creating the past can help them create a different future.

In alternating then and now chapters, debut author Lauren Gibaldi crafts a charming, romantic story of first loves, lifelong friendships, uncovered secrets, and, ultimately, finding out how to be brave.

(summary via Goodreads)

This looks like a cute little romance read for the summer.  Although some sources compare it to Susane Colasanti and Sarah Dessen (I’m not sure those are readalike authors, even), I think this is probably going to skew closer to the Colasanti side of things.  At any rate, I’m sure it will be a quick read, good for an afternoon escape.

What are you waiting on this week?

Waiting on Wednesday: Like it Never Happened by Emily Adrian

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Like it Never Happened by Emily Adrian

Expected Release Date: June 2, 2015

When Rebecca Rivers lands the lead in her school’s production of The Crucible, she gets to change roles in real life, too. She casts off her old reputation, grows close with her four rowdy cast-mates, and kisses the extremely handsome Charlie Lamb onstage. Even Mr. McFadden, the play’s critical director, can find no fault with Rebecca.

Though “The Essential Five” vow never to date each other, Rebecca can’t help her feelings for Charlie, leaving her both conflicted and lovestruck. But the on and off-stage drama of the cast is eclipsed by a life-altering accusation that threatens to destroy everything…even if some of it is just make believe.

(summary via Goodreads)

This looks like it’s going to be a fun, light summer read.  It doesn’t look like it’s going to be ground-breaking, but it does look like it’s going to be entertaining.  The perfect way to waste an afternoon on a hot summer day, in my opinion.  Plus, theater nerds always make for the best ramped up self important drama.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Now that Peyton, Sydney’s older brother has gone to prison for a drunk driving accident, her parents finally have to deal with the fact that he’s not the charismatic golden boy they’ve always thought he was.  Always playing second fiddle to Peyton, Sydney has to deal with the fact that the attention is on her for the first time, but she also struggles with her place within her own family.  When she meets the Chatham family and starts spending time at their family pizza parlor, she finds a family so unlike her own.

There’s a reason why Sarah Dessen is one of the biggest names in YA, and it is on display here in her latest offering.  Saint Anything offers readers so much of what they love when it comes to the world of Dessen: sweet, thoughtful prose, authentic characters, and gentle exploration of growing up.  The result is a compelling novel about a girl trying to find her place in her family while also dealing with the harsh realities of life.  It’s a satisfying, sweet read, guaranteed to satiate seasoned Dessen fans as well as win her new ones.

Sharp, unique details bring each of the book’s characters into focus.  Sydney is well drawn, as is Mac, the brother of her new best friend Layla, and their tentative romance is plentiful when it comes to chemistry.  Her burgeoning friendship with Layla is as real as can be, and all of this helps make the book work on multiple levels.  Dessen’s only missteps are with Sydney’s mother, who feels a little one-note at times (though Sydney’s frustration with her mother’s inability to really hear her is achingly real), and with Ames, Peyton’s friend from rehab.  There are moments where it’s hard to figure out what Ames’s end-game is, which is Dessen’s point, but there are other moments where his behavior is so over-the-top he might as well be twirling his mustache mischievously.  Luckily, these minor missteps don’t derail the book, and the overall result is satisfying and emotionally resonant.

A rich novel with memorable characters and emotional resonance.  This is guaranteed to be a hit with teens, and won’t stay on shelves for long.  Highly recommended.  This is Dessen at her best.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen. Viking Juvenile: 2015. Purchased copy. 


Waiting on Wednesday: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

The Devil You Know by Trish Doller

Expected Release Date: June 2, 2015

Eighteen-year-old Arcadia wants adventure. Living in a tiny Florida town with her dad and four-year-old brother, Cadie spends most of her time working, going to school, and taking care of her family. So when she meets two handsome cousins at a campfire party, she finally has a chance for fun. They invite her and friend to join them on a road trip, and it’s just the risk she’s been craving-the opportunity to escape. But what starts out as a fun, sexy journey quickly becomes dangerous when she discovers that one of them is not at all who he claims to be. One of them has deadly intentions.

(summary via Goodreads)

I love basically everything Trish Doller does, so there’s no question that this book is on my radar.  I can’t wait to see her take on the thriller genre.  It looks like it might be a little bit silly, but I mean this in the best way possible.  It might also not be silly at all, which is also okay. Doller is an excellent writer, and I can’t wait to see what she does with this.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Romy Grey is a girl from the bad side of town, and because of that, she’s automatically tainted.  It doesn’t help that something bad happened with the sheriff’s golden-boy son Kellan Turner and no one believes her.  Now she’s lost everything: the trust of the town, her friends, everything resembling a normal teenage life.  Her only safe space is the diner she works at in a nearby town, where no one knows her past or her unfair reputation.  When a girl who is connected to both Kellan and Romy goes missing and rumors of another girl’s assault surface, Romy faces hard choices between staying silent or finally speaking up.

Courtney Summers is a damn treasure.  Her latest offering is further proof of that.  All the Rage is a knockout of a novel, one guaranteed to find traction with readers, grip them wholly, and not let go until they finish the last breathless pages.  It is one of the best books of the year.

Summers doesn’t shy away from the ugliest aspects of humanity.  She drops her readers into the middle of a town steeped in rape culture, but it’s also full of simmering resentments.  There’s a ton of generational history at play here, and all the characters are fully-developed and play into the larger plot.  The result is a powerful look at small-town life and the repercussions of being a girl in the world.

Romy is a fully-realized character full of realistic flaws.  She makes a ton of mistakes, and all of them feel authentic and completely believable.  She hurts people without meaning to, which also makes for a real, relatable heroine.  Her narration is both beautiful and unsettling, and her rituals around lipstick and nail polish (coping mechanisms in the aftermath of her sexual assault) make for a great metaphor.

This is a must-read book and one that won’t stay on library shelves for more than a minute.  It’s a thoughtful, powerful examination of girlhood, rape culture, and redemption.  It doesn’t have a cookie-cutter ending, and the powerful emotional conclusion will guarantee that readers will be thinking–and talking–about it long after they finish.  Highly recommended.

All the Rage by Courtney Summers. St. Martin’s Griffin: 2015. Purchased copy.