Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Review: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen


Goodreads Overview:

Last year, Annabel was "the girl who has everything" — at least that's the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf's Department Store.

This year, she's the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong.

Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen's help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.


If you enjoy YA contemporary, you really can't go wrong with Sarah Dessen's books. I have read a four of them so far and they are always very unique and thought provoking. I enjoy the fact that they are stand alone novels that I can pick up and read without a lengthy commitment, which is hard to find these days.

In Just Listen we are introduced to Annabel, who is a high school student and a local model. Her sisters were models and it was just assumed she would follow in their footsteps. When her older sisters leave home to pursue their education and careers, Annabel becomes her mother's primary focus. Her mother doesn't work outside of the home and has always managed her daughter's modeling schedules for joy and fulfillment. When Annabel's grandmother passes away, her mother takes it very hard and experiences severe depression. The one thing that seems to pull her out of the darkness is Annabel's modeling. Annabel really wants to tell her mother that she wants to quit modeling, but she just can't bring herself to do it.

Owen is a transfer student with a reputation for being a bad boy. There are all sorts of rumors circulating the school about him, but nobody really knows the truth. When Annabel and her best friend Sophie have a falling out, Annabel finds herself on the outside looking in. She was once one of the popular girls who seemed to have everything, but now she doesn't feel like she has a single friend in the school. She begins talking to Owen, who can usually be found ignoring everyone listening to his iPod, and discovers there is a lot more to him than she ever imagined. 

Owen has learned that honesty is the best policy and he can't understand why anyone wouldn't just tell exactly what is on their mind. Annabel can see the benefits that could be achieved by getting things off of her chest, but she is such a nice person and doesn't want to say things that could potentially upset or offend others. She also has some secrets she isn't quite sure she wants to tell. Throughout the book we see Annabel's struggles as she weighs her options. She eventually needs to decide if her secrets are worth losing one of the best friends she has ever had. 

I really enjoyed this book and will continue working my way through Sarah Dessen's other books on my TBR list. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Review: The Queen and Di by Ingrid Seward


Goodreads Overview:

As the editor of Majesty magazine, author Ingrid Seward developed professional and personal relationships with the royal family. In "The Queen & DI," we discover a surprising portrait of the British monarch and the princess, contradicting what the press has previously reported: a fragile Diana battling an unfeeling mother-in-law. And we glimpse much more of the inner workings of the extended royal family.Entertaining and factual, "The Queen & DI" stands apart and above the countless, often inaccurate, accounts published to date about Diana. Ingrid Seward reveals for the first time the true relationship between two important women of the 20th century.


I am a fan of the royal family and have followed all of the pomp and circumstance for decades. I have read several books about Diana, but this may be the only one that I have read that provides an honest portrayal of some of the relationships and events that took place behind the palace walls. In the Charles and Diana drama, I was Team Diana. After her tell all interview about how there were three people in the marriage from the very start, you couldn't help but feel sorry for her. 

This book explores how Diana was very accommodating and went above and beyond to fit into the royal family up until she was actually engaged to Charles. Once they were engaged, she shut down completely and would lock herself in her rooms. She had depression, an eating disorder, and an insatiable appetite for attention and approval. This did not sit well with Charles who was brought up as the heir to the throne. He did not appreciate being constantly upstaged by his wife and could not figure out how to communicate with her. They did not have any of the same interests or hobbies, so the marriage appeared to be doomed from the start.

The Queen is often portrayed as cold and set in her ways, but this books shows how she was one of the last members of the family to support Diana. She was well aware of the drama that was taking place. She tried to provide guidance and emotional support to her daughter-in-law, but even she grew tired of the outburst and arguments. 

After reading this book, I actually have an appreciation for Charles. I now believe they were equally responsible for the demise of their marriage and can see things from both points of view. Charles isn't the villain the tabloids made him out to be and Diana wasn't a saint. They were rushed into a marriage neither was prepared for and they simply weren't compatible. If they had been given more time to date, perhaps they could have avoided the years of pain and anguish.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Review: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald


Goodreads Overview:

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. First published in 1925, this quintessential novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the mysteriously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.


This was one of my favorite books that I read in high school, so I was happy to reread it with my son when it was assigned for his sophomore English class. It had been almost 30 years since I read the book and it is amazing how much I had forgotten. In addition, he had to study the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I did not remember how closely his writing mirrored his own life experiences, so this was just as educational for me as it was for him.

The narrator of the story is Nick Carraway. He rented a small house on "West Egg" next-door to Jay Gatsby. Daisy and her husband Tom live on East Egg where all of the families with old money live. You can see their house and the green light at the end of their dock from Gatsby's house, which is a significant symbol throughout the novel. The proximity to Daisy is the only reason he purchased the mansion. Ever since he was a poor soldier in the army and fell in love with Daisy, it was his dream to earn enough money to marry Daisy and provide the type of lifestyle she was used to. He throws lavish parties with the hope that Daisy will eventually show up and they can reconnect, but she never does.

When Gatsby discovers that his neighbor Nick is Daisy's cousin, he is able to set his plan in motion. This novel depicts the party lifestyle of the roaring 20s and shows how bootlegging, drinking, jazz and the pursuit of the American Dream played an important role in this era. While Gatsby certainly wasn't a saint in terms of how he earned his wealth, he was a likable man that Nick came to respect. 

Once we finished reading the book, Preston and I watched the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio. This was the first time I had watched this version of the movie and I loved it. DiCaprio was an excellent Gatsby and they stuck very closely to the original storyline. 

This is a book that I believe everyone should read at some point in their lives. It is an excellent story and I appreciated it even more the second time around. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Review: Boyfriend Material by Alex Hall


Goodreads Overview:

Luc O'Donnell is tangentially--and reluctantly--famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he's never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad's making a comeback, Luc's back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship...and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He's a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he's never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that's when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don't ever want to let them go.


This was an addicting story that I didn't want to put down. Luc and Oliver have A LOT of drama in their fake dating lives. They don't always make the best decisions and I really wanted to shake them at times so they could see what was obvious to any reader. They literally had nothing in common and were polar opposites, but they have undeniable chemistry. You couldn't help but root for them when they seemed to do everything imaginable to destroy the one good thing in their lives, which was their relationship.

Oliver comes from a wealthy family with extremely high standards and expectations for him. He is a successful attorney and loves his job, but nothing is ever enough for his parents. Luc helps him see that it is okay to be his own person and to make decisions that make him happy instead of his parents. Being perfect isn't everything it is cracked up to be. 

Luc has a long history of drama. His ex boyfriend sold out to the tabloids, so Luc is constantly paranoid about the next thing that will appear on the front cover. He has a close group of friends, who make several appearances in the book, but he doesn't trust people. He is afraid to get too close to someone again because they will probably leave like his father did or use him to make a fast buck at his expense. 

The decision to "fake date" was a win win since Luc needed to clean up his reputation and Oliver was in need of a date to a family function. They just needed to stick things out until the dust settled. What they didn't count on was the fact that their mutual crush would lead to the most normal friendship and relationship either had experienced in a long time. They could see each others flaws and insecurities and weren't afraid to call each other out. They brought out the best in each other and their relationship began to flourish, but neither was really sure where they stood in this "fake relationship."

There were a number of laugh out loud quotes and scenes and I loved the British slang. I gave this book 5 stars and voted for it in every round of the Goodreads choice awards for best new romance of 2020. 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Review: Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter


Goodreads Overview:

Bestselling author Ally Carter returns with an exciting stand-alone novel, about a girl stranded in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness with the boy who wronged her . . . as an assassin moves in.

Maddie and Logan were torn apart by a kidnapping attempt when they were young. They were only kids -- Logan's dad was POTUS and Maddie's father was the Secret Service agent meant to guard him. The kidnappers were stopped -- but Maddie was whisked off to Alaska with her father, for satety. Maddie and Logan had been inseparable . . . but then she never heard from him again.

Now it's a few years later. Maggie's a teenager, used to living a solitary life with her father. It's quiet -- until Logan is sent to join them. After all this time without word, Maddie has nothing to say to him -- until their outpost is attacked, and Logan is taken. They won't be out of the woods until they're . . . out of the woods, and Maddie's managed to thwart the foes and reconcile with Logan.


I am a huge fan of Ally Carter and have read all of the books in her Gallagher Girls, Heist Society and Embassy Row series. I really enjoyed the fact that this was a stand alone. I could enjoy the story without a cliffhanger or lengthy wait for the next installment.

Maddie is the daughter of the President's primary secret service officer and is Logan's best friend. Logan is the First Son of the United States and has lived a pretty sheltered life. He is extremely smart, but never seems to meet his parents' unrealistic expectations.

When Maddie and her father moved to Alaska, she assumed it was due to her father's injuries in the line of duty. She was forced to give up her Washington D.C. lifestyle with her fancy clothes, luxurious accommodations, and most importantly...her best friend Logan. Her father took her to a remote cabin where she had to learn to live off the land. Chop wood, carry water, catch fish, etc. To help pass the time, since there was no internet or cell service, she read a ton of books and wrote letters to Logan. She waited every day for his reply, which never came.

One day, Logan arrives in Alaska and the two are completely awkward. Maddie is furious with him for never writing her back, but he insists he never received the letters. When the two are kidnapped by men they believe could be from the same organization that tried to kidnap his mother years earlier, they must work together to survive until help arrives.  Maddie is familiar with the area and has years of survival skills. Logan speaks Russian and can understand what their captors are saying. He also has a near photographic memory and is able to use his skills to their advantage.

This was a fast paced, action packed adventure. I absolutely loved Maddie and Logan and enjoyed seeing them reconnect. There were a number of flash backs to letters Maddie wrote Logan over the years, which added some insight into their lives prior to her leaving DC and her life in Alaska before his arrival. They both want to regain what they lost, but neither wants to get hurt again in the process. 

This is one of my favorite Ally Carter books so far and I gave it a solid 5 stars. I would definitely recommend it to any younger teen. I have a hard time finding books for my teenage son, since he doesn't really enjoy fiction, but this is a book I believe even he would enjoy.