Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg [LGBT April]

Openly Straight coverOpenly Straight by Bill Konisberg
Goodreads | Website | Twitter
Release Date:May 28th 2013
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Series: none



Goodreads descriptionA funny, honest novel about being out, being proud . . . and being ready for something else.

Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with Ben . . . who doesn’t even know that love is possible.

This witty, smart, coming-out-again story will appeal to gay and straight kids alike as they watch Rafe navigate being different, fitting in, and what it means to be himself.


I was pretty interested in Openly Straight when I saw the description for it when it came out, and I have been meaning to read it ever since. I even saw it at the library a few times and for some reason never picked it up. When I signed up for LGBT April, I knew it was the perfect book to read!

If you read the description, you saw that Rafe has been out since he was young and it’s become a major part of his identity, while he feels like it is overshadowing other interesting aspects. He wants to take a step back from that and be a person without one thing being the focus of his life. So he goes to an all-boys’s boarding school on the other side of the country and decides to not come out there. He just wants to be a boy and make friends and play sports.

I really enjoyed Openly Straight. It was funny, awkward, and endearing. It was heartwarming and wrenching. It made me smile like an idiot. It had good kissing scenes. Rafe always sounded like a real teen, and there were some smart, thoughtful conversations in the book that made me so happy, because teens definitely have those types of conversations.

Rafe is so lovely. I wanted to hug him a lot. He just wanted to be able to see different parts of himself and be free to explore things he couldn’t always experience as openly gay. I was frustrated for him, because it was dishonest and he knew that and had it pointed out to him several times, but he just wanted a chance for something different. I was waiting for the fallout, throughout the whole book. It actually ended up not being as intense as I expected, but it still happened in a believable way. It wasn’t too perfect, it did involve some mess, but it seemed to fit the story really well.

Openly Straight is a genuine look at how labels affect life, even if  they aren’t seen as a bad thing. I loved seeing how Rafe’s parents, friends, and community were supportive, sometimes too supportive by Rafe’s standards. I liked the looks back into his experiences and how they helped or frustrated him. I loved seeing him in his new element and navigating his new persona but also dealing with realistic peer pressures, and how he cared so much about what other people thought and had to deal with that. I liked Rafe’s writing and reading the teacher’s thoughts on his writing, too. That was a really interesting aspect, because you have to wonder how much work that has to be for the author, writing as a teen and as a teacher! I feel like Rafe and several other characters grew and learned a lot in this book.

4 star rating


Openly Straight was a fun read without being too light. I can see myself maybe reading it again at some point. I would definitely read other work by Bill Konisberg. I would recommend it to anyone wanting an enjoyable book with an important LGBT message about identity and acceptance!

Fighting Dreamer

The Goldfinch and The Ocean at the End of the Lane [mini reviews]

The Goldfinch coverThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon
Release Date: October 22nd 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Series: none

Goodreads description: A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo scrambles between nights in friends’ apartments and on the city streets. He becomes entranced by the one thing that reminds him of his mother, a small, mysteriously captivating painting that soon draws Theo into the art underworld

I’ve seen The Goldfinch on some best of the year lists and prominently displayed at bookstores. I wasn’t even sure what this book was about, but I decided to give it a go! As the description states, Theo survives a traumatic experience but loses his mom. Afterwards, he has to find a place to live, people to connect with, and a way to move on.

I found it easy to empathize with Theo most of the time, but sometimes I just did not understand his choices. He made mistakes, which is normal. He was going through a lot and mainly on his own. However, I could never really follow how he made some decisions, and the more he did, the less I cared. I was really close to not finishing this book, but the underlying mystery of the painting kept me going.  I know there was a message intended to go with the story, but only because it’s clearly stated in the last few pages. I can kind of see what the gist of it was, with choices and mistakes and connections, but I also feel like I did not get anything from this book on a personal level. I understand what it was trying to do, but I didn’t feel much about it.

Annoyances: Two different times (maybe more) the narrator just tells you something will happen or you’ll see a character again. The summary at the end of the book was very “here’s what this was.”

The Goldfinch didn’t really work for me, but it could very well just be me. The Goodreads average is 4.18! Have you read it? Do you plan to read it? 


The Ocean at the End of the Lane coverThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon
Release Date: June 18th 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Series: none

Goodreads description: Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

I have such mixed results with Gaiman’s work. I really loved Good Omens, thought Stardust was okay, can’t get through American Gods (though I like the idea of what’s going on), and I didn’t really like The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Honestly, I found Ocean Lane boring. The concept of the other world/old world and the ocean itself were intriguing to me, but the actual story felt tired. For a fantasy, nothing really excited me or sparked my interest. I didn’t love the writing, either. It just felt like a variation of a lot of stories that have been told. The “bad guy” just felt like a caricature. I felt very detached from the whole story. I think there was a lot of deep and meaningful messages being hinted at because of the paragraph I left out of the GR description, but I couldn’t feel the message.  I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t find anything to hold onto from it.

Sadly, The Ocean at the End of the Lane was also not for me. It also seems widely loved and the GR average is 4.05. Have you read this one? Do you plan to?

Just One Year by Gayle Forman [book review]

justoneyearJust One Year by Gayle Forman
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon
Release Date: October 10th 2013
Publisher: Dutton Children’s
Series: Just One Day #2

Goodreads description: When he opens his eyes, Willem doesn’t know where in the world he is—Prague or Dubrovnik or back in Amsterdam. All he knows is that he is once again alone, and that he needs to find a girl named Lulu. They shared one magical day in Paris, and something about that day—that girl—makes Willem wonder if they aren’t fated to be together. He travels all over the world, from Mexico to India, hoping to reconnect with her. But as months go by and Lulu remains elusive, Willem starts to question if the hand of fate is as strong as he’d thought. . . .

The romantic, emotional companion to Just One Day, this is a story of the choices we make and the accidents that happen—and the happiness we can find when the two intersect.

Just One Year was high up on my Fall TBR. I am a huge Gayle Forman fan. I liked Just One Day a lot, but If I Stay and Where She Went are two of my favorite books. I had so much hope for Just One Year and reserved it at the library before it came out, then they didn’t get copies in so I luckily got it on Overdrive!

Just One Day is Allyson’s story of how she does something unexpected and makes a connection, then is left feeling lost and confused when it’s severed without warning. She spends a year in a funk and learns a lot about herself. She is determined to at least try to reconnect with Willem, the boy she spent a day with. She also learns a lot about herself and what she wants from life. Just One Year is Willem’s story and begins shortly after they were separated. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the book, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

This story follows Willem throughout the year and shows how the events in Just One Day affected him. He met a great girl that he connected with but knew nothing about, and they were separated. He tries to find her, but he also has other things to deal with. He has a lot going on with his family and friends. Plus, like everyone, he’s trying to learn who he is and what he wants to do. His travels were interesting and his time in India was fun to read about. There were friends we met, his mom, and his uncle that were interesting and brought a lot to the story and to Willem’s character. There were a few things I was kind of apathetic about, but I can probably chop that up to my general grumpy/picky feelings.

The thing about this book is, I actually liked it. I like Willem, he is a cool guy. He has an interesting perspective. I liked seeing what he thought and how he felt about Allyson, or Lulu to him. I liked that he didn’t think he was in love, and he wasn’t obsessed. He just knew she made an impression, and it was a feeling he couldn’t shake. It was important. He grows, he learns. But through this whole book, I was waiting for what I wanted. I was hoping. I was so incredibly invested. At about 80% in the book, I finally had to accept that I was not going to get the story I wanted. It wasn’t a total bust, and I’m glad I read it. If you’ve read Just One Day and haven’t read this book yet, I’m not telling you to forget about it. It’s not bad book at all, and I understand it was the story that needed to be told. However, I was sad and I’m still sad thinking about what it could have been. I’m greedy. I think a lot of people were more content with the journey, and I think a lot of readers won’t necessarily be looking for the same things I was.

3 star rating

Just One Year was a good book, but it was probably the most disappointing book of the year for me. That being said, it still got 3 whole stars!! Isn’t that saying a lot for Gayle Forman’s work? I like the characters, I like the growth, but I wanted so much more. Even one more chapter could have made a huge difference for me. I think I might try to read this again, after a while, to see if I can appreciate it more when I’m not expecting everything from it, but I don’t think I’ll ever love it. I will still faithfully read Gayle Forman’s work. You might like Just One Year if you like traveling stories, hope, and charming Dutch narrators!

Check out Gayle Forman’s website and twitter!

Muckers by Sandra Neil Wallace [Review + Giveaway]

Muckers cover Muckers by Sandra Neil Wallace
Goodreads | Amazon
Release Date: October 8, 2013
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Description: Sandra Neil Wallace’s debut historical fiction novel Muckers is based on the true story of the 1950 Jerome Muckers football team and the championship season that rallied an Arizona town together and turned tragedy into a triumph.
The inspiring yet heartbreaking novel delves deep into the rocky terrain of a racially-divided town and a team whose world is suddenly upended, widening the rift between Anglos and Mexican Americans forced to choose between cohesion or rebellion.

Red O’Sullivan’s world is crumbling around him: the mine that employs most of town is on the brink of closing, threatening to shutter the entire town. Red will be part of the final graduating class of Hatley High School, but he’s got his own burdens to bear: his older brother, Bobby, died in the war, and he’s been struggling to follow in his footsteps ever since. That means assuming Bobby’s old position as quarterback, and leading the last-ever Muckers team to the championship. Maybe then his angry, broken-hearted father will acknowledge him, and they’ll be able to put Bobby’s death behind them.

While the Muckers are racially-united, their town is divided. Anglos live near the top of the mountain and Mexican Americans down below—where Red’s best friend Cruz lives, and Angie, who Red longs to be with. When the Communist scare threatens to tear the team apart, Red and the hardscrabble Muckers must find a way to go undefeated and win the state title.

Unforgettable characters fighting to make their mark on the field and in the world combine for a period novel that will spark dialogue on this timely subject.

TLC Book Tours

Disclaimer: I received a finished copy of Muckers from TLC Book Tours in exchange for my opinion.

I decided to read Muckers because the family issues sounded interesting, along with the idea of a team and town with racial issues uniting behind a diverse team.

I’m grew up in a small town in Oklahoma, where football is ridiculously important. I loved watching football in high school, but so much of it had to do with the fact that I knew the players and that games were a social event. I didn’t understand everything about the game, but I shared intense emotions and hope with the other members of the audience. I can understand how and why football was so important to the people in this town.

The Muckers are a team from a small mining town in Arizona. The town in the book is fictional, but the story is based on real events. The town revolves around and relies on the mine. The mining company owns most of the town and employs most of the residents. After WWII, things for the mining town aren’t looking so great economically. There are rumors that the mine might shut down and the residents will have no choice but to move to other towns.

Red tells the story in first person. His family is Irish. He’s had a hard time of it, he lost his brother in the war and his parents never recovered. His mom had a meltdown and is still in the hospital. His dad is important at the mine and an alcoholic. Red is kind of on his own. He has two close friends, Rabbit and Cruz. His brother was great at football, and Red has the potential to be great, too. The town knows that big changes are on the horizon, so they’re even more interested in a big win from the team, which adds more pressure to Red.

I liked Red a lot. He was going through a really rough and confusing time. He’s a leader for the team, and winning is important to him. He wants to measure up to his brother and make his parents proud. He also has to deal with ridiculous people accusing others of being communists, and Red can see how unfair it is. Red has grown up with the racism and unfairness in the town, and one of his best friends is Mexican. Red doesn’t understand why people act the way they do, and it’s frustratingly easy to relate to. Red works really hard for the team, the town, and his family. Red faces loss and hope, and it’s so easy to like him.

The team works so hard. They know the town might not have much longer, and if it ends they won’t be together anymore. They want something important and lasting to remember and take with them. The town wants the same thing and some of the adults probably want it more than the team does. I can’t imaging how stressful it would be to have to deal with a huge season of football while knowing your whole town might dissolve and you might be separated from your friends.

A slight issue I had with the book is that it would have been interesting and relevant to see the story from a POC’s perspective. Racism affected Cruz a lot more than Red, but you only see the racism from Red’s viewpoint. It’s still an important story, and Red has a lot of confusion about what happens which might help kids seeing the same things happen. Witnessing hard things is still difficult, especially when it’s someone you care about.

3 star rating

I enjoyed reading Muckers! It’s not something I would have picked to read on my own, but I was really invested in what happened to Red and the team! The game scenes were really intense and fun to read, I was hanging on every word. I was definitely pulling for Red and hoping for the best for him! I probably wouldn’t read this one again, but I would be really interested to read more of Sandra Neil Wallace’s work! Also notable: the book is BRIGHT orange, has a map of the town (which was really helpful to me), and has newspages from the town’s paper throughout the book, which definitely added to the smalltown feel! I would recommend Muckers if you enjoy intense sports situations, people coming together, and characters you can’t help but root for.

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If you’re still not convinced, you might check out the rest of the tour and visit Sandra at and on Facebook and Twitter.

Book Trailer

When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney [Book Review]

When You Were Here coverWhen You Were Here by Daisy Whitney
Goodreads | Amazon
Release Date: June 4th 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown
Series: n/a

Goodreads description: Filled with humor, raw emotion, a strong voice, and a brilliant dog named Sandy Koufax, When You Were Here explores the two most powerful forces known to man-death and love. Daisy Whitney brings her characters to life with a deft touch and resonating authenticity.

Danny’s mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.

Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn’t know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.

When he gets a letter from his mom’s property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother’s memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died.

When You Were Here was another book on my Top Ten Summer TBR. Jamie from The Perpetual Page Turner said the male POV was as good as Adam from Where She Went by Gayle Forman, which is high praise in my opinion. I also knew it was a sad book and liked the sound of it.

This book basically destroyed me. Can that just be my review? It was painful, there was ugly crying involved. I knew it was going to be sad going in, the description definitely warns you, you know Danny is trying to cope with the loss of his mother. I expected crying and sadness. But this book has surprise sadness lurking. I’m not going to spoil it, but it was rough and if I’d known about it, I wouldn’t have read the book. That being said, I’m glad I didn’t know about it. I had some issues with this book, but over all I liked it.

So, like we’ve already talked about, Danny is trying to cope with his mother’s death from cancer. In the beginning of the story, he is a total douche. I know you can get away with a lot because someone you love dies, but he stretches it way too far in my opinion. He’s also coping with his ex-girlfriend and love of his life, Holland. She dumped him when she left for college and now that she’s back, she’s always around and helping him. He isn’t sure what to do about that because he still loves her and doesn’t understand why they’re not together. Danny is lost in sadness and douchiness, confused about life and how to spend his days when he gets a letter about his mom’s apartment in Japan (yes, they have an apartment in Japan, who doesn’t?” The letter adds to the confusion which makes him decide to go to Japan and investigate.

Danny was an interesting character. He has been through a lot, but a lot of people have been through a lot. I’m sure many of them want to be jerks but don’t, so it might have been really nice for him to be able to act like a twelve-year-old. He is extremely adorable with his dog, Sandy Koufax. He asks her questions and gets sad when he has to leave her, his relationship with his dog is so realistic and was something I really loved about the book. When Danny becomes more focused on finding out what happened in Japan, he becomes a lot more tolerable. He discovers a lot of things he didn’t know and is surprised to learn certain things about his mother. He has to examine how he feels about what he learns and has to look at his own life because of what he learns.

I loved learning about Japan. It was an awesome and unusual setting. It’s a really cool aspect of the story but it’s a little weird, too. Danny’s family was wealthy and his mom could afford to go anywhere for treatment and they owned an apartment in Japan. It’s nice for the story, but it was also convenient. Kana was the daughter of the lady that took care of the apartment while the family was gone. She’s a teenager (I think 17) and she was so much fun! She was happy and wouldn’t let Danny be too serious. She definitely kept him check.

The relationship aspect is difficult for me to talk about because I don’t want to spoil anything. It was good and bad. I liked them both and I liked the chemistry and romance between them. I loved the story of how they got together and started liking each other. I don’t exactly buy the reason she broke up with him. It really frustrated me, and I won’t say anymore about it here because if I do, it will turn into a rant.

I also had some issues with how quickly Danny developed. It seemed really soon, the story takes place in one summer with flashbacks throughout, especially because of how bitter he is in the beginning. It seemed too easy for me. However, I did actually like the resolution and thought it was fitting, it just seemed rushed to me. I had a few other small gripes but nothing huge. A lot of the resolution seemed too simple considering the complicated situations that were involved. I think it just needed more effort. The simplicity didn’t make it bad, but it felt a little emptier than I (personally) was expecting.

So, I obviously had a lot of issues with this book but part of me just loved it anyway. I was sobbing and soaking tissues and even though there were moments that had me rolling my eyes, I really connected with the story and the characters. I liked Danny, even though he could be a jerk. I liked Holland even though I didn’t agree with her actions. I loved Kana and Sandy Koufax was amazing and I wish she would have been around more!

rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I had issues, but I think it was a good book. Some infuriating instances but a lot of good things happened, too. I am pretty certain I could never read this book again, unless I was just aching and needed to cry. I would recommend it if you like sad reads with surprising sad hidden inside, guys being adorable with dogs, fun and fashionable Japanese girls, a sad but lovely romances and endless tears.

Check out Daisy Whitney‘s website and twitter!

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour [Book Review]

The Disenchantments coverThe Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon
Release Date: February 16th 2012
Publisher: Dutton Children’s Books
Series: n/a

Goodreads description: Colby and Bev have a long-standing pact: graduate, hit the road with Bev’s band, and then spend the year wandering around Europe. But moments after the tour kicks off, Bev makes a shocking announcement: she’s abandoning their plans – and Colby – to start college in the fall.

But the show must go on and The Disenchantments weave through the Pacific Northwest, playing in small towns and dingy venues, while roadie- Colby struggles to deal with Bev’s already-growing distance and the most important question of all: what’s next?

Morris Award–finalist Nina LaCour draws together the beauty and influences of music and art to brilliantly capture a group of friends on the brink of the rest of their lives.

I went into The Disenchantments blind. When I went to the library, I had a plan but they only had one of the books I wanted so I picked some others I was interested in and this was one I saw and decided to pick up!  It had a bit to do with the cover, I’m not a huge fan of faces on covers but it’s just so pretty and colorful! I’ve also seen some nice things about it and Gayle Forman has mentioned Nina LaCour on twitter a few times. I did break and read the flap after I started because I was curious about where it was going!

Colby and Bev have been best friends since they were kids. They have done so much together, including discovering music. They’re about to graduate from an arts high school in San Francisco. After graduation, the plan is to go on tour for a week with Bev’s girl band, The Disenchantments, then fly to Europe and explore. From the time they take off on tour, Bev is distant and weird. Then she tells him that she isn’t going to Europe because she’s going to college. Colby is understandably upset. He’s been planning this trip and he was really excited.  He feels hurt and isn’t sure what to do instead.

I enjoyed the dynamic between Colby and Bev. Bev is a really charismatic girl, she’s the type of girl everyone gravitates towards. Colby is one of the people gravitating, continually. Early in the book, you see that he likes her and isn’t sure if she feels the same way. She’s attractive and makes out with guys and girls in front of Colby all the time, but she never forms attachments with anyone. He’s sort of in this hopeful limbo where he daydreams about them getting together with occasional embarrassing results, like when he has to cover his lap with his hoodie, ha! It takes a while for Bev to open up and explain what’s going on with her. I like how vulnerable and unsure she is, and how Colby realizes that he doesn’t know everything about her and other things.

The Disenchantments are Bev as the lead singer, and sisters Meg on bass guitar and Alexa on drums. They are awful at playing music but they don’t care. They play because it is something they really enjoy doing. They love the music and the way they play makes people love them, even if they don’t love the actual music. The inspiration for the band is mainly Riot Grrrl bands like Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill, but they appreciate a lot of girl bands. Meg’s a huge fan of The Supremes, Colby’s favorite girl band is The Runaways, and on the trip they’re introduced to The Chiffons and Alexa falls in love with Heart. I loved all the music talk and the girl band talk! It was a lot of fun, and the fact that the band isn’t actually good is so entertaining.

They’re all artistic and I loved reading about their art. Colby draws and sketches everything, but one of his favorite subjects to sketch is Bev. Bev carves people and objects out of wood, and I loved reading about her carvings. Alexa has one more year of high school and keeps talking about what her play will be about. Colby also thinks about and discusses different kinds of art, and he’s interested in graffiti and mentions Banksy. I loved it all! I also enjoyed all the people they met and things they learned. They made friends all over the place and met interesting and weird people.

There’s so much discovery, especially for Colby. He’s flailing because he’s had this plan for years. He doesn’t know what to do with his life or who to talk to, because the person he would normally talk to about problems like this is the one who caused it. He has to look at his life and feelings and search for the right thing to do. I’m not going to give anything away, but I loved the ending, even though it was a little bit painful (in a good way). There were definitely some tears. It’s wonderful how it is as a stand alone but I do find myself interested in what happened after the end of this story!

I didn’t have any real problems with the story. Colby was a nice narrator. Sometimes he might have known a little too much about clothes, but I was willing to let it slide because of how much time he spends with girls and he’s also really into art, so he’d probably be more likely to notice colors and prints.

4 star rating

I loved this book! I loved the characters, the music, and the art. I loved the trip and the VW van named Melinda. I loved the discovery and heartache and all the hopefulness. It’s a book I can see myself picking up again at some point and I opened it to find a detail for this review and almost just read it again! I don’t have a copy of my own right now, but I plan on getting one sometime, although I am annoyed they changed the cover for the paperback. I really want to read Hold Still by LaCour because I enjoyed her writing so much. I would recommend The Disenchantments if you love art, music, and friends-to-more stories with a bit of pain involved.

Check out Nina LaCour’s website and twitter!

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Something Like Normal coverSomething Like Normal by Trish Doller
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon
Release Date: June 19th 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Series: n/a

Goodreads description: When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. Travis’s dry sense of humor, and incredible sense of honor, make him an irresistible and eminently lovable hero.

Travis is a Marine home on leave after a tour in Afghanistan. He lost a close friend there and isn’t sure how to deal with it. He’s not that excited to be home, where his dad is always disappointed in him and his brother has stolen his girlfriend and his car. He doesn’t care much about the girlfriend or even the car, he’s dejected and distant from most emotion. He was distant from his family before he left, but now it’s even worse.

This story is all in Travis’s POV. It can be rough, but it can also be funny. He thinks like a guy thinks and it all seemed realistic. It wasn’t all pleasant, and not just Marine memories. He wasn’t nice about girls and the term “slut” was thrown around liberally. He could be a real dick, but he was also vulnerable and caring.

He’s home from the war and his life has been changed, scarred, and shaken. He’s been through things that people in his hometown can’t even imagine. They ask him if he’s killed someone because they think it’s exciting. They don’t understand the guilt that goes along with it. He has flashbacks and dreams, he scans the ground for landmines, he sees and hears his dead best friend. He’s grappling with loss and he knows something is wrong with him but he’s not sure how to handle it. His struggle is so real and sad. It was intense to read about his life as a Marine and horrors he saw. It was frustrating to see how people reacted to him when he came home and how out-of-place he feels. I empathized with him and wanted him to be happy.

“I’m not an especially romantic person, but when a beautiful girl invites a guy to the beach at night, sea turtles are not usually involved.”

I liked Harper. I was sad that she still had to deal with the aftermath of rumors from the 8th grade, most people at my school moved on from rumors after a while. I liked that Harper wanted to be a marine biologist and wanted to put herself through college. I like that she took a chance on a torn up, jerky Marine. I think she saw how earnest and vulnerable he was. Plus, he could be rather charming. The story wasn’t focused on the romance, but it was an important part of the story.

I enjoyed Travis’s relationship with his mom. She took it hard when he left home and she’s ecstatic when he returns. He isn’t exactly close to her (or anyone) but he loves her. I think coming back, he’s able to see things differently and he tries to approach his relationship with his mom in a different way. He tries to open up more, help her, and be there for her. It was a nice aspect of the story.

Travis feels realistic, like a real person. His thoughts on girls and sexuality aren’t nice but they seem like thoughts that a nineteen year old guy might actually think. I don’t think pretending a guy wouldn’t think of girls in such negative terms would make it a better book. It’s a problem that some guys do think like that, and talking about it and calling people out on their behaviors are all good things. I don’t think by writing him thinking that way Doller agrees with or condones his way of thinking. Maybe being with Harper will help him. Not in the he’ll be better for her way, but maybe she’ll call him out on his bullshit.

3 star rating

Something Like Normal was written well and the story was interesting. The voice sounds realistic and I enjoyed the romance. I removed a star for his judgmental thoughts because even if it’s realistic to his character it wasn’t pleasant to read. I think the story is important and it’s nice that someone wrote about a Marine dealing with PTSD. It seems like Doller did her research and I liked reading her acknowledgments page where she thanked Marines. There was a lot to like about this hopeful, earnest story. I don’t think it’s one I’d want to reread, but I am glad I read it I would recommend if you’re interested in a story about a Marine facing emotional and family problems, making life improvements, and romancing a cool girl, while having some douche-y thoughts. 

Check out Trish Doller’s website and twitter!

Book Review: Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Insignia CoverInsignia by S.J. Kincaid
Release Date: July 10th 2012
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Series: Insignia #1

Goodreads description:More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.

Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible—a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test, and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War Three. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted—friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters—but what will it cost him?

Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid’s futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.

So Tom is a bit of a loser. His dad is a paranoid gambler who moves Tom around from casino to casino. Tom hustles money through virtual games. He’s so good at virtual games that he’s recruited to go the elite training academy. He gets to train to be a part of a popular virtual fighting army that he’s always watched on TV and possibly become a hero. Tom lives to be important and with the new school and training comes a validation he’s never experienced. He also makes connections and friendships. This opportunity completely changes his life but there are downsides (dun dun dun).

I liked seeing the kids interact with each other in the school setting and that there were still typical stereotypes in this unique situation of superhuman improvements. There were still popular kids and nerdy outcasts despite how much technology changed them. Tom is believable as a teenage male–he’s arrogant but self-conscious. He has friends, crushes, and enemies. Sometimes I really liked him and thought he was funny: his antics with Vik and their arguing felt real and made me chuckle. But I also got annoyed with him and felt like he needed smacked, which is probably par for the course with a 14-year-old guy. Sadly, while I enjoyed some characters the only one I really connected with was Wyatt, the geeky girl genius. I wanted to know more about her!

The virtual gaming parts of the book were entertaining. I liked reading about them in virtual past and training with simulated historical figures. The technology along with the abuse of it was alarming but thought-provoking. The control and the risk of being controlled were intense. The dystopian aspects of the government, with the corporations and their alliances and food and water control were interesting but something about it felt strange to me.

I didn’t quite get the point of the World War III, which is being fought in space by teenagers in virtual reality. Nobody dies or loses anything but equipment, so it all seems a little pointless to me. Not that I would rather people die, but it felt like the whole thing was a big chess game, which kind of made me wonder why they bothered at all. If it was all equipment handled by teenagers, why not just actually battle through games? They could just play a game to see who would win and then there’d be no loss at all.

I liked this book but towards the end I got impatient and kind of just wanted it to be over. I don’t really have anything negative to say about it but I think it just didn’t clicked for me. I think it was a personal issue and I can see why other readers would enjoy it. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll read the next book in the series. I am interested to see how the world and characters develop but I think I’ll have to wait and see what the next one is about. I might read it just to see more of Wyatt!

Check out the author’s blog and twitter!