Book review: The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland by Rebekah Crane

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It’s been awhile since I read a Kindle First book. They haven’t really been capturing my interest lately, but for some reason, I felt compelled to try this one. And I’m so glad that I did. Because this book was great.

Zander has been sent by her parents to Camp Padua, a summer camp for at-risk teens. Some of her fellow campers have eating disorders. Some have attempted suicide. Others suffer from mental illnesses like schizophrenia. Zander doesn’t really feel like she belongs there. After all, she gets great grades. She does what her parents ask. She even has a cute boyfriend. Everything is just fine with her life, so why is she stuck at this weird camp, forced to partake in “share-apy” and craft time?

Zander doesn’t think that anything at this camp will help her. And she’s right, to an extent. The adults that run the camp don’t seem to know what they’re doing. They certainly don’t act like they’ve studied adolescent psychology or are qualified to do this for a living. The kids are allowed to pretty much do whatever they’d like. Aside from the counselors that sleep in the cabins with them, there’s very little supervision. But it turns out that kids know how to help each other.

At camp, Zander meets a collection of misfits who turn out to be exactly what she needed. Cassie describes herself as a manic-depressive-bipolar-anorexic. Bek is a pathological liar. And Grover. Oh, Grover. Grover just knows that someday he’ll turn out to be schizophrenic like his father. Cut off from all communication outside the camp, the four teens bond and, as much as they can, help each other overcome their issues.

It seems that the negative reviews for this book have one main criticism: that the resolution of the characters’ various problems was too easy. So let me just put my take on it out there. This is a story about four teens finding friendship despite their differences. It is not a how-to manual for overcoming mental illness. It was not written to encourage parents to send their troubled children to summer camp rather than a qualified physician. It’s a ray of hope for people who feel like they’re alone with their problems.

This is a great book. It’s a believable story of a collection of teenagers who just want to feel better about their lives. It wraps up a little too neatly, but sometimes we all need a ray of sunshine in our lives.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

Book review: Frenched by Melanie Harlow

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Mia is heartbroken when her fiance Tucker leaves her just one week before their wedding. After days of brooding in bed and crying over what might have been, her friends finally convince her to go on the honeymoon by herself. So Mia packs her bags and heads to the most romantic city in the world – Paris – alone.

Mia’s all set to have the worst time of her life. She doesn’t even try to enjoy it. But then she meets Lucas, a professor who splits his time between Paris and New York, who offers to be her tour guide for the day. This wasn’t in Mia’s plans. But neither was being sad, single, and alone in Paris. So she agrees.

Lucas is nothing like she expected. He doesn’t fit into her description of an ideal man. But as he shows her around, telling her stories about landmarks and historic locations, she feels herself falling for him. It doesn’t hurt that Lucas is 100% focused on her. Not on his job, not on other things he should be doing, and certainly not on himself. He’s the polar opposite of her ex-fiance, and Mia soon realizes that she has real feelings for this man.

Frenched is a cute romance filled with lists, jokes, and more steamy scenes than I knew what to do with. This is a light, fluffy book that isn’t going to make you cry, isn’t going to make you tear your hair out, and isn’t going to make you want to throw it across the room. It’s just a great escape from real life.

Melanie Harlow is definitely an author to watch.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

Book review: What Light by Jay Asher

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Sierra’s family owns a Christmas tree farm, and the only life she’s ever known is one where she spends eleven months of the year in Oregon, and Thanksgiving through Christmas in California. Sierra loves this life. She loves spending this time with her parents. She loves helping the customers. She loves everything about their family business. Sure, she misses her Oregon friends for one month of the year and her California bestie for the other eleven, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

This year’s a little different, though. Big box stores are taking over the Christmas tree market. Not as many people head out to private lots anymore, meaning that it might not be financially possible to keep the tree lot open for much longer. Still, Sierra is determined to enjoy this season. And her friend Heather is determined to find her a boyfriend so they can go on double dates for the few weeks they have together.

There’s a boy who works for her father who expresses some interest in her, but Sierra’s not having any of that. She’s much more intrigued by the cute, mysterious boy who always seems to be buying yet another Christmas tree. When Sierra finds out that he’s giving away the trees to families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford one, she’s smitten. But then she finds out that the whole town is afraid of Caleb because of a secret in his past.

So, this book is really different from what I expected. I absolutely loved Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, both for its beautiful writing and the depth of the plot. I skipped over The Future of Us given its lackluster ratings, but as soon as I saw the cover and description for What Light, I knew I’d have to read it. What I didn’t expect was for it to be so fluffy.

Sure, Sierra goes through some challenges in this book. Her family is struggling to keep their business open. She’s torn between supporting her Oregon friends and making the most of the time she has with her California friends. She has to decide whether Caleb is worth it after learning about his past. But mostly, this book is just two teenagers staring at each other, starry-eyed and in instalove.

And that’s fine. Really, it is. If there’s one time of year that I’m okay with instalove, it’s around Christmas. But I expected more. Honestly, I was bored. It takes a long time for the story to find its footing, and once it does, I just think it could have been… more.

Caleb’s secret, for example? This is probably an unpopular opinion, but I thought it was really overblown. He didn’t kill anyone. He didn’t even hurt anyone. Am I reading too many new adult romances where the hero has crazy, violent secrets, so I’m desensitized to this stuff? Maybe. But I thought the fact that the entire town sees him as some kind of freak for something he did as a child was a little bit of overkill.

I didn’t understand the point of Andrew, either, the boy at the tree lot who has a crush on her. Was he supposed to be an antagonist? Was he supposed to be comic relief, getting toilet duty every time he looked at Sierra the wrong way? Was this supposed to be a love triangle? Sierra clearly had no feelings for him beyond thinking that he was cute. And all he ever did was run to her father to tattle on her whenever she spent time with Caleb.

I wanted to love this book. Unfortunately, I didn’t. My expectations were too high, so it was doomed from the start.

But that’s not to say that this book is awful. No, there were plenty of aspects that I liked. I liked Caleb. I liked the idea that a boy who is ostracized by his community would still make such an effort to redeem himself. I liked that despite spending a month in a trailer on a Christmas tree lot, Sierra and her family still had established traditions for the holidays. I liked Sierra’s parents and the fact that they let her be her own person and life her own life as much as possible, but they still expressed concern about her safety and wellbeing.

What Light turned out to be your average young adult romance – a decent way to spend a few hours, but nothing new or exciting.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

ARC review: Blow by Heidi McLaughlin

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I’ve read some really great music-based romances this year, so I was pretty excited to be approved for Blow.  A famous guy, a stint in rehab, THAT COVER.  It sounded great.  Somehow, I didn’t pick up on the fact that it’s about a pop star’s cocaine addiction.  I guess that just goes to show you how sheltered I am.  I mean, the book is called BLOW.

But it’s fine.

It starts off pretty gritty and, as far as I can tell based on other books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched, pretty realistic.  Bodhi is addicted, but he doesn’t see it that way.  In his mind, he’s just using cocaine to further his career.  It helps him stay awake and have a good time at events.  It helps him deal with the constant pressure of touring.  But he can stop whenever he wants.  Or so he says.  But then he goes and does things that he knows aren’t right, just so that he can get high.

When his father and manager stage an intervention, Bodhi is embarrassed and ashamed at what his life has become.  Here he is, a grown man, being given an ultimatum.  Get clean, or get out.  He has thirty days in rehab to turn his life around.  The band can’t wait any longer than that.  It’s going to be hard work.  Thirty days isn’t a long time, and his triggers will still be there when he gets out.

Bodhi heads off to an exclusive rehab facility owned by a friend of his dad’s.  Through a mixture of structure and independence, he’ll learn to live without cocaine.  He’s assigned a patient advocate, and that’s where everything fell apart for me.

Kim is the owner’s daughter, and supposedly she has a degree in psychology.  Supposedly she is highly qualified and highly experienced in helping patients overcome their addictions, but she is only focused on how attracted she is to Bodhi.  She sneaks into his room. She pulls him into closets. She tells Bodhi to convince his doctor that he’s ill so that they can spend the night together in the infirmary.  I’m sorry, but do you realize how dangerous that is?  For a staff member at a rehab facility to encourage a patient to LIE to their physician about how they’re feeling just so that they can sneak in some alone time?  Of course, there are no consequences.

I didn’t feel any connection between Kim and Bodhi, at least nothing more than their attraction to each other.  The romance didn’t really fit with the story, and I absolutely hated that after meeting Kim, Bodhi’s addiction basically disappeared.  He’s in rehab for all of about two days before he’s miraculously cured by his desire to impress her.

Both characters felt very flat and one-dimensional.  Bodhi came off as much younger than he actually was, and Kim?  She was almost comically insecure.  If Bodhi doesn’t text her back immediately, she thinks that he’s relapsed.  She’s offended when he can’t take her calls when he’s working.  (Remember, he’s a pop star.)  She has no trust in him even though he’s been nothing but honest and trustworthy in the (very short) time she’s known him.  This says more about their relationship than anything else I can say.

This isn’t the worst book I’ve read recently, but it certainly didn’t impress me as much as I’d hoped it would.  I’m sure that there’s an audience that will adore this book, but unfortunately, I’m not one of them.

PS: Falling in “love” with someone after two days is still instalove, regardless of whether you consider instalove “foolish.”

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆