Monday, 27 November 2017

Review Round-Up: Top Ten by Katie Cotugno, You Don't Know Me But I Know You by Rebecca Barrow & Once and for All by Sarah Dessen.

Ryan and Gabby are total opposites in every way: hockey star Ryan is the life and soul of the party, while Gabby, who suffers from anxiety, would rather stay at home. Despite their differences – or maybe because of them – Ryan and Gabby are firm friends. As is so often the way of such friendships, these two have had a few near misses over the years, though when we meet them, Ryan and Gabby have never crossed the line that can turn friendship into something more than that – or break it altogether. As graduation looms, Ryan and Gabby decide to reminisce, counting down the top ten moments of their friendship from the time they first met. What these guys really need to talk about, though, is what happened on the night of their high school graduation…

99 Days by Katie Cotugno is one of my favourite contemporary reads (super excited for 9 Days and 9 Nights!) and in Top Ten I really loved reading her take on the often complicated world of male-female friendships. I’ve had a few of those in my time and I know how confusing it can be to wonder if you’re both on the same page of the friendship book; I know how messy it can get too when you are both on very different pages! Let’s just say that Ryan and Gabby are not always on the very same page of their very own friendship book. What they are though, is always there for each other, no matter what. And that, in the end, is what friendship is all about.

I enjoyed Top Ten, finding it to be a heartfelt and honest depiction of an intense friendship between a guy and a girl. I also appreciate that Cotugno does not sprinkle her characters with that special YA fairy-dust that makes for guys and girls who are too perfectly perfect to ever exist in the real world. Ryan and Gabby are flawed and, for me, that just makes for well-rounded characters and an overall more interesting read. One thing: I know a few people who didn’t like the non-linear structure of this book – it took me a while to get into too. I promise you, though, that everything makes sense in the end!

3.5 stars
Published October 3rd 2017 by Balzer + Bray
Received for review


When Audrey Spencer dreams of her future, she sees fun and freedom ahead, a life filled with art, travel and adventures with her musician boyfriend, Julian. An aspiring photographer, Audrey is itching to finish High School so that she can get started on all the fun of real life. A couple of problems: 1 – real life isn’t always so much fun and 2 – following a birth control failure, Audrey is pregnant. How’s that for real life getting in the way of fun?! Now, instead of a future where she gets to live life on her terms, Audrey imagines a life where she’s stuck at home listening to a screaming baby while changing diapers. Is Audrey ready for life with a baby? Uh, that would be a no.

Thankfully, Audrey has a strong support network of people in her life. Audrey’s adoptive mother, Laura, is sympathetic and understanding when Audrey drops her bombshell, while her boyfriend, though slightly shell-shocked by the news, vows to stand by his girlfriend and support whatever decision she makes. Though Audrey has a tight group of friends, she can’t quite bring herself to tell them the news. The truth is Audrey is not sure her friends, especially her best friend a judgemental-at-the-best-of-times girl called Rose, would understand how on earth Audrey could let this happen. There’s also a letter from Audrey’s birth mother who, unable to provide the life she wanted for Audrey at the time of her birth, put her daughter up for adoption so that she could have a better life. And Audrey has a good life. She has a great life. Is she willing to sacrifice that – sacrifice all her hopes and dreams and happiness – for a baby?

Also, while adoption was the right decision for her birth mother, is it the right decision for Audrey? Audrey considers a termination, while also imagining a future with Julian and their baby. It’s a tough call and one that requires a whole lot of soul searching on Audrey’s part.

Ultimately, a choice has to be made and debut author Rebecca Barrow tackles Audrey’s eventual decision with the grace and sensitivity required for such a delicate subject as this. Barrow’s text serves to inform, but never to preach, while her third-person prose is exact to the point of sometimes being almost detached. This serves to emphasise that while Audrey’s situation undoubtedly causes her emotional turmoil, her eventual decision is an entirely rational one. Importantly, while others around her offer advice and support, Audrey’s decision is entirely hers to make.

3.5 stars
Published August 29th 2017 by HarperTeen
Received for review


Louna Barrett doesn’t believe in happily ever afters. As the daughter of a wedding planner, Louna has seen everything from total bridal breakdowns to feet so cold they’re in danger of getting frostbite – and it’s rendered her a cynic. At least that’s what Louna tells anyone who’ll listen, while rolling her eyes as yet another bride breaks down in last-minute tears. Louna wasn’t always so down on love. The truth is that once upon a time, Louna was in love with a boy she met – you guessed it – at a wedding. Trouble is, that boy is no longer around and, unwilling to put her heart on the line once more, Louna has decided to shut up shop when it comes to love. 

OK, I’ll say it: this was not my favourite Dessen novel. Not by a long shot. For one, I felt strangely disconnected to the characters in this one and even found the character development lacking – which is not something I’ve ever felt about a Dessen novel ever. Maybe this was just down to the fact that I really didn’t connect with Louna’s character; this girl is too serious for words to the point of being school marmish. What Louna needs is to lighten up and have some fun. After all, it’s the summer before she starts college and it just so happens that Louna’s mom has employed all-round hottie and serial dater, Ambrose, to help out with the wedding planning. Louna sees Ambrose as more of a hindrance than a help, rolling her eyes practically every time the guy dares opens his mouth. I mean, Ambrose is annoyingly clueless, but apart from dating three girls at once, he’s essentially a nice guy. And he’s into Louna. 

So, what’s Louna’s problem? Well, there’s Ethan. We learn of their relationship through flashbacks and, I’m sorry to say, I found their relationship a little too sickly sweet to stomach. I mean, Ethan has a pet name for Louna and knows her entire school schedule – and she his – down to the minute – after meeting each other just once. It’s a little intense. Actually, it’s a lot intense. And then, when it ends – and how it ends – causes Louna’s whole world to fall apart. When she meets Ambrose, Louna’s pain in still raw; she’s not thinking about dating, much less falling in love. However, Ambrose has different ideas… 

I hate to say it, but this was an average read for me, and I think it’s maybe one for Dessen fan girls only. If you really, really love weddings and squishy forever romances that develop after all of sixty seconds, then you’ll like this too. As for me, from Louna’s character (prickly at the best of times) to Ambrose as a love interest (I think he’s meant to be charming?), this never quite worked for me. Maybe, like Louna at the beginning of this book, I am just too cynical! 

Three stars
Published June 8th 2017 by Puffin


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