real-talk YA book reviews

Tag Archives: romance

let it snow

Enjoyability:      smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp half gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 352   Copyright: 2008

The blurb: “Sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. Thanks to three of today’s bestselling teen authors—John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle—the magic of the holidays shines on these hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and breathtaking kisses.”

               Hey, everybody! I’m college now! I’m posting this from my dorm as my dream catcher lays on the desk beside me because my command hook wasn’t man enough to stay on my cinderblock wall. If anybody knows of a satanic substance that will stick to the unstickable, please let me know, because this situation is unnacceptable. But anyhoo, on to the book. 

                Let It Snow was not as mushy as the blurb makes it sound. The only author of the three that I had any past experience with was John Green, but Johnson and Myracle passed the test—they fit in easily at the lunch table of the witty and talented YA writers that I already know and love.

                I liked and felt a connection to all three of the protagonists, and all three of the love stories were excellently fresh and strong— there’s a case to be made for formulaic swoony romances, but these connections weren’t those. Myracle’s story was the closest to that swoony zone, and I’ve been given to understand that some readers found it the weakest of the three, but I thought it was sincerely sweet and dodged clichés as well as the other two.

                The interweaving of the three stories was also very well and naturally done. If this book had been sold as the work of a single author, I think I would have believed it. Each story had its own flavor, but they tossed together into a tastefully cohesive salad. With the added bonus of the snowy, hot-chocolatey winter theme, this is the perfect pick for cold blanket-pile days and summery imaginings alike.

Special Awards:

sqee  Squee for romantic prowess.

comedy mask ROFL award because although I didn’t laugh out loud a lot, there was a lot of witty humor, especially in Green’s section.

What’s super fun and closing in three days? The I’ll Be the Judge Flash Fiction Flash Contest! You still have time to send me a super-short story!


all in need

Enjoyability:       smile transpsmile transpsmile transp half graysmile transp graysmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 240   Copyright: 2013

The blurb: “Love is a journey with endless possibilities.

Skye wants to meet the boy who will change her life forever. Seth feels their instant connection the second he sees her. When Seth starts talking to Skye at the last beach party of the summer, it’s obvious to both of them that this is something real. But when Seth leaves for college before they exchange contact info, Skye wonders if he felt the same way she did—and if she will ever see him again. Even if they find their way back to each other, can they make a long-distance relationship work despite trust issues, ex drama, and some serious background differences?”

             Rachel, if you’re here, thank you so much for letting me borrow this, and I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me for the skeptical review ahead.

           Here comes the skepticism: hmmmmmm.

            I am a big romantic, and usually very generous when it comes to stretching of reality in love stories (I will defend Marius and Cosette’s insta-love to my deathbed.) But right off the bat, this one was a little shaky for me. Seth falls in love at first sight with Skye in a big way, and she goes along with it because she was already on the lookout for a summer love, which I get, but it was still all pretty speedy.

Omigod, technology is like, so fake??? We’re not like other teenagers, we’re like really special???

            Then there’s the fact that this was truly a pure romance book, in that there was really nothing else to the plot other than the progression of Skye and Seth’s relationship. Technically there was friend drama for Skye and college drama for Seth, but those storylines took a big backseat and were more like icing. That might have been okay, except for that their love story was so… simple. There wasn’t any kind of a twist, you know? They were just two regular American kids who started talking, liked each other, and went on cute dates. Neither of them was a werewolf, or a pop star, or a foreign exchange student. They didn’t meet at an airport or as swimmers on rival swim teams. Normally when somebody asks you “what’s that book about?”, you can give them a one-sentence premise that explains what the twist is, what’s interesting about this particular story. I guess for All I Need, it would be that they meet on vacation and then are separated without contact information, but (spoiler alert) that only lasts a few chapters. Then they’re still doing long-distance, but it doesn’t even really quite go there, because they’re close enough to see each other nearly every week.

            But I’ve read a few other people’s reviews, and one of the most common comments is also the one that is loudest in my own mind: the message tied up with the title is really very troubling. Skye literally says at one point that Seth’s love is “all I need.” Seth acts out a similar sentiment by frequently feeling guilty for choosing college-related opportunities that could be vital to his future over free time to be with Skye, and even begins to actively eschew those opportunities in favor of Skye. When Skye’s parents express concern for Skye over the same issue, they’re depicted as grumpy cynics who just don’t understand about true love. Near the climax of the story, Skye actually makes a MASSIVE life decision against what really interests her, so that she can be near Seth instead. And this is never depicted as a problem.

            No!! No, no, no! Young(-er than me) girls, if you are reading this review, please do not be Skye!

            Some people really do meet the loves of their lives when they’re teenagers, but even if you’re in that minority, it’s only true love if it stretches and flexes and waits to allow you to live your life the way you would if you were flying solo. When you’re a married adult, you make compromises in your choices to consider your spouse, but when you’re a 17-year-old who met a cute guy on the beach, you live your own dang life.

            Romantic love is not All You Need. Romantic love will not fix all your problems, and romantic love does not negate the need for fulfilling creative expression, a satisfying career, close friendships. There is even a large community of people who aren’t interested in romantic love in their lives at all, ever. This kind of harmful love-aholic message is exactly what the romantic genre is criticized and reviled for. Most of the time those allegations are uninformed and incorrect. Here, though, I was very hard-put to defend.

            Things that went right: Skye and Seth were both well-formed and distinct from each other. Their voices were different enough that I didn’t get lost in the alternating-voices format. Their friends, though secondary characters, were also well-developed and very interesting. And Skye and Seth did seem to be pretty supportive of each other, when not discussing opportunities that would separate them.

           I just couldn’t help but feel that this book was doing exactly the things that YA needs to be steering away from. I really enjoyed Susane’s book When it Happens, and I don’t remember being troubled by the themes in that one. I think she may have just gotten a little carried away here with the cute factor and stumbled into a bad territory.

night circus

Enjoyability:        smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2half brain outlinebrain outline transp 2

Pages: 512   Copyright: 2011

                The synopsis: “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

                  But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.”


                I have a mental list of books that I will never forget, books that had an outstanding and exceptional impact on me. And guess what the newest tome to make the cut is?

                I’ve noticed that here at I’ll Be the Judge, when I name what the best quality of a book is, it often seems to be the character development. While The Night Circus did boast interesting and complex characters, it diverges from that trend, because there’s no question about it: what shines brightest is the description and scene building. Any given chapter could be an example text for a description-centric session of a writing workshop. Erin Morgenstern would be best in her class that day. She consistently engages all five senses, and you feel the circus all around you in vivid and elaborate beauty.

                I could tell before I even read the first page that the romance in this book was going to be a doozy, and I wasn’t disappointed. It was tantalizingly drawn out and slow-developing, but not in an annoying way. The chemistry was sparking right off the page. And in the moments when the sparks finally came together into fireworks, I was about to call for the smelling salts. It was all done very, very romantically and sticks in my mind almost like a fairy tale.

                Basically, The Night Circus was everything that I love. I think the biggest reason it spoke to me so much was the sense of elegance and whimsy. It’s the kind of book that you would feel at home reading on a setee in a victorian mansion in France while wearing a silk dressing gown—or that can make you feel like you’re doing all of that, even when you sadly are not actually. And as you can maybe tell from the specificity of that image, I put a lot of spiritual energy into wishing for a Victorian mansion, so anything that makes me feel closer to such is more than welcome in my life.

                The Boston Globe describes The Night Circus in two words: “A showstopper.” All the words I’ve used so far couldn’t put it better. I’m utterly impressed by Erin Morgenstern. How is she even a person. Omg. Omg. Omg i can’t even crying chills love explosion panic at the disco adjnifnewif

Special Awards:

sqee Squeee! For romance.

music notes Lyrical for pretty pretty writing.

pow!  *NEW* Ka-Pow! Award for a killer closing line. This book is so good I’m creating new awards for it. I just reread the last sentence and got chills again. (No cheating and reading it before the end, of course. That would take out all the power of it.)

                    Yeah, so, uh. Go read The Night Circus. 


Enjoyability:       smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp graysmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts:  brain2brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 355   Copyright: 2014

               Lara Jean Covey is not a big fan of change. Her two sisters and her father have been comfortingly stable since her mother died, and now that her older sister Margot is going off to college in Scotland, she’s praying for some of her past to stay alive with her as she enters her junior year of high school.

                You know what they say: be careful what you wish for. Because Lara Jean’s wish comes true in a way she didn’t bargain for. She keeps five sealed unmailed letters in a hatbox in her closet: love letters to each of the boys she has loved. When she seals each letter, she says goodbye to the boy to whom it is addressed and moves on with her life. But when the letters are accidentally and mysteriously mailed, all that closure is suddenly blown wide open, and Lara Jean ends up in a strange situation with a boy from her childhood in an effort to hide the truth from a boy with an even older presence in her story.

                I’ve heard Jenny Han’s name before, but this was the first of her work that I’ve read. I really enjoyed it. In one way, none of the characters felt quite overwhelmingly realistic and breathing enough for me to lose myself in the world of the story or even to relate to them. But I did like that they had unexpected angles and that they had personalities of their own, rather than being empty vessels in which to insert people I know. At times I felt distant from Lara Jean, when she was prim or fussy in a very different way from me. But at other times, I could totally empathize with her—like when she felt pigeonholed as naïve and uptight, or when she otherwise struggled with her image.

                The thing that struck me as most refreshingly realistic about this book was the portrayal of young people’s relationships—not romantically, just in general. Lara Jean’s best friend Chris is sort of a “bad girl” who drinks alcohol, goes to crazy parties, and has lots of jaded and cynical (and perportedly experience-based) opinions about sex, but despite Lara Jean being so not like that, they’re still close, because they got to truly know each other when they were younger. Their friendship was unlike any I’ve seen really ever before in YA. Her interactions with Peter, a neighborhood friend turned popular sports guy, was similarly refreshing and evolved in really unexpected ways.

                There was something very sweet and sincere about this book. It also had strong plot flow and really kept me reading—the story never stayed too long in one place. It wasn’t a total stoundout for me, because I often felt aware that I was reading a story rather than losing myself in the world; but I’m not at all sorry that I read it, and I look forward to the resolution in the sequel next year.

                  PS: I love the cover. The model looks perfect for Lara Jean, and the title script seriously looks like they wrote it on with a Sharpie. Like, seriously. How do they do that? Look closely and you’ll see what I mean. The ink gets lighter and darker where it crosses or loops, like a marker does with varying hand pressure.

                 PPS Confession: The name Lara Jean annoys me. Sorry if any of my readers are named that. You have my permission to be annoyed by my name if you need retribution.

a hundred summersEnjoyability:      smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2half brain outlinebrain outline transp 2

Pages: 368   Copyright: 2013

                In 1931, Lily Dane first saw Nick Greenwald at a college football game.

                In 1932, he proposed.

                Now, in 1938, Lily is at Seaview, the wealthy Rhode Island beach community where she’s spent every summer of her life, and she’s seeing Nick for the first time in six years. He is accompanied by Budgie, Lily’s stylish, seductive childhood friend. Budgie is his wife.

               And everything in between? Well, that’s the question.

               A Hundred Summers is written in alternating timelines, one the story of Nick and Lily’s collegiate love affair, and the other in her present. As the two run in parallel, we slowly discover what went wrong, why she still can’t stop loving him, and what sinister circumstances and miscommunications built the web of missteps that split up two people who always had eyes only for each other. But as the knots of the past are finally untangled, the important question becomes, is it too late?

                 I originally heard about this book from the Goodreads monthly release newsletter, a source which once again has not led me astray. It’s adult, not YA, by the way. And it showed the added complexity I would hope from that distinction. A Hundred Summers was really the best of everything: it was intelligent, well-written, engrossing, and romantic.

                Williams captured the perfect page-turner formula. Just as you make a shocking discovery in the present storyline, you hop into the past; just as you make one in the past, you’re whisked back to the present. Far from making things stilted or fragmented, the storylines fed off of each other’s energy and gained momentum together. Each page added depth and shades to all of the characters and coaxed out a little more investment in the story and its outcome.

                I think the dialogue is what really made this book. It was so elegant and smooth, in that way that isn’t quite realistic (real people are never that eloquent or witty), but that doesn’t bother you because it’s done so well. It made me feel surrounded by a sense of romance and casual opulence.

                One small issue that irritated me in A Hundred Summers was phrase repetition. For example, Lily used the phrase “the soft vee of my dress” at least twice—although maybe I was just rubbed the wrong way by the prissy spelling out of ‘vee’ when I felt ‘V’ would have sufficed–, and it seemed like she was always talking about her head buzzing with gin. I wished she would find new ways to say she was drunk.

                A Hundred Summers was very smart and well-written, and I enjoyed every page. It had the added bonus of being historical fiction, and I loved feeling like I was painlessly learning something or building my knowledge (for instance, Nick is Jewish, and I got a perspective of the subtly antisemitic climate in the US leading up to WWII that I had never really been aware of). All while enjoying a pretty delicious love story. Sign up for the Goodreads newsletter, folks; it has yet to steer me wrong.   

Special Awards:

sqee Squee for romance. Very elegant and, well, romantic.

music notes Lyrical award for the dialogue. Very smooth flow.

Sadly, the copy I read didn't have this gorgeous cover.

Sadly, the copy I read didn’t have this gorgeous cover.

Pages: 240    First published in 1818

So a few days ago I finished Northanger Abbey!

               There are certain books that I will never review, per se, because they’re too close to my heart for me to be objective, and Jane Austen falls into that category for me. Anything related to Percy Jackson does as well. I just like them too much. But I thought it would be fun to talk about the book and compare it to her other work. So this is not a review, it’s a rev-WOO! Yes, I realize how dorky that joke is. Don’t judge. I’m the judge here, remember?

              For those who don’t know, Northanger Abbey is about Catherine Morland, an avid young fan of spooky Gothic novels who travels from her rural home to visit Bath, where she makes some charismatic friends and, of course, a dashing gentleman, and, well, drama ensues. Apparently, Northanger Abbey was the first novel that Austen wrote, but it wasn’t published until after her death.

                I get the sense that a lot of people view Northanger Abbey as a bit of an outlier, and that’s because it is. I haven’t read Persuasion, but I’ve read all her other books, and though they all have their variety, this one was a more obvious departure. That’s because it’s a parody of gothic literature, but even more, it’s a statement about novels and their place in culture. Jane Austen goes on multiple rants about how people in her era were always criticizing novels and depicting them as vapid and useless. The arguments she brings up are still very relevant these days, and I kind of loved it. When Jane Austen gets mad, she gets mad with flair.

                The result of the slightly different motivation with which Austen wrote Northanger Abbey, and maybe her lack of experience in some ways, is that the actual plot had to share its space, and so although it has a beginning, middle, and end, there were fewer twists and thickening developments than one generally expects in an Austen novel. I was also a little taken aback by the abruptness of the ending. I assumed everything would be straightened out, and it was, but it happened with very few juicy details or space to savor. I got the sense that this rushing through the final resolutions was by design, as part of the satire of her peers’ and her own noveling style. For example, she says at one point while the characters are tensely waiting to see if an obstacle will be overcome: “The anxiety [of my characters] can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity.”

                But these differences from expectations didn’t make the book less enjoyable. The constant references to novel formula (“My heroine was most unnaturally able to fulfill her engagement, though it was made with the hero himself”) made me feel like Jane Austen and I were sharing a joke, through the fourth wall and across a few centuries. At the same time, it was done skillfully enough that, even while laughing at the characters, I genuinely cared about them and was invested in things working out for them. Somehow, Austen simultaneously reminded me that whether or not Catherine danced with her favorite gentleman was really a very trifling issue and made me as anxious about the situation as Catherine was in spite of myself. That’s a strength of all of her work, actually. You care about these little aristocratic problems, more than you would have ever thought you could. There’s a filthy-rich English society girl inside of all of us.

                Plus, Catherine was very relatable, especially for me, since she loves to read. She didn’t have Elizabeth’s cracking wit or Emma’s inexhaustible mischievousness, but I could put myself in her shoes, and she often surprised me with her maturity and sensibleness. Catherine has a big imagination, but she’s more reasonable than she seems.

                In summary, Northanger Abbey had its own different flavor, but it was still made of delicious Jane Austen dough, and social-commentary Austen rants are something you don’t know are vitally missing from your life until you read one. Jane Austen is so great.

                Now I’ve just got Persuasion and then I’ll have read all of her books. I’ll try not to be too sad, though– they lend themselves perfectly to re-reading!

igynEnjoyability:       smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 433   Copyright: 2012

The synopsis: “Poppy Wyatt has never felt luckier. She is about to marry her ideal man, Magnus Tavish, but in one afternoon her “happily ever after” begins to fall apart. Not only has she lost her engagement ring in a hotel fire drill but in the panic that follows, her phone is stolen. As she paces shakily around the lobby, she spots an abandoned phone in a trash can. Finders keepers! Now she can leave a number for the hotel to contact her when they find her ring. Perfect!
Well, perfect except that the phone’s owner, businessman Sam Roxton, doesn’t agree. He wants his phone back and doesn’t appreciate Poppy reading his messages and wading into his personal life.
What ensues is a hilarious and unpredictable turn of events as Poppy and Sam increasingly upend each other’s lives through emails and text messages. As Poppy juggles wedding preparations, mysterious phone calls, and hiding her left hand from Magnus and his parents . . . she soon realizes that she is in for the biggest surprise of her life.”

This was SUCH a fun book!! I was almost sorry to finish it. There were one or two times when I got a little frustrated with Poppy for making awful decisions, but for the most part, she was very relatable and sweet, and funny. It was a very pleasant ride being in her head. I really liked her development as she began to learn to stick up for herself; it was very authentic and well-done. And the plot was stronger than you typically expect from this type of romancey book, in the sense that it was kind of unpredictable. There were twists and turns along the way that kept me guessing and made the story feel more round and real. The whole e-mail/texting twist was also a fun quirk to the story that made it very unique and interesting.

            And it was so cute!! This book had me squealing (and exclaiming during times of stress or suspense) loud enough to scare my dog. I won’t say anything definitive about how the romance situation ends up, I’ll just say that characters are very well matched and balance each other out perfectly; you can really understand why they fall for each other and why they work together. Very solid.

            I also loved Poppy’s footnotes, which added little commentaries or clarifications. I think little features like that in novels are very fun, and make the story memorable.

            I’ve Got Your Number was a cute love story with strong character and plot development and a splash of mystery and drama to boot. Two thumbs up! Oh, and bonus points for the cover. It’s striking, isn’t it?

Special Awards:

sqee  Squee for romance. I literally squee’d aloud, especially at the ending!!

moon All-Nighter– I didn’t want to put it down.