Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Review: First & Then

First & Then
Author: Emma Mills
Published: October 13th, 2015
Hardcover, 272 pages
5 Gold Stars

(summary from Goodreads)

Devon Tennyson wouldn't change a thing. She's happy watching Friday night games from the bleachers, silently crushing on best friend Cas, and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delivers Devon's cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent for football, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive star running back, Ezra, right where she doesn't want them first into her P.E. class and then into every other aspect of her life.

Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights in this contemporary novel about falling in love with the unexpected boy, with a new brother, and with yourself.

I'll be honest, I haven't read Pride and Prejudice yet (though it's on my list this year) but as a fan of the movie and Jane Austen in general, this book was the perfect mix of the classic novel and contemporary life. Devon is your normal high school girl. She's best friends with Cas, one of the football players, and watches all the games from the comfort of the bleachers while also harbouring a secret crush on him. But when Devon's cousin, Foster, moves in, suddenly everything changes. She knows he'll embarrass her but when the star running back, Ezra, takes him under his wing, things change. Ezra has a superiority complex and every girl in school wants to be with him, but the way he treats Foster makes Devon re-think her judgement on him and the more time they spend together, the more she thinks he's not so bad. 

Devon is such a realistic character. She's in her final year of high school and still has no idea what she wants to do in life. Sounds a lot like me to tell you the truth. As she's trying to figure it all out, enter Foster, someone she wants nothing to do with but is suddenly forced into acting like his sister. For an only child, I can imagine this is a shock to the system and it takes Devon a while to finally understand Foster and why he's there. When he starts to fit in with the football jocks, she can't believe it and thinks they are trying to mess with him and will eventually will make a fool out of him. When she realizes that they actually do like him and the more she gets to know him, the closer they become. I love a story that focuses on more than just romance. The love between siblings is just as important and Emma does a spectacular job of showing acceptance and the bond that forms between siblings. 

Ezra as Mr. Darcy made me swoon. He's standoffish at first and seems exactly how you'd think a star football would be. But the way he treats Foster is seriously the best thing ever. He's gentle in his teachings and confidently lets Foster know he'll make a good kicker. He's patient and supportive and anyone would be a fool not to fall for him. The dynamic between him and Devon is wonderful. I love a story where they start by not really getting along and growing to realize they are totally hot for each other. Ezra is the quiet, brooding type, someone who prefers to be on the sidelines of a party. He watches Devon deal with Cas being a jerk and is there for her when she needs it. 

I love that this takes place in a football town. The Friday Night Lights comparison is perfect and you really see how football is its own character. It's where Ezra came to life and where he taught Foster he could do whatever he wanted to do. It brought Devon and Foster together. It's as wonderful as the Jane-isms that Devon throws in here and there. I know I'll appreciate this more once I read P & P, which will just give me a good excuse to reread this wonderful book. It's short, and boy do I wish it were longer just so that it wouldn't have ended. The romance is wonderful (want more kissing) and the sibling relationship was so well done that it made me go hug my brother. This book is just a perfect little thing that everyone needs to read, Austen fan or not. A contemporary I won't soon forget.

"I should've been better. But sometimes all you can really stand to do is think about yourself. Sometimes it's the only way to cope."

"Just because you like hair and makeup doesn't mean you're stupid."

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Review: Tiny Pretty Things

Tiny Pretty Things
Authors: Sonia Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton
Published: May 26th, 2015
Hardcover, 448 pages
5 Gold Stars

(summary from Goodreads)

Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars in this soapy, drama-packed novel featuring diverse characters who will do anything to be the prima at their elite ballet school.

Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette's desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.

 Ballet is a sport I've always been fond of. I love the discipline, the grace and the effortless look they achieve on stage. Growing up, Center Stage was my favourite movie because it gave me a behind the scenes look at what these girls and guys do to become the best. Black Swan took that even further and now Tiny Pretty Things gives me a cruel reality that is professional ballet. Following three elite ballerinas at the Manhattan Ballet School, this book dives into the scheming, backstabbing lives that potential ballerinas live in order to succeed in the business. Bette is following in her sister's footsteps and knows she's a shoe-in for the lead in The Nutcracker. June has always been in the wings, always the understudy, and her mom is finally trying to put an end to it. if she doesn't get a lead role, she's out. Gigi is the new girl, a great ballerina with a different style and look than the others are used to. Does skin colour really affect what kind of dancer you can be? When the cast list is announced, everyone is surprised by the results and not everyone is happy. Terrible things start happening to Gigi, June's eating disorder is getting worse, and Bette's pill supply is dwindling faster than usual. Who's responsible for everything happening to Gigi? June, Bette, or someone else. It's a cutthroat world and no one is safe.

This book pulled me in from the start. I love ballet so just reading about these girls practicing their jettes and pirouettes and getting roles in ballets made me smile. The gruesome way they act towards each other did not surprise me and it made for a great, thrilling read. The psychology of these dancers, the way their brains work and how far they will go to be on top is crazy but true. The writers did a fantastic job at capturing the ruthless intent that some people have to get what they want. Sex, lies, sabotage are just some the things this book plays on, but it's so much more than that. It's the power that a role can have. The power that a teacher holds over you and how far you'll go to prove them wrong. Bette's intentions were cruel and maybe June's were too, but they were explained so well that you can't help but understand why these girls would do what they did. This book left a lot hanging and I'm glad that there will be a sequel. I can't wait to find out what happens with Casey and how the next season will play out for these girls. 

It's wonderful that books are becoming more diverse these days and this one is perfectly well-rounded. Gigi is black and gets the lead even though everyone thinks she doesn't look the part. She deals with unruly hair and the thought that she isn't as pretty as Bette, who is blonde and white, and it's such a realistic view of the world. June is Asian, anorexic and wears enough make-up to make her look whiter. This book tackles so much more than just diversity. Eating disorders, prescription drug abuse, racism, bullying, heart defects and coming out to name a few. It adds to the intensity of the book in the best way possible. I hope that this book can help those who are dealing with some of these things and find the strength that these characters show inspiring.

Beautifully written and crazy manipulative and suspenseful, this book kept me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out who was lying, who wanted more than they could handle and who would go way too far. Perfect for any ballet fans, especially those who have experienced this first hand, and anyone looking for a thrilling, poetic book about young girls who will do whatever it takes. Some of which know no bounds.

“The moment you think you're on top is the moment you've lost your passion.” 

“The Sugar Plum Fairy has the farthest to fall.”

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