Just Be You by M. E. Parker

Published: 15th June 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/Recorded Books
Pages: 293
Format: ebook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

When Scott Cohen got word that he’d been nominated for a Grammy, he wondered if the universe was playing some cruel trick on him. Of all the songs he’d written, why did it have to be that song? 

Over ten years had passed since he’d written the song and even more since Scott had become obsessed with Marshall Donavan, his brother’s best friend. It didn’t matter that Scott hadn’t seen Marshall in years. Nor did it matter that Marshall never belonged to him or even that Marshall was straight. Scott never managed to stop thinking about him. 

When Scott got a call from his manager asking him to submit a song for a movie and a call from his brother Abe informing him of Marshall’s engagement to Julia Sterling on the same day, Scott took it as a sign. It was time to say goodbye and forget Marshall Donavan forever. 

Submitting ‘Just Be You’ to the movie executives was supposed to be Scott’s way of letting go—of forgetting, of saying goodbye. But his plan backfired when the movie became a box office success overnight and his song was nominated for a Grammy. There was no way he’d ever be able to forget. The song would follow him for the rest of his life and so would his unhealthy obsession with Marshall Donavan. 

It didn’t help things when he found himself face to face again with the man who had consumed his thoughts for years. No, it didn’t help at all when he saw the still very sexy and very straight Marshall Donavan for the first time in eight years. It didn’t matter what would happen between them. As soon as he saw Marshall again, he knew that giving up his obsession wasn’t an option… 

Taking a chance on sweet sounding LGBT romances has turned into a good bet for me because I have found some highly adorable books. This book may not be perfect in terms of writing or characters, nor may it be perfect plot wise, but it is fun and has a happy ending while still making you invested in the characters and their journeys.

I loved Scottie, he was adorable without being naïve, and he knows who he is and what he wants. I felt Marshall lost some of himself midway, his character becomes more singularly focused and less complex than he presents at the start but it didn’t affect my enjoyment. The focus is mainly on these two though supporting characters get a look in too, albeit briefly.

The biggest surprise was finding myself getting giddy with adorableness over these two. I did not see that coming but Parker has written a charming book that uses emotions remarkably well and it draws you in. Admittedly it took a while to fully get into the story, some parts felt comfortable other parts I felt disconnected when the writing took me out of the story, but there is a delightful sweetness about this book. There is charm and compassion, and the tensions and obstacles are solid, not manufactured miscommunication and I believed it was possible. Some things did move a bit quickly, but others managed to feel drawn out.

I grinned and squirmed and gasped in all the right places and I was surprised at the events that played out. Parker’s narrative has twists and surprises alongside the expected and I was impressed that there were multiple facets to this story. I honestly didn’t think I was going to get so caught up in these boys and their lives and yet I did. It had promised a happy ending and at times plays out like all the dreams coming true perfect world, but there is heart and conflict which brings depth and emotion.

Something to mention is there are a lot of sex scenes and descriptions of m/m sexual acts. In context they make sense, but there are a lot. While some parts are brushed over, other parts have more detailed descriptions.

Overall I really enjoyed this story. The range of emotions I felt reading this increased my enjoyment because it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops; I had minor second hand anxiety, I had shock, and there were times I had to stop reading because I was in a public place and couldn’t cope having gushing emotions in view of other people. If that doesn’t say enjoyment I don’t know what does.

You can purchase Just Be You via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

It’s Hard to Love A Tiger by Anna Pignataro

Published: 1st June 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Scholastic Australia
Illustrator: Anna Pignataro
Pages: 24
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

I wish I had a tiger, a tiger from the zoo. 

A tiger of my own to love-a tiger just like you. 

A funny rhyming story about a little girl and a troublesome (but lovable) tiger.

Once more I have picked up a picture book because the front cover was too cute to ignore. I wasn’t disappointed either because this is a fun story told through rhyme, coupled with creative illustrations. Pignataro’s illustrations are a mixture of drawn and painted, and vary from full page detail to simple images on white.

I loved the poetic verse the story is written in. It flows wonderfully if you read it as a whole, and nothing is lost if the story is read at a slower pace either, each stanza matches the picture which is spread across a double page. Pignataro’s rhymes are clever and make sense in context, nothing too fanciful happens to make a rhyme work which makes the reading flow naturally and seamlessly. The formatting of the words also play into how you read the story and it helps with tone and pacing, especially when reading it aloud.

It’s one of those wonderfully absurd books that never explain why the young girl has the tiger, just that loving a tiger is hard because of all the mischief they get up to. I loved how the girl treats the tiger. Her complaints start just because he growls when you put a ribbon in his hair, and he takes up all the room on the bed. But then it gets more fun as he also is bad at ballet, and slurps when he eats, and huffs and pouts when he’s in the naughty chair.

I had not read any of Pignataro’s books before this but I may just have to track down some more because this one was just all kinds of adorable.

You can purchase I Wish I Had A Tiger via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus & Robertson | Fishpond | Dymocks

QBD | Amazon Aust | Amazon

Two Tough Teddies by Kilmeny Niland

Published: 29th June 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Puffin
Illustrator: Kilmeny Niland
Pages: 32
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

When two teddies, Tilly and Gruffy, are abandoned in a box of unwanted toys, they decide to face the world and find someone else to love them. Kilmeny Niland’s warm, affectionate story explores a theme familiar to all—sometimes we get what we want only when we stop trying so hard.

The saddest and sweetest and most beautiful book ever!

This is a book that sends you on an emotional roller coaster. Two darling teddies are abandoned in a park and on the hunt for someone to love them. They try to be loud so people can hear them, and try to be brave despite their scruffy appearance. This is the kind of situation that got me bawling in Toy Story 2 and 3 and I think having it in book form is just as heartbreaking.

“They can see us and hear us but still no one wants us.”

Just crush my heart, Niland. Crush. My. Heart.

They realise they do have someone to love them because they have each other and that was the end of me because that was the sweetest thing possible and my heart broke for these teddies. I wanted to love them. I wanted to take them home because it was so adorable that they were trying so hard to be tough and brave for people but that scared them away instead.

What makes it sweeter/sadder is that Niland’s illustrations portray these teddies in a way that you can’t help but love them. They are scruffy but they also look lost and unsure. They try their hardest and seeing their crestfallen faces only adds to the narrative. The illustrations are both full page colour and single images on a blank background, both of which help express how big a world the teddies have become lost in, and how out of their depth they are. Niland also cleverly uses the teddies perspective in the use of angles and point of view regarding the nature that surrounds them and the animals they attempt to interact with.

There is a happy ending so it isn’t all bad news, and Niland reinflates my heart and by soul because there is a beautiful ending and goes to show you can be loved even if you aren’t always brave and loud and tough.

You can purchase Two Tough Teddies via the following

Book Depository | Amazon

Amazon Aust | Wordery

Fishpond | QBD | Dymocks

Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich with Justin Paul, Steven Levenson, and Benj Pasek

Published: 9th October 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Penguin
Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non Fiction/Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Dear Evan Hansen,
Today’s going to be an amazing day and here’s why…

When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn’t invisible anymore–even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy’s parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he’s doing can’t be right, but if he’s helping people, how wrong can it be?

A simple lie leads to complicated truths in this big-hearted coming-of-age story of grief, authenticity and the struggle to belong in an age of instant connectivity and profound isolation.

I was excited about this book for a number of reasons: the first being that I could have a sticky beak at the musical before I saw it in person, second, it gives me hope that maybe more musicals could become books so for those of us who can’t always see these wonderful Broadway shows can still experience them if they’re going to refuse to release a copy on DVD or bring it to my country.

By the time this is posted I would have seen the musical on Broadway (!!) so aside from seeing this story play out, I am hoping to match up the song lyrics with the correct tune compared to what I tried to conjure in my head (I know I could listen to the soundtrack, but I’m going to go in blind music wise). Even without seeing the actual musical this book gives a vivid and detailed story to enjoy. Much like The Cursed Child play the dialogue is there so are the stage directions and lyrics so you can see how it would play out on stage.

In terms of the actual story, it is a case of one small lie becoming something big and uncontrollable. I experienced some anxiety reading this because you know what Evan does is wrong, and just waiting for it to fall around his feet is stressful, but looking past that the story is a bit heartbreaking and is about looking for a place to belong and discovering who you are. If I thought about it too much I hated Evan a little, but I suppose you’re meant to see it from his point of view, and I did, but I still couldn’t believe the things he does in this.

I’ve heard the music for this is amazing and reading the lyrics I can see how that’s the case. There is a lot of emotion and dealing with a lot of sensitive and personal things. There is a suicide and drug use but both are referenced and not shown.

If you are unlikely to get a chance to see this musical I highly recommend this book as a chance to experience the story. Maybe you could even pay the soundtrack alongside when the songs come up to almost get the full experience.

You can purchase Dear Evan Hansen via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Wordery | Angus and Robinson | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

 

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Published: 21st September 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Hodder Children’s Books
Pages: 340
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

It’s time to fight like a girl!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her high school teachers who think the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mum was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates Moxie, a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond and spread the Moxie message. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realises that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

I had been reading a lot of feminist and activist books and I picked this up expecting it to be the kind of book that ignites a fire within me and it did…to a point. One possible reason for this was that I have not experienced the American school system which this novel is so deeply based around so I couldn’t relate in that sense or figure out if things really get this extreme. I read so many American books set in high school and it is the wildest thing to read about these experiences I sometimes can’t tell whether it is just a combination of a variety of experiences or whether all these situations and these people could exist in real life at the same time. I have seen the same formula over and over again I am convinced that it is actually how American school systems work and it’s the most bizarre thing as an outsider to read about.

The other reason I think I wasn’t as impressed was that Viv is the kind of quiet girl who never does anything wrong, doesn’t stand out too much so for her to do anything it is a big deal and she does it in small steps, unsure where to go next and worried about the steps she does take. I wonder if Viv had had a stronger personality it would have changed the story at all. It would suit the character to do something like that so perhaps having timid Vivian makes it more powerful in what she does. It read like My First Feminism and I appreciated what she was doing, but it didn’t grab me. To Mathieu’s ’s credit, it did at times remind me of my own high school experiences, bra snapping was clearly a worldwide thing for teenage boys.

It’s not just the Straight White Girl who fights injustice, Mathieu’s covered the women of colour and lesbian perspectives but it’s brief and almost unnatural. The different perspectives help Viv and the readers understand that everyone has different experiences and understanding that is important. I can’t decide whether this is good inclusion and self-awareness, or a message but it stood out as being Mathieu’s attempt to cover all the bases and it took me from the book briefly because it felt like a side note for the reader to remember.

I feel a bit bad for critiquing this because it wasn’t terrible, but it just fell flat. There were positives, I admired what Vivien was aiming to achieve, and glad she managed to start the revolution she was after. In that it was a success. I don’t suppose Mathieu’s was trying to ignite the reader’s reaction, though maybe she was, but I think you don’t need to have had a strong reaction to enjoy it. I think perhaps I had had this novel build up as a girl power feminist novel that I expected it to pull a few more punches.

You can purchase Moxie via the following

QBD | Book Depository | Booktopia

Angus & Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

 

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