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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

'First & Then' by Emma Mills

From the BLURB:

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 novel, a contemporary YA romance about love—for the unexpected boy, for a new brother, and for yourself. First & Then comes from Emma Mills, the YouTube vlogger and co-creator of the popular "life skills" channel, "How to Adult" which currently has over 160,000 subscribers.

‘First & Then’ was the 2016 debut young adult contemporary by Emma Mills.

I’m really loving Emma Mills’ young adult stories – and I think a big reason that they work for me is her embracing and amplifying of relatable and ordinary teen stories.

‘First & Then’ follows senior Devon Tennyson soon after her cousin Foster comes to live with her family. Foster’s father died and his mother wasn’t capable of caring for him, so sent him to live with his uncle. Devon is adjusting to life with Foster, who has a very quirky way about him that’s both endearing and frustrating.

Devon is also nursing a crush on her best friend and football player, Cas – and finding herself thrown into mandatory gym class torture with her high school’s star football player and “all-America”, Ezra Lynley. 

Devon’s three relationships with these boys will intersect over the course of her final year of high school, in a range of surprising and crushing ways.

I saw this on Tumblr the other day, and I snorted because it’s 100% true;

But Emma Mills is in a category of YA authors who embrace the mundanity of high school and growing up – interspersed with the pain and awesomeness of it too. Mills actually writes about her characters doing homework, attending football practice, slogging through college essay-writing and just generally being teenagers. Sometimes this is amazing, and offers up the sorts of quiet revelations readers can actually relate to – other times you wish she’d stay in the bigger moments a little longer, like house party confrontations and homecoming dramas. But overall there’s something about Emma Mills and ‘First & Then’ that reminded me a little of ‘Saving Francesca’ by Melina Marchetta, for embracing the relatable and revelatory.

This is the year of Emma Mills for me – I started by reading her second book ‘This Adventure Ends’ in January, and I’m definitely reading her forthcoming ‘Foolish Hearts’ and now I’ve read her first. I am finding that Mills’ excelling at the ordinary can sometimes be a downfall too – as in ‘This Adventure Ends’ when I realised there was no actual denouement or satisfactory rise in action, but ‘First & Then’ does a much better job of that ordinariness overall, particularly when dealing with matters of the heart.

Devon is a big Jane Austen fan, so a lot of the romance is a hark back to the tangled miscommunications that Ms Austen so enjoyed, and it serves Mills well in this book;

“Listen, Dev …” 
Nothing good ever started with listen. It was never “Listen, you just won twenty-five thousand dollars.” “Listen, I have a huge crush on you.” I think the general theory was that you had to tell the other person to listen because you were about to tell them something they didn’t want to hear. And I definitely didn’t want to hear the end of Ezra’s listen, because it was probably something along the lines of “I hope we can still be friends.”

I will say that Mills wrote a few of her secondary characters a little too well, and I was frustrated at the end when I didn’t get conclusive resolutions or revelations about their hinted-at bigger stories – Jordan and Marabelle, especially – but maybe this means she has plans for sorta-sequels down the line?

What I especially loved about Mills embracing ordinary teen life in this book was the concentration on football and “jock” players that didn’t pander to extremes or clichés. The football boys Devon is friends with are nice and ordinary, lovable, goofy, cocky, egotistical … they’re not ‘Friday Night Lights’ or ‘Varsity Blues’ or parodies of high school football Gods, and they’re not the (perhaps sometimes more realistic) teen predators and misogynistic Neanderthals – they’re just guys, and that was actually surprisingly refreshing because they felt more three-dimensional, rather than props for stories with underlining moralistic preaching.

I’m really loving Emma Mill’s style, and I am looking forward to third book ‘Foolish Hearts’. Sometimes her embracing of the ordinary is a hit (‘Frist & Then’) other times it misfired (‘This Adventure Ends’) – but either way, she sure makes the journey enjoyable.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Melbourne Launch of 'Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology'

Hello Darling Readers!

Some of you will have already seen my advertising the Melbourne book launch for Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology on social media - but as the date approaches I'm kicking it up a gear and spreading the word! 

I would love to see anyone there who is around and can make it - May 4 at the (beautiful!) Reading Kids' store in Carlton, 6PM for a 6.30PM start. Free, and no bookings required! 

More info here:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

'Twist' Dive Bar #2 by Kylie Scott

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:
When his younger brother loses interest in online dating, hot, bearded, bartender extraordinaire, Joe Collins, only intends to log into his account and shut it down. Until he reads about her.

Alex Parks is funny, friendly, and pretty much everything he's been looking for in a woman. And in no time at all they're emailing up a storm, telling each other their deepest darkest secrets ... apart from the one that really matters.

When it comes to love, serving it straight up works better than with a twist.

Twist’ is the second book in Australian romance author Kylie Scott’s ‘Dive Bar’ series, following on from 2016’s ‘Dirty’!

So, I really fucking love Kylie Scott.
Pardon my language – but it’s true and requires force to properly communicate my affections.
Because I really do fucking love Kylie Scott!

She has become one of my go-to, insta-buy romance authors and – without fail – whenever I’m in a reading rut, I can rely on one of her books to pull me out. That’s what ‘Twist’ was for me – not only the next book in a series I was already invested in (not least because I was severely in love with the originalseries that ‘Dive Bar’ is a kinda spin-off from) but it’s a book that pulled me out of a reading slump, partly induced by the God-awful world events and politics we’ve been lambasted with since … oh – about January 20th of this year?

‘Twist’ is about a Seattleite graphic designer called Alex, who has met her match on an online dating site. She’s been chatting with an Idahoan man called Eric Collins for six months now, and getting more and more attached … finally her friends convince her to jump on a plane to Idaho and finally meet him!  Except – she hasn’t been chatting to Eric all this time. In fact, Eric – owner of a Dive Bar in Coeur d’Alene – has no idea who Alex is.

It turns out, Alex has really been chatting to Eric’s brother Joe. He’s the one she’s been sharing her deepest secrets and wants with, unbeknownst to her. But Joe didn’t mean to deceive – it’s just that Eric started his profile and then (as usually happens) abandoned the project not long after, leaving Joe to clean up his mess and cut ties … except then he found Alex, and started chatting to her – and falling for her.

I love this kind of storyline – anything that has a little bit of an epistolary element to it (it’s partly why one of my fave Lisa Kleypas historical’s is ‘Lovein the Afternoon’) and I particularly like this online dating element, which I’m really surprised I haven’t come across in a romance before! (though to be fair, I don’t think I would have sought one out, but now Kylie’s ‘Twist’ has got me looking around for more of this ilk!) I especially love that Alex is a woman who doesn’t have a lot of confidence, especially when it comes to dating … and I kinda loved that when we first meet her, it’s at this very relatable juncture where she’s just been humiliated and hurt by Joe’s (however unintentional!) deception. It’s such an interesting place to start two characters from, with this real perceived “power” imbalance – and it was wonderful to see how they both reacted to this most unusual of situations.

But what I think made this a truly enjoyable – and downright HOT! – romance read and reprieve for me, was Kylie’s usual magic with men, women and relationships … Kylie was actually one of the keynotes at the Australian Romance Readers Convention (ARRC) this year, and she made a great point about why she writes female characters who have realistic bodies – women who aren’t models, who have cellulite, big bums, big boobs, flat-chests. She doesn’t write perfect women, because they don’t exist – and it makes her characters so much more real and interesting.

The only prerequisite for a Kylie Scott book (and she said this at ARRC) was; “A heroine who’s standing a little taller by the end, regardless of the guy by her side,” – and I got that message, plus so much more in ‘Twist’;

Because the same as any man, women were entitled to a fuss-free sex life should they so choose. And it didn't make us sluts, or whores, or any of the other nasty, misogynistic, double-standard bullshit that got thrown a woman's way when she didn't fit with the traditional ideals of who and what a female should be.

I just … really fucking loved this book. I loved Joe and Alex. I love the questions and statements about sex and women that Kylie Scott peppered like fist-bumps throughout. I loved how hot this was, but also sweet and funny. And I really, really loved that Kylie Scott pulled me out of a real-world-sucks reading slump with such a downright enjoyable love story of two genuinely lovely and deserving people.

My only complaint is the wait for my next Kylie Scott story hit …


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