Autofocus – Lauren Gibaldi

By: Lauren Gibaldi
Available June 2016


It’s always been a loaded word for Maude. And when she is given a senior photography assignment—to create a portfolio that shows the meaning of family—she doesn’t quite know where to begin. But she knows one thing: without the story of her birth mother, who died when Maude was born, her project will be incomplete.

So Maude decides to visit her best friend, Treena, at college in Tallahassee, Florida, where Maude’s birth mother once lived. But when Maude arrives, she quickly discovers that Treena has changed. With a new boyfriend and a packed social calendar, Treena doesn’t seem to have time for Maude—or helping Maude in her search.

Enter Bennett, a cute guy who lives in Treena’s dorm. He understands Maude’s need to find her mother. And as Bennett helps Maude in her search, she starts to find that her mother’s past doesn’t have to define her own future.

Lauren Gibaldi has crafted a beautiful and timely coming-of-age story that poses the question: Is who we are determined at birth, or can we change as we grow?

This Blonde’s Review:
Maude has always known she was adopted and that her mother died when she was born. She loves her parents and her life, but she has been curious to find out more about where she came from and the family she didn’t know. When a senior photography assignment challenges her to show the meaning of family she knows it won’t be complete without showing where she came from. She doesn’t know if she’ll find answers but makes arrangements to visit her best friend, Treena, since she is attending the same school her mother went to.

Maude quickly learns things will not go as she had hoped. Treena is wrapped up in her new life at college and a new guy so their time together doesn’t go as Maude had hoped. Treena’s classes and social life also prevent her from taking an active part in helping Maude find information on her mother. Instead Maude finds herself becoming friends with someone else in Treena’s dorm, Bennett. After an awkward first impression they find themselves thrown together when Treena isn’t available and a friendship forms. Bennett is the one who is there to help Maude find out more about her mother, even if everything doesn’t turn out the way Maude had hoped. He’s also the one who is there to help her figure out a few things about herself along the way.

When we search for answers we’ve already made up for ourselves finding out the truth can be hard to face, even if the truth was the best version. We are able to learn more about Maude’s mother, but this story isn’t really about her. It is about Maude’s journey to find her mother and to find out what she really wants for herself. She is able to see the way people change at college and the way they define themselves by who their family is. Seeing the changes in her best friend and dealing with the information she learns about her mother, she has a lot to come to terms with in a short time. I enjoyed Maude’s story and the way this story focuses on internal choices about who Maude will be. She’s a self described good girl and she likes herself that way, will she allow the information she’s found or the changes she sees change her?


Unplugged – Donna Freitas

By: Donna Frietas
The Wired – Book 1
Available June 2016

The first book in a provocative new series from acclaimed author Donna Freitas—Feed for a new generation.

Humanity is split into the App World and the Real World—an extravagant virtual world for the wealthy and a dying physical world for the poor. Years ago, Skylar Cruz’s family sent her to the App World for a chance at a better life.

Now Skye is a nobody, a virtual sixteen-year-old girl without any glamorous effects or expensive downloads to make her stand out in the App World. Yet none of that matters to Skye. All she wants is a chance to unplug and see her mother and sister again.

But when the borders between worlds suddenly close, Skye loses that chance. Desperate to reach her family, Skye risks everything to get back to the physical world. Once she arrives, however, she discovers a much larger, darker reality than the one she remembers.

In the tradition of M. T. Anderson’s Feed and Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies, Unplugged kicks off a thrilling and timely sci-fi series for teens from an award-winning writer.

This Blonde’s Review:
Skye lives in a virtual world where purchasing apps will allow you to do almost anything. You can change your looks, your abilities, and have full immersion into games. You live the apps you buy and everyone wants an upgrade. Skye isn’t interested in obtaining more in the App World, she counts down until she can have her turn to unplug and experience life in the real world with her family again. When borders close and all plugging in and unplugging is blocked she is devastated. She doesn’t feel as though she belongs with her best friend’s family, who adopted her as almost family. Almost family isn’t enough for Skye. When given the opportunity to unplugged anyway she agrees, even if it seems shady and means lying to her best friend.

The real world is nothing like what Skye was told it would be. There are secrets regarding her family and secrets with the leaders of the App World. When she learns she’s become a pivotal figure when she’s used to being a nobody she struggles to adjust, but thanks to her abilities to treat anything as a game she excels in ways no one imagined were possible. Throw in some family drama, a guy she never expected to have notice her, and Skye’s life in the real world is a lot more complicated than she could have anticipated.

I enjoyed getting to know Skye and am curious to know what will happen in the next book. Some of the unanswered questions make me wonder if we’re going to get a book from another character’s point of view, or if we’ll stay with Skye and learn everything through her eyes. While I feel we’d learn a lot more and understand more through another character I’m hoping we keep Skye as our main character. I have a feel that regardless of how the author approaches it I’ll be looking forward to the next book.


We Were Never Here – Jennifer Gilmore

We Were Never Here
By: Jennifer Gilmore
Available June 2016

Did you know your entire life can change in an instant?

For sixteen-year-old Lizzie Stoller that moment is when she collapses, out of the blue. The next thing she knows she’s in a hospital with an illness she’s never heard of.

But that isn’t the only life-changing moment for Lizzie. The other is when Connor and his dog, Verlaine, walk into her hospital room. Lizzie has never connected with anyone the way she does with the handsome, teenage volunteer. However, the more time she spends with him, and the deeper in love she falls, the more she realizes that Connor has secrets and a deep pain of his own . . . and that while being with him has the power to make Lizzie forget about her illness, being with her might tear Connor apart.

This Blonde’s Review:
Lizzie had everything going for her when she suddenly collapses. While spending months in the hospital waiting to find out what’s wrong with her she wants to give up. She’s miserable and doesn’t want to shower or walk or do any of the things she should. Until Connor and his dog Verlaine, come into her room. She loves Verlaine from the start, but she soon finds herself wanting Connor around as well. He seems to understand and accept her in ways her friends and family can’t.

Part of the attraction to Connor was his mystery. He had secrets and pain of his own, leading to unfortunate choices and being infrequent in his attention to Lizzie. I couldn’t understand her feelings for him when he disappeared on her so often. Luckily there were others in her life willing to step in and be there for her if she could accept who they were and what they had to offer. Not everyone is who she might wish they were, but she had to learn who to accept as they are and who to let go.

I was torn on how I felt about this book. I could understand how she might not care for her appearance or talking with her friends who seemed so far from her new life. But as the book continued and she got caught up in her feelings for Connor I had a harder time connecting. Thankfully the author did not make this story entirely about Lizzie’s feelings for a boy and gave her new ways to cope with the changes in her life. Not everyone deals with the grief tremendous life changes can cause the same way. For Lizzie, her healing started with a boy and his dog. I may not have cared for everything Connor did and the things Lizzie accepted, but her healing had begun and she opened herself up to more ways to heal and move on with her life thanks to him. So while I was torn, I still needed to find out what would happen and that’s an important element in any story, keeping the reader reading and wanting to know what happens in the end.


Red Velvet Crush – Christina Meredith

Red Velvet Crush
By: Christina Meredith
Available June 2016

Teddy Lee’s mother ran off when she was in second grade. And ever since, Teddy Lee, the often-overshadowed middle kid, has tried to keep her family together. But her older brother Winston usually keeps himself busy with smoking, drinking, and girls, and who knows what else. Her younger sister Billie is occupied with her shoplifting habit and boys . . . and who knows what else. So when Teddy Lee finally takes the songs she’s always written and forms a band, maybe it’ll bring everyone closer together, maybe it’ll be her time to shine. Unless Billie steals the spotlight—and the boy—just like she always does. Christina Meredith explores the complicated relationship of sisters—both the unconditional love and the unavoidable resentments—in a novel full of music, urgency, the first blushes of love, and the undeniable excitement of hitting the road.

This Blonde’s Review:
Teddy Lee is a middle child who is often overshadowed by her troublesome siblings. Her older brother Winston seems to finally be interested in something that isn’t trouble, but he’s pushing her to be in a band. When she decides to give it a try she thinks it’ll finally be something about her until her sister Billie steps in. Their relationship is toxic, anything Teddy Lee has Billie feels entitled to take as well. Teddy Lee won’t stand her ground and their father, who seems to tired to be a parent, wants everything to go easy.

Admittedly this book was disappointing to me. There was so much potential that wasn’t met. Teddy Lee’s life happens to her without much effort on her part. She falls into a band because her brother sets it up. Her sister is wild and irresponsible so Teddy Lee falls into picking up after her and shrugs off the things she does. Of course there’s also a guy, but he seems like an afterthought. He’s there but there really wasn’t much going on with it, he was more of a prop. They fall into a relationship, they fall into sharing a room, and the rest of what happens to them. There wasn’t much character building or connection.

I spent much of the book waiting for the big moment. I expected it to be something with family and for her to make some important decisions and take action. What could have been the big moment seems to have been dealt with using the same avoidance and acceptance techniques that Teddy Lee has used her whole life. It was disappointing to see the other characters make more decisions than Teddy Lee, leading this story to be about the way life happens to a girl and her desire to stay home.

There were baby steps for her growth, when she didn’t immediately forgive her sister for something big. Her sister went on her way without much consequence for her actions, but silence is still a bigger step than Teddy Lee had taken in the past. Taking steps to pursue her own interests and learn more about the things that matter to her at the end could have almost been enough to save the book. It followed Teddy Lee’s personality of doing things under the radar, so it still fit the story, but after so much had happened to her without her involvement in her own life, a whisper wasn’t enough to recover my interest.


The Lies About Truth – Courtney C Stevens

The Lies About Truth
By: Courtney C Stevens
Available November 2015

Sadie Kingston, is a girl living in the aftermath. A year after surviving a car accident that killed her friend Trent and left her body and face scarred, she can’t move forward. The only person who seems to understand her is Trent’s brother, Max.

As Sadie begins to fall for Max, she’s unsure if she is truly healed enough to be with him — even if Max is able to look at her scars and not shy away. But when the truth about the accident and subsequent events comes to light, Sadie has to decide if she can embrace the future or if she’ll always be trapped in the past.

This Blonde’s Review:
People all have events that divide their lives into before and after. For Sadie her big before and after is the car accident that killed her friend and left her scarred. She lost more than Trent after the accident, she also lost her group of friend and her sense of self. She doesn’t know who she is anymore and can’t find her way back to doing the things she used to do.

The only person Sadie feels capable of opening up to is Max. Trent’s younger brother and the other person in the car with them the night he died. After the accident his family took a trip as part of their healing process so we see this relationship grow through a series of one sided emails. We can gather a lot of what is being said based on her replies so I’m glad we only got to see her emails. When he finally comes home and the anniversary of the accident draws near there are multiple things that start to bring things to a head. She’s unsure if her previous friendships will be finally destroyed for good or if it’ll be enough to bring them back together.

I really loved this book. I loved that it’s a more than a story about Sadie learning to care for someone after the devastation of losing one of her best friends. We get to see who Trent was through the memories that are shared of him. And we also realize that everyone has secrets about the things that happened before and after the accident. I like that some of them are secrets I never knew to expect and that they all feel their share of guilt over what happened. The characters were easy to care for, even after making mistakes and not wanting to like them.

If you enjoy books about broken characters dealing with loss and learning how to put their lives back together then you won’t want to miss this one.

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Posted by on September 9, 2015 in Around The World Tours, Book Review