Everyone knows that I love saving contemporaries for the summertime. There’s just something about being transported to a (often summery) realistic place while reading in the pool or on the beach!
The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Like many, Sarah Dessen has always been an integral part of my YA reading life. When I started reading YA in middle school, her books were among the first I dived into. I admit that some of her books, especially the earlier releases, have blurred together for me—I think that calls for a reread spree! However, one thing that is perfectly crystal clear (much like the lake) is that The Rest of the Story is one of my favorite Sarah Dessen books and one of my best 2019 reads. I quickly fell into this book and really couldn’t part from it for long!
Sarah Dessen’s books always have some sort of family element, but family is at the heart of The Rest of the Story. When her summer plans unexpectedly change, Emma Saylor finds herself staying at her grandmother’s house with her cousins at North Lake (sidenote: while Emma goes by both names, I’m just going to call her Emma for the sake of this review). I just couldn’t get enough of Emma’s family! I think they each had their own charm, while all helping run their grandmother’s lakeside motel. While Emma learns a lot about her mother’s side of the family, she gets to understand more about her mother’s past through their stories and memories. It was a very smart choice for Sarah Dessen to continue the story on beyond Emma’s three weeks for her family, making the story not so predictable and more expansive. There is a touch of romance, but it definitely wasn’t the focus. I’d argue that Emma spends either equal or less time with her romance interest compared to her family. I think Trinity and Gordon, her cousins, were my two favorite secondary characters.
Overall, there was something just so cozy and atmospheric about The Rest of the Story. I think this book is perfect for readers who like books exploring family dynamics and how learning about one’s pasts can help them understand their present- and themselves. Like all of Sarah’s books, The Rest of the Story had the perfect amount of summer contemporary charm. There’s its lakeside setting, romance, family, self-discovery, and much more. Sarah Dessen nicely balanced all these elements to give me one of my favorite summer contemporaries. I really hope she keeps coming out with more, and her books are definitely worth the wait.
Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Emma Mills’ Famous in a Small Town was a must-read on my summer TBR. As true Fangirl Fury fashion, I put off reading this January 2019 release until the summer because your girl must have summer contemporaries to read during the season. I was nervous going into Famous in a Small Town because a few readers that I follow said that this was their least favorite Emma Mills’ book. As someone who has read two of Emma Mills’ books (This Adventure Ends and First & Then) and has yet to read Foolish Hearts , Famous in a Small Town is currently my second favorite book of hers.
An important element I’ve come to realize when reading Emma Mills’ books is that her stories are much more character-driven than what the synopsis may suggest about the plot. For example, Small Town Hearts’ synopsis revolves around Sophie’s determination to get her high school’s marching band to the upcoming Rose Parade with a little help from her town’s country music star, Megan Pleasant. While Sophie is determined to get Megan to help them, this book is much more about her friend group’s summer before their senior year and all the dynamics and feelings between them. Although the official synopsis does allude to a romance interest for Sophie, this book focused more on that relationship than I would have predicted.
I enjoyed Famous in a Small Town so much because of Sophie, her friends and their realness. While I did want more from the small town star element, I didn’t mind reading about Sophie’s everyday happenings, from her friends’ summer jobs to their billboard-inspired group chats. This is something that I’ve noticed about all the Emma Mills’ books I’ve read, but her characters and their conversations just feel so real. They’re not afraid to make jokes or comments to one another and there is always just such an easiness among them. I do admit though that one of the reasons I did not give this book a full five stars is that Sophie’s best friend, Brit, annoyed me to no end. I think best friends can get away with saying some rather honest things to one another, but some of her comments and actions were just uncalled for (especially considering the reveal about Sophie that I was not expecting until right before it was revealed).
I also wish that this book had a tiny bit less focus on the romance, and I felt that the plot/what the synopsis largely discusses didn’t really come together until the very end. The reveal related to this plot was definitely unexpected for me (which I loved!) and I would have loved some more time to explore that. While I do appreciate Emma Mills’ quiet YA-ness (what I use to describe books that aren’t so much about the plot, but character and relationship development), I admit that I did pick up this book because of its suggested plot. I know it may sound that this book may not sound like a 4.5 star read for me, but I did enjoy it a lot. The book for sure would have been a 5 star read if it had more emphasis on the plot and some changed character direction.
Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
A few people that I follow in the book community didn’t love Somewhere Only We Know as much as they had hoped, which made me super nervous going into it. I had been not-so patiently waiting for this one to come in from my local library, since I love The Way You Make Me Feel so much. Thankfully, I really enjoyed Somewhere Only We Know. I love the title and hope Maurene Goo’s books keep getting named after song titles. Its Roman Holiday premise completely sold me, and I loved the K-pop star twist and Hong Kong setting. The book follows K-pop star Lucky’s 24 hour Hong Kong adventure and escape from her stressful life in the spotlight with Jack, who works as an undercover tabloid photographer. Obviously this thought does not affect my rating of the book, but I wish it had a better cover! I feel so much could have been done with the Hong Kong setting and Lucky and Jack could have been set up in a less awkward position.
Somewhere Only We Know is overall such fun and atmospheric read that will give you ALL the food cravings. Maurene Goo transports readers to Hong Kong, making me realize that I seriously need some egg waffles and sticky buns in my foodie life. This book is one of the few instances where I was okay with the insta-love because I really enjoyed Lucky and Jack’s chemistry. I think Jack is sort’ve set up to be a not-so nice guy in the very beginning, since he decides to hang out with Lucky just to get photos for the tabloid. Instead, I never thought as Jack as a bad guy because Maurene Goo gives a lot of dimension to his character. Somewhere Only We Know currently falls as my second favorite Maurene Goo book, with The Way You Make Me Feel as first but ahead of I Believe in Thing Called Love.
Have you read The Rest of the Story, Somewhere Only We Know or Famous in a Small Town? What summer contemporaries have you read this summer? Share in the comments!