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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Girl Against the Universe and This Is How It Happened by Paula Stokes - Book Reviews, Guest Post & Giveaway

Reviews by Suze
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Bad things are happening to Maguire. Her uncle, father and brother died in a car crash and she was the only one who came out of it alive. She also survived a roller coaster accident and when a third incident happened, and then a fourth people started to talk. Maguire thinks she causes the bad luck and does everything she can to keep the people around her safe. Her mother remarried and had two more children and the family is now moving to a new place. Maguire has the chance to start over, but she thinks she's still responsible for other people's misery and a new home and school won't change that. That's why her mother sends her to a therapist.

Maguire meets Jordy at her therapist's office. She's surprised when she sees him again at the school's tennis practice. Jordy is assisting her coach. He's a young tennis star and wants to become a professional. Their therapist has given both of them goals to achieve and Jordy and Maguire decide to help each other with their quests. For the first time in her teenage life Maguire has a friend, but she doesn't know if it's safe. Shouldn't she stay away from Jordy, so he can avoid the trouble she brings with her?

Girl Against the Universe is a beautiful heartwarming story about a traumatized girl who develops mental health problems because of everything that happened to her. Paula Stokes writes about this topic in a sensitive and truthful way and I can't praise the way she's handles her topic enough. She's done a fantastic job. I loved Maguire, she's a sweet and talented girl. Unfortunately the universe has dealt her a bad hand. She tries to cope, but it isn't easy. She needs help and she's doing her very best to get better. She's incredibly strong and I admired that about her. Jordy is kindhearted and adorable and they are great together. I kept hoping they would both overcome their fears enough to enjoy life again. I loved their ending, it's not all sunshine and roses, but it's lovely and fitting instead, which was a wonderful surprise.

Paula Stokes has an easy flowing writing style. I read Girl Against the Universe in one sitting and couldn't put it down. I loved the vivid descriptions of both the thought processes of the main characters and their motivations. They are complete people and I could picture them without any difficulties, which enabled me to focus on the story itself even more. I think good books about main characters who struggle with mental health issues are really important and this is definitely one of my favorites. I enjoyed the loving way Paula Stokes writes about Maguire and Jordy. She is such a good writer and her stories are all unique and absolutely amazing.


If you love a good romantic YA story dealing with mental health issues in an amazing way, Girl Against the Universe would be a perfect choice.

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When Genevieve wakes up in a hospital room after a car crash she can't remember what happened. Her boyfriend Dallas was killed. He was on his way to fame and fortune, being a popular singer song writer who just released his first album. The accident is being seen as a crime. Brad, the driver of the other car that was involved, supposedly drank alcohol before getting behind the wheel. Was the accident really Brad's fault though? Genevieve was driving that night, what if she was somehow responsible? She wants to get away from the media attention, the accusations and (false) sympathy. While recovering many miles away with her dad and his new wife her memory slowly returns. What happened on that fatal night?

People's aggression towards Brad becomes worse. The abundance of negative social media attention around the accident makes Genevieve nervous. She might be far away from the scene of the accident, but it keeps haunting her and she realizes she can never truly escape the traumatic event. While spending a lot of time outside she has the chance to slowly work through her feelings. Can she accept the consequences of her actions that night and will she be able to find a way to deal with the aftermath?

This Is How It Happened is an impressive story. I was blown away by the thought-provoking subject matter. Paula Stokes doesn't spare her main characters. They aren't perfect, they make mistakes and they learn how to deal with difficult circumstances. I loved that about her story. Nothing is black or white and she fabulously explores the grey in between. She's given Genevieve a fantastic multilayered personality. She's introverted, complex and incredibly smart. Because of the accident she's lost someone incredibly dear to her and she has to come to terms with everything that happened that traumatic night. Watching her go through every single stage of the emotional roller coaster she's in moved me to tears. I was captivated from the very first page and couldn't stop reading.

Paula Stokes has a terrific engaging writing style. I love how well she understands what her main characters are going through. She describes every single detail of their emotional turmoil in a compelling way and the result is an amazing complete story. This Is How It Happened is a poignant story filled with hope, loss and dreams. It's clear that Paula Stokes puts everything she has to give into her writing, which is something I greatly admire about her books. I highly recommend This Is How It Happened, it's a beautiful story.


If you love thought-provoking stories about acceptance and personal growth you don't want to miss This Is How It Happened.

About Paula Stokes

Hey, I'm Paula. I write stories about flawed characters with good hearts who sometimes make bad decisions.

I got my start writing historical novels for a book development company. Then I wrote a fluffy YA romantic comedy called THE ART OF LAINEY. After that, I wrote a dark and twisty mystery called LIARS, INC. Those two books sold to the good people at HarperTeen, and since then I've released two action-packed sci-fi thrillers and two more contemporary novels. In 2018 I'll be releasing another mystery and my first new adult novel, a romance set in Thailand. Mixing it up keeps things interesting for me.

In addition to being a writer, I'm also a mental health nurse, online instructor, and freelance manuscript consultant. Several of my clients at Manuscript Critique Services have gone on to sign with agents and sell their debut novels.

When I'm not working (rare), I'm kayaking, hiking, reading, or seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. My future goals include writing more books, becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, learning Krav Maga, and diving with great white sharks, not necessarily in that order. (Okay, probably in that order.)


A peek inside my “book boyfriend” laboratory
Guest post by Paula Stokes

First a big thank you to Suze and Anniek for having me on the blog. I was originally going to write about why I like nice (book) guys, but then I decided to share how I create my own YA book boyfriends instead.

Step 1: Let the book boyfriend be who he is.

My main characters often pop into my head almost fully formed. Sometimes they are partially based on someone I know. Sometimes they’re partially based on a person I might have read about, overheard on public transit, or seen at the store, etc. Often they just appear and I can’t even begin to parse out where their individual physical and emotional characteristics came from. This is one of the magical things about writing, and as much as possible, I try to roll with whatever quirks and traits my characters are “born” with. For example, Jordy from Girl Against the Universe is afraid of grasshoppers. I don’t know anyone afraid of grasshoppers and I don’t know why he came with that fear, but I let him keep it and then came up with a backstory that explained it.

Step 2: But don’t let him be “too perfect.”

But Paula, books are fiction, they’re fantasies, what’s wrong with perfect, you might ask. When I’m reading, I appreciate the occasional perfect book boyfriend, the guy who is swoonworthy in every aspect and never lets me down. But at the same time, he doesn’t usually feel “real” to me, and if he does feel real then my inner high school girl is usually reminding me how a guy that perfect never would never talk to me because I am a giant, tangled mess of flaws. Plus, perfect book boys often come with idealized representations of romance and relationships, and I prefer not to encourage unrealistic expectations for either guys or girls.

When I first got into reading YA, paranormal was big, and not only were the book boyfriends handsome, smart, athletic, and talented, they also had super-human powers. Twilight is a good example of a “too perfect” book boyfriend in my opinion, and sure, I understand that Edward is actually a hundred years old or whatever, so his long list of talents makes sense with the story. But a lot of books came after Twilight where the book boy wasn’t immortal but still seemed to possess all of those “Renaissance Man” qualities. I don’t know about you, but the boys I knew in high school did not speak five languages, play classical piano, quote famous poetry, kick ass at sports, encourage their friends to recycle, and manage to do all of that without messing up their stylish clothing or perfectly coiffed hairdos. Maybe they kicked ass at sports, but they got sweaty and stinky while they did so, and then they went home and tossed their dirty laundry on the floor next to the cheese-encrusted plate from the sandwich they made themselves the night before when they stayed up late playing Playstation. Fun fact: The cheese-encrusted plate Lainey finds in Micah’s bedroom in The Art of Lainey is totally based on a whole collection of cheese-encrusted plates I encountered while dating.

Basically, my second step boils down to the following:

I want my characters to feel real.

I don’t want to create unrealistic expectations for girls.

I don’t want to create unrealistic standards for boys.

I want my book boyfriends to feel attainable to readers.

Step 3: But make sure underneath it all that he’s a decent guy.

Back when I was reading all those paranormal YA books, I noticed another thing: the book boyfriends were often either overly controlling or emotionally unavailable. (And I don’t mean to indicate this is unique to paranormal YA. I think this was just a trend ten years ago but I saw it mostly in paranormal because that’s what I read.) That resulted in a lot of book boys who watched girls sleep or kicked other guys’ asses for talking to them on one side, and book boys who dodged text messages and railed on girls for being too clingy on the other side. I’ve dated guys from both groups and I can tell you without even knowing who you are, that you deserve better. My first serious boyfriend was so controlling that he used to tell me how to dress and got jealous of the time I spent with my own family. After I finally broke up with him, I did a 180 and had such an issue with being attracted to emotionally unavailable assholes in my twenties and thirties that I’ve since gone years without dating, mostly because my relationships took a lot more from me than they gave and I’m just too tired to invite that hell back into my life. (It’s okay. I’m happy on my own for the time being ;D)

But still, despite the parade of sketchy dudes I’ve fallen for IRL, I’ve also dated/known a few really amazing guys—guys who never yelled at me, policed my behavior, or made me feel bad about myself, but still weren’t afraid to (nicely) call me on my bullshit. Guys who cared about other people and the planet. Guys who didn’t think being sensitive equaled being weak. Guys who supported me in my goals even if they didn’t share them or understand them. Plenty of guys like that exist. They are not perfect—often they are not the wealthiest, most athletic, most handsome, most successful, etc. But they’re out there, I swear. And although I don’t generally use my exes’ specific characteristics for book boyfriends, I do use the feelings I remember from those relationships to create stories showing that supportive and respectful guys can be even more attractive than the charming manipulators and brooding bad boys so many of us are naturally drawn to.

What about you? What sort of book romances do you prefer?


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One very lucky reader of With Love for Books will receive hardcover copies of Girl Against the Universe and This Is How It Happened by Paula Stokes.

The winner will be notified by email and has 3 days to respond. All of our giveaways are international.


  1. These books sounds really interesting, thank you for the reviews and giveaway!

  2. These sound like realistic stories--and young people should definitely stay away from the stresses of social media!

  3. Both books sounds like fresh, contemporary stories that are compelling, powerful and thought-provoking.

  4. I loved Vicarious and I'm dying to read This is how it happened :)

  5. So so looking forward to opening this book!

  6. Really look forward to This Is How it Happened

  7. Paula's books are pretty awesome. :-)

  8. Great books for a great giveaway

  9. Great reviews and post, thank you for sharing them.

  10. This sounds like an emotional read.

  11. I absolutely agree that imperfect characters feel more real, I love unique little details about characters, too, like that fear of grasshoppers, it just makes them that much more memorable.

  12. A touch of Final Destination at the start, but it will be great to read how the main character overcomes all the obstacles. Looking forward to hearing her journey.

  13. They both seem like exciting reads. Thanks for the introduction.

  14. These sound like some intense stories.

  15. Girl Against The Universe keeps popping up everywhere I look, I think it is meant to be!!!

    Holly / The Writing Finch

  16. This is actually nice, and helpful for aspiring book bloggers like me! More power to you! And God bless :)

  17. I totally agree about book boyfriends and how they have been presented in YA in the past...Creepy!

  18. This looks like a very interesting book! Love the idea of sending the winner a hardcover copy as i love adding the books i read to my library! Thank you so much for this giveaway!

  19. I love Paula's stories. Would so love to win.

  20. Sounds like a great read - love the cover

  21. Thanks for the great prize and competition. Good luck everyone!

  22. My niece has read 'This Is How It Happened'. I must borrow it from her!

  23. A great guest post, I love that you shared how you create your YA book boyfriends. You certainly wear a lot of caps, it's amazing that you ever find time to write novels.