About those January reads

My January was full of yoga, Twitter panic, LEA MICHELE, and a lot of Jane the Virgin. (I’m almost caught up on Season 2, finally!) So truth time. Magan and I announced we are back in some capacity, and we are still figuring out what exactly that capacity is. We’re playing it by ear, and I’m hoping by completing one of my fitness challenges will free up a little but more time for writing on here. We do hope you’ll follow along as we figure all of this out. But I popped on WordPress to talk books and HERE I AM.

I’m going to keep it simple. I’m sure you have lots to do. (Dishes? Nails? Paying attention to the holiday cards you still haven’t finished? Um. Not talking about me at all.) Focus, Estelle. Here are three books I hope you’ll check out super soon:

Wrecked by Maria PadianWrecked by Maria Padian / Goodreads | B&N | Amazon / Since my November tropical vacation, I’ve been in a a reading rut. I’m blaming it on the election, but I think it started a wee bit before that. It was not until I picked up Wrecked that I felt I found my reading groove again. I don’t think you hear that kind of thing very often about books on rape but it’s true for this one. Told from the POVs of Haley, the victim’s roommate, and Richard, the accused housemate, Wrecked unveils the behind-the-scenes details of a full-on rape investigation on a small college campus and just how challenging these cases can be. The strategy, the bullying, the loneliness, and the fuzzy details. It takes real skill from an author to take a reader, so confident in what happened, and turn them into a ball of frustration because what they thought was true might not be so at all. This feeling, almost vulnerable-like, heightened the anxiety of every scene and made me even more obsessed to reach to the finale. I wish I had had this book in high school. I wish we had been discussing political correctness. I wish we were discussing consent. I fear too many will pass up Wrecked because of the difficult subject matter but, to me, that’s more reason to pick it up. We need knowledge. We need to be thoughtful. We need to be open to learning from each other. We need to respect each other. Now more than ever. | Young adult novel from Algonquin Young Readers (October 2016).

The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann HayduThe Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu / Goodreads | B&N | Amazon / I love when my favorite authors challenge me in new ways, and Corey has certainly done that in her latest YA book about a street in Brooklyn, bound in curses, tradition, love and grief. In this alternate version of our world, the main character, Lorna, and a few of her closest friends continue to reel from an attack in NYC that destroyed Times Square. The Affected are honored constantly; Lorna cannot escape this part of her story. Neither can she escape the “curse” of her street: that the boy she falls in love with will die. An older woman on the street tries to shield Lorna and her friends from love but this curse can’t keep feelings at bay. There’s so much to discuss in this beautiful and heartbreakingly layered book. What happens when you allow grief to run your life? What do we really know about love? How can we guarantee that love is real and we can keep those we love safe? It’s tough stuff, but, as always, Corey tells this story thoughtfully and with so many feelings and brilliant, little details. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. | Young adult novel from Dutton Books (January 2017).

Confessions with the Fat Girl by Liza PalmerConversations with the Fat Girl by Liza Palmer / Goodreads | B&N | Amazon / As I await Liza Palmer’s upcoming book, I’m still working through her backlist and dug out this little gem. Truth be told, I’m not a fan of the cover and the title and I have a feeling if the book had been published in 2017, we might be looking at something a little different. Yes, this is a book about a girl who is overweight but her weight is hardly the whole focus of this story. Instead, we find a 26-year old at a total crossroads. Can Maggie remain best friends with her unsupportive childhood bestie (who, sidenote, also had gastric bypass surgery and pretends her younger years never happened)? Why the eff is she still working at a coffee shop when she wants to be working in a museum? Will she ever ask that cute guy out? I loved that this book asked the question: “If you can’t even choose yourself, how can anyone else?” IT’S A HARD QUESTION, and there is so much work for Maggie to do. And guess what? At 26, 32, 45, we may not still have our lives figured out but there doesn’t mean there isn’t time to make a change. We can only be good to others when we are good to ourselves. AND this has very little to do with our romantic love lives. Liza hit me where it hurts with the breakdown of Maggie and Olivia’s best friendship. It was so honest and it felt cathartic to see something so relative on the page. I love when books make you feel less alone, and soothes similar aches. A slow start but a strong, strong finish. | Contemporary fiction from 5 Spot (September 2005).

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On the docket for me this month: The Odds of Lightning by Jocelyn Davies, The Grown Ups by Robin Antalek, and Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr.

Let’s see how this “plan” goes. Friends, hope to hear from you in the comments or on social! What book should I be adding to my nightstand? Or just send me some hearts. 🙂

Happy Release Day, Kristan Higgins!

[dropcap]I’ve[/dropcap] read four out of the five of the Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins, and over the course of two years, I’ve always been curious about Connor O’Rourke. He was wise-talking, totally mysterious, and always teasing his twin sister, Colleen. She was even stumped by him. So I’ve been really excited to get Connor’s story, and Higgins did not disappoint with Anything For You (out today!). The highlight of this book was the timeline. We start with the present, a denied proposal, and then journey back to the very, very beginning of the “friendship” between Connor and Jess.

Anything for You by Kristan HigginsReaders can always depend on Higgins to create multi-layered character backstories and her development of Jess was on point. Right away, Jess reminded me of Laura Linney’s character in Love Actually; she has a disabled younger brother and is mainly responsible for him. Unlike Laura Linney’s, Jess’ parents are alcoholics and her childhood is filled with working more than one job, sacrificing her own school events and college to look out for her brother, and keeping them both safe from their parents and their unpredictable whims. The bright light in her life is always her brother, Davey, and then in an unexpected reunion: Connor.

Kind of. Jess understandably has trust issues. Davey is her number 1 priority, and even though she knows Connor is different than any of the other guys she has spent time with — that’s my one qualm about this book: readers are constantly and unnecessarily reminded of Jess and her promiscuity — the two can’t seem to make a full-fledged relationship work.

In romance novels, we know half the fun is getting to the happily ever after and I really enjoyed getting to know these two characters through their own personal challenges and the series of events that kept bringing them back to one another. Plus there was something so sweet about learning how a series landmark — O’Rourke’s — was born. Finding out these little details definitely made the Blue Heron series come full circle. Anything for You was the perfect respite after a busy few days, full of loyal supporting characters, forgiveness, acceptance, and a couple who deserved the chance to make each other happy.

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Anything for You (Blue Heron #5) by Kristan Higgins
will be published on December 29, 2015 by Harlequin HQN Books.
384 Pages | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

3 for 3 | December YA Picks

Why, hello there. It’s actually THURSDAY. I kept thinking yesterday was Thursday, but it wasn’t. So here we are. Ten days into December, only a few weeks left in the year and so much to talk about — the best books, how many books, and, of course, the new titles still releasing this month! Today I’m all about the third option and I’m sharing a few YA reads that are sure to brighten anyone’s holiday or kick off a new year right.

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Not If I See You First by Eric LindstromNOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST by Eric Lindstrom (12/1/15; Little Brown/Poppy)

What you need to know: Parker is blind but she doesn’t want any special treatment. Her dad passed away recently, and she doesn’t want to talk about that much either. She wants to go running and spend time with her best friend, dishing out way honest advice to classmates. She seems to be coping until “an old flame” finds his way back into her life, and she’s left to rethink events that happened years ago, just who’s on her side, and how she can’t hide from her feelings (about just about everything) forever.

The best part: Okay, there are two best parts. Parker is refreshingly bold (even if some of this is deflecting her own pain) and her friendship with her forever bestie is so wonderful but almost because it’s not safe from growing pains and misunderstandings. I love how Eric Lindstrom explores the reasons why we share some things with our friends, and hide others. It’s so important.

b&n | amazon

18982137THE TROUBLE WITH DESTINY by Lauren Morrill (12/8/15; Penguin)

What you need to know: Liza is drum major of her marching band, and takes major responsibility for the band’s success. But she’s the only one that knows the band could lose its funding and cease to exist so they are now performing on a cruise ship in hopes of winning some major bucks. Schools trip can be dramatic, surprising, and totally fun but Liza is the last person who puts her feet up and relaxes. Can the band triumph — especially with evil ex-best friends, old loves, and new distractions?

The best part: Lauren Morrill nails the feeling of being in a marching band, and that chemistry when the hard work and sweat and tears come together for some amazing performance. I was instantly transported to some of my favorite times in middle school (just band) and high school (marching band, forever).

b&n | amazon

This Raging Light by Estelle LaureTHIS RAGING LIGHT by Estelle Laure (12/22/15; HMH for Young Readers)

Can I just point out how strange it is that this author’s name is Estelle Laure? This is almost the perfect combo of my & my sister’s names. In fact, I have to keep correcting myself from writing Estelle Laurie. Anyway…

What you need to know: Lucille is forced to take care of her younger sister when her mom disappears and her dad deals. She gets a job, pays all the bills, and still manages to get her and her sister to school. She can only keep up appearances for so long, right? Nothing can distract her from her growing attraction for her best friend’s twin brother; can anything get more complicated? (I may have spoken too soon here.)

The best part: All of it. Every time I had to press pause on this book, I felt like I was being sucked out of some dream. The writing was sharp, thoughtful, and honest. I loved how strong Lucille was; I absolutely adored her friendship with Eden, and her devotion to her sister? As a reader, you want to give as many hugs to these characters as possible. I admired Lucille for advocating for herself so many times, especially when she had been let down by the people who should be taking care of her.

b&n | amazon

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December is certainly impressing me with the books so far. Let’s keep this streak going!

Be sure to share some fab reads of the month below — if you want. xoxo

Give Me Your All & Nothing Else | Romance Short List

I borrowed the title of this post from a Selena Gomez song (Hands to Myself). I’ve been obsessed with new releases from her and Demi Lovato lately. They are both sexy and confident and strong, and both new albums reflect that. I’m not sure how natural of a segway this is into ROMANCE NOVELS but I’m going to pretend it was seamless. I finished a heavy-ish book the other night (I Crawl Through It by A.S. King) and I already felt my brain begging me to jump into a romance next. I’m still sorting through what’s next but before then I wanted to make sure I talked about a few of the others I’ve read recently. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of the romance roundups.

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Hold Me by Susan MalleryHold Me by Susan Mallery (Harlequin HQN/April 28, 2015): It’s always a comfort to head back to Fool’s Gold and the most memorable part of diving into Hold Me was the sister relationship forming between Destiny and her half-sister, Starr. Being that Destiny had an unstable upbringing, she doesn’t have much confidence in her “parenting” skills as her sister’s guardian for the summer and I liked watching them figure each other yet. It can’t be easy for someone like Destiny who is so used to jumping from one job to the next to help someone she barely knows feel settled. Despite the sister storyline, we have Destiny and and Kipling — a guy who is ready to settle in Fool’s Gold for good and even opens a bar for “the men”. (Um, this lead to some very, very funny scenes.) Their relationship was very unconventional as far as Mallery’s usually go and while I definitely enjoyed it, a little more growth and built would have made their pairing more solid for me. Always worth checking out what Mallery is up to. I can’t wait for the Christmas book!!

Add HOLD ME to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon or B&N

Taking the Heat by Veronica DahlTaking the Heat by Victoria Dahl (Harlequin HQN/July 28, 2015): In my eyes, Dahl can do no wrong. In Taking the Heat, she pairs a hunky male librarian and an advice columnist (confident on the outside and the opposite inside) together. I loved reading about Veronica answering notes from those who needed help, and how Gabe’s gig at the library was so much about improving the tech aspects of the place. From the tiniest details, Dahl concentrates so much on the backstories of her characters, making everything that much more enjoyable to read and even sexier when this couple starts to get closer. I always know to expect major sizzle in every single book she writes. Taking the Heat was no exception. And not only are the two characters trying to navigate their feelings for each other, both are in a position where they need to find the strength to stand up to their parents about where they want their life to go. So relatable, and so so great.

Add TAKING THE HEAT to Goodreads | Buy on B&N or Amazon

Willow Brook Road by Sherryl WoodsWillow Brook Road by Sherryl Woods (Harlequin MIRA/ September 29, 2015): My first book from Sherryl Woods, and while the romance aspect was great, I adored the family dynamics and main character Carrie’s motivation to find her life’s passion and go for it. Woods takes the small town gossip to a whole new level with the huge O’Brien family (who practically runs the town) and new guy Sam Winslow cannot escape their matchmaking or their friendly (really!) advice. The author also touches on pregnancy difficulties and adoption in another plotline. I liked having this parallel of a marriage facing difficulties and we read about Sam and Carrie getting closer. Willow Brook Road may favor sweet over sexy but it was certainly fun to read.

Add WILLOW BROOK ROAD to Goodreads | Buy on B&N or Amazon


Help! I’d love some romance recommendations for you guys. What should I add to my list next?

 

This Love Bug | Romance Short List

Did you know August was Romance Awareness Month? Me neither. (Just made it!) I found out when I was doing some research for work, but hey, it is and here we are. Three romance recommendations that eased me back into work after vacation, accompanied me on a beer crawl, and kept me company on a “me night” (along with this beer). I always will equate romance novels with relaxation and a whole lot of fun. Thanks to these for providing that! Hope you find something to add to your list today.

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Fighting for Keeps by Jennifer SnowFighting for Keeps by Jennifer Snow (Harlequin Heartwarming/ April 25, 2015): My first romance novel about a fighter, and I really liked it. Noah might fight for a living but he’s also focused on making sure young kids in his neighborhood have every opportunity to get a great education and support they might be missing. In the same town is Lindsay, a woman he’s been after forever. No amount of training has prepared him for her cold shoulder but when tragedy strikes and her life changes a ton, Noah is there for her. A sweet story about a woman who must finally realize she’s worth it and capable of everything, and a man who learns it’s okay to let his defenses down with the right person.

Add FIGHTING FOR KEEPS to Goodreads | Amazon or B&N

Thrill Me by Susan MalleryThrill Me by Susan Mallery (Harlequin HQN/July 28, 2015) I’ve read my fair share of Susan Mallery books, and I can say, hands down, this one is at the top of my list. Second chance love? Give me more of this. Maya is unexpectedly reunited with the only man she’s ever been in love with for a work project. Her and Del never exactly broke up either; she ran away from him and never looked back. On the surface, both seem at ease working on a marketing campaign for Fool’s Gold but, in reality, Maya’s wondering if she should bring up the past and Del is starting to remember how great everything felt when she was around. Not only was this book about bringing two people together again, but Maya is struggling with that next step in her life. Does she want to work in Fool’s Gold forever or is there more for her out there? I was utterly delighted by these two, happy to be back in the generous and sweet town of Fool’s Gold, and gobbled this book in less than a day.

Add THRILL ME to Goodreads | Amazon or B&N

One Wish by Robyn CarrA New Hope by Robyn Carr (Harlequin HQN/June 30, 2015): Every since I read ONE WISH, I was anxious to get to Ginger’s story. She’s a divorced young woman who lost her young child to SIDS and has now relocated to Thunder Point, working in an adorable flower shop. Robyn Carr overlaps Ginger’s story while continuing Grace’s from One Wish and I was glad for that. Grace’s story was far from over, and her friendship was so important to Ginger’s new lease on life. In this book, two people have to come to terms with their past and decide if they are ready to jump into a new adventure together. Matt makes a terrible first impression with Ginger but throughout A NEW HOPE, he certainly makes up for it. They grow to be close friends and take their next steps very slowly. I liked getting to know them a lot, enjoyed meeting a new character who will take centerstage in WILDEST DREAMS, and, once again, feeling charmed all over again by the Thunder Point citizens.

A nitpicky sidenote: I wish the ladies were featured on the covers of THUNDER POINT novels. I have no idea whose dog that is!

Add A NEW HOME to Goodreads | Amazon or B&N

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Nothing beats a romance novel during a stressful week, let me tell ya. Thanks for reading, and be sure to share any recommendations below!

Now What, Baby? | What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi

[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ow did Ryder’s senior year shift from dreaming of soccer scholarships to deciphering the cries of a newborn baby — his newborn baby? In her latest, What You Left Behind, Jessica Verdi shows no mercy when she blows the Ryder’s world way open — a baby on his hip, the love-of-his-life girlfriend dead, disappearing friends, and a whole lot of guilt on his shoulders. Pretty outrageous, right? But Verdi tells this story with thoughtfulness and thoroughness, making me forget time and time again just how much shit Ryder was thrown at the same time. He may be a struggling single dad, obsessed with answers Meg may have left in her journals, but he’s also a guy working at Whole Foods, trying to make it to soccer practice on time, and finding a new friend in the vivacious Joni. It’s the introduction of the mundane and Ryder’s hope he can reclaim his old self that nicely counterbalances all the heavy stuff and made this book practically impossible to put down.

What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi

WHAT YOU LEFT BEHIND by Jessica Verdi is about a single teenager father and what happens next. Sourcebooks; 8/4/15; 320 Pages.

There’s so much to love in this book but Ryder’s relationship with his mother was the absolute soul of this story. His mom had him young too so maybe this made her more understanding and supportive but I’d like to think any person would take her stance. She also doesn’t let him forget that his life can’t just settle back in the plan he’s had for years. Hope must be his main priority. What I respected so much was how she never forced any realizations on him. She gave Ryder space to breathe and mess up, and I’m convinced this is why he is able to grow so much as a character throughout the novel. (Verdi also taps into Baby Hope’s senses too. Her unsettledness with Ryder was so reflected in her behavior.)

The struggle to bridge his expectations with reality leads Ryder pretty astray at times. He finds solace in his new friendship with Joni but doesn’t necessarily let her know that he has a bouncing baby at home. This is one of the spots where Verdi really challenges her readers. We’re all waiting for the next shoe to drop; it’s inevitable and we have to patiently wait for Ryder to get there. The other part is Meg. Because we only know her from Ryder’s memories of them together and her journal entries, it seems like a no-brainer that we would feel sad for her. She died before she could graduate high school, before she could meet her daughter. But Verdi doesn’t make that emotion so cut and dry, especially as Ryder, Meg’s sister, and her best friend make discoveries of their own. All of them have so much to come to terms with. (They make a great little team too; I liked that this was the start of a new friendship for all of them.)

Compelling and heartbreaking, What You Left Behind is the reading experience dreams are made of. I was invested, completely wrapped up in this character’s voice, and holding my breath as all the pieces slowly and smartly began to gel together. Uncovering secrets, understanding sacrifice, and granting yourself permission to move forward? It’s all here, it’s so discussion worthy, and it’s good. Really, really good.

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Add WHAT YOU LEFT BEHIND to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N

This title was provided early by the publisher for review.

P.S. I read Not After Everything by Michelle Levy a few books after this one, and I can’t help but think Tyler and Ryder are kindred spirits. In some secret literary world, I hope they are pals.