Black Iris by Leah Raeder | Estelle Reviews

Black Iris by Leah RaederBlack Iris by Leah Raeder ( web |  tweet )
Published April 28, 2015 by Atria
Pages: 368
Target audience: New adult
Keywords: homophobia, bullying, revenge, sex, family, mental illness

Summary: Pain and betrayal chased with emotionless sex and drugs take centerstage in this tale of revenge against her old life — as Laney finds her caught between the illuminating and out of control Blythe, and the understanding and steady Armin. Feelings blur with devastating highs and lows as loyalties are questioned, family secrets are uncovered, and tangled webs becomes unraveled.

This review is going to be the equivalent of me sticking my tongue out at you, and saying nah nah nah nahhh nah I can’t tell you a freaking thing. I apologize in advance. I really do. Believe me when I say I haven’t read such an electrifying mystery crackling with so much tension since Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas. But since Dangerous Girls was a young adult book, picture all of that deliciousness and debauchery turned up a notch… or ten.

I was unbelievably riveted by the story of Laney, struggling with who she is in such a public forum because of a total jerk. It’s more complicated than Laney feeling comfortable to be loud and proud about her sexuality; she wants to love who she wants to love. She wants to kiss who she wants to kiss. Of course, there are the people that don’t approve of this “behavior” and Leah Raeder has sprinkled them throughout Black Iris. Laney isn’t a character who has a ton of support and isn’t exactly forthcoming with all the feelings swirling around her because the judgement so far has been real and painful and soul crushing.

So when she meets Blythe and Armin — it’s like FINALLY. Two people who love her and accept her except she’s into Armin and she thinks he’s into her and she can’t deny she isn’t Blythe and she’s pretty sure she’s into her right back and well, a complex story is dished even more layers. Friendship and trust and loyalty are constantly being tested, especially as Laney becomes fixated on righting the wrongs from high school.

It was more than the tension and the need to know the endgame that kept me reading Black Iris late into my Friday night (the same evening I started it). Raeder’s writing is smart and layered; I loved how Laney and Blythe are literature snobs and geekily trade quotes all the time. In the midst of Laney shifting into this calculated vengeful mastermind, there’s also her difficult relationship with her mom and the exact opposite kind of closeness she has with her younger brother. The details are meaty, and Raeder put as much as work into these of this story as she did with the combustible energy between Blythe, Armin, and Laney.

This is the thing: Laney admits to not being on the straight and narrow. And even though she’s choreographing some horrific situations, I felt empowered on her behalf. She was wrongfully targeted because of who she was and she did something about it. She made people pay. For that, she was pretty kick ass — just like this entire book. For a thoroughly sexy and suspenseful mystery that sucks you in and spits you out, look no further than Black Iris.

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Thanks to Atria for supplying an early copy of this book.

Friendship & Kitschy California with Author Juliana Romano

Juliana Romano and First There Was ForeverHappy Monday & welcome to Rather Be Reading. I’m thrilled debut author Juliana Romano is stopping in to talk about her book: FIRST THERE WAS FOREVER — a book about two best friends going through a lot of changes. It’s one of my top reads this year, and Publishers Weekly liked it too: “Fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han won’t want to miss this sensitive exploration of romantic and platonic relationships in flux, and young women coming into their own.”

Truth be told, I grabbed Juliana’s book for my recent trip to Disney World to meet Magan and was thrown into a rare moment where I would “rather be reading” than prancing around the Magic Kingdom. This is pretty much the best endorsement I could ever give a book. Anyway, check out what Juliana (who is also a painter) had to say about friendships, her awesome setting, and what she is working on next!

Estelle: Friendships are so complicated, and you did a wonderfully heartbreaking job of showing the highs and lows in Lima and Hailey’s relationship. They loved each other so much and that’s what made how each of them were changing so hard to read about. What do you think is the key to lasting friendship? Is it possible to get through high school unscathed?

Juliana: I’m so happy you connected with Lima and Hailey’s ups and downs. It’s hard to say what makes a friendship last, but in my experience, its trust and sharing a sense of humor. The friendships that I have that have lasted since high school or college, are ones where no one ever crossed the line into territory where one of us got really hurt. But the friends who I lost because either they hurt me or I hurt them, like Lima and Hailey, those friendships were really important, too. I learned a lot about myself and about love from those relationships. I think it’s important to remember that friendships that end aren’t bad friendships, sometimes it’s just how it goes.

Estelle: In so many cases, Lima’s curiosity made her a stronger person. Did you know how much you wanted her to grow when you started the book?

Juliana: No, I really didn’t! I knew that I wanted her to learn to make choices, but I felt very connected to her and very open to her journey while she was on it. I didn’t totally know where she was going to end up until she got there.

Estelle: I loved so much about the book, but one detail I thought was particularly awesome (especially because it was young adult) was the exploration of sex. It was so honest. When you set out to write this book, did you know it was going to be a YA? Did you have a barometer for how far you wanted it to go?

Juliana: Yes, I definitely knew I wanted to write YA. I didn’t think about whether or not that meant there could be real sex, but I assumed it would be OK because there is sex in a lot of YA books. Sex in this book was really important to me because its one of the ways that I think Lima tests her own boundaries and surprises herself.  I feel like parting of growing up is stepping into new roles and seeing how they feel, and that can be really scary.

Estelle: California is like its own character in your book; the setting was so alive. What’s one spot in your book you would recommend your readers visiting?

Juliana: Ahh so hard to say! In LA, I think the beaches are great. I’d go to the Santa Monica Pier and ride the Ferris Wheel and then just walk along the sand. It’s touristy and kitschy but that kind of adds to the romance. The charm of LA is about things being not-quite perfect.

Estelle. Can you tell us one secret about the book you’re working on now?

Juliana: There’s a boy in it with very green eyes. And it takes place in another city with a whole other set of characteristics than LA. Think: skyscrapers and yellow cabs and bridges 😉

 Big hugs to Juliana for answering my questions!

For more on Juliana Romano: her website ; twitter ; instagram

For more on FIRST THERE WAS FOREVER: my pub date ; review

Happy reading!

99 Days by Katie Cotugno | Review & Giveaway

99 Days99 Days by Katie Cotugno ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 4/21/15 by HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray
Pages: 384 | Target audience: young adult
Keywords: mothers/daughters, summer before college, bullying, romance
Format read: ARC provided by Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)
Previously: a review of How to Love

Summary: Molly has 99 days standing between her and college. Can she ignore the past to survive the summer in Star Lake — a place she never wanted to see again? With constant reminders of all that went down last year, it’s impossible to say for sure especially when she finds herself back in the company of the Donnelly brothers.

There’s nothing like a novel that completely revs you up.

Trust me, in the cause of 99 Days, this is the best compliment I can give.

Molly Barlow is back in Star Lake for the first time since her “scandal” became public knowledge. Her time caught between the Donnelly brothers turned into a best-selling novel by her adopted mother, and the reason she lost so many once-important people in her life. In the wake of this devastation, she runs off to boarding school until senior year ends. Caps in the air and she is back for one more summer, planning to hide for the next 99 days… until she can start fresh at college.

Heavy stuff, right? The complexity within this story knows no bounds, especially as the novel unfolds. Molly’s relationship with her mother is shaky, her old best friend Imogen is avoiding her (and why shouldn’t she since Molly cut her off), and her old close friend, Julia, who also happens to be a Donnelly, is making her life a living hell. This is where my blood starts to boil because even though it takes two to tango, Molly has always been the one taking the brunt when it comes to her Donnelly love triangle. Does anyone key Gabe’s car? Does anyone call Gabe a slut? No, of course not. Enter the lovely double standard because it’s here to stay and made me so incredibly angry on Molly’s behalf. The girl feels guilty enough without having to be reminded of it every five minutes, but why should she be ostracized when Gabe still gets treated like Star Lake’s mayor?

My anger is a testament to Katie Cotugno’s writing. She twists what most think of as a black-and-white situation into something so gray, she’s practically discovered new shades. Love is a messy, complicated thing and I haven’t come across a portrayal of it quite as honest and heartbreaking as this one. When you feel something so intensely for two people at the same time, there aren’t words to properly explain that, especially when the end goal is (rightfully so) supposed to be one person. But how do you shut off your brain or your emotions? The reality is… sometimes you just can’t.

You know that bewildered way you feel after you wake up from a vivid dream? That’s exactly how I felt every time I jumped back into this book. I was in such a zone, and suddenly, I was jolted awake, surprised to realize a whole world was still going on around me. 99 Days was that captivating. Sure, the foundation is Molly caught between Patrick, her first love, and Gabe, this guy she clicks with so well, but it’s so much more than that – the loss of trust she feels with her mom, how much she misses being around the Donnellys when their entire family has been a part of her life for so long, how she had a best friend who stood beside her when things got rough and she took her for granted (everyone needs an Imogen in their lives), and the small realizations we make about ourselves and others as time passes.

There are times in our lives where we have to just follow our hearts – however unconventional that may be – and sometimes we just have to forgive ourselves. Molly may not understand why she is feeling the way she is feeling but at least she was honest with herself about that confusion. Most of all, I love how this book can challenge the most compassionate reader. Everyone makes mistakes; no one is perfect and it confuses me why we put the fictional characters we read about on such pedestals. For all you know, I could be Molly. The person sitting next to you could be Molly. Your best friend could be Molly. We desperately need to shift this conversation away from likability and back to whether or not a book tells an engaging story.

Two fun facts before I say adios: The first time I read 99 Days I stayed up until 4 a.m. on a Saturday night because I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep until I knew how it ended. Second: 99 Days is the first (and only) book I’ve reread this year, and I found it just as sexy, intense, messy, and wonderful as I did the first time around. I haven’t felt quite as passionate about a book this year as I do about this one.

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Read an excerpt of 99 DAYS on Epic Reads | The Fantastic Flying Book Club 99 Days Blog Tour

Bonus: A chance to win a signed copy of 99 Days, signed by Katie Cotugno! Open to U.S. reads only. Good luck!

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What If You Could | #Tuck40th

Tuck Everlasting Blog Tour #tuck40th

Happy 40th anniversary to Natalie Babbitt and the brilliant Tuck Everlasting! I can still remember the impact this book had on my 6th grade class when we read it for the first time. After years of school and piles and piles of books, there are only a few titles that really stick with you, aren’t there? So it’s nice to see that Tuck has touched so many and will continue to do so.

In the spirit of the book’s anniversary, the folks at Macmillan have asked us to mull over the following question:

What if you could live forever?

At first glance, the prospect of living forever sounds so attractive. The thought of no longer existing is frightening and avoiding that kind of unknown might seem like an appealing alternative but what happens when all the people you love continue to leave you — over and over again? It’s the kind of heartbreak no one would wish on themselves.

There’s something about a finish line. Even if we don’t have an exact date and time, limitations are important. It’s easy to put things off until the next day when there’s no urgency. We do it all the time in our daily lives, but imagine not having that kind of boundary ever. Could an overabundance of lifetimes make us less motivated? Less focused?

So man of those inspirational quotes we hear time and time again are about the shortness of life, how we must live for today because the future is never a sure thing. Not everyone takes this to heart. We all know that life comes to an end eventually but that doesn’t change the fact that some people are motivated to make the most of it and others are not. In fact, I find that instead of wishing for a life that goes on forever, I’m hoping for the wonderful days to stretch a little bit longer and for a little more ease when it comes to planning time with family and friends.

Would it be nice to see my future kids grow up to be grandparents or see if we ever ride hovercrafts to work? If newspapers and print media stick around or what the next best thing is after the internet? A small selfish part of me wishes I could experience it all (or pop in whenever I feel like it) but I’m okay knowing that I won’t.

I want to live quality days, every day. I want to remember to appreciate the special moments. And most importantly, I wouldn’t have to live a life where I had to be any less open, or less likely to connect with others because of a secret circumstances like everlasting life.

About TUCK EVERLASTING (from Macmillian): Blessed with—or doomed to—eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less of a blessing than it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune.

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Tuck Everlasting 40th Anniversary -- #tuck40th

The new 40th edition of TUCK EVERLASTING released on January 20, 2015 with a foreword from Wicked author Gregory Maguire.

Be sure to check out #Tuck40th for more tour stops!

Independently Wealthy by Lorraine Z. Rosenthal | Review & Giveaway

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Independently Wealthy by Lorraine Zago RosenthalIndependently Wealthy by Lorraine Z. Rosenthal ( web | tweet )
→ Book 1: New Money from Fall 2013
Publication Date: 12/2/2014
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 336
Target audience: New adult/adult
Keywords: family secrets/mystery, romance, New York City
Format read: ARC provided by Publisher. (Thanks!)

Summary: Savannah is still finding her way in New York City: balancing a job, her boyfriend, and settling into life with her extended family. She hasn’t yet given up on what really took her biological father from her, and is determined to figure out the true story… with our without the help of her half-siblings.

I had a really good time reading New Money last fall, but this time around, I bonded with Savannah in a way I hadn’t before. She’s more settled in the city, working hard at her job (even though, let’s face it: with her allowance, she doesn’t need to), balancing a boyfriend and getting to know her newly acquired family better.

The drama from the first book has mostly disappeared and I say mostly because while the craziness in New Money seemed to creep up on her out of nowhere, this girl goes after it herself in this book — chasing down the answers of what really killed her media tycoon father. While we spend a majority of our time cabbing around Manhattan (the book opens with the Christmas season — so fitting and Rosenthal captures it so perfectly), Savannah also spends time in DC, worming herself into many uncomfortable situations to find out more and eventually returning to NYC with more than she bargained for.

This is the thing: even though Savannah handles her wealth and new lifestyle with such grace, she’s not above acting impulsively either. And maybe not always in the way you would think. Rosenthal has made a good habit of writing about strong, complicated women from the little sister in Queens (Other Words for Love) to this southern belle granted a fairy tale life with a few inconsistencies. The struggle to be independent, successful, and express love to the people in your life is what makes Savannah such an authentic character. We may not be wearing Gucci or living in an apartment that overlooks Central Park, but we worry about our hearts. We want to be good and do good by the people we care about.

Independently Wealthy mixes some ballsy detective work and delicious distractions with finding your place in relationships, your family, and a bustling city. As I inched to the last pages of the book, I already missed Savannah and wondered what she would be up to next. You know I want you to check out this series from the beginning, but I won’t tell if you cheat and skip to this one.

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The lovely folks at St. Martin’s Press are offering 1 lucky winner a finished copy of Independently Wealthy. Open to U.S. readers only. Enter below & good luck!

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Blog Tour: Ally Condie on Naming Characters in Atlantia

book cover for atlantia by ally condie

Atlantia by Ally Condie (website | twitter)
See also my review of Crossed by Ally Condie
Publication Date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: Dutton Children’s
Pages: 368
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: underwater city, dystopia, broken world, young adult fantasy
Format Read: Arc received from the Publisher. (Thank you!

Summary (from Goodreads):Can you hear Atlantia breathing?

For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamt of the sand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all her plans for the future are thwarted when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected decision, stranding Rio Below. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long hidden—she has nothing left to lose.

Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the complex system constructed to govern the divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.


Author Ally Condie is hanging out on Rather Be Reading today to discuss the importance of the names she selected in ATLANTIA. I don’t know about you guys, but I always, always want more information about an author’s thought process. Ally so carefully chose each of the names and it really makes my heart sing to learn these details. The whole world just comes alive a little bit more! I’ll be posting my official review later this week, but for now, I want you guys to say hello to Ally and get swept away by a few details in her upcoming release, ATLANTIA!


AllyCondie_credit Erin SummerillWriting Atlantia was a little different from writing my other books. While I always like the names to have meaning (Cassia, Ky, and Xander’s names are all significant to their characters), this time, I wanted the names to connect with water somehow. Because the city of Atlantia is underwater, I felt sure that this connection would occur to the people naming their children Below.

I came up with Rio and Bay’s names very early on in the process—I have to know my main character’s name, or I have a hard time writing. I knew that Rio and Bay’s mother would have thought very carefully and given them names with great meaning. And, since they are twins, I wanted their names to tie together in a significant way but also sound/look very different. Rio is Spanish for river, and a bay is a body of water forming an indentation of the shoreline (and yes, I just got that definition from the dictionary). 😉 Without being too spoiler-y, I think Rio’s mother knew very much what she was doing (and what she hoped for) when she named her daughters after bodies of water that touch both the land and the sea.

The next set of sister names I chose were those of Rio and Bay’s mother, Oceana, and her sister, Maire. Since Oceana was the leader of Atlantia, I wanted her to have a grand, encompassing, womanly name. Oceana means from the sea, and I loved the sound of it. For Maire, I wanted something a bit sharper, a little different. I looked for other names that meant ocean or water, and when I found Maire—which has two meanings (of the sea or bitter), I knew that I’d found the right fit for this particular character. The dual meanings reflect well the dual nature of Maire’s character.

The boys in the story also have names that connect with water. While True’s first name has an obvious meaning (and one that is very connected to his character), it’s his last name, Beck, that reflects the water connection. A beck is a brook, or a swiftly running stream. And that felt right for True and his role in the story. Fen Cardiff, the other main boy in the story, has a name that means marsh—land covered in water. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything, but that has a connection with what happens to Fen in the book as well.

As for naming the city itself, I wanted a name that reflected Atlantis—the lost underwater city of legend—but that sounded more feminine, since the main characters in this book are strong women (I also didn’t want to be tied too tightly to the legends of Atlantis and the preconceptions people have about an Atlantis story). So I changed the ending of the word slightly. I had no idea at the time that we would name the book Atlantia (I always called it Rio, which I knew we couldn’t keep for obvious reasons—the movie, etc.) but I think the fact that it sounded right made my editor think of it as the name for the novel, and I was happy to agree.


Thank you so much, Ally, for stopping by Rather Be Reading!
Friends, ATLANTIA is such a fun read. It was so nice to disappear into a world so
different than what I’ve been reading lately. Add this one to your TBRs!

Add ATLANTIA to Goodreads | Pre-Order from Amazon | Pre-order from Barnes & Noble

team above ally condie atlantia

And join us on Team Above — who would want to live underwater anyway? A few reasons why above is better: SUNSHINE, sand, fresh air, STARS, and um, history. I can’t imagine living below water where — don’t you think it would feel like living in a snow globe?