Welp. Another month done. The bright side? Another month closer to summertime and… Christmas. (Don’t hurt me!) But, you know, the drill. Enjoy the moment!! Live in the present!! It’s been a busy month for both of us, but still filled with plenty of highlights:
Shopping List Musts:
Estelle: 99 Days by Katie Cotugno // The One That Got Away by Bethany Chase
Magan: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas // The Program by Suzanne Young
What to Click:
Summing It All Up:
The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne
99 Days by Katie Cotugno
First There Was Forever by Juliana Romano
The One That Got Away by Bethany Chase
Kissing Ted Callahan by Amy Spalding
Allegiant by Veronica Roth
The Truth About Jack by Jody Gehrman
All the Rage by Courtney Summers
Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook
Positively Beautiful by Wendy Mills
Moonshine, Knitting and Sleuthing in these 3 YAs
An Artist, a Puffin, and Cowboy in 3 romance titles!
Little Kids: Bedtime Stories
Dive Into Diversity: Magan explores step-families
Pub Date: First and Fresh
BEA Part of It: My Budget-Friendly NYC Day
Magan chats with author Paula Stokes
Baseball and Book pairings
Estelle chats with author Juliana Romano
Link up your April Dive Into Diversity posts here and stay tuned for our upcoming discussion post/linky on MAY 12th!
Tell us what you loved this April!
What should we be adding to our summer beach bags?
Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook [twitter • website]
Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Target Audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: sexual assault, small town setting, accident, football
Summary: Kayla has never wanted to leave her home town; it’s always been her favorite place, her source of comfort. When something awful happens and she’s sent away for the summer to return to a changed town, she wants so badly to piece it back together, but she’s holding the answers to the secret everyone’s been keeping under wraps.
• • •
In three words, Every Last Promise is heavy, uncomfortable, and courageous. It’s a story about a small-town setting where football rules all and athletes are treated like celebrities, unable to do wrong. (Think Friday Night Lights but heavier.)
Kayla spent the summer after her junior year living in Kansas City with her aunt. All we know is there was an accident and she feels guilty and responsible. When she returns to her home town, she’s no longer friends with her three best friends, Jen, Serena, and Bean. Bean is no longer associating with Jen and Serena. Everyone now thinks of Kayla as an outcast, debunked from her popularity pedestal upon her return. What happened to cause so much change?
This is a story about sexual assault from an observers point of view (as opposed to All the Rage which is told from the victim’s perspective). In Every Last Promise, we see how people are put on pedestals and have to choose what to believe when someone they admire does something that lets them down. How does Kayla know she won’t be cast aside if she fights what everyone believes?
In Kayla’s hometown, there’s an everybody-knows-everybody mindset that I absolutely related to. I grew up in this kind of setting where my mom knew what I’d done wrong at school long before the school day was over and I was able to tell her. I also completely understood the “in or out” best friend situation. Sometime in early high school I had to choose to stand up for myself — even if it meant not being in the popular crowd — and I experienced exactly how harsh and cliquish they were when I didn’t conform. Kayla’s story is no different — her best friends are hiding from the truth, protecting themselves, and aren’t strong enough to stand up for what’s right.
Kayla has a very idealistic mindset about her town; she’s never wanted to leave and go away to college. She fears change. When this life changing event happens, it shatters Kayla’s naivety and rose-colored glasses, but she’s so unwilling to accept an imperfect world. Why can’t things just go back to the way they were? Kayla feels powerless and hopeless because she doesn’t believe that one person can change things.
Because of Kayla’s inactivity through much of the story, especially when we discover she holds a lot of power, she’s a pretty unlikable character. As readers, we want to hope that they’ll make the right decisions, even if they’re the tough ones. Unlikable or not, Kayla works through realistic emotions as the situation weighs on her: How can her confession change anything? Her truths are pretty incriminating, even if what happened was done to protect someone.
Every Last Promise is about doing what’s right, flawed characters, and what happens when the illusion of perfection fades.
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An early copy of this book was provided by the publisher.
Happy 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
My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp ( web | tweet )
Published March 3, 2015 by Little, Brown
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: summer after graduation, small town, family secrets, alcoholism, religion
Format read: Borrowed from the library
Summary: After graduating from her small Virginia high school, Lulu is set to leave her hometown for college in California but when her dad loses the money that was going to send her there, she is desperate to find a Plan B. With her best friends and Mason, a mysterious older boy, she leads the charge to cash in on an illegal moonshine venture.
If only everything went according to plan, right? High school graduate Lulu is ready to escape her small town living and head to California for college, but the very same person who motivated her to dream big is the same person holding her back. Her dad has spent the money meant for her college education and now she’s forced to stay in town with her crumbling mom, the same friends, and no idea what to do with her future.
Lulu’s not going to let her dad’s carelessness and selfishness get her down. When a moonshine still is dropped off at the junkyard she currently works, it plants a seed that launches into one big, crazy plan — dive into the illegal world of making moonshine and selling it. It might not be lucrative but it will make her the money she needs. She ropes in her best friend, Roni, and her boyfriend, and, by some kind of luck, Mason — part of a long line of moonshiners — happens to fold into her life at the right time. He has the knowledge and the connections, and helps this plan along (at times, apprehensively).
My Best Everything is Lulu’s story, and Sarah Tomp writes it as if Lulu is talking directly to Mason. Even though they are complete opposites, they totally bond during the summer and slowly fall in love. Mason is the first teenage recovering alcoholic I’ve met in a young adult book, and his struggle to ignore his demons paired with Lulu’s first foray into experimentation makes for an interesting parallel. Lulu goes from someone who goes on “Daddy dates” and takes weekly confessions at the church to someone who is questioning her relationship with God and all she’s been told about abstinence. I really enjoyed these moments. It’s ironic how the small town she is so desperate to leave still (unexpectedly) provides her with so much that last summer.
The small town girl wanting to leave the confines of her home for a bigger world isn’t a new story. We’ve heard it time and time again, but Tomp made it her own with intricate detail, a solid best friendship, and a main character who wants so badly to think the best of people and make the most of herself.
Add MY BEST EVERYTHING to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on Goodreads
Boys Don’t Knit by T.S. Easton ( web | tweet )
Published March 24, 2015 by Feiwel & Friends
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: knitting, friendships, family, outcasts
Format read: ARC paperback from Publisher (Thanks!)
Summary: Paranoid, overthinker Ben gets caught in a scheme that he didn’t want to be a part of and he’s forced to take a class and serve the community — which leads him to a surprising hobby: knitting.
Talk about utterly charming. Ben, like so many people I know — ahem myself — gets very stressed out. Stressed about his kind of shitty friends, how his dad’s not the best parent when his mom is off traveling for work, the girl he likes — all the basic kind of stuff. But when he gets punished for a scheme his friends thought up and he got roped into, all of his stress elevates to a new level. He’s required to keep a journal, take a class, and even do some community service which leads him to a knitting class and forced servitude for a notoriously mean crossing guard.
When Ben starts his knitting class, he has no idea he is 1) going to like it so much 2) be actually pretty good at it — like one of the best in his class. Suddenly, he’s visiting the yarn shop, reading knitting magazines, and listening to podcasts about it too. Unfortunately, he’s afraid of getting made fun of by his friends and, most importantly, his dad, who is constantly trying to get him interested in sports. Few people know about his new passion, and while knitting does alleviate his stress and allow him to think more clearly, he knows he’s digging himself into a new hole of trouble. Eventually he’s going to get found out.
T.S. Easton did a great job here of chatting about how certain hobbies are broken down by gender without preaching how we need to be more lenient with these “rules”. Who the hell cares what makes us happy? Why shouldn’t we be able to do what we want? Especially when that one thing makes us ridiculously happy. Ben does a lot of growing because of this “punishment” and he forces people to look beyond how they think the world should be and show them there’s so much more beyond the frustrating boundaries that permeate our culture.
I laughed, I smiled, and I may have even drawn a tear. Such a fantastic read!
Add BOYS DON’T KNIT to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N
Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham ( web | tweet )
Published May 19, 2015 by Little, Brown/Poppy
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: mystery, family secrets, ancient curses
Format read: ARC paperback from Publisher. (Thanks!)
Summary: Scarlett has graduated high school early, and spends her time keeping her town safe by fighting crime. Her latest client — a young kid — sets her on a course she’s not expecting — uncovering her own family secrets.
I’ve never watched Veronica Mars so I won’t be much help with that comparison but what I can tell you is that Scarlett Undercover features one of the most fearless, kick ass female characters I’ve read in awhile. Many times, while I was reading, I forgot she was actually a teenager. In ways it makes sense. She lost her father and her mother. Her closest family is her perpetually busy sister, who is studying to be a doctor. But Scarlett is pretty much running her own detective business and her newest client — Gemma — shows off her protective side as much as it does the side of her that enjoys solving puzzles and helping people.
I can’t give away too much but Gemma’s initial plea to uncover why her older brother has changed so drastically and his role in someone’s suicide turns into a mission that hits all too close to home. Riveting because the story touches on so much of Scarlett’s Muslim roots, the plot builds up a steady momentum but wrapped up a little too quickly — especially for how dangerous everything turned. As another bright side, Scarlett has a subtly flirtatious relationship with her best friend, Deck, that I loved from the get-go.
Diversity, mystery, and strong leading lady = very fun read for me.
Add SCARLETT UNDERCOVER to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N
The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 17, 2015
Publisher: Penguin/Dial Books
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: politics, family secrets, step-family, immigration
Summary: After Kate’s mom died in a car accident, she relocated to South Carolina to live with her only blood relatives. That she knows of. A year later, a story breaks that she is the daughter of a politician, a Republican running for president. She’s invited to spend her summer getting to know her father, when, in reality, she’s moving in with strangers (her step-family) and everything about her becomes some sort of strategy to make her father’s campaign a successful one. With this whole new part of her life, can Kate maintain who she has always been?
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with United States Presidents. Obsessed! I could recite any fact; I wrote so many reports about them (just for fun), and I even collected trading cards. (Does anyone remember the cards behind the Little Debbie snack cake boxes?)
So while I would have been just as dumbfounded to find out the father I never knew was running on the Republican ticket, I would have been pretty ecstatic about it too. To be related to someone who might live in the White House? (Who might see Lincoln’s ghost?!) It’s pretty unbelievable, and, honestly, Kate is probably the best kind of kid to have join the campaign trail. She’s smart, she’s focused, she’s loyal, and she wants to make a good impression – not so much on the American people, but with her dad and her extended step-family. Lucky for her, she gets to work on pleasing both.
It’s crazy, having to get to know your dad under these kinds of circumstances. No privacy, no spare moments, and a whole lot of prep and pampering to make Kate look like the ideal American daughter. (If you haven’t read Meghan McCain’s book and you are interested in this kind of behind-the-scenes antics, you should. It’s truly eye opening.) The most interesting transformation is how Kate slowly begins to blend into everything the campaign entails, and starts to lose a little bit of herself along the way. What does she do if she doesn’t agree with all of her father’s policies? Does that threaten their chance at a strong relationship? Discovering your dad is alive is one thing, but “getting to know him” under this kind of microscope is so intense and Jenn Marie Thorne nails this heartbreak, confusion, and need for acceptance so well.
In addition to all the smart political happenings, Kate bonds with her step-mom, Meg, and (mostly) enjoys getting to know her step-siblings. I love how their own reactions to a new person in this family become part of the story too. These relationships have the potential to be so great, but are so difficult too. And as if things couldn’t get any more confusing, Kate starts a secret friendship with Andy, the President’s “bad boy” son. This romance may not have been as much a part of The Wrong Side of Right as I thought it would be, but the parts we did get (the chemistry!) felt like a cherry on top of everything else.
I was unexpectedly taken aback by how consumed I was by this book, especially as Kate morphed into this new version of herself. What would happen when the stakes changed? For anyone looking to read a book with a bright, strong female character, here you go. With a realistic backdrop of what a mixed bag political life can be, Kate’s journey is one of self-discovery as much as it is about family and dealing with the secrets that her mother left behind. It’s a summer of learning about bravery, loyalty, and how acquiescing has little to do with affection and respect.
Add THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy at B&N
An early copy of this book was provided by the publisher.
Allegiant (Divergent #3) by Veronica Roth [twitter • website]
Previously Reviewed Insurgent (Divergent #2)
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: dystopia, trilogy, books to movies
Format Read: Hard cover purchased.
Summary: (borrowed from Goodreads) Dual narration by Tris Prior and her beloved Tobias. Their faction-based dystopian society is broken by violence and power struggles, scarred by loss and betrayal. Beyond the fence is even more alarming. Old discoveries are meaningless. Explosive new truths change those she loves. Again she faces impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.
• • •
I’m just gonna say right now this is going to be much less of an ordered, typical review (and it’s completely spoiler-free). I need to get out my feelings so maybe then I can move on. But you know what? Moving on after clinging to a series for SO long really hurts.
Allegiant really was the end of an era for me. Roth really opened the flood gate in this last installment of the Divergent series. Of course I knew something big was happening. (In fact, someone spoiled what was going to happen on Instagram (grrr) so I stayed away. My heart was really struggling with finishing the series because I’m so, so bad at goodbyes. They seem so final and I often don’t have enough closure to move on. And if I didn’t read Allegiant, then everything was fine and peachy, right? Wrong.
That’s probably why I had a major, major book hangover after finishing Allegiant. I can’t say that I was absolutely, 100% pleased as punch with how everything wrapped up, but when you invest THAT much in characters and see them fighting so hard, that final page is never going to be enough. I cried and cried (for probably an hour after closing the book). When my husband came home, I tried shoving the book in his hands and told him I needed him to read it immediately. (He couldn’t — stupid grad school.) I was desperate for someone to talk things through with; I felt so isolated!
And that makes me wonder — without being spoilery at all — how Veronica Roth felt having to make some pretty tough decisions in this book. I’m sure there were parts she didn’t want to write, and remembering back to Allegiant’s release date, there was a lot of uproar and disappointment. Going out on a limb here, I applaud Roth for being bold and writing things that absolutely sucked to read about, but ultimately did feel authentic to the story. It can’t be easy to not give your readers what they’re wanting or expecting.
January was the month I wanted to set aside for finishing all of the series I have abandoned. I’m so thankful I didn’t suffer break-up after break-up after break-up. I don’t think I would have ever climbed out of the cavernous valley of depression from saying repeated goodbyes. But hopefully I’ll get around to more of them throughout the year because sometimes goodbyes are necessary.
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