The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: April 15, 2014
Publisher: Little Brown/Poppy
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: New York City, travel, relationships with parents, long distance friendship/romance
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Summary: Owen and Lucy get stuck in an elevator together during a blackout in New York City. Once they are rescued, they explore the darkened (mostly) city and get to know each other. When they wake up the next morning, instead of picking up where they left off, Owen is off taking care of his dad and Lucy is off to (shockingly enough) meet her parents in London. Did their night of chatting, joking, and sharing mean anything more than just that? Owen and Lucy’s lives snowball into something new, maintaining the smallest amount of contact, yet still wondering if they will ever be in the same place again.
There are a few things I’ve come to expect from a Jennifer E. Smith novel: gorgeous prose, intimate friendships, family conflicts, and probably my favorite: lovely details to relish and collect along the way.
I’m so happy to say that The Geography of You and Me delivers in each and every way with the added bonus of a setting that starts off in my favorite place of all-time, New York City, and manages to move along to the West Coast and overseas in a way that made me want to book a plane ticket and explore the world immediately.
Do you remember the blackout in 2003? It was right before I left for college and one of my close friends and I were planning to go into the city after I got out of work. We wanted to see a show in an attempt to make as many memories as possible before we were apart for the first time in years. Well, it never happened. The lights went out in the store I was working in and I went home to no electricity — my plans for the evening totally changed.
My night was definitely not as memorable as Lucy and Owen’s. They spent the night wandering the city, getting to know each other, and looking up at the stars on the roof of their building. (It was their coolest refuge in the crazy heat of the summer.) What I loved most was that their time together wasn’t memorable because something physical happened, but because they shared something — it was a night where they both would have been alone if they hadn’t been caught in the elevator together. (Owen’s dad was stuck in Coney Island, and Lucy’s parents were on vacation in London.) It was one night of so many inconveniences that seemed better than so many others strung together. I didn’t blame each of them for placing so much importance on it, for wondering if it meant as much to the other as it did to them.
I would have been in the same boat.
One magical night doesn’t erase the grieving process that Owen and his dad are going through since his mother died a few months ago. Nor does Lucy’s confusion about feeling excluded from her parents’ lives (and their lavish trips) and wanting so much to see more of the world. Something that really stood out to me were the relationships between each of the characters and their parents. When Owen and his dad decide to leave New York and road trip to their next destination, the two get this unheard of time together to make life work without a mom and a wife. I felt almost jealous of these memories they were making together, even when it was difficult and they didn’t know if each destination was their last.
On the other hand, Lucy had a lot of independence as a teenager. But her parents don’t consider her thoughts when they move her overseas to Edinburgh and her growth as a character has a lot to do with being open with her parents. It’s a difficult thing to do and while she settles as best she can in a new place, she’s sort of at war with this independent life she has been conditioned to have but also trying to figure out how to share her life with her parents and be close to them too.
Through all of this, Owen and Lucy don’t forget each other. There are postcards and emails. Infrequent, but they happen! Most importantly, they don’t let their affection for each other and curiosity about what the blackout night meant for them stop them from moving forward. New locations, new jobs, new schools, and new boyfriends and girlfriends. Life keeps happening, even if you can’t stop thinking about a certain person. The way they miss each other is never angsty or dramatic either… it feels incredibly natural — all due to Smith’s gorgeous and thoughtful writing.
Other standout parts: the realism and awkwardness of the San Francisco trip, an effectively written section where Smith gives us one sentence per chapter (I loved what this did to the pacing), and the depth of character development folded into the story. At one point, I stayed up way past my bedtime because I was in such a trance over Owen and Lucy’s story and I needed to know how it was all going to end.
The Geography of You and Me packed in everything I love so much about the young adult contemporary genre — a fully fleshed out story with two characters who are learning so much about themselves through their relationships with their parents and those special people who make an everlasting imprint in our lives.
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P.S. I now know I need some kind of plan for future blackouts and keeping my cat safe. (Help!)
Miss Fortune Cookie by Lauren Bjorkman ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: November 12, 2012
Publisher: Henry Holt
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: senior year, San Francisco, Chinese culture, friendships, blogging
Format read: ARC paperback from a friend.
Summary: Three best friends living in San Francisco are dealing with college acceptance letters, secret boyfriends, mysterious online identities, old grudges, and how they can move forward and still keep their bond in tact.
Miss Fortune Cookie was such a pleasant surprise for many reasons but here are a few that stood out:
- It talked about how to deal with the challenges of threesome friendships in a way where each girl had a different (and well-established connection) with each other. (This is so rare.)
- The challenges of choosing colleges especially when you want to stay close to your best friends and aren’t ready to make that leap out of your comfort zone quite yet.
- Great insight into the Chinese culture. It was so unique to have a character like Erin who embraced the culture so much (she was born in China) and wanted to officially be a part of it.
- Realistic portrayal of the internet. Erin secretly blogs as “Miss Fortune Cookie”, dispensing advice to those who ask and I loved the backstory of how her blog gradually rose to fame.
Okay, so let me set it up. Erin, Mei, and Linny are all best friends except Erin and Mei aren’t as close as they used to be because of some unfinished drama back in elementary school. They never talked it through, were reunited thanks to Linny, and while Erin copes, she is hesitant about trusting Mei with her heart again. Fair enough.
I really liked this look at friendships. It’s hard to be in a threesome because at different parts in your life, one person is always closer to another. Bjorkman does another thing really well. She shows the reader how much of these girls has an individual relationship with the other, which (I think) is so important for a threesome to keep on surviving. (So many of my friendships are based on threesomes so I can relate.)
These girls are dealing with so much: obligations to their parents, college acceptances, secret romances, wanting to lose their virginity, not having money all the time (Erin and her mom are struggling to make ends meet), and more. I liked all of these side stories, especially when Erin meets two very cute boys in one night (one is a great match, and the other is a tad younger — okay super young — but offers her some funny, sweet, cute commentary on life) and orders the most ridiculous virgin drink ever at a club. (I laughed out loud.) All of these characters are in situations where they need advice but Erin is usually the one to dispense it, and when an email from one of her friends shows up in her Miss Fortune Cookie mailbox, she feels even more helpless.
All of this leads to some wacky adventures but it also forces the characters to stand up for themselves and what they really want.
As someone who gives a lot of advice herself, I really understood Erin’s frequent dilemma — that blurry line between giving sound advice to someone and letting them go and figure it out on their own. It’s so difficult especially when all you want is for the people in your life to be happy and do what’s best for them. Then there’s the other possibility: the advice you give is taken and things start to fall apart. What happens then?
Miss Fortune Cookie was a great mix of fun and realistic moments and most of all, I enjoyed its focus on strong female friendships, prep for college, and finding the bravery to make the right decisions for yourself.
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March 31st already! Here’s hoping spring is truly on the way this time! I’m really looking forward to reading a book outside instead of curled up under 2 blankets at home or in a hefty jacket on the subway. For now, let’s focus on today’s BKT. I am so excited about it!
Here’s the story: Last week, I went to the B&N near work to pick up a copy of Lauren Graham’s Someday, Someday, Maybe for a friend (a book I bought for myself last year) and I got one of those receipts with a short list of books I might be interested in. I’ve gotten so many of these in the past and I barely glance at them before throwing the receipt away.
Since SSM is definitely my taste, I thought I would go through the recommendations and find out if I would consider reading any of them. Hopefully you’ll get excited about a few too!
Let’s check it out! (Excuse my doodle.)
Pick #1: Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella
Lottie just knows that her boyfriend is going to propose during lunch at one of London’s fanciest restaurants. But when his big question involves a trip abroad, not a trip down the aisle, she’s completely crushed. So when Ben, an old flame, calls her out of the blue and reminds Lottie of their pact to get married if they were both still single at thirty, she jumps at the chance. No formal dates—just a quick march to the altar and a honeymoon on Ikonos, the sun-drenched Greek island where they first met years ago.
Their family and friends are horrified. Fliss, Lottie’s older sister, knows that Lottie can be impulsive—but surely this is her worst decision yet. And Ben’s colleague Lorcan fears that this hasty marriage will ruin his friend’s career. To keep Lottie and Ben from making a terrible mistake, Fliss concocts an elaborate scheme to sabotage their wedding night. As she and Lorcan jet off to Ikonos in pursuit, Lottie and Ben are in for a honeymoon to remember, for better . . . or worse.
Thoughts: This sounds a lot like My Best Friend’s Wedding… kind of. (Love that movie.) I have loved a lot of Sophie’s books in the past. I was a big fan of the Shopaholic series until it just turned into a drama fest and I really love her book, The Domestic Goddess. It’s hilarious. This synopsis sounds so familiar but it also sounds like it could be good…
Final answer: I wouldn’t buy it. Possibly borrow.
Pick #2: The Star Attraction by Allison Sweeney
Sophie is a Hollywood publicist who has a fabulous job, a fabulous boyfriend, and a fabulous life. She even scores her PR firm’s most important actor client and every woman’s dream—Billy Fox.
But will a steamy make-out session in a restaurant alley with her big-name client cost Sophie her job? And does she really want an escape from her life and her loving, if imperfect, relationship with her investment banker boyfriend? The Star Attraction takes us on a wild ride through one woman’s daytime soap come to life.
Thoughts: Well, B&N knows me because I already bought this book when it came out. I haven’t read it yet but seeing it on this list made me dig it out of my bookshelf. I’m a big fan of Allison and I do love Hollywood stories…
Final answer: Getting to this super soon!
Pick #3: The Lost Husband by Katherine Center
After the sudden loss of her husband in a car crash, Libby Moran falls on hard times-so hard, in fact, that she’s forced to move in with her hyper-critical mother. There, sleeping on the pull-out sofa so her two children can share the guest room, she can’t stop longing for the life she had. So when a letter arrives from Libby’s estranged aunt offering her a job and a place to live on her goat farm, Libby jumps at the opportunity. But starting over is never easy. With an aunt who is nothing like she imagined, a shaggy farm manager with a tragic past, a psychic at the feed store who claims to be able to contact the dead, and a bully at her daughter’s school, country life isn’t at all what Libby expected. But it also offers her what no other place can: A chance to define the good life for herself. A chance to piece together the mysteries of her own past. A chance, even, at love. And, finally, a chance to bring herself, and her family, back to life.
Thoughts: First thing that caught my eye with this one was that Goodreads is telling me readers also enjoyed Nowhere But Home, one of my favorites from last year. I love a country setting and second chances.
Final answer: Ding ding ding. I’m adding this one to my TBR immediately.
Pick #4: The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
Traveling abroad with her mother at the turn of the twentieth century to seek a titled husband, beautiful, vivacious Cora Cash, whose family mansion in Newport dwarfs the Vanderbilts’, suddenly finds herself Duchess of Wareham, married to Ivo, the most eligible bachelor in England. Nothing is quite as it seems, however: Ivo is withdrawn and secretive, and the English social scene is full of traps and betrayals. Money, Cora soon learns, cannot buy everything, as she must decide what is truly worth the price in her life and her marriage.
Thoughts: I’m not sure why this book from the historical fiction genre would be recommended for those who buy Lauren Graham’s. I’m really not. The description is a little dry, and it doesn’t seem like my thing.
Final thought: I’ll pass on this one.
Pick #5: Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
Almost a decade has passed since Andy Sachs quit the job “a million girls would die for” working for Miranda Priestly at Runway magazine—a dream that turned out to be a nightmare. Andy and Emily, her former nemesis and co-assistant, have since joined forces to start a highend bridal magazine. The Plunge has quickly become required reading for the young and stylish. Now they get to call all the shots: Andy writes and travels to her heart’s content; Emily plans parties and secures advertising like a seasoned pro. Even better, Andy has met the love of her life. Max Harrison, scion of a storied media family, is confident, successful, and drop-dead gorgeous. Their wedding will be splashed across all the society pages as their friends and family gather to toast the glowing couple. Andy Sachs is on top of the world. But karma’s a bitch. The morning of her wedding, Andy can’t shake the past. And when she discovers a secret letter with crushing implications, her wedding-day jitters turn to cold dread. Andy realizes that nothing—not her husband, nor her beloved career—is as it seems. She never suspected that her efforts to build a bright new life would lead her back to the darkness she barely escaped ten years ago—and directly into the path of the devil herself…
Thoughts: Hmm. I feel a lot about Weisberger like I do about Kinsella. I loved a few of their books but they started to feel like the same thing over and over again. Devil Wears Prada was my favorite book of hers so I would be curious how main character Andi is doing… but then again the reviews are pretty poor.
Final thought: I’m curious. A “borrow” at some point but I’m not rushing to the library for it.
Results: All in all, B&N didn’t do too bad with this one. I already one own, would buy another, borrow 2 and skip only one. I’d say those odds are pretty good.
What do you think? Any of these titles strike you? Or have you read any great grown up books lately?
Let me know below!
Come a Little Bit Closer by Bella Andre ( web | tweet )
Part of The Sullivans romance series.
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Target audience: adult
Keywords: movie business, sisters, family, San Francisco
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (thanks!)
Last reviewed: Let Me Be the One with BUY IT rating
Summary: Smith’s career in Hollywood is just about as successful as he could have hoped so when he embarks on a new project — starring in a movie that he has written himself — he’s shocked to find himself in a position where he is working just as hard to win a lady’s heart. Valentina can’t stand actors and wants nothing to do with Smith but his love for his family and his kindness is so hard to resist.
A movie set, an unexpected leading lady, a charming celebrity = Bella Andre has done it again.
His story: After years of a successful career, Smith is challenging himself in a new way. He wrote a screenplay for what he calls “the simplest of love stories” and is currently starring in it. It’s not like his normal work, he’s really putting himself out there. While his mind should ONLY be on this, his thoughts are constantly swayed by his co-star’s sister, Valentina. She’s so with it, so in charge, but totally has her heart on guard.
Her story: Valentina is a total workaholic, managing her sister’s career. When Tatiana lands a role opposite massive star, Smith Sullivan, Valentina has to be even more on her toes. Her sister’s career is about to go crazy. But Val is distracted by Smith’s looks, his talent, the sweet words of his screenplay, and even though she would like to, she can’t exactly resist just how NICE he is to her.
Who knew: A night at Alcatraz (with cupcakes) could be so utterly sexy.
The big question: Can Valentina get over qualms about dating actors? (After her mom has dated so many of them in the past.) Does Smith really have what it takes to win Valentina over?
The sizzle: Oh my god. Andre has seriously upped the sexy meter in Come a Little Bit Closer. I was totally at the edge of my seat wondering when Valentina would finally give Smith a chance, and whoa whoa whoa. So absolutely worth it, and so much more to look forward to after their initial collision.
Family matters: Something that sets Andre’s books from other romance series is the emphasis on family. Smith is really involved in the lives of all of his siblings — he’s completely supportive, and at the same time, welcoming to others he wants to bring into the fold. They are always popping up in the story, and it’s so comforting and sweet to see. At the same time, Valentina and Tatiana have such a tight bond and I liked watching how their dependence on each other changed over the course of the book. (The role reversal was a great touch too.)
Movie drama: How would you like your sister to act in a sex scene with the guy of your dreams? Mhm. Talk about a tough day at work.
Final thoughts: Another addicting read from Andre! So much fun to watch Smith wear down Valentina, and nice to see them both doing the emotional/head work to ensure they were ready to move forward with this relationship. My only qualm were some of the screenplay inserts. I loved the parallel of Gravity‘s story but there was so much prose included and movie watchers wouldn’t be seeing prose vs. hearing dialogue on a screen so I think there may have been a better way to present that. Nitpicky, a bit, I know. But seriously — Come a Little Bit Closer was sweet, tension-filled, and a lot of fun. Can’t wait for more of the Sullivans!
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Great by Sara Benincasa ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: classic retelling, Hamptons, high society, being the outsider, friendship
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)
Summary: Naomi is off to spend the summer with her mother in the Hamptons. As always, she’s completely dreading it because she just doesn’t fit in there. Not with her mom’s rich “friends” or any of the other kids who hang out there. But this summer feels different because of her next door neighbor, Jacinta. She’s throwing elaborate parties, befriending Naomi (to get close to Delilah but still), and suddenly, Naomi is feeling like she is a part of things. But what is real and what is not?
There’s nothing like clicking with a narrator like I did with Naomi.
Her voice was so vividly judgy — I was immediately wrapped up in her story and the indignation she felt about her annual summer plans: the Hamptons to visit her mom where quality time meant hearing her mom complain about her clothes and push her to socialize with the well-connected kids her age. (Delilah and Teddy tolerate her, mostly. But she does not fit into their posh lifestyle at all.) It’s no shock that all Naomi wants to do is study and survive until she can get back to her best friend and dad in Chicago.
So it’s as much of a surprise to her, when Naomi is suddenly giving her mother a little bit of what she wants — getting invited to parties, wearing expensive dresses, going on dates with Nick (whose dad owns a record label), and girlishly texting with Delilah. This switch in behavior is all thanks to Jacinta, the girl next door who has the means to throw the most excessive parties and maintains a highly-visited fashion blog that everyone wants to get featured on. Naomi is curious about her at first, but almost immediately takes a liking to her — even introducing her to Delilah (Jacinta’s #1 goal for the summer).
This is where things start to intensify because Jacinta and Delilah’s bond is — BOOM — super close, super quick and they are totally inseparable. Delilah is hardly seeing Teddy, Jacinta and Delilah aren’t including Naomi, and when Naomi does manage to see Jacinta, her every thought is wrapped up in Delilah.
Their behavior is bordering on obsessive, and it’s changing the dynamics of the group in a huge, dramatic way.
Most of all, it’s baffling what so many people in this story are willing to sacrifice because they don’t think the rules (of the world!) apply to them. It’s disappointing, it’s frustrating, and it’s tremendously effed up. Naomi is caught in the storm of all of this, and as she skirts the line between these “two” realities, her character is forced to make super tough decisions. Great is so well-paced, the tension is built so tightly, I literally could not put the book down — debating right and wrong, and who the true villain of this story was.
I definitely empathized with Jacinta and rooted for her in a way that I don’t remember doing with Gatsby. It’s tremendous how far she is willing to go for acceptance and for love. I didn’t blame Naomi for being so torn over her friendship with her and I loved the author’s choice of creating an internet maven out of Jacinta — oh, the great dangers and advantages of the world wide web. Without it, this story wouldn’t have existed.
Truth be told, it’s been a really long time since I read The Great Gatsby (I haven’t seen the latest Leo movie either) but Benincasa got my memory rolling and I was so excited (this is geeky) to pick out the parallels between the classic and Great. (Favorite detail, hands down, was how she named each character by using the first initial of the character’s name from the original.) Best of all, my familiarity with the original text in no way affected how hooked I was to this story.
Committing to a modern Gatsby retelling for young adults couldn’t have been an easy task and with the exception of a few too-modern references that I didn’t think would stand the test of time, I couldn’t have asked for a better crafted book to save me from a reading slump and get me excited about a new author.
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