we're magan + estelle -- two girls who live miles apart, but connect daily over our love for books. we share thoughtful + honest reviews of the books we read, but enjoy talking about our crazy lives and other interests, too (style! diy! zac efron!). join us!
Whether you love or loathe this holiday, you’re here today because of one common love: reading. We’re thrilled to host Kieran Scott today (you may know her as Kate Brian), who released the final book in the wonderful, charming, funny TRUE LOVE trilogy. Cupid is punished and banished to NJ where she moonlights as True and has no clue how to be a “normal” teenager. True is focused on pairing up meant-to-be couples so she can return to Mt. Olympus (and hopefully fulfill her own love story, which got her in this mess to begin with) so in the spirit of love and fate and all that good stuff, Kieran was kind enough to share her own love story with her husband, Matt.
You are going to love it. Take it away, Kieran!
♥ ♥ ♥
My husband and I never would have met if my best friend’s parents hadn’t gotten divorced. I know, it sounds like bad karma, but let me explain.
My bestfriend Shira went to one high school all the way through ninth grade, where she was friends with my future husband, Matt. Then, in tenth grade, her mom and her new stepdad decided to move their family, which took her out of Matt’s high school and plopped her down right in front of me in sophomore English. (The first thing I thought about her was “Holy crap, I’d kill for that hair.” It’s the exact opposite of mine.) Now, Shira is one of those people who stays friends with everyone she’s ever met, which turned out to be lucky for me and Matt, because ten years later, we met at Shira’s 25th birthday party, which was packed with her middle school friends, high school friends, Hebrew school friends, college friends, camp friends AND work friends.
Actually, all things considered, how we found each other in the crowd is beyond me. What I do remember is Matt asking me if I wanted the last mozzarella stick instead of just taking it for himself. I remember the fact that he readily admitted to watching Party of Five and Dawson’s Creek. I recall that he mentioned he was going to be exhausted at church in the morning and that he couldn’t talk to me about politics, because, well, most people didn’t agree with him and he didn’t want me to walk away just yet.
We hung out throughout the party and at four in the morning, I was lying awake in my friend Wendy’s roommate’s bed (she was away for the weekend), staring at the ceiling with this huge smile on my face. I knew something big was happening. I just never would have been able to predict how big.
After that party, Matt went away with his friends for a week and I heard nothing. If he wanted to call, he couldn’t have, because he was in Jamaica. So of course, I was obsessing. What was he doing in Jamaica? Was he hooking up? What if he met someone there? I spent that whole week stressing that I was going to miss out on this great guy just because of a previously scheduled vacation. Then, a couple weeks later, I went out to dinner with my three best girlfriends and Shira asked me what I thought of Matt. This was the moment I’d been waiting for. But I didn’t want to give away the farm, so I played it cool and said, “Why do you ask?” She said that she’d spoken to Matt and he’d said, “That Kieran is my kind of girl.”
Oh my God, it sounds so hokey now, but I almost died. We set up a big group date and the rest is history. Over the years we’ve found out that our relationship didn’t exactly begin the night of Shira’s birthday. We’d been at other random parties of hers together over the previous couple of years and whenever he walked into a room I’d ask my friends, “WHO is that again?” And they’d say, “It’s Matt! God, if you think he’s so hot, you could at least remember his name.” I also found out that he’d asked Shira about me once before, but it was when I was in a serious relationship with someone else, so she’d told him I was off the market. We’d been circling each other for years, but that birthday party was the first time we were both single, and both in the mood for mozzarella sticks.
All of this goes to show that you never know. You may have already met the guy you’re destined to be with, but the timing might just be wrong. Or you may have already met the girl who’s eventually going to introduce you to the guy you’re going to be with (don’t even get me started on how Wendy and her husband Barry ended up getting together). So, yes, it was lucky for me that Shira’s parents got divorced (they are both VERY happily remarried, by the way). Otherwise, I might never have met the person I was meant to be with.
P.S. The priest called Shira up at our wedding so everyone could meet our matchmaker. It was so awesome.
Thanks so much for sharing today, Kieran!
The love is not over yet, folks. The great people at Simon Kids are providing one lucky winner with a hardcover set of TRUE LOVE trilogy.
As many of you know, a really sweet day is approaching: Valentine’s Day! And my daughter, Everett, just turned one a week and a half ago. I intended to do a big OMG HOW HAS THIS YEAR FLOWN BY POST, but I kind of got wrapped up in the moment and didn’t share that little tribute like I wanted. I decided I’d sort of combine everything into this great big Little Kids post because I want to focus on books that show our love to the kiddos in our lives.
I’ve listed a few new-to-us titles and a few absolute favorites that are often on repeat over here. One thing they all have in common is they let the reader proclaim, share, or discuss love. I hold and tell Everett that I love her no less than a million times a day. I want it to be engrained in the center of her little core that I love her to the ends of the world. But guess what, sometimes she doesn’t want me squeezing her and hugging her. Sometimes she just wants to sit and read a book, but I can still sneak in the same message.
Here are my recommendations to you for our Valentine’s love-fest / (a belated) celebration of my little girl:
Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You: Oh, be prepared to sob while you read this one. I think about Everett growing up and becoming her own person. I used to read it to our foster daughter and wanted to send along the message that she would always have our love. This book has been a treasured one that’s been soaked with lots of tears and read with much emotion.
I Love You Through and Through: My favorite aspect of this book is that I can point out different body parts, i.e.: “I love your hair and eyes,” but I also really appreciate that it talks about how our littles will have good days and bad days, happy days and sad days, but no matter what, we’re still going to love them just the same. That’s a HUGE lesson for a child to learn.
If I Could Keep You Little: This is another extremely sentimental book because it hits home for us parents that we REALLY want to press the pause button and freeze time because RIGHT NOW IS SO AWESOME … but there are going to be other equally awesome, amazing moments that lie ahead.
The Biggest Kiss: This is a new-to-us book we just picked up from a Barnes & Noble visit a week ago. It’s fun to read aloud and has great illustrations, silly rhymes, and focuses on kisses!
I Love You Night and Day: Another new-to-us book, but with the recurring message of unconditional love with cute graphics, and sweet, sweet words.
God Found Us You: This was a staple read when we had our foster daughter; it’s a lovely book about how much the child is wanted and was yearned for. This post should really be titled “Books That Turn Magan Into a Blubbering Mess.”
God Gave Us You: This is a companion book to God Found Us You for biological children. Also really sweet and special because it talks about patience and waiting for that special little bundle.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your littles! Do you have a book you’d recommend we check out to complete our love-fest?
Oh, and who am I kidding? Here’s are two shameless photos of my sweet girl. Happy birthday, Everett!
Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson [twitter • website] Publication Date: January 27, 2015 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) Pages: 304 Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction Keywords: child abuse, changing identities, escaping abuse, thriller Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)
Summary: Though Charlotte is able to escape her abusers (her parents) and relocate to another city, once she begins to settle she begins receiving mysterious boxes with creepy messages inside. Could her parents have possibly tracked her down or has someone else discovered her secrets?
• • •
How does one review a book that was brilliantly written but scared the bejesus out of them? I felt shaky and scared and angry while I was reading Cut Me Free. I tried to skip to the end to give myself some piece of mind; I hovered over the Goodreads app, contemplating whether or not I should look up spoilers because I was soooo anxious.
That’s a lot of emotions, huh?
Well, it’s all true. Charlotte was raised in the attic of her biological parent’s house. She and her brother’s identity was known to no one other than the two people who abused them and held them hostage. They’re sickening and grotesque and some of the worst people I’ve ever met in my reading life. The good news? Charlotte escapes. She weaves a path far, far away from the detestable souls she was unfortunately born to and tries to start over. She hires Cam to change her identity, provide the necessary official paperwork, and erase her past.
But things don’t come easy for Charlotte. She begins to see a young girl out and about with a fatherly figure who is showing obvious signs of abuse. For reasons I won’t go into, Charlotte feels like she has to save this girl. A whole series of events unfolds that really left me feeling unsettled and on guard. This story, Charlotte’s story, is multi-faceted: It’s her journey to begin anew, but interwoven is a thriller story as she begins to receive mysterious boxes.
I admire the way Cut Me Free made me feel, but maybe I walked away a little more paranoid than I began. There were times when, sure, this story really had things that may not have seemed plausible — for instance, how does a girl who has no education and socialization skills logically escape and instinctually know how to flee across the country — but ultimately, knowing whether or not Charlotte was going to be okay far outweighed the practical side of me that questions things. (And I think that’s a pretty big deal.)
As far as thrillers go, I was positively hooked. I really try to focus on my job during the day and taking care of my daughter when she’s awake, but by golly, I wanted to hire a babysitter and play hooky. I feel it’s my responsibility to admit the following to you: If you are really sensitive to abuse and neglect, I caution you to tread lightly with Cut Me Free. My anger was through the roof and Foster Mama Magan wanted to rip someone to shreds for not intervening here. (I actually read a few reviews that said the details weren’t graphic enough and my jaw couldn’t have dropped further because yes, things are told in a careful manner, but you’re quite capable of putting all the details together.)
Cut Me Free was an extremely intense story told quite well; it took me on an emotional, heart-pounding journey. I hope you’ll consider giving it a go, too.
**Sidebar: Have any of you read Room? Those same intense, crazy feelings I had while reading Room are what reappeared while reading Cut Me Free.
We Can Work It Out by Elizabeth Eulberg ( web | tweet ) Publication Date: 1/27/2015 Publisher: Scholastic Point Pages: 320 Target audience: Young adult Keywords: friendship, romance, organizing a club, Beatles Format read: Purchased.
Summary: Penny Lane is dating Ryan and running the Lonely Hearts Club but as things get more serious with Ryan and the club begins to grow beyond their high school, Penny finds herself in a predicament. As great as all of this is, she cannot seem to find a fair balance between the two.
When it was announced that we would be getting another book about Penny and her Lonely Hearts Club, I couldn’t be more ecstatic. My warm feelings for the original book all stem from the fact that the characters felt like girls I went to high school with and I couldn’t wait to experience that again. I’m very happy to say that We Can Work It Out did not disappoint. Here are a few reasons why you should pick it up:
When two people start dating, there is always so much thought about how much time she is spending with her significant other (mostly too much) but I love how Elizabeth Eulberg turns this on its head. In We Can Work It Out, Penny is spending less time with Ryan because of her allegiance to the club and also because she doesn’t want to turn into the girl who ditches her gal pals for her boyfriend. It’s so important to be aware of this infraction but when it’s starting to become a problem in your new relationship… it’s time to rethink things.
Penny is tense about PDA in the halls and isn’t great about letting Ryan in as much as she lets in the members of the Lonely Hearts Club. I remember feeling weird about kissing my boyfriend in public when I was a sophomore and struggling to feel comfortable with other people undoubtably catching us together. For those reasons, I’m glad it was touched upon in this book because going from liking someone to being naturally physical is not so seamless.
I couldn’t have been prouder of all the girls in the Club. It may have started as a tactic to grow stronger after some jerky guys broke their hearts but the focus has totally turned to being there for your girlfriends through thick and thin — for those you know and those you don’t. Their commitment to one another was lovely, and, most importantly, they were able to widen their views when it came to “the rules”. Eulberg shows how these girls are truly in flux, feeling out who they are, and accepting that they don’t have all of the answers. I wish girls showed each other this kind of love and understanding all the time.
Penny and her parents are as hilarious as ever with their devotion to the Beatles. I love how the Blooms are such supportive and awesome parents (in fact most of the Lonely Club parents are) and I could not but smile when they pulled out tribute after tribute to those four boys from Liverpool.
We Can Work It Out was like hanging out with your best girlfriends at the diner, you haven’t checked your phone or watch once, and the cheesy fries just keep on coming. It’s a feel-good hooray for the ladies read that understands what makes ladies tick and why friendship is so important.
Each Sunday, I found myself driving down the back roads of our small town with my grandparents, headed to our tiny Catholic church. I was baptized there and participated as a reader, attended Sunday school, and in high school was confirmed, too. I didn’t really know anything other than Catholicism until my sophomore year in high school when my best friend began asking me to attend her Wednesday night youth group at her Baptist church. The differences between her church and mine were night and day: there weren’t nearly as many rituals at hers, people talked a lot more openly about things like sin, sexuality, and who God is. It was then that I realized that not all churches are the same. I guess hypothetically I had known that before, but until I saw it in action, I didn’t know there could be something different.
[Full disclosure: I began going with Leslie because there was a cute boy involved.]
The summer after my Sophomore year, I went to a church camp in Glorieta, NM with Leslie’s youth group. I went hoping that I’d sit next to that cute boy on the way there and that sometime over that week he would FINALLY ask me to be his girlfriend. Spoiler alert: his dad was our bus driver to New Mexico and made a bet with him to see how many girls’ phone numbers he could get while he was there. We pulled into the camp and my heart was just crushed. Thank goodness I found out before all the festivities began because I think my sole focus would have remained pursuing him if I hadn’t found out the truth early on. Instead, I tried to ignore him and threw myself into bonding with my group and being active.
And it’s there that my heart really seemed to change and this whole idea of Christianity really became something more. It was more than just a proclamation. It was more than just attending church on Sundays. Sure I had a lot of questions and things I just didn’t know the answer to, but I felt anxious to seek out those answers and to explore religion in a whole new way.
This little piece of my history is something that still impacts my day-to-day life and it’s something I am searching for when I’m reading: What do the characters believe? Are they searching like I was (still am)?
I think at our core we’re curious humans and we like to test the waters. We don’t easily accept things at face value or believe things necessarily because we’re told to. There have been a few standout books for me that really reflected how it felt for me to question and seek those answers:
Stealing Parker, Small Town Sinners, and Things I Can’t Forget have given me characters that aren’t always right, don’t know all the ins and outs of their beliefs, want to learn more, are flawed and imperfect, and they all struggle. Gosh, even as a nearly 30 year old woman (say WHAT?!) I still feel this way. I don’t always know what’s right or what I’m supposed to do. These books extend this amazing olive branch that say, “IT’S OKAY TO NOT KNOW!”
Perhaps what I’ve felt lately in a lot of my reading has been that there’s either a strong believe or a great nonchalance. In two books I recently read (The Last Time We Say Goodbye and Since You’ve Been Gone), the main characters both admit to having no faith as they’re going through these GIANT life changing events; the conversation stops there and once they’ve said, “I don’t know what to believe” that’s it. But I’ve also noticed that aside from Christianity, I’m not seeing a whole lot of exploration of other religions. Perhaps those with Christianity stand out to me because that’s what I identify with the most, but ideally, I’d really love to be able to update this post with a long list of books that explore other faiths. Religion and beliefs are just one of the multitude of things that make us diverse, and I’d love to see this tackled more in what I’m reading. I want to know my character’s struggles and strongholds.
So here you have it, my great question to you guys: Where is religion in young adult books? What books have you read that have done a really nice job exploring religion?
Thanks for joining the discussion for this month’s Dive Into Diversity! Don’t forget to link-up with you diverse posts below. Rebecca, Estelle, and I cannot wait to read them and check out your blogs! If you haven’t had a chance to join the DID reading challenge, feel free to visit the intro post and use #DiversityDive on Twitter & Instagram!
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds ( web | tweet ) Publication Date: 1/6/2015 Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers Pages: 272 Target audience: Young adult Keywords: death, NYC, grief, friendship, romance, jobs Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)
Summary: After his mom dies from breast cancer, Matt discovers comfort at the local funeral home where he gets a job.
Before you read this review, I have to ask: have you read When I Was The Greatest yet? I reviewed it last year, mentioned it everywhere including my End of the Year survey, and, well, I just need you to read it before I can go on. So please buy it, request it from your library, or download it for your eReader.
The Boy in the Black Suit had me once again asking myself how Jason Reynolds does it. With a small page count, he brings such emotion and authenticity to his stories, and manages to develop his characters and their plotlines without giving away too much. Here we have Matt, a 17-year old who just lost his mother to cancer. He’s reeling from his own grief (he and his mother were super close) and at the same time, taking on such a grown up role in his household because his dad is not adjusting well to this tragedy. Matt never plans to take a job at the local funeral home, but when the opportunity presents itself, he scoops it up — anxious to keep himself busy somehow. (And after assurance that he would not have to touch dead bodies.)
What Matt does not expect to find is such support in funeral home owner Mr. Ray or comfort in the sadness he sees at these ceremonies. He finds himself seeking out the most upset person in the crowd, and hangs on to it. With the loss of his mom so fresh, he feels a bond with these strangers and relief about his own feelings and the fact that he is not alone. Yes, he has the support of his friend, Chris, and, occasionally, his father, but there’s something about facing these tragedies head on that makes him feel better about listening to Tupac’s “Dear Mama” every night before he goes to sleep. (Full disclosure: totally listened to this while I was reading.)
I’ve been to a lot of funerals (starting at a young age) and Reynolds had me openly weeping at some of the scenes Matt was experiencing. It’s certainly tough to read about them in any context but I guess I hadn’t realized how fresh my own memories of funerals were until I was deep into The Boy in the Black Suit. Personally, I had no idea how Matt handled it but when you are feeling alone and don’t know where to go, we can’t predict what’s going to bring us back and make us stronger. So there’s that.
As Matt deals with his grief, his dad’s ambivalence, and even the fact that he does not feel like cracking open a cookbook (a favorite hobby of his and a love he shared with his mom), a girl named Love comes into his life. As you may have expected, he meets her at a funeral and he is immediately taken by her strength. It’s funny how life works — who you meet and what builds you up when life hits its lowest point. I liked being alongside Matt during this time. He would always miss his mother, sure, but he was gaining the strength to pull through and press on.
Reynolds’s work continues to impress me and I am hoping other readers are going to catch on. In a world where we fight for diverse reads and the underdogs, he deserves our readership. The vulnerability and truth brought to his characters paired with solid dialogue — it’s like he has the secret recipe to a perfectly paced book (rhythmically and emotionally).