Almost 5 years ago, Estelle & Magan met at a wedding — where M was the photographer and E was a bridesmaid for her best friend's big day. We talked about books for under five minutes, and a friendship was born.
Since then, we’ve shared our love of books, Zac Efron, and shopping on this blog, changed jobs, had babies, moved, visited DC and Disney World together, and constantly stayed connected -- despite the miles between us. RBR has been the our own version of a coffee date, our way to mark the time before we can hang out and gab in person again. Thanks for spending time with us. xoxo
You know when you have a trilogy and the second movie (unfortunately) feels like it exists just to get to the final installment? That’s a little bit of what this year has felt like. Some progress, a few steps back, major happy moments, and some really disappointing ones. I think 2015 may have existed just to push me toward the next year, so with that understanding, fingers crossed for 2016 to be a bit more… steady and wonderful.
As always, books have continued to be my anchor when I needed to escape the real world and my gosh, there were so many fantastic ones this year. There were definitely some standouts — and not in a top 10 of the year kind of way — but more of a “oh my god this book is saving me and I didn’t even know I needed to be saved kind of way”. So that’s what this post is about — how powerful and emotional and impactful some titles have been for me this year. I hope it gets you thinking the books in your life that made you feel similarly this year.
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center seems like the logical place to start. The main character needs to escape the blah realities of her current situation and embarks on something totally out of her comfort zone — which means she sucks at it for awhile but learns about her so much along the way. Halfway through the year, I started a new workout and nutrition regime, and surprisingly, fell in love with yoga. It’s not the same as hiking in the great outdoors for a number of days on end, but it definitely felt like it. Feeling strong, seeing my body change, and realizing I had discovered a habit that actually calmed me? Priceless.
In keeping with the highs of the year, both Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer and Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid made me think of the steady females in my life (the golden old ones, and the surprising new ones) who lend me support and make me better. (I shine if you shine!) They also reminded me how the tiniest decisions can have the greatest impact on the directions of our lives and there’s no life roadmap we have to follow step by step; it takes time to find our ways, it takes mistakes to get us where we are going and we are that much better for our blunders.
Speaking of blunders, I spent way too much time this year asking myself what I did wrong for certain situations to turn out like they did. Even when I tried to forget or let it go, they popped up again and again, and while these events have contributed to the hurt and insecurity that has plagued me more than I care to admit, I do wonder if these moments have led me to realize that 1] friendships work when a person can switch off between being the supporter and the supportee (Tonight the Streets are Ours by Leila Sales is the first YA novel where I related more to the mom than the young main character) 2] forgiveness is the key to a long, nuanced friendship (Molly and Imogene in99 Days by Katie Cotugno are on point, as are Willowdean and Ellen in Dumplin’) 3] there’s truth to the saying that some are only meant to be in your life for a sliver of time (First There Was Forever by Juliana Romano), and this truth is something you have to train yourself to believe time and time again, and 4] brand new friendships can be scary but so worth it (Feeling Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty).
In a steady string of books about sisters this year, and in the same year, that my mom lost her sister, these tales (This Raging Light by Estelle Laure; Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt; Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu) comforted me because they nailed the bond between two people who are brought up to love one another but also be separate people with their own story. Family is this funny thing; we all know that. Things can go from great to prickly in a matter of minutes; suddenly you are walking on eggshells when all you want to do is laugh and just relax together up against a confusing and unpredictable outside world. You know each other so well; it’s so easy to hurt each other too. Your relationship is this constant battle of finding balance in pleasing the other without doing exactly what the other wants you to do. Does that make sense? I’m still figuring it out myself…
And lastly to three books that reminded me of how emotional reading can be… I finished Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith while waiting out a delayed flight back home from visiting my dear friend, Magan. This book made me weep because I recognized the control the main character wanted in regarded to her future. Would she be friends with the same people once she left for college? Would she love the same boy? I may be far away from that time in my life, but the series of greetings and so longs comes just as steadily, and often, unplanned these days. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin hits on final moments too — the kind you never want to revisit but are forced to — even if you work so hard to prolong the inevitable. But there is hope. And Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead — a book that felt as familiar as cocoa on a warm winter’s night and a movie night with your best gal pals — reminds us that the sad times and the uncomfy-ness of change can also uncover new bonds, new moments to laugh about, and new sides of ourselves yet to unveiled. Siblings have your back, your friendships evolve but remain constant, and we are all on this Earth to do something special, be special to somebody.
A heartfelt thanks to the above authors who challenged my emotions, made me feel like I had someone in my corner, and improved my ability to be not only a compassionate reader but a more compassionate person.
I’ve read four out of the five of the Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins, and over the course of two years, I’ve always been curious about Connor O’Rourke. He was wise-talking, totally mysterious, and always teasing his twin sister, Colleen. She was even stumped by him. So I’ve been really excited to get Connor’s story, and Higgins did not disappoint with Anything For You (out today!). The highlight of this book was the timeline. We start with the present, a denied proposal, and then journey back to the very, very beginning of the “friendship” between Connor and Jess.
Readers can always depend on Higgins to create multi-layered character backstories and her development of Jess was on point. Right away, Jess reminded me of Laura Linney’s character in Love Actually; she has a disabled younger brother and is mainly responsible for him. Unlike Laura Linney’s, Jess’ parents are alcoholics and her childhood is filled with working more than one job, sacrificing her own school events and college to look out for her brother, and keeping them both safe from their parents and their unpredictable whims. The bright light in her life is always her brother, Davey, and then in an unexpected reunion: Connor.
Kind of. Jess understandably has trust issues. Davey is her number 1 priority, and even though she knows Connor is different than any of the other guys she has spent time with — that’s my one qualm about this book: readers are constantly and unnecessarily reminded of Jess and her promiscuity — the two can’t seem to make a full-fledged relationship work.
In romance novels, we know half the fun is getting to the happily ever after and I really enjoyed getting to know these two characters through their own personal challenges and the series of events that kept bringing them back to one another. Plus there was something so sweet about learning how a series landmark — O’Rourke’s — was born. Finding out these little details definitely made the Blue Heron series come full circle. Anything for You was the perfect respite after a busy few days, full of loyal supporting characters, forgiveness, acceptance, and a couple who deserved the chance to make each other happy.
Rediscovering old books is by far one of my favorite things EVER, and I’ve been so glad to do so this year with #SoRatherBeYoung. At the same time, I’ve loved learning more about my friend, Hannah, and what books made her a reader when she was an adorable kid. This round of picks have been interesting. I loved all of Louis Sachar’s books when I was a bookworm in elementary school and I was praying, praying that this title would stand the test of time. On the other hand, Hannah’s pick for me was something I had never, ever heard of so it was nice to read a new, old book. (Hey, does this count as a classic?)
More Than You Know: The author had a degree in Economics and started the Wayside School series after graduation. How interesting is that?!
Memories Are Made of This: I haven’t picked up this series since elementary school but it’s funny how muscle memory works. I started to remember little projects we did with each silly chapter of this book. This title continues to be fun, and I can only hope kids are still reading it in school.
Second Time Around: I’m basically going to repeat myself here. This book can be downright ridiculous but I can also see how the book teaches about language, misunderstanding, and how it’s so important not to take yourself seriously all the time. A fun ride.
You Can Take My Word for It, Baby: Like I said above, I hope kids, parents, teachers, and cool babysitters are still reading this book. It’s just a blast. (Plus there is a Santa chapter, and I just realized this is the grown-up version of Miss Nelson is Missing — am I right?)
Hannah’s pick for me: The Borrowers by Mary Norton | First published in 1952
Do You Know Why? “I wish I had an exciting reason for choosing The Borrowers for Estelle, but I don’t! When I asked her what she was in the mood for, she mentioned wanting something fun. A lot of what I read as a kid was on the more serious side (maybe because it was a ton of historical fiction), so this book was one of the first that came to mind! I remember almost nothing about the plot, but I know I was obsessed with the idea of tiny people secretly living in my home.” — Hannah
Can’t You Just See Yourself: I love that this was one of those picks that I had never, ever heard of. I know Hannah still hasn’t read this one in awhile, so I’m curious for her to revisit it soon too. When she first told me about it, I thought the borrowers were mice, not humans!
I Give You My Word: This is a story that would benefit from beautiful illustrations. If you are able to find that version, I could see myself reading it with younger kids. I do think I’d prefer to read Stuart Little or something similar first though.
Before the Music Ends: I wonder if I had some nostalgic pull toward this one I’d feel differently. The ending felt a little confusing (which made me feel so silly) and again, I don’t think the version I borrowed from the library gave me the best experience. It’s a cute story, but wasn’t a total winner for me.
Thanks for checking out #SoRatherBeYoung today! I hope when you are hanging around
during the holidays and awaiting a new year, you’ll be inspired to pick up your old standbys
from “the good old days”.
Happy almost Christmas! (And almost 2016 — if you can believe it!)
And be sure to stop by Hannah’s to hear her talk about my reading assignment for her. (ONE OF MY FAVORITES).
I’m typing this by the light of my Christmas tree, while listening to the Peanut gang serenade me and I still can’t believe we’ve already reached the final post for the Dive Into Diversity challenge. This will officially be the first and last challenge I host on Rather Be Reading blog, and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner-in-crime during the whole process. It was so nice to be both laid-back and creative in everything we were writing. If you took part in this challenge in any capacity or read through these posts, I hope you’ve become a little bit more aware of the characters you are reading about and who has been writing them. Maybe you just added a brand new book to your reading list. Either way, it’s been a pleasure to share these posts with you.
For the final hoorah, Rebecca and I interviewed each other! Here are her awesome answers to my burning questions…
Estelle: Let’s start from the beginning. You were nice enough to approach us about co-hosting the challenge with you. Why was hosting this important to you? What’s been the best part?
Rebecca: I was very inspired by the kickstarter for We Need Diverse Books. I loved what the movement was about and what they wanted to achieve. To be honest, diversity in books wasn’t something I’d thought about much before, but after that, I wanted more of it and I wanted to see change. It wasn’t long after I got the idea to hold the challenge and the rest is history. Hosting a challenge hasn’t been the easiest, but it’s been rewarding. I think the best part of it has been learning, along with everyone else. Becoming more aware and listening and having people take it all in with you.
Estelle: I’m going to copy your second question to me! What was your favorite post you put together for this project?
Rebecca: Wow – looking back, there are quite a few I’m proud of. Taking the Good With the Bad because I put so much effort and love into writing it. It was my first ever post for the challenge and I wanted to get it right.
Estelle: Personally, I felt a lot of frustration with this challenge sometimes because I wondered what we were really doing to reach people outside of the super blogger sphere. Do you agree? What do you think is the best way for the general reader to become aware of the campaign?
Rebecca: I totally get your frustration. I also feel this way about OzYA and trying to reach people outside of the blogging community. Super tricky. I think the best way to reach the general reader is bookshops and libraries. Local bookish places who have the ability and means to hold events, create displays and start conversations. We might not have reached the masses, but I believe we created diverse conversations in the book community and I’m happy with that.
Estelle: Who are some bloggers, authors, or websites that you go-to for great articles on diversity and where the future of publishing should go?
Rebecca: There are some great people on Twitter talking about diversity: Malinda Lo (@malindalo) and Dahlia Adler (@MissDahlElama) are two authors of many I see talking a lot about diversity in my feed frequently. Other sites to follow for diverse recs, reviews and great articles:
GayYA.org (They also host a monthly book club with Twitter chats, which is fun.)
TheBookmarkPlace.com (These guys focus on reviewing diverse books, plus I love their rating system.)
Estelle: What’s your biggest takeaway from the challenge and the diversity campaign in 2015?
Rebecca: It was a pretty laid-back challenge, but it was more work and stress that I initially thought it would be. But it’s not to say I didn’t enjoy hosting it. Diversity is now a common, talkative subject in the book community and there’s definitely been change since a year ago. But there’s still a way to go in terms of publishing and the future of the book industry. Like I said above, there’s talk and change happening in the book/publishing community, but I feel like it hasn’t yet reached the outer community, which I feel will really help things along. So here’s hoping the message continue to spread and we start to see more change the coming year.
As for how the challenge affected me as a reader, it’s impacted my reading over the year with half of what I read a diverse title. But the fact I’m most happy and pleased about and generally makes me smile wide is the fact that my favourite books of the year are all diverse. Not because they’re diverse, but because they are all freaking amazing books in their own right. Heartfelt, special, thoughtful, impacting. I talked about my favourites last week, which you can check out here.
Don’t forget to check out my chat with Rebecca @ Reading Wishes. Another big thanks to her for asking Magan and I to join her reading challenge party, and all of those who contributed to posts or wrote your own. xoxo
Here’s to a fabulous end of the year, and a new one filled with compassion, new reading adventures, and more representation for all.
I’m sitting in my living room with a new addition — our Christmas tree, of course. It took a little longer to find “the perfect tree” this year (the guys who are working in our neighborhood were insistent we waited for their next delivery) but here we are, listening to Christmas carols on my iPod, playing video games (James), and napping (Pepper). It seems like the perfect time to unveil one of my favorite blogging traditions: the annual mix because oh my god if I could, I would listen to cheery, jazzy wintery tracks all year long. (Isn’t it ironic that I’d rather listen to songs about snow than actually have it be snowing? Ha.)
To be honest, most years I’m so looking forward to the new albums released in October before the season is officially upon us. But this year, not so much. I’ve downloaded a few tracks here and there (I highly recommend Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas” with Andra Day) but it seems this year is destined to be one where I enjoy old favorites. Not a bad thing at all. So I hope whether you’re at work today, decorating this weekend, or online shopping and wrapping presents, you’ll give my latest a listen. (James and I gave it a listen two nights ago, and it’s a good one; I swear.)
Why, hello there. It’s actually THURSDAY. I kept thinking yesterday was Thursday, but it wasn’t. So here we are. Ten days into December, only a few weeks left in the year and so much to talk about — the best books, how many books, and, of course, the new titles still releasing this month! Today I’m all about the third option and I’m sharing a few YA reads that are sure to brighten anyone’s holiday or kick off a new year right.
What you need to know: Parker is blind but she doesn’t want any special treatment. Her dad passed away recently, and she doesn’t want to talk about that much either. She wants to go running and spend time with her best friend, dishing out way honest advice to classmates. She seems to be coping until “an old flame” finds his way back into her life, and she’s left to rethink events that happened years ago, just who’s on her side, and how she can’t hide from her feelings (about just about everything) forever.
The best part: Okay, there are two best parts. Parker is refreshingly bold (even if some of this is deflecting her own pain) and her friendship with her forever bestie is so wonderful but almost because it’s not safe from growing pains and misunderstandings. I love how Eric Lindstrom explores the reasons why we share some things with our friends, and hide others. It’s so important.
What you need to know: Liza is drum major of her marching band, and takes major responsibility for the band’s success. But she’s the only one that knows the band could lose its funding and cease to exist so they are now performing on a cruise ship in hopes of winning some major bucks. Schools trip can be dramatic, surprising, and totally fun but Liza is the last person who puts her feet up and relaxes. Can the band triumph — especially with evil ex-best friends, old loves, and new distractions?
The best part: Lauren Morrill nails the feeling of being in a marching band, and that chemistry when the hard work and sweat and tears come together for some amazing performance. I was instantly transported to some of my favorite times in middle school (just band) and high school (marching band, forever).
Can I just point out how strange it is that this author’s name is Estelle Laure? This is almost the perfect combo of my & my sister’s names. In fact, I have to keep correcting myself from writing Estelle Laurie. Anyway…
What you need to know: Lucille is forced to take care of her younger sister when her mom disappears and her dad deals. She gets a job, pays all the bills, and still manages to get her and her sister to school. She can only keep up appearances for so long, right? Nothing can distract her from her growing attraction for her best friend’s twin brother; can anything get more complicated? (I may have spoken too soon here.)
The best part: All of it. Every time I had to press pause on this book, I felt like I was being sucked out of some dream. The writing was sharp, thoughtful, and honest. I loved how strong Lucille was; I absolutely adored her friendship with Eden, and her devotion to her sister? As a reader, you want to give as many hugs to these characters as possible. I admired Lucille for advocating for herself so many times, especially when she had been let down by the people who should be taking care of her.