How did Ryder’s senior year shift from dreaming of soccer scholarships to deciphering the cries of a newborn baby — his newborn baby? In her latest, What You Left Behind, Jessica Verdi shows no mercy when she blows the Ryder’s world way open — a baby on his hip, the love-of-his-life girlfriend dead, disappearing friends, and a whole lot of guilt on his shoulders. Pretty outrageous, right? But Verdi tells this story with thoughtfulness and thoroughness, making me forget time and time again just how much shit Ryder was thrown at the same time. He may be a struggling single dad, obsessed with answers Meg may have left in her journals, but he’s also a guy working at Whole Foods, trying to make it to soccer practice on time, and finding a new friend in the vivacious Joni. It’s the introduction of the mundane and Ryder’s hope he can reclaim his old self that nicely counterbalances all the heavy stuff and made this book practically impossible to put down.
WHAT YOU LEFT BEHIND by Jessica Verdi is about a single teenager father and what happens next. Sourcebooks; 8/4/15; 320 Pages.
There’s so much to love in this book but Ryder’s relationship with his mother was the absolute soul of this story. His mom had him young too so maybe this made her more understanding and supportive but I’d like to think any person would take her stance. She also doesn’t let him forget that his life can’t just settle back in the plan he’s had for years. Hope must be his main priority. What I respected so much was how she never forced any realizations on him. She gave Ryder space to breathe and mess up, and I’m convinced this is why he is able to grow so much as a character throughout the novel. (Verdi also taps into Baby Hope’s senses too. Her unsettledness with Ryder was so reflected in her behavior.)
The struggle to bridge his expectations with reality leads Ryder pretty astray at times. He finds solace in his new friendship with Joni but doesn’t necessarily let her know that he has a bouncing baby at home. This is one of the spots where Verdi really challenges her readers. We’re all waiting for the next shoe to drop; it’s inevitable and we have to patiently wait for Ryder to get there. The other part is Meg. Because we only know her from Ryder’s memories of them together and her journal entries, it seems like a no-brainer that we would feel sad for her. She died before she could graduate high school, before she could meet her daughter. But Verdi doesn’t make that emotion so cut and dry, especially as Ryder, Meg’s sister, and her best friend make discoveries of their own. All of them have so much to come to terms with. (They make a great little team too; I liked that this was the start of a new friendship for all of them.)
Compelling and heartbreaking, What You Left Behind is the reading experience dreams are made of. I was invested, completely wrapped up in this character’s voice, and holding my breath as all the pieces slowly and smartly began to gel together. Uncovering secrets, understanding sacrifice, and granting yourself permission to move forward? It’s all here, it’s so discussion worthy, and it’s good. Really, really good.
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This title was provided early by the publisher for review.
P.S. I read Not After Everything by Michelle Levy a few books after this one, and I can’t help but think Tyler and Ryder are kindred spirits. In some secret literary world, I hope they are pals.
I’ll always prefer a REAL book to a digital one. (eReaders just don’t have the same smell.) And even though I always manage to compile a collection of books before I’ve packed anything important for upcoming travels, I do realize that eBooks are easier to bring along. I do realize you can bring AS MANY AS YOU WANT without sacrificing that extra pair of shoes or saving room for your souvenirs. So on recent trips to Austin and Massachusetts, I was armed and ready with three books that made all the un-fun parts of travel (for an impatient person like me) move very quickly.
Hope you’ll consider these for your next weekend getaway! Happy (happ-e?) travels!
Second Position by Katherine Locke (Carina Press/April 13, 2015): This book had me at page one. I love second chance stories and here we have Zed and Aly — in the same room together for the first time in four years after a car accident totally wrecked their relationship and altered their futures. Their chemistry is palpable from their first cup of coffee/tea and watching them reconnect was equally exciting and heartbreaking. Both are forced to face some tough truths about their past, and come to the conclusion if they are even compatible when their shared love of dance just isn’t the same anymore. Locke is such a clean writer who keeps the drama at bay (even when things get super, super dicey) and witty! The exchanges Aly has with her therapist were some of my favorite in the book. There was no way I was going to fall asleep until I finished this one… so keep that in mind, friends. I can’t wait for Locke’s next book; she’s a new favorite for me. (Plus I felt really inspired to watch Centerstage for the first time in years.)
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Pixelated by L.S. Murphy (Bloomsbury Spark/June 30, 2015): The standout of this book for me was Piper’s passion for photography and the (cool) fact that her mom and stepdad are running small town newspapers. I was on the newspaper in high school and college, and started my own in elementary school (yes you read that right) so it was a great little detail for me. Photography is Piper’s main distraction as she settles into a new town that’s so different from where she came from. How do you make new friends when everyone’s had their own group for years? How do you stay away from the hunky football player that apparently has a girlfriend that you’ve never seen? Drama is high but I had a really great time with this one. Murphy does a fantastic job of describing Piper’s work and I wish I could have seen it myself.
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Focus on Me by Megan Erickson (Intermix/July 24, 2015): Megan Erickson is a machine. She’s released so many books this year, and none of them lack in quality. Focus on Me is part of the In Focus series (but you can read them out of order) and was the perfect companion for a 3-hour flight to Texas. Colin picks up Riley on his road trip back home. Okay, this could be totally risky. We shouldn’t pick up strangers and drive them anywhere but I’m so glad Colin did so because the road trip is full of attraction and lots of moments to confide in one other. They are both at the point where they need it. Colin is leaving college without graduating, and Riley has escaped the modeling biz. What’s next for both — separately and together? I’ll never tell but Erickson manages to weave in the heavy (depression, eating disorders) among the lighter, falling in love moments.
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Pixelated and Focus on Me were provided early for review.
A country star + budding musician/high school student + one awesome day. Sourcebooks Fire; 7/7/15; 304 Pages.
What can I say about the Hundred Oaks series? When Catching Jordan first released, my love for YA was gradually building and it holds a special place in my heart. With six of her books tucked in my bookshelf, I’ve come to depend on Kenneally for a strong female leads, sweet and sexy romance, and standout friends and family. Despite these bright spots, she’s not afraid to explore the complexities of these relationships, have her characters question faith and sex and themselves, have them sometimes fail.
Jesse’s Girl is just more of what I love about these books. Maya, a genius musician with stage fright, meets Jesse Scott, a young, massive country music star. He’s supposed to be teaching her about the music industry but the original plan takes a Ferris Bueller-like turn. In the course of a day, they totally butt heads but Maya also offers him her friendship — something he could really use — but nothing goes according to plan. (I love this: “I decide to take Mom’s advice this time: if Jesse really wants me, he’ll let me know.”)
The extra special treat (for someone who wants to be an honorary resident of Franklin, TN) is each book comes with a Hundred Oaks reunion of some kind. Folding Jordan and Sam into the Jesse’s Girl mix added so many comedic elements to the book, and I loved seeing Sam as this big, scary protective big brother (even though he’s kind of a sap).
So pencil in a date night with Jesse’s Girl. Not only can you expect the whole Miranda Kenneally package (special shout out to Dave, Maya’s awesome BFF) but it’s an ode to everything fun in the 80s and a reminder to keep working for what you want.
Why in 5 — country music style (Sorry, Maya!):
“Live a Little” (Kenny Chesney): I need to live a little, have some fun / Take some time, waste it on number one / Find a girl that brings my whole world to a stop / Live a little
I don’t want to call Jesse a “poor little celebrity” but he’s been burned before and he’d rather hang out alone with his cat (Casper!) than actually talk to other people when he has time off. Plus — imagine working so hard all the time and barely being able to go in public on an off day. I always liked a boy who was a challenge so I like that Maya (who plays it so cool) wants him to confide in her — even if it’s a one time only thing.
“New Strings” (Miranda Lambert): I’ve worried about life and / If it’s arriving right on time / I guess if you don’t jump / You’ll never know if you can fly
Maya is gutsy and she knows what she wants. That’s more than we can say about a lot of 17 year olds but, more than anything, I love how nothing has stopped her from getting closer to her passion. Lack of money, crappy band members, her age — none of these factors matter. When the going gets tough, Maya just grows to be tougher and I admired her for it.
“I Don’t Want This Night to End” (Luke Bryan): I’m so glad you trusted me / To slide up on this dusty seat / And let your hair down / Get out of town / Got the stars coming out over my hood/ And all I know now is it’s going good
I’m obsessed with the concept of two people spending one magical, amazing day together. What happens next? Jesse can ditch his entourage for a day, and Maya’s parents have no idea what her Career Day (arranged by her principal, no less) has turned into. Our main characters reach a certain level of intimacy, hanging out in this bubble all day, and, as the reader, you want so badly for nothing to disturb that.
“Tumble and Fall” (Little Big Town): “It’s a reach out, it’s a white flag, it’s a forfeit of the game / It’s a let go of the ego, and the whisper of your name / It’s a fight for, not a defend, it’s a stay out in the rain”
It’s not like Maya goes into Career Day thinking she’s going to nab the GREAT Jesse Scott. Spoilers aside: this is a Miranda Kenneally book so we know we have some high-charged chemistry to look forward to. But he’s a celebrity! She’s in high school! How would this even work if either of them were willing to admit they liked each other? It’s all about taking that risk.
“Maps Out the Window” (Caitlyn Shadbolt): Woahhh feels good just letting go / Woahhh roll it down, let the wind blow
This song embodies the fun and fancy free feeling that Jesse’s Girl is all about. Just like you want to be listening to this song with the top down and sun shining on your face, there’s no way this book won’t boost your mood and make you smile.
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This book was provided by the publisher for review.
Writing a pub date is like a little celebration. I always know I’m closer to the weekend. And here we are again. It’s been a hectic one, and there’s nothing I’d rather do more than talk about the beach and beer. At work the other day, my coworker asked where we go to swim around here? It’s true — NYC isn’t exactly brimming with swimming pools. Mostly, I try to find time to escape to my parent’s house for their pool (AND their company) but when we do make the trek to the beach, it’s Coney Island. The commute is perfect for cozying up into a good book, and it’s a relatively no frills spot with a lot of history.
Let’s change it up and talk about my book pic first.
So today’s recommendation is Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando — when I first read it, I had never been to Coney Island. The main character moves with her dad and sibling to Coney Island where she discovers some quirky characters and secrets about her deceased mom. I love how his book celebrates the liveliness of this summer spot but also touches on how much change is going on in New York every day. Every time you turn around, an older building is being knocked down to make room for a fancy new apartment building and a whole neighborhood changes forever.
As for beer, you can’t go wrong with a lighter beer when the sun is beating down on you and you just want to kick back and relax. We recently bought a six-pack of Shipyard’s Summer Ale featuring art with a “tanning” lobster enjoying his own spirits on the beach. The art alone is wonderful and the beer is nothing to complain about either.
So here’s to a great book (one I desperately need to reread) celebrating the seaside, nostalgia, and new beginnings and a brew that compliments your best tan.
Happy weekend! Do something fun, okay?
Have a PUB DATE round with: Andi @ Andi ABCs + Brittany @ Book Addict’s Guide +
Maggie @ Just a Couple More Pages
This week has dragged a bit, hasn’t it? I’m blaming it on the very warm weather we’ve been having. Nothing like some sticky weather to get you in the mood for a romance novel, am I right? Okay. Maybe that transition sucks, but here I am. It’s been a summer of love for me. My reading routine is generally all about romance as a palette cleanser, a dependable mood booster but I find myself craving them more than ever lately. (It’s true. I came home from seeing Magan last week, after finishing Bad News Cowboy by Maisey Yates on the plane and all I wanted to do was pick up another one.) Here’s to falling in love with love — ♥
The Beekeeper’s Ball by Susan Wiggs (Harlequin MIRA; 6/24/14) — I don’t read a TON of historical romance but I would like to think a series like Bella Vista Chronicles is the perfect entry into this book category. Isobel is in the midst of building a cooking school on the property of her childhood home when journalist/writer Cormac turns up to write the biography of Isobel’s grandfather, Magnus. While Isobel and Cormac’s story serve as one part of The Beekeeper’s Ball, Magnus’s memories from WWII (retold for that biography) fulfill the second as his colorful and heartbreaking past link past and present. I love the idea of a family learning about their history. With an enchanting setting and an emphasis on second chances, this book is definitely sweeter than honey. (As of right now, I don’t see any announcements for another book in this series but I hope there will be one. The Apple Orchard was great too.)
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Never Too Late by Robyn Carr (Harlequin MIRA; 4/1/15) — Clare (a recent divorcee starting over), Maggie (currently in a rut within her marriage), and Sarah (the single sister in the shadows) are the main gals starring in this reboot of Never Too Late (originally published in 2006). When Clare ends up seriously hurt in a car accident, her “seize the moment” mentality intensifies and she finds herself dating, making amends with old friends, and diving into new work. Her bond is her sisters is key to moving forward, especially when life continues to be bumpy. Never Too Late suffers from feeling a bit old-fashioned and drags in some places but Clare’s story is well-supported with tales of her sisters trying to refresh their own lives as best they can.
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Kiss Me by Susan Mallery (Harlequin HQN; 6/30/15) — Admittedly, it was strange to read a Fool’s Gold love that doesn’t spend much time there but it was also refreshing and a reminder that FG is more about the kind community and not about the town. City girl, Phoebe, as a help to her best friend, agrees to attend an accidentally planned cattle drive in the wilderness with absolutely no experience. She finds herself in the company of brooding, quiet Zane and suddenly this whole trip has gotten a bit interesting. Zane is not easy to get to know and Phoebe is unable to hold back her quirks — talking to wild animals, making up funny stories, and pretty much being all kids of adorable. It’s been so long since Zane has had fun that it takes him some time to warm up to Phoebe, especially since this time in nature is meant to be a lesson for his ex-stepbrother, not alter his own life. You can always expect sexy and sweet with a sprinkling of lively supporting characters from Mallery. Kiss Me was no exception.
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Bad News Cowboy by Maisey Yates (Harlequin HQN; 7/28/15) — Every since I read Part Time Cowboy, I’ve found myself a little bit obsessed with Yates. You know it’s good when you’re practically drooling before you start a book. Kate has always been more into riding horses than falling for guys but it’s like one day she just turned around and Jack — best friend to both her brothers and someone who’s always treated her like a little sister — is looking pretty good. Pretty good enough to be very curious about. And Jack, for his part, never wanted to cross Kate’s brothers and certainly never thought he would be fantasizing about Kate. Hello, forbidden romance! Both Kate and Jack discover they not only have common histories (and insecurities) but insane, insane chemistry. I loved this too because Kate is a virgin but she’s not afraid to say what she wants, and watching as she became more confident with this side of herself was such a bonus. Best of all — nothing about Yates’ stories feels formulaic, and the gender roles that have certainly been exhausted in this genre don’t seem to exist — resulting in one refreshing romance novel. (Can we have more independent ladies in these books, please?) It was also, quite possibly, the sexiest.
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I promise you a fantastic day! 😉
When I think back on a decision crossroads, I always go back to the first big decision I ever made: where to go to college. If I hadn’t chosen my small liberal arts college near the beach, I wouldn’t have been kicked out and forced to go somewhere else because that college was in debt. Sure, I got to sample two very different college experiences because of this occurrence but this rarity shifted so much for me. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have made the friends I did, met my husband — all of which in many tiny twists of fate led me to Magan and the start of this blog and a whole other series of events that might not have happened. If my one college application hadn’t gotten lost in the mail, maybe I would have went away to school with my best friend and we’d still be close now. Or maybe after all that, I would still be here, relocated to an apartment outside of Manhattan, married to a student from the last graduating class of that defunct college. Maybe it would have all turned out the way it has. Or maybe somewhere, in some other universe, I’m an English teacher in a small town in New Jersey, married to my high school boyfriend.
MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE by Taylor Jenkins Reid was published on 7/7/15 by Washington Square Press/Atria Books; 352 Pages.
It’s hard to say, but here I am, anyway, sharing Maybe in Another Life — another thoughtful, and wonderful story from Taylor Jenkins Reid. Reid is an author who is always forcing me to evaluate my own life and my decisions — whether its marriage, friendship, or finding comfort in the fact that not everyone has their life figured out when they hit their 30s. In her books, life isn’t about perfection or moving forward safely, it’s about the messy, difficult things that bring us closer to people and push us apart — that make us like ourselves, and make us dislike ourselves a little bit too. It’s so rare to find people that let their walls down, and gladly share their imperfections so it’s a relief to find books like Maybe in Another Life stripped down to the unhappy, sloppy parts without becoming melodramatic. Instead, in Taylor’s books, you find a confidante, someone familiar and questioning just as much as you are.
At 29, main character Hannah is feeling lost. After moving from place to place, she’s finally headed back to California — to her best friend, and who knows what other possibilities. Maybe a second chance with her ex. Hopefully a new job and a place to live on her own. Instead of following along as Hannah goes left or right, readers see Hannah living out two sides of her own story: one where she leaves a party with her ex, Ethan, and another where she leaves the same party with her best friend, Gabby. Where would these parallel circumstances converge? How would my heart take it when I couldn’t decide which life was actually better over the other? Though each story takes a different path, the similarities are there: Hannah’s love of cinnamon buns, the distance she feels from her parents and sister, and, most importantly, her affection and bond with Gabby. I don’t say this about a lot of books (and I wish I did) but Maybe in Another Life is a subtle but solid ode to best girlfriendship in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time. When nothing makes any sense, Gabby is Hannah’s constant and it’s the best love story I could ever imagine.
Fate, love, lust, responsibility, how we take care of each other and take care of ourselves: it’s all rolled up in this riveting and charming story with a special Taylor twist. No matter what road you find yourself on, Maybe in Another Life is a necessary companion for your next adventure.
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I also loved this Q&A that Taylor did with Marie Claire.