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!
Welcome to our first edition of LITTLE KIDS! Estelle’s been hanging out in the adult aisles for quite a while now and I’ve been squatting on much-too-small stools reading books to Everett and H. Over the last two years, I’ve developed some strong attachments to kids books that I really want to share with you guys. Whether or not you’re looking for yourself, a friend, or if you’re a librarian/mom/kids book lover and have something amazing to share, I really hope you’ll join in on the conversation.
This month we’re starting with winter favorites. It doesn’t really snow much in Texas, but that doesn’t mean we’re not mesmerized by it. I love a good wintery, cold day, snuggling up under blankets, drinking hot chocolate, and reading. I hope that Everett will learn to love it too. I also want to teach her about new things, even if it’s not something she’ll get to experience right now.
A few of these titles (actually, the whole top row, and the bottom-left book) we personally own and have read this year. Owl Moon is probably my favorite of these because it’s about a father and son’s journey into a snowy night in search of spotting an owl. One thing to note is that several of these are award winners. I was very curious about them and why they might have won awards. Snow, in particular, is written a little differently. Here’s a little excerpt:
“It’s snowing,” said boy with dog. “It’s only a snowflake,” said grandfather with beard.
Over and Under and When Winter Comes, are ones that have caught my eye and I’d like to add to our collection, but haven’t read quite yet. Maybe Everett and I will be adventuring to our local library to check them out soon! My hope is to build our little home library so that as the seasons change, we can cycle through books and what we’re “teaching” Everett.
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Do you have any favorite childhood books? I would love recommendations!
I Was Here by Gayle Forman ( web | twitter ) Published January 27, 2015 by Penguin/Viking Books
Pages: 288 Target audience: Young adult Keywords: post-high school, secrets, suicide, mystery, class Format read: ARC borrowed from Alex. (Thanks!)
Summary: Cody is shocked to receive an email from her best friend, Meg, telling her that she has committed suicide. The Meg she has loved forever would never do something like this. Filled with grief she doesn’t know what to do with, Cody sets forth to get to the bottom of Meg’s mysterious death and stumbles upon some hard truths.
What do you say about a book that is beautifully, honestly written and addictive but doesn’t hit the mark?
I’m not sure but I’m going to try.
I’m a huge fan of Gayle Forman’s writing. Her Just One Day and Just One Year are two of the best books I’ve ever read in my almost 30 years. For me, those books stand out of her canon because they are all about balance. Yes, they are driven by attraction and maybe love but it’s also about growing pains, discovering yourself, and your relationships with the many people around you from your parents to your best friend to the stranger you let into your life. If I tried to pinpoint why I Was Here doesn’t rank as high for me as these two, I could say it was about the balance.
Cody is mystified when she receives an email from her best friend the day after she commits suicide. How could someone as vivacious as Meg end her life? And more importantly, how could she even be thinking about this precisely planned suicide without saying anything to Cody? Forman quickly delves us into the complex feelings associated with a death like this one. There is the despair and disbelief but there is also the selfish side. How could they leave me?
At first, Cody is prepared to go to Meg’s apartment and pack up her things (as a favor to the Garcia’s, who have always been a family to Cody) and try to move on. But something is nagging Cody. Meg’s note was a little strange, even her little brother notices. Did someone force Meg to do this? Suddenly, Cody finds herself jumping into this mystery by reading Meg’s emails, meeting her friends in Seattle (Alice, Robert, and Harry were GREAT), and trying to figure out what was going on in her head. It’s difficult to realize your best friend has qualities and tendencies you never knew about but an entire new life in a new city? It seems the girls are being pulled even farther apart as Cody throws herself down this rabbit hole.
The rabbit hole leads her to Ben, a boy that was friends with Meg. Cody is hardwired to be independent, in a way that means brushing off help from others all the time. But Ben really knew Meg, even if they weren’t on the best terms in the end, and Cody can’t help but let him take part in whatever she is trying to do. She seems to be taken with him, and he seems to be surprised by her but there is so much fucked up complication here, at times I didn’t know what to think. This is one of the parts of the book where I needed more. I was so wrapped up in Cody’s detective skills that the chemistry between these two was a little rushed and lukewarm especially because Ben felt like a caricature of Forman’s past male characters and not his own person.
I Was Here is a tough story for many reasons but one of them is that readers only meet Meg in flashbacks. Forman always does this amazing job of presenting these tiny nuances in human relationships that so many other authors pass over, and it helps us to better understand these characters but, at times, it was hard to really feel the connection between Cody and Meg. Maybe this is because Cody was struggling with it too. She hadn’t imagined she would be separated from Meg when they graduated high school but plans changed and that distances was, in fact, inevitable. The opportunity of getting over those weird transition conflicts was cut short, and, perhaps, that is the most heartbreaking part of all.
All in all, this book presented the darker, edgier side of Forman that I love. All of her characters have this inner badass and act as imperfect humans do — a plus. But another 100 pages and a departure from a few overused young adult troupes would have made this a whole other ballgame.
Beneath Beautiful by Allison Rushby [ twitter | website ] Previously Reviewed by This Author: Shooting Stars Publication Date: November 1, 2014 Publisher: Self-Published Pages: 211 Target Audience: New Adult Keywords: modern art, self-discovery, artist’s muse, NYC, Paris Format Read: ARC from the Author (Thank you!)
Summary: Cassie agrees to sit for modern artist, Cameron, so that he may study her and create a sculpture inspired by her. Cameron is known for overstepping boundaries, taking things too far, and making people feel slightly uncomfortable with his nudist art. Though she’s unsure why, Cassie agrees, but lives a life of secrecy as she stumbles into this self-discovery opportunity.
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Approached in the middle of a Parisian cemetery where she sits reading, Cassie is ripped from her quiet time by a handsome stranger. As they wander around together, Cassie vaguely recognizes him but has difficulty recalling his name. When it dawns on her that he’s a famous nudist artist, Cameron, she flees the cemetery.
Cameron seeks her out by discovering her favorite cafe; he proposes that Cassie become his muse so that he can create a sculpture of her. Though Cassie is taken aback by his stalker-like tactics, she’s intrigued by the idea. What did Cameron see in her that he would want to capture? After some time contemplating his offer and discussing it with her sister (because there could be severe repercussions depending on what Cameron decided to sculpt since her father was in a political position), Cassie agrees to accept Cameron’s offer. He asks her to show him who she is so he can encapsulate this in his sculpture; all Cassie’s expenses will be covered by him as he does his research.
They journey to her family’s summer-house, then they’re quickly whisked away to New York. Cassie’s days become filled with stillness and being analyzed from head to toe in Cameron’s studio. She’s filled with confusion as she thought the process wouldn’t be so sluggish. Cassie’s unable to disclose her reason for being in New York for fear of this ruining her father’s reputation. She develops an attraction to Cameron that she doesn’t feel she can act upon, and is threatened by his ex-girlfriend’s presence and interference in his life. To distance herself from her “work,” she begins seeing a nice acquaintance, Jason.
Perhaps this is where Cassie’s whole journey began to disinterest me as a reader. She becomes so wrapped up in the secrecy, in being perfect for Cameron, and lying to Jason. The original concept of showing Cameron who she was really transformed into something else entirely. I was so intrigued by the trip to her parent’s summer house, but things got a little stale as Cameron had deadlines to make and Cassie began to juggle lies that eventually spun out of control.
I really, really did enjoy the self-discovery aspect Cassie went through — having to strip away all her walls to do what she felt was best for herself and to stand up to a father who maybe had too much influence in her life — but wish that a few situations had been a bit more fleshed out and less chaotic. (And ideally, that they would have continued to travel a bit more before Cassie burrowed her head in the sand and became so introspective.) Overall, Beneath Beautiful was a welcome change because I haven’t read a ton of New Adult books; there were some definite highlights, a nice dose of sexy tension, and it’s such a steal for $2.99 from Amazon.
I’ve had two of my best friends in my life since we were in Mrs. Grader’s kindergarten class — 25 years ago this year. Over the years, we were never consistantly inseparable (it’s difficult when you all go to different colleges and move to new cities) but for whatever cosmic reason, we take on the ebbs and flows of friendship in the best way we can. We may not have a lot of time together with no chorus to go to after school or dances to attend but we make the most of the free time we scrounge up.
It’s our differences that inspired me to write this post today. After reading at least 150 books a year in the last 3 years, I am confident when I say there are very rare fictional circumstances that mirror the town we lived in and the schools we attended. Sure, we all had two parents, one sibling, and grew up in the same town but I’m half Polish and half Spanish, Jen is Polish, and Nisha is Indian. Our high school prided itself on this diversity. It was a life lesson. It was a proposed subject for college essays. How did our high school environment prepare us for the future? We were lucky enough to be surrounded by different cultures and backgrounds, and not only that, we celebrated them with organized groups, presentations, and acceptance.
So I roped Nisha and Jen into answering some questions about our high school experience and our differences. They are such great sports, seriously. Here goes:
Looking back 10 YEARS (ahh), do you believe our high school was really a diverse environment and how has it helped you beyond that?
Nisha: I think as we got older, the schools did become more diverse. It was nice to be a part of this little melting pot. When I was younger, I didn’t realize it was okay to be different. The older I got and the more I saw, I realized that I didn’t have to be like everyone else. My family and culture was different and it worked. It helped prepare me for college. My little melting pot was nothing compared to that. Having experienced it earlier, it wasn’t as shocking or intimidating. It allowed me to just enjoy the experience and take it all in.
Jen: I def think our school was diverse. Our student body had the typical cheerleader types as well as academics including African American and a Latina. We had clubs for any type of group. I remember once going to Asian Studies Club with another friend. Diversity opens you up to the real world. Not everyone is going to look like you or have the same background and having experience with different people allows you be open to different views, open minded and more understanding of others. Less irrational fear and more acceptance.
Is there any situation you remember from grade school where you felt left out or the opposite, loud and proud, about your culture and sharing it with others?
Nisha: When you’re younger being any kind of different automatically makes you feel left out. It cannot be helped. All you want is acceptance at a young age. Grade school wasn’t as diverse so my idea of ‘normal’ was what I saw on TV. Shows like Full House and Step by Step were my normal. However, I didn’t look like them, my family didn’t do the same things as theirs and we didn’t even eat similar foods. When you tell someone you had rotli, shaak, dal bhaat for dinner and they look at you like you have three heads, you feel a bit intimidated. Unfortunately, this translated into being ashamed of my culture when I was younger.
Jen: I never felt left out. Once I wore my polish national outfit for Halloween at school and got a lot of compliments on it. Always thought it was cool that my parents grew up in another country. (Didn’t we do a project once on our cultural backgrounds? I seem to remember laminating placemats that had something to do with Poland. ha.)
I don’t see a lot of friendships like us in media (books, TV, etc.) Am I wrong? Are there any I’m missing? Why do you think there’s a lack of diverse friendships in this place?
Nisha: I don’t think you’re wrong which is unfortunate. I think it’s hard to find these kinds of relationships because people haven’t experienced it. It’s hard to write about something you don’t know or have dealt with. People generally stick to what they know when it comes to befriending people. They don’t allow themselves to go out and explore the options.
Jen: It seems to be more obvious with male relationships. Thinking of The Big Bang Theory that has an Indian and Jewish guy in the same mix. New Girl is pretty diverse. Jess and Ceecee are white girl and Indian girl and the guys include a Jewish guy and two African Americans. I guess Glee tries to be diverse but it always seems like a struggle to teach something before it turns to an actual friendship.
So what can we take from this? Not to pat any of us on the back, but we are all pretty open-minded people. We’ve all been interested in each other’s lives from the mundane to the most personal. We recognize people as people. Then I asked Nisha if she could remember any recent books with diverse characters in them? She was tired, so I’ll give her a break, but not one came to mind.
I guess it’s time that shocks me the most. In third grade, our teacher was very enthusiastic and focused on having her students understand each other. We hosted an international fair every year, city-wide, and we planned many events in school during the year. From a very early age, we were taught to be curious and accepting. That was almost 20 years ago, and still, I don’t see enough of these environments or relationships in the books I’m reading.
That being said, I can recommend three books that reflected my high school experience truthfully so far. Fingers crossed this list expands as the years go on.
It’s the first official month of Dive Into Diversity so don’t forget to check in with you diverse posts below. Rebecca, Magan, 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!
Make It Last by Megan Erickson ( web | tweet | facebook ) Part of Bowler University new adult series. Published January 6, 2015 from William Morrow Impulse Pages: 384 Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss (Thank you!) Last reviewed: Make It Right
Summary: Before figuring out next steps post-graduation, Cam returns home to take care of his mom only to be bombarded with strong memories from his past. Can he leave Paradise for New York or should he give a second chance a shot?
They say you can’t go home again, but sometimes you have to.
Cam finishes up his degree at Bowler University a semester and heads home to take care of his ailing mother. He’s avoiding his hometown of Paradise since he went away to school, but even the time away has not lessened how difficult it is to be there. Memories of his past with high school sweetheart, Tate Ellison, are everywhere and he’s surprised (and frustrated) to discover after all her big plans, she’s still working in the same diner and living at home.
Sure, there’s a possibility he can survive the summer in Paradise and head to New York City for his new job without dealing with Tate or all the bad feelings he still has over their break-up. But, kind readers, if this was the case we would not have a story and what a sweet, sexy story it is.
Unlike the rest of Megan Erickson’s BU series, Make It Last does not take place on a college campus. Instead, we’re thrown into that “in between” time when you feel awkward returning home after time away and aren’t so sure of the next steps in your life. Cam has always been a mystery to me throughout the series but I quickly fell for him. He’s thoughtful, loyal, responsible, and, um, extremely hot. (And tattooed.)
It’s never a good time to bump into an ex, especially one you pictured your entire future with. Cam was never a monk in college, but he also never found a girl worth spending more than a short period of time with. He doesn’t want to feel anything when he sees Tate again, but he can’t help but slip into this caregiver role when he finds out things haven’t been great for her. Even if she did totally betray him.
One thing: I rarely see a guy falling into this kind of situation. It seems so common for the girl to overlook someone’s faults and just try, try again. Or not even try. Reemerge as a presence in the life of someone who didn’t treat you well. So to see Cam wanting to be Tate’s friend, even if he’s not over what she did and can’t seem to forget how it felt to be with her, it was a nice change.
Erickson truly delivers in this story of second chances because it’s more about moving forward than trying to relive the past. Tate and Cam can’t deny they are different people know that they have been apart, but the commitment and the care they had for each other, though tested, still lives. Is it enough to make part 2 of their relationship an actual thing?
Honestly, there’s a lot standing in their way. Some very serious things and this little, well, twist that I did not see coming. (It’s so nice to be surprised in books.) Though Cam and Tate’s home situations mirror each other a bit too similarly, I loved the supporting characters that came along with it. Tate’s dad was laugh-out-loud funny, and I loved how Cam’s mom has an arc about her own feelings for Tate too.
This book is so incredibly different from Make It Count and Make It Right, that I could definitely see new readers jumping into the series and reading the third book as their first. You do meet up with the crew from the other two books a bit but it’s not enough to spoil the journey of their stories. I should warn you though: for once, I was glad it was so cold outside while I was reading this because a few of these scenes were so scorching hot.
It’s always such a treat to read a new book from Megan — the balance between character development with a healthy dose of sexy is so spot-on — and I’m pumped to see what she has up for us next!
Happy new year, beer-y bookworms! My plan was to talk about new year’s resolutions so new beer? Well, not exactly. Maybe my 2015 life lesson should be about going with the flow more because that’s just what I did. My husband surprised me with a beer we had never had one day this week, even if it’s a type I’m quite familiar with.
I’m a caffeine-a-holic so I was thrilled to find out James had discovered some Schlafly Coffee Stout from the largest brewery in St. Louis at our local grocery store. What a find! I am not lying when I say I could not fall asleep the night I had some of this because it super pepped me up. This coffee stout is brewed with actual French coast coffee from St. Louis’s local roaster. This is GOOD stuff and I can’t wait to have some with my pizza tonight. Now for a book…
Life By Committee by Corey Ann Haydu was one of my favorite reads from last year. Why am I pairing it with this coffee stout? Well, Tab, the main character in LBC is the child of two parents who own an adorable coffeehouse in the Vermont mountains called Tea Cozy. Corey made the place seem so real in the book (and delicious) that I would most certainly be hanging out there if it existed. (Damn you, fiction.) So we have the warm, comforting drinks but to fit in with the new year’s resolution portion of this Pub Date… we also have a character who has been ditched by her best friends for reasons she cannot control and finds herself drawn to an online community where she can post her secrets and be forced to act on them.
It’s not Tab’s smartest move so I guess this is a little reminder that we are all going to make some mistakes this year. As much as we want to make it the best ever, it’s inevitable. So it’s important to be brave and thoughtful and human and compassionate. LBC’s reading experience paired with the reactions that build due to this online community and its expectations are sure to produce some very interesting feelings and, this new year, I want you to be open to embracing those. It’s important as a reader and as a person who is coming in contact with different people and situations each and every day.
Be kind and listen. Bravery comes in many forms.
I’d love to hear about your own resolutions & any yummy drinks you’ve loved lately.