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Estelle: Brunette Ambition by Lea Michele

Brunette Ambition by Lea MicheleBrunette Ambition by Lea Michele ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: May 20, 2014
Publisher: Harmony Books
Pages: 208
Target audience: teens/adults
Keywords: part memoir/part how-to, style, exercise, Glee
Format read: Finished copy from publisher* (Thanks!)

Summary: Broadway star / actress / singer Lea Michele tells the story of her life up until now, peppering in favorite recipes, looks, fashion advice, Glee factoids, and more.

If you are looking for a tell-all about Lea Michele’s life, Brunette Ambition isn’t really going to fulfill that need. Instead we get the bare bones of her fitness regiment, makeup and shopping tips, and even some of her favorite recipes in addition to how her career got started, the phenomenon of Glee, and her friendship with Jonathan Groff (my favorite!).

While I was interested in the release of the book, it wasn’t until I saw it in person that I knew I had to have it. The photography is stunning. The professional shots of Lea before and after makeup, even the ones accompanies the various exercise instructions, are so gorgeous. (She has perfect hair. I swear. I can’t even.) Not to mention she shares a bunch of instagram and iPhone pictures throughout as she tells her story.

Despite the length, she covers a lot of topics and even though it’s never completely in depth, you feel like you’re having a nice long magazine interview with her instead of just a few pages. A few of my favorite parts:

  • Her philosophy on shopping is one I really need to take to heart. Shop for basics. What should you splurge on and what should you buy at a bargain? (I love that she makes fun of some of her past fashion choices too. Been there.)
  • Have you ever thought of using a toothbrush for hair flyaways or your bangs? Me neither. But I get these all the time, and now I have a solution.
  • In a world of Lindsay Lohans and Britney Spears, I admire how Lea works so hard to stay close with her family and create a circle of trustworthy friends. I’ve read so many interviews where she talks about how she would rather stay in than go out like most girls her age, and she reiterates that often in the book. It’s nice to picture her as the kind of person who wants to curl up on her couch with wine and her cat watching crappy reality shows.
  • Since I started really following her in the last few months — her album is my summer soundtrack — I’ve been impressed by her work ethic. The amount of hours that Glee requires in addition to this book, an entire album, and appearances? She still manages to stay in shape, cook food, and be social. She’s a rock star. Seeing it all written down in one places makes it even more admirable.

And, of course, there are some quoteworthy moments too:

  • “While I get that there’s a fine line between owning your accomplishments and reciting every line of your resume, there is absolutely no shame in being proud of what you’ve managed to achieve. Own it.”
  • “I always think it’s better to scramble to learn a new skill than to sell yourself short.”
  • “Work on your friendships in the same way you’d tackle anything of importance in your life. And be judicious about the special people you let into your circle.”
  • “No matter what — the show must go on.”

I definitely see this as a book I would pick up time and time again, opening to a chapter and just reading for awhile, especially with the healthy recipes, the hair & facial concoctions, and the fitness sections. If you are a Glee or Lea fan in general, I can see where you would be interested in the whole package but as a reader who is looking for an uplifting and honest how-to, it’s worth adding to your collection. Lea’s already started on book 2, and I’m very curious how the “movement” will move forward.

I love her. I can’t help it!

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*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

September 7, 2014 - 2:07 pm

Estelle - There’s actually one more season left BUT I totally agree. Lea is a star. She’ll do fine once the show is over.

September 6, 2014 - 4:48 am

Asma A.J - I’ve actually stopped watching Glee a while before it ended, but I do think that Lea is a star- and very driven. Might be checking this book out.

Thanks for sharing some of the tidbits!

September 5, 2014 - 11:32 am

Alexa S. - I LOVE YOU LEA!

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that bit out of the way, I can tell you that I just adore the fact that Lea did a book like this. Hearing her stories + tips about every day things sounds pretty darn awesome, and so good because she’s someone I really admire.

August 31, 2014 - 6:43 pm

Missie - This one was not on my radar at all, but it sounds amazing. I love Lea and an inside view into her world sounds awesome. You have a super cute blog ladies!
New follower :)
Missie @ A Flurry of Ponderings

August 30, 2014 - 10:53 pm

Lisa is Busy Nerding - Can I just say that I LOVE that you reviewed this on the blog? I was interested in it after it was pitched via email, but I was like “this doesn’t fit with what I do” – which is SO not fair of me to do to this book! You do a great job sharing what’s great about it and I respect that about your review style (and you in general!)

I especially love her words on friendship. YOU have to work at it, but you also need to be selective and don’t let people who don’t mesh with who you are (ahem negativity ahem) suck up your time.

<3

August 30, 2014 - 7:01 pm

Chrystal @ Snowdrop Dreams of Books - I was hoping to see a review of this pop up somewhere. I had it on my wishlist when I first heard about it. I might see if my library has it, so I can borrow it.

I really admire Lea Michelle… so this is a must read for me. :)

And I enjoyed your review of the book, now I know what it’s really all about.

August 30, 2014 - 11:58 am

Joli @ Actin' Up with Books - I’m a fan of Lea Michelle and how she presents herself publicly. One of my favorite things about watching her perform is that you can tell that she is living her dream. It comes out in everything that she does.
Thanks for sharing this review. I don’t think that I would purchase this book, but I will definitely spend a lengthy amount of time at the bookstore reading it.

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Befriended: Pip Harry on Rowing, Friendships, and Passion

befriended friendship feature reading blog

(Woo! We have an actual feature icon thanks to our buddy, Alex, who also is responsible for our site design.)

We’re back with another BEFRIENDED chit-chat with one of my favorite Australian authors, Pip Harry. She’s responsible for writing two books I’ve loved/devoured/wanted to kiss and hug, Head of the River and I’ll Tell You Mine.

When I finished HotR this summer, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The scenes were so incredibly vivid and it was so apparent that Pip was writing from first-hand rowing experience. (Note: I think Pip is pretty bad ass for having gone through such rigorous training and lived to talk about it!) One thing I also loved seeing was Leni, a very introverted, focused girl, open up to new friendships and realizing the competition was about more than winning. I really wanted to talk to Pip about her experiences and how those transformed Head of the River.

Thank you so much to Pip for being so candid and open, and for writing such an impeccable story I can’t wait to share with my friends.

Pip-Harry

Head of the River by Pip Harry
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Summary (from Goodreads): It’s the most elite school sporting event in the country. Nine rowers, 2000 gruelling metres and one chance for glory in the ultimate team sport. Sit forward … ROW. 

Tall, gifted and the offspring of Olympians, superstar siblings Leni and Cristian Popescu are set to row Harley Grammar to victory in the Head of the River. 
With six months until the big race, the twins can’t lose. Or can they? 

When Cristian is seduced by the easy route of performance-enhancing drugs, and Leni is suffocated with self-doubt, their bright futures start to fade. Juggling family, high expectations, study, break-ups, new relationships and wild parties, the pressure starts to build. 

As the final moments tick down to the big race, who’ll make it to the start line? And who’ll plummet from grace?

Before you began training for the Head of the River competition, how would you describe your personality?

Before I started rowing and training for the Head of the River I was a heavily chlorinated swimmer. My attitude to training and competing was entirely selfish – how fast could I go? How much could I take off my time? I had friends in my squads, but nothing like the buddies I would make in the boat.

Pip-Harry-as-a-Teenage-RowerHow were you changed by the women you rowed with and what Big Life Lessons did you take away from your experience?

The girls and women I rowed with and coached were all so different (shapes, sizes, personalities!) but we all had to learn how to blend those differences into one cohesive, powerful machine. I learnt that a bad day on the water for them was a bad day for me. It sounds corny as hell, but rowing made me appreciate working as a team and the true bonding nature of team sports. I was inspired by the coaches who believed in me and led by example and were so wise and generous with their time. I was changed by my crewmates who showed strength, desire and determination. I was changed by the competition, which was cruel and unforgiving, but also joyous and exhilarating.

I learnt so many life lessons in the boat – how to work as a smaller cog in a bigger wheel, which has helped me enormously in life and work. I learnt to quietly endure pain and suffering in the boat (think rain, cold, blister, endless drills) which has given me more grit and determination (particularly in my writing career) I learnt that even the best team can lose on the day. You need good preparation but also a sprinkle of luck and fair winds. If you want to be a contender, you’ve got to roll with the losses, get up and have another crack.

Were you more like Leni, who had a lot to learn relationally, or were you more like Cris, who lacked passion for the sport and did it to please his parents?

As a rower I was equal parts Leni and Cris. Which is why the book was so fun to write! Like Leni I was a high achiever. I rowed in a state crew at nationals, getting there on hard work, obsession and all the A type personality traits that Leni has. At times this made me incredible hard to be around. I used to get frustrated at anyone who couldn’t keep up, I preferred to row like a bull at a gate all the time (no easy strokes) and I was very strict and tough on myself. I struggled to hold down romantic relationships in my late teens and early 20s because I put myself and my training first and I was completely inflexible. On the other hand, I also had a Cris streak (who doesn’t right?) I struggled to keep my weight down because I love, love sweets and junk foods. I’m also sometimes very seduced by sleep ins and can easily be talked into skipping training. I’m quite lazy at times and at high school, my teachers despaired at the lack of effort I made with subjects that didn’t interest me or I found difficult.

Pip-Harry-Teenage-RowerHow long has it been since you were a Head of the River competitor, and what are your relationships like today with the women you rowed with?

The last crew I coached through to the Head of the River was in 1998. They were a quad scull of funny and talented 14-15 year old schoolgirls who rowed the A final and came second by a fingernail. Heartbreaking! They dissolved after that race, and I did too. We had to pick ourselves up and realise we were 2nd fasted in the entire state, and that was pretty bloody fantastic! Also, who really cared in the end? We had just had four months of laughs, fun and learning. And they had gone from virtual strangers to close friends. That’s what it’s all about. The last time I was in the boat myself was around 2005 in a veteran’s crew (aged over 27 years) I had my biggest success and won five gold medals at the Australian Masters Games. I loved rowing with those older women, because they were more settled in themselves, understood it wasn’t life or death (it was just a race) and they had better wine, food and accommodation during away regattas!

I’m still in contact with some of the women I rowed with when I was a teenager and they are in the acknowledgments page of the book. Yesterday I got an email from Lucy, who I rowed with when I was 16-18 years old. She invited me to her 40th birthday celebrations and said her husband would pay for my interstate flight as part of his present to her – that might tell you how much we value each other’s friendship all these years later! Another rowing friend, Ingrid, sat with me in a café here in Sydney and gave me ideas for certain racing scenes in Head of the River. Another friend, Kate, was my running and training buddy and even though we are now busy mums, we still meet up every few years to talk about those crazy days on the river. Others I’ve lost touch with, but they hold a marker in my heart. I will never forget anyone I rowed with.

Thank you so very much to Pip for sharing her experiences with us and the awesome teenage photographs of herself!
Friends, please, please pick up a copy of Head of the River.

Need more convincing? Read my review of Head of the River!

September 5, 2014 - 11:30 am

Alexa S. - Reading about Pip’s rowing experience was so fun! I loved hearing about her years involved in the Head of the River competition, both as a coach and as a participant. It’s great that she learned things she can apply to the other parts of her life too!

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Magan: What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick

What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick

What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Publication DateApril 15th 2014
PublisherDial Books for Young Readers
Pages: 240 Target Audience: (Maturer) Young Adult
Keywords: summer job, divorced parents, opposites attract, sexually driven female
Format Read: Purchased e-book for my kindle.

Summary: Gwen wants to get away from Seashell after she graduates high school, but she’s got this overwhelming feeling she’ll be stuck there forever. She lusts after the fancy lives of the weekenders while falling for the summer lawn boy, Cass, whose life is completely opposite hers in nearly every way.

Tension galore. Some mysterious backstory. Two people who “shouldn’t” be together. That sums up What I Thought Was True in the tiniest nutshell. Gwen lives on a tiny island where her family definitely isn’t the wealthiest. In fact, she lives in a quaint home with her mom, grandfather, cousin, and younger brother (who has something like autism, but it’s never named specifically in the story). Her father owns a restaurant that Gwen chooses not to work at when another opportunity arises; she’s to care for an elderly, wealthy islander who is recovering from an accident. Aside from the pay being better, she’s trying desperately to separate herself from her parent’s destiny. She doesn’t want to be stuck in Seashell forever.

Unbeknownst to Gwen, Cass, the boy she’s severely attracted to but wants to stay far from, gets a job as the island lawn boy for the summer. With her new job, this means she’ll be seeing a lot of Cassidy Summers. Cass and Gwen begin bumping into one another in random locations. She is confused by the boy she begins to get to know because the friends he chooses to hang around seem to contradict the sweet, gentlemanly guy he appears to be. The one thing she can’t quite get past is her reputation and the decisions she’s made. This was the area I really felt could have used a bit more character development; Gwen comes across as a promiscuous girl, but I wanted Fitzpatrick to really make a point and not allude to it. Was Gwen the type of girl who was sexually explorative or had she made decisions because she thought that’s what she was supposed to do?

My thoughts are that Gwen was very sexually driven, but that also caused me to not relate to her as much because it seemed she was hypocritical. It would be okay for her to want to jump Cassidy’s bones, but if he tried to make a move on her, she was ready to bail a split second later. There was always an internal struggle for Cass and Gwen because they were terrible communicators, but for the sake of wanting to relate to Gwen on a deeper level, I needed to understand why she was so finicky. (Cass was more relatable and down-to-earth; I quite possibly would have enjoyed the story more if it had been from his perspective.)

Much, much, much of the story is focused on Cass and Gwen’s tango of a relationship. So much so that the interesting side-stories get watered down and when the big climax happens, things don’t quite click because not enough details were there for things to fall into place. Gwen’s cousin, Nico, and his girlfriend/Gwen’s best friend, Vivian, have pretty significant roles in the story, but like in My Life Next Door when the giant SURPRISE OH MY GOSH moment happens, I felt a little derailed again because I just didn’t see it coming. (In hindsight, I’m wondering if this is a technique Fitzpatrick employs or if it’s from a lack of developing those secondary stories. I’d like to read a story of hers that doesn’t make me feel like I missed all the big clues along the way.)

Don’t get me wrong — there are some wonderful (Cass teaching Gwen’s brother how to swim) and juicy (ahem, that tension builds, y’all) moments, but they felt overshadowed by what seemed to be lacking from the story. I didn’t walk away with a light and happy feeling, nor really feel like Gwen had gone through the major transformation I was expecting. When it comes right down to it, maybe I just really missed all of the rambunctious Garrett family members from My Life Next Door. They’re pretty darn hard to beat.

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September 5, 2014 - 11:26 am

Alexa S. - Going into What I Thought Was True, I was admittedly a little worried because it had been getting such a mixed reaction. But, like with My Life Next Door, I was easily drawn into this story and these characters and just kept turning the pages. While there are quite a few big dramatic moments that made me hesitate in giving this a full 5 stars, I wound up really liking it a lot!

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Estelle: The Homecoming by Robyn Carr

The Homecoming by Robyn CarrThe Homecoming by Robyn Carr web | tweet )
Part of Thunder Point series.
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Pages: 400
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: best friends, reunion, job changes, small communities, high school
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)

Summary: Seth returns to Thunder Point as the new Deputy Sheriff; he’s determined to keep the town he grew up in safe but his sights are also set on Iris, his old best friend. He’s not sure what happened to their friendship, but he wants to fix it, make it better, and then some.

I am a total sucker of best friends who fall in love with each other.

There’s a little catch in The Homecoming though. Iris is over and done with Seth. After years of secretly crushing on him when they were kids, one night changes all of it. Seth’s return to Thunder Point brings back painful memories for Iris, and Seth just doesn’t understand what happened between the two of them. He admits to being a stupid young kid but beyond that… he can’t figure out why Iris turned away from him.

Seth isn’t ready to give up on her though, and is determined to get to the bottom of all that high school drama. He wants a shot with her.

His “wooing” (as Seth puts it) is pretty adorable, especially when combined with the efforts of a colleague who also has feelings for Iris. (She’s one popular lady.) Carr has a lot of fun with this situation, forcing the three into some comical scenes and injecting some snappy dialogue. (Is Troy the subject of the next Thunder Point novel? I hope so.)

There was also the subplot that involved Iris’ work as a school counselor. I enjoyed seeing her in action, taking her own high school experience and making it better for others. When the faculty is worried one of the students is being abused at home, Iris is professional and diligent about getting to the bottom of it. I understood why Seth (and Troy) were so enamored with her. She was a good person who wanted to do right by people.

Again, Carr treated me to yet another sweet Thunder Point read. A handful of cameos from past characters, awesome backdrop (with adorable town traditions), and a great love story? You can’t go wrong. (Plus if you haven’t yet started this series, The Homecoming with a whole new crew is a great place to start!)

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Great news! The kind folks at Little Bird Publicity are providing one copy of The Homecoming to a reader in the United States. Good luck!

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September 5, 2014 - 11:23 am

Alexa S. - I adored The Homecoming! It was seriously just so cute to see Seth and Iris trying to work all these things out, and I’m totally a sucker for the best friends falling in love type of romance too.

August 30, 2014 - 6:10 pm

Daphne - ooh, this sounds right up my alley. i tried a robin carr book years ago & couldn’t get into it, but maybe it’s time to give her another chance. i, too, love a book about bffs who fall in love & unrequited crushes finally being requited :)

August 26, 2014 - 9:44 am

Ami - I kinda want to drop everything & read this right now BUT I’m finishing my own revisions. But going to goodreads right now to add this!!!!

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Estelle: Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Like No Other by Una LaMarcheLike No Other by Una LaMarche web | tweet )
Publication Date: July 24, 2014
Publisher: Penguin/Razorbill
Pages: 352
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: New York City, forbidden romance, diversity, family
Format read: Hardcover I purchased.

Summary: During a horrible storm in New York City, Devorah and Jaxon find themselves stuck within the confines of a broken elevator. In the every day world, Devorah and Jaxon would never be alone together. She’s a devout Hasidic Jew and he’s a West Indian black boy. But in the dark, in the unknown, they bond and their connections is forged. Will they risk everything they know for one another?

This is the thing about forbidden love. We root for it to work, iron out its creases and prosper so we can believe in the impossible too.

Even though Devorah and Jaxon’s connection is a bit instantaneous, I was immediately hooked by their intersecting stories, hoping they could get their happily ever after. In alternating chapters, we learn of Devorah’s devotion to her Hasidic upbringing and the immense love she feels for her family while we see Jaxon work his tail off to obtain the higher education his father never had, and goofing off with his friends. Despite living so closely to each other in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, Devorah and Jaxon are worlds apart until they meet in a hospital elevator during a storm.

Devorah is not allowed to be alone with a male who is not a family member but in this elevator she has no other choice to converse with Jaxon and it comes so easily. She’s straightforward and honest, and he’s a dorky kind of charming and sweet. Pretty quickly, the two realize they have found someone in one another they haven’t found before and, in the time ahead, are willing to risk quite a bit to see what this chance meeting could mean for the both of them.

While Devorah is known to be a goodie-two-shoes, she’s already begun to question her male-dominated religion, watching her older sister (who she always idolized) grow more and more submissive in her marriage to the overpowering Jacob. Unlike her sister, Devorah isn’t sure she wants to be a mother at 18 and dreams about the possibility of college instead. Why does everyone in her family have to live life the same way? Can happiness and acceptance be achieved if she chose another path?

You would think Like No Other was a thriller because I was on the edge of my couch, wondering what was going to happen to Devorah and Jaxon. I’ve been 16 before. I know there’s only so much that I could get away with before I got caught, and these two were pulling out the stops. It broke my heart but Jaxon so earnestly believed they could work through these differences, and make their families understand how real their feelings were for each other. It’s true that Jaxon may be one of my top YA male characters; he is just such a good guy and it’s not surprising either because his family, while strict, is supportive and wonderful. (His mother made me cry.)

In ways, Like No Other felt like a love letter to the diversity of New York City. There are so many of us from different backgrounds, religions, towns, and families constantly jumbled together on the busy streets or crowded subways, hitting the same coffee shops and working at the same office buildings. Most of the time we walk by each other without even acknowledging the other or truly learning about them. But we manage to coexist. Devorah and Jaxon are just two pieces of the puzzle, but I loved how Jaxon took the time to learn about her traditions and took them into account and I adored how much of their love blossomed all over New York City.

While I enjoyed reading Five Summers last year, Una LaMarche has catapulted herself into my “must buy” category with Like No Other. The intricacy of her research, the authentic look at young love, and testing her characters in a way that will make them braver, stronger human beings? It’s so impressive. Yes, young love is about romance and sex and chemistry but it’s also about self-discovery and LaMarche hits that nail on the head.

I rarely sit in one place and read in a book in a single day but I couldn’t get anything done until I finished this one. (Seriously, I was gasping, yelling, crying, and swooning!) Like No Other is one of those books that makes me proud to be a young adult lit fan.

“Too many choices tear us apart / I don’t want to live like that / Too many choices tear us apart /
I don’t want to love like that / I just want to touch your heart / May this confession be the start.”Aida

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August 29, 2014 - 2:09 pm

Alexa S. - Oh, hello there book that YOU (Estelle) talked me into buying with a single word! But really, after reading your review, I’m quite eager to read Like No Other. I do love that it has sort of a Romeo-and-Juliet feel to it, though obviously it’s completely different. And I’m curious to see how LaMarche portrays New York, and these characters and their differences.

August 25, 2014 - 10:43 pm

Jess - This books sounds great, I like it when a novel can have a great sense of setting. Awesome review.

August 25, 2014 - 11:44 am

Lucy - We read this for Diversity book club and all really enjoyed it. Glad to see your “buy it” rating! I just loved Jaxon too, and you’re right the book was tense and exciting at the end! And I so agree with you that the book is such a love letter to the diversity of NY. Makes me want to get back there soon.
What a lovely review, Estelle!

August 25, 2014 - 9:56 am

Jen @ Pop! Goes The Reader - And here you were, worried that you could never do this story justice. Estelle, this review is stunning. Seriously. You perfectly captured everything that made Like No Other one of the most powerful, memorable novels I’ve read this year. It’s funny – Ordinarily, the almost instantaneous feelings that arise between Jaxon and Devorah would have been cause for concern, but somehow LaMarche makes it work. Like you, I was on the edge of my seat throughout the entirety of the book, desperate for them to make it work, despite everything that worked to separate them. Jaxon’s wide-eyed optimism and beautiful positive spirit was infectious. As you mentioned, I particularly liked that New York City was almost another character in the narrative. How often do we pass others from entirely different cultures, religions and backgrounds on the street, never pausing to give any real thought to what their life entails? The diversity in this story never felt false or artificial and I appreciated being given a glimpse into a way of life that was completely foreign to me. In short? You hit the nail of the head with this one, E. A wonderful, wonderful review. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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