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!
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.
Happy Dive Into Diversity, you guys! So thrilled to have our friend Rachel from Hello, Chelly sharing a great story about her family — a story we’d love to see reflected in the books we are reading more often. Plus it fits in perfectly with Magan’s closer look at family varieties (reminder to check out her stepfamily post!). Feel free to leave comments below, and let us know what diverse reads you’ve been loving lately. xoxo – e & m
When Estelle asked me to write about my cousins, she said she’s always thought the fact that my cousins are also some of my best friends was unique about my life. It’s true. I’m so used to thinking of them as the brothers and sisters I never had (I’m an only child) but they really are cousins, siblings and dearest friends all wrapped into one. And that’s something we have our parents to thank for. Since they all love to be together, we naturally learned from their example.
Whenever I talk about a cousin, chances are I’m referring to someone on my mom’s side of the family. My mom was the first person to make the move from the Philippines to New York (Queens to be exact!). So when she got married and had me, it was… just me. It took some time for her other siblings to come to the US so they were still in the Philippines starting their own families there. It wasn’t until her youngest brother moved to NYC too that I had a cousin to play with. My cousin John was born when I was five years old and I still remember making the trip to the hospital to see him for the first time. (There’s a picture of me sitting in my aunt’s room with a hospital gown on and eating cookies.) He was so cute! That is, until he started learning how to walk and talk and insisted on taking all my toys without asking. Suddenly being the only child never looked better. But as much as he annoyed me back then, I loved him was equally as fiercely.
And that’s kind of the way it was with all my cousins as we grew up. Butting heads but loving each other all the same.
The same uncle eventually had another son, who is still the baby of our cousins. Then we all moved to New Jersey and more of my mom’s siblings followed from the Philippines. One uncle, aunt and their two sons moved in with us for years. One was my age and we were instantly like two peas in a pod. The other was older than us, tried to boss me around and me having none of that set the tone for our relationship for a while. As for my female cousins… one was in California and whenever I saw her, I followed her around like a puppy. I adored her and everything she did seemed so cool to me. (In short, I drove her nuts.) My other older female cousin moved in with my family during my senior year of high school. I admit, I wasn’t sure what to make of her at first because I was so used to being the only girl among all the boys. But it wasn’t long before I realized how nice it was to have an older sister figure around.
Looking back, I can pinpoint when we all transitioned from being just cousins to cousins and friends. It’s the same time we started to transition from kids to adults. I remember the first weekend I came home from college and my older cousin was at the house waiting for me. You know, that older cousin who tried to boss me around as a child. I was so shocked but after that, we started talking more and hanging out with whenever I was home. With each of my cousins, we’d make plans whether it was the mall, movies or going to each other’s houses. And the older we got, out of those plans traditions were born.
We watched every Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movie in theaters together. Every Christmas we do a Secret Santa exchange. We all have graduated from college and gotten our grown-up jobs. (Well except for the youngest but he’s getting there!) They were the ones who helped me move into my apartment. I’ve watched some of them get married, where we all were either bridesmaids or groomsmen. We’ve become godparents to each other’s kids. Even the distance doesn’t matter. I visited my cousin in California twice last year and she’s in my thoughts constantly.
I really can’t imagine my life any other way. I know this all sounds rare to most people but I can’t say enough how happy I am that this is my normal.
I tried to think of books where cousins are also best friends and the only one I could come up with was Where The Stars Still Shineby Trish Doller. It’s one of my favorites and I love the friendship that blossoms between Callie and Kat. It’s not an easy road for them but they’re really there for each other as family and best friends.
But given that this is the only book I think of, clearly there needs to be more books like this! Can you think of any that I’m missing? We’d love to know! And be sure to check out Rebecca’s DID post on Reading Wishes.
What’s more all-American than beer, books, and Disney World? So excited to share today’s Pub Date especially as I prep (a.k.a. procrastinate) for a long weekend away — a much needed break that will hopefully included some brews. I’ll keep you posted.
There’s no BEST time to drink beer (in my opinion) but I do love summer because it means another year of my husband and I taking advantage of the beer passport. What is the beer passport? You may one flat price, and for two full months, hop to different bars around NYC for one complimentary beer at each spot. Nice craft beers range in price here. It’s basically about $6-$10 per pint so you can see how paying $37 per passport is a pretty lovely deal.
This week, we kicked off our beer passport at our favorite neighborhood BBQ place (yay Long Island City); I had a Cigar City Horchata Nitro — a brewery in Florida. This beer was smooth, sweet, and tasted like a cookie (the vanilla and cinnamon combo). I’ve been so curious about Horchata beers; Blue Moon has one but I never buy Blue Moon (it’s not a craft brewery; they are owned by Coors) and I’m not as amped to try a new beer when it makes up an entire six-pack. After a long warm day, this was a nice little drink to have. A six-pack definitely wouldn’t have worked for me, but I’m glad I tried it out. (This is one of those beer flavors I think non-beer drinkers should try. It didn’t even taste like beer.)
Now for a book…
Fireworks on the cover, and time traveling back to the early 80s of Walt Disney World: Summer of Yesterday by Gaby Triana. A YA book on my favorite theme park that is actually well-researched with a main character reeling from her parent’s divorce and falling in love under the most unlikely of circumstances after hitting your head in an abandoned water park (it’s real). I love, love this book and want to see it get all the love. In fact, my pub date pal Maggie also read it and really enjoyed it too.
Now enjoy a brew and a good book, will ya? Happy weekend!
Redemption Bayby RaeAnne Thayne was published by HQN Books (Harlequin) on June 30, 2015. 384 pages.
If this beautiful cover doesn’t inspire you to check out Redemption Bay by RaeAnne Thayne, here are 5 reasons you should try it out the next time you’re in the mood for some small town romance:
1. You will fall in love with the town as much as you will fall in love with this couple. Sure, small towns rule the romance genre but Haven Point has water, gelato, boat races, and people who are willing to bet a $1000 on homemade cookies for charity. If this place was real, I would be booking a summer vacation there pronto.
2. McKenzie Shaw is mayor of Haven Point, and determined to prove to her old crush/ now billionaire, Ben Kilpatrick, that this town is worth investing in (especially after some rough economic times for its citizens). McKenzie is kick ass because she cares so much for the town and its people (as a good mayor should) and she goes above and beyond to cheerlead for them. I absolutely loved her for her independence and loyalty. (Plus her background story is so different compared to a lot of the romance I’ve read.)
3. A dog friendship. Need I say more?
4. McKenzie and Haven Point aren’t the one ones dealing with a lot of curveballs this summer. Ben is not happy to be back in his childhood home and he’s not exactly filling up his free time with plans to see his mom and his family. Thayne is not easy on Ben (just like most of the Haven Point-ers) but she gives him this well-done character arc, and I was so glad to see him accept his past and gain so much more in these pages — making Redemption Bay a nicely balanced story.
5. I love two characters with a history. When McKenzie was young, she was best friend’s with Ben’s little sister and totally in love with Ben. He never noticed her, and because of certain events, McKenzie’s love for the guy turns to extreme hatred. Until she sees him again. This push & pull developed into one of the nicest slow burn romances I’ve experienced in awhile. You could tell the author put a lot of time and care into the details of her story, and wasn’t rushing to throw our couple together. Thayne also made fishing seem incredibly sexy. Who knew?
The wonderful folks at Little Bird Publicity are offering up a copy of Redemption Bay by RaeAnne Thayne and a bonus gift to one lucky winner in the United States. Enter below to win! Good luck and happy summer romance! xoxo
Nothing makes a reader feel more spoiled than easily slipping into a book and remaining emotionally invested throughout. It’s even sweeter when it comes as a total surprise. This, my friends, is A Million Miles Away by Lara Avery. The book follows Kelsey as she deals with the death of her twin sister, Michelle, right at the start of their senior year of high school. Kelsey’s grief leads her on an unexpected journey to get to know her sister better. Not to unearth any dirty secrets, but to understand her through art (her passion) and, a bit untraditionally, by corresponding with Michelle’s boyfriend, Peter — not as herself, but as Michelle.
A Million Miles Away by Lara Avery will be released on July 7, 2015 by Poppy/Little, Brown for Young Readers. 320 pages.
We’re all lying to ourselves if we swear grief will never make us do outlandish things. On one hand, I loved how Kelsey was learning so much about herself and this box she’s been stuck in by uncovering what made Michelle Michelle, and, on the other, how could she not be honest with Peter and tell him that Michelle is dead? This was definitely a situation leading to no happiness for anyone but I almost couldn’t blame Kelsey — and that’s how you know Avery’s writing was so solid — because she wanted so badly not to lose this little piece of her sister that she could hold on to. Maintaining this correspondence with Peter (while he was in Afghanistan) almost felt like Michelle was still alive and how could she let that go?
A Million Miles Away gets messy for our characters as Kelsey finds herself falling for unsuspecting Peter and the suspense builds in such an extreme way that I was yelping from my couch. But I love that in books (especially in a complicated situation like this one) because it shows me so much about this author — how would Avery (and Kelsey) get herself out of this pickle? She did not make it on Kelsey and that was even better because this book is filled with the kind of family and friends we all need in our lives. The kind who call us on our shit and still are on our side. The ones who tell us the truth when we probably don’t want to hear it because it’s not pretty.
Sometimes it’s more difficult to feel close to characters that we are hanging out with in third person but that distance worked here because it reflected Kelsey’s own detachment from the real world. She’s harboring a huge secret, she misses her sister tremendously, and, in some ways, she’s finding out she hardly knew all of these layers to her own twin — and nothing in the world was going to give her that opportunity again. Cue the heartbreak. A Million Miles Away is exactly why I love contemporary YA fiction so much — experiencing the lowest of lows and highest of highs alongside a character who, even in the worst scenario, is discovering a whole new part of herself.
There’s always that defining moment (or a few of them) when you realize you have to break away from what your parents want and do your own thing — even if this isn’t in their best interest. I’m reading a parenting guide for work right now, and the author talks about how parents need to know when to let go, and let their kids make their own choices. How else will they learn to deal with everything the real world throws at them? They need to be able to stand on their own two feet, and coddling (or controlling them) doesn’t make that happen.
Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler was published on June 30, 2015 by Spencer Hill Press. It’s a YA, dual POV, f/f love story about friendship, tough choices, and Hollywood. 312 pages.
Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler is no parenting guide (although the parents could use one) but is so much about that defining moment when you know you are about to go over the edge and start your life. (Plus fun, sweet, deep, and sexy.) In alternating POVs, we have Josh — a celebrity playboy known for his lavish parties — and Van — an Asian American actress who just lost her best friend to college and is feeling a bit off kilter. Josh is feeling similarly but he would never admit it. His best friend (also an actor) is basically the Zac Efron type — everyone loves him, he’s nabbing all the best roles, and he’s head over heels for Van’s best friend (the feeling is mutual). Josh and Van are unlikely friends but are thrown together in so many scenarios due to their absent best friends and working on the same set. In typical fashion, a reader might think this means these two are going to fall for each other but (and this is not a spoiler) no such luck. Instead, Dahlia gives us the makings of a solid friendship — even if our two main characters don’t know it yet.
This is why life is so great, right? It surprises us all the time.
And Van’s about to face a pretty big surprise herself. When she meets her publicist’s daughter/intern, she’s shocked to admit she’s attracted to her. After being locked in a superficial relationship with another celebrity and projecting the image of a “polite, squeaky-clean” Van — Brianna jolts her awake. Is she gay? This inner turmoil that Van is suddenly consumed with is so pitch perfect. It never felt dramatic. Her concerns are legit. She’s already worried about finding more roles as an Asian-American actress, her parents have lost patience with this “hobby” of hers and pretty much demand she start college or else, and now she might be gay? It’s not only a matter of how she feels about it but how will this LOOK to everyone else. (We may not be in Hollywood but aren’t we dealing with something similar every day with social media?) Van needs to get to a place where the real her takes precedence and everything else falls into place afterward. (And bravo to Brianna who is so refreshingly upfront with Van from the get-go about her own limits and experiences. No games, people.)
Van and Josh are both pushed to their breaking points in Under the Lights. How much longer can they do someone else’s bidding and ignore their own? What is the right next step? There are so many delectable layers to this story; Dahlia writes with such ease and thoughtfulness, and the chemistry between all the characters kept me hooked and reading mostly in one sitting. (I also have a soft spot for dancing scenes, and I am nuts for Light‘s dance scene.) While I highly recommend giving all of Dahlia’s books a whirl, this one, for me, definitely tops her work so far.