Steal the North by Heather B. Bergstorm ( facebook )
Publication Date: April 10, 2014
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: family secrets, faith, nature, young love
Format read: Borrowed from library after glowing rec from Leah at The Pretty Good Gatsby.
Summary: Sixteen year old Emmy is shipped off to spend the summer with an aunt and uncle she never knew existed. Her aunt is pregnant, and after a series of miscarriages, the church is performing a ritual on her and they need a family member who is also a virgin. Emmy spends her summer getting to know her delicate aunt, her loving uncle, and the boy next door — Reuben — who becomes the closest friend she has ever had. Time with her aunt means many questions about the secrets her mom kept, who she really is, and affects who she wants to become.
This is hands down one of the best fiction books I’ve picked up in years.
I was nervous about it, too. Leah over at The Pretty Good Gatsby awarded the book such high praise. Wanting to feel the same felt like an added pressure but a chapter in, I was hooked. With Steal the North, you aren’t sucked in in a way where you want to speed read the whole thing. As the book shifts POVs from the big hitters like Emmy, her mom (Kate), her aunt (Beth), and Reuben (the boy next door) to the smaller characters, there is a lot of exposition. Explanations of backgrounds, family trees, and a lot of beautiful description of this Pacific Northwest town. The land is its own character because in all of these stories, it has been a catalyst in the decisions then make and who they are all destined to become.
Emmy is a bit of a conundrum. There are so instances she acts so wise and so much older than she is, but there are others where she can be so naive and so inexperienced in life. She is so tied to her mom because for so long Kate made her believe it was them against the world. No other relatives and a dead father. But imagine the surprise when Emmy finds out that her own story is not what she thought at all. She is quickly sent off to stay with her Aunt Beth and Uncle Matt for the summer, without enough time to deal with the repercussions of her mother’s many lies.
Immediately, Emmy and Beth are like peas and carrots. The intimacy and connection they shared when Emmy was just a baby is back, and they spend much of the summer getting to know each other all over again. I loved their relationship. Beth and Matt are very into the church, but they don’t expect Emmy to believe what they believe and I liked the respect they had for her. Her time alone eventually leads to her spending a lot of time with Reuben, a Native American teenager, who lives in the trailer next door.
It was Beth and Reuben’s belief in much more than what they could see that took Steal the North to a whole new level for me. Beth concocting her antidotes around the house, and Reuben sensing the presence of his dead father, and both of their commitments to the earth fused to create this overpowering spirituality in the whole book. The secrets and the pasts of these characters was haunting every scene, and the fear, the shame, and even the hope was so palpable. It’s overwhelming to think words on a page could be this powerful.
Steal the North is a love story not limited to the feelings between Reuben and Emmy. Mothers and daughters, sisters, husbands and wives, and most importantly how we feel about ourselves. The sense of loyalty, the heartbreaking betrayal, and the tough decisions we make because of our love for others can be found throughout the story. I laughed, I swooned, I cried, and I wondered if this family could ever be whole again. Could Emmy break out of her shell and trust? Could she forgive her mother and forgive herself?
This book is as much about death as it is rebirth. I am totally in awe of Bergstorm’s talents: how well she described the land, her decisions to reveal important information what she did, her pick of what character got to tell what, and most importantly, how she challenged her characters and stretched them beyond their comfort zones. Life could be hard, and it could also be good. Very, very good.
From the writing to the characters to how invested I felt in the smallest detail to the biggest, Steal the North is a book I am going to give a special spot on my bookshelf and buy for others whenever I get the chance.
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Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 6, 2014
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: friendship, 90s, New York City, romance, sickness
Format read: ARC borrowed from Gaby at Book Broads. (Thanks!)
Summary: Althea and Oliver have been best friends since they were kids. Althea realizes she wants something beyond friendship with Oliver around the same time he keeps falling asleep for long periods of time and no one knows what’s causing this to happen. Set in the 90s, the story brings Oliver to New York for a possible treatment while Althea stays in Wilmington. She decides to drive up to New York City to find Oliver, but ends up finding something entirely different.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Althea & Oliver is probably the YA that the naysayers don’t realize exists. It’s literary, it’s layered in its storylines and the emotions build up in all of them, and not even close to fluffy. In fact, I would call the general feeling of this book melancholy.
If you haven’t guessed from the above description, Althea & Oliver is not exactly a story you are going to fly through. I was unsure if I was actually liking what I was reading for a long time. How can you like a girl doting over her best friend? What if that best friend is basically disappearing for weeks out of time because of some mysterious illness? I mean, there’s nothing truly happy here. But I was intrigued by Oliver’s strange health issues and I was hooked by the friendship between the two. Oliver and Althea maintained an intimacy that you don’t find a lot in young adult books. Sure, feelings beyond platonic were swirling around there but you can’t deny their closeness — how their families knew each other so well, how they always seemed to be stuck together, and how they accepted each other, faults and all.
I love how Moracho gave these characters room to grow beyond each other. Things happen, Oliver is off to New York, and Althea is acting out back in North Carolina. She makes the decision to lie to her dad and head to New York and talk to Oliver, and a major detour changes the course of the story. This is a tough one to review, friends, because so much happens that you need to discover for yourself. But what happens when you are so dependent on a friend and they can’t be there for you anymore? Do you continue to push this closeness or do you let the wind take you? Do you take this opportunity to get to know yourself without the other person? Will both of you ever be ready to take your relationship to the next level at the same time?
So much about Althea & Oliver felt more mature than a lot of other young adult books I read. I couldn’t help thinking it was the lack of technology in the story because it was set in the 90s. There was nothing keeping anyone together when they were apart except for some stray phone calls. Both Althea’s dad and Oliver’s mom allowed their kids to be very independent. These details definitely allowed the characters to do their own thing but it also didn’t disqualify their parents from the story either. (Big thumbs up.)
These two characters certainly hit rock bottom in two very different ways, and it was so emotional and heartbreaking and authentic how they climbed out of these holes and figured out next steps. I wouldn’t even say this book is about coming to clear conclusions but making the right decisions for right now, and keeping the future open. It’s so scary to jump into the unknown and this feeling is basically the theme of being a junior in high school. Moracho nailed it, making my heart swell and burst so many times.
I cannot wait to see what she is writing much, and I look forward to more thoughtful, and engulfing young adult books like this one.
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A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird #1) by Claudia Gray (website | twitter)
Publication Date: November 4, 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: parallel universes, time travel, death of a parent
Format Read: ARC received from the Publisher. (Thank you!)
Summary: Marguerite seeks answers about her father’s death and travels between parallel universes using the Firebird, the device her parent’s created that make such travel possible, in search of his suspected murderer.
Marguerite is the artist in a family of award-winning physicists. When her father dies and her parent’s assistant, Paul, takes off looking like the most obvious suspect, she has no choice but to emerge herself in her parent’s scientific world to find answers. Even if that involves learning how to use the Firebird, the device her parents created that allows her to jump to alternate dimensions. Marguerite has always felt like her parent’s assistants were adopted family members and there were these inexplicable moments she had with Paul that make her wonder how she could have been so fooled.
The strongest component of A Thousand Pieces of You is seeing Marguerite take a crash course in survival and physics to seek answers. Essentially with a turn of the Firebird, Marguerite finds herself in a parallel universe where the people she knows and is familiar with exist, but things can range from being ever-so-slightly altered to feeling centuries behind technologically. When she takes over another Marguerite’s body, she has to quickly adapt to her surroundings so she can cleverly figure out where Paul is located and when the proper time is to move on to the next place.
There are elements of a great chase paired with this very mysterious relationship between Marguerite and Paul. Her search is for more than closure and justice, but it’s a sweet, wild ride to see how Paul and Marguerite’s story morphs through each dimension. It’s a beautiful, tangled mess of cat-and-mouse paired with a confusing “what-if” love story as we flash back to learn about Paul and Marguerite before her father’s death. There’s a huge internal struggle to believe that Paul couldn’t have done something so destructive and devastating, but when all evidence points to him, how can it be denied? I absolutely loved how complex and intelligent the storyline was, but how the majority of the story focused on the simplest question: What lengths will we go to for the people we love?
A Thousand Pieces of You is my first Claudia Gray book, and I’m incredibly anxious to get my hands on more of her work and to see where the rest of this story goes.
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Hi, you guys!
Today we’re super excited to celebrate our THIRD ANNIVERSARY! On November 1st, Rather Be Reading turned three! (Flashback to our first post/book report — a review of Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer.) Celebrate with us by reading a few then/now comparisons and entering two giveaways below! We thank each and every one of you for stopping by to share our love of reading. Each time we sit down at our computers, it’s because we’re excited to share our thoughts about our books and this blog is a labor of love that wove our friendship together. We’re very thankful for your comments/tweets and the friendships that have evolved because of our little slice of the internet.
- You guys have definitely witnessed my hair transformations, beginning with my ombre look back in 2011. I loved that hair, but boy it’s been a nightmare getting the ombre out. I’ve been ombred, brown, red, strawberry blonde, and am currently back to a close-to-natural hair color. I don’t know what was up with my eyebrows back in 2011, but I’m glad to see they’ve stopped looking like backwards apostrophes.
- Back then I had no daughter and hadn’t been a foster parent yet, and I photographed more weddings than any year since (I think). My life was more leisurely and I focused a lot of time on reading, DIYing, and building my business. I currently have a 9 month old daughter, spend time with our foster daughter every other weekend since her return to her bio family, am photographing more families than weddings this year, and DIYing is probably one of the least important things on my mind right now.
- My reading goal the year we began was 80 books, but I excitedly beat that goal and read 91. I feel almost ashamed to say I’ve gone backwards and have a lower goal this year than I have in the last three years, but it’s true. My goal is 52 – one for every week of the year – and I’m probably still going to be pushing myself in the coming weeks to hit that. This year has involved so, so, so much change it’s almost unbelievable.
- I used to never watch television, but I have developed a major crush on Nashville, Parenthood, Million Dollar Listing (any city), Modern Family, and am currently re-watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix.
- My addictions have grown beyond nail polish to include lipstick and eye shadows. It’s a sad, sad thing that an Ulta is opening up within a few miles from me. I’m going to need to drive completely out of the way to get to Target. 😉
I miss those glasses.
- Like Magan, I’ve had a total hair transformation too. The bangs I had in the “then” photo was a total hack job, and I was scared away from them until this winter. Except as you can see from my current picture, I decided to chop off 17 inches of hair and go for the pixie. (I am loving it!)
- I have a very strong memory of working on early reviews for RBR (pre-opening) at my dining room table in our house with the sun shining through the sliding glass doors. Never did I think we would sell our house a year or so later, move to the city, and James would be going back to school to get his law degree. Yet here we are. There are days I miss our house, but I am so happy we decided to make a move that made US happy. (Plus James graduates in May already. How insane is that?)
- 2011 was a big year for me because I co-founded This Happy Place Blog AND Rather Be Reading within a few months of each other. (Oh! I also got married.) I am so happy that both are going strong, and I honestly owe both so much. They give me a creative outlet, got me into writing again, brought wonderful people in my life, and kicked up my confidence and taught me a lot I never would have learned otherwise. A few months ago, I started a brand new job and part of me wonders if I would have been on this path without these two projects.
- My reading is out of control. I have more books in my apartment than I ever had in my house. Piles are everywhere. Ah. In 3 years, I have bought so many books and visited so many bookstores. I never had to think of enforcing something like a book ban (maybe one for clothing). I want to support the writers I love. I can’t help it! Lately, I’ve been thoroughly supporting my library which makes me breathe easy. (And also makes feel like a part of my community.)
- Fun fact: I’ve traveled to Walt Disney World exactly six times since we started the blog and will head back for the big 7 this weekend. (Only to prove my obsession in this place has only grown. I am a loyalist, what can I say?)
As long as blogging continues to be fun, you can be sure we will continue to make our little home on the web at Rather Be Reading Blog. We like to think of this as the low-cost way the two of us can have “coffee talk” 2-3 times a week while we live in separate states. Now the only thing we need is a definite reunion date… get excited! That will be coming soon! 😉
So thank you thank you thank you for EVERYTHING!
Exciting News + (little kids) Giveaway!
In addition to Estelle’s Big Kids’ Table feature, I, Magan, am going to be sharing children’s book recommendations monthly in a Little Kids feature beginning in January. I read tons and tons of children’s books each week and realize that engaging, adult-friendly kids’ books are a rare gem. Macmillan recently shared a few of their upcoming favorites with me, two of which I’m really, really loving: Special Delivery by Philip C. Stead and Ben Draws Trouble by Matt Davies. Enter below to win a pre-order of each of these books! (Even if you don’t have kids, enter so you can spread the love to a niece/nephew or your friend’s babies!)
The rules: You must be 13 years or older to enter. US residents only, please.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
This year we want to share copies with TWO PEOPLE of the books we’ve reviewed together, KISS KILL VANISH and ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER! We’re also including a few of our favorite non-bookish things as well (there will be fun surprises from us included in the winners’ packages!).
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Happy Halloween! Let’s talk boo-boo-books! 😉
It’s been awhile since I picked up an issue of Publishers Weekly and scouted out some good titles.
Last week’s issue made it pretty easy for me to pick out some new-to-me titles (some of yet won’t be out until 2015). Like anything else, there’s no telling if a book is a winner until you actually pick it up and read it yourself. Oh the pressure! But perhaps the best part of plucking up a new book and coming to the love it or hate it conclusion.
Here’s the lineup:
A Second Bite of the Apple by Dana Bate (November 2014)
Sydney Strauss is obsessed with food. Not with eating it–though she does that too–but with writing about the wonders of the gastronomic world, from obscure fruit hybrids to organic farming techniques. Since food journalism jobs are more coveted than Cronuts®, Sydney pays her bills working for one of TV’s biggest egomaniacs–until she’s left scrambling for shifts at a local farmers’ market.
Stacking muffins for the Wild Yeast Bakery isn’t going to win her any James Beard awards. But soon Sydney is writing the market’s weekly newsletter, and her quirky stories gain attention from a prominent food columnist. After years of putting her love life into deep freeze, she’s even dating again. And then Sydney gets a shot at the story, one that could either make her career or burn it to a crisp–along with her relationship and her reputation… (from Goodreads)
Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar (December 2014) — historical romance!
London, 1905: The city is alight with change, and the Stephen siblings are at the forefront. Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby, and Adrian are leaving behind their childhood home and taking a house in the leafy heart of avant-garde Bloomsbury. There they bring together a glittering circle of bright, outrageous artistic friends who will grow into legend and come to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. And at the center of this charmed circle are the devoted, gifted sisters: Vanessa, the painter, and Virginia, the writer.
Each member of the group will go on to earn fame and success, but so far Vanessa Bell has never sold a painting. Virginia Woolf’s book review has just been turned down by The Times. Lytton Strachey has not published anything. E. M. Forster has finished his first novel but does not like the title. Leonard Woolf is still a civil servant in Ceylon, and John Maynard Keynes is looking for a job. Together, this sparkling coterie of artists and intellectuals throw away convention and embrace the wild freedom of being young, single bohemians in London.
But the landscape shifts when Vanessa unexpectedly falls in love and her sister feels dangerously abandoned. Eerily possessive, charismatic, manipulative, and brilliant, Virginia has always lived in the shelter of Vanessa’s constant attention and encouragement. Without it, she careens toward self-destruction and madness. As tragedy and betrayal threaten to destroy the family, Vanessa must decide if it is finally time to protect her own happiness above all else. (from Goodreads)
The Last Cowboy in Texas by Katie Lane (December 2014) — country music + cowboys = a perfect combo!
Country music princess Starlet Brubaker has a sweet tooth for moon pies and cowboys: both are yummy-and you can never have just one. Now Beckett Cates may not be a cowboy, but he certainly has the heart, soul-and body-to whet her appetite. He’s a sexy ex-Marine with a touch hotter than the scorching Texas sun and arms strong enough to catch her when she lands into trouble.
Playing bodyguard to America’s sweetheart isn’t easy for Beckett. But falling for her sure is. Unfortunately, Starlet has a reputation for keeping a guy or two wrapped around her finger and Beckett refuses to be anybody’s backup. So now it’s up to Starlet to prove that she’s put her cowboy-crazy days behind her. Otherwise, she’ll be singing solo instead of living in harmony with the man who’s loved her even before her fame and fortune. (from Goodreads)
Bonita Avenue by Peter Buwaldo (January 2015)
Siem Sigerius is a beloved, brilliant professor of mathematics with a promising future in politics. His family—including a loving wife, two gorgeous, intelligent stepdaughters and a successful future son-in-law—and carefully appointed home in the bucolic countryside complete the portrait of a comfortable, morally upright household. But there are elements of Siem’s past that threaten to upend the peace and stability that he has achieved, and when he stumbles upon a deception that’s painfully close to home, things begin to fall apart. A cataclysmic explosion in a fireworks factory, the advent of internet pornography, and the reappearances of a discarded, dangerous son all play a terrible role in the spectacular fragmentation of the Sigerius clan. (from Goodreads)
The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos (March 2015) — loved her work in the past!
In all her life, Eustacia “Taisy” Cleary has given her heart to only three men: her first love, Ben Ransom; her twin brother, Marcus; and Wilson Cleary—professor, inventor, philanderer, self-made millionaire, brilliant man, breathtaking jerk: her father.
Seventeen years ago, Wilson ditched his first family for Caroline, a beautiful young sculptor. In all that time, Taisy’s family has seen Wilson, Caroline, and their daughter Willow only once.
Why then, is Wilson calling Taisy now, inviting her for an extended visit, encouraging her to meet her pretty sister—a teenager who views her with jealousy, mistrust, and grudging admiration? Why, now, does Wilson want Taisy to help him write his memoir? (from Goodreads)
So what looks good?Don’t forget to share the great non-YA reads you’ve been reading lately!
The Fragile World by Paula Treick DeBoard ( web | twitter )
Publication Date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: family, death, revenge, effects of traumatic events
Format read: Finished copy provided by Harlequin. (Thanks!)
Summary: When Daniel dies in a freak accident, his parents and sister have no way to predict the changes that will come to their family as the years go on.
Over a year later, I’m still recommending The Mourning Hours, Paula DeBoard’s debut, to people. It’s had a lasting effect on me; what can I say? Obviously, I’ve been looking forward to her second book since I finished the first, and yet again, DeBoard has written an engrossing and heartbreaking tale of a family dealing (or not dealing) with the impossible.
It’s been 5 years since Daniel’s death. The musical prodigy away at Oberlin College, struck down and killed in an accident. No one (except the driver) could have stopped this from happening but the logistics of a statement like that are kind of lost on Curtis (husband and dad) and Olivia (daughter and sister). Curtis completely detaches from his wife, his work (he’s a physics teacher), and basically his entire life, while Olivia is scared of everything. She records all of her fears (from the mundane to the ridiculous) in a Fear Journal, starts wearing all black, and steps away from her friends. Kathleen (wife and mom) tries her darnedest to push Curtis and Olivia to move forward but after giving it all she has, decides to move back to her hometown. Instead of deciding to go with her mom, Olivia stays with Curtis. So a family of four becomes three; becomes two and one.
Grief is a powerful emotion, and it’s difficult to see how much it steers the lives of Curtis and Olivia. Sure, they are getting through day-to-day together but they are not talking about the past, not bringing up Daniel, and certainly not making strides when it comes to living fulfilling lives. It’s not until Curtis has an episode at school that he decides the only thing he can do is kill Daniel’s killer, disguising his revenge road trip as a fun vacation with Olivia that will eventually lead back to Kathleen.
A majority of the book is told in the heads of Olivia and Curtis, as the chapters swap between the two. This tactic definitely made the book move a bit slower, but it only showcased DeBoard’s knack for dialogue because when it popped up, it was good. Despite their hurt, Curtis and Olivia do have this adorable father / daughter friendship and I enjoyed Olivia’s quips. In ways, I’m not sure what would have happened if Curtis didn’t decide to take this trip. I picture both of them living like Big Edie and Little Edie at Grey Gardens. But, sweet readers, things can only get worse especially when you aren’t communicating and your mind is just not functioning the way it should.
Yet again, DeBoard had me at the edge of my seat with The Fragile World but in a totally different way. Was there any way this family could be repaired? Could they move on? Would Curtis go through with his revenge plan? I truly had no idea until I reached the final page, and it left me totally shocked and surprised and even a little bit angry. But perhaps the most shocking thing is that I felt hopeful too. Maybe not a lot, but just enough that I was thinking a lot about what hitting rock bottom truly means, and also the different avenues that love and devotion can take us and bring us back.
Add THE FRAGILE WORLD to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N | The Mourning Hours review