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Last Train to Babylon by Charlee Fam | Estelle Reviews

Last Train to Babylon by Charlee FamLast Train to Babylon by Charlee Fam ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 352
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: Long Island, old friendships, death, grief, painful memories
Format read: Paperback provided by author/publisher. (Thanks!)

Summary: When Aubrey hears of her ex-best friend’s suicide, she’s not sure if she will make an appearance at the funeral. But she goes home to Long Island anyway, bumping into people right and left that knew Rachel when they were younger and all the memories (the good and bad) and the secrets come flooding back. Is it the right time to share her past with others?

Ever since I went away to college, a part of me dreads going back to the town where I want to school. No one looks forward to awkward encounters with ex-classmates. It’s understandable that we’ve changed and aren’t all best friends anymore (if we ever were) and I have a strong feeling part of my aversion to this (especially as a holiday weekend draws so near) is that I don’t want to be reminded of the bad, the sad or the heartbreaking moments associated with high school.

I could relate to Aubrey, out of college and living in NYC as an online journalist, when it came to the familiar feel of the Long Island Railroad and encountering all the familiar about being home, especially for the funeral of her ex-best friend, Rachel, who has committed suicide. They had a rocky friendship but no one, not even her mom or high school boyfriend, knew the depths of their complicated connection. While Rachel was the ultimate mean girl armed with a ton of confidence in front of her peers, Aubrey knew the girl who felt a disconnect from her family, constantly wanted to be reassured of their best friendship, yet at the same time, constantly put herself first.

Told in chapters that alternate between present day and earlier memories of their friendship, Aubrey is forced to remember the reasons why she loved Rachel, and hated her at the same time especially as the rest of the town seems to put her on a pedestal. (Seriously, they were throwing an after-party for the funeral with favors.) It’s tough because Aubrey is never open with her feelings; she pushes away her overbearing mom, she makes fun of her brother’s new girlfriend, and she avoids her ex and current boyfriend as much as possible. Instead, she drinks, she wanders, and retreats even further into her memories.

It’s difficult to talk about this book because I don’t want to give anything away. Fam has concocted a story that alternated between predictable and not. I was surprised by some reveals but others felt a bit too perfect, placed in the prose to move it along. What I do find impressive is all the inner-dialogue from Aubrey once she makes certain discoveries; she has a lot to weed through and so many of her doubts have been perpetuated by society and the media and for that, I believe Last Train to Babylon would be a great book club read. There’s certainly a ton to discuss. I would have preferred a bit more development in Part 2 of the book, though, including more conversations between Aubrey and her mom, and even her and her current boyfriend. A later scene with the ex-boyfriend didn’t hit the emotional mark I wanted it to, either.

Despite my qualms, believe me when I say Last Train to Babylon was an addicting read that I stayed up super late to finish. I had to know how it all would end, and as a debut, it’s great to have Charlee Fam on my radar.

rather be reading borrow from the library icon

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November 26, 2014 - 10:20 am

Alexa S. - Even though I grew up halfway across the world in a completely different country, I feel like I’d find parts of Aubrey’s story quite easy to relate to. It seems like she has a lot of growing up and letting go to do, and I do love it when a novel goes into that!

November 24, 2014 - 2:42 pm

Rachel - This book sounds like something I’d relate to a lot. I HATE going back to my hometown and avoid it at all costs because it’s just so awkward. I’m really interested in reading it and comparing it to your review/qualms to see if I feel the same way. Definitely going on my tbr :)

November 24, 2014 - 1:08 pm

Jessica - This sounds like a book that I should read, especially now that the nights are longer and colder. I think it’s fascinating how fragile Aubrey and Rachel’s friendship seems to be, yet important enough for her to go back to her hometown to allow memories and people resurface.

November 24, 2014 - 10:15 am

Divya - Great review, Estelle! Last Train to Babylon has been in my TBR list for a while now, but I never got around to reading it. But now, I feel I should read it. So I’ll borrow it from the library :)

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Shelve It: The Attack of the Pear

weekly feature to share the books magan and estelle are adding to their bookshelves each week

Happy Sunday! Hope you are having yourself an awesome weekend. It’s chilly in New York City, I’m reading some awesome books, and I’m so glad my hair looked decent enough to make this Shelve It video — it has been awhile! I have lots of fun books to share, and also a story about the latest library book I took out. (Hence, the title of this post.)



Fault Line by Christa Desir ( my review )
Bleed Like Me by Christa Desir ( my review ) — Thanks Christa!

Jacaby by William Ritter ( Goodreads )
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta ( Goodreads) — Thanks Hannah!

The Good Sister by Jamie Khan ( Maggie’s awesome review ) — Thanks Mitali!

Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle ( Goodreads) — Thanks Houghton Mifflin!

I’m Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil ( Goodreads ) — Thanks Soho Teen!

A List of Things that Didn’t Kill Me by Jason Schmidt  ( Goodreads )
The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkowski ( Goodreads )
Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark ( Goodreads )
Flirty Dancing by Jenny MacLachlan ( Goodreads ) — Thanks Macmillan!

And now what I know all of you have been waiting for… the most embarrassing condition I’ve ever returned a library book.

My Sad Library Book

Can you believe a PEAR did that? A PEAR? Sigh. Unbelievable.

On the blog lately:

As always, thanks for stopping in & watching these silly videos!
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving if we don’t talk to you before then!

xoxo ♥


November 26, 2014 - 10:39 am

Alexa S. - HOORAY FOR A VLOG! Also, I’m still stunned at the damage a PEAR did to your book. That’s freaking scary! Good thing your library staff was so nice about it ;) You also got some pretty dang awesome books in the mail – happy, happy, happy reading!

November 23, 2014 - 10:31 am

Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook - I’m glad things worked out so well with the library book. We always get people coming in with something happening to the book they borrowed, and if we can, we never charge them.

Also, Estelle, your hair looks so cute like that! And the earrings too.

I have such a hard time narrowing down my favorites, too, but this year feels particularly difficult.

And Brown Girl Dreaming is soooo good. I read it a few weeks ago.

November 23, 2014 - 10:27 am

Leah - CUTE EARRINGS!! Every time you do a vlog I get the urge to finally take the plunge and do one!
haaaa, okay. So. About two years ago, a customer came in toward the end of the night and had a laptop bag with her. She browsed around for a bit while we went through her books (in addition to selling, we also buy books) and she bought some stuff. She makes her way over to the counter where I’m going through her things and pulls out the book she just bought to ask what we would give her if she sold it back to us. WELL! Apparently she had an avocado in her back that she forgot about FOR A WHILE because it had gone bad. When she pulled out the book it was covered in rotten green goo.
I am very curious about The Good Sister & I’m Glad I Did (seriously loving that cover too)!! Definitely looking forward to your thoughts!
OH MY GOSH ESTELLE. Brown Girl Dreaming. Yes. YES. Read it now. It was a 5-star read (!!!) and it made me cry. Absolutely gorgeous and because it’s written in verse you can get through it in no time!

November 23, 2014 - 5:31 am

Rebecca - This blog title makes so much sense now. I haven’t read anything by Christa Desir (yet), but I think I’ll finally get to her next year. Off to check out Maggie’s review, I also had no idea the book was YA. Brown Girl Dreaming! I really want to read that one and can’t wait to hear your thoughts! I’ve also been using my library a lot more, which is great. They recently moved to a brand new building and it’s been so nice visiting and checking out the new books they’ve gotten in and just browsing around. Great Shelve It!

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Why in 5: How to Tell Toledo… by Lydia Netzer

How to See Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia NetzerHow To Tell Toledo By the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer ( web | twitter )
Publication Date: 7/1/2014
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 339
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: fate, family, mothers/children, LGBT, science
Format read: Borrowed from the library. (Yay!)

Summary: Two mothers plan the births of their children, in hopes they grow up to be incredibly in love.

Let me jump right into this and say: beautiful cover and two very strong recommendations from Jess at Gone with the Words and Jen at Pop! Goes the Reader. I’m so glad I decided to take this book out of the library; it is by far one of the most unique books I’ve read in a long, long time.

Now on to the 5 reasons:

1. Do not be scared of the science. I was scared of the science. Both George and Irene use words that made my head want to explode, and I was scared it would have so much to do with the story that I would never get into it. Not the case at all. As you dig into the story, the science falls away and the humanity of the story takes centerstage. Made everything really click for me.

2. Love is complicated. George has been searching for his soulmate for a long, long time. He has no idea this person is Irene until Irene is suddenly stealing his lab at the Toledo Institute of Astronomy. You would think that her having a boyfriend would be the biggest complication for these two, but nope. As Netzer begins to weave in the story of George and Irene’s mothers, wow. It’s like a brand new dimension to the story appears and creates even more tension and complication.

3. This was surprisingly sexy. I’m sorry to scientists everywhere but I was just not expecting this book to be so sensual. Like very ohh-hot. Let me put it this way… chemistry is not only happening in the lab. Even though I didn’t predict it, Netzer beautifully folded all of these moments in and granted readers to the darkest desires of her characters. I appreciated that a lot.

4. Do you believe in fate? This would be a great candidate for a book club because wow — it’s kind of crazy what these two moms do to ensure their kids meet and fall and love. I loved this mystical element of the book; it made me wonder if it could work. (Don’t worry; I’m not going to try this out. haha) But how far can you push two humans who grow up so differently to get together? In what part of the equation do you let go of the reigns and see what happens? (It’s also a major shock to know someone had such control over your life. Just think about it.)

5. The writing is beautiful. In a book where you are balancing so much science, backstory, current story, the prose does not suffer at all. I can’t even tell you how much I loved George’s voice. He sounded so different than other male characters I’ve read. Sort of childlike but also very grownup at the same time, if that makes sense. I really enjoyed that combination.

A tip: How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky starts off slow, but once you get into the swing (took me to almost page 60) you won’t be able to think of anything else.

rather be reading borrow from the library icon

Add HOW TO TELL TOLEDO FROM THE NIGHT SKY to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N

November 26, 2014 - 1:24 pm

Meg - Okay, I’m convinced! I read Netzer’s Shine Shine Shine and both enjoyed and was confused by it, and I have a hunch this will be the same. But in a good way! Looking forward to reading it.

November 23, 2014 - 12:01 am

Shelve It: The Attack of the Pear, Estelle - […] Why in 5: How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky […]

November 21, 2014 - 6:51 pm

Alexa S. - I’ve been curious about this book! I’m so thrilled that you wound up enjoying it, as that’s an even bigger incentive to get me to read this soon. Definitely adding it on to my own Goodreads TBR, and hoping I enjoy it as much as you did!

November 21, 2014 - 1:00 pm

Mawa Mahima - Well, the prospect does sound intriguing! I have a soft spot for scientists, so I think I’ll like this one…and also how could the mothers have known that their kids would hit it off? :O It sounds chilling, but I can’t help but feel that it would be awesome (and slightly terrifying) if this was a piece of nonfiction!

November 20, 2014 - 10:37 am

Brianna - I have this on my Kindle, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Hopefully soon.

November 20, 2014 - 9:20 am

Ashley - As you know, your love (and Jen’s love) got me to read this and you’re right. It did not disappoint. First of all: YAY! For libraries! But really, YAY! For this book.

November 20, 2014 - 9:11 am

Jess @ Gone with the Words - These 5 points are ON POINT, E!! I’m so happy you enjoyed it! I agree that it’s a great rec for book clubs. :D

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In my reading, I’ve tried to be a lot more intentional about highlighting passages that speak to me. I’ve been terrible about this in the past. It’s been on a few of my lists over our three years that it’s something I wanted to get better about doing. So here I am. Sharing things I’ve loved in this quotables post. I hope you’ll pick up one of these books, love a passage, or just enjoy this slight change of pace.

Please note that if there are any grammatical or spelling errors that they are mine alone. I tried to make the quotes fancy and pretty.:)

jenny han quotes

To All the Boys is just really, really something special. I can’t wait for Estelle to read it so we can chat about it. Could anything be more true than this quote? I think it is scary how love changes. Especially being a woman who has been married for 10 years and hearing about how all these couples just decide their marriages aren’t working after 30+. I know, I know it’s all about continuing to change and evolve together. I get that, but it’s still frightening, right?

Add To All the Boys to Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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liz czukas quote

Add Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless to Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

I’ve talked to my husband about this so much: why are we sent directly to college? I have a huge, huge amount of debt for a degree I’m not using. That I barely used. Why? Because I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I hope that if our children don’t have a clear path, we can really figure out how to steer them in the right directly without pushing them into something they’ll hate. Does anyone else wish they’d had more time to make a decision?

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quote by claudia gray

Add A Thousand Pieces of You to Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | My Review

I know, I’m talking about my daughter a lot here, but wow this was so true. IS so true. I think I’ve realized how thick my skin is because I have someone that needs my protection.

- -

chelsey philpot quote

Add Even in Paradise to Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | My Review

This was just a favorite moment of Even in Paradise. Such a huge, revelatory moment. I mean, how beautiful is this? Especially in this day and age where we’re SO about the documentation and social media…*so guilty*…I want to live soaking it all in. Like no camera could ever possibly capture the greatness of it all.

- -

November 20, 2014 - 8:39 am

Lisa @ Bookish Broads - I love finding great quotes! And as someone who hasn’t read any of these books, I am especially drawn to them now!

November 19, 2014 - 7:44 pm

Alexa S. - Magan, what PHENOMENAL quotables you’ve included in your post today! I’ve actually read every single one of these books, so I know how they fit in the context of each story. But also, they’re all things I personally relate to and think about in real life! In particular, I could focus on the first – about love, and how it changes. I’d like to think it grows, and it’s a choice to grow together or apart in spite of whatever external things come your way! Loved this post, and hope you share more quotables!

November 19, 2014 - 1:49 pm

Asheley (@BookwormAsheley) - These are so fantastic. About that first one, it just gripped me so hard just now because YES love can go away but it can also be restored! How wonderful and scary and exciting and awesome! I love this. So hard. Thanks for sharing it.

November 19, 2014 - 12:26 pm

C.M. Boers - I love taking quotes out of books! Though I haven’t been good at it either. Sometimes I don’t even think about it! Then I stumble upon a commonly highlighted quote when I’m reading and think “yes!” Great idea to lay them all out!

November 19, 2014 - 11:39 am

Jessica - I love these quotes! I totally agree that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has so many great quotes. I don’t highlight passages but I love placing mini stickies on the page where the quote I like is.

I love A Great and Terrible Beauty and there’s just so many great quotes in the book such as, “We are all unkind from time to time. We all do things we desperately wish we could undo. Those regrets just become part of who we are, along with everything else. To spend time trying to change that, well, it’s like chasing clouds.”.

November 19, 2014 - 10:42 am

Brianna - I love highlighting passages in books. I’ve done it a half-dozen times with the book I’m reading now and that’s just in chapter one. It’s not really because the passages speak to me for any particular reason, but because the writing is so gorgeous and I aspire to write like that.

November 19, 2014 - 10:36 am

Lauren at Bookmark Lit - Love all of these quotes!! I’ve read a few of the books and have the others on my TBR, so I guess I’m headed in the right direction :)

November 19, 2014 - 9:38 am

Rebecca - Love all of these and hearing why you loved them, too. You definitely make me want to go read them and discover them myself, on the page. Cool post :)

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Wildlife by Fiona Wood | Estelle Reviews

Wildlife by Fiona WoodWildlife by Fiona Wood ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Publisher: Poppy/Little, Brown for Kids
Pages: 400
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Australia, friendship, sex, relationships, nature, grief
Format read: Borrowed from the library.

Summary: Sib and Lou are two students living in the wilderness for the semester while dealing with the past, old friends, and new love.

I was tempted to read Wildlife because the reviews have been such a mixed bag. Here are some of my thoughts organized in a pros & cons list:


  • The setting. I haven’t read another book where students took a semester to live in the wilderness. It very much felt like a camp (but with grades), and I enjoyed hanging out in a new setting and taking part in all the nature-y and physical activities that were part of their every day routines. (I don’t know if I ever would have survived a semester like this.)
  • Lou is dealing with some very heavy grief. She’s also brand new to this school, and is able to shrink in herself as she deals with a tragedy that totally shattered her world. I loved how realistically Fiona Wood handled this storyline. Lou has to come to terms with so much without a familiar shoulder to lean on. She’s independent but hurting, and I liked how her story was broken down in diary entries as a way for her to work through these hefty emotions.
  • I felt similarly about the sex in this book. Sib, who is dealing with some new treatment from her classmates because of a modeling gig she has, engages in a secret relationship with one of the most popular guys at school and she has so many questions about deciding to take the next step and what it means to her. This was some of the best inner dialogue I’ve seen about sex in a young adult book, and I wish there was more of it. What do you do when you think sex is a big deal and your partner doesn’t?
  • Michael — Sib’s true blue best friend who is sort of pushed to the side while she pursues other interests and also a new friend to Lou. He’s quiet but super solid and I had a lot of love for him throughout the story.
  • Short chapters! Again, something I rarely see in the books I’m reading but very welcome when I’m reading during lunch and only have a short amount of time to jump back into the story. It felt like I always had a stopping point. (Plus the chapter number art was beautiful.)


  • The pacing was a little slow. Wildlife takes place over a semester and because all of the chapters were so introspective, there was very little action. I kept wondering what was going to break the book wide open, and it took awhile. (Even when it got there, it felt more like a tiny fire than a full on explosion.)
  • I was reminded a lot of my reading of Paper Airplanes from a few weeks ago. Two girls become friends, one of them has a toxic best gal pal, and there seems to be only a little bit of time for a full-fledged friendship to develop. It was obvious Sib and Lou could help each other (especially because Sib’s best friend is a piece of work) and I wanted the seed for their friendship to be planted sooner so maybe they could be farther along as I came up to the ending.

Final thoughts: Wildlife is written so beautifully, and I loved the supporting character that nature played in the story. The author did such a commendable job bringing to life two girls going through so much: one dealing with questions of her own limits (in relationships and friendship) and another working to make peace with the past. It was real and emotional but also hopeful. Definitely looking forward to reading more of Wood’s work in the future.

rather be reading borrow from the library icon

Add WILDLIFE to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N

November 26, 2014 - 10:43 am

Alexa S. - I gave Wildlife another shot recently, and wound up really liking it. It was mostly because I found things about Lou and Sib that I could identify with, which gave me a stronger personal connection with the story! I also really liked the idea of a semester in the wilderness; why didn’t I get to do that in high school?

November 23, 2014 - 10:58 am

Nicole @ The Quiet Concert - The fact that this book takes place in the woods and has some good inner dialogue makes me want to read it when I am in the mood for a slower paced book. And short chapters for the win!

November 18, 2014 - 7:39 am

Felicia - Hey (:

I like how you list pros and cons. It actually makes it a lot easier to read a review and get a quick overall opinion on the book.

– Love, Felicia
( http://asillygirlsthoughts.weebly.com/ )

November 17, 2014 - 12:39 pm

Mawa Mahima - Wow…I’d read it just for the setting…a semester in the wilderness? It get pros just for that I think! Short chapters are also quite awesome, however I don’t see how the pacing can be slow with short chapters…Would that make for a good story or not?

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