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!
The Winner’s Trilogy is the best example I can think of when it comes to books I wouldn’t normally pick up but I was completely convinced by the lovely people in this community that I needed to. I’m addicted to contemporary fiction but even I couldn’t deny my intrigue when I saw all the 5-star reviews pop up on on Goodreads for The Winner’s Curse. Even though I was expecting some kind of dragon or weird creature in this series (Harry Potter has done this to me), I didn’t move from my couch until I got through it. So very good, and even better — the second book in the series was just as great.
I find it so hard to talk about series on a blog. I don’t want to alienate those who haven’t read it yet, but I also don’t want to skip chatting about it if it’s worthwhile. I’m going to do my best to toe that line with five reasons you should pick it up — especially those of you who favor more realistic fiction.
1. Even if its set in this lush, divided fantasy world, these books dive into relatable issues. Ever torn between pleasing a parent and hurting your heart? Did you ever fall for the very wrong person? Have you ever lost connection with your best friend? I loved that Rutkoski explores all of these conflicts in The Winner’s Curse. It doesn’t matter when or where you live — we all go through these things.
2. Rutkoski is unafraid to write a dark, bloody book. Sometimes I wonder why it takes me longer to get through fantasy books compared to contemporary. I’m sure one part of the reason is that the terrain is different but there’s always this — it’s not so easy to get through a book that is so doggone sad and bleak. With families separated, empires are at war, and secrets by the handfuls, it’s not easy to get through so much manipulation, betrayal, and death. (It’s worth it though.) This author wants you to experience the full picture from the best moments to the difficult ones. (Might be why this series might be good for those who are apprehensive about picking up YA.)
3. Unexpected allies. There are two characters I really enjoyed in The Winner’s Crime that I wasn’t expecting to. I love being surprised in my reading, and I absolutely enjoy being forced to see another side of a person when I think I have their number already.
4. The beauty of this world. Despite the blood, inequality, and lies, I wish I could jump into the pages of these books and see these grand balls, Kestrel’s beautiful dresses, and oh gosh even her makeup sounds amazing. A lot of bad might be going on, but these moments of grandeur only add to the epic feel of this series.
5. A kick ass heroine. Many times during my reading, I found myself wishing I was as smart and sharp as Kestrel. Holy crap. She’s fiercely independent; she’s brilliant at strategy and god, she must have the best poker face in the business. As I continue to wax poetic about her, let’s talk about her selflessness. She does so much for the better of everyone else even if it sacrifices her own relationships and happiness. I would follow her anywhere.
Bonus: The tension between Kestrel and Arin is off the charts. I literally stopped breathing.
Hi, again! I’ve got a stack of new children’s books that will be coming out in the next few months sitting next to me. I sat down and picked a few of my favorites I wanted to highlight that I strongly feel should be on your radar over the coming months when they’re released. I noticed there was a trend though: they all deal with feelings in some capacity. Not all in the same way, but I liked that this tied them all together. I’ll explain more below…
My Pop is a Pirate (3/1/15)
This sweet book is a dedication to grandfathers and touches on how special they are to grandchildren because they seem invincible. (Hint: this one might be a good one for Father’s Day this year!)
The Fun Book of Scary Stuff (8/11/15)
It’s about the things that frighten little kids and how to become brave — with super cute illustrations and a dog who helps the little boy tackle his fears.
What James Said(6/9/15)
Misunderstandings, at all ages, are no fun. Especially when they deal with rumors and friendship. This is my personal favorite from this month’s selections because people of all ages can benefit from the message!
Wild Feelings (8/4/15)
Children have quite a plethora of emotions and sometimes they don’t understand why they feel the way they do. This is a lighthearted book that provides a little bit of insight for them.
Never discount the dog; maybe when everyone’s fumbling around trying to calm the screaming baby, we should take note of the dog who has the answers.
Luna & Me(8/2015)
This is a sweet story about a little girl who doesn’t want one of the oldest trees to be cut down so she climbs up high and lives in it. Gorgeous drawings + an extremely loving tale.
Here are two sample pages from My Pop is a Pirate, thanks to the publisher!
Thanks for stopping by for Little Kids to talk feelings! What are you favorite children’s books that have a great feelings message?
When Joss Met Matt by Ellie Cahill ( web | tweet ) Publication Date: February 24, 2015 Publisher: Ballantine Pages: 368 Target audience: If you like contemporary romance… Keywords: post-college, college friends, friends with benefits Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Summary: Joss meets Matt during her first year at college, and after a particularly bad breakup, the two decide to use each other as “sorbet sex” — a way to cleanse their sex palette after a bitter end. They always come away from their nights together as friends, and continue to date other people and fall back on one another when those pairings don’t work out. Their agreement stays and their friendship stays on track — or at least until Joss realizes she might look forward to the sorbet sex more than her actual relationships.
When Joss Met Matt is one of those rare books lately where a female character can like sex (a lot) and not have it be the only thing on her mind. Yet somewhere, amidst the jumps between past (college) and present (grown up life), what could have been a great story was ironed out such that I felt like I was just going through the motions to see how it would all end. Sure, it was sweet and sexy and I thought it was fantastic that Matt and Joss were able to keep up such a strong friendship despite the complications of freebie sex. But here are a few thoughts that popped up in my head as reading:
What is NA, really? I know what NA is (Dahlia Adler wrote us a great post with awesome recs in December) but I was taken by surprise when this book started post-college graduation and into the working years. This book easily could have been labeled as a straight contemporary romance, right? The designation here is confusing me, even if most of the story is told in flashback during those college years… it’s being told in retrospect and that isn’t the same for me.
Did the structure work? The premise of the book reminded me of a less dark version of One Day by David Nichols but maybe would have worked more for me if the present day just book-ended the book. Knowing up front how Joss felt about Matt made her other relationships feel like a long laundry list you were predisposed to not care about. Frankly, it made me a bit impatient. (Maybe an epilogue would have worked better?)
Who were Joss’ friends? Joss was all about female empowerment (most of the time anyway; we all have our low moments) but it was a little hard for me to keep her friends straight. More development here would have been a slam dunk for me. Matt was one of her best friends but isn’t half the fun of college getting to know your roommates?
Would this make a great movie? The classic will-they-won’t-they premise had me feeling the spirit of Dawson and Joey or Harry and Sally. This is definitely a movie I would want to see with a bit more development and fewer forced drama moments. I liked that Joss was a strong woman but some of her decisions (especially towards the end) added unnecessary angst and served more as another way to keep the characters at odds. Mix in a Joss phobia, and whew. Don’t get me wrong. There is a time and a place for drama but I’m not sure if this was the point to turn it up a notch.
Final verdict: An entertaining read but not the kind I was hoping for. The strongest parts of When Joss Met Matt was the intimacy they built throughout the years and how they could just be themselves with one another.
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz [twitter • website] Publication Date: March 3, 2015 Publisher: Simon Pulse Pages: 304 Target Audience: Mature Young Adult Keywords: eating disorders, theater school, Nebraska, LGBTQ, black MC Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)
Summary: Etta is all of these things: black, bisexual, a former ballerina, lonely, recovering from an eating disorder, and anxious to get out of Nebraska. She and her best friends aren’t getting along anymore and while she’s in search of a way out of Nebraska, she befriends a new group, very different from her, but the gaping holes in her heart start to not feel quite so deep anymore.
• • •
Whew. Etta. She is … a character, a handful, a LOT to take in. She’s a bundle of constant energy with strong opinions, a lot of talent, full of run-on-sentences and rambling thoughts, and a lot of loneliness as she finds herself distanced from her best friends because she started dating a boy.
Yep, a boy. Etta was a part of the Dykes clique at her school, a group of girls who were out and proud of it, and yes, labeled as aforementioned. A group consisting of her very best friends that she dressed up in retro 70s clothing with and went to the town’s only gay club. But Etta’s never felt defined as wanting to date girls OR boys. It’s never been an either/or dilemma for her. So when she meets a nice guy, they date, and her friends abandon and begin bullying her, and Etta feels more lost than she ever has before.
Etta’s broken up with that boy, still not speaking to her ex-girlfriends, is attending weekly meetings for her eating disorder, and begins to meet with a group of people to audition for a New York theater academy. If only she can get out of Nebraska and be some place where there are more people like her, maybe life will improve. It has to. Etta’s new group is very different from her: Bianca is a very young, very sick anorexic, Christian girl with more talent than anyone Etta’s ever met. James is Bianca’s protective, kind older brother with secrets of his own. James’ best friend is Mason who becomes really protective of and enamored with Etta.
I admit it took me a little while to really get into Not Otherwise Specified. It’s written very freely and Etta’s inner monologue is wordy, sometimes all over the place. I suppose I’m also a little more polite and less abrasive than Etta, too, which I had to get over to embrace her. But when I did get into the rhythm of Etta’s craziness to see how all of these factors propelled her to want to get out and find her footing, I couldn’t stop reading.
Not Otherwise Specified is likely one of the most diverse books I’ve read in a long while, and I absolutely loved that we have this main character who is bisexual with a newfound best friend who is a devout Christian. Clearly they have some fundamental differences that separate them, but Moskowitz handled this in such a profound way. Granted, some of this wording may have changed in the final edits, but this section particularly made me happy to see. Etta’s not above trying to understand Bianca’s feelings even though they differ from her own:
“…obviously thinking that gay people are wrong is antiquated and messed up, but that idea is not what Bianca’s worshipping. She’s not in this to hate gay people. She doesn’t hate gay people. She’s just this girl who really loves her God and doesn’t want to do anything to pull herself away from him–sorry, Mason–probably just as much as she doesn’t want to be pulled away from her brother.
…but I don’t think we can just say that something she believes, something that she fundamentally wants to not hurt anybody is something she can, or should, just get over.”
Take a chance on Etta. Challenge yourself and read her story about loneliness, acceptance, moving forward, not feeling like you belong, and befriending people very unlike yourself. It might take a beat to adapt to Etta’s over-the-top personality, but once you do, you’ll anxiously be awaiting to see what happens next.
Welcome to March! It’s been another fantastic month of reads, and I hope you’re feeling the same way. I’m suuuper excited to be back and chatting about a diverse subject near and dear to my heart. As always, I would love to hear your feedback and don’t forget to link up your diverse reads below! – Estelle
When I turned 16, my parents were very adamant about me getting a part-time job. The holiday before, I had worked with my friend at her dad’s store selling cards and learning how to wrap the perfect gift; I always did a lot of volunteering to help out my parents with their projects too. But this was a paycheck, my first foray into independence, because without that paycheck, there would be no extracurriculars or trips to the movies for me. So yes — money was fantastic — but so were the people I met while working at the local drugstore. We were like our own little family and I liked it so much that work never exactly felt like work. (Until I had an exploding bottle of shampoo all over my shirt. So fun.) Yes, I had to say “no” a lot because I was on the clock but even now I never regret having to pass.
Because so many of my favorite high school memories (and maybe the most heartbreaking) stem from the times I roamed the aisles of CVS or stayed up late having heart-to-hearts in the store’s parking lot, I get such a kick out of reading about characters who find themselves splitting their time between a million other things and a job, and who find themselves involved in a whole new crew because of that job. Diversity isn’t only about race or ethnicity but it’s also about economics. We can’t control how the cards are dealt when we are young — there are those who are lucky enough to not have to think about it, those who are buried under the stresses day after day, and others who fall somewhere in the middle — they have the basics but that’s where it ends.
Like must diverse subjects, this is a sensitive one. When I was growing up, both of my parents worked and we took really lovely vacations. But if I needed a haircut or wanted new clothes for school, that was on me. When I went away to college, I had whatever I saved from working that summer (not a lot) and then I was on my own. I’m sure my parents would have obliged if I asked for something but this is just the way I grew up, I never really asked (which didn’t automatically make me a fiscally responsible person, I’ll admit). But I wonder what life would have been like if I was in high school when my dad was laid off from the job he had for 30 years, what my childhood would have been like if my mom was the one working 3 jobs and my dad was the one cooking our dinners. (Role reversal, I’ve seen, is tough for the baby boomers.) I’m consciously looking for the recession to make its way into my reading, but I haven’t seen much of it yet.
As I’m writing this, I realize there are many ideas floating around here: survival, responsibility, and how we relate to the world we are born into, a world that can change in the most surprising ways. The surprises can be tough and they can be wonderful — like how getting a job, learning new skills, and meeting new people was one of the first times I ever felt like a grown up. One in four high school students have a part time job and many great people on Twitter shared their own high school jobs experiences; wouldn’t this stuff make for some great, diverse stories?
For now, I’m sharing a few suggestions that I feel reflect the support and community many high school-ers find at part-time jobs — all from very diverse economic backgrounds. I hope you’ll add these to your reading lists! I’d also love to hear your own picks and your own high school job stories. Dig deep! We want to hear all about it.
In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen ( web | tweet ) Publication Date: January 13, 2015 Publisher: St. Martin’s Press Pages: 288 Target Audience: Adult Keywords: Pop culture, missed connections, growing up, 90s Format read: Copy from Publisher. (Thanks!)
Summary: It all starts with a movie based on a popular comic. That’s the only thing tying these characters from different places together in December 1992 but as these individuals go off to college and to pursue their “dreams” their lives connect and reconnect in unexpected, heartbreaking, and happy ways.
What if? What IF? I’ve been muttering these two words to myself like a semi-crazy person since I finished In Some Other World, Maybe last night. How many times do we say this phrase during our lives? Wish we said or did something we didn’t, knowing it could have made the difference or maybe not knowing and noticing years later that it could have. It’s frustrating and it hurts but if we didn’t make choices (whether it means letting it all out or keeping something to ourselves), we’d never move anywhere. We’d always be bolted in place.
There are a lot of characters in ISOWM. They all share a common thread: they have an affection for a sci-fi comic turned movie and throughout their lives, it still seems to pop up. (It’s kind of amazing but in this world of recycling material for nostalgia sake — so familiar.) Eons & Empires is that one thing that takes these characters back to a time when their life was on the brink, everything was just beginning. Adam leaving his single mother in Florida to go to NYU; Phoebe leaving her lovable boyfriend to try her luck in Hollywood; Sharon living in New York and still haunted by her own “what if” when she skipped high school to see E&E.
In a world similar to Love Actually, the lives of these characters begin to intertwine — in Los Angeles, in New York, on a plane ride to Chicago — in really surprising ways. All I could think was: this was hard work on the author’s part. How did she make this work, and so believably? But she did. We see these people affecting each other momentously — relationships, sex, friendships — and then in smaller ones too. Bringing to life the bigger picture: we have no idea what small tiny thing is going to motivate and affect us.
It’s both amazing and scary to think about, isn’t it?
Truthfully, I haven’t felt this engrossed in a novel’s world in a long time. If I could have put my entire world on pause to read it, I would have. (Nonetheless, I finished in a little over a day.) It’s both lovely and heartbreaking how the lives of these characters click together and crack; the missed connections weighed on me so much. As an overthinker, I can’t help but retrace conversations and moments in an effort to find the sense in them, find out where the situation may have gone south. The intensity of that emotional rollercoaster was utterly palpable here; you would have thought I was living it myself.
This is one of those rare books I want to dive right back into, and stock up on copies to hand out to friends and family as gifts. The concept of connection and disconnect is so relatable — from the barista you see everyday to the person you’ve known your whole life and not to mention bonds constantly formed and fractured through social media platforms. We’re always one step, one decision away from our choose-your-own-adventure life. Do you go left or do you go right? In Some Other World, Maybe explores these complexities in the best, most thoughtful way.