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Kissing in America by Margo Rabb • Magan Reviews

book review of Kissing in America by Margo RabbKISSING IN AMERICA by Margo Rabb [web | tweet]
Published by Harper Teen on May 26, 2015
Pages: 400
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: first love, parental loss, airplane crash, detached mothers

Summary: Not many things have gone right for Eva, but when she meets Will and they connect over personal losses they’ve both suffered through, she feels like she’s finally piecing herself back together again. Until Will has to move across the country and she’s not sure how or when she’ll ever see him again.

• • •

Kissing in America was my in-flight book of choice a few weeks ago. Usually I do a little bit of reading about the book before I jump right in, but I’d momentarily forgotten to download my review books to my kindle so I quickly did that moments before I was told to temporarily turn off my devices. I hadn’t even read the summary when I began, and I’m pretty sure that made reading this book even more special — I had no expectations.

Eva is a pretty typical teenager — she struggles with fitting in, is angered by how detached her mom can be one moment and how suffocating she feels the next, and has one solid best friend, Annie. But there’s something that sets Eva apart, too. Her father died two years ago in an airplane crash. The piqued curiosity she received when telling people about his death infuriated her so much she began to tell people he died peacefully in his sleep from a heart attack. (Meanwhile her mother never, ever mentions him and discarded any trace of him weeks after he died.)

When she begins tutoring Will by proofing his college essays and English papers, they connect over their personal tragedies. His younger brother died as an infant and his mother has never recovered from the loss. As Eva’s adoration for Will grows, she can’t lie to him anymore about her dad’s death. She spills the truth to him and this bonds them even more; she loves that she can be honest about all of these pieces of her no one except Annie knows: how she secretly reads messages in a forum for the surviving family members of the airplane crash or how she hoarded some of her dad’s belongings before her mother could toss them out. Their love for reading and poetry, their losses, and their easy banter bind Will and Eva together over the course of the school year.

Just when things have hit their stride, Will’s forced to move to California. How will these two ever reunite (especially considering she could never fly there)? Kissing in America is a strong tale about first love, healing, heartbreak, parental struggles, not always seeing eye-to-eye, and best friendship stress when you suck at life and let someone down. Eva and Annie find a way to road trip to CA by entering in a game show competition to find the Smartest Girl in America. Annie is a brilliant girl destined for MIT, but she’s overwhelmed by the cost of it and knows her parents couldn’t afford it. This could be her ticket to her dreams.

With much hesitation and a few embarrassing rules in place, Annie and Eva are allowed to road trip from New York to Los Angeles. This was by far my favorite aspect of the book. They meet a crazy bus thief, a few Texas cowboys (who were severely over-exaggerated, but still so fun), and get some solid advice from Eva’s mom’s best friend Lulu. There were moments of such extreme realness in Kissing in America that made me feel like an eavesdropper/stalker along for the bus trip.

The remainder of Kissing in America needs to be experienced by you and I should stop babbling on. (But believe me I could chat forever about this one.) It made me giggle, brought tears to my eyes, made me think about the type of mother I hope to be, and even frightened me a little bit as the details of her father’s plane crash were revealed. It’s one of those books that gives you a whole lot of story in the best and simplest of ways, with characters you love, and a great sadness when it’s all over.

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An early copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

June 3, 2015 - 8:14 pm

Emma @ Miss Print - My excitement for this book grows exponentially as more bloggers I trust talk about how much they loved it. Great review Magan!

June 2, 2015 - 10:37 am

Alexa S. - Kissing in America sounds FABULOUS, M! I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it, but your review has completely changed my mind. I’m definitely going to be trying to snag a copy soon, since it also sounds like a perfect summer read!

May 27, 2015 - 3:45 pm

Kristin @ Simply Bookish Things - I saw this the other day and it looks so good. I am a complete sucker for romances..<3

May 27, 2015 - 10:31 am

Ashley - I am so, so, so, so glad I’m not alone in my love of this book. I went into it knowing nothing also and adored it so much!

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City Love Prep | BEA Part of It 2015

This past weekend, I took Susane Colasante’s new book, City Love, to my favorite park in Long Island City and read about three girls — a local and two transplants — who were beginning a new stage in their life in the Big Apple. I love hearing about people discovering the sights and sounds of the city. One of the biggest takeaway from the book is the reminder to LOOK AROUND IT and TAKE IT ALL IN. So those of you who are returning to NYC or visiting for the very first time, don’t let yourself get trapped in a conference center for too long.

City Love by Susane Colasante in LIC

Big thanks to everyone who took part in our third annual BEA Part of It series (2013 & 2014). I love hosting it, and while it’s exciting BEA will find a new home in Chicago next year, I’ll miss putting this collection together.

For those of you looking for some city recommendations while you are in town next week or sometime in the future, here’s the full rundown:

Resources on the actual conference:

Remember: Have fun! This is your vacation too! Happy packing & happy travels! xo

May 26, 2015 - 6:20 pm

Lucy - This is such a fun series that I’m sure is an invaluable resource for BEA attendees. I’m sure I’ll refer back to it when I plan my next trip to NYC. Have a blast at BEA! :)

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Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center | Estelle Reviews

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine CenterHappiness for Beginners by Katherine Center ( web | tweet )
Published on March 24, 2015 from St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 320
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: divorce, nature, new beginnings, family

Summary: A year after her divorce, Helen decides to go way out of her comfort zone — she’s trusting her irresponsible little brother with her beloved kinda mean dog and embarking on a wilderness survival course. She’s ready for a fresh start but a familiar and unexpected addition to the wilderness team in addition to all the time spent in nature, turns the trip into a different kind of adventure.

Happiness for Beginners is one of the only books where I can remember seeing almost an unanimous reaction amongst readers: they could not stop and read it in one sitting. I’m joining those ranks. Mostly. If I had just started it a little earlier, I would have finished it in only a few hours. What’s the mysterious formula for a book of this caliber?

In this case: snappy, fresh dialogue; a main character you feel invested in; an unbelievable setting.

Like Helen, I’m not much of a nature girl. I have never gone camping. If I did, it would have to be the “fake” kind with showers and toilets. It’s brave as hell for Helen to go off for three weeks with a backpack full of nothing (no shampoo), one book of her choosing (!!), and do something so out of her normal routine. When life isn’t looking great and you have no idea where to turn, there’s nothing better than shaking it up in an enormous way, right?

Most of the people participating in the wilderness course have had some experience and are in a different age bracket than Helen. She’s feeling lonely at home with her singledom and now she’s thrown in with a bunch of people who look at her like she’s the old person. (She’s only 32.) She has to work to make connections with people while attempting not to die out in the wilderness. The pressure! Even though she’s feeling weak and incapable, Helen learns to feel empowered and rediscovers her confidence — by getting to know new people, opening herself up to strangers, and getting zen with nature.

Two characters I love: Jake — her youngest brother’s best friend and a surprising revelation — and Grandma Gigi — a lady who still knows how to have fun and is beyond wise. Helen is forced to come to terms with the truths surrounding the hierarchy of her family, as well as — gasp — think of her younger brother as a real person and not just the annoying thorn in her side. It can be difficult but it’s amazing how learning our siblings are real people with lives and feelings too can give us such clarity.

An unexpected gem, I’d suggest Happiness for Beginners to any Bethany Chase or Liza Palmer fan — they make for a trifecta of smart, thoughtful women’s fiction. We need more books where we see a character facing moments of vulnerabiity and bravery in unexpected yet realistic situations. We can all find a little bit of ourselves in Helen and her story. This is a book to add to the “let’s buy for everyone you ever talked to” list and meant to have a long life on my most trusted bookshelf.

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An early copy of this book was supplied by the publisher. Thanks!

May 31, 2015 - 8:01 am

It's a Wrap | MAY We Remember You Kindly, Estelle - […] Kissing in America by Margo Robb / Estelle: Happiness for Beginners by Katherine […]

May 26, 2015 - 6:18 pm

Lucy - You make this sound amazing! I am so not an outdoorsy camping type but I think it’s a great idea for a book setting. Can’t wait to check this one out!

May 24, 2015 - 9:04 am

Maggie @ Just a Couple More Pages - After seeing you mention this on Goodreads I put a hold on it from the library and I think I’m finally #1 or 2 in line and I’m so excited to read it! Even more now after reading your review.

May 24, 2015 - 7:49 am

Leah - There’s been SO much love for this book recently and I swear I had no idea it was fiction until now! The title and cover SCREAM memoir to me!

(& I’m all about fake camping too, E!)

May 21, 2015 - 4:16 pm

Alexa S. - I basically just want to say “YES! YES! YES!” to this entire review, because you’ve captured in a lovely way how great Happiness for Beginners is. It’s definitely a quieter adult contemporary, but it was still so, so moving and utterly compelling :)

May 21, 2015 - 9:44 am

Maria @ A little adventure - Oh this sounds like a great book!

I’m attracted to it from the title alone, as I’ve been on my own little quest to find happiness this year.

I like the element of finding a balance with nature that you mentioned, and it definitely sounds like a book with interesting characters. I’ll keep an eye out for it for sure!

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Rather Be Prom-ing

Looking back, I feel disdain for about a handful of high school memories but never about prom. Even though my boyfriend and I had just broken up and we decided to go to the dance as friends, it was still a total blast and one of my favorite memories ever. I survived self-tanner and missing the complimentary makeup appointment I won. (Truth: I got way lost. Some things never change.) I couldn’t have asked for a better date, and a better final weekend with my closest friends (in true Jersey fashion, we spent it down the shore).

Estelle Prom 2013

To get in the spirit — my mom informed me that our high school prom is occurring this weekend (lucky ducks! It’s Memorial Day weekend!) — I’m sharing a few prom-worthy reads AND a prom-tastic Spotify playlist to get you grooving on your next walk, while you’re sitting at your desk at work, or maybe for your own personal dance party. Thanks to those of you who sent in suggestions to our Twitter account and also told us a little bit about your prom! I love taking trips down memory lane with you.

Your prom book list:

  • Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg: A modern retelling of the Jane Austen classic, Prom & Prejudice focuses on the pressures of getting to the actual dance. It was so light and fun, and inspired me to pick up my dog-earred copy of Pride & Prejudice ASAP.
  • Promposal by Rhonda Helms: Magan dubbed this book “worth it”. Here’s a short blurb from her: “Promposal reads easily and was a quick, enjoyable book. The story is about two genuine, innocent characters who want things to finally work out for them.”
  • We Can Work It Out by Elizabeth Eulberg: What is it with Eulberg and dances?! I love it! This book might not be about prom, per say, but it is about girlfriends hanging out, making time for one another, and having so much fun.
  • Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas: How about getting a glimpse into one girl’s prom — and two different journeys? This book was SO much fun, and relatively low drama for a book about a big dance that gets everyone a little obsessive.

And now for some tunes:

A note: Write down the songs you remember to from prom because I guarantee 10-ish years later, you will not remember any of them. (I swear! I asked my best friends.) I even danced a lot! Second, you may notice some modern tunes mixed it. Well, these are songs we would love to dance to at prom NOW if we could. Happy listening!

If you feel like sharing, we’d love love love to hear about your prom. Did you go on a trip afterwards? Was there a theme? Did you go with a friend or was it your sweetheart? WE LOVE STORIES so feel free to tell us some.

May 24, 2015 - 9:14 am

Maggie @ Just a Couple More Pages - I love prom season! I’ve seen so many limos around lately and a friend at work has a much younger sister that has her prom coming up and it’s so fun to hear about. I can’t believe my prom was 14 years ago, ahhh!

May 22, 2015 - 1:00 am

Wendy @ Book Scents - Aww what a cute picture! :) I love this post! I went with a guy friend and our whole group of friends and it was so much fun. I’m trying to remember what songs were played there but I can’t remember! :/ love that spotify playlist though!

May 21, 2015 - 4:28 pm

Alexa S. - Such a fun post! The theme of our prom was Asian fusion, which didn’t really translate in the decorations at all. I went with a family friend who I didn’t really know (AKA a bit of awkwardness) but I did have a lot of fun with my girls that night, dancing the night away :)

May 21, 2015 - 6:28 am

Natalie @ Flowers in my Books - I remember my prom being so much fun! I’m from England so it’s not as big over here as it is in the U.S. and other parts of the world but we had it on a boat on the River Thames and it was beautiful. It was so nice to have one final night together before we all split up and everything got messy.

May 20, 2015 - 2:00 pm

Emma @ Miss Print - My prom was ridiculous. I wasn’t near any of my friends so I took a taxi there with my mom (she made sure my dress–which I bought online–didn’t get caught in any doors!) and met friends there. I don’t talk to any of the people I knew or friends I had in high school anymore but I can still look back on the night with fond memories. When else will I be told I look like a princess?! You also got me thinking about music at my prom and I can’t believe it but I cannot remember a single song. Not even one!

Bringing things back to this post: I totally loved Prom and Prejudice–so cute! so fun!

May 20, 2015 - 1:21 pm

Layla - My prom was also 10+ years ago – c/o 2007, woo – and I don’t remember a single song that played. Or if I danced at all. Whoops. To be totally honest, what I remember is wanting to punch my date in the limo and then the sleepover my BFFs and I had after prom. Not much about prom itself. I’ll have to check out some of the books you mentioned instead and see if it sparks anything!

May 20, 2015 - 8:51 am

Melissa Ryall - I love this post! My favorite prom memory is at the end of the night my friends and I dancing to “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith and singing as loud as we could. That is the only song I remember being played at my dance.

I just added Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas to my reading list. I can’t wait to check it out.

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Drive Me Crazy by Terra Elan McVoy | Estelle Reviews

Drive Me Crazy by Terra Elan McVoyDrive Me Crazy by Terra Elan McVoy ( web | tweet )
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on April 28, 2015
Pages: 288
Target audience: Middle grade
Keywords: grandparents, remarriage, cousins, new friends, popularity, parents & secrets

Summary: After Grandpa Howe and Grandma Tess get married, Lana and Cassie are invited on their road trip honeymoon. Lana is hoping to embark on a brand new friendship, but Cassie has other ideas — she’s addicted to keeping up with everyone at home. Will this new family survive this trip as the girls get to know each other and still find themselves dealing with stresses from home?

Looking back, it would have been a dream come true to be invited on a vacation with my grandparents sans parents. Grandparents are just the coolest, aren’t they? They understand us in a way that are parents don’t, right? (The spoiling part isn’t so bad either.) So Grandpa Howe and Grandma Tess inviting Lana and Cassie along for their honeymoon road trip sounds like total bliss. Grandpa Howe is Lana’s grandpa and Grandma Tess’s is Cassie’s grandma so it’s a nice way to bring their families together after their wedding. Out on the open road with dessert for breakfast and cool, artsy stops along the way (even a Broadway-themed restaurant) — what could possibly go wrong?

Well…while Lana is completely gung-ho for the trip and looking forward to spending time with her grandparents, Cassie is a bit of the opposite. She’s concerned about her status with her popular friends. If she’s not available to them, how will she remain important? Her solution is to stay permanately attached to her cell phone, much to her grandmother’s chagrin. Lana does her best to stay on Cassie’s good side but it gets tough when she feels like Cassie is constantly putting her down to make her friends look better. All the while, Lana is sure her parents are keeping something from her. She’s worried something is wrong with her mom and being in a car for so many hours on end, has her imagination soaring to new heights.

It’s true some girls are just not meant to be friends — as much as one side tries, as much as it seems like it should be the case. Lana was an old soul while Cassie was concerned about parties and makeup and boys. They aren’t exactly in the same place when the trip starts. Jealousy also becomes a factor when Cassie sees how close Grandma Tess and Lana have grown to one another. Who can blame her? For the first time, her special relationship with her grandmother doesn’t feel like it’s just meant for her, and when it seems like no one else on your family is on your team, it hurts even more.

But maybe… just maybe each of the girls provide a much needed balance for the other.

It was so refreshing to read a book based on relationships with grandparents, and, like I’ve come to expect from her, Terra Elan McVoy injected her thoughtful writing into this young, wobbly friendship — complete with spot-on observations of technology and how it can take us out of the moment and how it feels as a being young and left out of the grown up stuff. The summer always feels like a time of new beginnings, and I so enjoyed watching a new family make fantastic memories and two very different girls learn to relate to each other. I sure hope they scrapbooked about it when they got home.

P.S. If you like grandparent road trip books (and a box of tissues), be sure to add Walk Two Moons to your reading lists.

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Others by Terra McVoy on RBR: In Deep ; Criminal ; The Summer of Firsts & Lasts | Being Friends with Boys

An early copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

May 18, 2015 - 12:55 pm

Alexa S. - I haven’t heard very much about Drive Me Crazy, so I’m really glad that you reviewed it today, E! It sounds like a great read, particularly since I love reading about different, unique family dynamics AND road trips. Sounds like a winning combination to me! 😉

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Move Over Taylor || Corey Ann Haydu on NYC

♥ Earlier this week, I shared my thoughts on the lovely, important Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu. (Kirkus called her a ‘masterful wordsmith’ recently, and I couldn’t agree more.) I’m excited to host her on RBR as she chats about the setting of her new novel: New York City. Reading over her experience, I discovered how similar mine is. New York may be the city of dreams but it’s also a difficult place to live. It gives you the space to be independent and while that can be empowering, it can be downright lonely. After years of wanting to live here, I finally did back in 2004 and you know what I remember? Crying a lot. I didn’t stay long, and wasn’t sure I would be back. But a few years later, I made my return and I honestly believe that first experience made this one so much better. Anyway… big thanks to Corey for writing this great piece about the Big Apple and the necessary steps to making the most out of your summer here.


I moved to NYC when I was eighteen, at the end of August in 2001. I loved the city immediately — it was my dream to move here, and I felt at home in a way that was new and exciting and so, so right. A lot happened in 2001 in the city, and although it was a painful time, it was also a moment when I understood what community meant and what a place like New York has to offer if you want to make it your home.

I made it my home, and it’s taken me until Making Pretty to start writing books set here. I think it will be hard to stop now that I’ve started. For this book, I wanted to capture what it was like to be a teenager in NYC, so I set it where I was when I was teenager here. I started to become who I am now back in August 2001. I believe New York lets you do that. New York doesn’t tell you what to wear or who to love. It doesn’t tell you what to eat, but it gives you every option imaginable. It doesn’t tell you there’s only one way to be cool or artistic or smart or female or sad.

It’s not for everyone. But it was for me. And it’s for Montana. And this book is for everyone who has walked the sidewalks of NYC crying and loving that not a single person looks at you funny or asks what’s wrong. This book is for those of us that like to be alone in a huge crowd of people. New Yorkers.

Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu collage

A little advice on New York City, from the pages of Making Pretty:

  • The best people watching can be done in Washington Square Park. This is also the best place to rate best street performances.
  • A prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich is an important accessory and can make you less angry with your father/sister/stepmother/best friend. Easy to find at cafes and restaurants all over the city. If you’re near Union Sqaure, University news has little mini baguette sandwiches. In Brooklyn you can’t miss Frankie’s 457 for the best paninis.
  • Get an eyebrow piercing in Williamsburg. Get a tattoo in Williamsburg. Dye your hair pink in Williamsburg. Go to Williamsburg and wonder at the hipness.
  • Sit on a stoop and talk about the things that hurt. Sit on a park bench and fall in love.
  • Hold hands on a long walk. It doesn’t matter where you go. It’s New York. Getting lost is the point.
  • Eat all the cheese. Stinky’s in Brooklyn. Murray’s Cheese Bar in the West Village. Most wine bars. Beecher’s near Union Square.
  • The best bars and cafes are the ones where everything’s mismatched and a little tattered.
  • It’s hot in the summer. Be comfortable. Some people wear sundresses. Some people wear jean cut off shorts with tampon-looking strings hanging off them. The cool kids wear hats and scarves even though it’s boiling. It’s okay not to be a cool kid.
  • Notice what everyone around you is reading—on the subway, in the park, at the café. You may find the love of your life that way. You’ll at least be surprised by the unexpected choices and the ways books don’t always match up with people the way we think they’re supposed to.
  • Always show up with coffee. Hot coffee in the summer is a lifestyle choice that Montana and I both approve of heartily.
  • If you stop in the middle of the sidewalk other pedestrians will sigh and give you mean looks but forget all about it five seconds later.
  • You can cry on the streets and no one will notice or care. You can fight or kiss or change your life right there, in a crowd of people, and they’re rush right by you. If you are a certain kind of person, that could feel like loneliness. If you are meant to be a New Yorker, that feels a lot like joy.

♥  ♥  ♥

Thanks for stopping in, C! Best wishes on the new book!

For more on Corey: @Twitter | MAKING PRETTY on Goodreads | MAKING PRETTY @ IndieBound

Notable reading: Corey talks to Barnes & Noble Teen Blog & shares her food bio on Paper Riot

May 18, 2015 - 3:16 pm

Emma @ Miss Print - As if I didn’t already know I need to read this book! Love this post!

May 14, 2015 - 11:02 am

Alexa S. - I LOVE THIS POST! I moved to New York officially in 2012, and for the past 2+ years, my life has never been the same. It’s got its ups and downs, but I love it. And Corey did a good job of capturing it in Making Pretty AND in this post!

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