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Estelle: Jessica Darling’s IT List 2 by Megan McCafferty

Jessica DarlingJessica Darling’s IT List 2 by Megan McCafferty ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 9/16/2014
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 208
Target audience: middle grade/JD fans!
Keywords: making friends, middle school, big sisters, family
Format read: ARC from Elena at Novel Sounds. (Thanks!)

Summary: Despite the “luck” she had with the last IT list her sister passed on to her, Jessica needs all the help she can get as old friendships change and new ones in emerge.

While reading Jessica Darling’s IT List Part 2, I was reminded of how much Jessica marches to her own drum. Even though she gets comments on the old band t-shirts she loves to wear and how she wants to dress up like the Periodical Table of Elements for Halloween, she doesn’t change.

The fact that those things stay put when she is literally (I used it right!) questioning everything about her life? Totally admirable.

In the second book of this middle grade series, Jessica is navigating friendships like whoa. Her best friend Bridget seems to be relying more and more on the popular crowd and putting a lot of effort into her boyfriend. Then there’s Hope, who is someone Jess really clicks with but can be so hot and cold. And what about the girls on the track team? How does she know what’s real and what’s not when it seems like her longest and most important friendship is crumbling?

One of the the biggest highlights of this book for me was Jessica’s relationship with her grandma. With her parents so occupied, her grandmother is staying with them for a few weeks and I loved the sounding board she provided when Jessica was feeling a little lost. Not going to lie — made me tear up in some spots because of my own close relationship with my grandma at that age. It was a nice touch to have her a part of the story.

Once again, reading this brought me back to so many of the titles I loved at this age and also made me want to dust off my copy of Sloppy Firsts and get addicted to this heroine from the beginning I know best. I love that these books serve two purposes: entertaining young readers with realistic story lines and a pinch of humor and reminding us Jessica veterans why she is so important to us.

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September 17, 2014 - 11:57 pm

elena - you review made me re-affirm that i REALLY need to re-read the jessica darling series!! this sounds like a delightful middle grade and yay grandma relationships. sounds like the perfect amount of nostalgia!

September 17, 2014 - 2:52 pm

Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook - I recently brought the first book in this It List series home. I’m excited to read it. It looks soooo cute!

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Estelle: The Bridge from Me to You by Lisa Schroeder

The Bridge from Me to You by Lisa SchroederThe Bridge from Me to You by Lisa Schroeder ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Publisher: Scholastic Point
Pages: 336
Target audience: young adult/verse fans
Keywords: senior year, family secrets, pressure from parents, football, small town
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: Lauren is suddenly living in the small town when her aunt and uncle take her in. Colby is a star on the high school football team and as pressure to pick a college mounts, he wonders if anyone close to him knows him at all. A friendship forms between Lauren and Colby, unable to go any further but as they both have difficulties to face, they may need each other more than they think.

The two things I really love about verse books done right is how swiftly they move, and how much emotion they can evoke in a short block of words. Schroeder took an different angle with verse in The Bridge from Me to You: Lauren got the verse chapters and Colby’s was written in regular prose. This is where I wish I would have read a finished copy of this book because the formatting of Lauren’s pages were all over the place and I didn’t realize it was poetry vs. prose until a bit of the way in.

Anyway. Lauren and Colby are two really nice people. Even though Lauren has been shipped off to her uncle’s by her mother and Colby lost his mom, they are both people who are positive, fiercely care about their friends and family, and are determined to have great futures. It’s all the other factors in their lives that are affecting those happy endings. Not only has Lauren been cut off from her mom but her younger brother, and Colby can’t seem to stand up to his dad about his desire to study engineering in college and retire his football jersey for good.

Despite a great time hanging out the first time, Lauren and Colby’s friendship isn’t instantaneous. When Colby’s best friend gets in a terrible accident, he’s distracted and distant and it takes time before they find themselves in the same place. Colby and Lauren are very at ease with each other; I think it helps that Colby has someone to talk to who isn’t associated with their small town and vice versa, Colby doesn’t know Lauren’s mom. For both, it’s a blank slate.

Focused on having something instead of nothing, Lauren and Colby decide to focus on friendship even though they clearly want more. On each side, there is building pressure as Lauren must come to terms with the truth about her family and Colby has to make some serious decisions about what he will be doing next year. Verse and prose combination made the 300-plus pages fly by so fast, and I loved getting to be a part of this tiny football-loving town for a little while.

That being said, the writing style of the book made the characters feel younger than seniors. I wonder if Lauren’s poetry should have been a supplement to her own prose because there could have been so much more meat to her story. Same with Colby. With his best friend in the hospital and the trouble he has being honest with his dad, there was definitely more of an opportunity to dig deeper in this story. All “issues” seemed to solve themselves pretty quickly, and I would have loved to get more from the secondary characters.

The Bridge from Me to You was a welcome break to a long-string of prose books. In fact, it’s the first verse book I’ve read all year. It was a sweet, feel-good read, and the many mentions of junk food and baked goods (berry pie!) made me wish I had one by my side at all times.

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October 8, 2014 - 10:46 pm

Alexa S. - The Bridge From Me To You sounds pretty great! I like that we’re in the heads of both these characters, and that their perspectives are set apart by HOW the story is told (one in prose, one in verse). I’m curious to find out what’s really going on in both Colby and Lauren’s heads!

September 16, 2014 - 11:37 am

Brianna - I adore books written in verse, but firmly believe they need to be read in physical form. The formatting on Kindle, even finished, is always off.

September 15, 2014 - 2:07 pm

Sue - This looks good. Great review.

September 15, 2014 - 12:33 pm

Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook - I really, really enjoyed The Bridge from Me to You. But I do see what you mean, about the possibilities for digging deeper into both Colby and Lauren’s feelings.

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Estelle: Make It Right by Megan Erickson

Make It Right by Megan Erickson Blog Tour

Make It Right by Megan Erickson web | tweet | facebook )
Part of the Bowler University series but can be read as standalones.
Publication Date: September 8, 2014
Publisher: William Morrow Impulse
Pages: 384
Target audience: Young adult/new adult
Keywords: college, forgiveness, post-graduation plans, trust
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Summary: After mistakes he made last year, Max has sworn off girls for good. His focus is graduation and a job with the family business that he is not looking forward to at all. But a few chance run-ins with Lea, a girl from school, makes him rethink his break from dating. Can he ditch the cocky attitude and have a meaningful relationship?

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t much of a Max fan when I read Make It Count. In fact, it surprised me that author Megan Erickson decided to have her next book in this companion series focus on him. I knew that Max would have a lot of work to do for me to me to not only care about him but believe in his transformation.

Well, I’m happy to say that Megan did another standout job with her characters in Make It Right. Most importantly, learning more about Max did not get him off the hook for past actions either. By hitting his lowest point, he was almost putting more pressure on himself to do better and think more about other’s feelings. In the beginning of this book, I was glad to see Max is actively creating boundaries between who he was and who he wanted to be. I think that was an important first step to getting him as a character. We all make mistakes, but it’s what we do next that means the most.

Did I mention he takes in a homeless cat, bakes like a champ, and can sing?

Swoon!

While Max is dealing with just about everything, he keeps bumping into Lea. In fact, he gets totally beat to a pulp by her when he volunteers to be an attacker during a self-defense class. (I liked this plotline!) She’s really good at reading people, and she wonders which side of Max is the real one: the cocky lady killer or the guy who will drop everything to bring her to the hospital when her friend is hurt? She hopes it’s the second one, and her curiosity gets the best of her when she decides to go on a date with him.

Lea is wrestling with some overarching trust issues from a horrific childhood accident that caused her limp. But she doesn’t let her disability get the best of her. No way. She’s totally kick ass, black belt, and all powerful. I loved that she had this tough exterior while her insides were working to catch up. (There are some other sexy details about her but I’m going to let you discover those yourself.) Her strength and sensitivity make her the most ideal match for Max. That’s for sure.

Here’s what I have grown to adore about Erickson: all of her characters have baggage but it’s the relatable kind. (Revolutionary, I know.) Learning to stand up to your parents, carve your own path, learning to trust yourself and your instincts. While Max and Lea do gain a lot as they get to know each other, their efforts to find happiness don’t end with the promise of romance.

Again, Erickson has delivered a sassy, sexy, and addicting new adult story. Make It Right belongs in your queue.

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October 8, 2014 - 10:40 pm

Alexa S. - I really enjoyed Make It Right! I’m a sucker for a good redemption story, and Erickson did a great job with Max. I liked getting to know him a little bit better, and understanding what makes him the way he is! Plus, his efforts to change and grow? Solid. I also really liked Lea! Plus, their romance just made me very, very happy :)

September 19, 2014 - 9:19 pm

Danielle @ Love at First Page - Great review! I just read both books back to back and was very happy with how light and fun they were. Not too much angst or pain-filled baggage. I agree – Max’s journey was very realistic and we get a great understanding of why he behaved so badly in the first book.
Very excited for Cam’s book!

September 12, 2014 - 12:09 pm

Wendy @ Book Scents - This sounds really good! I like that the baggage is relatable! When characters have baggage that just starts to be over the top and way too much, it totally bugs me. I’m definitely going to have to check out this series!

September 12, 2014 - 12:06 pm

Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook - I recently read Make It Right. I thought it was cute. I haven’t read Make It Count, so I didn’t know Max from that. But I got the feeling he was a total jerk. I actually really like when authors take total jerks and make them into heroes, although that isn’t always easily done.

Have you read Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas? That’s a historical romance and whoa does Kleypas create a total jerk and then redeem him.

September 12, 2014 - 11:50 am

Asheley (@BookwormAsheley) - This is the second review I’ve seen for this book and they’ve both been positive! It sounds like something I’d like. I read yesterday that this one is kind of like a second chance story, and I always tend to like those. ALSO I like it when there is a character that I’m not too sure about but he/she ends up winning me over in the end – in the past that character has sometimes been my favorite of the series. This sounds fun, E!

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Estelle: Expecting by Ann Lewis Hamilton

Expecting by Ann HamiltonExpecting by Ann Lewis Hamilton ( web | facebook )
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Pages: 340
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: pregnancy, miscarriages, fertility treatment, unconventional families
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: After suffering two miscarriages, Laurie and Alan are thrilled when their fertility treatment takes & “Buddy” is on his way to them. But news from the treatment center changes things, challenging their marriage, and altering how the two think of their family and Buddy’s future.

One thing that really struck me about Laurie and Alan’s marriage was how laidback it was. They laughed together, they went on adventures, and it’s not until they are about to embark on a different adventure that things start to unravel for the two. Ann Lewis Hamilton gives us an honest and (at times) heartbreaking look into how partnerships are affected when unexplained tragedies occur. Why do some couples conceive so easily and why do others not have that same kind of luck?

Post-happy news after a visit to the fertility treatment brings some unusual revelations. An angry employee has switched all the vials, and it seems that Laurie is not having Alan’s baby but someone else’s. Now, Jack, 5-year college student, juggler of multiple girlfriends, enters their lives. Laurie is focused on making the best of the situation and having some sort of relationship with him, while Alan can’t help but feel insecure about his role in the family now. (One of Alan’s big concerns is how his son will most likely not look like him because Jack is Indian.)

Expecting shifts POVs between Laurie, Alan, and Jack so the readers are privy to their innermost thoughts — sad, happy, angry, and mean — and it was a treat to watch how these three took an accident and made it work for them. There were a ton of road blocks along the way, but Jack injected a breath of fresh air into the story and really made it work for me. I loved his growing friendship with Laurie, and how much he thought about Buddy, even when Buddy was someone he never imagined caring about. (Not cool he was dating two girls at once but the personalities of both girls were fantastic and made for some very comical moments in the story.)

There were parts of the story that dragged for me, and Expecting took me longer to read than usual. Was it the lack of urgency? Sometimes a lack of connection with the characters? I think so, but it didn’t stop be from enjoying the high moments and sympathizing when life was so messy and out of control. Hamilton allowed us to see the weaker sides of these characters, and I appreciated the authenticity.

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October 8, 2014 - 10:36 pm

Alexa S. - To me, Expecting is an interesting book because it appears that it challenges the reader to see this story from the perspective of three characters with different feelings about the situation that ties them all together. I’m definitely curious to find out how the three of them work things out!

September 11, 2014 - 9:40 am

Asheley (@BookwormAsheley) - This sounds interesting, Estelle! I’m not sure that I’ve read a book like this yet. The cover freaked me out a little bit but your review makes it sound like something I would read! Love that it is all three POV’s!

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Magan: Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley

Rites of Passage Book CoverRites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley
Publication date: September 9, 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 416
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: Military Academy, sexism, hazing and bullying
Format read: ARC received from the Publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: Dared by her older brother, Amos, to join the military academy when they agree to accept females, Sam accepts. Life in the academy is far from easy. Is there a point where Sam says ‘enough is enough’ or can she prove herself despite the extra harassment?

What if you were dared by a sibling you greatly admired to do something that was so freakin’ hard you’d want to quit before you even began? Would you still go forward or just bow out?

Sam joins the DMA (military academy) on a dare from her older brother, Amos. When he passes away and the academy agrees to begin accepting females, it feels like more than just a dare to Sam. She’s gotta prove herself and not let him down. She becomes one of only four girls accepted. The majority of the guys do not want the girls there, but Sam is specifically targeted because of the military position her father holds and who her brother, Jonathan, is on the DMA campus, the corporal cadet. Sam doesn’t want preferential treatment, but many, many things cross the line, especially with her leader, Matthews, who wants her to suffer and quit.

Sam’s roommate, Katie, constantly finds ways to finagle her way out of workouts, and her friend, Kelly (a boy), seems to be on her side until Sam doesn’t want to break the strict no-dating policy. Everyone’s already watching her like a hawk, so why toe the line with something she could easily prevent? Sam is tough and strong and fights like hell to prove herself. Though her hard work is often overlooked, she is able to make some allies who commend her. Those allies, however, aren’t always around to protect her.

Let me break things down into a little Why I Loved Rites of Passage list:

  • Sam and her determination are absolutely unbeatable. Maybe she joined the academy on a whim, but she’s got a lot of fight and stamina. She’s probably one of the bravest female young adult characters I’ve encountered; I would have fled home because I couldn’t have mentally taken the torment.
  • loved seeing a female succeed in a man’s world. Though there were countless times her achievements were overlooked (and I wanted to punch someone in the junk because of it), I was doing mental fist pumps cheering her on as she endured not only the physical training and workouts, but school and the ridicule as well.
  • There’s this subtle storyline that had me wondering what happened to her brother Amos. You can tell how much Sam is missing him and really working hard to make him proud, but why did he pass away?
  • Sam’s other older brother, Jonathan, is in a ranked position at the military academy. I wondered from the very beginning pages how he would treat his sister amongst a group of guys who clearly were so opposed to having females around. Would he be ballsy enough to stand up for her (assuming he wanted her to be there) or would he only make things worse and overlook any harassment?
  • Hensley’s writing flowed so, so well. I don’t have a lot of personal experience with the military (aside from attending Texas A&M for a year and seeing my fellow classmate suffer through his first year in the Corps) so the story really needed to be written well for me to grasp the environment and regimented lifestyle. And it was. Perfectly. The details were so crisp and I understood every ounce of Sam’s story.

To be fair, I did have one uncertainty about Rites of Passage:

  • The end felt a little abrupt. BUT, my adrenaline was also pumping and I had to finish before bed so the story buildup was there and my anticipation was high…but I needed a little more. My personal hope: that Hensley will continue writing Sam’s story. I just don’t feel like her story is over yet.

Absolutely, 100% add this book to your Must Reads of 2014 list. I think it’ll be one of my top ten favorites for the year. I’d be willing to bet on it.

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October 8, 2014 - 8:34 pm

Alexa S. - Rites of Passage was a surprise hit for me as well! I honestly didn’t expect to fall for it as hard as I did. I really loved Sam – she was so strong, and brave, and smart, and just a wonderful, kick-ass gal. Plus, all the subtle plot points and relationships you’ve mentioned? Definitely A+ in my book!

October 5, 2014 - 9:01 am

Shelve It: Obsessed With the Library, Estelle - […] of Passage by Joy Hensley (Magan’s review) Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt Wildlife by Fiona Wood If You Could Be Mine by Sara […]

September 30, 2014 - 12:01 am

Fifteen Must-Read Tough Subject Books - […] Rites of Passage — bullying, sexism, hazing […]

September 12, 2014 - 12:12 pm

Wendy @ Book Scents - I’ve been hearing SO many amazing things about this one! It sounds really unique and I just love strong female MCs! I can’t wait to read but I’ve also heard about the abrupt ending from everyone as well. I have a feeling that will bug me, haha.

September 11, 2014 - 10:53 pm

Lisa is Busy Nerding - This sounds like something totally unlike anything I’ve read – which makes me VERY happy! Awesome review (per usual).

September 10, 2014 - 11:23 am

Asheley (@BookwormAsheley) - I’ve heard NOTHING but positive about this one. Glowing, raving positive! This is awesome because I’m not too sure I’d have picked it up if not for some of my reading friends gushing about it. Thanks, gal, for adding to that number!

September 10, 2014 - 10:58 am

Magan - Brianna! YAY! That makes me so, so incredibly happy! I really hope you love it. The rave reviews are so very deserved!

September 10, 2014 - 10:57 am

Magan - Kelley, I was so, so happily surprised by Rites of Passage. I was pretty blown away and texted Estelle nonstop. The rave reviews are definitely well-deserved and I don’t feel like anyone’s over-exaggerating about it. I definitely hope you decide to give it a try. The writing is too good to pass up.

September 10, 2014 - 10:24 am

Brianna - I’ve read a couple reviews of this one this week and it’s quickly working its way closer to the top of the list.

September 10, 2014 - 9:40 am

Kelley (@KelleyBBTS) - I’ve seen nothing but positive reviews for this, but for some reason I am still not absolutely sold on reading it. The summary just isn’t grabbing me. I’m glad you and many others have enjoyed it so much though! It always nice to hear others thoughts on a book.

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