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!
I’ve had two of my best friends in my life since we were in Mrs. Grader’s kindergarten class — 25 years ago this year. Over the years, we were never consistantly inseparable (it’s difficult when you all go to different colleges and move to new cities) but for whatever cosmic reason, we take on the ebbs and flows of friendship in the best way we can. We may not have a lot of time together with no chorus to go to after school or dances to attend but we make the most of the free time we scrounge up.
It’s our differences that inspired me to write this post today. After reading at least 150 books a year in the last 3 years, I am confident when I say there are very rare fictional circumstances that mirror the town we lived in and the schools we attended. Sure, we all had two parents, one sibling, and grew up in the same town but I’m half Polish and half Spanish, Jen is Polish, and Nisha is Indian. Our high school prided itself on this diversity. It was a life lesson. It was a proposed subject for college essays. How did our high school environment prepare us for the future? We were lucky enough to be surrounded by different cultures and backgrounds, and not only that, we celebrated them with organized groups, presentations, and acceptance.
So I roped Nisha and Jen into answering some questions about our high school experience and our differences. They are such great sports, seriously. Here goes:
Looking back 10 YEARS (ahh), do you believe our high school was really a diverse environment and how has it helped you beyond that?
Nisha: I think as we got older, the schools did become more diverse. It was nice to be a part of this little melting pot. When I was younger, I didn’t realize it was okay to be different. The older I got and the more I saw, I realized that I didn’t have to be like everyone else. My family and culture was different and it worked. It helped prepare me for college. My little melting pot was nothing compared to that. Having experienced it earlier, it wasn’t as shocking or intimidating. It allowed me to just enjoy the experience and take it all in.
Jen: I def think our school was diverse. Our student body had the typical cheerleader types as well as academics including African American and a Latina. We had clubs for any type of group. I remember once going to Asian Studies Club with another friend. Diversity opens you up to the real world. Not everyone is going to look like you or have the same background and having experience with different people allows you be open to different views, open minded and more understanding of others. Less irrational fear and more acceptance.
Is there any situation you remember from grade school where you felt left out or the opposite, loud and proud, about your culture and sharing it with others?
Nisha: When you’re younger being any kind of different automatically makes you feel left out. It cannot be helped. All you want is acceptance at a young age. Grade school wasn’t as diverse so my idea of ‘normal’ was what I saw on TV. Shows like Full House and Step by Step were my normal. However, I didn’t look like them, my family didn’t do the same things as theirs and we didn’t even eat similar foods. When you tell someone you had rotli, shaak, dal bhaat for dinner and they look at you like you have three heads, you feel a bit intimidated. Unfortunately, this translated into being ashamed of my culture when I was younger.
Jen: I never felt left out. Once I wore my polish national outfit for Halloween at school and got a lot of compliments on it. Always thought it was cool that my parents grew up in another country. (Didn’t we do a project once on our cultural backgrounds? I seem to remember laminating placemats that had something to do with Poland. ha.)
I don’t see a lot of friendships like us in media (books, TV, etc.) Am I wrong? Are there any I’m missing? Why do you think there’s a lack of diverse friendships in this place?
Nisha: I don’t think you’re wrong which is unfortunate. I think it’s hard to find these kinds of relationships because people haven’t experienced it. It’s hard to write about something you don’t know or have dealt with. People generally stick to what they know when it comes to befriending people. They don’t allow themselves to go out and explore the options.
Jen: It seems to be more obvious with male relationships. Thinking of The Big Bang Theory that has an Indian and Jewish guy in the same mix. New Girl is pretty diverse. Jess and Ceecee are white girl and Indian girl and the guys include a Jewish guy and two African Americans. I guess Glee tries to be diverse but it always seems like a struggle to teach something before it turns to an actual friendship.
So what can we take from this? Not to pat any of us on the back, but we are all pretty open-minded people. We’ve all been interested in each other’s lives from the mundane to the most personal. We recognize people as people. Then I asked Nisha if she could remember any recent books with diverse characters in them? She was tired, so I’ll give her a break, but not one came to mind.
I guess it’s time that shocks me the most. In third grade, our teacher was very enthusiastic and focused on having her students understand each other. We hosted an international fair every year, city-wide, and we planned many events in school during the year. From a very early age, we were taught to be curious and accepting. That was almost 20 years ago, and still, I don’t see enough of these environments or relationships in the books I’m reading.
That being said, I can recommend three books that reflected my high school experience truthfully so far. Fingers crossed this list expands as the years go on.
It’s the first official month of Dive Into Diversity so don’t forget to check in with you diverse posts below. Rebecca, Magan, and I cannot wait to read them and check out your blogs! If you haven’t had a chance to join the DID reading challenge, feel free to visit the intro post and use #DiversityDive on Twitter & Instagram!
Make It Last by Megan Erickson ( web | tweet | facebook ) Part of Bowler University new adult series. Published January 6, 2015 from William Morrow Impulse Pages: 384 Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss (Thank you!) Last reviewed: Make It Right
Summary: Before figuring out next steps post-graduation, Cam returns home to take care of his mom only to be bombarded with strong memories from his past. Can he leave Paradise for New York or should he give a second chance a shot?
They say you can’t go home again, but sometimes you have to.
Cam finishes up his degree at Bowler University a semester and heads home to take care of his ailing mother. He’s avoiding his hometown of Paradise since he went away to school, but even the time away has not lessened how difficult it is to be there. Memories of his past with high school sweetheart, Tate Ellison, are everywhere and he’s surprised (and frustrated) to discover after all her big plans, she’s still working in the same diner and living at home.
Sure, there’s a possibility he can survive the summer in Paradise and head to New York City for his new job without dealing with Tate or all the bad feelings he still has over their break-up. But, kind readers, if this was the case we would not have a story and what a sweet, sexy story it is.
Unlike the rest of Megan Erickson’s BU series, Make It Last does not take place on a college campus. Instead, we’re thrown into that “in between” time when you feel awkward returning home after time away and aren’t so sure of the next steps in your life. Cam has always been a mystery to me throughout the series but I quickly fell for him. He’s thoughtful, loyal, responsible, and, um, extremely hot. (And tattooed.)
It’s never a good time to bump into an ex, especially one you pictured your entire future with. Cam was never a monk in college, but he also never found a girl worth spending more than a short period of time with. He doesn’t want to feel anything when he sees Tate again, but he can’t help but slip into this caregiver role when he finds out things haven’t been great for her. Even if she did totally betray him.
One thing: I rarely see a guy falling into this kind of situation. It seems so common for the girl to overlook someone’s faults and just try, try again. Or not even try. Reemerge as a presence in the life of someone who didn’t treat you well. So to see Cam wanting to be Tate’s friend, even if he’s not over what she did and can’t seem to forget how it felt to be with her, it was a nice change.
Erickson truly delivers in this story of second chances because it’s more about moving forward than trying to relive the past. Tate and Cam can’t deny they are different people know that they have been apart, but the commitment and the care they had for each other, though tested, still lives. Is it enough to make part 2 of their relationship an actual thing?
Honestly, there’s a lot standing in their way. Some very serious things and this little, well, twist that I did not see coming. (It’s so nice to be surprised in books.) Though Cam and Tate’s home situations mirror each other a bit too similarly, I loved the supporting characters that came along with it. Tate’s dad was laugh-out-loud funny, and I loved how Cam’s mom has an arc about her own feelings for Tate too.
This book is so incredibly different from Make It Count and Make It Right, that I could definitely see new readers jumping into the series and reading the third book as their first. You do meet up with the crew from the other two books a bit but it’s not enough to spoil the journey of their stories. I should warn you though: for once, I was glad it was so cold outside while I was reading this because a few of these scenes were so scorching hot.
It’s always such a treat to read a new book from Megan — the balance between character development with a healthy dose of sexy is so spot-on — and I’m pumped to see what she has up for us next!
Happy new year, beer-y bookworms! My plan was to talk about new year’s resolutions so new beer? Well, not exactly. Maybe my 2015 life lesson should be about going with the flow more because that’s just what I did. My husband surprised me with a beer we had never had one day this week, even if it’s a type I’m quite familiar with.
I’m a caffeine-a-holic so I was thrilled to find out James had discovered some Schlafly Coffee Stout from the largest brewery in St. Louis at our local grocery store. What a find! I am not lying when I say I could not fall asleep the night I had some of this because it super pepped me up. This coffee stout is brewed with actual French coast coffee from St. Louis’s local roaster. This is GOOD stuff and I can’t wait to have some with my pizza tonight. Now for a book…
Life By Committee by Corey Ann Haydu was one of my favorite reads from last year. Why am I pairing it with this coffee stout? Well, Tab, the main character in LBC is the child of two parents who own an adorable coffeehouse in the Vermont mountains called Tea Cozy. Corey made the place seem so real in the book (and delicious) that I would most certainly be hanging out there if it existed. (Damn you, fiction.) So we have the warm, comforting drinks but to fit in with the new year’s resolution portion of this Pub Date… we also have a character who has been ditched by her best friends for reasons she cannot control and finds herself drawn to an online community where she can post her secrets and be forced to act on them.
It’s not Tab’s smartest move so I guess this is a little reminder that we are all going to make some mistakes this year. As much as we want to make it the best ever, it’s inevitable. So it’s important to be brave and thoughtful and human and compassionate. LBC’s reading experience paired with the reactions that build due to this online community and its expectations are sure to produce some very interesting feelings and, this new year, I want you to be open to embracing those. It’s important as a reader and as a person who is coming in contact with different people and situations each and every day.
Be kind and listen. Bravery comes in many forms.
I’d love to hear about your own resolutions & any yummy drinks you’ve loved lately.
I get into these crazy cleaning moods. The ones where I am stuck in the middle of a pile of whatever I’m cleaning and it’s really hard for me to move (and also find the motivation to clean it back up). Last Friday, I was in one of those moods. NEW YEAR MUST GET RID OF SHIT. Something like that. So I go through Playbills, event flyers, old greeting cards, and I weigh the importance of each and every one. Do I keep it if I didn’t have fun or if I don’t talk to the person anymore? Or is that the reason to keep it in the first place? See, I pride myself on keeping my memories honest. From the scrapbook with the old boyfriend that cheated on me to the itinerary from that kind of horrible trip I went on… I probably have all of it.
But when is enough enough?
So I make myself get rid of things. I even went and bought a fun new box from Staples to properly store the memories I wanted to keep safe. It feels good to cull once in awhile, really go through the things that I have and question whether I need it or not. Sure, I want to keep it all but do I need it?
I have this addictive collection problem. I blame my dad who collects every napkin and coaster from vacation, and currently has a museum of sports memorabilia in his basement. (It’s all very diligently organized and recorded. Trust me.) From clothes to books to lipsticks to shoes to pictures, it’s really hard to draw the line because I grow such attachments to things. Sometimes (again in another weird Estelle mood) I can’t sleep and wonder what I would grab if there was ever a fire in my apartment and I had to leave. My husband, my cat, my old stuffed raccoon who sits on my nightstand, and then… what?
(I worry about crazy things.)
Last January in the spirit of the new year and resolutions, I experimented with maintaining a list of what I was buying and bringing into our tiny apartment to keep myself honest. In March, it lost its appeal. Not because I was too embarrassed to write down how many shirts I bought that month but because, like a lot of resolutions, it fell to the wayside. I can sit here and tell you that I did not buy as many books in 2014 as I did in 2013. But still… it might have been too much. How do I know that? I’m hiding books under my chairs, behind my clothing rack, and in my hallway and — the most important reason — I haven’t read them all.
Blogging continues to be this interesting thing because — unlike Disney trips — books are less expensive. Sure, you say, I can spend 10 dollars on that and then not read it for a few months… a year… (much like my gym membership but hey, I’m walking up six flights everyday while our building installs a new elevator). We all talk about books so we can share our love of certain books and, in turn, people run out and buy the books. It’s a simple formula until you are so up to your eyeballs in books that you aren’t sure where you are going to put your Christmas tree and take a full day to shuffle it all around and make room. (I would like to applaud all bloggers for their amazing marketing skills.)
So what about this year?
Well, I’m not making lists this year and I’m not limiting myself, per se, but I am challenging myself to question if I need this certain thing right this moment or if it can wait. Maybe 2015 is all about patience for me and holding the special, meaningful things close. Even if that means waiting to build this library and being more careful about it. Going to the public library more, and not forgetting that friends can lend you books too. That maybe, like all things, personal libraries take time and care to build. That it’s not necessarily about the shiniest new kid on the block but the ones that have stuck with you the longest. And finding the perfect balance between the two.
Perfect Couple by Jennifer Echols [twitter | website] Publication Date: January 13, 2015 Publisher: Simon Pulse Pages: 336 Target Audience: Mature Young Adult Keywords: opposites attract, yearbook superlatives, sexual high school relationships Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)
Summary: Brody and Harper are chosen by their classmates as the “Perfect Couple That Never Was” for their high school yearbook superlative photo. Several failed attempts to take the photograph provide opportunities to escape their significant others to spend time together and leave them questioning why: Why their classmates chose them. Why they never got together before.
• • •
We’ve reviewed quite a lot of Jennifer Echols’ work here on Rather Be Reading. Her work has been something we’ve really enjoyed, but it’s something we’re both feeling a bit disconnected from lately. I decided I would give things another go with Perfect Couple, really hoping that whatever was missing from the previous books had been found again.
But I don’t really feel that way. The story lacked a believable timeline and was peppered with abrupt, out-of-nowhere sexual scenes as an attempt to make readers forget their reading woes. Decisions were made just as quickly and emotions changed with the wind. I felt jerked around and really, really wanted to enjoy Perfect Couple more because I did quite like Brody and Harper. Their story just had a few too many gaping holes to really tie everything together well.
Harper and Brody are chosen by their classmates as the school’s “Perfect Couple That Never Was” for the class yearbook. Brody is an all-star quarterback. Harper is more of the artistic type. He’s dating a gorgeous cheerleader, Grace, and she’s in a relationship with Kennedy, a jerk who demeans her and treats her like utter crap. (And is incredibly moody/PMS-y…all the time.) Both are left to wonder why their peers would have paired them together. What do they see that Brody and Harper may have overlooked?
Despite ties to their significant others, Harper and Brody find themselves drawn to one another. Often very inappropriately and with little regard to boundaries if you know what I’m saying. (If you’re not one for a cheating book, you may want to steer clear. Though I couldn’t stand Kennedy, my moral compass was screaming at their indiscretions.) The thing is I DID root for Brody and Harper to be together; the whole opposites attract thing was very appealing. But maybe I’m a traditionalist and think that there’s a time and place for all things, and I just really wish they would have slowed down and handled things respectfully.
It’s quite possible I would have enjoyed Harper and Brody’s story more if there had been more of a slow build, if they really worked to get to know one another, and if the tension has simmered just a little more. Or maybe I didn’t connect because I have aged out of Echols’ work? I probably would have given them the stink eye more than once because their fleeting decisions made little sense to me and there was so much back-and-forth I want him, I don’t want him, I want him. The bandaid was ripped from my reading-skin a few too many times, leaving me feeling very unattached and without much left to adhere to afterward. My recommendation if you’re in the mood for a great, steamy Echols’ read is to revisit Such a Rush.
Have you ever felt like you’ve aged out of an author’s work, or
have you ever significantly changed your opinion of an author’s work?
Love & Other Theories by Alexis Bass [twitter | website] Publication Date: December 30, 2014 Publisher: HarperTeen Pages: 384 Target Audience: Mature Young Adult Keywords: girls’ rules for dating, girl code, sex and teenagers, senior year of H.S. Format Read: ARC from Publisher (A BIG thank you!)
Summary: Aubrey and her girlfriends think they have dating, relationships, and guys all figured out. There are certain dos and don’t that you must follow or else everything falls apart. But what if you’re following those rules and your relationships still crumble? Aubrey’s beliefs are put to a test when Nathan unexpectedly bursts into her life.
Rules: Aubrey and her three best friends live and breathe by them. They (think they) know precisely what makes guys want them because they don’t get super caught up in labels and being too needy like girlfriends do. They don’t fall in love and they let the guys think they’re always in control.
Aubrey’s been very dedicated to the rules; she has only a few more months to get through until she’s off to college. She’s focused and all things are going according to plan until Nathan transfers to her school from sunny San Diego. Aubrey is instantly attracted to him…so much so that they skip part of their first day of school together and spend it driving around and getting acquainted in the back seat of Nathan’s BMW. For both, this seems out-of-character; they both have goals and dreams and are headed to a top-notch college. As they continue to fool around, Nathan seems to want to classify their relationship, but Aubrey can’t refuse the rules so she pushes him away, thinking that’s what he really wants.
As a reader, I could tell that Nathan wasn’t one of those guys who just wanted to have sex and move on to the next girl. He was so genuine and good. (Mostly.) But I’ll be damned. Aubrey’s rules made it feel like I was watching two people struggle against a bungee chord — they kept pushing and fighting to be these people that they just weren’t. I was dreading the moment the chord snapped and sent them flying back to reality. (And oh, did it snap.)
The rules made life so overly complicated for Aubrey and her girlfriends. They felt appalling because the girls think they’re empowering women, but at the heart of it, each of them was repressing feelings and being used. They didn’t allow themselves to say how they really felt, didn’t give guys the opportunity to really get to know them, and didn’t take the chance that someone would want to listen to what they had to say. They neglected to realize that maybe, just maybe, there would be a guy out there who had the same interests as them and not all guys see every girl as a piece of ass.
Aubrey’s life was imbalanced as she fell for Nathan but tried to act like she didn’t care. Nathan misinterprets Aubrey’s aloof attitude, doesn’t push her to figure out what they both want, and makes some terrible decisions. She had big lessons to learn that belittling herself to attract a guy wouldn’t be the key to keeping him around, and it wouldn’t be beneficial for her well-being either. Did she really want to be with someone who never knew the real her?
I’m positive there are girls and women who need to read Love and Other Theories because they could benefit from Aubrey’s story. It was painful to see her struggle and the rules really infuriated me. But I also wondered: Where were her parents? Why weren’t they keeping closer tabs on her (sure, she’s a senior, but they were so incredibly distant)? Who was there to teach Aubrey that empowerment doesn’t equal martyring your wants and needs.