Your Perfect Life by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: June 10, 2014
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: magic, regret, friendship, Hollywood, Freaky Friday, motherhood, marriage
Format: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Summary: Casey and Rachel have been best friends since they were kids, and they remain so even if their lives have taken different directions and they don’t see each other as much as they would like. On the evening of their 20th high school reunion, their lives are utterly shaken up when they wake up in each other’s lives — not sure how to get the hell out. Casey must learn to take care of Rachel’s kids and take part in a detached marriage, and Rachel is suddenly hosting an entertainment TV show and on her own for the first time in forever. How will they get their lives back? Do they even want to?
Two best friends writing a book about best friends?
Your Perfect Life could not be anymore fitting for Rather Be Reading.
Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke give best friends Rachel and Casey the Freaky Friday treatment. During a tense moment at their 20-year high school reunion, their generous bartender treats them to a special shot to calm their nerves. The next thing they know they are waking up in each other’s homes, and in each other’s bodies.
It’s kind of creepy when you think about it. Rachel and Casey know each other as well as two people can know each other but now they know EVEN MORE. Suddenly, Casey is juggling three kids, a husband, and a household. Rachel, on the other hand, is co-hosting a popular entertainment TV show, has her own personal assistant, and QUIET in her gorgeous apartment. Things go from weird to crazy to okay, I’m kind of getting this, as the book goes on. The ladies check in and help each other out (while trying to figure out how to change back) but when it comes down to the other discoveries, neither of them want to confront their own truths.
I’ll be honest. It made me a little sad. I know it’s impossible to share everything with your best friend. But it had to be painful for Rachel to discover a love connection that Casey never told her about, and for Casey to see that Rachel’s marriage is not as picture perfect as it had always looked. Not to mention, the crazy pressures of Casey’s job, and how Rachel is treated by her children. The two are forced to face some major reality for each other and for themselves, as they assimilate to these new lives. When I thought they were grasping what the swap was supposed to accomplish, it would be two steps forward, two steps back.
Anxiety! Craziness! But also lots of laughs and heartfelt moments, too.
Despite the compact size of the book, Your Perfect Life touches upon how quickly the life plan you had for yourself can change, and also reminds you to take a full step back every once in awhile to examine the full scope of the life you do have. Are you happy? What can you do to make things better? Sometimes it takes a little introspection and a push from a good friend to point you in the right direction. Even when you don’t want to be told anything at all. Marriage and motherhood over career, and a career that monopolizes every part of your life are very sensitive topics because they are so real. Casey and Rachel’s journeys highlight the importance of life balance, loyal friends, and staying true to yourself.
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When a book is infused with a strong helping of sibling relationships and parental involvement, I’m sold. Those are two strong bonuses for me because they add a layer of realism to the story. But Kasie West took my love a step further by making the four siblings in On the Fence the closest, most tight-knit group I’ve read about in a long, long time. I immediately reached out to Kasie to ask her if she would discuss big families and close siblings with us for our Befriended feature. Kasie has four children which equates lots of personal experience to draw from. Please allow me to introduce Kasie West, author of On the Fence, in bookstores as of July 1st. – M.
I grew up in a large, very close-knit family. I have two brothers and two sisters. Even though a lot of times we fought and screamed and tattled on each other, we always laughed and played and loved each other more. We were loud and rowdy. We ate dinner around the table every night. Because there were seven of us, and money was tight, we actually had a picnic table as our dinner table. So often times we could pile twelve people on those benches, between us and our cousins or friends. Elbowroom was nonexistent but conversation was abundant. I know I am truly blessed to have a family as close as ours and brothers and sisters who I consider friends.
So writing Charlie and her three brothers in ON THE FENCE came really naturally to me. It was probably the easiest family relationship I’ve written in any of my books. I’ve been so happy to see that readers have enjoyed this dynamic between Charlie and her brothers. I think siblings are the first friends we have. Through them we learn about fighting and making up, about being selfish and selfless, about not always seeing things the same way as someone else but loving that person regardless. They’re the first people we whisper late into the night with. My sister and I had bunk beds for a lot of our childhood and I still remember staring at the slats above me and talking to her way past our bedtime. Siblings can truly be the first best friends we ever have and that friendship can last a lifetime. I love mine dearly.
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Book Recommendations from Kasie With Strong Sibling Relationships:
Thank you so much for stopping by Rather Be Reading, Kasie!
Friends, I cannot encourage you enough to buy On the Fence. You won’t regret it!
Head of the River by Pip Harry (twitter | website)
Previously Reviewed: I’ll Tell You Mine
Publication Date: June 25, 2014
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: rowing, boy-girl twins, Olympian parents, competition, performance-enhancing drugs
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)
Summary: Head of the River follows Leni and Cris, twins, as they prepare, with their rowing teams, for the Head of the River championship between their 11th and 12th years of high school, but face life-changing struggles throughout the months leading up to the competition.
Wow. Wow. Wow. Just… wow. (And um, where to begin?)
The opening pages of Head of the River detail an assembly days after the Head of the River rowing competition has ended. With few specifics, there’s the implication that something grim has occurred. The mood is sour, and the focus has atypically shifted away from the championship and everyone’s spirits are squashed. We’re introduced to the two main characters, Leni and Cris, who are twins and both on the rowing teams. Their stories are told through alternating chapters. Flawlessly, Pip Harry tells both of their stories — the pressure they both face and the ways they deal with it — and rhythmically weaves them together.
Leni is very focused and driven, but so-much-so that her attitude comes across as untouchable and distant. She aspires to be like her Olympian rower parents (her mom took home the gold, her father the silver) and trains around the clock to achieve her goals. She’s studious and determined; if rowing doesn’t work out for her, she wants to have a solid secondary plan. As Leni moves into a leadership role on her rowing team, she has to learn to let go and become less of a control freak. In order to be a great leader, she must be more relatable, so despite how badly she wants to yell at Rachel when she seems disinterested and whiney during practice, Leni has to stop looking down on others.
Cris, on the other hand, is very likable and friendly, but his kryptonite is over-indulging in food (and skipping workouts). He’d rather eat an additional slice of cake than keep fit for his sport. (This is where he and Leni are so drastically different.) When Cris loses his seat to a newer, less-trained rower and is booted down to second team, he is jolted. He’s told he has to lose weight, as he tips the scales at over 250 lbs., and prove himself again. His best friend, Peter, is also moved down to second team, and sadly, the two boys devise a less-than-healthy plan to help them quickly snap into shape and redeem themselves.
Leni’s journey is very relational — she’s a very distant character that’s so focused she can’t take in the moment and make lasting friendships. She struggles with finding herself in a relationship with Peter she’s not sure she really wants to be in. She is attracted to the new guy, Sam, but he easily manipulates her. Audrey is her former best friend that she really misses, but since being swept away by Peter, they’ve grown distant and have a secret friendship outside of school. Rachel sits behind her in the boat, but annoys the hell out of her; if they don’t get in sync, it will surely mess up their rhythm on the water. There are so many layers to Leni. It seems like she’s a girl who has it all figured out and is really going to excel, but she felt so genuine. Her storyline with Sam and Peter really struck a chord with me because I remember finding myself in the same exact situation as her and wondering how I got there.
Cris’ struggle is more of a mental one. He feels coaxed into the supplement/steroids regiment by Peter and completely incapable of backing out. He’s conflicted over whether or not rowing is really what he wants to do or if he’s doing it just to please his parents. (Sidebar: the parents are really fantastic, appropriately supportive and visual throughout the story. And I loved how they, too, had struggles of their own — the father battles with the English language as he’s Romanian and it really puts a damper on what jobs are available to him, though he’s more qualified than most in the positions he desires.)
Throughout the tail end of Leni and Cris’ 11th year of school and beginning of their 12th, they train for the Head of the River competition. We see them morph and change and be challenged. With each row they take, the intensity is turned up a notch. By the time the competition arrives, and especially when we find out what the big event is that was alluded to at the beginning of the book, your heart is pounding for the results and cheering both the teams on… but, you also tread lightly because you just know something has gone terribly wrong.
Pip Harry drew on her own experiences as a rower and it really showed because every aspect was so well laid out. I went into Head of the River not knowing a thing about rowing, but through the training, the races, the camaraderie, I felt like I, too, had been training alongside each team. I could absolutely relate to Leni’s personal pressure — the desire to do well. The drive. But also the confusion over guys — that hit teenage Magan hard. Cris’ body insecurities (which, yay for exploring this from a male POV) and fluctuating between wanting to be fit and having a screw-it attitude really resonated with me, too.
It’s no doubt that I had a book hangover when I turned the final pages of Head of the River. Pip Harry has undeniably written one of my favorite stories thus far of 2014.
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Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: disabilities, disorders, senior year of high school, parents/children, friendship/romance
Format read: ARC from Jamie (Perpetual Page Turner)! Thank you.
Summary: Amy convinces her mom to ditch the adult aide her senior year, instead recruiting her fellow peers to help her out during the school day. She can’t take credit for the idea — instead that goes to Matthew, a guy she’s been in school with forever and one of the only people who is brave (??) enough to be honest with her. A friendship blooms between the two, as Matthew is dealing with his own challenges. And so their senior year gets a bit more exciting…
I hadn’t heard much about this book until Megan McCafferty tweeted about how (despite comparisons to Rainbow Rowell and John Green) Say What You Will stood on its own. I was more intrigued by that declaration than hearing those two names. Even as a huge Rainbow fan. It was kind of like fate that Jamie handed me the book the same day that I read that tweet, and here we are.
My mom has always worked with children and teenagers with disabilities. I couldn’t help but think of her as Amy’s adult aide got the boot and the high school allowed her peers to fill in. I’ve always thought it might have been difficult for the students my mom worked with to make great connections with other kids their age. It always seemed they were closest to their aides, and judging by the amount of time they spent together, it made sense if that was the case.
So I liked this little experiment, even if a boy (Matthew) was the catalyst. Maybe not the catalyst for the entire change but someone who challenged Amy and her “alleged” happiness as a young woman with cerebral palsy. Sure, his honesty is off-putting, as is his disbelief that Amy is completely well-adjusted. But with Amy off to college super soon, she realizes he does have a point. Her mom is not always going to be around to protect her, schedule her, and run her life; she’s ready to take control and, fingers crossed, come away with some lasting relationships.
Immediately, I liked Amy. She was observant, she asked great questions, and she was an all-around positive person. As she begins working with her student aides, she has a different relationship with each of them (good and bad) as she awaits her time each week with Matthew. It’s a difficult time for Matt to take on a responsibility like this one. Amy’s mom is super strict, and he’s scared of her and his OCD is at its worst. What business does he have helping someone? Surprising even himself, Matt finds he works well with Amy and even looks forward to seeing her each week. It comes so naturally to him, that their closeness becomes more of a focus and all he’s assisting her with becomes second nature.
Say What You Will is another book full of complicated, complex characters who do not always say the right things and do the right things. (I mean, do you?) We know that both the characters are tiptoeing around their feelings, but with college around the corner, is it worth saying something and risking their friendship? Because it is a solid, intimate friendship and one of the better male/female friendships I’ve come across in my reading ever. I was okay with the tiptoeing but there was so much for each of the characters to figure out on their own. College! Parents! Jobs! Life!
And not to keep gushing, but I loved that McGovern conquered not only senior year but the summer before college and then actual college so Say What You Will covers a pretty hefty span of time. As we know, time changes things and sometimes, it doesn’t. As if life isn’t complicated enough with a mom who has made YOU her profession (Amy) and not knowing if college is your thing (Matt), the author throws some major curveballs that left me so tempted to stay up all night to finish the book. Ah. I want to say more but I can’t. I can’t! Don’t make me!
But seriously, I love that McGovern brought two characters like Amy and Matt into my life. They felt like people I could have easily bumped into during high school and yes, equally awesome that she’s bringing attention to a disability that I have yet to experience in any of my reading. But she did it in such a way that I almost forgot, if that makes sense? Despite what made Amy and Matt, Amy and Matt, it really was their struggles to pave their own paths and be honest with who they were and how they felt that made the book so effective.
I loved it.
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Through to You by Lauren Barnholdt (twitter | website)
Previously Reviewed: One Night That Changes Everything / Sometimes it Happens / The Thing About the Truth / Right of Way / Two-Way Street
Publication Date: July 8, 2014
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: choreography, roller-coaster relationships
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss (Thank you!)
Summary: Intrigued by a note left on her desk and a few convincing words by the note-writer, Penn, Harper decides to ditch school to learn more about him. Penn is a closed-off guy and Harper desperately wants to strip away his tough-guy exterior to learn more about him.
Good golly, Miss Molly. I really dread having to sit down at my computer to write a review about a book that just didn’t resonate with me. But alas, I want to be as honest and transparent as possible so unfortunately that means I have to suck it up.
Through to You was my third novel of Lauren Barnholdt’s to read. My complaints in the past have been that there wasn’t enough depth and character development before the final page was turned. I wanted a higher level of believability. However, those continue to be two of my biggest complaints after completing this novel.
Harper is a girl who flies under-the-radar; she has one best friend, is a good student, and is going to audition for a spot in a prestigious choreography program. Penn randomly walks by her desk in the one class they have together and drops a note on her desk that reads, “I like your sparkle.” This is the introduction to Harper and Penn’s very roller-coaster-esque relationship. Harper doesn’t know why Penn would leave her the note. Penn doesn’t know why he left the note for Harper. I immediately felt disinterested in Penn. What were his intentions? Did he want to lead her on or was he really interested? Prior to that one moment, the two of them had never spoken. My gut told me that Penn wasn’t to be trusted.
After an awkward hallway conversation, Penn convinces Harper to ditch school. She’s intrigued by this boy and seeks to know why he would leave her the note. They have very little to discuss, not knowing much about the other or what common interests they have. She was such a gullible character to blindly follow this boy she knew so little about. As she learns more and more about him, as he proves that he’s unstable, moody, and hard to relate to, Harper takes on a savior complex. Though she knows she should back away, she repeatedly falls victim to his half-hearted apologies. Penn was confusing and angsty, and while he would make Harper feel useless and seemed disinterested, she continued to push aside her anger and was too easily swayed by her need to fix him. (Though he rarely shared information about his personal life, so she was never quite sure what needed to be fixed.)
Ideally, I would have liked for Harper to have had more of a backbone, more strength. For all these other interests she had, choreography per se, there’s very little of her actually working on those things that she’s passionate about. The girl I got to know tossed all of those things aside and became fixated on the unobtainable boy. Overall this would have strengthened the flow of the story so that when the day arrives for Harper to audition, it doesn’t seem out of place for the sequence of events to occur.
While Through to You is a very casual read, it doesn’t exhibit the type of relationship I’d like to see teenage girls (or anyone for that matter) pursuing or idolizing. I want to read strong stories about girls who are chasing boys that aren’t disinterested and stringing them along. I want to see girls who are still able to stay true to themselves and boys who make an effort to do better for that girl, not encourage them, repeatedly, to skip class and cast aside all responsibility.
Unfortunately, Through to You wasn’t a hit for me. If you’ve read it and you saw things through a different perspective than mine, please share your thoughts below. I’m always, always curious to know if I missed something when I didn’t connect with a book.
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