Since I listened to We Were Liars by E. Lockhart as an audiobook, it seemed fitting to share a little bit about it with you via a vlog. Just in case you’re at work, though, I’ll highlight a few things I loved and you can also check out Estelle’s amazing review. She said it was worth it. I took her advice and absolutely haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
Attention, Attention vlog for We Were Liars:
Sidenote: I say Cate in the vlog instead of Cadence or Cady. I spelled her name weird in my notes and realized my mistake after I finished uploading the vlog. My apologies!
And guys? It’s been WEEKS since I listened to the audiobook. Weeks. I have even tried to start another since then, thinking maybe I was really going to be able to get into the rhythm of walking and listening. Whelp, I’m still walking, but I’m listening to iHeartRadio or music instead of books. Why? I just wish We Were Liars would keep going on and on and on.
Everything about it — the mystery, Cadence’s brokenness and inability to remember what happened to her, the will they/won’t they relationship between her and Gat — it all sucked me in. Their family is very, very wealthy. But when Cadence’s grandmother passes away, there’s this HUGE game of tug-of-war fighting over her belongings between the aunt’s and Cady’s mom. They’re materialistic and so self-absorbed. You’ll feel sickened over how hungry they are to possess more more more. But then I think I also loved We Were Liars because of the huge amount of self-reflection I did.
Though I don’t have their money (and probably won’t ever own my own island), am I selfish and deranged when it comes to what I can possess? Sadly I think that answer was yes as I thought about the too-many nail polishes I own and the amount of make-up I willingly add to my shopping cart because I need to try it. We may be on completely different societal levels, but I did a whole lot of thinking and didn’t always like what I thought about myself.
And then there’s the whole mystery aspect. SOMETHING has happened. Cadence lost her memory. She’s completely blacked it out and no one will tell her what was done. I was driving when I listened to this portion of the book and really should have pulled over because I am sure my eyes were as big as saucers. I thought for sure I’d pieced enough of the story to not be completely shocked, but alas, I was flabbergasted. (Cheers to you, E. Lockhart, for keeping the suspense level so incredibly high.)
Much of that suspense circulates around whether Cadence and Gat will stop dancing around one another and finally get together. One moment you think they’re perfect for each other and the next, you’re thinking he’s a player. I swear I’m not one for those kinds of knee-jerk reaction relationships; the back and forth usually drives me crazy, but with the way that the story is told, you’re not quite sure what’s happening so it doesn’t feel right to make a final decision until things are all said and done.
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Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally ( web | tweet )
Part of the Hundred Oaks series.
Publication Date: July 15, 2014
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: running, grief, high school to college, romance
Format read: ARC from author. (Thanks!)
Summary: Annie is determined to run the marathon that her boyfriend was training for when he died. She’s barely been able to run in gym class ever, but she signs up for training and devotes herself to it. At first, she feels like she owes it to him but soon running the marathon becomes about a whole lot more as she embarks on college life outside of her hometown, her friendship with Jeremiah, and rekindling old friendships.
I have a few friends that run a lot, and I’m always intrigued by their “how I started” stories. I couldn’t help but think of them as I began to get to know Annie. I know firsthand that even though my friends are very accomplished runners, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the act of running is easy or completely seamless. It’s work, sure, but there’s also the sweet feeling of success mixed in with some crazy adrenaline.
Reading as Annie continued to get up early and train, despite getting sick, despite feeling like crap, even made me want to pick up my sneakers and get out there and run. The level of accomplishment she met week after week was contagious.
This brings me to grief. It might be a little morbid but I think about how people choose to deal with grief a lot. Upon the death of her long-time boyfriend, Kyle, Annie decides she must complete this marathon — the marathon he was training for when he died. That’s the healthy side. But then there’s the other side — not talking to her mom about how she feels, continuing to think she is the one to blame, and generally not speaking his name outloud to anyone.
As Kenneally gradually unveils the details of Kyle’s death and the events that led to that tragic moment, we learn how strong and independent Annie is — how much she loved Kyle but how much she wanted to push herself in life. There are a ton of “what ifs”, for sure, but as she runs, as she lets more people in, she’s given the time and the opportunity to realize that no amount of “what ifs” can bring him back. She gradually has to find her peace and realizes no matter how much she hides, real life is always going to come knocking on her door.
Like Jeremiah, her running coach’s brother. Or her friends from high school who are more accessible than she thought.
Let me get this out of the way: the chemistry between Annie and Jeremiah is HOT and intense from the very first scene but I loved how Kenneally scaled it back and made their relationship so much about this strong friendship. Jeremiah is going through his own stuff, and might not be exactly the kind of guy Annie necessarily needs right now, but he’s entirely patient with her as she deals with all of her emotions and if I felt incredible grateful for him, I could only imagine how she felt. He was solid. She needed solid, even if solid also meant super good looking and um, a great kisser. Spoiler: the off-trail scene was omg-amazing.
Not only is Annie forced to rebuild this future she initially imagined with Kyle, but she’s also granted the opportunity to fix things with her ex-best friend and get closer with girls from high school even when it seems like it could be too late. I loved that Kenneally focused on gal friendships; it’s so crucial to the move from high school to college and it brought Breathe, Annie, Breathe to a whole new level for me.
This is the thing. Even though Breathe, Annie, Breathe is part of the Hundred Oaks series (and includes some awesome cameos, of course), it felt more like a standalone than any of Kenneally’s other books. (Can we get a round of applause for her first hardcover, please?) I loved his unexpected glimpse into college life, and felt the ratio of self-discovery: romance: friendship was incredibly well-done. As Annie inched closer and closer to her marathon, all of the emotions were also growing in me, making the last pages so cathartic and gorgeous. (Yes, I cried.)
It’s true Kenneally’s newest book always becomes my new favorite. (Though my soft spot for Stealing Parker has never wavered.) But I thought she brought a whole new A-game to the young adult genre with Breathe, Annie, Breathe. It was heartbreaking, sexy, funny, and inspiring in so many ways.
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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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