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!
One of my favorite times of day to read with my daughter, Everett, is before bedtime. It’s the only time during the day that her Daddy and I are both there to snuggle and read with her. One of us snuggles, the other reads, and we alternate every evening. We don’t always choose bedtime stories to read during that time, but I do really like how they reinforce that everyone has to go to sleep, get some rest, and be refreshed for the new day.
Below I’m sharing a few of our favorites, one that’s on my wish list, and I’m hoping you’ll chime in with a few of your favorite recommendations, too. I didn’t realize until I began this post how narrow this subject seems to be, and I really wanted to branch out from classics like Goodnight Moon.
I hope you enjoy this month’s Little Kids picks! Don’t forget to share your favorite bedtime stories!
BOOKS WE LOVE:
DADDY’S ZIGZAGGING BEDTIME STORY: This is one of our favorite evening stories. I gifted this to Dustyn for his first Father’s Day with Everett last year and it’s silly, goofy, and fun to read. I like that she’ll continue to understand it more as she learns the subjects in the book, and that it’s one that stands out from the rest of the bedtime stories because it’s not quiet and somber. (Goodreads • Amazon)
DISNEY BEDTIME FAVORITES: We were gifted this book for Everett and I’m so glad because I’m positive if we weren’t instilling some Disney foundations into her, Estelle might un-friend me. (I kid, I kid.) These are a bit on the longer side. This book is thicker and will take us a while to read, but I really enjoy getting to share some of my favorite characters with her. (Goodreads • Amazon)
LITTLE OWL’S NIGHT: This is such a sweet tale about a little owl exploring the night and seeing the world “wake up” in the morning. I love the cleverness and creativity of this story! (Goodreads • Amazon)
LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA: Who doesn’t love Llama Llama? This book (and all of the others in the series) is so great. I love the rhyming and the truthfulness of a little Llama getting all freaked out because his momma hasn’t tucked him in bed yet. (Goodreads • Amazon)
THE GOING TO BED BOOK: This is a great book about routine and the things you need to do before bedtime: brush your teeth, take a bath, get dressed, and rock to sleep. It’s a little bit silly, and great with some word repetition. (Goodreads • Amazon)
ON OUR WISH LIST:
THE GOODNIGHT TRAIN: I love the illustrations and the little bit of reverse psychology, “Don’t close your eyes!” as you sheep, clouds, and mermaids! (Goodreads • Amazon)
What are your favorite bedtime stories for your littles? What book do you hope to pick up from the list above?
99 Days by Katie Cotugno ( web | tweet ) Publication Date: 4/21/15 by HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray Pages: 384 | Target audience: young adult Keywords: mothers/daughters, summer before college, bullying, romance Format read: ARC provided by Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!) Previously: a review of How to Love
Summary: Molly has 99 days standing between her and college. Can she ignore the past to survive the summer in Star Lake — a place she never wanted to see again? With constant reminders of all that went down last year, it’s impossible to say for sure especially when she finds herself back in the company of the Donnelly brothers.
There’s nothing like a novel that completely revs you up.
Trust me, in the cause of 99 Days, this is the best compliment I can give.
Molly Barlow is back in Star Lake for the first time since her “scandal” became public knowledge. Her time caught between the Donnelly brothers turned into a best-selling novel by her adopted mother, and the reason she lost so many once-important people in her life. In the wake of this devastation, she runs off to boarding school until senior year ends. Caps in the air and she is back for one more summer, planning to hide for the next 99 days… until she can start fresh at college.
Heavy stuff, right? The complexity within this story knows no bounds, especially as the novel unfolds. Molly’s relationship with her mother is shaky, her old best friend Imogen is avoiding her (and why shouldn’t she since Molly cut her off), and her old close friend, Julia, who also happens to be a Donnelly, is making her life a living hell. This is where my blood starts to boil because even though it takes two to tango, Molly has always been the one taking the brunt when it comes to her Donnelly love triangle. Does anyone key Gabe’s car? Does anyone call Gabe a slut? No, of course not. Enter the lovely double standard because it’s here to stay and made me so incredibly angry on Molly’s behalf. The girl feels guilty enough without having to be reminded of it every five minutes, but why should she be ostracized when Gabe still gets treated like Star Lake’s mayor?
My anger is a testament to Katie Cotugno’s writing. She twists what most think of as a black-and-white situation into something so gray, she’s practically discovered new shades. Love is a messy, complicated thing and I haven’t come across a portrayal of it quite as honest and heartbreaking as this one. When you feel something so intensely for two people at the same time, there aren’t words to properly explain that, especially when the end goal is (rightfully so) supposed to be one person. But how do you shut off your brain or your emotions? The reality is… sometimes you just can’t.
You know that bewildered way you feel after you wake up from a vivid dream? That’s exactly how I felt every time I jumped back into this book. I was in such a zone, and suddenly, I was jolted awake, surprised to realize a whole world was still going on around me. 99 Days was that captivating. Sure, the foundation is Molly caught between Patrick, her first love, and Gabe, this guy she clicks with so well, but it’s so much more than that – the loss of trust she feels with her mom, how much she misses being around the Donnellys when their entire family has been a part of her life for so long, how she had a best friend who stood beside her when things got rough and she took her for granted (everyone needs an Imogen in their lives), and the small realizations we make about ourselves and others as time passes.
There are times in our lives where we have to just follow our hearts – however unconventional that may be – and sometimes we just have to forgive ourselves. Molly may not understand why she is feeling the way she is feeling but at least she was honest with herself about that confusion. Most of all, I love how this book can challenge the most compassionate reader. Everyone makes mistakes; no one is perfect and it confuses me why we put the fictional characters we read about on such pedestals. For all you know, I could be Molly. The person sitting next to you could be Molly. Your best friend could be Molly. We desperately need to shift this conversation away from likability and back to whether or not a book tells an engaging story.
Two fun facts before I say adios: The first time I read 99 Days I stayed up until 4 a.m. on a Saturday night because I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep until I knew how it ended. Second: 99 Days is the first (and only) book I’ve reread this year, and I found it just as sexy, intense, messy, and wonderful as I did the first time around. I haven’t felt quite as passionate about a book this year as I do about this one.
No better way to kick off the weekend than with three hot hot hot romance novel recommendations. Go crazy, kids!
Flirting with Disaster by Victoria Dahl ( web | tweet ) Part of the Girl’s Night Out series. Published January 24, 2015 by Harlequin HQN Pages: 384 Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. Last reviewed: Looking for Trouble
I’m inspired to shove a Victoria Dahl romance novel under the nose of anyone who thinks this genre is all about damsels in distress and a sappy love story. In fact, as I started this book, all I could think is: I wonder what kind of bad ass thing Isabelle is going to surprise me with. That’s not something I typically think when I open others.
Here’s the story: Isabelle is the daughter of a fugitive, but hiding out in Jackson Hole with a new name and a new life — a life with great girlfriends and a decent career as an anatomical painter. (A cool detail, right?) She’s feeling pretty good until a U.S. marshal named Tom knocks on her door. She’s positive he is out to get her. He’s not, but even so she doesn’t completely trust him and he’s a little suspicious of her. But the questions he has about her doesn’t stop him from conveniently stopping by her place to make sure she’s locking up. Not surprisingly, as it happens in every single Dahl novel, the chemistry is off the charts, bordering out of control. I loved it, but what I loved more is how confident Isabelle is about her body and her sexuality and how she even tells Tom that it took a long time for her to get there. Why is it acceptable for guys to be open about what they want and not as much for females? So true, and also the main reason why I’m enjoying the Girl’s Night Out series so much. These girls are in charge and aren’t afraid to show it.
When Isabelle’s secret is revealed will she still have her best friends? What will happen with Tom? Victoria Dahl once again gave me a smart, suspenseful, and sexy novel; she continues to be such a fresh voice in my romance reading and I can’t wait for her next book!
First Time in Forever by Sarah Morgan ( web | tweet ) Part of the Puffin Island series. Published February 24, 2015 from Harlequin HQN Pages: 384 Format read: ARC provided by Publisher via NetGalley.
An ice cream shop, a cute seaside community, and great gal pal friendships: these are just a few of the highlights in Sarah Morgan’s latest. Once a workaholic in New York City locked in a boring relationship, Emily finds herself the guardian of her estranged sister’s daughter and hiding out at her best friend’s cottage on Puffin Island. Apprehensive about her abilities to care for her niece, Emily’s first shaky plan is to keep to herself as much as possible but finds it difficult in a sweet, nosey community like Puffin Island. There’s also the added complication of: Ryan. When a friend enlists him to “watch out for her”, she can’t deny her attraction to him or just how much she needs his support. A tad repetitive throughout, First Time in Forever was filled with aww moments between friends and neighbors and great chemistry between two characters who needed a leap. There was a little too much “but he would never want to make this kind of commitment” doubts going on especially for someone as savvy and smart as Emily but, in the end, I adored this introduction to Puffin Island and the addition layer of watching a woman and a young kind seek out balance and trust in one another.
Part Time Cowboy by Maisey Yates (web | tweet ) Part of the Cooper Ridge series. Publication Date: March 31, 2015 from Harlequin HQN Pages: 400 Format read: ARC paperback provided by Publisher. (Thanks!)
What a switcheroo! A rebellious woman returning to her hometown to start a B&B (after deciding being a therapist isn’t her thing) and a hunky sheriff who has zero sense of humor, never smiles, and never picks up on sexual innuendo… Part Time Cowboy was fun from the start. I loved the backstory, the snappy dialogue, the home improvement plans, and the crazy intense love hate relationship between Sadie and Eli. They could not stand in each other, and I don’t remember the last time I read a romance novel where the chemistry was so high and the two had no desire to be in the same room together — excerpt well, they kind of did WANT each other but they didn’t want to want each other even more. Do you get me? Good.
Did I mention there’s a cat? Yes, Sadie has a cat named Toby, who is basically her closest friend. A tough childhood inspired her to run off to anywhere that wasn’t Cooper Ridge and yet she lands smack dab in the place she could never stand with the opportunity to mend friendships, overcome her past, and start fresh in a way. Eli is the complete opposite in ways; he’s remained and served the people of Cooper Ridge but not without feeling like he carries the burden of the world on his shoulders. He needs to let go, and she needs to find forgiveness but can they help each other get to where they need to be? Not only does Yates spin a sexy story, she builds a gradual bond between the two causing them to question the boundaries they’ve built for themselves. I was addicted to the every end, and immediately added the rest of the Cooper Ridge series to my reading list.
First There Was Forever by Juliana Romano ( web | tweet ) Publication Date: April 14, 2015 Publisher: Penguin/Dial Books Pages: 400 Target audience: Young adult Keywords: turning 16, best friends, popularity, sex Format read: ARC from Publisher. (Thank you!)
Summary: Total opposites Lima and Hailey have been best friends forever until Hailey finds herself more concerned with popularity and crushing on Nate, a guy who doesn’t give her the time of day. Subsequently, Lima finds herself dealing with Hailey’s absence as she attempts to make new friends — one of these new friends being Hailey’s Nate.
It’s safe to say we’ve all had a friend that seems to outshines us. Sure, sometimes it’s frustrating but most of the time we dismiss it because “it’s just the way they are”. Even if this is the case in Lima and Hailey’s friendship, they both bring to the table qualities the other needs. They balance each other out. Lima’s life (two well-to-do, supportive parents) brings stability into Hailey’s (divorced, sort of absent). Hailey’s outgoing nature brings Lima out of her shell but also solidifies this intimacy they have with one another because Lima can trust Hailey with her most outrageous, embarrassing questions.
No one is on the same path when they are 15 or 16 years old. In fact, I think it’s probably one of the last times we might be on similar journeys as our friends. Lima might be perfectly content with spending time with her family, swimming at her aunt’s pool, and visiting food markets and gardening. At the same time, Hailey intensely throws herself into the in-crowd and the parties, and is sure she is in love with a quiet yet popular, Nate. Why does one person move ahead when another wants to stand still? Who decides these things? Like Lima, I have no idea. She maybe feel “behind” but she also wants to maintain her own pace. She even puts herself out there to meet some new friends but no one quite fills the space that was once occupied by Hailey. The heartbreak only builds because there are times when Hailey seems to be her old self. Is it possible they can go back to where they used to be? Nothing feels quite as solid as it once did.
I am completely in love with Romano’s writing. First There Was Forever was a debut, and I was in deep — the questions about sex and loyalty; the limits you set for yourself and the times you decide to go beyond them; the trust you have in your friends; the urge to hang on to our parents but to also break away — all against this brilliant, laidback California lifestyle. Romano also throws in a major wrench when Lima finds a friendship with Nate, the guy of Hailey’s dreams (or so she thinks). It’s a complicated and complex relationship but sometimes we can’t explain why these things happen. They just do and we have to go for it, or not. With Hailey acting selfish and out of character, I’m not surprised that Nate became such a big part of Lima’s life. He was simply there when her best friend wasn’t.
There’s truly a laundry list of moments to discuss in this book, but one thing I wanted to point out was how much our parent influence our friends during this time of our life. Lima needed a break from Hailey; it’s understandable she isn’t running to her parents to list Hailey’s “sins” but there’s such guilt when she sees that her mom misses Hailey having around too. The sadness continues to build, and sometimes we are helpless to put a cork in it. One quick reminder: these characters are on the younger side for YA. Romano presents their voices and actions so authentically, despite the “grown-up” questions they are asking themselves and each other.
The Truth About Jack by Jody Gehrman [twitter • website] Publication Date: April 14, 2015 Publisher: Entangled Publishing Pages: 250 Target Audience: Young Adult Keywords: artist colony, RISD, art school, cheating, message in a bottle Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)
Summary: Dakota’s best friend and boyfriend graduated a year earlier than she did, and while away at close colleges, they begin hooking up. River writes Dakota an email to let her know. An email that Dakota receives shortly after excitedly receiving her acceptance letter to RISD (where she would be close by them).
• • •
In the same day, Dakota finds out she’s been accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and she receives an apologetic, yet somehow defiant, email from her BFF, River, that explains she and Dakota’s boyfriend began hooking up. Dakota’s not sure how she’ll face them in the fall (they’d both be in very close proximity to her) so she begins tossing around the idea of taking a gap year, getting away to travel and be inspired to create her art, and then returning to begin RISD. (And hopefully have a bit of separation from the BFF/boyfriend drama.)
In the whirlwind of Dakota learning this disappointing news, she bypasses a guy, Jack, who finds her so intriguing and magnetic that he follows her to the beach. (I promise it felt less creepy than it sounds.) At the beach, Dakota scribbles furious notes in her journal and finally decides to toss a message in a bottle into the ocean, hoping someone will write her back. The note never makes it far in the ocean because as Dakota leaves, Jack ambles over to pick up the bottle the waves rejected.
Jack is …sweet and timid and shy. He’s dangerously protective and loyal, but so incredibly uncertain of himself. Used and abused in the past, he’s not sure how to approach Dakota so he begins writing to her as Alejandro Torres from Barcelona — flirt and traveller extraordinaire. He thinks the alias is a great idea until he realizes it’s a trap; he begins to get to know her in real life, too, and has no clear way of revealing what he’s done without Dakota feeling slighted again.
Dakota is an artist, free-spirit, child of an artist colony. She’s easily hurt and very distant. She’s been abandoned in the past by her mother and with River’s betrayal, she’s become very wary and distrusting. She’s shaken and really unsure of what to do with her future.
The Truth About Jack is a dual-POV, but I felt so connected to Jack’s sweet spirit. He’s so structured and disciplined that his crush on Dakota felt like the bit of freedom his life severely lacked. It felt mostly like his story as he tried to unwind the knots he wound with his lies. (I did care about Dakota’s future, too, but I’m a firm believer in not making a spontaneous decision with a hurting heart.) A few details could have been shown a little better — i.e. Jack mentioning that his relationship was nonexistent with his dad — because honestly, sometimes young adult books leave out the parents altogether. I would have appreciated seeing his father let him down so I felt a bit of validation when he explained this to Dakota.
It’s been a while since I’ve smiled so much throughout reading a book. The Truth About Jack is so endearing and it was lovely to see Jack come out of his shell, confide in Joaquin (a Hispanic teenager employed by Jack’s parents who brings authenticity to the handwritten letters) and hopeless-romantic-tutor-turned-chauffeur, Atilla, for help getting the girl.
We’re continuing to delve into what exactly diversity is and I’ve really decided to hone in on family. Not everyone has a traditional family. The APA says that 40-50% of marriages will end in divorce. My mom’s first marriage did. It was just my mom and I for a little while until my dad (what I call my stepdad because I have never met, nor do I ever want to meet, my bio dad) unexpectedly popped into our lives. They married just before my second birthday. Four and six years later, my half-brother and half-sister were born.
I have blonde hair, blue eyes, lots of freckles, and fair skin. I’m curvy and have stocky legs. My brother and sister have my dad’s gorgeous olive skin tone, brown eyes, brown hair, and they inherited his chicken legs, too. I can only guess at what features I might have inherited from my bio dad’s genes. While this hasn’t ever bothered me, it’s caused some bumps along the way for us. (i.e. My school superintendent finding out about my bio dad my senior year in high school and publishing my name as the school valedictorian with his last name though it’s never been my given name. Oh, small town hate and politics.)
This is my crazy family! From l-to-r: Dad, Dustyn (husband), Justin (brother), Mom, Ashley (sister), and Jacob (Ashley’s boyfriend). They were throwing snowballs at me in Alaska where we celebrated my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary together.
Our nuclear, “traditional” families have evolved and changed so much. Through my upcoming Dive Into Diversity posts, I’ll be exploring books with these family types: stepparents/step-siblings, single-parent families, same-sex parents, and adoptive/foster families. To be quite honest with you, I don’t want the typical family. We’ve been foster parents; we hope to again do that. I want to adopt. I want a fluid family that is ever-changing and growing and giving people a place to call home. My closest friends are my family. In a nutshell: adios traditionalism.
Wild Cards. Derek’s dad marries a younger woman after his mom passes away from cancer. His dad is in the army, frequently gone, so that leaves him in the care of his stepmom. She relocates them to Chicago to be closer to his family. He and his stepmom’s sister, Ashtyn, who are the same age have a crazy attraction. It’s complicated, but Wild Cards is a great example of a complex family unit. (Ashtyn’s dad is a single-parent, too.)
Even in Paradise. Charlotte’s dad remarried and she has two stepbrothers. For many reasons, Julia’s family is attractive to Charlotte. She loves their closeness and how protective they are of one another. Charlotte comes to love and appreciate her own family more as the illusion of perfectionism fades for Julia’s family. I really felt like this was a solid example of envying what we don’t have.
Open Road Summer. Reagan’s out on tour with Dee for the majority of ORS, but we get the sense that things aren’t so peachy with her stepmom and dad when she’s home. Things are downright tense, and I admire Lord for tackling this because truthfully, not everything is perfect all because two people fell in love.
Ink is Thicker Than Water. Woo! Spalding created an incredibly awesome blended family in this novel. Kellie has a bio mom, stepdad, adopted older sister, and a younger half-brother. (Kellie’s bio dad is also still involved, too.) This book is a great example of a complex family structure, but also a really great one because we see boundaries and exploration to understand adoption. I loved it!
Eleanor and Park. Let’s contrast a great non-traditional family with one that just broke my heart, Eleanor’s. Her stepdad is one of the nastiest creatures I’ve met in my reading. And her mom was spineless. But you know what? This is the truth for some and I’m so glad Rainbow wrote this. So glad.
Geek Girl. This book falls on the younger side of my reading, but it also seemed to explore the earlier days of Harriet’s stepmom being part of the family. I don’t recall how long it’s been since Harriet’s dad remarried, but I loved getting to see her develop such a strong affection for her stepmom and no longer seeing her as an outsider.
Recommendations from Twitter:
The Wrong Side of Right. — Jess, Gone With the Words: “Stepmothers get a bad rep, so it was refreshing to see the beautiful relationship that blossoms between Kate and her stepmom, as well as her half-siblings. Her father was a different story, but really touching in the end.”
Being Friends With Boys. — Estelle: “Lonely with her older sister away at college, we get a chance to see Char grow closer with her stepsisters. I loved that we didn’t get the usual evil dynamics here. They are all so different but there isn’t any hate between them.”
A Midsummer’s Nightmare. — Amber, YA Indulgences: “A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger is a great family dynamic story involving an almost “stepfamily”. Throughout the story, the main character Whitley is thrust into this new suburban town the summer after graduating. It’s in this new town where she discovers her father is engaged. To a woman she’s never met. Whitley then has to deal with her soon to be stepmother and step-siblings. The family dynamics in this are spot on showing that family doesn’t have to be blood related and not all blood related family members are perfect.”
One Plus One. — Kelly, Belle of the Literati: “Regardless of blood relations, deep love, understanding, and acceptance can occur between step parents and children. Sometimes the best kind of family is the one you choose or are ‘forced’ into and OPO shows the lengths we go to for our family, blood related or not. It’s beautiful. And selfless and unassuming and poetic. Yet this book also shows how blood relations can mean nothing and how family is a choice based on love and acceptance…acceptance most of all :)”
Which stepfamily/step-sibling books would you recommend? Share the book love and I’ll update the post with a comprehensive list!
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