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Black Iris by Leah Raeder | Estelle Reviews

Black Iris by Leah RaederBlack Iris by Leah Raeder ( web |  tweet )
Published April 28, 2015 by Atria
Pages: 368
Target audience: New adult
Keywords: homophobia, bullying, revenge, sex, family, mental illness

Summary: Pain and betrayal chased with emotionless sex and drugs take centerstage in this tale of revenge against her old life — as Laney finds her caught between the illuminating and out of control Blythe, and the understanding and steady Armin. Feelings blur with devastating highs and lows as loyalties are questioned, family secrets are uncovered, and tangled webs becomes unraveled.

This review is going to be the equivalent of me sticking my tongue out at you, and saying nah nah nah nahhh nah I can’t tell you a freaking thing. I apologize in advance. I really do. Believe me when I say I haven’t read such an electrifying mystery crackling with so much tension since Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas. But since Dangerous Girls was a young adult book, picture all of that deliciousness and debauchery turned up a notch… or ten.

I was unbelievably riveted by the story of Laney, struggling with who she is in such a public forum because of a total jerk. It’s more complicated than Laney feeling comfortable to be loud and proud about her sexuality; she wants to love who she wants to love. She wants to kiss who she wants to kiss. Of course, there are the people that don’t approve of this “behavior” and Leah Raeder has sprinkled them throughout Black Iris. Laney isn’t a character who has a ton of support and isn’t exactly forthcoming with all the feelings swirling around her because the judgement so far has been real and painful and soul crushing.

So when she meets Blythe and Armin — it’s like FINALLY. Two people who love her and accept her except she’s into Armin and she thinks he’s into her and she can’t deny she isn’t Blythe and she’s pretty sure she’s into her right back and well, a complex story is dished even more layers. Friendship and trust and loyalty are constantly being tested, especially as Laney becomes fixated on righting the wrongs from high school.

It was more than the tension and the need to know the endgame that kept me reading Black Iris late into my Friday night (the same evening I started it). Raeder’s writing is smart and layered; I loved how Laney and Blythe are literature snobs and geekily trade quotes all the time. In the midst of Laney shifting into this calculated vengeful mastermind, there’s also her difficult relationship with her mom and the exact opposite kind of closeness she has with her younger brother. The details are meaty, and Raeder put as much as work into these of this story as she did with the combustible energy between Blythe, Armin, and Laney.

This is the thing: Laney admits to not being on the straight and narrow. And even though she’s choreographing some horrific situations, I felt empowered on her behalf. She was wrongfully targeted because of who she was and she did something about it. She made people pay. For that, she was pretty kick ass — just like this entire book. For a thoroughly sexy and suspenseful mystery that sucks you in and spits you out, look no further than Black Iris.

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Thanks to Atria for supplying an early copy of this book.

May 5, 2015 - 6:48 am

Kimmy - I preordered this one and was super excited when it showed up! I was already looking forward to reading this, but your review has me even more intrigued!!

May 4, 2015 - 11:17 am

Alexa S. - I’ve seen Black Iris mentioned quite a few times, and I’m definitely curious! It sounds so intriguing. While I’m not usually a reader of thrillers, this one sounds really good. And really different, which is why I’m leaning towards giving it a shot. So glad to hear you enjoyed it!

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The Big Wave & A Big Break | Pub Date

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Friends, I am in a vacation state of mind. Every time an email from Jet Blue pops up in my inbox, I’m immediately scheming and dreaming. No plans on the docket for us, at the moment, but I’m hoping that will change soon… or maybe something magical will happen and I’ll be able to teleport wherever I want. Whatever comes first, I’m excited to feed my vacation brain with today’s Pub Date!

So, the other week Forgetting Sarah Marshall was on TV, today I saw an ad for a movie called Aloha with Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone (it’s from Cameron Crowe), the recent opening of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in Disney World, and then there’s my blogging bestie who will be headed to Hawaii this month. Basically, Hawaii is everywhere. I have yet to go there, and would really like to go! Palm trees, beautiful water, and a whole new culture to learn about. Plus I really love Kona Brewing Company. This beer isn’t a rarity in our parts (thankfully) but nothing would beat a visit to the actual brewery.

Famous in Love and Kona Golden Wave

This leads me to my pairing. Kona’s Big Wave Golden Ale in a cute, squat bottle is light and goes with just about meal or snack. Perfect after a long day in the sunshine. And for a book… Famous In Love is about a newbie actress who lands the next big role in a young adult book turned film and the two boys she has to work with. If you are in the mood for something light and fun, this is where it’s at. The chemistry kept me reading AND the setting: Hawaii. So not only is this girl about to turn into a big star but it’s all happening against this gorgeous, romantic place.

That’s about it for me today! Hope you have a great weekend, and oh, if you have any suggestions for books set in Hawaii, please please send them my way! I need my fix…


Pub Date Pals: Brittany | Andi | Maggie

June 19, 2015 - 9:07 am

Brittany @ The Book Addict's Guide - I didn’t realize Famous in Love was set in Hawaii!!! Man, I really do wish we had gone there on our honeymoon. Maybe we’ll travel someday for an anniversary trip 😉 I really want to visit Hawaii so badly!
I do like Kona brewing a lot! I don’t know if I’ve ever had Big Wave but I generally always like their beers!

May 1, 2015 - 11:02 am

Alexa S. - That beer looks so yummy! And I think a beer would be a mighty fine idea right now…

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It’s a Wrap • So Long, April

Welp. Another month done. The bright side? Another month closer to summertime and… Christmas. (Don’t hurt me!) But, you know, the drill. Enjoy the moment!! Live in the present!! It’s been a busy month for both of us, but still filled with plenty of highlights:

A photo posted by Estelle (@thatsostelle) on

A photo posted by Magan (@magan) on

Shopping List Musts:

April Must Buy List

Estelle: 99 Days by Katie Cotugno // The One That Got Away by Bethany Chase
Magan: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas // The Program by Suzanne Young

What to Click:

Summing It All Up:

Buy It:

The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne
99 Days by Katie Cotugno
First There Was Forever by Juliana Romano
The One That Got Away by Bethany Chase
Kissing Ted Callahan by Amy Spalding

Worth It:

Allegiant by Veronica Roth
The Truth About Jack by Jody Gehrman
All the Rage by Courtney Summers
Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook

Borrow It:

Positively Beautiful by Wendy Mills

Mini Reviews:

Moonshine, Knitting and Sleuthing in these 3 YAs
An Artist, a Puffin, and Cowboy in 3 romance titles!

Monthly Features:

Little Kids: Bedtime Stories
Dive Into Diversity: Magan explores step-families
Pub Date: First and Fresh

Free Writing:

BEA Part of It: My Budget-Friendly NYC Day
Magan chats with author Paula Stokes
Baseball and Book pairings
Estelle chats with author Juliana Romano

Don’t Forget:

Link up your April Dive Into Diversity posts here and stay tuned for our upcoming discussion post/linky on MAY 12th!

Tell us what you loved this April!
What should we be adding to our summer beach bags?

May 1, 2015 - 12:45 pm

Emma @ Miss Print - Great roundup ladies!

Also looking forward to seeing your thoughts on The Program–I had a very different reaction to it (but I was also reading it for a very specific purpose which it did not fill).

May 1, 2015 - 6:26 am

Jumana - This is such a great post that put a smile on my face :)!♥

April 30, 2015 - 5:42 pm

Lucy - You did have an awesome April! I always enjoy your book recs and I’m happy to see we liked several of the same books this month. I need to get to First there Was Forever and ACOTAR stat :)
Here’s to a great May!

April 30, 2015 - 3:05 pm

Alexa S. - Yay for an awesome April! I’m just glad that the weather has started getting nicer 😉 Here’s to hoping May is just as wonderful!

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Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook • Magan Reviews

Book Review of Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook

Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook [twitterwebsite]
Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 288
Target Audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: sexual assault, small town setting, accident, football

Summary: Kayla has never wanted to leave her home town; it’s always been her favorite place, her source of comfort. When something awful happens and she’s sent away for the summer to return to a changed town, she wants so badly to piece it back together, but she’s holding the answers to the secret everyone’s been keeping under wraps.

• • •

In three words, Every Last Promise is heavy, uncomfortable, and courageous. It’s a story about a small-town setting where football rules all and athletes are treated like celebrities, unable to do wrong. (Think Friday Night Lights but heavier.)

Kayla spent the summer after her junior year living in Kansas City with her aunt. All we know is there was an accident and she feels guilty and responsible. When she returns to her home town, she’s no longer friends with her three best friends, Jen, Serena, and Bean. Bean is no longer associating with Jen and Serena. Everyone now thinks of Kayla as an outcast, debunked from her popularity pedestal upon her return. What happened to cause so much change?

This is a story about sexual assault from an observers point of view (as opposed to All the Rage which is told from the victim’s perspective). In Every Last Promise, we see how people are put on pedestals and have to choose what to believe when someone they admire does something that lets them down. How does Kayla know she won’t be cast aside if she fights what everyone believes?

In Kayla’s hometown, there’s an everybody-knows-everybody mindset that I absolutely related to. I grew up in this kind of setting where my mom knew what I’d done wrong at school long before the school day was over and I was able to tell her. I also completely understood the “in or out” best friend situation. Sometime in early high school I had to choose to stand up for myself — even if it meant not being in the popular crowd — and I experienced exactly how harsh and cliquish they were when I didn’t conform. Kayla’s story is no different — her best friends are hiding from the truth, protecting themselves, and aren’t strong enough to stand up for what’s right.

Kayla has a very idealistic mindset about her town; she’s never wanted to leave and go away to college. She fears change. When this life changing event happens, it shatters Kayla’s naivety and rose-colored glasses, but she’s so unwilling to accept an imperfect world. Why can’t things just go back to the way they were? Kayla feels powerless and hopeless because she doesn’t believe that one person can change things.

Because of Kayla’s inactivity through much of the story, especially when we discover she holds a lot of power, she’s a pretty unlikable character. As readers, we want to hope that they’ll make the right decisions, even if they’re the tough ones. Unlikable or not, Kayla works through realistic emotions as the situation weighs on her: How can her confession change anything? Her truths are pretty incriminating, even if what happened was done to protect someone.

Every Last Promise is about doing what’s right, flawed characters, and what happens when the illusion of perfection fades.

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An early copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

May 5, 2015 - 3:12 pm

Magan - Totally uncomfortable, Alexa, but very necessary! :)

May 5, 2015 - 3:11 pm

Magan - Lucy, it’s intense. Be warned! But very worth it! Can’t wait to see what you think! :)

April 30, 2015 - 5:45 pm

Lucy - I just got this one in the mail and you do make it sound like a worthwhile read. A FNL reference in your opening paragraph doesn’t hurt either :)

April 29, 2015 - 12:33 pm

Alexa S. - Every Last Promise definitely sounds like it would be a “hard” read, in the sense that I would definitely feel uncomfortable. But sometimes, those books are necessary in order to coax us into a new understanding or perspective. Glad you think this one is worth it!

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Friendship & Kitschy California with Author Juliana Romano

Juliana Romano and First There Was ForeverHappy Monday & welcome to Rather Be Reading. I’m thrilled debut author Juliana Romano is stopping in to talk about her book: FIRST THERE WAS FOREVER — a book about two best friends going through a lot of changes. It’s one of my top reads this year, and Publishers Weekly liked it too: “Fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han won’t want to miss this sensitive exploration of romantic and platonic relationships in flux, and young women coming into their own.”

Truth be told, I grabbed Juliana’s book for my recent trip to Disney World to meet Magan and was thrown into a rare moment where I would “rather be reading” than prancing around the Magic Kingdom. This is pretty much the best endorsement I could ever give a book. Anyway, check out what Juliana (who is also a painter) had to say about friendships, her awesome setting, and what she is working on next!

Estelle: Friendships are so complicated, and you did a wonderfully heartbreaking job of showing the highs and lows in Lima and Hailey’s relationship. They loved each other so much and that’s what made how each of them were changing so hard to read about. What do you think is the key to lasting friendship? Is it possible to get through high school unscathed?

Juliana: I’m so happy you connected with Lima and Hailey’s ups and downs. It’s hard to say what makes a friendship last, but in my experience, its trust and sharing a sense of humor. The friendships that I have that have lasted since high school or college, are ones where no one ever crossed the line into territory where one of us got really hurt. But the friends who I lost because either they hurt me or I hurt them, like Lima and Hailey, those friendships were really important, too. I learned a lot about myself and about love from those relationships. I think it’s important to remember that friendships that end aren’t bad friendships, sometimes it’s just how it goes.

Estelle: In so many cases, Lima’s curiosity made her a stronger person. Did you know how much you wanted her to grow when you started the book?

Juliana: No, I really didn’t! I knew that I wanted her to learn to make choices, but I felt very connected to her and very open to her journey while she was on it. I didn’t totally know where she was going to end up until she got there.

Estelle: I loved so much about the book, but one detail I thought was particularly awesome (especially because it was young adult) was the exploration of sex. It was so honest. When you set out to write this book, did you know it was going to be a YA? Did you have a barometer for how far you wanted it to go?

Juliana: Yes, I definitely knew I wanted to write YA. I didn’t think about whether or not that meant there could be real sex, but I assumed it would be OK because there is sex in a lot of YA books. Sex in this book was really important to me because its one of the ways that I think Lima tests her own boundaries and surprises herself.  I feel like parting of growing up is stepping into new roles and seeing how they feel, and that can be really scary.

Estelle: California is like its own character in your book; the setting was so alive. What’s one spot in your book you would recommend your readers visiting?

Juliana: Ahh so hard to say! In LA, I think the beaches are great. I’d go to the Santa Monica Pier and ride the Ferris Wheel and then just walk along the sand. It’s touristy and kitschy but that kind of adds to the romance. The charm of LA is about things being not-quite perfect.

Estelle. Can you tell us one secret about the book you’re working on now?

Juliana: There’s a boy in it with very green eyes. And it takes place in another city with a whole other set of characteristics than LA. Think: skyscrapers and yellow cabs and bridges 😉

 Big hugs to Juliana for answering my questions!

For more on Juliana Romano: her website ; twitter ; instagram

For more on FIRST THERE WAS FOREVER: my pub date ; review

Happy reading!

April 30, 2015 - 5:54 pm

Lucy - That is a big endorsement that this book was distracting you from the Magic Kingdom :) I love books set in California- it’s fun to see books set in your stomping ground. I really need to get my hands on this book (and the next one too when it’s ready!) Fun interview.

April 27, 2015 - 2:49 pm

Alexa S. - I enjoyed your interview with Juliana! It definitely made me even more curious about First There Was Forever :)

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Everything Knits Undercover ⋅ On E’s Bookshelf

My Best Everything by Sarah TompMy Best Everything by Sarah Tomp ( web | tweet )
Published March 3, 2015 by Little, Brown
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: summer after graduation, small town, family secrets, alcoholism, religion
Format read: Borrowed from the library

Summary: After graduating from her small Virginia high school, Lulu is set to leave her hometown for college in California but when her dad loses the money that was going to send her there, she is desperate to find a Plan B. With her best friends and Mason, a mysterious older boy, she leads the charge to cash in on an illegal moonshine venture.

If only everything went according to plan, right? High school graduate Lulu is ready to escape her small town living and head to California for college, but the very same person who motivated her to dream big is the same person holding her back. Her dad has spent the money meant for her college education and now she’s forced to stay in town with her crumbling mom, the same friends, and no idea what to do with her future.

Lulu’s not going to let her dad’s carelessness and selfishness get her down. When a moonshine still is dropped off at the junkyard she currently works, it plants a seed that launches into one big, crazy plan — dive into the illegal world of making moonshine and selling it. It might not be lucrative but it will make her the money she needs. She ropes in her best friend, Roni, and her boyfriend, and, by some kind of luck, Mason — part of a long line of moonshiners — happens to fold into her life at the right time. He has the knowledge and the connections, and helps this plan along (at times, apprehensively).

My Best Everything is Lulu’s story, and Sarah Tomp writes it as if Lulu is talking directly to Mason. Even though they are complete opposites, they totally bond during the summer and slowly fall in love. Mason is the first teenage recovering alcoholic I’ve met in a young adult book, and his struggle to ignore his demons paired with Lulu’s first foray into experimentation makes for an interesting parallel. Lulu goes from someone who goes on “Daddy dates” and takes weekly confessions at the church to someone who is questioning her relationship with God and all she’s been told about abstinence. I really enjoyed these moments. It’s ironic how the small town she is so desperate to leave still (unexpectedly) provides her with so much that last summer.

The small town girl wanting to leave the confines of her home for  a bigger world isn’t a new story. We’ve heard it time and time again, but Tomp made it her own with intricate detail, a solid best friendship, and a main character who wants so badly to think the best of people and make the most of herself.

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Boys Don

Boys Don’t Knit by T.S. Easton ( web | tweet )
Published March 24, 2015 by Feiwel & Friends
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: knitting, friendships, family, outcasts
Format read: ARC paperback from Publisher (Thanks!)

Summary: Paranoid, overthinker Ben gets caught in a scheme that he didn’t want to be a part of and he’s forced to take a class and serve the community — which leads him to a surprising hobby: knitting.

Talk about utterly charming. Ben, like so many people I know — ahem myself — gets very stressed out. Stressed about his kind of shitty friends, how his dad’s not the best parent when his mom is off traveling for work, the girl he likes — all the basic kind of stuff. But when he gets punished for a scheme his friends thought up and he got roped into, all of his stress elevates to a new level. He’s required to keep a journal, take a class, and even do some community service which leads him to a knitting class and forced servitude for a notoriously mean crossing guard.

When Ben starts his knitting class, he has no idea he is 1) going to like it so much 2) be actually pretty good at it — like one of the best in his class. Suddenly, he’s visiting the yarn shop, reading knitting magazines, and listening to podcasts about it too. Unfortunately, he’s afraid of getting made fun of by his friends and, most importantly, his dad, who is constantly trying to get him interested in sports. Few people know about his new passion, and while knitting does alleviate his stress and allow him to think more clearly, he knows he’s digging himself into a new hole of trouble. Eventually he’s going to get found out.

T.S. Easton did a great job here of chatting about how certain hobbies are broken down by gender without preaching how we need to be more lenient with these “rules”. Who the hell cares what makes us happy? Why shouldn’t we be able to do what we want? Especially when that one thing makes us ridiculously happy. Ben does a lot of growing because of this “punishment” and he forces people to look beyond how they think the world should be and show them there’s so much more beyond the frustrating boundaries that permeate our culture.

I laughed, I smiled, and I may have even drawn a tear. Such a fantastic read!

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Scarlett UndercoverScarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham ( web | tweet )
Published May 19, 2015 by Little, Brown/Poppy
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: mystery, family secrets, ancient curses
Format read: ARC paperback from Publisher. (Thanks!)

Summary: Scarlett has graduated high school early, and spends her time keeping her town safe by fighting crime. Her latest client — a young kid — sets her on a course she’s not expecting — uncovering her own family secrets.

I’ve never watched Veronica Mars so I won’t be much help with that comparison but what I can tell you is that Scarlett Undercover features one of the most fearless, kick ass female characters I’ve read in awhile. Many times, while I was reading, I forgot she was actually a teenager. In ways it makes sense. She lost her father and her mother. Her closest family is her perpetually busy sister, who is studying to be a doctor. But Scarlett is pretty much running her own detective business and her newest client — Gemma — shows off her protective side as much as it does the side of her that enjoys solving puzzles and helping people.

I can’t give away too much but Gemma’s initial plea to uncover why her older brother has changed so drastically and his role in someone’s suicide turns into a mission that hits all too close to home. Riveting because the story touches on so much of Scarlett’s Muslim roots, the plot builds up a steady momentum but wrapped up a little too quickly — especially for how dangerous everything turned. As another bright side, Scarlett has a subtly flirtatious relationship with her best friend, Deck, that I loved from the get-go.

Diversity, mystery, and strong leading lady = very fun read for me.

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April 30, 2015 - 3:53 pm

It's a Wrap • So Long, April • Rather Be Reading - […] Moonshine, Knitting and Sleuthing in these 3 YAs An Artist, a Puffin, and Cowboy in 3 romance titles! […]

April 27, 2015 - 4:28 pm

Kate @ Ex Libris - Boys Don’t Knit was SO funny! I loved that book. My Best Everything wasn’t quite a win for me, but I thought it was an interesting idea. I’m always a sucker for books set in small towns….

April 24, 2015 - 12:49 pm

Alexa S. - What a fascinating assortment of reads! I’m actually particularly intrigued by Boys Don’t Knit now. Was wary of it initially, but your review makes it sound pretty great!

April 24, 2015 - 10:14 am

Emma @ Miss Print - ooh I just picked up a copy of Boys Don’t Knit at work thinking it looked like my kind of book. Happy to see it getting good marks here :)

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