Nothing makes a reader feel more spoiled than easily slipping into a book and remaining emotionally invested throughout. It’s even sweeter when it comes as a total surprise. This, my friends, is A Million Miles Away by Lara Avery. The book follows Kelsey as she deals with the death of her twin sister, Michelle, right at the start of their senior year of high school. Kelsey’s grief leads her on an unexpected journey to get to know her sister better. Not to unearth any dirty secrets, but to understand her through art (her passion) and, a bit untraditionally, by corresponding with Michelle’s boyfriend, Peter — not as herself, but as Michelle.
A Million Miles Away by Lara Avery will be released on July 7, 2015 by Poppy/Little, Brown for Young Readers. 320 pages.
We’re all lying to ourselves if we swear grief will never make us do outlandish things. On one hand, I loved how Kelsey was learning so much about herself and this box she’s been stuck in by uncovering what made Michelle Michelle, and, on the other, how could she not be honest with Peter and tell him that Michelle is dead? This was definitely a situation leading to no happiness for anyone but I almost couldn’t blame Kelsey — and that’s how you know Avery’s writing was so solid — because she wanted so badly not to lose this little piece of her sister that she could hold on to. Maintaining this correspondence with Peter (while he was in Afghanistan) almost felt like Michelle was still alive and how could she let that go?
A Million Miles Away gets messy for our characters as Kelsey finds herself falling for unsuspecting Peter and the suspense builds in such an extreme way that I was yelping from my couch. But I love that in books (especially in a complicated situation like this one) because it shows me so much about this author — how would Avery (and Kelsey) get herself out of this pickle? She did not make it on Kelsey and that was even better because this book is filled with the kind of family and friends we all need in our lives. The kind who call us on our shit and still are on our side. The ones who tell us the truth when we probably don’t want to hear it because it’s not pretty.
Sometimes it’s more difficult to feel close to characters that we are hanging out with in third person but that distance worked here because it reflected Kelsey’s own detachment from the real world. She’s harboring a huge secret, she misses her sister tremendously, and, in some ways, she’s finding out she hardly knew all of these layers to her own twin — and nothing in the world was going to give her that opportunity again. Cue the heartbreak. A Million Miles Away is exactly why I love contemporary YA fiction so much — experiencing the lowest of lows and highest of highs alongside a character who, even in the worst scenario, is discovering a whole new part of herself.
I think it’s time for me to read this one again.
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Book was provided early by the publisher. Thanks!
There’s always that defining moment (or a few of them) when you realize you have to break away from what your parents want and do your own thing — even if this isn’t in their best interest. I’m reading a parenting guide for work right now, and the author talks about how parents need to know when to let go, and let their kids make their own choices. How else will they learn to deal with everything the real world throws at them? They need to be able to stand on their own two feet, and coddling (or controlling them) doesn’t make that happen.
Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler was published on June 30, 2015 by Spencer Hill Press. It’s a YA, dual POV, f/f love story about friendship, tough choices, and Hollywood. 312 pages.
Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler is no parenting guide (although the parents could use one) but is so much about that defining moment when you know you are about to go over the edge and start your life. (Plus fun, sweet, deep, and sexy.) In alternating POVs, we have Josh — a celebrity playboy known for his lavish parties — and Van — an Asian American actress who just lost her best friend to college and is feeling a bit off kilter. Josh is feeling similarly but he would never admit it. His best friend (also an actor) is basically the Zac Efron type — everyone loves him, he’s nabbing all the best roles, and he’s head over heels for Van’s best friend (the feeling is mutual). Josh and Van are unlikely friends but are thrown together in so many scenarios due to their absent best friends and working on the same set. In typical fashion, a reader might think this means these two are going to fall for each other but (and this is not a spoiler) no such luck. Instead, Dahlia gives us the makings of a solid friendship — even if our two main characters don’t know it yet.
This is why life is so great, right? It surprises us all the time.
And Van’s about to face a pretty big surprise herself. When she meets her publicist’s daughter/intern, she’s shocked to admit she’s attracted to her. After being locked in a superficial relationship with another celebrity and projecting the image of a “polite, squeaky-clean” Van — Brianna jolts her awake. Is she gay? This inner turmoil that Van is suddenly consumed with is so pitch perfect. It never felt dramatic. Her concerns are legit. She’s already worried about finding more roles as an Asian-American actress, her parents have lost patience with this “hobby” of hers and pretty much demand she start college or else, and now she might be gay? It’s not only a matter of how she feels about it but how will this LOOK to everyone else. (We may not be in Hollywood but aren’t we dealing with something similar every day with social media?) Van needs to get to a place where the real her takes precedence and everything else falls into place afterward. (And bravo to Brianna who is so refreshingly upfront with Van from the get-go about her own limits and experiences. No games, people.)
Van and Josh are both pushed to their breaking points in Under the Lights. How much longer can they do someone else’s bidding and ignore their own? What is the right next step? There are so many delectable layers to this story; Dahlia writes with such ease and thoughtfulness, and the chemistry between all the characters kept me hooked and reading mostly in one sitting. (I also have a soft spot for dancing scenes, and I am nuts for Light‘s dance scene.) While I highly recommend giving all of Dahlia’s books a whirl, this one, for me, definitely tops her work so far.
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⇒ Follow Dahlia @MissDahlELama & her website. ⇐
Hooray, it’s Monday (hope you had a good few days!) and also a few days before a holiday weekend. So I thought, why not share a few of the fiction titles I’ve tried out recently — just in case you are looking for something to read on your car trip, a stop at the beach, or between BBQ courses at your family or friend’s house. And with that… a return to…
Imagine a work assignment in France, the most stylish (and expensive) wardrobe, and an opportunity to interview the illustrious former editor of Vogue. Welcome to Serena’s fabulous life in French Coast — which turned out to be an addicting story-in-a-story, aligning our magazine writer and the editor in a tale of her youth. In the meantime, the stability Serena has been enjoying back home with loving parents and an attractive, ambitious fiancé starts to unravel. When her assignment is wrapped up, all the reader knows is that our girl will not return home the same person. For those way into fashion (like a brand names guru) and interested in unlocking some delectable mystery in a contemporary story, French Coast is worth the trip. (It goes without saying that this setting is a dream.) French Coast (St. Martin’s Griffin) by Anita Hughes was published on 4-7-15; 304 pages.
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Things You Won’t Say isn’t an easy-breezy read, especially (and unfortunately) because there have been so many stories in the news lately reflecting the core of this plot. Jamie’s officer husband has killed a teenager while on patrol. Did her husband have a legitimate reason for pulling the trigger, was this tragedy a result of Mike’s PTSD, or was this teenager truly a risk? Is this a story of prejudice? While this story hits a bit too close to home, the author does a fine job of fleshing out the many sides of this story. It’s told through different POVs – Jamie’s, Jamie’s sister, and Mike’s ex-girlfriend. Each of these women are at a crossroads — in love, in career, in life — and it was interesting to see how their lives intertwined and how this one event directly or indirectly altered life as they knew it. As compelling as the plot was, my own reading preference hinges a lot on dialogue and less on full descriptions of what transpired. There was a lot of that in here, and, at times, the story didn’t hit me in the gut like I wanted it to. Despite that, Pekkanen reminds us of the importance of compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. Things You Won’t Say (Washington Square Books) by Sarah Pekkanen was published on 5/26/2015; 352 pages.
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It’s probably a good solid rule to stay away from the internet when the love of your life gets married to your best friend and you are drinking at home alone, right? Well, yeah. But we wouldn’t have a story if Van didn’t buy a German Shepard online when she was drunk and feeling sorry for herself, and I’m so so very glad she did. I stayed up all night reading Stay which included so many laugh-out-loud moments when Van is getting to know Joe (that’s the dog) and then so many heartbreaking ones as she comes to terms with grief over her mom’s death, and the change in her friendship with Peter (the love of her life) and Janie (her bff). This is a story of connections, class, humility, small joys, and hard but necessary discoveries. There’s a charming vet named Alex who is possibly Joe’s guardian angel and one of the greatest male fiction characters I’ve come cross in awhile, especially because he introduces Van to a whole set of characters including the adorable Louis — an older gentleman who, right off the bat, is rooting for our main character. Most importantly, Larkin nails how a pet folds itself into our lives and becomes a part of our family. Stay by Allie Larkin (Plume) was published on June 26, 2011; 336 pages.
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Big hugs to Cass at The Casserole Blog for gifting me this one! xo
I’m not sure if it’s only me but this year has been such a good one for books so far. Maybe my tactics are to thank for that, or maybe the universe is magically handing over the right books I need at the right moment. Either way, I’m feeling satisfied and I hope you are too. Feel free to leave some fiction book recs below! I’m looking forward to hearing them. Have a great day! – e
The first two books of this post were provided by the publishers.
Last Friday I was feeling pretty miserable — very down in the dumps — and I did something I rarely do. I tweeted about it. About how 2015 has not been a great year so far. The next day I deleted it. Why? Was I worried how being sad would make me look in a sea full of tweets about Muppets and books, amongst cat and sunset pictures? It’s not that. It’s more of a reminder to myself that when I’m feeling frustrated and upset, there are other places — other people — I should be turning to. The vast black hole of the internet, while it may feel like a safe place, does not compare to talking it out, a private conversation, or even being alone with your thoughts.
I think there’s this huge misunderstanding that who you are on the internet — whether you are only sharing the good stuff or a nice mix, whether you’re all in, or sporadically around — is somehow a representation of who you are all the time. It’s not totally unwarranted. These simple shared moments, especially at a time when you are feeling so low and so disconnected, are like little devils on your shoulders. Look at how much better she has it. He’s just living the dream, isn’t he?
Take Kate in The Status of All Things for example. She’s so obsessed with social media and perpetuating this perfect image — the amazing condo, her successful career, her loyal BFFs, her gorgeous and smart fiancé — to the world that’s she missing some mighty big signs. What will she share on Facebook when her fiancé calls off their wedding the night before because he’s in love with someone else? Is there even a hashtag for that? (#disaster #fuck) Unlike most humans, Kate finds herself with a second chance; she’s traveled back in time to make things right and her status updates are now wishes to be granted.
An old coworker might be the only person in my life without any social media account. Even my dad has broken down and joined Facebook. (He has yet to upload a profile picture.) This practice is so much a part of our culture; it’s hard to remember the days it didn’t exist. There’s no doubt that technology has made our lives so much easier, connecting us with people near and far (I talk to my mom in her house while I’m cooking in my apartment), but, and I’m guilty of this too, it’s also a huge distraction.
What are we missing when we pick up a phone during a dinner date with a friend? What could we have been doing instead of scrolling through a Twitter feed just because? Do we have to share every picture, tweet at every friend we see? Can we wait for an elevator without looking down at our hands? Most of all, do these images of perfection keep us from getting to know people on another level?
As soon as my dad signed me up for AOL, I became an internet junkie. I don’t deny the wonderful opportunities and awesome people I’ve met because of a click and a shared interest. But, let’s be real, sometimes the internet makes me feel awful. This lifelong journey to self-acceptance and satisfaction is hard enough before you get tangled into the Web. When does it all become too much? When does the cycle of insecurity and odd competition partnered with the hurt from tweets you can’t unsee stop? Kate gets the ultimate wake up call; she has to start dissecting her own life with all of its wrinkles instead of depending on the ultimate filter.
SHE HAS TO BE REAL WITH HERSELF.
Because, at the end of the day, knowing you could truly be there for your best friend or have the opportunity to live a happy life in real time is worth more than all the shares, likes, and favorites in the world. Right? Right. So to Instagram or not Instagram — that is the question and a good one it is. Can you still love something without abusing it? Without confusing what’s real with what’s curated? It might take some reminding but #thosenudgesareworthit.
The Status of All Things (Washington Square Press/Atria Books) by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke was published on June 2, 2015.
I can guarantee you won’t be tempted to check your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. while swept up in Kate’s story of second chances, perfection, fate, and the Internet. Thoughtful and sweet, frustrating and charming, this contemporary with a sprinkle of fantasy will have you rooting for a complicated main character — who could very well be you. What don’t we see because we choose not to and what don’t we see because we’re so wrapped up in what everyone else thinks? Another winner from this duo who knows how to inject love and the complexities of friendship into their books.
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An early copy of this book was provided by the publisher. Thanks!
It isn’t easy, but telling something as it is, telling the truth, always seems more beautiful and more poetic than anything else,” says Mr. Graydon — the English teacher in Sarah Crossan’s simultaneously sweet and heartbreaking Apple and Rain. At first, he’s the teacher no one wanted, a replacement, and suddenly he spends the year treating his students with the kind of respect that has them interpreting poems and writing their own pieces in response. As the main character in the story, Apple is a young teenager dealing with the return of her mother who abandoned her years ago on Christmas Eve. She wants so badly to make her a permanent part of her life that she decides to leave the person who has always taken care of her — her grandmother — to live with her mom as she settles in. It’s as surprising for her as it is for the reader when Mr. Graydon’s assignments start to pry so many unspoken feelings out of her. Suddenly this homework doesn’t seem so innocent as she pens her truest feelings and hands in the paper with the easier, more superficial answer. She may be in her early teens, but she already has a grasp at how powerful the truth can be.
Similarly, in the fast-paced and oh-so-good Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone, Sam is discovering being vulnerable in her writing and having the courage to share it with others is more of a safe place than a scary one. She’s older than Apple and has a bit more life experience so I like to think of her as the next level Apple, in a way. Sam is struggling under the shadow of her judgmental, popular friends who have no idea who she really is or what she’s all about — a girl dealing with OCD. When the Poet’s Corner pops into her life, she’s forced to look deeply at herself and how she identifies with the world. She learns even more hard lessons, and uses all the energy she channels into poetry to find her happy place — a place she hasn’t seen in a really long time.
For both Apple and Sam, writing and words become a lifeline. Sure, Apple’s relationship with poetry and her English class are kept a secret, but it is the one thing that’s keeping her sane when her life is being turned upside down by selfish people and their secrets. It helps her work through that and realize that her feelings are not invalid. Sam may be opening herself up to a small group of people, but at some point she has to take the courage she finds in that small room and apply it to the rest of her life. She has to find a way to make these two parts of her life click in a way that feels true.
The Mr. Graydons and Poet’s Corners may not be easy to come by in every day life, but they do exist. The gift of expression, of unlocking a whole new piece of yourself and a new strength you had no idea you possessed, is huge. You always remember that first confidence boost, the gift of a blank notebook, that place that becomes the safe haven for all of your ideas and messy feelings. Writing as a hobby in books (especially young adult) might not be anything groundbreaking, but I loved how both of these novels made writing so imperative to a character’s emotional growth — how it was a comfort and an ally when both girls were feeling so alone.
EVERY LAST WORD by Tamara Ireland Stone: A favorite read of 2015; a touching, addicting, & well-paced tale of old friendship, honesty, and digging deep to find what makes you bravest. – Disney Hyperion; June 16, 2015. (Goodreads | Amazon | B&N)
APPLE & RAIN by Sarah Crossan: A heartbreaking story about kids forced to act like adults, the messy complications of family, and finding the unexpected that makes us safe and happy. – Bloomsbury Children’s; May 12, 2015. (Goodreads | Amazon | B&N)
I’m a big believer that the things you love when you are a kid don’t necessarily have to disappear once you get older. Hello — I’m an adult reading young adult books all the time, I’m a frequent visitor to Disney World and it’s not because I’m a mom, and I’d always prefer to spend money at the movies to support a Pixar or Disney film over an Oscar-nominated drama. (That’s what RedBox is for!)
Since I turned 30 in February, I’ve used the word OLD so much to describe myself and I know it’s a word I need to eliminate from my vocabulary. I shouldn’t care. I still get carded when I buy beer. My desk at work has plenty of Muppet-y knick knacks. I listen to Disney music every single week. But I’m still insecure about my age. I’m not even sure if it’s about the number. It’s more about knowing you are in a different place in life than others, and not knowing how to bridge that gap exactly — worried that they think you are an old lady when you really spent your weekend watching segments from The Muppet Show and comparing your cooking skills to Elmo’s. (For the record, I’m better.)
Anyway, while I work through this unforeseen, totally self-inflicted thing, I’m super in love with the fact that so many pop culture obsessions from my teenage years have survived the test of time and still exist! It’s like that rule about fashion. Style is cyclical. It all comes back around. Isn’t life cozy? It’s so surreal to have the opportunity to revisit these familiar things, and realize — hey it’s totally okay to still love this and you know what — it’s still awesome.
This is EXACTLY how I feel about these three things:
girl meets world: I cried all through the first episode of this Boy Meets World companion series. Cory Matthews is a dad and a teacher and the series follows his daughter with a great dose of nostalgic nods to the original series. It’s been hard for me to keep up with the show in real time but I caught an episode (“Girl Meets Pluto“) last weekend and, if possible, it made me adore the series even more. The new cast is putting together a time capsule, and Cory is determined to dig up the one he, Shaun, and Topanga put together when they were kids. I cried. (Also if you are a “Boy Meets World” fan, you have to follow @BenSavage on social media. He posts some awesome pics.)
hilary duff. It’s been seven years since Hilary Duff came out with a new album, but it’s really been eight since her last original album. I remember rushing over to Target that morning, sitting on my parent’s front porch and writing a review for one of my college classes. This week has been like reliving my college years and then some because HER NEW ALBUM IS AMAZING AND WORTH WAITING FOR. It’s basically the only thing I’ve listened to all week, and then some. (See: “My Kind” and “Breathe In. Breathe Out.”) Hilary is the ultimate life role model. She takes a break, does her thing, and returns stronger than ever. (I’m very tempted to rewatch The Lizzie McGuire Movie soon.)
vanessa hudgens. Another Disney Channel kid. I loved Vanessa in the High School Musical franchise, I shipped her with Zac Efron so so much, and I was obsessed with her first album. (So so good.) This year, she made her Broadway debut in Gigi and I was finally able to catch the show this past week. Despite lackluster reviews (the writing! the writing!), Vanessa was completely charming and her voice sounded amazing. I was sort of overwhelmed with pride afterwards like I was watching a friend I grew up with accomplish something wonderful. Like with Hilary, I was thinking: look how far we’ve come, Vanessa. LOOK HOW FAR WE’VE COME.
Look how far we’ve come indeed. I love when life becomes this mishmash of things I used to love and can learn to love again. Up next: this Full House reboot. Who else is excited?