Estelle: First Comes Love by Katie Kacvinsky

First Comes Love by Katie KacvinskyFirst Comes Love by Katie Kacvinsky ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: May 8, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Children
Pages: 198
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: summer, opposites attract, first love, Arizona
Format read: Borrowed from the library.

Summary: Gray never thought he would be hanging out, much less falling for, Dylan, a quirky girl in town for the summer who enjoys photographing geckos and naming everything she comes across (her freckles, her car, her slippers). For Gray, she’s a breath of fresh air and for Dylan, Gray is a challenge — someone who needs to break down the walls he’s built.

I know the cover of this book is very dramatic and sensual (and gee — can we stop with these kissing covers, please??) but wow, this book was seriously uplifting, adorable and funny, and completely lyrical.

After reading Katie Kacvinsky’s Awaken and knowing how her sometimes dense description caused me to gloss over passages, I was worried about this happening again. But the author filled First Comes Love with crisp description (there were a lot of scene changes) and this natural flow between two people who were connecting with one another.

Dylan was just about one of the most original characters I have ever come across. She’s so incredibly free spirited and optimistic and selfless. I found myself jealous of her, to be honest. I wished that I could be so inhabited and not worry so much about others thought of me. I mean, gosh, I would have wanted to spend a whole summer with her going on random adventures and listening to her crazy stories and answering her questions.

And I was so glad that Gray gave her a chance. Life had been pretty rough since tragedy rocked his home, which felt even emptier than it should with his mom always off to bed early and his dad away on business trips. Gray himself gave up a baseball scholarship to stay home and watch over his family, but, instead, it was like he was floating and not living much at all.

Dylan sensed something was up with Gray. She never pushed, never overdid it. She managed to distract and open him up at the same time. And I liked that the author gave one of the characters this tough backstory but allowed Dylan to have an average upbringing (even if she wanted to live like a gypsy, as my grandma would say). And tell me why every time I read about a brooding, trouble male character I picture Channing Tatum? Because he was so Gray to me!

And the romance? Slow and steady, organic, hold your breath, fall over yourself goodness. Dylan and Gray knew each other for a short period of time but their relationship is so convincing and genuine; Kacvinsky intertwined both the lightheartedness of love and the more serious moments in such a true way. I could not get enough. (I also couldn’t stop snapping pictures of passages I absolutely adored.)

First Comes Love shared a story of healing, opening yourself up to all the world’s possibilities, making choices, and the utter excitement and giddiness and uncertainty of getting to know someone and falling so hard… you can’t get up.

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P.S. Kacvinksy did self-publish a sequel to First Comes Love that can be downloaded from Amazon as well: Second Chance.

A Literary Birthday Celebration (From What I Remember)

confetti

I’ve said it before and said it again, but one of my favorite things about blogging is meeting new people.

About a month or two ago, I started to chat with Cassie of Books with Cass, who like me is from New Jersey (although she still lives there) and has a birthday in February.

And can you believe that we are exactly a day apart? (In fact, she shares a birthday with one of my best friends and the reason I met Magan in the first place!)

During one of our daily chats, we decided to had to jump on this coincidence and write joint posts today! Basically, Cassie and I have chosen a favorite read that would inspire the best birthday celebration.

So, for me, we are heading to…

mexico

[ oh mexico. it sounds so simple i just got to go. a lil james taylor for ya ]

Last June, on a wonderful summer vacation with my husband, I read From What I Remember by Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas. It was so much fun, such a surprise hit, and it’s most definitely on my list to re-read when the weather gets a little warmer on the east coast.

Basically, the class brainiac (Kylie) and big man on campus (Max) are forced to work together on a last minute school project and a bit of bad luck comes their way — causing them to embark on an unexpected road trip to MEXICO. Kylie is a serious person with lots of responsibilities and Max seems quite the opposite, pretending his life is easy breezy when he has a lot going on in the background. There’s EXCITEMENT. CHEMISTRY. FEAR. VARIOUS MOVIE QUOTES. AND DRINKING.

Despite the chaos, this is what I’m seeing:

From What I Remember Fiesta

Mix an awesome setting + a great dress + some frozen libations and I feel a party coming on.

Although, I will opt out of the hangover when it’s all finished. Thank you very much.

I really appreciate you taking the time to celebrate my birthday with me (a few days early), and I hope you’ll head over to Books with Cass to see what Cassie has in store for her own birthday extravaganza!

Happy Saturday!

Psst. If you haven’t checked out From What I Remember yet, the title is under $8 for the Kindle edition + the Nook too!

Estelle: Being Friends with Boys by Terra Elan McVoy

Being Friends With Boys by Terra Elan McVoyBeing Friends with Boys by Terra Elan McVoy ( website | twitter )
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 368
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: music, bands, friendships with boys
Format read: Borrowed from library

Summary: Char, Oliver, and Tripp have been friends forever. Now, in high school, Char manages and writes songs for Sad Jackal, the band that Oliver and Tripp also play in. But things change more than Charlotte ever thought when Tripp decides to leave the band…

Ahh, the age old question of whether or not guys and girls can really be friends. Readers, I’m here to tell you I still don’t know the answer to that one. I’d like to say yes, but based on my own personal experiences…. it’s not looking too good. And maybe that’s why I connected so strongly to Char’s story. She’s not exactly your typical girl and we know how much that can make you an outcast in high school. She’s not too big on fashion, not the best student, but loves music and manages a band with her two best friends, Oliver and Tripp.

When Tripp leaves the band out of nowhere, the dynamic between the three really changes. Char feels she can’t talk to Tripp about the band anymore which is a total loss to her because they were songwriting partners. Their distance grows even more when Tripp starts hanging out with new friends and the new band members actually start to make the band BETTER. Char also starts crushing on the talented Fabian and gains some attention from Benji, the sweet stoner, from her history class who is helping her study. (Hello, Marcus Flutie fans!)

THERE ARE BOYS EVERYWHERE.

All of a sudden a guy magnet and, not only managing but SINGING in the band, Char is in totally new territory.

After reading The Summer of Firsts and Lasts and now this particular book, I am a certified Terra Elan McVoy fan. Char’s home life is a little unsteady with her older sister, Jilly, away at college and the blending of her new family, which includes two stepsisters. But there is never any hate between any of them. All the girls are really different but it is because of Char’s recent excitement that they come together in this grand way. I loved seeing them get closer. Then Char starts to feel lonely when Jilly is hard to nail down during her first semester. I could only think of my own little sister and wonder if she ever felt like that about me when I left for college the first time. McVoy is a pro when it comes to writing about the complexities of sister relationships. I always leave the scenes intensely missing my own family and home in general, when I could just wake up to Turkey Day at my house and not have to drive there or skip it all together. The sense of home and family is just so on target.

Charlotte, who is sort of directionless when it comes to her future, is forced to make decisions for herself without her sister and Tripp. And she doesn’t always make the right ones. She struggles a lot and overthinks and feels pretty helpless at times too. The hurt she feels from Tripp’s treatment punched me right in the heart so many times (“You’re the one who knows me. I thought he knew it already, but maybe I need to tell him. Maybe that would make a difference. But maybe too—and this snaps me into action…because I don’t want to think about it—maybe he does know how much he means to me. And maybe he’s doing it anyway.”) How one day it’s normal to talk to someone every day and on another, it’s normal to not.

McVoy takes familiar themes and continues to make them refreshing and new; she never makes the typical moves while still injecting emotion in a way we can relate to – some days we are wallowing and others we are laughing. I never really know the ending of these stories until I reach the final page. I still have to do a little work to get there and as a reader, I appreciate that so much.

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Estelle: Where You Are by J.H. Trumble

Where You Are By J.H. TrumbleWhere You Are by J.H. Trumble ( website | twitter )
Publication Date: December 24, 2012
Publisher: Kensington Books
Pages: 316
Target audience: Adult/mature young adult
Keywords:  bullying, social media, LGBT, student/teacher relationships
Format read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Robert may be a star student, a popular addition to the marching band, and absolutely comfortable with his sexuality. But his dad is also deteriorating from cancer, his aunts are taking over his home, and his boyfriend never wants to touch him. At 24, Andrew is Robert’s calculus teacher. He’s a father to a young daughter, and does his best to keep his private life private. But for some reason, he can’t help but reach out to Robert, especially as he sees this bright student fading into the background. Will they both be able to maintain their respected boundaries?

When I wrote my review of J.H. Trumble’s Don’t Let Me Go in March, I wrote about how I kept thinking of the main characters of that story like they were people I had actually known in real life.

Fast forward almost nine months later, and I’m standing in a store parking lot in the freezing cold, on the brink of what is going to be a difficult two days for my family, and I am thinking about Robert and Andrew in the same way. What are they up to? What are they thinking? If they lived in my hometown, would I be calling them to hang out right now?

I’ve wracked my brain trying to figure out how Trumble makes her characters so human — flaws and all — and I come up short every single time. Because it just happens. It is so natural how these characters live and breathe on the page, even when I disagree with their actions and especially when everything becomes right in their worlds.

For many of you, a little red flag is going to pop up when you see “student/teacher” relationship. I’m not here to talk about a moral code or the importance of maintaining boundaries. Because as soon as I started reading about Andrew and Robert, all of their labels seemed to dissipate and I was left with two young men who really cared for each other. Two men who needed each other in different ways, and two people who actively tried to keep themselves at a distance (time and time again).

One of the most fascinating details about these characters is just how differently they deal with their sexuality. Robert was very open, and frustrated with a boyfriend who would rather hang out with “his girls” and not bother to kiss him, while Andrew was very focused on keeping his private life private (those nosey teachers!), even if it meant allowing people to think he was attracted to women. As the novel goes on, this difference created many scenes of role reversal where Robert actually seems to be the older one and Andrew, the more giddy.

On the surface, Where You Are was this kind of epic love story but the author also developed complex and intertwining back stories that allow the reader  to dig deeper into these characters and help us to understand who they really are. I really loved Robert’s relationship with his mother (even the messy parts) and Andrew’s ex-wife, Maya, who always kept me guessing. (This is a good thing.) Trumble also skillfully integrated the influence of social media in our lives — from the accounts Andrew chooses to follow, secret fan pages, and a partner in bullying.

I read this book twice before I wrote the review (and I’ve only done that one other time this year with Marisa Calin’s Between You and Me) because I had to relive it again. I had to make sure I didn’t miss out on any one detail. Trumble has officially spoiled me with rich characters, feelings that make me feel everything, intricate details, the cool balance of family and school life, and a controversial topic that is dealt with so delicately and so passionately.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Trumble is an author to look out for.

(And I apologize in advance because if you react to this book like I did, you will not be able to get much done before you finish it.)

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Estelle: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma StraubLaura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub [ website | twitter ]
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Pages: 306
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: 1920s, Hollywood, family drama, theatre/films
Format read: ARC from Putnam. (Thanks!)

Summary:  Since she was little, Elsa has been enamored with the small playhouse her family runs. Her dad directs and acts, her sister dreams of being a star, and she loves to be around the stage. A heartbreaking event and the need to get out of her small town leads Elsa to Hollywood with her young husband, a fellow actor.  As Elsa’s dreams of stardom face ups and downs, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures spans over 50 years of love, family, roadblocks and success.

Like a certain little girl named Frances Gumm who had a humble beginning in Minnesota in a vaudeville group, Elsa Emerson, the youngest of three sisters, loved to watch the inner workings of her family’s playhouse every summer. The actors who came in and out, her dad’s energy as as director and actor, her beautiful and vivacious sister, Hildy, and the small opportunity to make an appearance on stage. In 1938, the same year Frances Gumm started filming a little movie called The Wizard of Oz under the name Judy Garland, Elsa Emerson was on her way to morphing into Laura Lamont, glamorous and famed newcomer to Hollywood.

After getting to know Elsa as a youngster, I was surprised she was the one to escape Wisconsin. It almost seemed out of character. She idolized her father, and loved the comfort and creativity that came out of her family’s little theater. But being the observer caused Elsa to understand a few things a bit too early and see a lot she didn’t want to see. When a tragic event occurs and disrupts her family circle, getting married young and jetting off to California seems like the best option.

Straub’s writing is filled with brilliant descriptions, and very little dialogue. The novel is a little dense and takes some patience to get through but the payoff is worth it. Through the fancy times and tougher moments, Straub skillfully keeps Laura amazingly down to earth. She does go through her share of disappointment, regret, and triumph (although maybe not for the reasons she originally thought). Through Laura’s path at times seems familiar (a la Judy Garland or Marilyn Monroe), Straub is able to instill a certain amount of hope between the lines.

Plus, the supporting characters — especially Ginger, Elsa’s best friend and a ringer for Lucille Ball; Irving, a man who changes her life; and later, her children, especially her son, Junior — brought much to the story and broke up the times when Laura wasn’t engaging in much action.

I’m a huge fan of classic movie stars so it was refreshing to read a fictional account. In the years that span Laura’s youth and the later years of her life, she continually battled between the small town girl who wanted fame and fortune, and the star with all the pressure, responsibility and joy that came along with it. Life, understandably, grew a bit confusing and overwhelming when one identity took over the other, and I enjoyed following as Laura regained a content balance.

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Estelle: Better than Chocolate by Sheila Roberts

Better than Chocolate by Sheila RobertsBetter than Chocolate by Sheila Roberts
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 400
Keywords: sisters, small business, small towns, romance
Target audience: Adult
Format read: ARC from Little Bird Publicity (Thanks!)

Summary: With little time to act, Samantha and her family are forced to come up with a solution when they find out their chocolate business is in trouble.

You know that feeling when you want a chocolate bar and you reach into your shoulder bag and all you find is granola? Sure, the granola still fills your appetite but it’s just not the same.

That pretty much captures how I felt reading Better than Chocolate.

I was expecting to be swept up in some big, epic romance but, instead this novel focused on Samantha and the struggling chocolate business that has been in her family for generations. After her step-father unexpectedly dies, she finds out the business owes a huge amount of money to the bank. When she receives no help from the new bank owner/that popular football player from high school, Blake, she and her sisters decide to hold a chocolate festival by Valentine’s Day in hopes of saving the company.

Even though this book is more about Samantha’s determination and loyalty to her family’s legacy, I liked watching her band forces with her sisters and her mom to organize this huge event. Everyone wants to root for the local company, the underdog, when it comes to a bigger company taking over the town. In Icicle Falls, we see the town support the event and tons of creative ideas make it to the table. It was exactly the kind of project I would want to be a part of.

In the meantime, Samantha is sure Blake is anxious for her chocolate company to fail and is intent on making him the big, bad enemy. But of course, he’s super attractive and she can’t stop thinking about him. He’s also conflicted because he loves Samantha’s passion (and her butt) but he knows he can’t help her the way he really wants to. While they are more on each other’s minds than physically spending time together, the sizzling moments only made me want more of the book dedicated to the two of them.

So while romance was more like the icing on top of a scrumptious chocolate cupcake, I did like reading about four women who all had different feelings on careers, independence, and love and took different routes to get to where they were. The fate of their family company caused them to face certain truths, and make crucial life changes and that was nice to see.

Better than Chocolate will make you crave the delicious morsels featured in the book, but also leave you wanting more. After 400 pages it wraps up a little too perfectly, totally softening any tension, and falls together in too much of a fairy tale fashion. Though the trend of setting books in cute small towns with tons of charm? I’m so on board with that. Book me a ticket!

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