Magan: Head of the River by Pip Harry

Book-Cover-for-Head-of-the-River-by-Pip-HarryHead of the River by Pip Harry (twitter | website)
Previously Reviewed: I’ll Tell You Mine
Publication Date: June 25, 2014
Publisher: University of Queensland Press 
Pages: 304
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: rowing, boy-girl twins, Olympian parents, competition, performance-enhancing drugs
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Head of the River follows Leni and Cris, twins, as they prepare, with their rowing teams, for the Head of the River championship between their 11th and 12th years of high school, but face life-changing struggles throughout the months leading up to the competition.

Wow. Wow. Wow. Just… wow. (And um, where to begin?)

The opening pages of Head of the River detail an assembly days after the Head of the River rowing competition has ended. With few specifics, there’s the implication that something grim has occurred. The mood is sour, and the focus has atypically shifted away from the championship and everyone’s spirits are squashed. We’re introduced to the two main characters, Leni and Cris, who are twins and both on the rowing teams. Their stories are told through alternating chapters. Flawlessly, Pip Harry tells both of their stories — the pressure they both face and the ways they deal with it — and rhythmically weaves them together.

Leni is very focused and driven, but so-much-so that her attitude comes across as untouchable and distant. She aspires to be like her Olympian rower parents (her mom took home the gold, her father the silver) and trains around the clock to achieve her goals. She’s studious and determined; if rowing doesn’t work out for her, she wants to have a solid secondary plan. As Leni moves into a leadership role on her rowing team, she has to learn to let go and become less of a control freak. In order to be a great leader, she must be more relatable, so despite how badly she wants to yell at Rachel when she seems disinterested and whiney during practice, Leni has to stop looking down on others.

Cris, on the other hand, is very likable and friendly, but his kryptonite is over-indulging in food (and skipping workouts). He’d rather eat an additional slice of cake than keep fit for his sport. (This is where he and Leni are so drastically different.) When Cris loses his seat to a newer, less-trained rower and is booted down to second team, he is jolted. He’s told he has to lose weight, as he tips the scales at over 250 lbs., and prove himself again. His best friend, Peter, is also moved down to second team, and sadly, the two boys devise a less-than-healthy plan to help them quickly snap into shape and redeem themselves.

Leni’s journey is very relational — she’s a very distant character that’s so focused she can’t take in the moment and make lasting friendships. She struggles with finding herself in a relationship with Peter she’s not sure she really wants to be in. She is attracted to the new guy, Sam, but he easily manipulates her. Audrey is her former best friend that she really misses, but since being swept away by Peter, they’ve grown distant and have a secret friendship outside of school. Rachel sits behind her in the boat, but annoys the hell out of her; if they don’t get in sync, it will surely mess up their rhythm on the water. There are so many layers to Leni. It seems like she’s a girl who has it all figured out and is really going to excel, but she felt so genuine. Her storyline with Sam and Peter really struck a chord with me because I remember finding myself in the same exact situation as her and wondering how I got there.

Cris’ struggle is more of a mental one. He feels coaxed into the supplement/steroids regiment by Peter and completely incapable of backing out. He’s conflicted over whether or not rowing is really what he wants to do or if he’s doing it just to please his parents. (Sidebar: the parents are really fantastic, appropriately supportive and visual throughout the story. And I loved how they, too, had struggles of their own — the father battles with the English language as he’s Romanian and it really puts a damper on what jobs are available to him, though he’s more qualified than most in the positions he desires.)

Throughout the tail end of Leni and Cris’ 11th year of school and beginning of their 12th, they train for the Head of the River competition. We see them morph and change and be challenged. With each row they take, the intensity is turned up a notch. By the time the competition arrives, and especially when we find out what the big event is that was alluded to at the beginning of the book, your heart is pounding for the results and cheering both the teams on… but, you also tread lightly because you just know something has gone terribly wrong.

Pip Harry drew on her own experiences as a rower and it really showed because every aspect was so well laid out. I went into Head of the River not knowing a thing about rowing, but through the training, the races, the camaraderie, I felt like I, too, had been training alongside each team. I could absolutely relate to Leni’s personal pressure — the desire to do well. The drive. But also the confusion over guys — that hit teenage Magan hard. Cris’ body insecurities (which, yay for exploring this from a male POV) and fluctuating between wanting to be fit and having a screw-it attitude really resonated with me, too.

It’s no doubt that I had a book hangover when I turned the final pages of Head of the River. Pip Harry has undeniably written one of my favorite stories thus far of 2014.

Rather Be Reading Buy It Icon

Add to Goodreads | Buy from Book Depository | Buy from Amazon

book cover I'll Tell You Mine by Pip Harry

Magan: I’ll Tell You Mine by Pip Harry

book cover I'll Tell You Mine by Pip HarryI’ll Tell You Mine by Pip Harry
Publication Date: March 28, 2012
Publisher: U.Q.P.
Pages: 264
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: goth, boarding school, friendship, parental problems
Format read: Paperback from Mandee at VeganYANerds

Summary: Kate is sent to boarding school after an unknown event occurs between her and her mother; she begrudgingly goes but has problems connecting with her roommates and conforming to all the rules she must follow.


Kate Elliot is a girl who found her identity when she allowed her friend Annie to give her a makeover. Despite her mother’s blatant disapproval over her new gothic look, Kate won’t falter from dressing this way. While nothing ever seems to please her career-driven politician mother, Kate’s behavior and an unknown mishap (the mystery is unraveled throughout the book) eventually lead her to boarding school. She is no longer welcome in her own home and her parents decide she needs more structure; the time away from her family (they hope) will improve Kate’s attitude and allow their broken relationships to mend.

Kate is forced to room with three very different girls — two popular girls and one rule-breaker with a reputation, Mandy. Kate goes through periods of absolute resentment and distances herself completely from the three girls. Mandy eventually breaks the barrier and forces her way into Kate’s life. They’re an odd pair — Kate stands out because she’s got multiple piercings, dies her hair black, and intentionally wears makeup a few shades paler than her skin tone; Mandy wears skimpy clothes and has a reputation for being a bit slutty. Their friendship was one of the most beautiful aspects (other than Harry’s lovely writing) of I’ll Tell You Mine. Their conversations are full of snark and laugh-out-loud funny moments. Their antics (or rather Mandy’s plans) often lead to trouble.

Mandy is honest and upfront about how she’s feeling; she isn’t afraid of the front Kate puts up to dissuade people from befriending her. Mandy seems utterly naive to Kate’s insecurities and solitary ways. As Mandy begins to strip away the walls Kate has built around herself, we get to know Kate in a whole new way. She’s distraught over the events that occurred with her mother. Why does it seem like she’s always messing things up and doing something to irritate her mom? She misses her dad (who understands self-exploration and calls her mother out on her hypocrisy). Her little sister is one of her favorite people in the world; she wants to set a good example for her.

Kate feels stuck between making new friends and maintaining the old friendships; her two best friends (pre-boarding school) Annie and Noah seem to be moving on just fine without her. She’s heartbroken when she learns that Noah is dating someone new. Will he never see that she’s in love with him? Kate goes through many a transformation and the separation from her life outside of school allows everything to shift into focus. She sees what she was doing wrong, how she could be better, and what she could change.

The question is: Will she ever be given the opportunity to prove she’s a different person or will she just continue to mess things up?

I’ll Tell You Mine is a story I didn’t want to end. Pip’s writing is concise and packed with punch, every word very intentional. I connected to Kate on so many levels — struggling to become your own person but feeling like you’re always coloring outside the lines, being a bit insecure about how you look and what you weigh, and wanting that boy you’ve loved for oh-so-long to finally take notice. The friendship and family aspects were so thoroughly explored and impeccably written; I projected more drama into the book by not always trusting Mandy’s intentions or assuming the worst. Time and time again, Pip proved me wrong and restored my faith in her characters.

Pip’s writing is authentic and realistic. She flawlessly developed a story that everyone should devour. There are a few wonderful surprise gems hidden within the pages of I’ll Tell You Mine (possibly including a love story that made my heart go pitter patter). If you’re interested in a story that’s very true-to-life and will sweep you away, definitely take a chance on Pip Harry’s debut novel.

(Thank you very much to Mandee at VeganYANerds for gifting this incredible book to me!)

own it now -- highest ranking from Rather Be Reading BlogGoodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Travel Tales: A Round Up

travel tails feature with rather be reading, alexa loves books, and novel soundsIt’s September 3 and that means (sadly) Rather Be Reading Blog’s Travel Tales event with Alexa Loves Books and Novel Sounds has come to an official close. We hope you enjoyed the series, getting to know other bloggers, and also discovering a few new titles (or at least looking at them in a different way)!

» Time Travel!! Decade style.
» A tiny trip-themed q&a with Kelly from Radiant Shadows!
»  The gals at My Sister’s Bookshelf share a trip inspired by their love of literature!
» A love letter to those fabulous Aussie writers!
» Austin & New York City… in books.
» Pam Mingle, author of Kissing Shakespeare, stops by to share her thoughts on writing historical fic for YA.
» Settings from books we want to visit… ASAP.

Be sure to check out Elena‘s Travel Tales recap here & as well as Alexa‘s wrap up of the series here!

Thanks to everyone for reading and sharing their comments!

And especially to Alexa and Elena for asking us to participate and being so creative and sweet and fun all the time!! xo

Travel Tales: The Aussies Know How to Write

travel tails feature with rather be reading, alexa loves books, and novel sounds

Welcome back for another Travel Tales special edition post! Travel Tales is a feature we’re participating in with Alexa at Alexa Loves Books and Elena at Novel Sounds. This week we’re exploring books that will sweep us off our feet and take us to another country. One country comes to mind that is continuously cranking out fabulous authors and amazing work.

Dear Australia,

There’s something so alluring about all of the books I’ve read from your amazing Aussie writers (including Melina Marchetta, Laura Buzo, and Markus Zusak). There’s tenderness that deeply touches my heart. I 150% appreciate the incredibly well-rounded group of characters that always seem to emulate friendships I wish I had in real life. The writing is raw and fearless — leaping over all boundaries to effectively tell the story. While I should keep this post short and sweet on behalf of our dear readers time, you, Australia, have produced too many good books to allow for brevity.

One of my favorite citizens of your great country is this lady:

australian books young adult, ya australian books, aussie ya books

My favorite, favorite of Melina’s books is The Piper’s Son. My gosh – my heart just about broke while reading it, but I COULD NOT put it down. Tom had lots (LOTS) of issues and things going on, but seeing him deal with them was an incredible journey. I wanted to know his family and walk the streets with him. I wanted to listen to him croon his sweet tunes.

I must admit, the book that swept my Texas heart away to Australia was Jellicoe Road. It took a bit to adjust to all the characters and seeing how the stories interwove, but when I understood how everything pieced together — WOW. After reading this, I went on a frenzy and checked out everything available of Melina’s from my local library. (Aren’t you excited, Australia? My Austin, TX library loves you.)

 Saving Francesca is to be noted because a) not only is it also fab, but b) it was written before The Piper’s Son, which is a companion book. We meet Thomas in Saving Francesca, then really get to know him in The Piper’s Son.

There’s just not enough time in the day for me to keep up with all of your fabulousness, dear Aussies. You see, I’m a bit behind on Melina’s work. These are two that I own and have heard rave reviews about from Sasha. I swear I’ll get to them soon. Finnikin on the Rock and Froi of the Exiles are part of her Lumatere Chronicles series. YAY for a fantasy series!

melina marchetta's fantasy series young adult

A new-to-me author is Laura Buzo. It’s not even fair that you have produced so many amazing authors, Australia. You should really let the rest of us catch up.

OH MY GOODNESS am I so excited to have read Love & Other Perishable Items. I love, love, loved this book. It’s about a young 15 year old girl falling in love with a 21 year old guy. He’s older, obviously. She thinks he hung the moon. Buzo’s writing is intelligent, relatable, and all-consuming. My review is coming soon, but DANG did I feel nervous to write it — how could my review measure up to this incredible book?!

Not only are your books fantastic, but you’ve got some pretty amazing people living within your boundaries. My Aussie book friend Mandee at VeganYANerds gifted me Holier Than Thou by Laura Buzo. Mandee raved about Holier Than Thou in her review — ahhh was I so excited when this arrived in the mail. *happy dance* This one sounds like it is one of the new adult books bridging the gap between young adult and adult fiction. I’m thrilled to have more to read from Buzo — so anxious to start  reading this one:

I warned you, Australia, that this was going to be a love fest. You’ve given me so many books to swoon over. In fact, you’re simply breaking my bank. I feel like a kid in a candy store when I hear about books that are releasing there. Can we strike a deal? How about you release more of your amazing work in the United States? That would make this girl’s heart oh-so-happy.

I haven’t read anything by the following authors yet. That’s all going to change soon since Mandee gifted me with I’ll Tell You Mine and I decided it was a-okay to purchase Raw Blue and Graffiti Moon for my birthday-gift-to-self. I’m linking up a few reviews of each of these books below so you can read about their awesomeness.

books written by australian authors

Reviews for I’ll Tell You Mine:

  • Mandee says, “Pip has created some interesting and genuine characters that any lover of realistic YA fiction will want to get to know.”
  • Cuddlebuggery says, “If you’re a fan of Aussie nov­els, Melina Mar­che­tta, heart-warming tales or good times, then I highly sug­gest you give this one a go.”

Reviews for Raw Blue:

  • April says, “Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar is very much a quiet, character driven novel…”
  • Ginger says, “It’s the raw, vulnerable words that have stirred something inside me.”
  • Jen says, “There’s really not many words that can express the beauty of this story.”

Reviews for Graffiti Moon:

  • Anna says, “For a gorgeous, romantic book that will make your heart soar, check it out.”
  • Sasha says, “All of the scenes – from the party to the school – felt so right.”
  • Alexa says, “This novel was brilliant, funny and heart-warming.”

Dearest Australia — I thank you on behalf of all readers that love and appreciate the incredible work of your authors. I hope a few more people will be convinced to hunt down some of these books (check your local libraries, folks – they may surprise you!). Every reader needs to have read a good Aussie book!

Most sincerely,

Don’t forget to swing by Alexa Loves Books and Novel Sounds for more Travel Tales posts! Also — Alexa is doing a giveaway! Go enter…