Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook • Magan Reviews

Book Review of Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook

Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook [twitter • website]
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.

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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.

No Place to Fall by Jaye Robin Brown | Magan Reviews

No Place to Fall by Jaye Robin Brown

No Place to Fall by Jaye Robin Brown (website | twitter)
Publication Date: December 9, 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 368
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: growing up in a small town, auditioning for an art school, family drama
Format Read: ARC received from the Publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: Amber’s dreams are bigger than her small town; as she slowly lets go of her fear of singing in front of people, she decides auditioning for an arts school might be the answer to getting her away from her cheating father, drug-dealing brother-in-law, and help her move on.

Small-town truths:

>> Everybody knows everybody.
>> When you do something out-of-character your parents will be told before you can figure out how to bring it up.
>> It can be frowned upon when you so desperately want to escape.
>> Life can feel stifling when you have big dreams, but feel you don’t have the means to achieve them.

Amber Vaughn knows this better than anyone. She wants to escape her small town to pursue a musical career; she is afraid of ending up like her big sister, Whitney, who met the wrong, wrapped-up-in-drugs guy, Sammy, got pregnant, and seems to be backpedaling. Amber’s friends encourage her to apply to an arts school in a bigger city a few hours away. She’s fueled by the desire to escape.

She’s got so much to leave behind, that as I reader, I often felt the heavy weight of her burdens. Her best friend, Devon, is the brother of the guy she watches and observes from afar, Will. When she spontaneously decides to hook up with Will, she doesn’t know how to tell Devon what happened and be around Will, who has taken on the role of helping her prepare for her auditions. Amber’s mother is the kindest, nicest Christian woman who always tries to have a positive outlook. But she’s lost all self-confidence and because she’s too busy taking care of her children and grandson, she cares little for her appearance and is blinded to the affair(s) her husband has on the side.

Brown did a fantastic job of including several tough-subject discussion points (cheating, church, having a gay best friend, drugs, teenage pregnancy, and sex) without trying to persuade the reader to feel or believe something. She wrote in such a way that the reader will gain a 360-degree view of what was happening in Amber’s life, the struggles she faces, and will be able to walk away from No Place to Fall with all of these thoughts and ideas floating through their minds about how they feel. For a topic-heavy book, there’s no preaching or criticism to dissuade a reader.

Amber is such an endearing, flawed character that’s always trying to do the right thing, but often gets caught up in circumstances beyond her control. As I believe most of us can relate to, she finds herself thinking, “How did I get here?” Trying to get from Point A to Point B always seems so direct, but Amber’s story proves that sometimes life has other plans in store for us that involves a zigzagging, bumpy road.

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Book Report: Nowhere but Home by Liza Palmer

As promised, friends, we’re trying to continue reading books together so we can chat about them for more Book Reports! As you’ll read below, we were highly, highly encouraged to read Nowhere But Home by some of our very favorite people. See if we agree with them about this adult fiction book!

book cover of Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer

Nowhere but Home by Liza Palmer (website | twitter)
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Pages: 384
Target Audience: Adult Fiction
Keywords: small town Texas, head chef, long lost love, parental legacies
Format Read: We both purchased paperback copies.

Summary: After leaving behind her small-town roots in pursuit of bigger and better things, Queenie is forced to return home to Texas after being let go of her latest head chef job in New York City. She’s forced to face the legacy her mother left behind as well as her long-lost love, Everett.

Just in case you need a reminder of who we are, here ya go:

 Magan

 Estelle

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It’s impossible to start this joint chat about Nowhere But Home without mentioning the biggest book pusher I know. Cassie from Books with Cass successfully threatened… err… convinced us to buy Liza’s book and I am so so very glad that she did.

Yes! Same here. After seeing her enthusiasm (as well as Hannah from So Obsessed With and Asheley’s from Into the Hall of Books), how could we NOT read it?

We certainly didn’t want her (or any of those fabulous girls) to disown us.

 

Hahaha!

 

Okay, let’s start from the top. Queenie just lost her job in New York City, and after being everywhere and never finding her place, she sort of decides to make a trip home. She hasn’t seen her sister or her nephew forever, so she makes herself believe she is going on a temporary trip to visit.

Yes. Queenie, in the beginning, is a little bit abrasive and rough around the edges. I think all of her traveling must have been so isolating. She’s never really connected with anyone or made any friends. Do you feel the same?

So true. I think she was so focused on getting out of her small town with her two suitcases… she didn’t have time to make any roots.

Yes, for sure. I could relate to her need to flee her small town so, so much. In fact, Dustyn and I were back in the town I grew up in on Monday and I felt so overwhelmed by the people who approached me saying “it had been so long.” I mean, for one person, I hadn’t seen her since my high school graduation 10 years ago! I CANNOT imagine moving back there and I applaud Queenie for sucking it up and returning even though it was the last thing she wanted to do.

How much did you love her sister, Merry, though? Going back to her town in Texas was like turning on Steel Magnolias for me, and hanging out with the gossip queens at the hair salon. I could see why some of it could be draining (small town, so much gossip) but others were so so welcoming.

Merry was so fantastic. I really just wanted to sit down with her for a cup of coffee and listen to her talk about how she fell in love with the football coach.

My gosh, yes. Merry’s relationship with her son Cal (Queenie’s nephew) was seriously precious too. Cal was such a winner in my book. I love the high school football star but he was so polite and just such a family team player. I think he was a great bridge between Merry and Queenie.

And has such a great understanding of all that was going on, despite the entire town’s refusal to be honest and admit a lot of truths. I loved how everyone really knew what was happening with everyone, but how naive Queenie was about most situations.

Speaking of naive…let’s talk a little bit about Everett?

 

Oh, yes. Hopping right into the good stuff! You know for as much as Queenie’s internal struggle was with him, I was quite surprised by how little he really appeared in the book overall.

That’s an amazing point. I think Palmer did a great job of like establishing this romantic conflict (even so far as rich vs. wrong side of the tracks relationship) but didn’t allow it to take over the book. This was so much more about Queenie coming to terms with her past, being able to live with nosey people thinking they knew her family’s business, and just finding a way to be happy. (Even if it wasn’t the way she thought she would find it.) Still the chemistry between Everett and Queenie (who were like secret childhood sweethearts) was very very real.

Definitely. I loved that Queenie explored her options and sort of found herself through (very) uncommon activities, such as working as the chef who made last meals for prisoners on death row. I love that she gave herself time to be separated from Everett despite them being in the same town again. I admired that she didn’t immediately gravitate toward what she knew.

Yes, she gave herself some room to breathe. What did you think about the prison work? It was so so so intense for me.

Yeah, I really have to admit that this was one of the least expected surprises for me. I just never really would have guessed that element would have been added to the story. I think it provided a really huge dose of reality, but also was really hard for me to read through at times. Especially when the Starburst were involved and Queenie was trying really hard not to figure out who she was cooking for.

It was a great way for us to really see her too.
Her tough facade started to crack… and how could it not?

Oh, definitely. And I loved how she was really realistic about how ironic it was that she was finding herself (or her groove) in a kitchen that was making meals for people who were about to die.

Unexpected things happen in unexpected places? haha. Especially in the hometown you never think you are going to return to?

Oh, for sure. Do you think if you had to return to your home town, you would have to face as many hurdles as Queenie did? Would it feel like such an obstacle for you?

I think even without this family “legacy” that has sort of ostracized them from the town … it would be difficult to go back. I think my hurdles would be more internal? Not so much caused by the people in the town? Does that make sense? It would be my own head. I can appreciate people finding their own happiness in the place they grew up but I do fear that sometimes those people don’t always take some chances.

Yes, that makes sense. I don’t intend for this to seem like I’m badmouthing my small town, but I would almost feel like I’d taken a step backward. Like I wasn’t following my dreams and “proving” myself like I said I would.

I think leaving is also about leaving for the right reasons? I’m not sure Queenie was in the right frame of mind when she left the first time.

In a sense, a lot of what Queenie felt was internalized. She did have drama with the cliquey group of women in her town, but I think what we began to see is that almost everyone had baggage. She was just so wrapped up in trying to distance herself from her mom’s “legacy” that she was blind to everyone else’s misgivings. And yes, for the wrong reasons skipped town.

Yes. So so true. I know you just finished How to Love and you loved it as much as I did… but after reading Nowhere But Home… I really felt like the books had similar themes.

Oh, yes. I can definitely see that. And what an interesting comparison. Queenie flees her small town because she needs to separate herself and Reena is stalemate and cannot move because of decisions she made — two women in very different circumstances, but yes, very similar themes.

And also just the opportunity to embrace second chances?

 

Yes! With both books, I really appreciated the opportunities both girls had to really get some answers and dig into their pasts.

Yay! I’m glad you felt the same way. Kind of related to that, how did you feel reading a grown up book? Do you think Nowhere But Home is a book YA readers could love?

I found Nowhere But Home to be really refreshing. I am such a YA reader 99% of the time, but it felt like a nice break from everything I’d been reading. And yes, I definitely think there could (and should be) some major cross-over between fans of both books.

I’m so glad you felt that way! I think the book had a great balance of some heavy moments but also really vibrant ones? The supporting characters are some of the best I’ve read in a really long time. You got a sense of everyone… it was like your own neighbor or something.

I definitely felt like there was such a complete story here. I suppose sometimes I get frustrated with YA because the focus can be so narrow and a lot seems to be missing, but that can be true of any book. It all depends on how far the author wants to develop the backstory and secondary characters. And setting.

So so true. Did anything not work for you in the book?

 

Gosh. Nothing really stands out as being out of place for me. What about for you?

 

Same. I really have no complaints. I was happy with all of it. I think that’s a ringing endorsement. Do you feel inspired to pick up more adult lit books? Or maybe something with a Southern setting? Or is that just us Northeast people? haha

Hahaha — well, maybe more adult books for sure. I think that while the small town setting was pretty accurate, it doesn’t entirely encompass where I live now. So maybe something in the future that sort of straddles the extremely southern without pushing the boundaries and making it seem like we ride horses to work. (Not that Nowhere But Home did.)

Oh gosh. I’m imagining me riding a horse to work + I am sensing danger. Much danger for a lot of innocent people.

Oh! I do want to mention that I read in the author’s notes that she did research on Smithville, TX for Nowhere But Home. That’s where my dad grew up!

That’s so awesome! Speaking of setting, I loved the author’s NYC beginning. She did such an accurate job with that subway description. I could picture the Dunkin Donuts she was talking about. I have to say so many times I read about NYC in books and it is just… obvious no research was done. Not even a little but so that made me really happy. A silly subway. haha

Yes! It really did seem like she put a lot of hard work into making the settings as authentic as possible. I applaud that. And also really think that adds so much to the story.

It shows that she really cares about her work, down the smallest details. Really nice to read a book like that. Are we ready for some final thoughts? Who would you recommend this book to?

I can see myself lending this book to my mom who is an avid reader (usually of books with sexy cowboys on the cover). Or just my really good girlfriends who randomly need a good read. Anyone really! What about you?

I actually just lent it to my mom this past weekend. I was like… stop everything you are reading and READ THIS ONE.

Hahah! YAY! You’ll have to tell me what she thinks when she reads it!

 

Let’s see if she actually listens to me… Big thanks to our fellow bloggers who put this book on our radar!

 

Yes. Big huge thanks! And yay to us for listening to our book pushers!

 

It’s a lesson to all of us: listen to the book pushers in your lives. (Or else?)

 

Words of wisdom and the perfect ending!

 

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So, friends — what are you waiting for? Pick up a copy of Nowhere But Home ASAP!

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Estelle: Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom

Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom By Brendan Halpin & Emily Franklin
Upcoming Release Date: February 28, 2012
Publisher: Walker Children’s
Pages: 272
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format: eBook ARC from NetGalley
Why I wanted to read it: Prom in the title says it all!
Summary: Tessa and Luke have been best friends their entire lives. When a little bird tells Luke their friendship might be more than just that, he realizes he is in love with Tessa and plans a big romantic gesture to ask her to their senior prom. However, when Tessa admits she is a lesbian, Luke’s world is turned upside down as he begins to question just how close the two of them were. When the news travels around their small town, Tessa and her family are not met with support and must find a way to deal with the aftermath of expressing one’s true self.

Unfortunately the world isn’t as accepting as we want it to be. And it sometimes happens when we are our bravest and our most vulnerable. Tessa Masterson experiences this first hand when she declines her best friend’s invitation to prom because she can’t take it anymore. She needs to tell the truth. She is a lesbian and was hoping to go to prom with a girl. A girl she was secretly seeing. This happens very early in the book, and from there it divides into two distinct stories: Tessa dealing with her unsupportive and ignorant peers, neighbors, and most surprising of all, the loss she feels when Luke can’t deal with the news. That’s the second part. Luke is mad. And upset. Since they were little kids, Tessa and Luke shared everything. He thought he knew her better than anyone and suddenly, this. Okay, sure she always had a love for Katharine Hepburn but he never thought she would throw him a curveball like this.

So here we have two characters reeling from one admission, an admission that affects the entire town. A town that stops buying groceries from Tessa’s mom and dad. A town that wants to cancel prom just because Tessa wants to bring her girlfriend as her date and wear a fashionable tux. It’s a lot to take in. And Tessa is a slow-paced novel. I took it slow. Not because I wanted to. I wondered if this was the intention of Halpin & Franklin because the crap that Tessa faced was unbearable. The authors do a great job of getting us in her head. Practically her entire town, the one that has watched her grow into the person she is now, is so quick to judge. It’s disgusting many times. She goes through many different phases of emotion once the truth is out. It’s a lot to deal with and every thought and event feel painfully authentic, but they are filled with a quiet dignity.

Luke, on the other hand, is dealing with being the kind of person who does not hang around and support the friend that has always had his back. He’s hurt and scared and confused and his ego has been damaged. No chick flick in the world has taught him how to deal with his current predicament, and it takes a majority of the novel for him to sort through his own reactions to Tessa’s coming out and his own beliefs about friendship and acceptance.

While the slow pacing wasn’t exactly my cup of tea (and the title is too long), I did enjoy getting to know these characters and their friendship so deeply, not only through the current drama surging through their lives but with little anecdotes about how Tessa and Luke first became friends and other memories pertaining to their unique connection. Any reader will feel for them and wish they had a similar friendship in their own lives. I also think those teenagers (or anyone really) dealing with the fear of coming out or expressing their true selves without knowing just how people will react will connect with Tessa’s story. There are many lessons buried within Tessa, and they are worth learning. Most importantly, we get that other side — Luke, the person who is dealing with his own reactions to this news, his anger, detachment, and his inability to be a good friend when his best friend needs him most. From every angle, Tessa provides an honest account of a tough situation.

Be sure to keep your eye out for Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom on February 28th — its release day!

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