book review of Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb • Magan Reviews

book review of Kissing in America by Margo RabbKISSING IN AMERICA by Margo Rabb [web | tweet]
Published by Harper Teen on May 26, 2015
Pages: 400
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: first love, parental loss, airplane crash, detached mothers

Summary: Not many things have gone right for Eva, but when she meets Will and they connect over personal losses they’ve both suffered through, she feels like she’s finally piecing herself back together again. Until Will has to move across the country and she’s not sure how or when she’ll ever see him again.

• • •

Kissing in America was my in-flight book of choice a few weeks ago. Usually I do a little bit of reading about the book before I jump right in, but I’d momentarily forgotten to download my review books to my kindle so I quickly did that moments before I was told to temporarily turn off my devices. I hadn’t even read the summary when I began, and I’m pretty sure that made reading this book even more special – I had no expectations.

Eva is a pretty typical teenager — she struggles with fitting in, is angered by how detached her mom can be one moment and how suffocating she feels the next, and has one solid best friend, Annie. But there’s something that sets Eva apart, too. Her father died two years ago in an airplane crash. The piqued curiosity she received when telling people about his death infuriated her so much she began to tell people he died peacefully in his sleep from a heart attack. (Meanwhile her mother never, ever mentions him and discarded any trace of him weeks after he died.)

When she begins tutoring Will by proofing his college essays and English papers, they connect over their personal tragedies. His younger brother died as an infant and his mother has never recovered from the loss. As Eva’s adoration for Will grows, she can’t lie to him anymore about her dad’s death. She spills the truth to him and this bonds them even more; she loves that she can be honest about all of these pieces of her no one except Annie knows: how she secretly reads messages in a forum for the surviving family members of the airplane crash or how she hoarded some of her dad’s belongings before her mother could toss them out. Their love for reading and poetry, their losses, and their easy banter bind Will and Eva together over the course of the school year.

Just when things have hit their stride, Will’s forced to move to California. How will these two ever reunite (especially considering she could never fly there)? Kissing in America is a strong tale about first love, healing, heartbreak, parental struggles, not always seeing eye-to-eye, and best friendship stress when you suck at life and let someone down. Eva and Annie find a way to road trip to CA by entering in a game show competition to find the Smartest Girl in America. Annie is a brilliant girl destined for MIT, but she’s overwhelmed by the cost of it and knows her parents couldn’t afford it. This could be her ticket to her dreams.

With much hesitation and a few embarrassing rules in place, Annie and Eva are allowed to road trip from New York to Los Angeles. This was by far my favorite aspect of the book. They meet a crazy bus thief, a few Texas cowboys (who were severely over-exaggerated, but still so fun), and get some solid advice from Eva’s mom’s best friend Lulu. There were moments of such extreme realness in Kissing in America that made me feel like an eavesdropper/stalker along for the bus trip.

The remainder of Kissing in America needs to be experienced by you and I should stop babbling on. (But believe me I could chat forever about this one.) It made me giggle, brought tears to my eyes, made me think about the type of mother I hope to be, and even frightened me a little bit as the details of her father’s plane crash were revealed. It’s one of those books that gives you a whole lot of story in the best and simplest of ways, with characters you love, and a great sadness when it’s all over.

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

Estelle: Your Perfect Life by L. Fenton & L. Steinke

Your Perfect LifeYour Perfect Life by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: June 10, 2014
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Pages: 304
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: magic, regret, friendship, Hollywood, Freaky Friday, motherhood, marriage
Format: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: Casey and Rachel have been best friends since they were kids, and they remain so even if their lives have taken different directions and they don’t see each other as much as they would like. On the evening of their 20th high school reunion, their lives are utterly shaken up when they wake up in each other’s lives — not sure how to get the hell out. Casey must learn to take care of Rachel’s kids and take part in a detached marriage, and Rachel is suddenly hosting an entertainment TV show and on her own for the first time in forever. How will they get their lives back? Do they even want to?

Two best friends writing a book about best friends?

Your Perfect Life could not be anymore fitting for Rather Be Reading.

Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke give best friends Rachel and Casey the Freaky Friday treatment. During a tense moment at their 20-year high school reunion,  their generous bartender treats them to a special shot to calm their nerves. The next thing they know they are waking up in each other’s homes, and in each other’s bodies.

It’s kind of creepy when you think about it. Rachel and Casey know each other as well as two people can know each other but now they know EVEN MORE. Suddenly, Casey is juggling three kids, a husband, and a household. Rachel, on the other hand, is co-hosting a popular entertainment TV show, has her own personal assistant, and QUIET in her gorgeous apartment. Things go from weird to crazy to okay, I’m kind of getting this, as the book goes on. The ladies check in and help each other out (while trying to figure out how to change back) but when it comes down to the other discoveries, neither of them want to confront their own truths.

I’ll be honest. It made me a little sad. I know it’s impossible to share everything with your best friend. But it had to be painful for Rachel to discover a love connection that Casey never told her about, and for Casey to see that Rachel’s marriage is not as picture perfect as it had always looked. Not to mention, the crazy pressures of Casey’s job, and how Rachel is treated by her children. The two are forced to face some major reality for each other and for themselves, as they assimilate to these new lives. When I thought they were grasping what the swap was supposed to accomplish, it would be two steps forward, two steps back.

Anxiety! Craziness! But also lots of laughs and heartfelt moments, too.

Despite the compact size of the book, Your Perfect Life touches upon how quickly the life plan you had for yourself can change, and also reminds you to take a full step back every once in awhile to examine the full scope of the life you do have. Are you happy? What can you do to make things better? Sometimes it takes a little introspection and a push from a good friend to point you in the right direction. Even when you don’t want to be told anything at all. Marriage and motherhood over career, and a career that monopolizes every part of your life are very sensitive topics because they are so real. Casey and Rachel’s journeys highlight the importance of life balance, loyal friends, and staying true to yourself.

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book cover for 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen

Why in 5: 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen

book cover for 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen

17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen (twitter | website)
Publication Date: June 17, 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 352
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: best friendships, dating and kissing, depression
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Netgalley. (Thank you!)

Summary: With a ton of responsibility weighing on her shoulders because of a depressing family situation, Claire turns to her best friend Megan for support. When new-boy Luke enters the picture, he threatens to rip Megan and Claire’s friendship apart by forcing the girls to choose friendship or love.

Note: 17 First Kisses is full of complicated, messy relationships, mistakes, and heartbreak. With so many thoughts running through my mind after finishing, I decided I needed to break this down Estelle-style and do a “Why in 5” post.

1. The beauty of 17 First Kisses is that it’s focused on things that are so realistic and hones in on the complexity of relationships and life. Claire’s home life is less than desirable; her family went through a situation that was new to me in the YA world. It’s left her mother severely can’t-get-out-of-bed depressed and her father has also checked out and disengaged. Claire becomes the glue that holds everything together, but ultimately this means she’s the third parent in her family. That’s a lot of responsibility for her to carry.

2. Without the support of her best friend, Megan, Claire would be treading through her difficult home life all alone. Megan is the person Claire turns to when she needs someone to talk to. The friendships felt extremely authentic. (Even the supporting friendship between Megan and her childhood friend, Sam, who was a nice balance to the catty situations the girls sometimes wound up in. He was calm, steady, and level-headed throughout.) Megan and Claire both screw up. They’re both responsible for hurting one another. In terms of teenage decisions, I felt they were spot on — they’re sometimes too selfish and don’t think things through, but ultimately, I was pleased that their friendship always, always pulled them back together (even after the worst of situations). What two friends have never suffered from saying or doing something awful that hurt?

3. Speaking of hurt, let’s just cut right to the chase and talk about boy trouble. Luke enters the picture as someone new, charming, and automatically draws the attention of both Claire and Megan. His interests perfectly parallel Claire’s, but Megan is the striking, gorgeous, popular girl all the guys fawn over. Though the girls make a pact to stay away from him, he’s persuasive and… how could they stay away?

4. I admit that when I learned we were going to learn about all of Claire’s 17 kisses, it seemed like she’d done an awful lot of kissing. Allen, however, uses a great storytelling tactic and progressively pieces everything together with flashbacks to those middle school spin-the-bottle days. It just worked. Now, I’m not condoning that all of Claire’s kisses were worthwhile (ahem, the band members), but every flashback gives us the opportunity to learn more about Megan and Claire’s friendship, family life, and really gives us the full picture.

5. The ending wasn’t tied in a perfect bow. There’s room left for interpretation and growth and the more time I spend away from 17 First Kisses after finishing, I realize this is exactly what Claire needed. After all the drama and change that occurs throughout the course of the book, she needs some time to heal, become her own person, and not have everything figured out as she leaves for college.


Final thoughts: I’ve seen a few negative reviews for this book, but felt so intrigued by the story as I was reading it. Don’t be deterred by the sometimes messy friendship or the bad decisions the characters make. To me, they were realistic depictions of everyday life. Things aren’t always so perfect, and I was so glad to have felt differently than the reviews I read prior to beginning the book.

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Magan: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

since you've been gone positive review

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson (twitter | website)
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 448
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: best friendships, losing a friend, list of challenges
Format Read: ARC received from the author.

Summary: After the sudden disappearance of Emily’s best friend, Sloane, she receives a random list of things to do written by Sloane. Emily takes this as a sign and accepts the challenge to complete all of the items, as frightening as they are. Skinny dipping? Penelope? Yikes.

There’s absolutely zero doubt that Morgan Matson is one of my favorite authors. Without a second thought, I pre-order her books and add them to my Goodreads to-read list (likely without even reading the summary). Morgan creates these worlds in which I not only know and love the main character, but I can envision their entire world — their homes, their neighborhoods, their day-to-day routines. And that’s exactly how deeply I wish to know all of the main characters in the books I read.

Since You’ve Been Gone was no different than her other stellar books, Second Chance Summer and Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, providing exactly the escape from reality I was so wanting. There’s a girl, Emily, who is aching after the abrupt departure of her best friend, Sloane. There’s no explanation, no clues, and zero warning. Sloane disappears in the blink of an eye and her house is left vacant; her family just picked up and moved on. While it takes Emily a little while to come to grips with what’s happened, it jolts her when she receives a list in the mail from Sloane, something she would randomly send Emily. Except this time, instead of discarding it, Emily accepts it as a challenge and hopes that it will provide answers that will lead her to wherever Sloane has gone.

I love that Since You’ve Been Gone is essentially a road map of sorts; it provides an emotional journey that Emily must work through, a ton of growth she must face, and a lot of ground to travel as she tries to figure out how to step outside her comfort zone to complete Sloane’s list. And unexpectedly, it involves one go-getter guy she befriends without intentionally trying to, Frank Porter. As we begin the journey with Emily, we see that she’s a closed-off, introverted girl who has little faith in herself and has greatly depended upon Sloane. She’s lived inside Sloane’s shadow, following along and not speaking up though she might have had a differing opinion at times. Emily is only known to others in association with Sloane.

When Sloane disappears, Emily loses her own identity. She’s begun to identify herself so closely with Sloane that she’s uncertain of who she is anymore. It’s a scary and frightening thought, but yet it’s so incredibly beautiful that we can bond with someone so deeply that they’re such an intricate part of who we are. Emily begins to tackle the list and somehow, Frank Porter continues to bounce into her life. Frank has a girlfriend who is away for the summer and it seems he’s trying to pass the time just as Emily is. Helping her work through the list provides a much needed distraction for him from the chaos of his own personal life. They begin running together. They bicker over the other’s musical choices and begin making one another playlists to listen to on their runs. We begin to see Emily’s world expand just a little bit as she releases some of the pain of losing Sloane and begins to bond with an entirely new group of people.

Since You’ve Been Gone has all of the elements we love and adore about Morgan’s books — an emotional journey, a road-trip of sorts (though this one is a little more metaphorical), a really sweet boy, a good dose of parental guidance (in the form of two playwrights on a mission to write their next big production), and a lovely town with wandering streets perfect for running, a quaint (and often quiet) ice cream shop, and a beach (that may or may not be the place where a few special events occur).

– – –

In the vein of Sloane’s list to Emily, I was inspired to write one for Estelle. Sloane’s list includes several things that take Emily out of her comfort zone. Things that make her a little uncomfortable, but are meant to challenge her in positive ways. Here’s my shot at doing the same for my BFF.

  1. High-five a stranger on the busy streets of New York City.
  2. Choose a random table in a restaurant and buy their lunch.
  3. Write a letter to a friend who has wronged you for closure.
  4. Apply to five new jobs, even if you’re not sure you’re qualified.
  5. Begin a solo flash-mob song and dance to your husband James in the middle of Times Square.
  6. Invite someone you just met to attend a Broadway show with you.
  7. Bake a pie for one of your neighbors.
  8. For your next vacation, close your eyes and blindly choose the location on a map.
  9. Go on a date and wear your fanciest outfit.
  10. Reconnect with someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time.

– – –

Friends, I sincerely hope you read Morgan Matson’s Since You’ve Been Gone soon. SOON. You won’t wont to miss out on seeing Emily blossom and Frank keeping her in check. (Or Frank’s sincere passion for the Beatles.)

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Harlequin Teen Double Feature: Two Reviews

Another Little Piece of My HeartAnother Little Piece of My Heart by Tracey Martin ( web | tweet )
Published 12/1/2013 from Harlequin Teen
Pages: 304
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: music, summer after high school, breakups
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Despite the strength of her feelings for budding musician Jared, Claire decides to break up with him to make things less stressful for her dying mom. She’s totally devastated but thinks it is the right thing to do. Devastation turns to anger when a song based on their breakup skyrockets Jared to stardom. And what are the chances that on a family summer trip to New Hampshire she bumps smack dab into Jared and a million feelings come rushing back? Pretty good.

I stayed up until 3 a.m. finishing this book.

I think that sentence says it all but here are a few more details about this reading experience. It sounded a bit like Audrey Wait, but unlike Robin Benway’s super funny book, the main character Claire is a musician herself and music is something that her and ex-boyfriend/current rock star always had in common. So not only does she lose Jared when she breaks up with him because her parents never seem to accept him and she’s done dealing with their constant jabs, but when the money for her college is suddenly all gone, Claire doesn’t have much to look forward to when she graduates and Jared seems to be getting everything.

I didn’t love that Claire broke up with Jared because of what her parents wanted, but teenagers make those kind of mistakes so I get it. In the aftermath of her mother’s death, her dad’s poor financial choices, and not letting anyone find out she is the girl in Jared’s song, she takes life into her own hands during a summer vacation to New Hampshire. She gets a job in a grocery store even though her father thinks its beneath her, and she starts to set plans in motion for making her own music dreams come true.

Of course, of course, of course, Jared ends up being in New Hampshire too and with her cousin totally into him, she cannot seem to get him out of her head and out of her sight. The tension here is great because Jared and Claire barely speak to each other but every now and then there’s a little moment where the air was buzzing and I just wanted them to make out already and talk about what happened.

Martin really develops Claire and her background well, and I love how we get bits and pieces of Jared and Claire’s relationship. I wanted them so badly to work it out because their time together was so ultra functional (what?! in a YA?) and they just always had a blast together. My one complaint was the ending: it wrapped up way too fast and all that tension fizzled so quickly. But I still had such a fun time reading it; my exhaustion the next day was completely worth it!

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Anything to Have You by Paige HarbisonAnything to Have You by Paige Harbison ( web | tweet)
Published January 28, 2014 by Harlequin Teen
Pages: 304
Target audience: Young adult (FYI: drugs, alcohol, and sex)
Keywords: friendship, high school senior year
Format read: ARC provided by Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary:  Best friends Natalie and Brooke couldn’t be more different. While Natalie would rather watch movies and cook on a Friday night, Brooke loves to be the center attention at every party. Things change for both of of them after Brooke drags Natalie to a party and old feelings resurface and life as they know it will never be the same again.

Opposites totally attract, and I could see why Natalie and Brooke were such close friends. Brooke’s enthusiasm for everything was super addictive, and Natalie’s thoughtful nature helped to keep her friend grounded. But one party starts to unravel this friendship when Natalie wakes up near Brooke’s long-time boyfriend, Aiden, and she has absolutely no idea what happened between the two of them. Silence and many unanswered questions slowly crack the foundation of Natalie and Brooke’s relationship and the consequences are bigger than either of them thought.

It’s super intense, especially when Natalie starts to remember how she was into Aiden first. She feels totally helpless when it comes to her feelings and has no idea who to turn to.

Harbison utilizes dual POV and I gave a little scream when the book went from Natalie’s story to Brooke’s. I really liked Natalie! Unfortunately, Brooke’s portions of the book were not as well-developed as Natalie’s and I could not hear her as a unique voice. So many of the scenes we had already read are flipped to Brooke’s experiences in them and I’m not entirely sure that was always necessary. It was also very difficult to empathize with a character who would not take responsibility for her own actions, and I did not agree one bit with the blame she placed on others. (I most definitely didn’t agree with those characters accepting this responsibility either.)

Anything to Have You was super fast-paced and I was able to read the whole thing in a few hours. I wish there has been more of a spotlight on certain scenes (especially toward the end) and less of a neat ending. It didn’t justify all the action we had experienced in the book. Plus, the title. I’m still not understanding what it has to do with the book or the friendship between these girls. I wouldn’t have minded a longer novel with a bit more fleshing out because Harbison’s dialogue is so refreshing and spot-on and the intricacies of female friendships are so discussion worthy.

Despite the weaker points, I’m glad I tired out Harbison’s work; I’m ready to dive into her backlist!

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Estelle: Dead Girls Don’t Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf

Dead Girls Don't Lie by Jennifer Shaw WolfDead Girls Don’t Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf ( website | twitter )
Publication Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Pages: 352
Target audience:  Young adult / thriller
Keywords: murder investigation, friendship, gangs
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)
Other books reviewed by Jennifer Shaw Wolf: Breaking Beautiful

Summary: After not speaking for six months, Jaycee is shocked to see a foreboding text from her ex-best friend, Rachel, on her phone. In the company of a new boy, Jaycee decides to ignore the texts. The next morning Jaycee gets the terrible news that Rachel is dead. Could she have stopped it from happening?

You know that feeling when you are reading a book and you keep giving yourself a cut off to go to sleep but then you just keep flipping the pages and it’s suddenly past midnight?

This is exactly what happened while I was reading Dead Girls Don’t Lie.

Rachel and Jaycee were inseparable friends growing up (they even did a blood oath) but scary circumstances shake up their friendship and nothing is the same after that. When Jaycee surprisingly receives text messages from Rachel, she opts to ignore them and spend time with Skyler instead. A few hours later, Jaycee’s dad delivers the bad news: Rachel has been killed. Obvious guilt plagues Jaycee. She’s always the good girl, always the rule follower, and the one night, the one night, she decides not to do the right thing, her friend dies.

Jaycee has a lot going on. Not only is she mourning her friendship (again), combating pressure from her overprotective dad to be squeakly clean, and feeling out her first relationship, but she feels obligated to find out why Rachel was killed and who did it. This is the second time their small town has been hit with such a horrendous crime, and most are quick to blame it on gangs and Mexican migrant workers. But that last text, in addition to a dreaded secret the two share, Jaycee is just not so sure what to think anymore.

She was not the only one. Wolf has created such an intriciate story, peppering the plot with quite a few characters who could be to blame for Rachel’s death. I had no idea how all the loose ends would tie up, how Jaycee would come to her final conclusions, and, most importantly, who she would choose to trust. Law enforcement? Her father? Skyler? Though the writing could be a little choppy and I wasn’t in love with Jaycee’s “friends”, I was definitely hooked to the max once the pacing picked up a few chapters in.

I was a huge fan of Wolf’s debut Breaking Beautiful last year, and I read a review last week that wondered how readers who experienced both would compare the two. While my emotional connection to the characters in Breaking Beautiful was definitely stronger (maybe because it had an emphasis on romance), Wolf proves she can create just as riveting a story when the focus is on friendship and the intricacies of a small town. As far as YA thrillers go, I’m still partial to Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas, which was more well-rounded from all aspects, but Dead Girls Don’t Lie certainly threw me for many scary scary loops.

Wolf is definitely an author who keeps me coming back for more.

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