Estelle: Paradise by Jill S. Alexander

Paradise by Jill S AlexanderParadise by Jill S. Alexander
Publication Date: July 5, 2011
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Pages: 256
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: country music, Texas, pressure from parents, siblings, romance
Format read: Borrowed from library.

Summary: The only think Paisley has ever wanted to do was be a drummer. Right now, she’s playing in a country band with friends and they hope to make waves at Texapalooza music fest. Luckily, they are able to find a new lead singer in time — the gorgeous and talented Paradise, but how long can she keep her dreams a secret from her parents?

I’m pretty much convinced that in some past life I was in love with a cowboy.

Because I find them so attractive. (Like, I may drool a little bit.) And I’m from New Jersey! There are no cowboys in Jersey, friends. (In case, you didn’t know.) And the only one I know if in New York is the Naked Cowboy and he just does not do it for me. But oh gosh, when they can sing. I’m a goner.

Paradise (real name: Gabriela) embodies the spirit of country music and every single reason why cowboys are such a prize.

He’s tough, he’s teasing, and this one plays a mean accordion. Yep, you heard me right. When Paradise shows up to try out for the band, the other members are not so sure it’s going to work out. But he has the voice and he brings a unique edge, and Paisley can’t keep her eyes off of him.

For Paisley, being into something (someone?) else is a surprise because her life is drumming. A passion she has to keep a secret from her parents because they would never approve of her acting so un-ladylike or hanging out with losers like Michael Waylon. Actually, it’s only Paisley’s mom that feels that way. Her dad is pretty laidback, but pretty much lets his wife call the shots. Not in an absent way either… he tries to maintain the peace and is probably a lot more intuitive than everyone gives him credit for.

Paisley’s mom is pretty controlling of her and her sister, Lacey. Both girls were given purity rings at a young age, and Lacey is being forced to try out for various song choirs even though all she wants to do is open a beauty salon. This parental pressure, this close-mindedness does come from a genuine place but it makes it tough for both girls to embrace who they really are. They are forced to lie and sneak around to be happy, and that’s starting to get very tough to continue.

So while Paisley’s attraction to Paradise does heat up many passages in the book, the biggest conflict in Paradise is these two sisters finding the strength to stand up for what they want without hurting anyone in the process. Paradise doesn’t only offer his warm embrace, but is a huge influence on Paisley as he encourages her to be “wide open” with her life and work hardest on what’s best for her.

Interlaced through the story are lyrics from Cal, a shy guitarist, and I liked this breakup between chapters because we got to learn about his character and also get an outsider’s view on some of the events that occur throughout the story. Lacey and Paisley also have a feisty and fresh relationship for sisters, and I enjoyed the scenes shared between the two.

But warning, warning! There is a curveball of an ending, like oh-gee did that really just happen? I don’t recall ever being that blindsided in a book, and after thinking about it pretty obsessively, I’m still unsure of the author’s choice. Had it been me, I would have ended things a little differently.

I wish I could tell you more, but instead, I’m going to urge you to pick this one up. It’s not every day that a young adult book features a book with such Southern roots (with some Latin flair)… it’s a fresh and different and, even though, the fears and conclusions Paisley must come to within her family unit and for herself are nothing ground-breaking, Alexander makes them approachable and as accurate as possible.

Also special bonus music time. Jason Aldean’s “Wide Open” is the perfect anthem for this story.

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Nailed It: Thankful for Family

With Thanksgiving Day so so close (we can’t believe it), we’ve decided to change things up once again for NAILED IT and focus on books with great family influences. Sometimes books in YA tend to go heavy on romance and friendships and forget that there are parents at home, but we have always noted to one another when a book HAS GOT IT ALL aka the craziness and awesomeness of family. Today we are sharing some more nail palettes (yay!) and titles that celebrate all the important parts of life.

Enjoy!

Estelle:

It’s been really hard for me to stop thinking about the Time Between Us series by Tamara Ireland Stone. It was one of those unexpected reading experiences for me this year, and I can’t wait to read it again. (How many books can you say that about?) Sure this book is rooted in romance, and how a relationship can survive when time travel complicates things but Stone does not forget how much family affects decisions, expectations, and just, life in general. Especially when you are a teenager.

In both books (Book 1 from Anna’s POV, and Book 2 from Bennett’s), concerned yet supportive families take centerstage. They might not necessarily know all the details of Anna and Bennett’s relationship but there’s a certain cause and effect when the families are involved too. I was really glad to see that layer in both of these books. So many times this is just glazed over in young adult fiction.

If you are on the prowl for a well-rounded story with present parents (who are as flawed as our main characters), be sure to check out these two books. For this month’s Nailed It, I decided to focus on the newer release: Time After Time.

Nailed It Time After Time by Tamara Ireland Stone

I am loving this palette. It reminds me of early Thanksgiving mornings. Right?

Bette | Nadia | Vera  ♥  Add Time After Time to Goodreads

Magan:

I’m in the final 6% of Ink is Thicker Than Water by Amy Spalding. My, oh my, how I love this family. The dynamics are really phenomenal — Kellie’s mom and dad are divorced, but they’re still both very present in her life. They’re two imperfect people that make mistakes, but that’s real life, right? Kellie’s stepfather is really incredible, too, as he balances his role of being her father the majority of the time, but knowing that he shouldn’t interfere and overstep his bounds.

I did some pretty major happy dances over Kellie’s relationship with her older sister, who was adopted. They’re each other’s go-to person, but things do get complicated when Sara turns 18 and her birthmother reaches out to her. Kellie doesn’t exactly understand why there’s distance between them, but she tries to be respectful at the same time. Really, though, I think everyone will fall in love with Kellie’s half-brother, Finn, this four-year-old ball of cuteness. And you’ll definitely love the way the older sisters accept responsibility for (and enjoy their time with) Finn.

Things definitely get a little bit sloppy as Kellie tries to find her place in the family and figure out who she is, but I love that Spalding so heavily focused on family. There’s also friendship and a love interest, but my  heart sang with glee when I realized how heavily Kellie was influenced by her family.

nail polish colors paired with ink is thicker than water book cover

I couldn’t find the perfect pop of pink to coordinate with her lipstick so I pulled the slight hint of blue from her scarf instead. I think the blue, white, and yellow translate to a bit more fall-ish than the pink would have anyway. Thoughts?

Millie | Nicolette | Catrina  ♥  Add Ink is Thicker Than Water to Goodreads

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Tell us, friends, what your favorite family-influenced books are.
Thanks for indulging in our nail polish obsession with another Nailed It!

Estelle: The Mourning Hours by Paula Treick DeBoard

The Mourning Hours by Paula Treick DeBoardThe Mourning Hours by Paula Treick DeBoard ( web | twitter )
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Pages: 336
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: disappearance, family dynamics, flashback, small towns
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: When Kirsten is 9 years old, her brother’s girlfriend disappears in a winter storm. Told in flashback, Kirsten relays the events leading up to the start of her brother Johnny’s relationship with Stacy and everything that happened after her disappearance from their cozy small town’s betrayal to her own guilt about never knowing the truth.

Talk about addicting. And also dangerous. I’m pretty sure I didn’t take many breaths at all during my reading of The Mourning Hours (just about a 24-hour period, to be precise).

Paula Treick DeBoard immediately opens The Mourning Hours with a ton of mystery. A young woman is returning home for the first time in a long time; she is nervous and fidgety and when she gets pulled over by a cop for speeding, she is hoping and praying he doesn’t recognize her last name. Before Kirsten reaches her final destination, we are transported many years back to her family’s farm and her 9-year old self.

This year was a complete turning point once her older brother/wrestling team star, Johnny, starts dating Stacy, a well-to-do girl from his high school. At first, Kirsten is totally enchanted by how gorgeous Stacy is, and how in love Johnny and Stacy seem. But, despite her age, Kirsten still sees how her mom is super concerned by how all encompassing their relationship is, how Johnny and Stacy have this electric and kind of scary chemistry when they fight, and Stacy’s tendency to show up everywhere.

When Stacy disappears during a snow storm one night, Johnny is the last person to have seen her and the only person of interest. Kirsten feels guilty because she had seen them fighting earlier but is assured by her aunt that telling the police about that won’t help. In the meantime, the cute little town turns on Johnny and the entire family and things start really falling apart all over the place.

It’s such an interesting choice to give a 9-year old the narrating baton. It’s smart because Kirsten was never going to know everything that was going on (no matter how nosey she was) and she was just too young to understand what was happening in her home. It’s truly heartbreaking to see this family put through the ringer by their own neighbors and each other. I found myself constantly questioning Johnny’s actions: was he innocent or did he really have something to do with Stacy’s disappearance?

THIS was why I had to finish The Mourning Hours as soon as possible. I needed answers. Would we ever know what happened to Stacy? Would we ever hear the full truth from Johnny? DeBoard sets up the Hammarstrom’s as such a solid family unit, and it is so tragic to see how this one event and lack of knowing just how to handle it really changes them. The fact that I couldn’t tell if the parents really believed in Johnny’s innocence also raised the stakes.

DeBoard’s writing is really well-done. She realistically maneuvers her way into the brain of a 9-year-old kid (who just wants her parents to realize all this mayhem is going to make her miss her spelling bee) during this tramatic life event and also does a nice (yet subtle) job of drawing parallels between nature and real life; the importance of the natural order of things on the farm directly relates to the spiraling that occurs after Stacy’s disappearance.

If you are looking for something a little bit different, The Mourning Hours is the way to go. rather be reading worth it icon

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Themed Gift Pack: Also Known As by Robin Benway

Happy Book Release Day to Robin Benway for Also Known As!

I reviewed this book a few weeks ago, and thought it was an absolute joy from the setting (New York City!) to the supporting characters (hilarious) and a sweet romance (yet kind of forbidden).

Maggie is a world-renowned safe cracker in a family of spies, part of a bigger group called The Collective. When their true identities are threatened to be compromised, Maggie must venture into high school for the first time and get the dirt on her classmate’s father, who is thought to be the culprit. Of course, Jesse Oliver is super cute and super nice to Maggie so not only does she have no idea how a normal 16-year old should act but she’s falling for the enemy! As you can see, there’s a lot of fun stuff going on in here.

It’s been awhile since Magan and I featured a themed gift pack… we started doing this around the holidays because we a) love shopping b) loved theme gifts c) liked thinking up gifts we would like to receive ourselves. I had so much fun with it that I was hoping to be inspired by a book this year to jump start the series again, and here I am!

Let’s go shopping!

Also Known As Themed Gift Pack

( 1 ) Key to my heart necklace from Fossil: Maggie is a pro at cracking locks, and while this one won’t leave her with much of a challege… it’s the perfect tribute to one of her top skills.

( 2 ) Starbucks card: This character is a huge caffeine addict + I love it! She’s constantly jonesing for nice cup of coffee, especially in the morning. This is just like me… and many of you I’m sure.

( 3) Another aspect I loved about AKA is how Maggie would poke fun of how spies are seen in pop culture. Tip: generally they stay out of the limelight so it someone looks like a spy… they probably aren’t. But just for fun here’s a cute fedora and oversized pair of sunglasses to pull off the look.

( 4 ) Anne Taintor journal: No joke… I’ve had this particular notepad for about 5 years now and the cover always cracks me up. Though Maggie is totally innocent, it seems like something she would say in jest: “She had not yet decided whether to use her power for good… or for evil.” (Plus family friend, Angelo, is always leaving Maggie little notes and drawings on paper.)

( 5 ) Also Known As: Can’t get any better than a copy of this book! It truly is a ton of fun with a solid amount of heart!

Be sure to stop by your local bookstore to seek out Robin’s book today! And if you haven’t already, check out my review!

Estelle: The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando

The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara AltebrandoThe Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando (website | twitter)
Publication Date: March 7, 2006
Publisher: MTV
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: loss of a family member, summer job, New Jersey setting
Format read: Paperback borrowed from library

Summary: After her mom passes away, Betsy challenges herself to get through the stages of grief in one summer. Her family is falling apart and a betrayal makes her suddenly single and best friendless, Betsy embarks on a summer job at a colonial village and begins to make new friends. At the same time, questioning her own self-worth, the memories of her mother, and her own passions.

In a multitude of books I’ve read so far this year, the death of a parent is a major plot point. A lot of the times the book is about the death of a mother (like The Survival Kit and You Have Seven Messages). It’s understandable. A daughter and her mother share an unparalleled connection — whether it’s good or bad. A mother is instrumental in the growth of her daughter, especially when she’s in her teenage years trying to figure out who she is and sort of rebelling against all she’s known. Mothers are supposed to be a constant and when they aren’t… there’s a tremendous amount of clashing emotions.

In Betsy’s case, her dad takes a backseat in the lives of his kids when his wife dies. They don’t talk about her, they feast on fast food; everyone is living in their own bubble, barely co-existing. Betsy is angry about that. She’s upset about it and yet she lacks the solution to this problem. How can she bridge this gap between her and her father? Her and her younger brother? Betsy also thinks she is “damaged goods”. Who could love her? Her boyfriend betrays her, so does her best friend (not in the way you think) and she has no mother. It’s the perfect summer to get a new job with new people and new responsibilities. She needs a fresh start in the worst way.

POH is meant to be taken very slowly. Altebrando’s writing is full of realistic, quotable quips and so much depth and emotion. I can’t pinpoint exactly why but the entire book had an old-school YA vibe while at the same time, felt rather adult. You could feel how Betsy was directionless, and I loved the inclusion of this colonial village she was working in. Every day she could escape to this simplier time, play someone who wasn’t herself (even though she wasn’t so good at it in the beginning), and discover things about herself without even realizing it.

Unlike a bunch of YA characters, Betsy wasn’t great at just one thing. In fact, her mother was always asking her about her passions. What was she passionate about? And Betsy just didn’t have a clue. But she wasn’t obsessively searching for it either. I liked Betsy’s cautiousness. I even liked when she messed up sometimes. She had flaws. She had secrets. She had judgements about people and learned to look past them. It was all about baby steps.

Don’t worry. There is a little romance. But what I love, absolutely love, is that it doesn’t appear because it has to, and it’s not an instant love or anything even close to it. Betsy’s affection for James is eased into, and has a bit of mystery to it. I can honestly say I didn’t know how to feel about him and I really liked that. It felt like I was experiencing the frustration and the sweetness along with her. (Plus this led to a Seaside Heights scene, setting of Jersey Shore — yuck — but where I spent many family vacations as a kid.)

Overall, I loved the characters in this novel. I loved the feel of the story, and the relationship dynamics (great sibling!). There are many layers to POH and it felt like each story received the attention it deserved. It always felt down-to-earth even when life turned into a bit of a drama fest for our main character. I so enjoyed her growth and getting to know her. I hope you do too.

P.S. I’m not normally a fan of Kristen Stewart but for some reason, I could not stop picturing Betsy as KS.

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Estelle: I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Publication Date: May 3, 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Pages: 392
Target Audience: Young adult
Keywords
: Young love, child neglect, family, music
Source: Hardcover borrowed from library

Summary
: The first day Sam sees Emily she is (badly) singing “I’ll Be There” in front of her church. The words stir something inside of Sam and both of them feel it. After Sam abruptly disappears, Emily can’t stop thinking about him and one night, they are brought together once again. Emily knows that he is thoughtful and a good listener, different than another of the boys she knew, but what she doesn’t know is that he doesn’t go to school, his father has abducted him and his brother, and the chances of him sticking around are not likely…

Every now and then I come across a book that reminds me of young adult books I read in grade school — not a ton of dialogue, filled with a bit of adventure, maybe a small love story. Even the writing style, full of clear, succinct sentences that move at a steady pace and mean a whole lot. With I’ll Be There I was reminded (once again) of Louis Sachar’s Holes and another all-time favorite, Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons. Both books deal with families, various trials, and almost come together with a fairy tale like quality.

Emily and Sam come from completely different worlds. Emily has a mom, dad, brother, and a dog. Sam has his brother, Riddle (who doesn’t talk much), a father (Clarence) who abducted them and steals to help himself survive. (Keyword: himself.) For as long as he can remember, Sam has been the one to take care of his brother, while both steer as clear from their father as possible. Sam and Riddle don’t go to school. Riddle draws in phone books and Sam tries to make some pocket change on the side so they can eat. It is absolutely heartbreaking how Clarence neglects his children. In fact, I’m shocked he didn’t leave them on the side of the road long ago.

You can see why Sam keeps his life a secret from Emily. He does a pretty good job of it too. He doesn’t answer a lot of questions, he meets her places, but her parents are concerned when they meet him and Riddle. They believe something isn’t right and when Clarence discovers the cell phone that the Bells give him… he knows they won’t be sticking around much longer.

The story certainly takes a turn from here. A slow and sweet romance between Sam and Emily, the affection the Bells have for Sam and Riddle, and the connection these boys finally have with someone come to a screeching halt and for the rest of the book, the reader is thrust into a suspenseful and frightening story. (I was so nervous I had to eat a snack on the way home to calm my nerves while reading.)

Sloan certainly nailed the feelings of a girl who has had her heart broken and hopes against all hope that Sam will come back to her. Even when she attempts to keep busy with Bobby — a self-righteous fella from her high school who is majorly crushing on her and will do just about anything to get her attention — and going about her life before Sam came into it. The change in her is so apparent. She feels entirely helpless and directionless, and loses her belief in love.

And as for the brothers… I have never read a pair quite like this. Sam has always been the caretaker and Riddle has a developmental disorder (that’s never been treated) yet they understand each other. They have each other’s backs in a way that all siblings should and it chokes me up just thinking about all they’ve been through and all the challenges they face for the remainder of the book. I was rooting for them the entire time.

One thing I loved about Sloan is how she presented a good amount of characters throughout the 400-page book and came back to every single one of them. There is not one storyline left unanswered. (One complaint though… all the descriptions talk about Emily’s awesome best friend when she is practically MIA for the whole book. She didn’t seem to fit into the super friend category at all.) It definitely showed how one moment can change a person, and affect a bunch of others without even meaning to. From the start to the very end, I felt incredibly invested in Emily, Riddle, and Sam and wanted them to find their own happiness, wanted good to triumph over evil.

Will they?

I hope you’ll take the time to dive into this moving novel and find out.

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