book cover of exile by kevin emerson

Magan: Exile by Kevin Emerson

book cover of exile by kevin emerson

Exile (Exile #1) by Kevin Emerson (twitter | website)
Publication Date: April 29, 2014
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Pages: 320
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: music promotion, bands, fame
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss (Thank you!)

Summary: After being burned by her ex-boyfriend once he was signed to a major record label (thanks to Summer’s skills/help/knowledge/hard work), she’s on the hunt for a new band and a new beginning. She doesn’t anticipate that this will lead her to Caleb, whom she falls for, or that they’ll be on the search to solve a big mystery.


Summer is a local band promoter. She’s got sneaky ways of figuring out how to get her bands into the hippest venues and is a social media connoisseur. In fact, she’s so good that the last band she was managing got signed to a major record label. Oh yeah…her boyfriend was in that band. And guess what happened when they got signed? He said sayanara to Summer and left her behind with the memories of his lies and deceptions. Aside from the heartbreak she’s suffering through, Summer is most frustrated that none of her heard work is paying off for her. Shouldn’t she get some sort of credit for all the gigs she got them and the fan base she helped develop?

But it’s time for Summer to move on.

She connects with Caleb, who has recently had a major falling out with his own band. Taking him on is risky. Why are the people he spend forever making music with suddenly so anti-Caleb? Despite the warning signs, Summer is intrigued and helps him find new band members. Between Summer’s band promotion and Caleb’s songwriting, these two (oh so stereotypically) begin to fall for each other…which is exactly what Summer didn’t want to happen. Again.

Caleb, however, also has some major music industry connections that could propel his new band forward. Summer’s torn between wanting to respect Caleb’s wishes and doing what could really jumpstart their career. He wants to earn his fame on his own merit.

Exile is a fun, quick read that pulled me in simply because I’m a music lover. I thoroughly enjoyed the inside peek into what it might be like to manage a band and how burned Summer felt when she was cast aside when possibility came knocking on her former band’s door. I loved that Summer had to learn that you can’t help who you fall in love with, even if you’re trying your damnedest to guard your heart. The goose-chase to finding out what Caleb’s big news was and seeing how he would deal with each tidbit of information was really great, and I hope that readers connect with his strong desire to work hard and earn what they’re hoping for. (He really didn’t want to be given any handouts.)

Maybe my biggest point of conflict was connecting with Summer. There are hints at this double-life she’s living — the music promoter versus the good-student who might go to law school to please her father. There’s a lot of depth that can be explored there and I wish it hadn’t felt like as much of a side story. Realistically, I think it would have caused more of a struggle for Summer as she tried to perfectly balance all the plates she was juggling.

Final thought: Exile is the first book in a series. I’m terrible at keeping up with series these days. There’s something pretty refreshing about reading a book from start to finish and not waiting for more. I wish that had been the case for Exile.

PS: If you want to listen to a few of the songs from Exile, check them out on Kevin Emerson’s website and listen here.

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Extra bonus: I created a playlist of some songs I’m loving this summer. Enjoy!


Magan: Wildflower by Alecia Whitaker

book cover of wildflower by alecia whitaker

Wildflower by Alecia Whitaker (twitter | website)
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Poppy
Pages: 320
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: strong sibling relationships, female country singer, singer-songwriter
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Discovered in a small honky-tonk bar on the evening her father cannot lead their family band, Bird is quickly pulled into the singer/songwriter world. Her brothers, Dylan and Jacob, work through feelings of jealousy and abandonment, while her parents try to keep Bird grounded and safe. Bird works through all her feelings as she jots down ideas for songs about the boy, Adam, she’s been pining for over many miles on the road with the Barrett Family Band.

In the midst of a family crisis, Bird’s family manages to survive by clinging to music; they each choose an instrument, and eventually the Barrett Family Band is formed because they become so passionate about playing. They ditch the traditional brick and mortar lifestyle and travel around the country living in an RV — mom, dad, Jacob, Dylan, and Bird. In addition to the covers they play, Bird is a writer and occasionally they incorporate her songs into their set list. One fateful evening, Bird’s dad, Judd, is too ill to sing and lead the band so he asks Bird to step up and do so. Despite her initial nerves, she delivers a brilliant performance that attracts the attention of a big-name label, thus beginning the whirlwind experience of being signed and finding peace after feeling she’s abandoned her family band.

Bird is a typical sixteen-year-old-girl with a unique name and affinity for playing the fiddle. She’s close to her parents and siblings thanks to living in such close proximity to them in the RV; they’re her supporters and best friends. But that doesn’t mean they easily accept the big things that start to happen for Bird and they feel like their lives are set aside. And that doesn’t mean that when she starts to feel like she’s got a career she’s always accepting of the decisions her parents make on her behalf (because she feels she should be given some say-so). It does mean, however, that she’s got a pretty serious crush on a boy, Adam, who is a solo act they frequently see on the road (and oh, one of her brother’s best friends).

That she just so happens to have written a song about.

Bird is linked to a big songwriter, Shannon, who helps her learn how to better craft her songs into hits; Shannon’s daughter, Stella, quickly becomes one of Bird’s closest friends and was one of my favorite aspects of Wildflower. While Bird’s home life seemed very strong, I enjoyed the development of these friendships that were separate of her family. They demonstrated how Bird was a bright girl with a blossoming career, but showed how she was a young girl who needed her best friend’s help responding back to text messages from Adam or someone to complain to when her new career became overwhelming. (Because God forbid she complain at home and her family think she didn’t want the success or opportunity.)

Whitaker nailed the flow and pacing. My only complaint: I just wanted more. (Estelle even helped me search for news about a follow-up book.) The ending felt a little abrupt; there were a few situations with her record label and Adam that I felt were left hanging in limbo. Bird seemed to be working through a lot of emotions and trying to find her footing right before the book ended. Open-ended stories don’t bother me, but Bird seemed almost able to grasp where her career could take her and I wanted to experience that with her, as well as a bit of resolution. Wildflower cured my Nashville hangover (I’m addicted to the show — anyone else?) with every Bluebird, record label, honky-tonk reference. I flew through the pages and thoroughly enjoyed every bit of Bird’s whirlwind rise to fame.

But my one request: Alecia, I need more!



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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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Estelle: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila SalesThis Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 9/17/2013
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: bullying, music, high school, suicide, being a loner, self-discovery
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)

Summary:  Elise can’t win. After years and years of trying to fit in at school, her final attempt to make it happen totally fails. A need for attention, a scary decision, and seven months later, Elise has her parents watching her every move and school isn’t any better. In fact, it’s kind of getting worse. When a late night walk leads her to an underground dance club, Elise feels like she might be on the cusp of a whole new her.

Honestly, I have no idea why Elise was ostracized by the kids in her school, year after year. It makes me alternately angry and sympathetic that this girl could not do a thing to get accepted. That could tear anyone down. The pressure to excel in school and THEN the added responsibility to crack the code on fitting in? It’s emotionally exhausting to think about, and only someone like Elise, so smart and focused, would keep trying.

Her final attempt to win people’s attention is surprising. Why? The tone is utterly nonchalant and Elise shows such ownership over her decision. These are her feelings and no one can tell her she is wrong. And also because this event (which we learn more about as the book goes on) leads her to the something that changes the course of her life. In absolutely great and painful ways. That something is START, an underground dance club that Elise stumbles upon during one of her late night walks.

I think my experience with This Song Will Save Your Life is a lot like Elise’s nights at START. The more she went, the more excited and enthralled she became and the more I read, the more I did not want to let this book out of my sight. Vicky and Pippa were her first true friend prospects; Char was hot and knew so much about music as the DJ. The dancing! The electricity! And how Elise felt when she took a turn in the DJ booth? I was there with her. Totally exhilarated and powerful. Ready for anything.

Like Elise, I’m totally a project person. I love to keep busy and learn new things. I don’t think I’ve ever reached the kind of success Elise has in so many things so it’s not surprising when she convinces her dad to get her some DJ equipment and this becomes her thing. She’s always been a music fanatic but this brings her passion to a whole new level. It also means more time with Vicky, more private time with Char, and crazy opportunities she never thought she would have. Is it possible for the girl who sits basically alone at a lunch table to command a dance floor at a club?

Hell yes.

While I loved all the musical aspects of This Song, I related so much more to the search for identity and feeling of contentment when it comes to accepting ourselves. Or the fact that people aren’t always who you think they are, or want them to be. See. I suffer from high expectations from the human race, and this has gotten me in trouble many many times. But I still hope for the best. Sales presents all sides here so effectively: the side where people believe they know you and trample all over you, the part where you think you know someone and they totally disappoint you, and best of all, surprising everyone and blasting their preconceived notions.

Elise does a lot of growing up in this book. Even when she moves forward, she still messes up. Learning to like yourself and accept your lot in life is a task we have to commit to every day. There is always someone who isn’t going to like our decisions, or agree with us, or like us for whatever reason. It’s so difficult to look past all of that and just do your thing. But I loved tagging along on Elise’s journey.

Leila Sales has delivered a book I would declare “pretty much perfect.” It’s absolutely complex and there’s a lot happening but she balances the plotlines so well, and also gives us shining supporting characters and amazing family dynamics too. She managed to bring such an upbeat and refreshing tone to a book that contains such hardship. I am in total awe.

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Estelle: Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith

Wild Awake by Hilary T. SmithWild Awake by Hilary T. Smith ( twitter | web )
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins)
Pages: 400
Target audience: Mature young adult (drug use, murder)
Keywords: music, family, siblings, summer, family secrets
Format read: Paperback borrowed from Jamie at Perpetual Page Turner.

Summary: Kiri is ready to make this a summer to remember with the house all to herself while her parents are on a long summer vacation. She knows she has to keep up with her piano lessons in preparation for the big symposium, but she’ll also be rocking out with her best friend aka the guy of her dreams, Lukas, in their band in hopes of winning Battle of the Bands. A call from a stranger changes the course of her summer, when she finds herself heading into a seedy part of town to pick up the possessions of her dead older sister years and years after she died in an accident. And suddenly the summer changes…

In her debut, Hilary T. Smith weaves electrifying visuals with a raw (and fresh) writing style, as our main character discovers that life as she knows it is a complete mystery.

Kiri is a genius pianist with a golden future ahead of her. She also plays the synthesizer in her best friend, Lukas’ band. She’s a sister (to a brother named Denny and her deceased older sister, Sukey). She smokes pot. She loves to ride her bike. And the straight path she thinks she is on — the one that includes taming her eyebrows, wooing Lukas, and keeping up with her piano lessons — is suddenly busted wide open when she receives a call from a stranger who claims he has the last of her sister’s stuff and it’s her last chance to come around and pick it up.

This is when Kiri’s surroundings become like a ticking time bomb, or some kind of twisted version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Telltale Heart… except the ticking and the constant beating that her family has been trying to ignore and bury deep into the earth is: truth. What really happened to Sukey? Why wasn’t Kiri in the loop? Why does no one talk about her now? What is going on with her family? What is going on with her?

In the midst of these tragic and emotional discoveries, peppered with memories of a sister she idolized and cared so deeply about, Kiri bumps into Skunk one day, a random guy who seems nice enough and fixes her bike. And then she bumps into him again and they begin to bond in a way she hasn’t been able to do with others — partly because he knows this new truth. Their coupling is totally unconventional — it’s not based on looks or having a certain hobby in common. It really feels like happenstance. Kiri and Skunk slowly begin to depend on another, and even when the relationship reaches this peak of perfection (hello, Chapter 24) — nothing, still, is as it seems.

After a lifetime of balancing many roles — a kid who is motivated just to make her parents happy, the girl a guy can’t see, the rocking girl in a band — Kiri is spiraling, spiraling out of control. She can’t sleep, she can’t shut her mind off, and she continues to fall, fall, fall into some dangerous black hole. It’s amazing how much grief can transform you, even when it’s retroactive… even when you thought you were done with all of that.

Smith gives Kiri such a vivid voice — she’s insecure, she’s artistic, she feels sexy, she feels free, she feels stuck. Will she be able to crawl out of this? Confide in someone? Be honest with her parents? Be honest with herself? Wild Awake isn’t your typical summer contemporary novel. The vibrancy the beautiful cover promises is not immediately apparent. In ways, this novel reminds me so much of Kirsty Eagar’s Raw Blue, a story that may have been centered on a horrific moment but still celebrates the lighter moments in life while balancing tough consequences and decisions.

So even if I didn’t necessarily understand Kiri’s actions all the time — they were legit insane out-of-control — they felt like authentic reactions to when your life is turned on its axis and spun and spun until you are so dizzy… nothing looks right anymore. I hoped for Kiri to find some peace, to find a friend, learn to hold true to her memories and not let them be tainted by the events of this summer, and, most importantly, come to terms with what she wants for herself.

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Attention, Attention! Rather Be Reading refreshes your memory with some great titles.

Attention, Attention: Audrey, Wait by Robin Benway

Hello, friends! Attention, Attention! is back with a little twist (and the first time I, Magan, am writing one)! This feature is for when we read books the other has already reviewed on the blog and we just need to fangirl about it a little bit more because you just need to read it.

So this time around, I’m sharing a book that Estelle has read, but not reviewed on Rather Be Reading. Since Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway was released in 2008 I thought instead of doing a full review it would be more fun to break things down and share some quotes.

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Hardback cover, left, and paperback cover, right.

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

Audrey is in a lame relationship, but has a supportive best friend.

Audrey dates Evan (ahem, a musician) who is just… lame. He’s self-centered and doesn’t care about anyone but himself. Sure they have decent make-out sessions, but aside from that, there’s not a lot there. And really, he’s so focused on his band, but it’s not really going anywhere (Audrey thinks). I loved this conversation between Victoria, Audrey’s best friend, and Audrey (please note that my quotes are copied from Goodreads):

Audrey: “I told him that my cat was on fire and he didn’t even hear me! On fire, Victoria! And he didn’t care!”
Victoria: “Aud, that is so fucking twisted that I don’t even know where to start.”
Audrey: “Okay, I know, but it had to be drastic.”
Victoria: “That’s not drastic, that’s sadistic. You’ve got your –tics mixed up.”
Audrey: “Will you please focus on the issue at hand? Evan doesn’t listen to what I’m saying!”
Victoria “And this is news?”
Audrey: “Should I break up with him?”
Victoria “Do you want to break up with him?”
Audrey: “I don’t know. Distract me from feeling miserable.”
Victoria “Umm… ummm… I got new shoes.”
Audrey: “Woo.”
Victoria “Wanna come over and try them on?”
Audrey: “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

When Evan and Audrey break up, he writes a song that sort of becomes…famous.

Audrey, Wait is the title of the song Evan writes when she breaks up with him. His no-good band blows up and suddenly Audrey is thrown into the spotlight, has people stalking her and asking for her autograph, and she gets random calls for interviews with magazines and newspapers. Audrey is irritated this is happening, but Victoria is trying to take advantage of the situation. After one of Audrey’s interviews gets published, Victoria leaves this message on Audrey’s home answering machine:

“WHY ARE YOU NOT ANSWERING YOUR PHONE?!? OH MY GOD, DID YOU SEE THE ARTICLE? I AM FREAKING OUT, WHY ARE YOU NOT ANSWERING YOUR PHONE?!? Please call me, I’m starting to act like Tizzy around here. It’s getting ugly. Oh, hi, Mr. and Mrs. Cuttler, in case you get this first. Everything’s fine, I’m just trying to get ahold of Audrey. Okay, bye. AUDREY, CALL ME BEFORE I HAVE TO RESORT TO SKYWRITING.” – Victoria

Victoria proposes that the best way for Audrey to get over the Evan situation is for her to move on.

With an endless supply of (crazy) ideas, Victoria stands by Audrey’s side as things go from crazy to obnoxious. One suggestion she has along the way is for Audrey to move on and date other people. (Because somehow the media won’t go crazy over that?) Of course Evan is a tool so there has to be another boy interest, right?

Victoria: “What about James?”
Audrey: “James? James, the guy I work with? James who takes ice cream scooping more seriously than anyone should? James who almost had a nervous breakdown when the chocolate and rainbow sprinkles accidentally got mixed together? That James?”
Victoria: “He has a good work ethic. And he’s cute.”
Audrey: “Hello, I’m not thirty. I don’t want a good work ethic yet. I just want someone who can form complete sentences.”

Other major bonus factors about Audrey, Wait:

+ Audrey’s parents play a very big role in her life. She’s an only child and they’re super close. They have a very hands off approach to parenting in the sense that they’re lenient and let Audrey make mistakes, but ultimately, they’re there when they need to be and do a pretty amazing job of guiding her without being pushy or overbearing.
+ Music is a really big deal. Tons and tons of musical references. In fact, here’s an Audrey, Wait! playlist for you (not made by me though).
+ Benway did a lovely job with all the relationships — dating and friendships. There’s a very real understanding of a relationship that goes through ups and downs as well as two friends who don’t always understand each other. It felt very natural and not contrived or ridiculous in any way.
+ Even though Audrey’s caught up in the drama, she has a lot to learn. Sure, Audrey lands in the spotlight by happenstance, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t a flawed character who makes some mistakes and has to grow a bit. (And she’s quite funny along the way — tons of great LOL moments.)

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That wraps up my first Attention, Attention! I hope you’ll consider buying  Audrey, Wait! or finding it at your local library. If you’ve read it, tell me what you loved most and maybe share a book or two that’s a bit older I should most certainly read!