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.

Rather Be Reading Buy It Icon

Add KISSING IN AMERICA to Goodreads | Buy on B&N | Buy on Amazon

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

Magan: Open Road Summer by Emery Lord, A Vlog Review

Howdy, y’all! Man it feels so incredibly wonderful to type these words. It feels so good to be here talking books. And yes, quite literally below, I talk books in my vlog. I’m really wanting to mix things up a bit and as I’m just on an altogether different schedule with a newborn, vlogs seem like the best solution for me right now. My hope is that it’s a) not boring for you and b) fun to watch. I really want your feedback about what you think so if you’ve got some, leave it below in the comments. Okay? Alright, let’s get started!

Book Review for Open Road Summer by Emery LordHighlights of Open Road Summer by Emery Lord:

  • Incredible friendships — something I want to see much, much more of in the books I read. I get kind of bogged down by the drama sometimes. Reagan and Dee are friendship gurus.
  • Mucho, mucho hotness in the form of Matt Finch. He’ll make you swoon. And laugh. And want to know him in real life.
  • A girl who is incredibly relatable because she’s made some stupid mistakes. Who hasn’t done something they regret? * cue the crickets*
  • ORS made me feel just about every emotion and made me miss my BFF, Estelle, somethin’ fierce.

A few quotes, as promised:

“He’s kind of beautiful, in an understated, comfortable-looking-way — the kind of guy who doesn’t mind seeing a rom-com with you and gives you his hoodie when you’re cold.”

“We’re saying a lot within the silence: We can’t and I know and But I want to and Me too. The effort of restraint burns in my chest — a physical ache from holding back.”

“Laughter feels like our flotation device — it won’t pull us out of the storm, but it might carry us through, if we can just hang on.”

“If we could capture feelings like we capture pictures, none of us would ever leave our rooms. It would be so tempting to inhabit the good moments over and over again. But I don’t want to be the kind of person who lives backwardly, who memorializes moments before she’s finished living in them.”

And a shameless photo to introduce you, officially, to my daughter Everett:

I spend a lot, lot, lot of time holding this little lady. How could I NOT? Sometimes when I’m really craving some reading time, I rock her and read my book aloud to her. She did, in fact, hear a good chunk of Open Road Summer. I hereby vow to turn this girl into a book-lover. Or try my darnedest. 😉


Rather Be Reading Buy It Icon

Add to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy from Barnes & Noble

Estelle: Right of Way by Lauren Barnholdt

Right of Way by Lauren BarnholdtRight of Way by Lauren Barnholdt ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: July 9, 2013
Publisher: Simon Teen
Pages: 320
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: family secrets, divorce, love/hate relationship, road trip
Format read: eBook from Publisher via Edelweiss! (Thanks!)

Summary: After a whirlwind romance and breakup, Peyton and Jace are not excited to see each other at an upcoming family function. But when Peyton’s plan of running away ends up with her stranded in Florida and no way to get to her destination, Jace is the only one who can help her.

I can’t help it. Ever since Pacey and Joey, I’ve been a fan of sparring couples.

The chemistry! The tension!

While Right of Way definitely succeeded in those two qualities when it came to Peyton and Jace, the story was just too much of a mirror of the earlier Two-Way Street and seemed a bit under developed. Peyton feels utterly betrayed by her mother and needs to get away so she uses the family wedding in Florida as a jumping off point for a summer of freedom with her best friend, Brooklyn. Unfortunately, Brooklyn’s mom finds out about their plans, grounds Brooklyn, and leaves Peyton stranded in Florida with no way to get home. (After a disaster of a night with her ex, Jace, too.) Despite Jace’s disappointment in Peyton’s past actions he can’t resist her when she needs his help. (Even if he’s going to act like he could care less.)

Cue the road trip!

Even though their circumstances were different than Courtney and Jordan’s from Two-Way Street (these characters make plenty of cameos in this book), it just felt too much of the same story. I would have loved to see Peyton’s best friend have more of a role in the story, for them to actually end up in North Carolina, and then Jace somehow appear? It would have felt like a different kind of road trip because the amount of pages I read, the amount of stories I was taking in, didn’t even seem to match up with the distance they were driving. (This is coming from a girl who has driven 17 hours straight to Florida.)

Despite my reservations, the book still managed to be fast-paced and addicting. Barnholdt really knows how to stretch out the mysterious parts of her books, and that kept me going. Plus, I found myself really liking Jace over Peyton (something that also happened to me in TWS) and some of the supporting characters were funny. Unfortunately, though, the end snuck up on me and I finished the book with a “that’s it?!” I liked Peyton and Jace together but I’m not sure they managed to outgrow their immature, and impulsive natures enough to make this relationship work. Most importantly, the pressing family issues that spurred Peyton’s original scheme were not given any kind of resolution and I felt there really needed to be one — good or bad.

If you are looking for some great opposites attract road trip stories, I strongly suggest you put Two-Way Street and Ex-Mas by Kate Brian at the top of your list.

Rather Be Reading Skip It Icon

Add to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

Estelle: Two-Way Street by Lauren Barnholdt

Two-Way Street by Lauren BarnholdtTwo-Way Street by Lauren Barnholdt
Publication Date: 1/27/2007
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: road trips, ex-relationships
Format read: Borrowed from library.

Summary: Two weeks after Jordan dumps Courtney, they are due to drive to college on a road trip the two had planned beforehand. Courtney’s trying to pretend she doesn’t care about him anymore, and Jordan is crazy from hanging on to his own secrets. Will these two make it to Boston in one piece?

A fast paced read about two exes on a road trip to college together! What could be more deliciously disastrous?!

As the third Lauren Barnholdt book that I’ve read, I’d rank this one in between Sometimes It Happens (which I loved) and One Night That Changes Everything (superficial bordering on ridiculous). You can’t deny the chemistry between Courtney and Jordan, who couldn’t be more different. Courtney’s sort of a “goodie two-shoes” (I could relate) and Jordan is a former playboy, a fan of rap music and good looking ladies.

We get a taste of their current situation (not good) and the backstory of their meeting (interesting). Barnholdt did a great job of weaving the stories in and out and having them meet in the middle. This is one of the rare YAs I’ve read where we get just as much of the guy’s perspective as we do the girl’s. And I liked that. Dare I say, I liked Jordan as a character so much more. He may be a total flirt and lover of cheerleaders but I liked discovering his softer side, a side it seems that he didn’t even know he possessed.

Barnholdt also used a great comedic technique a few times where the character would think one thing, and then express that same exact thought out loud. It seems simple and isn’t revolutionary but I found that very funny.

Be prepared because this book’s driving force is miscommunication, but for some reason, it didn’t aggravate me as it would in some other books. What did bug me was the reveal of a certain secret WAY too early in the story. I don’t want to give too much away, but REALLY? I guessed Jordan’s secret way before I had to and I wish the author would have trusted her readers a little bit more.

Two-Way Street may not be life altering, and that’s okay. It is the perfect escape from a hectic day at work, or even a great way to enjoy a weekend in the sunshine.

Psst. Lauren Barnholdt’s companion to this book, Right of Way, comes out on July 9!

rather be reading worth it icon

 Add to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

Book Cover for Golden by Jessi Kirby

Magan: Golden by Jessi Kirby

Book Cover for Golden by Jessi KirbyGolden by Jessi Kirby {website | twitter}
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: murder mystery, college decisions, road trip, overbearing mother
Format read: ARC received from Simon & Schuster (Thank you!)

Summary: As Parker is about to embark upon her high school graduation, she comes across the journal of a girl who died ten years prior. She steals the journal and begins to read it. Little does she know the journal will lead her to try to solve the mystery of Julianna’s death and re-evaluate where her life is taking her.

You know that feeling when you love an author and you’re super excited for his/her next release… Then you’re completely blown away because this book … THIS BOOK trumps all the others? And you finish it with a happy, goofy smile on your face, but your heart is heavy because you’re sad it’s over?

That’s how I felt after reading Jessi Kirby’s upcoming release, Golden.

As a teacher’s assistant for Mr. Kinney at her high school, Parker is in charge of mailing senior composition books to former students for their ten-year graduation anniversary; these books were their final project in Mr. Kinney’s class, meant to make them reflect on their lives and what they hoped to accomplish. As she’s monotonously looking up addresses, she freezes when she comes across a particular journal. Julianna is a girl who died ten years ago in a freak snowstorm with her boyfriend, Shane. There’s a lot of mystery about what really happened to Julianna and Shane because their bodies were never recovered, but the town continues to honor them and their parents provide a scholarship each year in their memory. Curiosity overtakes Parker, and though she knows she had no business doing so, she takes Julianna’s journal and begins to read it. She becomes absorbed in their story and seeks answers to the unsolved mystery.

She keeps this secret to herself because she’s guilt-ridden over what she’s done. Parker is a girl who never, ever does anything wrong. She’s a good student with a very clear path in life. Her mother is very hard on her and though Parker will graduate soon, she’s treated like an immature teenager. She’s not a crazy party girl and her best friend, Kat, is constantly encouraging her to do something more adventurous. Never would Parker have guessed where swiping Julianna’s journal would lead her.

Parker keeps replaying Mr. Kinney’s question (originally a quote by Mary Oliver) posed to Julianna in her first entry, “So tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” She reflects on this as she’s writing the speech for the scholarship she’ll need to attend Stanford. Is she doing what she really wants? Just when she’s on the brink of making a life-changing decision (college, what she’ll major in), there’s nervousness and fear about what she’s supposed to do and who she’s supposed to be. She wants to look back at her decisions and know she made the right ones. Many people, of all ages, can relate to Kirby’s message:

Are we just letting life pass us by?
What will our legacy be?

Mary Oliver’s quote is one I see every morning when I walk out of my bedroom. I mull over this question so frequently. In the grand scheme of my life, what do I want to do? Who do I want to be? Here’s the print by Katie Daisy that I have hanging:

mary oliver wild and precious life quote

Because everything flowed so well from the very beginning, Jessi Kirby’s Golden immediately pulled me in and grabbed my attention. I connected to Parker’s goal-oriented, driven character who wasn’t too uptight or hard to relate to. Kat was the kind of lifelong best friend I want for myself — someone who pushes me not to settle for monotony and refuses to let me fall prey to someone else’s demands. Trevor was the best kind of guy with tons of mystery, loads of snark and snappy comebacks, and a heart of gold. The mystery kept me buzzing through the pages, and the final message still rings true to me at 27 years of age. Oh, and there was just enough balance with family background and secondary characters to make me feel like I understood Parker’s life in her small California town.

This might sound strange coming from a little ol’ blogger, but after I finished Golden I felt so proud of Jessi Kirby. There was noticeable strength and growth in her writing. I’ve always, always been a fan of hers, but this book made me want to give her a big hug and celebrate what I feel is a lovely breakthrough in her talent. If I wasn’t already crazy excited for more of Jessi’s work in the future, now I’m just downright overjoyed to read whatever she comes up with next.

Rather Be Reading Buy It Icon

Goodreads | Amazon

A Literary Birthday Celebration (From What I Remember)


I’ve said it before and said it again, but one of my favorite things about blogging is meeting new people.

About a month or two ago, I started to chat with Cassie of Books with Cass, who like me is from New Jersey (although she still lives there) and has a birthday in February.

And can you believe that we are exactly a day apart? (In fact, she shares a birthday with one of my best friends and the reason I met Magan in the first place!)

During one of our daily chats, we decided to had to jump on this coincidence and write joint posts today! Basically, Cassie and I have chosen a favorite read that would inspire the best birthday celebration.

So, for me, we are heading to…


[ oh mexico. it sounds so simple i just got to go. a lil james taylor for ya ]

Last June, on a wonderful summer vacation with my husband, I read From What I Remember by Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas. It was so much fun, such a surprise hit, and it’s most definitely on my list to re-read when the weather gets a little warmer on the east coast.

Basically, the class brainiac (Kylie) and big man on campus (Max) are forced to work together on a last minute school project and a bit of bad luck comes their way — causing them to embark on an unexpected road trip to MEXICO. Kylie is a serious person with lots of responsibilities and Max seems quite the opposite, pretending his life is easy breezy when he has a lot going on in the background. There’s EXCITEMENT. CHEMISTRY. FEAR. VARIOUS MOVIE QUOTES. AND DRINKING.

Despite the chaos, this is what I’m seeing:

From What I Remember Fiesta

Mix an awesome setting + a great dress + some frozen libations and I feel a party coming on.

Although, I will opt out of the hangover when it’s all finished. Thank you very much.

I really appreciate you taking the time to celebrate my birthday with me (a few days early), and I hope you’ll head over to Books with Cass to see what Cassie has in store for her own birthday extravaganza!

Happy Saturday!

Psst. If you haven’t checked out From What I Remember yet, the title is under $8 for the Kindle edition + the Nook too!