Befriended: Discussing Sibling Friendships with Kasie West

When a book is infused with a strong helping of sibling relationships and parental involvement, I’m sold. Those are two strong bonuses for me because they add a layer of realism to the story. But Kasie West took my love a step further by making the four siblings in On the Fence the closest, most tight-knit group I’ve read about in a long, long time. I immediately reached out to Kasie to ask her if she would discuss big families and close siblings with us for our Befriended feature. Kasie has four children which equates lots of personal experience to draw from. Please allow me to introduce Kasie West, author of On the Fence, in bookstores as of July 1st.  — M.

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kasie west on the fence

I grew up in a large, very close-knit family. I have two brothers and two sisters. Even though a lot of times we fought and screamed and tattled on each other, we always laughed and played and loved each other more. We were loud and rowdy. We ate dinner around the table every night. Because there were seven of us, and money was tight, we actually had a picnic table as our dinner table. So often times we could pile twelve people on those benches, between us and our cousins or friends. Elbowroom was nonexistent but conversation was abundant. I know I am truly blessed to have a family as close as ours and brothers and sisters who I consider friends.

So writing Charlie and her three brothers in ON THE FENCE came really naturally to me. It was probably the easiest family relationship I’ve written in any of my books. I’ve been so happy to see that readers have enjoyed this dynamic between Charlie and her brothers. I think siblings are the first friends we have. Through them we learn about fighting and making up, about being selfish and selfless, about not always seeing things the same way as someone else but loving that person regardless. They’re the first people we whisper late into the night with. My sister and I had bunk beds for a lot of our childhood and I still remember staring at the slats above me and talking to her way past our bedtime. Siblings can truly be the first best friends we ever have and that friendship can last a lifetime. I love mine dearly.

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Book Recommendations from Kasie With Strong Sibling Relationships:

Books-With-Strong-Sibling-Relationships

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Thank you so much for stopping by Rather Be Reading, Kasie!

Friends, I cannot encourage you enough to buy On the Fence. You won’t regret it!

Magan: On the Fence by Kasie West

Book Cover On the Fence by Kasie West

On the Fence by Kasie West (twitter | website)
Previously Reviewed: The Distance Between Us
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 320
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: strong sibling relationships, athletic female, single-parents
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss (Thank you!)

Summary: Super athlete Charlie finds herself having middle-of-the-night conversations with her next door neighbor, Braden, whom she’s always considered to be like a brother. Neither of them can sleep and find solace in discussing things (such as who knows who better) between the fence posts when no one else is around.

 

First impressions and crazy thoughts that went through my head about On the Fence:

  • Holy crap this is so so so so so so so good.
  • I love the relationship between the siblings. There are four of them. Hmm. Would Dustyn want four kids? I want my children to grow up close and protective of one another like them. (Truth: I did talk to Dustyn about this possibility after finishing On the Fence. Second truth: I’ve never considered having four kids before. I’ve always had a “we’ll see what happens” mentality.)
  • Whyyyyyyy did it have to end? I just wanted to keep reading forever and ever.
  • Must. Preorder. Finished. Copy.

Cohesive thoughts to justify my fangirling:

Sitting on a bookshelf in my bedroom is a copy of The Distance Between Us. Estelle loved it last year; she recommended we all buy it. So I did. And I’ve had nothing but the best intentions for wanting to read it since then. Yada yada yada — I was pregnant and a foster mom and blah blah blah — fast forward to now. As we were discussing the review books we had to read, Estelle suggested I be the one to read On the Fence. (I think she knew I needed something REALLY good to pull me out of full-time-mommy-mode so I could enjoy some much needed reading time.)

And crap. Now I’m 100% irritated with myself that I haven’t read TDBU because I feel like I have sincerely missed out on greatness. Kasie’s writing in On the Fence is undeniably fantastic. Within a few paragraphs, I was hooked and completely ignoring all life responsibilities. (Don’t worry; Everett was already in bed for the night.) Charlie is the youngest sister to three older brothers (four brothers if you count their neighbor, Braden, who practically lives at their house); she’s tough and fast and very un-girly. She’s eager to hop into a football or soccer game. She doesn’t expect the boys to take it easy on her because she’s a girl. Charlie’s never had a boyfriend, but her brothers would give any guy she brought around the third degree. Her brothers are her best friends.

When Charlie finds herself with another speeding ticket (oops?), her father forces her to get a job to pay him back for it (and the others). The place she finds unemployment is very un-Charlie-like with clothes she’d never be caught dead wearing in front of her brothers and makeup she doesn’t know how to use. Despite her anxiousness to do her time and pay her dad back, she finds herself becoming friends with girls she never would have expected to and creating outfits she didn’t know she was capable of.

But Charlie also has this other thing: she doesn’t sleep well at night. She stays as active as possible so she is completely worn out when she goes to bed in hopes that she’ll have a good night of sleep. More often than not, she finds herself awake in the wee hours of the morning. Oddly enough, she soon realizes that Braden is up at strange hours too. They find themselves outside on either side of a fence, having candid conversations about things they’d be too shy to discuss in the daylight. (Swoon.)

On the Fence has every element I desire in my books: family background, strong friendships, a believable relationship, a great sense of time and fantastic pacing, and a strong setting. I became so wrapped up in Charlie’s life that I felt they were real. I wanted to know these people. I wished I could visit them and watch Charlie kick ass in a football game. I greatly admired Charlie’s dad and how protective he was of his baby girl, but also how hard he tried to be the parent he needed to be for her, especially with the absence of her mother. Every aspect feels so perfectly authentic and real; I laughed out loud and I really never wanted On the Fence to end. I think it’ll be topping the charts as a 2014 favorite for me.

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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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book review for Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt

Magan: Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt

book review for Going Vintage by Lindsey LeavittGoing Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt [ tweet | web ]
Publication Date: March 26, 2013
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 320
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: technology, 1962, internet relationships, strong family and sibling relationships
Format read: ARC received via NetGalley (Thank you!)

Summary: Mallory feels betrayed after she finds out her boyfriend, Jeremy, has been cheating on her with an online girlfriend named BubbleYum. This deception and a list she finds written by her grandmother in 1962 inspires her to abandon all things technological to simplify her life and live like they did fifty years ago.

Going Vintage is one of those books that’s right up my alley. Take a hypothetical situation — throwback to the 1960s and remove everything technological — and see how it plays out in a character’s life. Unfortunately for Mallory, she decides to make this monumental change after she discovers her boyfriend of over a year, Jeremy, has been cheating on her with a girl online. (That he’s never met in person, and oh, her online name is BubbleYum.) Mallory’s upset and distressed because Jeremy connects with BubbleYum in this deep and emotional way she was never able to with him. Mallory got the physical side of Jeremy and a little bit of notoriety at school for being his girlfriend, but … she wanted more.

Because of a douchey move Jeremy makes online, their break-up turns into a scandalous affair. When Mallory takes off to her help her dad pack-up her grandmother’s house (because she’s moving into a fancy, high-class nursing home), she turns off her phone to have a weekend in peace. Tucked in an old journal of her grandmother’s, she finds a list Grandma Vivien wrote when she was a junior in high school. Upon consulting with her younger sister and best friend, Ginnie, Mallory decides to accomplish the things on the list by pretending it’s 1962 all over again.

This means big changes for Mallory. And a lot of growth as a character. Mallory realizes after the break-up that much of her identity was wrapped up in Jeremy — who she hung out with, what she did on the weekends, who she sat with at lunch, etc. At some point, she mentions that in a 24/7 time period, when she was dating Jeremy, 20/6 of that time was spent with him. By saying adios to her phone and computers, she’s got a lot of time to fill. The List challenges her to do things like “run for pep club secretary” or “sew a dress for homecoming.” Mallory’s school doesn’t even have a pep club so she has to plead for her student council to approve the new club. One unsuspecting person who takes an interest in pep club is Jeremy’s cousin, Oliver.

Mallory has all of these preconceived ideas about what a “hipster” Oliver is (based on Jeremy’s very strong opinions of him). Oliver is a guy who is very comfortable in his own skin and doesn’t care what other people think. He doesn’t feel the need to “belong” and he speaks his mind. With little time to get the pep club on its feet, Mallory and Oliver spend time talking, shopping, and planning their float for the homecoming parade. Mallory realizes that she’s more herself than she ever was with Jeremy — Oliver understands her jokes, thinks she’s funny, and appreciates her quirkiness. He’s kind, a great listener, and makes a few simple moves that made my heart pitter patter. (Did I mention Oliver was my favorite character?) But Mallory’s afraid to fall too fast. And um, for Jeremy’s cousin? That could stir up some drama.

Going Vintage definitely has a cute and catchy plot with all the twists and turns along the way as Mallory sorts things out, but there’s a lot more that really makes things come alive. Mallory is super close to her family, especially Ginnie, who holds Mallory accountable to The List and strips her room of anything that wasn’t invented in 1962. Her parents run a business together that causes them to bicker and worry a lot (…and then to have some very public displays of affection that embarrass Ginnie and Mallory when they make up). Her mom seems to be hiding a big secret and Ginnie has suspicions about what it might be so she takes on this role to “save the family.” Grandma Vivien is feisty and I loved seeing her as a central character to the story because so rarely are grandparents even mentioned.

Despite some moments when Mallory said some things that didn’t sit well with me (she was a bit judgmental and overly opinionated in the beginning), I  enjoyed Going Vintage. I want to put copies of this book in the hands of some of my friends who place entirely too much emphasis on their online lives and forget to go out and live and experience and do things. Maybe, like Mallory, if we minimized our lives, we’d grow and be challenged, too.

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Estelle: Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth EulbergRevenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Publisher: Point
Pages: 265
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: divorced parents, siblings, beauty pageants
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: With her younger sister constantly competing in beauty pagaents, high schooler Lexi is used to being in the shadows. She’s Mac’s seamstress, her mom’s gopher, and, always always, the girl with the great personality. She’s losing patience as she watches her mom’s health decline, the bills pile up, and how the guy she has always crushed on will never see her as more than a friend. When one of her best friends challenges her to spend a little more time on her appearance and come out of her shell, will Lexi enjoy life in the limelight too?

My awesome baby-sitting skills have become sort of a running joke in my family. My sister even mentioned them in her maid of honor speech at my wedding. My name is Estelle and I used to tie my sister to a chair in front of the television. For the record, it wasn’t because she was a snot to me. She just would not sit still. And hey, she turned out okay? So really, this was not traumatic at all.

A few pages into Elizabeth Eulberg’s new book and let me tell you, my sister was a saint compared to Mac. While my sister and I are five years apart, Lexi and Mac have a staggering 9 years between them and their upbringing couldn’t be more different. Even though Lexi’s parents fought a ton, she was brought up with two parents. Upon Mac’s arrival, Dad peaces out and Mom decides to bond with her youngest by signing her up for beauty pageants. And, hence, Mac the brat is born.

So not only is Lexi reeling from her parent’s divorce (still), she is forced into assisting with all the details of Mac’s pageants too. It’s not often that we have a character who is cast in the shadow of her younger sibling, and I liked this change. The age gap between the two is so apparent, especially when Lexi sees that their mom is spending ALL their money on this obsession (even after Mac can’t win back their entry fee many times). But Lexi’s mom doesn’t want to hear it. I was appalled (APPALLED) by how she dismissed Lexi’s worries and continually accused her of being jealous of Mac.

Luckily, Lexi has some great best friends to turn to. (The kind of friends that always make me miss high school.) Cam and Benny are very supportive, awesome people and I love that Benny convinces Lexi to show the world what she is made of. They both challenge each other to dive into something new: Benny is going to ask out a boy he likes (he’s gay but not completely “out”) and Lexi is going to primp and polish her appearance and see herself as beautiful for once.

In some ways, this plan soars and, in others, it backfires. Mac sees Lexi as competition, and becomes even more of a whiny brat (if possible). But, on the other hand, Lexi starts to be more social with her peers and even gets to go on her first date with the adorable Taylor. (Even though she can’t stop thinking about Logan, who has a girlfriend and never looks at her like that.) While I know a makeover is not the answer to esteem issues, I do like the way it helped Lexi build her confidence and figure out how she wanted to present herself to the world.

But, at the heart of this book are some deep, intense family issues and I applaud Eulberg for giving a lot more depth to her storylines and characters this time around. (This was one of my reservations with Take a Bow.) Lexi and Mac’s mom was so resistant to her daughters’ pleas to change their life for the better. Their mom was severely obese, and goes to some disgusting lows to keep the appearance of their “beauty pageant” life going. In the end, though, this storyline seemed to suffer with a quick ending and not enough resolution. I’m not sure their mom was capable of being a good mom. She was emotionally and physically unhealthy, unwilling to see her family for what it really was, and used the pageants as a distraction from reality. I finished the book still worrying about the well-being of both girls. (Especially for Mac, who wasn’t lucky enough to have college to escape to.)

While The Lonely Hearts Club still holds my heart as far as Eulberg’s work goes, I was really pleased to see growth in both plot and characterization in Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality. The author brings up some great points when it comes to appearance and the strength it takes to be honest (especially when others don’t want to hear it). While Lexi has a few more opportunities than the average person to tell it like it is in a public forum, I respected her for her patience, honesty, logic, and willingness to try new things.

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Estelle: Ex-Mas by Kate Brian

Ex-Mas by Kate BrianEx-Mas by Kate Brian ( @ Twitter )Sparklejollytwinklejingley Holiday Winter Book Reviews
Note: Kate Brian is the pseudonym of author Kieran Scott. Familar? 🙂
Publication Date: October 6, 2009
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 224
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Christmas, popularity, exes, siblings, road trip
Format read: Bought used online.

Summary: Lila has been prepping to through the biggest winter break party forever, in hopes of securing her position as the most popular in the high school hierarchy. But when her parents catch on about about the party from her noisy little brother, her plans go down the drain. As if her brother didn’t ruin her life enough already, he disappears with his best friend and the only person who can help her is the ex-boyfriend she’s pretty much written off completely.

At first sight, I really disliked Lila. All she cared about was showing everyone just how popular she was, so proud of how she ditched her uber-curly hair, her love of singing, and ratty wardrobe for all the beautiful things. I was pretty much muttering to myself how this book was doomed if Lila didn’t buck up a little bit. A whole 200 pages of her queen bee personality was going to send me over the edge, even if it was a holiday-themed book.

But in an almost Scrooge-like twist, we got to see the true Lila, even if it took a few detours to get there. Thanks to the crazy antics of her brother and his best friend, who also happened to be the brother of her ex-boyfriend, Beau. Beau la la. (Get it?) A Loner musician type with muscles! Way back when, Lila and Beau were best friends who fell in love. Unfortunately, their relationship took a nosedive when Lila’s reputation to be the coolest, awesomest gal in town started to take precedence over everything. She started dating an upperclassman turned college boy, landed a best friend in the popular crowd, and said goodbye to everything Beau meant to her.

In a Pacey and Joey-like scenario, two people who want nothing to do with each other are forced in a car together, looking for their brothers, two kids who would do anything to save Santa Claus — even run away from home. Though Lila and Beau make a pretty terrible team in the beginning, there’s still a hint of something between them… and it’s a whole lot of fun and havoc watching it all pan out.

Just like the Let it Snow short story collection did for me last year, Ex-Mas was adorable and funny and got me rightfully pumped for the magic and romance of the holidays. And despite its fluffy nature, it still does a great job of tying up loose ends and working through all the minor plotlines. A bonus!

And if Santa made all dreams come true… this book would be on its way to being a feature flick on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas! Someone get on it! (And I guess if that doesn’t happen… I’ll just have to re-read it again next year.)

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Sparklejollytwinklejingley Holiday Winter Book Reviews Song Pick

I have two for this Ex-Mas… I always liked Bette Midler’s version of Winter Wonderland because she bases it in L.A. + also for a fun romantic Christmas song, I’m obsessed with Huckapoo’s Wild Christmas and have been for about 10 years now. (Ignore the Miley Cyrus montage.)