Estelle: Since Last Summer by Joanna Philbin

Since Last Summer by Joanna PhilbinSince Last Summer by Joanna Philbin ( web | tweet )
See review of Rules of Summer.
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Publisher: Little, Brown
: 304
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Hamptons, summer, friendship, relationships, secrets
Format read: Bought a hardcover copy.

Summary: Isabel and Rory are back in the Hamptons for the summer. This time, Rory is a guest & dating Isabel’s brother, Connor, while Isabel is going through a “dry spell”. Her family life is certainly different this time around, and she can’t stop thinking of her boyfriend from last year, Mike.

I was really excited to spend time with old friends again this year. Rules of Summer was a highlight of my reading last June, so the idea of a sequel made me all kinds of happy. But, sadly, this summer did not hold the same kind of magic as the first.

Joanna Philbin had a lot to play with here: a reunion between Rory and her boyfriend, Connor. Isabel dealing with the family secrets she found out at the end of the last book. The friendship between both girls. And, finally, the family that brought all of them together: the perfect Rules.

I’m not sure where things started to go wrong for me. Instead of diving more into Rory and Isabel’s friendship, they spent a lot of time apart (Rory was interning and Isabel got a job as a waitress) dealing with various challenges mostly separately. So many times I thought to myself: I just don’t buy it. How close are they really? Are they best friends? Should they be? I wanted more. I think the friendship needed to be the anchor of this story, and instead, it was grazed over and it was presumed the reader just understood their connection. I needed to feel it.

“Grazed over” is a suitable way to describe most of the plot lines in Since Last Summer and it made the difference between an entertaining book and a memorable one. Rory has some unexpected relationship issues with Connor, and Isabel is dwelling on her breakup with Mike last year. Oh man, I really loved Isabel and Mike and not only could I relate to her inability to move on from him (even though she tried to convince her otherwise), I was rooting for this reunion to work somehow. (Is it strange how I wished the discussion of sex was folded more into the story? I would have liked to see the author have Isabel work through her first time and her intimate connection to Mike.)

New characters were featured in Since Last Summer too, and I happened to really like Evan and Amelia. One of these characters might have been as a device to create drama in the book, but because it was pretty much the only bolt of chemistry I felt in the entire story I just went with it, hoping things would work themselves out somehow.

It’s confusing to me why when given the chance to build on two great characters from a previous novel I still don’t have a good handle on them and their backgrounds. (Well, not true about Isabel so much, but what about Rory’s mom? I would have loved development there or even more conversations between her and her aunt, who worked for the Rules.) As a sidenote, I really enjoyed getting to know Mr. Rule in Since Last Summer and I wish he would have popped up more. A decision seemed to be made to place more importance on romance than family and that choice didn’t entirely work for me, especially when there was potential for so much more.

So would I still recommend Since Last Summer? I would. It’s breezy young adult book full of drama and cute boys. But if I had to choose between the two:  Rules of Summer is the way to go.

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Estelle: Recipe for a Happy Life by Brenda Janowitz

Recipe for a Happy Life by Brenda JanowitzRecipe for a Happy Life by Brenda Janowitz ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: July 2, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Pages: 336
Target audience: adult
Keywords: summer in the Hamptons, mothers/daughters, moving forward
Format read: ARC eBook provided by author. (Thank you!)

Summary: After a mini-disaster, Hannah, a lawyer in NYC, escapes to the Hamptons for the summer to spend time with her grandmother and figure things out.

When it’s starting to get super frigid outside, there’s nothing like reading a book about the summertime.

Recipe for a Happy Life contains so many of the details I love to read about: the Hamptons, complicated grandmother/mother/ daughter relationships, and a perfect pinch of romance to spice things up.

Hannah is at her wit’s end when her boyfriend’s mother accuses her of trying to kill her boyfriend (it was a mistake! he’s alive!) and runs off to the comfort of her grandmother. Never being close with her always on the go, legendary photographer mother, Hannah finds comfort in her glamorous and generous grandmother (who has been married multiple times) and though she never feels like she can live up to her grandmother’s expectations, she is happy to be in her presence. (Even if this means attending parties she doesn’t want to go to and being dressed up in expensive clothes.)

As you can probably guess, Hannah’s hope for a “no drama” few months in the Hamptons is anything but. When she bumps into Nate, a guy she went to law school with and pretty much loathes, she can’t seem to get rid of him and soon realizes, maybe she doesn’t really want to. Then there’s her mother’s visit, countless frosty interactions and a hidden family secret that comes to the surface and threatens to break bonds just as more bad news comes crashing down.

It may seem like a lot (and it is, for one summer) but Janowitz balances all of the unfortunate news with some vibrant supporting characters like the charming Nate, rock star Jaime, and teenaged Hunter who injects a certain amount of innocence and comedy into these pages. I swear, his character is so memorable and I loved how Hunter and Hannah formed an unlikely (but much needed for both) bond during this summer. Janowitz’s attention to her secondary characters truly made Recipe for a Happy Life stand out amongst other beachy dramas.

This book was practically burning a hole in my bag. Every time I had to put it down, I couldn’t wait for the next free moment when I could pick it up again. All of the life-altering events that occur during Hannah’s summer seem so necessary to her growth as a person and also assisted her in letting go of old prejudices she had held onto for years. By the end of the book, she is more independent, more understanding of her family, and also has a clearer focus on what she wants for the future.

I am officially a Brenda Janowitz fan!

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Estelle: Rules of Summer by Joanna Philbin

Rules of Summer by Joanna PhilbinRules of Summer by Joanna Philbin ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Poppy/Little Brown
Pages: 352
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Summer, Long Island, first love, upper class vs. middle class
Format read: ARC provided by Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Rory is thrilled to be leaving New Jersey and her dependent mother for a summer in the Hamptons — even if she will be working for a family without pay. (But there is free board!) When Rory arrives, she finds out that the family’s daughter, Isobel, is also her age but based on her behavior is pretty positive they won’t be friends. Isobel, on the other hand, has just come back from school in California, isn’t feeling her country club friends anymore, and feels even more out of place in her house. But things take a turn for the better when she bumps into Mike…

One thing that I absolutely love about reading is discovering books set in places you know. Right away, I felt bonded to Rules of Summer because of buzzwords like Montauk Highway, Hamptons, and even Stony Brook. I spent my freshman and sophomore year of college out in Southampton, and even though my school was in debt and closed (true story), the Hamptons are such a special place to me. (Like where I went on a first date with my husband.)

Summer is all about that escape. Rory has an opportunity to hang out in the Hamptons; sure she is working but the “away from her mother and all her drama” makes the free board and no pay worth it. For Isobel Rule,  she’s back in the fray, returning to a family she never felt a part of, and friends she suddenly finds totally superficial. Her solace is all about the surf. These two girls come from totally different worlds but are forced together when Rory is recruited to give Isobel driving lessons.

I have to applaud Philbin here because she doesn’t prolong the whole “these girls have it out for each other” thing we see in a lot of books. While they really have no reason to be friends, there’s no reason for them not to be either. I’m glad we got the positive side of the coin here because Isobel needs a voice of reason and someone on her side and Rory really needs to let loose and enjoy herself for once. The girls are able to give each other those things, and, just in time, because…

BOYS. There are two of them. And they are very cute. (In fact, I like to call this book Nantucket Blue x 2 because we get to see two girls fall in love for the first time in Rules of Summer.) Isobel meets Mike when she gets caught in the surf, and oh did it remind me of the anxiety and excitement of falling so hard, you are practically sinking. She is so used to playing a game with guys that when she finally feels serious about someone, she’s not too sure how to act. (Especially since he’s older and a lot more experienced.) Their chemistry is so gosh-darn pulsating that I think it took away from Rory’s own forbidden romance a bit. While still sweet and fun, hers felt a bit rushed and not as thoroughly explored. (Notice how I didn’t tell you who Rory’s mystery guy is.)

So what’s at stake in Rules of Summer? A ton. Family secrets come rushing out, Rory is not exactly truthful with Isobel about her love life, and is Isobel’s relationship forever? Let’s not forget Mrs. Rule either — this lady may look sweet and kind but she “rules” a.k.a. dominates with an iron fist. What does this mean for both Isobel and Rory?

Even though the end shows up a little too abruptly and some big moments aren’t given the attention they deserve, Rules of Summer had me practically hearing the roar of the ocean in my backyard and truly invested in the lives of these two girls. And the good news? There’s a sequel in the works! I’m so looking forward to that!

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