Estelle: Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

Threatened by Eliot ScreferThreatened by Eliot Schrefer [ website | tweet ]
Publication Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Africa, orphan, adventure, companionship, chimpanzees, tragedy
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)

Summary: Luc is intrigued by the Professor when he first bumps into him at work. Despite a “misunderstanding”, he takes Luc under his wing as he hopes to study chimps in their natural habitat — the jungle.

At the end of 2014, I fell unexpectedly in love with Eliot Schrefer’s Endangered about a young girl on the run with a bonobo when a violent attack occurs in the Congo. Endangered challenged me; I was instantly out of my comfort zone, knowing next to nothing about the Congo, not even knowing how to pronounce bonobos, much less know what they look like. I didn’t think it was possible to connect so emotionally to a book about a girl, an animal, and a war. But I did. The story was about motherhood, bravery, and connection that went beyond human or animal.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Threatened turned out to be a totally different book. I mean, it couldn’t BE the same book so this is really a positive thing because once again Schrefer placed me into an unknown environment with absolutely no idea how it would all end.

One difference? Urgency. A attack is a pretty huge driving force in any book and without it, Threatened read a little slower. Main character Luc is an orphan, living with a guy I could only picture as Fagin from Oliver!. This “gentleman” is not a saint who cares for lost boys but instead takes whatever money they have, keeps track of their “debt”, and allows them to live in the barest of conditions. Miraculously, Luc makes his exit with the help of a visiting professor. Even though Luc tries to steal for him, “Prof” pays off his debt and takes him on as his assistant as he studies chimps in the jungle.

For the first time in a long time, Luc has someone who is investing in him. Teaching, talking, observing. Luc feels possibility in his kinship with Prof, and starts to look beyond the life he thought he knew before. (How his family died, the legend of the “mock man” a.k.a. the chimps.) When it seems like he couldn’t be tested any more, something happens that changes the course of the story and his past threatens to hurt him once again.

Slowly but surely his companions become two chimps: Mango and Drummer. Their relationships are tentative and, sometimes, frustrating but their time in the jungle, learning to survive, brings them closer together and once again, the line between human and animal are blurred as this connection between them is fused.

As Luc assimilates to life in the jungle, I wondered if this would be his life for good. I wondered if he would have the opportunity to befriend other humans. Can the chimps who so obviously care for him make up for the family he lost? Schrefer convinces me, time and time again, that if we are patient, kind, and compassionate that any of these relationships are a possibility. I am amazed how much he can convey between Luc and the chimps because, as you may have guessed, no dialogue is spoken. Just movements, action, and Luc’s thoughts.

If you are looking to try something completely new and connect to this genre in a whole new way, I can’t recommend Schrefer’s books enough. He is a writer who opens me up to brand new ideas and forces me to really listen to the world beyond the city I live in and the world I think I know.

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Estelle: Come a Little Bit Closer by Bella Andre

Come a Little Bit Closer by Bella AndreCome a Little Bit Closer by Bella Andre ( web | tweet )
Part of The Sullivans romance series.
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Pages: 384
Target audience: adult
Keywords: movie business, sisters, family, San Francisco
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (thanks!)
Last reviewed: Let Me Be the One with BUY IT rating

Summary: Smith’s career in Hollywood is just about as successful as he could have hoped so when he embarks on a new project — starring in a movie that he has written himself — he’s shocked to find himself in a position where he is working just as hard to win a lady’s heart. Valentina can’t stand actors and wants nothing to do with Smith but his love for his family and his kindness is so hard to resist.

A movie set, an unexpected leading lady, a charming celebrity = Bella Andre has done it again.

His story: After years of a successful career, Smith is challenging himself in a new way. He wrote a screenplay for what he calls “the simplest of love stories” and is currently starring in it. It’s not like his normal work, he’s really putting himself out there. While his mind should ONLY be on this, his thoughts are constantly swayed by his co-star’s sister, Valentina. She’s so with it, so in charge, but totally has her heart on guard.

Her story: Valentina is a total workaholic, managing her sister’s career. When Tatiana lands a role opposite massive star, Smith Sullivan, Valentina has to be even more on her toes. Her sister’s career is about to go crazy. But Val is distracted by Smith’s looks, his talent, the sweet words of his screenplay, and even though she would like to, she can’t exactly resist just how NICE he is to her.

Who knew: A night at Alcatraz (with cupcakes) could be so utterly sexy.

The big question: Can Valentina get over qualms about dating actors? (After her mom has dated so many of them in the past.) Does Smith really have what it takes to win Valentina over?

The sizzle: Oh my god. Andre has seriously upped the sexy meter in Come a Little Bit Closer. I was totally at the edge of my seat wondering when Valentina would finally give Smith a chance, and whoa whoa whoa. So absolutely worth it, and so much more to look forward to after their initial collision.

Family matters: Something that sets Andre’s books from other romance series is the emphasis on family. Smith is really involved in the lives of all of his siblings — he’s completely supportive, and at the same time, welcoming to others he wants to bring into the fold. They are always popping up in the story, and it’s so comforting and sweet to see. At the same time, Valentina and Tatiana have such a tight bond and I liked watching how their dependence on each other changed over the course of the book. (The role reversal was a great touch too.)

Movie drama: How would you like your sister to act in a sex scene with the guy of your dreams? Mhm. Talk about a tough day at work.

Final thoughts: Another addicting read from Andre! So much fun to watch Smith wear down Valentina, and nice to see them both doing the emotional/head work to ensure they were ready to move forward with this relationship. My only qualm were some of the screenplay inserts. I loved the parallel of Gravity‘s story but there was so much prose included and movie watchers wouldn’t be seeing prose vs. hearing dialogue on a screen so I think there may have been a better way to present that. Nitpicky, a bit, I know. But seriously — Come a Little Bit Closer was sweet, tension-filled, and a lot of fun. Can’t wait for more of the Sullivans!

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Estelle: Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

Better Off Friends by Elizabeth EulbergBetter Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg ( tweet | web )
Publication Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Scholastic/Point
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: friendships, middle school/high school, family, romance
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: When Levi and Macallan first meet in seventh grade, they never imagined they would end up best friends, sharing family dinners, and, most of all, having people assume right and left they are in a relationship. But as they move through middle school and high school, the friendship gets hot and cold because of significant others, inability to manage time, and the chemistry between them. Can guys and girls really be friends? Or is it totally impossible?

I am immediately into books that tackle the big question: can guys and girls really be friends? Because, seriously, at 29, I still have no idea if it’s true. Do I have a clearer answer now that I read Eulberg’s adorable book? Okay, maybe not. But I do agree that having a friend of the opposite sex can be wonderful and complicated at the same time.

Better Off Friends is a light, sweet read and I fell completely in love with both Macallan and Levi. I mean, how cute could they get? Paired in seventh grade when Levi first moves to Wisconsin, they form an unexpected friendship when they start having family dinners together, hanging out at the park, and sharing friends. But things get difficult especially in middle school when boys worry about fitting in with boys and don’t want to necessarily be known for being friends with girls. (Ugh.) But Levi still stands his own, and really cares about nurturing his friendship with Macallan. He’s genuinely a good guy.

And for Macallan, it seems like Levi enters her life at the perfect time. Her family has just taken a huge hit, she’s sad, and gradually, she finds someone to trust, welcome into her circle, and in ways, I think it helps her to move past the pain of unexpected tragedy and learn how to be close to another person. I loved Macallan’s feisty-ness, her bravery, and how she was so dedicated to things (cooking, especially) and people. See? Great characters.

But all genuinely good people make mistakes (especially when a friendships spans so many years like this one, as we get to high school) — they fail to recognize how their significant others are taking up their time, they don’t always tell the full truth, they give into social pressure, and they don’t stand up for the other at the most opportune times. As the years went on, the growing pains of Macallan and Levi’s friendship sadly push them apart, but it feels impossible  to stop.

Could they make it through? Would their history help them to reconnect? Was all the tension caused by more than just time getting in the way? New girlfriends and new boyfriends? Were they not seeing what was really there? Eulberg might not have tackled these questions as deeply as I would have liked, but Better Off Friends was hard to put down and I found myself wistfully staring at my eReader, wondering what would become of Macallan and Levi once I was to get back to reading.

That, my friends, is what I call a worthwhile read.

While Better Off Friends was definitely a highlight amongst my reads this year so far, I did find the interludes (Macallan and Levi’s discussions between chapters) confusing. I loved hearing their reactions but I wondered where exactly they were coming from (the heavens?) and if it gave too much away. I also would have loved for a stronger secondary plotline involving Macallan and Levi worrying less about each other and more about something in life. A wish that would have been a challenge because of the span of time covered in the book, but better developed relationships with supporting characters would have worked too.

All in all, Eulberg has created two true-to-life characters that I care about and I know I will be thinking about as the reading year continues. Plus I will always be wondering: where are they now? (Also I must say: the chapter art — silhouettes of either Macallan or Levi swinging depending on chapter POV? So gorgeous, and a great detail.) 

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Estelle: Love Me by Rachel Shukert

Hollywood Week at Rather Be Reading Blog

Beware: since this is book 2 in series, there may be a few spoilers from STARSTRUCK.
Keep in mind I’m going to try really hard not to let this happen because I so so so want
you to experience this series and get excited to pick it up.

Love Me by Rachel ShukertLove Me by Rachel Shukert ( web | tweet )
Part of the STARSTRUCK series.
Publication Date: 2/11/2014
Publisher: Random House Kids / Delacorte Press
Pages: 336
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Hollywood, Oscars, friendships, romance
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)

Summary: After an overabundance of drama, romance, and Hollywood glamour, Love Me picks up where Starstruck left off: Margo is dying of anticipation as a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination, Gabby is trying to break out of her “little girl” persona the studio continues to push on her, and Amanda is lost — without her man and without her career. Where will she turn?

What struck me the most in Love Me is just how much Margo, Gabby, and Amanda were willing to sacrifice for what they wanted. Margo wants to be well-known in the industry — a leading lady, while Gabby wants to be seen as a woman with needs and true talent, and Amanda just wants to be in love with her man and be taken care of.

Margo allows her relationship with Dane gradually dwindle because of her ambition (but she still remains so sweet) and she lets the studio’s demands navigate her love life and her future. She’s a measly puppet, and when Dean tries to be honest with her (I loved him for that because it couldn’t have been easy) —  she was still the new girl on the block, that momentous occasions in their relationship should be THEIR decisions and theirs alone, that she needed to give everything time to breathe and grow — she just wouldn’t listen.

Gabby, who spends her time flirting with older guys and making love to bad habits, wants what Margo wants. (Or what she thinks Margo wants?) She finished playing the sidekick. She wants to make a splash. If only someone would let her. She lies to her mother, uses her friends, and falls for Eddie Sharp, who shows her a whole new side of Hollywood. But is he just another horrible addiction? Does he really care for her?

And lastly, Amanda — she’s desperate to escape her past and is equally desperate to get the love of her life back. She’s spending more money than she is making to guarantee looking like a million bucks every time she goes out and to make an impression, to get word back to the only guy who treated her well. She thinks a guy can save her. From everything. Wipe the slate clean. Is she in total denial or is it possible?

It’s tough to be a headstrong lady and to want what you want in this world, where everyone wants a piece of you and everyone knows the right way to manage you. When do you take your life back? When do you regain control? There was so much at stake — everything each of these ladies worked for — but it wasn’t exactly making them happy either. Did that even exist? Being happy and getting what you want? It’s hard to say at this point in Love Me.

And what about friendship? I so wanted to believe in the bonds that Margo, Gaby, and Amanda had with one another. But how can you truly be friends with one another when in the back of your mind you are always competing with one another and always trying to stand out? Is there a balance? Sure. But I don’t think these three found it yet. It made me think about just how tough it is to be a good friend when you don’t even know who you are. When part of you is always jealous, always comparing. Being a girlfriend can be so complicated.

As you can see, there’s a ton happening in Love Me. An absolute ton. But Shukert, once again, treats her readers with respect and makes them think, makes them earn the good parts. I’m amazed by how compulsively readable these books are, especially because they aren’t exactly action-packed, just lovingly detailed, subtly sexy, and so thought provoking. While I could have used some more dialogue between the characters, my love for this series grew even more with book 2. (Plus it was nice to have a few reminders from book 1 folded in so I didn’t feel like Ms. Forgetful.)

For multi-dimensional female characters and a lively (and complicated) 1930s Hollywood setting (gorgeous outfits!), you must pick up Starstruck and Love Me as soon as you can.

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Estelle: The Curl Up & Dye by Sharon Sala

The Curl Up and Dye by Sharon SalaThe Curl Up & Dye by Sharon Sala ( tweet | web )
Publication Date: February 4, 2014
Publisher: SourceBooks
Pages: 288
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: Southern living, childhood friends, small towns, moving forward
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: LilyAnne has been stuck in a rut since her fiance died in Iraq many many years ago. When a new stranger bursts into town on his hot rod, she feels a spark for the first time in forever and focuses on making her life happier and healthier. But like always, nothing goes according to plan.

I love how close-knit small towns are. Don’t get me wrong. I know there are certainly. Gossip! Everyone knowing your business! But it’s still nice to know that everyone is looking out for the other, and this alone made The Curl Up and Dye so enjoyable.

The title of the book refers to the beauty salon in town that everyone (ladies and gents) frequent and I’m sure you’re not surprised to find out that the fine people who work there meddle in the lives of their clients in a good way. They go to some great lengths with LilyAnne and her best friend, Mike. The two have lived next door to one another since childhood, and while Mike has always been in love with LilyAnne, she was either dating her deceased fiance or too broken down after his death to move forward.

When Mike lands in the hospital and a ridiculously good looking man shows up in Blessings, LilyAnne’s life gets the kick its been needing. I don’t necessarily love that a stranger like T.J. jolted her awake, but Sala handled this fantasy well and LilyAnne remained very logical about T.J.’s effect on her life. Lines get a little crossed when Mike thinks LilyAnne is dating someone else, and tries to make her jealous with a fake girlfriend. Man oh man, I loved witnessing LilyAnne’s fiery outbursts at an uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner and the gradual realization of Mike’s importance in her life.

But there’s a darker side to The Curl Up & Dye that I was not expecting. Lessons are dealt in some scary ways and there are few too many calls to 911 but in the end, the town of Blessings only gets closer. Sala treats us to LilyAnne’s character growth, the will-they-won’t-they story line, and even the more intense stuff with as little melodrama as possible and it made this novel a smooth read for me. Lots of laughs, lots of love,  and a good time all around.

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Estelle: Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor

Maybe One Day by Melissa KantorMaybe One Day by Melissa Kantor ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: February 18, 2014
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 400
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: friendship, cancer, high school, dance
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss.

Summary: Junior year doesn’t go according to plan for best friends Olivia and Zoe when Olivia is diagnosed with cancer. What does this mean for their dreams of moving to NYC together? Can Olivia survive this? With already so much in their lives changed, Zoe tries to be a good friend during the bad times but doesn’t always succeed. What do you do when you can’t foresee what will happen next?

Have you ever read a book that was completely addicting, really moving (enough to make you cry), and in the end, still had no idea how to rate it?

That’s exactly my relationship with Maybe One Day. On one hand, I was so thrilled to have a strong female friendship portrayed in my young adult literature. And on the other, some rough transitions, offhand comments from the main character (football players learning to rape?), and overlooked characters and situations continued to nag me and therefore, affected how I felt about the entire book.

Zoe and Olivia’s friendship reminded me of a few of my high school friendships: knowing each other since childhood, spending time together after school pursuing other passions, practically sharing family, and making plans for that future far and beyond high school and college. They were lifers. So I can only imagine how heartbreaking it was for both of them with Olivia got sick. First you guys are both cut from the New York Ballet Company, and now your partner-in-crime is laying in a hospital somewhere — hoping that treatment can zap this villainous disease out of her system.

Nothing prepares you for moments like this, that’s for sure.

I admired Zoe’s devotion to Olivia, big time. She visited the hospital, she called, she even took over her dance class on the weekends and Skyped her in when she could. But most of the time, she feels helpless. Her grades slipped because when she’s not spending time with Olivia, she’s thinking about her. Truth is, Zoe was kind of lost before this happened with Olivia. She missed dancing, soccer didn’t cut it, and maybe she just wasn’t ready to trust herself dancing again. She didn’t have something to fill her time like she used to. I can imagine how out of control everything felt for her.

We do have a potential romance with Calvin, which is kind of complicated because Olivia has a crush on him and Zoe doesn’t like him much at first. But I really liked him. Even when Zoe was difficult, he never stopped trying to be her friend. (Plus he was always there for Olivia’s brother. Nice guy.)  I could have used more of him to lighten up the book and make his story arc a bit more complete. He felt glossed over, and his chemistry with Zoe was just too good to be ignored. (Even if it was a messy pairing; in the beginning, I thought she would hit it off with Olivia’s brother.)

While I loved Zoe and Olivia’s bond, the heartfelt efforts of their classmates, how Kantor’s words made me feel so much, there was something that didn’t click for me. Was it the deep detail that was given to some scenes and not to the ones where Zoe’s character growth could have been realized? Or maybe how the first section of the book was substantially longer than the others making it feel a little uneven? It’s true the emotions were heavy in Maybe One Day and the friendships were meaningful but sharper focus on who the story was actually about would have made it entirely more effective.

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