Why in 5: How to Tell Toledo… by Lydia Netzer

How to See Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia NetzerHow To Tell Toledo By the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer ( web | twitter )
Publication Date: 7/1/2014
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 339
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: fate, family, mothers/children, LGBT, science
Format read: Borrowed from the library. (Yay!)

Summary: Two mothers plan the births of their children, in hopes they grow up to be incredibly in love.

Let me jump right into this and say: beautiful cover and two very strong recommendations from Jess at Gone with the Words and Jen at Pop! Goes the Reader. I’m so glad I decided to take this book out of the library; it is by far one of the most unique books I’ve read in a long, long time.

Now on to the 5 reasons:

1. Do not be scared of the science. I was scared of the science. Both George and Irene use words that made my head want to explode, and I was scared it would have so much to do with the story that I would never get into it. Not the case at all. As you dig into the story, the science falls away and the humanity of the story takes centerstage. Made everything really click for me.

2. Love is complicated. George has been searching for his soulmate for a long, long time. He has no idea this person is Irene until Irene is suddenly stealing his lab at the Toledo Institute of Astronomy. You would think that her having a boyfriend would be the biggest complication for these two, but nope. As Netzer begins to weave in the story of George and Irene’s mothers, wow. It’s like a brand new dimension to the story appears and creates even more tension and complication.

3. This was surprisingly sexy. I’m sorry to scientists everywhere but I was just not expecting this book to be so sensual. Like very ohh-hot. Let me put it this way… chemistry is not only happening in the lab. Even though I didn’t predict it, Netzer beautifully folded all of these moments in and granted readers to the darkest desires of her characters. I appreciated that a lot.

4. Do you believe in fate? This would be a great candidate for a book club because wow — it’s kind of crazy what these two moms do to ensure their kids meet and fall and love. I loved this mystical element of the book; it made me wonder if it could work. (Don’t worry; I’m not going to try this out. haha) But how far can you push two humans who grow up so differently to get together? In what part of the equation do you let go of the reigns and see what happens? (It’s also a major shock to know someone had such control over your life. Just think about it.)

5. The writing is beautiful. In a book where you are balancing so much science, backstory, current story, the prose does not suffer at all. I can’t even tell you how much I loved George’s voice. He sounded so different than other male characters I’ve read. Sort of childlike but also very grownup at the same time, if that makes sense. I really enjoyed that combination.

A tip: How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky starts off slow, but once you get into the swing (took me to almost page 60) you won’t be able to think of anything else.

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Estelle: The Bridge from Me to You by Lisa Schroeder

The Bridge from Me to You by Lisa SchroederThe Bridge from Me to You by Lisa Schroeder ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Publisher: Scholastic Point
Pages: 336
Target audience: young adult/verse fans
Keywords: senior year, family secrets, pressure from parents, football, small town
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: Lauren is suddenly living in the small town when her aunt and uncle take her in. Colby is a star on the high school football team and as pressure to pick a college mounts, he wonders if anyone close to him knows him at all. A friendship forms between Lauren and Colby, unable to go any further but as they both have difficulties to face, they may need each other more than they think.

The two things I really love about verse books done right is how swiftly they move, and how much emotion they can evoke in a short block of words. Schroeder took an different angle with verse in The Bridge from Me to You: Lauren got the verse chapters and Colby’s was written in regular prose. This is where I wish I would have read a finished copy of this book because the formatting of Lauren’s pages were all over the place and I didn’t realize it was poetry vs. prose until a bit of the way in.

Anyway. Lauren and Colby are two really nice people. Even though Lauren has been shipped off to her uncle’s by her mother and Colby lost his mom, they are both people who are positive, fiercely care about their friends and family, and are determined to have great futures. It’s all the other factors in their lives that are affecting those happy endings. Not only has Lauren been cut off from her mom but her younger brother, and Colby can’t seem to stand up to his dad about his desire to study engineering in college and retire his football jersey for good.

Despite a great time hanging out the first time, Lauren and Colby’s friendship isn’t instantaneous. When Colby’s best friend gets in a terrible accident, he’s distracted and distant and it takes time before they find themselves in the same place. Colby and Lauren are very at ease with each other; I think it helps that Colby has someone to talk to who isn’t associated with their small town and vice versa, Colby doesn’t know Lauren’s mom. For both, it’s a blank slate.

Focused on having something instead of nothing, Lauren and Colby decide to focus on friendship even though they clearly want more. On each side, there is building pressure as Lauren must come to terms with the truth about her family and Colby has to make some serious decisions about what he will be doing next year. Verse and prose combination made the 300-plus pages fly by so fast, and I loved getting to be a part of this tiny football-loving town for a little while.

That being said, the writing style of the book made the characters feel younger than seniors. I wonder if Lauren’s poetry should have been a supplement to her own prose because there could have been so much more meat to her story. Same with Colby. With his best friend in the hospital and the trouble he has being honest with his dad, there was definitely more of an opportunity to dig deeper in this story. All “issues” seemed to solve themselves pretty quickly, and I would have loved to get more from the secondary characters.

The Bridge from Me to You was a welcome break to a long-string of prose books. In fact, it’s the first verse book I’ve read all year. It was a sweet, feel-good read, and the many mentions of junk food and baked goods (berry pie!) made me wish I had one by my side at all times.

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Estelle: Expecting by Ann Lewis Hamilton

Expecting by Ann HamiltonExpecting by Ann Lewis Hamilton ( web | facebook )
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Pages: 340
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: pregnancy, miscarriages, fertility treatment, unconventional families
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: After suffering two miscarriages, Laurie and Alan are thrilled when their fertility treatment takes & “Buddy” is on his way to them. But news from the treatment center changes things, challenging their marriage, and altering how the two think of their family and Buddy’s future.

One thing that really struck me about Laurie and Alan’s marriage was how laidback it was. They laughed together, they went on adventures, and it’s not until they are about to embark on a different adventure that things start to unravel for the two. Ann Lewis Hamilton gives us an honest and (at times) heartbreaking look into how partnerships are affected when unexplained tragedies occur. Why do some couples conceive so easily and why do others not have that same kind of luck?

Post-happy news after a visit to the fertility treatment brings some unusual revelations. An angry employee has switched all the vials, and it seems that Laurie is not having Alan’s baby but someone else’s. Now, Jack, 5-year college student, juggler of multiple girlfriends, enters their lives. Laurie is focused on making the best of the situation and having some sort of relationship with him, while Alan can’t help but feel insecure about his role in the family now. (One of Alan’s big concerns is how his son will most likely not look like him because Jack is Indian.)

Expecting shifts POVs between Laurie, Alan, and Jack so the readers are privy to their innermost thoughts — sad, happy, angry, and mean — and it was a treat to watch how these three took an accident and made it work for them. There were a ton of road blocks along the way, but Jack injected a breath of fresh air into the story and really made it work for me. I loved his growing friendship with Laurie, and how much he thought about Buddy, even when Buddy was someone he never imagined caring about. (Not cool he was dating two girls at once but the personalities of both girls were fantastic and made for some very comical moments in the story.)

There were parts of the story that dragged for me, and Expecting took me longer to read than usual. Was it the lack of urgency? Sometimes a lack of connection with the characters? I think so, but it didn’t stop be from enjoying the high moments and sympathizing when life was so messy and out of control. Hamilton allowed us to see the weaker sides of these characters, and I appreciated the authenticity.

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Estelle: Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Like No Other by Una LaMarcheLike No Other by Una LaMarche ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: July 24, 2014
Publisher: Penguin/Razorbill
Pages: 352
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: New York City, forbidden romance, diversity, family
Format read: Hardcover I purchased.

Summary: During a horrible storm in New York City, Devorah and Jaxon find themselves stuck within the confines of a broken elevator. In the every day world, Devorah and Jaxon would never be alone together. She’s a devout Hasidic Jew and he’s a West Indian black boy. But in the dark, in the unknown, they bond and their connections is forged. Will they risk everything they know for one another?

This is the thing about forbidden love. We root for it to work, iron out its creases and prosper so we can believe in the impossible too.

Even though Devorah and Jaxon’s connection is a bit instantaneous, I was immediately hooked by their intersecting stories, hoping they could get their happily ever after. In alternating chapters, we learn of Devorah’s devotion to her Hasidic upbringing and the immense love she feels for her family while we see Jaxon work his tail off to obtain the higher education his father never had, and goofing off with his friends. Despite living so closely to each other in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, Devorah and Jaxon are worlds apart until they meet in a hospital elevator during a storm.

Devorah is not allowed to be alone with a male who is not a family member but in this elevator she has no other choice to converse with Jaxon and it comes so easily. She’s straightforward and honest, and he’s a dorky kind of charming and sweet. Pretty quickly, the two realize they have found someone in one another they haven’t found before and, in the time ahead, are willing to risk quite a bit to see what this chance meeting could mean for the both of them.

While Devorah is known to be a goodie-two-shoes, she’s already begun to question her male-dominated religion, watching her older sister (who she always idolized) grow more and more submissive in her marriage to the overpowering Jacob. Unlike her sister, Devorah isn’t sure she wants to be a mother at 18 and dreams about the possibility of college instead. Why does everyone in her family have to live life the same way? Can happiness and acceptance be achieved if she chose another path?

You would think Like No Other was a thriller because I was on the edge of my couch, wondering what was going to happen to Devorah and Jaxon. I’ve been 16 before. I know there’s only so much that I could get away with before I got caught, and these two were pulling out the stops. It broke my heart but Jaxon so earnestly believed they could work through these differences, and make their families understand how real their feelings were for each other. It’s true that Jaxon may be one of my top YA male characters; he is just such a good guy and it’s not surprising either because his family, while strict, is supportive and wonderful. (His mother made me cry.)

In ways, Like No Other felt like a love letter to the diversity of New York City. There are so many of us from different backgrounds, religions, towns, and families constantly jumbled together on the busy streets or crowded subways, hitting the same coffee shops and working at the same office buildings. Most of the time we walk by each other without even acknowledging the other or truly learning about them. But we manage to coexist. Devorah and Jaxon are just two pieces of the puzzle, but I loved how Jaxon took the time to learn about her traditions and took them into account and I adored how much of their love blossomed all over New York City.

While I enjoyed reading Five Summers last year, Una LaMarche has catapulted herself into my “must buy” category with Like No Other. The intricacy of her research, the authentic look at young love, and testing her characters in a way that will make them braver, stronger human beings? It’s so impressive. Yes, young love is about romance and sex and chemistry but it’s also about self-discovery and LaMarche hits that nail on the head.

I rarely sit in one place and read in a book in a single day but I couldn’t get anything done until I finished this one. (Seriously, I was gasping, yelling, crying, and swooning!) Like No Other is one of those books that makes me proud to be a young adult lit fan.

“Too many choices tear us apart / I don’t want to live like that / Too many choices tear us apart /
I don’t want to love like that / I just want to touch your heart / May this confession be the start.”Aida

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Estelle: Looking for Trouble by Victoria Dahl

Looking for Trouble by Victoria DahlLooking for Trouble by Victoria Dahl ( web | tweet )
Book 1 in Jackson: Girl’s Night Out series.
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Pages: 352
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: librarians, loner, motorcycles, tattoos, family secrets
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: By day, Sophie is a librarian in Jackson Hole, taking care of her dad, her brother, and their farm. By night, she loves to have very secretive sexy moments with strangers. Not wanting anyone in town to actually discover that side of her. Enter Alex. The last person in the world she should be attracted to or want to go out on a date with. But oops. They can have fun, but do they really have what it takes to get serious?

I love Victoria Dahl. Here’s a bit why.

Never have I read a female in a romance novel that was so sexually empowered. Sophie prided herself on looking like a good girl on the outside but, on the inside, she knew what she liked. She feared showing her sexual side to anyone who was tied to her town because she felt very strongly about keeping her reputation in check. This meant very sporadic hookups with men she’d probably never see again.

Let me say this. If you are not a fan of the love-me-harder dirty talk, Looking for Trouble might not be right for your nightcap. Sophie shocked me a little bit at first because I was not expecting her to be so direct about her sexual needs and part of me hates that I was surprised by that! Obviously, more female characters should feel comfortable enough to know what they want and express it!

Anyway. In a sort of Romeo and Juliet twist, Alex returns to Jackson Hole to reunite with his older brother and mom. Turns out his deceased dad cheated on the family with Sophie’s mom. Their extramarital escapades still haunt the small town and the two families years and years later. But Alex has no idea who Sophie is and Sophie isn’t planning to make their “thing” something frequent but this changes (!!) with feelings and fiery sex and realizations.

Not only can I count on Dahl to spice up my reading list, but she always provides such detailed histories for her characters. Why hasn’t Sophie left Jackson Hole? Why wasn’t Alex more curious about his brother and mother over the years? Can they both overcome the town gossip and the hurt feelings to make their relationship work? There’s a lot more to the story than two people falling in love. Plus Dahl introduces some great girlfriends, and I’m always a fan of those candid moments shared with gal pals.

It’s true I haven’t been disappointed by a Dahl novel yet, but I think Looking for Trouble is my new favorite.

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Estelle: After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins ReidAfter I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Pages: 352
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: marriage, family, independence
Format read: Finished copy from publisher. (Thank you!)
Also reviewed: Forever Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Summary: After six years of marriage, Ryan and Lauren decide to take a major break when neither are happy anymore. For an entire year, they will live their lives independent of one another — with absolutely not contact. Told from Lauren’s POV, she struggles with this joint decision. How will time apart ensure a happy marriage in the future? She has no idea.

When we first meet Lauren and Ryan, they are fighting over something silly: where they parked their car at a baseball game. For some, this is an annoyance that is easy to shake off but for these two, it was only part of something bigger. I think it’s impossible to be married to someone so long, friends with someone so long, RELATED to someone so long that the little things don’t get to you and you find yourself arguing over the mundane or taking something a little too personally. It’s too easy to take the people we know will always be there for granted. Sure, we can treat them like a mini-punching bag sometimes because they are never going to leave us. But what happens when that behavior is circling all the time and you are only happy when you are sleeping or find a moment to yourself?

I thought it was brave when Lauren and Ryan decided to take a sabbatical from one another. An unconventional way to “fix” things for sure but a decision they were able to come to together. Live apart for a year, cut off contact completely and see where they are after it’s all finished. For some reason I thought Lauren would do something drastic like go on a wild trip and take time off from her job but she surprised me because she stayed put. She went to work at the alumni department of a college, had lunch with her best friend (Mila),  hung out with her sister (Rachel), and enjoyed time alone with her dog. After going through the motions of a life void of Ryan for awhile, she did start living… but in a very normal kind of way.

This is what I’ve come to expect from Reid and I love it. The actions of her characters (even when they are shitty) are as realistic as they come. Lauren seesaws with her feelings about Ryan, about marriage, and what love really means. For this one year, she goes back to her roots and finds the Lauren she might have lost along the way. She spends time with her amazingly hilarious and diverse family — dramatic but well-meaning grandma, a single mom, her sister who doesn’t feel the need to get married, and a younger brother who is always surprising her. It also goes to show how much one person’s marriage affects a group of people. Everyone in Lauren’s family was mourning the loss of Ryan in their own way, but it never affected their support of her. Reid was so great at sharing the funny, quirky side of this family (+ her friends); their involvement added the perfect balance to what could have been a super depressing book.

As much as I love TV spoilers, I never feel that urge to skip to the end of a book. It’s all about the journey, right? But Reid tempted me. I needed to know that Lauren and Ryan’s year apart would bring them closer together in the end. I needed that happily ever after (or whatever)! But I didn’t succumb to the temptation. (I’m actually pretty proud of myself.) Again, Reid has a way of writing about regular folk that makes me never want to let her characters go. I laughed, I cried, and, since I’ve finished, felt the need to recommend it to just about everyone I know. Reid creates characters who are relatable, complicated, and oh-so memorable.

Happiness doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone, and I think Reid conquers the messy, thoughtful path that gets us to that realization so genuinely.

I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

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