What This Book Gave To Me

You know when you have a trilogy and the second movie (unfortunately) feels like it exists just to get to the final installment? That’s a little bit of what this year has felt like. Some progress, a few steps back, major happy moments, and some really disappointing ones.  I think 2015 may have existed just to push me toward the next year, so with that understanding, fingers crossed for 2016 to be a bit more… steady and wonderful.

As always, books have continued to be my anchor when I needed to escape the real world and my gosh, there were so many fantastic ones this year. There were definitely some standouts — and not in a top 10 of the year kind of way — but more of a “oh my god this book is saving me and I didn’t even know I needed to be saved kind of way”. So that’s what this post is about — how powerful and emotional and impactful some titles have been for me this year. I hope it gets you thinking the books in your life that made you feel similarly this year.

♥

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine CenterHappiness for Beginners by Katherine Center seems like the logical place to start. The main character needs to escape the blah realities of her current situation and embarks on something totally out of her comfort zone — which means she sucks at it for awhile but learns about her so much along the way. Halfway through the year, I started a new workout and nutrition regime, and surprisingly, fell in love with yoga. It’s not the same as hiking in the great outdoors for a number of days on end, but it definitely felt like it. Feeling strong, seeing my body change, and realizing I had discovered a habit that actually calmed me? Priceless.

In keeping with the highs of the year, both Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer and Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid made me think of the steady females in my life (the golden old ones, and the surprising new ones) who lend me support and make me better. (I shine if you shine!) They also reminded me how the tiniest decisions can have the greatest impact on the directions of our lives and there’s no life roadmap we have to follow step by step; it takes time to find our ways, it takes mistakes to get us where we are going and we are that much better for our blunders.

First There Was Forever by Juliana RomanoSpeaking of blunders, I spent way too much time this year asking myself what I did wrong for certain situations to turn out like they did. Even when I tried to forget or let it go, they popped up again and again, and while these events have contributed to the hurt and insecurity that has plagued me more than I care to admit, I do wonder if these moments have led me to realize that 1] friendships work when a person can switch off between being the supporter and the supportee (Tonight the Streets are Ours by Leila Sales is the first YA novel where I related more to the mom than the young main character) 2] forgiveness is the key to a long, nuanced friendship (Molly and Imogene in 99 Days by Katie Cotugno are on point, as are Willowdean and Ellen in Dumplin’)  3] there’s truth to the saying that some are only meant to be in your life for a sliver of time (First There Was Forever by Juliana Romano), and this truth is something you have to train yourself to believe time and time again, and 4] brand new friendships can be scary but so worth it (Feeling Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty).

In a steady string of books about sisters this year, and in the same year, that my mom lost her sister, these tales (This Raging Light by Estelle Laure; Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt; Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu) comforted me because they nailed the bond between two people who are brought up to love one another but also be separate people with their own story. Family is this funny thing; we all know that. Things can go from great to prickly in a matter of minutes; suddenly you are walking on eggshells when all you want to do is laugh and just relax together up against a confusing and unpredictable outside world. You know each other so well; it’s so easy to hurt each other too. Your relationship is this constant battle of finding balance in pleasing the other without doing exactly what the other wants you to do. Does that make sense? I’m still figuring it out myself…

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. SmithAnd lastly to three books that reminded me of how emotional reading can be… I finished Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith while waiting out a delayed flight back home from visiting my dear friend, Magan. This book made me weep because I recognized the control the main character wanted in regarded to her future. Would she be friends with the same people once she left for college? Would she love the same boy? I may be far away from that time in my life, but the series of greetings and so longs comes just as steadily, and often, unplanned these days. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin hits on final moments too — the kind you never want to revisit but are forced to — even if you work so hard to prolong the inevitable. But there is hope. And Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead — a book that felt as familiar as cocoa on a warm winter’s night and a movie night with your best gal pals — reminds us that the sad times and the uncomfy-ness of change can also uncover new bonds, new moments to laugh about, and new sides of ourselves yet to unveiled. Siblings have your back, your friendships evolve but remain constant, and we are all on this Earth to do something special, be special to somebody.

♥

A heartfelt thanks to the above authors who challenged my emotions, made me feel like I had someone in my corner, and improved my ability to be not only a compassionate reader but a more compassionate person.

Top 10 Tuesday: Not Reviewed but Highly Recommended

top ten tuesday hosted by the broke and the bookish

Oh hey there! Since it’s a freebie week, I thought I would jump in today and BE CREATIVE. I recruited my husband to help me think of a topic. Options ranged from BOOKS WITH MUPPET REFERENCES and BOOKS THAT COULDN’T FIT INTO ANY OTHER TOP 10 LIST. But I settled on this one because it’s true — sharing the blog with Magan means not reviewing every book I read, which is great. I do make the time to read the books she loved + reviewed, reread old favorites, check out other books, etc. There’s no real rhyme or reason to what I pick to review. I make sure I absolutely HAVE SOMETHING I WANT TO SAY and then I just go from there. But sometimes, there just isn’t time or space or whatever reason.

Here’s where today’s list comes in. I hope something catches your eye!

1-2. Time Between Us series by Tamara Ireland Stone

For awhile, I had quite the aversion to books that were not contemporary. I know it was just fear of the unknown, and gosh, I am so glad I let go of all of that and checked out this series after seeing Tamara at a reading. The music references, the romance, the family aspect… this series kept me up WAY late.

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3. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth

An intense story where the main character is forced to change who she is. I read this at the end of the 2012 and remember sitting on my couch, completely riveted but all the emotions and intense characters. The book is very long but spans a ton of time, and is worth picking up. (When is Emily writing another book?)

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4. The Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Daria Snadowsky

I reviewed Snadowsky’s second book, THE ANATOMY OF A SINGLE GIRL, having no idea that it was a companion to this book. A few things were spoiled sure, but I loved reading about Dom’s senior year, her first time falling in love, and her (difficult because of high pressure) relationship with her supportive parents as she sets forth to make big decisions like picking a college and choosing to live away from home or not. It was definitely authentic to my own senior year experiences.

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5. Alienated by Melissa Launders

I know… Estelle and a book about aliens? What is happening?! It’s true, folks. I totally loved this one. The chemistry between the two characters is great, I loved Cara’s tenacity and loyalty, and the world that Melissa dreamed up was so so so fantastic. I read it, immediately lent it to my coworker, and put it on my shopping list. I also cannot WAIT for book 2.

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6. Past Perfect by Leila Sales

The LOVELY Hannah from So Obsessed With gifted me this one for my birthday + I read it pretty soon after I got it. Whenever someone is looking for a great book about BEST FRIENDS … this is one of my recommendations. Hands down. The relationship between the main character and her best friend is not perfect (in the best way). This is why it felt so real, and why I couldn’t put it down. (Plus there’s a swoony romance and an interesting setting — historical village!)

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7. Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos

Um, I have to scream about this book from the rooftops. I am so ashamed that I haven’t. Ugh. Terrible, Estelle. Terrible. This book made me laugh, it made me cry, and I just wanted to hug it. (Instead, I just passed it to my mom to read.) A main character who is battling abusive parents, his runaway sister, and falling in love at school. It was so charming and so realistic. Read it. Now. (I am thinking about ways to plug this book in the future… right now.)

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8. Uses for Boys by Erica Lorriane Scheidt

I know this book left a lot of readers up in arms over it. WHAT DID IT ALL MEAN? But I thought it was heartbreakingly beautiful and the writing was so poetic — I wanted to just fall into it. Yes, the main character does latch on to guys. She does. But, like everyone in the world, she was trying to find HER home HER happy place in many unfortunate situations. I read it in close to one sitting and wow, it totally blew me away.

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9. Kiss the Morning Star by Elissa Janine Hoole

A road trip, best friends, self-discovery. A very unique take on all three of these things; so gorgeously written and so well-done. I bought a copy for Magan right after I finished. (I think I borrowed mine from the library.) I think that should tell you all you need to know right there.

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10. Freefall by Mindi Scott

Thanks to the awesome Ginger for bringing Mindi Scott into my life; both of her books are fantastic but I’m spotlighting Freefall today. I remember devouring this story of a boy dealing with the death of his best friend and slowly trying to change what is expected of him within his family and his town. Mindi does a great job of dissecting the more difficult situations in life, and she really wowed me with this one.

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Okay! A quick recap:

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TTT Worth It Not Reviewed

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A few thoughts… do you share reviews for every book that you read? How do you decide?
Any that you want to recommend to me?? I’d love to hear them!

Thanks for stopping in! Happy Tuesday!

TTT: Our New Favorite Must-Read Authors

Welcome back for a new Top Ten Tuesday post! Today, the awesome ladies at The Broke and the Bookish are asking which authors were new-to-us this year. That doesn’t have to be limited to newly published authors, but it could be someone we’ve had on our radar for a long while and finally picked up their book. We’re tag-teaming for this post since we both fell in love with some pretty amazing authors this year!

♥

Magan:

Amy Spalding: Author of Ink is Thicker Than Water and The Reece Malcolm List

new author amy spalding

Amy explores really unique family situations with extremely in-depth character development. I adore how her character’s lives are so well-rounded and not focused on just one specific aspect with everything else left to question.

Andrew Smith: Author of Winger

andrew smith author

Have you guys noticed that I’ve recommended this book for just about every list we’ve created since I read Winger? I’m not kidding. It’s fantastic. I want ALL of Andrew’s books now.

Leila Sales: Author of This Song Will Save Your Life

recommendation for leila sales

I love books that really dive into finding your place and growing to accept who you are, even if you’re different than everyone else. This book is the epitome of that and though I didn’t always relate to Elise, I loved her journey.

Rainbow Rowell: Author of Fangirl and Eleanor & Park

recommendation for books by rainbow rowell

Full disclosure: Rainbow is an auto-buy. My husband has to accept that any books by her will be immediately pre-ordered. No questions asked.

Leila Howland: Author of Nantucket Blue

book recommendations for leila howland

As someone who has gone through some weird friendship mishaps, I felt Leila nailed the frustration and unease over a friendship disbanding. But then then there’s also the amazing setting and sexy love interest, too. 😉

Estelle:

For the record, Magan STOLE a few of my picks from me. HOW DARE SHE DO THIS? I absolutely loved Leila Howland, Andrew Smith, and Amy Spalding’s work this year too!

Elana K. Arnold: Author of Burning

Burning by Elana K. Arnold

With so many YA books out there, it’s hard to stand out but Arnold succeeded with Burning: two teenagers, who grew up in totally different environments (one in a soon-to-be extinct mine town and the other with a family of modern gypsies) and are trying to come into their own. Unique circumstances but genuine and true feelings at the core. I need to read the rest of Elana’s backlist.

Rachel Shukert: Author of Starstruck

Starstruck by Rachel Shukert

Historical young adult books make me nervous but Shukert has researched Hollywood of the 30s so well I felt like I was really there. It’s glamorous, it’s daunting, and each of the ladies in this story have to deal with a certain amount of roadblocks and expectations. Such a well-rounded story, and I can’t wait for the next installment. (Plus Shukert used to write recaps of SMASH for New York Magazine and she is hilarious.)

Bill Konigsberg: Author of Openly Straight

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Konigsberg has delivered some of the most memorable characters I have ever read — Rafe, oh Rafe, I want you to be my best friend. He’s trying to figure himself out, making mistakes left and right, but he has so much heart. Openly Straight is one of my favorite books this year (maybe ever) and made me a Konigsberg fan for life.

Corey Ann Haydu: Author of OCD Love Story

OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu

It can’t be easy to write a character who thinks she is the “normal” one when really she is just as much of a work in progress as the rest of her therapy group. OCD Love Story made me feel so uncomfortable, but only in the best way. I was totally channeling Bea, and whew, was it a journey. Can’t wait for Haydu’s Life in Committee (spring release) and you know what? She’s the best tweeter too!

Tamara Ireland Stone: Author of Time Between Us series

Time Between Us series by Tamara Ireland Stone

Why oh why did I wait so long to read these? I haven’t reviewed them on the blog but Ireland’s time travel rules, the romance, the families, and all the love of music? It’s so so wonderful and incredibly addicting.

[ Bonus ] Katie Cotugno: Author of How to Love

How to Love by Katie Cotugno

From page 1, I was completely invested and enthralled in Sawyer and Reena’s story. I stayed up all night to read it, and I still can’t pinpoint what exactly it was about this book. Here’s a guess: gorgeous, well-paced writing, the mystery of second chances, and a great balance of friends, family, and obtaining those out-of-reach dreams.

♥

Who were your standout authors this year?
Who should we be looking forward to reading books by in 2014?

On a Personal Note: Making Moves

Making Moves Rather Be Reading 1

“We just didn’t know what we wanted.”

My husband said this to me this weekend while we were hanging out on our couch. We realized this week would be the one year mark since we sold the house we lived in for three years, and decided to move into an apartment in the city. The main reason was his return to school to obtain a law degree, but in the months following, it sort of became our excuse to leave and find a place that we loved living.

Everything sounds like a fabulous idea when you don’t know what you want, exactly. Maybe people around you are telling you what you want, and it all seems so easy and so attainable. Until it’s all a bit out of control. I think that’s how my husband and I were feeling. We weren’t ready to make the decision between going to the beach and mowing the lawn. Watching all our hard-earned salary swallowed by a house that still needed more work, a train ticket with a less than reliable commute, and our time just ticking away. (Plus all our friends lived so far away. It was lonely.)

Making Moves Rather Be Reading 2

It would have been easy to stay and suck it up. Definitely. Maybe this was just a rut and in a few months or a year, we would have felt more settled or… something. But instead we decided to pack up our house, sell a lot of our belongings, store even more of them, and leave the house that both sets of parents had put so much time into to make it livable for us. I always liked the idea of that legacy for our home. Cleaned and disinfected and loved by our family as much as us, and in ways, that was the hardest detail to part with.

So many people think that young adult books don’t relate to real life. But I think they do so much, especially in this situation. So many times you meet characters who are unhappy with a part of their lives and just decide to stick it out. Maybe that works for them. Other times, characters take a chance, a huge leap because it’s the right time, because they can, or because they have no choice.

It’s been a year of learning how to be flexible when the husband’s schedule is ever-changing, finally figuring out how to budget (I am still not good at this), a lot of loss (oh the loss), and a lot less TV. (We only have one.) But you know what? This weekend and the weekend before I have been brimming with so much happiness. So happy to be on this adventure with my husband, knowing we made this decision ourselves, and positive that it was the very best move we could make.

Making Moves Rather Be Reading 3

When you’ve been with someone for 8 years or so, it’s difficult to believe that they could surprise you time and time again. But I have been just elated with my husband and his dedication to school and this sense of curiosity I don’t remember him having as much when we started dating. He wants to spend time outside, find new places to eat, look at new parks, and as long as it’s a subway away, all of these possibilities are right at our fingertips.

Even though I miss the space from our house or the backyard or even the nearby Target, I would not trade this new chapter for anything. Not only are we happier and inching closer to the lives we want for ourselves, but I know it’s okay if I don’t always make the right decision the first time around. There are ways to make things better, even if it takes some work to get there. You just have to go for it.

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RELATED BOOK SUGGESTIONS

This Song Will Change Your Life by Leila Sales | Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer | Where You Are by J.H. Trumble

(Note on the pictures: I took them this weekend at a park in Long Island City overlooking Manhattan.)

Estelle: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila SalesThis Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 9/17/2013
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: bullying, music, high school, suicide, being a loner, self-discovery
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)

Summary:  Elise can’t win. After years and years of trying to fit in at school, her final attempt to make it happen totally fails. A need for attention, a scary decision, and seven months later, Elise has her parents watching her every move and school isn’t any better. In fact, it’s kind of getting worse. When a late night walk leads her to an underground dance club, Elise feels like she might be on the cusp of a whole new her.

Honestly, I have no idea why Elise was ostracized by the kids in her school, year after year. It makes me alternately angry and sympathetic that this girl could not do a thing to get accepted. That could tear anyone down. The pressure to excel in school and THEN the added responsibility to crack the code on fitting in? It’s emotionally exhausting to think about, and only someone like Elise, so smart and focused, would keep trying.

Her final attempt to win people’s attention is surprising. Why? The tone is utterly nonchalant and Elise shows such ownership over her decision. These are her feelings and no one can tell her she is wrong. And also because this event (which we learn more about as the book goes on) leads her to the something that changes the course of her life. In absolutely great and painful ways. That something is START, an underground dance club that Elise stumbles upon during one of her late night walks.

I think my experience with This Song Will Save Your Life is a lot like Elise’s nights at START. The more she went, the more excited and enthralled she became and the more I read, the more I did not want to let this book out of my sight. Vicky and Pippa were her first true friend prospects; Char was hot and knew so much about music as the DJ. The dancing! The electricity! And how Elise felt when she took a turn in the DJ booth? I was there with her. Totally exhilarated and powerful. Ready for anything.

Like Elise, I’m totally a project person. I love to keep busy and learn new things. I don’t think I’ve ever reached the kind of success Elise has in so many things so it’s not surprising when she convinces her dad to get her some DJ equipment and this becomes her thing. She’s always been a music fanatic but this brings her passion to a whole new level. It also means more time with Vicky, more private time with Char, and crazy opportunities she never thought she would have. Is it possible for the girl who sits basically alone at a lunch table to command a dance floor at a club?

Hell yes.

While I loved all the musical aspects of This Song, I related so much more to the search for identity and feeling of contentment when it comes to accepting ourselves. Or the fact that people aren’t always who you think they are, or want them to be. See. I suffer from high expectations from the human race, and this has gotten me in trouble many many times. But I still hope for the best. Sales presents all sides here so effectively: the side where people believe they know you and trample all over you, the part where you think you know someone and they totally disappoint you, and best of all, surprising everyone and blasting their preconceived notions.

Elise does a lot of growing up in this book. Even when she moves forward, she still messes up. Learning to like yourself and accept your lot in life is a task we have to commit to every day. There is always someone who isn’t going to like our decisions, or agree with us, or like us for whatever reason. It’s so difficult to look past all of that and just do your thing. But I loved tagging along on Elise’s journey.

Leila Sales has delivered a book I would declare “pretty much perfect.” It’s absolutely complex and there’s a lot happening but she balances the plotlines so well, and also gives us shining supporting characters and amazing family dynamics too. She managed to bring such an upbeat and refreshing tone to a book that contains such hardship. I am in total awe.

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