book cover for the prince of venice beach by blake nelson

Why in 5: The Prince of Venice Beach by Blake Nelson

book cover for the prince of venice beach by blake nelson

The Prince of Venice Beach by Blake Nelson (twitter | website)
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 240 Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: homeless teenager, private detective, teens on the run
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Cali fled to California after running away from his foster home. He lives a quiet life, trying to stay out of trouble and not get sent back home before he turns 18. He has a lot of connections that lead cops and other detectives to hire him on the side to find missing people.

Howdy, friends! Looking for a book that’s flown a little under the radar? I’m here with a “Why in 5” to tell you about The Prince of Venice Beach.

  1. Not a ton of books written from the male POV catch my attention. I’m not sure if that’s because there simply aren’t a lot out there, but they’re so refreshing. Like when I read Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, I was captivated by the unique, gruff voice of the main character, Cali. He’s a runaway who fled the foster care system and relocated to Venice Beach, California. He sleeps in a treehouse, lives minimally, and is off the grid so no one can force him to return to his bad living situation. (My heart for foster care just ached that things could be so bad for a teenager that running away and living with practically nothing would be the better option. That’s not the main focus of this book, but I just needed to point that out.)
  2. Cali’s interests are attention-grabbing, but his protective nature is what really makes him likable. He enjoys playing basketball with a God-loving man named Jojo who will (and does) give someone else in greater need the shoes off his own feet. Jojo could very easily be an NBA player if his life circumstances were different. Cali takes a young runaway, Strawberry, under his wing and tries to keep tabs on her because she seems so fragile and naive. He befriends an awkwardly smart girl, Ailis, who he knows has more-than-friendship feelings for him, but he wants to make sure she’s not alone because her home situation is frightening.
  3. Cali is approached by a man to help investigate the whereabouts of someone he’s looking for. Cali is “in the know” and decides he wants to become a private investigator. He excels at trailing and locating people, but when someone he helps find disappears completely, he becomes conflicted. He’s not given specific information about why he’s finding everyone; he puts up a guard and tries to determine if he’s doing the right thing.
  4. Uncertain of himself, Cali is asked yet again to find someone, a young, rich girl named Reese, who has taken off. His internal conflict intensifies when he finds her and she explains why she’s on the run; her father is providing a completely different story. Which is true? This could mean a life of freedom for Reese or extreme circumstances if he believes her father. Wrapped up in the middle of the tangled web, Cali finds himself unsure of what to do.
  5. Cali’s story is unique because his perspective and life-outlook is so different than anything else I’ve read. The story slowly builds to become something much darker and deeper than I expected. The Prince of Venice Beach touches on a lot of great discussion topics: Can Cali fight to make something of himself? Is a good-paying job worth the risk if it means doing something you don’t believe is right? What happens when someone you care about gets wrapped up in the chaos?

Definitely pick up The Prince of Venice Beach if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path than your usual YA contemporary reads. Cali’s a character worth taking a chance on. rather be reading borrow from the library icon

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Estelle: Roomies by Tara Altebrando + Sara Zarr

Roomies by Tara Altebrando and Sara ZarrRoomies by Tara Altebrando ( web | tweet ) and Sara Zarr ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: December 24, 2013
Publisher: Little Brown
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: summer before college, California, New Jersey, college roommates, technology
Format read: Paperback ARC from Novel Sounds. (Thanks!)

Summary: The summer before college, two strangers “meet” on separate coasts. Elizabeth from New Jersey and Lauren from San Francisco are going to be roommates when they start college in the fall. Their summers are full of romance, family drama, and tons of change and as the days get closer to their first meeting, they rely more and more on each other.

Five pages into Roomies, I was thanking the book gods for placing it in my hands.

The summer before I left for college was pretty rough. I started dating a new guy (this would lead to a long distance relationship), my mom and I were fighting all the time (there is this one fight over paper towels that I can’t seem to forget), and I was working two jobs. It was a lot. Then there’s that extra layer of all your friends leaving for college one by one, and you are basically the only one left. (Our school started late.)

Your emotions are so jumbled up. On one hand, you are so excited to start a new thing and get out of the town you grew up in and on the other, you are totally terrified to leave the comforts of your friendships, your house, and your parents — scared to leave the past behind. (Ten years later, it’s funny to me that these are the same fears I have now. Scared to move forward, excited to jump ahead. I can never make up my mind.)

Elizabeth (EB) and Lauren are feeling such similar things: tension with their best friends, on the brink of new romances, and then the family stuff. For Elizabeth, she is so ready to get out of the nest and away from her mother, who is too busy dating the wrong men to spend time with her and for Lauren, she’s so used to being a big part in taking care of her big family. Her mom and dad really depend on her to take on a lot of work at home: baby-sitting, cleaning, you name it, she does it. So Lauren’s a little apprehensive: can her parents do this without her? How will her siblings deal with missing her?

Through each of their characters, Altebrando and Zarr hit on so many intriguing conclusions on friendships: the dependence you feel on old friends and the hope that new friendships can become just as meaningful. As these girls get deeper and deeper into the summer and find themselves leaning on one another, you are left to wonder how their relationship will hold up in real time, face to face. While this book is so much about moving forward and growing up, there’s also some interesting commentary on technology: how easy it is to confide in a stranger through email, and how easy it is to doubt the genuineness of the person on the other side. Trust totally comes into play.

Separately, Altebrando and Zarr write books that are memorable, touching, and so quote-worthy I might as well highlight the entire thing. But together? It’s almost out of control how much I felt immediately at home, ready to curl up with hot cocoa until I was done. Elizabeth’s landscape architecture dreams, Lauren’s lack of “real” phone, and then the boys — EB’s Mark and his sweet tasks for the summer and Lauren’s Keyon and how he always asks his dad for advice about her (Keyon’s dad soon becomes synonymous with adult wisdom for both girls). There is absolutely so much to enjoy in Roomies; I couldn’t possibly list it all.

This is definitely a book that is meant to be re-read time and time again and absolutely the best reading experience to end your year.

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Estelle: Reality Boy by A.S. King

Reality Boy by A.S. KingReality Boy by A.S. King ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Pages: 368
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: reality TV, anger management, family dynamics
Format read: ARC paperback from TLA.

Summary: A small part of Gerald’s childhood was documented on Network Nanny, and 12 years later, he is still tormented by classmates, his family, and his own insecurities created by his “Crapper” legacy. Will he ever be able to leave all of that behind and find a place where he can feel at home surrounded by people who care?

I did it! I finally read my first A.S. King book and I am so very glad that I did.

I’m not much of a reality show fan (unless there are spray tans, sequins, and live bands involved) so before I even started Reality Boy, I felt a certain disdain for Network Nanny — the show that Gerald and his family were on 12 years ago. The episodes, featuring an English “nanny” who was sent to their home to help them maintain discipline and some kind of familial happiness, cut and paste Gerald’s childhood for the maximum entertainment of the audience, and that continues to haunt him after the last camera leaves his home.

I really love reading books from a male’s perspective (why is it so rare?) and Gerald’s voice was so unique because he was just SO angry that people could not forget that he was the one who crapped in people’s shoes or in their beds (ew, true story) when he was just a little kid acting out over the injustices in his house. Seriously, the dynamic in the Faust home is majorly messed up. Parents who do not get a long, a troublesome older sister who gets everything she wants, and two younger siblings who are the victims of her unnecessary rage.

No wonder why Gerald felt alone. He felt zero support from his mother who was perfectly okay with him being in special ed classes when he didn’t need to be, his sister was not only physically abusive but verbally, and his father just couldn’t stand up to anyone, even for the sake of his son’s safety or happiness. It’s no wonder Gerald has a to take a trip to his “happy place” filled with ice cream and Disney characters just to feel some sense of calm.

Then there is Register #1 girl a.k.a. Hannah who works with Gerald serving food at sporting and circus events. She’s sort of quiet and keeps to herself, writing in a little notebook. Gerald has a major crush on her, and their budding friendship is seriously the best thing in his life in just about forever. Like him, she is fed up with her home life but for entirely different reasons. There are a lot of growing pains between the two, and it’s interesting to see how both of their situations affect how they treat one another. Can they overcome all their drama?

Reality Boy focuses on some super serious subject matter; it’s true. But the short chapters make the entire book incredibly fast-paced and even though there was times I was very scared thinking about what Gerald could do to himself or to others, I was so intrigued by his voice. King is a fantastic writer, and I really love all the tough dynamics she brought to the surface. It’s really hard for any young person to decide to put themselves before their family. It’s just not the way things should go. Parents should care about their kids, treat all of them equally, and not ignore problems. But unfortunately, this happens. I was so interested to see if Gerald could find it in himself to move forward, and who would be on his team in the end.

(From the reality TV standpoint, it’s super discussion-worthy to wonder about the consequences of this form of entertainment. How kids will feel when they are adult, and never having any control or say as to what their parents put on TV. We want to be able to trust the adults in our lives but sometimes they don’t always make the correct decisions for us. Wouldn’t this be great to chat about in book club?)

I’m looking forward to checking out more of King’s work pronto.

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Magan: Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

Book Cover for Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (website | twitter)
Publication Date: November 12, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 272
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: secrets, feuding parents, prisoner on Death Row, UK
Format Read: ARC received from the publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: Zoe has a BIG secret, one she’s afraid to tell. The only way she feels she can get some closure is if she confesses. She chooses a man on Death Row, Stuart, as the person she’ll confess to through a sequence of letters.

 

Prison. It just dawned on me that this isn’t something I’ve read about much in my literary explorations. What are the odds that I would read two books back-to-back that would have this in common? Completely coincidence I’m sure. 

Alas, Ketchup Clouds is about young Zoe, a girl who lives in the UK and begins writing letters to a Texas prisoner. She chooses a man awaiting execution from a website and begins writing to him under a pseudonym. Though she changes some locational details, she is forthright about the nitty-gritty aspects of her life that led her to write to him. Zoe has a secret — something she feels she cannot confess to anyone but this stranger. Each “chapter” is a letter Zoe writes to Stuart Harris, reliving a bit of the past and relinquishing a few more details each time.

Since Zoe doesn’t offer a return address for Stuart, the story is very much one-sided. Her letters are the platform she chooses to communicate what she’s done wrong. Stuart’s voice is conveyed through Zoe’s letters as well, as she shares with readers the little she knows about him and begins to speculate as time ticks on how he must be feeling as they approach the date of his execution. Admittedly, the speculative portions of Zoe’s letters were some of my least favorite scenes because I didn’t feel extremely connected to Stuart; maybe I sound heartless, but I desperately wanted to know what she was hiding, therefore, I needed her to quit hypothesizing about how he might feel as he lives out his last days.

Zoe is a normal-ish high school girl who lives under the strict umbrella of her parent’s rules, but desperately wants to break out of that mold to experience more: parties, dating, and boys. Her parent’s focus is skewed when a situation arises with her grandfather and miscommunication affords Zoe the opportunity to manipulate her parents and weasel her way into a few social situations. It’s here that our drama starts to unfold as we see Zoe balance a very fine line as she lies and breaks a few unspoken rules.

Ketchup Clouds held my attention as I fought to piece together the mystery of Zoe. While I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the secret in the end, I do feel it was a very age-appropriate reaction to the situation at hand and accurately depicted how I would have felt were I to swap places with Zoe. I really enjoyed that Pitcher chose such a unique way of sharing Zoe’s story, and was happy with (what I’d consider) the surprise I found waiting for me at the end of the book. I was taken a bit outside my element as I was subtly forced to think about a prisoner on Death Row, but equally captivated by the secret Zoe was so afraid to share.

If you’re looking for something different that will offer you a unique reading experience, definitely take a chance on Ketchup Clouds.

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Sweet Summertime Reads: Setting the Scene (Jennifer E. Smith)

Sweet Summertime Reads - Summer Beach Reads Feature with Fiction Folio and GReads!

Note from Estelle: I am not ashamed to call myself a Jennifer E. Smith cheerleader. Since I read through all of her books last year, Jennifer has easily become one of my go-to authors. This year, she released a sweet story called THIS IS WHAT HAPPY LOOKS LIKE about every girl’s dream: falling for and meeting a celebrity. (Even though the main character had no idea her internet pen pal was said celebrity.) She was also the editor of Lauren Graham’s New York Times best-seller, SOMEDAY, SOMEDAY, MAYBE.

At a New York City book event back in March, I was really intrigued when she started talking about the setting of HAPPY. It started as a real place and morphed into a mixture of a few. I’m psyched to say Jennifer was awesome enough to agree to write about how the setting of HAPPY came to be as part of Sweet Summertime Reads. I hope you enjoy all she has to say and check out her great collection of books!

Take it away, Jennifer!

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When I first started writing This Is What Happy Looks Like, I knew the story would take place in Maine.  Even though I hadn’t been there in years, all those little towns along the coast had left their mark on me, and there’s something about them that has always felt quintessentially summery.

There were two places in particular that came to mind as ideal backdrops for the book: Camden and Marblehead.  They both seemed to match up to the images in my head; they were lovely and picturesque and a little bit quaint, but they had wilder sides to them, too, coastlines that were breathtaking and unforgettable.

I did a quick refresher course in the geography of both towns and ended up going with Camden as the setting.  But as I began to write, I realized that bits and pieces of Marblehead were creeping in, too: a gift shop, a stretch of beach, a lobster shack; little things that were conspiring to turn a real place into an imaginary one.

In my previous novel, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, much of the action took place in London, a place that’s pretty hard to fictionalize, and even though I’d been there many times, I still ended up spending a lot of time on Google maps to make sure I had the lay of the land.  But with this book, it occurred to me that maybe sticking to the facts wasn’t as important as getting the feel of the place right.

In the meantime, I was writing this book from my apartment in New York City, and I was starting to feel like I needed to get to the ocean for a little inspiration.  Since I didn’t have time to take a trip to Maine, I ended up hopping a train to Montauk one weekend, another coastal town, but this one in New York, on the very tip of Long Island.  And so, of course, that began to work its way into the book, too.

Montauk Jennifer E Smith inspiration for This is What Happy Looks Like

Whenever you write about a place, whether it’s real or fictional, this is what happens.  You can’t help but bring your own memories and experiences with you.  Even if the ice cream shop is based on someplace real, even if you’ve visited it a thousand times and ordered a thousand cones and can describe the layout with a blindfold on, it’s never going to be just about that particular ice cream shop.  Other places will inevitably find their way in, too, and sometimes in the unlikeliest of ways: the memory of a flavor your tried one summer in a different town; a joke you heard once in a candy shop; the person you were with when you dropped your cone that one time, and the way they laughed, how it echoed in the quiet of the shop.  Writers are like magpies; we take a piece of string from one branch, a bit of foil from another, a few twigs from the ground, and we use all of these to build our nests.

So in this way, it became clear very early on that I wasn’t just writing about Camden, or Marblehead, or even Montauk.  I was also writing about Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, where I spent summers at my best friend’s lake house, and Lake Tahoe in California, where I go with my family every year, and places in Florida and North Carolina and even Scotland, too.  And that was a good thing, because it only helped enrich the book, infusing it with not just the experiences of my fictional characters, but also my own memories from all the many seaside towns I’ve visited along the way.

So I finally gave in, and the town became Henley, Maine: entirely fictional, yet somehow as real to me as any place I’ve ever been…

In the wise words of Herman Melville: “It is not down on any map; true places never are.”

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Huge thanks to Jennifer for taking the time to stop in today!

Jennifer E. Smith This is What Happy Looks Like Guest Post about the story's setting

Check out Jennifer’s website | Follow her on Twitter | This is What Happy Looks Like

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More Sweet Summertime Reads fun @ GReadsBooks + Fiction Folio

book review of When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney

Magan: When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney

book review of When You Were Here by Daisy WhitneyWhen You Were Here by Daisy Whitney (twitter | website)
Publication Date
: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown
Pages: 264
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: loss of a parent, grief, Tokyo, relationships that don’t end well
Format read: ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley. (Thank you!)
Other Books Read by the Author: The Mockingbirds (a joint review)

Summary: Just a few short years after the loss of his father, Danny’s mom dies a few weeks shy of his high school graduation from the cancer she’s been battling. Danny is lonely and seeking answers; he goes to Tokyo to learn more about his mom’s last few months, treatments, and to seek peace after his unexplained break-up from his girlfriend, Holland.

Very, very thankfully I haven’t had to work through a parental loss. I can’t imagine what Danny must have been feeling when at 18, he finds himself without both parents. His father passed away after a freak accident in Japan a few years prior. Present day he’s reeling from the loss of his mother who passed away after a long battle with cancer, one month shy of his high school graduation. Further complicating his family dynamic, he and his (adopted, older) sister aren’t necessarily on good terms. Understandably, Danny is feeling very alone and lost.

He would turn to his best friend Holland for help and a listening ear, but Danny started dating her last year and then she completely cut off communication shortly after leaving for college. Even though she’s back home for the summer, things just aren’t the same. Danny and Holland can easily slip back into their witty banter, but Danny feels guarded because he’s still deeply in love with Holland. Without answers and a huge helping of honesty, he just can’t let things go back to the way they were.

To clear his mind, let go of Holland, and seek answers to burning questions he’s got about his mom’s passing, Danny takes off for Tokyo. His parents owned a house there and they frequently visited as a family. Danny’s mom visited Tokyo often throughout her last months for treatment and he feels speaking to her doctor will give him peace about why she couldn’t make it one more month to see him walk across the stage. He also must decide what to do with their family condo now that he’s inherited it. Kana, daughter of their property’s landlord, becomes his tour guide as he follows in his mother’s last footsteps.

When You Were Here was full of absolutely all of my favorite things — a deep, emotional story, shocking twists and turns that left me needing to collect my thoughts, and a journey to a new place that made me want to catch the first flight to Tokyo. Whitney’s writing was as beautiful as ever, and Danny’s voice was so spot on. He was full of humor that he used to protect himself from feeling all the pain he was going through. He was confused and in need of someone to protect him from more bad things happening.

There’s a major, major plot twist that made me gasp when I read through the scene. HOLY CRAP! — I was so stunned and silenced. I needed time to walk away and think about how I felt. Guys, that doesn’t happen often. Whitney made me feel like Danny’s life was real and I was being asked to lend a helping hand or offer advice. Hopefully you’ll feel the same protectiveness over Danny that I did; after I closed the book, I felt this spoke volumes for Whitney’s writing — she has an uncanny ability to make me want to take care of all her characters. (I felt the same way when I read The Mockingbirds.)

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Goodreads | Amazon | Why I Want to Visit Tokyo Now | Nail Polish Selections for the WYWH Cover

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BONUS: Daisy Whitney has another book coming out this fall, Starry Nights.
Don’t forget to add it to your TBR shelf on Goodreads!