Estelle: The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes

The Art of Lainey by Paula StokesThe Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: May 20, 2014
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 384
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: breakups, best friends, changing perspective
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Summary: Even though her boyfriend breaks up with her at work in front of her friends, she’s still determined to get him back. When her best friend suggests using THE ART OF WAR as a tactic to get Jason’s attention, Lainey enlists her coworker, Micah, to be her “pretend” boyfriend. They will help each other win back their exes. As she hangs out more with Micah, she realizes he wasn’t exactly who she thought and maybe she’s not exactly who she wants to be either.

The Art of Lainey was the pick-me-up book that I desperately needed after a rough day.

I started it after work, and stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it. I just didn’t want to go to bed without a happy ending of some kind. Thankfully, Paula Stokes delivered in so many ways — I laughed, I swooned, I got a little angry, and, in the end, closed the book, completely satisfied and happy I got to hang out with Lainey and Micah for a few hours.

What I loved most about this book was the growth of Lainey’s character. When we first meet her, she’s totally in love with Jason, kind of a slacker at work (even though her dad owns the place), makes fun of her mom’s tea readings, and is totally concerned with appearances, a.k.a. super judgmental, but when life throws her a curveball — a sudden breakup with Jason — slowly but surely Lainey starts to realize just how much she has changed in the past couple of years and how much she may have missed out on because of it.

It’s true that her time with Micah has a lot to do with this. His spiked hair, his smoking, his tattoos — Lainey is clearly letting what he looks like determine what she thinks she knows about him. But as they start going on different dates to psych out their exes and she learns more about him, she realizes she actually likes his hair and the music he listens to, that he is the hardest worker at her dad’s store, she is able to apply that epiphany to herself. Her “other” best friend and how strategic she can be about who they hang out with; how she might go a little overboard on the tanning because she was once told she was too pale. Who is she trying so hard for? It’s certainly not making her any happier.

I’m a sucker for these “let’s date and win back someone else” stories because MOST of the time the chemistry between the two characters pretending comes from somewhere very real, and, as much as they try to fight it, at some point, they can’t any longer. It was really fun to watch Lainey and Micah, both so focused on this goal, sort of break down and realize that maybe they weren’t fighting for the same thing anymore. Micah is genuinely a good guy — not everyone would help a girl with this kind of thing — and I was rooting for him the whole time.

Should I keep gushing about The Art of Lainey? Lainey has a great best friend in Bianca who has her back, day and night, and the rest of the supporting characters (Micha’s younger sister; their school friend, Leo) were well-developed and genuine, adding a fullness to the story. See? See? See? This book was such a surprise; I really enjoyed Lainey’s journey to learn from those around her and become a more compassionate and self-aware person.

Definitely pick this one up for your beach bag this year!

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Chirp, Chirp: I Stand with Cricket

I jumped back into the world of Nantucket Blue (and Red) this past week and when I finished, I was overcome with the fear that Cricket has flown under the radar as one of the more memorable young adult female main characters of the past two years. Granted, when I first met Cricket, she and I were going through similar situations but I always admired her tenacity and her loyalty – finding a way to Nantucket to support her best friend even when she wasn’t wanted.

Nantucket Blue and Nantucket Red by Leila Howland

I like the way Cricket sees the world – the one where best friends mean forever (each detailed memory engrained into who you are), where people need to stop pretending and dig themselves out of their ruts, and how making effort equates to fixing things. No other discussion needed. I see the world in a similar light, and it’s difficult and mind-blowing when others can’t fathom things that are so obvious to you.

Even though I don’t think she was actively dismissing her feelings about everything in her life (depressed mom, distant dad, best friend a stranger), Cricket shows us that you can’t avoid reality forever. Somehow, just somehow, it will suddenly stand in your way and you will just have to deal with it — whether this means confrontation or acceptance. Or maybe a little bit of both.

This is why growing up is this ongoing process. You really do have to pick your battles and even by the end of Nantucket Blue, we are not so sure where Cricket stands with anything. I don’t want to spoil anything for you but the character growth in Nantucket Red is some of the best I’ve ever read. No longer is Cricket fixated on what she was in the first book. Now she is going with the flow, testing the waters, and again, I couldn’t help but feel admiration for her and how she went about her life.

No one can tell us when to stop fighting for something. Lost love or lost friendship. Sometimes you do have to put yourself first. It’s not a selfish move. It’s what you have to do to survive, to make do, and maybe, just maybe, if you are patient, life will come full circle and you will be presented with a lovely gift – a second chance.

The struggles Cricket faced in Nantucket Red hit me in my sweet spot again (seriously, is Leila Howland reading the journal I have not been writing in?) because she fears moving forward, disappointing people, making the wrong decision, and oh, the pressure – to be good at everything, to be good to everyone, and figure out how all of that is going to make for a successful and happy life. How do people juggle it all? How does anyone manage to make a decision in the first place?

So Nantucket Red finds Cricket growing into her independence but still – don’t you worry – making mistakes, and these flaws are just what make her so real to me. She fucks up more than once, she questions her decisions and what people think of her, she wants to be liked and loved, and wants to be SURE about all the things we ALL want to be sure about.

And I appreciate all of those qualities in her. I think my biggest personal LIFE takeaway in the past three years is that I’d rather own my imperfections than be someone I’m not so it’s no surprise that I have a growing affection for characters in my reading life that are so nuanced. I’m not going to be a well-mannered, logical, always-has-her-shit-together person most of the time (seriously, I discovered dry cereal stuck to my pajamas this weekend) and I don’t want the characters I spend time with to fit in these perfect boxes either.

This post is not only about sharing Cricket with you but also a reminder to me – to be fearless, to be assertive, to do what I think is right even if it all turns out okay only half the time, and be a little less afraid to let go even at the most crucial of life moments.


Nantucket Blue + Nantucket Red were written by the lovely and talented Leila Howland. (Visit her new site!)

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Befriended with Corey Ann Haydu: Dedicated to Friendship

I’m so thrilled to share our second BEFRIENDED piece. I became an instant fan of Corey Ann Haydu’s when I read her debut OCD LOVE STORY last summer. Today (!!) her second book LIFE BY COMMITTEE hits bookstores everywhere and I am happy to say that I cannot choose a favorite between the two — I love them equally and oh-so-much.

Corey Ann Haydu Life By Committee

Today, we’re taking a slightly different approach to celebrating her book release. A few weeks ago I saw Corey tweet about the dedication in LBC:

To my cherished friend Honora, who is brave enough to share her secrets, and kind enough to listen to mine.

I don’t know about you but I’m pretty curious (a.k.a. nosy) when it comes to dedications and when she explained this was about her best friend and I knew Magan and I were talking about getting this feature started… it felt like fate. So because of all of that, I’m chatting with not only Corey about her new book, friendships, accepting your imperfections but also the subject of her dedication — Honora.

Corey Ann Haydu Life By Committee Best Friend Chat

Bicoastal best friends answering all the questions on a blog run by long distance best friends. It doesn’t get any better than that.


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Corey, it must be incredibly difficult to narrow down the dedication page. Was it something about Life By Committee that made you think about Honora? Or was it always what you wanted the dedication of your second book to be?

Corey: I definitely didn’t know while I was writing the book who I was going to dedicate it to. I think that’s something that comes after, when I have a sense of the themes and the heart of the story. I was at my apartment, chatting online with Honora when I realized the book was for her. LBC is about the scariest parts of yourself and the things that are difficult to talk about and the vulnerable places that you need to share and want to share and also desperately don’t want to share. My friendship with Honora is really special in the sense that it is a space where we’re both safe to be imperfect, I think. And to share hard, big things.

The book is also about compassion and bravery and strength, and those are all things Honora possesses in huge quantities.

Honora, how COOL is it that your super good friend is a published writer (and possibly the best tweeter I know)? I know Corey surprised you with an advanced copy and that’s when you saw your name in it for the first time. What did you think? 

Honora: It is VERY cool and I’m so proud of her and I should probably sign up for Twitter right now.  Let’s see, Corey told me she was sending a present with something special inside.  When I opened her book to the dedication page I was blown away. It was an amazing feeling, very special.  I felt so honored and it sincerely touched my heart.  A big smile inside.  I’m blushing now.

Corey Ann Haydu + Honora: Best Friend Chat at Rather Be Reading BlogWhat is it about your friendship that just clicks?

Corey: Honora and I have a lot in common, sort of on the inside. A lot of the things we’ve struggled with in ourselves and in our lives have been very similar, and we process relationships and fears and the world around us in really similar ways. And I think our friendship has been a LOT about acceptance. I always think of this one day, when Honora and I were living together in our early 20s. We’d recently graduated and my world was sort of falling apart—I had some Big Stuff happening in my family life and on top of that someone had stolen my wallet and the two guys I was half-dating weren’t calling me. I was a mess. The Big Stuff in my family was overwhelming and I wasn’t really processing very well. And I did something wacky with the dishwasher—maybe Honora will remember what? Like I think I maybe ran the dishwasher without dishes in it and then was shocked that no dishes had been cleaned? Anyway. I realized what I’d done, and I started laughing. And Honora was in the next room and came in to see what was up. And I could not stop laughing. And the laughing turned sort of crazy and manic and out of control and I couldn’t even explain what was so funny. And the laughing got so big and emotional that it turned into crying, and then sobbing. Like, this moment of hysteria and massive release in the midst of a terrible time in my life. And I was on the kitchen floor laughing and sobbing and in this state of total vulnerability and craziness, and Honora sat on the floor and laughed and cried with me. She just got it. That’s what our friendship is like.

Honora: I’m laughing to myself trying to think about what it was Corey did!  All I know is it was something pretty un- Corey like.  Nothing bad, but like she said, she was caught in a lapse of logic and then confused about it, which I get.  Sort of deer in the headlight, “what is going on with my reality?  Yikes, it is affecting me.  Am I going to laugh or cry?  I’m doing both! Ahh! Release, releasing is good.”

I feel like Corey gets me on so many levels and we do process things very similarly. When sharing tough stuff with her I feel safe, not alone, and accepted.  Truly accepted. I can meet her where I’m at- no editing needed and she’s so darn quick on the uptake!  And then we do share a humor…I’m laughing just thinking about laughing with her- she has a great laugh. I trust her completely.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you met?

Corey: We met within the first few days of orientation our freshmen year of college at NYU. Honora lived on the floor below me. She cracked me up—she had a great spirit. We were in Studio together at Tisch, which is the arts school at NYU. This meant we spent 8 hours a day three times a week with 12 other people in basically the most emotionally and physically vulnerable states you could ever imagine. It’s a really hardcore way to make friends—but MAN do you get to know each other. We also lived together for maybe four years.

Honora: I think when Corey mentions that I cracked her up…it was my particular, lets say, joie de vivre as recent Midwestern transplant to the East Coast.  I was very excited to be “out and about.”  (I still am).  And in studio, we just clicked.  I recognized a solid, interested, hardworking gal.  Pretty cool, looking back, how simple it was to connect with her.

What’s one thing about Corey that her readers should know?

Honora:  Good question!  Maybe that she got a C in one of our classes together.  It was a “mask” class where we danced around to tribal music and were supposed to intuit the energy of the mask (often without seeing the face of it) and create story and then admire how magical it was that the archetypes played their “correct” roles. (Disclaimer: It was a pretty fun class).

Anyhow, the teacher thought Corey should get a C because she showed up on time to every class so clearly she was “too perfect” and needed to learn a lesson.  It was CRAZY!  I’m so glad I showed up late and hungover at least once!  It just goes to show how people can “type you” and put all their mess onto you, meanwhile Corey is a real person-hard stuff and all- and a “C” isn’t helpful in the least.  It was pretty rotten of him.

Tab’s friends in Life By Committee ditch her when she gets cute and starts wanting to talk about boys and caring about clothes. Ugh. This made me feel for her SO much because abandonment like this stays with you forever. Did either of you face a similar issue with friends? Would you have approached the situation like Tab did?

Corey: I had a very similar experience to Tabby. I based little bits and pieces of her life on my time in high school. I had a really close group of awesome friends all through middle school, and early on in high school they decided they were disappointed in who I was becoming as a person. They very publicly let me know. It was devastating. I didn’t really recover until I was in college and able to start over and make new friends. In high school, I coped by having boyfriends. But especially at that age they are no substitute for friends. So I don’t recommend that!

Honora:  I think I lucked out on that end.  In terms of abandonment, third grade stands out as the hardest year with friendships.  It was when those “friendship necklaces” were introduced to us…where you and your BEST friend each have a half of the heart on a chain and together you complete the heart and you are BEST friends.  Which is great except that there are three other people you want to be your best friend and you thought that you were their best friend even though you got the necklace with this other girl who seems like a “good” best friend and they asked someone else to be THEIR best friend which emotionally crushed you…it was VERY stressful. I do remember feeling excluded and abandoned at times that year, people started forming clubs and cliques.  Most all that cleared up by 4th grade, thank goodness.  As I think about it, third grade was the first time I remember feeling that pang of sadness, maybe shame?  That was awful!

It’s no surprise that friendship struggles are a focus in YA books. These relationships define so much of who you are. But these moments often parallel how tough it is to be a friend and find trusted friends as an adult too. What lesson have you learned about adult friendships that surprised you most?

Corey: I’ve learned some friendships aren’t meant to last. It’s sad, but some people you are meant to be very, very close with for short periods of time, but not forever. And other people, like Honora, are meant to be in your life forever. And you probably don’t know which is which until you’ve put in like a decade. And that’s okay! A friendship can still be wonderful and meaningful even if it fades after a few years.

Also I have learned about BOUNDARIES! Those are really important. You should have them in all your relationships.

Honora:  I moved to Los Angeles about 4 years ago and it was hard to figure out how to nurture my friendships appropriately, since so many friends are out of state.  In the past year I’ve relaxed a bit I knowing that I don’t have to worry about “managing” things and it’s ok not to talk to everyone all the time.  Some friendships will fade into FB “likes” and some will grow or stay more intimate.  I’m super grateful for the internet and gchat.  I guess I’m surprised with how powerful technology has been in communication with friends who are long distance.  I know people talk a lot about how it’s perhaps less intimate, which I get, but in my experience, friendship and intimacy have translated pretty well across state lines via technology, etc. Uh oh- I should probably watch Her immediately.

Honora, were you nervous to read Life By Committee? (Sidenote: I was totally nervous to read it just as a “twitter” friend of Corey’s. What if I don’t like it????) What was your greatest takeaway of the book?

Honora: I guess there was an element of nervousness, because I loved her last book, OCD Love Story so much and I wanted to enjoy this one just as much.  Once I realized that there was a cozy coffee shop in this book I knew it was going to be ok.  And it was great. Personally my greatest take away is the feeling I get while reading it.  I feel a particular sense of safety…it’s weird…like while reading it, I know I can handle the uncomfortable and get excited and witness stressful stuff but in the end it will be ok.  I find so much comfort in Tabitha’s humanity.

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Estelle: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars by E LockhartWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Pages: 240
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: family obligations, secrets, summer, romance
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary:  Cadence Sinclair can’t remember anything. Except her cousins and the boy she loves = the Liars. Summertime with her family in Beechwood Island. And most of all, always putting on appearances.

The kind of power that Granddad wielded over his family makes me angry because this man with all of this money and all of his houses only grew to be more powerful because those around him were too weak to stand up to him. Too weak to stand up for what they wanted and too obsessed with the trust funds they heavily relied on. At least, that’s how his daughters felt. The grandkids — they were a different story.

Cadence (our narrator), Mirren, Johnny, and Gat (not related but not ignorant of these family dynamics) were tired of being pawns in their mom’s schemes to own all the best stuff, stay in Granddad’s good graces, and maintain the facade of the successful, wealthy Sinclair family. When you are young and 15, you can be idealistic and can be so gung-ho about eliciting change and breaking free from the obligations and unrealistic expectations of your family. While these four teenagers definitely had their share of immature moments (who doesn’t at 15), I do think they had a grasp on how the game was played.

But how could they alter things? Did they have the power?

Lockhart has written a captivating story of a puppeteering and manipulating patriarch who cares much more about dollars signs and maintaining control than formulating real bonds with his family and seeing the people in his family be happy by their own accord. So much of We Were Liars was completely fucked up. Using the young ones to keep your kids-who-are-now-adults in line, pushing aside the obvious prejudice Granddad feels toward Gat, and most importantly, how badly this family collects possessions in efforts to top the other.

While the character development was well-done (especially in the pettier scenes), Lockhart’s writing style completely blew me away. The rhythm felt calculated and perfect, and so poetic; it was fast paced and swept me up in this tornado of romance and treachery. I must note the dialogue. It was authentic but also had a flair of theatricality. I could picture these words making quite the impression on stage, and at the same time, could have easily pictured myself saying them in real life.

But for all the intriguing details of We Were Liars, something stopped me from feeling too connected to the story. (Is it possible for the writing to be a triumph and a hindrance at the same time? Maybe.) As Cadence searched for answers about that last summer at Beechwood Island, my brain was scrambling to pick up small clues and figure out what happened. Why had the Liars been ignoring her? Why did they not rush to her aid when she needed it? So I was more curious than anything. But, on the other hand, the romance between Gat and Cadence did turn me inside out because what happens when you feel so much for someone but see that nothing is falling easily into place? Especially since Beechwood was this exclusive, dreamlike world that fed their connection to one another and would never be a year-round thing.

We Are Liars is mysterious and heartbreaking, full of small-minded folks and a perpetual cycle of greed, and children who are forced to suffer because of it. It’s one of those books that had my brain working in overdrive, and also kept me so interested I finished in just about a day. While the style and tone of the writing was so memorable, I think a few fleshed out scenes (not too many, just enough) to balance out the prettily expressed thoughts would have served to create a connection I didn’t always feel.

Still, I think I need this book in my possession.

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Tête-à-tête with ONLY EVERYTHING’s Cupid a.k.a. True

Greetings, friends! It’s a special, special day at Rather Be Reading Blog. Contemporary YA author Kieran Scott has granted me special access to the leading lady of her new trilogy, ONLY EVERYTHING. That’s right. Today I am talking to True a.k.a. Cupid. I know, I know… you are wondering why cupid isn’t a chubby little baby with a bow and arrow. THAT’S A MYTH FOLKS. The true True was banished to Earth after Zeus discovers she has been actively engaged in a relationship with a mortal. In order to get back to her love and back to Olympus, True has to make a love connection between three couples — not realizing just how difficult life in New Jersey for a goddess could be.

True from Only Everything by Kieran Scott

Yes, that’s Anna Scott from Pitch Perfect. She’s how I picture True. 🙂

A few quick thoughts on the book: My Greek mythology is a little rusty but it came back to me so easily in Only Everything. Plus the entire book was more laugh out loud funny than I ever expected; Scott folded in some details I never would have thought of and it made the story so lush and well-done. True is basically an alien in New Jersey and she tries to act as normal as possible but it’s so hard for her — which makes it even more difficult for her to make love connections. Without powers. Without any idea of how Earth works. In addition to True, the chapters alternate between the POVs of Katrina and Charlie, two other students at the high school. Genuinely nice people who are struggling in some way (Charlie is the new kid at school…again; Katrina’s dad died and her relationship with her mom has become difficult). Friendship, silly / ridiculous times, falling in love, fitting in = ONLY EVERYTHING. So addicting, so fun (seriously, I could not put it down).


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And now for that interview with TRUE from Only Everything. Away, we go….

True, it is totally an honor to be talking to you today! I should tell you up front that I ignored my husband for a lot of the time I was reading your story. (That’s true love, right?) After all of your “adventure” on Earth, what are three tips you would give the next God or Goddess banished to Earth?

It’s an honor to be interviewed! Now go take your husband out for pie! 🙂 My three tips for any God or Goddess banished to Earth would be:

1) Look in the mirror before you leave the house and make the proper adjustments. (We’re used to looking perfect all the time, no matter what. Mortals have to put in a lot of work.)

2) Expect your new body to turn on you in sudden and unpleasant ways. (Before I became mortal I had never vomited, sneezed, hiccupped, burped, gained weight, passed gas or sprouted a zit. None are very much fun. Except sneezing. That can leave a pleasant tingling sensation.)

3) Know that nothing will be easy. (On Mount Olympus we can have whatever we want, whenever we want. Having to buy things or work for things or ask for things is an adjustment. But I’ve found that working for things, at least, can be very rewarding. That’s my favorite mortal lesson so far.)

Orion. Your one and only. What is it about your relationship that makes you so confident in forever?

Orion and I have so much in common, but we’re also different enough that we’re constantly surprising each other and challenging each other. I cannot express how much fun it is to go out on a hunt with him, crashing through the woods with our bows drawn—the excitement, the adrenaline, the sweat, the thrill, the danger. It’s intense. We love to eat well, we love to spin yarns and we could spend days just lying around talking about the past and our future. But Orion is also rash, where I’ve always been cautious and calculating. He makes decisions by his heart, while I tend to overthink things. We balance each other out on that. He can be selfish at times and cocky, which I find both infuriating and mind-bendingly attractive, but I try to reel him in when he lets his head swell. He thinks I can be too involved with my calling—too work obsessed—and is always looking for ways to distract me and help me stop and see the beauty in the world. I feel as if we’ll never get bored with each other. I can’t imagine my existence without him.

Your relationship with your mother, Aphrodite, is a bit contentious. Do you feel like this experience has made you closer in any way or are you just too different?

On Earth, I think that we’ve learned not to take each other for granted. She has always been my biggest advocate and defender, and I believe I stopped appreciating that when I got involved with Orion. I definitely appreciate it now. I think she has seen me as her errand girl for the last few centuries and hasn’t really recognized the value of the work I’ve done. Now I think she sees how difficult it is, forming true love, and how dedicated I am to our cause.

What’s one thing you learned from your interactions with people in New Jersey that you will apply to your relationships back home?

Great question! I’ve seen how important family is to Katrina and Charlie and it’s made me think about my relationship with my father and brothers. I’m close to my sister and even to my mom, though that can be, as you mentioned, complicated. But I hardly ever see my brothers, Phobus and Deimus, because they’ve sequestered themselves in their palace, and going over there can be very unpleasant. They’re so paranoid and jumpy all the time. But that’s no reason to avoid my own flesh and blood. And my father . . .  well, I have to accept the fact that he’s Ares. He’s never going to stop waging wars. But there has to be some aspect of him that’s redeemable, something I can love. I should be grateful for the fact that it would be virtually impossible for me to lose him the way Katrina lost her father. Maybe I’ll try to get to know him better. I feel like it would be disrespectful to Katrina and to the memory of the dad she loved so much, if I didn’t.

I really enjoyed getting to know Charlie and Katrina in book 1. Will readers be reuniting with them in the next book? (I hope so!)

Aside from Hephaestus, they’re pretty much my only friends at Lake Carmody High, so yes, they’ll be around. As long as I don’t do anything to mess things up!

Which celebrity romance do you find yourself shaking your head at right now?

I wish this whole Justin Bieber/Selena Gomez thing would fizzle already. Too many breakups are not a good thing. Also Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Love them both, but they almost never look happy when they’re together. Have you noticed that if they’re smiling, which is rare, the smile doesn’t extend to their eyes? That’s a major giveaway that something’s not quite right. Maybe if I could get in there and talk with them I could fix whatever’s going awry.

As someone responsible for so many love connections, what do you think is the most important part of keeping a relationship everlasting?

Honesty and trust are very important. You have to pick your battles, of course, and let the little things go. If you love someone, you shouldn’t nitpick every little thing that bothers you about them or your relationship, but if there’s a big issue, you must discuss it. Preferably in a calm and rational tone of voice at a point in the day when you’re not both stressed and/or exhausted. (So not during finals or after the senior lock-in.) It’s also important to keep things fresh, do the things you like to do together, and be there for each other, no matter what.

After all your… ahem, difficulty… getting settled on Earth, what’s one power from Mount Olympus that you wish you would have been allowed to bring with you?

When I first arrived, I would have said the power to read minds, because it would have made the matchmaking so much easier. But now I realize I never would have gotten to know Charlie and Katrina as well as I have if that power had been available to me. So I suppose I wouldn’t mind having the power to conjure things. Sometimes a girl just really needs a lipstick, or a headband, or, you know, a replacement cell phone for an awful jerk boy. Things happen.


ONLY EVERYTHING by Kieran Scott hits stores May 6, 2014. It’s the first book in the TRUE LOVE trilogy.
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
COMPLETELY NOTHING (Book 2) will be out September 20, 2014.

You’re in luck! Your chance to win a signed arc of ONLY EVERYTHING thanks to Kieran Scott! (Open to readers in U.S. and Canada; must be 13 years old or older to enter. Once the winner is notified, winner has 48 hours to respond or another winner is chosen.)

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Estelle: Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

Life By Committee by Corey Ann HayduLife by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperTeen
Pages: 304
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: secret relationships, online communities, friendship
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Summary: Tabitha has been pretty lonely since her friends ditched her, citing her looks and interest in boys as reasons she has “changed”. Now, she has Elise and (secretly) Joe, a popular hockey player who has a serious girlfriend by day but tells Tabitha all his secrets at night. One day she stumbles on an online community called “Life By Committee.” It’s a safe place where she can divulge her most buried secrets and through “assignments” take control of her life. At first, Tabitha is inspired by this group, their drive, and feels empowered but when the assignments start to affect more of her world, she’s not sure what to think or how to get out.

Perfectly imperfect is how I like my book characters and Corey Ann Haydu delivers with Tab in Life By Committee. Not only is Tab a fan of Muppet music, a book lover to the extreme, and a totally normal teenager who helps her parents out with their cozy coffee shop in Maine, but, like any of us, she can’t help what she thinks, she doesn’t always make the wisest decisions, and she’s just trying to figure it all out.

Figuring it out includes a laundry list of things, by the way. Like why exactly her best friends turned totally petty and judgmental on her when she started getting into makeup and boys. (This doesn’t mean she stopped being a nerd.) Or why she can’t control her feelings for Joe, who makes her swoon every night with their online chats but still has a girlfriend. Or if her dad (Paul) can get it together and stop smoking up before her new sibling arrives?

As you can probably guess, Life By Committee pops up exactly when Tab feels like she has nowhere to turn. A small community of online “friends” she can admit her deepest and darkest secrets too? Who give her the courage and the extra push to move forward with what scares her the most? I mean, what can go wrong? Cue the foreboding music, friends.

All I could think of was Dawson during Season 1 of Dawson’s Creek as I got deeper and deeper into the book, and Tab got sucked further into LBC. (“My palms are sweating.” Except he was talking about Joey, and I was just freaking out about how this initial safe place turned wrong so fast.) To be a part of LBC, you divulge a secret and then are given an assignment by the LBC leader, Zed. In order to keep your secret a secret, you must complete the assignment or else.

At first, like Tab, I saw that assignments as something that would help another member seize the moment. But as the stakes were raised higher and higher, it was obvious the assignments would be affecting more than the LBC member but friends, family, reputations, and more. See? Scary stuff. I was internally freaking out about Tab and how she would exit the group without ruining absolutely everything, and stranded in a worse place than she started.

Even now, I feel incredibly anxious just thinking about it.

Life By Committee made me think a a lot about how we relate to others, and if we just see what we want to see. How could I not with the superficial reasons Tab’s friends had for dropping her? Or even how Tab felt for Joe. I wanted so badly to believe in Joe and think he was being real with her, that they had a future together. How secrets between friends and family members create such detachment that bridging it feels like climbing Everest. Or how loneliness and disconnect cause us to latch on to people and places, which provide no true help at all.

I was nervous to read LBC because Haydu’s OCD Love Story is one of the finest, most authentic debuts I’ve ever read. And I love that she created something so separate from her first book because the plotting and the characters are just as memorable but for different reasons. One thing she does continue to celebrate: the shades of gray that makes us human. We are not just ONE thing or ONE kind of way. Our thoughts, our actions, our feelings are constant changing, and we are not always going to do the right thing. Like someone asks in the book: “what if change were a comfort?” What if we weren’t so scared of it?

Even though it was very early into 2014 when I read LBC, the fact that it was so impossible to put down, the premise was so well-executed, and I related so much to Tab already secured it in my list of memorable years of the year. The writing is so fast-paced and at times so quote-worthy, I absolutely can’t wait to get a hard copy even if it means being a nervous wreck all over again reliving some of the most intense scenes I’ve encountered in YA.

So what am I saying? Haydu has officially made my auto-buy list. Also: read this.

Extra kudos: I love when a book cover fits the story absolutely so well. This is one of those circumstances.

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