Estelle: If You Were Mine by Bella Andre

If You Were Mine by Bella AndreIf You Were Mine by Bella Andre ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 29, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin
Target audience: Adult/romance fans
Keywords: animals, big families, family secrets, unlikely friendships
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Other books by Bella Andre: I Only Have Eyes for You | Kissing Under the Mistletoe

Summary: Zach, a notorious playboy with no desire to settle down, finds himself unexpectedly caring for his brother’s new dog. The dog’s lack of discipline causes Zach to cross paths with Heather, a dedicated dog trainer who is adamant about keeping her guard up.

Who knew a dog named Cuddles could bring two people together?

Bella Andre has really done it again in If You Were Mine. Sure her male characters are very alpha but I was really charmed by Zach, a successful businessman who knows his way around a car. But he absolutely knows nothing about dogs and he can’t turn down his adorable niece when she asks him to take care of Cuddles for two weeks. Cuddles might be adorable but the dog is also a total terror and Zach needs help.

Enter Heather.

She’s practically a dog whisperer and feels instantly protective of Cuddles when she experiences firsthand how Zach cannot handle her at all. Begrudgingly, she decides to help him out and while it starts to work, she can’t help but be distracted by his good looks and ohmigosh, his flirting. But family drama has made Heather cautious and she knows she just can’t trust anyone right now. Especially super sweet, funny, successful, adorable Zach.

Here we get the brilliant “friends with benefits” idea. Zach doesn’t want to settle down, and Heather doesn’t want to fall in love so hey, this is the most perfect idea in the world, right?

Well, Zach and Heather are so intensely sexy together but it isn’t long before one of them starts thinking they could be something more. That this could actually mean something. Could they overcome their own insecurities and make a real relationship work? Oh, I was hoping so.

I loved watching these two fall for each other, and found it especially sweet when their dogs formed quite the bond. Plus the entire Sullivan clan is incredibly amusing, and their affection for each other just adds a whole new dimension to these books. They tease, they challenge each other, and they are so good at welcoming outsiders (especially us readers).

If You Were Mine is officially a new favorite! Rather Be Reading Buy It Icon

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Estelle: Fault Line by Christa Desir

Fault Line by Christa DesirFault Line by Christa Desir ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 15, 2013
Publisher: SimonPulse
Pages: 240
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: sexual assault, relationships, reactions
Format read: ARC paperback from TLA. (Magan picked this one out for me.)

Summary: Ben can’t believe his luck with Ani. She’s gorgeous, she’s sweet, she’s smart, and he couldn’t be happier. Until she goes to a party and he doesn’t, and everything changes.

The shocking opening scene of Fault Line set a precedent for the rest of my reading. Despite the heavy subject matter, it was impossible to not feel hooked and invested in this story.

Ben was a great main character. He’s an amazing swimmer at school, and he comes from a family that really works to make sure they communicate and talk to each other. Like every teenager, this sort of gets to Ben because who wants their parents all in their business? Yet it really painted a great picture of his home life. Maybe this all sounds a bit idealistic but what made Ben so great was that he was flawed and imperfect. And it showed in the relationships he had with his friends, his family, and even with Ani.

Their relationship starts a little fast but there is something so wonderful about it. Ani is super blunt, honest, creative, and semi-spiritual and all of these qualities made Ben want her completely. Their relationship was playful but intimate; they also talked a lot and made cute plans together (road tripping to The Christmas Story house), and I liked the snippets of them we got to see.

But then the party happens. The one that Ben doesn’t go to. He doesn’t hear from Ani at all at the party, and the next thing he knows he gets a call from her friend Kate and he is heading to the hospital.

When I read what happened to Ani, I literally had to close the book and close my eyes. I was not sure that I would be able to finish my lunch. I was so distraught. I felt for her so much. Her attack, and the way she was attacked, was just one of the worst situations I’ve ever heard about and I had no idea how Ani would move forward herself, and in her relationship with Ben.

It’s really hard to watch someone you love spiral. I really like how Desir chose to spotlight Ben’s perspective. He is sort of on the inside and on the outside of this situation, and we see an honest account of how someone connected to a situation like this also faces an aftermath that can’t be easily handled. Ani is literally changing in front of his eyes, and he wants to save her so bad, hold on to the parts of her that he loved so hard, but he also feels incredibly helpless and begins sinking himself.

Ben and Ani do not invite any adults to help them. This decision (more Ani, than Ben’s) starkly parallels the openness encouraged in both of these family units from the beginning. I understood why they wanted to keep everything to themselves but when things continued to get worse, I was practically begging for someone to step in and make it better. (It was very interesting to watch how friends of the two step in and step out of the situation.)

Fault Line is so tightly written, and feels important without getting preachy. Ben and Ani’s stories could have happened to any one of us or the people we know, and I think that’s why the reading experience was so painful. These horrific things are happening, and people are truly feeling and reacting in these ways in real time. I know it’s not easy to read a book filled with so much sadness, but something has to be said for Desir’s supreme writing style and character development because Ben and Ani have not left me since I closed Fault Line.

I’m so ready for more Desir.

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Estelle: The Vow by Jessica Martinez

The Vow by Jessica MartinezThe Vow by Jessica Martinez ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 15, 2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 432
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: immigration, best friends, family
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Summary: When Mo’s father loses his job, he decides the best decision is to move the family back to Jordan. But over-achieving Mo is not ready to leave his school during his senior year, his home, or his friends – especially his best friend Annie. When Annie decides the two should secretly get married to keep Mo in the country, they fail to consider how this decision affects their friendship, their families, and their futures.

How far would you go to help your nearest and dearest friend?

Honestly, when Annie and Mo decide that getting married is the best way to keep him in the United States, I thought they were a little loony. Impulsive. Like maybe there were a few other avenues they two could have taken? Especially with Annie on the cusp of a new relationship with Reed at work, the fact that Mo and Annie’s parents do not like the other, and let’s not forget the consequences of being found out. They could be fined and go to jail; Mo could never return to the United States again.

But when Mo’s mom agrees to consent to the marriage, the two make the decision super quickly. Mr. and Mrs., at seventeen and eighteen.

How, oh how will they make this work?

The Vow may be 400+ pages but Martinez makes the time fly by. Chapters alternate between Mo and Annie’s perspectives, the end of each chapter linking to the next chapter’s beginning. (Such a lovely stylistic touch, even when it flourishes in unexpected ways.) There is such an urgency behind the story as it progresses; as the situation that Annie and Mo throw themselves into becomes harder and harder to handle because in order for them to make their marriage look believable, they have to lie to pretty much everyone in their lives and act like a married couple.

This is the thing. Mo and Annie are truly best friends. One of them doesn’t have secret feelings for the other. They both came into each other’s lives when they needed someone the most. With Annie’s sister’s death and Mo being a total outcast in a new country, they just latch on together and their dependence and loyalty to each other becomes the strongest thing in each other’s lives. This friendship is so rare in young adult (and real life, when you think about it) and I loved how Martinez was able to pinpoint their differences but also make us understand why these two needed each other so badly.

But is all the sacrifice worth it? Is it immaturity or idealism that makes Mo and Annie believe that this “secret” can remain a secret, and also not create a domino effect in other aspects of their lives?

I’ve read Virtuosity by Martinez and I really enjoyed it, but The Vow completely blew me away. The conflicts, the tough choices, memorable supporting characters (including the hard-to-forget, Reed), and this unbelievable friendship — there is absolutely so much at stake in this story and I had no idea how it would all end. Definitely a book that deserves a spot on my top shelf.

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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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Blog Tour: How to Love by Katie Cotugno

Welcome to the How to Love blog tour hosted by Mundie Moms blog tours / Mundie Girls Tours!


How to Love by Katie CotugnoHow to Love by Katie Cotugno ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 10/1/2013
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Pages: 389
Target audience: Young adult/Adult
Keywords: teen pregnancy, family friends, romance, friendship
Format read: ARC from Rachel. (Thank you!)

Summary: Reena thought her love for Sawyer would remain unrequited.. until it wasn’t. Nothing is easy about their relationship, especially when Sawyer runs off and Reena gets pregnant. Fast forward three years: Reena and Sawyer have an expected reunion over a slushie and Reena isn’t so sure what to think. After getting him out of her system and embracing her life as a mom, she never thought he would be back or she would feel like she does.

It’s a rare and wonderful feeling to fall so hard and so fast for a book.

I was instantly hooked to How to Love in the first six pages. I knew it would be hard for me to put down. Is it because I understood this kind of uncomfortable reunion between the once love-of-your-life, not looking your best, wanting so badly to push down the familiar butterflies and remember what made you despise this person so much? Maybe.

Sometimes you just can’t control how you feel. Even when you are keeping those feelings very quiet and concealed.

Cotugno gives us a beautiful story of friendship and romance and connection and second chances. I felt so intimately connected to all of the people in Reena’s life. Her closeness with Allie when they were in high school, the support she received from Shelby, the friction between her and her father post-pregnancy, and, of course, that undeniable something with Sawyer. Deliciously flawed, these messy relationships grounded the story. Let’s face it. We don’t always make the right moves in life. There’s a lot of that going around here, and everything felt so real.

And the writing style? To set up a before vs. after story detailing Reena’s life before and after Sawyer leaves and her pregnancy? Cotugno impressively married the two, introducing us to a loner Reena who is anxious to graduate ahead of her class and spend her life writing and traveling and, years later, bringing new light and maturity to both Reena and Sawyer. The pacing remained swift, and I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough. Cotugno weaves in description so well (without ever getting flowery), punctuating moments with sound and movement that it was like I was right there in the room.

You know a book is special when you are willing to sacrifice sleep to finish it. I did not want my time with the world of How to Love to end, but I couldn’t press pause that long, not without discovering the next part of Sawyer and Reena’s journey. I haven’t felt quite this overcome with affection for characters in so long, even when I was annoyed with both of their reactions to things or not agreeing with certain decisions. I think that’s the biggest test as a reader. Do you still care when things are at their lowest? If the answer is a yes, you have a winner.

How to Love is a winner. Buy it, gift it, read it, and treasure it. And then read it again. Easily one of my favorite books this year, and, if you can believe it, a new inductee into my most-loved reads collection.

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