Estelle: Covet by Tracey Garvis-Graves

Covet by Tracey Garvis-GravesCovet by Tracey Garvis-Graves ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Dutton
Pages: 320
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: recession, marriage, female/male friendships, love
Format read: ARC Paperback from Alexa at Alexa Loves Books! (Thanks!)

Summary: Unemployment and then long business trips start to take a toll on Chris and Claire’s marriage. Can things improve? Before they have a chance to work through things, Claire starts up a friendship with local cop, David. Will Claire give into the temptation she feels when she is around him? Covet is a look at marriage, commitment, and what could have been.

I went into Covet thinking I would be reading about infidelity and how a marriage does or does not heal afterward. And you know what? I was entirely wrong, and I’m so glad for that. Garvis-Graves, instead, gives us a story that made me so much more interested in why Chris and Claire’s marriage was on the rocks and why hearts have a mind of their own.

Even though the effects of the recession are all around us, I haven’t seen a lot of that infused in the books I’m reading. Garvis-Graves paints a real picture. A husband and father who is so used to taking care of his family, and what happens when he suddenly cannot. At first, he’s optimistic for new opportunities but when their savings account starts to show signs of wear, and Claire has to let go of their housekeeper, Chris starts to fall into his own black hole. It’s a funny thing. We like to think we are so past the times when husbands went to work and moms stayed home to cook and clean and take care of the kids. But that seed is still very much there for Chris and Claire. No matter how much support Claire shows Chris, his determination to support his family financially and and the failure he feels is the downfall of this family.

As I was reading, I was begging these two characters to just TALK to each other. But ya know, easier said than done.

With Chris traveling all the time for his new job (hoping to earn his keep), Claire is left home with the kids, her drama-filled neighbors, and obtaining more freelance graphic arts gigs. When she befriends local cop, David, she is instantly attracted to him and soon his attention is all she can think about it. She craves it, and who blames her really? Chris is totally wrapped up in his job, only takes a break to ask about the kids, and she is lonely. She is unbelievably lonely.

So Claire and David go to dinner and they talk a lot and they go on motorcycle rides. Their relationship borders on non-innocent and has the opportunity to cross the line, but does it?

I’m not telling you.

But whether they get it on or not is not really the point, and I applaud Garvis-Graves for bring this subject to light. We cannot control our hearts but we can control our actions. And if those actions are controlled, can we be punished for how we feel? I don’t know. Claire is an endearing character who loves Chris and her family. She tries everything to get him to open up to her but when he shuts her down the last time, she gives up. Time passes and they continue to grow apart. And with David, she feels a flicker of something that has been missing in her life.

Honestly, I had no idea how this story was going to end, but I was satisfied with it. This is my first Garvis-Graves book, and while it started a little slow and sometimes over-explained certain situations, she did a commendable job of creating characters dealing with huge changes within their home lives, neighborhood, and society. It’s a discussion worthy novel, and I’m interested to read On the Island and see how the two compare.

Food for thought: Marriage succeeds when you can communicate with your partner, and when you are willing to put in the work and the time each day. Is Chris’ ignorance due to his new job better or worse than Claire’s emotionally distracting friendship with David? Are they both at fault? Is one worse than the other?

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Estelle: Promise Me Something by Sara Kocek

Promise Me Something by Sara KocekPromise Me Something by Sara Kocek ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 1, 2013
Publisher: Albert Whitman
Pages: 311
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: homophobia, bullying, new school, friendships, remarriage
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Starting at a new school for Reyna Fay is tough, especially when all her best friends are all together at another one. When she reluctantly falls into a friendship with loner Olive, the constant butt of her class’ jokes, Reyna is tested in ways she never imagined.

On one hand, I really related to Reyna’s uneasiness when starting her new school without her best friends. I felt so similarly in middle school when I was separated from my elementary school best friends for the first time. Will your friendship survive not seeing each other every day all day? Will they like their new friends better? And would eventually mixing new friends and old friends lead to disaster?

Kocek explores the plights of the 14-year-old so well, she could have taken pages out of my journal: the up and down moods, wanting to stay below the radar at school but not be totally invisible, and the excitement that comes along with a first romance. But it’s Reyna’s time with Olive, a girl that practically forces their friendship, that really makes her first year in high school one to remember.

In good ways and in bad.

Olive is totally outspoken, not afraid to say how she feels no matter how any else feels. She’s not exactly the person Reyna would pick to be friends with, but soon they are working on school projects together and having sleepovers. I was never totally sold on Olive. Maybe because I was never be able to predict what she was going to say or do? My inclinations weren’t too far off. She continued to shock me throughout the whole book.

There is SO much I want to say to you, because Promise Me Something really turns the tables on bullying and the non-acceptance of people’s sexuality. It’s also about being scared of  the unknown and not always knowing what to do when faced with those situations. I was disappointed when Reyna allowed herself to be poisoned by the popular crowd, and even more so, that Olive couldn’t seem to get over herself and things got worse and worse when the two hit an impasse.

Kocek has a lot of lessons for her readers in the pages of this book, and while I appreciated them, I felt like I was swimming in uncharted territory for the last half. (And just how believable was all of it? That was a big question for me.) Tons of surprises and a lot of character growth for Reyna all brought to a halt with an abrupt ending. After all that occurred and all the attention to detail, there needed to be more of a wrap up and maybe some anger?

So some elements resonated, and some just didn’t. Still Promise Me Something was fast-paced, featured a lot of relatable experiences (remarriage and religion), and also presented an entirely unique way of dissecting unfortunate issues that plague us too often and need to take a hike. For good.

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Estelle: Dead Girls Don’t Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf

Dead Girls Don't Lie by Jennifer Shaw WolfDead Girls Don’t Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf ( website | twitter )
Publication Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Pages: 352
Target audience:  Young adult / thriller
Keywords: murder investigation, friendship, gangs
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)
Other books reviewed by Jennifer Shaw Wolf: Breaking Beautiful

Summary: After not speaking for six months, Jaycee is shocked to see a foreboding text from her ex-best friend, Rachel, on her phone. In the company of a new boy, Jaycee decides to ignore the texts. The next morning Jaycee gets the terrible news that Rachel is dead. Could she have stopped it from happening?

You know that feeling when you are reading a book and you keep giving yourself a cut off to go to sleep but then you just keep flipping the pages and it’s suddenly past midnight?

This is exactly what happened while I was reading Dead Girls Don’t Lie.

Rachel and Jaycee were inseparable friends growing up (they even did a blood oath) but scary circumstances shake up their friendship and nothing is the same after that. When Jaycee surprisingly receives text messages from Rachel, she opts to ignore them and spend time with Skyler instead. A few hours later, Jaycee’s dad delivers the bad news: Rachel has been killed. Obvious guilt plagues Jaycee. She’s always the good girl, always the rule follower, and the one night, the one night, she decides not to do the right thing, her friend dies.

Jaycee has a lot going on. Not only is she mourning her friendship (again), combating pressure from her overprotective dad to be squeakly clean, and feeling out her first relationship, but she feels obligated to find out why Rachel was killed and who did it. This is the second time their small town has been hit with such a horrendous crime, and most are quick to blame it on gangs and Mexican migrant workers. But that last text, in addition to a dreaded secret the two share, Jaycee is just not so sure what to think anymore.

She was not the only one. Wolf has created such an intriciate story, peppering the plot with quite a few characters who could be to blame for Rachel’s death. I had no idea how all the loose ends would tie up, how Jaycee would come to her final conclusions, and, most importantly, who she would choose to trust. Law enforcement? Her father? Skyler? Though the writing could be a little choppy and I wasn’t in love with Jaycee’s “friends”, I was definitely hooked to the max once the pacing picked up a few chapters in.

I was a huge fan of Wolf’s debut Breaking Beautiful last year, and I read a review last week that wondered how readers who experienced both would compare the two. While my emotional connection to the characters in Breaking Beautiful was definitely stronger (maybe because it had an emphasis on romance), Wolf proves she can create just as riveting a story when the focus is on friendship and the intricacies of a small town. As far as YA thrillers go, I’m still partial to Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas, which was more well-rounded from all aspects, but Dead Girls Don’t Lie certainly threw me for many scary scary loops.

Wolf is definitely an author who keeps me coming back for more.

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Estelle: Find Me by Romily Bernard

Find Me by Romily BernardFind Me by Romily Bernard ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 307
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: hacking, death, foster family, sisters
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Summary: Wick likes to live under the radar, working as a hacker to ensure that her and her sister are never left uncared for again. But when a classmate commits suicide and her diary is left on Wick’s doorstep, Wick can’t help but solve this mystery, especially when her sister could be in danger next.

It’s funny how you point out the absense of one particular situation in books (foster homes!) and all of a sudden they are popping up everywhere. Wick and her younger sister Lily are currently living with Bren and Todd, a picture perfect couple who is anxious to clean up the messy past of the girls and make them a part of the family.

With a drug dealer dad and a mom who committed suicide, Wick doesn’t have much faith in most people and as extra security for her and her sister, she manuevers the web and investigates suspicious behavior for wives, jealous girlfriends, and whoever will wire her money. She’s a supreme hacker and finds comfort in her secret business; no matter what she knows that her and Lily will always be okay.

Even so, nothing feels entirely safe. Wick knows her dad is still out there somewhere and the possibility of him summoning her is too real. Then there’s the cop who is constantly monitoring her house, and the sudden death of her ex-friend, Tessa. The emotions hit close to home when Tessa’s diary lands on her doorstep with a note simply stating “Find Me.”

Though Wick isn’t immediately okay with using her hacking skills to solve this particular mystery, she feels surprisingly protective of her old friend. The stakes are built even higher when Wick realizes her sister could be the next likely candidate. So not only must she get to the bottom of this, but she’s roped into another project for her dad and his hoodlum friends. Honestly this girl is so busy I don’t know how she had time for anything else.

Find Me kept my attention because I wanted to know just how Wick would solve the case. Could she keep her sister protected? I had a pretty strong inkling from early on about the villain (I guessed right), and Bernard did a great job of making the hacking details seem accessible. (I wasn’t confused! Yay!) Unfortunately, I felt pretty disconnected from Wick and I wished the reader got more than a few lines of Tessa’s diary. I’m also very big on dialogue on a book. It helps me to picture people and understand them, and many of my feelings were lost because I didn’t have enough interaction between the characters.

Still, I did admire Wick for all of her protectiveness and it was interesting to see how she handled not always being in control.

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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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Estelle: The Truth about You and Me by Amanda Grace

The Truth and You and Me by Amanda GraceThe Truth about You and Me by Amanda Grace ( tweet )
Amanda Grace is also writes as Mandy Hubbard.
Publication Date: September 8, 2013
Publisher: Flux Books
Pages: 235
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: student/teacher romance, family pressure, sibling rivalry
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: When Madelyn is given the opportunity to take college level courses at 16, she never thought she would fall in love with her professor. Bennett is 26 years old, and totally aware that he should not be dating his student. What he doesn’t know that Madelyn is actually still in high school. Through her letters to Bennett, we watch as they grow closer in friendship and wonder just how it will all end.

I know a lot of people who are going to be turned off by The Truth about You and Me because of the assumed teacher/student affair plotline. Chances are if you look at the crime section of any news website, you are going to see similar looking stories. I obviously don’t condone these relationships, but they do happen and Amanda Grace has taken this story and really spun it on its heels.

Here we have a responsible adult (who happens to be a professor) who knows just how much engaging in a relationship with his student could jeopardize his career and his entire life. So he trusts in who Madelyn is, and they decide to wait until the semester is over to do anything about their feelings for each other. Only Madelyn is the one who doesn’t unveil all the facts. She’s only 16; she’s still in high school.

And Bennett has absolutely no idea.

The Truth About You and Me is a really fast-paced read (I got through it in a few hours) but it really made me think about the level of maturity we need to have to be a part of certain relationships, how easy it is to hide who we really are, remaining in control (or so you think), and just what happens when the truth comes out. This is not a story about an older man preying on a younger woman, a child. I believe that Bennett and Madelyn had the makings of a solid relationship but there are so many “ifs” involved… and originating from her own dishonesty? So interesting.

I was incredibly wrapped up in this romance and its complications, and so impressed with how carefully they treated their situation until their deadline. But Grace also sheds some light on the pressure parents place on us to be perfect, and what happens when that product of perfection runs free. Being book smart does not necessary mean being street smart, and what Madelyn made up for in brains, she certainly lacked in maturity.

I definitely suggest giving The Truth about You and Me a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised at your reaction. Two other books that popped in my head when reading this were Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally and Where You Are by J.H. Trumble. Sometimes people’s actions are not so clear cut and all three of these books are examples of that.

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