3 for 3 | December YA Picks

Why, hello there. It’s actually THURSDAY. I kept thinking yesterday was Thursday, but it wasn’t. So here we are. Ten days into December, only a few weeks left in the year and so much to talk about — the best books, how many books, and, of course, the new titles still releasing this month! Today I’m all about the third option and I’m sharing a few YA reads that are sure to brighten anyone’s holiday or kick off a new year right.

♥

Not If I See You First by Eric LindstromNOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST by Eric Lindstrom (12/1/15; Little Brown/Poppy)

What you need to know: Parker is blind but she doesn’t want any special treatment. Her dad passed away recently, and she doesn’t want to talk about that much either. She wants to go running and spend time with her best friend, dishing out way honest advice to classmates. She seems to be coping until “an old flame” finds his way back into her life, and she’s left to rethink events that happened years ago, just who’s on her side, and how she can’t hide from her feelings (about just about everything) forever.

The best part: Okay, there are two best parts. Parker is refreshingly bold (even if some of this is deflecting her own pain) and her friendship with her forever bestie is so wonderful but almost because it’s not safe from growing pains and misunderstandings. I love how Eric Lindstrom explores the reasons why we share some things with our friends, and hide others. It’s so important.

b&n | amazon

18982137THE TROUBLE WITH DESTINY by Lauren Morrill (12/8/15; Penguin)

What you need to know: Liza is drum major of her marching band, and takes major responsibility for the band’s success. But she’s the only one that knows the band could lose its funding and cease to exist so they are now performing on a cruise ship in hopes of winning some major bucks. Schools trip can be dramatic, surprising, and totally fun but Liza is the last person who puts her feet up and relaxes. Can the band triumph — especially with evil ex-best friends, old loves, and new distractions?

The best part: Lauren Morrill nails the feeling of being in a marching band, and that chemistry when the hard work and sweat and tears come together for some amazing performance. I was instantly transported to some of my favorite times in middle school (just band) and high school (marching band, forever).

b&n | amazon

This Raging Light by Estelle LaureTHIS RAGING LIGHT by Estelle Laure (12/22/15; HMH for Young Readers)

Can I just point out how strange it is that this author’s name is Estelle Laure? This is almost the perfect combo of my & my sister’s names. In fact, I have to keep correcting myself from writing Estelle Laurie. Anyway…

What you need to know: Lucille is forced to take care of her younger sister when her mom disappears and her dad deals. She gets a job, pays all the bills, and still manages to get her and her sister to school. She can only keep up appearances for so long, right? Nothing can distract her from her growing attraction for her best friend’s twin brother; can anything get more complicated? (I may have spoken too soon here.)

The best part: All of it. Every time I had to press pause on this book, I felt like I was being sucked out of some dream. The writing was sharp, thoughtful, and honest. I loved how strong Lucille was; I absolutely adored her friendship with Eden, and her devotion to her sister? As a reader, you want to give as many hugs to these characters as possible. I admired Lucille for advocating for herself so many times, especially when she had been let down by the people who should be taking care of her.

b&n | amazon

♥

December is certainly impressing me with the books so far. Let’s keep this streak going!

Be sure to share some fab reads of the month below — if you want. xoxo

Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu | Estelle Reviews

Making Pretty by Corey Ann HayduMaking Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu ( web | tweet )
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on May 12, 2015
Pages: 368 | Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: beauty, father/daughter relationships, sisters, NYC, romance

Summary: It’s summer in NYC and Montana is dealing with having her college-aged sister/best friend, her plastic surgeon father and some unexpected news, and the attention of a new boy.

The day I write this is the same day I went and got my face waxed. I’ll spare you the nitty gritty details. It was for more than my eyebrows. I like the salon I go to. Most of the time. It took me three years of living in my neighborhood to find it, and even though it’s been a solid 8 months of walking through its doors, I have to get myself in the mood. Get myself in the mood to get prodded and for someone to ask “are you sure you don’t want this too?” Nothing pumps up your self-esteem like having a total stranger ask you if you want to get your lip waxed. Or telling you your eyebrows are uneven when you only frequent one place so whose fault is that really? Even though I’m paying them for a service, I also walk in with a little bit of shame. What do you think about when someone is pulling hair from your body and spending a lot of time doing so? I try to relax but in the end I’m always thinking I wish I did not have to do this.

That’s sad, isn’t it?

No one is forcing me to go. Right? When I was in sixth grade, someone made fun of my eyebrows once after picture day. They weren’t exactly a unibrow but they weren’t tiny either. I started plucking them myself. My hair has always been dark against my fair skin. I can thank those Spanish genes. My arms, my legs, you get the picture. It’s always been my move to “do something about it”. It wasn’t my mom forcing me to do any of the above. In fact, she was adamant about me not shaving for a long time and keeping my eyebrows thick. (I didn’t listen.) She’s always been incredibly accepting and did nothing to make me feel less than who I was. So in reading a book like Corey Ann Haydu’s Making Pretty I am absolutely aghast about Montana’s father behavior when it came to the looks of his daughters. Part of me thinks he thinks he’s doing “the right thing” and helping his daughters “accept themselves” but as a plastic surgeon who is constantly taking on new female projects and totally transforming them… we know the truth. It’s not as it seems.

Basically we have Montana — about to embark on another summer in New York City. Her best friend (Roxanne) and her sister (Arizona) are back from college. She’s been honored with the friendship of the older, sophisticated Karissa. The boy (Bernardo) she’s been checking out at the park is looking at her back. But nothing is totally clicking except for the last thing. She can’t relate to Roxanne and Arizona the same way since she went to college. Karissa is not what she seemed — or even close. But Bernardo — he is someone she can have for herself. He is someone who is on her side. Alongside him, Montana goes on this journey to reinvent herself but also get down to the naked truth of what she means to people. Her dad has married again and again; all the while, Montana has basically been discarded by these women. I don’t think it was any fault of these ex-wives, I don’t, but I also can’t imagine how Montana feels watching each of these people walk out of her life without turning back and wondering about her.

As much as this book is about beauty — how it is perceived and thrust upon us — Haydu unshockingly (because she always asks the tough questions) explores the complexity of sister relationships, the all-consuming impulsiveness that comes along with first love, and the desire to take control but feeling powerless to actually obtain it. Like in Life By Committee, the author has spun another suspenseful contemporary — where will all of this messy behavior lead these characters? There was no way I could have predicted what would happen.

What exactly do you do when the authority figure in your life makes poor choice after poor choice? That your dad of all people — someone who is supposed to love you unconditionally — thinks he can make you look “better” and thinks he is helpful for offering to help in that area? What do you do when your older sister — one of your best friends — deviates from what she believed in? It’s no wonder that Montana is feeling out of sorts and doesn’t know what she belongs. There is very little that has been stable in her life, and it becomes her own (heavy) responsibility to come to terms with her father and his “well-meaning” abuse and dissect the various meanings of love she’s coming in contact with.

There’s a ton of discussion-worthy layers in Making Pretty and Haydu’s writes both succinctly and honestly, making Montana one of the freshest female voices I’ve read in awhile. She’s also put a reader like me in quite a pickle — how can I have a favorite book of hers when all of them are so wonderful and address so many relevant and pertinent issues we are so careful to hide? Her books may be categorized as young adult but I hope that’s taken as more of a suggestion than a universal rule by thirsty readers searching for unputdownable and thoughtful fiction because her work deserves a wider audience.

Rather Be Reading Buy It Icon

Add MAKING PRETTY to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N

Also by Corey Ann Haydu: OCD Love Story | RBR “Befriended” Interview

An early copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

For Real by Alison Cherry | Review & Chat

For Real by Alison CherryFor Real by Alison Cherry ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: December 9, 2014
Publisher: Delacorte / Random House
Pages: 304
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: revenge, reality TV, sister relationships
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley.

Summary: Two sisters embark on a reality show adventure but with different objectives: one wants revenge on an ex-best friend and the other is hoping for more quality time with her sister.

FYI: You don’t have to be a reality show guru to enjoy FOR REAL. In fact, if you are like me and maybe watch more Dancing with the Stars reality entertainment over the latest Survivor-type show, you will be impressed by the little details the author has folded into this story. From the auditions to deep in the action of Around the World, I felt like I was behind-the-scenes in the thick of things.

The core of FOR REAL was sisterhood, and that was so refreshing to experience because a lot of my reading doesn’t concentrate on the complicated relationship between sisters. I would know. I’m an older one. So even though I am more similar to Miranda and not Claire, our narrator, I related so much to the push and pull between them. Even though two people are related, when they are in two difference places in life, it’s so difficult to find common ground. Hearing Claire talk about playing second fiddle to Miranda made me think a lot about my sister and if she had ever felt the same way. Despite the disconnect, Cherry nailed the best thing about sisters: no matter where you are or what you are doing, the loyalty is unbreakable.

So Claire and Miranda team up to audition for a reality show that will take them around the world, participating in various challenges as a way to get back at Miranda’s cheating ex who is also on the show. They are so excited to land a last minute spot, but are also thrown for loop after loop once they sign their contract. There’s time spent with Will Devine, an adorable guy who seems to have his eye on Claire, and the changing landscape on the show that is focused on causing more drama and not really about strengthening new and old relationships. Is anyone taking part in this for real or are they all faking it?

It’s great that Claire was forced to make some tough decisions, as she struggled with her love for her sister and also her desire to win. (Let’s not forget her affection for Will.) Even as a reality show aficiando, Claire doesn’t have all the answers and I really enjoyed her journey. Cherry’s story was full of heart and I loved how she gave readers the opportunity to think about how real these reality shows are. Still, I would have welcomed more chapters to flesh out the end of the novel, and maybe a few more in between to lend some clarity to the show’s timeline. Overall, this was a fun introduction to Cherry’s writing and I was impressed by her decision to not always make the typical storytelling choices.

rather be reading worth it icon

Add FOR REAL to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N


Big thanks to Random House for the opportunity to chat with Alison about FOR REAL!

Alison Cherry - Author photo_LoResFirst of all, I loved that FOR REAL focused on the relationship between two sisters. As an older sister, it was a little hard for me to read about how Claire wanted her sister to respect her and want to spend time with her. (I became very self-reflective, seriously.) What was the hardest part about getting this dynamic right? Did you throw in your own experience at all?

It was definitely a challenging dynamic to write, especially since I’m the older sister in real life, too! My younger sister and I have always been close; we’re far enough apart in age and have diverse enough interests that we’ve never really experienced any sibling rivalry, and she says I never underestimated or babied her the way Miranda does to Claire. (I was extremely happy to hear that, as you might imagine.) But many of my best friends in high school were older than I was, and I remember exactly what it felt like when they went off to college and moved on to bigger, better things while I was still stuck at home. It’s extremely painful to watch your importance in other people’s lives wane, especially when your feelings for them haven’t changed at all.

I’m more of a Dancing with the Stars fan than an adventure reality show fan but I was so impressed by all the behind-the-scenes details you included that I never would have thought of. Was it tough to narrow down the destinations of the show that Claire and Miranda take part in?

The behind-the-scenes details were surprisingly hard to find! It turns out people have to sign all kinds of non-disclosure agreements when they go on reality shows, so there are barely any tell-alls or even blog posts about the experience. I did manage to interview one former contestant and one field producer, both of whom were very helpful, but I also got a lot of my information from a fan-written compendium about the first five seasons of The Amazing Race. If you want to know minutia about pop culture, it’s always best to talk to rabid fans; they’ve done much more digging than you’ll ever accomplish on your own.

As for narrowing down destinations, it actually wasn’t that difficult, but I can’t talk about my decision-making process without major spoilers! Let’s just say this: at each location, my characters had to do three challenges based on a very specific kind of local custom, so I could only send them to countries for which I could find three usable ideas.

Since its December and we are all about the holiday spirit around here, what do you think Claire and Miranda would be gifting each other this holiday season?

Miranda has noticed that Claire carries a Doctor Who bag, so the first thing she’ll Google when it’s time for Christmas shopping is “Doctor Who gifts.” She won’t know what this blue police box thing is supposed to be, but since it pops up everywhere, she’ll deduce that it’s probably pretty important, and she’ll buy Claire a TARDIS bathrobe. Claire will be delighted, thinking Miranda is finally taking some interest in the things she likes. But when she puts it on and makes a “bigger on the inside” joke, Miranda will just stare at her blankly.

Claire will buy Miranda the complete Freaks and Geeks on DVD. She’ll tell herself it’s just because she wants to introduce her sister to some great television, but secretly, she also wants Miranda to know what it felt like not to be popular in high school.

♥

Thanks so much, Alison!

(Be sure to check out Alison’s appearance at this month’s BIG KIDS’ TABLE too!)