Before you read this review, I have to ask: have you read When I Was The Greatest yet? I reviewed iReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog:
Before you read this review, I have to ask: have you read When I Was The Greatest yet? I reviewed it last year, mentioned it everywhere including my End of the Year survey, and, well, I just need you to read it before I can go on. So please buy it, request it from your library, or download it for your eReader.
The Boy in the Black Suit had me once again asking myself how Jason Reynolds does it. With a small page count, he brings such emotion and authenticity to his stories, and manages to develop his characters and their plotlines without giving away too much. Here we have Matt, a 17-year old who just lost his mother to cancer. He’s reeling from his own grief (he and his mother were super close) and at the same time, taking on such a grown up role in his household because his dad is not adjusting well to this tragedy. Matt never plans to take a job at the local funeral home, but when the opportunity presents itself, he scoops it up — anxious to keep himself busy somehow. (And after assurance that he would not have to touch dead bodies.)
What Matt does not expect to find is such support in funeral home owner Mr. Ray or comfort in the sadness he sees at these ceremonies. He finds himself seeking out the most upset person in the crowd, and hangs on to it. With the loss of his mom so fresh, he feels a bond with these strangers and relief about his own feelings and the fact that he is not alone. Yes, he has the support of his friend, Chris, and, occasionally, his father, but there’s something about facing these tragedies head on that makes him feel better about listening to Tupac’s “Dear Mama” every night before he goes to sleep. (Full disclosure: totally listened to this while I was reading.)
I’ve been to a lot of funerals (starting at a young age) and Reynolds had me openly weeping at some of the scenes Matt was experiencing. It’s certainly tough to read about them in any context but I guess I hadn’t realized how fresh my own memories of funerals were until I was deep into The Boy in the Black Suit. Personally, I had no idea how Matt handled it but when you are feeling alone and don’t know where to go, we can’t predict what’s going to bring us back and make us stronger. So there’s that.
As Matt deals with his grief, his dad’s ambivalence, and even the fact that he does not feel like cracking open a cookbook (a favorite hobby of his and a love he shared with his mom), a girl named Love comes into his life. As you may have expected, he meets her at a funeral and he is immediately taken by her strength. It’s funny how life works — who you meet and what builds you up when life hits its lowest point. I liked being alongside Matt during this time. He would always miss his mother, sure, but he was gaining the strength to pull through and press on.
Reynolds’s work continues to impress me and I am hoping other readers are going to catch on. In a world where we fight for diverse reads and the underdogs, he deserves our readership. The vulnerability and truth brought to his characters paired with solid dialogue — it’s like he has the secret recipe to a perfectly paced book (rhythmically and emotionally)....more
I had a really good time reading New Money last fall, but this time around, I bonded with Savannah iReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
I had a really good time reading New Money last fall, but this time around, I bonded with Savannah in a way I hadn’t before. She’s more settled in the city, working hard at her job (even though, let’s face it: with her allowance, she doesn’t need to), balancing a boyfriend and getting to know her newly acquired family better.
The drama from the first book has mostly disappeared and I say mostly because while the craziness in New Money seemed to creep up on her out of nowhere, this girl goes after it herself in this book — chasing down the answers of what really killed her media tycoon father. While we spend a majority of our time cabbing around Manhattan (the book opens with the Christmas season — so fitting and Rosenthal captures it so perfectly), Savannah also spends time in DC, worming herself into many uncomfortable situations to find out more and eventually returning to NYC with more than she bargained for.
This is the thing: even though Savannah handles her wealth and new lifestyle with such grace, she’s not above acting impulsively either. And maybe not always in the way you would think. Rosenthal has made a good habit of writing about strong, complicated women from the little sister in Queens (Other Words for Love) to this southern belle granted a fairy tale life with a few inconsistencies. The struggle to be independent, successful, and express love to the people in your life is what makes Savannah such an authentic character. We may not be wearing Gucci or living in an apartment that overlooks Central Park, but we worry about our hearts. We want to be good and do good by the people we care about.
Independently Wealthy mixes some ballsy detective work and delicious distractions with finding your place in relationships, your family, and a bustling city. As I inched to the last pages of the book, I already missed Savannah and wondered what she would be up to next. You know I want you to check out this series from the beginning, but I won’t tell if you cheat and skip to this one....more
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Althea & Oliver is probably the YA that the naysayersReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Althea & Oliver is probably the YA that the naysayers don’t realize exists. It’s literary, it’s layered in its storylines and the emotions build up in all of them, and not even close to fluffy. In fact, I would call the general feeling of this book melancholy.
If you haven’t guessed from the above description, Althea & Oliver is not exactly a story you are going to fly through. I was unsure if I was actually liking what I was reading for a long time. How can you like a girl doting over her best friend? What if that best friend is basically disappearing for weeks out of time because of some mysterious illness? I mean, there’s nothing truly happy here. But I was intrigued by Oliver’s strange health issues and I was hooked by the friendship between the two. Oliver and Althea maintained an intimacy that you don’t find a lot in young adult books. Sure, feelings beyond platonic were swirling around there but you can’t deny their closeness — how their families knew each other so well, how they always seemed to be stuck together, and how they accepted each other, faults and all.
I love how Moracho gave these characters room to grow beyond each other. Things happen, Oliver is off to New York, and Althea is acting out back in North Carolina. She makes the decision to lie to her dad and head to New York and talk to Oliver, and a major detour changes the course of the story. This is a tough one to review, friends, because so much happens that you need to discover for yourself. But what happens when you are so dependent on a friend and they can’t be there for you anymore? Do you continue to push this closeness or do you let the wind take you? Do you take this opportunity to get to know yourself without the other person? Will both of you ever be ready to take your relationship to the next level at the same time?
So much about Althea & Oliver felt more mature than a lot of other young adult books I read. I couldn’t help thinking it was the lack of technology in the story because it was set in the 90s. There was nothing keeping anyone together when they were apart except for some stray phone calls. Both Althea’s dad and Oliver’s mom allowed their kids to be very independent. These details definitely allowed the characters to do their own thing but it also didn’t disqualify their parents from the story either. (Big thumbs up.)
These two characters certainly hit rock bottom in two very different ways, and it was so emotional and heartbreaking and authentic how they climbed out of these holes and figured out next steps. I wouldn’t even say this book is about coming to clear conclusions but making the right decisions for right now, and keeping the future open. It’s so scary to jump into the unknown and this feeling is basically the theme of being a junior in high school. Moracho nailed it, making my heart swell and burst so many times.
I cannot wait to see what she is writing much, and I look forward to more thoughtful, and engulfing young adult books like this one....more
A possible Rapture has been threatened for awhile and no one in Vivian’s town really believes it’s goingOriginally posted on: Rather Be Reading Blog:
A possible Rapture has been threatened for awhile and no one in Vivian’s town really believes it’s going to happen until it does. After a party, Viv goes home to find two holes in her ceiling and her two parents missing. It seems all over the country loved ones have disappeared, Believers of the evangelical Church of America, and the end of the world is scheduled to arrive soon rather than later.
Before their disappearance, Vivian was continually harassed by her parents to receive her baptism and join them as Believers. They joined later in their life, and once they did, their relationship with Viv changed along with it. Vivian held out, determined to act like the best kid she could even if she wouldn’t officially become a Believer. Soon most of her close friends have converted and abandoned her. Although, the one positive, is meeting Harp, dealing with her own uber-evangelical parents, and they bond instantly.
Thank [insert name of higher power here] because the friendship between Viv and Harp is one of my favorite things about this book. In fact, I believe it’s the foundation of this story. Even though they are both so different — Harp is the more outgoing one, and Viv always following her lead — they compliment each other even in the most difficult of times. They give each other space, they pat each other on the back, and more than anything, they accept each other for who they are — warts and all. If you are facing the end of the world, I can’t imagine spending it with someone better than that.
Despite a false move on Viv’s part after the initial rapture, a road trip is organized when they realize certain strange clues are leading them to California and perhaps, some answers. Joining in is Peter, a boy Viv unsuccessfully tried to nab at a party the night before the Rapture and an “information guy” with connections to the church. Don’t worry. He’s trustworthy and an acceptable object of Viv’s affection. More than being a possible love interest, Peter proves to be a solid and understanding friend. In other words, perfect for a quest like this one.
As you can imagine, the road trip puts them in contact with many surprising (and dangerous) people and places but the most effective piece of the puzzle for me was the loneliness and not only because they had no idea who was alive and who was dead but because they were teenagers navigating this post-Rapture world alone. Viv had a lot of trouble dealing with this, and I didn’t blame her. Even though evidence was saying the adults had disappeared and many had gone off their rockers, she still believed in the authority of an adult and wanted to put her trust in them despite her history of getting burned. This parallel to growing up in general was a great one.
Despite the short page count, Coyle’s lush writing and intricate details made this book feel like an epic adventure — in a way that made me so anxious to get down to the bottom of the Church of America (clever usage of social media and consumerism that reminded me a lot of the underrated Bumped series by Megan McCafferty) and find out if Viv and her friends had the power to change their fates. The story continues in September 2015, and I’m so looking forward to it....more
JJ Greene is kind of the black sheep in her uber successful family and not because she isn’t smart (she graOriginally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
JJ Greene is kind of the black sheep in her uber successful family and not because she isn’t smart (she graduated from high school at 16 — two years early). Both her parents are lawyers and her older brother is following the same track. JJ has always been fascinated by the music business and writing her own songs for as long as she can remember. Instead of spending the summer filing at her mom’s law office, JJ gets a job working for a music publishing company where she’ll be doing admin but also have a chance to share her music with the owner.
It’s no surprise that JJ’s family shies away from the music biz; JJ’s mother is estranged from her own brother, also in music, but a no-good gambler who has been known to take the credit for other people’s work. Luckily, her family agrees to drop the law talk for the 3 months that JJ will be working for Good Music Publishing. If she can’t get one of her songs recorded during her time there, she promises to never bring up music again.
Her gig at Good Music Publishing is definitely an eyeopening one from her rekindled relationship with her Uncle Bernie (a secret from her mother), her late night jamming sessions with Dulcie, an ex-music star and current office cleaning woman, and her crush on the green-eyed boy she always seems in the elevator. For the first time ever, JJ is able to connect with people over music and not feel like she is silly for loving it so much. While her knowledge of the business grows, so do her own talents.
But a surprising wrench thrown into this feel-good book manifests into a whodunit subplot that I was not expecting. I didn’t mind it, and it kept me guessing (I almost guessed right) but it also made a few of the puzzle pieces click a bit too precisely into place for me. I’m Glad I Did certainly illuminated the rougher sides of musical success and didn’t steer away from the complexities of interracial relationships. While the book felt a bit on the younger side of young adult, I enjoyed my quick trip to 1963 New York City and following along as JJ experienced one memorable summer.
Bonus: I could easily picture I’m Glad I Did as a stage musical (think Hairspray meets Memphis!). Someone get on this!...more
Ever since I went away to college, a part of me dreads going back to the town where I want to school. NoOriginally reviewed at Rather Be Reading Blog
Ever since I went away to college, a part of me dreads going back to the town where I want to school. No one looks forward to awkward encounters with ex-classmates. It’s understandable that we’ve changed and aren’t all best friends anymore (if we ever were) and I have a strong feeling part of my aversion to this (especially as a holiday weekend draws so near) is that I don’t want to be reminded of the bad, the sad or the heartbreaking moments associated with high school.
I could relate to Aubrey, out of college and living in NYC as an online journalist, when it came to the familiar feel of the Long Island Railroad and encountering all the familiar about being home, especially for the funeral of her ex-best friend, Rachel, who has committed suicide. They had a rocky friendship but no one, not even her mom or high school boyfriend, knew the depths of their complicated connection. While Rachel was the ultimate mean girl armed with a ton of confidence in front of her peers, Aubrey knew the girl who felt a disconnect from her family, constantly wanted to be reassured of their best friendship, yet at the same time, constantly put herself first.
Told in chapters that alternate between present day and earlier memories of their friendship, Aubrey is forced to remember the reasons why she loved Rachel, and hated her at the same time especially as the rest of the town seems to put her on a pedestal. (Seriously, they were throwing an after-party for the funeral with favors.) It’s tough because Aubrey is never open with her feelings; she pushes away her overbearing mom, she makes fun of her brother’s new girlfriend, and she avoids her ex and current boyfriend as much as possible. Instead, she drinks, she wanders, and retreats even further into her memories.
It’s difficult to talk about this book because I don’t want to give anything away. Fam has concocted a story that alternated between predictable and not. I was surprised by some reveals but others felt a bit too perfect, placed in the prose to move it along. What I do find impressive is all the inner-dialogue from Aubrey once she makes certain discoveries; she has a lot to weed through and so many of her doubts have been perpetuated by society and the media and for that, I believe Last Train to Babylon would be a great book club read. There’s certainly a ton to discuss. I would have preferred a bit more development in Part 2 of the book, though, including more conversations between Aubrey and her mom, and even her and her current boyfriend. A later scene with the ex-boyfriend didn’t hit the emotional mark I wanted it to, either.
Despite my qualms, believe me when I say Last Train to Babylon was an addicting read that I stayed up super late to finish. I had to know how it all would end, and as a debut, it’s great to have Charlee Fam on my radar....more
Very few books make me feel speechless. This was a heartbreaking, almost suspenseful story and it really stands on its own in this book category. I liVery few books make me feel speechless. This was a heartbreaking, almost suspenseful story and it really stands on its own in this book category. I literally can't think of one comparable book. I'll have a full review but some words I wrote down while reading: discarded, impulsive, and validation.
Another great piece of work from this author with so many crossover opportunities.
This is the thing about forbidden love. We root for it to work, iron out its creases and prosper soReview originally posted on: Rather Be Reading Blog
This is the thing about forbidden love. We root for it to work, iron out its creases and prosper so we can believe in the impossible too.
Even though Devorah and Jaxon’s connection is a bit instantaneous, I was immediately hooked by their intersecting stories, hoping they could get their happily ever after. In alternating chapters, we learn of Devorah’s devotion to her Hasidic upbringing and the immense love she feels for her family while we see Jaxon work his tail off to obtain the higher education his father never had, and goofing off with his friends. Despite living so closely to each other in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, Devorah and Jaxon are worlds apart until they meet in a hospital elevator during a storm.
Devorah is not allowed to be alone with a male who is not a family member but in this elevator she has no other choice to converse with Jaxon and it comes so easily. She’s straightforward and honest, and he’s a dorky kind of charming and sweet. Pretty quickly, the two realize they have found someone in one another they haven’t found before and, in the time ahead, are willing to risk quite a bit to see what this chance meeting could mean for the both of them.
While Devorah is known to be a goodie-two-shoes, she’s already begun to question her male-dominated religion, watching her older sister (who she always idolized) grow more and more submissive in her marriage to the overpowering Jacob. Unlike her sister, Devorah isn’t sure she wants to be a mother at 18 and dreams about the possibility of college instead. Why does everyone in her family have to live life the same way? Can happiness and acceptance be achieved if she chose another path?
You would think Like No Other was a thriller because I was on the edge of my couch, wondering what was going to happen to Devorah and Jaxon. I’ve been 16 before. I know there’s only so much that I could get away with before I got caught, and these two were pulling out the stops. It broke my heart but Jaxon so earnestly believed they could work through these differences, and make their families understand how real their feelings were for each other. It’s true that Jaxon may be one of my top YA male characters; he is just such a good guy and it’s not surprising either because his family, while strict, is supportive and wonderful. (His mother made me cry.)
In ways, Like No Other felt like a love letter to the diversity of New York City. There are so many of us from different backgrounds, religions, towns, and families constantly jumbled together on the busy streets or crowded subways, hitting the same coffee shops and working at the same office buildings. Most of the time we walk by each other without even acknowledging the other or truly learning about them. But we manage to coexist. Devorah and Jaxon are just two pieces of the puzzle, but I loved how Jaxon took the time to learn about her traditions and took them into account and I adored how much of their love blossomed all over New York City.
While I enjoyed reading Five Summers last year, Una LaMarche has catapulted herself into my “must buy” category with Like No Other. The intricacy of her research, the authentic look at young love, and testing her characters in a way that will make them braver, stronger human beings? It’s so impressive. Yes, young love is about romance and sex and chemistry but it’s also about self-discovery and LaMarche hits that nail on the head.
I rarely sit in one place and read in a book in a single day but I couldn’t get anything done until I finished this one. (Seriously, I was gasping, yelling, crying, and swooning!) Like No Other is one of those books that makes me proud to be a young adult lit fan....more
There are a few things I’ve come to expect from a Jennifer E. Smith novel: gorgeous prose, intimate friendships, family conflicts, and probably my favorite: lovely details to relish and collect along the way.
I’m so happy to say that The Geography of You and Me delivers in each and every way with the added bonus of a setting that starts off in my favorite place of all-time, New York City, and manages to move along to the West Coast and overseas in a way that made me want to book a plane ticket and explore the world immediately.
Do you remember the blackout in 2003? It was right before I left for college and one of my close friends and I were planning to go into the city after I got out of work. We wanted to see a show in an attempt to make as many memories as possible before we were apart for the first time in years. Well, it never happened. The lights went out in the store I was working in and I went home to no electricity — my plans for the evening totally changed.
My night was definitely not as memorable as Lucy and Owen’s. They spent the night wandering the city, getting to know each other, and looking up at the stars on the roof of their building. (It was their coolest refuge in the crazy heat of the summer.) What I loved most was that their time together wasn’t memorable because something physical happened, but because they shared something — it was a night where they both would have been alone if they hadn’t been caught in the elevator together. (Owen’s dad was stuck in Coney Island, and Lucy’s parents were on vacation in London.) It was one night of so many inconveniences that seemed better than so many others strung together. I didn’t blame each of them for placing so much importance on it, for wondering if it meant as much to the other as it did to them.
I would have been in the same boat.
One magical night doesn’t erase the grieving process that Owen and his dad are going through since his mother died a few months ago. Nor does Lucy’s confusion about feeling excluded from her parents’ lives (and their lavish trips) and wanting so much to see more of the world. Something that really stood out to me were the relationships between each of the characters and their parents. When Owen and his dad decide to leave New York and road trip to their next destination, the two get this unheard of time together to make life work without a mom and a wife. I felt almost jealous of these memories they were making together, even when it was difficult and they didn’t know if each destination was their last.
On the other hand, Lucy had a lot of independence as a teenager. But her parents don’t consider her thoughts when they move her overseas to Edinburgh and her growth as a character has a lot to do with being open with her parents. It’s a difficult thing to do and while she settles as best she can in a new place, she’s sort of at war with this independent life she has been conditioned to have but also trying to figure out how to share her life with her parents and be close to them too.
Through all of this, Owen and Lucy don’t forget each other. There are postcards and emails. Infrequent, but they happen! Most importantly, they don’t let their affection for each other and curiosity about what the blackout night meant for them stop them from moving forward. New locations, new jobs, new schools, and new boyfriends and girlfriends. Life keeps happening, even if you can’t stop thinking about a certain person. The way they miss each other is never angsty or dramatic either… it feels incredibly natural — all due to Smith’s gorgeous and thoughtful writing.
Other standout parts: the realism and awkwardness of the San Francisco trip, an effectively written section where Smith gives us one sentence per chapter (I loved what this did to the pacing), and the depth of character development folded into the story. At one point, I stayed up way past my bedtime because I was in such a trance over Owen and Lucy’s story and I needed to know how it was all going to end.
The Geography of You and Me packed in everything I love so much about the young adult contemporary genre — a fully fleshed out story with two characters who are learning so much about themselves through their relationships with their parents and those special people who make an everlasting imprint in our lives....more
I’ve been eagerly anticipating When I Was The Greatest since May, and it did not disappoint. Not a bit. But I will say this… even after I read the summary and heard the author speak (so well, I might add) the story snuck up on me and affected me in ways I was not expecting.
Let’s start with Ali. I loved this kid. There was something so earnest about him, and I loved his observations about all sorts of factors in his life: his neighborhood (the dichotomy of the crowd that lived there), the status of his parents’ relationship (they didn’t live together), his 11-going-on-50 sister (adorable), and most importantly, his friendship with two brothers, Noodles and Needles, and their relationship with one another.
You see Needles has Tourette syndrome and even though Noodles won’t let anyone mess with his brother, he has no problem messing with him on his own. Ali has a strong sense of right and wrong, and knows that Noodles does not treat his brother the way he should. But he’s not exactly sure how to handle it. Instead, he minds his own business and subtly watches Needles’ back when Noodles is rough on him.
Much of When I Was the Greatest is an introduction to Ali’s Brooklyn block, how his relationship with his friends began, the story of his parents, and snapshots of moments that transpire through the summer. Until. The Party. You know… The Party. Ali, Noodles, and Needles kind of sort of get themselves invited to an off-limits infamous gathering where they plan to wear the best clothes, have the best hair, and fit in just for a few minutes so they can say they experienced one of MoMo’s exclusive events. Can you see their puffed up chests now?
Absolutely nothing good can come out of this, right? Especially since the plan is totally, utterly built on lies. But nothing prepared me for what happened. I think part of it was because it wasn’t so much the event that shocked me but what happened afterwards and the total breakdown of brotherhood and friendship, and ultimately, loyalty. (And how about the surprising sacrifices people make for one another?)
I cried. There I said it. I cried. And again, it came totally out of nowhere and it wasn’t even after a moment I anticipated.
That right there is some stand-out writing. Reynolds makes this urban setting come alive with its niches and diverse characters, and gives us the opportunity to get to know a teenager who cares deeply for his family and his friends and believes people should treat each other fairly and with respect. Ali may act older than he is, and even more with it than he is, but he does have a certain vulnerability and a great amount of strength. That parallel, that dimension made him so incredibly real to me.
Reynolds’ writing is smooth and incredibly effective (in a little over 200 pages, too). Plus it was refreshing to have a book that illustrated the big wide world we have out there — this grand melting pot of people — which, unfortunately, is such a rarity in young adult fiction these days. But back to When I Was The Greatest. It’s exactly what I love so much about reading: great characters, actions and themes that make me want to discuss every detail with someone immediately, and most importantly, feelings that linger....more
I was really excited to spend time with old friends again this year. Rules of Summer was a highlighReview originally posted on: Rather Be Reading Blog
I was really excited to spend time with old friends again this year. Rules of Summer was a highlight of my reading last June, so the idea of a sequel made me all kinds of happy. But, sadly, this summer did not hold the same kind of magic as the first.
Joanna Philbin had a lot to play with here: a reunion between Rory and her boyfriend, Connor. Isabel dealing with the family secrets she found out at the end of the last book. The friendship between both girls. And, finally, the family that brought all of them together: the perfect Rules.
I’m not sure where things started to go wrong for me. Instead of diving more into Rory and Isabel’s friendship, they spent a lot of time apart (Rory was interning and Isabel got a job as a waitress) dealing with various challenges mostly separately. So many times I thought to myself: I just don’t buy it. How close are they really? Are they best friends? Should they be? I wanted more. I think the friendship needed to be the anchor of this story, and instead, it was grazed over and it was presumed the reader just understood their connection. I needed to feel it.
“Grazed over” is a suitable way to describe most of the plot lines in Since Last Summer and it made the difference between an entertaining book and a memorable one. Rory has some unexpected relationship issues with Connor, and Isabel is dwelling on her breakup with Mike last year. Oh man, I really loved Isabel and Mike and not only could I relate to her inability to move on from him (even though she tried to convince her otherwise), I was rooting for this reunion to work somehow. (Is it strange how I wished the discussion of sex was folded more into the story? I would have liked to see the author have Isabel work through her first time and her intimate connection to Mike.)
New characters were featured in Since Last Summer too, and I happened to really like Evan and Amelia. One of these characters might have been as a device to create drama in the book, but because it was pretty much the only bolt of chemistry I felt in the entire story I just went with it, hoping things would work themselves out somehow.
It’s confusing to me why when given the chance to build on two great characters from a previous novel I still don’t have a good handle on them and their backgrounds. (Well, not true about Isabel so much, but what about Rory’s mom? I would have loved development there or even more conversations between her and her aunt, who worked for the Rules.) As a sidenote, I really enjoyed getting to know Mr. Rule in Since Last Summer and I wish he would have popped up more. A decision seemed to be made to place more importance on romance than family and that choice didn’t entirely work for me, especially when there was potential for so much more.
So would I still recommend Since Last Summer? I would. It’s breezy young adult book full of drama and cute boys. But if I had to choose between the two: Rules of Summer is the way to go....more
What 24-year-old does not dream of a secure job and an all-expenseReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog along with author interview! Yay!
What 24-year-old does not dream of a secure job and an all-expenses paid living situation in NYC? With a very generous allowance? Savannah’s step up from life in South Carolina (struggling to make ends meet with her mom, not finding her dream job) sounds like a Cinderella story, until you factor in that the source of all this glitz and glamour is the deceased father she never knew about. Plus the family he had in New York — a sister, brother, and wife — are anything less than welcoming. In fact, they are downright villainous.
Rosenthal’s New Money provides one of those experiences where you hope the main character does not change because of her newfound journey on the wealthy side. But inevitably, she does. For better and for worse. She may be employed but she has to dodge many unpleasant bullets from her jealous “siblings”; she may finally understand what it’s like to have the opportunities her best friend, Tina, has but it doesn’t necessarily make them closer. Then there’s the cute bartender who makes her feel amazing (in more ways than one) and could also be the key to keeping her grounded. But preconceived notion of “two classes” mixing and other good-looking distractions cause some more trife.
Savannah is definitely a spitfire; there were so many times I admired her chutzpah but there were others where I desperately wanted to shake her and tell her to remember where she came from. (Oh, and keep your apartment clean, please.) I appreciated Rosenthal creating a character who makes so many mistakes; it definitely sped up the pace of the novel because I kept wondering if she could clean up her messes, would she stay in New York, and will she just get over herself already.
New Money is so much about that in-between time in your life when so much is undecided and having the guts to make a move even if it’s totally crazy and unprecedented. The author threw in so many “oh-man” curveballs that I was definitely talking to myself when I was reading it. (The drama is insane.) I loved seeing New York City through the eyes of a newbie, and Rosenthal truly succeeds with bringing depth to her supporting cast. Every single one of them was so well-developed; I felt like I knew them as well as I did Savannah.
I cannot wait to see the mayhem that unfolds in book 2....more
It’s not every day you are hanging out with one of your closest friends, they mention a situation, and you are dying to interject about a book you are reading with a teenage spy in a similar situation. It sounds kind of silly, right? But with Going Rogue, even though the premise is a little out there, the themes are so relative. And that makes Robin Benway a total genius and me, a total fan.
First things first: I’m not normally a stickler about this but you should definitely check out Also Known As before reading Going Rogue. There is a quick recap early in the second book, and experiencing the first book is so much better than reading the cliffnotes version. Believe me. Plus you risk the chance of not getting the entire impact of reuniting with these characters and that would just be a total shame.
Back to the book: Without much action in the spy portion of her life, Maggie has spent a substantial amount of time being a normal high school student. (Not that Maggie is ever just normal. She’s quirky as hell and I adore her.) Her relationship with her boyfriend, Jesse, is super solid. (They are so cute in love.) And being able to let loose with her best friend, Roux (pronounced Roo), has been awesome as well. But the grass is always greener and Maggie is missing the spy life a bit. Before she knows it, the Collective (the organization her and her family have always worked for) has turned on her parents, accusing them of stealing irreplaceable gold coins. In order to keep Jesse, Roux, and her parents safe, Maggie (under the leadership of close friend/sort-of uncle: the charming Angelo) keeps the details of this investigation under wraps and hopes to get her parents out of this giant mess.
Seems stressful, isn’t it?
Maggie is clearly torn. She loves and trusts her friends, and of course, would do anything for her supportive parents but she can’t imagine putting them at risk. But the secrets cause hurt feelings, missed dinner dates, and a lot of tension between Maggie and those she holds dear. Can she ever be a normal girl and a spy? Will she always have to choose? And when will her parents accept her ability to make sensible (yet dangerous) decisions? Benway is able to take a super secret mission and make everyone’s feelings and reactions so true to feelings and reactions in our own lives.
While the adventures of Going Rogue are filled with intrigue (and danger!), the book truly shines when it comes to the characters and their relationships with one another. Even without the Collective being compromised, it’s obvious that these people from two different worlds have formed their own eclectic family. And what’s even better is that Benway has supplied each supporting character with an individual backstory and stand out personality. This kind of intimate connection between reader and supporting character is so rare in the young adult genre, and I applaud Benway’s attention to detail and talent for creating fictional characters that feel like close friends.
She’s also inspired me with a brand new theory about Angelo. In my review of AKA, I mentioned how his character of reminiscent of Michael Caine in Miss Congeniality but I’ve changed my mind. After seeing his in action in book 2, from his sacrifice to his advice to the great care he takes of Maggie, her family, and her friends, I was feeling real Dumbledore vibes. Angelo’s a little mysterious and very wise like Dumbledore was; everyone looks to him as a guide in the story. Though he certainly uses the word “love” more than Dumbledore ever did and leaves more notes, knowing Angelo was around always gave me comfort and hope that the trials would turn out okay. Most importantly, he always put others before himself.
I know sequels don’t always live up to their predecessors but that was not the case with Going Rogue. It was just as fun and bursting with personality and a great balance of suspenseful and LOL-worthy moments — a perfect way to kick off a new year of reading!...more
Piece of My Heart reminded me of that Jay-Z song “Empire State of Mind”:
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of There’s nothing you can’t do These streets will make you feel brand new Big lights will inspire you Let’s hear it for New York
Marisol is a sassy and ambitious young lady living in Harlem and hoping her killer voice will make her a music phenomenon. She sacrifices time with her best friends and her on-and-off again boyfriend, Julian, to work with her friends, doing karaoke for parties from Manhattan to the Hamptons. Hoping, just hoping that one evening her dreams will come true and someone important will notice her.
She doesn’t have to wait long. In the opening chapter, she is already set to record a track with one of her biggest musical influences (and crushes) and so begins a fast-paced story where the music industry seems so accessible to these characters, it’s almost like a fairy tale.
But Marisol’s journey to get what she wants is not easy. There are definite setbacks and people she comes in contact who may want more from her than just her talent. She may be a little naive but our girl seems to have her head screwed on straight. She wants to make it the right way.
For a girl on the verge of 18 though, Menna writes Piece of My Heart in a very young tone even though there are a lot of mature situations unfolding. I wish she had dived more into Marisol’s dad’s unexpected death, or really fleshed out her relationships with her best friends. And then there is Julian. Julian, who gets mad that Marisol spends a majority of her time doing something music related. For a guy that Marisol is so in love with, he doesn’t seem to support her dreams so much. His character is totally selfish, and I was wishing for Marisol to live up to her fiesty personality and let him go. He didn’t deserve her.
Piece of My Heart reminded me a bit of Audrey Wait and Awkward (the sudden fame), it fell more on the serious side of things and felt a little rushed. I think I would have enjoyed this one more if the actions and thoughts of the main character were more age appropriate and some of the plotlines were more streamlined.
A bonus? Menna wrote some original songs and showcased them in the story. Definitely a nice addition. ...more
There’s a certain amount of trepidation when a celebrity writes a book. Especially a celebrity you rReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
There’s a certain amount of trepidation when a celebrity writes a book. Especially a celebrity you really like: one you’ve seen in both her hit television shows and singing and dancing on Broadway. As an extension of your fandom, you want to like everything else they do. Right? But the fear! The fear!
Friends, I tell you: fear not and get your hands on a copy of Someday, Someday, Maybe as soon as you can.
It’s hard to hack it in New York City. And no one knows that better than Franny. Sometimes the city can feel oh-so magical, and other times it can chew you up and spit you out. With six months left to go in her self-created goal to become an actress, her “big break” comes unexpectedly when she messes up her scene in a showcase for her acting class. Soon she has an agent (although maybe he’s not the perfect fit), and a spot on a TV show (even though there’s no air date), and James Franklin, an actor who has had actual roles in movies (!!), is looking her way.
This is SO happening, right?
Well, kind of. Graham shapes a really great story around a 27-year old who doesn’t have it all figured out. One minute her phone is ringing with opportunities and other times it’s like they forgot her number. She thinks about going home and being an English teacher (like her dad) or finally settling down in the suburbs with Clark (her sort of boyfriend). She bumps into other friends who are her age and successful while she’s working some crummy part-time job to pay her rent. There aren’t enough books written about people in their late 20s who may not be on a straight and narrow path, and I really appreciated how Franny could strike gold one day and be flailing the next. (So relatable!)
Set in 1990, every few chapters begin with a glimpse into Franny’s datebook (cheese puffs, call backs, rent checks, a tally of margaritas drank in a night) and messages left on her answering machine (some of the best are from her adorable dad). There are also a few tongue-in-cheek NYC jokes that made me giggle. Best of all, though, were her roommates: best friend from college, Jane, who was the kind of friend who nicknamed all of Franny’s boyfriends and could tell her she’s watching too much Leeza (do you remember that show?) and Dan, an engaged guy and budding writer, quietly working on some science fiction while sipping a beer. We never get to spend an unbelievable amount of time with either (it was so well-balanced) but I loved how close you could see Jane and Franny were, and ya know, for some reason, I kept on rooting for the endearing Dan who had much more in common with Franny than she realized.
When I first started the book, I did struggle with the fact that it was so heavy into the acting. How am I going to relate to this? I thought. But pretty soon after that, Someday, Someday, Maybe, came to be about so much more. When we are little kids we are taught we can be anything, but I don’t think the reality hits that maybe that won’t come true or it’s harder than we think until we are knee deep in it. Not to mention the discovery that not everyone takes the same path. There really is no right one, no matter how many naysayers you encounter. It’s really nice to have a book that explores that other side.
Someday, Someday, Maybe is so charming, so authentic, and so special.
Also I dare you to read this without picturing Franny as Lauren Graham. Go ahead. I, indeed, failed this challenge.
Note: I found out after I finished that Jennifer E. Smith (This is What Happy Looks Like) was the editor of this book. Really. Can this book get any better? ...more
Back in college, I was part of a theatre troupe called “Better Choices / Better Chances” and for a fReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
Back in college, I was part of a theatre troupe called “Better Choices / Better Chances” and for a few weeks in the spring, we toured middle schools and high schools in our area to teach them facts about HIV/AIDS through a series of serious, funny, and pop culture-y skits (that we wrote ourselves). This is why I was so interested in My Life After Now. There is only one other book (Positively by Courtney Sheinmel) that conquers HIV in the young adult genre, and this is a subject that needs to be discussed more frequently.
Let’s start that the beginning: after Lucy loses her prized role in the school play (an awesome adaptation of Romeo and Juliet) and her main squeeze, she decides to do something very un-Lucy like and totally let loose. It’s like this: dress hot, get into a club, meet someone in the band, get drunk, and then wake up and not know what the hell happened. That foggy part is when things get bad. Lucy realizes she had unprotected sex, and when she gets tested, finds out she has HIV.
This is, indeed, devastating. Lucy goes through a roller coaster of emotions, and doesn’t know where to turn or who to turn to. Her life is set on an entirely different course than it was a little awhile ago. What should she do next? While Verdi does a good job of telling us about Lucy’s actions, the lack of showing them caused me to connect very little with her character. Even the brighter moments didn’t have the right emphasis because the small details (like getting to know a new boy) seemed glazed over.
There were moments when Lucy surprised me in great ways, and others where I couldn’t believe she continued to be so naive. I would have expected her diagnosis to wake her up a little, but she continued to make decisions that left me shaking my head. Verdi also depended a ton on her main character as she was forced to wade through many other issues on top of HIV (including a very unstable biological mother). With a little finesse these could have worked in the story, but the multitude of heavy storylines made My Life After Now feel top-heavy to me.
I did have a soft spot for chapters named after songs from musicals (try to guess which is which!), Lucy’s uber-supportive dads, and the vivaciousness of Roxie, a gal Lucy meets at her support group. Though I am glad I found such a rare subject in my reading, I do wish My Life After Now would have branched out beyond its subject (less Rent references?), educating readers a bit more organically and, therefore, truly connecting us to Lucy. ...more
One thing that I absolutely love about reading is discovering books set in places you know. Right away, I felt bonded to Rules of Summer because of buzzwords like Montauk Highway, Hamptons, and even Stony Brook. I spent my freshman and sophomore year of college out in Southampton, and even though my school was in debt and closed (true story), the Hamptons are such a special place to me. (Like where I went on a first date with my husband.)
Summer is all about that escape. Rory has an opportunity to hang out in the Hamptons; sure she is working but the “away from her mother and all her drama” makes the free board and no pay worth it. For Isobel Rule, she’s back in the fray, returning to a family she never felt a part of, and friends she suddenly finds totally superficial. Her solace is all about the surf. These two girls come from totally different worlds but are forced together when Rory is recruited to give Isobel driving lessons.
I have to applaud Philbin here because she doesn’t prolong the whole “these girls have it out for each other” thing we see in a lot of books. While they really have no reason to be friends, there’s no reason for them not to be either. I’m glad we got the positive side of the coin here because Isobel needs a voice of reason and someone on her side and Rory really needs to let loose and enjoy herself for once. The girls are able to give each other those things, and, just in time, because…
BOYS. There are two of them. And they are very cute. (In fact, I like to call this book Nantucket Blue x 2 because we get to see two girls fall in love for the first time in Rules of Summer.) Isobel meets Mike when she gets caught in the surf, and oh did it remind me of the anxiety and excitement of falling so hard, you are practically sinking. She is so used to playing a game with guys that when she finally feels serious about someone, she’s not too sure how to act. (Especially since he’s older and a lot more experienced.) Their chemistry is so gosh-darn pulsating that I think it took away from Rory’s own forbidden romance a bit. While still sweet and fun, hers felt a bit rushed and not as thoroughly explored. (Notice how I didn’t tell you who Rory’s mystery guy is.)
So what’s at stake in Rules of Summer? A ton. Family secrets come rushing out, Rory is not exactly truthful with Isobel about her love life, and is Isobel’s relationship forever? Let’s not forget Mrs. Rule either — this lady may look sweet and kind but she “rules” a.k.a. dominates with an iron fist. What does this mean for both Isobel and Rory?
Even though the end shows up a little too abruptly and some big moments aren’t given the attention they deserve, Rules of Summer had me practically hearing the roar of the ocean in my backyard and truly invested in the lives of these two girls. And the good news? There’s a sequel in the works! I’m so looking forward to that! ...more
I’m not usually into sweeping generalizations so early in the year, but here’s one for ya: so far, 2013 has totally knocked my socks off with surprise hits.
Also Known As easily slides in this category. It’s not like I didn’t have a hunch this would happen since Audrey Wait! was so much fun and I loved Robin’s letter in the Dear Teen Me anthology… but I had no idea I would love love it.
In a book about a family of spies, I didn’t know what to expect. Mayhem? Fluff? Sure, those are all there. In fact, Maggie’s family sort of reminded me of The Incredibles, a super supportive family where every person had their own specific skill. In this case, Maggie was a safecracker, her dad was adept at stats/languages, and her mom was the ultimate hacker.
But Benway brought more comedy to this story than I expected.
Because imagine being savvy to all these major cases and living all over the world and then being forced to go to high school. It’s hilarious because Maggie seems pretty mature due to the responsibilities of her occupation but when it comes to the everyday kid things… cell phones, best friends, dating, fashion? She is totally clueless, and this parallel between her double lives just really made the book for me.
Then there’s setting. New York City? Awesome. Supporting characters. SO good. Roux, the social outcast who befriends Maggie. Her parents aren’t around a lot, she’s lost all of her friends, and she has this sort of outrageous personality that was so addicting. Then there is Angelo, a family friend and Maggie’s mentor, who is so warm, adorable, and reminds me of Michael Caine in Miss Congeniality for some reason. (Okay, this book was so cinematic to me because I think Rebel Wilson would make a kick-ass Roux.) Both of these characters had such a supreme effect on Maggie because she’s supposed to go into the whole assignment as a professional and not make friends. But despite her responsibility to the Collection, she IS 16 and she desperately wants a normal life.
And what can I say about Jesse Oliver? It’s no great twist in literature that Maggie falls for ” the enemy” but I did really like him, and I liked seeing this character fall for someone for the first time, and all the awesome firsts (and doubts) that come along with that. Again, there’s this added layer that she is indeed lying to both Roux and Jesse, probably the first friends she’s ever made in her life, and I kept wondering how she would eventually handle that. (Also kudos to Benway to giving Jesse some real dimension; liked his sub storyline a lot.)
One thing that surprised me about the book was the pacing, which I found a little slow for a book of this nature. But Maggie’s winning personality kept me going and I found myself having a blast, reading about the many adventures (and mis-adventures) supplied in Also Known As (the cherry on top was an uncovered Dirty Dancing reference) and I’m certainly looking forward to the sequel! ...more
Oh man. Oh man. Or should I say: oh boy. Oh boy. Because I have been spoiled with some great titlesReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
Oh man. Oh man. Or should I say: oh boy. Oh boy. Because I have been spoiled with some great titles with refreshing male voices this year. (See: Lexapros and Cons, Curveball, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children.)
Not Exactly a Love Story joins this awesome list.
Main character Vinnie is just your normal guy wearing leather pants on his first day of school, in the late 70s. (For the record: not the best fashion choice.) He’s kind of the guy that girls realize they want after they date the bad ones that trample all over their hearts. You know the one I mean. He’s funny, he’s sweet, and he likes to take care of fish in aquariums.
Don’t you love him already?
Couloumbis does a great job of shaping a story around a typical family. Parents who decide to separate. No big blow out fight, just a decision they come to. Each of them off and starting their own separate lives and Vinnie is just sort of in the middle, watching all of this happen. Vinnie’s observations during this time are the most interesting. He’s very perceptive, and he knows exactly where his boundaries are too.
Then in sort of this whirlwind You’ve Got Mail-like situation, Vinnie starts calling his gorgeous and popular next door neighbor, Patsy, every night at midnight. She has no idea who he is, and he keeps his identity a secret because he’s pretty sure she would never go for him. It sounds pretty creeptastic, doesn’t it? I mean, the reader knows that Vinnie means well (even if he comically messes this up time after time) but for some reason Patsy is hooked and keeps picking up the phone. She does, though, know when it’s time to hang up.
The great thing about this phone relationship is that I’m pretty sure Vinnie and Patsy wouldn’t have gotten to know each other quite as well if they just met in gym class or something. There’s something about that mysteriousness and, in Vinnie’s case, the darkness, that gives both of them courage.
It was giddily romantic, even when the two would bicker and shoot straight with one another. I couldn’t wait to know how they would eventually collide in real life. If the possibility of their friendship surviving the real world even existed.
(While the 70s backdrop is delightfully subtle with a few references to music and fashion, I wondered if it also served a purpose. I don’t believe there would have been the same charge with an online relationship.)
The author does tackle some heavy subjects, but manages to maintain a certain lightness. There’s such a calculated balance between Vinnie’s situation at home (new stepfather; embracing his inner athlete; juggling his time with both parents) and the version of himself that talks to Patsy late into the night. And the author does a great job of highlighting each of those intertwining plotlines as they come to a fulfilling end.
In a world full of books about revenge, car accidents, and post-apocalyptic challenges, it feels so right (and so refreshing!) to settle down with a genuine book about real people dealing with every day problems, bumbling around to find their own happiness.