If you are looking for a tell-all about Lea Michele’s life, Brunette Ambition isn’t really going toReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog:
If you are looking for a tell-all about Lea Michele’s life, Brunette Ambition isn’t really going to fulfill that need. Instead we get the bare bones of her fitness regiment, makeup and shopping tips, and even some of her favorite recipes in addition to how her career got started, the phenomenon of Glee, and her friendship with Jonathan Groff (my favorite!).
While I was interested in the release of the book, it wasn’t until I saw it in person that I knew I had to have it. The photography is stunning. The professional shots of Lea before and after makeup, even the ones accompanies the various exercise instructions, are so gorgeous. (She has perfect hair. I swear. I can’t even.) Not to mention she shares a bunch of instagram and iPhone pictures throughout as she tells her story.
Despite the length, she covers a lot of topics and even though it’s never completely in depth, you feel like you’re having a nice long magazine interview with her instead of just a few pages. A few of my favorite parts:
- Her philosophy on shopping is one I really need to take to heart. Shop for basics. What should you splurge on and what should you buy at a bargain? (I love that she makes fun of some of her past fashion choices too. Been there.) - Have you ever thought of using a toothbrush for hair flyaways or your bangs? Me neither. But I get these all the time, and now I have a solution. - In a world of Lindsay Lohans and Britney Spears, I admire how Lea works so hard to stay close with her family and create a circle of trustworthy friends. I’ve read so many interviews where she talks about how she would rather stay in than go out like most girls her age, and she reiterates that often in the book. It’s nice to picture her as the kind of person who wants to curl up on her couch with wine and her cat watching crappy reality shows. - Since I started really following her in the last few months — her album is my summer soundtrack — I’ve been impressed by her work ethic. The amount of hours that Glee requires in addition to this book, an entire album, and appearances? She still manages to stay in shape, cook food, and be social. She’s a rock star. Seeing it all written down in one places makes it even more admirable.
And, of course, there are some quoteworthy moments too:
- “While I get that there’s a fine line between owning your accomplishments and reciting every line of your resume, there is absolutely no shame in being proud of what you’ve managed to achieve. Own it.” - “I always think it’s better to scramble to learn a new skill than to sell yourself short.” - “Work on your friendships in the same way you’d tackle anything of importance in your life. And be judicious about the special people you let into your circle.” - “No matter what — the show must go on.”
I definitely see this as a book I would pick up time and time again, opening to a chapter and just reading for awhile, especially with the healthy recipes, the hair & facial concoctions, and the fitness sections. If you are a Glee or Lea fan in general, I can see where you would be interested in the whole package but as a reader who is looking for an uplifting and honest how-to, it’s worth adding to your collection. Lea’s already started on book 2, and I’m very curious how the “movement” will move forward.
Compulsively readable debut. Loved the characters and also this whole "what am I really doing once high school is over" Debate subtly going on for theCompulsively readable debut. Loved the characters and also this whole "what am I really doing once high school is over" Debate subtly going on for the main character. Nice balance of friendship family and romance too and the dialogue and actions felt so real. Get your hands on this one!...more
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
4 stars for all the 1980s Disney Park references. This would make any geek happy, and anyone who wants to learHad a blast reading Summer of Yesterday!
4 stars for all the 1980s Disney Park references. This would make any geek happy, and anyone who wants to learn a little bit more about theme park history. (You can tell the author is invested.)
3.75 stars for the story. I needed a bit more at the end, and would have loved a bit more attention and closure to the parents/divorce storyline. All in all, the time travel worked well for me, and I thought the dialogue was spot on in present day and 1982.
Disney World as a setting in a book seems like an Estelle no-brainer, right? Let me assure you… very few authors get it right. As if Gaby Triana’s dedication to Walt Disney didn’t tip me off initially, she gets it — the fandom, the importance of its history, and, most importantly, the details.
As a WDW geek, I could not stop squealing over the details of a now-abandoned River Country water park, basically left to rot. I never had the chance to visit as a kid (my first trip to WDW was in 1996 and my parents aren’t water park people) but Triana brought the park to life for me through Haley’s time traveling, and, once again, I wished I had had the opportunity to experience it.
I’m getting ahead of myself. (See how excited I am!?) Basically, Haley suffers from seizures (she has recently found this out) and has one when she is taking part in a scavenger hunt with new friends at the resort that housed River Country. She breaks in, has her seizure, and suddenly wakes up to 1982. She meets Jason, an adorable lifeguard, who takes pity on her and helps her blend into the background, and discovers that her parents (in their younger forms) are on property with her too.
Triana definitely has that “typical teenager” attitude down when it comes to Haley. She never wanted to go on this vacation in the first place; she’s missing out on hanging with friends and the guy she is crushing on. She has no patience for her dad’s memories of a vintage Disney World. A lot of her anger stems from the fact that she still cannot accept her parent’s divorce, I think. Even though years have passed, she still feels the effects of her family’s breakup.
Because Haley is suddenly privy to the earliest memories of her parent’s courtship, I expected more of an emphasis on this portion of the story. Did I think she would succeed in getting them back together down the line? Not at all. But Summer of Yesterday‘s focus on Jason and his growing relationship with Haley teetered the equilibrium of the book for me. Self-actualization should have won out over romance (as sweet as it was) because while they were great for each other at this exact moment, how could it possibly work in the end? It might sound crazy but balance of the storylines would have made this time travel story a bit more realistic for this reader.
Despite that hiccup, I couldn’t get enough of the book. I may have shed a tear near the end (okay, fine I did) and I closed it, truly appreciating the accuracy of the Disney theme park setting (I even learned a few things!) and how nice it felt to read about a (somewhat complicated) summer love story....more
I'll admit. I was a little nervous about this one because I'm not up on my Greek mythology but it was charming, funny, sweet, and also balanced some sI'll admit. I was a little nervous about this one because I'm not up on my Greek mythology but it was charming, funny, sweet, and also balanced some serious plotlines: aggressive boyfriends, pleasing parents, fitting in, and more.
I was hooked from the first chapter, and barely put it down before I finished. Can't wait for Book 2. Full review to come super soon!...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
When we first meet Lauren and Ryan, they are fighting over something silly: where they parked their car at a baseball game. For some, this is an annoyance that is easy to shake off but for these two, it was only part of something bigger. I think it’s impossible to be married to someone so long, friends with someone so long, RELATED to someone so long that the little things don’t get to you and you find yourself arguing over the mundane or taking something a little too personally. It’s too easy to take the people we know will always be there for granted. Sure, we can treat them like a mini-punching bag sometimes because they are never going to leave us. But what happens when that behavior is circling all the time and you are only happy when you are sleeping or find a moment to yourself?
I thought it was brave when Lauren and Ryan decided to take a sabbatical from one another. An unconventional way to “fix” things for sure but a decision they were able to come to together. Live apart for a year, cut off contact completely and see where they are after it’s all finished. For some reason I thought Lauren would do something drastic like go on a wild trip and take time off from her job but she surprised me because she stayed put. She went to work at the alumni department of a college, had lunch with her best friend (Mila), hung out with her sister (Rachel), and enjoyed time alone with her dog. After going through the motions of a life void of Ryan for awhile, she did start living… but in a very normal kind of way.
This is what I’ve come to expect from Reid and I love it. The actions of her characters (even when they are shitty) are as realistic as they come. Lauren seesaws with her feelings about Ryan, about marriage, and what love really means. For this one year, she goes back to her roots and finds the Lauren she might have lost along the way. She spends time with her amazingly hilarious and diverse family — dramatic but well-meaning grandma, a single mom, her sister who doesn’t feel the need to get married, and a younger brother who is always surprising her. It also goes to show how much one person’s marriage affects a group of people. Everyone in Lauren’s family was mourning the loss of Ryan in their own way, but it never affected their support of her. Reid was so great at sharing the funny, quirky side of this family (+ her friends); their involvement added the perfect balance to what could have been a super depressing book.
As much as I love TV spoilers, I never feel that urge to skip to the end of a book. It’s all about the journey, right? But Reid tempted me. I needed to know that Lauren and Ryan’s year apart would bring them closer together in the end. I needed that happily ever after (or whatever)! But I didn’t succumb to the temptation. (I’m actually pretty proud of myself.) Again, Reid has a way of writing about regular folk that makes me never want to let her characters go. I laughed, I cried, and, since I’ve finished, felt the need to recommend it to just about everyone I know. Reid creates characters who are relatable, complicated, and oh-so memorable.
Happiness doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone, and I think Reid conquers the messy, thoughtful path that gets us to that realization so genuinely.
I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next....more
I have a few friends that run a lot, and I’m always intrigued by their “how I started” stories. I couldn’t help but think of them as I began to get to know Annie. I know firsthand that even though my friends are very accomplished runners, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the act of running is easy or completely seamless. It’s work, sure, but there’s also the sweet feeling of success mixed in with some crazy adrenaline.
Reading as Annie continued to get up early and train, despite getting sick, despite feeling like crap, even made me want to pick up my sneakers and get out there and run. The level of accomplishment she met week after week was contagious.
This brings me to grief. It might be a little morbid but I think about how people choose to deal with grief a lot. Upon the death of her long-time boyfriend, Kyle, Annie decides she must complete this marathon — the marathon he was training for when he died. That’s the healthy side. But then there’s the other side — not talking to her mom about how she feels, continuing to think she is the one to blame, and generally not speaking his name outloud to anyone.
As Kenneally gradually unveils the details of Kyle’s death and the events that led to that tragic moment, we learn how strong and independent Annie is — how much she loved Kyle but how much she wanted to push herself in life. There are a ton of “what ifs”, for sure, but as she runs, as she lets more people in, she’s given the time and the opportunity to realize that no amount of “what ifs” can bring him back. She gradually has to find her peace and realizes no matter how much she hides, real life is always going to come knocking on her door.
Like Jeremiah, her running coach’s brother. Or her friends from high school who are more accessible than she thought.
Let me get this out of the way: the chemistry between Annie and Jeremiah is HOT and intense from the very first scene but I loved how Kenneally scaled it back and made their relationship so much about this strong friendship. Jeremiah is going through his own stuff, and might not be exactly the kind of guy Annie necessarily needs right now, but he’s entirely patient with her as she deals with all of her emotions and if I felt incredible grateful for him, I could only imagine how she felt. He was solid. She needed solid, even if solid also meant super good looking and um, a great kisser. Spoiler: the off-trail scene was omg-amazing.
Not only is Annie forced to rebuild this future she initially imagined with Kyle, but she’s also granted the opportunity to fix things with her ex-best friend and get closer with girls from high school even when it seems like it could be too late. I loved that Kenneally focused on gal friendships; it’s so crucial to the move from high school to college and it brought Breathe, Annie, Breathe to a whole new level for me.
This is the thing. Even though Breathe, Annie, Breathe is part of the Hundred Oaks series (and includes some awesome cameos, of course), it felt more like a standalone than any of Kenneally’s other books. (Can we get a round of applause for her first hardcover, please?) I loved his unexpected glimpse into college life, and felt the ratio of self-discovery: romance: friendship was incredibly well-done. As Annie inched closer and closer to her marathon, all of the emotions were also growing in me, making the last pages so cathartic and gorgeous. (Yes, I cried.)
It’s true Kenneally’s newest book always becomes my new favorite. (Though my soft spot for Stealing Parker has never wavered.) But I thought she brought a whole new A-game to the young adult genre with Breathe, Annie, Breathe. It was heartbreaking, sexy, funny, and inspiring in so many ways....more
I’ve been searching for another collection of holiday short stories since I read Let It Snow almostReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
I’ve been searching for another collection of holiday short stories since I read Let It Snow almost two holidays ago. Mistletoe‘s stories are a little shorter, and less developed but I still had a merry time reading them. The characters range from high school to college-aged to celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah — mall jobs, crushing on the wrong person,a Hollywood star, and discovering the true meaning of the holidays. I was practically giddy with the first two stories because they were set in two places I know well — NYC and North Jersey. (Seriously, a mall I used to frequent was name-dropped!)
It seems to be the case that there is always one story in these sets that I like less than others (while I loved the different writing style, the third story set up like a screenplay was a little slow) but Mistletoe is perfect to have on hand during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Slip in a bookmark and pick it up when you need a break from wrapping, sipping peppermint mochas, or caroling with your pals.
I know it’ll be a treat to cozy up with this one when the weather gets a little chillier and this time of year comes swinging through again!...more
Oh my gosh. This book knocked my socks off. Totally charmed me, made me smile and every character is so alive. The comics were a great touch4.5 stars!
Oh my gosh. This book knocked my socks off. Totally charmed me, made me smile and every character is so alive. The comics were a great touch and I feel like I was in a 14 year old's brain. So so so amazing,...more
Perfectly imperfect is how I like my book characters and Corey Ann Haydu delivers with Tab in Life By Committee. Not only is Tab a fan of Muppet music, a book lover to the extreme, and a totally normal teenager who helps her parents out with their cozy coffee shop in Maine, but, like any of us, she can’t help what she thinks, she doesn’t always make the wisest decisions, and she’s just trying to figure it all out.
Figuring it out includes a laundry list of things, by the way. Like why exactly her best friends turned totally petty and judgmental on her when she started getting into makeup and boys. (This doesn’t mean she stopped being a nerd.) Or why she can’t control her feelings for Joe, who makes her swoon every night with their online chats but still has a girlfriend. Or if her dad (Paul) can get it together and stop smoking up before her new sibling arrives?
As you can probably guess, Life By Committee pops up exactly when Tab feels like she has nowhere to turn. A small community of online “friends” she can admit her deepest and darkest secrets too? Who give her the courage and the extra push to move forward with what scares her the most? I mean, what can go wrong? Cue the foreboding music, friends.
All I could think of was Dawson during Season 1 of Dawson’s Creek as I got deeper and deeper into the book, and Tab got sucked further into LBC. (“My palms are sweating.” Except he was talking about Joey, and I was just freaking out about how this initial safe place turned wrong so fast.) To be a part of LBC, you divulge a secret and then are given an assignment by the LBC leader, Zed. In order to keep your secret a secret, you must complete the assignment or else.
At first, like Tab, I saw that assignments as something that would help another member seize the moment. But as the stakes were raised higher and higher, it was obvious the assignments would be affecting more than the LBC member but friends, family, reputations, and more. See? Scary stuff. I was internally freaking out about Tab and how she would exit the group without ruining absolutely everything, and stranded in a worse place than she started.
Even now, I feel incredibly anxious just thinking about it.
Life By Committee made me think a a lot about how we relate to others, and if we just see what we want to see. How could I not with the superficial reasons Tab’s friends had for dropping her? Or even how Tab felt for Joe. I wanted so badly to believe in Joe and think he was being real with her, that they had a future together. How secrets between friends and family members create such detachment that bridging it feels like climbing Everest. Or how loneliness and disconnect cause us to latch on to people and places, which provide no true help at all.
I was nervous to read LBC because Haydu’s OCD Love Story is one of the finest, most authentic debuts I’ve ever read. And I love that she created something so separate from her first book because the plotting and the characters are just as memorable but for different reasons. One thing she does continue to celebrate: the shades of gray that makes us human. We are not just ONE thing or ONE kind of way. Our thoughts, our actions, our feelings are constant changing, and we are not always going to do the right thing. Like someone asks in the book: “what if change were a comfort?” What if we weren’t so scared of it?
Even though it was very early into 2014 when I read LBC, the fact that it was so impossible to put down, the premise was so well-executed, and I related so much to Tab already secured it in my list of memorable years of the year. The writing is so fast-paced and at times so quote-worthy, I absolutely can’t wait to get a hard copy even if it means being a nervous wreck all over again reliving some of the most intense scenes I’ve encountered in YA.
So what am I saying? Haydu has officially made my auto-buy list. Also: read this.
Extra kudos: I love when a book cover fits the story absolutely so well. This is one of those circumstances....more
I bought this book on a whim this past week because I was looking for some inspiration for writingReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog:
I bought this book on a whim this past week because I was looking for some inspiration for writing a matron of honor speech. While I didn’t use any quotes from the book like I was originally planning to, it felt so fitting to spend some free time revisiting four friendships that really shaped my childhood as I prepped for the wedding of my best friend — a gal I’ve known since I was 5 years old. (Ironically my best friend has my original copy from when I lent it to her.)
I, first, read Sisterhood Everlasting when it was initially released in 2011. I remember I was totally frozen in place on my couch in our old house reading and reading until I got through the whole thing in one night. I just had to see how it ended. I’m happy to say that book was just as addicting the second time around, even if it is surprisingly sad.
Even though the girls (who I thought of as the next-gen Baby-Sitters Club) went through a fair share of drama through high school and college, I always thought the book boasted about the positivity of female friendships. So to experience such a change in Sisterhood Everlasting where the girls are all living in separate places, not getting together very frequently, Tibby totally MIA, and dating people the others don’t approve of — as a dedicated fan of the series, you feel genuinely gutted.
“Growing up is hard on friendships,” Carmen says in the very beginning.
I know with too much experience how true this statement can be but part of me was hoping for the happily ever after scenario for these four. But Brashares has the opportunity to showcase some top notch writing because of this choice — the grown up thoughts (Is this who I really want to marry? Am I really happy in this job? Why do things not feel like they used to?), the small nods to the past, and even the gorgeous imagery (I need to get to Greece) — that she wasn’t always able to use when writing for a younger audience. Like the girls, her writing most definitely matured.
With Carmen an actress in NYC, Lena teaching in Rhode Island, Bee unable to settle down in California, and Tibby off in Australia — the girls are unable to find the common ground they once had with each other (even after the pants went missing). When Tibby surprises them with a reunion in Greece, the three feel this is what they really need until they arrive in Greece and things totally spiral out of control. When the girls go their separate ways once again, it feels like all hope is lost until each of them embark on their own journey undoubtably leading them to answer the same question: can they regain what they had and move forward together?
While I didn’t always agree with Brashares’ characterizations (I don’t think Carmen could ever be a size zero or tone down her Latina pride; Lena just seemed way TOO sad and isolated), I do think she did well when it came to capturing the spirits of these characters we love and showing just how much time can change us — to the point where we might not even recognize ourselves. It’s tough to see on the page, but almost necessary, because there are so many factors that come into play when it comes to friendships, too many distractions, and at some point, friendship takes a little bit more of a push than it has to when you were kids hanging out in the same neighborhood every day.
Whether you remember reading the Sisterhood series way back when or you are looking for a book about female friendships that run deep, Sisterhood Everlasting provides a roller coaster of heartbreaking, sweet, and honest moments as so many realizations are made. For me, it was so nice to spend 300 more pages reuniting with some of my favorite girls with the added reassurance that fighting for friendships is so important....more
In a perfect world, we would all be wonderful at expressing ourselves (especially during sticky situReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
In a perfect world, we would all be wonderful at expressing ourselves (especially during sticky situations) and handle every tough break with positivity, decorum, and acceptance. Instead, humans, despite their best intentions, slip up all the time. They close themselves off from people (even the ones who care the most) and instead of making the best out of a bad situation, kind of make things worse.
I’m happy to say Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy features imperfect characters, especially the main character Alice. She’s diagnosed with cancer and her mom is lying to the family. She has every right to be angry, definitely. So she recruited her old friend, Harvey, to help her out with a to-do list of things she wants to accomplish before she dies. Most of them are over the top, crazy and insane, but the devoted Harvey is on board, even though their history — childhood friends! friends with feelings! a rift! — is still a thing.
It’s true that I’m more of a Harvey than an Alice. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I am loyal to people I care about. Sometimes too loyal. This is probably why I related more to Harvey than I did to Alice. Like her character, she was even written with a certain bit of detachment so it was hard to connect to her, especially when as a reader we are privy to her feelings but continue to watch her not use her words or tell anyone how she really feels.
Cancer is a common ingredient in books, but I loved Murphy’s unique take. In chapters that alternate between Harvey and Alice, we also switch between time periods: THEN (when Alice discovers she has cancer) and NOW (when Alice unexpectedly goes into remission). So basically Alice has to deal with the repercussions of her actions and for someone as guarded and fearful of confrontation like she is… that’s freaking scary.
I absolutely could not wait to find out how all of this would end. Would Alice let Harvey get away? Would her revenge tactics haunt her forever? Could she move forward with her second chance at life? Something so many people in her position would embrace so thankfully? (Alice is pretty much the only character I’ve ever read about who is pissed off about beating cancer.) So many characters are forced to make adjustments after Alice’s diagnosis changes and it’s really interesting to see how those dynamics play off each other.
Murphy’s writing is sharp, I love her dialogue, and even the other situations she folds in (not being ready to have sex yet, “friendly” competition, mother/daughter relationships and even son/mother relationships, bullying) fit in so naturally. I was completely hooked and read most of Side Effects May Vary in a day. (I was also focused on finding some of Julie’s homages to God Shaped Hole by Tiffanie DeBartolo, a book we both love.) While some of the time transitions were a bit confusing and I would have loved for the ending to be stretched out a bit more, the character growth, the great writing, and creative storytelling made this a winner for me.
4.5? I want to give this a five. But it's 1am and I finished this in a day because I was loving it so so much. Beautiful writing, and I am so filled u4.5? I want to give this a five. But it's 1am and I finished this in a day because I was loving it so so much. Beautiful writing, and I am so filled up with plenty of emotions. This is a book that makes me want to tell a story.
It’s a rare and wonderful feeling to fall so hard and so fast for a book.
I was instantly hooked to How to Love in the first six pages. I knew it would be hard for me to put down. Is it because I understood this kind of uncomfortable reunion between the once love-of-your-life, not looking your best, wanting so badly to push down the familiar butterflies and remember what made you despise this person so much? Maybe.
Sometimes you just can’t control how you feel. Even when you are keeping those feelings very quiet and concealed.
Cotugno gives us a beautiful story of friendship and romance and connection and second chances. I felt so intimately connected to all of the people in Reena’s life. Her closeness with Allie when they were in high school, the support she received from Shelby, the friction between her and her father post-pregnancy, and, of course, that undeniable something with Sawyer. Deliciously flawed, these messy relationships grounded the story. Let’s face it. We don’t always make the right moves in life. There’s a lot of that going around here, and everything felt so real.
And the writing style? To set up a before vs. after story detailing Reena’s life before and after Sawyer leaves and her pregnancy? Cotugno impressively married the two, introducing us to a loner Reena who is anxious to graduate ahead of her class and spend her life writing and traveling and, years later, bringing new light and maturity to both Reena and Sawyer. The pacing remained swift, and I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough. Cotugno weaves in description so well (without ever getting flowery), punctuating moments with sound and movement that it was like I was right there in the room.
You know a book is special when you are willing to sacrifice sleep to finish it. I did not want my time with the world of How to Love to end, but I couldn’t press pause that long, not without discovering the next part of Sawyer and Reena’s journey. I haven’t felt quite this overcome with affection for characters in so long, even when I was annoyed with both of their reactions to things or not agreeing with certain decisions. I think that’s the biggest test as a reader. Do you still care when things are at their lowest? If the answer is a yes, you have a winner.
How to Love is a winner. Buy it, gift it, read it, and treasure it. And then read it again. Easily one of my favorite books this year, and, if you can believe it, a new inductee into my most-loved reads collection....more