Monday, May 20, 2019

Book Review: High Five by Janet Evanovich


High Five is the fifth book in the Stephanie Plum series. Stephanie works for her cousin Vinnie as a "bail enforcement officer"...AKA Bounty Hunter. 

In this installment, Stephanie's Uncle Fred goes missing.  He went out to run some errands and never returned. They know he was having some difficulty with his account at the garbage company, but a dispute over a couple of dollars is certainly not worth killing someone over.  Fred also has a history of fraternizing with married women, which could have lead to his disappearance. Since business is slow at the bail bond agency, she begins looking into the case.

Fred's case isn't going to pay the rent, so Stephanie begins taking some odd jobs from Ranger, a far more skilled bounty hunter.  He has some side businesses that are more in the gray area, but Stephanie really needs the money. Stephanie ends up in a number of hilarious situations, which could only seem to happen to her.

Joe Morelli has been Stephanie's on-and-off boyfriend going back as far as high school. He is now a vice cop and is somehow working on a case that seems to be connected with Uncle Fred's disappearance. Stephanie becomes frustrated when he will not discuss the case with her, so she takes matters into her own hands. They eventually begin sharing information, but it is amazing how the unskilled Plum always seems to be one step ahead.

This series is more of a comedy to me than an action packed thriller.  Yes, there is usually a mystery to solve or a fugitive to apprehend, but the tone is very light. The interactions between Stephanie and her mother and grandmother will literally make you laugh out loud at times. In addition, there is now a potential love triangle between Stephanie, Ranger, and Morelli that escalated in this installment.  Stephanie is well aware of Morelli's lack of commitment and has been burned by him multiple times in the past, but he is an honest working police officer. Ranger, on the other hand, has a number of fine qualities mixed with an element of danger. She knows she should stay away from him, but it seems to be getting harder for her to walk away. I can't wait to see how things will play out in the next book, Hot Six. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Christina June, author of No Place Like Here


Flo's Note
No Place Like Here publishes next Tuesday, May 21st and I hope you're able to pick up a copy when it does! I had the honor of reading an ARC and thoroughly enjoyed it. While you wait for Tuesday, read on to find a brief summary of the book, followed by an exclusive interview with the author Christina June.

Links to other Christina June reviews

Book Summary
Ashlyn Zanotti has big plans for the summer. She’s just spent a year at boarding school and can’t wait to get home. But when Ashlyn’s father is arrested for tax evasion and her mother enters a rehab facility for “exhaustion,” a.k.a. depression, her life is turned upside down.

The cherry on top? Ashlyn’s father sends her to work with a cousin she doesn’t even know at a rustic team-building retreat center in the middle of nowhere. A self-proclaimed “indoor girl,” not even Ash’s habit of leaving breadcrumb quotes—inspirational sayings she scribbles everywhere—can help her cope.

With a dangerously careless camp manager doling out grunt work, an overbearing father trying to control her even from prison, and more than a little boy drama to struggle with, the summer is full of challenges. And Ashlyn must make the toughest decision of her life: keep quiet and follow her dad’s marching orders, or find the courage to finally stand up to her father to have any hope of finding her way back home.

The author and the interviewer last year at Apollycon.
Interview with Christina June
1. How did you get the idea for No Place Like Here?
Ashlyn started as a character who appears in IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE.  Readers who know her already will be familiar with her poor choices in boys and her unusually strict father.  When my editor and I were brainstorming ideas for my next proposal, I knew I wanted to let Ashlyn tell her own story that would explore how much more than that she is.  The fairy tale framework, Hansel & Gretl, is, at it's heart, an abandonment story between children and their father, which fit Ashlyn perfectly. Since my companions are all set in the summer, my mind went to summer camp as being the ideal fish out of water setting for Ashlyn.  I tweaked it to a wilderness retreat center--summer camp for adults--and voila, her story began to take shape.

2. Who was your favorite character to write? Who was the hardest? Why?
Giving Ashlyn her voice and figuring out who she wanted to be was gratifying.  I collect quotes just like she does, so it was exciting to pick out which ones were most meaningful to her.  I love Baxter, her co-worker and master of the zipline, and how he helps Ashlyn see that it's okay to be vulnerable and let people in.  The hardest character was probably Deb, the retreat center manager.  She's the wicked witch from the original Hansel & Gretl transformed, but she's not outright evil.  In my research, I learned the worst thing someone in charge of that type of business can be is careless, so that's was my goal for Deb.  She may be a little wicked too, though.  :)

3. Why do you think readers will like Ashlynn?
I've been afraid she wouldn't connect with readers because she's a little prickly, she's privileged when it comes to money and material things, and she initially has the worst romantic judgement.  But, early reviews that have come in have have blown me away.  Many readers have noted that they identify with her relationship with her father and the feelings of powerlessness to change things.  I think if a reader has been in a similar situation, they'll enjoy seeing Ash navigate those murky waters.  I hope they'll enjoy how she expresses herself through quotes and how she ultimately learns to take risks and stand up for herself.  And, I also hope that readers who have not experienced difficult relationships might gain increased empathy for their friends who have.

4. A common rite of passage of young adults is realizing that their parents aren’t always right. You hit this in a major way in No Place Like Here. Can you talk a bit about this?
In my day job as a school counselor, I've had the same conversation over and over:  I want this, but my parents want that, so I'm going to keep my mouth shut until I get out of the house and I can do what I want, suffering until the time comes.  It breaks my heart every single time.  They think they have no power or that their parents won't listen thoughtfully to their ideas and desires.  This book is for those kids.  I wanted to give them a hopeful ending and show them that their voices DO matter and they DO have power to make change.

5. Why do you think fairy tales — whether classics or retellings — remain timeless for readers?
These stories last because we identify with them.  We see ourselves in them.  And, in a lot of cases, the nostalgia is high.  Versions of the same stories exist in so many cultures around the world, which proves we're all more similar than we think, and the emotions we experience at every age go on and on.

6. What can we expect from you next?
I don't have anything I can talk about quite yet, but I've been working hard on reclaiming the joy of writing. I've also been exploring new genres and age groups.  So fingers crossed and watch this space!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Book Review: The Sixth Man by David Baldacci



The Sixth Man is the fifth book in the King and Maxwell series.  Sean and Michelle are former secret service agents who are now working as private investigators.  This time around they are contacted by one of Sean's former law professors, Ted Bergin, to help with a case he is working on.  When Bergin turns up dead, Sean begins to take the case personally.  Even when the stakes are more than they are willing to risk, he can't back away from uncovering the truth behind his friend's murder.

Edgar Roy is accused of killing six people and burying them in the barn on his family farm.  He is one of the smartest people in the world, if not the smartest, so nobody believes he would have been caught red handed if he truly were a killer.  He had to have been set up, but why?  And why is the FBI so involved in a case that is clearly outside their jurisdiction? 


As people associated with the case keep dropping like flies, Edgar is locked away in a maximum security facility in Maine.  He obviously isn't involved in the latest murders.  It is becoming increasingly clear that there are some very high powered players who are determined to keep Edgar's real story under wraps.  


This was a very fast read with a ton of action and some very unique plot twists.  Until the very end, I didn't really know who was on what side or how all of the pieces would come together.  As usual, Sean and Michelle find themselves in immense danger.  They are fortunate to have Edgar's half sister on their side for most of the investigation.  Her background is never revealed, but she was obviously part of the FBI, CIA, or something along those lines.  She is very resourceful and has a very large support network, which helps them out of numerous dire situations.


I accidentally read the last two books in this series out of order, but that didn't make too much of a difference.  There were a few references in King and Maxwell to events that took place in this novel, but I felt like these could be read as stand alone novels.  The characters and their personal relationships develop throughout the series, but each of the cases are completely independent.  


I have thoroughly enjoyed this series so far and sincerely hope Baldacci will continue Sean and Michelle's story.  I know he has a number of other series, which I plan on exploring now that I have read all of these, but this series seems far from complete.  

Friday, April 19, 2019

Audiobook review: The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare and Wesley ChuSo

Book Summary
From #1 New York Times bestseller Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu comes the first book in a new trilogy featuring the centuries-old High Warlock Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood after they survive the Mortal War.

Magnus Bane, a centuries old High Warlock, has taken possession of one of the great relics of the supernatural world, a powerful spell book of dark magic known as The Book of the White and there are many who want to claim it for themselves.

After the Mortal War where the part-human and part-angel Shadowhunters teamed with the part human-demon Downworlders to fight against the incursion of an army of demons, Magnus and his new lover, the mortal Alec Lightwood celebrate their survival and victory by escaping the supernatural battlefield of New York City by touring the world, but the world won’t leave them alone.

The first adult novel set within #1 New York Times bestselling author Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series, written with award-winning science fiction author Wesley Chu, is a fantasy thriller that will give new readers a great way to enter the Shadowhunters world and give the millions of readers across the globe answers they’ve been looking for in this start of The Eldest Curses trilogy.

Flo's Review
Okay, this is going to be rambling and gushing in likely non sequential order. Hang on for the ride!

I ADORED THIS BOOK. ADORED. An easy, easy 5 out of 5 stars. I love Magnus and Alec so much. Together and individually. First -- individually. I will admit that I have not read The Bane Chronicles. Thus, I haven't really spent much time just in Magnus' head and with his thoughts. It was so nice. There is so much depth to him. Even as he doubted himself, I found that I saw him as Alec saw him and loved him because of it. Always ready to help. Trustful. Trustworthy. Loyal. Life of the party. Deep. Wise. Fun. This story was like taking time to really get to know someone who was just an acquaintance before, and now you feel like they are a dear friend. Alec, too. He's just so cute! Which, I mean, yes he's a fierce warrior. But being inside his head is so cute and endearing. I want to give him a big, long hug. He too has so many great qualities, and a lot of them are the same at Magnus'. Like attracts like. Now them together? They are my new favorite ship! I love them so much more, guys! I mean, I loved them before, but now I am truly swoony. They fit together so well, compliment each other so well, work together so well. I loved reading about them loving each other. I held my breath in fear toward the end because I wanted nothing to run their feelings for each other. 

***SLIGHT QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS SPOILER***
And knowing how they end up at the end of Queen and Air and Darkness made this even more beautiful, because their scene at the end of QOAD is one of my most favorites ever.
***END SLIGHT QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS SPOILER***

The thing about Cassandra Clare is that you really leave each book feeling like you personally know the characters intimately. Like they are good friends of yours. Even though the books are fast paced and action packed, she really slows down to give you detailed, detailed descriptions of how the characters look in different scenarios. And she doesn't just tell you. She paints a picture. She sings you a song. She creates art. I love it, I love it, I love it.

This was interesting because it took place after the Mortal War. I don't think I realized that until about 1/3 way in. I knew it, but I was mixing it up with the end of Book #6 instead of Book #3 of the Mortal Instruments, so then I had to go back and adjust my thinking. But it was so fun to see so many of the characters from TDA in this story and to be able to smirk at all the foreshadowing. This book was also straight funny. I listened to the audiobook and there were several times that I just straight laughed out loud. Naturally, there a little twisty twist at the end to leave us intrigued and wondering all kinds of questions about how things went down. 

I flew through this audiobook. Overall I liked the reader, though I don't know...I didn't really connect with how he did some of the voices. Magnus was on point. The girls were fine. Shinyu (sorry if I'm misspelling -- I listened) and Alec kinda had weird voices, though.

So, in conclusion:

1) All the feels
2) Alec + Magnus 4EVER
3) Looks like I'm sucked into another trilogy

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Book Review: King and Maxwell by David Baldacci


Goodreads Overview:

It seems at first like a simple, tragic story. Tyler Wingo, a teenage boy, learns the awful news that his father, a soldier, was killed in action in Afghanistan. Then the extraordinary happens: Tyler receives a communication from his father . . . after his supposed death.

Tyler hires Sean and Michelle to solve the mystery surrounding his father. But their investigation quickly leads to deeper, more troubling questions. Could Tyler's father really still be alive? What was his true mission? Could Tyler be the next target?

Sean and Michelle soon realize that they've stumbled on to something bigger and more treacherous than anyone could have imagined. And as their hunt for the truth leads them relentlessly to the highest levels of power and to uncovering the most clandestine of secrets, Sean and Michelle are determined to help and protect Tyler--though they may pay for it with their lives.

Review:

Sean and Michelle are planning a relaxing vacation away from the office when they come across a teenage boy running in the rain carrying a gun.  He seems frightened, so Michelle insists Sean follows him.  Michelle chases him down, but he is reluctant to share his story with them.  They discover the Army was at his house and had notified him and his step-mother that his father had been killed in the line of duty.  Tyler was distraught and simply couldn't believe this was the truth.  Michelle gave him their card in case he needed anything, but they figured that was pretty much the end of things until Tyler contacted them shortly thereafter.  He received a message from his father after he was supposedly dead.  Now the Army is backtracking and has all sorts of excuses as to why they can't return the body.

As Sean and Michelle dig deeper into this case their lives are increasingly more endangered. The Army and Pentagon have shut down all communications involving Sam Wingo and are clearly involved somehow.  When the President becomes the next target via leaks in the press, he reaches out to Sean and Michelle and offers his support in their investigation.  They are making far more progress than the FBI, Homeland Security or any other government agency and may be his last chance at saving his political reputation and preventing an impeachment.  Little did he know, his relationship with King and Maxwell would ultimately save his life.

This was another action packed adventure involving a slew of characters from all aspects of the government.  I love all of the secret service elements and sincerely hope Baldacci is planning on releasing additional books in this series.  It certainly seems like he left things open for the possibility of another book and even had a lead in for a new employee in their firm.  If you enjoy mysteries and thrillers, this is a great series that I would definitely recommend.




Monday, April 15, 2019

Book Review: Never Never Part 2 by Colleen Hoover


This is actually a continuation of the same story that began in Never Never Part 1.  In the previous book we learned that Silas and Charlie have been losing their memories every 48 hours. They have no idea why this happening or how to stop the cycle.  They have been gathering information about themselves and keeping meticulous notes to use as a starting point each time the clock resets. 

At the end of Part 1, Charlie leaves in a taxi and Silas heads home on his own. We pick up pretty much where we left off and discover Charlie never returned home.  When Silas wakes up, the first note that he sees is that Charlie left in a taxi and he needs to find her.  She doesn't have any notes with her and will not have a clue who or where she is. 

The story alternates between the two, so we can follow both of their struggles.  Silas gathers quite a bit of additional information and may be getting closer to the source of their problem.  Charlie on the other hand, was basically left struggling to survive the better part of this installment.  The two ultimately reunite, but are nearing the end of their 48 hours again.  Silas finally tells his brother what has been happening, so they will have some additional support in the final part of this story.  

These are very fast and highly entertaining stories with a great mix of characters. I don't think Silas or Charlie were the nicest people in their previous lives, but they have come a long way while dealing with their struggles.  They have been best friends since a very young age and were the perfect couple until their fathers' business problems tore them apart. The families now hate each other and the two were continuing a Romeo and Juliet type of forbidden romance until the pressure ultimately became too much. They were spiraling out of control until the day they both lost their memories.  By working together and getting to the bottom of their personal and family issues, they may finally be able to achieve their happily ever after.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Book Review: The Reckoning of Noah Shaw


Goodreads Overview: 

Noah Shaw confesses all in this second novel of a chilling new companion series to Michelle Hodkin’s New York Timesbestselling Mara Dyer trilogy!

Noah Shaw doesn’t think he needs his father’s inheritance.
He does.

Noah believes there’s something off about the suicides in his visions.
There is.

Noah is convinced that he still knows the real Mara Dyer.
He does not. 

Everyone thought the nightmare had ended with Mara Dyer’s memoirs, but it was only the beginning. As old skeletons are laid bare, alliances will be tested, hearts will be broken, and no one will be left unscarred.
 

Review:

As I have said before, you really need to read the Mara Dyer series before beginning the Shaw Confessions series.  Readers would be at a complete loss without the knowledge gained in the Mara Dyer books.

In this installment, Noah and his friend Goose are being led on a quest by Mara's grandmother across England.  Mara is not in this book, with the exception of a very brief appearance at the very end, which is a lead in to the next book.

We aren't sure what the grandmother's motives are exactly or who's side everyone is really on, but the ultimate goal is apparently to save Mara.  How Noah is supposed to do that is not exactly clear. Noah has to dig deep into his family history to find the clues he needs.  There are some flashbacks to some of Noah's ancestor's memories, which Noah seems to witness as if they were his own memories.  This is explained because the apparent memories are passed down from generation to generation along with the gift. 

This book was a bit different for me.  Noah Shaw is one of my all time favorite characters, but he is not the same person he was in the Mara Dyer series or the first book in the Shaw Confessions. Without his gift, he can feel the effects of his vices and seemed to be drunk the better part of this novel. Gone was the confident, witty, and charming boy I loved. We can see the struggles he is going through to save the girl he loves, but it is clearly at his own detriment.  Hopefully the old Noah will return in the next book in this series or I'm not sure it will be worth reading.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Book review: Eyes on Me by Rachel Harris

Book Summary
Look up the word “nerd” and you’ll find Lily Bailey’s picture. She’s got one goal: first stop valedictorian, next stop Harvard. Until a stint in the hospital from too much stress lands her in the last place a klutz like her ever expected to be: salsa dance lessons.

Look up the word “popular” and you’ll find Stone Torres’s picture. His life seems perfect—star of the football team, small-town hero, lots of friends. But his family is struggling to make ends meet, so if pitching in at his mom's dance studio helps, he’ll do it.

When Lily’s dad offers Stone extra cash to volunteer as Lily’s permanent dance partner, he can’t refuse. But with each dip and turn, each moment her hand is in his, his side job starts to feel all too real. Lily shows Stone he's more than his impressive football stats, and he introduces her to a world outside of studying. But with the lines blurred, can their relationship survive the secret he's been hiding?

Flo's Review
As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I would adore it. And as I was reading it, I adored it. It took me awhile because of life, but I finally finished it this weekend. And I adore it.

Hot Stone Torres was totally hot. Though the friendship with Angela seemed a little manufactured (like she really had no friends she hung out before Lily and Sydney so now she does everything with them?), it was still delightful. I did enjoy the story line about her and Chasing Trouble. I would love to see that in another story! I respected Lily's dad for something he said toward the end. (That's all I can say there without spoilers.) There were a few minor editing things that I noticed, but they did not affect the enjoyment of the story for me. Like I said, I've only ever thought this book was adorable. 

The "eyes on me" theme was consistent throughout the novel, which was nice. Stone said it in the beginning and Lily said it at the end, but throughout the story characters eyes were described in detail during emotional scenes. It was a touch that was subtle, but powerful at the same time. 

To read an exclusive guest post about the book from author Rachel Harris, click here: 
GUEST POST: Rachel Harris for EYES ON ME.


Book review: You'd Be Mine by Erin Hahn

Book Summary
Annie Mathers is America’s sweetheart and heir to a country music legacy full of all the things her Gran warned her about. Superstar Clay Coolidge is most definitely going to end up one of those things. 

But unfortunately for Clay, if he can’t convince Annie to join his summer tour, his music label is going to drop him. That’s what happens when your bad boy image turns into bad boy reality. Annie has been avoiding the spotlight after her parents’ tragic death, except on her skyrocketing YouTube channel. Clay’s label wants to land Annie, and Clay has to make it happen. 

Swayed by Clay’s undeniable charm and good looks, Annie and her band agree to join the tour. From the start fans want them to be more than just tour mates, and Annie and Clay can’t help but wonder if the fans are right. But if there’s one part of fame Annie wants nothing to do with, it’s a high-profile relationship. She had a front row seat to her parents’ volatile marriage and isn’t interested in repeating history. If only she could convince her heart that Clay, with his painful past and head over heels inducing tenor, isn’t worth the risk.

Flo's Review
I'm kicking myself, y'all. I've had this book for months. I was lucky enough to get an early ARC and I knew I was going to read it before it came out. But wow! I really wish I'd read it sooner. I read the majority of it today and loved it so hard.

These characters. Wow. They are both feeling so much, and in turn you really feel them and feel for them. The idea of two flawed people finding love is just so simply beautiful at its core, in contrast to the complication that the relationship inevitably is. 

The song lyrics hit all the right notes. (Sorry. Pun totally intended!) The ones that were supposed to be fun were fun, and the ones that were supposed to be deep really cut deep. I found myself flipping back to read different song lyrics as I went further into the book.

Reading this book was an easy as Sunday morning. I just kept turning the pages like it wasn't even a thing. I was on a flight, but between the time I touched down to when I got home to finish it, I kept trying to sneak in a few words or sentences -- waiting for the shuttle, in line to pay my parking ticket, etc. 

I knew that I would adore this book, because I love all the contemporary romances (bring on the Kasie West, the Jennifer E. Smith, the Miranda Kenneally!), but I don't think I really fathomed just how much. I think I may have found a new favorite YA contemporary author in Erin Hahn. 

You'd Be Mine comes out April 2, 2019 from Wednesday Books.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Audiobook review: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Book Summary
Cassidy Blake's parents are The Inspecters, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.

When The Inspecters head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Cass isn't sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn't belong in her world. Cassidy's powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself.

Flo's Review
This book is so cute! Which, I have to admit, I don't often say about ghost stories. But from the very beginning of this story, I was sucked in. Cassidy is a great narrator, and I really enjoyed her voice. I loved the irony of her parents looking for ghosts without knowing that their daughter actually sees them. Jacob and their rules of friendship were also heartwarming, especially as you see how the two of them have each other's backs.

The packing of the story is also fantastic - I never felt a lag in the action. There was world building that needed to be done, since this is the first book in a series, but it didn't have the problem that many first books in series often do with too much exposition and not enough plot. Indeed, at the end I was almost holding my breath as I rooted for Cassidy to succeed in saving herself.

Speaking of the end: it wasn't a complete cliffhanger, but I have questions and curiosities! I cannot wait to see how things play out in Tunnel of Bones.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Audiobook review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Book Summary
Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

Flo's Review
What a fantastic audiobook this was! I'm so, so glad I listened to this one. Trevor read it, and because of that I got the full experience of hearing the language and learning the names as they're meant to be heard and known. I cannot imagine that I would have enjoyed this half as much just by reading it. 

Well, actually I would have. Trevor Noah is so smart and clever. It's clear he did his research, and I learned so much just by listening to him. Listening to this audiobook allowed me to learn about lives and experiences that I might never have the opportunity to otherwise. This book really is an important part of making our world smaller and of helping us all to understand each other. What I mean by Trevor being clever -- and no, I didn't just say that because I wanted to make a rhyme! -- is that he always finds a way to relate his completely different experience of growing up in South Africa to the familiar experience of readers in the Western world (and those in other parts of the world as well.) He shows us, "People are people. We are not that different. We are the same." 

But he is also introspective about society and how things ended up the way they did. He shares a story and then often gives such thoughtful commentary on it afterward. It was brilliant. Through hearing his story, we see that Trevor is empathetic as well. And WOW -- I have the utmost respect for his mother. That woman is amazing, and I would love to have even a little bit of her strength, faith, courage, flexibility, and love. 

This book, you guys. I laughed at parts. I wanted to cry at parts. It made me think deep thoughts and celebrate the universality of humanity. And I learned so much. I highly, highly recommend this one.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

GUEST POST: Rachel Harris for EYES ON ME


Get in the Groove
Is there anything sexier than a hot guy that can dance? Personally, it’s my kryptonite. 
Dance has always been a part of my life. Growing up in New Orleans where families are large and very very close, weddings and parties were held several times a year, and the dance floor was always packed. Formal lessons happened from the age of four to eight, at which point I quit because I didn’t want someone “telling me how to dance” (I may’ve been a touch stubborn, ha!), but they picked back up in high school when I joined the dance team. Dancing is even how my husband and I got together—we were on a double date, originally with other people, but we ended up switching midway through when my husband joined me on the dance floor. 
Most recently, dance entered my life via ballroom lessons I took with my husband for a year. We tried all the styles, but Latin was our definite favorite, in particular the rumba and salsa. They are just so dang sexy and fun! The connection between the partners, the emotion you put into each step, and the beat of the music is so incredibly addictive. 
Rumba ended up being our number one dance, and originally, it was going to be the style explored in Eyes on Me, too. However, once I dove into the book and really got to know my characters, I knew it had to be salsa. For one thing, salsa is faster paced, which is not only more forgiving for my occasionally clumsy heroine, but it’s also more youthful. The patterns and steps I chose were more fun, and a few of the tricks led to natural challenges to conquer.       
The real challenge for me came in balance. Giving readers who love dance enough to sink their teeth into, while not alienating readers who came simply for the hot football stud meets awkward Brainiac and could care less about the technical dance elements. Also walking the tightrope between describing the moves and keeping the story moving. For non-dancer readers, I wanted them to be able to understand without seeing the movement but not bore them, and for dancer readers, I wanted them to follow along and picture it easily in their minds. I hope I scored on both!
In the end, dancer or not, my true goal was in rocking the romance, which I believe is vital to any good routine. The trust required in a dance partner is also needed for a love interest. The insecurities and emotions spilled on the shiny wood floor cut at the heart of who we are as people…dance just helps speed up the exposure process. It was fun to explore the relationship between dance and love. Here’s a little snippet to show what I mean—Enjoy!
The music poured through the speakers—“Muevete” by D.L.G.—and after finding the beat, I began murmuring the count for her to follow. “Quick, quick. Slow. Quick, quick. Slow. One, two, three, four. Five, six, seven, eight.”
Dancing with music was harder. Even doing the same steps you’d mastered a second ago, the extra stimulus could jumble your feet. That’s where a strong partner came in handy. At least in theory.
“You’re ahead of the beat,” Ma said, modeling the steps alongside her. “Stop watching your feet and lift your head. Listen to the count. Trust that Agoston will guide you when it’s time to move.”
The muscles in Lily’s back twitched under my arm, and her jaw turned to granite. Sensing control was a bit of an issue for her, I tried teasing again. “Yeah, unlike you, I don’t walk into walls. It’s okay to follow me.” 
Her head jerked up, her gaze leaving the ground long enough to stare at me with a mixed expression of self-deprecation and annoyance. I grinned. 
“You really can let go,” I told her seriously. “I’ve got you. Believe it or not, this is supposed to be fun.” 
Lily exhaled heavily and darted a glance to the side. “I don’t like attention,” she murmured quietly, her blush deepening with the admission. “The mirrors in this room…they make it feel like everyone’s watching us.”
I couldn’t promise they weren’t. But I could help her forget about them. “Then keep your eyes on me,” I told her. “No one else here matters anyway. It’s just you and me and the music, okay?”

Ever danced salsa? If not, ever wanted to learn? Whether you’re a natural like Stone, a newbie like Lily, or have zero interest in getting on the dance floor yourself, just remember—if you stumble in life, just make it part of the dance 😊
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Rachel Harris writes humorous love stories about sassy girls-next-door and the hot guys that make them swoon. Vibrant settings, witty banter, and strong relationships are a staple in each of her books…and kissing. Lots of kissing. An admitted bookaholic and homeschool mom, she gets through each day by laughing at herself, hugging her kids, and watching way too much Food Network with her husband. She writes young adult, new adult, and adult romances, and LOVES talking with readers!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Book review: To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

Book Summary
Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.

In the province of Caldon, where women are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her Mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.

With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze.

Flo's Summary
I adored the Storm Siren trilogy (links to my reviews below), so I was super excited to read this one. What a fun concept! The result ended up being a mashup of so many great stories like Divergent, The Maze Runner, Theseus and the Labyrinth, and likely others.

The stand up parts of this story were the time in the maze. I was fascinated by all the adventures, puzzles, and challenges the contestants faced. Unfortunately, they didn't enter the labyrinth until more than halfway through the book. I know we needed all the information from the beginning of the story, but I felt myself glazing over a lot of it in my eagerness for the "action" to begin.

Rhen and Seleni's friendship was fantastic. They were two different women who wanted different things in life, but who stood by each other and supported each other's decisions. I don't want to comment on Holm because I want to be spoiler free here, but the story behind Holm was a commentary of its own that tied into the theme of the story. Naturally, we love Lute. (And by "we" I mean "me" -- but probably you, too, when you read it!) Finally, I adore this quote:

"What if I don't fully belong anywhere...because I belong to myself? Maybe that's the sea's strength, and maybe that's my strength, too. It's not that I don't belong. It's that I belong to me."

Right?! Didn't that just give you chills?! Succinct, but telling -- and very, very powerful.

To Best the Boys publishes March 19, 2019 from Thomas Nelson.


Thank you to the Thomas Nelson for sending me an advance reader's copy in exchange for my honest review.


Storm Siren Trilogy:
Storm Siren: http://www.booknerdsacrossamerica.com/2014/08/storm-siren-by-mary-weber.html
Siren's Fury: http://www.booknerdsacrossamerica.com/2015/03/sirens-fury-by-mary-weber.html
Siren's Song: http://www.booknerdsacrossamerica.com/2016/03/sirens-song-by-mary-weber.html

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Heidi Daniele, author of The House Children

Book Summary
In 1937, Mary Margaret Joyce is born in the Tuam Home for unwed mothers. After spending her early years in an uncaring foster home, she is sentenced by a judge to an industrial school, where she is given the name Peg, and assigned the number 27. Amid one hundred other unwanted girls, Peg quickly learns the rigid routine of prayer, work, and silence under the watchful eye of Sister Constance. Her only respite is an annual summer holiday with a kind family in Galway. 

At the tender age of thirteen, Peg accidentally learns the identity of her birthmother. Peg struggles with feelings of anger and abandonment, while her mother grapples with the shame of having borne a child out of wedlock. The tension between them mounts as Peg, now becoming a young adult, begins to make plans for her future beyond Ireland. 

Based on actual events, The House Children is a compelling story of familial love, shameful secrets, and life inside Ireland’s infamous industrial schools.

Interview with Heidi Daniele
Can you talk a little bit about the process of writing a story based on actual events? How did you decide what elements to use, discard, or add?                
I was fortunate to connect with former residents of an industrial school who shared their experiences with me. They told me about life in the school, and living under the care and supervision of The Sisters of Mercy. Their stories became the foundation for The House Children. In an effort to include everything shared with me, my first draft was double the size of the final publication. All of their experiences seemed meaningful, and I found it difficult to scale back on what I had written. I spent a year working with my editor as she guided me through the process, and helped me keep the focus on my main character.

What was the research process like for this story? Did you have to look into specific things about Ireland and the time era the story takes place?                           
The research was my favorite part of the writing process. I surfed the Internet to find old photos, maps, and weather reports. I also found an extensive government-funded report on industrial schools during the era I was focused on. Reading old newspapers provided me with a sense of the cultural, religious and political climate of that time. I also spent ten days in Ireland going to the sites referenced in my book and met with the Sisters of Mercy, who provided yet another perspective.

What is your favorite book?
That is like asking me what is my favorite ice cream! I do favor chocolate, but I also enjoy trying other flavors. I love to read and I’m not committed to one genre, but I do favor historical fiction. I don’t have a favorite book, but I recently enjoyed reading “Girl In The Blue Coat,” by Monica Hesse.

Are you currently working on another book?
I do have a sequel in mind, if The House Children is well received.

As a debut author, what advice do you have for other writers who are trying to break in?
My best piece of advice is “Love your story.” The road to publication can be extremely difficult, so I feel it is important to enjoy the journey of writing, whether or not you end up getting published. 

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Book review: The Secrets We Bury By Stacie Ramey

Book Summary
In an effort to escape his family, Dylan decides to hike the Appalachian trail—but he never expected to run into love.

Dylan Taggart is on the run. His family is trying to put him in a school for psychologically challenged students, and he gets it—he has anger issues. But Believers Charter School is a complete overreaction. So he decides a six-month hike on the Appalachian Trail is the perfect place to hide out until he can legally drop out of school.

Dylan wanted independence, but being alone on the trail is more than he bargained for. Then he meets a mysterious hiker named Sophie, and the two begin to develop a bond he never expected. But will love be enough to escape what they're both running from?

Flo's Review
Stacie Ramey is participating in a book festival I'm attending next weekend, so I wanted to read one of her books before I go. The Secrets We Bury was my top choice, because I grew up in Tennessee, right in the valley of the Appalachians. Plus, I was just here over the Christmas holiday break:

First, let's discuss this cover. No. Sorry. It looks like they just tried to find a stock image photo that maybe could work with the story and this one was close enough. Except, it's not close at all. It's way off for many different reasons, but I don't think it's essential to this review to get into them. Luckily, I did not judge the book by its cover in this instance.

I really enjoyed Dylan's arc in this story. It was very realistic and so well done. In my professional life, I've come to understand individuals who experience the world the way that Dylan does, and again -- Stacie Ramey did a fantastic job getting inside his head. And as the story progressed, we, the reader, got to see how he was growing -- it was hard, and he struggled with it and failed many times, but in the end he was stronger. It was just so heartwarming.

This storyline was also addictive. I just kept flipping the pages because I wanted to see if Dylan got to this person or that person in time. Another really cool thing about this was learning about hiking the Appalachian Trail. It was really cool to learn about trail names, trail magic, all of it. 

I loved that one of Dylan's struggles was interacting with people in a way that he thought was appropriate, and yet these people who normally didn't open themselves up to others did to him. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this trip on the Appalachian Trail with Dylan, and I'm looking forward to meeting Stacie next weekend and telling her so!