Sunday, February 19, 2017

Book review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Book Summary
This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.

Flo's Review
I actually was lucky enough to get an ARC of this one and have it signed by Victoria shortly after it was published. However, I heard a mediocre review from a good friend and so it fell a little bit down on the TBR. And in my world, if it's not on the top of the TBR, it's kind of out of mind.

...until I discovered that my library had the audiobook on CD. This is my preferred audiobook method, since I don't have an auxiliary cable in my car or space on my phone to download the digital versions. So any book for which I can obtain the audiobook on CD get catapulted back to the top of the TBR. This audiobook was 10 CDs long, or almost 13 hours. I enjoyed the narrator, but ultimately it just felt really long to me. It seemed like I was listening to this story forever, and that affected my feelings toward it.

I thought Red Queen was a good story. I enjoyed Mare, Maven, and Cal, and loved to hate Evangeline and the Queen. There were several moments where I was at the edge of seat and breaking a sweat because I was so nervous for Mare. I'd be sure she was going to get busted or exposed, but then she pulled through. 

I remember hearing Victoria talking about the book and explaining how she crafted it similar to how she would craft a screenplay -- three acts, with definitive things happening in each act. That stuck with me from when I heard it two years ago, and I recalled it while listening to this book because it did feel a little formulaic to me. I figured out one of the plot twists, which made me proud because I never figure that stuff out! (I didn't figure it out because I was clever and saw through it, but only because I've read so much YA dystopian that I know to be skeptical of some things. Lol.) I didn't, however, see the big twist, and when I heard it, I mentally kicked myself. She dropped so many clues and hints, but I didn't put them together. It broke my heart the way it broke Mare's, and that is a sign of a good book right there.

Red Queen is the first book in a series, and while I enjoyed it, I don't necessarily feel like I have to go running to read book 2, Glass Sword. Maybe if I can locate an audiobook CD I'll give it a go.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Book review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Book Summary
When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know it’s going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever.

Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star, Jason Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

Flo's Review
I had a really long and rough week, and this book was exactly what I needed to escape into on Friday night. It is fun, powerful, geeky, sweet, and cool. This, to me, is truly a book that accurately describes an example of what it is to be living in this time. (To quote Hamilton: "Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now!") I would stick this book into a time capsule so that the generations after us can unearth it and understand a snapshot of life in 2017. 

I loved that I felt so many things Tay felt. Her disappointment over not meeting someone? Pretty sure I've been there. Excitement over the all the cool things on the Con exhibit floor? I've definitely been there. My nephew is autistic and I like to try to understand him and his experience as much as I can. I'm not saying that his and Tay's experiences are exactly the same, but she still gave me a glimpse -- and for that, I am grateful. I also adored this quote:

"Let's say someone is terrified of heights, and in order to get out of the house every day she has to walk across a tightrope from fifty stories up. Everyone would say, 'Oh she's so brave. She faces heights every day.' That's what we do. We walk a tightrope every day. Getting out the door is a tightrope. Going grocery shopping is a tightrope. Things that most people consider to be normal, daily parts of life are the very things we fear and struggle with the most, and yet here we are, moving forward anyways. That's not weak ... We are the brave ones."

Jamie is perfectly understanding, fun, and adorkable. I can see how Tay felt so comfortable around him, and I love that he was there when she needed him, but understood how to give her space when she needed that, too. I also really enjoyed Charlie. She's this new celebrity, but still very down-to-earth and easy to relate to. Her story is one that's so understandable and one I recognize from seeing it around me in people I know: namely, someone who is so strong in herself, yet manages to lose herself in her relationship. The process of recognizing this and coming out of it is a hard one, and I applaud Charlie and everyone who is struggling with that. 

I highlighted so many great lines in this! Two of my favorites:

"There needs to be an app that pops up on screens when a nasty tweet is about to sent that says, 'Are you sure you want to say that? It's mean.'"

"We strut into the party like we're Derek Zoolander."

The story had a happy yet realistic ending, and I really appreciate that. Props to Jen Wilde for her dedication, too:

"To the weirdos, the geeks and the fandom queens. To the outcasts, the misfits and the everything in between. The days of playing the sidekick are over. You are the superheros now. You are my people, and this is for you."

Queens of Geek comes out March 14, 2017 and I encourage your nerdy, awkward, lovable, powerful self to pick it up! #LoveYourWeird

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Book Summary
Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad’s old costume), Elle’s determined to win…unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons—before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

Flo's Review
You guys. You guys! I ADORED this book. I woke up this morning, grabbed the book (which I'd intuitively left by my bed the night before), and started reading. And there I stayed, reading in my bed, until I was done. (Minus one restroom break.) I kept telling myself, "Okay, after this bit I'm going to get up and get something to eat!" But then somehow I kept on reading. And I kept on jumping ahead a few pages to see when Darien and Elle would text each next - I would get nervous if it didn't happen every 2 pages or so. Like, "Oh no, he said THAT and she hasn't responded yet!! What will he think?!?!" No truer words were spoken to describe me and this book than "emotionally invested."

I think it's because this book speaks to me on so many levels. I mean, this site is Book NERDS Across America. Naturally, I'm a geek. And being all into a fandom? Yup, right here. And the description of the con? Yep! And the thing is, the fact that the story is a take on Cinderella is done so well, that I honestly didn't even notice what the parallels were right away. They just seemed like elements of this own, individual story. For example, I literally remembered reading a scene about the Magic Pumpkin driving through town and thinking, "OH! I get it! It's a pumpkin!!"

The characters were so well, too. Catherine and Chloe were definitely deplorable, but not in a fake, overdone kind of way. The emotional attachment Elle had to her father put everything into perspective and helped a lot of things add up. And Darien was very real; he felt like a regular guy and not a movie star, so it made sense that he and Elle would fall for each other. Sage was also a fantastic character and I loved seeing her get her HEA.

The ball scenes at ExcelsiCon were spot on! Poston captured the magic beautifully, and it really felt like a fairy tale to read. 

Geekerella comes out April 4, 2017; do yourselves a favor and pick it up! 

Thank you to Quirk Books for sending me an advance reader's copy in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Movie Review: Coin Heist

Flo's Review
When the lovely folks at Adaptive Books contacted me about reviewing Coin Heist, they were good to mention that it was going to be a Netflix movie shortly. I was sold! Those of you who have been with Book Nerds for many years (thank you, by the way!) will remember that we used to have a Book-To-Movie post regularly, where we would review a movie based off a book. We don't do them on a schedule anymore, but we certainly do them when we can.

Anyway, I decided to curl up this week and catch this movie. And you know what my final reaction was? It made me want to read the book! True story! Because I could tell in the movie that there was likely a lot of character development that never made it in. That could be for several reasons: it's hard to translate visually, there is no time, it interrupts the flow of the movie. But I just know that there's more to these 4 characters and I want to know it. So I'll be reading Coin Heist soon. In the meantime, I don't regret watching the movie. The heisty (I possibility just made that word up) scenes had me holding my breath, fearing that the teens would get caught and hoping that they didn't.

Here's the trailer:

The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill

Book Sumary
Lydia has vanished.

Lydia, who’s never broken any rules, except falling in love with the wrong boy. Lydia, who’s been Piper’s best friend since they were children. Lydia, who never even said good-bye.

Convinced the police are looking in all the wrong places, eighteen-year-old Piper Sail begins her own investigation in an attempt to solve the mystery of Lydia’s disappearance. With the reluctant help of a handsome young detective, Piper goes searching for answers in the dark underbelly of 1924 Chicago, determined to find Lydia at any cost.

When Piper discovers those answers might stem from the corruption strangling the city—and quite possibly lead back to the doors of her affluent neighborhood—she must decide how deep she’s willing to dig, how much she should reveal, and if she’s willing to risk her life of privilege for the sake of the truth.

From the glitzy homes of the elite to the mob-run streets of 1920s Chicago, Stephanie Morrill’s jazz-age mystery shows just how far a girl will go to save her friend.


Flo's Review
You know how there are some people who are really good at figuring out whodunnit? Well, I'm not one of them. But I find it makes reading mystery novels more enjoyable, because I'm never expecting the outcome. This didn't start off reading like a mystery, which was nice. There was a good amount of world-building, I guess? We spent time getting to know Piper, her family, her personality, and her relationships. Once that was all established, Lydia went missing. 

Piper was a fun character to read. She's headstrong - almost annoyingly so - but she is also human. I thought it was nice that we see her plunge into dangerous situations, but we also see her cry a lot. This story could have worked if it was told in modern time, but having it set in the 1920s gave it an even more mysterious and seedy feel. 

I enjoyed reading about all the gentlemen, though I feel that the story lines and relationships with the ones that Piper did not end up with were a bit...incomplete? They were both introduced as being really big deals, but then after an intense scene or two just kinda faded away. But I really did enjoy the young gent she did end up with; these two have personalities that complement each other well. 

Overall, I read The Lost Girl of Astor Street pretty quickly, growing ever more invested toward the end. It's a unique YA mystery, with enjoyable characters and a very well-done historical setting.

Thank you to Blink YA Books for offering me an advance reader's copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Third Grade Mermaid by Peter Raymundo

Book Summary
Cora is a small mermaid with a BIG personality. But like so many mermaids in the third grade, she is struggling to truly be herself. 

She wants to be like the Singing Sirens, the most glamorous swim team in the sea. Unfortunately, an annoying road--er, seablock--keep getting in her way.

When Cora fails her spelling test, her coach says she can’t be on the team unless she gets an A on the next one!

Can Cora conquer her spelling test, make the swim team, AND stay true to herself at the same time?

Flo's Review
Happy book birthday to Third Grade Mermaid! This little book was simply adorable. The illustrations were a lot of fun and did a great job complementing the text. Cora has a boisterous personality, just as you might expect from a third grade mermaid. Hearing her tell the stories of her adventures are true to how any child might tell stories, but these are extra fun because they are all about life under the sea. What a magical little story! I can't wait to give this to my niece!

Thank you to Scholastic for providing me with an Advance Reader's Copy in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle, #4)

 Jacque's Review

The Raven King is the fourth and final book in the Raven Cycle series.  As the search for Glendower continues, time is running out for most of the characters.  Cabeswater is losing its power, Ronan's dreams are getting darker, and Gansey's days are numbered.  

I felt like this book remained true to the series.  I'm sure every reader was hoping for a happily ever after, but that was never going to be the case.  Maggie did a remarkable job of giving readers most of what they hoped for without changing the course of fate.  

There is a new romance that developed that I never saw coming.  It would be interesting to go back at some point to see if there were clues in the previous novels that I missed.  There was also the introduction of a new character, Henry, and his magical RoboBee.  His presence added a new element of magic and explained some of the history of the "art collectors" coming to town, but it was a bit too convenient for me.  Maggie needed a way to track Gansey, so here is a new character with the ability to do so.

The ending was very chaotic and confusing.  How the magic worked to reach the end result was vaguely explained.  I also didn't feel like Blue and Gansey's relationship received the level of attention it deserved.  Ronan and his family history was exciting to read about and the interactions between Ronan and Adam were touching, but the two main characters were often ignored for secondary plot twists.

Overall, this was a unique and entertaining series with lovable characters I will not soon forget.  The pacing could have been a bit quicker, but I was satisfied with how the series concluded.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

Book Summary
A dazzling debut novel—at once a charming romance and a moving coming-of-age story—about what happens when a fourteen-year old boy pretends to seduce a girl to steal a copy of Playboy but then discovers she is his computer-loving soulmate.

Billy Marvin’s first love was a computer. Then he met Mary Zelinsky.

Do you remember your first love?

The Impossible Fortress begins with a magazine…The year is 1987 and Playboy has just published scandalous photographs of Vanna White, from the popular TV game show Wheel of Fortune. For three teenage boys—Billy, Alf, and Clark—who are desperately uneducated in the ways of women, the magazine is somewhat of a Holy Grail: priceless beyond measure and impossible to attain. So, they hatch a plan to steal it.

The heist will be fraught with peril: a locked building, intrepid police officers, rusty fire escapes, leaps across rooftops, electronic alarm systems, and a hyperactive Shih Tzu named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Failed attempt after failed attempt leads them to a genius master plan—they’ll swipe the security code to Zelinsky’s convenience store by seducing the owner’s daughter, Mary Zelinsky. It becomes Billy’s mission to befriend her and get the information by any means necessary. But Mary isn’t your average teenage girl. She’s a computer loving, expert coder, already strides ahead of Billy in ability, with a wry sense of humor and a hidden, big heart. But what starts as a game to win Mary’s affection leaves Billy with a gut-wrenching choice: deceive the girl who may well be his first love or break a promise to his best friends.

At its heart, The Impossible Fortress is a tender exploration of young love, true friends, and the confusing realities of male adolescence—with a dash of old school computer programming.

Bonus content: Play the "The Impossible Fortress" video game at http://www.jasonrekulak.com/game/


Flo's Review
This absolutely had a Ready Player One feel to it. Which is great, because RPO is a great book. I was asked as I was reading this one if it's a YA (young adult) book. It's not. The main characters are teenagers, but I think that the teenagers today would not get the fun in about half the book. Because the fun was all in the throwback. One reviewer called The Impossible Fortress "a love letter to the 1980s" and I think that is a great description. All kinds of great pop culture and political references had me saying to myself, "Oh yeah! I remember that!" (And now that I have dated myself, let's move on with the review.)

The fun in it also comes from the fact that the boys are putting together this whole elaborate scheme to get a magazine. I really enjoyed the main trio for a few reasons. First -- they are all boys. So many books have done the "two boys and one girl" thing, and so many more books have done the four girls, so it was nice to have a unique set of protagonists. Rekulak also did a great job of establishing the deep bond between the boys. 

It was also great to see Billy start falling for Mary because of her brains and her personality. He was in awe of the fact that she was a better programmer than he was, and he wanted to spend more time with her. From there, he started noticing things he liked about her -- the way her hair smelled, etc. He didn't reject her because she was fat, so good job Billy! 

I was talking with one of the Simon publicists at the recent American Library Association Meeting and telling her about how I was currently reading the book. While I explained to her how it is a cute but predictable story she said, "There's actually a twist in there that I wasn't expecting." True story! Not a huge deal, but just a little reminder that things aren't always as they seem and you never know what another person is going through.

The Impossible Fortress had a happy and realistic ending. It does well as a standalone, because I feel that I left all the characters in a good place. This book comes out February 7th and if you are a child of the 80s,  a video game aficionado, or just looking for a cute, awkward love story, I'd recommend you pick it up. I'm going to go play the game now (what a cool perk! Props!!)

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing me with an advance reader's copy in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

Book Summary
A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch PerfectUp in the AirTwilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page—with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).

Flo's Review
There's nothing better than an audiobook that is read by the author, so I was very excited to have the opportunity to listen to Scrappy Little Nobody. I don't follow Anna Kendrick on Twitter, but I've seen a few of her tweets as they've been retweeted here and there, so I was kind of familiar with her style of humor. This was a fun book. Anna is very down to earth - she sounds like the kind of gal you'd want to go to the bar with for happy hour and throw back a few $2 local brews. It was refreshing and eye-opening to hear her experiences with big fame events like the Oscars, press junkets, and Twilight

Some parts of her life were definitely glossed over, and I'm guessing that was intentional? For example, she was in New York and then suddenly she's in L.A. with no real explanation on how? And then toward the end, there is a whole section on party planning that just straight up felt like, "this book isn't long enough because you're really not that old and we need some filler material." Same with the story about Buccaneer Days. I understand the significance of the experience, but it seemed like a really long story for the little point she makes about it. But these are minor quips. Overall, I really enjoyed hearing about Anna's life and Anna's philosophy on her life. After reading this, I'll continue rooting for her to do awesome things, and maybe win the Oscar this time.

I definitely recommend doing the audio if you can. Anna is expressive when she talks, and I think hearing how she says things placed them differently in my mind that my own reading voice would have done.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy of this audiobook in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year ! Happy New Books!

Welcome to 2017! We looking forward to lots of bookish fun here at Book Nerds Across America and can't wait for you to join in! Let's start the year with 3 books that will be published on Tuesday, January 3rd that we are looking forward to:


Almost Autumn by Marianne Kaurin

It's October 1942, in Oslo, Norway. Fifteen-year-old Ilse Stern is waiting to meet boy-next-door Hermann Rod for their first date. She was beginning to think he'd never ask her; she's had a crush on him for as long as she can remember. 

But Hermann won't be able to make it tonight. What Ilse doesn't know is that Hermann is secretly working in the Resistance, helping Norwegian Jews flee the country to escape the Nazis. The work is exhausting and unpredictable, full of late nights and code words and lies to Hermann's parents, to his boss... to Ilse. 

And as life under German occupation becomes even more difficult, particularly for Jewish families like the Sterns, the choices made become more important by the hour: To speak up or to look away? To stay or to flee? To act now or wait one more day?

In this internationally acclaimed debut, Marianne Kaurin recreates the atmosphere of secrecy and uncertainty in World War II Norway in a moving story of sorrow, chance, and first love.


The Book Jumper by Mechthild Glaser

Amy Lennox doesn't know quite what to expect when she and her mother pick up and leave Germany for Scotland, heading to her mother's childhood home of Lennox House on the island of Stormsay.

Amy's grandmother, Lady Mairead, insists that Amy must read while she resides at Lennox House—but not in the usual way. It turns out that Amy is a book jumper, able to leap into a story and interact with the world inside. As thrilling as Amy's new power is, it also brings danger—someone is stealing from the books she visits, and that person may be after her life. Teaming up with fellow book jumper Will, Amy vows to get to the bottom of the thefts—at whatever the cost.

Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken

All Etta Spencer wanted was to make her violin debut when she was thrust into a treacherous world where the struggle for power could alter history. After losing the one thing that would have allowed her to protect the Timeline, and the one person worth fighting for, Etta awakens alone in an unknown place and time, exposed to the threat of the two groups who would rather see her dead than succeed. When help arrives, it comes from the last person Etta ever expected—Julian Ironwood, the Grand Master’s heir who has long been presumed dead, and whose dangerous alliance with a man from Etta’s past could put them both at risk.

Meanwhile, Nicholas and Sophia are racing through time in order to locate Etta and the missing astrolabe with Ironwood travelers hot on their trail. They cross paths with a mercenary-for-hire, a cheeky girl named Li Min who quickly develops a flirtation with Sophia. But as the three of them attempt to evade their pursuers, Nicholas soon realizes that one of his companions may have ulterior motives.

As Etta and Nicholas fight to make their way back to one another, from Imperial Russia to the Vatican catacombs, time is rapidly shifting and changing into something unrecognizable… and might just run out on both of them.
 


What January 2017 releases are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

By Your Side by Kasie West

Book Summary
In this irresistible story, Kasie West explores the timeless question of what to do when you fall for the person you least expect. Witty and romantic, this paperback original from a fan favorite is perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins and Morgan Matson.

When Autumn Collins finds herself accidentally locked in the library for an entire weekend, she doesn’t think things could get any worse. But that’s before she realizes that Dax Miller is locked in with her. Autumn doesn’t know much about Dax except that he’s trouble. Between the rumors about the fight he was in (and that brief stint in juvie that followed it) and his reputation as a loner, he’s not exactly the ideal person to be stuck with. Still, she just keeps reminding herself that it is only a matter of time before Jeff, her almost-boyfriend, realizes he left her in the library and comes to rescue her.

Only he doesn’t come. No one does.

Instead it becomes clear that Autumn is going to have to spend the next couple of days living off vending-machine food and making conversation with a boy who clearly wants nothing to do with her. Except there is more to Dax than meets the eye. As he and Autumn first grudgingly, and then not so grudgingly, open up to each other, Autumn is struck by their surprising connection. But can their feelings for each other survive once the weekend is over and Autumn’s old life, and old love interest, threaten to pull her from Dax’s side?

Flo's Review
Aww, this was adorable, of course! The progression of Autumn and Dax's relationship is believable because they don't hate each other at first; they are just working off of what they've heard and what they perceive. But then they get to know each other, the friendship develops, and then the romantic chemistry becomes harder and harder to dismiss. 

I adored Jeff and found myself thinking at one point, "Aww, I love them both!" But don't worry -- this book didn't have the traditional "love triangle" feel to me. But there were several struggles going on: Dax's life situation, Jeff and his situation, Autumn and her anxiety. The odds were almost against the two of them and so that made this that much more poignant. 

I must have skim-read the summary because the plot unfolded differently than I was expecting. This ended up being a good thing, because I don't think a whole book of what I pictured would have been sustainable. This was a fast read; I was able to read it during my travels home from Christmas break.

Kasie West fans will definitely enjoy her latest offering, as will anyone looking for a charming and lovely contemporary YA romance, By Your Side publishes January 31st.

You Don't Know My Name by Kristen Orlando

Book Summary
Fighter, Faker, Student, Spy.
Seventeen-year-old Reagan Elizabeth Hillis is used to changing identities overnight, lying to every friend she’s ever had, and pushing away anyone who gets too close. Trained in mortal combat and weaponry her entire life, Reagan is expected to follow in her parents’ footsteps and join the ranks of the most powerful top-secret agency in the world, the Black Angels. Falling in love with the boy next door was never part of the plan.
Now Reagan has to decide: Will she use her incredible talents and lead the dangerous life she was born into, or throw it all away to follow her heart and embrace the normal life she's always wanted? And does she even have a choice at all?
Find out if you are ready to join the Black Angels in the captivating and emotional page-turner, You Don't Know My Name, from debut novelist Kristen Orlando!
Flo's Review
You guys. Let's talk about how much I love this book. I started it on vacation, and I was literally running about an all-inclusive resort in Mexico wishing I could have more time to read! I love Reagan. I was drawn in immediately to her friendly, loving, and adaptable character. She is basically this prodigy, but she doesn't act superior or entitled. Instead she feels trapped. I like that her struggle is one that many people can relate to, even though the exact circumstances are not. There have been many variations of the "this is the life my parents expect me to have, but I feel trapped by it" story, but this one definitely brings a unique spin to it. 
I love Reagan's mom. She's a badass. Reagan knows it, and loves her for it. I love their relationship and I love the strength of these two females. And while we are talking about characters, can we talk about the great, supportive, affectionate, kind super swoon-worthy Luke?! He's also strong and brave and loving and...okay, okay, I'll stop gushing. But he's definitely a new book boyfriend. The Big Bad (to borrow TVD terminology) is super creepy and super evil and I shudder thinking about him, even right now as a I type.
The stakes in the story go up dramatically pretty quickly, and I actually wasn't expecting the turn that the events took. The pacing is amazing -- fast and effortless. I was turning the pages so fast because I wanted to see how she would pull this off/how they would pull this off/what was going to happen. And the ending: I'm still not emotionally recovered from it. I really hope I can get my hands on the next book in The Black Angel Chronicles soon. I'm scared for Reagan and what she will encounter!
This book is fantastic and I cannot recommend it enough! It publishes January 10th so pre-order your copy or get to the bookstore when it's available!
Thank you to Macmillan for providing me with an Advance Reader's Copy in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland by Dave Barry

Book Summary
We never know what will happen next in Florida. We know only that, any minute now, something will. Every few months, Dave Barry gets a call from some media person wanting to know, “What the hell is wrong with Florida?” Somehow, the state’s acquired an image as a subtropical festival of stupid, and as a loyal Floridian, Dave begs to differ. Sure, there was the 2000 election. And people seem to take their pants off for no good reason. And it has flying insects the size of LeBron James. But it is a great state, and Dave is going to tell you why. Join him as he celebrates Florida from Key West at the bottom to whatever it is that’s at the top, from the Sunshine State’s earliest history to the fun-fair of weirdness and gunfire (“Our motto: ‘Come back! We weren’t firing at you!’”) that it is today.

It’s the most hilarious book yet from “the funniest damn writer in the whole country” (Carl Hiaasen, and he should know). By the end, you’ll have to admit that whatever else you might think about Florida—you can never say it’s boring.

Flo's Review
I am the only member of my family to live in Florida, so I can always count on my family to call and text me with comments regarding Florida -- especially around elections. And I can't tell you how many crazy "this actually happened in Florida" type stories I've seen. So as soon as I discovered that this book was a Thing, I knew I had to get it.

The first part was HILARIOUS and exactly what I thought this book would be. It was filled with random, crazy facts about Florida and random, crazy anecdotes about Florida described with Dave Barry's classic dry humor. I literally laughed out loud at many a section. But while these Random Acts of Crazy in Florida can fill a book, I guess they can't really fill a book? So after the Introduction and A Brief History of Florida, the rest of the book is devoted to hearing about Dave's visits to random, crazy attractions in the state. Unfortunately, I did not really enjoy the first one ("The Skunk Ape") and that left me setting aside the book for awhile before picking it back up again. I finally decided to just skip the rest of that chapter and move on. The next 6 were okay: I really enjoyed some, like hearing about Weeki Wachee and Spongeorama, and others were just okay, like hearing about LIV. 

All in all, this is a fast and fun read. If you like hearing about quirky places to add to your bucket list, this will make a good read for you. As for me, I will have to agree with a few of Dave's final words: I love this crazy state.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty

Book Summary
Three girls. Three boys. Two rival schools. This could get messy. The Ashbury-Brookfield pen pal program is designed to bring together the two rival schools in a spirit of harmony and "the Joy of the Envelope." But when Cassie, Lydia, and Emily send their first letters to Matthew, Charlie, and Sebastian, things don't go quite as planned. What starts out as a simple letter exchange soon leads to secret missions, false alarms, lock picking, mistaken identities, and an all-out war between the schools--not to mention some really excellent kissing.

Flo's Review
I was introduced to this book by my #otspsecretsister on Twitter. I discovered that my library had the audiobook and decided to give it a listen. Listening to an audiobook of letters has its pros and cons: 

Pros: The different characters were each voiced by different people. At first I didn't really like Lydia's and Emily's voices, but then the more I read the more I thought the voices fit them. Plus, the voices all had accents (this book is Australian) and I really enjoyed that.

Cons: Letters, etc. take longer to read in audio format. The reader has to say the all the email addresses over and over and that can get a little tedious.

But on to the actual story part. I was absolutely loving it for about 70 percent of the book. I didn't like the parts with "The Notebook (TM)", but I loved the letters between the girls and their pen friends. Loved them. The individuality of the characters, the growing and relationships. I especially loved how we never saw a scene with the three girls. We got to know how they were as friends through the stories they told in their letters and diaries about hanging out together. Yet their friendship was still established so solidly. Brilliant, Jaclyn Moriarty. 

Unfortunately, for some reason the author felt like there needed to be a dramatic end scene or something. So this whole situation between the two schools was added to the story, and I really didn't like it. I don't think the book needed it to tell this story. Chapters 29 and 30 basically. But I did like the ending for Cassie and the final reflection from Lydia. 

Overall, I found this very enjoyable and was really happy whenever I was listening to it -- a sign of a good book and audiobook! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

Book Summary
In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American. It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father—a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man—has been killed in a car accident. This sudden death inspires an emotional odyssey—first to a small town in Kansas, from which he retraces the migration of his mother’s family to Hawaii, and then to Kenya, where he meets the African side of his family, confronts the bitter truth of his father’s life, and at last reconciles his divided inheritance.

Flo's Review
It's always crazy to me how the timing on some things comes together because of happenstance. I have been wanting to read this for awhile. I bought it for my Dad for Christmas many years ago, but I don't think he ever read it. Last year, I almost took it back so I could read it, but I restrained myself. Then earlier this year, I made a trade at the local used bookstore for this audiobook. I love audiobooks, and was excited to snatch this up when I saw it. 

The audiobook sat on my shelf for months.

Then, about two weeks ago, I finished listening to an audiobook I unfortunately didn't like. So the question of what I should listen to next was even more loaded -- I did not want to strike out twice. I saw this on my shelf and decided to go for it.

There is so much to love about this story. What absolutely made this for me was that Obama read it. I always love listening to him speak. I've heard him tell a lot of stories about people he has met, so it was so nice to hear him tell his own story. This audiobook won a Grammy for "Best Spoken Word" and it was well deserved. He did a great job of imitating the voices of all the men and women in his life. 

Dreams From My Father had the same beautiful writing and lyrical quality of his speeches. Some sentences gave me the chills because they were so lovely. He is very good at setting a scene -- describing the people and the setting. I didn't actually know his story; all I knew was that he was born in Hawaii. But I really enjoyed seeing the lives of his parents and grandparents. He was able to get into his family's heads and emotions so well.

I am not going to get political on here, but I did want to tell you why I started this post talking about timing: because the day after I started listening to this book was November 9, 2016. 

A fun bonus of this CD was Obama's 2004 DNC keynote, which I also hadn't heard before. It was an add-on to the audiobook, but the speech started with summarizing everything I'd just listened to. As such, it made for a great transition out of the story of his past and into the now. 

This is just a good story; no matter what your race, political affiliation, or thoughts on the Obama Presidency, I think there is something to take away from Dreams from My Father.

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Book Summary
Dash and Lily have had a tough year since readers first watched the couple fall in love. Lily’s beloved grandfather suffered a heart attack, and his difficult road to recovery has taken a major toll on her typically sunny disposition. 

With only twelve days left until Christmas—Lily’s favorite time of the year—Dash, Lily’s brother Langston, and their closest friends take Manhattan by storm to help Lily recapture the holiday magic of New York City in December. 

Told in alternating chapters, The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily reunites two beloved characters and is bound to be a Christmas favorite, season after season.

Flo's Review
Totes adorbs. While Dash and Lily's Book of Dares was a light, fun read, this sequel took it a little bit deeper. Not that it wasn't light and fun, but Dash and Lily's relationship has evolved. They have been together for almost a year now. This is the story of going from mutual like and infatuation to falling deeply and fully in love. That can be a vulnerable, messy, and emotional journey for any couple, and Dash and Lily are no exception. I loved that Dash never gave up on Lily. I loved seeing more of Lily's family, and looking into Dash's family and how he saw himself based on them. And, like the first book, this one also had its good portion of random people and events that brought a smile to my face.

Speaking of bringing a smile to my face, there were two scenes that tied for my favorite. One involved a water gun duel and was just super fun, especially since I'm so obsessed with Hamilton. The second involved my main obsession -- New Kids on the Block! Yes! And not only New Kids, but my favorite New Kid in particular -- Joey McIntyre! I was SO excited! I was lucky enough to meet Rachel and David at YALLFEST (I read the book on my plane ride to and from Charleston), so I got to thank them both for the Joey McIntrye reference in person.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Happy Book Birthday to The Goblin Crown by Robert Hewitt Wolfe!


Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday dear The Goblin Crown: Billy Smith and the Goblins, Book 1!
Happy birthday to you!

Here's the summary:

Billy Smith is having a rough first day of high school. The new kid at exclusive Francis Drake Prep, Billy embarrasses himself in front of fiery, beautiful Lexi Aquino. He makes an instant enemy in Kurt Novac, the school s surly star quarterback. Then suddenly Billy, Lexi, and Kurt are mysteriously transported to an underworld teeming with goblins, strange animal hybrids, and powerful magic the fact that they re stuck there is probably Billy s fault, too. With help from an unlikely goblin leader named Hop, the teens soon discover that goblins can be both fierce and friendly, with their own rich language, culture, and history a history that foretells of a human arriving to claim the Goblin Crown and lead them to victory against the deadly, invading Hanorians. Could Billy anxious, awkward Billy be the mythical Goblin King? Could saving the goblin race be his destiny and the key to getting him, Lexi, and Kurt back home?

If you're interested in getting a copy, here's the Amazon link

Monday, November 7, 2016

All In by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

All In (The Naturals, #3)

Jacque's Review:

All In is the third book in the Naturals series.  For those of you who are not familiar with the series, it is a murder mystery series involving 5 teenagers recruited by the FBI for their abilities to profile, read emotions, detect lies, and analyze statistics.  Due to their individual upbringings and unusual childhoods they naturally honed these skills to exceptional levels.  

This time around there is a serial killer on the loose in Las Vegas.  So far he has killed 1 person at a different casino each day starting on January 1st.  The FBI is called in because the casino owners want to put an end to this as quickly and quietly as possible before business plummets.  To top things off, there is a huge professional poker tournament just around the corner that must go on as planned.

The naturals struggle with the case because there doesn't seem to be a common denominator.  Different locations, different methods and no common element between the victims,  The only connection between the cases is a mysterious set of numbers found on the wrists of each victim.  

In addition, there is a breakthrough in Cassie's Mother's murder case.  Some remains were found that are believed to be hers.  Jennifer takes this portion of the story in a direction I don't think anyone would have anticipated.  What was deemed to be solid evidence in the case isn't as solid as it appeared and everything Cassie believed to be true is far from it.  

Sloan, the statistician, eventually discovers a pattern that links each of the cases.  The locations and dates of the murders are tied to a mathematical code or sequence that has been around for hundreds of years.  They just need to discover when and where the next murders will take place in order to catch their UNSUB. (Unknown Subject)

If you enjoy YA and thrillers/mysteries this is definitely the series for you.  I have thoroughly enjoyed every book in this series and have been glued to each detail from start to finish.  I love all of the characters and their unique abilities as well as their individual personalities.  They are all so different, but they complement each other beautifully and have really developed into a family.  

The final book in the series, Bad Blood, was just released last week.  I should receive it from the library within the next few days and can't wait to see how the series will conclude.  If you haven't started the series yet, now would be the perfect time. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Disney After Dark by Ridley Pearson

Book Summary
In this fantastical thriller, five young teens tapped as models for theme park "guides" find themselves pitted against Disney villains and witches that threaten both the future of Walt Disney World and the stability of the world outside its walls.

Using a cutting-edge technology called DHI—which stands for both Disney Host Interactive and Daylight Hologram Imaging—Finn Whitman, an Orlando teen, and four other kids are transformed into hologram projections that guide guests through the park.

The new technology turns out, however, to have unexpected effects that are both thrilling and scary. Soon Finn finds himself transported in his DHI form into the Magic Kingdom at night. Is it real? Is he dreaming?

Finn's confusion only increases when he encounters Wayne, an elderly Imagineer who tells him that the park is in grave danger. Led by the scheming witch Maleficent, a mysterious group of characters called the Overtakers is plotting to destroy Disney's beloved realm, and maybe more.

This gripping high-tech tale will thrill every kid who has ever dreamed of sneaking into Walt Disney World after hours, and wondered what happens at night, when the park is closed.

Flo's Review
I thought I was going to fall in love with this. Maybe that was part of the problem.

It has all the elements of stories I love: it's a middle grade adventure series, like the Magisterium and Percy Jackson. It's about Disney World, and I love Disney World. In fact, I bought the entire Kingdom Keepers series at the Miami Book Fair a few years ago. (To put a little perspective on this: each book was $2, so I felt it was a worthwhile splurge.) 

Unfortunately, this came up lacking for me.

And I tried. I tried so hard. I knew early on that I wasn't feeling it, but I pushed myself past my usual 100 page stay-or-go mark and read all the way through the end. But there were a few things that made this crash and burn for me, and looking at other reviews, I know that I'm not alone:

1. The characters -- The 5 DHIs seemed underdeveloped. This is a good thing for me to note as I head into NaNoWriMo. After 300+ pages, I don't feel like I really know any of these kids. Finn is the closest. But the others just got a paragraph introduction to them in the beginning of the book, and that's all the distinguishing characteristics we got. Except for Charlene. I think I was rubbed the wrong way with her because Wayne explained that all the DHIs were specifically picked for different reasons. Charlene's character card said she was picked for her good looks and athleticism. Good looks first. I mean, I guess that's understandable, being that it's show business, but something rubbed me the wrong way about a kid's book (middle grade book, I mean) being like, "This girl got to be special because she's pretty." Maybe if her character had been really cool, I could have let that go. But all she did in this book was whine and protest. I read a spoiler for what becomes of her in the spin-off series, and all I can say is that I hope she grows as a character in the other books, and doesn't just get this new thing because of her "good looks." Okay, enough about that.

2. The villains -- Very loosely explained. I kind of didn't understand who they are and how they work. And what they're trying to do. Maybe this is explained more in subsequent books. But in this book all I really saw was a fight with some pirates and then Maleficent turning things cold. Why was she scary? What was her end game? Maybe an Overtaker back story could have been helpful.

3. Loose threads -- There were a few story lines/instances that were presented and then never touched again. All of a sudden, it would be the next chapter and that was that. I'd think, "How was this resolved?" or "What was the point of this?" Perhaps some things got cut in the editing process?

4. Audio narrator -- I love audiobooks, and have been lucky to listen to some great narrators. Unfortunately, this was not one of them. I think part of the reason I disliked Charlene was because she was read with a snobbish voice. Willa was read with a voice like a man. Finn was read in a whiny tone. It was hard to enjoy these characters without enjoying their voices.

5. Lack of magic -- Disney World is one of my most favorite places, "the most magical place on Earth." Somehow, I never felt the specialness, the magic of the setting. And there was such great potential to do so.

I'm not upset that I took a chance on this story. I really do love the concept, and it looks like the subsequent books in the series visit the other parks, besides just the Magic Kingdom, where this one took place. It is a MG story and perhaps I am going too deep with it. At the end of the day, I can see how it's a fun, light, entertaining story.